People often search for affordable facsimiles or “dupes” of famous fragrances. In the case of Frederic Malle‘s Musc Ravageur, one name that comes up is Meharees from the Italian brand, L’Erbolario Lodi. It’s been called the “Musc Ravageur killer” for a fraction of the price, and it’s also mentioned in the context of Hermès‘ Ambre Narguilé as well. A more expensive niche name that comes up in relation to Musc Ravageur is Le Labo‘s Labdanum 18. I love both Musc Ravageur and a bargain, so I bought Meharees blindly, persuaded by the rave reviews and by the company’s description of camel rides through the Sahara and legendary oases filled with undulating date trees. I thought I’d review it in conjunction with Le Labo’s Labdanum 18 to show how they compare to the Malle.
Meharees’ official name is L’Erbolario Lodi‘s Méharées Acqua di Profumo, but I’ve taken the liberty to refer to both the company and scent by their commonly abbreviated versions (and to skip the accent marks). According to L’Erbolario‘s website, the company was founded in 1978 by an Italian couple whose focus was on the beneficial properties of herbs in beauty products. They created plant-based cosmetics, before branching out into scent. Meharees is an eau de parfum that I believe was released in the early 1980s. Its official description on CyberCucina, L’Erbolario’s lone American retailer, reads as follows:
“Meharees” is a word for which there is no direct English translation. It suggests exotic travels by camel through the vast African Sahara. Picturesque undulating dunes, fanciful formations of stone, legendary oases now lost, and poetic groves of date palm blend to form a mirage filled with the aura of romance and wonder of destiny. […][¶]
Meharees is the sensual scent of the Sahara, exotic, spicy, and charming for men and women.
On Fragrantica and elsewhere, the note list is limited to: myrrh, spices and dates. I think there is no way that list can be complete. Not only do I (and a lot of other people) smell more than those three things, but I’ve also noticed that a lot of Italian companies prefer to give the barest of nutshell summations for their ingredients.
Meharees opens on my skin as a very strong, sweet, fruity amber drenched with spices and a ton of musk. The latter is, unfortunately, a very sharp and chemical-smelling civet, with a bit of a bug-spray undertone. The fruit accord seems to be a mix of clove-studded orange, gingered plums, and something vaguely resembling a date, but not quite. The rest of the picture involves a dash of nutmeg, a hint of smokiness, and very rich, heavy, ambered warmth. For the most part, though, Meharees is a strongly musked, extremely spicy, fruity oriental.
It would be an utterly gorgeous beginning were it not for the musk which stands out above all else. The problem is that it has a synthetic quality which feels extremely sharp, even pointed and harsh. All of that is completely separate from the issue of the chemical bug-spray. Granted, it’s merely an undertone that pops up on occasion, and it is admittedly a subtle thing but, nevertheless, a whiff of “bug spray” was noticeable whenever I sniffed Meharees up close. Thankfully, it’s not evident from afar, and it also doesn’t last beyond the 60-90 minutes of the scent, though the civet’s synthetic, sharp pointiness does remain for much longer.
The nature of the musk underscores what should be an obvious point: you cannot expect a fragrance that costs a mere €20.50 or $43 to have the same quality as one which costs €120 or $180 for a comparably sized, 50 ml bottle. It is financially improbable for an inexpensive fragrance like Meharees to contain the same sort of costly, high-end ingredients that give the Malle its refined smoothness. In short, there is a reason why you’re paying so much more for Musc Ravageur, and it would be both unrealistic and rather unfair to expect the same quality from Meharees. That said, I have to admit, I was taken completely aback by the degree of the synthetic sharpness in the musk, and I was rather disappointed. It’s unfair of me, I know, but it’s the simple truth. Still, from this point forth, let’s just take it as a given that the two fragrances are not going to be equal on this level.
Putting aside the question of quality, and focusing purely on the olfactory bouquets, I must agree with the common thought that Meharees is extremely similar to Musc Ravageur. Nevertheless, there are differences from the start, differences which grow much more significant and prominent during Meharees’ later stages. Let’s start at the beginning. In its opening, Meharees has almost triple the amount of musk than the reformulated Malle fragrance has on my skin, and it’s quite sharp, too. In addition, the cloves and fruitiness feel heftier; the ginger is quite weak in comparison; and there is a smoky, almost dusty quality to Meharees that the Malle lacks. In short, Meharees is purely oriental in nature and very much a musk fragrance.
