Sometimes, there are happy surprises when you test a fragrance. Fougere du Paradis and Pure Incense both took me outside of my normal comfort zones and, much to my astonishment, the new environment actually turned out to be wonderful. It was the last thing that I had expected. “Pure incense” usually ends up being a “Catholic High Mass,” liturgical fragrance like Avignon, and I dislike the attendant dustiness, soapiness, and coldness that usually shows up. As for lavender, the foundational element of a fougère, I’ve hated it since childhood and was actually phobic about it until just a few years ago. (I’ve now progressed to the “wary” category, where it strongly depends on how the plant is handled.)
But Sultan Pasha has tweaked the traditional settings for both genres, and it’s made all the difference. Fougere du Paradis transports you to a bucolic pastoral setting where the lavender is bisected by verdant, grassy fields, piney elemi, and soft herbs under a warm sun. When night falls, the olfactory landscape turns dark, smoky, earthy, leathery, and immensely resinous in a way that is reminiscent of Bogue‘s much admired, limited-edition, lavender-leather fragrance, Cologne Reloaded. Pure Incense is also different than the norm. Instead of plumes of cold, clean, dusty, white smoke evoking High Mass at the Vatican (or a church crypt), this is incense by candlelight: golden, warm, resinous, and cozy. So, let’s look at each one in-depth.
FOUGERE DU PARADIS:
Fougere du Paradis is a 99% natural attar that will be released in mid-to-late September. At first, Sultan Pasha thought he had at least a limited 12 ml amount that he could release now, but it turns out that there is only 3 mls left and he needs it for something else. The availability issue stems from the difficulty of obtaining a key ingredient, Russian clary sage absolute, in a small quantity instead of the huge threshold set by the supplier’s MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity). There seems to be a way around that, though, but it will take several weeks to receive the material, so the fragrance should be ready for full release in late September. I’m going to go ahead and cover Fougere du Paradis now since I’m so enthusiastic about it.
My sample of Fougere du Paradis came in a vial that is too small to photograph well, but the colour of the liquid is different from the dark brown, amber, or golden colour of the other attars. It’s a really pretty, soft, mossy green. I should mention that it left a slightly darkened tinge on my skin, but it was not easily noticed unless I looked closely and it didn’t last for too long. Still, I’d suggest using care if applying the attar near light-coloured or white clothing.
The note list for Fougere du Paradis is:
Top: Russian Clary Sage, Meyer Lemon, Elemi resin, Lime, Lavender;
Middle: Lavender Absolute, Jasmine Grandiflorum, Tonka
Bottom: Siam Benzoin, White Oud (Gaharu), Elemi resin, Ambergris, Castoreum.
I’d like to take a moment to talk about “White Oud” and its surprising aroma. It turns out that “white oud” is not considered to be “real” oud (agarwood). The Indonesian tree that it comes from is not part of the Aquilaria family but a different species called Aetoxylon sympetalum. According to the site, Gaharu Buaya, the wood is called “gaharu buaya” (nicknamed “crocodile gaharu”), and is deemed lower in grade because it has a lower eudesmol molecular content, whatever that means. What’s important for our purposes here is that “white oud” smells somewhat different from “real” oud. There is none of the barnyard, blue cheese, creamy, fermented, or animalic aromas one finds with actual agarwood. I thought its aroma was wonderful, though, and it’s one reason why I found Fougere du Paradis to be so appealing.
Hermitage Oils quotes a fantastic description of White Oud’s scent profile from perfumer Joseph Colbourne of Cambian Fragrances, and I think it’s useful in explaining several of the nuances in Fougere du Paradis. I’ve taken the liberty to highlighted the relevant descriptors:
‘The amber-coloured, steam-distilled essential oil of white oud or gaharu buaya (Aetoxylon sympetalum) is certainly an eyebrow-raiser, with its evocative, warm, umami, damp, smoky head notes. Its as if one were in the presence of a decomposing fallen tree trunk in the woods, with its microcosm of moss, lichen, parasol mushrooms, molds, must, burrowing insects. An notably salty, animalic undercurrent lends a seductive element as it mellows on the perfume strip.
