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Le Mat by Mendittorosa: A Review

3rd February 2023

 

 

Le Mat is a study in decrepitude.  Picture a time-release reel of a rose blooming violently and then slowly desaturating in hue from a pulpy, blackened red to brown, dirty gold, and finally grey – a smudge of ash crushed between the pages of a book.  Everything bracketing the rose is desiccated, from the dried fallen leaves of the patchouli to the hay and dried honey spackle of the curry-ish immortelle.  It smells like summer grasses so bleached by the sun you can almost hear the cicadas.  The dense spicing of nutmeg, clove, and black pepper force-ages the rose and buries it under a fine layer of white powder, like the mastic coating on a nubbin of Orthodox incense.

I have never smelled anything this dry that is also this beautiful.  But dry doesn’t mean dead.  Le Mat is more like a string of DNA captured in amber than a fossil – there is life here yet.  Bury your nose in the white dust of Le Mat, breathe on it, and sometimes a small, fleshy part of the rose or the damp soil of patchouli springs to life again.  It is this momentary, but repeatable, capacity for reanimation that makes Le Mat so special.

There are some parallels to 1876 (Histoires de Parfums) and Afternoon of a Faun (Etat Libre d’Orange), especially in the dry potpourri rose of the former and in the curried-maple immortelle chypre feel of the latter, but Le Mat is far less dandyish than 1876, and it is much drier and more controlled than Afternoon of a Faun.  Perhaps in spirit and feel, the fragrance it comes closest to is Bruno Acampora’s magisterial hay chypre, Sballo.  Both romantic and deeply moody, Le Mat is a perfume for empaths and writers and madmen who howl at the moon.

 

Source of sample:  The sample is over six years old at this point, so I can’t remember whether I bought it or received it in a swap.   

 

Cover Image:  Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash    

Amber Balsamic Honey Patchouli Resins Review Rose

Dior Mitzah: A Review

13th January 2023

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cover Image: Photo by Lucas Kapla on Unsplash

 

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

 

Aromatic Attars & CPOs Fougere Green Hay Herbal Immortelle Mukhallats Oakmoss Patchouli Review Saffron Spice The Attar Guide

The Attar Guide to Earth, Herbs, Spice & Aromatics: Reviews N-Z

12th October 2022

 

 

 

For a brief introduction to everything earthy, herbal, spicy or aromatic in attar, mukhallat and concentrated oil perfumery, see a handy primer here.  Now on to the reviews!

 

 

 

 

Nagi Attar (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: mukhallat

 

Photo by David Brooke Martin on Unsplash

 

Nagi is based on nag champa incense.  Banish all thoughts of those five dollar packs of dusty Indian jossticks you might have seen around your local head shop or New Age store.  Instead, Nagi was inspired by the old, traditional way of making aromatic nag champa agarbatti (Indian incense sticks) that prevailed in India before the formula was cheapened in order to satisfy foreign demand for cheap incense.

 

The original formula for agarbatti included some very expensive naturals such as Assamese agarwood, Mysore sandalwood, expensive floral essences such as champaca and rose, kewra, saffron, henna flower, and spikenard, a rooty Indian herb.  These aromatic materials were bound by honey and halmaddi, a fragrant gum from the Ailanthus triphysa tree.  Important yogi would traditionally use nag champa in rituals, and it is still the prime component of any major Hindu event.  

 

Mass production and cost-cutting over the years has meant that the Indian pan masala incense you buy these days is usually very low quality and, indeed, possessed of that hippy vibe that tramples on any cachet the original nag champa once enjoyed.  Nagi Attar is Rising Phoenix Perfumery’s attempt to return nag champa to its former glory, re-building it entirely with natural, superb-quality raw materials, and recalibrating expectations of what nag champa can be.

 

If you expect nag champa anything to be sweet and powdery, then the opening of Nag Champa will be a bit of a shock.  The topnotes smell like a deeply fermented oud, redolent of rotting wood, rising damp, pressed apricot skins, and kimchi.  It is herbal and meaty all at once, a soup of things both alive and dead.

 

But suspend judgment and you will be rewarded by the sudden expansiveness of a creamy accord perched happily between banana custard and Eastern Orthodox resins powdered with mastic.  This accord is not smelled directly on the skin but rather in the trail you leave behind.  It is a moreish, welcoming kind of smell – like coming in from the cold to a kitchen fragrant with the scent of baking.  The creamy sweetness seems to swell in the air, powered by a combination of buttery Mysore sandalwood, benzoin, vanilla, and ylang.

 

This surprising fruit-and-cream heart lasts a couple of hours at the most, but it demonstrates what I think is one of the signatures of The Rising Phoenix Perfumery, namely, a way of composing mukhallats so that they present the wearer with little twists and turns that hold the interest all the way through.  There is thoughtfulness to the composition here that is unusual in the area of mukhallat perfumery.

 

The drydown returns to the leathery oud, only now it is bone-dry, incensey, and darkly smoky thanks to the addition of nagamortha root (cypriol oil).  In the far drydown, notes of sugared woodsmoke and powdered incense appear again, ensuring that the attar circles back fully to the nag champa incense theme.  Wear this if you want to know why nag champa was once considered the stuff of Gods.

 

 

 

Nesma (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Nesma opens on a hot, oily note that makes me think of saffron mixed with Hindi oud.  Saffron is such a multifaceted material in perfumery, sometimes presenting as a dry, rubbery leather accord, and other times as iodine or hay.  But add vanilla or sandalwood, and suddenly you have a floral-spicy custard.  Place saffron adjacent to real oud, and you get something as pungent and as wild as the oud itself.  It is a marvelous shapeshifter of a material, and rarely showcased with the subtlety or careful handling it deserves.  But Nesma is the rare attar that gets it right.

 

Cycling as it does through several facets of saffron, Nesma is more complex and perfumey than other saffron-dominant attars.  To begin with, the saffron is pungent and sticky, gaining a fermented tone from the oud, reminiscent of the mild under-pantsy funk of another saffron-forward attar, namely the beautiful Mukhallat Najdi Maliki by Arabian Oud.

 

Nesma does not dwell in this mode for long, however, drying out into a fine-boned, snappy leather accord – think the thinnest book sleeve imaginable, supported by a range of dusty, papery notes that conjure up the collected smells of a rarely-visited library.  The bitter suede-like feel of the saffron is reminiscent of the leather note in Cuir de Lancôme.  However, this is much fiercer, drier, and does not have any soft, powdery florals with which to blunt the impact.  

 

Later, a sublime aroma of baked, toasted rice grains emerges, adding a delightful nuttiness and roundness to the scent.  Despite the rice note, however, Nesma is never sweet, creamy, or dessert-like – it leans firmly in the direction of austerity.  I recommend it highly to saffron fans interested in a nuanced take on the material without the distraction of florals and amber.

 

 

 

Oakmoss (Muschio di Quercia) (La Via del Profumo/ Abdes Salaam Attar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Photo by Eugene Chystiakov on Unsplash

 

There is little from the hand of Abdes Salaam Attar (Dominique Dubrana) that I don’t at least admire, and quite a few that I love.  One of the giants of natural perfumery, Dubrana has now rendered most of his fragrances in ‘attar’ format (strictly speaking, they are mukhallats), both in keeping with the brand’s original focus on natural perfumery and the rising popularity among consumers of high-end artisanal attars.

 

I have been testing the Abdes Salaam Attar  attars consistently over the past few years and can tell you that a) they are superb, and b) they solve the problem that plagues most of the catalog of La Via del Profumo and natural perfumery in general, i.e., that of extreme ephemerality.  The attar formats of favorite Abdes Salaam Attar scents are rich, strong, and long-lasting – paintings rendered in oil compared to the pastels of the regular eaux de toilette.

 

This is great news for anyone who might have loved the scents but hesitated over plunging $100+ into a fragrance that, while beautiful, rarely lasts more than three or four hours on the skin.  Lovers of natural perfumery understand and accept the trade-off between all-natural materials and their longevity.  But with Dubrana’s attars now offering fans the best of both worlds, we no longer have to compromise.

 

Oakmoss (Muschio di Quercia) is one of my favorite fragrances from La Via del Profumo, and in attar format, allows me hours of pleasure, rolling around and luxuriating in its ripped-from-nature goodness.  Far more a vetiver scent than an oakmoss, Oakmoss at first smells like wet leaves, upturned soil, bark, wild mint, the air after a rainstorm, and potatoes buried deep in the ashes of a campfire.  It plugs me directly into a powerful current of memory – playing War with my brothers and neighborhood friends in the sprawling ditches and orchards once attached to our Famine Era home.

 

Slowly, the sodden smell of tree sap, mulch, and root dries out, ceding some ground (but not all) to an incensey, blond oakwood note, which is probably cedar but reminds me very much of the aromatic woodiness of Chêne (Serge Lutens) minus the booze.  It smells more like split logs drying in a shed and woodsmoke than the oozing wetness of living trees.

 

The oakmoss has a bitter velvety softness that calls to mind the furred green carpets creeping over the roots and trunks of old oaks in some less trodden part of the forest.  And while Oakmoss is far from sweet or creamy, the nuttiness of Dubrana’s famous Mysore sandalwood gives it a rounded warmth that speaks to comfort.

 

People have called Oakmoss formal, the kind of scent to wear with a business suit.  I can see that, especially in its clipped, almost monolithic elegance.  However, the attar is earthier, more sepulchral, and darker-green than the eau de toilette, and reminds me of the way Djedi (Guerlain) and Onda (Vero Profumo) make me feel.

 

Oakmoss possesses the vivid rawness of an outdoors scene, which is more special to me than a smell that is simply luxurious.  It is like both Annick Goutal’s Vetiver (the original) and Etro’s Vetiver, in that it features a salty, ferrous vetiver that pulls no punches.  Oakmoss will also appeal to lovers of vintage chypres, especially Chanel’s Pour Monsieur and Givenchy’s Givenchy III.  In attar format, it also reminds me somewhat of the rooty, Middle-Earth solemnity of both Onda (Vero Profumo) and Djedi (Guerlain).  Less of a perfume, more of an experience.

 

 

 

Palisander (Ava Luxe)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

There is something therapeutic about the smell of wood, isn’t there?  Rosewood, or palisander, is especially comforting, because it smells mostly like a freshly-split log of wood, but has steamy undercurrents of curry leaf, pressed rose petals, and chili pepper for interest.  Ava Luxe’s Palisander is an excellent representation of the rosewood note, the essential plainness of the wood dressed up with enough amber and incense to stop it smelling skeletal.

 

Palisander was one of the samples I grabbed when evacuating our house during Storm Emma in early 2018.  And I was enormously grateful for its plain, wholesome comfort as I struggled to lift my two little kids through the snow and up into the cabin of the tractor that my mother had flagged down, having waded through snowdrifts for hours to get to us.

 

It all seems a little extreme now, of course. The power came back on twelve hours after our dramatic rescue, and by the next morning, the roads had cleared enough to get us back home.  But it was a great comfort to be sitting in front of the fire in the house where I grew up, wrapped up in a warm blanket and wafts of Ava Luxe’s Palisander floating up at me from my sweater.  The best things are also the most basic of things.  A good fire, happy children, hot food, a working mobile phone, and the glorious smell of wood.

 

Rosewood has a particular significance for me, because I wore the oil neat as a teenager in the nineties. Nowadays, rosewood is almost as rare as Mysore sandalwood, having fallen victim to a similar over-exploitation.  The species that produces rosewood oil, Dalbergia nigra, is categorized as an Appendix I material under CITES, meaning that no rosewood produced after 1992 should be bought, sold, or traded. I have no idea whether Palisander by Ava Luxe actually contains rosewood or is just the artist’s representation, but it sure does smell like rosewood.

