La Via del Profumo Tawaf: Mata Hari’s Jasmine

Mata Hari, 1905, via Pinterest.

Mata Hari, 1905, via Pinterest.

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 via the Profumo website.

Tawaf via the Profumo website.

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.

The Ka'abah or Kaaba. Source: upww.us

The Ka’abah or Kaaba. Source: upww.us

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.

Jasmine

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.)

Bee on a tuberose. Photo: faixal_javaid via Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Bee on a tuberose. Photo: faixal_javaid via Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

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.

Jasmine peacock created from jasmine flowers. Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Jasmine peacock created from jasmine flowers. Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

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.

Mata Hari via euroxpress.es

Mata Hari via euroxpress.es

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.

La Folies Bergère, Paris, circa 1900 ad, by Rene Lalique.

La Folies Bergère, Paris, circa 1900 ad, by Rene Lalique.

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.

Jean Renoir's "French Cancan" 1954. Source: blu-ray.com

Jean Renoir’s “French Cancan” 1954. Source: blu-ray.com

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.

Source: picsfab.com

White honey and white flowers. Source: picsfab.com

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.

Source: Robert.Maro.net

Source: Robert.Maro.net

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.

Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

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.

Mata Hari via Wikipedia.

Mata Hari via Wikipedia.

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.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Tawaf is a concentrated eau de parfum that comes in a variety of sizes. It is available exclusively from the Profumo.it website, which ships its scents world-wide. All the following prices for Tawaf are in Euros without VAT: €46,61 for 15.5 ml, €94,22 for 32 ml (a little over 1 oz) and €146,79 for 50 ml/1.7 oz. At today’s rate of exchange, the USD prices roughly comes to: $63 for the 15.5 ml, $146 for the 32 ml, and $200 for the 50 ml bottle. The site says: “Prices are without VAT and are valid for USA and all non EEC countries[;] for shipments in the EEC 22% VAT will be ADDED to the amount in the shopping cart.” There is also a Mignon Discovery Coffret which is available for any 5 fragrances, each in a glass 5.5 ml bottle. The price depends on which perfumes you pick, as the choice is up to you. The 5.5 ml bottle of Tawaf is €17,70. On a side note, I received my samples from Mr. Dubrana incredibly quickly, less than 4 days after he sent it. Additionally, I have the impression that, with all purchases, Profumo provides free 2 ml samples, especially of any new fragrances that he is developing, since AbdesSalaam is very interested in feedback. In short, if you’re ordering fragrance, you may want to ask for a sample of something that strikes your eye. Samples: you can order a sample of Tawaf from Surrender to Chance which sells the perfume starting at $8.99 for a 1 ml vial.
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La Via del Profumo Milano Caffé

Source: hqdesktop.net

Source: hqdesktop.net

Have you ever tried a perfume, took a sniff, then almost fell over yourself to spray on more? That’s what happened to me with Milano Caffé, which led to an actual “ohhh” out loud, then a frenzied application all over. It is a visual plethora of dark colours from the blackness of bitter expresso and licorice, to the mahogany of deep woods, the green-blackness of patchouli and smoky vetiver, and the darkness of black chocolate. Subtle hints of goldenness flit about from amber and vanilla, but on my skin, they are mere fireflies in the dark forest.

Dominque Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

Dominque Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

Milano Caffé is the creation of the perfumer, Dominique Dubrana, who also goes by the name “AbdesSalaam Attar.” His perfume house, La Via del Profumo, focuses on all-natural fragrances, many of which have a Middle Eastern flair or subtext. I’m utterly fascinated by Mr. Dubrana, a man who some consider to be a genius and magician and who was the focus of a fantastic, gushing article in The New York Times  entitled “Smellbound.”

In 2013, he debuted an “Italian Series” of fragrances which sought to pay tribute to his adopted homeland. Milano Caffé (which I’ll just write without the accent as “Milano Caffe” for ease and speed) is the first of the line, and is classified on Fragrantica as an “oriental vanilla.” Personally, I would categorize it as a Woody Oriental. On his Profumo website, AbdesSalaam Attar describes Milano Caffe as follows:

This first fragrance, named for Milan, is centered on the omnipresent and most characteristic smell of the city, the aroma of coffee. It pervades the streets and workplaces; it is part of every event and encounter, professional or leisurely; and is present in every social occasion.

