Concentrated simplicity is the hallmark of Profumum Roma, an Italian perfume house that takes a few olfactory notes, and then ramps them up with the richest amount of perfume oils on the market. In the case of Olibanum, the focus is incense, infused with citruses and piney resins in a play between light and dark.
Olibanum is an eau de parfum that was released in 2006. The name may refer to myrrh, a cool, white, dusty sort of incense used in church rituals, but the fragrance also celebrates the black smokiness of frankincense, while simultaneously playing a little shell-game with citruses. Profumum‘s website describes the perfume very simply:
Sacred and profane, mistery and shade
Wax guttering, someone praying
Steps, echoing through the gothic and ancient archways
to the cathedral of Saint Michel.
[Notes:] Incense, Myrrh, Orange flowers, Sandalwood
I’ve noticed that Profumum tends to brush over the details or specifics in their perfume lists, and Olibanum is no exception. I’d bet that there are a number of ingredients missing from that cursory summary. Olibanum opens on my skin with lemon and herbs, then a powerful blast of a resinous, aged, green pine note. On its heels is myrrh and something distinctly medicinal, infused with a breath of orange sweetness. There is also a soapy element, along with dry woods, and they both feel very oily in nature. Something about the overall effect reminds me of face cream or a tonic with herbal elements, countered by that lemoned oil.
I really disliked Olibanum upon my first wearing some months ago, but it’s easier the second time around, even if it my description thus far may lead you to think otherwise. It’s still hard, however, to summon up wild enthusiasm for an opening that really starts off as lemon oil with green, resinous, herbal notes, along with amorphous woods and cold, soapy incense. It’s not Nivea or lemon furniture polish, nor green, piney medicine either, but it is some combination of things in all three of those genres, put together. And, yes, I repeat, this is a much kinder take on Olibanum’s start than I had initially when it seemed merely like extremely acrid, dusty soapiness. (I think applying a larger quantity helps.) Bottom line: Olibanum’s opening moments are not a joy, though the bouquet is thankfully light and sheer in weight.
Things soon change, however, and for the better. About 5 minutes later, a fruity element arrives on the scene, though it’s abstract and indistinct at first. At best, it conjures up the image of a green, unripened orange. Lurking in the base is something very leathered, like a dark resin from a juniper tree. Slowly, the medicinal overtones start to fade, and the frankincense rises to the top. Olibanum turns into a fresh, but deep, lemon, pine, incense fragrance with unsweetened fruitiness. It smells nothing like Pine-Sol, if that is your fear, and it is thanks to the sharp bite of the smoke. If anything, the forest, green notes make Olibanum feel more like a herbal take on a traditional myrrh fragrance. There is hardly any of the cold, ancient dustiness that such scents usually carry. Instead, Olibanum feels increasingly rich and warm. The initial gauzy thinness changes, the perfume solidifies with some heft, and the notes grow in strength.
Olibanum continues to morph by small degrees. 15 minutes in, a black and somewhat peppered sort of smokiness weaves its way through the top notes, while a surprising creaminess grow in the base. The primary bouquet is now of frankincense as much as the myrrh, both infused with lemons, a slightly leathered pine resin, amorphous woodiness, and some creaminess in texture. The tiniest whisper of oranges flits about, growing more distinct and sweetened with time. The thing that strikes me more, however, is that peppered woodiness. I really wouldn’t be surprised if Olibanum contained a good dose of cedar to go along with the juniper-pine elements.
Olibanum has an unexpected trajectory in its development for a few reasons. The most noticeable is how Olibanum seems to grow in concentration at the end of the first hour. It is very far in terms of both feel and smell from how it was in the opening minutes. It suddenly has the signature Profumum heft and body, and it is growing smokier by the minute as well. The piney resin becomes stronger too, evoking the scent of freshly crushed needles and woody cones on a forest floor. Olibanum doesn’t have a super-complex bouquet, but it stands out for its richness, as well as for the lemony creaminess underlying it all.
The second really strange thing is the interplay of the secondary notes. Profumum fragrances are really well-blended, but Olibanum has an unusual peekaboo situation going on with the lemon and pine. Every single time over the next four hours that I think the pine has replaced the lemons, that the lemons have superseded the resins, or that the oranges have disappeared, the situation somehow reverses itself.
