Masque Fragranze Montecristo

Source: opserver.de

Source: opserver.de

Welcome to the jungle, as Axl Rose would say. Somewhere, perhaps in Paraguay, Africa, or Mongolia, a leather and fur-skin clad hunter called Montecristo stalks his prey through a jungle filled with tobacco plants and Cabreuva trees smelling of lemony florals. The trees are sprinkled with red chili pepper, cumin and costus root, then heavily blanketed in honey. The ground is a soft field of creamy brown from ambrette shrubs that waft a warm, vegetal, muskiness sweetness. They too are covered with honey. Scampering through the vegetation is the fluffiest, most adorable animal imaginable. He occasionally stops to pee on all the bushes, emitting a sharp, feral “YEOOWWL” in happy relief, as his scent swirls with the honey, spices and tobacco.

Source: godlikeproductions.com

Source: godlikeproductions.com

On his heels is the hunter whose heated skin and sweat stains the rough leather of his vest. The chase is hopeless, our little rodent is too fast, and the hunter goes home. Covered with honey, he’s dirty and skanky from his exertions, and his musky skin is stained with traces of tobacco and sweaty leather. As he sips a glass of rum, his wife sponges him off lightly, leaving a mix of cleanness and animalism on his warm skin, before she takes him off to bed to make love.

The adventures of Montecristo the Hunter are the adventures at the heart of the latest masculine, niche fragrance from Milan. Montecristo is an eau de parfum from Masque Milano, or Masque Fragranze as it is written on their website. (The house is better known as Masque Milano, so that is what I shall call them from this point forward.) The company is a relatively new, and was founded in 2012 by two close friends, Riccardo Tedeschi and Alessandro Brun.

Masque Milano founders. Source: their website.

Masque Milano founders. Source: their website.

They see their fragrances as operas in several acts, even calling their brand at one place on their website: “Masque Fragranze – the Opera of life in four acts.” They add:

With Masque Fragranze, Alessandro and Riccardo do not intend to create a myth, a best-seller, a one-size-fits-all perfume for everyone. Rather, they aim at creating a collection of perfumes with a soul. Each one unique. Perfumes to wear like a second skin … the perfume behind the mask. […] The fragrances of Masque are to be created with a soul, and the nose’s appointment is to give life to our scene. Hence, every scene will have “its” nose.

Source: Luckyscent.

Source: Luckyscent.

In the case of Montecristo, an eau de parfum which was released late last year in 2013, that nose is Delphine Thierry. On their website, Masque Fragranze describes Montecristo and its operatic screenplay as follows:

I – II
MONTECRISTO
In the livingroom of an old villa, in the Tuscan countryside.
It is the close of day.

Act I scene two
Every single element of the interior contributes to the warmth and reassuring comfort. The floor of old robust wood planks, aged and worn with the use. In the massive fireplace, coals are still burning. The comfortable couch is made of the best leather, once stout and rigid, and spotlessly tanned, is now soft and worn, and the colour is fading away. A deck of used playing cards abandoned on the coffee table. The tobacco leaves of the hand rolled cigar. A glass of rum.

Head Notes
Cabreuva, Ambrette Seeds, Rum

Heart Notes
Tobacco Leaves, Celery Seeds, Cistus [Labdanum], Benzoin

Base Notes
Golden Stone [Hyrax], Styrax Gum, Gaiac Wood, Cedar Wood, Patchouli. [Emphasis in bolding added by me.]

The Cabreuva tree. Source: purenature.co.nz

The Cabreuva tree. Source: purenature.co.nz

Two of those notes leapt out at me as something totally alien, so I did some research. As it turns out, those two ingredients play a big role in terms of Montecristo’s development on my skin, so I’ll take some time to explain what they entail. Apparently, “Cabreuva” is a type of tree found primarily in Paraguay. The aromatherapy site, White Lotus Aromatics, explains its smell and perfume uses:

The essential oil of Cabreuva (Myrocarpus fastigiatus) is a pale yellow liquid displaying a delicate, suave, sweet woody bouquet with a balsamic, floral undertone of good tenacity. […][¶] It is highly valued as a low cost fixative.

“Although very delicated and apparently faint, the odor of Cabreuva oil is often under-estimated in its effect of freshness and suave floral notes. In rose, lily of the valley, cassie, ambre and in woody-oriental perfumes, Cabreuva lends teancity and distinct notes of ‘precious wood’ with a background of slightly green, dry floralness, a combination rarely found in synthetic perfume materials.” Steffen Arctander

I have absolutely no idea what “golden stone” may be as an ingredient, and Google yielded nothing that applied, but the note appears to be what Fragrantica lists as Hyrax on its Montecristo page. According to its Hyrax definition entry, the hyrax is a small, adorably cute rodent whose feces have a super useful purpose in both ancient and modern perfumery. The Hyrax is the single, most important element in Masque Milano’s Montecristo, so bear with me as I quote from Fragrantica:

Hyrax via Fragrantica.

Hyrax via Fragrantica.

Odor profile: essence from the small rodent hyrax’s dried up crystalline fecal matter, combining olfactory facets of musk, civet and castoreum. Invaluable in a time when animalic essences derived by cruelty are banned. [¶]

Hyraceum, or Hyrax, is an aromatic raw material of the antique perfumery. However, men used this material much before they started to use it in perfumery. The African tribesman and people of the Middle East used Hyraceum as a traditional remedy for epilepsy, kidney problems, convulsions and feminine hormonal disorders. [¶] This substance is actually the petrified and rock-like excrement formed from the urine of hyrax. Hyraceum is fairly sterile, stone-hard material that also contains pheromones[….]

Photo: Fragrantica

Photo: Fragrantica

In perfumery, we use very old, fossilized, dry and stone-heavy Hyraceum, which is typically over hundreds if not thousands of years old. It gives an animalistic, sensual and deep note that feels like a combination of musk, civet, castoreum, tobacco and agarwood. Because of its characteristic structure, this material is also known as Africa Stone. Earthy, rich and resinous[….] Last but not the least, no animals are harmed in making this material. [Emphasis added by me.]

When I smelled Masque’s Montecristo in the vial, I was struck by the softly lemony, floral musk aroma and how it glittered with drops of golden honey. Taking a deeper sniff, I could immediately see the feral yeowl in the back, but the primary impression was a lemon-infused “slightly green, dry floralness,” as quoted in Cabreuva’s description up above. When you apply a small dose of Montecristo on the skin, that bouquet continues to be very dominant, though it is not the main player by any means. It’s quite another story, however, if you apply a lot of Montecristo; in my case, about 3 good smears amounting to more than 1/4th of a 1 ml vial, or about the equivalent of one spray from a bottle. This review will focus primarily on what happens in that situation.

Amouage Opus VIIMontecristo opens on my skin with a lightly floral, woody muskiness, but the fluffy, cute hyrax rodent’s yeowl is evident from the start. The animalic notes are urinous, dirty, skanky, raunchy, and every other adjective that you can possibly imagine. I was immediately struck by the thought of vintage Kouros, and, to a much lesser extent, Amouage‘s Opus VII. Parts of what I wrote in that review apply here as well, as Montecristo’s scent is

urinous, like animal droppings, but also musky with a faint tinge of dirty hair underneath and [lemony nuances]. […] [The] sharply animalic note — often described by some as resembling “urinal cakes” — makes vintage Kouros a deeply polarizing fragrance. I suspect the same will be true of Opus VII. … [As a whole,] it is a deeply woody-leathery fragrance that feels quite smooth, with a savagely sensuous heart at its base and something that seems almost like a velvety floral.

Both vintage Kouros and Opus VII contain costus, an animalic base created by Symrise. There is no such note listed in Montecristo, but hyrax was described up above as having an aroma that combined the olfactory profiles of civet, castoreum, and real musk, presumably of the original Tonkin deer musk variety. So, if you’re familiar with any of those aromas, or with Opus VII, then you will have a definite idea of the main note in Montecristo’s opening hour. However, I should add that the costus-like aroma in Montecristo is substantially weaker than what I experienced with Opus VII. There, it was so intense and sharp that I described feeling as though a lion had peed on me and then dragged me through the Wild Cat enclosure at the zoo. Montecristo is nowhere as extreme, thank God, as I found Opus VII well-nigh unbearable. In contrast, I truly enjoy every bit of Montecristo’s raunchy dirtiness.

Source: etshoneysupliers.

Source: etshoneysupliers.

Part of the reason why is because the animalism is much better modulated in Montecristo, but the main reason is due to its combination with the other notes. Sharing center stage with the hyrax musk is deep, potent honey. It infuses every part of the scent with a further animalic touch, but also with a rich sweetness that is almost indolic. My skin amplifies base notes, so I’m not surprised that the honey is so dominant, but I wish I knew where it came from. Cabreuva wood is described as being balsamic, not honeyed, so I’m quite lost. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of the rum, though the note doesn’t feel liqueured to me but more like straight honey.

Lurking underneath it is a quiet spiciness that slowly grows more fiery. It takes less than 4 minutes for something to appear that distinctly resembles dusty cumin, followed by what smells distinctly like a fiery, red chili pepper. There is also a natural, vegetal, very warm muskiness from the ambrette (or musk mallow) stirring deep in the base. More noticeable from the start, though, are the golden leaves of tobacco which weave their way throughout the musk and feel drenched with the honey. Lightly sprinkled on top of the whole bundle is a light, boozy note of rum. The overall mixture is a plethora of warmth, feral sharpness, sharp honey, natural sweetness, tobacco, spices, and vegetal musk.

Source: thesportshole.com

Source: thesportshole.com

I find myself utterly transfixed by the animalic muskiness of the hyrax and, more to the point, all the different perfumes that Montecristo calls to mind. The urinous edge to the musk makes Montecristo different than Parfums d’Empire‘s challenging Musc Tonkin which, on my skin, opened with an extremely difficult aroma of hair, fur, fat and unwashed skin. Yet, there is a warmth underlying both fragrances, thanks to their shared note of ambrette. Montecristo feels like a more honeyed, tobacco-flecked, boozy, and ambered version of Musc Tonkin’s later, easier stages, once the fur and fat have died down. On the other hand, Montecristo is different in having the spices, as well as the lingering, extremely muted touches of the Cabreuva’s lemony, floral greenness at its edges.

Absolue Pour Le Soir, Photo pastiche: CaFleurBon

Absolue Pour Le Soir, Photo pastiche: CaFleurBon

At the 10 minute mark, the honeyed, urinous raunchiness grows stronger, as does the cumin-chili spiciness, thereby triggering similarities to other fragrances. On both occasions that I tested Montecristo and regardless of the quantity that I applied, the first parallel that arose was Absolue Pour Le Soir by Maison Francis Kurkdjian. Both scents have the same heavily honeyed focus, infused with cumin, leathered undertones, dirty musk, and ambered spiciness at the beginning. There are differences, though, as Montecristo has a chili bite (from God knows where), not to mention tobacco and booze, but no incense or strong florals. With a much lesser quantity, Montecristo’s more tobacco-centered bouquet reminded me of a distant cousin to Serge LutensChergui. A very distant cousin, as this would be an animalic, feral Chergui with spices, more amber, a thousand times more honey, darker woodiness, and no powder.

Special, limited-edition, rare bell jar bottle of Muscs Koublai Khan. Source: Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Special, limited-edition, rare bell jar bottle of Muscs Koublai Khan. Source: Serge Lutens Facebook page.

The main resemblance, however, is to another Serge Lutens fragrance: the magnificent, complicated, notorious Muscs Koublai Khan. If you apply only a small quantity of Montecristo, the musk smells similar, perhaps because the shared ambrette note, though the Masque Milano version is significantly sweeter with that powerful, animalic honey. If you use more, then Montecristo’s urinous, costus-like side is much fiercer, sharper, and rougher than it is in Musc Koublai Khan, not as smooth or refined. The more obvious, early differences are the tobacco, boozy rum, and that odd, inexplicable spice mix of cumin and chili pepper tonalities. Yet, once Montecristo’s opening mellows out and smoothens, especially three or four hours in, then the similarity to the Lutens is much closer. Perhaps the best way to sum up Montecristo’s first two hours on my skin is as a combination of Musc Koublai Khan, Absolue Pour Le Soir, and Serge Lutens’ Miel de Bois, before it eventually transitions into something more like Musc Koublai Khan mixed with lemony oud, dark resins, and leather. (We’ll get to those notes shortly.)

All this talk of Absolue Pour Le Soir brings me to another point: honey and skin chemistry. Honey — whether real or the side-effect of another note — is one of the trickier elements in perfumery. On some skin, it can turn screechingly sharp, akin to cat pee, plastic, or both. On others, however, it blooms. I happen to be one of the lucky ones, with the rather glaring exception of Miel de Bois. The one time I tested it was a rather horrific experience, though I plan on giving it a thorough, full assessment at some point in the future. My point, though, is that you may want to keep the skin chemistry issue in mind if you’re curious about Montecristo but don’t know how your skin traditionally deals with honey. And, as should obviously be clear by now, if you can’t stand any sort of animalic, dirty musk, or cumin notes in your perfumes, you will want to give Montecristo wide berth.

If the discussion of animalic honey and musk, costus, feral notes, rodent pee, cumin and the rest has you alarmed, well, Montecristo is a lot more balanced than you’d think. The perfume moves a bit like the shape of an “M” on a graph, where it opens softly, builds up mere minutes later, and feels pretty ferocious after 15 minutes. Yet, even at that point, changes are occurring to soften the impact, counter the animalic “Yeowl” that I keep referencing, and start the transition downwards to something much more approachable in nature. A quarter of an hour in, a soft, almost powdered creaminess stirs in the base. It’s lovely, reminding me of white honey beeswax butter or cream. Slowly, very slowly, it helps to take the edge of the urinous raunchiness, diffusing its slightly acidic sharpness. Also making its first appearance is a dried woodiness that, at lower doses of Montecristo, had a distinctly oud-like aroma.

Photo: Samuel S.  Photo-men.com

Photo: Samuel S. Photo-men.com

It takes exactly 28 minutes for Montecristo to lose some of its ferocity on my skin, and to begin the slow transition to a smoother, less aggressively sharp fragrance. All the same elements are there as in the opening, but the raw, hard edges are being coated with a honeyed creaminess and satiny mellowness. I really think the ambrette plays a large part in all this, as its musky aroma is of the ultra-smooth, vegetal, plush variety. For me, its warmth is akin to the real scent of human skin, but clean, warm, skin the way it after a long, deep nap under a thick blanket. Montecristo’s musk isn’t at that stage yet, but it does show the first touches of a baby-soft, human fuzziness about it.

If I’m not talking loads about the tobacco, it’s because it really wasn’t the dominant note on my skin. In neither of my two tests of Montecristo did it trump the musk. In fact, the tobacco felt significantly weaker when I applied a greater quantity of Montecristo, as the honey and animalic musk were amplified.

