Eidyya, a mukhallat presumably linked to the celebration of Eid or the giving of gifts for Eid, is a potent floral affair with a deeply feminine character. It smells like a bunch of reasonable-quality rose and jasmine oils smushed together and draped over a spacey white musk for diffusion. The florals have an indeterminate, amorphous quality to them, like the taste of hard-boiled glucose candy. Buoyed by a saffron-spiced amber beneath, it is a cheerful affair.
The advertized oud we can safely declare missing in action. The focus is firmly on those super-femme Bubbalicious florals swimming in a sea of cottony musk, dotted with pops of saffron. Although pleasant and upbeat, Eidyya fails to differentiate itself from, say, anything in the faceless line-up of ASAQ floral attars for women at the lower end of the price bracket, all of which feature a similarly sweet, gummy floral mix, and can be had for a far more reasonable price.
Elle has a simple but pleasing structure – cool, powdery violet over a faintly tarry leather accord. It opens with the sharp greenness of violet leaf, which lends a high-pitched paint stripper tone that runs close to being unpleasant. Mercifully, a rush of violet ionones relieves the sting. Cheerful, bright, and more than a bit chalky, the violet note smells less like the flower itself and more like a Chowder’s Violet lozenge.
There is also quite a significant amount of orris here too, and this works upon the violet candy note to assemble a picture that’s very close to both Misia (Chanel) and Incarnata (Anatole Le Breton). Lipstick wax and face powder. The chill aloofness of the iris and violet lipstick floats freeform over a rubbery leather accord, itself anchored by a smear of hot tar. The leather accord is dry, driven by the charred barbarism of castoreum and the aggressive stillness of clary sage.
When the leather facet comes to the fore, I realize that the candied powder puff of the opening is a clever piece of misdirection. Elle is not a lipstick scent, but a tough, vegetal-green leather touched by violet in spots. More a truly baddass leather chypre like Jolie Madame (Balmain), Miss Balmain (Balmain), and Bandit (Piguet), in other words, than the powdery ‘femme’ Misia.
Could a man wear it, despite the femme name? If you wear stuff like Bandit or Cuir Pleine Fleur, then why not? A Basenotes friend has insisted for years that Misia works best on young hipster guys with beards anyway, because of the contrast between the sweet, powdery flowers and the rugged manliness of the guy’s ‘look’. I get that. It is very effective when a man wears a scent so completely opposite to his image that it stops you in your tracks, thinking, wow – what is that? Elle, like Misia, would absolutely work great on the right man.
Ensar Rose (Sultan Pasha Attars)
At first sniff, this smells like a Taifi rose oil, so sharply peppered and lemony that it makes you gasp for a glass of water. But in fact, this is not a Taifi rose oil, but rather a very rare Alba rose otto – a CO2 extraction from the white petals of the lovely Alba varietal. The typical characteristics of a good Taifi are all here, though, including the very green, herbal aspects (smelling almost like geranium or angelica), the peppery dryness, and the citronellal, which at times smells perilously close to citronella or floor cleaner. In short, the opening is pungent, animalic, and piercingly green or lemony.
Past the opening, there is a series of transitions that take the sharpness of the rose oil down into a milky, almost chalky base, with a cream soda-ish texture. The rose is still very much present, but it is deeper now, more winey than high-pitched. The significant amount of sandalwood in this oil is what creates this ‘creaming’ effect. The salty amber note (ambergris) and sandalwood combination is nicely round and just sweet enough to pare down the sharp edges on that citrusy rose.
There is some of Ensar’s Oud Yunus in this blend, hence the name of the mukhallat. However, since it is used more as a fixative in the base, the oud does not have an overt presence or aroma profile here. Ensar Rose would be an excellent rose mukhallat to wear in summer as it is a very fresh-smelling, citrusy rose with a soft, long-lasting drydown that is neither too sweet or too heavy.
L’Éphémère (Sultan Pasha Attars)
L’Éphémère cracks a window onto the past when perfumes were Perfume with a capital P – unabashed statements of self that cared not a bit about the noise they were making or the social conventions they were transgressing. It smells like the inside of a room that has been dressed entirely in black velvet.
