Perfume has multiple positive effects. One of the most important to me is the way some fragrances provide a calming effect. I have many perfumes which I use as ways to soothe when things begin to feel too hectic. There is one perfumer who I have used his creation for this more than once. Dominique Dubrana aka Abdes Salaam Attar has been one of the foremost natural perfume educators we have. He also believes in the power of ethical perfumery. It is a collection which shows it with every one of the perfumes within it. I have one of his perfumes for every season to provide the psychic grounding they give me. For the winter La Via del Profumo Tabac is my choice.
La Via del Profumo is another of the early all-natural perfume lines which displayed the full potential of fragrance made this way. When these perfumes were released there was a canard that all-natural perfumes were somehow less than those which used synthetics. Every perfume here proves the inaccuracy of that. Abdes Salaaam Attar approaches his perfumes from understanding the source of your materials. It allows him to coax all the nuance available out of what he uses. Tabac is a great example of this.
Abdes Salaam Attar
Many tobacco scents draw me into their deeply narcotic embrace. This is done by amplifying the sweeter parts of tobacco. Tabac goes a different way. While things start off in that typical vein they transform to a drier version of tobacco that is different than most any other version out there.
In the early going that expected sweetness is what comes forth. It is a rich sweet leafy tobacco. It is kept that way with vanilla and tonka bean. The change is signaled by a spicy mélange which begins to dry out that tobacco while pulling back on the sweetness. A deeply warm amber completes the process revealing a dry herbal version of tobacco lurking underneath.
Tabac has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
That shift from deeply sweet to desiccated leaf is what makes Tabac such a meditative perfume for me. I can flow with the changes until I find a place where I take a breath filling my senses with Tabac. If you have never tried any of the La Via del Profumo perfumes, they should be on your radar especially if you are interested in all-natural perfumes.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When I was really starting my descent into perfumed obsession in the early years of the 2000’s it started with the discovery of niche perfumes. What that meant to me were small brands with distinctive artistic aesthetics. Those early years of this century saw the rapid expansion of this style of perfume. Presenting themselves as an alternative to what was available at the mall. It was, and remains, part of the reason I enjoy perfume.
Then in 2006 on the blogs I follow there was mention of this new perfume from Switzerland. A young artist by the name of Andy Tauer had released a perfume called L’Air du Desert Marocain. My perfume world changed again. I discovered there was another world of fragrance makers who worked on their own; independent perfumers. It would be the acclaim for L’Air du Desert Marocain that pointed those who love perfume to a new place.
Every year I am struck by how vital this community is. What spurred me to write this column was my editorial calendar for the next week. One of many important lessons I learned from my Editor-in-Chief at CaFleureBon, Michelyn Camen, is the importance of keeping an editorial calendar. That means I have all the different days subjects planned out in advance. Sometime when I look at my white board I can see patterns which arise out of the list. Looking over next week’s list I saw six wonderful perfumes from six different established independent perfumers. It made me think about where we are now.
One of the things I write about a lot is the concept of a brand aesthetic. It should be easier when an independent perfumer is the only voice in the room. From experience I can tell you it is not. I try a dozen or so new independent brands a year. I provide private feedback which is just between the perfumer and I. One of the more common sentences I write is, “What are you trying to achieve besides smelling good?” The brands which have succeeded have almost always had a personal answer to that. The ones who ask me “What do you mean?” is probably a reason why they don’t succeed.
Proof this has succeeded is there is a part of Hr. Tauer’s perfumes which has been dubbed a “Tauer-ade”. There is a scented fingerprint which says where this perfume came from. The same can be said for Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. or Maria McElroy of Aroma M. I feel if I was handed any of these, and others, perfumes they are identifiable because of this. Independent perfumers can refine a personal vision over every release.
Another more fractious aspect of independent perfumery is very few of them have any formal training. Like all artistic efforts there are the precocious few who are blessed with innate talent. For those the years spent making their perfumes provides its own kind of training; learning through trial and error. That same effort is also rewarded for those who learn entirely from that. Time can be a great leveler. Some of the early founders have become the teachers for those who are drawn to make their own perfume. Mandy Aftel has produced great perfume, under he Aftelier Perfumes label, and a wave of students from her California studio. AbdesSalaam Attar does the same in Europe.