At the end of the first hour, Montecristo turns softer in weight, density, and silage. The perfume is now a cloud radiating 2-3 inches above the skin, as soft as a baby’s chenille blanket in feel. It is primarily a warm, vegetal, sweet musk that really evokes for me the feel of human skin. It is still urinous and animalic, but the dirty side is much softer, more muted and smoother. With every passing quarter-hour, the urinous edge seems to take another tiny step back to the sidelines to join the tiny dabs of tobacco, boozy rum, and that rather nebulous whisper of woodiness.

Photo: Samuel S. via trendhunter.com

Photo: Samuel S. via trendhunter.com

As a whole, the musk feels much more velvety, deep, and creamier than it is in Serge Lutens’ Muscs Koublai Khan (“MKK“). What I can’t seem to decide is whether the note is more or less feral than it is in the Lutens at a similar stage. In other words, the degree of pee. (The MKK was never fecal on my skin as it is on some people.) At various points in my notes, I wrote that Montecristo’s urinous yeowl softens much, much sooner than the same note does in MKK. On my skin, MKK has a quieter urinous, dirty, musky note at the start, relatively speaking, but it seems to last much longer than it does with Montecristo. In fact, when I wore MKK this summer, the feral bits were very sharp on me at times as well.

Yet, every time in the first few hours that I think that Masque’s Montecristo has settled into something not as animalic, something that is closer to the fuzziness of MKK’s later stages on my skin, something happens to make me change my mind. The urinous edge fools me, repeatedly, into thinking that it has receded. To be clear, it lasts almost to the very end, but I’m talking about how dominant it is, how long it takes for it to feel less of a dominating presence, and the time it takes for Masque’s Montecristo to approach the softer, “human skin” stage of the Lutens. All I can firmly say is that, as a whole, the musk in the Lutens feels thinner, lighter, and without the creaminess that I sense in Montecristo.

At the 90 minute mark, Montecristo turns drier and darker. The honey is much less dominant, and is folded into the musky base as a whole. The urinous edge is more muffled in feel, as are the tobacco and cumin. The rum and chili pepper have completely vanished. In contrast, the abstract woodiness starts to rise to the surface, along with that growing flicker of something oud-like. After 2.5 hours, Montecristo is a soft, animalic, vaguely dirty, sweetened scent with great warmth, ambrette musk, and leathery accents, all atop an amorphously woody base. Only the lightest touch of honey and tobacco lurk in the background. The perfume also hovers just above the skin at this point, and very weightless in feel.

Leather Tanning in Morocco. Photo by Burrard-Lucas via http://www.burrard-lucas.com/photo/morocco/leather_tanning.html

Raw leather being tanned in Morocco. Photo by Burrard-Lucas via http://www.burrard-lucas.com/photo/morocco/leather_tanning.html

What is interesting throughout Montecristo’s life is the leather undertone. It is never full-on or strongly black leather, but, rather, an impression resulting from the hyrax’s castoreum-like side. And its prominence fluctuates quite sharply. In the opening minutes, Montecristo has a definite whiff of something that made me think of the raw, uncured, animalic hides in Montale‘s Aoud Cuir d’Arabie. The note was quickly subsumed with the general, costus-like, urinous swirl of dirty animalism, but the leather was a definite subtext in the first hour. By the end of the 3rd hour, however, the leather feels unbelievably supple, lurking under the warm muskiness in a way that simply magnifies the latter. The softened, leathered castoreum also makes the warm musk feel incredibly velvety, evoking the feel of heated skin, perhaps after sex. A few hours later, however, the leather regains some rawness, but it’s a rather fluctuating dance back and forth. In all cases, the leather is only an undertone on my skin, and a rather quiet one at that.

Source: imgfave.com. Artist or creator unknown.

Source: imgfave.com. Artist or creator unknown.

Montecristo is beautifully blended, and the notes feel quite seamless at times. I think that explains, in part, the variegated nature of the leather, but it’s not the only note that fluctuates. Once the intensity of the honey dies down, the cumin reappears as well, but this time it’s quite different. Instead of smelling merely like dusty powder in some Moroccan souk, the cumin smells lightly dirty. I don’t want to say “body odor,” because I don’t want to give the impression that the note smells like sweaty, hairy armpits. It doesn’t. It also doesn’t carry a stale, fetid, aroma of someone who hasn’t washed in days. I swear, it really doesn’t. But, yes, there is no getting around the light, earthy whiff of a body scent. God, I can see half of you stampeding for the door by now, as this is probably the very last straw in this whole Montecristo saga. If it makes any difference, it’s all very subtle. I mean it quite sincerely when I say that, if you can handle the cumin note in Absolue Pour Le Soir, you should have no problems with it here.

Montecristo continues to turn darker and woodier. By the end of the 5th hour, the Cabreuva’s lemony touches return, though they now feel underscored by a very fragrant, balsamic, dark resin. The slightest touch of something nebulously floral lurks at the edges, but much more noticeable is the almost agarwood-like nuance to the wood. As a whole, Montecristo increasingly smells of a lemony, slightly oud-like, vaguely dusty, resinous woodiness infused with a warm musk that is simultaneously vegetal and slightly urinous. The honey has been folded within; the tobacco briefly returns before flitting away again; and the leather fluctuates back and forth in strength, smoothness, and prominence. Montecristo remains weightless in feel, and continues to hover just above the skin, requiring little effort to detect its nuances if you bring your arm near your nose.

Source: Zavvi.com

Source: Zavvi.com

It takes about 9 hours from the opening for Montecristo to turn into truly fuzzy musk scent. It is soft, warm, and sweet with just a slight powderiness underlying it. The texture is lovely, as it feels as soft as a petal. Now, finally, it becomes harder to detect, though Montecristo had turned into a skin scent somewhere near the end of the 7th hour. Montecristo turns more and more into the scent of sweetened, slightly heated human skin with a tiny touch of powderiness. It finally fades away on the same note, just over 14 hours from the start. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of its dirtiness and multi-layered complexity, finding its fluctuating, morphing levels to reflect great technical skill, and I remained fascinated with its nuances from start to finish.

There are already a handful of reviews for Montecristo, mostly from people who are drawn to this sort of fragrance to begin with and, as such, they are all very positive. Though I’ll get to the blog reviews shortly, I actually think the forum analysis from places like Basenotes and Fragrantica provides more useful, detailed or comparative information. One early Basenotes thread lovingly called Montecristo a “skanky, little monster,” and the poster, “Alfarom,” talked about Serge Lutens’ MKK:

The opening is literally arresting. A skank overload provided by a thick amount of hirax and other animalic musks. It immediately brings to mind of the fecal opening of MKK but whereas the Lutens morphes into a floral rosey thing, Montecristo gets all dark and moody with tobacco, resins and some of the darkest patchouli ever. Boozy / balmy notes lurk in the back providing some smoothness to an otherwise extremely challenging fragrance. The result is fascinating to say the least. The fragrance is pervaded by a warm animalic vibe throughout. Sort of a mash up between Lubin’s most oriental offerings and heavy animalic musks fragrances a-la Musk Tonkin and MKK.

On Fragrantica, there is similar talk about MKK. One commentator, “deadidol,” had a very different experience than I did with Montecristo, and you may find his wonderfully detailed review to be quite helpful. It reads, in part, as follows:

This has a super dirty opening of hyraceum and ambrette seed that could give MKK a run for its money. But whereas MKK is very civet-based, this leans more toward the sweatier side of things and will certainly challenge those who don’t fair well with hard-core musks. However, within ten minutes, it takes a massive detour into an unconventionality that’s wildly evocative and decidedly convincing in the associations it brings up.

Rum via cafekeyif.com.au

Rum via cafekeyif.com.au

There’s a booze note (rum), but it’s more like the smell of booze that’s oozing from the pores of someone who downed the bottled a few hours ago—it’s got an unnerving filtered feeling to it. […] There are some relatively undefined wood notes, but combined they smell more like old bookshelves and furniture; and there’s something here that gives the impression of an extinguished fire as well. Imagine a poorly ventilated space that’s been coated with a layer of sticky, smoky, charcoal-type residue—a slightly sweet ashy scent, but mixed with dust that’s sat for days to produce a not unpleasant staleness that’s completely comforting. Frankly, it’s quite hard to perform a technical dissection of Montecristo as it’s evoking space more than individual notes, and it’s doing so phenomenally well.

So, this is a dusty, rustic, vaguely reminiscent scent that feels as though you’re looking into its world through an opaque piece of glass. Everything in it seems peculiarly distanced, yet it all comes together in a sublime way. I don’t know how wearable this would be for most people as it almost smells stagnant, but it’s hugely compelling and surprisingly cozy. If you’ve ever been drawn to parchment type scents (or perhaps the smell of old bookstores), or you like the challenge of a good ambrette seed musk, this is absolutely sui generis, and for me, it’s the best scent of 2013 hands-down.

There are female commentators on Fragrantica who seem to like Montecristo too, though there are only a handful of them thus far. One of them initially wrinkled her nose and thought, “this is way too much” but further testing changed her mind: the “more I test “Montecristo”, the more I adore it.” She calls it “a superb example of a true niche perfumer” that is “complex and dramatic.”

Source: Dailymail.com from Tradewinds Realty.

Old trapper’s hunting cabin. Source: Dailymail.com from Tradewinds Realty.

In terms of blog reviews, one of the more detailed ones comes from Fragrantica itself, where Serguey Borisov talks at length about the hyraceum and has a very evocative description of Montecristo. The piece is long, so I’ll quote the more relevant parts beginning with the images which Montecristo evokes for him. As you will note, he had a similar experience to “deadidol” on Fragrantica in terms of the perfume’s dusty woodiness:

An old clay mug with rum or whiskey stands on the table, an old sagging leather chair with cracked, scuffed and greasy arms, an old dog lying on the bearskin in front of it. Animal head trophies are on the wall—heads with the fangs, horns and ears. An old hunting rifle is positioned next to them. The entire room smells of animal musk, clove buds and dusty mineral particles which are reminiscent of gold or diamonds.

This is what the home of a troubled man smells like. The man had to be a priest and a soldier, a hunter and his prey, a miner and a night watchman. He lived so many different lives, with every single one’s own story written on his face. […]

Montecristo has a special animalic aura. It’s goaty smell is similar to costus or Symrise’s animalic base. [Hyraceum’s] scent is elegant and reminiscent of musk, castoreum, oud and civet. […][¶] It’s a wild and animalic nuance, it’s uncivilized and dangerous and as vague as dark shadows in a nocturnal forest. Wild, intense and smelly aromas make Montecristo just as dirty and brutal as Oud Cuir d’Arabie by Montale, but more bitter and more mineralic. The opaque brown formula, the scent of goat, resins and the bitterness of patchouli—that’s what distinguishes Montecristo from conventional incense perfume. Plus, it was strengthened with Iso E Super and musk.

I truly don’t detect ISO E Super in Montecristo, and I’m usually a weathervane for the bloody note. If it’s there, I don’t think it’s responsible for that vaguely oud-like smell to the wood. Serguey Borisov says the hyrax can be reminiscent of oud, so that’s the probable cause. I don’t detect any of ISO E Supercrappy’s usual troublemaker aromas; not its “pink rubber bandages,” its lemony-woody buzz, its antiseptic notes, or its basic, simple, dry pepperiness. There is also nothing which gives me a searing headache, so if there is ISO E crap in Montecristo, it has to be the most infinitesimal drop around.

The Non-Blonde loved Montecristo passionately, calling its complexity “mind boggling” and writing, in part:

I can’t imagine the reaction of an average perfume buyer to Montecristo by new(ish) perfume house Masque Milano. I just can’t. This is not the perfume to wear in close quarters with the uninitiated, because you will get The Look, I guarantee.

There are too many perfume brands and too many perfumes on the market. Very few of them offer anything new, even fewer come up with anything exciting that gets added to my “Must.Get.Bottle.Now” list. I just ordered my third sample set of Masque Milano perfumes, but I already know that Montecristo is going to be in my life from now on. Because it’s that good. That sexy. That fascinating.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, Montecristo is an unabashedly animalic perfume. The main culprits are two: ambrette seed with its expensive but unwashed musky vibe, and hyrax or hyraceum, which is basically fossilized pee of a cute rodent (completely cruelty free). The complexity of this animalic combination is mind boggling. It reminds me of really good civet, gorgeous intimate musk, the dirtiest part of exquisite oud, and a general air of debauchery. […] Montecristo is, indeed, dirty and slightly sweaty (cumin isn’t listed anywhere, but I swear I can smell traces about four hours into its wear-time) , it’s also warm, very boozy, leathery and intimate. It holds you close and tells you its interesting life story all through the night [….][¶] Montecristo is still there the next morning.

I share her opinion on the fascinating nature of Montecristo. Even more so, on how it would make average perfume buyers run screaming for the cliffs, then jump off. (I could see the survivors later burning any clothing that Montecristo happened to touch.) Montecristo is probably not a perfume even for someone well-versed in niche perfumery, unless they have a definite taste for animalic, dirty, leathered, goaty scents that skew very masculine. In short, this is a perfume for those with very specific tastes. I personally would wear it if I owned it, without a doubt. But I am hesitant as to whether I would ever buy it for myself.

Source: Tumblr. Original source or photographer unknown.

Source: Tumblr. Original source or photographer unknown.

The reason is probably not what you would expect: it’s Hard Leather. The LM Parfums‘ animalic creation is my absolute favorite fragrance in recent years, and nothing is going to budge it from being at the very top of my list. If I have the need for honey-covered animalic, raunchy leather with muskiness, spice, oud and woodiness, I’ll turn to my precious bottle of Hard Leather. The perfume is more obviously leathered, has much more oud, and massive amounts of incense as well. Much more importantly, it has heaping mounds of almost impossible-to-find, genuine Mysore sandalwood from start all the way through to its gorgeous finish. The animalic notes in Hard Leather are much smoother, more refined and better calibrated than the Montecristo; the Masque Milano fragrance has a significantly more feral core, is much more urinous, and is also much sweeter. Plus, can I repeat my swoon over Hard Leather’s heaping, walloping, galloping amounts of genuine, rare Mysore sandalwood? Not a nary of a whiff of that in Montecristo.

For me personally, Hard Leather is also more versatile and easier to wear. Its dirty raunchiness is much more limited and refined in scope, so I would have no problems wearing it every day if it were not so expensive. In contrast, Montecristo is much more focused on the feral hyrax from start to finish. When you throw in the powerful role of the honey in Montecristo, the result is a scent that is best suited for special occasions, not everyday ones. Then again, I also think that way about Absolue Pour Le Soir, which is another fantastic scent, so that isn’t a slam.

