Perfume Review – Amouage Fate (Woman)

Marion Cotillard photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for the September 2010 issue of Vogue Paris. Source:

Marion Cotillard photographed by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott for Paris Vogue, September 2010 issue. Source:

She stared at the rumpled bed which bore the traces of their scent. As the light streamed through the windows of their hotel room at the George V, she saw the trail of clothes leading to the scene of their final tryst. She recalled how crisp, aloof and controlled she had been at the start in her sleek, sculptured, black, couture dress, smelling of citruses, oakmoss and cool daffodils. The notes were as sparkling and cool as lemonade, or the champagne that chilled by the window nook, until he began kissing her neck…

She remembered how her limbs melted when he unzipped her dress, warming the daffodil scent until the roses and jasmine came out, infused by a musk that softly mimicked that of her own body. Flecks of rich, warm, smooth castoreum flickered like the flame of the candles that he had lit around their bed. Subtle touches of leather stirred like the trim on the expensive lingerie that he admired with a gleam in his eye — lingerie as black as the trails of sweetened incense that ran through her fragrance.

Marion Cotillard photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for the September 2010 issue of Vogue Paris. Source:

Marion Cotillard photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for the September 2010 issue of Vogue Paris. Source:

She thought of how he had gently placed soft, lush, velvety, pink roses around her body, framing her with their heady scent. He kissed her with all the spiciness of chili pepper and cinnamon, the scent of his soap mixing with their fire, with her musk, with the tendrils of incense and smoke, with the honey that he drizzled on her trembling stomach. She thought of their passion and how, when it was over, he had gently covered her body with the sheer, silky sheet that smelled of creamy vanilla and powder. She had been fated to meet him, she had been fated to succumb, she had been fated to have the affair end in the apex of passionate heat, and she was fated to forever remember him when she put on her fragrance. Fate.

Fate (Woman) is the latest release from the royal perfume house of Amouage and will be released worldwide in July. I received a sample thanks to one of my readers, “Dubaiscents,” who generously sent me a sample of both the men and women’s versions. Yesterday, I reviewed Fate for Men which is a very sophisticated, dry, woody fragrance centered on the immortelle flower. Fate for Women (hereinafter just “Fate” for the purposes of this review) is very different, but equally elegant and sophisticated. It is a chypre-oriental hybrid created by Dorothée Piot and which Amouage describes as follows: 

Amouage Fate Woman with BoxFate for Woman is a chypre oriental with a rich floral heart intensified by a dark and destructive accord resonating with the tumultuous unknown.

Top notes: bergamot, cinnamon, chilli, pepper.

Heart notes: rose, narcissus [daffodil], jasmine, frankincense, labdanum.

Base notes: vanilla bean, frankincense, benzoin, castoreum, patchouli, oakmoss, leather.

Field of NarcissusFate opens on my skin with a burst of yellow: fresh, crisp citrus notes, and the sunniest of daffodils. There is a momentary flicker of something sour that is soon replaced by spiciness, rose infused with patchouli, oakmoss, stirrings of a quiet, soft leather note, and a touch of musk. The oakmoss is a subtle swirl of nuances: fresh, green, slightly mineralized, and grey. The castoreum is smooth, warm, ever so slightly animalic, and sweet.

The true stars, however, are the yellow notes. The bergamot starts off crisply but, within minutes, turns softer, warmer and spicier, evoking the scent of lemonade that has been sweetened by the sun and by honey. At the same time, a subtle hint of vanillic powder at its base also makes me think of powdered lemonade crystals. Swirling all around it is the daffodil note that starts off being fresh and cool, but, like everything else in Fate, soon turns warmer, spicier, richer. In its footsteps is a delicate rose that is never as sweet as a tea rose, but also never as jammy, fruited, or liqueured as a dark damask rose. It feels like the headiest of pink roses, except it has the crisp, fresh zestiness of lemon. Both flowers are flecked by a mossy patchouli which works from the background to turn Fate into a very smooth, lush, velvety chypre fragrance.



Slowly, slowly, the base notes turn Fate into something warmer, richer, and spicier. As the rose note gains in strength, stepping on the center stage to share the spotlight with the daffodil, jasmine takes its place in the wings. Lurking further in the shadows is a subtle layer of soapiness. About twenty minutes in, like a brash understudy late to a rehearsal, chili stumbles in. Red, spicy, and adding a perfect touch of subtle heat, the red pepper bumps into the floral notes, warming them even further. In its wake is a shy incense note. It is far from the usual sharp, powerful frankincense so prevalent in many Amouage scents. Instead, the smoke is sweetened, soft, subtle, and verging on sunny.



Forty minutes in, Fate starts to slowly strip off its formal, crisp, citric-oakmoss, chypre veneer to bring out its oriental underwear. Like passionate kisses warming a lover’s body, the daffodil-rose bouquet turn more and more sensual, dancing on slightly musked skin. Infused by bergamot, trailed by jasmine, flecked by spicy chili pepper along with sweetened smoke and a shiver of vanilla, Fate is lushly heady, potent, incredibly elegant, and slightly haughty, but reeking of sensuous stirrings. The oakmoss and patchouli are still highly evident in the base, but the other notes feel alive with an oriental silkiness that evokes the most seductive of lingerie peeking out from underneath an elegant black dress. 

"Red Orange Rose Yellow Abstract" by LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Link to website embedded within, click on photo.)

“Red Orange Rose Yellow Abstract” by LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Link to website embedded within photo.)

At the two-hour mark, Fate shifts a little. The florals turn red with warmth and sweetness. Cinnamon replaces the chili on their velvety petals. But, to my slight disappointment, the underlying soapiness becomes much more pronounced. On a more positive note, Fate also begins to take on quite an ambered hue. The labdanum starts to rise to the surface, emitting a lightly honeyed aroma that mixes beautifully with the amber, the plushly sensuous castoreum, the musk, and the patchouli. The incense is still subtle, light and sweetened, and it still remains largely in the background.



Three and a half hours in, the base notes fully rise to the surface. Fate becomes a labdanum, oakmoss, and patchouli amber fragrance infused with rich, sweet, velvety, floral nuances, along with musk and a quiet tinge of soapiness. The labdanum’s honeyed characteristics have been largely replaced by a nutty, almost chestnut-like undertone that is a perfect counterpoint to the dry, but plush, oakmoss-patchouli.



Slowly, slowly, like a flower unfurling its petals over the span of hours in the sun, Fate turns softer, more ambered, more golden. The barely animalic musk underlying the scent melts even further into the skin, the labdanum glows like bronzed gold, and the vanillic benzoin adds a radiating shimmer to the now muted, very abstract, gauzy florals.  By the start of the ninth hour, the final stage has begun, and Fate is a sensuous skin veil of rich vanilla cream flecked with powder, golden amber, and a light, heated, sweetened muskiness.

All in all, Fate lasted an astronomical 13.25 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. The sillage was monstrous at first, wafting several feet across the room. It was heady, narcotic, sweet, but also very dry and crisp initially, before slowly turning more languorous, more sensuous, more oriental. Fate’s projection is powerful, even if it isn’t nuclear-tipped in the way of some Amouage floral scents (like Ubar, for example), but it did soften by the start of the third hour. My sample was a spray (and aerosolization adds to a fragrance’s power), but I think Fate would be forceful even if dabbed on. It didn’t become a skin scent on me until the start of the sixth hour, though it was still very noticeable when I brought my arm close to my nose. Fate only became hard to detect and somewhat abstract towards the end of the eighth hour, though it lingered on for almost another five hours in a very silken, muted, sheer form.

I think Fate Woman is an astoundingly beautiful, complex, refined fragrance — a sophisticated chypre-oriental which combines the best elements of both categories. It is perfectly balanced: never too sweet or too dry, never too indolent or spiced, never too charged by patchouli, musk, or castoreum. I was a little surprised by the softness of the frankincense smoke, especially as my skin normally tends to amplify the note, but I’m also glad that Amouage chose to mute its signature base accord. Fate doesn’t need it; the beauty of the fragrance lies, in part, in how pitch-perfect it is across the wide spectrum of its notes. (As a side note, the perfume stunned The Ultimate Perfume Snob, a.k.a my mother, who interrupted a conversation to ask “what is that smell?”, then shook her head and blinked in disbelief at Fate’s beauty, asked to smell it several more times, wanted to know where to buy it, and finally lost all reserved, British aloofness to become practically passionate in her raves. Trust me, it rarely happens.)

Something about Fate draws you in for another sniff, again and again, especially when its sensuous, warm heart starts to bloom. Yet, there is also a refined, cool sophistication in its opening which makes it very much one of those scents that feels like protective armor, if that makes any sense. Again and again, I have the vision of a cool, confident, wealthy woman, perfectly groomed and sophisticated in the elegantly cut, structured, designer black dress that is the uniform of choice for some Parisienne women. And I see her stripping off her armor to reveal the seductive satin and black lace lingerie below which she then peels off entirely to reveal her smooth, softly musked, lightly powdered, silky, amber skin. Control and abandon, French style.

Yet, for all that imagery and despite the gender classification in the perfume’s name, I happen to think Fate Woman is quite unisex in nature, and a scent which would be very seductive on a man as well. The same visual would apply to a man, only he’s cloaked in a dark Armani suit with a crisp white shirt, and looks a little like Hugh Jackman…. Regardless of gender, Fate is a very wearable fragrance, though I think its powerful projection may make it a little too much for the office unless you’re very careful with amount you spray. It would, however, be perfect to wear on a date or to seduce.

Lest any of this was even remotely ambiguous, let me put it plainly: you need to try Fate Woman. Like its male counterpart (Fate Man), it shows why Amouage is one of the leaders of the perfume pack. With its sophisticated, nuanced, complex, often innovative and intellectual, but always luxurious and opulent fragrances, Amouage is really one of the best perfume houses out there. And, under the deft, brilliant direction of Christopher Chong, I doubt that’s going to change any time soon. 


Availability & Stores: Fate (Woman) is an eau de parfum and is available in two sizes: 1.7 oz/50 ml which costs $310 or €240; or 3.4 oz/100 ml eau de parfum which costs $375 or €290. As of the time of this post, the perfume is not yet officially released beyond the Amouage website and boutiques, but it will be widely available as of July 2013, according to CaFleureBon. At the present time, the perfume is unfortunately sold out on Amouage online, but I’m sure that will be remedied soon. I will update this post with retail links much later when the perfume is officially released and becomes widely available. 

Perfume Review – Amouage Fate (Man)

Corsica is usually associated with its rocky cliffs, Napoleon, and the Mediterranean sea, but I think Corsica has a special smell, especially inland: slightly dusty, dry, very woody, and sweetly floral. In parts (namely those where I was clambering up rocky mountains like a dying billy-goat), it smelled strongly of immortelle, a flower which is very common to the island, sweet woods, dried greens, and dustiness. So it is Corsica which comes to mind when I tried Fate (Man), the dry, woody, immortelle-based fragrance that is the latest release from the royal perfume house of Amouage.

Corsica. Photo by: Rolling Thunder. Source:

Corsica. Photo by: Rolling Thunder. Source:

Fate — in a dual Men and Women’s versions — was launched just last week in Oman, and will be officially released worldwide in July. A reader of the blog, “Dubaiscents,” whose generosity is only surpassed by her thoughtfulness, sweetness and kindness sent me a sample of both fragrances. I thought I would start with Fate for Men (hereinafter just “Fate”) which was created by Karine Vinchon-Spehner, and which Amouage describes as follows: 

Fate for Man is a spicy and woody construction parodying the force and power of the inevitable.

Top notes: mandarin, saffron, absinth [wormwood], ginger, cumin.

Heart notes: everlasting flower [Immortelle], rose, frankincense, lavandin, cistus, copahu.

Base notes: labdanum, cedarwood, liquorice, tonka bean, sandalwood, musk.

Source: CaFleureBon

Source: CaFleureBon

There is a detailed backstory in the official description of the fragrance about how the “Book of Fate is opened by the mysterious puppetmaster and the carousel, symbolising the wheel of fortune, is set in motion.” There is also talk about how “’Fate’ for man and woman explores the uncertainty of the future and the universal principal [sic] by which the order of things is inescapably prescribed. In his latest conquest, Amouage Creative Director Christopher Chong proclaims a finale that parodies the force of the inevitable, veiled in the mysticism of the unknown.” It’s lovely prose, but it’s not what comes to mind when I wear the perfume. I simply see sunny Corsica.

