Perfume Review – Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud: My Twilight Zone

“I must have the wrong sample! It must be the wrong perfume!”

“What is going on???!”

“Am I crazy?”

Those were a few of the bewildered thoughts going through my mind, as I tried on Oud by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (hereinafter sometimes just shortened to “MFK“). It is a perfume whose scent was so little like its title or notes that I was thoroughly confused and had to dig up a second sample. As I splashed “Oud” on my other arm and took another sniff, I simply couldn’t understand what was going on. “Surely this can’t be right??!” Frantic scribbles on my notepad ensued, followed by my unearthing a third sample that I’d gotten as part of an eBay niche variety set. After splashes on a wholly different part of my body — this time, my leg, lest the skin on my arms was at fault — I finally concluded that I must be a complete freak who lived in the Twilight Zone.

Source: fabiovisentin.com

Source: fabiovisentin.com

On my skin, Francis Kurkdjian‘s “Oud” is a neo-chypre floral fragrance centered around carnation and daffodils (with a light dash of rose), sweetened by spicy saffron and rendered somewhat candied by syrupy, fruited patchouli that evokes Concord grapes and, later, apricots, with a subtle sprinkle of lemon. The whole thing sits atop an extremely muted, almost imperceptible base of smoky, woody elemi, and is then subsequently covered by a massive, walloping veil of aldehydic soap with synthetic white musk. Does this sound like a spicy, oriental oud fragrance to you??! On me, there is only the faintest (faintest!) twinge of agarwood — and that’s only if I really push it. (Honestly, it’s really a strong case of wishful thinking.) I’m so bloody confused, you have no idea. If I didn’t have the exact same scent wafting up from 3 different parts of my body and from 3 different samples, I would chalk it up to mislabeling and vendor error. But no, whether it comes from Luckyscent (x2) or Surrender to Chance, Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s “Oud” is always an ersatz chypre floral on me, and an “oud” fragrance in the same way that a Yorkie is a German Shepherd.

MFK OudThe starting point for my confusion was the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website which described Oud and its notes as follows:

Safron – Elemi gum from the Philippines – Oud from Laos – Cedar wood frol [sic] the Atlas – Indonesian Patchouli

A fragrance story sketched between the fine-grained sand of the desert dunes, the fragrant harmattan wind and the star-studded night – an opulent Arabian perfume born from a western sensitivity.

Do you see a floral listed amongst those notes? A citrus? Any mention of fruits or musk? No, neither do I.

Source: Flowerpics.net

Source: Flowerpics.net

And, yet, Oud opens on my skin with fragrant florals infused by the most beautifully sweetened saffron and patchouli. The top notes smell like a bouquet of the most syrupy carnations (and possibly, roses) mixed with a heavy dose of narcissus/daffodils. Coated by a fiery, spicy saffron, they are grounded in a base of soap that is, at least initially, somewhat subtle. The patchouli adds a fruited touch to the fragrance, evoking dark, purple Concord grapes mixed with plums. Lurking far, far, far back in the shadows is a hint of a dark, somewhat smoky resin.

Notwithstanding these other elements, however, the primary and dominant impression in this initially heady, satiny smooth, opulent fragrance is of florals, especially narcissus. The combination actually calls to mind Francis Kurkdjian’s earlier creation, the 2009 neo-chypre Lumiere Noire Pour Femme with its triptych of daffodils, roses and heavy patchouli. Lumiere Noire is a slightly more Spring-like fragrance, but the trio is similarly spiced, only with chili pepper and caraway in lieu of the saffron that is in MFK’s Oud. The overall effect, however, is strikingly similar: a spiced, slightly fiery, syrupy floral fragrance infused by a very fruited patchouli — with nary a bit of agarwood in sight.

