The oud reviews continue! We are now moving away from reviews of pure oud oils (grouped and alphabetized here: 0-C, D-K, L-O, and P-Y) to reviews of oudy mukhallats. As a quick reminder, mukhallats are blends (mukhallat being the Arabic word for ‘blend’) of essential oils and other raw materials that were distilled or compounded elsewhere. Some of them include carrier oils and synthetics, while others do not (price is a factor). Generally, mukhallats are viewed by Arabs and Persians as the perfect vehicle for oud oil. Indeed, given the preference in the Middle East for rich, complex blended perfumes, oudy mukhallats might even be preferable to wearing the oud oil neat.
The mukhallat is a uniquely Middle Eastern form of perfumery, while the attar is a traditionally Indian one. Note that for most of the perfume-wearing world, the words ‘attar’ and ‘mukhallat’ are largely interchangeable (read about the actual differences here and here). The rose-oud mukhallat is the most famous type of oudy mukhallat in the world, providing the basic template for the thousands of Montale, Mancera and Armani rose-ouds that now populate the market.
But before you start reading, oud-heads and oud newbies, do check out the introduction to oud here, which covers everything from how oud is distilled, its uses in oil-based and commercial perfumery, and the different markets that consume it. Then read my Oud Primer, consisting of Part I: The Challenges of Oud, Part II: Why Oud Smells the Way it Does and Part III: The Different Styles of Oud.
Photo by Gary Meulemans on Unsplash
Abdul Azeez Blend (Arabian Oud)
Type: oudy mukhallat
Abdul Azeez Blend is an extremely potent, masculine-leaning rose, oud, and musk mukhallat. The quality of the rose is excellent but tainted somewhat by a fuzzy ‘steel wire’ synthetic that I suspect belongs to the oud component. This twang of oud synthetics – dry and rubbery – will familiar to anyone who’s ever tried a Montale or a Mancera.
Thankfully, this glancing chemical taste seems to affect only the opening, quickly disappearing into the velvety folds of the rich rose and amber that swells up behind it. The amber is confidently spiced, the rose exuberantly jammy, and there’s a liquid smoothness to the texture that reads like a Mexican dessert liquor – one of those that are golden in appearance but plummy-brown in the mouth.
The scent grows ever richer and more caramelized as it develops. However, for the first hour, this oudy mukhallat reminds me uncomfortably of lower-priced Arabian blends that rely too heavily on woody ambers or synthetic oud to carry the weight of the fragrance. For a premium-priced attar, this is not ideal. To be fair, the sensitivity to this raw, dry oud note is possibly mine alone, and if you can take the band-aidy notes at the top of, say, Montale’s White Aoud, then you can take them here too. Once Abdul Azeez Blend sheds its rather synthetic topnotes, it becomes a truly excellent rose oud with potency and charm in spades.
Photo by Ömer F. Arslan on Unsplash
Al Bayt Al A’teeq (Al Shareef Oudh)
Type: oudy mukhallat
Al Bayt Al A’teeq (meaning ‘the ancient house’ in Arabic) is a limited edition oil blend made by Al Shareef Oudh in close cooperation with a leading perfumery family in Mecca. The aim here was to recreate the exact aroma profile of the oil used to scent the cloth covering the Ka’aba and the Black Stone. Although I’ve never had the privilege and never will (being a non-Muslim), people who have been inside the Ka’aba itself have recounted the divine smell of the special oils mixed and rubbed onto the black cloth and onto the red bricks inside the structure. Al Bayt Al A’teeq is a mukhallat that apparently recreates this special scent.
Al Bayt Al A’teeq is a great example of what Al Shareef Al Oudh does so well, which is taking a theme and interpreting it in the most authentic way possible, with little care given to appeasing Western palates. The mukhallats and attars from this house all communicate a clear message of earnestness and sincerity. In other words, blends and oils for the purists and the mystics among us, and not necessarily for the beginner or for the casual buyer looking for something sweetly, vaguely exotic. These blends mean business – so you too had better mean business.