I tested Fate twice and, while the openings were largely the same, the nuances were slightly different. The first time, Fate opened on my skin with a split second burst of citrus that was quickly replaces by loads of ginger and flickers of dry cumin powder. The scent was simultaneously sweet, pungent, sharp, and slightly dusty in a dried, herbal, powdered sort of way. Immortelle soon followed, and it was my favorite manifestation of the note: the dry, floral aspect where you can smell the flowers as well as the slightly herbal stem. Underlying the whole thing was an amorphous woody base that smelled sweet but dry. The focal point of the opening minutes, however, was the ginger which felt pungent, spicy, biting and a little sharp.

Immortelle, or Helichrysum in Corsica. Source: Wikicommons.

Immortelle, or Helichrysum in Corsica. Source: Wikicommons.

iStock photo via

Ginger. iStock photo via

The second time I tried Fate, it opened with that same fleeting citrus element, but the main thrust was immortelle. There were flickers of abstract woodiness, ginger, sweetness, and the same subtle hint of cumin powder, but it was the immortelle that really dominated the show. This time, it was beautifully infused with a honey nuance which I assume stemmed from the labdanum in the base. The ginger was much less powerful, and it had different undertones. It was simultaneously like sharp, fresh ginger, but also a little more like dry, ginger powder, and lightly sugared, crystallized ginger as well. This time, the herbal element was also different. Instead of some nebulous “dry green” note, I smelled something that was just like dried tarragon with its anise-like undertones. I know licorice is one of the elements in Fate, but, to me, that has the aroma of the chewy, black candy with its sharper, darker characteristics. What I smell in Fate in the opening hour is something much more like herbal anisic facets of dried tarragon.

Artemisia Absinthe or Wormwood. Source:

Artemisia Absinthe or Wormwood. Source:

Despite these subtle differences, the rest of the perfume’s development remained largely the same in both tests. Five minutes in, the wormwood (also known as absinthe or Artemisia absinthium) starts to rise to the surface. It’s sweet, but has a faintly medicinal nuance that smells a little rotten and that strongly evokes the “noble rot” of agarwood (oud). Flickering in the background is a light, muted incense. The cumin has completely vanished from sight — something that will undoubtedly be a relief to the many cumin-phobes out there. I’ve read a few accounts where people have said that they experienced quite a bit of cumin at the start, but the note seems to be a dry, powdered one on their skin, too, and nothing reminiscent of stale, fetid sweat or Indian curries.

As time passes, Fate settles down into its primary essence in this first stage: a dry floral arrangement of immortelle with ginger, sweetened but slightly medicinal wormwood, and frankincense. In the background, there are muted, ghostly flickers of a dry vanilla and warm, sweet muskiness that pop up every now and then. The interesting thing about the scent is the wormwood. It has a slightly oud-like nuance, but it is also sweetened and honeyed. The primary notes fluctuate in intensity, but the overall bouquet remains largely unchanged.

The odd thing about Fate was that the dominant facet seemed to depend largely on temperature. Given where I live, I have the air-conditioning set at very chilly temperatures, and the wormwood in Fate seemed to take on a slightly biting, sharp, bracing tone in the opening hours. However, whenever I went outside into the warm, humid air, the note immediately turned soft, rounded, smooth, almost creamy, and definitely sweet. All medicinal elements retreated, until I re-entered the house and was exposed again to the arctic air. I tried it a few times to see and, each and every time, Fate bloomed in the humid, night air to become significantly more floral and with a sweeter, less oud-like version of wormwood.  

Incense stick. Source: Stock footage and

Incense stick. Source: Stock footage and

Two hours into Fate’s development, the whole thing changes quite dramatically. Indoors or outdoors, Fate has suddenly become a very ambered, sandalwood fragrance that is smoother, warmer, and better rounded. The wormwood’s medicinal veneer has been replaced by a lovely coating of honey from the labdanum, while a lightly peppered cedar stirs in the base. My favorite part, however, is the sandalwood which is rich, creamy, and warmly spiced. It’s absolutely beautiful. Furthermore, to my surprise, the immortelle has remained as a floral element, and hasn’t turned into the maple syrup that I dread so much. The dried, green, anisic herbal note still lurks underneath, but now, it is also joined by black licorice that is lightly salted and sweet. A hint of creamy, slightly vanillic lavender wafts daintily about, while a sweet muskiness dances at the edges like a golden light. The entire thing is intertwined by tendrils of frankincense smoke which tie the elements together like a ribbon does a bouquet.

Fate remains that way for many more hours. The bouquet of notes softens and becomes a skin scent around the start of the fourth hour, but the scent lingers for much longer. Around the sixth hour, Fate turns quite abstract and nebulous: it’s now simply immortelle woodiness infused by a light, sweet muskiness. It’s so sheer, you may think it’s gone, but Fate hangs on tenaciously. In its dying moment, a little over 10.25 hours from its start, Fate is nothing more than a vague, sweet woodiness. Both the middle phase with its beautiful sandalwood amber and the abstract drydown stage are absolutely lovely. Fate’s longevity was good on my voracious skin, but the sillage was moderate to soft. I sprayed, not dabbed, so I actually expected something much more powerful from Fate (especially given Amouage’s usual full-throttled nature), but the furthest it projected was in its first hour when it wafted about 3 inches above the skin.

Fate is a phenomenally complex, extremely unusual, refined, sophisticated scent that initially takes a little adjustment, but which definitely grows on you. The first time, I was very intrigued, but not wowed. I have a tendency to prefer the Women’s versions of Amouage fragrances as they are generally sweeter and not as dry, but the second time I tried Fate, I definitely sat up a little straighter. There is something fascinating about the notes, and the heat definitely improved the scent, in my opinion, by smoothing out some of the more bracing elements of the opening. It also rendered the perfume slightly sweeter which is something you may want to consider when testing Fate.

I think men will go quite crazy for Fate (Man), but I think a number of women will, too. Even though women will have their own version of the scent, Fate (Man) has such perfectly balanced sweetness in its undertones that it renders the fragrance quite unisex, in my opinion. If you like dry, spiced, woody fragrances or oud ones, and if you’re intrigued by the thought of Amouage’s signature frankincense combined with an unusual floral like immortelle, then I think you should definitely seek out a sample.

Fate Man with box.

Fate Man with box.

With Fate, Amouage continues its distinction of being at the forefront of original fragrances that abound with depth, nuance, layers and complexity. Honestly, this is not a perfume that you may adore at first sniff, but it will keep you thinking, sniffing, and trying to pull apart all those beautifully crafted, well-blended layers. And the more you sniff it, the more it seems to sink its elegant, little floral-woody-smoky talons into you. By the time you’re finished, and you set eyes on that simply spectacular iridescent bottle, I fear you may be quite hooked. Even if, at the end, it turns out that you’re not fated for true love, I think you’ll concede that it’s a perfume worthy of huge respect. Try it, and see what your Fate will be.


Availability & Stores: Fate (Man) is an eau de parfum and is available in two sizes: 1.7 oz/50 ml which costs $280 or €220; or 3.4 oz/100 ml eau de parfum which costs $340 or €270. As of the time of this post, the perfume is not yet officially released beyond the Amouage website and boutiques, but it will be widely available as of July 2013. Unfortunately, the perfume is currently sold out on Amouage online, but I’m sure that will be remedied soon. I will update this post with retail links much later when the perfume is officially released and becomes widely available. 

Perfume Review – Amouage Opus VII: The Heart of Animal Darkness

Amouage Opus VIIIn 2010, the royal Omani perfume house, Amouage, launched a new line entitled The Library Collection which was meant to be a “poetic homage to the art of living” and inspired by the concept of memories as treasured books in a library. Just a month ago, in mid-April 2013, Amouage added a seventh “book” to its line, this one created by Alberto Morillas and Pierre Negrin. Opus VII is described as “a green, woody and leather fragrance evoking the juxtaposition of harmony with the intensity of recklessness.” It is a difficult, complex, assertive and very masculine scent that takes you to the heart of darkness in a smoky oud jungle populated by ferocious big cats. 

According to the Amouage press release quoted by CaFleureBon:

Opus VII literally stands out from the previous six editions as it is the first to use a black flacon with gold criss cross lines; an allegory of the mind when thoughts are subjected and diverted. The use of galbumum and violet in Opus VII are integral to the composition and Christopher [Chong]’s vision.

Amouage-Opus-VII-Library-CollectionI don’t see violet listed as one of Opus VII’s notes which — according to both Amouage‘s website and Fragrantica — consist of:

top: Galbanum, Pink Pepper, Cardamom, Nutmeg, Fenugreek
heart: Agarwood Smoke, Patchouli, Ambrox [synthetic amber], Leather, Ambergris
base: Costus Root, Muscone [synthetic musk], Sandalwood, Olibanum [Frankincense], Cypriol [a woody note with earthy and spicy nuances]



As always with Amouage, understanding what the perfume smells like requires understanding the more unusual ingredients that the house likes to use. In this case, one of the most important would be the Costus Root. In a long article on animalic notes, The Perfume Shrine describes costus root as “reminiscent of unwashed hair, in more intimate places than just head” and says that it is one of the elements for the trademarked perfumer’s base called “Animalis,” produced by Synarome. In a post on Animalis itself, The Perfume Shrine describes costus root as

a plant essence that has an uncanny resemblence to a mix of unwashed human hair, goat smell and dirty socks. […] It’s also part of the mysterious urinous & musky allure of Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent (which indeed features a healthy dose of costus under phenyl acetate paracresol).

Though the Perfume Shrine says that modern perfume restrictions have limited or “axed” the use of costus, it is a huge part of Opus VII on my skin.

Dried fenugreek leaves via

Dried fenugreek leaves via

Another big element is Fenugreek, a plant whose dried leaves or seeds are often used in Middle Eastern or Indian cuisine. In fact, I have a large bottle of it in my pantry right now. Fenugreek has an extremely difficult scent to describe; if you’ve ever smelled it, you’ll know it right away, but otherwise, it’s a little complicated. Basically, it’s a very green aroma that is simultaneously sweet, herbaceous and extremely pungent. Though Wikipedia says that it’s called Methi in India and is a key component of some Indian dishes, to me it evokes Middle Eastern or Ethiopian food much more. It is a key ingredient in Persian Ghormeh Sabzi which Wikipedia says is considered to be one of Iran’s national dishes. Whatever its uses, fenugreek is one of those ingredients that, after you eat it, will ooze and seep out of your pores for days in a slightly sour, stale smell. As the Perfume Shrine explains,

An opaque, rather bitter smell with a nutty undertone, it traverses the urinary track to scent a person’s urine as well as their sweat and intimate juices. Its seeds’ odour is comparable to thick maple suryp. Fenugreek is featured in many fragrances which have rippled the waters of niche perfumery with pre-eminent examples Sables by Annick Goutal and Eau Noire by Christian Dior (composed by nose Francis Kurkdjian). Everytime I smell them I am reminded of the intense flavour that this spice gives them. [Bold font emphasis added.]

If all this talk of ingredients with sharp, bitter, animalic and/or urinous aromas is giving you pause, well, I’m sorry to say that both notes are key to understanding Opus VII. I could simply mention “fenugreek” and “costus root” all day long to you but, unless you know what that really entails, you won’t be prepared for the complicated, difficult scent that is Opus VII. 



The perfume opens on my skin with an immediate burst of oud backed with something lemony that has a strong nuance of urine, along with the darkest of green notes and leather. Woods that are deeply smoky and dark sit atop pungently herbaceous sharp fenugreek with slightly intimate animalic musk, earthy, spicy elements, and sweetly bright, green patchouli. It is a vision of darkness, black and green, the innermost recesses of a forest where a golden jungle cat slithers, slinks and prowls in the shadows before releasing a guttural “rowwwwwwrrrr.” In the footsteps of that opening burst, there are other notes which quickly appear. There is brightly green galbanum that feels almost citric-like in its surprising freshness but which has a dark, liqueured undertone. Pink peppercorns and sharp smoke — black, acrid, and burning like a forest on fire — also join the dance. 

