The Koh-i-Noor, “mountain of light” in Persian, is one of the largest and most famous diamonds in the world, part of the British Crown Jewels, and a glittering focus of the opulent Queen Mary’s Crown. It is also the name of Areej Le Doré‘s latest parfum, a floral oriental with a heart of lush, indolic flowers, radiating white, yellow, and gold, against a velvety backdrop of golden amber, Mysore sandalwood, citrus, deer musk, and oud.
Russian Adam’s succinct nutshell summation for Koh-i-Noor and its list of notes are as follows:
A huge, animalic floral oriental that came to life in collaboration with Nikhil, known as Perfume Guru:
Top notes: Wild Siberian deer musk and lemon distilled by Russian Adam;
Heart notes: ylang ylang, gardenia, jasmine, champaka, patchouli, tonka bean, 30 years old Indian oud and The Mysore sandalwood distilled by Russian Adam;
Base notes: benzoin, crude Amber, tuberose attar and jasmine sambac absolute.
I’ll copy and repeat part of the explanation I mentioned in my New Releases Overview post on Series Four, just in case someone is reading about Koh-i-Noor for the first time. First, a traditional method of preparation was used for the tuberose attar, one which is more luxurious than what you may typically find. Russian Adam explained to me in an email that: it is a “traditional Indian type of attar, which is very rare these days. It is tube rose distilled/infused right in to pure mysore sandalwood oil. Now most attars in India produced in to DPG or DOP synthetic base. They do not last and lack the depth and creaminess of sandal based attars. It is because the market demands cheaper items, and also sandal oil use is restricted.” Second, to be completely clear, the YouTube blogger Nikhil provided ideas for the fragrance, its name, and its broad concept, but he did not play a technical role in making the perfume and he received no financial consideration for his input. Russian Adam is the sole perfumer.
It’s difficult to provide a succinct analysis of Koh-i-Noor’s opening bouquet on my skin because it’s not a simple fragrance and the emphasized notes, their proportions, their nuances, and their development depend on how much fragrance I apply. Three small spritzes from the sample atomizer (which didn’t always consistently squirt the same amount) did not yield the exact same result or outcome as four or five spritzes. So I’ll try to cover both versions and their particular qualities for you.
VERSION ONE — SMALL DOSAGE:
With 3 small spritzes, Koh-i-Noor opens on my skin with a thick cloud of deer musk which lies heavily over a literal floral bouquet, one which is creamy, pastel, sweet, and fragrant. There is custardy, quietly banana-ish ylang-ylang nestled next to milky, creamy gardenia, syrupy jasmine, faintly boozy champaca, and something which, unexpectedly given the note list, smells a bit like delicate, very bridal pink roses. (Don’t ask me why since the fragrance does not actually contain any roses, but there is a definite rose-like tonality mixed into that floral arrangement on my skin.) A few finger flicks of lemon juice are splattered on top of the flowers. Bracketing them on all sides is heavily spiced sandalwood lightly veined with caramel-scented benzoin, spicy and earthy patchouli, and a hint of musky, smoky oud.
What’s interesting to me is that the base notes are a co-equal, overt, and unmistakable presence right next to the floral heart and top notes right from the start, instead of being a more muted undercurrent which takes time to rise the surface, the way the base notes are normally structured. Here, every single element, whether top, middle, or bottom, is present simultaneously from the very first sniff. What I like is that each one is crystal clear and perfectly delineated; there is no note collapse or muddied abstract impressionism.
Having said that, some elements are much stronger than others. A mere 10 minutes in, the gardenia leads the pack, smelling not only like floral clotted cream but also mushroomy, which is what genuine, expensive, and completely natural (non-synthetic) gardenia smells like. Second place in this horse race is a three-way tie between the sandalwood, the deer musk, and the buttery, custardy ylang. Indolic jasmine comes in fourth, followed by the lemon and, finally, the two amber materials and the patchouli which have fused together to form a single golden, spicy, sweet, semi-earthy and semi-woody accord.
