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The New Generation Amouage Attars: Thoughts and Reviews

13th September 2022

 

 

Thoughts

 

Reception of the New Generation Amouage Attars has been mixed, the reasons for which are not exactly rocket science.  First, in order to explicitly associate these new perfumes with the OG attars that had garnered such praise for the brand prior to their discontinuation in 2015, Amouage called these perfumes ‘attars’.

 

Reader, the New Generation Amouage Attars are not attars.  But then, neither were the Old Generation Amouage Attars.  The word ‘attar’ refers to a specific (and specifically Indian) manner of production, i.e., the steam distillation of a fragrant material, like rose or vetiver roots, over a base of pure sandalwood oil.  These are not that.

 

Rather, these perfumes are ‘luxe’ concentrated perfume oils along the lines of Alexandria II (Xerjoff), Absolute Amber (Clive Christian), Cardamusc (Hermès), Parfum Fin (Nabucco), Patchouli (Jalaine), or any one of those Henry Jacques oils sold in Harrods.  Of course, there is prestige attached to the notion of an attar, so some of these are (erroneously) referred to as ‘attars’ in the marketing materials. 

 

Not to get too technical about it, but it is worth knowing that niche CPOs are not distilled (as in traditional Indian attars) or mixed (as in mukhallats) but instead made to a precise formula in a laboratory in one of Europe’s big oil factories, like Givaudan, IFF, or Symrise, by a perfumer working to a brief.   Just like any other perfume, in other words, only instead of being mixed with perfumer’s alcohol and sent off in pallets of 500 units to Sephora or Douglas, these particular formulas remain in oil format, are poured into dinky little bottles, and get sold at terrifyingly high prices as ‘attars’.

 

The OG Amouage ‘attars’, while not attars at all from a construction perspective, were still definitely authentic mukhallats rather than luxe CPOs.  They employed a distinctly Middle Eastern approach to perfumery in both manner of construction and artistic intent.  In terms of construction, the OG oils followed a Middle Eastern tradition of mixing (‘mukhallat’ meaning ‘mix’) already distilled attars with oud oil, musks, and resin oils.  In terms of artistic intent, the OG oils existed to draw the world’s attention to the glories of an Eastern tradition of perfume making and a wholly Eastern set of raw materials, from the silvery Omani frankincense and peppery Ta’ifi roses to lusty Sambac jasmine, Hindi oud, and Egyptian orange blossom.

 

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Amouage branded the OG oils as ‘attars’ and hard to blame them for doing it.  By the time of the original launch, the word ‘attar’ had already come to exemplify – for Westerners – the exoticism, whether real or imagined, of the East.  Amouage is an Omani brand with a proud tradition of mukhallat perfumery rather than a Kannauj distiller.  But Amouage, being a corporation, has a right to segment its market according to what is deemed to be profitable.  So ‘attar’ it was.

 

Sadly, the OG Amouage ‘attars’ were discontinued and are now largely unobtanium outside of the UAE or the secondary market.  But now we come to 2021 and Amouage, seeing the rising popularity of oil-based perfumery, wants to claw back its rightful share of the ‘attar’ market.  This time around, they want to position themselves in the high-end consumer bracket, which has been steadily growing.  To cut a long story short, that means niche perfume oils that correspond to the luxury consumer’s idea of a perfume rather than maintaining authenticity or fidelity to the Eastern manner of perfume making.

 

The brand must have been aware that while the OG ‘attars’, in being mukhallats, were one step removed from actual distilled attars, these new oils were now two steps removed – not attars, not even mukhallats, but concentrated perfume oils.   In other words, no different than Alexandria II by Xerjoff or even the oil version of Santal 33 by Le Labo.  But the wheels had been set in motion for this particular fiction decades ago, so Amouage deciding to go all in and call these 2021 attars too was probably the only logical move.  And naturally, the brand would want to cash in some of that OG fairy dust for the 2021 release.  Thus, the word ‘attar’ front and center, expectations were raised.

 

Which begs the question – what did Amouage think would happen when these expectations were not met?  

 

My guess is that the brand simply hoped that their positioning of the 2021 oil releases at the luxury consumer market would circumvent the small but vocal group of true perfume (and attar) aficionados that had bought the OG stuff.

 

You see, the people who will be interested in buying these newer Amouage ‘attars’ are not the same as those who were buying the OG ‘attars’.  The folks who bought the OG Amouage Attars were investing in the authenticity of a Middle Eastern or Indian raw material, like oud or sandalwood, whereas the folks who will buy the New Generation Amouage Attars are mostly looking for the prestige of dabbing on an oil out of a tiny, exquisite bottle.  The first is a desire for art, the second a desire for luxury.  

