Magnus Fiore (Mellifluence)
Magnus Fiore, which means Great Flower in mangled Latin-cum-Italian, does indeed smell big and flowery. Specifically, it smells like a bunch of sugary rose petals, white florals, osmanthus, incense, and amber all thrown into a pot, shaken up, and tossed out onto a plate of greenish, musky woods. It is incredibly pretty, if a little gormless.
Makkah Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)
Makkah Blend is a tired floral bouquet sitting atop a fat cushion of musk. It leans slightly feminine, because of the floral aspects, but its expanse of brisk, clean musk means that there is no reason why a man couldn’t also pull it off.
The opening is probably the best bit. The lime-green bergamot used here has not been pushed over the edge into extreme bitterness, as in the case of Amouage Salamah, or too close to the scent of household cleaners, as is the case in Majid Iterij’s otherwise lovely and haunting Al Safa. Rather, the citrus note here is bright but smooth, its sharpness tempered by the soapy musk that lies beneath.
The famous ASAQ wildflower essence – a fantasy accord that sweeps an entire shelf’s worth of peony, lilac, and poppy synths off the perfumer’s organ and into a bucket of white musk – is what dominates past the citrusy opening. The blurred-floral effect is pleasant but also a bit like chomping down on a chintzy duvet. It might suit people who prefer floral perfumes to smell only vaguely, abstractly floral rather than like actual flowers.
Though I have seen notes indicating that there is deer musk in this, the musk element is so inoffensive that one can only assume that the deer was neutered, shaved, and laundered on the hot cycle before having his sac scraped. All in all, Makkah Blend is a pleasant but rather dull option for those who wear quiet, floral-musky fragrances.
Since this kind of generic, flowery nonsense is already spamming shelves from the big city Sephora to the small town department stores, I cannot say that Makkah Blend’s oil format is innovation enough to merit the extra outlay. A surprisingly big portion of the catalogs of these big Emirati and Indian oil companies are taken up with this type of dross, so there is obviously a market for it. But for those interested in authentically exotic mukhallat or attar perfumery, save your money for something better.
Maleficent Rose (Sultan Pasha Attars)
Maleficent Rose is a riff on the classic ‘rose with thorns’ theme in perfumery (see also: Eau de Protection by État Libre d’Orange and Fille de Berlin by Serge Lutens). Its high-stepping, varnishy pitch and wet green leaf nuances evoke the naturalistic aroma of a rose picked from an English garden after a downpour. It is pleasingly bitter and stemmy, the verdant smell of tomato stem hissing like a balloon.
Despite the traditional English feel to the scent, however, this is more likely to be a Taifi rose than an old-fashioned cabbage rose, due to those shiny lemon polish notes. The skill here lies in subverting the exoticism we expect from a Taif rose, taming it into the sort of domesticity that even our mothers would recognize.
The maleficent part of the title is therefore a bit misleading. The only evil aspect of this mukhallat is the thorniness of the rose, which threatens to cut you if you get too close – but even this is due to the plain, kitchen garden goodness of either geranium or tomato leaf rather than, say, something like belladonna. Maleficent Rose is a simple but beautiful Taifi soliflore with the citrus notes turned down and the green, wet leaf nuances turned up. More an English garden after a summer rainfall than the dusty plains of Saudi Arabia, but none the worse for that.
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Company description: A profound, complex scent that encapsulates the joy one finds in another’s pain. Ylang ylang, clove, Indonesian red patchouli, and dark myrrh.
In its drydown, Malice smells very much like a cousin of Bloodlust, a similarly earthy blend also focused on patchouli. But where Bloodlust hones the metallic sharpness of the clay and earth accords with vetiver, further underscoring its silty darkness, Malice moves in a more spicy-floral direction. With a rubbery ylang ylang and red hot clove, Malice is unashamedly headshoppy (encapsulating everything BPAL is suspected of). If you prefer something more grassy-earthy, lean towards Bloodlust. But if you happen to like the combined smells of a New Age stall at a HexFest, then Malice may be your happy place.
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Company description: Wildflower honey accord (not vegan), violet, sambac jasmine, vanilla infused sugar, sandalwood
Mellifera is the polar opposite of Tituba, the other popular honey scent in the Sixteen92 line-up. Whereas Tituba is a waxy, thick honey-amber, Mellifera is a light floral honey as clear as spring water. Mellifera is for fans of a true, linear honey note – simple, uncluttered, and admirably direct. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than pretty.
