It’s difficult to create truly original fragrances after more than a hundred years of modern perfumery, but some brands still make the attempt nonetheless, particularly in the niche world. AJ Arabia does not appear to be one of those companies. It sticks to the tried-and-true, to the well-worn path — which would be perfectly fine except for the fact that the path is too well-worn in the case of Black IV, and also falls squarely into mainstream territory as well. We’re talking about a Sephora or department store style fragrance with only a barely elevated quality differential but for a significantly higher price.
AJ Arabia is a Middle Eastern niche and semi-luxury brand that was founded by Ali Aljaberi in Abu Dhabi in 2014. There are five fragrances in The Black Collection, and they are all pure parfums. According to the official copy quoted by many retail sites, their bottle and packaging design was “inspired by the grandiose architecture of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque.” The Middle Eastern inspiration allegedly extends to the scents as well: AJ Arabia’s website states that they are a “splendid example of contemporary Arab spirit, modern, but at the same time, traditional perfumes.” Yet, despite that claim of an Arabian aesthetic, all the fragrances were created by a French nose who is the senior perfumer for M. Micallef, Jean-Claude Astier. And it shows. Everything that I’ve smelt so far from AJ Arabia feels decidedly more European or French in my opinion than anything Middle Eastern in style. It’s disappointing, but not as disappointing as the fact that they also smell excessively commercial or mainstream in character.
Black IV appears to have been added to the collection in 2015. (Luckyscent is the only one which states 2014 as a release date, but everyone else began talking about the fragrance in 2015.) Like the others, it is also a pure parfum and was created by Jean-Claude Astier. The note list is:
Bergamot, blackcurrant, prune, rose, white flowers, vanilla, musk, leather, sandalwood
Black IV opens on my skin with juicy but crisp and slightly lemony bergamot drizzled over osmanthus and a diffuse, gossamer veil of fresh jasmine. Clean musk weaves in and out, followed moments later by a rather limp, pale rose and by a rather abstract fruitiness. The latter hints at something dark, but never translates to either prunes or cassis (blackcurrant) in any solid way. An equally amorphous, abstract suggestion of woodiness stirs in the base, generically white and soft, running alongside a thick streak of creamy vanilla. As a whole, Black IV opens as a very generic fruity-floral with vanillic sweetness and clean musk atop of sliver of white woodiness. It smells wholly European in nature, somewhat synthetic, extremely commercial, and like a barely “high-end” version of a designer fragrance that you’d find in a mall, though the quality issue does eventually improve after a few hours.
The actual olfactory bouquet shifts within minutes. The rose surges to the forefront, followed by the jasmine, while the osmanthus becomes a mere blip on the sidelines. The flowers are heavily imbued with clean musk, to the point that Black IV smells like expensive floral hairspray. The vanilla grows stronger, laced with an abstract fruitiness that feels even more diffuse, wan, and shapeless than before. At the same time, the bergamot essentially vanishes, while the woods in the base become this ghostly presence that pop up once in while, sometimes in the distant background, sometimes closer on the sidelines. The end result is a soft, creamy, inordinately fresh floral bouquet that is layered with vanilla, an almost soapy veneer from the clean musk, and a few nebulous smears of fruitiness.
It reminds me of something I’ve smelt before, many things in fact, but the scent is so diffuse and generic that it’s hard to pinpoint which one. The resemblance to an expensive rose floral hairspray in the first 20 minutes often calls to mind Viktoria Minya‘s Hedonist Rose, but the jasmine part of the hairspray equation and the fruitiness also remind me of one of the Elisire fragrances I tried. I can’t recall which one because that line was so generic as to be completely forgettable (with the exception of the Serge Lutens tribute amber) and a number of their fragrances had the same indeterminate fruity-floral, clean blob of a character that is present here. There is also a strong resemblance to the Chanel mainstream aesthetic. Initially, it’s one of the fruitier, “bathtastic” florals but there are echoes of Allure as well, especially when the woodiness pops up in Black IV’s base. I’m not a fan of Chanel’s signature aldehydic-floral opening, let alone floral hairspray, so none of this is a positive in my books.
Roughly 30 minutes in, Black IV’s floral bouquet shifts, essentially changing designer profiles. As best as I can tell from the shapeless, diffuse, blurry mass of floralcy, the jasmine appears to have retreated to the sidelines, the osmanthus has disappeared entirely, and a very synthetic, clean, rather abstract orange blossom joins the rose on center stage. The flowers are so fused together and faceless that their most notable characteristic is cleanness and vanillic creaminess. In the base, the generic white woods are slowly turning into an approximation of synthetic sandalwood. In essence, Black IV has gone from a floral hairspray concoction that mixes Hedonist Rose with a mainstream Chanel into something that is now a cross between a Tocca white floral and a creamier version of Roberto Cavalli‘s For Her or Cavalli. (It seemed to go by both names before it was discontinued.) The latter is a fruity floral centered on orange blossoms drenched with honeyed peaches and some vanilla over a sandalwood base.
