Alahine was meant to evoke opulent oriental palaces, and it certainly succeeded in that endeavor. I see a Moroccan palace, shimmering in the heat under a turquoise sky, and surrounded by gardens of roses and ylang-ylang, lined with large silver urns billowing out smoky amber and incense.
Alahine comes from the French perfume house, Téo Cabanel, founded in 1893 in Algeria by Théodore Cabanel. Upon moving to Paris, he developed over 150 different perfume formulae and soon came to the attention of high society. He was a favorite of the Duchess of Windsor — the woman for whom King Edward VIII gave up the English throne — and she would order enormous amounts of his fragrances (Julia and Yasmina). Unfortunately, over time, the house faded away, but it was essentially reborn in 2003 under the direction of Caroline Illacqua who had a distant connection to Cabanel’s daughter. Illacqua brought in the perfumer, Jean-Francois Latty (who had created fragrances for YSL and Givenchy), and together they launched Alahine in 2007.
Latty describes Alahine as a soft amber, but it is technically a floral oriental (or floriental). Téo Cabanel’s website lists Alahine’s notes as follows:
bergamot, ylang ylang, jasmine, Bulgarian rose, orange tree, pepper plant, Morroccan rose, iris, cistus, patchouli, benzoin, vanilla, sandalwood, and musk.
Some perfume sites have suggested other ingredients as well. Basenotes adds lavender to its list of top notes, but I’m a bit skeptical and believe it may be just how bergamot smells to some people. Luckyscent includes sandalwood as one of the base notes; that one, I can well imagine.
As the NST website noticed, Téo Cabanel claims that the perfumes contain “100% pure and natural ingredients.” Technically, that’s not really possible as musk (or civet) comes from animals and, as such, is off limits in its natural form.
In an interview with Sniffapalooza magazine, Ilacqua clarified that Téo Cabanel’s fragrances contain between 85% and 95% natural ingredients, and its amber and musk are synthetic.
For those who can’t immediately place some of the natural notes or what they smell like, here’s a brief nutshell description that may be useful later in explaining the depth and layers to Alahine. The smell of bergamot falls between orange and lemon, and is most closely associated with Earl Grey tea. It can turn a little woody and some people can occasionally smell hints of lavender lurking around. Ylang-ylang comes from a bright, banana-yellow flower and has a rich, heady, sweet, floral smell that is slightly fruity and custardy. One commentator called it “the eccentric sister to jasmine” but it’s also often compared to such flowers as tuberose, frangipani, and tiaré. Personally, I think it has a richer, fruitier and, definitely, spicier scent than any of those flowers. As a side note, the smell of ylang-ylang has long been considered to be both an aphrodisiac and soothing. Moroccan roses are a type of cabbage rose and, as such, have a sweet, honey-like scent. In contrast, Bulgarian roses belong to the damask rose category which usually have a heady, richer, darker element to them. (To my nose, at least.) Benzoin is a type of resin and, as such, evokes the scent of amber. Depending on the type of resin, it can be both sweet and smoky, or just incense-y and slightly woody. “Cistus” really refers to Labdanum. The small cistus shrub is native to the Mediterranean and Middle East, and the distillation of its leaves produces a dry resinous, faintly woody smell that is called labdanum in perfume. Essentially, labdanum is another resin like amber, but it has more of a masculine toughness to amber’s sweetness. Labdanum can be dirty, animalic and almost reminiscent of sex at times, while other compositions can bring out a more leather-like smell.
The real reason that I took this detour into the notes is because the complexity of Alahine required me to take a refresher! The perfume is so expertly blended, and the scents fold so well into each other, that at times I struggled to figure out what ingredient was responsible for what! It was almost too much at times for me to distinguish what was going on. And a big part of that problem stemmed initially from a very big mistake I made: I sprayed on too much!
