Moresque Parfum is a relatively new Italian niche brand that was launched in 2015. Inspired by Moorish art, architecture, and the splendour of their dynasties, the company says it wants to imbue Arabic perfumery with “Italian design, fineness and taste,” as well as a “‘Made in Italy’ excellence[.]” Moresque has three different lines, the Black, White, and Art Collections, which are comprised in total of seven fragrances, each in eau de parfum concentration. Three of them also come in matching attar (concentrated perfume oils) strength which Moresque labels as “Esprit de Parfum.” All the fragrances were created by Andrea Thero Casotti.
Today, I’ll look at two of the eau de parfums: Al Andalus from The Black Collection and Aristoqrati from The Art Collection. I confess, I didn’t have high hopes going in because my past experiences with European interpretations of Arabic perfumery hasn’t impressed me much, but I was pleasantly surprised by Al Andalus, a woody spiced composition centered around ginger that bore tobacco-like tonalities, and a nice dose of amber and resins as well. Aristoqrati, though, was a generic disappointment that not only left me cold but so bored that I could barely summon up the interest to sniff my arm.
Al Andalus (sometimes written as “Al-Andalus”) was released in 2015 as part of Moresque’s Black Collection. It comes in eau de parfum and attar form. This review is for the eau de parfum. On its website, Moresque describes Al Andalus as and its notes follows:
Named after one of the ancient cultural province of the Moors, Al-Andalus is a fiery and seductive scent that recalls the vibrancy and the blazing sun of Andalusia. This oriental perfume opens on energizing and cheerful spicy notes that awake like the first rays of the sun. The stimulating, burning and earthy trio of saffron, black pepper and ginger prepare for an explosion of warmth that gets deeper. Its rich heart of Oud Jacarta is protected and strengthened by essences of character: Haitian vetiver, French labdanum and birch.
TOP NOTES: saffron, black pepper, ginger
HEART NOTES: oud Jacarta from Kalimantan Island
BASE NOTES: Haitian vetiver, French labdanum, birch oil, tolu balsam
I smell other notes on my skin as well, particularly a large quantity of woody tobacco and cedar, but I think both are by-product or side effects of the other notes combined together rather than separate ingredients.
Al Andalus opens on my skin with waves of ginger that is powdery, semi-sweet, fluffy in feel, and surprisingly woody in a way that I can’t really describe. It doesn’t feel fiery on its own but by virtue of its combination with the black pepper and saffron together. Each of them is smoother than the norm, as well as fragrant and, again, unexpectedly woody in nature.
The black pepper stands out in particular for me. It’s aromatic, fresh, oddly clean in a vaguely or minimally sweet way, and with a purity of aroma that is nothing like the synthetic, scratchy, harsh black pepper that dominated so many new releases in 2015. A friend once gave me a set of really high-end (and ridiculously priced) peppercorns which included Tellicherry black peppers that smelt piney, earthy, and almost grassy at times. The black pepper in Al Andalus smells the exact same way. There is also something redolent of white peppercorns with their earthy sweetness, but I suspect that note comes from the saffron instead. Here, it’s not buttery, foodie, hot, or leathery as it sometimes is in fragrances but, rather, quietly sweet and creamy in an earthy way.
Together with the ginger, the three spices dominate Al Andalus’ opening, recreating the scent of the bottom of an old wooden spice drawer that’s been imbued with years upon years of fragrant spices, then freshly covered with ginger powder and pepper kernels as well. Their combined nuances strongly replicate the aroma of sweet cedar sawdust as well.
Interestingly, when I applied a small quantity of fragrance (equal to 1 spray), Al Andalus was somewhat different. It had significantly less of a bite, the black pepper was a very minor note, and the semi-sweet, semi-dry woody earthiness was extremely pronounced. The effect was a bouquet that smelt like: clean cedar; delightfully crumbly and soft cedar sawdust; and gingerbread imbued with tobacco. Luca Turin once described tobacco leaves from the Carolinas as having gingerbread tonalities, and I agree. The sun-cured leaves do have a spicy woodiness that bears an aroma similar to a woody form of gingerbread.
