Let’s take a scented trip to Spain today through Mallo Parfums and its limited-edition SEZ. The small artisanal house was founded by Antonio Lasheras, who is also the nose. He describes his brand’s mission as follows:
Mallo is a project about memory and forgetfulness. This gambling game consists in storing memories and time will be responsible for buring them. This war between exceptional crops and strength of nature. A long search for something able to carry us to our more primitive origins or to some different kind of life.
Materials that mankind and earth created and that are not available anymore. Methods and techniques in order to create a few bottles to host lights and shadows within them.
Sez is a unisex pure parfum that was created by Antonio Lasheras and released in 2021. Worldwide distribution seems to have occurred in April 2022.
Mallo describes SEZ as follows:
Rustic, powerful and herbaceous. A green composition with notes of mate tea, tobacco and dark forests. A very limited and handcrafted hay absolute from Aragon in Spain. Only 500g of this wonderful unrepeatable ingredient to create 200 bottles.
28% concentration perfume
Judging by that description, the official note list appears to be:
Maté tea; tobacco; hay absolute; and dark forests.
As a person with OCD, I twitch when reading such intentionally elliptical nutshell synopses, but even more so when I test the fragrance and realize that the brand has elided over whole reams of stuff on which I’d bet money has been included in the fragrance. So let me tell you my guess at what’s in SEZ based upon what wafted off my arm in two tests:
Clove, cinnamon, sweet myrrh (opoponax), elemi, cypress, cedar, patchouli, maté tea, hay absolute, vetiver, and some ambered resin. (Possibly broom, chamomile, and/or regular myrrh.)
SEZ opens on my skin as a duet of maté tea and tobacco, woven together with a swirl of (other and completely unlisted) notes. The maté tea smells earthy, herbaceously green, slightly musty, and like green tea leaves and dried grasses ground into powder. The tobacco is also earthen in nature, dark, and quietly, faintly tarry in undertone.
Shooting off like fireworks are a series of much stronger aromas beginning with cloves and cinnamon, then followed by smoky incense resins, ambery resins, singed woods, rooty greenness, and a distinct patchouli-like facet. The whole thing lies atop a dark, warm, minutely leathery base of sticky resinousness. And, 10 minutes later, a veil of dark, slightly floral honey spiked with sharp spikes of dry, fragrant hay descends upon the bouquet for the final touch.
SEZ shifts in quiet, incremental, and glacial degrees over the next few hours. About 30 minutes in, the bouquet wafting off my arm is essentially cinnamon-clove tea infused with bountiful tablespoons of spiced, herbaceous, grassy, and loamy earth, then placed inside a tea cozy made of thick chards of incense resins and dry, mahogany-coloured woods.
Roughly 65 to 75 minutes in, the notes realign as the woods – led by what I’d bet money is elemi – take over and become the dominant focus. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, elemi is a resin from a tree that grows in the Philippines and it has a lemony, woody aroma with pine-y, smoky, and/or frankincense-like incense tonalities as well. It’s frequently used in both incense and woody fragrances (or a combination of both). I’ve been told that it’s also quite useful as a “fixative” to give greater longevity or life to ingredients that would otherwise fade more rapidly or have a weaker presence.
Here, in SEZ, the lemony, piney, incense-y elemi is joined by cypress, cedar, dry earth, dried leaves and herbs, vetiver roots, warm resins, incense resins, and a touch of patchouli. The entire green-brown, dry, earthen bouquet is then dunked into a vat of clove-cinnamon herbal tea.
It is at this point that I should confess, in all fairness, that I’m not crazy about the smell of maté tea. While I’m not a tea drinker generally, maté makes me crinkle my nose a little at its incredibly grassy, dusty, herbal, powdery, and green tea medicinal character. Something about it, particularly here in SEZ, makes me think that I should be in a bohemian flat with Mia Farrow, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Emma Thompson’s Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter doing Woo Woo chanting exercises.
In fact, to be completely candid, SEZ seems like exactly the sort of fragrance that Professor Trelawney would wear. I don’t mean that in a bitchy or insulting way; there are whole categories of people who like this sort of naturalistic, holistic-like qualities in scent and in life, and I simply think that Professor Trelawney is the perfect bohemian earthy embodiment of who SEZ would be if it were a person.
Being equally fair, even if the maté’s earthen dust, dusty herbaceousness, and green tea-like aromas are not my personal cup of tea (pun intended), I like the accompanying notes (and unlisted ingredients) that surround the maté heart. Cloves, ambered resins, elemi, incense resins… they add a bit of interest and complexity to the bouquet which would otherwise create nothing but health shop mental associations for me. Thanks to them, I can remove myself – with a bit of effort – from Professor Trelawney’s world into one that is more centered in nature.
But it does take effort for me.
Quite a bit of effort.
One reason why is that the bouquet described above is pretty much it for SEZ on my skin over the course of the next 5 hours. And that’s a lot of time for me personally to smell like clove- and cinnamon-scented herbal tea with heaping slugs of dusty soil, green medicinal herbal powder, dry woods, lemony elemi pine and frankincense resin, dry hay, grass, crumbling dry tree/vetiver roots, and fluctuating, muffled touches of tobacco which, to my surprise, is not much of a factor on my skin beyond a sort of amorphous, dry darkness imbued with a different type of earthiness. Whatever olfactory changes which ensue during these first 5 hours are predominantly ones in the order, prominence, or nuance of individual notes. Sometimes, the change is only one of textural feel.
Let me give you a few examples. About 2.25 hours in, the bouquet turns into an out-of-focus snapshot of the earthen ground of a forest overrun by herbs and dried greenery. Something about the bouquet feels diluted and muffled in quality; I keep having images of muddied green-brown watercolour smears turned more muted, smears of bland and anodyne murky green on a canvas with little distinction or dark counterbalance.
