Today, we’ll look at two more fragrances from Shay & Blue London: Oud Alif and Amber Rose. The first is a spicy, woody scent accompanied by smoky leather, dark chocolate, saffron, and patchouli. The second, Amber Rose, is a fruity-floral which includes a “dulce de leche” accord of sweetened milk and “white amber.” I’m afraid neither one is my cup of tea, and I found them both to be extremely difficult fragrances to test, albeit for different reasons.
Oud Alif is a “Fragrance Concentrée” created by Julie Massé in conjunction with the brand’s founder, Dom De Vetta. It was released in 2013, and is described on Shay & Blue’s website as follows:
Oud Alif – creamy, soft, rounded woods, inspired by the great gourmand oud fragrances of the Middle East. The best oud agarwood from the rare aquilaria tree, spiked with the richness of chocolat noir and notes of elegant leather, saffron and dark patchouli.
Top Note – Fine Oud Agarwood On the Nose, the Rich Intensity and Fullness of Arabian Woods. Hypnotic. The Alpha Oud.
Heart Note – Darkly Smooth Chocolat Noir in the Heart, and Soft Saffron Tempering and Balancing the Woods.
Base Note – Deep in the Dry Down, Napa Leather and Dark Patchouli Anchor This Sophisticated, Elegant Blend.
The succinct note list is therefore:
Oud, dark chocolate, saffron, leather and patchouli.
I would be very surprised if Oud Alif included much (or, actually, any) real agarwood, because the genuine material is incredibly expensive and the perfume’s opening is dominated by a most definite aromachemical, peppered note. The simple truth is that many Western fragrances that claim to have “oud” really don’t. Andy Tauer of Tauer Perfumes argues that the vast majority just use a drop of “oudh” in a cypriol base. On his blog, he once wrote:
Often, “oudh” is used as a tag allowing brands to charge more because somehow everybody seems to think that perfume lovers are willing to pay extra for a fragrance with oudh notes. This does not make sense as there is not much oudh in anything. Yet, consumers pay the extra$$$ and are told that they get the exclusive fragrance with this expensive ingredient. This is wrong.
Apart from a drop or two, the rest of the “oudh” is bases, often with cypriol, in varying qualities, far away from the “real thing”. The real thing does not find its way into perfumes that you buy in your perfumery.
Cypriol is not the only problem here. Oud Alif also has a suspect leather note that caused a strong reaction in me. It is a subtle note at first that hides behind the lovely patchouli and the enjoyable bitter chocolate. Within 10 minutes, it manifests a suede-like plushness, but then it also turns strongly peppered, woody, and with a tobacco-like nuance as well. I have no idea which aromachemical was used, but the note is definitely synthetic. Perhaps it’s Givaudan‘s Isobutyl Quinoline-2, mixed with a drop of IFF‘s Suederal LT, or perhaps simply pure Isobutyl Quinoline-2 at a high dosage. Who knows what it actually is, but whatever the ingredient, I find the leather in Oud Alif smells peppery, highly raspy, slightly tarry, and has a powerfully woody, synthetic vibe to it. It’s not the smooth, expensive, well-oiled, rich leather in fragrances like Puredistance M, but something abrasive (and cheap) in feel.
Then, there is the saffron. It starts off being fiery, peppered, and spiced, but its bite soon takes on an almost leathery bent as well. I think it’s Safraleine, a Givaudan creation that the company describes as follows:
Safraleine has a very unique warm and vibrant character offering a new alternative to existing spicy odorants. Safraleine exhibits warm, powerful, leathery and tobacco facets but its complexity also reveals characteristics of spices reminiscent of natural saffron, enriched by rose ketone-like floral aspects.
All these aromachemicals quickly overtake Oud Alif’s focus, moving the scent away from the early minutes which had been so enjoyable. Those moments were centered on the rich, spicy warmth of patchouli laced with a dark chocolate, while the oud, saffron, and leather played peek-a-boo from the sidelines, emitting small wisps that only coyly teased you with their aroma. The saffron had been a particularly subtle touch that added a quiet spiciness to the fragrance, while the sharp aromachemical twinge of the first seconds had rapidly retreated away.
