Rose Aqor, Oud Ulya, and Vanilla Barka are three of six new attars that Amouage has launched recently in an attempt to straddle the richness, glory, popularity, and complexity of its old legends and the increasingly draconian restrictions placed on perfumery in the eight or so years since IFRA forced Amouage to retire its original olfactory beauties. Do the new additions live up to the greatness of old? No. Do they come across as real, authentic attars? Also no, in my opinion. Are they terrible? Well, it depends on which ones you try and your personal tastes. Are they worth the money in question? That answer, like most things involving perfumery, cannot be anything but purely subjective and individual, but I will tell you that I personally have a lot of issues with these new “attars.”
ROSE AQOR ATTAR:
Rose Aqor is a fragrance oil that was created by Cécile Zarokian under the direction of Renaud Salmon and released in 2022. The scent description and official notes are as follows:
A lush of Rose Centifolia blooms amidst a radiant heart of Frankincense and a pearly haze of Sandalwood. A sumptuous tribute to the oasis of Al Aqor, where the rarest roses in the world still grow.
Rose centifolia, frankincense, sandalwood
Rose Aqor is largely a rose soliflore with a variety of facets, many innate, some not, that are accentuated by other notes that seem to go far beyond the mere nutshell official trio, in my opinion. To give just one example of what I smell that is not mentioned as an official note: amber.
Rose Aqor opens on my skin with a sheer but complex rose that smells lemony, honeyed, woody, peppery, lightly fruited, faintly earthy, and trimmed with greenery. I really like the latter aroma which mimics rose geranium as well as the fuzzy, peppery greenness of its leaves. Flashes of silver and black frankincense hit the roses like lightning from on top while, in the background and base, are occasional fleeting pops of something woody, though it does not translate as “sandalwood” at this point in time.
Rose Aqor shifts in incremental degrees, and most of those changes take place in the first hour. About 5 minutes in, the rose takes on a much fruitier aspect, smelling both of raspberries and also something a wee bit spicier like pink peppercorns. At the same time, the woody base note unexpectedly wafts a woody smokiness that smells, to me and on my skin, a lot more like charred cedar than sandalwood. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of the incense and sandalwood together? Speaking of incense, it lacks the shimmering silver purity and ethereal nature of the Omani frankincense that so struck my fancy in Meander. This is a darker, blacker affair on my skin, both in terms of scent and mental visuals.
About 20 minutes in, the rose triples in strength, heft, and sweetness. Its raspberry and honeyed aspects turn significantly richer, as do the sense of greenness and woodiness, thereby adding to the overall effect of a richly fragrant (though still sheer) rose blooming in a garden. The naturalism of the flower is aided by the bouquet turning fractionally, comparatively, deeper in body but it is purely relative to the gauziness of the opening.
That said, with a single drop of scent, however, Rose Aqor remains exceedingly sheer in body. It’s more like a nice extrait than an attar. Actually, I think it’s pretty much like an extrait in body, not an attar, unless one applies three drops – which is really not the sort of usage that an attar should necessitate, in my opinion.
The completely atypical attar density and heft notwithstanding, I like Rose Aqor a lot if I view it as a soliflore extrait rather than an attar. I have often mentioned how roses are my second most disliked floral note in perfumery and that’s entirely because the kind in most Western fragrances is so impressionistic, bloodless, nondescriptly synthetic, and limited in nuance and depth. Unless one resorts to artisanal luxury attars from people like Agar Aura, to vintage extraits, or to non-IFRA compliant, bandit, vintage-skewing, hand-distilled parfums, the “roses” I typically encounter have a lot more in common with a Givaudan laboratory than with a rose blooming in a garden reduced down to its most concentrated, 3D presence. These roses I greatly appreciate. Rose Aqor is one of them, even if I continue to think it is hardly a true attar.
