In The Thousand and One Nights (also known as The Arabian Nights), Scheherazade tricks her new husband into saving her life by enchanting him with a different tale each night. The powerful Persian king had become bitter and enraged by the infidelity of his former wife, so each day he would marry a virgin, only to behead them the next morning before they could betray him. Eventually, the kingdom ran out of virgins and the Vizier (or Prime Minister) was at a loss to know how to placate his bloodthirsty, vengeful king. The Vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, offered herself as a volunteer; she had a plan to tame the king and stop the bloodshed destroying the land.
Scheherazade spent her wedding night by telling the king a story but, cleverly, she never finished it and stopped at the most exciting part right before dawn, the time of her impending execution. The king, determined to know how the story ended, was forced to delay her sentence. That next night, she finished the tale but began an even more exciting story. Once again, she stopped exactly midway shortly before dawn, and the curious king spared her life so that he might hear the conclusion. This continued for a thousand and one nights, as Scheherazade weaved her magic through stories of Aladdin and the Genie, Ali Baba, Sinbad and many more. By the end, the king had fallen in love with the clever Scheherazade and made her his queen.
If the bewitching, enigmatic, intensely feminine, aristocratic Scheherazade were alive today, she might very well make Amouage’s Jubilation 25 her signature scent. As I wrote in my review for the sibling fragrance, Jubilation XXV for Men, the royal perfume house of Amouage would be perfect for a fairy tale or Greek myth. (Or for The Arabian Nights itself.) Amouage is the official royal perfume house for the Sultanate of Oman, and created at the order of the Sultan himself. It seeks to evoke the magic of the Middle East at the hands of master perfumers, who are given all the riches in the land — nay, the richest ingredients in all the world — with a no-expense spared budget.
On its 25th anniversary, in 2007, Amouage launched two celebratory eau de parfums under the guidance of its artistic director, Christopher Chong. The men’s version was called Jubilation XXV and was created by Bernard Duchaufour; the women’s version was named Jubilation 25, and was made by Lucas Sieuzac. Both versions are eau de parfum concentration.
On its website, Amouage describes Jubilation 25 as follows:
Jubilation 25 captures the magic of timeless eternity with rich top notes of rose and ylang-ylang in which myth and reality are expressed using the finest frankincense from Oman.
This fragrance will appeal to the elegant, enigmatic and sophisticated woman who lives her life as an art form – evoking the time, place and cultures she inhabits with the mystical allure of amber, musk, vetiver, myrrh, frankincense and patchouli.
Jubilation XXV is classified on Fragrantica as an “oriental floral,” but it would be much more accurate to call it a fruity chypre. “Chypre” is one of the main perfume families. As a basic rule of thumb, a chypre perfume starts out with citrus-y top notes, has labdanum as part of its middle notes, and has a base that includes oakmoss. The oakmoss is traditionally the main key, but the base also often includes patchouli, musk or some sort of animalic note. (See the Glossary for a full explanation of the chypre family of fragrances, its general composition, and the range of its sub-families.)
Jubilation 25’s notes are listed as follows:
Top notes are ylang-ylang, rose, tarragon and lemon;
middle notes are labdanum, rose, artemisia and incense;
base notes are amber, patchouli, musk, vetiver and myrrh.
The perfume opens and I think to myself, “So Parisienne!” It’s a definite fruity chypre and a very heavy, mature scent. The opening notes are citrus and oakmoss, with a strong touch of tarragon and cumin. Unlike others, I don’t smell any significant amount of ylang-ylang from the start. Instead, what I get is a cumin-infested rose and peach note that is uncomfortably intimate. The peach comes from the davana flower which helps create the slightly fruity nature of the opening. It also evokes Guerlain’s Mitsouko, the standard bearer for fruity chypres, and a perfume which similarly calls to mind female intimacy and cumin. There is also a definite element of sweat which adds yet another type of intimacy to the scent. I can’t help but think of a woman in a slight state of arousal. There is a soft kind of blossoming and earthy fecundity which bring to mind a woman’s panties and… well, “intimate” is the only way I can describe it politely.