It was very pleasant, but Oud Alif changes within 15 minutes into a hardcore aromachemical bomb. The leather grows stronger, taking on a woody forcefulness infused with a tobacco-like nuance. The saffron transforms from mere spiciness into a biting fieriness that strongly resembles a synthetic chili pepper or pimento. It isn’t buttery or smooth, but leathery and with a harsh edge.
Meanwhile, the “oud” smells of cypriol/nagarmotha or some chemical variation thereof, and emits a woody pepperiness that has strongly synthetic smokiness. As Eden Botanicals succinctly explains on its website, cypriol oil has an aroma that is:
Woody, deep, with smoky notes of leather. Adds a distinctive and interesting note to masculine or unisex perfumes.
That is very similar to what I’m experiencing here, except there is an extremely harsh raspiness that I haven’t encountered with cypriol before. Whatever the source, all I can say is that my first few hours with Oud Alif are a far cry from Shay & Blue’s description of the scent as “creamy, soft, rounded woods, inspired by the great gourmand oud fragrances of the Middle East.” Nothing about the opening stage is softly rounded in any way whatsoever, and it has very little sweetness on my skin to properly qualify it for even a quasi-gourmand label. All of it is abrasive, desiccated, heavily peppered, and harshly smoky. Yes, there is a subtle suede-like creaminess lurking deep in the base, but it is far outweighed by all the other notes at this point. And every time I smell Oud Alif, the back of my throat tightens with a scratchy feeling and a burning sensation. While my skin does tend to amplify both base notes and aromachemicals, I only have this sort of reaction when extremely powerful synthetics are used in a massive quantities.
For the first three hours, Oud Alif is essentially a simple (and wholly aromachemical) mix of smoky, spicy, harsh, leathered woods atop a sliver of creaminess. It has a strong undertone of tobacco, a weak vein of sweet, brown patchouli, and a incredibly ghostly, nebulous, abstract suggestion of “dark chocolate.”
In fairness, however, the perfume improves substantially by the end. The first sign of promise comes at the start of the 4th hour when the creaminess seeps up from the base. It makes the smoky woods less rasping and dry, smoothens out the leather, and turns the fragrance a hair sweeter. Oud Alif still retain its smokiness and the saffron still has a chili pepper bite to it, but the “oud” wood feels creamier. It is laced with fine wisps of abstract chocolate and spicy patchouli, but neither note is as strong or prominent as I would have liked. At least the leather has improved. It is now fractionally richer, and less woody, with much weaker veins of tobacco or tarry smoke. At times, it feels more akin to a mix of leather and suede in fact. Unfortunately, Oud Alif still has a very raspy quality, even if it is slowly sinking into the base and is less overwhelmingly monolithic than it was in the first hour. The perfume also continues to give me a strong reaction, to the point where I felt as though I had a sore throat long after the perfume had died on my skin.
As the hours pass, the creaminess continues to grow more noticeable, but never to the point that Oud Alif feels like a gourmand fragrance. The leather retreats to the sidelines at the start of the 6th hour, taking some of its smokiness with it, while the saffron fades into a blur of abstract spiciness that melds with the patchouli. In fact, the perfume as a whole loses much of its shape with few of the notes feeling clearly delineated in any way. In essence, it becomes a hazy blur of spicy, lightly smoked, creamy woods, but I have to say that it’s quite nice by the time the 8th hour rolls around. At this point, Oud Alif turns quite sweet in comparison to its hideous beginning, and is now a smooth, almost unctuous blend of creamy woods with saffron-patchouli spiciness, all wrapped up in a swirl of amber. There is only a faint touch of raspy smokiness about it, and almost no chocolate. As a whole, it’s a rich, cozy blend with almost as much golden warmth as creamy, spicy woods.