 

Palisander opens with the scent of a freshly-split plank of wood – raw, high-toned, and clean in a way that reminds me of industrial glue and binding products.  Were the scent to remain in this track for too long, it might start to wear on the nerves,  but soon the bland wood cracks open a little to reveal a host of interesting little details.  There is the faintly fecal, coffee-ish undertone of cedar, for example, as well as a plasticky red pepper note that recalls the hot rubber milkiness of fragrances such as Etro’s Etra and Hilde Soliani’s Hot Milk.

 

But there is an essential plainness to Palisander that cannot be denied, and for me, that is part of its appeal. The soporific character of the wood is close to that of scents such as Tam Dao (Diptyque) and Cadjmere (Parfumerie Generale), and under certain lights, you might even call it sandalwood-ish.  However, rosewood is softer, plainer, and a touch fruitier than sandalwood – a mixture of aromatic cypress wood, pulpy chili pepper, hot milk, and sawdust.  Either way, the result is a scent so relaxing it should be prescribed as therapy.

 

Palisander cycles on at a fair clip, shifting quickly from its raw lumber start to a pale wood heart full of sweet incense powder, amber, benzoin, and soft vanilla.  It finishes up as one of those elegant vanilla-woods combinations that always remind me of sweet Communion wafers, old books, and the tail end of Dzing.  A simple, but well-rendered scent for those of us who love the wholesomeness of wood because it signals the comfort of home.

 

 

 

Port Royal (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Spiced rum and ship’s wood mixed with the body-warmed trace of a prostitute’s perfume and a hint of salty sea air on the dry-down.

 

 

I have never smelled a prostitute’s perfume – not knowingly, at least – but I think that the rest of the description matches the scent perfectly.  However, one small point of clarification.  Rather than the sweet, boozy rum alluded to in the notes, Port Royal revolves around the notion of bay rum, the spicy clove-and-bay-leaf accord closely associated with old-fashioned male grooming rituals and wet shaving.  The original bay rum was a spicy, astringent lotion one slapped on after shaving, ostensibly to ‘close the pores’.  (Though, by now, I hope that we all know that pores do not close and open like trapdoors). 

 

Port Royal is therefore less drunken pirate and more herbal fougère with a brisk salty edge.  It would be very elegant on a man, as it is clean and bitter.  In the latter stages, a powdery amber accord moves in to soften the blunt edges of the scent and add a warming sweetness.  But, glanced by the lingering aromatics and either ginger or mint, the amber never becomes too sweet or sticky.  In all, Port Royal wears as a warm, full-bodied men’s aftershave.

 

The transitions between salty and bitter to warm and soft are intriguing.  Port Royal carries the same mysterious, hard-to-define allure of a woman wearing her boyfriend’s cologne to freshen up in the morning after a night out.  Its unusual combination of fresh androgyny and worn-at-the-edges glamour will have people falling over themselves to ask you what you’re wearing.  

 

 

 

Rasa (Ava Luxe)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Rasa has a fearsome reputation for being animalic, but either it has been gutted through reformulation or all the reviews for it were written in the pre-Salomé era.  Rasa is a basic model, the first Supercomputer, a pro-genitor of Skank – something that has been innovated on and subsequently surpassed by countless other things in the same track.  If I close my eyes, I can almost imagine how its rosy-saffron attar-lite façade might strike someone as deliciously exotic and dirty.  But to be truly blown away, you would have to be utterly unfamiliar with the cheap rosy-saffron-musk oils sitting behind the cash register in one of those Asian food emporia alongside the dried shrimp snacks and the Satya Sai Baba nag champa.  Because that is exactly what Rasa smells like. 

 

Rasa smells big and slightly cheap.  Its rosy mixture of musks, saffron, and ‘exotic’ spices feature in many fragrances seeking to evoke a vaguely souk-ish atmosphere.  This basic attar accord will be recognizable to anyone who has ever smelled Scent by Theo Fennell or even Agent Provocateur (the original EDP in the pink bottle).  Rasa is pungent in the spicy saffron way of these scents, and slightly animalic through the use of civet, which adds a nice shot of bitterness.  But Rasa’s original shock factor just doesn’t hold up in a day and age when modern niche perfume companies are falling over themselves to out-skank each other.

 

 

 

Royal Dream (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

Photo by Javier Peñas on Unsplash

 

I cannot locate the notes for this, but to my nose, Royal Dream is a somber patchouli chypre built around rose absolute and the leaf-sap dryness of immortelle.  An undercurrent of galbanum, hay, and scorched summer grasses lends a backdrop of dry, green velvet.

 

Don’t let these sunny-sounding, notes fool you though – Royal Dream is a nocturnal animal.  It feels formal, due to a curiously starchy, antiseptic note running through the composition, which is possibly saffron.  It pulls hard at a memory chord, although I fail to pinpoint why exactly.  It is likely that I’m reminded of some vintage chypre, but until someone names it, I’m at a loss.  Apologies for the near uselessness of this review.  

 

 

 

Royal Medina Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Royal Medina Blend is a sharp, rather dour take on the theme of shamamatul amber, a traditionally Indian blend of amber, spices, woods, and flowers or herbs made according to family-owned recipes handed down through the generations.  The Royal Medina Blend take on shamama essentially spikes a musky, bitter cedarwood with equally astringent saffron, roses, sandalwood, and amber.  It bears some similarity to the spicy, smoky, and sour woody bone structure of the more famous 1001 Nights by Ajmal, although the ASAQ version tilts more towards vegetal amber than the spicy woods of the Ajmal.

 

Royal Medina Blend’s shamamatul amber base stands knee-deep in the funk of fermented, sour leather, woods, and spice, so it stands to reason that many will smell this and think they are smelling a raw, sharp Hindi oud.  This is a shamama to scare the horses, in other words, and therefore one that beginners should approach with caution.

 

 

 

Ruh Khus (Anglesey Organics)

Type: ruh (sort of)

 

 

The ruh khus from Anglesey Organics is much more refined than the Yam International version.  It does not display any of the sharply green, earthy, rooty, almost marshy aspects of vetiver, but instead showcases only the gentlest of nutty and woody undertones.  If it were a color, it would be a gray-olive green rather than a luridly bright, thick green.

 

To be frank, it doesn’t strike me as a true ‘ruh’, or steam-distilled essential oil.  However, the lack of purity or concentration here works to its advantage because it presents the vetiver in a gentler, more digestible format, which will please those who abhor the pungent rootiness of the pure stuff.  With its aura of softly mashed and cooked greens, nutty with olive oil and salt, there is something very soothing about this oil.  In the far reaches of the drydown, a pleasing hint of dry woodsmoke appears.  Smoothly unobjectionable, I recommend this ruh khus to people who think they dislike vetiver, because if anything is going to convert them, it is this.

 

 

 

Safran White Or (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

A potent saffron over a dark, rubied rose, Safran White Or unfurls like a length of thickly-embroidered fabric handed from one prince to another.  The saffron rings out as clear as a bell, a piercing diorama of freshly-tanned leather, orange peel, and iodine calling to mind both medicine and food.  But before the saffron note rides too high (it is a hellishly strong material), the plummy rose softens the spice, rounding it out into a rich Christmas cake accord.  There is something both bejeweled and clear about it, a sleight of hand possibly attributable to the ambergris lurking in the shallows beneath.  

 

 

 

Safwa (Al Haramain)

Type: mukhallat

 

Photo by SIMON LEE on Unsplash

 

I never thought this would work for me, given the double whammy of cloves and camphor listed in the notes, but Safwa is a surprisingly sexy and comfortable wear.  The biting dose of camphor and metallic mix of clove and cardamom in the opening was a trial until I had figured out the game.   This is the mastic and cinnamon opening of Eau Lente, borrowed and repurposed in attar form – no longer an apothecary-style salve for middle Europeans but a genuine ‘soul of the souk’ affair. 

 

Twenty minutes in, and all other notes drop out of sight for a while, leaving an oily mint note floating weightlessly over a waxen patchouli.  It is not a fresh mint note, even, but strands of mint roots left to rot gently in a glass of water.  A most strange and unconventional opening to a Middle-Eastern mukhallat, I appreciate Safwa even more for not taking the tried and tested route towards exotica.

 

The pungent, spicy greenness up top acts as a necessary prelude to the main act, which is a muted patchouli so beautiful it makes me think of piles of red and brown leaves on a forest floor.  It shares with Patchouli Bohème by LM Parfums the same musky-ambery vanilla and sandalwood base that makes the patchouli note slightly edible.  

 

Further on, a smoky labdanum reveals itself, its grit roughing up the smooth woodiness of the vanilla, patchouli, and musk. The golden pool of amber and patchouli slowly becomes cross-contaminated with the black oiliness of uncured leather.  It is very sensual.  On balance, Safwa has much more development on my skin than any of the other high-end Al Haramain attars, and the only one where the complex list of notes bears out on the skin.

 

And you will have ample time to study Safwa’s development, by the way.  It has a half-life of decades.  Sillage is low at the beginning, however.  Don’t make the same mistake I did, which was to keep on applying more oil until suddenly I could smell it and I’d realized I had applied far too much.  My precious sample lived on my bookshelf for six months until it dropped into a crack between the wall and the shelf, never to appear again.  I have thought about it ever since.

 

 

 

Sajaro (Classic) (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Sajaro Classic is a simple but pleasing riff on the traditional Arabian-style attar, namely a blend of saffron, rose, jasmine, and a dab of something oudy or musky in the base for support.  This kind of thing is barely interesting, let alone exotic to my nose anymore, but as with anything this ubiquitous, there are good examples and bad examples.  And this is a good example. 

 

The opening is sharply rosy, with a backing of spicy, leathery saffron forming that tart rose-saffron bridge used in most Arabian attars and co-opted for use in some very famous Western fragrances such as the original Agent Provocateur, Juliette Has a Gun Lady Vengeance, Diptyque Opône, and The People of the Labyrinths’ A. Maze.  Clearly, the rose-saffron pairing has legs.

 

And Sajaro, while by no means original, executes the theme with honesty and grace.  There is something satisfying about a plain thing done well.  Sajaro Classic differs from the Sajaro Imperial by containing only the basic qualities of rose oil, saffron, oud, and so on.  To get an idea of how different grades of the same raw materials can produce utterly different effects, wear Sajaro Classic and Sajaro Imperial side by side.  Sajaro Classic is sharper and brighter, with a dusty texture that feels like cracked leather – it plays true to the original attar theme.  Sajaro Imperial, on the other hand, is duskier, with a darker, more velvety feel.  In particular, there is a plummy quality to the rose that distinguishes it. 

 

 

 

Sballo (Bruno Acampora)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Photo by Rei Yamazaki on Unsplash

 

Sballo means ‘trip’ in Italian. Not in a ‘trip to the seaside’ sense of the word, but in the ‘I ate some funny-looking mushrooms and now your face is a rainbow’ sense of the word.  Which is appropriate when you consider how mind-bendingly seventies the Acampora oils smell.  Trippy, psychedelic, groovy – all words that fit the Acampora aesthetic like a glove.

 

Sballo is the banner-carrier for this seventies feel, so it goes heavy on the aromatics, hay, patchouli, and oakmoss.  It ain’t pretty, but it sure does smell authentic.  The main thrust is a patchouli-rose chypre in the Bernard Chant style.  Think Aromatics Elixir and Aramis 900, but richer and rougher in texture.  An artisanal, homemade take on a commercial model.