In Al Andalus, it’s the inverse or flip side of the equation: the sense of “tobacco” is recreated from the combination of spicy, woody, earthy, ginger mixed with lightly sweetened labdanum amber, Tolu balsam resin, and soft woods. That gingerbread “tobacco” ends up being a constant refrain on my skin, regardless of the quantities that I apply, but it was particularly noticeable right from the start when I dabbed on a few small smears and the fragrance remained that way for a while without dramatic changes.
With my usual baselines quantity (the rough equivalent of 2 sprays from a bottle), the balance of notes was completely different. The “tobacco” and “cedar” aromas were quite weak in the opening phase, and the scent was primarily based on the semi-sweet, semi-dry blend of spices with their occasionally fiery side. The fragrant, tobacco-like, earthy, and woody elements were there as well, but they were mere nuances or ghostly, abstract suggestions as opposed to strong, distinct elements. Al Andalus shifted 30 minutes into its development to add smoky and faintly leathery undertones in the base, but the spices continued to be the main focus. It’s nice, but I personally preferred the milder version that appeared with the smaller dosage and that was softer, woodier, and more tobacco-centric. I found it so addictive that I couldn’t stop sniffing my arm.
Regardless of quantity, both versions are surprisingly soft on my skin. Perhaps a high degree of natural essences were used but, whatever the reason, Al Andalus opened with merely 2.5 to 3 inches of projection when I used several wide, generous smears equal to 2 good sprays from a bottle, and the number shrank after a mere 30 minutes to about 1.5 to 2 inches. The scent trail was initially good at about 6-7 inches, but dropped at the end of the first hour to roughly 4-5 inches, then turned softer still as time passed, unless I moved my arms.
Another issue is the speed with which the notes blur together, losing note clarity after 40-45 minutes, especially when Al Andalus is smelt from afar. There, regardless of the quantity that I apply, the fragrance smells mostly of spicy, woody, earthy, and minimally sweetened “gingerbread.” Even up close, the saffron, pepper and woods are increasingly difficult to pull out. The birch tar’s smokiness and leather are so muffled that they merely seem like facets of the main “tobacco”-woody-ginger accord, and sometimes ghostly facets at that. What’s far more noticeable are the labdanum and Tolu balsam resins. Instead of working indirectly from the base, they suddenly burst on central stage at this time, weaving around the ginger, turning it golden and more like gingerbread than ever before.
At its core, Al Andalus is largely a simplistic, sometimes linear scent that doesn’t change much except in the facets that it reflects. Basically, it just changes to emphasize one of its central accords over the others, the notes fluctuating in strength or their nuances, particularly the smoke and leather. For example, about 90 minutes in, Al Andalus turns darker, slightly drier, and smokier as the birch sends tendrils of wood smoke to wrap around the woody, earthy, sweet, fiery, resinous, ambered gingerbread. The undercurrent of leatheriness in the base grows more pronounced as well.
The cumulative effect reminds me of something, but I can’t place it. It’s not Roja Dove‘s Creation-E or Enigma Pour Homme because there isn’t enough sweetness, and no booze, vanilla, tobacco, plum pudding, or patchouli. It’s not the ambered gingerbread of Musc Ravageur because there is no animalics, civet, or musk. Plus, Al Andalus is significantly spicier, woodier, and earthier in addition to having pepper, smoke, and a leathery undertone. I wish I could think of the scent it’s reminding me of but, whatever it is, it’s not an identical match because I don’t recall ever encountering such an intensely ginger-centric composition before.
In the middle of the 4th hour, the woods and smoke take over. The leather seeps up to lick their edges while the amber and resins become a diffuse, soft backdrop. The ginger lies enfolded within the smoky woods, sometimes raising an arm to wave a distinct “hello,” but generally lurking behind the new central accord. The leather acts much the way way, but it often feels wholly abstract, a mere suggestion more than a hardcore, full-on, and distinct leather note.
