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The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (J-L)

8th December 2021

 

 

 

Jakarta (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Jakarta certainly gives ManRose (Etro) a run for its money in the ‘we have kraftwerked a rose scent that men won’t have a problem wearing’ stakes (though one might argue that Le Labo Rose 90210 and Egoïste got there first).  Yet for such an essentially austere rose leather, Jakarta starts out in a surprisingly lush, velvety place.  So much so, in fact, that it evokes red rose petals strewn on white silk sheets, two glasses of Burgundy breathing on the nightstand for ‘after’. 

 

The initial bout of heavy breathing is great – bosomy and intentional.  Past the velvety opening, however, a fistful of iodine-ish saffron elbows its way in, roughing up the texture of the rose and steering it into cooler-blooded territory. Underneath the rose and saffron, the wet, brown smell of wood rot soaks through the silk sheets, adding a sense of decayed grandeur.  This all moves the dial towards masculine.

 

Midway through, a sharp metallic green accent develops – the blue-green sheen of geranium leaf perhaps – paring the rose into a shiv.  It remains rich, but it is very much now a spiky green rose rather than a lush, berried one.  Vetiver, though not terribly evident as a note in and of itself (grassy, rooty), is the main building block of the refined grey-green leather accord that steadies the base.  Men may well prefer the scent when it settles into this track, but I mourn the departure of that slightly trashy rose.

 

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo opens with such a pungent, green lavender note that you immediately see the familial relationship to pine needles, rosemary, and (to a certain degree) wild mint.  Rapidly, though, the sharpness is softened by tonka and a very natural-smelling gardenia, rich in the gouty cream cheese and coconut nuances so characteristic of this flower.

 

Towards the heart – if an attar can be said to have a heart in the traditional sense – there appears a mysterious diesel note, hot and almost rubbery in feel.  This usually signifies the presence of jasmine absolute, but none is listed in the notes, so it could be a boot polish facet of the gardenia or tuberose.

 

Sultan Pasha used Ensar Oud’s Bois De Borneo in this mukhallat, a pure Borneo oud oil that is very green and forest-like in aroma.  Jardin d’Borneo also makes use of a little-known material called katrafay.  Steam-distilled from the bark of Cedrolopsis grevei, a bush tree native to Madagascar, katrafay is an essential oil with a complex aroma profile ranging from grass to turmeric and full-fat cream.  Its main role in Jardin d’Borneo seems to be to modulate the edges of the sharper, more aromatic notes of lavender, pine, and rosemary.  It also introduces a soft, long-lasting green creamy note.

 

Intertwined with the dark green jungle feel of the mukhallat is a misting of soapy vapors from a bathroom where finely-milled French goat milk soap has just been used.  This gives rise to a scent profile not terribly far removed from those pungently green and nutty-milky florals of the 1950s, such as Dioressence.  

 

In its original form, Dioressence was a sultry, heavy green chypre famously made up of two halves – an animalic ambergris and civet base mixed with soapy green florals with a minor milky, fruity facet.  The fact that Jardin d’Borneo – a modern mukhallat – successfully recreates much of the feel of vintage Dioressence speaks to Sultan Pasha’s passion for the now mostly forgotten glories of classic perfumery, as well as to a talent for curation.

 

In style, therefore, Jardin d’Borneo is a very French affair, with a Gaugin-esque nudge towards the jungly undergrowth of the Polynesian Islands.  Jardin d’Borneo is used as a base for three other attars in Sultan Pasha’s range, specifically Jardin d’Borneo Gardenia, Tuberose and White Ginger Lily.

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo Gardenia (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo opens with a rich, fruity gardenia note, which initially smells rather like fermenting green apples and wood varnish, before picking up the humus-rich soil and cream facets so revered by fragrance lovers.  Most gardenia fans know how rare it is to find a true rendition of gardenia in modern perfumery.  Because it can only be solvent-extracted rather than distilled in the regular fashion, it is not possible to produce gardenia absolute in amounts big enough to satisfy the volume demands of commercial perfumery and is therefore extremely expensive (at the time of writing, 1ml of gardenia absolute costs almost €37).  Fortunately, because artisanal mukhallat perfumery deals with tiny amounts of raw materials and small batches, it can use gardenia in more than holistic quantities. Another advantage to wearing attars and mukhallats!

 

Sultan Pasha has framed his costly gardenia enfleurage with materials that set off its beauty like a gemstone, chief among them the verdant nuttiness of vetiver and a rubbery, fuel-like tuberose.   The gardenia ‘fullness’ achieved here makes it a must-sample for all gardenia lovers – it is rich but not sickly, and creamy without any off-putting moldy cheese notes.  Texturally, it tends towards the oiliness of solvent.  The gardenia accord is set atop the Jardin d’Borneo fougère base, a fertile tangle of vetiver root, oud from the island of Borneo (which produces oud oil with a very clean, green, almost minty profile), lavender, galbanum, and tonka bean.

 

The entire Jardin d’Borneo series is excellent, but it is Jardin d’Borneo Gardenia that best exemplifies the advantage of attars or mukhallats over Western-style eau de parfums or spray perfumes in general – namely the ability to use and showcase rare or costly raw materials, such as gardenia, jasmine, oud oil, ambergris, and deer musk, that cannot be used in modern commercial perfumery for reasons of cost or scalability. 

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo Tuberose (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

White floral haters need not fear – Jardin d’Borneo Tuberose  is not a Fracas-style tuberose, with enough butter and sugar to set your teeth on edge.  Rather, it combines a phenomenally bitter, camphoraceous tuberose absolute with the jungly notes of the rare Bois de Borneo oud from Ensar Oud and gives it a five o’ clock shadow with a needle prick’s worth of skunk.

 

Yes, you read that correctly – skunk.  At a time when modern niche perfumers seem to be in a perpetual race to out-skank each other in their use of castoreum, musk, and civet, Sultan Pasha has upped the ante by using a minute amount of perhaps one of the stinkiest secretions of all – the foul stench of Pepe Le Pew.  It is a bold move but, honestly, the note has been used with such subtlety that it is more of an undercurrent than a groundswell.   

 

The tuberose absolute is earthy, fungal, and almost moldy in aroma profile, which adds a morose ‘Morrisey-esque’ cast to proceedings.  Misanthropes and Heathcliff types wandering the moors at night, hold tight because your soul mate attar has been revealed.  

 

But like a sulky Goth teenager being handed a puppy, the mukhallat eventually shrugs off the dark, camphoraceous, and bitter elements of the tuberose absolute to reveal a shy smile of creamy gardenia, lush white tuberose petals, and slightly milky-fruity elements – the original Jardin d’Borneo attar used in the base.  In short, Jardin d’Borneo starts off on the Yorkshire moors and winds up in the lush, tropical jungles of Polynesia.  Not a bad trajectory at all.

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo White Ginger Lily (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

By far my favorite of the Jardin d’Borneo series, the White Ginger Lily variant takes a rough, minty Sambac jasmine and floats it in a pool of crisp aqueous notes (white ginger lily and lotus), creating a floral accord that is both mouth-wateringly rich and translucent.  

 

White ginger lily has a vein of piquant spice anchoring its meaty, salty creaminess, a characteristic that pairs very well with the pelvic thrust of the Sambac jasmine.  The topnotes are intoxicating – an exotic mix of the fleshy floral warmth of a living flower and the green chill of flowers taken from a florist’s fridge.

 

These florals hover weightlessly over the fougère base accord used in all the Jardin d’Borneo variants, ripe with the rubbery bleu cheese tones of gardenia and rugged with coumarin, lavender, vetiver, oud, and civet.  The steamy jungle character of the base gains its sharp, minty freshness from the Borneo-style oud used here, as well as its vaporous, rainforest-like juiciness.

 

 

 

Jardin de Shalimar (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Jardin de Shalimar is a stinky, old-fashioned floral musk that will strike a chord for lovers of Joy (Patou), Ubar (Amouage), and My Sin (Lanvin).  Although an unofficial notes list found on Fragrantica states that it contains two different types of rose, jasmine, orris, violet, narcissus, lotus, saffron, and bakula (fragrant, honeyed flowers from the Garland Tree native to Western India), the real notes list is clearly far more complex.

 

Jardin de Shalimar begins with a slightly abstract explosion of flowers with a texture so murky that it is difficult to discern individual notes.  Certainly, there is rose and jasmine, but also, I think, some champaca, magnolia, and kewra.  The feel is not French, but nor is it Middle-Eastern.  In fact, everything about this sumptuous floral reads as Indian.  If I were to smell this blind, I would swear that this is a traditional Indian attar like hina musk or shamama.

 

Jardin de Shalimar opens with the scent of flowers, herbs, and aromatics caught in the web of a traditional Indian amber, tinged with the catch-in-your-throat iodine quality of saffron.  These Indian ambers are never sweet, vanillic, or resinous in the Arabic mold; instead, they are herbal and astringent.  The saffron and roses, particularly prominent in the opening phase, give the blend a spicy, resinous feel.

 

Later, the sweet, piercing tones of the lotus flower emerge, and on its heels, the musky apple peel of champaca flower and the high-pitched fruitiness of kewra.  These materials may not have been used in the composition at all, but the total effect is so close to my experience with traditional Indian attars that I presume that more Indian ingredients have been used than are listed.  The spicy, rich, and dense (but un-sweet) wave of florals is blanketed by an animalic surround sound system featuring ambergris, Kasturi deer musk, and agarwood.  The agarwood is only present, to my nose, in tiny amounts, but it is enough to mimics the bitter-dirty-smoky effect of Atlas cedarwood.

 

Together, these materials give the scent a musky texture that is directly reminiscent of animalic florals such as Joy and Ubar.  It is as rich and as warm as a vintage fur coat, and just as naughty.  Jardin de Shalimar certainly will not be anything new to people familiar with complex Indian floral attars, but for those who mourn the passing of an age where floral perfumes contained nitro musks or real animalics, then Jardin de Shalimar might provide a secret little thrill.

 

 

 

Jareth (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Ethereal lilac fougere [sic] and gleaming leather with ti leaf, tonka absolute, white musk, and oudh. 

 

 

Jareth is probably the first BPAL that I would recommend to anyone skeptical of BPAL and its 105,000 perfume-strong catalog, because it is living proof that diamonds can and do exist under a slump heap of coal.  Featuring a cluster of damp, dewy lilacs and citrusy, green tea notes over a gentle leather accord, Jareth is technically a floral fougère.  However, nothing about it reads as old-fashioned or masculine or cologne-ish.

 

Its leather accord is one of my favorite kinds – buttery, soft, and creamy, with tons of vanilla, tonka bean, and velvety white musks turning the whole thing into a freshly-laundered plush toy.  There is a violet-like tinge to the lilacs that, combined with the cedarwood and suede, calls to mind a glorious mash-up of several Serge Lutens fragrances, most notably Bois de Violette and Boxeuses.

 

The oud note emits no exotic sound but, rather, a pale cedarwood accent that adds gravitas to the musky vanilla drydown.  The floral tea and citrus notes shimmer brightly throughout, keeping the general tone of the scent light and rendering it suitable for wear even during the stickiest of weather.  A creamy, purple-tinged floral fougère softened with buttery musks and leather, Jareth is an unqualified success.  

 

 

 

Jasmina (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Jasmina in oil format presents in much the same way as Jasmina in eau de parfum.  This is probably due to the fact that the original composition itself is rather straight-forward, relying on its top-notch naturals to do all the talking.  The notes list reads as jasmine, ylang, and grapefruit, and indeed, that is really what you get.  But thanks to the complexity and ‘ripeness’ of the raw materials used, the perfume never comes off as shallow.

 

The jasmine oil, in particular, is stunning.  Its rubbery, inky purpleness is almost something you can taste at the back of your tongue.  The jasmine is natural and untrimmed – the full bush, so to speak – so in addition to the velvety lushness of the flower, we also get hints of gasoline, rubber tubing, dirt, mint, leather, and melting plastic.  Lovers of natural jasmine will immediately (and correctly) rank this up there with the other great natural jasmines of the world, including Tawaf from La Via del Profumo and Jasmin T from Bruno Acampora.

 

The differences between the oil and eau de parfum are slight but emerge more distinctly when worn side by side.  The eau de parfum accentuates the grapefruit note, its urinous character adding even more raunch to the dirty, indolic jasmine. The oil, on the other hand, is grapefruit-neutral.  The effect of the grapefruit-jasmine pairing in the eau de parfum runs close to the powdered, heady jasmine-civet combination in Joy (Patou).  Because the citrus note is sharply emphasized in the eau de parfum, its texture is more effervescent. The oil is more subdued in comparison.

 

On balance, the eau de parfum version is dirtier and lustier.  The eau de parfum starts off brighter and more urinous than the oil, but its jasmine component is fleshier and therefore sexier.  The eau de parfum is a jasmine-forward floral with a rich, perfumey backdrop, while the oil is a jasmine soliflore that, after a petrol-and-rubber opening (borrowed from the ylang), settles into something very pristine and freshly-scrubbed.  Choose, therefore, according to how you take your jasmine.

 

 

 

Jasmine (Amouage)

Type: traditional distilled attar

 

 

Amouage’s Jasmine attar showcases the simple but affecting beauty of Sambac jasmine, with its fresh, green, and slightly minty or camphoraceous character.  It is sweet, yes, but not tooth-achingly so, and mercifully avoids the unpleasantly saccharine or bubblegum nuances of other jasmine-based attars.  Its freshness lends a subtle charm, and it is easy to be beguiled, even if you are not a jasmine fiend.

 

A mild criticism is that Jasmine does not sustain this rich greenness for long and soon devolves into a faintly musky, soapy white floral accord that feels a little too clean and generic.  However, if you are a fan of Sambac jasmine soliflores such as Jasmin Full by Montale, then you owe it to yourself to track this down.  It is also useful as a baseline for establishing what natural jasmine smells like.

 

 

 

Jasmin T (Bruno Acampora)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Jasmin T opens with a punch of raw, indolic jasmine that threatens to set your nose hairs alight.  It is powerful and bold, with an undertone of something feral, like flower petals putrefying in vase water.  This element of rot adds to the authenticity of the jasmine.  The smells of nature, when presented in their uncut form, are rarely pretty in a conventional sense.

 

Soon after the violent unfurling of the jasmine, a potent ylang slides into its DMs to accentuate its benzyl acetate qualities.  Benzyl acetate is the naturally-occurring aromachemical in both ylang and jasmine responsible for that grapey-fuel-banana topnote.  It smells like the gasses pouring off a rapidly decomposing banana in a brown paper bag, combined with the green, animalic scent of banana stem.  It also has hallucinogenic properties, similar to the effect of breathing in paint solvent.  Initially, the combination of the jasmine and ylang is so vaporous that you feel it might ignite if you struck a match.

 

Gradually, however, green notes move in to aerate the pungent ripeness.  These notes are stemmy and aqueous, possessed of a vegetal bitterness that cuts through the compressed floral accords, lifting and separately them.  This intervention calms the jasmine and renders it quietly sleek and lush, a tamed version of the panther that came before. The drydown smells musky in an indeterminate manner, perhaps a natural extension of natural jasmine oil, but also possibly a reformulation. (My current bottle of Jasmin T is heavier on the soapy white musk basenotes than previous iterations). 

 

Overall, Jasmin T presents a raw, true picture of jasmine.  It is a powerful smell rather than a pretty one.  The perfume equivalent of eating clean food, it is hard to imagine going back to commercial representations of jasmine after smelling this tour de force.  

 

 

 

Junos (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Junos headlines with an orris root note of stunning beauty.  It smells raw, rooty, and exactly like the color silver.  High-pitched and almost ureic in its intensity, the animalic, ‘wet newspaper’ aspects of iris are further emphasized with pepper, vetiver, and a licorice-root myrrh.  Everything here sings in the same high, metallic-peppery-rooty register.  It is both weird and weirdly beautiful.

 

Despite the essential delicacy of the material, a pure iris note can be as powerful as a train whistle – just smell Iris Silver Mist to grasp its sinister intensity.  The cold, metallic earthiness of the iris is eventually tempered somewhat by a sweet frangipani and the powdery cinnamon of benzoin, but its silvery rootiness persists in floating high above all the other notes.

 

The listed oud does not register at all on my skin, nor does the patchouli beyond a certain brown leafiness flitting around the edges of that remarkable iris.  With an iris so pure and evilly intense, they are beside the point anyway.  Though quite a deal ‘rougher’ around the edges than any of the Sultan Pasha takes on this noble rhizome, Junos is still a must-try for the truly hardcore orris lovers out there.  

 

 

Juriah (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: Mukhallat

 

Juriah is a rose-oud mukhallat so thick and so ropey that wearing it feels like placing your hands flat against a man’s densely-muscled chest and feeling the tectonic plates of muscle and tendon shift and grind under the smooth skin.  There is not an inch of fat on this thing.  Just the perfect dance between a Hindi oud oil that feels like it has just been milked from an animal’s bile duct – biting, feral, but rich and slippery – and the heady bloom of the finest Taifi rose oil, with its green, peppered-steak fizz.

 

The aged Hindi oud, in combination with the more mellow, fruity tones of the Cambodi oud and a silty ambergris give the mukhallat a salty, feline purr, like the sensation of wearing a vintage fur over bare skin.  The lush, honeyed drip-drip-drip of Turkish rose smooths over the edges a bit, but really, you are never allowed to take your eyes off that central tandem of Taifi rose and oud.