 

Amouage likely looked at the market and decided that they could generate more revenue from the people who view a bottle of the newest attar from Amouage in the same way they view all other luxury consumables like, say, an Hermès handbag or a Lisa Eldridge lipstick or the latest iPhone – opulent, high-spec things that give the pleasure of an object well made, none of which will scare the horses – than from the much smaller group of fragrance enthusiasts who stay up until 4 am, sweatily gripping their computer mouse, to secure 3 mls of the latest sandalwood oil from Areej Le Doré or the newest Hindi drop from Ensar.

 

It goes without saying that one group is not morally inferior (or superior) to the other.  Their buying parameters are just different.  Some folks long for the authenticity and artistic derring-do of some of the original Amouage attars, while others will much prefer these smoother, more Westernized pleasantries. And from a marketing perspective, it is perfectly legitimate for Amouage to decide to switch lanes for the 2021 release.  

 

Where Amouage might have messed up was in not communicating the differences between the 2021 ‘attars’ and the OG ‘attars’ as clearly as they might have to the group of people still intensely loyal to the artistry of the brand’s original oil output.  Sure, from a business perspective, no corporation has to go the extra mile to explicitly explain a change in direction, manufacture, or artistic intent such as this.  However, some of the most pointed criticism about these oils may have been averted and some goodwill created amongst the very community that helped raise and maintain Amouage’s reputation for excellence.  Instead, the brand done took a match to a couple of bridges.  

 

Surely, for example, the brand could have explained their rationale for using Western perfumers to compose these ‘attars’.  In an age where awareness about cultural misappropriation and decolonization has scaled new heights, the brand might have anticipated that its clumsy pairing of the word ‘attar’ – traditionally an Indian art – with ‘master’ European perfumers such as Dominique Ropion would create some uncomfortable associations or even take some of the shine off the brand. 

 

Amouage has always kept schtum about who composed the original ‘attars’.  It is likely that they used Middle Eastern perfumers with experience in mukhallat perfumery but didn’t name them (the company did name, however, the Western perfumers like Guy Roberts and Bertrand Duchaufour who worked on their spray-based fragrances).  For this new release of ‘attars’, Amouage’s strategy was to hire Western perfumers experienced in composing formulas for niche and designer perfumes, like Cécile Zarokian, Julien Rasquinet, and Dominique Ropion.  Now, to me, this makes perfect sense.  If you are creating a line of luxe perfume oils that are basically supposed to be a haute luxe or niche fragrance, just in oil format, then it makes sense to hire perfumers who are used to producing this sort of formula for other high end niche companies.

 

However, the brand didn’t explain that these new attars weren’t really attars at all (probably because this particular bit of fiction is now decades deep and it’s too late to walk it back), and therefore left itself wide open to accusations that it was aiding and abetting Western perfumers to misappropriate a traditionally Indian art of perfumery.

 

Now that you (yes, you Dear Reader!) understand that these oils are not attars but simply posh niche perfumes in oil format, I bet you don’t care if the formula was composed by a perfumer in Grasse or by one in Delhi or Dubai, do you?  Right.  It ceases to be an issue.  But the brand didn’t or couldn’t communicate this, thereby running straight into the fire that any 19-year-old social media manager worth their salt would have been able to predict was coming their way.  

 

More accurate than the cultural misappropriation (which is itself based on a misguided belief in the fragrance community is that only Indian or Middle Eastern perfumers can or should be involved in the creation of attar, oud, and mukhallat perfumery*) is the accusation that, in naming the 2021 oils ‘attars’, Amouage was cynically cashing in its previous reputation for authenticity and ‘realness’.  There is no real comeback to this.  The 2021 oils are, at best, a good ole cash grab, and at worst, a thumb in the face of loyal perfume fans who believed that Amouage anything was special, not to mention one of their vaunted attars.  While the general specialness of Amouage is less true today than it was ten, fifteen years ago, the 2021 ‘attar’ release still feels like a line in the sand between the brand’s proud artistic past and its now far more glossily commercial future. 

 

Whether or not this is a successful strategy from a business perspective is something only the Amouage CPA can tell us.   

 

 

Reviews

 

Now onto the actual reviews.  Spoiler alert: I enjoyed each and every single one of these new CPOs from Amouage, and as long as you go into it expecting luxe perfume oils rather than genuine distilled attars from India or authentic mukhallats from the Middle East, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t either.  Are they groundbreaking or original?  No.  But they are all extremely pleasant, smooth, and yes, luxurious-smelling perfumes.

 

Of the six that I have smelled, two oils didn’t smell at all Middle Eastern, pursuing instead traditionally Western (read: French) perfumery themes such as vanilla and orris.  Two of the ‘attars’ smelled straight up like an oil version of existing Amouage spray perfumes.  But they are all extremely nice and well executed, and thankfully (mostly) subtle in their use of modern woody ambers like Norlimbanol or Amber Extreme.

 

Are they $540 good?  Again, nope.  That’s my annual car insurance.  To be fair, I’m not the target market, and unless you’re the rare Birkin bag buyer whose SEO somehow re-routed you to this blog, then it’s safe to assume that neither are you.  The only reason I have to review these is that (a) I am currently publishing a Guide to Attars (which covers attars, mukhallats, essential oils like oud, and concentrated perfume oils) so this release kind of is my business, and (b) a very dear friend sent me her sample set free of charge.  So, there you go.

