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The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (M-O)

10th December 2021

 

 

Magnus Fiore (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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.   

 

 

 

Malice (BPAL)

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.

 

 

 

Mellifera (Sixteen92)

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)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Nefertiti (BPAL)

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 (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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.

 

 

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Tyger Tyger by Francesca Bianchi

2nd February 2021

There are three types of tuberose fragrance and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Category I is Photorealistic Tuberose, which is where you find the dewy ‘ripped from nature’ takes like Carnal Flower (Malle), Moon Bloom (Hiram Green), and yes, even Tubéreuse Criminelle (Lutens) after it shimmies through that Listerine bead curtain up front.

Category II is Nights in White Satin tuberose, where you find all the aging Baby Janes sweating naked but for a fur coat on a hot Southern veranda, waiting to pounce on the mail boy, her left buttock making a slurping sound as she propels herself off her lounge chair – stuff like Amarige (Givenchy), Giorgio (Giorgio Beverly Hills), and Number One Intense (De Nicolai).

Category III is Tuberose Messed Up Beyond All Recognition, the hangout room for perfumes that drown out the objectionably fruity bubblegum bullshit of tuberose until you’re smelling as much hay, leather, incense, or patchouli as tuberose itself. Tubéreuse III (Histoires de Parfum) and Daphne (Comme des Garcons) are good examples.

I have little use for perfumes from Category I. I wear Carnal Flower about once a year, swooning at its limpid green beauty only to cheerfully bench it again for another twelve months. Category II, in all its “The Eighties Called and Want Their Shoulder Pads Back” glory, is triggering, for me, and therefore a hard no. (Even some really modern perfumes, like Mélodie de l’Amour (Dusita) and L’ Eau Scandaleuse (Anatole LeBreton), released in 2016 and 2014 respectively, accidentally fall into Category II due to the man-eating nature of their tuberose). Category III is really the only space in which I can enjoy tuberose, because, as you might have guessed by now, tuberose needs to be so heavily masked with other notes that I can get it down without gagging.

Because Tyger Tyger by Francesca Bianchi is fruit, tuberose (and ylang, to my nose) over smoky woods and uncured leather, it would seem to fall effortlessly into the third category. Right? And yep, it mostly does. However, the sticky peach jam note coaxes out all of the unfortunate bubblegum tendencies of tuberose, which means that it tips its rather cartoonish Jessica Rabbit sunhat just enough in the direction of the Nights in White Satin category to make me uncomfortable.     

Which is my long-winded (even for me) way of saying that Tyger Tyger is not for me, but that is due entirely to my own personal issues with tuberose rather than the way in which the perfume is constructed or wears. The perfume itself is blameless. Lovers of the spicy 1980s floriental style of Big White Floral will rejoice in this juice. It starts off with a hugely sweet peach bubblegum note that might as well be tuberose candy – and at this point, I’m all #thanksifuckinghateit.

But this is Francesca Bianchi, y’all. She’s not going to leave those great, big honey-dripping white flowers out there on their own for long. Almost immediately, in fact, the familiar Bianchi accord of ‘stony, smoky, slutty iris leather with a side of licked skin’ (that’s how I refer to it anyway) rises up to infuse the floral candy with an attractive smokiness, kind of like hay, leather, and woods being smoked in a far off barn.  

So, yes, by the mid-section, I’m starting to come around. There’s enough going on here to reduce the tuberose to something I can just about glimpse at the corner of my eye. Think Pèche Cardinal (Parfums MDCI) – minus the tropical coconut – sleeping with a stable boy, their sticky sex juices mingling with the grimy but healthy aroma of leather riding tack and hay. It shares something with the utterly mad, bubblegum-on-steroids tuberose incense of Daphne (Comme des Garcons), a bit of that fleshy peach sweetness of Pèche Cardinal, and quite a lot of overlap with the retro butter-caramel-leather-hay-filtered smut of Tubéreuse III.

The drydown smells curiously like the peach-scented floor wax of Chinatown, the tuberose boiled down until its bubblegum and peach juice juiciness evaporates, fading out into a gently smoky Crayola finish. But tuberose wax is still tuberose, and man, even a little bit of it is nigh on too much for this gal. As it flattens out slightly at the end, more of the scent’s candied tuberose-ness – and thus also its essentially 1980s floriental character – is laid bare. Don’t get me wrong – Tyger Tyger is a beautifully made, and surprisingly softly spoken white floral that will please many. It’s really no fault of the scent that it happens to brush up against one of my personal triggers.  

 

Source of Sample: PR sample, provided gratis by the brand. 

 

Cover Image: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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The Ormonde Jayne Core Collection

15th June 2020


Ormonde Jayne set out its mission and values in its original core collection, and to this day, it remains the standard bearer for the brand. I’ve written about some of the perfumes in the Ormonde Jayne core collection before, but since I’ve been reevaluating much of my collection recently, I thought it might be useful to update or expand upon my thoughts.

In general, my unscientific belief that Ormonde Jayne is the English Chanel bears out. This is solidly-built, almost classical perfumery with a modern elegance derived from strong artistic direction and an admirably no-nonsense approach to the valuable role synthetics play in elevating naturals.

One thing I have noticed this time around is that the literal names – Champaca, Ta’if, Frangipani, and so on – are a Le Labo-ish piece of misdirection, suggestive of a soliflore-ism that simply isn’t there. Words have power, so there will always be those disappointed if the titular ingredient isn’t headlining the whole show. But on the flip side, newcomers to the brand who are able to park their expectations at the door may find their minds blown by the beauty arrived at via more circuitous routes.  


Photo by Maurits Bausenhart on Unsplash

Champaca

Champaca is a scent whose appeal eludes many. But you know what? Half the time it eludes me too. On its bad days, many of the slurs thrown its way worm their way into my head and nag persistently at me with the worry that they might be true – that Champaca is nothing special, that it’s too champaca or not champaca enough, that it’s nondescript, that it’s a dowdy green floral that Calvin Klein’s Truth did better and cheaper. Then there’s its musky loudness, which I always forget until I get called out on it by a colleague who is never backward about coming forward on the subject of my perfume.

But on good days, Champaca is the gently starched air from a bowl of Chinese greens and the damp, permeating nuttiness of brown basmati rice. It makes me think of stepping in from a cold, rainy afternoon in Cork or Limerick into the wood-lined hush of a traditional Japanese restaurant, slightly steamy from condensation and humming with low conversations.

I don’t understand the accusations of tropical yellow flowers or heady ambers in relation to Champaca. It is not even a particularly floral experience. To me, Champaca smells more like the fresh green peel of a Granny Smith apple rinsed with rainwater than a flower. Yes, technically, this all might be unexciting. The scent of an upscale Japanese onsen or spa is never really going to raise the barometer on anyone’s passion. But when I am feeling delicate, or in need of a friendly hand at the small of my back, then Champaca, with its gossamer-light bloom of starchy musks, rice steam, apple peel, watery bamboo, maybe mint, and the environmental exhalations of clean, blond wood, is what I find myself reaching for.


Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

Orris Noir

I originally invested in Orris Noir as a poor man’s substitute for the far more expensive Tsarina, having identified a creamy-milky, anisic iris as the underpinning to both. Now, after taking the time to study both at leisure, I can say that while Tsarina is by far the creamiest, more luxurious ‘white’ leather scent I have ever smelled, in retrospect it doesn’t turn me on as much as Orris Noir, which, although less ‘beautiful’ than Tsarina, has more conversation.

