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The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (E-I)

6th December 2021

 

 

 

Eidyya (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Eidyya, a mukhallat presumably linked to the celebration of Eid or the giving of gifts for Eid, is a potent floral affair with a deeply feminine character. It smells like a bunch of reasonable-quality rose and jasmine oils smushed together and draped over a spacey white musk for diffusion. The florals have an indeterminate, amorphous quality to them, like the taste of hard-boiled glucose candy.  Buoyed by a saffron-spiced amber beneath, it is a cheerful affair.

 

The advertized oud we can safely declare missing in action.  The focus is firmly on those super-femme Bubbalicious florals swimming in a sea of cottony musk, dotted with pops of saffron.   Although pleasant and upbeat, Eidyya fails to differentiate itself from, say, anything in the faceless line-up of ASAQ floral attars for women at the lower end of the price bracket, all of which feature a similarly sweet, gummy floral mix, and can be had for a far more reasonable price.

 

 

 

Elle (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Elle has a simple but pleasing structure – cool, powdery violet over a faintly tarry leather accord.  It opens with the sharp greenness of violet leaf, which lends a high-pitched paint stripper tone that runs close to being unpleasant.  Mercifully, a rush of violet ionones relieves the sting.  Cheerful, bright, and more than a bit chalky, the violet note smells less like the flower itself and more like a Chowder’s Violet lozenge.

 

There is also quite a significant amount of orris here too, and this works upon the violet candy note to assemble a picture that’s very close to both Misia (Chanel) and Incarnata (Anatole Le Breton).  Lipstick wax and face powder.  The chill aloofness of the iris and violet lipstick floats freeform over a rubbery leather accord, itself anchored by a smear of hot tar.  The leather accord is dry, driven by the charred barbarism of castoreum and the aggressive stillness of clary sage.

 

When the leather facet comes to the fore, I realize that the candied powder puff of the opening is a clever piece of misdirection.  Elle is not a lipstick scent, but a tough, vegetal-green leather touched by violet in spots.  More a truly baddass leather chypre like Jolie Madame (Balmain), Miss Balmain (Balmain), and Bandit (Piguet), in other words, than the powdery ‘femme’ Misia.

 

Could a man wear it, despite the femme name?  If you wear stuff like Bandit or Cuir Pleine Fleur, then why not?  A Basenotes friend has insisted for years that Misia works best on young hipster guys with beards anyway, because of the contrast between the sweet, powdery flowers and the rugged manliness of the guy’s ‘look’.  I get that.  It is very effective when a man wears a scent so completely opposite to his image that it stops you in your tracks, thinking, wow – what is that?  Elle, like Misia, would absolutely work great on the right man.    

 

 

 

Ensar Rose (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

 

At first sniff, this smells like a Taifi rose oil, so sharply peppered and lemony that it makes you gasp for a glass of water.  But in fact, this is not a Taifi rose oil, but rather a very rare Alba rose otto – a CO2 extraction from the white petals of the lovely Alba varietal.  The typical characteristics of a good Taifi are all here, though, including the very green, herbal aspects (smelling almost like geranium or angelica), the peppery dryness, and the citronellal, which at times smells perilously close to citronella or floor cleaner.  In short, the opening is pungent, animalic, and piercingly green or lemony.

 

Past the opening, there is a series of transitions that take the sharpness of the rose oil down into a milky, almost chalky base, with a cream soda-ish texture.  The rose is still very much present, but it is deeper now, more winey than high-pitched.  The significant amount of sandalwood in this oil is what creates this ‘creaming’ effect. The salty amber note (ambergris) and sandalwood combination is nicely round and just sweet enough to pare down the sharp edges on that citrusy rose.

 

There is some of Ensar’s Oud Yunus in this blend, hence the name of the mukhallat.  However, since it is used more as a fixative in the base, the oud does not have an overt presence or aroma profile here.  Ensar Rose would be an excellent rose mukhallat to wear in summer as it is a very fresh-smelling, citrusy rose with a soft, long-lasting drydown that is neither too sweet or too heavy.

 

 

 

L’Éphémère (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: Mukhallat

 

 

L’Éphémère cracks a window onto the past when perfumes were Perfume with a capital P – unabashed statements of self that cared not a bit about the noise they were making or the social conventions they were transgressing. It smells like the inside of a room that has been dressed entirely in black velvet.  

 

It is a rose-dominant affair, but while it certainly smells of roses, this is not a naturalistic, ripped-from-a-garden take or even the popular, resin-encrusted ambered rose of modern Middle-Eastern perfumery.  Rather, it is the heavily-spiced, mossy, and cigarette-smoking rose of the 1970s and 1980s.  It is a Power Top in perfume form.

 

The rose itself smells faded (or degraded). Like with Oha (Teo Cabanel), Rose de Nuit (Serge Lutens), Magie Noire (Lancôme), Opium (Yves Saint Laurent), and Coco (Chanel), because the rose is pinned against such a blackened backdrop of bittersweet, orangey balsams, spices, and moss, it emits a far more subdued, world-weary glow than it normally would.  Like a rose glimpsed through an oil lamp or a smear of yellowy beeswax.

 

Extraordinarily perfumey and dense and properly, soapily chypre, L’Éphémère is a perfume anachronism.  Every time I wear it, I feel slightly shocked at how effectively it side-swipes me into a different era.  Those bemoaning the post-1980s gutting of rose chypres should sample L’Éphémère to witness what can actually still be accomplished in this post-IFRA, post-reformulation, post-balls world.  Amazing work.  

 

 

 

 

Eshe A Vision of Life in Death (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: The perfume of life-in-death: embalming herbs, black myrrh, white sandalwood, black orchid, paperwhites, tomb dust, and Moroccan jasmine.

 

 

Eshe is one of those surprises lying tucked away in the corners of BPAL’s obscenely massive back catalogue of 65,500+ scents that makes me wonder if the company would not be well served by a heartless pruning of the branches so that the true gems, like this one, can be found more easily.  Finding one’s way to the really excellent blends in the BPAL catalogue is an exercise requiring a compass, a packed lunch, and the willingness to trawl through thousands of pages of the BPAL forums.  If you’re not a die-hard BPAL fan, then who has the time?

 

In case you have stumbled over this guide in your exploration of BPAL scents, then let me assure you that Eshe: A Vision of Life in Death is one of the more evolved specimens of its species.

 

Despite the list of morbid notes, it is a bone-dry green floral centered on the starched dewiness of narcissus (paperwhites), a dusty sandalwood accord providing a flourish of chypre-like bitterness that serves the scent well.  It is clean, uncluttered, and flinty-metallic.  Its  rustling greenness makes for a great forcefield with which to push back against the noise of modern life. 

 

 

 

Feral Rose (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for an excellent material is simply to let it shine, and this is precisely what Sultan Pasha has done with Feral Rose.  Sitting center stage is a rich rose otto, pure and dripping with honey, spice, and tart green leaves.

 

The quality of the rose otto is such that it needs the bare minimum of accoutrements.  There is a touch perhaps of oud, and a dab of sandalwood, but the Taifi rose is clearly the star of the show.  Slightly waxy and animalic to start with, the rose seems to become brighter and sharper, gaining in focus as time goes on.  It resembles Amouage’s Ayoon Al Maha but is less creamy.  Rich and refined, Feral Rose is for rose lovers and romantics at heart. 

 

 

 

Fire of Roses (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Fire of Roses opens with a fat, waxy Turkish rose coated in a layer of aged varnish.  It feels gouty and rich, but also a bit faded, like an over-stuffed antique chair left out in the sun for months.  Grassy Sumatran vetiver tries to exert its stern, green presence over that sexy rose, but stands no chance against the lascivious resins and ambergris, which work upon the rose to produce a smoky, resinous rose in the same vein as Aramis Calligraphy Rose.

 

Despite the presence of oud and black musk, Fire of Roses is a friendly, approachable mukhallat with little to no dirtiness.  It is a rich, balsamic incense rose that is perfect for daily use.  For something so innately rich and generous, however, longevity is surprisingly short.

 

 

 

Full (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Despite containing not even a droplet of natural jasmine essential oil, which is horrendously expensive to produce and therefore not much used in commercial perfumery, Full somehow manages to convey the full force of Arabian jasmine.  I would love to know how they managed this feat, but like with sausages and laws, it is perhaps best not to investigate too deeply.

 

Full (Ful), which means Sambac jasmine in Arabic, opens with a blast of furry indole and the grapey, benzene reek of benzyl acetate, the isolate in both jasmine and ylang ylang responsible for their fruity, almost banana-like intensity.  It smells like spilled fuel and rotting bananas at first, with the distinct undertone of a port-a-potty at a music festival.  But persist.  It is worth it.

 

If you are a jasmine lover, then Full will provide you with the full 360º experience of the flower, ranging from the gassy, fuel-like top to its rather sour, pissy leather in the base.  And in the middle, you will feel the full force of a thousand white jasmine petals, their edges browning with incipient rot, dropping straight off the vine and onto your lap on a hot summer’s night.

 

It is not, it must be said, for those of a delicate disposition.  The white floral-averse need not apply.  To its credit, Full is not overly sweet or creamy in that Big White Floral fashion, maintaining instead a green, spicy pungency that keeps things on track.

 

Full is quite earthy and dirty.  If you love the coarse, lusty thrust of Arabian jasmine, then look no further.  It comes reasonably close to Montale’s Jasmin Full at a fraction of the cost and is just as powerful.

 

 

 

Geisha Blue (Aroma M)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Geisha Blue is a pleasant mix of green jasmine and chamomile tea, with hay, flowers, and honey hinting at a greater depth. The name is a puzzle since, beyond its gentle translucence, there is nothing particularly aquatic or marine-like here.  I can imagine this working on a modern-day flower child.  Wearing the scent seems to have an ayurvedic effect, the chamomile in particular out-shining the shampoo-like brightness of the other notes.  Its equivalent on the high street might be Memoire d’Un Odeur by Gucci.  

 

 

 

Ghaliyah Pursat (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Ghaliyah, meaning ‘most precious’ or ‘most fragrant’ depending on the source, is a common type of mukhallat in the Middle East.  These were once all-natural affairs containing real ambergris, musks, oud, and spices, offered primarily to royal princes and members of the ruling class.  Nowadays, Ghaliyah mukhallats are a parody of their origin story, being mostly loud chemical soups of synthetic musks and herbs mixed into moringa oil.

 

With its Ghaliyah series, JK DeLapp aimed to create all-natural perfumes that live up to the original meaning of the word Ghaliyah, a moniker that once stood for kingly luxury.  Mukhallats in the Ghaliyah series feature the best quality of oud, ambergris, musk, and spices suspended in vintage Mysore sandalwood oil, and are priced accordingly.

 

The Pursat variation of the series focuses on a very tarry, gasoline-like jasmine note, formed by the combination of jasmine sambac and jasmine grandiflorum.  Other notes get a look in too – a spicy saffron and a hit of smoky, medicinal oud – but the true star is jasmine.  The jasmine oils used in this blend are phenomenal, redolent of melting tar and diesel over burning coals.

 

The very beautiful Russian centifolia rose oil sourced by JK DeLapp in Russia is over-shadowed here, almost entirely obliterated by the phenolic jasmine that mows down everything in its path.  Fans of Papillon Perfumery’s Anubis will appreciate this one, as it features a similar jasmine-leather-on-fire effect.  Pursat finishes in a sultry blaze of that thick, buttery sandalwood used so adroitly by Rising Phoenix, this time a spicy vintage Mysore sandalwood from the 1980s.  I don’t know another attar maker that uses real santalum album as generously or as consistently as JK DeLapp.

 

 

 

Ghuroob Murakkaz (Ghroob) (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Ghroob is one of Arabian Oud’s most popular and loved mukhallats.  It has the kind of extreme sweetness that reads paradoxically as sharp or bitter, like honey taken to burning point.  Orange blossoms, syrupy sweet, are piled on top of an equally sweet Cambodi oud, spiked with saffron and cinnamon, and then poured down your throat like a pan of liquefied baklava.  It is almost unbearably saccharine, but nominally saved from total ruin via spikes of something green and citrusy in the background.

 

The oud note here is subtle, present only as a little woody buzz in the background.  The diva here is that remarkable orange blossom, which smells more like orange blossom honey than a living flower.  If you can tolerate the terrible (to me) sweetness, Ghuroob is sunshine in a bottle.  For fans of By Kilian’s Love (Don’t be Shy) and Dulcis in Fundo (Profumum), I suggest layering Ghroob with a vanilla or marshmallow-scented lotion to arrive at a creamy orange popsicle scent that is incredibly similar for roughly a quarter the cost.  

 

 

 

Gigi (Olivine Atelier)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Gigi is one of Olivine’s bestsellers.  Its popularity proves that indie oil customers in the American market tend to be young women who love the safety of mainstream fruity-florals but either don’t want to pay designer prices or have turned to the indie oil sector as part of a lifestyle choice.  And actually, Gigi is a good bridge between designer and indie.  Gigi could easily be sold alongside any popular fruity-floral on the shelves of the local department store or drugstore – yet it comes in a format that is definitely not the norm.

 

Gigi is immensely sugary, with an amorphous fruit syrup element that could be anything from peach to papaya.  Theme-wise, it is vaguely tropical, but soon veers into the well-trampled territory of Maltol bombs like Pink Sugar.  It also shares something of the bubblegum floral DNA of Gaultier2 and the warm peach cobbler aroma of Burberry for Women

 

Gigi is pretty in a thoughtless way – a swirl of tiaré or frangipani mixed into a peaches-and-cream base, with ylang lending a soft, banana-ish quality.  The streak of bubblegum keeps the mood determinedly pert.  I recommend it (in the most under-enthused manner possible) to anyone who likes this type of genre.  If you are determined to go all-indie, Gigi is a reasonable alternative to the Beyoncé Heat and Britney Spears stuff on the shelves of the local beauty emporium.  Just keep in mind that the aesthetic here is young

 

 

 

Hajar (Al Haramain)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Hajar is a standout in Al Haramain’s lower-priced range of mukhallats, which come charmingly packaged in cigarette box-style cartons.  Hajar stirs a sharp, musky rose and a spicy, leathery ylang ylang into a bowl of sweet-soapy sandalwood, musks, and amber.  It is all a bit Readers’ Wives, but for the price, it smells really, really good (especially at a distance).

 

I should mention here, in the interests of transparency, that Hajar is my husband’s scent of choice. Yes, despite the priceless bottles of oud, high-end niche, artisanal indies, and even my precious bottles of Siberian Musk (Areej Le Doré) and vintage Jubilation XV (Amouage) I have gifted him over the years, a €4 bottle of Hajar is what my husband chooses to wear every darned day.

 

Hajar opens with a musty, medicinal aroma, which is probably a slug of henna or saffron (though neither are listed).  This creates a pinch of woody sourness that momentarily suggests oud, as was intended.  The rose is strong and almost bitter, honed to metallic intensity by a geranium leaf that will draw saliva to the mouth.  But framed by the creamy, musky sandalwood body, most of the sharp edges are drowned in a bath of cream before they have the chance to emerge and stick in your gullet.  At a distance, Hajar smells like a strong rose-oud mukhallat.

 

The ylang ylang is initially only recognizable by its leathery ‘boot polish’ gleam, but later on melts into the creamy woods and soapy musks to reveal a steamy, custard-like tonality that feels like Guerlain’s Samsara returned to her Indian heritage.  Highly recommended.  

 

 

 

Hana-Cha (Aroma M)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Another surprise from Aroma M. Hana-Cha starts off on a bright, almost milky green tea note with a side of lemon peel, but just when you stop paying attention, it slithers into one of the most indolic ylang-jasmine combinations I have smelled outside of Manoumalia by Les Nez.  The flat, inky jasmine takes center stage, but ylang piles on so much of its earthy custard that it feels soft rather than rough.

 

It is worth drawing attention to the nature of the jasmine here since that is the note that dominates.  Your reaction to this scent will likely depend on your experience with jasmine essential oil, which is rarely as pleasant or as ‘jasminey’ as modern jasmine synthetics.  A naturally-occurring feature of jasmine oil is that of plastic or rubber, and this is what emerges spoiling for a fight in Hana-Cha.  This is not the sunny jasmine as presented in commercial perfumery, but dusky and nocturnal in character.  In indie oil perfumery, this is probably as close to a jasmine soliflore as one gets.

 

 

 

Hellebore (Sixteen92)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: A dark winter floral blend — earthy, cold, and a little dangerous. Tuberose absolute, Sambac Jasmine, oakmoss, tobacco, chilled earth, cocoa, black musk

 

 

Hellebore is possibly the darkest scent in an already dark catalog of scents.  It is a poisonous, semi-gaseous floral – tuberose or datura – pulled from the icy depths of winter soil, clods of damp earth clinging to its bone-pale roots.  Although it possesses the same metallic, hairspray-like bitterness that runs through Sixteen92 scents like a mean streak, Hellebore is more obviously organic in nature, the dampness of real mud clinging to its underbelly.