 

 

Photo by Veronika Nakhtman on Unsplash

 

Orris Wakan, composed by Julien Rasquinet, focuses on the famously cool, rooty aroma of orris butter to the exclusion of all else.  In fact, it smells suspiciously close to an ionone-rich orris butter dilution I have in my collection, which is to say a heady blend of the following: parsnip roots pulled from the soil on a freezing December morning, spermicidal jelly, a silver spoon, soap, and freshly-poured concrete or latex paint.  Why all of this should add up to a scent that Chandler Burr once described as ‘liquid good taste’ is a mystery, but God knows it does.

 

Orris Wakan is unusual for an ‘attar’ or oil-based perfume in that it manages to capture the very nuances of orris butter that normally get ‘squashed’ by other, heavier materials in oil format.  This is all rhizome, no flower.  In fact, in keeping the structure simple, Rasquinet has managed to produce something that briefly reproduces the opening of Iris Silver Mist (Serge Lutens). 

 

This is quite the achievement until you remember that orris butter itself is so lovely and complex a material that all the perfumer really had to do here was set it in place and leave well enough alone.  To Rasquinet’s credit, he didn’t overstuff the composition with any shouty materials that might detract from the orris.  It just fizzles out quietly into an ether of soft, frothy musks.  Like your first roll in the hay, Orris Wakan is poignantly beautiful for all of the thirty minutes it lasts.

 

It is worth noting that Orris Wakan is one of the two 2021 perfume oils that are completely Western (read: French) in both theme and construction.  I imagine this being a big seller for the luxury leather goods crowd, because the scent of orris has a natural affinity with creamy leather, suede, and hawthorn accords.              

 

Photo by Linus Mimietz on Unsplash

 

Rose Aqor, composed by Cécile Zarokian, well – let me just stop right there.  Even without looking it up, it is clear that this is a Cécile Zarokian creation.  I love her work, but this central accord of soda fizz rose, sparkling ‘white’ incense, piquant black or pink pepper, doughy benzoin, cinnamon, and radiant golden ambers is as identifiable a fingerprint as anything done by Bertrand Duchaufour.  Rose Aqor is very lovely, as it should be, as it is a near note-for-note recreation of Zarokian’s 2009 Epic Woman (Amouage) in oil format.  Epic Woman is my most worn Amouage perfume, so I know her.

 

Like Epic Woman, Rose Aqor tucks a sweet-n-sour, heavily peppered rose inside a powdery incense-amber accord that is part pickles, part sherbet.  As roses go, Rose Aqor is a complete meal in and of itself, from the lip-smacking savor of kimchi to the meaty, peppery rose and a thimbleful of thin crème anglaise to sweeten the tongue at the very end.  It diverges slightly from the Epic Woman template in some parts, most notably with a touch of the slightly doughy bubblegum-benzoin accord and zesty cardamom ‘fuzz’ borrowed from Fêtes Persanes (Parfums MDCI), another perfume by – you guessed it –  Cécile Zarokian.

 

I am predisposed to enjoy Rose Aqor because I also enjoy Epic Woman and Fêtes Persanes.  But unless you have a very small collection and you’re specifically in the market for this type of rose (spicy, ambery, incensey), then it is likely you already own something very like this.  For me personally, Rose Aqor is redundant.  But remember, neither you nor I am the target market for Rose Aqor.

 

It is in Rose Aqor, by the way, that the key differences between the 2021 ‘attars’ and the OG ‘attars’ emerge most clearly.  Smell Rose Aqor and immediately the closest equivalents that jump to mind are themselves niche perfumes that pursue a vaguely ‘exotic’, Middle Eastern theme albeit via the heavily filtered lens of a Western luxury buyer.  Contrast this with OG Amouage rose-centric ‘attars’ like Ayoon Al Maha (rose and sandalwood) or the infamous Homage (Taifi rose, frankincense) and, straight away, you can tell the difference.  Rose Aqor smells like a niche perfume in oil format; Homage smells like the fiercest distilled attars of Taifi rose and frankincense oil mixed together.  The first is a complete perfume composition, clearly made under temperature-controlled conditions in a lab, while the second smells like something violently wrested from this good earth.   And that right there is largely the difference between a concentrated perfume oil and an attar (or mukhallat).    

 

 

Photo by allison christine on Unsplash

 

Vanilla Barka, composed by Dominique Ropion, is guilty of what Luca Turin named the ‘one-liner tendency’ in today’s niche perfume market, which is the fashion for composing a perfume around one of two headlining materials and allowing that be the whole artistic point of the fragrance.  Imagine a scale of compositional complexity with L’Heure Bleue (Guerlain) at one end and Vanille Benjoin (Affinescence) at the other, where the closer you move towards Vanille Benjoin, the more ideas your perfume sheds.  Vanilla Barka is positioned right at the Affinescence point on that scale. 

