Amouage‘s new Renaissance Collection marks the beginning of a new era for the Omani brand; its most popular release, Crimson Rocks, is the subject of today’s review. One of four fragrances, Crimson Rocks eschews Amouage’s old system of having twin Man/Woman fragrances on the same theme. Instead, there are four new unisex fragrances, each with a different focus. Crimson Rock’s focus is a cinnamon-spiced, honeyed, slightly gourmand and very woody desert rose which eventually becomes a honeyed, spicy, rose-tinged woody amber.
The Silk Road’s legendary spice route from China to Arabia winds its way across the face of Epic for Men from Amouage. It is a very unisex fragrance that is an enjoyable swirl of spices, woods, incense, golden sweetness, and creaminess, but it is neither the fragrance that I expected nor very “epic” in nature. Not now….
Epic Man (hereinafter just “Epic”) is an eau de parfum that was created by Randa Hammami and released in 2009. The inspiration was two-fold: the legendary Silk Road and Puccini’s Turandot opera which is set in China but based on a tale involving a Persian princess and a deadly riddle. First in Fragrance has the company’s complete press description:
The theme of this latest Amouage fragrance is the legendary aria from Puccini´s unfinished opera, Turandot. The legend says that one day the composer Puccini completed the opera and then buried the completed work somewhere in the sands along the Silk Road. The last act of the opera, it is said, was an incomparable aria, which could not possibly be sung by a human voice…
The legendary city of Ubar in Oman is the starting point for a journey in search of this missing aria, which leads us along the Silk Road through the Orient and over the highest mountains in the world – to China. The way of the ancient caravans, that carried silk and other treasures over many hundreds of miles, where tea, gold, pearls and jade from China where exchanged for precious silver frankincense from the Oman – a legendary land where the valuable raw materials can be found that were used in the composition of this new Amouage fragrance.
The legends of the ancient Silk Road that wove its way from the Middle East to China, Puccini’s Turandot princess, the grandeur of the Forbidden City and the Dragon Empress’ Summer Palace, a veil of frankincense, and a dry desert wind that swirls spices around the lushness of a velvet red rose — those are a few of the things at the heart of Epic for Women from Amouage. Oh, and pickles as well. Yes, I said pickles….
Epic Woman (hereinafter just “Epic”) is an eau de parfum that was released in 2009. It was created by Daniel Maurel (who also did Lyric Woman for Amouage) under the direction of Christopher Chong. The inspiration was Puccini’s Turandot opera which is set in China, but which was based on an ancient tale involving a Persian princess and a deadly riddle. China had once banned the opera, but welcomed it with open arms in 1998 when it permitted a massive $15 million film production of the opera to be set in the 500-year old Forbidden City under the direction of the showman, Zhang Yimou (who later did the Beijing Olympics), with the opera conducted by the famed Zubin Mehta. I own the DVD, and the production is one of the most spectacular, extravagant, unbelievably opulent things you can imagine, so I sat up a little when I heard about the Turandot connection to Amouage’s Epic.
First in Fragrance has the company’s official PR description:
Legends of the Silk Road
A woman in the dusk. The desert wind tears at the delicate veil that covers her face. In the distance she sees a light that guides the way in her search for the fatal missing aria – from Arabia to China along the Silk Road…
The theme of this latest Amouage fragrance is the legendary aria from Puccini´s unfinished opera, Turandot. The legend says that one day the composer Puccini completed the opera and then buried the completed work somewhere in the sands along the Silk Road. The last act of the opera, it is said, was an incomparable aria, which could not possibly be sung by a human voice…
cumin, pink pepper, cinnamon, damascene rose, geranium, jasmine, tea, amber, musk, frankincense, oud, sandalwood, guaiac wood, patchouli, vanilla and orris.
Epic opens on my skin with a sour, sweet rose that instantly turns velvety, rich, and spiced. Alas, there is definitely the smell of pickles wafting about which is wholly disconcerting. I suspect it stems from the guaiac wood which, in my opinion, often has a very sour undertone, but the pink peppercorns here probably don’t help either. The latter soon arrives to join the festivities, along with a whisper of jasmine and a much stronger note of lemony tea. Little flecks of frankincense, patchouli, and vanilla dart about.