A few hours into the dry down, white oud develops into a softer, peppery, guaiacwood-like rare woods aroma, while the slightest ember of smoke remains. This evocative material pairs nicely with white florals, jasmine, rose cedars, sandalwoods, and could be an evocative contribution to leather accords, campfire accords, ambers, incense, and tobacco blends.’ [Emphasis added by me.]
Fougere du Paradis opens on my skin in a tranquil, bucolic setting that’s been painted in visually bold colours of dark purple, jewel-toned green, sunlit yellow and hay-coloured cream. It starts with bright, sweet, fresh and sun-dappled herbs redolent of sage and thyme. They grow amidst thick rows of lavender and clary sage, each smelling aromatic, crisp, and fragrant, and bearing a full-bodied depth or richness that I don’t frequently encounter. Bordering the undulating sea of aubergine purple is a meadow filled with long grasses and sweet hay that’s been bundled into bales that sit atop dark, loamy earthy. A gentle breeze weaves to and fro, carrying notes from afar. One minute, it’s a resinous, piney, and occasionally foresty aroma (elemi); the next, it’s wisps of smoky leather (clary sage), followed moments after that by a rich mossiness and a tinge of smoke (white oud). A warm sun hangs low in the sky, warding off any autumnal chill, but it’s not so warm as to cut through the sense of crispness, aromatic freshness, and verdant herbaceousness that surround you, the plants exuding their essence in such concentrated, rich, smooth waves that it feels as though the very life force of the fields and of the countryside have engulfed you.
What strikes me the most is how it all smells authentically realistic, life-like, but, also, clean in a really wholesome way. I almost expected to see freshly washed, white sheets fluttering on a clothes’ line in a nearby cottage garden. The clary sage may waft its usual soft soapiness after 10 minutes, but it’s like the most expensive, luxury lavender soap whose creamy cleanness is left like a patina on freshly washed skin. It’s such a novel change to smell “cleanness” recreated in a naturalistic fashion instead of through the typical, lazy, modern method of white musk with its godawful, cheap, and utterly vile “laundry fresh” aroma.
The sense of wholesomeness is further accentuated by the sheer sunniness of the scent, as well as its herbs, hay, elemi pine, grasses, and the subtle hints of both mosses and sweet lemon. The combination frequently made me think of Heidi, the classic Swiss children’s story, where a young girl was introduced to the joys of the countryside, slept on a bed of hay, frolicked outside amidst the grassy, herbal pastures, climbed mountains with goats, and so on. As a result, there is more to Fougere du Paradis on an olfactory basis than just the typical Provençal lavender fields. There are meadows, mountains, and mossy, pine-oud forests as well.
The quality of the materials in Fougere du Paradis play a big role in the olfactory authenticity of the landscape and in its evocative power, but it also had a surprising effect on me. The sun-dappled setting and the head-long immersion into Nature created a sense of relaxed tranquility that made Fougere du Paradis almost more of mood and atmosphere than “perfume.” I hadn’t expect that, even though lavender is known for its calming and relaxing effects, because other fougeres haven’t had the same effect on me. Perhaps it’s because Nature on a broad scale simply lets you “be,” and its bucolic simplicity is comforting on a subconscious level. (It’s either that, or all the Wordsworth I read in school left a mark.) Here, the depth and concentrated richness of the materials make the aromas feel real and concrete, and there are no power aromachemicals to jar you out of the mental picture they paint. Quite separate from all that, the materials are so smooth in quality that they are practically velvety on the skin, and so seamlessly blended that the fragrance itself has great polish and refinement.
Fougere du Paradis is different in another way as well. Many fougères that I’ve tried skew cool in temperature, while their opening is so laden with brisk citric crispness, bracing aromatics (e.g., juniper), and/or barbershop shaving cream soapiness that they tend to feel like masculine aftershave or cologne. Fougere du Paradis does not. Unlike the traditional or conventional fougere stylings, it feels wholly unisex in character.