 

The musky leather drydown – some feature of the osmanthus perhaps – is a delight, as are the small floral and incensey touches that serve to soften the arrogant thrust of the rose and oud, without taking anything away from their grandeur.  You can tell that synthetic musks have been added to roll the whole thundering wagon forward on the tracks, but their effect is not to broadcast or project (the rose and oud are themselves immensely strong) but rather to feather out any hard edges into a soft, musky haze.  This has the effect of making the mukhallat more ambiguous in shape, more abstract.

 

Sultan Pasha himself calls Juriah his magnum opus, and I agree, except to add that perhaps Juriah shares that particular throne with the incredible Aurum D’Angkhor.   Juriah is the archetypal rose-oud mukhallat but built with the finest raw materials in the world.  Clearly a manifesto of sorts. 

 

 

 

Karnal Flower for Women (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

Dupe for: Parfums Editions de Frederic Malle Carnal Flower

 

If you did not already own Carnal Flower – even a wee drip of it – you might be forgiven for believing that this is a reasonable substitute.  But a side-by-side wearing reveals all the usual problems inherent to dupes, namely too basic a structure, an inability to capture more complex or unusual notes, and a thinner body.

 

Karnal Flower makes a lunge for the throat with a bouquet of creamy, coconutty tuberose, but in doing so entirely misses what makes the original so special, which is the bitter green bite of the eucalyptus.  The original smells memorably of a privet hedge.  The dupe, not so much. 

 

Carnal Flower is almost transcendent in its stemmy green beauty – botanical, naturalistic, and emotive.  Its notes are ripped from nature.  The dupe is your bog standard tuberose with a semi-tropical, tinned fruit edge that recalls the solar cheerfulness of monoï.   Furthermore, in its simple, creamy prettiness, the tuberose note nudges the dupe into Michael by Michael Kors territory.  Michael is a beautiful perfume in its own right, but its beauty is conventional and a little staid.  The dupe therefore misses all the verdant excitement of the original.

 

 

 

Kinmokusei (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Real osmanthus absolute, when smelled in isolation of anything else, is ridiculously pungent at first, with a cheesy, overripe note that runs close to the funk of a Hindi oud oil, minus the woodiness.  Kinmokusei, which contains a large amount of osmanthus absolute, unfolds in much the same way.  The barnyard facets of the osmanthus are up front here, underlined by a dark Kasturi musk.  This has the effect of rendering the flower animal.

 

The apricot and leather notes so characteristic of osmanthus begin to emerge from the funk, and are immediately enhanced by the fruity, almost jammy undertones of the Trat oud oil.  Matching the funk of the flower with the funk of the musk is clever, as is matching the fruitiness of the flower with the fruitiness of a particularly fruity type of oud oil.  Like all great cheese and wine pairings, one taste enhances the other.  In Kinmokusei, everything pulls in the same direction, all with the intent of emphasizing the naturally rich ‘roundness’ of osmanthus.

 

After a few hours, there appears a doughy whiff of doll’s head rubber, which combines with the osmanthus to produce a cherry cough medicine note.  A similar medicinal syrup nuance is present in Diptyque’s Kimonanthe, so one might reasonably assume that this is a feature of osmanthus, or perhaps more accurately, of a Japanese-styled treatment of osmanthus.  The cherry cough drop accord eventually disappears into a most pleasant ‘wheat porridge’ base that signals the presence of jasmine and sandalwood – half wood pulp, half granola.

 

 

 

Lady Portraits for Women (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Dupe for: Parfums Editions de Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady

 

The dupe opens with an objectionably sweaty mélange of eucalyptus, fir balsam, mint, and pine, all cruelly obscuring a shy rose.  It veers close to disgusting.  Not only do the opening notes rehash the original’s opening notes in the most crude and ham-fisted manner possible, but it does so on the cheap.  The balance between the camphoraceous, the rosy, and the earthy is completely out of whack.  The original, while definitely camphoraceous, never plunges so completely into bitter-minty balsam like the dupe does.

 

Eventually, this unhappy marriage of sweat, fir balsam, and eucalyptus dies back a little, making it smell less like the sick room of someone with a personal hygiene problem and more like something one might eventually be able to wear without grimacing.  The rose manages to push through the veil of bilious green, revealing itself to be the same jammy Turkish rose note used in the original.  However, while this nudges the dupe closer to the original, the vital component of smoky incense is missing.

 

The dupe doesn’t even come close to aping the bold beauty of the original.  Portrait of a Lady is a demanding, often cantankerous perfume, but its balance between the chilly raspberry, rose, biting camphor, and earthy patchouli is perfectly judged.  Not so the dupe, which is unbalanced to the point of ugliness.

 

The original is a full-bodied creature to whom one must commit body and soul before donning, like a pair of red vinyl stripper heels.  But if you are going to commit, even if it is only one or two days out of the year, then make sure that you don’t cheat yourself out of the original.  Beg, borrow, or steal a sample, and save it for those rare days when only Portrait of a Lady will do.

 

 

 

La Luna (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

La Luna opens with a benzene-pumped white floral note that could be anything really – tuberose, gardenia, or orange flower – but reads to my nose as predominantly ylang ylang.  Texturally, there is an interesting bitter greenness that slices through the hot rubber, lending relief.  Once the pungency of the pure floral absolutes has abated somewhat, the primary floral note emerges as jasmine – a leathery Arabian sambac rather than the sweet, purplish Grandiflora variant.

 

The floral panoply becomes smokier as time wears on, like a well-heeled woman who has puffed her way through a pack of Marlboro while wearing a fur coat drenched in Amarige.  Despite those references, La Luna is, on balance, a masculine white floral.  Any man who can wear the Jardin series or Al Hareem Blanc could also pull this off.  In temperament, it is somewhat analogous to Jasmin et Cigarette (État Libre d’Orange), albeit less ashy and with a richer white floral support in the place of its singular, minty jasmine.

 

 

 

Lamia (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Deadly elegance: pale orchid, lily of the valley, vanilla amber, black currant, white peach, champaca, coconut, honeysuckle, Arabian myrrh, Burmese vetiver, and oude [sic].

 

 

Lamia opens with a burst of creamy tropical flowers – most likely tiaré – with an underbelly of tinned peach slices and coconut custard.  The headiness of the florals is underscored by a rich orchid-vanilla accord, but also lightened with a touch of something stemmy and watery-green (perhaps muguet).  An assertive vetiver note contributes a cool, rooty grassiness.  A pleasantly muted opening, therefore, to what could have otherwise been a sun-tan-and-flip-flops kind of thing.

 

Further on, a rubbery, juicy peach skin facet appears, swelling and rubbing up against the florals to flesh out the center.  The faintly sour woods and resins in the base darken the peach, causing it to dry out into dusty fruit leather.  This smells like dried apricots in a brown paper bag, which in turn makes me think of osmanthus.

 

There is no obvious oud note here, so those with nervous dispositions need not fear.  Bear in mind that oud and osmanthus in their purest forms do share a ripe, almost cheesey fruitiness that tilts towards leather and goat curd.  However, the ‘cheese’ connection does not seem to have been played up enormously here, so all one really smells is peach or apricot skin that has started to dry and curl at the edges.  In the drydown, a whiff of smoked coconut husk appears.  It may even be an attempt at gardenia.

 

In short, Lamia is an unusually nuanced take on the tropical BWF (Big White Floral) genre, its accords of fruit rot, rubber, and smoke more suggestive of peach skin and leather than of suntan or monoï oil.  

 

 

 

La Peregrina (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

La Peregrina pairs the lush sweetness of tuberose with the earthiness of oud, deer musk, and sandalwood.  Three elements rise to the nose right away – the sweetness of a pure tuberose ruh, the ambery heft of labdanum resin, and the mossy tones of the oud-musk tandem.  The message it communicates is less flower than a wad of salted butter caramel rubbed into the wet, hummus-rich soil of a tropical rainforest.  It smells magnificently fertile.

 

The earthy ‘brownness’ of three different kinds of oud tamps down bolshy honk of the tuberose, while a shot of styrax resin teases out the rubbery smokiness inherent to the flower.  This is a tuberose that men could pull off without much difficulty.  The buttery facets of tuberose are matched and then exaggerated by a toffee-ish labdanum.  La Peregrina’s sweet-and-salty caramel glaze is dotted with wisps of smoke and white flower petals, which provide for a lighter final flourish, or at least one that won’t choke you out entirely.

 

 

 

Lavana (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Lavana opens with a citrusy lilt – grapefruit or lime perhaps – that evokes a face turned to the sun.  When a fresh, peachy osmanthus note merges with the citrus notes, I am (quite happily) reminded of the cheap and cheerful body sprays I would take with me on holidays to Greece as a teenager.  

 

Ambergris is present in this blend, but it is most likely a dab of the white stuff that has little scent of its own beyond a salty, shimmering sparkle that extends and magnifies the other materials until they glow like hot rocks in the sun.  There is certainly none of the earthy funk of marine silt or horse stalls that I associate with darker, more pungent grades of ambergris.

 

Oud? Patchouli?  I smell neither, but that is fine with me.  Nothing dark can spoil the sunny, peachy radiance of this blend.  There is a touch of rubbery ylang, but ylang is tropical and therefore allowed with us on the beach.  Pass the sun cream, please! 

 

 

 

Lissome (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Lissome’s opening is pure floral delight – thousands of bright frangipani petals, with their juicy peach scent, tumbling over jasmine, rose, and violet for an effect that feels you are being showered with flowers at an elaborate Indian wedding.  It is bright, but soft and creamy.

 

There is a slightly musky edge to the flowers as it dries down, thanks to the Indian ambrette seed.  The ambrette also adds a note of green apple peel that jives well with the tender, apricotty feel of the frangipani.  Purely feminine, Lissome is creamy enough to provide comfort in winter but fruity enough to refresh when the barometer rises.  In overall tone and effect, it reminds me slightly of Ormonde Jayne’s Frangipani, only slightly less dewy.

 

 

 

lostinflowers (Strangelove NYC)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

lostinflowers smells like a carpet of exotic flowers smeared over the floor of a cow barn.  It smells entirely Indian to my nose, like one of those traditional Indian attars of champaca flower, hina (henna), and gardenia, where the flowers smell at first like leather or fuel before they loosen up and their more floral attributes begin to emerge.

 

lostinflowers is slightly dirty in feel, although it is difficult to tell if that it is because of the hint of oud or because Indian attars can be quite pungent in and of themselves.  It is equal parts ‘sweaty sex on a bed of matted flower petals’ and ‘the buttery purity of magnolia’.  It smells of honey, pollen, fruit, indole, and just enough inner thigh to pin your ears back.

 

The red champaca oil (known as joy oil in India) leads the charge, imbuing the scent with a rich, juicy floral note that will feel exotic to most Western noses.  There’s a musky, body odor-ish shadow to champaca lurking behind its juicy fruit exterior, further emphasized by a dry, throaty saffron and henna.

 

The real star in lostinflowers is not the champaca, however.  It is the gardenia.  A rare (and probably ruinously expensive) gardenia enfleurage deserves star billing for this scent, because its saline, bleu-cheese creaminess is ultimately what expands to saturate the air until it is practically all you smell.  Salty, pungent flowers dissolving in a pool of warm, melted butter.

 

lostinflowers is an intense but beautiful experience that pushes a range of tropical or semi-tropical flowers through an Indian attar sieve. It is not particularly beginner-friendly, but for those who love the rudeness and weirdness and resolute non-perfumey-ness of strong floral absolutes, it is a must-smell.

 

 

 

 

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 Perfume Parlour, Bruno Acampora, Amouage, Maison Anthony Marmin, Agarscents Bazaar, BPAL, and Mellifluence. The samples from Sultan Pasha were sent to me free of charge by the brand.  My sample of lostinflowers came from Luckyscent as part of a paid copywriting job.  

 

 

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 Review Rose The Attar Guide

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

 

Attars & CPOs Floral Jasmine Mukhallats Orange Blossom Rose The Attar Guide White Floral

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).

Attars & CPOs Mukhallats Musk Review Single note exploration The Attar Guide

Musk: Reviews O-Z

26th November 2021

 

Oriental Musk (Kuumba Made)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Oriental Musk is a light, clean musk built around the idea of Egyptian skin musk but spruced up with some spice in the topnotes.  The laundry drier-sheet aspect to this bothers me a little, but in general, this is a safe and pleasing musk scent for those who just want to smell freshly scrubbed.

 

It is worth mentioning that Oriental Musk would work well in scent-free work environments because it smells exactly like freshly laundered clothes, neutral deodorants, and other personal care products that come with descriptors like ‘cotton’ or ‘clean air’.

 

 

 

Patchouli Musk (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Patchouli Musk’s opening salvo is an odd mishmash of melting plastic, fruit, greasy almond, and nail polish remover, all of which hit the nose in a high-pitched, vaporous whoosh that will probably get you stoned if you huff it too quickly.  It is an interesting, if not altogether pleasant, beginning.  Soon, though, it eases up into a pleasant coconut accord – green leaves pulsed with coconut water in a blender, with underlying hints of sourish, piney sandalwood.  It dawdles in this bright, aromatic groove for a while before softening into a slightly creamier mixture of coconut flesh, woods, and musk, with a chaser of golden salt and marine animal from the ambergris.  In fact, towards the end, it reminds me of an even skankier Sex and The Sea by Francesca Bianchi.

 

It is difficult to detect any patchouli. This is odd because this mukhallat uses a 1997 vintage patchouli oil sourced by Mellifluence in India, an evilly-strong thing that gives me a banging headache if I so much as glance in its general direction.  On its own, the essential oil smells very little like one might expect, opening with a stinging slap of camphor, pine, and mint that never really slumps into the sweet, reddish-brown warmth normally associated with patchouli.  Indian patchouli, in its purest form, emphasizes the leafy, terpenic side of patchouli at the expense of chocolatey earthiness.  As essential oils go, it is strikingly pungent.

 

Making up for the non-appearance of the special Indian patchouli is a subtle deer musk accord.  I didn’t think I was able to smell this until my nose picked up on a musty, earthy nuance like old newspapers and cocoa husks mixed together with a bit of something plasticky.  I have come to understand that this combination of aromas signifies the presence of real deer musk.  

 

The musk gets earthier and more cocoa-like as time wears on.  It is very subtle, and those used only to the honking foulness of fake musks in mukhallat perfumery will write in to complain.  But, to paraphrase Teri Hatcher’s character in Seinfeld – it is real and it is fabulous.  Overall, Patchouli Musk is a gentle way with which to ease oneself into real deer musk.  It is well done and nowhere near as linear or as straightforward as its simple name suggests. 

 

 

 

Pheromone 4 (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Pheromone 4 is based on a brew of four animalic substances – ambergris, deer musk, civet, and castoreum.  Despite the presence of some ferocious animalics, the blend does not come off as dirty or indeed as musky.  Pheromone 4 is about as animalic as rice pudding, which it also happens to resemble.  That said, this is a pleasure to wear and to smell, sliding effortlessly as it does from floral porridge to a powdery white chocolate note that lingers for hours on the skin.

 

The rice pudding-like milkiness may owe something to an unlisted addition of other lactonic notes, such as, say, gardenia or sandalwood.  I would put good money on it being a combination of sandalwood, vanilla, and jasmine, though, because Pheromone runs quite closely at times to floral sandalwood perfumes like Dries Van Noten by Frederic Malle.

 

Pheromone 4 is also astonishingly like Feromone Donna by Abdes Salaam Attar (Dominique Dubrana) of La Via del Profumo.  Feromone Donna features a similar, although not identical, notes list to Pheromone 4 – jasmine, civet, ambergris, tuberose, and vanilla.  Like Pheromone 4, these materials come together to form a wheaten smoothness that is part instant porridge, part white chocolate.

 

If you like creamy, milky floral woody compositions, then Pheromone 4 has your name written all over it.  Those who dislike the sharp foulness of animalic substances in isolation need to sample this to understand that, sometimes, if you put a whole bunch of scary animalics together, what happens is that they cancel each other out.  The result here is about as threatening as a bowl of custard.

 

 

 

Phoebus (Arcana)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Smoked vanilla, sweet resins, red musk, marshmallow, and fiery woodsmoke.

 

 

Phoebus is a good example of the ‘red musk’ so often cited in the descriptions of perfume oils composed by American indie oil companies such as Arcana, Solstice Scents, BPAL, and Alkemia.  Red musk does not exist in nature, you understand, being simply an imaginative way of dressing up synthetic white musk as witchy or mysterious-sounding.  But indie perfume oils are not strictly bound by their raw materials.  What is important here is that the result smells good and matches a specific fantasy the consumer is looking for.

 

Phoebus is built around the same resin-beeswax-woody-vanilla axis found in many of Arcana’s perfumes.  But it deviates from the template by dressing up its big bubblegummy musk with a shot of barbeque-strength smoke and an interesting (and probably unintentional) whiff of sulfur as richly gassy as a kitchen where broccoli is being cooked.

 

Somehow, it works.  At first, the nose is hit with the weird but wonderful smell of strawberry Hubba Bubba gum catching fire and smoking on a BBG grill, then a rich, salty vanilla and tonka heart overlaid with sulfur, and finally a resiny woodsmoke and vanilla blend.  It does not feel grown-up in the slightest, but that is probably half the fun here.   