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

Few of the notes besides the smoky oud have a chance of competing against the raw animalism of Opus VII’s opening minutes. If you’ve ever been to the wild cat enclosure of a zoo, you’ll know the smell. And, to detect it here, even in a less concentrated, milder form, is a complete shock to the system. It truly feels like a panther or cheetah’s ferocious growl: urinous, like animal droppings, but also musky with a faint tinge of dirty hair underneath. It’s lemon-tinged and sharply evokes YSL‘s vintage Kouros for me, albeit in a significantly softer, milder, tamer manner in Opus VII’s early stage. I lack the guts to be able to wear Kouros myself, but I absolutely adore it on a man and think it’s an incredibly sexy scent. However, that sharply animalic note — often described by some as resembling “urinal cakes” — makes vintage Kouros a deeply polarizing fragrance. I suspect the same will be true of Opus VII.

Despite the sudden shock, I found Opus VII’s opening to be completely mesmerizing, captivating and fascinating. Perhaps much like a scorpion’s victim would watch its slow, ominous walk forward. Opus VII is, on the one hand, exactly like a jungle on fire with its earthy, rooty, dark floor kicked up by panicked animals in full flight, leaving behind leathered, slightly urinous droppings in their wake. On the other hand, it is a deeply woody-leathery fragrance that feels quite smooth, with a savagely sensuous heart at its base and something that seems almost like a velvety floral. Opus VII is such a jungle scent in its opening stage: primal, elemental, ferocious, pungent, fetid, earthy, leathered and sharp — but, also, lushly green in the darkest way possible. Baudelaire would have fully approved of it and would have undoubtedly written a companion piece to Les Fleurs du Mal, entitled perhaps as La Forêt de TerreurI approve, too, in some way that is almost partially terrified. I struggle with galbanum but, here, it’s not the brutal galbanum of Bandit or other famous leather scents. It’s not so green that it might as well be black; instead, it is smooth, spiced, warm and animalic. It’s a leathered, ambered jungle cat’s galbanum, and it actually makes me want to spray on some more. 

Source: Tumblr

Source: Tumblr

Thirty minutes in, Opus VII starts to shift a little. The smokiness that evoked a burning jungle recedes just a hair; the perfume turns slightly more sour and urinous; the pepper notes seem blacker and far less like pink peppercorns; the leather feels darker and muskier; and the subtle spices flicker with a little more fire in the background. Much more importantly, however, the earthy elements intensify. It’s as if the jungle’s humidity hit the blackest soil at the very base of an oud/agarwood tree, turning the earth almost rooty and musky.

Bearded iris via

Bearded iris via

And, to my surprise, there is a definite impression of iris. A number of bloggers detected it, and they’re right. Though there is no iris or orris root listed in Opus VII, I’m guessing that some combination of the muscone, the earthy-woody cypriol, and the earthy elements of galbanum have created the distinct smell of iris. (Technically, “iris” as a note is impossible to create solely from the flower’s petals; it is replicated by taking rhizomes from the root, and/or often using other notes to lend to an overall impression of the flower’s scent.) I suspect that another thing that helps is ISO E Super.

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

Yes, Opus VII starts with a flicker of my most dreaded, hated note on earth: ISO E Super. A flicker that starts to slowly increase in volume until, eventually, it completely ruins the entire fragrance for me. A perfumer once astutely noted that ISO E Super was my “kryptonite” and, sadly, it’s true. For those unfamiliar with the aroma-chemical, you can read my full description of its pros and cons here. In a nutshell, though, it is used most frequently for two reasons: 1) as a super-floralizer which is added to expand and magnify many floral notes, along with their longevity; and 2) to amplify woody notes and add a velvety touch to the base. It seems to be particularly used in fragrances that have vetiver, with Lalique‘s Encre Noire being just one of the many examples. It is also used in a large number of Montale Aoud fragrances, to amplify the wood note to that high-decibel shrieking volume. And it is the sole focus of Geza Schoen’s notorious Molecule 01 fragrance. ISO E Super always smells extremely peppery and, in large doses, has an undertone that is like that of rubbing alcohol, is medicinal, and/or antiseptic. Some people are completely anosmic to the synthetic, while others get searing, vicious headaches from it. It is a constant base in most Ormonde Jayne perfumes, so if you get a headache from those, blame the ISO E Super. I’m not afflicted in that manner, but I cannot stand the smell in large quantities and, my God, it is strong in Opus VII’s second stage.

At the end of the first hour, Opus VII shifts in hue, turning mossily green. Visually, it is no longer the black-green of the jungle’s shadow, seeming almost ebony-like in its darkness. Instead, the perfume now reflects slightly lighter green notes, sweeter, warmer, rounder and backed by amber. The patchouli blooms, feeling as bright as emerald moss, and it helps soften the sharp edges of the urinous leather and the aggressive oud smoke. At the same time, both the iris and the fenugreek note rise in prominence. Though I’m not one to usually rave about iris, here it’s truly lovely and feels like the lushest, most buttery, velvety suede. Creamy and delicate, it has a sturdy woody-rooty undertone that prevents it from feeling gauzy, ethereal and cold. It feels like taupe-brown suede, not grey-white, if that makes any sense. Opus VII starts to turn into warmer, ambered scent where the animalic notes are softened, less sharp, dirty or urinous, the smoke is less aggressive, and the whole thing is more velvety, mossy and earthy.



Unfortunately, the start of the second hour marks an abrupt right turn in Opus VII’s development. From that fascinating start as olfactory ode to the heart of darkness in a smoky oud forest inhabited by the most powerful of leathery, ambered jungle cats alongside velvety iris and mossy green, the perfume suddenly becomes a fenugreek-oud scent — much like a dark forest through which shines the fluorescent light of ISO E Super. Sure, there are still elements of animalic musk, leather, iris, spices (cardamom, in particular) and amber, but the oud really goes into high gear here. It is always infused with the pungent, herbal fenugreek, the slightly urinous feline musk, and the sharply medicinal, astringent ISO E — and the combination just gets stronger with every minute. By the middle of the third hour, Opus VII is an oud-fenugreek-musk combination above gallons of medicinal, antiseptic ISO E Super. By the end of the fourth hour, it’s predominantly, painfully, and primarily pure ISO E Super and oud, backed by animalic, sour musk over light amber. Honestly, I preferred smelling like a panther just peed on me.

Opus VII’s drydown begins at the fifth hour. The perfume is primarily dark, peppered, woody notes headed by oud, followed thereafter by light, synthetic sandalwood (which has suddenly made its first appearance), the endless ISO E Super, a miniscule pinch of spices, and a lot of sour musk over vague, muted amber. In some odd way that I can’t explain, the whole thing feels generalized and somewhat abstract. Opus VII is also a much softer scent now in terms of sillage, becoming very close to the skin where it lingers on for another few hours. At the end, 8.5 hours in, all that really remains is a musky, spiced oud note, though tiny pockets of scent still pop up occasionally on random patches of arm for another few hours. For the most part, however, Opus VII lasted in full form about 8.5 hours on me. Its sillage was much more moderate than some of Amouage’s floral scents, never projecting in tidal waves, though the scent was still extremely powerful within its small cloud a few inches above my skin.

As you can tell, Opus VII was ultimately not for me but I do think many people will be fascinated by its dichotomy, especially men. I think the perfume will be disconcerting for others and, for women used to mainstream fragrances, it will scream “masculine” in a very negative way. Opus VII is a fragrance for people who like very aggressive leathers, ouds, sharp smoke and animalic notes — all in one — as well as those who don’t get raging headaches from ISO E Super.

I think one of the best reviews for Opus VII comes from Lucas at Chemist in a Bottle. In fact, it was Lucas who so kindly and thoughtfully sent me a small sample of the perfume as a surprise gift. In his review, entitled Black Ink, he wrote:

With the first day of sampling Amouage Opus VII I noticed that it is a perfume of two different natures. The “outer” stratum of the scent is a hard shell. The smell is dense and oily with cypriol oil. When I smell it I get a feeling like I could drown in this scent. It’s mysterious and dark suspension, a black ink that covers everything permanently, making it impossible to return to the previous state. In this kettle particles of warm and spicy cardamom float, blended with a resinous smell of galbanum.

In no time the dark tincture smell gets enriched by the aroma of sandalwood. It’s raw, dirty, not smooth but full of splinters that can hurt your hands when you want to touch it and feel the structure of the wood. Neither musk is soft here. In Opus VII musky tones are animalic, wild and untamed which is additionally pronounced by the earthy, almost rotten patchouli. Maybe it’s just my nose (not used to smelling scents like this one) but so far this Amouage is a beasty creature on me.

Once you survive through the “outer” stratum of Amouage Opus VII the different story begins. After the hard shell is broken, the softer core of the scent is revealed. To me it is still dark, but now it’s more gentle and chic like a black silk scarf. Amber creates warm and sensual aura around the wearer and olibanum adds the restrained mineral quality with a slightly salty touch. Of course oud had to find its place in the composition. Luckily it’s not very powerful. Accompannied by the leathery chords it creates this a little bit mischievous smell of tanner workshop. The smell of raw leather, pigments… it’s all in here.

In the rest of the review, which I recommend reading in full, he notes the presence of the iris note and how the final stage of Opus VII on his skin was spicy and dry. He concludes with a very apt warning: “Bear in mind – this is not an easy to wear perfume. In my opinion one has to be really self-confident and needs to have a strong personality to rock it.”

I agree very much with that last part as well as with his overall impressions of the perfume, though the details of our individual experiences with Opus VII differed. For one thing, I detected very little sandalwood on my skin until the very end. For another, Lucas has often noted that oud notes manifest themselves very softly on his skin. My skin, in contrast, amplifies certain base notes, I think, which may explain the vociferous roar of the oud. But we thoroughly unite on the issue of the raw leather and those prominent animalic notes which, as he put it so well, are “untamed” and completely “beasty” — in the full sense of that word. And, despite having perfume tastes at the opposite ends of the perfume spectrum, we both would run away from wearing Opus VII ourselves.

African lion spraying to mark his territory. Photo: Charles G. Summers, Jr. Source: WildImages on Flickr

African lion spraying to mark his territory. Photo: Charles G. Summers, Jr. Source: WildImages on Flickr

Opus VII is a difficult, thorny scent for a variety of reasons, and it is not one which I would recommend to the vast majority of people. Though there are fascinating, intriguing and, at times, mesmerizing parts, at the end of the day, I think it’s a very masculine scent with extremely assertive edges that border on the abrasive. Some of the notes are wildly aggressive but, taken by themselves, they would be manageable. Even a jungle cat peeing on your arm can be handled, in small doses. But Amouage rarely does anything in moderation, and Opus VII is no exception. The combination of difficult, raw, beastly notes at such supersonic volume (and atop such vast lakes of ISO E Super) made much of Opus VII simply unbearable for me. If Opus VII had been a projection beast — which, thankfully, it is not — then it would have been a complete scrubber right off the bat. As it was, I tried it twice and the second time, I gave up after 6.5 hours. The second time round, the animalic notes were so prominent, I felt as if I’d been chained in a wild cat enclosure and been peed on by a vast legion of feral, growly animals who had been fed a steady diet of antiseptic oud. At $325 or €275 a bottle, Opus VII is a very expensive wildlife experience but, if you enjoy the woody heart of darkness, then give it a try.


U.S. availability & Stores: Opus VII comes only in a 3.4 oz/100 ml eau de parfum that retails for $325. It is available from Parfums Raffy, the authorized US retailer for Amouage, who offers free domestic shipping and Amouage samples with each order. Parfums Raffy also sells a 2.5 ml sample of Opus VII for $6. Elsewhere, Opus VII is available at Luckyscent and MinNY.
Outside the US: In the UK, Opus VII is not yet available at Les Senteurs which normally carries the full Amouage line. I also don’t see it amongst the Amouage listings at Harrods. However, there is an Amouage boutique in London. In Paris, Opus VII is available via Jovoy for €275 with shipping available throughout the rest of Europe. First in Fragrance usually carries the Amouage line but doesn’t have Opus VII listed on its website for some reason. Of course, the perfume is also available on Amouage’s own website, along with a Library Sampler Set for €50 of the other 6 perfumes in the collection. The website also has a “Store Finder” for about 20 countries which should, hopefully, help you find Opus VI somewhere close to you.
Samples: Samples of Opus VII are available at Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. The site also sells a Sampler Set for the other 6 of the Library line which starts at $19.99 for 1/2 ml vials.

