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The Areej Le Doré History of Attar Collection Thoughts and Reviews

16th September 2022

 

Thoughts

 

Don’t buy the Areej Le Doré History of Attar collection of attars if you are looking for another Walimah or Russian Musk attar by Russian Adam – a regular perfume composition, in other words.  Instead, buy the History of Attars collection if you value having a reference library for traditional distilled attars, made by artisans using pretty much the same equipment (a deg and bhapka) and distillation techniques practiced in India since the time of the Indus Valley Civilization, 3300 BCE-1300 BCE. 

 

It takes enormous skill and knowledge to make an attar in the traditional way, and having practiced it for over five thousand years, Indians are the masters of this art.   Although the attar maker behind the History of Attar set of attars has not been revealed by Russian Adam, the traditional seat of the attar-making world has long been Kannauj, the capital city of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.   Kannauj-based attar-makers supplied the princes of the Turkish-Mongolian (but culturally Persiatic) Mughal Empire with attars for more than three centuries and have a long history of trading with the Middle East (the word ‘attar’ is Farsi in origin but due to the boundary-crossing nature of attar making, the word is pretty much the same, with minor changes, in Urdu, Hindi, and Arabic).   Surrounded by silt-rich fields and valleys that grow an extraordinary range of exotic flowers, aromatics grasses, roses, and herbs, Kannauj is justifiably called the Grasse of the attar world.  Read about the most famous single-material Indian attars here and complex Indian attars here.

 

However, the traditional attar distillation industry is under threat.  Though you can read more in detail about why here, the main reasons are (1) the depletion of genuine santalum album oil, the traditional carrier oil into which the fragrant material materials – rose, jasmine, etc. – are distilled, (2) the high costs and labor intensity attached to harvesting, sourcing, and distillation of the raw materials to the standards expected in traditional attar distillation, and (3) the changing perfume tastes and buying power of the market that buys attars.

 

It is no wonder, then, that many of the small, independent attar-making houses have gone out of business.  At its height, approximately sixty percent of the population of the 1.7 million-strong city of Kannuaj was employed in the attar industry.  Until the restrictions on sandalwood oil production came about in the nineties, there were over seven hundred distilleries operating in Kannauj, for example.  Now there are only a hundred and fifty.  The traditional attar making industry has shrunk by almost eighty percent over the past three decades.

 

Sandalwood is perhaps the biggest issue, as it is responsible for about 50% of the aroma of a traditional attar (sandalwood being both a great-quality carrier that only improves with time but also deeply fragrant in and of itself).  Read more about why sandalwood is such an amazing material here.  Materials such as rose and jasmine have always been expensive to produce, because they are labor-intensive, and a great quantity of their petals required to produce even a small amount of a ruh or attar.  A ten milliliter bottle of genuine rosa damascena oil (ruh gulab) costs approximately $250 in Kannauj, but the same amount of synthetic rose oil costs only $8

 

You might think that all this preamble is a lot of bla, bla, bla.  But since the History of Attar collection of traditionally distilled attars is such a different product for Areej Le Doré to offer, it is worth spending a little time on clarifying why and how these products differ.

 

Russian Adam does not distill traditional attars himself.  Although he does distill his own ouds and some sandalwood oils for its sister outfit, FeelOud, Adam outsources distillations of specific materials to local artisans.  These oils are then used in the Areej Le Doré perfume compositions, both spray-based and oil format.  When these oils are mixed together with an oil carrier, these make what Areej Le Doré calls ‘attars’ but are technically ‘mukhallats’.  

 

Most perfumes in oil format called ‘attars’ are actually mukhallats.  See for example the 2021 Amouage ‘attars’ discussed here, as well as Ensar Oud’s ‘attars’.  This is partially because the word ‘attar’ originally meant anything fragrant or good-smelling, and has therefore become synonymous with ‘perfume’ – and specifically oil-based ‘perfume’ – to most people.  There is, however, some critical differences between the construction and artistic intent of a distilled attar and that of a mukhallat.  Unlike traditional attars, which are distilled, mukhallats are mixed, using already distilled or compounded materials, with a focus on raw materials culturally significant in the Middle-Eastern perfumery, such as ambergris, oud oil, musk, resins, and amber accords.   Mukhallats are definitely more perfumey and ‘finished’ in form – closer to what most would consider a real perfume. Traditionally distilled attars are far simpler and focused on praising the spiritual bounty of nature – closer to an ‘essence’ or ‘enfleurage’ than to what most people think of as a perfume.  Mukhallats tend to be easier to make because it involves mixing materials that have been distilled elsewhere, and the labor is all in the composition (rather than in the distillation).

 

Because traditional attar distillation is an extremely complex operation involving many people, weeks, complex procedures, etc., Adam commissioned an attar maker (attar wallah) to make these attars.  Despite some disappointment about this expressed online, this is basic quality assurance.  If you want a Chanel tweed jacket, you don’t buy a pattern and try to make it yourself.  Leave it to the experts. 

 

Yes, the History of Attar set of distilled attars is expensive.  But traditional distilled attars – genuine ones – are expensive, due to the labor and materials involved.  For example, a traditionally-distilled hina or shamama attar with the full whack of natural raw materials starts at a minimum of $2,000 per kilo.   And it takes over one month of uninterrupted distilling time to make a real shamama attar. Even in India, where labor in cheap,  that adds up to over 700 man hours.  Some will argue that you can buy an Indian attar for $5 on eBay or IndiaMart, and indeed, you can.  However, it will not be a genuine distilled attar.  It will contain a synthetic solvent (like IPM or DPG) or a substandard natural replacer (like Moringa oil) instead of Indian sandalwood.  Most, if not all of the other raw materials will also be likely synthetic.  And it most certainly will not have been distilled in a deg and bhapka but knocked up in someone’s back office masquerading as a lab.

 

It is ok if you are not interested in traditional distilled attars or if you are interested but don’t want to spend this much.  This collection isn’t for everyone.  (Also, attars themselves aren’t for everyone).  Only buy these if you are the type of person who values having a reference library of top-notch examples of a genre or raw material, against which you can judge the quality of other perfumes or oils.  I would compare this collection to the oud sampler you can get on Ensar Oud’s site.  It is handy as a baseline.  If you are content to limit your investment to the spray perfumes that Areej Le Doré will soon release based on these very attars and are only mildly curious as to how the spray fragrances relate back to these attars, then skip ahead to the reviews below.  They should tell you everything you need to know.

 

If you do buy this set, however, and are new to attar perfumery, be prepared for the fact that traditional Indian distilled attars are not perfumey-smelling.  Think of traditional distilled attars more as essences than perfumes per se, simply suspended in sandalwood oil.  Traditional attars are simple in structure; they start with the scent of the fragrant raw material that has been distilled, and end with the famously buttery-peanutty aroma of real sandalwood.

 

If Indian attars ever do smell complex, it is for one of two reasons.  First, some fragrant materials, like vetiver root, are complex-smelling materials in and of themselves, and so lend the attar the illusion of a more fully worked out ‘perfume’.  Vetiver root, when distilled as a ruh khus, for example, can stretch from hazelnut and grass to rose, earth, and smoke.  Second, there is a category of traditional attars known as complex attars, which are not single distillations of one material but co-distillations (for example, rose, jasmine and vetiver root in one still) or mixed with other attars and choyas after distillation.  Attars such as majmua and shamama fall into this category. 

 

The History of Attar attars are not complex-smelling attars.  They are single distillation attars, meaning that only one fragrant material was loaded into the deg and then distilled over the base of sandalwood.  This was an intentional choice on the part of Russian Adam, I believe, as he wanted customers to experience the raw materials in their purest form possible.

 

Traditional distilled Indian attars present the raw material in a way that will surprise people used to their portrayal in commercial perfumery.  For example, jasmine – motia in attar speak – does not smell as clean, bright, or creamy as is commonly portrayed in commercial perfumery.  In motia attars, I notice that jasmine can smell dusky and a bit dank, with some gasoline or plasticky nuances that tend to get filtered out for the commercial perfume experience.  If you buy this collection of attars, therefore, expect some olfactory surprises!  Do not adjust your TV set; this is all perfectly real.

 

The History of Attar attars all end up in exactly the same place, which is a base of real santalum album sandalwood.  As a bonus, Russian Adam has added a quarter tola of sandalwood  oil distilled by FeelOud from vintage Mysore sandalwood from 2000.  This is to give people an idea of what good quality santalum album smells like. The length of time it takes for each attar to get to the Mysore sandalwood base differs, with the more ephemeral materials like rose (Gulab) reaching their destination in an hour and the more tenacious materials like tuberose (Champa, Tuba) taking slightly longer.  But the end destination never changes.  If you love the scent of real, honest-to-goodness Indian sandalwood, you are in for a rare treat.  If you don’t have a particular yen for it, then it will be like being served the same dessert six days in a row.  (Honestly, the people in the latter group don’t deserve good sandalwood at all).     

 

 

The Reviews

 

 

Champa

 

Photo:  Vinayaraj, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia

 

Champa attar is the most famous floral attar ‘type’ from India, possibly popularized beyond the borders of India by its use in nag champa agarbatti (Indian incense sticks), shampoo, and soaps.  Distilled from the champaca flower, a bright yellow flower revered across the Indian subcontinent and much of tropical Asia as a symbol of sacred femininity, champaca tends to smell rich and creamy, similar in profile to magnolia, but with a denser, muskier body weight, and hints of bubblegum, green apple peel, mint, and apricot. Though champaca can be quite musky at times, it is traditionally associated with cleanliness.   In fact, the word ‘champa’ gave rise to the word ‘shampoo’ by way of the Sanskrit word for champaca, ‘champo’, which means ‘to massage’.  

 

This particular Champa attar smells (typically for champaca) headily botanical, with a sharp green tea element freshened with pops of mint, grass, wood, and something akin to furniture polish.   You can tell that it is a floral – something about the heady, steamy atmosphere – yet it doesn’t smell particularly fruity, bright, or feminine in the way you think an attar squeezed from a yellow flower is going to. 

 

I pick up on an intense ‘darkly stewed tea’ element, with a sweet, powdered incense quality in the background, although this impression could be the automatic linking my brain does between the scent of traditional agarbatti[1] and actual champaca.  Although this doesn’t make much sense, since most Nag Champa on the market these days haven’t been within 100 km of real champaca, the association lingers, rendering this attar distinctly Indian in character.

 

The most interesting part of Champa is when it starts to degrade on the skin.  By which I mean the yellow flower itself begins to wilt into a damp, almost fetid organic soup of crushed stamens and soggy stems.  It smells musky in a very natural, attractive kind of way – like a young woman, freshly washed head to toe in Timoteí, rolling around in wildflowers and chamomile buds, only to emerge hours later stained with plant juice and soaked in that fresh-sweet-salty sweat that only the very young seem to produce.  This ‘decaying at the edges’ aspect – the slight tip of the hat towards the barnyard floor – smells freakishly sensual, mostly because it is so clearly natural in origin.  Whoever thinks that flowers can’t smell anything other than sweet or clean should smell this.

 

After this, there is a brief detour into jasmine-like territory, with a sour, plasticky edge I associate with Sambac at the end of its natural life.  Sometimes champaca can smell a little like jasmine, though, only a bit coarser and not as ‘clear’.  If you’ve ever smelled the underside of your wrist after removing a rubber watch at the end of a hot day, you’ll know what this stage of Champa smells like (only mixed with something vaguely floral).    

 

Champa winds up, about two hours later, in pure sandalwood territory.  Because all of these attars end with the same sandalwood finish, it is worth describing this once and then moving on.  If you want to study this basenote in isolation, Areej Le Doré has provided a whole quarter tola of vintage sandalwood in the set, called ‘Sandal’.  I describe it below.

 

 

Sandal

 

Photo by Isaac Martin on Unsplash

 

This is the essential oil of pure santalum album (meaning ‘white sandalwood’), the species of sandalwood rightly prized for being the most fragrant sandalwood of all.  Sandal was distilled from a vintage, well-aged batch of real Mysore sandalwood (22 years old at the time of writing).   Due to current restrictions on Mysore sandalwood, this is a genuine rarity.  

 

How does it smell?  Well, to paraphrase Teri Hatcher in Seinfeld, it’s real and it’s spectacular.  But lean in, folks, because real Mysore sandalwood is actually very quiet.  A fun fact is that, when you first smell Mysore sandalwood – or indeed any santalum album at all, whether it is grown in Mysore or not – you have to make a physical effort to shake off any association with the loud, buttery, incensey scent familiar to you in commercial perfumery, because that’s an association largely formed thanks to widespread use of sandalwood replacers like Javanol or Ebanol.  Commercial perfumes pre-1980s might have contained a certain quantity of real santalum album, but after that, you have been raised on the alluring lie that is sandalwood synthetics.  Therefore, a person’s first sniff of real Mysore sandalwood oil can be disorienting.   

 

At first, Sandal smells like freshly-felled lumber, with that slightly vaporous, high-pitched tone that all wood esters emit.  This is a clean, soft, slightly peanutty aroma, with only the faintest whisper of rose and milk stirring in the undercarriage.  Later on, it develops, in small tonal waves, into a warm scent that is typical of all s. album oils in its savory, milky-but-also-arid warmth.  It smells rugged but also weirdly flat, like the surface of cream, with a musky, spicy element that reads sometimes like ambrette or carrot seed, and sometimes like cumin or black pepper.  It remains extremely quiet and tonal, however, a gorgeous beige-blush-buff thing you instinctively want to drip-feed into your amygdala.  There is none of the deep incense or amber tonalities that Mysore oils sometimes boast, but it is fairly rich and sturdy. 

 

 

Tuba

 

Photo: Jayesh Patil, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Now this will be a surprise to anyone used to tuberose in the commercial perfume context.  In traditional Western perfumery, tuberose tends to be one of those white floral notes you either love or hate.  I, um, have my issues with it.  It is just so strong and sweet, with this overlay of bubblegum, melted butter, candy, and cream that tends to suffocate.  It is just not my style.  It smells aged and ladies-who-lunch-ish and hotel lobby-ish.  There is a handful of tuberose perfumes that I love, but these have to be either so odd that its psychotic quirks suddenly become playful rather than annoying (Daphne by Comme des Garcons) or so green and medicinal that it tips over into bitterness (the opening of Carnal Flower, Tubéreuse Criminelle).  

