Hello everyone. I hope you have been well and, above all else, safe and healthy in this utterly wretched year. No, I am not back, but I have been inspired and impelled by the latest Areej Le Doré collection, Series 6, to do pretty lengthy reviews on Twitter. And since I typed everything out via screenshot for Twitter, I figured I might as well copy and paste it some of it here for those of you who aren’t Twitter fans. This may be the only review that I’ll end transforming into a blog post, or it may not. I did a pretty lengthy review for the new Santal Galore as well, but since I stupidly deleted the source document, I’m going to be lazy and just link to the Twitter thread at the end instead of re-typing everything from scratch.
None of this will be like what I’ve written and done in the past in terms of photos or all the rest. I pecked the reviews out on my phone, which comes with a whole series of likely auto-correct and typo issues, but I figured it’s better than nothing. For now. At least it tells you something about the fragrances if you don’t read me on Twitter. (And I strongly advise you not to follow me on Twitter if you’re not interested in politics.)
I don’t know what the future will hold for this site except that I’m currently willing to undergo the constant (rather accumulated and not inexpensive) cost of keeping it up. For now. That may easily change, since it certainly seems like a waste of money to me, but we’ll see. Right now, I’m interesting in talking about fragrances only tangentially and only occasionally amidst other things while on Twitter. (If you wish to find me, the Twitter link is: https://twitter.com/Kafkaesque_Blog)
But, for once, at this particular moment, Areej Le Doré’s S6 has absorbed, fascinated, and distracted me enough for me to bother coming back to a site I would normally very much prefer to avoid. If this is a rare thing, and it absolutely is, it’s only because Areej Le Doré is one of my favourite brands and they’re one of the rare ones to be able to not just interest me but make me PASSIONATE.
In terms of ALD’s Series 6. I started with Santal Galore on Twitter, but right now I want to look at Agar de Noir (“AdN”), even if it’s a rough and ready, phone-pecked, Twitter screenshotted review. Again, as I said, some thing is better than nothing when it comes to giving you a sense about a perfume, even if it isn’t the prettiest rendition:
Before I describe what Agar de Noir (AdN) smells like, I think it’s worth briefly covering some of the notes which may be unfamiliar to you by scent and/or name. Two were wholly new to me, though it turns out that I was used to one being called something else.
“Crataegus”: it turns out that this is another name for “hawthorn,” which some of you may be familiar with from leather fragrances. I’ve encountered it in Kilian’s Royal Leather and a few other things. It was reportedly in Fahrenheit, too. Hawthorn has a honeyed, lightly floral aroma, but it is also strongly musky, leathery, and animalic. Sometimes it also manifests a rotted aroma, which may be why some people find its scent deeply unpleasant. (I haven’t experienced it as rotted decay.) Hawthorn plays quite a part in Agar de Noir’s first few hours, imo.
“Columba”: I’ve never heard or encountered this one before. Google tells me it’s also called: Calumba, Venivel, or Tree Tumeric. It seems to be used in incense. I couldn’t learn anything about its odor characteristics.
“Arnica”: a quiet presence in Agar de Noir’s first 45 minutes, it smells grassy, herbal, slightly dusty, and with a pine or sage-like aroma.
“Calamus”: its scent profile is a warm, spicy, slightly sweet woody bouquet with a quiet herbal and/or rooty undertone. Calamus is very noticeable on my skin in AdN’s first 45 minutes.
Agar de Noir opens on my skin with a deluge of delightfully sweet, spicy, smoky, ambered woodiness that is a clear sibling to Areej’s previous Russian Oud parfum as well as to the richly indulgent saffron Hindi oud leather in Oud Zen (Russian Adam’s very first oud fragrance) and even to Oud Picante.
Although there are differences from each as well, there is a clear kinship between all these fragrances that show they were crafted by the same hand, even if their ingredients or notes vary. Also, I would argue that Russian Adam has developed a real signature in terms of the drydown in all his oud fragrances, but more on that much later.
For now, let’s look at how Agar de Noir differs from its predecessors, particularly Russian Oud, the Areej oud which is, on my skin at least, the closest one in terms of the general aesthetic and its semi-gourmand character.
First, AdN is much drier and less intensely gourmand than Russian Oud even though AdN has toffee’d labdanum, caramel benzoin, sweet ambergris, the honey from the hawthorn, and a very buttery, almost butterscotch-like saffron.
In some ways, the saffron and the manner in which it combines with the smoky Hindi oud replicate parts of Oud Zen more than the chocolate rich Russian Oud. However, I’d never describe Oud Zen as even close to semi-gourmand, so again we’re encountering differences that separate Agar de Noir.
