Saturday, June 19, 2010

Some Oils

It's probably the heat but my skin isn't doing much with most of the fragrances I own lately. Even the strongest old reliables (your Habanita, your Poison, your Opium, your Shocking) have been disappointing me. For a few weeks I stopped wearing much of anything. Then I turned back to oils.

I've been collecting oils for years, dating back to high school, I think. I can't remember the first oil I got but I do remember a lot of the earlier things, like a bottle of "Sandalo" a friend brought back from a trip to maybe Guatemala. I can't remember what friend, or what he was doing there, and I'm not a fan of Sandalwood, really, but I think this one is probably better than most of the versions they sell today. I was always very good at tracking down places which sold oil. And I probably bought them mainly because I could. It was even weirder back then for a guy to buy perfume. Oil I could say was diffusive, atmospheric. It was environmental as opposed to personal, which in my mind made it okay. I had an alibi for it. I looked for oils at head shops and import places. Later, in New York, I found it all over the place. I kept the oils in an old wooden box.

I still have the box, which sits in my office, pretty separate from all the perfume I own, which indicates to me that I regard oils and perfume as two entirely different things. Perfumes are to be worn, where oils are to be taken out and smelled. I realized only recently that, though I now wear oils more frequently than I once did, I still maintain that weird bias. Mostly I've worn oil around the house, until recently. In the past month, I've resumed looking at oils when I shop, and I've come home with some pretty interesting things.

It was great to see a post on perfume posse the other day about majmua attar, especially considering I'd been wearing some lately. Mine is made by Nemat and was picked up at Whole Foods. I suspect it isn't as good but it's no less a jolt to the system. You really have to smell this stuff for yourself. March at perfume posse described it as "simultaneously green, floral, woody, and earthy" and she's right, "it shifts". A lot of the oils I like do, but Majmua is particularly mercurial. There's so much going on, in such a concentrated substance, that it really does seem to unfold over time. Your mind probably takes a while to put all its qualities into perspective, too. Majmua is the antithesis of most modern perfumery, which aims to be instantly apprehended, all parts clearly perceived at the outset. Majmua is openly dense, and it wears amazingly in the heat, deepening rather than thinning out as most fragrances seem to on me.

I first got Djinn, by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, back in January. It wears well enough in the cold, but is strictly medicinal without something to warm it up and activate its smokiness. I avoided it until about a week ago because I thought it would be too much right now. To the contrary, it's an amazing thing. The humidity airs it out a little, so that it really does have the waft of smoke. I could never figure out where the actual smoke of this so-called smoke fragrance was. In the winter, it had a whiff of ash to it, but more than anything it reminded me of something more astringent, approaching witch hazel. Now I can smell all kinds of things. Today I'm smelling cinnamon, and barely-there clove. I praised BPAL's Highwayman to high heaven months ago; yet, the exact opposite of Djinn, Highwayman is a heat scent that requires cold to paint its picture. In the summer, Highwayman is truly overwhelming. It's all creosote; all the florals you smell in a cooler climate are gone. Djinn, on the other hand, thrives with scents of burning wood and ash and various things you barely ascertain beyond its veil of smoke.

Nemat actually puts out several oils I like. Jannatul Firdaus seemed too soapy to me at first, but I put it on before leaving one morning and for hours I could smell its complicated composition. Much lighter than Majmua, it shares that woody, green, floral fusion, minus Majmua's very thick balsamic backbone. I'm pretty sure the sandalwood Nemat uses is bottom of the line, but you get nice whiffs of it throughout Jannatul's development. Jannatul is an interesting choice as a masculine I think. Mogra (Indian Jasmine) is more determined to stay on the feminine side of the continuum. That doesn't stop me from wearing it, as I like it's darker take on jasmine, faintly spicy, if not particularly indolic. Again, I suspect that Nemat is a more watered down, Whole Foods friendly version of what you might find from other, less ubiquitous distributors, but it's a great scent. I have a massive bottle (we're talking probably 4 ounces) of Arabian Wood, which used to be a lot better than Nemat's current version. It was once a wonderfully smoky oil. It's still perfectly nice, but I have trouble smelling it on my skin.

