H – The Exclusive Black Tier is not a fragrance that I would normally cover, because it’s not widely available around the world, but I’ve received a number of questions and queries about it since its release, and I confess I was curious to try it.
H -The Exclusive Black Tier is an extrait or parfum that was released in 2016, inspired by Harrods “and the treasures held inside its iconic walls.” The “Black Tier” part of its name apparently references the elite or highest level of Harrod’s rewards card, and the scent is only available at Harrods or Roja Dove’s website. (The latter ships worldwide, albeit for a hefty price.) Since the fragrance’s name is a bit unwieldy to use in its entirety in writing, I’ll simply call it “H Black Tier” from this point forth.
On his website, Roja Dove’s long description for H Black Tier and its notes reads, in relevant part, as follows:
“This scent represents the absolute embodiment of luxury, bursting with the world’s rarest and most costly ingredients.” – Roja Dove.
Bergamot counterpoints a bouquet of Rose, Jasmine, and Violet in the heart of this creation, with a touch of fruity Raspberry, underscored by a central theme of warmth from a blend of Sandal, Casmir, and Aoud Woods, Birch, Pepper, Saffron, and Patchouli, softened by a base of Benzoin, Vanilla, Myrrh, Opoponax, and powdery Orris, the whole made sensual by Labdanum, Ambergris, Musk, and a Suede Accord.
HEART: Rose de Mai, Jasmin de Grasse, Violet, Raspberry
BASE: Pepper, Saffron, Patchouli, Casmir Wood, Sandalwood, Aoud, Benzoin, Vanilla, Orris, Myrrh, Opoponax, Birch, Labdanum, Suede Accord, Ambergris, Musk.
H Black Tier opens on my skin with the brisk aroma of a chilled, lemony bergamot that’s been layered with jammy raspberries, vanilla, saffron, and a host of wood notes. There is a clean, faintly buttery, faintly creamy cashmere wood note, followed by spicy and smoky sandalwood, and then the musky, earthy, mushroomy “funk” of oud.
The latter smells moderately authentic, but the other woods smell entirely synthetic to me, wafting a mix of aridity, Javanol-style sandalwood, cedary wood-smoke, and faux leather-amber-woody tonalities. I suspect the purported “Suede accord” is a large reason why, but not the only one. Even when I smelt H Black Tier in the vial, I was hit by a surprising degree of synthetics and artificial wood-smoke chems. In addition, there was also a forceful Cashmeran note, the “Casmir wood” referenced in the official fragrance description.
In fact, the Cashmeran ends up being a major and persistent part of H Black Tier on my skin, so it’s worth going into its specifics for anyone who is unfamiliar with the note. Fragrantica has an article by Elena Vosnaki which describes this “fairly inexpensive” material, its woody-musk aroma, and how its strong, insoluble nature makes it useful in things like fabric softeners, detergents, and deodorants just as much as perfume:
The proper name of Cashmeran is 1,2,3,5,6,7-hexahydro-1,2,3,3-pentamethyl-4h-inden-4-one. Though commonly refered to as “blond woods” in perfume speak, the reality is that the ingredient Cashmeran (an International Flavors and Fragrances appelation) is actually a musk component with a yellow, trickly texture. Its scent profile takes over a vast sea between woods and ambers, abstract and indefinable.
Insoluble in water and hydrophobic, it’s therefore a prime target for use in functional perfumery too, since it won’t rinse out: detergents, fabric softener, alcoholic lotions, deodorants, shampoos, you name it…
A Fragrantica article by Matvey Yudov discusses other aspects of the material, like the fact that Cashmeran’s chemical formula has some relation or overlap with that of Galaxolide, which is one the most popular musks, and how Cashmeran is often used in oud fragrances:
There is almost no oud perfume without cashmeran. The number of oud compositions with natural oud reduces drastically, and as synthetic oud accord becomes more present, cashmeran usually makes a generous part of it.
