Ghaliyah Kacheri (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
An ambergris-forward version of the Ghaliyah series produced by Rising Phoenix Perfumery. Ghaliyah Kacheri adds a Hindi oud oil to the blueprint, but surprisingly, the Hindi keeps its big mouth shut until the far reaches of the drydown. What is most noticeable at first is the creamy, apple-peel freshness of champaca flower mixed with a silky, wheaten sandalwood-ambergris foundation. There is a golden tone to it, like flowers drenched in the saltwater glitter of ambergris.
The sour smoke of the Hindi oud breaks through after an hour, fusing with the salty, creamy florals to give the scent the patina of aged woods, leather, and campfire smoke. The contrast between the fermented funk of the Hindi and the rosy, shampoo brightness of the champaca is the key to its charm. Ghaliyah Kacheri is a clever and unusual floral ambergris with a great payoff. Sillage-wise, however, be aware this version is quite muted compared to the other Ghaliyah mukhallats in the series.
Molook is a paean to the glories of two of the stinkiest raw materials in all of perfumery, namely, ambergris and the most animalic of Hindi oud oils – the kind revered in the Emirati market. The Hindi is up front in all its creamy, sheep-cheesy glory. But it is the ambergris that really shines in this mukhallat. Redolent with the fetid marine stink of the softer, darker types of ambergris, the note still bears some resemblance to its original whale dung sheathing. Its fecal warmth acts as a magnifying glass for the oud, heating it up until a three-dimensional picture of animal fur has been rendered.
I suspect that many Western noses might be initially put off by the hot, sour blue cheese aroma that swells up on the skin the minute you dab it on. But that is just Hindi oud for you. Its heavy breath of fermentation and tanned leather is what most people in the Arabian Peninsula identify as the real smell of oud.
Although I personally prefer the smell of what is marketed these days as Cambodi oud – fruitier, sweeter, and less animalic – there is no denying that something about Hindi oud keeps my nose returning to my wrist. Its odd sourness is deeply compelling, and more mysterious and interesting overall than Cambodi oud. The aroma of the Hindi oud settles eventually, becoming rounder and warmer (although not sweeter) as the ambergris takes over, softening the blunt twang of the oud with its salty, musky glow.
Insofar as any mukhallat can be said to lean towards one gender or another, Molook leans masculine. It is fascinating to wear, especially for those interested in getting a picture of what a high quality Hindi oud or natural ambergris smells like.
Pure Amber (Amouage)
Like so many mukhallats with the word ‘amber’ in their title, this is not amber at all but rather, ambergris. To anyone unfamiliar with ambergris – or indeed to anyone actually expecting amber – the opening could prove to be quite a shock. It is as earthy and stale as a clod of soil freshly dug up beside a marina where the carcasses of several marine mammals have begun to slowly rot. There is a distinct dung-like facet to the aroma but let me reassure you that the damp soil effect ensures the scent remains fresh-dirty rather than fecal-dirty.
Many ambergris oils or blends have a natural line of intersection with civet. But Amber makes it clear that this is a different animal altogether. Ambergris is a little stinky in that slightly rude, open-hearted way of farmland and the seaside, but not at all sharp, like civet can be. Pure Amber showcases the earthy, fungal undertones of ambergris, with a sideswipe of fresh horse dung for good measure. It warms up into the pleasant scent of freshly-mucked-out stable, complete with nuances of clean earth and warm straw. Equestrians and horse enthusiasts will understand that this is the scent of beauty itself.
Later, other nuances drift into the picture, principally an arid, aromatic sandalwood, and the vanillic smell of old books. It is at this stage that one realizes that Pure Amber is really a simple blend of two exquisite materials – white ambergris and sandalwood. The drydown is a careful balance between the nutty warmth of sandalwood and the mineralic radiance of ambergris. Those obsessed with the evocative scent of antique bookstores and long, windswept Atlantic beaches may want to lay their souls on the line for a sample.