About 90 minutes in, the pine seemed to retreat, but then 40 minutes later, Olibanum suddenly took on a Pine Sap Absolute sort of aroma. It actually felt like a less-sweetened, drier version of Profumum‘s Arso, only with a very different sort of smokiness centered on frankincense instead of campfire aromas. By the same token, just when I was certain that the lemon was a mere hint and fading away, it suddenly returned and seemed to overtake the pine. Back and forth we go, for at least four more hours. The sillage continues to drop, but the perfume’s smokiness seems to grow.
At the end of 5 hours, Olibanum changes again. It now hovers right on the skin, though it is still extremely potent and powerful when smelled up close. The more interesting thing, though, is the undercurrent of darkness. There are definite traces of something both leathered and burnt underlying Olibanum’s interplay on frankincense and myrrh. At times, it smells almost like raw tobacco juice, along with a burnt sweetness. At other times, it smells like singed leather, singed woods, or tarry resins. Either way, the darkness takes over, the creaminess fades away, and Olibanum turns very dry.
What I don’t detect — now or ever — are orange blossoms in the floral, sweet way to which we are all accustomed. There is, however, a definite touch of mentholated rubberiness in the base that I suspect comes from the flowers.
As a whole, Olibanum is now just various forms of smokiness, infused with abstract, dry woodiness, a subtle sweetness, and teasing, fluctuating levels of pine and lemons. Speaking of lemons, the note suddenly makes a big comeback in the 9th hour (literally), and Olibanum becomes a lemon-incense-smoke fragrance all of a sudden. (I told you those notes played peekaboo!) It fades after 40 minutes, leaving Olibanum as an abstract blur of dry smokiness and frankincense, which is how the perfume remains until its very end. All in all, Olibanum lasted a hair over 13.75 hours on my perfume-consuming skin with 3 small dabs.
I’m not the only one who noticed the odd relay race involving the citrus notes, as someone made a very similar comment on Luckyscent:
Opens with a strong, sharp, clean green citrus. Drys down to a smokey refined incense. But on the way the citrus and incense seem to trade places a few times creating a very non linear and interesting dry down.
The other comments on the side are generally positive, though there are a number who are distinctly unenthused, whether by Olibanum’s difficult opening or the intensity of the incense. A random sampling of responses:
- I didn’t care for the first sniff. But when I put it on. Magic. Lemongrass, Incense, and Oud accented perfectly. An unusual combination that keeps surprising me.
- it took me a little while to warm up to this strange perfume, but now it’s my go-to citrus! I get frankincense and nonspecific citrus-rind. it’s not one of those seductive niche scents on first application… but it grows on you as one of those scents that is just right for skin!
- Frankincense, frankincense, frankincense…no thanks
- It’s the hint of orange blossom that makes the scent a year-round one for me. Plus, it has none of the cumin or curry notes that ruin many other incense scents. It feels perfect on me – it smells like nothing else I’ve tried (and I’ve tried MANY scents!). While LuckyScent rates this as a masculine scent I think it’s strongly a unisex scent. The Olibanum is prominent but not powdery like some other scents. How I wish I could afford a full bottle. Thankfully a little goes a long way with this scent as I have been living off decants and samples for several years. I’ll wear it at work and I find patients and coworkers are not bothered by it as it tends to meld with my skin if I keep the amount to a small spray. Large sprays = a large silliage monster. It is much better to keep this to one or two sprays at a time. It lasts a long while (at least 6 hours or more). It’s my favorite incense ever[.]
An interesting point is how Olibanum stacks up to some other incense fragrances, as there are a few posters who mention Olivier Durbano‘s Rock Crystal and Avignon. I haven’t tried either fragrance to be able to compare, so perhaps you’ll find the comments to be useful:
- A lovely, dry, woody incense with none of the (cloying, in my opinion) sweetness of scents like Avignon and Red Palisander. A little too strong and bitter on first application, but it quickly mellows into long-lasting goodness.
- Too strong for my taste. It gave off this rich incense-resinous scent which nauseated me. I’ll stick to Comme de Garcone’s: Avignon.
- Dry, dry, dry. After two hours on my wrist, I am still waiting for those white flowers to bloom. I was hoping that the orange blossom would round out Olibanum’s edges, much like the lily does to L’Artisan Passage d’Enfer, but it just isn’t happening for me. It’s a nice enough scent, but not for everyday. And it smells almost exactly like Olivier Durbano Rock Crystal… though Rock Crystal is a little more complex with its coriander and cumin. Given that Olibanum is twice the price, buy Rock Crystal instead and spend that extra $100 in your wallet on another bottle of perfume.
