It’s such a relief to smell to smell genuinely good perfumes, one after another. It’s a joy to experience wave after wave of real, natural Mysore sandalwood, oakmoss, the richest roses, lavish amounts of real ambergris, or truly exceptional agarwood oud, all given sumptuous opulence and positively chewy might. They’re attars or concentrated perfume oils (CPOs) created by Sultan Pasha, an untrained perfumer based in London with major talent. Some of his attars demonstrate his passion for the vintage classics and the old French Haute Parfumerie style, while others nod to the Orient and his roots therein. All of them are worth sampling, if only for their incredible richness and amazing quality.
I want to disclose at the outset that Sultan Pasha is a friend of mine. However, I do not let my personal relationships impact how I judge or write about a fragrance. I’ve written several negative reviews for SHL 777 scents despite my friendship with its creator; and I’ve written negatively about two LM Parfums despite having met its owner in person. If I did not honestly, sincerely, and genuinely think that Sultan Pasha had talent and that his attars were worth trying, I would not write it. In his case, I admit that I would simply stay silent, but it would have nothing to do with friendship or bias. It would be solely because I have a rule against writing scathing reviews for tiny, new, or start-up brands which have no corporate or large personal funds behind them, no marketing division to issue reams of positive press, or no deluge of adoring customer praise, and, as such, would be badly hit by a negative critique. It’s a general rule that applies to any and all small companies in that position because it would be unfair, cruel, irresponsible, and, for me, by my personal standards, it would feel a little unethical as well.
Bottom-line, if I didn’t truly think Sultan Pasha’s attars had much better quality, greater opulence, and more beauty than so many of the utterly mediocre to pigswill fragrances that I’ve tested over the last 8 months, then I wouldn’t write about them. Period. But I do think they’re that good. Not all of them work for me personally or on my skin, and I think several of them could benefit from editing and more clarity, lift, and delineation between the notes, but God, they’re so much better than most of the things that I’ve tried lately. (I will be traumatised by Jovoy’s new Jeroboam line, in particular, for months and months to come.) Plus, when a fragrance actually feels like the richness of a Roja Dove parfum has been amped up a few notches or when one of them is like the $3,500 Roja Haute Luxe (Roja Dove’s oriental version of vintage Mitsouko) that’s been put on steroids, then it’s really worth sharing.
Consequently, I’ll have a series of posts devoted to Sultan Pasha’s creations. What I’d like to do today is to provide you with an introductory overview to the attars, how they work, the particular quirks in applying them stemming from their super-concentrated nature, how they can all be customized to your particular tastes, the issue of note lists, and the affordable sample sets that Sultan Pasha ships worldwide. Then, in two or three posts, possibly four, over the days to come, I’ll try to cover as many of the fragrances as I can, even if they’re often short descriptions as compared to my usual detailed, lengthy approach. In truth, I had planned to start with three mini-reviews today in this post, but I think the background information is necessary as the first step and it’s going to take some time to explain everything. So, I hope that you’ll be patient with me because these attars are probably like nothing that you’ve tried before.
Sultan Pasha is a hardcore vintage and niche fragrance lover who began blending his own creations three years ago. He doesn’t have professional training, but he does have some background in chemistry which I think helps him in dealing with the molecular aspects or interactions involved in perfume creation. All his attars are concentrated oils that are made using extremely expensive absolutes, resinoids, CO2s, and essential oils that he’s purchased from the top suppliers. Many of the fragrances are all-natural. A few have a minor amount of synthetics in them, always in the absolute minimal quantity needed to achieve his goal, but never more and absolutely never any of that godawful clean, white, laundry musk.
I mean it quite sincerely when I say that some of them are so rich in concentration, notes, and heft that, in my opinion, they make some of the famed Amouage attars look like water. As a result, one doesn’t apply them in the normal way. I had a bit of a learning curve in testing them, and was working blindly to boot. I didn’t have any note lists when trying the fragrances; I didn’t know a single thing in them unless there was a clue in one or two of their names. Have I mentioned yet that I was sent 52 sample vials and 7 mini, 3 ml bottles?! To say that I was overwhelmed would be a major understatement. I was given a list of names and prices to match numbers on the bottles, but absolutely nothing more. So I chose what to test based solely on the names, passing comments that Sultan Pasha had made to me in the past, or the occasional entry on his eBay store. (More on that later.)
