Earlier this year, Roja Dove released four new fragrances in what is now called The Gulf Collection, each named after and inspired by different countries in the gulf region of the Middle East. The debut scent in the collection, 2014’s United Arab Emirates, was originally sold only in its namesake country, but Roja Dove has since made all the fragrances available worldwide. The four new additions are: Sultanate of Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Today, I’ll look at the last three fragrances. However, the reviews will be shorter, less detailed, and more basic than what I typically do. Coverage of Kuwait and Qatar will be particularly basic and minimal by my standards, in part because I wasn’t a fan of either one and in part because they are simpler fragrances than Saudi Arabia. My goal for all three, however, is to provide a broad-strokes analysis which will enable me cover them all in a single post. I’m extremely behind on reviewing new releases after my long break for the first half of this year, so this is the easiest way to get through the trio all in one go. To that end, I won’t quote official company descriptions and comparative reviews. I’ll provide a few relevant details, like note lists, Fragrantica links, prices, and the like, but think of this as a blitzkrieg approach to reviewing Roja Dove.
QATAR (2017 EXTRAIT):
Luckyscent note list: Citrus notes, rose de mai, jasmine from Grasse, violet, pear, peach, clove, saffron, patchouli, cedarwood, casmir wood, sandalwood, oud, candyfloss accord, benzoin, vanilla, orris sur cèdre, orris, styrax, birch, labdanum, ambergris, musk.
Qatar opens on my skin with a rich mixed amber accord that smells of ambergris’ salty, musky, marshy qualities inlaid with labdanum’s more toffee’d and balsamic aromas and benzoin’s sticky, caramel-scented sweetness. A slew of other notes quickly follows suit: fruitchouli red berried jam; spicy and buttery saffron; immensely sugary cotton candy fluff; vanilla; and sweet, sugared white musk.
Other elements ripple on the sidelines in soft, sometimes muted fashion: a gauzy, pale rose; hints of pear, citrus, and peach; cedar pencil shavings; and a touch of smoky but amorphous woods. On my skin, most of these notes largely insignificant in the greater scheme of things, particularly when I smell Qatar from a distance. There, on the scent trail, the vast majority of Qatar’s bouquet radiates musky, gourmand-skewing, caramel-heavy amber layered with sugared candy floss, vanilla sugared white musk, gooey red berried fruit jam, and saffron.
Qatar shifts in small ways and degrees over time. Roughly 30 minutes in, Qatar turns even sweeter and immensely gourmand as the vanillic/vanilla candy floss wrestles with the mixed amber accord for dominion. The gooey, goopy fruitchouli is close behind, and the three-way wrestling match which ensues ends up muffling the floral, citrus, and woody notes to a significant degree. All of it is so sticky and so sugary that I feel as though I’m going to get cavities just from wearing it.
Roughly 75 minutes in, the cashmeran joins the mix, adding a beige woodiness enveloped within a cloud of white musk cleanness. It has the exact same aroma which dominated Roja Dove’s H/The Exclusive Black Tier, a cashmeran-heavy scent, and I’m unenthused about its presence for all the same reasons as I was there. It is intrusively synthetic and overly clean, thereby heightening once again the impact of the sugary notes while also doubling the sources of white musk. In addition, it also exacerbates the scratchy qualities of the cheap vanillin in the “candy floss” accord.
The net effect resembles any number of less expensive gourmands centered on sugary vanilla-amber-musk accords, except this one has fruitchouli and saffron added in as well. If you took Arabian Oud’s Kalemat Musk, Tihota, and added saffron and patchouli to them, you’d end up with something in the general vicinity of Qatar. If you took Roja’s own Amber Aoud, reduced the rose to a whisper, amped up the vanillin sugar and fruitchouli, then added in even more sugary sweetness in the form of candy floss, and finished things off with a massive slug of cashmeran, I think you’d end up with something either very close to Qatar or with something exactly like it.
Qatar continues to shift in its nuances as it develops. Roughly 2.25 hours in, the scent turns slightly woodier, but the note delineation is dissolving at the same time. By the end of the 3rd hour, Qatar is an amorphous blur of amber, woodiness, sugariness, spiciness, and clean white musk. The focal emphasis veers between woody caramel sweetness with a clean, sugary, white (cashmeran) musk element folded within and between caramel woodiness with the same clean, sugary, white (cashmeran) musk folded within.