 

But Tuba doesn’t smell like any of these iterations, let alone anywhere near the big classical, shoulder-padded versions that haunt my nightmares.  The opening is earthy but delicate – small tart green leaves, clay, an earthy Rooibos tea, and mint, all suspended like mist droplets in a curtain of camphor.  It smells dun-colored rather than the hot pink synesthesically associated with tuberose.  In fact, it is less flower than a newly opened jar of that Borghese Advanced Fango Active Purifying Mud, full of Siberian ginseng root and chaga mushroom extract.  Earthy, quasi-medicinal smelling things like this give me far more pleasure than a bouquet of flowers.  

 

Yet, there is also a small but still clearly tuberose character in all of this, which I find extraordinary.  It is as if someone took the freshest, softest leaves at the center of Carnal Flower’s evergreen box hedge opening and washed them in this creamy greige mud until soft, limp, and almost denuded of color.   Leaning savory rather than sweet, the slow fade into the equally savory sandalwood gives the impression of a barely set bread pudding, its layers wobbly to the point of collapse, flavored with miso paste rather than vanilla.  Tuberose must be tenacious even in attar form because Tuba takes more than two hours to disappear entirely into the sandalwood base.  Color me charmed.    

 

 

 

Genda

 

Genda attar is made from marigold (tagetes minuta), which, for a flower, smells uniquely herbaceous, bitter, and spicy.  Its astringent tonality has something in common with saffron, and indeed, the two make for good bedfellows.  Genda attar is uncommon outside of India, but marigold itself is used quite cleverly in some other mukhallats and perfume oils, one example being Aroosah by Al Rehab.

 

This Genda attar is – again – a shock to the senses if you are expecting something recognizably floral.   It smells distinctive without you being able to say exactly what it is that distinguishes it.  But if you relax your nose (like your eyes when looking at one of those Magic Eye paintings), strange and not unalluring shapes begin to emerge from the fog.  First comes a slash of bitter herbs (unidentified, medicinal in purpose), followed by the tacky glucose coating on candy cigarettes, a wash of chamomile tea, a slight hay-like note, latex paint, and either mint or camphor, all wrapped up in an accord that can only be described as a first cousin once removed to nail polish remover.  It is slightly animalic, but mostly high-pitched and vaporous, with its individual nuances shifting around so quickly that it is hard to pin them down. 

 

The flightiness of this herbal-acetone ether makes me think of Borneo oud, which also smells minty, woody and slightly bitter, with a vaporous intensity that makes your head spin if you get too close.  In terms of floral-essence-to-sandalwood trajectory, Genda sits firmly in the middle of the pack, taking about an hour and a half to wind down.  Delightfully odd.

 

 

 

Motia

 

Photo:  Reprinted with kind permission of the photo author, Pranjal Kapoor

 

Out of the three species of jasmine most commonly distilled in attar making[2], motia (or mogra, as it is sometimes called) is the most popular, and is made from Jasminum sambac, the famous ‘Arabian’ jasmine.  Ruh motia itself is almost exclusively distilled in Kannauj these days (whereas solvent-extracted Sambac absolutes and concretes can be found elsewhere).

 

Now this is where things get really strange.  If you know your Sambac jasmine, then you walk into Motia having a pretty good idea of what this is going to smell like – minty, fresh, a bit coarse (in a good way), sexy, slightly sour-leathery in the lower register, etc.  Good ole Sambac jasmine, in other words, and yes, quite recognizably distinct from the classical, sweet grandiflorum type.

 

However, for much of its lifespan, Motia doesn’t smell much like jasmine of any species at all.  You do get a floating layer of green floral soap that may or may not be jasmine, but this nuance is far more wax than flower.  There is a strong aroma of propolis, as well as flashing hints of that grapey benzyl acetate high note that some jasmine materials push to the front, so the jasmine clearly is there, somewhere.  But, in passing through that dusky almond-green floor wax accord, the sound it emits seems to be muted.  It smells to me like what I imagine the pearly white fat remaining from a jasmine enfleurage might have smelled several hundred years ago, when enfleurage was discovered as an extraction technique.

 

I like Motia very much, perhaps because off-center approaches to floral essences as characterful (and recognizable) as jasmine are always more interesting to me than the standard soliflore treatment.   I get a real kick out of the fact that this smells more of cream of wheat and wax and propolis than of jasmine itself.  In fact, Motia reminds me that there is this strange alchemy that occurs when jasmine meets sandalwood that transmogrifies the flower and the wood into something that smells like a warm, silky bowl of porridge.  This wheaten, nubby cream accord strongly recalls other jasmine-sandalwood accords such as that found in the central axis of Dries Van Noten (Frederic Malle) or in Feromone Donna (Abdes Salaam Attar). 

 

Motia is a real education for the nose.  In the ‘strange but true’ category, I also have samples of the Areej Le Doré spray perfumes that are based on these attars, and the one based on this motia attar most definitely smells like Sambac jasmine. 

 

 

 

Gulab

 

Photo:  Reprinted with kind permission of the photo author, Pranjal Kapoor

 

When rose petals are distilled into pure sandalwood oil, the result is an oil known the world over as ‘attar of roses’, or sometimes even Attar Gulab, as here (Gul means rose in Hindi, although the word is sometimes also loosely interpreted as ‘flower’.)  Attar of roses production takes place over nine months of the year, mostly using Bourbon roses (Rosa bourboniana) rather than rosa damascena (which, technically, is used to produce Ruh Gulab, or rose otto, i.e., an essential oil distilled in much the same manner as an attar, only not into a base of sandalwood oil or another solvent. Ruhs are 100% pure essences, rather than 50% fragrant hydrosol, 50% sandalwood oil)

 

Anyway, technicalities aside, describing what rose smells is probably as redundant as describing what coffee or chocolate smells like.  These are smells hardwired into our core memories.  But if I told you that while rose itself has over 300 compounds, the main ‘flavor’ compounds you are smelling are citronellol, geraniol, and eugenol, does that at least help you decode a bit of the mystery of what makes a rose a rose?

 

For me personally, learning that roses can be broken down into the main building blocks of lemon-lime (citronellol), green-minty (geraniol), and clove-pepper-spicy (eugenol) was critical to me understanding what I was smelling when I sampled my first rose outside the cannon of commercial perfumery eight years ago, which was Al Ta’if Rose Nakhb Al Arous from ASAQ.   Now with more experience, I know that the chances of Ta’if Rose Nakhb Al Arous being a pure rose otto are slim to none, but still, this particular oil upended my set-in-stone idea of roses as being soft, sweet, and feminine.  In contrast, the ASAQ smelled like freshly peeled lemons and spicy black peppercorns.  Smelling it slapped me awake.

 

I mention this as preamble to describing this Gulab attar.  If you go into it expecting a big, rich, or sweet affair, you’ll be disappointed.  This is a very traditional rose attar scent, its noise undistorted by the oil format.  It smells high-toned and delicate, with undertones that split off into tart-lemony and peppery-minty directions (without getting sidetracked).  Not surprisingly, due to the citronellol and geraniol compounds, the rose itself is a volatile creature that flares brightly and then immediately begins to soften away into a barely there smudge of rosiness.  When it reaches melting point with that beautiful sandalwood base a scant hour later, it smells very close to what most people’s fantasy of what an attar might smell like, in other words a rosy sandalwood scent with a very simple yet moving beauty to it.  

 

 

 

Source of sample:  Areej Le Doré kindly provided me with the attar set for free.  It normally costs $375.  I paid a small customs fee.

 

Cover Image:  My own photo.  Please do not use or distribute without prior permission.

 

 

[1] Champaca was used in the old, traditional way of making nag champa agarbatti (Indian incense sticks) that prevailed in India before the formula was cheapened in order to satisfy foreign demand for cheap incense.  In addition to champaca, the original formula for agarbatti included some very expensive naturals such as Assamese agarwood, Mysore sandalwood, expensive floral essences such rose, kewra, saffron, henna flower, and spikenard, an aromatic Indian herb.  These aromatic materials were bound by honey and halmaddi, a fragrant gum from the Ailanthus triphysa tree.  Important yogi would traditionally use nag champa in rituals, and it is still the prime component of any major Hindu event.  Therefore, nag champa was originally a highly prized sort of incense.  Mass production and cost-cutting over the years has meant that the Indian pan masala incense you buy these days is usually very low quality and, indeed, possessed of that hippy vibe that tramples on any cachet the original nag champa once enjoyed.

 

[2] The other two species are Chameli and Juhi.  Chameli attar is made from Jasminum grandiflorum, the type of jasmine grown in India and in Grasse and used in classic French perfumery.   Juhi attar is made from Jasminum auriculatum.  The auriculatum variety (Juhi attar) is simply a three-petalled subset of the sambac jasmine, and so the differences between them are negligible.  The differences between sambac and grandiflorum, on the other hand, are more significant.

 

All Natural Aromatic Floral Green Herbal Musk Resins Review Rose

Rozu by Aesop

20th August 2022

 

 

Just when I thought roses had lost their capacity to surprise, along comes Rozu, which wraps a fresh, dewy rose in paper-thin layers of pink pepper, shiso leaf, and aromatic grasses that crackle with intent.  Surprisingly, it is not the spice or the aromatics that shine through the hardest.  For me, it is the evocative aroma of freshly-turned soil that makes Rozu special.  Moist, sharp, alive – this is the healthful, plush air inside a Japanese onsen.  There is also even a tenuous link to mitti, an attar that captures the aroma of the first rains of the season hitting the red earth of Mother India.

 

In line with other Aesop fragrances, Rozu smells uncluttered.  Simplicity is not shorthand for laziness, though.  On the face of it, you might write Rozu off as a rose perched between herb and wood, a dash of pink pepper providing an electrical spark to keep it moving.  But pay attention and you’ll start to wonder why you never noticed until now how minty shiso leaf can smell warm or how spices can smell cold or how a rose can smell indistinguishable from clay.  

 

There is grace (and design) in the way your impressions are prompted to shift from roses to earth to spice to wood and back again.  Yet, it is all as effortless as if Rozu had leapt fully formed from a Japanese forest floor rather than from a perfumer’s organ.

 

Hours in and you start paying for its supreme naturalness.  One by one, the sharper, zestier notes fall back and even that dewiest of roses starts to feel a little faded around the edges.  Every time I wear Rozu, I have to remind myself to stay still and let it roll over me like a fog.  Otherwise, it is easy to miss parts of its conversation.

 

For example, on my third test, I noticed that Rozu has a deeply fragrant, almost ‘dry-roasted’ drydown that, while subtle, provides the wearer with the sense of a party meandering pleasantly to a close instead of the abrupt full stop common to most ‘natural’ (or natural-styled) fragrances.   Whether this is due to a particular resin or wood is besides the point.  If you’re still paying attention at this stage, the only solid thing you grasp is a feeling of warmth.

 

My God, but it’s good.

 

 

 

Source of sample:  I have sampled Rozu several times in a department store.  Unfortunately for me, Aesop seems to apply production pricing to its catalogue of scents, so while other Aesop fragrances cost as little as €100 per 50ml bottle, Rozu is priced in the €150 range (implying that the essential oils required to make it are particularly expensive).  One day, probably when the Aesop shop girls start to object more vociferously to my soaking myself in 20mls in it at a time, or when my Catholic shame gets the better of me – whichever comes first – I might be persuaded to bring it home with me. 

 

Cover Image:   Photo by Oleh Morhun on Unsplash    

Aromatic Citrus Floral Fruity Scents Green Floral Musk Review Suede Summer Vetiver Violet Woods

Gatsby 22 by Ormonde Jayne

9th August 2022

 

Because I feel that I should love Gatsby 22, but definitely don’t, I have worn it heavily over the course of the summer to figure out how to describe it to someone who very well might.  All perfume reviewers have their blind spots, and here’s mine: I am terrible at describing huge floral-woody musks that are little more than a vague shape in the air.

 

Amber smells delicious, kind of like food.  Flowers smell distinctly of themselves, once you know what they smell like individually.  Incense smells like church.  Pine smells like the forest.   But to me, Gatsby smells less like the individual flowers or woods or vetiver referenced in the notes list, and more like an abstract (and ever-shifting) set of ‘moods’ caused by these notes bouncing off each other as they jostle around that expanse of sour, rubbery musk.  

 

Parts of it certainly smell good.  I appreciate the clean, bright citrus shifting into the spearmint tones of geranium, the tangy waft of violets, that Ormonde Jayne osmanthus with its high-end, peach fuzz suede, all washed down until shiny with benzyl salicylate water for that mild, sweet balsamic touch.  This familiar familial arrangement of Ormonde Jayne notes cannot fail to please.

 

But then again, these accords all come drenched in, and partially obscured by a woody musk material that screams eau de department store for once, rather than the usually palatable (to me) Iso E Super accord that Ormonde Jayne uses.  The effect of this particular woody musk is to make the more natural-smelling fruit and floral notes read as arch, highly stylized versions of themselves – glossy magazine inserts rather than the real thing.

 

Here’s the kicker.  I am not the young professional or cool girl/gal at whom it is aimed.  So, can I do this scent justice for the reader who does form part of this demographic?  Ormonde Jayne call Gatsby 22 edgy, but it took me a whole month of wearing it to figure out that they didn’t really mean that it smells edgy (it doesn’t) but rather that it has that clean, androgenous, Ambroxinated vibe that people who wear Glossier You or Tanagra by Maison de Violet or even Baccarat Rouge 540 find so sexy.  These are perfumes that smell like nothing at all but also like crushed gemstones, fresh air, sexual confidence, and the aspiration of personal wealth.

 

In other words, it is the abstraction of Gatsby 22 that matters.   Worn side by side with, for example, Bal d’Afrique (Byredo), a scent that goes for a similar sparkly champagne-lemon-vetiver vibe, it soon becomes clear that Gatsby 22 is much drier, more urbane, and far less literal than the Byredo (which suddenly seems quite ostentatiously gourmand-ish in comparison).  Gatsby’s tart woody musks act like a pour of the driest Vermouth on earth, swishing all the notes together into a blur of things that your field of perception sometimes catches (was that grappa?) but more often not (why am I not picking up on the vetiver?).

