Some perfumes are an immediate love affair, some are immediate hate, a few can result in total apathy or boredom, but many take a few tries for you to make up your mind. Personally, I tend to know what I like or don’t like pretty much right off the bat, but, occasionally, I’ll come across a perfume where I’m ambivalent and truly undecided, no matter how many times I test it. Sehr el Kalemat from Arabian Oud is one of those fragrances.
Sehr el Kalemat is a flanker to the popular Kalemat (sometimes written as Kalamet, with an “e,” and a few other linguistic variations). I love the original Kalemat, and it is only fragrance where I’ve urged people with a specific sort of perfume taste to buy a scent blindly. One of my readers, Feral Jasmine, purchased both Kalemat and its flanker, Sehr el Kalemat, and kindly offered me a sample. The caveat: I had to write honestly what I thought about it, without worrying about her feelings. I never have a problem being blunt or candid, but, in this case, I’m truly at a bit of a loss as to what I think. I’m at the end of my fourth test of Sehr el Kalemat, and I think the most accurate description of my reaction is that I’m underwhelmed. Torn, conflicted, but generally underwhelmed.
Before I get to the scent itself, I have to go through the confusing issue of its name. Like many Middle Eastern fragrances, the perfume has a few alternative spellings, such as Sehr Al Kalemat (on the official, Arabian Oud website), Seher Kalemat (on eBay), or Seher Al Kalemat (on some online retailers). Some perfumistas call it Kalemat Black, perhaps because of the black box, while a few on Basenotes get confused over how Kalemat Black is actually perhaps Kalemat White because of the silver-white plates on the side. I’m going to go with Sehr el Kalemat as it is easier to type, and that is how the fragrance is spelled on Arabian Oud’s Amazon listing.
As always with anything involving Arabian Oud, it’s an utter nightmare trying to get concrete, definitive, set details on the fragrance. Arabian Oud has no description for it on its official, Middle Eastern website. Its UK one doesn’t even list the perfume! The few other retailers that do offer Sehr el Kalemat have substantial differences in the notes that they include, and completely disagree with Arabian Oud about the bottle size.
According to Arabian Oud‘s Amazon listing, Sehr el Kalemat is either a 75 ml or a 100 bottle of eau de parfum with:
Top Note: Cardamom, bergamot, pink pepper Middle Note: Saffron, coriander, Bulgarian rose Base Note: Amber, vetiver and sandal 75 ml. [Emphasis added.]
However, a different page on Amazon from the same company states:
Between Patchouli flower, violet and bottom Albergmot wonderful mixed layer through a mixture of vanilla and touches of Oud eventually subside on the bottom of musk and amber luxury.
Meanwhile, a vendor site in South Africa, Fragrances Unlimited, writes what seems to be a slightly (slightly!) closer description of the fragrance that I experienced:
Following the success of the legendary perfume, Kalemat,comes Seher Al Kalemat, the name literally mean Magic of the Words, another designer outfit pairing black and silver. This new hit from Arabian Oud is an elegant fragrance recomposed around fruity aromatic facet & delicately oriental trail. Of the 3 original facets of Seher Al Kalemat (Fruity,Woody & Oreintal) the oriental one wins thanks to the Amber, musk and vanilla base note.
Top Note: Bergamot, Rose and Saffron
Heart Note: Patchouli, Sandalwood, Violets and Guaiac Wood
Base Note: Vanilla, Amber and Musk
Size: 100 ml
Type: Eau de Parfum
Between Arabian Oud’s hot mess of a website, the sizing differences, and the big variation in notes depending on site, I’m a bit frustrated, but I would say the notes that I personally detected are something more like this:
Spices, Berries, Patchouli, Rose, Saffron, Guaiac Wood, Incense-y tonalities, something almost oud-y, Vanilla, Amber, and Musk.
As mentioned above, I’ve tested Sehr el Kalemat a few times, using different quantities and amounts. For the most part, the fragrance is exactly the same, minus some minor variations on the opening with a lesser amount (2 sprays). I’ll give you the general development with a larger application of 4 small sprays.
