middle east: 13 posts

Explaining Oud and Middle Eastern Perfume Trends

I get lots of requests to talk about perfume trends–what themes are promising to remain popular, why white florals are perennial favorites, what we might see in the upcoming season, and other questions along these lines. Answering them is a bit like reading a crystal ball, and some marketing agencies earn a nice profit doing just that. On the other hand, what people wear in different countries and why they enjoy what they do is something I find fascinating. This is the topic of my recent FT column, Perfumes with Middle Eastern panache. Based on my travels and interviews, the article explains why fragrance is such an integral part of Middle Eastern culture and how European perfume houses are taking note of it.

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Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady : Perfume Review

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The news of Frédéric Malle selling his Editions de Parfums house to Estée Lauder reminded me that I haven’t gotten around to writing about one of the most intriguing fragrances from his collection, Portrait of a Lady. Why intriguing? Well, consider the name. If it brings to your mind the cool elegance of Henry James’s heroines, then you’re not alone. I also expected something along these lines–ultra refined, sophisticated and feminine. Except that it is all wrong. Portrait of a Lady is interesting precisely because the scent is not at all what you expect. It’s a twist on a Middle Eastern theme, and it’s not all that lady-like.

Picasso-Boy-with-Pipe

If you’ve already smelled traditional Middle Eastern perfumes or western blends inspired by them (Amouage, Kilian’s oudsArmani Privé Rose d’Arabie), then you might recognize similar elements in Portrait of a Lady. It has a generous dose of classical “oriental” notes–sandalwood, amber, patchouli, dark woods smoked over incense, and of course, rose. It has a similar dramatic and mysterious character that makes this perfume genre so distinctive.

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Scented Mementos: The Story of the Porter and the Ladies of Baghdad

The Iraqi capital Baghdad is associated today with devastation and sectarian violence, and every time another story of this troubled city unfolds on the TV screen, perfume is the last thing I usually think about. And isn’t it frivolous and unnecessary anyway? But then I remember a scented memento given to me by an Iraqi friend. “In our culture, we give a fragrant flower to sweeten the pain of saying goodbye,” she said. We were in New York then, and there were neither scented roses nor jasmine, so instead she gave me a small bottle of orange blossom water. Every time I use it in my cakes or tea, I think of Muna.

 bread-seller

The tradition of sharing scents–sprinkling guests with perfume or giving them small scented gifts as they depart–has ancient roots, and with few modifications, these practices continue today. Even as Iraq has been undergoing dramatic upheavals, some things remain the same and provide a thread of continuity which becomes even more essential when nothing else is certain. When Muna describes the fragrances made by her relatives, she doesn’t just describe the sweetness of jasmine or the medicinal sharpness of saffron, she tells me about her mother and grandmother and other women who left an indelible mark on her.

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Tom Ford Sahara Noir : Perfume Review

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Just like Tom Ford Noir, Sahara Noir is a perfect cross-over perfume and a good case for disregarding arbitrary gender marketing. In the case of Sahara Noir, you only need to love incense and amber. And love them a lot, because this perfume is incense and amber to the power of 10. A part of Tom Ford’s Signature Collection, along with Violet BlondeWhite PatchouliBlack Orchid and Grey Vetiver, this is a dramatic and dark blend that delivers on its noir promise.

sahara-noir

With Sahara Noir Tom Ford is courting Middle Eastern perfume consumers, whose tastes gravitate towards opulent. “A perfume can’t be rich enough,” says a friend who works for a fragrance company in Dubai. Incense is used to perfume homes and public spaces, and a splash of rosewater and a cloud of oud smoke begins and ends any auspicious function.  Sahara Noir would fit right into this scented environment and even hold its own. Depending on your tastes for heavy perfumes, consider yourself warned.

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Tom Ford Sahara Noir : New Perfume

Tom Ford is launching a new perfume in the Signature Collection, which includes fragrances like Black OrchidTom Ford NoirViolet Blonde, and White Patchouli. Sahara Noir is inspired by the Middle Eastern perfume tradition and the incense notes. As Ford says, “Middle Eastern culture has an extraordinary appreciation for the luxurious, emotional and memorable qualities of fragrance; perfume is worn there in a way that feels very familiar to me. Sahara Noir is my interpretation of this heritage. It is a deep and substantial perfume that caresses the senses.”

Tom-Ford-Sahara-Noir

Sahara Noir is a woody oriental perfume based on frankincense. Bitter orange, cypress, calamus, cinnamon, papyrus extract, Egyptian jasmine templar and rose absolute from Morocco are used to accent the heart of the composition.

“A beeswax extraction from Burma lends body and a supple, honeyed-animalic richness. The dry down is amber-laced and warm. It is formed by a special blend of two facets of labdanum—labdanum absolute and a uniquely rich natural fraction of labdanum known as ambreinol—with rich benzoin from Laos and vanilla bean from Madagascar. Lebanese cedar, frankincense resin, agarwood and Peru balsam add luxurious substance and lasting presence.”

Available at Tom Ford Beauty counters starting May 2013. 50ml bottle of Eau de Parfum retails for £100. Via press release

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