Do you want to know how much is “too much” for Alahine? Well, three spritzes where I just barely depressed the plunger! Three small spritzes of Alahine sent my nose into a tailspin because this is one seriously powerful perfume! I had to wait for the smell to fade on one arm before I could try again a few hours later with it on the other. This time, I gingerly and fearfully used one tiny spray, resulting in a few droplets. (And I never use one tiny spray! Ever. I always use 3 good spritzes spread out all along my arm and I do so for every perfume when testing it out, given how my body consumes perfume.) But trying Alahine in a small amount let me have a much better understanding of the notes. (Did I mention that this is powerful?!)
Alahine opens with a trumpeting blast of booziness, bergamot, orange, and what definitely smells like peach. After re-reading the definitions of some of the notes, I realise the peach (and some other lingering faintly fruity smells) have to be the ylang-ylang, though none of the ylang-ylang I’ve smelled (and loved) in the past ever evoked such a smell. In my first go round, I smelled such a sharply intense, screeching smell of smoky incense and black pepper that I was convinced there had to be frankincense in there as well. (There isn’t, but that is apparently what happens when you spray too much Alahine on your first try and sniff. It totally blows out your nose.)
In those opening minutes, the citrus and ylang-ylang fruits are joined by what smells like cloves, cinnamon and a fainty soapy muskiness. There is almost a medicinal note from the cloves, but also a heavy, (heavy!), thick viscous, gooey, treacly element that has to be the amber! It’s heavy and black enough at this stage that I wonder if perhaps I’m really smelling the patchouli? It’s hard to know at this stage, but if that is really just the amber, colour me impressed.
Ten minutes in, the heady smell of roses and iris appears, followed a bit later by the jasmine. Alahine is softer now, less shrill, gentled perhaps due to the powder notes that are also there. And yet, there is also definite black pepper behind it all, pepper that is biting, faintly woody, almost balsam-like. I suspect this is from the pepper plant they used. And I still smell peach!
As Alahine develops over time, it turns more into a predominantly amber-y scent, combined with the rose, musk and powder. But this is like few amber fragrances that I have come across. There is a distinctly boozy nature to the element that brought to mind very aged bourbon and rum, almost cognac-brown in their richness and sweet thickness. (I wonder if it’s the labdanum that is responsible?)
I’m not the only one who thought of alcohol. The blog Perfume-Smellin Things noted: “[t]he intense, almost liqueur-like center of this perfume’s universe is Bulgarian and Moroccan rose essence of high quality that gives it a rounded and almost fruity quality overall.” She attributes it to the rose notes but I have to wonder. It seems more an attribute of the various resins at play here, particularly as the boozy accord is accompanied by perpetual smoky, incense-y notes with an almost bitter-chocolate earthiness. (Now, that’s definitely the labdanum!)
I should admit that I didn’t completely understand the enormous fuss over Alahine on my first try. (I’m going to blame that on using too much – illogical as it may be.) It was absolutely lovely, yes, but the incredible raves and almost crazed gushing?? I couldn’t see it. But my second try showed its real beauty. And that is something that has happened to others, too. The chap at the Nathan Branch blog was initially unimpressed, but repeated pleas from perfumistas he respects made him give it another shot:
At first, nothing struck me as extraordinary. The pieces all functioned properly, the mix was good, the scent pleasant, but I didn’t get a particularly noteworthy vibe. I’ve learned, however, that first impressions can be deceiving, which was the case with Alahine. What seemed initially a little lazy or derivative of its betters became much more than that with repeated wearings.
But after more than one wearing, his reaction was, “Yowza! How did I miss all this?” Perfume Posse said something similar:
I was charmed by Alahine´s transformation. It starts out with a ladylike floral note, a generalized citrus/jasmine/ylang, very classic and expensive smelling. […] From there Alahine only gets better as the pepper, iris and the naughty bits start to bloom, but it’s sexy in a subtle way, the woman in the corner of the room who catches your eye, and suddenly compared to her quiet chic everyone else looks a bit overdone.