Fougere du Paradis roams Provence’s aromatic fields and Heidi’s Swiss Alps for about two hours without significant change. Roughly 30 minutes in, the lavender, hay, and clary sage grow stronger, heavier, and bolder, pushing the herbs, grasses, and the white oud’s mossy side into the background. There, they weave in and out, shimmering, fluctuating, sending out quiet ripples from time to time, but biding their time until later to reappear. The clary sage’s soapy cleanness takes their place, trailed by a slightly smoky leather aroma resulting from the mix of castoreum and white oud. The latter also imparts a different sort of smokiness, a woody guaiac-like one that has a subtle undertone of leaves singed in an autumnal bonfire. Once in a while, there are whiffs of elemi’s piney aroma, adding to the impression of an Alpine landscape, but the elemi plays its greatest role later on, in Fougere du Paradis’ middle and end stages.
The olfactory landscape changes when the sun sets and night falls. This is Fougere du Paradis’ second main stage which typically begins 4 to 6 hours into the fragrance’s development, depending on the quantity that I apply. The fourth hour is essentially dusk, darkness gradually creeping in as plumes of smoke and castoreum leather begin to smudge the lavender’s edges. In the fifth hour, they seep all over it, engulfing it, and making the lavender a layer within as opposed to a thick, wide, central top note. The same thing happens to the clary sage and, as an added benefit, it kills off all its soapy cleanness as well.
While all of this is happening, the night creatures (or base notes) begin to stir. The amber wakes up in its bed, yawns, stretches, and decides to pop its head out, smelling musky, faintly sweet, and a wee bit salty. Much more importantly, the elemi pine trees begin to sway, slowly gathering their force for the night to come, imparting a coniferous and balsamic patina to what has become the new focal point of the scent: musky, piney, smoky and immensely resinous lavender-coated leather. It reminds me a lot of the later stages of Bogue‘s Cologne Reloaded, and I couldn’t stop sniffing my arm. The twist on lavender had suddenly gone from being a real fougère to being an oriental bouquet. It was sexy, different, and the sort of thing that, if I smelt it on someone else, would make me want to nuzzle their neck. Actually, this is the point in Fougere du Paradis where, my lavender trauma notwithstanding, I thought, “this is something I’d enjoy wearing myself.”
At the end of the 5th hour and the start of the 6th, the first hints of the white oud appear, signaling what would gradually become a major part of the scent later on. At first, it’s merely a sense of umami and very earthy, mushroomy woodiness. Slowly, as the hours pass, the white oud changes, and turns into exactly the scent described earlier at Hermitage Oils, particularly this part:
Its as if one were in the presence of a decomposing fallen tree trunk in the woods, with its microcosm of moss, lichen, parasol mushrooms, molds, must, burrowing insects. An notably salty, animalic undercurrent lends a seductive element as it mellows [….]
The balance of notes changes when Fougere du Paradis’ next stage begins roughly around the 8th hour. The lavender essentially fades to become a mere background note, while the elemi grows even stronger, its aroma smelling as much of dark, treacly resins as it does of fresh, foresty pine. It fuses with the musky castoreum leather to become one of the central accords. The fresh herbs and grasses return, taking the lavender’s place, and combining with the white oud’s mosses, mushroom, lichen mosses, and earthy woods to become another important accord. Tiny tendrils of smoke curl up all around, while the ambergris slowly expands, providing warmth and imparting another form of muskiness to the scent.
From this point forth, it’s difficult to describe the particulars of Fougere du Paradis. Not only do many of the notes share similar olfactory aromas or characteristics, but they overlap, fuse, and all blur together. Different elements take turns in the spotlight. That said, there are two general, broad trends. From the 8th hour until roughly the 12th one (sometimes the 14th one), the focus is on resinous, balsamic elemi-leather cocooned in a darkly golden, sexy muskiness with fluctuating levels of hay, herbs, white oud, lavender, and smokiness.
