Sultan Pasha Thebes G1 & G2: Djedi & The Pharaoh’s Vetiver

Source: petrotimes.vn

Source: petrotimes.vn

Otherworldly, alien, haunting, captivating, and mesmerizing, Thebes G1 from Sultan Pasha Attars brings Guerlain‘s famed Djedi back to life in the most opulent fashion, resulting in a fragrance that turned my head from the first sniff.

There are actually two versions of Thebes, G1 and G2, and they’re extremely different, in my opinion. One I loved; one I actually loathed for its first two hours, recoiling until its surprising subsequent transformation led to a truce and appreciation. That said, much of my initial response to G2 stemmed from personal tastes. I think that it’s bound to be a huge hit with people who adore classic 1950s-1970s Chanel, Lanvin, Carven, and Balmain-style vintage fragrances, whether their cool green florals, their minimalistic, austere aldehydic chypres, or their animalic, floral vetiver-leathers.

I’ll cover both versions in this review, but I want to emphasize Thebes G1 because its first 6 hours are like nothing that I’ve encountered. The more I wore it, the more spellbound and obsessed I became. For those 6 hours, Thebes G1 exerts a strange power over me that grows each time I wear the fragrance, spreading its tentacles deep, binding me with its strangeness and its unearthly beauty, and transporting me to alien worlds. The rest of the fragrance is well done, a Bandit-style, musky, animalic, butch leather immersed in smoky vetiver, but, the first half of Thebes G1 truly blew me away. If one could confine a fragrance to certain stages and were I the sort to ever to limit myself to one modern fragrance as a signature, this one would be extremely high on the list, if not close to the top.

Source: hubpages.com

Source: hubpages.com

I cannot tell you how much that astonishes me. The original Djedi is viewed in many quarters as a vetiver fragrance, and I’m hardly a die-hard vetiver lover. Then, too, Roja Dove found the original Djedi to be “the dryest fragrance of all time,” and I’m not exactly keen on abundant dryness either. I’ve never smelt the original Djedi which was released in 1926, nor the many fragrances that have attempted to replicate its scent since then, but I find that there is so, so much more to Thebes G1 than a mere vetiver fragrance or extreme dryness. For me, this interpretation of Djedi is actually an ambered chypre-oriental hybrid in my eyes as much as, if not even more than, either an animalic vetiver or bone-dry vetiver-leather.

Entrance Hall, Abu Simbel, Ramses IIs tomb. Image ca. 1839. David Roberts lithograph. Source: Pinterest.

Entrance Hall, Abu Simbel, Ramses II’s tomb. Image ca. 1839. David Roberts lithograph. Source: Pinterest.

In fact, I find Thebes G1 is bizarre in the most riveting fashion. So much of it feels contradictory or discordant, and yet, it all works so brilliantly, meshing together, and capturing one’s attention in a way that leaves one feeling awe at the man who originally thought of it all.

A series of juxtapositions grab one’s attention from the start, from dancing motes of ethereal silvery light to the very ground in a dusty pharaoh’s tomb where decayed papyrus scrolls, dried leaves, leather, and roots are wrapped up in trails of incense that remain from days long gone. Layers of mineralized oakmoss strewn with flowers grow wildly next to smoldering resins; heaps of dust, ashes, and gold lie everywhere; the dark shadows in the corner seem to move; the air is thick with muskiness; and there is a sense that the animals standing guard in the tomb are softly growling their animalic warning at your approach.

The funny thing is, for all that, I actually keep thinking of a place that is far beyond the original Djedi’s inspiration of ancient Egypt, Tutankhamun, the Valley of the Kings, and a pharaoh’s magician. Thebes G1 has such an alien quality to me that I constantly think of Mars — if Mars were ever to develop a verdant layer of greenness and an ambered sea of gold amidst its red dust and dryness. What Serge Lutens did for iris in Iris Silver Mist, Sultan Pasha and Guerlain have done for vetiver in Thebes/Djedi.

Source: wallpaper.zone

Source: wallpaper.zone

So, let’s get to the specifics. Thebes were inspired by Guerlain‘s legendary but sadly discontinued Djedi which was originally created by Jacques Guerlain in 1926, not long after Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun‘s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. The two events are linked. Ancient Egypt became a worldwide obsession after Carter’s discovery, and most experts agree that Djedi was directly inspired as a result, pointing out, for example, its departure from Jacques Guerlain’s usual style, particularly in terms of the fragrance’s dryness. According to Guerlain Perfume Blogspot, a site unaffiliated with the company, Jacques Guerlain’s specific inspiration for the scent was the “mysterious legendary Egyptian magician Djedi, the magician who Khufu consulted when planning the layout of his pyramid, who also supposedly could bring the dead back to life as told in the ancient Westcar Papyrus.”

Original vintage Djedi, 1926 version. Photo originally from eBay. Source: guerlainperfumes.blogspot.com

Original vintage Djedi, 1926 version. Photo originally from eBay. Source: guerlainperfumes.blogspot.com

The original Djedi is alternatively classified or described as an oriental chypre, a chypre-leather or just a vetiver fragrance. Roja Dove apparently once called it the “dryest perfume of all time,” while Monsieur Guerlain reports that Luca Turin called it a “tremendous animalic vetiver.” The original Thebes seems to have disappeared from view a few decades after its release, but Guerlain released a limited-edition version of it in 1996. Monsieur Guerlain believes it was a modified version, and not the same as the original. Regardless, the 1,000 bottles were quickly snatched up, and have since become highly valued, particularly amongst vetiver lovers who consider it one of the best of all time with its dryness. As a result, finding Djedi today is difficult and the few bottles that are sold go for astronomical prices.

Source: Pinterest

Source: Pinterest

Sultan Pasha’s tributary interpretation of Djedi, his Thebes, is a 90%-natural attar. He originally made 5 different versions before settling on two, G1 and G2. Both have a note list similar to Djedi, but they differ from each other, and have slightly different formulas, materials, and quality levels. I’ll take a look at both grades, but with a particular emphasis on G1.