 

The tuberose lends a fleshy, vegetal element that, while not creamy or sweet, nudges the soil note into cocoa territory.  In fact, Hellebore appears to be a riff on the central idea of Black Orchid (tubers, earth, bitter chocolate) excised of all its bloated vanilla-and-cucumber gourmandise and underlined instead with angry black brushstrokes.  It smells like deep winter.

 

Intensely atmospheric and moody, Hellebore would be a great choice for men searching for a gothic, not-too-floral floral.  Think of it as a single white flower struggling to free itself of a dense thicket of black earth, wet leaf mulch, and piles of acrid, smoking leather.  It is a dirty floral, with the ‘dirty’ part for once referring to literal dirt rather than to an abstract distillation of eau de worn panties.  I love it.

 

 

 

L’Heure d’Or  (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: Mukhallat

 

One of my personal favorites from Sultan Pasha.  Translated to Golden Hour – that hour before the sun sets when everything, including your aging face, is bathed in the flattering light of what seems like a thousand candles – L’Heure d’Or begins with the feel of dark materials burning off in a blaze of sunlight.  Smoky balsamic leather, a black-tar jasmine absolute, chewy licorice, chestnut honey, old furniture, waxed bannisters, and a dash of feral civet make for a momentary glower, but soon, the gloom is punctured by the sunny warmth of orange blossom and the high-pitched giggle of citrus peel.

 

This is all set to warm up over a spicy amber-leather combo not a million miles removed from the drydowns to Caron extraits such as Poivre, Tabac Blond, and Nuit de Noel, and here I refer to the modern versions, where the licoricey, oakmossy Mousse de Saxe base accord has been switched out for a hot-breathed, musky amber that pulls it Eugenol richness from clove and rose more than from carnation (the use of which is sadly limited in Western commercial perfumery due to IFRA recommendations).

 

Things get super creamy and laid back in the drydown with sandalwood and benzoin, but the smoky gasoline of the jasmine-leather-treacle accords up front lingers, polluting the creamy, soft white flower and ambery sweetness with an almost shocking smear of tar and smoke.  For those looking for a vintage-styled spicy floral but with all politesse removed (no ‘ladies who lunch’ vibe here, despite the Caronesque overtones) and roughed up with civet and road tar, then L’Heure d’Or is the bomb.   

 

 

Hind (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Hind is, for me, one of the standouts from Abdul Karim Al Faransi and top of the league among their feminine-leaning oils.  Despite the name, there is absolutely no Hindi (Indian) oud oil in the blend.  The word refers only to India as a theme, and specifically to the Indian tradition of rose and sandalwood attars.

 

Hind sets the hard emerald that is the Taifi rose in a plush red velvet cushion formed by powdered sandalwood incense (zukoh powder) and sweet, resiny balsams.  For a while, the rose swims in an almost queasy-making bath of full-fat cream and decaying fruit before eventually righting itself in the direction of spice and greenery.

 

Hind whips itself up into a perfect storm of flavors, contrasting the green, lemony, and peppery notes of the Taifi rose with the balsamic creaminess of sandalwood, powered incense, and resin.  It is at once sweet and spiky, a chilled cream of fruit, lemon leaf, and roses lingering on one’s palate.  It finishes in a sensual whirr of honeyed labdanum seasoned with a marshy, salty note that could be vetiver or even ambergris.  Very nice indeed – girly and a bit edible.

 

 

 

Homage (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Ah, Homage.  It is a legend in the attar world, and yet, for me personally, it is problematic.  While still in production, Amouage suffered from the same batch variations and quality control as Aventus (Creed).  Homage in the original white box is very different from that in the subsequent red and black boxes.  Adding to general anxiety, the red and black boxes display alarming batch variations even within the same color series.  Choosing your Homage is like most fraught game of Checkers ever.

 

This gives rise to the problem of not being able to judge the scent fairly.  When you don’t know which batch you’re reviewing, or if you can only get your hands on one of the inferior batches, you could be comparing apples to tea-cloths and nobody would be any the wiser.  It is also a high-risk perfume for the buyer – you might fall in love with one iteration and fail to ever find the same batch again. 

 

I have tested two samples from two different batches, and I was not sold on either.  Lovers of Homage – put down that pitchfork!  You may be the lucky owners of the one remaining bit of Homage that is genuinely stupendous, for which you should be grateful.  I do not begrudge you your piece of heaven.

 

For everyone else, know this.  You must be a fan of pure, lemony Taifi roses to appreciate Homage.  A wash of citrus oils drench the opening in a sharp flare, like a rose emerging from a dank cellar into icy morning light.  The silvery pine-and-lime-peel freshness of Omani frankincense sharpens the pitch even further.  This kind of accord can be aggravating, especially if you’re not a Taifi rose fan.  But for those who love the almost caustic purity of Taifi rose and Omani incense intertwined, I can see why Homage is considered the ne-plus-ultra of its genre.

 

It is worth noting that the citric beginning does abate somewhat after the first hour, allowing the rose to fluff out into something fuller, sweeter, and more traditionally rose-like.  Still, there is a delicacy and paleness to the rose that may irritate those used to more fulsome interpretations of this most passionate of raw materials.  This recalcitrant rose glows on for another two hours, softly tinged here and there by lemon and indistinct floral accords, until the nose can barely smell it anymore.  To my nose, there is little to no oud, smoke, or amber. 

 

Nit-picking and personal taste aside, what Homage does, it does well.  If one goes into the experience aware that it is a bright, pared-back affair intended to showcase the purity of one or two materials rather than a baroque, Eastern-style extravaganza, then there is no real cause for disappointment.  Its quality and refinement are not in doubt.

 

 

 

Ilang Ilan (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Ilang Ilan bursts out of the sample tube with a pungent ylang note, vibrating at an especially evil level of banana-and-petroleum fruitiness inherent to the material.  But almost immediately, this is counterparted by the chewy licorice snap of myrrh, whose dark, anisic saltiness stuffs a cloth in the shouty mouth of that exuberant ylang, telling it to calm the f&*k down.  For a while, this is so good that you wonder why ylang is ever paired with anything else than an equally pugnacious myrrh.

 

Alas, it is an all too brief display of force.  In the drydown, the ylang departs, leaving only the mineralic, mushroomy facets of the myrrh to dominate. It smells like water you’ve soaked ceps in.  For myrrh fanatics, this might be a boon.  For the ylang enthusiasts, this will feel like bait-and-switch of the worst kind.

 

However, Ilang Ilan is worth at least a sample, especially if you’re into the excitement of an action-packed opening.  The leather, the rubber, the fuel, the licorice…whoever said that tropical florals are not for men just haven’t tried the right ones.  This one is almost butch in presentation.  There is no creamy, trembling banana custard here, and certainly no tropical leis draped on Gaugin-esque island beauties. 

 

 

 

Indian Rose (Yam International)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Indian Rose is a pleasant, full-bodied (and probably completely synthetic) rose oil that mimics the shape of a fat Turkish rose very deftly, with a dab of vanilla or faux sandalwood for that creamy mouthfeel.  Projection and longevity are immense, with a lusty sillage that seems to grow louder with each passing minute.  Perfumey and rich, I can think of far worse rose options for the money, and as long as you don’t expect authenticity, you will not be disappointed.  

 

 

 

Iris 39 (Le Labo)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

The genius of Iris 39 lies in matching the signature Le Labo overlay of ‘fresh chemicals’ (printer ink and photo drying solvents) with a very natural, rugged-smelling mixture of iris and patchouli that smells like roots freshly-ripped from soil, thus giving you the simultaneous experience of the ‘good, clean dirt’ mentioned by Luca Turin in relation to Givenchy III and the quasi-industrial strangeness of something made in a lab.  Review of the original eau de parfum here.  

 

It is an odd but brilliant fragrance, the cold, doughy iris giving way in time to a dry, warm patchouli and soft Egyptian musk.  Though Iris 39 starts out smelling like roots, solvent, and green leaves, it finishes comfortably in the skin-musk territory of Lovely (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Narciso Rodriguez for Her eau de parfum.

 

The oil carrier used in the perfume oil version of Iris 39 exerts something of its own character.  Whereas the eau de parfum opens with a pungent volley of drying chemicals and iris rhizome, the oil smells immediately waxier, flatter, and with a much toned down presence of green notes.  While it does not smell as arousing as the eau de parfum, the perfume oil might please those who prefer a milkier, quieter expression of the same aroma.

 

Personally, I prefer the more chemically-harsh excitement of the eau de parfum.  But I will not deny that the oil version has a useful role to play.  It works particularly well as a hair oil, for example, the scent swishing around one’s head all day long in a particularly attractive ‘my skin but better’ kind of way.  The perfume oil is also slightly sweeter than the eau de parfum, but lacks have its density, projection, or sillage.  For some, this will be an advantage.

 

 

 

Irisoir (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Irisoir is Sultan Pasha’s tribute to his favorite period on history for art and culture – the Belle Époque.  This is an interesting take on iris.  It is extremely difficult to find iris showcased well in attar form, because the oil format tends to compress the delicate nuances of orris butter, a material so ethereal it requires oxygen to reveal its true magic.  But not only does Irisoir succeed in displaying all the cold, silvery aspects of orris butter, it manages to keep it up front and center thanks to a thoughtful arrangement of supporting cast members.

 

In the opening, there is the spine-tingling aroma of iris rhizome – rooty, ice-picky, and almost poisonously pure, like the iris note in Iris Silver Mist honed to a shiv.  Interestingly, although there is no oud in the composition, I smell a funky note of fermented pear or peach juice, a note I often pick up in Cambodi oud.  This provides interest to the iris, its fruit rot smearing the purity of the root.

 

Soon, a doughy floral mélange swells up to support the iris note, dominated by the lush almondy nuances of heliotrope.  This thick, almost marzipan-like heart is spiced generously with carnation, whose spicy clove character brings the central accord into the orbit of Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue.

The iris note still reigns supreme, but naturally, some of its more ethereal facets are swallowed by the doughy heart that now holds it aloft.  This cherry-pit note laces the florals with a poisonous bitterness, melding perfectly with the chilly death glare of that iris.  Tonka bean in the base throws its own creamy almond-like nuances into the ring, mixed with bitter hay and grasses.

 

 

 

Iris Regale (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Orris root has such an ethereal smell that I wondered if it was possible to capture its angelic aroma in a medium as heavy as a concentrated perfume oil.  I need not have worried, as Sultan Pasha is not only very talented in allowing his showcase materials to shine in a composition but is also a keen and respectful student of the older Guerlain compositions.  Thus, his way of working with iris is confident and well-informed.

 

Iris Regale smells first and foremost of luxury.  The orris root comes across as silvery and buttery, backlit by a soft, pale glow.  There is a facet of green freshness at the beginning, but overall, this leans more on the buttery side of orris than its metallic one.  In purity, it parallels that of Chanel’s 28 La Pausa but not its translucence.  The gorgeous iris note is held aloft for quite a while, seemingly on its own, before disappearing to reveal a smoky, resinous amber base that goes on for days.  Verdict: great while the orris butter lasts and still pretty good when it leaves the scene.

 

 

 

Istanbuli Rose in White Musk (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Istanbuli Rose in White Musk is pretty much what it says on the tin – rosa damascena oil mixed into a synthetic white musk base.  When I say, ‘synthetic white musk’, by the way, it is not a moral judgment but simply an observation that all white musks are, by their very nature, synthetic.  The musk element here smells pure and clean.

 

Unfortunately, the rose oil used in this blend displays all the characteristics that many people find difficult in pure rose oils, namely the piercing sharpness of linalool and geraniol that aligns the smell rather unfortunately with the scent of floor cleaning agents.  Depending on your upbringing, this aroma might strike you as luscious and wet in a garden-fresh kind of way, or as an icepick to the brain that reminds you of old-fashioned rose soaps used by elderly relatives to scent their underwear drawer.  Guess which category I fall into.  

 

Although I am not a fan of white musk, its presence here is welcome because it gradually tamps down the screechiness of the rose, making it softer and rounder.  The rose is never less than sharp, but at least the fat cushion of white musk does its job as a pillow silencer. 

 

 

 

‘Itr Al Ward (Al Shareef Oudh)

Type: traditional distilled attar

 

 

‘Itr Al Ward (rose attar) is a rare example of an attar distilled in the traditional Indian manner by an artisan brand not based in India.  The basis for this attar is of course the rose, and specifically, the Damask rose (rosa damascena).  The roses for this attar were sourced in the rose-growing regions of both Kazanlak in Bulgaria and Ta’if in Saudi Arabia, the two foremost rose-producing regions of the world.  Naturally, both regions have imprinted their terroir on the scent of the roses, with Bulgaria contributing a geranium-like freshness and Ta’if the tough, peppery spice of roses grown at high altitude.  The mixed rose petals were co-distilled with Kashmiri saffron and the finest of Somalian frankincense tears, producing a pure essential oil that was then blended with vintage Mysore sandalwood oil, oud, and musk.

 

Any modern artisan effort to produce an attar in the traditional manner should be met with applause, praise, and acknowledgement that a great feat has been pulled off.  The process is difficult, time-consuming, and above all, ruinously expensive.  But in the end, all that should really matter is that the result smells good.

 

And ‘Itr Al Ward does smell good.  It combines the geraniol-rich greenness of pure rose with the lime peel astringency of frankincense for a result that is so bright you might need to put your shades on.  The saffron polishes the tannic dryness of the other accords to a high pitch, the overall effect akin to stepping onto the glare of a floodlight.  This is a fresh and spicy rose, not the lush, honeyed one of ‘Eastern’ yore.

 

For about six hours, the attar continues in this unremittingly bright manner.  Had it stopped there, I might have bemoaned the lack of a tenor voice with which to offset the soprano pitch.  But by hour seven, there is a noticeable softening into a creamy, resinous-sweet sandalwood, given a subtle under-growl by way of a furry and quite obviously real musk.  Softly incensey and ambery, this musky sandalwood is the happy ending worth waiting for.

 

‘Itr Al Ward has wide appeal, therefore.  Its fresh, green rose will speak to those who like their florals clean and uplifting, while its deep, velvety base of sandalwood, musk, and resin will satisfy the human urge for something dark and sweet to round things off.

 

 

 

Iwan (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Iwan features a tart, antiseptic Taifi rose laid over frankincense, a light musk, and what feels like a salty, skin-like ambergris.  It smells solid, quite traditional, and not terribly distinctive.  Iwan is one of those Amouage attars that were extremely difficult to track down even when the attar line was still in production.  However, while thoroughly pleasant to wear, it is not the most exciting perfume in the world.  I would not, for example, go out of my way to find it when more characterful attars like Majan, Molook, or Al Shomukh are still around.

 

 

 

 

About Me:  A two-time Jasmine Award winner for excellence in perfume journalism, I write a blog (this one!) and have authored many guides, articles, and interviews for Basenotes.  (My day-to-day work is in the scientific research for development world).  Thanks to the generosity of friends and acquaintances in the perfume business, I have been privileged enough to smell the raw materials that go into perfumes and learn about the role they play in both Western and Eastern perfumery.   Artisans have sent vials of the most precious materials on earth such as ambergris, deer musk, and oud.  But I have also spent thousands of my own money, buying oud oils directly from artisans and tons of dodgy (and possibly illegal) stuff on eBay.  In the reviews sections, I will always tell you where my sample came from and whether I paid for it or not.

 

Source of samples: I purchased samples from Al Haramain, Olivine Atelier, Sixteen92, Amouage, Maison Anthony Marmin, Agarscents Bazaar, Le Labo, Yam International, Aroma M, Arabian Oud, Al Rehab, BPAL, and Mellifluence. The samples from Sultan Pasha, Al Shareef Oudh, and Rising Phoenix Perfumery were sent to me free of charge by the brand.  

 

 

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 Mukhallats Review The Attar Guide

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (B-D)

3rd December 2021

 

 

Badar (Al Haramain)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Badar is a honey-forward mukhallat that sounds more exciting than it really is.  (It also looks more exciting than it is, packaged as it is in the contraband-ish form of a cigarette box).  Very lightly floral, with hints of either orange or lime blossom in addition to rose, bergamot, orange, and lime, my main issue with it is that it smells more like honey tea or a whipped honey soap product than honey itself.

 

If nothing else, it lacks the complexity suggested by the notes list, which includes patchouli and lavender.  Unfortunately, when you remove all the pissy, objectionably animalic facets of honey, you also remove all its interest.  Then all we are left with is a dull, waxy amber with a side of hotel soap.

 

Listen, Badar is reasonably good-smelling, and it is churlish of me to expect something more of a cheap oil.  But it needs far more shading and depth to be considered worthy of a place in a well-thought-out attar collection. 