Orris Noir has three or four distinct layers. The first is a doughy iris as dense as under-proved bread dough studded with dried fruit. A couple of years on, I now smell this as a rosy iris bread that’s been soaked in sweet milk, like the egg-rich Easter crown baked once a year in the Balkans. The second layer is an anisic myrrh with the same crystallized texture as found in other myrrh scents such as Myrrhe Ardente, albeit more golden and less overtly itchy-scratchy. The third layer is a minimally smoky cloud of wood or incense that lifts the perfume and makes it radiant (probably a combination of the Iso E Super and the Chinese cedar). Last but not least, there’s a bright, fruity jasmine that fizzes as sweetly as a glass of freshly-poured Coca Cola. Somehow, all of these elements hang together as naturally and as lightly as a silk shawl.

Orris Noir is a fantastic advertisement for the Ormonde Jayne style of building a fragrance, in that it is composed of many different layers, all of them as light as air, but which when laid one on top of another become a dense, velvety mass. I love Orris Noir for what it is – a beguilingly soft spice oriental – rather than hate it for what it is not, i.e., noir or even orris.  Indeed, if Ormonde Jayne had named it something else, Orris Noir might have gained the respect granted to other similarly soft, hazy resinous-floral orientals such as Bois d’Argent (Dior) or Jasmin de Nuit (The Different Company). This is one perfume in my collection that has improved greatly upon (re)acquaintance.


Frangipani Absolute

Frangipani Absolute is at least accurately named, given that it smells more like the absolute than the living flower. The absolute smells green and waxy, like a nubbin of beeswax rolled in matcha powder; the living flower, which I had the opportunity of smelling for the first time in Colombia last summer, smells a bit like jasmine but without the indole and grape, and there is a buttery undertone that I associate with gardenia, minus the heavy bleu cheese aspects.

Frangipani Absolute freshens the waxy-green heft of the absolute by filtering it through lime and linden blossom, creating the impression of hothoused tropical flowers drenched in ice water and the glass partitions thrown open to salty sea air. The brightness of this topnote is undercut later on by the lush creaminess of the living flower, embodied by an accord that smells like a dairy-heavy rice and coconut pudding made out of tuberose petals, with pools of yellow Irish butter rising to the surface. A subtly salty musk and clean cedar hum in the far background, mainly there for support in case the almost unrelenting brightness of the lime-drenched white flowers falters.

Cleverly, the perfumer has made the floral component very peachy, to mimic the peachy jasmine-like aura of the living flower. Frangipani is therefore blessed with a suede-skin note that smells charmingly like the back of a rubber watch on a sweaty child. The scent shifts between these three main accords – green-aqueous-fresh, peachy-rubber, and creamy-buttery-tuberose – without ever getting pulled too far down in one single direction. That’s some balancing act.

Frangipani Absolute is an undeniably beautiful scent, and an interesting take on a flower that often plays second fiddle to more powerful headliners such as gardenia or tuberose. My hesitation on whether it stays in my collection or not stems from several different quarters.

First, the salty, quasi-aquatic musk in the drydown reminds me very much of Lys Méditerranée (Malle), already a wardrobe staple for me, which makes me wonder if it’s not duplicative to have two scents that represent largely the same ‘feel’, i.e., heady white flowers drenched in dew and the salty air rolling in off the ocean. The occasions when I feel the need for this precise combination are few and far between, therefore surely it is redundant for me to have two separate fragrances at the ready when this tight little niche corner of my ‘need’ rears its head.

Second, Frangipani is so pretty and well-presented that it makes me feel slightly uncouth in comparison. Worse, the prettiness reminds me of the golden, solar fruity-floral ‘glazed eyes’ affair that is J ’Adore (Dior), which is fine if you’re wearing something you can pick up from any Sephora or Douglas, but not great if you’re special ordering from a classy niche brand like Ormonde Jayne.

Third, the brightness of the lime-and-peach-hued white flowers feels a little too sharp and insistent at times, like when you neck that syrupy but metallic juice from a tin of canned tropical fruit. In other words, absolutely gorgeous at first but perhaps wearing a little on your nerves towards the last? Along the same lines of complaint (minor, but still), the vanilla tuberose pudding base flirts with heaviness; it clashes a little queasily with the citric acid of the lime, to the extent that it teeters on the precipice of a curdle.  

Out of all the Ormonde Jayne scents I own, Frangipani Absolute is the one I agonize over the most. Do I need it? No. Does its classical (but slightly mainstream) beauty justify me keeping it? Maybe. But the fact that I swing between a yes and a no on this scent, personally, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t rank among the top tier of tropical floral perfumes I’ve had the pleasure of smelling.


Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk on Unsplash

Tolu

Despite not being wowed at first sniff, I have come around to the pleasures of Tolu. It has a bitter, spicy broom note that slices through the golden, balsamic sweetness of amber to create something that is both fresh and heavy, like a flourless chocolate torte that dissolves into fennel dust on the tongue. The kind of thing that invites you to take a second slice, even in summer. I can see this working as a sort of upmarket Dune. In that sense, this is definitely a floral oriental rather than a straight up ‘golden’ amber. It certainly doesn’t maintain a strict tolu balsam fidelity. Rather, Tolu has that sophisticated French floral-sandy feel to it that I associate not only with Dune (Dior) but also with 24, Rue Faubourg (Hermes), albeit with the innovation of a sweetly resinous base to tilt it ever so slightly in the direction of Morocco rather than Paris.

The more I wear Tolu, the more I appreciate its subtlety. I used to prefer the caramelized full frontal of one-the-nose resin bombs and ambers to the almost too quiet, too ‘mixed’ cloud of balsams, orange blossom, and musks represented by Tolu. But Tolu is, I realize, a mood. It is very perfumey meaning it’s been worked and reworked to the same point of abstraction as Coco (Chanel), Dune (Dior) or even Alahine (Teo Cabanel).

Tolu is the quintessential going out perfume for nights along the Riviera, where women and men are beautifully dressed and the warm air smells like a mixture of flowers, salty skin, and the balsamic twang of Mediterranean herbs and umbrella pines lining the promenade. It’s easy to argue that there’s nothing very unusual about Tolu, but what it does, it does extremely well. I will always have space in my wardrobe for this perfumey, French-smelling take on the warm, golden balsams I love rinsed out with flowers, salt, and herbs.   


Photo by Tj Holowaychuk on Unsplash

Tiaré    

For a while, my interest in Ormonde Jayne stopped with OJ Woman, a perfume I’d struggled with for years before finally falling in love with it. That was, until one day a couple of years ago, I fished around in my sample box looking for something crisp and green to go well with a planned walk in a nearby castle grounds with my children and stumbled upon Tiaré.


Its lack of anything truly tiaré-like or tropical puzzled me at first. But I remember marveling at the champagne-like quality of the lime and green notes fizzing gently around the oily but fresh white flower petals. The damp, mossy drydown proved to be a perfect reflection of the elegance of the castle lake and grounds. There is something pinned-up and Victorian in its mien – not entirely me, but rather someone I aspire to be. It was the first sample from the Ormonde Jayne sample set that I drained completely. Whereupon I forgot about it entirely.


