Aurum d’Angkhor attar is one of the most magnificent and remarkable fragrances that I’ve smelt in years. An explosion of baroque extravagance, it left my senses reeling, flooding my mind with visions of palatial splendour in Europe and grand temples in Asia. A masterpiece of complexity, Aurum d’Angkhor left me mesmerized, delighted, or just plain awed on occasion. My attempts to describe the prodigiously complex layers and opulence in my notes always seemed to fall short and, frankly, I’m not sure I’ll manage to do so here.
There is just something about Aurum d’Angkhor that defies the norm, rendering more typical explanations or descriptions inadequate. It’s not merely the way its over-the-top richness explodes like a grenade from the first sniff, nor the masterful deftness with which Sultan Pasha has commandeered a long laundry-list of challenging, intense, or bold materials. It’s not the way that Aurum d’Angkhor moves from its initial kinship with such Western legends as vintage Opium, vintage Coco, and Roja Dove’s orientalist twist on vintage Mitsouko, Roja Haute Luxe to something original that is centered in the Orient and Middle East. Aurum d’Angkhor is all those things but, at the end of the day, for me, it’s simply a magical potion that hit me on an instinctive, emotional, and utterly hedonistic sensory level in a way that is far more than the sum of its parts.
Aurum d’Angkhor is an all-natural attar that was created and released in 2015. Some of its notes are secret, but the partial list is:
Top: Jasminum Auriculatum (“Juhi”) absolute, Persian Rose Otto absolute, and Saffron oil;
Middle: Bulgarian Damascena rose absolute, Jasmine Auriculatum (“Juhi”) absolute, Orange Blossom absolute, Honey absolute, Tobacco absolute, and Henna;
Base: Ensar Oud’s Encens D’Angkhor Oud, Mysore Sandalwood, Beeswax, hand-macerated Ambergris, hand-made Saffron-Resinoid blend [raw Persian and Spanish saffron strands macerated in Siamese benzoin resinoid], Labdanum, Frankincense, Shamamah attar [Pandanus (Kewara) flowers, Mysore sandalwood, Saffron, Henna, Labdanum, Siam Benzoin, Opoponax Sweet Myrrh, Immortelle, Tobacco absolute, 30-year aged Patchouli, Musk, Nagarmotha/cypriol, Oakmoss, Tumeric, Honey absolute, Butter CO2], and other ingredients.
Aurum d’Angkhor opens on my skin with the richest, beefiest, most voluptuous rose, glowing like a 3D prism, electric and alive, and yet, so utterly naturalistic that it feels as though you’re smelling a blooming rose growing in nature. Well, more like a thousand roses distilled down to a single vibrating drop. This glowing entity is layered with syrupy, indolic jasmine, then coated with dark honey, spicy saffron, and ambered muskiness. Its petals are bejewelled with citrusy dew, both lemony bergamot aromas from the rose otto and a sweeter orange-neroli note from the orange blossoms lurking shyly in the corner.
The rose quivers its lushness like a clarion call and beacon, but it is hardly the full story in Aurum d’Angkhor’s spectacular opening. The honey and beautifully fragrant saffron swirl into a dark nectar that drips down onto tender leaves of green that frame the rose’s glowing face. I had thought the sense of plush greenness stemmed from the oakmoss but, according to Sultan Pasha, its one of the many facets of the rare Jasmine Auriculatum (“Juhi”) that lies at the heart of Aurum d’Angkhor.
The saffron honey quickly trickles down into the dark soil at the rose’s base, and what a base it is! There, vegetal humus, wet leaves, and strands of dark tobacco lie upon a bed of oud, sticky dark resins, and the Shamamah blend. According to Sultan Pasha, that attar is one of Aurum d’Angkhor’s main accords, and is so important that it essentially amounts to a central backbone which is then fleshed out by the florals, the spice-resinoid mix, and the oud. (Shamamah is available as a separate attar, by the way.)