Qatar’s long drydown begins roughly at the start of the 5th hour on my skin. It consists of a basic, generic spicy, sweet, woody amber accord with clean musk. To the extent that anything can be pulled out of the abstract haze, I suppose it would be the caramel-scented benzoin and the cashmeran. It’s difficult to tell the exact specifics not only because everything overlaps but also because several materials share similar olfactory characteristics: the woods sometimes feel sandalwood-ish but sometimes merely like the sort of clean woodiness that Cashmeran gives off; there is a slight powderiness that could be either from tonka or the cashmeran; the “amber” could be anything golden and sweet, as much benzoin as labdanum or ambergris.
Qatar continues for hours without any change. It’s a simple, wholly generic benzoin amber finish with generalized spicy layered within as well as a hint of woodiness, tonka-ish vanillic fluffiness, and musk cleanness deep below. To me, it smells like the base of any number of old Lutens or run of the mill orientals. In its final hours, all that’s left is a golden sweetness.
In total, Qatar lasted roughly 13.5 hours with several big smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle. The projection was on the low side, while the sillage was initially decent at about 5-6 inches. It turned soft after 4 hours. At that point, I didn’t think there was much to the scent in terms of body, weight, or reach. Qatar became a skin scent about 5.25 hours in, although it was easy to detect if I put my nose on my arm until the 8th hour. When taken as a whole and from start to finish, Qatar’s weight, softness and performance surprised me. It felt and acted like a strong eau de parfum rather than a pure parfum from someone like Roja Dove whose earlier fragrances were super-charged, heavy powerhouses. My problem with Qatar, however, is aroma, not performance.
Bottom line: Qatar did nothing for me.
KUWAIT (2017 EXTRAIT):
Luckyscent note list: Cedrat, rosemary, geranium, rose de mai, orange blossom, jasmine from Grasse, cistus, heliotrope, violet, blackcurrant buds, peach, rhubarb, saffron, patchouli, oakmoss, casmir wood, sandalwood, oud, benzoin, vanilla, tonka bean, birch, labdanum, leather, ambergris, civet, musk.
The centerpiece of Kuwait, and its starting point according to Roja Parfums, is supposed to be vanilla and that is exactly how the fragrance opens on my skin. There is a tidal wave of sugared, candied vanilla and sugared, caramel crème brulée. Folded within them are thin layers of cloying sweet flowers: syrupy, honeyed jasmine; candied, sugared orange blossom; and fruitchouli-laden jammy rose molasses slathered over rose petals encrusted with saccharine and white sugar. To me, the flowers smell somewhat impressionistic and a little synthetic, but perhaps it’s simply because they are swaddled up in such a ridiculous degree of candied, sugary sweetness that any floral naturalism has been eroded.
My God, is this fragrance sweet. Even the supposedly fresh or crisp elements, like the cedrat, have been corrupted by the sheer degree of sugared vanilla that radiates like a force field from my arm. The few drops of cedrat and peach which have been splattered on top of the bouquet smell just as candied as everything else. Rendering matters more dire is the thick benzoin-amber caramel sauce which is poured over the layered sundae of vanilla creme brulée, jammy roses, and candied white flowers. The whole thing rests upon a base of synthetic-smelling oud, synthetic sandalwood, slightly cedarish synthetic Cashmeran, laundry clean white musk, and labdanum goldenness, but they are minor touches in this bombastically cloying, vanilla-centric confectionary dessert. Just as with Qatar, I feel as though wearing it is going to give me cavities.
Thankfully, Kuwait improves as it develops, at least comparatively and relatively speaking. Roughly 40-50 minutes in, the floral elements grow stronger, thereby shifting the balance of notes away from something which is 90% gourmand dessert. The jasmine and orange blossom begin to bloom, wafting more indolic, floral, and musky attributes rather than mere syrupy sweetness. Roughly 60-75 minutes in, the jammy rose weakens and retreats to the sidelines where, for the first time, there are tiny flickers of saffron, oakmossy greenness, incense-y wood smoke, smoky oud, a civet-ish furry muskiness, and something vaguely herbal. Once in a blue moon, there is a fleeting suggestion of something suggesting tart rhubarb. I should stress, however, that most of these notes are extremely minor and muted on my skin; I have to put my nose right on the skin and inhale hard to detect their presence because the majority of the bouquet continues to be the caramel-vanilla sundae. The indolic white florals and various woods may be stronger than they were at the very start, but Kuwait’s driving force continues to be the gourmand elements.
