Salty, smoky, peaty whiskey lies at the heart of Rudis, a fantastic new release from Nobile 1942 that was inspired by Roman gladiators clad in musky leather who drink red wine for courage before entering the arena to fight for their lives. Smoky woods, immortelle, tangy red fruits, velvety roses, patchouli, earthy vetiver, and golden amber complete the rest of the tale, but single-malt Scotch is what makes Rudis stand out. My God, is it good. From the very first sniff, Rudis captured my full attention, and it continued to move me straight through to its very end. It’s one of those fragrances that instantly transported me to a place and time, conjured up images in my head, and made me remember why perfume excited me to begin with.
Yet, instead of summoning up Ancient Rome or the journey of a gladiator called “Mirmillone Actius,” Rudis took me to the most expensive, private members’ club in St. James, London, where the leather was smooth and well-burnished, glasses were filled with Islay single-malt scotch, and smoke wafted from a fireplace that burnt dry wood. The mantlepiece bore vases of red roses dusted with saffron and cloves, while the tables next to the deep leather armchairs were covered with The Wall St. Journal, The Times, and bowls filled with tart, red fruits macerated in Bordeaux wine. Candlelight cast an ambered glow over the proceedings, but a wintry wind blew down from the Highlands, bringing peat and earthy vetiver into the room. As the night passed, some members switched from whiskey to red wine, and a golden warmth swept over the room like a thick blanket, thanks to sweet immortelle mixed with creamy suede. When morning came, everyone lay passed out in a drunken stupor, and all that was left was golden, spicy sweetness. It’s an intoxicating trip from start to finish.
Rudis is an eau de parfum created by Nobile 1942, a third-generation Italian perfume house founded in wartime by Alberto Nobile and now run by his grandson, Massimo Nobile. According to its website, Nobile 1942’s focus is on essential oils, raw materials, and hand-done craftsmanship. The perfumes contain “essential oils obtained through natural processes of steeping, filtering, and distillation,” then undergo a lengthy production process designed to increase body and to heighten the fragrance’s aromas before finally being bottled by hand.
Rudis is meant to be a new direction for the company. According to the official press release quoted on sites like Essenza Nobile,
Rudis is the first part of a paradigm shift in the history of Nobile 1942 – a new direction, towards strong, intense and opulent scents – created by the Newcomer of the Year: Antonio Alessandria. The first fragrance of this collection is dedicated to a special characteristic: strength. [Emphasis to name added by me.]
If you’ve ever watched Gladiator or the television series, Spartacus, you might be interested in the inspiration and story behind Rudis, because it is all about ancient Rome and a young gladiator summoning up his courage on the way to the arena. In fact, the press release makes it clear that Rudis was specifically made to incorporate elements symbolizing different parts of a gladiator’s life and journey:
“Rudis” was the wooden sword that was used in ancient Rome of gladiators during their training. It was designed in wood and for training purposes and should not cause any injuries. However, “Rudis” was also the symbol of freedom and courage. The sword was a gift that a gladiator got, when he got rid of his status as a slave – as a reward for the bravery he had shown during the battles. “Rudis” is the beginning of “Gladiator career”, as well as for the ultimate goal: freedom.
The scent “Rudis” has made no less nose than the exceptional talent Antonio Alessandria for Nobile 1942. He was inspired by Rudis, the wooden sword, and the fragrance wants to demonstrate the values of strength and gentleness, of struggle and freedom, of life and death, of masculinity and weakness in its dialectic.
The fear of the Gladiator on the way to the arena is described with the vinous notes of marc and dry fruits, the Gladiator is trying to drink himself into courage – full of virility he fought his inner fears and grabs his Rudis – ready for battle. Antonio Alessandria pictured the wooden sword by rose and Geranium and cedarwood. The scent of the leather of his armor gives him courage as he enters the arena. His presence takes space in the arena, as well as the strong notes of patchouli, vetiver and incense.
There is a really cool story in the press release I was sent that is the fictional, first-person account of “Mirmillone Actius,” a gladiator who trembles at the cries of the lanista but tells himself that “Freedom is worth all this, I am nothing more than a slave, but I shall earn my new life. I will turn the tension that paralyses me into strength.” The blood rushes through his veins, as he drinks wine to summon up courage on the way to an arena where the Emperor may watch him die. The story is a really imaginative, ingenuous touch which shows Nobile 1942’s attention to detail, as well as the degree of effort put into Rudis. I’m tempted to quote the tale in full, but I suspect this review will be long enough without it.