Then, in the long drydown, the focus completely shifts, dropping the leather to center on a soft, sweet, herbal greenness that is layered with hay, earthy woodiness, and a quiet, muted streak of something both musky and resinous. The white oud is really a major player. What’s interesting is that the combination of its aromas with the other elements consistently ends up with an accord that reminds me of vetiver. There is the same sort of plushly mossy, earthy woodiness that really good vetiver can sometimes display. The difference here is that the vetiver-ish accord is herbal, fern-like, and sometimes either hay-like, mushroomy, or both, instead of being smoky. In the final part of the drydown, all that’s left is a soft, nuzzling, velvety greenness that is quietly herbal and faintly sweet.
Fougere du Paradis had good longevity, soft projection and rather soft sillage as well. Using several smears of a paperclip amounting to roughly one big drop, the fragrance opened with about 3 inches of projection and about 5-6 inches of sillage. The numbers dropped after an hour to about 2 inches and 3-4 inches, respectively. At the end of the 3rd hour and the start of the 4th, the projection was between 0.5 and 1 inch, while the scent trail was about 2-3 inches. Fougere du Paradis became a skin scent around the 7th hour, but was easy to detect up close until the 11th hour. At that point, it was the merest coating on the skin, but it clung on tenaciously until the 15th hour. In my second test, I used roughly the same amount (to the extent that one can tell these things when using the tip of a paper clip), but I could detect traces of Fougere du Paradis lasting well beyond the 20th hour.
I need to get to the second attar in this review, so I’ll conclude by saying that I enjoyed Fougere du Paradis a lot, and I think will be a big hit with men and women alike, and not just those who like fougeres. In many ways, it’s actually not really a traditional or pure fougère at all, and I’m not sure that I would classify it as the subgenre, an oriental fougere, either. To me, the later stages are almost purely oriental before the requisite fougere hay and fern-like aromas return in the drydown. As such, Fougere du Paradis feels like a hybrid mix of both the fougere and the oriental categories, and that’s one reason why I think it will have broader appeal. In addition to that, I think the fragrance is one of the most approachable in the Sultan Pasha collection, easy to wear, versatile for day or night, and completely unisex. All in all, really lovely job.
Pure Incense is a 100% natural attar that was released in 2015. It was partially inspired by Norma Kamali‘s discontinued Incense, a cult favourite that many incense lovers consider to be the ultimate in the genre and that is now almost impossible to find.
Pure Incense’s note list is being kept secret but, judging purely by what appears on my skin, my guess would be something like this:
Labdanum Absolute, Myrrh Resin, Frankincense resin, Ambergris, Tolu Balsam resin, probably Beeswax, probably Sweet Myrrh (Opoponax) resin, possibly Benzoin resin, and possibly a bit of Tobacco.
Pure Incense opens with a prodigious, almost stupefying amount of dense, chewy labdanum. It smells like dark toffee with hints of something almost like expresso and tar underlying it. This powerful central note is slathered with hefty amounts of honeyed beeswax, then sandwiched between thick layers of smoky, slightly woody, and immensely resinous myrrh. A wisp of toasted nuttiness weaves in and out, smelling like sweet myrrh, while a touch of something cinnamon-scented suggests the presence of benzoin. For the most part, the opening is a head-turning, completely powerhouse mix of resinous, bitter, dark, sweet, oily, tarry, and roasted aromas, but what strikes me most of all — and what made me do a literal double-take the first time that I smelt Pure Incense — is the perfect finishing touch: the honey.
It’s dark and faintly, just faintly, animalic in a way that reminds me a lot of Propolis, a resin from bees that they use like a glue or sealant for their hives. I used propolis in AbdesSalaam Attar’s perfume course to go with an ambergris, spice, resin blend, and it was a lovely finishing touch but whatever honeyed material is replicating its scent here in Pure Incense is far, far better because of the sheer depth and richness of its aroma. That dark, beeswax-filled honey is simply perfect with the decadent, beefy amounts of labdanum absolute.