Perfume Review – Amouage Ubar: The White (Floral) Stallion

Have you ever seen an Arabian horse running? It’s an object of awe and grandeur, from its tiny, delicately chiseled head with those vividly intelligent eyes, to its hugely curved, muscular neck, its perfect, lithe body, and its perpetual grace that puts all prima ballerinas to shame. My sister had a massive Arabian stallion called Sheytan, black as night, with a temper to match, and that half-wild, murderous devil was the terror of our stable boys (and many grown men). I had a Palomino, a handsome golden beauty of great age with a plodding nature. It was the only horse my parents would trust for a tiny four-year old and, though I loved him, I always wanted a black Arabian. I would console myself on sleepless nights by dreaming of riding a stallion like Sheytan in the desert, letting only the wind accompany the steady roar of his hoofbeats.

Arabian Horse tumblr_m7dtkdCrFl1rwt5gqo1_500

For some indescribable reason, I feel as though I’ve found a white Arabian in perfume form, and it’s Ubar from the royal perfume house of Amouage. Ubar isn’t a pure white steed but one flecked with yellow and gold, a larger-than-life, 3D, floral-oriental powerhouse whose mighty body also has a head of surprising delicacy. It is not a mere thoroughbred race horse; Ubar is too Oriental for that. It is definitely a mighty Arabian, and now I just need a desert in which to set it free. 



Ubar is an eau de parfum that was released in 1995 to celebrate Oman’s Silver Jubilee year, and which made for Oman’s royal perfume house by Créations Aromatics. As First in Fragrance explains, the inspiration was the eponymous legendary city:

Ubar, also known as The City of a Thousand Pillars, existed from ca. 2,800 B.C. to ca. 300 A.D. According to legend the city amassed fabulous wealth from trading between the coastal regions of the Arabian peninsular and the population centres of the Middle East and Europe. Modern historians regarded Ubar as a figment of mythical Arabian tales and never thought that it really existed.

Ubar is mentioned in the fabulous tales from One Thousand and One Nights. According to legend God, enraged by its decadence and profligacy, smote the city, driving it into the sands, never to be seen again.



For some inexplicable reason, Amouage discontinued Ubar, before suddenly deciding to bring it back in 2009. Now Smell This has the details, along with the fabulous historical tidbit that the legendary city of Ubar was re-discovered in 1992 with the aid of satellite imaging. (Yes, I really do love history, even more than perfumery!) 

Ubar has been relaunched this year (20091). It has new packaging (see image above), a new concentration (the original was an Eau de Toilette; now it’s an Eau de Parfum) and a new price (much higher). The notes (bergamot, lemon, lily of the valley, Damascena rose, Bulgarian rose, jasmine, sandalwood, synthetic civet and vanilla) are reportedly the same. […]

[H]ow does the new Ubar compare with the old? Well, first, I thought it was gorgeous in 2005, and it’s still gorgeous in 2009, but the change in concentration (and obviously, the reformulation) is significant: the new Ubar is a much heavier scent, with considerably more emphasis on the floral notes in the heart and correspondingly less emphasis on the base. The original Ubar was, to me, a sandalwood fragrance decorated with a few flowers; the new Ubar is a floral fragrance, first and foremost, with a woody oriental base[.]

The complete set of notes — as compiled from the official list on the Amouage website and from Fragrantica — are as follows:

top: lemon, bergamot, lily of the valley, tangerine, orange, litsea cubeba and violet leaf
heart: jasmine, damascene rose, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, tuberose, freesia, and palisander rosewood
base: civet, vanilla, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, copahu balm and black amber

According to my research on Fragrantica, Litsea Cubeba is an evergreen shrub native to China whose aroma is “lemon-like, sharp, tangy, with sweet undertone.” As for Black Amber, Fragrantica says it is the lowest, cheapest grade of ambergris. Copahu balm, for those who have never encountered it, is simply another type of very rich, spiced amber resin. Interestingly, if you examine that list of ingredients, the usual Amouage mainstay of frankincense is missing.

Damascena roseUbar opens on my skin with a burst of ruby-red, velvety, heavy, meaty rose. If this were meat, it would be a heaping slab of prime rib. It drips its hearty juices and jammy nectar atop a base of patchouli that almost feels infused with oakmoss. The mossy note feels midway between fresh and green, and dried, pungent and robust. Co-mingled with that rich damask rose is a subtle touch of orange blossom and big chunks of orange that feels both pulpy and infused with spice. The juicy flesh of the fruit adds another layer of richness to the jamminess of the rose, but any truly fruity aspects are alleviated by the lurking hints of delicate, dainty, sweet freesia and green, spring-like lily-of-the-valley.

In that opening blast, perhaps my favorite part are the subtle, spicy nuances in Ubar. It has to be the indirect effect of the Copahu resin which subtly adds a rich, thick, almost honeyed, but definitely spicy amber touch to the base. There is almost a boozy effect in those opening minutes — not like rum but, rather, like extremely expensive, aged cognac. There is a profoundly liqueur-like feel that smells wonderfully ostentatious, plush, hedonistically decadent and luxurious. At first, it is quite a separate, distinct note, but quickly, it melts into the perfume to become significantly muted, adding only an indirect touch of depth to that beefy, jammy, Damascus rose.

Lily of the ValleyTen minutes in, green notes rise to the surface. It is not precisely like lily-of-the-valley because there is a heavy milky aspect to the floral greenness. In fact, it actually smells like a dead-on replication of extremely concentrated green tea, infused by a huge amount of cream. After another five minutes, the lactonic (and green tea) element fades, replaced by the clear, unquestionable note of lily-of-the-valley. It is infused with lemon and has a miniscule amount of spiciness underneath, thereby preventing it from ever being heavily soapy in nature. I assume that spicy-lemon nuance comes from the litsea cubeba. (As a side note, no other perfume house so consistently uses ingredients that I have never, ever heard of in all my life. It’s always a voyage of discovery with Amouage, and I find that enormously appealing.)

The famous, "Sun Drop" yellow diamond.

The famous, “Sun Drop” yellow diamond.

While the lemony lily-of-the-valley quietly makes its presence known, so too does the jasmine and, my word, is it stunning. It has the feel of night-blooming jasmine in full narcotic headiness with a sensuous aroma that feels almost tactile, reaching its floral tendrils across a warm summer’s night as if the floral fingers were waving at you in the air. It is so rich and strong, the note almost seems visually solid. In conjunction with that beefy, meaty, prime-rib of a rose, the overall effect feels like the perfume has turned into a floral holograph right before your eyes, shimmering in 3D effect like a revolving yellow diamond. (Jasmine always feels “yellow” to me, if that makes any sense, and I always have to remind myself that it is, in fact, a white flower. But, dammit, its richness feels so yellow, especially here!)

Amidst that heady blast of jasmine-rose, touched by lemony lily-of-the-valley, the other notes become much less individually distinct. Ubar’s patchouli can always be felt in the background, but the ambery, boozy note from the copahu resin receded long ago. And there is almost no strong feel of smoke and frankincense which is the usual signature for an Amouage fragrance. There feels like there are some flickers of frankincense, muted and almost indecipherable, but every time I think I’ve got a hold of the note, it vanishes. And I’m not the only one who wonder about its presence in Ubar. Now Smell This also struggled to decide whether or not it was there. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the subtle traces of some amorphous smokiness stemmed from the Copahu resin instead.



Around the forty minute mark, Ubar settles into its paces like an Arabian once it is in a full, comfortable gallop that it can maintain for hours. It is a perfectly blended, harmonious, monstrously big sum-total of: heady, exuberant flowers; lemony lily-of-the-valley; muskiness tinged with smoke; velvety, mossy patchouli; and subtle, almost minute flickers of spiced, pulpy orange. Like an Arab stallion racing in the desert, its footsteps kick out small traces of other notes, like pebbles or dust in the wind. There is civet which comes out from time to time like a teasing ghost. It’s never urinous, skanky, dirty or raunchy on my skin, but just another layer of muskiness that is added to the narcotic flowers. There are also subtle suggestions of sandalwood lurking at the edges but, at in the early hours, it never feels like real Mysore sandalwood. I honestly think it’s either synthetic or a variant, because it lacks the truly spicy, deeply complex, rich, layered feel of Mysore sandalwood. Still, it’s creamy and adds a subtle depth to very strong patchouli base. Hints of amber are also apparent at times but, like the other tertiary notes, it’s muted in the face of those powerful florals. Lastly, about two hours in, a quiet touch of soapiness arrives, underlying that lily-of-the valley note, but it soon fades away.

In its middle phase, Ubar becomes, primarily, a musky rose-jasmine fragrance whose other notes sing very softly in the shadows. At times, the whole thing feels like one extremely powerful, abstract burst of flowers backed by musk and patchouli. Yes, there is still some lemon nuances, but the fresh, spring, green Lily of the Valley element (that was never huge to begin with) disappeared around the middle of the third hour. The civet is noticeable, though it isn’t a profoundly distinct note beyond general muskiness at this stage. The sandalwood still feels very synthetic, muted, and vague. And, finally, on my skin, the amber effect is extremely indirect.

However, starting around the sixth hour, Ubar starts to shift a little. The jasmine-rose duet is joined by stronger animalic civet, followed by a touch of vanilla. The civet never smells urinous to me or like “cat-butt” as some of its detractors call it, but the note is strong, more than just general “muskiness,” and even a little sharp at times. Since it’s a synthetic ingredient for animal cruelty reasons, I’m not surprised that it burns my nose. As time passes, that softens a little, as does Ubar itself. It’s finally less voluminous in feel and projection, finally a little closer to the skin, and much more softly golden. Vanilla becomes more significant around the 8th hour, creating a warm, musky sweetness on the skin that remains until the very end.

I truly can’t say that the amber in the base or drydown is very profound, and I certainly don’t detect ambergris with its almost grey, sweaty, richly heavy, salty feel. The ambergris used in Ubar is the lowest grade called “Black Amber”; reading the Fragrantica which I linked to above, it seems to be an extremely soft form and I get the sense that it smells far from the real, hardcore whale ambergris. Furthermore, I’ve never read any accounts of Ubar where the reviewer thought amber (never mind ambergris) was a huge part of Ubar. There is a golden feel to the base in Ubar’s final stage, but it stems more from the lingering effect of the Copahu resin, mixed with the musky civet and vanilla than anything that smells “ambery.” When Ubar finally starts to fade away, all that’s left is some vanilla musk.

All in all, Ubar feels almost exactly as Luca Turin describes it. Yes, for once, I actually agree with the famed, prickly critic. In his gushing five-star review of Ubar in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, he wrote:

I remember years ago seeing an iMax movie at the Air and Space Museum in DC: it started out with a grainy black and white film of a biplane taking off, and just when you thought you were beginning to wonder why you’d shelled out twenty bucks, the screen turned to colour, widened to a huge hollow sphere and you were flying above a forest in turning-leaf colors above a Pitts S2 painted in shiny red and white. Even the sound was gorgeous. Everyone went “aaaah” and I shed 40 years of age in 10 milliseconds. After smelling several dozen pigeon-toed, rickety modern fragrances designed by depressive accountants, encountering Ubar is a similarly joyful experience. This thing is so huge, gleaming, overengineered and chock-full of counterrotating planetary gears that you feel all you can do is let it tower over you while you walk around it and kick the huge tires. Ubar is technically a floral-oriental but the flowers are 3XL in size and the Orient has been scaled accordingly. If the old Dioressence had an illegitimate child with the first Rush, it would smell like this: a huge, purple romantic rose in the manner of the lamented Nombre Noir, a ton of creamy lactones, a whale’s worth of animalic amber. Ubar joins the small club of nuclear-tipped fragrances: Poison, Giorgio, Angel, Amarige. Use it carefully, for once you spray it on there’s no going back.

I can’t believe it, I actually agree with “His Majesty” in almost every respect! I only quibble on the “whale’s worth of animalic amber” since, on my skin, it is quite a subtle, indirect background thing. Notwithstanding that minor difference of opinion, I think the rest of Mr. Turin’s assessment is absolutely perfect, right down to how the “oriental” aspect has been scaled down to a small size.

He’s certainly right about Ubar being “nuclear-tipped.” This is one extremely powerful fragrance. Do not spray it with reckless abandon! Two to three small, dabbed smears gave me monstrously strong sillage at first but, after the first hour, it drops by a little. It doesn’t radiate out across a room at that point, but it does create a small, soft cloud around you, wafting about a 6 inches above your skin for hours and hours on end. You can definitely smell it on yourself, though I don’t think you’d overwhelm a co-worker across the room. (As a general rule, I would not recommend Ubar for a conservative office, no matter what the quantity.) Ubar only becomes a skin scent about 6.5 hours into its development and it lasts about 11.5 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. None of that applies, however, if you spray on a lot. More than 2-3 small sprays all over (remember that spraying amplifies a perfume due to aerosolization), and those around you will definitely notice. From a distance.