Rose Aqor continues to shift in incremental, not always clearly detectable, degrees as it develops. 50 minutes in, the flowers grow woodier in undertones. 90 minutes in, the sandalwood rises from the base to entwine itself with the increasingly raspberry- and honey-scented flowers and to become a dominant part of the bouquet. While the sense and aromas of geranium, geranium rose, and/or geranium green leaves continue, Rose Aqor is clearly headed along a woody path at this point. I should add that the santal is good stuff in terms of quality; this is not some IFF-created, raspy concoction. (Of course, at the prices that these attars command, I would bloody well hope so.) At the same time as all this is happening, the incense returns, adding a different sort of resinous and smoky quality to the mix. As a whole, Rose Aqor enters the second hour as a heady, sweet, fragrant, appealing, and nuanced (extrait-level), soft, moderately sheer bouquet of honeyed roses, santal woodiness, incense smoke, and wisps of indeterminate greenery.
About 1.75 hours in, Rose Aqor continues to make me suspect that there is far, far more going on in the composition than the mere three official ingredients which Amouage admits to publicly. On my skin, there is: a growing impression of an ambered resin that is quite detached and unrelated to the sandalwood; a spicy note (smelling of cinnamon, nutmeg, and something vaguely clove-ish); and also a definite whiff of something that strongly mimics patchouli in both its chocolate-y, woody, and green undertones. I have tested all Amouage attars in-depth at this point and I don’t think a three-part note list tells the full story for most of them, if not all of them.
3 to 3.5 hours in, Rose Aqor is a simple duet of jammy, raspberry roses with incense-infused, patchouli-infused, spicy, resinous, santal-ish woodiness, woven together with thick threads of ambered goldenness. The sillage, which was never huge to begin with when I applied 2 drops, decreases even further and the fragrance hovers an inch or two above my skin.
Midway during the 5th hour, Rose Aqor is primarily a rose scent with creamy, soft, texturally buttery woodiness inlaid within, then sheathed with a ambered cloud of golden warmth that smells of toffee’d labdanum. Delicate tendrils of incense weave in and out of the background, but this is a woody and increasingly ambered rose above all else. The spicy patchouli and rose geranium tertiary aromas remain strong, making me wonder for the umpteenth time about the note list.
Rose Aqor turns blurrier, sheerer, lighter, and more discreet in sillage, body, weight, and note delineation at the 6.5 hour mark. The bouquet is an overlapping haze of spicy, fruity, green-tinged, patchouli, woody, incense-y, resinous, and ambered roses.
Rose Aqor shifts focus and gears, however, when the drydown begins in the middle of the 8th hour. in essence, the sandalwood takes over and the bouquet is now centered on a creamy, buttery, slightly spicy, and heavily ambered woodiness with only a muted hint of floralcy subsumed within.
The wood note doesn’t smell of actual sandalwood on my skin, and most certainly not the Mysore variety, but rather more akin to a denuded, pale, soft wood that, to be frank, feels imbued with labdanum, orris butter or vanilla, and an anonymous, suede-like plushness. There’s something hard to pinpoint about it except to say that it makes me think of soft, warm, clean skin in a tactile sense, though gently coated in golden butter and with whispers of spice and rosy-ish floralcy layered deep underneath. Rose Aqor remains that way until it finally dies away.
Rose Aqor had good longevity and initially good sillage that turned discreet on me unless I applied two drops or more. I had difficulty in doling out an exact drop amount from the very narrow-necked sample vials and from one test to the next. I could manage one drop easily but, given the sheerness and softness of the scent, I felt as though I needed two drops in order to get a sense of anything other than roses flecked with santal. However, getting those two drops wasn’t a consistent or successful process in my tests.
For Rose Aqor, I used more than one. (3 tiny ones? 2 big ones? A smeared blur in-between?) Bottom line, Rose Aqor lasted a minimum of 12 hours on me with a light dosage and about 17-18 hours with more. The opening sillage” was about 8 inches; grew to about 12 inches about 30 minutes in when the rose tripled in strength; dropped near the end of the 2nd hour to about 4 inches; and turned into a skin scent in the middle of the 8th hour.
