Reviews about attars and mukhallats for my Attar Guide aren’t conjured out of thin air. When I write about a Sultan Pasha or an Abdul Samad Al Qurashi oil, I come armed with years of experience with their individual stylistic patterns and ‘tropes’ (and often also their raw materials). This familiarity allows me to assess the attar in the context of the brand’s other output or against the backdrop of similarly-themed attars by other brands.
So, when Oudologie, a brand out of Dubai with which I am completely unfamiliar, offered to send me some samples of their mukhallats, I was a bit hesitant. Not only because the crowded ‘oil perfume’ market makes it tricky to sort the wheat from the chaff (and here was yet another entrant), but because, without the comfort of knowing pretty much everything about the brand and its approach in advance, I would be judging these fragrances entirely out of context.
On the other hand, who says that the deep dive on background is always necessary to tell people what a perfume smells like? Not everyone wants to read a 5,000-word essay, Janet.
In general, I give Oudologie an enthusiastic thumbs up. Unlike many mukhallats boasting high loads of naturals, these are all immediately pleasurable to smell, with nothing spiky or difficult for someone unused to the pungency of absolutes. They are all quite soft, rounded, and easy-on-the-nose. Good starter mukhallats, in other words. Though there was one mukhallat with a clearly synthetic woody-amber in the base, the others all smelled very natural to my nose – without necessarily making the natural the sole point of the exercise.
And that last bit is important. I love smelling high quality naturals as much as the next person. But if I wanted just that, I could slather myself in absolutes and be done with it. What I really want is a fully-worked-out perfume that allows me to bury myself in an abstraction of ideas and aromas that are harder to pin down than one absolute alone. And the oils from Oudologie had a good hit rate in that respect. None of them are aromatherapy sludge. If you are interested in sampling any of the oils I am about to review, you can buy directly from their retail site here.
Photo by Alexandre Trouvé on Unsplash
Jamal Al Attar
Jamal Al Attar calls upon a cast of rich ‘brown’ notes – oud, tobacco, leather, resins – to produce an aroma close to those treacly but herbaceous liquors they sell at Italian bars for digestion. A brief but memorable Coca Cola brightness sparks against the boozy darkness, an effect found wherever cinnamon or clove rubs up against tobacco, rose, and something creamy like santal, kulfi or vanilla (think Enigma by Roja Dove, Egoïste by Chanel, and Noir Extreme by Tom Ford). Interestingly, the opulence is cut somewhat with a mean streak of galbanum, an Iranian resin that smells partially like freshly-cut green peppers and partially like chalk.
In some respects, even though they are quite different scents, Jamal Al Attar has some building blocks in common with Aquilaria Blossom by Areej Le Doré. Most notably, an extenuated heart of oud that smells like soft, well-worn leather, and later (much later), a rich ambery finish that is quite Amber Absolute (ambrein-rich) in character, with a very similar dusty-rubbery myrrh leading the charge.
In the spaces between these two points, however, there is a very different message being broadcast. The leather accord in Jamal At Attar, for example, tips its hat at the rich, brandy-and-cigars-saturated ambience of a private study in a men’s club rather than at the leather saddles grimy with horse sweat. Whereas Aquilaria Blossom’s more feral oud has been dressed in the airiest of linens – citrus, foamy florals, and so on – Jamal Al Attar starts with a finer-boned oud and takes it in a far more traditionally Eastern direction, i.e., enriching the leather-oud core with a boozy, dried fruit tobacco, caramelized resins, anisic myrrh, and, past the Amber Absolute stage, what smells to me like sandalwood, serving up a tiny bowl of its famous aromatic peanut cream.
I enjoy Jamal Al Attar from beginning to end. In fact, in the space of a few short weeks, it has jumped into my top 15 mukhallats of all time, a list that I can assure you is tightly edited. There is nothing to grit my teeth against and I don’t find myself ‘waiting for the good bits’. It is a rich, handsome leather-oud-tobacco scent all the way through. And though it is ostensibly more masculine in theme, it doesn’t feel particularly gendered in one direction or another. It would be an ideal scent for winter, with all those rich ‘brown’ notes like oud, leather, resins, and woods gathered up into one smooth, liquorous whole.
