Agarwood and Incense links at White Lotus’s Blog

Christopher at White Lotus has done a nice job this month of putting up lots of posts. Some that caught my eye are one on Agarwood and others on incense making and incense.

White Lotus is one of the best places to look for E.O.’s, Absolutes and such for aroma therapy, perfuming and incense making.

There is a wealth of information at the blog and also at the White Lotus website itself. Check out the pastime newsletters as well as the recipes. Its well worth a look. Plus they carry very nice oils. Devastated many a paycheck there 🙂

-Ross

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Oudimentary: Retail store and Website

Oudimentary,  whose website features woods, Oud’s and burners now also has opened a “brick and motar” store in the SF Bay Area. They are currently open by appointment only. You can contact them here: info@oudimentary.com

 Their address is:

Oudimentary, 43170 Osgood Rd., Fremont, CA. 94539

 

They appear to carry quite a few Aloeswoods, Ouds and burners. It is a lot more fun and informative to be able to actually visit an incense store in person, rather than just via the ‘Net. Just being able to ask questions from people who know the subject is a wonderful experience and generally worth the trip in and of itself. Plus having the actuall woods and oils in frount of you will probably do big damage to your wallet 🙂

Perfume and Incense Open Houses

This weekend Mandy Aftel is having her annual Open House and it looks to be a really good one with lots of new and wonderful thing to smell.  Visit her website for more information. http://www.aftelier.com/holidays-2011/

Yuko Fukami ( April 2011 Top Ten ) and a number of other great artists are having a combined showing at  Keiko’s Studio,  227 Arlington Ave, Kensington CA 510-524-7986 for more information.

Top Ten Mukhallats (Arabian Perfume Oils)

“Mukhallat” is an Arabic word that means “mix”. Although many mukhallats use the same basic ingredients the variations, for example, in species of rose, whether the musk is plant or animal based, the povenance of a specific oud, the amber recipe, additional essential oils or synthetics, and the quality and quantity of individual ingredients, is what distinguishes them.

Below is a list of favorite mukhallats. In this post I’ve attempted to familiarize the reader with the most common ingredients, and to list examples from large, well-established companies as well as smaller, niche perfumers.

Al Yaqoot, (Aluwwah.com)- -This mukhallat is a bit of a tease – it smells parched and chalky one moment, and rich and sumptuous the next. A combination of the highest quality rose oils enriched with sandalwood, musk, ambergris, and other exotic resins and spices, this perfume is equally suitable for men or women. The many different roses create a feeling of glamour and luxury, the musk and frankincense add a provocative and untamed sensuality, and the amber and sandalwood add creaminess and depth to the dusty notes that unexpectedly appear and then disappear as the perfume unfolds.

There are other less expensive blends on the Aluwwah website which would be an excellent introduction to this genre.

Prince Bandar, (AgarscentsBazaar.com)- This heady blend features rose, oud, musk, ginger and patchouli. From the notes I would have expected a slightly herbal and sassy scent but rose (red, round, bountiful) and musk (powdery but potent) are the real stars. There is nothing understated about Prince Bandar. The intensity and power of this blend suit its namesake who was a fighter pilot, as well as a Prince.

Amir Meshaal, (Abdul Samad Al Qurashi. Available through  shop@agaraura.com)- Although not very complex, the superior quality of rose, oud, amber and musk in this perfume is what earns it a place in the top 10. The oud used is the renowned Kalakassi, an Indian oil distilled from 80 year old trees. The refinement and aplomb of Kalakassi, coupled with the dry spiciness of amber, gives Amir Meshal a dignity and hauteur not always present in such rich blends.

King Fahed, (ArabianOud.co.uk)- King Fahed contains many of the same ingredients as Prince Bandar but it is more subtle, more refined and more balanced. The first “Arabian” perfume I feel in love with, King Fahed is a harmonious symphony of delicacy and grace in which the notes merge together so effortlessly it’s as though they’re perceived as a single element. Unfortunately it is very expensive, and the only way I can justify having purchased it is to remind myself that the scent is extremely long lasting, and  that I always feel very elegant and sophisticated when I wear it.

