The sun was setting in the East. The heat of the city sent shimmering swirls of dust into the air, blending with the smell of spices and the sweat of its people under the rose-tinged sky. But dusk was also when the invaders came. The fierce, sweaty, hairy men stormed the ramparts of the palace, attacking and forcing their way past the Sultan’s guards.
They ran down The Passage of Concubines before arriving at the Seraglio, the innermost sanctum of the palace and home to the Sultan’s harem. As they broke down the heavy door made from the finest sandalwood, the smell of their sweat and wet leather mixed with the swirls of incense that billowed from within. They entered the women’s quarters and beheld the naked beauties at their bath. It was an instant war between warm human flesh, the mysteries of women, sweet honeyed intimacy, and feral, musky masculinity.
The Favorite Consort haughtily stepped to the forefront, approached the leader of the invaders and placed one cool, honeyed hand firmly against his sweat-stained leather cuirass. “I will wash your feet with the nectar of the finest Persian roses, feed you molten honey and spiced treats in rooms of silk and incense, and perfume your leather with the finest sandalwood, if you leave the women unharmed.”
He stared at her, his swarthy face silent. Finally, he nodded but not before pulling her closer to demonstrate his dominion. Their bodies were a meld of musk, sweat, dust and spices, warm flesh, heady flowers, wet leather, creamy sandalwood, sour notes, smoky incense, and ambered honey.
That was the vision which immediately arose in my mind when I wore Absolue Pour Le Soir (“Absolue”) from the luxury niche perfume house of Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Paris (“MFK”).
Francis Kurkdjian began his career as something of a young prodigy in the perfume world and has become one of its most celebrated, admired creators. As Luckyscent succinctly explains,
In the era of perfumer-as-star, Francis Kurkdjian (pronounced “kurr-janh”) has been the first to break away and found a house bearing his name. But Maison Francis Kurkdjian is not just another niche brand: its stated ambition is to become a house with “a soul and history”, the Guerlain of the 21st century. And if anyone can pull it off, it may just be the charismatic boy wonder who had already composed a blockbuster— Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Le Male— at the age of 25, and has since authored a slew of highly acclaimed scents, both mainstream and niche, from the cult Christian Dior Eau Noire to the best-selling Narciso Rodriguez for Her.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian released Absolue Pour Le Soir in 2011 as a more concentrated, spicier, naughtier, more animalic eau de parfum version of its 2009 cashmere and rose Cologne Pour Le Soir. On its website, the company describes the mood of Absolue as follows:
When the night takes on its own life, the tempo changes. Take along, longuorous [sic] breath. Linger till dawn, keep your head in the stars. You’re suspended in time.
The most detailed set of perfume notes that I’ve found has been on Luckyscent which lists the following ingredients:
Infusion of benzoin from Siam [aka Siam Resin], cumin, ylang-ylang, Bulgarian and Iranian rose honey, incense absolute, Atlas cedarwood and sandalwood.
Absolue Pour Le Soir opens on my skin with a rich, dark, molten layer of honey and cumin. There are notes of deeply resinous amber which conjure up a colour image of red-gold in my mind’s eye. There is almost a leathery note like wet, sweat-infused rawhide with an underlying sour-sweet element which evokes a hotly lathered horse and saddle. (It definitely helped contribute to my image of an attack on the seraglio!) I think musk can often have a leather undertone (to my nose at least), so I’m chalking it up to that because there is no doubt that Absolue is a musk perfume. The whole thing is overlaid by that rich honey and resin which oozes over everything like a wave of hot lava.
The cumin becomes much more pronounced after the opening minutes and it soon shares equal footing with the honey. And, yet, it almost feels as though there are other spices too, like cloves, star anise and cinnamon. Flickering and dancing in the background are the rose notes, creamy sandalwood, incense, and almost woody, sweet smokiness from the Siam resin. The resinous notes here don’t feel like pure Siam resin, and I have to wonder if they left out mention of labdanum. That is another resin, but it has a more animalic, musky, masculine, dirty edge to it. (You can read about both types of resin and their differences in my Glossary.) Given that Absolue’s notes don’t actually include any mention of musk as an ingredient, I wouldn’t be surprised if labdanum were used to create some of the more animalic, naughty accords.
There is something about the way that those resins combine with the spices, the rich rose, smoke and sandalwood that repeatedly makes me think of the middle to end stages of my beloved (vintage) Opium. I recently purchased a bottle of the latter from the 1970s (do not ever buy current Opium!) — and the similarities are pronounced in my mind, especially once the sandalwood becomes more noticeable. That said, the two scents are very different. Absolue is much dustier and heavily dominated by musk and cumin — which is not the case with the more floral-dominant spices of Opium.
The cumin is really interesting in Absolue. Unlike some of my other experiences with the note, it never has a really sweat-like accord after that first minute or two. Yes, there is an earthy feel to the scent, but it doesn’t make me give worried sniffs under my arms as some perfumes — like Serge Lutens‘ Serge Noire or Amouage‘s Jubilation 25 –have done. Moreover, there is nothing skanky, funky or intimate about the note or how it interacts with the other ingredients. Unlike the very animalic Musc Tonkin by Parfume d’Empire, there are no unsettling impression of deeply feminine intimacy or of unwashed panties. Rather, the cumin in Absolue Pour Le Soir just feels like the pure spice, albeit one which my nose is somehow convinced is mixed with star anise and cloves. The dusty, dusky dryness they impart are a perfect balance to the sweetness of the dark honey and resins; they prevent the perfume from being gourmand in any way.
As time passes, Absolue becomes much more of a true oriental in the grand old style. Superbly blended, the perfume takes on a more complex character and different notes peek out at different times. Sometimes, the creamy, spiced sandalwood is more pronounce while, at other times, the smoke and incense accords come to the foreground. All of them are tinged with cumin for the first hour and, then, by the floral notes for the second (and subsequent) hours, particularly the rich roses and the creamy, very indolic notes of ylang-ylang.