 

Gatsby 22 isn’t something I can see myself ever leaning into, but I appreciate that it made me work harder than usual to figure out why I don’t like it and, conversely, think more seriously about the person for whom it might be the best thing ever.  Because, as it turns out, those are two types of people whose tastes will never intersect on a Venn diagram.  And that’s ok too.

 

 

Source of sample:  Ormonde Jayne very kindly sent me a 50ml bottle of this free of charge for review.

 

Cover Image: Photo by Atikh Bana on Unsplash

 

Animalic Chypre Citrus Cult of Raw Materials Floral Independent Perfumery Oakmoss Orange Blossom Review Spicy Floral Tuberose White Floral Woods Ylang ylang

Casablanca by St. Clair Scents

13th June 2022

 

 

I don’t wear fully floral perfumes very often, but when I do, I swing wildly between two extremes – the dependable, if sedate, beauty of established classics like L’Heure Bleue (Guerlain) or Farnesiana (Caron) and the odd but thought-provoking experiments that are indie-made perfumes, like Cornaline (Anatole LeBreton), Quasi Una Absurdia (Chris Rusak), Flos Mortis (Rogue Perfumery), Romanza (Masque Milano), or Mardi Gras (Olympic Orchids).  When I wear perfumes from the first group, I miss the element of surprise (and often discomfort) that indie perfumes bring.  When I wear perfumes from the latter, I miss the polish and reassuring solidity of construction represented by the classics.

 

Casablanca by St. Clair Scents blows me away because it bridges the divide.  The buttery, vegetal tuberose and other white floral notes never get a chance to weigh the perfume down because they are lifted in the short term by a fizzy, spicy medicinal note that smells like a vaporization of Clovis toothpaste and Epsom bath salts, and over the longer term by a bright citrus accord that smells like someone peeling an orange through a dense thicket of white flowers, spraying its petals with volatile peel oils.

 

The effect is extraordinarily rich, voluptuous, and delicious, yet fizzy and upbeat in a way that I rarely find white flowers to be.  To me, white flowers usually smell solemn and ‘posh’, their natural environment seemingly more that of an achingly hip vase in a luxury hotel than anything that grows in actual soil.  But Casablanca takes white florals out of the hotel environment and into the boudoir.  It is both artificial and natural.  By this, I mean that while Casablanca smells very natural, with several expensive floral absolutes clustered together for effect, there is no way one would mistake its naturalness for an absence of design.  

 

The minty-spicy Listerine effect upfront, for example, is a klaxon sounded to jerk the white flowers out of their creamy stupor, and the sexy civet-laced minerals running through the base have been deliberately placed there to give it a retro feel.  And though I suppose there are parallels to similar effects achieved in other non-mainstream perfumes  – the toothpasty mothball vibe in both Tubéreuse Criminelle (Serge Lutens) and Flos Mortis (Rogue Perfumery) for one, the dusty floral civet floor of both Mardi Gras (Olympic Orchids) and Lost in Heaven (Francesca Bianchi) for another – there is not much out there that replicates the total effect of Casablanca, which is to say its rich, warm density that holds all elements (rich white flowers, civet, Listerine, blood orange soda) in balance for so long and with such grace.  It has this slightly smudgy, smeary texture that I love, like flowers seen through glasses steamed up and knocked askew by an illicit embrace. 

 

I am late to the Casablanca party, but better late than never, right?  My only regret is that St. Clair’s Scents perfumes do not seem to have a distributor outside of the United States, and so, a large part of the perfume-consuming market will probably miss out on getting to know it.   And that’s a shame, because I think anyone who loves full-blooded, smutty but still slightly edgy white floral bombs would love Casablanca.

 

 

 

Source of Sample:  My sample was sent to me by Diane St. Clair free of charge.  I understand my privilege as a EU-based perfume journalist, believe me, and am very grateful for the chance to smell perfumes that would normally be out of reach to consumers living where I do.  

 

Cover Image:  Photo by Joeyy Lee on Unsplash 

 

 

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Hera by Papillon Artisan Perfumes

22nd May 2022

 

 

Two fragrances do not an evolution make, I’m aware.  But I can’t help feeling that Spell 125 and now Hera mark a departure for perfumer Liz Moores, away from perfumes that either reference classical styles (Dryad – a green chypre in the fashion of Vol de Nuit, Bengale Rouge – a spicier, more balsamic take on Shalimar or Emeraude) or espouse a particular trope like leathery incense (Anubis) or rose (Tobacco Rose).  Rather, Her and Spell 125 seem to be a bold move towards abstraction, wherein the perfumes are much more than a good smell – they are an expression of an idea.

 

Take the complete lack of literalism in Hera, for example.  You look at the notes and the description, and you think, ah, ok, a wedding bouquet perfume.  Lush, creamy white and yellow florals spilling over a whale-boned corset of puffy marshmallow musk.  Romantic, serene and beautiful in that conventionally feminine manner expected of brides.  But you don’t actually get any of that from Hera.

 

The first surprise is an atomic cloud of spicy violet-iris powder, a diffusive ballooning of molecules powered by what feels to me like aldehydes but is actually ambrette, a natural musk derived from the musk mallow plant.  The apple peel and grappa facets of the ambrette sharpen the violet sensation of the opening and feathers the whole thing into an ethereal mist.  But in no way does this smell pretty or candied or like face powder.  No dainty bridal pastilles here, no Siree.

 

There is also – immediately – the tarry benzene edge of Extra or First Ylang, announcing the first of the floral absolutes that don’t really smell like their usual floral representations in perfumery.  Ylang is always painted as banana-ish or custard-like, but in truth, the natural stuff (essential oil) often has this surprisingly creosote-like smokiness that most often gets smothered by perfumers with sandalwood or vanilla, in the hope of squishing it into a more banana custard shape.  Here, the ylang is uncut and unsweet.  And it definitely doesn’t smell like banana custard. 

 

The surprisingly true ylang in Hera is soon joined by a spicy Sambac jasmine – again, not the creamy, sweet white jasmine of conventional perfumery, but more the authentically leathery-sour twang of Sambac absolute.  The florals do not smell lush, sweet or traditionally feminine.  In fact, Hera does not even smell particularly floral.

 

The central surprise of Hera – its abstraction – is the way in which this tug of war between potent floral absolutes takes place inside this smoky cloud of iris-mimosa-violet powder, stacked one on top of another like a matryoshka doll.  It is an incredible feat of construction that turns florals as heavy as jasmine, orange blossom, and ylang into a fizzy, violet-colored ether.

 

With time, another layer of the matryoshka reveals itself as a murky accord that smells like tobacco but is probably ambergris.  This lends the perfume an aura of salty, powdered skin, like the glow on healthy young skin after mild exertion.  Momentarily, the interaction between the purplish dry-ice florals and damp, tobacco-ish ambergris produces an impression of Caron’s Aimez-Moi (which itself smells like a pouch of moist, tobacco leaves dotted with anise and dried violets).  But this impression is fleeting.

 

Hera feels spicy but remains utterly air-filled and diffuse, as if someone has tried and failed to plug cinnamon sticks and clove buds into an ever shifting dust cloud of wood molecules.  There is also something like myrrh, with its dusty, minty-latexy bitterness.  But Hera never gets bogged down in the thick, sweet thickness of resins, thus neatly sidestepping any effort to pigeonhole it as an incense.  Yet, the spices and the myrrh do give Hera a hint of what I imagine medieval candy might have smelled like, a sort of salty-herbal-fizzing concoction that, when ingested, banishes all evil.    

 

The perfume seems to deepen, but the overall sense of its construction – a complex whirligig of chewy florals and tobacco inside a bright, acidic haze of floral high C notes – remains consistent.  I picture Hera almost synesthesically, a violet-greige cloud of molecules that spark off each other like electricity.

 

It is an abstract experience, similar to the hard-to-define Spell 125 or even Seyrig (Bruno Fazzolari), but that’s not to say that Hera doesn’t also meet the original brief, which was to honor Liz Moores’ daughter, Jasmine, on her wedding day.  Indeed, Hera feels fizzy and bright and sensuous.  It smells optimistic.  

 

What Hera absolutely is not is a re-tread all the tired tropes of traditional bridal perfumery, so if you’re expecting something conventionally feminine or sweet, then park your expectations at the door.  Hera feels made for a lifetime of marriage – interesting, complex, wistful, packed with all the bittersweet moments of a relationships that morphs over time – rather than for one single shiny, glittery, picture-perfect day.  And in my opinion, it is all the better for it.  

 

Source of sample:  Sent free of charge to me by Liz Moores, with no expectation of a review, let alone a positive one. 

 

Cover image:  Photo by Łukasz Łada on Unsplash  

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Civet de Nuit by Areej Le Doré X Sultan Pasha 

28th April 2022

 

 

When reviewing a collaboration between two well-known figures in the indie-artisan scene, especially two friends with ten years of cross-pollination of ideas between them, the question becomes whether to review the fragrance for the small band of fans of people already intimately familiar with the styles of both Russian Adam and Sultan Pasha respectively, or for the broader group of people who just want to know what the perfume smells like.  Because I think the hardcore indie fans of both brands are well catered to by Basenotes threads here and here, I write this review for anyone who wandered in off the Google high street.  

 

Civet de Nuit is a retro-style floral musk featuring antique civet and a powdery oakmoss and amber drydown.  It is something of a Picasso, cycling through different color periods.  The opening is its Blue Period, a plush, anisic eddy of old-school florals inside the wistful heliotrope-and-violet powder room of L’Heure Bleue (Guerlain), albeit one reimagined through the lens of a dense indie musk – all licked skin, honeyed, damp cocoa powder.

 

In its heart, Civet de Nuit slides into a Yellow Period, dominated by an animalic acacia honey, sandalwood, and ylang combination.  Fans of Montaigne (Caron) will especially like this part.  The ylang in Civet de Nuit does not particularly of banana itself or of banana custard, but more like the animalic, fuel-like gassiness of a banana stem degrading in a brown paper bag.  It is simultaneously sharp and doughy.

 

In its very last stretches, Civet de Nuit enters its Brown Period, where the florals desiccate to a musty, leathery oakmoss (withered brown dust) that recalls the far drydown of both Bal à Versailles (Jean Desprez) and Miss Balmain (Balmain), an indeterminate ‘brown’ woodiness, glimpses here and there of amber resin, and a stale, saliva-ish accord that might be tobacco (but is rather similar to the brackish honey note present in Onda by Vero Profumo).   

 

The civet in Civet de Nuit is actually very subtle, reading more like a powdery deer musk than the jutting floral sharpness of civet paste.  It is likely that, being vintage civet, it has mellowed over time and lost all its urinousness.  Civet de Nuit is a complex fragrance that cycles through multiple stages on the skin, with the last occurring a full 24 hours after the first spray.

 

Honestly, though I think Civet de Nuit smells amazing, I find it hard to categorize because it seems never to smell the same on me twice.  I’m sure that after this review is published, I’ll wear it again and kick myself for missing something really important.  On my first test, I felt sure I had this pegged as a doughy floral honey scent, with the same burnt, yeasty cocoa effect as Sultan Pasha’s own Mielfleurs.   It smelled to me like all parts of honey production – propolis, pollen, chestnut honey, the bee’s arse, the wildflowers in the meadow, the wooden frame.  A hint of Slowdive (Hiram Green), perhaps?  Yet – and this is the head scratcher – there is no honey listed anywhere.  

 

On my first wearing, I also noticed something of the ‘corn masa’ nuance of Seville à L’Aube (L’Artisan Parfumeur) and the floral cream-of-wheat effect of Dries Van Noten (Frederic Malle), Feromone Donna (Abdes Salaam Attar), and Pheromone 4 (Agarscents Bazaar), produced by a combination of a white floral like orange blossom or jasmine with ambergris or sandalwood.  I love this malty, wheaten effect.  It smells granular and salty, like a knob of Irish butter set to melt in a bowl of hot porridge.    

 

On my second test, the powder came out to play in a way it hadn’t previously.  In particular, a thick Nag Champa indie-style musk.  I’d made sure to wear Mielfleurs (Sultan Pasha Attars) on one hand and Civet de Nuit on the other, to see if the floral honey comparison was right.  But while they certainly land in a similar place (crusty artisanal honey, left to stale pleasantly on the skin), the Mielfleurs attar was immediately smoky, thick, and chocolatey, while Civet de Nuit was a diffuse haze of floral powders and stick incense lifting off the skin.  I think I am only able to smell the sparkling lift effect of Civet de Nuit’s aldehydes when placed next to something with no aldehydes at all.  On this test, I thought Civet de Nuit felt particularly gauzy and gentle.

 

On my third test, I wore Civet de Nuit on one hand and vintage Bal à Versailles parfum on the other.  Though they are both retro civety florals, they are completely different fragrances for 80% of the ride.  Whereas Civet de Nuit had felt aldehyded and powdery on previous tests, side by side with Bal à Versailles, it becomes clear that its aldehydes are a mere spritz compared to the fierce Coca Cola-like effervescence of the Jean Desprez perfume.  While both perfumes feature civet as a headlining note, Civet de Nuit cloaks it in a velvety glaze of dark cocoa and a caramel amber sheen, weighing it down in that thick artisanal musk, and setting the temperature dial to an Evening in Paris.  By comparison, Bal à Versailles, despite the 30 years it has on Civet de Nuit, smells like that Fragonard painting of the girl on the swing with her slipper flying off – a sherbety fizz of bright florals, civet, and soap.  Interestingly, however, in the far drydown, Civet de Nuit and Bal à Versailles do seem to converge.  There is a slightly astringent, leathery ‘Miss Balmain’-esque oakmoss element to both, although at times it also smells like a dusty, rubbery myrrh.     

 

Only on my third wearing was I able to identify Civet de Nuit as having a clearly ylang character.  Ylang can be difficult to control in a fragrance because of its assertively fruity-sour nature and gassy, benzene-like properties.  One drop too many and you get something too mature, too 1980s.  Ylang can age a scent backwards like no other.  Here, it is slightly banana-ish (again, more gaseous decaying banana stem than banana custard) but quite a lot of its bitter, leathery nuances have also been left in.  Not a tropical take, therefore, but more along the lines of how Thierry Wasser used ylang in his Mitsouko reformulation of 2017-2018, lending a discreet cuir de Russie accent.  Nonetheless, the ylang does give Civet de Nuit that slightly bitter, perfumeyness that constitutes its retro floral character.  