 

After one thrilling note of frankincense, in all its silvery-lemony severity, this devolves very quickly into the plain white sugar + vanilla-tonka bean sludge you see everywhere from Tihota (Indult) to Vaniglia (Mazzolari) and even, to be honest, Vanille (Molinard).  It is slightly plasticky, albeit in a nice way, like Vanyl (Bruno Acampora).  You can even get reasonable versions of this accord from indie oil perfume houses, like Solstice Scents, and have it work out at $18 for a 5ml bottle.  Vanilla Barka costs $540, for scale.  

 

Vanilla Barka is far from unpleasant, just to be clear.  There is a not insignificant amount of hygge to be mined in its deeply doughy, almost almondy dollhead embrace.  But let’s be honest.  Wearing Vanilla Barka is the scent equivalent of eating white frosting or raw cookie dough straight from the packet, while mindlessly binging Netflix in your slouchiest sweatpants.  Yeah, it’s insanely comforting.  But you also kind of know it’s not good for your teeth or your IQ.  Not to mention that, for $540, you can pick up two whole bottles of Tihota.  Of course, Amouage is counting on Dubai mall foot traffic not to know about Tihota.  So, there’s that.

 

 

Photo by volant on Unsplash

 

Incense Rori, composed by Julien Rasquinet, is the standout of the 2021 line for me.  No wonder, because it takes as its starting point the wonderful Omani silver frankincense that Amouage made so famous throughout the world.  The opening note is marvelously fizzy, dark, and sooty – picture the smoked out remains of an open fire in a traditional stone church.  It smells like handfuls of charcoal dust dumped into Schweppe’s Bitter Tonic, with this clean edge that frank fans will find utterly addictive.  Cedar and I think a good deal of unlisted amber join forces to lend the soaring frankincense some basso fondo, creating a rich, resiny background that swings between ashy (pipe tobacco) and sweetly whiskey-ish (amber, immortelle).

 

This darting contrast between achingly dry smoke and ‘wet’ booze is incredible, reminding me variously of a mash-up between the original Vetiver (Annick Goutal), Jeke (Slumberhouse), Tobacco Oud (Tom Ford), and Black (Comme des Garcons).  The drydown lays out a rich, salty oakmoss for our consideration, which is the precise point at which Incense Rori does a fabulous impression of the latter stages of L’Air de Rien (Miller Harris), where all that funky oakmoss dries out on a bed of halitosis.  Incense Rori isn’t at all animalic, but it shares something of the scalpy moss funk of the Miller Harris – likely that same metallic, musky, slightly cheap suit shininess of Evernyl Prunastri.  Add a rubbery, saline myrrh (deflated latex condom and all) in the far reaches, and you have the complete incense madness that is Incense Rori.

 

Incense Rori is the perfume that I imagine most appealing to the Old Guard of the perfume community, i.e., the ones who bought the OG Amouage attars.  It smells pure and smoky enough to grab the attention of the most ascetic of luxury buyers’ tastes, yet complex and different enough to capture the interest of even the most jaded of incense (or indeed oakmoss) freaks in our tiny corner of Fragcomm.  Also, is Incense Rori possibly the 2021 Amouage apology for dropping Tribute?  A very small, scaled down tribute to Tribute, mind, but better some Tribute than no Tribute at all.     

 

 

Photo by marlik saffron on Unsplash

 

Saffron Hamra, composed by Cécile Zarokian, is the most traditionally ‘attar’-like of this collection, due to its clever use of a spice – saffron – that, as part of the age-old triumvirate of rose-sandalwood-saffron, will not fail to evoke a Pavlovian response.  I smell saffron, I smell attar.  Even if you think you don’t know attars, you have certainly smelled some variation of that rosy-saffron attar scent in your local Asian supermarket, round the back where the incense sticks and chunks of bakhoor and gaudy perfume oils are stocked.

 

On its own, saffron is piercingly medicinal, like gauze bandages soaked in iodine or the rawest piece of cowhide you ever saw, a quality that aligns the material surprisingly enough with natural oud oil.  Indeed, on the lower end of the scale, you will find that all the big attar or mukhallat houses – Ajmal, Arabian Oud, Abdul Samad Al Qurashi, and so on – pad out their ‘oudy’ compositions with saffron in order to create that subliminal link in our smelling receptors to natural oud, even when none is present (the same may be said for cypriol, which is smokier and far less medicinal than saffron).

 

In Saffron Hamra, Zarokian allows the medicinal properties of saffron to play out in full, but wraps a soft, sweet rose around it to cushion us from its sharper edges.  The result is a sort of vanilla custard tinged with iodine and dirty bandages.  I assure you that this is delicious and unsettling in equal measure, which is what makes it such a successful and balanced accord.  Imagine Safran Troublant by Olivia Giacobetti for L’Artisan Parfumeur but removed from the utter comfort of the Parisian salon to the harsh planes and arid environment of the Rub’ Al Khali desert in Saudi Arabia.