While I’m not at all keen on a number of the wood notes in H Black Tier, on the plus side, the oud is pretty nice. It’s smooth, distinct, mannerly, and bears a good degree of the real “funk” that is such a signature of the wood. Better still, it’s neither redolent of Gorgonzola nor hot barnyard cow patties. There is also none of the nose-burning smoke and leather of Hindi agarwood. In truth, I strongly suspect this is not genuine agarwood at all, but, whatever this is, the heavily filtered, purified, smoothened, creamy, and a little bit waxy version is quite pleasant.
Another refined aroma is the saffron that appears in H Black Tier a mere 5 minutes into its development. It doesn’t resemble the strident, aggressive, fiery, and/or leathery refrains of Safranal at high levels. This is a more judicious use of the material than I’ve Armani Privé‘s Cuir Noir, Amouage‘s now-discontinued Al Mas and Asrar attars, and even Roja Dove‘s own Amber Aoud. Here, the saffron is smooth, extremely soft, and very airy, a quiet fragrancy and spiciness that is neither buttery nor fiery, and most certainly not heavy.
H Black Tier changes very quickly in terms of its nuances. It takes a mere 8-10 minutes for the bergamot to vanish entirely and for the raspberry to grow stronger. Having said that, for much of H Black Tier’s first 4 hours, it feels mostly like a natural subset of the fresh, clean, light pink rose. Its berried sweetness is nicer than the intensely artificial, saccharine raspberry found in many mainstream fragrances and not gooey at all.
About 15 minutes in, the oud fuses together with all the other woody notes, and the powerful whiffs of arid, woody, musky, leathery, and smoky aromachemicals in the opening bouquet fade away, replaced by the cleaner woody-musk tonalities of Cashmeran. In my experience, Cashmeran and white laundry musk have a lot of aromas in common, and it can often smell like a fluffy, wood-infused cotton that’s been taken straight out of the dryer. That’s what happens here. The oud “funk” retreats to the sidelines to become only an occasional suggestion and passing wisp, while the clean, heavily sterilized, cotton and laundry fabric softener aromas of Cashmeran vie for attention on center stage next to a clean, fruity, raspberry-tinged rose and a mild drop of sweet, fragrant saffron.
Have you tried Dior’s La Colle Noire rose soliflore from the Privé Collection? This feels like its counterpart, an airy, soft raspberry saffron rose layered with ultra clean cashmeran woods and with only merest hint of a more complex oud-woods-wood-smoke-wood-amber accord in the background. In fact, if I smelt this phase of H Black Tier blindly, I would have guessed it was a Dior fragrance rather than one from Roja Dove. For one thing, H Black Tier is a significantly airier, billowier, and thinner scent than what I normally associate with Roja Dove. For another, it feels simpler than the chock-a-block, brimming with notes, complicated complexity of the early, glorious Roja Doves like Roja Haute Luxe, original version NuWa, Enigma Pour Homme/Creation E, Risque Pour Femme/Creation-R, or Danger Pour Homme.
H Black Tier continues to change as it develops and, alas, not for the better, in my opinion. Roughly 45 minutes in, a very smoky blackened, leather-woody accord barrels its way onto center stage, thoroughly muting the soft, flickering traces of oud. This isn’t a tarry birch leather on my skin. Instead, it smells like cypriol, the forest fire smoke of guaiacol, Cashmeran, and some strident woody-amber aromachemical in the vein of Ambermax or Trisamber.
Honestly, I’m quite disappointed, and I expect much more from this brand at these prices. (More on the super-high cost for H Black Tier later.) Roja Parfums has never shied away from using some synths but, in my opinion, they were more judiciously, carefully, and lightly applied, even in those scents where they were quite noticeable to me. (See, e.g., Amber Extrait.) Unfortunately, in several of the newer or newest releases, the synthetics have been surprisingly overt and intrusive to my nose. (See, e.g., Great Britain.)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think something has changed with the quality levels of the fragrances as well as their character and complexity. In my opinion, those things are going down, while the brand prices (and the number of new fragrance releases each year) rapidly shoot up. I find it incredibly frustrating because I loved a number of the old Roja Doves, even if I thought some of their pricing was painfully steep. But there seems to be a world of difference now, alas, between something like Diaghilev, original version NuWa, and the glorious Haute Luxe versus the latest crop. I keep trying them in the vain hope of a return to the old Roja form, and I keep crashing and burning into a wall of disappointment. (God only knows what the Tutti Frutti Aouds were like. I didn’t even go near them but, then again, I’m not the pre-pubescent teenage offspring of a Russian oligarch.)
