AbdesSalaam Attar La Via del Profumo Mecca Balsam

Source: The Telegraph.

Source: The Telegraph.

The road to Mecca, filled with the scent of millions of pilgrims radiating amber, incense, and spice. A mysterious Sufi mystic garbed in blue robes of the desert who has been called a “genius” and “a magician” with natural essences. And the desire to recreate “the perfume of the mosques and the music of the wind organs in cathedrals.”

Some of the millions of white-robed pilgrims at Mecca. Source: The Telegraph.

Some of the millions of white-robed pilgrims at Mecca. Source: The Telegraph.

That last line alone stopped me in my tracks with its beautiful imagery, the poetry of perfumery focused on the very heart of the Middle East: Mecca. Mecca Balsam is the creation of the perfumer, Dominique Dubrana, but I have to admit, I have no clue as to how I should call his perfume house. Many sites list it as La Via del Profumo, his website is called Profumu.it, but American decanting services and perfumistas often refer to the line as “AbdesSalaam Attar (profumo.it)” or AbdesSalaam Attar. The latter is the nom de plume he uses on Basenotes, where he is a contributor and with whom he’s created a few perfume series. I’ve decided to opt for the very long name of “AbdesSalaam Attar La Via del Profumo” at first, and then to shorten it to “AbdesSalaam Attar.”

I’ve been interested in the highly respected, almost legendary, Dominique Dubrana for a while. The New York Times had a fascinating article from 2010 entitled “Smellbound” in which Jim Lewis describes the man and his creations:

Dominque Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

Dominque Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

One overcast afternoon last May I sat in a small atelier in a tiny town in the hills of Rimini, Italy. Across from me sat a man in royal blue robes and a matching blue turban, with a long gray beard and kohl-rimmed eyes; on his desk, and on the shelves behind him, in a cabinet by the door — all over the room — there were small amber-tinted glass bottles, scores of them, and as we spoke he would take one up, open the top, hand it to me and invite me to smell the contents. This went on for hours. It was why I’d come: to meet Dominique Dubrana, a 54-year-old Frenchman living in Italy, a Sufi convert, a grand eccentric and a genius of sorts. […]

Dubrana is a perfumer, and there is no one quite like him working anywhere in the world today. [¶] For one thing, he has no store — and no corporation to answer to and no marketing budget. He invents his own stuff, bottles it and sells it only online, relying on word of mouth to spread his name. […][¶] More important, he uses all natural ingredients, an ancient craft in the modern world, where synthetic molecules make up as much as 90 percent of most commercial perfumes and where some familiar notes — most musks, for example — are almost impossible to find in their natural state. [¶][…]

Luca Turin, the author of “Perfumes: the Guide,” a visiting scientist at M.I.T. and the capo of perfume critics, says: “He’s one of these very rare examples of a natural-born perfumer. He seems to be incredibly sure-footed, in a way which reminds me of François Coty. There are dozens of all-natural perfumers; I don’t pay much attention to them, because every time I do I get a bunch of hideous crap. But I love his fragrances. I don’t think anyone can touch him in the field of natural perfumery.”

Source: upww.us

Masjid al Haraam in Mecca, the Sacred or Grand Mosque, which is perhaps the holiest place in Islam. Source: upww.us

I haven’t had much luck with natural perfumery thus far, but I’ve heard nothing but raves for the AbdesSalaam Attar line. My problem was where to start. There were an overwhelming number of his fragrances listed on Surrender to Chance, but one name caught my eye: Mecca Balsam. The perfume was inspired by Mr. Dubrana’s trip to Mecca, and the smells of the city. A quick check of the Profumo.it website description, where the fragrance is called Balsamo della Mecca, and I was sold. It was so damn evocative!

In Mecca, the scents of Labdanum resin, of Benzoin, frankincense and of the precious Agar wood invade the streets together with the 4 million pilgrims who pour to the streets 5 times every day, walking to the great mosque like river. […][¶]

The trail of a million scents in the wake of the pilgrims at Mecca raptures the nose of the visitor and make this travel an unforgettable experience for a westerner little used to such a profusion of olfactory stimulus.

I have imagined the perfume at Mecca itself while walking in the mist of the pilgrims, and I had already found its name there; “Mecca Balsam”. I would compose it with the smells and fragrances that are omnipresent in the holy city, it would be it’s olfactory signature.

Source: faculty.tamucc.edu

Source: faculty.tamucc.edu

Back to Italy, my memories still fresh and my spirit still filled with the pilgrimage, I started blending the essences of my perfumer’s organ.

The grave and austere note of Labdanum, deep and resinous, at once sacred and profane, is the center of gravity of “Mecca Balsam”.

Wrapped in the amber fragrance of Tonka and in the mystic aroma of the Arabic Frankincense, Labdanum wildness is tamed in an almost ecclesiastic scent that evocates at once the perfume of the mosques and the music of the wind organs in cathedrals.

The scent of raw Tobacco, always present in the background, is like an anchor that binds the  base accord, giving them a common denominator.

