Maharajahs dripping with diamonds, a trip back in time to India, narcotic opulence, heat, lust, and sensuality — Ottoman Empire is all those things and more. It is such an utterly over-the-top floral oriental and with such a hedonistic grandeur that it’s a pity the name “Shalimar” with its palatial Indian inspiration was already taken, because it would suit this one quite well. In fact, I find that vintage Shalimar parfum (in its oldest form) and Ottoman Empire have a few strands of DNA in common.
In the case of Ottoman Empire, I was swept off my feet with heady 3D roses married to honeyed jasmine, tropical frangipani, plush oakmoss, warm spices, buttery sandalwood, several different kinds of oud, smoldering vetiver, and gorgeously molten labdanum amber — all enveloped with a fur coat of muskiness.
It’s sybaritic, it’s divaesque on a grand scale, it’s got the heft of a tank, and it turned my head from the very first sniff all the way to the addictively cozy, sexy last. It impacted me immediately, instinctively, and on a visceral level, transporting me back in time to one of my favourite days and memories of India. Without a doubt, hands down, Ottoman Empire is one of my absolute favourite things that I’ve tried this year and will be high on my year-end list of “Best Fragrances of 2017.” It will be the focus of this review, but I’ll have a short review for Oud Zen, the third Areej le Doré release at the end as well.
Ottoman Empire was released earlier this year and is basically a concentrated attar that has been diluted just enough to make it a sprayable extrait. That’s a degree of richness which gives Ottoman Empire a heft similar to the oldest, most highly concentrated, and expensive vintage Guerlain extraits, except this might be even richer. And, as you will soon see, the fragrance feels “vintage” in scent as well as body and might.
Unlike its sibling, Siberian Musk, Ottoman Empire is still available and comes in a 50 ml size. There are about 40 bottles remaining at the time of this post.
Ottoman Empire is a fragrance heavily with about 5 different kinds of roses in addition to a variety of ouds. I’m someone who normally shudders and runs from the thought of a rose-centric fragrance, and I’m also bored to death with the endless, ubiquitous saffron-rose-oud combinations that have flooded the market over the last 6 or 7 years, so my love for Ottoman Empire should tell you something. This is far, FAR more than a mere rose-oud, let alone the typical sort that one encounters. To me, the way the many notes (particularly its jasmine and frangipani/plumeria) interact together turns Ottoman Empire into something which feels like the love-child of: the modern attar, Aurum d’Angkhor, really old vintage Shalimar extrait (1930s-1950s version), and the original version of my beloved Alahine (which has now been gutted by reformulation), with a splash of really old L’Heure Bleue extrait (1930s to 1960s) from the days when it was more about roses, jasmine, and dark, leathery, furry muskiness than the heliotrope for which it is known today. I feel a frisson merely writing those names.
On the Areej Le Doré website, Russian Adam describes Ottoman Empire as follows:
The essence of mysteries,
With a heart of extravagant richness,
A character of unmatchable diversity,
The blissful sensation of narcotic depth,
And a soul-healing impact.
Top notes: Jamaican pepper, cardamom, pure rose oil from Afghanistan, Georgia and Bulgaria, Indian rose absolute. Thai white rose, jasmine and frangipani water freshly co-distilled by Russian Adam.
Middle notes: infusion of frangipani flowers, saffron attar aged over twenty years, three types of Indian agarwood oil, including traces of an Assam oud that is nearly two decades old, clean Indian vetiver, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Base notes: seven year old sandalwood from Bangladesh, Indian oakmoss, crude amber resin oil and sweet myrrh.
Ottoman Empire opens on my skin with an utterly spectacular, head-turning, and heady floral bouquet. At the heart of it lies a jammy, fruity rose that is first coated in a thick mixture of saffron honey, honeyed indolic jasmine, amber resins, and very heated, tropical, heady frangipani, then sprinkled lightly with warm, fragrant cinnamon and a pinch of cardamom. The rose is so rich, deep, and authentically naturalistic in aroma that it smells as though it were growing in a garden, its velvety petals opened wide in bloom, wafting lemony, berried, honeyed, fresh, clean, spicy, and green aromas. It’s a three-dimensional flower rose that glows ruby-red and has the same naturalistic richness as the ones in Aurum d’Angkhor and in really, really old Shalimar parfum from the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s. The jasmine smells like Sambac, the more fruity and indolic variety, while the frangipani comes across smelling like a mix of honeysuckle, indolic fruity jasmine, and creamy Tahitian gardenia. Above all else, though, the frangipani wafts an immensely tropical, heated, and humidity quality.