[Update 4/14 — I have to add to this review because, in the 18 months since I wrote this review, I have noticed the same pattern mentioned by Nathan Branch and others happening again and again with readers who have tried Alahine on my recommendation. It’s happened so often that I wanted to raise the issue directly, and not just in the comment section where this is frequently discussed. It consistently seems to take 4 tries for people to fall for Alahine. I’ve actually lost track at this point of the number of people who were wholly unimpressed at first, only to subsequently become utterly obsessed. That includes men, as well as those who normally can’t stand fragrances with roses.
I’ve concluded that Alahine seems to involve some form of Stockholm Syndrome. It may also help to go easy on the application at first, since the intensity of the boozy spicebomb can be quite overwhelming if you spray with reckless abandon. But what matters most of all for Alahine is a little patience. You really need to try it four times before it suddenly seems to transform before your eyes into the most intoxicating brew you’ve encountered.]
So, what really is Alahine, beyond just a changeling? NST‘s review (linked up above) described Alahine, in part, as “ylang-ylang crème brulée lightened with rose and dusted with powder.” I think that is true, but far from the whole story. For me, Alahine is far more than the scent they describe:
Alahine is an oriental treatment of ylang ylang. Alahine takes the flower’s cold cream-like scent and spins it with amber, sandalwood, and vanilla. The result is a ylang ylang crème brûlée lightened with rose and dusted with powder. It’s warm, thick, sweet, and feminine — comforting without being maternal. Its sillage is moderate, and its lasting power is excellent.
Alahine isn’t edgy or surprising, but in some ways that’s an asset. Think of it as the camel coat fashion magazines are touting as a major trend for this fall. People have been wearing camel coats for a good long time, and they’ve always been appropriate and sometimes even stylish, even if they’re only sporadically fashionable. Alahine is like that. You’re always correct (and warm) in Alahine.
One of my disagreements with that summation is that it omits the incredibly smoky, boozy, incense-y, viscous nature of the perfume. Basically, Alahine is far too intense and powerful to be a mild camel coat — no matter how chic or expensive it may be. And “comforting”? Please! I think it’s too seductive to be comforting (let alone maternal!). This is a fragrance to wear with a black dress. Not a revealing, little black dress, but a tailored one that is cut tantalisingly low, or perhaps with a very long slit up the side. Or it’s a fragrance to wear with a slinky, slightly revealing cashmere sweater over a short black skirt, with opulent jewelry and sky-high stilettos. (I have no idea what men feel is their ideal elegantly sexy attire when seeking to subtly and quietly seduce, so I will leave that up to my male readers to determine.) Alahine is not about the full-on reveal and Bada-boom, but about the most sophisticated, elegant seduction. It’s the scent of a Bond girl — but one of the quiet ones who lures James Bond into her web. Camel coats…. bah!
I also disagree with NST’s assessment of its sillage. My body consumes perfume and this one well-nigh consumed me at first! (Did I mention those first 3 sprays were small?!) Yes, Alahine does become close to the skin…. but 6 hours later! (On me!) And the longevity? I can still smell it almost 12 hours later. On someone else, I suspect this perfume could easily go 16 hours or more. In fact, depending on amount used, a full 24 hours wouldn’t shock me at all.
One area where I actually do agree with NST is the issue of edginess. This is not an edgy perfume, particularly not in that occasionally disturbing, disorienting, or intentionally different way that some niche scents can be. There are some very classique elements to Alahine’s elegance and opulence. I’ve read some comparisons to the legendary Bal à Versailles; and the minute I saw them, I thought, “Ah, yes. They have a point.” This is like Bal à Versailles, but it’s much less soapy and powdery than my memories of BaV. Alahine is more resinous, spicy, smoky, fruity (the ylang-ylang) and incense-y. Other comparisons have been to Parfum d’Empire‘s Ambre Russe, though that is supposed to be boozier and more intense. I don’t have it (yet) to be able to assess that claim.
Alahine is marketed as a perfume for women but it is absolutely unisex, in my opinion. From the opening bergamot notes to the thick, resinous amber, patchouli, incense and faintly woody base, this is a scent that I think would be very sexy on a man. (And, according to his blog, Nathan Branch’s boyfriend thought so too.) I also have quite a number of male friends who wear Alahine, and don’t think it’s “feminine” at all.
