Today, I wanted to take a look at two fragrance oils from Ensar Oud: Aroha Kyaku, an appealing, deep, dark, and velvety oil that smells primarily of vetiver, tobacco, leather, and smoked oud chips; and Sultan Leather, an utterly gorgeous and sumptuous attar that pairs the best Cuir de Russie leather that I’ve ever encountered with a plethora of chypre and oriental notes, including beautifully lush roses.
Aroha Kyaku stood out to me and impressed me the very first time I tried it, not only because of its olfactory profile but also because of the depth of its particular notes and, above all else, the remarkable, textural velvety-ness and thickness of the fragrance’s bouquet during its drydown. Back in September when I wrote my Ensar Oud series, I briefly mentioned Aroha Kyaku in Part III but, at the time, crossed wires in communication had led me to mistakenly think I was sampling a retired version which was no longer available, so I didn’t cover it in detail. When Ensar Oud clarified that I had, in fact, tried the latest and most recent version of Aroha Kyaku, an old classic, I resolved to write about the oil before the end of the year.
“Green Velvet” would be a perfect name for Aroha Kyaku’s fantastic finish, but this is an oud oil which seems to have been primarily inspired by incense aromas and oud smoke. Ensar Oud told me that “It is unique among oud extracts in that it is the embodiment of heated agarwood chips and the smoke they emit while on the coal, and can add a third dimension to an oud fragrance unlike other ingredients can.” The official description states that the oil was distilled from organic Aquilaria Crassna wood, a Thai varietal. Ensar Oud sought to amplify its smoky, resinous, and incense tonalities while also minimizing the wood’s potential fruitiness. He summed up the oil, in part, as follows:
The (lack of) fruits of our exclusive distillation techniques is an oud fragrance that breaks all the rules. There are no fermentation notes, nor any metallic undertones. No dustiness, no fresh-off-the-still twang. You’ll smell spicy oud smoke instead of dried figs, purple berries infused with bubbling agarwood resin instead of apricot jam. The scent progression is smooth and gradual and the silage unintrusive.
Aroha Kyaku has been distilled in such a way that its wood opens on my skin smelling predominantly of tobacco, vetiver, and leather. The vetiver is plush, mossy, smoky, and piled high with layers of wet leaves crushed into dark, wet earth. The tobacco is treacly, black, wet, earthy, and spicy, smelling so dark and so concentrated that it’s as though tobacco absolute had been turned into a solid brick. There are whiffs reminiscent of the chewed tips of cigars but this is more of a raw tobacco, as though the green leaves had not turned sweet in the sun but had been plucked fresh and then reduced down to their most aromatically concentrated essence. As for the leather, the third prong of the oil’s compositional structure, it’s slathered with birch tar tonalities, then laden with campfire smoke.
These are the three great pillars upon which Aroha Kyaku is built, and everything else is sandwiched between them in varying degrees. There is oud camphor and menthol; slender, soft wisps of mushroomy funk; undercurrents of earthy muskiness; and, most noticeably, above all else, smoked peat. It’s that perfect single-malt whisky aroma which one finds in really good Asian agarwood (particularly the Borneo and Malaysian types, it seems) and which I love so much. Here, it is the smokiest of all smoky Islay malts, Ardbeg, my favourite, and Aroha Kyaku smells as though it’s been splashed on in reams, bottle over bottle, gushing over the tobacco, vetiver, and leather like a geyser.
Together, the combination feels so brawny, burly, and inordinately macho that the only thing which came to mind was Ernest Hemingway. This is Hemingway at his most sybaritic, a cigar in one hand, scotch in another, his bare chest gleaming in the sun as he went fishing or shooting, every inch of him reeking with confident swagger and bravado. I’m one of those heretics who is not enamoured by the man (quite to the contrary, in fact), but there is no denying that he’s the archetype for a certain type of virility and machismo and that he is commonly associated with tobacco, whisky, and a rough, tough leatheriness. In that sense, he’s a perfect symbol for both the man and the scent that Aroha Kyaku’s represents.
Aroha Kyaku takes a long time to change in any meaningful fashion. For the first five hours, the three central notes merely take turns in the spotlight, each one waxing then waning to let the next one have its turn. I’d like to say that the tobacco tips the scale for most of the first hour, but that was not always true in every instance. Aroha Kyaku’s focal point and nuances constantly shift in a way that renders it quite prismatic, not only from one hour to the next but also from one test to another. For example, I had little camphor the first time that I tried Aroha Kyaku but loads the second time, particularly during the first hour. In a third test, however, it only showed up in the third hour, and it didn’t last for long. The same was true for the oud’s mint which only showed up in one test, quite late, but not in others. The degree of birch-tar style leather, peaty Ardbeg whisky, wet leaves, and earthiness also varied from one wearing to another, as well as the points in which they were prominent.
