The hedonistic excesses of Imperial Rome; the fleshiness of heaving white bosoms; Mata Hari in flowers as she dances to seduce; the wild rambunctiousness of the French cancan at the height of the 19th-century Moulin Rouge; the flashing of the frilliest of white knickers; and pure skank that finally subsides to a creamy, honeyed whisper — these are not the things that you’d expect to imagine from a fragrance that is meant to evoke the holiest of spiritual aromas. Yet, those are the things that came to mind when I tried Tawaf. It is a fragrance that blew my socks off while it lasted, a jasmine lover’s dream perfume in many ways, and the worst nightmare of anyone who hates indolic scents. God, it’s glorious. If only… well, we’ll get to that part eventually.
Tawaf is a 2012 eau de parfum from the highly respected French perfumer, Dominique Dubrana, who also goes by the name “Abdes Salaam Attar.” His Italian perfume house, La Via del Profumo, creates all-natural fragrances. They are so bold, intense, rich, and concentrated in feel that it’s hard to believe they are all natural, but Mr. Dubrana is a bit of a wizard. Many of his fragrances have a Middle Eastern flair, subtext, or inspiration, and this is especially true for Tawaf. The perfume is the last in his “Arabian Series” of fragrances, and is meant to be the olfactory “melody” of the most sacred scents at the heart of Mecca.
As AbdesSalaam Attar explains on his Profumo website, the name “Tawaf” refers to the ritual of pilgrims circling the sacred Kaaba (or Ka’abah) building in Mecca. He calls the Ka’abah “the geographic center of the Arabian soul,” so he sought to create a fragrance that was the “melody” of the scents surrounding the pilgrims:
the trails of Jasmine Sambac that pilgrims wear, the rose water poured from buckets to wash the white marble floor and the Oppoponax attar spread by the handful over the corners of the Ka’abah. These are the essences that comprise the new fragrance. [¶] Other ingredients meaningful in the Arabic tradition are Narcissus and Myrrh.
The perfume is binary in structure, with a Jasmine accord intertwining with an Oppoponax accord in the same way those chinese silk fabrics display two different colours depending on how the light shines on them.
The following is the succinct list of notes:
Jasmine sambac, rose water, opoponax [sweet myrrh], myrrh, and narcissus [daffodil].
I am clearly a heathen who is going to hell because Tawaf didn’t evoke anything spiritual or pure in my mind. In fact, quite the opposite. For me, its opening was pure, raw sensuality, carnality, and hedonistic excess — times a hundred. This is Mata Hari‘s jasmine, a scent born to seduce some, and kill others.
To understand that, you have to understand the essence of a flower like jasmine when it is taken to the extreme heights that it is here. The jasmine in Tawaf feels like the fleshiest of white flowers, with a syrupy sweetness and meatiness that is so opulently intense that it is truly quite narcotic. It’s brawny, potent, heady, meaty, indolent, and addictively sniffable for those who love jasmine, but the living nightmare of those who don’t.
In fact, the carnality of the note in Tawaf reminds me of the quote that the famous nose, Roja Dove, once said about tuberose (in the context of the legendary white floral powerhouse, Fracas):
tuberose is the most carnal of the floral notes. It smells like very, very hot flesh after you’ve had sex — that’s the bottom line. [via The Independent, 12/14/2002.] [Emphasis added.]
I think the same can be said of jasmine, especially when it is amplified to the extent that it is here. And, good God, is there jasmine in Tawaf. It explodes on the skin with such richness that it left my jaw rather agape. (In case you haven’t gathered by now, I love my jasmine.)
The other thing that Tawaf opens with is indoles. All white flowers have them, primarily for the evolutionary purpose of attracting bees who can’t see colourless florals. In their most concentrated, purest form, indoles can smell like musty mothballs and thereby act as a signal flare to the bees. However, when diluted to just a few drops in floral perfumes, they create a radiant richness that is often described as narcotic, heady, dense, voluptuous or sensuous. Unfortunately, on some people’s skin, very indolic flowers can take on an over-blown, ripe quality that occasionally smells sour, plastic-y, fecal, urinous, or reminiscent of a cat’s litter box. Its richness in classic, very opulent floral fragrances is probably why some people find indolic fragrances to smell “old lady-ish.” Those who prefer clean, fresh scents are also likely to struggle with indolic fragrances, and not only because of their heavy feel.