In Al Bayt Al A’teeq, authenticity has been placed high above smoothness, sweetness, and affability. It is a ferocious blend of aged oud, musk, and ambergris, with no florals or amber at all to soften the blunt force of the animalics. The result is a sepulchral, gloomy, but velvety blend that achieves the blackness of a starless sky. It smells ancient, dusty, and a bit stale, like the exhalation of a tomb newly excavated. Personally, I find it a bit suffocating, but it will appeal to people (especially men) who like their mukhallats authentically dark and serious.
Al Hareem (Sultan Pasha Attars)
Type: oudy mukhallat
Al Hareem showcases a particularly rare Bengali oud. Bengali ouds are Hindi ouds, famous for being fiercely animalic, and indeed, the opening fizzes with a pissy, hay-like oud aroma that at first shocks and then beguiles. A good Hindi oud reels you in on an attraction-repulsion mechanism – the hot sourness, the rotting wood, that stinking underbelly of a goat. How can those aromas be so simultaneously repugnant and alluring? That’s the mystery of pure oud.
Al Hareem follows this brutalizing but gorgeous oud opening with a mellow tandem of Turkish rose and Mysore sandalwood, the effect of which is the formation of a very traditional-smelling Indian attar cushion for that sour, animalic Bengali oud. Al Hareem takes an age-old template – the traditional rose-oud-sandal mukhallat – and improves upon it by shoehorning the best, most luxurious materials into it.
In time, the soft red rose note is bolstered by other florals, particularly tuberose and gardenia, but the white florals never overwhelm or dominate the rose. They are there simply to add to the creamy effect created by the musk and butter notes. It is worth mentioning that there is a beautifully fragrant, nutty quality to the sandalwood in the base of this attar that’s particularly toothsome. The final act is a sweet mélange of buttery woods, silky musks, cream, and roses, with only a trace of the woody sourness of the Bengali oud remaining.
I cannot recommend Al Hareem highly enough to people who are looking for a slightly traditional, but very soft and friendly Indian-inspired rose-oud-sandalwood attar to start out with, and who don’t mind spending a bit extra to get something that is made with high quality natural oils and absolutes.
Al Khidr (Mellifluence)
Type: oudy mukhallat
Al Khidr uses a very unusual oud oil called Green Sarawak oud, which comes from oud trees grown in the Malaysian-owned part of Western Borneo. All oud oil from trees grown on the island of Borneo, no matter their species or the region of Borneo where the trees grew, features notes that mark them out as Borneo oud. They are all bright and vaporous in a freshly-cut-log kind of way.
In temperament, Borneo oud oils are eons away from the aroma profile of classic Hindi or Cambodi-style oud oils. In fact, many Arabs find it difficult to accept Borneo oud as oud because it does not conform to their cultural expectations of how oud oil should smell, which for them is an aroma encompassing fermentation, leather, barnyard, hay, smoke, and spice
True to form, the Borneo oud oil used in Al Khidr is very green, clean, and tartly fresh. There are hints of freshly-cut pears, apples, and herbs – notes also associated with Borneo ouds – as well as a sparkling solvent or glue-like high note. (As it turns out, the scent of turps and nail polish remover is also a feature of Borneo ouds).
Al Khidr has a very pleasant flavor profile, balancing its silvery freshness with the murky, velvety depths one associates with oud oils in general. This is the kind of oud that even beginners and those wary of ouds in general can immediately appreciate. The oud is bracketed on either end by a grassy vetiver, smoky cade oil, lemon balm, and a whole host of fresh, crisp notes such as apple and cucumber, all carefully chosen to accentuate the rubbery cleanliness of the oud.
Al Khidr occupies a very earthy, balsamic tone from top to tow, sliding in minute increments from bright green at the start to dark green in the base. There are other oud oils and Mysore sandalwood here too, but they are only there to deepen the emerald green brightness of the Green Sarawak. For those looking for a balsamic oud mukhallat with clean green smoke or rubber notes, Al Khidr may prove to be worth your time. It wears more like a hike through a pine forest than a trip to the Mosque.
Al Molouk Cambodi (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
Type: oudy mukhallat
Al Molouk, meaning ‘the King’, is the name of one of Abdul Samad al Qurashi’s most revered blends, which in its original guise featured a blend of dark aged oud, Ta’if rose, amber resin, and wildflowers. Unfortunately, in or around 2014, all the ASAQ mukhallats and attars were reformulated, and Al Molouk was badly affected. Experts noticed that Al Molouk was no longer as natural-smelling as it once had been, and that the richness of the various components had been whittled down. The composition had also been cheapened with a dose of woody aromachemicals to boost projection, a peculiarly modern obsession in today’s market.