If Hard Leather didn’t exist, I would absolutely consider Montecristo because I really think that it’s a super fragrance. It has phenomenal longevity, really good sillage, complexity, depth, and sexiness. It’s also not too bad in price: 100 ml of eau de parfum costs $215 or €150, which is substantially less than Hard Leather. So, if you ever wanted a mix of Absolue Pour Le Soir (APLS)  and Muscs Koublai Khan (MKK), with a small shout-out to Opus VII from the costus-like raunchiness and a nod to the rawness of Montale’s Aoud Cuir d’Arabie, then you should give the Masque Milano fragrance a sniff.

Otherwise, I would advise extreme caution. I have to emphasize as vociferously as I can that Montecristo is not for everyone. In fact, I think a lot people would struggle with it, unless they are APLS, MKK, and Hard Leather fans. I also think that Montecristo skews highly masculine. Women who don’t appreciate skanky, dirty, leathered or masculine fragrances will probably be repulsed by the urinous aspects evident here. For this perfume more than for most, skin chemistry is also going to be paramount. It’s really going to determine just how extreme some of the nuances are on your skin, from the hyrax’s dirtiness to the animalic honey and cumin.

If all goes well, hopefully, you’ll be taken to the jungle with Montecristo the hunter. If it doesn’t, don’t say that I didn’t warn you. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Montecristo is an eau de parfum that comes in a 100 ml bottle that costs $215 or €150. In the U.S.: you can buy Montecristo from Luckyscent, along with a sample. I could not find any other vendors. Outside the U.S.: Montecristo is available at First in Fragrance and Essenza Nobile, both of which sell samples. In the Netherlands, it is sold at ParfuMaria for €149. I couldn’t find any other retailers, especially in the UK. Masque has a website showing Montecristo, but it has no e-store and I could see no vendor list either. Samples: Surrender to Chance carries Montecristo starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.
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LM Parfums Hard Leather: Lust In The Woods

Source: Tumblr. Original artist or site unknown.

Source: Tumblr. Original artist or site unknown.

Sex. Seduction. The scent of a man in leather and smoke. The softness of a woman in sandalwood and vanilla. Musky figures entwined on a rumpled bed, in a room filled with the black swirls of incense. The smell of his neck, his chin rough with dry stubble, and the lingering traces of rum on his mouth. Her body golden, smooth, covered with honey, and damp with sweat. Hardness, softness, and always, pure animal sensuality.

The images that come to my mind when Hard Leather first opens on my skin are wholly inappropriate for further description. But it happens each time I smell the new fragrance from by LM Parfums. In the past, seduction has come to mind with a few fragrances that I’ve tried this year, notably Hard Leather’s older sister, Sensual Orchid, and Amouage‘s Fate Woman, but nothing quite like this. Nothing quite so animalic, so overt. This is not about coy, flirtatious seduction, but steamy intimacy.

Source: timeslive.co.za

Source: timeslive.co.za

For me, the opening hour of Hard Leather is primal, purely sexual, and it impacted me immediately from the very first time I smelled it. It made me quite lose my cool, despite being with the actual perfumer in the most haughtily snobbish, constipated place in all of Paris. And every time I’ve worn it since, it makes me feel quite heated. In short, Hard Leather has one of the best openings of any perfume I’ve smelled this year. In many a year, actually. The rest of the fragrance is not quite as glorious, primarily due to a middle phase that I struggle with a little, but the perfume is still incredibly well done as a whole and I think a lot of men are going to love it. 

LM Parfums Hard Leather 3Hard Leather is set to release some time this week or the next in France, so I thought it was time for a full, proper review, beyond just my cursory, initial ravings. [Update: The perfume was officially released a few hours after the posting of this review, and is now available for sale.] Hard Leather is pure parfum with 20% fragrance oils, and part of LM Parfum’s new line called The Intimacy Collection. The press release description sent to me states that Hard Leather’s olfactory pyramid includes:

Top Notes: Rum, Leather.

Heart Notes: Iris, Honey.

Base Notes: Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Oud, Frankincense, Styrax and Vanilla.

Smoke #6 by Stefan Bonazzi. (Website link embedded within photo,.)

Smoke #6 by Stefan Bonazzi. (Website link embedded within photo,.)

When you smell Hard Leather from the sprayer on the bottle, you are hit with a wave of black incense that is almost fiery and piercing. It is followed by smoky, sweet oud that smells as though it were taken straight from an extremely old agarwood tree in Laos. On its heels is a powerful, intense sandalwood that is most definitely the real, spicy, glorious, and very rare kind from Mysore. There is a dustiness, a dryness to the wood-incense combination, but also a patina of sweetness. To my nose, the aroma evokes both the incense-sandalwood profile of my beloved vintage Opium, as well as the much drier, dustier, more fiery incense-sandalwood-oud combination of Neela Vermeire‘s Trayee. But you can’t judge a perfume by its bottle aroma, any more than you can a book by its cover.

Source: Tumblr. Original source or photographer unknown.

Source: Tumblr. Original source or photographer unknown.

Hard Leather opens on my skin with an initial whiff of honey and genuine Mysore sandalwood, then a powerful, potent burst of animalic, raw, musky leather. It’s as though a light coat of honey was thinly layered over raw animal hides left in the sun, which are then drenched with musk. The leather is initially like that in Montale‘s Aoud Cuir d’Arabie, before it turns into something midway between Aoud Cuir d’Arabie and Serge Lutens‘ glorious Cuir Mauresque. By the same token, the musk is similar to that in Serge LutensMuscs Koublai Khan (hereinafter “MKK“), only rounder and generally softer. It has the most fleeting urinous edge, but far less than the Lutens had on my skin. I’m generally not one for very raw, extremely animalic leather, but, my God, it’s sexy here. It’s leather with the scent of skin, heated and musky after sex, lightly drizzled with honey, and wrapped up with tendrils of black incense.

On skin, the oud initially lurks behind the leather, but it rears its head after a few minutes. It smells exactly like the aged Laotian kind used in such expensive lines as Xerjoff, and Laurent Mazzone confirmed to me that it is indeed aged Asian agarwood. The wonderful difference, here, is that the oud never smells fecal, or (even worse) like rotting gorgonzola, the way that Laotian agarwood can sometimes be in perfumery. Instead, it’s smooth, with a bit of that “noble rot” funk that is true to real oud. It’s also sweet, thanks to the honey, and slightly smoking from the incense. The oud is blended perfectly with the other woods in Hard Leather, from the slightly musky, dry cedar, to the gloriously rich, smooth, spicy sandalwood. The latter most definitely smells like the real stuff, and judging by the Robertet name on my tiny decant and the fact that they deal with the most expensive raw materials, I suspect Mr. Mazzone spent a fortune ensuring he got actual, red Mysore instead of some generic beige wood or green Australian “sandalwood.”

Source: 123people.es

Source: 123people.es

The final result is an opening that I find to be utterly addictive, a smoldering cocktail of raw, steamy sex appeal. It’s as though Serge Lutens’ Cuir Mauresque mixed with MKK, Neela Vermeire’s Trayee, Montale’s Aoud Cuir d’Arabie, and a dash of vintage Opium’s drydown, only the final result is ramped up by a hundred. It’s Lawrence of Arabia’s swarthy, musky sheikhs, with Turkish harem concubines clothed only in tendrils of incense, having sex in the ancient agar forests of Laos under freshly tanned, cured leather coated in honey and sandalwood.

Yet, for all that the notes may sound aggressive or too much, Hard Leather’s opening is utterly seamless and perfectly blended. The notes fluidly move one into the other, each transforming the next, with no hard edges, roughness, or spiky, prickly bits. In this phase, the incense may be the sharpest thing about the fragrance, waging a war of blackness on the sexual musk and leather, as if to drag the lovers to a Chinese temple. One thing I’ve noticed is that Hard Leather is a fragrance where less is sometimes more at the start, because two big sprays can be quite intense.

Thirty minutes in, Hard Leather starts to shift. The leather loses some of its rawness, turning richer, and more burnished. The musk softens too, feeling a little less dirty or skanky, while the honey blends in the base to add the faintest touch of sweetness. The sandalwood becomes even deeper, and even takes on a floral touch that is quite lovely. Actually, all the wood accords grow stronger, as does the smoke. Slowly, Hard Leather begins the transition to its next phase where the wood elements dominate the scent to such an extent, I sometimes wonder if the perfume might be more aptly named Hard Woods.

An hour into its development, Hard Leather begins its second stage, turning intensely dry. The desiccated feel from the woods and smoke essentially neutralizes the honey, but I think something else is at play. I smell Norlimbanol with its arid and, yes, its synthetic feel. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, Norlimbanol is a super aromachemical from Givaudan that puts ISO E Super to shame with its power. It has an ultra powerful, sharp aroma of woodiness with an undertone of leather, but it is always bone-dry to the point of dustiness.

Recently, I spent 10 minutes sniffing just the outside of my little decant of Hard Leather, and there was a definite synthetic whiff of dry woodiness right from the sprayer. On skin, it only shows up after an hour or 75 minutes, but it does show up. A few times when I’ve sniffed Hard Leather on my arm and up close, I get an immediate tightness in my nose and the faintest tickle at the back of my throat. The Norlimbanol is merely a speck at first, but it becomes increasingly powerful in Hard Leather’s 2nd through 5th hours, and I have to admit, I’m not a fan of it. Even without it, I think the new focus on dry woods destroys the perfection of the first hour with its raw animalism and unapologetic, lusty sensuality. Bring back the sex and leather, I say!

Smoke #11   Stefano Bonazzi Selected Digital Works. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Smoke #11 Stefano Bonazzi Selected Digital Works. (Website link embedded within photo.)

About 90-minutes into its development, Hard Leather is a different fragrance. The oud and Norlimbanol have taken over, turning the scent into one of extreme woods and incense with a very arid feel. The lusty, raunchy leather is blended into it, but it is a much more muted layer that lies underneath, and it is no longer Hard Leather’s main focus. At the same time, Hard Leather’s initially powerful sillage drops. With 2 big sprays (or the equivalent of 3 enormous smears), Hard Leather initially wafts about 5-6 inches around you, before dropping down after 90 minutes to a softer, airier cloud that is only about 3 inches. It’s very intense when smelled up close, and remains that way for hours.

The other notes make a valiant effort to counter-balance the the power of the oud, incense, and Norlimbanol. Unfortunately, my skin takes synthetics like the latter and runs with it, so they’re not particularly successful. Still, I really like how the Mysore sandalwood blooms, turning more floral and much creamier. I can also detect the sweeter notes stirring in the base. Styrax is a smoky, spicy, slightly leathered sort of amber resin, and it adds little flecks of golden warmth like fireflies in an extremely dark, smoky forest. The tiniest tendrils of vanilla curl up as well, stroking the woods, trying to tame them with sweetness in order to end the dry spell.

Source: hqdesktop.net

Source: hqdesktop.net

The core essence of Hard Leather’s second stage remains largely unchanged for the next few hours. Different notes wax and wane in prominence or strength, but the intense smoke, dry woods, and oud dominate. The power of the trio and the length of their stay really seems to depend on how much Hard Leather you apply. The more you spray, the longer their duration and force, and the less sweetness the fragrance manifests. Regardless, midway during the third hour, the vanilla starts to play a much bigger role. It’s now quite cuddly, cozy, rich, and sweet. The sandalwood turns even creamier; it’s a very smooth, incredibly luxurious aroma that begins to muscle its way onto center stage. Hard Leather is an elegant blend of dryness, sweetness, spiciness, creaminess, smokiness, leather, and woods, with just a hint of something raunchy, untamed, and animalic at its edges.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

At the end of the fifth hour, the dryness finally recedes, and Hard Leather transitions to its third stage. The primary focal point is now spicy sandalwood and sweet vanilla, followed by oud, incense and increasingly muted hints of musky leather. It is all much more discreet, lying right on the skin, though it doesn’t take any effort to detect Hard Leather up close. Other notes pop up and down like a Jack in the Box. The honey reappears from time to time in the background, adding to Hard Leather’s growing glimpses of sweetness. The base feels much warmer now as well, though the styrax resin never seems like actual amber but something much more abstract in nature.

The oddest thing is the iris. Sometimes, Hard Leather has a definite floral element, but it really seems to stem primarily from the sandalwood. On occasion, however, the iris appears on my skin, primarily as a cool, soft suede with the faintest tinge of soft powder. It’s incredibly muted and weak on me, and I suspect cooler or paler skins may bring out the iris more than my warm, basenote-amplifying chemistry.

Source: top.besthdwallpapers.info

Source: top.besthdwallpapers.info

Hard Leather’s final stage begins around the 8th hour. The perfume is a blur of spicy sandalwood with tiny flickers of smoky oud, musk, and sweetness. It feels quite abstract on some levels, though the sandalwood is unmistakable. In its final moments, Hard Leather is merely a gauzy whisper of sweet, slightly spicy woodiness. The scent has astounding longevity on my perfume-consuming skin. Two big sprays (the equivalent of 3 enormous smears) lasted 14.25 hours, though it was quite patchy in spots and I actually thought it may have died after 12 hours. With only one spray, Hard Leather lasts just under 12.5 hours. The sillage is initially quite fierce, but, like all LM Parfums, softens and drops around the 90-minute mark. Using the smaller quantity, Hard Leather became a true skin on me at end of the 4th hour; with a larger application, at the end of the 6th.

I love Hard Leather, though it’s not perfect. I will never get tired of its opening, and how jaw-droppingly seductive it is. It is pure sex on a stick (or, in this case, sex in a bottle). I wish with all my heart that it would last forever, especially as I’m less enthused by the 2nd phase with all its Norlimbanol. Still, the aromachemical is miles away from the demonic toxicity of YSL‘s utterly heinous Noble Leather, and it certainly didn’t impact me in the same way. It’s also much softer and tamer in small quantities, so I’d gladly wear Hard Leather even with the bloody Norlimbanol. That should tell you how much I love that raunchy, sexual, primal start. It’s positively indecent — in the very best way possible! Hard Leather ends on a happy note, too, with creamy, rich, gloriously real Mysore sandalwood, warm vanilla, and, less excitingly, oud.

For all that I would like to drown myself in Hard Leather’s opening, for all its impact on me, I most definitely do NOT recommend the perfume to everyone. Those who disliked any of the fragrances that I’ve mentioned here — from Aoud Cuir d’Arabie and Cuir Mauresque, to Muscs Koublai Khan or Trayee — should stay away. Those who have issues with oud of any kind, especially aged agarwood, or who find animalic scents to be dirty, should avoid Hard Leather as well. People who like their leather to be more like suede or expensive handbags will find this scent to be far too raw for their tastes. And, as a whole, I don’t think Hard Leather is a fragrance that the vast majority of women would like on their own skin, though I think a lot would find it incredibly sexy on a man.