What’s crazy to me is the way that three flowers interact to create something bigger than the sum of their parts, a different flower entirely: orange blossom. Something about the way the sweet, fruity rose layers with the immensely indolic, syrupy, fruity, and tropical white flowers constantly recreates the aromas of orange blossom for me. I can’t explain it at all, but every time I wear Ottoman Empire, there is such an overlap with the scent characteristics of orange blossom that I’m taken aback.
It’s like the olfactory version of a trompe l’oeil, an art technique which uses visual tricks which render small details into something three-dimensional and entirely different. In Ottoman Empire, I can always detect the fruity rose and fruity, indolic jasmine clearly, individually, and distinctly (the frangipani is usually more indirect), but they merge with the other notes, realign, and then reconstitute themselves in a way that, on my skin and to my nose, creates an “orange blossom” trompe l’oeil. (“Trompe nez” might be a more accurate phrasing.)
There are a few reasons I think for this trick of the mind. The first is the immensely heated quality of the floral bouquet, a tropicality and hot-house humidness that skews much closer to exotic or indolic white flowers rather than roses, at least not the typical rose by itself. The second is the immense fruitiness, sweetness, and ripeness of all three flowers. The third is their muskiness. Layered within the indolic, honeyed, spicy, and fruity mix is a powerful muskiness which is released by the three Indian ouds. It serves to further accentuate both the sense of heated, indolic lushness and the trompe l’oeil/nez perception of a bouquet that is made up of just as many white flowers as roses, sometimes even more so.
It’s at this point that it might be worth a brief refresher on indoles and what exactly that term means in perfumery. The scientific story about indoles, in simple terms, is that bees can’t see white flowers like tuberose, jasmine, orange blossom, gardenia, frangipani, or the like. So the flowers have an extra-large amount of a natural organic substance called indoles which they release to signal the bees to their presence. It’s basically Nature’s form of a radar signal.
Their scent varies. In their undiluted, purest, and most concentrated form in perfumery, they can smell like musty mothballs. However, when diluted to just a few drops, they create a radiant richness in floral perfumes that is sometimes described as narcotic, heady, meaty, dense, voluptuous, or sensuous. When the indoles emanate naturally from really top-grade, rich, dense, heavy raw materials like, for example, jasmine or orange blossom the aromas can smell like: camphor, mentholated smokiness, regular smokiness, animalic muskiness, or smoky muskiness. For some people, very indolic white flowers can have an over-blown, ripe quality that smells sour, plastic-y, poo-like, urinous, or reminiscent of a cat’s litter box. The flowers’ richness and widespread use in classic, very opulent compositions is probably why some people find indolic fragrances to smell “old lady-ish” (a term I hate, by the way, even apart from its ageist aspects). Those who prefer clean, fresh scents are likely to struggle with indolic fragrances, and not merely because of their heavy feel.
Ottoman Empire is a very musky fragrance on my skin, but it’s not simply because of the indoles. I would say that the three types of Hindi ouds and the way that they interact with the indoles are just as responsible. The two elements essentially fuse together in a way that creates an effect similar to that in Siberian Musk, even if this fragrance has no deer musk. It’s simply a different sort of muskiness: it’s more resinous; it’s not evocative of the deer’s habitat; it’s smoky in a way that accentuates the indolic aspect of the flowers; and it’s subtly leathery. For the first 15-20 minutes, it smells merely like an amped up amount of indoles because the oud shares the same musky heatedness and flickers of smokiness, even if the smokiness isn’t camphorous on my skin the way that heavy indoles can be. It’s clearly the sort of smokiness which comes from Hindi agarwood instead, but it’s initially difficult to separate the two. Later, about 30 minutes in, the muskiness begins to take on a furry quality that is clearly driven by the agarwood alone, but the indoles are always there, somewhere, lurking about, rippling out quietly so long as the jasmine and frangipani exist.