Fast forward to Summer 2017, which is when, while sweating our way through the forests and fields of the Sologne and Loiret, I decided that, really, nothing was more French or more crisply elegant than Tiaré, and that I desperately needed a bottle of it. Tiaré would be, I’d decided, my entry point to a new life in France that, although it never actually materialized, was the Big Plan in our family at the time, to the point of flying the kids out to various French cities in an attempt to decide where we would settle.

The firm belief that a life in France calls for a thoroughly ‘French’ perfume (as if my collection wasn’t already 75% made up of so-called French perfume) is why I am now the proud possessor of a totally unnecessary 120mls of Tiaré. (I am perennially guilty of daydreaming my life forward and allowing my purchases to lead the way. In 2018, I was so convinced that I was going to be hired by a British not-for-profit to manage their programs in Myanmar that I got emotionally invested in Indochine by Parfumerie Generale, a perfume based on Burmese thanaka wood. I didn’t get the job, but you bet I bought a bottle of Indochine. I don’t even want to say how many ‘Roman’ perfumes were necessary for me to settle into a new life in Italy.)


Anyway, back to Ireland in these early, post-Coronavirus times and Tiaré, like Cristalle (Chanel), doesn’t really suit the damp, cool conditions. Yet I am loathe to get rid of Tiaré, because, God knows, I will probably need it for when we finally move to France. In which case, I will also need the quintessential cognac-colored leather shopper, very pointy ballet flats, a chic haircut, and a perfectly-cut navy blazer. So, I guess I’d better start shopping now….


Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

Ormonde Jayne Woman

Woman occupies a place in my personal pantheon of greats, but the route to loving her has not been easy. In fact, I have struggled with this perfume on and off for years. I imagine that, for people like me, with biological sensitivities to certain materials, getting past Woman’s many thorns is like loving someone who is beautiful but difficult.  

Initially, my nose was so sensitive to the combination of woody ambers, sticky pine, and Iso E Super that the only notes I could smell were acrid, burnt, metallic – like burnt fuses and the La Roche Posay medicated acne cream. These unfortunate associations, plus the physical sensation I had of an ice-cold shiv driving into the tender recesses of my brain, are what made me keep my sample of Woman at a safe distance from my nose, wrapped twice in cling film and double-bagged.

Every so often, over the years, I would take out that sample of Woman and tentatively sniff. Now, here’s the strangest thing. As my exposure to the violent woody ambers and brutal Iso E Super used increasingly in niche increased, so too did my tolerance. I don’t mean that I started to like them, but rather that their presence no longer obscured large parts of a composition for me. This meant that perfumes such as Indochine (Parfumerie Generale), Musc Nomade (Annick Goutal), and Ormonde Jayne Woman were now ‘unlocked’ for me. I could smell all parts of these perfumes rather than slivers.

Having said that, progress was gradual. For example, for about six months, although I could smell all parts of Woman, all depth perception dropped off after about an hour or two, leading me to believe (mistakenly) that the perfume had simply stopped in its tracks. I now believe that this was due to the type of woody ambers used, some of which have a curious side effect of making a scent seem to disappear and then come back, over and over again, throughout a day’s wear. Ambroxan can have this odd ‘receding and resurging’ effect too; I sense it most keenly in Amouage Jubilation XXV, which my husband says he wears for other people because he himself cannot smell it after an hour (to his family, it seems quite big and room-filling).

Anyway, the reason I’m waffling on about this odd facet of Woman is that reviews are the little markers we drop along our journey, in the hope that they serve as clues to fellow travelers years down the road, right? I remember smelling Indochine and doing a Google search for something along the lines of ‘Why does Indochine smell like an ice pick to my brain?’ and stumbling across Kafkaesque’s review, which was the first source of answers for me as to why some materials were physically obtrusive to my nose yet imperceptible to others. I felt seen. I hope that someone struggling with Ormonde Jayne Woman finds their way to this review and gets comfort from knowing that they’re not alone, and that there might be a rational explanation for not immediately jiving with one of the most renowned perfumes in modern niche.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel, folks, there really is. Now when I smell Ormonde Woman, I smell the whole forest, the sugared smoke of gingerbread crumbs thrown onto the fire, and the inky mass of woodland violets and hemlock rolled out underfoot, and Scarlett O’ Hara’s dark green velvet gown made out of curtains and fury.

At heart, Ormonde Woman is a nugget of amber surrounded by tall conifers and hemlock, but its mysterious appeal can’t be explained by its notes or even how we think they all hang together. Woman is one of those perfumes you submit to, body and soul, without much hope of ever picking it apart. It took me years to be able to smell all parts of it but now when I wear Ormonde Jayne Woman now, I smell it all, and what I smell makes me breathe deep and easy.


Photo by ORNELLA BINNI on Unsplash

Osmanthus

Osmanthus is not my favorite osmanthus-themed scent in the Ormonde Jayne stable (that would be Qi), but it is surely the prettiest. Osmanthus explores the softly soapy, ‘clean linen’ side of the bloom that marks it out more as vaguely cherry blossom than the pungent fruity apricot suede trope often plumbed in niche.

In fact, aside from a vaguely peachy or apricotty tinge in the topnotes, Osmanthus sidesteps its namesake ingredient and goes for pomelo peel and white petals plunged into ice water and polished to a high shine by radiant aquatic musks. It smells pleasantly cooling, like a tall glass of lemonade or the feel of fresh cotton on hot skin.

Think of it this way; if Qi is an apricot-colored suede pouch filled with green tea, then Osmanthus is a white broderie anglaise sundress and a pair of straw espadrilles strung over one perfectly tan shoulder.

All very nice but running a little too close to one of those Atelier Cologne citrus-and-cotton-musk scents for comfort. I always thought that Osmanthus would smell more ‘at home’ in the form of a body care product than a perfume, and it turns out I was right; the Osmanthus Hair Mist is lovely. Warmer and peachier than the perfume – to my nose at least – the pert, perfumey prettiness of Osmanthus makes more sense to me when spritzed through second day hair. It is still much girlier than I am, but at least in this form, it just creates the manifest lie impression that I am freshly bathed and impeccably groomed.


Photo by Valerie Blanchett on Unsplash

Ta’if

Ta’if is one of those fragrances where I seem to be experiencing something completely different to everyone else. People use the words ‘rich’, ‘dark’, and ‘exotic’ to describe it, which suggests a texture as heavy as velvet – close to Lyric Woman (Amouage) or Portrait of a Lady (Malle). But reality is miles removed. On my skin, Ta’if reads as a sheer peppery mixed floral layered over a musky, dried-fruit base. Neither the advertized dates nor Taifi rose show up for me, or at least not in any form I recognize (when I see ‘Ta’if’ rose, I expect a pop of fiercely spicy, green lemon-and-lime sharpness announcing a tannic rose).

In fact, I’d rank Ta’if alongside Rose Noir (Miller Harris) and Tobacco Rose (Papillon) as rose fragrances that bill themselves as one thing and then deliver another. Clearly, the sheer amount of admiration and positive reviews out there for Ta’if and Tobacco Rose demonstrates that it is possible not only to get over any cognitive dissonance related to their names, but to love them wholeheartedly for themselves.

