Discovering the Enchanting Universe of Attars
Fragrances and Cultures

by Ítalo Pereira
07/01/21 12:43:01 ( 15 comments )

SPICES

For years, my tastes for perfumes have been leaning towards the universe of fragrances inspired by the orient, with components such as amber, saffron, frankincense, myrrh, benzoin, and oud.

Old hands

As I searched deeper into where my inclination towards denser notes and compositions came from, I realized that this was something that was strongly intertwined with my Indo-European Gypsy ancestry, coming from my paternal grandparents and great-grandparents.

Due to this background, I grew up with our house being smoked with resins such as myrrh, frankincense, and benzoin, as well as herbs that, according to my paternal grandmother, had harmonizing energy and protective properties against certain energies. 

SAGE

It was common to see her with branches of dried sage, burning them and thus releasing an aromatic smoke that spread throughout the rooms of our house, all while reciting words of a Rom dialect, spoken in a low tone. This, she said, had the power to seal those smoky rituals and keep the good energy inside our house.

As I matured and started looking for the perfumes to compose my collection, I always came across fragrances that reminded me of these familiar smells from my childhood.

GYPSY COLORS

As an adult, I made my first trip to Europe and visited some places where certain gypsy clans lived. I could see the joy of these people, who are also my people, in their dance, in their colors, and in their smells.

ATTAR

Those smells curiously did not follow the trend of traditional western perfumery but were actually concentrated perfume oils, stored in small bottles that were macerations and dyes of components of oriental origin, such as jasmine sambac, desert rose, cinnamon, saffron, and of course, many kinds of wood.

On that same trip, I had the opportunity to visit the port of Tangier, a Moroccan border town with a port culture where the Strait of Gibraltar almost touches a part of Spain. It is a quick crossing, which takes less than an hour, but it had an impact for a whole lifetime!

TANGER

When disembarking in the port of Tangier, I was greeted by different aromas and fragrances coming in fragrant gusts on the wind, and I recognized the scent of my grandmother's cleaning rituals and the smells of her small vials with extremely fragrant oils.

These smells came from the market, the souk, where all kinds of products are sold, from handmade leather bags to very well-seasoned Arab food.

SOUK

At the Souk, I discovered that these familiar smells came from tents that were burning Bakhoor over red-hot coals, an incense typical of Islamic countries, which mixes some components endemic to these regions of the world. It was in these same tents that I discovered the name given to the extremely fragrant oils that I already knew, and that called my attention so much.

The seller explained to me in almost incomprehensible Spanish mixed with English that the Arabic name given to these oils was Attar, which in Arabic simply means perfume. Unlike what we are used to with Western perfumes, these attars did not come ready-made but were a mixture of essential oils freshly mixed in front of us, creating unique and intense fragrances with various spices, ranging from 3ml to 30ml of pure artisanal oil.

ATTAR OIL

Among the many oils I chose to create my attar, I came across saffron oil, amber oil, musk, sandalwood, and oud, which were my favorites. The seller informed me that this mixture was a typically Arabic combination which they called mukhalat.

This mukhalat attar that I still have today is intoxicating and dense. At the time of the trip, the seller informed me that it was strange for a foreign person to ask for a perfume with such dense oils that were part of this typically Arab perfume mixture. His best-selling attars were oil-concentrated interpretations of the perfumes of major Western brands!

MY ATTAR COLECTION

I returned to Spain and then to Brazil, happy with my 3 vials, one containing mukhalat, another containing Taif rose oil, and the third a very young oud oil (because that was the only one I could afford; the oldest oud oils reached values that were astronomical for a scholarship student in Europe.)

SMELLS

And it was in this reunion with the smells of a part of my ancestors' culture that I rediscovered my pleasure and passion for the universe of attars and mukhalats, recognizing the reason for always preferring denser perfumes with warm-ambery notes.

Attars and mukhalats, however, are not always handcrafted souk items; there are several mass-market options worth knowing, especially in the Asgharali line of attars.

NAGAM CRYSTAL

One of my favorites is the intense but delicate Nagan Crystal, which mixes vetiver, fruity touches, and lily of the valley, making it ideal for those who want an easier and less challenging introduction to the world of attars.

Renhanat

Another example is my signature Asgharali attar Renhanat al Bahrain, which with oud, cypriol, Taif rose, and saffron leaves an intensely powerful and unmistakable trail in the air that ranges from spicy to smoky-woody.

With this story of my personal experience, I invite you to start discovering, as I did, in this niche of perfumery that is still not prevalent worldwide.

Author

Ítalo Pereira

Ítalo Pereira Writer

Ítalo Pereira, Bachelor in Law and Public Relations, is a fragrance and perfumery enthusiast from Brazil, with experience in fragrance criticism since 2007, and currently a Digital Influencer in the world of perfumery.

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News Comments

Write your comment
latafan
Iris Violet

latafan 07/03/21 22:13

@RiNa78 I think here attar/ittr/attr etc means very much the perfume. The confusion comes from unclear transliteration of the Arabic script to Latin script that doesn't account for long and short vowels.