It is a rose-dominant affair, but while it certainly smells of roses, this is not a naturalistic, ripped-from-a-garden take or even the popular, resin-encrusted ambered rose of modern Middle-Eastern perfumery. Rather, it is the heavily-spiced, mossy, and cigarette-smoking rose of the 1970s and 1980s. It is a Power Top in perfume form.
The rose itself smells faded (or degraded). Like with Oha (Teo Cabanel), Rose de Nuit (Serge Lutens), Magie Noire (Lancôme), Opium (Yves Saint Laurent), and Coco (Chanel), because the rose is pinned against such a blackened backdrop of bittersweet, orangey balsams, spices, and moss, it emits a far more subdued, world-weary glow than it normally would. Like a rose glimpsed through an oil lamp or a smear of yellowy beeswax.
Extraordinarily perfumey and dense and properly, soapily chypre, L’Éphémère is a perfume anachronism. Every time I wear it, I feel slightly shocked at how effectively it side-swipes me into a different era. Those bemoaning the post-1980s gutting of rose chypres should sample L’Éphémère to witness what can actually still be accomplished in this post-IFRA, post-reformulation, post-balls world. Amazing work.
Eshe A Vision of Life in Death (BPAL)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Company description: The perfume of life-in-death: embalming herbs, black myrrh, white sandalwood, black orchid, paperwhites, tomb dust, and Moroccan jasmine.
Eshe is one of those surprises lying tucked away in the corners of BPAL’s obscenely massive back catalogue of 65,500+ scents that makes me wonder if the company would not be well served by a heartless pruning of the branches so that the true gems, like this one, can be found more easily. Finding one’s way to the really excellent blends in the BPAL catalogue is an exercise requiring a compass, a packed lunch, and the willingness to trawl through thousands of pages of the BPAL forums. If you’re not a die-hard BPAL fan, then who has the time?
In case you have stumbled over this guide in your exploration of BPAL scents, then let me assure you that Eshe: A Vision of Life in Death is one of the more evolved specimens of its species.
Despite the list of morbid notes, it is a bone-dry green floral centered on the starched dewiness of narcissus (paperwhites), a dusty sandalwood accord providing a flourish of chypre-like bitterness that serves the scent well. It is clean, uncluttered, and flinty-metallic. Its rustling greenness makes for a great forcefield with which to push back against the noise of modern life.
Feral Rose (Sultan Pasha Attars)
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for an excellent material is simply to let it shine, and this is precisely what Sultan Pasha has done with Feral Rose. Sitting center stage is a rich rose otto, pure and dripping with honey, spice, and tart green leaves.
The quality of the rose otto is such that it needs the bare minimum of accoutrements. There is a touch perhaps of oud, and a dab of sandalwood, but the Taifi rose is clearly the star of the show. Slightly waxy and animalic to start with, the rose seems to become brighter and sharper, gaining in focus as time goes on. It resembles Amouage’s Ayoon Al Maha but is less creamy. Rich and refined, Feral Rose is for rose lovers and romantics at heart.
Fire of Roses (Mellifluence)
Fire of Roses opens with a fat, waxy Turkish rose coated in a layer of aged varnish. It feels gouty and rich, but also a bit faded, like an over-stuffed antique chair left out in the sun for months. Grassy Sumatran vetiver tries to exert its stern, green presence over that sexy rose, but stands no chance against the lascivious resins and ambergris, which work upon the rose to produce a smoky, resinous rose in the same vein as Aramis Calligraphy Rose.
Despite the presence of oud and black musk, Fire of Roses is a friendly, approachable mukhallat with little to no dirtiness. It is a rich, balsamic incense rose that is perfect for daily use. For something so innately rich and generous, however, longevity is surprisingly short.
Full (Al Rehab)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Despite containing not even a droplet of natural jasmine essential oil, which is horrendously expensive to produce and therefore not much used in commercial perfumery, Full somehow manages to convey the full force of Arabian jasmine. I would love to know how they managed this feat, but like with sausages and laws, it is perhaps best not to investigate too deeply.
