A jewel glowing orange, pink and red, nestled in the embrace of emerald green. A woman wearing the most feminine of opulent haute couture ball gowns. A Paris café whose decadent apricot tart is based in the richest of vanilla custards and lightly flecked with almonds. The faintest curls of smoke floating in the crisp fall air from a pipe whose tobacco is infused with sweetened fruit. Seemingly unconnected images, but images that are all rooted in one fragrance.
PHI Une Rose de Kandahar (hereinafter sometimes just “PHI“) is a new eau de parfum from Andy Tauer, the founder and nose behind the much-adored Swiss niche house, Tauer Perfumes. PHI is one of Mr. Tauer’s “Collectibles,” a perfume that will be produced in limited quantities due to the rarity of some of its ingredients. As Andy Tauer explains on his website:
Phi is a luxurious scent, inspired by a natural extract of roses produced in Afghanistan’s rose region, Nangarhar. This rose oil is extremely rare and of highest quality. Inspired by these roses, growing in a dry and rough land, Phi is a rare gem, complementing contrasting lines, rich in natural raw materials that add depth and authenticity. Due to the limited amount of the rose oil, une rose de Kandahar is not guaranteed to be available all the time.
On Fragrantica, PHI is classified as floral, but it seems more accurate to me to call it a chypre with oriental and gourmand touches, or a hybrid. The Tauer website supports this impression, describing PHI as having both “woody and gourmand notes,” along with such chypre standbys as mossy patchouli, and such oriental highlights as ambergris. The perfume’s full list of notes are as follows:
Top: apricot, cinnamon, bitter almond, and bergamot;
Middle: rose of Kandahar essential oil, Bulgaria rose absolute, Bourbon geranium, and dried tobacco leaves;
Base: patchouli, vetiver, vanilla, tonka beans, musk, and ambergris.
I tested PHI three times, and, each time, it opens on my skin with a forceful, jewel-like glow of ruby reds, soft pinks, blushing peachy-orange, and emerald greens. The red and pink visuals come from the most concentrated rose essences, feeling sweet and spicy all at once. The soft peachy-orange is from the apricot, which is tart, juicy, and tangy. Apricot is a note that I rarely see used in perfumery, and I’m a bit of a sucker for it. Here, it’s absolutely beautiful, feeling like bushels of the fruit have been rendered down into a smooth, concentrated purée.
The two shining stars of PHI Une Rose de Kandahar are nestled in a cocoon of emerald green foliage that is pungent, peppered, spicy, and dark. The base is filled with notes that smell like soft, fresh, plush oakmoss, thanks to the effects of patchouli. Yet, to my surprise, something about it also has the darkly mineralized, grey, musty feel of actual oakmoss (or mousse de chene), even though there is no such note in the fragrance. Rounding out the imagery of leaves surrounding a flower is the geranium. It smells like the flower’s fuzzy, green leaves with their piquant, peppery, spicy, pungent aroma.
The green accords are covered with a heavy dose of Mr. Tauer’s beloved ISO E Super. Though it was less dominant in some wearings than in others, it was always a part of PHI Une Rose de Kandahar. I will never (ever!) share Mr. Tauer’s views on the ghastly synthetic, but I’m relieved to say that it didn’t give me a headache in PHI, despite its sometimes heavy touch. In many ways, the aromachemical that he believes is the perfect photo-finishing touch does work here. It doesn’t smell antiseptic or like pink rubber bandages the way it sometimes can, but, rather, like something that is extremely peppery and a bit spiky. It underscores the feel of the other notes and amplifies, in specific, the geranium.
Five minutes into PHI’s development, the hints of vanilla that lurk below the surface explode onto the top. It smells just like highly buttered, rich vanilla custard. My skin always amplifies base notes, and I noticed that the vanilla was never prominent on a friend who I let try PHI. On her skin, the perfume’s opening was all rose and greenery, with very little apricot and absolutely no vanilla extract or vanilla custard. PHI was lovely on her skin, but I enjoyed the custard that showed up on me. Something about its combination with the apricot purée that is lightly sprinkled with sweet, spicy cinnamon brought to mind the glazed French apricot tarts that I would have when I lived in Paris. It’s a deliciously edible touch that just verges on the gourmand, and it adds a tasty richness to PHI.