 

The rose is brilliant and red, but quickly smothered by armfuls of dry, rustic grasses and hay note acting in tandem with oakmoss and patchouli.  Most modern chypre scents fake the bitterness of oakmoss in the traditional chypre accord via other materials that share a similarly ashen dryness, like denatured patchouli aromachemicals (Akigalawood), hay, galbanum, or even saffron.

 

But though there is no oakmoss listed for Sballo, I can’t imagine that it doesn’t actually contain at least some.  To my nose, the shadowy dankness of the material is unmistakably present.  Sballo shores up this oakmoss effect by flanking it with equally dank or earthy-dry materials such as hay, clove, patchouli, and a material that smells like tobacco or black tea leaves.

 

The overall effect is gloomy and desiccated in the grand chypre tradition.  Saving it from a classic ‘ladies who lunch’ formality of the chypre structure is the rough, almost burnt-ashy texture of the moss and patchouli.  The hoarseness of this accord is great.  It is like the rough, stubbled jaw of a brutish male thrust into your personal airspace, causing both discomfort and the thrill of secret excitement. 

 

 

 

Shamama (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Amouage’s take on Shamama opens with a sharp antiseptic burst of iodine, spackling the olfactory landscape with gaudy daubs of saffron and henna flower.  The spice element is pungent, oily, and radiant, as if coriander and cardamom seeds were first roasted at high heat in a dry pan, and then tipped, piping hot, into the deg.

 

In keeping with the Indian tradition of making shamama, Amouage’s Shamama is not at all sweet or soft, but rather fierce, pungent, and alkaline.  There is also a light rubbery undertone, like hospital tubing, which we can probably attribute to the henna.  Shamama eventually mellows into a soft, muffled bed of amber, but because this is vegetal, herbal Indian amber rather than the sweet, resinous kind, it never becomes sweet or creamy. 

 

All in all, Shamama is not a bad rendition of traditional Indian shamama, but given its price point, it is not something to pursue above and beyond the more interesting and more reasonably priced shamama currently in production.

 

 

 

Shamama (Nemat)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Nemat’s version of the famous shamama attar is affable, sweet, and easy-going.  Like most other shamama attars, it opens with the slightly medicinal tinge of saffron or henna, but, fused to a sweet underpinning of amber or vanilla, this accord is never allowed to become too vegetally bitter.  Later, it develops a fruity muskiness that might strike some as slightly rude, possibly thanks to ambrette seed.  All in all, Nemat’s Shamama is a sweet, herbal-ambery shamama with a slightly raunchy trail.  A passable example of the species but not especially complex.

 

 

 

Shamama (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

Photo by Andrew Draper on Unsplash

 

Sultan Pasha’s take on the classic Indian shamama attar – a complex, blended attar consisting of over sixty different materials, herbs, spices, choyas, and other attars made according to closely-guarded secret family recipes – is an unusual one.  It twists the traditional format into a new shape.

 

The opening confuses as much as it delights, packed with as many dense aromas as a tin of the blackstrap molasses, but shot through with the antiseptic airiness of saffron.  The dual tracks of dark stickiness and explosive spice give the opening tremendous energy.  Quickly, the individual notes begin to pull apart a little so that you start to perceive them more easily.  Orange peel, saffron, henna paste, saltwater, toasted buckwheat, and chestnut honey all come to the fore.  These are all notes that teeter between savory and bitter, with only a thin ribbon of sugar calling a truce between them.

 

Compared to other shamama attars, the Sultan Pasha take is far darker, balmier, and smoother.  It is molten licorice to the sharply golden, leathery herbs of the others.  After the complex, packed feel of the start, the middle decompresses somewhat, flattening everything into a single layer of anise-flavored toffee, with hints of a dark chocolate musk, henna, and supple leather flitting in and out.  In fact, it would seem to combine the best of a traditional shamama attar with the damp, chewy chocolate sensuality of a good Darbar attar. 

 

Then, as if filmed in slow motion, the attar collapses into a slightly smoky, boozy amber with hints of dried fruit, leather, and incense, reminding me very much of Ambre Russe, a fragrance that Luca Turin called ‘the most nutritious amber in existence’.  There is a similar pain d’épices texturization at work here.  The mukhallat derives much of its richness from the scent of macerating raisins, brandy, damp tobacco, and plum pudding.  This develops further into a smoky, incense-laden amber accord, with the stained-glass window warmth of something like Amber Absolute.

 

What I love about Sultan Pasha’s take on shamama is that it preserves a core of tradition but twists it into a sleeker, more sensual format to appeal the modern taste.  It gives you the dusty, medicinal feel of a traditional Indian attar, with its exotic henna, herbs, spices, and innumerable Indian botanicals, while at the same time spinning you off into a more Middle Eastern direction, rife with sweet, smoky resins and balsams.  This is the 2.0 version of shamama, and my personal favorite of its genre.  Think of the licorice darkness of Slumberhouse’s Vikt unspooling into a thick, smoky-sweet incense amber, and you have an idea of the complexity at play here.

 

 

 

Sirocco (Solstice Scents)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Description: It is a blend of sandalwood, precious saffron threads, hot baked Earth, myrrh resin, spices and a touch of oud and jasmine which meld together to create a dry, woody, resinous and spicy scent representing the blisteringly hot desert, spice caravans and never ending sun scorched sand.

 

 

In general, Sirocco smells as advertized, except for the sandalwood, which is not a significant player.  First, a starburst of saffron, its astringent aroma redolent of hay, leather, and iodine.  This quickly gives way to the mitti, which here smells of wet soil rather than the drier, dustier earthy scent of true Indian mitti.  Last to emerge is the rubbery, mushroomy myrrh, which smells like the plain essential oil one picks up at the health store, i.e., bitter, saline, and musty.  Unfortunately, the myrrh dominates the scent completely. Once it pops its head around the door, it is here for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

 

Top marks to Sirocco for smelling precisely of the notes promised in the notes list.  Just be aware that Sirocco is not really the hot, dry ‘desert’ scent billed in the description, but rather the damp and almost fungal scent of caves.  It is closer to the original Bat (Zoologist), for example, than to L’Air du Désert au Marocain (Tauer).  (It is especially tempting, based on the description alone, to expect something desiccated and toasty along the lines of L’Air du Désert Marocain, because who doesn’t want a version of that for a tenth of the price?).  But if you like the wet, fungal side of myrrh, and earthy, medicinal smells in general, then you will love Sirocco.

 

 

 

 

Supercell (Sixteen92)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

Photo by Andrew Draper on Unsplash

 

Exploring the (mostly American) indie perfume oil sector from the viewpoint of the niche or mainstream perfume world often feels like a step backwards.  Sometimes this is because of a lack of polish and sometimes it is because of the gap between reality and the unfeasibly high expectations stirred up by the descriptions.  But where the indie perfume oil sector excels well over and above niche or mainstream perfumery is in creating perfumes that accurately recreate entire atmospheres, such as a spooky forest at night, a bonfire, or, as in the case of Sixteen92’s Supercell, the intensely green, mineralic scent of the air after a rainstorm.

 

Supercell, by perfumer Claire Baxter, who won the 2017 indie perfume award for her Bruise Violet at the 2017 Art and Olfaction Awards in Berlin, is a greenish petrichor perfume.  It is not incredibly long-lasting, but its effect is so pleasing that I recommend it for cooling down on sweltering days.

 

The scent opens with wet, sweet grass, transitioning slowly to the electric smell of rain on hot asphalt and damp soil.  The name Supercell seems to refer to the ion-charged air particles present in the air just before or right after a storm breaks, and for once, the perfume lives up to the promise of its name.  It is both dewy and protein-rich.

 

 

 

Sycomore (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Vetiver is a funny material.  Depending on the varietal, source, and extraction method, it can display a wide range of nuances from roast hazelnuts to grass, campfire smoke, rose, and vase water.  It can be bitter, woody, smoky, or creamy, and sometimes all of those things at once.  That is why, even though vetiver is not the most expensive or precious raw material in the world, its nuances can be hard to match note for note.  On the other hand, vetiver always smells robustly and clearly of itself – you rarely mistake it for another material. 

 

This observation, generalizing as it may be, bears out here.  The vetiver used in the dupe smells much darker than the grassy vetiver used in Chanel Sycomore.  It is also a bit simpler, less textured – more like a simple ruh khus than a composed perfume.  However, vetiver is vetiver is vetiver, which means that if you love vetiver, then the chances are you will like this too.  

 

But while Sycomore is a complex perfume that corrals cypress, sandalwood, and juniper around a vetiver core, the dupe is mostly just vetiver.  There is a crystalline gin and tonic buzz to the topnotes of the original Sycomore that is not replicated in the dupe, and the dollop of very good quality sandalwood that renders the original creamy in its drydown is missing in the dupe.  Perhaps most importantly, Sycomore has a harsh, exciting smokiness that makes it an evocative perfume experience – the dupe emphatically does not.

 

Still, the vetiver used in the dupe produces the same relaxing, outdoorsy, and slightly narcotizing effect as Sycomore.  It does not adequately replace the original EDT, perhaps, but post-2016, even Sycomore is not truly itself anymore, so perhaps these are distinctions that matter less and less.  In summary, this is a good perfume oil in its own right and may appeal to hardcore vetiver fans.

 

 

 

Thebes I (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

Photo by Natalie Comrie on Unsplash

 

Thebes is Sultan Pasha’s tribute to the fragrance he most reveres in the world – Guerlain’s infamous (and deeply unavailable) Djedi.  I am lucky enough to own a large sample of Thierry Wasser’s Djedi reconstruction, so, for the purposes of this review, wore both side by side.

 

Djedi is a dry vetiver chypre.  It is immediately arresting both to the nose and the imagination – dusty, rich, and shadowy, its greenness is more that of dried up lichen and creeping mold than of living plants and roots.  It has a crypt-like coldness to it that defies analysis.

 

Vetiver, dried flowers, moss, and ambergris – such a curt line-up of ingredients, and yet an entire underworld is called forth.  A dab of Djedi is transportative.  One can almost taste the thickness of the first gush of air that must have rushed out at Howard Carter when he prized open the tomb of Tutankhamen, a smell full of cool stone, ancient dust, dried-up herbs, ointment, and kyphi, a complex Egyptian incense made with spikenard, henna, mastic, and other aromatics.

 

The vetiver turns slightly creamy and almond-like later with the addition of orris and rose, but despite the listed notes of civet and ambergris, the reissue of Djedi is never animalic.  Its dry and salubrious demeanor drives the composition forward in a single-minded fashion.  There are echoes of Djedi in both Habanita by Molinard (minus the soft-focus vanilla and florals) as well as in Onda extrait by Vero Kern, which is perhaps its closest-living relative today.  A distinctive and memorable fragrance, Djedi is notable most of all for its total absence of warmth.

 

Thebes (both I and II) is an entirely different animal.  To my nose, it is a more complex version of Muscs Khoublai Khan by Serge Lutens, cleverly balancing pungent animalics with sweet, plush roses, fur-like warmth, and sugar.

 

In the opening of Thebes I, there is a rush of oily, compressed florals that taken together smell like ancient, dusty wooden chests rubbed with linseed oil.  The aged wood and oily floral flatness make me think immediately of oud oil.  In fact, it is extraordinary that this effect is apparently achieved without a single drop of it.

 

The rose is most present to my nose, followed by lily of the valley.  But the florals are not fresh, crisp, or ‘living’.  Rather, they are a memory of scent clinging to flower petals pressed into old books by Victorians, then placed in an attar bottle to preserve them further.  Although I do not smell vetiver or moss strongly here, I am impressed that Pasha has arrived (via a completely different route) at the same sort of dusty, ancient-smelling accord featured in Djedi.