Somewhere along the way, a textural plushness and creamy undertone begins to run under the bouquet, probably from the elemi. The strength of the dried herbs, dried grass, crumbly earth, and cypress woods wax and wane but the clove is pretty constant on my skin, even if it’s not quite as distinct or as strong as it was during the first hour.
By the end of the 4th hour and the the start of the 5th hour, SEZ is a completely blurry haze of vetiver, tobacco, cedar, smoke (incense and woody), a touch of patchouli, and a thin patina of ambery, resinous sweetness. The clove is an amorphous spiciness with as little focus or clear delineation as the rest of the green-muddy water colour smears. There is no tea, no green herbs, maté dust, honey, or hay.
SEZ continues to dissolve further on my skin. The bouquet in the middle of the 6th hour is a vetiver-ish, green-brown, earthy woodiness with wisps of spice, smoke, and resins layered within. About 8.5 hours in, when the fragrance feels close to death, there is only spiced earth with a few slivers of woody twigs poking out from time to time. In its final hours, all that’s left is a dry, sweet, quietly spicy, softly earthy goldenness.
SEZ’s longevity and sillage may depend on how you define those terms or what you really mean by a “lasting” scent. It all comes down to ease of detection, obviousness, and presence, I suppose. Using 2-3 generous, wide smears across a 4-inch patch of skin, or the rough equivalent of 2 big sprays from a bottle, SEZ opened with low sillage that extended about 6 inches from the body, at best, before dropping to about 4 inches after 15-20 minutes. Thereafter, SEZ turned more and more discreet. The fragrance was close to a skin scent on me after 3.75 hours or just before the end of the 4th hour. SEZ became hard to detect without effort after the 6.25 hour mark. It felt like it was about to die completely on my skin at the 8.5-hour mark because there was only the softest, most intimate whisper on my skin when I put my nose into my skin and inhaled (hard).
To my surprise, that silken whisper lingered on tenaciously for about 14 or 15 hours in total but, really, it was practically part of my skin and not in a great way, either. In terms of feeling like I was actually wearing scent and didn’t have to dig through the earth for it, metaphorically speaking, I’d say that SEZ was a presence for about 7 solid hours. My guess is that the fragrance is almost entirely natural in terms of its raw materials, hence the exceedingly intimate sillage. The fact that the composition is about 28% fragrance concentration is another factor in its discreet but lingering presence.
I’ve tested SEZ twice, and I’m still on the fence about it. It’s not a bad fragrance by any means and I liked parts of it. But… eh. Even if we put to the side the fact that I’m not crazy about the smell of a major ingredient in the scent – powdered green maté tea herbal earthiness – the real issue is that I simply don’t find the fragrance interesting enough at any stage of its development for the price/bottle size in question. I realise it’s made with unique materials – and there is no questioning their smoothness or quality – and I also realise that $240 or €210 for 30 mls of an incredibly concentrated pure parfum is a pretty normal price (by our admittedly skewed, completely deranged niche pricing standards). But SEZ lacks, on my skin, a much-needed edge, some streak of counterbalancing darkness, and some major bit of… ooomph or pizzazz. Though not every fragrance has to be an operatic “Ride of the Valkyries” experience, there needs to be something to lift a scent out of the realm of a mundane, blurry mud-brown and green drab watercolour. The tobacco could have served as a bit of grit or boldness but, alas, on my skin, it was predominantly another form of earthiness and resinousness instead of a clearly delineated, tobacco tobacco note (if you know what I mean). The elemi might have done it, especially if actual pine were separately added, but there wasn’t enough of that to be properly transformative.
If SEZ had oomph, darkness, or even a modicum of edge on my skin, I’d compare it to fragrances like Profumum‘s enjoyable pine sap and incense Arso or, if the envelope were really pushed out to smoldering and/or smolderingly dark, edgy extremes, to Slumberhouse‘s fantastic, now discontinued, Norne. Theoretically, I suppose, they inhabit the same olfactory galaxy. Theoretically. In reality, however, instead of evoking something even slightly in the same universe as a Tolkien forest filled orcs and dark beasts, SEZ evokes Professor Trelawney at a woo woo tea with the members of GOOP. I’ll let the mental association speak for itself.
I think the only honest conclusion that I can proffer is that SEZ will appeal to a particular segment of the perfumista world — one which loves intensely earthen or earthbound fragrances, maté tea, and earthen, herbaceous, grassy notes with woodiness — but that I’m not part of its target audience.
That said, I have to wonder even about how the target audience might feel about SEZ? To be clear, I’m not talking about SEZ’s simplicity or linearity. As I have said repeatedly for years, there is absolutely nothing wrong with either thing if you love the scent in question and if its price/size is commensurate with its bouquet. I’m talking again about that lack of oomph amidst its drab earthen, grassy, herbal hues. I’m also now referring to its extremely intimate nature in terms of sillage. The type of guys who love vetiver, cypress, tobacco, earthy notes, clove-ish spices with dry woods or incense, and the like are also the type of guys who typically like a lot of bang for their buck in terms of presence. Who knows, maybe they’ll have better luck with SEZ’s sillage than I did?
On a completely tangential note, I want to offer a word of warning about the fragrance liquid colour. The dark juice stained my skin with a distinct green-yellow-brown bruise-like colour. It didn’t last but it was definitely there for the first few hours. If you buy a bottle of SEZ, I caution you against spraying the scent on light-coloured clothing. If testing with a vial, keep white shirts or fabrics away from your arm, wrist, or wherever you’re applying it.
For other thoughts or opinions on SEZ, you can turn to Fragrantica.
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.