Source: Nathan Branch.
I never thought I’d spend time researching hashish for a perfume blog, but it seems to be an unavoidable aspect of Black Afgano, the famous, slightly notorious fragrance from the Dutch niche house, Nasomatto. It’s a pure parfum that supposedly seeks to replicate the effects of hashish and, perhaps, even its actual smell. The whole thing is done in a very wink-wink, coy manner, right down to the perfume’s ingredients which are kept secret and which some jokingly claim include a little bit of the drug.
Some people aren’t joking about it, though, and they genuinely believe Black Afgano contains hashish or cannabis. (Technically, there is a difference between hashish and cannabis.) I find the possibility extremely amusing and hard to swallow, but they may have a reason for their conviction. According to the Nathan Branch blog, at the time of Black Afgano’s release, there was much “talk about how perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri spent several years experimenting with actual Afghanistan hashish (even “smuggling” it to his lab) in order to make a perfume that either features the essence of hashish or smells somewhat like the stuff[.]” Like me, he also dismisses the likelihood of hashish as a note, saying “that strikes me as more a fantasy story that’s good for generating hipster buzz.” Still, the bottom line is that hashish and Black Afgano seem intertwined, whether in terms of the perfume’s description or in terms of people’s expectations. A number of people truly expect to smell cannabis, and, for some, those expectations led to disappointment and harsh criticism.
Hashish via fadedfools.com
I’ve never done drugs of any kind, and have no familiarity with hashish or its related, supposedly weaker counterpart, cannabis. In Europe, however, everyone knows about Amsterdam’s open stance on drugs, and I had quite a few high-school classmates who’d tried the city’s famous hash brownies (or who… er… exported… other souvenirs of their trip). I knew full well the visuals, even if I didn’t experience the product, and I have to say, the visuals are dead-on for Black Afgano. The scent, though, was a surprise, and nothing like what I had expected. In a nutshell, Black Afgano is a very nice amber oriental dominated by medicinal oud, incense, nutty labdanum, chewy tobacco, patchouli, and vanilla. A wholly conventional, if potent and super-rich, oriental — and hardly the dangerous, completely daring, hardcore fragrance that I had expected. In fact, it strongly reminded me of another, earlier, much more pioneering, and genuinely innovative oud scent: YSL‘s famous M7 in vintage form.
Source: Nathan Branch at website linked up above.
Black Afgano was created by Nasomatto’s founder, Alessandro Gualtieri, and was released in 2009. The Perfume Shoppe has a description of the scent, and its notes:
One of his boldest creation invokes the best quality of hashish. It is the result of a quest to arouse the effects of temporary bliss. The fragrance’s description (“smuggled” ingredients, harsh herbs, marijuana-as-incense) conjures wild thoughts yet Black Afgano’s dark brown juice is syrupy and the fragrance opens with strong aromas of oud and musk. There is also a hint of wood-scented cigarette smoke in the opening minutes of the fragrance. Black Afgano’s mid-notes develop into smelling like marijuana with a dry, herbal-leafy accord (cured tobacco) tinged with a sweet sweaty note. In the dry down Black Afgano becomes vanillic ambery with a touch of patchouli. The lasting power of Black Afgano is sensational. Bold and masculine which says “Dare to wear me”.
The specific, official elements in Black Afgano are unknown. Nasomatto doesn’t release notes for its perfumes, and lists nothing on its website. Fragrantica has nothing, either, but Luckyscent vaguely references “coffee, oud, tobacco and hash.” It seems far too minimal a list. While different blogs mention different elements, Scent Intoxique has one of the better ingredient lists, with “cannabis, herbal notes, resins, woods, coffee, tobacco, frankincense, oud.” Nonetheless, I don’t think that’s complete either, and since everyone has their own version of what is included, here is mine:
Coffee, oud, frankincense, tobacco, labdanum, herbal notes, dried fruit, wood, vetiver, vanilla, patchouli, amber resins and/or benzoin.
