Tola (sometimes written as “Tola Perfumes“) is a new fragrance house from Dubai founded in 2013 by Dhaher bin Dhaher. He is the nose behind its creations, a self-taught perfumer who grew up around perfumes and whose story is told in a detailed Fragrantica editorial about the line. If you’re curious about the meaning of the word “tola,” it refers to an ancient Indian measurement unit which predates the metric system. All the fragrances are available in either eau de parfum or extrait form, but I have focused on the more accessible eau de parfum concentration. In an earlier post, I looked at Misqaal and Masha. Today, it’s time for Anbar and Gulbadan.
Top notes: apple, plum, strawberry and orange
Middle notes: carnation, orris, jasmine and cinnamon
Base notes: cedar, patchouli, siam benzoin, labdanum, incense, tonka bean, vanilla, white musk and ambergris.
Anbar opens on my skin as a virtual clone of Arabian Oud‘s lovely Kalemat, though small tiny differences soon appear and the overall end result is very different. Anbar is a very potent, intense bouquet of boozy plum and mixed fruits with something very similar to a honeyed rose, all flecked with ambered warmth, woodiness, musk, a synthetic oud, and a hint of incense. Where it differs from Kalemat is partially in terms of the prominence of certain notes. There is very little incense in Anbar, and no definite rose (though the feeling or suggestion is there, thanks to the fruit-chouli). Anbar also has much less honey, woodiness, and booziness.
The greatest difference, however, is that Anbar feels much more gourmand in nature and much less amber-centric. It takes only a few minutes for strong veins of caramel and vanilla to appear. The caramel is heavy, cloying and musky. Hints of cinnamon and iris lurk at the edges, but they are very muted and die away after a few minutes. There are also a number of synthetic elements. Initially, there is a tiny streak of something in the base that evokes the impression of grain alcohol or rubbing alcohol. The oud also smells purely synthetic, much like a Montale fragrance. I don’t detect any strawberry, carnation, apple, or jasmine on my skin.
Anbar opens with great strength and feels very dense in nature due to the richness of the notes. In actuality, it is quite airy, though far from thin or gauzy. Three small spritzes (more like dribbles, actually) from my slightly wonky atomizer created a very forceful cloud with 4 inches in sillage. That number takes quite a while to drop.
Anbar shifts by fractional degrees. The most noticeable change occurs 45 minutes into the perfume’s evolution. Anbar turns even sweeter still, with a heavier dose of very plummied molasses. The woody notes also become more prominent, in particular the cedar, but the light touch of incense has largely faded away. There is something a little jarring about the increasingly heavy caramel note, primarily because it isn’t blended seamlessly with the other notes. In addition, it combines with the amber to have a strange effect on the cedar, resulting in something that feels simultaneously very fetid, mushy, and musky.
Anbar turns softer and creamier at the end of the first hour. The vanilla becomes very prominent, infusing all the other notes. Anbar is now a very plummy amber fragrance with a top layer of rich vanilla, as well as honeyed fruitiness that continues to resemble a jammy, fruitchouli rose. The key notes are followed by golden caramel and musky cedar, and the whole thing rests on a bottom layer of very synthetic oud with white musk. It still smells strongly of Kalemat, only Anbar is now its more vanillic, caramel, synthetic, and gourmand sister.
All resemblance to Kalemat fades at the end of the second hour and the start of the third, as the vanilla starts to take over as one of Anbar’s two main elements. The vanilla and soft amber are very pretty, but the growing strength of the synthetics gives me a headache, especially the oud note which resembles that in a Montale fragrance more and more. Anbar continues to feel very potent, though the sillage has dropped and hovers 1.5 inches above the skin after about 3.5 hours. The perfume is turning increasingly into an vanilla-amber duet with dark, plummy fruits, synthetic woodiness, and caramel. The latter has lessened or, perhaps, it simply feels more diffused, thanks to the vanilla.
The synthetic aspects finally become quieter about 6.5 hours into Anbar’s development, leaving a soft, pretty amber-vanilla fragrance, flecked lightly by dark, stewed fruits and synthetic woodiness. The white musk remains, but it’s no longer so apparent or sharp. As a whole, Anbar feels more balanced and smoother, with better integrated notes. It is now almost a skin scent, though it is still easy to smell the fragrance up close.
