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The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (T-Y)

17th December 2021

 

 

 

 

Tahani (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Tawaf (La Via del Profumo/ Abdes Salaam Attar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Tayyiba (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

 

 

Tudor Rose (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Tyrian Purple (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Ubar (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Un Bello (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

 

 

Une Vie En Rose (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Vetiver Blanc (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Violet Forever (Agarscents Bazaar)   

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Violets Blond (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Dupe for: Tom Ford Violet Blonde

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Violette Noyée (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Walimah Attar (Areej Le Doré)         

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

White Lotus (Anglesey Organics)

Type: essential oil (doubtful)

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Yasminale #1 (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

Source of samples: I purchased samples from Amouage, Anglesey Organics, Perfume Parlour, Agarscents Bazaar, Abdes Salaam Attar, Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics, and Mellifluence. The samples from Sultan Pasha and Areej Le Doré were sent to me free of charge by the brand.  Samples from Henry Jacques were sent to me by Basenotes friends in sample passes. 

 

 

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

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

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

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (S)

15th December 2021

 

 

 

Saat Safa (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Safari Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Sajaro (Imperial) (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

 

 

Sandali Gulab (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Shabab (Gulab Singh Johrimal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Shafali (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Sharara (Gulab Singh Johrimal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

 

 

She Belongs There (Olivine Atelier)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Sikina (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Silver Carnations (Possets)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Sohan d’Iris (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Sundus (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

Source of samples: I purchased samples from Amouage, Al Rehab, Maison Anthony Marmin, Abdes Salaam Attar, Possets, Mellifluence, Olivine Atelier, and Agarscents Bazaar. The samples from Sultan Pasha and Abdul Samad al Qurashi were sent to me free of charge either by the brand or a distributor.  Samples Gulab Singh Johrimal were sent to me by Basenotes friends in sample passes.  

 

 

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

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

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

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (P-R)

13th December 2021

 

 

Prima T (Bruno Acampora)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Princess Jawaher Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rain (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rayaheen (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

 

 

Red Rose (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rêve Narcotique (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Bouquet (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Galata (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

 

 

Rose L’Orange (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Myosotis (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Oud (Mr. Perfume)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Oudh (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Roses (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Sahara (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Snow (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose Taifi Supreme (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rose TRO (Amouage)

Type: rose otto

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Royal Patchouli (Ajmal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Ruh al Mogra (Nemat)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

                      

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Ruh Gulab (Nemat)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Russian Centifolia (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: essential oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

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

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (M-O)

10th December 2021

 

 

Magnus Fiore (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Magnus Fiore, which means Great Flower in mangled Latin-cum-Italian, does indeed smell big and flowery.  Specifically, it smells like a bunch of sugary rose petals, white florals, osmanthus, incense, and amber all thrown into a pot, shaken up, and tossed out onto a plate of greenish, musky woods.  It is incredibly pretty, if a little gormless.

 

 

 

Makkah Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Makkah Blend is a tired floral bouquet sitting atop a fat cushion of musk.  It leans slightly feminine, because of the floral aspects, but its expanse of brisk, clean musk means that there is no reason why a man couldn’t also pull it off.  

 

The opening is probably the best bit.  The lime-green bergamot used here has not been pushed over the edge into extreme bitterness, as in the case of Amouage Salamah, or too close to the scent of household cleaners, as is the case in Majid Iterij’s otherwise lovely and haunting Al Safa.   Rather, the citrus note here is bright but smooth, its sharpness tempered by the soapy musk that lies beneath. 

 

The famous ASAQ wildflower essence – a fantasy accord that sweeps an entire shelf’s worth of peony, lilac, and poppy synths off the perfumer’s organ and into a bucket of white musk – is what dominates past the citrusy opening.  The blurred-floral effect is pleasant but also a bit like chomping down on a chintzy duvet.  It might suit people who prefer floral perfumes to smell only vaguely, abstractly floral rather than like actual flowers.

 

Though I have seen notes indicating that there is deer musk in this, the musk element is so inoffensive that one can only assume that the deer was neutered, shaved, and laundered on the hot cycle before having his sac scraped.  All in all, Makkah Blend is a pleasant but rather dull option for those who wear quiet, floral-musky fragrances.

 

Since this kind of generic, flowery nonsense is already spamming shelves from the big city Sephora to the small town department stores, I cannot say that Makkah Blend’s oil format is innovation enough to merit the extra outlay.  A surprisingly big portion of the catalogs of these big Emirati and Indian oil companies are taken up with this type of dross, so there is obviously a market for it.  But for those interested in authentically exotic mukhallat or attar perfumery, save your money for something better.

 

 

 

Maleficent Rose (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Maleficent Rose is a riff on the classic ‘rose with thorns’ theme in perfumery (see also: Eau de Protection by État Libre d’Orange and Fille de Berlin by Serge Lutens).  Its high-stepping, varnishy pitch and wet green leaf nuances evoke the naturalistic aroma of a rose picked from an English garden after a downpour.  It is pleasingly bitter and stemmy, the verdant smell of tomato stem hissing like a balloon.