For me, this is a perfume that I would well consider buying as a full bottle. In all honesty, if I could, I would do so right now. This minute. There is just something about Alahine that makes me feel happy and sunny. I think it’s too opulent to be “cozy” and “comfy,” but it makes me feel like purring. It brings to mind visions of Morocco, turquoise and roses, smoke and mirrors, spice and life. Try it. You’ll see.
[IMPORTANT UPDATE March 2017: This fragrance has been reformulated, and very badly at that, too, in my opinion. I bought a back-up bottle which smelled completely different. The roses were clearly synthetic, and smelled like very cheap, low quality versions to my nose with a very shrill and thin character. In addition, there was now a massive amount of very synthetic cedar front and center, and it, too, was very shrill. Finally, the jasmine, spice, and amber levels were completely altered and slashed. To make certain that the changes were not limited to my new bottle, I later purchased a cheap set of 15 manufacturer samples on eBay, and they all had the exact same, new, reformulated composition, so it is clearly not an anomalous situation. The changes are so immense, in my opinion, the scent is so different from the original one talked about in this review (in Alahine’s original bottle design), and the new reformulated version is so unpleasant to my nose that I refuse to wear it and have given away my new second bottle. I don’t know when precisely and exactly the changes took place, because companies never give official statements admitting reformulation, but I would advise caution before buying the current Alahine. Test it first to see if it suits your tastes.]
I loved reading your review of this perfume; your impassioned words transported me directly back to the souks of Morocco – the beautifully tapestried rugs, the polished brass hanging from hooks outside of shops, the copious amounts of sweet mint tea, and the heady aromas of incense, sweetmeats, smoke, and sandalwood. I must say that this perfume sounds like it might be right up my street; I like complicated scents that seduce quietly (Opium, by the way, is another favourite of mine, which may not surprise you in the last). I like perfumes that reflect who I am as a woman, and I am all about understated elegance.
Thank you, Tara. I must say, your reply was even more evocative than my post! LOL. I went to the Cabanel website to see if their stuff is carried by anyone in India but, alas, no. I was hoping there was one so that you could order a small sample or, perhaps, get one for free. I’d love for you to be able to try this. Btw, I hope you don’t include Opium in the list of things that tries to seduce QUIETLY, because in my opinion it’s more a slithering, ferocious beast. (My review for Chanel’s Coromandel turned out, in brief part, to be an ode and homage to the power of real/vintage Opium. Ooops. LOL) Oh, Opium, what have they done to you? *sob*
Now that’s a perfume I’d love to smell.
I reply hope you get a chance to do so. In Europe, I’d suggest looking on one of the European eBay sites for a small sample. Otherwise, the site Surrender to Chance sells a 1ml vial for $3.99. International shipping isn’t too much but I’m sure there are similar European decant sites where you can find it. There have to be. Lol. And this is one perfume that I think would be very fun just to explore. 🙂
Cindy, I looked it up for you via Teo Cabanel’s website. In the Netherlands, the perfume is supposed to be carried by the following retailers:
Parfumerie La Brune
1053 EK AMSTERDAM
6811 GH ARNHEM
1861 GA BERGEN
I’m sure that if you went into the Amsterdam one, you could give it a sniff and/or ask for a small sample for free! I hope this helps. I’d be thrilled to know if you went looking for it and what you thought. xoxox
Wow! You went above and beyond, thanks! It definitely is one I’d need to jot down, so if I’m in that neighbourhood I could take a sniff.
