Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sacred Earth, Infinite Sky

This Thursday, August 12, midnight US Eastern Daylight Time, is the deadline for entering the drawing for 3 mls of “Agent Provocateur.” If you haven’t already commented, leave a comment here and you’ll be entered. I’ll post the name of the winner by 11 a.m. Thursday morning.

I have always loved Rosine’s Rose Kashmire. To me, it is the essence of a bohemian oriental floral; lush and opulent, bringing to my mind long hair and scarves, and skirts made of bright Indian cottons and silks, but is it really as exotic as all that?

This kind of thing brings out the the experimenter in me. I had heard about Tigerflag Attars on Perfume Posse back in June. I hadn’t delved into attars before, partly because of their expense. But this importer offered samples for a very reasonable price. My interest in exotic ingredients had been piqued by the natural perfumes I sampled for the Mystery of Musk event, so I began to peruse the online catalog.

Right away, I noticed something I have never heard of before, and, yes, found the concept a little hair-raising: “Mitti,” distilled dried mud from the Ganges riverbed.

Now that’s interesting. Distilled sacred dirt. Haven’t seen that one before.

I continued on down the list: Saffron Mitti Shamama. Saffron, the cultivation, harvest and trade of which paints a portrait of human history. Mitti, a rather -- oh, go ahead, admit it -- scary idea to a westerner such as myself.  Shamama, a mysterious mixture of unnamed plants, spices and woods.

The proprietor was kind enough to send sample strips of many of the essences he sells and, believe me, a sample strip of any attar, placed upright, is enough to scent your nightstand for days. One was for a pure Mitti attar. What a surprise --  it’s a lovely scent, rich, earthy, and slightly floral. The Saffron Mitti Shamama is all that, plus whatever is in the Shamama mixture, plus the bitter, medicinal saffron. I can’t remember ever having smelled anything like this. It’s dark, not sweet, slightly vegetal, as different a perfume concept as anything could possibly be to a Westerner. Come-hither has nothing to do with this.

When layered with rose attar, from the same vendor, it becomes more what we think of as a perfume, an accord. The rose sweetens the bitter saffron, and it all mixes with the mitti and the shamama to create something half-remembered, half-familiar; the world of perfumery is so much richer, more diverse, than I ever knew.

The Rose Kashmire holds its own, though. There is something truly uplifting about this scent. A quick look at the ingredients reveals many of the ingredients we’d expect to find in a modern fragrance, but one of the base notes caught my eye: “Grass from Nagar Motha.” That’s the Hindi name for a type of sedge, grown in several provinces in India. (In the West it’s called Cypriol.) It has been used as a folk medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments, and, like patchouli, to scent the clothing of Indian women.

Saffron links these two. In the Rose Kashmire, it makes what could be just one more rose-vanilla-amber scent different, heady, expansive, special. There is also a base note of camphor, which appears from time to time; the Nagar Motha? My research into this essence reveals that cypriol often has a camphor note. I’m wondering if that is present in the shamama mixture, too. I wouldn’t be surprised.

The Rose Kashmire excites and lifts the mood. The Saffron Mitti Shamama soothes and induces a slight meditative state, in me anyway. I wonder how they’d layer? How they’d be, mixed? This deserves much research. As do other attars and shamamas.


Full disclosure: I paid for the samples. The scent strips were free.

I’ve mixed the attars I received in with jojoba oil in a 5:1 ratio. I’ve also experimented with using perfumer’s alcohol to rinse the vials, for a strength probably around that of an EDT. The oil is better. It just is. The regions that use attars use them in oil bases.

Notes for the Rose Kashmire, from Le Parfums de Rosine’s website, include Saffron, Bulgarian rose oil, Coriander, Sicilian bergamot;  Chinese peonies, Absolute rose of Damascus, Resin of Myrrh; Grass from Nagar Motha, Vanilla, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Gum Benzoin, Ambre Gris. Perfumer: Francois Robert.

For a comprehensive look at the history of saffron and how it relates to perfumery, visit Perfume Shrine’s Saffron Series.

Photo by J. Horning, © 2000 - 2010 Dreamstime, all rights reserved


BitterGrace said...

I am so happy to see Tigerflag get your attention! I've been a fan for a long time. I adore the White Lotus attar. Mitti was a revelation to me, too. But...beware the black musk attar. Not for sissies, believe me.

BTW, the simple aromatherapy scents at Tigerflag are also nice. Dervish Dance is a favorite of mine.

Rappleyea said...

I just now started to comment that your wonderful review has me thirsting to try both of these even though I'm not a huge rose fan. And then I remembered that I am wearing Nahema. lol!

Maybe attars, mitti and other exotic fragrances will relieve some of the perfume ennui I've been seeing on the boards and blogs.

Olfacta said...

Black musk attar? Wow. I can imagine. Or maybe not.

Olfacta said...

Hi R -- I've been lax in reading the boards, but there is a certain amount of ennui I'm seeing too. I think this is the Bad Time of Year for perfume. Not many new releases, it's hot, especially east of the Mississippi, etc. Also the reformulations. We'll see.

Vanessa said...

I am a big fan of Rose Kashmirie, of which I own a bottle, ditto Cimabue (okay, a really small one), and Tom Ford White Suede (a big one, but I came by it cheaply), and the penny has recently dropped that I am in fact officially 'mad about saffron'. It is in Ta'if too, isn't it, of which I aspire to own a bottle.

Fascinated to read about your tinkering with these arcane attars - you will get to the bottom of the appeal of RK, no doubt about it! I like it in winter especially. Was it Mimifroufrou who said it reminded her of green shoots peeping through snow?