But out of the misery of reformulation came a most interesting assignment. The owner of The World in Scents, a Princeton-based seller of very high-end oud oils and attars, including those of ASAQ itself, asked JK DeLapp of The Rising Phoenix Perfumery to create a mukhallat that recreated the former splendor of ASAQ’s Al Molouk using only natural raw materials. The project proved a resounding success, with many fans claiming it was equal to, if not better, than the original Al Molouk. Based on the success of the first Rising Phoenix Perfumery Al Molouk, JK DeLapp created a series of variations on the central theme, starting with Al Molouk Cambodi, which adds a very fruity, sweet Cambodi oud oil to the basic template.
The result is almost incandescently good. Opening with the juicy, sweet red berries and raw honey of a Cambodi-style oud oil, Al Molouk Cambodi smells immediately like real oud oil but without the funky sourness that sometimes gives pause to the beginner’s nose. In the place of sour rot and fermented woods, there is a calm wave of sweet incense powder that acts upon the oud to render it as fizzy as a just-opened can of Coca Cola. Behind this comes riding up a big Ta’if rose, sweeter and fuller than normal thanks to the dollop of a vanillic resin – probably benzoin – that burnishes everything in a caramelized glaze. It smells as sweet, full-bodied, and generous as one might hope for in any exotic, vaguely oudified perfume.
This is one mukhallat with child-bearing hips. It finishes up in the embrace of a rosy amber accord that smells like a crème brulée sprinkled with candied rose petals, red berries, powdered sugar, and rose syrup. Indeed, fans of modern niche, gourmandy ouds like Oud Satin Mood (Maison Francis Kurkdijan) or Oud for Love (The Different Company) will find this to be firmly in their wheelhouse. Al Molouk is both a surprise and a welcome evolution of the basic model. It is particularly well-suited to those who want a natural rose-oud mukhallat but don’t quite get along with the leathery austerity of more traditional oud blends. It will press all the right buttons for lovers of creamy, opulent rose-oud ambers.
Photo by Markus Avila on Unsplash
Al Molouk Trat (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
Type: oudy mukhallat
Trat is a border region of Thailand that produces a very specific kind of oud oil. Trat oils traditionally have a syrupy, candy-sweet character that tends to disguise a piercingly animalic basenote. Picture, if you will, a piece of wet, rotting wood covered in strawberry jam. That is the Trat aroma profile.
Al Molouk Trat is true to the character of a Trat oil, in that it initially smells like a vat of sugar syrup smeared all over a raunchy leather jacket that’s been dragged through a barnyard. And it is exactly this dichotomy between tutti-frutti sweetness and grubby smut that gets the brain’s pleasure synapses firing on all cylinders.
Compared to the other Al Molouk versions, the oudiness here is both darker and more assertive in its presentation, taking longer than usual to fade away into the softer rose and amber notes. The sweet-and-sour syrup aspect of Trat oud is the main feature, and despite the initial hit of sweetness, this is a more traditionally masculine affair than Al Molouk Cambodi (which is a fluffy Middle Eastern dessert in comparison). For all its jammy, treacly richness upfront, Al Molouk Trat showcases a far more animalistic oud than the other versions. It is rugged, fermented, and a bit sour – more traditionally oudy in profile. In some parts, it is reminiscent of a Hindi-style oil.
In the drydown, the rose and caramelized amber accords common to the other Al Molouk iterations arrives to take control. If your teeth were clenched through the more animalistic portions of this mukhallat, this will be where you let your breath out and begin to enjoy the ride. Conversely, if you prefer the rugged, leathery oud that hogs the heart of this mukhallat, then its sweet, creamy drydown might strike you as a cop-out.
Al Noukhba Elite Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)
Type: oudy mukhallat
In terms of complexity, Al Noukhba represents a step up from the fabulous Jewel Blend. But alas, it has a price tag to match, costing on average $1,300 per tola. Still, Al Noukhba is very special indeed.