The whole thing is very elaborate, opulent, and infused with a complexity that really is very beautiful. The pickle aroma fades from its massive opening wallop within minutes, but it never fully leaves for the next six hours. Instead, it weaves its way throughout all the top notes, along with a certain sourness. It is always accompanied by the particular type of dryness and smoked leaves accord that is characteristic of guaiac. The guaiac is a major player in Epic’s development on my skin, and I quite like it at first, right down to that light pickle aroma. The various facets of the note cut through the incredibly rich, heady rose, thereby ensuring that its sweetness never turns into cloying, patchouli-infused syrup. Instead, thanks to the pink peppers, spices, and guaiac, the rose is fiery and spicy, while the growing note of frankincense adds a lovely blackness to its edges.
I don’t usually fall for marketing copy and rarely do I think their descriptions are accurate, but Luckyscent has a description for Epic Woman that really seems to hit the nail on the head for me, at least in terms of the perfume’s opening stage. They write:
Inspired by Puccini’s Turandot, Amouage’s Epic Woman is a masterful fusion of the smoldering opulence and sensuality of Arabia and the lyrical intensity of China. The luxurious feel of the fragrance brings to mind the precious essences carried along the ancient trading routes. One breath of Epic’s rich top notes of fiery cinnamon and languid cumin, and the image of Aladdin’s cave filled with gold, pearls, tea, silks, jade, spices and frankincense unfolds in front of our spellbound eyes. The sensuous, honeyed and dark blend of rose, tea and geranium in the heart of Epic evokes Turandot herself, the femme fatale beauty who lured love-stuck princes to their death. We would willingly die for this amazingly lush mix of rose, oud and frankincense. It is the inclusion of the latter that, to us, lends the time-honored union of the flower and oud such uniqueness; and the presence of the delicately smoky tea, ethereal jasmine and velvety-soft orris make the composition all the more special— a harmonious, melodious synthesis of the two enchanting points of the Orient.
I can see everything that they write. Their description really captures the feel of Epic in its opening hour, though I think things go downhill by the end. But for the opening hours, Epic is really…. well, epic. And it definitely conveys China to me, right down to the Turandot production in the Forbidden City.
I may be unfairly susceptible because I’ve been to China, spending about a month going from North to South, but in all seriousness, Epic’s opening somehow takes me right back to Beijing. Something about the combination of the incense, the guaiac, and the pink peppercorns really and truly smells like the dusty, faintly sour, old, wooden rooms in lesser palaces of the Forbidden City.
It also takes me back to the ancient monastery north of Beijing called the Lama or Yonghe Temple which I visited on Buddha’s birthday. There, the air was replete with smoking incense sticks carried by hundreds of worshippers, as bald, red-robed monks stood by smiling. The smell of the Lama Temple with its spicy, dry wood, its faintly sour dustiness, and the lingering traces of the heady floral offerings at the feet of the Buddha statues is really the smell of Epic. The same sort of spicy, peppered dustiness and smoke seemed to linger in the much more floral environs of the spectacular Summer Palace outside Beijing where the notorious (and, in my opinion, unfairly maligned) “Dragon Empress,” Tzu Hsi or Cixi, lived in splendour and lushness.
For the first hour, Epic Woman is a complex mélange of sour-sweet roses, dominated by an incredibly luxurious, velvety richness and infused with spice, fire, dust, dry woods, and incense. The pickle note is subtle and remains at the edges, but the smoky Lapsang Souchong aroma grows. You can almost see the Empress dressed in silks and curling her long, vermillion talons around a cup of tea infused with lemons.
The overall bouquet is increasingly flecked by an orris note that is blackened and smoky the way Ormonde Jayne‘s Orris Noir sought to effect without the same success. At the end of the first hour, spices join the mix. There is cinnamon that is lightly dusted on the roses, then a much stronger note of cumin. It never smells of body odor or curry, but merely feels dusty and dry, like the powder you’d find in a spice market in the Orient. Everything about Epic reeks of an Orientalist fantasy, in the best way possible.
