Today, I’ll look at four more attars from Sultan Pasha: Cafe Ambre Noir, Ambrecuir, Cuir au Miel, and Oceans of Flowers. The latter was the first total “Fail” for me from the line, while the first two were thoroughly enjoyable. Let’s get straight to the reviews.
CAFE AMBRE NOIR:
Cafe Ambre Noir is a world of gold etched with veins of darkness, a delectable world where boozy Bourbon, honey, and dark vanilla sweetness is offset and balanced by smoke, dry woods, bitter expresso, and chocolate. It’s an attar that sometimes felt like a Bourbon vanilla twist on Arabian Oud‘s gorgeously molten, honeyed amber fragrance oil, Kalemat Amber, only this one has a demitasse of coffee and chocolate (mocha?) in lieu of rose and cedar. At one point, I couldn’t stop sniffing my arm when the dark honey swirled around reams of toffee’d labdanum and salty, musky caramel ambergris, while Bourbon and smoky, dark vanilla were poured lavishly on top and Hindi Oud smoldered from below. My skin always emphasizes base notes, so Cafe Ambre Noir was not the predominantly expresso-chocolate scent that others have experienced, but I didn’t mind one whit. I thought it was all rather sumptuous while also being a “cozy comfort” scent at the same time. (Regular readers know what a sucker I am for that genre.)
Cafe Ambre Noir is an attar that is 95% natural. As Sultan Pasha explains on his eBay page, the remaining 5% consists of Vanillin that was necessary to augment the Bourbon Vanilla. Its list of notes includes:
Middle: Kenyan Coffee absolute, Labdanum, Cocoa absolute, Honey, Tonka absolute;
Base: Hindi Oudh, Beeswax, Hyrax [Hyraceum or Africa Stone], Ambergris, Amber, Vanilla, Castoreum.
Cafe Ambre Noir opens on my skin largely in the way I’ve described up above. Heavy, intensely boozy Bourbon vanilla is first suffused with smoke (from the Hindi Oud in the base), then swirled with chewy labdanum toffee and musky, salty, caramel-scented ambergris before being drenched in dark honey. Trailing at a distance is a semi-dry, semi-bitter mix of dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and cocoa powder. It catches up to the main trio quickly, but the end result isn’t a chocolate-vanilla fragrance. This is too dark, too intensely ambered, too honeyed, and too smoky for it to be anything that simple.
Cafe Ambre Noir shifts after a few minutes. The sticky honey, syrupy booze, caramel, toffee, and smoky vanilla are offset by a distinct bitterness that slowly coalesces into expresso. Yet, even so, I’d estimate that at least 80% of the opening bouquet on my skin, perhaps 85%, is the blend of the various forms of amber, honey, and smoke-laced Bourbon vanilla.
While I wish my skin brought out more of the coffee and chocolate, I thoroughly enjoy this amber-vanilla-honey-centric version. It feels decadent, immensely chewy, and utterly indulgent. When the ambergris pulsates out with particular force, it makes the attar resemble a Bourbon vanilla, smoky, honeyed twist on Profumum‘s superb Ambra Aurea, with the added benefit of that expresso-chocolate demitasse poured in as well. When it’s the honey and labdanum’s turn to shine, then I’m reminded of Kalemat Amber (which makes me just as happy). Given how many people, particularly amongst my own readers, love both of those fragrances, I suspect they’d enjoy Cafe Ambre Noir even if their skin follows mine in not amplifying the coffee or chocolate. But if it does, then so much the better.
Cafe Ambre Noir continues to change as time passes. Roughly 30 minutes in, the scent grows smokier and smokier on my skin as the oud in the base seeps upwards, sending stream after stream of darkness to curl into the main bouquet up top. I should mention, though, that my skin seems to consistently emphasize the smokier side of the Hindi oud, and has done so in quite a few things that I’ve tried from Sultan Pasha. Here, like in several other attars, the oud doesn’t manifest itself in any woody way. To some extent, there is a hint of nebulous leatheriness to the roiling mass in the base, but it doesn’t smell of “wood” at all. If anything, there is a subtle animalism running through that smoky mass as both the hyraceum and castoreum awaken. Still, none of it changes Cafe Ambre Noir’s main focus at this stage which is primarily toffee’d labdanum, salty caramel ambergris, honey, and smoky, boozy vanilla.