By the end of the first hour, Black IV turns into a sister of the Cavalli, almost a clone, and I know that because I own it and did a side-by-side test. Cavalli was once a guilty pleasure before the excessively synthetic nature of the sandalwood grew too much for me. I have a boxed set of the eau de parfum (in a 100 ml size), a body cream, and a rollerball that I bought for about $35 on eBay, as well as a solo 100 ml bottle of eau de parfum for $25. Its original retail price wasn’t all that much higher. For that amount and for what it wants to be, Cavalli is a good perfume. It makes no claims about being more than what it is, a designer fragrance, and it has no pretensions. Have I mentioned yet that AJ Arabia’s Black IV costs $245 or €230 for a mere 50 ml? Hmph.
Black IV is initially soapier, cleaner, creamier, more vanillic than honeyed, and with a more diffuse floralcy that still maintains a vestige of jasmine, but the differences are largely one of degree as the second hour begins and they eventually disappear entirely as Black IV develops. The fragrance loses its hairspray vibe after 75 minutes as the white musk softens and the vanilla surges to the forefront, drenching the now distinct orange blossoms with a heavy layer of cream. At the same time, the rose fades, while both the sandalwood and fruitiness grow stronger. The latter smells like orange rather than cassis or prune. The sandalwood is somewhat better quality than the one in Cavalli, but the two fragrances smell enormously alike on my skin, right down to the subtle “bug spray” undertone, either from the orange blossom or the sandalwood.
Roughly 2.5 hours into its development, Black IV smells more like floral body lotion than ever. The orange blossom has taken over as the main flower on display, though it is still a diffuse, blurry floralcy that sometimes verges on the abstract more than a really solid, concrete “orange blossom.” It’s infused with creamy vanilla, synthetic sandalwood, and fruitiness. The latter now smells primarily of peaches with a small streak of orange, just like the Cavalli, except Black IV also bears a touch of berried sweetness from time to time. It resembles fruity patchouli or fruitchouli, and never once smells like actual cassis or prune. Tying everything together is a thick ribbon of clean, white musk. The rose has vanished entirely, but a smidgeon of jasmine pops up once in a while as a muted, minor whisper in the distant background.
Black IV doesn’t change much from this point forth. It smells like a fruity, white floral hand cream or body lotion (depending on how you want to categorize the degree of creaminess) largely until its very end. All that really happens is that some of the secondary notes fluctuate in strength or nuance. For example, sometimes the fruits smell more of orange, sometimes more of peach mixed with a drop of fruitchouli. A generic sandalwood accompanies the fruity, vanillic, creamy, floral mix until the end of the 6th hour when it starts to fade. There is not one whisper of leather, not now or at any point on my skin, and I’ve tried Black IV a few times. As a whole, the fragrance has gone back to being shapeless and abstract, a total blur where few of the notes are clearly delineated.
About 8.5 hours in, Black IV is mostly a vanillic floral with clean musk and a few muted drops of fruitiness. To my dismay, the white musk is starting to counter the creaminess in what feels like a fight for supremacy between various beauty products. At the 12 hour mark, the hairspray dominates, though the fragrance actually smells on occasion of nothing more than clean musk with only the merest hint of floralcy at the edges. In the final hours, however, the body cream triumphs.
As an extrait or pure parfum, Black IV had very good longevity, initially moderate sillage that soon turned soft, and soft projection. Using 2 good, wide smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with about 3 inches of projection and about 4 to 5 inches of sillage. Both numbers dropped fractionally after 2.5 hours, but Black IV didn’t turn into a pure skin scent until 6.5 hours into its development, though it was still easy to detect without effort until 8.5 hours into its development when the fragrance seemed close to dying. Nevertheless, it clung on as the merest coating on the skin until midway during the 14th hour.
Black IV did little for me except to make me roll my eyes, but I think it is a fragrance that will appeal to women who adore mainstream, feminine, clean, and very creamy/vanillic fruity-florals or fruity-floral woody musks. On Fragrantica, there are only three reviews at this time, and two are positive. One woman calls it “fresh and delicate,” another calls it “soft and sensual.” Both love it. In contrast, “Deadidol” describes it as a fruity-floral “with a bunch of anonymous ‘flowers’ [….] An inelegant scent that goes for volume more than any kind of nuance. Somewhere between trashy fun and gauche.”
I agree with several parts of Deadidol’s assessment, but I think “trashy fun” gives Black IV far too much credit. That’s a phrase that describes the Cavalli really well. Black IV doesn’t go that far because it’s too intent on being the “luxury” version of commercial fragrances, even if it actually ends up smelling like various beauty products instead. Its attempt to have a smoother, more streamlined bouquet not only prevents it from falling into the “trashy fun” category, but also makes it feel completely faceless, amorphous, and “anonymous,” as Deadidol put it so well. At the same time, I don’t see enough of a hike in quality to merit the almost $200 price difference for a mere 50 ml. If I want to smell like the vast majority of Black IV’s bouquet, I can mix the Cavalli perfume and body cream from my $25 eBay set, and thereby avoid the hairspray stage as well.
On the other hand, there are a lot of people who seem to enjoy fragrances that smell like expensive floral hairspray, Hedonist Rose, Chanel’s mainstream clean fruity florals, and fruity-floral-vanilla body cream. If you’re one of them, you may want to try Black IV for yourself.