The indolic nature of the ylang-ylang may prove to be a problem for some people. Very indolic flowers — like jasmine, tuberose and ylang-ylang — can occasionally take on a very extreme character, evoking impressions of rotting fruit, plastic-y flowers or a litter box. That doesn’t usually happen to me and I’m on record as saying how much I adore some of the most indolic perfumes around, like Robert Piguet‘s Fracas. Here, however, there is a definite sour note on my skin which I suspect stems from the ylang-ylang. It arises after the first hour and lasts for another solid hour before the perfume transforms again, with the rich rose nectar taking the lead along side the creamy sandalwood and musk.
Over time, Absolue Pour Le Soir changes again. At the fourth hour, it is an absolutely luscious, heady, rich, rose perfume, with incense and sandalwood. In its later stages and during the dry-down, it is predominantly amberous resin and honey with just a dash of musk and a hint of creamy sandalwood. Unlike some, like the Candy Perfume Boy, I never smelled the metholated aspects of cedarwood or any hint of immortelle. Nor did I smell raw beeswax, as a few have mentioned on Luckyscent, or primarily incense notes. But I suspect that the perfume will change slightly each time one wears it, highlighting different facets and some of the comments on Fragrantica bear out that impression. It is a sign of just how brilliantly it has been blended.
I’d read a lot about Absolue Pour Le Soir’s “dirtiness” before trying it out and I really expected a skank monster filled with unsettling intimacy. I tend to struggle with those notes, so the online comments left me with much trepidation. It’s one thing when someone on Luckyscent says simply, “Dirty bee – very naughty, dirty bee!” But when a highly respected perfume blogger like The Candy Perfume Boy writes that it initially triggered a “fight or flight” reflex and that he originally “chose flight“….. well, one starts to worry a little! Not even the fact that he eventually succumbed to buying a full bottle, rapturously calling it a “beautiful, filthy beast” really allayed my hesitancy. Then again, Absolue Pour Le Soir made The Scented Hound, a perfume blogger who generously gave me a sample of the scent, gush in a way that he rarely does. He wrote that the perfume made him feel “incredibly sexy.” In fact, after succumbing to a full bottle (which seems to be a common theme when it comes to this scent), he later wrote that it “makes me want to take myself on a date.”
I think both bloggers’ assessment of the perfume is absolutely correct. As The Candy Perfume Boy wrote so beautifully, “[i]t is a fragrance that has the power to shock due to its dichotomy of ugliness and beauty.” However, I think that the “shock” will depend significantly on how much exposure you’ve had to really musky perfumes. I reviewed Parfum d’Empire‘s famous (infamous?) Musc Tonkin just last week and I think that may have immunized me from things that others may find to be a filthy, dirty beast. With Absolue Pour Le Soir, there is none of the animalic funk (and faint terror, if truth be told) that I felt at the opening minutes of Musc Tonkin. That was a truly “dirty” monster of an opening — all animalic fat, skin and hair. This is not.
Instead, what I found was something that was definitely musky, yes, but not truly animalic or heavily skanky. It was lovely and approachable and, as time went by, damn seductive! I keep having the insane vision of a bottle of Andy Tauer’s dusty, dry, spicy L’Air du Desert Marocain having a three-way with a large pot of musk and a big vat of honey. Well, that overlooks the bottle of cumin and the big vase of the most lusciously meaty, beefy, dark roses to be found this side of Persia. But you get my point.
Those who love clean, fresh or light scents will not be a fan of Absolue Pour Le Soir. Those who despise cumin notes, musks or rich orientals, likewise. But for everyone else, especially those who love spice or some naughtiness in their scents, I strongly urge you to try a sample. Absolue Pour Le Soir is a very unisex, versatile, luxurious fragrance which would work on a man or a woman, at the office or on a date. It has strong sillage for the first hour, after which it becomes moderate for the next hour before becoming significantly closer to the skin at the third hour. You don’t need to violently inhale at your wrist to smell it, but no-one across the room is going to be bludgeoned on the head by it either. It’s extremely heady, but not overpowering. (Unless you drown yourself in it, in which case, it may be a whole other matter.) And Absolue has fantastic longevity. On my perfume-consuming skin, there were faint traces of it over ten and a half hours later! On Fragrantica, the vast majority of voters put the perfume’s longevity in the highest category (“very long-lasting”).
Plus, by the standards of niche perfumes, it is almost quite affordable. (Well, as “affordable” as this sort of luxury niche perfume can be.) This incredibly high-quality perfume costs $185 for a 2.4 oz bottle – which is almost a third larger than the traditional “small” size of 1.7 oz. Other perfumes of this quality that I have tried have tended to start at $200 (again, for that smaller 1.7 oz quantity), with some going over $300. In my opinion, it is of infinitely better quality than a number of perfumes that I’ve tried from better known houses and that have been in the mid-$200 range. Moreover, it’s a lot more distinctive.
At the end of the day, though, perfume is meant to be a voyage of the senses — both of mind, smell, and imagination. For me, Absolue Pour Le Soir transports me to the Sultan’s harem. It initially conjures up visions of sweaty, musky, leather-clad warriors who have leaped off their mighty steeds just moments before entering the feminine heart of the palace. Later, it makes me feel like the Sultan’s favorite consort — perfumed, indulged, sensuous — as she reclines over brightly-coloured pillows of raw silk, confident in her power and beauty. At the end, in its absolutely intoxicating dry-down phase of honey and amber, it makes me feel as languid as a cat stretching out in the sun.
Warrior or Consort Queen… it’s all just a few drops away.