 

Russian Adam and Sultan Pasha both have identifiable signatures that run through their work – powdery, pungent floral musks in Russian Adam’s case and funky honey-tobacco accords in Sultan Pasha’s – and both signatures are present in Civet de Nuit.  But I hadn’t realized until I tested Civet de Nuit just how similar their styles actually are.  Civet de Nuit fits seamlessly into the Sultan Pasha Attar stable beside Sohan d’Iris and Mielfleurs, both of which lean on an animalic floral honey for their pulse.  But it fits just as seamlessly into Areej Le Doré canon, right beside the musky, Nag Champa floral stylings of Koh-I-Noor and the delicious, powdery funk of War and Peace.

 

On balance, though, Civet de Nuit is far lighter and less bombastically-styled than any of these forbears on either side of the aisle. Elegant and almost soft, I highly recommend it to anyone who not only loves retro florals but the furred weight of the real musks, sandalwood, and oakmoss used in the artisanal indie perfumer scene these days.   

 

 

Source of Sample: A 10ml bottle of Civet de Nuit was sent to me free of charge by the brand for review (I paid customs). This did not affect my review.

 

Cover Image: Photo my own.  Please do not use or replicate without my permission.

 

 

Attars & CPOs Floral Mukhallats Review Rose Spicy Floral The Attar Guide Tuberose Vetiver Violet White Floral Ylang ylang

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (T-Y)

17th December 2021

 

 

 

 

Tahani (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Tahani is an exotic floral blend with a touch of fruity Cambodian oud anchoring it at the base.  It opens with a very sweet, rich Taifi rose and the pleasantly bitter sting of artemisia.  Nuances of apricot, rum, and leather nudge things along towards what will hopefully turn out to be an orgasmic riot of white flowers.  (This is the kind of opening that portends good things to come).

 

Unfortunately, it loses the plot slightly in the heart, when the rich rose is joined by a soapy and far-from-brilliant white floral accord, which dulls the bloom on the other notes.  The ambergris in the base does its best to fan some life back into the florals, its salty radiance for once more bitter and foresty than warm, which gives the scent a chypre-like mossiness that works against the bright, fruity rosiness of the opening.  On balance, Tahani is fine but not worth the price of admission.

 

 

 

Tasnim (Tasneem) (La Via del Profumo/ Abdes Salaam Attar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Tasnim (otherwise known as Tasneem) in eau de parfum format is one of my favorite ylang compositions of all time.  Its buttery, creamy banana custard is touched here and there by rubber, and given a gentle, steadying backbone of dusty woods and resins.  It smells – for lack of a better word – dreamy.  Like custard clouds whipped up by Botticelli angels.  In the late drydown, there is a wonderful texturization akin to almonds or hazelnuts pounded down to a fine paste with cinnamon and clove.  Although it ultimately winds up in the same vanilla-banana-lotion area as Micallef’s Ylang in Gold, it remains resinous and nutty rather than fruity.  Think of it as a higher IQ version of the Micallef.

 

The attar (or more accurately, mukhallat) version of Tasnim is similar to the original eau de parfum, but because it stresses different facets of the ylang and for longer, it smells quite different for the first two to three hours.  Specifically, the slightly pungent rubber and fuel-like tones of the ylang are brought out more clearly, complete with the melted plastics undertone inherent to pure ylang oil.  The opening is not unpleasant, but it might be a little odd for people unused to the super potent (and not terribly floral) nuances of raw ylang.  In terms of complexity, I prefer the opening of the eau de parfum because it is both softer and more traditionally ‘perfumey’, whereas the opening of the attar smells more like ylang essential oil.

 

The attar stays in this fruity banana-petrol custard track for much longer than the eau de parfum, affecting both the texture and the ‘feel’ of the scent.  Namely, the eau de parfum possesses an innocent, fluffy softness that I visualize in pastel yellow, while the attar is a bright, oily concentrate – a Pop Art yellow smear of gouache.

 

The drydown is where the attar truly shows its mettle.  In fact, the ever-evolving complexity of the drydown is a good example of where the attar format often trumps the alcohol-based format.  In oil format, the naturals continue to unfold and retract in somewhat unpredictable ways, while the development of the alcohol-based format evolves to a point and then stops.  So, while the eau de parfum displays a beautiful, nutty ‘feuilletine’ finish folded into gentle puffs of woodsmoke, the attar just gets spicier, lusher, and more bodaciously sensual.

 

Tasnim attar is also less sweet than the eau de parfum, a pattern I notice in all direct comparisons of the attar versus the eaux de parfum for this house.  (This feature might make the attars more attractive to men).   The attar eventually dries down into a rich, leathery ylang-resin affair, with the same dusty-creamy texture as the eau de parfum (think crème brulée with a handful of grit stirred through).  It is more animalic than the eau de parfum, with a sort of stale, animal-ish costus note appearing in the latter hours.

 

Both the eau de parfum and the attar of Tasnim are beautiful.  I have a slight preference overall for the eau de parfum, especially in its measured collapse from feathery custard clouds into richly nutty feuilletine.  But in terms of longevity and richness, I must give it to the attar, which only gets deeper and lusher the longer it is on the skin, shedding its rather simplistic ylang oil topnotes to become a floral with an animal growl.  The attar is as powerful, rubied, and pungent as a high grade ylang essential oil, while the eau de parfum is softer, milkier, and sweeter.  

 

 

 

Tawaf (La Via del Profumo/ Abdes Salaam Attar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Tawaf greets you with a hallucinogenic swirl of gasoline, grape brandy, plastics, nail polish remover, and magic marker – not immensely floral, in other words, and a little shocking to those used to commercial (synthetic) jasmine.  I admire its thrusting, near sexual pushiness, but it is not for those of a nervous disposition.  Tawaf is not just jasmine, but a clever mixture of jasmine with its tropical partners in crime – ylang and tuberose.  The flat inkiness of indole defines the opening, and although I find it more squeaky-chemical (magic marker-ish) than animalic per se, it might pin your ears back if you are a jasmine virgin.

 

Soon, a bitter vegetal note emerges to tamp down the purple roar a little.  This is the greasy yellow-green of narcissus, with its feral undercurrent of soiled hay.  In the attar format, the initial floral surge is underpinned by a pungent herbaceous note, like lavender or jatamansi, which to my nose smells disturbingly like spoiled milk.  It is as intense a smell as lavender buds crushed between your fingers.

 

In the attar format (but not the eau de parfum), the scent takes on a silky texture, like heated beeswax slipping through your fingers.  The spikiness of the lavender accent persists, but now it is the soapiness of opoponax resin being pushed to the fore, which gives the scent a pleasantly ‘barbershop’ tonality missing in the eau de parfum format.  The eau de parfum settles into a powdery rose and jasmine tandem kept slightly dirty by way of the barnyardy wet-hay narcissus.  In the far drydown, Tawaf eau de parfum smells rather like the classical jasmine-civet-rose combination in Joy (Patou) – a little sour, leathery, in short, a true jasmine sambac smell.

 

The eau de parfum and attar of Tawaf are quite different from one another, so choose with caution.  The eau de parfum is sweeter, lusher, and more ‘golden’ in temperament, while the attar is oilier, more herbaceous and bitter, and with its emphasis on the lavender-opoponax accord, a virile green-blue hue on the color wheel.

 

The attar does not accentuate the jasmine as much as the eau de parfum at first, although it does allow the jasmine to finally break through the herb-resin miasma past hour two.  In the attar, the primary focus is on the lavender-ish, shaving foam aspects of opoponax, rather than the jasmine.  In the eau de parfum, the herbal shaving cream aspect barely registers, emphasizing instead that skanky jasmine blast in the opening and a classical rose-jasmine-narcissus structure thereafter.

 

The drydown of the attar is spicier, stronger, and more pungent than the eau de parfum, a fierce crescendo of jasmine, shaving cream, and boot polish.  If you are a jasmine fiend, go for the eau de parfum, and if you like the sexy, herbal sourness of skin sweating under a wristwatch, go for the attar.

 

 

 

Tayyiba (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Tayyiba opens with a bouquet of sweet, oily, and slightly pungent flowers – mostly lilac, jasmine, and ylang – creating an effect that is soapy and thick rather than fresh, as if the flowers have been muffled under a thin layer of beeswax.  Later, a savory orange blossom note not a million miles away from the corn-meal masa feel of Seville à L’Aube (L’Artisan Parfumeur) sweeps in.  Overall, Tayyiba is an odd but memorable treatment of traditionally sweet, clear-as-a-bell florals. It is one to sample if you like florals with a muted, salty edge.

 

 

 

Tudor Rose (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Tudor Rose is one of the most accomplished mukhallats in the Mellifluence stable, and one that personifies Abdullah’s neat fusion of Eastern and Western perfumery cultures.  The freshly-cut-grass earthiness of vetiver and deer musk form a thickly furred accord that wraps around the embers of a smoking rose.  Its slightly sulky, ‘red-rubied rose in green velvet’ countenance recalls the animalic rose chypres of the 1970s, such as La Nuit (Paco Rabanne), L’Arte di Gucci (Gucci), or even Knowing (Estée Lauder).

 

However, this is an Eastern take on the rose chypre, so along with that mossy forest floor we get heavy deer musk and two types of real oud oil.  By the time we hit the base, it is clear that we are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.  The dark musk used here is particularly good – velvety and bitter, like 70% cocoa chocolate made liquid.  The slightly stale, earthy ‘old school’ Thai oud used in the blend brings some genuinely barnyardy funk to the party, propelling it out of chypre territory and planting it firmly in the humid jungles of the East.

 

Tudor Rose eventually settles into the quietness of rose-tinted woods, where the sharper notes such as vetiver and rosewood continue to duke it out for some time.  If you like animalic rose chypres but also enjoy the exoticism of oud and rose pairings, then Tudor Rose will reward a sampling.  One of my favorites from Mellifluence. 

 

 

 

Tyrian Purple (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

What an over-the-top, edible delight!  Tyrian Purple (love the Game of Thrones-ish name) is a dollop of cooked rose jam sitting on top of a smoky, medicinal oud that has been gussied up with enough candied apricots and sugar to tip it into the gourmand category.  The gourmand aspect specifically references Middle-Eastern, Indian, and Persian sweet treats such as Rooh Afza, sherbet, and kulfi-like custards flavored with rosewater, saffron, and cardamom.  Osmanthus is the headliner here, creating an olfactory vision of silky rose and apricot jam, and platters of freshly-cut fruit so juicy you almost visualize beads of water popping on their skin.

 

Basically, if you do not smile when you put Tyrian Purple on, then there is something wrong with you.  If you love fragrances such as Andy Tauer’s Rose Jam, By Kilian Liaisons Dangereuses, or Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Mood Satin Oud, then there is no reason why you would not love this too.

 

 

 

Ubar (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Amouage’s Ubar is a big-boned floral built around a triumvirate of indolic white florals, ambergris, and sandalwood.  Sadly,  given that it has been reformulated several times since its launch, with earlier versions more heavily focused on sandalwood than flowers, it is difficult to know what version people are talking about when they refer to Ubar as being a supersonic floral.  Furthermore, the quality of the ambergris and jasmine materials has been downgraded with each subsequent reform.  Whatever in Ubar was once natural is now more likely to be synthetic.

 

However, two features mark Ubar out as being uniquely ‘Ubar’ no matter what the version.  First is its lemongrass-like freshness up top (due to the bright herb called litsea cubeba) and second, its head-spinning complexity.  Ubar is also a perfume an interesting dual personality – a sort of Eastern exoticism meets Western abstract floral perfumery culture clash.

 

So, how does the dupe fare?  In fairness, one can hardly expect a dupe oil to mirror the compositional complexity of an Amouage.  And indeed, while the dupe makes a creditable effort, it falls short.  In particular, the interestingly bright, sour herbaceous topnote of the original is missing, replaced by a screechy citrus material that immediately sets the flavor dial to ‘harsh’.

 

The general texture is also off-kilter – soapy and woody rather than bright and salty.  The floral bouquet is dimmed and blurred by this soapiness, like a lantern rubbed with wax before being lit.  By hour three, the dupe has achieved a sort of uneasy synchronicity with the original Ubar, settling into a soft floral blur that is not unpleasant.  But where the original retains a briny herbal brightness all the way through, the dupe collapses into woody vagueness.

 

However, if the dupe is worn alone, the resemblance to the original is possibly strong enough to pass.  Adequate, in other words – but just barely.

 

 

 

Un Bello (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Un Bello is a juicy, peachy floral accord floating freestyle in a nineties-style aquatic musk.  It smells blue, in a Calone-driven manner.  Given that it accidentally recreates, in faithful detail, the original Acqua di Giò for Women, it would be unconscionable of me to recommend that anyone actually go out and buy this. 

 

 

 

Une Vie En Rose (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Unlike most of the other rose-based compositions in the Henry Jacques stable (that I have smelled), Une Vie En Rose is rendered in the syrupy rose mukhallat style of Arabian perfumery rather than in the crisp, citronal-heavy style of the English garden.  It does not smell as natural or as ripped-from-nature as Henry Jacques’ other rose-forward perfumes, therefore, but in compensation, the thickeners of labdanum, resins, and myrrh make for a more interesting ride.  A smooth but animalic oud oil tucked into the seams gives Une Vie En Rose the feel of a more natural Oud Ispahan.

 

The innocence of the name puzzles until you remember the husky, grief-stained voice of the woman who sang La Vie En Rose.  Edith Piaf would have loved this fragrance.  If you adore the musky bite of oud wood smoking on a burner, or the rough sensuality of balsamic roses, then Une Vie En Rose is for you.  Fans of Oud Ispahan (Dior Privée), Oud Palao (Diptyque), or even the gorgeously syrupy Rose Nacrée du Desert (Guerlain) – this is the one in the Henry Jacques collection to seek out. 