 

From there on in, however, the composition of Thebes I is overtaken by a wave of musk and ambergris.  The musk dominates at first, working with the dried jasmine to create an animal fur note with a creamy filth attached to its underbelly.  Very close to the fur effect in Muscs Khoublai Khan, the musk has the almost mouth-filling texture of wool.  The dance between clean fur and human filth makes me think of making hot, sweaty love to someone on a lion pelt in a medieval banqueting hall.  Overall, Thebes I is far furrier and thicker than Djedi.  But the key difference, I think, is that Thebes I has an almost animal warmth, while Djedi has none at all.

 

In the far stages of the dry down, there comes a wonderful surprise.  Vetiver – bone dry and smoky as hell – remerges phoenix-like from the ashes to mingle with the animal fur.  It is here, in the ashes of this rich, dusty vetiver that Thebes intersects most strongly with Djedi.  But still, where Djedi is ascetic, Thebes is sensual.

 

Using lesser qualities of rose, orris butter, and musks, Thebes II is a more cost-effective version of Thebes I.  To my nose, the opening is brighter and sharper, with the florals taking on a slightly more chemical character (especially the lily of the valley notes).  Thebes II suffers in comparison to Thebes I, but probably only if worn in a side by side wearing.  There is the same lovely, smoky fur-like quality in the drydown.

 

It is perhaps fairer to simply say that Thebes I will suit those who prefer their floral topnotes to be abstract, and Thebes II those who prefer the bright, laundry-fresh florals of mainstream perfumery.  In Thebes II, the additional space between the notes allows for a spicy powder to creep into the structure, a bonus for those who like the powdery, clove-tinted feel of the older Carons. 

 

 

 

Vasura (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Vasura is made with over forty different essential oils, ruhs, or absolutes, all of which pull in the direction of wet jungle earth.  The first impression is simply one of a cool, herbal freshness.  It mixes the bitter white floral crunch of a Borneo oud with pungent vetiver and aromatic sandalwood.  Zero cream, low calorie, but maximum flavor.

 

Further on, traces of Hindi oud bubble to the surface, bringing with them the acrid, smoky stench of fermenting leather.  But the Hindi is brought to heel by a damp blanket of velvety greenery, which lies on top and calms its fiery heat.  The result is a cool-toned, earthy leather aroma that is pleasurably easy to wear.

 

The delicate aroma of mitti – the attar that captures the smell of the first rains of the season on the red earth of India – is unfortunately lost in the mélange of stronger, earthier notes like oud, myrrh, and vetiver.  However, as the fresh, moist green notes wither away, they leave behind a mineralic dust accord that could quite conceivably be interpreted as the scent of soil after the rain.  Therefore, despite the disappointingly quiet role of the mitti, something of the Indian people’s longing for the rain has been captured in the golden, earthen mien of this scent.  And that is more than good enough for me.

 

 

 

Vert Gallant (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Vert Gallant opens with an accord of fresh herbs shimmering over rank body odor that smells intensely animalic and arousing.  The sweaty, green topnotes glint evilly like petrol on water.  This effect is probably due to use of a specific lavender absolute that smells more like spikenard, which in turn smells rather like lavender with a subcutaneous layer of sheep fat.

 

Under this front of green, cuminy herb is a generous layer of labdanum massaged with sandalwood and vanilla.  Sweet, dusty, and strangely musky, Vert Gallant smells enticingly like the belly fur of a domestic animal, like a cat or guinea pig.  I suspect a judicious dose of costus somewhere in the mix, although this is not listed.  If you like intimate, human-skin-smelling fragrances such as Under My Skin (Francesca Bianchi) and L’Air de Rien (Miller Harris), it is likely that you will also enjoy Vert Gallant.  I find its curious balance between the purity of herbs and the licentiousness of labdanum to be compelling. 

 

 

 

Volubilis (Bruno Acampora)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

Photo by Apurv Das on Unsplash

 

Many have extolled Volubilis as a beautiful expression of mint, black pepper, citrus, and rose.  Unfortunately, I experience it a true expression of its name, which translated from Latin, means ‘volume’.  Volubilis is doused in enough Iso E Super to achieve a stadium-filling reach, sacrificing the delicacy of its natural raw materials at the altar of radiance (that most modern of codenames for projection).

 

Note that I have been sensitized to certain aromachemicals over the years and tend to perceive them as a hair too highly pitched above the other voices in a chorus line.  Your experience may be entirely different.  And indeed, based on reviews available for Volubilis, I seem to be in the minority.  Most other reviews mention its fresh, sparkling mint and citrus duet, spiked with black pepper for interest.  If those notes sound appealing to you, then don’t let my experience put you off trying it.  Unless you’re as sensitive to woody ambers as I am, you are likely to experience the scent as it was intended to be.

 

 

 

Wicked (Sixteen92)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Three vanillas, aged patchouli, almond buttercream

 

 

Wicked benefits from a long, hard aging.  When I first received the sample, the almond buttercream notes jumped up and bit me in the arse.  It was nauseating, like inhaling a blast of the cheap, cherry-scented nail polish remover you get in Poundland.  Sharp and unlovely, this greasy almond solvent note seemed to float gracelessly over a sea of headshoppy patchouli and ice-cream.

 

Reader: I tried it several times, each time with the same result.  I gave up and put all my Sixteen92 samples away in a dark drawer and forgot about them for eighteen months.  As it turns out, Sixteen92 perfume oils need far more than the recommended two weeks resting time, and eighteen months proved to be the magic number. (If you’re not the patient type, then perhaps avoid the American indie oil sector entirely.)

 

Although all my Sixteen92 samples benefitted from aging, Wicked emerged as the most improved.  Now, Wicked smells as it should – a creamy vanilla with moody patchouli giving it a dark and sexy earthiness.  There is a brief snap of cherry pit at the start, but this melts away so quickly that it barely registers.  I find the aged version of Wicked to be divinely rich and gorgeous.  If I could guarantee being spared the horror of its unaged self, I would buy a bottle in a heartbeat.

 

 

 

Zafraan Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Zafraan Blend takes an ultra-medicinal saffron and marries it to a subtle scaffolding of roses, musk, and sweet amber for support.  The star of the show, however, is that tannic saffron note.  You must love saffron to appreciate this attar, but if you do, then you’re in for a treat.  The saffron here smells dusty, red-gold, and vaguely iodine-like, with rich, woody tea notes lurking in the background.

 

Zafraan is a simple blend, with little to distract from the main note.  It starts and ends with the mysterious spice, fading out slowly into an austere, gold-tinged leather.  Its stark focus on saffron limits its usefulness as a standalone oil – one simply grows tired of its dogged purity after a while – but it is perfect for layering with rich ambers, vanillas, or even rose soliflores.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 all the samples reviewed in this chapter, apart from the samples from Sultan Pasha Attars and Abdul Samad Al Qurashi, which were gifted to me by either by the brand or a distributor for review purposes, and the Henry Jacques samples, which were part of a Basenotes sampling thread.

 

Cover Image: Photo by Varun Gaba on Unsplash 

 

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! 

Aromatic Attars & CPOs Fougere Green Herbal Lavender Mukhallats Oudy Concentrated Perfume Oils Oudy mukhallats Patchouli Review Saffron Spice The Attar Guide Vetiver

The Attar Guide Earth, Herbs, Spice & Aromatics: Reviews A-C

10th October 2022

 

 

 

For a brief introduction to everything earthy, herbal, spicy or aromatic in attar, mukhallat and concentrated oil perfumery, see a handy primer here.  Now on to the reviews!

 

 

 

 

017 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

No. 017 is an unusual scent.  It opens with a strikingly dirty mint-citrus accord, which manages to feel both fresh and dilapidated at the same time.  It then unravels into a semi-poisonous cherry and clove drop heart.  It smells see-through, like a boiled candy, flavor RED in all caps.

 

Many BPAL perfumes treat cinnamon notes in this syrupy, bitter manner, with a lurid intensity that signals a lack of sophistication.  This is no different.  Unlike BPAL perfumes, to be fair, there is a minty effervescence in the background that smells different and attractive.  But the composition would clearly have been better served if either the listed birch or patchouli had turned up and done their part.   

 

 

 

026 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

No. 026 is a fresh, foresty affair that initially feels like placing your nose against a frost-covered window.  Bergamot, lavender, and pine show off the coldest, most bracing parts of their collective character, creating a dry ice effect that has been cleverly pinned against a dusty, warm cedarwood accord for contrast.  Cedarwood is not listed, but its presence is felt far more strongly here than the advertized sandalwood, which doesn’t even bother sticking its head around the door.

 

There is a strange, but not unwelcome, hint of staleness to the dusty woods here, like the scent of a log cabin being kicked back into life at the start of the summer season.  Radiator dust, stale-smelling sheets, clean wood, unwashed hair, and the burnt-sugar crackle of homemade caramel popcorn on the stove.  I like that this scent encompasses both the smells of the forest and the comforts of the inside.

 

Cozy and reassuring, No. 026 would work well for hikers, naturalists, and crusty dads who just want to go up to the summer cabin with the kids and not have to shower for a week straight.

 

 

 

019 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

There is no patchouli listed here.  And yet, weirdly, the opening is all patchouli, momentarily spinning me back in time to when I slathered the oil neat onto my skin as a teenager, staining my t-shirt cuffs a dirty nicotine-yellow.  The musty patch note subsides quickly enough to make me question my own sanity, leaving in its place a minty lavender and iris combo that smells mineralic, like water flowing over stones.

 

In an unusual effect, No. 019 smells both crystalline and foggy, as if the stream of water is catching here and there on nuggets of golden amber resin strewn over the riverbed.  The scent’s herbal overlay gains warmth and body from the amber, but is not weighed down, remaining bright all the way through.

 

I like No. 019 because, unlike many of the Hyde & Alchemy oils, it is not afraid to make a statement.  The patch-heavy opening admittedly smells a little headshoppy.  But the lavender and iris materials can be perceived quite distinctly, and it is these more sophisticated elements that shift the scent out of the headshop and into ‘earth-mother-and-CEO’ mode. 

 

 

 

1001 Nights, or Alf Lail o Lail (Ajmal)

Type: concentrated perfume oil, based on the traditional distilled attar known as ‘shamama’

 

Photo by Joshuva Daniel on Unsplash

 

1001 Nights is a smoky, woody-animalic take on the idea of shamama, the traditional Indian attar that combines over sixty different notes and materials, and for which the recipe varies from family to family, attar company to attar company.  It is difficult to pinpoint the main features of shamama attar, such is its complexity, but traditionally, a shamama will contain an array of (vegetal) amber notes, aromatics, flowers, spices, bitter herbs, musk, and saffron.  Some shamama attars smell earthy, sweet, and grassy, whereas others are damp, medicinal, and woody.  All are very rich, sharp, and potent.

 

This is the only shamama attar I have ever smelled, however, that transmutes the vegetal into the animal.  1001 Nights takes the foundation of shamama and twists it into the semblance of civet-soaked piece of wood, whose basic aroma mimics that of raw Hindi oud oil.  The opening reeks of sour barnyard, smoke, damp hay, urine, and freshly tanned leather, keening like a banshee with a high-pitched bile note as effective as amyl nitrate in snapping the wearer to attention.

 

Given time, the sharp Hindi opening slowly drifts into a complex series of interlocking notes such as hay strewn with bitter green herbs, dry aged woods, smoky vetiver, grass, and spicy red pepper.  Henna and saffron feature too, their mustiness adding a dulled, ochre-yellow spice tonality.  1001 Nights smells erotic, troubling, and naughty.