I was expecting a tiger; I got a pussycat. I have smelled this sort of combination before, and it has more often than not been a disaster – the pungent, medicinal tones of both materials duking it out until one roars in defeat and bends the knee. However, here, a touch of amber or vanilla softens the impact of the patchouli and oud, ensuring that they billow gently, like liquid silk, into your olfactory space.
The minty-soil nuances of the patchouli are well matched to the Listerine wood notes of the oud, but just when you think things are headed in a predictably grungy direction, the whole affair is lifted by a dab of sunny peach. What starts out as earthy and medicinal, therefore, soon becomes bright, tangy, and certainly far more perfumey than the name would suggest for a marriage between two such potent raw materials.
The fruit note dovetails neatly with the herbal cherry-almond heft of tonka bean, which thickens and swells to hoist the more delicate notes up onto its shoulder. Later – much later, when almost all the other party guests have gone home – the shy voice of genuine sandalwood provides an elegantly pale, peanutty finale.
It is only later that I realize that Patchioud is actually a soft, custardy fruitchouli that, despite its fierce name, is both female- and office-friendly. It reminds me slightly of Ajmal’s wonderful Royal Patchouli, which also belies its name by being more of a gentle floral-woody vanilla than a patchouli scent. But Patchioud has the advantage of that generous dollop of real sandalwood bringing up the rear. Out of the samples I received, this is the most complex and traditionally perfumey.
Photo: Provided most kindly by Pranjal Kapoor. The photo depicts his company’s mitti distillation process in Kannuaj, India.
Read about the miracle of mitti here. For those of you who don’t feel like clicking through, mitti is a traditionally Indian distillation of clay bowls made from Indian soil into pure sandalwood oil. Deeply evocative of the scent of the first rains of the season hitting the parched red soil, mitti is one of those scents that hardwire into your soul.
This version of mitti beats to the sound of its own drum, though. Santal Mitti immerses you into the slightly violent atmosphere of the distillation process itself, rather than into the gentle rain-on-earth aroma that a finished mitti usually entails. You smell everything all at once – the earthy red dust, hints of rubber tubing, and the slightly smoky or fuel-like notes from the fire licking at the bottom of the still itself.
The potently industrial vibe is exciting rather than off-putting. Close to being a hallucinatory experience, in fact. It smells completely ripped from nature – if nature was a workshop full of tools, machines, raw wood, paint, and in the corner, piles of red, earthen bowls made from soil. Again, a gloriously real sandalwood appears in the base, miraculously summoned just as all the activity from the hot stills calms. I am in heaven. Smoke, earth and santal, fused into one.
Amiri is a take-no-prisoners assault on the rose-oud theme, with a goth fruit twist that is borderline erotic. The oud upfront is not for the uninitiated. It reeks of the urinous hay and leather notes of Hindi oud, but also is oddly fruity and syrupy, like ebony smeared in strawberry jam (Trat oud, perhaps?).
The dissonance between the high-fructose brightness of the fruit and the feral darkness of the oud sets the stage for the late emergence of a radioactively hot pink rose that blooms against her dark materials. Unsettlingly, this gives the scent a sulky, misanthropic character that is both regal and kinky. It reminds me in parts of the haughty-but-sexy rose oud of the Elite Blend Al Noukhba by Abdul Samad Al Qurashi, reviewed here.
However, this sexy goth effect is almost entirely spoiled by a loud woody-ambery drydown with a brash woody synth that unhappily swells with every minute. For many, this will not be a deal breaker, but for me, this is what puts Amiri firmly in the no column. What a shame.