Source: Shutterstock.com

Source: Shutterstock.com

For hours, the core essence of Oud remains largely unchanged on my skin — altering only in the degree of its nuances. Thirty minutes in, there is a sharply synthetic note that is incredibly unpleasant, and which feels almost like a white musk, but it eventually leaves after about two hours. The florals shift in primacy at various times, sometimes emphasizing the narcissus, sometimes more the carnation. Lemon comes and goes in the background, as do other fruits. The dark grape jam recedes around the forty minute mark, becoming less individually distinct and simply more reflective of general “jam.”  Later, it is joined by a definite nuance of apricots. As for the soapiness, to my chagrin, it not only increases in bent, but is joined by that unpleasant sharp synthetic note. Meanwhile, the flickers of smoky elemi and amorphous woodsy notes remain in the background, feeling incredibly muted. As for the supposed main character, the agarwood is the olfactory equivalent of Bigfoot or the Great Yeti. I actually wrote, “Where’s the beef… oud?!” in my notes, along with repeated questions about my sanity.

The final stage of Oud is only a slight variation of the start. It’s a soapy, musky, floral patchouli scent with flickers of vague woods at the back. The floral notes are still somewhat divisible into a spicy, rose-like carnation that is sweetened from the saffron, but eventually, around the sixth hour, the note turns abstract. In its final moments, Oud is nothing more than an amorphous, nebulous, sweet muskiness. All in all, it lasted just short of 11.75 hours on me, and the sillage was moderate to low. It actually became close to the skin around the second hour, but it only became a true skin scent midway during the seventh hour. Still, it’s a very long-lasting fragrance, whatever its peculiar, freakish manifestation on my skin. It’s just a shame that I don’t like it very much….

Source: stockhdwallpapers.com

Source: stockhdwallpapers.com

In utter desperation about the notes — invisible or otherwise imagined — I went online to the MFK Oud entry on Fragrantica. To my relief, there were a number of comments about the lack of any real oud in the fragrance, synthetic or otherwise. To wit:

  •  i barely notice the oud in it, shouldn’t be named oud,
  • There is no oud in this […]
  • It’s not oudh, but it’s definitely one well crafted perfume.
  • Another in the long line of those ‘don’t know why called Oud’.

Others seem to feel there was plenty of oud in it, so clearly, both the above commentators and I are in the minority. I’m even more of a freakish minority on the issue of fruity florals. Having combed through the internet, I found: exactly two references to florals on the Fragrantica page for the perfume; a fleeting mention of “jammy fruit” by the Non-Blonde (who did, in fact, detect the agarwood note); a brief reference to a “fruity veil” in Katie Puckrik’s review (which found the scent to be redolent of cheese and other unpleasantness); and one response to that review which said: “I cannot believe how bad this stuff is. [¶] Smells like a Fruity/Saffron chemical toilet bowl cleaner. [¶] It’s virtually unwearable.”

Just when I was ready to declare my nose to be irrevocably broken, I came across a comment by “buzzlepuff,” on Basenotes in which he wrote:

Mason Francis Kurkdjian Oud. MFK oud is a very easy to wear higher pitched but very smooth oud fragrancing. There are no bold or animalic notes of any kind. No harshness, no shrill or medicinal aspects. Why MFK Oud is so much higher in pitch than most oud blends is a mystery. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were unstated florals such as carnation or osmanthus hidden within the folds of this beauty. The stated notes of the composition are: Elemi resin, saffron, Atlas cedar wood, patchouli, oud. The fragrance has a fine grained smooth sheen of a satin fabric milled of oud and lemony incense woods. There is a slight finish that is the very softest suede leather for the base. This is an unusual and well balanced fragrance that is so finely crafted it has me looking for claims it was quadruple filtered. How else can it be so smooth? rating: 4.0 / 5.

It’s still a far cry from my quasi-neo-chypre experience, but at least he thought he detected florals (and carnation no less!), lemon flickers, and osmanthus (which means he probably smelled some apricot undertones, too). Okay, so I’m only partially crazy. 

Now, I grant you that my experience seems to be a very peculiar outlier as compared to the rest of the data out there, but I can only report on what happened to me. And, based on what I did smell, I don’t like MFK’s Oud very much. First, I cannot stand soapiness in any shape, size or form. Second, purple fruited patchouli sorely tests my patience — and there was a lot of it here. Third, what manifested itself on my skin simply wasn’t all that interesting. As ersatz chypres go, I found the “Oud” to be boringly commercial and mundane.