Black Afgano opens on my skin with a blast of coffee and oud, followed quickly by tobacco, fruited raspberry and cherry notes, labdanum, and incense. There are strong undertones of both leather, and something that is aromatic but floral. In truth, it is extremely close to YSL’s fabulous, vintage M7, only more concentrated and potent (which is a plus, as M7 was incredibly sheer and short in duration on my skin). Black Afgano has the exact same cola note from the labdanum amber resin, though it’s more raspberry in nature here than in M7 where it was almost wholly cherry-like. The medicinal nature of the oud, and the manner with which it combines with the amber, incense, and slightly honeyed undertones of the labdanum, feel very close as well. There are differences, however: M7 opens with herbal lavender, juicy bergamot, and a powerful element of cardamom; it lacks even a drop of coffee, something which is quite robust in Black Afgano’s start. Yet, ultimately, M7 is hardly about the lavender or citruses, and the two fragrances have enough similarities that my jaw was a little agape.
Putting M7 aside, Black Afgano’s opening is quite lovely. The rich coffee feels like freshly roasted beans, as well as the somewhat wet, black grinds. The labdanum is beautiful here, showing all the reasons why it is my favorite type of amber resin. It’s dark, very nutty, just barely animalic and musky, with a tinge of dark leatheriness underlying its glowing, golden heart.
The other notes are lovely too. The tobacco element is similar to the sun-dried, sweet leaves in Serge Lutens‘ Chergui with their sweetly honeyed touch, but there is also a thick, almost wet feel to the note in Black Afgano. I never detect cigarette smoke or ashtrays, though. At the same time, there is a subtle suggestion of patchouli at play in Black Afgano, and it’s the dark, dirty kind which adds some rich, textured depth and chewiness to the tobacco. Flickers of dark, rooty, slightly earthy vetiver lurk in the base, while, up top, there is a surprising fruited note. It smells strongly of raspberries, with a touch of plum, and it adds another source of sweetness to counter the darker elements. The whole thing is very much like the middle and drydown stages to M7 that I’d hoped to experience in full potency, but which my wonky skin turned instead to a thin, sheer gauze. And absolutely none of it smells of hashish or cannabis….
Norlimbanol. Source: leffingwell.com
The swirl of dark, smoky, chewy, wood, incense, labdanum, and tobacco notes have something else underlying them. It almost feels like ISO E Super, but it’s not. I can’t pinpoint which precise synthetic is at play, but I know it’s there and it adds to the slightly medicinal feel of the oud. I was very relieved to have some help from the blog, Scent Intoxique, whose review of Black Afgano noted two synthetic elements:
Straight out of the bong you’re greeted with a dense aroma chemical sucker punch made up of synthetic Givaudan oud, coupled with an underpinned cedar effect in the form of Kephalis (which is an Iso-E-Super substitute, only with a more woodier/smokier feel).
Finally I can make out some quite prominent vetiver/tobacco notes, adding to the “greenness” which the general nose picks up. I may be off, but I definitely feel like I’m picking up one of the main players here and that’s Norlimbanol™, which is described as an “extremely powerful woody/animal amber note. That has a dry woody note in the patchouli direction”.
As described by Chandler Burr, “Norlimbanol is one of the most amazing scents around, a genius molecule that should be worth its weight in gold; Norlimbanol gives you, quite simply, the smell of extreme dryness, absolute desiccation, and if when you smell it, you’ll understand that instantly—the molecule is, by itself, a multi-sensory Disney ride.”
It’s this same compound which I believe gives the scent its subtle leathery undertones along with the amber.
I don’t share his enormous familiarity with either aroma-chemical, but I’d bet he’s right. That said, I would say the labdanum is also responsible for the leather nuances in Black Afgano, though they aren’t very profound or dominant on my skin. And I’m pretty sure there is actual patchouli at play as well.