The scent’s floral touches are abstract watercolor versions of flowers rather than thick, oily explosions of color and density – they lend a faintly green, powdery texture, ensuring that it remains sparkling and buoyant. For something this delicate, however, Mellifera is remarkably durable, outlasting even a shower. I would recommend Mellifera to someone looking for a lightly floral honey note that is not weighed down by the usual accoutrements of beeswax, tobacco, spice, or amber.
Memoir Woman (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)
Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil
Amouage’s Memoir Woman is a complex, stuffed-to-the-gills fragrance staggering under the weight of incense, leather, bitter wormwood, woods, white flowers, and purple stewed fruit, like Poison with even more attitude. It smells messy to me, like drunken encounters and bad behavior. But it is distinctive – a scent with tons of character and a flair for drama.
It is a difficult scent to dupe due to the crazy number of materials and notes that have been shoehorned into it. Right out of the gate, the dupe shoots for the bitter wormwood effect that makes Memoir so witchy, but misses entirely, belly-flopping into a screechy Windex accord. It smells cheap and tatty, an effect not improved by its sordid miasma of bubblegum and cigarette ash. (Well, ok, that last bit is similar to the original).
Once both the original and the dupe have hit the leathery incense phase of their development, we are in safer waters, and the two scents begin to converge. Resinous, woody basenotes are easier, generally speaking, to dupe than complex white florals or distinctive (non-replaceable) green herbal notes. Side by side, the original still displays far more complexity than the dupe, with the tricky balance between plums, jasmine, tuberose, and dark leather still being worked out in the ashes long after the dupe has breathed its last breath.
Still, if you don’t mind having a cheaper, dumbed-down version of Memoir Woman or don’t feel that the original is worth the splurge, then this dupe might do the trick. Especially if your need to smell like a drunken, fag-ash-stained harlot is as strictly occasional as mine.
Mercy Lewis (Sixteen92)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Company description: Heliotrope, honeyed tea, rosehips, sugared almond, creamy sandalwood, milky vanilla
Mercy Lewis is a wodge of the softest almond sponge cake you can imagine – the kind that is six layers deep and sandwiched with vanilla buttercream so sugary it makes your teeth hurt just to look at it. But for something this foodie, it is also remarkably light and gauzy in feel, as if it has been double-sifted to introduce air into the composition. Heliotrope, which has a naturally fresh fluffiness that aerates its doughier, marzipan-like core, has clearly been roped in here to do its thang. The scent does eventually develop a salty cherry playdough facet, but for the most part, any potentially leaden bits are whisked into the ether by a flurry of powdered white tea.
Mercy Lewis makes me wonder about its namesake inspiration. Was the real Mercy Lewis innocent and sweet in an unworldly way? Because this scent is a childish pleasure writ large – a nursery pudding rendered in scent form.
The Internet tells me that the real Mercy Lewis was one of the girls who accused women of being witches during the Salem trials, possibly in revenge for her husband having allegedly sold goods to the Native American tribes who had slaughtered her parents. Interesting backstory, although it doesn’t explain why a scent named for her would smell like almond cake. Perhaps the scent represents a desire to return to a simpler, more innocent time, before her accusations shot out of her mouth, as impossible to take back as bullets from a gun.
Merveilleuse (Henry Jacques)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Merveilleuse reminds me of the depraved thrill of walking in a sunny garden and suddenly catching a whiff of dead animal in the undergrowth. At its heart lies the bloated, fly-ridden corpse of a Turkish rose, obscured by a retro house coat of coriander. Merveilleuse possess the same animal snarl of the mossy honey-and-civet-laden rose chypres of the disco era – Montana, L’Arte di Gucci (Gucci), Diva (Ungaro), and Knowing (Estée Lauder). The animal taint is filthy in parts, occupying as it does the same beeswax-adiposal fat register as Rose de Nuit (Serge Lutens). However, the lush floral velvet saves it from staleness. Merveilleuse was my introduction to Henry Jacques, and one I am unlikely to forget. Most aptly named!