Oud Alif dies away in much the same way, roughly 11.75 hours from its start. I used 4 smears or 0.5 ml of a vial, which amounts to roughly 3 decent sprays from a bottle. The perfume’s sillage was generally moderate when taken as a whole. Initially, Oud Alif projected 3-4 inches, but that figure dropped down to 2 inches at the end of the 2nd hour. Oud Alif turned into a skin scent on me 5.75 hours into its development, but my skin gives quite a bit of projection to fragrances dominated by synthetics, as well as great longevity.
I suspect Oud Alif will be a crowd-pleaser, at least amongst those who can’t smell aromachemicals or don’t mind it when they do. Fans of Montale will probably think that the “oud” here is refined, but then, they have little exposure to the real stuff in Western perfumery. On Fragrantica, Oud Alif receives positive reviews. Some people seem to have experienced a far more gourmand fragrance than I did, while others thought the smoky leather or spicy woods were lovely.
As a whole, Oud Alif isn’t my cup of tea. I enjoyed the drydown quite a bit, but the opening was so monumentally unpleasant that I simply can’t move past it. However, you should keep in mind that most people can’t detect aromachemicals, and fewer still have much sensitivity to them, including the really powerful ones, so the majority of people will probably have no problems with Oud Alif. If you like very smoky, leathery, woody fragrances, you may want to give it a sniff.
Amber Rose is an eau de parfum that was also created by Julie Massé in conjunction with Dom De Vetta. Shay & Blue says it was released in 2012, and describes it as follows:
Amber Rose, a decadent and elegantly romantic fragrance, with rare and expensive May rose from Grasse, and a voluptuous sweet milk note resting on a base of white amber. A modern and richly chic rose scent.
Top Note – A Soft Opening Melody Of Precious, Rare May Rose From Grasse. Moist, Immaculately Feminine.
Heart Note – In Its Beating Heart, A Symphony Of Delicious Dulce de Leche, or Sweet Milk, Enveloping And Voluptuous.
Base Note – Approaching The Beauty Of Sundown, Fine White Amber Radiates The Softness Of Dusk.
The succinct note list is therefore:
May Rose, Dulce de Leche, and White Amber.
Amber Rose opens on my skin as a fresh, dewy, green-white rose, laced with a sharp, white musk, and then drenched in a ton of ISO E Super. There is a liquid quality to the scent that is very pretty and extends far beyond the aroma of a rose on my skin. It really feels as though a lovely helping of muguet (lily of the valley) had been used, along with perhaps something watery like litchi or lotus. The rose is extremely delicate and dewy at this stage, evoking images of a half-opened bud or a flower in bridal white, instead of anything syrupy or dark.
The whole thing seems to float in a diaphanous cloud. It’s almost ethereal at this point, yet also so sheer and wispy that I felt the need to double the quantity of fragrance I had applied to ensure that I could smell all the nuances. I went from 2 big smears to 4, the rough equivalent of 3 small spritzes from a bottle.
Part of my problem in detecting Amber Rose in the early minutes may have had something to do with the very significant amount of ISO E Super that radiates from this fragrance. The chemical’s very large molecules can block out the nose’s receptors. It is one reason why fragrances with a lot of ISO E Super can be hard to detect when smelt up close for too long, but are easier to notice from a distance or with some time between sniffs. That isn’t exactly the situation here with Amber Rose, because I think the perfume actually grows in body and strength as time goes by, but there were brief moments at first when the perfume’s translucency made its nuances hard to detect.
Nevertheless, the half-furled bud at Amber Rose’s core quickly begins to bloom. Within minutes, the rose and muguet-like tonalities are joined by an equally dewy, delicate violet note, along with a subtle fruitiness in the base. Then, roughly 10 minutes in, the muguet weakens and retreats to the sidelines, while the jammy sweetness grows much stronger. What’s left is a rose lashed with fruitiness, violets, clean musk, and ISO E Super. It reminds me a little of a fresher, greener, and cleaner version of YSL‘s legendary Paris in vintage form, only without the latter’s strong makeup, lipstick, and powdery facets.