The note list for Thebes G1 is :

Top: Bergamot, Muguet [Lily of the Valley], Aldehydes, Persian Rose Otto;

Middle: Orris [Iris] Butter, Oakmoss, Bulgarian Rose absolute, Jasmine Grandiflorum absolute, Musk, Tonka;

Base: Vetiver, Labdanum amber, Benzoin resin, Styrax resin, Ambergris, Oakmoss, Musk, Civet, Castoreum.

The note list for Thebes G2 is almost identical, except there are significantly lower or reduced quantities of orris/iris, rose and jasmine. In addition, Thebes G2’s orris and rose are of a lower quality than the ones used in the G1. (And it really shows.) Finally, the G2 has a different variety of jasmine, Juhi jasmine as opposed to the Grandiflorum sort, and their olfactory profile is not the same.

THEBES G1:

"Bones 3" by "Seekraz" or Scott Brill on Seekraz WordPress. (Direct website link embedded within.)

“Bones 3” by “Seekraz” or Scott Brill on Seekraz WordPress. (Direct website link embedded within.)

Thebes G1 opens on my skin with greenness, earthiness, dried lichen moss, and mounds of crumbling, dried leaves, all lightly coated with dust. The combination smells like a mix of the earthy and woody sorts of vetiver that’s been layered with rooty orris, cedar sawdust, and extremely mineralized, salty lichen oakmoss.

Rising rapidly above it all are darts of twinkling, ethereal silver and white: the delicate, green-white bells of fairy-like muguet (lily of the valley) and the soft, naturalistic cleanness of aldehydes. The muguet smells immensely dewy, fragile, liquidy green, and faintly sweet, while the aldehydes are devoid of their usual soapiness or waxiness. Rather than having an actual smell, they serve more as a powerful effect, evoking an airy lightness and ethereal lift.

Source: wallpapers13.com

Source: wallpapers13.com

Soon, flickers of a lemony bergamot, a pale pink rose, and a musky but green jasmine join in, creating a sense of life, crisp freshness, sweetness, and lightness above the crumbling green decay. In the base, civet snakes in serpentine fashion, spreading an animalic muskiness, while the castoreum joins with a bit of smoky styrax resin to impart an amorphous sense of leathery darkness.

Source: Getty stock images & vk.com

Source: Getty stock images & vk.com

For the most part, though, the opening bouquet is primarily and predominantly centered on the muguet, the aldehydes, and the multi-faceted green accord that so powerfully evokes objects scattered on the floor of an old tomb. What strikes me each time I wear Thebes G1 are the juxtapositions, the symbolism, and the almost philosophical Yin-Yang of it all: the dancing beams of silvered light and the muguet — such a symbol of Spring, renewal, ethereal purity, newness, and freshness — next to such symbols of the Earth or terra firma, as well as decay, solidity, the past, shadows, and a darkness that goes beyond mere brooding shadows to feel practically opaque. It’s the sort of thing that someone could think about, analyse, and theorize upon for hours and hours. I think it’s so brilliant, my mind can’t even take it, especially as there is so much more to come.

Source: ancient-origins.net

Source: ancient-origins.net

Thebes quickly gains in complexity and layers. About 10 minutes in, another accord makes its debut, sometimes layered within the oakmoss and sometimes clearly distinct in its own right. It’s a strange one to describe because it bears a sense of woody dryness and earthiness that goes beyond mere vetiver, but it isn’t rooty orris either, even if there is a continuous impression of crumbling papyrus paper lurking around (for which the orris must be responsible). The alien accord smells as though all those things had been mixed with cedar sawdust and smoky ash, making me wonder if, somewhere in there, a touch of incense had been included. Something is redolent of its smoky ashes, as though trails of incense lingered in the leaves, dust, and the ancient artifacts from days long past when the ancient magician performed his mysterious ceremonies.

Source: wallpaper.zone

Source: wallpaper.zone

I find it fascinating and endlessly intriguing on an olfactory level as well. Neither vetiver nor aldehydes do much for me as a general rule, but the combination here with the lily of the valley is fantastic. One reason why is that the soft aldehydes create a naturalistic sense of freshness and cleanness that is further underscored by the liquidy nature of the muguet, and both provide a great contrast to the animalic musks, the green moss/vetiver accord, the decay that it radiates, and the ashy dustiness. (The bergamot and rose do something similar.)

Even more than that, though, I really appreciate the effect of the aldehydes in creating a lightness to the scent. Don’t get me wrong, Thebes is rich and strong — becoming more and more opulent as it develops — but there is a weightless shimmer to its opening as well, and it doesn’t feel weighted down by that dense, overly forceful, and sometimes bombastic dark musk that characterizes some of Sultan Pasha attars (and that I dislike in each instance for its heavy-handed intrusiveness and for its muffling/muting effect on the other notes). Thebes is different: it dances, shimmers, and undulates in a weightless fashion in its opening, benefiting from the aldehydes in terms of the lift, separation, and bounce that they give to the individual notes as well as to the overall bouquet itself. The airy weightlessness is not typical of the Sultan Pasha line, but it would be a welcome change once in a while. Plus, the aldehydes would provide a good counterbalance to the many dark, musky, animalic, and/or resinous notes that he loves to employ.

Photo: Annie Leibovitz for Disney Dream Portrait Series. Source: Pinterest.

Photo: Annie Leibovitz for Disney Dream Portrait Series. Source: Pinterest.

Roughly 20-25 minutes after its opening, Thebes begins to shift. The civet grows stronger, while the amber awakens just enough in the base to impart a subtle warmth that offsets the cooler notes up top. At the same time, the rose, jasmine, and bergamot begin to seep over the edges of the main bouquet, weakening the muguet’s fresh, dewy, liquidy greenness and strengthening the floral character of the attar as a whole. The cumulative effect slowly redirects Thebes G1 into another direction that feels significantly more chyprish than a dusty, earthy floral vetiver or a purer green-white floral. The scent is now cool, but not too cool; dusty, crumbly, and earthy, but not too much of that, either.

