Arabian Perfumes

Perfumes from the Arabian Peninsula have always been dominated by powerful woods, ambers, and florals such as rose and jasmine, and thanks to the Silk Road, these notes are now sealed into European minds as symbols of wealth, sophistication, and mystery.

This post might as well be called ‘My Favourite Intense Winter Scents’, as this style of perfumery is one of my favourites. Because of this intensity, though, I only break them out in the coldest of weather (well, coldfor Australia). It’s only in this weather that they don’t form clouds of scent so strong they overwhelm passers-by.

I don’t know much about perfumes made in the Middle East, and the authentic perfumes I have smelled mostly don’t suit the tastes of people in western nations. As a result of this, almost all of the perfumes below are made by European perfume houses which have been inspired by the legendary scents of the Middle East.

Anubis – Papillon

Anubis smells of leather, ancient resins, and spices, and in my opinion is one of the best perfumes ever to come out of an artisanal perfume house. Dark and powerful, this smells like something found deep in a forgotten tomb.

Interlude 53 – Amouage

Amouage is an Omani perfume house, so this one is genuinely a Middle Eastern fragrance. This is the most masculine perfume I know of, and has an intensity that few men could pull off. Make sure you get a second opinion before you buy this.

Dubai Amber – Bond No. 9

The oud in this has the stink of the genuine oil, and has a seductiveness that few others in this list do. Like a penthouse in the Burj Khalifa as dusk approaches.

Salome – Papillon

Though its sillage is fantastic, this perfume is extremely pungent, so keep it far from your nose. That is, spray it on places like your outer forearms, inner knees, and your upper back – not on your neck or chest, and even your wrists get a little close for comfort with this one. It also contains a couple of very animalic notes – castoreum and hyrax – which add to the pungency.

Ombre Nomade – Louis Vuitton

Probably the most instantly recognisable oud perfume on the market, Ombre Nomade (‘Nomadic Shadow’) is magnetic, bitingly powerful, and smells like a billion dollars. Like Salome, this is very powerful (I’ve had jackets that smelled of this for months after I wore it).

Nouveau Monde – Louis Vuitton

If Ombre Nomade is too strong for you but you like its style, go for this perfume instead – it blends oud with cocoa rather than rose.

Ambre Narguilé – Hermès

This beautiful fragrance by the renowned perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena is one of my top five favourites of all time. It’s also the only perfume in this list I consider feminine. Blending delicious ambery notes with spices and tobacco, Ambre Narguilé is unforgettable, and works as well with a cashmere turtleneck/shawl as it does with an evening gown. A sultry masterpiece.

Camel – Zoologist

Smells like a caravan arriving at a spice market. Quite unusual thanks to its abundant dried fruit smells, but a great fragrance.

L’Air du Desert Marocain – Tauer

I’ve never spent much time with this perfume, but I put a sample card sprayed with it in my wallet for a few hours a couple of months ago, and it still smells amazing. A lot of people consider this to be one of the best perfumes so far this century, but I’ll have to try it again to see whether I agree. It’s definitely complex, and changes constantly throughout the day.

Oud Satin Mood – Maison Francis Kurkdjian

This is a very westernised oud perfume, and probably doesn’t contain any real oud oil, but it’s still quite something, nonetheless. Likely owing to the rose and vanilla, this perfume is more unisex than the rest of this fairly masculine list.

Gucci Guilty Absolute Pour Homme – Gucci

While not Arabian-inspired per se, this woody leather perfume makes me think of wealthy Emiratis in high-altitude offices overlooking the desert, so I’m including it in the list. This rich, smooth perfume walks the line between masculine ruggedness and sophistication.

Oud Wood – Tom Ford

A surprisingly realistic oud perfume, but not one that will make people abandon an elevator.

Let me know if you find a favourite in this list, or if you perhaps have one in mind that I didn’t mention.

9 Dreamy Scents for Autumn

Seasonal change seems to welcome more collective excitement in spring, but I must admit that I crave cold weather. Living in most parts of Australia means you never really experience cold weather, but it’s nice to at least have temperatures slip below 20°C for a few months. To me, autumn is a time of reflection, so here are some fragrances to wear when you want to let your mind wander. As usual, I’ve tried to make quite a broad list so that there’s something for everyone.

Parisian Musc – Matiere Premiere

Though this could easily be worn at any time of year, I think autumn suits it best. Parisian Musc makes me think of an overcast, windy day alone in the City of Light.

Desert Rosewood – Goldfield & Banks

This is a very solemn amber perfume, while being quite bold as well. It’s one of my all-time favourites, and I wear it often. The cardamom in this is particularly good. Desert Rosewood is also the most masculine fragrance in this list.

Jicky – Guerlain

Jicky is the mother of modern perfumery. Created in 1889 (the year La Tour Eiffel was completed), it was the first perfume in history to use synthetic molecules alongside natural extracts. I know a lot of people who think it smells like their grandmothers, but that’s just because their grandmothers have impeccable taste! The herbal-aromatic, dirty-vanilla scent of Jicky can be detected in many Guerlain perfumes to this day.

