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Al Haramain

Attars & CPOs

Sultan Pasha Aurum D’Angkhor

30th November 2015

For those of you who don’t know him, Sultan Pasha is a passionate attar collector, curator, and now in recent years, also a perfumer of his own teaching. Based in the UK, Sultan Pasha used to sell a fantastic range of samples of very rare or discontinued attars, including almost all of the Amouage ones, along with his own creations (see his eBay page here). I don’t know if he’s still selling the sample set of other brands, but he very kindly gave me samples from his own range of concentrated perfume oils, attars, and essential oils (including a sample of wild Mysore sandalwood, which I can’t wait to get to!). In the coming weeks and months, I will be reviewing each attar sample in the order they came to me.

If you’re interested in acquiring the sample set yourself (it contains about two drops each of 45 CPOs), you can order it here. Sultan Pasha advises that you dip the end of a paper clip into each sample well to draw out a tiny amount of the oil and apply it to the skin – these oils are extremely strong, so each two-drop sample is more than enough for five wears.

Now to Aurum D’Angkhor. It’s the first CPO in the pack that I tested, and right now I’m worried that nothing will be able to top this for me. Aurum is just mind-blowing. I trudge through an awful lot of the lower-priced Arabian oils and attars (as well as some very high-priced ones), and it’s rare that any of them stand out to me as being worth the skin time. What I mean is that there’s an awful lot of dodgy stuff out there in the CPO world, and with price not always correlating to quality or complexity, you have to have a lot of time and money to hone in on the good ones.

Or maybe it’s just me. Plenty of fellows over at Basenotes go straight to the super high end stuff, such as the pure oud oils and oud mixes (mukhallats) being sold by Ensar Oud and Agar Aura. But the price of entry for that serious oud scares me, so I mainly just lurk in the waters of whatever samples of Ajmal, Al Haramain, and Amouage CPOs that I get my hands on, lazily hoping to somehow stumble upon the attar that seems made just for me.

The Amouage attars, with the exception of Badr al Badour, failed to impress me much. I liked Tribute too, but the expense of tracking it down now seems prohibitive. The recently released premium collection by Al Haramain (reviewed here) was very mixed and in general, not worth the Amouage-level prices they are asking for them. But I did go through about 25 of ASAQ CPOs and oud mukhallats over a year ago, and I got to understand more about oud, the general profiles of the different types, and the difference between young and aged oud. Now I have my favorite CPOs, oud and non-oud mukhallats, ranging from the very costly (Badr al Badour, Ajmal Mukhallat Dehn al Oud Moattaq), mid-range (Arabian Oud Najdi Maliki and Al Siraj) to the very cheap (Majmua attar).

Aurum D’Angkhor, though, is special. It blew my socks off with its depth, complexity, and beauty. It contains a small amount of the famous Ensar Oud Encens D’Angkor in the basenotes, which is a smooth, fruity Cambodi oud oil with soft, cozy wood aspects. But the “Aurum” in Sultan Pasha’s remix means “Golden” and indeed that’s the color that comes across in this blend – golden, dusty saffron, a light smooth oud with the timbre of polished oak floors, smoke, honey, henna, and a haze of sweet jasmine and rose.

The topnote of Aurum D’Angkhor showcases the oud, and for a few minutes it has a ripe, barnyard aroma to it – not unpleasantly animalic, for example nowhere near the sour bile facets of a Hindi oud oil – but it definitely recalls the soft, ripe smell of fresh cow silage, a sort of liquid, sweet aroma that oozes across the room. I find this smell to be warm and nostalgic, because I grew up around farms.

The cow pat note disappears quickly, allowing a soft, spicy brown leather to take shape, with faintly indolic jasmine floating in and out. To my nose, saffron plays a pivotal role here, called on to bring out all its strange facets at once – the leather, the exotic dust, the sweetness, the faintly floral “mouth-feel”, fiery red spice, and a certain medicinal, iodine-like twang. The oud and the saffron create this deep, deep multi-levered scent profile suggestive of old oak floors, spicy brown leather, and dusty fruit skins (plums and figs). It is such a smooth, woody, refined aroma – it has the depth of real oud, but none of the challenging aspects.