 

Despite the traditional English feel to the scent, however, this is more likely to be a Taifi rose than an old-fashioned cabbage rose, due to those shiny lemon polish notes.  The skill here lies in subverting the exoticism we expect from a Taif rose, taming it into the sort of domesticity that even our mothers would recognize. 

 

The maleficent part of the title is therefore a bit misleading.  The only evil aspect of this mukhallat is the thorniness of the rose, which threatens to cut you if you get too close – but even this is due to the plain, kitchen garden goodness of either geranium or tomato leaf rather than, say, something like belladonna.  Maleficent Rose is a simple but beautiful Taifi soliflore with the citrus notes turned down and the green, wet leaf nuances turned up.  More an English garden after a summer rainfall than the dusty plains of Saudi Arabia, but none the worse for that.   

 

 

 

Malice (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: A profound, complex scent that encapsulates the joy one finds in another’s pain. Ylang ylang, clove, Indonesian red patchouli, and dark myrrh.

 

 

In its drydown, Malice smells very much like a cousin of Bloodlust, a similarly earthy blend also focused on patchouli.  But where Bloodlust hones the metallic sharpness of the clay and earth accords with vetiver, further underscoring its silty darkness, Malice moves in a more spicy-floral direction.  With a rubbery ylang ylang and red hot clove, Malice is unashamedly headshoppy (encapsulating everything BPAL is suspected of).  If you prefer something more grassy-earthy, lean towards Bloodlust.  But if you happen to like the combined smells of a New Age stall at a HexFest, then Malice may be your happy place.

 

 

 

Mellifera (Sixteen92)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

 

Company description:  Wildflower honey accord (not vegan), violet, sambac jasmine, vanilla infused sugar, sandalwood   

 

 

Mellifera is the polar opposite of Tituba, the other popular honey scent in the Sixteen92 line-up.  Whereas Tituba is a waxy, thick honey-amber, Mellifera is a light floral honey as clear as spring water.  Mellifera is for fans of a true, linear honey note – simple, uncluttered, and admirably direct.  It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than pretty.

 

The scent’s floral touches are abstract watercolor versions of flowers rather than thick, oily explosions of color and density – they lend a faintly green, powdery texture, ensuring that it remains sparkling and buoyant.  For something this delicate, however, Mellifera is remarkably durable, outlasting even a shower.  I would recommend Mellifera to someone looking for a lightly floral honey note that is not weighed down by the usual accoutrements of beeswax, tobacco, spice, or amber.

 

 

 

Memoir Woman (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Amouage’s Memoir Woman is a complex, stuffed-to-the-gills fragrance staggering under the weight of incense, leather, bitter wormwood, woods, white flowers, and purple stewed fruit, like Poison with even more attitude.  It smells messy to me, like drunken encounters and bad behavior.   But it is distinctive – a scent with tons of character and a flair for drama.

 

It is a difficult scent to dupe due to the crazy number of materials and notes that have been shoehorned into it.  Right out of the gate, the dupe shoots for the bitter wormwood effect that makes Memoir so witchy, but misses entirely, belly-flopping into a screechy Windex accord.  It smells cheap and tatty, an effect not improved by its sordid miasma of bubblegum and cigarette ash.  (Well, ok, that last bit is similar to the original).

 

Once both the original and the dupe have hit the leathery incense phase of their development, we are in safer waters, and the two scents begin to converge.  Resinous, woody basenotes are easier, generally speaking, to dupe than complex white florals or distinctive (non-replaceable) green herbal notes.  Side by side, the original still displays far more complexity than the dupe, with the tricky balance between plums, jasmine, tuberose, and dark leather still being worked out in the ashes long after the dupe has breathed its last breath.

 

Still, if you don’t mind having a cheaper, dumbed-down version of Memoir Woman or don’t feel that the original is worth the splurge, then this dupe might do the trick.  Especially if your need to smell like a drunken, fag-ash-stained harlot is as strictly occasional as mine.

 

 

 

Mercy Lewis (Sixteen92)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Heliotrope, honeyed tea, rosehips, sugared almond, creamy sandalwood, milky vanilla

 

Mercy Lewis is a wodge of the softest almond sponge cake you can imagine – the kind that is six layers deep and sandwiched with vanilla buttercream so sugary it makes your teeth hurt just to look at it.  But for something this foodie, it is also remarkably light and gauzy in feel, as if it has been double-sifted to introduce air into the composition.  Heliotrope, which has a naturally fresh fluffiness that aerates its doughier, marzipan-like core, has clearly been roped in here to do its thang.  The scent does eventually develop a salty cherry playdough facet, but for the most part, any potentially leaden bits are whisked into the ether by a flurry of powdered white tea.

 

Mercy Lewis makes me wonder about its namesake inspiration.  Was the real Mercy Lewis innocent and sweet in an unworldly way?  Because this scent is a childish pleasure writ large – a nursery pudding rendered in scent form.

 

The Internet tells me that the real Mercy Lewis was one of the girls who accused women of being witches during the Salem trials, possibly in revenge for her husband having allegedly sold goods to the Native American tribes who had slaughtered her parents.  Interesting backstory, although it doesn’t explain why a scent named for her would smell like almond cake.  Perhaps the scent represents a desire to return to a simpler, more innocent time, before her accusations shot out of her mouth, as impossible to take back as bullets from a gun.   