I have blended coffee with chocolate because that is the Milanese way: the residents of that marvelous city add Cacao powder to cappuccinos, and place a single square piece of chocolate next to your cup of coffee.

The combination of coffee and chocolate is your introduction to the city of Milan, but it is merely the start.  The original blast of coffee- chocolate melts quickly into woody-spicy notes. The body of ‘Milano cafè’ is an elegant male fragrance worthy of the sophisticated fashion that characterizes the city: Warm, dry, woody, sober and at the same time rich, with a determined, confident character.

A subdued spicy accord alludes to the multi-ethnic aspect of the city, as manifest in the Somali and Arab restaurants that have flourished there in recent years.

Milano caffè is not your usual masculine, composed of trite notes to appeal to a mass audience. It is, instead, a new and unexpected accord that will appeal to people who make trends, not those who follow them.

Milano Caffe via The Perfume Shrine.

Milano Caffe via The Perfume Shrine.

Fragrantica provides the succinct list of notes:

coffee, cappuccino, chocolate, iris, woody notes, spicy notes, opoponax [sweet myrrh], tonka bean and amber.

There are a lot of unspecified, uncategorized notes on that list, and on my skin, they dominate. What appears on my skin, after quite a few tests, would be something more like this:

Patchouli, vetiver, cedar, expresso coffee, dark chocolate, cocoa powder, licorice, sweet myrrh, iris, something phenolic and tarry that might be birch, then tonka and amber. Possibly also: coriander.

I meant what I said at the beginning about my initial reaction to Milano Caffe, but it is significant for another reason as well. In my eagerness to spray on more, I applied Milano Caffe to my second arm, instead of just to my main testing arm which is the left one. I noticed an immediate, and quite substantial, difference in smell. Perhaps it is a pH issue, or perhaps my skin is even stranger than I suspected, but there was a very different version of Milano Caffe on my right arm than on my left one.

As a result, I’ve tested the fragrance three times in all, on both arms simultaneously. The same differences occurred each time during the first few hours. The perfume’s drydown is largely the same, but one arm gives a significantly darker, drier, woodier, smokier version of Milano Caffe. The other (my main testing left arm) reflects more vanilla, amber, warmth, and sweetness. One version is slightly more unisex, the other is hardcore masculine, though I think the fragrance skews very masculine in general. So, I’ll give you both versions of how Milano Caffe appeared on me.

VERSION 1:

Source: Sodahead.com

Source: Sodahead.com

Milano Caffe opens on my skin with an intense darkness, along with earthy, woody and smoky notes. There is smoked vetiver, something that resembles smoky Lapsong Souchang tea, cedar, earthy but green patchouli, sweet green grass, and spices. There is also a whisper of sweet muskiness that smells natural, as if you’re smelling it on a flower in nature or from the earth. It’s iris, but done in a way that may be the very first time I’ve ever loved the note. It’s delicately floral, but also infused with woody and smoked tonalities. A minute later, the bitterest of expresso coffees floods in to add a truly original, intense touch to the whole combination.

Patchouli. Source: womenworld.com.ua

Patchouli. Source: womenworld.com.ua

There is zero doubt in this patch head’s opinion that Milano Caffe contains a lot of patchouli, and I love every bit of it. It’s not the revolting modern version with its purple, syrupy fruit-chouli characteristics, but the real, hardcore, original stuff. In fact, the patchouli manifests itself from the top of the plant to the bottom: there is the green, pungent, medicinal edge of the leaves, but also the sweet, wet, damp earthiness of the soil around its base. At first, it is a subtle touch, but it takes maybe 2 minutes for the patchouli to become one of the main players on my skin, injecting both a medicinal greenness and a peppermint note to the proceedings.