Photographer: Kindra Nikole. Source: her website kindranikole.com (Direct website link embedded within.)

Photographer: Kindra Nikole. Source: her website kindranikole.com (Direct website link embedded within.)

The balance of notes continues to change as Thebes develops. About 1.5 hours in, the aldehydes and muguet turn into elusive, ephemeral whispers in the deep background. The vetiver accord weakens, retreats to the sidelines, and wafts merely a soft hint of crumbly papyrus and dried leaves. The oakmoss takes its place as a central note, spreading in rich, fulsome waves that crash over the jasmine, fusing the two together. In terms of the flowers themselves, the jasmine takes the lead, trailed by the iris and then further still by a soft, pale, pink, lemony rose. The iris is immensely rooty, occasionally a bit woody and, once in a while, like a pillowy plushness. Its woody and rooty qualities are further accentuated by the vetiver, but neither one is a strong, central focus at this time. For the most part, Thebes smells like a drier style of chypre that is driven primarily by a jasmine-oakmoss accord laced with iris and placed against a backdrop of earthy, dusty, leafy, papyrus-like, vetiver greenness. As time passes, the oakmoss gathers in force, building in strength and, about 2.75 hours in, burst in a symphonic crescendo that envelops everything with fantastic opulence.

Djedi’s next phase begins midway during the 4th hour, and what a spectacular phase it is. The fragrance not only turns more oriental but darker, more leathery, and significantly more ambered in feel, fusing together the chypre, oriental, and floral leather genres. Jasmine, rose, and iris are sandwiched between prodigiously thick, powerful, multi-faceted, and magnificently rich slabs of oakmoss and civet-laden vetiver.

Source: wallpaperbeta.com

Source: wallpaperbeta.com

Circling all around are smoldering, sticky, black resins and quietly smoky castoreum leather that feels enveloped in incense, dust and ashes, but is also faintly imbued with its own civet muskiness as well. Tiny specks of aldehydic cleanness float about the background, along with motes of dust, a quiet earthiness, dusty rootiness, and a rather intangible green (muguet) liquidity. This whole complex bouquet — from top to bottom, from its deeply nuanced vetiver, syrupy jasmine, and its slabs of chewy oakmoss to its smoldering resins, musky leather, dust, and ashes — is then ensconced in a colossal cloud of ambergris that is warm, musky, and just faintly tinged with saltiness.

It’s addictive, compulsively sniffable,  but also astonishingly beautiful in a way that I can only describe as otherworldly. Familiar notes are given an alien twist that is, at once, decayed, ethereal, angelic, narcotic, ancient, entrancingly bizarre, and enigmatically mysterious. The head-turning, lush, semi-sweet, feminine florals are rendered dry and earthbound with wholly masculine, parched vetiver that seems to have been plucked from a tomb, then layered with roots, growling animalics, incense-laced raw leather, crumbling papyrus scrolls, dead leaves, dust, ashes, and golden amber.

Thebes sways and undulates on the skin during this stage, as if that ancient Egyptian magician were pulling random strings and manipulating the scent to make it dance in the air, transforming its facets and genres seemingly with every breath. One minute, it’s an animalic floral leather; the next, a dry, animalic, dusty, smoky vetiver; and the minute after that a perfectly balanced animalic chypre that practically pulsates with civet and mossy greenness. Sometimes, the jasmine leads the floral arrangement, sometimes it joins with the iris and vetiver to form the core accord. Sometimes, the sense of orris-y or vetiver dustiness is profound; at other times, it feels as though incense were spiraling in the air, tying everything together.

Wallpaper Image: Rolan Gonzalez. Source: wallpaperup.com

Wallpaper Image: Rolan Gonzalez. Source: wallpaperup.com

As you might have gathered from the vagaries of that last paragraph, Thebes G1 has a multi-dimensional, prismatic character and is a bit of a shape-shifter which means that its nuances or specifics varied from one test to the next. That said, there were several trends in development that consistently appeared each time. First, the aldehydes and muguet essentially turn into rare, ghostly flickers at the end of the 2nd hour, then more or less disappear completely at the start of the 4th one. Second, that movement is also when the oakmoss surges to the forefront in what often feels like an intense avalanche of deep, dark, rich greenness. It smells salty, mineralized, dusty, and a wee bit fusty and musty as well. (Once in a while, it smells wonderfully plush and bright, though!)

A third trend is that the animalic accords typically become key players from the 5th hour onwards. At first, it’s mostly the civet, but the leather slowly emerges and becomes a separate force in its own right around the 6th hour. When combined with the alien, strange “crumbling papyrus” and dusty, woody dryness, the cumulative effect often reminds me of old books whose dusty pages lie between thick, musky, quietly smoky, but intensely animalic leather covers that have been made from castoreum, styrax and a touch of tannic, uncured raw hide. Trust me, it smells better than it sounds, but it’s quite a major and ancient-smelling leather note that feels much more multi-dimensional than mere castoreum or the typical birch leather. From the 6th hour onwards, it also wafts plumes of smoke, primarily from the vetiver which has long since left its mere rootiness or earthiness and has now turned as dark as night, feeling dense, tarry, smoky, and immensely oily.

Another trend is closely related to the animalics, but this one involves the balsamic, treacly, heavily blackened resins. I think the styrax plays a significant role in helping to recreate the sense of “leather,” but its siblings start to rear their head in the base at a point somewhere between the 7th and 9th hours, led by the labdanum, then followed by the ambergris.

Vintage Bandit ad via Pinterest.

Vintage Bandit ad via Pinterest.

These last two groups converge during Thebes’ next stage which typically begins around the 7th hour. The oakmoss and florals recede to become mere ghosts in the background, while the vetiver, the leather, and animalics, take over almost completely. For the next three or so hours, Thebes is an civet and castoreum-drenched, animalic vetiver-leather wrapped up in dark musks and smoke from the vetiver’s scent trail. There are no florals beyond a touch of syrupy, almost honeyed sweetness that is vaguely jasmine-ish but, sometimes, more like labdanum amber. That part is nice, but I have to confess that the main part of the scent, the musky, animalic, castoreum vetiver-leather, is far too hardcore for my tastes. It consistently reminds me of the oily, raw, tough, biting, and smoky green-black leather at the heart of vintage Bandit, Robert Piguet’s iconic and intentionally butch floral-leather, and its modern successors like Anatole Lebreton‘s chypre-oriental, vetiver-leather, L’Eau Scandaleuse.

