Penhaligon’s Trade Routes Collection are fragrances inspired by the exotic spices and woods brought to London in the 19th century from the Orient and Middle East. Two of the oud scents in the line are As Sawira and Levantium. I’ll take a look at each in turn. In general, my Reviews en Bref are for fragrances that — for whatever reason — didn’t seem to merit one of my detailed, exhaustive reviews. In this case, it’s because neither fragrance was particularly complex or enjoyable.
As Sawira is an eau de parfum that was created by Christian de Provenzano and released in 2015 as a limited-edition part of the Trade Routes Collection. According to Twisted Lily, the fragrance’s inspiration and its notes are as follows:
As Sawira, a new addition to the Trade Routes Collection, is inspired by the city Essaoiura, which became the first seaport of Morocco in the nineteenth century. With extensive trade connections to London, many of the commodities which adorned the wharves of the docklands will have originated from there.
Bergamot, Davana, Saffron, Absinthe, Rose, Jasmine, Carnation, Clove, Cardamom, Labdanum, Amber, Oud, Myrrh, Gaiacwood, Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Patchouli, Musk, Vanilla, Maltol.
As Sawira opens on my skin with a synthetic oud that feels like non-oud created from cypriol and some generic Givaudan laboratory concoction. It’s laced with a thin rose note, then blanketed by a generally indistinguishable spice mix where only the saffron is clearly and individually defined. There is a trace of booziness, though it never feels like the sort from davana. In the base, there is a subtle streak of creaminess, but it doesn’t smell like vanilla. Wisps of muskiness and other woods hover all around. In all honesty, I find it virtually impossible to pull out most of the individual notes from the hazy bouquet except for the fake oud, the buttery saffron, and the pale, reedy, watery rose. All of it feels as transparent as an eau de toilette, never as full-bodied as an eau de parfum, and nothing remotely like a true Middle Eastern fragrance whatsoever.
There is almost no development to As Sawira on my skin. The nebulous mix merely grows softer, quieter, and a trace sweeter as time passes. The rose retreats to the sidelines after 2 hours, leaving just a simple, basic spiced oud with little substance. As Sawira turns into a skin scent 2.75 hours into its development, and feels like it’s about to die an hour after that as a mere wisp of spiced woodiness with a hint of rose at the very back. The whole thing vanishes 4.75 hours from the start with 3 very large smears roughly equal to 2 sprays from a bottle. I tried it twice, and it lasted even less time with the equivalent of one spray.
Levantium is an eau de toilette that was also created by Christian de Provenzano and released last year as a permanent part of the Trade Routes Collection. It, too, was inspired by the 19th century trade shipments to London, as Penhaligon’s explains:
Lavish mounds of rum and spices, flowers, woods and resins all found their way to London, stacked high in the warehouses and around the wharves. Levantium opens with a shot of rum-like davana and absinthe, and the glittering warmth of saffron.
According to Penhaligon’s and Luckyscent, the notes are:
Bergamot, Davana, Saffron, Absinthe, Rose, Jasmine, Violet, Clove, Cardamom, Ylang Ylang, Peach, Amber, Myrrh, Guaiacwood, Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Oud, Patchouli, Musk, Maltol, Vanilla.
You may notice that those notes are almost the exact same ones as the ones listed for As Sawira, with the exception of the violet, peach, and ylang-ylang. Those additions make little difference on my skin because, just like As Sawira, it’s very hard to pull out many of the individual notes in Levantium. In essence, it opens on my skin as a more forceful, intense, synthetic, and spicier version of its sibling. Or, since Levantium came first, it might be more accurate to say that As Sawira is the toned-down, milder, softer, slightly sweeter, and slightly more floral version of Levantium. The balance of individual elements is amped up in Levantium, particularly the “oud” which is muskier, smokier, and earthier than the note in As Sawira. The spices are a hair darker, more piquant and pungent, with the clove being almost as noticeable as the buttery saffron. The rose is significantly weaker, more akin to the idea of rose than a strong, clearly delineated, rich or beefy note. Once in a while, I think I can vaguely detect a sliver of musky peach, but the notes are too hazy for me to really be able to tell easily. For the most part, Levantium basically smells just like a slightly better version of a Montale fragrance.
