Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mecca Balsam from La Via del Profumo

Since I first read about it at Perfume Shrine, I’ve had a feeling that the line would be to my liking, so when Dominique Dubrana emailed me a while back asking if I would accept a sample of Mecca Balsam for review, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I have a weakness for rich, complicated fragrances, and an olfactory pilgrimage to Mecca sounded very promising. So promising, in fact, that I let the package from Italy sit here for a couple of weeks, afraid to find out that it contained the disappointment of some dull or noxious juice.

It didn’t. From the first spritz, I knew this perfume was going to make me happy. I can’t really parse the opening notes, but I get an impression of coriander, tarragon, etc. At this stage Mecca Balsam has a fresh, almost brisk quality, but oud and incense are lurking underneath, shadows of more serious things to come.

The heart is an opulent woody/spicy mélange featuring a subtle presence of oud with hints of fenugreek and cinnamon. A touch of smoky incense wafts through it all, but it’s never overwhelming. The promotional copy makes no mention of spikenard, but I fancy it’s hiding in there somewhere. I’m reminded of two of my favorite Dawn Spencer Hurwitz creations, Khyphi and Arome d’ Egypt, though Mecca Balsam is a more harmonious marriage of notes than either of those. It also has a drier quality, with a very slight suggestion of powder, especially as the middle notes fade.

The base notes are all about the sweetness of tobacco, amber and labdanum. Profumo’s website mentions notes of Damask rose and tuberose, but they are so cozily nestled in the composition that I only find them if I go looking. Depending on my mood, this might be the point at which I’d start to fall out of love with Mecca Balsam—not because the base is unappealing, but because it’s too seductive, too nice. Most of the complexity disappears, leaving just a snuggly, syrupy warmth, a la AG Sables. There is a ghost of pungent oud but it’s not substantial enough to provide a real counterpoint. On days that I need a comfort scent I’d welcome such sweet simplicity, but the serious perfumista in me always feels a little disappointed when the drama ends this way.

For those of you concerned with bang for the buck, Mecca Balsam has very good lasting power for a natural. I get a good 6 hours of fragrance from a single spritz. Sillage is about what you'd expect from a scent of this type--plenty strong, but not a screamer.

Mecca Balsam is available at the website, and can be ordered as part of a sampler.


Julie H. Rose said...

I just read about this one over at Perfume Shrine and practically started salivating. It sounds heavenly, and just to my particular taste. Me oh my, I've got perfume lust. Makes me feel alive! Good review, too. :-)

BitterGrace said...

Thanks--this one is pretty great, certainly will appeal to a lot of people who don't think about naturals. Won't be surprised if there's a run on it.

Tara C said...

After reading several reviews of this, it sounds appealing, but perhaps not complex enough or having enough development to sustain interest. Sounds worthy of a sample though.

BitterGrace said...

Well, to be fair, I tend to set the bar for complexity pretty high. I like perfumes that really go places. The heart of Mecca Balsam is actually quite interesting, but the base is definitely a lovely monotone.