One of the most important aspects of the current state of independent perfumery is the ability of the perfumers to use small batches of amazing ingredients. Particularly over the last few years there have been releases which are made from materials that have been gone from mainstream and niche perfumery due to the difficulty of sourcing enough to produce hundreds of bottles. The independent perfumer can produce tens of bottles if they desire. A good example are the perfumes of Russian Adam under his Areej Le Dore brand. He can source actual musk from the animal through a license he has. Other independent perfumers create their own tinctures, botanical hydrosols, co-distillates, or enfleurage. Each of these create magic. The botanicals sourced by Yasuyuki Shinohara from his home island of Hokkaido, Japan for his Di Ser line are what makes those perfumes unique.
The final thing which has made independent perfumery so important is it lives outside the geography of France, the US, Italy or Great Britain. For over 100 years that was where the perfume we knew came from. Independent perfumery takes place everywhere with the influences of location finding its way into the bottle. All four of the countries where modern perfume was born have their share of independent perfumers who have things to say about that history in their new perfumes. The perspective that comes from elsewhere is invaluable.
If you need the best argument for the importance of independent perfumer in 2018 follow along next week as the perfumes speak for themselves.
AbdesSalaam Attar has been one of the leading lights of natural perfumery. For many years he taught other aspiring perfumers as he shared his knowledge and philosophy behind natural perfume making. Six years ago he stopped teaching and focused on making perfume for his La Via del Profumo line. A couple of weeks ago I learned he was thinking of teaching again followed up a few days ago by a press release announcing his return to the classroom. A six-day course is being offered from June 10-15, 2015 in Rimini, Italy. For anyone wanting to learn more about natural perfumery it is an opportunity to learn from one of the very best in the field. I wanted a little more detail than the press release delivered and through a series of e-mails AbdesSalaam Attar and I had a discussion about the course.
Mark Behnke: Why are you returning to teaching after a six-year break?
AbdesSalaam Attar: The number of requests that I kept receiving made me change my mind about not wanting to teach again. I decided for a new formula that would take all the stress of the intense knowledge transfer away from me and from the students. Enough time to do everything and relax.
Rimini, Italy (via press release)
MB: The class is being taught in Rimini during June. Is there a reason you chose that place and time?
AbdesSalaam Attar: May and June are the best months in Italy. The weather, the vegetation, the mood of the people, everything is propitious to “la dolce vita” in this period. The location of the seminar is only 10 minutes away from my own place, it is on the top of the hills and you can see from afar the whole area of the Adriatic Coast. It is secluded from the hectic atmosphere of the summer “Riviera”. It also has all the comforts for a peaceful retreat, including tennis, a swimming pool and bicycles. The place is ideal for our program which is to work with tranquility and serenity.
MB: You say it is a crucial issue for a perfumer to be able to understand and evaluate raw materials, why? How will this course explore that?
AbdesSalaam Attar: Natural essences are widely adulterated, suppliers battle with each other on the price by lowering the quality. Essential oils, unlike single molecule ingredients are to be explored and understood like wines. Also for a diamond dealer, being able to evaluate the raw stones is of crucial importance in his trade. The quality and beauty of natural perfumes depends directly on the quality and beauty of their ingredients.
MB: Can you give me an example of one of these ingredients and explain a little further?
AbdesSalaam Attar: There is no natural essence immune from adulteration, because the cheapest of them is still more expensive that it’s chemical surrogate, and exists in a much more limited quantity.
Bergamot, for example, grows only in a small patch of territory of Calabria. The production is very limited, and every year it is more so; because growers of the fruits make no living with their harvest, since a single person in nearby Sicily controls the market for his own interest. So every year more trees are pulled down. Nevertheless the world is full of bergamot essence, every wholesaler and retailer has it and it goes by tons in Earl Grey teas and in other products. How is it possible? Most of these essences are not pure or are not Bergamot at all. Bergamot essences smell different in their various qualities, which depends on the maturity of the fruits, and accordingly on the month of production. I prefer the more mature December essence. Before that it is more green and citrusy. Unless you know how the essences of Bergamot should smell and unless you know personally the producer, you will not get your nose near the best Bergamot essence.
MB: What rare essences are you considering exposing the class to?
AbdesSalaam Attar: Some scents can be smelled only with me, such as an antique infusion of Kashmiri Muskdeer in Mysore Sandalwood, an infusion of Italian Saffron in Mysore Sandalwood and a tincture of Baltic amber. Among the rare ones Karo Karoundé, sustainable wild civet musk picked up from the ground, the real Mysore Sandalwood, Iris absolute, Hay, seaweed and more. Discovering new smells is like learning new words, they add to your knowledge.
MB: Ethical sourcing is a big issue for many of the most sought after raw materials will that be a part of the course? AbdesSalaam Attar: Certainly. In Italy we have invented the Ethical Complete List of Ingredients in Perfumes. The ECLIP list. Ethics and philosophy must be the first things to be taught when learning any craft. Ethics and philosophy of perfumery are the foundation of my teaching. There is must be an overall ethic in sourcing, in producing and in selling perfumes.