This is the part of Thebes G1 that I struggle with, but the amber and labdanum help matters when they begin to emerge midway during the 10th hour. Gradually, inch by inch, they seep over the animalic leather, taming it, quietening the castoreum and styrax’s smoke, muffling them, and, in due course, ushering in a velvety smoothness that rounds out the leather’s edges. The latter begins to turn into something much less butch and raw, more akin to a satiny calfskin with a touch of suede-like plushness, all lying under a thick blanket of vetiver. By the 12th hour, the smoke curls up merely at the edges, quiet shadows amidst a growing softness where the ambergris, labdanum and, later on, the tonka all wrestle with the vetiver to tame its continued growl. They soon succeed, and take control of Thebes in its drydown phase, turning it first into a musky, ambered vetiver, then into a blur of balsamic resins and amber, all laced with a subtle undertone of honeyed sweetness. In its final hours, Thebes clings to the skin as a thin layer of sweet, almost honeyed golden warmth and muskiness.

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

Thebes G1 had very good longevity, average projection, and initially strong sillage. Using a decent sized drop, the fragrance opened with about 4 inches of projection, and about 3-4 inches of sillage that soon grew to 5-7 as the oils sank into the skin. Both sets of numbers dropped fractionally by the end of the 2nd hour and start of the 3rd, then in small degrees as the hours progressed. However, it took Thebes 8.75 hours in total to turn into a skin scent, and it lasted just short of 17 hours. With the exception of the Bandit stage (which is never my personal cup of tea in any fragrance), I loved almost every bit of Thebes G1. But those first 5 or 6 hours… spellbinding!

THEBES G2:

My reaction to the opening of Thebes’ G2 version could not have been more different. When I wasn’t recoiling from the sharpness of the scent, I was sniffing my arm with disbelief that this could somehow be deemed a related fragrance, let alone a sibling variation. Thebes G1 and G2 open in completely separately galaxies, and I was utterly miserable in G2’s world for almost the entire first 2 hours that I spent in it. Yet, I fully acknowledge that the aesthetic style of the composition is one that is much admired in certain quarters, and that it was actually considered to be the epitome of sophistication and elegance for decades. Be that as it may, I called G2’s opening “the scent of gloom and misery” to a friend, and my spirits actually turned low while wearing it until, to my surprise, it unexpectedly transformed into surprisingly pretty and appealing scent from the third hour onwards. But, man, those first two hours were utterly brutal, and I shudder at their memory.

Source: dreamstime.com

Source: dreamstime.com

Thebes G2 opens with a flood of bergamot, rose, and aldehydes which, individually and collectively, are as high-pitched as a banshee’s wail. There is significantly less muguet than in Thebes G1. In fact, there is almost none of the muguet’s dewy and sweetly heady floralcy here. What muguet there is manifests itself as a translucent abstraction that smells mostly like soapy floral cleanness or soapy floral greenness. Everything else feels different, too. The aldehydes don’t resemble ethereal light; the rose is green and cold; and the bergamot is sharp. There are no crumbling leaves, no multi-faceted vetiver, no papyrus, no alien accord, no suggestion of incense, no earthiness, and no Yin-Yang juxtapositions. There is, however, an austere, cold, fusty oakmoss in the base, but absolutely nothing about the overall bouquet evokes the images of Thebes G1 or the pharaohs’ Egypt for me. Absolutely nothing at all.

Source: Fragrantica.

Source: Fragrantica.

Instead, I’m reminded nonstop of a vintage Chanel, either one of its cold green florals or one of its cold, minimalist, aloof, haughty, and contemptuously snarling chypres that were so representative of the vile Coco herself. All the olfactory traits in Chanel’s signature are here in G2 starting with the Chanel clean, excessively crisp, aldehydic-floral opening bouquet: bucketfuls of sharp aldehydes poured over a cool, pale rose and a cool, green, watery, soapy, floral abstraction, then drizzled with chilly, sharp bergamot freshness and placed above a cool, mineralised, bone-dry oakmoss base. If I’m repeating the same adjectives, it’s intentional.

Vintage ad for Cristalle (1974). Source: Pinterest & Yesterday's Perfumes.

Vintage ad for Cristalle (1974). Source: Pinterest & Yesterday’s Perfumes.

Were it not for a certain dustiness to the oakmoss base and a tang of civet about 10 minutes in, I wouldn’t think the two fragrances shared any olfactory DNA at all. In fact, forget Djedi — G2’s opening doesn’t feel like a Guerlain, period. Other than Chanel’s vintage Cristalle or No. 19, the cold, aloof, increasingly aldehydic and austere green floral bouquet also conjures up thoughts of old Balmains, Lanvins, Carvens, or perhaps a mash-up of YSL’s vintage Rive Gauche with something in the vein of YSL‘s vintage Y (minus its hyacinths). I know so many people who adore each and every one of the green florals, aldehydic chypres, or floral leathers put out by those brands, but I’m not one of them.

Putting aside my personal dislike of Chanel and this type of austere, cool, aldehydic and green aesthetic, my main problem with G2’s opening 2 hours is its sharpness, both individually and collectively. My God, the scent is so sharp it could slice you and dice you like a Ginsu knife wielded by a professional Benihana chef. Making matters worse, its dryness seems to increase exponentially as its sharpness does, both rapidly snowballing like an avalanche a mere 10-15 minutes into G2’s development.

Photographer unknown. Sources: Twitter, Tumblr, & Pinterest.

Photographer unknown. Sources: Twitter, Tumblr, & Pinterest.