My anomaly notwithstanding, I found it interesting to see that other people’s perceptions of MFK Oud were quite mixed. Both Fragrantica and Basenotes (not to mention the reply comments to various blog reviews) are littered with highly critical remarks, though the majority consensus seems to be generally quite positive. The utterly disdainful ones are amusingly dismissive, while the occasionally horrified comments about scrubbers, astringents, synthetics, weird plasticity, and “women’s shampoo or hairspray” feel almost irate at times. Yet, I thought the most astute comment came from “Sculpture of Soul” on Fragrantica who wrote, in part:

It doesn’t smell bad, per se, but it smells very polished and mainstream. If this same scent came in a Hugo Boss bottle, everyone here would be slamming it for being safe, boring, and synthetic.

God, yes! I may have experienced a wholly different scent than the majority, but what I did smell would have been utterly lambasted if it came under a Hugo Boss or Calvin Klein label.

Nonetheless, the bottom line is that I experienced something that is in no way representative of MFK Oud’s usual characteristics. So, consider this entire review as what it really is: a journey into an olfactory Twilight Zone. I wish you all considerably better luck with the fragrance. But, if any of you had a similar experience, especially with regard to the florals, aldehydic soap or fruit, then I beg of you to let me know. I would like to feel a little less like William Shatner in Rod Sterling’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

tumblr_ljgiu0vU7u1qaf396o1_r1_500

The Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Source: Tumblr http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/nightmare%20at%2020000%20feet?language=es_ES

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Oud is an Eau de Parfum and comes in a 2.4 oz/70 ml bottle that costs $300, €195 or £195. You can find it on the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website which also sells samples of the perfume or a four-pack set of any MFK fragrance for €14. In the U.S.: you can purchase Oud from Luckyscent, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, or BeautyBar. I don’t see any MFK fragrances listed on the Saks Fifth Avenue website. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can find Oud at Selfridges, Liberty, and Les Senteurs priced at £195. Les Senteurs also sells a sample of the fragrance. In France, you can purchase MFK’s Oud from France’s Premiere Avenue which sells it at the retail price of €195 and which I believe ships worldwide. For the rest of Europe, you can buy it from Germany’s First in Fragrance for €205 (which is €10 more than retail) or Italy’s Essenza Nobile (which also sells it above retail at €205). In Australia, you can find MFK’s Oud at Mecca Cosmetics which sells it for AUD$338. Elsewhere, you can turn to MFK’s Points of Sale for a retailer near you, whether you are in Asia or the Middle East. Samples: I bought one of mine from Surrender to Chance which sells Oud starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial or $9.98 for 1 ml. Luckyscent also sells samples.
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Perfume Review – Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumière Noire Pour Femme

"Inner Motions, Untitled" #6 by Azadeh Ghotbi. Used with permission from the artist. Acrylic on canvas. Price available on request. Azadehgallery.com

“Inner Motions, Untitled” #6 by Azadeh Ghotbi. Used with permission from the artist. Acrylic on canvas. Price available on request. Azadehgallery.com (Link embedded within.)

Lumiere and Noire (Light and Black), an attraction and repulsion.

A black hole lit with the image of a mysterious perfume that attracts until it provokes self-abandon. It is the idea of two opposing powers that unite to create a whole that relates, at its turn, a new story. The mention of this duality is imposed as an obvious fact, like the emblematic blend of Rose and Patchouli.

That is the press description of Lumiere Noire Pour Femme, a chypre eau de parfum from Maison Francis Kurkdjian which was released in 2009 and which attempts to cast a new light on the rose-patchouli duet. Reading the description brought to mind the paintings of the artist, Azadeh Ghotbi, who often plays with textured reflections and with the duality of light and darkness.