 

 

 

Merveilleuse (Henry Jacques)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Merveilleuse reminds me of the depraved thrill of walking in a sunny garden and suddenly catching a whiff of dead animal in the undergrowth.  At its heart lies the bloated, fly-ridden corpse of a Turkish rose, obscured by a retro house coat of coriander.  Merveilleuse possess the same animal snarl of the mossy honey-and-civet-laden rose chypres of the disco era – Montana, L’Arte di Gucci (Gucci), Diva (Ungaro), and Knowing (Estée Lauder).  The animal taint is filthy in parts, occupying as it does the same beeswax-adiposal fat register as Rose de Nuit (Serge Lutens). However, the lush floral velvet saves it from staleness.  Merveilleuse was my introduction to Henry Jacques, and one I am unlikely to forget. Most aptly named! 

 

 

 

Misia (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

A luscious violet and iris fragrance, Chanel Misia tips its hat at the nostalgic lipstick accords popular in contemporary perfumery but does so with a gravitas that elevates it above its peers.   The secret lies in the use of the Chanel iris, a material whose steely grandeur is evident even in a composition as ostensibly playful as this.

 

The dupe does not have the advantage of the Chanel iris, so packs the scent with sweet, gummy violets and an iris material that is more candied citrus than orris butter.  It smells very pleasant – creamy, floral, and pastel sweet.

 

However, the violet note, being candied and powdery, gives the dupe oil an overtly girlish air entirely absent in the original.  The overall impression one gets from the dupe is of a small girl eating candied violets in a room full of icing sugar and French fancies.  Very nice, if that is your thing, but it lacks entirely the rooty iris dimension that gives the OG Misia its class.  On the other hand, the more youthful air of the dupe might suit those who are under thirty.

 

 

 

More Than the Stars (Olivine Atelier)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

More Than the Stars opens with an almost pungent topnote that runs perilously close to the slap in the face that is almond extract or nail polish remover.  Thankfully, this topnote immediately softens, creaming up with the heliotropic waft of almond cookies pulled fresh from the oven, their centers molten and fudgily bitter.

 

An undercurrent of powdery white flowers mitigates all the potential damage of the almond topnotes, an indolic lily edging out gardenia for prominence.  The lily also adds an element of beachy saltiness that is very welcome against the tide of intense, sticky almond.  Think heated female skin kissed by the sun and the sea, and aromatized by an egg-rich, artisanal tonka bean gelato.

 

The perfume moves from edible to floral, from sweet to salty-meaty, and from dense to airy, in a series of minute movements that shows real thought.  The closest equivalents in niche perfumery are probably Heliotrope (Etro) and Kiss Me Intense (Parfums de Nicolai).  But More Than Stars pulls slightly ahead of the pack by nudging its almond gourmandise in a salty-floral direction for a result that is elegantly abstract rather than literally foody.   

 

 

 

Mughal Gardens (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Mughal Gardens is essentially a heavy deer musk attar trying hard to be an ambery-balsamic-spicy floral.  It has slight floral flourishes up top – most noticeably orange blossom and rose – but the addition of some cheerfully filthy hay-like narcissus doesn’t really help with the gentrification effort.

 

The musk is at first greenish and almost antiseptically clean, with a harsh edge that reminds me of cleaning solvents.  But as time goes on, it becomes softer, drier, and almost powdery.  When joined by the agarwood note in the base, the musk evolves into a sooty woodsmoke note that adds a pleasing toughness to the body of the scent.  It doesn’t smell like real oud but rather a smoky stand-in, like cypriol oil.  The honk of the musk is quite shouty, which makes me suspect that a synthetic helper has been blended in to lift the volume of whatever, if any, natural musk has been used.

 

Mughal Gardens is complex and rich, but most emphatically not sweet, thus making it an excellent candidate for men who want to branch out into florals but, like, in a totally masculine way, dude.  In other words, it is not too flowery and there is zero vanilla in the base.  The glancing touch of amber that does appear in the drydown is dry and spicy in the austere Indian style, an impression helped along by a generous dollop of mean-ass saffron.  The overall tone here is tough, unsentimental, and straight forward.  A cowboy’s idea of a musky, manly floral, Mughal Gardens is quite likeable, and not badly priced either. 

 

 

 

Mukhallat (Gulab Singh Johrimal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Ironically, although plainly advertizing itself as a mukhallat, Mukhallat actually smells quite strongly of a traditional Indian attar.  This makes perfect sense to me, since Gulab Singh Johrimal is an Indian attar house.  At first, Mukhallat smells rather sharp and gassy, like the hiss of a newly-opened can of furniture polish varnish.  But once the alarming miasma of cleaning solvents dissipates, there appears a classically Indian attar bone structure of rose, saffron, and jasmine over amorphously creamy woods.

 

Because it is an Indian take on an Arabian style of perfumery, there are a few interesting things going here that make sampling Mukhallat worthwhile.  For example, while Mukhallat inevitably smells a little cheap and loud, like those blocky barkhour oils and syrupy rose mukhallats that plague the lower echelons of most big attar houses, its Indian heritage means that the blend emphasizes the sour, herbal tones of the florals rather than the heavier, sweeter, more resinous ones of the Arabian style.

