Agar Aura‘s Layali has achieved something that I haven’t experienced in years with a modern fragrance: It has left me simultaneously at a total loss for words from sheer stunned, overjoyed impact and also gushing with so many hyperboles that I don’t know how I can do the scent justice without sounding like a blithering, stuttering idiot.
Agar Aura and its creator, Taha Syed, are legendary in the oud world. People talk about his oud oils and attars with the hushed rapturous breaths reserved for the great masters of their craft. I’d never tried one of his creations until now, primarily because samples were not readily available and I couldn’t afford blind-buys on bottles.
I still can’t afford Agar Aura’s creations but, after smelling Layali, I wish I could. In fact, if I had the money, I’d buy not one bottle but two, simply to always have some on hand. I’m truly blown away – and I’m saying this as someone for whom rose is my second to least favourite notes in perfumery. Perhaps because few to no “roses” smell like the rose(s) in Layali.
Layali is pure parfum or extrait that was released in 2021. Officially, it is a rose-oud and technically, a soliflore, but that doesn’t begin to do Layali justice, in my opinion. In the simplest terms, the sum is far, far greater than its two central raw material parts, thanks to the nature, quality, complexity, layers, and range of each.
Agar Aura‘s official description of Layali’s scent, materials, and notes is as follows:
The oud-rose combo is just about the most common pair used in perfumes that contain oud. But when it comes to western ‘oud’ perfumes, virtually all of them use synthetic oud. In Arabian oud-based mukhallats, real oud might be used but as a general rule, the lowest grades of oud are used. Then there’s the addition of synthetic musks, Iso E Super, and other aromachemicals – which is standard, in both traditions.
So what do you get when you blend the finest all-natural ingredients into an oud-rose combo? You get Layali. Incredibly deep oud oils were carefully blended to accentuate deep tobacco and dark leather accents, giving Layali a posh gentlemen’s club vibe. You can almost picture the tufted dark leather sofas, and teakwood cigar boxes sitting on top of dark mahogany tables.
One of the most difficult essential oils to work with, Davana, was meticulously fused with the ouds to produce a delectable plum brandy aroma – a note so addictive that you’ll find it hard to keep your wrist away from your nose.
There’s no musk of any kind (natural or synthetic) in Layali, another reason why it smells very different from all other oud-rose perfumes. The blend is embellished with the most sensual white rose. The union is so seamless and perfect in every way that it completely redefines the oud-rose experience. There’s oud-rose perfumes, and then there’s Layali.
Layali… Discover the gentleman in you.
Though Layali officially only has rose(s), oud(s), and davana oil, the cumulative effect is that of a fragrance with at least five to ten more ingredients. It’s because the natural, highly refined, and clearly top-grade ouds, in particular, have such an innate complexity of aromas that their scent mimics many other materials. (If you’re new to oud and Taha Syed, you can read a 2014 article and interview with him in the Phnom Penh Post entitled “A scent more precious than gold.”)(If you’re new to oud and would like a more educational analysis and discussion of agarwood, its terroir issues, how diluted or chemical most mainstream versions are even in the Middle East, the synthetics often included, the rarity of the real stuff and its increasingly endangered status, and more, you can turn to my lengthy industry analysis and two-part series on oud as explained by and seen through the eyes of Ensar Oud.)
In Layali, its ouds smell like, among many other things, of: vetiver, fermented Aquilaria wood, vintage-style oak moss, geranium, mint, wood smoke, incense smoke, charred woods, ambered resins, leather, patchouli, camphor, soft dark musks, tobacco-like earthiness, actual dark tobacco, soft animalics, and even fleeting, once in a blue moon, pops of mushroom, blue cheese, and meaty savoriness which have been cooked on a campfire or barbeque grill.
To say that Layali opens on my skin with roses and oud is a gross understatement of the head-spinning, complex opulence that turned my head from the very first sniff and made me fall in love. I’m almost at a loss for words to describe the rose in particular, but I’ll try to do my best.
