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Z'bad

Z'bad

Z'bad, Zebad or Zubad, Zabād, Sinnawr al-Zabād simply means civet in Arabic, and is the origin of this word in Western world (Civet, civette, zibet and zibetum are some of its Western spellings). In the Arab world, civet paste is still used today in its raw form, as an aphrodisiac, and a hair grooming product: to smooth and scent eyebrows, moustache and beard, as well as treatment for hair loss and various other folkloric uses. If you understand Arabic, this video explains how it is used also. But Z'bad is also a perfume type, just as "White Musk" is a type of fragrance nowadays, and not just one literal ingredient. Although civet is the key ingredient that gives it its character, it is not the only one. Z'bad was used to protect against the evil eye, so it is a magical concoction as well as an aphrodisiac.

I first heard about Z'bad from Dan Riegler (Apothecary's Garden), who have found it in an old perfumery and apothecary in the midst of a Souk in Yemen. I was both intrigued and hesitant about purchasing it because it was a bit unclear to me at the time what this was - aged civet paste or an authentic Yemeni perfume, and since I don't use the former in my creations, it seemed superfluous to make such a purchase.

When I stumbled upon this article about The Painted House and heard from Ayelet Bar-Meir that the Yemeni artist used this mysterious perfume and that it was a strong memory she left with her children and grand children, I knew I had to try it for myself. Dan has kindly gifted me with two jars, and I'm so thankful he did. The Z'bad that Dan found in Yemen is indeed not just aged civet but a full perfume, a solid paste of civet mingled with camphor, spices and that has aged and mellowed for decades.

In Dan's own words, "Z'bad is a potent traditional Yemenite Civet based perfume mix, used for hundreds of years among the Yemenite Jews, but abandoned by younger generations, Z'bad, or Zabad, doubled as a prophylactic against the evil eye, which may also be a contributing factor to its decline in popularity(...)". Which fits right in with what I read about Afia's use of it in that article, and what Ayelet has spoken about.

I received the Z'bad while I was still in Canada, and made great efforts (over the course of four weeks!), to not open the jar till I entered The Painted House. I wanted to have a very specific place association and emotional memory with it. And trying it on first at the house of a woman who lived with similar fragrances and put great care to incorporate them into her daily rituals. It was at first surprisingly fresh, and surprisingly familiar: a burst of camphor and spearmint emerges from the jar as I first uncorked it and smeared some of the dense, rich salve onto the back of my hand.  It had strong banknotes of balsams and civet, but nevertheless there was a surprisingly green, minty, camphoreous freshness to it for the first few minutes. It was a tad medicinal, but not as medicinal as Tiger Balm (which is what the uninitiated nose might dismiss it as at first sniff). There are also earthy qualities, almost musty-dusty, which makes me wonder if there isn't some patchouli oil in there as well, or more likely - a kind of infusion of the dried leaves. I have very little knowledge of how these traditional perfumes I made, but from the little I know about Arab aesthetics, just as the oud oil is used as the "base oil" for other ingredients, in this case it is not unlikely that the civet paste was infused with several resins, spices and herbs to create this rich perfume preparation. I'm also smelling cedar, which gives it a rather pervasive dryness in the opening hour of so on the skin. Perhaps even a hint of myrrh or opoponax. There are no flowers to be smelled in this, but it is unnecessary. There is so much indole in the civet that it really blooms on the skin, and develops into this luscious, purring animalic-balsamic presence for hours on end afterwards. It is not overmpoering at all, but simply becomes part of my skin.

Youth Dew & Z'bad

In both its scent and consistency, Z'bad reminds me a lot of vintage Youth Dew solid perfume in a vintage necklace I have that is probably not that different in age. It seems like Z'bad was the inspiration for Youth Dew, as well as its predecessor Tabu. Both rely heavily on civet, and have a distinctively heavy-sweet-cloying-exotic character that is heavily inspired by the Orient. To Westerners that never smelled the original, these two must have been earth-shuddering at the time, and immensely original. And they are in their own rights. But they wouldn't be around without this Arabian unguent.