 

 

 

Basmati Rose (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: Mukhallat

 

 

Basmati Rose opens on the pure pyrazine twang of buttered toast, if by buttered toast we mean a jellybean flavoring.  It reminds me slightly of the sweet, doughy oddness of Jeux de Peau (Serge Lutens), sluiced with a medicinal saffron that smells like an iodine-soaked leather belt dropped into a bowl of batter, staining it a violent red-gold.  The effect is startling – something über fake against something über natural.

 

Admittedly, I have become over-sensitized to a certain molecule used in perfumery to mimic the scent of toasted, buttery grains, be it basmati rice or toast.  Therefore, while I live in hope of smelling a fragrance that faithfully recreates the steamy smell of basmati, what I invariably smell is a mixture of burnt sugar, movie butter popcorn, and the faint but unmistakable whiff of sweaty socks.  And Basmati Rose, while certainly a step above anything I have ever smelled with this particular accord, is no exception.  

 

In the drydown, however, a velvety rose note emerges, dipped in a bowl of marshmallowy saffron custard (very Safran Troublant) and crusted with glittering resins and spice (very Aramis Calligraphy Rose).   The drydown also features one of purest Mysore sandalwood accords I have smelled outside of pure Mysore sandalwood itself, which – ironically – manages to smell more genuinely buttery and toasty than the Basmati rice accord itself.   The second act of Basmati Rose is, and I do not say this lightly, pure heaven.  If I could get that bit on its own, I would invest in a jeroboam.  

 

 

 

 

Beige (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

This dupe for Chanel Beige smells very little like Beige, but in an unusual turn of events, I enjoy wearing it more than the original.  Let me explain.

 

Beige is a perfume that has been through so many tweaks and reformulations – even before it was turned into an eau de parfum in 2016 – that it is difficult to say with any certainty what it was ever supposed to smell like.  Some iterations prior to the 2016 concentration changeover had a weird, scratchy aromachemical note, and some did not.  The 2016 EDP is markedly different to the EDT, with a thickly powdered note that was not there before.

 

In essence, Beige is a creamy, indistinct mass of white flowers with a luxuriously soapy texture.  It smells either – depending on who you ask – like the world’s most expensive shampoo or a honeyed tropical floral of no great distinction (both opinions being equally valid).

 

The dupe is a different animal entirely.  It skips the peachy frangipani, honey, and vanilla of the original, and focuses instead on a creamy vetiver-vanilla double act, enlivened with a woody hawthorn note.  The original has hawthorn too, but never leans too heavily on it.  The soft, bitter suede tonality the hawthorn lends is beautiful, and because it also restrains the frothy soapiness of the white florals, it smells less like hotel soap than the original.

 

In short, don’t buy the dupe expecting the original.  But if you think that you might enjoy the creamy, sueded bite of the dupe on its own terms, then this is worth a shot.  While the dupe is (technically speaking) not a great dupe of the original perfume, it is a thoroughly enjoyable perfume in its own right.

 

 

 

Black Violets for Women (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Dupe for: Tom Ford Black Violet

 

This runs admirably close to the original, which is long discontinued.  Black Violet featured a dark violet note over a mossy base that recalled the soapy sharpness of traditional men’s barbershop fougères and aftershaves.

 

The dupe nails all of the important notes in the central accord, down to the slightly bitter oakmoss, the dusty violets, and the tart bergamot overlay.  The original is moody, astringent, and rather aggressive – and so is the dupe.  Despite the floral name, both the original and dupe are very masculine-leaning.

 

 

 

Blu (Bruno Acampora)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Blu is, in many ways, the tuberose counterpart to Jasmin T by the same house – pungent, greenish, and with a starting-line klaxon of fuel so potent it could power a small Toyota.  The tuberose that explodes in the topnotes is possibly the purest expression of the flower that one can smell outside of an expensive absolute.  Sadly, the purity of the topnote is marred by a stale dairy note, like milk fat coagulating on the floor of a hot milking shed.

 

A bullishly fruity, sharp ylang accentuates the same attributes present in the tuberose, thus failing to restrain its tubular sister in any meaningful way.  And maybe that is the point of this perfume.  Many tuberose-focused perfume compositions seek to subdue the tuberose note in some way, but Blu seems to recognize that it is the kind of flower you just can’t put manners on.

 

Blu is sexy, coarse, and messy beyond belief.  It is exclusively for people who are unafraid of the quasi-ugly pungency of white flowers when presented in their natural form.

 

 

 

Blue 4 Orchid (Aloes of Ish)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Blue 4 Orchid is a floral mukhallat that mixes the chocolate-and-vanilla richness of orchid with an aquatic note (possibly blue lotus, given the name of the oil).  The similarity to Tom Ford’s Black Orchid is striking, with a few key differences in texture.  Whereas Black Orchid is dense and velvety, Blue 4 Orchid is salty, airy, and aqueous in nature.  That distinctive dissonance between rich-creamy truffle and cucumberish freshness, however, is the same.

 

For the price, it would be difficult to recommend the Tom Ford over Blue 4 Orchid.  Do keep in mind that oils wear more closely to the body and have less projection.  For those seeking maximum impact at twenty paces, this might not cut it.  But for those who liked Black Orchid but found it unbearably loud, Blue 4 Orchid is an alternative worth bearing in mind.

 

 

 

Bluebird (Olivine Atelier)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Bluebird is a classic ‘florist’s fridge’ floral, opening with the intoxicatingly green whoosh of scent that greets you when you walk into a flower shop.  It is generally hard to maintain the aroma of snapped stems, pollen, plant sap, and dewy petals without devolving into a chemical soup further on down the line.  To its credit, Bluebird manages to keep its botanical mimicry fresh and natural for much longer than is the norm.

 

No one flower stands out, except for perhaps the salty greenness of lily and a soapy muguet.  There is also a touch of the famous Olivine gardenia in the drydown.  For much of the first half of the scent’s life, the texture is moist, cold, and crunchy.   Super satisfying. But when a clean white musk moves in to keep the muguet going a little longer, Bluebird begins its inexorable slide into the scent of those prim, rose-shaped guest soaps that always look better than they perform.

 

This freshly-scrubbed aspect seems to be a necessary evil in scents with this ‘botanical’ type of opening.  I have experienced it in everything from Diorissimo and Lys Méditerranée to Carnal Flower.  Certain green floral notes are just too delicate or too juicy to sustain themselves without something sturdy holding them up – and unfortunately, that something is almost always white musk.

 

In Bluebird, the trajectory from the rich dewiness of the start to the soapy, almost air-freshener is no less disappointing for being expected.  However, if you are able to lower your expectations to account for the ‘indie oil’-ness of Bluebird, it stands as one of the better examples of its kind.      

 

 

 

Bridget Bishop (Sixteen92)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Night-blooming flowers, belladonna, bergamot peel, resinous oudh, nutmeg, ambroxan, scarlet musk

 

 

Bridget Bishop is a green floral that accentuates the tomato leaf stem bitterness of deadly nightshade by tying it to a parched talcum powder note that hangs it out to dry even further.  More than a little soapy, the scent’s cool freshness makes for a welcome respite from the muggy heat of summer.

 

The Ambroxan in the base adds a dry, salty crackle that makes me think – briefly – of aftershave.  However, the woody dryness is not over-done.  It merely hovers in the background, supporting the crisp floral notes and buckets of airy green starch.  This is not a particularly feminine scent.  A man who wears Chanel No. 19 can surely wear Bridget Bishop. 

 

 

 

Burning Roses (Alkemia)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

Company description: A hypnotic immolation of dark red roses and burning divinatory incenses – smoldering frankincense, champa, labdanum. Mesmerizing, deep, sensual. 

 

 

Burning Roses opens with a jammy red rose note that quickly turns sour and old-fashioned, a trajectory very much in line with the character of Bulgarian rose oil itself.  But before one can stress out too much about this unfortunate development, the perfume takes a detour into rose-scented incense sticks.

 

If you have ever smelled these rose-scented joss sticks sold in headshops, then you know the rest of the story here.  It is a powdery, sweet, and rosy smell – exotic in a vague ‘I bottled the collected smells of a head shop’ kind of way.  Thoroughly enjoyable, if you enjoy that sort of thing.  Which I do.

 

 

 

Cardamom Rose Sugar (Solstice Scents)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Brown Sugar, Cardamom EO, Moroccan Rose and Bulgarian Rose

 

 

Cardamom Rose Sugar is a coffee gourmand crossed with an Indian dessert that, oddly, is advertized as neither.  It opens with a mouthwateringly tart Bulgarian rose, which later fleshes out into a jammier Turkish rose, with both syrupy and fresh-lemony nuances.  These gutsy rose accords are draped over a wooden frame of brown sugar, maple syrup, and caramelized tarte tatin notes.  I suspect the use of immortelle because, apart from the brown sugar and maple accords, the resinous coffee facet is characteristic of this material.

 

The cardamom note is excellent – green and zesty, but also rich and exotic.  Combined with the coffee and maple sugar notes, an image of Arabs drinking coffee with cardamom comes to mind, a sugar cube poised delicately between their teeth to sweeten every sip.

 

Cardamom Rose Sugar smells very natural and rich, and it lasts forever on the skin.  Towards the end, it flattens out slightly into a simple cardamom sugar note that, while pleasant, fails to equal the complexity of its first hour or two.  Still, I recommend it highly to fans of Indian desserts such as gulab jamun, kulfi, and so on. 

 

 

 

Champaca Regale (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

First, what does champaca smell like?  This yellow, frankly odd-looking tropical flower is often said to smell rather like magnolia (they are related).  But in truth, champaca smells far muskier, heavier, and fruiter than magnolia, which itself smells like full-fat cream mixed with green leaves and lemon peel.  To my own nose, champaca smells a little like jasmine or even osmanthus, especially varieties that have tea leaf and apricot skin nuances.  However, champaca is coarser than either jasmine or osmanthus, with a musky, suede-like finish.

 

Champaca has a heavy, lush smell – there is nothing attenuated or minimalistic about it.  Some representations of champaca in attar perfumery are bright and shampoo-like (the derivation of the word shampoo is the Hindi word ‘champo’, meaning to massage, which comes from champa, the Sanskrit name for champaca), and some smell musky but rather unclean.  To my nose, there can also be a green apple skin note.

 

Sultan Pasha takes an interesting approach to this (hideously expensive) floral absolute, choosing to match the complex, shifting tones of the champaca flower to the equally complex, shifting tones of oud and other precious woods.  As a result, the mukhallat cycles through a series of mid-play set changes that keeps the wearer entertained all the way through.

 

The opening is perhaps complex to the point of being busy.  I smell milk chocolate, wood, leather, fruit, and the vanillic opening salvo of the champaca, overlaid with a very alluring wood varnish note.  It is immediately rich-smelling, although not particularly floral per se.  Soon, the musky, fruited suede notes of champaca flower begin to emerge, and with them the aromatic smell of loose tea leaves and spicy anise.

 

For a quick frame of reference, Tom Ford’s Champaca Absolute lies far more in the fruity-honey-banana direction of champaca than Champaca Regale, which is smokier and woodier.  In fact, it has far more in common with the floral musky suede of Donna Karan’s Signature fragrance than any champaca fragrance currently on the market (even though that scent focuses on osmanthus, not champaca).

 

 

 

Cheval d’Arabie (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: Mukhallat

 

 

Cheval d’Arabie is a pungent, varnishy rose-oud with a camphor note that adds a beguilingly toothpaste-like brightness just where you are not expecting it.  As in the similarly-themed Juriah, the peppery tartness of Taifi rose against hot, dirty Hindi oud creates an interplay between light and dark, sweet and sour, rosy and leathery that comes straight from the 200-year-old playbook of rose-oud mukhallats.  

 

But Cheval d’Arabie is distinguished by that minty-Grappa kick, as well as by a civety narcissus that is half hay, half piss.   In the drydown, it is indeed quite ‘horsey’, but then again, all natural Hindi-based scents have a certain eau de stable about them.  Note that despite the animal billing, this is a supremely elegant affair.  Though they are completely different scents, Cheval d’Arabie walks the same soft, smeary line between horseshit, Imperial Leather soap, and flowers as Chanel’s Cuir de Russie.  And I think that, coming from a mukhallat maker that seemingly knocks everything up in his back room, is an incredible feat indeed.

 

 

 

Chinese Town (BND9) For Women (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Dupe for: Bond No. 9 Chinatown

 

The basic scent profile is there – a slutty slurry of bubblegum, tuberose, coconut, peach syrup, cardamom, with a backbone of powdery woods that steadies the ship somewhat.  The atmosphere of flirtatious girlishness translates well, but I suspect that the formula for Chinatown is cheap and cheerful to begin with, so the dupe doesn’t have to work too hard to ape its vibe.

 

There are a few key differences, though.  For most, these will be either deal breakers or an additional incentive to buy.  First, the luxuriously creamy vanilla and gardenia tandem of the original is missing in action, so if that is the bit of Chinatown you love, then do not look to this quarter for satisfaction.

 

Second, the woody-incensey accord of the original is differently pitched in the dupe.  Here we have the dust of a cathedral compared to the waxy, snuffed-out candle feel of the original.  Third, there is a tinned-fruit sharpness to the peach note in the dupe that is not as obvious in the original.  The dupe is also missing the slight chypre backbone of the original.  However, in general, Chinese Town is a passable dupe, and given its lighter texture, might be easier to pull off in hot weather.

 

 

 

Chypre Chrysanthème (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: Mukhallat

 

 

Chypre Chrysanthème is a serious, dark-green chypre that is far more muscular and aromatic than it is floral.  Opening with the bitter slap of freshly-pruned box, I was surprised to learn that it is lemon verbena and not galbanum.  A dusty labdanum undertow eventually sucks the scent into the shadows, giving everything a slightly animalic dimension, like the feral scent of a freshly killed fox in a hedgerow.

 

To be perfectly frank, I wouldn’t know a chrysanthemum if it came up and bit me in the ass.  My only clue comes from the Internet, where one source tells me it smells ‘warm, full-bodied, and floral’ and the other simply ‘green’. Certainly, from my only other experience with chrysanthemum (De Profundis by Serge Lutens), I would say that the latter fits better.

 

But compared to the Lutens scent, Chypre Chrysanthème is all wood and pith and dusty oakmoss green, rather than floral green.  It has that resinous, catch-in-your-throat quality of good Omani frankincense or freshly-stripped cedar.  If you loved Encens Chypre but want something that leans a little woodier (and dustier), then Chypre Chrysanthème might scratch that itch.

 

 

 

Cilema (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

It is unusual to find such a full-bodied carnation note in modern perfumery.  The EU, on the advice of IFRA, has decided that eugenol – the primary component of clove, nutmeg, and bay leaf oils used to construct carnation notes in perfumery – is far too hepatotoxic to allow in anything other than minute amounts.  

 

This has eroded the role of eugenol in perfumery, ripping traditionally carnation-heavy compositions out at the seams.  It is one of the reasons why Opium no longer smells like Opium, for example.  Eugenol restrictions have also quite badly affected the older Carons such as Bellodgia and Tabac Blond.  Compare modern Opium or Bellodgia to their vintage counterparts, and the effects of this Eugenocide becomes painfully clear.

 

That is why it is such a pleasure to smell something like Cilema.  I don’t know how this scent has evaded the ‘elf and safety’ cabals, but its spicy carnation note smells like a true 3D rendering of carnation with all its hot and cold nuances intact.  Cilema is a time machine.  Smell it and weep.

 

 

 

Claire de Lune (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Clair de Lune is a bright, luscious jasmine with a leafy note that cuts the richness like a hot knife through butter.  The jasmine used here smells like cold jasmine tea and spa water yet retains some of the flower’s essential creaminess.  Some of the stranger facets of Sambac jasmine are also on display – overripe, gassy bananas, plastic, benzene, leather, and grape-flavored bubblegum.  But these facets have been carefully handled to allow the creamy purity of the jasmine blooms to shine through.  Clair de Lune achieves the same balancing act between clean and dirty as Diptyque’s Olène.  Sensual and feminine, this one is for romantic white-florals lovers everywhere. 

 

However, wait!  The jasmine is only act one of this show.  In the second act, which occurs when one’s senses are sated on the jasmine, a beautiful gardenia appears on stage to revive interest.  The gardenia smells like a nubbin of savory cream cheese strained through hazelnut shells, tainted with the damp earthiness of wet mushrooms so characteristic of real gardenia.  Truly beautiful.

 

 

 

 

Claritude (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Claritude pairs a bright, juicy pear note with gentle floral accents such as lily and tansy, sheathed in white, fluffy musks.  The pear note is sharp and vaporous at first, but quickly softens when it meets the broom-like notes of hay, immortelle, and saffron, the combination of which gives the scent a nice au plein air freshness.