 

 

 

Prince Kasthuri (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Prince Kasthuri is pungent to the point of being fecal, but this soon simmers down into a warm, dusky aroma that, while never less than animalic, is not rough, sharp, or piercing.  Indeed, what marks Prince Kasthuri out as a quality mukhallat is its velvety feel.  Compared to Kashmiri Kasthuri Ultimate, it is far darker and woodier, with a sootier backbone.

 

While Prince Kasthuri is considerably less sweet and powdery than other deer musks I have tried, the lingering sweetness intrinsic to deer musk does peek through every now and then.  Those unused to deer musk will certainly perceive it as animalic, but it is more the natural fug of closely-pressed sheep in a stall than of excrement or urine.  In terms of authenticity, I would hazard a guess that this blend contains a small quantity of real deer musk that has been fleshed out a bit at the corners with cedar, cypriol, and musk synthetics.  In general, the scent stays true to the character of an older Himalayan musk sample I have, which is dark, animalic, but not particularly loud.  It does not, however, smell like true Kasturi musk, which tends to be brighter, more uplifting, and less pungent in aroma than other types of deer musk.

 

 

 

Rawa’a Murakkaz (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Rawa’a Murakkaz is a cloying floral musk with a thick, pressed-powder texture and oily almond undertones.  Firmly in the thematic ballpark of heliotropic children’s bath and body oils (Johnson’s and Johnson’s™), many will find this very glamorous in a retro-feminine manner, but to my personal taste, it is a grim and airless affair.

 

A sharp floral tonality emerges as time goes on but fails to coalesce into anything clearly recognizable as any one flower.  Rose and jasmine would be my guess, although the edges are blurred to the degree that everything merges into one freshly-laundered plush toy accord.  It is not fresh, per se, but exhaustively clean in the fashion of Teint de Neige (Villoresi).

 

 

 

Royal Dark Musk (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Royal Dark Musk achieves two things simultaneously – darkness and comfort.  While it is not a clean laundry musk, its funk translates to delicious things such as stewed fruit, bitter chocolate, velvet, damp earth, smoke, and flowers rather than matted fur and fecal matter.  Tested side by side with a nose-searingly animalic musk such as Ajmal’s Musk Gazelle AA, it becomes clear that this is a more complex, layered effort.

 

Texturally, Royal Dark Musk’s chocolate-dense darkness contains a great deal of internal movement and detail.  As the musk settles and the wetter topnotes dry out, facets of jasmine, patchouli, woods, honey, and incense begin to emerge.  The smoky trail of bone-dry incense and musks towards the ten-hour mark is divine, and draped over a lush undergrowth of vetiver, it even takes on a Conradesque glower.

 

Not nearly as animalic as the Ajmal Musk Gazelle or the superior ASAQ Musk Ghazal, Royal Dark Musk is a perfect fit for those who feel Serge Lutens’ Musc Khoublai Khan is just a cuddly little kitten (rather than the monster it is sometimes made out to be) and wants to step it up.

 

 

 

Saffron Musk (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Saffron Musk pairs a pure, leathery saffron oil with a vintage, twenty-year-old deer musk for a result that threatens to mow you down in its path.  The first blast is unmistakably saffron, one of the most potent raw materials known to man.  The topnotes explode with a fiery intensity – dusty, almost meaty, and for a spice, animalic in its pungency.

 

I have smelled the pure Indian saffron used in this mukhallat, and in general, it is true to the essential oil, especially in its piercing rawness.  In the context of this mukhallat, however, the dustiness of the saffron is increased due to the presence of the deer musk, which acts as a magnifying glass.  The musk also adds a sweetness that lingers in the powdery drydown.

 

Interestingly, the deer musk does not smell as pungent as the raw material itself, a tincture that I have also smelled in isolation.  What it adds to this mukhallat is a warm lingering furriness, like the underside of a beloved family dog who has just taken a long hard run in the mountains.  Highly recommended for both saffron and deer musk freaks.  Keep in mind, however, that the Indian saffron oil used here is so strong that it has the potential to cause headaches in people who are sensitive to strong aromas. 

 

 

 

Sed Non Satiata (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: A pounding heartbeat coalesced into scent: demonic passion and brutal sexuality manifested through myrrh, red patchouli, cognac, honey, and tuberose and geranium in a breathy, panting veil over the darkest body musk.

 

 

Sed Non Satiata is quite the morpher, cycling quickly through several stages on the skin.  The opening is quite characteristically BPAL in that it features a big dose of that slightly witchy house brew of sharp honey, bubblegummy red musk, and headshop patchouli.  (It is basically the same opening as in other BPALs such as Bloodlust and Malice).  This eau de BPAL comes on strong at first, blasting the sinuses with a slightly headachy mixture of sharp and sweet resin that catches at the throat.

 

Many people have described this scent as possessing a strong peanut butter facet.  But honestly, I think either someone just said this once and now everyone feels they have to repeat it or there is an especially esoteric brand of peanut butter out there that I have not yet inhaled in the name of science.

 

The searing floral honey and resin blast softens about an hour in, turning into a bewilderingly pretty base of creamy vanilla, fluffy musk, fruit, and flowers.  The patchouli self-soothes into an earthy, fertile smell that smells more like chocolate than herb, melting down seamlessly into a cushiony musk.  Oh dear, time for that cashmere shawl cliché once again, I’m afraid – Sed Non Satiata was born to live in the fibers of your favorite winter woolies.  

 

In the far drydown of the scent, one last surprise – the aroma of salty, warm skin.  Although far from dirty, there is something very sensual and earthy about the musk used here.  It makes me think of the silty funk of ambergris or hina musk, the Indian attar that mixes ambery resins with ambrette seed, sharp herbs, and aromatics for an effect that comes close to a properly furry animal musk.  Sed Non Satiata gains my admiration for performing a balletic turn from headshop to frothy cream to sensual skin musk.  In surprising the wearer with its minute twists and turns, Sed Non Satiata is anything but your average indie headshop oil.

 

 

 

Silk Musk (Ajmal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

A thin, citrusy white musk with a massively chemical muguet note.  There are much better white musks out there for the price.  Some of them even by Ajmal.

 

 

 

Tsuga Musk (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Tsuga Musk is a good example of how an attar maker can emphasize the quieter, more delicate facets of real musk by pairing it with similar materials. As musk mukhallats go, this is powdery and irisy, with soft cocoa-like touches.  Tsuga Musk is built around a special vintage material that once depleted can never be replaced, namely a fifty-year-old musk paste found in the possessions of a Yemeni perfumer when he died.  Framing the powdery, intimate scent of the old musk is an array of coniferous woods, resins, and ambergris, all set in place to accentuate a certain briny freshness at the heart of the musk’s aroma.

 

There is a huge amount of good quality orris butter up front, presenting as a pure grey suede purse.  When the orris mingles with the vintage musk unguent, it fuses into a powdered dark chocolate or cocoa note, laced with spearmint.  Under the haze of minty, starchy orris and cocoa, the fine grey leather strengthens as the true heart of the scent.  The musk is beautifully placed in this attar – it is neither pungent nor strong, but soft, dusty, earthy, and slightly ‘stale’, like old chocolate bars developing a white bloom.  This nuance of the musk melds perfectly with the flinty orris butter, and it is a match made in heaven.

 

It is only at the edges of the scent, and then in the far drydown, that I catch the salty, briny notes that capture the marine air the mukhallat maker was aiming for.  These notes are finally brought forth by the silty, marine breeze of ambergris, which is simultaneously sweet and salty, but not really substantial, coming across more like molecules of sparkling sea air than something you can touch.  In its last gasp, vetiver, civet, patchouli, and hemlock contribute a chypre-like woody bitterness that adds backbone to the scent.    

 

 

 

Whidia (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Whither, Whidia?  This is a clean floral musk of the laundry softener genre, enriched by a dollop of ylang crème anglaise.  Like me in middle school – competent but hardly exceptional.

 

 

 

White Musk (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

 

With a texture that recalls the stickiness of a half-sucked lollipop, this is less musk than Maltol.  Candied orange blossom adds rather than detracts from the problem.  If you want a good white musk from the Arabian Oud stable, pony up for the lovely White Musk Maliki Superior (below) instead.

 

 

 

White Musk Maliki Superior (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

White Musk Maliki Superior is a cuddy, thick-as-a-cashmere-blanket white musk that flashes fruits and flowers at you before settling into softness for the rest of the ride.  It is one of those rare perfumes where ‘clean’ is not necessarily a dirty word.  It is slightly sharper than the famous Abdul Samad Al Qurashi Jism (Body) Musk, but with broadly comparable quality.   Highly recommended to people searching for a clean white musk attar that gives off that vaunted ‘my skin but better’ vibe.

 

 

 

Zuibeda (Gulab Singh Johrimal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Yet another chemical floral monstrosity out of a house that supposedly only does natural Indian attars.  Zuibeda opens on a screechy white musk with the kind of green apple and cucumber accents that are only ever acceptable in laundry softener.  It dries down to a generic green aroma about which the nicest thing that can be said is that it is not offensive. 

 

 

 

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 (or in some cases quarter tola bottles) from Arabian Oud, Mellifluence, Arcana, BPAL, Agarscents Bazaar, Rasasi, and Ajmal.  The samples from Henry Jacques and Gulab Singh Johrimal are from 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! 

Attars & CPOs Mukhallats Musk Review Single note exploration The Attar Guide

Musk: Reviews K-M

24th November 2021

 

Kama (Ava Luxe)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

 

Kama is a musk fragrance with a briefly fecal topnote that sees it frequently compared to the famous Muscs Khoublai Khan by Serge Lutens.  Beyond the fecal note, however, the two fragrances are quite different.  Whereas Muscs Khoublai Khan draws on a complex mixture of musk, castoreum, civet, and ambrette to achieve a warmly-furred texture, Kama employs a much simpler structure, leaning instead on the poopy facets of cedarwood and a synthetic musk molecule for its animalic effect.

 

Cedarwood can smell of feces and coffee breath in dilution, an odd effect that is cleverly accentuated in fragrances such as Santal Noble by Maître Parfumeur et Gantier and Woody Sandalwood Oil by The Body Shop.  This facet of cedarwood is brought out in Kama by way of a particularly ‘unclean’ musk molecule – possibly Tonquitone.  The overall feel of the fragrance is musky in a plain, sharply woody manner, with a hint of medicinal herbs lurking at the corners.

 

Is Kama properly dirty?  Oh yes.  Does it stand up against a more complex creation such as Muscs Khoublai Khan?  Nope. 

 

 

 

Kashmiri Kasthuri Ultimate (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Kashmiri Kasthuri Ultimate opens with the same dark fecal note as in the brand’s own Prince Kasthuri, reviewed later.  Thankfully, the pooey pong of the opening quickly dissolves into a medley of far friendlier aromas, namely bright honey, white flowers, meadow grass, and a nutty, roasted accent that eventually reveals itself to be vetiver.  These notes dance in and around the heavy musky accord at the center of the scent, and for a while, there is parity between the musk and the vetiver, flowers, and honey.

 

All too rapidly, however, the scent dries down to the same smoky, dry cedar note that is present in most other Agarscents Bazaar perfumes.  Whether this is cedar, cypriol, or frankincense it is difficult to say, only that it has the same charcoal dust quality as the material used in Comme des Garcons Black.  This gives the mukhallat a curiously transparent smokiness more reminiscent of birch tar or smoked-out church resin than of musk.

 

I am confident that this blend does not feature much, if any, genuine deer musk.  Furthermore, I give serious side eye to the suggestion that this is all-natural.  It does not smell like any natural musk I have ever smelled.  However, if you are not overly concerned with the naturalness of the deer musk, there is no reason not to enjoy Kashmiri Kasthuri Ultimate for what it is.  If you are into pungent, spicy musks and protracted smoky-woody drydowns, then both this and Prince Kasthuri would make for excellent, albeit pricey, choices.  Both blends lean masculine.

 

 

 

Kiswat Al Kaaba (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Roughly translating to the scent emanating from the cloth covering the Ka’aba in Mecca, this is an example of a nice, middle-of-the-road musk mukhallat.  It mixes a greenish, antiseptic musk note with rose, amber, patchouli, and perhaps a touch of fruity Cambodi oud.  Its pleasantly woody, resinous backdrop supports the musk without becoming intrusive.  The overall feel is rich, dusty and serene.

 

On the skin it feels dense, fragrant, and almost sweet, with sillage that is quite impressive, though never loud or overbearing.  The musk becomes steadily more animalic in character as the day wears on, but the effect is subtle and woven seamlessly into the other notes.  A very good option for someone searching for a musk that hits the happy median between clean and dirty.

 

 

 

Love’s True Bluish Light (Ava Luxe)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

This is one of Ava Luxe’s most revered scents, and for good reason.  A cold vanilla musk with hints of sweet milk, it is immediately likeable.  The basic thrust of the scent is a skin-like Egyptian musk accord, its translucence clouded by drops of vanilla milkshake.  And like milkshake, there is something a little too sweet or sticky about it as it melts.  But boy, that initial blast of icy sweetness is just wonderful.

 

Love’s True Bluish Light runs very close to Au Lait by DSH Perfumes, as well as to examples of cool vanilla musks found throughout the indie perfume oil sector, most notably Crystalline by NAVA and Snowshoe Pass by Solstice Scents.  Highly recommended for people who want an emotionally remote rendition of musk and vanilla.

 

 

 

Lust (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Uncontrollable passion and insatiable sexual desire: red musk, patchouli, ylang ylang and myrrh.

 

 

Along with Snake Oil, Lust is probably one of the BPAL scents that even outsiders know by name.  Lust starts out sharp and feral, with an almighty roar of potent red musk, red berries, and rubbery, petrol-like ylang ylang.  Grit your teeth, for this all eventually settles into an incredibly warm, earthy musk scent that manages to extract and showcase the best facets of each note, namely, the damp cocoa softness of patchouli, the banana custard elements of ylang, the fungal earthiness of myrrh, and the cinnamon furriness of ‘red’ musk.

 

Lust is one of the BPAL blends always being touted as being sexy or sensual, and for once, I have to say it lives up to its billing.

 

 

 

Maisam (Rasasi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Maisam is a sharp floral musk with hints of rose and cleaning detergent.  Like all the mukhallats from Rasasi, the trajectory from top to bottom is remarkably short, with the initial accords collapsing far too quickly into a soapy musk pinned to the base.

 

The musk here is dry to the point of being scratchy and as mineral as water running off a rock.  It leans slightly masculine in the drydown, with vetiver or moss lingering in the trail of parched musk.  Like Oudh al Mithali by the same house, Maisam is a face made up of blurred, indistinguishable features.  Undeniably attractive from a distance, up close it proves difficult to zone in on any one note or accord that might define it.  Maisam smells vaguely exotic but has little to offer by way of richness or interest.

 

 

 

Moschus Supreme (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Moschus Supreme is made with twenty-year-old Himalayan deer musk, and therefore only available in small quantities.  It is also eye-wateringly expensive.  The opening is a wave of the warm, toffee-like tones of the vintage Cretan labdanum absolute that Mellifluence uses in its mukhallats. Rich and caramelized, the labdanum dominates the opening for a while, before revealing the medicinal properties of the deer musk.  There is an ammoniac smell to some deer musk tinctures, and this aspect is emphasized here.  Note that this accord is not unpleasant.  It simply alerts your nose to the presence of a genuinely animalic material.

 

I have smelled the twenty-year-old Himalayan deer musk used in Moschus Supreme.  So, allow me to reassure you that while the original tincture is phenomenally dirty, with nuances ranging from sweaty pack animals to urine, Moschus Supreme itself is about as objectionable as kitten fur.  The musk element smells clean, furry, and a little ammoniac, but that is the extent of it.  Nothing to scare the horses.  In the far drydown, the musk does grow a little deeper and dirtier, but again, you would have to have a fairly low tolerance of animalic smells to find it truly ‘dirty’.

 

Despite the listed presence of oud, benzoin, pepper, and mitti attar, Moschus Supreme is a one-two punch of labdanum and musk.  The labdanum lends a rounded, warm caramel sweetness to the musk, and the musk a gently furred animalic tone that lingers in the nostrils almost indefinitely.  Belying its grandiose name, Moschus Supreme is a fairly basic take on the genre.  However, given that it avoids the foulness of most other dark musk mukhallats, and manages to smell rather pleasant, I give it a faint thumbs up.

 

 

 

Musc (Bruno Acampora)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Musc is a great example of how musk can be both vaguely repellent and mysteriously attractive at the same time.  I love Musc, but it is a total mind trip.  It is not in the slightest bit sweet, powdery, or milky, but neither is it dirty, hairy, or scary.  It is just….odd.  And it is precisely this oddness that makes it so memorable.

 

Musc is a musk scent that smells of places and things rather than animals or humans.  Opening with a hugely musty patchouli and what smells to me like the clay-like pungency of pure lavender, I am not surprised that most people interpret it as mushroomy.  It occurs to me that the famously fungal opening to Acampora’s Iranzol is also due to a very Italian, very pungent (almost saline) medley of wet kitchen herbs and patchouli.  The clove note is dusty and stale-smelling, like radiator dust mixed with sweat.  I am also betting on some myrrh, its anisic-mushroomy facets muscling their way to the front. 

