Amouage Ubar Woman is a captial-F capital-O Floral Oriental perfume in the big, bad mold of Tuvache Jungle Gardenia and other witchy vintage-vamp tuberose-driven fantasy numbers with the dial set for Stun. I can't imagine how anyone could interpret this as a chypre--c'mon, seriously?--because this stuff is ballasted by a massive, powdery/opaque amber base that hails from somewhere in the Guerlain universe circa 1987; and, as I understand it, big flowers + amber base equals Floral Oriental. Chypres must include certain resins--specifically bergamot, laubdanum, and oakmosss--and they have to show some bone in their composition, because they're all about structure (if notes of citrus/balmy resin/patchouli by default made a something a chypre, then Poison is a chypre, and I don't think anyone wants to argue that. If you do, please PM me). Sorry for the didacticism--now that I've gotten that off my chest, I think my eye has stopped twitching. So, back to the perfume:
At the top of the note pyramid, Amouage lists a minor curiosity called Litsea Cubeba, which turns out to be an essential oil derived from a plant also known as May Chang, which Google tells me smells a lot like lemongrass. Knowing that helped me unlock some of the mystery of what I smell at the opening of Ubar, because it holds an undeniably yellow-green, aromatic freshness that keeps Ubar from collapsing into pastiche. It smells contemporary, if not exactly modern, and just-this-side of edible. The rest of the opening falls in line behind this note--facets of something sweetly orangey (the sharp part of the zest more than the fruit) and the leathery suggestion of violet leaf, mostly, and then something weird that happens to me every time I smell Ubar. I must be hallucinating, but I smell heliotrope--I suppose it's the downy, powdery texture of Ubar's base and something almondy generated from its vanilla or resins. But every time I first smell Ubar, I feel that achey, vague sense of longing that heliotropin usually triggers, and I have to screw my head back now and finish writing this.
The heart is all about the unfolding of Amouage's gorgeous floral materials; if you don't like florals, you're not going to like this--but if you do, I can't oversell how unbelievably beautiful these are--"buttery" doesn't begin to do justice to how they come together. There is tuberose, of course, but it's not the whole story. There's a powdery, vaguely beastly orange blossom that seems to have wandered in from Bal a Versaille. I have a personal weakness for ylang ylang, and Ubar does not disappoint; however, it never goes all banana split, sappy-sweet or one-dimensional: it's humid and a little dank, fluffed out by some seriously filthy jasmine. The bracing note of lily-of-the-valley sculpts those heady, warm-climate blossoms into a graceful swoop (and these notes do not always get along; I often think of Fracas as a catfight between chilly LOTV and hot-blooded tuberose, with jasmine and orange blossom in the middle trying to keep them from killing each other--lots of fun, in other words, but rowdy, loud and not conducive to relaxation) like a ballgown's skirt. With expensive, naughty lingerie underneath, naturally.
And the base--I've already held forth on the amber subject, but I feel obligated to point out how unified it feels with the rest of the perfume. It's a true amber, with a cold vanilla pudding sweetness to it; and, like the florals the amber isn't shapeless, since it's tamed by some tension with an aromatic patchouli and something that feels saline and a little depthless that may or may not be ambergris or a reasonable facsimile thereof. The effect of this amber/gris on the structure of the perfume is a sense of darkly glowing gradations of the same dense, rose gold color deepening toward the bottom, sort of like a Mark Rothko paining.
I feel like I've stretched my descriptive abilities to the limit here, but Ubar deserves my best efforts. It's everything I say it is, and a whole lot more besides. It has taken me over a year to even begin to understand what's going on with this perfume, and I'm delighted that it has rewarded me by yielding some of its secrets. I expect we're going to have a long and beautiful friendship . . . . If you haven't smelled Ubar yet, you need to; and if you smelled it once (or twice) and then dismissed it, you probably need to smell it again. This is one of the greats, and the folks at Amouage deserve love and support for keeping it in production and available to the rest of us. I'm not in any way equipped or qualified to nominate something for classic status--but still, Ubar is one. It makes me happy to be in the same world with something this beautiful.