Full (Ful), which means Sambac jasmine in Arabic, opens with a blast of furry indole and the grapey, benzene reek of benzyl acetate, the isolate in both jasmine and ylang ylang responsible for their fruity, almost banana-like intensity. It smells like spilled fuel and rotting bananas at first, with the distinct undertone of a port-a-potty at a music festival. But persist. It is worth it.
If you are a jasmine lover, then Full will provide you with the full 360º experience of the flower, ranging from the gassy, fuel-like top to its rather sour, pissy leather in the base. And in the middle, you will feel the full force of a thousand white jasmine petals, their edges browning with incipient rot, dropping straight off the vine and onto your lap on a hot summer’s night.
It is not, it must be said, for those of a delicate disposition. The white floral-averse need not apply. To its credit, Full is not overly sweet or creamy in that Big White Floral fashion, maintaining instead a green, spicy pungency that keeps things on track.
Full is quite earthy and dirty. If you love the coarse, lusty thrust of Arabian jasmine, then look no further. It comes reasonably close to Montale’s Jasmin Full at a fraction of the cost and is just as powerful.
Geisha Blue (Aroma M)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Geisha Blue is a pleasant mix of green jasmine and chamomile tea, with hay, flowers, and honey hinting at a greater depth. The name is a puzzle since, beyond its gentle translucence, there is nothing particularly aquatic or marine-like here. I can imagine this working on a modern-day flower child. Wearing the scent seems to have an ayurvedic effect, the chamomile in particular out-shining the shampoo-like brightness of the other notes. Its equivalent on the high street might be Memoire d’Un Odeur by Gucci.
Ghaliyah Pursat (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
Ghaliyah, meaning ‘most precious’ or ‘most fragrant’ depending on the source, is a common type of mukhallat in the Middle East. These were once all-natural affairs containing real ambergris, musks, oud, and spices, offered primarily to royal princes and members of the ruling class. Nowadays, Ghaliyah mukhallats are a parody of their origin story, being mostly loud chemical soups of synthetic musks and herbs mixed into moringa oil.
With its Ghaliyah series, JK DeLapp aimed to create all-natural perfumes that live up to the original meaning of the word Ghaliyah, a moniker that once stood for kingly luxury. Mukhallats in the Ghaliyah series feature the best quality of oud, ambergris, musk, and spices suspended in vintage Mysore sandalwood oil, and are priced accordingly.
The Pursat variation of the series focuses on a very tarry, gasoline-like jasmine note, formed by the combination of jasmine sambac and jasmine grandiflorum. Other notes get a look in too – a spicy saffron and a hit of smoky, medicinal oud – but the true star is jasmine. The jasmine oils used in this blend are phenomenal, redolent of melting tar and diesel over burning coals.
The very beautiful Russian centifolia rose oil sourced by JK DeLapp in Russia is over-shadowed here, almost entirely obliterated by the phenolic jasmine that mows down everything in its path. Fans of Papillon Perfumery’s Anubis will appreciate this one, as it features a similar jasmine-leather-on-fire effect. Pursat finishes in a sultry blaze of that thick, buttery sandalwood used so adroitly by Rising Phoenix, this time a spicy vintage Mysore sandalwood from the 1980s. I don’t know another attar maker that uses real santalum album as generously or as consistently as JK DeLapp.
Ghuroob Murakkaz (Ghroob) (Arabian Oud)
Ghroob is one of Arabian Oud’s most popular and loved mukhallats. It has the kind of extreme sweetness that reads paradoxically as sharp or bitter, like honey taken to burning point. Orange blossoms, syrupy sweet, are piled on top of an equally sweet Cambodi oud, spiked with saffron and cinnamon, and then poured down your throat like a pan of liquefied baklava. It is almost unbearably saccharine, but nominally saved from total ruin via spikes of something green and citrusy in the background.