This is no spicy, ambered, brown-red patchouli, but a very green one. Yet, despite that, it is as chewy and dense as the common labdanum-infused, boozy patchoulis on the market. The black-green kind in Milano Caffe also sometimes reflects a distinct boozy cognac touch that appeared in a few of my tests in the opening minutes, but that aspect is incredibly brief. As a whole, the patchouli in Milano Caffe in all tests and on both arms spans the green end of the spectrum from metholated and medicinal, to peppermint.

Licorice. Source: Dylanscandybar.com

Licorice. Source: Dylanscandybar.com

Other notes are perfectly blended within. There is a definite, very strong element of licorice that appears every time I’ve tested Milano Caffe. It’s black and very chewy in feel. It counters the floral element that, in some tests, was quite noticeable in the opening minutes, but very muted and muffled in others. The same thing applies to the sweet myrrh which adds a nutty quality, but also a quiet, subdued touch of smokiness. In some tests, it was initially quite noticeable, but, in most of them, it was the tiniest of notes that barely registers.

Black chocolate via bioshieldinc.com

Black chocolate via bioshieldinc.com

Much more significant, however, is the chocolate. At first, it’s just a whisper that feels like unsweetened, black chocolate that lurks on the sidelines or under the expresso. About 20 minutes in, it grows stronger, thoroughly infusing the expresso and the patchouli’s peppermint, until the three notes are essentially one. At the same time, there is also a feeling of dusty, semi-sweetened cocoa powder sprinkled on everything.

Lurking far below in the base is something that feels distinctly phenolic and tarry, with a very leathered, smoky feel. It’s not like the birch tar in some leather fragrances, because it’s hardly animalic, fecal or raw, but there is something of birch’s smokiness about it. It’s subtle, more akin to tiny tendrils blown from a campfire in the distance, but there is definitely something deeply dark, leathered, and smoky in Milano Caffé’s base. Milan and Italy are as famous for their leathers as for their expresso, so it wouldn’t be surprising if an olfactory ode to the city gave a nod to that element.

Source: brookstone.com

Source: brookstone.com

The overall combination and effect drove me wild. Coffee’d patchouli with black chocolate, licorice, smokiness, and dark woods. Genius, pure genius. Why has no-one ever done that before? How come no-one has ever thought to mix the darkness of patchouli and its peppermint qualities with something like bitter expresso and chocolate? I haven’t had such an instant, immediate reaction to a fragrance’s opening since my Paris trip, and the perfumes I bought or singled out for samples to test on my return. I wrote in my notes, “so happy, I could scream.” You have to be a patchouli addict to understand and relate to that, because I don’t think Milano Caffe’s dark, bitter, smoky, woody opening will be for everyone. Most definitely not, and especially not for most women, in my opinion. But I loved it.

Twenty minutes in, Milano Caffe is a seamless, rich, decadent, endlessly dark blend of notes. There is woody darkness, smoky vetiver, green patchouli, bitter black expresso, iris, smoke, licorice, black chocolate, and damp, sweet earth. Only the subtlest touch of warm amber lurks about, the iris is fading away, and both the sweet myrrh and cedar feel indistinct. In the background, there is an amorphous, indistinct touch of spiciness. I keep wondering if Milano Caffe has coriander in it because I occasionally pick up on the oddest nuance of something lemony, but dry. The whole bouquet feels incredibly dense and chewy, but Milano Caffe’s projection drops from its initial intensity to something that is only moderate at this point.

From a distance, the main bouquet is of bitter coffee infused with patchouli peppermint, licorice, chocolate and green, medicinal pungency. I’m fascinated by the interplay of notes, especially the ones you can smell if you go in close, because the notes sound like such a crazy combination. And, yet, they work so well here. The subtle ambered heart helps to counter the forcefulness of the elements, and to provide some warmth, but it never verges on sweetness.