So attar as in عطر is perfume vs. Attar as in عطار is the perfumer.
Similarly as bread/to beak is خبز and the baker is خباز .

So when people write about attar in English they usually mean عطر , while talking about it because of the unclear transliteration I'm sure English speakers will end up pronouncing it more like عطار without knowing that then it means the perfumer.
Nubia136
White Tea Wild Rose

Nubia136 07/03/21 20:36

Wonderful article! I go to a few Muslim stores here in the US to get my oils/attars.
RiNa78
Very Sexy Sea

RiNa78 07/02/21 17:32

The Arabic word for perfume is "Ottr" or "Attr", "Attar" is the profession, so the perfumer. Thank you for reminding me to get my small gold and glass bottles out of my drawers somewhere... I got them years ago from Mecca... I like the Yasmeen and rose oil the most.. I do have Uud... but I can only fathom a sniff of this potent and heavy scent. I also bought a perfume there that is called "Black stone" which smells exactly like the black stone that is one of the corners in the Kaaba (the black square in Mecca)... Whenever I approached that stone, it had a particular smell like musk and Uud, and to my surprise, the Attar hit it pretty well. So whenever I miss that place, I just open the bottle...
LSAUG
Love-In-A-Mist

LSAUG 07/02/21 17:12

Attars are a wonderful way to scent the hair while taming fly a ways. I love them especially in the winter.
runhobbesrun
Colonia Sandalo Concentrée

runhobbesrun 07/02/21 07:17

Abdullah from Mellifluence Perfumes makes the most incredible, unique, and high quality attars I've ever smelled. I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in attars to give his Etsy or Instagram page a visit.
mangoboii1
Five O'Clock Au Gingembre

mangoboii1 07/02/21 05:29

I live in the UAE and almost everyday when I enter my elevator I would smell somebody’s mukhallat.. it pervades many shopping malls here too, almost like they may be pumping bakhoor and mukhallat into the air conditioning! Because of this I have also dabbled in attars too, it is very intense. Sometimes I would wear an Oud attar on my pulse points and then layer on a freshie or a floral EDT or even something like Frederic Malles Rose and Cuir just to add a bit of oomph.
sisina96rv
Delina

sisina96rv 07/02/21 01:31

I have loved your story. I am Slovak, but I can relate to your journey - as I got older, I also incline more to heavier, more intense, oriental perfumes. I would love to try Attars, so thank you for your suggestion :)
latafan
Iris Violet

latafan 07/01/21 23:56

What a lovely personal article!

Indeed attars are wonderful enhancement of every day life. In India khus (vetiver) attar is especially popular in summers as it's supposed to have a cooling effect for both the body and the mind. Then there's mitti attar meant to smell like the earth after the rain (petrichor). Sandalwood and different kinds of floral attars for poojas. Also blends like Majmua and Shamama attar are classics. Then I know the Muslim community prefers certain attar blends for prayer cause they have a meditative effect. And they also have those very deep, heavy and multilayered beautiful oudi blends for functions. Attar is a whole multi-cultural universe on its own.

A great attar can really carry you through your day. There's something both elevating and grounding about it. Some are really great for layering too. I have some designer fragrances that are a little 'flat' but really get a whole new dimension with some attar as a base.
kishka

kishka 07/01/21 23:27

I discovered Sultan Pasha Attars here in the U.K. and his are of the finest quality. My favourites were Irisoir and Aurum d’Angkhor…….he does a sample set which is reasonably priced (for an Attar) and ships worldwide.
framorena
Warszawa

framorena 07/01/21 20:34

Attars are my favourite version of perfumes. Unfortunately some of the best you mentioned are difficult to get here in Europe when they come from UAE, Barhein, Oman.
UnearthlyApothecary
Silences Eau de Parfum Sublime

UnearthlyApothecary 07/01/21 17:42

I LOVE the musk attars! A friend of mine who works extensively with them told me that many of these are well guarded family secrets handed down over generations. My favorite is Abdul Samad Al Qurashi Body Musk
TaleOfTheRose

TaleOfTheRose 07/01/21 17:14

Great article! I am addicted to Sultan Pasha and Ensar attars.
studio54

studio54 07/01/21 14:12

👍
fragrance2016
Coromandel Eau de Parfum

fragrance2016 07/01/21 13:04

👍
drugstore classics
Dalal

drugstore classics 07/01/21 12:57

Mmm, WONDERFUL introduction to attars, Italo! I personally agree completely with the love of these dense, exotic, intense fragrances. They are history and time travel all in one tiny bottle! Each one I has been part of my journey of discovery and expanding taste.

Immediately I preferred the exotic, deep mixtures. That said, it took longer for me to appreciate certain ouds... Each to their own. :) I err on the side of the budget attars, aware that more marvelous things are available at higher prices, but have found the budget attars actually allow for a good representation of classic ouds and mukhallats.

Happily, in Arabic culture - unless designer or rare ouds - oils are not considered so much luxury goods as essentials. (My thought precisely!)

To me choosing a small vial of good, budget attar should be a normal gift to grade school children for their personal grooming, formation of taste, and Joy. Better yet, let THEM choose and start a life long love of scent!

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