At the end of the first hour and the start of the second, H Black Tier settles into its second main stage. It’s an intensely smoky, leathery woody scent layered with a fragile, gossamer, saffron-raspberry rose, a sliver of musky oud, and loads of camphorous, medicinal, phenolic, 5-alarm-fire wood smoke. It’s bone-dry and sweet the same time, evoking a cracked parched desert run through with rivulets of tarry leather, charred woods, and discordantly fresh, sweet rose petals smeared with blobs of raspberry jam and saffron butter. Honestly, it’s not a particularly interesting scent amidst the sea of rose-saffron-leather-woody ouds that are already out on the market. In fact, this stage of H Black Tier sometimes reminds me of Grossmith‘s Saffron Rose, only with a noticeable raspberry note, not to mention woods that feel significantly more synthetic and more intensely arid. At other times, it reminds me of a mash-up of Kilian‘s Rose Oud, Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather, and some egregiously bone-dry, woody-smoke, woody-amber oriental (take your pick of any number of scents in this category, perhaps starting with Guerlain Santal Royal). Each of these fragrances has its devoted admirers, so I’m sure this stage of H Black Tier will appeal to someone, but I’m just not that person. And I also expect far more in a fragrance that costs £395 or £795 (which is more than $1000 at today’s rate of exchange) than I do for a fragrance that costs $220.
Roughly 2.25 hours in, H Black Tier dissolves a little (or a lot, depending on your interpretation). The supposed “leather” turns amorphous and hazy, while the floral-fruity-spice accord thins out and becomes just as blurry. In fact, the raspberry briefly fades away, replaced by a chocolate-y patchouli, followed by a touch of sweet, semi-earthy funk that is as indistinct as everything else. The arid, rasping, scratchy aspects of the synthetic wood smoke constantly wax and wane, while the Cashmeran begins to turn quite laundry-like in its clean musk. For the most part, H Black Tier feels like simply just another, largely generic woody fragrance with oscillating, see-sawing degrees of abstract floralcy, fruitiness, spice, leather, patchouli, and smokiness subsumed within.
By the end of the third hour, things go entirely pear-shaped on my skin. The clean, white, detergent-like musk compounds in the Cashmeran kick into overdrive, flattening the rose, erasing all trace of the saffron, and turning the various wood notes into a simplistic, occasionally cedar-ish, beige woodiness. There is a tinge of coumarin-ish and vanillic sweetness underneath and the burgeoning suggestion of soapy clean, woody incense in the back ground, but both notes are too flattened by the Cashmeran to be particularly distinct at this stage. Making matters more difficult for me, every time I smell my arm up close for too long, I get a stabbing pain through my eye and the back my throat feels as though a Brillo pad were taken to it. Putting aside my sensitivity to large amounts of aromachemicals, what I object to the most has to be the sheer blandness and banality of the scent. It smells like a poor cousin to Serge Lutens‘ L’Orpheline, a Cashmeran-heavy fragrance with white musk, incense, and a suede-like accord. I’m no fan of L’Orpheline, but at least that one is relatively affordable.
H Black Tier shifts its focus midway during the 4th hour. The incense joins the Cashmeran and the dissolved, abstract, dry leathery-woody-smoke accord on center stage. All lingering traces of the raspberry vanish completely, while the saffron-rose becomes a ghostly blip in the background before eventually disappearing as well. The incense which has replaced them is slightly medicinal, camphorous, dusty, musty, and soapy, smelling like a mix of myrrh, sweet myrrh, and a touch of the drier, colder, churchier, and lemony refrains of olibanum. The focus of the overall bouquet constantly shifts back and forth between two similar but slightly different things: 1) a mix of leathery wood, synthetic wood smoke, a bit of camphorous, musky oud, and a whopping ton of Cashmeran; or 2) arid, charred woods with arid, dusty, churchy, camphorous incense and Cashmeran. By the end of the 6th hour, H Black Tier is mostly dry wood smoke, woody synthetics, incense, and clean musk.