As the blanket of smoke-tinged, indole-oud muskiness descends from on-high, the ground beneath the flowers is slowly shifting as well. The three Hindi ouds are flexing their muscles, wafting a furriness that gradually begins to expand like a fluffy carpet of expensive Russian sable coats laid beneath the feet of the roses, jasmine, frangipani, and their combined “orange blossom” trompe l’oeil.
Other changes are occurring at the same time. Clumps of greenness sprout up between the “fur,” smelling like emerald oakmoss and smoky vetiver. The saffron begins to ripple out rich fingers of red-gold that smell sweet, floral, and heated, rather than fiery, sharp, biting, peppery, or leathery. This is most clearly not the Safranal synthetic but something real, wonderfully fragrant, smooth, rounded, honeyed, and almost a little floral and savoury at times. It works beautifully with the labdanum’s toffee aroma and the sandalwood’s buttery quality, both of which lurk softly in the background.
The cumulative effect is quite something. Layers upon layers of scent that add up to an oriental tsunami of rich, heavy, and very heated floral sensuality which is simultaneously: tropical, ripe, fruity, honeyed, spicy, smoky, woody, resinous, mossy, indolic, sexy, and musky. I constantly have the impression of a wall of multi-faceted perfumed musk descending upon rubied and diamond flowers with aromas that are so rich and opulent that they bear the weight, size, and virtual feel of a mountain of down duvets (or Russian sable). It won’t be for everyone, but I think it’s fabulous and a real head-turner.
By the end of the first hour, Ottoman Empire is a lush, tropical, multifaceted, and three-dimensional floral bouquet covered on top with an oud-indole smoke-flecked muskiness, a light layer of “fur” underneath, and sandwiched on all sides by honeyed sweetness, bright fruits, spices, and sticky balsamic resins. It’s a floral oriental on such a grand and exotic scale that it goes beyond mere richness or even the divaesque and enters instead into the imperial territory that is normally occupied for me by really old vintage Shalimar extrait. That fragrance was originally inspired by a king’s love for his queen, but this is the scent which actually takes me back to India, one of my favourite countries in the world, evoking the staggering opulence of its enormous, elaborately detailed palaces and conjuring up old photos of its Maharajahs, famously dripping in jewels:
Most of all, though, Ottoman Empire encapsulates and bottles the thick, fruity, spicy, muggy, hot, musky, and dusty atmosphere of India. In particular, it transports me back to one afternoon’s horseback ride up the tree-lined, red dust roads going up Matheran mountain in Maharashtra, while eating sticky fruits and honeyed saffron treats sold by vendors as monkeys chattered and clambered all about. I was filled with such joy on that ride up Matheran, the sort of happiness where you feel as though you’re walking on air. But when I got to the very top of Matheran and beheld the heart-stopping beauty stretching out before my eyes, I was literally lost for words. (And I’m rarely lost for words….) It was before that massive vista (which made America’s famed Grand Canyon seem almost paltry in comparison) that I fell well and truly in love with India. I’ve been fortunate to see a lot of beautiful places in my life — many in India but also in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia — but there was just something about Matheran, its beauty, and that entire day which stands out to me and which I hold close to my heart.
That day comes flooding back in both scent and feel when I wear Ottoman Empire. I had a sense of happy familiarity and comfort that was almost a visceral reaction the first time I wore the fragrance, and I have it each time thereafter. Siberian Musk is, like all chypres, more sophisticated in its vibe, and it’s the one which receives all the acclaim, but it’s Ottoman Empire and its lush, spicy, heated sensuality that turned my head, and it’s Ottoman Empire that hits me emotionally.
In the years that I’ve been testing and wearing modern niche fragrances, only one other scent has taken me back to Matheran, but it’s a completely different fragrance in its feel, vibe, and genre. It’s Neela Vermeire’s beautiful Trayee.
Trayee has a number of notes in common with Ottoman Empire — jasmine, sandalwood, oud, vetiver, myrrh, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, oakmoss, and amber resins — and, yet, despite that, it’s completely different. First and foremost, Trayee does not have a strong, thick chord of roses running through it from start to finish. On top of that, Trayee is less humid, hardly tropical in its floralcy, and never so rich, thick, heavy, and powerful in its bouquet. Furthermore, there is not one iota of anything resembling furriness in Trayee. If anything, it is dustier and more wood-centric, and some people experience an ashy note as well because, on top of everything else, Trayee also has a profound and significant incense element.