Sehr el Kalemat opens on my skin with peppered berries, saffron, and amorphous spices, though not cardamom or coriander, per se. It is followed by patchouli, honey, a dash of a rose note, and some abstract, amorphous, dry woodiness. The berry note is interesting because, to my nose, it smells identical to the blueberry purée that the original Kalemat opens with, along with the merest whiff of something verging on raspberry. I don’t know if the notes are the result of the very fruited, purple patchouli, of the “pink pepper” berries mentioned in one list, of both elements together, or something else entirely. To me, the opening smells like Kalemat’s “bilberry” or blueberry, and I’m a bit of a sucker for it. As a whole, Sehr el Kalemat’s overall, opening bouquet on my skin when smelled from afar is that of blueberries, patchouli, and saffron.
All the other notes are folded within that main trio. There are hints of a dry smokiness underlying Sehr el Kalemat, but it never feels like actual frankincense. The rose is extremely muted at this stage, and so is the undercurrent of honey. The woodiness can’t be teased out as something individually distinct or specific at first. At no point, however, can I detect any violet whatsoever in Sehr el Kalemat’s development, nor any bergamot, vetiver, or sandalwood (real or otherwise).
What does appear instead, especially if a very small amount of Sehr el Kalemat is applied, is cocoa and an almost cold, metallic scratchiness. While cardamom (listed in one version of the perfume’s notes) can occasionally take on a cocoa powder nuance, I’m detecting something more genuinely chocolate-y in tone. The first time I tested Sehr el Kalemat and applied only a little, the bouquet after 15 minutes was of cocoa-dusted berries with saffron, vanilla, synthetic dryness, honeyed amber, slight smoke, and a faintly oud-y wood. The cocoa was a rich, almost buttery, thick chocolate with a nutty undertone that soon mixed with a very custardy vanilla in the base. I chalk the cocoa up to the patchouli, though the latter generally tended to be more fruited in nature on my skin than the darker, earthier variation of the note. Either way, the cocoa and vanilla accord only seems to appear in the opening phase if a small amount of Sehr el Kalemat is sprayed. Now, as I repeat often, my skin amplifies base elements and sweetness, so that is perhaps the cause, as Sehr el Kalemat is not generally a super-sweet (let alone a gourmand) fragrance for most of its life.
The scratchy, dry, dusty, almost metallic, steeliness in Sehr el Kalemat is a given, no matter how much of the fragrance I applied. It always appears about 15-20 minutes into the fragrance’s development, transitioning it from a very berried, fruity, saffron, honeyed amber scent into something that is distinctly drier, sharper, and smokier. Sehr el Kalemat has a definite smoke element, but it never feels like pure frankincense to me, and really verges more on the dusty, dry, almost sharp aroma of something burnt in the outdoors. Yet, it’s not the full-on sharp intensity of cade nor birch tar’s campfire smoke, either.
To me, it has the characteristics of guaiac wood: singed woods with an aroma like that of burnt leaves in a large autumnal bonfire. Something about it has a scratchy steeliness, which I realise makes no sense unless you’ve actually tried Sehr el Kalemat for yourself. The whole thing also feels rather synthetic in nature, if truth be told. It’s like guaiac wood’s dry smokiness on some sort of aromachemical steroids to make it extra arid, scratchy, and sharp.
What is disconcerting to me, and part of the reason why I’m so torn on Sehr el Kalemat, is that the steely burnt woods are simultaneously wrapped up with blueberry saffron compote, honeyed amber, and a touch of syrupy roses. It’s an oddly overwrought, jangling bouquet of opposites, as if Arabian Oud threw every contradictory thing that it had at the basic, original Kalemat structure. And yet… it grows on you. Sometimes. I think. Or perhaps not. Perhaps I’m merely oddly enraptured by blueberry-saffron-honey compote? Quite honestly, and in all candour, I don’t know what to make of it myself, or even how I feel most of the time about this very odd variation of Kalemat. Perhaps I merely like the parts of Sehr el Kalemat that resemble the original? One thing is definite though: I much prefer Kalemat to this flanker version.