When the 8th hour rolls around, H Black Tier shifts again. The raspberry returns, and the fragrance turns into a blurry, indecipherable mix of a berried, sweet, leatherish something-or-another infused with laundry clean musk, woody incense, and a faux amberish note. The latter smells to me, on my skin, a lot like the Cetalox “amber” synthetic that one finds in a lot of fragrances from Juliette Has A Gun. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were also some Ambroxan but, whatever has been used for the alleged “Ambergris” on the note list, none of it smells anything like the actual ambergris that one can find in some high-end attars, like those from the Sultan Pasha line, or the ambergris that I once tinctured myself. But whatever is in H Black Tier, I found the sum-total result not only overtly, excessively synthetic on my skin, but it also made me feel quite queasy and nauseous. Literally.
While I didn’t jump up and down with joy about any of Black Tier’s stages, I loathe H Black Tier’s drydown with a fiery passion. It begins around the 11th hour, and I came close to scrubbing the scent entirely quite a number of times as a result. It is nothing more than a fruity, saccharine-y, grainy, and very powdery laundry musk cleanness with a sliver of something potentially woody buried deep below. Eventually, that sliver disappears, leaving me with nothing more than a berry version of my Bounce dryer sheets.
At one point, I stuck my arm under a pile of pillows simply to get away from it, but my skin tends to hold onto musks and/or laundry clean aromas like the devil, so, naturally, the blasted H Black Tier had enormous persistence. Its powdery raspberry laundry detergent freshness was still going strong in the 17th hour when I finally gave up and scrubbed it off. I regret not doing it sooner.
In terms of sillage and projection, H Black Tier was softer on my skin than the early Roja Dove extraits and, as previously mentioned, airier in feel and lighter in body as well. I applied several long, generous smears amounting to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle. H Black Tier opened with about 3 inches of projection and roughly 5 inches of sillage. It was a weightless scent, but strong up close initially. About 2.25 hours in, the projection had dropped to between 1 and 1.5 inches, and the sillage was soft and discreet unless I moved my arms. At the end of the 5th hour, H Black Tier hovered just above the skin, and the blasted Cashmeran-raspberry white musk was the only aroma noticeable in the faint sillage vapors when I moved my arm. The fragrance turned into a pure skin scent around the 8th hour, although it was easy to detect (alas) if I put my nose right on my arm for several more hours to come, particularly the Cashmeran.
I haven’t found any blog reviews of H Black Tier to give you someone else’s experience as a counterbalance, but there are three comments on Fragrantica thus far and they are all positive. The first commentator, “mark49s,” experienced a “very deep and natural smelling Oud” with a “fair size dose of musk in there too.” He added: “Personally it reminds me a lot of Roja’s Musk Aoud.” For “Alexmeade,” it was primarily an oud-patchouli fragrance on his skin, and “one of the more refined ouds.” He had initially thought H Black Tier resembled Black Afgano, but he later found them dissimilar. The third poster, “bbjr” wrote: “Another stellar oud variation from Roja. Different than all his others, this is a refined oud with the fruity musky tinge just below the surface. Great stuff.”
H Black Tier is available worldwide if one orders from the Roja Parfums website, but the fragrance is, as you might expect, not cheap. The Details section at the end has the specifics, including how to sample the fragrance if you’re not in the UK. But you might like to know up-front that the 100 ml bottle costs more than $1000 at today’s rate of exchange, while the 30 ml one is around $511. If you asked me, those are very steep prices for the sort of fragrance that appeared on my skin, and I would be truly surprised if experienced perfumistas found H Black Tier to be distinctive and special enough to put money down on an actual bottle. Personally, I wouldn’t wear H Black Tier even if I were given a bottle for free.
Nevertheless, if you are a die-hard fan of musky woody fragrances, oud musks, smoky woody-incense fragrances, floral-ouds, or Roja Dove’s creations, then you should try H Black Tier for yourself. Maybe you’ll fare better than I did.