 

In the base, a big-breasted amber takes over, meshing awkwardly with the strong florals to produce a soapy floriental that is pleasant but not at all subtle.  If you are in the market for an ambery rosy mukhallat whose only requirement is to smell exotic at twenty paces, then Mukhallat is not a bad option.  But there is no escaping the fact that it smells a little rough around the edges.

 

 

 

Mukhallat Maliki (Ajmal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Discontinued and now very hard to find, Mukhallat Maliki is still worth buying if you find it because it is a good example of those ‘everything-but-the-kitchen-sink’ rose-oud mukhallats that are great fun to wear.  While there is nothing particularly distinguished about the materials in and of themselves, they come together as a rich, brilliant whole that transcends the individual.

 

A syrupy pink rose, layers of smoky woods, a touch of spicy saffron, labdanum, something vaguely oud-ish – nothing very much out of the ordinary, and yet the result is gorgeous.   If most mukhallats are costume jewelry masquerading as fine jewelry, then Mukhallat Maliki is the Bvlgari showstopper you would gladly take over a subtle but tiny diamond. 

 

 

 

Mukhallat Seufi (Al Haramain)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Mukhallat Seufi is a distinctly middle-of-the-road mukhallat with a top-of-the-line price tag.  There is a fantastic rose for the first hour, tinged somewhat with that lemony floor cleaner note that all good rose oils seem to possess.  During that first hour, it smells beautiful, if a little traditional, with that tried and tested rose-and-saffron pairing that features so heavily in Middle-Eastern perfumery.

 

But quickly, the attar deflates like a popped balloon at a kid’s party, whittling down to a sad little base of fruity amber familiar to me from other Al Haramain attars such as Attar al Kaaba.  But what is acceptable in an inexpensive mukhallat like Attar al Kaaba is plain annoying in something for which you’re paying over $200.  I know this base, I like it reasonably well.  I am just not ok with paying Gucci prices for Zara quality.

 

As per usual, the astringency of saffron is there to misdirect your nose to oud, but it is not all that convincing.  Mukhallat Seufi has neither the interesting, sour-rotting smell of real oud, nor the high-strung, band-aid slap of the Firmenich stuff.

 

The base, which also arrives woefully quickly, is a standard laundry musk, meaning that, within a matter of two hours, you are plunged from the heights of that initial rose drama to a screechy, rose-tinted musk.  The gorgeous rose is a cruel tease, because underneath its brief cameo, the rest of the perfume is already getting ready to fall apart.  Forget the complex notes list – this is a simple affair.  It barely raises its head above ‘nice’.

 

Given that Mukhallat Seufi smells like two-thirds of the Al Haramain bestseller Attar al Kaaba but costs twenty times more, it is a good example of why, in the world of oil-based perfumery, the customer must be careful about where they invest their hard-earned money.  

 

For the price commanded by Mukhallat Seufi, I would be tempted to take Attar al Kaaba, fix the less-than-transcendental rose at the top with an expensive pure rose otto, and still have enough money in my pocket to buy a bottle of Narciso Rodriguez Musc for Her, which features the same sort of rosy, ambery white musk you get here in the end.

 

 

 

Musk Rose Attar (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Musk Rose Attar, a finalist in the 2016 Art & Olfaction Awards, does not contain any animal musk but instead focuses on recreating the aroma of the musk rose (rosa moschatus), a species of rose that is very rarely distilled.  Unusually, the perfumer chose a Russian rose de mai otto to be the main building block to recreate the aroma of the musk rose.  The essential oil from this rose varietal possesses a tart, green aroma with a frothy texture that makes one think of lace doilies and Victorian cuffs.

 

There are three distinct phases to this mukhallat, with the first two playing out over the course of three to four hours, and the last phase lasting for a good three hours past that.  The opening is bright, sharp, and tannic.  Paired with a touch of oud in the topnotes, the rose rings out in a high-pitched volley of rosy lime peel notes over wood varnish and black tea leaves.  The duet is fantastic – fresh but pungent.

 

The second phase focuses on champaca.  After the first half hour, the champaca flower starts to make its presence known.  Often, champaca can smell like a muskier, headier version of magnolia, but in Musk Rose Attar, it takes on a boozy, fruity edge reminiscent of fermented apple peel or apricot schnapps.

 

Slowly, the champaca seems to swell, becoming both sweeter and creamier, filing down the sharp elbows left by the angular rose-oud pairing.  There are moments when, true to champaca being the origin of the word ‘shampoo’, the note smells more like a luxurious apple-and-rose scented shampoo than a flower.  Still, the boozy, jammy, fermented nuances in the champaca gives the mukhallat an adult edge that stops it from smelling like a cheap drugstore product.  The floral element is clean, but also sensual and full-bodied.  In fact, this is the best use of champaca I have smelled in mukhallat form.