There is a reason why this random selection process and my blind testing is significant: my reviews will only cover the tiniest tip of the iceberg, they may skip over a hidden gem, and there may well be others in that vast list of 50 that would suit your individual tastes better than something I’ve chosen. I have no way of knowing, so I don’t want you to think that my selection is reflective of the entire line. There is something for everyone in there or, at least, for those who love intensely rich, heavy fragrances in either the oriental or vintage style.
Having said that, I will be reviewing a handful of the attars that Sultan Pasha considers to be his best and I can say quite sincerely that some of them are truly superb. Aurum d’Angkhor, in particular, blew my socks off and is absolutely brilliant. It will get a solo review all of its own later on this week because it is such an opulent, complex, shape-shifting, kaleidoscopic, mesmerizing work that it really can’t be summarized quickly. Even then, I’m not sure I can do it justice, particularly as it’s rarely the same way twice on my skin. The only thing that is consistent is that I find it to be exceptional and that it could probably even be described as a masterpiece.
MATERIALS, NOTES, STRUCTURE, & TESTING:
There are a few things that you should know about the materials used in the attars. First, most of them have real Mysore sandalwood in them. Second, many contain real ambergris. Third, just as many have oud. If you’re one of the people who dislikes the oud that you’ve encountered in perfumery thus far, let me assure you that this is a whole other experience. It’s not the Westernized bastardization of “oud,” but it’s also not the feral beast of so many Middle Eastern attars either. One reason why is that Sultan Pasha has included so many other notes and materials that they diffuse or smoothen some of the oud’s rawness, thereby resulting in a more polished, elegant, and sophisticated version of it.
The other reason, and a much more important one, is that Sultan Pasha frequently uses super-expensive agarwood blends from Ensar Oud. Ensar Oud is one of the two most famous, high-end, and elite suppliers of oud in the niche world. He takes an artist’s approach, hand-blending the most expensive and rarest types of agarwood from places like Borneo, Malaysia, or Cambodia, to create oils with the greatest number of facets, nuances, richness, and smoothness. Many of the oils are aged or organic, almost all of them are phenomenally expensive. In Sultan Pasha’s outstanding Aurum d’Angkhor, the oud is one of the really, really expensive ones, and its beauty made my jaw drop. I’ve never encountered anything like it. Chocolate facets swirled around delicate floralcy, fruitiness, lustrous goldenness, musky earthiness, leather, spiciness, dark woods, a fungal sweetness, and so much more. You have to smell it to believe it.
The complexity of the oils has significance for the average tester. First, what you have to understand is that natural oils are made up of dozens of different molecules; some even have hundreds. An aromachemical frequently consists of just one molecular. So what you will experience with an all-natural blend will be an endless amount of nuances and facets. In the case of one of Sultan Pasha’s fragrances, you should multiply that by ten or twenty not only because he uses some incredibly aged oils (and aging creates even more facets than a young oil) but also because his fragrances often contain 15, 20, or more notes. What this means for you is that the fragrances will reveal different facets each time you wear them, and that individual skin chemistry will determine more than ever what you yourself will experience if you try Sultan Pasha’s stuff. It also means that quantity makes a difference in terms of which nuances are emphasized. (More on how to apply these fragrances and the quantity issue much later.)
For me, as a reviewer, all of this created a few challenges in testing. Not only was I doing it blindly without a clue as to the actual ingredients, but I frequently had trouble assessing where one note ended and another began. Was the chocolate-y nuance coming from the special rare oud or was it from the patchouli? Was I right that there was even patchouli to begin with? Was the absolutely beautiful creaminess a side-effect of the Mysore sandalwood, tonka, vanilla, something else, or all of the above? (Turns out, the answer with regard to the addictive, lush beautiful creaminess in many of the attars was often “all of the above” with butter CO2 playing a major role in things as well.) Not only did I have to guess at what materials were used, but they were blended so seamlessly that the notes flowed one into another, making it even more difficult to determine what was responsible for the notes I was detecting. (Actually, some of them are blended a little too seamlessly at times, and I would have preferred better note delineation and clarity for a few of them.)