Speaking of the deer musk, its aroma on my skin skews closer to the light one in Areej Le Doré‘s Russian Musk rather than to the one in Siberian Musk. Unlike the latter, there is nothing fur-like about the note here and only the faintest will o’ the wisps of dust and earth. But the musk isn’t equal even to the one in Russian Musk in strength, not when I apply only a small fragrance dosage of Koh-i-Noor. It feels milder and more muted, as though the levels had been judiciously calibrated to be a secondary note which lightly kisses the edges of the floral bouquet rather than being a co-equal partner or a driving force of the opening. (As you will see later, that is not the case when I apply a large fragrance dosage.)
The scent cloud which ensues is paradoxical in character. It is soft in weight, diffusive and airy in reach, but strong and rich in aroma, particularly up close. It’s like a strong but oddly semi-gauzy weightlessness, rather than something dense, thick, or opaque.
What’s interesting to me is how Koh-i-Noor’s stylistic character veers during the first 90 minutes between genres or fragrances families: one minute, it’s a lush, heady, creamy, floral woody musk, with the emphasis on the musk, the next it’s a lush, heady, creamy floral oriental, with the emphasis on the florals, particularly the white ones and the gardenia. By the 90-minute mark, a third point of emphasis and style appears: a lush, creamy, floral woody musk.
If the fragrance genres alternate broadly, the individual facets change more specifically and more frequently. When the bouquet is smelled up close, rather than the basics on the scent breeze from a distance, Koh-i-Noor begins to rapidly fluctuate in the strength, prominence, and order of the individual notes and their nuances thereof. Roughly 30 minutes in, the sandalwood, patchouli, and caramel-scented benzoin grow louder and double in strength; the ylang and champaca grow softer and weaker, leaving the gardenia to dominate the floral arrangement; and the citrus waxes and wanes, one moment feeling like a sideline note woven around the gardenia, sandalwood, patchouli, and amber, and the next, operating like a small, muted blip in the background. At the same time, the deer musk starts to sink below the other notes. If it was initially kissing the edges of the floral bouquet, it is now merely blowing a kiss in their general direction on the wind, a wind formed out of increasingly strong, rich, billowing gusts of spicy sandalwood and increasingly molten, sweet, ambered caramel.
When Koh-i-Noor’s second phase begins, roughly 90 minutes into its development, the terrain and visuals change quite dramatically from the opening. Now, the sandalwood, oud, patchouli, caramel benzoin, and smokier crude amber are at the forefront, forming a solid wall which is as spicy, musky, and caramel sweet as it is woody. Hidden between the wall are the florals which have turned into a blurry sheet of white. Instead of each flower being separate and crystal clear in formation as they were initially, they’re now fused into an indeterminate whole, one which skews mostly white, creamy, musky, lush, sweet, and indolic.
There are other changes as well. The lemon has disappeared while the deer musk is merely a background trace note. Yet, the fragrance actually grows in its muskiness. The reason why is the oud, which now smells thickly resinous, heavy, dark, and with just a trace of something subtly animalic or buzzing about it. It’s similar in effect to the sort of muskiness generated by the oud in Areej’s Russian Oud. Actually, Russian Oud came to mind a few times during this phase because Koh-i-Noor’s mix of oud, sandalwood, patchouli, and benzoin amber creates an extremely similar accord. However, here, it’s accompanied by lush, indolic, and creamy flowers whereas in Russian Oud it was paired with chocolate, leatheriness, and booze.
The flowers weaken roughly 3.25 hours in Koh-i-Noor’s development and the focal emphasis shifts towards the woods. This is the third phase and, in a nutshell, the fragrance is now primarily a woody amber oriental, dominated to a large extent by musky oud, resinous and spicy sandalwood, patchouli, benzoin caramel, and vanilla-scented tonka. An indolic floral syrup is poured on top, undoubtedly from the jasmine sambac, but the flowers are not individually clear in their own right. When taken as a whole, the bouquet is heavy, thick, deeply resinous, spicy, musky, woody, syrupy, and almost candy sweet in character. There is a quiet undercurrent of something floral subsumed within that cloud, but it’s more suggestive than a concrete or central note.