Forty minutes into Black Afgano’s development, the fragrance begins to shift. The notes turn hazy, overlapping each other and creating a soft bouquet. The coffee, medicinal oud, sweet raspberry, cola, slightly honeyed tobacco, and nutty, leathered labdanum are all still there, but they’ve lost some of their edge and distinctiveness. A quiet hint of powderiness lurks underneath, and the whole thing has started to lose projection.
Painting by Holly Anderson. “Spherical Romance Art Set” via Artbarrage.com. https://www.artbarrage.com/item.php?id=656
With every hour, Black Afgano becomes quieter and quieter, though its primary overall bouquet remains on a singular, linear trajectory for many more hours to come. At the end of the second hour, the fragrance hovers just barely above the skin scent, and thirty minutes later, sits right on it. Around the same time, both the coffee and vetiver fade away entirely, the patchouli becomes much more noticeable, and a chocolate note creeps into the mix. Some aspect of the labdanum’s dark, nutty, slightly leathery characteristic has combined with the patchouli to create a definite but subtle chocolate undertone to Black Afgano. Around the 3.5 hour mark, a quiet hint of vanilla pops up in the base, and it eventually becomes much more prominent.
By the start of the fifth hour, Black Afgano is a blur of sweet woodiness with smoke. The fragrance is a well-blended hazy bouquet of medicinal oud, cola labdanum with its faintly raspberry-like undertone, patchouli, amber, incense, and vanilla, but they are really hard to tease apart. Flickers of tobacco and leather lurk at the edges, but they never feel distinct either. Soon, Black Afgano turns even more nebulous and abstract, wafting only patchouli, vanilla, and labdanum amber with faint tendrils of black incense. In its final moments, the fragrance is nothing more than the merest suggestion of patchouli with ambered sweetness.
All in all, Black Afgano lasted just short of 10.75 hours on my skin. It was nothing like the purported legend of longevity that I’d read about with its rumours of a single drop lasting for 24 or 36 hours. I know my skin is wonky and consumes perfume, but this was really a surprise, especially for a fragrance that is pure parfum extrait! A few people on a Basenotes thread reported a similarly moderate or average lifespan, but the majority find Black Afgano to have monumental longevity. My experience with the sillage, however, was wholly consistent with all the reports; everyone agrees that it is a scent that doesn’t project much and which remains very close to the skin.
part of “The Blooming Tree,” Painting by Osnat Tzadok, via osnatfineart.com
I have very mixed feelings about Black Afgano. It wasn’t at all what I expected. In fact, I’m a bit perplexed by how Black Afgano — that supposedly hardcore, brutish, super macho, edgy, dangerous scent — makes me envision curling up in winter before a fire in a sweet, smoky, woody amber cloud, but it does. It’s a totally safe, easy, approachable, comfort fragrance for me, without any edge whatsoever. I absolutely enjoyed wearing it, and I’m pleased I have an alternative to the rare, discontinued, vintage M7 which actually lasts on my skin. Vintage M7 lasted a whopping 3.5 hours on me, and the equally discontinued, reformulated M7 was even worse! Both fragrances only felt noticeable for a mere, solitary, wholly abysmal hour, so even the soft, minimally projecting Black Afgano is a step up in that regard. And, again, it was a very pretty, even occasionally beautiful, warm, rich amber on my skin. As Now Smell This put it: “Black Afgano is a handsome oriental fragrance for men; it’s a “well-rounded” perfume with no ragged/jagged edges. Black Afgano smells more like the incense people use to cover up their pot use than it does the drug itself.”
Yet, despite my enjoyment of the scent, there is the issue of hype. When I wore Black Afgano, I wondered to myself, “Is this IT??!” Even if one puts aside its similarity to other fragrances, it doesn’t feel revolutionary or edgy at all. Black Afgano has such a reputation for ferocity, and I don’t understand that given the largely soft, sweet cloud I experienced. In fact, I have to wonder if there is some sort of hipster cool or bravado swagger associated with the scent that makes people — young men, in particular — like to hype it up? Is this part of a certain subculture in the perfume world that likes to brag about “panty dropper” fragrances? Is Black Afgano the perfume equivalent of a Porsche’s penis extension symbolism for guys who thinks it makes them seem super cool, macho, and virile? Or is it all the fault of my skin which has muted the fragrance’s supposedly “beastly” roar?