The woody stage doesn’t last for long, perhaps two hours at best, before the notes realign themselves once more and Al Andalus shifts back to a spicy, woody, and tobacco-ish gingerbread scent cocooned within a soft, ambered haze. The smoke remains, but it feels mostly resinous now and consists of small puffs on the sidelines instead of being a cenral note. The leather has sunk back to the base, a thin layer that is overshadowed by its thick coating of smoldering, balsamic resins.
From this point forth, roughly the 7th hour onwards, all that happens is the notes fluctuate in their prominence. The resins grow stronger, fusing with the woody, tobacco-ish gingerbread, and enveloping it so strongly that the latter is sometimes subsumed within. The labdanum wafts toffee’d and caramel-scented aromas, the Tolu balsam sends out puffs of warm smoke. Sometimes, Al Andalus smells of gingery spiced woods enveloped in amber, sometimes it is woody gingerbread “tobacco,” and sometimes it’s nothing more than spiced, resinous, vaguely woody resins. In its final hours, a creamy, velvety texture becomes as apparent as the notes themselves, and Al Andalus is largely a haze of plush, resinous golden warmth with quiet undertones of spiciness and woodiness. The fragrance dies away much the same way.
Al Andalus had very good longevity, good sillage, but generally soft projection. I’ve already talked about the opening numbers; while the projection wasn’t great after an hour, dropping to about 1.5 inches, and the scent trail went down to about 3-4, I noticed that Al Andalus stayed at that level for hours. About 4.5 hours in, the projection was roughly 0.5 inches, but the sillage was still roughly about 3 inches. When I moved my arms, a soft scent lingered in its wake quite noticeably. It took 6 hours in total for Al Andalus to turn into a skin scent. It was easy to detect up close without much effort until the end of the 11th hour. In total, Al Andalus lasted just over 14.25 hours. When I used a 1-spray equivalent, the fragrance was extremely soft in projection, the sillage was close to the body after 90 minutes, it turned into a skin scent just after the start of the 4th hour, seemed close to dying in the 8th hour, and lasted just shy of 10 hours in total.
Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned oud or vetiver in all of this, and it’s a good question. I tested Al Andalus three times, and the oud never once showed up in any discernible, concrete way. Not once. There were none of the cheesy, barnyard, smoky, or creamy aromas of real agarwood, nor any signs of Western “oud” either. Perhaps the note worked indirectly to recreate some of the aromas that showed up on my skin, like the cedary “sawdust,” but I never once smelt Al Andalus and thought “oud.”
As for the vetiver, in my one test when I used a small 1-spray equivalent, there was something in the later stages that hinted at it, a sort of green-tinged earthy woodiness that made me think “maybe that’s the vetiver,” but it was an elusive and highly muffled note that barely lasted. It certainly wasn’t a clear, full-on unmistakable vetiver note. Except for the ginger, the “tobacco,” and, later on, the two resins, few of the notes in Al Andalus were concrete, dense, chewy, and/or distinct. This is a fragrance where the notes may be too well-blended. It not only adds to the difficulty of pinpointing its elements, but it also adds to the impression of simplicity and linearity.
There isn’t a lot of talk about Al Andalus out there. On Fragrantica, there is only review at this time, and it’s a very positive one. “Liquidasset77” writes, in full:
If you are a fan of ginger or fresh spice in general you will be blown away By this fragrance. While testing this i wore it in comparison to Clive Christian X and Roja Creation E over a week long period and i must say this thing ran those two into the ground. the nuances that come off this thing are amazing. saffron is s crucial component that makes it superior. Very bottle worthy! [Emphasis to perfume names added by me.]