Around the same time, the greenness multiplies in force as well. The vetiver makes its appearance on center stage, and the oakmoss rises from the base to join it. The latter feels even fustier, drier, and cooler here than it did in Thebes G1. The vetiver is even more different. It’s austere, so austere that I’m not sure what to make of it. It doesn’t smell earthy, rooty, woody, alien, or dusty. It’s bony, spiky, bristly, grim, and gloomy. It shares a sense of decay and rot with the one in Thebes G1, but not in good way, in my opinion.

This is a morose vetiver, overcome with cold, stony shadows, a plant that never grew to its full potential or saw the sun but died a bitter death in a crypt surrounded by gloom. I suppose that, in and of itself, might make it an “alien” note, but it lacks unearthly beauty, in my opinion, and it’s off-putting instead. I’m sure that true, die-hard vetiver lovers will appreciate the unusual, unconventional rendition of the note, but I’m not keen on it one whit. In fact, I suddenly understand exactly what Roja Dove meant when he said Djedi was the driest fragrance ever made, and suddenly sensed the faint shudder that I’m guessing accompanied that ambivalent, double-edged description. Djedi and this version of Thebes would be the furthest thing from his over-the-top, lush opulence and his celebration of joyful excess. This vetiver, as I told a friend of mine, is “the scent of gloom,” and I find it so oppressively cold and miserable in emotion that it actually sent me into a funk smelling it.

Woman's dusty, antique dressing table and perfumes from a Paris time-capsule apartment. Source: Daily Mail.

Woman’s dusty, antique dressing table and perfumes from a Paris time-capsule apartment. Source: Daily Mail.

Putting aside the mausoleum vetiver of doom, the rest of the fragrance doesn’t conjure up enjoyable images either, although I’m telling you candidly once again that much of that has to be with my own personal difficulties with the Chanel-Carven-Balmain vintage style of perfumery. The aldehydic floral bouquet with its fusty, dusty oakmoss and its civet-y undertones remind me of an old piece of clothing that you’d find in a thrift store, smelling stale and faintly of mothballs under the strong waves of indolic, floral scent worn by its former owner. It also reminds me of decayed, dusty rooms that you’d see in one of those time-capsule apartments left untouched since WWII where the lady’s mis à toilette table is covered with old bottles of once-opulent scent, her slip lying over the back of the chair, covered with dust like everything else. Andy Tauer‘s vintage-style Ingrid for Tableau de Parfums evoked the exact same mental image and that, too, is a fragrance beloved by fans of this genre of classic 1960s-1970s perfumery.

Ma Griffe (1946), vintage ad via Pinterest.

Ma Griffe (1946), vintage ad via Pinterest.

In fact, fragrances like Chanel No. 19, Cristalle, Rive Gauche, or Y are viewed by many as the height of sophistication and elegance, oozing cool feminine chic. So are the other famed, highly prized vintage fragrances that Thebes eventually begins to approximate in its later stages or, at least, it begins to share some of their aesthetic attributes; fragrances, like Ma Griffe, Cabochard, and parts of Jolie Madame, all in their drydown stages when they’re redolent of musky, animalic smoky leather and/or animalic, ambered vetiver-leather. If you’re one of the many admirers of these iconic legends, then you should ignore absolutely everything I’ve said or feel, and you should rush out to order a sample of Thebes G2. You’re bound to love it.

Photo: Atelier Aimee. Source: Pinterest & weddinginspirasi.com

Photo: Atelier Aimee. Source: Pinterest & weddinginspirasi.com

Plus, as I noted at the start of this review, Thebes G2’s challenging opening suddenly transforms into something quite different at the end of the 2nd hour and the start of the 3rd, and it’s a bouquet that I fully concede is extremely pretty, especially when it wafts by on the scent trail from a distance. I don’t know what happened! It’s as though Frankenstein’s mausoleum green florals suddenly morphed into a lovely Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia. I was astonished, and it all begins right towards the end of the 2nd hour. First, Thebes G2 loses much of its razor sharpness, then the muguet comes out in a more floral fashion, beginning to waft an aroma that reminds me happily of vintage Diorissimo as opposed to merely an abstract, soapy, floral cleanness in the background of a Chanel fragrance. At the same time, the lemony bergamot ceases its shrieking, the vetiver feels less oppressively morose, and the oakmoss ceases to be so coldly fusty. But, most important of all, and the really critical difference, is that the jasmine and tonka ride in to save the say, adding some sorely needed sweetness to counterbalance the stony, chilly, and bone-dry severity of the scent, as well as adding some plushness to round out its bony, razor-sharp edges.

The result is a better balanced and somewhat smoother scent that is slowly moving away from its haughty aldehydic floral greenness into something more approachable that lies within chypre territory. The sudden drop in the aldehydes, the austerity, the pitch, and the aggressiveness of the notes really has made all the difference. Now, G2 has become a pleasant duet of rose and jasmine, tied together with sappy, bitter and sweet muguet, then nestled amidst a forest of brittle, dried vetiver and cold oakmoss. It’s still not great up close, although it’s getting better, but when smelt from a distance, it’s actually wonderfully chic in a way that made my head turn once or twice as its wisps passed by.

Source: divnil.com & wallpaperswide.com

Source: divnil.com & wallpaperswide.com

Thebes G2 continues to improve in slow increments. About 2.75 hours in, the jasmine has overtaken the rose as the central floral note, and its syrupy, heady, lush, sensual, and occasionally indolic scent has really had a remarkable effect on the rest of the scent, taking G2 out of minimalist, severe Chanel territory and making it feel more like a classic Guerlain instead. The civet has essentially disappeared, the aldehydes are now soft, mild, and sparkling, and the flowers continue to bloom. At the same time, something a lot like creamy vanilla (from the tonka?) begins to encircle the bouquet, binding the flowers together instead of the muguet. The latter disappears into the background, but the greater surprise is that the vetiver and oakmoss recede from view as well, sitting on the sidelines where they waft an occasional passing puff from time to time. In the base, the amber and the castoreum-styrax leather combination slowly awaken, then seep up an hour later to lap the edges of the floral bouquet, although they’re not readily apparent unless I sniff my arm up close and focus.