In comparison, the Malle skews more gourmand, and is barely animalic or musky on my skin. Perhaps the Malle was different once upon a time, but the current version is quite tame and can be boiled down to: gingerbread cookies with vanilla-ish benzoin and a dash of furry kitten via a polite, very restrained touch of ambrette and civet. The ginger is far more noticeable than the cloves on me, though one of the problems that some people have had with Musc Ravageur is an excess of cloves in the beginning. I suspect the cloves have been substantially reduced to deal with IFRA/EU eugenol restrictions, but it may well be an issue of skin chemistry, too. Regardless, there is almost no fruitiness, and certainly nothing dusty, smoky, sharply synthetic, or heavily oriental about Musc Ravageur.
Meharees shifts at the end of the first hour and the start of the second. The orange now feels hazier with more of an abstract, orange-like vibe than the aroma of the actual, juicy fruits. The date also feels quite intangible, akin to a fleeting suggestion. In contrast, the smokiness is now quite recognizable as myrrh, and the dustiness it brings to the scent starts to feel almost sandy in nature. I have to wonder if there is a touch of guaiac wood to accompany the myrrh because there is a hint of something like autumnal burning leaves as well. Regardless, the sandy dustiness is a really nice touch and quietly conveys the whole “Sahara desert” thing, even if it’s very subtle. (Meharees is definitely not as sandy, dusty, spiced, or dry as Andy Tauer‘s L’Air du Desert Marocain.) The best news, though, is the underlying whiff of bug spray disappears after 75 minutes. Even the civet is now decent, at least from a distance. Meharees feels smoother as a whole, with almost a creamy quality emerging deep down in its base. The perfume really seems to be improving, though more from afar than up close at this point.
The more interesting changes occur near the end of the 2nd hour. The civet is slowly beginning to creep towards the sidelines, while the smokiness grows increasingly prominent. At the same time, the abstract orange note is now overshadowed by dried fruits, ranging from dates to raisins. I can understand why some people have mentioned Meharees in the same breath as Ambre Narguilé, because there is definitely a raisin aroma in the perfume now, along with a tiny whiff of something almost boozy at times. That said, I think there are distinct differences between the two scents. Meharees is a much drier bouquet that doesn’t read as dessert at all. It’s more akin to a handful of clove-infused, dried raisins in a dusty, sandy, smoky warmth. rather than a blanket of boozy, stewed rum-raisins that festoon a rum-soaked, apple pastry. The myrrh is the key, because it renders the fruits dry and parched in Meharees, rather than sweet, fat, plump, and boozy.
Meharees turns increasingly abstract as time passes. The notes begin to overlap, many of them losing their individual character, and what is left behind is a strong, rich bouquet of spicy, sweet, smoky, dried fruits encased in musky, ambered warmth that is flecked with some sandiness. The fragrance feels much smoother by the start of the 4th hour, perhaps because the civet is no longer a significant factor. By the middle of the 5th hour, the dried raisins have grown so pronounced that Meharees is primarily a soft, spiced, dry, slightly incense-y, raisin amber with very little civet musk but with a smooth, soft undertone in the base that almost borders on the creamy. The textural feel of the base is such that, a few hours later, I began to wonder if Meharees contained tonka or vanilla. It’s not clearly or strongly creamy, per se, but almost. I also wonder again if Meharees has any guaiac because there is a contrasting whiff of dry woodiness as well.
Meharees continues in this vein for a several more hours before finally dying away as a wisp of golden sweetness with a lingering vestige of something vaguely woody and dry. There is good longevity, and the projection is initially very strong. Using 2 sprays from an actual bottle, Meharees opened with a bold, intense cloud that radiated about 4-5 inches, but then seemed to grow a bit further after 10 minutes. The numbers dropped to about 3 inches after 45 minutes, but Meharees leaves a pronounced and definite wake in the air around you beyond that distance. The perfume only turns into a skin scent at the start of the 6th hour, though it’s not particularly hard to detect up close for a while to come. In total, it lasted roughly 9.5 hours, though that number increased by a few hours when I applied more of the scent.
There is a huge amount of praise for Meharees on the different sites that I’ve read. A good number of people describe Meharees in the same way that one Basenoter did in this thread: as having “the nice cosy drydown of Musc Ravageur without the awful cloves on top.” Another commentator writes: “There isn’t a clove note in Meharees. That’s why some people prefer it to MR. As far as bringing you to the Sahara I would say it does. It has a middle eastern type spice to it.” My experience is obviously very different from his in terms of the cloves. They definitely appeared on my skin and, in fact, to a significantly greater extent than they did in the Malle. Then again, as I keep saying, I’ve tried the reformulated version of Musc Ravageur.
