The Scented Ritual of Perfume Oils & Attars…

Increasingly, we’re seeing a new interest in fragrance oils and attars as a way of wearing perfume. These beautiful scents feel more calming and part of a fragrant ritual than simply spraying a scent and rushing out the door. Here’s why we think they’re trending, and our edit of oils you need to know…

Let’s begin with this really helpful clarification on the difference between a concentrated perfume oil and attar, which comes via the medium.com blog:

‘According to Wikipedia, ‘the word ‘attar’, ‘ittar’ or ‘itra’ believed to have been derived from the Persian word itir, meaning ‘perfume’, which is also believed to be derived from Arabic word itr.

Essential oils are typically derived from botanical sources such as flowers, resins, woods, spices, etc. Most commonly these oils are extracted via hydro or steam distillation methods using deg and bhapka arrangement. Many a times the attar composers run co-distillations for a desired effect.

Traditionally these essential oils are ‘pulled’ into sandalwood or other appropriate carrier oils at the end of the distillation apparatus. The resultant product is then separated from floral waters. The oil part, which floats, is filtered into a separate container and allowed to stand for few days. This oil component is called as an attar.’

 

 

This style of perfumery dates back to the 1500s and the Mughal emperors of India, though using oil as a carrier for fragrant ingredients dates back far further still. At the polar opposite end of the perfume spectrum from those more overt shoulderpads-in-a-bottle or va-va-voom, ready-to-party fragrances (which we still love, by the way, never fear!) these types of scents are perhaps more contemplative, calming, and offer moments of meditation that stay close to the skin.

While attars / oils are intense and concentrated scents, you’d be wrong to assume that these will announce your presence at 20 paces. ‘Attars don’t necessarily land on the skin with an impactful whomp, as an eau de parfum might,’ says perfumer Nancy Meiland, whose GAIA attar – and the following attar, SOFIA – proved a huge hit. ‘They tend to be worn closely and mingle on your skin in warm “nuzzles” that you pick up throughout the day.’ The diffusion of these scents is hushed, whispering intriguingly yet also lingering for longer. ‘They tend to be worn closely and mingle on your skin, giving off warm “nuzzles” that you pick up throughout the day.’

 

 

As trend forecaster and fragrance writer for wewerperfume.com Amanda Carr observes, though we’re only just (re)discovering them here, attars are still used in very practical ways in India:

‘Attars are used by the Muslim population in India a little like a wellness boost, and the perfumeries I visited were bustling with families buying their season scents to uplift their health and emotional happiness, also unlike an eau de parfum there is no alcohol to worry about. There are traditional guidelines as to when you wear particular botanicals, cooling vetiver for the hot summer days, along with jasmine and rose, with saffron used during the chiller months for its warming properties. The instore perfumers often gave advice – a bit like a pharmacist – as to which botanical attar could help with a particular malaise.’

Nancy explains that she felt ‘intuitively drawn’ to creating her first attar during the early days of the pandemic. ‘GAIA’s ultra-soothing concentrated blend of Calabrian bergamot, nutmeg and jasmine sambac is centred around blue lotus absolute, which traditionally is seen as “a flower that can open your mind and is powerfully protective during times of transformation.”’

So why now this plethora of perfume oils and attars making their way onto centre stage for the Western market, you may wonder? Nancy asserts it’s quite simple, really; saying [in troubled times]:

‘…we want more magic not less.  It’s about working closely with the plants and flower essences and getting to know their properties and benefits.  Then combining them so that they don’t crush each other while enhancing each other’s odour profile – the individual notes should sing out in their fullness and create a harmony of scent. There is an alchemy to an attar that works with nature…’

 

NANCY_MEILAND_GAIA

Nancy Meiland GAIA From £4.95 for 2ml (£65 for 30ml) nancymeiland.com

 

Looking for other perfume oils and attars to have a play with this season? Try some of these sumptuous examples, below: we feel sure that once you discover the delights (and definite mood-enhancing abilities) of attars, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Priced from pocket-friendly to the ultra lust-worthy treat, there’s something to suit everyone…

If your scents suddenly lack depth, add interest with this deliciously fragrant oil. An unexpected mix of spice-infused bergamot and plum with a ‘your-skin-but-so-much-better’, creamy leather dry-down, the warm tingle of amber then simmers for hours. The roller-ball bottle makes this especially useful for travelling (if you’re lucky enough!) or touching up your scent on the go.