Whatever the reason, I simply don’t get the fuss. Black Afgano is a perfectly lovely fragrance — one I enjoyed, in fact — but what I smelled didn’t rock my world, make me feel like a dangerous rebel, or make me lust for a bottle right away. Don’t kill me, but I could see a grandfather wearing Black Afgano in a sweater and slippers by the fire as he sips a glass of scotch, just as much as I can see a hot young guy or woman wearing it. In my opinion, Amouage‘s Tribute is the beastly, smoky, dangerous Darth Vader or Hell’s Angels of fragrances. Black Afgano could work in a NASA library.
The reactions to the scent are very interesting. There is that one small sub-group that I mentioned earlier (who are almost invariably young males) which adores to brag about the dangerous toughness of the scent. Then, there is a much larger group which simply enjoys Black Afgano’s dark, chewy, sweet-smoky, ambered nature, without regard to the perfume’s reputation. Finally, there is a massive group who seems to loathe the fragrance, either on its own merits or in conjunction with the extreme hype.
On Basenotes, the views seem very split. For example, in one thread, most of the Basenoters are extremely negative about the scent, despising it as rather unwearable or genuinely unpleasant, or else regretting having bought it. Apparently, a month earlier, there was another Basenotes discussion which was wholly positive in nature. In the official Basenotes entry for Black Afghano, the fragrance has an 82% score out of 33 reviews: 66% (or 20 people) gave it Five Stars and 21% (or 7 people) gave it three.
On Fragrantica, early reviews seem to be wholly gushing in nature, while the vast majority of subsequent assessments are sharply negative. I can’t tell you the number of people who find the scent to be over-hyped. For some, it’s because they are genuinely upset that there is no actual smell of weed. If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. For example:
- Cant believe the price for this rotten flanker of M7 , i would call it a suffocating oxygen sucker. Where is the marijuana and coffee btw?
- Nothing like the hashish or cannabis, and those notes were exactly what I was looking for. And I know too well what I`m talking about.
Apparently, some people were hoping to get a legal form of hashish in perfume form. I’ll spare you my thoughts on that quixotic dream. More interesting (and sane) to me, are the repeated references to M7 amongst Fragrantica posters. I’m glad to know it’s not just me, but I’m a little surprised by some of the anger over the similarities. Yes, actual anger about Black Afgano, and it’s not just the quoted commentator up above, but some others as well. M7 has a worshipped, protected, cult status amongst many perfumistas, but still! Again, I think the issue of hype is partially responsible, with many finding the fragrance to be much ado about nothing (particularly in light of M7), or being disappointed by their expectations when they experienced a perfectly nice, conventional, sweet, smoky, woody, amber fragrance.
Perhaps the more useful part of the reviews is the discussion of similar fragrances other than M7. On Basenotes, a few people shared my thought that Black Afgano has a similar tobacco note to that in Serge Lutens‘ Chergui. On Fragrantica, 20 people voted for a similarity to Carner Barcelona‘s Cuirs. I haven’t tried it, so I don’t know how true that may be. On both Basenotes and Fragrantica, a number of people bring up Montale‘s Dark Aoud. I haven’t tried the latter, either, so I can’t compare, but it may be something to keep in mind if you can’t get Black Afgano. Apparently, Nasomatto only makes the fragrance once a year in somewhat limited quantities, so I’ve read a few people claim that it’s not always easy to obtain. (However, I had absolutely no problems finding sites from the U.S. to Russia and South Africa that sell Black Afgano, so take that claim with a grain of salt.) However, the Montale is significantly cheaper at $110 for 50 ml than Black Afgano, which costs $185 or €108 for a 30 ml bottle. Also, as a slight warning, Black Afgano supposedly stains clothing, so if you get it, be careful where you spray it.