The cumin note is subtle at first. It’s not like the cumin in Serge Lutens Serge Noire but the earthiness is such that I have to wonder how the perfume would smell on me if worn at noon during the height of summer. The thought worries me a little. (Okay, a lot!) I can’t begin to imagine how this would smell in 110 degree heat!
A few more minutes in, the tarragon fades away as does a portion of the citrus-y note, leaving a very dry but pungent oakmoss scent. Officially, there is no oakmoss in Jubilation 25. None of the notes listed on the Amouage website (or, indeed, anywhere) list it. But it is there. Read any review of Jubilation 25, and you’ll see a plethora of references to oakmoss and chypres. The ingredients may not list it — just as they don’t list cumin — but dammit, it’s there!
Oakmoss is a tricky scent to describe or convey. It looks and smells similar to the lump of dried litchen that is often stuck at the top of flower pots or in floral arrangements. And, calling it “mossy, herbal and woody” doesn’t really seem adequate. To me, oakmoss has a dry, musty, dark green-grey smell that is dusty and almost mineral-y as well. It is often astringently pungent and a lot like a very damp, earthy forest. But a damp forest that is definitely musty and a bit dusty as well.
Twenty minutes in, the cumin (or whatever skank-ladened note is replicating cumin’s smell) is flitting in and out, making me feel, at times, that it’s actually quite delightful in its uncommon juxtaposition with rose and lemon. At other times, however, I have to resist the urge to sniff under my arms in alarm. It’s a bit of intellectual genius to combine the natural earthiness of cumin with the inherent earthiness of oakmoss, but it’s also rather disturbing.
There is a funky ripeness that makes me fear I am not brave enough for this scent. And, suddenly, I understand Luca Turin’s comparison of Jubilation 25 (which he very much liked, by the way) to Dior’s outré Diorella. Diorella was created by the legendary nose, Edmond Roudnitska, who also created the other monster of funk that Jubilation 25 is often compared to: Rochas’ Femme. (Jubilation 25 is compared to the reformulated, post-1989 version of Femme that had actual cumin added in.)
Femme is repeatedly described as far more than just merely animalic but, rather, flat out “intimate.” And a good chunk of the ingredients in Femme are also in Jubilation 25, even if the latter doesn’t officially list cumin. (It really should!) The same story applies to Guerlain’s equally “intimate” or “skanky” Mitsouko, which is the third fragrance to which Jubilation 25 is often compared. Mitsouko’s peach, rose, ylang-ylang, oakmoss, vetiver, amber and musky notes are the same ones in Jubilation.
In slight contrast to those “intimate” female scents, Diorella has been described as “fruit on the verge of going bad” by Luca Turin. The perfume blog Yesterday’s Perfume, elaborates on that Turin metaphor saying that Diorella “at its heart, … smells like garbage on the verge of going bad that someone has thrown a pile of flowers onto” but swears that it “shows you how to find beauty in the intersection of garbage and flowers. I know this doesn’t sound like an endorsement, but it is!”
Jubilation 25 combines aspects of all the aforementioned perfumes into one. I think that the last part of Yesterday’s Perfume’s quote about Diorella could really apply to Jubilation 25 if slightly altered: it “shows you to how find beauty in the intersection of [bodily funk] and flowers.” It just takes a little time to become enchanting (or, perhaps, a little less alarming).
But it is, unquestionably, a fascinating scent. It gets in your head with its juxtaposition of soft, feminine florals, earthy dampness and mossiness, and bodily funk. It’s got a little bit danger, and a whole lot of enigma. I can’t decide if I like it, or if I am repelled by it. As time goes on, I am less repelled than I was at the onset, but I’m still completely at a loss on how to assess this scent. It’s that bodily funk aspect that is all woman; it is both the fascination and lure, and the source of my continuing alarm. True, it’s less blunt, forceful, and sexually ripe as compared to Femme where, if memory serves me correctly, it clobbered you on the head. Here, there is just a sheer hint of it. Sheer, like Salomé’s seventh and final veil which was closest to her damp, slightly sweaty, naked
body as she danced before the king she wanted to seduce and manipulate into committing murder.
