“What sorcery is this?! What dark magic created such a devil’s elixir? It’s simply cruel to make something that smells this good, and make it so expensive. It really verges on the sadistic.“
Those were a few of my thoughts as I tried Tribute, an attar from Amouage. A reader of the blog, “Dubaiscents,” whose generosity is only surpassed by her thoughtfulness, sweetness, and kindness sent me a sample of the divine scent. Tribute seemed to by-pass most of my normal analytical skills, going straight for the jugular, and triggering an atavistic, primal, wholly incoherent desire to dive headlong into a pile of old leather jackets topped by a blanket of roses in a tarry birch woodshed filled with frankincense smoke. Honestly, the thought that hit me from the start was that Tribute was Darth Vader’s perfect rose — and I mean that in the absolute best way possible.
One can’t explain Tribute without first taking a small detour into what constitutes an “attar.” Attars (or ittars) are concentrated perfume oils made from natural botanicals and without using an alcohol as a base. As Wikipedia explains, the process goes back thousands of years in the Middle East and India, whereby the essential oils left from distilling flower petals, woods, and herbs are often distilled down further into a base, then aged. The site, Broken Earth Naturals, explains the difference between attars and essential oils:
Traditionally Attars are similar to essential oils in that they are distilled using water or steam and are the pure oils taken from the distillation of botanical material. Attars are different from essential oils because Attars are usually herbs and flowers, or even woods and resins which are being distilled into a base oil such as sandalwood. These distillates are then allowed to age for varying amounts of time. Some attars are aged for only 20 days while others may be aged for many years. Like fine wines, when properly stored, attars grow in perfection.
An even more technical, detailed explanation of the process is available at Bio-Bytes, which seems to imply that paraffin is used nowadays to compensate for the lack of real sandalwood oil as a base.
Amouage’s Tribute attar does not have the traditional sandalwood base, but the process which has been followed is the ancient one and seems to include the aging process as well. In a press release quoted by Now Smell This, Amouage describes Tribute as follows:
Combining with frankincense in graceful accord, the subtle majesty of saffron forms with it the top chord of the fragrance, and heralds the transition into an elaborate and powerful range of floral heart notes, chief among which are Jasmine and Rose Taifi.
Once it reaches full maturity, warm, richly spiced base notes such as leather, tobacco, cedarwood, patchouli and vetiver emerge to round out the fragrance, creating a gentle but powerfully intriguing finish that harks back to the traditional use of attars by ancient healers and prophets, who employed them to enhance moods, and uplift the soul.
Tribute was released in 2009, and Fragrantica says that it was made with the help of perfumers from Grasse, France. According to Luckyscent, its notes include:
Rose Taifi, Jasmine, Saffron, Frankincense, Cedarwood, Tobacco, Leather, Patchouli, Vetiver.
Elsewhere, I’ve seen other ingredients mentioned as a part of the scent, from Cade and Juniper (which is where cade oil comes from) to Birch Tar. As the Perfume Shrine explains, all three notes are common sources in perfumery for a certain kind of leather aroma. To me, Tribute is all about the birch tar and not about the more piney nuance that I associate with juniper, so I strongly agree with Mark Behnke who, in an article for Fragrantica, talked repeatedly about the birch tar aspect to the attar’s leather facade.
The concentrated nature of attars — and those from Amouage in specific — lends to some caution in application. I’d read repeated reports that a mere drop of Tribute could last well over 24 hours in duration, a fact commonly pointed to as a justification for the perfume’s incredibly high price for an incredibly tiny bottle. Given my wonky skin, I decided to go a little wild, live on the edge, and apply two mediumish drops. By the end of the day, I had wished I had doused myself in the oil, as Tribute simply gets better, and better, and better….
Tribute opens on my skin with a burst of birch tar, cedar, rose, frankincense smoke, saffron, leather and patchouli. Each note is crystal clear for a second, hanging in the air like a bell, and, yet, part of a greater, gloriously well-blended sum total at the same time. Within seconds, however, certain notes converge to dominate, and to create the impression of a rose taken to the woodshed where it is surrounded by black leather set on fire with tar and dark incense. It’s all done in the best, darkest, dirtiest, smokiest way possible. As those two, small, satiny drops of dark, thick oil melt further into the skin, the birch tar rises like Darth Vader breathing blackly from the bowels of frankincense and leather. You can almost hear him heavy-breathing in the corner as the rose turns into smoky leather. Swirls of blackness abound all around, from the incense to the phenolic, tarry birch so beloved by the Russian cossacks of old for their leather. Cedar circles around the vortex, adding a woody touch to the smoky elements. And, behind the dark clouds, lies the shining ruby light of the rose.