 

Spiritual?  Yes, that too, particularly if you already use Hindi oud for meditative or spiritual purposes.  1001 Nights smells as ancient as the red earth on the banks of the Ganges and as piercingly animalic as the hordes of people gathering there, in Varanasi, for Diwali.  There is an awkward type of beauty here for those patient enough to listen to, and catch, all the nuances of the perfume.  By corollary, 1001 Nights is not for the faint of heart or for those looking for a dumbed-down, non-confrontational snapshot of the genre.

 

 

 

Aanandha (Alkemia)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Gul-hina Flowers and Rare Mitti Earth – A special blend for perfume connoisseurs combining concentrated extraits of Mitti and Hina blossoms in meadowfoam oil. 

 

 

Aanandha is the second in Alkemia’s series of tributes to traditional Indian attar perfumery, this time focusing on the pairing of gul hina, an attar distilled from henna flower, and mitti, an attar distilled from dry Indian earth.  The opening is pure hina in all its plasticky, vegetal sweetness and for about ten minutes, it reminds me of the start to some Nemat oils, most of which have a vague petrochemical feel to them, as if the botanical aromas are fighting to get through a miasma of melting plastic, vegetable oil, and banana skin.  In case you were wondering, all this means is that Aanandha captures the weirdness of henna flowers quite accurately.  It might not be something Westerners are used to, or even like, but the tone is spot on.

 

Given time to settle, the oil evens out into bodacious rosy-resinous amber identifiable only as a typical ‘attar’ type of smell, meaning a half-syrupy, half-powdery mixture of rose, sandalwood, and amber, with a chaser of something unidentifiable to maintain the allure of the exotic.  The mitti, or whatever was there of it to begin with, is completely lost in the mix.  Mitti has a very delicate scent profile that doesn’t stand up well to powerful notes such as henna or rose.  Still, this is a beautiful tribute to a style of attar making that is sadly endangered these days, and more than adequately justifies its price tag of $30 for five milliliters.

 

 

 

Absolute Oakwood (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

On the skin, Oakwood opens with the lanolin-like oiliness that characterizes the opening of many of the Clive Christian oils, before drying down to a dusty wood threaded with tiny seams of dark chocolate, plum, and metallic clove.  On paper, it reveals itself to be even more complex, with notes of creamy mint, cinnamon, tonka, and dark rum emerging slowly in the background.

 

Absolute Oakwood is more evolved than most of the other Absolute oils (with the notable exception of Absolute Sandalwood, which is on par with this).  It presents quite an abstract, blurred picture of the star player.  Oakwood, as a raw material, can smell as pungent as cheese, raw milk, or even fecal matter.  Needless to say, Clive Christian does not allow any of these less desirable features to leak into Absolute Oakwood.

 

Instead, an idealized version of dry, toasty wood appears, made autumnal with plummy fruits and a boozy thickness.  It operates in the same general arena as Chêne by Serge Lutens, though nowhere near as dry or as minimalistic.  There is also a sheen of woody radiance – Iso E Super perhaps – that renders Absolute Oakwood’s voice audible at thirty paces.

 

 

 

Absolute Vetiver (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

 

Absolute Vetiver accentuates the fresher aspects of vetiver root with topnotes of bergamot, lemon, and what smells to me like bitter orange or lime.  The effervescent sparkle of the citruses is a perfection introduction for the earthy vetiver note that arrives to take up the central stake in the fragrance.  Together, these notes form an accord that is more freshly-cut grass than dank, marshy root.  Further on, a note of medicinal clay appears, giving an impression of soft leather rubbed with medicinal salve.

 

Many modern vetiver fragrances soften the impact of a rooty vetiver with creamy florals, burned sugar, and hazelnut notes, perhaps aiming for an entire generation of men raised on tonkified masculines.  But Absolute Vetiver stays clean and fresh, tucking its heels in and staying close to the more classical vetivers such as Vetiver Extraordinaire by Frederic Malle or Guerlain’s Vetiver.

 

Like the Malle in particular, there is a metallic radiance to the central accord that signposts the presence of modern aromachemicals and woody ambers.  This synthetic breeze runs through most, if not all, of the Clive Christian Absolute oils, but varies in how strongly it presents to the nose based on the individual scent.  Absolute Amber, Absolute Osmanthus, and Absolute Oakwood are woody amber behemoths, while Absolute Orris and Absolute Rose make far more judicious use of them. 

 

Absolute Vetiver sits comfortably at the midway point.  The woody ambers are present enough to make you notice the radiance of the scent, but not so aggressive as to take over the scent or obscure its more delicate notes.  I mention this only as a useful reference for people who might be buying blind, and who are looking for oils specifically featuring this type of woody radiance (or indeed, like me, trying to avoid it).

 

 

 

Al Andalus (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Famously one half of the most exalted Amouage attar – Homage – Al Andalus is a bright aromatic fougère that can be worn by women and men alike.  Stuffed to the brim with green herbs such as clary sage and rosemary, the opening feels like being awoken from a peaceful sleep by someone slapping you across the face with a bunch of dripping wet herbs.  Underscoring the herbs is a bright citrus accent and a velvety, mossy base that smells like the inside of a cool, damp forest.  The bitterness of the herbs, citrus, and moss is softened by a pinch of sandalwood, but this is not your average thick, sweet Middle-Eastern attar.

 

Al Andalus is not overly complex or rich, but its refreshing herbal qualities make it an excellent choice in hot summer months.  It is basically the attar equivalent of a bar of Irish Spring.

 

 

 

Alhambra (Arcana)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description:  Recline in the shadow of the Alhambra with this Moorish blend of pomegranate juice, fresh Spanish rosemary, aged patchouli and golden beeswax.  Made with skin-soothing coconut milk, safflower petals and tussah silk. The Court of the Lions beckons.

 

 

The opening to Alhambra is a mash-up of my least favorite notes in perfumery and is therefore difficult for me to write about with much objectivity.  An onion-sweat clove joins with a rosemary note so camphoraceously bitter that it smells like straight eucalyptus oil.  The result is simply unholy – a stinking miasma of sharp, urinous notes of headache-inducing proportions and volume.  There is a metallic blood-like nuance flitting in and out that adds to the misery, creating an overall impression of unclean air clinging to the clothes of someone suffering from a chronic illness.

 

I cannot imagine anyone wanting to have this on their skin, but, of course, taste is subjective.  Alhambra dries down to a grungy red musk and patchouli combo that, while still sour and marginally unpleasant, does tug us back into more familiar territory.

 

Needless to say, nothing in this bears any relation to pomegranate, either real or imagined.  Pomegranate in perfumery is always interpreted through synthetics, which invariably smell like cherries filtered through industrial soap.  But Alhambra does not even have the grace to smell like cherries or soap.  This perfume is a personal Armageddon, so it is possible that others might have a more positive experience.  In which case, forgive me and ignore this review.  

 

 

 

Al Mas (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

Photo by Jyoti Singh on Unsplash

 

Al Mas has a uniquely calm, sweet demeanor.  It successfully balances two very distinct accords – one, a saffron-rose-sandalwood accord that smells like an exotic floral custard, the other, a bitter but refreshing mélange of fern-like herbs, oud, rosemary, and citrus.  In a way, therefore, Al Mas is a playful mash-up between rose jam and a fougère.  I remember the late, great Conor McTeague calling Mon Guerlain a ‘taffy fougère’ for its fun combination of a masculine lavender with sweet, candied notes borrowed from feminine perfumery: the same definition might apply to Al Mas.  Taking the best from both genres, Al Mas knits everything together into a scent that smells exotic in the most approachable way possible.

 

Al Mas bears some similarity to Asrar in that they both revolve around saffron, but in replacing the gummy orange blossom with roses and sandalwood, it improves on the model.  The attar opens on a toasted, dusty-sweet saffron accord dotted with rose petals, spice, and nuggets of golden, salted caramel, i.e., the ambergris.  It suggests that this might be a gourmand spin on the traditional rosy attar smell.

 

Almost immediately, however, the taffy-like saffron-rose combination is counterpointed by a remarkably dank oud note and a clutch of damp herbs, greenery, and forest leaves.  The oud smells very natural here, and if it is not genuine oud oil, then it is a stunning reconstruction of its inky, leathery aroma, with zero trace of the tanning chemical sharpness that dogs other oud compositions.  The sandalwood is dry but creamy and textured with spiky rosemary.  Together, these notes form a dark, fragrant base suggestive of dark green velvet spread under yellow gold.

 

Medicinal, sweet, sour, creamy, and dusty – every nuance in Al Mas has been carefully positioned to counter-balance the other.  In sense of range, radiance, and balance, I am tempted to say that Al Mas could be Jubilation XXV in attar form.

 

 

 

Al Souqh (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Al Souqh opens on a rich, medicinal haze of oud, a sort of terpenic woodiness that instantly lifts the mood.  But almost immediately a very odd accord moves in – and it is quite unpleasantly animalic, like the dirty, rotting smell of a j-cloth left to rot in a damp sink, or metallic dust gathered at the back of a disused radiator.  The smell is that of staleness, or inert air.  It is also intensely spicy, suggesting the cloying antiseptic dirtiness of clove or carnation when overdosed in a blend.

 

This accord dissipates mercifully quickly, clearing the way for an astringent black tea note that is astonishingly true to life – rich, smoky, and salubrious.  Its dark, dry tenor is shot through with sparks of fiery hot spices and smoke, licking around the oud like flames around a stone in an open grate.  Out of the smoke, a shape slowly emerges, revealing itself to be a rose.  Not a fresh, sweet rose, but an austere flower with dried-out petals and a potpourri-ish surround sound system of cinnamon bark, black pepper, tea, and cloves.  Fans of red-hot spice orientals such as the original Comme des Garcons EDP, Comme des Garcons White, Diptyque’s Eau Lente, and, to a certain extent, Costes, will appreciate this stage of the attar.

 

A sweet rose-honey accord blooms around the dry spices, and the smoke recedes into the background just enough to allow the dried berry nuances of the Cambodi-style oud to emerge.  An amber rich in plummy, dried fruit and incense notes brings up the rear, with very pleasant echoes of amber stalwarts such as the legendary Amber Absolute by Tom Ford.  A rocky start, therefore, but one that rewards patience.  

 

 

 

The Antikythera Mechanism (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Bronze gears spin inside a polished wooden case, and an entire universe dances within. Teakwood, oak, black vanilla, and tobacco.

 

 

The Antikythera Mechanism is one of those instances where my nose refuses to acknowledge the official notes list and insists that, based on experience, it is smelling something else entirely.  To my rebellious nose, this is earthy patchouli with the same cocoa-brown dustiness of Serge Lutens’ Borneo 1834 or Parfumerie Generale’s Coze.  But nobody else seems to perceive it as such.

 

There is a pinch of tobacco leaf underneath the dusty, dark-chocolate patchouli accord, but it registers as a fleeting soapiness rather than as something more distinct.  That dark, earthy chocolate patchouli – if that is indeed what it is – is gorgeous.  Rich in a myriad of facets that reveal themselves slowly, it turns on a dime from bitter coffee grounds to nuts, booze, wood, and camphor.

 

It is not edible or gourmand in any way.  Neither is it particularly ambery or balsamic.  But it does run in the same track as Borneo 1834 and Coze, so fans of those scents may want to sample this.  To me, and possibly no-one else, the Antikythera Mechanism is a dusty patch with intent.

 

 

 

Arcana (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: The essence of magickal [sic] enigmas and long-forgotten esoteric mysteries. Frankincense, rosemary, lavender, neroli, and verbena.