Likewise, the evocative packaging and thicker liquid in the Western Orientals - Tabu, Youth Dew, Opium, Obsession and Shalimar - is created in such way as to recreate the ritual of applying a thick paste to the eyebrows, nape of the neck and perhaps other unmentionable strategic spots. The richness of materials create a heavy veil of scent that is highly intimate, personal and also precious. It does not need to be applied in great quantity, and ironically - the economy in which is can be used is part of its luxury and appeal.

Black Gardenia

Gardenia

Russian Leather meets tuberose in Anna Zworykina's Black Gardenia. Zworykina's plays up the rubbery nuances of tuberose with the addition of  leathery-smoky quality of castoreum*, and I suspect there is also a tad of birch tar or cade in there. The green and creamy aspects of tuberose are still felt, but they feel mushroomy and dark, and stay true to the promise of the name Black Gardenia. This is by no means a shy flower, but rather a fleshy, dark, prowling feline-like beast that becomes more aroused the longer it lingers on your skin.

Along the tuberose star, there are frangipani, neroli and ylang ylang as a supporting actresses. The first two bring out the stem-green aspects of tuberose and gardenia; the latter highlights its creamy, leathery, salicylic qualities. There are some oak-barrel-like undertones from the sandalwood and agarwood, giving the leather a sturdy frame to stretch on. Slowly the smokiness dissipates and makes room for a smooth, woody-vanilla skin-scent. There is also a hint of something fruity-floral (perhaps the davana), and the floral gardenia illusion, although subtle, is felt in a suave, smooth, tropical-floral-on-warm-skin way.

The interesting things about complex compositions and raw materials: Once you notice something, you will notice it again in different stages of the composition. Another time around wearing Black Gardenia, the  juicy fruitiness of the Davana comes off right away, adorning the tuberose, shimmering and reflecting the ylang ylang juicy banana aspects, and creating more of a tropical-fruity effect, where as in the first times I worn it, I noticed the creamy-green tuberose facets more.

While Black Gardenia has a clear personality of leather-tuberose, it has many nuances that piques my interest throughout its duration on my skin. It is lovely, a little addictive and a case in point that white florals can take a stance without being loud, and be pretty without ever becoming boring.

Top notes: Ylang Ylang, Neroli, Frangipani
Heart notes: Tuberose, Jasmine, Rose, Orris, Davana
Base notes: Castoreum, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Agarwood 

* A botanical, vegan version is also available, which I haven't smelled

Carnal Flower

Pink orchid 011

Carnal Flower opens with a slightly fresh fruity note and hints of green (melon and eucalyptus). Than it’s mostly tuberose with a full-bodied, sweetened orange blossom, much in the same vein as that note in Lys Mediteranee. Even the base is the same to my nose – supposed to be musk, but I smell a balsamic-woody sweetness similar to peru balsam essential oil (which smells very different than the crude balsam). There isn’t much coconut in it, but it does help improve the initial impression and add creaminess to the tuberose.

I like this a lot and it’s easy to wear (I worn it on a very warm day and it was never cloying at all). However, this is not my favourite tuberose, and in the light of Lys Mediteranee being so similar, I do feel a tad disappointed from this installation in the Editions de Parfums

Top notes: Melon, Eucaliptus, Ylang Ylang, Salycilates
Heart notes: Tuberose, Orange Blossom, Jasmine
Base notes: Coconut, Musks

Chanel's Gardénia

Black Gardenia

Chanel's Gardénia was never really meant to be a realistic gardenia, but an olfactory representation of the designer's favourite flower, the (scentless) white camellia. Like Narcisse Noir, this abstract floral has an orange-blossom-like quality at its core, but it's not nearly as dark. At the same time, it does not have the bright clarity orange blossom usually creates. Instead, it plays up the methyl anthranilate, and fleshes it out with a muted, slightly mushroomy-green tuberose back note, waxy aldehydes and powdery violet-rose accord that bring to mind lipstick, scented candles and makeup. As it dries down, it becomes less sweet and smooth and a little dusty-woody, like cedar wood saw dust. Perhaps there is also a hint of cedar moss as a fixative as well, some vanilla and musk. All around there is an incense feel in the air that accompanies the abstract floral frontline. But all in all, it is quite linear and very well blended that the character somehow maintains itself despite these changes.