For those of you who dislike too much smokiness, never fear, there is more change on the way when the second stage begins roughly 90-minutes into the fragrance’s development. The roiling river of darkness in the base subsides, turning into a sedate trickle. Around the same time, the chocolate and coffee morph into a single accord that is essentially mocha, though the mix skews more towards the chocolate side on my skin and is maybe 15% coffee at best. The two become a dark backdrop for the fragrance, although small ripples lick the edges of the main core whose parts have largely fused together into one glowing, shimmering mass of smoky, vanillic, honeyed, ambered sweetness.
It’s a rather prismatic orb. At times, it sends out almost as many labdanum rays as vanilla ones; on other occasions, it shoots out honey and booze instead. Even the smokiness gets lost amidst all this richness, not only because the dark base is settling down but also because the smoke is increasingly turning into soft tendrils. Cafe Ambre Noir continues to be smoky when I sniff my arm up close, but the scent in the air around me from afar is all about the Bourbon vanilla twist on Kalemat Amber.
Things completely change when the third phase begins at the start of the 4th hour. Cafe Ambre Noir turns woodier, muskier, and almost entirely ambered in focus. The vanilla is subsumed within the labdanum-ambergris mix, and is no longer visible in in a clearly delineated, purely individual fashion. However, it lingers on for hours as part of a new accord that becomes a major part of Cafe Ambre Noir’s third stage on my skin as well as its drydown: Bourbon woodiness. The aroma of oak barrels which once contained Bourbon vanilla, the scent of which still lingers in very muted, subtle form within the wood.
Other things have changed as well. There is no chocolate or coffee, while the waves of dark honey have turned into a quiet touch of honeyed-scented, creamy beeswax. Now, when smelt up close, Cafe Ambre Noir is almost entirely Bourbon oak-barrel woods, labdanum, and ambergris, all streaked with increasingly thin veins of smoke, vanilla, and muskiness, then lightly coated in creamy beeswax. When smelt from afar, the scent is simpler still: Bourbon oak-barrels enveloped within a cloud of musky, honeyed, and ambered sweetness. In both cases, though, Cafe Ambre Noir has moved away from Kalemat and no longer feels related.
Cafe Ambre Noir continues to shift, though it’s sometimes in small degrees. Roughly 4.5 hours into its development, the fragrance grows smokier and even woodier as the Hindi oud rises up from the base to add its slightly leathery, smoky facets to the Bourbon oak-barrels, the two types of amber, and the honeyed beeswax. This phase doesn’t last for long, and the long drydown begins in the middle of the 8th hour. It’s really a return to what I described above as the scent from afar: vanilla-scented Bourbon barrels coated with a thin layer of creamy honeyed beeswax, then enveloped in a golden, slightly musky haze of amber.
This is the bouquet which wins out the day, lasting for roughly 10 hours in Cafe Ambre Noir’s long drydown phase. The fragrance finally dies away as a smidgeon of lightly sweetened woodiness a little over 18 hours from its start. Using just a tiny smear, it had strong sillage that extended about 7-8 inches from the opening. It became a skin scent after 8.5 hours, but it was easy to smell up close without effort until the 13th hour. For the sake of brevity since I have three other attars to cover here today, I’ll let you turn to the Basenotes discussion thread to read more about the scent if you’re interested. It is one of Sultan Pasha’s most popular fragrances.
OCEAN OF FLOWERS:
Another popular one on Basenotes is a scent that, unfortunately, I disliked quite a bit, so let’s get it out of the way before we move onto the two leather attars. I decided to test Ocean of Flowers after reading about it on Sultan Pasha’s eBay site because I wanted to give readers a lighter, airier option than the heavy style represented by many of the other attars, and also a more purely floral fragrance to boot. On his eBay page, the scent and its notes are described, in large part, as follows:
From the first drop one is hit with a torrent and tidal wave of white floral notes with the deep red sparkling rose blissfully floating in the background. [¶] Because of the high percentage of Ambergris in this blend the floral notes are refreshingly vibrant yet smooth from the start with a certain oceanic saltiness which runs through the entire course of the attars development.