The overall combination with the deep rose and the oakmoss also made me think of Amouage‘s new Fate Woman which is another rose chypre with fruited overtones and a slightly gourmand vanilla base. The two perfumes are very different in their notes and core, but something about them feels similar in the opening moments. They both have a very intense chypre start with concentrated roses and fruited notes over a dark green heart with touches of rich vanilla. They also share an opulent, luxurious, feminine character that is very sophisticated, and have great sillage and potency in their opening phase. From 3 small sprays, PHI bloomed in a cloud about 4-5 inches around me, perhaps a little more, and it remained that way for about 40 minutes. It was very potent up close, but always extremely airy in feel and weight.
Forty minutes in, PHI starts to change. There are quiet pops of vetiver in the base that add a different touch to the dark foliage around the floral-fruity notes. The base elements now feel a bit less pungent and peppered, more dry and woody. There are also the very smallest, faintest hints of dark, dry tobacco lurking about deep down. Neither note, however, is very prominent in an individual way at this stage, and they never detract from the main trio of apricot, rose, and patchouli-moss.
Around the same time, there is the first whisper of an almond note that will become increasingly more prominent in PHI’s development. The nut is bitter but sweet and fresh, and it adds another delicious gourmand touch to the vanilla and apricot purée. The vanilla has also started to change, probably due to the impact of the drier notes at the periphery. The note is now airier, softer, more like whipped vanilla mousse than thick, buttered, rich custard.
At the end of the first hour, PHI is a smooth bouquet with top notes of apricot purée, spicy rose, and mossy-patchouli-geranium-ISO E Super, and bottom notes of almonds, vanilla mousse, woody vetiver, dry tobacco, and musk in the base. The sillage has dropped, and the perfume hovers about 1.5 inches above the skin, though it is extremely potent and strong when sniffed up close. It’s a beautifully refined, elegant bouquet that is never too sweet and never quite as simple as it appears from a distance.
PHI remains that way for another few hours, never changing drastically in its core essence, though some of the notes (like the cinnamon) fluctuate in prominence. The notes blur and overlap, blending seamlessly into each other, with only the apricot and the rose really standing out as significant forces in a very distinctive, individual way. It feels very gauzy on the skin, and I must confess that I wish PHI were not quite so sheer and intimate quite so soon; I was rather entranced with it, and wanted more, more, more! Instead, it feels as though the apricot or the rose take turns peeking out seductively like a glimpse of the lace trim on lingerie under a beautiful, jewel-toned dress. I wanted less sheer lace and sheer silk, and much more heavy velvet, but it is a matter of personal preference. PHI is clearly intended to be an elegant, refined fragrance without a sonic, nuclear blast — and it succeeds in its goal admirably.
PHI continues to soften and change. Midway during the third hour, PHI turns into a skin scent of cinnamon-flecked apricots and almonds, atop a sheer vanilla base. The rose is still there, but it is secondary to the other notes and has retreated to the sidelines. Unfortunately for me, the ISO E Super remains like a haze over everything. At the 6.5 hour mark, a dryness creeps into the perfume as flickers of tobacco return. It’s sweetened and mild, like fruited pipe tobacco infused with a large dollop of apricots. There is also a quiet touch of cinnamon mixed in. The vanilla has largely disappeared, but its place has been taken by ambergris with its wonderfully salty, sweet, golden character. A sexy muskiness dances all around. The perfumed jewel now gleams with gold, bronzed apricot, and light brown. All greens and pinks have vanished, leaving PHI as a subtle oriental with dryness and just a touch of warm sweetness.
In its final moments, PHI is merely a nebulous blur of sweetness with abstract dry, woody touches, and a hint of something vaguely fruited. All in all, it lasted just short of 7.75 hours on my perfume consuming skin with 3 small sprays, and around 6.5 hours with less. The sillage starts off as extremely strong, before dropping with every hour to something that is quite soft in feel. And I enjoyed every bit of it, despite the ISO E Supercrappy. Andy Tauer’s exquisite Une Rose Chyprée remains my absolute favorite from the line, but it has very close competition with this new PHI Une Rose de Kandahar. Both of them are absolutely beautiful fragrances whose sophistication always evoke Haute Couture elegance to me. I would absolutely wear them myself, and I say this as someone who isn’t particularly enamoured with rose scents to begin with!