"Inner Motions, Untitled #2" by Azadeh Ghotbi. Used with permission from the artist. Price available on request. Azadehgallery.com

“Inner Motions, Untitled” #2 by Azadeh Ghotbi. Used with permission from the artist. Acrylic on canvas. Price available on request. Azadehgallery.com (Link embedded within.)

Yet, Mr. Kurkdjian’s Lumiere Noire seems to be an attempt to go beyond his prior exploration of the rose-patchouli pairing in his creations for Guerlain (Rose Barbare) and for Juliette Has a Gun (Lady Vengeance). This time, it seems he sought to create something that was darker and much more of a “full-on” rose. To quote Denyse Beaulieu at Grain de Musc, Lumiere Noire Pour Femme is:

a full-on bodice-ripper of a rose, Baudelairian in its celebration of majestic female flesh –a courtesan trussed in velvet the colour of drying blood trimmed with jet beads, hair tumbling down her back as she downs a flute of champagne. Her shawl carries the smell of the patchouli leaves it was packed with to repel the moths on its way from India. A bunch of jasmine exhales its dying breath between her breasts. A sweaty tendril of cumin rises from her corset…

What a stunning visual! That description — in conjunction with the very cool, gothic vibe behind the name “Black Light” — made me fully expect a lascivious, debauched, sexualized rose fragrance. Yet, I found the perfume to be very far from sexual, dark, and twisty. Instead, on me, it was a beautiful evocation of Spring — a rich take on a field of fragrant, yellow daffodils intertwined with a fresh, mossy green, along with sweetly dark earth, dry woody notes, and a spiced rose.

Source: freehdwalls.net

Source: freehdwalls.net

The notes for Lumiere Noire on the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website are simply listed as: “Spiced Rose (cumin, hot pepper) Patchouli – Narcissus.” However, I have seen a significantly more detailed set of notes from Muse in Wooden Shoes who cites a very different list from the company:

Notes, according to the MFK site: rose, narcissus [or daffodil], pepper, lily of the valley, patchouli, balsam, orris, cumin.

I think that seems far more accurate, judging by what I smelled on my skin, so we’ll go with that version.

Lumiere Noire opens with a haunting note of daffodil-rose. It’s a dry rose with sweet hay, a rose turned on its head with a slight bitterness that is, indeed, a little dark. Yet, at the same time, it’s sweet and bright — a very successful interplay of the themes of light and dark. The daffodils add a mesmerizing touch that is very different and which I adore, though I confess to having a huge weakness for the flower in general.

Lurking underneath is a fresh, springy, brightly green patchouli, accompanied by light touches of dusty, dry spice. Though the hay note is the most prominent, the spice and chili pepper swirl imperceptibly in the background, working their magic on the rose to transform it into something much more fiery and much less sweet. At the same time, there is almost a citrus-like nuance, along with an earthy iris note from the orris.

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com.

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com.

I can’t get enough of the daffodils and how brilliantly Lumiere Noire seems to replicate the whole flower. The scent feels just like a daffodil pushing its way up through the dark, loamy, rich earth (orris), and the fresh, sweet, green grass (the mossy patchouli), until its woody, brown stalk (the hay) rises up to meet the sun and the bud unfurls its golden heart to release its sweet floral scent (daffodil and spicy rose). It is a very Spring interpretation of light and dark, if you will.

The perfume is beautifully modulated, reflecting different facets at different times. Though the rose is always subsumed within the daffodils, sometimes it’s much more noticeable in the early hours; at other times, the daffodil glows even more brightly. Around the thirty minute mark, it’s the earthy, woody element which seems to rise to the surface, joining in the lead with the daffodils. After one hour, the rose returns undulating in greenish waves with the patchouli and narcissus, sharing the stage with the two in equal measure. Something about that patchouli note isn’t always pleasant; it can be a little sharp, very synthetic at times, and almost verging on the point of burning. Thankfully, it soon recedes, softening and blending in much better with the other notes.