 

At this stage, Saffron Hamra strikes me as being authentically attar-like, and even worthy of being included in the original Amouage attar line-up. (It reminds me somewhat of a smoother Al Siraj by Arabian Oud, one of my favorite saffron-forward mukhallats).

 

However, it is worth noting that the far drydown of Saffron Hamra introduces an unpleasantly metallic note that gives me a headache.  Cade oil, listed in the notes, might be responsible for this element, as it is a dirty green, smoky material that can be quite pungent.  To my nose, though, it reads like a trace of some woody aromachemical.  A disappointing end to a perfume that started out smelling absolutely wondrous, therefore, although it also reminds me that sometimes, just sometimes, the normally thoughtful Zarokian can go ham on the woody aromachemicals (Sheiduna for Puredistance being an example).   

 

 

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

 

Oud Ulya, composed by Cécile Zarokian, is very similar to Zarokian’s own Silver Oud for Amouage, only not as earthy (there is little to no patchouli felt here).  In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that, as with the Rose Aqor/Epic Woman parallel, this is Cécile Zarokian translating the formula of another of her Amouage spray perfumes to oil format.

 

Similar to its parent, Oud Ulya wraps a pungent oud oil (which smells authentically feral, aided no doubt by a lascivious touch of civet) in a syrupy amber-vanilla glove designed to make the medicine go down.  The opening resembles Trat oud oil, which is to say, soiled hay plunged into a hot, bubbly strawberry jam.  Now imagine this pungent oud-date jam spread across a huge chunk of pain d’epices and left to smolder and char at the edges on a censer, the air filling with the intense scent of burnt sugar.  The point here is that the ferocity of the animalic oud is equal to the ferocity of the syrupy sweetness of the vanillamber.  Add in the haunting smoke of birch tar and you are halfway to the delicious second half of Patchouli 24 (Le Labo).  

 

It might be the equivalent of showing up to church in full drag if the whole thing wasn’t so ergonomically velvety.  You see, Zarokian has managed to wrap all of this up in the most buttery of buttery leather accords, so even while part of your brain flashes on the barnyard, you also keep making that involuntary crooning sound you make whenever you see a picture of those Ritz-Carton lodges in the Maldives or when your hand brushes against the 500-count sheets on display in Harrods.  Oud Ulya is a mish-mash of things for sure – there is a bit of Amber Absolute, Patchouli 24, Prive by Ormonde Jayne, among others – but it is a charming and well-balanced mish-mash, and that counts for a lot.

 

But again, compare Oud Ulya to the towering oudy masterpieces of Badr Al Badour (my favorite OG Amouage ‘attar’), Al Molook, or Al Shomukh, and the differences in style are immediately laid bare.  Though Oud Ulya certainly contains an authentic-smelling oud, it is framed against a backdrop of sweet and smoky notes artfully arranged to evoke a fantasy of the East as expected by a Western gaze.  Like Shalimar.   Oud Ulya is deliberately exotic, because the perfumer has arranged the amber accords, the leather, and the smoke to create just that effect.

 

In Badr Al Badour, on the other hand, the combination of the oud, the rose, the ambergris, and the frankincense smells exotic because the raw materials themselves are exotic and because the perfumer has simply mixed these exotic smells together in the most pleasing way he knows how.  Badr Al Badour cares not if it pleases our Western nose or not; it is wholly agnostic to our comfort.  In contrast, Oud Ulya brings you on a magic carpet ride but keeps checking over its shoulder to make sure we’re still on.

 

 

 *This is largely true for traditional Indian attar perfumery since genuine attar distillation is now mostly limited to Kannauj, India, but we have established that neither the old nor the new Amouage ‘attars’ are actually attars.   Still, many of the most prolific and creative perfumers or distillers working in the field of oil perfumery (oud, sandalwood, and mukhallat perfumery) are themselves Western by birth or upbringing.  Ensar is American, Taha Syed is Canadian, Sultan Pasha is a Londoner, JK DeLapp is from Atlanta, and Russian Adam is…well.   You see where this is going.   A gentle suggestion: as fragrance writers, let us put down the pitchforks and try to see the perfume sector for what it is rather than for what we think it ought to be.   

 

 

Source of sample:  A very dear friend of mine passed on her set of official Amouage samples to me, for which I am deeply grateful.

 

Cover Image: Photo taken by me. Please do not re-print without my permission.