 

The third and final phase seems to go on forever, carrying the torch long after the bright rose-lime notes and the creamy-fruity champaca notes have died away.  The rump of the scent smells, well, incredibly rump-ish.  Like the old school style of neo-retro Italian perfumery espoused by Bogue and O’Driu, it features an authentically musky drydown that seems to reference ambergris, deer musk, civet, and castoreum, a remarkable feat when one considers that none of these materials have actually been used here.

 

How, then, has this extraordinary muskiness been achieved?  In fact, it all comes from plant-based sources, specifically by way of a Hina musk attar, the traditional Indian shamama distilled from hundreds of different aromatic materials, including charila (Indian oakmoss), henna flower, ambrette seed, herbs, vetiver root, saffron, davana, and kewra (screwpine flower).  Attar makers rarely have the time or economic motivation to make shamama in the old manner anymore, and they definitely do not have the sandalwood oil.  A genuine, traditionally-made hina musk attar costs in the region of several thousand dollars per kilo, even within India itself, where prices for attars tend to be at their least inflated.  

 

The last element – kewra – is otherwise known as pandan, that sweet, green leaf that gives such a sweet, piercing floral flavor to all sorts of South East Asian dishes and syrups.  To my nose, apart from the vegetal, musky thickness contributed by the shamama, the most prominent note in the drydown of Musk Rose Attar is the pandan, which, when combined with the rose, gives a very traditional Indian flavor to the finish.  

 

 

 

Nargis (Yam International)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

A pure Nargis attar involves the distillation of a specific species of daffodil, namely, poet’s narcissus, directly into sandalwood oil.  Given the cost of pure narcissus oil, not to mention the cost of pure sandalwood oil, it is unlikely that any naturals were harmed here.  However, Yam International’s Nargis manages a competent impression of the essential character of narcissus, i.e., an uneasy truce between the oily, pollen-dusted greenery of hyacinth and the indolic hay of Sambac jasmine.

 

But Nargis also exposes a little-known facet of the narcissus, namely, a tendency to smell like horse urine soaking into warm hay.  It is this aspect of narcissus that, like jasmine, adds an attractively equine undertone to otherwise pristine floral blends.  Nargis effectively allows us to experience this facet in isolation.

 

This oil would make a good baseline for anyone interested in exploring narcissus as a note.  Its aroma is strong, heady, and presents you with a stark choice – to either run with the bulls or wash it off immediately.  In Victorian times, narcissus oil was accused of causing sexual hysteria amongst women (though, in all fairness, this says far more about the poor understanding among Victorian men of the female response to physical pain, societal oppression, or other trauma than it does about an oil blamelessly squeezed out of a daffodil).   

 

Nargis could be useful as a sneaky way to dirty up jasmine perfumes that lack bite or have been denuded of civet through reformulation, like Ubar by Amouage.  I imagine that a swipe of Nargis layered under a modern jasmine perfume, such as Serge Lutens’ Sarrasins, might also be heaven.  (Or hell, of course, depending on your tolerance for the rude, vivid smells of the horse yard).

 

 

 

Naseem al Janoob (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Naseem al Janoob is a soapy fruity floral filled out with powdery musks and coated in a bleachy overlay that is vaguely unpleasant, yet still not unpleasant enough to save it from blandness.  A bubblegum-like sweetness hints at the presence of some jasmine and orange blossom, but the Toilet Duck muguet note overrides even this.  Fans of Byredo’s Blanche might like it.

 

 

 

Nefertiti (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: The Beautiful One Is Come? Egyptian iris and olibanum with red and white sandalwood, soft myrrh and a breath of North African herbs

 

 

A perfumer friend once explained to me that iris in perfumery can smell like any number of things depending on what iris material was used – violets, lipstick, raw potatoes, silver, and so on.  The iris note in Nefertiti is wet, green, and possessed of a luridly sweet ‘purple’ facet that makes me think immediately of violets.

 

It is quite a beautiful note – simple but emotionally pure.   After a few minutes a minty anise shows up to underscore its sweet herbaciousness.  There is a rugged hay-like earthiness to the scent that reminds me of the rural landscapes conjured by James Heeley in both Iris de Nuit and Cuir Pleine Fleur, the first of which revolves around a very violety iris, and the second an earthy but refined mixture of hay, tobacco, and violet leaf.

 

Not one iota of the listed sandalwood or frankincense registers, although perhaps they are there somewhere, shoring up that green, dewy centerpiece.  Myrrh is faintly noticeable, but it is the saline ‘stoniness’ of the essential oil rather than the sweet, honeyed guise it can sometimes take.  The most important thing the myrrh does is to strengthen the minty-anisic feel of the herbs flanking the iris.  Nefertiti is both beautiful and accomplished.  Well worth trying if you like iris and want an offbeat take on it.

 

 

 

Noir de Noir (Mr. Perfume)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Smelled on its own, the dupe is an excellent facsimile of the original Tom Ford Noir de Noir.  Worn side by side, the differences emerge quite clearly.  However, people who do not own a decant or sample of the original, or those who don’t want to compare too closely, will be more than happy with this, as it does a great job of aping the basic structure of Noir de Noir.

 

It is interesting to wear the dupe side by side with the original, because they develop at different paces, sometimes hitting the same notes together, other times reaching different stages long after the other.  For example, although the dupe and Noir de Noir (original) do not smell at all similar at the start, the dupe settles into a very good impression of the original by the third hour and stays there for the duration.