If you're expecting a luscious, larger-than-life tuberose-gardenia you'll be disappointed. This is demure by comparison, and has more fruity floral character than a big white floral as this name would suggest to anyone familiar with the flower. It's very well-behaved, staying close to the skin but at the same time has depth and a harmonious, even if not complex evolution. This is the perfume extrait I am referring to, which I believe was discontinued when the Les Exclusifs were launched. Which is too bad, because it was replaced by a thin and pale shadow of its former self, and a very short lived experience. And I hear that even this older version I have may very likely not be the original composed by Ernest Beaux. Read more on Perfume Shrine about how Gardénia has changed and evolved (or devolved...) in different eras since it launched in 1924. To me it smells more like a Caron than a Chanel - it has warmth and sensuality, while most of the Chanels are generally aloof and have a cool manner about them.

Nevertheless, it will still satisfy elegant ladies in beige linen suits or cream satin gowns, or those who enjoy an unusual floral with a retro yet not old-fashioned feel. It is elegant, understated and the aldehydes are not terribly dominant (as they are in No. 22, for example). The new version that replaces it is louder at first, with a more identifiable fresh flowers of tuberose-gardenia with their intense headiness and almost realistically dewy gardenia petals, but just for a few minutes. It is so light and sheer that it disappears very quickly and makes room for an accord that is quite true to the core of the original composition - incense, wax, lipstick rose-violets - just a tasting menu of it all, not a full fledged Gardénia.

Top notes: (Modern EDT version has green-dewy gardenia top notes, the vintage I have has no apparent top notes). 
Heart notes: Orange Blossom, Tuberose, Rose, Violet
Base notes: Incense, Cedarwood, Vanilla, Musk

The Different Company's Osmanthus

Linden Blossom

Sometime in the spring, I took the train to Tel Aviv for a day of fun with my daughter. Among other things, we went to Individual in Neve Tzedeq, a new perfume boutique that carries only niche brands, among them Different Company. It was a chance to revisit Osmanthus, a fragrance that from my memory captured best the elusive scent of this tiny flower while it's still intact on the bush. The absolute does not portray an accurate picture, although it is gorgeous on and of itself. I only had a chance to smell white osmanthus one evening in San Francisco at Ineke' private fragrant garden. It's the kind of scent one could ever forget. The osmanthus incense my friend Noriko brought me from Japan also comes pretty close to it, and does not smell terrible artificial even though it is.

The shop owners at Individual are evidently passionate about perfume, and know how to sell it (not being pushy is crucial, as is giving samples to try at home several times). I've revisited the sample of TDC Osmanthus over the course of a few months now, and I'm still on the fence if to get it or not... But before I launch into describing my experience with this scent, a word of caution to any perfumer trying to recreate this scent or even attempt to compose with osmanthus absolute: it is extremely challenging. That is not to say that there aren't any gorgeous perfumes with that scent, or that it's impossible to work with, or to discourage one from trying; but the results are more often watered down florals that lack body or character, except for a very artificial and synthetic feel (the examples for this genre of osmanthus approach are many, from to the swimming-pool clean l'Eau d'Issey or whitewashed Pure White Linen to the fruity-shampoo persona of Nuit de Cellophane). Some of the natural and niche perfumeries have churned up descent or interesting perfumes in which osmanthus is the star of the show - Osmanthus Oolong and Un Crime Exotique are two of my all-time favourites.

TDC Osmanthus starts realistic and promising, with that mysterious, fruity yet powdery, diffusive and  delicately ephemeral live osmanthus on the bush; yet there is a slightly oily element which interrupts this harmony. This is not uncommon in osmanthus absolute, by the way. There could be a tad of a rancid oil off-note. As long as it's just a hint, that's okay. Then it becomes  bit more honeyed and before you know it - it turns into realistic rendition of living linden blossoms in mid-June. Like  whiff of blue skies on a cool summer morning. Bright and fresh like crisp linens off the laundry line, with hints of iced tilleul tea. It is pretty, but I'm missing some kind of a darkness or body or a contrasting point that would make it more interesting and less linear.
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