 

 

 

Venezia Giardini Segreti (La Via del Profumo/ Abdes Salaam Attar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

One of my favorites from La Via del Profumo, Venezia Giardini Segreti frames a voluptuous jasmine against the rough-textured tobacco of ambergris, which creates a backdrop of black tea leaves and ash in the manner of Jasmin et Cigarette (État Libre d’Orange).   It is this balance between the damp, fetid lushness of the white flowers and the dryness of the leather, tea, or tobacco that makes Venezia Giardini Segreti so special.    

 

Interestingly, there is also the burnt coffee grounds aroma of real oakmoss.   This accord smells a bit like the oakmoss you get in older, vintage chypres like Givenchy III, meaning rather than fresh and bitter, it feels pre-degraded by time and exposure to the air, like green plant stems rotting slowly in murky vase water.  This dusty ‘brown’ moss note ages the base of Venezia Giardini Segreti, turning the sultry flowers into the cracked-at-the-elbows leather jacket of Cabochard (Grès), Miss Balmain (Balmain), or and Le Smoking (DSH Perfumes).

 

Tempered in this way by the grey-green ink of oakmoss, the jasmine feels like one of those dried and salted mystery items you pick up at the Asian store to snack on.  It is fantastically sexy, and I far prefer it to La Via del Profumo’s most famous jasmine creation, Tawaf.  It is the perfect jasmine perfume for a Bohemian spirit.

 

 

 

Vetiver Blanc (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Vetiver Blanc is sexy as hell.  Straight out of the bottle, it is a creamy emulsion of grass and tropical flowers, with a texture close to coconut cream.  The gardenia and tuberose absolutes give up their creamy, earthy facets but none of their strident, candied, or rubbery undertones, ensuring that the florals in the blend remain low-key.  It smells fertile and damp, like the hummus-rich earth under ylang bushes after a tropical storm.  In this, it shares a bond with Manoumalia by Les Nez, considered by many – including myself – to be the ne-plus-ultra of the tropical floral genre.

 

But the galbanum and the vetiver in Vetiver Blanc run a smoky, rooty thread through the mukhallat, tethering it to the greenery of the jungles and preventing the scent from floating away aimlessly into a pool of pikake island bliss.  There is sensuality, but it is reigned in.  Which, of course, is what makes this even sexier.

 

Another welcome surprise – ambergris.  The composition of Vetiver Blanc contains 35% real ambergris, procured on the West Coast of Ireland and tinctured by Sultan Pasha himself.  It is white ambergris, the highest grade of all, which does not produce much of a scent of its own beyond a sweet seawater minerality.  But the role that the white ambergris plays in this composition is vital.  It causes all the other notes and materials to glow hotly, as if lit by some internal heat source.

 

The effect is a gauzy halo of buttery white florals, resins, and creamed grass, all pulsing outwards in concentric circles of scent waves that fill the room and one’s own mouth.  I find this incredibly beautiful, sexy, and warm – the perfect white floral for white floral avoiders and the perfect vetiver for the vetiver-averse.  It rivals both Songes (Goutal) and Manoumalia (Les Nez) for their damp, fecund sensuality, which, if you know those perfumes at all, is really saying something.

 

 

 

Violet Forever (Agarscents Bazaar)   

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Only the hardest of hearts would not melt at the opening of this perfume.  Violet Forever is a frilly bloomers explosion of sweet, powdery violets, a glitter spackle of violet pastilles pinned lightly to its fabric.  It smells like all the colors associated with Easter – lilac, blush, primrose, duck egg blue.  

 

The childlike exuberance of the opening dies back very quickly, however, transitioning into a more honeyed texture which, while still crystalline, renders the violet note syrupy and medicinal.  Rose and vanilla maintain the creaminess quotient, but alas, the initial freshness of the violets is lost.

 

Despite this, the development of Violet Forever still holds some delights, chief among them a delicious rose jam note that marries the jellied texture of lokhoum to the nuttiness of halva.  The violet becomes ever more insistently sweet as time passes, as well as unapologetically girly.

 

If you love violet pastilles, children’s antibiotic syrups, the scent of My Little Pony, or anything dainty and pastel-colored, then Violet Forever just might be your nirvana.  For everyone else, just keep in mind that they were not kidding about the Forever part, so unless syrupy violet pastilles are your particular fetish, steer clear.  Overall, the sense is of an opportunity missed.  The scent briefly teeters on the brink of something great, but rapidly loses its train of thought, lazily circling back to the girlish cliché you expected it to be in the first place.

 

 

 

Violets Blond (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Dupe for: Tom Ford Violet Blonde

 

The dupe is almost identical to the original Tom Ford perfume, save for a slightly marshy edge to the iris in the dupe.  It nails the violet and iris notes to within an inch of the original, especially the cold suede-like overtones of the orris and the powderiness of the violets.  The dupe is as clean and as musky as the original.  Longevity and projection are also roughly on par.

 

The only real difference is that the absence of the sharp, metallic violet leaf at the beginning, and a lighter, less benzoin-heavy drydown.  The toned-down presence of the benzoin means that the powder is dialed down about forty percent from the original, a feature that some might enjoy or even prefer.  On the flipside, this also translates into a slightly slimmer body – a thin foam pillow instead of a plump goose down one.  Overall, though, this is a more than adequate replacement for the by-now-discontinued Tom Ford.

 

 

 

Violette Noyée (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Expectations are such weighty things, aren’t they?  The minute Sultan Pasha mentioned that the inspiration for Violette Noyée (‘Drowned Violet’) was Guerlain’s classic Après L’Ondée (‘After the Downpour’), it was inevitable that that we would begin to stake out some pretty lofty goal posts in our heads.

 

Expectations like these are nigh on impossible to satisfy.  If the perfumer produces an exact copy of Après L’Ondée in attar form, then it is just a dupe.  If it diverges too far from the original template, then people will scoff that it smells nothing like the original.  When a behemoth like Après L’Ondée is involved, therefore, best not to mention it at all.  That way, if people find it similar, they will point it out and the whole thing becomes a ‘happy accident’ by a talented perfumer whose work happens to come close to the standard set by a Guerlain classic.  

 

Therefore, to judge Violette Noyée fairly, you really must put all thoughts of Après L’Ondée out of your head.  They smell very little alike.  But they are both beautiful in their own way.  Après L’Ondée is sweet and aerated, with a heart of tender violets and heliotrope gently spiced with anise and clove.  The iris in the Guerlain emphasizes the delicately mineral scent of earth after a rain shower.  The entire affair is delicate and gauzy. 

 

Violette Noyee, on the other hand, has a bright, hesperidic opening that bristles with lemon and the brushed-metal greenness of violet leaf, which gives way to an earthy ‘forest’ floral.  Peppy green florals such as hyacinth and lily of the valley play the main role here, rather than the melancholy purple sweetness of violet flowers.  The impression is first and foremost of freshly cut grass and sunshine.

 

Heliotrope is strongly present in the latter stages, but compared to the Guerlain, it is neither fluffy nor gauzy, but heavily fudgy and pastry-like.  The scent develops along the same spicy marzipan track as Après L’Ondée’s big sister, L’Heure Bleue, more than Après L’Ondée itself.  This makes sense as the mukhallat is modeled after the rare Après L’Ondée pure parfum, which is a much heavier and denser affair than the eau de toilette (and indeed, much more like L’Heure Bleue).

 

Being an oil-based perfume, Violette Noyée does not and cannot truly capture the silvery weightlessness of the original, nor does it even attempt to recreate its mineral petrichor effect.  But Violette Noyée should be enjoyed as its own creature rather than as a point of comparison.  Its bright citrus and violet leaf notes are especially beautiful, providing as they do a fantastic contrast with the damp verdancy of the florals.

 

The base throws all sense of restraint to the wind and mixes the cool ‘blue’ fudge-like texture of heliotrope, tonka, and amber with spicy, hot carnation, resins, vintage-style musks, and a filthy, saliva-ish ambergris.  What a mind warp to travel from cool green florals and juicy lemons to L’Heure Bleue’s dessert trolley, to finally plant its feet firmly in the stinky mammalian effluviant of ambergris.  Ethereal it ain’t.  But judge Violette Noyée for what it is, please, rather than for what it purports to be.

 

 

 

Walimah Attar (Areej Le Doré)         

Type: mukhallat

 

 

The opening of Walimah Attar is strangely familiar to me, and it haunts me until I realize that it simply shares what I would characterize as the sepia-toned density common to all blends of natural floral absolutes in attar perfumery.  When you mix a bunch of floral absolutes together, they conspire to make a thick, oily-muddy fug of smells only vaguely floral in dilution.  Unlike the synthetic representations of flowers in mixed media perfumes or commercial perfumery, where you can clearly differentiate one floral note from another, the flowers in all-natural attars don’t give up their individual identities without a fight.  They are melted down into the soup.  But still, there are markers that can tip you off as to what is there.

 

So, for example, in Walimah, I can smell the musky, apple-peel outlines of champaca but not its softer, creamier yellow parts.  The gassy miasma of benzene and grape that lingers like fog in still air tells me that ylang plays a role here, even though it doesn’t really smell distinctly of ylang.  A note like lemon peel dropped into creamed white honey, with a cutting green leaf undercarriage – this is the magnolia.  Finally, there seems to be a big tuberose at loose here, but it is the brown-green, angularly bitter type of tuberose one sees in natural perfumery, rather than the buttery, candied Fracas kind.

 

This floral miasma all boils down into a sticky, fruity, brown varnish of notes that smells more like balsamic oud than a field of flowers.  There is nothing fresh or dewy here.  The floral varnish smells aged and, also kind of vaporous, as if evaporating off a piece of old wooden furniture left to fester in a backroom, sending little spores of varnish off into the ether.  That tells me there is lots of saffron here, with its dusty, potpourri-ish trail.

 

Further on, there is a fabulously grassy vetiver threading in and out through the floral fug – not fresh or citrusy like a straight-up vetiver oil, but more like ruh khus, with its soft, mossy smell of winter greens cooked slowly in olive oil.  There is also, at times (but not on every testing), a trace of mushroomy earthiness, creating an impression of either myrrh or gardenia.

 

Texture-wise, Walimah Attar evolves slowly from a dense, syrupy brown varnish to a dusty, soapy base, with a detour here and there to the grassiness of vetiver.  The funkiness of the musk gives the scent a sweet, powdery, and vaguely civety finish that, coupled with the oily, abstract florals up top, make me think of Gold Man by Amouage, particularly the vintage version.  That is my way of saying that Walimah smells a little dirty in parts, a bit soupy and lounge lizardy, like poor body hygiene covered up with a floral white musk deodorizing powder.

 

Walimah unfolds to me as a series of block movements rather than distinct notes – first, a sharp, fruity fug of yellow and white florals compressed tightly into an oily brick, followed by the relieving, aerating soap powder of musk and old woods,  and finally, darting through everything, that nutty, almost creamy vetiver note.

 

Although I really like Walimah Attar, it gives me a slight headache every time I wear it.  Furthermore, despite its potency for the first four hours, it loses steam quite quickly thereafter.  I recommend it highly for men and women who love the following fragrances: Vetiver Blanc (Sultan Pasha),  De Vaara (Mellifluence),  Champaca Regale (Sultan Pasha),  Jardin de Borneo Tuberose (Sultan Pasha), and Gold Man (Amouage).

 

 

 

White Lotus (Anglesey Organics)

Type: essential oil (doubtful)

 

 

Anglesey Organics’ version of a white lotus ruh is extremely cheap, which means, of course, that it is likely not the real deal.  Still, it is highly enjoyable to wear, even neat on the skin.  The opening is of a honeyed white floral, with little pockets of fresh, cool nectar popping in the honeycomb structure.  It is lightly creamy, but not heavy or thick.  There are some woody and vegetal undertones at play in the background, with a faint tea-with-lemon facet developing much later.

 

Overall, this is a delicious, sparkling oil that makes you want to knock it back like a glass of iced floral cordial on a hot day.  As it develops, there is a parallel to the honeyed creaminess of magnolia, but the white lotus is shot through with a crisp, watery hue that gives it the edge in hot weather.  In the far drydown, alongside the tannic tea and citrus notes, there also appears a dry, resinous thickness that is especially toothsome.

 

 

 

Yasminale #1 (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Sweet pea, honeysuckle, Mirabelle plum, freesia – the notes list reads like a perfume made for a twelve-year-old woodland fairy.  True to form, the perfume starts off as a tender-hearted floral, with a soft fruitiness that broadcasts ‘youth’ without straying into flashiness.  

 

Things take an unexpected turn, however, when a rather adult creaminess rolls in to support the florals in the rump, an exquisite combination of jasmine, vanilla, and sandalwood that smells like one of those old-fashioned, boozy egg creams you get at a retro diner.  Not a perfume for a nymph after all, but for women with deep bosoms, zero thigh gap, and serious sexual intent.

 

 

 

 

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, Anglesey Organics, Perfume Parlour, Agarscents Bazaar, Abdes Salaam Attar, Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics, and Mellifluence. The samples from Sultan Pasha and Areej Le Doré were sent to me free of charge by the brand.  Samples from Henry Jacques 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.

Attars & CPOs Chypre Floral Green Floral Jasmine Mukhallats Review Rose Saffron Spicy Floral The Attar Guide White Floral

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (S)

15th December 2021

 

 

 

Saat Safa (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Saat Safa is a potent mash-up of the mossy, pungent rose chypres of the eighties, such as Diva (Ungaro) and Knowing (Estée Lauder), and the syrupy exoticism of rose and sandalwood attars from India and the Middle East.  In short, it is bloody fantastic.

 

The opening roils with a fresh green rose bracketed by antiseptic saffron, placed there to drain your sinuses and clear a path through the tangled undergrowth.  The pungent green moss notes and the burning resins give the scent an old-school ‘perfumey’ vibe, an impression that grows stronger when the spicy carnation and ylang notes creep in.

 

Although not as spicy as Opium (Yves Saint Laurent) or Coco (Chanel), a bridge of cinnamon and cloves connects the dots between these ruby-rich floral ambers and the mossy bitterness of Mitsouko (Guerlain) and Knowing.  The sour smokiness of the ‘oudy’ base ushers in a taste of the East.  And when all the notes mesh together, one hardly knows whether to be aroused or intimidated.  Maybe both.