The rose component smells as though 10,000 roses have been distilled down into a tiny 25 mg bottle of concentrate, each wafting such heady, naturalistic, practically 3D complexity that the symphonic whole leaves me dazed with joy. Their aroma: bright lemon; fragrant fresh strawberries; sweet strawberry jam; geranium flowers; fuzzy and peppery dark geranium leaves; barely open, budding roses; deeply ripe and indolent rose concentrate like in an attar; and a soft woodiness. The whole thing is then generously sprayed with rose nectar honey.
It’s spectacular! I may not like roses as they’re typically presented in perfumery but that’s because they always smell like thin, abstract impressions of roses which have been concocted in a chemist’s lab. The olfactory beauty of the real flowers blooming in a garden are rarely, in my opinion, captured, unless it’s in an attar-style concentration. But even then, while the composition may reproduce the heady concentration of many roses, many Middle Eastern brands go wild by adding either some sugary component to take the rose’s innate jamminess to unnatural heights, fruitchouli, clean white musks or, much of the time, some combination of the above. Even Amouage‘s Homage – the benchmark rose attar that rose lovers mention in orgasmic terms – includes some of these unnatural additives. Granted, I only tried the second formulation, not the original, but all accounts of the first edition also reference the pernicious commonality of clean musk. I wasn’t bowled over. It was a very nice rose attar, but it wasn’t Layali. THIS one bowls me over.
Layali’s oud accord is even more complex, if you can believe it. During the opening stage, it smells primarily of that “noble rot” which creates agarwood’s characteristic smell. It’s been some time since I smelled an oud with this sort of fermented note; I find it attractive and pretty sexy. No, it does not smell of rot, per se, so much as it does of incredibly fragrantly, almost aromatic fermented wood.
Dancing all around it are other aromas: savory mushroom steaks, fresh white mushrooms, verdant oakmoss-like greenness, and the entirety of vetiver’s many characteristics (woody, earthy, rooty, smoky, smoky bourbon, and leafy). I’d bet money that the rose’s geranium-like aroma – which lasts all the way to the end, by the way – stems from the oud as well. Ditto the “mint.” My skin has a very strange reaction to certain innate or organic compounds in vetiver oil, turning them 8 out of 10 times, if not 9 out of 10 times, into the smell of mint. (The materials have a few shared compounds, I believe.) So, if I keep mentioning “mint” in this review, keep in mind that the majority of people, including probably you, will read that aroma on their skin as “vetiver,” not mint.
The two together are a gorgeous array of notes, richness, and layers and, yet, they’re in perfect harmony. The whole is even lovelier than its parts. I was fascinated by so many different elements that my nose was essentially plastered to my arm almost non-stop in the first hour.
20 minutes in, Layali’s davana arrives – and my cup of delight runneth over.
Davana is a flower that, sadly in my opinion, isn’t widely used in perfumery but definitely should be. It typically imbues a very boozy aroma to scents, often like apricot brandy or rum to my nose. If you’ve tried Histoires de Parfums‘ skanky, boozy leather Marquis de Sade 1740 or Naomi Goodsir‘s boozy, hookah tobacco, floral amber Or du Sérail, you’ll be familiar with davana as a material but, let me tell you, I’ve never smelt it quite the way that it is here. I’m guessing that’s it’s because of the richness, quality, and methods by which it was derived.
Agar Aura says that the davana in Layali is meant to replicate plum brandy, but I think its bouquet far exceeds that. Yes, there is plum brandy, but there are also dark raisins and juicy, sticky, sweet, thick prunes soaked in Bourbon vanilla, ruby port, and a really good Italian Amarone concentrated red wine. My god, the overall effect is fantastic next to those million and one roses and fermented oud.
Thanks to the oud, the davana, like the rose, is also suffused with intense blips of greenery that range from mint to peppery geranium leaves, vetiver, moss and, as the first hour draws to a close and the second starts, even a touch of eucalyptus. There are also wisps of incense and camphorous Tiger’s Balm liniment.