The opening is almost shockingly animalic, with a blast of hot-sour-fetid woodiness that comes close to smelling like the bile that rises in your throat before you vomit. To say that this could be challenging to newcomers to oud is an understatement. In fact, I would recommend this blend only to people who have a bit of experience under their belts. The opening lasts a fair bit on skin, but lean into it, and I’ll wager you’ll find Al Noukhba to be a deeply rewarding experience.
After the initial onslaught, the dark, hot-sour aroma of aged oud banks down, spreading out to allow the other notes to come to the fore. However, the oud retains an assertive presence in the scent from beginning to end. The extended run of the oud marks it out as quite different from Jewel Blend, where the aged oud lasts only for a couple of hours before giving way almost completely to the amber and ambergris beneath. That in and of itself (somewhat) justifies the higher price of Al Noukhba. When tested side by side, Al Noukhba emerges as a far deeper, drier, and darker scent.
Bubbling underneath the aged oud is something floral, a collection of notes which feel ‘pressed together’, a tarry brick of floral absolutes rather than fresh rose petals. Al Noukhba is technically a rose-oud fragrance, but its oud is so dark and its rose so desiccated that it may puzzle anyone used to commercial or niche interpretations of the rose-oud theme. Backing the floral ‘absolute’ is quite a lot of sweet amber and musk. These accords add a nutty roundness to the scent that goes some way towards softening the darker floral and oud notes. I’ve been informed that one female ASAQ customer buys ten bottles of this a year to smell as seductive as possible for her husband. Lucky man.
Al Shomukh (Amouage)
Type: oudy mukhallat
Discontinued, rare, and ruinously expensive when you do find it, Al Shomukh is a creamy but pungent rose-oud whose animalic bite certainly has not been dumbed down for a Western audience. The opening of Al Shomukh features all the bile-duct sturm und drang for which Hindi oud is known. However, the rich, smoky leather-like facets of the oud oil add depth and shading to the acid, thus giving it a supple roundness that takes the sting out of the experience.
For a beginner, Al Shomukh is challenging but not entirely off-putting. Its funkiness is haughty, regal even. The bleu cheese and truffles aspect of the oud oil may cause a momentary shiver of revulsion – the body saying no, most emphatically – but then, the nose finds itself wandering back to the same spot, hunting the scent like a truffle pig. Al Shomukh is therefore a fine example of how pure oud can trigger the attraction and the repulsion reflexes simultaneously, creating an obsessive desire to smell it over and over again.
Touches of rose and a rather synthetic-feeling white musk bleed into the stark oud, feathering it out at the edges and helping to settle into the aroma of stale, ancient wood and long-cleared-out horse barns. It is the smell of ruined libraries in the jungles, the yellowing pages of abandoned books curling in the moist brown fug of decaying wood spores. There are hints here also of damp hay, barn animals, smoke, grass, and later – much later – a hint of fruit from davana, an Indian herb that smells like two-day-old booze, mint, and old leather Chesterfields.
I am impressed. I am intoxicated. It is impossible to guess from its stark, austere beginnings, but somehow Al Shomukh manages to work itself up into a rich, complex floral oud that smells more like an entire landscape than a mashing together of two or three raw materials. It transcends its individual components, therefore, driving an arrow straight into one’s emotional solar plexus rather than allowing you to loll about in polite admiration mode. Al Shomukh leans masculine because of the blunt focus on the oud and musk, but it is completely wearable by a woman. It is not as heavy or as opulent as Tribute or Badr al Badour, but its sillage is still significant.
Photo by Alexander Kirov on Unsplash
Arabesque Noir (Sultan Pasha Attars)
Type: oudy mukhallat
Arabesque Noir is a dark rose-oud blend with a significant saffron note that lends it the ‘aged’ leather mien of an old briefcase or piece of wooden furniture left to molder in a closed-up room. Medicinal, woody and heavy, the oud anchors the base, giving it the same decrepit glamor as the facades of storefronts in Havana.
The woody sourness of the rose-oud combination makes it a perfect choice for men who are looking for a masculine take on the rose-oud theme, or even just for people who like the acrid but exciting ‘freshly tanned leather’ aroma of saffron. Leathery and battered, Arabesque Noir would also be ideal for people who spend lots of time in old second-hand bookstores, thumbing through books so old their yellowed pages threaten to crumble in their fingers.
