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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tcharas by AbdesSalaam Attar Profumo: A Journey Into The Unknown

By Donna

I have been curious about the fragrances of AbdesSalaam Attar Profumo ever since the release of their Mecca Balsam a few months ago. I had never heard of the house before then, and like every other perfume fan I was curious about it and eager to experience the other perfumes in the line based on the rave reviews it was getting. However, I had little hope that I would ever be able to do so without a larger perfume budget than I currently have since the perfumery is based in Italy and sold directly from their Web site, and international shipping charges are pretty steep. Much to my delight, one of their offerings has come my way thanks to a very generous fragrance lover, and I am happy to report that the adulation this house has received is richly deserved, if what I have is representative of its quality standards.

Tcharas is one of the special Attars, highly concentrated and richly redolent of precious resins and oils. I believe that the name is a variant of Charas, a term that refers to a type of handmade hashish famous (or notorious) in northern India and Afghanistan and the Himalayan foothills. The scent is stated to be a tribute to the perfumery materials native to the Hindu Kush mountain range area of the world, so that makes sense, sort of. I am not familiar with the different grades of hashish (or any grade of it, really) so I can't say if this perfume smells anything like it. However, it definitely smells otherworldly and unmistakably exotic. Think of L'Artisan's Dzongkha as a jumping-off point and then add in farm animals, nomad tents and a vertiginous sense of adventure, and you have an approximation of Tcharas. It's one of those fragrances for which I had no expectation or point of reference, so it was almost disorienting to smell it, since it has ingredients in it that I have never experienced before. I did smell such familiar elements as labdanum and scratchy tree moss, but in rougher versions than what are usually found in fine fragrances. This is from an all-natural perfumery, and for just a few moments it had that “head shop” vibe that such products seem to have if they are made of cheap, poor quality materials. No sooner had that first impression registered in my brain than it reversed itself completely and I found myself at the edge of a new olfactory experience; I had no idea what I was smelling, but it was marvelous!

It seems that the Hindu Kush is a place where high quality aromatic resins are grown, and they are the foundation of Tcharas. The base notes are civet and castoreum, and are apparently the real thing, not synthetic substitutes, and you don't run into these every day. The florals and resins in this fragrance are not named, and I cannot guess at anything except the labdanum I recognize. The description of this fragrance says that these resins “possess a powerful and inebriating (do they mean invigorating? The translation to English is shaky here.) fragrance characterized by the strong animalic tone of the mountain farm barns.“ I can understand that concept perfectly; combined with the animalic base notes, they produce a powerful aroma that is evocative of wood smoke, raw earth, horses, stables and straw and the general air of that kind of unadorned life in the outdoors, a symphony of the kind of smells for which most perfumes would be employed to cover up, yet they are in the starring role. No sweetness of any kind softens Tcharas' rugged character; it is essentially a masculine Chypre with little or nothing in the way of top notes. There is more than a hint of danger in it too, and by this I do not mean decadence or sexual provocation, which seem to be the common currency for modern, urban “edgy” fragrances. This is the kind of danger one finds in harsh nomadic life, the breath of snorting beasts and the level stares of mountain men who don't approve of intruders on their turf and would like to ask you a few pointed questions about your intentions, and I found it to be utterly mesmerizing. I have always had a fascination for this kind of thing, though it may as well be in another universe, so far removed is it from my own life. I am sure I would crumble like a sand castle at high tide if I actually had to live it, but then again, I am an unabashed romantic.

Imagine waking up after sleeping in a tent imbued with years of charcoal smoke, and stumbling out to the campfire to drink hot, strong black tea for fortification. The smell of warm horse, rough wool and leather fills the air as you break camp and prepare for the day's trek. You splash cold glacier water on your face and drink more of it from a tin cup as the morning breeze brings the exhilarating smell of the cold fog that drifts over the craggy peaks at the roof of the world. As you begin your journey, the pale morning sun begins to warm the countryside just enough to release the pungent oils of the hardy herbs and bushes that cling to the steep, rocky slopes that line the trail as your sturdy mount finds his way along the track where countless other feet have gone, an ancient road used by nomads and mountain people since the dawn of history. You don't really know what lies before you on this day, but it stretches out to the horizon, beckoning with every bend along the way, and the only certainty is that it will be exciting, for you are going further than you have ever gone before, and this part of the trail is uncharted territory. You look up to see an eagle soaring high above, and then down to the roaring river far below, a mere silver thread at the bottom of an abyss from where you are, and then you set your sights resolutely ahead to your destination... whatever that may be. That is the heart and soul of Tcharas.