Though there is a lot of love for Ubar out there (even amongst those for whom lily-of-the-valley becomes a scrubber note), not everyone can handle it. The opinions on Fragrantica range from outright love, to occasional horror (due to the civet note), to those who admire it but find it far too big to wear:

  • This is one of the ‘richest’, most luxurious perfumes I have ever tried. I don’t usually like civet, but in this composition, it was not unpleasant to me. It is an extremely smooth and long-lasting floral perfume.
  • The only Amouage I dislike. It is so strong it gives me instant nausea. I think I am getting that “Mongoose” strongly”.
  • Ubar is an extraordinary flowery fragrance, done on the Arab way. I smell something very close to agar wood note and some animal notes as well which I do not see listed here, but that is how it feels- untamed flowers, mostly violet leaves, greenish tuberose and jasmine.
  • Love the topnotes, REALLY LOVE the drydown. I struggled a bit with the heart…For about 30 minutes, this beautiful creation smelled like celery and urine, though I don’t know which notes listed above would lend to the urine-like smell.
  • Ubar by Amouage is all about flowers, it recalls many good big floral vintage perfumes I’ve already tried before, so if you love a good, bold and in your face floral you might want to give this a try. [¶] It opened with a big bucket of flowers, the smell itself is sharp, almost animalistic and very strong, it fills up a room and is not for pleasing a bus full with people :). [¶] The heart part on me is full with rich ylang-ylang, almost buttery, still going extremely strong and stays like this all trough the drydown – a rich, expensive smelling bomb of flowers – warm, elegant and inviting. [¶] Unfortunately like in many cases with Amouage – I find this to be too much, on the other hand – they do try to give what their customers paid for – a full and rich fragrance that simply screams “royal and expensive”.
  • [From a male commentator]: I knew this was supposed to be floral, but it’s way too floral for my taste. I think the main culprit is the lily-of-the-valley, which is so strong that it overpowers the roses and jasmine, which I generally find pleasant. I can smell a little rose in the mix, but it’s not strong enough to balance the sharper white florals. I cannot smell the base at all due to the LOTV, which dominates everything throughout the entire development of the scent. [¶] I was hoping that at some point the base would make its way through, but the next morning I can still smell LOTV on my wrists. I have to say that this is a wearable LOTV, not a scrubber as many of them are for me, and it’s one I might choose if, for some unknown reason, I wanted a LOTV scent. The perfume is well-made, so I think anyone who loves pure florals of this type would enjoy Ubar.

I didn’t experience a particularly strong Lily-of-the-Valley note and certainly no “mongoose”-like or urinous civet, but I do agree with the general feel of many of the comments. Ubar is a total flowerbomb explosion that does scream out wealth, luxury, and opulence. It is absolutely over-the-top. And I completely share the opinion about how Ubar feels like a lot of vintage floral fragrances.



In fact, in my notes, I wrote a long bit about Ubar’s retro and 1980s diva character because it is nothing short of a rearing, white Arab stallion. It is a perfume that feels incredibly classique, in a timeless, high-class, elegant, luxurious way. It’s so opulent, it’s retro, as if this were a 1970s or 1980s, big, diva perfume — only without the screeching element that some of those perfumes had. (Poison, I’m staring straight at you!) I think Ubar’s edges are softer, more well-rounded and creamy, but it’s all a very relative matter. Someone who likes “fresh, clean” fragrances would go into a coma with Ubar; those who can’t handle powerful, narcotically heady fragrances would probably pass out; and those who struggle with indolic, big, white florals would probably be completely overwhelmed. Ubar is stronger than (vintage) Fracas, and it reaches (vintage, 1970s) Opium levels of power.

I wouldn’t recommend Ubar to a lot of people. Those with the aforementioned perfume taste should stay far, far away. Those who are looking for an unobtrusive, versatile, office-friendly, and/or day fragrance — don’t even bother. Young women may also have problems with Ubar, as I’ve read a few people comment that it feels “old lady.” Yes, it definitely is for a more mature woman who wants something extremely sophisticated. And, lastly, in total honesty, I don’t think a lot of men would be comfortable wearing Ubar. It definitely tips heavily to the feminine side of things with all those powerful white florals. However, if you’re a man whose tastes aren’t limited to aromatic fougères, citrusy, gourmand, or oud-based fragrances, and if you enjoy big florals with powerful sillage and longevity, I would strongly urge you to sniff out Ubar.

As for me, I really enjoyed the heady splendour of Ubar with its enormous white beauty, but I prefer my Arabian horses to be Blacks, Bays, and Chestnuts with a little more of unisex smoke and spiciness in their nature. I would certainly wear Ubar if a bottle were ever to fall into my lap but, to my surprise, it is Amouage‘s Lyric that tempts me the most. It feels like a darker stallion with its spicy undertones, even though Lyric was primarily a ylang-ylang fragrance on my skin with hardly any rose. In fact, if I were to do a blind smell-test, based only on what I had heard of each fragrance, I’m sure I would have picked Ubar to be “Lyric” and Lyric to be “Ubar.” Ubar’s heavy, beefy, bloody, red rose presence is exactly what I had thought Lyric would be like (but wasn’t). On my skin, Lyric turned out to have very little rose but, instead, mostly bucketfuls of bewitchingly creamy, buttery, velvety ylang-ylang atop smoke, spices, and custardy vanilla. It just feels like it would fit better with Ubar’s golden bottle and image in my mind. Yet, even apart from the unexpected twist that it took on my skin, I much prefer Lyric because I think it has greater depth, complexity, and range than the primarily white floral aspects of Ubar.      

If you’re tempted by Ubar, but put off by the brand’s steep prices, please know that there are ways around that; Amouage fragrances are often found at a huge discount at various, reputable, discount perfume retailers like LilyDirect. Ubar, in specific, is currently available for around $156 for a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle. (See, Details section, below.) For an Amouage, for the size, and for such a powerful eau de parfum, it’s truly an excellent deal. That large bottle will last you decades, unless you plan on spraying on more than 2-3 small spritzes over your entire body each time — in which case, the astronauts on the space station may sit up and wonder.  

So give it a sniff if you’re looking for a sophisticated, seductive, diva, evening floral scent, and ride with the stallions to the ancient city of Ubar in the desert. 

Cost, Availability, Sales & Sets: Ubar is an eau de parfum that comes in two sizes: a large 3.4 oz/100 ml eau de parfum that costs $285, £170.00 or €215, or a small 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle that retails for $250, €185 or £150.00. Very few retailers carry the small size. LilyDirect, a very reputable online perfume retailer that frequently gives large discounts on Amouage, is selling a large 3.4 oz bottle of Ubar for only $156.08 instead of $285!!! That is an unbelievable price, especially given the free domestic shipping on orders over $100. (For Canadian readers, I’ve heard that LilyDirect will begin shipping to your country in June, so you may want to check with them then.) Ubar in the small 1.7 oz size is also on sale at Beauty Encounter for $163.49 with free domestic shipping and international shipping for a fee. (Obviously, you get more for cheaper from LilyDirect.) I’ve ordered from BeautyEncounter in the past with no problem, as have many of my friends, and they too are a very reputable dealer. Amazon seems to be selling Ubar via PlentyCosas and via FragranceNet with discounted prices of $163.54 for the small and $221 for the large bottle. If you were to go directly to FragranceNet the price is higher, depending on whether you want it boxed or not, at $200.19 for the small or $227.19 for the large. Otherwise, your first stop for purchase might be the Amouage website which sells Ubar in the small 50 ml/1.7 oz size for $250 as well as the larger size.
In the U.S., the authorized Amouage dealer is Parfums Raffy which sells Ubar in both sizes, including the smaller $250 bottle. There is free domestic shipping, and free Amouage samples with any order. Luckyscent carries only the large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle of Ubar for $285. Ubar in the 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle can also be purchased online at Parfum1MinNY, or the Four Seasons. Finally, Parfums Raffy sells a Mini Parfum Set of 6 Amouage fragrances (Ubar, Jubilation 25, Lyric, Gold, Dia, Reflection) in 7.5 ml crystal bottles for $280. MinNY sells the same Mini Set for $265.
Outside the US: OzCosmetics sells Ubar from Hong Kong (with free world shipping, it seems) and offers Ubar in the small 50 ml bottle for US$216.90 and in the large 3.4 oz bottle for US$246.90. In Canada, The Perfume Shoppe offers Ubar for USD$285 in the large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle size. I think there is free worldwide shipping. Since CAD prices are usually higher, so you may want to drop them an email to inquire as to the Canadian rate. In the UK, Ubar is available at Les Senteurs where it costs £150.00 or £170.00, depending on size. Samples are available for purchase. There is also an Amouage boutique in London, and I’ve read that some people have purchased Ubar at Harrods (probably in the Roja Dove speciality boutique). In France, Ubar is sold at Jovoy Paris for €210 for the large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle. For the rest of Europe, Premiere Avenue in France carries the full line of Amouage products, from perfumes to candles to body products. Like everything else it carries, Premiere Avenue will ship worldwide. (Send an email to for shipping costs.) In Germany, Ubar is available at First in Fragrance where it costs €190 or €270.00 (which is much higher than the €215 listed on the Amouage website) with free shipping within the EU and shipping elsewhere for a fee. In Australia, Au.StrawberryNet sells the small 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle of Ubar for AUD$223.50. For other countries, the Amouage website has a “Store Finder” which should, hopefully, help you find the perfume somewhere close to you.
Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Ubar at prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Samples are also available at a few of the retailers listed above, where mentioned.

Perfume Review: Amouage Lyric (Woman)

One of the most popular fragrances from the royal perfume house of Amouage is Lyric Woman (hereinafter just “Lyric”). It is a chypre-oriental eau de parfum that is centered on a dark, dusky rose atop Amouage’s usual base of beautiful, smoky, Omani frankincense. It is a lovely perfume that I enjoyed but, on me, it was actually primarily a ylang-ylang fragrance with rich, custard-y vanilla infused with smoke. 

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

Lyric was released in 2008, the creation of perfumer, Daniel Maurel. The inspiration was music and, more specifically, the “lyric-spinto voice.” As the Amouage website explains,

Creative Director Christopher Chong has carefully crafted Lyric Woman to continue the music-inspired narrative that started with the launch of Amouage’s Jubilation last year. He explains, “Beyond the transient beauty and purity of Lyric lingers a poignant song without beginning or end.” During the creative process, Chong found inspiration in the beauty and drama of the lyric-spinto voice. From this, the story of Lyric Woman was born: a fragile beauty with a rare, other-worldly talent and her quest for perfection and immortality. Through this story, we are reminded that there is a subliminal beauty in every imperfection.

The fragrance has a complex and sophisticated structure, in which deep, smoky rose takes center-stage in the heart, complimented by dry, floral notes of geranium, jasmine and orris. The spiciness of cinnamon, cardamom and ginger in the top notes lifts the fragrance, while depth is provided by frankincense and wood notes in the base.

In its structure, Lyric is a floral fragrance, but one that introduces a dark intensity and modernity not normally associated with this genre – a perfect illustration of femininity, strength and passion.

Source: "Bonoanimoes" on Basenotes.

Source: “Bonoanimoes” on Basenotes.

The notes as listed on the Amouage‘s website are as follows:

top: Bergamot, Spicy Cardamom, Cinnamon, Ginger
heart: Rose, Angelica, Jasmine, Ylang-Ylang, Geramnium, Orris
base: Oakmoss, Musk, Wood, Patchouli, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Tonka Bean, Frankincense

Lyric opens on my skin with dry citruses infused with oakmoss. There are touches of geranium, spicy cardamom, ginger and the smallest hint of vanilla-infused smoke in the back. The geranium evokes the scent of the fuzzy, furry green leaves, while ginger feels almost pickled, like that in a Japanese sushi restaurant, as opposed to fresh and zesty, or crystallized and candied. The whispers of vanilla smoke are utterly entrancing, especially in their lightness. The note is never sweet or cloying, but airy. It helps counter any dryness from the oakmoss which feels grey like lichen, not brightly green and mossy.

