Perfumers bring their entire bring to creating fragrance. Their childhood. Their heritage. Their appreciation of the arts. The list is long. For my favorite independent perfumers they sometimes wear it right on their atomizer. Dana El Masri shows her Arabic heritage in Jazmin Sarai Fayoum.
One of the most interesting pieces of the perfumes Ms. El Masri makes is she was trained at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery. Which tends to create a classic European fragrance sensibility taken to a new place. All her previous releases have been inspired by music. Fayoum is the first to break that trend.
Dana El Masri
Fayoum is based on the oasis of the same name west of Cairo. Unlike most oases which have their water fed by underground springs Fayoum is fed by the Nile. Along with the water comes the silt and mud which has supplied the renowned pottery business. Ms. El Masri captures the intersection of green in the desert and the creation of pots.
Violet is one of my favorite perfume ingredients, but most perfumers like to enhance the sweeter floral quality. There is another face which is astringent. That is what Ms. El Masri uses to begin Fayoum. She provides just a bit of relief through mimosa and jasmine. They seem to be there to keep it from being so cutting to be off-putting. What comes next is a wet clay accord that anyone who has ever tried to throw a pot will recognize. It is a humid density of packed earth. It sits on the wheel ready to be formed. Our potter is taking a break while contemplating the shape as twin fruits of the oasis, fig and date, appear. These are the lush versions of these fruits. They provide a compelling contrast to the clay accord. There is a stronger vegetal green which appears over the later stages while the clay accord dries out a bit.
Fayoum has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
The clay accord at the center of this is worth the price of admission by itself. It finds a scent space somewhere between geosmin and iso e super’s dusty earth. I have enjoyed it every time I put it on skin. It is easy to feel like I am looking over the shoulder of a potter at the oasis.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Jazmin Sarai.
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.
There are emerging independent perfumers whom I have known for quite a while. As a writer it is fun for me to watch them evolve. As a scientist it is fun for me to watch them evolve. I often get to participate by critiquing early mods of what they are thinking of releasing. Then they take that bold step of releasing their perfumes to the world. I think one of the more difficult stages is building upon that first set of creations. For many indie perfumers it has taken years to get to the point where they release their first fragrance. Now they have to come up with a follow-up a little more quickly. This is also where those with the more developed skillset begin to separate themselves. It is why I look forward to the second release because it confirms rising talent.
One of those perfumers who has been on my radar for many years is Dana El Masri of Jazmin Sarai. She was always interested in the connection between music, fragrance, and color. Her first set of four releases, which came out about a year ago, were each inspired by a specific song. Her stated desire was to keep doing that. For her fifth release, Solar’1, she uses the song Africa by D’Angelo as her muse. The song is a soulful vocal contrasted with a staccato drum beat mixed at almost the same level. Ms. El Masri has composed an equally soulful perfume with its own bit of persistent rhythm.
Dana El Masri
Ms. El Masri constructs Solar’1 with a precise percussive style. The first beat comes from ginger. She uses the ginger not in that energetic zippy way it usually appears. Instead she flattens the note out making it more transparent. I like this as the diffusion of that energy makes the ginger subtler. Osmanthus absolute is next. This is one of my favorite notes and, as with the ginger, in this form the osmanthus seems much more expansive. Unlike the ginger I wouldn’t describe this as transparent, it has much more presence. The next two pieces arrive as cocoa and allspice provide some depth to the osmanthus. The cocoa in particular allows for the leathery quality of the osmanthus to have something to interact with. This all comes to a glorious close with an ambery musk base accord. Those last soulful vocals underneath one final drum beat.
Solar’1 has 6-8 hour longevity and minimal sillage.
The improvement in Ms. El Masri’s abilities are clearly evident. Solar’1 is a fragrance of nuance which requires patience to get that balance correct. Ms. El Masri has developed into a perfumer capable of that. Which leaves me with a couplet from the song which seems appropriate, “everyday I see U grow/and remember what U already know”. Solar’1 is evidence of that growth.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Jazmin Sarai.
One of my favorite things which happens in the background of my writing about perfume is one of the great reasons why I do it. I am often approached to try a young independent perfumer’s creations and to give my opinion. I am thrilled to offer any assistance I can especially to those who choose to try this on their own. This is how Dana El Masri and I have struck up an ongoing conversation on the perfumes she was working on. Her idea was to take a musical inspiration and turn it into a perfume. After her training at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery she knew the work necessary to see her ideas through to a finished product and it is very pleasing to see her dreams become reality. Her line is called Jazmin Sarai and she has assembled a very strong debut playlist.
Dana El Masri
Otis & Me is inspired by Otis Redding’s “Cigarettes and Coffee” from 1966. Ms. El Masri wanted to capture an imaginary conversation between the wearer and Otis in a diner in the wee hours of the morning in a time when smoking was still permitted. What she has done quite brilliantly is to make a fragrance which rasps, like Mr. Redding’s voice, with a world-weary omniscience. It is surrounded with the richness of coffee and the haze of smoke. She blends black pepper, cardamom, and bergamot into a spicy grittiness which opens into a Turkish rose coated with incense over a rich coffee base. All of this is perhaps a bit too grand for a diner but one can’t be faulted for imagination, can they?
How You Love is inspired by Sade’s “It’s Only Love That Gets You Through” from 2000. This is the yin to Otis & Me’s raspy yang as How You Love is the smooth soulful voice that plumbs unexpected depths that Sade provides to her singing. Ms. El Masri uses cardamom again but this time a greener version of it and pairs it with grapefruit as we start on the high end of the olfactory scale. The heart notes drop an octave as Moroccan rose and Indian jasmine swirl together with a soulful harmony. The base notes drop into those low notes that become a trademark of Sade as How You Love uses sandalwood and musks but the really excellent choice is to capture it in a substrate of beeswax still redolent of the honey that recently surrounded it. This is the vocal range of Sade from high to delightful low.
Neon Graffiti is inspired by M.I.A.’s “Sunflowers” from 2004. When she first gave me this to try in an early version she told me to think of neon on wet cement. In that early mod there wasn’t enough crackle of electricity and the cement felt a bit lifeless. What has emerged as the finished product has none of those issues as there is a palpable sizzle of humming neon over damp cement. Ms. El Masri accomplishes this by using cardamom and grapefruit again but chilling them out with mint and ivy. Jasmine, mimosa, and sunflowers form a burst of rainbow florals and they are made neon bright by adding in juicy mango. The cement accord is ambrox, cedar, and incense and it is very well executed. Neon Graffiti feels like the fusion of disparate energies the best hip-hop provides.
Led IV is inspired by Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” from 1971. Led IV is my favorite of this set of four fragrances and it because Ms. El Masri has perhaps made the first perfume which really captures the heart of rock and roll. One of the reasons this works so well is Ms. El Masri keeps it simple and lets each note contribute to the olfactory band. Grapefruit and bergamot are Robert Plant’s vocals brilliant and high. Davana provides the boozy guitar of Jimmy Page. John Paul Jones plucks the mandolin as patchouli wafts from the crowd and underneath John Bonham keeps the beat with guaiacwood and musks. Together this creates a perfect moody rock vibe that is unforgettable.
All four Jazmin Sarai perfumes have 6-8 hour longevity and modest sillage.
I’ve sort of known about the talent Ms. El Masri has had and have been keeping it to myself. With the release of these four fragrances she is ripe for discovery by everyone who loves perfume and music. She truly gets it. Now when are you going to finish that Hendrix one?
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Jazmin Sarai.