Like black-garbed knights, the notes in Tribute follow in a definite progression of strength in those early moments. General Birchtar leads the troops, carrying the leather banner loudly and proudly, with frankincense as his roaring second in command. Lieutenant Cedar follows, then the Sargeant Taif. The rose is beefy, concentrated, and blackened, but a touch spicy, too, thanks to the fiery saffron. The remaining elements bring up the rear in a much more indistinct form, though the patchouli occasionally pops up to make his voice heard. Only the jasmine is a no-show at this point.
I love the rose in Tribute, simply love it, especially at the end of twenty minutes when it becomes much more pronounced. I’m generally not one to go crazy about rose notes, but this one is simply beautiful. If flowers were meat, the Taif rose in Tribute would have the refinement of Filet Mignon, but the large, thick feel of a Porterhouse or a mammoth slab of Prime Rib. At all times, it’s done rare, dripping its juices as dark as blood. It’s spicy, syrupy, smoky, leathery, beefy, woody, and jammy, all at once, and its growing prominence makes Tribute the most fascinating blend of tarry blackness and sweet crimson. Forty minutes in, the Taif rose takes its place as the star of the show. Infused with the tarry leather and frankincense, it’s a tough, butch rose that is well-suited for those men who think rose scents are girly things that they can’t wear. Yet, there is more to Darth Vader’s rose than just leather and smoke. The spicy saffron lends it a touch of fieriness, while the patchouli adds a subtle undertone of beautifully balanced sweetness.
Slowly, very slowly, Tribute shifts a little. At the end of the second hour, it mellows, deepens, and softens, turning into a well-blended bouquet whose tough, sharp edges have been smoothed out. It’s still a dark fragrance, but Darth Vader has left the building and Lara Stone has taken his place. The fragrance wafts about in a mellower, deeper, richer cloud of leather, rose, tarry woods, and smoke. Tribute stays on this course for hours to come, with the leather becoming more aged, oiled, burnished, and smooth with every moment. At the start of the fourth hour, the fragrance finally drops in projection, no longer radiating out across the room.
The sillage is a point worth explaining in detail. Tribute doesn’t start as a nuclear-tipped perfume which can knock out someone across the room, but it definitely creates a small cloud around one. While walking around my house, I was surprised to detect little wafts of a smoky, dark rose lingering in a tiny, faint way in the air in a place I had been about ten minutes earlier. Tribute definitely sends little tendrils of scent out in a soft wave, but this is a naturally made fragrance oil, not a conventional perfume with its synthetic elements or alcohol base. As such, the scent never feels powerful or overwhelming in quite the same way a normal fragrance — even one of Amouage’s regular, powerful perfumes — does. The best way I can explain it is that there is a softness to its presence, no matter how strong it might be. Tribute doesn’t pulsate out like a tidal wave the way something like a Tom Ford Private Blend or a 1980s powerhouse like Poison might, but, then again, I only put on two small drops. What might happen if you went overboard, and put on the true equivalent of a spray of perfume, heaven only knows.
There are other changes to the fragrance, too. About 3.75 hours in, the leather is no longer so tarry and smoky, but, instead, has turned into a smoother, richer, oiled leather. In addition, the rose is not quite so dominant, though it is still wholly intertwined with the leather. The frankincense has been smoothed over and softened. Faint traces of the saffron, cedar, and patchouli remain in differing degrees, but the vetiver vanished long ago on my skin. As a whole, Darth Vader has been left well behind, and Tribute now feels like a very beloved, well-worn, warm leather jacket whose inner collar and neck carry the lingering traces of a deep, dark rose. At the 4.5 hour mark, the fragrance starts becoming closer to the skin, and the rose has retreated somewhat, leaving a scent that is primarily smoky, incense leather at its core.
I thought Tribute was a sexy scent from the start, but the fragrance ramps it up in its middle and final stages. About 5.25 hours in, Tribute is an intoxicating swirl of smoky woods and rich, aged leather that is faintly infused with sweetness and a lingering trace of rose. Quiet, muted flickers of saffron have popped back up at the edges, but they’re nutty rather than spicy or fiery. Towards the end of the 6th hour, Tribute turns into a skin scent, but it’s one that is so warm, rich, and sweet, it’s positively addictive. Something about the scent makes me feel like diving headlong into a pile of aged, burnished leather, burrowing my nose deeper and deeper into its multi-layered richness. If you’ve ever worn your boyfriend or partner’s old leather jacket, it’s that smell, only infused with some floral sweetness and incense.