While the Shamamah is one of my favourite things about Aurum d’Angkhor, the ultra-expensive, rare agarwood from Ensar Oud, Encens d’Angkhor, fascinates me with its multi-faceted nuances. To my delight and slight disbelief, it bears a strong and distinct aroma of dark, semi-sweetened chocolate. That is interspersed with fresh, clean, white mushrooms, as well as warm leather, a subtle floralcy, dark woodiness, earthiness, vegetal greenness, and a touch of incense-like smokiness. To my relief, at no time in any of my tests did it emitted anything remotely fecal, dirty, or barnyard-like on my skin, although I suspect that things might turn out quite differently if one went to town and over-applied the fragrance. Anything more than one good drop, I think the oud would turn intensely ripe and raw; with one drop, though, it’s beautiful. The chocolate aroma, though, was such a happy surprise that I wrote to Sultan Pasha about it in amazement, and he says it appears on his skin as well. It’s particularly fascinating when juxtaposed next to the oud’s earthiness and its soft, white mushrooms, not to mention the fruity rose and the saffron honey.
Somehow, all of that is given even further depth and richness by the Shamamah attar. It not only takes everything to the next level, but also seems to super-size each of its companions’ many individual facets and components, whether it’s the rose, the amber, the resins, or the spices. Rivers of red, brown, and gold set off a decadent display of the warmest, richest spiciness layered with truly beautiful, 30-year old aged patchouli, as well as tobacco, cypriol woodiness, and cinnamon-scented resins. All of that is drizzled with then golden immortelle sweetness, wrapped up with ribbons of dark, Opium-like incense, before being cocooned in a haze of dark, musky, slightly salty ambergris. It’s intoxicating, incredibly complex, and a large part reason why Aurum d’Angkhor’s bouquet feels so sumptuous and regal.
In fact, Aurum d’Angkhor’s extensive layers are so rich and over-the-top, individually, that the cumulative effect left me quite dazed and almost breathless at first. But, once I stopped reeling from the blow to my senses, the scent frequently made me think of regal excess and hedonistic opulence. My mind was flooded with images, different aspects leading me to different places. For example, there is something so magical about the 3D brightness of the floral notes that it brought to mind classic fairy tales and princesses, particularly later on when the jasmine is encircled by the oud, much like Sleeping Beauty lying in a thicket of (oud) brambles.
On the other hand, the astounding rubied rose in the opening minutes and its velvety richness called to mind the ornate red State Bedroom at the palace of Versailles, while the fragrance’s intensely golden, almost molten, aura evoked the legendary Amber Room of the Romanov tsars. At the same time, the sophistication of the scent made me think of Haute Couture. To be precise, Patrick Demarchelier’s editorial fashion shoot featuring the most elaborate Dior haute couture ball gowns in a palace garden. Hours later, when Aurum d’Angkhor left Western-style bouquets and turned its focus purely to the East, it was the splendour of China’s palaces (and some of its temples) that came to mind. What I slowly came to realise was that there was a common theme to all the images: imperial splendour.
In its first four or five hours, Aurum d’Angkhor is what I call a “prismatic” scent, thanks to its prodigious complexity. Like many of the best fragrances, it rarely follows a specific, set pattern but, rather, radiates different notes and nuances each time you wear it, much like rays of light hitting a crystal chandelier. The continuously changing kaleidoscope is particularly difficult to pin down because of how much the various materials overlap in terms of their olfactory characteristics, but there are a few general trends.
Roughly 15 minutes into its development, Aurum d’Angkhor shifts. The Shamamah blend begins to seep upwards, turning the glowing 3D rose significantly spicier and darker. Increasingly large puffs of incense, tobacco, and aged patchouli smudge the flower’s petals. Sticky resins trickle into the honey, the saffron grows even richer, and jasmine joins the fruity orange blossoms on the sidelines. In the base, the Mysore sandalwood awakens, its spicy richness combining beautifully with the oud’s ever-growing chocolate and mushroomy facets. The ambergris cocoon grows deeper, heavier, muskier, enveloping not only the incandescent rose at its heart, but everything else in its wake, you yourself included.
