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The Musk Collection by Areej Le Doré: Reviews

20th March 2024

I can’t help feeling sad that ‘regular’ people who just love a good, well-constructed perfume rather than obsessing on one or two of their constituent raw materials will likely never get to smell the Musk series from Areej Le Doré.  Except for one, none of the perfumes in this collection are terribly animalic, all of them use exquisite materials like real sandalwood, oud, and jasmine, and most of them smell like whole, actualized perfumes rather than the sum of their parts.  But then, the people who love perfumes for the entirety of their composition or for the personalized soundtrack they provide to the mundanity of the everyday are upset enough that the 2014 Dior Addict or the 2009 Hermes Hiris are no longer available, so can you imagine their feelings about perfumes that sell out and become unobtanium in the space of a weeks, if not days? 

 

Perhaps it is best that only the oud heads and sandalwood obsessives that lurk in dark corners of the Internet get to smell these.  Most Areej Le Doré perfumes smell like proper perfumery bases bought in from somewhere, dressed in a careful arrangement of natural oils and essences that the perfumer has sourced or distilled himself – incredibly silky-funky ouds that smell of wood rot but also of hay and mint, the powdered goodness of well-resinated sandalwood, buttery white flowers, or the citric, briny spackle of white ambergris.  Sounds amazing, right?  And it is.  But what the perfume-wearing GenPop want is for a beloved perfume to smell reliably the same from one day to the next, and ideally, from one bottle to the next.  The naturals used in Areej Le Dore perfumes are too mercurial and unreproducible to guarantee that level of security.

 

Take Crème de la Crème, for example.  My favorite of this series and the easiest to wear, it has nonetheless never smelled the same way on me the three times I have donned it.   The first wear induced rare feelings of euphoria, because it reminded me of a soft, vintage floral perfume – L’Air du Temps perhaps – worn down to a barely-there skin scent clinging to the baby hairs at a woman’s neck.  Soft yet strong, like a photo I recently saw of Jean Harlow one day before her death from kidney failure, her delicate yet bloated frame held firmly in place by her co-stars Clark Gable and Walter Pidgeon, who seemed to sense she was near collapse. 

 

This version of  Crème de la Crème was sweet, clove-ish, dried-rose-petalish, shot through with the citrusy brightness of ambergris and bathed in the dusty but resinous sweetness of sandalwood.  There was a absinthe-like note floating around in there too, reminding me of the cloudy, bittersweet herbaciousness of Douce Amère (Serge Lutens).  The final aftertaste, however, was of the delicate Indian attar-like floral sandalwood of Alamut by Lorenzo Villoresi, only airy and astringent where the Villoresi is sodden with sweet milk.

 

The second and third wearing immediately revealed the minty-camphoric sting of a clean island oud – like a Borneo, but in reality, an oud from the Philippines – sweeping in the medicinal radiance of hospital-grade antiseptic fluid.  How had I missed this the first time around?  Now I could smell the sharpness of lime leaf as well as the familiar richness of the sandalwood, which in its second outing smelled like a century old sandalwood elephant ground down into dust for zukoh incense.  Reddish wood, all powder on the surface but with globules of calcified amber rolling around like a bag of marbles underneath. This is immediately recognizable as real-deal Indian sandalwood, its tart, yoghurty nuances darting in and out of the sweet richness, coating your tongue with the kind of roundness and balance you really don’t get with sandalwood synthetics.

 

Roundness doesn’t mean sweet or feminine, though.  The slightly mossy bitterness at the center of ambergris gives the sandalwood a fern-like character, making me think of those big, old fashioned fougères, redolent of shaving soap, oil of cloves, and bay rhum.  The sweet-sour-soapy finish of the sandalwood reminds me a lot of Jicky, but also by extension, Musk Lave, except that in Crème de la Crème, there is a faint spicy-floral breeze that nudges it into the realm of the Caron carnation (Bellodgia or Poivre).

 

Third time around, like the second time, but with more pronounced soapy-leathery-amber notes that made me think of the floral, oiled galoshes of Knize Ten Golden Edition, the plasticky ylang of Chanel No. 5 eau de parfum, and of Pears soap.  This is not unpleasant, just surprising.  Perhaps it is the creamy, dusty airiness of Crème de la Crème that makes it so quixotic and mutable.  Like one of those shifting sand pictures that changes every time you shake the frame, it softly accommodates whatever fantasy or feeling you project onto it.

 

 

Cuirtis opens with the most divine, almost mouthwatering accord of sweet, cuminy bread, a fruity dill, aromatics, and a peach-skin osmanthus.  This may sound odd, but I love the effect.  I think the word I’m looking for here is hawthorn.  There is a familiar chord here that stirs up some good scent memories for me, one I can only really identify as being broadly ‘peak L’Artisan Parfumeur’ in tone – a touch of the dry, smoky (but also fruity) nagamortha of Timbuktu, some of the complicated whiskey-vetiver-old orris soap of Dzongkha, and even a touch of the sweet, armpitty doughnut of Al Oudh, perfumes that have fallen slightly out of fashion or have been discontinued but still remain part of my personal perfume hall of greats.

 

The dry, smoky birch tar, when it bursts through this almost watery-fruity-aromatic dillweed layer, does indeed smell like a fine cuir, but not one produced by Chanel or Dior.  Rather, I smell a lot of Ambre Fétiche (Annick Goutal) here, with its parched, leathery benzoin simplicity – also characterized by a strong birch tar note, by the way – as well as a sliver of the melony smoke of Breath of God by Lush and some of the watery, metallic violet leaf and hay dandiness of the late, great Cuir Pleine Fleur (Heeley). 

 

Thus far, this review has been one long run-on sentence of other perfume references, but I am not suggesting that Cuirtis is overly referential.  Indeed, it is very much its own animal.  But whenever I bump into a smell that jolts me back in time to 2014 when I was happily discovering the perfume greats on my own, I scramble to triangulate the references in my perfume mind palace so that I can settle on the source of the big feelings I am feeling.  Though ultimately I can’t identify what single element is triggering me in Cuirtis, I rather love for its own good self.  It is incredibly aromatic, herbal tincture-like, but also sweet, smoky, and dry, all at once.

 

 

Royal Barn is clearly named as a sop to Russian Adam’s die-hard animalics fans who egg him on to dirtier and dirtier things with each collection.  I suspect they would prefer for him not only to edge up to the great, steaming piles of horse shit in this putative barn but to plunge his hands in and start smearing it all over the stalls.  But the name’s a con.  This is the animalic floral oriental-chypre of the collection, and as such, is only dirty in the way Bal a Versailles (Jean Desprez) is dirty, meaning that underpinning the morass of rich, creamy florals, fungal oud, greenish rose, and spiky woods is a lascivious schmear of honeyed civet, there to add that unmistakably ‘French’ je ne sais quoi of soiled panties.