Treating Black Afgano in a vacuum, and without reference to the larger context, the fragrance doesn’t work on everyone’s skin. One problem is the tobacco note. A friend of mine wanted to like Black Afgano, but said it smelled like “a sour and stale ashtray” on his skin, and he’s not alone; I’ve seen a few references to an “ashtray,” along with chewing tobacco, and pot smoke. A tiny handful struggle with something completely different: cumin. I have never seen any site or blog list cumin as one of the notes in Black Afgano, but clearly, something in the scent replicates a stale or sweaty aroma to some noses. Finally, some people have problems with the synthetics, detecting either a rubbing alcohol note (which would be the ISO E Super-like element mentioned up above), Ambroxan, or various unpleasant, abrasive chemical aromas. One person even compared the scent and feel of Black Afgano to latex paint!
The bottom line — and the reason for this extended discussion– is this: Black Afgano is complicated scent on a variety of different levels, some of which have absolutely nothing to do with the fragrance’s actual aroma. It’s a perfume that comes laden with expectations, whether it’s about the notes, its effects, or its reputation. Block it all out. If you do, and if your skin plays nicely, then you may experience a very rich, deep, oriental, amber scent. Not a revolutionary one that will knock your socks off, but quite a nice one. If your skin doesn’t comply, then it will be a dark, unpleasant tobacco or synthetic oud experience for you. And if you’ve smelled or own vintage M7, your primary reaction may be déjà vu.
Either way, Black Afgano won’t be the dark, brooding, difficult, revolutionary “beast” of legend. It’s not radically daring, it’s not a high, it’s not like cannabis, and I highly doubt you’ll be transported away in state of euphoric, drugged-out bliss. My advice is to approach Black Afgano with low expectations, and not to expect the Lost smoke monster or some sort of hashish drug replacement. If you’re lucky, then you may be surprised at the loveliness of the chewy, dark, incense-y, tobacco-y, nutty labdanum and cola, oud opening. You may really enjoy the soft patchouli, vanilla, and ambered sweetness of the drydown, and you might even think Black Afgano is a cozy, comfort scent at the end of the day. Whatever you do, however, don’t buy Black Afgano blind, and don’t believe the hype.
Cost & Availability: Nasomatto is a concentrated parfum extrait (or pure parfum), and is generally sold only in a 30 ml/1 oz bottle. However, a mini 4 ml version is available directly from Nasomatto, who sells the 30 ml bottle for €108 and the 4 ml mini for €38. Nasomatto ships world-wide. In the U.S.: Black Afgano retails for $185 for 30 ml. It is available at Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, Luckyscent, , BeautyBar, C.O. Bigelow (where it is currently sold out). Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Black Afgano at The Perfume Shoppe which sells the 30 ml bottle for US$185. In the UK, Black Afghano costs £108, and is available at Roullier White, Bloom Parfumery, and The Conran Shop. Liberty London sells the Nasomatto line, but I don’t see Black Afgano listed on the website. In France, you can find Black Afgano at Premiere Avenue for €108. In Spain, it’s sold at Parfumerias Regia, in Italy at Sacra Cuore, in Russia at what seems to be Nasomatto’s own Russian site, along with Orental.ru. In Germany, Black Afgano is sold at First in Fragrance (where it’s priced higher than retail at €120). In the Netherlands, you can obviously find it at Nasomatto’s own shop in Amsterdam. In Australia, you can find Black Afgano at Libertine which sells the 30 ml bottle for AUD$220. In Hong Kong, I found Konzepp carries the fragrance, in South Africa at Rio Perfumes, and in the UAE, I found it on Souq.com but it seems to be sold out or currently unavailable. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for a 1/4 ml vial. Samples are also available for purchase at many of the sites linked up above.