Misia (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)
Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil
A luscious violet and iris fragrance, Chanel Misia tips its hat at the nostalgic lipstick accords popular in contemporary perfumery but does so with a gravitas that elevates it above its peers. The secret lies in the use of the Chanel iris, a material whose steely grandeur is evident even in a composition as ostensibly playful as this.
The dupe does not have the advantage of the Chanel iris, so packs the scent with sweet, gummy violets and an iris material that is more candied citrus than orris butter. It smells very pleasant – creamy, floral, and pastel sweet.
However, the violet note, being candied and powdery, gives the dupe oil an overtly girlish air entirely absent in the original. The overall impression one gets from the dupe is of a small girl eating candied violets in a room full of icing sugar and French fancies. Very nice, if that is your thing, but it lacks entirely the rooty iris dimension that gives the OG Misia its class. On the other hand, the more youthful air of the dupe might suit those who are under thirty.
More Than the Stars (Olivine Atelier)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
More Than the Stars opens with an almost pungent topnote that runs perilously close to the slap in the face that is almond extract or nail polish remover. Thankfully, this topnote immediately softens, creaming up with the heliotropic waft of almond cookies pulled fresh from the oven, their centers molten and fudgily bitter.
An undercurrent of powdery white flowers mitigates all the potential damage of the almond topnotes, an indolic lily edging out gardenia for prominence. The lily also adds an element of beachy saltiness that is very welcome against the tide of intense, sticky almond. Think heated female skin kissed by the sun and the sea, and aromatized by an egg-rich, artisanal tonka bean gelato.
The perfume moves from edible to floral, from sweet to salty-meaty, and from dense to airy, in a series of minute movements that shows real thought. The closest equivalents in niche perfumery are probably Heliotrope (Etro) and Kiss Me Intense (Parfums de Nicolai). But More Than Stars pulls slightly ahead of the pack by nudging its almond gourmandise in a salty-floral direction for a result that is elegantly abstract rather than literally foody.
Mughal Gardens (Agarscents Bazaar)
Mughal Gardens is essentially a heavy deer musk attar trying hard to be an ambery-balsamic-spicy floral. It has slight floral flourishes up top – most noticeably orange blossom and rose – but the addition of some cheerfully filthy hay-like narcissus doesn’t really help with the gentrification effort.
The musk is at first greenish and almost antiseptically clean, with a harsh edge that reminds me of cleaning solvents. But as time goes on, it becomes softer, drier, and almost powdery. When joined by the agarwood note in the base, the musk evolves into a sooty woodsmoke note that adds a pleasing toughness to the body of the scent. It doesn’t smell like real oud but rather a smoky stand-in, like cypriol oil. The honk of the musk is quite shouty, which makes me suspect that a synthetic helper has been blended in to lift the volume of whatever, if any, natural musk has been used.
Mughal Gardens is complex and rich, but most emphatically not sweet, thus making it an excellent candidate for men who want to branch out into florals but, like, in a totally masculine way, dude. In other words, it is not too flowery and there is zero vanilla in the base. The glancing touch of amber that does appear in the drydown is dry and spicy in the austere Indian style, an impression helped along by a generous dollop of mean-ass saffron. The overall tone here is tough, unsentimental, and straight forward. A cowboy’s idea of a musky, manly floral, Mughal Gardens is quite likeable, and not badly priced either.
Mukhallat (Gulab Singh Johrimal)
Ironically, although plainly advertizing itself as a mukhallat, Mukhallat actually smells quite strongly of a traditional Indian attar. This makes perfect sense to me, since Gulab Singh Johrimal is an Indian attar house. At first, Mukhallat smells rather sharp and gassy, like the hiss of a newly-opened can of furniture polish varnish. But once the alarming miasma of cleaning solvents dissipates, there appears a classically Indian attar bone structure of rose, saffron, and jasmine over amorphously creamy woods.
Because it is an Indian take on an Arabian style of perfumery, there are a few interesting things going here that make sampling Mukhallat worthwhile. For example, while Mukhallat inevitably smells a little cheap and loud, like those blocky barkhour oils and syrupy rose mukhallats that plague the lower echelons of most big attar houses, its Indian heritage means that the blend emphasizes the sour, herbal tones of the florals rather than the heavier, sweeter, more resinous ones of the Arabian style.
