T. Habanero by Rania J.

*****
Year: 2014

Notes: pink pepper, black pepper, cardamom, black tobacco, myrrh, frankincense, leather, oud, sandalwood
T. Habanero is a spicy leathery oud offering, which opens with a sharp piquant blast before settling down.

With dry swirls of pepper, the cardamom hovers above the leather, myrrh and oud. There's also an initial green aromatic aspect that intrigues, but this could be due to the cardamom conspiring with the black tobacco (and possibly a stealth serving of some herbs). As for the black tobacco itself, it isn't as dark, bitter or prominent as expected, with the composition more focused on the leather-oud pairing. And although the woody-leather base is slightly smoky and arid, there's an occasional sweetness from the myrrh.

But its fundamental flaw lies in the fact that its name is very misleading, as the tobacco is minuscule. Also, it's somewhat of a structural mess, smells noticeably screechy and synthetic (especially during the drydown), and possesses below average lasting power.

While it may appeal to oud enthusiasts, one wouldn't recommend it to lovers of tobacco fragrances.


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Oud Assam by Rania J.

*****
Year: 2013

Notes: bergamot, bitter orange, orange, black pepper, Indian oud, cedar, frankincense, vetiver, tonka bean, musk
Taking into account that most of the offerings by Rania J. include an oud accord, it seemed perfectly logical to release an oud-centric fragrance. However, Oud Assam fails to differ much from its oud-infused siblings.

Supposingly consisting of Indian oud, one doesn't detect any barnyard or faecal properties normally associated with this variety of oud oil. Instead, one's nose is subjected to a prickly oud note. Yes, there's also some black pepper present, but that irritable sensation seems to stem more from the result of a chemical onslaught.

After a few minutes, the oud (and that prickly sensation) subside to allow the rest of the woods through. With a mild smoky facet, the composition is more about woods and frankincense than oud, with the cedar and vetiver being the main players. Its overall performance is also similar to that of Lavande 44 – a fleeting blast of the star note, before quickly drying down to an unsatisfyingly feeble murmur.

With a gentle serving of tonka bean in the base, one can also discern something similar to civet residing in the background – possibly to fool the wearer that, when coupled with the cedar and vetiver, their nose is equating it to Indian oud. While it's a clever little trick, one isn't fooled that easily.

With hardly any of this house's efforts lasting beyond the five hour mark, Oud Assam is no exception. However, its main problem is that it's not a legitimate oud fragrance, regardless of whether or not the oud used is natural. And when compared to Ajmal's Al Shams Special Edition, which successfully reproduces the smell of genuine Indian oud oil, Oud Assam simply pales by comparison.


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Jasmin Kâma by Rania J.

*****
Year: 2013

Notes: bergamot, Damascus rose, Egyptian jasmine, patchouli, heliotropin, vanilla, sandalwood, musk
While Jasmin Kâma could be considered a different take on jasmine, it still fails to impress.

Although the indolic aspect of the jasmine is apparent in the citrus-infused opening, it quickly loses its stature as time wears on. Interestingly enough, Jasmin Kâma's base is almost identical to the one in Rose Ishtar, and emits the same synthetic smokiness during the final stages. With dark woody undertones (probably due to the undeclared addition of some cedar), the final moments on the skin are grittier and overtly artificial.

Sadly, one can't overlook how contrived the whole affair is, with a floral designer vibe and mediocre quality. And just like the other fragrances from this French niche house, the opening is the best aspect, before it descends into a murky aroma chemical mire.

Lasting under four hours, its tenacity is also surprisingly meagre.


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Lavande 44 by Rania J.

*****
Year: 2012

Notes: bergamot, petitgrain, lavender, patchouli, labdanum, oud, cedar, vetiver, tonka bean, musk
Lavande 44 is an unusually salty and soapy rendition of lavender, which is far removed from the woody-aromatic greenness of, say, Caron's Pour Un Homme.