The fragrance is sweet and extremely golden in visuals, but it grows darker in time. Not long after the amber-wood gourmand elements really rev up, tiny puffs of smoke and smoky birch-like leather start to waft up from the oud (and possibly the crude amber). Initially, they’re only detectable when I sniff my arm up close, not from afar, but they gradually grow stronger and begin to inch upwards. Roughly 3.75 hours in, they’re grow apparent enough to offset at least some of the sweetness from the benzoin’s almost candied caramel and the syrupy jasmine. By the start of the 5th hour, the smoke and leather are detectable even from afar.
The combination of notes occasionally reminds me of the base of some versions of vintage L’Heure Bleue, which combined syrupy jasmine, birch leather, patchouli, amber, and smoke with a particularly caramel-like benzoin note and, in some versions, with rich sandalwood as well. I was also briefly reminded by Roja Dove‘s recent Britannia which took vintage L’Heure Bleue and turned it gourmand. To be clear, Koh-i-Noor has different notes and it is hardly a close match for those other fragrances when taken as a whole and from start to finish. I’m talking purely about stylistic similarities during in a particular stage where all three take a lush, syrupy jasmine floralcy and encase it within the same set of strong, rich, sweet base notes.
Koh-i-Noor’s drydown begins roughly 7.5 hours in and is essentially more of the same on my skin, except the focal emphasis has shifted again and now highlights vanilla amber. Buttery sandalwood and musky oud are buried within. There is also now a light veil of sweet powderiness, no doubt stemming from the tonka. In the most reductivist view, it’s a blurry swathe of oriental and gourmand notes, resulting in a scent which is warm, sweet, spicy, smoky, woody, musky, lightly powdered and, occasionally, a little bit creamy and unctuous. The texture is silky on the skin, while and the overall feel is cozy, the perfume equivalent of warming your fingers against a hot rum toddy on a chilly winter’s night.
VERSION TWO — LARGE DOSAGE:
The order, prominence, ratios, proportions, and development of the notes are quite different when I apply 4-5 spritzes. My atomizer didn’t always squirt equal amounts per spray but I estimate that I applied roughly the equivalent of 2 large, full sprays from an actual bottle during my second and third tests.
With that amount, Koh-i-Noor opened, once again, with a cloud of deer musk but, this time, it was heavily shot through with bright, juicy, strong, and sweet-tart lemon. The cloud suffused and heavily blanketed a largely amorphous, largely white floral bouquet, and both things rested atop a base of benzoin amber, smoky spicy sandalwood, chocolate-y earthy patchouli, and a pinch of musky, smoky oud.
There are a number of important olfactory differences from other version in the opening minutes. First, the flowers are significantly less distinct; the gardenia is only minimally apparent after 20 minutes; and the custardy, faintly banana-ish ylang is nowhere in sight. It’s as though the thicker, louder, stronger, heavier cloud of lemon-flecked deer musk has covered the flowers in such a way that it has blurred out their individual shapes or character. Second, the base notes indeed feel like “base” elements now, rather than one of several co-equal partners.
Third, both the oud and the suggestion of “animalics” feel wholly different. All of a sudden, right from the start, the Hindi Oud radiates the same sort of fuzzy “vibrational buzz” which I experienced in Malik Al Taif and described in the review thereof. Once again, it’s not dirty, skanky, raunchy, fecal, cheesy, leathery, or barnyard in aroma and, once again, I wouldn’t call it “animalic” per se, at least not the way it manifests itself on my skin, but it’s definitely more than mere oud muskiness (or smokiness). I can only describe it as a buzzing, vibrational quality, though it is stronger here than it was in Malik Al Taif and it also has a faint, subtle civet-like undertone which was lacking there. In addition, there is also more furriness, no doubt due to the heightened quantity of deer musk here as compared to Malik Al Taif. All these traits are greater and more evident than what appeared when I tested Koh-i-Noor with a small dosage. To put it in the simplest terms, the greater the scent application for Koh-i-Noor, the more these quasi “animalic” qualities are visible or come to the foreground. The lower or smaller the dosage, the more they are muffled, muted, or limited to minor levels
But I want to be abundantly clear about one thing: no matter how much or how little I apply, there is nothing on my skin which is really “animalic” in the sense that that word is typically defined in perfumery. Definitions for words like this differ from person to person and often depend on subjective variables, such as skin chemistry, personal baselines or personal spectrums of “skank,” and so on, but I would be pretty astonished if people thought Koh-i-Noor was an “animalic” fragrance in the fashion of Salome, MAAI, or Montecristo. If that’s what the official description led you to hope for or expect, I think you’ll be disappointed. Quite frankly, not all “animalics” are equal, and one reason why is because they are not all generated from the same raw materials. The aforementioned “skanky” or “animalic” fragrances contain large quantities of urinous civet, hyraceum, and/or cumin, the last of which tends to replicate bodily or sexual aromas, thereby creating a truly “filthy,” “dirty” aroma to some people’s noses.