This is a review of the re-issue. I have no experience of what the vintage must have been like, but this re-issue will do very nicely, thank you.
This is class and sophistication in a bottle, the 1940s/1950s woman with the fur coat, who just stepped into the warmth of the foyer from the winter cold. Sandalwood and amber (the real McCoys, not the synthetics) immediately greet one, followed by a green, yet voluptuous tuberose, a slightly buttery ylang, and a touch of civet and patchouli. The whole thing blends and merges within minutes. There are hints of that red lipstick kept in the warmth of her handbag.
Best lightly applied. Great for formal wear - opera, theatre, concert. Terrific.
I have to believe that any members' negative impressions of Ubar are for the reissued version - the 1995 "vintage" is one of the most stunning perfumes on Earth and in my top 5 of all time. Sadly it was changed a lot when it was brought back, but as with the original Caron Parfum Sacre, there is no comparison. The frankincense, the oakmoss, the labdanum, the sandalwood, the herbals, all in perfect harmony, warm, sensual and mysterious, rich yet not sweet, dry yet not woody, a true masterpiece.
One of the most Beautiful Discoveries I have come across this year!
Rich and opulent floral with enough freshness, heart, mistery and titanic longevity.
Do try it and you will love it.
04th October, 2014 (last edited: 12th October, 2014)
Possibly one of the most boring and least inspired Amouage out there in my opinion. Ubar is a decent, but sadly clearly mediocre floral chypre with resinous and pollen accents, a powdery-waxy side (which reminds me of an Italian cheap moisturizing cream called Leocrema), on a classic chypre herbal base, dark and slightly camphoraceous, with benzoin and oak moss. Elegant, artificial and fairly modest to all extents, it smells nice but without the depth, the quality and the "passion" one would expect from such a brand (and a price).
Ubar by Amouage is a shimmering floral mélange so massively radiant that its heat signature can probably be picked up from outer space. Like its progenitors in the grand old French perfumery tradition, Chanel No. 5, Joy, and Arpege, the floral accords are so complex and blended to the point of abstraction that it becomes a guessing game as to what flowers exactly you are smelling. It just smells like a thousand different flowers (all of them hellishly expensive) gave up their life for a greater cause.
Cutting through the richness of the floral notes is a knife edge’s worth of bitterness from bergamot and civet, giving it that balance between rich flowers, bitter citruses, and the whiff of gently-used lady undergarments that all those good French class perfumes have. It is not, however, as animalic as reviews had led me to believe – oh, it may have been, but a reformulation is suspected. On the scale of animalic dirtiness, the needle moves towards the gently dirty Bal a Versailles – in other words, it is not the roar of a lion but a purr from a kitty.
Past the classic, rather overwhelming start, Ubar starts a slow but exquisite transformation from French floral chypre to a relaxed, creamy oriental. It’s like watching a beautiful woman take down her hair for the night. All the floral notes collapse with a sigh into a milky, ambery heart, calling to mind those oldies but goodies from the 1950’s, like the original L’Interdit by Givenchy. The sharp notes from the beginning fall back quite a bit, although they don’t disappear completely, so the impression you get is of a rich, creamy softness from the amber and sandalwood, but without any added sugar.
It’s beautiful, but emphatically not for me. I wore Ubar for the first time on an outing to the cinema with my small son, and as we sat there in the dark, watching the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles, I realized with a sense of mortification that I am clearly not the person for whom Amouage envisaged this perfume. Like a Hermes Birkin bag, I can admire the shape of it, the engineering, the skill, everything – but if someone were to gift me one (unlikely, I know), I can say with almost 100% certainty that it would never see the outside of my closet. Because to wear it would require me to suddenly be a different person altogether – more put together, classier, and without a perennially scuffed pair of ballet slippers. Ubar is beautiful, but I am just not up to the effort it would take for me to deserve her.