So, let’s just focus on the notes in the perfume instead. One of the elements is “marc,” which is apparently an oenological term that refers to a wine aroma. The complete note list is as follows:
Top Note: Bergamot, Dried Fruits, Fruity Notes, Marc
Heart Note: Rose, Geranium, Cloves, Saffron, Cedarwood
Base Note: Leather, Patchouly, Vetiver, Immortelle, Musk, Frankincense.
Much as I love the story and all the Gladiator/Spartacus business, Rudis evokes something very different for me. As noted up top, it’s all about the glories of Scotch, and it happens from the very first instance that I put Rudis on my skin. For a brief instance, the aroma is that of a very expensive, blended scotch like Johnny Walker Blue, but it transitions within seconds into a simply fantastic, Islay single-malt like Laphroaig, thanks to the perfume’s salty, peaty, marshy, smoky qualities. The salty touch is particularly good, and it works wonders with the tangy, sour, tart fruits which immediately follow. The end result is a lot like a Whiskey Sour on my skin, only this one oozes earthy, green peat with smoke and a touch of vetiver.
The Highlands blend is thoroughly infused with other elements as well. Rudis has a profound leather note that is slathered with muskiness. It’s not sweaty or animalic, but it really does call to mind that gladiator in his leather cuirasses, fighting hard under the sun and having his labours give the leather a certain sensuality. Within minutes, the note takes on a certain sweetness that is warmly golden, though never anything as obvious as immortelle at this point. Then, it turns spicy, as a thick layer of saffron is dusted over it, along a pinch of cloves. Dried fruits lurk in the background, though it’s hard to tell which ones. They’re simply an amorphous, abstract haze of something fruity that is alternatively sour and sweet, but never cloying or syrupy.
The whole thing is wrapped up with a strong, thick vein of smoke. It doesn’t smell like incense, but like the sort of smoke that you’d get if you burnt wood in a campfire. It’s truly a perfect touch with the whiskey’s peaty, marshy qualities. (Have I mentioned yet just how much I love single malt scotch in all its layers?) Interestingly, the second time I tested Rudis, I noticed that the whiskey also had a subtle undertone of nuttiness to go with all that salty smokiness. I suspect further wearings would show off even further facets because this is one superbly complex, rich, smooth and perfectly blended accord. If I could spend several thousand words raving solely about the single malt in Rudis, I would, but I should get on to the rest of the fragrance.
Minutes after its opening, Rudis begins to change. The saffron grows stronger, adding a touch of buttery sweetness, as well as a tiny pop of fiery redness. It’s not biting or harsh, but smooth and very rich. The cloves grow stronger, too, smelling a little more meaty than peppered or dusty. In the far distance, tiny flickers of rose and a spicy, piquant geranium occasionally pop up to say hello, but they’re very muted at this point and generally feel abstract. Much more noticeable are Rudis’ fruity elements. They’re very tart, and feel like a mix of berries, lime, and apricot, all dusted with a sprinkling of salt. Something about the mix has an acidity that combines with the scotch to produce that “Whiskey Sour” effect.
From afar, Rudis is primarily a duet of whiskey and musky leather. It is flecked with smoky woods, earthy peat, spicy-sweet saffron, sour-salted-tart fruits, and tiny touches of rosy florals with a pinch of cloves, before the whole thing is enveloped in a rich cocoon of golden, ambered warmth.
It’s a very strong, potent, and robust bouquet, even if it isn’t dense or opaque in weight. Instead, it has the sort of “heavy weightlessness” that one of my readers, Tim, uses to describe Bertrand Duchaufour fragrances. Rudis has that similar sort of feel in terms of hefty richness mixed with airy buoyancy. When I used 2 smallish spritzes from my rather wonky atomizer (or roughly 1 decent spray from an actual bottle), Rudis opened with 3 inches of projection. However, when I used 4 spritzes, roughly equal to 2.5 large sprays from a bottle, I experienced 6-7 inches at first. That number dropped to 3 inches after 30 minutes, and then to 1 inch by the end of the 2nd hour. Yet, all of it feels enormously rich, complex, and smooth.