Arabesque Noir is ultimately reminiscent of Swiss Arabian Mukhallat Malaki, another dusty saffron-rose-oud mukhallat, but far better quality. In the far dry down, a pleasant surprise lurks – an animalic, dark musk teeming with all sorts of skanky secretions such as hyraceum, castoreum, and civet.
Attar al Kaaba (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
Type: oudy mukhallat
Attar al Kaaba is the base attar embroidered upon in Ghilaf-e-Kaaba, which will be reviewed in the next chapter, but it is distinctive in and of itself. The oud and rose elements of the blend play out very differently in Attar al Kaaba than in its big brother. For one, the oud in Attar al Kaaba is darker, more shadowy, and perhaps even a little sinister, while the rose is both sweeter and more winey. It is a great example of how the essential elements in a blend can be altered or substituted with a different quality of material, creating a completely different effect.
Attar al Kaaba also differs from Ghilaf-e-Kaaba by being sweeter and plusher. It is a very straight-forward rendition of the rose-oud theme, but done so well and with such high quality, natural-smelling materials that the result is a pleasure to wear. While I admire the artistry and perhaps greater evolution in Ghilaf, I find Attar al Kaaba to be friendlier. It would make for an excellent starter rose-oud attar for the beginner, provided that the beginner is interested in naturalness over effect and is willing to pay a higher-than-average price.
Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash
Attar AT (Tauer Perfumes)
Type: oudy mukhallat
I hadn’t understood how big a role that cultural misappropriation, or rather the perception of cultural misappropriation, played in the evaluation of attars until I read a comment on a Basenotes interview I did with JK DeLapp of Rising Phoenix Perfumery, which read as follows: ‘Looking forward to trying it and appreciate the perspective on Attars, but also giving the side-eye to another American appropriating an other’s work and culture and claiming he knows better and can do better.’
The commenter is making the point that only people of Eastern culture (Indian, Far East, of the Islamic or Hindi faiths, etc.) truly understand how to make an attar, and that Westerners doing it is either a cynical cash grab or a case of cultural misappropriation.
This comment, whether founded or not, raises the crucial question of how attar perfumery is perceived in the West. I have noticed a certain awestruck tendency towards attars by Westerners, a kind of mass reverence for the genre, as if all attars and oils hitting our shores were uniformly possessed the magic of the East simply because they originated there. This is rubbish, of course.
First, speaking as someone who has tested hundreds of attars and mukhallats from almost every major brand from Amouage to Surrati, I can tell you that there is as much dreck coming out of the East as there is from the West. I would estimate the percentage of truly sublime attars or mukhallats at about five to ten percent of the mass, which is roughly equal to the hit rate in Western perfumery. Unfortunately, however, because these oils carry mysterious names, come in a little gold bottle, and are from an exotic-sounding house like Rasasi or Al Haramain, the consumer is always going to be tempted to find them amazing even if they are not. Even Amouage has attars that are dull, nasty, or just plain unimpressive.
Second, it is not the where (the East) that counts, it is the who. In my experience, the best quality mukhallats out there are not being made by the big Gulf or Indian brands in the East but by small-batch artisans with a mostly Western background and upbringing. Sultan Pasha, Ensar of Ensar Oud, JK DeLapp, Al Shareef Oudh, Russian Adam, Dominique Dubrana, and now Andy Tauer – these are all people who, no matter whether they are Muslim or not, are Western by birth, location, or background.
I mention this because although some people seem to think it is the exclusive preserve of Easterners to make attars, these days it is quite often Westerners, and specifically Western artisans, that take the care to distill oils in the old manner, hand-blend and macerate formulas, and source the purest raw materials. They are taking the Western propensity for precision to bear on an old tradition of perfumery.
And now Andy Tauer, himself an artisan in the genre of Western perfumery, has joined this elite group. In a way, it is a natural fit – Tauer already mixes everything for his perfumes by hand (in a similar fashion to blending a mukhallat) and as a longstanding user of resins, sandalwood, and jasmine, he would have all the necessary contacts in the Middle East to source the materials needed for this.