Flower in amber. Photo: George Poinar, Jr., courtesy of Oregon State University. Source: Smithsonianmag.com

Flower in amber. Photo: George Poinar, Jr. of Oregon State University. Source: Smithsonianmag.com

By the middle of the 4th hour, Thebes G2 has pivoted 360 degrees from its start. It’s a musky, smoky, dry, sweet, and golden scent dominated primarily by jasmine, iris, and animalic leather, all enveloped in amber and dark musks. A lingering wisp of vanillic sweetness adds plushness, but it’s the iris that contributes the greatest plushness, coating the leather, muffling the styrax’s smokiness, and turning the scent quite velvety in texture. Everything begins to overlap, and it’s increasingly difficult to pull out the florals out of the golden, musky haze. At times, G2 smells like a sweet, musky, jasmine-ish amber, at other times like a jasmine-ish, ambered leather with muskiness. Once in a while, it’s merely jasmine-iris ensconced in amber. It’s not easy to pull the notes apart.

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

Making matters more difficult is that the resins and labdanum leave the base around the 6th hour, joining the festivities on center stage, engulfing the florals and rendering them abstract. When the drydown begins in the 9th hour begins, the resins and amber take over completely, turning Thebes into soft, cozy, inviting haze of resinous, golden muskiness with a tinge of slightly floral sweetness. The latter finally falls away in the last few hours, leaving only a golden warmth that bears a subtle but sexy muskiness.

Thebes G2 had slightly less longevity than the G1 version, but similar projection and sillage numbers. Since this review has already exceeded even my high limits for words, I’ll be brief. The fragrance opened with generally the same 3-inch projection as G1 with a roughly similar 1-drop amount, but it had slightly lower sillage that turned softer at the end of the 2nd hour. G2 hovered above the skin at the end of the 4th hour, and turned into a skin scent roughly 5.75 hours from its start. I thought the fragrance was close to dying around the 11th hour and I had to put my nose right on my arm to detect it but, in total, Thebes G2 lasted just under 15 hours on my skin.

For all my intense grumbling about the opening and, yes, my seething loathing at one point in the first hour, I’ll be the first to say that Thebes G2 is the perfect representation of a certain highly respected and much praised style of perfumery. Read any review for a fragrance like vintage Chanel No. 19 or Cabochard, and you’ll find similar accounts of their overall style, right down to their sharpness. It’s not my thing, not even remotely, but there is a place for a fragrance like G2 in this modern era where all those other scents are long gone except for the dregs of any expensive, used bottles that may appear on eBay.

The added benefit in this case is that, even for someone with my antithetical tastes, Thebes G2 improves by leaps and bounds as it develops. Be that as it may, it is best suited for those who admire the sorts of fragrances mentioned here. As for gender, I think G2 is feminine in its opening before gradually turning more unisex. That said, I honestly cannot imagine the average man wearing it, not unless he were a huge fan of things like Chanel No. 19, Cabochard, green florals or green floral chypre-leathers.

In contrast, I think Thebes G1 is wholly unisex at its start, before it dips its toes into masculine-skewing, Bandit-style animalic vetiver-leather territory, and then reverts back again to a purely unisex fragrance.

The real issue with Thebes G1 is its alienness, but that otherworldly quality is precisely what makes it stand out and feel so utterly entrancing, so mesmerizing, so compelling. I think it’s truly beautiful, and if it approximates even one tenth of what Djedi smelt like, then, my God, the latter must have been an artistic masterpiece. Again, I say this as someone who is actually not crazy about vetiver-centric fragrances, let alone dryness, dust, austere fragrances, aldehydes or anything that evokes crypts or tombs. If Thebes G1 blew me away as it did, then I can’t begin to imagine its impact on someone who is actually intensely passionate about vetiver, vetiver-leather, or animalic floral-leather-vetiver fragrances. Putting the issue of the specific notes aside, Thebes G1 is highly evocative, opulent, complex, smooth and, quite obviously, very distinctive. Whether or not you love vetiver or even dry chypres, I highly recommend trying it. It’s alienness and unearthly beauty is simply fascinating, and I doubt that you’ll have smelt anything quite like it in any modern fragrance.

Disclosure: My samples were kindly provided by Sultan Pasha. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability:  Thebes G1 and G2 are both attars or concentrated perfume oils. Thebes G1 costs £88 for 1 ml, and £250 for 3 ml. Thebes G2 costs £35 for 1 ml, and £99 for 3 ml. Until the Sultan Pasha website is operational, they are sold via his eBay store, Scents Rarity. He also offers a Custom 8 Sample Set or Custom 16 Sample Set if you wish to try things first. They cost £25 or £45 with £8.50 for shipping and tracking. You select the fragrances you want to try out of a list of 48 attars. Each vial contains 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 light, brief ones. If you order 1 ml, a full 3 ml, or a larger bottle of any fragrance, he always includes a few free samples as well. You can contact Sultan through Basenotes, his Facebook page, or eBay if you want to buy a bottle that isn’t currently listed or to buy a customized version of a particular scent.

22 thoughts on “Sultan Pasha Thebes G1 & G2: Djedi & The Pharaoh’s Vetiver

  1. Oh my, what a review! It’s the first time I hear about Guerlain Djedi, I didn’t know such a thing existed. Both G1 and G2 sound amazing from your well explained review (you really have a gift for writing). Floral leather with vetiver? That’s like what my perfect fragrance would be.

    • You’re very welcome, Seb. Given what a vetiver lover you are, I think Thebes would definitely be worth trying for you. (Try the Anatole Lebreton L’eau Scandaleuse and a vintage Bandit if you can find it as well.)

  2. At some point in the near future, I am going to re-read all your Sultan Pasha reviews and choose eight sample scents. They sound incredible and I’m very enthused about finally trying an attar, but at the moment, my work and personal life is very demanding, so I may have to wait a few weeks before I’m able to sit down, study the reviews, then choose my attars. I know I want to try the ambers, and I also want to go outside the box and order some florals and leathers.