Rudis’ core essence doesn’t change drastically over the next few hours, but the various elements fluctuate significantly in their prominence or strength. Roughly 25 minutes into its development, the fruits grow even tangier, more rubied, and spicier as the saffron fuses them together with the rose-geranium accord that has slowly crept onto center stage. The flowers are coated with drops of a jammy patchouli that not only amplifies the tangy fruitiness of the scent, but also starts to create the first hint of a rather wine-like accord. What’s nice about the patchouli here is that its sweetness counterbalances the tartness, and vice-versa, keeping both elements in check.
As the tangy fruits, patchouli-rose, and saffron turn into something more than a mere flicker, Rudis’ salty, smoky, and woody aspects weaken a little in tangent. Yet, the Whiskey Sour and leather are still going at full blast, and the overall effect reminds me a little of Charenton Macerations‘ Christopher Street. To be specific, the middle stage of Christopher Street, when the nitrous note has faded, and the scent seems to be all about salty, margarita leather. Rudis feels like a distant cousin that gives leather a modernized, tangy twist through Whiskey Sours instead of lime tequila.
However, there are substantial differences beyond just the choice of alcohol. Christopher Street feels like a quasi-chypre with green or crisp characteristics, while Rudis is purely oriental. On my skin, Rudis is a smoother, sweeter and richer alcoholic leather, thanks to the saffron, patchouli-roses, smoke and ambered warmth. I find it more complex and, I have to say it, much more sophisticated, elegant, interesting, and appealing. I admire Christopher Street a lot and think it’s brilliantly creative, but I wouldn’t wear it myself. Rudis, on the other hand, I would wear without any hesitation.
By the end of the first hour and the start of the 2nd, Rudis’ notes realign themselves even further. All the elements start to overlap, losing some of their distinctive edges, but the leather, saffron, and rose most of all. The florals really fuse into the other notes, feeling a little blurry and hazy. You can tell that there is a floral component, and it does generally translate into a patchouli-rose-saffron mix if you focus, but it sometimes hides behind the whiskey, while being more noticeable on other occasions. It’s the same story with the leather and woods. Although the peaty, marshy, salty aspects of the whiskey still dominate over everything, the smoke feels really weak and minor. In contrast, the tart, acidic, tangy fruitiness grows stronger.
What really fascinates me is the push-pull interplay between the various notes and the way that their sum-total evokes different alcohols. More and more, as the minutes pass, it feels as though a spicy, tannic, floral, earthy, red wine has been poured into the Whiskey Sour. At first, it’s just a thimbleful, then it becomes a good slug and, by the middle of the 7th hour, it’s a definite mix of aged, tannic Zinfandel wine with whiskey. The combination may not sound good as something to drink, but it really works wonders here as a perfume.
Yet, before the full wine effect occurs, Rudis still has other changes to go through. At the start of the 3rd hour, the perfume turns softer and smoother. It’s a seamless, sometimes blurry, haze of whiskey leather with tart fruits, flecked with an abstract, jammy, spicy floralcy and enveloped within a golden warmth. At the edges, tiny tendrils of wooded smokiness weave about, as well as sweet muskiness, but Rudis no longer evokes images of a cuirass damp with a gladiator’s exertions. Actually, the leather is now more of a suggestion or something textural, like thick ripples of supple suede. I can’t pull out the immortelle at this stage, but I think it’s definitely working from afar and indirectly to contribute the golden sweetness that hangs like a haze over everything.
Rudis’ transition over the next few hours is increasingly hard to describe. It definitely turns more golden and soft, but everything other than the whiskey feels abstract and submerged into the other notes to the point of being shapeless. For some people, that makes a perfume “muddled,” while others see it as “seamless.” In this case, I think that both things apply, but I really like the overall effect. I’m just a sucker for boozy notes in fragrances, and single malt whiskey is a particular love of mine. Plus, it’s not too common in perfumery; liquor notes are usually ambered cognac or fruited brandy.