Now, as to the smoke – this varied greatly on me from one test to another. At first, I found the opening and heart notes so smoky I felt sure there had to be either a touch of birch tar or cade oil in the topnotes, or at least a hefty dose of labdanum in the basenotes. At times, I felt that the smokiness was almost exactly like the rough, smoky Balsamo della Mecca, which is primarily a labdanum-focused scent, with dusty cinnamon (Siam benzoin) and frankincense. During my second test, I couldn’t detect as much smokiness, but instead I picked up on the honey (a sort of toffee-like, ambery sweetness) and a hint of the hay-like dustiness of henna.

In the base, I pick up a woody resin, kind of nutty, but also kind of granular, like coffee grounds. It may also be the musk, because some suede scents, like Tom Ford Tuscan Leather, Oud Saphir, Black Suede, and Al Haramain Tajibni, use a combination of a vegetal musk like ambrette, saffron, and cedar/woods to create a sort of musky, resinous suede effect. Whatever it is, it’s great. GBP 400 for 3ml, though…’s too much for me personally, but I have no doubt that it’s worth it.

Attars & CPOs

The Al Haramain Premium Collection

20th November 2015

Given the recent spate of reviews for Al Haramain’s Premium Collection (CPOs and attars) and Prestige Collection (EDPs), I eagerly jumped on the bandwagon of ordering samples from Al Haramain’s main European office, in the Netherlands. The price of the sample set (€20, delivery included) is incredibly good value when you consider that even a sample vial of concentrated perfume oils and attars goes very far. I received (in record time) a sample set containing all except one of the Premium Collection and a bonus two samples from the Prestige Collection.

I want to particularly commend the European office of Al Haramain for offering such a comprehensive (and affordable) sampling program, because most Arabian perfume houses do not. This is a far-sighted decision on the part of Al Haramain because, simply put, it will ensure that more people get to sample the products. And, as we all know, the world of Arabian attars and CPOs is so bewilderingly large and confusing to Western sensibilities, that we need all the help we can get in narrowing down the field.

In the end, here’s the result – I liked some, was deeply “meh” on others, hated one or two with a passion, and loved one enough to start searching for a full bottle of it. For any company worth their salt in this business, I would have to say that that’s a pretty good return on investment – right? Hats off to Al Haramain (Europe branch) for this smart strategy. Now onto the scents themselves:


I suspect that there was a mistake in filling my sample because whereas the published notes for this CPO uniformly cite musk, amber, agarwood, sugar, rose, and saffron, I get something completely different. The top note is a bright lemon, quickly followed by a sweaty combination of pine or conifer resin and vetiver. Underneath this rather masculine, woodsy layer, I can almost convince myself that there is an unclean musk lurking, almost like the halitosis tone of ambergris or civet. None of the reviews or marketing blurb mentions anything like this, so I am putting this down to a sample mix up. Hayati itself sounds rather good, but whatever it is that I have on me right now smells pretty foul.

Mukhallat Seufi

I’ll be honest – I ordered the Al Haramain Premium Collection sample pack based purely on the glowing reviews for Mukhallat Seufi. However, to my great disappointment, Mukhallat Seufi is a distinctly middle-of-the-road attar. There is indeed a beautiful, bright, jammy rose for the first hour, tinged somewhat with that lemony floor cleaner note that all good rose oils seem to have. During that first hour, it smells beautiful, if a little traditional (read: that tried and tested rose-and-saffron attar smell).

But soon, it begins to deflate like a popped balloon into the standard fruity-amber midsection that is so familiar to me from other Al Haramain attars such as Attar al Kaaba. It is syrupy, heavily spiced with a dusty saffron, and despite what the reviews would have you believe, completely devoid of the interesting, sour-rotting smell of real oud (or even the high-strung, band-aid slap of the Firmenich synthesized stuff).

The base, which also arrives woefully quickly, is a cheap laundry musk, so within a matter of two hours (sob!) you are plunged from the heights of that initial rose drama to a screechy, rose-tinted white musk. The gorgeous rose is a cruel tease – underneath its brief cameo (“Here I am, look at MEEEEE”), the rest of the oil is getting ready to fall apart. Forget the complex notes list – this is a simple affair. I don’t hate it, but it’s nothing I’d lose my knickers over either.

Given that Mukhallat Seufi (€160 for 6mls, or €26.66 per ml) smells like two-thirds of the Al Haramain bestseller Attar al Kaaba (€40 for 25ml, or €1.6 per ml), I’d be feeling very stiffed indeed if I’d plonked down full price for this. For that kind of money, I could take Attar al Kaaba, fix the less-than-transcendental rose at the top with an expensive pure rose otto, and still have enough dosh in my pocket to buy a bottle of Narciso Rodriguez Musc for Her, which features the same sort of rosy, ambery white musk you get here (if that’s your thing).