Tawaf opens on my skin with the fleshiest, most opulent, over-the-top jasmine that I’ve ever encountered, followed by indoles that manifest both their ripe, overblown side and their skank. Tawaf has a definite dirty factor that appears within minutes on the skin. At first, it’s only a subtle whisper of something a bit urinous, but it only takes 20 minutes for Tawaf to demonstrate almost a civet-like feral growl.
In the opening minutes, there is also a rubbery darkness underlying the intense white flowers that makes it feel as though they had been tinged with something black. It’s almost tarry and mentholated in a way, though never to the extent that Serge Lutens managed to do to jasmine’s white sister, tuberose, with Tubereuse Criminelle. Here, it never evokes diesel or iced menthol, but there is a definite undertone of something rubbery, dark, and almost smoky. It helps to cut through some of the jasmine’s bubble-gum sweetness, though there is still quite a lot of it that remains.
The overall effect feels wickedly naughty and voluptuous. If ever a jasmine were so fleshy that it amounted to a courtesan’s pillowy breasts heaving above the top of a tight corset, it would be Tawaf. There is a decadent excessiveness, overt carnality, and lush ripeness that positively oozes fleshiness. The white togated courtesans of Nero’s Rome would have drowned themselves in Tawaf while the city burned and he fiddled. And it definitely feels like the perfect scent for one of the greatest seductresses of all time, Mata Hari. Tawaf is simply super-charged jasmine on steroids — and I can’t get enough of it.
Twenty minutes in, the dirty skank factor moves from a quiet, muffled “meow” to a rather exuberant yell. I suddenly feel like someone in the 1890s Moulin Rouge who just had one of the Cancan dancers flash me her frothy white bloomers. No, truly, the indolic jasmine is like a chorus line of dancers as they rev up and go full throttle, kicking up their legs higher and faster with every minute.
In the midst of all this wild abandon, there are the tiniest whiffs of other elements. The least of them is the daffodil’s fresh sweetness that lurks in the sidelines, but for the longest time, I thought it was a figment of my imagination. It still might be. Whatever that vaguely fresh note may be, it simply can’t compete with all that bouncy Cancan. Slightly more noticeable is the sweet myrrh, which initially comes across more like cinnamon than the traditional nutty way that opoponax shows itself on my skin. Regardless, it is extremely muted, and also bears little chance of competing with the powerhouse white florals on center stage. Tawaf’s jasmine is as dense as a solid gold brick, and its initial projection is about 3 inches with 2 medium smears, but about 4-5 inches with a greater quantity.
Alas, 45 minutes in, the wonderful madness winds down, and the frothy, skanky knickers collapse in an exhausted, subdued heap on the floor. The jasmine loses much of its opulent, dirty richness as Tawaf becomes a skin scent. It’s now a light, sweet jasmine touch with a drop in its dirty, rubbery, dark undertones. It’s still lushly white and narcotic, but Tawaf is much less blowsy and not as ostentatious. My skin never has much luck in holding onto jasmine soliflores. For example, my skin ate through another jasmine soliflore, Serge Lutens‘ fantastic A La Nuit, with even greater rapidity.
Speaking of which, I once read that A La Nuit was considered to be “death by jasmine,” but I think Tawaf makes the Lutens look like child’s play in comparison. Tawaf feels a hundred times more concentrated and dense than A La Nuit, which would make the Dubrana version my ideal if it retained its projection for several more hours. As an all-natural fragrance, I realise that is extremely difficult to do, especially for a floral scent. Still, I’m rather crushed, as Tawaf’s opening salvo is truly spectacular.
Tawaf slowly begins to change about 75 minutes into its development. The sweet myrrh finally appears properly, adding a nutty warmth and sweetness, while the (regular) myrrh provides the faintest hint of dustiness. They are both incredibly subtle, however, and their main effect is to turn Tawaf more golden, less white and sweet. Half an hour later, the sweet myrrh kicks into high gear, smelling like the smoothest of mild, white honey or honeyed wax. It coats the skin like the thinnest of layers, and starts to vie with the jasmine for dominance.
About 2.75 hours in, Tawaf becomes an extremely creamy, delicately soft, vaguely floral, honeyed beeswax, and it remains that way until its very end. All in all, Tawaf lasted 6.25 hours on my skin, with occasional small patches continue to radiate out the scent if I really rooted at my arm ferociously. It had the shortest longevity out of all the Profumo scents that I’ve tried thus far, which had previously given me 10 hours or more. None of them were pure florals, though, and my skin can be particularly bad with those, even when they aren’t all-natural perfumes.