- This is a fantastic scent! Similar to Rock Crystal, but without the (for me) unpleasant “sticky”, musty notes from cumin and coriander in the drydown after a few hours. Olibanum is “cleaner”. The incense note appeared not instantly, but only after half an hour. [Emphasis and bolding to other perfume names added by me.]
On Basenotes, the perfume is generally very well-liked with 8 positive reviews, 2 neutrals, and 1 negative one. The latter merely says, “Incense shouldn’t smell like sandy tobacco.” Everyone else seems to love Olibanum, with one calling it a “masterpiece.” The poster, “Dollar & Scents,” provides a wonderfully detailed description of Olibanum’s many, unusual nuances:
Upon application, one is treated to a medicinally resinous myrrh, at once cooling and green, but sharply sour, with a slightly moist, mushroom-like mustiness. And, a somewhat dark, orange blossom infuses its sweet fruity, earthy and indolic aspects. This dank, green melange meanders to the middle, where a pure olibanum, reminiscent of an infusing frankincense during the celebration of a High Mass, envelops the bitter greenness with its alluring splendor. A faint, rustic tabacco undercurrent, like a freshly-opened pack of cigarettes, drifts in and out. Transitioning to the comforting base, a smooth and creamy sandalwood lifts the frankincense, while a slightly terpene, conifer nuance presents. A sublime drydown ensues. An exalted scent to be sure, this masculine composition is an all-season fragrance, with average projection and good longevity.
For “Alfarom,” Olibanum is a worthy and real alternative to Avignon, the leader in the incense category. He writes:
This is a real alternative to seminal scents like Avignon or Incense Extreme. Olibanum is great if you like smoky incense based fragrances but it’s quite different form the well known antagonist scents of the same family. Together with the usual liturgic vibe Profumum introduced a sealing wax effect that make Olibanum irresistible. While the opening is still quite severe and chilling, the drydown turns dry-and-warm, meditative and comfortable. A terrific woody-green option. Highly recommended!
Personally, I think Olibanum differs from those liturgical scents that I’ve tried. It never once evoked the dustiness of an old church with stony steps and cold chilliness. There are no dustbeams in the air, no waxy pews or piercing myrrh chilliness. And, thankfully, the soapy touches of the start fade away. For me, Olibanum is about citruses and smoke with darkly leathered, pine resins, not church rituals or the alienating dust of ages. Then again, as I said, I’m not really an aficionado of the High Church, liturgical style of incense fragrances, so I hope the view of experts quoted above helps you a little.
One thing I can tell you clearly, however, is that Profumum’s fragrances seem to consistently reflect a very Italian signature. Their approach is very similar to that of luxury fashion designers, like Giorgio Armani or Valentino, who intentionally opt for fluid, minimalistic, clean lines, but always put together with great refinement and the most opulent fabrics. Profumum’s perfumes are very much the same: they have just a handful of notes done in a simple, generally linear manner, but with great richness and at the most concentrated levels.
The downside to that is that the fragrances are easily, and with some justification, accused of being… well, too simple and linear. They are. No question about that at all. None of them are edgy, revolutionary, or complicated. If anything, they really verge on comfort scents, for whatever notes they decide to highlight. All of that makes Profumum’s prices far too high for some people. Again, I won’t argue, though price can be a very subjective issue.
Right now, Profumum’s fragrances are generally priced at $240 or €179 for 100 ml of what is really a super-concentrated perfume. Given the reported 43%-46% fragrance oils that the company uses in each scent, their fragrances really amount to an Extrait or Pure Parfum. Is it worth it? Well, it depends on whether you love the notes in question. Incense lovers seem to adore Olibanum! While I think the perfume becomes much better after its difficult start, I’m not so enthused simply because I’m not one for this category or type of incense fragrance as a whole. However, I love Profumum’s Ambra Aurea and Patchouly, and think those are very worth it. I also enjoy their Acqua di Sale salty-beach fragrance, and think their gourmand vanilla, Dulcis in Fundo, is nicely done. In short, it’s all subjective and dependent on your personal tastes. The quality is unquestionably and definitely there throughout, which is why Profumum is one of my favorite lines.
I must add that I’ve heard Profumum will be increasing its prices in February or March 2014. I think $260 was the number being bandied about. So, if you’ve longed to buy a Profumum fragrance — whether Olibanum or another one — now might be the time.