Incense Kyoto – Comme des Garçons

I think this is one of the most attractive perfumes I’ve smelled – unique, versatile, minimalistic and chic, on the right woman this really is something else.

Hinoki – Comme des Garçons

I’ve never visited Japan, but I have it on good authority that this is a realistic olfactory recreation of the unique solitude afforded to those who visit rural Japan. The hinoki cypress is used extensively in Japan, from construction to incense to ofuro bathtubs, so I can see why people associate its scent with the Land of the Rising Sun.

La Fin du Monde – Etat Libre d’Orange

Despite its name, La Fin du Monde doesn’t smell like the end of the world, but perhaps it’s a moment in a far-off place where you’re completely alone save for the one beside you. With a note list including popcorn, gunpowder and carrot seeds, this sounds stranger than the rather beautiful composition it is.

Twilly d’Hermès Eau Poivrée – Hermès

Though the theme isn’t exactly original – rose, pink pepper, patchouli – I think this is the loveliest perfume of its kind. It’s not too in your face, but is more than interesting enough to turn a few heads. Very feminine.

Cuir d’Ange – Hermès

The softest, most luxurious leather perfume you’re ever likely to smell. Truly transcendent.

Baccarat Rouge 540 – Maison Francis Kurkdjian

A recent cult classic, you will probably recognise the name, or at least the smell, of Baccarat Rouge 540. This sophisticated woody-sherbet perfume smells of contemporary luxury and cocktail parties at obscure art galleries.

If you get a chance to smell all of these fragrances, or even a few, I think you’ll find something that speaks to you. Do you perhaps have a favourite autumn fragrance I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear about it.

Perfume Films

I think it’s fair to say that most areas of professional or academic interest have a defining film – architects have Metropolis, fashionistas have The Devil Wears Prada, psychologists have The Silence of the Lambs. There are even movies about making movies (Hail, Caesar!, The Disaster Artist…). Those of us who follow our noses have Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. But as far as movies purely about perfume itself (murderous as it might be), that’s about it.

There are seemingly hundreds of brilliant books on perfume, but the amount of screen time these ephemeral wonders get is quite scant. Here’s a list of the ones I can think of. If you’re half as interested in perfumes as I am, I wholeheartedly recommend you watch them all.

Perfect Sense (2011)

A pandemic film about the senses – how appropriate.
In a world often closely resembling what we’ve seen these last two years, a pandemic causes every person on Earth to lose their sense of smell, and a while later, taste. Told through the eyes of an epidemiologist and a chef, this fantastic film has you asking some big questions. I recently rewatched it while I was sick with Covid and couldn’t smell a thing, and this movie definitely hits differently when you’re dealing with a sickness not unlike the one on screen. This is my favourite in this list.

Emily in Paris (2020)

Yes, it was an unashamedly unrealistic story set in an Americanised Paris, but hey, it was entertaining (I know at least one Frenchman who concurs). In this series, the perfumer Antoine Lambert is a recurring character who charms and repulses with his often peculiar ideas (“she isn’t naked – she’s wearing perfume!”).

Nose (2021)

While this documentary felt like more of a Dior marketing piece than a true exploration of master perfumer François Demachy’s life or craft, it was nonetheless a beautiful experience, spanning continents and drawing you into this man’s arcane and unseen world. It will have you running to your nearest Dior counter just as soon as the credits roll.

Perfume (2011)

This was the first documentary on perfume I ever watched. A few minutes into the first episode, I was hooked. Spanning pretty much the entire world of perfumery on a surface level, this is the perfect introduction to fragrance. My favourite part of this three-part BBC documentary was the extensive interview with Jean-Claude Ellena, who was the in-house perfumer (or “nose”) of Hermès at the time. He is one of the best-known perfumers and perfume writers alive, and I own a few of his books.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009)

I’ll admit I don’t remember much of this film, but I recall that there was some mention of perfume and perhaps a visit to a perfumery in Grasse where Chanel N°5 was born. Or was that Coco Avant Chanel (2009)? Either way, I remember this film about two artistic giants being worth a watch.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

As I mentioned, this is the definitive perfume film. It follows a boy born into the stench of an 18th-century Paris fish market and gifted with a perfect sense of smell. He eventually becomes addicted to a certain smell, and goes on a string of murders to bottle it for himself. Anyway, it’s definitely worth watching, or if you’ve got the time, reading.

Have you seen any of these, or have a recommendation for me? Let me know in the comments.

7 Floral Perfumes for Spring

With the imminence of spring in the southern hemisphere, I thought it would be appropriate to create a list of some favourite floral perfumes you’ll love to have wafting around you as the weather warms.

