SoOud brand. This makes life a bit difficult for reviewers trying to find a balance between brevity and comprehensiveness, but the plus side is that all eight perfumes have one particular characteristic in common: an evocation of Arabia through a European sensibility. Although not all of them actually contain oud, a certain dry exoticism in their woody aspects tries to conjure an impression of the Gulf as seen by occidental eyes. Humbert-Lucas uses the phrase 'Dorian Gray meets Sheherezade' and whilst I probably wouldn't go for quite so fanciful an analogy, it's easy to see what he means.
In simplistic terms, each of the eight scents offers a variation on this very theme and attempts to tick a different box on the tally chart of olfactory families. So, for instance, Al Jana plays the role of the pale, barely-perceptible marine scent, Nur flirts with the idea of turning into a 70s-style aldehydic milky-floral, whereas Ouris immediately announces itself as a sugary, peachy gourmand. A darker - and arguably more interesting - atmosphere is created by Fam and Burqa: the former nudges a hint of oud to the forefront of a compelling wood blend, whilst the latter brings out the leathery aspects of agarwood and places them against a backdrop of a faint, violet-tinged sweetness.
I'd recommend Asmar for ballsy originality. Although it opens with a fatty honey note reminiscent of some faux-Provence bath products, it rapidly shifts to an unusual mix of cinnamon, coffee and wet cardboard hovering over a do-I-like-it-or-don't-I base of animalic amber. I was also impressed with Kanz. With its rapid-fire burst of oud, it's probably the most convincingly - or should that be stereotypically? - Arabic member of the collection, combining a strong rose accord with sandalwood, beeswax and leather. A single spray succeeded in transporting me back to idle teenage hours spent wandering around the fragrant shopping malls of Dubai, so far as I'm concerned, this juice is the real McCoy.
Despite Kanz's undoubted power, I think my favourite of the eight is Hajj. There are moments when it grows too cloying and threatens to lose balance, but its smoky apple accord also provides one of the happiest representations I've ever smelt of an evening spent sharing a sheesha with friends. More importantly, it dares to prove that the sorts of perfumes we like to call 'Arabic' need not always be heavy and heady. Essentially fresh, easy-going and open-eyed, Hajj is perhaps the fragrance which most vibrantly conjures a tableau in which a lethally beautiful Victorian gent settles down to hear a tale from the most alluring storyteller the world has ever known.
[Reviews based on samples of 'parfum nektar' (a term devised by Humbert-Lucas to denote a 35% concentration) obtained in 2010; fragrances tested on skin.]
Thanks to the generosity of Stéphane Humbert-Lucas, I'm pleased to be able to offer a sample of any one of the eight perfumes to a lucky reader. To enter the draw, please leave a comment on the topic of the west meeting the east.
Please note: i) the draw will be open until 10 pm (UK time) on Sunday 16th January; ii) the winner will be selected at random and announced on this blog; iii) readers from anywhere in the world are eligible to enter; iv) by entering the draw, you indicate that customs regulations in your country permit you to receive an alcohol-based perfume posted from the UK; v) if the sample is lost in transit, it will not be possible for a replacement to be sent; vi) the address of the winner will not be kept on record, nor will it be passed to any third parties; vii) Persolaise takes no responsibility for the composition of the scent, as regards potential allergens and/or restricted materials.