Everything is a kaleidoscope that never stops delivering in beauty or interest. Also, each note is simultaneously concrete and clearly delineated but also infuses the next element in a way that makes them impossible to separate. So many modern, 2010s-era brands think that “harmony” requires a totally amorphous, out-of-focus swathe of bland generic incomprehensibility which it absolutely does not, in my opinion. I think that people have forgotten how fragrances in the old days managed to achieve cogent individuality AND harmony – probably because they used a high quantity of rich natural materials, pre IFRA/EU, combined in complex accords rather than relying on some Frankenstein’s lab creation that was indeterminately abstract to begin with before it rapidly turned into the olfactory equivalent of the Witness Protection Plan drab of anonymity.
Going back to Layali, there are two broad, overarching development issues that I think are important to mention. First, as a rose-oud soliflore, the essence of the bouquet remains as I’ve described it to you for hours on end, changing only in its details, nuances, byproduct aromas, and their prominence. So, on the one hand, Layali appears to be a simple, largely uncomplicated composition when taken as a whole. However, if one sniffs up close and sees the many facets of its two main ingredients (especially the oud), then Layali is paradoxically quite complex.
To put it another way, Layali is both simple and linear and also what I call a “prismatic” scent, my highest compliment. I define “prismatic” fragrances as those which emit different nuances, aromas, or notes from one minute or one hour to another – like rays of light and colour bouncing off a prism or crystal – never being the same way twice from one wearing to another, never following a clearly defined evolution, never being easy to pinpoint down.
For example: One minute Layali smells like jammy red roses with fermented oud woods; the next minute, the rose smells like strawberries and lemon accompanied by oud that is minty, mushroomy, and fermented, then drizzled with plum brandy; a few minutes later, it smells of a geranium rose with vetiver, oakmoss and incense; ten minutes after that, Layali smells like all the above as well as camphor, honey, plums, prunes, raisins, a leathery undertone, a slightly sticky balsamic resin, dark musk, and earthiness. It’s a constant cycle where the nuances or byproduct aromas continue from one moment to the next, all while remaining 45% roses, 45% oud, and 10% davana booziness.
The second point that I wanted to make is that Layali performs like an attar on my skin, not an extrait, which means it’s a fragrance with absolute monster longevity on my skin (even with a small scent application). That has significance for the scent development in a different way. When a fragrance lasts as long as Layali does on me, every stage is drawn out seemingly ad infinitum when compared to typical and mainstream fragrances that last just 8-10 hours and have each stage be about 2-3 hours. In those cases, one can assess the changes over time quite easily and conclude that the fragrance is not linear. But when a fragrance, like Layali, lasts well over 28 hours on me until I finally had to take a shower for a vet appointment and when tiny, quarter-sized patches of my arm continue to waft the scent even after that and until well into the 38th hour, then time is elongated in a completely anomalous fashion. (I’m barely restraining myself from quoting True Detective’s Time is a Flat Circle line.)
To put it another way, Layali doesn’t twist and morph every hour or few hours; it doesn’t even twist and morph every 4 or 5 hours. It, kinda, somewhat, twists and morphs every 10 to 12 hours. So we’re back to the simple but complex paradox I mentioned up above.
Speaking of 10-12 hours, that roughly when a new player arrives on the scene in a major way: Leather. While there were definite pops of leather in the base and/or the background before now, especially after the 5th hour, the blips were either never constant or not a central player. Mostly, it was an undertone in the base and a definite byproduct of the oud accord.
But now the leather transforms Layali from a rose, oud, and davana brandy scent (with a multiplicity of additional aromas) into a rose, oud, leather fragrance where the davana, like everything else, is secondary. The geranium, plush green “oakmoss,” “mint”/vetiver, earthiness, muskiness, resinous, and incense-y facets remain prominent but they don’t alter Layali’s the new face and character which Agar Aura summed up perfectly in the following photo on his site:
It’s a very sexy outcome. The oud leather now waltzes about central stage in the arms of both the strawberry, geranium, honeyed roses and the oud’s mossy, geranium, mint, vetiver, aromatically fermented wood and dark, alluring muskiness, as a light spray of raisin plum brandy from the davana rains from above.