In Basenotes’ official entry page for Meharees, there are 9 positive reviews and 2 neutral ones. Out of the latter, the most negative one reads as follows:
I’m neutral to this. It’s definitely just like Musc Ravageur without the disgusting cloves in the beginning. It still has a medicinal feel though to a small extent and it’s not the most pleasant thing. Beats Musc Ravaguer easily though, and is much cheaper.
One of the positive reviews also notes a “slight medicinal” vibe, but most talk about Musc Ravageur, the spices, fruits, how the scent has a strong vanilla component, or the perfume’s woody qualities. Here are parts of some reviews that cover a few of those points:
- Vanilla gourmand with light spice and a slight medicinal note at the initial spray (not bad though). I like this one. […] Has that slight middle eastern vibe. Definitely one to try!
- The reality is, Meharees smells EXACTLY like Musc Ravageur. But only after MR has settled on your skin for about 20-30 minutes. After that, they are identical.
- Delicious spicy oriental with a warm woody-musky dry down, the addition of balsams (mirrh and vanilla) and with a strong dusty presence of cinnamon and nutmeg throughout. Appealing and easy. The presence of the sweet date provides a sort of edible-tasty temperament that enhances the Meharees’s appeal. The dry down is somewhat musky-boise, spicy and resinous.
This is very pleasant, smooth, mellow, and mature. The top notes have lavender, tangerine, bergamot and rose oil. For the first twenty minutes it reminds me exactly of lemon meringue pie. The middle and top notes are where it shines, after about an hour the citrusy vibe is muted and you get cinnamon with a slight touch of sweetness from dates. In the base the myrrh and tonka bean are ever present along side the dates that never really dissipated. In the end it gives off an amazing sweet nutty almond/walnut vibe. [¶] I believe that myrhh cannot be the only wood present in this masterpiece. […][¶] I would guesstimate that cedarwood, sandalwood, guaiac wood, amber, basil, nutmeg & musk might*** also be present in this. In conclusion this fragrance is BEAUTIFUL and a must try.
Fragrantica posts are even more enthusiastic. In fact, quite a few of people resort to all-caps to express their love, like one person who wrote: “At the risk of sounding like a texty teen: OMFG!” On the page of L’Erbolario’s lone American retailer, CyberCucina, the comments are overwhelmingly positive. On Amazon, all 7 of the reviews on the site thus far give Meharees 5 Stars. That was where I read the statement that compelled me to finally buy the perfume blindly: one woman happily said that Meharees reminded her of her time in Egypt, and had the same sort of smell or vibe.
No-one mentions the strong chemical, synthetic element that I experienced, but a few of the readers here talked about it in the comments to my Musc Ravageur review. To quote one of them, “T.C.“: Meharees had “a heavy overlay of something chemical and unpleasant.” Another sold his bottle due to disappointment in the quality. I have to wonder if the “medicinal” aspect written about by a few people on Basenotes is the same thing that we’re talking about here as “chemical” and “synthetic.” I suspect that it is. Personally, I think that the synthetic harshness improves over the time, and it’s really just the first 3 hours which are tough, but I can’t deny my disappointment or the fact that I haven’t worn Meharees extensively as a result. Then again, I did enjoy the perfume’s later stages and I did receive a compliment on the scent.
I think you’re going to have to weigh the balance of factors for yourself. Do you have the patience to wait a while? Would you care greatly if there is a synthetic harshness or a possible “medicinal” chemical quality for the first hour or two? You will want to balance those questions against the vast number of absolutely gushing, overwhelmingly positive endorsements for the scent, as well as Meharees’ low price and the fact that the rest of the perfume is quite nice. My suggestion would be to sample it first if you can, either by ordering a cheap vial from Surrender to Chance or by going to one of the many retailers that carry L’Erbolario from Brazil to London, Asia, and several points in-between. (See the Details section below.) It is a scent that has enough nice elements to warrant trying for yourself.
LE LABO LABDANUM 18:
Labdanum 18 is an eau de parfum that was created by Maurice Roucel in 2006. The number 18 indicates how many ingredients are involved in the scent, but we know only a few of them. Luckyscent‘s short note list and description gives us the following:
Labdanum, tonka beans, vanilla, civet, castoreum, and patchouli.