The flowery notes of  Indian Tuberose and of Damask Rose enrich the base of the balsam in the fashion of Arabic fragrances, bestowing to the perfume an opulence worthy of the precious aromatic elixirs worn by the royal family of Saudia.

Mecca Balsam is a fragrance that is liked by men and women alike, its aroma is warming, full, aromatic, and somehow gives a fatherly sense of security.

Mecca Balsam via the Profumi.it website.

The succinct list of notes would be:

tonka, Arabic frankincense, labdanum, raw tobacco, Indian tuberose and Damask rose.

Source: drugnet.net

Source: drugnet.net

Mecca Balsam opens on my skin with intense booziness, like sharp, young cognac, followed by fruit and tobacco. The latter smells definitely raw, like the juice from tobacco wads that some men and American baseball players chew. The notes are infused with smoky incense and a rough labdanum, but there is also a hint of something leathered, rubbery, and a little mentholated at the edges. The strongest impression is of the tobacco juice and a dirty, rough amber, flecked lightly by incense. It’s all very gritty, dark, leathery in feel, almost verging on the dirty, raw, untamed and masculine. At the same time, however, it’s also sweet, soft, warm, and strong. The fragrance hovers a few inches above the skin, at most, but is extremely potent and dense when sniffed up close.

I don’t smell the florals in Mecca Balsam in any distinct, individual, or significant way. However, the hint of something rubbery, almost diesel-like, and mentholated makes me wonder if it stems from the tuberose. There is a whiff of something underlying the note that makes me think of how the flower has been deconstructed in Serge LutensTubereuse Criminelle. With Mecca Balsam, the floral aspect never appears fully, but there is the faintest suggestion of tuberose after about 5 minutes. It’s more akin to dirty indoles, though it’s never fecal, sour, or even particularly lush. Whatever it is, the floral undertone is extremely muted and quickly fades away entirely.

Source: iherb.com

Source: iherb.com

About 20 minutes into its development, Mecca Balsam changes completely. All the rough edges suddenly start to soften, as the fragrance becomes smoother and smoother. From its initial start of lots of raw, concentrated tobacco juice over a heart of dirty, warm amber with smoke, the perfume suddenly turns into… cinnamon orange spiced tea! The similarities were so overwhelming that I actually hunted in my pantry for an errant box of the stuff (which I don’t like very much), brewed a cup, and compared the two aromas. Mecca Balsam is obviously richer, deeper, thicker, and warmer in smell than a thin liquid, but I’m telling you: Orange Spice!

Source: sweetsouthernprovisions.com

Source: sweetsouthernprovisions.com

I don’t understand any of it, but what emanated from my skin for almost the next 12 hours was various levels of cinnamon orange tea over a base of warm, dark, slightly leathered amber with tobacco. The cinnamon is extremely dominant, but it never approaches the fiery aspect of “red hots” cinnamon candies. It’s much smoother and mellower than that. I suspect it stems from the Tonka being impacted by the other accords, but I have no explanation for the distinct smell of orange that appears by its side. The fruited aspect waxed and waned in strength, but there was always some aspect of a sweet citrus edge; at first, it was right on top with the cinnamon, but eventually, it became a more muted note by the edges.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

The base notes are interesting. The amber never smelled like a lot of labdanum that I encounter: it was never toffee’d, nutty, or honeyed, and even the leathery nuance was subtle. As a whole, it merely smelled like an amorphous, really warm, golden base with a dirty edge. The tobacco eventually lost its rawness and was generally folded within the amber, though occasionally it was much more noticeable in its own right. The whole thing was dry and lightly flecked by the tiniest amount of incense, but Mecca Balsam was never a really smoky scent on me. For the most part, it was primarily just black tea that was highly spiced with cinnamon and sweetened with oranges.

At the end of the 6th hour, Mecca Balsam shifts a little. It takes on a slightly powdered touch at the edges that occasionally makes me think of powdered orange drinks. It also becomes a complete skin scent. Still, I was surprised by how long it took for Mecca Balsam to fade in strength. It never had more than soft sillage to begin with, but for an all-natural fragrance, it was surprisingly strong when sniffed up close. Perhaps that is due, in part, to the rawness or concentration of certain notes like the cinnamon or the tobacco. Even more surprising was how long Mecca Balsam lasted on my perfume-consuming skin. I could smell faint traces of it well after the 12th hour, and it finally died away as a blur of warm, spiced, ambered tea about 13.5 hours from the start.

I have to admit, I was disappointed with Mecca Balsam. The story, the inspiration, the magical, mystical, Bedouin and Sufi look of Mr. Dubrana, all led me to expect something very different. Perhaps nothing would have measured up to the images in my head, or to my growing fascination with Mr. Dubrana, but raised expectations are not the real cause. Rather, it’s the notes and how they manifested itself on my skin. I love labdanum and incense, I enjoy tobacco fragrances, and heavy, rich orientals are my absolute favorite. I did not expect Bigelow’s Orange Spice tea!