On top of all that, Sultan Pasha uses an accord structure to create some of his most complex attars, which means that things overlap even more. For example, Aurum d’Angkhor is largely driven by 6 critical accords, two of which include a ton of individual notes. Regardless of placement, many of the elements share similarities in scent nuances, like actual spices combined with spicy wood notes and patchouli, or tobacco and leather with a leathery, tobacco-y oud. To give you some idea of what I’m talking about, I later found out that the nutshell MINI version of Aurum d’Angkhor’s note list is:
Top: Saffron Oil, Jasminum Auriculatum absolute, Persian Rose Otto.
Middle: Bulgarian Damascena Rose Absolute, Jasmine Auriculatum Absolute, Honey Absolute, Orange Blossom, Henna, Tobacco, Oakmoss.
Base: Ensar Encens D’Angkhor oud, Beeswax, Hand Macerated Ambergris, Hand Made Shamama accord [which contains like 8 ingredients including immortelle], Saffron Resinoid accord [raw Persian and Spanish Saffron Strands macerated for over a year in Siamese benzoin resinoid with a bit of frankincense and other unstated ingredients], Labdanum, Tobacco Absolute, Mysore sandalwood, and much more.
The end result of blind testing, super-lengthy note lists, and complex, often overlapping scent profiles was pretty funny in a few instances. I thought Aurum d’Angkhor had bergamot in the top but, no, it turned out to be a facet of Rose Otto, while the “orange” and “neroli” I detected really came from orange blossom. One attar smelt like slightly syrupy, indolic jasmine on my skin and to my nose, but it turns out that it had only a tiny bit of jasmine and that the olfactory similarities really stemmed from other things like a special indolic apricot thingamajig combined with some other ingredients. Another attar had a beautiful creamy green smoothness in its base that I thought was the nicest version of Australian sandalwood that I’d encountered; it turned out to be the effect of some ingredient I’ve never heard of before (and whose name I don’t recall) on the type of oud that he’d used, and then further amplified with a few other unexpected notes.
What I cannot emphasize enough is that personal skin chemistry plays a huge role in things. One of the attars that I was sent and that I shall review later on in the series is called Reve Narcotique. It was created just for me, is meant to be a nod to vintage Opium, and took two years to make from conception to finish. It is available for purchase, but Sultan Pasha also made an additional, “special Kafka version” (of which 10 mls still remain for anyone who is interested) and that one is even richer, has an even greater quantity of resins like Tolu balsam, and also goes a step further by including a rare gardenia enfleurage. This is not the “gardenia” one encounters in mainstream or even many niche perfumes, but actual, real gardenia created through the laborious and, therefore, now rarely used enfleurage process. There is also an unusual, rarely used Indian varietal of jasmine that one never encounters in perfumery which doesn’t smell like typical jasmine Sambac or grandiflora versions at all. The regular Reve Narcotique seems to be most people’s favourites amongst those that they’ve tried but the end result on my skin for both was rather a shambles. Granted, I completely goofed the first time around by applying four, maybe five, times the recommended quantity (you don’t use the words “vintage Opium” to someone like me, send a full bottle, and then expect rationality or moderation!), but subsequent tests using a tiny quantity didn’t work out so well either. My skin chemistry amplifies base notes, so it made the resins in the “Kafka Special” balloon to the point of essentially obliterating the delicate gardenia.
I had better luck with the regular Reve Narcotique which does, indeed, demonstrate a vintage Opium vibe, but neither one was my favourite. To my surprise, I far preferred a rose attar called Al Hareem. I am generally not a fan of rose fragrances but this is one I would gladly and happily wear, thanks to its naturalistic sweetness, its rubied and beefy richness, its depth, and its inviting, sexy muskiness. In contrast, I thought both Reve Narcotiques were bogged down and muddied by an excess of ingredients and were in need of editing, as well as a greater delineation or clarity between the notes, and a bit of a lift to the overall bouquet. I’m someone who absolutely adores over-stuffed fragrances with a huge note list, so when I tell you that both Reve Narcotique versions made me think of Henry VIII at his most obese and in need of Weight Watchers to shed some notes, then that should tell you just how rich, dense, hefty, and complex these attars really are.