Five hours in, Lumiere Noire is a narcissus-patchouli fragrance with soft hints of hay, rose, and earthy orris. There is a musky feel to the patchouli, along with some balsamic amber undertones, but they are not strong. For some inexplicable reason, the perfume feels a little like the middle stage of Tom Ford‘s Arabian Wood — a dry, mossy, green, patchouli with rose chypre that is neither Arabian nor primarily woody. The difference, though, is that Arabian Wood has a strong sandalwood foundation, along with honey, and more varied floral notes. Lumiere Noire’s daffodil note imparts a similar sort of dry woodsy character to the rose-patchouli duet, but it is a much stronger, dryer perfume as a whole. In both, however, the patchouli takes a turn into something much darker from its initial start. It’s not dirty, black patchouli by any means, and always feels mossy but, visually, it’s no longer so grassy. In Lumiere Noire, in particular, the patchouli turns from bright green and fresh into something much more potently dark and dry.

In its final hours, Lumiere Noire becomes dusty patchouli with narcissus, musk and the merest hint of rose. A few people on Fragrantica have said that the musky note in the drydown is like that of Narcisco RodriguezFor Her — a perfume also created by Francis Kurkdjian. I don’t really agree. Yes, Lumiere Noire has a subtle tinge of soapiness in the musk drydown that may evoke fabric softener, but it is just to a small degree on my skin. On a scale of 1 to 100, “For Her” would rate in the high 90s, while Lumiere Noire would be around a 10. To me, it does not smell clean, soapy, and white in the way that “For Her” does. The patchouli in Lumiere Noire is too green, mossy and dark for that, and it winds its way through every part of the fragrance. Nor is the musky element in Lumiere Noire so white and synthetic. I am not a fan of “For Her,” so trust me when I say that I don’t think the two perfumes share any great similarities.

Lumiere Noire lasted approximately 11 hours on my perfume-consuming skin which is quite impressive. The sillage was initially quite strong before it dropped, remaining at a moderate level until the sixth hour when Lumiere Noire became a skin scent. As a whole, Lumiere Noire is quite an airy perfume, almost transparently light in feel, but it is also extremely potent at the same time. I chalk it up to the powerful patchouli with its synthetic undertones. Whatever the exact reason, Lumiere Noire is not a fragrance that I would spray with reckless abandon; people may have to come near you to smell it, but once they do, it is quite pronounced.

All in all, I enjoyed Lumiere Noire and, at times, found myself sniffing my arm again and again with appreciation. I chalk it up to my love of daffodils and how, on my skin, the note either completely dominated the rose or lived side-by-side. In fact, I would say that the perfume had narcissus and patchouli in equal measure, followed only then by the rose. Either way, Lumiere Noire was a far cry from the bodice-ripper, sexualized rose fragrance that Grain de Musc recounted. No, my experience was much closer to that of the many commentators on Fragrantica who repeatedly mention the narcissus notes, the greenness, the grassy patchouli, and feel of Spring. Like me, very few of them experienced any cumin or chili pepper as an individually distinct, noticeable and isolated phenomenon. I ascribe that to the fact that Lumiere Noire is beautifully blended, but the absence of those notes in an individual manner may explain why so few of us shared Denyse Beaulieu’s hyper-sexualized interpretation of the fragrance.

As a side note, there are a few fragrances to which Lumiere Noire has sometimes been compared. On Fragrantica, a number of people found it similar to Vengeance Extreme by Juliet Has a Gun, while others mention Perles de LaliqueLa Perla or Eau du Soir. I’m not familiar with any of those fragrances, so I can’t comment. You may be interested, however, in an analysis from Muse in the Wooden Shoes who compared Lumiere Noire with Frederic Malle‘s Portrait of a Lady, “one on each wrist”:

Before that, I would have described Lumiere Noire to be a Dark Rose, a dark gothic rose with kohl-lidded eyes. But next to each other, Lumiere Noire glowed like a candle, while all light disappeared into the far, far darker Portrait of a Lady, proving PoaL to be the true Darkest Rose I’ve come across. Eventually, I grew tired of the heavy balsam in the drydown of PoaL and sent my decant off to a good home with a friend. Although I think PoaL is a truly wonderful fragrance, I just couldn’t manage to wear it myself.