It just gets better with time, as Tribute’s final stage takes that beautiful leather richness and mixes it with jasmine. Midway during the 7th hour, the jasmine finally comes out to play, and its addition lends a touch of feminine softness to the leather. Tribute is now sweet, warm, jasmine leather with a touch of frankincense smoke and nutty saffron. Even as a skin scent, the intoxicating aroma is still somewhat potent when you put your nose right on your skin. Despite the thinner, lighter feel at the end of 8 hours, the scent itself remains rich, deep and smooth. It’s utterly sexy, and stays that way until its final moments when Tribute is nothing more than a soft blur of sweetened leather. All in all, two tiny drops lasted just short of 10.75 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. It’s not the 24 hours of legend with a single drop, but then, my skin is wonky and doesn’t retain fragrances like other people. It certainly doesn’t hold onto natural perfume oils for such a long period of time, so I’m still very impressed.
As you can tell, I loved Tribute, but it is not a scent that I would recommend for everyone. I think men who love dark, smoky, slightly tarry, and very masculine leather fragrances should run to try it, especially those who normally find rose scents to be too feminine. On the other hand, women who are used to traditional feminine fragrances, delicate florals, and soft, sweet, dainty rose scents will want to stay far away. Tribute’s Darth Vader opening and the focus on tarry leather make it a scent that will skew very masculine for some women. Yet, those who like very dark, smoky, leathery fragrances may well fall in love with Tribute’s multi-faceted richness. If you can handle something like Bandit or Black Afghano, Tribute will be your cup of tea.
Tribute is enormously beloved by men (and some women), but out of the many positive reviews out there, my favorite may come from The Perfume Posse who raves about it in two separate, humourous posts. In the first, Patty writes, in part:
I barely dotted a drop on a wrist, went downstairs to talk to my son, and his first comment was, “what smells so good?” That drop was permeating the room and wafting like a pig farm in the summer. Of course I mean that in a good way. I went to the movies about 30 minutes later, and I was filling the theater with this magical scent — all Amouage Tribute Attar. […][¶]
This thing comes out of the bottlle like the fiercest, smokiest rose covered in leather and tobacco you have ever smelled. Think Hell’s Angel Rose. Put your nose down to it, and it’s floral dipped in diesel, mostly diesel, not so much floral. I say that with love because I’m fairly fond of that. But if that’s not really your thing – diesel, I mean – just wait a while, put it on in a location far from your nose and wait for it to perfume the air with saffron and spices. This thing spins and whirls and changes in the drydown, leaning more to the leather, then the rose comes back through, and then it feels like almost all spice and saffron, then it starts huffing smoky vetiver like a coal-fired locomotive. I don’t know that I’d say it’s a rose perfume. It is, but it’s so much more than that. […] I’m bewitched.
In the second review (for another Amouage attar, Al Mas), another Perfume Posse reviewer, Musette, talks about her experience with Tribute:
My first introduction to Amouage attars came in the form of Amouage Tribute. I was immediately smitten but it’s one of those attars I can only wear …..where? There are so few comfortable places. I mean, it’s so gorgeous!!! But it’s so smoky, so complex, so…..foreign…that it …well, after a few nervous glances towards nearby fire extinguishers I now tend to wear it At Home. Lounging around in a silk caftan, on a silk divan, fanning myself (with a silk fan, scented with Amouage Tribute Attar). Or tucked up in bed, apres-bain, with the Really Good Sheets. Or at the opera. Seriously. It’s perfect for the opera. Or a gallery opening, where you want to make a Statement. One drop of Amouage Tribute will scent your 3/4 length leather gloves for a month! It lasts for a day and shimmers and glows through all its smoky-deep facets to an incredible drydown but, make no mistake – it’s deep.
As you can see, women love Tribute, too, though they aren’t always sure where to wear it. While I can easily envision a woman wearing Tribute while lounging in a silk caftan at home, a better image for me personally would be a young Hugh Hefner in his silk pajamas, with a velvet robe, smoking a pipe in his leather-filled study, and being caressed by beautiful women who can’t stop sniffing his neck. I don’t see Tribute fitting in even remotely at the opera, but I can easily imagine Clint Eastwood wearing Tribute in his Sergio Leone western days to go with his cheroot cigar and squinty-eyed toughness. Or Darth Vader rising from the smoke. Tribute reflects all their different, contrasting sides. It is every forceful, tough, macho, dark, aggressive, but very sexy, man imaginable — concentrated into one or two silky, unctuous drops.