Carnal Flower – Frederic Malle

This is well known as one of the great seductive florals, and often gets called things like ‘the ultimate tuberose perfume’. It realistically captures the intensity and seductive scent of the infamous tuberose, considered in the past to smell so good it would lead young people astray. Because of this, priests often banned growing it near their parishes. The carnal nature of the tuberose lives on in this perfume.

Narcotic Venus – Nasomatto

This is another beautiful (and expensive) tuberose perfume. It doesn’t quite share Carnal Flower’s near-photorealistic depiction of the flower; nonetheless, it does offer a lovely rendition. Like many well-crafted heavy florals, this is unique and unforgettable.

White Sandalwood – Goldfield & Banks

Though this sandalwood perfume isn’t strictly floral, it contains a very well-placed rose note that I quite enjoy. White Sandalwood manages to be both cosy and uplifting, and is perfect for spring. In the interest of full disclosure, I do work in marketing at Goldfield & Banks, but the reason I applied in the first place is that some of my all-time favourite perfumes are in their (well, our) collection. And there is of course a hearty dose of patriotism too.

Light Blue – Dolce & Gabbana

One of my favourite light feminine scents, though not one with particularly prominent floral notes. It’s great for daytime wear, but has enough musk and amber in the base that you could spray something else on top of it as dusk settles. The longevity of this on skin will surprise you.

Tobacco Rose – Papillon

Sometimes I watch a film or TV show (or read a book) while wearing a particular fragrance. It helps me remember the smell by creating an emotional context for it (see this Harvard Gazette article), while also adding an extra layer to the viewing experience. Probably my best pairing so far was the series Looking for Alaska (yes, the book was better) and Papillon’s Tobacco Rose (which has no tobacco note, despite the name). If you aren’t ready to welcome the warm weather quite yet, perhaps this is the spring scent for you.

Jasmine Sambac & Marigold – Jo Malone

I spent a few formative years in Nepal as a child, and developed a palate for the country’s smells. Among the more pleasant ones is marigold, a flower often used at religious festivals and weddings. Its scent is so cheerful, which makes this pairing with heady Indian jasmine quite surprising and impressive.

Eau de Narcisse Bleu – Hermès

There is only one true floral fragrance that I frequently wear: Hermès’ Eau de Narcisse Bleu. It’s a rather toned-down fragrance considering the key flower’s name (narcissus), and if anything is more subtle (and perhaps melancholy) than it is entitled and self-interested. It’s perfect for most settings, and is the most unisex fragrance on this list.

Whatever your olfactory taste, at least one of these should capture your interest. Happy sniffing!

My favourite perfume books

My research on perfumery has involved a lot of reading, ranging from textbooks to novels. Here are the books I think you’ll enjoy, and that aren’t too technical (I’ve also read a lot on production and chemistry). I’ve ranked them in descending order of how easy they are to read if you’re not familiar with this secretive world.

The Diary of a Nose
Jean-Claude Ellena

“No, I do not smell perfumes the way you do.”

A wonderful book by one of my favourite perfumers, filled with musings and stories about his life in this fascinating industry.

My Story
Jo Malone

“I was going to be a shopkeeper, and was proud to regard myself as such.”

Rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches autobiography of a British icon of perfumery and cosmetics.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Patrick Süskind

“Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odour cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”

The enthralling and often disturbing fictional tale of a young Frenchman with a perfect sense of smell and a murderous lust for the perfect smell. My copy is on loan to a friend, so this shot of the German edition will have to do for the moment.

Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent
Neil Chapman

“With a dense, medicinal, almost creepy take on a tropical flower, it is hard to imagine what the monks were quite thinking of as they checked the macerations in their cellars; nodded ‘si’, and sagely began to pour the tarry liquid into bottles.”

This book is a lot like Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, but more approachable for those not yet initiated into the perfume world. Chapman also introduces an unusual but more approachable system of classification, working with main smells rather than olfactive families.

Perfumes: The A-Z Guide
Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

“It [perfume] wasn’t science but art, though both rely heavily on a combination of inspiration and happy accident.”

Pretty much the definitive guide to the fragrances you can currently buy, written by the most delightful duo in the industry. It’s opinionated and irrelevant, but that’s why so many people in the marketing-saturated perfume world love it, myself very much included.

Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent
Jean-Claude Ellena

“It is through the use of memory, through the remembrance of shared fragrances, that I create the seductiveness of perfumes.”

This one gets a little more into the specifics of how perfumery works, including things like the basics of perfumery training, the industry, and marketing. It’s hardly in-depth, but it’s an interesting appetiser and very interesting.

The Emperor of Scent
Chandler Burr

“Once you smell dead octopus, you never forget it.”

Luca Turin, mentioned above, is also a biophysicist. This is the surprisingly intense, and often quite funny, story behind how he perfected a still-controversial theory about the mechanics of the human sense of smell.

I highly recommend reading any one of these books if you haven’t already. Each one offers a unique look into the wonderful world of perfume and olfaction. If I’ve missed something important, let me know in the comments below – I’m always keen to learn more.