Source: chaoswallpapers.com

Source: chaoswallpapers.com

As a whole, on my right arm which I don’t usually use for testing, Milano Caffe is a very dry, woody, greenly dark fragrance that is bitter-sweet at best. In truth, I would have preferred more of a counter-balance to that aspect of things, because my skin takes the base notes and runs with them to quite an unrelieved extreme. About 1.75 hours in, Milano Caffe is primarily a peppermint patchouli-vetiver combination. I wish it weren’t quite so dominant, as it has far overshadowed the coffee and other elements. While my skin normally amplifies sweetness and amber, it hasn’t done so here. I have to admit, this vetiver-peppermint stage was a little disappointing for me, not only because it lacked the complexity of the opening, but also because its darkness was a bit too constant for my personal tastes.

Peat bricks in an outdoor fire. Source: freeirishphotos.com

Peat bricks in an outdoor fire. Source: freeirishphotos.com

In fact, in one of my tests on this arm, Milano Caffe turned even darker. There was much more smoky woodiness, from the vetiver, the cedar, and the mysterious tarry element. The latter definitely evoked an outdoor bonfire in the way that birch tar or cade can often do, while the vetiver takes on a peaty tonality. The overall combination repeatedly called to mind Jovoy‘s Private Label, another fragrance with blackness, peppermint, woods and smokiness. There are big differences, however, as Private Label took all those elements to an extreme, while Milano Caffe is significantly better modulated and balanced. Plus, it has coffee, licorice and dark chocolate, while the Jovoy fragrance is centered on hardcore smoked vetiver and birch tar smoke with leather.

Perhaps it’s merely an odd idiosyncrasy of the skin on my non-testing arm, but Milano Caffe flattens into a patchouli peppermint with dark woods scent for the rest of its duration. I wish it hadn’t, as it was too much of the same thing for me, and the necessary counterbalance of ambered warmth was far too inconsequential on my skin to have much effect. Milano Caffe turns into a skin scent at the end of the third hour, and, in its final moments, Milano Caffe is merely dry woodiness with a vague suggestion of something patchouli about it. All in all, it lasted about 10.75 hours with 3 small sprays. Thankfully, Milano Caffe is consistently better balanced on my other arm.

VERSION 2 – MAIN TESTING ARM:

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Milano Caffe opens on my skin with boozy, rich cognac and amber, followed by patchouli’s green notes and expresso. Seconds later, a chewy, black licorice appears, along with dark, bitter chocolate that is simultaneously like the solid slab as well as the dusty powder. The coffee initially has the bitterness of expresso, but also the smoother, milder aspects of regular coffee. The main notes are subtly infused with earthiness, smoky vetiver, a hint of dusty cedar, and the nuttied undertones of labdanum amber. The overall combination is much warmer, less bitter and dark than it was on my right arm.

"Green and Maroon," by Mark Rothko. Source: ArtTribune.com

“Green and Maroon,” by Mark Rothko. Source: ArtTribune.com

As the minutes pass, Milano Caffe continues to evolve and darken. The licorice grows much stronger, as does the pungent, medicinal sides of the patchouli. It’s not camphorated and doesn’t smell extremely mentholated, but it is very green, bitter, cool and chilly. There isn’t the musky sweetness or damp, wet earthiness of the first version, nor any of the iris floralacy either. Though there is the same smoky, woody greenness from both the vetiver and the patchouli, there is also the feel of some vanilla that was lacking the first time around.

The cognac booziness fades ten minutes into Milano Caffe’s development, and something else takes its place: peppermint. The patchouli’s green side loses its medicinal pungency, and the peppermint takes its turn on center stage next to the coffee, dark chocolate, and amber. Once again, there is something phenolic and tarry in Milano Caffe, a black, almost leathered, smokiness that appeared in both versions and in all the tests. Here, however, it is only a subtle, light touch, and far outweighed by the coffee.

Mark Rothko, ":'Magenta, Black, Green on Orange', 1947. Source: studyblue.com

Mark Rothko, “:’Magenta, Black, Green on Orange’, 1947. Source: studyblue.com

At the end of the first hour, Milano Caffe turns softer and a bit sweeter. The peppermint patchouli smooths out, as it is infused by the growing amber element. The vanilla rises to the surface and mixes with the other accords to create the impression of a dry caramel, infused with coffee. It’s an odd caramel though, as it has limited sweetness and a touch of bitterness. At the same time, the coffee and chocolate blend together to create a dry mocha accord. The patchouli is laced throughout it all. It is still primarily like peppermint, but it’s a much softer, warmer, earthier touch.

