Amber With a Twist: Alahine by Teo Cabanel
I have always thought of Teo Cabanel's Alahine (2007) as one of those ultra-niche cult fragrances that I would probably never get to try; overly hyped, hopelessly exclusive and very expensive. I don't remember exactly why I had that attitude about it, but recently a sample vial came to me in a swap, and as it turns out, the hype was for a good reason. This is a really wonderful and original fragrance. The house, recently rejuvenated by the creations of perfumer Jean-Françoise Latty, is over 100 years old as well so I don't know if it really can be called “exclusive”, but rather just obscure. I had never heard of it before the previous scents Julia and Oha were released in 2005, but it seems that the house was once very well regarded in Paris before falling on hard times. No more; now everybody wants a piece of this company's products.
Everyone seems to describe it as an ambery Oriental but that is the last thing I thought of when the top notes first hit. Sparkling and herbal, it felt like a floral aperitif with a fruity aspect rather along the lines of Jean Patou's splendid Cocktail. (High praise coming from me, hard-core Patou lover that I am.) I even thought that it was a tea scent as the initial burst of top notes began to subside. Then the richer side of Alahine began to emerge after a few minutes, and it got really interesting. It even began to remind me of another Jean Patou scent that I love, the soft woody oriental Normandie; though it is considerably sharper, it has a similar seamlessness to it. In fact I would put this fragrance in the sharp Oriental class due to the persistence of the lavender note throughout its life on the skin. Its opening salvo also resembled vintage Fath de Fath, of which I have tiny sample, and considering the price one must pay for that one these days, if you can even find it, the $110 tag for 50 ml of Alahine at Luckyscent seems like a real bargain. (Parfum in both liquid and solid form can be ordered from the company's own web site or from The Posh Peasant.)
As Alahine moves through its gorgeous floral heart of rose, jasmine and orange blossom, the ambery character begins to emerge in earnest, and an almost incense-like impression develops, along with a slightly doughy, pastry-like teaser that I found very pleasing, like the smell of baking wafting from a window as you walk by, but not heavy or overpowering, just a tantalizing hint. Considering that this is an Eau de Parfum and not particularly heavy in base notes, it lasts a good long time on me, and when I put it on in the evening it was still with me in the morning. The intense, almost liqueur-like center of this perfume's universe is Bulgarian and Moroccan rose essence of high quality that gives it a rounded and almost fruity quality overall. The similarity to vintage Jean Patou perfumes is also because of its successful use of lavender without having it dominate everything else. (Shades of Moment Suprême, anyone?) This is not really all that surprising considering the house's devotion to traditional French haute parfumierie, and it is most welcome in a modern fragrance. Now I want to try all the other introductions from Teo Cabanel, preferably sooner rather than later.
Notes via Basenotes: Top: Bergamot, lavender, ylang ylang. Middle: Bulgarian and Moroccan rose, jasmine, orange blossom. Base: Iris, rock rose, patchouli, benzoin, vanilla, musk. (Luckyscent adds a mention of sandalwood to the list, and I agree, though this perfume is so well blended that it's hard to pick out individual ingredients.) It is marketed as a feminine, but to me it is definitely eligible for unisex wear, and indeed the opening notes are almost like a fresh masculine before it starts to unpack its seductive bag of tricks.
Image credit: The pretty Alahine Eau de Parfum bottle, luckyscent.com