Perfume Review: Olivier Durbano Black Tourmaline

Black Tourmaline. Source: anobanini.net

Black tourmaline. Source: anobanini.net

Most perfumistas wear fragrances for themselves, for how it makes them feel, and for their own personal olfactory journey. Yet, we all like it when those around us sniff the air with delight or lean in closer, seduced by the glory of the fragrance wafting around us. Unfortunately, my experience with Olivier Durbano‘s Black Tourmaline led to wrinkled noses, pleas that I scrub off the fragrance, or, failing that, remove myself from the immediate vicinity. That’s not a good sign, even if I loved the fragrance. Thankfully for those who sought to have me exiled, I do not.

Black tourmaline. www.rainbowdoorways.com

Black tourmaline. Source: rainbowdoorways.com

Olivier Durbano is a French jewelry designer in Paris who specializes in creations using semi-precious stones. His line of fragrances now number eight in total, each one inspired by a different semi-precious stone. All the perfumes, however, are his own creation and without the assistance of a perfume “nose.” In 2007, Monsieur Durbano released Black Tourmaline which his website describes as follows:

Stone of protection in the former legends, the Black Tourmaline would protect against the pernicious influence[….] It look like bruned wood by her aspect, the oil of earth, the smell of blown flame. […]

Source: Luckyscent

Source: Luckyscent

Eau de Parfum inspired by legend and symbolize of black tourmaline:

Fragrance typewoody, spicy, smoky

Top notes: cardamom, coriander, cumin, frankincense, pepper

Middle notes: smoked wood, oud, leather, precious woods

Base notes: musk, amber, moss, patchouli  [Emphasis in the original.]

Source: Boston.com

Source: Boston.com

Black Tourmaline opens on my skin with a powerful duality of cold, churchy incense and pine notes. Within minutes, the eau de parfum becomes warmer and significantly spicier. Nutty, dusty cardamon merges with fiery pepper and smoky woods to quickly dispel the subtle, soapy, white, High Church-like incense. Myrrh (or olibanum) is not listed as one of the notes in Black Tourmaline, but it really feels as though it’s there. There has to be, especially given the almost licorice-like, salty, aniseed undertone to the bouquet. In the base, a subtle sweetness starts to grow, while, up top, the strength of the incense creates almost a burnt feel.

Something about that burnt, smoky blackness brings to mind birch tar. Like the myrrh, birch is not listed as part of Black Tourmaline’s notes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a part of the fragrance as well. Here, the note is not mentholated at all, and it never feels electric or soldered as it is in Tauer‘s Lonestar Memories, but the burnt, black, viscous, thicky smoked aroma here definitely feel similar to that of the birch tree. I’m also reminded of a different scent. Something about the spiciness, the hints of sweetness underlying the scent, and that burnt, sharp, black smokiness all together makes me think of the “opium” accord in Profumum Roma‘s Fiore d’Ambra. Black Tourmaline is a wholly different fragrance, but the burnt, smoking opium character of both the incense and the burnt woods here feels similar.

Beijing's Hongluo Temple. Source: topbeijingtravel.com

Beijing’s Hongluo Temple. Source: topbeijingtravel.com

Five minutes in, Black Tourmaline turns deeper. Rich resins with a nutty, deeply balsamic, toffee character mix with the cardamom, smoky woods, incense, and burnt licorice note to create a very different fragrance from the cold, wintery, church feel of the opening. This is now a church incense fragrance only if the church in question were a very dusty, ancient Buddhist temple in Beijing or Kyoto. Black Tourmaline is increasingly dry, dusty, sweet, spicy, fiery, resinous, slightly piney, tarry, and hugely smoky — and it’s quite intriguing. As the perfume grows sweeter and richer, flecks of amber now join the mix, as does the merest hint of beeswax. At the fifteen minute mark, the coriander leaves start to become noticeable, adding a lemony nuance to the pine or fir-tree element.

