LR is a direct marketing company – meaning you cannot buy their products from brick-and-mortar stores but only from registered LR “consultants” (the LR equivalent I guess of the better known Avon Lady) as well as the internet as of late. The company started up in 1885 in Germany, but quickly started expanding all over the world. Currently their products are available in 30 countries world-wide, including Australia, New Zealand and The Philippines. I first discovered their perfumes at a beautician’s office, where a black box of samples was displayed. Naturally, if a little sheepishly, I started opening each tiny phial for a quick sniff and even though I was doing so rather hurriedly (I felt rather guilty going through them without supervision, but was completely unable to resist the siren-call of unknown perfume) I still managed to register that within the sea of ho-hum, so-so and downright-awful scents, there had been a little gem, completely different than the rest. I was soon ushered in for my appointment and promptly forgot all about the little gem and its uglier siblings. But it does seem like some things are meant to be. More than a year later, I smelled a fantastically erotic, patchouli laden perfume on my best friend, after she returned from a trip to England. When I asked her for more details begging her to get me a bottle next time she went to London, she told me that it was given to her by a friend and that the friend had gotten it from a direct seller. Even worse, the friend had not bought it in England, but in Cyprus. And then one of those strange things happened: the puzzle pieces came together out of nowhere, and quite unexpectedly the penny dropped. Bizarrely, my mind made the connection with extreme certainty and no proof whatsoever: What I was smelling on my friend was the very same little gem I’d found at the beautician’s office… My beautician must have been an LR consultant. Even more surprisingly perhaps, I was right. On a bright Saturday morning this past Christmas I bought a bottle and since then, I’ve managed to drench half of its contents. Quite a feat, considering how many bottles of perfume I own.
The little gem is called Harem and it is a copycat, clone, wannabe, dupe or whatever you wanna call it of the ever influential, already widely-copied Angel. Yes, yes, I can’t believe I fell for that either. But I did. Hard. Released in 1994, two years after Angel had turned all the tables, dethroned all the perfume beauty queens of old and secured its success on the market, Harem snaked itself into the newly-opened niche and has faithfully remained a best-seller for the company that cleverly capitalized on the Mugler money-train. Not sufficiently different from the original monster to be accredited the same respect as a unique scent (see for example Lolita Lempicka), Harem still deserves attention. Why? Because it is Angel for the ones who cannot wear Angel itself! If you like/admire Angel in theory, but can’t wear it due to its obnoxious, in-your-face character, you’re going to love this. If you wish you could wear Angel, but get a splitting headache from it, you’re going to love this. If you find yourself distracted by the always attention seeking Angel every time you wear it and need something that is just that little bit quieter, kinder to your psyche, you will be able to wear this. If you are looking for something that is just as erotic but rather less vulgar, this is it. (As a side note, I used to loathe Angel, but I actually love it ever since I’ve had my little patchouli revelation moment. Still, I do prefer Harem.)
Harem opens with juicy, sweet mandarin orange notes tampered with the bitterness of bergamot and will continue to hover above the border separating decadent sweetness and adult bitterness for most of its development. Its bittersweet character is incredibly seducing, bringing to mind all manner of delights meant to be enjoyed by adults, rather than children: pure bitter chocolate, amaretto liqueur, bittersweet almond paste and marzipan… In fact it is not hard at all to conjure these images, since they all manifest as aspects of the perfume itself as it evolves. The juiciness of the sweet citrus fruit runs dry as the top notes fly off, and we are left with the sparkling oils of the rind, smothered in bitter pure chocolate and its toothsome milk counterpart, wickedly flavored with caramel accents. The patchouli, already present and prevalent from the very moment Harem is applied, becomes absolutely central in the heart notes and is incredibly gifted to boot: never dirty, never mildew-y, never earthy, this is a gorgeous rendition of the note. The best way to describe Harem’s patchouli would be to liken it to a sensual embrace, so round, sweet and warm it is. Yes, it is still as loud as its roots predispose it to be, but somehow it holds back, as though having perfectly learned the game of first grabbing one’s attention and then playfully falling quiet until the victim is reeled in closer. Wonderfully, the scent becomes ever nuttier as time goes by: specifically its already sensual combination of flagrant eroticism and gourmand comfort is underscored by the many faces of almond that start caressing the skin. Bittersweet almond essence, raw almond, soft almond paste and a few sinful drops of amaretto all combine with the extravagance of vanilla-patchouli and chocolate, making the skin positively edible. Here and there, I get wafts of cherry as well, the perfect complement to the creamy, nutty almond. Hours later, Harem becomes magnificently powdery, a beautiful angel-dust whisper on the skin. In fact, the powdery drydown is so gorgeous, I wish it was a scent of its own just so I could enjoy it at will.
Despite its low price-point (23 euro for the EdP), Harem most definitely does not smell cheap. Too, I have to add that despite my own extensive comparison of it to Angel, I should not omit the ways it is different: Harem is all about the gourmand patchouli as is Angel, but its patchouli is far less aggressive and far more round and smooth. Another major plus point, is that it has a far more perceptible development, with clear stages that keep the interest alive. Lastly, even though the two fragrances run parallel at first, from the point the almond blend makes its appearance Harem begins to diverge and differentiate itself. The greatest difference is of course the beautiful powdery drydown, a direct consequence of which is that spraying on the clothes will lead to a much more subtle fragrance (instead of a hostile takeover) when the garments are returned to the closet.
Harem can be bought online from the LR webshop or directly from LR Consultants in your area (you can request for a representative close to you by visiting your country’s page from the official website, provided of course that LR is doing business where you live…)
LR, the company that makes Harem has changed this perfume beyond recognition. Please do not rush to order it based on this review which was written about the original version of this once beautiful perfume. You can find out more about this by clicking here.
Images: Harem ad and bottle, www.lrworld.com/, gold panning, www.whoisdimak.com, diamond in kimberlite, www.scienceclarified.com and dew on clover, titled “diamond in the rough”, flickr by diongillard