I never thought this would be the standout for me – cloves! camphor! kill me now! – but it totally steals the show. I was not completely sold on the opening and early heart at first. When I first put it on, I got a biting dose of camphor and a very metallic mix of clove and cardamom. Twenty minutes in, and all other notes drop out of sight for a while, leaving an oily mint note floating there – not a fresh mint note, mind you, but strands of mint roots left to rot gently in a glass of water. It is a very strange and non-traditional opening to a Middle-Eastern attar.

But the more I try it from my sample, the more I start to appreciate its almost refreshing, spicy greenness as a necessary prelude to the main act, which is a brown, spicy patchouli so beautiful it makes me want to cry. If you’ve ever tried Patchouli Boheme by LM Parfums, then you’ve a slight idea of what you’re in for, because it shares something of that musky-ambery vanilla and sandalwood base that makes the patchouli note slightly edible. But this is much, much better than the LM Parfums scent. No chocolate, and no headshop. This is refined stuff. It is also not sweet.

Further on down the line, a smoky labdanum reveals itself, and the smooth woodiness of the vanilla, patchouli, and musk is roughed up by its slightly resinous, tough texture. It’s as if the golden pool of amber and patchouli has been contaminated with the black oil of untreated leather. The smoke, tar, and leather of the labdanum resin adds a very sensual “my skin but better” feel to the scent. On the whole, Safwa has much more development on my skin than any of the others in the sample pack, and is the only one where the complex list of notes actually bears out.

On the subject of development, you’ll have ample time to study it as Safwa has a half life of decades. It’s actually freaking me out how long this lasts (and how beautifully). It wears very closely to the skin, though, and is far from bombastic. Even when I put it on first, I make the mistake of adding more and more because I think I can’t smell anything but oil for a while. It’s a quiet scent. The sample vial it came in snapped off at the top (the Al Haramain sample tubes have an odd fit to them) so I inadvertently gave myself a whore’s bath in it the second time around, and the oil still had the good manners to not shout.

I love this oil – what can I say? I am a sucker, but I am currently scouring the InterWebs for a decently-priced bottle of this. It costs €160 for 24mls, which works out at almost €7 per ml. This is almost four times cheaper than the feted Mukhallat Seufi, and yet in terms of sheer enjoyment (not to mention quality), Safwa is worth four of the Seufi.

Atifa Blanche

Blanche is an excellent word to describe this scent. It is indeed a “white” scent. There is something so softly chewy about the topnotes of Atifa Blanche that I instantly visualized the scent as a white silk pillowcase stuffed with flower petals, marshmallows, meringues, and clouds of whipped cream. It has the straight-forward beauty of a bride coming down the aisle, the sunlight behind her framing her head in an impossible halo of light. The oil opens with sparkling citrus fruits – mandarin, lemon, and lime peel – their sharpness nicely rounded out by the slightly creamy heart of lily and rose.

There is also a noticeable lipstick note in the heart, due to the violet acting upon the rose. In fact, if I were asked to sum up Atifa Blanche in a quick sentence for a catalogue pressed for space, I’d submit this: “A vintage cosmetics scent suitable for virginal brides with a Roller Derby Girl past.” Kind of in the same ballpark as Misia (which is more matronly) or Putain des Palaces (which is skankier) in that they are all big, violet-y powder puff scents at heart. But Atifa Blanche has an interesting wax or dough accord that puts it alongside Kerbside Violet (also suitable for a Roller Derby Girl).

I don’t smell any tuberose or jasmine, to be honest, but I do smell a very small bit of creamy ylang ylang. Still, there is nothing sub-tropical or Big White Floral in feel to this at all – if they are there, they are there only in a strictly denatured form, in other words, no dirty indoles, no rubber, no blowsy ladies-who-lunch elements at all. It is a clean, fresh, and stream-lined scent, with the violet and rose lipstick crème leading the flavor pack at the front.

The notes list an ozonic accord in the topnotes, but I notice nothing aquatic or watery (unless you think of lily as smelling that way, and if you do, then quite clearly you are a gardener). For me, the scent is defined by this radiant aura of clean, sweet lipstick wax, and it strikes me as both innocently retro and almost (but not quite) edible. It is beautiful and feminine, and miles better than By Killian Love. I’d almost certainly buy this if I were in the States, where it costs $90 for 24ml from Beautyspin. Unfortunately, I live in Europe, where the fuckers would charge me €160 for it. Tant pis pour moi.