By the 3.5 hour mark, Milano Caffe is a soft coffee fragrance with slightly powdered vanilla and peppermint patchouli, nestled in a woody dryness and dusted by cocoa powder. There are lingering traces of both bitterness and smokiness, but they are subtle. The combination feels chewy in its notes, but the fragrance itself is a skin scent by now that is only hefty when you smell it up close. The notes remain easy to detect for another few hours, though they slowly lose their richness.

Mark Rothko, #20 or "Black,brown on maroon." Source: artsearch.nga.gov.au

Mark Rothko, #20 or “Black,brown on maroon.” Source: artsearch.nga.gov.au

At the start of the 6th hour, Milano Caffe is a soft, dusty cocoa powder with woodiness that vaguely translates to patchouli and a hint of something pepperminty. At the end of the 8th hour, it feels almost gone, but Milano Caffe clings on tenaciously. It finally dies away 10.25 hours from the start as a blur of cocoa powder and dry woodiness.

ALL IN ALL:

Regardless of arm or test, Milano Caffe never evokes an urban city for me. Instead, it takes me to the darkest of woods filled with endless vistas of patchouli, vetiver, and greenness. In a clearing at the heart of darkness is a table for two, set with an array of café treats. The scent of freshly brewed, bitter expresso fills the air, as you chew on a selection of peppermints, dark chocolate and licorice on a chair made of vetiver and cedar. A tiny cup of vanilla sits at the far side of the table, next to thimble of cognac. Fireflies of amber act as candlelight, but they are tiny vestiges of warmth in the dark forest.

Zucca coffee shop, Milan on The Perfume Shrine, via the virtualtourist.com

Zucca coffee shop, Milan on The Perfume Shrine, via the virtualtourist.com

Other bloggers, however, were taken to the heart of Milan, and experienced a scent that was driven primarily by coffee and dark chocolate, with only minor degrees of woodiness or patchouli. Take, for example, The Perfume Shrine who describes Milano Caffe, in part, as follows:

The pervading and intoxicating scent of freshly ground coffee is one small part of [the Italian sybarite’s] luxury of letting time slip by. The mingling of chocolate in the composition of Milano Caffé recalls the dusting of cocoa powder on the white “caplet” of a hearty and filling cappuccino, drunk leisurely with a view of the impressive Duomo before taking a stroll down the Via Montenapoleone for some serious window shopping. The Milanese are nothing if not sticklers for detail, from their dog’s collar to their impeccable shoes, and I can feel in Milano Caffé the vibrancy of the elegant woody and spicy background which hums underneath the culinary notes of the top. Coffee is naturally a complex smell, comprised of caramelized & smoky/acrid facets on one end, of woody, like freshly sharpened pencils, on the other.

The dry quality of the fragrance despite the tonka bean and ambery richness elevates the composition into classic resinous-balsamic level; one mistakes smelling Milano Caffé for a full-bodied vintage that peels layer after layer after layer. In fact, what is most surprising is finding a hint of the cocoa-facet of orris and something which reminds me of the fluff, the flou quality of the resin opoponax, amidst the proceedings. This caress under the dark and bitterish flavor of coffee only serves to consolidate the infiltrating appeal of that highly prized bean, that elixir of life, the coffea arabica, cutting its slightly acidic character. Although the spicy woodiness might make Milano Caffé more conventionally masculine in direction, its richness and cuddly chocolate note makes it a great choice for the woman who doesn’t follow trends but rather sets them herself.