The oud note here is subtle, present only as a little woody buzz in the background. The diva here is that remarkable orange blossom, which smells more like orange blossom honey than a living flower. If you can tolerate the terrible (to me) sweetness, Ghuroob is sunshine in a bottle. For fans of By Kilian’s Love (Don’t be Shy) and Dulcis in Fundo (Profumum), I suggest layering Ghroob with a vanilla or marshmallow-scented lotion to arrive at a creamy orange popsicle scent that is incredibly similar for roughly a quarter the cost.
Gigi (Olivine Atelier)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Gigi is one of Olivine’s bestsellers. Its popularity proves that indie oil customers in the American market tend to be young women who love the safety of mainstream fruity-florals but either don’t want to pay designer prices or have turned to the indie oil sector as part of a lifestyle choice. And actually, Gigi is a good bridge between designer and indie. Gigi could easily be sold alongside any popular fruity-floral on the shelves of the local department store or drugstore – yet it comes in a format that is definitely not the norm.
Gigi is immensely sugary, with an amorphous fruit syrup element that could be anything from peach to papaya. Theme-wise, it is vaguely tropical, but soon veers into the well-trampled territory of Maltol bombs like Pink Sugar. It also shares something of the bubblegum floral DNA of Gaultier2 and the warm peach cobbler aroma of Burberry for Women.
Gigi is pretty in a thoughtless way – a swirl of tiaré or frangipani mixed into a peaches-and-cream base, with ylang lending a soft, banana-ish quality. The streak of bubblegum keeps the mood determinedly pert. I recommend it (in the most under-enthused manner possible) to anyone who likes this type of genre. If you are determined to go all-indie, Gigi is a reasonable alternative to the Beyoncé Heat and Britney Spears stuff on the shelves of the local beauty emporium. Just keep in mind that the aesthetic here is young.
Hajar (Al Haramain)
Hajar is a standout in Al Haramain’s lower-priced range of mukhallats, which come charmingly packaged in cigarette box-style cartons. Hajar stirs a sharp, musky rose and a spicy, leathery ylang ylang into a bowl of sweet-soapy sandalwood, musks, and amber. It is all a bit Readers’ Wives, but for the price, it smells really, really good (especially at a distance).
I should mention here, in the interests of transparency, that Hajar is my husband’s scent of choice. Yes, despite the priceless bottles of oud, high-end niche, artisanal indies, and even my precious bottles of Siberian Musk (Areej Le Doré) and vintage Jubilation XV (Amouage) I have gifted him over the years, a €4 bottle of Hajar is what my husband chooses to wear every darned day.
Hajar opens with a musty, medicinal aroma, which is probably a slug of henna or saffron (though neither are listed). This creates a pinch of woody sourness that momentarily suggests oud, as was intended. The rose is strong and almost bitter, honed to metallic intensity by a geranium leaf that will draw saliva to the mouth. But framed by the creamy, musky sandalwood body, most of the sharp edges are drowned in a bath of cream before they have the chance to emerge and stick in your gullet. At a distance, Hajar smells like a strong rose-oud mukhallat.
The ylang ylang is initially only recognizable by its leathery ‘boot polish’ gleam, but later on melts into the creamy woods and soapy musks to reveal a steamy, custard-like tonality that feels like Guerlain’s Samsara returned to her Indian heritage. Highly recommended.
Hana-Cha (Aroma M)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Another surprise from Aroma M. Hana-Cha starts off on a bright, almost milky green tea note with a side of lemon peel, but just when you stop paying attention, it slithers into one of the most indolic ylang-jasmine combinations I have smelled outside of Manoumalia by Les Nez. The flat, inky jasmine takes center stage, but ylang piles on so much of its earthy custard that it feels soft rather than rough.
It is worth drawing attention to the nature of the jasmine here since that is the note that dominates. Your reaction to this scent will likely depend on your experience with jasmine essential oil, which is rarely as pleasant or as ‘jasminey’ as modern jasmine synthetics. A naturally-occurring feature of jasmine oil is that of plastic or rubber, and this is what emerges spoiling for a fight in Hana-Cha. This is not the sunny jasmine as presented in commercial perfumery, but dusky and nocturnal in character. In indie oil perfumery, this is probably as close to a jasmine soliflore as one gets.