 

As stated, the openings are nothing alike.  While the original is full of overripe fruit, velvety roses, earthy chocolate, and a rich vein of metallic saffron that sluices everything in a rousing vegetal spice, the dupe is much less rich, charting a relatively simple course through rose and patchouli.

 

The mouthwatering textures of the original (chocolate, iron, truffles, velvet, blood, lokhoum) are missing from the dupe, and to be honest, this was one of the side-by-side tests where my initial conclusion was that there is nothing in the world that comes close to Noir de Noir in its moody, heartbreaking grandeur.

 

But let’s not shortchange the dupe.  It is only hours later, when Noir de Noir has slumped into a powdery, cocoa-ish vanilla, that the dupe hits its stride.  First, a streak of saffron emerges – less golden and vegetal than the original, but authentically rubbery and spicy, nonetheless.  Then the entire central accord of Turkish rose, patchouli, truffles, saffron, and earth, coalescing into something that smells very, very similar to the main act of Noir de Noir.

 

Another difference is that the dupe doesn’t feature any of the vanilla found in the original.  Rather, the dupe settles into its earthy saffron track and stays there, never evolving past that point.  This may make it more attractive to men who detest vanilla in any form, although I personally never find the original to be too sweet or creamy. (Heavy, yes.  But never too sugary sweet).  

 

Overall, how to evaluate this dupe?  I was ready to score it harshly due to its sheer inability to come close to the dramatic, pitch perfect opening of the original.  However, in the end, since it settles into a very good approximation of Noir de Noir, minus the luxurious vanilla in the tailbone, I have to give credit where credit is due.  Longevity and projection are both good, although not on par with the original.

 

 

 

Nymphea (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Nymphea is supposedly based on the very rare (and expensive) blue lotus, an essential oil revered in India for its bright, sweet tropical aroma.  However, in this mukhallat the delicate nuances of the blue lotus are swamped almost immediately by a woody Thai oud boasting a not insignificant amount of barnyardy funk.

 

There are stale, dusty nuances to the oud note, a sign of hasty distillation, but oddly this works in the scent’s favor, leavening the unrelenting thickness of that wall of oudy funk.  Eventually, small floral touches peek shyly out from behind the oud, with hints of mango and other juicy tropical fruits also making an appearance.

 

In general, though, this is a mukhallat dominated by that creaking radiator of an oud. In the far drydown, once a few hours have passed, there is a reprise of sorts in the form of a beautifully warm, salty ambergris note that will delight anyone keen on the seashell delicacy of this raw material.  The grade of ambergris used here appears to be white ambergris.  It smells like fresh air, old paper, and clean animal warmth.

 

 

 

Nobara-Cha (Aroma M)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Nobara-Cha is a twist on the traditional Arabian attar formula of dusty sandalwood + roses + amber + saffron.  It starts off woody-dusty in the manner of Swiss Arabian’s Mukhallat Malaki, i.e., redolent of Turkish roses withering and dying in the drawers of old wooden cabinets.

 

Midway through, however, geranium and carnation pop out from beneath the skirts of the rosy saffron-amber attar structure like clowns tumbling out of a tiny car.  The geranium has a minty piquancy that draws saliva to the mouth and expands the airways, a touch of clove threading the cool leafiness with a hot vein of spice.  Framed against a backdrop of aromatic sandalwood, the spice-geranium tandem is oily and bitter, rather than metallic as clove is wont to.

 

What I really like about Nobara-Cha is that this spicy clove-geranium accord flits in and out of view over the course of a wear, in a sort of ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ dance that holds the attention of the wearer.  This prismatic sheen is a difficult feat for any oil-based perfume.  The perfume introduces itself as a take on the traditional rose-sandalwood attar model and then, once we have all settled in for the ride, it suddenly whips back the curtain to reveal a retro carnation floral heart à la Bellodgia.  Quite possibly my favorite from the Aroma M stable.

 

 

 

Ocean of Flowers (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Ocean of Flowers is a light-hearted blend of rose, tuberose, and jasmine, given a Hedione lift in the heart for additional radiance.  There is nothing heavy or animalic here, just a sparkling diamond of a scent with all the flowers scrubbed clean and stripped of indole.  There is a salty blast of fresh marine air from the ambergris, but the overall effect is not aquatic – just quietly uplifting, slightly green.

 

Later, the emphasis shifts from sky to earth, with patchouli and a slightly vegetal tuberose coming to the fore.  This one is for fans of fresh, salty floral scents such as Amyris Pour Femme (Maison Francis Kurkdijan), Chypre 21 (James Heeley), and Eau de Joy (Patou).

 

 

 

Olivine (Olivine Atelier)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

The namesake fragrance of the Olivine range features the note for which the brand is most famous – gardenia.  Let me warn you, however, that Olivine’s opening showcases all the aspects of white florals that the white floral-averse usually find challenging, namely the rubbery, fuel-like twang of tuberose and the decaying tinned-fruit-and-moldy-cheese honk of gardenia.