Koh-i-Noor has none of those things, merely musky Hindi Oud and a fluctuating, carefully calibrated dose of deer musk. The latter may be heavier and louder in its presence with a large scent application and heavier/thicker in aroma, but I still don’t think it turns this fragrance truly, properly “animalic.” On my skin, even with 4-5 spritzes, I don’t think it’s anywhere close to being as strong, furry, or vintage-skewing as the one in Areej‘s Siberian Musk and it’s certainly not at the level of the deer musk in Ensar Oud‘s recent EO No 2. As for the Hindi oud, I want to repeat that it’s far from a ripe, dirty, raunchy, fecal, cheesy, or barnyard note, so if you’re hoping for a dirty floral oud oriental like Oudh Infini, you’ll be disappointed on this front as well. In my opinion, it would be better and more accurate to think of Koh-i-Noor as a creamy, musky floral oriental or a white floral oud amber than to think of it as the “animalic” scent it’s been described as officially. (Hopefully, that will be reassuring good news to the people who were actually dreading an “animalic” scent.)
This version of Koh-i-Noor changes in more gradual and imperceptible degrees than Version One and over a longer period of time as well. It’s as though the time frame had been elongated and the changes rendered more subtle and minutely incremental. For example, the flowers during the first 90 minutes are really a generalized accord, one which skews mostly white. Up close, they seem to be somewhat dominated by a slightly mushroomy, white creaminess which suggests gardenia, and they’re lightly veined by an indolic muskiness that would suggest jasmine, but they’re not as beautiful to me as the flowers in Version One because their character is so muted and blurred out of recognition by the heightened degree of deer musk. It takes roughly 75 minutes for the gardenia to really bloom on my skin in Version Two, but even then, it’s not lushly redolent of floral clotted cream in quite the same way as it was in Version One. In addition, the ylang is never really apparent in a distinct way outside of a custardy textural quality and there is no overt, strong, or boozy champaca. Instead, there are a few minor pops of a quasi-floralish greenness, although it never once translates on my skin as an actual, clear-cut “tuberose” note. On top of all these differences regarding the individual florals, everything is heavily laced with lemon in a way which never occurred in Version One.
What’s true in both versions, however, is that the sandalwood, trailed by the patchouli and amber, surge to the forefront. It merely takes longer in Version Two, occurring not after 30 minutes but after 75 minutes instead. This time around, the sandalwood is also accompanied by a slightly grainy, slightly powdered tonka note. (In Version One, it took much longer for the tonka and its powderiness to appear.)
One big difference between the two versions is that the flowers endure as a central part of the fragrance for much, much longer in Version Two. With a large scent dosage, Koh-i-Noor not only continues to be a floral oriental at the 3.25 hour mark, but it also turns more and more indolic. Remember, Koh-i-Noor has jasmine as both a middle note and as an absolute in the base. The flower may not be clear enough to pull out and pinpoint in solo fashion, but its side-effects radiate through every inch of the scent. Parts of it remind me of Juhi, a particular sort of jasmine varietal, but what strikes me the most is how indolic the flower is. No, there is no camphorous blackness or mothballs wafting through Koh-i-Noor, at least not on my skin, but the indolic quality of the scent is strong and it only grows stronger as the fragrance develops. It’s at a positive foghorn blast during the 4th and 5th hours, which I love, but men and women who are not comfortable with indolic white fragrances should pay heed. The degrees here may be outside your comfort zone.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with indoles, let me provide a brief refresher course. White flowers are apparently invisible to bees, so they release a natural organic material called “indoles” to act as a sort of radar beacon or signal to alert the bees to their presence. Indoles are found in naturally white flowers, typically things like jasmine, tuberose, orange blossom, or frangipani. (Think of it as the bees being colour-blind and needing help via a sort of organic, olfactory SOS.) In their purest, most hardcore, and most concentrated amounts, these idoles can smell, alternatively, like black camphorous smoke, camphorous leather, black rubber, cat litter boxes, pee, plastic, rotting fruit, garbage, and a whole host of other unpleasant things.