Attar AT is excellent work. It succeeds both as a mukhallat and as an atmospheric set piece in the Tauer manner. It contains exotic raw materials but somehow conjures up more of that tough old Americana (cowboy boots, pilgrims, vast open spaces of the American plains) than it does the East. Attar AT opens up as pure boot leather, with a dense wall of fuel-like jasmine, birch tar, and castoreum-driven leather hitting the nose all at once. But despite the tarry creosote-like tone and the fact that Tauer has used materials like this before, mainly in Lonestar Memories and L’Air du Desert Marocain, Attar AT does not make me think of his other perfumes. The leather, although smoky, is smooth and dark, and, crucially, completely free of competing notes like amber or citrus. There is no Tauerade. It is powerful and concentrated at first, but soon becomes very quiet and almost linear. A rubbery jasmine appears just past the opening notes, relieving, albeit briefly, the almost matte darkness of the leather accord.
As an aside, it is funny how noses differ: my husband smelled this and immediately said that there was jasmine in this, as well as a little bit of oud. I, on the other hand, can only smell the jasmine briefly (it is similar to the phenolic jasmine used in the topnotes of Anubis by Papillon, for reference), and the impression of oudiness is only a background one, playing second fiddle to the leather. However, at a distance and at certain points of the mukhallat’s development, it has something of the leathery, fermented smokiness that I associate with oud oil. In general, I think it is fair to say that Attar AT genuinely has an oud-like tone to it at times, but that it in no way dominates.
Perception of sweetness seems to be subjective, but I’d peg Attar AT as being un-sweet, which is not to say that it is piercingly dry or sour. It is more a question of lacking sweetness in the form of amber or a syrupy floral note. If you know the sooty darkness of perfumes such as Heeley’s Phoenicia or Le Labo Patchouli 24, then you will know what I mean – an unsentimental, un-sweet darkness that nonetheless possesses so much texture and energy that it never tires the nose. The dusty woods in the base only confirm this impression. There is no creamy sandalwood or welcoming amber in the drydown to placate the sweet tooth, only a continuation of the main accord of dark, smoky birch tar leather.
As a mukhallat, Attar AT starts off very strong and dense, but soon loosens up into something much softer and quieter. It wears close to the body and doesn’t project much. However, longevity is excellent. So far, so standard for an attar. People will want to know if there is anything of Tauer’s synthetic signature in Attar AT – my take is that it doesn’t feel synthetic to my nose at all but be aware that birch tar in high concentration can have a bitter, metallic sharpness to it that some noses may interpret as synthetic. The only hint of something unnatural comes when you try to wash it off, and then (only then) something synthetic does linger on the piece of skin you’ve just washed.
Masculine? Yes. I’d even go so far as to say that this is super-macho, especially during the first couple of hours when the leather is blazing streaks across the sky. Attar AT is more evocative of the landscapes of the American West than of the deserts of the East; something about it celebrates the good-natured but tough manliness of the men who had to conquer large stretches of the American West on horseback, hungry and alone. This is a theme that seems to course through much of Andy’s work.
Having said that, there are plenty of women who like this sort of dry, unemotional scent, and I count myself as one of them. Overall, this is a great masculine attar (well, mukhallat) for a very reasonable price, and another entry to the genre that proves that you don’t have to be Muslim or be located in the East to make an attar that smells authentic or authentically good.
Aurum D’Angkhor (Sultan Pasha Attars)
Type: oudy mukhallat
Aurum D’Angkhor is special. Every time I wear it, I marvel anew at its depth, complexity, and beauty. It contains a small amount of the famous Ensar Oud Encens D’Angkhor in the basenotes, a fruity Cambodi oud oil with cozy wood nuances. But the ‘Aurum’ in Sultan Pasha’s remix means ‘Golden’ and indeed, that’s the color that comes across in this blend. Aurum is a love poem to the golden dust of saffron, polished oak floors, smoke, honey, and henna, a shady haze backed by a velvety floral richness.
The topnote of Aurum D’Angkhor showcases the oud, and for a few minutes, it has a dark barnyard character that some might find startling. This accord is not, to my nose, unpleasantly animalic. It never approaches, for example, the sour, bilious honk of a raw Hindi oud. However, there is definitely something there that recalls the aroma of cow slurry, a smell so hotly liquid that it seems to ooze across the room like ripe Brie. One’s reaction to this type of aroma depends on one’s level of exposure to farmyard smells during childhood. I grew up around cows and now live next door to a dairy farm, so for me, the smell of cow shit is literally part of the air I breathe. In other words, I’m fine with it. You very well may not be.