 

You might take one look at the oud listed for Claritude and think, Christ, that could take a turn for the dark.  But no, this is a scent of sun-lit meadows and flower banks.  The Kalimantan oud adds a note of fresh, creamy mint that anchors the florals but doesn’t drag them under.  Golden, sweet, and foamy, Claritude is smile in mukhallat form.  For anyone seeking something fresh, lively, and floral for the office, or even as a first tentative foray into oil-based perfumery, Claritude might be just the ticket. 

 

 

 

Coco (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

Dupe for: Chanel Coco

 

No. Just…no.  The real Chanel Coco, both in the current eau de parfum format and the vintage parfum, is a three-dimensional object compared to the pencil sketch of the dupe.  The real thing is infinitely warmer, sweeter, and more thickly ambered – orange pomander and rose petals preserved in dark honey and balsam and spread over a bed of powdery carnation and sandalwood.  The dupe nails the bittersweet balsamic feel but misses the buttery, full texture of the underlying layers of amber and wood.  Also, the rose is thinly drawn and the spices slight.  It feels watered down, not to mention dumbed down.

 

Admittedly, the current eau de parfum is not as good as the vintage perfume, lacking that crucial oakmoss inkiness to balance out the sweetness.  But even the current EDP is a hundred times more complex than the dupe.  The dupe is like a child’s drawing a picture of a racehorse – a few of the high points are right (the nostrils, the mane, and the hooves) but the rest is a reduction of complex musculature to a few jagged lines.  In addition to the general flatness of the impression, the dupe has a citric soapiness that borders on unpleasant and may ruin any positive association you have with the original.

 

If you must have Coco, then buy Coco.  A small bottle of the current EDT or EDP is all you need.  Though not cheap, compared to what you will pay for the dupe in tears of rage or disappointment, it represents real value for money.  

 

 

 

 

Colour Purple (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

I am not a fan of this mukhallat, but then again, since it has been discontinued, maybe I am not the only one.  To my nose, it focuses on all the aspects of jasmine that I dislike, such as a tendency towards bubblegum-like sweetness at the top, and an unfortunate soapy, metallic sourness in the base.  It does indeed smell like the color purple, but not in a good way.

 

 

 

Cuir au Miel Rose (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Rose, as a note on its own, is beautiful but rather boring.  Even the purest of rose oils can smell like lemon, green leaves, soap, and something only vaguely rosy after that first intense whoosh of rose dissipates.  Cuir au Miel demonstrates something I have always suspected, which is that all rose oils smell infinitely more beautiful when placed in a composition with other materials.  In this mukhallat, the rose reaches its full potential only when the other materials frame it just so.  Set within the honeyed leather of the original Cuir au Miel, this rose glows like a red lamp through a fog.

 

On the skin, the rose note is quixotic, cycling rapidly through several stages on the skin – wine, truffles, black pepper, chili oil, cinnamon, jam, and lemon leaf.  This galvanizes all the other notes too, lifting the brown, somewhat dour oud to a new, fruity brightness, for an effect akin to switching the light on in a dark room.  It charges the honeyed leather with a rose chypre-like electricity and vibrancy.  In its rich oiliness and smokiness, something of the rose in Une Rose Chyprée by Andy Tauer and Aramis Calligraphy Rose lurks.

 

Important to say, too, that it remains beautifully rosy.  The rose glows on, undimmed by amber or woods.  For me, not only a sublime iteration on the original but an elevation of all the materials involved.

 

 

 

Dentelle au Coeur (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

A dense and vegetal tuberose, with a touch of that stewed-celery-and-Listerine oddness of Tubéreuse Criminelle (Serge Lutens).  I like it very much because it represents the rubbery headiness of the flower without making me feel over-sated.  If we plot a tuberose storyline with Fracas, the buttery bubblegum of nightmarish laboratories, at one end, and Carnal Flower, nature’s own bitter, green, and musky riposte, at the other – then Dentelle au Coeur lies squarely in the middle.

 

The task might sound simple (‘do a tuberose’), but in all matters tuberose, steering things to that happy middle ground is a question of confidence and surety of hand.  Dentelle au Coeur has both the almost meaty creaminess of Fracas and the limpid naturalism of Carnal Flower.  The baby bear’s tuberose?  Perhaps.  Mind you, you really have to love tuberose to pay the almost $600 for 15mls that this goes for.

 

 

 

De Vaara (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

De Vaara is a clever re-working of tuberose, a flower so unctuously buttery that it is difficult to use in a composition without its cloying qualities riding roughshod over the other notes.  Here the tuberose has been framed in a tight cage of earthy, pungent vetiver and oud, effectively serving to tamp down the exuberance of the tuberose.  Hints of bitter orange, minty camphor, and saffron add a husky gruffness, rendering it suitable for wear by either sex.

 

But what really dominates is that rich, grassy vetiver and tuberose pairing.  The feel is of a forest with tuberose blooms shooting up shyly from the dark, loamy soil.  Thoroughly natural and almost outdoorsy in feel, this is one tuberose blend I would feel comfortable wearing with a t-shirt and jeans rather than with the full-length gown tuberose sometimes calls for.  One of my very favorites from Mellifluence.

 

 

 

 

Dee-Or Addict for Women (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Dupe for: Dior Addict

 

This is a good dupe for the original, from the crisp greenery in the topnotes to the sultry orange blossom, jasmine, and bourbon vanilla heart.  Prior to retrying it about a year after my initial test, I had written something to the effect of the dupe turning the clock back on a series of disastrous reformulations of the real Dior Addict, restoring it to the pre-2014 version.  However, some of the more floral oil dupes do not improve with age, and unfortunately, this is one such example.  Use these dupe oils quickly because even storing them away from sunlight will not stop their eventual deterioration.

 

The dupe smells a bit sleazy in true walk-of-shame fashion, but then, so does the original.  A sexy and degraded cigarette-vanilla-white floral, this Dior Addict dupe is good enough that you can get away with not shelling out full retail price for the original.  However, my advice is to buy in tiny amounts and use it up quickly.

 

 

 

Dorilene (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Dorilene opens with a muguet note so sharp and authentically-rendered that it floors me, flooding my synapses with flashes of green and white.  I wonder if the muguet is real, because it has none of the toilet freshener qualities of the reconstructed muguet note in modern Diorissimo.  Speaking of the Big D – yes, there is a likeness, but only briefly and only at the top.

 

The synesthesiastic muguet opening is soon subsumed by a buttery, yellow tropical floral bouquet, led by a saber-toothed note that my nose identifies as tuberose, but I am reliably informed is ylang.  A phantasmal gardenia note drenches the composition in its candied, salty cream cheese nuance.  No gardenia listed, of course, but trust me on this one.  If you like the pungent, Indian-style cornucopia of oily yellow flowers that is Strangelove NYC’s lostinflowers, it is likely that you will also take to this dirty-sexy-money take on the pristine white blouse of muguet.  

 

 

 

 

About Me:  A two-time Jasmine Award winner for excellence in perfume journalism, I write a blog (this one!) and have authored many guides, articles, and interviews for Basenotes.  (My day-to-day work is in the scientific research for development world).  Thanks to the generosity of friends and acquaintances in the perfume business, I have been privileged enough to smell the raw materials that go into perfumes and learn about the role they play in both Western and Eastern perfumery.   Artisans have sent vials of the most precious materials on earth such as ambergris, deer musk, and oud.  But I have also spent thousands of my own money, buying oud oils directly from artisans and tons of dodgy (and possibly illegal) stuff on eBay.  In the reviews sections, I will always tell you where my sample came from and whether I paid for it or not.

 

Source of samples: I purchased samples from Al Haramain, Universal Perfumes and Cosmetics, the Perfume Parlour, Bruno Acampora, Olivine Atelier, Sixteen92, Alkemia, Solstice Scents, and Mellifluence. The samples from Sultan Pasha were sent to me free of charge by the brand.  The samples from Henry Jacques and Aloes of Ish were from friends or Basenotes 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 Mukhallats Orange Blossom Osmanthus Review Rose Sandalwood Spicy Floral The Attar Guide Tuberose Violet White Floral Ylang ylang

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (0-A)

1st December 2021

 

 

007 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

No. 007 is a little bum fluff of a thing – a peachy honeysuckle that leans waxy rather than green or fresh.  Orange blossom adds a candied edge, like marshmallow and honey whipped together for a sweet, foamy ‘mouthfeel’.  The coconut stays firmly in the background for most of the scent’s trajectory, allowing the peach and honeysuckle notes to shine.  The subtlety of the coconut note means that this never turns into a beach fest, instead keeping its toes firmly tucked inside the fruity-floral category.

 

Further on, angelica adds a watery greenness that sharpens the scent up a bit, adding some much-needed definition to the fuzzy honeysuckle.  All too soon, however, the scent unravels into a sweet, cottony floral musk that is pleasant but ultimately a little too eau de department store for a genre that promises something a little quirkier.

 

No. 007 is a soft fruity-floral musk that will appeal to young women who do not want to be challenged by their scent and yet who also do not want to smell like every other gal in town.  Sometimes, pretty is all one wants, and in this respect, No. 007 certainly fits the bill.  However, if you are going to the trouble of ordering an indie over the Internet, why settle for something that smells like something you would get on the high street?

 

 

 

008 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

No. 008’s citrusy jasmine opening says super femme, but a sudden wave of spicy bay rum takes everything to a darker, more masculine place.  Bay rum, a traditional component of men’s aftershaves, draws on the moody bitterness of bay leaf as well as the sweet darkness of fine Jamaican rum.  Spiced heavily with black pepper and sometimes clove, this note is associated with classic male perfumes such as Pinaud Clubman Virgin Island Bay Rum and Aramis Havana.   Here, the bay rum accord acts upon the syrupy, purple jasmine note to give it a sexy, nocturnal edge.  Booze, spice, and indolic white flowers – what’s not to like?

 

There is light in the murk of this spicy jasmine oriental, however, in the form of wafts of fresh, powdery heliotrope and rose.  These small-petalled, almost babyish floral notes take all the sting out of the bay rum, rendering it more conventionally feminine in feel.  In fact, No. 008 has all the bones of an eighties powerhouse.  The manner in which its salt-flecked base of sandalwood and Ambroxan supports the spicy, musky jasmine is quite close to that of one of Creed’s best fragrances, Jasmin Impératrice Eugenie.  However, a beguiling hint of industrial rubber ensures that No. 008 feels modern and up to date.  Interesting stuff, and, well, big.

 

 

 

009 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Mmm, creamy coconut shampoo.  Rinse and repeat.  No. 009 smells almost exactly like one of those fruity monoï shampoos you get from Yves Rocher, crossed with the ambered sweetness of an Argan oil hair product like Moroccan Oil.  Note that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to smell like a lush hair product.  Scents that smell like personal care products are both insanely evocative and comforting.  Look at the number of people who want to find a perfume that recreates the smell of 1970s Revlon Flex.

 

No. 009 has the same creamy, solar feel as Intense Tiaré by Montale, so if you like smelling beachy, keep your eyes peeled for this.  It might also be a good one to test if you love Oud Jaune Intense by Fragrance du Bois, but your wallet does not.

 

 

 

 

013 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Wintergreen toothpaste!  Germolene!  Ylang has a medicinal, camphoraceous aspect not often emphasized in perfumery, but here, the perfumers seemed to have rolled the dice and won.  The opening of No. 013 delivers the same Listerine slap to the face as Serge Lutens’ great Tubéreuse Criminelle.  Indeed, in Britain, Listerine is known as TCP, which happens to have the same initials as Tubéreuse Criminelle Parfum (coincidence? I think not).

 

The tiger balm mintiness of the ylang softens but never dissipates completely.  It freshens up the earthy, almost metallic breath of a lei of mixed tropical flowers – jasmine, orchid, gardenia, as well as ylang.  This combination of creamy and medicinal notes means that the fragrance has a sultry tropical feel, but also the nipped-in waist of proper corsetry.  Clods of earthy patchouli in the drydown provide a humid soil pillow for the florals in much the same fashion as Manoumalia (Les Nez).

 

No. 013 is a balmy tropical floral that feeds you all the earthier, leafier parts of the island experience, and very little of the sugar or cream that normally accompanies it.  It might be just the thing to convert a self-avowed tropical floral hater.  A hint of dark cocoa and amber in the tail is further inducement, should you need it.     

 

 

 

Absolute Jasmine (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Absolute Jasmine opens with a Lanolin-like note, lending the composition a strange waxy texture and an oily aroma that has more in common with the fishy smell of pure silk than with floral absolutes.  This (to me) beguiling topnote melts away into a bitter, peppery leather accord with dark plum and cinnamon undertones plumping it out from beneath.

 

A spicy Coca Cola-like note is next to pull free, reminding me of the moment in Jasmin de Nuit (The Different Company) when the dark jasmine butts up against the rose, star anise, and cardamom to create a sweet, fizzing soda note that tickles the nose.  In Absolute Jasmine, the tone is much more astringent – nothing sweet or creamy here – but in the meeting of jasmine and spice, much the same effect is achieved.

 

Absolute Jasmine is a dark, serious perfume with a masculine edge.  In a way, it does for jasmine what Tom Ford’s Black Violet did for violets, which was to marry the girlish sweetness of violets to a phenomenally bitter, mossy drydown – a sort of mash up between flowers and aftershave.  Absolute Jasmine is a sugar-free jasmine Coca Cola perfume oil for sugar-free adults.

 

 

 

Absolute Orris (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Orris can be twisted in several different directions, depending on the material used and the composition of the perfume.  It can be pulled into a waxy-lipsticky direction, most commonly used in perfumes evoking the smell of cosmetics, like Chanel’s Misia and Histoires de Parfum’s Moulin Rouge.  Some orris materials smell more like violets than iris, as evidenced by Iris by Santa Maria Novella and, to some extent, Heeley’s Iris de Nuit.  Iris also has rooty, metallic facets that can be accentuated, the most famous example of this type being Iris Silver Mist by Serge Lutens.  But many perfumes choose to accentuate the doughy suede elements of iris, and this is the direction taken by Clive Christian for Absolute Orris.

 

The opening of Absolute Orris is a stark representation of orris root – wet newspapers, carrots, soil, and ice, mixed with stranger elements such as glue and the plastic backing on industrial carpets.  Running through this opening accord is a shoal of bright, silvery notes, which on paper read as citrusy, but on the skin turns out to be something between black pepper, mint, and metal.

 

Absolute Orris evolves into a smooth, buttery suede but retains a certain bitterness inherent to the material.  Admirably, the perfume does not attempt to cover this with sweet or creamy supporting notes, but instead just leaves it there, as stark and uncompromising as the stone heads on Easter Island.  This accord is both luxurious and straightforward, shorn of noise and distraction.  Highly recommended for professionals of any gender with a taste for quiet but forceful luxury. 

 

 

 

Absolute Osmanthus (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Absolute Osmanthus comes with an overdose of woody aromachemicals that obscures the delicate beauty of the osmanthus, making it virtually impossible to evaluate on the skin.  On paper, however, there are hints of what I feel I am missing – apricot jam, buttery leather, and sappy green leaf notes that inject a mood of brightness into the entire affair.  Those who are less sensitive to woody ambers will probably enjoy this in full on their skin.

 

 

 

Absolute Rose (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Revolving around the bright rose de mai varietal, Absolute Rose is a sun-lit take on a garden rose framed by accents of citrus, herbs, and spice.  A tart lime-peel bergamot lifts the topnotes, leading into a heart that smells like a pale pink rose plucked from a rain-soaked garden.  Geranium leaf boosts the green rosiness inherent to this varietal, but also injects a delightful hint of garden mint, green leaves, and rhubarb stalks.

 

This sits at the opposite spectrum to the dark, syrupy roses of most Middle Eastern perfumery.  It is a young rose, content to simply sparkle against a backdrop of garden greenery.  Saffron adds a hint of earthy leather in the base, but generally, the wet herbal feel of the rose and geranium is what dominates.  Think Galop (Hermès) dialed back by a factor of seven.

 

The fresh dew of the rose has been preserved throughout and not allowed to suffocate under a blanket of smoky resin or syrupy amber.  This treatment imbues Absolute Rose with an almost Victorian sense of elegance.  Men and women looking for a dandified take on a garden rose should seek out a sample of this.  Its lack of embellishment and sweetness makes it perfectly suitable for men who are wary of flowers, and roses in particular.  This is a particularly unsentimental take on rose that won’t remind anyone of their grandmother. 

 

 

 

Akaber (Majid Muzaffar Iterji)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

A massively-upholstered floral vanilla attar with an anisic-amaretto tint, Akaber recalls – with suspicious fidelity – the most popular floral vanilla gourmands of the late nineties, i.e., Hypnotic Poison and Dior Addict.

 

 

 

Al’Ghaliyah (Kyara Zen)      

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al’Ghaliyah is so beautiful that it is difficult to describe it without gushing.  Ghaliyah mukhallats are common in Middle-Eastern perfumery but the bulk of them are harsh and synthetic in aroma.  I do not know if Kyara Zen’s version of it is completely natural, but it sure smells like it might be.