A newcomer takes the leather’s place in the base: Tobacco. Well, sorta. The earthiness that was always part of the oud accord now starts to hint at dark, earthy, raw tobacco leaves being dried in the sun, but it’s more of a suggestion on my skin than a concrete note. It never reads as dry, aromatic cigars, by the way, simply raw tobacco leaves picked straight out of the earth. Though there are moments, during the 15th to 17th hours, where the honey from the oud (and/or roses?) briefly turns the tobacco into something more like dried, sweetened pipe tobacco, it’s still one of those tangential, oud side-effect smells on my skin.
Layali shifts somewhat around the 19th to 20th hour. In essence, the resinous parts of oud accord begin to emit an ambered warmth that coats the strawberry roses, leather, varied green notes, aromatic fermented oud wood, and the plethora of side notes within a soft, rounded cloud of goldenness. Like the tobacco, the “amber” isn’t a concrete, substantial, clearly delineated, or separate note but more of a suggestive haze.
As I mentioned up above, I had to take a shower in the 28th hour in order to take His Highness to the vet, so I don’t know how Layali may have naturally progressed after that in terms of its bouquet. I can only say that the Layali which persisted for HOURS after my shower returned back to the more green-centric version of roses with oud. In other words, there was no leather, no “tobacco,” no “amber,” and no davana brandy. What was left was so addictive and lovely, though: a strongly vintage, quasi-chypre-like composition where the roses were inundated with plush, fragrant greenness and fermented, aromatic, fragrant woodiness.
While I’ve spoken about the longevity, let me briefly talk about the sillage. I used 2 tiny spritzes from the little atomizer that I was sent, an amount that I’d estimate was equal to 1 very small spray from a bottle. That dose resulted in 8 inches of sillage. However, as I walked around from room to room, there was a definite trail lingering behind me that I could detect 30 minutes later when I re-entered a room.
For a fragrance that operates like an attar, that’s a lot more sillage and presence than I had anticipated with such a tiny amount. That said, Layali’s sillage dropped to about 3-4 inches about 2.5 to 2.75 hours in, or midway during the 3rd hour. Layali hovered an inch above my skin from the 7th hour until roughly the 15th hour; at that point, it was simply a smear on my skin though so noticeable, so strong up close, and so easy to detect that I’d say Layali really turned into a skin scent on me around the 22th hour. And remember, I could still easily detect smudges of it on my wrist and on tiny patches of my arm after a shower and well into the 38th hour, so it’s not a difficult scent to detect even in the 22th hour.
I loved Layali to the point where, if I ever end up doing a Best Of list of the things that I tried in 2022, it would rank very high. I loved the mesmerizing bouquet on an olfactory basis, I loved the performance, I loved how it made some new attars that I’ve tried feel like water in comparison, I loved the complexity, and I loved its sheer grandeur and crazy opulence. This is sheer decadence in terms of the roses alone, and regular readers know just how ambivalent or nonchalant I am about rose fragrances. Not this one, though. My god, I wish I could bathe in a tub of Layali’s flowers. Heck, in Layali itself.
Layali comes in a 25 ml bottle for $495 and, sadly, it is close to being sold out. In fact, Agar Aura himself is sold out. (You have to remember that Layali was released last year in 2021.) Luckyscent has the only bottles remaining. I wrote to Franco, Luckyscent’s co-owner, to ask if samples might become available at some point and he told me this morning that he only had 9 bottles left. That’s 9 bottles in the entire world (unless you can find one on eBay).
As best as I can recall, there are only two instances where I have urged people to buy a fragrance blindly and both were relatively affordable scents, like between $99 to $120, that could not be sampled. (One was Kalemat.) I have never urged people to buy an enormously expensive fragrance, but I’m going to break my rule to do it here for the following groups of people who also have the means to drop $495 without a second thought: Rose-oud lovers who are longstanding Agar Aura fans who missed out on Layali earlier; rose lovers who adore attars like Amouage’s Homage; Ensar Oud oud or attar fans; and any wealthy, hardcore rose-oud lovers generally who prefer insanely opulent, heavy, thick and magnificently over-the-top compositions.
Layali is magical. It really is. It’s one of those scents that I will always remember.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews and my opinions are my own.