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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

La Via del Profumo's Sensuous Side: Tasneem, Night Blossom, Tabac and Mecca Balsam

By Donna

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

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Anonymous Ashroncag said...

This sounds STUNNING. Id love to win it!

12:25 AM EDT  
Anonymous Erica D Ron said...

Im in...this sounds perfect!

12:26 AM EDT  
Blogger Furriner said...

I've been wanting to try them all, really!

12:31 AM EDT  
Anonymous Roberto said...

I'd love to win this one, I heard so many good things about Mecca Balsam and I wanna see if it is true.

12:31 AM EDT  
Anonymous L said...

Please enter me in the drawing. I would love to win this. Thanks!

12:34 AM EDT  
Anonymous soniagarcia said...

I'd love to be entered in the draw,I read a lot about Mecca and now I want it for me!!!!!

12:35 AM EDT  
Blogger Nina Zolotow said...

I've been hearing about this for so long, and have been getting more and more curious. So I'd love to be included in the draw. Thanks!

12:36 AM EDT  
Blogger Datura5750 said...

Please enter me!

12:52 AM EDT  
Anonymous Tamara said...

I would be estatic to receive a bottle of Mecca Balsam. Please enter me in this ;) You've got me in a tizzy babe! Thanks for the chance to win! Good luck to all <3

2:32 AM EDT  
Blogger rebella said...

I would love to be entered in the draw, thank you. I´ve tried some scents from La Via del Profumi, and Hindu Kush is my favorite so far. A MUST try if you like this kind of scents...

2:40 AM EDT  
Blogger Christof said...

I love his blog, unfortunately there is no german distributor for his scent. Please enter me in the drawing. Thank you and thank for your wonderfull blog.

3:39 AM EDT  
Anonymous mo said...

All of these sound wonderful. I'd like to enter the drawing. Thank you for your lovely review.

5:51 AM EDT  
Blogger Gojira said...

I been wanting to try it. I love Montale so this should be right up my ally.



6:35 AM EDT  
Blogger queen_cupcake said...

These sound so delicious! Please enter me in the draw. I love a lot of the other perfumes you mentioned, and although I don't know DSH's Mahjoun, I love many of her compositions. I'll wear orientals any time of the year.

6:57 AM EDT  
Anonymous CynthiaL said...

Sounds wonderful. Please enter me!

7:03 AM EDT  
Anonymous sybil said...

I really, really want to be've succeeded in giving me a bunch of new lemmings, and I thought I was too jaded for that!

7:46 AM EDT  
Blogger Koki said...

Love the sound of Tasneem, please enter me in the draw!

8:07 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please do enter me, I would love a bottle of Mecca Balsam! Thanks!

8:30 AM EDT  
Blogger woodgirl said...

Love their stuff. Please enter me in the draw.

8:32 AM EDT  
Blogger La Bonne Vivante said...

Oh my goodness, I will have to try this! I loooove the sound of all of these--your prose is so immersive! Please enter me in the draw!


8:33 AM EDT  
Anonymous kathleen said...

What an opportunity to try these scents. Please enter me in the draw.

8:33 AM EDT  
Anonymous Dannygirl said...

I can't wait to try Taasneem, Night Blossom, and African Nights. Love those exotic names! Please enter me in the drawing.

9:39 AM EDT  
Anonymous chris g said...

I've admired this perfumer from afar for several years - please enter me in the draw. Thanks!

10:12 AM EDT  
Blogger Dixie said...

Fantastic review! I was smitten by this line a couple months ago when someone sent me a sample of Samurai. Please include me in the draw!

10:15 AM EDT  
Blogger Aimée L'Ondée said...

I've been lusting over Mecca Balsam, please enter me in the draw! All of these sound pretty incredible actually. Thanks for the reviews!

10:24 AM EDT  
Blogger Karen M said...

Please enter me in the draw -- I've been wanting to try more from this line.

10:29 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. These seem amazing.Please enter me in the draw. I live in the US.
Thanks so much,
Jill S

11:59 AM EDT  
Anonymous grizzlesnort said...

Please ener me in your drawing!

12:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous dleep said...

I would love to be entered. These sound fabulous. Thank you.

12:01 PM EDT  
Anonymous lachatis7 said...

This is too cool, please enter my name in the draw.

12:01 PM EDT  
Blogger queen_cupcake said...

OT: Hey, grizzlesnort--I love that name!

12:08 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmmm, I've really been getting into the all-naturals recently. Please enter me in the drawing, and where can they be purchased, either in the US or Europe?

12:31 PM EDT  
Blogger Olivia said...

Ohhh, the Mecca Balsam sounds divine! I've been wanting to find the perfect incense perfume for me - maybe this will be it? Well, whether I win or not, it'll still be worth a sniff if I ever get a chance :-) Thanks for hosting this giveaway!

12:51 PM EDT  
Anonymous OperaFan said...

This is a very generous offer. Please enter me in the draw!

1:05 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

Please, please, please enter me into your drawing! I would love to try Mecca Balsam!

1:06 PM EDT  
Blogger Amy K said...

I would love to be entered in the draw - thanks!

1:38 PM EDT  
Blogger Mals86 said...