After 3 hours the 30 years old aged patchouli starts to surface alongside the sandalwood with the ambergris gaining prominence. The florals are now intertwined with the above mentioned notes which creates a truly magically ethereal effect as though one (and those around you) has been exposed to the freshest oceanic breeze. [¶] As time goes buy the floral notes slowly receed leaving behind a long lasting but light tartness and sweetness which dances synergistically with the Basenotes(aged Patchouli, sandalwood, Ambergris)
Top: Persian Rose Otto, Gardenia absolute, Jasmine sambac;
Middle: Rosa Centifolia, Jasmine officinalis, Tuberose absolute, Tuberose Accord [synthetic];
Base: 30yr old Patchouli, Sandalwood Mysore, Ambergris.
The fragrance is 85% natural and 15% synthetic. Sultan Pasha states: “I had to use hedione and a synthetic tuberose accord to give the florals a bit of a helping hand and javanol to synergistically augment the sandalwood[.]” I despise Javanol with a passion and I dislike Hedione immensely, but it was the synthetic, mixed Tuberose Accord that seems to be responsible for my greatest issue with the scent: laundry cleanness.
Ocean of Flowers opens on my skin with shimmering white flowers. They are simultaneously fresh but heady, translucent and gauzy but strong. They feel radiant in an extremely dainty, fresh, clean way. They’re accompanied right from the start by a definite ozonic and oceanic vibe which creates the sense of flowers being tossed in the air like fluff by a salty sea breeze. It’s a very original and pretty twist on such ethereal floralcy. None of it smells syrupy, smoky, indolic, or even too freshly green. The tuberose, gardenia, and orange blossoms all feel as light as air, a feminine bouquet that simply turns one’s head even from afar.
Unfortunately for me, less than 30 minutes into its development, Ocean of Flowers begins to take on a surprising cleanness. At first, it was something that was identical to the aroma of a clean cotton t-shirt taken straight out of the dryer. For a few minutes, I transfixed by the contrasts at play, the interplay between such ozonic and gossamer light white flowers, their delicate headiness, their sweetness, that salty breeze, and the unexpected cotton-like freshness. But the cleanness simply grew and grew on my skin. After 2 hours, it smelt just like the Downy fabric softener in my laundry room, except this one had been poured over translucent tuberose, soapy orange blossoms, and a wisp of green gardenia. I couldn’t take it and scrubbed. I despise the modern mania for “fresh and clean” fragrances and the laundry aromas that are used in commercial perfumery to create it.
I spoke to Sultan Pasha about it the next day, and he says it has to be the fault of the synthetic tuberose accord. I’ll take his word for it. I know he wanted to create an airier, more delicate floral bouquet and I appreciate that quite a bit because I think it’s good to have a lighter scent amongst a collection with so many heavy hitters. I also admire how he’s played with the ambergris and other elements to create such an ozonic and salty aquatic feel without using the dreaded calone or helional (ozone). Nevertheless, that intense laundry cleanness on my skin was not enjoyable. At all. And it also made the fragrance feel quite mainstream in profile.
Yet, I think that will be a benefit or draw for some other people. The combination of an easier and more mainstream profile with a sheerer, lighter (but still strong) bouquet, the juxtaposition of floralcy with ocean saltiness and the ozonic sea air, and the general romanticism of the scent is something that is bound to appeal to a number of women. For me, though, it’s a total pass.
Ambrecuir is a relatively new creation and an all-natural attar whose notes include:
Top: Amber crude, Butter co2, Saffron;
Middle: Orris concrete, Cocoa Butter, Honey, Suede, Tonka, Javanese Vetiver, Tobacco;
Base: Siamese Benzoin resin, Labdanum, Vanilla, Tonka, Opoponax [sweet myrrh], Incense, Beeswax, Cade, Black and Grey Ambergris, Civet, Musk and Hyrax [Africa Stone or Hyraceum].
I thoroughly enjoyed Ambrecuir, but its opening took me a minute to get used to because it starts with a very butch leather accord that bears a distinct whiff of smoky black rubber. Sultan Pasha had actually warned me about that but I still blinked a little, although I loved how the rubber was juxtaposed next to a wave of sweet, salty, marshy, caramel-scented ambergris. Rubber is not the leather’s only side, though.