Second, AdN has definite grassy, herbal, and green elements running under its woods and that’s something that Russian Oud lacked. Oud Picante had some element of greenness but I don’t recall it smelling like sweet grasses or sage, both of which are present here from the arnica. Oud Zen had a strong, forceful vetiver component with almost a mossy, chypre-like feel at times, so that, too, is different.
Third, while AdN has a definite whiff of something vaguely chocolate-y, it’s a passing impression, it’s nothing as solid or major as it was in Russian Oud, and it’s also subsumed within a rich, robust, dark mix of slightly bitter coffee (more like espresso at times), saffron, cardamom, and darkened, balsamic amber resins. The coffee is like the one in Oud Lawak, but everything else is different. The cardamom is similar to Oud Picante but significantly stronger and more central here. But, critically, there is a deluge of saffron in AdN that both those prior Areej ouds lacked. (While Oud Zen did have copious amounts of saffron, I don’t recall it smelling like sweet baklava there.)
Speaking of the green-tinged cardamom and coffee mixture in Agar de Noir, it reminds me of Turkish coffee and I like it far more than what Kilian once did in his “Intoxicated” fragrance. While the coffee, cardamom mix recall minor parts of Areej’s earlier Oud Picante, it’s important to note again that the green, grassy, herbal elements here are different in type, character, and scent.
I really like their freshness here and how they seem to flit between smelling of sweet summer grasses and fresh sage. There is also an occasional, nebulous hit of sweet, honeyed pine sap which may be the result of the honeyed hawthorn interacting with these other elements.
The freshness of these green notes helps to keep Agar de Noir’s sweeter elements in check, as does the smokiness of the Indian and Laotian ouds. Both are inherently smoky types of agarwood but guaiac wood is as well; together the three emit a wonderfully leathery, birch-tar-like type of campfire smoke that prevents the gourmand elements in Agar de Noir from taking over or being over the top.
Even stronger than the grassy, green, or fresh herb tonalities are the spices which combine beautifully with the sticky amber resins, the smoke, and the muskiness emitted by various elements.
The effect is, for me, sometimes much closer to Ambre Loup in the first hour than to Russian Oud. One reason why is because the notes in Agar de Noir do not mimic or recreate the strong patchouli aroma that was such a big part of Russian Oud on my skin. And in lieu of chocolate, there is that musky, sticky, almost hashish-like tarry spiciness that so dominates Ambre Loup’s base, only here there is beautiful, spicy, honey-laden saffron added as well.
Ultimately, however, it’s really a question of degree more than kind; all of these fragrances have overlapping aspects or similarities, so the question is to which side of the spectrum is the needle pointing— and that is a very subjective, personal assessment.
It is also, to be honest, a bit of semantics. If you have Ambre Loup and Russian Oud, as I do, or Russian Oud, Oud Zen, and Oud Picante, then pointing out the differences feels like nitpicking about small things. These are related fragrances that, Ambre Loup excluded, have all been created by the same hand. There is a creator’s aesthetic and signature at play, just as there is in Serge Lutens or Antonio Gardoni fragrances that explore or riff on some common central themes, presenting them through different prisms.
Which brings me to another point: I think Agar de Noir will be great for people who missed out on the prior Areej oud fragrances or for those new to the line. I’m incredibly excited that the latter will have the chance to experience parts of his prior, sold-out ouds, now fused together in a new shape and form.
What about old followers who already have some of the prior releases? Well, I don’t know. That’s going to be a wholly personal, individualistic judgment call. It will probably come down to need and finances. I’m not certain how much people who already have at least two of the prior releases will need this one, not unless they’re a hard-core collector of all oud fragrances generally or all Areej ouds in specific. (Then again, none of us needs fragrance to begin with, do we? And yet we buy it anyway…)
Returning to Agar de Noir’s development, the fragrance shifts 65 to 75 minutes in. The grassy green freshness and sage disappear; the muskiness, smoke, and leather double; the coffee turns bitter, like stale coffee that’s been left out for too long on the burner; and a burnt syrup note appears, like burnt, charred tree sap laced with burnt honey. The increase in smokiness creates more dryness, cutting through the stickiness of the semi-gourmand amber resins and tamping down on their sweetness. Whereas once AdN was primarily a sweet, spicy, musky woody scent, now it is primarily a smoky, spicy, musky oud leather.
A few things are worth noting about the leather. The hawthorn here does not smell rotted or like musky uncured hides. By the same token, the Hindi oud has none of its usual butch, animalic raw hide stench. There is a fleeting wisp of its creamy Gorgonzola blue cheese 25 minutes in, lurking in the base under the woods, but it is the tiniest suggestion and quickly fades away.
What’s really apparent and central in Agar de Noir’s long second stage is musky, caramel-slathered, smoky leather. The leather is initially dry but also supple, not desiccated; the ambered caramel is sweet, rich, and cozy, but also blackened and, thanks to the coffee note, shot through with some bitterness; the smoke smells both tarry and woody; and the muskiness feels more velvety and sweet than animalic. And the whole thing is covered with the smoky, slightly burnt honey and the rich saffron which, with every passing hour, reminds me more and more of baklava, albeit a baklava laced with wood smoke.