 

Although the base slouches into a soapy slop, due to far too heavy a hand with laundry musks, the first part of the scent is striking enough to warrant a place in the wardrobe of any spicy floral-amber or chypre lover.  Amazing stuff and possessed of a quality that belies its low price.

 

 

 

Safari Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

There seem to be two versions of Safari Blend floating around – one for women, the other for men.  I tested the women’s version of Safari Blend, which is a sweet, warm blend consisting mainly of jasmine, ylang, and vanilla.  The opening is almost saccharine, with a big pop of jasmine that shares certain grape soda aspects with the jasmine in Sarassins (Lutens) but none of the indole.   Despite the ylang and vanilla, the blend never descends into a boneless, creamy torpor, thanks to the fruity sharpness of the jasmine.  None of the green or spice notes listed for the scent emerge, which is a shame, because that is exactly the sort of counterbalance sorely missing here.

 

Supposedly there is oud in this, although it is so subtle that it barely registers above and beyond a vaguely tannic woodiness that sneaks into the base.  This note smells more like tea leaves than oud and is so lightly handled that it is difficult to pick out among the roar of the purple-fruited jasmine.  This version of Safari Blend is a bosomy, big girl’s pants kind of jasmine, the sort that is hell bent on seduction at the cost of complexity – Thierry Mugler’s Alien on steroids.  In other words, it is not really suited to those who prefer darker, leathery, and more indolic jasmine scents.  But for those who prefer the jiggly-belly-sweetness of Grasse jasmine?  This will do nicely.

 

 

 

Sajaro (Imperial) (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Sajaro Imperial is made using the best quality Turkish rose oil and Trat oud.  It is roughly similar to the theme explored by Sajaro Classic, but there are key differences.  Mainly, the fiery thrust of the saffron is not in evidence here, the rose is deeper and lusher, and the Trat oud adds an interesting nuance of cooked plum jam to the blend.  It is at once darker and softer than the original, and, thanks to that sultry plum note, actually far more ‘Mittel Europe’ in feel than the Arabian souk summoned by Sajaro Classic’s more traditional rose-saffron-oud triptych.

 

 

 

Sandali Gulab (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Sandali Gulab proves the central tenet of attar and mukhallat perfumery, which is that one need not do anything more complicated than simply placing one or two high-quality raw materials together and allowing them to work their magic on the skin.

 

The ‘sandali’ part of the equation here is supposedly real Mysore sandalwood, although at the relatively low price point of $64, I doubt that much – if any – was used.  No matter.  The real star here is the very good quality rosa damascena that has been used in the blend, speaking to the eponymous gulab part.  It is sweet, velvety in texture, and slightly powdery.

 

The rosa damascena is the same varietal of rose grown in Ta’if but when grown in Turkey, Bulgaria, India, and (formerly) Syria, the aroma profile is very different.  Smelled in conjunction with Ta’ifi Ambergris, for example, it becomes clear that these roses, when grown in Turkey, are lush, jammy-fruity, and softly feathered around the edges compared to the Ta’ifi rose, which smells pungently spicy, green, and lemony.

 

A pleasantly dusty, waxy lacquer note dulls the sharper, higher points of the rosa damascena, and the blend soon becomes pleasantly creamy, as if a drop of vanilla has been stirred through.  However, this is not vanilla, but the effect of the milky sandalwood material used.  Sandali Gulab is very traditional-smelling, by which I mean that it smells like the typical rose-sandalwood attars and oils sold all over India and the Middle East.  Still, this is a very nice, high quality rendition of the classic rose-sandalwood attar, and never feels derivative.  

 

 

 

Shabab (Gulab Singh Johrimal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Shabab opens with a tart, winey red rose, saffron, and velvety woods, its bitterness offset by a sunny ylang note.  This mélange creates a momentary impression of agarwood – yet another example of where the traditional saffron-rose pairing in Eastern perfumery helps us all fill in an oud blank that isn’t really there.

 

As with all the Gulab Singh Johrimal oils, Shabab is a little screechy in the first half an hour.  But sit it out, because this one is worth the wait.  What the scent slowly reveals is a hard-core center of salty, almost animalic woods, framed by labdanum and a brown, mossy accord, all held together by a synthetic oud or Ambroxan.

 

This is the rare mukhallat where the synthetic exoskeleton works to the advantage of the scent, lending it a deliberately perfumey vibe that makes it seem more complex than it really is.  Shabab reminds me somewhat of the dark, spicy Lyric Woman (Amouage), or even the harsh, wine-dregs feel of Une Rose’s drydown, particularly the original version, which contained plenty of the now-banned synthetic woody amber Karanal.  Some of that dirty knickers accord has been borrowed from Agent Provocateur and L’Arte di Gucci too.  For the price, Shabab is impressive – a brutal rose ringed in synthetic filth.

 

 

 

Shadee Version 1 (Batch 2) and Shadee Version 2 (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Originally composed as a blend to commemorate his fifth wedding anniversary, Sultan Pasha has since issued several versions of Shadee (meaning ‘wedding’ in Sanskrit), each with a slightly different top note.  Both samples I tested (Shadee Version 1 and Shadee Version 2) open with a strange but alluring smell of floor wax and boot polish, making me think of a combination of ylang absolute and iris, neither of which feature in this blend.  Instead, Shadee has been designed around a duet of gardenia and jasmine, both florals present in the form of different species and extraction methods.

 

When smelled in high concentration, some floral absolutes and enfleurages can lose their typical ‘floral’ characteristics normally represented in modern commercial perfumery – creaminess or sweetness, for example – and instead bring all their weirder, less floral attributes to the party.   Therefore, ylang can smell like bananas and burning plastic, jasmine can smell like gasoline and grape chewing gum, some violet aromachemicals can smell like cucumber, iris can smell like raw potato and proving bread, calycanthus can smell like blackberry wine, and so on.

 

Such is clearly the case here – the boot polish, fuel-like aspects of pure jasmine oil are magnified in Version 2, whereas the grass-fed, slightly saline mushroom aspect of gardenia is pushed to the front in Version 1.  Neither version is particularly floral in smell at first, despite the massive overload of floral absolutes.  In both, there is a dusty hay-like note, reminiscent of the flat, almost stale spiciness of turmeric or saffron.  This is actually in keeping with the theme of an Indian-style wedding, where the bride typically has intricate henna designs painted onto her hands and arms before the ceremony.

 

The final version of Shadee is the most beautiful and the most rounded.  It opens with the earthy, mushroom-like salinity of Version I’s gardenia up front, but the spicy, leathery Sambac jasmine of Version 2 is there too, playing a subtle background role.  The two floral absolutes intertwine sensuously, flowing into one earthy, spicy, honeyed accord.  Again, there is nothing overtly floral about these pure floral enfleurages.  Rather, they display a dark, chestnut-honey tenor more aligned with earth and leather than a flower.

 

The creaminess of the blend intensifies with the addition of a very good sandalwood, but it is also generously spiced with the astringent herbs and botanicals of a traditional Indian shamama, such as saffron, henna, turmeric, and a host of other unknown ingredients, but which may include spikenard, kewra, or cinnamon bark.  Towards the end, a slightly dank musk accord pulls the earthy, spicy, creamy floral into the undergrowth.

 

Shadee exemplifies what I think makes Sultan Pasha such a good perfumer.  He looks at a theme and takes the less obvious route towards expressing it.  The Shadee attar could have been a crude, spicy caricature of an Indian wedding (more Bollywood than real life) but this is refined, waxy, and slightly strange in the best way imaginable.

 

In its marriage of earth, spice, and flowers, Shadee approaches the orbit of traditional Indian attars such as majmua or shamama but ultimately spins away in a different direction.  It is, in some way, complimentary to Sultan Pasha’s other Indian-inspired attar, Shamama, in that they both draw from a rich Indian cultural heritage of attar-making, but ultimately divert to a more Arabian-inspired finish of animalic musks, resins, or precious woods. 

 

 

 

Shafali (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Shafali’s combination of dusty oud, saffron, sandalwood, and rose manages to smell like the inside of an old furniture shop, complete with the pleasant aroma of neglect – wood spores, old lacquer, dried roses, and dusty yellow packets of henna and saffron tucked into drawers.  In fact, Shafali reminds me of Swiss Arabian’s Mukhallat Malaki, which also has a similarly attractive ‘dusty old furniture’ vibe.

 

Given the relatively low price of Shafali, it is safe to assume that there no real Mysore sandalwood or oud oil was harmed in its making.  They are effectively mimicked, however, by way of a clever use of synthetic replacements or other oils blended to give the desired result.  The antiseptic sting of saffron is authentic and helps us draw the imaginary line to the medicinal, leathery mien of real oud oil.  It does not smell animalic, dirty, or foul in any way – just ancient.

 

Though Shafali is unlikely to contain much, if any, real oud or Mysore sandalwood, the result still smells wonderful – a dried, spicy potpourri of roses over dusty saffron and sweet-n-sour mélange of blond woods that recalls a more exotic Parfum Sacre (Caron).

 

Shafali’s drydown is extremely soapy, which is less pleasing.  But for two thirds of the journey, before it turns to hotel soap, Shafali is the archetypal perfume that Westerners imagine Scheherazade herself might have worn, and that alone is worth the price of entry.

 

 

 

Sharara (Gulab Singh Johrimal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

An inoffensive floral musk with a smattering of lily of the valley, or whatever synthetic perfumers are using these days to create a muguet-like note.  Fresh, soapy, and curiously muted, I can only see this appealing to young women who are frightened of any smell that raises its head above the laundry line.

 

 

 

She Belongs There (Olivine Atelier)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

She Belongs Here is a fresher take on the heady white floral theme typically pursued by Olivine.   Opening with the peachy-jasmine flutter of frangipani mingling with the delicate cream cheese of gardenia, it feels delicate and crisp.  

 

But She Belongs There is more complex than its opening bouquet might suggest.  The white flower petals eventually droop with heat, losing their crisp edge and melting into a heady mass that points to a more mature sensuality.  But the white floral notes retain a beguiling purity.  A foamy vanilla note in the heart aerates the florals, giving them a whipped, frothy texture.

 

A startling mid-performance shift in tone occurs, when the florals begin to smell more like magnolia or champaca than frangipani or gardenia.  The floral notes become bright, honeyed, and almost green, with a side of apple peel, as if the milky-rubbery frangipani had suddenly morphed into the magnolia crispness of Guerlain’s L’Instant.  On close inspection, there is also a strong pear solvent note, like nail polish remover splashed onto a hot metal pan.  This comes across as vaporous and intoxicating, rather than unpleasant.  But it is something to note.

 

The solvent note burns off over time, leaving a very natural-smelling jasmine in its place.  Although not as forceful or naturalistic as Jasmin T by Bruno Acampora, this type of jasmine accord will please those who prefer their jasmine classically sweet and full-figured rather than leathery or fecal.  In the drydown, the jasmine develops a slightly sour edge, and a hint of rubbery smoke appears, possibly tuberose.  The fact that She Belongs There cycles through so many different phases and does so with grace marks it out as special.  A white floral with this many shades of nuance is difficult to achieve under normal circumstances, but to manage it in an oil is a remarkable feat.

 

 

 

Sikina (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Sikina is a lush floral affair that opens on a sambac jasmine note so heartstoppingly real-smelling that it feels like someone has just placed a garland of just-plucked jasmine blossoms around your neck.  Silky, creamy, and rich, the jasmine also has playful hints of dirt, spice and greenery, exerting a narcotic pull on the senses.  It smells like white flowers fresh off the vine.

 

Although jasmine, and particularly sambac jasmine, plays a significant role in Arabic culture, it is rare to see it explored as fully as it is here.  In contrast to the syrupy, grapey, or bubblegummy expressions of jasmine more commonly found in mukhallat perfumery, the jasmine note in Sikina is delicate, with a fresh roundness that is utterly disarming.

 

The jasmine note is quickly joined by what appears to be its true partner in crime, namely a sweet nag champa note.  The nag champa is dusty and a little headshoppy, but the whiff of damp, rotting wood emanating from the oud ensures that it never feels cheap.  The Himalayan deer musk is subtle, noticeable only in its persistent aura of sweet powder.  Indeed, Sikina is animalic in a minor key only, the oud and musk folded quietly into the buttresses of the scent to propel the jasmine and nag champa forward.

 

The white petal freshness of the jasmine does not stay the distance, unfortunately.  I suppose that this is simply what happens when you stack something fresh or delicate up against the all-encompassing powderiness of something like nag champa or musk.  But the leathery spice of the flower survives, outpacing its crisp topnotes.  The slightly dirty facets of sambac jasmine are accentuated by civet, and its lingering sourness mirrored by the yoghurty tartness of rosewood.  Whether the jasmine is real or not, I don’t know.  But Abdullah has sketched out an authentic jasmine sambac drydown for us by way of other notes.  And that is clever.

 

A honeyed orange blossom steps in to fluff the pillows on the final approach, sweetening the pot with its bubbly, orange-marshmallow character.  Oddly, the addition of this (unlisted) orange blossom note gives Sikina an innocent air.  It must be that orange blossom simply reminds me of those French orange blossom waters used for children’s baths. 

 

 

 

Silver Carnations (Possets)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Long lasting and just beautiful from the start, Silver Carnations stays true from the first moment until the last. The “silver” part that you love combined with the spice and flower carnation that you wanted. A winner.

 

 

A sharp, bright clove note – searing in its peppery hotness – leads the charge here.  It is watery, acidic, and a little plasticky, therefore staying true to the scent of clove rather than to the floral freshness of a true carnation.  Carnation smells a little like clove, but it is far less strident and boasts a clear floral softness (or more fancifully, a lace-doily frilliness) that is missing in the spice.  If you have ever ruffled the heads of old-fashioned pinks, then you will know what I mean.

 

In leaning so hard on the clove component, Silver Carnation makes it fifty percent of the way to a good carnation, however, the plain jane vanilla that follows fails to flesh out the spice into that necessary floral freshness that defines the other fifty percent.  Close, therefore, but no cigar.