The greatest problem for me personally was the tobacco. At the start, it was incredibly dirty in a way that was simply too intense and sharp for my personal tastes. Even when it subsequently became muted, relatively speaking, and was folded into the amber of the base, I still struggled with it. I can take dirty labdanum or leather, but the rawness of the tobacco was perhaps a few steps too far on the dirty scale. I kept envisioning American baseball players in some 1950s movie with a wad of tobacco bulging in their lip, and spitting out streams of raw juice into a spittoon. It’s unappealing mentally, and the scent isn’t so refined on an olfactory level either. Again, in fairness, the scent softened and mellowed quite a bit after the first two hours, but then we go back to Orange Pekoe and cinnamon tea. It’s not my personal favorite.

Skin chemistry obviously plays a huge role in how perfumes bloom on the skin, but I have to wonder if batch variations might also be a factor as well. I have the impression, perhaps mistaken, that Mr. Dubrana does everything by hand and on a relatively small-scale. If so, then that may account for some variations, as Mecca Balsam is a much applauded scent with reviews that sometimes seem to describe something extremely different than what I experienced. All of this is apart from the fact that there seem to be at least two different versions of Mecca Balsam, from the Arabian series that I tested, to an early version made in 2010 for Jim Lewis who wrote The New York Times article, as well as what might be an extrait.

Source: alaan.cc

Source: alaan.cc

There are many blog reviews for Mecca Balsam, and a common thread between them is a discussion of the amber-tobacco heart. A number of reviewers also noted a “meditative” aspect as well. Take the assessment by The Non-Blonde who wrote, in part: 

I don’t think I’ve ever fully grasped the idea of a meditative perfume until I smelled Mecca Balsam [….] I’ve never actually experienced a perfume that took me there.

Why is Mecca Balsam different? It might be the depth and rawness of the natural ingredients. There are no minimalistic tricks and gimmicks here- this is the real thing. […][¶] The first whiff of Mecca Balsam is nothing short of stunning. It makes you stop, take a deep breath and take it all in. […] What you get here is dark and dry, resinous and smoky. It creates a certain mood right away. It’s very deliberate and there’s nothing casual about this scent. The labdanum and tobacco are the most pronounced notes on my skin. They make me feel like I’ve stepped into a dark, sacred place out of time. Sweet incense is burning in the corner and the red and pink lights of sunrise are felt more than actually seen through an elaborately ornamented window.

It’s a mental and emotional place, not a real one, but it feels safe and honest and allows one to take a good introspective look. The scent is strong and would affect your surrounding, but at the same time it’s personal and reflective.  [Emphasis in the original, but not underlined.]

Photo: Karin Kloosterman  at greenprophet.com

Photo: Karin Kloosterman at greenprophet.com

Suzanne of Eiderdown Press seemed to feel something a bit similar, writing:

its opening notes have all the gravitas of a prayer: they are weighty and deeply resinous—almost medicinally so, such that I could swear I smell the astringent lash of clary sage among them, though perhaps it is a figment of my imagination, as the perfumer does not list it among the notes. After five minutes, the labdanum and frankincense combination become smokier and more ash-like, with a little bit of tarriness that makes me also wonder if there might be a hint of castoreum, too, in the composition. As it continues to dry down, the fragrance softens considerably but continues to unfold. The smokiness is still there but it is ever so lightly sweetened by the balsamic and ambery tonka note, and then rounded out by the warmth of tobacco. The floral notes go unnoticed, as their function here seems to be that of a soothing olfactory balm, if you will—taking the edge off the rawer notes and lending softness and depth to the scent .

What is most impressive about Balsamo Della Mecca is that it does what most all-natural perfumes don’t do: it stays with you. After its weighty opening, it becomes this wonderfully breathy tobacco scent that you fear is going to disappear on you—it becomes a tobacco-y skin scent, really,  a rare thing among tobacco scents—and remarkably, it goes the distance. I get at least seven hours of wear from two generous spritzes of Balsamo Della Mecca.

Kevin from Now Smell This had an experience a little closer to mine, at least in terms of spices:

Balsamo della Mecca begins with rich, ‘leather-y’ labdanum and smoky frankincense. As the fragrance develops, interesting facets emerge — accords that smell of unsweetened cinnamon, “cola” and musky tobacco. The fragrance is dense and only lightens after hours of wear when the notes seem to “dry out” and turn powdery — a lovely phase when frankincense and benzoin/tonka predominate. […][¶] I don’t detect much tuberose and rose in Balsamo della Mecca … and agarwood is “overcome” by labdanum and frankincense. Balsamo della Mecca is a great incense perfume, wearable by men and women.

I was surprised at all-natural Balsamo della Mecca’s lasting power: over 10 hours. And in case you’re “worried,” it is not a sillage-monster. Balsamo della Mecca is an excellent layering scent and adds depth (and a touch of incense) to floral perfumes (it digests citrus fragrances in minutes).