Il Germano Reale-Site for the Course (via press release)
MB: What other areas will the course touch upon?
AbdesSalaam Attar: The course is all about blending perfumes. The nose is not even necessary for blending, it is at best of secondary importance. Natural smells are a language that is imprinted in our genes, in our cultures and in our personal life experience. In order to make perfumes with a meaning you have to learn this archetypal language which is the foundation of olfactory psychology. I will teach the students its principles and how they can learn it by making perfumes for people. Pheromones are a mysterious part of olfactory psychology, many botanical essences mimic human pheromones and have a similar effect on us. All the knowledge of the different fields that I shall offer to the students is necessary but not sufficient for making good perfumes. I want to teach them a mental attitude. Some of them will find out they have it innately, some others will have to acquire it and I shall show them a way to do it.
MB: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about the course. If you are interested in attending the course e-mail email@example.com for further information.
I am often asked if I would like to create a perfume and I always answer with an emphatic shake of my head, “No.” One of the trends of 2014 has been the number of people who love perfume who have a different answer. A couple weeks ago I was contacted by Lisa Lawler and Patty White of the perfume sample site Surrender to Chance. They informed me that they has been working with one of my favorite natural perfumers Dominique Dubrana aka AbdesSalaam Attar on the first two fragrances to be created exclusively for Surrender to Chance. For their first two fragrances, Surrender and Cold Water Canyon, they decided to explore two very different versions of jasmine. One of them is meant to be a politely skanky sensual jasmine and the other a greener more herbal jasmine. Both succeed at showing the versatility of jasmine.
For Surrender, Ms. Lawler and Ms. White asked M. Dubrana to create a jasmine focused wedding scent. M. Dubrana responded with a blend of multiple jasmine absolutes. He also always manages to use an array of complementary notes which bring out some of the more subtle qualities in the central note. In Surrender it is carrot and hyraceum which provide the illumination.
Many may know Ms. White from her origins as one of the founders of the perfume blog Perfume Posse. It is the first blog I can remember having a dedicated discussion on skank in perfume. When you are using a lot of jasmine absolute the indoles are going to impart a bit of skank. Being an aficionado of skank Ms. White clearly understands if you’re designing a wedding scent a little skank goes a long way. This must have been communicated to M. Dubrana and so he uses licorice and carrot to attenuate the skank and accentuate the sweet floral quality of the jasmine absolutes. The carrot really adds a different foundation to a very familiar floral note. It takes a bit of vegetal sweetness as a polychromatic chord to the floral octave of jasmine. All together it takes what could have been a beastly jasmine and converts it into a domesticated kitten. The soft jasmine is turned softly animalic for the final part of the development by myrrh and hyraceum. The hyraceum adds in the animalic and the myrrh adds subdued sweetness. This accord is the return of the skank but as earlier kept on a very tight leash.
Surrender has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Dominique Dubrana aka AbdesSalaam Attar
According to the press release Cold Water Canyon was inspired by a friend’s request for the scent of a summer canyon. Ms. Lawler and Ms. White asked M. Dubrana to create a green foundation for a more delicate jasmine to float upon. M. Dubrana uses a set of notes indigenous to canyons you might find in the American Southwest.
M. Dubrana opens on a dusty desiccated sage as the wind blows down the canyon. The pine trees upon the sides release their scent as the breeze inverts and blows through them. As you pass through the foliage in the base of the canyon a green leafy accord mixes with all of this. The early moments of Cold Water Canyon are very green with the sage, pine, and leafy notes all mixing together in a verdant chorus. After a few minutes as the sun sets and the stars come out so does the delicate smell of the night-blooming jasmine. Unlike in Surrender this jasmine carries a much more transparent feel to it. There is almost nothing indolic and it is nearly entirely the narcotic sweetness of jasmine. It is exactly the right contrast to the green accord on top. As you drift to sleep looking at the Milky Way above you in the canyon, Cold Water Canyon stays precisely poised between both aspects of the floral and green.
Cold Water Canyon has 4-6 hour longevity and average sillage.
Both of these perfumes show a real collaborative effort between Ms. Lawler, Ms. White, and M. Dubrana. They succeed because I imagine each of them was able to impose a bit of their own aesthetic upon both perfumes. While I am still firmly in the camp of not ever wanting to make my own fragrance it is a real pleasure to see when others take that step and succeed as well as this creative team has.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Surrender to Chance.