On me, Ta’if is mostly a blowsy peach and orange blossom chiffonade, interspersed with brief flashes here and there of something that might be interpreted as a tart, green rose. The peachy-powdery feel of the fragrance makes me think of something functional I used to use when I was a teenager, like the Impulse O2 body spray. The dry down is a slightly powdery musk with a streak of dates running through it, which doesn’t tilt too literally in the direction of any one particular note. Rather, one is bathed in a fluffy miasma of musk, fruit, orange blossoms, and caramel that reminds me of some of the prettier ‘pink-smelling’ dry downs in designer perfumery, such as Coco Mademoiselle, or Elie Saab.


Source of samples: Based on a sample set generously gifted to me in 2015 of the niche perfumer store in Dublin, ParfuMarija, I subsequently bought bottles or partials of most of the above. The Osmanthus Hair Mist was kindly gifted to me by Ormonde Jayne PR a couple of weeks ago, along with a Petits Fours box of samples of four of the La Route de la Soie collection sent to me for review (review is upcoming). My opinions are firmly my own.   


Cover Image: Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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Ormonde Jayne Four Corners of the Earth Collection

6th May 2020

Nawab of Oudh

Stupidly, I ignored this one for the longest time, believing it to be yet another Westernized take on oud. Guess what? It isn’t. The penny dropped just as I ran out of money, or at least the willingness to spend more than that €1.2 per ml limit Luca Turin originally advised us to stop at. This means that I don’t, and never will, own a bottle of Nawab of Oudh, which is terrible because this thing brings me to my knees.

But let’s make some lemonade out of dem lemons. I like to pretend that my bottle of Nawab of Oudh is hanging out at Roma Store, a small profumeria in Trastevere I frequent. Every month, I take a leisurely stroll down the Tiber to visit with the bottle of Nawab of Oudh the shop is kindly (but obliviously) hosting for me and douse myself liberally in its glorious juice. Then I walk back home, sniffing myself with a huge, dopey grin on my face, oblivious to how I look to passers-by.

Describing what Nawab of Oudh smells like is like trying to catch butterflies with a teaspoon. It has that gauzy, dizzying abstraction characteristic of so many Ormonde Jayne standouts like Black Gold and Rose Gold, and features – as far as I can tell – peppery spice, juicy mandarin, champagne-like aldehydes, roses, sandalwood, and a mass of creamy floral notes.

But I’m not sure any notes list adequately conveys the fierce joy of this scent. Better to say instead that this perfume gives you that Saturday morning feeling of good things to come – a crisply folded newspaper, a fresh pot of coffee, warm bread rolls, cold Irish butter, and a day of leisure stretching out in front of you like a cat. It smells like sunshine in a loved one’s hair and a just-cancelled meeting. 

Photo by Florencia Potter on Unsplash

There is a point at the center of this fragrance that makes me think perfumer Geza Schoen might be playing around with an old Roucel-ian template of a green-ish magnolia bathed in a silky bath of citrus, honey, roses, and heavy cream (last seen in Roucel’s Guerlain’s L’Instant for Women and Rochas’ Tocade). The magnolia is viewed obliquely here, through a haze of spicy pepper, pimiento, cardamom, and cinnamon-dusted rose, but it’s definitely got some presence.

I love that when I spray it heavily, Nawab of Oudh coats the back of my hand with an aggressively oily sheen but then immediately radiates off into the air with an aldehydic swagger. Despite the name, there is little oud to speak of here, aside from a slightly sour, leathery tint to the soapy sandalwood in the base. I love this fragrance and believe it to be one of the most elegant and accomplished spicy oriental-florals that a woman or a man could wear.

Tsarina

Tsarina is a creamy, anisic floral suede that was the object of my affection obsession for much of 2016. It is a decidedly cool-toned fragrance; if it were an eyeshadow palette, Tsarina would be all dove greys and silvery taupes in the sort of satin finish that makes your eyelids appear expensively buffed. If it were a textile, it would be a length of raw silk, dotted with nubbins of texture that ride up pleasurably against the palm of your hand. Did I crack under the pressure of desire? Of course I did. It was 2016 and I was still spending money on perfume like they were bottles of H2O.

Photo by Ethan Bodnar on Unsplash

But even though I split a bottle with a friend during the famous Ormonde Jayne Black Friday event, Tsarina turned out to be an eye-wateringly expensive purchase. Not so much because of the price I paid, but because I never wore it as much as I thought I would. And a perfume sitting unloved in a collection is the costliest cost of all.

Three years on, I’m trying to understand my sudden and brutal withdrawal of affection for Tsarina. I suspect it covers too much of the same ground as Orris Noir (also by Ormonde Jayne), with its anise-tinted iris and myrrh, and maybe also L’Heure Bleue, with its medicinal heliotrope-iris tandem, for me to get any relief from this nagging cognitive dissonance. There’s also some overlap with the plasticky, clove-spiced benzoin creaminess of Guerlain Lui, which I also (somehow) own. But there’s also the fact that, for the 2020 me, Tsarina is now too rich, too claustrophobic.  

But it is beautiful. Tsarina opens with the characteristic Ormonde Jayne blur of uplifting citrus and pepper notes, fueled by aldehydes, before quickly settling into that anisic, peppered ‘cream of wheat’ milkiness I associate with floral sandalwoods like Dries Van Noten (Frederic Malle) and the Pheromone attars produced by both Sharif LaRoche and Abdes Salaam Attar. Ormonde Jayne’s Vanille d’Iris, I find, recycles the same core of buttery iris suede, stripping it way back, and adding a dollop of plasticky vanilla to dull its ethereal gleam. As for Tsarina, once the first burst of spicy freshness dies away, both I and the fragrance miss it dearly.

Tsarina is soft and stodgy, like a bowl of porridge. Its lack of definition is probably why I sought it out so insistently the first time around, because I’m drawn to the boneless torpor of cream-sodden florals with little in the way of ballast propping them up. I find them comforting. However, for my money, stuff like Alamut by Lorenzo Villoresi – an exotic rice pudding-custard made out of tuberose, nag champa, and lots of civety sandalwood – satisfies the same itch and at less expense.

Of course, I didn’t know Alamut back then. Sure, if I could go back and tell my 2016 self that some of the perfumes I am passionate about would be rendered obsolete down the line by perfumes I was yet to smell, then I might have chosen differently. But I’m letting myself off the hook here. Tsarina is still a beautiful perfume judged against any parameter. It’s just that my 2020 self wants Nawab of Oudh more.

Qi

Qi is constructed to make no great statement thus offending no one. Lest you think I’m being bitchy, that sentence comes from the Ormonde Jayne official copy!

Normally, my shackles rise when I hear anyone describing a perfume as ‘inoffensive’ or, worse (shudder), ‘mass-pleasing’, because if that’s the end goal, then there’s no need to spend $425+ on a bottle of perfume when you can spend $5 on a bottle of that chocolatey, oudy Axe spray my husband is invariably wearing whenever I complement him on his lovely smell.  

But honestly, Ormonde Jayne is onto something here. Osmanthus – for those not overly familiar with it – is a material that shares a rudely pungent quality with Hindi oud oil, black tea, and leather, all materials that have undergone some kind of process like soaking in water, tanning or smoking that lend them a distinctly fermented facet. I’m a fan of the fermented, but the uninitiated might find this particular floral note a challenge. The trick is to trim back the ruder, earthier facets of osmanthus absolute, and to capture only the fresh, pretty notes of the flower smelled straight from the plant.