Agar de Noir’s bouquet remains largely unchanged from the 75 minute mark until well into the 9th hour except in two ways.
The first concerns the fragrance’s projection and sillage. I used 2 or 3 squirts of the atomizer, roughly a little more than a big spray from a bottle. With that amount, AdN opened with about 10 inches of a scent trail, creating a voluminous but strong cloud around me. The projection was about 5 inches off my arm.
But 2.5 hours in, the sillage and cloud shrank in half to about 5 inches. The projection dropped a bit as well. 6.5 hours in, AdN hovered about 2 inches off my arm and the scent trail was discreet except when I moved.
I should mention, however, that all the Areej fragrances, but particularly its ouds, have the power and capacity to be significantly stronger and voluminous in projection the more you apply. And AdN is the sort of scent that, if I were to apply 2 sprays from a bottle on each arm, you could probably smell me across a very large room.
The second change during AdN’s long heart stage is an olfactory one: creaminess. Starting in the 8th hour, a wave of creaminess that is practically textural arises and begins to engulf over many of the main notes in Agar de Noir but impacting the leather above all else. Where once the leather felt predominantly musky, dark, smoked, and dry, now its central characteristics are creamy, buttery calfskin. I think two things are responsible: the Indian oud, which commonly turns into creamy calfskin midway to late in its development; and the tonka in the base.
The smoke and musk remain, but they’re not as central to the leather’s identity. Actually, I’d say the rich, somewhat honeyed saffron and the various amber resins are the leather’s primary companions.
From the end of the 9th hour and start of the 10th hour onwards, the cumulative effect is, essentially: a musky, gloriously rich, supple, smooth calfskin leather slathered with creamy, caramelized crème brûlée, ambered toffee-butterscotch, and loads upon loads of utterly delicious, intoxicating, spiced, honeyed, saffron baklava. This delectable, cozy concoction is then wrapped up with thick black ribbons of dry wood smoke.
This is, in my opinion, the start of the drydown phase and I love it. It’s not too sweet, too dry, too musky, too leathery, too foodie, or too, too much of anything in excess. On my skin, these competing elements are perfectly balanced and harmonious. And, if you’ve read me for a while, you know that I have a low tolerance for gourmands or excess sweetness, so believe me when I say that the result here is more of a cozy, sexy, and inviting layered leather-driven oriental than, say, wearing dessert on your arm.
It is, I would argue, a bouquet that is slowly become a signature for Russian Adam’s oud fragrances: creamy oud leathers, sometimes supplemented by an equally creamy wood like sandalwood, all slathered and cocooned in rich, sweet, incredibly cozy caramel, toffee amber resins (and some vanillic tonka), then laced up with dark smoke. I love it. It’s inviting and addictive, and it’s the sort of drydown that’s perfect for relaxing at the end of the day.
I bring up the end of the day because, again, Agar de Noir’s drydown begins around the 10th hour and basically continues until the fragrance dies out which, on me, with only 2 or 3 squirts from an atomizer, is 27 hours from the start! All that happens during this time is that the notes turn soft, blurry, and amorphous, fusing into a sweet, smoky, spicy, leathery-ish ambered golden haze that smells somewhat of saffron baklava.
The blurriness really kicks in from the 14th hour onwards which is also around the time that I have to bring my nose right to my arm because there is no scent trail but, up close, Agar de Noir is unmistakably there, purring away softly. Around the 20th hour, the fragrance is a mere glaze but it’s not hard to detect when my nose is on my arm. It’s only after the 24th hour that it takes more work.
As context, I should mention that many Areej ouds last up to 36 hours on me; some, like Russian Oud, last not only more than a day but also through a shower, depending on how much I apply. I expect Agar de Noir would perform similarly if I were less miserly with my application amount.
I’ll conclude this long review for Agar de Noir with only this final comment: whether or not you have Russian Adam’s prior ouds, if you look at Agar de Noir and assess it in a vacuum, there is no doubt that this is good stuff. Very good stuff, indeed, and done well.
My review for Santal Galore is currently a series of extended screenshots in 6 or so tweets on Twitter and since I stupidly deleted the original source document, I think it’s unlikely that I’ll type it all out again. But Santal Galore is a fascinating fragrance, fascinating enough that maybe I’ll re-type everything here. Well, possibly. Maybe.
More likely, however, I’ll simply move onto Musk Lave, the next one in my review series. Since I’m tired as well as feeling lazy right now, I’ll just link you to the Santal Galore Twitter review thread instead of trying to move the screenshots here or re-typing the long text: Santal Galore Review Thread.