 

The salty-aqueous nature of Musc makes me think of the peat bogs of Western Ireland, where clods of wet soil mixes with the salt air from off the Atlantic.  It smells a little like cold cellars full of hearty parsnips and roots.

 

But its mustiness also reminds me of woolen sweaters taken out of storage, and the ramshackle home of an old friend of mine, where everything they had was handmade by their ex-hippy mother, even their shoes.  I loved their home and its musty smell.  I will always remember the ‘summer of love’ that I spent there, getting paid peanuts by her dad to paint flowers and peace signs on huge recycling bins, and listening to the Beatles on repeat.

 

Musc is a fragrance that will be entirely personal to its wearer because of its refusal to conform to conventional ideas about how musk should smell.  It is cold rather than warm, salty rather than sweet, and so on.  It smells both of the outside (peat bogs) and the inside (closed up rooms and hand-me-down clothes), but also intimately yeasty, like the moist neck fold of a fat baby.  Genre-shaking stuff, and seventies enough to make you feel like a shag pile carpet and a full bush are required to wear it. 

 

 

 

Musc au Chocolat (Duftkumpels)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Musc au Chocolate is a good example of how deer musk can be made to smell almost entirely gourmand.  Musk au Chocolat goes on dusty and flat, but immediately fluffs out into a warm, furry musk tucked inside swaddling blankets of thick, dry vanilla and tangy cocoa powder.  The Mysore sandalwood used here adds its own quasi-gourmand touch, because, as everyone who loves Mysore sandalwood knows, it is as foody as it is woody – thick, buttery, salty and sweet, with a balsamic tang that recalls both buttermilk and caramel.  The Kashmiri musk in the blend is soft and bright, its pungency only noticeable when you take your nose away from the skin for a while and then return it.

Musc au Chocolat smells rather like a musk-impregnated Ore (Slumberhouse), minus the smoky guaiac and Carmex lip balm notes.  I make this observation not to imply that one might substitute for the other, but to suggest that Musk au Chocolat performs the same trick of smelling delicious but not candy-like.  This mukhallat is a great showcase for how an artisan can accentuate and extend the sweet, powdery, and cocoa-like facets of real deer musk, nudging it in a gourmand direction, while maintaining the characteristic animalistic furriness of musk and thus making sure you would not want to eat it.

 

 

 

Musc d’Orange (Duftkumpels)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Musc d’Orange is a spicy, masculine-leaning Moorish leather scent.  Built according to the Spanish tradition of curing leather with flowers and spices, Musc d’Orange features a fuel-soaked, orangey leather over a base of animalic castoreum, civet, and real Kashmiri musk.

 

With its spicy, rubbery diesel undertones, this will appeal to fans of the rougher Spanish leather-style fragrances out there, such as the classic Knize Ten, Peau d’Espagne (Santa Maria Novella), and Cuir Mauresque (Serge Lutens).  It features the same dichotomy featured in most leathers of this style, namely the wayward tug between the aridity of the spices and the syrupy feel of the florals, all of which adds up to that dry-but-creamy mouthfeel that makes these leathers so satisfying (and, to some, nauseating).

 

Musc d’Orange is a much tougher, less floral fragrance than the same house’s Musc et Fleurs, but there is a common note that places them roughly in the same family – possibly the rubbery, potent Indian tuberose and the orange-tinted leather accord that either accompanies the tuberose or is a nuance of it.

 

The natural musk in this attar is not overpowering or dirty, displaying only the softly powdered furriness of real musk.  This is a mukhallat maker that has real talent in using deer musk in a subtle, considered manner.  He uses it to enhance the experience of the other raw materials rather than to clobber you over the head with a feral dirtiness.  Solidly classical, I recommend Musc d’Orange highly to fans of the masculine Spanish leather genre. 

 

 

 

Musc et Fleurs (Duftkumpels)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Musc et Fleurs opens with a stinging medicinal accord – probably the Hindi oud – which softens into a soft, rich floral heart draped over an Indian sandalwood base.  The buttery, gasoline-tinged tuberose is the standout of the flowers here, but jasmine and rose also play a significant role in the overall richness.  This arrangement of flowers feels almost classical, in the mold of Joy or Ubar, although much sweeter and tamer.  It lacks the sour civet note that defines those scents.  Still, there is a leathery aspect to the tuberose that adds verve to the mass of softer floral notes, keeping them upright and moving forward.

 

The salty radiance of natural ambergris and the sweet furriness of real deer musk serve as a bed of hot coals that blows hot air under the flowers and woods, causing them to expand sweetly into the air in a billowing cloud.  Creamy and almost cocoa-ish thanks to the addition of patchouli, the final impression of the scent is of a thickly furred musk with a trail of powdered sugar sweetness.  The orange peel-flecked tuberose rears its heads now and then, but the overall effect is soft and subtle rather than overbearing.

 

A note on the musk used here.  The musk is natural Kashmiri deer musk and is bright and uplifting rather than heavy or animalic.  It is not dirty or foul in any way, simply adding to the furred warmth of this wonderful ambery-resinous floral   Intoxicating and complex, I could exclusively wear this and Musc au Chocolat for the rest of my life and not feel like I’m missing out on anything. 

 

 

 

Musc Pur (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

This is a good rendition of the basic white musk attar released by every single attar company in the world.  White musk oils, sometimes called jism or body musks, cost pennies to make because the extent of the perfumer’s art here is simply diluting the white musk synthetic with a carrier oil.  (All white musks are synthetic).  Little to add here except to say that this is a decent version – slightly sweet, clean, and dressed up with a hint of rose.  One can find much more reasonably-priced specimens elsewhere on the Internet, but for the money, this is one of the smoothest.

 

 

 

Musk (Nemat)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Although the label specifies nothing other than musk, I suspect that this is an Egyptian-style musk rather than a deer musk or a generic white musk, because it is yellow in color and features a clear-as-a-bell floral character.  The floral bouquet is sweet and clean, a blurry mélange of rose, muguet, or jasmine (although it is truly difficult to tell).  Unfortunately, the overly abstract nature of the flowers means that it also runs perilously close to the scent of laundry detergent.  Backing the florals is a vein of medicinal saffron and woods. It is fine for an Egyptian musk, but I think there is better out there.  Not bad in a pinch, though, if all you want to smell like is freshly-scrubbed.

 

 

 

Musk al Oud (Ajmal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

A puzzling experience, and one that makes me wonder if my sample has soured.  First, there is a blast of something greasy and stale, like the air escaping from a long-unopened lunchbox.  It eventually dries down to a pale ghost of Montale’s Cuir d’Arabie without the charm of that scent’s half-feral, half-gentlemanly split personality. 

 

 

 

Musk al Ghazal (Al Haramain)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al Haramain’s Musk al Ghazal is obviously not real deer musk, but still, it is quite a decent option for when you want a hit of ‘black’ musk without the heavy, fecal facets of some dark musks on the market.  It opens cool and herbal, with a Coca-Cola undertone.  Some people may even be tempted to call this chocolatey, but in truth, it is too sharp and herbal to qualify for that descriptor.  It is musky but in a clean, uber-fresh way, a smidgen of hospital soap lurking at its corners.

 

Once the anise and caraway notes bank down, the musk becomes deeper and woodier.  It would make for a good layering agent under sweet ambers and gourmands to give them depth, or as a standalone musk attar for men who like their musks dark, woody, and herbal instead of sweet or powdery.  Perfectly serviceable, really, under the circumstances. 

 

 

 

Musk Aswad (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Musk Aswad, which means ‘black musk’ in Arabic, is Al Faransi’s take on the famous black musk attars of the Middle East.  Given that this take runs more towards earthy than dirty, it is a more versatile option than the standard black musk prototype, each variant of which seems to try to out-poo the other.  

 

Musk Aswad opens with a powerfully antiseptic musk with greenish spice and a peppery vetiver lurking in the background.  The vetiver swells in presence beyond the opening, lending the composition a damp, earthy rootiness that feels like cool water running over moss and stones.  It is not at all sweet, but later in the blend’s development, there appear traces of deeply spiced fruit (plum) and a dark honey or mead note.  These elements add body and richness to the musk, but no sweetness.

 

In short, Musk Aswad is a clean and masculine-smelling musk, with a pleasantly winey richness creeping up on the backbone of mossy vetiver.  The texture changes impressively throughout its development, from a hard blast of antiseptic fluid to jungly vetiver and finally to a velvety, plummy richness as thick as coddled wine.  It is an original take on the black musk theme and recommended to musk fans looking for an interesting detour on the usual musk axis running between squeaky clean and fecal dirtiness. 

 

 

 

Musk Attar 2011 (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Musk Attar contains real deer musk.  It opens with a strangely familiar odor, which defies explanation except to say that it lies somewhere between glue, plastic, varnish, and something industrial but warm and putty-like.  Repeated wears make me suspect that some of these odd (but not unpleasant) nuances might be given off by the type of sandalwood oil used in the attar.

 

Sandalwood can often smell gluey, terpenic, or peanut shell-ish in aroma profile, depending on the distillation or provenance.  The sandalwood used in Musk Attar 2011 is high-toned and raw, more reminiscent of a freshly-split log of wood than the buttery, resinous sandalwood oil used in other Rising Phoenix Perfumery attars.  But it is more likely the strange, gluey overtones have something to do with the interaction between the deer musk and the sandalwood.  Some deer musks have a sweet, plasticky or rubbery smell, akin to the waft of air that greets the nose when you open your children’s’ lunchboxes after a summer of disuse. 

 

Beyond the first wave of sandalwood high notes, there rises a familiar skin-like aroma that combines facets of stale cocoa powder, cocoa husks, woods and newspaper, and something a little boozy and fruity, like apple schnapps.  This is the musk coming forward a bit more.  The overall aroma is as intimate as your lover’s pillow in the morning, fragrantly damp with saliva and skin cells.

 

At this stage, the scent is neutral in aroma profile, as well as abstract.  It does not remind me of anything concrete like flowers or leather.  It is just a pale, cloudy mixture of neutral musk and wood, whipped into a meringue-like texture.  The musk note is quite delicate, and towards the drydown, the sandalwood swells up once again, obscuring the aroma of the musk almost entirely.  The sandalwood in the base smells very different to the varnish-like wood in the topnotes; there is no strangeness here, just a deeply aromatic, buttery sandalwood in the Rising Phoenix Perfumery fashion.  It seems to grow in strength and volume in the far reaches of the drydown, which is probably the musk and the sandalwood amplifying each other in turn until their voices soar a little higher.

 

 

 

Musk Dulcedinis (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Dulcedinis means ‘sweet’ in Latin, and boy, they weren’t kidding.  This is a caramelized, thick-with-iris-starch musk freshened up with a slug of aloe vera.  At first, the thick laundry musk is all you can smell, but before you get too down about it, the texture begins to be stippled here and there with small droplets of aloe-scented shampoo and Dove body lotion, which seem to ‘pop’ in contact with the skin.  It is slightly sharper and sweeter than other white body musks, but its cosseting thickness will likely appeal to lovers of bath powders and milky lotions. 

 

 

 

Musk Gazelle AA (Ajmal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Ajmal’s Musk Gazelle – issued under two different names or versions, varying only in concentration – is a great example of what most people believe real deer musk smells like or indeed what it should smell like, therefore making it something of a benchmark in the genre.  Unfortunately, since Musk Gazelle is unlikely to contain much if any real deer musk, it is also responsible for perpetuating misconceptions about what musk smells like.

 

And that is unfortunate, because Musk Gazelle is loud, filthy to the point of being fecal, and harsh to boot.  Wearing it feels like being on the losing end of a bet.  In case anyone is in any doubt, it is like being forced into a barn with a thousand defecating animals, all air vents closed off and the heating turned up to a hundred degrees.  I am aware that this description is disgusting – but to be fair, so is Musk Gazelle AA.

 

 

 

Musk Gazelle Grade 2 (Majid Muzaffar Iterji)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

This is a dark, quasi-fecal musk, the likes of which is standard fodder for any Middle Eastern mukhallat house.  Musk Gazelle Grade 2 is somewhat distinguished from its peers by way of a subtle dusting of dark cocoa, which progresses from bitter to velvety over the course of the wear.  Even if you don’t normally like cocoa notes, you will welcome them here for the softening effect they have on the fetid musk.

 

Just how dirty is this?  Well, as in the case of all black musks, it is all a matter of degrees.  Musk Gazelle Grade 2 is properly dirty, but it is also soft, which is its saving grace.  A fecal fist inside a velvet glove.

 

 

 

Musk Oil Black (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Despite the name – which makes it sound like just another one of those dark, foul-smelling musks so enduringly popular in the genre – Musk Oil Black is a brisk spice-laden affair that has more in common with old-fashioned barbershop colognes than with the souk.  It smells like benzoin and cinnamon soap, and the salty musk on Daddy’s neck after a long commute home.  A less floral Kiehl’s Original Musk, or, as a friend on Basenotes mentioned, Old Spice.  Forget the notes list for this one.  Musk Oil Black is a soapy carnation musk that walks the thin line between clean and dirty with aplomb.

 

 

 

Musk Oil White (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Musk Oil White is a white musk with all the freshly-laundered softness we have come to expect from its ilk.  To its credit, it is not entirely phoned in.  The ‘white noise’ sound of the musk has been upholstered with a chorus of powdery florals – mimosa, iris, and freesia – for a lustrous depth that goes beyond the initial impression of belly fluff.  Therefore, Musk Oil White has more in common with ‘complete’ perfumes such Lorenzo Villoresi’s Teint de Neige than with the bog standard white musks released by all the big mukhallat companies.  Still, there is no good reason to spend $500 on a white musk. 

 

 

 

Musk Ravz For Men (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Dupe for: Parfums Editions de Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur

 

The topnotes of the dupe are clearly aiming for the bright lavender and spice opening of Musc Ravageur, but they land instead on an accord that is half Indian spice rack and half sherbet, like a fistful of lemon-scented Love Hearts blitzed down into a fine dust.  It is an unfortunate, even off-putting opening.  (Of course, there are people who claim that of the original, too.)

 

Once the unsettling opening settles, a creamy mixture of musk, woods, and vanilla comes to the fore, with the same funky doughnut-like undertone as the original.  The cinnamon inches its way forwards quite aggressively until it dominates the sweet, bready musk.  But the cinnamon note is at least sparkling and Coca Cola-ish rather than heavy.

 

Overall, the dupe catches at one or two of the main ‘movements’ in Musc Ravageur, and thus pulls off quite a convincing impression.  Where the dupe loses points is in the drydown, which lacks the essential texture of the original, arrived at by a combination of velvety woods, civety raunchiness, and creamy tonka.  However, the dupe could be good for layering under the original, as well as under the stalwart oriental that inspired Musc Ravageur, i.e., Shalimar.

 

 

 

Musk Tahara Al Faransi (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Musk Tahara is the title used for the standard, white body musks (‘missk’) put out by all the Middle Eastern and Indian attar houses, and as the name suggests, this is the Al Faransi take.  The obligatory white musk is usually a bit of a snooze in comparison to the other perfumes, but surprisingly, this brand chose not to phone it in.

 

Opening with a mouthwatering, but sharp and almost boozy nut aroma that makes me think of noisette liquors flavored with bitter herbs and hazelnuts, Musk Tahara Al Faransi is immediately and gratifyingly novel.   There is a floury, gluey texture to this smell, reminiscent of the chestnut accord in Cloon Keen Atelier’s Castaña and the peanut shell and heliotrope of Bois Farine by L’Artisan Parfumeur. There’s also an undertone of something milkily poisonous that I find rather alluring. 

 

This accord of milky, gluey nut-dust is soon joined by a Taifi rose that adds a piercingly green, leafy note.  The sharp nuttiness continues throughout, but the rosiness eventually fades away, leaving the white musk to swell up and take over for the rest of its very long life.  Although the ending is less interesting than the beginning, this will please someone who loves plush, clean musks but has grown tired of the cottony blandness inherent to the genre.  Boring is one thing this musk ain’t.

 

 

 

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 Mellifluence, Maison Anthony Marmin, Ava Luxe, BPAL, Majid Muzaffar Iterji, Agarscents Bazaar, Rasasi, Bruno Acampora, Duftkempels, Nemat, Ajmal, Al Haramain, and Perfume Parlour.  The samples from Rising Phoenix Perfumery were sent to me free of charge by the brand.  The samples from Henry Jacques are from a Basenotes sample pass.

 

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 Mukhallats Musk Review Single note exploration The Attar Guide

Musk: Reviews 0-H

24th November 2021

 

010 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

No. 010 is a pink-smelling scent with a cheerful cherry blossom note pitched halfway between fruit and flower.  The opening is not half bad, with its bright vintage make-up vibe.  Unfortunately, a starched white musk soon arrives to bulldoze over the more delicate elements, sanding down the edges until all you smell is a yawning expanse of blandness.

 

At certain points, No. 010 reminds me of the scent of those delicate scalloped soaps in the restrooms of upscale Japanese restaurants.  This, it turns out, is the high point, because what follows is a piercingly sweet, watermelony musk that dredges up the memory of Calone-drenched aquatics of the nineties.