 

Kyara Zen’s Al’Ghaliyah is one of the very few rose-oud mukhallats that manages to achieve perfect balance between the elements in the blend – a rich, perfumey oud that smells like liquid calf leather, a winey rose with no sourness or sharp corners, and what smells like a golden nectar of apricots, peaches, plums, and osmanthus soaking into all the other notes.

 

All the elements reach the nose at once, cresting over each over continuously like the swell of a wave.  The bright rose runs straight through the blend like a piece of thread, so even in the basenotes you can sense its rich, red presence glowing like pulp through the oud and musk.  It is unclear whether the succulent fruit notes are emanating from the oud or the rose, but there is a cornucopia of winey, autumnal fruits to savor here.  The fruit notes fade away gently, leaving the rich rose to proceed on its own.

 

According to Kyara Zen’s Instagram feed, it appears that genuine deer musk grains were macerated and then added to the final blend.  If that is true, then it is a clever vehicle to demonstrate to people that genuine deer musk does not smell as dirty or as fecal as its recreations sometimes make it out to be.  Rather, it is unobtrusively musky, with all the pleasing warmth of a clean, furred animal. 

 

Overall, the richness and depth of this mukhallat is astounding.  I applaud the skill of the perfumer who managed to corral two or three of the most commonly-used raw materials in mukhallat perfumery and shape them into a form that smells, if not new exactly, then a hundred times better than other iterations of the same materials.  The liquid embodiment of a piece of gold-threaded brocade, Al’Ghaliyah is one of the most beautiful things I have smelled on my journey.

 

 

 

Al Ghar Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al Ghar is what I feel comfortable calling a girly, gourmand take on the rose-oud mukhallat theme.  Al Ghar’s prettiness is so understated that it is easy to miss entirely.  A creamy, woodsy blend dusted with rose powder, it takes on the theme of oud in a way that is teasingly subtle, its soft, abstract nature making it difficult to identify and place all the disparate elements.  But this is a scent that rewards patience.

 

The oud, saffron, and rose opening is medicinal, but not challenging to anyone who has ever sat out the opening of a Montale.  The oud used here, although purportedly real, has a band-aid twang common to the synthetic oud used in most Western oud fragrances.  The oud note is lightly handled, extended at one side by an astringent, leathery saffron and on the other, dusty woods.  The rose takes shape as a powdery potpourri note that peeks out shyly from behind the other notes.

 

A few hours later, creamy, ambery warmth starts stealing over the medicinal opening, flickering in and out over the top, like someone spreading a lace cloth over a table and then whipping it off again.  The caramel sweetness of labdanum mingles with the dry, medicinal oud and saffron to create a wonderful saltwater taffy note.  This hazy, golden oud-amber-saffron accord stretches out in the base like a cat, picking up an alluring dash of black pepper or clove as it goes on – just enough to warm the tongue but not to make anyone sneeze.

 

The base features a milky sandalwood that is far more of a texture than an aroma.  It is unclear whether Mysore or Australian sandalwood has been used here, but it doesn’t matter because the only thing it is asked to do here is to hand over its cream and be quick about it.  

 

I really like Al Ghar.  It is the definition of something delicate for when one is feeling, well, delicate.  It calls to mind the comfort of a caramel latte or a cube of milk chocolate sprinkled with salt – piquant, but at the same time, soothing.  Coming close in mouthfeel to both White Oud (Montale) and Red Aoud (Montale), I recommend it highly to those looking for a sweet, quasi gourmand take on the traditional ‘attar’ smell of saffron, rose, oud, and sandalwood.  It also smells a little like pandan, which is a good thing in my book.

 

 

 

Al Hareem Blanc (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Despite the name, Al Hareem Blanc neither bears any relation to the original Al Hareem nor contains anything truly blanc-feeling in the composition, apart from a tiny dab of heliotrope which immediately gets gobbled up by the other more powerful notes.  The opening is dominated by a beefed-up, muscle-bound tuberose with an acetone edge so powerful that it gives you the same head rush as sniffing an open can of paint thinner.  It is a startling, unique opening, if not entirely pleasant.

 

Slowly, as the nose adjusts, it becomes clear that the benzene honk is that of a very pure, very strong tuberose absolute, whose aroma may be further broken down into its constituent parts of fuel, glue, rubber, and the decaying pear notes of nail polish remover.  Dry woods, smoke, leather, and engine oil follow, making this one of the rare tuberose-dominated scents that men might feel comfortable wearing.

 

Men, if you are looking for a butch floral and are scared to death that someone in the grocery store might accuse you of wearing, gasp, a white floral, then get yourself this.  Al Hareem Blanc is unambiguously male.  It is a leather bomb made up of metal splinters of an equally tough, rugged flower.  Actually, the tuberose in Al Hareem Blanc is really less a flower and more assless chaps.

 

 

 

Al Lail (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al Lail, meaning The Night, is Sultan Pasha’s tribute to one of the stinkiest, civet-laden fragrances of all time, the notorious La Nuit (The Night) by Paco Rabanne.  However, Al Lail is not a literal copy.  It sidesteps, for example, the immensely sharp pissiness of the honey-civet in the original, and replaces it with a dusty, spicy floral musk that owes more to carnation-heavy feminine classics such as Caron’s Bellodgia and YSL Opium than to La Nuit.

 

The opening also diverges from its inspiration by plumping for the botanical freshness of a kitchen garden over the rather dated narcissus greenness of the original.  The opening is juicy and fresh – clusters of orange, rose, mint, and white jasmine, freshly picked and with dew still on them.  A striking artemisia note offers the kind of green bitterness that you can almost feel on your tongue.  Going into this expecting a re-do of the immediately funky La Nuit, I was surprised and charmed by this freshness.  It is a diversion, but a clever one, serving to juxtapose what comes next.

 

In Act Two, Al Lail promptly shakes off the sunny innocence of its ‘ripped from nature’ topnotes and settles into a smoky carnation and oakmoss gunpowder, the jasmine deepening into black marker pen indole.  The notes all dry up into a floral potpourri of dried carnation and rose petals, with a note in the background that smells pleasantly of yellowing book paper.

 

Stuffed to the brim with greasy, vintage-style musks, there is almost a suffocating effect to the perfume that reminds me of Charogne by État Libre d’Orange.  Wearing it chokes me slightly, like a mink stole tightened too carelessly around my throat, or the acrid fug of air that rushes out at you in a bar that still allows smoking.

 

Al Lail smells less like La Nuit and more like Bellodgia and Tabac Blond with their spicy, powdery clove-tinted glove leather.  However, that reference leaves out the most crucial piece of information, which is that this powdered carnation-leather accord is wrapped up tight in a straitjacket of rude musks, civet, and salty, grungy body odor – a sort of animalic distortion of the Caron ideal.

 

The heavily musky ‘old’ honey accord in the base is very similar to that of Sohan d’Iris, so if you love that one, you may also love Al Lail.  Personally, I could never wear Al Lail, for pretty much the same reason I cannot wear La Nuit – while I appreciate the genius of their construction, their heavy animalism is hard to wear elegantly.  However, my tolerance for animalics might be lower than yours, in which case, take the chance.

 

All in all, Al Lail is a proper little stinker made with love for those who revere the huge, floral-animalic fragrances of the past such as Ubar by Amouage, Joy parfum by Patou, Jasmin Eugenie Impératrice by Creed, and indeed any of the older Carons (especially Acaciosa and Bellodgia).  Just imagine any of these scents with their current filthiness multiplied by a factor of ten and you have an idea of where Al Lail stands on the old skank-o-meter.

 

 

 

Al Maqam Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al Maqam Blend is a limited edition perfume oil produced to commemorate ASAQ’s Diamond Jubilee.  In my experience, the words ‘rare’ or ‘limited supply’ do not necessarily translate to amazing, and unfortunately, this is the case here.  Al Maqam Blend is perfectly nice but does not reach the exceptional heights that some of the other blends in the ASAQ range.  And at this price, it really should.

 

The basic structure of the scent involves an amorphous blur of flowers over a base of sweetish amber and musk, with a blob of oud making a shy appearance and then absconding far too soon.  What flowers or fruits, exactly?  It is hard to tell.  But the sticky, bubblegummy fruitiness of the opening suggest the presence of ASAQ’s gooey jasmine and orange blossom jam, a blend that seems to bulk out many of the house’s lower-priced oils.

 

ASAQ lists wildflowers as part of the blend, but since real meadows are in short supply in Saudi Arabia, it is reasonable to assume that this particular bouquet of flowers was birthed in a test tube.   In general, whenever you see wildflowers listed for an ASAQ blend, it is shorthand for a fruity-musky blur of flowers that could be anything from freesia to jasmine.  The amber-musk base is pleasantly ‘fuzzy’ in texture, but not in the least bit distinctive.  It also does nothing to counteract the tremendous sweetness of the florals.

 

Midway through, a smoky oud note appears, briefly giving the fruity florals a sheen of something respectably woody.  More reminiscent of the scent of agarwood chips being heated on an incense burner than the scent of the oil, the oud note comes across as attractively dry and smoky. Somewhat similar to the smoky oud woodchip nuance in Dior’s Leather Oud and Guerlain’s Songe d’Un Bois d’Eté, but far less animalic, this note is the high point of the scent.  This is also the only time it feels like someone over the age of twenty-one could viably pull it off.  Too soon, however, the oud notes float right out of the scent, leaving behind a trail of sugary white florals over a generic, musky amber.  Al Maqam is an uneven, even frustrating experience.  When it is good, it is very, very good, but when it is bad, it is wicked.

 

 

 

Al Sharquiah (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

This is for those nights when you want to leave a loud, sweet fug of rose and oud in the air as a calling card for the opposite sex. It is about as subtle as a baboon’s arse, but there is something about the sweet, sour, and rotting notes in Al Sharquiah that gets people to lean in and sniff you twice.  It smells like the fumes from a bag of slowly rotting Medjool dates mingling with oud, wilted roses, cooked rose jam, a hint of metallic smoke, and a bit of funk in the base courtesy of spiced-up woods.

 

Although it is admittedly a quick snapshot of all the major themes in Arabian perfumery rather than the full deck, Al Sharquiah is a reasonable substitute for far more expensive Western takes on the rose-oud theme, such as Rose Nacrée du Desert by Guerlain or Velvet Rose & Oud by Jo Malone.  All for four dollars a bottle?  Hell yeah.  I’ll have me some of that, thank you very much.

 

 

 

Al Ta’if Rose Nakhb Al Arous (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: essential oil

 

 

This was the first pure rose oil I ever tried, and it was a surprise to me in many ways.  By pure, I mean that it was derived through slowly distilling Ta’ifi roses in the traditional manner, syringing the pure, clear oil off the hydrosol after distillation, and storing the resulting otto in a small leather flacon to rest and mature.

 

Ta’ifi roses are gathered at first morning light, before the sun causes the flowers to open fully, thus preserving their immensely fresh, spicy, green scent.  Harvesting is an enormously labor-intensive process, requiring rose petals from 30-50 roses to produce just one drop of pure rose otto[i].  Al Shareef Oudh clarifies that: ‘For the pickers there is no time to lose; it is a race against time. As the blazing sun rises and moves higher the harsh rays cause precious oils to evaporate, so much so that by mid-day unpicked roses contain only half of the oil they had at dawn’[ii].

 

Smelled up close, the oil smells surprisingly nothing like what you expect a rose to smell like –which makes sense given that a rose is made up of over 500 different aroma compounds.  The two main ‘flavor’ constituents of rose are geraniol and citronellal, which smell sharply ‘green’ and sharply ‘citric’ respectively.  Thus, when I smell Al Ta’if Rose Nakhb Al Arous up close, I mostly smell a piercing lemony note and a lurid green note.  These notes present so acidic that it feels like you just peeled a lemon and squirted it into your eye.

 

The aroma is jagged, and almost animalic in its spiciness.  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  I am willing to wager good money that in a blind smelling test, most people would never guess that this was rose – at least not right away.

 

Forty minutes in, the brightness fades and the first notes that we collectively understand as ‘rose’ begin to coalesce on the skin, clustering the individual building blocks of honey, lemon, geranium, cinnamon, and pink petal notes used to construct a rose aroma in modern perfumery.  Unfortunately, pure rose ottos are extremely volatile and short-lived, so this glorious trajectory is cut short, the scent disappearing through the skin barrier and into the bloodstream within the hour.  Still, to experience real beauty, no matter how ephemeral, is always a blessing.

 

 

 

Aroosah (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

How can marigolds be indolic?  Well, in Aroosah, as you will see, they just are.  Fresh, earthy, slightly bitter – all the hallmarks of tagetes are there in the topnotes, giving off a brief impression of a freshly-cleaned toilet.  But as the fragrance unfolds, so too does a wave of oily indoles similar to those clinging to the inside of Easter lilies, the smell of life and death repeating on itself like a bad meal.

 

In the later stages of the oil’s development, a heavily-greased almond undertone begins to intrude on proceedings, making things infinitely worse.  If you’ve been manfully suffering through the experience thus far, then brace yourself, Bridget.  The almond note, when paired with the grassy hay notes from the chamomile, marigold, and saffron, presents the nose with a real challenge: pungency.

 

Aroosah is not fresh or natural-smelling in the least, being far more redolent of bathroom cleaning detergents than anything botanical in origin.  Nonetheless, its soapy, medicinal-herbal aroma is authentically Indian in nature.  Not for the faint of heart, or indeed, stomach.

 

 

 

Asala Murakkaz (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Asala Murakkaz is a nice if not particularly impressive mukhallat situated at the lower end of the Arabian Oud price range.  It opens with a pleasingly sweet, almost honeyed mix of florals, notably orange blossom and rose, accentuated with a fruity (peachy) undertone.

 

This is not a narcotic floral extravaganza built in the old manner, but rather a playful, modern take.  I can see this appealing tremendously to young women who love the clean, musky sweetness of fruitchoulis and gourmand florals such as Miss Dior Cherie.  The honeyed florals merge with a plush ‘pink’ musk in the far drydown, for a result that leans more towards a mass market Western fragrance than anything more authentically Eastern in nature.  Oh, and in case you were worried – zero oud in evidence here.  Asala Murakkaz is strictly for fans of candied, musky florals denuded of any rude bits or sharp edges.

 

 

 

Ashjan (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Ashjan marries an orange-tinted rose to a heavy musk that runs right up to the edge of animalic before pulling back at the last moment.  The rose notes are juicy and dessert-like, forming a mouthwatering counterpoint to the velvety, thickly-furred musk.  Given its heavy-breathing character, Ashjan is perhaps not the best choice to be worn in polite company, but it is one to consider if you need something frankly suggestive for the third date.  (Of course, this is all moot, because Ashjan is near to impossible to find now).

 

 

 

Asrar (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Asrar is a pot of orange blossom-scented marmalade, heavily spiced with saffron, left to desiccate, uncovered, on a shelf in the larder until only fruit leather remains.  In the first hour or so, it is syrupy and densely-spiced to the point of being overwhelming. Orange blossom is not listed anywhere in the notes but take my word for it – Asrar is orange blossom boiled down into a medicinal unguent so sweet that it is bitter.  The astringent woodiness of saffron and oud cuts through the waterfall of syrup somewhat, for a pungent undertone that is necessary as an opposing force.

 

Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for the attar to loosen the stays on its restrictive orange blossom-honey corset, allowing a bright, winey rose to bloom in the background.  The rose expands to fill the room, joining forces with a dark, woody oud note to form a traditional rose-oud accord.  It is at this point that the attar smells like a gourmand-ish take on Montale’s Black Aoud.  The slightly candied, juicy quality in this stage of Asrar’s development is an appealing update to a rather tired template.

 

Hours in, the scent seems to do a volte face, morphing into a smoky, woodsy affair centering around a nugget of vetiver, cedar, and leather.  This part of the attar is almost charcoal-matte in effect.  In summary, Asrar kind of smells like a dab of Tribute on the tail end of Serge Lutens’ Fleur d’Oranger, with a brief detour to Black Aoud territory in the middle.  Whether this payoff is worth trudging through the tiresome syrup clogging the veins of the scent’s the first hour is up to you.  Plenty of people hold Asrar in as high regard as Homage or Tribute, but for me, the opening is too treacly to enjoy.  Still, there is no denying that Asrar is one of Amouage’s most characterful attars.

 

 

 

Atifa Blanche (Al Haramain)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Blanche is an excellent word to describe this scent.  It is indeed a ‘white’ scent.  There is something so softly chewy about the topnotes of Atifa Blanche that I instantly visualized the scent as a white silk pillowcase stuffed with flower petals, marshmallows, meringues, and clouds of whipped cream.  It has the straight-forward beauty of a bride coming down the aisle, the sunlight behind her framing her head in an impossible halo of light.

