Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Travels In India: Part Three

Reviewing: Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan, Citadelle by Raw Spirit Fragrances, Andy Tauer PHI-Une Rose de Kandehar, and Garnet by Sage Machado

Jaipur was the third stop on our Rajasthan adventure and I was excited to see "The Pink City". It is much larger than Jodphur and Jaisalmer; loads of traffic, and much busier and more chaotic. We were staying in a beautiful place, Alsisar Haveli, larger and from a more modern era than the previous lodgings. It had a large courtyard which was a calm oasis to return to after a day of touring. 

 One of the main attractions in Jaipur is a visit to Amber Fort. I had thought that maybe amber played some part in the fort's construction or that it was named after the color of the walls, which are somewhat amber in hue, however it turns out I was wrong on all counts. The fort, which dates back to 1592, is a few miles out of Jaipur near the ancient town and former capital of Amer, or Amber (pronounced with the accent on the second syllable). Nevertheless, I carried on with my perfume of the day, Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens.

Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan created by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake has been available to the consumer since 2000. It is from an era when Serge Lutens was looked upon as a niche perfumer and the perfume quickly gained cult status among amber lovers. I am one of those who appreciate amber in perfumes and this one stays true to the amber note, sprinkling in some extra goodies to make it more interesting. I have noticed in reviews some write about this as if it is a powerhouse amber, but on my perfume eating skin it is rich but never overwhelms and as it sinks into my skin it becomes almost airy in the later stages.

Along with the amber note which is present from the first spray, Fragrantica lists notes of coriander, oregano, bay leaf, myrtle, and angelica root. These provide a spicy lift in the initial opening of the perfume. Very occasionally for just an instant I will smell the coriander note very strongly. It is a sharp smell and although some people don't care for it, it adds life and interest with it's brief presence. Sandalwood and patchouli add substance but do not dominate. Myrrh, benzoin, and vanilla help make Ambre Sultan a rich and resinous accord but the perfume never veers toward gourmand on my skin. It remains lighter than the list of notes might indicate. I believe this is in part due to the herbal notes. I love the way they dance in and out, as quickly as a fish flicking its tail and creating a splash upon the still surface of the water. The herbal notes are that splash of water that makes a statement but then almost instantly is reabsorbed into the pond. As we trudge up the long and winding stone road to the massive gate of Amber Fort, Ambre Sultan seems a fittingly dignified and stately, yet luxurious, representation of the scene before me. Ambre Sultan may lean slightly masculine if you want to label it but I totally enjoy wearing the perfume and I can imagine the Maharajas rocking its gorgeous scent.

Touring the palaces of these Rajasthan cities and listening to the audio tours incites the imagination of how magnificently these royals lived. One feature that was described in all the palaces was the use of woven screens dampened with scented water for both a cooling and an aromatic effect. In Jaisalmer they evidently used rosewater to scent the screens but in Amber Fort they described using screens woven from Khas (or khus).

Khus, or wild vetiver, grows in Rajasthan and Indians prize it more than the cultivated variety. Its fiberous roots and reeds have been used for centuries to weave mats used for both flooring and as screens. In addition to being fragrant it is said to have a cooling effect. In the era when maharajas and maharanis lived in these palaces the mats would have been hung around the open exterior walls. Servants would have splashed water onto the mats so that the chance breeze would provide a fragrant cooling air conditioning action. If no breeze was present an army of servants would have been fanning behind the screens, no doubt. This method of air conditioning is still used in more primitive homes in India today, as well as at some of the open air temples. I love the idea of these scented screens providing an ancient version of home fragrance.

Citadelle by Raw Spirit Fragrances is the perfume I've chosen as a representation of the cooling fragrant air provided by the grass screens. First, a citadel is a fortress or protected city, so what an apt name. Citadelle is a vetiver fragrance but other notes have been added to lighten and brighten the earthy and woody notes of vetiver. I don't really know what the dampened wild vetiver screens smelled like but it is not hard to imagine that the sweet grass smelled less earthy than the distilled vetiver root. The opening notes of Citadelle are bergamot, lemon, and fragrant vetiver which give a bright and happy scent. There is a note of pear which adds a slightly sweet note to the citrus and contributes a softness to help tame the rooty tone of the vetiver. 

Marigold, or tagetes, is a note in the perfume and interestingly this flower plays a big part in Indian spiritual ceremonies. It has a distinctly pungent and slightly acrid scent that I think plays well with the woody notes of vetiver. The Raw Spirit website lists notes of cinnamon and nutmeg but I confess I don't really pick those up. Amberwood, musk, and cedar wood round out the base of the perfume but it is the beautiful Haitian vetiver that really shines. It is rooty, woody, earthy, with touches of green aromatics and gives the scent of nature and tranquility. I can imagine how refreshing a scent such a this would have been in the very hot Rajasthan summers as the grass mats were sprinkled with cool water droplets. Raw Spirits is an offshoot of the Nomads Two Worlds project started in 2009 by photographer Russel James to recognize the Australian indigeneous community, and which has since grown to include other marginalized populations. Recognizing that these communities were rich in culture and tradition, Raw Spirit sources rare or unique natural ingredients from these areas to use in the perfumes while providing an economic opportunity to the community. Vetiver is grown in Haiti and is used in Citadel, as well as another perfume from the line, Bijou Vert.