Black Tourmaline shifts and morphs in its nuances quite a bit in the first hour. Notes come and go with increasing rapidity. First, it’s the beeswax which becomes quite pronounced, standing in equal measure with the pine-fir, the sharp frankincense, and the subtle touches of resin. A few minutes after that, there is a subtle leather nuance that pops up, but it quickly fades away. At times, there is a bouquet of amorphous, dry woods which lurks around the edges, adding further depth to the pine note, but they don’t last long either. The cardamon and licorice fade away equally quickly, retreating to the outskirts of Black Tourmaline where they have a subtle effect on the fragrance but are not distinguishable in any individual, concrete form.

Source: chaoswallpapers.com

Source: chaoswallpapers.com

In fact, the very fast revolving door of notes is one of my problems with Black Tourmaline. All these elements sound great, and would have added much-needed complexity or depth to the fragrance if they stayed. But they don’t. Instead, in the blink of an eye, Black Tourmaline starts to slowly devolve into scent that is primarily pine evergreens with sharp incense and tarry blackness atop a thin, small layer of sweetness. It doesn’t take 30 minutes for the fragrance to take on a nebulous, hazy feel, and for the pine to bulldoze over almost everything else in its path. By the end of the first hour, Black Tourmaline feels completely flat, and is largely just pine with burnt incense on my skin. Many of the other notes — from the cardamom to the amber, the beeswax, dust, and coriander lemon — have retreated to a blurry speck in the horizon. A few of them (the licorice and leather, in particular) seem to have vanished completely. Only the sweet resinous base with its subtle tinge of birch tar remains.

Source: picstopin.com

Source: picstopin.com

And this is where the real problem lies. As the pine top note increases in prominence on my skin and the other notes (except for the smoke) fade away, Black Tourmaline starts to smell somewhat unpleasant. Pine is always a very tricky note in perfumery; fragrances built primarily around it can easily tip into the “household cleaning product” category, or into something resembling car fresheners in terms of people’s mental associations. Serge Lutens circumvented that problem with his Fille en Aiguilles by making the fragrance as much about spiced plum molasses and frankincense smoke as it was about the evergreens. (For me, actually, more so.) Black Tourmaline, however, lacks the sweetness of the Lutens, and its focus isn’t so spread out between different accords. Instead, Black Tourmaline starts to become increasing myopic in vision, focused on just a barrage of pine with incense, and very little else else.

pine-solIt was a huge problem for those who were around me as I tested the fragrance. Initially, it was just a comment about “lemon.” Then, quickly, the comment turned into mutters about “Pine-Sol,” the piney-lemon household cleaning product. Less than three hours later, when Black Tourmaline was full-on, hardcore, smoky pine, there was an actual plea that I wash it off “now” or, failing that, “leave.” Though it was said with affection, my dinner companions simply couldn’t bear it any more. There was even a strangled moan about how I smelled like “toilet bowl cleaner.” (It was expressly suggested to me that I do a side-by-side comparison, because “I bet you they’re the same.”)

Green Shield Pine Toilet Bowl cleaner. Source: iHerb.com

Green Shield Pine Toilet Bowl cleaner. Source: iHerb.com

I hate to admit it, but they’re right. My skin simply doesn’t work well with Black Tourmaline for a good portion of its lifespan. In fact, the perfume’s flat, singular, pine-dominated nature somehow becomes worse by the end of the second hour. It lacks any major nuance or body, and the sillage has dropped, though apparently not enough for my dinner companions’ liking. (I was starting to get some glares at this point, and one person tried to move their chair further away.) Black Tourmaline now hovers just above the skin as a blur of incense-infused pine oil atop a thin, subtle, base layer of resinous, tarry sweetness. At the end of the third hour, a tiny whiff of soapy myrrh returns, but all that does is to create a slightly clean, room freshener impression. By the time the fifth hour rolls around, yes, I do, in fact, smell exactly like Pine-Sol “toilet bowl cleaner” mixed with black, smoky accords. Black Tourmaline sits right on the skin at this point, though the sharpness of the incense is still extremely potent when smelled up close. 