I sent them an email asking whether they have any samples, so I don’t have to make a fruitless journey out to find they don’t. Luckily they responded that they do, so I guess I’ll be planning a visit shortly. They also wrote Alahine is indeed an interesting scent: Oriental, sensual & mysterious. More or less a 3 worded succinct summary. 😉
I’m so impressed that you emailed them! Hopefully, you can get the samples for free (which are always the best sort of samples). lol. I’m also impressed that they could do a perfume summary in 3 words, though that one sounds very generic for an oriental. Still, 3 words…. I envy them! 😉 Let me know what you think if you ever get it. I managed to tempt 4 other people into ordering samples, so I think my track record for temptation and enabling is on the rise! *grin*
The other day I actually got my hands on a sample of Alahine. Wow, does it ever take you to the souks of Marrakech of what!? It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been there or not, but it embodies what a souk would smell like with all the incense, dried herbs, smoke etc etc Indeed, very orient and quite mysterious. It is a smell you just can’t put your finger on.
I used a mere drop and that lasted quite a while on me. I don’t particularly like the – to me – sweet opening, I generally am not a big fan of sweet and patchouli, so the sample will most likely be put aside for the appropriate occasion. For the dry down is much more alluring to me, the spicey headiness is most definitely more suitable for long evenings that so easily turn into long nights and early mornings.
I’m thrilled you hunted down a sample! I knew from before that you were intrigued, but still! I’m even more thrilled that you got that feel of the Marrakech Souks!! Yes, hurrah! It’s really evocative, isn’t it? The opening is sweet, but I suspect it’s the extremely boozy sort of sweetness that is a bit too much for you. I don’t blame you; as I wrote, it totally blew out my nose when I first put it on in the amount that I usually use for perfumes. Clearly, this requires an extremely small amount! LOL. I think the part of reaction that I’m most happy about is your sense that this is a perfume which can make long evenings “turn into long nights and early mornings”….. Oh yes! Most definitely. So, it seems, all in all, you liked the slightly mysterious, oriental aspects, even if it was too sweet or intense to be your usual, daily or common scent?
The scents I usually wear tend to be quite innocuous, more the fresh or floral note. Somewhat sweet is ok, as long as it doesn’t last for long. 😉 Too heavy a scent conflicts with my nose, I don’t even like scented hand lotion. At times I’ve found myself washing my hands just to get rid of the smell! So Alahine would simply be too intense for me for daily use, it’s definitely Not-for-the-office 😀
Yup, it’s the spicy oriental notes that intrigues me. Just minus the patchouli, that unfortunately gives me a headache.
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Popped back in to tell you this is my first full bottle purchase in months, you were TOTALLY right about every bit of this (especially the comparison to the camel coat– I’m offended on the perfume’s behalf!), and I’m wondering if you might review Oha, which sounded intriguing (I also tried Julia but didn’t like it too much, although now I’m thinking I may need to steal the decant back from my daughter and give it a second try).
LOL at being offended on Alahine’s behalf over the camel coat comparison!!! *grin* It sounds like what I was MOST correct about was the way one’s reaction to Alahine is first, “Eh… it’s okay” and, then, *suddenly*, “OMG! How did I not see this was the most amazing thing ever??!!!” I know you were completely nonchalant at first, if not totally bored. It’s like the chap I quoted in the review, Nathan Branch, and how suddenly Alahine clicked for him and turned into huge love.
It’s a very misleading perfume at first glance, seeming so much less than it is. A camel coat, if you will. Then, it just worms its way into your heart and you can’t get it out of your head. Before you know it, it’s true love. (I have to wonder if all the perfumes from the brand are like that, since I know Julia never thrilled you back when you tried it months ago, too.) With me, Alahine just got in my head from the start, and it wasn’t long until I succumbed to a full bottle.
As for Oha, well, that’s up for review at the start of next week. 🙂 It was going to be this week but some things pushed it back a little.
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Forget Mitzah…I MUST try this one!!
Yes, you truly must. It sneaks up on you and, then, suddenly, after a few wears…. Wowzer!
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Oh my. This one is intoxicating. I forgot how you overdosed on it until within 5 seconds of two small spritzes I heard my daughters two rooms away asking each other, “What is that smell? It must be Daddy.” It is so wonderful.