 

 

 

 

015 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Looking at the notes, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is an Arabian saffron-rose affair as exotic as the Muezzin’s call to prayer.  Think again.  No. 015 is, in fact, a rather old-fashioned floral musk.  It smells like Fructis Garnier shampoo at first, and then segues into pure pink soap. The drydown is the gentle, but barely-there scent of rosewater pastilles.

 

 

 

Ajeeb Musk Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Ajeeb Musk Blend is an antiseptic yet sullen patchouli-musk-amber blend that wouldn’t go amiss among hippies at a Samhain festival or a Grateful Dead concert.  More of a San Francisco ‘summer of love’ vibe than an Eastern one.  The patchouli featured here is green, oily, and heavy duty in the way of health food store oils, complete with the lingering whiff of burlap and quinoa.  It is a raw, organic kind of smell whose edges have not been sanded down in any way, or softened with amber – the minty, camphoraceous sting of un-aged patchouli oil from India rather than a pleasing Western interpretation. 

 

Almost immediately, the patchouli is joined by an aggressively soapy musk.  Over the next three hours, the wearer is held hostage to an unpleasant power struggle between the sour patchouli and the ‘clean’ musk, the combination of which runs perilously close to bathroom disinfectant.  Together, the greenish patchouli and the bland musk conjure up the ghostly image of neroli, underlining the soapy, antiseptic impression of the other notes. 

 

The saving grace of the scent is a golden amber accord, thick and toffee-ish, that mercifully appears in the base to atone for everything that’s gone on before.  This part is delicious, sweet-n-salty in an ambergris kind of way. Since Ajeeb will last past hot showers and furious scrubbings with steel wire, it means that the blend is pleasant for about two-thirds of its life on one’s skin.  The opening segment is a trial, though, and even that remaining one third of wear time seems excruciatingly long when it swaggers past the four hour mark.  In brief, Ajeeb should appeal to anyone who has ever experimented with headshop oils, amber cubes, and musk lollies in their youth, and is now unaccountably nostalgic.

 

 

 

Al Dewan (Majid Muzaffar Iterji)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

An antiseptic oud note rises to meet the nose first, cleansing the palate for the urinous musk that follows closely behind.  Flashes of a hot pink rose and amber lift the dark musk here and there, but overall, this is a straight-up masculine affair of oud and musk.  Al Dewan is not terribly refined or interesting in and of itself, but it performs the same basic pheromone-enhancing function as Pepe Le Pew rolling in his own skunky secretions before trying to seduce the neighbor’s cat.  Therefore, it might make for a decent pulling scent.

 

 

 

Alexandria (NAVA)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Red Egyptian Musk, Bergamot, Lime, Lotus, Amber, Blue Nile, Dark Rose, Dark Vanilla

 

 

Alexandria is a big, bosomy musk with plenty of spice and amber to fill out its curves.  Along the edges, there is something fresh and watery – a combination of the lotus and ‘Blue Nile’ accords – that serves to keep the scent from staggering under its own weight.  In the drydown, there seems to be a big dose of pleasantly musty vetiver and earthy patchouli (although unlisted), all backlit with the reddish, golden glow of that ambery musk.  Alexandria is mercifully unsweet, and although a little unrefined and big-boned, it at least fulfils something of the Egyptian exoticism promised in the brand’s lore.

 

 

 

Al Hajar Al’Aswad Royal (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

After the machoistic swagger of Ajeeb, Al Hajar Al’Aswad Royal is a fruity-floral musk clearly intended for the wimmen folk.  This is a brash floral over a resinous base of sandalwood and musk, but mostly musk.  The florals here explode in an almost dizzying show of force – a boatload of purple, fruity jasmine petals clambering all over neroli, bergamot, and later, the unctuous sweetness of orange blossom.  The initial onslaught of fruity flowers is intense, to say the least, but it teeters charmingly the edge of syrupiness without ever falling in.  When a brisk white musk eventually steps in to dial back the volume, it settles to an acceptable level of sweetness.

 

There is a creamy woodiness that rises from the base to further cushion the fruity floral accords, but it is very subtle and, as with most of the ASAQ mukhallats, you’ll just have to take the company’s word that it is sandalwood.  In general, it is fair to say that the sandalwood element in most ASAQ mukhallats seems to be there more for texture and mouthfeel than for aroma.  For the aroma of real Indian sandalwood, it is best to look elsewhere.

 

At one stage, the scent begins to radiate a subtle, creamsicle-like duet of orange blossom and milky white musk that comes very close to the starched marshmallow loveliness of By Killian’s Love (Don’t Be Shy).  If money is no object, and smelling like a pretty, floral marshmallow is your aim, then Al Hajar Al’Aswad Royal should fit the bill.  It is a scent fit for a modern princess who wants to leave a radiant trail of flowers, white musk, and creamy wood as she cuts a swathe through her minions.

 

 

 

Al Hajjar Al’Aswad (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al Hajjar Al’Aswad is the budget version of the Al Hajar Al’Aswad Royal described above (note the slightly different spelling of the word ‘Hajar’), fetching approximately $100 per tola compared to $800 for the Royal version.  That’s still not enormously cheap, I know, but if you’re patient, you can score good deals in eBay auctions.  Even at $100 a tola, this attar represents good value for money in that the materials are decent (the rose in particular), and it is very long-lasting.

 

There’s a caveat, though.  You must love soapy laundry musks in order to get along with it.  Al Hajjar Al’Aswad revolves around a classic combo of rose and jasmine, given an exotic flourish by a generous dose of bitter, dusty saffron.  There is a hint of fruit too, possibly from the grapey jasmine that ASAQ seems to favor.  This rich but medicinal fruity-floral accord is blurred around the edges with a hugely soapy musk and, in the far drydown, sandalwood.  It is a solid, if unexciting performance. It is also unequivocally feminine.

 

I detect no oud, only the rich, medicinal sourness of saffron, a material that often stands in for the exotic austerity of oud in attars positioned at the lower end of the scale.  Although clean and laundry-like, the musk thankfully does not have the overly scratchy feel of some modern industrial musks.  Compared to the haute couture version above, Al Hajjar Al’Aswad feels like settling for the farmhand when what you really want is the prince.  But still, if you like rich, soapy musks mixed with bright fruits and flowers, you could do a lot worse.

 

 

 

Al Ghaliyah (Al Shareef Oudh)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al Ghaliyah is a type of mukhallat with a long and noble history in Arabian perfumery.  It was considered an art form to blend an exquisitely balanced Al Ghaliyah, one that the Abbāsid caliphs excelled in.  Those who were able to offer the most beautiful Al Ghaliyah mukhallats to the Emir were given status and money and regarded as royal perfumers with a royal seal of approval.  Al Ghaliyah mukhallats typically featured some of the costliest substances known to man, such as oud, ambergris, and musk.

 

Most modern Al Ghaliyah mukhallats are poorly made and contain synthetics to replace the costlier ingredients.  But the preserve of artisans is to take an ancient form of perfumery and restore it to its former position of glory by making it with care and the best materials.  Therefore, if you’re curious about the Al Ghaliyah model, seek out examples from artisans such as Al Shareef Oudh, Kyarazen, or Rising Phoenix Perfumery.

 

The Al Ghaliyah by Al Shareef Oudh smells very different to the other examples of Al Ghaliyah I have smelled, which have been either rosy and fruity (the Kyarazen) or smoky jasmine, rose, and oud (the Rising Phoenix).  It soon becomes obvious that Al Shareef Oudh has spent much time – six years to be precise – studying the ancient recipe for Al Ghaliyah and collecting the exact raw materials from around the world to make it.  The result is probably the most historically authentic example of the genre, because it focuses almost exclusively on ambergris, deer musk, and (possibly) oud.

 

Al Ghaliyah seems to headline with a very barnyardy oud, but there is no oud listed here.  Instead, this is a phenomenally dirty, furry musk that smells like fabric left to fester in a dusty cupboard for a few decades.  The aroma that hits the nose first is of that Afghan rug being taken out and shaken – thickly sour, with hints of mold, dust, animal hair, animal fat, and the rich pong of wood rot.

 

It is the smell of fermenting materials – leather, wool, cloth – that fools the nose into thinking it is smelling oud.  The essential character of pure oud is a core of resinous woodiness that is present in all oils, but it can also be defined as having a uniquely fermented aroma, which comes from soaking the wood chips in water prior to distillation.  The fermentation note in oud can resemble freshly tanned leather, fermenting fruit or vegetables, or even vapors from fermenting grain or wood alcohol.  It is an ancient, brooding smell with a whisper of prehistoric menace attached to it, making you close your eyes and imagine what the inside of Genghis Khan’s yurt must have smelled like.  (Answer: This. It smelled like this.)

 

The wave of oudy fermentation dies back and the nose becomes gradually more aware that this is deer musk.  It is unmistakably so, in fact – full of tarry smoke and spice, furry, pungent, with a rounded belly of a texture that no other material can create.  It is the scent of wet cows sheltering together in a cave.  Later, this accord sweetens, another characteristic of real musk.  But the texture remains tarry-sappy rather powdery.

 

There is a salty undertone to the musk, but although I recognize this as the ambergris element, it registers more as a sensation at the edges of my smell receptors than as a strong aroma in and of itself.  The ambergris comes across as less of a crackle of radiance and more as a naturally-occurring facet of the oud or musk.  In fact, what this reminds me of is Chinese oud oil, which manifests its animal character through specific nuances that resemble real ambergris and deer musk.  I appreciate the furry roundness of Chinese oud oils, and thus I also like Al Ghaliyah.  This mukhallat is highly recommended for guys and gals who take their animalics with an authentic growl, as opposed to blunted or babied with sweeter, softer notes.

 

 

 

Al Medina Al Mounawara (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Classified as a floral woody musk, Al Medina Al Mounawara is a good entry point into the world of Arabian concentrated perfume oils and attars, especially for people who are unsure about where to start or who want to avoid the darker, more challenging fragrances of the genre.  It is a very pretty, gentle fragrance, reminiscent of clean bare skin after a hot shower.  I put this on at seven a.m. one morning, and seven hours on, it was still there, radiating in the air around me in its own subtle but persistent cloud of loveliness. 

 

The structure of this scent is simple, but evident care has been taken to ensure that all elements here – the musk, the florals, the amber, and the woods – are polished to a perfect roundness and smoothness.  There’s a touch of amber for sweetness, but thankfully, it is not overplayed.

 

A smiley dollop of pink rose imbues the mixture of white musk, blond woods, and amber with a soft blush.  There is a charming innocence to this blend that makes me think of a young lady receiving this as a gift from a father or brother.  I think this would appeal to a large segment of the American market, particularly women who favor fragrances emphasizing shower-fresh skin, cleanliness, and warmth over carnality.  People who love fragrances by Clean or Philosophy will find this one comforting.

 

 

 

Al Molouk Musk (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al Molouk Musk is a variation on the regular Al Molouk template created by Rising Phoenix Perfumery for its Al Molouk series.  In contrast to the other Al Molouk variants, this one possesses a strongly Indian character.  Al Molouk Musk differs from the other Al Molouk versions by way of addition of – you guessed it – musk.

 

The musk component reminds me powerfully of the type of musk in ASAQ’s Ajeeb, which is to say a pungent vegetal musk with a hyper-clean, almost antiseptic breeze blowing through it, and sluiced thoroughly with astringent, peppery green aromatics.  If life is all about the sweet and the sour, as Ed Sheeran says, then Al Molouk Musk stands firmly in the sour section.

 

In fact, the heart of this version of Al Molouk features the same hina musk attar that is used in Musk Rose Attar, a pungent shamama made from distilling over a hundred different herbs, woods, spices, and aromatics into sandalwood oil.   Although the hina musk used in both is the same, it smells completely different in Al Molouk Musk, proving that context within a perfume is crucial to the final outcome.  Whereas the hina musk attar renders Musk Rose authentically musky and skin-like in its drydown, here the hina sits more front and center, accentuating the attar’s naturally green, soapy, and bitter-astringent facets.  It runs cool, rather than warm.

 

Apart from the hina musk dominating the front end of this attar, Al Molouk Musk differs from its counterparts by turning the dimmer switch down on the sweeter elements of the original, namely the rose and amber.  The rose does start to come through more towards the far drydown, but even when it does, it is dry, not sweet or full-bodied.  The fresh, soapy greenness of the hina musk is very charming, reminiscent as it is of the smell on one’s hands after washing with Chandrika soap, the little pea-colored soap from India that strips grime, dirt, moisture, and even skin cells from one’s hands.  In other words, kind of harsh at first, but pleasantly fresh thereafter.

 

Its core of soap and bitter herbs might make this a better choice for men than for women, but, as ever, there’s nothing to say a woman couldn’t get away with it if she so desired.  Al Molouk would particularly suit the tastes of those who already like the heavy-duty antiseptic musk of Ajeeb or any of the greener, soapier Firdaus attars.

 

 

 

Baba Yaga (Sixteen92)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Fiery dragon’s blood incense, sweet woodsmoke, dried herbs, dripping candle wax, forest dirt

 

 

At first, Baba Yaga is a confusing mish-mash of aftershave, dirt, and bubblegum.  But when the dust settles, it becomes clear that Baba Yaga is actually a relative of Sixteen92’s own Salem, simply switching out the smoky church incense for a sweet headshop musk to buffer the central accord of autumn leaves.  This switcheroo shifts the scene from Salem’s old stone church to a cozy New Age shop, where its owner has decided to light a cone or two and throw some dried sage onto the burner.

 

The bitter-spicy ‘aftershave’ taste left by the dirt and the herbs is effectively countered by the lurid Juicy Fruit red musk emanating from the dragon’s blood.  This is pure eau de New Age shop, but with a slightly unexpected, and therefore sexy, masculine edge.  The drydown is intensely powdery, so heads up if that is not your thing. 

 

 

 

Bien Loins d’Ici (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description:  The Scarlet Woman, aglow with sensual indolence: red musk, benzoin, caramel accord, golden honey, and spiced Moroccan unguents.

 

 

Oof, get this perfume bien loins d’ici, s’il vous plait.  Bien Loins d’Ici opens with a very strong, bubblegum-sweet red musk with an undertow of urinous honey.  Unapologetically headshoppy, it reminds me of the colorful ethnic shops I loved as a teenager, featuring a miasma of exotic smells from the piles of unlit incense sticks, musty second-hand clothes, mood stones, health food bars, sacks of bulgur and quinoa, and the wheaten aroma of burlap bags.

 

Although this sort of thing has the potential to be heavy, credit goes to BPAL for blowing some air up its skirts by way of some nice leafy notes, which smell to my nose smell like crushed flower stems, grass stalks, and dandelion leaves.  The honey note loses its initial sharpness as time goes on, relaxing into a pretty floral honey accord draped over the deeper caramel amber in the base.  Surprisingly, in the base, there is a sawdusty suede accord that might even be accused of being Tuscan Leather-lite.

 

 

 

Body Musk Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

This is one of the best and most luxurious white musks on the market.  With a texture poised between oil and powder, Body Musk Blend slips right onto the skin without any resistance at all.  Zero tackiness, zero stickiness. It smells like clean skin, cream soda, vanilla ice cream, and warm, folded cashmere blankets straight from the laundry basket.

 

Although stunning on its own, it will also layer beautifully under sharp rose oils and dank musks to lend a gentle muskiness that softens and modulates.  It also makes for a great fixative, extending the life of other perfumes. For anybody who loves creamy, clean musk fragrances like Serge Lutens’ Clair de Musc, give this one a whirl – you may never look back.  A drop in your nighttime bath is also a real treat, turning your bathroom into an upmarket spa.

 

 

 

Civet Musk Mukhallat (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Civet Musk Mukhallat is a syrupy, indolic orange flower draped over dirty musks, an under-netting of saffron and rose notes lending its familiar attar-lite exoticism to the ensemble.  A word of warning for those with delicate sensibilities – the musk pulls no punches, featuring the authentic pungency of pack animals steaming in a crowded shed.  The sweet affability of the floral notes papers over the dirtiness somewhat, rendering the filth more presentable for public consumption.  Like most Agarscents Bazaar mukhallats, Civet Musk Mukhallat is dense and animalic in the buttery retro-floriental style so beloved of the house.

 

I do not perceive the foul odor of real civet paste in Civet Musk Mukhallat, but there is lots of black ambergris.  Black ambergris is the lowest grade of ambergris, because, yet uncured by the ocean, it is still just a softish lump of whale dung.  Almost never used in perfumery except for Middle-Eastern attar perfumery (where it is very popular), it adds a brackish odor of mammalian effluent to a composition.  Pleasant?  Not intentionally.

 

The musk grows saltier and more oceanic, with an undercurrent of horse stalls, marine silt, and low tide harbor smells.  Civet and ambergris are linked by a halitosis-type aroma, and it is this element that comes through here most emphatically.  The marshier variant of ambergris used here gives the scent a breathy depth.  But absent is the floral sharpness of real civet paste.  The smoky, dry Indian amber that’s used in most Agarscents Bazaar blends features heavily in the drydown of Civet Musk Mukhallat too, lending a herbal, almost mossy greenness that atones for the sweetness of the florals.  The drydown, which lasts forever thanks to the high proportion of natural musks used, smells like a dank bog in a dark and thickly wooded forest by the sea.

