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  • July 09, 2019 9 min read 0 Comments

    What can the most fragrance-obsessed culture in the world teach us about new ways to wear scent? Take a literal journey through our blog to the Middle East and learn how to cast a seductive spell by mixing and matching perfumes.

    Simply walking behind groups of locals in the mall — which, because of the extreme heat outdoors (100-degree days are the norm), functions as the see-and-be-seen social center of life in Dubai — can be utterly intoxicating: the flutter of their robes (the traditional long black garment worn by women, the abaya, and the men's crisp white counterpart, the dishdasha) unleashes an opulent, beckoning trail of scent. And though one can detect some notes—jasmine, maybe? sandalwood? — each person seems to radiate a fragrance, or a combination of fragrances, unlike anything you typically encounter in the western world. The effect is similar to visiting the nearby spice souk, where the aromas rising from vats of frankincense, dried chamomile blossoms, saffron, cinnamon, and vanilla all blend together in the air like an olfactive fugue. This place, in short, is a fragrance freak's dream.

    The Emiratis, along with their Persian Gulf neighbors in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar, are the biggest spenders per capita on luxury perfume in the world, purchasing, according to some sources, a new bottle every two months (compared with the average Westerner, who buys one every six months). And that's just a fraction of the scent they're actually wearing: Throughout the Arab world, both men and women approach fragrance ritualistically, layering on multiple oils, or attars (such as musk, oud, rose, or jasmine), and even infusing their clothing and hair with smoke from an incense like concoction called bakhoor before spraying on perfume. For someone who spritzes on scent only as a finishing touch on the way out the door, this is definably revelatory.

    The influence of the modern Middle East has already shifted the course of perfumery: Just Ten years ago, for example, it's unlikely that even a particularly ardent Western fragrance fan would have heard of the now-ubiquitous oud. Derived from a South Asian evergreen tree infected with a fungus that prompts the production of a pungent-smelling resin, oud (also known as agarwood) has been used in Arabia for centuries, sometimes providing the base for bakhoor (in which it is mixed with fragrance oils and sometimes frankincense and myrrh) and playing a starring role in the typical daily scent regimen (the pure oil is dabbed behind the ears and on pulse points). After globe-trotting Emiratis in search of a modern effect began to add drops of oud extract to popular Western perfumes, savvy brands picked up on the oud trend and began to produce fragrances geared toward Middle Eastern consumers. Many of those brands thought that these new oud based released would region specific, but it was such a hit everywhere for them. Now almost every fragrance house has a scent spotlighting the note of oud.

    Clearly one of oud's most appealing characteristics is its layerability—it enhances and boosts the staying power of other olfactive elements spectacularly—but successful scent combos by no means need to include it. During one of our events in Las Vegas, we demonstrated to participants that although Middle Eastern women tend to like their fragrances strong, and grounded in a musky or earthy note, they also enjoy playing with airier, more sparkling scents. (People in Dubai smell fragrances with such a point of view, and they're very interested in every ingredient.) To demonstrate the ease with which Swiss Arabian's fragrances can be mixed and matched for a unique effect, we took the hand of those event participants and massaged in Musk Malaki, then sprayed Oud Maknoon — a best seller from our brand's unisex range, in which the spice is blended with blond wood, rose, incense, amber, and pink pepper — on top. The result is gorgeous: warm, enigmatic, and surprisingly feminine. People had to struggle to keep their noses out off their forearms for the rest of the day.

    Most modern fragrances are constructed so that they essentially provide built-in layering: The top, middle, and base notes burn off in succession, like a slow reveal. But that doesn't mean there's no room for creative tweaking: Additional elements can make them richer and more enduring, or even change their character completely. As our grandmothers knew (back in the 1950s and '60s), smoothing on a matching body cream underneath a favorite juice will increase its longevity, since moist skin holds perfume more efficiently. A more adventurous fragrance fan, however, will find that using scents with complementary notes — citrus chimes well with spice, for example, and florals go well with woods — can brighten or deepen the overall effect, giving a summery feel to winter fragrances, and vice versa. The key to not overdoing it is to make sure there's always a "shot of light" — one fresh element that keeps the composition from becoming too heavy.

    Although the simpler a fragrance is, the easier it is to layer — hence the pared - down linearity of most of Swiss Arabian's offerings — namely the Private CPO Collection and the Artisan Corner Collections features vividly distinctive scents that only become more beautiful as they are built up and combined. To have the most surprising effect, it's important to blend fragrances that have diverse facets. It's a science of blending opposite scents, like floral and woody, spicy and sweet. Some scents that you can't put together in the same bottle or formula, because they're too extreme and turn out smelling horrible, are actually wonderful when you blend them in a layering process. If you think about it, it's very similar to makeup: There's transparency and coverage, the light and the intense. Placement is also key, applying different fragrances to different areas — the heavier ones on pulse points, the lighter ones on hair and clothes — so that they work in harmony but don't directly compete.