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Company description: A dark winter floral blend — earthy, cold, and a little dangerous. Tuberose absolute, Sambac Jasmine, oakmoss, tobacco, chilled earth, cocoa, black musk
Hellebore is possibly the darkest scent in an already dark catalog of scents. It is a poisonous, semi-gaseous floral – tuberose or datura – pulled from the icy depths of winter soil, clods of damp earth clinging to its bone-pale roots. Although it possesses the same metallic, hairspray-like bitterness that runs through Sixteen92 scents like a mean streak, Hellebore is more obviously organic in nature, the dampness of real mud clinging to its underbelly.
The tuberose lends a fleshy, vegetal element that, while not creamy or sweet, nudges the soil note into cocoa territory. In fact, Hellebore appears to be a riff on the central idea of Black Orchid (tubers, earth, bitter chocolate) excised of all its bloated vanilla-and-cucumber gourmandise and underlined instead with angry black brushstrokes. It smells like deep winter.
Intensely atmospheric and moody, Hellebore would be a great choice for men searching for a gothic, not-too-floral floral. Think of it as a single white flower struggling to free itself of a dense thicket of black earth, wet leaf mulch, and piles of acrid, smoking leather. It is a dirty floral, with the ‘dirty’ part for once referring to literal dirt rather than to an abstract distillation of eau de worn panties. I love it.
L’Heure d’Or (Sultan Pasha Attars)
One of my personal favorites from Sultan Pasha. Translated to Golden Hour – that hour before the sun sets when everything, including your aging face, is bathed in the flattering light of what seems like a thousand candles – L’Heure d’Or begins with the feel of dark materials burning off in a blaze of sunlight. Smoky balsamic leather, a black-tar jasmine absolute, chewy licorice, chestnut honey, old furniture, waxed bannisters, and a dash of feral civet make for a momentary glower, but soon, the gloom is punctured by the sunny warmth of orange blossom and the high-pitched giggle of citrus peel.
This is all set to warm up over a spicy amber-leather combo not a million miles removed from the drydowns to Caron extraits such as Poivre, Tabac Blond, and Nuit de Noel, and here I refer to the modern versions, where the licoricey, oakmossy Mousse de Saxe base accord has been switched out for a hot-breathed, musky amber that pulls it Eugenol richness from clove and rose more than from carnation (the use of which is sadly limited in Western commercial perfumery due to IFRA recommendations).
Things get super creamy and laid back in the drydown with sandalwood and benzoin, but the smoky gasoline of the jasmine-leather-treacle accords up front lingers, polluting the creamy, soft white flower and ambery sweetness with an almost shocking smear of tar and smoke. For those looking for a vintage-styled spicy floral but with all politesse removed (no ‘ladies who lunch’ vibe here, despite the Caronesque overtones) and roughed up with civet and road tar, then L’Heure d’Or is the bomb.
Hind (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)
Hind is, for me, one of the standouts from Abdul Karim Al Faransi and top of the league among their feminine-leaning oils. Despite the name, there is absolutely no Hindi (Indian) oud oil in the blend. The word refers only to India as a theme, and specifically to the Indian tradition of rose and sandalwood attars.
Hind sets the hard emerald that is the Taifi rose in a plush red velvet cushion formed by powdered sandalwood incense (zukoh powder) and sweet, resiny balsams. For a while, the rose swims in an almost queasy-making bath of full-fat cream and decaying fruit before eventually righting itself in the direction of spice and greenery.
Hind whips itself up into a perfect storm of flavors, contrasting the green, lemony, and peppery notes of the Taifi rose with the balsamic creaminess of sandalwood, powered incense, and resin. It is at once sweet and spiky, a chilled cream of fruit, lemon leaf, and roses lingering on one’s palate. It finishes in a sensual whirr of honeyed labdanum seasoned with a marshy, salty note that could be vetiver or even ambergris. Very nice indeed – girly and a bit edible.
Ah, Homage. It is a legend in the attar world, and yet, for me personally, it is problematic. While still in production, Amouage suffered from the same batch variations and quality control as Aventus (Creed). Homage in the original white box is very different from that in the subsequent red and black boxes. Adding to general anxiety, the red and black boxes display alarming batch variations even within the same color series. Choosing your Homage is like most fraught game of Checkers ever.
