La Via del Profumo's Sensuous Side: Tasneem, Night Blossom, Tabac and Mecca Balsam
In my last post I reviewed three fragrances from the Italian natural perfume company La Via del Profumo by AbdesSalaam Attar (which is the Sufi name of perfumer Dominique Dubrana, a detail I did not know until recently), and now my attention turns to some of the more complex scents that reflect the Orientalist style for which this house is justly admired.
First of all, one of them is a floral that manages to be delightfully different from anything I have ever smelled before. Tasneem, a creamy Oriental floral blend, is built around the second distillation of the ylang ylang flower extract, which apparently results in an almond-like essence for use in perfumery. This is explained in the Web site description of this fragrance, and it's something I would imagine that only perfumers know about. This is one of the softest and most appealing florals imaginable. The almond quality is not really very powdery, nor is it a candy-sweet rendition like the Jordan almond simplicity of L' Artisan's Jour de Fête. Because it is not really an extract of almond, it also lacks that slight cyanide aura that will appear when a concentrated essence of real almond is used. Instead it is a tender and rounded bouquet of blossoms that has the sleight-of-hand effect of smelling just like milky, mildly powdery almond until you get closer, and draw your breath in slowly, and then from deep down inside the fluffy softness the ylang ylang emerges in its more familiar floral guise. Egyptian jasmine, Tonka bean and vanilla complete and enhance this effect. As parlor tricks go it's a real winner, and I could not keep myself from smelling my own skin when wearing Tasneem. It is deeply, warmly feminine and I would think that men would love to be with a woman who wears it. I am already craving a full bottle of it.
Night Blossom is supposed to be about flowers too, but to my nose it is dominated by an intensely penetrating patchouli note and an incense-like heart. Its “blossom” is the tuberose, so I wonder if some of that effect is just more of the weird aspects of the tuberose flower being brought to the forefront; is there any end to the fascinating complexity of real tuberose? After all, such perfumes as Tubéreuse Criminelle are anything but pretty even if they are beautiful to those who appreciate their strangeness. I do get just a smidgen of that creosote odor that is in TC's opening, followed by the dark green murkiness of patchouli and some other things I can't quite pick out. This is for serious fans of patchouli and also of offbeat tuberose compositions. Don't get me wrong, I think it's wonderful stuff, but don't expect Night Blossom to be a delicate floral scent. It is not very sweet and it would be a fantastic masculine. Men who would ordinarily shy away from wearing a tuberose fragrance should really try it. The heavily candied and “girly” aspects of Fracas and its multitude of imitators are entirely absent from this one.
There are many fragrances based on tobacco, mostly intended for men, and the recent vogue has been for the aromatic Oriental style types like Serge Lutens' Chergui and the even more ornate Fumerie Turque. Tabac is just as pleasing as those, but it does not have the same narcotic opium den sweetness so it may have a broader appeal. It does have a subtly sweet facet in contrast with the roughness of the leaf that seems to derive from the tobacco flower itself, which happens to be one of my own favorites; I grow the ornamental Nicotiana species in my garden for their graceful beauty and their superb evening fragrance. It goes on a little wild but smoothes out into a seamless and long-lasting finish. The commitment of this house to fine quality materials is immediately evident here, and anyone who enjoys a good tobacco scent should fall hard for Tabac. (Ladies, don't let the men have all the fun with this one, it's just fine for you too.)
The final perfume in my sample set is the newest in the line, Mecca Balsam. Much has already been written about it since it release and with good reason; it is truly outstanding. It is an exotic “Orientalist” type, which has been something of an industry trend recently, as evidenced by the popularity of such releases as L' Artisan's Havana Vanille and of course any number of Serge Lutens and Montale perfumes. Any fragrance launch of this style has to be good to stand out from the crowd, and Mecca Balsam is just that. It is not so overwhelmingly heavy and spicy that it can hardly be worn in public like some others in the genre, but it does have an “otherness” and authenticity to it, a quality not often seen in Western perfumery. It is as much of a departure in character as Tcharas but in a different way. It reminds me a little of one of my other favorites in what is sometimes called the “spice market” style, which is a rather broad catch-all category for these perfumes, and that is Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's Mahjoun. From me that is high praise, and it is no accident that both fragrances are based on natural essences. Mecca Balsam is not a gourmand like Mahjoun, and is not as sweet, but it shares its complex and addictive deliciousness.
It is in such perfumes as this that the interplay of so many different ingredients creates something greater than the sum of its parts. It is built around one of my favorite perfume elements, labdanum, an essential building block of the Chypre genre, enhanced with frankincense, benzoin and tobacco, and decorated with florals like Damask rose and Indian tuberose, though the floral notes are barely evident; this is a warm, radiant incense perfume and one of the best of its kind. It is not dominated by any one overly strong spice note such as cumin or saffron that can be distracting for people who can't tolerate an overdose of such ingredients in perfumes. I will be the first to admit that I have not smelled very many truly authentic Arabian types of attars, so I have a limited basis of comparison that mostly involves my experiences with such lines as Amouage and Serge Lutens. What my nose does know is what good perfume is supposed to smell like, and Mecca Balsam is that, and not just with the qualifier of good “for an all-natural fragrance” – it can stand on its own against anything else from a niche line, and the fact that it is truly natural and cruelty-free is just icing on the cake. Did I mention that its longevity is excellent? It is – and not just “for a natural” either. It just gets better and better as time goes on and it melds with skin chemistry to create a sublime alchemy.
Now for the good part – The perfumer has very generously offered a full bottle of Mecca Balsam Eau de Parfum to one lucky PST reader! I will also include the winner's choice of three samples chosen from among the other La Via del Profumo perfumes I have reviewed: Tcharas, Tabac, Acqua Santa, Grezzo (d'Eleganza), African Night, Tasneem and Night Blossom. If you would like to be entered in the draw, please say so in the comments. Please note, I can only send this to a U.S.A. mailing address, unfortunately no shipping to other countries is possible, and anyone who enters as an “Anonymous” commenter and does not give a nickname in the body of the comment will not be entered in the draw. The winner will be selected by on an online randomizer program the week after this review is published. Good luck!
Disclaimer: All perfume samples reviewed for this two-part series were a personal gift to me from a third party. The prize draw bottle is being provided gratis by the perfumer. Image credit: “Arabian Nights II” by artist John Douglas, from worldgallery.co.uk