Labdanum 18 opens on my skin with labdanum amber and significant amounts of clean musk, dusted with nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and a dash of citrus. There is a subtle streak of woodiness and patchouli in the base, but the predominant impression above all else is of a spiced, extremely clean labdanum amber.
Unlike Meharees or Musc Ravageur, the musk is truly just the clean, white variety, and absolutely none of it in the opening hour involves civet, ambrette, or animalic skankiness. I loathe white musk when it is sharp and strong which, unfortunately, is exactly how the note presents itself on my skin here. Not only is there too damn much of it, but it only gets worse after the opening minutes and for the entirety of the first hour. It is fully intertwined with the labdanum, and also overwhelms the majority of spices which quietly drop back into a very muted blur. The one exception is the nutmeg which feels far more prominent at times than the rest.
There isn’t much else to Labdanum 18 on my skin for the first few hours. It’s an uncomplicated, clean, lightly spiced amber in an incredibly sheer, wispy bouquet without any body or depth. Using 3 large smears amounting to 2 good sprays from a bottle, Labdanum 18 initially opened with 3-4 inches of projection, but that number dropped to a single inch at the end of the first hour. All of it feels very thin.
At the end of the 3rd hour and the start of the 4th hour, Labdanum 18 starts to shift. The vanilla creeps up from the base, along with a touch of a cinnamon-like benzoin resin. More importantly, the blasted white musk finally starts to change. It is now very clearly ambrette mixed with a small drop of synthetic civet. The end result is a more vegetal, warm sort of musk, less of a pointedly sharp, synthetic, purely clean, white sort. While all of this is happening, the spices turn even softer, folding into the amber which has, in turn, turned deeper, smoother, and sweeter. It’s an enjoyable bouquet that feels better balanced, though it also turns into a skin scent on me at the 3.25 hour mark.
For the next few hours, the notes flow seamlessly one into the next, occasionally feeling a little hazy in terms of their individual shape, but Labdanum 18 is generally a nice blend of warmth, light spices, minor richness, and coziness where amber is streaked with lashings of vanilla, cinnamon benzoin, and relatively smooth, vegetal ambrette before being dusted with a light pinch of nutmeg and ginger. Tonka awakens in the base to add a subtle suggestion of creaminess, while deep in the background, there are the first stirrings of something woody in nature. The latter starts to make itself more noticed during the middle of the 5th hour and slowly morphs into cedar. It’s a muted, minor note, but it helps to indirectly counteract any potential gourmandise from the vanilla and to keep Labdanum 18 planted in the oriental category instead of the sweet, dessert one.
Labdanum 18 really doesn’t develop further on my skin. It continues to be a lightly spiced, nutmeg and ginger amber with equally light wisps of ambrette musk and a hint of cedar atop a creamy base. The vanilla feels fully submerged within the labdanum where it counteracts the amber’s leathery, balsamic, musky, or truly masculine facets. In short, it’s a filter that defuses the darker aspects of the labdanum instead of being something strongly distinct in its own right like a vanilla custard or a creme caramel vanilla. As for the cinnamon benzoin, it neither lasts long nor does it ever impart a truly balsamic, resinous feel to the scent. Taking its place, however, for a few hours at least, is some powderiness that I suspect stems from the tonka.
In its final moments, Labdanum 18 is merely a blur of golden warmth with sweetness and a lingering vestige of something dry and vaguely woody. All in all, it lasted just short of 8.5 hours on my skin. The sillage was initially good, but Labdanum 18 is generally a very soft scent that doesn’t project much.
What I found interesting about Labdanum 18 is that there is absolutely nothing dark, dirty, leathered, resinously smoky, toffee’d, or truly animalic about the scent on my skin. This is not a labdanum scent in the vein of something like Dior‘s Mitzah, SHL 777‘s O Hira, Amouage‘s Opus VI, Tom Ford‘s Sahara Noir or Serge Lutens‘ Ambre Sultan. It’s far too wishy-washy for that. I also don’t find any real, profound similarity to Musc Ravageur beyond the fact that they share the same spices. I truly don’t. Musc Ravageur feels like a quasi-gourmand gingerbread scent that merely happens to be cocooned in golden warmth and has a touch of civet-ambrette musk.