The Non-Blonde had almost the identical experience that I did with Tawaf. Her review reads, in part, as follows:
Smelling Tawaf from La Via del Profumo for the first time can be shocking. If there ever was a “Death by Jasmine” perfume this is it. Tawaf, religious and spiritual back story aside, is as dirty and indolic as they come. […] Tawaf is very much about jasmine- real and raw, even when it’s softened and tempered with a cream-to-powder opoponax. […][¶]
Once you can smell and breathe beyond the heady jasmine garlands that seem to have landed around your neck, there’s more to explore. The jasmine becomes smoother and beautifully honeyed. That’s where my doubts disappear and I fall in love again and again. Opoponax is usually pretty resinous, but here it emerges from the honey with a very creamy feel that dries down fairly quickly into a slightly woody powder that complements and grounds the jasmine just a little: it’s still heady and golden, but the way the note responds to skin is warm and highly satisfying.
Tawaf remains detectable for five to six hours, though its projection is rather low and there’s little sillage once the initial blast is gone. While jasmine is considered a mostly feminine note in Western perfumery, there’s nothing girly or womanly in this fragrance. Tawaf is atmospheric, so men who aren’t afraid of jasmine should give it a chance and see what happens when they go there.
She also adds something else that I agree with wholeheartedly:
In my opinion [Dominique Dubrana is] one of the most fascinating perfumers working today; well worth the minor hassle of ordering samples from his website (profumo.it).
The Non-Blonde didn’t fall in love from first sniff, but she definitely did by the end because of the drydown. It’s true, the honeyed creaminess is very appealing, even if it is excessively discreet. Another thing with which I agree is that men who aren’t afraid of jasmine should try it.
If you don’t think a guy can or should wear jasmine, you better not tell that to Kevin of Now Smell This who barely restrains himself from saying that he LOVES (in all caps, no less) Tawaf:
Tawaf is composed of beautiful, strong aromas*: a vibrant floral accord of jasmine and rose (sweet, syrupy and possessing an indolic punch); a note that reminds me of musky, honey-drenched hay (no, I’ve never encountered honey-drenched hay in person, just in my imagination); warm opopanax; and buzzing, floral amber — clear and pungent, but not too “clean” (is that a bit of patchouli I smell?) Tawaf’s opening comes close to duplicating one of the most mesmerizing floral scents: the powerhouse perfume of blossoming Cestrum nocturnum (gardeners: if you love flowers that can scent an entire block, investigate this plant). As Tawaf dries down, it becomes sheer with hints of honeycomb, myrrh and residual floral notes.
I try to avoid hyperbole in describing my attraction to perfumes (how can I ‘LOVE’ a non-living thing?); let’s say I ‘adore’ Tawaf. Though I’ve enjoyed all La Via del Profumo Arabian series perfumes, Tawaf is my favorite. One spritz of Tawaf goes a long way…for a short time (two hours); if you’d like the fragrance to extend to three or four hours, apply more perfume in the first place but expect to scent a HUGE space with your sillage. On the masculine-feminine “scale,” Tawaf veers more towards feminine perfume territory, but if you’re the type of man who has no problem with heady florals, go for it.
Oh, Kevin, just say you love it. We can rock our Tawaf together, preferably with more than one spritz, even if the amplified result ends up killing all the jasmine-phobes who come close.
Speaking of those who are usually rendered ill by jasmine fragrances, the sole review for Tawaf on Fragrantica comes from someone who seems to make an exception for the Profumo version. “Lilybelle911” writes:
This is a lovely jasmine fragrance. It does not make my stomach feel queasy as some jasmine scents do. I received a generous decant as part of a sampling group, and I have a spritz now and then when I am in the mood for its serene beauty, when no mass market perfume will suffice to soothe and inspire. I have been fortunate to sample quite a few Via del Profumo fragrances, and they never fail to have a pronounced effect upon my psyche and sense of well being. They are not only very well composed perfumes, but have aromatherapy benefits as well. I highly recommend this line of perfumes. Mr. Durbano is blessed with a rare gift.
I’m thoroughly glad she enjoyed it, but I still wouldn’t recommend Tawaf to anyone who doesn’t wholeheartedly love indolic white flowers. “Death by Jasmine” may be a wonderful way for me to go, but I don’t think others may be so sanguine.