Relief is around the corner, however, when Black Tourmaline’s final drydown commences. You may not believe me when I say that Black Tourmaline turns into something truly lovely, but it does. Around the start of the seventh hour, the bloody pine note finally starts to retreat, and the other elements have a chance to compete. The birch tar and darkly sugared resins rise up from the base, and become much more noticeable. By the middle of the eighth hour, they fully join the other players on the main stage, turning Black Tourmaline into a very sweet, warm, richly smoked, resinous fragrance with dry woods and birch tar, and only a whisper of pine. There are also flickers of sweetened leather that pop up from time to time, too. Eventually, the remaining traces of pine fade away entirely, leaving only the base notes alongside the black incense. In its final moments, Black Tourmaline is merely abstract smoky, woody sweetness with a touch of tar. The whole thing was gorgeous; how I wish it had been that way from the start!

Source: spicewallpaper.blogspot.com

Source: spicewallpaper.blogspot.com

All in all, Black Tourmaline lasted just short of 11 hours on my skin. The sillage was initially very strong, and seriously forceful, but it turned much more moderate after a few hours. However, someone standing very close to you will (as I learnt) find the perfume’s projection to be quite potent and unbearably intense for the first five hours or so. Consequently, I would recommend using caution in application if you want to wear Black Tourmaline to work, and if you work in a conservative environment with perfume-sensitive co-workers. 

People’s reactions to Black Tourmaline generally tend to be enormously positive and hardly anyone seems to have had my experience with the fragrance. Take, for example, the review from Robin at Now Smell This:

The opening is a rush of spices, with plenty of pepper and cumin (other notes: cardamom, coriander, frankincense, smoked wood, oud, leather, precious woods, musk, amber, moss and patchouli). The dry down is dusty-smoky and dry, and smells like incense, smoldering logs and warm earth. There is a touch of leather, slightly scorched, and a touch of human sweat, and the slightest hint of something vaguely medicinal. Only a perfumista (or a crazy person), I suppose, could write those last two sentences and then follow with how absolutely wonderful Black Tourmaline smells?

I said Black Tourmaline was churchy, but it is a deeper and darker scent than Comme des Garçons Avignon (my own gold standard for church incense), in fact, it is more of everything than Avignon: more spice, more smoke, more wood; and while there is nothing feminine about Avignon, Black Tourmaline has a rougher, more obviously masculine slant. Black Tourmaline has a kind of swagger about it that is in stark contrast to Avignon’s austerity, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many people found it to be just too much. [¶] I love it, but I’m not sure it’s something I’d wear just anywhere.

The love fest continues on Fragrantica where there are repeated references to how the perfume is a “masterpiece” or a “piece of art.” As with the NST reviewer, it’s perhaps a little too much beautiful “art” for a couple of fans: they don’t feel they could wear Black Tourmaline all year round, or find it to be a very versatile, easy scent, no matter how much they love it. Some of the admirers get a “gothic” vibe from the fragrance, and one person thinks it conjures up images of an ancient pagan ceremony. However, a few are left a bit bewildered by such comparisons, stating that they don’t see it at all or that Black Tourmaline merely feels like a classic men’s fragrance. One commentator said he found its resemblance to Polo to be “quite discomforting.” (I don’t see the comparison to Polo at all!) A tiny handful find Black Tourmaline to be an okay scent but somewhat over-priced, especially when compared to other famously dark, smoky, black scents like Nasomatto‘s Black Afghano. Yet, as a whole, the reviews are extremely laudatory, and they’re multiplied even more so on Luckyscent where almost everyone gushes about the smoky campfire woods and incense.

Source: Wallsave.com

Source: Wallsave.com

Rare as it is, there are some vocal dissenters. On Fragrantica, only two people wholeheartedly hate Black Tourmaline, writing:

  • Oh man, I hate this, it smells like burnt rubber, or burnt wood that’s been peed on. No, no, a million times no.
  • Main thing that stands out is tar, wtf? [¶] Really why would anyone want to smell like you just got off a crew taring a roof at minimum wage?