Malin & Goetz Dark Rum Perfume Oil £32 for 9ml malinandgoetz.co.uk

 

 

 

Christopher Yu and Laurent Delafon were inspired to create their Ostens collection by the incredible portfolio of naturals from LMR Naturals. The eau de parfum comes with the option of adding a ‘Préparation Oil’ (and we highly recommend you do), which you can layer or enjoy alone. Every fragrance in the Ostens portfolio of scents is gorgeous in its own right, but we have to say, when layered in this way, they become out of this world divine.

Ostens Rose Oil Isparta £185 for 50ml eau de parfum + perfume oil ostens.com

 

 

 

 

Strangelove – from the creative trio of perfumer Christophe Laudamiel, supermodel Helena Christensen and naturals expert Elizabeth Gaynes – put thoroughly sophisticated (and utterly addictive) fragrance oils at the very heart of their collection. We urge you to nuzzle into this hypnotically delicious blend of oudh, stimulating mandarin, purified ginger, deeply magnetic sandalwood and luscious dark chocolate for a sultry scent ritual, with the necklace a nod to traditional ways of carrying precious perfume about the body.

Strangelove meltmyheart Perfume Oil Necklace £170 for 1.25ml harrods.com

(PS: You can also try the entire range of Strangelove fragrances eau de parfum for £92 in our shop!)

 

The LilaNur attars’ prices reflects the meticulous effort to process the precious flowers immediately after harvesting – they’re placed in oil beside the fields they’ve been grown in. Suggesting annointing the palms of your hands and breathing in before applying, it honestly feels like a divine experience – as though your feet have lifted from the ground and angels are singing. A purity and depth we’re unused to, with those few drops carrying you throughout the day.

LilaNur Jasmin Attar Absolu Perfume Oil £340 for 30ml harrods.com

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale

City of roses – the perfume capital of India

There’s an ancient city that’s become known as the perfume capital of India. Roses, roses everywhere! If ever you needed an excuse to feast your eyes on beauty, these seemingly endless dull, grey days are immediately brightened by reading this fascinating report by Rachna Sachasinh for National Geographic.

‘For centuries Kannauj (pronounced kunh-nowj), in northeast India’s Ganges belt, has been crafting oil-based botanical perfumes called attar using the world’s oldest known distillation methods,’ the piece begins, and as you gaze in wonder at the carpet of pink blossoms – and imagine with great longing the glorious scent in the air – it’s not hard to understand how the fragrances produced from the Rosa damascena shrubs planted there were soon ‘Sought after by both Mughal royals and everyday folk in ancient India’s fragrance-obsessed culture’, so that the ‘Kannauj attar scented everything from wrists to food, fountains to homes.’

We are thrilled to see the region showcased in the national media, now, for their utterly wonderful roses and fragrances produced from them, because Amanda Carr had already travelled to the city of roses, and last year wrote an exclusive report on The Scents of India for our magazine, The Scented Letter, for which she was nominated for a Jasmine Award, and which you can read in full, here!

 

It’s worth reminding ourselves that rose fragrances have been worn by both genders for centuries, too – it’s only Western and European cultures who more recently classed rose as ‘female’, and something the fragrance industry has begun to overturn (thank goodness!) by introducing many more rose-centric scents marketed at men or classed as ‘unisex’. We’ve said it many times before but we’ll go on saying it: smells do not have a gender – they’re for everyone who wants to wear them!

 

Indeed, the more recent National Geographic feature goes on to describe how the rose fragrances produced in Kannauj have proved ‘Equally alluring to men and women,’ because the ‘attars have an androgynous quality. They strike intense floral, woodsy, musky, smoky, green, or grassy notes. Trotted out by season, attars can be both warm (cloves, cardamom, saffron, oud) and cooling (jasmine, pandan, vetiver, marigold).’

I am lucky enough to have a little bottle of the Gulab (Indian Rose) attar from the Saini Blends distillery she visited, and which Amanda very kindly gave me when she returned from her travels. I cannot tell you the utter bliss it has been to wear it – a soft but fully enveloping cloud of powdery, fruity petals that almost smells like Turkish Delight sprinkled with icing sugar. Sheer joy, and a constant comfort to sniff and be reminded not only of our friendship, but of the wider world, of places I want to travel to, of beauty itself.

If you are interested in learning more about attars, I cannot urge you enough to read Amanda’s feature in full – there’s even a section on how to tell the attars apart, and how to order directly from Saini Blends themselves. It’s vital we not only celebrate this ancient art (and the fact that rose fragrances did not bloom unbidden from Grasse, originally) but support those who still work there. Because, as Amanda reported for us, ‘the attar industry in Kannauj has fallen to around 100 artisan makers today, from over 700 at its peak…’

By Suzy Nightingale