 

The oil opens with a trio of sparkling citrus notes – mandarin, lemon, and lime peel – their sharpness nicely rounded out by the slightly creamy lily and rose.  There is also a noticeable lipstick note in the heart, thanks to a touch of violet.  Think the same ballpark as Chanel Misia (which is more matronly) or Putain des Palaces (which is skankier) – big, violet-y powder puff scents.  Atifa Blanche has a weird, doughy cashmeran note that distinguishes it as something that does a bit more than just lookin’ pretty.

 

No tuberose or jasmine, to my poor nose, but yes to a hint of rubbery, fertile ylang.  Still, there is nothing sub-tropical or Big White Floral in feel here.  If the white flowers are here, then they are have been sheared of all indole, sharpness, and that lingering ‘ladies-who-lunch’ element that seems to cling to the genre.  Atifa Blanche is a fresh, steam-cleaned floral that favors the lipsticky combination of rose and violet over its heavier white floral components.

 

The notes list an ozonic accord in the topnotes, but there is nothing overtly aquatic here, unless you share Luca Turin’s perception of lily as saltwater-ish.  The only real complaint that can be laid at its door is that it is slightly too squeaky clean, and a bit chemically cheap, with a muskiness that feels a bit like a freshly-starched collar.  However, bathed in this radiant aura of sweet lipstick wax, Atifa Blanche can be forgiven almost anything.  It is both innocently retro and almost (but not quite) edible.  A hundred times better than By Killian Love

 

 

 

Ayoon al Maha (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Ayoon al Maha is a gently powdery take on the traditional attar smell of sandalwood and roses.  It takes a fresh, tart damask rose and grafts it onto a dusty-creamy sandalwood rootstock.  The opening is bright and lush, the green and citrusy facets of rosa damascena brought forward for their moment in the sun.  The opening feels quite traditional in that it is true to the scent of the Bulgarian rose, an aroma with which many will be familiar from their childhood.  More English in feel than Arabian, therefore – at least at the beginning.

 

In the base, a lightly toasted, buttery sandalwood note nips at the sharp, fresh rose, covering it in cream and brown sugar.  This is likely not pure vintage Mysore sandalwood oil but rather, a good quality santalum album oil boosted with an enhancer like Sandalore (its voice rings out a little louder and sweeter than that of pure, natural sandalwood oil).

 

Nonetheless, Ayoon al Maha is a truly enjoyable sandalwood experience with a rich, almost caramelized facet that will make your mouth water.  There is supposedly some oud oil here, but its presence is so subtle that it is not worth mentioning.  Anyone looking for a beautiful rendition of the sandal-rose attar theme should make sampling (or even blind buying) Ayoon al Maha a priority.

 

 

 

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 Hyde & Alchemy, Majid Muzaffar Iterji, Al Haramain, Amouage, Al Rehab, and Arabian Oud.  The samples from Abdul Samad al Qurashi, KyaraZen, Clive Christian, and Sultan Pasha were sent to me free of charge either by the brand or a distributor.

 

 

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.

[i]Andrea Butje, The Heart of Aromatherapy (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc., 2017), 6, via Aroma Web at https://www.aromaweb.com/articles/essential-oil-yields.asp

[ii]http://www.alshareefoudh.com/product-detail.php?product_id=14

 

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The Attar Guide: Flowers (A Primer)

29th November 2021

We have already extensively covered the flowers that Indians most value in traditional attar perfumery here, and here.  However, mukhallat perfumery – perfumery rooted in the Middle East – displays slight but important differences in the way different flowers are valued, used, and emphasized.   So, it is worth talking about those differences briefly here.   

  

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Photo by chandra sekhar on Unsplash

 

Jasmine plays a central role in both traditional Indian attar and Middle-Eastern mukhallat perfumery.   (It is also hugely important in Western niche perfumery, although for reasons of cost and regulation (IFRA), most perfumes featuring jasmine as a note now use synthetics rather than large quantities of the oil itself).  The word jasmine comes from the Arabic word for the flower, yâsamîn, which itself comes from the Persian word for it, again demonstrating the cultural and etymological fluidity between the Indian, Persian, and Arab worlds when it comes to perfume.

 

However, whereas traditional attar perfumery in India uses all types of jasmine, mukhallat perfumery tends to focus on one variety alone, namely Jasminum sambac, the famous ‘Arabian’ jasmine.   Sambac jasmine is muskier, spicier, and more leathery than the grandiflorum varietal.  It is also the more indolic of the varieties, meaning it can sometimes be quite dirty or even fecal, but this is balanced by a minty, almost fresh-watery facet.  Compared to the classic grandiflorum variety, Sambac can also appear coarse and fruity.  Sambac jasmine is often blended with other sweet white florals such as orange blossom.

 

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Photo by Coco Tafoya on Unsplash

 

Orange blossom, solvent-extracted from the small white flowers of the bitter orange tree[1],  plays a prominent role in floral mukhallat perfumery.  Symbolizing purity, innocence, and femininity, it is often associated with brides (an association that carried over into Western perfumery).  Orange blossom water is extensively used in Middle Eastern and Persian cuisine to lend a hauntingly sweet, floral flavor to foods such as pilaf rice, semolina cakes, ice creams, and other delicately-scented foodstuffs (in a way, it could be seen as the equivalent to kewra in India).  

 

In mukhallat perfumery, the orange-floral tones of orange blossom are often paired with honey accords to render them even more sweetly lush.  The syrupy floral aroma that emerges from these machinations means that jasmine and orange blossom are used mainly in overtly feminine blends.  However, Arabic men are also, in general, unafraid to douse themselves in heady floral perfumes, which is either due to a culturally-cemented confidence in their own manliness or an utter disregard for how perfumes are marketed.   Either way, their unabashed love of florals is worthy of emulation.

 

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Photo by René Porter on Unsplash

 

Rose is equal in stature to jasmine in traditional attar perfumery.  But while Indians love rose, it is just one of many different flowers that they grow and distill.  For Arabs and Persians, however, the rose is the most important flower of all, and it is considered the main floral component of a mukhallat, especially in blends that use oud oil.

 

The most important rose in Arabian perfumery is the Taifi rose, a variety of the rosa damascena (Turkish rose) grown in Ta’if in Saudi Arabia, a region whose unique growing conditions produce a rose oil that is considered by many (especially in the Middle East) to be superior to all other types of rose oil.  Although the Arabs and Persians have been distilling rose ottos from rose petals since the ninth century, it was not until about two centuries years ago that production of the famous Taifi rose began, near Mecca.

 

Ta’if lies two thousand meters above sea level.  Its cooler climate, coupled with excellent irrigation schemes, produces rose oil that smells green, tart, peppery, and blood-red all at once.  Taifi rose oil can come across as almost harsh in its top notes, until the aroma settles.  Its unique properties make the Taifi rose a perfect counterpart to the smoky, fermented woodiness of pure oud oil.  Thus, this pairing occupies an honored place in Middle-Eastern perfumery. 

 

In general, traditional Indian attar perfumery utilizes a much broader, more diverse range of florals and aromatics than mukhallat perfumery. For example, in India, florals such as champaca, narcissus, lotus, and marigold are used almost as extensively as rose and jasmine.  These same florals, plus neroli and magnolia, are also appreciated and used to a certain extent in the Middle-East, but their role in traditional mukhallat perfumery is limited compared to that of India.

 

However, modern artisanal mukhallat perfumery is changing that. Artisans such as Sultan Pasha, J.K. DeLapp, and Mellifluence have expanded upon the floral vocabulary of traditional Middle-Eastern attar perfumery by branching out into florals more associated with Western or French classical perfumery such as tuberose, gardenia, and osmanthus.  This strange, not at all by-the-books mix of French and Middle-Eastern floral perfumery is incredibly interesting and alluring – probably even more so than the traditional tropes.

 

Needless to say, when it comes to the more Western-centric oil perfumery of high end niche and indie brands, no flower is off limits – the entire palette is used.  The higher-end niche concentrated perfume oils from brands such as Bruno Acampora, April Aromatics, and Clive Christian produce some of the more modern, beautiful, or artistically original takes on flowers reviewed in this Guide.

  

As always, there is the matter of personal preference.  How do you take your florals?  If it is the raw-edged, throaty naturalism of flowers in all their sometimes weird and not-really-that-floral glory, then seek out traditional distilled attars and ruhs.  If you want the full-on exoticism of flowers in an Arabic or Persiatic fantasy garden, then mukhallats are the place to go.  If you want an artistic, abstract, refined, or simply more traditionally ‘perfumey’ impression of flowers, you will be more likely to find what you are looking for in the category of concentrated perfume oils, either those produced by the high end niche brands or those made by the indie oil segment of the market.  A good mix of all of these are reviewed next. 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

[1] The same white flowers, when steam-distilled, produce neroli oil, which is greener, fresher, and soapier than orange blossom (which is intensely sweet, heady, and honeyed, with a distinct white floral character that shares much with jasmine).

Floral Green Green Floral Hay Independent Perfumery Review

L’Amandière by Heeley Paris

12th October 2021

Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez have an extraordinary turn of phrase, don’t they?  One of the many things they have written that has lingered in my mind for years is their description of L’Eau d’Hiver (Frédéric Malle) as ‘an elegiac, powdery, almonds-and-water accord that takes its place next to Guerlain’s Après L’Ondée and Caron’s Farnesiana among the fragrance Ophelias of the world’ (Perfumes: The Guide, 2008), calling to mind Millais’ famous painting of the doomed Ophelia, kept afloat in a pond by flowers and tendrils of her own hair before being pulled to her ‘muddy death’.  The association with the perfume is immediate – you understand, even without smelling it, that L’Eau d’Hiver is watery and delicate and even a little melancholic.

 

But L’Eau d’Hiver, while undoubtedly a lovely perfume, is as fragile and as milquetoast as its predecessor, Après L’Ondée, meaning that it works perfectly if you have a quiet space somewhere where you can appreciate its every nuance in slow motion, but tends to dissipate as rapidly as a mummy when exposed to the hoary breath of modern life.  Both L’Eau Hiver and Après L’Ondée are a ‘bottled firefly’ type of smell that belongs more to the fairies at the bottom of a garden in Cottingley than to an irritated woman fighting her way through the crowd to get on her train to work.

 

Enter L’Amandière by Heeley Paris.  With its boot polish lilacs, linden, hyacinths, maybe a smidge of rose, mint, and freshly cut grass, it shares the same watery translucence as L’Eau d’Hiver and Après L’Ondée, i.e., Spring incarnate, but is robust enough to stand up to modern life.   It is certainly a watercolor fragrance, its soft daubs of blush pink, mint green, and duck egg blue qualifying it as one of Turin and Sanchez’ so-called ‘fragrance Ophelias’.  But suffused with sturdy, air-conditioned musks and a green, unripe almond note, there is a slight thickness of body to L’Amandière that keeps it all from crumbling away into nothing.

 

There is also an undercurrent of sweetness in  L’Amandière,  but this is the faint natural sweetness you smell in crushed lilacs, green plant milk, and freshly trampled grass, rather than the sticky, all-encompassing sultriness of tonka-led takes on almond, which tend to lean towards cherry pit and marzipan. There is no fudge here, no extra weight.   

 

Above all, L’Amandière is the perfect reflection of the Heeley house style, which is discreet, refined, and vaguely pastoral, filtered through a modernist lens that allows for clarity.   And this is definitely a soft, clear perfume.  Nobody else but James Heeley could have, in my opinion, produced a fridge-cold spring floral with all the watery melancholia of an Après L’Ondée or a L’Eau d’Hiver that lasts longer than a sigh in the wind while sacrificing none of the ‘fairy dust’  translucence that makes those perfumes special in the first place.   

 

 

Source of sample: I bought a full bottle of L’Amandière at full retail price from ParfuMarija in Dublin, one of only two bottles of perfume I have purchased in 2021 (the other being a bottle of the reissued Nahema eau de parfum by Guerlain).  

 

Image: John Everett Millais, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Anamcara by Parfums Dusita

6th October 2021

 

The fact that something as weird and borderline confrontational as Anamcara by Parfums Dusita was workshopped in a Facebook group known for its strict ‘say something nice or don’t say anything at all’ policy is hilarious to me.  This is a humongous, syrupy fruity-floral that lurches at you with a pina colada in one hand and a baseball bat in the other.  Though striking, it is more feral than pretty.  Think less Juliette Binoche and more Béatrice Dalle.  

 

If you are familiar with the pungency of some floral absolutes in the raw, like jasmine, with its grapey nail solvent highnotes, or ylang, with its banana fuel-spill aspect, then you’re going to love Anamcara, because it features a massive overload of natural orange blossom.  If you’re unfamiliar with just how jolie laide naturals can smell or are new to the more artistic corners of niche-dom in general, however, Anamcara could be something of a shibboleth.

 

Because this is not the polite orange blossom of, say, Orange Blossom (Jo Malone) or Eau des Sens (Diptyque).  Rather, this is the weirdly medicinal gunk of cough syrups, hard-boiled orange throat lozenges, and vitamin C gummy bears sold in rickety little apothecaries all throughout Provence.  It reminds me very much of a holiday in Uzès, where everything from the ice-cream, honey, and chocolate to the bread (gibassier) seemed to be expensively infused with orange blossom or lavender essences and hyrosols.  I think of this perfumey oddness as distinctly French.

 

In Anamcara’s opening notes, I smell a dense ‘brown’ floral syrup diluted with a pour of carbonated water for an uplift that reminds me of the orangey Coca Cola fizz of Incense Rosé (Tauer). This is shot through with the fresh, lime-green bite of petitgrain, which also smells very French to me, recalling the openings to both Eau Sauvage and Diorella (Dior) as well as the later Mito (Vero Kern).   I can’t think of anything that smells quite like Anamcara in its totality, though.  I suppose that Rubj (Vero Kern again) in eau de parfum format is the fragrance that comes the closest, in terms of a shared focus on the medicinal ‘boiled sweet’ aspect of orange blossom.  But where Rubj piles on the sensuality with a shocking cumin seed note, Anamcara focuses on the weirdness of orange blossom alone.  There is also a savory or umami element to Anamcara, possibly from the sandalwood, that reads as more Asian than European.

 

If I had a criticism, it would be that Anamcara is overdosed (on something) to the point of being oppressive, a monolith of floral muck so densely muscled that it’s hard to make out the shape of any of the tendons or veins.  This will be somebody’s idea of floral bliss, no doubt, just not mine.  I can’t wear fragrances like this – they wear me down, defying my attempt to parse them out.  I do, however, respect the hell out of Pissara Umavijani’s refusal to color inside the lines on this one.  Despite the ‘rainbows and unicorns’ vibe of its origin story, Anamcara will push buttons as well as boundaries.

 

 

Note: As widely reported, Anamcara translates roughly to ‘soul friend’ in Irish (and Scots Gaelic, which is similar), though ‘soul mate’ is probably closer in modern parlance. As an Irish person (and Irish speaker) myself, I can tell you that the vocative form of ‘cara’ is used very often in day to day speech, i.e.,  ‘mo chara’ to say ‘yo my fine friend’ and ‘a chara’ to mean Dear Sir/Modom when writing a letter to the Irish Times complaining that last week’s crossword puzzle was wrong or that the banks are running this country into the ground, etc. So it’s funny to see these words appear on a fancy French perfume. 

 

Source of sample: Sent to me free of charge by the brand. My review and thoughts are my own.

 

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

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Three by Frassaï: Tian Di, A Fuego Lento, and Teisenddu

16th March 2021

 

 

Based on my sampling of three perfumes from the Argentinian brand Frassaï, I can say that this is exactly the kind of thing that one hopes to see from modern niche perfumery but rarely does, i.e., perfumes that are unusual but not too much, and rendered in a soft, lovely manner that gives them wearability and ease.

 

Consider two points on that scale, for reference – the earlier perfumes of Serge Lutens, which offered bold new ideas but presented them in often luridly syrupy forms that made them challenging to wear as a personal scent outside of a grand occasion, and the perfumes of Parfums de Marly or XerJoff, which are mostly recycled ideas and tired old tropes rendered loud and muscular with über-radiant woody ambers that smash their way through more delicate accords like a bull in a china shop.

 

The Frassaï perfumes, on the other hand, appear to have been carefully and sensitively art-directed (by Natalia Outeda, a designer who had previously art-directed perfumes in NY for companies such as Bond No. 9, Proctor and Gamble, and Kiehl’s). Though the perfume reviewed here are all in different styles – one essentially a soliflore, one a spicy fruity scent, another a woody gourmand – and some of perfumers who composed them have usually easily-identifiable signature ‘moves’ (Rodrigo Flores-Roux, for example), there is a common thread of harmony and softness that links them all. Is it possible that the female gaze in art directorship for fragrance is just as much a thing as it is in literature, or essays, or film?