Basenotes reviewers are entirely positive about the fragrance which is entered in the site under the name Balsamo della Mecca. Both men and women alike describe it in terms of uniqueness, spirituality, beauty, or a meditative feel. Just two examples:

  • Tall, dark and soulful. [¶] This one is an experience rather than a list of notes. Warm and comforting, this is a scent I reach for when it’s been a long day or promises to be one. It wraps me up. To be honest if scents can have a soul then I think this one has the soul of a healer. A sexy healer! […] warm, enduring and strangely compassionate[.]
  • this one is all about labdanum: resinous , spicy , with some tobacco and loads of frankincense, that i mixed for some pepper [¶] it opens up like a blast of some herbaceous spices including pepper , for a soup :)….gourmand like to my nose, and then goes on heated by the body heat for hours, like it melts layer by layer, its dense, resinous, sweetish scent with lot of spices, a little bit dark [¶] this one is unique, and i like it but i did get the feeling when i wore it that its not for this world 🙂 its for special purposes , some religious ceremonies….transcendental, the name fits it perfectly it does feel like balsamic!healing the soul 🙂

Even one person who was not moved by the scent gave it a positive review, finding Mecca Balsam to be both “complex” and “stellar”:

If I can sum this scent in one word it would be this: COMPLEX. It took me more than a few days of wearing before realizing I came nowhere close to unraveling its mysteries.

On my skin BALSAMO DELLA MECCA plays a symphony comprising of three main accords: balsamic labdanum, dry frankincense and aromatic tobacco, interspersed with the nuanced sweetness of dried fruits. The rose note is subtle at best, wearing close to the skin. Overall I find the scent warm and inviting with a texture that is dry but not quite as dusty nor as Lutens-like syrupy as I had initially feared. I don’t know if it’s my skin but the tobacco is surprisingly tenacious.

Despite its formidable charms, it failed to move me though I smiled a little when I caught a glimpse of a cleverly hidden tuberose. […] I also suspect some of the more glowing reviews could have been influenced at least in part by its rather exotic name and the association it carries with the annual Muslim pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. But it matters not. For what it’s worth, I think this release is nothing short of ‘stellar’.

Obviously my experience was completely different, though the common themes of cinnamon, strong tobacco, amber, and undertones of leather and incense are all there. How one interprets a note is naturally subject to one’s personal mental filters, and for me, it was Orange Spice black tea with amber and various degrees of raw spittoon tobacco juice. I’m afraid I don’t get any meditative or spiritual qualities from the scent, and I agree with the commentator above that the fragrance’s name and associations might have influenced some of the talk of spirituality on Basenotes and elsewhere. Then again, skin chemistry is key, and perhaps there are some batch variations as well.

I don’t think Mecca Balsam is for everyone. I think some people would find it far too masculine and, depending on skin chemistry, perhaps even dirty, thanks to the raw tobacco juice. That said, I encourage those who adore incense, labdanum, or Middle Eastern scents above all else to give Mecca Balsam a try. The fragrance is very well done, and my experience was obviously outside the norm. Plus, samples aren’t hard to obtain, and the perfume is offered in a variety of sizes, starting at €36 or about $50 for 15 ml. There are 20 positive reviews in a variety of languages from English to Russian and Asian linked on the Profumo.it site that attest to the fact that the fragrance is something different, original, and complex. Maybe you’ll get my Lapsang Souchang cinnamon orange tea with tobacco bouquet, or maybe you’ll experience the dark, dry, meditative, incense fragrance that takes you to Mecca at dawn. Either way, it’s quite an experience, and undoubtedly like nothing else you’ve really tried.

Cost & Availability: All of AbdesSalaam fragrances can be purchased directly from the Profumo.it website which ships its scents world-wide, along with many natural ingredients. Mecca Balsam seems to come in a few different versions and has several entries on the website, but the version I sampled came under the name Mecca Balsam (Arabian Series). That version offered in a variety of different sizes. All the following prices are without VAT: €36,70 for 15.5 ml, €78,69 for 32 ml (a little over 1 oz) and €112,13 for 50 ml/1.7 oz. At the current rate of exchange, the 50 ml bottle comes to a little over $154 in USD. The site says: “Prices are without VAT and are valid for USA and all non EEC countries[;] for shipments in the EEC 22% VAT will be ADDED to the amount in the shopping cart.” Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which sells a ton of AbdesSalaam Attar/Profumi scents. Mecca Balsam (Arabian Series) starts at $6.99 for a 1 ml vial.

52 thoughts on “AbdesSalaam Attar La Via del Profumo Mecca Balsam

  1. I love reading your reviews. So visual and also, so detailed I feel like I can smell the scent. Before finding your blog I never knew such perfumes existed.
    Happy new year!

    • Thank you, my dear. Niche perfumery is certainly a whole other world, and I fear that I’ve explored only the tiniest tip of the tip of the iceberg. 🙂 Happy new year to you too!