 

 

Pungent, oily lavender in all its aromatic glory.  If you don’t enjoy lavender, quietly skip this one.  The green-blue sharpness of the opening calls to mind the blue skies of Provence, an image further underscored by a strong rosemary note.

 

Despite the headlining frankincense, this is a fresh herbal scent, rather than an ambery or resinous one.  Only the lemony, fresh pine aspects of frankincense have been emphasized so that it forms a logical bridge with the bright herbs and aromatics.  Arcana is a good stab at that elusive ‘fern’ flavor, but its medicinal undertone limits its appeal to hardcore fans of aromatic fougères.  For everyone else, the relentless brightness could prove a bit of a chore.

 

 

 

Arcanum (Alkemia)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: An enigmatic yet compelling blend of seductive eastern spices, aged patchouli, and sandalwood. Frankincense, nag champa, and dragons blood deepen the mystery.

 

 

Arcanum is a balsamic amber that runs close in feel to Opium by Yves Saint Laurent, with a spicy, soapy sandalwood note recalling incense, prayer beads, and dried cloves.  Some will interpret these accords as potpourri-ish, but those enamored of the earthy spice of Opium will rejoice.  The dried fruit element is nicely lightened with a cool, minty patch, making me think of Boney M and men in brown corduroy jeans.  It dries down to nag champa with a chaser of that sweet, soapy sandalwood that Alkemia likes to use.

 

Arcanum evokes vague, Western notions of the East, sure, but infuses it with a self-consciously retro, seventies vibe that is totally groovy.  Flower children of the world, unite and buy stock in this wonderful little thing.

 

 

 

Ar Ruqya (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

 

Less of a mukhallat, really, than an unguent to ward off jinn (evil spirit), Ar Ruqya is an all-natural blend of raw materials celebrated for their cleansing or spiritual properties in India.  It opens with the spicy floral-medicinal ointment feel common to most traditional Indian attars, which is likely a function of the combination of spikenard, saffron, rose, costus, and musk.

 

The attar evolves along a cleanly musky trajectory, with a lime green sharpness in its upper registers that seems like it might scour a wound if directly applied to skin.  Overall, this is a blend that belies its long list of ingredients by coming off as pleasantly simple and straightforward.  It is quite traditionally Indian in character in that it smells medicinal and ayurvedic rather than perfumey in the traditional sense.

 

 

 

Autumn Fire (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

The opening to Autumn Fire is arresting – a clump of wet roots mashed up with stinging camphor and poisonously bitter green leaves, all mulched gently over freshly-cut pine logs.  It is a richly evocative smell, recalling an impenetrable thicket of thorns and saplings.

 

The Malaysian oud used here must be one of those steamy jungle ouds, because although it brings the high-pitched woody tenor of oud to the mix, all barnyard funk is left firmly at the front door.  It is slightly somber in tone, with none of the berry-studded caramel notes of other styles of ouds.  There is even a cool, watery mint note threading in and out of the fug, further pointing to a steamy rainforest island provenance.

 

Nag champa notes bring a hint of gummy, unlit incense sweetness to the camphoraceous body, but in general, the smoke notes are minimal.  This is principally a Zen, easy-going foresty mukhallat with sweet, earthy and green undertones.  A velvety musk envelops the composition, preparing a pleasantly soft landing for the foresty notes.  A trace of sweet, smoky labdanum – although none is listed – appears to weave in and out of the musk.  This is really the only stage when the smoke notes are assertive to the point of being noticeable.

 

In brief, despite the heavy-hitting materials listed for this attar, Autumn Fire is ultimately a light, subtle, and outdoorsy little thing.  I recommend it to people who love the smell of the great outdoors, especially that of the forest and the ambered, sweet smoke of a far-off campfire.

 

 

 

Bazaar (La Via del Profumo/ Abdes Salaam Attar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Remember the Soda Streams sold in the eighties?  I recall the excitement in our household when we finally got one, and specifically, the smell of the soft drink concentrate that came with it, a sort of proto-Fanta and proto-Coca Cola.  The idea was to ‘revive’ the concentrate in the Soda Stream with the addition of carbonated water.  Well, Bazaar revolves around a note that smells exactly like the Coca Cola concentrate that came with these machines.  Dark, syrupy, spicy with cinnamon, and a little plasticky, it brings me right back (in a good way).

 

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your level of fondness for Coca Cola), Bazaar then begins to pick up on the sweatier aspects of the spices, particularly the clove.  There is also some cumin or fenugreek in here somewhere.  It becomes heavy and sticky, almost to the point of being ‘too too’.  If Bazaar starts off smelling like Coca Cola concentrate, then it ends up firmly in the souk originally promised by the name.

 

Truth be told, there is something a little hackneyed and even cheap-smelling about the spice-and-dried-fruit ‘orientalism’ on display here.  You wear this and think, yes, that smells like a souk, so ten out of ten for authenticity, but also, hmmm, haven’t I smelled that exact thing in one of those cheap little perfume oil shops in Cairo or Mumbai?  (Answer: yes, you have.)

 

Although Bazaar’s more syrupy spice elements are deftly placed on top of smoky resins and labdanum for contrasting ballast, the result still smells like a clumsy soup of souk + chocolatey Darbar attar + headshop amber cubes + sweat.  Or maybe it is just me, bitter that the Soda Stream cola note was whipped away from me far too soon.

 

 

 

Bloodlust (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: A fiery Martial blend that embodies primal rage, lust for conquest, and all-encompassing desire. Dragon’s blood essence, heavy red musk, Indonesian patchouli and swarthy vetiver with a drop of cinnamon.

 

 

Almost exactly as described in the company description, Bloodlust is a heavy blend of camphoraceous patchouli, vetiver, and ‘red’ musk.  At first, it smells like the damp, brown earth of a humid tropical island.  Unsweet and with a claggy, clay-like dankness, it actually makes sense as a hot weather scent in the same way as mitti does.  In fact, any earthy soil-like scent has the same cooling properties.  There is also a thread of metal or iodine, which, combined with the clay, smells like iron-rich blood.

 

In the drydown, the rooty wetness of vetiver swells to fill the air pockets of the scent, bringing with it the whiff of stagnant vase water and salt marsh.  It smells quite like ruh khus, the cooling vetiver distillation used by Indians in summer.  Bloodlust is a distinctive and useful little blend that matches its rather (unusually for BPAL) straightforward description. 

 

 

 

Bohemian Spice (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

Photo by Hanna Balan on Unsplash

 

Although identifiably the same scent, the perfume oil and eau de parfum versions of Bohemian Spice differ significantly enough to be noteworthy.  Part of this has to do with the nature of the oil carrier itself.  As with Le Labo oils, the carrier oil tends to flatten the edges of citric or aromatic notes, delaying their unfurling until further along the compositional timeline.  The experience ends up being roughly similar, in other words, but the various stages ‘hit’ the nose at different times.

 

However, it is also fair to say that part of the difference between the oil and eau de parfum versions is due to tweaks to the formula made by the perfumer herself, in order to create a slightly different outcome.  The April Aromatics perfume oils were designed to be worn in situations where a more subtle scent is appropriate, such as in the office or at yoga.  In general, the oil versions of the AA scents are ditties based on the bigger, deeper songs of the eau de parfum versions; they are simpler, shorter in trajectory, and more compact.  They are also much quieter than their eau de parfum brethren.

 

Now onto Bohemian Spice.  The oil version of Bohemian Spice is a Café del Mar version of the classics in the background while you work, whereas the eau de parfum version is sitting through seven hours of Wagner.  The original eau de parfum is a juicy pomander orange studded with shards of black pepper, rolled in the earthy, almost chocolatey darkness of patchouli and vetiver.  Its genius lies in its balance of light and dark.

 

Wearing the original side by side with the perfume oil, I notice a lot of dry, smoky labdanum in the eau de parfum that is neither listed nor noted in most reviews. (It doesn’t show up at all in the perfume oil).  Its effect in the eau de parfum is marvelous, merging with the frankincense to form a hulking amber-incense backdrop that reminds me of Amber Absolute and Sahara Noir, both by Tom Ford.  Most find Calling All Angels to closely resemble Sahara Noir, but with its sour orange and resinous frankincense-amber duet, Bohemian Spice is arguably the closer match.

 

Bohemian Spice is a touchstone of natural perfumery for me, because even though it doesn’t contain any synthetic musks or woody ambers, it manages to be rich, complex, and long-lasting.  If you’re a Doubting Thomas on the whole natural, crunchy-granola perfumery scene, then roll the dice on a sample of Bohemian Spice.  Smelling Bohemian Spice as an introduction to the all-natural scene is like reluctantly trudging along to a vegan dinner at a friend’s house and finding yourself completely satisfied (not to mention quasi-converted) by the end of the meal.

 

The perfume oil version is chewy and satisfying, albeit in a slightly different way to the eau de parfum.  First – and this is unusual for a citrus note in oil format – the bitter orange pomander notes ring out even more clearly than in the eau de parfum, where they are quickly crowded by the earthy patchouli and vetiver.   The patchouli in the oil is subtler and its chocolate note a creamy white rather than an earthy dark. The limpid milkiness of the patchouli note in the oil seems to allow the orange and spices to flare more brightly and insistently than in the eau de parfum.

 

The second key difference is in the nature of the incensey-ambery support that threads through both formats.  In the eau de parfum, as discussed, a dusty labdanum and benzoin blend works with the sooty frankincense note to produce that austere, church-resin feel common to both Amber Absolute and Sahara Noir (Tom Ford).  In the perfume oil, on the other hand, the amber-incense accord smells light and almost sparkly, like tiny nuggets of resins fizzing on the surface of pink champagne.

 

Whereas the original smells dark and thickly embroidered, with a deep, rich baritone voice that seems to come from large, rocky chunks of resin, the oil format compresses everything into a surface layer of glittering resin that’s been pulverized into mica.  Both versions are incredibly satisfying but choose the striking eau de parfum if you want to make an impression, and the oil if you want a private audience with the scent.       

 

 

 

Bonfires at Dusk (Arcana)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Woodsmoke, sweet beeswax, Oregon lavender, sandalwood, charred juniper, and the scent of swiftly appearing stars.

 

 

Pungent, slightly smoky lavender and juniper form the herbal backbone to the perfume, while beeswax and sandalwood makes things pleasantly soapy, sweet, and musky in the drydown.  I heartily recommend Bonfires at Dusk for forest hikes, where it seems to meld with one’s own body temperature and skin musk to form a glowing ‘salt of the earth’ aura that radiates for days (or until you wash it off).

 

 

 

The Bow & Crown of Conquest (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Nobility and haughtiness befitting the Antichrist: sage, carnation and cedar with lavender, vanilla, white musk and leather.

 

 

Now this is a beautiful perfume.  It features none of the loud, booming honey, musks, or resins that typically herald a BPAL perfume.  Instead, this is a soft, buff-colored cream of pencil cedar, vanilla, and touches of mint, sage, lavender, and anise, whipped up into a pillowy cloud of white musks.  Less Antichrist, more angel, if you ask me.

 

A base of brushed grey suede gives the creamy, aromatic woods and herbs something to rest against.  In the far drydown, a dusty carnation blows a puff of hot spice through the suede, lending the scent some retro-femme appeal.

 

Parallels to Snowshoe Pass and White Fox by Solstice Scents could be drawn, with perhaps hints of Guardian (for the sage), but I find The Bow & Crown Conquest to be even better.  It is a uniquely restful blend from BPAL, and one that I would recommend to anyone looking for Zen in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

 

 

 

Boy (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Initially, things do not look good for this Chanel dupe.  It opens with a metallic grapefruit note that seems to go on forever, a feature absent from the original.  However, once the pungent citrus notes die back a little, the dupe settles into a decent facsimile of Chanel Boy, especially in the mid-section, where the familiar aromatic eddy of lavender, heliotrope, and sandalwood begins to move.

