Today I’ll be looking at some Arabic-inspired rose fragrances at various price points – Velvet Rose & Oud by Jo Malone, Ta’if by Ormonde Jayne, Oud Silk Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdijan, and Wissal by Ajmal.
Velvet Rose & Oud by Jo Malone
Velvet Rose & Oud is utterly brilliant. I always feel that the traditional pairing of rose with oud never goes quite far enough to modulate the underlying sourness of oud, especially if the traditional Bulgarian rose is used, because there is always that faintly tart, green-lemon edge to Bulgarian roses that inches it too close to the sourness of the oud.
But this fragrance corrects that imbalance by adding a nutty, milky praline note to the mix that “cooks” the rose down into a dark spoon-sweet accord. So what you essentially get is a sort of strawberry and rose jam over dry, smoky oud wood. It’s dark, delicious, jam-sweet, and what’s more utterly comfortable to wear, lacking as it is in any of the attending harsh dryness or bitterness from the oud. It is actually quite close in smell and texture to Lush’s wonderful Rose Jam shower gel, but with the added mystery of oud and a true dark “flavor” missing in many fragrances that tout themselves as “noir” or “black”.
Two things might bother some people. First off, this might be too sweet for some – if you know the wonderful Oud Satin Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdijan, then be aware that it is in the same general ballpark as that, albeit a teeny tiny bit less sweet (and less complex overall). Second, once the intensity of the rose jam accord dies down, the fragrance gets a little thin and reedy, laying bare the bones of what appears to be the same synthetic oud material used in most Western oud scents, including the Montales – so if you’re not a fan of that oud note or find it too synthetic, then be aware that it does come out to play towards the end.
Also, although I don’t usually care about stuff like this, longevity and projection follow the Jo Malone pattern in that they drop off dramatically after the first few hours. In that sense, the complexity and texture of the extended dry down in Oud Satin Mood would indicate that the price difference between these two scents is justified. But when all is said and done, I do love this fragrance and I’d happily forget all these little quibbles for the sake of the glorious first few hours.
Ta’if by Ormonde Jayne
Ta’if is one of those fragrances where I seem to be experiencing something completely different to everyone else. People use the words “rich”, “dark”, and “exotic” to describe it and suggest a texture as heavy as velvet – close to Lyric Woman or Portrait of a Lady even – whereas all I experience is a sheer peppery floral layered over a musky, dried-fruit base. Even the praline/date note is sheer and sort of dry.
I don’t even experience the rose in this as straight-up rose but as a big, blowsy peach and orange blossom chiffonade, with only brief flashes here and there of something that might be interpreted as a tart, green rose swimming in the murk. The peachy, powdery feel of the fragrance makes me think of something cheap and functional I used to use when I was a teenager – the Impulse O2 body spray perhaps, or a deodorant spray, I don’t know. So each wearing of Ta’if comes with a huge helping of nostalgia and wistfulness that clouds my judgment of the fragrance itself.
The dry down is a slightly powdery musk with a streak of dates running through it – a very pretty end, and also quite a deliberately “perfumey” one, I think. It doesn’t tilt you too literally in the direction of any one particular note, but bathes you in a pink-tinged miasma of musk, fruit, orange blossoms, and caramel that reminds me of some of the prettier dry downs in designer perfumery, such as Coco Mademoiselle, or Elie Saab.
So, not the rose of my dreams, or even a rose at all (to my nose), but it sure wins on the account of being a winningly pretty peach and white floral. Its popularity goes to show that you can market what is basically a designer perfume to people at niche prices if the marketing is pitched right and if its appeal is broad enough (for which read, a universally-appealing charm).
Oud Silk Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdijan
Oud Silk Mood is the only weak link in the truly excellent Oud Moods series and the only one I can’t wear without wanting to scrub it off. I’ve tried several times now to locate the soul of this fragrance but I think I’m about ready to call off the search party.
A signature of the Oud Mood series is the use of unconventional (and kind of ugly or confrontational) accords suggestive of metal, architecture, dust, rubber, or smoke to upholster the rich Laotian oud Kurkdijan uses, but whereas in Velvet and Cashmere Oud Mood these odd notes imbue the perfumes with a funny sort of humanity, in Oud Silk Mood, the quasi-industrial note of photo-developing chemicals just bathes an already sharp, sour rose in an acid bath that does it no good at all.
The acidulated rose and the oud compete with each other for the title of “most sour”, while chamomile lops in a hefty dose of herbaceous bitterness, making things worse. Underneath it all, papyrus adds a dry, papery crackle that really does create a silk-like texture – not the softness of silk but the rustling sound it makes when you rub it between your fingers. High-pitched and brittle, it feels like the fragrance would snap if you could fold it over.
Worse than the drone-strike of sour, though, is the chemical hangover every time I wear it. I don’t know if it’s synthetic oud or another woody ambery material, but whatever it is proves to bother my nose for hours on end, even when I think I’ve washed it off. In its unabashedly synthetic character, Oud Silk Mood is too similar to the lower-priced niche options for me to recommend it, and too inferior to the original Oud or even the Cashmere, Satin, and Velvet options for me to ever consider buying even a decant or further sample.
Wisal is a strong, fresh rose scent with a typical Arabic slant (a tough of synthetic oud, some spices), and I like it because it’s pretty cheap and honest for what it is. The opening features a strong, true Bulgarian rose – tart, green, and slightly old-fashioned – and it smells really good. Then the scent stumbles a bit, going quickly through two awkward transitions that I didn’t like, but it ends up righting itself after that.
The first piece of awkwardness comes almost immediately after the opening blast of rose, when a watery herbal tint starts swimming around the rose, dressing it up in what feels like mint or basil. I would even go so far as to say that it gives the rose a slightly aquatic feel, or to be unkind, a sporty character that wouldn’t be amiss in a men’s deodorant spray. Some might like this oddly-timed piece of airiness, but since I prefer my roses deep and dark, I’ll say no more.
Quickly, the red rose reasserts itself and pushes through the green sport deodorizer to become once again the dominant note. It is right at this point that I notice the sleazy synthetic oud oozing through the cracks and I’m already beginning to write this one off as a chemical headache. But then, to my surprise, the chemical spill banks right down and dips back underneath whatever rock it had slithered out from. From that point onwards, it’s a simple rose and sandalwood affair, with a truly Indian attar feel to it (Ajmal is originally Indian). The rose becomes ever more pale and sweet as time goes on, until it has attenuated straight into a rosewater note – watery, pink, and ever so slightly candied at the edges.
On balance, Wissal is a pleasant, fresh rosewater and sandalwood scent that can be spritzed with gay abandon onto other perfumes to “rose” them up a bit. For example, I’ve taken to layering it over Tam Dao EDP and Etro Patchouly, two very elegant single-note perfumes that also happen to respond well to a bit of simple rose (both sandalwood and patchouli are natural partners of the rose). As a matter of fact, the seller who sold me my Etro Patchouly generously included a bottle of Wissal for free, so the pairing seems like kismet to me. Wissal gives me quite a bit of “simple rose” layering satisfaction, so color me delighted.