The cow pat note dissipates quickly, however, allowing a soft, spicy brown leather to take shape, threaded with drifts of faintly indolic jasmine. Saffron plays a pivotal role, called upon 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 a deep multi-levered scent profile suggestive of old oak floors, spicy brown leather, and dusty plum skin. In short, Aurum showcases the depth of real oud, but past the fecal twang of the opening, none of its more challenging aspects.
The smoke in Aurum is chimerical, sometimes manifesting as little more than a faint tingle of far-off woodsmoke akin to a needle prick’s worth of birch tar or cade oil, and sometimes appearing as full-on smoke from a censer full of resins. The smoke component is similar to that of Balsamo della Mecca (La Via de Profumo), which is primarily a labdanum-focused scent dusted with the clovey, balsamic bitterness of Siam benzoin and frankincense. Backing the smoke is always a layer of dusty, medicinal henna powder and the golden sheen of honey-glazed woods. Nothing, therefore, feels out of balance, not even when the smoke is rolling in.
Aurum dries down to a dark, treacly resin that smells predominantly nutty, but also kind of gritty, like coffee grounds sprinkled with sugar – probably a side effect of benzoin mixing with the cedar and ambrette musk. There’s a moment in the drydown that reminds me of the sawdusty, almost granular sweetness of wood pulp and suede that is the primary feature of Tuscan Leather-style fragrances. Many soft leather scents, like Tom Ford Tuscan Leather itself, Oud Saphir (Atelier Cologne), and Tajibni (Al Haramain), use a combination of a vegetal musk like ambrette, saffron, and cedar to create a musky, resinous suede effect, and that might be what’s happening here in Aurum. However, Aurum is far more complex than these soli-suedes, deploying as it does a layer of resins, oud, and henna to jostle and thicken the sueded musk.
Is there such thing as an oud chypre? This may well be the first. The first note out of the bottle is most definitely oud – a wave of wet, rotting wood, mixed with woodsmoke, camphor, and sharp fruit. However, this settles quickly, segueing into a dry, woody heart with lots of grounding patchouli, green leaves, and bitter oakmoss.
Although never sweet, the earth and wood notes are made rounder with a hint of something soft and giving, like vanilla. Not enough to make it sweet, just to sand off the edges. The other notes pay homage to the oud, which is clearly the star note in the blend. The Chanthaburi oud oil vibrates thickly in every fiber of this mukhallat. Lightly smoky, it sews a thread of fermentation through the fabric of the blend.
Though oud is the main driver, the base develops a velvety green dampness that is very forest floor-ish. The inky oakmoss note expands to meet the mossy mintiness of a Borneo-style oud, completing the picture. Hours later, the mineral salt of the oakmoss and the smoky woodiness of the oud melt away, leaving only the lively bitterness of camphor on the tongue.
Who could wear this? Honestly, anyone with a pulse. More subtle and subdued than pure oud oil, Ayuthia’s supporting cast of notes has a tenderizing, civilizing effect, smoothing away any rough or animalistic edges. It is fresh, green, and woody, with a friendly touch of smoke and camphor – wearable in almost all situations. In short, Ayuthia is superb blend for oud fans who want a break from the unrelenting intensity of the pure oud experience, as well as anyone who respects oud but can’t see themselves ever wearing it neat.
Badr al Badour (Amouage)
Type: oudy mukhallat
Badr al Badour is an opulent mukhallat based on a mixture of real oud oils (one from Cambodia, the other from Myanmar), rosa damascena oil, ambergris, and a touch of sandalwood. It sounds like a simple affair, but it goes to prove that a sort of alchemic magic occurs when raw materials with flawless bone structure meet, fall in love with each other’s exquisiteness, and decide to procreate.
The opening features a classic rose-oud combination, drawn up using a rather dark, medicinal oud note and a citrusy, geranium-tinted rose. So far, so traditional. But slowly, as the oil warms up on the skin, the Burmese oud oil comes to the fore and it is then that you notice the lightly sour, almost fetid breath of real oud wood. Peppery and dry, with nary a hint of sweetness to soften it, it is the pleasantly stale woodiness that escapes from old wooden trunks when you open them after years of neglect. The scent is a reminder that oud is wood that’s fighting to live through an infection and only partially succeeding. A smell half dead and half alive.