    For women in the Middle East, layering is second nature because they experience their whole lives through the prism of scent: Fragrance oils are applied to the skin of children, bakhoor is burned in many homes every day (some families have their own recipes), and dinner guests are customarily presented with a tray of perfumes to sample after a meal. Perfume is treated with reverence, but also with creative flair. It is no secret that in Dubai, women change fragrances the way Western women change clothes, revealing in the different personas it allows them to try on. It is very much a form of self-expression here; it's as much an accessory as the crazy bejewelled heels and beautiful designer handbags they love. When they're wearing the abaya, what you can see and smell is very important.

    As heritage collides with modernity — as in the malls of Dubai, where there are just as many young girls in miniskirts and tank tops as there are women in abayas — the scent combinations are getting increasingly unusual. Swiss Arabian made it a point not to include a heavy dose of oud, or eliminate it all together, in a certain range of its fragrances — though very expensive vials of the oil are still for sale in a glass cabinet in showroom stores and in other fragrance collections on offer. That is to allow younger fans of the brand to layer their own choice of oils, as well as bakhoor, with these bright fragrances. For example, many of our fans prefer to wear our French style perfumes with only a light dab of oud oil. It is apparent that while the younger generation doesn't want to stick to the way their mothers and fathers wear perfume, they still like the traditional ingredients but use them in new ways.

    So, with all that said, how is layering performed the old-school way? Well, it is a four stage process that starts with the base of musk, then moves to the application of a oud, followed a spritz of your favorite perfume and finally finished with bakhoor incense. Since each of these processes will carry it own scent profile, you can experience the opulence of this ritual if you have access to those four ingredients.

    Step 1, Musk Application

    Apply a generous amount of your favorite musk blend first to all your exposed areas in a manner similar to that of using a lotion. Your choice of the musk base will define how you will smell later on during the day, especially when the base notes emerge and settle. You can opt for floral, vanilla or powdery to name a few.

    Although you can use a spray version of musk, like the Swiss Musk EDP we offer, it is preferred to use an oil version of it for the longevity considerations.


    Step 2, Oud Application

    There are many different qualities of pure oud, which can grow more potent as it ages and can cost upward of $1,000 an ounce. On its own, the extract smells simultaneously warm and bitter; it has an earthy, animalic, addictive aspect that makes you want to sniff it again, but it's also dense, peaty, and overpowering (think of a barn or horse stable). It is never advised to smell oud from the bottle directly, you will be put off by its barn like scent.

    The oud application, as part of this ritual, is key to obtaining serious exoticism of the rich, deep wood/earthy scent trail you leave behind. You only need a very tiny dabbing of oud essence (which goes a long way). You apply the oud to the back of your hand and use the side of your index finger to spread it, then proceed to very gently rub the back of you hands together before gently again rubbing them behind your ears.

    Optionally, some people choose an attar blend (typically refereed to as Mukhalat) at this stage of the application, which in itself contains a blend of oud along with other fragrant scents. With mukhalat, you would want to skip the next step of applying a perfume and move to the last step of Bakhoor application.

    Tip: The gentle rubbing motion refereed to is to spread the oil; you should not vigorously try to spread it and generate heat in the process.


    Step 3, Perfume Application

    The choice of Perfume at this point is completely up to you and the personality you wish to project for the day. You may have a signature scent you would wish to wear or a special feeling/mood you would like conjure up. We would however advise against using oud heavy perfumes, as you have already established that scent profile in a more rich and potent fashion earlier. This is particularly important to avoid during the hot season/summer, while it is more acceptable in cooler days and climates.

    When applying the perfume, ensure that you lightly spritz it. You don't want to mask everything you have layered thus far.

    Some Swiss Arabian fan favorites:


    Step 4, Bakhoor Application

    For me personally, this is where the ritual starts, I lights a charcoal disk at the base of my ornate golden incense burner, place a piece or two two of my favorite Bakhoor and wave my hand above it until the smoke begins to rise in slender, deeply aromatic tendrils. I lean over it, letting the smoke from the mixture of Bakhoor wood chips and resins rise through my clothing, holding up my arms so that it permeates all over. It's as if I'm marinating myself in an exotic mist. This process will put you in touch with something quite ancient and mystical — the word perfume, after all, is derived from per fumare, which means "through smoke" in Latin, and comes from a time when incense was burned ceremonially, its redolent fumes considered a way to communicate with the gods. When I step away from the burner, I'm still enshrouded in a veil of exquisite, mesmerizing scent, with a dimension and character no single fragrance could ever truly achieve.

    While there are many options to choose from, my go-to choices for Bakhoors are either Muattar Mumtaz for a fresh zesty mood or Dukhoon Al Jazeera for special occasions when I want to project a more earthy aura. But that too is completely up to you.

    There you have it. That is basically the complete ritual of layering performed the old-school way. I will put out a more detailed "selection based options article" for each of these four stages. I'll detail the various achievable scent profiles to help navigate you towards a perfect mix, one that will surely become your signature.

    The Non Ritual Way of Experiencing Layering

    Swiss Arabian does offer a single niche release that encompasses all the above stages in one beautifully crafted fragrance; Shaghaf Oud Aswad is the next closest things you can spray to obtain a similar effect. Shaghaf Oud Aswad is a unisex Eau de Parfum with a very sensual and addictive light floral profile that is infused with Arabian incense. A scent that you and those around you will fall in love with! Give it try if you have not done so already.