It’s so nice to dab perfume from a sample tube, lift my arm to my nose, and experience something that doesn’t smell like it came out of a focus group. No accords of “mermaid’s breath” or “sensual torpor” or “frisky plastic wrap.” No predictable purple fruit plus jasmine plus patchouli, and no foul interpretation of white flowers that ends up smelling like fruity hairspray. Téo Cabanel Alahine smells of good ingredients and classic perfumery. As simple as that sounds, it’s refreshing.
Téo Cabanel — named after its founder, Théodore Cabanel — began in Algeria in 1893. In 1908, he moved to Paris and began making perfume in earnest, amassing over 150 formulae. The Duchess of Windsor was a fan and on stationery from luxury hotels she ordered refills. Cabanel’s only child, a daughter, ran the company when Théodore died and continued making his perfumes until her death at age 92. She didn’t have children, so she bequeathed the perfume company to her goddaughter.
In 2003, her goddaughter’s daughter, Caroline Ilacqua, took over Téo Cabanel. Ilacqua, only 22, had been working in advertising in Ireland, but something about Téo Cabanel intrigued her. She traveled to Grasse to learn more about perfumery and met perfumer Jean-François Latty, the nose behind Givenchy III and Yves Saint Laurent Jazz. Latty was retired, but hearing of Ilacqua’s desire to rejuvenate the house with a focus on quality, he agreed to become Téo Cabanel’s house perfumer.
Téo Cabanel’s website lists Alahine’s notes as bergamot, ylang ylang, jasmine, Bulgarian rose, orange tree, pepper plant, Morroccan rose, iris, cistus, patchouli, benzoin, vanilla, sandalwood, and musk. The website also states Téo Cabanel’s perfumes contain “100% pure and natural ingredients” which raised my eyebrows when I saw musk in Alahine’s line up. In an interview with Sniffapalooza magazine, Ilacqua clarified that Téo Cabanel’s fragrances contain between 85% and 95% natural ingredients, and its amber and musk are synthetic.
The website describes Alahine as “an alluring soft amber,” but I’d say whether or not you like Alahine will depend on how you feel about ylang ylang. To me, Alahine is an oriental treatment of ylang ylang. Alahine takes the flower’s cold cream-like scent and spins it with amber, sandalwood, and vanilla. The result is a ylang ylang crème brûlée lightened with rose and dusted with powder. It’s warm, thick, sweet, and feminine — comforting without being maternal. Its sillage is moderate, and its lasting power is excellent.
Alahine isn’t edgy or surprising, but in some ways that’s an asset. Think of it as the camel coat fashion magazines are touting as a major trend for this fall. People have been wearing camel coats for a good long time, and they’ve always been appropriate and sometimes even stylish, even if they’re only sporadically fashionable. Alahine is like that. You’re always correct (and warm) in Alahine.
On the other hand, camel coats don’t suit everyone. (Really, if you think about it most people look terrible in camel.) Not everyone can pull off a classical powdery floral-amber fragrance, either. My guess is the woman who loves both Frédéric Malle Iris Poudre and Parfum d’Empire Ambre Russe could wear Alahine well and not have it read as a distraction. But whether or not you sport camel coats or Alahine well, it’s just nice to see a company that seems focused on quality and classical structure. Plus, Téo Cabanel gets bonus points for not releasing something new every three months.
Téo Cabanel Alahine is sold as an Eau de Parfum (50 and 100 ml) and in Concrète de Parfum (2 x 2g solid) and Parfum Extrait (15 ml.) For information on where to buy Téo Cabanel products, see Téo Cabanel under Perfume Houses.