Friday, 20 December 2013

Persolaise Review: Oumma from 777 (Stéphane Humbert-Lucas; 2013)

If you're going to do something that's been done before, you'd better do it well. And if the thing you're going to do is artistically suspect and quite possibly mercenary, then you'd better do it damn well. I'd suggest this applies to almost all forms of creative self-expression. Take the world of film, for instance. Hollywood blockbusters tend to be showered with derision by high-minded critics... unless they're slick, watertight, Spielberg-style affairs, in which case they're lavished with praise of the 'not all commercial cinema is rubbish' variety. With high-quality, technical wizardry on their side, such films seem to quash any voices of dissent.

Stéphane Humbert-Lucas' fascination with Arabian olfactory codes is nothing if not suspect. Mind you, his is not the only head over which I'd hang a question mark when it comes to this particular issue. To date, I can find no artistically sound reason for brands like, say, Robert Piguet or Lancôme to feel the need to release an 'oud' scent. So it would be unfair to assert that SHL is the only person who wants to have his baklava and eat it too. And anyway, I don't wish to cast unfounded aspersions. For all I know, his admiration of Middle Eastern perfumery is entirely genuine; indeed, on the two occasions when I've met him, he has convinced me that his interest in the land of gleaming shopping malls and seven-lane motorways isn't solely commercial. Still, when a Frenchman with no apparent ties to the Islamic world decides to keep his perfumery output firmly aligned with the traditions of Riyadh, Kuwait and Doha - even when he's the very same Frenchman who gave us the commendably non-cliched Hajj for SoOud - it's difficult not raise one's eyebrows. Is his work a case of sincere homage or a convenient hop on the latest fetish bandwagon?

Oumma is nothing we haven't smelt before. So at first sniff, it would seem to suggest that SHL has, in fact, sold out and wants nothing more than to claim his share of petrodollars. The scent is a balsamic, leathery, woody rose, of the sort which can often be detected within a 3-mile radius of Harrods. But as if determined to silence any detractors, Humbert-Lucas has employed two strategies to make the perfume considerably more attention-worthy than most of the other Dubai-centric wannabees.

Firstly, he's imbued the composition with tremendous richness. His publicity machine would no doubt have us believe that he's achieved this by using a high proportion of naturals. And perhaps he has. But I'm sure he hasn't stayed away from the synthetics in his palette either. This doesn't really matter, because Oumma creates the all-important illusion that it is luxurious and opulent. Maybe it's the presence of a dry saffron note, maybe it's the deft handling of the musks in the base, or maybe it's because SHL really has poured a barrel-ful of rose oil into the stuff. Whatever the reason, the juice rises to the status implied by its gasp-inducing price tag.

Secondly, he's paid attention to the scent's structure. Most of these Arabian roses wallow in their base notes, letting any charm they might have had drown within a quicksand of synthetic sandalwoods and bellowing musks. Oumma stands up tall, allowing the different facets of its personality to come to the fore at various stages of its development. My guess is that SHL has given the scent its legs by paying attention to the citruses at the top. Not unlike the function of the bergamot in Shalimar, these pull and stretch the other, heavier elements of the construction, paradoxically causing them to appear weightier than they would have if they'd been left undiluted. In other words, the citruses add contrast.

So yes, given all of the above - and putting aside my personal view that it's time this genre started saying something new - it would be churlish of me to deny that Oumma is a highly accomplished piece of work, full of the warm-blooded tempestuousness which we've come to associate with the 'exotic' East. Whether it's entirely valid as a representation of the Gulf is probably up for debate. But in that regard, I'll end this review with an anecdote.

Someone I know very well spent a large portion of the late 80s and early 90s (ie before the 'West' discovered oud and all its baggage) working as a private tutor to a member of the royal family of one of the Emirates. To carry out this role, she had to pay countless visits to various palaces and residences. She returned to Europe quite a few years ago, but she hasn't completely left the Middle East behind: she's still fascinated by the culture of that part of the world, not least as far as perfume is concerned. She usually reaches for scents with an Arabian twist, especially if they're large, bold and unafraid to announce their presence. Over the years, she's enjoyed all manner of such creations. However, of these, only Oumma has pierced her with the shock of recognition. When she first sniffed it, she flinched with alarm. But then she closed her eyes and said she was back in one of the palaces, stepping onto the deep carpet, going past the tables laden with fruit and sweets, catching glimpses of the shaded, internal gardens. She stood next to me, smelling the scent. And the years between her past and her present simply ceased to exist.

[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by 777 in 2013.]



  1. Lovely review - this fragrance is beautiful. My favourite scent from 777 is Black Gemstone, and Oud 777 is pretty amazing too (as is the price tag. Ouch!)

    1. Rhian, thanks very much. Oumma certainly isn't cheap, but yes, it is gorgeous.

  2. Lovely review - this is a beautiful fragrance. My favourite from 777 is Black Gemstone, and Oud 777 is pretty amazing as well (as is the price tag, ouch!)

  3. oops, sorry, My comp was playing up

  4. A question to Rhian: I've not tested Oud777 yet. Do you find this perfume to be more feminine or masculin?. I like Gemstone and I think it's more masculine. Thanx.


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