Image of Hawa Mahal from

One of the most iconic images of Jaipur is the fantasic pink Hawa Mahal, translated to Palace of the Breeze, or Palace of the Wind. It was built as an addition to the Jaipur City Palace in 1799 to give the ladies of the zendana (women's area of the palace) a place to peer out on city ceremonies without being seen, as strict purdah was observed at that time. The 953 windows gave the wives and concubines of the court many viewpoints, and the windows are cunningly honeycombed with slanted slits that allowed them to gaze downward onto the streets below, yet be completely invisible to anyone looking up. The building, which is a fairly narrow facade, must have been a hive of activity during ceremonies and parades. The holes also provided cooling for the five story building. It was a beautiful pleasure palace, resplendent with colored glass which gave rainbow pools of light inside the confines. It is where the Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh came to spend time with the women of the court and also to keep cool in the summer, as the many openings in the latticed windows provided a breeze.

I imagine these beautiful ladies, locked away in the pink sandstone fanciful wedding cake structure, scented in a beautiful pink rose perfume such as Andy Tauer Phi - Une Rose de Kandahar. Rajasthan has a region that grows roses for distillation. Tauer's Une Rose de Kandahar uses a specially distilled and rare rose oil from Afghanistan's rose growing region, Nangarhar. What the two rose regions share is a dry, rugged terrain that is reflected in the rose's scent and I find that this austere landscape is represented and present throughout the wear of the perfume.

Une Rose de Kandahar opens on my skin with an opulent burst of apricot and rose. This is not an English garden rose with it's sweet fresh scent but something more exotic and dark. A touch of bitter almond is quietly standing behind the curtain as if waiting for its moment.  Bergamot is listed as a top note but here it is not used to provide light, as is sometimes the case. There is an exotic presence about this rose that feels very much at home in my Indian setting. The note of cinnamon starts to add subtle spiciness and brings to mind the markets on the street with huge burlap bags filled with colorful spices. The bitter almond is a thread that runs through the life of the perfume. I have to inhale at my wrist to really capture the smell, but it adds a slightly acrid touch that keeps this perfume bone dry and also makes it interesting, rather than just pretty. Eventually notes of tonka bean and vanilla appear to soften the scent and on my skin translate to a slightly powdery texture, rather than gourmand. Notes of bourbon geranium, tobacco leaf, patchouli, vetiver, and ambergris join the blend over time. All these notes, with maybe the exception of ambergris, lend to the dry and slight earthiness of the perfume. 

I would say that this is a perfume you definitely need to test on your own skin before buying. The descriptions from wearers are all over the place: a gourmand, a patchouli rose, a tobacco perfume. On my skin I did experience most of these notes but it was very completely blended. The rose is there, but I don't necessarily think someone smelling my skin would immediately get that it is a rose perfume. Other than the fruity opening, this perfume wears very dry and it's easy to place it in desert landscapes in countries along the ancient Silk Road. This is a rather more exotic rose than others in my collection and I quite like it.  

 Image from

Garnet by Sage Machado was another perfume that came to mind when imagining these ladies of the court, peering down from their gilded cage to view life in the palace and on the streets.
I have a few of the oils from Sage dating back several years. She is California based and has been producing perfumes and candles for over twenty years, as well as jewelry. The line has a hippie and bohemian vibe, both in presentation and the actual scents. I don't find them to be complex scents; they're simple and easy to wear, and tend to stay close to the skin. The diminutive size and roll on style bottle make the oils the perfect travel companion. The perfumes are named after gemstones and Sage used flowers and essence to give an olfactory vision of the precious stones. The red garnet reminds me of Rajasthan, where pinks and reds are seen everywhere. Notes are Moroccan red rose, gardenia, watermelon, blackberry, amber, patchouli, and vanilla. I get a slight fruitiness in the initial application, then a floral mix of rose and gardenia which just smells rich, no one flower taking precedence. The patchouli and amber appear fairly quickly (although my bottle is quite ancient so maybe not true on a fresher batch) and reinforce the hippie and slightly exotic edge to this perfume. It's all rather muddled and there is no unfolding of notes but I like the casual amber and patchouli vibe it imparts. In the Indian setting it brings to mind red and gold saris, evening air in the temple heavy with flower offerings and incense, hennaed hands, and arms lined with sparkling bangles. Although it stays close to the skin, Sage Garnet feels very right in this exotic place.

To wind things up, here are another couple of photo taken by me in this city of pink.

Ladies outside Hawa Mahal.

An elephant next to us in Jaipur traffic.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of Jaipur. For more India travel stories and perfume reviews go to Part One and Part Two.

Top imge, David Davis Flickr. All other photos my own unless otherwise identified below. All perfumes are my own.


cHaviGIRL said...

What a beautifully written post. I felt like I was there with you.

Cynthia said...

Thank you so much, cHaviGIRL. You just made my day. :)

Undina said...

I enjoyed reading about your trip - thank you for both the story and pictures to illustrate it.

Two of the perfumes you've reviewed - Ambre Sultan and PHI - are my favorites as well. But I wanted to disagree with you on the part where you suggest testing Phi before buying: I think that people should test ALL perfumes before buying them :)

Cynthia said...

I agree with you about testing before buying, after a couple of bad purchases. But I see people on FFF talk about blind buying, so I guess people do. Did you review the Ambre Sultan and PHI, Undina? If so, can you post the links. I'd love to read your thoughts.