Kevin at Now Smell This also experienced a coffee-chocolate dominated scent, though he detected the patchouli as I did. In his review, he wrote:

Milano Caffè opens with a pleasantly discordant mix of espresso beans, bitter chocolate…and perhaps a touch of real patchouli. Next up is the scent of an expensive bar of dark chocolate, scented with cinnamon/clove, and an accord that reminds me of cardamom, something “sage-y”/green and a dark, almost caramelized sweet note (the “spirit” of opoponax followed me as I wore this perfume). Milano Caffè’s character in mid-development is of an off-kilter amber fragrance, with its bits and pieces not quite fitting together. I love the fact that this is NOT a smooth, predictable, culinary take on coffee and chocolate, but more of an herbal/spice-coffee-chocolate perfume “tonic.” There is a woody vibe in the extreme dry down, and the perfume gets a tad incense-y (benzoin?) the longer I wear it. (There is also a phase that reminds me of Thai iced tea, with its cream and star anise aromas.)

On first sniff, Milano Caffè went to the top of my favorite coffee-chocolate perfumes list, and I like it more each time I wear it; the fragrance would be great to wear in autumn and winter, even on a chilly spring day. [¶] La Via del Profumo lists Milano Caffè as a masculine fragrance, but, to me, it’s unisex. Milano Caffè’s lasting power is good for an all-natural fragrance (around four hours on me); sillage is minimal.

Obviously, the patchouli wasn’t as dominant on his skin, and I clearly had a much longer time-span for Milano Caffe as a whole. In fact, the length of time for all the Profumo scents that I’ve tried thus far is quite astonishing, given that they are all natural. I consistently experience 10 hours or more, and given my wonky skin, that says something.

Basenotes‘ official listing for Milano Caffe has no reviews yet, while, on Fragrantica, only two people have provided an actual description of the scent. The first is from “Oscar_84” who talks as much about the vanilla and amber as the coffee:

As soon as I spray Milano Caffè on my wrists, the coffee aroma and the sweetness of chocolate feel kind of intoxicating, pervading my senses. It’s very much like entering a café in a cold morning and ordering a cappuccino… the comforting aroma of freshly ground coffee that blends with the dustiness of cocoa powder over the soft and creamy drink will instantly warm you and make you feel good even in the grayest day. After top notes, that still remain perceivable through the following stages, Milano Caffè reveals its truest oriental vanilla nature with a smoothest but pretty masculine accord of vanilla and woody notes, while iris nuances provide the scent a delicate elegance: in its drydown the fragrance reveals oriental accords of amber, spices and balsamic hints that provide the fragrance it an unexpected fresh vibe. As for longevity-projection, the fragrance has a moderate lasting power (about four hours) and a pretty good sillage.

In my opinion Milano Caffè has very detectable, warm and discrete features that make it perfectly suitable not only for casual wear but also for job meetings, evening dates and any other events when one may need both an energetic and kind of cuddling scent.

The second review is from a woman who experienced a bit more of the medicinal aspects that I encountered from the patchouli, though they didn’t last long on her:

This has a very vintage feel to it, especially in the beginning. The first initial spray smell is not my favorite, it’s very harsh almost medicinal and not very pleasant. But after about 5 minutes it turns into a bitter coffee chocolate, latte smell, but not in a sweet way sugary way. This perfume is definitely not sweet, but it has a very Italian feel to it. It’s very complex, the coffee, bitter chocolate, latte smell stays around for about 1 hour, then it gets more woodsy but a bitter chocolate note shines through here and there. I also get a bit of Shalimar similarity in it, somewhere in the beginning. I wouldn’t wear this out, but I love this in the morning with when I’m having my coffee. I would say it’s a perfume for your self, and it grows on you over time. I’m glad to have it in my collection.

I suspect it is the patchouli’s green side that she finds medicinal, while the Shalimar comparison may stem from the subtle smokiness and leathery undertones in Milano Caffe.

Obviously, skin chemistry makes a difference to how Milano Caffe will appear on your skin, but I think anyone who loves coffee and real patchouli scents should try it. I don’t think the fragrance is for everyone, though. Those who love gourmands will struggle with the dryness, and I think the fragrance will feel very masculine for women who don’t enjoy the boldest and darkest of scents.

I also agree with the female Fragrantica commentator that Milano Caffe grows on you with time, so I would recommend trying it at least twice. While I loved its opening bouquet from the very first time, the subsequent drydown took a few tries for me to appreciate quite as much. One thing I’ve noticed is that Milano Caffe is perfect for layering with a warmer, sweeter scent. I sprayed Arabian Oud‘s Kalemat for a honeyed, richly ambered foundation, then applied Milano Caffe over it, and I loved the overall combination of the two.

