Photo of John Todd by Markus Lambert.
A gourmand-cosmetic perfume might not sound like the ideal hybrid fragrance, but Khol de Bahrein is convincing. It is a candied floriental of middle-eastern extraction with iris, violet and heliotropin dipped in amber and incense. The range of resins and flowers is calibrated to create an image of sweets ranging from dragées to nougat and pistachio baclava to orange blossom cakes.
The amber-incense heart is lightly smoky, like the burnt edges of a cake. Heliotropin’s marzipan aroma hints at vanilla around every corner but you never come eye to eye with it. The buttery aspects of the flowers become embedded in the resin so that scent and texture become linked. The contrasting tones converge elegantly and create a perfume that has a distinctive ‘feel’ for lack of a better word, powdery and oily at the same time like the feeling of pollen on your fingers.
Khol de Bahrein is thick and matte yet light, like the powder of a compact that can be applied lightly or heavily for different effect. The list of notes is like the ingredients in a recipe. They tell you about flavors, or in this case aromas, but give little indications about the texture of the end product. The long arc could allow it to be mistaken for a linear perfume, but on close inspection there is a slow, steady progression, an olfactory inertia that gives the perfume an optimistic and luxurious sense of endless heartnotes. The fugue-like progression of candied notes brings Khol close to loukoum, but it cleverly avoids the cloying sweetness or fly-in-amber inescapability of the loukoum perfumes.
Khol de Bahrein could be compared to Shalimar. It has iris and vanillic amber but it lacks Shalimar’s harp-strumming melodrama and heavy velvet stage curtains. A better comparison is Jicky, little less dense than Shalimar but still forceful. Kohl de Bahrein avoids Jicky’s overt animalism but the sweet leather base gives it a comparable shadowy quality. Like Jacques Guerlain, Stephane Humbert Lucas defines the oriental perfume as a near-gourmand experience.