Labdanum 18 is clearly a labdanum scent first and foremost. The spices are initially tertiary to the white musk before eventually rise to second place, but the labdanum is always front and center. More importantly, it is a clean, light, soft labdanum from start to finish, without the traditional dark, chewy, toffee’d, leathery or musky qualities that are so characteristic of the note. In essence, this feels like a labdanum that has had most of its wonderful impurities refined out of it. Alas.
My feelings about Labdanum 18 veer between disdain, ambivalence, and apathy. I definitely didn’t like the sharpness of the synthetic white musk in the beginning, nor the vast quantities of it. I was also unimpressed by the scent’s sheer wispiness, especially for the first 3 hours until it finally turned deeper and smoother, but then I think the vast majority of Le Labo fragrances have a disappointingly thin, wispy feel. They lack heft, density, or weight, and that seems to be the brand’s aesthetic. So is wishy-washiness, if you want my personal opinion. I’m afraid Le Labo is a brand that does little for me, and I’ve tried a ton of them by now.
On the other hand, Labdanum 18 is better than most in the line (for whatever that’s worth), it developed into a nice scent, and it is something that would also be work-appropriate. It’s not distinctive, interesting, or rich in my opinion, but I don’t think it’s trying to be. It’s also quite a linear scent whose main changes are in the nuances, prominence, and strength of its various secondary or tertiary elements, but there is nothing wrong with linearity if one likes the scent in question. Some of my favorite comfort scents are linear, so I’m hardly going to fault it for that. Ultimately, it just comes down to an individual thing. I wasn’t moved, but I can absolutely see why someone else might be, especially if they have none of my issues with clean, white musk or wispy scents. When taken as a whole, Labdanum 18 is a nice, enjoyable, spiced amber comfort scent.
Labdanum 18 has been around for so long that most people know what it’s about, have tried it, or have read reviews of it, so I won’t provide comparative reviews. I’ll merely link you to Fragrantica. One thing I noticed in reading the comments there is the point that one poster summarized in a nutshell as follows: “Labdanum 18 obviously plays very differently and diversely on many of the reviewers below.” And it’s true. Some people experienced much more complexity than I did, while others experienced even less. Some detected the animalics and underlying leatheriness, others didn’t. A significant number of people talk about powderiness and the vanilla, occasionally experiencing substantial quantities of both, but not a lot of people talk about the spices.
There seems to be a very wide divergence in people’s feelings about the scent as a whole. Some people really enjoy Labdanum 18, though they agree that it’s not very distinctive and even admit that they aren’t blown away by it. Others, however, call it “utterly boring after a couple of hours” because it’s so “plain,” or find it “ho-hum [and] Shockingly safe.” One person brought up Musc Ravageur and said, Labdanum 18 was “as similar to Musc ravageur as an elefant to a rhino! Only in the first 15 seconds they have perhaps one note in common? but then you get closer and they have nothing in common at all.” As always, individual skin chemistry is going to make a difference.
ALL IN ALL:
I think you should try Labdanum 18 if you’re looking for a very gauzy, very sheer, office-appropriate amber scent with spices and some musk that is also quite safe and clean. For once, the name of a Le Labo scent actually matches its aroma: this really is a labdanum fragrance above all else. But it doesn’t smell like Musc Ravageur, in my opinion.
If you’re looking for something closer to the Malle and don’t mind a synthetic opening, then you should skip Labdanum 18 and go for the Meharees. It may not have Musc Ravageur’s quality, but it is a much closer fit for a fraction of the price. You pay more for the Labdanum 18, but it’s very far from being a “clone” or “identical,” if you ask me. I don’t think Meharees is a Musc Ravageur “clone” either, but there is a smaller degree of separation. Actually, Meharees is more nuanced and complex on my skin than Musc Ravageur. If it weren’t for the harshness of the synthetic civet and the bug-spray undertone in the opening, I might find it more appealing than the Malle. It’s a purely oriental scent with layers that unfold over time; it’s significantly bolder and stronger; and it’s also more interesting with its dates, myrrh, smokiness, and sand-like undertones. Musc Ravageur is very linear and completely simplistic on me. Then again, it’s also a smoother, better quality scent and has a cozier feel because it skews more gourmand, so it suits a different need or itch.
Ultimately, you get what you pay for. If you keep your expectations low and don’t expect Malle quality, you might be happily surprised by Meharees. As for the Labdanum 18, it’s a typical Le Labo scent with a typical Le Labo approach and vibe. There isn’t more to say about it than that.