Parfums de Nicolaï Sacrebleu Intense

Some perfumes have a quiet prettiness that weave their way around you over time, or that touch you with a feeling of comforting familiarity. Sometimes, they are also about a study in contrasts, contradictions that work together seamlessly in a way that becomes more important than the individual notes. Sacrebleu Intense from the Guerlain descendent, Patricia de Nicolaï, and her company, Parfums de Nicolaï, is one of those perfumes.

The 30 ml and 100 ml bottles of Sacrebleu Intense. Source: Luckyscent

The 30 ml and 100 ml bottles of Sacrebleu Intense. Source: Luckyscent

It is an eau de parfum that appealed to me the first time I smelled it, but it didn’t bowl me over and throw me into a state of maddened lust. It still doesn’t, if truth be told, but Sacrebleu Intense quietly squirreled its way into my thoughts, and I ended up succumbing to a relatively blind buy months after the fact. It has a quiet solidity and classical appeal with just enough of a nod to the past to be comforting at times.

What I like is the feeling of contrasts that have been superbly blended into a seamless whole. There is sticky, chewy darkness, but also, airy, white sweetness. Bitter green leafiness lies side-by-side with boldly fiery, red cloves, brown cinnamon, smoky blacks, and twiggy, petitgrain, neroli orange-browns. Sometimes, the contrasts are just about the stark black and whites: black licorice and smoke, against white Church incense and spicy red carnation. Sometimes, they are about gender, as femininity collides with touches of masculinity. Often, they are about boldness and strength mixed with refined quietness; or the contradictions of weightless heaviness.

Photographer: Carl Bengtsson. Source:  fashionproduction.blogspot.com

Photographer: Carl Bengtsson. Source: fashionproduction.blogspot.com

Sacrebleu Intense is about all those things. It is fierce and potent, but understated and quietly elegant. It is a nod to the past that is also very modern. It has a simple beauty whose appeal grows stronger with time, and it manages to stay in your head, long after you’ve smelled it. At least, that was the case for me. I first encountered the perfume in Paris where I was trying the full Parfums de Nicolaï‘s line at one of her shops. (From this point out, I hope you will forgive me if I spell Nicolaï as just “Nicolai” for reasons of speed and convenience, as it takes a while to put on the dots, or Trema.)

Sacrebleu Intense stood out immediately amidst the Nicolai offerings. A few of the other scents were pretty, but too subdued or restrained. A good number felt too damn thin by half, but Sacrebleu Intense made me do a wee, tiny double-take, and I sniffed my wrists appreciatively. However, I almost never trust first impressions and needed a sample to test to see how it would develop over time, especially on my wonky skin. Unfortunately, the Parfums de Nicolai line doesn’t seem to believe in that practice, and I was always told, “I’m sorry, we don’t have any vials.” So, I skipped it. Upon my return to America, though, the memory of Sacrebleu Intense nagged away at me for months. I finally said, “to hell with it,” and ordered a bottle.

Guerlain's L'Heure Bleue via radiobresil.com.

Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue via radiobresil.com.

I did so for one reason, and one reason only. Every time I had tested Sacrebleu Intense, the same thought rang in my head: “L’Heure Bleue. This is a definite nod to L’Heure Bleue, only it’s more modern, fruitier, with different spices, and possibly a more unisex feel.” Now, vintage L’Heure Bleue is one of my two, absolute favorite Guerlain scents. In fact, it is only fickleness and a slightly fiercer love for vintage Shalimar that prevents L’Heure Bleue from ranking as my favorite Guerlain of all. Plus, vintage L’Heure Bleue can be a wee bit powdery for my tastes, though none of it matters in the face of the reformulated modern version. Sacrebleu Intense reminds me of vintage L’Heure Bleu, though with enough differences for it to be its own scent. It feels more modern, and not as wistful in nature.

Patricia de Nicolaï, via her own website.

Patricia de Nicolaï, via her own website.

The strong connection to one of Guerlain’s masterpieces should come as no surprise to anyone who knows about Patricia de Nicolai‘s background. I’ve written about how she is part of the Guerlain family, a grand-daughter of the house’s founder, Pierre Guerlain, a niece to Jean-Jacques Guerlain, and a relative of the famed nose and current Guerlain family patriarch, Jean-Paul Guerlain. Madame de Nicolai is also on record as saying that she absolutely loves L’Heure Bleue, though she stopped just short of saying that it is the Guerlain scent that has had the most impact on her own perfumery. Still, her love of L’Heure Bleue shines through in Sacrebleu Intense, though I have to emphasize that I think they are very different scents at their heart.

Sacrebleu Intense is an eau de parfum that was released in 2008. It seems to have been intended as a bolder version of the original Sacrebleu which has now been discontinued, though I’ve also read in one place that the Intense was meant to highlight the floral notes more than the original. According to Fragrantica and Luckyscent, Sacrebleu Intense has:

Top notes: mandarin orange, red berries and fruity notes; Middle notes: carnation, tuberose, cinnamon and jasmine; Base notes: peru balsam, sandalwood, tonka bean, patchouli, olibanum [myrrh], woody notes and vanilla..

Source: CaFleureBon

Source: CaFleureBon

Sacrebleu Intense opens on my skin with massive amounts of carnation cloves, followed by cinnamon, dark resins, and green notes. There is a strong spiciness to  the scent beyond just the cloves, a sort of piquancy that makes me think of peppery, fuzzy geranium leaves, as well as of bitter neroli and petitgrain. Petitgrain is a citrus tree’s twigs, distilled down into the bitter, pungent woody, masculine notes, while neroli is a different method of distilling the trees’ orange blossoms. Honestly, on my skin, I don’t smell mandarin oranges in their traditional, sweet, sun-ripened juiciness. There is the strong bitterness of neroli, and the woodiness of petitgrain instead.

FrankincenseThere are other elements as well. Lurking in the base is a black, leathery smokiness from the styrax, the least sweet of all the resins or benzoin-like notes. There is also a heavy presence of olibanum or myrrh. It is nothing like the High Church, soapy, chilly, dusty character that it usually manifests, at least not yet. Instead, it smells like chewy black licorice with a hint of anise. There is a definite sense of smokiness, though. A sweet incense note that feels like sweet myrrh, rather than pure, dry, black frankincense.

Clove Studded Orange. Source: DwellWellNW blog at DowntoEarthNW.com

Clove Studded Orange. Source: DwellWellNW blog at DowntoEarthNW.com

The odd thing is the nature of the floral notes. I’ve worn Sacrebleu Intense a few times, and only once did I ever really detect tuberose. It was brief, very muted, and had a slightly rubbery, black undertone to it. However, the tuberose was so thoroughly blended into the other elements, it was extremely hard to pick out and I don’t think it lasted for more than perhaps 10 minutes at best. The main flower on my skin instead is always the carnation, though it is barely floral at all. Carnations can take on a peppered rose aroma or a clove-like one, and it is the latter which shows up on my skin. In fact, Sacrebleu Intense is heavy cloves from start almost to finish, with only a touch of actual carnation.

Geranium pratense leaf, close-up. Source: Wikicommons

Geranium pratense leaf, close-up. Source: Wikicommons

I keep imagining a clove flower with a spicy neroli heart, bitter petitgrain twigs and peppery, pungent, green geranium leaves, all dusted with cinnamon. The “flower” grows out of soil made from black licorice and the stickiest, chewiest, balsamic resin around. It’s a base that is faintly leathered and smoky, but the main impression is of bitter fruits heavily dusted with cinnamon and cloves.

For the most part, Sacrebleu remains that way for the majority of its long life on my skin. This is a fragrance that is beautifully blended, and each time I wear it, different parts seem to be emphasized alongside the clove carnation. Never the tuberose, but the green bits and the smokiness seem to fluctuate in degree. On one occasion, all that came to mind was black, chewy, resinous smokiness on a white, airy background that felt only vaguely fruited and was heavily dusted with spices instead. As a whole, Sacrebleu Intense is a scent that is very hard to pull apart. The notes move into each other seamlessly, and, as indicated, that makes the perfume a bit linear in nature. For that reason, this review will be a little different than most of mine, and will focus mainly on the perfume’s overall development and feel.

Pez. Source: Wikipedia.

Pez. Source: Wikipedia.

The one thing that does change (and is quite constant each time I wear Sacrebleu Intense) is the touch of powderiness that creeps in after a while. When it precisely occurs seems to vary, and I’ve noticed that one arm (my right, which is not my usual testing arm) reflects very little of it as compared to the other, but there is always some degree of powder. At first, it’s only a subtle touch that is almost iris-like at times. It’s definitely sweetened powder, and its combination with the bitter neroli and petitgrain-like accord creates a distinct impression of Pez candy. A sort of Sweet-Tarts or Pez powderiness, if that makes sense.

I have to admit, I’m not very keen on it, and I become less keen as time passes because it turns into quite a distinct myrrh incense note that I always struggle with. It’s a spiced, slightly dusty powderiness, though much more sweetened than most High Church incense fragrances. As regular readers know, I’m not particularly enthused by High Church or Catholic Mass tonalities, let alone powder, so I must admit, I struggle a little with Sacrebleu after about 5 or 6 hours. Still, as noted earlier, the perfume is well-blended and there are enough spicy clove, carnation, and resinous elements to make up for it.

 Source: darulkutub.co.uk

Source: darulkutub.co.uk

In its final stage, Sacrebleu Intense is a blend of myrrh incense, spiciness, and sweetened Pez powder, lightly flecked with bitterness and a hint of something vaguely fruity. In its last moments, it’s powdered sweetness and myrrh. I like it… from afar and as long as I don’t smell it up close too much.

All in all, Sacrebleu Intense consistently lasts 12 hours or more on my wonky skin, depending on how much I apply. It generally becomes a skin scent about 4-5 hours into its development, though it requires absolutely no effort whatsoever to detect the perfume if you bring your nose near your arm. Furthermore, you can push both time frames if you spray on a lot. With 3 big sprays, I once experienced a 14 hour duration, even though I had to put my nose on my skin and sniff extremely hard to detect the faint traces after the 12th hour.

I’m glad I bought Sacrebleu Intense, though I have mixed feelings about the drydown stage. In fact, if some of my discussion sounds a little like blind buyer’s remorse, there is that on occasion, but only because I really don’t like Churchy myrrh incense or powder. That said, there is something about the opening moments of Sacrebleu Intense that really compensates for it all.

I can’t really explain in any logical way except to say that there is a mood and feeling which overcomes a lot of the sticky details down the road. Something about Sacrebleu Intense feels like elegant familiarity, perhaps because of that distant, tiny kinship to L’Heure Bleue. It’s such a classic, refined scent that it makes me feel as though I should sit up straighter, put on my best clothes, and get ready for a garden party. It feels like something suited for High Tea at the Plaza Athenée, or a walk through the Jardins de Luxembourg near the Louvre. It lacks the va-va-voom luxuriousness of vintage Shalimar, or the emotional power of vintage L’Heure Bleue‘s haunting melancholy, but Sacrebleu Intense has a definite, quiet charm.

Photographer: Carl Bengtsson. Source:  fashionproduction.blogspot.com

Photographer: Carl Bengtsson. Source: fashionproduction.blogspot.com

Sacrebleu Intense doesn’t take me back in time or feel dated. I don’t feel as though I belonged in the 1920s or 1950s. Perhaps because there is an airiness to the scent that seems to belie the strength and potency of its spicy, piquant notes. It doesn’t feel opulently heavy at all, to the point that I don’t think of luxuriousness when I think of Sacrebleu Intense. Rather, I think of spiciness — intense spiciness and resins. Peppered, resinous, smoky, chewy blackness and white daintiness, speckled with every shade of red, brown and green.

In some ways, Sacrebleu Intense feels a little like an attractive girl whose appeal grows stronger over time. She may not blow you away at first, and, in fact, she may not even sweep you off your feet after you’ve known her for years, either. But you’d definitely miss her if she weren’t around, and, whenever you’re with her, you enjoy the experience. Something about her stays with you — her good humoured spiciness, perhaps — and you can’t forget how comfortable she makes you feel.

Almost all the blog reviews out there are for Sacrebleu, the original, and not for Sacrebleu Intense. There is said to be a difference. It’s not only that Sacrebleu was an eau de toilette, while the Intense is an eau de parfum, but the notes seem to be different. The original is said to have included: black currant bud, peach blossom, jasmine, tuberose, vanilla, tonka bean and incense. I also vaguely remember one Parfums de Nicolai sales lady telling me that the focus of the two scents is different, though for the life of me, I cannot now recall how.

Cellists. Source: Nathan Branch

Cellists. Source: Nathan Branch

The one blog review for Sacrebleu Intense comes from Nathan Branch who writes:

For a couple of hours, Sacrebleu Intense is mesmerizingly beautiful — rich, full, deep . . . like a roomful of cellists all playing the same sad, sweet song, but then everything starts to sound (or, in this case, smell) a little off — too much noise, too many notes crammed up close together and discordantly overlapping.

It’s a shame, too, because when the stuff is pulling together it really shines, but the last half of the scent’s lifespan is a sloppy mess — well, until you hit the patchouli/balsam drydown, which deserves some praise.

Maybe the original, less pumped-up Sacrebleu is better, less messy, than this Intense version?

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com

On Basenotes, one person has the following thoughts on the two versions:

Sweet but not fruity once the initial orange has departed. Close to, the jasmin is not wholly evident, but floats a nose- distance away until displaced by carnation (not cloves). The cinnamon is a mere hint (according to the assistant in PdN in Paris the ‘intense’ version has vanilla instead of cinnamon, but it’s still there to me). Overall less spicy than sacrebleu and therefore easier to wear. Intense is an edp rather than the original sacrebleu which is an edt. However the difference is not just in the concentration, they smell noticeably different, so worth trying both

As a whole, forum and website reviews for Sacrebleu Intense are mixed, with the vast majority being very positive in nature. I also think the reason for the split is that Sacrebleu Intense is a perfume best suited to those with specific tastes, starting with an appreciation for L’Heure Bleue. After that, ideally, you’d love a heaping amount of cinnamon, myrrh incense, and the bitter petitgrain and neroli aspects of orange. It might also help if you like Pez powder or Smarties, the latter being a comparison that was raised in two Fragrantica reviews.

One Fragrantica commentator, “vitabhaya,” has what I think is a good summation of Sacrebleu Intense:

Call me nuts, but the topnotes on this smell like a blend of Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue and Smarties–you know, those colored, super-sweet candies that come in a roll. It is melancholy but energizing, sweet yet with a great mellow depth, really a mezmerizing fragrance.

After an hour or two, the tonka bean, patchouli, sandalwood and olibanum lilt along the edge of a vanilla that is neither quite sweet nor spicy. It feels rich, sensual and downright sexy. It reminds me of late afternoon sun drifting through the curtains after a lover’s rendevous. There is something hypnotic about this blend, and I find myself lingering with my arm up to my nose long enough to wonder how long I’ve held this pose. Suddenly I feel as if I enjoy the longing for past lovers for pure memories’ sake. I cannot at this point decide if it is slightly melancholy (L’Heure Bleue?) or if it is rather dusky and languid. Oooooh, how I love it!

This goes on the “must have” list.