The woods are also not the same. Trayee’s single Laotian oud bears no resemblance in either scent profile or complexity to the multifaceted Hindi trio here. In addition, Trayee also has a very prominent Mysore sandalwood element which is often front and center, whereas, in Ottoman Empire, the non-Mysore sandalwood is largely sublimated for the first half of the scent. When it does surge forward strongly in the late hours, it adds a textural plushness, creaminess, and butteriness to the other notes rather than reading purely like a woody note. For all these reasons, I would never classify Trayee as a floral oriental; the balance of notes is completely different. I would categorize it as an oriental that is primarily dominated by spices, woods, and incense; so the jasmine floralcy, amber, oakmoss, vetiver, etc., are ancillary notes in comparison.
In short, Trayee doesn’t closely resemble Ottoman Empire despite its Matheran trigger for me or some overlap in its notes. What I think is a closer analogy is a mix of vintage Shalimar, Aurum d’Angkhor, and original Alahine, with a splash of 1960s L’Heure Bleue in it. I mention the latter not because of the fluffy heliotrope for which it is known now, but because its oldest forms took sultry, jammy red roses and indolic, fruity white florals (orange blossom and jasmine) and then placed them within a cloud of balsamic, ambered, leathery and almost furry muskiness. No, it wasn’t remotely animalic, but that’s why I bring up Shalimar and Aurum d’Angkhor. Like Ottoman Empire, they both have rubied, three-dimensional roses with sultry, indolic white florals, myrrh, smoke, resins, and a dark muskiness that is quietly furry. Aurum d’Angkhor is obviously the closest match of the lot, due to its oud, sandalwood, and saffron, but it’s not identical to Ottoman Empire by any means.
Nor is Teo Cabanel‘s Alahine, but it comes to mind because of its strong mix of French, vintage, and Middle Eastern styles. It takes a plethora of roses, adds indolic white florals, dunks them all in the spice vats of a Moroccan souk, then encases everything within thick amber resins. Or, at least, it did before the fragrance was changed into something so horrifying, I gave it away just to get it out of my house. Still, before it was changed, Alahine was all about opulent florals with the spices and amber of a Middle Eastern bazaar. And, like Ottoman Empire, it had also palatial, vintage, humid, sensuous, and exotic qualities. So, if one combines key elements of all four fragrances, then you’ll have a rough idea of the general universe in which Ottoman Empire inhabits.
Like Siberian Musk, Ottoman Empire has monster longevity, but it doesn’t seem to have stages in quite the same way. With Ottoman Empire, there are merely incremental ripples in degree that occur at a glacial past and are noticeable only in terms of the prominence or strength of certain notes and accords. So the rest of my scent analysis will try to chart the fluctuations that, eventually, over a long period of time, take the fragrance from one point to another.
For example, during the first two hours, one of the accords which ebbs and flows the most is the mossy greenness and, in particular, its vetiver component. Sometimes, it’s extremely prominent but, then, ten minutes later, it recedes to hide in-between the ouds’ “fur coats.” Then, 20 minutes after that, it returns, before repeating the cycle all over again. Throughout that time, it veers in scent from smelling like a plush type of oakmoss, similar to the way the vetiver does in Siberian Musk, to smelling more like a mixture of vetiver and oakmoss tied together with smoke.
The muskiness shifts in a different fashion. After 40 minutes, its indolic component weakens, replaced by stronger oud, woody, and leathery facets. Thereafter, the muskiness veers between smelling either like: fur, smoky leather, oud, unrelated dark musk, or some combination of the above. It’s difficult to describe because, a lot of the times, each aroma feels like a separate, unrelated and different element, stemming from different sources, even though they’re all by-products of trio of Indian agarwood. They lap at the floral bouquet, sometimes in turns, frequently simultaneously, like a wave of brown darkness hitting the shores, turning the rubied and diamond flowers into something bronzed or golden in hue.