Another Whole Foods stalwart is Kuumba Made, which distributes a selection of oils I generally like. My favorite is Tunisian Opium, but Arabian Rose runs a not so distant second. Tunisian Opium is very much like YSL's Opium, but there are noticeable differences, some more subtle than others. It has an herbal bent missing from classic Opium. And it amps up a presence of vanilla. It's actually a little closer to Youth Dew than Opium, all things considered, but different enough from both, primarily in its persistence (those both last forever in the winter; not so much in the summer). Arabian Rose has pretty nuclear tenacity, and while pretty is far from sweet. Black Coconut and Tunisian Opium are great, as is the Amber paste Kuumba makes. The Frankincense and Myrrh combo is decent but nothing special.

On a recent trip to Joshua Tree I discovered a line by Ramakrishnananda. My favorite by far is Padma, which mixes rose, clove, and jasmine to interesting effect. It isn't heavy, but it lasts, and it has presence, and I would say it's perfectly unisex for something with so much rose and jasmine in it. Other oils by the line are interesting but not as compelling. One is a dead ringer for Fahrenheit. Another is a fairly artless (if nice) blend of orange blossom and honey. An oil called Aphrodesia is also pretty fantastic. Outwardly nothing special, it wears well. I smell florals mostly but softened by musks probably. The oil is deep purple and comes in a nice box, also purple.

I would love to hear what oils other people wear and how they get them.


Brian said...

hey from Seattle - I like your blog ;)

I was into perfume oils long before I really was hit by the perfume bug - there was a shop here in Seattle that had a huge selection. Then along the way I got into essential oils, then that kinda faded, then I got bit (*hard*) by the perfume bug a little over a year ago.

i also noticed that some of my favorites haven't had the "sticking" power lately - weather perhaps? I have some sample EdPs I've been testing that stick a lot better than most of my EdTs.

i'm really intrigued by *these* types of oils that you describe - I've passed by them in various shops for years but honestly never would have thought to sample or purchase them. these days I'm perfectly happy buying and wearing a "feminine" fragrance (if I like it) so oils don't seem to be any different than that :)

I've purchased some stuff from Posset's in the past (some of them are decent), and recently put in an order at Ayala Moriel - those are all technically oils as well (well, Ayala's stuff is more technically Parfum).

I've heard some good & bad things about BPAL but based on your writeup I think I'll go check them out too.

I'm going to go look at Whole Foods this weekend... ;)

-(also) Brian

Tania said...

I've been collecting oils for years, too. I've lost a few along the way (wish I still had my original Body Shop oils, before they got so naff and synthetic-smelling). But I still have a reasonable collection. There's something about oils, they seem richer, more opulent than other perfumes - even the cheap oils call to me. I find it hard to resist them (though so far I've avoided the siren call of the more expensive attars, and BPAL don't mail to the UK, thank God). And I've never found a trustworthy/recommended source of Indian attars here. Now I'm wondering if the London Whole Foods carries any of the oils you mention. Damn you, Brian! ;-)

I have:
23 Madinis. Some are nice, some disappointing.

Some Kiehls: Reve, Cucumber, Musk, Exquisite Rain, Chinese Flowers, Vintage Sandalwood, Jasmine, Gardenia, Amber (that one is lovely).

A couple of Possets. Ok I guess, but too synthetic-gourmand for me most days. I'm thinking of gifting them to my ten-year-old niece.

A handful of L'Occitane miniatures, now discontinued (and apparently sought-after).

Coty Wild Musk oil - the current one, which is sadly not much like the one I remember from my teenage years.

A few Body Shop oils.

Aveda Love Oil. A strange one, but sometimes I like it.

A box of Indian oils I found in Neal Street East years ago. I'm not convinced they are natural as it says, but they are cute. The tiny bottles have that cottage-industry lack of exact uniformity, and are plugged permanently with plastic. A pin is provided to pierce the plugs in order to use the oils. The blurb on the box waxes lyrical about their lasting properties and how they only get better with age.