Source: Fragrantica.ru

Source: Fragrantica.ru

Other Fragrantica commentators seem equally enamoured, with one saying that Sacrebleu Intense had replaced L’Heure Bleu in her heart:

  • For a very long time, since we first met in a candy-box perfumery in Salzburg decades ago, L’Heure Bleue was my absolute favourite scent of all. With all due respect and nostalgia, the Pefume Queen’s Throne in my heart is now occupied by another sovereigh: Sacrebleu. (Especially that L’Heure Bleue’s new formula does not have the perfection of its predecessor.) It is the softest, most embracing, soothing, calming scent about, and I absolutely enjoy its elegant velvety dark character. Mind you, Sacrebleu’s darkness is not menacing, it’s mistery is not dangerous. It is a peaceful night, when you know you are safe, loved and can relax without a hint of worry and care. It is related to L’Heure Bleue, but more modern, less melancholy and much more life-affirming. [¶] To my nose and mind this scent is so perfect, that while wearing it I never once try to isolate it’s notes…it is a perfect harmony, and I don’t care the least what single notes make up this wonderful olfactory symphony. Truly wonderful!
  • I think Sacrebleu Intense is one of the sophisticated and finest scents I have sniffed. Very feminine [….]  I do not get candies from Sacre Bleu, but sacred feel yess. I have also L´heure Bleue and this might be kinda sister, but they are standing quite far from each others. Sacrebleu is more sensitive…. but eaven if she is sensitive do not take her to be not strong!
  • Prepare yourself to be granted a sweet redemption, to gain a second or third youth, to leave the ground and premises in bliss… [¶] Concentrate on happiness! […][¶] Olibanum and Peru Balsam control the -harsh- tubereuse. Carnation and Tonka Bean rule over the omnipresent cinnamon. Mandarin, Jasmin and Sandal turn your face to the light! [¶] Sacrebleu Intense has lifted me with joy.
  • I got this sample from the lovely Carnation. I smell hot spice! This is warm and intense and perfect for me. There is a sweetness to it that could be vanilla but its not cloying. This is a perfect combination of the things I love, Sandalwood, Patchouli, Vanilla and Spice (must be the cinnamon) I love it!
Photo: mypham.us

Photo: mypham.us

One male commentator loved Sacrebleu as well, writing:

A fruit and floral aroma that embraces you with power, quality and exuberance.
The heart is beautifully made of jasmine and tuberose, going to a soft side of the fragrance, surrounded by peru balm, olibanum (frankincense), woods and a delightful vanilla.
It starts completely feminine and then, goes to a more unisex scent during its evolution on the skin. Fierce yet delicate, strong yet romantic…nice work!

Smarties. Source: imgarcade.com

Smarties. Source: imgarcade.com

However, not everyone was quite as thrilled, whether from the fruit or the spices. In fact, I think the following comments underscore the importance of a love for cinnamon, not to mention skin chemistry, of course:

  •  very fruity and sweet. vitabhaya mentions Smarties and L’heure Bleue. I agree about the Smarties, but feel it’s only got a nod in passing from L’Heure Bleue. I purchased a sample because I love cinnamon and hoped for more cinnamon/carnation effect – but fruit tends to overwhelm my nose. Should have checked more carefully, because the top notes are all fruity, and they tend to hang around. Altogether not bad, won’t be one of my favourits, though.
  • Sweet,juicy fruity opening,but I could not detect any spices throughout this at all. […] It’s probably one of the worst I have smelled-cloying and rubbery would describe this perfectly.
  • I get cinnamon, but the horrid thing is that on my skin it smells like a cheap cinnamon candle. [¶] You ever been to a candle store, and then felt a bit yuck after smelling a tonne of candles? That’s this scent on my skin, unfortunately.
  • Hmmm, no. Opening is sweet orange, then comes cinnamon that has a very synthetic feel to me. A whisper of flowers, then some Tonka in the dry down. Average longevity and projection. L’huere bleu made me realize that I have a strong desire to smell like carnations and I was hoping this would be an interesting, well rounded composition with a clear carnation note, but it seems to have been hidden by the cinnamon. So disappointed.

On my skin, as noted, the clove-like smell of the carnations was far more dominant, but Sacrebleu Intense has a few resins or benzoins that can manifest a cinnamon side. Given that the perfume contains actual cinnamon as well, then you bloody well better like the spice if you’re going to try the perfume!

You should also like strong perfumes. On Surrender to Chance, one person commented that they liked the juicy, fruity opening but that Sacrebleu Intense was “too strong.” Well, it is, but that’s why I gravitated towards it, instead of the thinner scents in the line. Sacrebleu Intense is definitely a scent for those who like their fragrances to be bold and full-bodied.

The 30 ml bottle. Source: randewoo.ru

The 30 ml bottle. Source: randewoo.ru

One of the big positives about Sacrebleu Intense, and the Parfums de Nicolai line in general, is affordability. There is always a small 30 ml size which is very reasonably priced. For Sacrebleu Intense, the 1 oz size costs $65 or €51. It may be too tiny for some, but it’s great if you have a vast number of scents in your collection, or if you just don’t want to spend a fortune on perfume. Plus, as noted earlier, a little Sacrebleu Intense goes a long, long way.

Lastly, I think Sacrebleu Intense skews a little feminine, but not overly so and really only at the start. The incense, resins, spices and piquant neroli certainly make it very unisex in nature. My only hesitancy is the slight powderiness of the scent. It’s not at Guerlainade levels, and is much more myrrh-based in nature, but it’s something to keep in mind.

All in all, if you’re looking for a more spicy, modern version of L’Heure Bleue that is strongly centered on carnations with orange and neroli, dark smokiness that turns to white myrrh incense, and very piquant green leafiness, you may want to give Sacrebleu Intense a sniff.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Sacrebleu Intense is an eau de parfum that comes in two sizes. There is a tiny 30 ml/1 oz bottle that costs $65 or €51, and there is a large 100 ml/3.3 oz bottle that costs $165 or €153. As a side note, I think that there might have been a recent price increase for the Nicolai line, as I see a number of sites selling the large bottle for $185 now.  In the U.S.: Luckyscent sells both sizes of the perfume, with the large one at the old price of $165, and also offers samples. Beautyhabit sells the small and large sizes of Sacrebleu Intense at the same price. In New York, the New London Pharmacy is selling the 100 ml bottle for $150 on its website. OsswaldNY lists the 100 ml bottle as retailing for $190, which is way above retail, but is currently discounting the large bottle for $150. Parfum1 sells the large 100 ml bottle for the new price of $185. Outside the U.S.: For Canadian readers, the US-based Perfume Shoppe sells the small 30 ml size for US$65, and you can email them to ask about Canadian pricing. Their Canadian website offers Sacrebleu Intense in a 4ml travel spray for CAD$30. In the U.K., Parfums de Nicolaï has a shop in London on Fulham Road. You can check the Store Link below for the exact address. For all European readers, you can order directly from Parfums de Nicolaï which sells Sacrebleu Intense in both sizes for €51 and €153, respectively. In France, the company has numerous boutiques, especially in Paris. First in Fragrance sells the large 100 ml bottle for €152. In the Netherlands, ParfuMaria carries both sizes of Sacrebleu Intense, as does Annindriya’s Perfume Lounge. In Spain, I found the perfume listed in the 30 ml size at Ruiz de Ocenda for €52. In Hungary, you can find the perfume at Neroli, and in Russia, there are a lot of retailers but one of them is Eleven7. For other locations in France and the one store in London, you can turn to the Nicolai Store Listing. It doesn’t show any vendors outside France or the UK. I found nothing in Asia, the Middle East, or Australia. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Sacrebleu Intense starting at $3.99 for a 1 ml vial. You can also order from Luckyscent.
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Arte Profumi Fumoir: Campfire Smoke & Promises

The promise of Russian leather, birch tar, smoke, ambergris, and velvet-covered, opulent smoking rooms in gentlemen’s clubs lies at the heart of Fumoir, a new and expensive eau de parfum from the Italian perfume house, Arte Profumi. From the company’s elegant description right down to Fumoir’s notes (which also include pepper, cumin, and rose), the perfume sounds glorious on paper. 

Fumoir, via First in Fragrance.

Fumoir, via First in Fragrance.

Arte Profumi, whose name translates to The Art of Perfume, is based in Rome and seems to have been founded around 2013, the year when it launched all its fragrances. Fumoir is classified as a leather scent, but its name refers to smoking rooms at a gentleman’s club, as well as to a smoke house. Arte Profumi‘s website has little by way of description for the scent, and absolutely no notes: 

FUMOIR
Birch
… conversations among men,
in reserved rooms,
covered by wood, leather and velvet
surrounded by smoke.

Source: Wingtip.com

Source: Wingtip.com

First in Fragrance has much more information, and describes Fumoir as follows:

“Fumoir” by Arte Profumi is dedicated to a very special world – the world of gentlemen’s clubs and the pleasures of tobacco.

The quite, intense and distinctive fragrance takes no prisoners. Pepper and cumin are the strong vanguard. The fragrance bites wonderfully with smoky and leather notes, the rose in the heart is known only by hearsay and ambergris stays firmly in the background. The rest is pure and driven to extreme masculinity.

“Fumoir” doesn’t rely on hints. Whoever enjoys assertive smoky notes and old, creaking leather, or prefers a statement to diplomacy, will love “Fumoir”. The name in French not only means gentlemen’s room or smoking room but also smoke house. 

The notes, as compiled from First in Fragrance and Fragrantica, are:

 pepper, cumin, birch tar, tobacco, russian leather, rose and ambergris.

Talisker, an Islay single malt. Photo: Savuista at the Savuista blog.http://savuista.blogspot.com/2013_10_01_archive.html

Talisker, an Islay single malt. Photo: Savuista at the Savuista blog.http://savuista.blogspot.com/2013_10_01_archive.html

Fumoir opens on my skin with beautiful birch, manifesting itself as campfire smokiness infused with a peaty, somewhat salty, single malt, Islay Scotch. I’m quite serious when I say that I actually murmured out loud, “Laphroaig on steroids!” which is a huge compliment, as I love Laphroaig the most out of the all the Islay malts. Here, the Scotch is amplified with that gloriously burnt wood, campfire smokiness that is such a core component of birch.

Birch Tar pitch via Wikicommons.

Birch Tar pitch via Wikicommons.

Birch tar is more than just smoky, though. It is often a key element in creating the impression of leather, especially Russian leather. Back in the old days, Russian tanners cured hides with the tar, and something in the popular imagination (or perhaps just in my imagination) tends to associate the leather aroma with dashing, fierce, or untamed Cossacks. (As a side note, Chanel‘s Cuir de Russie probably helped in creating this association.)

Here, in Fumoir, the campfire aroma of scorched birch wood is soon followed by a definite note of blackened, tar-encrusted leather. At this point in the perfume’s evolution, the leather very much feels like its own distinct, individual element. Unfortunately, it later ends up being subsumed into the birch tar, which drives Fumoir from its very first moment until its end.

Source: lamag.com

Source: lamag.com

The leather is really lovely at this point. It is so black and sultry in its smoky, rugged heft. Yet, there is an odd meatiness about it that continuously reminds me of a mesquite-smoked barbecue. Fiery black pepper thoroughly covers it and the overall effect is… well, you may call me crazy, but I keep thinking of Steak au Poivre. Perhaps it’s the result of the cumin with the pepper and birch, creating a combination which my mind is translating into a big, fat, meaty steak, covered with walloping amounts of pepper, and thoroughly infused with smoke from a campfire that is burning mesquite wood. The cumin really isn’t visible in its usual way, apart from that odd impression, and I detect no rose at all at this point.

Four members of the Tsar's Imperial Russian Cossack bodyguard. Source: Pinterest.

Four members of the Tsar’s Imperial Russian Cossack bodyguard. Source: Pinterest.

Instead, Fumoir is a bonfire of darkness, singed woodiness, tar, peaty whiskey, and leather. The latter slowly takes on a slightly animalic touch, a raw, butch quality. For the first time in a long time when smelling a birch leather fragrance, I’m really transported to the steppes of Imperial Russia with its Cossacks. It never really happened with Cuir de Russie, but then, Fumoir is not as refined as that scent and it lacks the avalanche of soapy aldehydes that dominated the Chanel scent on my skin. In short, the Italian perfume has a very untamed, fierce element that the Chanel never did. At the same time, both the campfire smoke and the leather are stripped of the forest or chilly pine aroma that other fragrances with birch often carry.

My favorite part of the scent, though, is definitely the Laphroaig single malt aspect that I noted earlier. As the opening minutes pass, the note grows stronger, and its peaty smokiness works incredibly well with the meatiness of the leather, the pepper, and the birch. Scotch and a campfire steak, how perfect is that?!

Photo: Savuista at the Savuista blog. http://savuista.blogspot.com/2013_10_01_archive.html

Photo: Savuista at the Savuista blog. http://savuista.blogspot.com/2013_10_01_archive.html

Alas, my overall enthusiasm is suddenly tempered exactly 15 minutes into Fumoir’s development when a synthetic note stirs in the base. It smells of very dry tobacco but, also, of an ISO E-like aromachemical. It is wrapped up in an extremely arid woodiness, as well as with a touch of very, amorphous golden… something. I can’t pinpoint what it may be. My first thought was Givaudan’s tobacco synthetic, Kephalis, that is often used for its leathered undertones. Later, though, I wonder if it’s Givaudan’s Ambermax with its peppered, ISO E Super-like notes? The dry, ambergris substitute, Ambroxan? A combination of Kephalis and one of the ambers seems most likely. Whatever the real cause(s) may be, there is definitely something that is not right and very fake in Fumoir’s base.

As a whole, the perfume’s overall bouquet in the opening stage is of tarry birch wood charred in a campfire and infused with mesquite, pepper, Laphroaig whiskey, and meaty Cossack leather, all lightly flecked by a dry tobacco whisper and a good dose of aromachemicals.

Source: speckyboy.com

Source: speckyboy.com

Then, Fumoir slowly, very slowly, starts to shift. 40 minutes in, the perfume starts to gradually turn warmer and fractionally sweeter. The peaty whiskey fades away, while a kernel of “amber” in the base begins to bloom, seeping over the tarred leather and birch smoke. It creates a small dot of goldenness in the pitch black, but it is an abstract amber, an impression more than a clearly delineated, crisp note.

And it most certainly is not actual, very expensive ambergris, no matter what is listed in the notes. This is nothing like the scent that dominates a fragrance like Profumum‘s Amber Aurea. This is a wholly abstract construct that is nebulous, dry, and, increasingly, subject to a chemical taint, just like the equally nebulous tobacco note. The “amber” is actually why I mentioned those particular aromachemicals up above. Neither its ISO E-like jangly sharpness nor its excessive dryness is a joy.

The problem is that far too much of both synthetics have been used for them to blend well into Fumoir, though they certainly seem to help with the perfume’s projection. The perfume is very potent in the opening hour, and with good sillage that wafts out about 3-4 inches above the skin before eventually dropping at the end of the first hour. Despite the forcefulness of the birch smoke, Fumoir is quite airy in feel, and it grows thinner with time. Actually, it feels rather like an eau de toilette in nature, one which has a powerful start, but little actual body or depth.

"Gold smoke" by etafaz on deviantART.

“Gold smoke” by etafaz on deviantART.

At the end of the first hour, Fumoir is largely a two-note symphony centered on the main aspects of birch: burnt campfire smoke and leather. The pepper, whiskey, and vaguely abstract cumin element have faded away. However, the “tobacco” is finally starting to emerge in its own right, along with the “amber” in base. I don’t mind synthetics in fragrances if they are well-blended, in balanced proportions, and don’t render the scent into something that is heavily chemical in nature, but I have enormous issues when the quantity is high, especially at Arte Profumi’s prices. (More on that later.) Plus, Fumoir gives me a faint headache whenever I smell it too deeply for too long up close. That is a telltale sign that the aromachemicals are in a large quantity, as I don’t have such a reaction otherwise. Needless to say, I’m feeling rather grumpy at this point, and it only gets worse.