 

At first, everything is as dense as a brick of floral absolutes and waxes mashed together, and it feels rather wet and slurry-like in texture.  Then two things happen simultaneously.  First, the perfume dries up, with a leathery tone that reminds me of castoreum, but may just be the hay absolute sucking all the moisture out of the barn.  Second, the fruitiness of the champaca-rose tandem and the crisp, green-white juiciness of palmarosa somehow make a break for it, peeking out from behind the barn wall.  The contrast between the leathery, dry (austere) civet and hay layer and the fruity, creamy, almost girlish pop of peach and egg yolk yellow florals is amazing.

 

Now, real talk – does this really smell like a barn?  Well, civet – the real stuff, as used here – can be terribly sharp, honey-ish in its high-toned shriek, and foul even when its floral nuances are detected.  However, when used judiciously in a perfume, it just adds this hot, whorish glow to the florals that magnifies their impact.  Royal Barn is much drier, muskier, and ten times more pungent than Civet de Nuit but they share a similarly fuzzy, under-panted warmth.  If this is a barn, then it’s a clean one, ripe with animal but not fetid with neglect.

 

Regular perfume-wearing folk will want to know where it falls on the skank-o-meter.  It is less animalic than La Nuit (Paco Rabanne) and Salome (Papillon), but more animalic than Bal a Versailles (Jean Deprez) and vintage Gold Man (Amouage).  I would put this on par with Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent), but this is far more floral, so imagine Ubar (Amouage) with a drop of Kouros mixed in.   

 

 

Paradise Soil reminds me very much of a certain era in perfume making – not so long ago – when everyone was flipping out about these huge, dirty florid fragrances that were slightly crazy in their construction, smashing together untrammeled Big White (or Yellow) Florals with thick musks and enough nag champa and patchouli to stop a hippie in their tracks.  I’m talking stuff like Manoumalia (Le Nez), Daphne (Comme des Garcons), Tubéreuse III (Animale) by Histoires de Parfum, Le Maroc Pour Elle (Tauer), Mauboussin, etc.  If you love that style of fragrance, then you’ll love this too.  Paradise Soil smells like if tuberose was a dog and that dog rolled around in muck and is begging with his eyes to get back in the house but you just cannot be mad at him.

 

Huge armfuls of damp jasmine, ylang, and tuberose are mashed into the humid black earth of a tropical jungle onto which all the petals drop, decaying over time to make a rich mass of soil organic content, except that half the soil is made up of pulverized Pan di Stelle cookies.  So, florals and chocolate, yes, but not truffled, and despite the saffron, not vegetal.  More dry chocolate biscuit in the Montale Chocolate Greedy manner than the melted dark chocolate of Noir de Noir.

 

My only complaint about Paradise Soil is that the florals – especially the tuberose, which I feel is the pushiest flower in this particular bouquet – become too sharp and insistent in their sweetness, the sort that is so intense that it almost tastes bitter on the back of your tongue.  There is a distinct bubblegum tone as well, which when added into all the muddy sweetness going on here tips it into what I call Nights in White Satin territory.  Skirting uncomfortably close to the overall sledgehammer effect of Giorgio and Amarige, I can’t really love it past this point.  It feels like wearing fur and two inches of panstick foundation on a hot day.

 

And unfortunately, the underlying oud notes are not strong or woody enough to claw this back into neutral for me.  Paradise Soil is somewhat in the vein of Ambre de Coco or the other chocolate-oud explorations of the house (Russian Oud possibly being the most famous), but this is a far sharper, more white floral-forward version.  Still – I think fans of the big, satiny floral-incense extravaganzas of the late 1990s would absolutely love this.

 

 

Forbidden Flower is not a flower and ‘forbidden’ is all wrong too because that is a word that promises something naughty but nice.  This is not nice.  Vibe: Industrial waste but make it grape-flavored. 

 

I have worn Forbidden Flower on the skin exactly one time and that was still once too many.  I am smelling it now again from a paper strip in the hope that I can figure out – in a more rational manner – what exactly it is about this thing that makes it so traumatizing.  I mean, technically, I know it must be the skunk.  But why.  Why, Adam.

 

This is a deeply disturbing scent.  In the opening notes, the aroma of fruity green leaves and milkweed mixes with the inorganic fumes of acetone, mouthwash, mercury, and what I can only describe as the liquid from a leaky battery.  The fumes are so potent that I feel light-headed and more than a bit high.  It smells both like the school supplies closet (solvents, paper, magic markers) and a long-abandoned farmstead with metal farm machinery rusting away between the weeds and ditches that a family of wild cats or indeed skunks have marked repeatedly as their personal pissing patch. 

 

This mix of organic and inorganic stinks is deeply original but unpleasant, in a similar vein to M/Mink by Byredo (which Forbidden Flower does not resemble at all except in its metallic weirdness).   It eventually dries down to a rubbery, latexy accord technically assembled by a doughy benzoin, patchouli, and cedar but the blackest myrrh in all but name.   This sort of thing – vaguely similar to Narcotico (Meo Fusciuni), But Not Today (Filippo Sorcinelli) and Vierges et Toreros (Etat Libre d’Orange) in that they are all dark, bloody-metallic takes on the cedar/patchouli leather theme  – is just stomach turning to me, even if at an intellectual level I admit that it is original and high concept. 

 

I started this collection review by saying how sorry I was that normal frag heads never get to sample these perfumes, but in the case of Forbidden Flower, I think it is for the best.

 

 

 

Source of samples:  Samples sent to me free of charge for review by Russian Adam.

 

Cover Image:  Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

 

Honey Review Spice Tea Woods

Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre by Serge Lutens

17th January 2024

 

Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre, I love ya, even if you are a B side in the Lutensian catalogue.  Christopher Sheldrake and Serge Lutens were probably going for zest rather than realism when they placed that piercing bergamot note over the candied ginger, but for a moment, it smells like freshly peeled ginger root.  Intentional or not, this gives the scent a fresh, sporty masculine start quite at odds with the biscuit-like powderiness of the drydown.  Get past the initial whomp of aftershave, though, and this is as soft and inviting as one of those squishy modular couches. 

 

Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre is remarkably free of the dried fruit ambers and incense Serge Lutens perfumes are known for.  You half go into it expecting fruitcake, but it is nothing more than a fug of powdered spice lingering in the air after pulling a fresh batch of Speculoos biscuits from the oven.  It is slightly edible but not really what I’d call a gourmand, being more wood and dust and spice than dessert.   I don’t miss the lack of Lutensian sturm-und-drang here, either.  Sometimes, life calls for a scent that avoids pushing any of your buttons, and this is as reassuringly, blandly nice as baby rusks or Jennifer Garner. 