Spirit of a Dying Rose by Vincent Knaus via

Spirit of a Dying Rose by Vincent Knaus via

Throughout it all, swirling like a specter in the background is the gauzy, sheer, airy red rose which initially feels dry, desiccated, dark, sweet and smoked all at once. It’s never the primary focus of the scent in those opening minutes but its form grows more and more substantial with the passing moments. From the merest translucent shadow, it gains body, swirling with the green, almost herbaceous geranium, the dry citruses, the oakmoss, cardamom, and that lovely, delicate vanilla incense. The perfume is beautifully blended, so Lyric Woman feels very much like a harmonious sum total of its individual elements, and the final result is a lovely, floral chypre that is simultaneously dry and a little bit sweet.



My skin generally seems to cycle quickly through notes, always emphasizing those at the heart and base, but, even so, it’s a little bit of a surprise when the ylang-ylang turns up less than five minutes into the perfume’s development and takes over from there. It starts slowly, flickering in the background like a gleam of bright yellow and feeling incredibly buttery, banana-y, custard-y and rich. By the thirty minute mark, the ylang-ylang turns so unctuous that it feels almost a little like coconut at times in its buttered richness. It mixes with the vanilla of the base to create a very rich custard that is almost yolk-like in its richness, but always flecked by the dark, airy smoke of the frankincense.



At first, the ylang-ylang mixes with the subtle rose notes but, soon, it takes the lead completely, becoming the dominant note. Lyric loses its dry citruses. More importantly, the oakmoss recedes to the background where it has an indirect, quiet effect on the fragrance, helping to counter a bit of the richness of the vanilla and ylang-ylang. It is no longer wholly distinctive in its own right and, to be frank, I miss it. Soon, Lyric turns slightly indolic in its rich headiness. Though it’s never sour or plastic-y on me, those who suffer from indoles may want to take heed. (If you’re unfamiliar with Indoles and Indolic fragrances, you can read more about them in the Glossary that is always linked at the top of the page.)

Vanilla Custard. Source: Sacchef's Blog.

Vanilla Custard.
Source: Sacchef’s Blog.

By the start of the second hour, Lyric is almost entirely ylang-ylang infused with light frankincense smoke atop a base of rich, custardy vanilla. The latter is creamy, luxurious and very comforting. Hints of light roses, creamy woods, oakmoss, and patchouli lurk at the edges. The woody note never feels like the bronzed spiciness of sandalwood, though it does share its creaminess. Instead, it feels more like general, amorphous, almost abstract, beige woods. Yet, none of those supporting players have the slightest chance of countering the ylang-ylang; it just grows deeper as Lyric develops and its indolic nature starts to feel almost vegetal in its richness.

Lyric remains that way on me for most of its development. I even tried Lyric a second time this morning; it’s on me currently as I write this and it is always the same, ylang-ylang dominant story. I would have far preferred the dusky, smoked chypre rose of the opening, but my skin chemistry clearly has other ideas. During that first, full test, Lyric’s drydown began a little after the sixth hour. It turned into a very traditional vanilla accord with some light powder and lingering touches of that airy, light, frankincense smoke. It was a skin scent and seemed, at times, so subtle that I kept thinking it was going to die entirely. But Amouage fragrances are renowned for their longevity and Lyric Woman is no exception. It lasted as a sheer, skin scent for another six hours. All in all, Lyric lasted just over 12.75 hours on my perfume-consuming skin, though only about 4.5 of those hours entailed a strong, noticeable fragrance with projection. On someone with normal skin, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lyric Woman lasted almost a full day. 

As with all Amouage fragrances, Lyric is profoundly potent in its opening hours. The perfume wafted around me in a medium-sized cloud at first, projecting a few feet, before softening. By the start of the second hour, the sillage was tamer and Lyric swirled just half a foot beyond my arm. It remained that way for a while, though it weakened with time, especially by the fourth hour. Finally, by the sixth hour, it became the merest gauzy touch right on the skin. As I said earlier, there were moments thereafter where I thought it had died, but its fragrant touch lingered for hours.

My experience with Lyric is absolutely not representative in any way (except perhaps the sillage and longevity). I feel like a completely freakish loon because, almost across the board, everyone has found the perfume to be primarily a rose-centered one with great spiciness. On a rare occasion, someone at Fragrantica will mention ylang-ylang and jasmine, but it is always in the context of the rose.

Only Luca Turin‘s four-star review of Lyric has a brief reference to that vegetal quality that I believe stems from the ylang-ylang. In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, the perfume critic wrote:

Great fragrances move me (and, I imagine, many others) to a sort of musical resonance. And in perfume as in music, progress largely consists of getting used to one novel dissonance after another. In this context, I can safely say that I have never smelled anything like the chord at Lyric’s chore. It is a rose, to be sure, cleverly extended at one end by a dry, dusty, woody accord in the manner of Lyric’s land of origin, Oman. What happens at the other end if a complete surprise. Where one expects a spicy, earthy uplift in the contemporary manner, there comes instead a plangent, overripe note, the exhalation of forgotten fruit in a sealed room. The effect is initially almost unpleasant but soon becomes celestial. Thelonius Monk would have understood this fragrance instantly.

On me, with my skin that always seems to emphasize the base notes in a perfume, that “plangent, overripe note, the exhalation of forgotten fruit” was clearly from the ylang-ylang. The over-ripeness and vegetal aspects that stem from its heavy indoles took over and dominated over the rose accord, though I never thought it was unpleasant, thanks to the countering effects of the smoky frankincense. And I actually loved that custardy, vanilla base with its flecks of black smoke, even when it turned a little powdery. A few others, however, on Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance seem to find the powdery drydown evocative of an “old lady” scent. I don’t share that impression, but I suppose it depends on your age or on your mental associations. 

There is a beautiful review of Lyric Woman from Now Smell This which calls the perfume a “modern classic” and which also helpfully discusses Andy Tauer‘s Incense Rosé as a point of comparison:

[I]f I passed my Lyric-drenched wrist under your nose right now, you would smell the frankincense, spices, and cream, but rose might not be the first note that comes to mind. As for whether or not Lyric is “entirely unprecedented”, I think of Tauer Perfumes Incense Rosé, which is not as creamy and warm as Lyric, but to me is its kissing cousin for sure.

I see Lyric less as music than as the tactile experience of scarlet red silk velvet covered by geranium and cardamom chiffon, dug out of an oak chest long forgotten in the attic. It is the sort of fragrance that would make a good signature scent: it is rich and striking enough to be a brilliant evening scent but, worn judiciously, would work during the day, too. With its bright top, spicy, floral heart, and creamy, woody base it spans the seasons except for the hottest days of summer. It feels lush and original, but not overly edgy. Wearing Lyric, you stand apart, but not too much so. In short, it’s a modern classic.

How I would have loved to experience all that! Despite my very different experience, I thought Lyric Woman was very nice and beautifully crafted. I genuinely enjoyed what I smelled, and I suspect that Lyric could turn quite addictive with repeated wearing because what appeared on my skin was rich, beautifully luxurious, heady, narcotic and very comforting. If Amouage’s prices were less steep, I might almost be tempted, but, at the end of the day, I’m not enough of a ylang-ylang enthusiast for that. However, those who love Amouage and roses may be happy to hear that I found Lyric being sold a great discount this week at one online retailer. (See, Details section, below.)   

Have you tried Lyric Woman? If so, how did it manifest itself on your skin? Was it love at first sniff? 

Cost, Availability, Sales & Sets: Lyric Woman in an eau de parfum that comes in two sizes: a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle that retails for $275 or €200, or a 3.4 oz/100 ml eau de parfum that costs $315 or €235. There is also a Travel Set available which contains 4 x 10ml bottles of Lyric, and those details are below. Thanks to some readers letting me know about LilyDirect, a very reputable online perfume retailer that frequently gives large discounts on Amouage, I have a link to a large 3.4 oz bottle of Lyric Woman that is priced at only $170 instead of $315!!! That is an unbelievable price, especially given the free domestic shipping on orders over $100. Lyric Woman in the large 3.4 oz size is also on sale at Beauty Encounter for a discounted price of $204 instead of $315. That is $111 off, and there is free domestic shipping (with international shipping for a fee). I don’t know how long these special discount prices will last. I should add that I’ve ordered from BeautyEncounter in the past with no problem, as have many of my friends, and they are a very reputable dealer. The smaller 1.7 oz size is also currently on sale at BeautyEncounter for $228.90 instead of $280 (though it should be $275 retail). That’s 18% off with free shipping within the US, but clearly the larger bottle is a better and cheaper deal. Otherwise, your first stop for purchase might be the Amouage website which carries not only the Lyric perfumes but also body lotions and candles.
In the U.S., the authorized Amouage dealer is Parfums Raffy which sells the full set of Lyric Woman products, including the travel sprays that total 40ml in quantity. There is free domestic shipping. Luckyscent carries both sizes of Lyric Woman, but not the travel set. Lyric can also be purchased online at MinNY (only the larger size but also body products like lotion), or the Four Seasons. The Travel set is available on the Amouage website for €160 and on BeautyEncounter for $235. Finally, Parfums Raffy sells a Mini Parfum Set of 6 Amouage fragrances (Lyric, Gold, Dia, Ubar, etc.) in 7.5 ml crystal bottles for $280, and a Six Sample Set of Women’s fragrances in 2 ml vials for $48. (No free shipping for orders below $75.)
Outside the US: In Canada, The Perfume Shoppe offers both sizes of Lyric Woman, along with sampler sets, mini travel sets and body lotions. There is free worldwide shipping, I think. The perfumes are listed at the same price as in the U.S., despite the fact the CAD prices are usually higher, so you may want to drop them an email to inquire. In the UK, Lyric Woman is available at Les Senteurs where it costs £160.00 or £190.00, depending on size. Samples are available for purchase. There is also an Amouage boutique in London. In Germany, Lyric Woman is available at First in Fragrance where it costs €205 or €295.00 (depending on size) with free shipping within the EU and shipping elsewhere for a fee. For other countries, the Amouage website has a “Store Finder” which should, hopefully, help you find the perfume somewhere close to you.
Samples: I obtained my sample of Lyric Woman from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. The site also sells samples of the Lyric body lotion, and a Sampler Set for 8 Amouage women’s fragrances which starts at $29.99 for 1/2 ml vials. The Parfums Raffy deal may be a much better one, given the 2ml size of those vials, even if it is $48 for just six fragrances.

Perfume Review: Amouage Opus VI (The Library Collection)



The royal perfume house of Amouage would be perfect for a fairy tale or Greek myth. It would be the story of King Midas, and all he touched would be perfume gold. It would have Ali Baba and a cave filled with treasures of scent and spice, incense and frankincense — not stolen by thieves but given freely by the Sultan with the order to create the most luxurious scent in all the land. Actually, that last bit happened in real life — with the Sultan of Oman.

As the renowned perfume critic, Luca Turin, said in a 2007 German magazine article:

The story of Amouage is remarkable. Twenty five years ago an Omani prince decided that his country, renowned since Egyptian times for the quality of its frankincense, home to the unique Green Mountain rose and on whose beaches half the world’s ambergris lands at random, needed a perfume firm that would take on the world’s greatest.

Nakhal Fort, Oman. Source:

Nakhal Fort, Oman. Source:

So, in 1983, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the ruler of the Sultanate of Oman, ordered His Highness Sayyid Hamad bin Hamoud al bu Said to do just that. And the fame of the perfumes have spread ever since, helped by the fact that one of them (Gold) was once the most expensive perfume in the world.

In 2010, Amouage launched a new line entitled The Library Collection which was meant to be a “poetic homage to the art of living.” They were

inspired by the recollections and fragments that collectively represent a tome of memories. The name of the collection is drawn from the notion of the hidden treasures in a library; a notion that kindles our desire to discover, to learn.

Amouage Opus VIIn 2012, Amouage added Opus VI to its line and it was, surprisingly, the first amber perfume released by the royal house. Amouage describes Opus VI as “an amber, leather and woody fragrance inspired by the destruction and reinvention of knowledge and memories. Symbolising the end of a love affair, eternity is represented as broken memories in the design of the box.”

The notes, as compiled from both Amouage‘s website and Fragrantica, are as follows:

top: Sichuan pepper, Frankincense, St. Thomas Bay (bay rum)
heart: Periploca [silk vine], Cypriol [papyrus grass oil], Patchouli
base: Ambranum, Z11, Cistus [Labdanum or rock rose], sandalwood, Citrus

Periploca. Photo: Chris Moore via Basenotes.