There is, for the average Westerner, a moment of repulsion, but fight it. After the repulsion comes fascination. There is a reason aficionados describe the smell of real oud as a compelling type of smell. The salty funk of ambergris breathes life into the sour, dry oud mélange from beneath, bequeathing a round warmth that has nothing to do with sweetness. I would describe this mukhallat synesthesically as pink gold with a silvery-gray oud heart, a clump of ashes nestling in the folds of a tightly-furled rosebud.
The citrusy rose of the start gathers in richness as the day wears on, perhaps due to the ‘creaming’ effect of the sandalwood. I have seen the rose in this described variously as a Bulgarian rose and a Taifi rose, but its sharp, peppery quality leads me to believe that it is definitely Taifi. The rose, in fact, strikes me as being somewhat similar in tone to that of Abdul Samad Al Qurashi’s Al Ta’if Rose Nakhb Al Arous. The rose softens as the day goes on, becoming sweeter and fuller in body.
Overall, this is an unusually prismatic scent for an oil – different notes seem to come forward and then recede over the course of a wearing, allowing others to take their place. At times, the scent seems to focus almost exclusively on the dry oud, at others the rose nudges forward to cast a sweet, rosy netting over the oud, and occasionally, everything but the salty warmth of the ambergris drops back. This makes for an endlessly rich and varied wearing experience throughout the day. Badr al Badour is a mukhallat to be savored for every minute it is on the skin.
Baghdad (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)
Type: oudy mukhallat
If you are looking for an excellent rose-oud mukhallat for a price that won’t hurt your wallet too much, then look no further than Al Faransi’s Baghdad. On my skin, the note pyramid is slightly inverted, with the sour, leathery Hindi oud striking my nose first, even though it is a heavy basenote. The oud smells authentic, but not so animalic as to cause concern for more timid noses. It is a battered, worn leather case set upon gently smoking woods – exotic and alluring, but not particularly challenging.
The rose, which emerges right on the heels of the oud, feels complex and ‘worked out’. Heavily peppered and saffron-ed at first, it fleshes itself out into a huge, purplish explosion of jamminess, spice, and smoke, underscored with an emphatic flourish of fruit rot. The rosy sturm und drang splutters out in a bath of sandalwood for a finish not a hundred miles away from the cream soda-ish last moments of Amouage’s Rose TRO.
Sounds amazing, right? It is. But – and this is a big but (and I cannot lie) – Baghdad exhausts all its resources within the space of a few hours, plunging from an amphitheater-sized presence in the first hour to a mere whisper of smoke and roses by the third. This shouldn’t necessarily bother people looking for a quality rose-oud option on the cheap, as its reasonable price means that one can simply reapply throughout the day. But it is a factor to consider.
If pressed, I would say that Baghdad is my very favorite from the Al Faransi brand, with Hind running a close second. Baghdad leans masculine, but the classic smoky rose and oud pairing is so universal that I cannot imagine women not wanting to wear this one too.
Cambodi Attar (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
Type: oudy mukhallat
A simple but highly satisfying affair, Cambodi Attar combines an affable Cambodi oud oil with excellent Indian sandalwood for a result that showcases the best in each. The Cambodi oud oil dominates the first half, rich in a berry-caramel stickiness that suggests leather without featuring any of the stale off-notes associated with modern Cambodi-style distillations. It is an approachable oud oil note, one that even beginners will find accessible.
The drydown is pure Indian santalum album, in that it is aromatic, buttery, and treading that fine line between sweet and savory. Rising Phoenix Perfumery’s sandalwood is truly beautiful, and it is worth getting a couple of their attars purely in order to experience its handsome, rugged warmth in the tail.
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, Arabian Oud, Maison Anthony Marmin, Mellifluence, and Tauer Perfumes. Samples from Abdul Samad al Qurashi, Sultan Pasha Attars and Rising Phoenix Perfumery were sent to me free of charge by either the brand or a distributor.
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Cover Image: Photo of oudy mukhallats in my collection, photo my own (please do not use, circulate, or repost without my permission)