 

The tea note is, as always, a figment of our collective imagination, placed there by the interaction between the acerbic citrus, the mild heat of the ginger, and the milk powder heart.  Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre is often compared to Tea for Two, but interestingly, it is the L’Artisan Parfumeur that is bigger, bolder, and more pungently spiced.  Sometimes I wonder if Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake simply turned up at the lab that day, said ‘Christ, I don’t feel like anything too weird or heavy right now, do you?’ and then churned out a gingerbread tea scent that is delightfully non-descript and yet just happens to cure all manner of evil.   

 

Source of Sample:   I bought my bottle five years ago from Les Galleries Lafayette in Orleans. 

 

Cover Image:  Photo by Dominik Martin on Unsplash 

Herbal Honey Independent Perfumery Review Spice Vetiver

Onda Voile d’Extrait by Vero Profumo: A Review

11th January 2024

 

I always thought of Onda by Vero Profumo as a difficult perfume, but now, at a distance of a decade, I understand that I was just not grown enough for it.  Though I first smelled – and liked – the parfum in Campo Marzio 70 in Rome, my mistake was ordering a sample of the eau de parfum, not knowing that the formulations were very different.  The putrid-smelling passion fruit note, the pissiness, and the fungal brown wetness of it all repulsed me.  I couldn’t imagine anyone wearing let alone loving it. 

 

When I referenced its urinous aspects, laterally, in a review of Maai (Bogue Profumo) for a now-defunct blog, Vero herself took offense and, as the kids say, put me on blast publicly for having a scat fetish.  (Yes, I had to look that up too.  No, I don’t recommend doing a Google image search.)

 

Wearing the Voile de Parfum, an extenuation of the original parfum, now, I still think that the dark, mealy honey-vetiver dankness of Onda gives a little freshly cleaned bathroom stall, but in an unctuous way that also makes me think of brown velvet and the dull, chocolate-y glow of Tiffany lamps.  There is no repulsion.  It turns out that it was me all along that was the problem, not Onda.  And when I was ready to grow the F up, Onda was there, waiting for me. 

 

Still, Onda is by no means for the uninitiated.  Salty, wet, and a bit furry, it is a perfume that smells of feral cats in a den hidden in the undergrowth, albeit a world removed from the agrestic ‘smells’ turned out by indie perfumers to simulate an environment or an animal that lives there.  Onda is a wild-reared, 100% grass-fed, organic experience that just happens to be chypre-shaped.  There is no sense of it having been born, just of it arriving in the world fully formed – a creature with native intelligence.    

 

There are no perfumes that smell like Onda, but the medicinal (and medieval) dustiness of the mace note remind me of other ‘brown-grey’, shadowy, and sepulchral things like Djedi (Guerlain) and Marescialla (Santa Maria Novella).  The ‘artisanal’ apothecary vibe reminds me a lot of both Maai and MEM (Bogue Profumo), as well as the turgid funk of several O’Driu perfumes, including Ladamo.  Still, even in this company, Onda stands out as being impenetrable and a little disturbing.  

 

But then, the greatest perfumes in the world all have something impenetrable or disturbing about them, don’t they?  Mitsouko is a prickly creature, sometimes smelling of peaches and wood, sometimes of formaldehyde.  The clove and honey notes in Comme des Garcons Parfum are sharp and unlovely at first, reminiscent of a sweaty crotch.  L’Air de Rien carries with it the distinct whiff of unwashed scalp.  Yet these are perfumes worth spending time with and trying to unlock, because behind that door lies greatness.  Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to only smell amazing.  For most people, perfume is an extension of their grooming ritual.  You can enjoy beauty without worrying about whether or not it has a dark side.  But if you believe that perfume is art, then it stands to reason that your perfume should transmit a message that goes above and beyond a good ‘smell’.   And love it or hate it, Onda is a great example of perfume as art. 

 

Source of sample:  I have owned the parfum and the Voile de Parfum of Onda since 2015.   

 

Cover image:  Photo by Bram Azink on Unsplash 

Amber Aromatic Hay Honey Immortelle Independent Perfumery Oakmoss Review Spice Tobacco

Ladamo by O’driu: A Review

26th April 2023

 

Ladamo by O’driu smells like a Christmas craft store – scads of thick, velvety dirt, fallen apples, mulled wine, grated ginger root, the whole nine yards – but without the nasty chemical edge of the candle or stock oils that many American indies (BPAL, Possets, Alkemia, etc.) tend to rely on to create that type of vibe.  It could be because Angelo Pregoni uses a ton of naturals, especially immortelle, to do the heavy lifting.  But I’d bet that Pregoni’s famously kooky (and largely impenetrable to me) artistic sensibility plays a large part in it.  

 

Some reviews point out that that Ladamo is basically an immortelle soliflore, but I disagree that that’s the case, at least at first.  I mean, yes, you certainly get that bronzed, curried maple syrup vibe that accompanies immortelle wherever it goes, but the mossy dampness of the soil tincture, the watery (almost aquatic) magnolia, the metallic ginger-tobacco combo, and the smoky licorice note build it all out into something far more complex than is suggestible by one material alone.

 

The upshot is that Ladamo smells of all the brown, good-smelling things of autumn – root cellars, apple rot, and the hummus of the forest floor – mulched down into one compact but vibrant layer.  An amber this may be, but spiritually, Ladamo shares a lot of ground with Comme des Garcons’ Patchouli, and artistically, it is what Foxcroft by Solstice Scents wishes it could be when it grows up and taps into a bigger budget.    

 

The first half of Ladamo is borderline intoxicating to me.  Boozy, deep, sweet but also bitter and earthy, it sells me a fantasy of my former Goth self, striding through a forest full of wet, fallen yellow and brown leaves, wearing long leather boots, a riding crop, and way too much eyeliner.  But cool, you know?  The Gucci ‘hobo chic’ version of that, not the crunchy granola one hastily knocked up by your teenage self in your nearest health food (New Age) store.

 

Alas, as the day goes on, Ladamo loses it stamina and eventually becomes just another old codger shuffling forward on the crutches of that immortelle, because immortelle is always the last to die.  What was initially a complex, every-evolving smell doing an insane loop de loop from curry to brown sugar to maple syrup and golden leaf and hay and spice and back again, eventually whittles itself down to the faintly dusty, monochromatic booze sweat territory that most immortelle-heavy fragrances wind up in.  Still, worth it for the first half of the ride.