The end result makes me wonder if some form of damascones with perhaps a drop of ionones have been used to supplement the rose absolute. Bois de Jasmin has an excellent discussion of those elements, along with an explanation of how they were used in Dior’s Poison and YSL’s Paris. I encourage you to read it in full, but I’ll quote here some of the relevant parts:
Encompassing rosy and fruity aspects, damascones have a vibrant and potent scent, marked by woody and tobacco like qualities, depending on the type. Some derivatives of damascones have very interesting nuances, from green apple, stewed plums and ripe figs to nuts and woods. First isolated between 1970 and 1980, damascones and damascenons produced a true breakthrough given their fascinating olfactory profile and intense fragrance. […][¶]
Another legend from the 1980s, Yves Saint Laurent Paris (1983) marries the fruity notes of alpha-damascone with its beautiful green violet accord. Where the combination of rose and violet would have produced a dense powdery sensation, damascones infuse the composition with a transparent fruity brightness. […][¶]
Among the components of rose oil, damascones are the most important fragrant derivatives; however, they are not the only materials isolated from rose oil used in perfumery. In 1961, rose oxides were identified in rose oil (in 1957, they were discovered in the oil of geranium), a discovery that engendered a whole generation of fragrances that explored the floral and green aspects of these new aroma materials.
Here, the flower at Ambre Rose’s heart displays both floral and fruity elements, as well as a green, dewy, violet note. It’s a delicate bouquet, but all that is about to change.
Roughly 25 minutes into the perfume’s development, Ambre Rose changes its profile. A milky quality trickles in, creating a very different sort of liquidity than the dewy, watery, muguet-like note of the opening minutes. At the same time, the fruitiness seeps up from the base, and engulfs the flowers. It reminds me strongly of purple fruitchouli, a note I despise, and it serves to transform the rose into something like jam. Unfortunately for me, the ISO E Super also grows more powerful, sometimes smelling like medicinal antiseptic and sometimes like that “woody buzz” described by Luca Turin. The effect, particularly in combination with the clean musk, gives me the first twinges of a headache.
By the time the first hour ends and the second hour begins, Ambre Rose smells like a fragrance that I would find in Sephora. It is a rose covered in syrupy, fruitchouli-like goop, then spun in cotton candy floss, sprinkled with a pinch of violets, and dunked into a vat of synthetics dominated by hefty amounts of ISO E Super, followed by sharp, clean, musk and a teaspoon of fake amber.
The entire concoction feels enormously like a mainstream Chanel or Lancome scent, and it’s not very surprising. Shay & Blue’s founder, Dom de Vetta spent many years at Chanel, and was a Senior Vice President there at one point. In addition, Mr. de Vetta spent two years working under Chanel’s in-house nose, Jacques Polge. Much earlier, he was at L’Oreal, creating fragrances for Lancome in the 1990s. According to the British site, Galina, Mr. de Vetta also worked on the launch of Trésor, a fragrance which Octavian Coifan once said was perhaps the first to incorporate a large amount of ISO E Super. My point is that all of these houses have a tradition of creating rose fragrances dominated by intense fruitiness and a good helping of ISO E Super.
Others may be anosmic to ISO E Super, but I am not. Even worse, in very large doses, the aromachemical tends to give me a headache — as it does here. The small twinges I experienced in the 20 minutes catapult into a full-blown migraine after 90 minutes. By the middle of the 2nd hour, I had sharp, shooting pains behind my right eye every time I sniffed Ambre Rose, and I had to take two Tylenol pills. They didn’t help. For almost six hours, roughly the entire duration of Ambre Rose on my skin, I had a piercing migraine the likes of which I have not encountered for a while. I don’t know how much ISO E Super is in this bloody fragrance, but it is not a minor amount.