Hard Leather is a fragrance that skews sharply and unapologetically masculine, rendering things like Puredistance‘s glorious M extremely unisex in comparison. (I personally think that M really is unisex, but I know a number of women who feel they can’t wear it. That sentiment would be amplified by a thousand for Hard Leather.) I think the dryness of Hard Leather’s second phase may also be difficult for people of either gender who prefer a little more sweetness with their woods or animalic touches.

Amouage Opus VIISpeaking of that dryness, Hard Leather at the end of the second hour made me think of Amouage‘s Opus VII. The two fragrances are very different, particularly because of the herbal oddness of the fenugreek in Opus VII and the nature of the two musks. On my skin, the animalic elements in Opus VII turned into something strongly reminiscent of a wild cat enclosure at the zoo with peeing lions, instead of the scent of skin during sex. Opus VII is visually greener, with strong spices, and heavily peppered with ISO E Super. Yet both fragrances have an extreme darkness to them, and share oud, incense, sandalwood, leather tonalities, and amplifying synthetics with a bone-dry feel. I think Hard Leather is much less desiccated than Opus VII, and has sweeter, warmer elements, but, in terms of an aesthetic style, the two fragrances share some distant kinship, though I must stress again that they don’t smell anything alike.

Photo: Oleksiy Maksymenko. Source: FineArtAmerica. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Photo: Oleksiy Maksymenko. Source: FineArtAmerica. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Still, if Opus VII was your cup of tea and you didn’t find it too dry, oud-y or smoky, then you should definitely try Hard Leather. If neither Opus VII nor any of the other fragrances mentioned here were your style, Hard Leather won’t be either. In my case, I loathed Opus VII (thanks to the peeing lion and the ISO E Super), but I do love Hard Leather because of its greater kinship with fragrances like Cuir Mauresque, MKK, and Trayee. The raunchy sexuality of that opening phase is so beautifully balanced, melded so seamlessly with the other notes, that it is very tasteful in my eyes — which makes it even more seductive and hot. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to compare it to the height of foreplay, instead of anything more… climactic, shall we say. Hard Leather’s subsequent journey into the depths of a dark, smoky forest undergoing a drought is hardly as appealing, but the creamy, sweetened warmth of the final stage takes us back to bed, with a couple now sleeping off the after-effects of both stages in a haze of sandalwood, oud, and sweet muskiness. 

Unfortunately, none of this comes cheaply. From what I’ve gathered, and from my early taste of the 2014 LM Parfums fragrances that I tried in Paris, Laurent Mazzone’s new Intimacy Collection seeks to focus on more complex, sophisticated scents based on the most expensive of ingredients. Hard Leather is the first in that collection, and it is priced accordingly at €295. (The current extraits perfumes are €195, a €100 less.) I don’t know what the American price will be when it eventually hits these shores and comes to Osswald in New York, but €295 is $400 at today’s rate of exchange. On the other hand, Hard Leather is also pure parfum in concentration, and there is a 100 ml of it. It smells expensive; it includes incredibly costly ingredients like aged Laotian oud, iris, and, more importantly, rare, almost extinct Mysore sandalwood; and a single spray has great potency and longevity.

I’m the first one to decry perfumes that are over-priced for what they are, but I think you’re definitely getting your money’s worth with Hard Leather. It is worth every penny. In fact, if the perfume consisted solely of that smoking hot, steamy opening, but cost twice as much, I’d contemplate selling a kidney to buy it. My God, that opening… that opening…. I don’t know if I should take a freezing cold shower, or just spray on some more. 

Disclosure: sample provided by LM Parfums. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my opinions are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Hard Leather is pure parfum extrait that is available only in a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle which costs €295. It was released just today, 12/04/13, online, at LM Parfums. Samples of all LM Parfums extraits are usually available and priced at €19 for 5 ml size, and I see Hard Leather is also listed as of 12/14. Laurent Mazzone’s Premiere Avenue now has a decant of Hard Leather for that price as well. In the U.S.: Laurent Mazzone’s fragrances are sold exclusively at Osswald NYC, but they informed me on Twitter that they won’t receive Hard Leather until January 2014. I will try to update this post when they do. Outside the U.S.: You can find Hard Leather, along with all LM Parfums, and 5 ml samples of each at Laurent Mazzone’s own Premiere Avenue which ships throughout Europe. Hard Leather is not yet offered in decant form, but you can check back later as the perfume was just released today.  In the UK, the LM Parfums line is exclusive to Harvey Nichols. In Paris, LM Parfums are sold at Jovoy. In the Netherlands, you can find LM Parfums at ParfuMaria or Silks Cosmetics. In Germany, First in Fragrance carries the full line, and sells samples as well. You can also find LM Parfums at Essenza Nobile, Italy’s Vittoria Profumi, or Alla Violetta. In the Middle East, I found most of the LM Parfums line at the UAE’s Souq perfume site. For all other countries, you can find a vendor near you from Switzerland to Belgium, Lithuania, Russia, Romania, Croatia, Azerbaijan, and more, by using the LM Parfums Partner listing. Laurent Mazzone or LM Parfums fragrances are widely available throughout Europe, and many of those sites sell samples as well.

Perfume Review – Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khan: Animal Magnetism

Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great in "The Scarlet Empress."

Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great in “The Scarlet Empress.”

Catherine the Great on horseback, riding to meet a young Cossack officer at a secret rendezvous where the lovers will tangle under Siberian furs before a roaring fireplace. Henry VIII seducing Anne Boleyn on more piles of fur on a winter’s night at a hunting lodge. The Sun King, Louis XIV, and one of his mistresses at Versailles, a palace redolent with the smell of the human body covered by powdered roses. The memory of riding my horse on a warm day, and the subtle aroma of his lightly musked, heated, muscular neck, mixed with the smell of the leather harness and saddle.

Special, limited-edition, rare bell jar bottle of Muscs Koublai Khan. Source: Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Special, limited-edition, rare bell jar bottle of Muscs Koublai Khan. Source: Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Those tangled thoughts and images are what cross my mind when I wear Muscs Koublaï Khan from Serge Lutens. Muscs Koublaï Khan (or “MKK” as it is often referred to for short) is a fragrance that always conjures up royalty in days long gone, along with fur and the memory of horses. It is an eau de parfum that I’d always wanted to try for very personal reasons. The tale in my family is that one side is a direct, linear descendant from the legendary Genghis Khan, leader of the Mongol hordes and the terror of both the Asiatic and the European plains. I’ve never bothered with genealogy and know nothing of its rules, so who knows how true it is, but I’ve always loved the story. So, a fragrance inspired by Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan (or, as Serge Lutens writes it, Koublai Khan)? Clearly, it was something to try.

Regular bell jar of MKK, available for purchase today.

Regular bell jar of MKK, available for purchase today.

Then, I started reading about the famous Lutens creation — and I stopped in my tracks. Perhaps few fragrances come with such baggage. Horrified reactions abound on the internet, reaching such a crescendo of revulsion that any sane person would hesitate. From tales of crotch sweat, testicular sweat, camel feces, unwashed taxi drivers, and anal odor, to shuddering comments about how it would be socially unacceptable to go out in public reeking of Muscs Koublai Khan, the perfume has one of the most horrifying reputations around. I got a sample months ago but, every time I went to pick it up, I would think about “camel balls,” and I promptly put it back down again.

Imagine my disbelief, then, when I actually tried Muscs Koublai Khan and thought: “this is IT??? What’s all the fuss about?!” More to the point, I loved it. While I would never — ever — recommend MKK to someone just starting their perfume foray into niche brands or to anyone who isn’t a fan of animalic scents, I definitely think people who love musky Orientals and have some perfume experience should ignore the perfume’s reputation and give Muscs Koublai Khan a try.

The 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle of MKK available.

The 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle of MKK available.

Muscs Koublai Khan is an eau de parfum that was created with Lutens’ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 1998. Though it was originally a Paris Bell Jar exclusive, American perfume buyers can easily find it in a regular 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle that is easily available and sometimes discounted online. In Europe, however, Muscs Koublai Khan is still limited to the Bell Jar format that is exclusive to Serge Lutens’ Paris headquarters, though I did find the smaller bottle available at one French online retailer.

Le Grand Serge” describes Muscs Koublai Khan on his website as follows: 

Valuable furs were spread for the Emperor of China to tread on, muddy boots and all.

Ultra-animalic musks and all kinds of tanned hides make a sensational debut in this fragrance. Pay no attention to their aggressiveness: once on the skin, they retract their claws in favor of padded paws.

Fragrantica classifies Muscs Koublai Khan as a “chypre,” which I think is odd, and says that the notes consist of:

civet, castoreum, cistus labdanum, ambergris, Morrocan rose, cumin, ambrette seed (musk mallow), costus root and patchouli.

Source: imgfave.com. Artist or creator unknown.

Source: imgfave.com. Artist or creator unknown.

Muscs Koublaï Khan opens as sweet amber, mixed with a slightly urinous, very musky edge. It feels just like warm, heated skin that is faintly dappled by a light sweat. The whole thing is sweet, sour, musky, just a little bit fetid, and a tiny bit dirty, all at the same time. But it truly doesn’t smell like stale body odor. A citric rose note, laden with rich, almost syrupy honey, peeps up from the musky amber base. There is just the faintest hint of a floral, rosy, vanillic powder sprinkled on top. Lovely flickers of sweetness come from the patchouli, and it mixes with the mildest, most minute touch of cumin. The whole bouquet sits atop the gorgeously plush, velvety warmth of the castoreum and the sweet nuttiness of the labdanum amber. It’s all sexy as hell, and significantly tamer than I had expected.

Source: narutoforums.com

Source: narutoforums.com

The ambered base is beautiful. It’s gloriously rich from the ambergris which, like the labdanum, is enriched by the warm plushness of the velvety castoreum, as well as by the naturally sweet muskiness of the ambrette seeds. That said, the ambergris doesn’t smell very concentrated or profound. It lacks the salty, wet, sweet, slightly sweaty muskiness of anything more than just a few drops of ambergris. At times, I wonder if it’s the real thing at all.

Perhaps the best — and, certainly, the most fascinating — part is the slightly urinous note from the civet. I realise that sounds odd and strange, and maybe you just have to be a really obsessed perfumista, but there is some appeal to that sour aroma. Just as really rich, really buttery food needs a dash of acidity to create a balance, so too does really rich perfumery. Here, the civet adds a really well-modulated edge that initially isn’t really like urine, but more like a sweet, little sour, almost vinegary, feline muskiness. To my surprise, it’s not rendered skanky or raunchy by the costus root which can sometimes take on a sharply feral aspect. (I likened its effects in Amouage’s Opus VII to “panther pee.”)  Here, there is just the slightest musky dirtiness, perhaps akin to the smell of “dirty hair” that costus sometimes evokes, but it’s far from strong and certainly not over-powering. Still, I imagine that those who hate animalic notes in even the smallest dose will probably keel over from Muscs Koublai Khan’s combination of civet and costus.

"Red Orange Rose Yellow Abstract" by LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Link to website embedded within, click on photo.)

“Red Orange Rose Yellow Abstract” by LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Link to website embedded within, click on photo.)

Ten minutes into its development, Muscs Koublai Khan radiates an unusual bouquet of richly sweet, lightly vanillic, almost citrusy, powdered rose mixed with the scent of a warm, musky body. The combination of the civet with the powdered rose and the amber keeps triggering thoughts of Bal à Versailles, the legendary scent whose vintage form sought to replicate the scent of aristocrats at Versailles who used strong floral powders to mask their lack of hygiene. It’s often said that courtiers at Louis XIV’s Versailles palace would relieve themselves in corners without the slightest hesitation, and that is another aroma that Bal à Versailles sought to recreate in its nuances. I wish I had a vintage sample to compare to Muscs Koublai Khan, but my memory tells me that Bal à Versailles was a much more extreme, raunchy, dirty, skanky proposition. Muscs Koublai Khan is much better balanced, and far, far less dirty. Furthermore, the urinous note from the civet and costus root is too mild and too sweetened to evoke the same aroma. And, just to be clear, nothing in Muscs Koublai Khan reminded me of a urinal.

Source: Zavvi.com

Source: Zavvi.com

Twenty minutes in, Muscs Koublai Khan becomes muskier in a more rounded way, taking on a velvety, smooth, deep quality that is as luxurious as it is sensuous. It really feels like the scent of warmed bodies under a cozy, thick, fur blanket. For all the talk about sweat or urinous edges, the thing that Muscs Koublai Khan truly evokes is the scent of skin itself. Not stale, sweaty skin, but skin that is heated and just barely sweaty from perhaps a romp under the sheets. Yes, the perfume has some animalistic tendencies, but nothing about it evokes testicular “ball sweat,” anal secretions, or fecal notes. Just heated bodies intertwined in intimacy.

By the same token, nothing about the cumin note makes me think of unwashed, stale body odor. In fact, the cumin is almost imperceptible on my skin which normally amplifies the note. It’s not even a millimeter like the rancid, wholly intimate, extremely dirty note of unwashed genitalia that it triggered in Vero Profumo‘s Rubj eau de parfum. Nor is it like the stale armpit sweat of Frederic Malle‘s Bigarade Concentrée. Granted, the cumin here is not the pure, dusty spice of something like Parfum d’Empire‘s Ambre Russe, but its muted, emasculated nature and the way it flickers just once in a blue moon in the background is hardly what I was expecting.

Photo: Lydia Roberts, 2011. Source: Tumblr http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/lydia-roberts

Photo: Lydia Roberts, 2011. Source: Tumblr http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/lydia-roberts

Muscs Koublai Khan remains relatively unchanged in its core essence for a large portion of its development. It is a beautifully sweetened rose scent flecked by vanilla powder and a citric, slightly urinous civet note, all atop a gorgeously plush, velvety, rich amber base that radiates the warmth of heated, musky skin. The notes fluctuate in prominence, intensity and strength, but Muscs Koublai Khan on my skin is primarily a musky amber fragrance with rose and vanilla. The civet note waxes and wanes, reaching its highest peak around the middle of the second hour where it definitely feels a little sharper than it did originally. Then, it becomes tamer, softer, and richer, perhaps thanks to the castoreum which casts out its warm tendrils to enrich everything it touches. There is also a subtle leathery undertone to Muscs Koublai Khan which becomes more noticeable at the end of the first hour and which feels a little raw at times. It, too, becomes gentler, sweeter, and warmer after a while, thanks to the amber’s plush embrace.