The one thing which is always consistent, however, is that Aroha Kyaku’s degree of smokiness steadfastly rises until it explodes, usually in the third hour, and its darkness lasts all the way until very end. The smoke wafts a cade-like smell and intensity on my skin rather than an incense, liturgical, temple sort of aroma, and its ferocious blast is like a five-alarm forest fire, except the trees in this fire are dark and slick with reams of mossy smoky, mossy vetiver and blackened leather.
Aroha Kyaku shifts in such incremental degrees that it takes quite some time for the fragrance to change. The first pivot comes late in the 5th hour. The tobacco weakens, and any possible trace of camphor disappears, and the peat whisky/Ardbeg becomes an occasional, very ghostly whisper. At the same time, the leather begins to turn into suede — the smokiest of vetiver-tobacco suedes, mind you, but plush suede in texture nonetheless. The second pivot occurs roughly 6.25 hours in: the tobacco turns into a small blip in the background and its role is gradually taken over by aromas of black chocolate, spice, and patchouli. About 7.5 hours in, the tobacco vanishes completely; dribbles of spicy sweetness stir in the base; and the smoky vetiver top is filled not only with dark chocolate but also loads of mint. The cumulative effect reminds me of an “After 8” or “York Peppermint Patty,” except this one is infused with smoke, soft earth, vetiver moss, calfskin suede, resins, and ghostly whispers of Ardbeg whisky, all in a bouquet that now has the texture of velvet.
Green velvet is where Aroha Kyaku is heading and it reaches there when the drydown begins roughly 11.5 to 12.5 hours into the oil’s development. On an olfactory level, the bouquet smells like smoky vetiver layered with sticky, balsamic, semi-sweet, ambered labdanum resin and wisps of incense, but the truly remarkable, truly noteworthy thing for me is the scent’s textural thickness. The scent feels as though it were practically solid, fingerable, as though one had been swaddled in velvet. I’m not one for hardcore vetiver fragrances, but Aroha Kyaku’s almost sensory textural plushness in its drydown made me smile each time I tested the oil. And it lasts for hours, coating the skin softly and discreetly, but always evident if I bring my nose to my arm.
When taken as a whole, Aroha Kyaku had generally low projection, good sillage, and enormous longevity. Using one large drop, the opening projection was about 4 inches and the sillage started around 5 inches before growing after 40 minutes to about 7-8 inches once the oil was heated by the skin. The sillage dropped at the end of the 2nd hour to about 4-5. By the middle of the 4th hour, Aroha Kyaku’s projection hovered about 0.5 inches above the skin, while the scent trail was modest unless I moved my arm. The fragrance turned into a skin scent about 8.75 hours in; it was easy to detect up close without any great effort until the 14th hour, at which point, I had to put my nose right into the skin. Even so, the oil lingered on tenaciously, lasting just short of 18 hours in total. That’s just with a single drop, mind you. I got carried away in one test and applied a larger smear on my arm and Aroha Kyaku lasted almost 21 hours.
You can read other reviews for the oil at the bottom of its Ensar Oud page, but I’ll just say that I think it’s a fantastic, nuanced, and beautifully smooth treatment of vetiver, tobacco, leather, and smoke which will appeal to a lot of men. I would take it any day over the Tauer Attar AT which, though nicely done, is significantly simpler and is also created with some aromachemicals. This one is all-natural and, in my opinion, a lot richer, deeper, stronger, and better quality. Much, much better quality, although that is to be expected from a luxury line like Ensar Oud and, to be fair, Tauer’s is not priced in the same way. On the other hand, relative to Ensar Oud’s pricing standards, Aroha Kyaku is very reasonable with samples starting at $19 and 3 gram bottles at $165. I strongly recommend trying it if you love any of the olfactory notes described here. A big thumbs-up from me.
SULTAN LEATHER ATTAR:
Aroha Kyaku is a lovely, extremely appealing treatment of its particular themes, but Sultan Leather Attar is something really exceptional, in my opinion. Ensar Oud changed hats with this one, moving from his usual role as Creative Director to that of actual perfumer and blender. On his website, he explains that he sought to “add an OUD-inspired rendition to the legacy” of Old English Leather and Cuir de Russies by Creed & Chanel. To that end, he used:
Qi Nam Khmer V2 – one of incense-iest Cambodis ever distilled, a 12-years-aged wild Sinensis extract from Hainan, the lush & from-all-over Archipelago Exclusive making its debut, and a dash of Oud Mostafa No 4 from a small stash reserved for my perfumes only.
The oozing sensuality of Sultan Leather Attar is courtesy of the eclectic fusion of these ouds with Sultan Qaboos’ rose (distilled in the early 80s and regarded time and again as ‘till this day the best rose I’ve ever smelled’) with a stellar cast of supporting aromatics (30+ of them).