Kuwait continues to slowly change in drips and drabs. By the end of the second hour, the fragrance is a co-equal mix of gourmand vanilla-caramel, indolic white florals, and quietly smoky woods, with scratchy, raspy civet licking its edges. By the start of the 4th hour, 70% of the core fragrance bouquet is really just orange blossom, jasmine, and scratchy civet with the remainder split between the vanilla, benzoin caramel amber, and sandalwood.
Kuwait’s drydown begins around the middle of the 5th hour. The notes have dissolved into an amorphous, indeterminate haze of indolic, jasmine-ish flowers, vaguely civety muskiness, and sugary, ambery, caramel-vanilla sweetness. By the end of the 7th hour and start of the 8th, Kuwait is merely a generic floral-amber-vanilla blur with some muskiness buried within. It remains that way until its final hours when all that’s left is vanillic sweetness.
Kuwait’s performance in terms of sillage was better than Qatar’s on my skin and the fragrance felt more substantial, comparatively speaking, but its longevity was roughly the same at about 14 hours.
Bottom line: Kuwait did nothing for me either.
KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA (2017 EXTRAIT):
Luckyscent note list: Aldehydes, lime, mandarin, artemisia, geranium, rose de mai, jasmine from Grasse, chamomile, violet, apple, blackcurrant, strawberry, raspberry, plum, banana, violet leaf, pink pepper, cinnamon, clove, saffron, patchouli, oakmoss, cedarwood, fir balsam, sandalwood, oud, candyfloss accord, vanilla, cocoa, leather, musk.
As compared to its two compatriots, I thought Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (hereinafter just called “Saudi Arabia“) was a more complex, nuanced, and better balanced fragrance. It also reads to me as being more opulent in nature, despite it also containing the dreaded “candyfloss” accord. It helps that the kingdom’s famous Ta’if roses are the focal point of this creation, as opposed to vanilla or a heavily gourmand, caramelized amber accord like the other two.
Saudi Arabia opens on my skin with waves of rubied, red, Ta’if roses whose innate fruitiness is amplified by a rich jam made of strawberries, raspberries, and a touch of plum. Unlike Kuwait, however, its jamminess never feels painfully cloying and goopy because the richness is offset by a tart green apple note, crisp sour lime, and fizzy, sparkling aldehydes. The same system of checks and balances applies to the other notes as well. For example, the candied sugar floss on the sidelines is countered by the herbal, slightly bitter greenness of artemisia (also known as absinthe or wormwood) laced with the leafier greenness of a brisk geranium and a pinch of chamomile. In the distant background, spices, oud, dark woods, earthy patchouli (not fruitchouli), and oakmoss flitter about in quiet, thin ripples. The mix of dry, earthy, green, and woody notes is a nice counterbalance to the rose fruit basket on display and helps to keep the sweetness in check.
Roughly 8-10 minutes in, Saudi Arabia shifts. The lime, geranium, and artemisia grow stronger. The latter skews more towards its peppery, oud-ish wormwood side in its scent than to its bitter, herbal, absinthe-style greenness. At the same time, though, the oud itself appears on the sidelines, smelling dry, peppery, and faintly smoky. In addition, the spices arrive on center stage, led first by the cinnamon, then the saffron and, finally, the pink peppercorn.
Everything is woven together seamlessly, but the thing that strikes me is how the notes have been chosen to accentuate a wide range of innate rose characteristics instead of just its sweet, red berried fruitiness. The cumulative effect is a lush rose in bloom which is simultaneously fresh, citrusy, green, rubied, spicy, jammy, fruity, and honeyed. The way it is bracketed by greenness and woodiness on all sides while sprouting out of a quiet, mossy earthiness in its base adds to the impression of a rose growing in nature, perhaps in a garden located just at the edge of a small, dark, dry nook of wormwood and oud trees.
It’s almost 3-D feel and naturalism makes me think of some of the now-discontinued Amouage attars. I would bring up Homage, except the aldehydes here is just a small touch as compared to Homage, and it is also fully subsumed within the flower. Saudi Arabia is also slightly woodier and greener on me than Homage but, above all else, it is significantly sweeter than Homage ever was. So, it is neither a close parallel nor an exact match, but they share the same spirit and speak the same general language.