The sillage is moderate, and the fragrance blooms about 2 inches above the skin. Little tendrils follow you in the air when you move, but Epic doesn’t feel as powerful or heavy as some other Amouage perfumes. To my surprise, it is lighter in weight than its heavy notes or the richness of the rose would lead you to think. Epic is strong, but it is far from opaque or dense in feel. For the next two hours, the only massive change to Epic is in terms of its sillage. It keeps dropping, and Epic feels thinner, airier, after 90 minutes. By the end of the second hour, the perfume hovers an inch above the skin. It is primarily a bold, strongly spiced rose with frankincense, black tea, pickles, the guaiac’s sour woodiness, patchouli sweetness, and iris. There is the first lingering whisper of powderiness, no doubt from the iris, but the dominant undertone to the rose is dusty spice, then incense.
At the end of the 3rd hour, Epic’s notes lose shape and clear distinction. The fragrance becomes a soft blur of rose dusted by amorphous spices, then infused with dry-sour guaiac and a light veil of frankincense, all atop a warm, vaguely ambered base with some patchouli sweetness and a hint of vanilla. It remains this way largely unchanged for the next few hours except for the prominence and strength of certain notes. The main one that varies is the guaiac wood. Sometimes, the pickle aroma returns and feels distinct, but at other times, there is only the wood’s other characteristic of burning leaves, extreme dryness, and general sourness. In the base, there is the faintest flicker of something soapy, but it’s quite muted.
Much more noticeable, however, is the patchouli. There is a phase where Epic turns much sweeter and more jammy, less dry, dusty and spiced as the fruited aspect of the patchouli impacts the top notes. It starts about 6.25 hours in and lasts roughly 90 minutes. During this time, the vanilla in the base becomes quite pronounced, and suddenly feels very custardy and rich. The overall effect of both things is quite disconcerting, especially next to the pickle. Epic feels like a jarring set of contradictions from powdered orris, dry-sour wood, jammy patchouli, black smoke, a touch of pickles, and rich vanilla custard. Even if those are the undertones and not the dominant bouquet, it’s really not my thing. Honestly, I blame a lot of it on the guaiac wood. A small touch of sourness is one thing, even if it borders on pickles. But pickles mixed with the arid, singed feel of burnt leaves and sourness, combined with the richness of the vanilla custard and the jamminess of purple fruit-chouli… it’s too much for my personal tastes.
The weird phase thankfully ends by the start of the 8th hour, but Epic simply turns into a desiccated rose. The fragrance somehow feels more dusty and smoky than before. Not even the lingering, now thin, layer of dried vanilla in the base can fix it. In fact, the rose takes on a faintly ashy facet, along with some powderiness as if from makeup powder. The guaiac loses its pickled touches, but now, the dry wood has taken on a staleness to join its sourness undertones. It’s hard to explain, but I’m not thrilled by any of it. I’m even less enthused when Epic devolves into a simple, rather nebulous blur of dry, dusty, woody roses with a soapy undertone and touches of smokiness. Soapiness is really the final straw for me, no matter how minor it might be.
There, it remains until its very end when Epic dies away as a smear of woody dryness. All in all, Epic lasted just short of 13.5 hours, with initially moderate sillage that soon turned to soft. As a whole, it lingered just an inch above the skin for the first 6 hours, but was always concentrated when smelled up close. It only turned into a skin scent at the start of the 7th hour. I really enjoyed the first few hours, but the rest of it was much more of a struggle. In all fairness, however, I’m not particularly passionate about rose scents in general.
I felt rather crazy for smelling pickes (of all things!) in an Amouage fragrance, but, apparently, there are a few of us loons out there. I was hugely relieved to see two comments on Luckyscent saying the same thing:
- Its not terrible, it just smells a bit like pickles.
- ….it smels a little bit like pickles to me…. yay! [That was a sarcastic “yay,” as the person gave it 2 stars out of 5]
On Fragrantica, the reviews are all over the place, to the point that I’m not sure I could find quotes representing a consensus. For some people, Epic is a primarily vanilla-centered fragrance, while for others, it is nothing more than a spice cabinet focusing on dry caraway (cumin) with frankincense. One person mentioned pickles, yet again. (I’m so glad I’m not crazy!) Three or four people found Epic to have a medicinal start, while others compare Epic to its sister, Lyric. There doesn’t seem to be any agreement on that comparison either. Some find Epic to be spicier, perhaps the spiciest of all Amouage fragrances, while one person calls it icier with a powdery hauteur (that she loves). For a few Fragrantica commentators, Epic is floral soap, while others talk of a powdery element. Almost everyone thinks Epic has monumental longevity, while a few disagree and said it only lasted a few hours on their skin.