 

An intoxicating blend, Civet Musk Mukhallat is recommended to lovers of animalic notes in perfumery, as well as to fans of a certain retro style of spicy floral ambers – thickly civety, furry, and sharp – that has now sadly fallen out of fashion.  If you like Scandal (Lanvin), Ubar (Amouage), or Joy (Patou), then head straight for this.  Everyone else, steer clear! 

 

 

 

Dangerous Oil (Possets)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Dangerous Oil is infused with the finest of rare things. 6 musks from blackest black up through a rare and gorgeous in itself purple/blue musk hybrid. A good jolt of labdenum [sic] and an edge of cognac. The heart note is an entire chypre made only for this project and used for no other. There is a fresh and almost gardenia-like part to this (but there is no gardenia in it), it is not a floral but a resinous blend but there is a mesmerizing beauty to it.

 

 

This smelled like greenish, dry woods on me at first, with an alluring hint of artemisia or rosemary.  My interest was immediately piqued.  Could the bitter herbs be the chypre part to which the company alludes?  I wanted to see where this was going.  But Dangerous Oil suddenly loses its nerve, swerving sideways into the musky vanilla base that seems to populate the Possets catalog from A to Z.

 

Once the blend hits that familiar stride, the blend sheds all the spiky greenness that initially made it noteworthy.  The blurb cites six different types of musk, all of which are six variants on the same white synthetic musk material and not one of them terribly interesting.

 

 

 

Deer Musk (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat   

 

 

Apparently, ASAQ have two batches of this floating around – an aged version, and a lighter version.  The first sample I tested was very dark, sticky, and almost feral, whereas my current sample of Deer Musk (from another source) is lighter in color, more liquid, and a great deal milder than the first one. 

 

Although purists might complain that it has been dumbed down beyond all recognition, I much prefer the lighter, reformulated version of Deer Musk.  Whereas the original version was so brutally animalic that it was difficult to breathe, the reformulation has enough air and space in it to allow room for the other notes to come through.  In the reformulation, which goes onto the skin far more easily, by the way, it is now possible to pick out some of the ambery and grassy notes from the gloomy musk of the musk.

 

However, make no bones about it – even with the reformulated version, the first two hours of Deer Musk are characterized by a heavy dose of feces and scatole.  Compared to Muscs Khoublai Khan, which gives off a similarly ferocious fecal yowl for the first five minutes but then starts to pile on the roses and cream, Deer Musk feeds you the feces unadorned and for a much longer time.  An hour or two, at the least.  Just trying to be real with you here.

 

Since Muscs Khoublai Khan mixes its fecal musk so successfully with rose, perhaps the same applies to Deer Musk?  If the stink is too intense and singular on its own, it is always a good idea to experiment a little to see if you can’t get it to behave.  I have had quite a bit of success layering Deer Musk under soft, innocent roses like Amouage’s Rose TRO (Turkish Rose Absolute).  Rose TRO adds a creamy, sweet rose accord that softens the blunt force of the musk, and the musk adds a dark, almost feral undertone to the rose that brings it into animalic rose chypre territory.  The Deer Musk provides the double bass that this pretty rose had been crying out for.

 

I think that a tola of Deer Musk would be a useful addition to anyone’s oil .  Not to wear as a standalone per se (unless you are a hardcore animalics enthusiast), but as a layering agent with which to add darkness, complexity, and yes, a creamy fecal warmth to more innocent floral perfumes.  For that aspect alone, I can see the added value.

 

 

 

Egyptian Musk Golden Anbar (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Like Musc Pur, Egyptian Musk Golden Anbar is a clean musk oil that mimics the scent of skin.  Egyptian Musk Golden Anbar differs from Musc Pur by being slightly more complex and warmer in character, with the addition of a rosy amber note and possibly something earthy, like patchouli.  It is a basic, slightly boring blend, but for days when you simply need to smell fresh and clean, either this or Musc Pur would do the trick.

 

 

 

Geisha Blanche (Aroma M)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Geisha Blanche opens on a bleachy note that recalls industrial cleaning agents and the plastic floral arrangements one sees in the vet’s office.  It smells clean, yes, but unfortunately more in the manner of a squeaky plastic shower curtain than French triple-milled soap.  Geisha Blanche is similar to the concept presented in Blanche by Byredo, only even more piercing.

 

 

 

Habibati (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Habibati is a pleasant, feminine-leaning mukhallat revolving around sweet vanilla fluffed up with iris and white musk.  It opens on a rather unfortunate accord – a clump of clotted cream coated in the hard spackle of Ethyl Maltol, the molecule used in Angel and other gourmand perfumes to create a cotton candy or caramel note.  However, the candy floss impression is brief enough not to leave any lasting trauma, and soon disperses to reveal the bone-pale dustiness of iris.  This splices the heavy vanilla with splinters of dust and root, in effect kicking its arse and getting it to move a bit.  A weightless white musk wraps around the vanilla and iris, giving them a pillow-soft texture.  In the far reaches, there are glimpses of a sandalwood with the silky delicacy of peanut shells.

 

Very nice, overall, and quite close in theme, if not execution to Ormonde Jayne’s Vanille d’Iris.  I recommend Habibati to women who are love clean, fluffy musks but either cannot stretch to the (much better quality) Ormonde Jayne or believe any of the Narciso Rodriguez ‘cube’ perfumes to be below them.

 

 

 

Hyraceum Attar 2013 (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Hyraceum is the calcified and petrified urine of the Cape Hyrax, a shy little animal that urinates on one rock and defecates on another, ensuring that the petrified urine deposits needed for perfumery are completely clean of animal scat.  The hardened substance, also known as Africa Stone, is a cruelty-free ‘musky’ material that mimics the pelvic thrust of both civet and musk.

 

In the context of this attar, the hyraceum merges so completely with the smooth sandalwood that it is hard to identify where one begins and the other ends.  The rich, oily sandalwood has a softening effect on the slightly urinous, damp, feral-cat stink of hyraceum, sanding down all its sharp points and lending it a bitter cocoa roundness that adds depth. In return, the creamy sandalwood is given an animalistic bite by the hyraceum.

 

I like Hyraceum Attar because although the structure is simple, it is so perfectly balanced between the two materials that the nose is never sure which one it is smelling at any given moment.  This yin and yang creates a more complex picture than the bare bones list of ingredients would suggest.  Indeed, this is rich, sultry, and creamy-animalic in all the right ways.

 

 

 

Hyrax Musk (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Although based on some pretty animalic essences, such as hyraceum, Hindi oud, and Indian deer musk,  Hyrax is not at all dirty or sour.  Rather, it is a beautiful and rather wearable creation swimming in a liquid, sweet darkness that seems to be made up of musky chocolate, incense, soft black leather, and ebony.

 

 

 

 

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 Mellifluence, Maison Anthony Marmin, Aroma M, BPAL, Majid Muzaffar Iterji, Agarscents Bazaar, NAVA, Sixteen92, Possets, and Hyde & Alchemy. The samples from Rising Phoenix Perfumery, Abdul Samad al Qurashi, and Al Shareef Oudh 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.

Attars & CPOs Mukhallats Musk Single note exploration The Attar Guide The Business of Perfume

Musk: Technicalities, Legalities, and Ethicalities

24th November 2021

 

From here on out, we are going to go material by material, grouped according to the most important scent families for attars, mukhallats, and concentrated perfume oils.  Each section will start with a primer on the material or scent family, and end with reviews of oil-based perfumes in that category.  That’s right – reviews are upcoming!  I bet you thought we would all need a walking cane by the time I got there.

 

Musk is, I suppose, as good a place to start as any, because its use varies so dramatically with the type of oil perfume and the market in which it is positioned.  For example, mukhallats that contain real deer musk are enormously popular in the Middle East and among die-hard fans of artisanal perfume oils, but verboten in the American indie oil community.  Both the niche perfume oil and mukhallat perfume segments adore fluffy white or Egyptian-style musks that are 100% synthetic.  The American indie sector makes full use of a veritable United Colors of Musks, i.e., black, red, green, and pink musks (all synthetic, all with a different aesthetic effect).  And Indians love ‘black musk’ attars, which tend to derive their musky effect from a complex range of plant-based materials, such as ambrette seed, herbs, and synthetics, rather than deer musk (although this is possibly more of a scarcity issue than an ethical or legal one).

 

In this chapter, I am going to talk exclusively about natural (deer) musk.  The other types of musks (musk synthetics, musky plant materials, ethical animal musks) can wait until Part 2. 

 

  

What is musk?

 

 

If we speak exclusively about natural musk, then musk is a grainy, aromatic reddish paste formed within the glandular musk sac of the male musk deer.  It contains a genetic rundown of his most important attributes from age, health, strength, to overall virility.  Basically, natural musk is the Tinder profile of the animal world.

 

During mating season, the deer urinates onto the musk pod, releasing small amounts of his musk, which then falls or is sprayed onto rocks, trees, and bushes.  While in rut, the deer’s urine is dense with male deer hormones, so this mixture of urine and musk is incredibly potent.  Fresh musk pods have an ammoniac smell, because of the urine sprayed onto them.

 

What happens then?  The female takes a sniff, examines the profile, and decides whether the description appeals.  If all goes to plan, she swipes right and follows the scent to the source. If not, well.  It is brutal out there.

 

Because musk has so much to do with sex and reproduction, there is a common misconception that musk is stored inside the testes, like sperm.  Not true!   In fact, the musk sac is attached to the abdomen behind the penis, and is separate to the testes.  But while the musk sac is not actually a testicle, there is no getting around the fact that it does look awfully like one.  Since the word ‘musk’ itself comes from the Persian word moschos and the Sanskrit word muska, both of which mean testicle, it seems that our ancestors were just as confused on this issue.

 

Musk comes mainly from the musk deer family of deer (Moschidae), of which there are several sub-species, including, for example, Moschus moschiferus, the Siberian musk deer native to China, Siberia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan, and Moschus leucogaster, the Himalayan musk deer native to Bhutan, India, and Nepal[i].  Some of the musk deer species are more endangered than others.  There are seven main geographical regions where musk deer live, and are therefore hunted, namely: Nepal (the Himalayas), Siberia, China, India, Pakistan, Korea, and Mongolia.

 

Animal sources of musk other than deer do exist, although technically speaking, the word ‘musk’ exclusively refers to musk from a deer.  However, given that most of the world’s population uses the word ‘musk’ to describe anything even vaguely musky in nature, we will not be too pedantic about it here either.  Alternative animal musks include that of the muskrat, the musk duck, the musk shrew, the musk lynx, and even some species of crocodiles.  In perfumery and medicine, however, only musk from the musk deer is commercially significant because the deer produces the largest volume of aromatic substance and possesses the strongest odor.  (Also, have you ever tried holding a crocodile down to get to his musk sac?)

 

There are few other materials in the world that possess an aroma as complex as musk.  But if it is complex from a biological perspective, then you can only begin to imagine how difficult it is to get people to agree on what exactly it smells like.  Depending on who you talk to, it can be described as earthy, warm, sweet, powdery, chocolate-like, fecal, urinous, stale, woody, fatty, and so on.  This is further complicated by the fact that few people will have smelled the genuine article itself, but rather some aspect of it as recreated through synthetic molecules or botanical musks.

 

To further complicate things, many people simply use the word ‘musky’ to describe a textural facet of a scent, even if the scent itself does not contain any musk.  For example, perfumes that are clean or powdery are often described as musky, even though their laundry-clean scent is a million miles away from the animalic odor of deer musk.  Conversely, anything that strikes the nose as dirty or fecal is described as musky almost by default, even if other materials have been used to create that effect, such as indolic jasmine, civet, or castoreum.

 

 

In my experience, real deer musk features the following characteristics:

 

Soft and lingering odor

Subtle, skin-like aroma

Mimics the smells of bodily intimacy, ranging from dried saliva and perineal odors to morning breath

Possesses some petting zoo aspects

Not fecal per se, but a composite picture of soft droppings, urine, hair, fur, etc.

Not generally a loud, booming aroma, unless you are smelling synthetics

Powdery or dusty in texture

Can be sweet to the point of being saccharine

Can be also be ammoniac (think animal urine on hay) with sharp undertones

Incredibly tenacious odor – clings to the hairs inside the nostrils

Individual nuances include cocoa, leather, chocolate, newspaper, paper, dust, plasticky aroma (like old lunch boxes), mold, rising damp, sugar, human skin, intimate smells

 

 

Aging plays an important part in how a musk tincture will smell.  If old, dry musk pods from vintage stock are being used to make a tincture, the resulting tincture may give off an unpleasantly stale scent.  A tincture from young-ish, still moist grains will smell more varied and complex than one made from old grains.  However, fresh musk pods take longer to tincture because the grains are still moist and do not give themselves up to extraction as easily as dry grains.  Aging the musk pods for about three months before using them is ideal for perfumery purposes.

 

The liquid in which the grains are tinctured is the second vital component of its final aroma.  If the carrier liquid is even slightly perishable, then it is a waste of musk grains, as the mixture will not age well.  Tincturing liquids that are fine to use include ethanol and other types of perfumer’s alcohol.  The grains can also be macerated, meaning steeped in oil such as moringa oil, and even fractionated coconut oil, but the very best of all is, of course, pure sandalwood oil.

 

If the musk deer themselves are small, then you might imagine how tiny the musk pod is – about thirty grams.  Each sac contains about half as much again in musk paste, so around fifteen grams per animal.  Scraping the secretions out with a spoon to spare the animal’s life nets a much smaller amount of musk paste, but the deer at least lives to make another batch.

 

 

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Deer musk grains. Photo my own.

 

The musk pods can be dried and used whole (in Chinese medicine) or opened to remove and age or dry the musk paste into musk grains for perfumery and also again for Chinese medicine.  On the market, it is possible to buy both the whole pods and the dried grains.  When fresh, the musk paste is moist and red-brown in color; when dried, the paste separates into tiny grains the size of nigella seeds, most often dark brown, oxblood, or black in color.  If being used in traditional Chinese medicine, a doctor may use the grains whole on patients, or powder them down for use in complex liquid formulae to treat specific ailments.

 

Most sellers of musk scoop out the moist paste while the pods are fresh and pack all the aromatic material into large jars, measuring out quantities for buyers one at a time.  This way of storing the musk grains ensures that they don’t dry out as quickly, which is important because the sellers get a certain price per gram, and the drier the musk grains are, the lighter they also are.  Mukhallat makers can either buy the musk pods whole and age them themselves at home or buy the moist musk grains from a seller.

 

 

 

The grim reality of obtaining deer musk

 

 

Deer musk is a wondrous material.  But let us not beat around the bush here – in most cases, the deer musk is hunted and killed to obtain its musk sac.  Poachers first trap the deer in steel deer traps, and then either leave them to die or shoot them.  Licensed hunters shoot to kill.  It has been described as ‘killing the hen to get the egg’[ii] and with good reason: one pod per deer and that is it.  Nothing renewable about this particular resource.

 

Alternatives have sprung up to this in the form of deer musk farms in China, the first one being established in 1958.  On these farms, the deer do not die but are immobilized (held down or sedated) once or twice a year and have their musk glands scraped out with a special spoon[iii].  Chinese records suggest that a male deer can be ‘milked for his musk in this manner up to fourteen times[iv] over the course of its natural life.

 

It is not death, but on the flip side, it sounds excruciatingly painful and cruel.  How strictly is the welfare of the animals monitored?  It is a difficult matter to investigate with any degree of thoroughness because outside access to the farms is restricted, and most of the musk grains produced on these farms are consumed within China itself and not made available outside her borders.  Given China’s track record on animal welfare, if I were a deer, I think I would prefer to take my chances out in the wild.

 

JK DeLapp, perfumer of The Rising Phoenix Perfumery, is also a licensed and practicing doctor of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) in the United States.  Because of his contacts in China and in the field (he has worked in many hospitals in China itself), he is able to import deer musk grains directly from these farms, but he is in a tiny minority.  When I asked if he could detect any difference in aroma or quality between farmed and wild musk grains, JK replied that ‘there is a difference, but only those with experience would be able to detect it’.

 

The model for this sort of ‘sustainable deer musk farming’ has not proved reliable, however.  Every single one of the Chinese-financed farms in India have failed, for example, demonstrating that musk farming is not a straightforward business.  But even if deer musk farms were successful, supply to the perfume industry would likely be a tiny, almost negligible part of the business model.  This is because the perfume industry is not the main market for deer musk.

 

 

The market for musk

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bundo-kim-ur2zmbseUIA-unsplash-683x1024.jpg

 

Photo by Bundo Kim on Unsplash

 

If not the perfume industry, then what is the main market for deer musk?

 

Strangely enough, it’s medicine.

 

By far the biggest consumer of deer musk in the world is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), followed by Ayurvedic medicine (Indian traditional medicine), and then Unani medicine (Greco-Arab medicine practiced in India).  The perfume sector lags well behind in terms of both demand and usage.  Until 1996, the perfume sector absorbed about fifteen percent of the world’s musk supply, but by 2012, due to CITES and the drying up of legal sources, this had shrunk to ten percent[v].  Although there are no exact figures for current usage, one must assume that it is smaller still, perhaps closer to five percent.

 

Quantifying the exact size of the Chinese market is tricky, but if you consider that Traditional Chinese Medicine accounts for about forty percent of all prescriptions in China as well as twenty-two percent of its clinics[vi], then we are talking about a sizeable chunk of the population of China, which is itself famously, well, sizeable.  China and India together absorb at least ninety percent of the world’s available musk.