There are no reviews on Basenotes‘ entry page for the fragrance. On Parfumo, there are no comments, either, but 4 votes give Al Andalus an 8.3 rating out of 10. Since I have another Moresque fragrance to get to, I’ll save my thoughts for the concluding section at the end, but will just say for now that I very much enjoyed Al Andalus and it was a happy surprise.
Aristoqrati was released in 2015 as the lone entry (thus far) in The Art Collection. Like Al Andalus, it is also available in attar form. This review is for the eau de parfum.
I had high hopes for Aristoqrati after reading Moresque‘s note list and the end part of its accompanying description which seemed to emphasize patchouli and amber:
Aristoqrati encapsulates the spirit of the aristocratic and royal dynasties of the Middle East. An olfactory journey of sophistication exalted by a twist of modern artistry.
The woody-spicy perfume hints at a particular bond between the sense of majesty/nobility and arts; a synergy sublimed by contrasting and vibrant Vetiver of Madagascar.
Right from the start, the scent releases whiffs of Egyptian geranium and spicy nutmeg that make way to a refreshing heart. This alliance rests on solid/strong accords of earthy patchouli and long-lasting amber, rounded by vanilla.
TOP NOTES: geranium from Egypt, nutmeg
HEART NOTES: peony, vetiver Madagascar
BASE NOTES: patchouli from Indonesia, amber, vanilla
Aristoqrati opens on my skin with fresh, clean, slightly watery and translucent peonies that bear a rose-like sweetness. The delicate petals are finely dusted with spiced warmth, but it doesn’t translate to an actual nutmeg note. There are strains of geranium, vanilla, and amber but, in the first 10 minutes, they are like musical melodies that travel from a great distance and through walls, discernible but too faint for clarity or certainty. For the most part, Aristoqrati’s opening is a clean, ultra-feminine floralcy enveloped in a sheer veil of abstract spiciness, vanillic warmth and sweetness.
Aristoqrati changes quickly. After 10 minutes, the vanilla grows stronger, followed by a synthetic woody note that is quietly smoky, like an amber-woody aromachemical. The two together tranform Aristoqrati into a vanillic floral woody musk, but not a very memorable, distinctive, or compelling one. The floral part is pretty, though, thanks to the creamy, sweet, and slightly dewy quality of the peony. It’s a pity that the roughness of the woody note ruins it.
Roughly 20-25 minutes in, the nutmeg finally emerges in more discernible fashion, while the vanilla doubles in strength, surging to the forefront to coat the peony’s petals with a thick and highly sugared creaminess. At the same time, the patchouli emerges, wafting fruitchouli jamminess and berried gooeyiness that end up accentuating the peony’s rose-like aromas even further. Meanwhile, the wood note begins to resemble faux Western “oud” and cypriol, combined with an increasingly harsh, smoky woody-amber aromachemical. Finishing off the mundane, conventional, and completely derivative bouquet is a blanket of sugared, ultra-clean musk that descends upon the whole thing. The vanilla part of the bouquet is cloying in its sweetness, while the woody-amber aromachemical part is both arid and rough with an almost gritty textural feel.
The cumulative effect of all these changes makes Aristoqrati smell like a spiced, vanillic, fruitchouli “rose oud” on my skin. If I smelt the fragrance blindly, I wouldn’t be able to pick it out from the slew of floral woody musks, floral ouds, saffron-vanilla rose ouds, and vanillic fruity-floral ouds that I’ve tried this year alone. I find it utterly redundant, and it also doesn’t have a sufficiently great leap in luxurious quality, in my opinion, to justify the fragrance’s very high price. (More on that later.)
Aristoqrati has even less complexity on my skin than Al Andalus. At the end of the 2nd hour, it’s predominantly and primarily a creamy vanilla “oud” that is veiled with a blur of sweet, clean, abstract floralcy, sugared white musk, and lightly spiced amber. For the most part, the majority of the bouquet — perhaps as much as 70% on my skin — is a harsh, slightly smoky, oud-like amber-woody synthetic coated in creamy and sugared vanilla. By the middle of the 5th hour, Aristoqrati is almost all smoky, raspy, woody-amber aromachemicals with a smidgeon of vanilla musk. Towards the end of the 7th hour, about 6.75 hours in, Aristoqrati feels as though it is about to die, and it became extremely difficult to detect.
