There is not a person alive who has been unaffected by the wretchedness of 2020 and the pandemic that has dominated the list of traumas. I won’t even start to talk about the issues of this year because they are many and all hideous. But what about the escape methods for many of us during the best of times: scent? How much is perfumery still a big escape in the midst of one of the worst years in the 21st century?
As another year draws to a close, it’s time to look back at the best of 2015. For me, this was an iffy year for brand new releases because there weren’t a huge number of fragrances that stood out from start to finish. The exceptions to the rule were impressive or lovely but, when I went back over all the fragrances that I covered, I found the vast majority fell woefully short.
One reason stems from the hot new trends of the year. Leather was a major compositional note in 2015 or, to be more precise, the tarry, woody, forest-fire smokiness that purports to recreate the sense of “leather.” Another hot trend seemed to be a deluge of black pepper. Neither one is appealing to me, particularly since their chemical nature was usually so intrusive as to be front-and-center. Yet, that sort of excessive darkness was, in and of itself, the most common stylistic approach, one that was frequently juxtaposed next to shapeless white florals, amorphous spiciness, or some sort of limp “freshness.” The end result was that a lot of new releases smelt far too similar for me to find them distinctive, interesting, or compelling. In addition, many of them lacked the quality to warrant the higher prices that we’ve been seeing across the board.
Every week, I get at least three or four emails from people seeking fragrance recommendations. The vast majority of them are men, but there are some women, too. Most of them are not long-time readers of the blog and have simply stumbled upon it, so they don’t know my long-time favorites that I talk about often, but a few are subscribers who seek specific suggestions. Sometimes, people start by giving me a brief idea of their tastes and/or names of prior fragrances they’ve worn. Typically, though, the information is insufficient for me to know what might really suit them, so I write back with a list of questions, trying to narrow down what notes they have issues with or love best, how they feel about sweetness or animalics, how their skin deals with longevity or projection, and what sort of power they want in both of those last two area.
What I’ve noticed is that I tend to make certain recommendations time and time again for particular genres or fragrance families. So, I thought I would share them with all of you. However, please keep in mind that these names are in response to some pretty set criteria given to me by the person in question, even though many of those factors end up being quite similar. For example, the men who like dark, bold, rich or spicy orientals all seem to want a certain sillage or “to be noticed in a crowd,” as several have put it. In contrast, most of those who want clean, crisp scents prefer for them to be on the discreet side and suitable for professional business environments. Men whose favorites are classical designer scents that fall firmly within the fougère, green, fresh, or aromatic categories (like Tuscany, Guerlain’s Vetiver, or vintage Eau Sauvage, for example) tend to want very traditional scents, even “old school” in vibe, and not something sweet, edgy, or with a twist. So, that is what I try to give them as recommendations, which means that there are a whole slew of fragrances that fall outside the category.
Lush, almost tropical florals drenched in honey and cocooned in golden amber. Clean, sugared roses laced with black incense and woods. Those are the faces of Kalemat Floral and Kalemat Musk from Arabian Oud. One of them is a variation on the theme represented by the gloriously opulent Kalemat Amber. The other is not. I’ll take a look at each one of them in turn.
Kalemat Floral is an attar or concentrated fragrance oil that was released last year. Its notes on Fragrantica are incorrect, judging by the information provided to me by Mr. Ahmed Chowdhury of Arabian Oud London who kindly sent me my sample. He said the perfume pyramid is officially:
Top notes: Heliotrope, Jasmine
Heart notes: Hibiscus, Rose
Base notes: Vanilla, Cedar Wood & Musk.
A brief word about the hibiscus note. I don’t recall the actual flowers having any smell at all. Furthermore, the “hibiscus” bath or body products that I’ve tried smell primarily like frangipani or plumeria. On Fragrantica, hibiscus is defined as a “soft note of flower recreated in the lab.” In a discussion on the Fragrantica boards, Doc Elly of Olympic Orchards Perfumes bears out my view that the flowers have no scent and that the “fantasy accord” is primarily based on “tropical flower notes like frangipani,” unless the goal is more of a musky scent in which case ambrette seeds might be used. Here, in Kalemat Floral, the aroma is absolutely the tropical one of frangipani (or plumeria).
Kalemat Floral opens on my skin with honey, lots and lots of dark, raw, sticky honey in a heavy, thick stream that feels as dense as molasses. Trapped inside, like flies caught in amber, are a slew of flowers dominated first and foremost by what really seems to be orange blossoms. To be precise, orange blossoms splattered with the sweet juices of sun-ripened oranges, as well as Middle Eastern orange blossom syrup and more honey. They’re a smoother, deeper, more fruited but a less shrill, overpowering and nuclear version of the note in Ghroob, which is clearly an orange blossom fragrance. Arabian Oud makes no mention of the flower in its notes, but then again, they don’t mention the roses that are such a clear part of Kalemat, either. Regardless, every time I wear Kalemat Floral, “orange blossoms” are what come to mind in the opening moments, and I wasn’t the only one. When I brought the oils to a family testing session, my father had the same reaction.