    I know that you apply them very sparingly with the tip of a paper clip, but where do you apply the drop of fragrance for maximum effect? It’s hard to imagine that such a tiny drop of fragrance can work so well.

    Again, thank you for such incredibly detailed reviews.

    • The application method is a difficult one to adjust to at first but, once you get the hang of it, it becomes quite easy. The thing is, when using a paper clip tip, one is really just wetting it and there is no actual “drop,” per se, that comes out. Plus, when inserting the thin wire into the sample vial, one is only wetting a small portion of the end, like perhaps 1/4 mml in length.

      So, what I do is insert the paper clip wire into the vial, then smear that wire back and forth in a wide but thin patch across my forearm. Say, something the length of a really small band-aid. I do that 2, 3, or 4 times, depending on how much product seems to have been transferred onto my skin. One can see a sheen of oil or, sometimes, even a colour stain on the skin, and that gives one a clue as well. For a few of the oils, I’ve learnt that even 3 or 4 swipes of the tip can be too much. Like Tabac Grande. I do a few specks at most, the equivalent of 2 light dippings, maximum, into the sample vial, and then smear that across with the paper clip. That really comes to much less than even a drop, but Tabac Grande in particular goes all screwy with anything more. Same with Ame Sombre G1.

      I imagine that this description may sound overwhelming, bizarre, and difficult to wrap one’s head around when reading it, but I promise you that it is much more self-evident and easy to figure out once you have the actual vials and paper clip in front of you. 🙂

  3. Phenomenal review! I’m wearing this today and just in awe. An homage to Djedi? Absolutely. This smells like what I image in the original parfum would have smelled like when fresh off the counter in 1927. Magnificent.

    • I’m so glad to see you here, ScentsEater. Hurrah!! And another Hurrah that Thebes seem to have acted in the same spellbinding, complex, and riveting fashion on your skin, too. It really is magnificent, isn’t it?

      Of course, I’m assuming all this applies to the fantastic G1 version….. Did you try the G2 one and, if so, what was it like on you?

      • I’ve only a small sample of G1. I do also have reference samples of the original Djedi parfum and EdT. G1 feels like what a fresh dose of the parfum would have smelled like straight out of a fresh bottle in 1927. Really exciting to have such an excellent interpretation of an amazing perfume.

        I know that Sulta Pasha has mentioned somewhere that he had a chance to sniff the recreated Djedi at Osmotheque, Job well done!

        • Yes! Sultan smelled the original Djedi but it wasn’t in the Osmothèque, it was in a Vintage Atelier at Guerlain’s, we were there with other people and it was an unforgettable day!

          • I can only imagine how amazing that trip must have been.

            I wanted to add this thought…If Djedi smells of Tutankhamun’s tomb after being opened after 3000 years, I picture Thebes G1 smelling of the room a decade or so after his interment. The “freshness of the decay” in G1 is amazing.

          • The “freshness of the decay” is a wonderful way of putting it and of describing the compelling polarity, the strange juxtapositions at play here. I think the fresh part right at the beginning is partially largely due to the muguet’s innately dewy, fresh, clean and liquidy nature as amplified by the aldehydes, but there is a surprising but subtle freshness to the actual “decay” elements as well that is difficult to describe unless one has smelt the perfume for oneself. It’s something about the vetiver, I think. The freshness of its crumbling, dried leaves aspect that I found striking even before the jasmine kicked in to add its sweetness.

        • My God, a sample of the original Djedi! That’s remarkable, Scentseater. Who or what did you have to kill to get it? 😛 😀 Joking aside, it’s wonderful to hear of the similarity of Thebes in a side-by-side comparison. Few people would have been able to share such information or insight, so thank you.

          I’d like to hear more about your experiences with the SP Attars as a whole. Did you order a sample set a while ago and, if so, which ones did you choose? Which ones have you liked other than Thebes 1?

          • Yes. I ordered a sample set earlier in the year and wound up with:

            Aurum D’Angkhor
            Al Hareem
            Al Hareem Blanc
            Shamamah
            Tabac Grande
            Ambrecuir
            Ocean of Flowers
            Ensar Rose
            Jardin D’Borneo Gardenia
            Jardin D’Borneo White Ginger Lily
            Cites Des Ange
            Cuir Au Miel
            Thebes I
            Delice Ameretti
            Al Lail
            Encens Chypre
            Resine Precieux
            Carnival D’Havana
            Ame Sombre G1
            Reve Narcotique G2
            Pure Incense
            Incense Royale

            I’ve only been through about a third of them and I must say that everything’s been excellent, but I’m particularly smitten with Delice Ameretti. I’ve been waiting for less humidity to give them all a really thorough test, No ifs, and or buts though…excellent craftsmanship.

          • I’ve heard the Ameretti version of Delice is wonderful. It seems to be much more of a hit with people than Delice with the orange top note. You know, regarding the humidity issue, I’ve found that a number of patchouli or amber fragrances actually bloom in the heat/humidity. I know a lot of people are really into seasonality when it comes to what fragrances they wear, but I’ve never ascribed to that theory and I do live in a humid place myself. (Granted, widespread air-conditioning everywhere in my city does help, but still, I think one should wear what one feels in the mood for.) Anyway, no-one will ever make me change my mind on the feeling that Coromandel is best and most beautiful in summer! lol. Having said that, I do not think that any of the SP attars with SKUNK would be best tested in the heat or humidity…. 😛 😉

            I think several of the ambers, like Resine Precieux, might work well in the heat. That is, unless your skin is the sort to highlight the Devil’s Dung and render it “poopy,” as I’ve heard a few people say. But Ambrecuir might definitely work well and the Encens Royale as well. Also, as a side tip, I think Tabac Grande layered with Ame Sombre G1 is a stunning, fantastic combination.

            I know very little about your personal tastes and the notes you love/hate, but I’m looking forward to learning more, including the sorts of fragrances that you love best.

  4. Thank you for the suggestions. I wore Resine Precieux a week or two ago and though it was wonderful. I’m curious as to what you think about the idea of an osmanthus-tinged Delice? Something tells me this would be heavenly but I could be completely off base.