A few of whichever essential oils can (against the safety instructions on the bottles, but who cares) be used as perfume. Sandalwood, patchouli, rose, jasmin, neroli, that kind of thing.

Teeny tiny samples of a couple of Amouage attars. Tribute (ugh. Just, no) and Homage.

Tania said...

..... and I've just noticed that the photo you've used for this post shows an oil by the same company as my set of Indian oils - R. Expo. Is it a stock photo, or one of yours?
I tried some of them again after reading this, and I'm pretty sure they are mostly synthetic. The Rose has developed a sour note, and the Jasmine is going soapy.

Tara C said...

Don't have too many perfume oils - a couple of Amouage (Homage and Tribute) plus a tiny red jewel bottle by a company called SAN which I don't see for sale at Luckyscent any more. I like them when I want something that is not going to waft sillage to the sky.

Karin said...

Only recently purchased some oils because I received a gift cert from Scent Addict. They offer a bunch of different oils, none of which I'd smelled, so I was flying blind. Ended up ordering three Possets (Venus Black, Silver Roses, and Haute Love) and one Wiggle (Little Five Points). The winner? By far, Venus Black. I described it in another recent blog post as "liquid crack"! Notes listed are musk, black pepper, pear, sage, and narcissus. The scent is described as dry, musky, spicy. It's pretty incredible. With all the talk of Majmua, and now your post, Brian, I'm curious to get on over to Whole Foods and check out their oil collection!

Angela Cox said...

I wear some Amouage attars but I love Al Nabhla by Al Haramain .There is a shop on U.K E:Bay that sells as little as 1/2 ml if you want. I just got 3mls of a lovely jasmine and some Turkish rose . My favourite Amouage is Basmah which is Frankincense and lime and so lovely.

Brian said...

Thanks, everybody! Great suggestions. Can't wait to hunt these down. Tania! When I read your first comment I thought, that sounds like the type on MY Indian oil, Aphrodesia. Yes, the pic is the one I have. I looked for it online. I also saw them in a local family owned oil/soap shop here in town--the size you mention, I think. The Aphrodesia is nice but yeah, probably synthetic.

Some of those Body Shop Oils used to be so damn good. I remember when they first hit the states. I loved going to the shop, smelling all of them--they kept them in big bottles stoppered with glass rods attached. Now they're pretty horrible. I forget what they even were back then. Kiehls has re-released some of its oils in rollerballs. I really like the guy one they do. I forget what it's called. And I was always a sucker for the cucumber--which seemed just right.

Tania said...

yes, there's a bottle of Aphrodesia in my set. It's one of the nicer ones, it smells like a pleasant soap.

Kiehls have reissued a few oils, but even the official site only has Musk, Vanilla, Grapefruit and Coriander. I got all mine in Harrods - most many years ago, but the Amber and Gardenia last year. The men's one is called Pour Homme, I think, and I was tempted to buy that too. What's it like?

Oh yes, the Body Shop apothecary jars, from which they filled the little bottles to order. Those were nice.
I think you got some Body Shop oils which we didn't. I've heard tell of Moss and Chypre and others, which I've never seen here. We did have some nice ones though - Samarkand, Roma, Laird, Patchouli, Mostly Musk... all discontinued now, and I wish I knew what happened to my collection. Probably lost in some move or other! Of course, the rather ordinary ones like Oceanus and Moonflower, THOSE I can find... ;-)

Justin Brown said...

Hey there
I own one of those R. Expo perfume oil as in the picture. I love it! It is of krishna musk smell, a slight note of sandal with very calming and endearing smell. My skin is usually sensitive to synthetic substances and R. Expo perfumes have worked well.
I recently tried their rose, patchouli and honey suckle. Liked them all. Patchouli is a scent that not everyone will appreciate, you over a period time start to develop a liking for it.
My wife likes fantasia of R. Expo, a light floral smell.
There is something for everyone in these blue boxes of R. Expo. My sister, knowing my love for them gifted me a solid perfume of Neroli. Heaven!