 

In the perfume sector, both the demand for, and potential usage of deer musk is extremely limited compared to TCM.  If even five percent of China’s 1.371 billion-strong population has an ailment that needs to be treated with musk grains, that is a known market of 68.5 million people.  Compare that to the potential pool of people who might want to wear perfume with real deer musk in it, and it is always going to be small potatoes in comparison.

 

China’s demand for musk is estimated at up to a thousand kilograms per annum[vii], which translates to the musk sacs of at least a hundred thousand musk deer.  But globally there are only about seven hundred thousand musk deer left in the wild.   Clearly, domestic musk farming does not and cannot fill that gap.  Indeed, the bulk of the world’s deer musk – both legal and illegal – ends up in Hong Kong.  Given the supply and demand problem, the sums of money changing hands are huge.  In India, musk is valued at four times its weight in gold[viii].  Raw musk grains can fetch up to US$50,000 per kilogram in Hong Kong, the hub of the international musk market.  All musk in these Far Eastern markets is destined for the TCM and Ayurvedic sectors to make remedies and cures for hospitals and clinics.

 

In the past five years or so, there has been a small but significance resurgence in the demand for real deer musk in artisanal, small-batch perfumery, mostly thanks to the growing fan base around naturals, distillation, and attar making.  Bortnikoff, Areej Le Doré and Ensar Oud are artisanal small-batchers who have all released both mukhallats and spray perfumes featuring genuine deer musk since 2016.  

 

However, the commercial perfume sector will never use real deer musk, given both the difficulty of obtaining a cost-effective and legal source for the large quantities of the material necessary to fill perfume formulas on a mass production scale, and the general revulsion among consumers for products that involve animal cruelty.

 

 

Is deer musk illegal?

 

 

Some is legal; some is not.

 

Two things determine the legal status of a specific deer musk.  First, the level to which its source animal, i.e., sub-species of musk deer, is endangered, and second, the legislation put in place by individual countries regarding the hunting and trade of musk on their territory.

 

First, let us look at the endangerment angle.  There are eight species of musk deer in the Moschidae family, and they are not all equally endangered.  CITES has three classes of endangerment, Appendix I, II, and III, and the different sub-species of musk deer are classified into one of those appendices based on the health of their numbers in the wild.  

 

Moschus leucogaster (the Himalayan musk deer) and Moschus cupreus (the Kashmir musk deer), for example, are Appendix I, which means their numbers are nearing extinction levels, and should not under any circumstance be hunted and killed.  But Moschus berezovskii (Chinese forest musk deer) and Moschus moschiferus (Siberian musk deer) are Appendix II, which means their numbers are healthier, and, under certain conditions such as the proper licensing programs and permits, can be hunted and their musk traded.

 

Thus, something like Kashmiri musk is illegal primarily because its source animal is an Appendix I species approaching extinction.  Siberian musk is legal partly because its source animal is not nearing extinction.

 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) named musk deer an endangered species in the 1980s[ix], restricting the trade of deer musk by its 170 signatory countries.  In Resolution Conf. 11.5[x], CITES lists all the relevant musk-producing animals, including the musk deer, and urges all parties ‘to develop alternatives for raw musk in order to reduce demand for natural musk, while encouraging the development of safe and effective techniques for collecting musk from live musk deer.’

 

In response to the convention, most countries with populations of Appendix I musk deer (species nearing extinction) introduced legislation to ban musk deer hunting outright.  India, Mongolia, Korea, and Nepal all responded to the CITES convention with musk deer hunting bans.  Signatory countries with populations of less endangered species chose different routes based on individual levels of need and state policy.  For example, China, which has an enormous market demand for musk in its traditional medicine sector, banned musk deer hunting in the wild but established government-sponsored musk farms to produce musk legally and without killing the animal.

 

Russia freely allows the hunting of musk deer within the boundaries of their territory, specifically in Siberia where the Siberian musk deer lives.  The Siberian musk deer is not in danger of extinction.  Musk grains from Siberia are therefore technically a legal product because they come from legal hunting and from a species listed on Appendix II of the convention, i.e., not threatened with extinction, trade and hunting allowed under the correct licensing systems, etc.  Deer hunting in Siberia is reported to be controlled, with hunters applying for licenses in a seasonal lottery that determines what number of deer they can kill.  Sometimes they can kill only five deer a season, sometimes twenty. This helps the government keep an eye on overall numbers of the deer population.

 

In other words, in the murky matter of musk legality, the ‘fruit of the poisoned tree’ argument applies.  The legal status of the musk depends on the legal status of the source.  If your musk comes from a species of deer that is not in danger of extinction and a country that has legalized the hunting and killing of the musk deer, or that has musk farms, then the musk is perfectly legal. 

 

The converse is also true, of course.  If the musk comes from illegal hunting in a country that has banned musk deer hunting, then the musk is a product of a criminal activity and is the proverbial fruit of the poisoned tree. 

 

However, as always when it comes to any lucrative resource, illegality abounds.  One of the most common Western misconceptions about deer musk is that the CITES designation of the musk deer as an endangered species put an end to deer hunting, and that the shy little deer are bouncing around happily and uninterrupted in the foothills of the Himalayas.  This is simply not true.  Musk deer hunting continues apace in most of the regions to which it is native, whether the act is legal or not according to the country’s own laws.

 

In fact, the musk trade is a good example of what happens when overwhelming demand for a product meets the legal banning of said product – i.e., business as normal, albeit conducted under the dark cover of illegality, smuggling, and general tomfoolery.  In most cases, the amount of the banned material for sale on the market even increases.  The correlation between banning and black marketeering applies to other materials too.  In an interview[xi] with me for Basenotes, JK DeLapp of The Rising Phoenix Perfumery, noted the same phenomenon in the case of the African civet cat:

 

‘20 years ago, the public pushed cosmetic companies to stop using civet due to the cruelty involved for the civet cat in the extraction process.  Did this improve the conditions of civet harvesting?   Quite the opposite.  Instead, the ban pushed civet paste prices into freefall and brought the civet farmers to the brink of starvation.  Because the prices fell so drastically, the farmers tried to make up for lost income by simply producing more and more civet paste, which in turn meant that the civet cats were put under increased pressure and stress to give up their paste.  A lose-lose situation for everyone, and by everyone, I also mean the animal.’

 

This pattern is largely borne out by the evidence of what happens in countries that have banned musk deer hunting outright.  For example, India and Pakistan both have laws banning the killing of the musk deer on their territories, but don’t have the resources to control or stop the hunting of the deer.  Likewise, the Mongolian government banned musk deer hunting in 1953, two decades even before the CITES ruling, but illegal hunting has whittled the deer population down to a shocking twenty percent of their 1970 levels[xii].

 

In some regions of India, when deer hunters are caught by local government officials or rangers, the musk pods are confiscated and then later sold by the local government.  Confiscated musk therefore becomes legal musk that can be bought and sold for profit on the open market – fruit from the poisoned tree washed clean and sent right back out to market!  China has a legal source of musk, through their musk farms.  And yet the output is nowhere near the level demanded by the market, and so most of the world’s illegal musk still washes up in China.

 

 

The ethics of musk

 

 

Most people in the West consider deer musk to be ethically problematic, if not downright wrong.  Part of this is due to the issues over legality, with most people assuming that all deer musk is illegal and harvested from an animal close to extinction.  But the larger issue is that most Western consumers do not tolerate animal cruelty, to the extent of actively avoiding companies that, for example, sell in China where animal testing for cosmetics and perfumes is still mandatory.

 

To be clear, deer hunting is cruel and unethical when the animals are killed illegally.  Poachers are unconcerned about animal suffering and will often leave the deer to die a horrible death in their crude steel traps.  They care only about the musk sac and will discard the rest of the body.  A musk sac obtained in this manner carries the same stigma of illegality, waste, and animal cruelty associated with ivory.   

 

By corollary, musk farming and legal hunting through license programs yield musk that is more sustainable from an ethical standpoint.  In Siberia, the species of deer being hunted is not a species threatened with extinction, and the hunting lottery system means that only a finite number of musk deer are killed in the region each year.  During a licensed hunt, the kill is as humane as possible (shooting instead of trapping).

 

However, for most people, this is beside the point.  Whether the musk is legal or not doesn’t really address the issue of the deer being killed or maimed for the sake of his musk pod.  A big concern over hunting animals in the wild boils down to the issue of motive – are we hunting for sport or because the animal is useful to us?  Statistically speaking, a far greater number of domestic animals such as cows, chickens, and pigs are slaughtered to give us meat and leather.  However, this mass killing of animals has been organized so that it takes place far away from the public eye, behind the walls of abattoirs and factories far away from residential areas.  It is a different thing altogether when it comes to the thought of Bambi.  Most of us just do not have the stomach for it.

 

 

 

Note: This article is a reprint of The Murky Matter of Musk, which was originally published by Basenotes in 2017. I am reproducing it here, with kind permission by Grant Osborne of Basenotes.

 

 

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.

 

 

[i] http://checklist.cites.org/#/en

[ii] http://www.fao.org/docrep/q1093e/q1093e02.htm

[iii] https://www.drugs.com/npp/musk.html

[iv] http://www.fao.org/docrep/q1093e/q1093e03.htm

[v] http://advocacy.britannica.com/blog/advocacy/2012/03/the-musk-deer-of-india/

[vi] http://universitasforum.org/index.php/ojs/article/view/63/242

[vii] http://advocacy.britannica.com/blog/advocacy/2007/10/traditional-chinese-medicine-and-endangered-animals/

[viii] http://www.fao.org/docrep/q1093e/q1093e03.htm

[ix] http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/muscone/musconeh.htm

[x] https://cites.org/eng/res/11/11-07.php

[xi] http://www.basenotes.net/features/3505-conversations-with-the-artisan-amp-colon-jk-delapp-of-the-rising-phoenix-perfumery

[xii] http://advocacy.britannica.com/blog/advocacy/2012/03/the-musk-deer-of-india/

Attars & CPOs Mukhallats Musk Single note exploration The Attar Guide

Musk: Perfumery, Profiles, & Ethical Alternatives

24th November 2021

 

Musk in perfumery

 

Musk is one of the four great animalic bases of perfumery, the other three being ambergris, civet, and castoreum.   When smelled in isolation in their pure state, all four of these animalic materials can be foul to the human nose.  However, in dilution, they each produce deep, drawn-out basso fundos of aromatic sound waves ranging from soft leather (castoreum), earth, tobacco, and hay (ambergris), and velvety, warm floral tones (civet) to deep, complex skin-tones (musk).

 

Animalics are all excellent fixatives, each serving to stabilize the other more volatile notes in a scent and enrich the blend as effectively as a pound of butter added to a dry cake.  Their value in perfumery, therefore, is inestimable.  But musk is perhaps the most valuable of all the animalics, because not only does it have the deepest fixative powers, but it also adds its own super-complex, warmly-furred, animalic aroma to the totality of the scent.  It possesses a consistent ‘roundness’ or ‘fullness’ that distinguishes it from the other animalics.  

 

We are conditioned to love musk in perfume precisely because, more than anything else, it reminds us so strongly of the pheromone-rich smell of the skin of the people we love.  Think of the intimate scent of your spouse’s nape after a long day’s work, or the smell of the back of your children’s knees, and that is a smell best encapsulated by musk.  

 

While natural musk may have been used in commercial perfumery at some point – although this is difficult to ascertain –  it is certainly not used anymore.  Modern commercial perfumery relies on synthetics, botanicals, or humanely-obtained animalic substances such as hyraceum to recreate the scent of a material, i.e., deer musk, no longer in use.

 

Many might be surprised to learn that there is not much, if any, use of natural deer musk in larger-scale mukhallat perfumery either.  By large-scale mukhallat perfumery, I mean the Chanels and Diors of the Middle-Eastern market – massive companies such as Abdul Samad al Qurashi, Ajmal, and Arabian Oud that have branches all over the world and do a brisk trade in attars and oils each year.  Although mukhallat perfumery in general uses far greater quantities of rare and costly animalics and botanicals such as oud oil, sandalwood oil, ambergris, and musk than commercial perfumery, a company that sells thousands of tolas of a single formula per year is not small-batch, artisanal production.  It is big business.

 

For these large mukhallat companies, the importance of ensuring a consistent quality of raw material from tola to tola, batch to batch, and so on, is an absolute business necessity and, as a production issue, on a par with the quality control concerns of commercial perfume companies and fragrance labs.  Customers will complain vociferously if their tola of Ajmal Deer Musk is not the same as their tola from the year before.  Therefore, while these companies might use some raw deer musk in their musky attars, batch consistency and supply issues make it necessary for them to stretch out the natural musk through use of other musky-smelling materials such as ambrette seed, ethical animal musks like hyraceum, and a wide variety of musk synthetics such as Tonquitone.

 

This will not come as a shock to anyone with a bit of common sense.  Most people know that many, if not most, of the oud oils being sold as pure on the Arabian market in the UAE and elsewhere have been adulterated and stretched out with fillers, vetiver oil, saffron, ambrette, other expensive botanicals, and complex synthetics.  Musk is, in many ways, equivalent to oud.

 

The only sector of perfumery that still uses natural deer musk is the small-batch, artisanal one. Even within that sector, opinions on its use differ.  For example, Areej Le Doré and Bortnikoff both use natural musk in their mukhallats.  But Sultan Pasha does not (he uses an ethical, botanical-based formula as an alternative).

 

The point is, if any artisan attar maker or small match perfumer wanted to work with deer musk, then they are really the only ones in the broader perfumery landscape that can.   The smaller an artisan perfume operation, the more feasible it is for them to work with natural musk, mostly because of the tiny volumes involved.  Working with the crumbs from the rich man’s table of TCM and Ayurvedic medicine works for small artisanal perfumers, because they only make perfume in small quantities anyway.

 

However, cultural factors also play a role.  There is a larger and more culturally-acceptable appetite for deer musk and other natural animal products in the Middle East.  Accordingly, Middle- and Far East-based mukhallat artisans have a far easier job selling deer musk-based mukhallats to their audience than their Western-based counterparts. 

 

 

Is there such thing as terroir in natural musk?

 

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Samples of deer musk tinctures, macerations, and mukhallats. Photo my own.

 

The short answer is no, not really.

 

Deer musk can vary in aroma depending on age, and the liquid in which it has been tinctured.  However, musk does not vary as widely according to terroir as oud or sandalwood, both of which display significant variances in aroma depending on the soil, climate, and sub-species of the trees involved.   With musk, species and micro-climate (terroir) have a far more limited effect on final aroma, with aging and tincturing liquid being more significant factors.

 

In other words, if you have the genuine article, then there will always be a familiar odor profile and texture that links one musk to another.  Musk is musk is musk.  Small differences do appear, of course, based on age or nature of the specimen. But it is more accurate to talk about profiles in musk, rather than terroir. 

 

 

Profiles in Musk

 

 

Although personal experience based on a few random samples can never be extrapolated to represent the entirety of such a complex-smelling material, below are my impressions of different deer musk samples I have collected.

 

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Tibetan musk grains. Photo my own.

 

Tibetan Musk

 

 

Material: musk grains

Source: JK DeLapp of Rising Phoenix Perfumery

Appearance: miniscule, reddish-brown dust particles, like the detritus from rolling cigarettes

 

The smell is rich but light; not overpowering.  It smells dirty in an almost uncomfortably intimate way, like the smell of tooth floss after a long overdue flossing session, in other words, a bit stale, saliva-ish, and carrying with it the lingering aroma of tooth decay, halitosis, and degraded molecules of food.  However, the smell is not exactly unpleasant.  It is simply intimate.  If you can tolerate and even appreciate the scent of a loved one’s dried up sleep drool on the pillow beside you, then this will seem familiar and maybe even comforting to you. 

 

 

 

Siberian Musk

 

 

Material: musk grains

Source: JK DeLapp of Rising Phoenix Perfumery

Appearance: reddish-brown small particles, larger and more prone to clumping together than the Tibetan musk grains

 

The smell is sweet and high-toned, pitched at a much higher decibel than the Tibetan musk, with leathery and herbal facets.  It is immediately pleasant to the nose, unlike the Tibetan musk grains described above.  It smells animalic only in a clean and non-jarring manner, like the flank of a slightly sweaty horse in a stable with fresh straw on the ground.  It is warm, intimate, and clinging.  When the nose draws away from the bottle of grains, the trail in the air reads as slightly powdery.

 

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 Siberian musk grains. Photo my own.

 

Material: Siberian musk macerated in sandalwood oil

Source: Mellifluence

Appearance: deep reddish-brown liquid, viscous, oily

 

The scent is immediately super sweet, like powdered sugar mixed with hot chocolate drinking powder and pancake syrup.  It is also a little herbal, as if there is patchouli or lavender in the mix somewhere.  At this stage, this sample reminds me of the powdery Darbar attars you can get from Nemat and numerous other sources on the Internet.  Darbar attars are thick, dark, sweet musky attars made from mostly patchouli oils mixed with musk synthetics, henna, and carrier oils.  However, once these topnotes die down, the scent is authentically musky, with a pungent, thick aroma that smells quite dirty, although not quite fecal – more like freshly-turned soil and the heavy morning breath of a loved one.