Two rooms away…. ha, I’m not surprised! I’m thrilled you love it, Cohibadad. Truly, you have no idea. It’s perhaps my favorite modern perfume that I’ve tried thus far! And I’m relieved that it didn’t take multiple tests for you to find it intoxicating. Most people don’t seem to think it’s anything special until they’ve given it at least 3-4 tries and, then, suddenly, it hits them. What does your wife think of Alahine? And did the drydown work for you as well as the opening did?
I did the two sprays and at first I wasn’t sure if it was for me, but about an hour later I noticed how lovely it was and a few hours later I did another spray and it just got lovelier and lovelier. I will have to try it again for my wife, we were having a plumbing fiasco and I didn’t really get a chance to get her opinion. It instantly shot up my favorites list. It is remarkable.
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oh my…..I am completely intrigued. At first, I laughed while reading that the scent could “blast out your nostrils”. I am “guilty” of perhaps applying a tish too much at times ( I run out of the house on a search warrant call out at 3am most weeks….so I sleepily squirt 4…or 5!) I thought….hmmm, I don’t know if this is for me…too “loud” in the dark hours of the night, or the burgeoning dawn…but each subsequent review seems to me that this scent is a paradox. I will order a decant ( if available) from the Posh Peasant ( thanks for that …I used to order a lot of dents from them)
There is always Surrender to Chance too! The Posh Peasant is sometimes sold out of Alahine. But you should trust me and start slow with this one. I think it was Cohibadad who wrote that he put on one spray (on my warning), and his daughter in the next room detected it!
It’s also the oddest perfume in having a sort of Stockholm Syndrome type of thing on its users. Read the comments, and you’ll see, a LOT of people hated this one at first. It somehow seems to take 4 tries, and then…. suddenly… it clicks, and it’s true love. But if you put on too much, and if you don’t give it a few wearings, it will be too difficult. It’s a bit of an upward trajectory given just HOW boozy and spicy that opening is! (It’s why a lot of guys love it.)
But once it softens, once the smoke and deep rose are less inebriated, then it’s gloriously sexy, especially with the Bal à Versailles finish. Only, this one lacks the skank and civet of true, vintage B.a.V.
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Just getting around to reading this review of one of the few scents we have in common. (Of course, it is a floral amber. Of course it is.)
I didn’t love Alahine at first, either, and it took several wearings to learn to deal with the topnotes. ACK sharp. Ow. But by the second wearing I was charmed by it. It is not at all my usual thing, but I love it. I was dabbing from a sample vial at first try, though, and had to become accustomed to a full-on bottle spritz – but these days I do two.
I must say I don’t get the Bal a Versailles reference either. BaV (I used up a tiny parfum de toilette mini, and have tested parfum and 90s EdT) is floral incense + honey for me, and it *is* fabulously filthy. Can’t wear it often, but it is so completely baroque and rich… Alahine’s rich, but it seems more “clear” to me.
I have been a silent lurker on your blog for quite some time and thoroughly enjoy (and look forward to) reading your reviews. Now that I finally managed to get my hands on a bottle of Alahine I could not help but leave a comment; especially as it went *exactly* as you described – I found it a little unremarkable but intriguing enough upon first try, and by the third wearing I am absolutely possessed by this scent! And I’ve never even been particularly drawn to amber fragrances – for me, an old-school chypre would have been a much easier “sell”…
Whenever I wear Alahine, however, I can’t stop myself from sniffing my wrists constantly, and keep finding new facets to this remarkable creation every time (today I’m swooning over the gorgeous, creamy floral notes that I somehow missed out on previously)… and the longevity is amazing! Nothing better than falling asleep in an ambery cloud and waking up to the beautiful drydown <3 Thank you so much for giving me the spark to hunt down this gem!
I wasn’t blown away by Alahine. I thought it smelled very candy like and synthetic on my skin. But now that I’ve read your March 2017 update, maybe it has been reformulated. Unfortunately Barkhane didn’t smell that great to me. There’s a strong ambers woody base that makes it smell generic to my nose.
I suggest looking for an older bottle! I don’t know about the state of the current formulation but the vintage is gorgeous <3
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