It is also intensely animalic in the sense of smelling just like raw animal hides left in the sun to cure. Cade is one of the three main materials that perfumers traditionally use to create the sense of “leather,” but I find it often smells more like heavily singed woods. Sometimes, it almost verges on the scent of a barbecue, while at other times it can be an aggressive, intrusive smokiness (especially when synthetic cade is used with guaiac). Here, though, the use of civet and hyraceum make the cade go in a completely different direction: intensely musky, raw animal hides that almost bear a fecal and barnyard undertone for a fleeting minute. That passes quickly, but the rawness remains for at least 15 minutes.
What fascinates me, though, is how rapidly other notes arrive on scene to tame it. Less than 5 minutes into Ambrecuir’s development, there is a whisper of iris smelling delicate, lightly powdered and floral, followed by more whispers of tonka, vanilla, and a touch of honey. The whispers turn into solid notes after another 15 minutes, caressing the roughened hides, slowly diffusing some of their butch animalism and the smoky rubber undertone as well. Roughly 30 minutes into Ambrecuir’s development, the rawness fades, leaving a more refined, polished, cleaner sort of leather that smells like expensive new shoes combined with clean, lightly floral calfskin and suede like the sort that you’d find with brand new, luxury hand bags. Yet, there remains just enough quiet smokiness and enough of that black rubber note to keep the iris-ambered-leather from being dull, too clean, or too pristine. The end result reminds me a lot of Parfums d’Empire‘s Cuir Ottoman in its early phases, though Sultan Pasha actually hasn’t tried that fragrance funnily enough.
Ambrecuir isn’t a complete match for Cuir Ottoman, though, in part because it’s more complex and because additional notes appear to make the two scents diverge. At the end of the first hour and start of the second, tobacco appears in the background smelling like the semi-sweet, semi-dry, gingerbread-scented leaves drying in the sun. The quiet spiciness is accentuated by a light sprinkling of saffron as well. The two fuse with the salty, marshy, musky, and caramel-tinted ambergris to create a warm cocoon that envelops the leather-suede.
For me, Ambrecuir is one of those fragrances where you have to tolerate the first 30 minutes to get to the good stuff. The second stage and drydown are really fantastic, thanks almost entirely to waves of butteriness and creaminess that flood over the main accords. The second stage begins a mere 75 minutes into the fragrance’s development, and marks a shift to an increasingly refined, cleaner, and much softer sort of leather. As the floral iris, the vanilla, and tonka grow stronger, the smoke and rubber retreat further and further into the distance.
More importantly, the Butter CO2 awakens in the base and starts to emit puffs of supple, smooth, incredibly lush cream. Butter CO2 doesn’t smell like food at all, and it’s become my new obsession because I find its effect on other materials to be quite magical. Leather, florals, sandalwood… they all transform into something indulgently rich, tactile, velvety, and unctuously smooth with the butter. I really don’t know why it’s not used in everything. I tell you, this stuff is simply fantastic, especially the way Sultan Pasha uses it. (He puts it in a lot of his attars.) He said the reason why the leather in Ambrecuir turns so decadently creamy is primarily because of the Butter CO2 mixed with the cocoa butter and sandalwood. The cumulative effect is the smoothest, creamiest calfskin leather, one that is infused with quiet sweetness and delicate iris floralcy before being sheathed in a diffuse, airy cloud of golden warmth that bears the tiniest touch of tobacco-saffron spiciness.
The fragrance doesn’t change substantially from this bouquet in the hours to come. Unlike Cuir Ottoman, Ambrecuir never turns powdery, but there is a brief shift midway during the third hour when the musk awakens in the base. It emits a quiet earthiness, smells almost like warmed skin, and is occasionally just a wee bit dirty. The tobacco is barely a whisper; it’s more like a ghostly shadow of dry spiciness in the background, though the saffron is fractionally more noticeable at times.
Ambrecuir’s drydown begins at the end of the 6th hour and the start of the 7th. The leather has turned into buttery, creamy, golden suede with a hint of sweetness. In the final hours, all that’s left is golden cream. Ambrecuir lasted just short of 13 hours in one test, but only around 9.5 hours when I used a miniscule speck. I wish I could tell you how much I used, but I tried Ambrecuir right after my disastrous goof in applying 5 times the recommended amount of Reve Narcotique, so I was a little traumatized, I erred too much on the side of caution, and I used truly the smallest amount possible the first time around. I don’t think I applied even a full drop in either of my tests because all the other Sultan Pasha attars lasted for ages with one drop, 15 hours minimum with several lasting 20 to 22 hours. So, I think I applied far too little.