There are only a handful of haters on Luckyscent as well. The most amusing comment comes from the woman who spent two hours trying to scrub Black Tourmaline off her skin and who loathed the fragrance so much that she thought of buying it for her ex-husband. “[I]t would be great for revenge.”

A few people on Luckyscent astutely note that you really have to have the right skin chemistry for Black Tourmaline, and I think that’s absolutely correct. My skin obviously brought out the pine, the smoke, and very little else for a good chunk of Black Tourmaline’s lifespan. I’m afraid I simply don’t like pine as a primary note, even when it is infused with incense. And, no matter how much I liked that gorgeous drydown phase, I would never spend a lot of money to smell like “toilet bowl cleaner” to people around me. However, it would probably be a different matter if I were one of the many people whose Black Tourmaline experience was almost all smoky incense mixed with some combination of dark woods, oud, leather, and spices.

Regardless of how the perfume manifested itself on my skin, you may want to test Black Tourmaline for yourself if you adore very dark, smoky, woody, somewhat masculine fragrances. Too many people have had an experience wholly different to mine, and your skin chemistry may turn Black Tourmaline into the fantastic, smoky, woody beauty that so many people adore. Black Tourmaline is not a fragrance to buy blindly, however, even if the perfume were easily available. As of this moment, it’s not — unless you buy Black Tourmaline directly from Olivier Durbano himself. In terms of retail vendors, I have the impression Luckyscent in Los Angeles is the only retailer (possibly worldwide) that carries the fragrance, but they’re not currently shipping any out until February 2014! Judging by a few of the comments on Luckyscent’s Black Tourmaline page, and my difficulty in finding any other retailers (anywhere) who sell the perfume, there seems to be something going on with both the pricing and vendor access to the fragrance. I’m afraid I have no idea of what or why.

Have you tried Black Tourmaline? If so, how was it on you?

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Black Tourmaline is an eau de parfum that comes only in a 100 ml/3.4 oz size and which costs €150. There seems to be an issue about its U.S. price which I’ve read was once increased from $125 to $200, but which seems to be down to $150 now on Luckyscent. Unfortunately, the latter site says it won’t or can’t ship bottles for another six months (!) until February 2014. I’ve also read in the comments there that Black Tourmaline is not available from any other retail vendor. I’m not sure if I can believe that, but I have not been able to find the perfume available for purchase anywhere else except directly through Olivier Durbano’s e-Store. It costs €150, and I believe he ships all over. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for a 1 ml vial. Luckyscent also sells samples.
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41 thoughts on “Perfume Review: Olivier Durbano Black Tourmaline

  1. The opening sounds so good, and so does the end! Unfortunately, the opening sounds like it cycles through very quickly, and the end — well, you have to wait an eternity to get there! At least you know what to wear when you want to be left alone! 😛

    • The end is truly gorgeous, and the opening 15 minutes or so smolder beautifully. I wish so much that my entire experience were like that of others — and without almost 6.5 hours of Pine-Sol. Damn my wonky skin. *sigh*

  2. Oh dear, I was so intrigued to hear what you had to say about this perfume but it just doesn’t seem to evoke an impression of the actual stone to me at all.
    Black tourmaline as a crystal is about as grounding as you can get (if you are into that kind of thing, which I am.) It is nothing much to look at, opaque and dense, but is superbly calming and brilliant for when anxiety and stress are obliterating clear thinking. I think if you make a perfume and call it Black Tourmaline, it should smell of the earth, of damp soil and smooth, warm wood. Of sweet tea and calming herbs and fresh air. There doesn’t seem to be any place for all that churchy incense and heavy pine. It may look like a dark, gothic stone but it’s benefits are quite the opposite. I find it interesting that someone with experience of working with semi precious stones would create a fragrance based solely (or so it would seem) on it’s look. This could have been a wonderful, healing scent. I guess not though eh? 😉

    • Oh, how fascinating to hear about the stone itself! Thank you, Susie, for sharing that. I’m afraid I know absolutely zero about semi-precious stones or Black Tourmaline in particular. Does it really help in calming and taking away anxiety? How, by rubbing the stone? And does it actually have a sort of smell, or is that your association with the stone? Does it really smell of damp soil, sweet tea, warm wood and fresh hour? If so, wow! I find all this so incredibly interesting. Given how you’ve described the stone and its smell, it definitely seems as though Monsieur Durbano went for the visual associations of the stone, and not the rest of it.