 

For a while, the dupe smells relatively similar to that of the original, although the fougère accord in the dupe possesses a Germolene note not present in the original, bringing it closer – strictly speaking – to the Narciso Rodriguez white cube perfume territory than to Boy.

 

However, by hour two, the lack of substance and quality in the base of the dupe becomes evident.  The original has an almondy sandalwood and tonka bean drydown that feels like falling into a bed piled high with thick cashmere blankets.  The dupe peters out into an altogether thinner, more synthetic sandalwood basenote.

 

Chanel invests in its materials.  In dupes of any Chanel fragrance, therefore, there will inevitably be a shortfall in quality, texture, and, well, the Chanel magic stardust that seems to be sprinkled over everything they produce.  These are the things that are hard to replicate.  This shortfall is particularly obvious in the fresher perfumes in the Chanel line-up, such as Boy.  Therefore, the dupe, while a fairly good impression, will never be an adequate replacement for the real thing.

 

 

 

Bushido (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: mukhallat

 

Photo by Jaspreet Kalsi on Unsplash

 

Bushido is an attar made exclusively for The World in Scents, a Princeton-based purveyor of fine attars and pure oud oils. Its name translates to ‘the way of the Samurai. The idea for this attar came from the ancient Japanese practice among royalty, Samurai warriors, and the nobility of scenting their kimonos, robes, and sword sheaths with a blend of tsubaki, an oil made from camellia flower petals, and choji, clove oil.

 

Sometimes powdered jinko, the Japanese word for aloeswood (agarwood), was also added to enrich the oil, but this would have been the preserve of only the wealthiest members of society, meaning the royal family of Japan. The use of agarwood is historically important in Japan, and dates to the 6th century AD, when fragments of fragrant agarwood were combined with aromatic herbs and woods to perform Kōboku, the act of perfuming one’s robes for religious and stately purposes. Important warriors also used it before battle, and it was an important commodity on the Silk Road.

 

Today, one can still see traces of the ancient ‘way of the Samurai in the making of Japanese incense. Oud oil is not particularly prized or used in Japan, but the densely-resinated wood from whence oud oil is extracted –agarwood – remains a crucial component of the Japanese incense tradition. The old traditions of tsubaki and choji have also left their mark – delicate floral notes and spicy clove-cinnamon flavorings are still very much part of the character of Japanese incense. Famous incense sticks such as Shoyeido’s Southern Wind (Nan-kun), for example, feature a combination of powdered jinko, usually from Cambodia, mixed with clove, star anise, sandalwood, camphor, and spikenard, the Himalayan herb also known as jatamansi (fresh, spicy, with a fatty animal undertone and lavender-like facets).

 

What Rising Phoenix Perfumery does with Bushido Attar is to trace the roots of tsubaki and choji oils back to its source, and using materials available currently, re-build the attar from scratch. When we smell Bushido Attar, therefore, we are smelling something that is as close as can be to the original oil these Samurai warriors would have massaged into their sword sheaths and the royals would have dabbed onto their ceremonial robes.

 

Bushido is constructed largely through the compounding of several distillates and extractions, most notably a trio of wild jinko (agarwood) oils (a Hindi, a Cambodi, and a Malaysian), a 1980s Mysore sandalwood oil, and a rare vintage star anise oil which dates to 1906. The star anise extract has both the clove and licorice tones common to Japanese incense. 

 

The attar opens on the skin with a blaze of oud and spice so thickly knotted that it is difficult to parse out the pieces. Like flies trapped in amber, Bushido’s three oud oils float weightlessly in a bubble of molasses or chestnut honey. The oud assault at the start is animalic and leathery, hot with smoke and fruit, but not in the least raw, thanks to the smoothing out properties of that molten molasses accord. The texture is smooth, unctuous even, with the stifling density of hot tar.

 

The opening salvo of leathery oud and thick black honey is followed by a subtle arrangement of notes that begins to separate and float free of the oud – licorice, anise, clove, camphor, and allspice. The vintage allspice extract comes out distinctively as clove at first, with a rounded, almost cocoa-ish spiciness that completely avoids the more unpleasantly metallic aspects of modern clove notes. The spicy exoticism of the note is subtle, defining the overall feel of the attar as firmly Japanese in orientation rather than Indian or Middle Eastern.

 

As time goes on, the structure of the attar opens a little, the leathery thrust of the ouds dimming to allow more of the spices to come out, and revealing a rich, salty buttery Mysore sandalwood in the base. The slide from fiery-hot to buttery-sweet reminds me slightly of one of my favorite perfumes, the magnificent Eau Lente by Diptyque. Tania Sanchez says in her review of Eau Lente in The Guide that it is the equivalent of “those hypnotic colored lights that slide from pink to cyan without anyone noticing”, which is a perfect way of describing the transitions in Bushido Attar too. The ambergris in this attar slices through the heft of the sandalwood with a salty, mineral sparkle, giving it air. The ambergris lingers long past the finale, leaving a trace of something musty, sweet, and saliva-ish on the skin.

 

Bushido is a must-try for anyone who loves the Japanese traditions of Kōdō. If you’re unfamiliar with the characteristic Japanese combination of agarwood, clove, spikenard, star anise, and sometimes immortelle, then perhaps approach this attar with caution. It is not immediately familiar to the Western palate, which means it might not be immediately likeable. But if you like carnation, clove, or even if you rather like fragrances like Diptyque’s Kimonanthe or Eau Lente, then give Bushido a try.

 

 

 

Chimera (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: The fiery, volatile scent of cinnamon, thickened by myrrh, honeysuckle, and copal.

 

 

Chimera smells like a Red Hot in the best way imaginable.  For the best part of the first hour, it is truly a cinnamon-aflore, with little else but the fiery cinnamon on show.  Later on, it begins to smell like buttery toast or pain perdu with a heavy sprinkling of cinnamon sugar.  It is a delicious, almost edible scent.

 

Tl;dr: must love cinnamon.  But even if you’re naturally wary of cinnamon, it is worth knowing that the note has been handled so that none of its usual pungency or bitter woodiness seeps into the blend.  Rather, it has been coddled and massaged with a creamy amber accord and a hint of something sweetly floral until all the nose perceives is a perfectly smooth, round spiciness with just the right amount of heat.  .

 

 

 

Coromandel (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Ah, but Chanels are difficult to dupe.  No matter how many times you run a fragrance like Coromandel through a gas spectrometer, you cannot make pearls out of a swine’s ear.  Access to superior grades of sandalwood, iris, jasmine, and patchouli means that any attempt to dupe a Chanel will inevitably lack that indefinable touch of class that only Chanel can bestow.

 

The shortfalls of the dupe are immediately clear. Whereas the original bursts onto the skin in a skein of glittering aldehydes, oranges, soft white chocolate, Irish whisky, and jasmine, all the dupe can rise to is a ruby grapefruit note over watered-down patchouli.

 

Crucially, the dupe does not smell like melted white chocolate, cashmere, or any of the rich, comforting things that makes the original such a hygge fragrance experience.  In the original, it is the chemistry between the powdery benzoin, golden amber, and earthy (but smooth) patch that creates the famous white chocolate accord.  The dupe tries to rally but its reedy raw materials are inadequate to the task, and the whole affair just limps along.

 

This dupe fails on just about every level, but with Coromandel, it is the textural component that matters the most, and here the dupe cannot compete.  Save your soul and buy a bottle of the original (the eau de toilette, if you can find it, for preference) because this dupe is about as satisfying as licking a stamp when you are starving. 

 

 

 

Cotton Mather (Sixteen92)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Blackened patchouli, woodland mosses, sweet herbs, dried helichrysum, woodsmoke, lamplight, ink, ash and flame

 

 

Cotton Mather shares something of the acrid leather-patchouli DNA of several other Sixteen92 blends, especially Baba Yaga and Salem, but winds up in a far quieter place than either.  It smells like a cross between the sourness of linen folded away while still damp and the hairspray-ish chemical high of paper drying processes in a printing press, all underscored by a shadowy, mossy patchouli.  It is at once less atmospheric and more subtle than either Baba Yaga or Salem, and thus, perhaps, more wearable. 

 

The scent dries down to a fine-grained, mossy powder, like handfuls of burnt hay and grasses blitzed to a brown dust.  Immortelle usually brings a Mach 5 level of maple sugar intensity to a composition, but Cotton Mather is dry rather than syrupy or overblown.  Indeed, I see this as a lighter indie oil equivalent to something like Comme des Garcons’ Patchouli Luxe, a similarly ashy immortelle-patchouli combination.  Nice work.

 

 

 

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 euros 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 all the samples reviewed in this chapter, apart from the samples from April Aromatics, Rising Phoenix Perfumery, and Sultan Pasha Attars, which were gifted to me by those brands for Attar Guide review purposes.

 

Cover Image: Photo by Marion Botella on Unsplash 

 

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! 

 

 

All Natural Ambrette Aromatic Attars & CPOs Herbal Mukhallats Patchouli Saffron Spice The Attar Guide Vetiver

The Attar Guide: Earth, Herbs, Spice & Aromatics

7th October 2022

 

 

Traditional Indian attars (especially the complex attars) and Middle-Eastern mukhallat perfumery draw on a vast array of aromatics, herbs, earthy notes, and spices that give the finished perfumes that special ‘flavor’ that renders the final result exotic to the Western nose.  Although not distilled as single-source attars, these aromatics provide a boost of complexity, depth, and piquancy to the attar that complements the primary distilled material or materials.

 

For traditional Indian attar perfumery, attar wallahs tend to prefer the broad range of aromatics, herbs, and spices available to them in Mother India.  Prime among these aromatics is spikenard, otherwise known as Himalayan nard or jatamansi.  Native to the mountainous regions of Northern India, as well as other regions, spikenard is a truly ancient herb, said to have been the aromatic herb used by Mary to anoint Jesus before the Last Supper.  It was also widely used in Ancient Egypt as a healing unguent, and later, by the Mughal Empress Nur Jehan as an anti-aging treatment for her face.  Scent-wise, spikenard is both pungent and sweet, like lavender with a trace of animal fat clinging around the edges.  It lends a rooty, medicinal-herbal facet to attars.

 

Charila lichen: Photo by Pranjal Kapoor, who kindly granted his permission to use it here

 

Charila is grey-green lichen that grows in Nepal and the mountainous regions of Northern India. Possessed of a bitter, inky aroma profile, it is somewhat analogous to European and Balkan oakmoss.  It is used to give attars a dark, green-mossy character.  Mitti and ruh khus (described here) are the scents of baked earth and vetiver roots respectively; they take their rightful place beside the other earthy aromatics in this chapter.

 

Patchouli is a member of the mint family, and native to India (as well as other semi- or fully tropical hot countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Madagascar).  Deriving from the Tamil word for green, patchai, patchouli has been distilled and used in ayurvedic medicine and attar perfumery for over five thousand years.  Its earthy, camphoraceous greenness is prized for its moth-repelling properties as well as for its anxiety-reducing qualities.  For distillation purposes, only the small, green leaves of the plant are selected for loading into the deg.  Patchouli has a calming, almost sedative effect on the senses, and is used in attar perfumery to give an earthy, grounded character to the attar.