In the base, a big-breasted amber takes over, meshing awkwardly with the strong florals to produce a soapy floriental that is pleasant but not at all subtle. If you are in the market for an ambery rosy mukhallat whose only requirement is to smell exotic at twenty paces, then Mukhallat is not a bad option. But there is no escaping the fact that it smells a little rough around the edges.
Mukhallat Maliki (Ajmal)
Discontinued and now very hard to find, Mukhallat Maliki is still worth buying if you find it because it is a good example of those ‘everything-but-the-kitchen-sink’ rose-oud mukhallats that are great fun to wear. While there is nothing particularly distinguished about the materials in and of themselves, they come together as a rich, brilliant whole that transcends the individual.
A syrupy pink rose, layers of smoky woods, a touch of spicy saffron, labdanum, something vaguely oud-ish – nothing very much out of the ordinary, and yet the result is gorgeous. If most mukhallats are costume jewelry masquerading as fine jewelry, then Mukhallat Maliki is the Bvlgari showstopper you would gladly take over a subtle but tiny diamond.
Mukhallat Seufi (Al Haramain)
Mukhallat Seufi is a distinctly middle-of-the-road mukhallat with a top-of-the-line price tag. There is a fantastic rose for the first hour, tinged somewhat with that lemony floor cleaner note that all good rose oils seem to possess. During that first hour, it smells beautiful, if a little traditional, with that tried and tested rose-and-saffron pairing that features so heavily in Middle-Eastern perfumery.
But quickly, the attar deflates like a popped balloon at a kid’s party, whittling down to a sad little base of fruity amber familiar to me from other Al Haramain attars such as Attar al Kaaba. But what is acceptable in an inexpensive mukhallat like Attar al Kaaba is plain annoying in something for which you’re paying over $200. I know this base, I like it reasonably well. I am just not ok with paying Gucci prices for Zara quality.
As per usual, the astringency of saffron is there to misdirect your nose to oud, but it is not all that convincing. Mukhallat Seufi has neither the interesting, sour-rotting smell of real oud, nor the high-strung, band-aid slap of the Firmenich stuff.
The base, which also arrives woefully quickly, is a standard laundry musk, meaning that, within a matter of two hours, you are plunged from the heights of that initial rose drama to a screechy, rose-tinted musk. The gorgeous rose is a cruel tease, because underneath its brief cameo, the rest of the perfume is already getting ready to fall apart. Forget the complex notes list – this is a simple affair. It barely raises its head above ‘nice’.
Given that Mukhallat Seufi smells like two-thirds of the Al Haramain bestseller Attar al Kaaba but costs twenty times more, it is a good example of why, in the world of oil-based perfumery, the customer must be careful about where they invest their hard-earned money.
For the price commanded by Mukhallat Seufi, I would be tempted to take Attar al Kaaba, fix the less-than-transcendental rose at the top with an expensive pure rose otto, and still have enough money in my pocket to buy a bottle of Narciso Rodriguez Musc for Her, which features the same sort of rosy, ambery white musk you get here in the end.
Musk Rose Attar (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
Musk Rose Attar, a finalist in the 2016 Art & Olfaction Awards, does not contain any animal musk but instead focuses on recreating the aroma of the musk rose (rosa moschatus), a species of rose that is very rarely distilled. Unusually, the perfumer chose a Russian rose de mai otto to be the main building block to recreate the aroma of the musk rose. The essential oil from this rose varietal possesses a tart, green aroma with a frothy texture that makes one think of lace doilies and Victorian cuffs.
There are three distinct phases to this mukhallat, with the first two playing out over the course of three to four hours, and the last phase lasting for a good three hours past that. The opening is bright, sharp, and tannic. Paired with a touch of oud in the topnotes, the rose rings out in a high-pitched volley of rosy lime peel notes over wood varnish and black tea leaves. The duet is fantastic – fresh but pungent.
The second phase focuses on champaca. After the first half hour, the champaca flower starts to make its presence known. Often, champaca can smell like a muskier, headier version of magnolia, but in Musk Rose Attar, it takes on a boozy, fruity edge reminiscent of fermented apple peel or apricot schnapps.