 

Ambergris Animalic Aromatic Balsamic Citrus Cult of Raw Materials Incense Leather Myrrh Neroli Oud Resins Review Saffron Spice Summer Woods

Aquilaria Blossom by Areej le Doré X Agar Aura

26th May 2022

 

 

Aquilaria Blossom is an exciting new collaboration between Russian Adam of Areej le Doré and Taha Syed of Agar Aura, both oud artisan distillers and perfumers of repute in the oud and mukhallat community.  Russian Adam is something of a pioneer for the oud community in that Areej Le Doré was the first brand to make a commercially successful breakthrough from pure oud distillation into the bigger market of niche spray perfumes.  In doing so, he opened new doors for the rest of the oud artisan community.

 

And now it seems that Russian Adam is once again forging new market pathways both for his own brand and others, this time with a marketing strategy known as collaboration, a partnership-based strategy that expands the commercial reach of both partners, cements reputations, and deepens the customers’ feeling of engagement and authenticity associated with the brand.  Areej le Doré’s first collab was with Sultan Pasha Attars on Civet de Nuit (review here). 

 

For us consumers, the important thing is to understand what we are getting in terms of value added.  How are the two styles of the two collab partners different, or similar?  Why does a collab between them make sense, both for them as artisans and for us as the people who end up buying and wearing this perfume?  For readers who are perhaps unfamiliar with the respective styles and signature ‘moves’ of Taha Syed and Russian Adam, let’s take a closer look at them individually before examining the end result of their collaboration, i.e., Aquilaria Blossom.   

 

Taha Syed of Agar Aura is a famous artisan oud distiller, with a reputation roughly at the same level of Ensar Oud (they are fierce competitors).  Though unfamiliar with his mixed media work, I have tested and reviewed two of his pure oud oils for my oud series here and here (I purchased both samples directly from Taha).  The common thread I found in both ouds was that his style is deceptively clean and minimalist, eventually revealing very complex substrata.

 

But Taha is also famous for his support for the idea of using fractionated compounds of oud oil to ‘build’ a more complete or compelling aroma.  In oud distillation, as in any essential oil distillation, the quality of the aroma of the compounds in the distillate varies according to many different factors (read here for more detail), one of which is the timeline at which the distillate is ‘pulled’ out from the still. 

 

For example, in ylang, the distillate produced in the first hour of distillation is known as Extra, with the grades of First, Second, and Third following in sequential order.  The descending order is generally thought to correspond to a descending quality, though lack of standardization in the essential oil distillation business makes this extremely difficult to verify and is often purely conjecture.  I am not sure that fractioning is that precise or quantifiable a tool.  But what it does allow for is a bit more room to play for the artisan who is distilling the oil.  

 

The upshot is that at each stage (or ‘pull’) of the oud distillation process, the distillate possesses some characteristics that customers find desirable and some that are less so.  The artisan’s job is to figure out how to amplify the desirable traits and weed out the less desirable ones.  What Taha Syed is known for doing is separating out the oud distillate into individual compounds and then putting them back together in a way that fits with the idea he holds in his head.  If the customers love the smoke and leather notes of a particular style of oud oil, but not the more sour, abrasive ones, Taha can separate them out and discard what he doesn’t need.  A retrofitting of sorts[1].  Apparently, this is now a quite common approach in the pure oud distilling world. 

 

Russian Adam, on the other hand, is probably best known for the Areej le Doré perfumes, many of which I have reviewed here on this blog.  His perfume compositions tend to be baroque, retro-styled florientals that lean hard on rare raw materials (oud oil, real deer musk, genuine ambergris) but stop short of making them the entire point of the exercise.  The result is often as pungent as its constituent raw materials, but you would never mistake it for a simple distillate; these are clearly perfumes.

 

Interestingly, his pure oud distillation work under the Feel Oud banner tends to be far more experimental.  Read through my pure oud oil reviews (grouped and alphabetized here: 0-CD-KL-O, and P-Y) to see reviews of Russian Adam’s pure oud oils and you’ll see what I mean.  From runny Brie to green curry oil and jasmine, his oud oils are perhaps the quirkiest and most playful I’ve seen in what can be a very po-faced genre.   

 

So, without further waffling on, how does Aquilaria Blossom – as a collab between two oud artisans who also happen to be self-taught perfumers – fare both as a fragrance and as a representation of two quite different artistic styles?

 

Let me start by saying that Aquilaria Blossom surprised me by its lightness and its simplicity.  Now, never were two words more guaranteed to make the Basenotes boys sweat than these, so let me clarify.  When I say ‘light’, I mean that texturally, it wears as thinly and elegantly on the skin as an Hermès silk scarf (compared to, say, an Aran sweater).  This isn’t the bulky ‘stacked to the rafters’ scent experience we are used to from Areej le Doré.  It wears on the skin in the same way as Dehn Oud Ateeq (Abdul Samad Al Qurashi) does, which is to say a sheer but durable wash of scent on the skin.

 

And when I say ‘simplicity’, I mean that this isn’t a perfume that crowds in so many notes and accords that all you smell is a thick mud of absolutes.  It remains legible, uncluttered  – no squinting required to make out what it is that you’re smelling.

 

Don’t know about you guys, but those are both positives in my book.  It certainly makes the scent easier to describe.