  2. I love La Via del Profumo as a house and also love AbdesSalaam’s constant push to redefine the boundaries of fragrance. Have you seen his work with re-introducing animal scents into fragrances that have been thinned by IFRA and money grabbing big guns? The work is on BaseNotes Kafka and so interesting.
    The site has wonderful 5.5ml samples that you can get boxed in a set of 6. The whole lot are so different to anything else I own.
    Thanks for the reminder.
    Portia xx

    • No, thank YOU for that great tip on the sample set! That sounds perfect and marvelous! I must admit that I was a bit overwhelmed by all that there was on the website to explore, but I’ll definitely look into the set. Thank you so much for letting me know. As for Mecca Balsam, how is it on your skin? Not Orange Pekoe or Orange Spice tea, I assume. lol.

      • My memory is not of orange at all but of oudh, incense and smoky woods with the softest piccolo piping of floral overtones. Now that you’ve mentioned the Orange Pekoe I will go back and retry it with fresh awareness and see if I get what you get.
        Just as an aside my Mum used to love Orange Pekoe tea and always had a red/black/gold metal flip top container brought back to Oz by friends traveling to the right places. I can’t wait to see if my memory strings are strummed.
        My memory doesn’t tell me the link, yet…
        Portia xx

        • I think it’s just my damn wonky skin, alas, though Kevin at NST did talk about cinnamon, and Freddie at Smelly Thoughts mentioned a lot of dried fruit. Everyone else experienced incense, labdanum, tobacco and smoky dryness — basically something much closer to your version. How I WISH I’d had that instead of cinnamon orange tea.

          Your mother’s red/gold/black box of beloved tea sounds wonderful. I love memories like that, and I can actually visualise both her box and the scene as she would open it, letting the aroma waft out. 🙂

  3. I also read the NYT article when it first came out and was entranced. Re-reading it again, and reading your review and those of others you mentioned, I remain so.

    Perhaps one of the reasons I have never purchased any of Dominique Dubrana’s perfumes is because I cherish my belief in the mystical, the magical, the deep connection to the soul that I can experience through fragrance. Reality can be so disillusioning!

    I hope you’re not disappointed by your first foray. I think your review is really well-balanced and shows a lot of thought. As they always do. Are you interested enough to consider sampling his stuff again?

    Now why can’t I get the image of my mother smoking a Silva Thin and drinking Constant Comment tea circa 1975 out of my head?

    • Most definitely, yes, I’m keen to explore other fragrances in the line! 🙂 As I noted in the review, my fascination with Mr. Dubrana has only grown. While my first foray was a bit disappointing, I chalk that up to my own skin. It was still a good scent, just not for me given how it manifested itself. He’s definitely doing something different, and I meant it when I urged those who like incense, ambers or Middle Eastern fragrances to try his line. The only thing that gives me pause is someone’s passing comment that he has tobacco as one of his main “axis” notes in his fragrances. If they all smell quite as raw as the part in Mecca Balsam, I may struggle a little, but I’m sure there is one of the many AbdesSalaam/Via del Profumo scents that will sweep me off my feet. For someone like myself who loves orientals, it must surely happen. lol

      To be honest, I’m almost more intrigued by the man behind the scents at this point. I find perfumers like him to be fascinating because they are clearly moved by the beat of their own drum, and by a vision that is very different to others out there. Plus, he seems to be both a true gentleman, along with being eccentric, strong-willed, different, and a very passionate about being true to his own beliefs. Perfumers like that are like catnip to me, intellectually. 🙂

      I’m a bit saddened though to hear that you are equally interested in him, but don’t want to try his scents. I TOTALLY get the fear of being disillusioned by reality, because that does happen. It has happened to me with certain legendary perfumes. [koff-Cuir de Russie-koff] But, on the flip side, magic can happen, too. Maybe it won’t be with Mecca Balsam, but maybe it will. Or perhaps with another one from his line. In other words, I hope you will at least consider the possibility, even if it’s just a thought. If you’re that intrigued by him and have a belief in perfumes creating a connection to the soul, it would be worth just pondering the idea. 🙂

      • I’m rather smitten with him myself, Kafkaesque, partly because he creates Tawaf, one of my favorite jasmines. I am thinking (obsessing, even) that you would be the right person to interview him.

        • Ohhhhhhh, a jasmine??! Tawaf is going straight to the top of my list of the next AbdesSalaam scent to try! As for interviewing him, I’d love to, but I fear he’d probably be more open and candid with those who are actually before him and partaking in his olfactory experience in the studio, as opposed to those who write to him. I think I’d like to try a few more from his line to get a better sense of his fragrances, and then maybe I’ll write to him. One never knows, he may be up for it.

          BTW, do you have any others from the line that you’ve tried and enjoyed? Have you tried a few or just Tawaf?

          • I’ve tried a few things from the line, not yet including Mecca Balsam. My favorites so far
            are Tawaf and the pure ambergris tincture, which is one of the most fascinating things that I’ve ever played with. But there are a lot of things in his line that I’ve never tried. Soon, I hope!