Despite these differences, however, the majority of people seems to really love Epic Woman. I think the issue is going to come down to how much spice and dryness you can handle. One or two people mentioned Andy Tauer‘s L’Air du Desert Marocain; I can see similarities in terms of the fragrance’s dryness and spiciness, but only vaguely. Very vaguely, as I think Epic is significantly more floral in nature, more lush, and rich. On my skin, the caraway or cumin that others mention was not as dispositive as the guaiac, and the spices were fully enfolded into the velvety rose, but it’s all going to depend on skin chemistry.
I think a greater point of comparison might be to Amouage’s Lyric Woman. Now, granted, on my skin, Lyric was primarily about the ylang-ylang and not quite so much about the roses, but it’s generally considered a spicy rose fragrance. And it is certainly what came to my mind when wearing Epic. So, how do the two compare? Angela at Now Smell This reviewed Epic Woman, and offered her thoughts on the two rose sisters:
Epic is warm, thick, and fuzzy with smooth edges. Rose and sweet sandalwood balance Epic’s sour oud and frankincense, and a dusting of peppery spices makes sure the fragrance never strays into olfactory tranquilizer territory. Epic starts not with perfume’s traditional tickle of citrus, but with pepper and geranium, before settling into a rose-inflected blend of frankincense and rose, tinged with oud. Over time, the sandalwood steps forward. I can’t pick out the cumin at all.
If this sounds like a description of Lyric Woman, the two fragrances do share common ground. To me, though, Lyric feels brighter, colder, and more distinct than Epic. Epic, on the other hand, is so silkily blended that when smelling it I visualize all its components woven together into a fragrant blanket. Lyric focuses more on rose and incense, while Epic favors spice and sandalwood. Lyric feels like a stained glass window, while Epic feels like a chunky but formfitting sweater knit from Italian merino wool the color of dark honey. Lyric broods, and Epic comforts.
Perfume-Smellin’ Things also found similarities, but thought Epic was more lush and grandiose. For those who are cumin-phobes, I would like to emphasize that she too did not find cumin to be a major part of the scent. Her review reads, in part, as follows:
Speaking of Lyric, to me, Epic picks up its ripe, honeyed rose theme and carries it on, embellishing the star note further, and sort of giving the idea its logical closure by making the composition darker and even more extravagantly lush. No, the two are not the same fragrances, but of all Amouage siblings these are probably the closest in spirit.
The embellishments in question are oud and frankincense. The funny thing is that, at the very first sniff from a vial or a on scent strip, the scent is undeniably an oud-rose blend. As soon as it is applied to the skin, however, incense takes center stage, and I like that. There are plenty rose-ouds and not that many rose-incenses. The nocturnal, resinous frankincense note delights me with its presence for a good long while, sort of covering the rose like a black curtain. Eventually the curtain is lifted and there is the flower, sweet, over-ripe, spicy with cinnamon and geranium, brewed with black tea and vanilla into a seductive potion. It is a delicious, edible, sensual and yet appropriately regal rose.
If you are looking for more oud, you will find more in the base, along with some dirt from patchouli and some more nectareousness from amber and sandalwood. Those afraid of the sweetness, note that it is well balanced by the drier, stark notes of frankincense, gaiac and oud. Cuminophobiacs, to you I can only say that there was no cumin on my skin (not that I would have minded some). All fans of the Big Perfumes in general and Amouage’s decadent oeuvre in particular, Epic is a must-sniff and, as far as I am concerned, a must-have.
I agree with her that Epic Woman is a must sniff for those who love extremely big, bold, spicy orientals. Same thing if you love roses, though I think there are enough spices, dry woodiness and incense to ensure that Epic is not merely about the flowers. Those elements also render Epic Woman quite unisex, in my opinion.
