La Via del Profumo is the natural perfume studio of Dominique Dubrana, who crafts fragrance under the name of Abdes Salam Attar and is inspired by the mystic Islamic branch of Sufism. His fragrances have been hailed widely as transcending the traditional shortcomings of natural perfumes such as lack of structure, complexity and longevity. Even Luca Turin, who used to be quite skeptical about natural perfume, has given very high marks to Dubrana's compositions.
His latest "scent of the soul" was inspired by his trip to Mecca and is accordingly called Mecca Balsam. As part of the sampling/discussion group on basenotes for MB, I received a generous sample of the essence which I have studied over the last months. And I admit, understanding Mecca Balsam was itself something of a pilgrimage. I've revisited it again and again, as my sample permitted and from an initial discomfort and skepticism I have come to deeply appreciate it. I am, I suppose, a convert . To me Mecca Balsam is not soothing in the sense of providing complacent tranquility. It carries within it the whole spectrum of a pilgrim's path. Dusty, forlorn roads, rocky, forbidding terrain (the austerity and dustiness of dry resinous labdanum), the pleasure of being hosted by a gracious stranger (dry, but rich tobacco, sweet enticing tonka) the deep, sweet satisfaction of reaching the sacred destination and finding there: yourself (the divine licqourous wine of those amazing florals, soft, meditative frankincense interacting with the dry resins & the tobacco). The sum, thus, is greater even than its magnificent parts: rich, complex, distinct and yet with the typical subtlety of a natural perfume, or as Octavian Coiffan so aptly put it in his review, an archetypal oriental freed of excessive ornamentation.
The effect, surprisingly, is somewhat two-faced. Mecca Balsam does exude a spiritual quality worthy of its name and its creator's intentions. But make no mistake, it could just as well be employed to seduce those around the wearer in very worldly ways - like a subtler, more genteel Domenico Caraceni for, indeed, men of the world. The abscence within it - of the stereotpyical loud synthetic amber, of screechy metallic florals, of frankincense on ISO-e-Super-steroids - imparts it with a serenity and exclusivity that would make it grace a plain white pilgrim's tunic no less than the bespoke-tailored, gold-buttoned navy blazer and crisp white shirt of a yaughting millionaire. One can thus choose what sort of wealth one wishes Mecca Balsam to display - that of the pure spirit or that of the art of fine living. The latter may not have been part of Dubrana's vision, but it makes Mecca Balsam even more impressive and enticing as a work of fragrant art.