Slowly, the champaca seems to swell, becoming both sweeter and creamier, filing down the sharp elbows left by the angular rose-oud pairing. There are moments when, true to champaca being the origin of the word ‘shampoo’, the note smells more like a luxurious apple-and-rose scented shampoo than a flower. Still, the boozy, jammy, fermented nuances in the champaca gives the mukhallat an adult edge that stops it from smelling like a cheap drugstore product. The floral element is clean, but also sensual and full-bodied. In fact, this is the best use of champaca I have smelled in mukhallat form.
The third and final phase seems to go on forever, carrying the torch long after the bright rose-lime notes and the creamy-fruity champaca notes have died away. The rump of the scent smells, well, incredibly rump-ish. Like the old school style of neo-retro Italian perfumery espoused by Bogue and O’Driu, it features an authentically musky drydown that seems to reference ambergris, deer musk, civet, and castoreum, a remarkable feat when one considers that none of these materials have actually been used here.
How, then, has this extraordinary muskiness been achieved? In fact, it all comes from plant-based sources, specifically by way of a Hina musk attar, the traditional Indian shamama distilled from hundreds of different aromatic materials, including charila (Indian oakmoss), henna flower, ambrette seed, herbs, vetiver root, saffron, davana, and kewra (screwpine flower). Attar makers rarely have the time or economic motivation to make shamama in the old manner anymore, and they definitely do not have the sandalwood oil. A genuine, traditionally-made hina musk attar costs in the region of several thousand dollars per kilo, even within India itself, where prices for attars tend to be at their least inflated.
The last element – kewra – is otherwise known as pandan, that sweet, green leaf that gives such a sweet, piercing floral flavor to all sorts of South East Asian dishes and syrups. To my nose, apart from the vegetal, musky thickness contributed by the shamama, the most prominent note in the drydown of Musk Rose Attar is the pandan, which, when combined with the rose, gives a very traditional Indian flavor to the finish.
Nargis (Yam International)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
A pure Nargis attar involves the distillation of a specific species of daffodil, namely, poet’s narcissus, directly into sandalwood oil. Given the cost of pure narcissus oil, not to mention the cost of pure sandalwood oil, it is unlikely that any naturals were harmed here. However, Yam International’s Nargis manages a competent impression of the essential character of narcissus, i.e., an uneasy truce between the oily, pollen-dusted greenery of hyacinth and the indolic hay of Sambac jasmine.
But Nargis also exposes a little-known facet of the narcissus, namely, a tendency to smell like horse urine soaking into warm hay. It is this aspect of narcissus that, like jasmine, adds an attractively equine undertone to otherwise pristine floral blends. Nargis effectively allows us to experience this facet in isolation.
This oil would make a good baseline for anyone interested in exploring narcissus as a note. Its aroma is strong, heady, and presents you with a stark choice – to either run with the bulls or wash it off immediately. In Victorian times, narcissus oil was accused of causing sexual hysteria amongst women (though, in all fairness, this says far more about the poor understanding among Victorian men of the female response to physical pain, societal oppression, or other trauma than it does about an oil blamelessly squeezed out of a daffodil).
Nargis could be useful as a sneaky way to dirty up jasmine perfumes that lack bite or have been denuded of civet through reformulation, like Ubar by Amouage. I imagine that a swipe of Nargis layered under a modern jasmine perfume, such as Serge Lutens’ Sarrasins, might also be heaven. (Or hell, of course, depending on your tolerance for the rude, vivid smells of the horse yard).
Naseem al Janoob (Amouage)
Naseem al Janoob is a soapy fruity floral filled out with powdery musks and coated in a bleachy overlay that is vaguely unpleasant, yet still not unpleasant enough to save it from blandness. A bubblegum-like sweetness hints at the presence of some jasmine and orange blossom, but the Toilet Duck muguet note overrides even this. Fans of Byredo’s Blanche might like it.
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Company description: The Beautiful One Is Come? Egyptian iris and olibanum with red and white sandalwood, soft myrrh and a breath of North African herbs
A perfumer friend once explained to me that iris in perfumery can smell like any number of things depending on what iris material was used – violets, lipstick, raw potatoes, silver, and so on. The iris note in Nefertiti is wet, green, and possessed of a luridly sweet ‘purple’ facet that makes me think immediately of violets.