The perfume is not cheap by any means, but I have found a whole slew of discounted prices from retailers around the world. Epic Woman retails for $265, €215 or £175 for the smallest size (50 ml), but there is one reputable discount site that sells a large 100 ml bottle for as low as $170, if you’re willing to accept the lack of a box. (See, the Details section at the very end.) For those who love their boxes, the perfume is also available for a little bit more at $199, which is still $100 below the $310 retail cost for the 100 ml size. It’s a great deal, either way.
So, don’t be shy about testing Epic Woman if the notes intrigue you and if you love very spicy, bold, rich scents . Hopefully, on your skin, it won’t turn up with a heavy pickle aroma and the guaiac will be more pleasant in its other manifestations as well. For me personally, Epic Woman is too much of a struggle when taken as a whole and I’m simply not that much of a rose fiend to ignore it. That said, I have to repeat that I truly enjoyed its opening hours. Epic is lush, grandiose, and thoroughly suited to Princess Turandot.
Cost, Discounted Price & Travel Sets: Epic Woman in an eau de parfum that comes in two sizes: a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle that retails for $265, €215 or £175; or a 3.4 oz/100 ml eau de parfum that costs $310, €250, or £205. You can buy Epic Woman directly from Amouage’s website which also offers a Travel Set of four 10ml bottles for €170. However, you can buy the fragrance for much cheaper than the $265 or $310 retail price. On FragranceNet, the large 100 ml bottle of Epic Woman costs $170.16 if you buy it without the box and if you use the coupon they list directly on the page. If you want the boxed version, it costs $199.06 instead of the $310 retail price. There is also an Extrait or Pure Parfum version available. There is free domestic shipping on all orders. FragranceNet has a variety of international sites, and you can find the one for your country by changing the flag shown on the grey border at the top of square box which encases the perfume price. Thus, the Canadian cost for the unboxed Epic would be around CAD$188, the UK price would be GBP£103.82, the Australian price would be AUD$194, and the Euro price would be €125.95. They have similar pricing options for a variety of countries, from Brazil to South Africa, a few Scandanavian ones and more, as FragranceNet seems to ship all over. The perfume is also on sale at Rakuten which offers the 50 ml bottle for $200 and the 100 ml bottle for $260. Epic Woman is priced higher (but still discounted) at LilyDirect which sells the large 3.4 oz bottle for $272.80. Netherlands’ Oz Cosmetics sells the 50 ml bottle of Epic Woman for €183.90. In the Middle East, Kuwait’s Universal Fragrances sells a sealed 100 ml bottle of Epic Woman for $239.99, or a 100 ml Tester bottle of Epic for $199.99.
In the U.S., the authorized Amouage dealer is Parfums Raffy which both sizes of Epic Woman, the Travel Size Set for $240, and offers free domestic shipping. Luckyscent carries both sizes of Epic Woman, but not the travel set. The 100 ml size of Epic can also be purchased at MinNY (along with the Extrait version and body products like lotion), or at the Four Seasons. Finally, Parfums Raffy sells a Ten Sample Set of Men and Women’s Amouage fragrances in 2 ml vials for $75.
Outside the US: In Canada, The Perfume Shoppe offers both sizes of Epic Woman, along with sampler sets, mini travel sets and body lotions. There is free worldwide shipping, I think. The perfumes are listed at the same price as in the U.S., since they are an American-based company which has a Vancouver branch, so you may want to drop them an email to inquire as to the Canadian pricing. In the UK, Epic Woman is available at Les Senteurs where it costs £175 for the 50 ml size. Samples are available for purchase. There is also an Amouage boutique in London. If you don’t want to go the discounted route with FragranceNet’s Euro price, then you can order Epic Woman from Germany’s First in Fragrance where it costs €205 or €295 (depending on size) with free shipping within the EU and shipping elsewhere for a fee. The entire Amouage line is also offered at Harrods, Selfridges, Essenza Nobile, Paris’ Jovoy, and France’s Premiere Avenue. For other countries, the Amouage website has a “Store Finder” which should, hopefully, help you find the perfume somewhere close to you.
Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Epic starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. The site also sells samples of the Lyric body lotion, and a Sampler Set for 9 Amouage women’s fragrances which starts at $34.99 for 1/2 ml vials.