 

 

 

Sohan d’Iris (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Sohan d’Iris is an unusual composition, featuring an ultra-gourmand but also borderline animalic approach to one of the most delicate materials in perfumery – iris.  Unfortunately, given the natural heaviness of materials such as tonka, honey, and almonds, the iris note gets a bit lost in the fray.  But the mukhallat is interesting enough that one might forgive it that piece of misdirection.

 

The iris note at the start is rooty, almost sinister.  Almost immediately, a thick swirl of salted caramel and almond crème bubbles up from below, licking at the legs of the silvery iris, which retracts in ladylike horror.  The grotesque sweetness of the caramel holds court for a while, before ceding to a honeyed chamomile tisane accord, which cuts through the sullen density like a brisk sea breeze through 90% humidity.

 

Yet this floral honey tisane melts away far too quickly, swallowed up by the dark, animalic basenotes.  The finish reads as pure animal to me, pungent with the unholy funk of old honey, the dung-like pong of black ambergris, and what smells to me like real deer musk.  

 

While the honeyed-floral heart is still bleeding into the animalic base, the mukhallat smells interestingly like cake dragged through the marine silt of a harbor at low tide.  The musky filth here reminds me of Afrah attar by Amouage, which features an almost bilge-like ambergris paired with champaca and basil.

 

The slightly pissy tones of the honey, combined with the heavy musk and ambergris are also somewhat reminiscent of Miel de Bois (Serge Lutens), absent the fuzzy cedar notes.  In fact, forget the gourmand iris angle with which this mukhallat is marketed – if anyone is looking for an animalic, musky honey mukhallat, then look in the direction of Sohan d’Iris.  I find this perfume to be borderline unpleasant, but someone with a stronger stomach for animalics might disagree.

 

 

 

Sundus (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Composed in the traditional ‘dried dates and rose petal’ style of Middle-Eastern mukhallat perfumery, Sundus features a rich Damascus rose swimming in a clear, honeyed amber. It is immediately redolent of the traditional rose sweets one might imbibe in India, Persia, and the Emirates.  Think kulfi and Faloodeh.  There are hints of jasmine, but the floral note is there only to add creaminess to the blend rather than manifest its own naughty, strong-willed character.  Likewise, sandalwood and musk register only in their textural softness, creating the lasting impression of rose petals floating on a pool of crème caramel.

 

If you are a fan of the honeyed-rosy-dessert style of mukhallat perfumery borrowed by niche perfumes such as Oud Satin Mood (Maison Francis Kurkdijan) or Rose Flash (Andy Tauer), then Sundus will please you greatly.  It is both simpler and more ‘basic’ than either of the scents just cited, but very much in the same genre.  I find this mukhallat to exert an odd tug on my emotions, but then, I have a complex relationship with lokhoum.

 

 

 

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, Al Rehab, Maison Anthony Marmin, Abdes Salaam Attar, Possets, Mellifluence, Olivine Atelier, and Agarscents Bazaar. The samples from Sultan Pasha and Abdul Samad al Qurashi were sent to me free of charge either by the brand or a distributor.  Samples 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.

Attars & CPOs Floral Green Floral Jasmine Mukhallats Orange Blossom Patchouli Review Rose Saffron Spicy Floral The Attar Guide Violet White Floral

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (P-R)

13th December 2021

 

 

Prima T (Bruno Acampora)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Prima T is a musky floral chypre that leans on the authentic stink of natural floral absolutes for the bulk of its structure.  The standout floral here is clearly the narcissus, an oily green floral note that mysteriously turns to pollen dust on the skin.  Narcissus is an interesting flower because it smells fresh and green, but also funky, like the compacted layer of soiled hay in a horse stall.

 

The fertile honk of narcissus up front is backed by a compact webbing of roses, lily, muguet, and jasmine, which, though less distinct than the narcissus, lends a beautifully creamy, retro vibe to the fragrance.  While there is no moss involved, the earthy greenness of galbanum resin lends an ashy bitterness that fills in the oakmoss blank on the chypre form.  The effect is like cigarette smoke blown through a bouquet of mixed flowers.

 

Prima T smells old-fashioned in the best possible sense.  It recalls a period of perfumery where the powdery richness of flowers such as daffodils and roses were celebrated rather than relegated to the background, or God forbid, derided as old-womanish or grandmotherly.  As far as examples of narcissus-centered fragrances go, Prima T is more color-saturated than the current-day version of Chamade (Guerlain), as well as creamier and more animalic than the now sadly discontinued Le Temps d’Une Fête (Parfums de Nicolaï).

 

In other words, fans of this particular green floral style would do well to look in the direction of Prima T, especially if currently-available versions of old favorites have suffered badly through reformulation and cost-cutting exercises.

 

 

 

Princess Jawaher Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Princess Jawaher opens with a juicy bergamot on top of some warm, fuzzy oud, stretching its limbs out into a beautiful bouquet of sweet, creamy flowers – jasmine, neroli, and ylang.  The floral accord is so limpid and sweet you might be tempted to neck it like a liqueur.

 

Backing the volley of floral and citrus notes is an oud note that has been cleaned up for public consumption.  There is no bilious sourness or rank animal scat that might challenge the average Western nose.  But the oud note is not linear, either.  It begins its life as a warm, high-toned note akin to leather or hay, but picks up traces of smoke, resin, and woodiness as it approaches the final stretch.  And honestly, were it not for the gravitas that this note adds, Princess Jawaher Blend might be just another light, unremarkable floral.

 

Following the creamy whoosh of white and yellows florals of the opening, a jammy rose rises like a Phoenix, the suddenness of its arrival a wonderful shock.  This neon-colored rose gives definition to the creamier white florals, and when the flowers meet the oud, perfect synchronicity between smoke and sweetness, florals and woods, cream and spice, is achieved. Held together by the toothsome chew of caramelized amber, this is the kind of thing that makes me forgive Abdul Samad Al Qurashi for the bubblegummy floral dross they often try to palm off on us females.

 

The jump in quality or complexity between the lower price echelons of the big Emirati houses and the top tier is sudden rather than incremental.  Take Princess Jawaher Blend, for example.  This is listed as ~$365 per tola.  A favorite of mine from the lower-end blends, Al Ghar, costs $135 per tola.  I like them both.  They pursue broadly similar themes.  Realistically, what could possibly justify the price difference between these two oils of $230?  

 

For many customers – absolutely nothing.  Yet, there is an undeniable hike in quality and complexity from Al Ghar to Princess Jawaher Blend, most notably in the quality (and quantity) of oud used.  Compared to Princess Jawaher Blend, Al Ghar now feels light, simple, and almost insubstantial.  This is to not detract from Al Ghar, but to point out that, in oil-based perfumery, the correlation between price and quality is much tighter than in commercial or niche perfumery.

 

 

 

Rain (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Have no fear – despite the name, there is really nothing aquatic about Rain.  Rather, this is a clean floral musk with a tender, fluffy-pillow of (at a guess) mint, rose, hawthorn, amber, pale woods, and heliotrope.  It is cucumberish in parts, as well as lightly honeyed, leading me to think that this is largely a mimosa-centered composition.

 

In style, it is similar to Jo Malone’s Mimosa and Cardamom, as well as to Malle’s luminous L’Eau d’Hiver.  The only fault I find with Rain is that it is reminiscent of several nineties mainstream scents as well as the clean, breezy (but ultimately flimsy) style of Jo Malone.  And for this kind of money, one expects something a bit more, well, special.

 

 

 

Rayaheen (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

A varnish-like Taifi rose explodes upon first contact with skin, painting the air in a glistening slick of thorns, lemons, and solvent. The rose in Rayaheen runs very close to the acid-tinged ‘bloody rose’ accords in Amouage’s Opus X.  Although not listed, I suspect the sharpening presence of geranium leaf, because there is a metallic glint to the rose that gives the scent a blue-green gleam, like petrol on a puddle.  This aspect causes the rose to shimmer hard, in an almost preternatural way.  The shiny, disco-bright rose is, in turn, supported by sweeter, smokier notes, which to my nose, consist of mostly frankincense mixed with dry tobacco leaf.  Rayaheen is unfortunately very difficult to find now.

 

 

 

Red Rose (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Red Rose is a dupe for Kenzo’s Flower, which means that it is a clean, powdery rose resting on a pillow of white musks.  The opening is sharp and green, with a minty swagger that reminds me of violet leaf or geranium, but soon settling into a pale, rosy powder.  It smells girlish, like rose-scented lipsticks, body dusting powder, and those Pierre Hermes Ispahan macarons.  A silvery thread of carnation emphasizes the spicy vintage floral vibe. 

 

Red Rose is perfectly pitched as a young girl’s first rose scent.  But I would also recommend it to lovers of the retro-vibed cosmetic genre, which includes scents such as Teint de Neige (Lorenzo Villoresi), Ombre Rose (Brosseau), and even Lipstick Rose (Malle).  Personally, I think it smells rather like a bar of pink soap, which is a nice thing to smell like once in a blue moon.  (I imagine it working well in a water shortage).

 

 

 

Rêve Narcotique (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

A beautiful mukhallat that was originally composed as a tribute to vintage Opium, Rêve Narcotique turns out to be a much softer, retro-styled floral amber than the all-out spice and resin bomb I had been expecting.  Vintage Opium’s floral note comes from a carnation-rose axis, shored up by a hot, powdery clove note that blows even more heat into the smoky, balsamic base.  Rêve Narcotique, in contrast, builds its floral component along a warmer, creamier axis of ylang, gardenia, jasmine, and tuberose, producing a slightly grassy floral bouquet that counterpoints the smoky, balsamic basenotes more dramatically.

 

The predominant floral here – to my nose at least – is a dark, phenolic jasmine surrounded by smoldering resins, making it difficult not to draw a dotted line between Rêve Narcotique and Anubis (Papillon). But unlike Anubis, which ends in a fiery bath of smoldering resins and chewed-out leather, Rêve Narcotique slides into an extended gardenia-tuberose riff.

 

The gardenia in Rêve Narcotique begins quietly but quickly gathers pace to become a surprisingly significant player in the composition.  It has an almost savory thickness that is very satisfying, like wild mushroom soup with lashings of double cream.  The green milkiness of the note also reminds one of the slightly grassy taste of fresh Irish butter, recalling the meadows in which the cows have grazed.  It is rare to find a gardenia note as good as this, so gardenia lovers should make sampling this mukhallat a priority.

 

On balance, the florals in Rêve Narcotique are dark, serious, and ultimately, delicate.  People who are afraid of the loudness and shrill sweetness of the Big White Floral category of fragrances need not worry about the florals in Rêve Narcotique.  Natural floral enfleurages and absolutes, minus any synthetics to sharpen them into a sonic boom that can be felt several rooms over, tend to be subtly fragrant rather than loud.  Furthermore, the grassiness of the gardenia and the burnt-tire smokiness of the jasmine take the florals here as far away from that big bouquet of wedding flowers as you can get.

 

 

 

Rose Bouquet (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rose Bouquet is the oil version of Rosenlust, the eau de parfum.  Both are rose-centered compositions that blend Turkish rose otto with Bulgarian rose, rosewood, pink grapefruit, tonka bean, orris, and ambrette.  The quality of the rose absolutes and ottos used here is great, with the meaty lushness of the Turkish varietal and the sour sharpness of Bulgarian roses duking it out in a glorious battle that benefits everyone. 

 

Unusually, the usual ratios of complexity versus simplicity found in comparing the eau de parfum and oil formats are reversed here, with the eau de parfum emerging as a fresh, powdery rose soliflore, while the civety lavender-vanilla dimension of the oil version turns it a rose-heavy version of Jicky (Guerlain).  It is a surprise, but a welcome one.  In this case, the oil takes home the prize.

 

 

 

Rose Galata (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rose Galata shares a certain citronella-like brightness with Rose Snow, below, but is fuller in body – velvet compared to cotton.  Laced with a red hot, Eugenol-rich carnation note, it rasps along in a rather loud, cigarette-hoarse voice that I find rather attractive.  A spiced amber in the base fills out the air pockets, lending it an extra heft around the hips that perhaps it does not need.  Heady, spicy, but with spectacularly poor volume control, Rose Galata is for rose purists who enjoy the stadium-filling radiance of scents such as Opium (Yves Saint Laurent) and Cinnabar (Estée Lauder). 

 

 

 

Rose L’Orange (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rose L’Orange is a fizzy orange crème petit fours enlivened with a bitter, green-tipped rose.  It possesses an unusual texture that moves from syrupy to powdery without ever straying into sweetness.  It feels instantly feels happy, sunny, and maybe even a little sexy, in a good-natured way.   It is not dark or cluttered.  The orange blossom note in Rose L’Orange also gives the perfume a mealy ‘corn masa’ facet similar to that of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Seville à L’Aube.  

 

While the eau de parfum stays firmly in the happy place between creamy orange and green rose, the oil version plays up the intense bitterness of the rose otto, with an edge as herbal as a sheaf of freshly-crushed lavender.  Volume-wise, the oil is thinner and flatter than the eau de parfum, as if all the notes have been compressed into one line.

 

The oil version is considerably less sweet than the original eau de parfum, even though the original itself is not terribly sweet.  The oil lacks both the snappy effervescence of the original format, as well as a certain creaminess, which could be seen as a plus for men.  Think of the oil format here as almost a pure Taifi-style rose otto compared to the fully-fleshed-out rose composition that is the eau de parfum. 

 

 

 

Rose Myosotis (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rose?  No, not rose, but rather heliotrope, violets, and orange blossom.  Despite the name, Rose Myosotis is a powdery, deep-bosomed floral amber in the L’Heure Bleue (Guerlain) mold, all violet-eyed seduction and steely sexual intent – think Maggie in that white dress in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

 

A doughy, spiced ylang heart tightens the memory link to the pre-war Guerlain.  But there is also a suggestion of Bal à Versailles (Jean Desprez) and the newer Cuir Cannage (Dior).  Rose Myosotis is an old-fashioned, spicy poudrée – a Hermes leather toiletries case smeared with lipstick, powder, bubblegum, gasoline, and a winning dollop of ladylike skank.  It is gorgeous but also tremendously sweet.  Check your blood sugar levels and then gorge yourself.