 

 

Source of sample:  Part of a sample swap with a friend.  Ladamo seems to be no longer available.

 

Cover Image:  Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

 

Amber Balsamic Honey Patchouli Resins Review Rose

Dior Mitzah: A Review

13th January 2023

 

If you’ve never smelled Dior Mitzah before, then telling you that it smells like cinnamon, honey, rose, amber and incense is about as useful as telling you that a pound cake contains butter, eggs, and flour.   Change the proportion of any one of those ingredients and you get a different result but only slightly.  Because it’s still a pound cake.  Most spicy-sparkly-balsamic ambers exist on a pound cake plane, separated by infinitesimal degrees of smoke or sweetness or heft.  Perfumes like Ambre Sultan (Serge Lutens), Ambra Aurea (Profumum Roma), Miyako (Annayake), Vento nel Vento (Bois 1920), and yes, Mitzah (Dior) all form part of a universal comfort lexicon.  It is hard to go wrong with any of them.  But they are also much of a muchness.

 

There are primarily three things that distinguish Mitzah.  First, its texture.  For a scent made with such heavy materials – honey, labdanum, cardamom, patchouli – it feels remarkably airy, like gauze stretched across a window.  Mitzah wears as if all these materials had been placed in a low oven, dried overnight, and then, once cooled, ground to a fine golden mica that applies like one of those edible body dusting powders.  If you’ve ever eaten a Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut right after the red light flashes, then you’ll know that sensation of sinking your teeth into that thin glaze and suddenly finding nothing in your mouth but air because the entire thing dissolved the minute it hit the warmth of your tongue.  Mitzah replicates that.

 

Second, the peppery bitterness introduced by the cardamom note, which firmly pushes back against the glittery sweetness of the perfumed, freeze-dried air that is the rest of Mitzah.  The same might be said for the gentle earthiness of the patchouli, which subtly darkens the bright rose gold aura of the scent and gives it a hint of something approaching depth.  These little counterpoints give Mitzah an air of balance and refinement not that common in the amber genre.

 

Third, there is a ghostly ‘roasted’ note that smells like the sesame seeds or cinnamon sticks toasted in a dry pan.  It is not a major component, but it adds a point of interest, much like the crushed thyme and bay leaf in Ambre Sultan, or the licorice and spilled petrol notes in Vento nel Vento.  Mitzah needs this point of interest, because without it, it becomes one of those diaphanous ambery-spicy scents without distinction that you throw on for comfort on a cold day and promptly forget about five minutes later.   And while I don’t think Mitzah is quite as interesting or as exceptional as its reputation makes it out to be (Paris exclusivity having greatly shaped its mystique over the years), it does do an excellent job of straddling that gap between mindless comfort and intentionality.  For that reason alone, I can almost forgive myself for not buying Eau Noire instead when I was last downwind of the Dior Paris Mothership’s postal reach.      

 

Cover Image: Photo by Lucas Kapla on Unsplash

 

Source of SampleSample, ha!  My jeroboam-sized bottle laughs in the face of a mere sample.  Does double duty as a barbell.  Purchased by my own fair hand in 2017 from Dior Paris. 

 

Amber Ambergris Animalic Aromatic Attars & CPOs Collection Cult of Raw Materials Frankincense Green Floral Herbal Honey Independent Perfumery Jasmine Mukhallats Musk Oakmoss Oud Oudy mukhallats Patchouli Review Rose Round-Ups Sandalwood The Attar Guide

Areej Le Doré History of Attar Collection (Fragrances): Reviews

4th October 2022

 

The first release in the History of Attar Collection was a set of traditionally-distilled attars specifically commissioned by Areej Le Dore to give its customers an idea of what Indian attars are (thoughts and reviews of the attar set here).  This release, on the other hand, is a collection of spray-based fragrances (not oils) made by Russian Adam himself, rather than commissioned from an attar distiller.  Since their composition do revolve around the use and theme of Indian attars, however, it might be useful for readers to read my previous article describing the attar set first.  

 

 

 

Beauty and the Beast

 

Photo by Maksym Sirman on Unsplash

 

I wrote about the new generation of Amouage attars (2021) a while back, but in trying to couch my disappointment in terms of market realities, I skipped over the sense of loss – emotional and patrilineal – of never seeing the likes of Badr al Badour, Al Shomukh, and Al Molook again.  These were mukhallats that successfully positioned feral ouds against the softening backdrops of rose, ambergris, and musk, stoking a love for oud among the heretofore uninitiated.  The first sniff of Beauty and the Beast makes me realize, with great joy, that cultural ‘scent’ patrimony is never lost entirely, but rather, constantly over-written by new entrants like this.   

 

Based on the age-old Middle Eastern custom of pairing the sometimes challengingly sour, regal animalism of Hindi oud (the Beast) with the soft, winey sweetness of rose (the Beauty), Beauty and the Beast doesn’t deviate too dramatically from the basic rose-oud template.  When the starring raw materials are this good, you don’t need to.  The Hindi oud and the rose oils used here are so complex in and of themselves that an experienced perfumer chooses wisely when they leave them alone to work their synergistic magic on each other. 

 

Interestingly, the ouds in Beauty and the Beast have been distilled using rose hydrosols, meaning that the water normally loaded into the still with the oud chips has been replaced with rosewater, the natural by-product of distilling roses.  I am not sure that this makes a difference to the resulting oud oil, but the environmentalist in me likes the thinking around circular economy it implies.  

 

The balancing act the materials perform is nothing short of magisterial.  When the Hindi oud at first challenges the senses with its pungent, feral qualities – think beasts of burden steaming together in a barn, old saddles piled on old wooden barrels in the corner, piss-soaked straw matted into the dirt floor – the rose (not Taifi, for sure, but more likely something like Rosa bourboniana, used to distill attar of roses, or Rosa damascena, used to distill ruh gulab, or a mix) is there merely to soften and sweeten things.  Later, however, when there is more room to breathe, the rose offers up a kaleidoscope of different ‘flavors’, cycling through wine and chocolate to raspberry liquor, Turkish delight, truffles, and finally, that traditional rose-sandalwood ‘attar’ scent.

 

But it is crucial to note that these nuances all unfold in sequence, matching step for step the series of nuances emerging from the Hindi oud.  So, when the oud reveals that regal, spicy leather underpinning so typical of high-quality Hindi ouds, the rose offers up its truffles and wine.  The two materials continue to evolve and in doing so, change the character of the rose-oud pairing we are smelling.  First, the character is pungent and sweet, then it is leathery and winey, then it is dry, woody-spicy and jellied-loukhoum-like.  This evolution, this symbiotic dance, lasts for a whole 24 hours, so you have ample time to luxuriate in its every transition.