Atifa Noir

As unbearable as Black Orchid, after which it is clearly modeled. It features a sickly, unholy alliance of chocolate, flowers, and fruit that only lacks the salty cucumber note of Black Orchid to make the horror complete. Atifa Noir clearly has top notch materials, when I manage to pick them out of the black sludge, such as a winey Burgundy rose and…well, no, that’s about all I can pick out. The uneasy mix of chocolate, fruit, vanilla, flowers, and the metaphorical kitchen sink has the added insult of also smelling like a cheap air freshener or a heavily-scented floor cleaning product.

The whole thing has been doused in black pepper which gives it that masculine feel that Black Orchid is so famous for (except in BO’s case, the truffle note is responsible). If Luca Turin was reviewing this oil (unlikely, I know!), I’d like to think that he’d say that Atifa Noir was slumming it in Angel territory and that the black pepper gave the florals an Adam’s Apple. Me, I’m no Luca Turin, but I’d say that Atifa Noir is only one step up from the woeful stuff that Tesori D’Oriente puts out, which is itself only one step up from functional cleaning products. But at least Tesori D’Oriente are honest enough to charge €4 or €5 a bottle. Atifa Noir costs €160 for 24mls.


It surprises me how many fragrances out there smell like Tuscan Leather. Recently it was Oud Sapphir, but there was something in Byredo’s Black Saffron that smelled like it too. Tajibni attar is the latest one. Nothing in the notes really suggests that it should smell like Tuscan Leather. And yet it does.

Tajibni opens with the flat oily aroma of pressed mandarin peel, not fresh or sparkling, but rather dense and compacted. The meat and bones of the “Tuscan Leather” component comes up behind the oily citrus and soon it is pretty much all I can smell. To me, what all these TL smell-alikes have in common is this: a musky suede scent profile built from powdered cedar chips, stale nut shells, and sawdust lining the ground of an indoor horse-riding arena. I like this smell a lot – it reminds me of happy moments in my childhood – but it is still more a “smell” than a complex personal fragrance. That’s the way I feel about Tuscan Leather, and in the interest of fairness, it’s also how I feel about its smell-alikes. Tajibni is a very likeable, high quality suede/leather fragrance, but at €160 for 6ml, I’d be hard pressed to recommend buying this over a bottle of the Tom Ford.

Although for some reason I wasn’t sent Ehas in my sample pack, they did send me two samples from the Prestige Collection, which features EDPs and not oils.

Arabian Treasure

Arabian Treasure is a cuddly vanillic amber along the same lines as Ambre Precieux or Ambre 114, but with an unwelcome mint/basil topnote that comes off as mould. There is also a blast of dirty clove, which lends the composition an unwholesome air, like the closed-up air in the doctor’s waiting room.  All of this is unnecessary – just show me the amber. When they arrive, the base notes are the golden river of amber, labdanum, and patchouli that I like in all the other amber-centric fragrances I like. Just buy one of those instead – any of them – because nobody had any business paying €230 for a basic amber fragrance. The sample card for this read “End of Quest!” Exactly my feelings.

Mystique Musk

This is very nice – a very fruity, sweet white musk with an opening note of pure candied purple violets (the petals as well as the leaves). It’s very childlike and fresh, and the undertone of eraser rubber that I’m also picking up is adding to the scent’s upbeat, preppy aura. It smells slight – just slightly – like the inside of a My Little Pony, when you cut through its belly (I was a weird little child, that’s all I’ll say). This is a good thing, to my nose. Osmanthus adds a hint of apricot, and there is a velvety suede accent to the base (although the notes say leather). If you like gentle, fruity, slightly musky suede scents like Bottega Veneta, Daim Blond, or Cuir Amethyste, you might want to give this a try.

The white musk in the dry down is neither cheap nor offensively “laundry” so even white musk haters should be safe. In fact, for a fragrance named for musk, I am not picking up a whole lot of it. The pricing on this is a bit weird – the official Al Haramain office in the Netherlands has this listed for €230 for 70mls, whereas Parfumaria (also in Holland) has it at €195 for 100mls…..very odd. Either way, not a bargain, and definitely not a masterpiece. I’d only pay those prices for something extremely special. Like, for example, I Miss Violet by The Different Company, which also costs a bomb, but pairs the violet and leather with a sublime ambrette seed that smells like fresh peel from a Granny Smith apple.