 

The TL;DR:  Aquilaria Blossom is a fresh, spicy scent that pairs a juicy floral-tart citrus accord with a fine-grained, horsey leather (most likely the result of that ‘touch of oud’ promised in the notes list), bracketed by an ambrein-rich resinousness that seems to build from nowhere about six hours in.   

 

The feature-length movie version: A one-two punch of a tarry citrus and a pop of (briefly) gamey oud opens the scent with a dramatic flourish, holding court in that vein for quite some time.  The citrus accord, pithy with bergamot and aromatic-woody with yuzu, is bitter but also balmy, with a waxy perfumeyness that brings to mind orange blossom.  If you’ve ever had those strange Japanese gummies that taste both citrusy and floral in the mouth (think Diptyque’s Oyedo), then you have an idea of what this smells like.  For the record, this is the only even vaguely floral part of the scent, for me at least.  

 

A note on the oud (or ouds) used.  They are not specified and maybe not even the point.  But I do wonder if Taha Sayed use compounds of different ouds at various points of the perfume’s composition to highlight an effect he wanted and discard the rest.   For example, the briefly animalic pop of oud at the start might be a fractionated compound of a Hindi oil, because we get the spicy hay and leather notes of a Hindi but none of its depth or range.   And while the faint undercurrent of sour berries and stale radiator dust that soon develops under the skin of this opening might point to a Cambodi, who really knows, because there sure ain’t any caramel. 

 

Whatever it is, the main effect of oud is to start building a lightly gamey leather accord that stretches all the way from the top of the scent to its basenotes.  The citrus notes eventually fall off, as they do, but when they do, you don’t lose any of the freshness initially created by them, largely because the leather that the oud whips up is so elegantly thin.

 

Ambergris sometimes adds this wonderfully silty, horsehair muskiness to a composition.  Combined with the oud in Aquilaria Blossom, I find this produces the impression of being in a tack room, the air thick with the scent of saddles freshly taken off heated horseflesh.  A touch of castoreum (beaver butt) adds to the soupy animal warmth.  Yet, the doors of this putative tack room have been flung open to let the fresh smells of flowers and hay in from the fields.  And maybe someone peeled an orange an hour ago, its volatile skin oils still staining the air.   

 

‘Aquilaria Blossom’ is so-named for what both Taha Syed and Russian Adam imagined what a flower growing out of an Aquilaria tree might smell like.  But despite the listed magnolia and neroli, the only floral touches I perceive are brief and upfront, worked into the perfumey bittersweetness of the citrus notes in the opening.  Thankfully, the neroli doesn’t go soapy on me, or perhaps it does and all I end smelling is saddle soap, which is the only way I take my soap in perfumery anyway.

 

The ending really does come as a bit of a surprise.  It shows up right when everything else is winding down, but unlike that one drunk guy who shows up at 3 am, it is most welcome.  One by one, all the other notes seem to get siphoned off into a golden cloud of glittery resin particles, anchored by a rubbery licorice myrrh, and thickened only slightly by a subtle (thin) vanilla.  The ending, like the rest of the scent, feels deliciously sheer.  This is a scent where all the molecules are spread out and have ample room to breathe. 

 

In the end, how much of Taha and how much of Russian Adam actually got into Aquilaria Blossom?  I think the light, minimalistic structure is more Taha than Adam, but then I haven’t smelled any of Russian Adam’s fresher, more citrus-forward perfumes, like Chinese Oud (though his Limau Hijau under the Feel Oud banner is very citrus-forward) and I only know Taha’s work through his pure oud oils.  All I can say with confidence is that Aquilaria Blossom has none of that heady, musky floriental thickness of body that we are used to in Areej Le Doré releases.

 

Is it possible that two oud greats came together and created….a freshie?  Maybe!  Russian Adam is an innovator and this is possibly him shaking things up.  Aquilaria Blossom is fragrant and aromatic, woody and bright.  It lingers on the skin and in the air but feels like no weight at all on the skin.  But that’s not to say that its simplicity is, well, simple.  I’m reminded of the line in Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” where he says “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then, I contradict myself. / I am large, I contain multitudes”.  Aquilaria Blossom is relatively simple and straightforward.  But it too contains multitudes.  Multitudes of hay, ambergris, spice, citrus peel, and wood rot all tucked away neatly into one long thin line of leather.

 

 

Source of sample:  A 2ml sample sent to me free of charge by Russian Adam (I paid customs).   

 

Cover Image:  Photo, my own, of Aquilaria Blossom sample next to piece of Wild Thai agarwood for scale.  Please do not distribute, circulate or use this photo without my permission.