And that’s exactly what Qi does. It is a super clean, bright take on osmanthus – a glowy little pop of apricot over soapy musks and fresh green tea (maté) that create enough of an illusion of leather to catch at the back of your throat. The osmanthus note is sustained for a remarkably long time, the fresh tea and soft leather notes soaked in an indelible peach or apricot ink. There’s also a whiff of clean rubber tubing – a pleasant inevitability whenever tea and osmanthus share the same space.

Photo by Ethan Bodnar on Unsplash

Despite the complex array of notes, though, Qi smells charmingly simple and ‘honest’. I can see this elegant glass of green tea, aromatized gently with a slice of apricot, appealing to many people. Ormonde Jayne is a rare house that knows what to do with osmanthus, and for me, Qi is its shining example. I prefer it to the also excellent Passionate Love, which is constructed along similar lines as Qi, but duskier, with a mineralic vetiver-and-Iso-E-Super drydown I’m less fond of.

Montabaco

An interesting fragrance. Revolving around a dank, green sage-tobacco accord that’s been lightened and spaced out by tons of Iso E Super, Montabaco is both dark-smelling and airy. Despite the distinctly aftershavey, fougère-like aspect to Montabaco that tags it as masculine, I have enjoyed smelling this on my skin and trying to break it down.

It’s worth mentioning that the two or three times I’ve worn this, my nine-year old son has sought me out to tell me that I smell really good. That makes me wonder if it’s just that Montabaco has huge sillage (thanks to the Iso E Super) or if there’s something in this fragrance that calls out to males.

I know that I’m not best placed to evaluate. When I smell a ‘classic male aftershave’ accord, something in the analysis part of my brain shuts down, blanking out the individual notes or components of the scent beyond the first and all-encompassing impression of ‘maleness’. But even to me, it’s clear that Montabaco is several pay grades above something like Brut or Azzaro Pour Homme.

And am I picking up on a sleight of hand here? With its flourishes of dry green herbs, ‘clovey’ spicing, and cleansing bay leaf, the central accord smells far more like cedarwood to me than tobacco leaf. This impression is underlined by a dollop of powdery amber that adds no sweetness but instead a pleasantly dustiness that softens the mealy bitterness of the cedarwood (or tobacco).

Photo by Catalin Pateo on Unsplash

We are spared the intensely syrupy dried fruit and cacao notes that usually accompany tobacco. In fact, the vermouth-like dryness of the tobacco leaf in Montabaco reminds me very much of Miller Harris’ Feuilles de Tabac, pumped up with the creamy cedarwood baritone of Creed’s Royal Oud and fleshed out with a traditional barbershop fougère’s worth of spices and herbs. I liked Royal Oud and Feuilles de Tabac well enough, but Montabaco is more nuanced, more complex. If any of my male relatives were in the market for an interesting interpretation of a traditional tobacco or cedarwood-heavy fougère, and had the funds to go niche, I’d definitely point them in the direction of Montabaco.  

Source of Samples: The staff at the Dublin niche perfume store ‘ParfuMarija’ generously included a sample set of the Ormonde Jayne house as a gift with purchase in 2016. The set included samples of the Four Corners of the World collection.

 Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash   

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Papillon Artisan Perfumes Bengale Rouge

8th July 2019

 

I have an opiate opoponax problem. It started with an unexpected capitulation to the Red Hot charms of Eau Lente, segued into a sudden and slavish devotion to Jicky, and culminated in a shameful episode a few weeks ago, when I found myself outside a train station at 7.30 a.m. palming a wad of cash to a shady eBay guy for a brown paper bag containing two smeary half-bottles of Carthusia’s Ligea La Sirena.

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Areej Le Dore Koh-i-Noor, Malik al Taif, Oud Luwak & Baikal Gris

15th November 2018

 

In autumn 2018, Areej Le Dore released its 4th generation of fragrances. Russian Adam very kindly sent me a sample set, which I’ve been playing around with for a while now. Without further ado, here are my reviews of Areej Le Dore Koh-i-Noor, Malik al Taif, Oud Luwak & Baikal Gris.

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Small But Perfectly Formed: Building a Capsule Perfume Wardrobe with Travel Sizes

9th March 2018

Building a Capsule Perfume Wardrobe: If you had to build, or rebuild, your perfume wardrobe using only travel sizes and minis, could you do it? What would be on your list? 

 

A couple of questions have been dogging me lately. First, how much perfume do I actually use in a year? And second, if my collection of full bottles was lost or stolen, would it be possible to build a small capsule wardrobe that covers all possible scenarios using only minis and travel sizes, and sticking to a putative budget of +/- $30 per bottle?

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Parfums Dusita Erawan, Fleur de Lalita, La Douceur de Siam, Le Sillage Blanc

12th November 2017

Recently, I was lucky enough to have been sent travel sprays of the new perfumes in Parfum Dusita‘s line-up – thanks to the generosity of Pissara Umavijani. I understand that all Dusita perfumes will soon be available in the more perfumista- and budget-friendly option of these 7.5ml travel sprays, a move I can’t applaud enough. Here are my thoughts on the new perfumes.

 

Erawan

Erawan blends the rich, vanillic hay-like properties of liatris odoratissima (deertongue) with a nutty crown of vetiver, moss, and clary sage for a result that has the same sweet, pappy aroma of freshly-poured putty and earthy, uncooked grains.

 

This effect is startling: nutritious without being foodie. Several non-perfumey ideas jump to mind, including freshly mown grass, warm hay, the horse feed we would give horses after a race (oats with Guinness and a boozy, fermented edge), and the smell of the brown soda bread mix prepared every morning in farmhouses up and down this country, which contains bran flakes, wholewheat flour, baking soda, salt, and milk.

 

Suddenly, though, after a period of lingering in the cereals aisle, Erawan rips open one side to let a crisp, pond water muguet out of hiding, a move that surprises me since I am used to the cut glass green floral notes like narcissus and muguet appearing at the top of a perfume. The coumarin facets of the liatris emerge more strongly in the drydown, giving the scent the more recognizable character of lightly toasted tobacco leaves, dry hay, honey, beer hops, and dusty vanilla.

 

With the green floral notes and the coumarin, I am reminded slightly of a less pissy Tabac Tabou, whereas the beginning posses more of the nutty, quinoa flour feel of Bois Farine (L’Artisan Parfumeur). These are just distant points of reference, though, because to my nose, Erawan is thoroughly original to the point of being kind of weird. And that’s a compliment.

 

I’d recommend Erawan to fans of rustic “countryside” fragrances that smell like the great outdoors than a classic French perfume (although that is exactly what Erawan is) – scents such as Fieno and Tobacco Toscano (Santa Maria Novella), Cuir Pleine Fleur (Heeley), Sova (Slumberhouse), and Tabac Tabou (Parfum d’Empire).

 

 

Le Sillage Blanc

 

Le Sillage Blanc features the same grey-green, matte, slightly oily galbanum leather that stars in both Cabochard (Cabochard) and Bandit (Robert Piguet), but to my taste, Le Sillage Blanc is an improvement on both because while it is quite dry and bitter, it is absent the stomach-churning raw meat aspect that makes Bandit unbearable (to me) and the somehow lifeless, non-moving torpor of the Cabochard. Le Sillage Blanc is slightly sweeter and smokier than its antecedents, as if the leather is trying to crack a smile while dangling a cigarette at the corner of its mouth.

