Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A little fragrant adventure

While cruising around the Web in search of sites selling attars, I came across CreScent Beauty, purveyors of fragrances from Itarji, a Saudi Arabian company that makes traditional attars and oud, and also sells alcohol-based perfumes. Their “Western” fragrances sounded completely unappealing, but the “Oriental” perfumes intrigued me and the bottles looked fabulous.

I tried to do a little searching on the forums and blogs—surely somebody had given these a try. I couldn’t find a word anywhere, but I felt like having a little fragrant adventure, so I plunged in an ordered 3 perfumes: AlMalekah, AlMaali and AlSafwah. The prices led me to expect the equivalent of drugstore perfumes—something wearable, but similar in quality to head shop oils. I was pleasantly shocked to find that my choices were all beautiful, sophisticated fragrances that could hold their own with the best niche products.

The customer review at CreScent Beauty says AlMalekah means “the queen,” which certainly seems appropriate to this perfume, which has an austere, noble character. The top has a bright, bitter quality, dominated by coriander and citron. The heart emerges with a very faint floral note I can’t identify. A touch of rose? Whatever it is, it quickly gives way to a wonderful accord of soft, dry woods with a whisper of patchouli. The pungency of oud is present, but it’s not at all overwhelming. The scent remains very linear past that point, although its very last remnants take on a pleasant powderiness. I can’t think of any mainstream perfume that is comparable to AlMalekah. It’s an uncompromising scent that doesn’t give even the slightest nod to popular frills. The only scent remotely like it in my collection is Temple from Anya’s Garden, although AlMalekah completely lacks the cheer and uplift of Temple’s top notes. If you like Temple but find it’s just too much for you to wear, AlMalekah is worth investigating.

The website description of AlMaali led me to expect something along the lines of Coriandre or even Ivoire. In fact, AlMaali is a rich, green patchouli-fest. If you are a confirmed patchouli hater, skip this review and move on to AlSafwah below; however, if you like patchouli as it is used in Eden or the original Maja (may she rest in peace), you might find a lot to love about AlMaali. The opening is prettily green and a wee bit watery—in fact, very like Eden, though it lacks Eden’s fruit notes. At this stage AlMaali comes across as a rather quiet. You may be tempted to spritz a little more, thinking you haven’t put on quite enough. Don’t do it. Once the patch starts to emerge, AlMaali finds its voice, becoming a full-throated mezzo singing in a dark forest. The smooth, sexy patchouli combines with the merest hints of moss and vanilla. It’s powerful stuff, and yet very wearable. In spite of the widespread disdain for patchouli, I suspect AlMaali would rate as the biggest crowd pleaser among my three choices.

AlSafwah is so wildly different from its catalog description—“Earthy, woodsy, light Oudh notes”—that I would have assumed there’d been a shipping error if the package hadn’t been labeled in English as well as Arabic. AlSafwah is a fruity chypre to my nose, emphasis on the “fruity.” The top and heart are thoroughly dominated by a green berry note that is usually described in mainstream perfumery as “blackcurrant bud” or “blackberry leaf.” Underneath is a very pretty moss and sandalwood accord that doesn’t fully emerge until the last stages of the dry down. AlSafwah could be the sister of one of my all-time favorites, Balmain de Balmain, although the proportion of fruit to moss is reversed in the two. The assertiveness of AlSafwah’s fruit against the dry background reminds me a little of Serge Lutens’ Arabie—not that they have much in common in terms of notes, but in both cases the fruit has the paradoxical effect of making the scent hotter and heavier.

On the BitterGrace Olfactory Pleasure Meter, AlMalekah and AlMaali rate a solid 8, AlSafwah gets at least a 6—I might rate it higher on a different day. That’s a pretty remarkable rate of success for buying blind. I’m eager to try more of these. If anybody out there knows this line or more about the company, please feel free to chime in and enlighten us. I can’t believe these affordable pretties don’t have some fans.

A few notes on commerce: CreScent Beauty appears to be some kind of franchise operation. Itarji’s main website seems to be perfumes-world.com. You’ll find a larger selection of products there, although CreScent Beauty is currently offering more bargains. My order was shipped with lightning speed and perfectly packed, but two of the bottles did leak ever so slightly in transit. Nothing worth complaining about, but I thought I’d mention it in the interest of full disclosure for anybody planning to make a purchase.

The photo shows, l. to r., AlMaali, AlMalekah, AlSafwah


Anonymous said...

Dear Maria,
that was such an interesting post.
I loved your blog.
I will be visiting you more ;-)

Fragrant regards from Brazil


BitterGrace said...

Welcome, Simone--Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for saying hello. Your blog is gorgeous--and I love Piaf!

Julie H. Rose said...

How intriguing. I must pass this info on to two patchouli loving friends!

Aimée L'Ondée said...

These sound fascinating, thanks for unearthing these lovely obscurities!

BitterGrace said...

I wish I had a better handle on "just the facts" reviewing, so I could really do justice to these. I always feel that my perfume writing is hopelessly subjective and vague. I'm hoping somebody out there is really familiar with the line and will be inspired to share more info. Right now I'm trying to resist the urge to order more! The Perfumes World site offers a pack of samples for $30, maybe I'll spring for those.

Whodoo said...

You're a fragrance pioneer! Do order the samples, because I will have to have at least one of those perfumes, and I need to know which ones are the best. It's a public service you're doing, and I thank you for it.

Anonymous said...

I'm in awe of your bravery, Maria!
Loved the descriptions and I'm very intrigued. I love well-made attars and ouds and information on these is pretty scarce. So far I've been getting my fix from AO, Agarscents, Tigerflag attars and Madini, but I felt I needed to expand my horizons.
Would love to read more of your impressions of whatever else you come across in this department.
Do you like oud?

BitterGrace said...

I do like oud, in small doses. I am pretty fascinated with the world of attars myself, and I have the same trouble finding info.

I am wearing AlSafwah today, and I'm having such a different experience of it--I think I need to review it again!

Mary said...

Thank you for these reviews, and I'm sure you've just bumped their sales.

Those bottles...(sigh)

ScentScelf said...

You've gone a good route. I have one attar, and it is (unfortunately) a version of a western scent--at the time, I thought maybe it would offer a sort of gentle path into the world of attar. It is called...ready?...Joy...and it permeated my linens for days. Aiyiyi.

I'd be happy to send you some for your comparisons...

Julie H. Rose said...


Seems you're one step ahead of the trends!

BitterGrace said...

Ha! I'm avant-garde--when has that ever happened?

I notice there's nothing there about Itarji, though. All the stuff on that page seems more high end. Anyway, it's a great development, I think. Western scents have become so characterless and watered down, it'd be nice if the rich Arabian fragrances came into wide fashion. Who knows, the big European houses might actually stop turning out all that insipid juice, and go back to making real perfume.

eula_w said...

Wow I have never been seen a bottle of fragrances like this. Will be back more to read more of your fragrant adventure. :)

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