 

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Tian Di (by perfumer Olivier Gillotin) is the most original of the three perfumes I sampled, and my outright favorite. It is really quite odd – a smoked-out peach skin nestled in a dusty ‘brown’ accord that remind me alternately of loose (peach-flavored) tea in those triangular nets sold by Dammann Frères, coffee grounds, or even cocoa – but also unexpectedly lovely. I am particularly charmed by the marvelous effect it produces on the skin, where it is all burnt peach licorice on the inhale (similar to the burnt anise-iris at the base of Guerlain’s Attrape-Coeur, albeit in dust form rather than apricot jam) and spearmint gum on the exhale. It is as gingery and as cooling as a tisane drink, yet as granular and coarsely-textured as the dry material before the hot water hits it.

 

Tian Di eventually deepens – or perhaps ‘spreads out’ – into a smudgy, smeary mint butterscotch and floor wax accord, with a hint of trampled grass and even beer, but never loses the malted, almost smoky graininess of the incense and tea. There is something about this that tugs a memory chord for me, making it difficult for me to evaluate objectively beyond the rather gormless ‘It’s odd but I love it’ review I’ve given it here. I think there’s either a loose connection to the peach of Trèsor (Lancôme) or to the sandalwoody, salty-minty, peony-esque weirdness of Dune (Dior), both of which I wore as a teenager, but again, this is all probably a Pavlovian response playing out in my mind and my mind only. Tian Di is special and unique. I’d buy this one in a heartbeat because I don’t have anything like it in my collection.  

 

A Fuego Lento (by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux) is a soft jasmine soliflore that smells like a wall covered in jasmine whose petals have started to dry a little in the late June sunshine, giving it a sweet hay or alfalfa dimension. There’s a tangy orange blossom note at the start that reads a little rubbery, like hot tarmacadam, so for a brief time, the scent gives off a pleasant sensation of being in a hot Southern city where the exhaust fumes of cars and hot pavement mingle with the sudden wafts of white flowers tucked away behind tall, patrician walls. But really, A Fuego Lento is all about that jasmine. A nutty, milky amber holds it all in place without interfering with the purity of the flowers.

 

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I’m always moved by the simple but awe-inspiring beauty of a flower whose smell has been so faithfully recreated in scent form. This is, I recognize, no small feat in and of itself, unless you are willing to rely on the floral absolutes to do all the heavy lifting, in which case you have to deal with the more pungent, less pleasing aspects of the absolute – but Rodrigo Flores-Roux certainly knows his way around jasmine. That said, I’m a little surprised at the lack of accoutrements from a perfumer who produced both the complex, salty jasmine that is Ella (Arquiste) and the plummy jasmine chypre that is L’Âme Perdue (Le Galion), but I’m guessing that Outeda asked specifically for a pure, lush jasmine soliflore, and that is precisely what she got.

 

Personally, I don’t wear soliflores (preferring to smell flowers in nature than in the bottle) but if I were on the hunt for a great jasmine-dominant perfume, this would be a prime contender. The only other jasmine soliflore that matches the quality of A Fuego Lento is, in my opinion, the limited edition Diptyque Essences Insensées 2015, which is however far more syrupy and intense a smell.

 

Teisenddu (by perfumer Roxanne Kirkpatrick) is, in many ways, the most familiar-smelling perfume in the bunch, in that it mines a vein that many indie and niche perfumes before it have tapped into, i.e., that toasty-dry, caramelized scent of a working sauna, complete with all its spicy-fresh facets (juniper, conifer) and its dried fruit ones (cumin, caramel, prune, brandy). I quite like this toasty wood smell, even though it doesn’t really deviate from the pattern cut by scents such as Woodcut by Olympic Orchids or Bourbon by Hans Hendley.

 

Where it does innovate, however, is by pairing it with a full-blown movie butter popcorn accord with which I am only too familiar (unfortunately) thanks to my year-long exploration of the American indie oil sector. Every single perfume oil with the words ‘cake’ or ‘freshly baked bread’ or indeed ‘caramel’ featured precisely this note. Due to overexposure to this awful pyrazine-y aromachemical – whatever moniker it actually goes by – whenever I smell it, I think not of caramel or bread but instead of that awful fake butter popcorn flavoring they put in jellybeans. Because of its proximity to the hot, dry wood accord, the note emits a claggy ‘moistness’ that reads like warm, sweaty socks.

 

Now, it’s entirely possible that everyone else who smells this will smell what the perfumer intended, i.e., caramel, and that it is my particular sensitivity or over-exposure to this material that’s skewing the picture. I hope so. In any case, I hate this particular material with a passion and always wonder how Pierre Guillaume managed to pull off the toasted nuts and caramel in Aomassaï without resorting to it. (Part of me always thinks, well, if he can do it, why can’t everyone else?)

 

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Mercifully, this note burns off quickly enough, and my patience is rewarded by a remarkable (and really quite unusual for a toasty, spicy wood scent like this) plant milk accord that smells like coconut milk, lotion, and something green and crunchy, like agave, fig leaves, or aloe vera. What this does is add a cooling, lactonic finish to the scent that effectively rehydrates the wood, balancing it so that it never tips over into outright aridity – typically the natural end of spicy indie wood scents. I really love this surprising element, and it’s enough to compensate me for any butter popcorn trauma I might have suffered previously.

 

It’s worth mentioning that, even when this milky lotion component fades away, we are left with a gently-spiced, gently-resinated, and gently-ambery wood accord that never pushes the envelope too far in any one direction. It’s all quite gentle. Which suits me just fine. In this last stretch, Teisenddu reminds me a lot of Gaiac by Micallef (and its twin, Dark Horse by Dame Perfumery), as well as Wenge by Donna Karan – all scents I’d describe as soft takes on the amber-incense-wood category, a popular and rather densely-populated intersection in niche perfumery. Scents like this are the fuzzy blanket of the perfume world (or ‘woody puddings’, as NST calls them), and while not entirely a novel form, Teisenddu innovates just far enough with that green, juicy plant milk accord to carve out a space for itself.

 

Source of Samples: I purchased samples of these Frassaï fragrances from Neroli Hungary, a Budapest-based niche perfume store here. I have purchased samples from Neroli multiple times since 2014 and am very happy to recommend them to my fellow European fumeheads.

 

Cover Image:  Photo by Barbara Zandoval on Unsplash                       

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Les Indémodables Part II: Iris Perle, Fougère Émeraude, Rose de Jamal, and Chypre Azural

1st March 2021

 

Iris Perle

 

Username checks out. In its totality, Iris Perle is an opalescent soap bubble of freshly peeled mandarin over soapy-waxy-fatty mimosa clasped in a child’s slightly sweaty paw, but studied closely over a day, it breaks down into two distinct phases. The first is reminiscent of what I think of as the typically Italian take on iris, i.e., slightly bitter, powdery, and freshly-laundered, rather than floral. This is clearly built around a ‘grey’ workaday iris material (rather than orris root) dressed up with lots of mandarin peel and the sharp, vegetal greenness of violet leaf, which lends a subtle leather accent. It’s not a million miles off the Acqua di Parma or Prada Infusion d’Iris line DNA. But more expensive-smelling. So, like Satori Iris Homme

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The mimosa, shy creature that it is, is slow to unfurl, but eventually we get glimpses of that “is it a flower? Is it school glue? Is it a cucumber?” oddness that makes this flower so charming. It smells high-toned and bleachy, which gives it only a glancing similarity to the treatment of mimosa in Une Fleur de Cassie (Malle) (Une Fleur de Cassie possesses a grungy, garbagey tone that Iris Perle does not), and absolutely no connection at all to the throatier, almond gateau takes on mimosa like Farnesiana (Caron). In fact, as time goes on, it is the subtly aquatic cucumber aspects of mimosa that come to the fore, joining with the violet leaf to form a pale (wispy) melony leather accord that splits the difference between Diorella (Dior) and Le Parfum de Thérèse (Malle). Verdict: Nice, though not required reading if you have either Diorella or Le Parfum de Thérèse.   

 

 

Fougère Émeraude

 

I left Fougère Émeraude for last because (a) I have extremely narrow parameters for the type of tuberose I am willing to wear (see here for evidence of just how anal I get about it), and (b) I usually find fougères too masculine and bitter-smelling for me to pull off. But I’m pleasantly surprised! Fougère Émeraude manages to find my sweet spot on both the note (tuberose) and the style (fougère) and does so with such panache that I’m genuinely excited to wear it. It might even be – gasp – my favorite of the entire Les Indémodables sample set.

 

Let’s start with its treatment of tuberose. Fougère Émeraude captures all the toothpasty, camphoraceous ‘box hedge’ greenness I love in Carnal Flower and sidesteps entirely the lurid butter-bubblegum loudness that I abhor in Fracas. The tuberose smells dewy, crisp, and freshly-watered, not wilted or overblown. What I appreciate in particular is that, before the tuberose can start to droop and start smelling of its naturally fleshy, semi-decaying self, the note is quickly flanked by a softly powdery ‘fern’ accord made up of lavender, mimosa, tonka, and amber, so what you end up smelling is tuberose that’s been modulated and softened from all angles – a creamy, powdery floral accord with tuberose in the mix, rather than a full-on, straight-ahead tuberose.

 

The fougère element of the scent also plays squarely in the modern fougère sandbox, meaning that it leans on creamy tonka, powdery lavender, and soft floral notes rather than on the rather brusque aromatic sting of leaves, twigs, and bitter-minty oakmoss for its structure, thus making it perfectly easy for a women (certainly this woman) to wear.

 

The green, floral creaminess of Fougère Émeraude, particularly in its drydown, reminds me a little of the drydown of Chypre Palatin (Parfums MDCI), albeit without that scent’s lush, dense-as-a-brick castoreum-oakmoss-labdanum accord that makes it both sweetly creamy and subtly animalic. But where Chypre Palatin is a special occasion scent, Fougère Émeraude’s lightness of texture and (comparative) freshness makes for an altogether more casual wear, and thus is perfectly suited for an everyday ‘reach’.

 

Rose de Jamal

 

I don’t know who the Jamal in Rose de Jamal is, but I suspect he’s the guy they hired to sneak into the Kannauj attar factory at night and spoil an otherwise nice, fresh green rose distillation with an over-enthusiastic pour of whatever woody aromachemical they use in Rose 31 (Le Labo).

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I can’t blame Jamal. The shortage of real sandalwood oil, coupled with the rise in India of a middle class of young men and women who largely prefer to smell fresh and modern in dupes of Dior Sauvage and Gucci Flora than of anything their parents or grandparents might have worn, i.e., attars and ruhs wrung from Mother India’s abundant flowers, herbs, and aromatics, has pretty much taken the traditional attar factories of Kannauj out at the knees.

 

Rose de Jamal smells like the stuff churned out these days by attar houses that have accepted reality and switched to producing oil-based freshies and designer dupes in their labs (no deg and bhapka here), their backrooms filled with gallon containers of modern aromachemicals rather than precious rose oils, sandalwood, or choyas. So, like I said, I don’t blame Jamal. He’s just out there, trying to survive, you know? I do blame Antoine Lie, however. I love Antoine Lie’s work in general, so I’m not too sure what went wrong here, unless it was a deliberate cash grab for the market share currently dominated by Rose 31 (Le Labo). Rose de Jamal smells like the beginnings of a decent rose accord – minty, powdery, but also jammy –  quickly smothered by a brutal cloud of chemical ‘radiance’ that seems to last for days on fabric and on the skin.

 

Chypre Azural

 

What Acqua Viva (Profumum Roma) does for lemons, Chypre Azural does for oranges – a superbly naturalistic whole-of-tree citrus accord (leaves, fruit, pith, wood) sustained for an abnormally long time without resorting to any (obvious to me anyway) aromachemical support system. It’s basically my dream orange cologne-style fragrance – Hermes Concentré d’Orange – retrofitted to last more than ten minutes. And as long as you set your expectation dial at ‘long-lasting eau de cologne freshie’ level, Chypre Azural doesn’t disappoint. If you come to it looking for a genuine chypre with all its twists and turns, however – well. Chypre Azural is a lot of things (all of which are an orange) but a chypre it is not.

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Aside from the midsection, where a rather soapy neroli-musk accord sets in, Chypre Azural is resolutely linear. If you want to smell of orange pith from morning to night, then this will thrill you. For me, personally? Smelling of citrus this bright is fantastic in the early morning hours but all kinds of inappropriate by dinnertime. My seven-year-old daughter, Mila, crawled into bed with me in the middle of the night after a nightmare, and after wriggling into ‘space pod now attached to mother ship’ position, she sniffed me and said, “Why does your neck smell like oranges? It’s the middle of the night!” Exactly.     

 

Source of Samples: I purchased the Les Indémodables sample set here.  

Cover Image: Photo by Steven Lasry on Unsplash

 

 

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Areej Le Doré Agar de Noir, Musk Lave, Cuir de Russie, Grandenia, & Santal Galore

28th September 2020

The challenge for any reviewer in reviewing the Areej Le Doré releases is that (a) either you’re late and the perfumes you’re writing about are no longer available to buy, or (b) you’re on time for a full bottle release, but you are talking only to the group of three to six hundred people that are buying them, a tiny circle of devotees that seems to get tighter and more closed-off with each successive release from the house.

I can certainly see why many people in perfume-land might be attracted by the fantastic raw materials on offer by Areej Le Doré but turned off by the feverish fandom that has sprung up around the brand. If you’re not willing to set your timer to bumfuck o’ clock Thailand time or duke it out with the scalpers, then the whole thing can feel like the most fearsome clique from high school. And when anyone feels excluded, there is the natural tendency to grumble to yourself, “Well, if I’m not in, then I’m sure as hell out…of this hot, culty mess.”   

While this is certainly not a problem for Areej Le Doré itself – selling everything you produce is the dream, after all – I wonder if the lack of new entrants into the inner circle of devotees represents a problem over the longer term. Fresh perspectives on your work are essential whether you are making a car or a perfume because they stop you from drowning in the reflecting pool of constant and uncritical adoration. They also safeguard the perfumer against the danger of becoming essentially a private label or custom outfit dancing to the whim of a small but intimidatingly vocal group of buyers, none of whom I’d particularly like to meet in a dark alley. Just kidding, just kidding (sort of).

Anyway, this review goes out to anyone who has an interest in Areej Le Doré fragrances but has, for one reason or another, avoided actually buying them, either in sample or full bottle form. This might be someone who loves natural raw materials, for example, or someone who loves and misses the rich orientals of yesteryear that boasted real sandalwood or expensive floral absolutes. Or it might be people who are into perfumes in general and have the money to invest in the really good examples, but zero stomach for the clusterfuckery around the brand itself. If that’s you, and you’re reading right now, then let me tell you that this particular Areej Le Doré collection is the one to dip your toes into, if you were reluctant before.

Here’s why I think this collection is a good entry point for newcomers to Areej Le Doré. First, the perfumes in this collection are noticeably lighter and more refined than previous cycles, making them easier and more pleasant to wear, especially for women.

Second, none of the perfumes in this collection are marred by the heavy, almost seedy animalic undertone that has dogged other collections. For example, I loved Plumeria de Orris from one of the previous collections, however, once the buttery orris and frangipani burned off, the fragrance was dragged under the gutters by a honeyed civet or musk that smelled disturbingly like dried saliva. Koh-i-Noor was my absolute favorite of a previous generation, but a greasy costus-laden musk gave it an old-man’s-crotch vibe that I couldn’t quite shake. But in this collection, even the musk- and oud-heavy perfumes are not overly heavy, greasy, or saliva-ish.

Third, and probably the most important one: I think that this collection is Russian Adam’s best yet. If you don’t know already, each Areej Le Doré collection usually contains variations on a basic line-up of a (i) musk (usually natural deer musk-based), (ii) an oud, (iii) a humongous mixed oriental floral, (iv) a ‘soliflore’, (v) an ambergris, and/or (vi) a leather or sandalwood. Although there doesn’t seem to be an ambergris-focused scent this time around, the others are all either superlative or really good examples of their respective ‘theme’. If you love natural raw materials like oud and sandalwood, then pull up a chair: brands like Areej Le Doré are the last holdout for exquisite raw materials in a world that is increasingly sanitized and lab-molecule-dependent.   

Image by DEZALB from Pixabay

Rather confusingly, Santal Galore is the kaleidoscopic floral nag champa extravaganza this time around, rather than the sandalwood you might be expecting (which is actually to be found in the equally-confusingly-named Musk Lave). My vial leaked in transit, but after smashing it open and swabbing the gooey remnants onto my skin with a Q-Tip, I can tell you that this is the one I’d crawl over hot coals to smell again. Oh God, grant me the unlimited funds to buy the few perfumes that smell as good as this. It opens with a big, creamy swirl of aromas that you imagine emanating from a Persian carpet or a well-oiled antique from a souk, soaked in multiple generations’ worth of glossy, fruity Cambodi oud oils, rosy-sandal attars, and the sweetness of smoke from decades of burning Indian Chandan sticks and barkhour.