Pure Incense changes in mere minutes. The myrrh expands, doubling in weight and power, turning smoky and melding even further with the labdanum. Its smokiness burns the honeyed beeswax around the edges, charring them, but it also turns the labdanum surprisingly leathery in feel. Lurking under the main notes is a whiff of salty, ambergris muskiness and quiet spiciness. The cumulative effect makes Pure Incense feel fractionally closer to Sultan Pasha’s ambered, resinous, spicy Nankun Kodo incense attar rather than to his honeyed, immensely foresty, piney Incense Royal.
What it definitely does not feel like in any shape, size, or form is the liturgical, clean, soapy, “Catholic High Mass” incense that I had expected and dreaded. I’ve never tried Norma Kamali‘s famed unicorn, so I don’t know how it compares but Fragrantica comments mention “labdanum to the extreme” and a “hardcore” resinous character. I sounds very much like this, as opposed to the austere, stony, cool, clean, liturgical aroma that imbues Avignon-style incense fragrances. While true incense lovers view that scent profile as “pure” and “spiritual,” I’m much less enthused. I find that the resins (and frankincense in particular) frequently start with a lemony, balsamic aroma with occasionally a whiff of pine, followed quickly by a main phase that is soapy, woody, dusty, smoky, dry, ashy, and cold-skewing, before ending with an ashy and dusty finish. Much of it reminds me of decay, the dust of the ages, and, worst of all, a crypt.
Little of that appears here in Pure Incense, I think in large part because the sheer force and weight of the labdanum prevent it. The fragrance is warm, mellow, rounded, sweet in a naturalistic way, leathery, balsamic and immensely dark with a sticky quality to its treacly resins. There’s even occasionally something that I’d swear is like tobacco lurking deep down in there, the sort of leathery, raw tobacco that was in Sultan Pasha’s Tabac Grande, but then I tell myself that I must be imagining it. Whatever the precise notes of Pure Incense, it’s absolutely nothing like Unum‘s LAVS which was created specifically for the Pope to replicate the clean scent of Vatican incense rituals.
Having said all that, Pure Incense does take on a slightly more traditional aspect when the frankincense appears, adding layers of cool dustiness and dry, woody dustiness, both of which cut through some of the labdanum’s warmth and sweetness. Not all, but some.
What’s interesting is that frankincense did not show up at the same time or point across my tests of Pure Incense. In one, it appeared after 20 minutes, then steadily grew stronger over the course of the first five hours, essentially resulting in a fragrance that was equal parts labdanum, frankincense, myrrh, and honeyed beeswax. Incense by candlelight, in short. Then, from the 6th hour onwards, the frankincense receded to the sidelines, eventually disappearing completely, leaving a fragrance that was primarily dense, ambered, almost blackened, treacly resins infused with smokiness and muskiness, licked by a wisp of myrrh incense dustiness, then coated in beeswax. In its long drydown (which was the same in all my tests), Pure Incense ended up as a simple haze of lightly sweetened, resinous darkness and muskiness with an occasional whiff of black licorice from the Tolu balsam.
In another test, the frankincense’s timing and behavior were differently. For the first four hours, it didn’t show up at all in any clearly delineated, distinct fashion. When it did, there were no stony, cold, ashy, decayed, or crumbling wood aromas. Instead, there was a faint whiff of pine and pine-scented dust, but it lay under a thick, heavy blanket of myrrh and, in all honesty, it was a little difficult to pull out. In this version, Pure Incense didn’t feel like an equal partition at all. If I had to give an estimated breakdown, it might be something like: 50% labdanum; 30% myrrh; 18% a mix of ambergris, honeyed beeswax, Tolu balsam, benzoin and/or other resins; and 2% frankincense. This is how Pure Incense smelt basically from its start all the way until the fragrance’s drydown which, as noted earlier, was the same in all my tests: treacly ambered resins infused with smoke.