 

Still, there is a certain brown-grey grimness to this genre in general – a certain lack of juiciness and sap that marks them out as unforgiving of human frailty. I think one needs to be Parisian, whippet-thin, and an elegant chain smoker to find this one perfectly comfortable. But in those circumstances, yes, I can see how it might read as sexy.

 

Fleur de Lalita

 

Fleur de Lalita is simply phenomenal. My favorite out of the new Dusita perfumes had initially been La Douceur de Siam, but then I tried Fleur de Lalita and have been mainlining it like a junkie ever since. There is something about this perfume that excites me, and I think that it’s because it manages the same perfect balance of crisp, crunchy green “leafy” notes and warm, milky-sweet tropical florals as in Amaranthine (Penhaligon’s) and Sira des Indes (Patou), but mixes in the deeply animalic galbanum-musk pairing that makes L’Heure Exquise (Annick Goutal) so enduringly beautiful.

 

I am not a big fan of galbanum, but here in Fleur de Lalita, the galbanum sidesteps the lime leaf and cut green pepper freshness of the resin and goes instead for that cigarette smoke-inflected, murky, animalic dankness that we can glimpse lurking in the depths of L’Heure Exquise and maybe even No. 19 EDP (Chanel). The animalic aspects of galbanum are cleverly emphasized with natural ambergris, which gives the body of the scent a salty, musky funk that hangs around for a good while (the last time I saw galbanum and ambergris work together so well was in Ella by Arquiste).

 

None of which might be apparent when you first spray this on, of course, because Fleur de Lalita is a ladylike endeavor and will only reveal her undergarments when you insist on looking. The first part of the scent, therefore, really focuses on the milky, banana-leaf sweetness of tropical ylang, jasmine, and lily; if you loved the sultry, cumin-spiked crème brulée of Amaranthine, like I do, then the opening hour or so will have your eyes rolling back in your head.

 

But the sharp, wet greenness of muguet reins in the supine creaminess of the florals to the perfect degree, ensuring that the scent never tips too far one way or another into sharpness or dessert. It’s like a rice pudding stirred with a snapped-off piece of agave, cold from the fridge and beginning to drip droplets of clear nectar.

 

Fleur de Lalita is the perfect balance of the green and crunchy with the sweet and milky, all underscored with the most beautifully musky, animalic galbanum-sandalwood seen this side of L’Heure Exquise – back when the Annick Goutal still had real Mysore sandalwood in it. I’d hesitate to try and define this, because it is a very complex fragrance and straddles (I think) several different categories, but perhaps this might worj: a tropical milky floral a là Songes, Sira des Indes, or Amaranthine crossed with a woody, animalic galbanum fragrance a là L’Heure Exquise or even Bandit. That might not seem like it would smell all that great, but it truly does.

 

La Douceur de Siam

 

Kafkaesque has, as per usual, described this fragrance to perfection – his/her degree of accuracy and eloquence is unmatched in perfume criticism. As I am not the best at describing notes or the progression of a fragrance, perhaps it is best to first read Kafka’s review to find out what La Douceur de Siam actually smells like, before returning to my flightier, impressionistic impressions.

 

You back? Great. Notes aside, La Douceur de Siam is, for me, the perfect rendering of that moment in Snow White when the little birds are helping Snow White to clean up the cottage of the seven dwarves by dropping fresh flowers into a vase and hanging shirts up on the line. It also reminds me of that orgasmic moment in the Herbal Essences ad when the girl throws back her head in ecstasy as soon as a dollop of that clear pink gel hits her hair.

 

Wearing La Douceur de Siam gives me the same feeling of childlike joy as those scenes suggest – when I first tried it, the first thought that jumped to my mind was how grateful I was that florals like this are still being made, by which I mean juicy, clear, uncluttered, and happiness-inducing without being too self-conscious about it.

 

The first stage of La Douceur de Siam strongly features the minty bubblegum aspects of ylang, against a backdrop of a tropical, fruity custard of frangipani, magnolia, and champaca. It might prove almost too pretty were it not for the overdose of benzoin or some other resin up front that gives the texture a strangely raw, doughy feel, like a bowl of potato flour moistened with a few drops of water. This central accord is lifted at the corners by small flourishes of green tea, banana, wet violet leaf, and cinnamon, like those little Disney birds lifting the corners of a tablecloth.

 

The scent goes on in this fruity, floral track for a while, getting sweeter as time goes on, while all the time avoiding that metallic, tinned-fruit aspect that dogs most tropical florals. Interestingly, the champaca begins to take over at some point, imbuing La Douceur de Siam with the rich, steamy rice and green tea character of champaca flower. Champaca is often strangely musky to my nose, like a curl of green apple peel dipped into a resinous cream, but here the clean, fruity facets of the flower dominate.

 

Thanks mostly to the strong presence of the champaca, the scent takes on a pleasant soapiness. This is not the thick, opaque soapiness of, say, Ivoire (Balmain) or even Noa (Cacherel), but the clear, fruity soapiness of shampoos like Herbal Essences or Garnier Fructis. Fun fact: champaca blossom gave rise to the word “shampoo” by way of the Sanskrit word for champaca, “champo”, which means “to massage”.  Champaca oil was traditionally used throughout Asia to fragrance all kinds of hygiene products such as soap and shampoo.

 

Later on, I notice a creamy vanilla and sandalwood duo coming in and settling all the floral notes. This is a truly delicious part of the fragrance, making me think of both dry book paper and a creamy chai sprinkled with dark cocoa and flakes of coconut.

 

A silky, jammy rose emerges strongly at the end, and combined with the lingering traces of the fruity, tropical shampoo notes conspires to make me think of Liasons Dangereuses (By Kilian), another fragrance that conjures up the vision of a clear shampoo with droplets of pear and peach nectar suspended in the gel, popping and bursting juicily against one’s head when massaged in.

 

They are not smellalikes, but in both these perfumes, there are mouthwatering gourmand notes like rose jam, dark chocolate shavings, cinnamon, and coconut flakes that work perfectly against the canvas of sharp, green-fruity shampoo. These are the kind of perfumes that make me think of showering with Lush Rose Jam or Garnier Fructis (the original), aromas so appetizing that you instinctively want to open your mouth and swallow some, just to see if the taste matches up.

 

The only drawback I see to such out-and-out gorgeousness is the lightness of the perfume – it settles rather too quickly into that papery cinnamon rose-ambergris-sandalwood base, losing the crispy green juiciness of the tropical flowers. But while it lasts, there is little to match the beauty of that floral bouquet, which I find intensely moving in its purity and gentleness.

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Maison Nicolas de Barry: Part I (Les Parfums Historiques)

9th November 2017

Maison Nicolas de Barry has been around since 2003, but has garnered relatively little praise or attention. I wonder why that is? I’ve enjoyed every single perfume I’ve tried from this brand, and find some of their natural perfumes to be stunning. In an era where natural and attar-themed perfumes for a Western audience is gaining traction (Sultan Pasha Attars, Areej Le Dore, Rising Phoenix Perfumery etc.), the perfumes of Maison Nicolas de Barry should be a slam dunk. And yet….crickets.