Anbar’s final phase begins on my skin roughly at the start of the 9th hour. The perfume is now a really lovely, creamy, fluffy vanilla-caramel mousse that is almost like a flan, but lighter. It is decorated with dollops of candied plum, and a few sprinkles of abstract woodiness. The synthetics are still there, but they’re milder and the overall scent is pretty enough that they’re easy to ignore. In its final moments, Anbar is nothing more than a blur of golden sweetness. It dies away roughly 13.75 hours from the start.
I couldn’t find any detailed reviews for Anbar. There is nothing in its Basenotes’ entry, and the one comment on its Fragrantica page does not talk about how the perfume smells. The detailed Fragrantica article about the Tola line as a whole only has a small blurb on Anbar which states:
Anbar is a decidedly rich and fruited eau de parfum, bringing to mind fresh and dried fruits like apples and strawberries. It pulls in sharp cinnamon and carnation in the heart, and finishes with a warm, slightly fiery base of ambergris, musk, cedar and labdanum. The touch of jasmine is heady and sweet, as one would expect in the tropics during a warm evening.
Anbar isn’t a bad fragrance, and the drydown is very pretty. However, when taken as a whole, I personally prefer Kalemat, by a wide margin. I think it’s a smoother, better balanced, and much more appealing scent, thanks to its amber-centric focus, its incense, booziness, honeyed roses, and dry cedar. It’s also significantly less expensive, at roughly $69 for a 100 ml bottle. Anbar costs $285 for a small 45 ml bottle. However, Kalemat is not a gourmand fragrance, so if your tastes skew more towards a much sweeter scent with heavy elements of caramel and vanilla, then give Anbar a sniff.
Tola’s description of Gulbadan, as provided by various perfume sites like Osswald New York, reads as follows:
Gulbadan means “with a body like a rose flower” in Persian. Gulbadan was inspired by an Imperial Perso-Turkic Princess, the daughter of an Indian Emperor and a descent of the lines of highest Central Asian Aristocracy.
A light autumn breeze carries the scent of fresh ﬂowers from the courtyard below as her hand softly caresses the body of a single rose – a gift from an admirer unlike any other who came before. Hints of jasmine, rose and orchid linger as she follows him…Gulbadan captures the essence of this oriental tale of lovers, eliciting the subtle sensuality that embodies feminine indulgence.
Top notes: lemon, lime, green leaves, peach, plum, apple, pineapple and star anise
Middle notes: orchid, ylang-ylang, geranium, lilac, rose, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, orris root and french orange flower
Base notes: cedar, patchouli, sandalwood, agarwood (oud), styrax, vetiver, oakmoss, white musk, ambergris and vanilla.
That is an monstrously long list, but, thankfully, not all 27 notes hit you at the same time. (It’s a different case for another Tola fragrance, Masha, which does assault you with a good portion of its notes, simultaneously.) No, Gulbadan does not open with the kitchen sink. I’ve tested Gulbadan three times and, each time, it opens on my skin with lily of the valley and jasmine, followed by limes, lemons, greenness, a touch of roses, and one more thing… cow feces.
Not “horse,” not the more abstract “barnyard,” but actual, enormous, steaming, hot piles of cow dung. Ripe cow dung. Lots and lots of cow dung. Did I mention “fresh,” “steaming,” and “hot,” yet? Perhaps I should emphasize it one more time, just to be sure I convey the full aroma in question. These are not small nuances, by the way, these are not subtle whiffs. In three separate tests, my arm radiated a gigantic pile of just-released cow droppings.
It gets worse. I realise you won’t believe me, but it does. Gulbadan’s eau de cattle poo and white flowers is also imbued with orange blossom syrup, as well as white musk which adds a very disconcerting whiff of cleanness to my piles of steaming, hot ordure. There is such a dirtiness to the fecal note that it actually takes on a faint undertone of blue cheese, which makes me wonder if the oud is the cause. It has to be the oud; there is no other explanation.
The overall result makes my stomach turn, especially as the dung grows stronger and riper. Within minutes, I smell of billowing, hot cow droppings with a white flower bomb, synthetic white musk, and a wisp of Gorgonzola blue cheese. Tiny flickers of raw, uncured, cow hides lurk underneath, though they are very muffled. The white flowers try to fight back, but, initially, they are completely unsuccessful.