Periploca. Photo: Chris Moore via Basenotes.

Since a lot of these ingredients are extremely uncommon, I’m going to take time to go through a few of them. According to Fragrantica, Periploca is “a plant that grows in the Balkans with an odor profile between almond and incense.” Elsewhere, however, the scent has been compared to jasmine; on Basenotes, some remark that the aroma is unpleasant and akin to rotting vegetables. In short, there is no consensus. As for the other unusual notes, cypriol is a kind of papyrus grass, and ambranum is a synthetic compound that replicate the smell of amber, while Z11 is a synthetic that smells like dry wood.

The Amouage press release quoted by Fragrantica explains not only the deliberate reason why the synthetics were used in lieu of the more traditional elements, but also elaborates further on the whole issue of heartache and memories:

Opus VI, presented as a romantic fragrance creating its own vivid memories, is a woody amber oriental, inspired by the traditional medicine for broken hearts, amber. But whereas traditional amber is created through balsamic raw materials, creative director Christopher Chong approaches this most traditional concept through a modern lens, fusing synthetic molecules with a decidedly modern olfactory profile, such as Ambranum and Z11. This supposedly helps create a discordant effect which is not unlike the emotional frame of when someone tries to forget the memories of a heartache! According to Chong: ‘Personal memories are a fragmented journey into our lives. A source of profound knowledge, a sort of secret diary in the minds of each of us.’

Hm. I haven’t the foggiest idea what heartache smells like but, whatever it is, I don’t think it smells like this! Opus VI is a very labdanum-heavy amber scent with lots of incense, patchouli and some spiciness that, to me, evokes nothing more than an old Bedouin sheikh who uses very heavy attars and perfumed oil in his beard in the traditional Muslim manner. No heartbreak, no profound knowledge, no secret diary. To me, Opus VI is a very traditional Middle Eastern scent that I think is tolerable at times, but hugely over-priced for what it is. 

"Arab policeman" by DennisSylvesterHurd via

“Arab policeman” by DennisSylvesterHurd via

Opus VI explodes on my skin with super-charged labdanum. You can read my Glossary (linked up above) for full details on what labdanum is but, in a nutshell, it’s a very leathery, heavy, balsam-like amber resin. Here, its usual masculine, dirty underpinnings are heightened to an extreme degree. For once, I am transported back thousands of years to ancient times when shepherds would scrape the resin off the chests and beards of goats who had clambered on or around the rock rose. There is almost a sweaty, goat-like feel to the labdanum and, even for one like myself who usually adores the note, it’s a little too animalic in those opening minutes. 

A goat whose chest and beard are covered with labdanum. Source: labdanum-creta.blogspot. com

A goat whose chest and beard are covered with labdanum. Source: labdanum-creta.blogspot. com

Though the labdanum dominates, there are other notes in that initial start. There is quite a bit of boozy rum — not boozy amber, but something more akin to actual rum. Underneath that, there is chili pepper, frankincense smoke, unctuously dirty, black patchouli, and almost a dry paper element. The second time I tried Opus VI, I could also detect notes that felt like bay leaf, cloves and cardamom. As the minutes pass, the labdanum starts to become a tiny bit less dirty and animalic, leaving more of a general feel of extremely thick amber with boozy rum. There is an undertone to the labdanum, perhaps from the strong patchouli, that sometimes seems almost like leathery toffee or slightly burnt butterscotch; it creates a visual colour image of burnt umber or blackened terracotta. Skirting around the edges of all this leathery labdanum, there is a citrus note that flickers like a candle in a wind.

Five minutes in, the smoke and spices increase. The frankincense becomes stronger, evoking the scent of a burning bonfire in the fall. The patchouli note is much more noticeable, too, but it is the chili pepper that impresses me the most. It definitely feels like Sichuan pepper and serves to add some spicy heat to the dominant accord of thick, balsamic resins.

Those resins soften considerably as time passes. The labdanum’s shriekingly dirty side becomes a little less extreme, leaving an overall impression of honeyed amber, patchouli, incense and spice in the richest way possible. Yet, surprisingly, the perfume’s strength in the first 30 minutes is not matched by its sillage; Opus VI’s projection drops rapidly to something much less aggressive and much softer. In fact, the perfume as whole starts to feel quite soft. I realise that seems like a contradiction given those heavy notes and their strength, but Opus VI turns into something that isn’t opaque and thick in weight.

Something about the spiciness of Opus VI in the first 30 minutes evokes the dry-down of vintage Opium. The Sichuan pepper, in conjunction with the other notes, creates something like the cloves, spices, heavy labdanum, sandalwood and citrus feel of (real, vintage) Opium’s final hours. Opus VI is nowhere as gorgeous, complex, sophisticated, layered or nuanced as Opium — my all-time favorite perfume — but there is definitely some nod to the great, benchmark Oriental here. It is quite a surprise, and a pleasant one at that. Perhaps the greatest surprise, however, is that none of the notes feel synthetic. Amouage may have used Ambranum to replicate amber and Z11 for the aroma of dry wood, but Opus VI smells as if only real (and very expensive) ingredients have been used. There is nothing chemical, artificial or abrasive about Opus VI, though the dirty nature of the labdanum may be a little excessive in the first twenty minutes.

At the one hour mark, the spices recede, the labdanum turns more musky, and there is the vague hint of some jasmine. I’ll assume it is from the Periploca since I’ve never actually smelled the plant and, prior to reviewing Opus VI, had never even heard of it, either. Whatever the reason, there is a quiet floral aspect to Opus VI but it is fleeting. Soon, all that really remains of the scent is labdanum intertwined with strong frankincense smoke, black patchouli, musk, and a vague, abstract sense of spices — all over a dry wood undertone. The odd thing is that musky element. There is a definite animalic, skanky side to the resin now that evokes both civet and, to a small degree, the pure musk of Parfum d’Empire‘s Musc Tonkin. I can’t say that I particularly like it. Even odder for me to wrap my head around is just how paradoxically sheer and light the perfume is, while certain notes feel so unctously thick. They aren’t actually thick at all, but something about that labdanum….

After a few hours, the main threads of leathery, musky labdanum with dirty, black patchouli, and incense remain the same, but, now, a very strong accord of dry woods starts to appear. It’s not any one particular type of wood; rather, it’s just an abstract and extremely arid vague “woods” note. The dryness is huge, undoubtedly due to the Z11, and it creates a surprisingly odd contrast. Honestly, I’m not crazy about the dissonance and overall polarity.

Opus VI has astounding longevity, so its drydown phase finally starts about 8 hours later. It is simple: just amorphous amber, honey, beeswax and benzoin which creates a vague sense of nutty, caramel, amber. I tested Opus VI twice, each time using a lesser amount. The first time, I put on the equivalent of 2 good sprays and the perfume lasted almost 15 hours! On me! It was mind-boggling. The second time, I dabbed on what would essentially amount to one smallish to moderate spray and it lasted 12 hours, with the perfume lingering for much of that time right on the skin. Almost no projection at all.

What was interesting to me was that the lesser amount significantly changed what small nuances were detectable in the scent. Using only about one spray, Opus VI became a labdanum and patchouli fragrance with beeswax, and only the vaguest of other elements to it. It also became a skin scent in about thirty-five minutes on me. As a whole, this is not a perfume with massive sillage. On my first test, with 2 sprays, it became a skin scent within about 2 hours but even before, it didn’t projected out beyond a few inches. Opus VI is strong with a greater amount, but it’s also surprisingly sheer.

I liked the perfume less and less with every test. I actually put it on a third time just to be sure but, to be honest, I’d really had enough of it by that time and only lasted an hour before I washed it off. It wasn’t just the sometimes cloying, dirty, skanky aspects of the labdanum in those opening phases; I was also mentally bored by the scent’s linearity and something about its progression really turned me off. Yet, the reviews from other perfume bloggers are uniformly positive, even a little gushing. Whether it’s The Non-Blonde, Olfactoria’s Travels, The Candy Perfume Boy, or the always laudatory, always effusive, never (ever) critical CaFleureBon, the reviews are overwhelmingly adoring.

Well, apparently, I’m much harder to please when it comes orientals. I am a hardcore Orientalist down to my very fingertips, and if there is one thing I know extremely well is opulent, super-rich, powerful Orientals. There is, in fact, nothing I love more. But, to Opus VI, I give a nonchalant shrug. It’s fine, I suppose. Parts of it are actually quite nice on the very first go-round, namely the part where it smells like a less nuanced, less sophisticated, less interesting, less spicy and less potent version of my beloved Opium. Sure, Opus VI is quite rich as compared to something like a L’Artisan scent or Kilian’s boring Amber Oud (that actually has almost no oud in it at all). But that doesn’t mean Opus VI is a particularly interesting, complex Oriental except on the relative scale of things.

I started out being generally underwhelmed and unimpressed but, with successive applications, my slightly disdainful indifference turned into something much more negative. I love labdanum, have tested quite a bit of labdanum fragrances (especially recently), and I adore heavy, opaque, potent, resinously rich Orientals. At best, Opus VI is a simple but boring labdanum-dominant fragrance that is typically Middle Eastern like a million attars (or ittars) from the region. I’ve spent time in the Middle East and this is a pretty traditional, generic scent — so much so that I kept imagining some Arab man perfuming his beard or mustache with the oil of it. At worst, Opus VI is a monochromatic, linear, occasionally unpleasant fragrance that tired me out enormously, and which actually made me question just how much I loved labdanum as a whole.

And that’s even before we get to the price. $325 for this? Never in a million years. I think it’s massively over-priced for what it is. Frankly, I don’t understand the hype at all. I could perhaps understand paying Amouage prices for something like Jubilation 25 or maybe even Jubilation XXV — but never for Opus VI. I suppose I should add that a portion of the perfume’s high price probably stems from the packaging: all Amouage fragrances come in a bottle of expensive French crystal with some gold plating and, occasionally, sterling silver as well. Here, Opus VI

is adorned with a gold label simply declaring Opus and the number of the fragrance in roman numerals. The metal cap is gold-plated with the very regal and distinctive Amouage shield resting on the top protected under a transparent coat. The box is reminiscent of a tome (a volume of scholarly book). To complement the bottle’s contemporary classic look, the box is covered in champagne coloured fabric to give it an illustrious appearance.

Fine. Still not worth $325 though, in my opinion. In fact, I wouldn’t wear Opus VI if it were given to me for free.

U.S. availability & Stores: Opus VI comes only in a 3.4 oz/100 ml eau de parfum that retails for $325. It is currently on sale at Beauty Encounter for $300 with free shipping in the US and international shipping for roughly an additional $25. Opus VI can also be purchased online at MinNY, ZGO, or Parfums Raffy. Parfums Raffy is the authorized retailer for Amouage, and provides free domestic shipping along with samples. Parfums Raffy also sells a Sampler Set of six Library Opus scents (minus the brand new, just released Opus VII) for a really good price of $30. Each perfume vial is 2 ml. Luckyscent usually carries Amouage but Opus VI is back-ordered until October 2013.
Outside the US: In Canada, The Perfume Shoppe offers a 5 ml travel size (about 65 sprays) of Opus VI for $50 with free worldwide shipping. I don’t see full bottles of Opus VI on the site but you may want to check for yourself. In the UK, Opus VI is available at Les Senteurs for £240.00. There is also an Amouage boutique in London. In Germany, it is available at First in Fragrance where it costs €275.00 with free shipping within the EU and shipping elsewhere for a fee. Of course, the perfume is also available on Amouage’s own website. The website also has a “Store Finder” for about 20 countries which should, hopefully, help you find Opus VI somewhere close to you.
Samples: Samples of Opus VI are available at Surrender to Chance (the decant site I always use) where the smallest vial costs $3.99. The site also sells a Sampler Set for 6 of the Library line which starts at $19.99 for 1/2 ml vials. The Parfums Raffy deal is a much better one given the size of those vials.

Perfume Review – Amouage Jubilation 25: Scheherazade & Seduction

In The Thousand and One Nights (also known as The Arabian Nights), Scheherazade Scheherazadetricks her new husband into saving her life by enchanting him with a different tale each night. The powerful Persian king had become bitter and enraged by the infidelity of his former wife, so each day he would marry a virgin, only to behead them the next morning before they could betray him. Eventually, the kingdom ran out of virgins and the Vizier (or Prime Minister) was at a loss to know how to placate his bloodthirsty, vengeful king. The Vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, offered herself as a volunteer; she had a plan to tame the king and stop the bloodshed destroying the land.