She far preferred Lumiere Noire, calling it “very sexy” and evocative of a boudoir.

I find the contrast between the two bloggers’ perception of Lumiere Noire and those of regular users to be fascinating. The bloggers write about the “celebration of majestic female flesh,” courtesans, boudoirs, and the spicy cumin evoking a trail of ravished, heated skin. The commentators on Fragrantica and Basenotes talk about Spring, wafting honeysuckles, aromatic gardens and green grass, the dominance of the narcissus over the rose, and even occasionally use that dreaded word: “clean.” It’s almost as if the sharply divergent impressions mirror that duality of light and darkness mentioned in the press release.

Source: Art.com

Source: Art.com

Well, I’m on the side of those at Fragrantica, because I thought Lumiere Noire had nothing to do with the boudoir. It is an elegant, sophisticated chypre that evokes Spring, sunshine, yellowness, and green. It’s very unisex, in my opinion, regardless of the “Pour Femme” designation and it’s also very wearable as a day-to-day matter. Lumiere Noire may not make a huge statement, but then I don’t think it’s trying to. It is meant to be an elegant, refined chypre, and it succeeded in that goal. For me, personally, it’s not full bottle worthy, but I think many men and women would appreciate its complexities.

As a side note, the “Pour Homme” version is similar, but has slightly different elements. It has cinnamon instead of cumin, and artemisia (or mugwort) in lieu of narcissus. You can read a brief comparison between the two at Grain de Musc, though the essence is yet another sexualized impression: “the mugwort keeps the rose tightly under wraps – as though the marquise de San-Réal had bandaged her breasts to slip into her half-brother’s slim black frock coat.”

If you enjoy chypres and are looking for a Spring scent that isn’t a typical, light, clean, fresh floral, but, rather, something with depth, body, green darkness and allure, you should give Lumiere Noire Pour Femme a sniff.

 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Lumière Noire Pour Femme/Pour Elle is an Eau de Parfum and comes in a 2.4 oz/70 ml bottle that costs $175, €115 or £115. You can find it on the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website which also sells samples of the perfume, along with incense paper and a candle version of Lumiere Noire. In the US, you can purchase Lumiere Noire from Luckyscent, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf GoodmanBeautyBar, or Bigelow Chemists. I don’t see any MFK fragrances listed on the Saks Fifth Avenue website. In the UK, you can find Lumiere Noire at Selfridges, Liberty, and Les Senteurs priced at £115. Les Senteurs also sells a sample of the fragrance.  For the rest of Europe, you can buy it from First in Fragrance for €125 (which is €10 more than on the MFK website), along with the full line with the candle or incense papers. Other European vendors are Essenza Nobile and Premiere Avenue. Elsewhere, you can turn to MFK’s Points of Sale for a retailer near you, whether you are in Asia, Australia, or the Middle East. In terms of samples, I bought mine from Surrender to Chance which sells Lumiere Noire starting at $2.99 for a 1/2 ml vial or $5.98 for 1 ml.

Reviews En Bref – Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Mood Collection: Velvet, Silk & Cashmere

The following will be a brief assessment of the trio of new Oud fragrances from Maison Francis Kurkdjian (“MFK”) called the OUD Mood Collection. As always, my Reviews En Bref are for perfumes that — for whatever reason — didn’t seem to warrant one of my full, exhaustive, detailed reviews. In this case, it is because I think these perfumes are best suited to men who are hardcore, passionate, obsessed Oud aficionados who worship the very purest, most concentrated essence of the note. After some recent experiences, I’ve realised that I most definitely do not fall into that category.

THE OUD MOOD COLLECTION:

francis-kurkdjian-oud-mood-fragrances

In early 2013, Francis Kurkdjian released three new interpretations of Oud. All featured Laotian oud, the rarest of all agarwood ingredients, and all were the most concentrated type of fragrance: pure parfum (or extrait de parfum). On the MFK website, Mr. Kurkdjian explains as follows:

The OUD mood collection

Francis Kurkdjian imagined the OUD mood collection as feelings, sensations, rather like those one would have when wrapped in a fragrant stole. The play on shimmer, comfort and warmth. They are precious, intense and concentrated.