At the end of the 3rd hour, Fumoir smells of aromachemical amber, burnt wood in a campfire, and birch tar that is vaguely leathered, all in a warm blend infused with abstract, peppered, tobacco tonalities. It feels richer than it actually is, and it also reminds me of a very synthetic version of Naomi Goodsir‘s Bois d’Ascese, though not as interesting. Fumoir’s sillage has dropped to about an inch above the skin, but the notes aren’t hard to detect up close.

Source: Theatlantic.com

Source: Theatlantic.com

Fumoir is largely linear in nature, which is fine if you like the notes in question. Obviously, I don’t, but it doesn’t help that the simplicity of Fumoir’s bouquet is becoming increasingly boring. From afar, it really is nothing more than the birch tar’s burnt woods and some extremely arid relative of ISO E Supercrappy. For a brief period about 6.25 hours in, the rose appeared, turning Fumoir into a dry, woody rose and birch tar scent on an abstract amber base. It feels like a very distant cousin to Le Labo‘s Rose 31, only the nebulous rose is massively dominated by campfire smoke and an amber synthetic, instead of cedar woods and actual ISO E Super.

Campfire ashes. Source: dansdepot.com

Campfire ashes. Source: dansdepot.com

The resemblance doesn’t last long, and Fumoir returns to its core scent of birch tar smoked woods with aromachemical amber and aromachemical tobacco. By the middle of the 8th hour, the notes veer between acrid, smoked, and ashtray-like in their nuances. There is a subtle vein of dirtiness that lurks underneath, like really old, stale cumin, mixed with mesquite. The whole thing makes me feel incredibly dirty — in an unclean way, and not in the good, sexy, skanky way.

I’d suppressed the urge for a very soapy shower for hours, but, finally, towards the end of the 10th hour, I gave in and washed off Fumoir. It was exactly 9.75 hours into the perfume’s development, and Fumoir would probably have endured even longer as my skin holds onto synthetics like mad. In all honesty, I think it was the monotony which got to me even more than the acrid, burnt, stale, fetidness of the final hours. Fumoir is all about the birch tar first and foremost, then the two other aromachemicals. The remainder of the notes are hardly key players, and the lovely Cossack Russian leather subsumes itself into the overall scorched woods aroma in a way that renders it a mere undertone in the perfume’s overall scent.

I tested Fumoir twice, increasing the amount of fragrance that I applied, and the overall result was largely the same in both instance. The only difference is that I didn’t detect any rose note with larger quantity of Fumoir. It was just more linear, aromachemical laden, and boring. And I washed it off even sooner.

I couldn’t find any blog reviews for Fumoir, and the fragrance has no comments listed on its Fragrantica page. There isn’t even a Basenotes entry for it. However, Parfumo (which is like a European Fragrantica) has some votes for the quality, sillage and longevity of the scent. So, even if there are no actual comments posted, perhaps you may find 3 people’s numerical assessment of the fragrance useful:

  • 3 votes each for Longevity and Sillage, each coming in at an 83% ranking;
  • 3 votes for the scent as a whole, which puts it at 2.5 stars or a 50% ranking.

I think the 2.5 out of 5 rating for the fragrance is generally fair, though perhaps a bit high for me personal. Still, it’s telling that 3 people who may not be as annoyed as I am by massive amounts of aromachemicals don’t think highly of the scent either.

It doesn’t help that Fumoir is neither cheap nor easily accessible. It is exclusive to Europe at this point, though you can easily find samples at Surrender to Chance. Even if you were to order it from First in Fragrance in Europe (or Jovoy for EU-based customers), Fumoir costs €225 for the 100 ml bottle. At today’s exchange rate, that comes to roughly $308. This is not a scent worth $308 or €225! It simply is not, even if you don’t share my disdain for aromachemicals. There is none of the rich body, nuanced complexity, or interesting development that would warrant such a price. I generally liked Arte Profumi’s Ecclesiae incense fragrance, though I thought the price for that one was too high as well, but Fumoir lacks its sibling’s quality.

Photo: Narinder Nanu via washingtonpost.com

Photo: Narinder Nanu via washingtonpost.com

More to the point, if you’re an ardent fan of campfire birch scents, there are much better alternatives out there at a much better price. There is the richer, deeper, piney Arso from Profumum Roma; there is the drier, more austere, interesting Bois d’Ascese from Naomi Goodsir (which is hardcore birch, campfire smoke!); and there is also Jovoy‘s Private Label with its heavy vetiver focus amidst the peaty birch campfire smoke and Mad Max leather. They’re all significantly better fragrances.

In short, Fumoir fails to live up to its promises, and I would skip it.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Fumoir is an eau de parfum that comes in a 100 ml/3.4 oz size and costs €225. There are no American distributors for the Arte Profumi line that I could find. Arte Profumi has a website, but not an e-shop or a Stockist/Retailers list, so your best bet in obtaining the scent is from two big European perfume sites. Paris’ Jovoy and Germany’s First in Fragrance both carry the scent. The latter also sells samples and ships internationally. I couldn’t find any retailers in the UK, the Netherlands, or outside of Europe. If you’re in Italy, however, the company has two boutiques in Rome. Samples: Surrender to Chance now sells Fumoir starting at $4.50 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also an Arte Profumi Sample Set starting at $12.99 for 3 of its fragrance (including Fumoir and Ecclesiae which I previously reviewed) in a 1/2 ml size.

Profumum Olibanum

Concentrated simplicity is the hallmark of Profumum Roma, an Italian perfume house that takes a few olfactory notes, and then ramps them up with the richest amount of perfume oils on the market. In the case of Olibanum, the focus is incense, infused with citruses and piney resins in a play between light and dark.

Source: Luckyscent.

Source: Luckyscent.

Olibanum is an eau de parfum that was released in 2006. The name may refer to myrrh, a cool, white, dusty sort of incense used in church rituals, but the fragrance also celebrates the black smokiness of frankincense, while simultaneously playing a little shell-game with citruses. Profumum‘s website describes the perfume very simply:

Sacred and profane, mistery and shade
Wax guttering, someone praying
Steps, echoing through the gothic and ancient archways
to the cathedral of Saint Michel.

[Notes:] Incense, Myrrh, Orange flowers, Sandalwood

"Abstract Pines" by Chris Shepherd at Shepherdpics.com

“Abstract Pines” by Chris Shepherd at Shepherdpics.com

I’ve noticed that Profumum tends to brush over the details or specifics in their perfume lists, and Olibanum is no exception. I’d bet that there are a number of ingredients missing from that cursory summary. Olibanum opens on my skin with lemon and herbs, then a powerful blast of a resinous, aged, green pine note. On its heels is myrrh and something distinctly medicinal, infused with a breath of orange sweetness. There is also a soapy element, along with dry woods, and they both feel very oily in nature. Something about the overall effect reminds me of face cream or a tonic with herbal elements, countered by that lemoned oil.

I really disliked Olibanum upon my first wearing some months ago, but it’s easier the second time around, even if it my description thus far may lead you to think otherwise. It’s still hard, however, to summon up wild enthusiasm for an opening that really starts off as lemon oil with green, resinous, herbal notes, along with amorphous woods and cold, soapy incense. It’s not Nivea or lemon furniture polish, nor green, piney medicine either, but it is some combination of things in all three of those genres, put together. And, yes, I repeat, this is a much kinder take on Olibanum’s start than I had initially when it seemed merely like extremely acrid, dusty soapiness. (I think applying a larger quantity helps.) Bottom line: Olibanum’s opening moments are not a joy, though the bouquet is thankfully light and sheer in weight.

Abstract Green Fantasy by Bruno Paolo Benedetti. Source: imagesinactions.photoshelter.com (Website link embedded within.)

Abstract Green Fantasy by Bruno Paolo Benedetti. Source: imagesinactions.photoshelter.com (Website link embedded within.)

Things soon change, however, and for the better. About 5 minutes later, a fruity element arrives on the scene, though it’s abstract and indistinct at first. At best, it conjures up the image of a green, unripened orange. Lurking in the base is something very leathered, like a dark resin from a juniper tree. Slowly, the medicinal overtones start to fade, and the frankincense rises to the top. Olibanum turns into a fresh, but deep, lemon, pine, incense fragrance with unsweetened fruitiness. It smells nothing like Pine-Sol, if that is your fear, and it is thanks to the sharp bite of the smoke. If anything, the forest, green notes make Olibanum feel more like a herbal take on a traditional myrrh fragrance. There is hardly any of the cold, ancient dustiness that such scents usually carry. Instead, Olibanum feels increasingly rich and warm. The initial gauzy thinness changes, the perfume solidifies with some heft, and the notes grow in strength.

Photo: David Gunter Source: Flickr (website link embedded within photo.)

Photo: David Gunter Source: Flickr (website link embedded within photo.)

Olibanum continues to morph by small degrees. 15 minutes in, a black and somewhat peppered sort of smokiness weaves its way through the top notes, while a surprising creaminess grow in the base. The primary bouquet is now of frankincense as much as the myrrh, both infused with lemons, a slightly leathered pine resin, amorphous woodiness, and some creaminess in texture. The tiniest whisper of oranges flits about, growing more distinct and sweetened with time. The thing that strikes me more, however, is that peppered woodiness. I really wouldn’t be surprised if Olibanum contained a good dose of cedar to go along with the juniper-pine elements.

Olibanum has an unexpected trajectory in its development for a few reasons. The most noticeable is how Olibanum seems to grow in concentration at the end of the first hour. It is very far in terms of both feel and smell from how it was in the opening minutes. It suddenly has the signature Profumum heft and body, and it is growing smokier by the minute as well. The piney resin becomes stronger too, evoking the scent of freshly crushed needles and woody cones on a forest floor. Olibanum doesn’t have a super-complex bouquet, but it stands out for its richness, as well as for the lemony creaminess underlying it all.

Pine tree sap. Source: howtocleanstuff.net

Pine tree sap. Source: howtocleanstuff.net

The second really strange thing is the interplay of the secondary notes. Profumum fragrances are really well-blended, but Olibanum has an unusual peekaboo situation going on with the lemon and pine. Every single time over the next four hours that I think the pine has replaced the lemons, that the lemons have superseded the resins, or that the oranges have disappeared, the situation somehow reverses itself.

About 90 minutes in, the pine seemed to retreat, but then 40 minutes later, Olibanum suddenly took on a Pine Sap Absolute sort of aroma. It actually felt like a less-sweetened, drier version of Profumum‘s Arso, only with a very different sort of smokiness centered on frankincense instead of campfire aromas. By the same token, just when I was certain that the lemon was a mere hint and fading away, it suddenly returned and seemed to overtake the pine. Back and forth we go, for at least four more hours. The sillage continues to drop, but the perfume’s smokiness seems to grow.

Source: hdwallpapers.lt

Source: hdwallpapers.lt

At the end of 5 hours, Olibanum changes again. It now hovers right on the skin, though it is still extremely potent and powerful when smelled up close. The more interesting thing, though, is the undercurrent of darkness. There are definite traces of something both leathered and burnt underlying Olibanum’s interplay on frankincense and myrrh. At times, it smells almost like raw tobacco juice, along with a burnt sweetness. At other times, it smells like singed leather, singed woods, or tarry resins. Either way, the darkness takes over, the creaminess fades away, and Olibanum turns very dry.

What I don’t detect — now or ever — are orange blossoms in the floral, sweet way to which we are all accustomed. There is, however, a definite touch of mentholated rubberiness in the base that I suspect comes from the flowers.

Art by: LordmOth on Deviant Art. (Click on photo for website link embedded within.)

Art by: LordmOth on Deviant Art. (Click on photo for website link embedded within.)

As a whole, Olibanum is now just various forms of smokiness, infused with abstract, dry woodiness, a subtle sweetness, and teasing, fluctuating levels of pine and lemons. Speaking of lemons, the note suddenly makes a big comeback in the 9th hour (literally), and Olibanum becomes a lemon-incense-smoke fragrance all of a sudden. (I told you those notes played peekaboo!) It fades after 40 minutes, leaving Olibanum as an abstract blur of dry smokiness and frankincense, which is how the perfume remains until its very end. All in all, Olibanum lasted a hair over 13.75 hours on my perfume-consuming skin with 3 small dabs.

I’m not the only one who noticed the odd relay race involving the citrus notes, as someone made a very similar comment on Luckyscent:

Opens with a strong, sharp, clean green citrus. Drys down to a smokey refined incense. But on the way the citrus and incense seem to trade places a few times creating a very non linear and interesting dry down.

The other comments on the side are generally positive, though there are a number who are distinctly unenthused, whether by Olibanum’s difficult opening or the intensity of the incense. A random sampling of responses:

  • I didn’t care for the first sniff. But when I put it on. Magic. Lemongrass, Incense, and Oud accented perfectly. An unusual combination that keeps surprising me.
  • it took me a little while to warm up to this strange perfume, but now it’s my go-to citrus! I get frankincense and nonspecific citrus-rind. it’s not one of those seductive niche scents on first application… but it grows on you as one of those scents that is just right for skin!
  • Frankincense, frankincense, frankincense…no thanks
  • It’s the hint of orange blossom that makes the scent a year-round one for me. Plus, it has none of the cumin or curry notes that ruin many other incense scents. It feels perfect on me – it smells like nothing else I’ve tried (and I’ve tried MANY scents!). While LuckyScent rates this as a masculine scent I think it’s strongly a unisex scent. The Olibanum is prominent but not powdery like some other scents. How I wish I could afford a full bottle. Thankfully a little goes a long way with this scent as I have been living off decants and samples for several years. I’ll wear it at work and I find patients and coworkers are not bothered by it as it tends to meld with my skin if I keep the amount to a small spray. Large sprays = a large silliage monster. It is much better to keep this to one or two sprays at a time. It lasts a long while (at least 6 hours or more). It’s my favorite incense ever[.]

An interesting point is how Olibanum stacks up to some other incense fragrances, as there are a few posters who mention Olivier Durbano‘s Rock Crystal and Avignon. I haven’t tried either fragrance to be able to compare, so perhaps you’ll find the comments to be useful:

  • A lovely, dry, woody incense with none of the (cloying, in my opinion) sweetness of scents like Avignon and Red Palisander. A little too strong and bitter on first application, but it quickly mellows into long-lasting goodness.
  • Too strong for my taste. It gave off this rich incense-resinous scent which nauseated me. I’ll stick to Comme de Garcone’s: Avignon.
  • Dry, dry, dry. After two hours on my wrist, I am still waiting for those white flowers to bloom. I was hoping that the orange blossom would round out Olibanum’s edges, much like the lily does to L’Artisan Passage d’Enfer, but it just isn’t happening for me. It’s a nice enough scent, but not for everyday. And it smells almost exactly like Olivier Durbano Rock Crystal… though Rock Crystal is a little more complex with its coriander and cumin. Given that Olibanum is twice the price, buy Rock Crystal instead and spend that extra $100 in your wallet on another bottle of perfume.
  • This is a fantastic scent! Similar to Rock Crystal, but without the (for me) unpleasant “sticky”, musty notes from cumin and coriander in the drydown after a few hours. Olibanum is “cleaner”. The incense note appeared not instantly, but only after half an hour. [Emphasis and bolding to other perfume names added by me.]