My physical reaction to the scent means that I didn’t sniff Ambre Rose with the sort of frequency or focus that I usually employ, but I clocked-in enough to see its general development. By the middle of the second hour, Ambre Rose turns warmer, and lightly powdered. The watery dewiness has disappeared; the violet retreats to the sidelines; the fruity sweetness grows stronger; and the clean musk feels sharper. The milkiness remains, but it is growing increasingly weak as the ISO E Super becomes stronger and takes on woodier, cedar-like tonalities instead of pure rubbing alcohol undertones. In essence, Ambre Rose is now a very sweet, jammy, fruity rose with sharp, clean musk and a light touch of powderiness, all sitting atop a woody aromachemical base within a warm cocoon. The latter never feels like actual amber of any kind, but more of an abstraction via synthetics.
Over time, Ambre Rose loses a lot of its gooey fruited sweetness, and slowly turns drier in nature. I think it’s the impact of the ISO E Super, but I was still surprised by how the rose changed in the perfume’s final hour. In a nutshell, the rose returns to almost a green state and has a fresh quality, along with very sharp cleanness. All in all, Ambre Rose lasted just a hair under 5.75 hours on my skin — a fact for which I’m eternally grateful. Still, I had applied quite a decent amount of the fragrance, so such a brief lifespan was a little unexpected. However, I’m not alone in having iffy longevity. On Fragrantica, Amber Rose gets 2 votes for “moderate” which is defined as a 3-6 hour time frame, 1 for “weak” (1-2 hours), and 2 for “long lasting” (7-12 hours).
Speaking of Fragrantica, I was surprised to see that the perfume has received mixed reviews thus far, as I was certain women would be gushing all over it. There are only 3 comments actually describing the fragrance. One person writes that she “wasn’t blown away;” the second found Ambre Rose to be really sweet, though “lovely” as well. The third essentially recounts an ISO E Super experience, even though she doesn’t know it:
the overwhelming top notes are very odd & peppery, even though that note is not listed. I expected the the dulce de leche note would be very sweet but it’s just odd and slightly revolting.
it’s also hard to wash off… do try before you buy!
The other two comments read, in main part, as follows:
- Light fresh rose and amber combo, tested on paper only and at Harvey Nicols. Need to try on my skin will check it out at M&S. I wasnt blown away by it at first sniff.
- This smells really sweet on me, almost fruity (strawberries)but I’m guessing thats the sweet milk notes coming through. It is lovely, quite different from other rose scents that also has a deepness from the Amber.
It might surprise you to know that ISO E Supercrappy actually isn’t the main reason why I dislike this fragrance. My real problem with Ambre Rose is that it is a wholly derivative, overly simple scent with an annoyingly commercial character. I find it to be empty calories and mindless — which may be the reason why it keeps conjuring up images of a cheerleader, at least the sort portrayed in the movies: the inane blonde who is the epitome of femininity, wears too much pink lip gloss, and has the mental acuity of an amoeba, along with a sharp, nasty streak that she keeps barely hidden. It’s a cliché, but so is a rose lollipop in the vein of Chanel’s Chance, Mademoiselle Coco, and any number of other scents which Ambre Rose replicates in its vibe, only with far fewer layers or nuance. I think Ambre Rose belongs right next to those bottles in the Sephora aisle, or perhaps in TJ Maxx. It simply isn’t interesting.
This is the last of my reviews for Shay & Blue. Frankly, I do not believe the rest of the line will be more enjoyable. Oud Alif, Amber Rose, Salt Caramel, Blood Oranges, and Blacks Club Leather constitute five out of the nine fragrances put out by the brand, which is more than enough to show me that the overall quality, aesthetic, and choice of materials veer sharply from what I enjoy. Nevertheless, I suspect that several of the fragrances will be crowd-pleasers, especially in light of the low price for the smaller bottles. My suggestion is to sample first, and perhaps have some patience for the drydown which, at least in two cases, was an improvement over the opening act.
Disclosure: A vial of Amber Rose was included free with the other Shay & Blue samples that I purchased from Indigo Perfumery. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.