Prince Diamini, (ArabianOud.co.uk))- for those who love “sillage monsters” Prince Diamini is certain to fit the bill.  This fragrance is BIG- so big that you might be accused of being politically incorrect if you dare to wear it in a crowded elevator. The rose in Prince Diamini is listed as “wild” rose, which doesn’t surprise me. This rose hasn’t been tamed by over breeding. In fact it’s easy to think of it as a wild rambler that’s irrepressible and uncontainable. The clove and pepper add a little bit of “kick” to this reckless blend, oud adds animalic power and ambergris accentuates al the notes. . Beware of getting any on your clothing- it’s likely to outlast at least a few washes.

Rahil, (ArabianOud.co.uk))- This one is for the ladies 🙂  The addition of saffron, , cinnamon and cardamon to the usual rose, musk and oud gives this blend a distinctly gourmand edge, with the exotic sweet and soft spiciness of saffron in the forefront. This  spicy perfume seems perfect for Autumn, when the airiness of Spring and the floral headiness of summer are about to become sweet memories.

Mukhallat Dehen Al Oud Moattaq, (Ajmal; available on Aluwwah.com)- The usual oud, flowers and spices have made it into the mix, but the absence of musk  and the presence of herbs makes this blend feel light, spicy, dry and very masculine . In fact, if I had to use one adjective to describe this perfume it would be “brawny”, although some men feel it is more of a woman’s scent, maybe because rose is clearly there.  But to me this blend feels as though it’s been stripped of its gushing prettiness. Its leaves feel dry and crumbly, and it’s prickly thorns come to mind more than its delicate petals.  There is also a lot of saffron in this blend which adds an element of mystery and intrigue to the mix.

Syoufi Sandal,  (Areej Al Ameerat)-  Although there may be sandalwood in some of the above perfumes it’s in such a small quantity that I’m unable to smell it.  Syoufi Sandal, on the other hand, is predominantly a sandalwood scent, and although it doesn’t contain the buttery, creamy, smooth sandalwood I prefer it’s very refreshing to smell a mukhallat in which sandalwood is featured. This sandalwood smells somewhat sharp and stern; nevertheless it’s a nice compliment to the quieter oud which, for a change, is subservient to it’s less acknowledged sibling. The scent is ultra dry and woody, and feels very grounding, strengthening and calming.

Al Hamra, (ArabianOud.co.uk))- Although this isn’t one of my personal favorites I would like to include it because it’s the only Arabian perfumes I’m aware of that has ever been nominated for a Fifi award. With notes of apple blossom, jasmine, lilac, and balsam in addition to the usual rose and musk, Al Hamra has a more “Western” feel and will appeal to women who prefer lighter, fruitier fragrances. The apple in Al Hamra is more green than sweet, it’s crispness enhanced by the addition of balsam to the blend.  The lighter florals enhance the juiciness of the apples.

Al Arabiya, (AgarAura.com)- One thing that causes me to give a perfume high marks is it’s complexity and ability to show different facets as it develops. Al-Arabiya is one such creation.  It is constantly shifting, each shimmering nuance (floral, resinous, spicy, herbal, earthy- jasmine, frankincense, cloves, tobacco, henna to name a few), revealing unique and distinct impressions while we journey down a winding path through the alleyways of a Middle Easter souk. Every clear and rippling note echoes at a different interval and I never know which elements are going to flow together and form a surprising and delightful alliance. This perfume is as beautiful as it is exciting, and is much more affordable than many of the other perfumes on this month’s top 10.  I have purchased many unusually creative and fascinating mukhallats from Agar Aura, however this is the only perfume currently available on the website.

When I first discovered Arabian mukhallats I began to lose interest in “Western” perfumes; they smelled meek, synthetic and lackluster by comparison. After almost exclusively smelling “Arabian” scents for a couple of years many of them seemed formulaic and uncreative. Now there is a place for both “styles” in my perfume collection, and I am excited to see how Eastern and Western tastes and styles interact, develop and expand in years to come.