Things improve and change 15 minutes into Gulbadan’s development, though I can’t say that full relief is completely in sight. The steaming, hot turd note retreats to the sidelines, leaving a Big White Flower Bomb with a whole other set of problems.
It is sweet. And, my God, does it becomes sweeter still. So, so, so incredibly sweet. The screeching jasmine and lily of the valley are now infused with an incredibly sharp, very cloying, white candy cane vanilla, followed by orange blossom syrup and synthetic white musk. Plus, it’s not as if the various eau de cattle notes vanish completely. They are still there, hovering just at the edges. The whole thing is monstrously potent and intense. In fact, the white flowers are so incredibly, enormously shrill, sharp, and sweet that my head hurt. So did my teeth, for some peculiar reason that was quite a first for me.
I’ve tested Gulbadan three times, primarily because I kept hoping things would be different or that it would eventually turn into something worthy of an “Imperial Persian Princess” in an oriental love story. I’m afraid I’ve never lasted more than 45 minutes. Frankly, the thought of a full test horrified me. The Tola fragrances that I’ve tried thus far have had the fortitude and lifespan of Keith Richards, so the possibility of 12 to 14 hours (or more) with Gulbadan left me bleating like a terrified nanny goat. Actually, I was rather close to bleating in my attempts to get Gulbadan off my skin. Nothing seemed to help, not rubbing alcohol, nail varnish remover, baby oil, or even pure, undiluted Tide HE/High Energy concentrate on my arm. Five attempts and one full shower later, I finally managed to get the shrill white flowers to shut up and go away, but, to my misery, what I was left with was a lingering whiff of raw, uncured cow hides.
If you think all this is a gross exaggeration or hyperbole, let me point you to the one review for Gulbadan that exists on the perfume’s Fragrantica page. It comes from “Cereza,” who has much more fortitude than I do and who endured with the fragrance despite a desperate urge to scrub it into oblivion. I’m going to quote the review in its entirety because her disgust is palpable, and because you may not believe me otherwise:
Oh good God. First I will admit that I’m not a scrubber, I mean – when I put on a sample for testing I’ll suffer trough it and I won’t scrub, I’m all about giving chances to develop.
“Gulbadan” was very tempting to scrub. It’s…special.
When I went to high school there were those kids who’s family had a cattle farm. They fed them exclusively “silage”, you know the fermented, high moiusture grass. If you are familiar with it you will get what I will tell next – they stank like that thing EVERY day, no matter how new/fancy their clothes were, no matter how often they showered. For me it was the worst smell in the universe, it’s something between sour, rotten grass and animal feces, but worse.
So imagine my surprise when I put on “Gulbadan” and I’m hit in the face with the smell I remember, it’s disgusting, oh boy, how disgusting this is. Why would ANYONE make a perfume like this? There is 39438905 notes listed, but none of them shine trough, but they together make the “lovely” smell of fermented grass. It clinged to my skin for three hours with no development, after those hours it finally faded away and I was left with sour musk.
If you want to try this, do it at your own risk. Or maybe just to see what sort of perfume shouldn’t be ever made. Or maybe this is supossed to be like “Secretions Magnetifiques”? To shock? I don’t suposse so.
After trying, I chuckle at this – Gulbadan means “with a body like a rose flower” . Haha, what rose? It should be named “with a body like cow feces and barn”
Fragrantica’s editorial piece praising the Tola line presents a very different picture of Gulbadan. Very different indeed. Their description reads as follows:
Gulbadan is a thick and sensuous swirl of musk and flowers. It’s a complex mixture of the whole bouquet (gardenia, lily of the valley, ylang ylang, orange blossom, iris) with noticeable anise, and a rich base that includes a big range of notes: ambergris, cedar, oakmoss, musk, oud, patchouli, sandalwood, storax, vanilla and vetiver. What sounds like it could be a complete overload for the senses is indeed a force to be reckoned with, but its complexities and nuances unfold like silk in the wind. It maintains an airy quality of voluptuousness, an old-world sweet musk-based perfume, a voyage into a golden past.
Gulbadan costs $285 for a minuscule 45 ml bottle. I would not wear Gulbadan if it were free.
Disclosure: Perfume samples were courtesy of Osswald NY. That did not influence this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.