Roughly 2.75 hours in, all the notes realign themselves. The central chord can be summed up as: sweet, honeyed, spicy floral fur. Jasmine now joins the roses at the head of the floral charge, followed by that unexpected “orange blossom” trompe l’oeil recreation and then the frangipani. Yet, for the first time, the trio of ouds feels fully fused and intertwined around the flowers, wafting a soft furriness more than anything actually woody, leathery, or smoky. In fact, their “fur” bears a rather civet-like aroma at times. Their muskiness continues to hang over everything like a thick fog, infused with saffron, cinnamon, honeyed, and fruity tonalities. The vetiver-oakmoss green accord is now merely a quiet spectator on the sidelines. The base has changed as well. Instead of oud, there is now a molten river of sticky, balsamic, ambered resins. Having said all that, when taken as a whole, the changes feel merely like a shift in the balance of notes rather than an entirely new stage. All the same elements are here as in the opening, but the things being emphasized and highlighted are different than they were before.
The balance changes again midway during the 4th hour when Ottoman Empire turns creamier and significantly woodier in focus. The oud’s fur, muskiness, and soft animalics retreat to the background, letting it smell purely woody for once instead of all its other facets. But the sandalwood is now just as important. It arrives on center stage for the first time, lending a rich buttery, creamy undertone to the floral bouquet. In fact, there is such a noticeable creamy, spiced (and almost vanillic) sweetness running under the flowers that I kept thinking that some ylang-ylang had been incorporated into the mix as well. It has not, but odd sensation of a heady, spicy ylang-like creaminess remains with me for a while. Whatever its source or the reasons for that impression, I love it and find it’s particularly gorgeous next to the jasmine, sandalwood, and saffron.
It’s becoming difficult to distinguish the notes and pull them apart. The central ones that I’ve just described are growing extremely hazy, one bleeding into the next. All the rest are just ancillary elements that dart about like small bees, sometimes buzzing quietly (like the toffee’d labdanum and benzoin resins), sometimes quite loudly (like the smoky vetiver).
To the extent that Ottoman Empire has concrete, discernible stages, I would say the second main one begins roughly at the end of the 7th hour and the start of the 8th. Essentially, the sandalwood and labdanum become central figures in the drama, leading the charge, followed by the ouds, rose, and jasmine (in that order). The sandalwood is beautifully warm, resinous, and spicy. The ouds are quietly smoky but they mostly waft a dark muskiness imbued with a civet-like aroma. When taken as a whole, Ottoman Empire is now primarily a spicy, resinous sandalwood-oud-amber, covered with red and yellow rose petals, drizzled with jasmine honey, and then enveloped within a dark, faintly animalic, softly furry musk. All of it has the texture of velvet — warm, plush, and thick — but the rose petals are particularly beautiful in their downy softness.
Ottoman Empire doesn’t change significantly beyond this point and the subsequent fluctuations are very small ones, mere shifts in the emphasis of one note over another. In its 12th hour, the labdanum resin (possibly accompanied by benzoin as well) becomes more prominent than the sandalwood and musky ouds, turning the fragrance more towards the amber side. By the start of the 18th hour and in the long drydown which follows, the resinous amber takes over completely as the star of the show. Ottoman Empire becomes a molten wave of beautifully toffee’d labdanum with small ripples of other things buried within, namely, sweet roses and a sexy, vaguely oud-ish dark muskiness. In its final hours, all that was left was a dark, ambered sweetness, warmth, and muskiness. It was lovely, cozy, inviting, and soothing.
Ottoman Empire had monster longevity, decent projection for an attar-like extrait, and big sillage, although not quite as much as Siberian Musk. Using a few spritzes equal to somewhere between 1.5 and 2 sprays from an actual bottle, Ottoman Empire opened with about 2.5 inches of projection and about 3 inches of sillage. However, after 10-15 minutes, the latter began to gradually expand as the oils melted on my skin. 30 minutes in, I was suddenly surrounded by a potent but weightless cloud that extended about 7-8 inches. It grew a bit further by the end of the first hour, perhaps 10 inches in total, and the projection actually grew a bit at that time, too. The numbers began to drop in the 3rd hour, but only a little. Roughly 5.5 hours in, the projection hovered about 0.5 inches above the skin, and the cloud was about 3-4 inches in radius. However, the actual scent was strong and highly concentrated up close. Ottoman Empire remained that way until roughly the 10th or 11th hour when the sillage died and the fragrance coated the skin. I wouldn’t call it a “skin scent,” per se, because I had no difficulty detecting the scent if I brought my nose to my arm. In fact, it took little to no effort to detect the rose-oud-musk-amber bouquet until well after the 18th hour. In total, Ottoman Empire lasted more than 30 hours on me, with some tiny patches of skin maintaining the scent even in the 36th hour. With a smaller quantity, a few smears dabbed on via the atomizer stick, the scent lasted roughly 24 hours. However, the projection and sillage were soft. Spraying has a major effect on the reach and power of this fragrance.