It is quite a beautiful note – simple but emotionally pure. After a few minutes a minty anise shows up to underscore its sweet herbaciousness. There is a rugged hay-like earthiness to the scent that reminds me of the rural landscapes conjured by James Heeley in both Iris de Nuit and Cuir Pleine Fleur, the first of which revolves around a very violety iris, and the second an earthy but refined mixture of hay, tobacco, and violet leaf.
Not one iota of the listed sandalwood or frankincense registers, although perhaps they are there somewhere, shoring up that green, dewy centerpiece. Myrrh is faintly noticeable, but it is the saline ‘stoniness’ of the essential oil rather than the sweet, honeyed guise it can sometimes take. The most important thing the myrrh does is to strengthen the minty-anisic feel of the herbs flanking the iris. Nefertiti is both beautiful and accomplished. Well worth trying if you like iris and want an offbeat take on it.
Noir de Noir (Mr. Perfume)
Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil
Smelled on its own, the dupe is an excellent facsimile of the original Tom Ford Noir de Noir. Worn side by side, the differences emerge quite clearly. However, people who do not own a decant or sample of the original, or those who don’t want to compare too closely, will be more than happy with this, as it does a great job of aping the basic structure of Noir de Noir.
It is interesting to wear the dupe side by side with the original, because they develop at different paces, sometimes hitting the same notes together, other times reaching different stages long after the other. For example, although the dupe and Noir de Noir (original) do not smell at all similar at the start, the dupe settles into a very good impression of the original by the third hour and stays there for the duration.
As stated, the openings are nothing alike. While the original is full of overripe fruit, velvety roses, earthy chocolate, and a rich vein of metallic saffron that sluices everything in a rousing vegetal spice, the dupe is much less rich, charting a relatively simple course through rose and patchouli.
The mouthwatering textures of the original (chocolate, iron, truffles, velvet, blood, lokhoum) are missing from the dupe, and to be honest, this was one of the side-by-side tests where my initial conclusion was that there is nothing in the world that comes close to Noir de Noir in its moody, heartbreaking grandeur.
But let’s not shortchange the dupe. It is only hours later, when Noir de Noir has slumped into a powdery, cocoa-ish vanilla, that the dupe hits its stride. First, a streak of saffron emerges – less golden and vegetal than the original, but authentically rubbery and spicy, nonetheless. Then the entire central accord of Turkish rose, patchouli, truffles, saffron, and earth, coalescing into something that smells very, very similar to the main act of Noir de Noir.
Another difference is that the dupe doesn’t feature any of the vanilla found in the original. Rather, the dupe settles into its earthy saffron track and stays there, never evolving past that point. This may make it more attractive to men who detest vanilla in any form, although I personally never find the original to be too sweet or creamy. (Heavy, yes. But never too sugary sweet).
Overall, how to evaluate this dupe? I was ready to score it harshly due to its sheer inability to come close to the dramatic, pitch perfect opening of the original. However, in the end, since it settles into a very good approximation of Noir de Noir, minus the luxurious vanilla in the tailbone, I have to give credit where credit is due. Longevity and projection are both good, although not on par with the original.
Nymphea is supposedly based on the very rare (and expensive) blue lotus, an essential oil revered in India for its bright, sweet tropical aroma. However, in this mukhallat the delicate nuances of the blue lotus are swamped almost immediately by a woody Thai oud boasting a not insignificant amount of barnyardy funk.
There are stale, dusty nuances to the oud note, a sign of hasty distillation, but oddly this works in the scent’s favor, leavening the unrelenting thickness of that wall of oudy funk. Eventually, small floral touches peek shyly out from behind the oud, with hints of mango and other juicy tropical fruits also making an appearance.
In general, though, this is a mukhallat dominated by that creaking radiator of an oud. In the far drydown, once a few hours have passed, there is a reprise of sorts in the form of a beautifully warm, salty ambergris note that will delight anyone keen on the seashell delicacy of this raw material. The grade of ambergris used here appears to be white ambergris. It smells like fresh air, old paper, and clean animal warmth.
Nobara-Cha (Aroma M)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Nobara-Cha is a twist on the traditional Arabian attar formula of dusty sandalwood + roses + amber + saffron. It starts off woody-dusty in the manner of Swiss Arabian’s Mukhallat Malaki, i.e., redolent of Turkish roses withering and dying in the drawers of old wooden cabinets.