 

It is a mark of naturalness that all the confrontational bits of these flowers have been left in their raw state and not ‘prettied up’.  For those who love the fertile smell of tropical white florals in bloom, the opening will simply smell authentic.  For others, it may be a bit of a trial.

 

But bear with it and your patience will be rewarded by one of the truest gardenia notes in modern perfumery – milky, slightly nutty, and with the soft bleu cheese notes that distinguish gardenia from other tropical flowers.  The drydown is thick with a salted butter note that is also a line on this flower’s calling card.  The saline creaminess quickly tamps down the metallic, fruity screech of the topnotes, so that one may proceed now without fear.  It is pure comfort from here on out.

 

Heady and natural, this is a gardenia to gladden the heart of anyone frustrated with the lack of real-smelling gardenia accords in modern perfumery.  Wait for the pungency of the tuberose-gardenia tandem at the start to subside before judging.  The gardenia in the drydown is so good that it may convert even those who profess to hate gardenia.

 

 

 

Ood Rose (Gulab Singh Johrimal)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

If Shabab is a dark rose, then Ood Rose is its inverse – a solar-powered rose as effervescent as Julie Andrews bouncing over that hill in The Sound of Music.  There’s the same clean, iodine-like bitterness of saffron as seen in Shabab, creating the same agarwood effect, but in Ood Rose, the spice is softened by a cocktail rim of sugar and brightened by a rose that reads as neon pink rather than winey.  A certain furniture polish shininess makes wearing Ood Rose feel like walking into a white room, flood-lit from all sides.

 

Overall, Ood Rose is well done, and worth pursuing if you like cleaner, brighter treatments of rose.  Oud haters need not worry, as there is really no oud here, only a vegetal saffron whose antiseptic woodiness does a semi-decent job of mimicking it.

 

 

 

Orange Blossom & Bois d’Agar (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Despite the mention of oud in the name (bois d’Agar translates to agarwood), this mukhallat focuses almost entirely on the orange blossom, with a side serving of woodsy, smoky vanilla.  In other words, an orange creamsicle.  Not exactly what I signed up for, but you won’t hear me complaining.

 

The treatment of orange blossom in mukhallat perfumery can go one of several different ways.  It can present as syrupy and pungent, its honeyed properties allowed to run rampant, or as soft and sugary, the equivalent of a pastel-colored afternoon fancy.  On occasion, it can be fiercely indolic, with an almost fecal facet.  For Orange Blossom & Bois d’Agar, the perfumer has decided to take things in the sugared Jordan almond direction.

 

Orange Blossom & Bois d’Agar opens, therefore, with a surge of candied orange blossom petals, delicately glazed in powdered sugar and enrobed in a thick, fluffy blanket of whipped nougat crème.  Picture the purest white marshmallow fluff sprinkled with orange blossom water and whipped to a delightfully foamy texture.  The opening is innocent and sweet to the point of being babyish.

 

This accord dries out somewhat over the course of the wear, evolving into a smoky, woody vanilla with a boozy sparkle.  This phase will please fans of By Kilian’s Love (Don’t be Shy) and Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille.  It is important to note that, despite the presence of the marshmallowy orange blossom, the vanilla note is quite dry and papery, not drowning in excess sugar.

 

The drydown contains no oud that I can detect, but rather a woody musk note that adds a gravelly tone to the base.  This fails to give the perfume much gravitas, but then again, gravitas in an orange creamsicle scent is entirely beside the point.

 

 

 

Jo Malone Orris & Sandalwood (Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Dupes of Jo Malone perfumes are generally successful because they are aping perfume compositions that are themselves quite simplistic and based on the use of (usually) two key materials.  If that sounds dismissive of Jo Malone perfumes, then my apologies, that is not my intent – I genuinely enjoy some of these simpler compositions, because they are as clear as a bell, legible even to beginner noses.

 

Orris & Sandalwood is one of the better Jo Malone releases in recent years.  It grafts a rooty, suede-like iris over a sweet synthetic sandalwood base that has a sultry, ambery character.  The dupe is almost identical, missing only the cold, vodka-like purity of the orris note up top.  This is possibly due to the blurring properties of the oil medium, which become evident only when applied to more ephemeral floral notes such as orris.  The oil format emphasizes the sweet breadiness of the iris, whereas the alcohol in the original allows its clear grappa sparkle to shine through.  This is splitting hairs, however, because the orris note is carefully and oh so prettily rendered in both.

 

The drydown of the original Orris & Sandalwood is a syrupy sandalwood accord vibrating with the synthetic boom of modern woody ambers and some sandalwood replacers.  Some might even call it a bit, well, scratchy.  In comparison, the drydown of the dupe lacks this synthetic wood basenote and heads instead for a vaguely milky, vanillic underpinning.  The base of the dupe lacks distinction but represents a clear improvement over the original in terms of naturalness (or lack of brutish synthetics).

 

Neither the original nor the dupe are terribly strong fragrances.  They whisper rather than shout.  The original is slightly less ephemeral than the dupe.  Based on aroma and price, the dupe is a winner.