Saudi Arabia grows sweeter and more Arabic as it develops. The “candyfloss” accord kicks in a major way after 20 minutes, followed by vanilla, toffee-scented labdanum resin, and clean white musk. Together, they overwhelm the fresher and greener accords, flattening the artemisia and geranium, and killing off the lime at the same time. At the same time, the saffron spice mix (which now includes cloves) and the oud twine themselves around the rose on center stage, resulting in a central, dominant, and traditional Middle Eastern saffron rose oud accord.
The cumulative effect changes the balance, focus, and feel of the scent. Instead of a natural, fruity rose growing in a green garden at the edge of a wood, Saudi Arabia’s jammy, fruity rose has suddenly been transplanted into the center of a Middle Eastern bazaar where oud is sold next to piles of fiery saffron, cinnamon, cloves, sticky toffee (labdanum), red berries, vanilla parfaits, benzoin caramel, candy floss on a stick, and sweet musk. It’s a humid scent, encased in ambered warmth with subtle undercurrents of smoke, leather, and sticky resins running underneath, and thick syrup drizzled on top.
It’s too sweet for me, but it’s a good and very polished representation of its particular genre: Arabic perfumery. It’s bound to appeal to their passion for heavy, jammy, fruity, spiced, saffron rose-oud fragrances, imbued with sugary sweetness and clean musk. I think it’s also bound to be a hit with fans of Roja Dove‘s Amber Aoud, particularly those who love a strong amount of gourmand sweetness in their fragrances generally. While the two fragrances share general thematic similarities, I want to make clear that they are not identical. Saudi Arabia has a pronounced oud component which Amber Aoud never had on my skin. I could barely detect any noticeable oud in that scent which was almost entirely a sticky, fruitchouli, saffron, rose-amber composition on me. Saudi Arabia also has a greater degree of spiciness, earthiness, sweetness, humidness, smokiness, and white musk. As a whole, I think it has more nuances and is more complex.
Roughly 90 minutes in, Saudi Arabia shifts direction and focus yet again. Dark birch leather, oud-ish wood smoke, and dry cedar sweep over center stage, turning the fragrance woodier, darker, and consequently drier as well. Now, instead of a triptych of saffron-rose-oud being the primary focal point, Saudi Arabia is driven by a mix of spicy birch leather, oud, and smoky woods, all wrapped up with ribbons of sweet, fruity, saffron rose. The ambered resins sink into the base and the background where they radiate a humid, musky oriental warmth. The jammy fruits, vanilla, candy floss become background notes as well, flittering about quietly, working indirectly and from afar to provide some sweetness to counterbalance the drier, smokier aromas of the main notes.
Saudi Arabia gradually turns simpler as it develops. Roughly 2.25 hours in, it’s largely a mix of oud, dry woods, and dark, smoky leather, all infused with a light, thin touch of a soft vanilla rose, then set against a golden-bronzed backdrop of labdanum amber and warm, rich spices. The spicy, smoky, and sweet-dry elements all come together in a way that feels polished, chic, and well-balanced. By the middle of the 4th hour, however, the vanilla weakens further and the rose becomes an abstract, elusive will o’ the wisp in the background. In their absence, the dryness and wood smoke take over, while the leather dissolves into a simple smoky darkness. The end result is a simple, dry, dark bouquet of oud, oudish wood smoke, and general woodiness, all tinged with an amorphous, quasi-leather-ish blackness at the edges and a ghostly whisper of vaguely rosy-ish floralcy in its ambered background.
Saudi Arabia begins to transition into its drydown towards the end of the 5th hour. The fragrance returns to its sweeter profile as the gourmand elements and ambered resins begin to slowly re-emerge as prominent, central elements. Sticky toffee’d labdanum swirls with creamy vanilla, benzoin caramel, sugared cotton candy, a lick of soft, abstract spiciness, and a dash of bitter cocoa powder. Slowly, inch by inch, they sweep over the dry, smoky woods, engulfing them. The latter have now become impossible to pull apart; it’s unclear whether they consist of sandalwood, oud, cedar, the remnants of birch leather, or some combination thereof. The only things which are clearly and individually delineated are the amber resins and the gourmand notes. Everything else is a hazy blur of woodiness laced with smokiness.