But how they smell in their most concentrated natural form can be quite a different matter than how they smell when used in perfumery where they are typically applied in small, judicious quantities. When either actual indole organic material or indolic white flowers are diluted and applied in a small way, they simply add a warmth, goldenness, and musky sensuality to the overall bouquet. However, some people’s skin chemistry can amplify those effects even when a fragrance isn’t heavily indolic. And if you don’t like indolic white floralcy as an absolute rule, even a small amount may be far outside your comfort zone.
With Koh-i-Noor, I think a big reason why the jasmine’s indolic qualities feel heightened and grow even more intense as the fragrance develops is the oud. I talked a little about the oud up above but I think it’s worth noting just how musky it is on my skin. In some ways, it reminds me of how the oud in Ottoman Empire interacted with the flowers there, accentuating and amplifying their innate indolic qualities and thereby resulting in something much muskier than either note might be on its own. Having said that, I don’t want anyone to think the two ouds are the same. They’re not. They smell differently and act differently. However, both ouds have strong, innate, and forceful muskiness (one quietly laced with black wood smoke) which works to accentuate and heighten the innate muskiness of the indoles.
In Koh-i-Noor, the cumulative effect of several naturally indolic white flowers, two levels of jasmine, and very musky oud results in a fragrance that, by the end of the fourth hour and with a large scent dosage, lives in the same general universe as Ottoman Empire, sharing the same feel and vibe. To be clear, Koh-i-Noor does not have the same degree of spiciness, humidness, and heaviness, but the commonalities are greater than to other Areej fragrances on my skin. I certainly find Koh-i-Noor to be muskier and more indolic than, say, Indolis which, to my surprise, wasn’t actually that “indolic” by my personal standards, subjective as those standards may be. It’s a question of taste and what one is used to, but I think I can say with some degree of surety that, if you are uncomfortable with indoles or indolic white flowers, you won’t relate passionately to Koh-i-Noor whereas if you love lush, over-the-top, and strongly indolic white floral orientals, particularly those with jasmine and some gardenia, then you might find your lodestar in this fragrance.
Roughly 4.75 hours in, the sum-total effect of the oud, indoles, and deer musk working together results in something that feels like white flowers turned into their ripest, most languid, and most oriental essence. Accompanying them are by dollops of floral cream (the gardenia), butteriness (ylang and sandalwood), muskiness, indoles, spice (sandalwood and patchouli), woods, wood smoke, syrupy caramel (benzoin), and vanillic powderiness (tonka). The notes swirl together in a heavy but airy, radiant but smoky, lush but woody oriental cloud — all woven together with thick, fat fingers of ripe, syrupy jasmine. The sensuality of the latter reminds me of the jasmine sambac in AbdesSalaam Attar‘s beautiful Tawaf — except this is lusher, more indolic, more syrupy, thicker, and a tenfold stronger.
As the heart stage of Version Two develops, another big difference appears: a quasi mossy greenness. It first appears around the 6.25 hour mark as a mere puff, so elusive that I thought I was imagining it, before it grew clearer and more overt a short while later. At first I was flummoxed because Koh-i-Noor does not contain any oakmoss. Then I remember the tuberose attar. I think what has happened here is, in effect, the alchemical transformation of tuberose which made Bogue’s MAAI such a splendiferously mossy, vintage-skewing affair. To be clear, nothing in Koh-i-Noor reaches MAAI’s level of unquestionable, unmistakable verdancy and nothing on my skin is even half so chypre-ish. Mere greenness alone does not make either a chypre or MAAI. But there is definitely a mossy undertone in Version Two, subtle and base-limited as it may be on my skin. It never appeared in Version One, probably because the latter’s dark, oriental, ambered, and sticky base notes smothered it, but it shows up here, shot through with sandalwood, caramel resins, smoke and leatheriness (from the oud), and then set against a syrupy gold floral background.