The overall effect and result frequently remind me of a rose-jasmine-orange blossom-oud version of vintage Opium crossed with Chanel‘s vintage Coco, if the very best and richest aspects of both those fragrances were multiplied in their opulence by a factor of twenty, and then put on steroids. The grandeur here is simply breathtaking. Not even the wonderful but astronomically priced Roja Haute Luxe extrait comes close. Aurum d’Angkhor blows that fragrance out of the water in terms of depth, hedonistic extravagance, complexity, and body.
Things start to change at the end of the first hour and the start of the second. The jasmine takes over as a floral center-point. The rose now drops to third place behind the increasingly prominent, lush, sensual orange blossom, then retreats completely into the background at the 90-minute mark. All the flowers, though, are heavily coated with honey, the saffron-resinoid blend, and even cinnamon from the Siam benzoin. More importantly, the Mysore sandalwood arrives on center stage to weave itself around the flowers, the Shamamah, incense, and amber.
Yet, for all the oriental notes, there is an equally strong chypre-like quality to Aurum d’Angkhor at the start of the second hour because the oud in the base temporarily gives way to a mossy greenness. Sultan Pasha attributes it to the Juhi jasmine because he says there isn’t that much oakmoss in the Shamamah, but I’m happy at how it feels like vintage-style oakmoss to me, even if it’s merely a mistaken impression. It’s particularly wonderful when combined with the 30-year-aged patchouli, and the fruity and citrusy side of the various florals.
The cumulative effect reeks of a vintage chypre mixed with a spicy oriental, and is a very French or European-style bouquet. Aurum d’Angkhor no longer reminds me solely of an Opium-Coco cross; a third member now joins the mix, the chypre-oriental Roja Haute Luxe in its more jasmine-centric stage. Obviously, there are differences in terms of the notes and development of the four fragrances, but the aesthetic feel and general universe they inhabit is the same. It sends me over the moon since I’m a huge fan of all of them. In fact, Roja Dove’s heavily ambered, warmer, spicy twist on vintage Mitsouko was the best thing that I’d smelt in a number of years prior to trying Aurum d’Angkhor. The latter is far more heavily spiced than any of its aesthetic cousins, and substantially heftier in both body and density. Yet, the growing prominence of Aurum d’Angkhor’s incense is really similar to that in Opium, while the Mysore, patchouli, resins, and amber strongly recall Coco’s base. If I had to break it down, I’d estimate that the attar feels like 40% Coco, 35% Opium (as it is in its later stages), and 25% Roja Haute Luxe.
Aurum d’Angkhor’s heart stage typically starts about 2.5 hours into its development. All connection or resemblance to those other fragrances goes up in smoke or, to be more precise, in waves of oud, smoke, incense, and leather as the fragrance turns away from Europe and heads straight to the Orient. The fragrance is now very tropical in feel, hot, musky, ripe, spicy, dark, smoky, and golden.
The oud now appears on center stage, and becomes the jasmine’s main dance partner. It no longer smells of chocolate, but emits instead a fungal earthiness, as well as an animalic muskiness, the earthy mushrooms, and a new undertone of blue cheese. The latter is the merest whisper, but it’s a definite whisper nonetheless of ripe Gorgonzola. Its presence is why I’m so sure that applying too much of the attar will bring on a whole host of skanky and barnyard-like aspects, including the dreaded cow poop. While skin chemistry will obviously make a difference in terms of what nuances come out on you, I think using restraint in the amount of fragrance that you apply will really help to keep these aspects in check. Again, using only one drop, I never experienced anything fecal on my skin and even the blue cheese was a minor, rather muted whisper.
The other notes have transformed as well. The leather feels quite separate from anything in the oud, and it’s not tarry, raw, or heavily smoky. Instead, it’s lightly coated with a buttery creaminess and soft warmth, much like the one in the middle-to-end stages of Sultan Pasha’s Ambrecuir attar. In the base, the ground feels littered with dustier, earthier elements, both from the patchouli and the spices, though it will take a while before the latter translates into “henna” in a clear, distinct way. At the same time, Aurum d’Angkhor starts to take on a rather humid feel. It’s more than mere muskiness or ambered warmth; it’s actually a little vegetal, but in a way that I can only describe as “humid.” Having said that, there is a definite and separate streak of something musky that stops just short of being properly or actually dirty. The jasmine is strongly indolic now, the oud is slightly animalic and musky, but neither of them is truly raunchy, skanky, or fecund. It’s more like heated skin that isn’t sweaty, but musky nonetheless.
