Attar (Arabic: عطار) - Natural perfumes extracted from the juices of flowers, herbs, spices, wood barks and more, into a base oil. I posted this over on Against the Grain forums some time ago. We've been discussing attars here of late and thought it would be good to put my acquired knowledge of these mysterious oils together in one place. Strictly attars are indeed pure fragrance oils and so single scent: rose, jasmine, oudh (agarwood), amber and more, yet the term is often used to refer to all eastern perfume oils. Mukhallat (Arabic: مخلط) is the better term for these as it means a "meeting" or blend and can include both natural (attar) and synthetic perfumes in an oil. Why oil? Simple: Alcohol is forbidden in Islam and these perfume oils hail from the Middle East, popular also across the east through to India and beyond. These fragrant oils are applied to pulse points and while projection is not immediately apparent, these oils are both highly personal with scents close to the skin to be enjoyed by self and close friends who might be embraced or more personal for one's lover; highly personal as well as proving strong projection as they warm up and develop on the skin. Scents can last days and indeed that is much of the joy of these oils as layering becomes something that can almost never be repeated and fresh oils are applied to scents lingering from previous days. Think not about top, middle and base notes as we might with French-style EDTs but think of waves of scent, waves rolling in hour upon hour, different each time. Think of florals, spice, leaves, ambers, woods and musks. Forming your own blends from favourite oils is simply a case of one or two dots of each on the wrist and gently rub with the other wrist. Enjoy for the day and develop on each day ... Popular florals include rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, orange blossom; spices such as cinnamon, pepper, clove; leaves like patchouli or tobacco; ambers and resins like labdanum; woods, there's the obvious oudh, but also roots like vetiver, grasses (khus) and mosses; finally, deep, sensual musks from deer glands, today often synthesised with tonka bean for creamy, sumptuous bases. ... and so, you go online with an idea of buying some of these oils and you're immediately struck by all manner of familiar names, ever so slightly adjusted to obfuscate the trademark lawyers yet retain their inspiration and already you're sucked into missing the point entirely. Put aside thoughts of Amwaj, One Milliun, Tom This, Tom That and Tom the Other and look for clean, single scent oils. You're on the right track now ... Buy in at least one good Taifi Rose, Jasmine, find a lovely fresh, minty Indian Patchouli, a good amber, perhaps a Mysore Sandlewood, a cost-effective Dehnal Oud (Kalimantan, for example), perhaps a Bakhoor for that writhing smoke and incense, certainly a Black Musk! You're on a roll now ... But perhaps you just want to cut straight to some pre-blended oils? Why not indeed! Why mess about when someone else has already made them up into popular Mukhallats. Look for Hajre Aswad (the Black Stone), Mukhallat Malaki (the "Royal Blend"), Mukhallat Makkah, Mukhallat ... well, Mukhallat anything. Look also for Majmua and Darbar as these are unlike anything you will have smelled before. Nemat make these, but there are two wonderful examples from Paradise Perfumes & Gems (PPG) on eBay: Egyptian Majmua & Darbar (oh, and Egyptian Amber which is a lovely example). Other sellers include Fragrance of Arabia, Mr Perfume and Al Munawwara, all favourites of mine. Look also for the brands Surrati, Swiss Arabian, Al Haramain and Al Rehab from these sellers and beyond - they're the big names, if you like; Ajmal & Abdul Samad al Qureshi (ASAQ) the real premier leaguers. You can buy in several sizes, 3ml, 6ml & 12ml being popular. 3ml is perfect. For a mere few quid you get a little vial of oil, often with a dipstick or roller to apply and there's enough to last ages ... literally ages, certainly if you're blending with others on your skin. Right! You've got your notes, got your clues, time to get out there and get some of these fragrance oils in! Here's some of the sellers on eBay which I have used regularly and enjoy the oils from: Fragrance of Arabia Mr Perfume Paradise Perfumes & Gems Al Munawwara Arabian Hidden Treasures Al Haramain (Direct) ... and so, you've got a sizeable collection of little 3ml bottles now. Pop onto eBay and buy in some business card cases - you know, plastic cases with lids. These hold 15 bottles perfectly! Get the taller ones, although the regular size will work, just that the lid will sit on top of the bottles. Now you're collecting, it is important to look at the degree of quality of your oils. I have to say, price is the key - you get what you pay for. 1. Cheapo concentrated perfume oils (CPOs) of all manner of Arabian and Occidental names, inspirations and clones. Generally made by large perfume houses. Everyone from Madni Perfumery, Nemat, Al Rehab, Al Haramain through to Surrati and Swiss Arabian. Ingredients generally not listed and where they are, they're a string of chemical words that you'd expect to see on Occidental perfume but without alcohol - just some unlisted carrier oil, likely dioctyl phthalate (DOP) or liquid paraffin. While some of these perfume houses do more high-brow and more pure oils, if it's under a tenner it's probably in this category - this is where most folks will start as the names are often familiar to Western houses or sound exotic, yet not unintelligible. 2. Mukhallats from attars in traditional carrier oils - basically lower grades of attars (see category 4) which would not make the grade as absolutes or absolutes let out in traditional carrier oils like sandalwood. Some can be more synthetic, so see this as the linker between categories 1 & 4 - folks will often weed out their initial purchases from category 1, finding these to be a better quality. Consider this a graduation. 3. More expensive ... I'm thinking of Abdul Samad al Qureshi (ASAQ), Ajmal, Arabian Oil, Rasasi, Reeha Perfumery here. I'm not sure what justifies the price hike, but something does. I wonder if we're seeing an Arabian equivalent of Avon vs YSL here? Names carry cost. Anyway, again, we don't actually know what's in these oils, likely some are highly synthetic and/or in carrier oils like paraffin. I don't know, just guessing. Folks might buy into these as a special purchase once their noses are attuned to better mukhallats. 4. Actual attars - the oils from flowers and woods. Oils from resins are more difficult as they are not generally "oil" but need to be in mineral carriers. Flower and wood oils (absolutes) are expensive as 100% and often let out with a carrier oil down to 5-10%. Oudhs would fall into this category and you do get what you pay for - pay £5 or £10 you'll get a poor quality oudh probably best destined for a blend and there's nothing wrong with that; £25-£50 and you'll get something quite good; £75+ and you're into the quality end. Trust your supplier, though. Folks who buy in at this level will have weeded out practically all of category 1, will have one or two from category 3 and a good, solid collection from category 2. It's the logical next step. 5. Artisanal blenders - folks who bring in quality base ingredients, absolutes, woods to extract, resins to mash, ambergris, deer pods, etc. Highly expensive and you know what you're buying as each ingredient and each process is undertaken and documented by the blender. I'm thinking Sultan Pasha here. Abdullah at Mellifluence is similar, but also sells off the shelf blends - he does tell you what you're getting, though. Consider this like category 3 but for folks who've bought into the proper expensive end of quality attars, absolutes of flowers and woods and want someone to make up a blend from the quality of ingredients they have become used to. So, whatcha wearing today?