Royal Amber Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)
Royal Amber Blend is a lower-priced reiteration of the Royal Amber AA Blend, below, and therefore a more streamlined version of the same basic scent profile. Like its progenitor, it features a medicinal, iodine-tinged amber note over a funky grade of ambergris. However, Royal Amber Blend lacks the sweet, taffy-like depth of the labdanum in the original. Instead, it is unsweet, greenish, and moldy in the vein of sepulchral ambers like Ambra Nera (Farmacia SS. Annunziata), occupying a sourish register that will be unfamiliar to those used to the vanillic ambers of mainstream perfumery. With its muscular, briny-herbaceous undertones, Royal Amber Blend actually smells far more Indian than Middle Eastern in style.
Royal Amber AA Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)
A very complex and interesting mukhallat. As with most mukhallats, it doesn’t have the traditional top-down structure that we are used to with Western alcohol-based spray perfumes. Instead, when it is first dabbed onto the skin, the notes appear as a thick blanket of scent before spreading out in concentric waves to reveal the basic facets of the scent. Body heat intensifies and warms the notes so that they become ever more radiant.
Royal Amber is primarily all about the ambergris. The ambergris note is unabashedly inky and medicinal at first, denoting the helping hand of saffron, a material with iodine-like properties. This combination pulls the scent down a hospital corridor towards the operating theatre in much the same way that White Oud (Montale) does.
While the iodine note never disappears entirely, it is soon joined by the more attractive facets of natural ambergris, namely newspaper and sweet marine air. After a protracted period of salty sea air, the central accord takes on a far thicker and tarrier nuance, indicating the use of soft, dung-like black ambergris or, at the very least, a dark grey-brown specimen. The tarry facet is further accentuated by an unlisted labdanum resin. In its combination of sweet, sticky resins and animalic, leathery notes, Royal Amber shares common ground with the earlier Slumberhouse releases, such as Vikt and Sova.
Hearty, a bit rough around the edges, and with a one-two punch of ambergris and labdanum, Royal is simple but incredibly satisfying. It strikes me as the perfect scent for someone who spends a lot of time outdoors on beaches or in forests, preferring the scent of sticky tree sap and sea salt on their skin to the smell of perfume.
Royal Amber Spirit AAA (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)
It is educational to apply Royal Amber Spirit AAA side by side with ASAQ’s slightly lower-priced amber blend, Amber Jewels. There is a price difference of approximately $100, but the step up in quality and complexity is greater than the price differential suggests. While Amber Jewels is a straightforward portrait of ambergris, Royal Amber Spirit AAA dresses the ambergris up in exotic jewels and finery.
Amber Jewels is light in texture and body, with a slightly raw, marine quality that persists for most of the fragrance, before fading into the caramelized tones of labdanum amber in the base. It smells fresh – ozonic almost – as if filtered through a herb-laden breeze carried straight from the ocean.
Royal Amber Spirit, on the other hand, is immediately heavier and more sweetly ambery. Although the raw marine quality of ambergris is present and correct upon application, it quickly becomes fused with a luxuriant, balsamic amber that feels pashmina-thick. Compared to Amber Jewels, it is infinitely more textured and three-dimensional. It maintains a salty-n-sweet ambergris tenor almost all the way through, though it is pleasurably muffled by a waxy layer of amber in the final stretch. A judicious dose of dusty spice – saffron, cinnamon, and clove perhaps – swims around in the treacle-like murk of the amber, adding a pleasant heat. What emerges is a warm, dusty leather with rich, balsamic touches.
There is also, I believe, a touch of sweet myrrh – opoponax – in the mix, present in the form of a bubbling, golden resin that encompasses both the waxy, honeyed texture of almond butter and the verdant bite of lavender. The opoponax adds a herbaceous dimension that freshens the breath of the scent’s resinous backdrop. The scent finishes in a blaze of ambery-woody warmth that, though now lacking the salty radiance of ambergris, still feels multi-dimensional in scope.
I recommend Royal Amber Spirit AAA to serious ambergris fans with a discerning palate and the means with which to pay for it. Be warned that it is tremendously expensive at $469 per tola, give or take. Is it worth the price of admission? In my opinion, yes.
Royal Ambergris (Arabian Oud)
Coming as close to the aroma of an ambergris tincture as one can get in oil format, Royal Ambergris is a superb ambergris attar. It shares similarities with both Sweet Blue Amber by Abdul Samad Al Qurashi and Amouage’s Amber attar but is drier than the former, and more natural in feel than the latter.