 

There is nothing really new or innovative about the rose-oud pairing, but Beauty and the Beast is worth your time and money if you are looking for an exemplar of the heights it can scale when only truly excellent materials are used.  It is strong, rich, long-lasting, but most of all, interesting and beautiful from every angle, from top to toe.  In terms of what is still available in this style today, I would rank Beauty and the Beast alongside The Night (Frederic Malle), Mukhallat Dahn al Oudh Moattaq (Ajmal), Al Hareem (Sultan Pasha Attars), and Al Noukhba Elite Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi).  In other words, the fragrances that best capture the feral but regal nature of Hindi oud, balancing it perfectly against dark, sweet roses.  For what it’s worth, my husband, who is a hardcore oud enthusiast, kept muttering stuff, “Good Lord, that is good,” and “Oh, that smells insanely good” all day long every time I wore it.

  

 

 

Ambre de Coco

 

Photo:   Aromatics, spice, and dried plant material for a shamama distillation being loaded into the deg. Photo by Pranjal Kapoor. 

 

Coming across a genuine shamama attar in the wild is like thumbing through a library of slim poetry books and pulling out a tome with the girth of a Ulysses.  Shamama attars, which can take two months of continuous distilling and over 60 separate fragrant materials to make, are so bewilderingly complex that even reading about how they are made is exhausting.  I’ve written about the process here, but in case you haven’t come prepared with sandwiches, a flask of tea, and a map, then let me just tl;dr it for you: an even more aromatic MAAI, wearing a bear pelt.

 

But Ambre de Coco takes it one step further – there is a shamama attar at its heart, but it is wrapped up in a dark, almost bitter, but superbly plush cocoa powder note, stone fruit accords, and a deeply furry impression that suggests that deer musk grains might have been involved at some point.  Complexity-wise, this is like taking Ulysses and wrapping it in a layer of Finnegan’s Wake.

 

Where to begin?  Let’s start with the amber.  Forget the idea of those cozy-vanillic-resinous ambers like Ambre Sultan (Serge Lutens), Amber Absolute (Tom Ford) or Ambre Precieux (Maître Parfumeur et Gantier).  This is Indian amber, or what they call shamamatul amber, which is green, mossy, and astringent as hell, as if amber resin was not a resin after all but a stalk of rhubarb or a copper penny.  Indian ambers are lean and a bit stern – there is zero fat on their bones.  Inside this carnivorous structure, the rest of these 50-odd raw materials flow as a swirl of tastes and impressions rather than identifiable notes.  Aromatic grasses mingle with bitter, mossy aromas, wet-smelling herbs, roasted roots, dried berries, calligraphy ink, floral bath salts, and all sorts of dried lichens, leaves, and twigs.  It smells more like something a traditional Chinese medicine man would brew up to cure an infection than a perfume.

 

Now, imagine all this soaked in a rich cocoa powder that softens all the pointy, jangly bits that threaten to poke your eye out, and you get an impression of being plunged into the warm embrace of fur – both animal and human.  The cocoa is not at all edible – fold away any expectations you might have of something gourmandy and sweet.  Rather, its powdery texture cleverly replicates the stale chocolate bitterness-dustiness that is a natural feature of real deer musk tinctures.  Shamama attars and shamama-based perfumes can often be animalic, even when they lean exclusively on plant-based materials (Ajmal’s 1001 Nights being a case in point), relying on the natural funkiness of the aromatics or woods or moss to create something that, in some quarters, might be termed a Parfum de Fourrure (a fur perfume).  Here, Ambre de Coco leans a little on oud and ambergris to boost that effect, but in spirit and intent, it joins the ranks of other glorious Indian shamama-inspired perfumes, such as 1001 Nights (Al Lail) by Ajmal and Jardin de Shalimar by Agarscents Bazaar.

 

Photo:  Charila, a type of Indian lichen that is similar to oakmoss. Photo by Pranjal Kapoor

 

The drydown is suitably bitter-musky-tobacco-ish in the way of these Indian shamamatul ambers, but I am not sure whether this is because of the additional dose of oakmoss and ambergris, or because of the naturally aromatic aspects of charila, an inky-smelling moss material from India that is oakmoss-adjacent and also the first material to be distilled in the shamama recipe.  Either way, my comment about MAAI wearing a fur coat stands.  This is a two-day affair and can be smelled on the skin even after a hot shower.  Considering that genuine shamama attars can take two months to distill and starts at a minimum of $2,000 a kilo for one that’s been distilled into real sandalwood oil, $360 for a 48ml bottle of perfume that not only does justice to shamama but elevates it to the small pantheon of shamama greats that exist on the market today, Ambre de Coco is both beautiful and superb value for money.          

 

 

 

Malik Al Motia

 

Photo by Bibi Pace on Unsplash

 

First, a bit of etymology. Motia (or alternatively mogra) is Urdu for Sambac jasmine, which itself is popularly known as ‘Arabian jasmine’, distinguishing it from Jasminum grandiflorum, the more classical jasmine grown in France and India.  You can buy motia in two forms – as an attar al motia, which involves jasmine petals distilled directly over a base of pure sandalwood, or as a ruh al motia, which is the pure essence of the flower, no sandalwood base.   Malik means, loosely, owner or King in Arabic, which I guess suggests that Malik al Motia is supposed to be the Supreme Boss of all Jasmines.  

 

But if you think that means you’re getting something loud, you would be wrong.  Russian Adam mentioned an interesting fact about traditional attars that I hadn’t known, which is that attar wallahs distilling in the old Indian manner produce essences that are pitched at a perfectly modulated mid-tone point, meaning that the final aroma is never too loud or too quiet.  And I find Malik Al Motia to be a perfect example of what he means.

 

This is jasmine with all the lights switched off.  It starts out as dusky, velvety, and slightly indolic in tone, similar to the darkened jasmine found in Ruh al Motia (Nemat) as well as to the soft, magic market indoles of Cèdre Sambac (Hermes).   But the leathery indoles are smoothed out by a judicious touch of the grandiflorum variety of jasmine, whose luscious sweetness and full-bodied charm sands down any rough edges on that Sambac.  Hints of overripe, boozy fruit – like an overblown banana liquor – lend a steamy tone but remain firmly in the background.  Oddly, Malik al Motia smells far more like jasmine than the Motia attar from the attar set that has presumably been used somewhere in the mix. 

 

There are resins and woods in the base, even some oud.  But these just act as the dimmer switch on the jasmine, making sure that everything, even the parts of jasmine that are naturally sunny, are subsumed into the folds of that black velvet olfactory curtain.  The rich, honeyed ‘just-licked skin’ tones of Sambac come through at the end and linger plaintively for hours.  Similar to the now discontinued Gelsomino triple extract by Santa Maria Novella, the natural end to any Sambac is that rich, skanky sourness of your wrist trapped under a leather watch-band all day under intense heat.

