At work, almost everyone knows that I am working on my own perfumes on the side. When they walk by my desk they can tell whether that day I am using my coworkers around me as guinea pigs, as the area around my cubicle smells like a perfume lab.
One day I brought in some versions of the not-yet-complete perfume “Rhinoceros” to work. My Pakistani coworker took a sniff and immediately said, “It’s ittar.” “Pardon?” “It’s ittar. Everyone in Pakistan wears their own perfume called ittar and your composition smells very much like an ittar. I like it a lot.” Since he liked it I gave him some to bring it home for further evaluation.
Next day he brought back a tiny crystal bottle filled with just about 5ml of deep red liquid. He told me that his dad wanted to give me his bottle of ittar that he had not used for years. I was overjoyed, but he continued, “It’s cheap, like ten bucks. My dad said there’s much better ones in Pakistan.” “Hmm… thanks.” I laughed.
I immediately unscrewed the stopper and saw some very viscous red-orange liquid refusing to drip down from the attached little glass rod. (I was told that Ittars are never diluted with alcohol because Muslims don’t consume alcohol.) I took a sniff and moaned, “WTF is this? It smells like balls and stinky feet!” (Now I know what it smelled like – Terre d’Hermes with oud, rose, balls and stinky feet.) I applied some on my skin and 15 minutes later it turned much mellower, still B&SF, but I could smell something musky, medicinal (bitter tea leaves) and “middle Eastern” slowly surfacing. I actually liked it and became greedy. I asked him if he could help me bring some higher quality ittar when he visits Pakistan again.
Sometimes I feel like I am only chasing after brand name perfumes and ignoring the beautiful and mysterious world of ittars (or attars) – they are not regulated by IFRA, who knows what’s in it, you are unlikely to find a back up bottle and they could be very affordable and yet of high quality.