Create Something Beautiful

Two weekends  ago I got to take my fourth class with Mandy Aftel at her studio in Berkeley, CA. It was once again time to revisit the “The Room of Many Bottles Full of Good Smells”. After the class was over I had time for reflection; which during the class one generally doesn’t; there is a lot happening and a limited amount of time to do it all in. It is an interesting paradox to say the least. The class tends to be divided up into Mandy speaking on various topics and actual cord or perfume making. The commentary from Mandy is really insightful and comes from many years of being in the busness and art of perfume making.  I think the comment that really struck me was “Making perfume is the art of learning to create something beautiful” There are many different levels to this seemingly simple statement and they might depend on culture, personal preferences and artistic inclinations. Perfume is generally something that one wants either on their bodies or in the environment nearby. It should invoke an emotion and mindset that is [usually] pleasurable and perhaps leads to other actions. Most of us wear perfumes or colognes because we want to attract others attention in a positive way, which the larger perfume makers spend an exorbitant amount of money on to convince us will indeed happen by wearing their products.

Making “something beautiful” is not an easy undertaking in the world of perfumery, there is a very step learning curve and a constant and never ending educational process that is always happening for any professional perfumer I have meet or read about. During the weekend Mandy pulled out a box of scent tests she had done, it was one box of a large collection and I have a feeling every time a new material from a different supplier or a new batch from the same supplier comes in; guess what? Retesting commences soon after opening that wonderful new flask of rose, neroli or whatever because they are naturals and there are changes between each and every batch. To really work with scent you need to lay down a mental map of the different odors of the materials you work with as well as how they interact with each other. This is a huge but very necessary endeavor. Much of the perfume making process happens in a perfumers mind, deciding on the starting two or three materials that you want to work around and maybe how they could work together and perhaps a theme or inspiration that incorporates them.

A structured approach to the creation process is also very necessary to have mastered and hold to, this is something Mandy talked about quite a lot. Without structure it becomes a free for all and you end up with a muddy mess and no idea where it went wrong. It also takes some real self-harnessing, or as Mandy said “Ask yourself why you are going to put something in.” The wrong answer is “because it’s beautiful”, better would be “because it will give the texture (or whatever other quality you need here) to the scent I am looking for”.  It is very obvious from watching her at work how dedicated she is to her art, and the countless hours that go into it to make it work in a seemingly effortless way. It is quite fun to watch how passionate she is about what she does all the way through sourcing the materials, putting a scent together, figuring out the packaging and then being able to pass it on to others. A great series to look at to see some of this is at Nathan Branch’s blog. It gives one a very rare look at the actual thinking process involved with two different perfumers (in this case Mandy and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz), there are a number of these pieces on his blog and they are priceless for their insight of some of the best in the perfume business.

This brings up another aspect to this profession that people tend to overlook, which is; you will end up throwing out a huge amount of tests, hopeful attempts and outright mistakes that just didn’t work. I think this is pretty true of any artistic undertaking, I distinctly remember a lot of load yelling and cursing from my glass blowing days as I ever so craftily made a mistake on the chemistry of a large batch of glass any number of times (damn that Happy Hour the night before). It is simply an aspect of the business that you accept going into it. But most people never look at this when they start thinking about being a perfumer. It is by no means a warm and fuzzy moment when you are smelling, say test number twenty or so, and realize it is just not going to work and you simply dump ( between that on and it’s nineteen buddies) a small fortune down the drain.

The great thing about the class setting is that there are many people there of like mind, who have some idea of what is going on and you get to bounce ideas off each other and learn from each others success’s and mistakes. You also get to use pretty much all the assorted materials that Mandy has collected over the years. It is also a great opportunity to work outside your comfort zone and receive meaningful suggestions on how to solve problems you might run up against. It also lets you shift mental gears from your regular world and keeps your thinking flexible and opens up new possibilities for ideas that were not seemingly there before. Last but not least, it is great fun. There is also a lot of laughter and comradely, which is a good thing and not to be overlooked.

OK, its time now to go check on the progress of test number twenty one, hope springs eternal!  –Ross

June 2011 Top Ten Indian Ouds

When I first started smelling oud I didn’t understand how anyone could enjoy Indian oils. I don’t mind the smell of barnyards, but it certainly wasn’t something I wanted to put on my skin.

Over the last few years my taste has expanded and become more eclectic. The strong scents of leather and clean hay, even fecal smells that I first found offensive, now engage me. Their unabashedly primal fortitude speaks to an urge deep inside me- a part of me that is more lusty, uninhibited and free. There’s no way I’d wear these more animalic Indian ouds in public, but when I’m alone they stimulate and excite me and make me feel strong and secure.