 

 

 

Material: Siberian musk tincture at ten percent dilution

Source: Mellifluence

Appearance: light straw color, completely liquid

 

The topnotes are pure tincturing alcohol, but then a subtle, soft odor of musk appears.  This manifests as a translucent wash of aroma that smells like a clean, warm animal after a day out in the sun.  The odor is sweet, soft, powdery, and lingering.  In terms of weight, it is very light and sheer. 

 

 

 

Material: Siberian musk tincture

Source: Russian Adam of FeelOud and Areej le Doré

Appearance: urine yellow, with small musk grain particles still visible on the glass of the vial when tipped over

 

Immediately, the scent here is much less sweet than the other samples, and has a deep, musky leather facet that is very appealing.  It is more animalic than the other samples, in the sense that it actually smells like it is been scraped off the behind of an animal.  But the scent is in no way dirty, unpleasant, or fecal: it simply smells authentically of animal origin.  It is an extremely warm, deep aroma, with a strong note of leather, specifically leather saddles or reins that have been resting on a horse.

 

There is a certain dustiness lurking underneath the leather, but it is not excessively powdery, and although there is some natural sweetness, it leans more towards neutral-salty on the flavor wheel. It is just soft, musky leather.  A pleasure to smell.  It lingers in the nostrils for quite a while, eventually displaying some papery ‘stale cocoa’ tones.  In overall aroma, this particular musk is closest in profile to the smell of the Siberian musk grains from The Rising Phoenix Perfumery.

 

 

                                                                                                                   

Material: Siberian musk tincture at five percent dilution, one year old

Source: Josh Lobb of Slumberhouse

Appearance: pale straw, liquid

 

Josh Lobb obtains legal Siberian musk grains from a gentleman in Siberia who sets aside a small amount of grains from his hunting quota each year for him: he then chops the already tiny grains up into smaller pieces and tinctures them in perfumer’s alcohol and rests it for a year.  This method seems to intensify the aroma of the finished tincture, because this sample was the most densely fragrant out of all the samples.

 

The aroma is pungent, warm, and once the brief hit of alcohol dissipates, possessed of a strong ammoniac or petting zoo aroma with undertones of hay and animal urine.  However, the scent is in no way unpleasant or sharp.  The aromas smell natural and rustic, wrapped in a thick, wool-like texture that is very comforting, like getting a bear hug from a llama.  Compared to the other samples, this tincture smells more nuanced and perfumey, and I found myself thinking of Muscs Khoublai Khan, or at least one specific part of it, namely its grimy, sensual, male ‘wool’ facet.  Other notes I pick up on include chocolate, damp paper, and dust.  The density of scent slackens off quite quickly after ten minutes, or else my nose simply stops smelling it as acutely past that point.  What remains on the skin is the dusty, sweet smell of newspapers doused in a layer of powdered sugar.  Strangely enough, I also pick up hints of something herbal and fresh.

 

 

 

Kashmiri (Kasturi) Musk

 

 

Kashmiri musk is the rarest and most highly prized of the musk, because of its bright, uplifting, and intoxicating properties.  But genuine Kashmiri musk, also known as Kasturi, is illegal.  Not only does it come from a species of deer listed as being in danger of extinction by CITES (category I), but it also comes from a region (the mountainous parts of Northern India and Pakistan), countries that have made deer musk hunting illegal.  The penalty for being caught with Kashmiri musk in Pakistan, for example, is five years in prison.  However, I have been able to collect two samples for the purposes of research.

 

Material: Kashmiri musk from private collection, ten percent

Source: Duftkumpels, Germany

Appearance: yellow, oily, with visible musk grain particles clinging to the inside of the vial

 

Although Shafqat himself calls this a tincture, it is in fact a maceration of musk grains in a very fine Indian santalum album oil (possibly Mysore).  The maceration has a concentration of 10%, which is very concentrated.  First and foremost, the quality of the sandalwood oil used here is stunning and almost overshadows the delicacy of the musk.  But the musk is there, bright and airy, even a little pungent, revealed when you perform a sort of hide-and-seek with your own arm (take your nose away, smell something else, return nose to arm, etc.).  Despite the fame of Kashmiri musk, I cannot say that it is superior or inferior to any other type of musk.  However, when the sandalwood is so sublime and dominating proceedings anyway, it seems a pity to use an illegal musk from an endangered species when you could just as well use Siberian musk.  

 

 

Material: Kashmiri deer musk, two-point-five percent, in Australian sandalwood oil

Source: Mellifluence

Appearance: viscous orange-yellow oil

 

 

At first, the overriding smell is of the Australian sandalwood oil (s. spicatum), characterized by a raw, harsh wood solvent smell with facets of pine, eucalyptus, and menthol or camphor, and a texture like sour milk.  The pungency of the wood oil makes it difficult to discern anything of the more delicate musk, and this problem persists for a good twenty minutes.  Aging is probably a factor here: the aroma molecules feel young and raw, as if brushed with a steel wire brush.  Eventually, an aroma of bright, plasticky musk hits the nose, although it is not strong enough to burn right through the pungent layer of sandalwood.  This one probably needs time to reveal the delicate nuances of the musk more clearly.  It might be interesting for readers to note that the very same Kashmiri musk grains were used in both these samples, but the medium of the solvent (sandalwood oil versus ethanol) and treatment by two different attar makers rendered two very different results.

 

 

 

Himalayan Musk

 

 

Material: 20-year-old Himalayan musk maceration

Source: Mellifluence

Appearance: oxblood, almost black in color, viscous texture

 

The aroma is dark and pungent but also smooth.  It initially presents like a locker room full of sweaty rugby players, with a side of billy goat.  There is a distinct ammoniac edge to the aroma, like dried animal urine and sweat mixed together, or a stable floor packed a foot high with compacted fecal waste and straw.  If you have ever mucked out a stable that hadn’t been cleaned in quite a while, then this smell will be familiar to you.  The smell is not unpleasant – not to my nose at least. But as always, tolerance of ‘dirty’ smells depend on individual exposure to animals or farming in childhood.   On the skin, it remains dark and pungent, but reveals a surprisingly complex range of notes such as rubber tubing, smoke, fuel, stables, and animal hair.  And it does smell rather like a petting zoo.  But I like that.  It is the only sample I tried that smelled like animal fur. 

 

 

 

Other types of musks

 

 

Deer musk is not the only substance that gives a perfume a musky smell, of course. The main alternatives are: (i) cruelty-free, ethical animal musks, (ii) botanical or plant-derived musks, and (iii) synthetic musks. All three are used extensively in attar and mukhallat perfumery.

 

 

Ethical animal musks

 

 

Many attar makers make use of hyraceum, which is the petrified urine and fecal matter of the Cape hyrax found on rocks.  Because hyraceum is harvested without any cruelty to the animal itself and possesses a rich, animalic odor that shares some similarity with castoreum and civet, perfume makers are increasingly using it to stand in for animalics, including deer musk.  To my nose, hyraceum is more leathery and high-pitched in aroma than deer musk.

 

Mink musk, rat musk, and skunk musk are also being examined for experimental use in attar perfumery as stand-ins for deer musk.  One of the Sultan Pasha attars, for example, experiments with skunk musk.  These types of animal musks are also harvested in a cruelty-free, sustainable manner.

 

 

 

Musk of botanical origin

 

 

Certain botanical materials give off a musky scent or texture and can therefore be used as a substitute for deer musk in mukhallats and attars.  These include ambrette seed, muskwood (olearia argophylla), angelica, and muskflower (mimulus moschatus).  Out of these, ambrette seed oil, extracted from the musk mallow plant native to India, is perhaps the best known and most highly regarded.  Ambrette lends a scent a fresh, woody muskiness that can smell alternatively like green apple peel, pear schnapps, cumin, and freshly-baked bread.

 

Wonderfully complex and full-smelling, ambrette seed is unfortunately quite expensive and is therefore now only used in attars where cost is no issue.  Thankfully, there exists a synthetic replacement for ambrette seed, called ambrettolide, which is inexpensive and smells very good.  In the realm of traditional Indian attars, however, natural ambrette oil (mainly the absolute) is the prime musk component used in the more complex attars such as black musk attars, shamama, and amberi (ambery) attars.  Not only is the ambrette seed native to India, but it was also always less expensive and difficult to obtain than genuine deer musk, hence its popularity for use in attars that have a musky component.

 

 

 

Musk of synthetic origin

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Photo by Karen Maes on Unsplash

 

Deer musk has always been hugely expensive to obtain. Therefore, as explained by Mandy Aftel in her wonderful book, Fragrant, from the moment people first smelled deer musk, they have been creating synthetics that can replace it.  The scent of deer musk is naturally complex, consisting of a wide range of compounds such as acids, phenols, fatty waxes, and alcohols, but by far its most important component is muscone.  Muscone makes up two percent of the molecular composition and is the prime source of that inimitably ‘musky’ aroma.

 

Scientists have successfully isolated individual scent-giving molecules from deer musk and synthesized them in labs.  Synthetic musks are subdivided into three categories, as follows: nitro musks, polycyclic musk compounds, and macrocyclic musk compounds.  Without going into too much technical detail, it is important to note that nitro musks, which once gave scents such as Chanel No. 5 their slightly sweaty, intimate, and powdery feel, have long been banned due to public health concerns over potential carcinogenic effects.  Many people mourn their absence, treasuring vintage versions of their favorite scents for their use of those same nitro musks.

 

Polycyclic musks are the original ‘white musk’ synthetics that were developed primarily for the laundry detergent segment of the market, because their molecules were large and insoluble enough to have their scent cling to the fibers of clothes even after washing.  People loved the smell of their laundry after using these detergents, and soon there was a demand for that type of squeaky clean musk scent in perfume too.  Macrocyclic musks are the new generation of white musk molecules that will replace most if not all the polycyclic musks.  Most attars and mukhallats on the cheaper, non-artisan side of the scale use synthetic musks in their formulas, unless they are using an expensive botanical musk such as ambrette.

 

Because deer musk is not used in commercial perfumery anymore and because natural, botanical musks are expensive, the real issue in most of perfumery these days is not really real versus synthetic, but clean versus dirty.  The range of synthetic musk molecules is so incredibly diverse that there is a musk to suit practically every preference.

 

Some people crave laundry-clean musks. This is easy to explain – there are firm cultural and historical associations with smelling clean.  For many Americans of the fifties, for example, when these super musk-charged laundry detergents were first introduced, they signaled (literally) a breath of fresh air after the deprivations of the second world war.  Puritanism also left a deep mark on a certain (mostly Caucasian, Christian) segments of American society, with many believing that cleanliness is close to Godliness.  Cultural conditioning is a tricky area to get into, but it is something that cannot be entirely discounted.

 

Most flavor and aroma molecule development by the big flavor and fragrance labs in Switzerland and France is destined for the functional sector, i.e., soaps, shampoos, candles, laundry detergents, and household cleaning agents.  Naturally, the bulk of research and development budgets are spent on developing aromas that would be considered desirable by most of the population.  And what most people want to smell like is clean.  So, when our functional products smell more like a spanking fresh pile of laundered cotton and less like the business end of a yak, it makes sense that these ideas (and aroma molecules) have trickled down into personal perfumery too.

 

White musks in both Western and attar perfumery smell soapy, slightly sharp, powdery, and almost aggressively clean.  In other words, not a million miles away from what they smell like in laundry detergent.  But variety is the spice of life.  The aromachemical and flavor factories of France and Switzerland have produced broad ranges of different polycyclic and macrocyclic musks to suit every level of tolerance, from the ultra-clean Galaxolide (IFF) to the fruity Helvetolide (a Firmenich molecule that smells a little like ambrettolide with a side of green apple) to Muscenone (a Firmenich molecule that is deeply musky and based on natural Muscone present in deer musk) and, finally, the filthy, animal-like Tonquitone (IFF)[i]

 

In other words, in modern perfumery, every kink is catered to, ranging from the slightly-grubby-but-still-passing-as-innocent musk and the I-just-showered-using-Irish-Spring musk to the bedded-down-with-goats musk.  The same applies, of course, to mukhallat perfumery.

 

 

The united colors of musk: red, white, and black

 

 

Musks are often marketed as red, white, black, or even green.  It would be futile to argue that the colors have no real meaning in the context of perfumery, because, perception-wise, they do.  Colors are powerful in terms of the message they convey.  But since all these musks are synthetic musks, the only real difference between them is the choice of colorants a perfumer will add to the batch and the variety of spices and other aromatics to vary the scent profile.  The colors are mostly there to convey an impression of its essential ‘character’ to its wearer – white for purity, red for lusty, black for danger, and so on.

 

White musk, as discussed above, is a category of synthetic musk that grew out of the household laundry detergent segment of the market.  Because this class of musks was first used in laundry detergent, their sharp, cottony smell has become forever linked to the scent of clean clothes.  In mukhallat perfumery, white musks are extremely popular and each seller has their own variation on the theme.  White musk mukhallats are often colored with a thick white colorant, giving them a cloudy, opaque appearance – a clever visual trick that helps the brain to subconsciously classify it as clean.  White musk attars are often called tahara musks, body musks, or jism musks (jism meaning ‘of the body’).  These attars are extremely popular during Eid, when white musk cubes and attars are distributed to visitors to the home.  Here, white stands for purity, cleanliness, and the washing away of bodily sins.

 

Red musks are usually a deep rusty-red color and often contain saffron, cinnamon, or clove to match the spicy red image of the oil.  Red musks are not a special variant of natural musk but simply a marketing-driven variation of synthetic musk.  What it means to you will be whatever the color red means to you.  And as in lipstick and cars, red tends to mean spicy, exotic, or lusty.  Red musk is most frequently used in indie oil perfumery, by companies such as BPAL, Alkemia, NAVA, and the like.  

 

In the American indie oil sector, the red musk accord is usually a blend of musk and a dragon’s blood resin note.  Rather disappointingly, Dragon’s Blood resin does not come from a dragon but from a variety of plants.  It is not very fragrant on its own, so indie oil perfumers make up a mixture of oils to approximate what they think it should smell like – usually a mixture of patchouli, amber, nag champa accords, etc.  To my nose, the red musk used in indie oils smells like that too-sweet miasma of greasy Indian cone incense, ‘Christmas apple’ candle oils, and burlap at the arse end of a head shop.

 

Black musks are often called Kasturi-type musks in order to drive home the point that they are aping the scent of natural musk that comes from the Kasturi or Tonkin deer.  Black musks, if made well and in the traditional Indian manner, are highly complex attars in and of themselves, and can contain anything from patchouli and costus root to ambrette seed oil, as well as a potent cocktail of synthetic musks on the dirtier side of the scale, such as Tonquitone or Musk Ketone.  An expensive black musk attar made in the traditional manner can be a pleasure to wear.  Unfortunately, most of the black musk attars on the market tend to be made almost entirely with synthetics dissolved in cheap dilutants.  Prepare to spend more to find a black musk worth wearing.  The black color denotes darkness and masculinity, although I find this is contradicted by the fact that many of them also smell like Cherry Coke.

 

Green musks and pink musks are monikers only rarely used in attar or mukhallat perfumery.  They are more commonly seen in scent descriptions for commercial perfumery and some indie oil companies.  Green musks will usually feature vetiver or patchouli oils and are perceived as earthy and forest-like (even a little bit ‘witchy’).  Pink musks are floral and feminine, with pretty Asian flowers such as cherry blossom and pink lotus.  Sometimes, in modern commercial perfumery, soft Egyptian musks such as the Narciso Rodriguez perfumes or the texture of Coco Mademoiselle are described as being ‘pink’. 

 

 

Egyptian Musk

 

 

Egyptian musks differ from the red, white, and black variants by dint of there being a historical, botanical basis for their existence.  While nowadays practically all Egyptian musks are made from synthetic white musk, in the times of Ancient Egypt, the recipe was made exclusively from natural materials of botanical origin.  Recipes for the original Egyptian musks[ii] vary but almost always mention ambrette seed oil, kyphi (Egyptian pressed incense, a sort of barkhour made from myrrh, mastic, pine resin, red wine, halmaddi, and honey), frankincense, patchouli, and rose oil.  It was the ambrette seed oil that gave the blend its muskiness. 

 

Egyptian-type musks have proved enduringly popular in perfumery and are still much loved today.  Although the recipe is now based entirely on a synthetic musk base, they differ from white musks by being generally creamier, sweeter, and more sensually skin-like, thanks to the inclusion of a more complex range of materials mixed into the white musk.  

 

Modern variants of Egyptian musk scents will almost always include a touch of patchouli and rose, although one of my personal favorites features a fruity jasmine note.  The musky rose and patchouli pairing has become a popular trope in Western perfumery too and can be seen in everything from Narciso Rodriguez’ Musc for Her and Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely to Lady Vengeance by Juliette Has a Gun.  The advantage of Egyptian musk over a pure white musk is that it is mimics the smell of skin more than laundry detergent.

 

 

 

Note: This article is a reprint of The Murky Matter of Musk, which was originally published by Basenotes in 2017. I am reproducing it here, with kind permission by Grant Osborne of Basenotes.

 

 

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.

[i] https://hermitageoils.com/product/tonquitone/

[ii] http://oilhealthbenefits.com/egyptian-musk-oil/

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