Featuring woody and smoky undertones, the citruses and lavender are quite fleeting, with the lavender exuding some peppery facets. As for the woods, they are prominent for most of its lifespan (particularly the vetiver, oud and cedar).

Unfortunately, the composition is reduced to an almost imperceptible skin scent within half an hour. And while the tonka bean provides a little sweetness, during the drydown, its musky (and somewhat chalky) demeanour belies its brash opening.

Lingering for three to four hours, there are far better (and more substantial) niche alternatives available, such as Serge Lutens' Gris Clair, Tauer Perfumes' Rêverie au Jardin, Maria Candida Gentile's Luberon and some of the lavender-themed offerings from Esperienze Olfattive.


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Rose Ishtar by Rania J.

*****
Year: 2012

Notes: bergamot, blackcurrant, Bulgarian rose, Damascus rose, patchouli, heliotropin, vanilla, sandalwood, musk
With a succulent bergamot and blackcurrant opening, Rose Ishtar is initially promising before disappointment abruptly sets in.

Comprising of two different types of rose, for the first few moments, it exhibits the various aspects of rose – the sweet jammy aspect, the iris-like lipstick nuances, a dewy floral freshness and the verdency of a demure Ta'if rose. In most cases, the fruity top notes assist in creating this array of accents that rose is generally renowned for (particularly the blackcurrant with its green subtleties).

Regrettably, it's all downhill from there, with what went on before almost completely stripped away – resulting in a somewhat fresh and synthetic Bulgarian rose interacting with some spices. A little patchouli briefly appears, but it's the powdery and creamy woody-musky base that finally wins in the end.

While the opening is its main attraction, even at that stage one is strongly reminded of some of the offerings by Juliette Has a Gun. Also, there's a discreet plastic smokiness, towards the drydown, which is disconcerting at times. Personally, one wonders what could have been if the composition had headed in a completely direction, with better materials and blending.

Possessing a duration of under four hours on the skin, with moderate sillage, Rose Ishtar is yet another Rania Jouaneh effort that severely misses the mark.


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Ambre Loup by Rania J.

*****
Year: 2012

Notes: clove, spices, labdanum, oud, cedar, guaiac wood, vanilla, Peru balsam, musk
While Ambre Loup is a commendable rendition of amber, it could have been better in so many ways.

The most noticeable thing about it is the spicy aspect, with clove and other spices initially at the forefront. But the star of the show is the labdanum, with its resinous and leathery facets. As for the oud, it only plays a minor supporting role and the other woods are just as suggestive. With a musky balsamic base, the vanilla is reined in to prevent the composition from becoming too sweet.

Personally, one wouldn't deem it as a candidate for one of the best amber fragrances available. It's fairly linear, possesses waxy root beer nuances and isn't distinctive enough. In addition, Ambre Loup is also quite similar to Angela Flanders' Ambre Noire, but isn't as interesting or endearing. For all the hype generated, one feels quite disappointed by its structure and lack of depth.

Projection is moderate, with average staying power.


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Golden Sand by Montale

*****
Year: 2015

Notes: Calabrian bergamot and orange, mint, aromatic and green notes, clove, saffron, violet, rose, jasmine, Madagascan vanilla, amber, cedar, sandalwood, white musk
Golden Sand is classified as a spicy woody-oriental.

The first thing to greet one's nose is the saffron, which is slightly medicinal. It's only after a few moments that the citrus, mint and aromatic notes meekly emerge. As for any green notes, these are largely nondescript.

Shortly afterwards, a serving of clove briefly becomes discernible, before both the violet and rose fully surface to intermingle with the saffron. A creaminess eventually infiltrates the proceedings, courtesy of the jasmine, yet the composition never veers into overt floral territory. With a light touch of amber and vanilla, the cedar slowly engulfs the florals but allows the saffron a little extra time to breathe. With most of the initial components now faint, a woody-musk base ensues, with traces of amber and vanilla providing a subtle sweetness.