What I can tell you is that Rudis’ drydown begins at the start of the 7th hour, and is centered around immortelle. The flower initially smells a little floral, but is mostly like a spicy-sweet syrup. At the same time, leather turns creamy and feels more like suede. The wood notes have retreated to the background, but the smoke lingers. Much more significant, however, is the fact that the fruits, rose, and jammy patchouli have fully dissolved into a dark, tannic, red wine. It’s not a powerful note, it runs through the base, and it’s always overshadowed by the whiskey, but something in Rudis definitely reminds me of an expensive Cahors wine.
On a total tangent, simply because I can’t resist, wines from France’s Cahors region are fantastic and if you haven’t tried them, you should. Cahors is the historic source of Malbec grapes, the first vineyards were planted over 2000 years in Roman times (which seems doubly apropos here), and their Spéciale category of aged Malbecs are famous. An article from The Telegraph notes that they are often called “black wine” due to their intense colour. Yet, as the article also discusses, Cahors is known almost as much for its food, and I found a rather mouth-watering blog post at “David Lebowitz” which shows various Cahors culinary specialities, which includes foie gras, as well as its wine and vineyards. If you ever come across a Spéciale or aged, pure Malbec version of a Cahors wine, please try it. (My apologies for the “Food and Wine” moment. Both things are rather a passion of mine, and I tend to get carried away.)
Getting back to Rudis, the perfume’s dominant bouquet at the start of the 8th hour is no longer a tart Whiskey Sour, but Whiskey Immortelle, lightly flecked by wisps of smoke and woods, and resting on a base of creamy suede and tannic red wine. The leather has sunk from the top notes into the foundation, while the immortelle has rise up to take its place. Happily, it does not smell of maple syrup here. Instead, it’s merely a wave of sweetness with a spicy quality. Eventually, it takes over completely, and Rudis’ final hours are a blur of creamy, sweet, golden, spicy notes with only an occasional, lingering speck of smoky, peaty Scotch.
All in all, Rudis lasted just over 12.5 hours on me when I used a large amount (4 big smears equal to 2.5 generous sprays), and roughly 9.5 hours when I used half that amount. I can’t explain the substantial gap between those two figures except to say that I think Rudis is a fragrance whose longevity is greatly improved by how much you apply. The time it took to become a skin scent was also better, though not substantially: 3.75 hours versus 3. A friend who tried Rudis said he didn’t have massive longevity and was a little disappointed, since he was equally crazy about the whiskey note. I think applying more may solve that problem. Plus, it makes the scent bloom, and gives Rudis greater richness, depth, and intensity.
Quantity also impacts the nuances a little, too. With a smaller amount, the ambered warmth was weaker; the roses were a little fainter; the lime-whiskey-leather accord was less infused by a sexy muskiness; the wine aroma was significantly weaker and less noticeable; and the immortelle and creaminess were much thinner and less dominant in the drydown. All of these are fractional things, though, and visible only when you really focus on the tiny details, but if you’re generally an under-sprayer, you may want to double your usual application to experience the best parts of the scent.
As noted at the top of this review, Rudis will be released on or about October 15th. It is available for pre-order at several of the usual retailers, from Luckyscent to Essenza Nobile and First in Fragrance, and will cost $245 or €195 for 75 ml. The perfume comes in a red bottle stamped with what looks like a gold plaque, and is housed in a really cool, waxed leather casing or box. The press release quoted on Essenza Nobile says:
Nobile 1942 has designed these in collaboration with renowned Italian artisans: The charm of Florentine leather, as well as its characteristic odor and its history seduces us… Of course manufactured by hand in technical practice. The logo of Nobile 1942 is stamped into the waxy red of the leather.
Rudis has no Fragrantica listing as of yet, and I haven’t found any blog reviews to provide you with comparative analysis. I have occasionally seen the scent referenced in passing with regard to the Pitti fragrance convention, but the entries merely quote the press release description and don’t talk about the actual scent. So, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for now.
All I can say is that I strongly urge anyone who loves whiskey to give Rudis a sniff. If you like oriental fragrances with leather, smoky woods, spices, immortelle sweetness, and some muskiness, I think you’ll enjoy the fragrance as well, but Rudis is for the whiskey lover above all else. Its alcoholic profile makes the scent skew towards the masculine side, but I think some women will thoroughly enjoy the Laphroaig/Laguvulin note with all its peaty, salty, smoky, marshy goodness, especially in conjunction with the rich panoply of other elements. If you love scotch, try Rudis for yourself and you’ll see.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.