Carpets; tapestries: RAJA MUSK and BLACK ROSE by ILLUMINUM (2011)








When I lived in North London I used to go to a very eccentric cafe called The Raj. Up some flights of the stairs in the Highgate Village was what seemed to be some kind of dilapidated, walled-in gypsy rose caravan, where Sunday breakfasts could be had at a snail’s pace as the dust motes of the years travelled slowly in the light, and cosy Londoners nursed their hangovers with the full English Monty and their thick newspaper supplements.  Albums proceeding on the  record player in the corner gave a pleasing aspect of homely, teenage bedroom reality: the stylus would come to a halt amid the sound of chaos from the kitchen, the crackle on the loping grooves of the vinyl only adding to the atmosphere. You let the  click.    click  fade into the general ambience of coffee mugs and trays being carried back and forth into the kitchen where a hodgepodge of spices (cumin and sage especially) was thrown into the often bizarre, haphazard creations.









It was a really lovely place, and I have no idea if it still exists. But I imagine it would : the place was a real local favourite, despite or because of the thick-carpeted scruffiness and the sense that the proprietors were making everything up as they went along. Those egg-cracked red velvet curtains that you imagine had never been washed.


Illuminum’s Black Rose is like the rich, textured, olfactory version of this place. A London-exotic, hippyish tapestry: of lentils, mystics, and dusty old pot pourri; a thick, woody rose perfume combining rose otto, Taïf roses and Moroccan rose essence with a big dash of cumin, saffron, and black pepper. Dark, dry Mysore sandalwood (the perfume’s heart), and Somali golden frankincense form the foundation on which this rests, all amounting to a generous and androgynous scent that I find very appealing. It is the kind of perfume you wish your university professor had worn, sat benevolently in her study in a thick-knit cardigan; or some neighbour whose door you sometimes knock on to borrow a bag of herb tea, to sit and chat with over Vashti Bunyan.



What is so good about the scent is the lack of jarring edges. All has been blended as if in an Arab alembic; fused together, tarry and benevolent as a unguent. As time goes by it just gets better, deeper, has even more aura….







The only complaint I have about Black Rose is that it should, instead, have been called Raja Musk. Somehow this would have been the perfect name for the scent, given it even more mystique.  The actual Raja Musk is an inconsequential take on the modern laundry type of fragrance, in the manner of CK Be, and has nothing to do with what you might expect from such a scent (I was yearning for something diffident, Indian). Instead, shiny, synthetic top notes (” pear blossom “, ” red currant” ) and muguetty, Zanussi musks uneasily mingle in a soapsud formula that is very expensive, and ‘clean’, but which wouldn’t be out of place in a Gap store.




No: in my mind, Raja Musk is my fusty, good-hearted, old-friend-in-the-making Black Rose.







Shall we meet each other there next Sunday?




October 21, 2012 · 7:24 pm

12 responses to “Carpets; tapestries: RAJA MUSK and BLACK ROSE by ILLUMINUM (2011)

  1. What a lovely read. Have you tried Trish McEvoy’s Black Oudh? It is a little pricey but so worth it.

    • ginzaintherain

      I haven’t, as I am kind of oudhed out to be honest…I seriously overdid it a few years ago, but this Black Rose made me feel that it was possible to like it again…

  2. Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:

    It’s suddenly gone colder today, and the post I was writing didn’t fit my mood. I am going for something for something cosy from the backlog instead. Put the kettle on, won’t you?

  3. Sounds lovely. Thinking about it helps to counteract my scent disappointment earlier today. I got to sniff the new Gucci Guilty Black; have you come across it yet? All I could smell was fruit. Mostly dark plums, but enough fruit notes in there to make a salad, and I’m not a fan of any fruit note. I had wanted to try it because I keep thinking that they will produce something really good. I don’t know why I have that conviction.

    • Neither do I. The chance of Gucci making a perfume that is truly worth smelling is virtually nil, I would say. I don’t even like their image or anything about them any more. Time to move on!

      • Good point. I’m wildly attracted to really dark scents, and I feel compelled to try everything with “black” or “noir” in the name, but they are all the same fruity celebuscents that the counters are already full of, just with more fruit. Clearly, it’s time for me to get over wistful looking and ask the rest of you about dark floral-spice Orientals that you recommend.

      • Well, this one is not femme-fatale, it is even somewhat comforting and homely, but to me it had a richness and integrity lacking in many of the ‘noir’ things that are released. It really is a black rose, and the notes are steeped into each other in quite an impressive manner. Whether or not you will actually like the outcome or not is just a subjective, instinctive thing. I wouldn’t wear it myself because I am tired of the whole genre, but when I smelled it I felt I had to write about it as ‘objectively’ it just seemed like a really good scent, and as I wrote here, it also totally brought back memories of the Raj. There is a convincing hippy-witch thing going on with this scent I think.

      • What a great atmosphere you created…the unwashed curtains, and all that went before.
        Gucci just fired their General Manager and their Head of Design because of “image” problems and decreasing sales. The first new menswear collection provoked some interest, so let’s cross our fingers for the perfume.

  4. brie

    “dark, dry, Mysore…” now we are talking! And if it is any consolation it has been unbearably cold in the Northeast (last time it was this cold was in the 1970s) and we are getting more wet,slushy snow tonight. So much for global warming…..I need me some spring weather, PLEASE!!!! It is really putting a damper on my usual happy spirits!

  5. Dubaiscents

    You make Black Rose so wonderful! Adding it to my list to try!

  6. The Black Rose sounds lovely, but I also wish it had the other name; sounds so much more appropriate and exotic.
    I am often flustered when a scent does not live up to its name, it us almost as if they have performed a bait and switch scheme.
    Raja Musk does sound more appropriate for a scent with a healthy dose of Mysore in it.
    I shall have to find out more about this scent and the brand also.

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