This gives rise to the problem of not being able to judge the scent fairly. When you don’t know which batch you’re reviewing, or if you can only get your hands on one of the inferior batches, you could be comparing apples to tea-cloths and nobody would be any the wiser. It is also a high-risk perfume for the buyer – you might fall in love with one iteration and fail to ever find the same batch again.
I have tested two samples from two different batches, and I was not sold on either. Lovers of Homage – put down that pitchfork! You may be the lucky owners of the one remaining bit of Homage that is genuinely stupendous, for which you should be grateful. I do not begrudge you your piece of heaven.
For everyone else, know this. You must be a fan of pure, lemony Taifi roses to appreciate Homage. A wash of citrus oils drench the opening in a sharp flare, like a rose emerging from a dank cellar into icy morning light. The silvery pine-and-lime-peel freshness of Omani frankincense sharpens the pitch even further. This kind of accord can be aggravating, especially if you’re not a Taifi rose fan. But for those who love the almost caustic purity of Taifi rose and Omani incense intertwined, I can see why Homage is considered the ne-plus-ultra of its genre.
It is worth noting that the citric beginning does abate somewhat after the first hour, allowing the rose to fluff out into something fuller, sweeter, and more traditionally rose-like. Still, there is a delicacy and paleness to the rose that may irritate those used to more fulsome interpretations of this most passionate of raw materials. This recalcitrant rose glows on for another two hours, softly tinged here and there by lemon and indistinct floral accords, until the nose can barely smell it anymore. To my nose, there is little to no oud, smoke, or amber.
Nit-picking and personal taste aside, what Homage does, it does well. If one goes into the experience aware that it is a bright, pared-back affair intended to showcase the purity of one or two materials rather than a baroque, Eastern-style extravaganza, then there is no real cause for disappointment. Its quality and refinement are not in doubt.
Ilang Ilan (Mellifluence)
Ilang Ilan bursts out of the sample tube with a pungent ylang note, vibrating at an especially evil level of banana-and-petroleum fruitiness inherent to the material. But almost immediately, this is counterparted by the chewy licorice snap of myrrh, whose dark, anisic saltiness stuffs a cloth in the shouty mouth of that exuberant ylang, telling it to calm the f&*k down. For a while, this is so good that you wonder why ylang is ever paired with anything else than an equally pugnacious myrrh.
Alas, it is an all too brief display of force. In the drydown, the ylang departs, leaving only the mineralic, mushroomy facets of the myrrh to dominate. It smells like water you’ve soaked ceps in. For myrrh fanatics, this might be a boon. For the ylang enthusiasts, this will feel like bait-and-switch of the worst kind.
However, Ilang Ilan is worth at least a sample, especially if you’re into the excitement of an action-packed opening. The leather, the rubber, the fuel, the licorice…whoever said that tropical florals are not for men just haven’t tried the right ones. This one is almost butch in presentation. There is no creamy, trembling banana custard here, and certainly no tropical leis draped on Gaugin-esque island beauties.
Indian Rose (Yam International)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Indian Rose is a pleasant, full-bodied (and probably completely synthetic) rose oil that mimics the shape of a fat Turkish rose very deftly, with a dab of vanilla or faux sandalwood for that creamy mouthfeel. Projection and longevity are immense, with a lusty sillage that seems to grow louder with each passing minute. Perfumey and rich, I can think of far worse rose options for the money, and as long as you don’t expect authenticity, you will not be disappointed.
Iris 39 (Le Labo)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
The genius of Iris 39 lies in matching the signature Le Labo overlay of ‘fresh chemicals’ (printer ink and photo drying solvents) with a very natural, rugged-smelling mixture of iris and patchouli that smells like roots freshly-ripped from soil, thus giving you the simultaneous experience of the ‘good, clean dirt’ mentioned by Luca Turin in relation to Givenchy III and the quasi-industrial strangeness of something made in a lab. Review of the original eau de parfum here.