Siberian Musk may get all the acclaim, but Ottoman Empire is popular and liked as well, by both men and women. There are 4 reviews on Fragrantica, all positive, although one of them is accidentally about Siberian Musk instead. You’ll find much more detail in the Official Areej Le Doré discussion thread on Basenotes instead. “Diamondflame” posted one of the earliest reviews and, while it’s too long for me to quote in full, I’ll share some snippets and let you read the entire thing on your own later:
Exquisite. […][¶] A richly adorned tapestry of notes that wears on my skin like a living, breathing mythical creature of legend. I don’t pay particular attention to official list of notes but I do get warm jasmine-tinted sandalwood, wisps of saffron and rose petals seemingly scattered over glowing embers and smouldering myrrh resins. And in case anyone is wondering I don’t find it overwhelmingly floral or sweet.
The construction is sound, the composition somewhat conventional, nothing groundbreaking or controversial. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It makes Ottoman Empire easily wearable which is the sole reason why we wear fragrance in the first place, a fact some niche players seem to forget. The real stars of the show however are the raw ingredients used, a quality amplified quite brilliantly by the extrait-level 25-30% concentration. They bring impressive depth and nuanced complexity to a conventional composition. [….][¶]
If I don’t already have Siberian Musk, Ottoman Empire would have been my first pick. And if you miss wearing vintage florals, you have to try this. Perfectly suited for either gender IMO.
Later on, in a separate post, he wrote: “Ottoman Empire almost feels like a vintage French perfume with a Middle Eastern twist, incorporating ouds, resins and spices.”
I agree with all his comments. No, Ottoman Empire is not something new; it is entirely like a Middle Eastern twist on vintage and classical French legends, which is why I’ve brought up so many grand floral orientals in that tradition. But the classicism and the vintage feel are entirely positive attributes in my book, and the Middle East twist on them is the very reason why I love the fragrance so much. It’s the same reason why original version Alahine was once one of my favourite modern fragrances, back when it embodied Diamondflame’s last description (minus the oud part).
Now, I have Ottoman Empire instead, and it’s even better in its richness, smoothness, heft, opulence, and potency. This is a fragrance which is not only vintage and Middle Eastern in scent profile, but also in its density, power, and quality. You’d never find something rising to this degree except in the most expensive attars or if you took the oldest, most concentrated vintage Guerlain extraits and sprayed them (not dabbed them) with reckless abandon.
As compared to other fragrances at this same level and with this richness, Ottoman Empire is practically a steal in my book. 50 ml of an attar-strength extrait costs $250. It’s not inexpensive, but it is compared to many luxury or vintage fragrances of the same caliber. I’ve seen mere 10 ml bottles of vintage 1970s or 1980s Shalimar extrait going for $150 on eBay and bigger, older bottles listed for anywhere between $350 to 1,000. Fragrances in Roja Dove’s Imperial Collection — his only line which is uniformly at this same level of quality, natural raw materials, richness, and character — are over $1,000 in price. His special, magnificent, and vintage style Haute Luxe is around $3,500.
There are currently around 50 bottles of Ottoman Empire left, and then it will be gone, forever, never to come back in this same form. It’s why I’m getting a bottle for myself. But if you wish to sample before you buy (which I always think is a wise idea), Russian Adam offers a 2 ml spray atomizer for $20. Simply go to Ottoman Empire’s page, and click down on the size listing. Surrender to Chance does not have samples of this one.
Speaking of bottles left, I’d like to take a little bit some time to talk about Oud Zen, the third Areej Le Doré creation which is running quite low in stock, so I’m worried it may run out before I can test it again and write a detailed review. I wanted to give some of you a head-up while there are still bottles left, because I think a number of men (and maybe a few women) might enjoy it quite a bit. It’s also the simplest of the line on my skin, so it lends itself well to a broad, simplified overview.