There is something else that I think is critical to keep in mind when trying not just Milano Caffe, but every scent from La Via del Profumo. You have to keep in mind who Abdes Salaam or Dominique Dubrana is himself. In my opinion, he is very much in the vein of visionaries like Serge Lutens, perfumers who follow the beat of their own drum, with visions in their head that differ from the more conventional, approachable, easy things created by others. Regular readers know my worship of Serge Lutens, the man, so this is one of the highest compliments I can give someone. Both men have complicated depth, an intellectual nature, a fiercely passionate, unique approach to perfumery, and a deeply poetic soul.

In fact, Mr. Dubrana’s website, Profumo, is subtitled in one section as “Scents of the Soul.” If you read his writings, from the holistic and perfumetherapy parts to his blog, if you look at his calligraphy, or if you observe his beautifully philosophic quotes from Rumi in his Twitter page, you will find a complex, fascinating intellectual who stands apart. I should also state that I’ve interacted briefly with Mr. Dubrana via email correspondence, and find him to be the epitome of an Old World gentleman, in every sense of that word. I’m fascinated, enchanted, and determined to explore more of his line.

As with Serge Lutens, some of the Profumo fragrances are intensely different and perhaps rise to the level of art that is to be admired. It doesn’t mean that every scent is always approachable, wearable, or versatile. Serge Lutens’ creations aren’t always so for me, though his fragrances dominate my collection. I think Profumo scents are the same way. Mecca Balsam didn’t work for me given how badly my skin distorted it, and I don’t think Milano Caffe is for everyone either, though I personally enjoy it a lot. In all cases, however, they are fragrances to respect. They stand out with their boldness, originality, and intensity.

The average perfumista may be overwhelmed, just as many are by Serge Lutens or Amouage, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expand your horizons and try them. When you do, keep in mind that they are meant to be different. Mr. Dubrana has sent me samples of a few of his scents, so I shall cover one or two more in the upcoming days, with the jasmine-centered Tawaf being next. I can tell you that a mere sniff of the scent in the vial blew me away, and its opening is the most beautifully intense, lush, narcotic jasmine I’ve tried in recent memory. After that, I’ll review the cool, austere, incense fragrance, Hindu Kush, the almond-leathered desert scent, Sharif, and the tobacco, Tabac.

As for Milano Caffe, it is a complicated, dark beauty. It is also quite affordable at prices that start at $44 (or roughly €37 with VAT) for the smallest size. A little goes a long way, so I definitely encourage men who love expresso or true patchouli to give it a sniff. Women who enjoy bold, very woody or dark scents may enjoy it too.

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.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Milano Caffe is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of sizes. It is available exclusively from the Profumo.it website which ships its scents world-wide. All the following prices for Milano Caffe are in Euros without VAT: €32,73 for 15.5 ml, €70,82 for 33 ml (a little over 1 oz) and €97,20 for 50 ml/1.7 oz. At today’s rate of exchange, the USD prices roughly comes to: $44, $96, and $132 for the 50 ml bottle. The site says: “Prices are without VAT and are valid for USA and all non EEC countries[;] for shipments in the EEC 22% VAT will be ADDED to the amount in the shopping cart.” There is also a Mignon Discovery Coffret which is available for any 5 fragrances, each in a glass 5.5 ml bottle. The price depends on which perfumes you pick, as the choice is up to you. The 5.5 ml bottle of Milano Caffe is €12,30. On a side note, I received my samples from Mr. Dubrana incredibly quickly, less than 4 days after he sent it. Additionally, I have the impression that, with all purchases, Profumo provides free 2 ml samples, especially of any new fragrances that he is developing, since AbdesSalaam is very interested in feedback. In short, if you’re ordering fragrance, you may want to ask for a sample of something that strikes your eye. Samples: you can order a sample of Milano Caffe from Surrender to Chance which sells the perfume at $5.99 for a 1 ml vial.