    I agree with your position regarding “wearing fragrances whenever you feel like wearing them.” I’m not one to shelve any bottles because of the time of year (it’s in the 70s here today and I’m fully dosed in vintage Yatagan at the moment).

    Your thoughts on Coromandel are interesting. It’s a fragrance I’m fairly familiar with and haven’t thought of it in terms of its (perceived) weather sensitivities. Pretty sure I haven’t ever personally worn it in the heat and humidity. I guess I’m just going to have to do that now, huh?

    I’d be more than happy to add my thoughts to your reviews as I run across perfumes I’m familiar with. Always happy to share my thoughts with those who love the art. Thanks for your hospitality over here!

    • I think Coromandel is intoxicating in the heat because it brings out the patchouli and seems to round it out even more. In fact, all the notes seem richer, deeper, and more rounded. However, I admit that being a hardcore “Patch Head” plays some role in my feelings.

      In terms of an osmanthus version of Delice, I think that might accentuate the fruity, apricot, and apricot liqueured aspects of the scent even more, depending on how much osmanthus is used, of course. It might render the scent not only more fruity but slightly more floral as a whole, as well as perhaps more leathery. Again, depending on the quantity of osmanthus, the type used, and also one’s personal skin chemistry interaction). Depending on all that, the result may well be less café or cookie-like than what I’ve heard about the Amaretti version. So, I think it depends on the sort of thing you’re aiming for and the sorts of notes you love best. In general, are you a gourmand or quasi-gourmand lover?

      • I don’t think of myself as generally inclined towards gourmands or quasi-gourmands in general, although I’m sure quite a few perfumes could be described as such. The warm, fall spice notes of Égoïste are beautiful to my nose, the gorgeous, but dirty, vanilla of Jicky. I’ll wear things like Opium to bed. Sweetness without counterbalance is something I steer away from. Musc Ravageur is another I love.

        I’m a fanatical lover of Nombre Noir. It’s the osmanthus here that’s made me a lover of this scent. Again, darkness to balance the sweet stone fruit notes. I thought Delice might be a nice base to let osmanthus (for sure…depending on the type) shine. Ameretti felt as if the highest quality amaretto was being misted over me while the gorgeous “body” works through its phases. An osmanthus with as much sweetness as you’d achieve in Ameretti, but highlighting a brooding, dark plum would be awesome.

        I’m also a galbanum lover. On that note, I thought of how wonderful it would be to pair Thebes (or Djedi) on one half of a couple going out with Vent Vert on the other. I’ve found I much more crave the effects of galbanum than those of vetiver. It’s a note that I’ve never considered myself that knowledgeable about. I love the vetiver in Djedi and Thebes. I don’t like Guerlain Vetiver. Not sure what to make of that.

        • It sounds to me as though you don’t like vetiver by itself, but you do like Vetiver+ or Vetiver-Plus. Solo vetiver doesn’t move you, but vetiver accompanied by other elements — particularly other green ones such as the oakmoss here in Thebes or the galbanum that you adore — ends up achieving something you relate to far more.

          Speaking of green fragrances that include vetiver and leather like Thebes, I assume that you’ve tried Bandit then. Did you like it? If so, then I also recommend trying Anatole Lebreton’s L’Eau Scandaleuse, if you haven’t already, even though it’s more than mere floral greenness or vetiver-leather. It’s quite a lush floral oriental chypre at its start. Some of the vintage floral greens or floral leather-chypres with all their copious amounts of galbanum would undoubtedly make your heart sing as well. (Chanel No. 19, for example, unless you want to go more of the floral leather route in which case I recommend something like Cabochard or Jolie Madame, both in vintage form.) For modern fragrances, I’m sure you’ve tried Vero Profumo’s Mito which has galbanum and a lot of greenness. Also, as a side note, I believe the upcoming SHL 777 fragrance is a galbanum-heavy one.

          I love vintage Egoiste! Which Opium do you wear, the Men’s version or the Women’s? Musc Ravageur is a great fragrance, by the way.

          • I think that’s accurate. Vetiver that’s accompanied with an animal darting through the grass I find really intriguing. A field of grass swaying in the brezze? Less so. That said, I haven’t had the opportunity to wear Vetiver in its vintage formulation. I’m not sure how much of a difference it would make, as I’d much rather pursue other interests.

            I absolutely love Bandit. One of the most amazing perfumes. No.19 is another of my true loves. Thank you for the Lebreton recommendation and no, I haven’t tried Mito. I’ll have to look into that for sure. Being a Cellier fan I of course have Jolie Madame and I have a nice example of Cabochard too…I’m going to revisit both of them soon for sure.

            I have two bottles of Égoïste. I’ve been wearing the current formulation but have a (gulp) first year example still sealed in the box. I’m dying to get that on my skin. I wear early-issue Opium parfum. I haven’t tried the men’s version. Do you like it?

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  6. Great review! I’m getting a mL of Thebes 1 right now…. I’ve tried it a few times and don’t want to be without. I’ve never tried Djedi, but another fragrance this reminds me of is Diana De Silva Ettore Bugatti:

    http://www.fragrantica.com/perfume/Diana-De-Silva/Ettore-Bugatti-23566.html

    The combination of citrus, aldehydes and animalics is very similar. However, I couldn’t handle the Bugatti fragrance because of the lower quality of the ingredients, especially the lemon, it had a strong suggestion of cleaning products… Obviously this is not the case with Thebes 1! The quality is just great, it feels much more natural and “right”. The execution reminds me a bit of Roja Dove’s tributes to classics like Fetish, Puredistance M, etc. where the concept is elevated to it’s highest potential via the use of the best possible ingredients. Thebes 1 is a cost-no-object fragrance and it shows, it’s just so rich, complex and beautiful.

    For me, I get the dryness, but there’s also a very human impression… it’s very French. Rather than just an Egyptian tomb, it’s like the smell of Indiana Jones wearing his leather jacket and hat, covered with sweat and exertion as he opens the tomb… 🙂

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