I didn’t want to temper down the sensual quality of previous cuir colognes – vintage leather jacket, tobacco chewing heart notes… the sultry allure has always defined cuir perfumes, and that’s why you’ll find bohemian artists and businessmen wearing them alike. Now, add the oud and in Sultan Leather Attar you get tobacco laced leather-come-hither heart notes that flow from its velvet, raw saddle top. You could even have called it Cuir de Charnel because it’s so unapologetically seductive… [Emphasis in the original.]
Sultan Leather attar opens on my skin with smoky birch tar leather that, thanks to a complex series of accompanying notes, smells not only like a soft, supple, brand-new and very expensive man’s leather jacket but also the fantastic fur-leather base of the 1930s to 1960 versions of vintage Shalimar parfum. In its earliest moments, Sultan Leather wafts: crisp bergamot poured generously over a lemony but jammy, beefy red rose; cloves and saffron sprinkled over resinous, earthy patchouli; fingers of oakmoss layered in-between smoky and mossy vetiver; dark, musky, and leathery castoreum; and a thick river of balsamic, toffee’d labdanum amber which runs under them all.
Less than five minutes in, the oud accord comes roaring in to add the perfect finishing touch, one which replicates the base of the very best formulation of vintage Shalimar parfum. The ouds smell of myrrh resin, tarry leather, campfire smoke, Opium-style incense, tobacco, and, above all else, a dark, practically furry musk. The cumulative effect is so fantastic that I can’t tear my nose from my arm. Half the time, I think of Idris Elba as the suave, dashing, but deadly Stringer Bell in The Wire, half the time I think of Ava Gardner in dark furs.
It’s not only a sumptuous bouquet but also a very prismatic one for the first hour. One minute, Sultan Leather smells like the beefiest, jammiest rose-leather, one worthy of being Henry VIII’s Tudor Rose; the next, it’s predominantly a tobacco-leather bomb, and ten minutes after that, it reverts to smelling like a Shalimar-style fur-leather-rose oriental before cycling on to a rose-chypre-leather, a smoky rose-oud, a leather-oud, or just a plain oud-fur musk, before the cycle starts all over again. I love each and every part of it, finding it to be not only a striking and complex bouquet but also endlessly smooth and sumptuously thick.
The leather and oud at its heart are particularly good, in my opinion. The ouds are never fecal or redolent of barnyard animals, while the leather is exactly what Cuir de Russie leather should be but, in my experience, rarely is. It doesn’t smell like that dreck in the modern Chanel EDT nor, thankfully, of the aromachemical leather found in things like Tuscan Leather. On my skin, the leather not only resembles the one in the oldest Shalimar versions but goes further, thanks to the ouds’ smoke, tar, incense, and resinous facets, to actually and fully evoke the Cossack leather which Cuir de Russies are meant to replicate. (The Imperial Russian army and the Cossacks used birch tar to waterproof their leather boots, hence the linguistic association.)
In its first three hours, Sultan Leather generally remains focused on its two central accords, the leather and multi-faceted oud-driven musk/fur, but everything outside those two elements changes and there is endless jockeying for third place as the scent evolves. The beautiful rose, trailed closely by the bergamot, usually wins out from the 30-minute mark until the end of the second hour. Thereafter, at the start of the 3rd hour, the frankincense takes the supplicant role, weaving itself around the oud-leather. The rose drops to fourth place, while the tobacco and vetiver trail far behind, mere flickers on the distant horizon. A quiet hint of sweetness typically appears there, too, roughly 2.75 hours in, though sometimes later. It smells of caramel benzoin and silky vanilla, and helps to keep the frankincense’s dusty qualities firmly in check.
Gradually, however, they, like the bergamot rose, tobacco, and chypre-ish notes, slip away, leaving a fragrance that is primarily a duet of leather and frankincense from the 4th hour until the end of the 11th one. The incense-leather is laced with slivers of oud (that smells mostly resinous and musky now), but not much else. It’s a very High Church take on leather, and I’m guessing top-grade Omani silver frankincense was used.
Personally, I am not a huge frankincense lover, so I struggled a bit with the liturgical, churchy dustiness here, but I appreciate the quality and naturalism of the materials. As incense-oud leathers go, I think this is a far smoother and superior take on the theme than Roja Dove‘s over-hyped Sultanate of Oman, particularly given the abrasive feel of the synthetics used there.
Sultan Leather generally circles back to its origins at the end of the 11th hour. The incense retreats to the distant background, while the oud disappears in any noticeable, distinct form. The incense’s disappearance has an effect like clouds parting from the sun, revealing the notes which had been hidden for so long below. The bergamot-laced jammy rose is unveiled but, this time, it is accompanies by splashes of vetiver, benzoin, vanilla, castoreum, and labdanum amber. Together, they sweep over the leather, returning it to something warmer, mellower, slightly sweeter, and more fragrant.