There seems to be one big problem with Tribute, beyond that of its astronomical price: batch numbers. On Fragrantica, there are a few references to differences in scent from one batch of attars to another, though it seems to be less of an issue for Tribute than it is for Amouage’s sister attar, Homage. Homage’s Luckyscent page is filled with talk about how the attar’s aroma can vary from one bottle to another, so it’s something I wanted to mention. As one Fragrantica commentator wrote with regard to Tribute:
I went to Amouage’s factory. The truth is that Amouage produces its attars with varying quality. I am not sure why this is happening but they have some problems controlling quality of the end-product, probably because they have different inputs for each batch. I personally got my hands on 3 different qualities of the Tribute. Only one of them was as good as it was supposed to be. The other two batches had either too much tobacco or too much vetiver or too little rose etc in the final bouquet. So please try the bottle before you buy it, don’t rely on the tester, try THAT VERY BOTTLE. The same problem is with other, originally excellent, attars – Al Mulook, Al Mas, Eidyya, Bard al Budur, Al Andaluz. The way to correct the Tribute that has too much tobacco is to add further 5-15% of Ajmal’s rose oil – the spicy and zesty Kashmiri rose that they widely sell in their shops in the arabic countries (they also call it Ruh al Ward). After mixing wait for 2-3 months keeping the bottle in the dark cool cabinet. The result exceeded my expectations! Good luck.
The issue that he references may explain one of the few, persistent complaints regarding Tribute: some people think the fragrance smells too strongly of tobacco and, in specific, of cigarette smoke. As one Fragrantica commentator put it, she smelled like “a smoky camel”:
Not a single waft of rose, jasmine, or any lighter essence. On me, the scent became thickly redolent of tobacco and leather, and for some reason I kept thinking about camel hide. I grew up in parts of the Middle East, and know what camels smell like. I’m very fond of camels, and defend them against their nasty reputation. I’d be crabby too if I had to carry loads on my back through baking hot terrain.
I just don’t want to smell like a smoky camel now. And I did all day.
Obviously, all of this is a problem at $370 (without tax) for the smallest, tiniest bottle. Not everyone can visit the Amouage factory in Oman to test the fragrance and to choose their own bottle to minimize the risk of getting an excessively smoky, tobacco version. Amouage is charging too high a price for there to be such discrepancies, but the simple fact of the matter is that the very process of attar creation may make such variations an unfortunate part of the process. I’m not trying to minimize the problem, but it does seem to be somewhat unavoidable.
Yet, despite the occasional off batch, the majority of people seem wholly enamoured with Tribute. Take, for example, Basenotes, where the fragrance has an overall 93% positive rating with 79% giving it five stars, and 14% giving it four. If the fragrance were cheaper, I think those numbers would be even higher, because the issue of cost does come up repeatedly. Only one person gave Tribute a single star, and that seems to be because, four bottles of Tribute later, he claims the fragrance in 2012 was reformulated from its original 2009 version. There may have been reformulation or maybe it was a batch issue, I don’t know.
All I can say is that I would absolutely buy Tribute if I had a spare $370 lying around for a bottle a little larger than Visine or Tic-Tacs — risky batch issues be damned. I would buy it, try to suppress the urge to slather it on all over, then burrow into its rich, fiery, smoky depths, and sigh with pure contentment. Unfortunately, neither my wallet nor my somewhat cheap-skate side (which really mentally struggles with that 12 ml size, no matter how much I try to rationalise the longevity of single drops) will put up $370. So, I’ll simply treasure my remaining droplets, and wear it on those days when I would like Darth Vader’s strength mixed with the sweetest flowers of the East. Tribute is dark magic of the very best kind, and its smoky lure has bewitched me, too.
[UPDATE: Amouage discontinued Tribute and all its attars in Spring 2014. You can read the reasons here. The retailers linked below sold out of Tribute in 2014, and it is virtually impossible to find these days except on rare occasion on eBay. The closest thing to it is Ame Sombre (Grade 1) attar from Sultan Pasha which was intentionally designed as a tribute to Tribute, only in much stronger, heavier, and more powerful form.]