Red, yellow, orange, and gold. An explosion of vibrantly bright colours that are infused with tendrils of smoke, and which soon turns into the browns of smoky oud. The beauty that is saffron showcased in two ways: sweet and dry, gourmand and woody. And the richness of an ancient attar as a common thread between the two. They are Al Mas and Asrar, “The Diamond” and “The Secret,” from the royal perfume house, Amouage.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to try these two, lesser known Amouage attars, thanks to the kindness of a reader of the blog, “Dubaiscents,” who generously sent me a sample of each. I was surprised by how the two attars seemed to be mirror opposites of each other, showing two differing approaches to the traditional Middle Eastern combination of saffron and oud. (Attars are concentrated perfume oils, and if you’d like to know more about the millenium-old process by which they are created and how they differ from essential oils, you can read the brief explanation in my review of the glorious Tribute attar.) Both Al Mas and Asrar are simple attars that are well-done, and which I thoroughly enjoyed testing, but neither one really sings loudly to me.
On Valentine’s Day, 2010, Amouage released Al Mas, which apparently means “diamond” in Arabic. It opens as a delicious gourmand attar centered on saffron and rose, atop a subtle base of woods. Unlike some modern attars which use paraffin to compensate for the lack of real sandalwood oil as a base, Al Mas includes some of that precious oil, in addition to oud. The notes, according to Surrender to Chance, include:
roses, oriental spices, saffron, amber, musk, sandalwood oil, oudh wood oil and cedarwood.
The first few seconds of Al Mas on my skin are a little similar to the glorious Tribute attar, only without the tarry birch and its loads of dark smoke. The impression of a gourmand version of Tribute lasts but for a few moments, however, as the fragrance quickly turns into every delicious Middle Eastern saffron dessert imaginable. There are gallons and gallons of sweet, syrupy saffron and rose, followed by amber, musk, and the most delicate hints of oud.
The saffron dominates, turning everything in its path into visions of fiery red, gold, orange, and bright custard yellow. The syrupy, sweet rose follows suit, combining with the saffron to add to the overall impression of a rich Middle Eastern pastry or dessert. If you’ve ever had Persian Sholeh Zard or Zoolbia, Indian Phirni or Kheer, Lebanese Riz B Haleeb with saffron, or any variety of syrupy, saffron and/or rose-infused pastry from Egypt to Turkey, you’ll have some idea of both the visuals and the feel of Al Mas. Yet, the attar isn’t completely and wholly a foodie’s saffron fantasy. There are delicate whiffs of a very nutty, warm, mellow sandalwood and sweetened oud which flicker at the edges, along with the merest hints of a peppery cedary and musk. A subtle smokiness curls its tendrils around the far edges, sometimes feeling more like the suggestion of frankincense than anything sharply concrete.
Five minutes in, Al Mas turns profoundly nutty and honeyed. I almost expect to see pistachios and nuts sprinkled on top of the saffron rose. A powerful layer of treacly, gooey, thick honey quickly infuses the duo, overwhelming the hints of smoky incense and adding to the impression of Middle Eastern desserts. Whatever mild, momentary resemblance there may have been to the Tribute attar in the opening minute is long obliterated under the tidal wave of sweetness. The sweetness in Al Mas impacts the rose, turning it deeper, sweeter, and quite fruity in its syrupy heart. The fruitedness really makes me wonder if there is a very dark, purple patchouli at play in Al Mas as well. I would swear that there is the subtlest, tiniest hint of raspberries underlying the scent, and it’s hard to shake off for much of the first hour.
Around the 90-minute mark, Al Mas shifts and changes. It suddenly turns much drier, and starts to hover closer to the skin. The smoke has increased, as has the oud, countering the sweetness in the fragrance with an equal amount of smoky woodiness. With every passing hour, the syrupy, gourmand elements in Al Mas weaken, and the oud-frankincense combination grows in strength.
The fragrance turns into a skin scent about 3.5 hours in, wafting a sheer, delicate gauzy veil of oud smoke with nutty, sweet saffron and a touch of rose. Al Mas feels quite thin in comparison to that extremely heavy, rich, almost unctuous start. I actually applied far more of Al Mas than I did of Tribute, but the latter was a profoundly richer, deeper, stronger, and more nuanced scent with far less. Al Mas, in contrast, is much simpler in nature, and primarily limited to a smoky oud-with-saffron combination despite using almost double the amount (4 small drops). I’m a little surprised by how quickly the rose element faded away on my skin; by the start of the fourth hour, it’s largely disappeared. Soon, Al Mas is nothing more than wispy oud with saffron and, 7.5 hours into its development, it dies completely.