One reason why I’ve gone into such detail on the notes and structure is to explain the limits of my reviews. I’ll try to do my best under the circumstances, but the way things smelt like to me and on my skin may only be a small part of the scent. You should keep that in mind if my description of an attar tempts you, but also if it doesn’t. Go by the note lists and, if something sounds intriguing, then try it for yourself. The regular version of Reve Narcotique appears to be a huge favourite amongst others from what I hear, so it’s definitely worth considering. And Sultan Pasha is always happy to tell you the basic notes in his fragrances if you contact him. (He’s friendly and very easy to reach via Facebook or eBay.)
Besides Reve Narcotique, I plan to cover several other attars in the days ahead. I was crazy about Encens Chypre which was inspired by vintage Mitsouko but which, for the first half of its life, reminded me nonstop of the more oriental, warmer, ambered Roja Dove Haute Luxe (which was itself inspired by Mitsouko). The difference is that Encens Chypre has beautiful incense added in as well. I also really loved Sultan Pasha’s Ambrecuir which is an iris-y, ambered leather with tobacco, saffron, Mysore sandalwood, tonka, resins, and other notes. It was like a more complex, interesting, smoother, and richer cousin to Parfums d’Empire‘s Cuir Ottoman, though funnily enough Sultan Pasha has never tried that scent.
I’ll obviously write about the spectacular Aurum d’Angkhor, but there will also be short reviews for:
- Cuir au Miel (an oud-leather with honey and beeswax);
- Jardin De Borneo Gardenia (gardenia enfleurage, vetiver, Borneo oud, Mysore sandalwood, calamus/papyrus, civet, and many other notes);
- Ensar Rose (woody, smoky, incense rose that reminded me of a richer version of Guerlain‘s Encens Mythique at one point);
- Al Hareem (sweeter, deeper, muskier, richer, oud rose that I would wear myself);
- Delice (a floral oriental with cognac, oud, and a gourmand streak);
- and, if I have time to get to them, possibly Nankun Kodō (Japanese incense); Cafe Ambre Noir (Kenyan coffee and cocoa absolutes with labdanum, oud, beeswax, castoreum, vanilla, and more); and Inferno (a resin bomb with tobacco, incense, amber, castoreum, hyaceum, civet, Thai oud, labdanum, and more). [Update: Sultan Pasha just told me that Ame Sombre is his tribute to Amouage’s beautiful Tribute Attar. The Ame Sombre Grade 1 is the closest out of three different levels, so I hope to fit in a test for that, too, but please be aware that quantities are limited. However, he does have just enough left for samples.]
BESPOKE FOR YOU, SAMPLES & “THE PAPER CLIP METHOD”:
There are some other things that you should know. All the attars are hand-blended. None are made in mammoth quantities like commercial fragrances are, so there is an occasional issue of minor batch variations. By the same token, however, they can be changed to adapt to a client’s particular tastes if someone would prefer an existing scent without a minor element like, say, for example, cumin or cloves. In addition, you can also have him create a fully bespoke, custom fragrance just for you if you prefer.
In all cases, however, you need to keep in mind that Sultan Pasha advises using a special method of application that I’ll call “The Paper Clip Method.” Each bottle comes with an internal stick wand applicator or, in the case of one bottle I was sent, a rollerball top. The sample vials contain two to four drops of oil, depending on the attar’s cost, the rarity of the materials used, or the availability of the scent itself. In either format, the concentrated super-sized nature of the attars means you should apply as little as possible. Apply too much and things go wonky. My initial Reve Narcotique gaff demonstrates the impact on the notes, but it is not the only example. When I applied too much of another attar that I had in 3 ml form, I actually felt a bit light-headed from the rush of richness.
What one is supposed to do is to take a paper clip, open it up to form a long, thin stick, and then insert it into the sample vial or bottle. Apply a single drop, no more. Personally, I had difficulty getting an actual “drop” at the end of the paper clip and the tip of the stick wasn’t really wet at all. So I swiped it back and forth in a small patch on my arm, dunked it back into the vial, and repeated a few times until I had the equivalent of roughly one drop spread out. Sometimes, it was less, sometimes a bit more. Needless to say, none of this is an exact science, and the imprecise nature of my application dosages also makes it difficult to come up with consistent longevity and sillage numbers for the reviews. (That said, most of the attars lasted well over 14 hours, often 18 hours, even with these tiny pin-drop or pinprick amount.)