"Theequus" - photo by David Sinclair, via Crossed Wires Tumblr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

“Theequus” – photo by David Sinclair, via Crossed Wires Tumblr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

For all that the sophisticated elegance of Muscs Koublai Khan evokes historical figures covered by rich furs, it also calls to mind a more personal memory for me. Something about the overall combination of notes reminds me of riding. If you’ve ever been a horseman, you’ll know the aroma, especially after a gallop in the warm sun. The musky smell of a horse’s warm body, just lightly veiled by sweat, that is sweet but, yet, just a little sour as well. The soft heat of his muscular neck, combined with the faintest whiff of leather from the saddle and harness, all bundled up with a golden muskiness. That aroma is a subtle undertone of Muscs Koublai Khan for a brief time around the 90-minute mark and in an extremely mild form, even though the fragrance bouquet is primarily radiating the sweetest rose, its light touch of vanillic powder, and a plush, ambered base.

The overall combination is far too civilized and sophisticated to evoke the pillaging, raping, filthy brutality of the Mongol hordes. For me, one needs to go down a little later in history to a later Slavic legend, Catherine the Great, whose sensual appetites were almost matched by her passion for the hunt and for refined luxury. Muscs Koublai Khan would have very much suited the Great Catherine from its floral, vanillic rose that is powdered like her face, to the languid, feline heat of warmed bodies intertwined under blankets of the richest Russian furs.

Model, Bregje Heinen, photographed by Jean-François Campos for Flair November 2010.

Model, Bregje Heinen, photographed by Jean-François Campos for Flair November 2010.

Perhaps the most surprising change with Muscs Koublai Khan is how the volume quickly decreases to a purring hum. Less than forty minutes into its development, Muscs Koublai Khan seems to get a little blurry around the edges and the sillage drops quite a lot, though its smell is still extremely potent up close, thanks to the civet. At the end of the second hour, the perfume is so airy and lightweight that it feels far weaker than a hardcore oriental eau de parfum. In fact, Muscs Koublai Khan is far sheerer than I had expected. It lacks the opaque, baroque heaviness of Maison Francis Kurkdjian‘s ravishing Absolue Pour Le Soir, another animalic, musky, amber oriental fragrance but one which is, ultimately, night and day apart from Muscs Koublai Khan. Absolue Pour Le Soir is actually much dirtier than Muscs Koublai Khan, not to mention heavily spiced, more floral, and infused with almost as much beautiful sandalwood as it is with musk and amber. Muscs Koublai Khan is tamer, more linear, more muted, and much less complex, though it is beautiful in a very different way and perhaps more refined than the Absolue with its more hardcore, slightly beastly edge.

Muscs Koublai Khan soon starts to take on quite an abstract aura. At the start of the third hour, the fragrance is a soft, nebulous blur of amber, vanilla and quietly animalic musk. The flecks of a citric, civet-infused, and lightly powdered rose start to recede, slowly become less and less noticeable. By the start of the third hour, the rose is largely gone, leaving behind only an ambered, powdered, vanilla musk with a hint of civet. And there Muscs Koublai Khan remains for hours and hours, turning more and more abstract and amorphous. It soon loses the civet, becoming just an musky, powdery, sweet amber fragrance. Though Muscs Koublai Khan’s sillage hovered just above the skin for the second and third hours, its projection drops even more. (That said, I dabbed it on, and, apparently, it’s a very different issue if you spray Muscs Koublai Khan.) Around the sixth hour, the ambery perfume becomes a complete skin scent. By its very end, almost exactly 12.5 hours from its opening, Muscs Koublai Khan is just a hint of a sweetened, musky powder, and nothing more.

I think Muscs Koublai Khan — and the extreme reactions to it — need to be placed in context. For one thing, the average perfume user nowadays is used to a very different sort of musk in perfumery. Clean, white musks abound, and the extent of something ostensibly “dirty” is probably Narcisco Rodriguez‘s musk For Her. Muscs Koublai Khan is a whole different kettle of fish. Perfumes with civet (and even castoreum) are no longer common in perfumery, so people aren’t so exposed to what musk used to be all about when perfumes like Bal à Versailles and its cohorts celebrated the skank provided by civet, castoreum and real Tonkin deer musk. For animal cruelty and ethical reasons, many of those ingredients are no longer used and their scent has to be replicated through vegetal musks like ambrette seeds. I’m glad for that, but it does mean that exposure to a dirty sort of musk — even through vegetal recreation — can trigger a repulsed response in those who expect musk to have the modern, common characteristics of white, laundry-clean freshness.

Muscs Koublai Khan is not a perfume that I would recommend to everyone. Those who are brand new to perfumery may find the civet and musk accords repulsive. Those who are experienced perfumistas, but who feel that even the smallest drop of something animalic in their perfumes renders it unbearably “dirty,” will undoubtedly feel the same way. But those who adore true Orientals and who can appreciate some animalic nuances should absolutely try it. Don’t let Muscs Koublai Khan’s dangerous reputation keep you away. I think you will be like a lot of bloggers who have tried Muscs Koublai Khan and wondered: what is all the Sturm und Drang about?

Take, for example, the review at Pere de Pierre where the blogger clearly was prepared to be blown away by Muscs Koublai Khan’s terrible reputation:

Of all the “bad boy” fragrances, the outlaws, the ones whose whispered descriptions contain the words “unwashed” and “crotch”, often in succession, and sometimes with “of a Mongolian horseman after three days of burning, raping and pillaging” appended, it may be that none has a more salacious reputation than Muscs Koublaï Khän.

Thus, it was with great anticipation that I first pulled the stopper on a sample. Civet and castoreum? Bring it!

The first sniff of the vial seemed promising; yes, there was civet in there.

On application, though, it seemed much like Kiehl’s Musk Oil, a similarity that has been noted by many a reviewer before. A simple floral musk, nothing terrible or even animalic about it.

Fortunately, it did not take long before MKK began to develop, something that Kiehl’s does not ever seem to do, on me anyway.

MKK shuffled its accords and painted scenes with them. However, they were not dramatic, sharply pitched scenes of lust and conquest; they were more like dreamy landscapes with dark clouds scudding through a sky above shifting fields of roses and poppies. Sensual, yes, but more of a lazy Sunday afternoon lovers’ feast than a frenzied, climactic battle. […][¶]

In subsequent wearings, only once did the civet ever really raise its head, and it was glorious; I wouldn’t mind if it did it more often. But mostly, this is a sultry, sometimes even sweet, and floral musk.

Kiehl’s Musk is not the only fragrance to which Musc Koublai Khan has been compared. The other one is Frederic Malle‘s Musc Ravageur. I haven’t tried it yet, but the general consensus seems to be that there are differences. The blogger, The Candy Perfume Boy, did a comparison of the two fragrances, and his section on the Serge Lutens begins with: “I just can’t see what all of the fuss is about.” He found Musc Koublai Khan to be disappointing in its tameness, and not particularly filthy. As a gourmand lover, he far preferred Malle’s Musc Ravageur with its “edible” characteristics. On Fragrantica, one reviewer writes about the Lutens: “it’s similar to Musc Ravageur, but Koublai Khan is rounder and deeper (and more discreet) while MR is more playful and contemporary.”

Speaking of Fragrantica, one commentator clearly shares my experience with horses, writing in a review that I’ve reformatted only for the sake of trying to keep things shorter:

I fell in love with it. [¶] Maybe it will be easier for those of you who are familiar with horses to comprehend what I will try to describe.

First wave, it smelled like a horse with saddle and all that has been running a mile on a sunny summer day. Since I love horses and their smell, well, it didn’t bother me at all. Au contraire. [¶] It was musc and a bit sweet and also a bit “sweaty”. [¶] Then the dry down became very soft and almost powdery, almost buttery. In the middle of the composition I also smelled like hay and kind of what it would smell like when you walk in a wild field in summer.

So for me, that perfum is very comforting. [¶] The funny part is that my husband thinks the same as me when it come to the smell of this perfume. He says that it also smell “very clean”!? [¶] My best friend (women) love the first “snif” then she looked at me with a strange look on her face and she says that she also smell like “pee”?????!!!. And at last my best friend (man) told me it smells like baby powder!!

I think Musc Koublai Khan is all those things: sweetly horse-y (but in a really subtle, muted way), summery, almost clean in the sense that it evokes a person’s skin scent more than body odour, but with slightly urinous nuances, and sufficient powder that a handful of people may think it resembles baby powder towards the end.

The Non-Blonde, however, didn’t smell anything horsey about the fragrance at all. Her review talks about how clean it actually smells, but also cautions about over-application:

If you google Muscs Kublai Khan and dig enough, you would find colorful reviews, mentions of horses, genitalia and horses’ genitalia. Which is where I make the “whatcha talking ’bout?” face.

I cannot argue with the fact MKK smells “raw”, which probably translates to “animalic” for some. I’ve heard rumors of cumin, but I don’t get any at all. Quite the opposite, actually, if we agree that a cumin note in perfume represents the dirty and the sweaty. What I’m getting is actually clean, sweet and warm. The dirty part is not the scent itself, but the warm skin feel it evokes and all the things one might associate with a skin in this state. In his review for Perfume Smellin’ Things, my scent twin Tom called it “clean bodies in compromising positions”, and that’s exactly right.

[…] On my skin it’s a thing of beauty and has nothing to do with the great unwashed. It’s also incredibly strong and persistent, even after the big show of the ultra sweet top notes fades away.

It’s so strong, actually, that anything more than a couple of dabs can get extremely distracting. Over apply and you will keep smelling MKK, thinking about MKK, feeling MKK. It will occupy your thoughts in a NSFW way, so be careful. Another word of warning: Muscs Kublai Khan is meant to be dabbed and not sprayed. I’m saying this as someone who prefers to spray just about anything and regularly decants parfum extracts into mini atomizers. I did the same with MKK and it’s just wrong. You don’t want to cover a lot of skin with this, and spraying releases way too much. 

You may think all this gushing and raving is bias from bloggers who are Lutens groupies, but that would not be true. Take the blogger, Pour Monsieur, who says he flat-out hates Lutens fragrances, and finds “them overly complex, pretentious and unwearable.” Yet, he writes that “Muscs Koublai Khan is the one huge exception, and is truly a special scent.  It is the best musk fragrance in the world, hands down.” [Emphasis added.] In his review, he explains why:

This is more “body smell” rather than “body odor”.  It reminds me of the smell of sweat on clean, warm, tanned skin.

It’s a complex scent, but not the ego trip of the other Lutens fragrances I’ve tried.  The sense of perfect balance and complexity in Muscs Koublai Khan is amazing, and makes it so comforting to wear.  It smells like there are several different types of musk used in MKK – light, heavy, white, dark, etc..  They’re all unified by soft floral and herbal notes, which add depth to the scent and prevent it from smelling like someone’s asshole. […][¶]

Muscs Koublai Khan is not only the most wearable Serge Lutens perfume I’ve ever smelled.  It’s perhaps the most wearable scent I’ve ever worn, period.  This is a fragrance, more than any other I’ve tried, that absolutely must be worn on skin, and that’s because it smells like skin.  When you wear this, it becomes a part of you, smelling like it’s part of your body.  It’s both extremely masculine and extremely feminine, depending on who’s wearing it, and it melds itself to its wearer.  I can’t imagine Muscs Koublai Khan smelling unsuitable on anybody.  So it’s both daring and suitable for anyone.  Think about what an incredible acheivement that is for a perfumer.

I don’t agree that Muscs Koublai Khan is the most wearable Lutens, but I think many of his other points are true.

I’ve spent all this time covering other people’s assessments of Muscs Koublai Khan’s tameness for a reason. The horror stories don’t always apply, and it’s not just me with my heavy bias towards Orientals and my love for Serge Lutens. Even those who can’t stand Lutens fragrances think this one is special. And I’m definitely not alone in finding all the Sturm und Drang about MKK’s supposed terrors to be very different from the reality on one’s skin. But I cannot repeat enough, this is not a perfume to try if you’re looking for something totally clean and without the slightest bit of animalic edge. Laundry-fresh it is not! And if you’ve never encountered civet or are new to niche perfumery, then you may be in for a shock. In fact, I suspect you’ll think it smells of poo.

However, for those who adore Orientals and have some perfume experience, I beg you not to believe all the stories about Muscs Koublai Khan, and to give it a test sniff. Uncle Serge is completely right when he says: “Pay no attention to [the musks’] aggressiveness: once on the skin, they retract their claws in favor of padded paws.” It’s very true, and that’s why I’d wear Muscs Koublai Khan in a heartbeat if I had a bottle. The perfume has enormous sexiness (the Non-Blonde is right in saying it triggers NSFW thoughts or images), and a sort of fascinating, raw animal magnetism that is simultaneously very refined as well. Muscs Koublai Khan is also totally unisex, and has great longevity. Lastly, for U.S. buyers, it is easily available — and often at a discount, in fact — so there are no accessibility barriers.

So, try it and, when you do, I doubt that you’ll think of the ravaging, filthy Mongol hordes. But your thoughts may not be totally clean, either….

 

DETAILS:
General Cost & Discounted Sales Prices: Muscs Koublaï Khan is an eau de parfum that comes in two sizes: a 1.7 oz/50 ml size and a larger 2.5 oz/75 ml bell jar version. The retail price for the 1.7 oz size is $140, or €99, with the 75 ml bell jar going for $300 or €140. However, Muscs Koublaï Khan is currently on sale at FragranceX where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle is priced at $113.99. The price is also reduced at Parfum1 which sells the 1.7 oz bottle for $126 with a 10%-off coupon for new customers. I don’t know how long these specials will last.
Serge Lutens: you can find Muscs Koublaï Khan in both sizes on the U.S. and International Lutens website (with non-english language options also available). 
U.S. sellers: Muscs Koublaï Khan is available in the 50 ml size for $140 at Luckyscent, Barney’s (which also sells the expensive bell jar version), and Aedes.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Muscs Koublaï Khan at The Perfume Shoppe for what is US $140, since it is primarily an American business with a Vancouver branch. They also offer some interesting sample or travel options for Lutens perfumes. For Europe and Australia, it gets harder. The perfume seems to be deemed “Limited Edition” for many European vendors, in the sense that MKK was originally a Paris exclusive and limited for sale elsewhere in Europe. So, it has not been easy for me to find online vendors. In the UK, I can’t find Muscs Koublaï Khan listed at Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Liberty or Les Senteurs — shops which normally carry most Lutens fragrances. However, in France, Premiere Avenue sells it for €96 and I believe they ship world-wide, or at least through the Euro zone. 
Samples: You can test out Muscs Koublaï Khan by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also a Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where the vials are also 1/2 ml each, but you get your choice of 5 Lutens Non-Export fragrances (ie, those that are Paris exclusives).

Perfume Review – By Kilian Musk Oud: Cardamom Rose

Consider me surprised. I actually like Musk Oud, a fragrance from the luxury house, By Kilian. I don’t think it’s a fantastic, complex, original, nuanced — let alone impressive — fragrance, but it actually smells really good. And that is truly a first for anything that I’ve tried thus far from Kilian Hennessey, the grandson of the founder of LVMH. Of course, since it is a By Kilian fragrance, my feelings come with all sorts of huge qualifiers regarding sillage, longevity and an even more ridiculous price than usual, but you could have bowled me over with the feather when I kept sniffing my arm appreciatively.