My favorite Indian Ouds that fall under the “barnyard” category are:

Oriscent’s Oud Mostafa

*Uns Fine Crafts Assam Ultimate

*Oriscent’s Oud Sulaiman

One day I came across an Indian oud that I really liked, precisely because it did NOT have that barnyard element.  It was much more dignified and composed than the powerful ouds above. Since then I’ve acquired other Hindi oils that can be easily worn in public without fear of embarrassment. My favorite ouds in the “statesman” category are:

Al Qurashi’s Kalakassi

Oriscent’s Oud Nuh

Agar Aura’s Purana

*Tajal Bakshi’s 32 years old Hindi

Then there are some ouds that fall in between these 2 categories.  They are distinctly Indian but their animalic side is balanced by other notes  that either modify or overshadow the “barnyard” aspects.  In this category are:

Oudhasi’s Assam Flora (aptly named, although it’s not “floral” in the traditional sense)

Oudhasi’s Assam 15 (a sweet ethereal vapor tames the leather)

Areej Al Ammerat’s Hindi Manipouri (lots of thick,  juicy plums in this one)

I don’t think my collection would be complete without having at least one oil from each category. But if I could leave you with one thought, it is to please give “Hindi” ouds a chance. It may take time, but I’d be very surprised if there isn’t at least one Indian oil for every oud lover out there.

Please note: The oils with the * are no longer available. My next top 10 will only include oils that are currently for sale.

Fifth Anniversary of the Natural Perfumers Guild

So today marks the fifth anniversary of the Natural Perfumers Guild, which is a good start. It has come a ways, gone through changes and looks to be in it for the long haul. You can find a list of the different blogs and bloggers at the bottom of this post that are writing something for this event (plus, I think, there are a few other places that will mention something about it).

I have always been attracted to the scented side of things. Making things out of different woods in my Dads shop at home was great because of the smells of the different woods.  The subtle difference in scents between different raw clays and glazes when making pottery added a whole other dimension to ceramics. Hiking, camping, waking up in the mornings in the mountains and taking that first deep breath in at first light were very special moments. The sense of smell adds a huge, but at the same time, very subtle boost to ones sense of the world around them. It’s also so often overlooked.

When using incense it took me awhile to understand that the ones I gravitated to were generally those which used natural ingredients. There is just something that “smells” different to me between those built with woods, resins, herbs, spices and real oils and those that are not. Not that it’s not possible to make odd/bad smelling incenses or perfumes with naturals (as some of my own experiments are examples of 🙂   But for my nose, generally, the naturals just work better.  The incense has lead to perfumes and classes with Mandy Aftel, who has been a great source of inspiration and knowledge and an appreciation of the real Art of Perfumery.

I love to source out new scents and spend hours on the net looking into obscure leads on new places. I am always fascinated at how different the same plant can smell from each place. As I write I can see a box with at least ten different bottles of Rose in it. Each is different and special in its own way. So I find it funny to hear, “It has Rose in it”. Really?, from where? What year? How it distilled and what was the weather/soil/water like in the area where it was grown? Using natural materials can be very tricky, very demanding and an takes an overwhelming passion.

It isalso getting much more expensive  and difficult to obtain many of the key ingredients. The prices for ALoeswood and Sandalwoods have recently gone up around 20% to 30%, that assuming you can find them. The same holds true for most of the oils used in perfumery. Not to mention the many governmental restrictions being imposed or thought up. Its a great time to be into he naturals and at the same time it is a bit scary.

So, when you find them…enjoy!  -Ross

Ca Fleure Bon:   anya’s garden;   Blossoming Tree Bodycare:                             Being Led by the Nose:  Anu Essentials Blog:   Olfactory Rescue Service:               I’m Just Saying:   Providence Perfume :
Bellyflowers:   Ellenoire:    Aromatics International:   Olive and Oud:   Lord’s Jester Inc:   A Little Ol’Factory:     Perfume Journal:
Natural Perfumes:    The Western Cape Perfumery:
Aromatherapy Contessa:    Absolute Trygve:

