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.

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: 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.

Perfume Review: Parfum d’Empire Musc Tonkin

When Parfum d’Empire released a special, limited-edition perfume in late 2012, the blogosphere went into a frenzy. The niche perfume house is much respected for its high-quality fragrances that pay homage to different legendary empires in history, from that of Alexander the Great to Tsarist Russia.

Source: CaFleureBon

Source: CaFleureBon

Musc Tonkin, however, had the added benefit of not only being very rare (only 1000 bottles were made), but also a complete mystery because no-one knows what was in it! Its creator, Marc-Antoine Corticchiato (who is also the founder of the perfume house), refused to release the list of notes beyond the one obvious mainstay of musk. Instead, he asked that people smell this incredibly concentrated extrait de parfum blindly and without preconceptions. Though the public has seemed a little ambivalent (to me) in its reaction to the scent, critics adored it. In fact, the experts at CaFleureBon, the premier perfume blog, ranked it as #1 on the list of the Top 25 Best Perfumes of 2012.

Siberian Musk DeerSource: the in-depth article on musk at Summagallicana.it

Siberian Musk Deer
Source: the in-depth article on musk at Summagallicana.it

One cannot begin to talk about Musc Tonkin without first explaining a little about musk. It is one of the oldest ingredients in perfumery, used for thousands of years for its supposed impact as an aphrodisiac. (According to Fragrantica, even some modern scientists “believe that the smell of musk closely resembles the smell of testosterone, which may act as a pheromone in humans.”) Beyond its sensuous underpinnings, however, it was also appreciated for its uses as a fixative in perfumery, enabling a scent to last longer and with greater depth. Thousands of years ago, musk came mainly from the perineal glands of a particular type of deer but, in recent times, animal cruelty concerns have prevented it from being used. In 1979, the use of deer musk was banned entirely.

As Fragrantica explains, nowadays,

[t]he term musk is often used to describe a wide range of musky substances, typically animalistic notes such as CivetCastoreum, and Hyrax, or various synthetic musks, known as white musks, which are created in chemical laboratories. […] In perfumery, the term “musk” doesn’t always apply to a concrete perfume component, but rather designates the overall impression of the fragrant composition. Natural aroma of musk is very complex and usually described with so many contradictory attributes. It’s description may range from sweet, creamy or powdery, to rich, leathery, spicy and even woodsy. Most typically, the musk note is described as an animalistic nuance, with a lively and oscillating, often contrasting nature.

In the case of Musc Tonkin, the word “musk” undoubtedly applies not only to the “overall impression” of the scent but also to its main note, replicated through the use of various substitutes. As CaFleureBon, the premiere perfume blog, noted in its rave review of the perfume,

Marc-Antoine Corticchiato of Parfum D’Empire is one of the most uncompromising perfumers we currently have in the niche community and it is no surprise to me that he would take on the great challenge of making a musk fragrance without using proscribed ingredients. […] Of all the musks Tonkin musk was one of the most prized and highly sought after. Supposedly only able to be sourced from a Himalayan variety of musk deer the trip alone was daunting. M. Corticchiato wanted to create a facsimile of natural musk using the ingredients available to him and even more he wanted to create an image of the elusive Tonkin musk. This effort has succeeded…

It certainly has. The opening of Musc Tonkin is a pure blast of animalistic skank that is concentrated to such an extent that I actually recoiled at first. It is quite a painful ten minutes, but then the perfume settles into something much more manageable and, even, quite sexy.

If I were to join in the global guessing-game for Musc Tonkin’s notes, I would venture the following:

Top: Orange Blossom/Neroli, Gardenia, Ylang-Ylang, Peach, Cumin and, possibly, Coumarin and Bergamot. Middle: Jasmine Sambac, Damask Rose, Honey, Labdanum, and Patchouli. Base: Musk, Civet/Castoreum, Oakmoss, Tonka Beans, and, possibly, Benzoin.

Oakmoss or tree moss.

Oakmoss or tree moss.

The perfume is technically categorized on Fragrantica as a floral chypre, and there is no doubt that is correct. The perfume opens with a chypre’s usual notes of citrus and strongly pungent oakmoss with its characteristic dusty, dry, almost mineralized characteristics. But Musc Tonkin’s opening minutes go far, far beyond that usual chypre beginning.

Here, there is something that strongly evokes pure animal fat, skin, and hair. (Dare I say it, fur?) It’s a shockingly intense contrast to the accompanying notes that are both floral and fruity. The skin note verges on something like raw leather, and there is a faintly urinous undertone, too, along with that fatty note that conjures up rolls of white blubber in my mind. The citric notes feel like neroli — which my nose usually finds to be a slightly sharper, less sweet version of orange blossom — along with some other zesty citrus. It may be bergamot, though, here, it smells nothing like the Earl Grey note that is often associated with it. There also seems to be cumin, in addition to something that is earthy, extremely intimate, and smells greatly of unwashed panties. Honestly, I recoiled from the whole thing and felt a lot like the Coyote in the old Roadrunner cartoons just seconds before the dynamite exploded and the cliff dissolved from under him.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that animalic funk (which perfumistas often call “skank”) came from civet. It is a secretion from the anal glands of the civet cat. The funniest description I have ever read of any perfume ingredient came from Chandler Burr, the former New York Times perfume critic, who wrote about civet on his tour of the perfumery school of the Swiss company Givaudan, the world’s largest perfume maker. In an uproarious article entitled “Meow Mix,” he details regular people’s reactions to the ingredient and the descriptions given by Givaudan’s impish perfumer, Jean Guichard. I really don’t want to ruin the story, so, for our purposes, it suffices to say that civet can smell most definitely like unwashed underwear.