At the end of the first hour, the extremely dry, occasionally searing, burnt smoke vies with the fruited, saffron, patchouli, honeyed sweetness for dominance. A synthetic, sharp, but clean, oud aromachemical adds to the dusty, scratchy aridness of the top notes. The two together cut through a lot of Sehr el Kalemat’s jamminess, diffusing the sweetness. Underneath, far down in the base, there is the first real flicker of vanilla, but it too feels a little dry.
The change in sweetness accompanies a change in sillage and weight. Initially, Sehr el Kalemat is seriously forceful and intense in projection, though very light and sheer in weight. This isn’t a dense, opaque, molten fragrance by any means, but its notes are very powerful and Sehr el Kalemat wafts a good 6 inches off the skin in its opening minutes with 4 sprays. A smaller quantity yields a smaller cloud with about a 3 inch radius. Up close, however, Sehr el Kalemat is very powerful. As time passes, that scratchy, steely, synthetic, burnt guaiac note seems to grow in prominence even more when the fragrance is sniffed up closed. After 90 minutes, however, the dry woods cut through the heavy top notes of fruited, saffron sweetness to such an extent that the fragrance feels almost thin, weak, and light in comparison to the opening.
For the next few hours, Sehr el Kalemat doesn’t change its primary focus in any major way. The notes described above vary in prominence and strength, but the fragrance’s core essence remains as berries, burnt woods, and sharp smoke, followed closely by synthetic oud, saffron, jammy roses, honeyed amber, and a touch of vanilla. There is the faintest, tiniest dusting of amorphous spices, though it doesn’t really smell like cardamom and it definitely doesn’t smell of coriander, as one list mentioned. It’s more like a flicker of something verging on chocolate powder, but it’s extremely muted.
By the start of the fourth hour, Sehr el Kalemat smells of a super dry, smoky, somewhat oud-y, burnt woods, followed by blueberry-honey that is lightly infused with saffron and amber. It hovers right on the skin, and feels very thin.
I think the sharpness of the dry, smoky woods give Sehr el Kalemat a far greater similarity to Amouage‘s Interlude Man than the original Kalemat ever had, though I think the nature of the smoke is different. In Interlude Man, as well as in the original Kalemat, the note smells more like actual, black frankincense. In Sehr el Kalemat, it’s like burnt trees and burning leaves in an outdoor fire. The note is thinner, drier, more scratchy and sharp, and much less smooth than it is in either Interlude or Kalemat. Plus, Sehr el Kalemat has much more fruitiness than the other two fragrances. In contrast, Interlude has a green, herbal component that isn’t evident on my skin with either Arabian Oud brother. That said, in terms of how dry smoke dominates a stage of the perfume’s development, I can see some parallels between Sehr el Kalemat and the much more expensive Amouage fragrance.
Sehr el Kalemat’s smokiness finally recedes at the end of the 6th hour, as the vanilla appears to soften the fragrance and return it to greater warmth. The perfume is now an abstract, dry, woody fragrance with plummy or blueberry fruits, saffron, honeyed amber, and vanilla, all in a sheer, thin gauze that coats the skin.
Increasingly, the scent turns warm and sweet, until it is merely blueberry amber with honey and vanilla. The saffron, oud, and burnt guaiac dance all around, weaving in and out in the smallest of ways, but they are increasingly hard to detect in any individual, substantial way. Once the real drydown or end-phase begins, Sehr el Kalemat is nothing more than a blurry haze of honeyed sweetness with traces of vaguely fruity, musky, and incense-like elements hovering at the edges.
Sehr el Kalemat’s longevity is fantastic. With four tiny squirts from the atomizer, the scent lasted just a fraction over 17.5 hours (!!!) on my perfume-consuming skin. I’ll give you a second to process that astonishing number. Yes, I didn’t quite believe it myself, and, truth be told, there were tiny, dime-sized spots on my skin that still had the faintest trace of honeyed sweetness even after that point. The sillage, in comparison, was generally moderate to low for about 13 of those hours. With a smaller dosage of two small sprays, Sehr el Kalemat’s longevity is naturally much less, but it still clocks it at over 13 hours on my nutty skin. The sillage, however, dropped to virtually nothing with that amount after 90 minutes.
