Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Al Khaleej vs. Al Khaleej : Arabic Perfume Naming and Classification

Here are two bottles by two different houses (Ajmal and Al Haramain), both are named Al Khaleej but do not smell alike, one is an alcoholic eau de parfum and the other is an oil based attar. How can these two producers produce perfumes with the same name? what is the connection? In order to answer this I will have to give a bit of information regarding Eastern perfumery conventions, specifically Arabic perfume. Since Arabic perfume was traditionally sold by market vendors before the days of mass production and coordinated commerce, standardized names had to be created to give a customer an understanding of what to expect from the scent in terms of ingredients, as well as to communicate quality level and expected price. For example, Mukhallath (which means mix) was used to mean a perfume containing but not limited to Oud, Sandalwood, Rose, Jasmine, Musk and Amber (Indian Amber aka Benzoin + resins and spices). To indicate that a mix used higher quality ingredients, a modifier would be added to the name such as Mukhallath Al Maliki (mix of/for kings/royalty). Another common word used to describe perfumes is Ateeq, which means "old", indicating that the agarwood oil used has been aged to mellow the sesquiterpenes. As is expected, these modifiers indicate price as well as quality. We can liken these perfume names to our concept of fragrance families (Fougere, Oriental, etc) in the way that fragrances named Dehn Al Oud in the Arabic world (meaning oil of wood) will contain a high concentration of agarwood, and fragrances including the word Suifi will be inspired by traditional Sufi formulas. For example a customer seeing a fragrance named Dhen Oud Al Maliki would understand that he or she is purchasing a high quality (for royals) perfume that was mainly based around the agarwood note, regardless of the producer. There are also other names that are not as clear cut such as Jannatul Firdaus or Sultan (sometimes called Sultan Brunei) that come from traditional blends which have become popular. In example, Jannatul Firdaus would be a very floral and sweet musky blend which comes from the name of the higher levels of Paradise in Holy Islamic texts; If I am correct there are rivers in this level of paradise that flow with this perfume, but this may be something I have heard that was taken out of context. Another way to look at these Arabic naming conventions is to see them as interpretations of a theme, such as Guerlain's vs. Creed's Vetivers or Chanel vs. Creed's Cuir de Russie.

Pictured above is a bottle of Jannatul Firdaus that I have collected a few years ago, it is generally as seen here, a very dark green meant to mimic the colour of Kasthuri musk. 99.9% of this type of perfume on the market today uses colouring agents and synthetic musks of course.

So getting back to our Al Khaleejes; the Ajmal is intensly fresh and citrussy with an agressive mossy and musky base, it is ozonic/aquatic and modern in the late 90's sense of the word but with a signifigant oldschool "oomph" to it. The Al Haramain combines its citrus blast with amber, spices and woods instead. The common denominator between these perfumes however is the theme of freshness and the citrus top, a perfect example of how different two interpretations of one theme can be.


Gardenista said...

Regarding the baobab you commented on -- My baobab seems to go into dormancy by itself. It is not a really dramatic change in the fall. It is just a few yellowing leaves, maybe in response to the change in day length? I have delayed the onset of dormancy by pruning it too close to the end of the season, so now I try only to prune at the start and middle of the season. I hear that you can kill the tree by watering it during dormancy. In the spring, it puts up new growth without any water (no water for about 6 months) so when I see a green shoot, I start watering again.

Vetivresse said...

A finely written, extremely readable post on Eastern perfumes. Very nice work, mister. You are now linked on my site.

Parfum said...

hey! glad you liked it :) and thx!

Dimitri said...

Very interesting exposition... thank you for this! Insightful as always :)

+ Q PERFUME said...

Matty dear, thanks for dropping by now and than...I love to know you are intersted!