Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Al Maali by Itarji: fragrance review

It's always interesting to witness the intercultural exchanges between newer and older worlds and especially so in fields that pertain to olfaction: the amount to which French perfumery and tastes have been influenced by the Anglo-Saxon "clean" trend is staggering; as is the intergration of classical "stinky" notes into modern compositions (Stockhausen meets Rameau, so to speak), or the worldwide influence of the Asian school of diaphanous treatment. But never is the effect more eye-opening to the globalisation of the international market than upon experiencing an Arabian fragrance of all things that smells like a modern French classic: in short, Al Maali by Itarji is an Arabian speaking fluent French of Angel-ic cadenzas of agility.

We have been conditioned to believe the reverse is more common (isn't Nahéma the reference Franco-Arab masterpiece?) and rather en vogue, what with the Serge Lutens seraglio and the plethora of ouds or oud-inspired fragrances on the market (witness the Montale line), as well as the increasing popularity of getting to know the Arabian rituals of fragrancing [click for article]. Yet as previously discussed there is also the side of Arabian attars vaguely smelling like ideas that belong in a westernised society, scattered among more traditional offerings. But then again, it's not uncommon to encounter small local companies using ingredients by the big aromachemical producing companies, such as Givaudan, Firmenich and IFF, even in the medinas of the Arabian peninsula! So nothing comes as a shock to my eyes any more...

I was sent a little of this intriguing Arabian fragrance by my eloquent friend Maria from Bittergrace Notes in a back and forth of perfume haikus to communicate impressions on the most evanescent of small pleasures. She had described it as "a rich, green patchouli-fest" and she proved to be dead-on. The opening of Al Maali has an interesting spicy-limpid accord that reminds me of wet nutmeg and cardamom pods, ready to be used in Easter bread dough or a smidge of the spicy-powdery top of Yves Saint Laurent's discontinued Nu in Eau de Parfum. Maybe even a small, small hint of saffron? Yet wait a couple of seconds and with a rushed dash patchouli enters the scene unapologetically, its radiance and warmth being generous and "open", quite natural in fact and capturing the audience for the duration of the performance. I am quite fond of patchouli and in fact have a precious bottle of 20 years old essence which I cherish. When patchouli oil ages it gains in complexity and acquires a round effect which adds to its charm.

The effect in Al Maali is semi-gourmand, quite coumarinic with a whisper of sweetness minus the caramel tonalities of the usual treatment in that mold and with a dangerous undercurrent of sensuality. I don't quite understand how the desciption on the site states "Light floral, green scent; fresh and understated". It is anything but light or floral (or traditionally fresh) and it asserts its presence in a most delightful way. Yet I can see how this is excellently suited to both sexes and suitable for year long wearing if you use it sparingly. I would hazzard that it would please the numerous fans of the progeny of both bittersweet gourmands in the mold of Lolita Lempicka and Angel as well as the boho-chic youth of today with their nostalgic eye on the 60s. The lasting power is exceptional and the diffusion/sillage very pleasing, radiating warmly without making you choke to your death upon spritz (at least judging by my sample sprayer which diffuses it in a light and steady mist).

You can buy Al Maali on the Crescent Beauty site (what a cute name!) and the price is quite advantageous compared to the western equivalents.

Pic via


  1. This does sound intriguing and the weird thing was suddenly last night I found myself craving the gourmand mixture of chocolate and patchouli.

  2. Glad to hear that you liked it, E. I've really come to love it. It does bear a resemblance to Angel, et al., but I find it much more wearable, since I'm not a big gourmand lover. I think it's more interesting, too. You're right that the description on the website is way off the mark. I suppose "light and fresh" is in the nose of the sniffer!

  3. Leave it to you two babes...

    I 've got to guffaw, with some of the on-site descriptions of Arabian -based website fragrances.

    So many essences are lovely-
    But they rarely match the copy so painstakingly rendered !

    I've bought a few that were most ebulliently heavy and potent- touted as delicate and discreet.
    Hoo-hah !
    "Unto the nares of the beholder", my friends.

    Soooo...should I try this one ?

  4. First Tocadilly, now 2 un-sniffed experiments from Crescent Beauty!
    I am having fun with your recommendations!

  5. Jen,

    it's quite good! Not as chocolate-y though and quite a rich patchouli, beautifully bittersweet.

  6. Oh, yes, M and I have to thank you for discovering the line (you pioneer woman, you!) :-))
    I agree it's very wearable!

  7. My dear I,

    somehow I believe the descriptions are written from the point of view of liking how the words look on the page/screen rather than how well they contribute to the reality of the fragrance...It's a trap I have fallen myself a couple of times and I try to avoid it.

    Delicate is indeed a cultural perception. I find for instance my own culture rather likes adventurous smells - but only as long as they're not too potent in their projection, not too intrusive in their diffusion. Perhaps it's the heat which magnifies everything? Could be.

    You could like this one! :-)

  8. Datura,

    hope to continue to provide inspiration and -hopefully- successful purchases! (luckily those were comparatively low prices, so not too much of a dent in the wallet, I trust?)
    Thanks for stopping by and saying so, I appreciate it! :-)


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