The newly released Musk Oud is the fifth (and last) in Kilian’s Arabian Night Collection of oud perfumes which first launched in 2009. Unlike all the rest of its siblings, Musk Oud was created by the legendary perfumer, Alberto Morillas, who was recently awarded the very first FiFi Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. branch of the Fragrance Foundation. He’s a fantastic perfumer and co-created my favorite oud fragrance thus far: the spectacular (and sadly discontinued) forerunner of the whole oud trend, YSL‘s M7. The Kilian website describes Morillas’ latest project as follows:

An animalic perfume with a sensual feminity

Musk Oud is a perfume built on the contrast between a liquorish Rose and an animalic Oud accord of great sensuality. In the opening, the Lemon and Mandarin bring a ray of light warmed by Cardamom and Coriander. The heart is an explosion of Roses made syrupy and intoxicating thanks to the Rum extract CO2. A trace of Frankincense and Indonesian Patchouli bring a smokey facet to the composition saturated with dry woods.

Source: Luckyscent

Source: Luckyscent

Musk Oud’s full list of its notes, as compiled from LuckyScent, is as follows:

Lemon, mandarin, cardamom, coriander, cypress, Bulgarian Rose, geranium, davana, Rum extract, frankincense, Oud accord, Musk accord, patchouli.

Musk Oud is the furthest thing from complicated and, on my skin, it is also the furthest thing from either an animalic musk fragrance or a true oud one. It opens on my skin with a rich, beefy, dark red rose that drips thick, jammy juices and which is lightly infused with lemon and a touch of orange. The whole thing is covered with a heavy layer of gorgeous cardamom, and sits upon a quiet, woody base of cypress tinged with patchouli.

Crimson Rose by Karen Betts. Source: redbubble.com

Crimson Rose by Karen Betts. Source: redbubble.com

Seconds later, like a crocodile’s tail moving in muddy water, there are tiny ripples of animalic musk. To my slight unease, it smells very much like dirty, unwashed hair. However, the note is not only incredibly subtle, it essentially vanishes for most of the perfume’s development. It subsequently pops up only two more times, gives a brief bow for a few minutes, and then disappears completely. I was actually surprised by how evanescent it was since one blogger (who admittedly loathes anything animalic) was completely traumatized by the note in Musk Oud. Since my skin actually amplifies both animalic and base notes, I’d fully prepared myself to be overcome by every possible filthy, dirty, raunchy, unwashed, fetid aroma imaginable. Never happened. Not once. And if it should happen to anyone, it should happen to me with my wonky skin that amplifies animalics. Instead, there were only the most minuscule of stirrings in the brown waters of Musk Oud’s base. Perhaps a more accurate analogy would be to compare it to a mosquito in water instead of a crocodile’s tail.

Cardamom. Source: kitchenheadquarters.org

Cardamom. Source: kitchenheadquarters.org

The primary, overwhelming impression of Musk Oud in the first hour is of a cardamom-rose fragrance with other notes just dancing in the sidelines. The richness of the rose is accentuated by a darkly liqueured note, while the cardamom… oh, what cardamom! It’s sweet, nutty, a little dusky, and very spicy. So much so that it almost feels as though it’s accompanied by a fiery red saffron. Undoubtedly, that is just my mind interjecting things, since saffron is often the third twin to the rose-cardamom combination, but Musk Oud does feel as though there is saffron in there, too. As for the dry base, the cedar is lightly sweetened by patchouli and entwined by subtle tendrils of black smoke. There is absolutely no oud at first, and it takes ten minutes for the note to show its face. It’s slightly medicinal but, like all the other elements in the base at this stage, it is extremely muted and serves only to add indirect depth and body to the overall fragrance.

Things start to go down hill a little near the end of the first hour. It took all of 40 minutes for Musk Oud to become a complete skin scent on me. I tried the perfume twice — which wasn’t hard to do, given the usual, below-average longevity that I experience with all Kilian fragrances — and the second time, I applied double the quantity. This time, Musk Oud took one whole, whopping hour to become so glued to my skin that I had to inhale at my arm like a rabid animal to detect its nuances.

Frankincense Smoke  via iStock photos

Frankincense smoke via iStock photos

And, in truth, those nuances were few and far between — in both tests. Just over an hour into the perfume’s development, the base notes come to the foreground as frankincense and oud emerge as the dominant duo. However, neither note is very rich or deep. There is still a heavy sprinkling of cardamom, but the rose note has receded somewhat to the background. Occasionally, it will pop up and become more noticeable, then vanish, then come back to take over the whole scent for about five minutes, then retreat…. and so on. The animalic musk makes a brief appearance around the 90 minute mark, but quickly decides to throw in the towel completely. So, those simple, repeated notes with their varying fluctuations are really the sum total of Musk Oud. The citrus notes had departed long ago; ditto for the cedar; and there was never any geranium or davana to begin with. As for the rum and patchouli, both are essentially undetectable in any distinctive, individual way, except in helping to create that liqueured base to the rose.

After a brief period of time as an oud fragrance with tablespoon of cardamom, a teaspoon of rose, and a pinch of smoke, Musk Oud turns into a simple, more abstract, woody fragrance. There are subtle flecks of oud and cardamom with just a light whisper of jammy rose, but the whole thing feels quite muted and is extremely hard to detect given the nonexistent sillage. Then, Musk Oud dies entirely, having lasted no more than 3.5 hours with my usual dose and 4.25 hours with my larger one. Neither number is very impressive.

I had been curious to what extent Alberto Morillas’ co-creation of the fabulous M7 might have influenced the smell of another spicy agarwood fragrance. The answer is none at all. With the exception of the citrus, cardamom and oud, the two fragrances have no familial olfactory resemblance at all. To my surprise, it is a wholly unexpected perfume house which comes to mind: Guerlain. Kilian’s Musk Oud really evokes early parts of Guerlain‘s Rose Nacrée du Désert from Les Déserts d’Orient Collection. The first hour of Rose Nacrée has the exact same sort of rich, darkly liqueured, jammy, beefy rose infused with cardamom that dominates Musk Oud. Of course, the two perfumes eventually part ways, with the Guerlain turning into an overly syrupy, sugared, almost gourmand fragrance, while the Kilian turns into frankincense and oud. I’m sure there are even more cardamom-rose fragrances out there that resemble Musk Oud (especially from Montale) because, the truth of the matter is, it’s not a very inventive fragrance. It smells great for what it is, but it treads some well-worn ground.

Going by my experiences, the name “Musk Oud” feels like a misnomer. For one thing, on my skin, there was almost no musk in it. For another, the quantity of agarwood was hardly enough to render the scent a true oud one. It reminded me Kilian‘s Amber Oud which, to my nose and on my skin, had virtually no oud in it at all. Musk Oud has more of the note, but it’s all relative. In fact, given how the fragrance is such a skin scent, what little oud there is may be even harder to detect.

There aren’t a lot of in-depth blog reviews out there for Musk Oud. The fragrance is so new that I couldn’t even find a Fragrantica entry for it. However, out of the two comments on Luckyscent, both focused on the musk issue. One poster loved the scent, writing that Musk Oud was “[j]ust the right balance between the oud and the musk, neither too animalic nor too clean.” The other tried hard to be polite and mask his disdain:

Not impressed. I love rich, deep musk scents. My favorite perfume is Musc Ravageur. So when you name something Oud Musk, well I’m expecting something rich and dark and almost dirty. There is nothing unique about this. It’s not a clean musk mind you, it does have the dirtiness but its done in an oddly sheer way. I will say however, that that is probably perfect for some people. A polite, dirty musk. I guess there is a place for it.

Both commentators thought that the perfume had outstanding longevity and wrote that it “lasted all day.” I think that may be the first time I’ve ever seen that said about any Kilian fragrance, but, hey, I’m happy there are exceptions.

How you feel about Musk Oud will depend solely on two things: how you feel about animalic notes, and how your skin deals with them. The second review on Luckyscent is significant because it underscores that point. If you’re someone who loves a scent like Frederic Malle‘s Musc Ravageur (or, even more extreme, Parfum d’Empire‘s Musc Tonkin), then Musk Oud will be disappointing child’s play. If you’re someone like me whose feelings about musk can depend on its treatment, you may greatly enjoy Musk Oud, especially if your skin chemistry decides to play nicely with the note. But if you’re someone who can’t stand any animalic notes whatsoever, then Musk Oud may be a nightmare regardless of chemistry.

That was the case with Lucas of Chemist in a Bottle whose traumatized account of the fragrance reads, in part, as follows:

The opening act of By Kilian Musk Oud is a tidal wave of musk on my skin. I smell raw, animalic if not a fecal kind of musk. It has that dense, powerful structure that will be definitely too much for those who are not infatuated and obsessive by this raw perfume material. I definitely don’t belong to that group! Couple of minutes later I start to smell trouble. Double trouble because here appears the oud. In the whole oud fragrances trend I am quite lucky that oud notes don’t manifest themselves too bold on my skin. However Musk Oud doesn’t classify as one of those. As I write this my arm is almost dripping with oud. No joke! [¶]

[Later] I was attacked by a hard to describe smell that to me, in the closest comparison, was a mix of unwashed, sweaty clothes and sticky, greasy hair. So gross and so off-putting.

As you can see, a wholly different experience from either myself or the two chaps on Luckyscent. The odd thing is that my skin normally amplifies both musks and agarwood to the point where it can overwhelm a perfume, while Lucas — in testing the exact same fragrance — can find them to be completely minute and tolerable. So, I’m not quite sure what happened here to flip the situation so much on its head but, for me, Musk Oud was neither a musk fragrance nor an oud one. (It certainly was nothing like my experience with Opus VII, the animalic, musky oud fragrance from Amouage!) Where my experience does parallel (a little) that of Lucas is in terms of sillage and longevity. Musk Oud lasted 6 hours on him, and he found the sillage to be very low.

Musk Oud, 50 ml bottle. Source: Aedes.

Musk Oud, 50 ml bottle. Source: Aedes.

I very much enjoyed the cardamon-rose aspects of the fragrance, but I would never buy Musk Oud. I think it’s ridiculously over-priced for what it is, and simply isn’t special enough. Kilian’s prices are high to begin with, but the Arabian Nights Collection takes it to ridiculous levels given the generally uncomplicated, bare bones, and sometimes mundane nature of the scents. (Yes, Amber Oud, I’m looking at you.) Normally, Kilian charges $235 for a small 50 ml/1,7 oz bottle of one of his fragrances, like the recent Flower of Immortality. However, Musk Oud — like all the oud scents in the Arabian Nights Collection — retails for $395 (or €295), with the “cheap” alternative options starting at $185 for a refill bottle. Until Mr. Hennessey corners the world supply of either jammy roses, cardamom, musk or oud, I see nothing in this simple, relatively linear, fleeting, and sometimes impossible to detect fragrance that is worth $400 (more, with tax) for a tiny bottle, or even $185. There are half a dozen fragrances from Montale alone that are based on oud, rose, cardamom, frankincense and/or musk; they cost $110 for the same size bottle, have projection, and last forrrrrrrrrrrrrrrever!

That said, I do think Musk Oud is pretty enough to be worth a sniff or a small decant. However, given the sillage, longevity, cost, uncomplicated and non-oud nature of the fragrance, it may not be worth more than that.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Musk Oud is an eau de parfum that costs $395, $235 or $185 (depending on the form in which you buy it). The lovely lock-box version is 1.7 oz/50 ml of fragrance and costs $395; the refill bottle is $185; and the travel option is $235. In the U.S.: Musk Oud is available at Bergdorf Goodman (in all 3 options), Saks Fifth Avenue (2 options) and Aedes (just the $395 lock box). All 3 options are available at Luckyscent, along with samples for $5 for a 0.7 ounce vial. Outside the U.S.Musk Oud is available on By Kilian’s international website where it costs €295 (with VAT included) for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle. The site also has the more affordable options. In London, you can find Musk Oud at Harvey Nichols which carries the 50 ml/1.7 oz size lock box version for £265.00 or the 50 travel refill for £110.00. Harvey Nichols stores around the world, from Dubai to Hong Kong, also carry the Kilian line. In Paris, the Kilian line is carried at Printemps. As for other locations, By Kilian’s Facebook page lists the following retailers and/or locations: “HARVEY NICHOLS (UK, Honk Kong, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Koweit, Turkey), Le BON MARCHE (France), TSUM (Russia), ARTICOLI (Russia) and HOLT RENFREW (Canada).” Samples: Samples are available from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. 

Perfume Review – Amouage Opus VII: The Heart of Animal Darkness

Amouage Opus VIIIn 2010, the royal Omani perfume house, Amouage, launched a new line entitled The Library Collection which was meant to be a “poetic homage to the art of living” and inspired by the concept of memories as treasured books in a library. Just a month ago, in mid-April 2013, Amouage added a seventh “book” to its line, this one created by Alberto Morillas and Pierre Negrin. Opus VII is described as “a green, woody and leather fragrance evoking the juxtaposition of harmony with the intensity of recklessness.” It is a difficult, complex, assertive and very masculine scent that takes you to the heart of darkness in a smoky oud jungle populated by ferocious big cats. 

According to the Amouage press release quoted by CaFleureBon:

Opus VII literally stands out from the previous six editions as it is the first to use a black flacon with gold criss cross lines; an allegory of the mind when thoughts are subjected and diverted. The use of galbumum and violet in Opus VII are integral to the composition and Christopher [Chong]’s vision.

Amouage-Opus-VII-Library-CollectionI don’t see violet listed as one of Opus VII’s notes which — according to both Amouage‘s website and Fragrantica — consist of:

top: Galbanum, Pink Pepper, Cardamom, Nutmeg, Fenugreek
heart: Agarwood Smoke, Patchouli, Ambrox [synthetic amber], Leather, Ambergris
base: Costus Root, Muscone [synthetic musk], Sandalwood, Olibanum [Frankincense], Cypriol [a woody note with earthy and spicy nuances]

Source: herbalveda.co.uk

Source: herbalveda.co.uk

As always with Amouage, understanding what the perfume smells like requires understanding the more unusual ingredients that the house likes to use. In this case, one of the most important would be the Costus Root. In a long article on animalic notes, The Perfume Shrine describes costus root as “reminiscent of unwashed hair, in more intimate places than just head” and says that it is one of the elements for the trademarked perfumer’s base called “Animalis,” produced by Synarome. In a post on Animalis itself, The Perfume Shrine describes costus root as

a plant essence that has an uncanny resemblence to a mix of unwashed human hair, goat smell and dirty socks. […] It’s also part of the mysterious urinous & musky allure of Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent (which indeed features a healthy dose of costus under phenyl acetate paracresol).