Now, although one finds it intriguing, one has a couple of reservations. Firstly, its development is too rapid and it doesn't allow for certain stages (or even accords) to be fully appreciated. And, secondly, its performance is quite pitiful – quickly becoming a mere whisper, after a pungent opening, and lasting less than four hours.

If it wasn't for these issues, one would have awarded it an extra star. Unfortunately, it performs on the skin like sand slipping through one's fingers.


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Starry Nights by Montale

*****
Year: 2015

Notes: Calabrian bergamot, lemon, apple, Bulgarian rose, Egyptian jasmine, Sumatran patchouli, amber, powdery notes, white musk
Another Montale floral-oriental, another derivative floral release...

With obligatory citrus accords, a predictable rose and jasmine core, some patchouli and amber, and a powdery and clean musk base, the apple's fruity green presence throughout is the only aspect that makes it stand out. However, that alone isn't enough to salvage the composition from floral detergent mediocrity.

With respectable sillage and average staying power, it isn't as robust as Montale's older releases but still better (performance-wise) than a lot of this house's more recent offerings.


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Honey Aoud by Montale

*****
Year: 2015

Notes: Sri Lankan cinnamon, flowers, honey, Sumatran patchouli, Madagascar vanilla, Laotian oud, leather, amber
After a fleeting animalic facet, Honey Aoud opens up to reveal a voluptuously sweet array of honey, cinnamon and florals.

The honey is extremely inviting, with a comforting warmth, while a generous serving of cinnamon enhances the gourmand introduction. As for the florals, they are pretty much indistinguishable but exude delicious cherry-like subtleties. As a result, the overall effect is balsamic, soft and mellow.

As it approaches the core, the patchouli and vanilla surface to provide a creamy woodiness to the proceedings. And as the top notes gradually subside, it slowly transforms into something darker and woodier (but noticeably restrained). And all the while, the honey accord still lingers in the background.

The oud and leather are kept to a bare minimum, so as not to compromise the composition's dulcified concept. Instead, some amber reinforces the now almost caramelised sweetness that gently pulsates. With the honey now having almost faded, during the drydown, the amber takes over and continues to interact with the demure leather and woods – with only musky woody-amber murmurs remaining some hours later.

Unlike Aoud Lavender, Montale has finally managed to completely steer away from the tired rose-oud pairing, and successfully produce something both new and unconventional. And while Honey Aoud isn't a powerhouse, and could have been a little more challenging (possibly with the addition of some beeswax), it's still probably the best Montale oud creation in recent years.

Whatever the reasons for this unexpected renaissance in this house's creativity, one certainly hopes that more substantially rewarding offerings are on the horizon.


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Aoud Lavender by Montale

*****
Year: 2015

Notes: Calabrian bergamot and lemon, saffron, lavender, flowers, Sumatran patchouli, amber, oud, Mysore sandalwood, powdery notes, white musk
Aoud Lavender opens with an astringent citrus and lavender blast. The lavender isn't as floral as some lavender essential oils, yet exudes some of the green nuances of lavender absolute. Possessing both dry and aromatic properties, the top notes soon give way to the saffron and florals.

As the lavender subsides, a faint floral sweetness gracefully emerges. The woody aspect of the composition is discernible (especially the patchouli), as faint floral and aromatic traces continue to persist. And what started out as loud and quite abrasive quickly transforms into a soft floral oud scent. Towards the drydown, a little extra sweetness is derived from the amber, as the sandalwood provides a woody creaminess. And the final moments on the skin result in a powdery trail of woods, amber and musk.

After the seemingly never-ending regurgitation of rose-ouds, one gives Montale some credit for trying something new. However, it does have some shortcomings. Firstly, the lavender accord is too short-lived, and almost acts as a deceptive smokescreen for what is yet another woody-floral effort. And, secondly, its performance doesn't match up to the older Montales, with moderate diffusion and average lasting power.

But, regardless of these reservations, it's certainly one of the more interesting recent releases from this niche house.


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