 

 

Saffron distillation: Photo by Pranjal Kapoor, who kindly granted his permission to use it here

 

Although saffron is not native to India, there is significant production of the spice in Kashmir, the northernmost state of India.  Indeed, Kashmir forms part of the saffron belt that stretches between Spain and Iran.  Kashmiri saffron is pungent and sweet, with facets of hay, iodine, ink, leather, and honey central to its character.  In attar perfumery, it is often used to give the traditional ambery attars a characteristic spicy, vegetal warmth and leathery undertone.  However, saffron is equally prized in Middle-Eastern mukhallat perfumery, where it is often used to give the blend a rich leather, suede, or even oudy character. 

 

Henna, or hina, is steam-distilled from the flowers of the henna plant, the so-called Lawsonia inermis.  Although more commonly used throughout Asia for body art and pre-marriage rituals, henna is also used in traditional Indian attar perfumery.  The essential oil is earthy and sweet, with a dry, tannic edge that recalls black tea leaves.  Henna lends a spicy, earthy tinge to complex co-distilled attars and ambery attars, but it is also enjoyed in its pure form, as gul hina (attar of henna flower).

 

Ambrette seed comes from the musk mallow plant (Abelmoschus moschatus) native to India.  When steam-distilled, the odor of the ambrette oil is sweet, anisic, with hints of green apple or pear, cumin or bread, and hard alcohol, like grappa or cognac.  But its principal aroma constituent is its muskiness.  Ambrette gives the attar a velvety roundness that might otherwise only be achieved with animal musk. For this reason, it is a very valuable material in attar perfumery.  Musk attars in India are traditionally made with ambrette seed oil rather than deer musk, as ambrette is easier and less expensive to obtain. 

 

Cypriol essential oil after distillation: Photo by Pranjal Kapoor, who kindly granted his permission to use it here

 

Cypriol, or nagamortha, is a type of papyrus that grows wild in the Madhya Pradesh region of India.  Its rhizomes are used to make a deeply fragrant oil that acts both as a fixative in complex attars and as a key aromatizing ingredient in and of itself.  Its scent is woody, smoky, dark, and slightly dirty, with elements common to vetiver, patchouli, and cedarwood.  Cypriol’s main contribution to attar (and indeed Western) perfumery is that it can stand in quite creditably for oud, whose smoky woodiness it resembles.  Cypriol oil is also used extensively in Middle-Eastern mukhallat perfumery.

 

Choyas, on the other hand, are uniquely Indian.  They are used in traditional Indian attar perfumery, especially in the more complex attar types.  A choya, named for the special earthenware pot in which it is cooked, is a type of distillation method separate to hydro or steam distillation, known as destructive distillation[i].  It is used for a couple of very hard materials, like seashells (choya nakh), frankincense (choya loban), or tree bark (choya ral).  The hard materials are placed inside the choya, which is then cooked over a direct fire until droplets of pure essence collect on the interior walls of the choya.  These droplets are carefully scraped off the walls of the choya and later added into distilled attars.

 

Choyas are extremely concentrated aromatics and must be dosed carefully so as not to overwhelm more delicate aromas present in the attar.  Choya nakh can add a saline, mineral tang to an attar and can sometimes come across as leathery, a feature illustrated extremely well in the all-natural perfume Tango by Mandy Aftel.  Choya loban adds a pine-like, fresh or citrusy freshness to an attar, capturing as it does the higher register of notes present in olibanum rather than the waxier, more resinous aspects.

 

Distilled from the small white flowers of the evergreen Bakula tree native to Western India, bakul or bakula oil is not much known in Western perfumery, but much loved in India for its sweet, persistent floral smell.  The Latin name for the tree is Mimusops elengi, which suggests that people might have originally thought it was related to mimosa or acacia.  In India, people like to collect the small blossoms when they fall from the tree, because they retain their scent even when dried.  The flowers are popular for their fresh aromatic smell and often used in wedding garlands (the tree is also sometimes called the Garland Tree).

 

Stephen Arctander, author of Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin, as cited by Chris McMahon of White Lotus Aromatics in his article on Bakula, describes bakula essential oil as a ‘pale yellow, mobile liquid of very delicate, sweet and extremely tenacious floral odor, somewhat reminiscent of orange flower and tuberose, or the more well-known stephanotisits florabunda (gardenia undertone).  A honey like, heavy-sweet undertone, is quite persistent, and this essential oil could, if it were made regularly available, certainly find uses as a modifier of countless floral fragrances.’[ii]  Although not commonly used outside of India, several artisan perfumers do use bakula in their perfumes, most notably Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Parfums, and Russian Adam of Areej Le Doré. 

 

Up next:  Reviews of everything aromatic, spicy, earthy, herbal, and soapy-fresh in attar, mukhallat or concentrated perfume oil form!

 

 

Cover Image:  Photo by Mohammad Amiri on Unsplash 

 

[i]https://theperfumemistress.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/attars-and-choyas/

[ii] https://www.whitelotusaromatics.com/newsletters/bakul (unfortunately not available online anymore)

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

4th October 2022

 

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

 

 

 

Beauty and the Beast

 

Photo by Maksym Sirman on Unsplash

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

  

 

 

Ambre de Coco

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Malik Al Motia

 

Photo by Bibi Pace on Unsplash

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Al Majmua

 

Photo by Frank Albrecht on Unsplash

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Mysore Incenza

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Le Mitti

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Gul Hina

 

Photo by Photos by Lanty on Unsplash

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Cover Image: Photo by Fahrul Azmi on Unsplash 

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The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (P-R)

13th December 2021

 

 

Prima T (Bruno Acampora)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Princess Jawaher Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rain (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rayaheen (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

 

 

Red Rose (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rêve Narcotique (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Bouquet (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Galata (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

 

 

Rose L’Orange (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Myosotis (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Oud (Mr. Perfume)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Oudh (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Roses (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Sahara (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Snow (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Taifi Supreme (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose TRO (Amouage)

Type: rose otto

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Royal Patchouli (Ajmal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Ruh al Mogra (Nemat)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

                      

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Ruh Gulab (Nemat)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Russian Centifolia (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: essential oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Note on monetization: My blog is not monetized.  But if you’d like to support my work or show appreciation for any of the content I put out, you can always buy me a coffee using the little buymeacoffee button.  Thank you! 

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

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Le Labo Iris 39: A Review (Sort of)

15th October 2021

 

I have yet to come across a review that captures what Le Labo Iris 39 smells like to me, so I’m going to take a run at it myself.  Despite the advertised violets and iris, Iris 39 doesn’t smell sunlit, or powdery, or even floral in the traditional sense.  To me, it smells utterly abstract, a nigh-on impenetrable wedge of industrial cement and toner ink mixed with mud-caked flower bulbs, fuzzed up at the edges with a carbolic soap (patchouli-musk) accord that wears on you like a rain-soaked wool sweater.

 

I’ve noticed that the earlier Le Labo perfumes – Patchouli 24, Oud 27, Santal 33, Iris 39 – all feature this interesting tension between something natural-smelling and something ‘pleasantly chemical’, i.e., the vaporous head-spin of industrial materials like hot glue, ink, magazine paper, or burning rubber.  Perhaps this is what makes these perfumes so distinctive.  Later Le Labo output (The Noir 29, Tonka 25, Another 13) shoot for the same complexity but lean too hard on harsh woody ambers, Ambroxan, etc., thereby landing on the ‘bad chemical’ mat rather than the ‘good chemical’ one.  You know what I mean, right? A good chemical smell to me is the honest honk of fresh newspaper ink or spilled petrol or the school supply closet.  A million miles away from those powerful woody ambers like Amber Extreme or Norlimbanol that are (over) used in perfumery these days to make a scent enormously radiant or long-lasting.

 

So there you have it. Part of Iris 39 that makes me feel like a hippy who’s spent the afternoon planting out tubers in a wet garden, while the other makes me feel like I’m getting a semi-high from hanging around the office printer while they’re changing the cartridges.  Mostly, though, I think it’s just one of those thick, murky ‘soups’ of a perfume that are vaguely resistant to analysis, like Mitsouko (Guerlain) or Kintsugi (Masque Milano) – perfumes that are simultaneously harsh and organic.  Wearing Iris 39 gives me a physical jolt akin to being so hungry for the first bite of something that, even before it’s fully tasted, your mouth waters so suddenly it’s almost painful. 

 

Source of sample: Various samples, decants, and finally a full bottle, all of which I purchased myself.

 

Image:    Photo by Darklabs India on Unsplash  

 

    

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

Anamcara by Parfums Dusita

6th October 2021

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

Aromatic Balsamic Chypre Fruity Chypre Incense Leather Patchouli Resins Review Suede Woods

Kintsugi by Masque Milano

13th October 2020

Kintsugi by Masque Milano smells the way those mysterious salted fruits and chutneys in an Asian restaurant taste – perfumey, bitter, and dark in a way that sucks all the moisture out of your mouth while simultaneously flicking your salivary glands into action. Like in Mitsouko (Guerlain) and Iris 39 (Le Labo), two perfumes that this reminds me of in idea if not execution, the secret to Kintsugi’s successful navigation of that narrow line between repulsion and attraction lies in its lack of legibility.

Kintsugi has been billed as a modern chypre, and refreshingly, that is exactly what it is. Chypres are like a good Chinese meal, balancing a complex range of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty flavors against each other to produce a very satisfying (but completely abstract) sense of completeness. The result is strange and exotic, imprinting on the imagination in a way soliflores and straight-up ambers cannot. This is all present and correct in Kintsugi, so no need to quibble about which material has been chosen to stand in for the moss. The effect is there.

As all good chypres do,  Kintsugi revolves around a complex set of juxtapositions. It is cigarette-ashy but also bread-doughy, syrup-sweet but also vermouth-dry, and as vegetal as parsnips but also as perfumey as your mother’s best going-out perfume. Adding to the drama is a shiny, neon-lit fruit note flashing against the desiccated patchouli hulking malevolently in the background.

But like with many Le Labos, and especially Iris 39, what really sets this thing on fire is the pairing of things that smell natural – polished woods, incense, earth, rose petal potpourri – with things that smell industrial, like latex paint, printer chemicals, calligraphy ink, and linseed oil.

Kintsugi is the perfume equivalent of those duochrome eyeshadows that appear bottle green straight on but peacock blue when you turn your head. Sometimes it exactly smells like the grand, tassels-bedecked kind of thing you imagine Oscar Wilde drenching his velvet curtains with, and sometimes like your old school stationary cupboard with a bunch of kids getting high on solvents.

It dries down quickly to the pungent but virile smell of the horse ring, the air thick with saddle leather, sawdust, and the warm muskiness specific to a freshly-exercised horse. I suppose you could also call it cedar but that doesn’t capture even two percent of the total mood that Kintsugi has going on here.   

Kintsugi is a love-hate kind of thing, for sure. I hated it when I first smelled it, and then I loved it. And I might hate it the next time I smell it, who knows? People used to the taste of fermented things – natto, kimchi, tea – will cleave as easily to this perfume as they might to oud oil or osmanthus absolute, sharing with this perfume as they do that unique dichotomy of (leathery) dryness and (fruity-cheesey) funkiness.

Based on the resounding silence that greeted this perfume when it launched in 2019, it is fair to say that Kintsugi’s appeal is not immediate. And I get it. Forget about Kintsugi being people-pleasing – it is barely even me-pleasing. But for all its oddness, I find Kintsugi exciting, like a strange flavor of wine or cough syrup or gummy bear that only exists in Japan, and therefore utterly foreign to me.

Source of sample: Purchased from Swedish retailer, Fragrance & Art, in November 2019. A friend of mine kindly sent me another sample of it a couple of days ago, jogging my memory and prompting this review.

Cover Image: Photo by Tokyo Luv on Unsplash