This perfume carries that full romantic sweep of Orientalia in its bosom that Westerners like me find so irresistible but that usually come out mawkish and kind of cheap-smelling. Santal Galore deftly matches the slightly gummy-floral sweetness of nag champa with a savory cream cheese background that seems to encompass the smoked Easter Ham aroma of guaiacol and a salty-minty oakmoss. Eventually winding down to the lovely smell of a freshly-struck match, Santal Galore performs the same trick as Santal de Mysore in that it is suggestive of the spiced warmth of real sandalwood without smelling directly of it.   

For my personal taste, this is the best floral/woody/musky thing that Areej Le Doré has ever done. There are no analogs in the commercial or niche world, so it’s difficult to draw comparisons that will make sense to those new to the brand. But if pushed, I would mention Le Maroc Pour Elle (Tauer Perfumes) or Daphne (Comme des Garcons) as scents that occupy the same scentoverse ideologically speaking.  Less helpfully perhaps for newcomers, but more so for people who have bought into the brand since its inception, Santal Galore is roughly in the same ballpark as Ottoman Empire, with which it shares a similar nag champa floral richness, and Koh-I-Noor, for that same almost claustrophobic rush of dense, heavily-packed-in floral notes and that texture that is both creamy and powdery (although Santal Galore is not as animalic or as costus-laden).  It has been a while, but there could also be a line drawn to the sharp, almost oily Flux de Fleurs, though Santal Galore is a far gentler, rounder affair.

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

Musk Lave has one of the best real sandalwood finishes I have smelled outside of attar and mukhallat perfumery. For fans of real sandalwood, the real treasure lies here, and not in Santal Galore. But be aware that this is the type of musky, spicy, masculine-leaning sandalwood that used to feature in high quality ‘barbershop’ fougères before Indian sandalwood became generally unavailable to commercial perfumery in the late eighties, and before entire carpets of beige, sweetish tonka bean were conscripted to fill the gap.

In other words, though it certainly smells rich and incensey, like all good sandalwood should, this sandalwood is the handsome, rugged version that smells more like good wood and bay rum spices than a creamy dessert that will send you into a stupor. The invigorating sparkle of the sandalwood is beefed up by a nice lump of labdanum, so you get the full balance of aromatic-dry and sweet-incensey that the very best examples of sandalwood possess, e.g., the Mysore 1984 by Ensar Oud, which, because it is aged, has developed that rich, incensey sonic boom ‘loudness of voice’ that would be most unusual for a pure sandalwood more freshly distilled.

Winding back to the start, Musk Lave opens with a fresh, powdery lemon and lavender accord, which would be a naturally lean kind of thing were it not for the immediate upswell of an unctuously buttery musk or tonka that adds richness, like a pat of yellow Irish butter melted over a salad. Think Jicky but with real sandalwood and musk dialled in for that naughty ‘skin musk’ feel, writing over the rather sharp, sometimes foul-smelling synthetic civet of the Guerlain. Given that Jicky is my favorite fragrance in the world, hopefully you’ll take my word for it that Musk Lave is the upgrade nobody knew was in the wings but immediately presses the install button on.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Agar de Noir (can’t you just feel Luca Turin squirming?) is the oud in the collection and is quite the departure for Russian Adam for two reasons. First, although the oud is the real deal, it does not smell like any one particular terroir or style of oud (as opposed to Antiquity, which smelled almost entirely of the beautiful Cambodi oud oil used) but rather presents as a generalized picture of ‘oudiness’ that’s been cleaned up for public consumption. So, you get the characteristic smell of damp, fermenting wood chips and the dusty scent of old wood varnish, but not the shriekingly sour hay and leather highnotes of a Hindi, or the hyper-treacly stickiness of a Trat, or the wolf-fur wooliness and ambergris-saltiness of a Chinese oud. The oud is there merely as a signpost planted in the scent to suck you deep into the shadows, where the equally dusty darkness of ground coffee is waiting, deepening the gloom.

The opening reminds me more of Borneo 1834 (Serge Lutens) than any of the other Areej Le Dore oud-dominated fragrances, due to that ‘brown’ dustiness; Oud Luwak also used coffee as a note, but it felt much more like an oud-focused affair than Agar de Noir, which feels more floral. It does share with Oud Luwak that dark, airy elegance of structure – like an expensive bar of chocolate that makes a satisfyingly clean ‘snap’ noise when you break it. The gloom of these brown notes has been lifted by the chalky brightness of violets, which create a sort of pastel-colored clearing in the Agar de Noir forest. I like the civilizing effect the violets exert on the oud: they add an unexpected foppish lightness that could be read, in some lights, as ‘dandified’. This tangy, balmy oud-and-violet accord makes what is essentially a floral leather sort of thing – like Jolie Madame (Balmain) with an oudy twist.

The second way in which I find Agar de Noir a departure is in its overall lightness of feel. The light-on-dark, violet-on-oud-leather thing is super elegant while it lasts but after two hours, the show is essentially over, save for the cinder toffee-like sweetness of the labdanum that brings up the rear.

The labdanum persists for hours beyond this, of course – it is a traditional basenote for a reason and has been the finish of choice for Russian Adam in all his oud blends after Oud Zen. But compared to Russian Oud and Oud Piccante, the labdanum absolute used here is of a much lighter weight – a judicious smear of incensey, golden toffee, but unencumbered by the sheep fat unctuousness of the labdanum in Oud Piccante or the chocolatey amberiness in Russian Oud. Personally, this ‘middle’ weight of labdanum suits me just fine; Oud Piccante is too savory-fatty for my tastes, and Russian Oud too gourmand. Agar de Noir is lighter, shorter, more attenuated, and is all the better for it. However, oud heads who want their oud to be perceptible past the third hour mark, Agar de Noir might be one sacrifice too far in the name of elegance.

For anyone not already inducted into the Areej Le Doré oud hall of fame mentioned here, just picture an oudified Jolie Madame and you’re on the right track. I think this would also be a particularly friendly oud for beginners, and because of its soft, ‘thin’ floral mien that restrains the brutishness of the oud, it may also be a better pick for women. Dark, dapper, and mysterious in a Victorian gentle-person kind of way, Agar de Noir is my pick of the Areej ouds, barring Oud Zen, which was similarly minimalist and ‘legible’.         

Image by Pitsch from Pixabay

Grandenia suggests that it might be going big on the famously creamy, mushroomy lushness of gardenia, but this is not the case. Rather, this is a tightly-wound, stiffly-starched green floral that starts out at the data point of a citrusy-piney frankincense – a resin that here smells like a freshly-stripped piece of Silver Birch – and winds up in Chandrika soap territory.

I find this pinched, freshly-scrubbed sort of floral a chore to wear, but it may appeal to people who like Antonia by Puredistance. I also want to acknowledge that this would be a good white floral for men, as it is completely devoid of the soft, candied creaminess and tinned-fruit syrupiness of most white florals. It is clipped and pure; the sort of thing to stiffen the spine. A very good wood accord develops in the base that smells more like sandalwood soap than oud or sandalwood per se. And then, finally, in the last gasps – a ghostly imprint of gardenia, with that slightly glassy, freshly-cut-mushroom quality it shares with myrrh.

Image by HG-Fotografie from Pixabay

Cuir de Russie is a scent to spray on fabric rather than on your skin, but I have done both to no ill effect (if you have sensitive skin, just obey the damn instructions). This is not the Chanel kind of Cuir de Russie (Russian Leather), but rather, a leather-ish note in a minor key nestled inside a massively cheesy and then baby-powdery deer musk. On the skin, the chalky, innocent pallor of violets peeks out shyly, but not to the extent where you would define the scent as floral (or feminine, or soft, or indeed any of the usual descriptors used for flowers). On fabric, it is the rude, smeary honk of deer musk that dominates, stepping firmly down on the neck of any floral note that threatens to make a break for it.

Given that Cuir de Russie has real deer musk in it, it stands to reason that it is very, very powdery and clings to the inside of the nostrils for days. If you want to know what real deer musk smells like, by the way, please read my article ‘The Murky Matter of Muskhere. Many people think that real musk smells foul or fecal. It does not. It does smell intimate, like the morning breath of someone you love, or a clean perineum, but it is more often than not quiet, powdery, and quite sweet, its odor clinging to skin, hair, and fabrics for many days (deer musk was one of the four great animalic fixatives of perfumery).

The musk in Cuir de Russie is somewhat similar to the musk in War and Peace, which I loved for the way its musk was so dry that it smelled like smoke from a just-fired gun (some people interpreted the dryness as baby powder). But Cuir de Russie also doesn’t have the almost pretty smuttiness of the musk in War and Peace, nor its sultry sweetness; it is more butch and a bit rough around the edges, despite the inch-thick layer of powder.   

I like Cuir de Russie but wouldn’t particularly recommend it to a newcomer seeking an entry point to the brand. There’s always the danger that leather fans might roll up and expect leather (crazy, right?) and right now, before the full whack of aging and maceration, Cuir de Russie is mostly musk. Birch tar fans, of which I am one, might be disappointed at its subtlety in CdR – there is zero BBQ meat or ‘just threw a leather jacket on a campfire’ smokiness here. Cuir de Russie is primarily a very rich, powdery musk that ultimately leans a bit too hard on the intrinsic complexity of its naturals to fill in the olfactory blanks.

This is probably going to mature into something stunning, along the lines of Koh-i-Noor. But it is a high risk investment for a bottle of something whose materials might veer off into directions that not even its perfumer can predict with 100% certainty. For those signed up to the rare natural materials pledge, this is is part of the thrill; for the rest of us, contained within the unfixed, mutable nature of these raw materials is the warning that the perfume might also change for the worse.  

Source of Samples: Kindly sent to me free of charge by the brand. My opinion are my own.

Cover Image: Thanapat Pirmphol from Pixabay

Aldehydes Amber Ambergris Aromatic Balsamic Citrus Floral Jasmine Musk Review The Discard Pile White Floral

Ormonde Jayne Jardin d’Ombre and Ambre Royal

14th August 2020

Neither of these 2016 Ormonde Jayne releases – Jardin d’Ombre and Ambre Royal – are my kind of thing, even though there are interesting and even beautiful moments in both of them. But I’m beginning to wonder if 2016 marked some kind of strategic shift for Ormonde Jayne as a brand, away from the more characterful – and some might say challenging – compositions and towards a simpler, broader aesthetic that panders to a more mainstream taste?

Because, from this point onwards, that fascinating Ormonde Jayne interplay between piquant, peppery citrus notes and opulent woody, floral, or resinous drydown seems to be, if not missing, then certainly thinner – a mission drift of the kind that you notice only if you look closely enough. I notice, in the post-2016 Ormonde Jayne output, a flattening out on the complexity front, as well as a tendency to hoist them into the air with a sticky-sweet aromachemical volume far outpacing even the boost of the Iso E Super for which the brand is well known.

It’s fine, it’s fine – there are high points and successes even within this ‘slide’, if that is what it is, (the Love Collection was more lovely than not, and the 2016 release of Rose Gold was a triumph, even if it was followed by the insipid, more department-store-ish White Gold in 2017). And I will continue to think of, and rate, Ormonde Jayne as highly as I do Chanel, Hermès, and Mona di Orio when it comes to their consistency in turning out solidly-built, classically luxurious perfume. Ormonde Jayne is and always will be a top tier house for me. But, speaking as a serious Ormonde Jayne fan and owner of about six of their fragrances, if the La Route de la Soie collection marks where the brand is headed, then I will lock myself in with my pre-2016 Ormonde Jayne perfumes and try to pretend that the house ended its run there.

Neither Jardin d’Ombre nor Ambre Royal are all that bad but compared to the perfumes in the core collection and in the Four Corners collection, they’re not that great either.  They could be said to mark the beginning of the shift in Ormonde Jayne direction towards the common denominator of popular taste for Ambroxan-driven ambers and florals, and from this perspective, they are interesting to study. Would I wear them myself? No, probably because nowadays, I tend to rank new perfumes – flurries of interest or even what I think might be ‘like’ or ‘love’ – against the gold standard of Nawab of Oudh, and when it comes down to it, I would always prefer to save for that bottle of Nawab of Oudh.

Photo by Missy Stinson on Unsplash

Jardin d’Ombre

It’s impossible to tell from the notes list, but Jardin d’Ombre is not a rich, velvety floriental but rather a sheer and uplifting Eau de Lancôme medley of lime and bergamot strung out over gauzy white flowers (Hedione-assisted) and a whoosh of what feels like aldehydes. There’s a tannic ‘linen’ note in the midst of the scent’s Big Lift which makes me wonder if there was a microtrend afoot for this sort of sourish, diaphanous white floral in 2016; the way Jardin d’Ombre is set up strongly recalls the cold champagne-and-copper-pennies fizz of Superstitious (Frederic Malle), also 2016.

Truth be told, these soapy aldehyded florals with their sharp elbows and chilly demeanor – Climat, Arpège, etc. – are not really my thing; I need a bit of warmth and sweetness (Gold Woman by Amouage and Ella by Arquiste are as close as I am willing to get). But I do love the cold, aerated feel of Jardin d’ Ombre at first; it smells like a freshly-laundered bedsheet whipped by gusts of mountain air, the scent of the lemon or jasmine-scented water still clinging to the fabric. There’s also a brief but enchanting moment where it smells a bit like a freshly-opened sheaf of printing paper.

Unfortunately, the sourish, papery freshness I enjoy so much fades away within the hour, leaving in its place a sullen clutch of gummy ‘white flowers’ and an amber accord so sticky that I feel like I’ve just peeled open one of my husband’s white shirts taken wet from the machine to discover that it’s gone through the wash wrapped around one of the children’s abandoned, half-sucked lollipops (flavor undetermined). Funnily enough, the gummy white flower/amber-Ambroxan accord that Jardin d’Ombre dries down to happens to be the point from which the next fragrance I’m reviewing – Ambre Royal – starts out.

Photo by Mona Eendra on Unsplash

Ambre Royal

This is a stretch, so bear with me – but is it possible that Ambre Royal is Ormonde Jayne’s riposte to Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Baccarat Rouge 540? Both follow a basic formula of something candied joined to a spacey, metallic Ambrox overload that sends the whole thing shooting off into space. Both are sweet (in an acceptably masculine manner) and enormously radiant. Both fragrances affect me in an almost physical sense. Some portions leave me nose blind, while other portions drive an Ambrox-shaped ice pick into the most tender and vulnerable part of my brain. I can’t wear either of them for an extended length of time without wanting to boil my skin off to make it stop, but I did anyway, because reviews based on a quick sniff rather than a full day’s wear are only 10% of the story.

On my skin, Ambre Royal smells absolutely awful at first. I am assaulted by the scent of boiled sweets melted down and smeared over salty fishing tackle – a queasy mélange of Maltol, shiny lab musks, the sweaty, aftershavey radiance of Ambrox, and the bone-dry, faux-cedar crackle of Iso E Super. Smells like the essence of Man on steroids. But the Sporty Modern Man edition, because it sure is sweet.

But listen, this is Ormonde Jayne, and they are never just going to leave this accord hanging around all on its own like that. So, the ugliness of the initial chords gets gentled down in a bed of powdery musks, amber, myrrh, and (real-smelling) cedarwood that smells like an expensive wooden box full of antique amber resin.

The amber is not rich, but light, expansive, and nicely salty. In fact, it reminds me of the black licorice-inflected almond play-dough (tonka bean and myrrh) of Alien Absolue, minus the overt jasmine notes. I warm up to Ambre Royal at precisely the point at which I stop smelling aftershave and start smelling the anisic custard accord I love so much in the Mugler, though the Ormonde Jayne take on the theme has been lighted and aerated so much that it bears only a distant relationship to Alien Absolue’s gouty bullishness. I don’t know what kind of black magic has been employed to massage something so brutal into the shape of luxuriousness, but that’s Ormonde Jayne for you. I just wish we’d been treated to the smooth stuff from the get-go rather than having to sweat through the unpleasantly metallic ambery goop at the start.

Before I posted this review, I checked the fragrance again, this time spraying on paper – and what a revelation! Ambre Royal behaves very differently on paper than on my skin. Paper slows its roll. I’m treated to a drawn-out procession of some pretty wonderful notes that had whizzed right by me the last few times. I smell anise, red and purple berries, licorice vines, velvety musks, gin and tonic, gripe water, and a sort of creamy, candied white musk-custard accord that reminded me immediately of the amazing Musc Nomade (Annick Goutal), shot through with the cedary aftershave notes of Ambrox and Iso E Super, which are now subdued under the indolent weight of silky amber notes. Quite a different experience. If it weren’t socially unacceptable to wear perfume via paper strips taped to one’s pulse points, that’s totally how I’d handle Ambre Royal.

Source of Samples: Ormonde Jayne as PR samples in 2016-2017 (ish). This review was not required by the brand.

Cover Image: Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

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