Image credit: Miar Peak in the Karakoram Range, northern Pakistan, by Eleutherosmartin via, used by Creative Commons license.

Video link: Unofficial but very cool version of Loreena McKennitt's wonderful Night Ride Across The Caucasus – I dare you to take your eyes off all the dashing men on horseback, and the scenery is stunning too. I thought of this song as soon as I smelled Tcharas!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

OhhhhhhMyyyGOSH! What an sensual, intense visual your words conjure of this fragrance's effect! Want. WANT!! Ferdie

9:12 AM EDT  
Blogger Lisa Abdul-Quddus said...

What an amazing and exciting description. I've wanted to try AbdesSalaam's perfume for awhile but have been unable to do so. This tells me I need to try harder.

9:47 AM EDT  
Blogger Mals86 said...

I can't watch the vid right now, as I'm at work, but certainly will later. I love Loreena McKennitt.

I don't think Tcharas would suit me, but I did really enjoy my sample of DSH The Silk Road (tea, leather, florals, spices, amber), which had a similar journey-through-mountains-of-the-East feeling.

Beautiful review.

9:56 AM EDT  
Blogger Balutakat said...

What I most admire about your reviews is the reference to other sensual pleasures which help give me a sense of mood, time, and place. I have to say, if you compare this one to Georgian dance (and I highly recommend you check out some Georgian folk music, esp. the close harmony of the men's choirs) I am already smitten.

11:28 AM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thanks Ferdie, that's just what I was shooting for! :-)

4:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Lisa, I want to try everything they have now!

4:01 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thank you C!

I have not tried The Silk Road yet, but now it is definitely on my DSH sampling list - which is getting longer every day. :-)

4:03 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Katherinne, that is such a nice compliment, thank you!

I think I was permanently affected as a young child when my parents took us to see a Russian dance troupe - whirling colors, balalaika music, handsome men singing & dancing, what's not to like? :-D

4:07 PM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...


Now I'm dying to try this. Darn you!

4:15 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Tom - you seriously DO want to try it, believe me!

6:01 PM EDT  
Blogger Lorelie said...

What a creative and descriptive, evocative journey you've led me on. How could I not try this? I was just reading elsewhere today about AbdesSalaam. HOW do you pronounce the name, Tcharas?

6:25 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thanks Lorelie!

I think it's just a variation on the more common spelling of Charas, which I would think is pronounced CHAR-us. (Tcharas seems more exotic to me somehow.)

10:31 PM EDT  
Blogger Ducks said...

Wow, yummmmmm. Donna, this sounds so divine.

12:18 PM EDT  
Anonymous Marian said...

Oh my, Donna! I wonder if you are one of the growing group of women who (would) enjoy Indian, Chinese, or even (gasp!) Laotian Dhen al Ouds! If civet and castoreum float your boat it's entirely possible that you'd find the barnyard vibes of ouds from Assam, Harflong, Nagaland, Hainan,etc., to be equally exciting and exotic! If you ever feel particularly daring I'd recommend sampling Oudasi's Assam Flora or Agar Aura's Classic Indian oud.
Thank you for such an evocative review! I can feel your excitement and enchantment as I read it!

3:47 PM EDT  
Blogger ScentScelf said...

Donna, I don't know if I'll ever have the opportunity to journey across the Caucasus, but I am grateful for the journey I get to take whenever you present one of your reviews.

4:28 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Ducks, I think so too!

1:30 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Marian, I am certain that I would adore those exotic ouds, thank you for the list of suggestions! If I ever get a chance to try them I shall. Apparently "barnyard vibes" are my thing! :-)

1:33 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thank you so much, ScentSelf - This one carried me along with it!

1:34 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a find! (your blog) thanks for the poetry and the down to earth descriptions. I am delighted to have found you!

10:33 PM EDT  

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