          • I was inspired by you and some other posters’ comments on interviewing him, so I wrote to Mr. Dubrana. He was lovely, and as gracious as he has been to others, offering to send me some samples which I insisted on paying for. I mentioned Tawaf because of you, so hopefully I will get to try your favorite. As for an interview, his schedule may not permit it since he will be travelling in the upcoming months, but he will keep me in mind, so fingers crossed.

            Thank you for the encouragement and suggestion.

          • Funny to read that, now you have met him! And right now that I have ordered the sample set (6 mini bottles in a wood box) after reading your 6th chapter about your cours with him. I have ordered Tawaf, Tasneem, Oasis, Oak Mos, Mecca Balsam, Aqua Santa.

          • Ha, you have a good point on the funny aspect, since this review was the very first time I ever wrote about him. 😀 There are some lovely choices in your box of Mignon samples, Merlina. I hope you find a few that work for you on your skin and that you love!

  4. Mouthwatering review, Kafka (i.e. the olfactory equivalent, whatever that is).
    I also read that article on Dominiqua Dubrana in NYT, a while back.
    That photo alone speaks volumes. Or awakens one’s curiosity.
    Sure, it’s marketing, sure, the man behind the scents can be more interesting than his creations.
    However, I can only agree with you when you said:

    “I find perfumers like him to be fascinating because they are clearly moved by the beat of their own drum, and by a vision that is very different to others out there.” (That’s why I myself like and appreciate the Nasomatto line, for example.)

    Now I wonder how this one compares to, say, Al Qurashi’s Kiswat al Kaaba or Arabian Oud’s Musk Kaaba (I never tried either one of these). Maybe there are no similarities with Mecca Balsam. However, the Hajj pilgrims keep mentioning the musky, woody, heavenly sweet scent of the Kaaba cloth, the Kiswa(h), and I wonder if there is a common thread here. I understand that the cloth gets pre-treated with only the finest scent(s).

    • Thank you for your kind words, Bruno. I’m glad you enjoyed the review. Have you tried anything from the line?

      I’m afraid I can’t help in terms of comparisons to the other two scents you mentioned, or to Kaaba cloth. I have the impression that Mr. Dubrana was influenced more by the overall smells of the city and the combined aroma of the perfumed pilgrims than by any one specific item, but I’m sure the cloth played some role in that. Do you suppose they are all pre-treated with the same scent, or just the finest fragrances in general?

      • No, unfortunately I haven’t tried any yet. But Hindu Kush and Oud Caravan #2 sound especially promising, from what I read.

        As for the Kiswah, I think they always use one specific scent, and I cannot help but wonder who was the original nose allowed to create it in the first place. Imagine the honor, imagine the pressure!

        • Is Oud Caravan #2 still available, Bruno? I thought I had read somewhere that only the new one, Oud Caravan #3, is offered. I will check the website. I know Luca Turin reviewed the #3 in his Style.arabia column, so you may want to Google that and give it a read if you’re planning on ordering any samples.

          BTW, I have put aside my Mecca Balsam sample to send to you, as I think you’d enjoy it. 🙂

  5. I find him intriguing as well. I’m even smitten by the photo of him, and I don’t mean (only) in a superficial way.

    My not exploring his scents is strictly due to my own limitations. I thank you for so graciously nudging me along. You’re right: magic can happen. A simple statement, but it has profound meaning for me. I appreciate your understanding.

    You yourself create magic for your readers here, and you bring me such joy with your words and images. Thank-you so much for all that you share, it’s truly a gift.

    • You’re very sweet, Holly. I’m very touched by your support and your praise. You’re always so encouraging that you quite energize me. Thank you for that, and for everything.

      BTW, I’m love that photo of him myself. It’s why I didn’t shrink it to a small size. He’s utterly magnificent in his blue robes with just his mysterous kohl-rimmed eyes gazing out of you enigmatically. He must be utterly fascinating to talk to, and I envy that NYT reporter his experience in the perfume studio.

      • Thank-you! I’m so glad that you feel encouraged!

        And you have encouraged me. After almost four years, I have taken the plunge. I just ordered 10 samples from STC. I love his “mignon” sets, but I’m not ready for that yet.

        I agree with FeralJasmine. I think you’d be perfect to do an interview. I noticed on Basenotes that he personally replied to many comments. While that was some time ago, I have the sense that it would still be the case.

        Maybe a trip to Italy is in the works for you. Magic happens 😉

  6. What is the experience with order from the Via del Profumo website? Ship to the US with no problems?
    Anybody know what the cost of the sample pack is, with shipping?

    • I’ve never read of anyone having problems with shipping from the site, but, as I wrote in my review, I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance. Perhaps someone else will have information about the shipping costs.

    • I went to their website, and they offer “mignon” sets. There is no set price for a sample set as each scent has a different price, so the total cost will be dependent upon what you order. I personally ordered samples today from STC as I can’t commit to more than that. The profumo.it site does convert euros to dollars, if that would help. I’ve also seen from Basenotes, albeit years ago, that Mr. Dubrana does respond to individual requests. From his responses from years ago, I have noted that he was personally involved and would include samples (gratis) that he chose according to what he felt was indicated, or would accept your request for what you would prefer. I don’t know if this is still the case.