 

 

 

Rose Oud (Mr. Perfume)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

The Mr. Perfume dupe lands in the same general area as the original By Kilian Rose Oud (rose, saffron, oud with a fruity Turkish delight edge), and indeed, someone not overly familiar with the original might find it to be an adequate replacement.  But worn side by side with the original, the differences are clear.

 

The original opens with a tart, lemony rose that feels like Turkish rose petals dipped into acid green bergamot, before softening into dry, saffron-led leather.  The dupe, on the other hand, is immediately softer, jammier, and sweeter, its rose note candied in salep and thickened with amber.  Texture-wise, the rose in the dupe is wet and jellied, the background notes sweetly ambery in the classic Arabian style.  The original is brighter, drier, and more elegant, tilting slightly more towards tart-sour than candied. 

 

The original is more complex and refined, unfolding its different phases slowly over time, whereas the dupe delivers all the action upfront.  Projection and longevity are roughly on a par, although the oil starts with a loud bang and then fades into a whisper, while the original maintains a steady volume throughout.

 

Overall, this is not a bad job.  Many people may even prefer the easygoing sweetness and raspberry jam notes of the dupe over the more austere original.  In terms of accuracy, however, the jamminess of the rose note pushes the dupe away from By Kilian Rose Oud and into territory more comfortably occupied by Tauer Perfumes Rose Flash.

 

 

 

Rose Oudh (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rose Oudh draws upon the power of geranium to fuel the full-bodied rosiness of the composition.  Geranium also lops in a minty-herbaceous tingle, the bitterness of citrus peel, and a shiny boot polish note.  Violet leaf sharpens the opening to a knife point.  It smells rather like blood, varnish, and rose petals ripped from a thorny rose bush, lending the perfume an angry, even hostile edge. 

 

Saffron dominates in the far reaches, whittling the rosy geranium until it becomes a rose-oud in the style of By Kilian’s Rose Oud, minus the soft lokhoum note to ease you in.  Bitter honey adds an animalic flavor but no sweetness or thickness.  This is the sort of accord that fits with my idea of ‘haute couture’ Arabian perfumery – angular and uncompromising, a jutting chin chiseled in granite.  

 

 

 

Roses (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

A surprisingly true-to-life rendition of the traditional Bulgarian rose.  The extent to which you will enjoy Roses very much depends on the type of exposure you have had to this type of rose, which is sharp and leafy-sour rather than lush or jammy.  While some may experience unpleasant flashbacks to the rose toiletries used by their grandmothers, others will experience only the thrilling pungency of a dewy rose freshly-ripped from an English garden.  It is all about context, baby.

 

The closest commercial counterpart to Roses is perhaps Tea Rose by The Perfumer’s Workshop (more natural-smelling) or Rose Absolue by Annick Goutal (lusher, fuller).  If you know those fragrances, then use them as a personal yardstick to judge your likely reaction to Roses by Al Rehab.  Personally, you couldn’t pay me to wear this, but I recognize it could as easily be manna from heaven to someone else.

 

 

 

Rose Sahara (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

The perfumers at Henry Jacques are evidently very proud of their virulently citrusy rose, because it turns up in at least three compositions – Rose Sahara, Rose Galata, and Rose Snow.  To describe the minute differences between them all is to split hairs.  Honestly, smell one and you have smelled them all.

 

Rose Snow is the purest exposition of the note, in that it is really just a vehicle for the rose and little else.  Rose Galata adds spice and amber to raise the volume to stadium-filling levels.  Rose Sahara switches out the amber for ambergris, resulting in a much more strident, saltier composition.  Out of the three, Rose Sahara is the driest and sternest, and therefore perhaps the version that will most appeal to the male sex.  (A hint of ‘hard leather’ in the drydown makes it official.) 

 

 

 

Rose Snow (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rose Snow is a bright, citrusy rose with all the acidity of a Taifi rose but none of its resinous lemon peel and pepper notes.  It smells like the color lime green.  When the aroma settles, the scent of a freshly-cut cabbage rose emerges, simultaneously blowsy and sharp.  The citronal and geraniol components of rose oil have been drawn out and exaggerated here by their closest living relatives in the natural world, namely verbena and a minty-rosy geranium.  With its unfortunate resemblance to the scent of a citronella candle, the outcome is unfortunately more suited to fighting off mosquitoes than members of the opposite sex. 

 

Rose Snow will satisfy those for whom roses should only ever smell bright, clean, and flood-lit from all angles.  Lovers of dark, jammy roses can steer clear.

 

 

 

Rose Taifi Supreme (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

From the cap, Rose Taifi Supreme smells narcotic and deep, teeming with lush red berries, wine, and a raspberry sherbet rose.  On the skin, the lush fruits are sidelined by the tangy green spiciness of the Taifi rose, pitched searingly high, like black pepper sizzling on a dry pan over direct heat.

 

Rose Taifi Supreme smells simultaneously like the most intense rose you have ever smelled but also like a freshly-cut lemon and not at all like a rose.  It smells rosy at a distance, and fiercely spicy up close.  Together the disparate impressions mingle to form a 3D image of a Taifi rose, complete with its strong citronal facet. 

 

The drydown is weirdly addictive, a beguiling mixture of dry spice, freshly-cut grass, lemonade, cassis (both the berry and the leaf), and hot pink rose petals.  It is similar to Al Ta’if Rose Nakhb Al Arous from ASAQ, but while the ASAQ is so pure that it is absorbed into the bloodstream within the hour, Rose Taifi Supreme lasts far longer on the skin and boast phenomenal sillage.  Although there are no other notes listed other than Taifi rose, my guess is that a fixative of some sort – white musk perhaps – has been added to enhance performance.  Crucially, though, it does not smell diluted or synthetic. 

 

Rose Taifi Supreme is beautiful and uncompromising.   Make sure that you love Taifi rose before investing, but if you do, this oil is a safe bet. Taifi rose lovers will want to wear this straight, but for others, it will really come into its own as a layering agent to lend heavier, darker perfumes, attars, and oud oils a turbo-boost of dazzlingly pure rose.   

 

 

 

Rose TRO (Amouage)

Type: rose otto

 

 

Rose TRO is a lush, creamy rose guaranteed to satisfy the itch of rose lovers if Homage does not.  The TRO in Rose TRO stands for Turkish Rose Otto, which is Rosa Damascena that has been steam-distilled as opposed to chemically extracted (processes that yield rose absolute and CO2 extract rather than an otto).

 

The attar itself is clear in hue, but despite its translucence, the aroma that bursts onto the skin could only be described as deep red and gold streaks in a purple sky.  I was taken aback at how carnal the opening minutes of the fragrance felt on my skin.  Thick, heady, and drowning in beeswax, it recalled, for a moment, certain aspects of Lutens’ animalic rose chypre, Rose de Nuit.  Past the bluntly sexual opening, however, the attar drops its seductive growl and becomes a purring kitten of a thing.

 

Either the rose oil used in this is so multifaceted that it can throw out a startling range of rosy ‘tones’ or this attar relies on more than just Turkish Rose Otto for its effect.  Whatever the answer – and I doubt we will ever know the truth – the net effect is of something far more complex than one imagines a simple rose oil to be.

 

At the start, there is a whisper of something citric, but as the rose unfolds, notes of cream soda, milk chocolate, sugared cream, butter cookies, and lokhoum crowd in.  It is soft and truffly, but at the same time, dense and rich. Those whose taste runs towards the vanilla-rose-saffron combination found in scents such as Safran Troublant (L’Artisan Parfumeur) and White Oud (Montale) will likely love Rose TRO, because its rose is rendered in the same style, i.e., dessert-like rather than ripped from a bush.

 

Longevity is higher than average for a pure distilled rose otto, which normally disappears within the hour due to its volatile nature, leading me to suspect there’s at least a little fixative thrown into the mix to help extend the general deliciousness.  At $199 per tola, this was originally one of the true bargains of the Amouage attar line.  Alas, if you can find it now, it is likely to be more expensive, as is the way with most things that have been taken out of production.

 

 

 

Royal Patchouli (Ajmal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Priced at the lower end of the Ajmal range, Royal Patchouli is nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable mukhallat.  Belying the name, it is, at least initially, far more of a floral vanilla than a patchouli-forward affair.  Enriched with the heady bubblegum-banana aroma of ylang, the vanilla thickens up over the course of the wear into a semi-tropical custard – a cross between M. Micallef’s Ylang in Gold and Hiram Green’s Arbolé Arbolé.

 

This is not Le Labo, however, in that despite its rather secondary role here, there is a bit of the titular ingredient in the formula.  The patchouli is subtle, and surprisingly for this material, does not attempt to chew up the scenery.  It spends most of its time humming away in the background as a green, minty breath of fresh air.  A few hours in, a creamy amber takes over, and this is when the patchouli finally decides to kick it up a notch, doubling down on red-brown richness until the floral vanilla gains a waxy, white chocolate mien, for an almost Coromandel-esque vibe.

 

Ultimately, Royal Patchouli is a more than serviceable floral vanilla with minty-boozy patchouli undertones and an appealing eggnog-like texture.  For those who think they dislike any and all patchouli perfumes, from the middle-earth examples to the fruity ones like Thierry Mugler’s Angel, this mukhallat could prove to be acceptable middle ground.

 

 

 

Ruh al Mogra (Nemat)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

There is a certain poetry to the names and titles used in attar perfumery.  Ruh al Mogra, for example, translates to ‘soul of Sambac jasmine’, a fitting name for what is essentially an essential oil distilled from Sambac jasmine flowers, with no carrier oil diluting the distillate.  However, given the expense involved in producing even small quantities of a true ruh, it is unlikely that Nemat’s version, which costs $22 for four ounces (125 grams), is a pure essential oil.  Indeed, the Nemat site is charmingly upfront about this, calling Ruh al Mogra a blend rather than a pure essential oil.

                      

For all its lack of purity, Nemat’s Ruh al Mogra manages to pull off an impressively convincing accurate portrait of a Sambac jasmine essential oil.  At first, it is pungently green and screeches with the nail-varnishy wail of benzyl acetate, the grapey isolate in jasmine that gives both ylang and jasmine their petrol-like fruitiness.  This rather high-pitched opening might be a little nerve-wracking for anyone used to the creamy, fruity deliciousness of synthetic jasmine.  But it is also authentic to the way pure jasmine essential oil smells, so do not write it off just yet.  It gets better.

 

The aroma then flattens out into a cool, damp, earthy smell that has more in common with old wooden furniture and animal fur than flowers.  As the nose adjusts, one begins to perceive the very real, living aroma of a jasmine blooming on the vine.  This is Arabian jasmine, so there is plenty of leathery spice and an indolic character, but it differs from other Arabian jasmine attars by being less coarsely fruity.  There is an attractive dankness to this ruh suggestive of mud and closed-up rooms.

 

Once it settles, the jasmine aroma stays firmly in this earthy, musky track.  Interestingly, many Indian sellers wrongly translate mogra as ambrette seed, and the scent of this ruh makes me wonder if this common misunderstanding stems from the vegetal, ambrette-seed kind of muskiness inherent to natural jasmine oil.   Towards the far drydown, it becomes incredibly sour and musky – animalic to the point of offensiveness.  Still, it retains a modicum of dignity sillage-wise, and never projects too vulgarly.

 

This little oil is an education for the nose of a true jasmine lover.  Despite its lack of purity or refinement, it gives a very good, naturally rugged picture of Arabian jasmine.  Highly recommended for wearing alone or layered under other attars to give a blast of musky fecundity to whatever you’re wearing. 

 

 

 

Ruh Gulab (Nemat)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

As with most Nemat attars, Ruh Gulab is very good once you get past the off-putting topnotes, as well as any preconceived notion of what rose should smell like.  The shocker with Ruh Gulab – a name that translates to ‘soul of the Damask rose’ – is the cloud of bitter, sharp, soapy, and stale notes that bloom malevolently, like a nuclear mushroom cloud, on the skin upon application.  In fact, imagine all the undesirable facets of rose you have ever smelled, and you have just visualized the awfulness of the first half hour.

 

However, get past the rocky first bit and you land in rose heaven, specifically, a warm bath of pure, sweet Turkish rose that is almost syrupy in its richness.  There is a hint of rose jam too, although it never strays into gourmand territory.  The freshness, sparkle, sweetness, fullness – it is all there, and perfectly balanced so that no one single facet dominates.

 

Doubtless, this is not a pure ruh of rosa damascena given its relatively low cost, but for that brief stretch in the heart when it explodes into your consciousness as a pure ruh gulab, it is fabulous.  The base, which arrives a little sooner than one might wish, is a soapy musk of no distinction.  Still, this is worth the price of admission for its Damascus rose heart alone, and for the myriad of layering possibilities.  

 

 

 

Russian Centifolia (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: essential oil

 

 

There are some materials that, when you smell them in high levels of purity in a composition, have the power to move you to the very core, and rose is one of these.  Most people feel an emotional connection to the smell of a rose, with memories of garden walks, a childhood toiletry, or a beloved relative’s rose garden coming to mind straight away.  This reaction is evoked by a certain type of ‘English garden’ rose, which invariably smells dewy, as if freshly torn from its stem by a storm, its tightly furled center yielding its secret, familiar scent.

 

Russian Centifolia is an essential oil drawn from the cabbage rose, a blowsy, old-fashioned rose that whose scent many associate with the rose of their memories.  It is not spicy, but green, full-bodied, and lusciously rosy in a lacy kind of way.  Splutters of sourness stain the pink velvet but far from interfering with this oil’s serene beauty, they add to its sense of authenticity.  The oil slowly becomes spicier, darker, and takes on a musky tinge that runs close to animalic.  This is not an attar or a mukhallat.  However, its aroma is so rich and multifaceted that I include it in the hope that people buy it and wear it for its simple, evocative beauty.

 

 

 

 

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, Al Rehab, Nemat, Ajmal, Arabian Oud, Mr. Perfume, and Bruno Acampora. The samples from Sultan Pasha, April Aromatics, Rising Phoenix Perfumery, and Abdul Samad al Qurashi were sent to me free of charge either by the brand or a distributor.  Samples from Henry Jacques 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.

Attars & CPOs Floral Floral Oriental Green Floral Mukhallats Orange Blossom Review Rose Spicy Floral The Attar Guide White Floral

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.