On the Boardwalk

The first incense that ever “floated my boat” is an ambergris/oud mix made by our own Ross. It is soothing yet uplifting, penetrates without sharpness and gently seeps into my soul with firmness and tenderness. It conjures up images of a magnificent old tree in the middle of a forest- a tree whose roots drive towards the center of the earth, whose trunk spans 6 men’s chests and whose branches vie with Icarus to reach the sun. Each branch is strong enough to hold a city-full of children and beneath its branches flowers grow, worms crawl, antelopes lounge in its shade and mothers read to children. They all feel safe and protected.  The ocean gently washes its heart-spread leaves, its strength is encrusted in it’s bark; it’s roots are scaled with sober purpose. A mineral firmness thickens and darkens its sap as it drifts in anchored solitude.

Yesterday I sampled Agar Aura’s Tropica- a mukhallat dominated by Borneo oud, rose, frankincense and above all- ambergris. It is the dry, salty, breezy scent that makes my heart beat faster before the ocean even pops into sight. It smells of skin after gentle exercise, a child’s tears, of a rosebud covered in snow. It smells of the sea-kissed tree that  grows in Ross’s beautiful blend. If I were to color it, it would be the color of the Acropolis.

Many mukhallats are too heavy and dense for summer but Tropica’s cool dryness is perfect for sweltering days and humidity laden nights. It can be purchased at Agaraura.com.

Mandy Aftel and the 2011 Fifi’s

The Fifi’s are the perfume worlds Oscars and this year, for the first time ever, there is a natural perfumer in the running. Mandy Aftel has three different perfumes on the ballot. If you are interested in seeing a small independent “niche” perfumer win, one who is also directly responsible for the perfume world and the buying public becoming aware of alternatives to main stream perfumes and fragrances, this is your chance to make a difference. Having her perfumes on this year’s Fifi ballot is a huge step forward for all the independents and small perfumers.

You can caste your vote by going here: Facebook Page for FiFi 2011 Consumer Voting, or you can also go through this link, which is sponsored by some of Mandy’s students: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=152953168103565.

She is asking that people vote for the scent called Honey Blossom so as to not split up the votes.

Honey Blossom was created in a meeting of the minds with fellow niche perfumer Andy Tauer for a project where they both created perfumes from a starting point of two materials (each of them picked one material) and their scent journey is chronicled on Nathan Branch’s blog (which is always a good read in itself). This is a fascinating read into the creative process of two very well thought of artists.

I was lucky enough one evening to go by Mandy’s studio to drop something off and she had just pretty much finished up Honey Blossom. To say she was excited would be putting it very mildly.  She puts her all into her creations and it shows, this is a stunning, very beautiful floral with miles of depth and, on me, lasted about 6 hours or so. Plus it keeps evolving as it goes, what more could one ask for?

You can also check out my piece on being in a perfume class with Mandy here.

Oud: Regional Profiling

The scents of oud oils can loosely be categorized according to geographic region. There is, however, some crossover, and it’s important to recognize that the scent of oils don’t strictly respect artificial boundaries or political borders .

The first oud I purchased was from Borneo and I think it was a good choice for my introductory experience. Borneo oils are amongst the lightest, airiest and most ethereal of ouds. They have terpenoid top notes that have been compared to camphor, mint, acetone, magic marker, turpentine, lacquer thinner, etc. This high, whistle-y note is typical of Borneo oils and is one of their most distinguishing characteristics. The effusive, light sweetness of these oils is sometimes described as “floral”.  Although I think that description is slightly misleading, their sweet and piercing topnote is vaguely reminiscent of the indolic nature of some flowers, or the mintiness of tuberose. Borneo ouds have a clear, woody drydown. One of my favorite ouds from this region is Oriscent’s Borneo 3000. Its clean crispness is typical of Borneo oils.

Oils from Malinau, in northern Indonesia, boast hints of sweet vanilla, cool melon, apple, tangerine and gentle spices. One of the finest examples is AgarAura’s Malinau. The complexity of notes adds depth, interest, substance and weight to the Borneo profile.

The brightness and clarity of Borneo and Northern Indonesia oils amplify their happy and uplifting spirit. Because of their sunny  and breezy disposition the season with which I associate them is Spring.