Tawaf bears what I’m starting to realise is a distinct Profumo signature: bold intensity in the opening. Mr. Dubrana doesn’t seem to do anything by half-measures — God bless him — and that intensity is a joy for someone who likes the note(s) in question. It’s not as easy if you’re ambivalent, no matter how soft, whispering and lovely the subsequent drydown may be. So Tawaf may be best for those who enjoy the most opulent of narcotic, white flower bombs, along with a little dirty skank.
In short, if you’re a jasmine lover, you really must try Tawaf. It is moderately priced at $63 (or roughly €56 with VAT) for the smallest bottle, samples aren’t difficult to obtain, and I think it will make your head spin in the best way possible. The discreet sillage and reduced longevity are the only drawbacks to what may be the ultimate jasmine perfume. In spite of those flaws, I still think that Tawaf is worth testing, especially for that monumental opening. It takes decadent excess and seductiveness to an extent that would make even Mata Hari sit up and blink.
Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of AbdesSalaam Attar. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my views are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.
I love indolic jasmines unabashedly, and this is my most beloved jasmine, the origin of my screen name. My skin longevity is even less than yours, but Tawaf is one of the very few perfumes that I will bother to reapply. I don’t wear it to work for fear of harming innocent bystanders. But I once swished through the living room wearing a white gauze dress and Tawaf, and my husband looked up and said “Honey, I just love your sillage.” That will make it my HG jasmine in perpetuity.
Awww, I can just imagine the scene with the white dress and Tawaf. And how cool to know you loved it so much that it inspired your screen name. I always did wonder.
I have to say, I almost choked on my Diet Coke at the “I don’t wear it to work for fear of harming innocent bystanders.” Man, that’s hilarious. But it’s also thoughtful; jasmine-phobes would probably sob in terror at a mere sniff of Tawaf’s opening force. God, it’s glorious.
i’m so jealous that it lasted so long on your skin!
It’s so strange for me to be in the position of having a fragrance last longer on me than on your magical, unicorn skin. lol. Did you dab or spray? Spraying can increase longevity, so perhaps that’s the answer?
Hmmm, I picked up a half bottle of a la Nuit because I liked the sample and thought I ought to have one proper jasmine. So now I have it but still haven’t figured out where I can wear it. (Same with Carnal Flower).
Sampling this one would be fun, but it sounds like there would be a wearability issue waiting at the end of all of the indolic fun.
Is it that wearing pure florals makes you feel a bit ill at ease? Or is it the jasmine/tuberose aspect in specific that makes you wonder how other people may perceive it?
My suggestion if you feel uncomfortable wearing either scent on its own is to use them as a layering perfume atop another drier fragrance. I think jasmine in particular is fantastic as a pairing with leather. (LOOOOOOOVE Cuir Mauresque in part because of that combo.) Do you have any super dry, smoky, woody, incense-y or leather fragrances? Consider something like Interlude Man whose opening top notes can be quite intensely herbal and smoky. The indolic richness of something like Tawaf (or even the green freshness of Carnal Flower) may soften Interlude’s opening salvo, turning it richer, sweeter, and more multi-faceted.
I think incense and florals are a great combination, especially if a scent is very austere or dry, but leather is even better. Even if Tawaf or the Lutens A La Nuit don’t last long, they last long enough to add a great touch to a leather’s opening notes, especially if the leather note is really rubbery, black leather like birch tar. If you have any Amouage fragrances or even very woody fragrances, the florals could be a great touch.
I so NEEEEEED to get this. I love anything with loads of jasmine, skankier the better.
Then you definitely must try Tawaf, though I should emphasize that the skanky aspect doesn’t last throughout the fragrance’s lifespan. For me, it’s just enough of a dirty edge, and beautifully balanced. Just the perfect, perfect touch, but not as long-lasting an element in the overall fragrance’s development as I would have liked.
This is making me wish I had gotten more than Sharif as part of my recent sample purchases! I love Jasmine a lot and really adore the Amouage Jasmine Attar (another nice soliflore) but, this sounds even more amazing. I would love to try so many from this line. Dominique seems like such an amazingly interesting soul. Thanks for doing these reviews, it is hard to know where to start!
You’re very welcome, Dubaiscents. I think you’d love Tawaf, but you may also like Milano Caffe given your taste for very bold, intense, dark fragrances. Mecca Balsam may work for you too. I hope that helps.