Photo by Lawrence Chismorie on Unsplash
As the name suggests, this is Dubai by way of Southern Italy. What this entails is the bright sourness of bergamot set against an initially smoky pleather (oud). The light and the dark – a simple but striking effect. But is it ever truly possible to make oud bright and refreshing? In my experience, something always jars. Citrus and oud are uneasy bed partners.
I have to give credit where credit is due, however. Calabria pulls off the no small feat of being fresh, sour, delicate, and yes, uplifting, while also being recognizably oudy. I think that the composition’s success is due to the addition of an earthy note like a dusty mitti or a ruh khus (vetiver distillation) that helps bridge the lime-peel sunniness of the citrus and the medicinal twang of the oud. This bridge both sustains the volatile citrus and tames the oud, turning it into a gentile, polished leather accent.
The latexy, sooty-mushroomy myrrh in the drydown is ballast where, honestly, little was needed. This would have succeeded on its own steam as a handsome hybrid between an Italian citrus cologne and a refined Middle Eastern leather oud.
Jannah (Arabic for ‘garden of paradise’) is a musky kaleidoscope of all the buttery yellow and white flowers under the sun. First to bloom is a minty, camphoraceous ylang, whose initial freshly-cut-grass topnotes soon give way to a gasoline undertone. Then a musky, heady champaca note joins the fray, with its green apple notes jostling around with the sultry banana-ish tone. Some jasmine and frangipani join the conversation, but sotto voce. The overall effect is of a stunning tropical floral bouquet, with all its full-figured floral accords melting down into a gently-spiced crème anglaise.
Two things elevate this beyond the norm for a nip at the white and yellow tropicalia cup. First, a spicy nag champa accord lends an attractively mealy or musty incense texture to the scent’s underwiring. This adds grit to the creamy floral custard upfront, stopping it from flowing formlessly out of its own seams.
Second, the most divine gardenia note pulls away from the floral porridge and announces its presence. For gardenia lovers, the price of Jannah is worth it for this note alone. The savory, butter-like nuances of the gardenia give the floral bouquet a softly soapy dimension, like florals melting down into beeswax or a really expensive botanical musk. I don’t want to oversell this, but Jannah strikes me as a reasonable substitute for, or ‘lite’ version of something like Ottoman Empire (Areej Le Dore) or lostinflowers (Strangelove NYC).
Photo by Alexandre Jaquetoni on Unsplash
I don’t for a minute dispute that the sandalwood in Santal Royale is real. But for a brand whose sandalwood-rich drydowns are pretty close to pure santalum album as you’re going to get in mukhallat perfumery these days (it rivals that of Rising Phoenix Perfumery, for instance), I am disappointed by Santal Royale. With its opening of camphor, Vicks Vapo Rub, pine, terpenes, and mint, it has all of the sour, metallic nuances I associate with Australian sandalwood, and none of the hallmarks of a good Indian santal. And yet, according to the website, this is Mysore sandalwood distilled from 75 year-old heartwood!
Some minor notes that appear later in the scent profile – wildflowers, smoky woods fresh off a metal saw, clove – hint at a more interesting direction. It is certainly not a simplistic aroma or one without interest. And much later on, the oil does settle into that sweet, creamy ‘blond wood’ aroma I think of when I think of Indian santal. It is just that when you are expecting santalum album or a good Indian santal reconstruction straight out of the bottle, and you get piney, yoghurt tannins instead, you begrudge having to delay your gratification. It is like frittering your stomach space away on small teaser bites at a twenty-course meal and then seeing the roast suckling pig being brought in on gold trays just as you’ve pulled on your coat to go.
On the flipside, the same sandalwood is used in Mitti Santal, and I loved that one. Therefore, it is possible that I am just unfamiliar with this type of Indian santal and how it behaves on its own versus in a composition with other materials. Bottom line, don’t let me experience put you off if you are a santal freak like me and won’t stop until you taste every single last one of them.
Source of samples: Samples were sent to me free of charge by Oudologie for review purposes. Thank you, Abdul!
Cover Image: Photo by William Bout on Unsplash