      • Ha! No it doesn’t smell like anything. It resembles completely opaque black glass in its polished form and in it’s rough state is striated and slightly greyish in places. Crystal healing works on a vibrational level, the theory is that different stones resonate at different energetic frequencies, thereby effecting mood and healing the body. I am a total magpie and mainly started to learn about crystals because they were pretty. I wouldn’t say that I am a complete advocate of the healing properties of crystals, I believe that the majority of their ‘effects’ are psychological. Having said that though, if you start to associate an object with a positive effect then you will start to feel better because your mood will lift. The scent analogy was just me thinking of smells that I would associate with feeling grounded and calm and secure.

  3. Sorry that Black Tourmaline turned this weird on your skin. I remember trying it in the past but I cannot remember how it smelled on me. I certainly remember writing about Heliotrope which I found nice but not very good for me. From Durbano line I adore Pink Quartz.
    Caro suggested Rock Crystal. I did not like it in edp form but a roomspray smelled great

  4. I loved the opening of Black Tourmaline, and I bought a decant solely on my love for Heliotrope. It does this weird thing on me where it just sits there all smoky and dark and angry, never really becoming a part of my own scent. It just sits in a corner pouting, then shuffling away, tries to slam the door on the way out, but is too weak to manage that. Just unimpressive. I just got a sample of Pink Quartz with my new FB of 1725, so I will let you know what I think of that. I am sort of scared to hear your review of Heliotrope, cause I am so thin skinned, and always take everything too personally. I am steeling myself for the worst right now!!!!

    • “It just sits in a corner pouting, then shuffling away, tries to slam the door on the way out, but is too weak to manage that.” — This made me laugh to no end. Absolutely hilarious! I have to say, I can’t see Black Tourmaline being your thing at all. It seems a little too “butch,” to use Suzanne’s perfect description for it. I think it’s the slightly burnt, tarry aspect.

  5. Amusing! 😀 I do love green notes and incense, but I would never wear a male fragrance and that´s it, only female scents for me, but that comment about an ancient pagan church or ceremony made my eyes open, simply because I´m such a history lover and anything ancient, from a place, to a scent, to an object or an atmosphere, makes me happy. Lol your friends sure are daring Kafka, your experience reminded me my traumatizing experience with Cacharel´s Noa, even though it wasn´t so much bad chemistry but the fact that I had spayed the perfume on myself about 30 times! My fault I know, and I´m sure everyone wanted me to leave the classroom, since even the teacher immediately opened all the windows and the ventilators once I entered the classroom, but still no one dared to tell me that I stink or that I should leave, and we are talking college students here 😛 , your friends are definitely daring and must be truly close to you, believe me Kafka I know how you felt.

    • Oh gosh, your Noa experience…..! And THIRTY sprays??!?!!!! *faints* I don’t know whether to laugh or just be awed at your guts. Hahaha, 30 sprays of anything is killer. I bet you were anosmic to the scent, and didn’t know it was emanating from you because you couldn’t smell it. As for the Black Tourmaline, it would totally NOT be your thing at all!

  6. Dear Kafka, I sympathize with what you had to go through but after reading a short version of it elsewhere, since I’ve never planned on testing this line ever, I just cannot make myself to go through the detailed description of your painful journey. But thank you for the warning 😉

    • You’re welcome, my dear. Truth be told, even if this perfume went as planned and as it was supposed to, I still don’t think it would be very you. It’s not remotely your style! 🙂

    • LOL! I was smelling much better by the end, but it came too late for them. 😉 But, you know, I think you’d like Black Tourmaline if it manifested itself on your skin the way it does on everyone else. It has a sort of Amouage-like smoky intensity. “Butch” as Suzanne called it, but a bit more than that with the resins. If you ever come across it, I really would recommend you trying it. I think it would be up your alley.