A third test of Pure Incense was a variation of Version 2 except there was no discernible frankincense at all until the 10th hour when it finally appeared and, in fact, bloomed with great strength. It danced around center stage with the labdanum and myrrh for about 3 or 4 hours, smelling cool, austere, dusty, faintly woody, and immensely ashy, before it gradually seeped away around the 14th hour. What developed after that was the same as in all the other tests.
Clearly, none of this resembles an Avignon-style of incense nor a LAVS one, either, but I wanted to briefly compare Pure Incense to the more ambered fragrances in this genre. Some of you may have read my review a few weeks ago of Ateliers des Ors‘ Larmes du Desert, and may be wondering how it compares to Pure Incense. I don’t think they feel the same at all. For one thing, I’ve never come across any incense composition with the sheer quantity, density, and heft of labdanum (and other balsamic resins) that Pure Incense has, a percentage that is far, far higher than even in Larmes du Desert. For another, Pure Incense has a huge and long-lasting singed beeswax aroma, but little woodiness. It’s the reverse in Larmes du Desert; it has a significant amount of woods in addition to a tarry birch leather note.
Comparatively speaking, Larmes du Desert is more of a traditional and purist’s view of an incense fragrance, while Pure Incense is really more like “Pure Resins,” only one of which is actual incense (the myrrh) and plays a major role from start to finish, while the other (frankincense) doesn’t always show up in consistent fashion. As a result, Pure Incense doesn’t resemble Tom Ford‘s Sahara Noir, either. That one was purely labdanum and frankincense. There was no myrrh, no honeyed beeswax, no suggestion of sweet myrrh, or even hint of tobacco as there is here. In short, there’s really nothing quite like Pure Incense that I’ve smelt anywhere else, and the only thing that comes close are the descriptions that I’ve read of Norma Kamali‘s Incense mixed perhaps with a good slug of Sultan Pasha’s Resine Precieux attar. Since Sultan Pasha was inspired by the Kamali and sought to pay tribute to it in his own way and with his own twist, I’d say, “job well done.”
Pure Incense had excellent longevity, soft projection, and initially strong sillage that took turn to turn low. However, please keep in mind that I consistently used a small quantity of the oil, smearing a barely wetted atomiser stick in a few light dabs and swipes across a wide expanse of skin in an amount that I’d estimate to be the rough equivalent of one good drop. Anything more than that makes the SP attars go lopsided, squashes some notes while eradicating the others in a way that results in little to no nuance at all. So, as I keep repeating, please do not over-apply the attars because it ruins the scent profile, and Sultan Pasha will tell you himself that anything more than a drop or a few specks of oil is too much!
So, having repeated that warning, yet again, let’s get to the specifics: Pure Incense typically opened with about 3 inches of projection and 4 inches of sillage. The latter rapidly grew to about 6-7 inches after 20 minutes once the oils melted into the skin, but then dropped down to 4 inches at the end of the 2nd hour. At that point, the projection was roughly 1 to 1.5 inches. Pure Incense became soft in reach after 5 hours and the projection hovered just above the skin, but it took 8.75 hours in total to turn into an actual skin scent. All in all, Pure Incense typically lasted between 17-19 hours on my skin. In one test, a small dime-sized patch of skin retained the scent of musky resinous sweetness well past the 22nd hour, but it was only one tiny area.
There isn’t much out there on Pure Incense, even in the Basenotes thread. There are five or six passing references to it, usually some variation of “wow,” “really amazing,” or “awesome,” but there are no proper reviews or detailed descriptions for me to share with you.
Well, you can add a “wow,” “really amazing,” and “awesome” from me, too. This is a excellent stuff, a full-throttle, hardcore interpretation of the amber-incense genre that stands out from the pack, not only on the basis of its scent but also on account of its richness, heft, and might. Forget monks and popes, forget Vatican ceremonies or subdued Sunday Mass. With Pure Incense, you should put on your leather jacket, get on your Harley, and howl off into the sunset like Brando. A big thumbs up from me.
Disclosure: My bottle and sample were kindly provided by Sultan Pasha. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.