Scheherazade spent her wedding night by telling the king a story but, cleverly, she Sch2never finished it and stopped at the most exciting part right before dawn, the time of her impending execution. The king, determined to know how the story ended, was forced to delay her sentence. That next night, she finished the tale but began an even more exciting story. Once again, she stopped exactly midway shortly before dawn, and the curious king spared her life so that he might hear the conclusion. This continued for a thousand and one nights, as Scheherazade weaved her magic through stories of Aladdin and the Genie, Ali Baba, Sinbad and many more. By the end, the king had fallen in love with the clever Scheherazade and made her his queen.

If the bewitching, enigmatic, intensely feminine, aristocratic Scheherazade were alive today, she might very well make Amouage’s Jubilation 25 her signature scent. As I wrote in my review for the sibling fragrance, Jubilation XXV for Men, the royal perfume house of Amouage would be perfect for a fairy tale or Greek myth. (Or for The Arabian Nights itself.) Amouage is the official royal perfume house for the Sultanate of Oman, and created at the order of the Sultan himself. It seeks to evoke the magic of the Middle East at the hands of master perfumers, who are given all the riches in the land — nay, the richest ingredients in all the world — with a no-expense spared budget.

Amouage 2 Jubiliations

Amouage Jubilation 25 (left) and Jubilation XXV (right).

On its 25th anniversary, in 2007, Amouage launched two celebratory eau de parfums under the guidance of its artistic director, Christopher Chong. The men’s version was called Jubilation XXV and was created by Bernard Duchaufour; the women’s version was named Jubilation 25, and was made by Lucas Sieuzac. Both versions are eau de parfum concentration.

Amouage J25

Jubilation 25

On its website, Amouage describes Jubilation 25 as follows:

Jubilation 25 captures the magic of timeless eternity with rich top notes of rose and ylang-ylang in which myth and reality are expressed using the finest frankincense from Oman.

This fragrance will appeal to the elegant, enigmatic and sophisticated woman who lives her life as an art form – evoking the time, place and cultures she inhabits with the mystical allure of amber, musk, vetiver, myrrh, frankincense and patchouli.

Jubilation XXV is classified on Fragrantica as an “oriental floral,” but it would be much more accurate to call it a fruity chypre. “Chypre” is one of the main perfume families. As a basic rule of thumb, a chypre perfume starts out with citrus-y top notes, has labdanum as part of its middle notes, and has a base that includes oakmoss. The oakmoss is traditionally the main key, but the base also often includes patchouli, musk or some sort of animalic note. (See the Glossary for a full explanation of the chypre family of fragrances, its general composition, and the range of its sub-families.)

Jubilation 25’s notes are listed as follows:

Top notes are ylang-ylang, rose, tarragon and lemon;

middle notes are labdanum, rose, artemisia and incense;

base notes are amber, patchouli, musk, vetiver and myrrh.

The perfume opens and I think to myself, “So Parisienne!” It’s a definite fruity chypre and a very heavy, mature scent. The opening notes are citrus and oakmoss, with a strong touch of tarragon and cumin. Unlike others, I don’t smell any significant amount of ylang-ylang from the start. Instead, what I get is a cumin-infested rose and peach note that is uncomfortably intimate. The peach comes from the davana flower which helps create the slightly fruity nature of the opening. It also evokes Guerlain’s Mitsouko, the standard bearer for fruity chypres, and a perfume which similarly calls to mind female intimacy and cumin. There is also a definite element of sweat which adds yet another type of intimacy to the scent. I can’t help but think of a woman in a slight state of arousal. There is a soft kind of blossoming and earthy fecundity which bring to mind a woman’s panties and… well, “intimate” is the only way I can describe it politely.

The cumin note is subtle at first. It’s not like the cumin in Serge Lutens Serge Noire but the earthiness is such that I have to wonder how the perfume would smell on me if worn at noon during the height of summer. The thought worries me a little. (Okay, a lot!) I can’t begin to imagine how this would smell in 110 degree heat!

A few more minutes in, the tarragon fades away as does a portion of the citrus-y note, leaving a very dry but pungent oakmoss scent. Officially, there is no oakmoss in Jubilation 25. None of the notes listed on the Amouage website (or, indeed, anywhere) list it. But it is there. Read any review of Jubilation 25, and you’ll see a plethora of references to oakmoss and chypres. The ingredients may not list it — just as they don’t list cumin — but dammit, it’s there!

Oakmoss is a tricky scent to describe or convey. It looks and smells similar to the lump of dried litchen that is often stuck at the top of flower pots or in floral arrangements. And, calling it “mossy, herbal and woody” doesn’t really seem adequate. To me, oakmoss has a dry, musty, dark green-grey smell that is dusty and almost mineral-y as well. It is often astringently pungent and a lot like a very damp, earthy forest. But a damp forest that is definitely musty and a bit dusty as well.

Twenty minutes in, the cumin (or whatever skank-ladened note is replicating cumin’s smell) is flitting in and out, making me feel, at times, that it’s actually quite delightful in its uncommon juxtaposition with rose and lemon. At other times, however, I have to resist the urge to sniff under my arms in alarm. It’s a bit of intellectual genius to combine the natural earthiness of cumin with the inherent earthiness of oakmoss, but it’s also rather disturbing.

There is a funky ripeness that makes me fear I am not woman enough or brave enough for this scent. And, suddenly, I understand Luca Turin’s comparison of Jubilation 25 (which he very much liked, by the way) to Dior’s outré Diorella.  Diorella was created by the legendary nose, Edmond Roudnitska, who also created the other monster of funk that Jubilation 25 is often compared to: Rochas’ Femme. (Jubilation 25 is compared to the reformulated, post-1989 version of Femme that had actual cumin added in.)



Femme is repeatedly described as far more than just merely animalic but, rather, flat out “intimate.” And a good chunk of the ingredients in Femme are also in Jubilation 25, even if the latter doesn’t officially list cumin. (It really should!) The same story applies to Guerlain’s equally “intimate” or “skanky” Mitsouko, which is the third fragrance to which Jubilation 25 is often compared. Mitsouko’s peach, rose, ylang-ylang, oakmoss, vetiver, amber and musky notes are the same ones in Jubilation.

In slight contrast to those “intimate” female scents, Diorella has been described as “fruit on the  verge of going bad” by Luca Turin. The perfume blog Yesterday’s Perfume, elaborates on that Turin metaphor saying that Diorella “at its heart, … smells like garbage on the verge of going bad that someone has thrown a pile of flowers onto” but swears that it “shows you how to find beauty in the intersection of garbage and flowers. I know this doesn’t sound like an endorsement, but it is!”

Jubilation 25 combines aspects of all the aforementioned perfumes into one. I think that the last part of Yesterday’s Perfume’s quote about Diorella could really apply to Jubilation 25 if slightly altered: it “shows you to how find beauty in the intersection of [bodily funk] and flowers.” It just takes a little time to become enchanting (or, perhaps, a little less alarming).

But it is, unquestionably, a fascinating scent. It gets in your head with its juxtaposition of soft, feminine florals, earthy dampness and mossiness, and bodily funk. It’s got a little bit danger, and a whole lot of enigma. I can’t decide if I like it, or if I am repelled by it. As time goes on, I am less repelled than I was at the onset, but I’m still completely at a loss on how to assess this scent. It’s that bodily funk aspect that is all woman; it is both the fascination and lure, and the source of my continuing alarm. True, it’s less blunt, forceful, and sexually ripe as compared to Femme where, if memory serves me correctly, it clobbered you on the head. Here, there is just a sheer hint of it. Sheer, like Salomé’s seventh and final veil which was closest to her damp, slightly sweaty, naked

Sir Arthur Streeton's "Scheherazade."

Sir Arthur Streeton’s “Scheherazade.”

body as she danced before the king she wanted to seduce and manipulate into committing murder.

I feel a little trapped and paralyzed by my polarized reactions to Jubilation 25. In fact, I feel just like a fly quivering on a spider’s web, as competing thoughts run through my head. From utter revulsion at the scent, I slowly feel some grudging fascination, then back to alarm as a particularly strong whiff of armpits flashes by before receding again. I scrawl, “Oh no. This is too much!” in my notes, followed a few minutes later by, “I think I like this???” Jubilation 25 is like Scheherazade luring into her mystery, her web, her tales, before trapping you with her enigma, and making you want more.

The soft dry-down doesn’t help free me. It’s all musky rose with a touch of sweetness from the myrrh and amber. For some odd reason, the ylang-ylang is stronger now on me, as is the peach from the davana and the patchouli. Perhaps they were just hidden by that huge burst of overwhelmingly skanky funk? The latter is still there but it is just a faint shimmer now, almost imperceptible. (Well, most of the time. It tends to come and go at this point, almost like a ghost.) I really like the dry-down, though it’s nowhere as fascinating as that opening which lasted a good two hours on me.

Unlike the king in A Thousand and One Nights, however, I do finally manage to break free of the enchantment. I don’t think I would buy Jubilation 25, even if I could afford it (which we will get to shortly). It’s just too mature, heavy and intimate a scent for me. I don’t mind heaviness if it’s resinous ambers or spice, but heavy oakmoss is a bit harder for me to handle as a frequent choice of scents. But it’s the intimacy issue which is more dispositive. I have faint images of slightly ripe panties and earthy underarms that continue to plague me a little. Yes, I don’t think I would wear it. No, on further thought, I think I would. Yes, I would. I can’t get it out of my head and I’m utterly fascinated by its dangerous, alarming elements. I don’t think it is just intellectual fascination, either. There are a lot of scents that fascinate me intellectually and theoretically — such as Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle — but which I’m not interested enough at the end of the day to actually want to wear them.

Jubilation 25 is different because it really has gotten inside my head. I can’t stop sniffing my arms, though I always do so with a healthy dose of trepidation. I could see this as the scent of a dangerous woman, a black widow, or a diva. I think of Angelina Jolie’s character in any number of her films but, especially, in Gia (one of my all-time favorite movies). I also think of Angelina Jolie herself in Alexander, where she met and bewitched Brad Pitt. I think of such diverse people as: the legendary icon, Ava Gardner; the racy, imperious, very sexual but haughty Princess Margaret of England; or the steely, hard, but manipulatively charming Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s former Iron Lady.

What finally breaks me free of the spell and the madness is the price of Jubilation 25. I am simply too much of a cheapskate to spend $300 (or approximately $330 with tax) on one single perfume. I just can’t do it, even if I could afford it. The most commonly available size of Jubiliation 25 is 3.4 fl.oz/100 ml and costs $300, £190.00 or around €220. There is a smaller 1.7 oz/50 ml version that costs $265 or £160.00, but a cursory review of a few US websites shows it is not available on any of the usual or big perfume sites. I found the smaller size only at Beauty Encounter, but it’s really not a good deal given that double the quantity (or 3.4 oz) costs only $35 more.

No, Jubilation 25 is just too expensive for me but, oh, how it tempts me. This is not an ordinary, cheap or generic scent. It smells haughty, regal, luxurious, feminine, and infinitely intimate. It’s dangerous and enigmatic. It’s Mata Hari, Salome and Scheherazade all wrapped into one. And it probably would have brought Scheherazade’s king to his knees far sooner than a thousand and one nights…..

Sillage & Longevity: Heavy sillage for the first 2 hours before becoming slightly closer to the skin. It becomes fully close to the skin about 3 hours in. All in all, it lasted about 5 hours on me. On others, it is reported to have great or, even, huge longevity.
Availability & Stores: In the US, Jubilation 25 can be purchased online at AedesFour SeasonsLuckyscent or Parfums Raffy. (Google and Parfums Raffy state that it is the authorized retailer for Amouage and that it provides free shipping.) If you want the smaller 1.7 oz version, you can go to Beauty Encounter. Samples of Jubilation can be purchased from all those places, as well as from Surrender to Chance (the decant site I always use) where the smallest vial costs $3.99. In London, I’ve read that Jubilation 25 is available at Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Les Senteurs or the Amouage boutique. In Canada, I’ve read that it’s available at The Perfume Shoppe. In Germany, at First in Fragrance. And, of course, it is available world-wide on Amouage’s own website. The website also has a “Store Locator” for about 20 countries which should, hopefully, help you find Jubilation somewhere close to you.