Monday, October 21, 2013

Perfume oils in my collection

Coming soon: thoughts and images from my trip to China, and the earlier trip to Greece, and from the Gothenburg book fair, where I met three wonderful Filipino colleagues.
But first, some text that I already have on hand. I'm beginning to notice that, every time I think to update this blog with something I've already written, it turns out to be some frivolous stuff about perfume. Testing new perfumes and writing reviews about them is a great hobby -- something I devote more hours to that I'm willing to admit. In Scandinavia it's also a bit of a vice -- the culture here could even be described as anti-perfume, with "fragrance free" being the selling point for loads of bodycare products and makeup. I hardly wear perfume when I go out, for this reason.
Anyway, the perfume aficionado website to which I belong has a message board. Here there's been a slew of posts about perfume oils, how long they last compared to alcohol-based fragrances, how best to apply them, and how they smell. There's a whole range of perfume oils from the Middle East and India, where the use of alcohol in products is unpopular for religious and/or cultural reasons. Western-leaning perfumistas are only just discovering them. 

The chief attraction -- to me, at least -- is that they smell weird.  They are lush and over-the-top. Many of them have oud (synthetic in the cheapest), a component that Western designers are just discovering and exploiting. I'm one to be intrigued and excited by strangeness, and to me the strangest of all is that the same heavily floral- oriental- woody perfume is marketed to men as well as women.

My own experience with perfume oils is modest. Last year I bought a score of 6ml roll-ons from al-Rehab, and added to my collection of "inspired-by" oils available on a British website (which, by the way, thanks to tighter Royal Mail rules, no longer ships outside the UK, so that's the end of collecting for me). Here, some reviews of a few of the al-Rehabs in my collection, for those who may be interested in this brand. Their products sell for very little, by the way.

Now, my reviews.


It is a light floral fragrance (mainly a transparent sort of rose) overlaid with some very disconcerting and very pronounced synthetic oud. I associate oud with heavy, sweet, woody or ambery scents, so the treatment is quite different here. The oud is the first thing you smell, even from the bottle, and it remains a definite presence the entire time the fragrance lasts, even though the rose eventually takes the fore. An acquired taste. Just outside the borders of my comfort zone, but I wouldn't mind my closet smelling like this, with the scent lingering on my clothes. EDIT: This lasts quite a while. After washing my hands, I could still smell the somewhat lemony rose, but not the oud.

Shadha's packaging has bright pink roses on a verdant background, which raises expectations of it being a transparent green floral. No way. What I get is: a burnt sort of odor I associate with chypres like the original Nino Cerruti, a hint of dark plum, a trace of musk (or is it the heart of a jasmine flower?) and the slightest hint of soap. And then all these sensations become a powerful floral scent that reminds me of such disparate perfumes as the original Poison, Cabotine and Elizabeth Arden Splendor, but also freshly-showered young girls in a tropical country, circa 1990, applying inexpensive lotion from the corner store to their skin. I would say this is tuberose blended with other flowers I can't identify.

Looking at the other reviews, I can see how much this perfume has perplexed those who have tried it on. I think it is an oriental floral in the complex 80s manner. Dior Poison is the closest Western perfume I can compare the final effect with, though I'm sure there are better matches out there. The fragrance oil I have lies close to the skin, unlike Poison. I like it a lot.

I would have thought that a fragrance called Bakhour would smell smoky and woody (and a bit rosy perhaps). I'm thinking of the custom of burning small bits of fragrant wood in special burners and using the smoke to scent rooms, hair and clothes. Al-Rehab Bakhour, while completely pleasant, evokes neither smoke nor exotic practices. I smell a medley of flowers, with what seems to be the green, bitter-sweetness of honeysuckle at the start, and eventually some ripe, honeyed fruit and sweet amber. Perhaps the reference is to the blend of fragrant oils that the oud or wood steeps in, long before burning. At any rate, Bakhoor is earthily female, heavy and sensual, but I can imagine some men could pull this off. Definitely not a Western perfume. I like it but will need to be in the mood to wear it.

It is a synthetic and rather generic jasmine, the kind you find in room fragrance oils that are diffused with absorbent sticks. I have smelled Southeast Asian sambac jasmine and this is not it either, and over the last few years have smelled mock orange (a jasmine-type smell), "regular" jasmine and the climbing type with tiny flowers found in Greece. Not those either. There is an odd cherry-like note, and a sort of warm woodiness. I admit I cannot identify the definitive jasmine scent so I do not know if in fact this is how it really smells. But I have encountered so many putatively jasmine deodorizing products, and when I close my eyes to smell this fragrance, I visualize a rack of just-washed dishes or a rattly old office airconditioner with a cake of deodorizer appended to it.

A sharp and rather synthetic note of orange-flavored hard candy greeted my nose as I sniffed my 6ml rollerball of Dalal perfume oil. On application, the other notes -- a strong caramel and a baked-goods vanilla -- made their appearance, and the hard-candy smell diminished. The cacophony of notes, each of which seemed to be battling the other for prominence, calmed down soon enough, and in about 15 minutes I had a pleasant, warmly-sweet sandalwoody skin scent spiked with smooth orange. Dalal, despite its name, turns out to be a very Western-style gourmand sweet fragrance -- a genre I'm beginning to crave. As for the heaviness, it was for that reason I liked Dalal a lot. I could wear this with ease.

T he improbably-named Superman is among my favorite al-Rehab fragrance oils. It is, obviously, marketed for men, but in my opinion it can be as unisex as some of the niche offerings. It is well within the Western-fragrance category, beginning with a very pleasant spiciness that I think is nutmeg, and calming down into a wonderful woody scent, like certain types of burning wood or the walls of an outdoor kitchen where wood is the fuel. I can detect the slightest bit of (synthetic) oud but it is not intrusive, unlike other oud fragrances from al-Rehab. If you are a woman and enjoy slightly masculine fragrances, or want to experiment, this is a good one for starters ... only problem is, it probably is too Western for attar connoisseurs.

Here are some things I associate with Africa (sorry if they are on the stereotypical side)
* red-hot chili spiciness (like some of the food in Ghana)
* black musk, like the pelts of animals (another Arabian oil, musk al-Kaaba, smells of this)
* dusty dryness, maybe a bit of vetiver
* mimosa or night-blooming jasmine kind of sweetness

Al-Rehab Africana is none of this. Instead, it is all about a rich, sweet fruit paste, infused with oil, maybe. A review I once read (negative review) likened it to synthetic apples and nothing much else. I disagree. I do get the apple note, but it is tempered with a sweet floral and it is not of the green, acidic variety. Africana has no citrus nor sour tones whatsoever. However, I am hard put to identify what the constituent fruits might be. It may, however, have a tiny bit of synthetic oud.

Gorgeous, one of the best Al Rehab has to offer. I smell primarily vanilla, though, the same type found in old formula Victoria's Secret Vanilla Lace. Someone below remarked that Choco Musk is similar to choco biscuits... well, I agree, specifically those vanilla-flavored Oreo-type biscuits stuck together with a generous helping of chocolate-hazelnut paste. Or marshmallows. Marshmallows dissolving in a mug of steaming rich chocolate milk.

Despite the detailed reviews all over the web (this perfume is apparently causing a sensation), this is not what I expected. I hoped I would get, well, a rich, dark, moist chocolate-cake aroma. I wasn't counting on the vanilla being so prominent. Well, anyway, for yummy, grown-up, patisserie chocolate cake, there is Cobalt Blends Luxe Chocolate Amber, while Yves Rocher Neonature Cocoon smells like illicit chocolate cake nursed in a secret corner of the barn



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