At times of trouble, people have always turned to ritual for consolation. Which explains, perhaps, why many of us have found ourselves over the past year and a half drawn to quietly contemplative scents, at the polar opposite end of the perfume spectrum from shoulderpads-in-a-bottle or va-va-voom, ready-to-party fragrances. These blends – in the form of perfume oils – instead offer moments of meditation that stay close to the skin. This style of perfumery dates back to the 1500s and the Mughal emperors of India.
These are intense and concentrated scents – but 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 recently-launched GAIA attar has 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 From £4.95 for 2ml (£50 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 £27 for 9ml malinandgoetz.co.uk
Oud du Bois fuse ancient Arabic traditions with Parisian style in their clickable ‘perfume pen’, and stroking on a fragrant OdB balm is a wonderfully sensual way to ‘paint’ the skin with scent. Here, oudh adds a beguiling richness to a bustle of white flowers and lavender atop the patchouli, cedarwood, nutmeg and cardamom fragrance fusion in the base. A daring and vibrant oudh to wear for a boost of immediate confidence.
Fragrance du Bois London Oud Fragrance Pen £39 for 3ml eau de parfum ab-presents.co.uk
Christopher Yu and Laurent Delafon were inspired to create their Ostens collection by the incredible portfolio of naturals from LMR Naturals. Each eau de parfum comes with a ‘Préparation Oil’ which you can layer or enjoy alone. Any and every fragrance in the Ostens portfolio of scents is gorgeous in its own right, but when layered in this way, become eat-your-own-arm divine.
Ostens Rose Oil Isparta £175 for 50ml eau de parfum + complimentary 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. (PS: You can also try the entire range of Strangelove fragrances eau de parfum for £60 in our shop!)
Strangelove meltmyheart Perfume Oil Necklace £195 for 1.25ml harrods.com
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