The length of this stage varies from one wearing to the next, as does Sultan Leather’s evolution thereafter. In one test, the scent gradually turned into a blurry oriental haze of increasingly supple, soft leather encased within resinous, smoky, ambered, and faintly sweet nuances layers. In another test, it transitioned into smoky vetiver-leather before ending up as an amorphous cloud of incense-y, smoky, and vaguely resinous darkness. In yet a third test, the smoky vetiver-leather phase cycled back to leather that was more resinous and golden, its amber laced with some sort of sweetness within, though it was impossible to tell if it was vanillic in nature or caramel-laced benzoin. In general, it seemed to make a difference if I applied the oil to my left arm or my right, no doubt due to some sort of dryness/moisture issue with the skin. Whatever the reason, though, it’s impossible for me to pigeon-hole Sultan Leather’s later stages into some sort of box. It is, as I said earlier on, a prismatic scent that radiates different nuances like light refracting from a crystal chandelier, from one hour to another and also from one wearing to the next.
One drop of Sultan Leather went a long, long way. When I applied one large drop in a roughly 2-inch smear on my arm, the sillage and longevity were in line with what I’ve described for Aroha Kyaku but it took Sultan Leather 11.5 hours to turn into a total skin scent and the scent lasted 24+ hours. In one test, I could detect tiny dime-size areas of resinous sweetness almost into the 35th or 36th hour. In another, the scent lasted after the 24th hour and after a shower. In short, it has fantastic performance in addition to its gorgeous full-bodied depth, smoothness, and opulence. If it weren’t for my personal difficulty with strong frankincense notes and the length of the stage in which it featured in a prominent capacity, I would want a bottle of Sultan Leather for myself.
You can read additional reviews for Sultan Leather on its Ensar Oud page, but I’d like to point out one from “Heidi” who loved Sultan Leather enough for her “initial thought [to be] “Go for 6 bottles!” She wrote, in part:
That Sultan Leather Attar is spectacular! Immediate impressions were leather, vetiver, citrus, possibly juniper and oakmoss, and some subtle florals. Then about ten minutes in, the smoke and incense came in… wow. Breathtaking! The dry down is still wonderfully leather, but is soft and round.
My initial thought is “Go for 6 bottles!”… but I want to give this a second wear tomorrow. I foolishly decided to do some gardening and got totally covered with dirt and had to wash up… surely washing way some of the delicious parfum. Even so, it is still going strong 6 hours later! [….]
The Sultan Leather Attar is definitely reminding me of something from my vintage leather parfum collection, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. [snip]
Heidi, perchance, might it be the base to either vintage Shalimar parfum or Bal à Versailles? Because there were definite whispers of both their dark bases on my skin, though 1930s/1940s Shalimar in specific.
For “Patricia,” however, the fragrance evoked something very different: “Reminds me of those old English scents that were around when I was growing up. Thank you for bringing those memories back!”
For the male commentators, Sultan Leather evoked thoughts of Sean Connery, James Bond, and George Clooney. A number of comments reference the complexity of the scent and its changing character; one person called it “a chameleon changing color according to its mood and the situation” while another described Sultan Leather as “an enigma/shapeshifter.”
As you can see, both women and men like Sultan Leather. I personally don’t believe in gender classification for scent but this one combines its masculine elements with more unisex or feminine ones for something that is ultimately unisex in approach. I think how you interpret its placement on the overall gender spectrum is probably going to depend on your individual tastes and style.
I know a number of you aren’t always comfortable around oud, so one thing that I want to emphasize is that Sultan Leather is a leather scent much, much more than an oud one. The attar may contain four types of agarwood oil but none of them bear the sort of aromas which you may typically associate with oud, particularly if you’ve only tried the Westernized fake variety. Even for genuine agarwood, the ouds here are particularly smooth, subtle, and, well… non-oudy; there is no menthol, camphor, barnyard funk, mushroom, cow poop, mint, or rubber band-aids. Instead, they smell like one more type of leathery and smoke but, above all else, in my opinion, of dark musk. Not a skanky one nor a truly, properly animalic dark musk, but a dark musk nonetheless, one laden with leather and soft, warm fur, as though your father’s leather jacket and your mother’s fur coat carried traces of each of their vintage oriental fragrances. It’s not only lovely but it is also, in my opinion, completely safe even for those who normally struggle with oud.
All in all, a gorgeous fragrance with captivating complexity and an exceptional Cuir de Russie note at its heart. A massive thumbs-up from me.
Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of Ensar Oud and the company. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.