Though the Perfume Shrine says that modern perfume restrictions have limited or “axed” the use of costus, it is a huge part of Opus VII on my skin.

Dried fenugreek leaves via Suhana.co.in

Dried fenugreek leaves via Suhana.co.in

Another big element is Fenugreek, a plant whose dried leaves or seeds are often used in Middle Eastern or Indian cuisine. In fact, I have a large bottle of it in my pantry right now. Fenugreek has an extremely difficult scent to describe; if you’ve ever smelled it, you’ll know it right away, but otherwise, it’s a little complicated. Basically, it’s a very green aroma that is simultaneously sweet, herbaceous and extremely pungent. Though Wikipedia says that it’s called Methi in India and is a key component of some Indian dishes, to me it evokes Middle Eastern or Ethiopian food much more. It is a key ingredient in Persian Ghormeh Sabzi which Wikipedia says is considered to be one of Iran’s national dishes. Whatever its uses, fenugreek is one of those ingredients that, after you eat it, will ooze and seep out of your pores for days in a slightly sour, stale smell. As the Perfume Shrine explains,

An opaque, rather bitter smell with a nutty undertone, it traverses the urinary track to scent a person’s urine as well as their sweat and intimate juices. Its seeds’ odour is comparable to thick maple suryp. Fenugreek is featured in many fragrances which have rippled the waters of niche perfumery with pre-eminent examples Sables by Annick Goutal and Eau Noire by Christian Dior (composed by nose Francis Kurkdjian). Everytime I smell them I am reminded of the intense flavour that this spice gives them. [Bold font emphasis added.]

If all this talk of ingredients with sharp, bitter, animalic and/or urinous aromas is giving you pause, well, I’m sorry to say that both notes are key to understanding Opus VII. I could simply mention “fenugreek” and “costus root” all day long to you but, unless you know what that really entails, you won’t be prepared for the complicated, difficult scent that is Opus VII. 

Source: all-hd-wallpapers.com

Source: all-hd-wallpapers.com

The perfume opens on my skin with an immediate burst of oud backed with something lemony that has a strong nuance of urine, along with the darkest of green notes and leather. Woods that are deeply smoky and dark sit atop pungently herbaceous sharp fenugreek with slightly intimate animalic musk, earthy, spicy elements, and sweetly bright, green patchouli. It is a vision of darkness, black and green, the innermost recesses of a forest where a golden jungle cat slithers, slinks and prowls in the shadows before releasing a guttural “rowwwwwwrrrr.” In the footsteps of that opening burst, there are other notes which quickly appear. There is brightly green galbanum that feels almost citric-like in its surprising freshness but which has a dark, liqueured undertone. Pink peppercorns and sharp smoke — black, acrid, and burning like a forest on fire — also join the dance. 

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

Few of the notes besides the smoky oud have a chance of competing against the raw animalism of Opus VII’s opening minutes. If you’ve ever been to the wild cat enclosure of a zoo, you’ll know the smell. And, to detect it here, even in a less concentrated, milder form, is a complete shock to the system. It truly feels like a panther or cheetah’s ferocious growl: urinous, like animal droppings, but also musky with a faint tinge of dirty hair underneath. It’s lemon-tinged and sharply evokes YSL‘s vintage Kouros for me, albeit in a significantly softer, milder, tamer manner in Opus VII’s early stage. I lack the guts to be able to wear Kouros myself, but I absolutely adore it on a man and think it’s an incredibly sexy scent. However, that sharply animalic note — often described by some as resembling “urinal cakes” — makes vintage Kouros a deeply polarizing fragrance. I suspect the same will be true of Opus VII.

Despite the sudden shock, I found Opus VII’s opening to be completely mesmerizing, captivating and fascinating. Perhaps much like a scorpion’s victim would watch its slow, ominous walk forward. Opus VII is, on the one hand, exactly like a jungle on fire with its earthy, rooty, dark floor kicked up by panicked animals in full flight, leaving behind leathered, slightly urinous droppings in their wake. On the other hand, it is a deeply woody-leathery fragrance that feels quite smooth, with a savagely sensuous heart at its base and something that seems almost like a velvety floral. Opus VII is such a jungle scent in its opening stage: primal, elemental, ferocious, pungent, fetid, earthy, leathered and sharp — but, also, lushly green in the darkest way possible. Baudelaire would have fully approved of it and would have undoubtedly written a companion piece to Les Fleurs du Mal, entitled perhaps as La Forêt de TerreurI approve, too, in some way that is almost partially terrified. I struggle with galbanum but, here, it’s not the brutal galbanum of Bandit or other famous leather scents. It’s not so green that it might as well be black; instead, it is smooth, spiced, warm and animalic. It’s a leathered, ambered jungle cat’s galbanum, and it actually makes me want to spray on some more. 

Source: Tumblr

Source: Tumblr

Thirty minutes in, Opus VII starts to shift a little. The smokiness that evoked a burning jungle recedes just a hair; the perfume turns slightly more sour and urinous; the pepper notes seem blacker and far less like pink peppercorns; the leather feels darker and muskier; and the subtle spices flicker with a little more fire in the background. Much more importantly, however, the earthy elements intensify. It’s as if the jungle’s humidity hit the blackest soil at the very base of an oud/agarwood tree, turning the earth almost rooty and musky.

Bearded iris via scenicreflections.com

Bearded iris via scenicreflections.com

And, to my surprise, there is a definite impression of iris. A number of bloggers detected it, and they’re right. Though there is no iris or orris root listed in Opus VII, I’m guessing that some combination of the muscone, the earthy-woody cypriol, and the earthy elements of galbanum have created the distinct smell of iris. (Technically, “iris” as a note is impossible to create solely from the flower’s petals; it is replicated by taking rhizomes from the root, and/or often using other notes to lend to an overall impression of the flower’s scent.) I suspect that another thing that helps is ISO E Super.

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

Yes, Opus VII starts with a flicker of my most dreaded, hated note on earth: ISO E Super. A flicker that starts to slowly increase in volume until, eventually, it completely ruins the entire fragrance for me. A perfumer once astutely noted that ISO E Super was my “kryptonite” and, sadly, it’s true. For those unfamiliar with the aroma-chemical, you can read my full description of its pros and cons here. In a nutshell, though, it is used most frequently for two reasons: 1) as a super-floralizer which is added to expand and magnify many floral notes, along with their longevity; and 2) to amplify woody notes and add a velvety touch to the base. It seems to be particularly used in fragrances that have vetiver, with Lalique‘s Encre Noire being just one of the many examples. It is also used in a large number of Montale Aoud fragrances, to amplify the wood note to that high-decibel shrieking volume. And it is the sole focus of Geza Schoen’s notorious Molecule 01 fragrance. ISO E Super always smells extremely peppery and, in large doses, has an undertone that is like that of rubbing alcohol, is medicinal, and/or antiseptic. Some people are completely anosmic to the synthetic, while others get searing, vicious headaches from it. It is a constant base in most Ormonde Jayne perfumes, so if you get a headache from those, blame the ISO E Super. I’m not afflicted in that manner, but I cannot stand the smell in large quantities and, my God, it is strong in Opus VII’s second stage.

At the end of the first hour, Opus VII shifts in hue, turning mossily green. Visually, it is no longer the black-green of the jungle’s shadow, seeming almost ebony-like in its darkness. Instead, the perfume now reflects slightly lighter green notes, sweeter, warmer, rounder and backed by amber. The patchouli blooms, feeling as bright as emerald moss, and it helps soften the sharp edges of the urinous leather and the aggressive oud smoke. At the same time, both the iris and the fenugreek note rise in prominence. Though I’m not one to usually rave about iris, here it’s truly lovely and feels like the lushest, most buttery, velvety suede. Creamy and delicate, it has a sturdy woody-rooty undertone that prevents it from feeling gauzy, ethereal and cold. It feels like taupe-brown suede, not grey-white, if that makes any sense. Opus VII starts to turn into warmer, ambered scent where the animalic notes are softened, less sharp, dirty or urinous, the smoke is less aggressive, and the whole thing is more velvety, mossy and earthy.

Source: Sodahead.com

Source: Sodahead.com

Unfortunately, the start of the second hour marks an abrupt right turn in Opus VII’s development. From that fascinating start as olfactory ode to the heart of darkness in a smoky oud forest inhabited by the most powerful of leathery, ambered jungle cats alongside velvety iris and mossy green, the perfume suddenly becomes a fenugreek-oud scent — much like a dark forest through which shines the fluorescent light of ISO E Super. Sure, there are still elements of animalic musk, leather, iris, spices (cardamom, in particular) and amber, but the oud really goes into high gear here. It is always infused with the pungent, herbal fenugreek, the slightly urinous feline musk, and the sharply medicinal, astringent ISO E — and the combination just gets stronger with every minute. By the middle of the third hour, Opus VII is an oud-fenugreek-musk combination above gallons of medicinal, antiseptic ISO E Super. By the end of the fourth hour, it’s predominantly, painfully, and primarily pure ISO E Super and oud, backed by animalic, sour musk over light amber. Honestly, I preferred smelling like a panther just peed on me.

Opus VII’s drydown begins at the fifth hour. The perfume is primarily dark, peppered, woody notes headed by oud, followed thereafter by light, synthetic sandalwood (which has suddenly made its first appearance), the endless ISO E Super, a miniscule pinch of spices, and a lot of sour musk over vague, muted amber. In some odd way that I can’t explain, the whole thing feels generalized and somewhat abstract. Opus VII is also a much softer scent now in terms of sillage, becoming very close to the skin where it lingers on for another few hours. At the end, 8.5 hours in, all that really remains is a musky, spiced oud note, though tiny pockets of scent still pop up occasionally on random patches of arm for another few hours. For the most part, however, Opus VII lasted in full form about 8.5 hours on me. Its sillage was much more moderate than some of Amouage’s floral scents, never projecting in tidal waves, though the scent was still extremely powerful within its small cloud a few inches above my skin.

As you can tell, Opus VII was ultimately not for me but I do think many people will be fascinated by its dichotomy, especially men. I think the perfume will be disconcerting for others and, for women used to mainstream fragrances, it will scream “masculine” in a very negative way. Opus VII is a fragrance for people who like very aggressive leathers, ouds, sharp smoke and animalic notes — all in one — as well as those who don’t get raging headaches from ISO E Super.

I think one of the best reviews for Opus VII comes from Lucas at Chemist in a Bottle. In fact, it was Lucas who so kindly and thoughtfully sent me a small sample of the perfume as a surprise gift. In his review, entitled Black Ink, he wrote:

With the first day of sampling Amouage Opus VII I noticed that it is a perfume of two different natures. The “outer” stratum of the scent is a hard shell. The smell is dense and oily with cypriol oil. When I smell it I get a feeling like I could drown in this scent. It’s mysterious and dark suspension, a black ink that covers everything permanently, making it impossible to return to the previous state. In this kettle particles of warm and spicy cardamom float, blended with a resinous smell of galbanum.

In no time the dark tincture smell gets enriched by the aroma of sandalwood. It’s raw, dirty, not smooth but full of splinters that can hurt your hands when you want to touch it and feel the structure of the wood. Neither musk is soft here. In Opus VII musky tones are animalic, wild and untamed which is additionally pronounced by the earthy, almost rotten patchouli. Maybe it’s just my nose (not used to smelling scents like this one) but so far this Amouage is a beasty creature on me.

Once you survive through the “outer” stratum of Amouage Opus VII the different story begins. After the hard shell is broken, the softer core of the scent is revealed. To me it is still dark, but now it’s more gentle and chic like a black silk scarf. Amber creates warm and sensual aura around the wearer and olibanum adds the restrained mineral quality with a slightly salty touch. Of course oud had to find its place in the composition. Luckily it’s not very powerful. Accompannied by the leathery chords it creates this a little bit mischievous smell of tanner workshop. The smell of raw leather, pigments… it’s all in here.

In the rest of the review, which I recommend reading in full, he notes the presence of the iris note and how the final stage of Opus VII on his skin was spicy and dry. He concludes with a very apt warning: “Bear in mind – this is not an easy to wear perfume. In my opinion one has to be really self-confident and needs to have a strong personality to rock it.”

I agree very much with that last part as well as with his overall impressions of the perfume, though the details of our individual experiences with Opus VII differed. For one thing, I detected very little sandalwood on my skin until the very end. For another, Lucas has often noted that oud notes manifest themselves very softly on his skin. My skin, in contrast, amplifies certain base notes, I think, which may explain the vociferous roar of the oud. But we thoroughly unite on the issue of the raw leather and those prominent animalic notes which, as he put it so well, are “untamed” and completely “beasty” — in the full sense of that word. And, despite having perfume tastes at the opposite ends of the perfume spectrum, we both would run away from wearing Opus VII ourselves.

African lion spraying to mark his territory. Photo: Charles G. Summers, Jr. Source: WildImages on Flickr http://www.flickriver.com/photos/wild_images/2236584479/

African lion spraying to mark his territory. Photo: Charles G. Summers, Jr. Source: WildImages on Flickr http://www.flickriver.com/photos/wild_images/2236584479/

Opus VII is a difficult, thorny scent for a variety of reasons, and it is not one which I would recommend to the vast majority of people. Though there are fascinating, intriguing and, at times, mesmerizing parts, at the end of the day, I think it’s a very masculine scent with extremely assertive edges that border on the abrasive. Some of the notes are wildly aggressive but, taken by themselves, they would be manageable. Even a jungle cat peeing on your arm can be handled, in small doses. But Amouage rarely does anything in moderation, and Opus VII is no exception. The combination of difficult, raw, beastly notes at such supersonic volume (and atop such vast lakes of ISO E Super) made much of Opus VII simply unbearable for me. If Opus VII had been a projection beast — which, thankfully, it is not — then it would have been a complete scrubber right off the bat. As it was, I tried it twice and the second time, I gave up after 6.5 hours. The second time round, the animalic notes were so prominent, I felt as if I’d been chained in a wild cat enclosure and been peed on by a vast legion of feral, growly animals who had been fed a steady diet of antiseptic oud. At $325 or €275 a bottle, Opus VII is a very expensive wildlife experience but, if you enjoy the woody heart of darkness, then give it a try.