On Basenotes, the perfume is generally very well-liked with 8 positive reviews, 2 neutrals, and 1 negative one. The latter merely says, “Incense shouldn’t smell like sandy tobacco.” Everyone else seems to love Olibanum, with one calling it a “masterpiece.” The poster, “Dollar & Scents,” provides a wonderfully detailed description of Olibanum’s many, unusual nuances:

Upon application, one is treated to a medicinally resinous myrrh, at once cooling and green, but sharply sour, with a slightly moist, mushroom-like mustiness. And, a somewhat dark, orange blossom infuses its sweet fruity, earthy and indolic aspects. This dank, green melange meanders to the middle, where a pure olibanum, reminiscent of an infusing frankincense during the celebration of a High Mass, envelops the bitter greenness with its alluring splendor. A faint, rustic tabacco undercurrent, like a freshly-opened pack of cigarettes, drifts in and out. Transitioning to the comforting base, a smooth and creamy sandalwood lifts the frankincense, while a slightly terpene, conifer nuance presents. A sublime drydown ensues. An exalted scent to be sure, this masculine composition is an all-season fragrance, with average projection and good longevity.

For “Alfarom,” Olibanum is a worthy and real alternative to Avignon, the leader in the incense category. He writes:

This is a real alternative to seminal scents like Avignon or Incense Extreme. Olibanum is great if you like smoky incense based fragrances but it’s quite different form the well known antagonist scents of the same family. Together with the usual liturgic vibe Profumum introduced a sealing wax effect that make Olibanum irresistible. While the opening is still quite severe and chilling, the drydown turns dry-and-warm, meditative and comfortable. A terrific woody-green option. Highly recommended!

Source: journeytoorthodoxy.com

Source: journeytoorthodoxy.com

Personally, I think Olibanum differs from those liturgical scents that I’ve tried. It never once evoked the dustiness of an old church with stony steps and cold chilliness. There are no dustbeams in the air, no waxy pews or piercing myrrh chilliness. And, thankfully, the soapy touches of the start fade away. For me, Olibanum is about citruses and smoke with darkly leathered, pine resins, not church rituals or the alienating dust of ages. Then again, as I said, I’m not really an aficionado of the High Church, liturgical style of incense fragrances, so I hope the view of experts quoted above helps you a little. 

One thing I can tell you clearly, however, is that Profumum’s fragrances seem to consistently reflect a very Italian signature. Their approach is very similar to that of luxury fashion designers, like Giorgio Armani or Valentino, who intentionally opt for fluid, minimalistic, clean lines, but always put together with great refinement and the most opulent fabrics. Profumum’s perfumes are very much the same: they have just a handful of notes done in a simple, generally linear manner, but with great richness and at the most concentrated levels. 

The downside to that is that the fragrances are easily, and with some justification, accused of being… well, too simple and linear. They are. No question about that at all. None of them are edgy, revolutionary, or complicated. If anything, they really verge on comfort scents, for whatever notes they decide to highlight. All of that makes Profumum’s  prices far too high for some people. Again, I won’t argue, though price can be a very subjective issue.

Right now, Profumum’s fragrances are generally priced at $240 or €179 for 100 ml of what is really a super-concentrated perfume. Given the reported 43%-46% fragrance oils that the company uses in each scent, their fragrances really amount to an Extrait or Pure Parfum. Is it worth it? Well, it depends on whether you love the notes in question. Incense lovers seem to adore Olibanum! While I think the perfume becomes much better after its difficult start, I’m not so enthused simply because I’m not one for this category or type of incense fragrance as a whole. However, I love Profumum’s Ambra Aurea and Patchouly, and think those are very worth it. I also enjoy their Acqua di Sale salty-beach fragrance, and think their gourmand vanilla, Dulcis in Fundo, is nicely done. In short, it’s all subjective and dependent on your personal tastes. The quality is unquestionably and definitely there throughout, which is why Profumum is one of my favorite lines.

I must add that I’ve heard Profumum will be increasing its prices in February or March 2014. I think $260 was the number being bandied about. So, if you’ve longed to buy a Profumum fragrance — whether Olibanum or another one — now might be the time. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Olibanum is an Eau de Parfum that only comes in a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle which costs $240 or €179. (There is also an accompanying, concentrated body oil, and a shower gel.) Profumum unfortunately doesn’t have an e-shop from which you can buy their fragrances directly. In the U.S.: Olibanum is available at Luckyscent, but it is back-ordered until March. If you buy it now, you would probably save on the upcoming price increase for the Profumum line. Olibanum is also sold at OsswaldNYC. In addition, they have a special phone deal for samples if you’re in the U.S.: any 10 fragrances in 1 ml vials for $10 with free domestic shipping. You have to call, though, to order the samples, and there may be brand exceptions. Their number is (212) 625-3111. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, Profumum perfumes are sold at Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie in Harrods. Elsewhere, you can find the line at Paris’ Printemps store, Switzerland’s OsswaldPremiere Avenue in France (which also ships worldwide, I believe), France’s Soleil d’Or, the Netherlands’ Celeste (which sells it for €180, along with the shower gel), Hungary’s Neroli, and Russia’s Lenoma boutiques. According to the Profumum website, their fragrances are carried in a large number of small stores from Copenhagen to the Netherlands, Poland, France, the rest of Europe, and, of course, Italy. You can use the Profumum Store Locator located on the left of the page linked to above. Samples: Surrender to Chance carries samples of Olibanum starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. You can also order from Luckyscent.

Arte Profumi Ecclesiae

Greek Orthodox CenserThere is a small church nestled in a pine forest clearing, a church whose wooden pews are covered by the dust of ages and whose stony floors echo the footsteps of monks swinging a thurible censer. White smoke from myrrh fills the air like a thin wall of purification, but that is not unexpected in such a traditional place. What is different is the bridge outside, a bridge made of creamy, honeyed beeswax and sweet myrrh. It links the stony, dusty Catholic church to its polar opposite on the far side of the world, an oriental temple filled with black smoke, not white olibanum. It is a temple where spicy patchouli sweetness and dry woods are offered to the gods alongside the frankincense, swirling together in a haze of great warmth. Two sides of the same coin, two very different worlds, and two very different perfumed aromas. But they’ve been bottled into one fragrance, Ecclesiae.

The Arte Profumi line. Source: Profumo.net

The Arte Profumi line. Source: Profumo.net

Ecclesiae is an eau de parfum from the Italian perfume house, Arte Profumi. The company, whose name translates to The Art of Perfume, is based in Rome and seems to have been founded around 2013, the year when it launched all its fragrances. I first encountered the line at Jovoy in Paris, though I never gave them a proper testing. The name stuck in my mind, however, so when Surrender to Chance suddenly started to carry a few of the scents, I seized the opportunity. Arte Profumi’s website isn’t very detailed or helpful, but the one thing that it makes clear is that its founders are passionate about art:

The passion for modern art and, at the same time the world of essences, as well as the need for combining them has led to the organization of multi-sensorial events.

By extraction, you get the concept of perfume as works of art, capable of replacing visual impressions through the perception of olfactory consent.

A source of inspiration for this implementation was the distant recollection of an old dressmaker’s shop where the choice of cloths, original patterns and precious trimmings stood for a lifestyle.

Source: Profumo.net

Source: Profumo.net

Arte Profumi’s website doesn’t provide the official description or notes for Ecclesiae, but I found the details on First in Fragrance:

A touch of eternity in the hallowed stone halls of a medieval cathedral where prayer and hymns along with incense soar heavenwards – in fragrant clouds of smoke, circling choirs of angels in reverence and devotion.

Arte Profumi pays homage to frankincense with their sacred scent aptly named “Ecclesiae”. Spicy elemi paves the way for the protagonist frankincense and a heart of sandalwood. Smoky, earthy patchouly and vetiver lend the composition depth and volume, a choir with many voices that intone the same harmony.

Friends of church fragrances and frankincense, but also lovers of oriental fragrances will welcome this creation from Arte Profumi as a blessing. 

Top Note: Elemi
Heart Note: Frankincense, Sandalwood
Base Note: Patchouly, Vetiver

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Judging by what appeared on my skin, I think those notes are a bit incomplete or lacking in detail, because Ecclesiae opens with a heavy amount of olibanum or myrrh. The white smoke is infused with elemi that reflects both its piney and its lemony characteristics. The patchouli arrives quietly on the sidelines, casting a tiny millimeter of spice to the cool, dusty, chilly notes. An equally muted hint of woodiness lurks in the base, evoking the pews in an old church. Much more significant, however, is another element not mentioned on the list — sweet myrrh or opoponax — which adds a honeyed touch to the bouquet. The overall effect evokes a cool, austere church in the middle of a forest and one whose wooden pews haven’t been dusted in months (or years).

Yet, even from the start, Ecclesiae may be the warmest, churchy, olibanum fragrance that I’ve ever tested. This is no brittle, High Mass fragrance with soapy, dusty, cold notes like Heeley‘s Cardinal, a fragrance that I personally found to be well-nigh unbearable with its piercing white musk and cotton. I haven’t tried the seminal Commes des Garcons‘ Avignon to compare, primarily because I generally find the “High Church” coldness, dustiness and soapiness of olibanum to be extremely difficult to handle. It doesn’t help that my skin often turns myrrh into soap by the end of a fragrance’s development as well.

The large incense thurible at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Source: catholicpilgrim.org

The large incense thurible at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Source: catholicpilgrim.org

So you can imagine my surprise at the difference here with Ecclesiae. This is a dusty, cool, white incense, yes, but there is something really lovely about how the notes are handled. It’s never too cool or barren, never too ancient and aloof in feel. There is the merest touch of warmth that ensures I never feel as though I were about to join some monks in a vow of silence in a very isolated, ancient church. At the same time, there is something honeyed about Ecclesiae that goes far beyond the usual waxy touches provided by sweet myrrh.

On the other hand, I don’t detect any sandalwood, and the patchouli isn’t at all distinct in its usual way at first. However, a few minutes in, there is a muted earthiness wafting around, along with the faintest flicker of something nuttied and vaguely chocolate-y. It wasn’t apparent in my first test when I only applied a small quantity of Ecclesiae, but 3 big dabs definitely bring out the perfume’s sweeter, richer undertones. As the warmer elements rise to the surface, the elemi’s lemon facets fade away, and its smell of chilled, fresh, pine needles soften.

FrankincenseTen minutes in, Ecclesiae is primarily an olibanum and sweet myrrh fragrance, lightly infused with muted patchouli and abstract woodiness. It hovers in a moderate, extremely lightweight, airy bouquet that wafts about 3 inches above the skin. I really like the scent, and find it to be very refined. There is a polished feel to Ecclesiae but, more importantly, it’s been perfectly calibrated so that the incense never feels ponderous, overly somber, or gloomy. My favorite part is the honeyed beeswax of the sweet myrrh which cuts through the dusty aspects of the myrrh, and thereby ensures that the perfume is never stony or icy.

"Javascapes" by Photographer Daniel G. Walczyk. Source: http://devidsketchbook.com

“Javascapes” by Photographer Daniel G. Walczyk. Source: http://devidsketchbook.com

Ecclesiae starts to slowly, very slowly, transform. The perfume grows warmer with every passing minute; the patchouli’s sweetness becomes more noticeable; and Ecclesiae takes on a creamy, beeswax softness as the sweet myrrh starts to build the bridge to the perfume’s second stage. Ecclesiae is also turning more indistinct and hazy in feel, as the notes start to overlap, and its sillage drops. At the end of 25 minutes, the fragrance is only about 1-2 inches above the skin.

Sometimes, I think I can detect patchouli proper, as there is an extremely subtle vein of earthiness that darts about. Most of the time, though, I wonder if it is my imagination, as the secondary, non-incense notes really lack clear delineation. There is something in the base that gives me a little bit of a temporary head twinge if I take really deep, prolonged sniffs, though it’s very minor and brief. It may be the slightly clean, soapy undertones to the myrrh, but perhaps it stems from the supposed “sandalwood.” I doubt it is the real stuff; I certainly smell nothing remotely like the Mysore wood in Ecclesiae. At best, the perfume has a generic creaminess in the base, though I think it results more from the truly lovely sweet myrrh.

Source: Robert.Maro.net

Source: Robert.Maro.net

The bridge that I mentioned at the start takes full shape at the end of the first hour, when the sweet myrrh starts to transform Ecclesiae. The perfume becomes creamier, smoother, and warmer, while the olibanum incense loses much of its remaining dustiness. Ecclesiae now feels like a very cozy church filled with candlelight from tapers dripping sweetened, creamy wax on soft floors, instead of a stony, barren, dusty place set in a forest. The sweet myrrh feels like a gateway into another world with a very different church dominated by entirely more oriental smells.

Beijing incense burning on Buddha's birthday. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters via the WSJ

Beijing incense burning on Buddha’s birthday. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters via the Wall Street Journal.

90 minutes in, Ecclesiae has suddenly turned into a spicy fragrance dominated by oriental frankincense smoke. It is thoroughly infused with an abstract woodiness, a peppered spiciness, and earthy touches. There is also something that most definitely smells like either bitter nutmeg or cloves, though I can’t explain why. The patchouli adds a reddish hue to the colour palette, while greenness arrives with the first hint of a dry, woody vetiver. The olibanum remains, but, as a whole, though, Ecclesiae is now dominated by black frankincense and warmth. It is a startling volte-face from the initial notes centered on white, dusty myrrh, to the point that you feel as though you’re in a very different place of worship. The notes are still blurry around the edges, but there is no mistaking that spicy, woody quality.

Incense stick. Source: Stock footage and Shutterstock.com.

Incense stick. Source: Stock footage and Shutterstock.com.

In fact, Fragrantica labels Ecclesiae as an “Oriental Woody” fragrance, something that initially perplexed me when I smelled the perfume’s opening notes on my skin. “Oriental” carries a very different connotation in my mind than that created by the “High Mass” churchy olibanum note with its cold facade. But Fragrantica is absolutely right in its assessment. Ecclesiae has a warm oriental heart, dominated by woody notes as much as it is by frankincense. In truth, Ecclesiae is really like two perfumes (and churches) in one, with the honeyed beeswax acting as a bridge between the two.

Ecclesiae remains largely the same for the next few hours. It is a warm, oriental, spicy, woody fragrance dominated by frankincense, with patchouli spices and earthiness, followed then by lingering strains of olibanum smoke and sweet myrrh. The vetiver is never really more than a muted flicker on my skin, while the sandalwood never shows up at all. What does appear, however, is a powdery quality that creeps in at the end of the third hour. The sillage drops even further, and Ecclesiae becomes a complete skin scent about 2.75 hours into its development.

Source: Wikicommons.

Source: Wikicommons.

Ecclesiae eventually turns into a blur of lightly powdered myrrh and frankincense after 4.25 hours, and it stays that way until its very end. There are growing touches of soapiness flitting about, but that may be simply the result of what my skin always does to olibanum. Either way, Ecclesiae is pretty linear, and very soft — both in feel and sillage. It is one of those fragrances that is so intimate in its projection that you’re constantly surprised when you see that it is still hanging on. All in all, it lasted just short of 9.5 hours, though I had to put my nose right on my skin in order to detect it by the middle of the 6th hour.

I couldn’t find any blog reviews for Ecclesiae, and the fragrance has no comments listed on its Fragrantica page. There isn’t even a Basenotes entry for it. In fact, Ecclesiae is not a fragrance that is carried in the U.S. at all. Generally, I try to avoid reviewing scents that are so limited in distribution or unknown, but I liked Ecclesiae quite a bit. Given my usual leeriness about olibanum, how painfully soapy it can become on my skin, and my dislike of dusty, cold “High Church” fragrances, I think that says something.