If you’re a man and think that all this sounds too feminine for you, you might be surprised. Though PHI is too new to have a lot of reviews out, one blogger found the perfume to be a masculine rose with a gourmand touch. The Scented Hound wrote:
WHAT I SMELL: PHI goes on with a rather flattened apricot with tinges of cinnamon and almond. It’s kind of a muted sweetness in that when you smell it, it seems layered with the cinnamon hovering on top. At this point, I’m thinking PHI is nice (nice = just OK), rather personal and relatively close to the skin, and more apricot than rose which I think is a bit strange. Then at about the 10 to 15 minute mark, the rose begins to bloom. And bloom it does. It’s like the rose suddenly opens its petals and unleashes its glorious fragrance. I don’t think I have ever experienced a rose fragrance that literally unfolds on my skin that way PHI does and I love it. The rose is rounded and deep, and to me more masculine than feminine and rather gourmand. But wait, we’re not done yet, after some more time, the rose becomes creamy. Still further, PHI reveals its patchouli, making the fragrance a bit sweeter and more heady as its mixed with vanilla and amber gris. Hours later, add in some tonka for a bit of a growl that helps to take the edge off of the sweetness. In the end PHI ends up big, but not loud. This rose is no wallflower, but she’s demure enough to be a bit coy.
The other blog review already out for PHI is an unequivocable rave from I Scent You A Day who writes:
PHI Rose de Kandahar has a Middle Eastern richness to it. Initially it’s honeyed Roses and Almonds and dried Apricots: it reminds me of a scented Souk. At first this edible combination was very Turkish Delight, just for a moment. But what happens next is that it transforms into, unless I’m mistaken, something not unlike a good Arabian Oud. I often find Oud too strong for me, but in Rose de Kandahar it’s like a robust backdrop to something altogether more delicate. The irony is that there is no Oud in it, but the combination of Tobacco, Ambergris, Vetiver and Patchouli gives this a very rich and almost prickly base. It’s like serving an aromatic Bacchanalian feast on a rough granite table.
I think that “prickly” edge that she references is the bloody ISO E Super that Mr. Tauer loves to stick into everything. It also explains why she associated PHI with oud, since the synthetic is used by many perfume houses to accompany their agarwood or woody creations. (Montale, I’m looking at you in particular, but Parfumerie Generale, you’re almost just as bad. And Amouage, you’re not off the hook either, after Opus VII.)
Early reviews on Fragrantica are equally positive. One commentator writes how PHI “is a very unique apricot rose scent. I’ve never smelled another rose like it and I have dozens of rose perfumes in my collection.” Someone much less fond of rose perfumes is equally enthusiastic, saying: “I often find rose scents either too sweet,too watery or too green and wan but no-one does the deep, dark sensual fragrance of a rose like Andy. His roses are blood RED and seriously velvety. […] I will be ordering myself a FB asap.”
I share their enthusiasm, and am considering getting PHI as part of Mr. Tauer’s new Explorer Set. While the perfume costs $141 or €105.30 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, it is also available as part of a set of three 15 ml bottles for $138 or €102. (See the Details section below.) You can choose between a number of different Tauer fragrances, and I have to admit that Une Rose Chyprée is calling my name just as much as PHI. Whether you get one 50 ml bottle for $141 or a total of 45 ml of three different perfumes for a little bit less, I think it’s quite a decent deal given the quality and richness of the ingredients.
All in all, I’m a big fan of PHI. Its apricot-rose chypre opening is elegant, sophisticated, full-bodied, and opulent; its gourmand stage is delectable, creamy and smooth; and its oriental finish is sexy with a touch of masculinity. It’s lovely — from start to finish.
DISCLOSURE: My sample of PHI Une Rose de Kandahar was provided courtesy of Hypoluxe. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my opinions are my own, and my first obligation is to my readers.