I liked Rose Aqor a lot, probably the most out of all the set, though I refuse to view it as an actual “attar.” It’s merely a lovely, nicely conventional Middle Eastern rose, rose-woody, and rose-ambered-woody scent with an extrait de parfum feel.
OUD ULYA ATTAR:
Oud Ulya is a fragrance oil that was created by Cécile Zarokian and released in 2022. The scent description and official notes are as follows:
The raw animality of the Oud Assam is sublimed by the intense smokiness of Birch Tar and tamed by a generous pour of Vanilla. The pure expression of Oud, as royal and lavish as the nature of Ulya.
Oud Assam, Vanilla, Birch
Oud Ulya opens on my skin exactly like original 80% Ambre Loup. I mean exactly, in all three of my tests and regardless of quantity application or the arm that I used. There is absolutely no bloody way that this fragrance has merely oud, vanilla, and birch tar in it. Absolutely none in my personal opinion. On my skin, there is, unquestionably, labdanum just to start with, while the “isoeugenol” mentioned in the ingredients list accompanying the sample set also reveals that Oud Ulya has a sweet, spicy, guaiac wood-like natural material redolent of cloves.
For those of you unfamiliar with the glory that was old Ambre Loup, Oud Ulya opens with a flood of sticky, toffee’d labdanum infused with cloves and cinnamon, then slathered over Hindi agarwood that smells smoky, musky, animalic, leathery, resinous, and cheesy (Gorgonzola blue cheese with a touch of chevre/goat cheese). Separate from the oud is another woody aroma that smells of the clove-guaiac material I mentioned above, a note which lasts all the way through to the end of the fragrance on my skin. Ambre Loup has it, too. After 5 minutes, birch tar appears, adding to the oud’s innate leather character in addition to emitting the scent of campfire smoke and charred wood. Finishing everything off is a generous splattering of slightly boozy, Bourbon-style dark vanilla. The cumulative effect is – like Ambre Loup – a musky, sweet, dry, smoky, spicy, animalic, leathery, and ambered woody bouquet.
Oud Ulya cycles through a few different bouquets, particularly during the first hour. 15 minutes in, the Ambre Loup overlap disappears as Oud Ulya’s focus changes to a mix of heavily charred, smoky woods and tarry leather rawhide. If I had to compare the scent profile to anything it would be to SHL 777‘s Oud 777 infused with heavy amounts of cloves, guaiac, birch tar, and labdanum. 35 minutes in, Oud Ulya changes again when its focal point and driving force turns almost completely to musky, smoky, clove-drenched, amber-licked black leather. 55 minutes in, the bouquet veers again, becoming a duet of various clove-drenched, charred, smoky woods with musky, tarry black leather.
For the sake of brevity, let me summarize the many hours which ensue by saying that Oud Ulya continually segues between the aforementioned scent profiles and parallels. For example, the entire 2nd hour is primarily clove-soaked charred woods with leather; the start of the 3rd hour brings a return to Ambre Loup slathered atop Russian-style birch leather; and so on.
It is only in the final hours that Oud Ulya really stabilizes. In essence, it turns into ambered, smoky, spicy-sweet woods with an intense, persistent, and, frankly, rather exhausting, deluge of cloves. I actually like clove in perfumery, but not this amount of it nor for quite so long.
I tested Oud Ulya using two drops in one test and, accidentally, 3 drops in another test when shaking the little vial to get a consistent two-drop test. The scent development remained the same. The larger amount merely added to the longevity and to the length of the drydown (almost 10 hours on me vs 7 otherwise). With 2 drops, Oud Ulya opened with moderate sillage that turned low midway during the 3rd hour; the fragrance became a skin scent on me about 10.75 hours in and it lasted just under 18 hours. With three drops, Oud Ulya had a few inches more in opening sillage but the levels were moderate to low when I consider the overall development of the scent from start to finish. With that larger amount, Oud Ulya turned into a skin scent on me around the middle of the 12th hour and lasted 25 hours.