Alas, even if one were to order Ecclesiae from First in Fragrance in Europe (or Jovoy for EU customers), it is very expensive. The 100 ml bottle costs €225 which, at today’s exchange rate, comes to roughly $304 — and this is not a perfume worth $304, in my personal opinion. The perfume is too lightweight and sheer, the sillage is too weak, and the longevity iffy unless you apply a lot. That’s not merely my perception, either. On the Parfumo website (which is a bit like a European Fragrantica), Ecclesiae has no reviews but I was interested to see some votes for sillage or longevity:

  • 2 votes give the Longevity a 63% ranking;
  • 2 votes give the Sillage a 38% ranking.

It’s obviously not outstanding as a whole, but it’s a lot more troubling for $304 or €225.

Source: Fragrantica.

Source: Fragrantica.

I cannot tell you how much I wish Ecclesiae had more heft, weight, projection and richness. It is a thoroughly enjoyable take on incense fragrances, and feels extremely polished. Something about it reflects Italy’s inimitable, elegant, refined style, though I’m less enthused about the quiet discreetness that goes along with it. I would definitely wear Ecclesiae on occasion if a bottle ever fell into my lap, but I would never consider buying it. Then again, I’m not one who loves white incense passionately, so perhaps things might be different if I were a hardcore olibanum fan. Price is a subjective matter, after all.

So, if you truly love Churchy fragrances, then I encourage you to order a sample of Ecclesiae from Surrender to Chance or First in Fragrance. It’s very lovely, and nicely done.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Ecclesiae is an eau de parfum that comes in a 100 ml/3.4 oz size and costs €225. There are no American distributors for the Arte Profumi line that I could find. Arte Profumi has a website, but not an e-shop or a Stockist/Retailers list, so your best bet in obtaining the scent is from two big European perfume sites. Paris’ Jovoy and Germany’s First in Fragrance both carry the scent. The latter also sells samples and ships internationally. I couldn’t find any retailers in the UK, the Netherlands, or outside of Europe. If you’re in Italy, however, the company has two boutiques in Rome. Samples: Surrender to Chance now sells Ecclesiae starting at $4.50 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also an Arte Profumi Sample Set starting at $12.99 for 3 of its fragrance (including Ecclesiae) in a 1/2 ml size.

Yosh Sombre Negra: Dark Shadows

Source: Wall321.com

Source: Wall321.com

Deep in the heart of the forest, where the sun never shines, there is a campfire surrounded by mighty trees. All around it, as far as the eye can see, there is vetiver forming a peaty, green carpet. It clambers up the trees, covering even the branches with a vista of green. In that clearing, though, the smoke burns as black as a panther, smelling of both the piney trees around it and of incense. Tarry and leathered, it merges with the vetiver to send a smoke signal up to the sky, announcing the arrival of “dark shadows.” But this is not Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and you should not be fooled by what’s on the surface. If you peer really hard, you can see small spots of colour: cloved umber, patchouli brown, mint, honeyed yellow, iris grey suede, and soapy white. It’s Sombre Negra.

Source: Barney's.

Source: Barney’s.

Sombre Negra (“Dark Shadow”) is an eau de parfum from the San Francisco perfumer, Yosh Han. Sombre Negra was the first in her darker line of perfumes called “M,” and has a very confusing history. It was initially a limited-edition fragrance created in 2010 exclusively for Luckyscent, and centered around dark, mushroom notes like “choya loban,” teak, cypress, vetiver and tobacco.

Then, in 2011, she made a second version that she reportedly called “M:001 Sombre Negra.” It’s completely unclear to me whether this version is also exclusive to Luckyscent. Reading Luckyscent’s description very carefully and with literal interpretation, one might think it was and that there were still two versions out there. It doesn’t help that the description for Sombre Negra on some other U.S. retailers (like Barney’s) references the old notes. I emailed Ms. Yan a few days ago to obtain clarification on the issue, but have not yet received a response.

To me, it simply doesn’t make sense that the new version remains a Luckyscent exclusive, or that there continues to be two different perfumes with the same name. Everyone who has tested Sombre Negra from late 2011 onwards seems to be talking about the second Version 2.0 with its different notes and smell. Moreover, Yosh fragrances are carried throughout Europe, and I highly doubt all the European perfumistas who talk about the new, more patchouli and clove-centered fragrance are universally obtaining their samples from Los Angeles’ Luckyscent. 

So, I’m going to assume that Version 2 has completely replaced the original, limited-edition 2010 Luckyscent exclusive. You should too, but be aware that any discussions of Sombre Negra dated before the end of 2011 are referencing a very different fragrance, one that was reportedly much darker, earthier and smokier. This review is for the new, updated post-2011 version. [UPDATE 2/3/14 – Ms. Han has confirmed that all the vendors currently selling Sombre Negra, whether in Europe or America, are selling the new version. “Lucky Scent was the only retailer to carry the original. The M:001 version is available to everyone.”]

Yosh’s website has no individual page for Sombre Negra that I can quote for its (current) description or notes, so we have to rely on Luckyscent‘s old entry:

Please note, this is a newly re-imagined Sombre Negra.
Perfumer Notes: ”I launched a Limited Edition Sombre Negra exclusively with LuckyScent in 2010. That fragrance to me was dark and edgy. Very dense. I wanted to explore the idea of shadows and their mutations so I decided to create a new edition of Sombre Negra. The new M:001 Sombre Negra incorporates citrus top notes that reflect a flash of lightening – a spark of fire that quickly vanishes but casts new and elongated shadows. Rose, tonka and orris were added to give it some depth and fullness. Nutmeg and cumin give the fragrance a kind of vegetative musk and suede element to an otherwise smokey and leathery fragrance. It is still very masculine but Sombre Negra is also the ‘boyfriend fragrance’ that women are falling in love with and keeping for themselves.

[Notes]: Vetiver, patchouli, cedar, olibanum, pink pepperberry and black peppercorn, clove, juniper, citrus, nutmeg, cumin, tonka and orris root.

Source: science.nationalgeographic.com

Source: science.nationalgeographic.com

I think Sombre Negra‘s opening is absolutely fantastic. It is a sinewy, hefty, opaque burst of peaty vetiver, campfire smoke, cloves, honey, and pepper. Trailing behind is an utterly mesmerizing, perfectly balanced, tarry aroma that is simultaneously fresh, piney, resinous, and infused with birch tar smoke. I wouldn’t be surprised if the “juniper” note in the listing were really a reference to cade oil, which is a distillation of the prickly juniper and has a particularly smoky, phenolic character. Whatever the source of the tar, I love how it plays off the peaty vetiver and the smoke.

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

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

That smoke, that smoke… my God, it’s beautiful. It’s exactly like the smell that you’d get from a campfire outdoors, but there is also incense in there as well. What makes it my favorite part of the fragrance is the way it has the most minuscule drop of honey in it, along with tobacco and leather facets. I’m guessing that those are the indirect result of the patchouli which pops its head up 5 minutes into Sombre Negra’s development. Initially, it is a subtle note that is more woody, sweet, and tobacco-like than green, but traces of the patchouli’s mentholated side are skulking around in the corners.

The whole thing is utterly glorious, and feels like a distant, non-floral, 5th cousin removed from Amouage‘s Tribute Attar. They have the same fantastic smokiness, though the Sombre Negra is more complex than an attar centered around incense and rose. Yet, Sombre Negra has its own floral component, too. The iris appears after 7 minutes, though it is a dry, rooty kind. There seemed to be a brief pop of rose, too, but both flowers are quickly overshadowed by the mint note that bursts on the scene. Whether it stems from a fresh, Haitian kind of vetiver or from the patchouli, I have no idea, but the wintergreen doesn’t really seem to fit in for me.

Tar pit bubbles. Source: Los Angeles' La Brea tar and asphalt pits. tarpits.org

Tar pit bubbles. Source: Los Angeles’ La Brea tar and asphalt pits. tarpits.org

Sombre Negra is becoming smokier, darker, and more leathered with every minute. Its tarry blackness has a distinct oily quality to it, perhaps from the undiluted, pure patchouli. Visions of oil slicks and the La Brea tar pits float around my head, alongside the image of that campfire deep in the heart of a vetiver forest. There is a muted pop of yellow from a lemon, but it’s gone in an instant. Much more noticeable, however, is the growing influence of the clove which lends big splotches of brown-umber to the colour palette. It’s spicy, deep, but also smooth and warm, and it works beautiful with the patchouli. Unfortunately, at this point in the game, the patchouli isn’t my favorite sort with its chewy, toffee’d, spiced, sweet, smoky brownness, but a very green kind. Not even the cloves can counter the growing presence of slightly camphorated mintiness that is wafting off my arm.

Art by: LordmOth on Deviant Art. (Click on photo for website link embedded within.)

Art by: LordmOth on Deviant Art. (Click on photo for website link embedded within.)

As a whole, Sombre Negra in the opening 10 minutes is a panoply of somber, dark elements, just as the name suggests, but I find a playfulness underlying it. I haven’t the foggiest notion of why. All I can say is that Sombre Negra feels like an oddly cheerful, whimsical take on blackness. Perhaps it is due to the spicy warmth of the cloves, mixed with the touch of honey (where is it coming from?!) and the dangling, distant suggestion of some sweetened warmth.

It only takes another 5 minutes for the perfume to turn smoother and softer, as the more intense elements are slowly tamed. The cloves grow stronger, but there is also a hint of powder that starts to flit about. The tobacco, tarry, and oily elements retreat, the iris steps forward, and the green patchouli moves to stand next to the vetiver on center stage. The menthol and mint remain, but, to my sadness, that beautiful, honey-tipped campfire smoke is slowly dissipating and thinning out. So is the peaty quality of the vetiver. Soon, Sombre Negra’s primary bouquet is a green vetiver-patchouli duo, infused by cloves, light cade smoke, faintly powdered sweetness, and iris.

Source: wallpaperswide.com

Source: wallpaperswide.com

The smoke is now a thin tendril that ties all the elements to each other, instead of that dense, deep, powerful wall of Sombre Negra’s start. It’s all lovely, but it isn’t quite as spellbinding as the opening minutes with its multi-faceted complexity. However, the thinner, reduced amount of smokiness will probably be a very good thing for most people, as I suspect some may find the opening 10 minutes difficult if they’re not accustomed to that degree of blackness. Certainly, Sombre Negra is a more approachable, moderated scent after 40 minutes as a whole, and it just gets mellower with every passing half hour. I’m not so enthused about that, but then, I’m someone who adores the intensity of Amouage’s Tribute.

Patchouli. Source: womenworld.com.ua

Patchouli. Source: womenworld.com.ua

There are subtle changes that begin to occur after Sombre Negra’s forceful beginning. 30 minutes in, the sillage drops, the perfume lies an inch above the skin, and Sombre Negra feels much thinner, though it is still very rich when smelled up close. 40 minutes in, the traces of leather that were so noticeable in the beginning now lurk only on the periphery. Instead, an iris-driven suede starts to become very noticeable. It’s all very pretty and soft, a nice addition to the vetiver-patchouli with its mint and quiet campfire smoke. Then, alas, 70 minutes in, Sombre Negra turns into a skin scent. If I dab on a lot, I can push that time frame to a little over 90 minutes, but Sombre Negra never projects much on me. I have to wonder what would happen if I had a spray sample, as aerosolisation definitely increases sillage.

Haitiian vetiver grass. Source: astierdemarest.com

Haitian vetiver grass. Source: astierdemarest.com

Skin chemistry is key in all this and, as you will see later, I’m not the only one who thinks that Sombre Negra may be wildly different depending on how your skin handles particular notes. It explains my greatest problem with Sombre Negra’s second stage and subsequent development. I’ve noticed that, on occasion, my skin takes vetiver — at least the fresh, green kind that is usually the Haitian sort of vetiver — and runs with it. The note becomes amplified to the detriment of much else around it, overpowering the other elements, and changing what is (on everyone else’s skin) a more balanced creation. I think that is the case here with Sombre Negra because, for the majority of its lifespan, the fragrance is green vetiver first and foremost, from top to bottom. Other elements exist, fluctuating in various degrees over the next few hours, but few of them are in proportion or change the primary vetiver bouquet. Either way, it’s a green show, not a black, smoky one. I’m rather crushed.

Source: Dreamstime.com Royalty Free stock photos

Source: Dreamstime.com Royalty Free stock photos

The one exception to the “Vetiver Supercedes All” situation is the olibanum or myrrh. Unfortunately, here again, we have another note that my skin handles oddly. On most people, olibanum translates as the smell of incense, though a cool, white sort of smoke that is usually described as “High Church.” On my skin, however, 8 out of 10 times, olibanum/myrrh = soap. Pure soap. And I am not a fan of soapiness…. With Sombre Negra, the myrrh first pops up 2.5 hours in as a subtle soapiness, and it just grows from there. Meanwhile, the patchouli fades away, the cloves retreat to the sidelines, and the iris’ suede and powder tonalities become these ghostly things that only occasionally pop up to chirp “hello.” Unhappily for me, the mint remains, which may be merely another side of the vetiver or it may stem from the patchouli. As a whole, Sombre Negra becomes a thin, gauzy blend of vetiver, followed by mint, olibanum soap, and cade campfire smoke.

Source: bioloskiblog.wordpress.com

Source: bioloskiblog.wordpress.com

It becomes even simpler from there. At the end of the 4th hour, Sombre Negra is primarily vetiver with a little soapiness and campfire smoke. At the start of the 6th hour, it is soapy vetiver and there it remains until its very end when it finally fades away as an abstract, nebulous sort of woody cleanness. All in all, Sombre Negra lasted just under 12 hours on my skin, with the majority of its time as vetiver with soapiness. If you’re one of those people for whom olibanum manifests as actual smoke, then you can read that as “vetiver incense” instead. I was not so fortunate.

The skin-determinant issue of the vetiver is something that was noted by another blogger as well. My friend, the sultry Victoria of EauMG had a similar experience with Sombre Negra. Her review reads, in part:

Sombre Negra smells pitch black, smoky, and caliginous. [¶] Sombre Negra opens as a smoky vetiver with earth. The smoky vetiver and slightly damp earth/mushrooms are held together by warm, masculine spices. It really is both damp and dry; I find this interesting. Soon an animalic leather appears that reminds me a little of the base of Tom Ford Tuscan Leather. It’s a mossy, cade leather. The leather is bound to the vetiver with masculine, overcast spices. The dry-down is dark, masculine, spicy with tonka and leather. […][¶]

I really recommend wearing this on the skin (I do with all scents, but especially with this one). On my skin, the vetiver is very pronounced and the rest is incense and leather. I seriously get vetiver from top to bottom. On others they seem to be getting more patchouli or woods. I think all versions sound good, but this one really seems to adapt to the wearer’s skin.

Sombre Negra has above average projection and longevity.

For The Scentualist, Sombre Negra is one of those fragrances that isn’t for the masses, but one which he finds to be an enchanting, dark delight that has become his second favorite incense fragrance. His positive review reads, in part:

Sombre Negra shines with a double personality, being at the same time ubiquitous and ethereal, two features that are not at hand for the majority of olfactory creations.