The quality, rarity, and cost of the materials means that these attars are not cheap when you look at them purely and solely on a ml or millilitre size basis, but you are getting a lot of bang for your buck. Prices depend on the scent in question, and are determined by the rarity and cost of its ingredients. So, the price for 3 mls of most of the attars is £99, £150, or £250, and goes up from there for larger sizes like 6 mls or 12 mls. Sultan Pasha told me that a few of the really simple ones — not all, but a few — could actually be diluted into 50 mls of perfumer’s alcohol in order to create a pure parfum or extrait in concentration, or into 100 mls to create a rich eau de parfum. That should tell you just how super-concentrated the oils are to begin with and how little you need to enjoy them. However, he does not recommend dilution for most of his attars, and particularly not for the really elaborate creations like Encens Chypre or the magnificent, jaw-droppingly complex Aurum d’Angkhor because it would completely screw up the development, nuances, and notes. The fragrances would fall apart and lose their structure, but I’m raising the point merely to demonstrate that 3 ml of a Sultan Pasha attar is nothing like 3 ml of something from Arabian Oud and, in my opinion, not even like 3 ml of some of the Amouage attars. This is a whole other level and ballgame.
Sultan Pasha has made it easy for you to try something before you decide to spend a lot of money because he has several sample sets available on his eBay shop, Scents Rarity. The first set consists of 50 samples for £50 (or roughly €64) which comes to the extremely reasonable price of £1 a sample. Free worldwide shipping with a tracking number is included in the price. Each vial contains somewhere between 2 to 4 drops depending on the fragrance’s rarity, cost of materials, and general availability. That’s enough drops for about 2 full, in-depth wearings or about 4 lighter, briefer ones. (As a side note, the quantities shown in my vials are greater than what you will receive because he knows how much I test something before writing about it and he sent me extra. Yours won’t be so full.) In addition, there are also two smaller Custom Sets where you choose the fragrances you want to try out of the list of 50. One is a small set of 8 samples for £15 (or roughly €19) with £8.50 for worldwide shipping with tracking. The other has 16 samples of your choice for £25 (or about €32) with £8.50 for shipping. Because the products are oil-based rather than alcohol-based fragrances, the British Royal Mail doesn’t have its usual issues and won’t confiscate the packages. I received my package from London to the U.S. in exactly 10 days. In terms of customs, Sultan Pasha doesn’t recall hearing any issue from any of his customers, and he always sends his packages as a “gift.” A number of people from around the world have ordered his samples before, seemingly without any customs or shipping problems, and they all seem to really enjoy his fragrances. You can read some of their happy responses in a Basenotes discussion thread.
[UPDATE 2/18: The 50-sample set was a promotional special and has sold out. It will not be offered again.]
So, that should be all the information you will need to understand the upcoming reviews. Thank you for bearing with my long explanations. In the days to come, I’ll try to cover as many fragrances in each post as I can manage without it being ridiculously long. In the meantime, I strongly urge you to check out the sample sets, particularly if you love the vintage style, Amouage’s attars, or the richness of some of Roja Dove’s best parfums. I mean it sincerely when I say that Sultan Pasha’s attars are the way fragrances were meant to be and should still be but, alas, so rarely are these days. Whether or not a particular blend worked for me personally, I always admired its quality, richness, heft, and smoothness. And everything I tried demonstrated unquestionable, genuine talent — talent by the buckets. Thank heavens there are still a few people out there who make truly good perfumes that are a joy and luxurious indulgence to wear. Try some of his attars, and you will see for yourself.
UPDATE: MASTER LIST OF ALL THE ATTAR REVIEWS TO DATE IN ONE PLACE:
I’ve now covered about a third of the attars, roughly 27 or so. You can find the reviews at the links below with an accompanying brief, nutshell summary of each fragrance:
- Ame Sombre, Al Hareem, and Delice. (Ame Sombre is tobacco, incense, rose, and more, and a tribute to Amouage’s famed but discontinued Tribute attar; Al Hareem is a sensual, musky, animalic rose-sandalwood-oud; and Delice is a boozy, fruity, gourmand oud.]