I feel a little trapped and paralyzed by my polarized reactions to Jubilation 25. In fact, I feel just like a fly quivering on a spider’s web, as competing thoughts run through my head. From utter revulsion at the scent, I slowly feel some grudging fascination, then back to alarm as a particularly strong whiff of armpits flashes by before receding again. I scrawl, “Oh no. This is too much!” in my notes, followed a few minutes later by, “I think I like this???” Jubilation 25 is like Scheherazade luring into her mystery, her web, her tales, before trapping you with her enigma, and making you want more.
The soft dry-down doesn’t help free me. It’s all musky rose with a touch of sweetness from the myrrh and amber. For some odd reason, the ylang-ylang is stronger now on me, as is the peach from the davana and the patchouli. Perhaps they were just hidden by that huge burst of overwhelmingly skanky funk? The latter is still there but it is just a faint shimmer now, almost imperceptible. (Well, most of the time. It tends to come and go at this point, almost like a ghost.) I really like the dry-down, though it’s nowhere as fascinating as that opening which lasted a good two hours on me.
Unlike the king in A Thousand and One Nights, however, I do finally manage to break free of the enchantment. I don’t think I would buy Jubilation 25, even if I could afford it (which we will get to shortly). It’s just too mature, heavy and intimate a scent for me. I don’t mind heaviness if it’s resinous ambers or spice, but heavy oakmoss is a bit harder for me to handle as a frequent choice of scents. But it’s the intimacy issue which is more dispositive. I have faint images of slightly ripe panties and earthy underarms that continue to plague me a little. Yes, I don’t think I would wear it. No, on further thought, I think I would. Yes, I would. I can’t get it out of my head and I’m utterly fascinated by its dangerous, alarming elements. I don’t think it is just intellectual fascination, either. There are a lot of scents that fascinate me intellectually and theoretically — such as Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle — but which I’m not interested enough at the end of the day to actually want to wear them.
Jubilation 25 is different because it really has gotten inside my head. I can’t stop sniffing my arms, though I always do so with a healthy dose of trepidation. I could see this as the scent of a dangerous woman, a black widow, or a diva. I think of Angelina Jolie’s character in any number of her films but, especially, in Gia (one of my all-time favorite movies). I also think of Angelina Jolie herself in Alexander, where she met and bewitched Brad Pitt. I think of such diverse people as: the legendary icon, Ava Gardner; the racy, imperious, very sexual but haughty Princess Margaret of England; or the steely, hard, but manipulatively charming Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s former Iron Lady.
What finally breaks me free of the spell and the madness is the price of Jubilation 25. I am simply too much of a cheapskate to spend $300 (or approximately $330 with tax) on one single perfume. I just can’t do it, even if I could afford it. The most commonly available size of Jubiliation 25 is 3.4 fl.oz/100 ml and costs $300, £190.00 or around €220. There is a smaller 1.7 oz/50 ml version that costs $265 or £160.00, but a cursory review of a few US websites shows it is not available on any of the usual or big perfume sites. I found the smaller size only at Beauty Encounter, but it’s really not a good deal given that double the quantity (or 3.4 oz) costs only $35 more.
No, Jubilation 25 is just too expensive for me but, oh, how it tempts me. This is not an ordinary, cheap or generic scent. It smells haughty, regal, luxurious, feminine, and infinitely intimate. It’s dangerous and enigmatic. It’s Mata Hari, Salome and Scheherazade all wrapped into one. And it probably would have brought Scheherazade’s king to his knees far sooner than a thousand and one nights…..