I haven’t found any comments in the Basenotes discussion thread on Ambrecuir to share with you, so I’ll just move onto discussing a few unrelated matters. First, as some of you may have noticed, the 50-sample set is sold out. It was a promotional special and will not be offered again. However, Sultan Pasha will be offering 1 ml sizes for a number of his fragrances in the days to come, including Ambrecuir. But it may take him some time to list them all because he’s been working day and night to fill the sample orders (fifty times fifty vials!) and to get them out as soon as possible. The point is, if Ambrecuir or any of these fragrances tempt you, there will be another size option that lies between the 2-drop sample and the 3 ml bottle.
CUIR AU MIEL:
Cuir au Miel is an all-natural fragrance that Sultan Pasha describes on his eBay page as “Honeyed Leather” worn by James Dean. He writes, in part:
Imagine James Dean in a freshly waxed nubuck leather jacket standing in front of you, smoking fine sweet tobacco (or maybe not…..as sweet tobacco may have been too feminine for him ) […] but don’t expect cigarette ash here. Instead expect the smell of fresh moist honeyed tobacco in a moist leather tobacco pouch. Along with the brand new waxed and moist smooth leather expect sweet specks of incense smoke. Overall don’t expect the typical leather, tobacco or honey olfactive journey instead expect the truly out of the ordinary regal scent.
Top: Linden Blossom, Orange Blossom.
Middle: Taif Rose, Cananga, Aged Hindi oud, Honey.
Base: Aged Cambodi Oud, Mysore Sandalwood, Osmanthus, Beeswax absolute, 20-year-old Patchouli, Hyraceum, Castoreum, Musk gazelle, Civet, Siamese Benzoin, Labdanum, Tobacco, and finally Leather.
I want to briefly discuss that list. The number of flowers on it might lead you to think that Cuir au Miel is a floral leather, but it is not. It is driven by four main accords: leather, honey, musk, and oud. In addition to the honey note, there is a separate honey accord as well and this is where the floral notes were incorporated. Sultan Pasha used the rose, linden blossom, orange blossom, and I think even a touch of carnation to create a floral-scented and sweeter honey accord that is completely separate from the darker, more animalic note that he used. In short, don’t think Cuir au Miel is a floral oriental fragrance; it’s not.
Cuir au Miel opens on my skin with both sorts of honey that I just described poured over the same sort of butch, roughened, quietly smoky, animalic raw leather that was in Ambrecuir’s opening. Darting all around the edges is a skanky musk, while the base is composed of an earthy oud that bears whiffs of smoke and tarry leather as well. Once in a blue moon, there is a passing glimmer of a really beefy, fruity, rubied red rose, followed by a small hint of orange from the orange blossom. They’re ghostly touches that never last for long, mostly because the honey quickly turns into a waterfall that cascades over the notes, muffling everything but the leather and oud.
Cuir au Miel quickly shifts. Within minutes, the honey starts to take on a sulfurous, skanky, and urinous quality that is probably due in part to the use of hyraceum and civet as well. The musk grows apace as well, growing furrier and furrier in feel. For a short time, the cumulative effect is a fragrance that feels like the honey, leather, and oud cousin to Serge Lutens‘ famed animalic musk scent, Muscs Koublai Khan (MKK). The honey part of the equation doesn’t last, but the nod to MKK remains all the way through to the drydown.
I’ve tested Cuir au Miel twice and, in both cases, the oud surged forward in strength 15 minutes into the fragrance’s development, leaping out of the base to dance an intimate waltz with the leather on center stage, and forcing the honey onto the sidelines. As I’ve said a few times, my skin emphasizes base notes, and it also seems to have a tendency to amplify the various types of oud that Sultan Pasha uses. In particular, it accentuates their smoky and tarry facets which is also the case here. The oud sends out thick, heavy waves of smoky, tarry leather, followed by occasional, tiny ripples of fermented blue cheese and earthiness. At the same time, the honey fades to minor, heavily muted note on my skin. I’d estimate 70% of the bouquet is oud-leather, 25% is dirty MKK-style musk, and the remainder (if even that) is the honey.