At first, it smells of clean marine silt and low tide, but then smooths out into the enticing aroma of warm hay, clean horse stables, fresh sea air, and the great outdoors. Later, a tiny bit of golden sweetness creeps in. In general, this is an ambergris that tilts more towards earth and tobacco than resin. Highly recommended both for layering and wearing alone.
Sandal Ambergris (Aloes of Ish)
As advertised, ambergris and sandalwood. The ambergris opening is earthy to the point of smelling like freshly-cut mushrooms caked in black soil. The fungal dampness feels clean and saline rather than sweet.
After a transition that smells of wet and then dry newspapers, the emphasis shifts to the sandalwood in the base. At this price level ($20 or so per quarter tola), it is improbable that this is pure Indian sandalwood. But even if the natural oils are fluffed out a little by synthetic sandalwood, the overall effect smells so natural that it is difficult to find fault. The sandalwood accord is buttery, salty, papery, dry, and aromatic. It is also durable, lasting for the better part of an entire day.
It is interesting to compare something like Sandal Ambergris with the Santal Ambergris tincture by Abdes Salaam Attar (La Via del Profumo). Both address the same theme and focus on the same two materials, and though one is all natural and the other not, they are both very pleasing takes. As always, however, you get what you pay for. The quality in the La Via del Profumo version is clearly superior, while the Aloes of Ish oil involves a little bit of willful fantasizing on the part of the wearer.
Saqr II (Al Shareef Oudh)
Saqr II is a mukhallat composed in honor of nature in all its brutal beauty. It focuses on ambergris (long golden beaches), oud (forests), Ta’ifi rose (flowers in inhospitable terrain), and Himalayan musk (animal fur). Saqr II provides the wearer with a truly kaleidoscopic experience – the florals, exotic woods, and musk all rushing out at you in a giddy vortex of scent – but maintains a rigorous clarity rarely experienced in such complex blends. The wearer can smell every component of the blend, both individually and as part of the rich, multi-layered fabric of the perfume.
The play of light on dark is well executed. The tart green spice of the Ta’ifi rose lifts the perfume, while salty-sweet ambergris lends a sparkle. These brighter elements prevent the darker oud and musk from becoming too heavy. The bright rose burns away, leaving a trail of leathery, spicy oud wood that is addictive, drawing one’s nose repeatedly to the skin. The oud here is smooth and supple, with nary a trace of sourness or animal stink. The musk, perceptible more as a texture than a scent, blurs the edges of the oud and rose notes into furred roundness that gradually softens the scent’s austerity.
The slight out-of-focus feel to this blend makes it far more approachable for beginners than many others in the Al Shareef Oudh stable. There is even a little tobacco-ish sweetness thanks to the ambergris. However, typical for the house, none of the materials have been dumbed down for a Western audience. The blend smells classic in a certain rose-oud way, but it is not clichéd. Its balance of dark and bright elements, sweet and non-sweet, dirty-musky and clean, is what makes it such a masterful example of its genre.
Saqr II is complex, beautiful, and above all, easy to wear. I love the fuzzy golden timbre of the ambergris in this scent, which lends it a tannic apricot skin edge. It is my personal favorite of all the Al Shareef Oudh mukhallats and the one I would recommend to beginners as a great primer on the brand’s overall approach and aesthetic. Beyond that, it is one of the most beautiful perfumes I have had the pleasure of smelling in my life.
Sweet Blue Amber (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)
Sweet Blue Amber is essentially a hunk of brownish-grey ambergris left to macerate in carrier oil until maximum halitosis has been achieved. The first time I tried it, I was repelled. The opening howl of civet struck me as foul, and the body of the scent thin and wafty. It smelled uncomfortably like someone with very poor dental hygiene breathing on me in a packed space.
But now, with several years of ambergris experience under my belt, I can say that Sweet Blue Amber is just a very faithful rendition of grey or brown ambergris. This grade of ambergris is admittedly funky, but it eventually mellows out into a salty, skin-like scent that is very sensual in an organic way.