Oud Zen is, as the name implies, an agarwood fragrance where wild, natural Sri Lankan oud and the Papua oud resin are joined by two types of vetiver, two types of sandalwood, a 20-year-old Indian saffron attar, tolu balsam resin, and traces of synthetic civet and castoreum.
The fragrance opens on my skin with Indian oud’s creamy, cheesy, skanky, animalic, and barnyard funk, but they’re quickly overshadowed by a glorious, molten, spicy and boozy wave that smells like rich, dense, expensive tobacco drenched in cognac atop a base of smoky leather. I’m guessing it’s the ouds combined with the saffron attar which have so perfectly recreated the scent of spicy, almost gingerbread-like tobacco leaves, fruited cognac liqueur, and leather, but whatever the reason, man, is it an addictive mix. I couldn’t stop sniffing my arm. Sweet, fragrant, warm saffron and a Laphraoig-like peatiness are layered within, while a smoky, mossy vetiver darts about the sidelines, which is also where the Indian oud funk retreats after 40 minutes.
In its middle stage, Oud Zen shifts directions and turns into a trio of smoky oud leather, smoky vetiver, and heavily resinous, saffron-scented spiciness. They lie over a base of creamy sandalwood and civet-y, animalic muskiness. In its visuals and feel, the scent skews brown, black, and very green.
In its final stage, Oud Zen is an amorphous haze of spiciness, buttery calf-skin leatheriness, creamy woodiness, and slightly buzzing, peppery, civet muskiness. The blurry bouquet is veined with spicy, ambered, resinous, and vaguely vetiver-ish green tonalities, but they’re minor and heavily muffled. In its final hours, Oud Zen turns into a simple spicy, animalic muskiness.
Its longevity, sillage, and projection were roughly in line with the other Areej Le Doré fragrances, although I’d say it was stronger, denser, and heftier than Ottoman Empire. It is the only one of the Areej trio that I would firmly classify as skanky. In addition, I think it’s the only one whose oud has an unquestionably barnyard aroma in the opening with goat and cow poo aromas. It’s the Hindi oud which is to blame, but I want to stress that it isn’t as central to the fragrance as the main oud types, it is a challenging factor only in the first 30-40 minutes, and that the gorgeous mix of the main ouds and saffron attar are far greater influences in the bouquet.
I personally don’t believe in gender classifications in perfumery but, if I absolutely had to categorize these two fragrances, I’d say that Oud Zen plants itself heavily in masculine territory, while Ottoman Empire (like Siberian Musk) is firmly unisex.
There are only 10 bottles of Oud Zen left at the time of this post. A 50 ml bottle of attar-strength extrait costs $350. A 2 ml atomiser sample is $25. On Surrender to Chance, prices start at $6.99 for a 1/4 ml vial and go up in price and quantity from there. A 2 ml atomiser costs $55.92; a 5 ml one is $130.71.
Once Oud Zen is gone, I think that’s it. I have not heard of any plans to make a second version.
ALL IN ALL:
Each of the Areej Le Doré fragrances were beautifully done, decadently rich, and enjoyable to wear. Oud Zen is the dark, skanky, cozy comfort masculine brother, and the simplest one out of the lot. Siberian Musk is the grand, sophisticated, and complex older sister, traversing a wide range of scent profiles and genres in her expensive fur coat, but her fundamental character is that of a vintage chypre.
Ottoman Empire is the sensuous, sensual, and sultry one, brimming over with heady, ripe lushness and exoticism, an Indian princess with Mata Hari’s seductive allure. I’ve read that it is Russian Adam’s personal favourite out of the trio, and I can see why. For all its sensuality, Ottoman Empire is also incredibly comforting in its warmth, heat, and cozy, nuzzling, ambered velvet. Interestingly, a few people who bought Siberian Musk first have said that they ended up actually preferring Ottoman Empire. I think it comes down to the particular notes and fragrance genre to which one responds most instinctively, emotionally, and passionately.
If you’re interested in buying or sampling either (or both) of the two fragrances still remaining, please know that Russian Adam has just left on a 6-7 day trip. He shipped most or all of the prior orders before getting on the plane, but any subsequent ones will have to wait until his return, on or about August 24th.
I hope that some of you will get to try at least one of the three fragrances. If you’re a lover of vintage floral orientals, then Ottoman Empire is a must-try. I loved it from the first sniff.
Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of Russian Adam. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.