What really strikes me is the nuances and depth of the Juhi jasmine. It’s a rare variety that, according to Wikipedia, only grows in India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Sultan Pasha uses in several of his richest, most opulent attars because he loves how it not only bears very golden but green, indolic, citrusy, and fruity aromas, but how it also can smell like tuberose and orange blossom. Faint echoes of both appear here, in addition to its natural muskiness and syrupy sweetness which is even further amplified by the inclusion of actual honey and immortelle which slowly begins to emerge at the end of the third hour. It works beautifully with the oud, the salty ambergris, and patchouli in the Shamamah. Speaking of which, that complex mix now feels as though it’s swallowed up the saffron-resinoid blend as well.
Still, when taken as a whole, it’s an oud-jasmine duet that is the focal point of the fragrance 2.5 to 2.75 hours into its evolution. There is almost as much oud (with all its many facets and nuances) as there is Juhi. The leather and Shamamah trail closely behind. These four main accords are joined together with wide ribbons of frankincense, a woodier smokiness, creamy Mysore sandalwood, and sticky resins, as well as thin threads of orange blossoms, vegetal greenness, abstract fruitiness, earthiness, and the merest dying hint of tobacco. All of this is then enveloped within a thick, heavy haze of darkened ambergris. At times, the end result makes me think of a jasmine Sleeping Beauty lying amidst a thicket or forest of oud, but this is a far darker, smokier, more golden and oriental princess than anything Disney could imagine.
Aurum d’Angkhor remains this way without change until a new stage begins roughly 6.5 hours into its development. The leather and smoke disappear, while the oud begins a slow retreat to the sidelines. What’s left is largely a jasmine scent whose suede-like texture is the only remnant of the former leather companion. But there is more to the jasmine than that. It’s a kaleidoscope that is: creamy, immensely spicy, golden, citrusy, sweet, earthy, musky, and indolic while also being bright, fresh, and green. It sings its aria in the spotlight, as the patchouli, oud, sandalwood, resins, and fruitiness cheer it on from the sidelines, standing against a backdrop of ambergris. The jasmine’s only real companion, discreetly standing a few steps back, is the Shamamah blend. It’s a lush melange that takes me back to Shanghai’s Jade Buddha Temple where the glowing ivory creaminess of the titular budda lies in splendour amidst red and gold woods as people bring offerings of incense, flowers, fruit, sweets, and more.
This state of affairs continues straight through to the start of the 12th hour when Aurum d’Angkhor’s drydown begins. Gradually, inch by inch, the Shamamah ends up absorbing the jasmine as well. What’s left is a scent where the suede-like jasmine is not only engulfed by the Shamamah’s spices, patchouli, immortelle, and frankincense, but one whose floralcy is heavily veiled by henna’s earthy, musky, vegetal, slightly dusky and dusty qualities as well.
In fact, with every passing moment, the henna becomes more prominent, slowly sharing center stage with the Shamamah whose notes have all blurred together into a haze of resinous spiciness. Roughly 14 hours in, the jasmine is the merest blip in the horizon. All that’s left now is earthy spiciness layered with resins and bearing sweet, dusky, vegetal, ambered, and slightly incense-like undertones. Aurum d’Angkhor remains that way until it finally dies away as a wisp of earthy, vaguely sweet spiciness.