Cuir au Miel is a very linear fragrance on my skin, the most linear of anything that I’ve tried from Sultan Pasha, and its main contours remain the same for hours on end in every regard but one: beeswax. At the start of the 2nd hour, a gorgeous, creamy beeswax awakens in the base and begins to seep upwards. Slowly, inch by inch, it gradually blunts the oud, taming a lot of its fermented cheese, while also reducing a bit of its tarriness and smokiness. At the same time, it also helps to soften that sharp, animalic, MKK dirty musk.
Still, it’s really a relative matter, a question of degrees because Cuir au Miel remains a slightly smoky, beeswax-coated leather-oud with dirty, skanky, MKK musk all the way through to its 9th hour. Tiny whiffs of patchouli and labdanum occasionally pop up in the background in that time, but they’re basically irrelevant. Only at the end of the 9th hour does Cuir au Miel change course. The oud finally disappears, leaving the leather as the main focus. It’s finally turned into something softer, snugglier, and more suede-like. At the same time, the musk now bears a skin-like feel, as well as a certain vegetal and ambered warmth, much like the drydown of MKK. In the final hours, all that’s left is a golden skin-like softness and fuzzy warmth.
Cuir au Miel finally died away a little under 15 hours from its start. It didn’t have the monster projection and sillage of some of its siblings in the line. It was more moderate in nature right from the start, and it actually became quite soft after 3 hours, wafting quite close to the body. That said, it still took about 7 hours to turn into a skin scent. As a whole, though, it felt like a more intimate experience than, say, Ame Sombre, Encens Chypre, or Aurum d’Angkhor. Its sillage was also not as large as Cafe Ambre Noir. On the other hand, it was not as intimate as Jardin de Borneo Gardenia.
There are a few comments about Cuir au Miel in the Basenotes discussion thread. In Comment #79, Le Vagabond wrote:
Paco Rabanne La Nuit’s creamy sibling! Friendly not acrid, still animal but cuddly and playful, the honey is rich but not heated, there isn’t the hot sharpness and meanness. This is playful animal sex in a dreamy golden clearing, as opposed to La Nuit’s sex in an ivy laden garden at night. [¶] Creamy and furry. Complex, dreamy, cuddly skank. A winner! [¶] You could replace furry with leathery, but furry is what came to my mind. [Emphasis to perfume name added by me.]
Well, I agree with “furry,” even if the scent which came to mind was a different one than Paco Rabanne’s La Nuit. To me, Cuir au Miel is both furry and leathery, in addition to being creamy, honeyed, smoky, tarry, and oudy as well.
For “Iris&Oud,” Serge Lutens did come to mind but it was not MKK. Instead, it was Uncle Serge’s famous honey fragrance, Miel de Bois, albeit in much politer form here. In Comment #69, she writes:
It smelled just like these hard honey candies my granny had when I was a kid. A well behaved and rich honey scent, not at all challenging like, SL Miel et Bois for example.
My experience was obviously different, not only in terms of the skank but also the oud and leather, but that should only underscore how much individual skin chemistry matters when dealing with such concentrated amounts of all-natural oils. Honey, in particular, seems to be one of really tricky notes in perfumery because I’ve heard some terrible tales from those whose skin chemistry makes it go horribly wrong (think dirty litter boxes and feline ammonia). On other types of skin, though, it can be a gloriously cozy, cuddly wave of sweetness. If you know that honey never works for you, you should obviously stay away from Cuir au Miel.
Cuir au Miel is not my favourite from the line, but I think it’s nicely done and it manages to weave a deft, clever balance between usually challenging elements. I would definitely recommend it to people with certain tastes: those who love either animalic leather-ouds or honey fragrances; fans of MKK’s dirty, furry musk; or all the above. If you fall within one of those categories, then I think Cuir au Miel might appeal to you quite a bit.
[UPDATE 2/19: The custom sample sets have temporarily sold out as well. However, Sultan Pasha has specifically saved at least 10 more of the 8-vial set to be offered later. The issue is that he will be leaving on a 5-day trip to Paris on 2/24, so he does not want to let anyone down by putting up a listing that he will be unable to fill immediately. So, a number of additional sample sets will definitely be offered, but it will probably be after his return and at the end of my series.]
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.