- Cafe Ambre Noir, Ocean of Flowers, Ambrecuir, and Cuir au Miel. (Cafe Ambre Noir is a personal favourite, a swirl with coffee, toffee’d amber, chocolate, honey, smoky oud, and lush vanilla. Ambrecuir is calfskin, honeyed leather, creamy sandalwood, smoke, incense, amber, and more. Cuir au Miel is an even more honeyed, leather-oud with amber. Ocean of Flowers is a light, clean, salty, and somewhat oceanish white floral bouquet.)
- Several incenses: Incense Royale, Encens Chypre, and Nankun Kodo. (Incense Royale is a warm, golden, honeyed, foresty, piney and smoky incense, far better than Profumum‘s Arso. Encens Chypre is an opulent incense twist on vintage Mitsouko. Nankun Kodo is a gorgeous, calming, and addictive Japanese form of incense, brimming with cinnamon, other spices, herbs, sultry resins, aromatic woods, amber, and more.)
- Florals and/or dark, masculine twists on the genre with: the Jardin de Borneo attars (Gardenia, Ginger Lily, and Tuberose), Al Hareem Blanc, and Claire de Lune (previously Sambac Regale).
- Ensar Rose and Inferno: Ensar rose is a rose-oud, first green and crisp, then blanketed with incense and oud. Inferno is a quasi-chyprish and slightly masculine ball of aromatic, musky, and smoldering darkness with more elements than I can summarize.)
- Carnival d’Havana and Nectare.
- an opulent, heady, lush, spicy and resinous floral oriental, Reve Narcotique (Grades 1 and 2) that is a huge hit with men and women alike, tuberose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, and resins galore, in a subtle nod to the style of vintage Opium.
- Resine Precieux and Via Dolorosa. (Resine Precieux is a mix of dry, dark amber, earthy spices, and rich resins. Via Dolorosa is an ethereal, dewy and rather green muguet-lily that opens with petrichor rain before gradually turns more golden and lush.)
- the bright fruity-floral, Cites des Anges. (Another popular one in the line where rich jasmine is merged the electrically bright citruses and the fruity tropicality of durian, among other things. If you like Neela Vermeire’s Bombay Bling, this might be for you.)
- the jaw-dropping, stupendous masterpiece that is Aurum d’Angkhor, the jewel of the line;
- Tabac Grande, a powerful, immensely boozy mix of cognac, leather and tobacco fragrance that Luca Turin awarded Four Stars;
- Fougere du Paradis and Pure Incense: the first one is actually a fougere-oriental hybrid, an unisex, elegant fragrance without the usual barbershop or cologne aromas. It mixes aromatic cleanness, fragrant lavender, clary sage, and soft herbs with white oud, leather, amber, and resins. Eventually, it turns into lovely lavender-leather with smoke and golden warmth. Pure Incense is one of my favorites from the line, a magnificent, smoldering powerhouse where intense, hefty amounts of labdanum amber are layered with myrrh, frankincense, tons of resins, a hint of tobacco, and then even more amber. Absolutely fantastic and addictive.
- Al Lail, a musky, indolic floral oriental centered on jasmine with fruity accents and dark musks.
- Thebes G1 and G2, inspired by Guerlain‘s famous vintage Djedi. Thebes G1 can be alternatively described as a dry floral iris vetiver, a chypre oriental, or a vetiver-leather. Thebes G1 is an aldehydic green floral, dry green chypre, or chypre oriental. Both have iris, vetiver, leather, rose, jasmine, amber, oakmoss, resins, and musks, but Thebes G1 is spellbinding, an unearthy, otherworldly beauty that is truly distinctive and compelling. A must-try for vetiver lovers.
- Violette Noyée, a beautiful garden where dewy violets, iris, heady lilacs, mimosa, jasmine, and a slew of other flowers are set against green leaves, wet earth, and ambered muskiness. Fans of Guerlain’s discontinued Apres L’Ondee in its vintage extrait form should give Violette Noyee a try. ]
Disclosure: My samples and mini bottles were kindly provided by Sultan Pasha. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.