Midway through, however, geranium and carnation pop out from beneath the skirts of the rosy saffron-amber attar structure like clowns tumbling out of a tiny car. The geranium has a minty piquancy that draws saliva to the mouth and expands the airways, a touch of clove threading the cool leafiness with a hot vein of spice. Framed against a backdrop of aromatic sandalwood, the spice-geranium tandem is oily and bitter, rather than metallic as clove is wont to.
What I really like about Nobara-Cha is that this spicy clove-geranium accord flits in and out of view over the course of a wear, in a sort of ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ dance that holds the attention of the wearer. This prismatic sheen is a difficult feat for any oil-based perfume. The perfume introduces itself as a take on the traditional rose-sandalwood attar model and then, once we have all settled in for the ride, it suddenly whips back the curtain to reveal a retro carnation floral heart à la Bellodgia. Quite possibly my favorite from the Aroma M stable.
Ocean of Flowers (Sultan Pasha Attars)
Ocean of Flowers is a light-hearted blend of rose, tuberose, and jasmine, given a Hedione lift in the heart for additional radiance. There is nothing heavy or animalic here, just a sparkling diamond of a scent with all the flowers scrubbed clean and stripped of indole. There is a salty blast of fresh marine air from the ambergris, but the overall effect is not aquatic – just quietly uplifting, slightly green.
Later, the emphasis shifts from sky to earth, with patchouli and a slightly vegetal tuberose coming to the fore. This one is for fans of fresh, salty floral scents such as Amyris Pour Femme (Maison Francis Kurkdijan), Chypre 21 (James Heeley), and Eau de Joy (Patou).
Olivine (Olivine Atelier)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
The namesake fragrance of the Olivine range features the note for which the brand is most famous – gardenia. Let me warn you, however, that Olivine’s opening showcases all the aspects of white florals that the white floral-averse usually find challenging, namely the rubbery, fuel-like twang of tuberose and the decaying tinned-fruit-and-moldy-cheese honk of gardenia.
It is a mark of naturalness that all the confrontational bits of these flowers have been left in their raw state and not ‘prettied up’. For those who love the fertile smell of tropical white florals in bloom, the opening will simply smell authentic. For others, it may be a bit of a trial.
But bear with it and your patience will be rewarded by one of the truest gardenia notes in modern perfumery – milky, slightly nutty, and with the soft bleu cheese notes that distinguish gardenia from other tropical flowers. The drydown is thick with a salted butter note that is also a line on this flower’s calling card. The saline creaminess quickly tamps down the metallic, fruity screech of the topnotes, so that one may proceed now without fear. It is pure comfort from here on out.
Heady and natural, this is a gardenia to gladden the heart of anyone frustrated with the lack of real-smelling gardenia accords in modern perfumery. Wait for the pungency of the tuberose-gardenia tandem at the start to subside before judging. The gardenia in the drydown is so good that it may convert even those who profess to hate gardenia.
Ood Rose (Gulab Singh Johrimal)
If Shabab is a dark rose, then Ood Rose is its inverse – a solar-powered rose as effervescent as Julie Andrews bouncing over that hill in The Sound of Music. There’s the same clean, iodine-like bitterness of saffron as seen in Shabab, creating the same agarwood effect, but in Ood Rose, the spice is softened by a cocktail rim of sugar and brightened by a rose that reads as neon pink rather than winey. A certain furniture polish shininess makes wearing Ood Rose feel like walking into a white room, flood-lit from all sides.
Overall, Ood Rose is well done, and worth pursuing if you like cleaner, brighter treatments of rose. Oud haters need not worry, as there is really no oud here, only a vegetal saffron whose antiseptic woodiness does a semi-decent job of mimicking it.
Orange Blossom & Bois d’Agar (Agarscents Bazaar)
Despite the mention of oud in the name (bois d’Agar translates to agarwood), this mukhallat focuses almost entirely on the orange blossom, with a side serving of woodsy, smoky vanilla. In other words, an orange creamsicle. Not exactly what I signed up for, but you won’t hear me complaining.
The treatment of orange blossom in mukhallat perfumery can go one of several different ways. It can present as syrupy and pungent, its honeyed properties allowed to run rampant, or as soft and sugary, the equivalent of a pastel-colored afternoon fancy. On occasion, it can be fiercely indolic, with an almost fecal facet. For Orange Blossom & Bois d’Agar, the perfumer has decided to take things in the sugared Jordan almond direction.