It is an odd but brilliant fragrance, the cold, doughy iris giving way in time to a dry, warm patchouli and soft Egyptian musk. Though Iris 39 starts out smelling like roots, solvent, and green leaves, it finishes comfortably in the skin-musk territory of Lovely (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Narciso Rodriguez for Her eau de parfum.
The oil carrier used in the perfume oil version of Iris 39 exerts something of its own character. Whereas the eau de parfum opens with a pungent volley of drying chemicals and iris rhizome, the oil smells immediately waxier, flatter, and with a much toned down presence of green notes. While it does not smell as arousing as the eau de parfum, the perfume oil might please those who prefer a milkier, quieter expression of the same aroma.
Personally, I prefer the more chemically-harsh excitement of the eau de parfum. But I will not deny that the oil version has a useful role to play. It works particularly well as a hair oil, for example, the scent swishing around one’s head all day long in a particularly attractive ‘my skin but better’ kind of way. The perfume oil is also slightly sweeter than the eau de parfum, but lacks have its density, projection, or sillage. For some, this will be an advantage.
Irisoir (Sultan Pasha Attars)
Irisoir is Sultan Pasha’s tribute to his favorite period on history for art and culture – the Belle Époque. This is an interesting take on iris. It is extremely difficult to find iris showcased well in attar form, because the oil format tends to compress the delicate nuances of orris butter, a material so ethereal it requires oxygen to reveal its true magic. But not only does Irisoir succeed in displaying all the cold, silvery aspects of orris butter, it manages to keep it up front and center thanks to a thoughtful arrangement of supporting cast members.
In the opening, there is the spine-tingling aroma of iris rhizome – rooty, ice-picky, and almost poisonously pure, like the iris note in Iris Silver Mist honed to a shiv. Interestingly, although there is no oud in the composition, I smell a funky note of fermented pear or peach juice, a note I often pick up in Cambodi oud. This provides interest to the iris, its fruit rot smearing the purity of the root.
Soon, a doughy floral mélange swells up to support the iris note, dominated by the lush almondy nuances of heliotrope. This thick, almost marzipan-like heart is spiced generously with carnation, whose spicy clove character brings the central accord into the orbit of Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue.
The iris note still reigns supreme, but naturally, some of its more ethereal facets are swallowed by the doughy heart that now holds it aloft. This cherry-pit note laces the florals with a poisonous bitterness, melding perfectly with the chilly death glare of that iris. Tonka bean in the base throws its own creamy almond-like nuances into the ring, mixed with bitter hay and grasses.
Iris Regale (Sultan Pasha Attars)
Orris root has such an ethereal smell that I wondered if it was possible to capture its angelic aroma in a medium as heavy as a concentrated perfume oil. I need not have worried, as Sultan Pasha is not only very talented in allowing his showcase materials to shine in a composition but is also a keen and respectful student of the older Guerlain compositions. Thus, his way of working with iris is confident and well-informed.
Iris Regale smells first and foremost of luxury. The orris root comes across as silvery and buttery, backlit by a soft, pale glow. There is a facet of green freshness at the beginning, but overall, this leans more on the buttery side of orris than its metallic one. In purity, it parallels that of Chanel’s 28 La Pausa but not its translucence. The gorgeous iris note is held aloft for quite a while, seemingly on its own, before disappearing to reveal a smoky, resinous amber base that goes on for days. Verdict: great while the orris butter lasts and still pretty good when it leaves the scene.
Istanbuli Rose in White Musk (Agarscents Bazaar)
Istanbuli Rose in White Musk is pretty much what it says on the tin – rosa damascena oil mixed into a synthetic white musk base. When I say, ‘synthetic white musk’, by the way, it is not a moral judgment but simply an observation that all white musks are, by their very nature, synthetic. The musk element here smells pure and clean.
Unfortunately, the rose oil used in this blend displays all the characteristics that many people find difficult in pure rose oils, namely the piercing sharpness of linalool and geraniol that aligns the smell rather unfortunately with the scent of floor cleaning agents. Depending on your upbringing, this aroma might strike you as luscious and wet in a garden-fresh kind of way, or as an icepick to the brain that reminds you of old-fashioned rose soaps used by elderly relatives to scent their underwear drawer. Guess which category I fall into.