 

I don’t think that the price is the barrier. Their historical EDPs, while not cheap, are not terribly unreasonable at €149 for 100mls. The naturals and oud collection perfumes are indeed very expensive (between €600 and €1,140 for 150mls), but there are 7ml mini bottles to be purchased at a reasonable cost of between €29 and €52. I know plenty of perfumistas who wouldn’t mind paying that, especially those who care about high quality naturals, pure ouds, and sandalwood oil. The people who love Siberian Musk by Areej Le Dore, or Nan-Kun by Sultan Pasha, or Bushido attar by Rising Phoenix Perfumery, or the latest sandalwood oil by FeelOud do not hesitate to drop in excess of $500 on even a small quantity of these perfumes.

 

But scarcely anyone in the perfume blogosphere mentions Maison Nicolas de Barry. The few blog mentions or reviews on Fragrantica and Basenotes seem polite but slightly puzzled or underwhelmed. Having tested a diverse selection of their offerings, there is absolutely no question regarding the high quality of the materials and compositions.

 

I do believe, however, that the way the brand has positioned itself might have caused some confusion or misunderstanding. In brief, while most brands have one driving force behind their establishment, Maison Nicolas de Barry has two, and pursues both – sometimes on dual tracks, and sometimes simultaneously within the same collection.

 

Every niche parfum house has an avowed driving force – a raison d’être – behind their existence, be it to explore the beauty of synthetic molecules (Nomenclature), translate Italian and Mediterranean music and art into fragrance (Sospiro), or bring the magic of the Orient to Western noses in a digestible, French format (Amouage). I think it’s possible that Maison de Barry has gone ignored and misunderstood because, although the brand says it is mostly focused on recreating the historical perfumes of the past, many of the perfumes themselves smell much more like attars or natural perfumes.

 

The stated mission of Maison Nicolas de Barry is to recreate the perfumes that might have been worn by historical figures important to European social and cultural history, such as Empress Sissi, King Louis XV, and Georges Sand. But the perfumer and owner of Maison Nicolas de Barry – Nicolas de Barry himself – is clearly far more passionate about natural perfumery and the attar perfumery of both India and the Middle-East than any other type of perfume. He has personally visited the center of attar making, in Kannauj, India, to watch distillers and attar makers at work. He also travels around the world, visiting ylang plantations, jasmine farms, oud distillers, and sandalwood projects, sourcing his materials there and bringing them back to Paris with him, where he works them into his perfumes. He has even written a beautiful book on Indian attar making, called L’Inde des Parfums.

 

So, although Nicolas started off with a range of conventional niche perfumes – the historical ones – he has since focused more and more on his ranges of all-natural perfumes, raw materials, and (real) oud compositions. In other words, the soul of the brand “Maison Nicolas de Barry” is actually more about natural perfumery and attar/oil perfumery translated to a Western format than, strictly speaking, historical reconstructions (although there are some of those in the line too).

 

The only problem that this presents is that the split purpose might confuse customers (and even fragrance bloggers). The first impression any customer will get of the brand is the historical reconstruction angle, with the attar and naturals focus emerging only when you delve deeper into the descriptions and background on the site. Hence, a disconnect between that the brand itself suggests you’re going to smell, and what you actually smell.

 

The recreation, or reimagining, of les parfums historiques is not a new or unusual theme in perfumery, of course, as brands such as Parfum d’Empire, Histoires de Parfum, Rance, Creed, and even Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier demonstrate. But because these niche brands either got there first or are more popular, they managed to set the expectation for a parfum historique as thus: abstract, modern, niche constructions that behave like any other Western niche fragrance. Since the compositions of Maison Nicolas de Barry are at once far more streamlined and more naturals-focused, it’s possible that they appear simplistic or muddy to someone expecting the 3D mixed media richness of an Ambre Russe by Parfum d’Empire or even the Samsara stylings of Guerlain.

 

So, let’s re-set expectations here. The perfumes of Maison Nicolas de Barry are great when viewed through the lens of a parfum historique, but superlative when viewed as their rightful form, i.e., naturals, pure ouds, and attar scaled up into a sprayable EDP format.

 

Understanding that the perfumes of Maison Nicolas de Barry are basically scaled-up attars and naturals in the guise of les parfum historiques is crucial to understanding the perfumes themselves. I remember receiving a tiny vial of Mumtaz-I Mahal from a perfume friend in 2014: it had leaked and filled the wrapping of the parcel with one of the most intensely beautiful smells I had ever experienced – sandalwood and rose. Strangely enough, when I applied what was left of the perfume to my skin, I found it to be less complex than the scent it left in the air: a sweet rose over an austere sandalwood. I much preferred the smell of the spilled perfume to the perfume itself as a wearing experience.

 

Looking back at this now, I think I understand that Mumtaz-I Mahal was teaching me my first lessons about attar perfumery in general, which are that:

 

  • attar perfumery is quite simple compared to complex, French or Western perfumery, focusing as it does on exalting the spiritual beauty of just one or two naturals rather than on an abstract, perfumey vision,

 

  • when a blend is this simple and composed almost entirely of naturals, the properties of the 1-2 naturals chosen for the blend are very important – there is nothing to disguise the inherently green sharpness of Ta’if rose oil or the soured milk tones of Australian sandalwood, and so on. And finally, that;

 

  • since attar perfumery was created more as a way of scenting the air for others, in a display of Muslim and Hindi generosity of spirit to fellow worshippers, than for one’s own personal pleasure, the trail of scent left behind by an attar is often more pleasing than the scent smelled up close on one’s own skin.

 

Since I’ve already waffled on quite a bit, I’m going to split this article into two parts, the first dealing with the conventional parfums historiques produced by Maison Nicolas de Barry (samples of which can be found here), the second part dealing with the all-natural perfumes and oud collection of the house (samples of which can be found here).

 

The first part, below, contains reviews of a cross-selection of samples from the historical perfumes range. Some of these perfumes behave like most conventional Western niche perfumes (abstract, complex, perfumey), albeit with a strong naturals focus, while others behave as pure attars diluted with alcohol to scale them up into EDP format.

 

L’Eau de Louis XV (Le Bien-Aimé)

 

L’Eau de Louis XV (Le Bien-Aimé) – le bien-aimé meaning beloved or well-loved – is a scented tribute to King Louis XV. It is one of the most sublime and natural-smelling neroli fragrances I’ve had the pleasure of smelling. Unlike most neroli fragrances, there is no slow descent into soapiness; L’Eau de Louis XV retains a juicy, fresh bitterness that’s akin to biting into a winter orange and getting a mouthful of peel, waxy green leaf, and a bit of the woody bark too. It is both bright and salubrious. There is a floral poudrée heart of rose, violet, tuberose, and other flowers for support, as well as a dark, unsweet amber accord, but these are merely there to hold the orange and neroli aloft.