 

Yet Malik al Motia remains intensely floral.  Wearing feels like waking up in a field of jasmine at dusk, the air still redolent with scent.  It is not especially feminine and clearly not a soliflore.  The material’s rich indoles lend a slightly dirty feel, as does the mealy woods in the base (reading more cedar-ish than sandalwoody to my nose), but it manages to be darkly, sensually ‘adult’ without ever tipping over into full frontal territory.  Soft, black-purple velvet, a hushed ambience, your heels sinking into deep carpet.  Makes wish I still had someone to seduce.   

 

 

 

Al Majmua

 

Photo by Frank Albrecht on Unsplash

 

Al Majmua is based on the famous majmua attar, a traditional Indian blend of four other already-distilled attars and ruhs, namely, ruh khus (vetiver root), ruh kewra (pandanus, or pandan leaf), mitti attar (a distillation of hand-made clay bowls), and kadam attar (distilled from the small, yellow bushy flowers of the Anthocephalus cadamba).   Together, these attars combine to mimic the lush, earthy fragrance of India during the rainy season.  In Al Majmua, it is the green, foresty tones of the ruh khus that dominate, at least at first.  Its rugged, earthy aroma smells like the roots of a tree dipped into a classic men’s fougère, something green and bitter enough to put hairs on your chest.  In fact, there is a chalky galbanum-like note here that links Al Majmua, at least superficially, with the front half of Incenza Mysore.

 

But what I love about majmua attars, and hence also about Al Majmua, is that the juicy-sharp bitterness of the opening tends to soften into an earthy, dusty bitterness – nature’s slide, perhaps, from vetiver root to mitti.  

 

This earthy, aromatic aroma is complex and ever-shifting, sometimes letting the slightly minty yellow floral of the kadam attar peek through, sometimes the piercing, fruity-vanillic, yet funky aroma of pandanus leaf (kewra attar), which Russian Adam has cleverly accentuated by adding a cat-pissy blackcurrant up front.  But what really predominates is the earthy wholesomeness of soil and dust, emphasized with patchouli, and given a spicy, armpitty warmth by a sturdy cedarwood in the base that believes itself to be a musk of some sort.  Though the notes don’t include musk or even a naturally musky material like costus, there is an aspect to Al Majmua that smells like the creamed, stale skin at the base of a woman’s neck.  A perfumer friend of mine, Omer Pekji, recommended to me long ago to wear a swipe of Majmua attar under my Muscs Khoublai Khan (Serge Lutens), and I wonder if the reason this particular layering combination works so well is because muskiness forms the bridge between the two perfumes.

 

What I admire the most about Al Majmua is the way that the perfumer chose to simply frame the majmua attar at the center (since it is a complex-smelling thing in and of itself) and then arrange other, complementary materials around it to draw out and emphasize certain aspects of the attar’s character.  For example, a silvery-powdery iris is placed in just the right place to highlight the dustiness of mitti, the cedarwood to underline the majmua’s slight bodily funk, the patchouli to draw even longer 5 o’ clock shadows under the jaw of the ruh khus, and so on.   

 

Fresh over animalic.  Earthy but not pungent.  Imagine Green Irish Tweed sprayed over a deer musk attar that faded down a long time ago.  Indians love majmua attars for their complex, aromatic character and so do I, but I like Al Majmua the best when it is almost done.  Because, just as the slow, gentle fade-to-grey starts to happen, there is a magnificent moment where the natural sandalwood smells like – similar to some parts of Musk Lave and Jicky – idealized male skin.   Meaning, skin after a hot shave, application of an old-fashioned but honest sandalwood tonic (Geo F. Trumpers, say), and then an hour of gentle exertion in the cold air.

 

 

 

Mysore Incenza

 

 

Adjust your expectations.  You see, I know what you’re thinking.  You see the words ‘Mysore’ and ‘incense’ and, like Pavlov’s dog, you immediately salivate, expecting something warm, ambered, and resinous, like Sahara Noir or Amber Absolute mixed with the best, creamiest version of Bois des Iles or Bois Noir (Chanel) that ever existed, but somehow better, you know, because it is all artisanal and therefore deeper, richer, more authentic than anything you can buy on the shelves of your local department store or even niche perfumery.

 

Mysore Incenza is not that.  In fact, so large was the gap between my expectations and reality that I had to wear it five times in a row to come to terms with what it is rather than what I thought it was going to be.   In pairing the extremely high-pitched, dusty, lime-peel notes of frankincense with the extremely soft, ‘neutral’ woody tones of the vintage Mysore sandalwood (from 2000) included in the attar set (read my review here), a transubstantiation of sorts is performed, and something else entirely emerges.

 

Specifically, this new creature is born in the surprising mold of Chanel No. 19 or Heure Exquise (Annick Goutal), with one small toe dipped into the Grey Flannel genepool on the way.  At least at first.  It glitters in this high, pure register, an explosion of Grappa, lime peel, and wood alcohol chased by baby powder, a striking frankincense, and what smells to me like the dusky, cut-bell-pepper dryness of galbanum and the slightly shrill smell of violet leaf.  This creates a dry, clean, woody aroma that smells purified and ascetic.  This kind of frankincense, perhaps changed by the presence of the sandalwood, smells unlit – slightly waxy, slightly powdered, and definitely not smoky, although it occurs to me that the perception of smokiness is as personal and nuanced as your political beliefs.

 

There is no warmth, no sweetness, and no comfort at all.  Don’t look towards the sandalwood to provide any relief, either.  Mysore Incenza is cleansing, angular, and ‘holy’ in the same way as other famously austere scents in incense canon are, such as Incense Extreme (Tauer), Encens Flamboyant (Annick Goutal), and Ambra (Lorenzo Villoresi).  These are all fragrances that steer away from softening the jutting sharpness of frankincense with amber or vanilla or flowers, choosing instead to focus on the dry, musky-soapy, ‘hard core’ character of resin that radiates hard, like tiny particles of mica or dust leaping off the bible when the priest thumps it to make a point in the angriest of angry sermons.   Mysore Incenza keeps you kneeling straight, anxiously waiting for the priest to say that you can sit back down again.

 

Although technically beautiful, it is most definitely not my kind of thing.  My personal tastes run towards hedonism and gluttony rather than asceticism.  I put the hair shirt away a long time ago.  People who loved Grandenia will also love Mysore Incenza, as there is something of the same vibe.    