 

 

[1] For example, on the Agar Aura website, Taha describes his technique for Berkilau Hitam, a discontinued oil, as follows: ‘Berkilau Hitam is the pure isolated base-note fractions of the agarwood extract (and approximately 6 times higher in quality: Berkilau raw materials). This is pure wood, resin, and smoke. These are the same aromatic fractions that most people associate with actual burning agarwood, Fractions which are either missing altogether in many oud oils, or extracted using inferior distillation techniques. Scientifically speaking, this oil literally consists of only the heaviest, densest, richest aromatic compounds found in agarwood (read: darkest smelling)[1].’ Interesting, no?

 

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 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.

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

28th September 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by DEZALB from Pixabay

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

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

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

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

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

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

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

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Pitsch from Pixabay

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

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

Image by HG-Fotografie from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover Image: Thanapat Pirmphol from Pixabay

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Fallintostars by Strangelove NYC: A Review

27th November 2019

Fallintostars by Strangelove NYC is clever because it pairs the 15th century smell of Hindi oud – the dank, rotting, wet wood smell of animal hides piled high in a medieval dungeon – with the 21st century radiance of a modern amber. For the first half hour, the dissonance is dizzying. The oud is so authentically filthy that I feel like I’m being pressed up against a wall by an lout with a shiv and bad intentions. It’s as funky as a plate of fruit and cheese furred over with mold, wrapped in a length of freshly-tanned leather, and buried in a pile of steaming, matted straw.

But just when you fear you’re slipping wholesale into slurry, you notice the bright, peppery overlay of something radiant and electric, like sparks popping off a shorted wire. This accord calls to mind the aromachemically fresh, smoky black tea opening of Russian Tea (Masque Milano Fragranze) more than the pink pepper the notes tell me this is likely to be. The distance between the light and the dark is perfectly judged. It’s more of a whoosh than a lift. It smells exciting – sexy even. I’m tempted to douse myself in it and force strange men to come sniff my neck, even though, technically, this hard, peppery smell is more masculine-leaning than otherwise.

But wait, because we haven’t really talked about the amber yet. Poor Christophe Laudamiel – I bet that after the category-defining glory that is Amber Absolute (Tom Ford) he’s afraid to touch labdanum for fear of either never reaching those heights again or being accused of repeating himself. But then again, this is Christophe Laudamiel we’re talking about – a man who, as I’ve said before, when confronted with a straight line instinctively starts to zig zag wildly across the page like a wild hoss. He seems to create restlessly in one forward motion, refusing to circle back to even his most hallowed of halls.

So, no, this is not the benzoin-thickened incense amber of Amber Absolute, but (unexpectedly) the bright, hard sparkle of a champagne-and-vodka amber in the style of pre-reform Ambre Russe (Parfum d’Empire). Like a shot of those clear gold liquors served in the Alps after dinner, I’m not sure which I want to do more – drink it or apply it to a wound. It smells…well, excuse my language, but fucking amazing. How does a perfumer get amber to smell as rich as leather but as transparent as jelly?

My nose fails me when it comes to the other notes. I don’t get any of the green, hay-like barnyardiness of narcissus (unless it’s giving the dirty straw notes in the Hindi oud some welly) or indeed any of the gentler, more jasmine-like nuances of the jonquil variety, and there’s nary a hint of rose. I don’t perceive the benzoin at all, which is strange because even if I can’t smell it, I can usually feel it thickening the texture of the basenotes into a flurry of papery dust.

What I smell in Fallintostars is really an act in three parts: Hindi oud, followed by champagne-and-vodka amber, and finally a huge honking myrrh not listed anywhere. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Christophe has managed to work the inky, astringent tones of saffron and hina attar (henna) with his feverish fingers into the shape of a rubbery, mushroomy myrrh. It’s also possible that it’s just myrrh.

Anyway, what I like about this perfume is that it transcends its raw materials to make you think about the way it is composed. The modern, near slavish adoration at the foot of complex-smelling naturals such as Hindi oud or rose or labdanum often results in muddy, brown-tinged accords that speak more to their own worthiness than to joy, especially in the indie sector. In Fallintostars, Christophe Laudamiel takes heavy hitters like Hindi oud and makes it smell like bottled fireflies. And that is alchemy, pure and simple.

Disclosure: A sample of Fallintostars was sent to me by Strangelove NYC for review. My opinions are my own.

Image by Alina Zakovyrko from Pixabay

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Areej Le Dore Koh-i-Noor, Malik al Taif, Oud Luwak & Baikal Gris

15th November 2018

 

In autumn 2018, Areej Le Dore released its 4th generation of fragrances. Russian Adam very kindly sent me a sample set, which I’ve been playing around with for a while now. Without further ado, here are my reviews of Areej Le Dore Koh-i-Noor, Malik al Taif, Oud Luwak & Baikal Gris.

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Concept versus Execution: I Am Trash, But Not Today, & Vetiverissimo

8th November 2018

 

It might seem to regular readers of this blog (all 23 of you) that, for a fragrance writer, I write very infrequently about perfume. In fact, I write about perfume every day. But since it’s either copy for big fragrance retailers or work on a book that I’m not sure will ever see the light of day, most people will just never come across it.

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