‘Aqua Alba’ is a celebration of the art of blending. Ttaking the distinctive flavours and aromas of Whiskey and translating them into personal fragrance. Elements of the Scottish landscape that so imbue whisky with its distinctive flavours – peat smoke, heather, wind blasted wood, soft green mosses – Labdanum and patchouli represent the moss and earth, overlaying a heart of heather and gaiac wood, on a base of sweet amber, oudh and smoky peat. Distinguished, comforting and rugged.
– Angela Flanders website
I’m rarely immediately taken by a perfume, so it speaks volumes of Angela Flanders‘ Aqua Alba that I was drawn to it from my very first encounter with it in Angela’s quaint little shop in Artillery Passage, which is sited in the hipster Spitalfields locale of London.
I’ve included the description of Angela Flanders‘ website because I found it to be rather an accurate description of the fragrance, save for the oudh. The inspiration for Aqua Alba came from whisky, through a collaboration with Jim Beveridge, who blends whisky for Johnnie Walker. At that time I hadn’t really been into whisky, although I have now acquired the ‘Beginner Whisky Lover’s Badge’ through my interactions with various whiskies in the past year, and consider myself quite the fan of whisky, just behind cocktails (much craft goes into blending a cocktail, for those of you who are alcohol snobs!) and ahead of wine; beer just smells and tastes like drain water to me (sorry, personal preference).
In any case, I don’t believe Aqua Alba to be a literal olfactory translation of whisky, so if you’re looking to wear your bottle of whisky, you’re not going to find it in Aqua Alba. In fact, I find Frapin‘s 1697 to be far closer to the smell of a whisky, as it captures the pear and oak that is distinctive of Glenfiddich‘s whiskies. But if we’re talking about the qualities of whisky, such as its rich, peaty smell and the feeling of warm liquid gold trickling down your throat and warming your insides, then Aqua Alba ticks all the boxes.
Essentially, Aqua Alba is a masterful blend of rich oriental base notes. There is the rich, lustrous and boozy amber that is immediately apparent from the opening along with a tinge of cloves (eugenol?). This is married to a honeyed labdanum and patchouli, which makes for a round and full-bodied fragrance that is a far cry from the thin, reedy, screechy chemical cocktails that flood the market today. Thankfully, too, my nose cannot detect any trace of Ambrox/Ambroxan/Ambrox-(whatever variation perfume ingredient companies have named it ,you’d be surprised to know that there are plenty available on the market) that is characteristic of many recently-launched ‘niche, Middle-Eastern themed’ fragrances (yes, Boadicea the Victorius, you know you’re guilty of this – prices of your perfumes were reduced from £150 to £30 during the Harrods Pre-Christmas Sale and EVEN THEN I didn’t think them worthy of my money), so even if it’s present in Aqua Alba, it’s been well-hidden.
2 hours later, Aqua Alba sits a lot closer to the skin and hums along quietly while still maintaining its presence. It’s not smoky in the way that an Ardbeg is; instead, it’s smoky in the way that smoked cured meats are. This is not to say that it smells remotely of cured meats, though, so don’t go away thinking that you’d end up smelling like ham!
Aqua Alba is smooth as velvet and is ever-comfortable. It’s like sitting in a log cabin in the middle of winter with your grandfather while a fire crackles in the fireplace.
Aqua Alba has my heart… and my money. I sprang for a 100ml full bottle sometime back, when the temptation to own a bottle became too difficult to resist, although it is also available in 30ml.
Aqua Alba is available from Angela Flanders boutiques in the UK (96 Columbia Road, open only on Sundays, and 4 Artillery Passage, open Mondays to Saturdays), or online on her website. It retails at £95 for 100ml and £65 for 30ml (see why I sprang for the 100ml bottle now?).
P.S. From the few times I’ve interacted with Angela, I’ve found her to be one of the nicest and most genuine persons around. She is a passionate, self-taught perfumer who is still going strong for her age!
~ The Smelly Vagabond