      • Yes, the “Mignon” set isn’t inexpensive as the prices can add up. So, for mere testing purposes, it’s too expensive for me as well and the Surrender to Chance option is more practical. But it’s a fabulous deal for someone who already knows which fragrances they love and simply wants small decants of each. I love that he offers that option, with such a wide selection as well.

        Thanks to you and some others here, I wrote to Mr. Dubrana. I rarely contact perfumers as I have this thing about imposing on people, but I wrote to him about an interview, about his suggestions for what scents I should try as the best embodiment of his aesthetic, and about buying small samples from him. He was as baffled as I was about the unexpected, strange way that Mecca Balsam manifested itself on my skin, and offered to send me another sample to test. (He actually offered to send a bottle, which I could not accept. But what a generous offer!) Anyway, I hope to be able to buy a few little vials to test more of his line, as I really respect and admire what he is doing. (Plus, no aromachemicals and that hideous, blasted ISO E Super! lol.)

        Which fragrances did you order from StC, Holly?

        • Oh, I’m so glad you contacted him. Bravo and yay! I hope some day you will be able to interview him, or have the means to visit him in Italy. If you have a moment, I’d love to know what scents he suggested.

          I browsed his site and chose what I did strictly based on that. I didn’t read any reviews other than yours of Mecca Balsam. I suspect that most of what I chose is not the sort of thing you’d like based on your reviews.

          African Night
          Gypsy Queen
          Hindu Kush
          Holy Water
          Lake Flower
          Venezia Giardini Segreti

          I stopped at ten, and the only ones I really want beyond that are Rose Heart and Tcharas. I was hoping to find a scent that is based on orange blossom as I just adore it, but only in its natural form. Morning Flower sounds like it highlights neroli, but Holy Water may fit the bill for orange blossom. If not, I may eventually just buy the eo.

          Thanks again for your review of Mecca Balsam and gently encouraging me to move beyond my fear of disappointment and remember that magic happens 🙂

          • I love orange blossom too, along with very bold florals, so I’ll definitely look into a few of these! With regard to Mr. Dubrana, he didn’t make any actual suggestions. I had mentioned Hindu Kush and Tawaf, but we’ll see what happens.

            Let me know if you find any you love, Holly. 🙂

  7. I smelled the tobacco and the slightly rubbery scent right in the beginning and then it devolved into something else, maybe a little ashy at one point, and yes, mentholated a bit. The booziness and the incense( yeah-I’m shameless lol) were also there. I find it mysterious somehow. I didn’t smell any floral or fruit, but then again, that could just be me. It seemed to have heft without being weighty. I liked the strength of it. The fragrance reminds me of the picture of him actually.
    Loved the review. LOVED the picture of him. Thanks so much for including that.

    • You’re very welcome, Ellen. I loved the photo too. He looks fiercely magnificent there. As for the scent, it sounds wonderful on you! Just how I hope it is on everyone else. I definitely agree that it seems to have heft, but without actual heaviness. And you know, I think you’re right in how the fragrance reminds one of him in that photo. That’s very true, but it may be because the photo is so damn striking, one can’t get the image out of one’s head when sniffing the perfume. 🙂

      • So true. The eyes seem smiling and soulful all at once. Definitely present, but with an air of mystery as well. I agree with FeralJasmine, you should interview him if you can. Another trip perhaps? Hindu Kush is gorgeous I think.

  8. Ah. Gorgeous review. As soon as I saw that photograph of Dominique Dubrana, I remember reading about him, and it must have been the NYT article. His eyes are spellbinding, and it sounds like he can weave the same spells with his creations. Beautiful, Kafka.

  9. Dearest Kafka
    What a card M. Dubrana sounds!?! Like some latter day Sir Richard (Francis) Burton, though for scent rather than sex!
    I simply must try this, partly because the notes in that opening sound divine, but mostly because your opinion seems to diverge so thoroughly with that of others. Could anything else pique curiosity so much?
    Cinnamon and orange are everywhere this time of year, especially with our new found fad for ‘German’ Christmas markets, so I should be very sad if that’s all I’m left with too.
    So I’ll order the set so helpfully mentioned by Portia and get my Djebella dry cleaned all ready for a transcendental experience!!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • He’s amazingly cool, my dear Beau, and the most courteous gentleman, in the full, old-fashioned sense of the word. I definitely think my experience was NOT the norm, and an oddity, but my skin really amplifies sweetness, so that must be the cause. Mecca Balsam seems to be hugely adored for its dark, meditative, resinous Orientalism, so I definitely think you should try it. Almost everyone has the same sort of impression of darkened labdanum with incense and tobacco. A number of people detect an Oud-y note, even though the fragrance has none.