VANILLA BARKA ATTAR:
Vanilla Barka is a fragrance oil that was created by Dominique Ropion and also released in 2022. The scent description and official notes are as follows:
A sweet and decadent Vanilla Absolute melts into a voluptuous stream of Tonka Bean lit up by flashes of crystalline Frankincense. An image of the splendour of Barka, the legendary City of Spices near the sea.
Vanilla, Tonka Bean, Frankincense
It is my firm belief and opinion that Dominique Ropion has no business creating any sort of a luxury Middle Eastern fragrance, let alone an Attar.
I’ll spare you the full extent of my searing, contemptuous disdain for Ropion or what he’s produced over the last 20 years, including endless La Vie Est Belle permutations, and just say that my eyes almost popped out of my head when I saw that he’d created one of the Amouage attars.
As it turns out, my skepticism was warranted based on what appeared on my skin. In my opinion, Vanilla Barka is a hot mess and also common-smelling to boot. On me, the scent essentially starts out as two completely discordant fragrances that have been awkwardly and poorly smushed together, like two completely inapposite book ends slamming together common, generic Western vanilla gourmandise next to Catholic High Mass, clean-smelling frankincense.
So you have, on the one hand, foodie, intensely sugared, somewhat Bourbon-ish boozy vanilla that would fit well in any Sephora or common department store (or discount store) and, on the other hand, you have the clean, cotton-scented, Heeley Cardinal-style olibanum incense evoking High Mass in the Vatican. To put it another way, it’s like seeing Kim Kardashian in that ass-shelf dress next to the Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s just bizarrely inapposite.
It doesn’t get better. About 10 minutes into the newest, ghastly, Ropion vacuity, there is a torrential wave of what reads to me and my nose as cashmeran in all its clean, semi-sweet, granular, partially powdered, excruciatingly clean, cottony, and woody laundry musk. At first, I thought I was just imagining the cashmeran, or that the series of associated scents hitting my nose were simply an inadvertent but natural by-product of the frankincense. As many of you know, olibanum incense is sometimes redolent of Catholic High Mass ceremonies as well as clean cotton/linen and fabric softener dryer sheets. Here, it’s as though Ropion took the super-popular cotton-clean white musk incense Heeley‘s Cardinal then added a hefty slug of the drydown of Ropion’s subpar, sugared banality, What We Do in Paris is Secret, in addition to the lovely, rich, dark natural vanilla.
As Vanilla Barka develops, however, I become increasingly convinced that what is wafting from my arm is quite separate from the olibanum and is indeed due to cashmeran. It’s something about the particular aromas that I’m experiencing, the eventual and undeniable woodiness, how the cashmeran-like clean musk lasts all the way through to the much benighted end, and how this woody-clean, Western, designer-typical musk seems to have been used as some sort of bridge between Ropion’s two disparate main materials. Plus, as we have seen in the two attars described above, there is a very good likelihood that these attars have more than the mere three notes which are officially listed. So, personally, I would bet money that Vanilla Barka has cashmeran (or something closely analogous to it) as part of the composition.
The whole thing is very odd to me, particularly when Vanilla Barka amps up the highly cottony, sugared, vanillic, laundry-fresh, cashmeran-like Vatican incense near the end of the first hour. It’s also exceedingly cloying on my skin. Nauseating at times, in fact, with the incongruity of the notes that Ropion seems to have copied or tweaked from other things that he’s done.
Speaking of which, based on some comments I’ve read on Twitter and Fragrantica, there’s a theory that Ropion tweaked his old Laboratorio Olfattivo Vanagloria vanilla incense for Vanilla Barka. Both fragrance share a number of notes in common, and someone who has tried both Ropions said the parallels were clear. I haven’t tried Vanagloria, but Dominique Ropion regurgitating something that he’s done before is about as surprising as the sun rising, if you ask me.