 

 

 

Oud Jaune Huile de Parfum (Fragrance du Bois)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

I genuinely do not understand the existence of this perfume.  With its combination of tiaré, ylang, and pineapple, it smells so close to Yves Rocher Monoï Oil or, heaven forefend, Amarige, that you begin to wonder if it is just impossible for any perfumer, no matter how skilled, to throw these particular materials together and have them not land in the same place.

 

If you are into those King Kong-sized fruit punch florals, and have the money to indulge yourself, then Oud Jaune Huile de Parfum might turn out to be your personal idea of heaven.  For the rest of us, a similar effect is almost guaranteed via the ten-times-cheaper Yves Rocher, or failing that, any European tanning oil.  If you insist on niche, believing it to be intrinsically superior to mainstream stuff, then something like Armani Privée Rouge Malachite or one of the Tom Ford Soleil de something or other should scratch the same itch. 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Source of samples: I purchased samples from Amouage, Universal Perfumes & Cosmetics, Mr. Perfume, Agarscents Bazaar, Olivine Atelier, Aroma M, BPAL, Yam International, Al Haramain, Ajmal, Sixteen92, and Mellifluence. The samples from Sultan Pasha, the Rising Phoenix Perfumery, and Abdul Samad al Qurashi were sent to me free of charge either by the brand or a distributor.  My sample of Oud Jaune Intense came from Luckyscent as part of a paid copywriting job. Samples from Henry Jacques and Gulab Singh Johrimal were sent to me by Basenotes friends in sample passes.  

 

 

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

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

 

 

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

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (J-L)

8th December 2021

 

 

 

Jakarta (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo Gardenia (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo Tuberose (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Jardin de Shalimar (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Jareth (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Jasmina (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Jasmine (Amouage)

Type: traditional distilled attar

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Jasmin T (Bruno Acampora)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Junos (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Juriah (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: Mukhallat

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Karnal Flower for Women (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

Dupe for: Parfums Editions de Frederic Malle Carnal Flower

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Kinmokusei (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Lady Portraits for Women (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

La Luna (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Lamia (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

La Peregrina (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Lavana (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Lissome (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

lostinflowers (Strangelove NYC)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

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

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (E-I)

6th December 2021

 

 

 

Eidyya (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Elle (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Ensar Rose (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

L’Éphémère (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: Mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Eshe A Vision of Life in Death (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Feral Rose (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Fire of Roses (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Full (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Geisha Blue (Aroma M)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

 

 

Ghaliyah Pursat (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Ghuroob Murakkaz (Ghroob) (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Gigi (Olivine Atelier)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Hajar (Al Haramain)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Hana-Cha (Aroma M)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Hellebore (Sixteen92)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

L’Heure d’Or  (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: Mukhallat

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Hind (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Homage (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Ilang Ilan (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Indian Rose (Yam International)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

 

 

Iris 39 (Le Labo)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Irisoir (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

Iris Regale (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Istanbuli Rose in White Musk (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

‘Itr Al Ward (Al Shareef Oudh)

Type: traditional distilled attar

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Iwan (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

Attars & CPOs Floral Green Floral Mukhallats Orange Blossom Osmanthus Review Rose Sandalwood Spicy Floral The Attar Guide Tuberose Violet White Floral Ylang ylang

The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (0-A)

1st December 2021

 

 

007 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

008 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

009 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

013 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Absolute Jasmine (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Absolute Orris (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Absolute Osmanthus (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

 

 

Absolute Rose (Clive Christian)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Akaber (Majid Muzaffar Iterji)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

 

 

Al’Ghaliyah (Kyara Zen)      

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Al Ghar Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Al Hareem Blanc (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Al Lail (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Al Maqam Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Al Sharquiah (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Type: essential oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Aroosah (Al Rehab)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Asala Murakkaz (Arabian Oud)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Ashjan (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

 

 

Asrar (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Atifa Blanche (Al Haramain)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Ayoon al Maha (Amouage)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

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

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

 

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

The Attar Guide: Flowers (A Primer)

29th November 2021

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

  

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Photo by chandra sekhar on Unsplash

 

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

 

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

 

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Photo by Coco Tafoya on Unsplash

 

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

 

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

 

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Photo by René Porter on Unsplash

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

  

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

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

Aromatic Citrus Cult of Raw Materials Floral Fougere Fruity Scents Green Floral Hay House Exploration Iris Lavender Neroli Orange Blossom Review Rose Tonka Tuberose White Floral

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

1st March 2021

 

Iris Perle

 

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

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

 

 

Fougère Émeraude

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rose de Jamal

 

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

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

 

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

 

Chypre Azural

 

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

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

 

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

Cover Image: Photo by Steven Lasry on Unsplash

 

 

Balsamic Citrus Coffee Collection Cult of Raw Materials Floral Fougere Green Floral Incense Independent Perfumery Iris Jasmine Lavender Leather Musk Oriental Osmanthus Oud Resins Review Rose Round-Ups Saffron Sandalwood Smoke Spice Spicy Floral Thoughts Violet White Floral Woods

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

28th September 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by DEZALB from Pixabay

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

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

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

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

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

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

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

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Pitsch from Pixabay

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

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

Image by HG-Fotografie from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover Image: Thanapat Pirmphol from Pixabay