From the first moments subsequent to spraying some whiffs of Sombre Negra onto my wrist, I was able to detect a beguiling aroma of smoke (due to incense), juxtaposed, in no longer than one minute, to a note of myrrh that was simply divine. Then, as the top notes vanished and Sombre Negra was entering slowly into its mid development and finally the dry down, a pervading aroma of frankincense (olibanum) was filling my nostrils with joy. In the end, I loved especially the fact that, opposed to the majority of incense-based fragrance, Sombre Negra manages to deliver this fascinating note without being too conspicuous about it (like in Olibanum from Profumum, for example). [¶][…]

Overall, this is one of my favorite fragrances, which made Sombre Negra into the second spot (side by side with Keiko Mecheri’s Oliban) of my incense benchmark.

As Victoria of EauMG noted, Sombre Negra seems to change with the wearer’s skin, and that explains why she got vetiver from top to bottom while The Scentualist experienced incense.

Source: philiphartiganpraeterita.blogspot.com

Source: philiphartiganpraeterita.blogspot.com

For the same reason, accounts vary on Fragrantica, too, where reports range from campfires and gasoline, to chocolate-nutmeg woodiness or even a resemblance to a chypre. A few examples, from both men and women:

  • On my skin (female) I got alot of smoke, too much at first, which faded after an hour to reveal a manly chypre with a little smoke on top. For me this is a very masculine frag, I find it sexy in a subtle way. If it were on my man I would want to nuzzle into his neck. I thought it unremarkable at first but I couldn’t stop smelling it and wanting to wrap up into it like a blanket. I get no cloves or incense. On me it is a chypre with subtle smoke and subtle woods and some kind of manly musk under it that I am very attracted to. Sexy but not overt, not groundbreakingly different but it doesn’t obviously have to be, just simply done right. […] for me, just perfectly subtle sexy, gets you without you even knowing it. purrrr.
  • A bit masculine, although it is marketed as unisex. There are 2 versions of this and I have the latest. By the looks of the notes I would say the recent version is toned down a bit from the first (no tobacco). This settles into a woody, vaguely chocolaty nutmeg concoction after a rip snorting patchouli cedar vetiver opening.
  • Sombre Negra is fantastic. It’s smokey with clove and unmistakably manly. I love it.
  • Man up! […] smoke and spice stars in this action flick that we know as sombre negra. Like Django unchained, this will either offend or will be praised. Personally, I think this is a 5 star general.
  • This is masculine indeed and only for black scents lovers, just like having a patch of gasoline moving with you like a ghost (talking about the latest version, tobacco note gone) fizzling sizzling dark patchouli combo…. [¶] Colonnel Kurtz signature scent…
Terre d'Hermès ad. Source: Parfumo.net

Terre d’Hermès ad. Source: Parfumo.net

One commentator saw Sombre Negra to be a dark, woodier version of Hermès‘ Terre d’Hermès, writing:

I wonder if there are any fans of Hermes Terre out there who wished Jean Claude-Ellena could produce a darker version of his smash hit. A “Terre Noire” if you like. Well, this is what I imagine “Terre Noire” would be like!

With Sombre Negra we take the path away from the bright citrus orchards and into the dark, dank forest and explore the earthy side of the Terre notes. Yippee! This, for me, is a dream come true my friends. All the notes are there – Patchouli (lots of it), pepper, cedar and vetiver – but they are amped up and complemented by a favourite of mine (and this is the clincher): CLOVES! Oh yes, my fellow clove lovers, if you dig cloves then you must try this.

As the first medicinal waft of cloves hit my nostrils this was love at first sniff. It was like Yosh had taken all my favourite notes and made a fragrance just for me. Just a pity the sillage and longevity and moderate and we’re down to skin scent within three or four hours. However, this bold, distinctive, sassy, sexy perfume really deserves your attention. Check it out. (Note: this review refers to the newly reformulated version of Sombre Negra).

Source: quotes-pictures.feedio.net

Source: quotes-pictures.feedio.net

Another commentator had even more difficulty with the sillage and longevity, though, for him, Sombre Negra bore a resemblance to Caron‘s Yatagan:

The opening notes reminded me of Yatagan. After 30 minutes, it changed, and a slight sweet side was felt. It was very good, but not long-lasting, after 3 hours was almost gone.

At night I changed to Yatagan, so I could compare. They are different.
Yatagan is champagne brut.
Sombre Negra is demi-sec.    [Formatting changes to the line-by-line writing done by me for space reasons.]

The version that everyone is describing sounds amazing, and I have to confess that I’m deeply envious. My skin simply didn’t want to comply, though I have to repeat how much I loved the opening moments of Sombre Negra. I suspect that brief stage is pretty much what everyone else is experiencing throughout. If that is the case, then I cannot recommend Sombre Negra enough to those who love truly dark scents.

However, I must emphasize that this is a scent best suited to perfumistas who appreciate smoke, vetiver, cloves, and the true sort of dark patchouli. If you don’t like any of things (and I know some people who struggle deeply with vetiver, while others despise cloves), then Sombre Negra probably won’t be for you.

I also think the perfume skews masculine, though women who love dark perfumes will thoroughly enjoy it. Victoria of EauMG brought up Bvlgari Black, and while I haven’t tried it, I know enough about it to say that she’s right in putting Sombre Negra in the same category. However, by all accounts, Bvlgari Black is a very rubbery scent with leather, gasoline and tobacco notes on a vanilla base. Sombre Negra is not rubbery and, in my opinion, the presence of those other elements are extremely tangential. Instead, the core is centered on vetiver, olibanum, and patchouli, with a dash of cloves and iris. Nevertheless, the point is, if you’re a woman who likes Bulgari Black, then you may appreciate Sombre Negra as well. It definitely has the same dark, smoky feel to it.

All in all, Sombre Negra would be a great fragrance on the right skin, and I think it is very well done indeed.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Sombre Negra is an eau de parfum that only comes in 50 ml bottle and costs $130 or €130. The Yosh website does not have an e-store. In the U.S.: you can buy Sombre Negra from Luckyscent, and that is the one place where you’re guaranteed and certain to get this current version. I’m truly not sure about which version other US retailers carry. They include Barney’s (which lists the old notes of “choya loban,” but that’s probably just an outdated description) and b-glowing (which offers 15% off your first order if you subscribe). There is also a San Francisco store called Veer and WanderOutside the U.S.: In Canada, Yosh is carried at The Perfume Shoppe, but Sombre Negra is not listed amongst their offerings when I clicked on the Yosh category. However, oddly enough, the company does have a separate listing for Sombre Negra that came up in a Google search. You should check with the company for availability. In the UK, I couldn’t find a retailer. In Paris, you can find Sombre Negra at Colette which also sells it via their e-shop. Germany’s First in Fragrance sells Sombre Negra for €130, with a sample for €7, and they ship world-wide. Essenza Nobile also carries Sombre Negra and ships world-wide. In the Netherlands, Amsterdam’s Perfume Lounge carries the Yosh line. In Dubai, Yosh is carried exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. In Russia, I think it’s available at iPerfume, but the Cyrillic translation doesn’t make it totally clear to me. For all other locations, you can look up a vendor near you on the Yosh website. It’s not easy to navigate and does not have separate pages, so I cannot give a specific link directly to their Stockist page, but they list a few retailers from Belgium, Italy and Germany, to a handful in Asia. Samples: You can obtain a sample from Luckyscent. Surrender to Chance does not have Yosh fragrances, so another alternative is The Perfumed Court which sells Sombre Negra starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

La Via del Profumo Hindu Kush

Hindu Kush, via smscs.com

Hindu Kush, via smscs.com

Close your eyes, and imagine yourself on the side of a mountain. It is one in a range of craggy giants on the Hindu Kush, each one stonier and more barren than the last. You stand on a narrow ledge beside large boulders, breath in the cold air, and survey a vast no-man’s land that is a vista of grey and brown, dotted with the green of pine trees. You wonder from whence comes the strong smell of cold, dusty incense that the wind wraps around you. You see no-one, feeling like the last man on earth as the dust at your feet intermingles with the crushed needles of pine trees. The austerity feels holy and serene, as if you were at the top of Mother Nature’s craggiest cathedral, and you turn inward before you drift off in a blur of myrrh and pine.

Hindu Kush via Fragrantica.

Hindu Kush via Fragrantica.

That emotional, meditative, and visual trip is the essential aroma of Hindu Kush, as well as its explicit goal and inspiration. Hindu Kush is the creation of Dominique Dubrana, who also goes by the name “AbdesSalaam Attar.” His perfume house, La Via del Profumo, focuses on all-natural fragrances, many of which have a Middle Eastern flair or subtext. Abdes Salaam Attar’s description of Hindu Kush on his Profumo website is useful because I think it really conveys a lot about the fragrance’s feel or emotional spirit, particularly the first part about the mountains:

The chain of mountains of the Hindu Kush is the natural boundary of the ancient India with Persia and central Asia. It is from here that the sacred river Indus comes down from the highest valleys with unbridled force. [¶] It’s a rough and wild land difficult to get to and populated by fierce warriors who challenge every day the intrusion of progress. This is a land the time forgot where neither people nor landscapes are contaminated by technology. Here travellers can fall in love with the air that they breathe and with the state of mind that overcomes someone until they become part of the mountain and part of the people changing clothes, habits and religion. 

The unforgettable fragrance of the Hindu Kush is made of the aroma of its forests, of its wood fires and the smells of the bazaars overflowing with oriental spices and things to eat.

Hindu Kush is the perfume that unites both the sacred and the profane. The aromas of incenses and perfumed woods are woven together with those of the sensual and appetising fragrances of oriental spices. […] Close your eyes and breathe in, Hindu Kush is like taking a walk in an Indian market, where clouds of incense smoke escape through the open doors of temples to be mixed with the perfumes of the east, ginger, cumin, nutmeg and pepper. [¶] Take a step inside and all is peace, silence and meditation, take a step outside and you find the crowd rushing here and there, noises and confusion.

For these reasons Hindu Kush is a perfume for people who feel attracted by eastern mystics, in which the sacred and the profane become confused in the everyday life, and for many people simply to smell it is an emotional experience because it generates the state of mind they are inwardly looking for.

Hindu Kush is not loved by everybody, this should teach us to be humble and make us reflect that harmony between physical and inner realities is not an aim in itself but is merely a mean to reach a much higher goal.

The Hindu Kush, Himalayan Karakorum side. Source: ecuadorciencia.org

The Hindu Kush, Himalayan Karakorum side. Source: ecuadorciencia.org

As best as I can determine, the list of notes seems to be:

Incense, perfumed or aromatic woods, ginger, cumin, nutmeg, pepper.

I have mentioned a few times that I am a hedonist, and I am undoubtedly a heathen as well, because I’m not particularly one for mysticism of any kind. Things like spiritual exercises, meditation, and enlightenment leave this sybarite feeling rather bewildered and lost. I’m all about decadent excess and hot sensuality, which is perhaps one reason why I struggled with the cool austerity of Hindu Kush.

Photo: Neil Harris. The Lowry Pass in Pakistan with the Hindu Kush in back.

Photo: Neil Harris. The Lowry Pass in Pakistan with the Hindu Kush in back.

The more specific reason is that myrrh or olibanum is a troublesome note for me, and I need to make that clear at the outset. I love incense, when it is frankincense. Myrrh, however, is difficult for me with its cool, dusty, stony, white, and, often, soapy qualities. And Hindu Kush is a largely myrrh-centered fragrance. It never evokes the usual Catholic “High Church” feeling that most olibanum fragrances do, but it does evoke Nature’s church set in piney, barren, stony, and dusty mountains. I think Hindu Kush accomplishes its express goal beautifully, and there is no doubt that it is a high-quality, brilliantly made fragrance. I deeply respect it, but it lies far outside my personal comfort zone because of the olibanum focus. You need to keep that in mind as I describe it. 

Sawdust via my-walls.net.

Sawdust via my-walls.net.

Hindu Kush opens on my skin with myrrh’s cold, dusty, white smoke, followed by an intense, pungent green that feels like galbanum with hints of moss. Then, the warm, nutty, highly honeyed touch of sweet myrrh (opoponax) arrives, followed by the aroma of old wood. The latter is fascinating as it is dry, crumbly, honeyed, dusty, but also like sweet wood all at once. In short, it’s like the most unusual, cool but warm, saw dust. I’ve never encountered a note quite like in perfumery, and it’s brilliantly original. 

Pine tree sap. Source: howtocleanstuff.net

Pine tree sap. Source: howtocleanstuff.net

There is a distinct pine aroma that becomes stronger and stronger with the passing minutes. It smells like Pine Sap Absolute, with a very honeyed, ambered tonality. It reminds me of a much smoother, softer version of the souped-up, tarry pine sap in Profumum Roma‘s Arso. This version is nowhere as sweet, let alone as coniferous, tarry or phenolic. Instead, it is dry, dusted by old woods, and infused by the stony coolness of the myrrh.

As the pine sap grows stronger, that pungent blast of green from the galbanum-like note in the opening fades away and its place is taken by an amorphous, muted, indistinct touch of spices. I’ve worn Hindu Kush a few times, and only in one of my tests was there a really powerful, distinct, clearly delineated aroma of ginger. It smells like the powdered, dry kind that you have in your pantry, not the more spicy, piquant aroma that you get from fresh ginger. In any event, most of the time, the spices are quite abstract on my skin, vaguely feeling like the peppered, dusty, combined aroma you find in a spice shop where all the odors blend into one gentle mass. The spice accord is a very subtle one, lingering on the sidelines to add a bit of depth to the woody-incense duality that dominates Hindu Kush’s main core.

Home of the Kalash tribe in the Hindu Kush, Pakistan. Source: globalheritagefund.org

Home of the Kalash tribe in the Hindu Kush, Pakistan. Source: globalheritagefund.org

Ten minutes in, Hindu Kush is a truly original, unusual blend of aromas. It reminds me simultaneously of: an old church set mostly outdoors in a pine forest clearing dusted by dry lichen mosses and filled with the aroma of myrrh incense; a carpenter’s workshop filled with dry, sweet sawdust; and the arid, dry, mountain range of a country I once lived in, where the cool winds and great heights created a solemn sparsity and austere serenity. I keep using the word “fascinating,” because it really is, but I’m not sure it’s very me.

Beeswax. Source: honey-center.gr

Beeswax. Source: honey-center.gr

Hindu Kush starts to shift around the 20 minute mark. The sweet myrrh’s honeyed beeswax rises to the surface to soften and dilute the cold, dusty dryness of the myrrh’s incense. Hindu Kush is now a blend of cool white smoke, warm honeyed beeswax, amorphous spices, dry woods, and a touch of pine resin. The pungent, galbanum-like note has completely vanished, and the only green touches left are that from the yellow-green pine resin. Deep down in the base, there is a nebulous floral note that flits about, popping up once in a blue moon from behind the two types of myrrh, then quickly fading away once again. I can’t place it, and it keeps vanishing whenever I try to pinpoint it, but it’s a very brief breath of delicate, warm floracy.

George Braque, "Woman Reading." Source: pictify.com

George Braque, “Woman Reading.” Source: pictify.com

On my skin, and in repeated tests, Hindu Kush is primarily a tale of two myrrhs: sweet and regular. They are nestled in a dry-sweet woody embrace that becomes increasingly amorphous, with only the pine sap really standing out. The spices briefly add a soft, dusty pepperiness to the top notes, but slowly lose ground less than 40 minutes in. The most noticeable thing about Hindu Kush are the contrasts: cool versus warm; sweet versus dry; dusty versus honeyed wax; and old wood shavings versus fresh, yellowed, pine sap. From start to finish, it’s a visual palette of greys, whites, taupe, and honeyed cream, with a splash of dark, pine green tossed about like something from the painter, Jackson Pollack. Actually, Pollack’s signature is of hectic frenzy and chaos — two things that most definitely are not a part of Hindu Kush — so a more accurate comparison would be to the cragginess of George Braque’s “Woman Reading” from 1911.