Indonesian oils from Merauke also start out with a clear, vaporous topnote but their midrange and basenotes are herbal, dry, mossy and earthy. Notes of mushrooms and patchouli are clearly distinguishable; some exhibit salty and metallic notes. The cool dryness of Merauke oils is refreshing, however their earthiness adds a grounded and unrefined element to their character. Some people have said that Merauke oils that are distilled from Aquilaria filarial (such as Oriscent’s old Oud Royale) are closest to the smell of burning agarwood. Uns Fine Craft’s “Maroke” is an example, though it is no longer available.

Once again a (more subtle) clear and vapory top note greets the nose on sniffing oils from Irian Jaya in West Papua, Indonesia. This time that note is mixed with an ample sprinkling of white pepper, cloves and nutmeg. Some Irian Jaya oils have a resinous, pine-y mossiness that is reminiscent of a cross between patchouli and oakmoss. They exhibit balsamic, musty, muddy and damp notes in the base. Uns’ Irian Jaya oil (sold out) is representative of this group of oils. I associate Merauke and Irian Jaya oils with summer because of their herbal and earthy herbaceousness.

Peninsular Malaysian oils smell slightly turpy and sweet, are enlivened with a pinch of feisty cinnamon, and remind me of the smell of old, dark and damp basements.  A classic example is Oudline’s well priced ML-OL-SRN- Super. I like its faintly musty smell that, to me, feels cozy and warm. In worst cases these oils may exhibit strong, swampy notes of decaying vegetation.  East Malaysian oils smell sweet, thick and resinous and have a delicious, woody drydown. One such example is Oriscent’s Malay Royale. These  “Borneo Maylay” oils (for example those from the states of Sabah and Sarawak), smell very similar to oils from Indonesia.

Ouds from Cambodia are amongst my favorites. They are very accessible to the Western palate, and their complexity and curvilinear development add to their wide appeal. Some of the notes I associate with Cambodian oils are figs, prunes, plums, liqueur, berries, jam, caramel, tobacco, cinnamon and vanilla. The drydown of Cambodian oils is sweet, gently spicy and woody.  Oils from this region smell deep, warm, rich and sensuous- they are truly jewel-toned.  A mouthwatering and affordable Cambodian oil is Oudimentary’s  KSSS. In appearance and texture it exhibits the thick and gummy stickiness common to some of the finest Cambodian oils. I associate these oils with Autumn because they are bursting with richness and ripeness.

Laotian ouds can smell very fecal and barnyard-y. Because of their strength and reckless character I personally prefer them in blends, however there are some people who think their “energy” is unparalleled when it comes to using ouds for meditation. One very surprising aspect of Laotian oils is that although they start out smelling very raucous and unsavoury they have an unexpectedly sweet dry down. It’s hard to believe that these oils, after an hour on the skin, are the same oil that smelled so funky right out of the bottle.  A large selection of Laotian ouds can be found on the Enfleurage website.

Hindi ouds from Assam are amongst the most beloved and respected of Dehn al Oudhs, especially in the Middle East. Because so many of the wild trees were cut down and are now protected by CITES, today most oils are distilled from plantation trees. The scents that predominate in Assam ouds are the healthy barnyard scent of new mown hay, the animalic lustiness of leather and the campfire-memory-generating smokiness of smoldering wood. Some ooze with the juicy note of  succulent plums (Areej’s Hindi Manipouri); others exhibit more primal notes that only the most confident and daring would feel comfortable wearing in public (Oriscent’s Mostafa). An Indian oud that exhibits the stature, dignity and wholesomeness for which these oils are revered yet is still eminently wearable is Oudhasi’s Assam Flora. Because these ouds can smell aloof and imposing they remind me of winter.

I’ve only smelled one pure oud from China- Oriscent’s Chinese Exclusive. It gets the award for “rudest oud”. Anyone who loves the smell of ripe cheese and humus should definitely give it a go!

These descriptions are not exhaustive and not every oud is going to conform to these general profiles. They’re a start, though, in figuring out which oils might appeal to you. I strongly recommend purchasing samples, if they’re available. It’s taken me a long time to accept that we don’t all perceive smells the same way, and that basing a purchase decision on another person’s description isn’t really a substitute for sniffing an oil with your own nose on your own skin.

I hope your exploration of oud oils is an exciting and rewarding adventure. Onward and oudward!

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