OUD VELVET MOOD:

velvet-mood-masion-francis-kurkdjianMFK describes Oud Velvet as follows:

Cinamon from Ceylan – Saffron- Oud du Laos – Copahu balm [a resin] from Brazil

A majestic, enveloping fragrance that gives the sensation of density and fluidity.

Oud Velvet opened on my skin with heavily buttered saffron, sharply medicinal oud, and leathery, animalic, black resin. The saffron-leather smelled goaty, almost rancid and raw, and was tinged by an unpleasant burnt note as if singed by smoke. The combination turns the oud note almost fecal. The whole thing is underpinned by an oddly buttered note, almost like dirty buttered caramel, but there is also the feel of bitter, wet, black coffee grinds. It was a terribly rough, difficult opening.

Thankfully, about fifteen minutes in, the extremely unpleasant concoction softens into something smoother and gentler. And it continues to do so with every passing moment. Oud Velvet actually does feel like a darkly velvety take on oud with rich saffron, sweet cinnamon and dark resins. The latter is no longer so raw and animalic; all hints of anything goaty, rancid or fecal have vanished. Instead, it’s been replaced by a strongly stony, steely, cold note that replicates a little the oud in By Kilian‘s Pure Oud. The Candy Perfume Boy called the note “industrial,” and that is actually genius. Oud Velvet really does evoke the feel and scent of a large, empty, echoing, stony, industrial warehouse. And, yet, underneath, there lurks something that feels like meaty chocolate, adding some warmth to the scent. As time passes, Oud Velvet turns into a chocolate-cinnamon oud with flickers of nutty saffron, stony-cold industrial elements, and thick, darkly ambered resin. By the end, 9 hours later, it was simply oud with some lightly ambered tones.

OUD CASHMERE MOOD:

MFK Cashmere OudMFK describes Oud Cashmere as follows:

Labdanum from Morocco – Benzoin – Oud from Laos – Vanilla

This oriental fragrance is woven with all the gentleness of a ‘‘second skin’’, soft and balmy.

Like Oud Velvet, Oud Cashmere also has a difficult opening. On my skin, it began with blasts of rancid, sharp, medicinal, metallic notes underpinned by the feel of rubbing alcohol. There is a definite smell of cheese. To be specific, a creamy chèvre-blue cheese hybrid that is infused with vanillic elements. This is not like the purely Gorgonzola blue cheese in Xerjoff’s Zafar (which also has extremely aged, rare Laotian agarwood), but something slightly different. Here, the note is creamier, less pungent, more artificial, and sweetened by a sort of candy-floss vanilla.The overall combination almost seems worse, especially when you consider the medicinal undertones with its notes of pink, rubber bandages. 

Pink candy floss or cotton candy. Source: Favim.com.

Pink candy floss or cotton candy. Source: Favim.com.

Oud Cashmere does not improve with time. With each passing moment, the goat-Gorgonzola starts to fade, and the perfume becomes more and more medicinal, antiseptic, vanilla. It smells sweet and unnatural: pink candy floss and pink, rubber bandages underlying astringent. Clearly, I am not one to handle the pure essence of oud, especially when it is from this sort of aged, Laotian agarwood. Perhaps a man with edgier tastes and a fanatical love for true, potent oud would love it. I tried Oud Cashmere three times and, all three times, I ended up scrubbing it off after a few hours. There is only so much a person can take for the sake of a review.

OUD SILK MOOD:

MFK Silk OudMFK describes Oud Silk as follows:

Bulgarian rose – Camomille from Marocco- Oud from Laos – Papyrus

A light, airy fragrance reminiscent of the rustle of silk or the soft touch of a rose petal.