 

Am I imagining the slightly animalic muskiness that closes in around the neroli topnotes after the first few minutes? Probably. But something about this fragrance makes me think of the steamy, soapy floral odors escaping from the King’s boudoir during his morning bath, with the underlying funk of a sleepy and as of yet unwashed body warm from his bed. Without doubt, this should be the bellwether for neroli scents. It smells natural, uplifting, fresh, and bitter in all the right places. Bien aimé indeed…

 

La Reine Margot (La Scandaleuse)

 

It’s odd that jasmine is technically a white floral when its smell is so purple. In La Reine Margot, the natural jasmine really shines through – round and creamily sweet but not as bright, high-pitched, or as sunlit as the synthetic variants. In fact, it has a curiously dusky, subdued hue, as if the flower has been covered in heavy velvet. There is also a slightly muddy, plasticky tone that I associate with natural jasmine. It smells almost exactly like a natural jasmine ruh I’ve smelled before, while doing research for the Indian attar portion of my book.

 

The star is the natural jasmine, but it is backed by a powdery, spicy amber and what reads to my nose as creamy pheromone. What I mean by this is that it features the same “cream of wheat” smell that I’ve picked up in two pheromone-based fragrances, the all-natural Feromone Donna by La Via del Profumo and Pheromone 4, an attar produced by Agarscents Bazaar. Feromone Donna features a similar although not identical notes list to Pheromone 4: jasmine, civet, ambergris, tuberose, and vanilla.  Like Pheromone 4, these materials come together to form a floral creaminess that is part cream of wheat, part white chocolate.

 

In La Reine Margot, there is something of a similar effect, with the jasmine interacting with either an animalic musk or ambergris in the base to produce a creamy floral porridge effect. It is perhaps more accurate to view this as a natural jasmine soliflore filtered through the sheen of a milky sandalwood oriental like Dries Van Noten for Les Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. I find this to be a very sensual, natural-feeling jasmine perfume that – unlike many other jasmine-musk combinations – never tapers off into that leathery sourness one smells beneath the wrist band of a rubber watch at the end of the day. It remains soft, pure, and creamy all the way through.

 

 

L’Impératrice Sissi (L’Indomptable)

 

L’Indomptable means indomitable, a person who cannot be subdued or defeated, and this describes perfectly both the character of Empress Sissi and the fragrance itself. Sissi is a cheeky little scent. It comes so over-stuffed with violet pastilles, gummy bears, face powder, cherry syrup, and doll head plastic that you’d think that it would be insufferable to anyone over the age of 12, and for a while, it is. But then a thick, raw lump of benzoin and the uncooked pallor of a very potato-y iris emerge, interjecting the saving grace of ugliness into the pretty.

 

Sissi is extreme in all respects – a sort of cosmetics violet-iris accord set on fire and sent rolling down the hill to flatten everybody in its wake. People who like the part-syrupy, part-powdery excesses of Guerlain’s Insolence, Incarnata by Anatole Lebreton, or Ombre Mercure by Terry de Gunsberg will probably love this lipstick-on-steroids perfume too. I don’t love it, myself, but I certainly enjoy wearing it more than I should. In fact, it’s become something of a guilty pleasure. There’s a fluffy marshmallow crème accord in the drydown that gives as much pleasure and comfort as a giant, fluffy onesie. I’d imagine. Not that I own one or anything.

 

L’Eau de George Sand

 

I find it fascinating that both Maison Nicolas de Barry and Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier have historical fragrances in honor of George Sand and Queen Margot. Both houses chose jasmine as the principal material for their Queen Margot fragrances, although the MPG version is more of an animalic orange blossom than a true jasmine, and the Maison Nicolas de Barry version stars a very dark, natural jasmine accord.

 

For George Sand, both houses focus on the dried-up remnants of a perfume vial carried by Sand herself, which seemed to be made up of patchouli, roses, and amber. But while MPG takes the basic historical formula in a spicy, ambery oriental direction, the Maison Nicolas de Barry focuses on the dark, chypric elements. Think Amouage Beloved, Clinique Aromatics Elixir, and Noir Patchouli by Histoires de Parfum, rather than Cinnabar or Or Noir.

 

L’Eau de George Sand establishes its chypre credentials immediately upon application, putting forth a mossy, abstract bitterness that recalls dried plums, polished wood, and violin resin. It is also immediately powdery in a sumptuously floral way, and I’m sure that I can smell the bones of Acqua di Parma Profumo here, itself a cleaner, more powdery version of Mitsouko. However, there is also a plush animalic feel lurking under the topnotes, which could be either a grubby musk or labdanum. The contrast between the bright, elegant sharpness of the flowers and the murky skin-like feel of an animal is quietly disarming.

 

It is only towards the heart that I sense the darkness of patchouli moving in. But from there on out, this is a herbal, earthy patchouli chypre with a healthy dose of powdery rose. It is dark and somber in feel, while also elegant in that inimitable French manner. Lovers of Aromatics Elixir, Beloved, Noir Patchouli, or even Profumo should give this a try. It does everything they do albeit in a quieter and more natural way.

 

Mumtaz-I Mahal

 

This was the perfume that sparked my initial interest in Maison Nicolas de Barry back in 2014, but I could reconcile neither my actual wearing experience nor the middling reviews with the incredible, unforgettable scent that had spilled on the package and permeated my sample box. In much the same way that I love the collected smells of all my perfumes on my winter coat collar or when I open up my perfume drawer more than the scent of any one single perfume on the skin, Mumtaz-I Mahal smells better in the ambience than on the skin.

 

On the skin, it is a very simple fragrance, just a Turkish rose backed by a smidge of sandalwood. The rose is very high quality – truffled, velvety, rich, and slightly jammy around the edges – but for all intents and purposes, it’s a rose soliflore, and that has to be what you’re looking for when you buy or sample Mumtaz-I Mahal. I think of it as the rose note from Aramis Calligraphy Rose cut free of all the spices, smoke, and resins of the Aramis.

It grows a little more citrusy and fresh towards the base when it meets the sandalwood, but in general, the rose tends more towards the softly jammy and truffled rather than sharp or green. Beautiful rose, beautiful materials…but perhaps better smelled in the secondary wake of someone else than as a personal perfume.

 

Shah Jahan

 

Shah Jahan is, of course, the natural companion to Mumtaz-I Mahal and supposedly the masculine counterpart. It is unisex, in truth, like all of the perfumes produced under Maison Nicolas de Barry. Inspired by the traditional attars produced in Kannauj and offered as gifts to the ruling emperors and princes of the Persiatic Mughal dynasty in India, Sha Jahan is far more complex than Mumtaz-I Mahal, with a tart, rhubarb-like rose on top of sandalwood, a vegetal amber attar base, and a touch of pure oud for exotic Arabian flair.

 

Shah Jahan has a fresh, silvery mien to it that speaks to homely Indian green herbs; compared to its female counterpart, it is angular and sugar-free. A woody, oudy sourness lurks at the corners, drawing the bright rose and herbs into the shadows somewhat, but mainly providing depth. It is spicy, sharp, and quite traditionally Indian in feel. Indian ambers are not creamy or vanillic, tending instead towards tart and spicy.

 

Oddly enough, the raw materials behave in this EDP format in much the same way as they would in an oil-based attar, meaning that the rose, which normally fades out over time in conventional fragrances due to the volatility of its geraniol and citronal molecules, re-emerges towards the end of the perfume, bathing the taut oud and woods in a rosy glow, that, while never sweet, softens the austerity of the blend. Think of this one as a rose-oud accord wrapped up in the clothing of a traditional Indian attar, which in turn is disguised in the form of a conventional eau de parfum. Superb.

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