      Only a few have picked up the dried fruit aspect that I encountered, with one being the chap whose Basenote comment I quoted, and another being Freddie of Smelly Thoughts. He got a lot of oud, though, and nothing like my Cinnamon Spiced tea. So, bottom line, I think you’re safe. 🙂 Do let me know what you think when you try it. And if you’re ordering the Mignon Set of 5.5 mls that Portia mentioned, you may want to keep Hindu Kush and Tawaf in mind, as quite a few people seem to love those 2 scents as well. 🙂

      • Dearest Kafka
        Thank you for the recommendations for others in the series. My slight concern is that, as with you, my skin amplifies sweetness quite excessively, making most gourmands and nearly all heavy-vanillas an impossibility, Equally, whilst I love an orange note, I am peculiarly sensitive to it… I find it in nearly everything Hermes has ever done, like a Guerlainade.
        All of which notwithstanding, this sounds like an experience not to be missed.
        Oh, one thing, a phrase I didn’t understand what does ‘the capo of perfume critics’ mean? I’m a stickler for expressions that elude me!
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

        • “Capo” is an Italian word known most commonly in the context of the mafia, and means “boss” or chief. “Capo di tutti Capo,” for example, means the boss of all bosses. In this case, the NY Times writer is really calling Luca Turin the Don Corleone of perfume critics. lol. 🙂

  10. I love Mecca Balsam. It is unique. I also love that I sorted all of the 2013 perfume acquisitions so I could find this and waft it as I give this post a second read. Words have failed me several times when I have started to write about this ‘fume. Tastes good too!

    • Judging by everyone’s description of Mecca Balsam, it definitely seems unique. My damn, stupid skin….. I’m not at all surprised that you love it, Jordan, as it seems very you. 🙂

  11. I know this tea exactly – and while I don’t find it offensive by any means, I wouldn’t really seek out a perfume that smells like it. The backstory definitely talks a huge game, so I don’t think your expectations were unreasonably high. Well, perhaps they were – but given the backstory/inspiration, I would have had high expectations, too. Since your experience seems somewhat divergent from many, perhaps it’s still worth trying. I just want to find the next perfume that knocks my socks off, but it’s been hard to find! Unfortunately, even if this one plays better on me than it does on you, I don’t think this would be it anyhow.

    • I think the more typical, traditional experience may be something you’d find different, but I don’t think you’re really a hardcore, Middle Eastern fragrance sort of chap, so I don’t think Mecca Balsam would ultimately be for you, even if it were the normal way. Some of the other fragrances in the line, however, may be more your thing. I’ll be getting some more samples, so hopefully, I’ll find one that fits your personal style and tastes much more. 🙂

  12. this smells to me if i remember correctly very similar to the drydown of Arabie by SL. i can’t tell you which is more potent!

    • Oh, how interesting! Arabie is one I haven’t tried yet, but I have a sample sitting in my Lutens pile. If I recall correctly, Arabie is another Lutens with labdanum amber (as opposed to regular amber), the way Ambre Sultan is. So the labdanum overlap would make sense. so I will definitely keep your comments in mind when I try it.

      And, Dzingly, I am so glad to see you here. A big hurrah for a baby first step in coming out of lurkerdom. I will put away the spray can of white musk. For now…. 😉

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    • It’s definitely a matter of personal taste and individual skin chemistry. The way the tobacco was here didn’t really suit my tastes, either.

      • yeah, so.. i decided to try to bring down that note a bit by mixing it with other samples that i bought from him, so i took 6ml spray bottle and poured cca 3ml of Mecca Balsam then poured cca 1ml Tea of the Isles (cinnamon, grapefruit, cloves), a hint of Jasmine (Venezia giardini) and cca 1ml of Civet, Castoreum.. (Tcharas).

        I guess i went too far with bringing that note down (^_^) , just the Tea of the Isles was enough to do it. Now, what i created is something more like unisex mainstream floral oriental, something that could even easily stand on the shelf of some department store (but this one is actually all natural!). It lost that simplicity and his trademark and seems much complex, nonetheless i like it. All of his perfumes seem easily mixable imo.

        There are so many perfumes in the mainstream and niche perfumery that i tried and didn’t like, and many of them were so repulsive to me that i couldn’t even stand them. And never has that happened with AbdesSalaam Attar line, i can not like some perfume but can wear it nonetheless without being disgusted by it, and thats definitely because its all natural. I really really enjoy this line.

        • Fascinating about how you mixed scents, and the ones you chose for blending. I haven’t tried Tea of the Isles or Tcharas, but I think anything with jasmine and some skanky elements would work well with Mecca Balsam. Have you tried his 2 latest scents, the jasmines created for Surrender to Chance called Surrender and Cold Water Canyon? I really like the latter in particular but, unfortunately, my skin eats through both faster than what’s usual for the AbdesSalaam Attar line. If you like jasmine, though, you should definitely get samples to give both a sniff. They’re very nicely done.

          • Yeah, im not really so much in the know about perfumes and notes as you are for instance, so i kind of mixed them in what i felt was the right way after sampling them. Yeah i really like Jasmine and haven’t yet tried the ones you mention, but yeah its the same case with Venezia Giardini it doesn’t last long, but what a perfume!

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