The greatest changes in Hindu Kush pertain to the sillage, and to the degree of the honeyed sweet myrrh. 30 minutes in, the sillage drops, and the fragrance hovers 2 inches above the skin. After 90 minutes, the sillage softens even further, and Hindu Kush lies right above the skin. In all cases, however, it is potent and rich when smelled up close. As a whole, it is primarily a blend of myrrh with piney resin and the merest hint of sweet myrrh. It is cold, a bit dusty, and very austere. In a few tests, there was a touch of soapiness at this point, but it was very minor on my skin. The pine resin has lost its sweet aspects, and feels more like the concentrated oil from crushed pine needles. It adds yet another level of coolness to Hindu Kush.

The Hindu Kush via Stanford.edu.

The Hindu Kush via Stanford.edu.

Images of a carpenter’s workshop have vanished, along with that of any church (set in nature or otherwise), or a spice store. I’m now fully atop a craggy, jagged, dusty mountain with only pine trees and their detritus around me, and the cold wind blowing olibanum my way. I would prefer more of the sweet myrrh to try to counter some of this austerity, because the creamy smoothness of the honeyed beeswax is my favorite part. Unfortunately, the note really fluctuates on my skin during the first four hours. Half the time, it hides behind the cool, stony myrrh, but occasionally it is just as noticeable and Hindu Kush turns into a triptych of myrrh, sweet myrrh, and pine sap resin.

Hindu Kush remains that way until its very end. It takes 3 hours for Hindu Kush to turn into a skin scent, though it is only hard to detect after the 4th hour. All in all, it consistently lasted between 7 and 8 hours on my skin depending on the quantity that I used. A small amount, approximately 3 small smears, gave me the lower time frame, while 3 big sprays gave me more. The sillage throughout was very discreet after the third or fourth hour, depending on the quantity that I applied.     

Hindu Kush has received extremely positive reviews on Basenotes‘ official listing for the scent (where it is also listed as “Indu Kush”). I think the description from a poster called “Quarry” really sums up one aspect of it very well:

My notion of new-sawn wood is vastly different from yours, I’m sure. I expect your experiences harken from freshly cut trees or home-improvement-center lumber or year-old firewood. Whereas the most impressionable wood from my life is much older, as are the buildings and furnishings that make up our home. Even as my dear husband renovates our house, he’s using lumber harvested generations ago and stored through most of the 1900s by my frugal father. The green vapors have dissipated from this stuff; it is tightly grained, resin-sweet, and musty-dusty in a good way. To my mind, this kind of wood is the primary ingredient in Hindu Kush. Its creator talks of “taking a walk in an Indian market, where clouds of incense smoke escape through the open doors of temples to be mixed with the perfumes of the east, ginger, cumin, nutmeg and pepper.” Not having any experiences like that, I associate HK’s secondary accord to be like walking past the open door of a Penzeys Spices store–there’s just that general melange of comforting scents–not firey, not sharp. And this, my friends, is the totality of Hindu Kush: simplicity, beauty, timelessness, and without gender. Unlike any other of the hundreds of bottled fragrances I’ve smelled, I want to draw in HK’s scent deeply, like you would steam from a pungent soup or narcotic smoke. It feels like you should breath Hindu Kush, and I suppose at least part of that is due to its being composed of natural ingredients.

When I first sampled HK from a bottle with a reducer opening, I thought the scent faded away too quickly, but once I applied it from an atomizer and allowed the overspray to hit my cuffs, I was rewarded with hours and hours of aroma. Now, having gotten to know the scent over many days, I can find only one drawback to wearing it: I am too contented. Where other fragrances may make me kick up my heals or swoon or smile, Hindu Kush will let me settle and feel lazy, wistful. So it isn’t a workday fragrance–at least not a workday where you actually want to get anything accomplished. 

All six of the other Basenotes reviews are positive, though they describe a scent that is more incense-driven than woody. A few examples from both men and women:

  • Quarry has written an absolutely fabulous commentary on Hindu Kush! For me, I get the initial blast of green – almost camphorous – which disappears almost as mysteriously as it came…yet somehow, it leaves a residual green that combines with dry woods and incense. […] it feels like the dry & cozy warmth of a small cabin whose only source of heat is a woodburner! I find this association quite charming. […] My personal preferences don’t usually run in the direction of incense based fragrances, but I find myself intrigued and impressed!
  • “Hindu Kush” is one of the most aptly named perfumes I have ever come across. It smells exactly like the Hindu Kush-mountains look like: Very sparse, stony, airy and cold, with some woods underneath the mountains. I can even smell the wind blowing! There is just a little coziness in it, like sitting by a small campfire and trying to catch at least a little bit of warmth. Together with the somewhat mysterious “Mecca Balsam” is this my favourite perfume that I have sampled from the “Scents of the Soul”-line. Whereas “Mecca Balsam” is warm, uplifting and inviting, an indoor kind of smell, “Hindu Kush” is more grounded, rough and cold, an outdoor kind of smell, and I must admit that it’s not always easy to wear ’cause it’s so austere. Although the both perfumes are totally different, they share a certain quality that is able to put me in a meditative state of mind. Awesome stuff!
  • Hindu Kush is an appealing spicy Oriental fragrance and an all-natural frankincense perfume that anyone who likes incense ought to love. It starts with a conglomoration of exotic spices, both pungent and sweet, each appearing quickly at different intervals. The incense is high-quality and rich. At the base is a thick, deep labdanum–a dark amber–smelling of wood and, in combination with the spices, a bit smoky with subtle, maple nuances. Altogether, it creates a mystical, adventurous, rather sexy fragrance.
  • Soothing, spiritual and uplifting. [¶] My favorite fragrances have resinous woods and incense, and I’m loving this. 5 stars, full bottle worthy. [¶][…] wearing this is: an experience. It’s the kind of scent I reach for when I’m in meditative or contemplative mood, or for when I want to feel calm and grounded. I have a little collection of calming resinous scents and this so far is my favorite go to of the bunch.
  • Funny how I could smell the deep green mossy undertones within minutes of application. Beyond the aromatic spices and uplifting incense, HINDU KUSH shows surprising depth, with beguiling balsamic facets that put me in a meditative, even contemplative mood. Luca Turin hit the nail on the head when he described it as ‘resinous oakmoss’.
Source: hazara.co.uk

Source: hazara.co.uk

Speaking of Luca Turin, La Via del Profumo are the only all-natural fragrances that he has reviewed and covered in his Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. Mr. Turin is on record saying that Dominique Dubrana is the only all-natural perfumer that he will bother with, because otherwise he will get “hideous crap.” His full quote to The New York Times:

There are dozens of all-natural perfumers; I don’t pay much attention to them, because every time I do I get a bunch of hideous crap. But I love his fragrances. I don’t think anyone can touch him in the field of natural perfumery.

Luca Turin has included three of Mr. Dubrana’s scents in his Perfumes book, awarding each Four Stars. The review for Hindu Kush is succinct and to the point:

If your favorite part of Mitsouko is the resinous, floor-wax-and-church-incense start, here it is in the pure state, made with only natural materials and delicious, though not particularly long-lasting. 

I’ve noticed that Profumo scents do better in terms of longevity when sprayed, rather than dabbed. One of the Basenotes commentators thought the same for Hindu Kush. That said, as an all-natural fragrance, you have to keep in mind that the longevity won’t be as great as for regular perfumes which have synthetic additives included often for the sole task of increasing a scent’s duration.

I enjoyed testing Hindu Kush, and absolutely loved the unique, visual and mental trip of being transported to that austere mountain range. Alas, I am a heathen with no spirituality, and little long-term appreciation for myrrh. I don’t own a single fragrance centered around the note, because it isn’t something I personally could wear on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect Hindu Kush, though. I do, and I think it’s a masterful, brilliantly original take on an incense fragrance. So, if you’re a fan of olibanum or myrrh, then you should give Hindu Kush a sniff. It is wholly unisex in nature, and suitable for the office with its discreet sillage. More importantly, it is an experience. From top to bottom, it a mood scent with an extremely meditative, contemplative feel to it. Smell it, and take a trip to the Hindu Kush in all its stark, resinous, serene beauty. 

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of AbdesSalaam Attar. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my views are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Hindu Kush is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of sizes. It is available exclusively from the Profumo.it website which ships its scents world-wide. All the following prices for Hindu Kush are in Euros without VAT: €32,73 for 15.5 ml, €70,82 for 33 ml (a little over 1 oz) and €94,20 for 50 ml/1.7 oz. At today’s rate of exchange, the USD prices roughly comes to: $44, $96, and $132 for the 50 ml bottle. The site says: “Prices are without VAT and are valid for USA and all non EEC countries[;] for shipments in the EEC 22% VAT will be ADDED to the amount in the shopping cart.” There is also a Mignon Discovery Coffret which is available for any 5 fragrances, each in a glass 5.5 ml bottle. The price depends on which perfumes you pick, as the choice is up to you. The 5.5 ml bottle of Hindu Kush is €12,30. On a side note, I received my samples from Mr. Dubrana incredibly quickly, less than 4 days after he sent it. Additionally, I have the impression that, with all purchases, Profumo provides free 2 ml samples, especially of any new fragrances that he is developing, since Abdes Salaam is very interested in feedback. In short, if you’re ordering fragrance, you may want to ask for a sample of something that strikes your eye. Samples: you can order a sample of Hindu Kush from Surrender to Chance which sells the perfume at $6.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Profumum Dulcis in Fundo and Arso

Simplicity done in the richest, most concentrated way possible seems to be the signature of Profumum Roma. It is an Italian niche perfume house founded in 1996, and commonly called Profumum by most. The fragrances are often soliflores, or centered around one main note, but Profumum takes that note and concentrates it with 43% to 46% perfume oils to create the height of luxurious richness. Today, I thought I’d look at Dulcis in Fundo and Arso, two pure parfums which focus, respectively, on vanilla and on piney incense.

DULCIS IN FUNDO:

Source: stuffpoint.com

Source: stuffpoint.com

Have you ever gone into an ice cream or frozen yoghurt shop, sniffed the air, and felt almost uplifted at the aroma of freshly baked waffle cones sprinkled with sugar? Have you ever ordered a creme caramel, and thought its aroma of caramelized vanilla was utterly delicious? If you have ever wanted to put those scents into a bottle, then you may want to try Dulcis in Fundo.

Dulcis in Fundo is an eau de parfum that was released in 2001. Profumum‘s website describes the fragrance and its notes very simply:

Sin of gluttony… sin of heart:
In essence, don’t both passion and seduction
evolve through a flare of vanilla?

Sicilian citrus fruits, Vanilla

Source: Profumum

Source: Profumum Roma.

The description from Luckyscent nails the essence of the fragrance, and pretty much negates the need for much more extensive elaboration from me:

This opens with a very fresh, very sweet orange, like a clementine being peeled, complete with the tangy sharpness of citrus oil on your fingers. Then the sweetness intensifies and becomes richer, as if drizzled with Grand Marnier, and a billowy dollop of luscious, creamy, unadulterated vanilla tops it all off. Warm and brazenly sweet, this ambrosial blend is for the woman who wants to smell delicious. This is dessert at its irresistible best: whipped cream being licked off fingers, fits of giggles fueled by liqueur, suggestive whispers over shared spoonfuls. We suspect that more is going on here than citrus and vanilla (some say a saucy little apricot was involved) but perhaps it is just a citrus and a vanilla that get along exceedingly well. Delectable.

Blood Orange. Source: Twitter.

Blood Orange. Source: Twitter.

Dulcis in Fundo opens on my skin with a burst of juicy oranges that is not sweet but more like the tangy aroma of dark, ruby-red blood oranges. The note is concentrated, deep, tart and a little bit bitter. It is quickly infused with warm, rich, heavy vanilla that is quite custardy in its depth. I smell like an orange creamsicle with hints of freshly baked, warm-from-the-oven, waffle cones. There is almost something creamily woody deep, deep down, because there is a subtle impression of gingerbread to the waffle base.

The vanilla soon turns richer, making Dulcis in Fundo smell very much like a creme caramel with a slightly singed top. Less than 15 minutes into the perfume’s development, the orange top note abates, leaving an aroma that is primarily that of waffle cones and creme brulée dusted with tablespoons of sugar. I loved the tart citric element, so it’s a bit of a shame that it vanished so quickly and that it contents itself with popping up from the sidelines only once in a blue moon in the first two hours. Dulcis in Fundo is sweet and intensely strong, but without massive sillage and with surprising airiness. In its opening ten minutes, it hovers perhaps 1-2 inches, at best, above my skin, but is profoundly concentrated when smelled up close. 

Crème Brûlée. Source: eugeniekitchen.com. For an easy recipe, go to: http://eugeniekitchen.com/creme-brulee-recipe-burnt-cream-french-custard/

Crème Brûlée. Source: eugeniekitchen.com. For an easy recipe, go to: http://eugeniekitchen.com/creme-brulee-recipe-burnt-cream-french-custard/

Dulcis in Fundo is a largely linear, simple, uncomplicated gourmand that smells of nothing more than sugared vanillic pastries. Funnel cake, waffle cones, creme caramel, Italian baked goods — you take your pick. Dulcis in Fundo is a cozy, cuddly, sweet delight, but there is sufficient dryness that (on my skin at least), it never felt like diabetes in a bottle. I’ve tried gourmand fragrances and vanilla scents that made my tooth ache from their sweetness, but Dulcis in Fundo is not one of them. It is never unctuously heavy, either, no matter how rich the fragrance may initially appear or the subtle sheen of oils that it initially left on my skin.

Actually, for all its concentrated feel, Dulcis in Fundo is rather light in weight. In fact, to my surprise, it became a discreet skin scent on me after an hour. Perhaps Profumum felt that so much rich vanilla needed a very light hand and unobtrusiveness in order to prevent a cloying, nauseating feel. All in all, Dulcis in Fundo lasted a good solid 8.75 hours on my skin, though there were lingering traces of it well over the 12-hour mark. I’m going to put the longevity at the lower figure, solely because Dulcis in Fundo really seemed like it was about to disappear at the start of the 8th hour, even if little patches lasted for another four.

Funnel cake cupcakes. Source: confessionsofacookbookqueen.com (Website link embedded within photo.)

Funnel cake cupcakes. Source: confessionsofacookbookqueen.com (Website link embedded within photo.)

Dulcis in Fundo is the furthest thing from edgy, revolutionary, or complex, but it may be the most decadent of sinfully rich vanillas. That is probably one reason why it seems to be many gourmand lovers’ idea of heaven. The perfume is not exactly cheap at $240 or €179, but it is 100 ml of something that is essentially pure perfume extrait with its 43%-46% concentrated oils. Profumum always has the richest fragrances on the market, with generally exceptional longevity, so the price makes their perfumes a good deal for what you’re getting, if you love the scent in question. I personally am not such a fanatic about vanilla or gourmand fragrances, but enough people are for Dulcis in Fundo to be completely sold out at this time at on the Luckyscent site.