There aren’t really any in-depth, detailed reviews for Sehr el Kalemat that I can provide for comparative purposes. The Fragrantica entry for the perfume doesn’t have a single comment in it. There is a Fragrantica thread asking for additional feedback after someone fell in love with the fragrance, but the poster doesn’t describe the scent. All that they say is: “I fell in love instantly as it struck me as a hybrid between Guerlain and Amouage creations.” She hasn’t had any replies.
I did find one very succinct, brief review for the scent under the name Arabian Oud Seher Al Kalemat (aka Kalemat Black) on Notable Scents. The review reads, in part, as follows:
* Kalemat Black starts off with sweet incense grounded with dry herbs.
* The projection is powerful and massive, this one is not for the meek of heart.
* A boozy vanilla joins the top notes and the three blend together seamlessly.
* As it begins to calm down (after 3-4 hours), the vanilla dries out as the oud starts to come in.
* The base is a mild oud, nothing too gamey or aggressive. A slightly sweet amber balances is out.
Kalemat Black is a modern-day powerhouse, lasting more than 24 hours on my skin. Even after showering, I could still smell the base notes on my skin. Though not office-friendly, its a really good fragrance for those who want an oud scent that is not medicinal or barnyard, but still referential to traditional Arabic perfumery.
The perfume’s Amazon page has two comments about the fragrance, but only one describes it:
Sehr el Kalemat starts out dry, austere, with something of the scent of a heated cast-iron skillet. At this stage it is very masculine. Over the next hour it evolves to a warm amber with dome fruit and spice, very different from Kalemat but equally unisex. At this point I love it on myself, so I spray an hour or so before work and let it evolve until it’s ready for the general public! But it smells good on men at every stage.
Sehr el Kalemat is slightly more expensive than the original Kalemat for American buyers. The fragrance comes in a 100 ml size (no matter what Arabian Oud may say about 75 ml on a portion of its Amazon description) and costs $89.99. Kalemat is priced in the U.S. at $59.99 price with a discount, though its retail price generally seems to be $99 worldwide.
I think Sehr el Kalemat might be a good choice for someone looking for an inexpensive, dry, woody, slightly masculine Middle Eastern fragrance that bears a microscopic similarity to Amouage’s costly Interlude Man. However, I must emphasize that I personally think the two fragrances are extremely different if you take out the smokiness issue. Interlude Man has a spectacular sandalwood drydown, for one thing, and an aggressive, sometimes difficult, pungently green, herbal start. It is also not a fragrance that I immediately think of as “fruited” or berried as one of its key, main characteristics. That element, however, is a definite part of Sehr el Kalemat on my skin. I also want to emphasize yet again that my skin amplifies base notes, and tends to increase sweeter elements in a fragrance. Those with a different skin chemistry may experience an even drier version of Sehr el Kalemat than I did, so please keep that in mind.
For me, personally, I prefer the original Kalemat. “Feral Jasmine” who sent me my sample says that Sehr el Kalemat grows on one. I can definitely see how it might, though I don’t think it will happen in my case. The things that I like about Sehr el Kalemat, I can simply get from Kalemat itself — and more of it, too. Plus, Kalemat has a lovely tobacco element that I can’t find here, the oud doesn’t smell sharply synthetic, and it doesn’t have that scratchy steeliness about the wood element. In Kalemat, it is dry cedar and frankincense, not burnt guaiac, which are at play, and that makes a difference for me personally. I think it’s also a substantially smoother fragrance that smells or feels more expensive in nature.
Ultimately though, as with everything related to perfumery, it’s a matter of personal tastes and style. I can see some men vastly preferring Sehr el Kalemat to Kalemat because of the significantly greater facade of dry, burnt smokiness, as well as the more noticeable oud element. I think most women (but not all) would have a much easier time with the original Kalemat, as it’s a warmer, more accessible, more inherently unisex fragrance. In all cases, however, if deeply dry, woody smokiness is your thing, you may want to give Sehr el Kalemat a try.