Thursday, December 7, 2023

Montale’s Odd Couple: Arabians vs. Arabians Tonka

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Flankers are usually criticized for being too similar to their counterparts. A slight change in concentration or the inclusion of a few hip notes often rationalizes the launch of a new fragrance. Then, there’s the opposite issue: when a new fragrance is labeled a flanker to ride off the popularity of a previous release, despite having only a passing resemblance to the original fragrance. Pairs that defy such categorization are few and far between.

That’s what makes Arabians & Arabians Tonka such a strange match. In the context of Montale’s massive and wildly inconsistent catalog, they’re both distinctive scents that diverge from the house’s signature construction. At turns, they echo each other, and at others, they stand in fascinating contrast. This begs the question: what exactly is the relationship between both scents? And is one notably better than the other?

Arabians Notes:

Cardamom, Lavender, Red Thyme, Rose, Patchouli, Vetiver, Oud, Leather, Ambergris

Arabians Tonka Notes:

Saffron, Bergamot, Oud, Rose, Sugar Cane, Tonka Bean, Amber, White Musk, Oakmoss

The most bizarre aspect of testing the scents against each other is their comparative weight. Arabians’ note pyramid contains a number of heavy hitters – patchouli, vetiver, oud, leather – that would seem to provide the base of the fragrance. However, the core impression is one of fresh bakery pastries. The spices dominate the composition throughout each stage of the fragrance. This is very much a cardamom-lavender fragrance supported by the rest of the pyramid; it’s at turns elegant and luxurious. The hype makes sense here. The balance between spicy notes and basenotes is exceptionally tasteful for a house known for blunt and memorable compositions.

Arabians Tonka is the opposite. Instead of a more vanilla-forward version of its predecessor, Arabians Tonka is an animalic-tonka bomb, a fragrance that boasts a sugar-cane sweetness over a challenging, leathery core. The opening of Arabians Tonka is difficult, to say the least. Think burning sugar on a cast iron skillet as the wisps of animal fat blacken on the bottom of the pan. Its opening is striking but unpleasant; its drydown is comforting yet disturbing. When I wear something like Zoologist Hyrax or Olympic Orchid’s Tropic of Capricorn, I know to brace for impact. Arabians Tonka, on the other hand, is a shock to the senses due to its ambitious balance of widespread appeal and rough, unabashed bravado.

A core appeal sits at the heart of both fragrances. In Arabians, there is a reliance upon familiar gourmand notes, and in Arabians Tonka lies a sweetness that would normally woo even the most reluctant nose. However, Arabians quickly betrays an unexpected elegance that is rare in Montale perfumes. Arabians Tonka is classic Montale through and through – a perfume with a harsh opening that mellows over time into something quite interesting. When you’re finally left with sugarcane and oud, Arabians Tonka is a pleasant companion. Before then, it’s asking too many questions, butting in when a better perfume would suggest the far-off bliss that Arabians Tonka can only fade into.

Brilliant perfumes evolve. Portrait of a Lady develops from a garden rose into a velvety dream; Hyrax travels from safari chaos into desert sun. Arabians Tonka is a burden until it hits its stride. Better to opt for the sweet smell of well-composed spices – Arabians has the keen wit to compete in an arena it’s always been suited for.

You can sample both fragrances here or purchase full bottles here.

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The Fandomentals “Fragdomentals” team base our reviews off of fragrances that we have personally, independently sourced. Any reviews based off of house-provided materials will be explicitly stated.


  • Jade

    Jade is the Lifestyle Editor at the Fandomentals, where they obsess over perfume and underground music. Their wacky poetry is floating around the internet - beware! Follow them for fragrance and poetry content @johndarrextreme on Instagram.

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