This micro-stage lasts approximately 75 minutes before Koh-i-Noor changes again. In a nutshell, it turns into what I’ve described up above with Version One. It simply took much longer for Version Two to get there and to follow the same path. Once again, the woods and amber surge to the forefront to change Koh-i-Noor from a floral oriental to a woody amber oriental, one which is dominated by an accord that resembles the one in Russian Oud. And, once again, the jasmine syrup combined with a series of dark, sticky, and resinous base notes remind me of the late stage of certain vintage L’Heure Bleue parfums. And, just as before, the drydown is also centered on vanilla-laced amber, although it is both more powdery and more heavily dominated by buttery sandalwood here, comparatively speaking, than in Version One.
PERFORMANCE — BOTH VERSIONS:
Regardless of how much or how little I applied, Koh-i-Noor generally had low projection, initially strong sillage which soon turned average, and very good longevity on my skin when taken as a whole from start to finish. With 3 small squirts of an atomizer sample, the fragrance opened with about 3.5 inches of projection and about 5 inches of sillage. The latter grew to about 8 inches after 25 minutes, then dropped down again after 2.25 hours to about 4-5 inches. At the 7.25 hour mark, the projection hovered above the skin and the scent cloud was close to the body. The fragrance turned into a skin scent about 9 hours into its development. In total, it lasted just a little over 16.75 hours.
With a larger application, 4-5 squirts roughly equally to 2 large sprays from an actual bottle, the numbers were fractionally higher during the first 3 hours, but only by a bit and the overall performance wasn’t significantly different when I consider the fragrance from start to finish. I may have gotten an inch or two more in radius or projection, but quantity increases didn’t turn Koh-i-Noor into something which trailed me from room to room. By the 7.25 hour mark, the projection was merely an inch over my arm while the sillage was once again close to the body. The fragrance turned into a skin scent approximately 9.75 hours in, instead of 9 hours, and it lasted just a bit longer, roughly 18 hours in total. For what it’s worth, I think these are still very good numbers.
People continually ask me how unisex a fragrance may or may not be and my answer is almost invariably the same: it depends on your personal definition of “masculine” or “feminine;” what your comfort zone is with certain styles of perfumery, certain notes, and certain genres; what notes your skin emphasizes and how you feel about them. In the case of Koh-i-Noor, the sheer floralcy of the scent will obviously render it comfortable for women but a man’s ease with the notes will probably depend on how much they enjoy big white florals or big floral orientals. I know a number of men who prefer that style over masculine-skewing pure ouds, while others view white flowers as too “femme” or too difficult to pull off even when they’re accompanied by otherwise unisex notes like oud, sandalwood, and amber. At the end of the day, it’s really going to come down to your own personal style, what aspects of the scent your skin emphasizes, and how you feel about that.
In my opinion, the indolic nature of the scent could be a much greater stumbling block for some people than Koh-i-Noor’s strong floralcy. Some people, men and women alike, simply don’t like indolic fragrances and struggle with white flowers as a result. Perhaps their skin renders even a tiny drop of indoles into a banshee cry of dirtiness, mothballs, or musky skank. Or perhaps they’re simply more accustomed to the sort of ultra-clean, crisp, and completely denuded synthetic floralcy found in many mainstream or niche fragrances, such that encountering the indolic nature of the pure, real, genuine article might feel overwhelming or oppressive. Again, it’s highly individualistic and subjective. But whether you’re a man or a woman, I think you need to be comfortable with indolic white florals in order to fully enjoy Koh-i-Noor.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of the company. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.
Retail information: $220 for 30 ml from Areej Le Doré. $225 from Luckyscent. To test the fragrance first, you can order a sample set, while quantities last, from Areej Le Doré. It costs $40 and consists of 4 atomisers in a 1.2 ml size, one sample of each of the four new fragrances. I believe Areej is close to being sold out of the sets, but there is still a purchase option on the website at the time of this post. You can also order a sample set from Luckyscent (which has priced it at $45). Luckyscent may offer solo samples for individual fragrances as well.