I remember meeting independent perfumer Dana El Masri at one of the Elements Showcase events in New York City in the early 2010’s. We sat next to each other in the lounge area and began to talk. There are moments when I meet people who exude passion for perfume; this was one of them. Our conversation ricocheted through many subjects. It was so interesting that we had forgotten to say what we were doing there. I introduced myself as a blogger for CaFleureBon. She told me she was an independent perfumer looking to make connections. I thought to myself if she can channel her passion into a perfume it will be something great. Her brand Jazmin Sarai made its debut in 2014. The perfumes she has released have lived up to my expectations. I received her latest two releases, Nar and Mare, with anticipation.
Dana El Masri
When it comes to independent perfumery Ms. El Masri carries a couple different perspectives into her fragrances. One is formal training. She graduated from the Grasse Institute of Perfumery in 2010. The second is she is one of only a few Arabic women making perfume I am aware of. This is critical to these two new perfumes which she calls The Tarab Duet. When this part of the world is interpreted by Western perfume brands it is through the eyes of travelers to produce Oriental type perfumes. When Ms. El Masri works on an Arabic perfume it is inspired by her genetics. Pair that with perfume training to produce something authentically Arabic.
All Jazmin Sarai releases are based on musical themes. For Nar it is the music of Ms. El Masri’s grandparents’ wedding day. On that occasion the bride requested of singer Abdel Halim Hafez to sing Hobak Nar (Your Love is Fire). She works only with five ingredients to capture the call and response of this type of Arabic singing. The call throughout its development is an ever diminishing “burning embers” accord. The response is formed in three different stanzas.
Nar opens with a swirl of smoke. This is where the training of Ms. El Masri shines brightly. Many independent perfumers when they add a smoke effect it comes off like sitting next to a campfire when the wind shifts in your direction. This is a smoke accord of diffusion. The first time it calls out, the woody herbal-ness of coriander responds. The second call finds a clean woody riposte of cedar and guaiac. The final iteration finds a warm amber complementing the cooling embers. It is the kind of simple construction which belies its complexity because of Ms. El Masri’s skill.
For Mare the inspiration is one of the most famous Arabic singers Fairuz. She is also a favorite of Ms. El Masri’s father. The song is Shayef El Bahr Shoo Kbeer (See the Sea). It refers to the strand in Beirut, Lebanion. This is an oceanside which has mountains running right up to the beach. It is still a Mediterranean style of perfume just one from the Arabic side of the Sea.
Mare opens with a classic Mediterranean accord of lemon and neroli. To this she sends a strong sea accord breeze. This is where it is different. It is more expansive as the sea breeze rides up the nearby slopes to curl back down with a bit of chilliness. The other touch of the Beirut mise-en-scene is the licorice booziness of the Lebanese ouzo analog, Arak. It provides a tiny bit of bite to the airiness of the top accord. Fig returns Mare to a more traditional Mediterranean construction before finishing with the cedar tree in the center of the Lebanese flag.
Both perfumes have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
One of the beautiful things about independent perfumery is it allows each artist to explore their influences. Ms. El Masri is emblematic of that. For Nar and Mare she allows us to experience Arabic perfume not Oriental.
Disclosure: This review is based on samples provided by Jazmin Sarai.