It turns out that having a bouquet consisting of almost nothing but aromachemicals had blocked out my nose’s ability to detect the notes for long stretches of time and gave me temporary anosmia (hyposmia). Every time I took a long break from smelling my arm (due to the fact that I thought Aristoqrati had blessedly ceased to bore me senseless), my nose eventually re-detected a creamy (but wholly chemical) amber-woodiness. Aristoqrati thereby reappeared once more at the start of the 9th hour and then again midway during the 10th hour. After that, there was nothing, but I don’t know if the “nothingness” was due to hyposmia or because the scent had finally died. I didn’t care. It was a relief to be done with it. Wearing Aristoqrati was about as interesting as reading legal fine print: there is this endless white noise of pro forma, generic, “blah, blah, blah” that numbs you mentally and deadens your soul.
Thanks to the temporary anosmia, I have no idea how long Aristoqrati may have lasted in total. And I wasn’t interested in testing it a second time to see, either. Using several generous smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the projection and sillage numbers were roughly the same as for Al Andalus. I took notes on the specifics, but I’m so inexorably bored by this fragrance that I’ll just say it had low projection but a decent scent trail, perhaps because my skin amplifies the reach of any fragrance with a high quantity of aromachemicals. Aristoqrati became a skin scent after 4.75 hours.
There’s very little out there on Aristoqrati. There are no reviews on its Fragrantica page at this time. However, Mark Behnke of Colognoisseur liked Aristoqrati, writing, in relevant part, as follows:
Sig. Casotti opens Aristoqrati up with the nutmeg and early on it is matched with the green-tinted floralcy of geranium. There is a nuttiness to nutmeg which the greenish quality of the geranium enhances. The sweeter character survives into the heart. There it is met with vetiver and peony. This mix of these three notes is where Aristoqrati really thrived on my skin. Peony has that spring-fresh feeling to it. Vetiver is more grassy than woody. As mentioned above the nutmeg turns sweeter by this point. Sig. Casotti hits the balance just right. Eventually all of this drifts away to a fairly pedestrian amber and patchouli base. […][ ¶]
I have great respect for the decision not to trot out the usual suspects when trying to make an East meets West perfume. [snip.]
It sounds far more interesting on his skin than on mine. I rather wish I’d experienced a discernible, clear geranium note, and that the nutmeg hadn’t been so muted and brief before the amber (which Mr. Behnke so accurately describes as “pedestrian”) took over.
ALL IN ALL:
Aristoqrati is the most expensive out of all Moresque eau de parfums at $375 or €340 for a mere 50 mls. I rolled my eyes at that figure while testing the fragrance, especially when taking in whiffs of faux “oud”-like synthetic woods drenched in sugared vanilla and musk but, as I said, Aristoqrati seems to have a soul-numbing, deadening effect on me, leaving me too apathetic and bored to say anything except I think it’s an extremely over-priced fragrance for what you get. That said, I wouldn’t wear Aristoqrati even if a bottle were given to me for free.
In contrast, I would wear Al Andalus. In fact, I’m tempted to look for a decant. It’s less expensive at $275 or €250 for 50 mls than Aristoqrati but, in all frankness, I think both fragrances are priced very high for what they are. They have minimal note delineation or clarity; development is generally limited to two central chords at a time, maybe 3 at best; they feel rather linear and uncomplicated; and the projection is low.
But at least Al Andalus was enjoyable to wear and didn’t make me feel like a cockroach squashed under the weight of unbearable boredom, flailing about for a blessed end to the drip, drip, drip of numbing, mundane, and synthetic redundancy.