Levantium doesn’t change significantly on my skin until the final stages of its drydown. All that happens is that the prominence or strength of certain notes varies. After an hour, the fragrance feels quite harshly chemical and rougher, thanks to the “oud” and smoky guaiac blasting away. It really feels to me like a synthetic and very cypriol (nagarmotha)-heavy fragrance more than anything else, particular by the middle of the 3rd hour when the wooded smokiness overwhelms many of the other elements. There is a sliver of creaminess that appears at the same time, but it’s very muffled and minor. Roughly 4 hours in, Levantium hovers just above the skin, centered almost entirely on smoky, musky, cypriol, synthetic woods with nary any rose and only the smallest sprinkling of generic spices.
The only nice part of Levantium occurs towards the end. At the top of the 5th hour, the scent no longer feels so harsh and chemical: the woods weaken; the smokiness and muskiness retreat to the sidelines; the vanilla awakens in the base to create a nice tonka-like creaminess; and amber emerges as a significant element, adding a drop of honey to the golden softness with which it has imbued the other elements, taming them for the better. It’s a shame the whole thing is so translucent and thin, because Levantium is almost nice, as Montale-like fragrances go. (No, I’m not a fan.) In its final moments, Levantium is a wisp of creaminess and golden warmth, lightly flecked by the last vestige of woodiness. All in all, it lasted just a hair under 7.25 hours with 3 large smears equal to 2 sprays from a bottle.
ALL IN ALL:
I have to admit, I find As Sawira rather baffling. Penhaligon’s released it as a more expensive limited-edition fragrance that is supposedly more concentrated by virtue of being an eau de parfum. Yet, it is a weaker, less nuanced, and more simplistic version of something issued roughly 6 months before for less. The major olfactory differences is that As Sawira is more floral, slightly sweeter, less musky, much less smoky, and not as harshly synthetic. It costs $200 for 100 ml of eau de parfum, while Levantium costs $160 for 100 ml of eau de toilette but, if I had smelt the two blindly, I would have thought As Sawira was the eau de toilette. It feels positively translucent on me and is so soft, it took great effort to detect it after a while. All of that is separate from its wholly generic profile that resembles so many other rose-oud fragrances on the market and from its brief duration.
I’m not alone in thinking As Sawira is a weak, generic scent with enormous similarity to Levantium. On As Sawira’s Fragrantica page, the majority of votes for longevity (6) put the fragrance at “Moderate,” which is defined as 3 to 6 hours. As one commentator put it, As Sawira is just “an overpriced skin scent!” In terms of opinions about the olfactory bouquet, most people think it smells like Levantium because… well, it does. The same perfumer created the fragrances with virtually the exact same notes. And none of it smells distinctive or original. To quote one Fragrantica commentator, “Muzzbait”:
absolutely; it has the same DNA as levantium. unforch, both tread water in a sea of derivative ‘been-there-smelt-that’ familiarity. penhaligon’s was quite late to the ‘oud’ party, and as always, if you don’t lead the pack, you play catch-up, which results in people ‘having smelt’ this somewhere before already.
it’s not bad (much more bearable than levantium), but with that said, neither are amazing. nothing new, and yet not amazing. the resins are front and centre, there’s a balsamic ‘fizzle’ going on, but other than that, it’s quite generic.
On Levantium’s Fragrantica page, reviews are mixed. In fact, a few people can’t seem to make up their mind if they like the fragrance or not. You can read the comments for yourself, since I generally don’t provide in-depth comparative quotes in my “En Bref” posts.
Bottom line, I wasn’t impressed by either scent. Both are wishy-washy, shapeless, banal interpretations of Middle Eastern fragrances with very British circumspection. It’s like the “stiff upper lip,” Queen Victoria version of an Arabic fragrance. Laughable. If you want to try a woody, saffron, oud fragrance with a beefy rose, full body, great longevity and, yes, some synthetics (but at a lower price), you’d get more bang for your buck from a real Middle Eastern fragrance, like one of Arabian Oud’s Woody creations. You can find them on eBay, or you can order from Arabian Oud in London via a special deal for my readers, since the company just informed me that they’ve expanded their shipping to include eau de parfums in addition to oil-based scents. (You can read the details at the end of the review for Kalemat Amber.) Or, you may want to consider any number of Western oud fragrances that do the exact same thing with more success, complexity, and balance than Penhaligon’s. I wouldn’t waste your money on these.