Whether it’s people I observe on fragrance groups or those commenting on Fragrantica, gourmand lovers of both genders seem to adore Dulcis in Fundo. Some of the Fragrantica reviews:

  • If I had money to burn, I’d burn it on this perfume. For me, it’s one of those “eyes roll back in your head” perfumes. The citrus and vanilla are perfectly blended to create a tart, sweet, tangy, candy-like scent Willy Wonka would be proud of. My first thought – Smarties! If you’re looking for sultry, smoky, grown-up vanilla – keep shopping. If you want a truly sweet, delicious, unique perfume with the punch of a Jolly Rancher that’s not watery or shadowy (like most mainstream / celebrity fruity vanillas), this is it.
  • Seriously the best thing I have ever smelled. Warm, deep, sweet, bourbon-y. [¶] I don’t get any orange other than *maybe* a passing hint right at application. Sillage is great – dabs on my wrists keep this floating to my nose all day. It’s actually distracting. In a good way.
  • I don’t’ get any citrus at all in this, but it’s an incredible vanilla, very true to bourbon vanilla to the point of almost smelling at times like extract. There are smoky notes, faint incense feeling, and just that rich, thick vanilla, but it’s not cloying, sweet or overpowering. Lovely lovely scent. I want more.
  • Top notes: lemon cake
    Middle notes: vanilla cake and a hint of cinnamon
    Dry down: vanilla cake and marshmallow filling  [¶] Not particularly complex. Probably too sweet for me to wear very often but positively delicious nonetheless. The vanilla in this is more candy like and than floral. The most pleasant gourmand I’ve come across.

One of the women who purchased Dulcis in Fundo did so despite the cost and after extensively testing a wide variety of other gourmands. She wrote, “at $240 (which could also be a nice pair of boots!)– it had better be IT if I’m paying money for it,” but, for her, Dulcis in Fundo did turn out to be “It.” She even says it seemed to have a huge impact on a younger, male co-worker on whom she had a crush. More to the point, the perfume didn’t smell like cheap vanilla:

I’m a fan of vanilla in theory, but some as you know can smell tawdry or cheap. Some are overrun by other things –smoke, flowers, musk or what have you–which is fine if that’s what you’re looking for. […] This is vanilla with a touch of citrus–heaven sent vanilla. I keep smelling my arm, with the overwhelming urge to rub my face in it.

For others, however, with less of a passion for sweet perfumes, Dulcis in Fundo was too much. Too sweet, too expensive, and too much like food. A few experienced some bitterness, with the tiniest bit of “skank” from what they found to be a cistus, amber-like note in the base. The vast majority, however, loved the fragrance, including some men.

I’m not a gourmand lover, but I think anyone who adores dessert fragrances centered on vanilla should try Dulcis in Fundo. It’s very well-done, and very cozy.

ARSO:

Arso: Source Luckyscent.

Arso: Source Luckyscent.

Arso means burnt in Italian, but strong smoke is only part of the fragrance by that name from Profumum. Arso was released in 2010, and is classified as an Eau de Parfum but, like all its Profumum siblings, it is actually an Extrait or Pure Parfum in concentration. Profumum‘s beautifully evocative description for the scent reads:

Outside the first snow was falling and
the wind was caressing the leaves of the pine trees.
Inside the chalet of a good red wine
mingled with the notes of a beautiful jazz music.
You and I hugging on an old sofa
and around us the smell of a crackling fireplace,
the white smoke of a precious incense
and the warm scent of pine resin.

Luckyscent has a similar, mood-based description for Arso:

The sharp, evocative scent of wood smoke – triggering childhood memories of bonfires and burning leaves – is at the heart of this eloquent scent. Arso means “burned” and the masterfully rendered smokiness works with the crisp cool scent of pine to conjure up a cabin in winter, with a crackling fire on the hearth. You … also get the warm indoor scents of well-worn leather and glowing incense, as well as the fire. The mood is calm and comfortable and safe [….] This is perfectly suited for the strong, silent type – the sort of man who could build a house single-handedly and maybe even chop down the trees to build all by himself. Quiet, reassuring and powerful.

Profumum Roma rarely seems to give a complete list of notes for its fragrances, and I suspect a lot is often left out. The company says Arso contains, at a minimum:

Leather, incense, pine resin, cedar leaves

Pine tree sap. Source: howtocleanstuff.net

Pine tree sap. Source: howtocleanstuff.net

Arso opens on my skin with pine sap, smoky cedar, and sticky caramel amber. There is a hint of muskiness to the golden, sweetened base where there is plainly ambergris at hand, not amber. The note is a common signature to many Profumum scents, and it is always beautiful. As usual, it’s salty, a little bit wet and gooey, musky and sweet. The marshy saltiness works stunningly well with the woody, wintergreen, pine sap with its slightly chilly, tarry briskness. The latter feels sometimes like resin pouring out of a pine tree, then boiled down to concentrate with brown sugar until it is simultaneously sweet, tarry, and wintery wood in one. My word, what an intoxicating start. Small tendrils of black smoke curl all around, adding to the richness of the notes and preventing any cloying sweetness. In a nutshell, Arso is smoky, piney, woody, dry, sweet, salty, and golden, all at once.

The black smoke grows stronger with the passing minutes, as do the dark, green coniferous elements. Arso evokes a campfire, complete with burnt leaves and singed, smoking wood, but this campfire is drizzled lightly in sweetness. Underneath, there is a touch of leather, but it’s never harsh, black, brutally raw or animalic. Instead, it’s aged leather, sweetened by the ambergris and piney resinous tree sap into burnished richness. Still, it’s not a predominant part of Arso at this point by any means, and it certainly doesn’t alter the perfume’s woody, piney, smoky essence.

Photo: David Gunter Source: Flickr (website link embedded within photo.)

Photo: David Gunter Source: Flickr (website link embedded within photo.)

Some people have compared Arso to Serge LutensFille en Aiguilles, but I think the two fragrances share only surface similarities. The Lutens has a fruited component with its dark, plum molasses. There are strong spices up top, while the base is dark, purple-black and green in visual hue, as compared to Arso’s base of salty caramel-gold with black. The pine notes are another big difference. Arso feels as though pine needles have been crushed in your hands, but, for me at least, the fragrance never evokes the chill of a winter forest or Christmas time. It’s not because the pine is much more significant and potent in Arso, but more because it has been sweetened in a very different way. The ambergris lends it a salty quality, turning Arso much warmer, less brisk, and almost more honeyed than Fille en Aiguilles.

Source: Theatlantic.com

Source: Theatlantic.com

Perhaps more important, there is a substantial difference to the quality and feel of the smoke in Arso. It smells like juniper or cade, with a phenolic, almost camphorous tarriness that evokes leather and bonfire smoke. It’s sharper, more intense, blacker, and subsumed with the forest smells, instead of feeling more like temple incense infused with plums and spices. Lastly, on my skin, the smoky cedar is as dominant a part of Arso as is the pine. In contrast, Fille en Aiguilles is primarily fir and plummy fir resin. In short, Arso is much more purely woody, salty, musky, and leathery than Fille en Aiguilles which is much more centered on heavy frankincense with gingered sugar plums, spiced molasses, and brown sugar. I love Fille en Aiguilles passionately (and own it), but Arso is a fabulous scent in its own right and for very different reasons.

Source: wallibs.com

Source: wallibs.com

Both scents, however, evoke the very best of a forest. With Arso, it’s a landscape speckled with the warmth of summer’s golden light. The pine needles crunch under your feet, releasing their oils, and melting into an air filled with the aroma of a thick, rich, salty caramel. You know the smell of ice-cream shops that make waffle cones? Well, the note that is such a profound part of Dulcis in Fundo also lurks about Arso’s opening, though it is much more fleeting and minor. It is deep in the base, not the center of the fragrance, but there is a whiff of that same delicious sweetness in the ambergris’ rich undertones.

Josh Holloway who plays "Sawyer" on Lost. Source: momdot.com

Josh Holloway who plays “Sawyer” on Lost. Source: momdot.com

Here, it mixes with the aroma of the great outdoors, a bouquet that conjures up images of Colorado’s vast vistas of dark pine forests, complete with a trickle of smoke spiraling out a small log cabin’s chimney. It is summertime, and everything is a blur of gold, green, and black. The man who appears is handsome but rugged, with a faint scruff of beard on his face. In my mind’s eye, I see “Sawyer” from the television show, Lost, the sexy, tough con man with an inner softness and golden heart. Arso fits him perfectly, with its rugged piney profile, saltiness, smoldering dark depths, leatheriness, and sweetened smokiness.

It takes about 4 hours for Arso to change. The first stage is all sharp, tarry, piney smoke with salty, golden, caramel ambergris, cedar, pine resin, forest greenness, and sweetness. The second stage is much drier, and more about the bonfire smoke and the leather. In fact, the latter occasionally dominates on my skin, though it feels like the result of the other notes swirling about than actual, hardcore leather in its own right. There is an animalic undertone to the note, as well as a sour edge that feels almost civet-like on occasion.

The leather vies with the tarry, black campfire smoke for supremacy, with both notes overshadowing the amber. The woody elements have retreated, especially the pine, though the cedar is still noticeable. I’m not a huge fan of the sour edge to the leather, and I’m substantially less enthused by Arso’s later stages than its opening, but I suspect that it is my skin which is responsible. It doesn’t help that the gorgeous, salty amber-caramel largely vanishes around the start of the 5th hour, turning Arso much darker and smokier. In its very final moments, the fragrance is merely a blur of abstract woodiness with a touch of dark leather and the merest whisper of bonfire smoke.

As with all of Profumum’s scents, Arso is not a very complicated scent, though it is much less linear than some of the line. The Italian perfume house seeks to highlight a handful of notes in the most luxurious, plush, opaque manner possible, and Arso is no generally different. However, I was surprised by how quickly the perfume felt thin and airy; it lost much of its concentrated, heavy richness around the 2.5 hour mark which is also when Arso turns into a skin scent on me. It is not a powerhouse of projection, either. I’ve worn Arso three or four times, and no matter the quantity, its sillage in the first hour hovers, at best, about 2 inches above the skin. The sharpness of the juniper-cade’s black smoke and leatheriness remains forceful for ages though, and the perfume as a whole is still easily detectable for the first four hours when sniffed up close. All in all, Arso’s lasts between 9 and 10.25 hours on my perfume consuming skin, depending on the amount applied. As always with Profumum scents, there are minuscule patches where the aroma seems to linger for about 12 hours, all in all. 

I think Arso skews more masculine in nature, though women who love bonfire aromas, smoky pine, tarry cade, and leather fragrances will also enjoy it. I know a few who are big fans of Arso, but, generally, it is men who gush about it obsessively, falling head over heels for the tarry, woody smoke. Still, one woman on Fragrantica, wrote the following review:

Wow. I am so surprised. Arso is totally different from what i expected from the notes listed. I thought this was going to be a kinda brisk woodsy fresh forest scent; but instead its a thick dark caramel and tar. Tree sap being melted over a fire with cedar and pine logs. The beginning reminds me a lot of Mamluk (which came a year later). It settles into a cool dry *almost bitter* smooth leather scent

Im a girl and dont happen to find this too masculine smelling at all!!

Source: freeirishphotos.com

Source: freeirishphotos.com

A male commentator, “raw umber,” had a very good description for the scent, writing:

Arso is a dry pine that is encrusted with sticky, highly flammable sap. It starts out Christmas tree, and ends up blackened fire pit. [¶] On the exhale, I get the faintest trace of something that has burned, like the smoldering remains of a campsite cookout.

The almost undetectable leather and incense provide a faint saltiness, which enhances the dimension of the burned smell as Arso dries down, but it never plainly spells LEATHER, or INCENSE. It’s projection and longevity are both very good.

The slightly charred pine is the feature here from start to finish. It is 100 percent unisex, and it can be worn whenever you wish to smell like you’ve been camping.

A few people hated Arso at the start, then suddenly fell in love. Take, for example, the assessment by “alfarom” who wrote”

Arso is possibly one of my biggest 180 so far. I always found it unbalanced, sort of too smoky but I was wrong! It smells so darn good.

Strongly resinous, incensey with a tad of sweetness during the opening and with leather hints throughout. A shy boozy note discreetely remakrs its presence druing the initial phase to slowly disappear leaving space to a slighlt sweet amber note while the fragrance dries down. Smells exactly like an estinguished campfire where they burned resinous pine, cedar and tones of dry leaves, smells of velvety white smoke, smells incredibly salubrious. Initally I thought about a mash-up between Fille En Aiguilles and Black Torumaline but overall Arso is less balmy, less sweet and as much as I love the Lutens and the Durbano, this one is much more wearable.

Surely among the best deliveries from Porfumum. Terrific!

There are a few others who initially hated Arso, too, like one chap who first thought it was a “no no” of masculine pine and harsh incense at the start, before suddenly finding, after 3 hours, that it was utterly addictive. The time made a difference, turning Arso smoother, softer, and “delicious.” He found himself “blown away” and, though he still preferred Serge Lutens’ Fille en Aiguilles, he found Arso much more wearable.

I am the opposite. I find my beloved Fille en Aiguilles to be much more approachable, perhaps because the smoke isn’t like extinguished campfires and there is no cade-like, tarry leather that feels sharp or a bit animalic at times. I’m not passionate about Arso’s dry final stage, whereas I love the Lutens from start to finish. It is simply a matter of personal preferences and skin chemistry, so I’ll stick with my bottle of Fille en Aiguilles, while admiring Arso for being a wonderful smoky, woody fragrance of a different kind. That said, I think Arso would be a great Christmas gift for a man (or woman) who loves intensely smoky, woody fragrances, or scents with a incense-leather profile. It’s wonderfully evocative, and very sexy.

DETAILS:
DULCIS IN FUNDO Cost & Availability: Dulcis in Fundo is an Eau de Parfum that only comes in a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle which costs $240 or €179. Profumum unfortunately doesn’t have an e-shop from which you can buy their fragrances directly. In the U.S.: the perfume is available at Luckyscent, which is currently sold out, but it is taking back orders for December delivery. Dulcis in Fundo is also carried at OsswaldNYC. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, Profumum perfumes are sold at Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie in Harrods. Elsewhere, you can find Dulcis in Fundo at Premiere Avenue in France (which also ships worldwide, I believe) and which also has Dulcis’ matching shower gel and body oil as well. The fragrance is also carried at Switzerland’s Osswald, France’s Le Parfum et Le Chic (which sells it for €185), Paris’ Printemps department store, the Netherlands’ Celeste (which sells it for €180), and Russia’s Lenoma (which sells it for RU16,950). According to the Profumum website, their fragrances are carried in a large number of small stores from Copenhagen to the Netherlands, Poland, France, the rest of Europe, and, of course, Italy. You can use the Profumum Store Locator located on the left of the page linked to above. Samples: Surrender to Chance carries samples of Dulcis in Fundo starting at $6.99 for a 1 ml vial. You can also order from Luckyscent.
ARSO Cost & Availability: Arso is an Eau de Parfum that also comes in a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle which costs $240 or €179. Again, Profumum unfortunately doesn’t have an e-shop from which you can buy their fragrances directly. In the U.S.: Arso is available at Luckyscent, and OsswaldNYCOutside the U.S.: In the UK, the full line of Profumum fragrances is at Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie in Harrods. Elsewhere, you can find Arso at Premiere Avenue in France, Paris’ Printemps store, the Netherlands’ Celeste (which sells it for €180), Zurich’s Osswald, and Russia’s Lenoma (which sells it for RU16,950). For all other locations from Copenhagen to the Netherlands, Poland, France, the rest of Europe, and, of course, Italy, you can use the Profumum Store Locator to find a vendor near you. Samples: Surrender to Chance doesn’t carry Arso, but you can order from Luckyscent at the link listed above.