  7. This just sounds abysmal and is made up of everything that I dislike in a perfume. I never want to smell like an old smokey building. I am always surprised that others do. As for the juice in the bottle, it looks like somebody did some cleaning and then poured the dirty water into the bottle. Boy am I cranky or what??!!!! Sorry for your bad experience. Thankfully you have kept me away from this.

  8. Pine-sol. How sad. I still want to try this even if I don’t want to smell like it maybe I would like it just to sniff now and then. Although it does sound like it tries too hard and is just too much of everything as a result.

  9. I agree with Susie- this doesn’t sound at all like black tourmaline should be. I could see a little pine, maybe, but it’s definitely an earth stone and should have that scent. Your poor dining companions! Did you scrub it off or go into exile?

    • I had to go into exile, as I needed to finish the test and couldn’t scrub it off. LOL! 😀 I found the whole thing to be very funny, though they weren’t as amused. As for the stone, I find all the discussion about its earth nature to be really interesting. I definitely seems as though Olivier Durbano went with black tourmaline’s appearance instead of its natural associations. Then again, the blurb on his website seems to indicate he was inspired by the legends surrounding the stone and the medieval impression of its nature.

  10. He he. Now you know what to wear when you want be left alone. 😀

    Was it your parents, Kafka, who wanted to exile you? LOL, I remember you said that they have some very discerning noses.

    Black Tourmaline is best for layering, in my opinion. I don’t get the pine-sol, but it is quite “brut” – and I like to use it to add a layer of aridity to sweeter perfumes.

    • “Brut” yes, definitely. I’d add “butch,” too, as well! I’m glad you didn’t get any Pine-Sol. Damn my stupid skin. As for layering, I think that’s quite clever and might definitely work, if the top fragrance was strong enough not to be completely overpowered.

  11. Pingback: Jovoy Paris Private Label: Mad Max’s Smoked Vetiver Leather | Kafkaesque

  12. So I’ve been feeling a little nauseous for the past few days (oh, well, let’s be honest: I’ve been hungover!) and I should not have doused myself with Black Tourmaline having never had any prior experience with its potency. You know I love me some incense! But oh man. In my notes, I wrote cold, mentholated, medicinal smoke on top of a weirdly amber base. And I was loving it until the medicinal, mentholated, and weirdly familiar parts of Black Tourmaline took over. I was killing myself (and making my hangover worse) trying to figure out what the heck it was. Then I looked back at your review, and yes, dearest Kafka, Black Tourmaline turns toilet bowl cleaner on me too 😦 It’s like I hosed my toilet down with Lysol and then locked myself in the bathroom with a burning censer, a handful of moss, and a Werther’s Original Candy 😦

    However, I do get this weird feeling that I could grow to love smelling like a clean toilet. I’ll try to test it again when I’m sober!

    • Oh God, reading your post and description of Black Tourmaline took me straight back after all these months. I recall vividly how the people I was with recoiled at the toilet bowl smell, and some of the nasty glares I received. lol. So, that same smell popped up on you too…. oh dear. I know how much you love super dark, incense-y fragrances. You’ll have to let me know if you grow to love Black Tourmaline if you try it when you’re feeling less nauseous and hungover. LOL (I’m dubious…. 😉 )

      • Admittedly, I view my vial of Black Tourmaline with the same expression on my face as when I look at a bottle of Jägermeister. A memory I’m not that enthusiastic to relive too soon. I actually ended up scrubbing. If only it didn’t smell like a flaming bottle of toilet bowl cleaner on me!

        But if I do try it again, I will definitely report back 🙂

        • My suggestion: use a male friend with similar tastes as you as a guinea pig. If he ends up recoiling too, then give it up.

          (Actually, I would give it up entirely, but I’m trying to be diplomatic about Black Tourmaline. It has to be lovely on other people, right? Someone, somewhere??? lol)

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