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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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 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)
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)
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.