I haven’t tried any of this line yet, but I might have to change that. I love jasmine scents, though they don’t all work for me. A La Nuit started out just gorgeous on my skin, but ended in screechy clean jasmine that I didn’t enjoy. On the other hand Sarrasins was a bit too fruity. My favourite easy-wear jasmine is Love and Tears. I’ve heard it described as soulless before, but it works for me without my having to think about it. The skankiest jasmine I know is SMN’s Gelsomino, which starts out pretty close to piss territory. I have to go very easy on the trigger with that, not to gross myself out, let alone innocent bystanders.
Sarrasins wasn’t love for me either, Sarah. I haven’t tried the other two fragrances that you mention, and I laughed at your description of the Santa Maria Novella one. Yikes. I think something that takes skank to such urinous, pure “piss” territory and needs to be applied with caution lest you gross out even yourself may be a fragrance that is a bit TOO much for me. lol 🙂 Tawaf is nothing close to that in terms of skankiness, and, truth be told, I wish the dark edge had lasted for longer. If you try it, let me know how it manifests itself on your skin.
You should be writing books. I love the details in this review. Amazing, visual and all around sensual (I mean invoking many different senses). So well done. Thanks.
Thank you, Megan Lisa. I’m very glad you enjoyed it.
I adored your descriptions, Kafka! Especially the opening lines. Sadly, indoles are not my thing, but I bet there are many people out there who would adore this! Great review!
Thank you, Tora. So indoles are where you draw the line? LOL. 😉 Truth be told, I can’t see you in a white flower bomb fragrance. It doesn’t seem your style at all.
Goodness, this is tempting! This in conjunction with the other reviews indicates this is a house I simply must try! I do like Jasmine, so indeed this is tempting and the review makes it all the more tantalizing!
It’s a glorious jasmine, and I hope you get to try it.
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Since i stumbled on your blog and everytime I read you posting…I loved every bit of the expressive phrases you used to describe the scent you reviewed…they left the feel of the perfume in my nose and someday I will purchase Tawaf…Hindu Kush…the Sheikh series…Afghan and everything that you had reviewed so that i will smell glorious.
You are very kind, and I’m very touched by your high praise. Thank you. As for the fragrances, I hope you will have the chance to try a few of them. If you do, I’d really like to know what you thought. 🙂
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Nothing wrong with reapplication for a natural scent that is this stunning. Glorious, absolutely. Have you seen the Baz Luhrmann movie Molin Rouge?
I have seen the Baz Luhrmann film, and was rather peeved by his presentation of Toulouse Lautrec, one of my favorite artists of the era. lol. As for Tawaf, I’m glad you think it’s glorious and stunning too. Such magnificently sensuous, lush, narcotic jasmine.
If you don’t mind me asking K’, as you now have me quite intrigued – what exactly did you find so objectionable about Baz’s Lautrec – just curious ?? 🙂
I will stay far far away from this as I am one of those who does not like indolic perfumes…never mind the innocent bystanders, I would probably choke on the moth-ballic fumes after the first whiff!
Not a SINGLE bit of mothballs, I promise you, and I’ve certainly encountered that sort of indolic version before. Here, it’s just sweet jasmine on steroids. The most beautiful jasmine imaginable! Really spectacular, even if its exquisite, gorgeous opening dies down to a discrete whisper.
I don’t think it’s your cup of tea, but I’m seriously considering a bottle, especially after Mr. Dubrana said that spraying in the hair or on clothing would increase the longevity/life of the scent. I plan to die with vintage Opium on my lips and body, but dying by jasmine is a happy Plan B for me. LOL.
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Fantastic review again Kafka. Thank you so much.
You’re very welcome, Walter.
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btw, I lucked into a sample of Tawaf. Should I dab it or spray it? And should I clear the room before I do?
Spray! And let the devil fly! 😀 😉
Oh boy! do I love this fragrance! Rich, waxy, indolic jasmine. With a green, almost woody note for balance. I am ecstatic to have found Tawaf for Spring.
YAY!! Such great news, James. I’m so glad! It’s fantastic, isn’t it? Do you get the same sort of sexy, utterly voluptuous start that I do? If so, how long does that the opening phase last on your skin? Or the fragrance as a whole, actually?
As for the daffodil, I can’t believe you detect it, too! And you obviously have ample reason to know the smell very well. All this time, I thought I was just imagining that lurking tinge of daffodil, so I’m glad I’m not crazy. Heh, my nose is going to get a pat of appreciation and an apology from me. 😀
PS- I also get daffodil very clearly. I planted and grew hundreds of daffodils, for years. Not all of them are fragrant, but those that are, they are unforgettable. Daffodil is One of my very favorite natural fragrances.
thanks again for directing me to this terrific fragrance.