Al Mas isn’t listed on the Fragrantica site, and I can’t find any blog reviews for it except for one. Over at The Perfume Posse, a reviewer called Musette writes about the attar but I find myself somewhat confused by her assessment. She talks about the fragrance’s lightheartedness with geranium, clary sage, and lily of the valley! She also says: “The notes (courtesy Surrender to Chance) are counterintuitive to what I deemed ‘attar’ : orange blossom, lemon and rosemary; middle notes of lily of the valley, geranium and clary sage; and base notes of sandalwood, oak moss and musk.” None of those notes are what are commonly attributed to Al Mas or, even, what is currently listed on Surrender to Chance’s entry for the perfume oil. There must be some sort of mix-up in attars, and in the sample she obtained. Either that, or my nose is completely wonky because I swear I don’t smell a whiff of anything remotely “light-hearted,” green, and white in Al Mas. On me, the attar is primarily saffron and rose, and then, later, smoky oud and saffron.
When Amouage had its 25th Anniversary celebrations in 2007, they released a special attar called Asrar (also, sometimes written as “Asrer“). According to Fragrantica, Asrar means “secrets” in Arabic, and the tale associated with the attar is as follows:
Interwoven with golden hints of, the plot of Asrar, whose name in Arabic means “Secrets”, is decorated with notes, as if by magic, they appear under the nose an oriental garden nestled between Dream and Reality. […] A touch of saffron, a handful of spices, four drops of amber, musk, and then a puff of a distillate of Oudh, the bark of an infusion of exotic wood and sandalwood.
oud, oudh distillate, rose, amber, frankincense, musk, saffron, orange blossom, sandalwood oil, and moss.
Asrar opens on my skin with a powerful blast of fiery saffron that is so rich, it feels almost buttered. It’s so buttered and hot, in fact, so hot and buttered, that I almost expect a plate of Basmati rice to ensue. Moments later, other elements appear. There are subtle whiffs of burnt orange, smoky orange, and sweet, buttered orange with saffron, but they are very brief. Equally light and muted are the flickers of rose and frankincense which lurk below. The main, primary focus, however, is that strong blast of saffron. It differs from the note in Al Mas where it is wholly gourmand in feel, because, here, the saffron is a little bit smoky, a touch woody, and infused with a burnt element.
There is also something oddly chilly about the bouquet, a flicker of something almost mentholated that perplexes me. It’s not like eucalyptus or like medicine, but just barely floral in suggestion. My guess is that the indoles in the orange blossoms have been concentrated to such an extent that they’ve taken on a vaguely icy feel. It’s hard to explain, but there is a surprising, subtle coolness to Asrar that sharply counters the hot butteriness of the saffron. Yet, on my skin, it never translates at any point to orange blossoms — and I tested Asrar twice. The attar also doesn’t feel even remotely orange-y, despite the initial, disappearing whiffs in the first minute, so my skin obviously muted the note for the most part.
It is another flower, instead, which dominates the first hour of Asrar on my skin: the rose. It makes its debut about five minutes in, and it’s another syrupy, sweet, slightly jammy rose that feels a little bit fruited in its richness. Like everything else, it is flecked by the fiery, heavy saffron, and the two notes dance a solitary tango for most of the first hour.
Thirty minutes in, the chilly nuance vanishes, and is replaced on the sidelines by a hint of smoke that has a slightly burnt undertone. At times, the smokiness smells like burnt woods, but, at other times, it resembles the pungent, acrid sharpness that you’d get from blackened caramel. At the 90-minute mark, the note coalesces and takes shape as noticeable, distinct oud. It adds a more concrete woodiness to the scent, but it retains its slightly smoky undercurrents as well, perhaps from what Amouage terms of “oudh distillate.”