 

 

 

Le Mitti

 

Photo: The clay bowls of Indian earth loaded into the still to make mitti attar.  Photo by Pranjal Kapoor, with full permission to use.

 

As Russian Adam warns, Le Mitti is less of a perfume and more of a bottled emotion, so expect a maelstrom with a short but dramatic trajectory from start to finish.  Like Mitti from Oudologie (review here), Le Mitti is a departure from the mineralic, petrichor effect of very traditional mitti attars, in that it is smoky to the point of smelling charred.  I like this way of approaching mitti, as it feels more modern and exciting.  What is lost in all this delicious smoke, however, is that essential feeling of something wet (rain) hitting something dry (the parched red soil of India), which in effect activates the geosmin in the earth and makes that pure ‘after the rain’ effect ring out.  Try Après L’Ondée, if that’s what you’re looking for, or a traditional mitti attar.  But remember that Le Mitti is a perfume, not an attar, and is therefore more of an imaginative interpretation than a dogged replication.

 

So, what does Le Mitti smell like?  Like a perfect storm of peanut dust, tar, soot – charred remnants of a wood fire, soot snaking up the wall in black streaks.  It is Comme des Garcons Black without the anise or the clove.  I love it.  But it is definitely a hybrid mitti rather than a pureline one.  It joins the earthy red dust of Indian clay bowls to the dry, sooty scent of an Irish cottage without ventilation.  As you might imagine, it is hilariously atmospheric.  Don’t wear it unless you’re prepared for people to ask if you’ve been near an open fire recently.

 

 

 

Gul Hina

 

Photo by Photos by Lanty on Unsplash

 

Gul Hina, or Gul Heena, or sometimes even Attar Mehndi, meaning ‘flower of henna’, is an attar derived from distilling henna leaves (Lawsonia Inermis) directly into sandalwood oil.   As you might guess from the name, the attar comes from the same plant as the popular red dye that is used to paint elaborate patterns onto the hands and face of brides in most Indian weddings, be it a Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh ceremony.  There is also a Ruh Mehndi, but since it is very expensive at $43,000 per kilogram (while the attar ranges between $500 and $5,000 per kilogram), it is rarely used commercially.  Well, to be honest, neither the attar or ruh of henna is well known outside of India and is therefore under-utilized in Western niche or artisanal perfumery.   Strangelove NYC’s fallintostars is an exception – it uses a heena attar distilled by M.L. Ramnarain.  (Review here).  

 

Gul Hina by Areej Le Doré is an entirely different experience to most Gul Hina attars I have tried.  The scent of mehndi attar is that of earth, hay, flower petals, ink, baked clay, and iodine.  (The ruh smells greener, with a  tobacco-ish facet).  It can smell rather austere.  But the Areej Le Doré approach to Gul Hina is to bathe the henna flower in the prettiest of magnolia blossoms, rose, and jasmine, so that what emerges is a sort of Venus on a Half Shell – a pearlescent, creamy, and indubitably feminine experience.  This is not the hot baked earth and hay that I am used to in mehndi.  And I’m not complaining.

 

It strikes me that this would be perfect for a bride, especially one that is also getting those intricate henna patterns painted onto her hands and face.  Henna on the arms and face; Gul Hina on the wrists and neck.  A synchronicity of henna for good health and a happy marriage.

 

First, Gul Hina smells vaguely candied, but indirectly so, like floral gummies rolled in dust and lint.  Then you notice the magnolia petals floating in a pool of cream.  Unlike in other takes on magnolia, there is no lemony freshness and no juicy, metallic greenery at its heart.  Here, the petals feel impregnated with the cream in which it floats, like biscuits or croissants dipped into condensed milk before baking a bread pudding.  These sweet, milky notes mingling with the clearly floral elements of magnolia remind me of some aspects of Remember Me (Jovoy).

 

The jasmine is next to break free of this creamy mass.  Clear as a bell, this is a naturalistic jasmine, like jasmine petals dropping and wilting off a vine in high summer.  Petals fully open, a ripe smell, with something fecund and though not quite clean, not exactly indolic either.  Still, it is enough to give the pretty magnolia some much-needed kick.  A little funk in your cream.  The rose, when it emerges, is extremely subtle.  Rose rarely plays such a back seat, but here it plays nicely in floral tandem with jasmine and magnolia that it approaches that ‘mixed floral bouquet’ effect that Creed puts in all its older feminines, like Vanisia and Fleurissimo.      

 

To be honest, I am not sure what to think about the far drydown.  With the white musk and the sandalwood, there is a nice element of perfumey, musky bitterness that creeps in.  On the one hand, this sort of drydown is always very pretty (think Coco Mademoiselle, without the patchouli), but on the other, it doesn’t sit well with the magnolia cream pudding aspect, which in consequence begins to smell a little less like a milky dessert and more like that fake croissant scent they pump around the supermarket to get shoppers moving towards the baked goods section.

 

But even if it is ultimately not quite my thing, I can’t imagine why Gul Hina wouldn’t be a huge success with brides to be, women who like pretty florals, and fans of milky floral gourmands in general.  Overall, I admire Gul Hina for being a symbolic scent pairing to the more pungent smell of henna ink painted onto a woman’s body on her wedding day.  It doesn’t smell like any mehndi attar I have ever smelled before, but my experience with mehndi is limited and I fully expect someone who is fully familiar with it to smell this and say, but of course, this is pure mehndi!

 

 

Source of samples:  My samples were sent free of charge by the brand.  This does not affect my review.

 

Cover Image: Photo by Fahrul Azmi on Unsplash 

Aldehydes Ambergris Animalic Attars & CPOs Chocolate Civet Cult of Raw Materials Floral Honey Independent Perfumery Jasmine Leather Musk Oakmoss Review Tobacco Ylang ylang

Civet de Nuit by Areej Le Doré X Sultan Pasha 

28th April 2022

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Animalic Citrus Floral Fruity Scents Gourmand Honey Independent Perfumery Orange Blossom Patchouli Review Sandalwood Vanilla White Floral Woods

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 Mellifluence: Hellicum, Spirit of Narda II, and Miel Pour Femme (Almond)

1st September 2021

It’s been a while since I last wrote about Abdullah’s work at Mellifluence, which was about his amazing Tsuga Musk mukhallat featured in my Basenotes article, ‘The Murky Matter of Musk‘ (1 September, 2017).  Four years might have passed since then, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been dipping into Mellifluence’s wares in the meantime. Last summer, I placed an order with Mellifluence for some raw materials and mukhallats, and Abdullah generously included some samples of stuff he also wanted me to smell. I’m getting to them only now, which unfortunately means that some of the scents I talk about are now unavailable.