Hi, D - good to know it wasn't just my freaky nose getting all that (admittedly nice) patchouli out of Night Blossom.

No need to toss my name in - I have a sample of Mecca Balsam, and it is definitively Not My Thing. Might go on my own and see if I can snag a sample of Tasneem, though.

1:43 PM EDT  
Anonymous tracelina said...

Hook a sister up with some of that glorious juice!

2:07 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please enter me in the drawing.



2:40 PM EDT  
Anonymous lilacskin said...

oh, my heavens, YES!

2:43 PM EDT  
Blogger MsAnon said...

I would love to enter the drawing!

3:30 PM EDT  
Blogger Katherine said...

What an awesome giveaway. Would LOOOOOOOOVE to win - please enter me in the draw! (fingers crossed)

4:05 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ack! another line i keep meaning to try, since it gets such consistently high praise. would love to win! thanks for entering me.

- minette

4:24 PM EDT  
Anonymous Caela said...

Please enter me in the draw. You make them sound so beautiful.

4:39 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please enter me, too-- I've been trying out a sample of mecca this week and I'm in love!

Thanks for the review-- this line is quite lovely and interesting!


5:36 PM EDT  
Blogger Tammy said...

Tabac sounds even more delicious than the Mecca Balsam, but I'd love to be entered in the draw....thanks!

6:11 PM EDT  
Anonymous d3m0lici0n said...

This sounds really cool, please enter my name in the draw. Thanks!!!

8:03 PM EDT  
Blogger Cymbaline said...

I wore my sample of Mecca Balsam to work today, loved it and can still smell it on my skin 10 hours later! Put me in the drawing please!

8:36 PM EDT  
Blogger pklagrange said...

I would like to win this. Thanks so much for the drawing.

9:03 PM EDT  
Anonymous Tarun said...

Mecca Balsam smells amazing! I have a sample would love a full bottle! Please enter my name in the drawing.


9:17 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a fabulous review! How could I not (discreetly wipe my drool) and beg you to enter me in the drawing.

10:08 PM EDT  
Blogger presch1 said...

Mecca Balsam sounds amazing. Please enter me in the draw. Fortune please smile this way! Thanks.

10:34 PM EDT  
Anonymous zeram1 said...

Sounds fantastic. Please enter me in the drawing as well.

11:27 PM EDT  
Blogger womo531 said...

Lol.. I won't be greedy.. can I just sign up for samples? =)

11:29 PM EDT  
Anonymous You Smell!!! said...

This is awesome! Please enter my name in the draw!

12:32 AM EDT  
Blogger Arwen said...

Thank you for the lovely reviews. I would love to be entered in the draw. There are so many perfumes from La Via del Profume that are so lovely and well made. My favorites are Holy Water and Angelica Water

12:33 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would to try new scents... please i hope i do win... thank you

2:01 AM EDT  
Anonymous Miss Plumcake said...

Sounds right up my alley!

5:11 AM EDT  
Anonymous Marian said...

I tried Arabie and it had way to much spice for me. Wish I had started with any of these 3 instead ;-(

1:58 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

they sound great. please enter me in the draw-dremybluz

9:38 AM EDT  
Blogger kairos7 said...

I would love to be entered in the draw. Thank you.

4:50 PM EDT  
Anonymous Jiyin said...

I would love to be entered in the draw. Thank you so much.

12:35 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thanks everyone for your interest in these wonderful perfumes! Everyone who wants to be in the draw will be entered, provided you live in the U.S., as I can't ship to other countries at this time.

For anyone who is interested in buying these, they are only available from the Web site as far as I know, at least in the U.S., but if you live outside of the EU you don't have to pay the VAT,so shipping is not as high as you might think. I do recommend studying the site as it contains a wealth of information about natural perfumery in general as well as descriptions of the fragrances. The only danger is that the list of perfumes you have to try is going to get very long!

12:36 AM EDT  
Anonymous Aparatchick said...

These all sound wonderful! I'm intrigued. Please enter me in the draw. Thank you.

12:43 PM EDT  
Blogger KL_lover said...

I have a sample of Mecca Balsam and its almost gone, so winning a bottle would be fantastic. It's a beautiful scent. Please, please, please enter me in the draw!

3:54 PM EDT  
Blogger loverdoll78264 said...

These sound really lovely please enter me also . . . . G

11:28 PM EDT  
Blogger loverdoll78264 said...

these sound lovely . . .please include me

11:29 PM EDT  
Anonymous skalolazka said...

I live in the U.S., and I'd love to win this -- please enter me in the drawing.

8:13 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thanks for commenting everyone, the draw is now CLOSED and the winner will be announced soon! Good luck!

1:19 AM EDT  
Anonymous Mark said...

Donna – Just saw this post. I'd encourage you to circle back around to Tabac. IMHO, it's even more profound than your positive review suggests. For one, Durbano has stumbled on a formula with outstanding longevity for an all-natural. It far outlasts most of the other fragrances in his line. That in itself is amazing. And there's a great deal of underlying complexity with the wonderful roundness and integrity that you find in all of his all-natural fragrances. This perfume house doesn't have much marketing fire-power. If they did, I think this one would get very wide circulation.

7:49 AM EDT  

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