Vanilla Barka’s discordant, smooshed-together, but very separate olfactory bookends transform over time into a co-equal duet of Western, Sephora-style cheap gourmandise vanilla with laundry-clean Bounce dryer sheets and incense, particularly around the middle of the 3rd hour. Based on what I smell on my skin, the bridge of inexpensive cashmeran woodiness connect them.
Thereafter, Vanilla Barka turns into a gourmand Western vanilla musk; a woody olibanum incense musk with a slew of white sugar spewed on top; amorphously woody cashmeran-clean fabric dryer sheets with sugared Vatican High Mass incense; laundry clean, sweet woody musk with a whisper of incense within; and then, finally, granulated clean, white fabric softener musk.
I hated all of it.
There’s one thing that I want to make clear: I would think that Vanilla Barka were absolutely terrible, derivative, Western junk unworthy of a luxury brand like Amouage even if Ropion hadn’t done it. This is simply not a good fragrance, in my opinion, let alone at $540 for a tiny 12 ml bottle.
I want to move onto something separate but related. When I smelled and tested Vanilla Barka at a private, in-person meeting with Renaud Salmon, I made my feelings very clear at the choice of an intellectually lazy, self-derivative, unimaginative, and non-Middle Eastern nose to do an ATTAR. Why, I asked, was not one of Amouage’s legion of talented, in-house, Middle Eastern artisans with generations of Middle Eastern perfumery and attars in their blood chosen to do it instead? Since then, the more I think about white Europeans creating an attar, the more irritated I am. Attars (or “Itrs“) have millennia of history behind them as well as deep cultural, spiritual, and religious associations. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad both loved fragrance (itrs) and used it often. For white Westerners who make fragrances like La Vie Est Belle or Western niche fragrances to take over what Amouage traditionally entrusted to its highly skilled Middle Eastern artisans who have attars in their blood and soul… I find it problematic on a few levels, one of which is cultural appropriation.
To go back full circle to my original point: Dominique Ropion has absolutely no business creating a luxury Middle Eastern fragrance, in my opinion, let alone an attar of all things. But even if, hypothetically speaking, he could add something of value, even if we go with the changes in time regarding who makes what, I still think, in my personal opinion, that Vanilla Barka is a subpar composition and, quite separately, also ridiculously priced for the materials in it. (I’d argue that all six attars are over-priced for what they are. In my opinion, of course.)
ALL IN ALL:
There are two separate but potentially overlapping issues to consider when assessing whether an attar is, in my opinion, true to the history, legacy, and aesthetic. One is the ingredients being used; the other is the overall Middle Eastern vibe of the scent bouquet when taken as a whole.
In my opinion, just because a composition uses locally sourced Omani raw ingredients does not mean that the end-result is Middle Eastern in olfactory aesthetic or vibe. It certainly has no relation to the heft, density, and weight of such a composition. Making a sheer, diaphanous scent using one or two Omani ingredients does NOT, in my opinion, an attar make.
In talking with Renaud Salmon, he was very intent on bringing back both the quality of Amouage’s ingredients and the use of the signature, locally-sourced olfactory materials that have been traditionally associated with Amouage. I agree that this is a good goal.
However, in my opinion, there has been far too great a focus on the sourcing of regional materials instead of the overall Middle Eastern aesthetic or the opulent Franco-Arabic grand set pieces. Here, in the case of the attars, just because something uses Omani incense does not mean that the end result is a true, authentic attar. That’s like my saying, because I used garlic, my food is French.
Scent profile is one thing but sheerness is another, and this is where I have to wonder if authentic luxury attars are even possible in the age of IFRA? IFRA puts strict limits on things like roses or saffron, among a host of other natural ingredients, but is that really why these attars seem more like extrait de parfums instead of something truly Middle Eastern in heft, grandeur, body, and materials? Or is the issue that Amouage is trying to straddle two different continents? Because you simply can’t pull that off with an attar, in my opinion. Undoubtedly yes with a standard Franco-Arabic eau de parfum, but not with an attar. In fact, I’d argue that it’s an oxymoron to have “sheer and westernized attar” as a scent profile.