Aurum d’Angkhor had very good longevity, average projection, and initially strong sillage that later turned soft. Using one good drop, the attar opened with 3 inches of projection, and about 4-5 inches of sillage that grew to about half an arm’s length after 30 minutes and even a little bit more at the 90-minute mark. Yet, even though Aurum d’Angkhor is an intensely rich fragrance, it doesn’t feel like a bulldozer and it isn’t forceful like Ame Sombre Grade 1. The scent in the air around me was more diffuse than that, not as opaque or dense, even though the bouquet itself packs a definite wallop when smelt up close. Obviously, the sillage and power would be quite different if you applied a larger quantity, but the recommended amount is only 1 drop in part to ensure that the notes remain in perfect balance. Aurum d’Angkhor’s sillage and projection drop in incremental degrees. About 6.5 hours in, the projection hovered just above the skin, and the scent trail hugged the body. However, it took roughly 8 hours for Aurum d’Angkhor to become a skin scent and turn sheerer in body, comparatively speaking. It generally became difficult to pull up the scent after the 16th hour unless I put my nose right on my arm and sniffed hard, but it clung on tenaciously for some time after that. For the most part, the fragrance generally lasted between 17.5 and 19 hours, depending on test, but tiny patches of my arm still smelt of the fragrance in the 22nd to 24th hour in all my tests.
There isn’t a lot of detailed discussion about Aurum d’Angkhor for me to share with you, but everyone who’s tried it seems to loves the attar immensely, whether its perfumers with whom Sultan Pasha has shared the scent, commentators on my blog’s Facebook page, or the handful of people who’ve mentioned it in passing on Basenotes.
However, there is one detailed review out there, and it comes from the charming, brilliant “Claire V.” who writes for Basenotes, Fragrance Daily, and her own blog, Take One Thing Off. There, she states flat-out that “Aurum is just mind-blowing.” In the past, attars from other brands, including almost all the Amouage ones, “failed to impress” her much, but Sultan Pasha’s creation was a completely different story and “blew [her] socks off.” Her review is lovely, so I’ll only quote one tiny part and encourage you to read the rest in its entirety:
Aurum D’Angkhor, though, is special. It blew my socks off with its depth, complexity, and beauty. It contains a small amount of the famous Ensar Oud Encens D’Angkor in the basenotes, which is a smooth, fruity Cambodi oud oil with soft, cozy wood aspects. But the “Aurum” in Sultan Pasha’s remix means “Golden” and indeed that’s the color that comes across in this blend – golden, dusty saffron, a light smooth oud with the timbre of polished oak floors, smoke, honey, henna, and a haze of sweet jasmine and rose.
Aurum d’Angkhor is not cheap, but it’s one of the best things that I’ve smelt in years. A little goes a long, long way, and, given the opulence, complexity, and rarity of many of its ingredients, I think its price for the 1 ml size is actually not too bad. You get what you pay for, and £150 (roughly €174 or $192) will give you something utterly stupendous, indeed. You can also sample Aurum d’Angkhor in one of the sample sets first.
I have good news on that front. Sultan Pasha managed to buy more vials from a friend as he awaits delivery of his order from Asia, so he’s going to offer 30 sets of 8-custom choices instead of the anticipated 13. However, given the extremely limited quantities and the fact that not everyone managed to order a sample set after my initial Overview post, he’s imposing it one 8-sample set per customer limit at the current time. He thinks that’s the fairest thing to do under the circumstances. Otherwise, one person might order 5 sets, inadvertently preventing four other people from having the chance to try the attars. It’s only a temporary measure since, hopefully, his large order will arrive in mid-April. Also, as a side note, prices for the sample sets have gone up slightly. The main reason is the higher prices asked by the new supplier, but there is also a question of the time involved. The last go-around after my series debuted involved Sultan Pasha manually filling 7,500 vials, and that takes quite a bit of time.
The bottom-line is that Aurum d’Angkhor is utterly spectacular. If it had been released this year, I have no doubt it would take the #1 spot in my year-end review because, frankly, I cannot see how anything could surpass this in terms of baroque opulence, multi-dimensional complexity, technical mastery, or captivating beauty. It’s a spell-binding juggernaut of a fragrance with enormous evocative power, and utterly jaw-dropping, staggering richness. For me, it is, quite simply, a masterpiece.
Disclosure: My sample was kindly provided by Sultan Pasha. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.