Although I am not a fan of white musk, its presence here is welcome because it gradually tamps down the screechiness of the rose, making it softer and rounder. The rose is never less than sharp, but at least the fat cushion of white musk does its job as a pillow silencer.
‘Itr Al Ward (Al Shareef Oudh)
Type: traditional distilled attar
‘Itr Al Ward (rose attar) is a rare example of an attar distilled in the traditional Indian manner by an artisan brand not based in India. The basis for this attar is of course the rose, and specifically, the Damask rose (rosa damascena). The roses for this attar were sourced in the rose-growing regions of both Kazanlak in Bulgaria and Ta’if in Saudi Arabia, the two foremost rose-producing regions of the world. Naturally, both regions have imprinted their terroir on the scent of the roses, with Bulgaria contributing a geranium-like freshness and Ta’if the tough, peppery spice of roses grown at high altitude. The mixed rose petals were co-distilled with Kashmiri saffron and the finest of Somalian frankincense tears, producing a pure essential oil that was then blended with vintage Mysore sandalwood oil, oud, and musk.
Any modern artisan effort to produce an attar in the traditional manner should be met with applause, praise, and acknowledgement that a great feat has been pulled off. The process is difficult, time-consuming, and above all, ruinously expensive. But in the end, all that should really matter is that the result smells good.
And ‘Itr Al Ward does smell good. It combines the geraniol-rich greenness of pure rose with the lime peel astringency of frankincense for a result that is so bright you might need to put your shades on. The saffron polishes the tannic dryness of the other accords to a high pitch, the overall effect akin to stepping onto the glare of a floodlight. This is a fresh and spicy rose, not the lush, honeyed one of ‘Eastern’ yore.
For about six hours, the attar continues in this unremittingly bright manner. Had it stopped there, I might have bemoaned the lack of a tenor voice with which to offset the soprano pitch. But by hour seven, there is a noticeable softening into a creamy, resinous-sweet sandalwood, given a subtle under-growl by way of a furry and quite obviously real musk. Softly incensey and ambery, this musky sandalwood is the happy ending worth waiting for.
‘Itr Al Ward has wide appeal, therefore. Its fresh, green rose will speak to those who like their florals clean and uplifting, while its deep, velvety base of sandalwood, musk, and resin will satisfy the human urge for something dark and sweet to round things off.
Iwan features a tart, antiseptic Taifi rose laid over frankincense, a light musk, and what feels like a salty, skin-like ambergris. It smells solid, quite traditional, and not terribly distinctive. Iwan is one of those Amouage attars that were extremely difficult to track down even when the attar line was still in production. However, while thoroughly pleasant to wear, it is not the most exciting perfume in the world. I would not, for example, go out of my way to find it when more characterful attars like Majan, Molook, or Al Shomukh are still around.
About Me: A two-time Jasmine Award winner for excellence in perfume journalism, I write a blog (this one!) and have authored many guides, articles, and interviews for Basenotes. (My day-to-day work is in the scientific research for development world). Thanks to the generosity of friends and acquaintances in the perfume business, I have been privileged enough to smell the raw materials that go into perfumes and learn about the role they play in both Western and Eastern perfumery. Artisans have sent vials of the most precious materials on earth such as ambergris, deer musk, and oud. But I have also spent thousands of my own money, buying oud oils directly from artisans and tons of dodgy (and possibly illegal) stuff on eBay. In the reviews sections, I will always tell you where my sample came from and whether I paid for it or not.
Source of samples: I purchased samples from Al Haramain, Olivine Atelier, Sixteen92, Amouage, Maison Anthony Marmin, Agarscents Bazaar, Le Labo, Yam International, Aroma M, Arabian Oud, Al Rehab, BPAL, and Mellifluence. The samples from Sultan Pasha, Al Shareef Oudh, and Rising Phoenix Perfumery were sent to me free of charge by the brand.
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Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.