Amouage seems aware of the dichotomy. Well, sorta. Part of the Amouage Attar booklet that I was given upon my meeting with Renaud Salmon includes the following section:
Do the current crop of attars really answer the question about the future of attars?
No, not in my opinion, not based upon what I have smelt. The attars ostensibly answer the question that Amouage has posed in its booklet about whether this ancient form of perfumery has relevance to today, but not my question as to whether truly authentic attars are even possible today under the rigid, draconian standards set by IFRA.
I don’t know the definitive answer. But I really doubt it’s “Yes.”
That said, the sheerness of body isn’t due to IFRA ingredient ceiling restrictions, in my opinion, nor do I think that having a largely Westernized aesthetic profile is, either. To put it another way, it was a conscious choice — just like hiring that Western-vaunted, intellectually lazy, derivative, Macy’s-level, passé hack to make your Middle Eastern luxury attar. (And one more time, being a respected “Master Perfumer” – as Amouage above wrote in its pamphlet – in the West due to years of making Western fragrances does not mean that you are a master perfumer for the purposes of making a Middle Eastern attar.) At least Cécile Zarokian’s two attars were arguably Middle Eastern in aesthetic, diaphanously insubstantial though they were unless one applied a crazy 3 drops; yet they still don’t compare one whit, in my opinion, to what Amouage’s in-house Middle Eastern expert artisans made in the old days.
Which brings us right back to sodding IFRA and its board of aromachemical giants whose mafia-like self-interest in their laboratory concoctions has made them pass more and more stringent regulations that favour their products over the naturals out there. If you ask me, it’s like the tobacco companies being in charge of outlawing cannabis in order to deluge you with cigarettes while gaslighting you about how the naturals will kill you. (For more on IFRA, its board, its regulations, and related matters, you can read my old articles on the subject here, here, and here.)
When I met with Renaud Salmon, I asked specifically about rogue or bandit, non-IFRA compliant attars. What would happen, I queried, if you created non-IFRA attars that Amouage only sold in the US, parts of the Middle East, or Far East Asia?
His answer was in two parts: First, he said Amouage would be blackballed by the entire industry if they sold non-IFRA-compliant attars even if just in the US; second, they’d be sued. Litigation has more global and/or corporate consequences when you’re non-IFRA compliant than you might think. Remember, the reason why the attars were originally pulled pertained to an UAE law incorporating EU standards and failure to comply would impact both sales in Oman and Amouage’s global legal indemnification protection. (If I may briefly brag, I was the one who discovered that bit of legalese idiocy.)
Given the ongoing obstacle of IFRA, should we expect Amouage to ever give us our fix when it comes to attars? I believe that the answer, sadly, is No. Based on what I’ve seen thus far, I think people wanting true attars should turn to non-Western, non-IFRA-following artisans like Agar Aura, Ensar Oud, or others, because Amouage’s global legal liability issues understandably preclude it from ever having a chewy, thick, powerful, dense, longstanding attar on part with the glorious Tribute or even the sticky, gooey, saffrony, gourmand deliciousness of say, Al Mas or Asrar. Those were several IFRA restrictions ago but the attars arguably couldn’t meet even those earlier, easier standards, which is why they had to be pulled entirely.
On a final note and unrelated topic, I had originally planned to cover the remaining Amouage attars in a follow-up post. I’ve changed my mind. Frankly, the thought of writing extensively about three more of them makes me wither inside. Maybe later, one day several months from now, I’ll get back to them but, for now, I am neither motivated nor inspired. “Uninspiring” would, in fact, be one polite way to describe the entire set.
Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of Amouage. That did not influence this review. I do not do paid reviews and my opinions are my own.