I like to layer Sweet Blue Amber under certain Western scents like Shalimar or Mitsouko to add a bodily funk missing from the modern versions. Jacques Guerlain once said that all his perfumes contained something of his mistress’ undercarriage in them, but even he would have scandalized at what Shalimar smells like with a layer of Sweet Amber Blue lurking beneath. Shalimar doctored in this way smells utterly carnal, the ferocious civety skank of the Sweet Blue Amber glowing hotly through the smoky vanilla of Shalimar, like tires on fire at a bacchanal.
A bottle of Sweet Blue Amber could be a brilliant DIY solution to fixing perfumes in your collection that have lost their animalic spark through reformulation, age, or the banning of nitro musks. Imagine the current versions of Bal a Versailles and No. 5 restored to their former animalic glory. The possibilities seem endless. Buy a tiny bottle of Sweet Amber Blue and have fun with it!
Truffe Blanche (Sultan Pasha Attars)
Truffe Blanche is so-named because it contains white Alba truffle extract, orris pallida, and white ambergris from the West of Ireland. However, it does not smell particularly ‘white’, at least not in the manner that most people would interpret it in the context of a scent, i.e., creamy, cloudy, milky, icy in texture, with lots of white musks, blond woods, and so on.
Instead, Truffe Blanche is quite an earthy, dusty scent, its character driven in the main by a smoky birch tar, which loses no time in mopping up all the juicy sweetness of the Meyer lemon and florals used up top. Thanks to the benzoin, birch, a charred (meaty) guaiac wood, and white ambergris, Truffle Blanche smells most enticingly of old books, desiccated wood, soot, black leather, and the remnants of ash in the grate. The camphoraceous facet of benzoin is in evidence here, too, but the scent never feels fresh or minty.
As the scent develops, a few of the sweeter, more animalic notes make a run for it. Escaping from underneath the rafters of that leathery dust are a bittersweet ‘roasted’ caramel note, a dry vanilla bean, and a pungent, honeyed civet. The contrast between dusty library papers and syrupy-dirty civet is tremendously effective. Truffe Blanche succeeds because it manages to both smell great on the skin and evoke a place or a mood.
Oddly, Truffe Blanche smells very differently on the skin compared to on the toothpick I used to fish out a drop. On wood, it smells immediately like a dry, caramelized vanilla – almost purely white ambergris and benzoin, with a faint smudge of soiled panties. On the skin, the dusty, smoky effects of the birch tar are far more in evidence and linger longer. However, it is worth noting that it too winds up in the same dry, ambergris-civet vanilla and benzoin track.
Truffe Blanche is, for me, one of the all-time standouts of the Sultan Pasha Attar range. If you too love the scent of dry vanilla pods, white ambergris, books, and dusty libraries, then this is most definitely worth your time.
Sheikh al Faransi (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)
Sheikh al Faransi is a bestial blend of ambergris, oud, and amber that is intensely evocative of the sea, mountains, earth, and rot. It opens on a note of sweet varnishy decay, like a mixture of mold on an apple and mildewy furniture left to fester in an abandoned mansion. Something about the blend seems on the verge of collapse, which introduces the thrill of uncertainty.
Slowly the halitosis stink of grey-brown ambergris begins to peek out through the woody rot, bringing with it its unique alchemy of sea air, silt, and horsehair. It is met with a light dusting of icing sugar, likely an amber and sandalwood sweetener placed there to offset the suggestive saltiness of the ambergris.
For the longest time, the perfume lingers in a midsection of sea salt and sweet powdered amber. But the drydown is pure ambergris in the fullness of its mammalian splendor. It is gorgeous, and 180° removed from its rotting, feral, damply-fruited start. For a mukhallat, it is decidedly non-linear and exciting to wear. Recommended to those who are looking for a wild ride.
silencethesea (Strangelove NYC)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
silencethesea immediately joins the ranks of ambergris perfumes to try before you die. Although there are other notes or materials, to my nose, this smells as close to a pure ambergris tincture as is possible in niche perfumery.