Oud Silk is not a particularly inventive, original take on the conventional rose-oud combination, but it is the best of the trio in the Oud Mood Collection. It opens on my skin with the loveliest of super concentrated, rich, heady rose notes. It’s opulent, ripe and highly sweetened. The oud lingers in the back, soft and subtle, with absolutely no medicinal, astringent, antiseptic or fecal notes. Subtle chamomile wafts in and out, adding to the floral nature of the perfume. Underneath, quiet whispers of dry papyrus grass rustle. I think a commentator on Basenotes, “Buzzlepuff“, put it well when he said that the papyrus note acts like a bridge between the floral elements and the more woody oud. In fact, his assessment of the perfume mirrored much of my own:

This is a big floral rose with a very strong oud backdrop. If you have ever wondered why rose makes such a great partner with animalic medicinally zingy rotting vegetation sap – oud – specifically Laotian Oud, then you must smell this fragrance. The papyrus note enhances and magnifies the cool dry wood side of the oud in here. Bulgarian Rose is that very big red perfume rose scent and here is amplified by blue chamomile bridges to the slight floral aspect of Laotian Oud. There is a seamless flowing aspect to this. Nothing is left hanging out there from beginning to end – smooth as silk. I have tried to match this up with anything else similar in my history of sniffing things and I am at a loss. It is a little like Rose Oud By Killian but bolder and rosier and there is no saffron in this mix. […] It does read feminine to me but I could see a man wearing it too.

On my skin, the agarwood was not such a bold, strong backdrop as it was on him, but something far more subtle. Frankly, it was an enormous relief, since I may be too plebeian for true Laotian agarwood. The subtlety of it in Oud Silk is probably the reason why I liked the fragrance the most out of the trio. It was the least brutal, the least masculine, and the least traumatic manifestation of agarwood. I suspect, however, that hardcore oud fanatics may find it to be too much of a boring, conventional take on the note.

All in all, I wasn’t a fan of the Oud Mood collection. Silk Oud was very nice, but not particularly interesting. The others were definitely…. er… interesting — in the worst way possible. I honestly can’t decide what was more of an ordeal: the abrasive opening of Velvet Oud with that rancid, animalic, raw leather note singed by smoke and almost fecal undertones; or the goat-blue cheese and vanilla, pink candy floss with pink rubber, medicinal bandages of Cashmere Oud. Given the significantly improved nature of Velvet Oud, the Cashmere has the dubious honour of winning.

The odd thing is that I love the aged Laotian oud in Neela Vermeire‘s Trayee, but these more medicinal, abrasive and, frankly, painful versions are just too much for me. For a narrow, limited (and very masculine) segment of the population, some of them may be fabulous. But even men who postulate themselves at the altar of super-powerful agarwood may hesitate at spending $375 for a 2.4 oz/70 ml bottle. Yes, the Oud Mood Collection is the most potent concentration of fragrance around — pure parfum — and the bottles are especially large in light of that fact, but…

Well, to put it charitably, better you than me, my friend, better you than me.

 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: All three Oud Mood fragrances are Pure Parfum/Extrait de Parfum concentration and come in a 2.4 oz/70 ml bottle that costs $375, €275 or £275. You can find them on the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website which also sells samples of the perfume. In the US, you can purchase all three fragrances from Luckyscent or Neiman Marcus. I don’t see either collection listed on the Saks Fifth Avenue or Bergdorf Goodman websites. In the UK, I’ve read that you can find the collection at Selfridges, Liberty, Harvey Nichols and Les Senteurs priced at £275 each. However, I couldn’t find the collection listed on any of those store’s websites thus far except for Les Senteurs. For the rest of Europe, you can buy from First in Fragrance which has all three perfumes in the collection for €285 (which is €10 more than on the MFK website). Elsewhere, you can turn to MFK’s Points of Sale for a retailer near you, whether you are in Asia, Australia, or the Middle East. In terms of samples, the collection is available at The Perfumed Court starting at $14.00 for three 1/4 ml vials. You can buy samples of each individual fragrance starting at $4.95 for a 1/4 ml vial. The OUD Mood Collection is not yet available at Surrender to Chance (which I personally think is cheaper and better than The Perfumed Court), but will be by the first of May, I think.

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.