The agarwood and its smoke slowly become more and more prominent, taking over the buttery heaviness of the saffron and cutting it with dryness. Around 2.75 hours into Asrar’s development, the fragrance is primarily smoky oud with saffron. The rose has retreated a little to the periphery, and there is the start of a slightly medicinal edge to the wood notes. By the end of the fourth hour and the start of the fifth, Asrar is primarily an oud scent that is simultaneously dry, a little smoky, and a little medicinal. There are quiet undercurrents of saffron underlying it, and the whole thing sits right on the skin. Asrar remains that way until its very end when it’s nothing more than dry, somewhat medicinal oud with smoke. All in all, the attar lasted just short of 8 hours on my skin, and had generally soft sillage.
I couldn’t find any blog reviews for Asrar, but there are short assessments at some of the perfume groups. On Fragrantica, one person found the attar to be very similar to Tribute, while another thought Asrar was a herbal, floral garden ruled by saffron but with an undertone of “freshly applied rubbing alcohol,” no doubt from the oud. The third found Asrar to be simultaneously “very, very sweet,” and discordantly harsh. On Basenotes, there are also three reviews of Asrar, all of which give the fragrance 5-stars. For the most part, the commentators seem to detect much more orange blossom than I did. For example, one person wrote:
The combination of orange blossom and rose smells very familiar and friendly, but the oud and the saffron give a medicinal edge to it. It’s also very spicy, it almost feels “hot” in the nose! Absolutely unisex and in my humble opinion better than Homage or Tribute. The combination of warm top-notes and a mysterious, almost fierce base is totally stunning!
The second commentator also noted the floral elements in Asrar, adding: “It shares a little something with APOM by MFK, but with several additional notes. Everything anyone could want in a feminine attar.” The last found Asrar to be far better suited for her than Amouage’s Ubar, Lyric, or Gold perfumes, and as warmly comforting as a bath:
a rare scent, sweet and yet a little bit pungent through the massively overpowering effect of the saffron. Asrar is mainly a *saffron* scent. Thus, it has a slight reminiscence of a Tibetan temple, of Iranian saffrani chai (saffron tea) of the brand “Zanbagh”. But, then, it is infinitely sweeter than a temple, it is sweet and warm like a warm warm bath, like a lovely embrace… […] After a while, a new smell develops on my skin, like a slight reminiscence of Indian paan, the stuff they eat after dinner there, which lifts the scent up through it’s zest from the mere warmy nicey lovely bath idea[.]
The fact that all six Fragrantica and Basenotes commentators had such widely divergent experiences is interesting to me. Obviously, skin chemistry plays a key role, but I think it’s also a question of the personal experiences through which one’s nose filters the powerful saffron note. For some, it will translate as too sweet, for others, it will be a comforting scent with some foodie associations. Ultimately, how you feel about Asrar may depend on the extent to which the florals and the oud (with its medicinal undertones) come out to counter the warm, fiery, buttery richness of the saffron.
ALL IN ALL:
I enjoyed parts of Al Mas. I thought the opening was delicious, perhaps because I love saffron enough to counter my usual issues with foodie or dessert fragrances. The rose and the subtle, brief hints of sandalwood were very nice, too, but at the end of the day, the fragrance isn’t really me. On the plus side, however, Al Mas is significantly and substantially cheaper than Amouage’s better known attars like Tribute and Homage. You can find the smallest size starting at $151, which is a few hundred dollars off Tribute’s opening price of $370. If you love saffron, gourmand fragrances, or ouds that eventually turn dry and smoky, Al Mas is definitely worth checking out.
As for Asrar, I didn’t fancy it quite as much. On my skin, the saffron felt like a woodier, drier, less gourmand, but significantly more buttery-hot version of the note in Al Mas. I wish I had experienced the orange blossoms, but instead, there was the oddly medicinal edge to the fragrance that isn’t my favorite aspect of agarwood. As a whole, I don’t think my skin chemistry highlighted the prettier aspects or nuances of Asrar, since it seems quite lovely on others.
As a whole, both perfumes are well done, though quite simple and uncomplicated in nature. They’re also on the more affordable end of the scale for an Amouage attar, relatively speaking. Though they share some overlap in notes, Al Mas and Asrar feel very much like mirror opposite interpretations on saffron and oud, with one starting on a gourmand note before turning woody and smoke, while the other is more fiery and buttered before engaging in a similar transformation. The oud accord is different in each, as is the floral undertone, so both Al Mas and Asrar may be worth a sniff for different reasons.