Saudi Arabia’s full drydown begins roughly at the end of the 7th hour and the start of the 8th. The fragrance is basically a caramel amber layered with varying degrees of vanilla, wood smoke, and abstract spiciness with just a touch of cocoa at its edges. Something within it smells raspy, rough, arid, and overly synthetic in a way that continuously reminds me of a Montale fragrance. It may be the sandalwood which I suspect is Javanol. But whatever the cause or the source, the fragrance irritates the back of my throat when I smell my arm up close for too long.
Saudi Arabia doesn’t change beyond this point except to turn simpler and hazier. From the 10th hour onwards, it’s a sweet, golden, and rather generic Middle Eastern finish of vanilla and caramel-scented amber imbued with soft trails of smokiness and spiciness, and bearing a lingering suggestion of something woody underneath. If it weren’t for the Montale-style wood subtext, it would be nice. Nothing special, but nice and enjoyable nonetheless. In its final hours, all that’s left is a spicy, sweet goldenness.
Like Qatar, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia surprised me when it came to its sillage, body, weight, and performance. Like Qatar, there were times in its development, particularly from the 4th hour onwards, when it didn’t feel or act like a pure parfum from Roja Dove but more like a rich eau de parfum from another brand, one not so known for its chewy, meaty heft. But, to be honest, all three of these extraits were much less sumptuous, opulent, and dense than I had expected from Roja Dove. Qatar was lightest and softest on my skin, while the other two I would describe as having potent weightlessness and airy strength. “Weightless” is not the adjective which normally and usually comes to mind for this particular brand, at least not for its earliest, original releases, but I’ve felt that many of the parfums put out over the last few years have been lighter and airier in weight. They have good sillage for the first few hours before the fragrance turns softer, but I’m not talking about scent trails. I’m talking about body, opacity, and richness. So perhaps this trio’s weightlessness shouldn’t have been a surprise, but they were.
Out of the three, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia felt the deepest but it also was the second softest after Qatar. In fact, the opening projection was so soft the first time I tested it that I increased the amount I applied to be more representative of 3 sprays from a bottle instead of my usual, standard 2-spray equivalent. With that larger amount, Saudi Arabia typically opened with about 3-4 inches of projection and roughly 5 inches of sillage which expanded after 25 minutes to 7-8 inches. The numbers dropped at the end of the 2nd hour: the projection was between 1 and 1.5 inches, while the sillage shrank to 3-4 inches. At the end of the 4th hour, Saudi Arabia hovered above the skin and the scent trail was discreet unless I moved my arm. Saudi Arabia became a skin scent 6.75 hours in; it was also lighter in weight, body, and heft than old Roja parfums. The fragrance felt as though it was close to dying after 10 hours. However, it clung tenaciously to the skin as a gauzy wisp for a few more hours before eventually fading away at the 13.75 hour mark, similar to the others.
Bottom line: While Kingdom of Saudi Arabia isn’t my thing and doesn’t impress me personally, I think it’s a good fragrance, objectively speaking, and, in my opinion, also the best of three. It’s the most polished, complex, and layered, in addition to having the smoothest and richest bouquet. It also smells the most expensive and the quality of its materials feels superior to what one can easily find from one of the big Middle Eastern houses. The two other, in my opinion, however, are on-par with what is put out by cheaper, mid-tier Arab brands. But, let’s be honest, neither actual scent bouquet nor a modicum of higher quality are the reasons why Roja Dove’s intended or target audience really buys his stuff. It’s primarily about a luxury name, aspirational lifestyles, cache, and prestige. Those are the main things Roja Dove offers to his Middle Eastern customers. He’s not re-inventing the wheel but he doesn’t want to; that’s not what’s going to sell, and if there is one thing that Roja Dove is truly exceptional at, it is marketing, knowing his audience, and selling. Qatar, Kuwait, and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia each represent or embody popular olfactory trends in Arabic perfumery but, by virtue of its focus on the Ta’if roses, its overall notes, and its superior balance/proportions, Saudi Arabia feels like the most polished, sophisticated, and expensive of the three. So, if you’re a big Roja fan, that’s the one that I would recommend trying. However, if you are a hardcore gourmand or if you love sugary sweet musk, you will may want to try the other two as well.
Disclosure: My samples were provided by Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.