 

DETAILS:
U.S. availability & Stores: Opus VII comes only in a 3.4 oz/100 ml eau de parfum that retails for $325. It is available from Parfums Raffy, the authorized US retailer for Amouage, who offers free domestic shipping and Amouage samples with each order. Parfums Raffy also sells a 2.5 ml sample of Opus VII for $6. Elsewhere, Opus VII is available at Luckyscent and MinNY.
Outside the US: In the UK, Opus VII is not yet available at Les Senteurs which normally carries the full Amouage line. I also don’t see it amongst the Amouage listings at Harrods. However, there is an Amouage boutique in London. In Paris, Opus VII is available via Jovoy for €275 with shipping available throughout the rest of Europe. First in Fragrance usually carries the Amouage line but doesn’t have Opus VII listed on its website for some reason. Of course, the perfume is also available on Amouage’s own website, along with a Library Sampler Set for €50 of the other 6 perfumes in the collection. The website also has a “Store Finder” for about 20 countries which should, hopefully, help you find Opus VI somewhere close to you.
Samples: Samples of Opus VII are available at Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. The site also sells a Sampler Set for the other 6 of the Library line which starts at $19.99 for 1/2 ml vials.

Perfume Review: Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand for M. Micallef

Denis Durand Couture Fashion Show 2 LRHaute couture and haute perfumery seem like a natural fit, especially for the French. So, it’s perhaps not surprising that both things came together with Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand for M. Micallef. It is a new oriental eau de parfum that is the result of collaboration between the French, niche, perfume line, M. Micallef, and the French couturier, Denis Durand. (Given the length of the fragrance’s name, I hope you’ll excuse me if I’ll just refer to it as “Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand” or “Le Parfum Couture” from now on.)

M.Micallef Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand perfume bottle

In the press release, M. Micallef describes the perfume as follows:.

A glamorous, mystical and sophisticated perfume has been born from the close friendship and artistic cooperation between Martine Micallef and Denis Durand: le parfum Denis Durand Couture.

The fragrance composition explodes with citrus head notes and spicy accents of cinnamon. An intense and complex fragrance, the heart and the base cleverly balances the rose, orange blossom and honey softness with the strength of animalic and woody notes.

Dressed with hand sewn delicate Chantilly black lace, the flacon is adorned with a little satin bow and a golden medal engraved with the initials of the two artists.

Denis Durand Le Parfum Couture

The perfume notes according to the statement are as follows:

Top Note: Ceylon Cinnamon, Italian tangerine

Heartnote: Bulgarian Rose, Honey, Orange Blossoms, Animalis

Basenote: Sandalwood, Patchouly, Amber and White Musk.

The “animalis” note is the key to understanding Le Parfum Couture. Upon first sniffing the perfume, even in its vial, I thought there was oud in it. I scanned the notes three times in slight bewilderment, as “oud” wafted out across my desk. But, no, “oud” is not listed anywhere in sight. In utter confusion, I turned to the internet, and was enormously relieved to discover that CaFleureBon‘s Managing Editor, Mark Behnke, had thought the exact same thing. He writes of his experience, and about what that note actually turned out to be:

When I was first wearing Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand I repeatedly mistakenly identified the animalis as oud. Mme Micallef has been so successful in making oud behave in whatever way she needs to achieve a desired effect I thought this was another example. When I did get the note list I had to get a clarification on what animalis is and was told it is a blend of labdanum and castoreum.

Labdanum and castoreum. I would have never guessed it in a million years! I’m very familiar with both notes individually, but the primary essence in Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand doesn’t smell like either one. It most definitely doesn’t smell like labdanum, which is one of my favorite ingredients.

Making matters much more complicated is the argument that CaFleureBon is completely incorrect and that Animalis has absolutely nothing to do with labdanum or castoreum but is, in fact, a trademarked ingredient from the fragrance company Synarome. According to the commentator, “Joe,” on Now Smell This, Animalis is a wholly separate ingredient and a famous perfume “base” that is the key to such scents as Etat Libre d’Orange‘s Vierges et Toreros. The Perfume Shrine article which he cites does indeed give a very different scent description for Animalis, saying that it is the very basis for the descriptive term “animalic” in perfumery and cataloguing its long, “dirty” history in perfumery from vintage Robert Piguet Visa, to being the mystery ingredient responsible for Kouros‘ savage, almost urinous, animalic splendour. Whatever the truth of all this, all I know is that M. Micallef has apparently gone on record as to what that the “Animalis” note is supposed to be.

Honestly, none of this matters one whit to me. Whatever the semantics or technicalities, all I know is that, on my skin, “Animalis” smells like oud — absolutely and exactly, right down to the medicinal facet that agarwood can sometimes reflect. I thought so, CaFleureBon thought so, Now Smell This and others have thought so. Period. Le Parfum Couture is so centered on this one aroma that, for the purposes of this review, I’m simply going to have to refer to it as “oud,” in quotes, because anything else would feel a bit misleading and would create the impression that the perfume smells animalic, “dirty,” urinously leathery, or feral in muskiness. It simply does not.

Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand opens on my skin with a split second blast of pure medicinal “oud” which almost instantly softens under a wave of honey. The “oud” is never just peppered woods, but it doesn’t smell like rubbery, pink bandages or camphor, either. Really, the only way to describe it is medicinal. There are also slightly animalic undertones to the scent, but they are faint. The perfume quickly turns richer, softer, sweeter and heavier, as the medicinal undertones soften a little. The honey note is beautiful; it feels very dark and rich, almost exactly like what you’d smell in a jar. Wisps of rose, cinnamon and tangerine swirl in the background, but they are extremely faint. The primary note is honeyed “agarwood”: rich and potently strong, it is also surprisingly airy in feel.

HoneyAn hour in, Le Parfum Couture is honey, cinnamon, light ambered musk, and rose — all heavily mixed with “oud.” I never smelled orange blossoms in any distinct way, though there is the faintest suggestion of both the flowers and the fruit lurking behind that wonderful honey note. The latter is my favorite, and it is so photo-realistic that I confess to being driven to make hot, buttered toast slathered with honey. In doing so, I noticed a funny oddity: out of the three different kinds of honey in my pantry, the note in Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand was almost exactly like that in my Mitica Orange Blossom Honey. Make of that what you will.

Despite the strong role of that photo-realistic honey, the perfume smells much more like an oud-centric fragrance than anything else. Throughout its entire development, “oud” sings loudest on stage. Other accords come and go, but they are merely supporting players. One of those is the rose note which starts to become significant around the ninety minute mark. As the honey recedes, the rose steps up to take its place. There is the very lightest hint of cinnamon — which feels a lot more like cardamom, actually — along with an even fainter suggestion of animalic musk. The latter is never skanky, dirty, raunchy, or, indeed, very profound. As a whole, the influences of these notes so minor that Le Parfum Denis Durand smells quite similar to By Kilian‘s Rose Oud — only significantly richer, stronger, and mixed with a large amount of honey.

Three and a half hours in, the perfume starts to shift a little. A beautiful, spicy, creamy sandalwood taps the rose on the shoulder, and steps in to dance with the “oud.” Yes, Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand is a little like the game of musical chairs where only the “oud” remains truly constant and powerful, sitting on a throne in the line-up. The sandalwood is lovely and it softens the “agarwood” note, turning it ambered, golden, and much less medicinal. Instead, it starts to feel a little closer to highly peppered woods. The rich honey and the whisper of cardamom-cinnamon add to the shimmery, amber glow. The rose note is still there, but it flickers in the background, adding its subtle touch to the overall effect.

The perfume doesn’t change much in its final dry-down stage. Around 6.5 hours in, it is mostly “oud” with hints of rose and sandalwood. Later, in its final moments, Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand is just amorphous, dry, woodsy notes and “oud” atop the faintest base of light musk and honey. The cinnamon note, which smells even more like cardamom to me, whispers faintly in the background. And that’s about it. All in all, Le Parfum Couture lasted just over 9.25 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. For much of its development, it was quite a strong scent, though always surprisingly airy and light in feel. It projected a few feet in the first hour, then dropped quite a bit, but Le Parfum Couture only became a skin scent around the 5th hour.

There aren’t a ton of in-depth reviews for Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand out there yet, since it was only just released a few weeks ago. One of the few is an admiring assessment from Angela at Now Smell This who seems to have a considerably different experience. Though Angela also detected the “oud,” she had loads of tangerine at the start and then, later, orange blossom. Here are some snippets from her review:

While Parfum Couture could never be called shy, neither is it the crass, room-hogging perfume I feared. Instead, it’s a warm, easy-to-wear oriental balancing tangerine, honey, and amber with a streak of metallic tang. I bet it will find a lot of fans. I’m one. […]

Parfum Couture’s tangerine and honey leap right out of the fragrance at first, reminding me of Byblos by Byblos (remember that one?) layered over the new Schiaparelli Shocking. I like the combination of sweet and animal that honey gives a fragrance — something about it reminds me of drinking sweetened ice tea. As for the citrus, in the mid-1990s I was obsessed with tangerine-laden fragrances, and I even wore Guépard for a while, despite the cheesy gold and green plastic cage over its bottle. (Sorry, all you old office mates.) Parfum Couture reminds me of those fragrances, but softer and more elegantly blended.

Oud isn’t listed in Parfum Couture’s notes, but I swear I detect it cutting the mouthwatering heft of the tangerine and honey. Or is it the “animalis” listed in the perfume’s notes?1 Orange blossom adds buzz, and Parfum Couture’s amber is the shimmery rather than cloying sort. I mostly smell the perfume’s patchouli after I’ve worn it several hours and on my clothing the next day, where it clings in a quiet, sexy way.

CaFleureBon was similarly entranced. In fact, I believe the Managing Editor, Mark Behnke, found Le Parfum Couture to be one of the very best Micallef fragrances ever released. In fact, he thought it was so “smoldering” that it would be his pick for a Valentine’s Day scent. His review describes a little of how Le Parfum Couture manifested itself on his skin:

If the rose and animalis was all that was going on in the heart it would be great but a sweet grace note, courtesy of orange blossom and honey, adds a glowing core to the intensity and it feels like the reflection of light off of satin or the shine off a bared shoulder under the spotlights. With such an intense heart it would have been easy to ease up a bit but Mme Micallef keeps the intensity level high as patchouli and amber produce a foundation for sandalwood and white musk to interact with. This base lightens up on the animalic by using the white musk but patchouli, amber, and sandalwood keep the development at a consistent volume right until the end.

Clearly, I had a very different experience from both of them. For me, Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand was primarily an “oud” fragrance, and it was never as complex or “smoldering” on my skin as it seems to have been on others. If it had been, I think I would have been considerably more wow‘d. I would have loved to experience what Angela at Now Smell This encountered since it seems much more nuanced and sexy. Plus, I adore orange blossoms and orange notes. You can’t imagine my enormous disappointment at how little (if at all) each note appeared on my skin. Lastly, as I’ve noted a few times on the blog recently, I have increasingly severe “oud” fatigue as a whole. It is probably the main reason for why, for my own personal use or tastes, I thought Le Parfum Couture was simply pleasant, as opposed to love at first sniff.

That said, most normal people do not test an “oud” fragrance (or two) each and every week, and many have a considerably greater appreciation for the note than I do now. Those who love it would probably greatly enjoy Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand. It has a richness thanks to that beautiful honey note and a quiet spiciness which separates it out from many of the “oud” fragrances with their simple rose accord. Plus, Le Parfum Couture has that lovely stage where the “oud” duets with the sandalwood in quite an entrancing manner. So, if the notes intrigue you, I would definitely encourage you to give it a sniff. Those who aren’t enraptured by Animalis and its oud-like manifestation here may prefer instead to watch the runway defilé for the release of Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand as shown in the YouTube video below.

DISCLOSURE: Sample provided courtesy of M. Micallef Parfums. I do not do paid reviews, and I always tell a company upfront that there is no guarantee of a good review, or any review at all. I make it very clear that my first obligation is to my readers and to be completely truthful as to my thoughts.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand is an eau de parfum that comes in a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle and costs $190. In the U.S., it is available at Luckyscent, along with a sample for $4. Normally, M. Micallef perfumes are also carried at Parfum1, but Denis Durand Couture is not yet listed there. You may want to check back in a few weeks. In Europe, M. Micallef Le Parfum Couture Denis Durand is carried at First in Fragrance where it retails for €145. The full range of M. Micallef fragrances, including the brand new Denis Durand Couture, is available at Paris’ Jovoy Fragrances. In the U.K., Micallef fragrances are usually carried at Fortnum & Mason, but I don’t see Denis Durand Couture listed on their website at the moment as it is so new. In Australia, you can find M. Micallef at Cara & Co in Sydney, but they don’t have an online store yet. In the Middle East, some of the many places where M. Micallef fragrances are available are: all UAE malls and Dubai Duty-Free locations at the airports; Al Hawaj in Bahrain; Mazaya in Cairo Egypt; everywhere in Kuwait; ABC and Beauty Concept in Lebanon; and Pari Gallery and Bleu Salon in Qatar. For all other locations, you can try the Points of Sale locator on the M. Micallef website. If you want to try a sample of the fragrance, you can do so at Lucky Scent at the link listed above which sells a 0.7ml vial for $4.

Perfume Review: Absolue Pour Le Soir by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Sultan Mehmed HD Wallpapers siteThe 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.

Théodore Chassériau - "Moorish Woman Leaving the Bath in the Seraglio." Wikipedia

Théodore Chassériau – “Moorish Woman Leaving the Bath in the Seraglio.” Wikipedia

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.”

"Picking the Favorite" - by Giulio Rosati  - Source: The Athenaeum.Org

“Picking the Favorite” – by Giulio Rosati. Source: The Athenaeum.Org

"The Slave and the Lion" by Georges Rochegrosse.Source: Tumblr

“The Slave and the Lion” by Georges Rochegrosse.
Source: Tumblr

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.

Francis Kurkdjian.

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 MFK APLS bottleconcentrated, 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.

Source: etshoneysupliers.

Source: etshoneysupliers.

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 LutensSerge 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 Pasha's Concubine" by Ferencz Eisenhut.

“The Pasha’s Concubine” by Ferencz Eisenhut.

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.

"Reclining Beauty" by Georges Antoine Rochegross. Source: Christie's.

“Reclining Beauty” by Georges Antoine Rochegross. Source: Christie’s.

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.

DETAILS:
You can buy Absolue Pour Le Soir from the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website where the eau de parfum is available in two different sizes. The 2.4 oz/70 ml bottle costs €115, while the 6.8 fl oz costs €160. Prices are not given for US dollars. You can also order Absolue in a Discovery Kit of 4 samples (which you can also mix up with other scents from the line). “Each pouch contains 4 samples of 2 ml each. It’s up to you to choose.” The sample set costs €12. In America, Absolue Pour Le Soir retails for $185 for the 2.4 oz bottle and can be found at Neiman MarcusBergdorf Goodman, Bigelow, and Luckyscent. In the UK, you can find Absolue at Liberty, London where it retails for £115.00 for the 2.4 oz/ 70 ml bottle. For all other places, you can turn to the company’s website whose Points of Sale page which lists retailers around the world where you may find Absolue or other MFK perfumes, from Europe to Asia, Oceana and the Middle East. If you’d like to try a sample, you can find it at Surrender to Chance which sells vials starting at $3.99 for 1/2 a ml. Luckyscent also sells a sample at the link posted above.