Orange Blossom & Bois d’Agar opens, therefore, with a surge of candied orange blossom petals, delicately glazed in powdered sugar and enrobed in a thick, fluffy blanket of whipped nougat crème. Picture the purest white marshmallow fluff sprinkled with orange blossom water and whipped to a delightfully foamy texture. The opening is innocent and sweet to the point of being babyish.
This accord dries out somewhat over the course of the wear, evolving into a smoky, woody vanilla with a boozy sparkle. This phase will please fans of By Kilian’s Love (Don’t be Shy) and Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille. It is important to note that, despite the presence of the marshmallowy orange blossom, the vanilla note is quite dry and papery, not drowning in excess sugar.
The drydown contains no oud that I can detect, but rather a woody musk note that adds a gravelly tone to the base. This fails to give the perfume much gravitas, but then again, gravitas in an orange creamsicle scent is entirely beside the point.
Jo Malone Orris & Sandalwood (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)
Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil
Dupes of Jo Malone perfumes are generally successful because they are aping perfume compositions that are themselves quite simplistic and based on the use of (usually) two key materials. If that sounds dismissive of Jo Malone perfumes, then my apologies, that is not my intent – I genuinely enjoy some of these simpler compositions, because they are as clear as a bell, legible even to beginner noses.
Orris & Sandalwood is one of the better Jo Malone releases in recent years. It grafts a rooty, suede-like iris over a sweet synthetic sandalwood base that has a sultry, ambery character. The dupe is almost identical, missing only the cold, vodka-like purity of the orris note up top. This is possibly due to the blurring properties of the oil medium, which become evident only when applied to more ephemeral floral notes such as orris. The oil format emphasizes the sweet breadiness of the iris, whereas the alcohol in the original allows its clear grappa sparkle to shine through. This is splitting hairs, however, because the orris note is carefully and oh so prettily rendered in both.
The drydown of the original Orris & Sandalwood is a syrupy sandalwood accord vibrating with the synthetic boom of modern woody ambers and some sandalwood replacers. Some might even call it a bit, well, scratchy. In comparison, the drydown of the dupe lacks this synthetic wood basenote and heads instead for a vaguely milky, vanillic underpinning. The base of the dupe lacks distinction but represents a clear improvement over the original in terms of naturalness (or lack of brutish synthetics).
Neither the original nor the dupe are terribly strong fragrances. They whisper rather than shout. The original is slightly less ephemeral than the dupe. Based on aroma and price, the dupe is a winner.
Oud Jaune Huile de Parfum (Fragrance du Bois)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
I genuinely do not understand the existence of this perfume. With its combination of tiaré, ylang, and pineapple, it smells so close to Yves Rocher Monoï Oil or, heaven forefend, Amarige, that you begin to wonder if it is just impossible for any perfumer, no matter how skilled, to throw these particular materials together and have them not land in the same place.
If you are into those King Kong-sized fruit punch florals, and have the money to indulge yourself, then Oud Jaune Huile de Parfum might turn out to be your personal idea of heaven. For the rest of us, a similar effect is almost guaranteed via the ten-times-cheaper Yves Rocher, or failing that, any European tanning oil. If you insist on niche, believing it to be intrinsically superior to mainstream stuff, then something like Armani Privée Rouge Malachite or one of the Tom Ford Soleil de something or other should scratch the same itch.
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 Amouage, Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics, Mr. Perfume, Agarscents Bazaar, Olivine Atelier, Aroma M, BPAL, Yam International, Al Haramain, Ajmal, Sixteen92, and Mellifluence. The samples from Sultan Pasha, the Rising Phoenix Perfumery, and Abdul Samad al Qurashi were sent to me free of charge either by the brand or a distributor. My sample of Oud Jaune Intense came from Luckyscent as part of a paid copywriting job. Samples from Henry Jacques and Gulab Singh Johrimal were sent to me by Basenotes friends in sample passes.
Note on monetization: My blog is not monetized. But if you’d like to support my work or show appreciation for any of the content I put out, you can always buy me a coffee using the little buymeacoffee button. Thank you!
Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.