Because here’s the thing you need to know about Mellifluence before you invest – Abdullah works in small batches, using naturals he has sourced elsewhere, and when that material runs out, so too does the mukhallat featuring it. That means you need to work fast, with a speedy turnaround time from sample to full bottle (well, tola) purchase if you’re going to snap up the thing you love. The house style is light, clean, and delicate, which is no mean feat considering the ofttimes heaviness of some of the naturals involved. In general, Abdullah excels at work involving rose, green herbaceous notes like lavender, tuberose (which he is able to render quite masculine), oud, and vetiver. 

To the best of my knowledge, Abdullah works only with naturals, because of certain sensitivities he experiences when dealing with synthetics. But worry not, while the all-natural focus does give his work a certain ‘crunchy granola’, aromatherapy-adjacent flavor, I haven’t personally experienced any of the muddiness you sometimes get with all-natural perfumery. The flip side of all this lightness and clarity is, however, a certain lack of projection and longevity. But people seeking out the authenticity of raw materials above all else are already mostly prepared for this trade-off.   

The other things to be aware of are that these are mukhallats, not attars, though people (and brands who make them) tend to use the word ‘attar’ to describe any perfume in oil. Strictly speaking, however, though mukhallats and attars are both oil-based (i.e., they do not contain alcohol), attars are defined by their manner of production, which is the distillation of raw materials into sandalwood oil in the traditional ‘dheg and bhapka’ method (named for the copper piping and leather receptacle involved in the method) used in Kannuaj, India. A mukhallat, on the other hand, is the term used to describe a mix (mukhallat is simply Arabic for ‘blend’ or ‘mix’) of any already distilled essences, absolutes, attars, ruhs, and oud oil (and sometimes even synthetics, increasingly so in modern times) with a carrier oil, which used to be sandalwood oil but for reasons of both cost and availability these days is more likely to be something like moringa, jojoba, or even good old vegetable oil. For those of you who don’t care about the pedantry of this, your main takeaway should be that these are oils, and often highly concentrated ones, and therefore need to be dabbed onto the skin (or beard, if you have one) in judicious amounts. A dab will do ya. 

 

Hellicum

 

Hellicum’s opening is both medicinal and animalic – fresh lavender and sage dipped in something lasciviously scalpy, like costus. There is also a brief flash of something sweet, like vanilla or honey, but this is gone almost immediately. Oud emerges from a mist of sinus-clearing eucalyptus or mint, and it is almost outrageous to me that a wood oil so deeply thick, so animalic, can be stretched out and massaged into something so airy. Flanked by those soft, camphoraceous herbs and pinned in place by a waxy amber accord that smells like a minty version of a Werther’s Original, the oud reads more as a light, clean leather than the stable filth that we are sometimes asked to grit our teeth through in the name of oud.

 

And this is precisely the kind of sleight of hand that Abdullah of Mellifluence excels in. Heavy, animalic substances tweaked until they are transformed into something clean, and delicate, qualities more suited, perhaps, for the soothing of frayed nerves than for the purposes of seduction or for projecting an image of yourself onto the world.

 

It is not a slight to suggest, by the way, that Hellicum, like many Mellifluence mukhallats, is more Rescue Remedy than perfume. Sometimes, that’s what life calls for. I rarely wear fragrance during the day, choosing instead to aromatherapize myself off the stress ledge by rubbing a Mellifluence mukhallat or one of his naturals onto a knuckle, or massaging some of my Francesca Bianchi Under My Skin body oil into the ends of my hair. These quiet, subtle whiffs of aroma as I type, gesticulate, or turn my head are what propel me through my workday, a friendly hand at the small of my back. Hellicum is really good at this. I especially love the hidden thicket of patchouli tucked into the tail of the scent, there to please anyone who’s been paying attention. 

 

Spirit of Narda II

 

Part of the risk of falling in love with any Mellifluence mukhallat is returning to the brand’s Etsy page and realizing that it no longer exists. I hope that Abdullah finds some way to bring this back, though, because to my nose, it is one of the best things he has ever made. It reminds me of a long lost love of mine, which is the sadly discontinued Bohèmians en Voyage (Alkemia), which had a similar pastoral quality to it, like a stroll along countryside lanes, past fields of wheat and sunny hedgerows full of wild barley and small wildflowers.

 

The ‘Nard’ in the title refers to spikenard, or jatamansi, an intensely aromatic herb native to India not a million miles away from lavender in overall scent profile, but featuring a uniquely fatty, animalic undertone, like beef tallow or the yellow subcutaneous fat under the skin of an organically reared piece of mutton. In Spirit of Nard II, the herbaceous aspects of the spikenard are sharp and spiky, like a thistle, but there is also a milky element to the it that’s relaxing to the point of inducing sleepiness. This is bracketed by medicinal woods – an antiseptic sort of oud material, no doubt – and a soft, vegetal muskiness.

 

Spirit of Narda II feels complex and multi-layered, a haze wherein herbaceous, woody, milky, floral, and musky molecules advance and recede in such a crazy loop that you are never sure what it is all supposed to be, category-wise. Each time I wear it, I’m stumped. Is it an oud masquerading as a Spanish leather? A herb that’s secretly a sheep? A plant revealed by those meddling kids to be a medicine? No idea. But two things it is not are (a) available to buy, and (b) aromatherapy rather than a fully-realized perfume.

 

Miel Pour Femme (Almond)

 

This is an odd one. Not honey at all, but rather, a pale wodge of barely set beeswax poured into a polished oak mold and wrapped up in rustling layers of that edible paper they roll candy cigarettes or torrone in. It smells varnishy, waxy, and ever so slightly stale, like printer paper or Holy Communion wafers left open in a wooden chest. I suppose all this is also very much almond – not the syrupy cyanide (benzaldehyde) tones of most almond accords, but the grassy tannins of raw almond that you get in fragrances such as L’Amandière (Heeley). The overall effect has been achieved with a combination of benzoin (for that communion wafer aspect) and beeswax (for that waxy white honey aspect). The scent thickens up, over time, into a blanched, stodgy sweetness that is never as animalic or as thick as real honey, but still quite a distance away from the beeswax-paper-almond of the first half. Miel pour Femme (Almond) is fine, if a little odd. It just doesn’t set my world on fire quite as effectively as Spirit of Narda II.

 

 

Source of sample: I purchased 3mls of Miel Pour Femme (Almond) from the Mellifluence Etsy page, and 0.2ml samples of Hellicum and Spirit of Narda II were included as a gift with purchase.

 

Cover Image: Photo by Susan Wilkinson on Unsplash

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Tyger Tyger by Francesca Bianchi

2nd February 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Cover Image: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash