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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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.