Ambergris can smell very differently from piece to piece, grade to grade, etc., but the ambergris in silencethesea smells like a deserted beach in winter. It has a dry, oceanic smell, like the smell of stones and rocks left to dry in the sun after the tide has gone out. Dry salt, minerals, and the stony loneliness of inanimate objects on a beach with no people around to witness it.
Silencethesea smells completely organic to me – elemental, and a bit wild. It has the type of aroma that one finds utterly normal in nature but does not expect to find in a personal perfume, and thus, it feels shocking. It is raw and slightly intimate.
There is no warmth to the aroma, apart from the vague funkiness inherent to ambergris that reminds us that this is a substance that originated in the intestine of an animal. Wearing it is like wearing no perfume at all, because it smells more like the cold air in one’s skin and hair after a long, solitary walk on a windswept beach than a perfume. This is not a perfume for community or cuddling or clubbing. It is for the pleasures of solitude.
White Cedar Rose (Mellifluence)
This scent is dominated by a buttery, grass-fed coconut milk accord with an oddly meaty ‘lime peel’ quality to it. Coconut can smell both creamy and savory, an effect that is pushed to breaking point here. In fact, if beaten any further, one suspects that the lactonic accord at the heart of White Cedar Rose would start forming small lumps of butter.
The cedar helps stabilize things by bulking out the coconut milk and adding a saline muskiness. But the citrusy, rosy brightness that cuts through the salted butter and coconut is what ultimately turns this simple coconut tanning cream into a delightful rum-and-coconut cocktail treat not far removed from Creed’s Virgin Island Water.
Once the crazy lactones calm down a bit, I can perceive more clearly where the beefy saltiness is coming from – a golden, toffee-like, but also downright marshy ambergris and civet pairing in the base. The creaminess of the coconut and the bright lime notes slot into place over this sexy, skin-like ambergris for a result that is just wonderful. The clean smokiness of the cedar notes combines with the salty, sweaty skin notes and coconut milk to conjure an image of steamy lumberyards and beaches. If you love Virgin Island Water by Creed, Sex and the Sea by Francesca Bianchi, or even Cadjmere by Parfumerie Generale, then make it a priority to sample White Cedar Rose.
Yeti Attar 2012 (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
This is the single best double billing of ambergris and sandalwood currently in production. (Though, given the ominous 2012 tag in the title, I am not so sure about the ‘currently in production’ bit). Still, if you can get it, you are in for quite the experience. Yeti Attar coats the skin in a liquid hug of savory-sweet sandalwood with nuances of creamed coconut, peanut shell, and melted Irish butter. There is little better, when you are a sandalwood lover, than smelling the real deal and in such generous amounts.
Yeti Attar has a relatively simple structure – sandalwood, then ambergris, and then sandalwood again, like the best sandwich you ever ate but don’t remember ordering. When materials are as good as these – like the best conversationalists at a party – your job is simply to introduce them to each other and then leave them alone to do their thing. The ambergris used here is a subtle, golden one, with a spectrum of aromas ranging from earthy tobacco to damp newspaper and finally to dry, salty newspapers left out on a beach to curl up and yellow at the edges.
It is difficult to smell the ambergris in its totality when you smell it directly from the skin, and in fact, its nuances only reveal themselves in full when sniffed alongside something else on your other hand. This phenomenon is true of all attars featuring the finest grades of white ambergris – the scent profile is hauntingly subtle but its effect on the overall scent profound and noticeable. Once my nose smells another attar, and then returns to the Yeti Attar, I suddenly grasp all the facets of the ambergris used. Strange sensation!
The ambergris used here is soft, earthy, saliva-ish, intimate, and golden, like just-licked skin. It is not overbearing, dirty, or animalic in a horsey way. Yeti Attar 2012 is sensual and delicate to the point of being ethereal. A must-try for any sandalwood and ambergris lover.
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, Maison Anthony Marmin, Arabian Oud, and Mellifliuence. The samples from Rising Phoenix Perfumery, Abdul Samad al Qurashi, Strangelove NYC, Al Shareef Oudh and Sultan Pasha were sent to me free of charge either by the brand or a distributor. The sample from Aloes of Ish was sent to me by a Basenotes friend.
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.