Ylang-ylang

Ylang-ylang

To my enormous relief, Musc Tonkin makes a sharp swerve soon after that slightly brutal few minutes. The floral notes take over, softening the animalistic tones which soon recede to the background. They never fade away completely — this is, after all, a pure musk fragrance — but they become the base for the perfume and not the solo aria. Instead, I smell very creamy, indolic flowers that I suspect are gardenia and ylang-ylang. The latter’s buttery notes are redolent of slightly banana-like custard, and they add a necessary softness to the pungency of the oakmoss and the intimacy of that funk. The leather note remains but it is no longer raw, pungent or rough as it was in those opening minutes. Softened by the florals, it is smoother and extremely subtle.

Soon thereafter, the perfume becomes sweeter. There are undertones that call to mind tonka bean and some faint woodiness that make me wonder if there is a sweet hay element from coumarin. But the greatest note is definitely from sweet peach, something which has been used in a number of fruity chypres from Guerlain‘s legendary Mitsouko to RochasFemme to provide a skin-like impression of intimacy. I’m strongly reminded of the latter, as well as Amouage‘s Jubilation 25 for Women which not only smelled very similar on me but which also led to an equally mixed reaction. The peach, cumin, chypre, skanky civet notes of deeply feminine intimacy in Jubilation 25 are strongly mirrored here. It’s quite erotic and seductive, and calls to mind the famous nudes from Delacroix or Rubens.

"Woman with a parrot" by Eugène Delacroix. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons. Source: Lib-Art.com

“Woman with a parrot” by Eugène Delacroix. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons. Source: Lib-Art.com

Marc-Antoine Corticchiato wasn’t far off in his description of Musc Tonkin on the company’s website:

A powerful, addictive, erotic aura… The scent of heated flesh, solar, feline, subtly leathery. This elixir reinvents in a novel, contemporary style, the most suave note in perfumery, worshipped for millennia: Tonkin musk.

More than a fragrance: an imprint… […]

Vibrant, facetted, surprising, at once nocturnal and solar, this aphrodisiac potion changes on each skin, the better to enhance it. A lick of salt for the taste of skin. A heady floral whiff to remind us that perfume links our bodies to the erotic spells of nature. A liquorous, mulled-fruit burn contrasting with a light, shimmering veil of powder…

"Venus at a mirror" - Rubens. Source: La Cornice.

“Venus at a mirror” – Rubens. Source: La Cornice.

A few hours in, as the middle notes start to take over, the perfume becomes even softer. The oakmoss has completely vanished, as have the fruity accords. Now, it smells like deep, dark, red rose with something that may well be Jasmine Sambac. The latter has a muskier, deeper, earthier element to it than regular jasmine. There are also hints of sweetness, as if from honey. The earthiness remains, though it is faint and tinged by more amber-like elements. It’s not resinous but hazy, as if soft amber has mixed with patchouli and musk to create a shimmering patina over the skin. It’s not a cozy, comfy scent, but a rather sensuous one. In its final hours, all that remain are traces of vanilla tonka and just plain soft musk.

All in all, Musc Tonkin had average projection on my skin and very good longevity. The sillage was very potent for the thirty minutes and strong-to-good for the first hour. Thereafter, the scent bubble became much less pronounced. The perfume became close to the skin about four hours in, but it didn’t fade away completely until ten hours had passed. I’ve read of much greater longevity — as would be expected from something that comes in the most concentrated form (extrait de parfum) —  on those with less voracious, perfume-consuming skin.

As a whole, Musc Tonkin has gotten great critical acclaim. (The exception being, perhaps, Now Smell This (“NST”) where the reviewer seemed definitely unenthused and was reminded of floral “chicken manure.”) Still, I have the impression that average perfume wearers are a lot more ambivalent about the scent than the critics at places like CaFleureBon. It’s hard to explain but, from the comments on Fragrantica and elsewhere, it’s as though people feel they are expected to adore and admire the scent — when, in reality, it’s far from a huge favorite. In fact, on Fragrantica, many seem to find it admirable but “challenging.”

I obtained my sample from an extremely generous friend and fellow perfume blogger, the very astute, talented Scented Hound. He couldn’t help himself and ordered a full bottle, unsniffed, only to find it was a “grungey flower” that brought to mind Miss Haversham from Great Expectations. I don’t get Miss Haversham flashbacks — probably because I associate her with extreme white, dust, powder, and shriveled old age — but Musc Tonkin is definitely a “grungey flower.” And it is a flower that is “filled with erotism, lust and sensuality,” to quote the review from Lucasai from Chemist in The Bottle. Others, however, seem to have had a very different experience from all three of us (and the NST reviewer): some posters on Basenotes talk about very powdery notes, a “clean” scent, strong impressions of shampoo and soap, and calone – a very aquatic-melon note. It’s almost as if we smelled a completely different perfume!

I think fans of fruity, skanky chypres like Femme or Jubilation 25 will absolutely adore Musc Tonkin. So, too, will those who like very musky, animalistic scents. Though the bottle is limited-edition and only a 1000 were made, it is still available on the company’s website. There has also been speculation that, if the scent is a run-away hit, it may actually end up in Parfum d’Empire’s permanent line. I can’t speak to that but, if you are a fan of naughty, skanky or chypre perfumes and/or are a perfume collector, you may want to snap up one of those bottles before they’re all gone. I have no doubt that they will appreciate in value by an enormous amount.

For everyone else, however, I would suggest getting a sample first. Musc Tonkin is a beautifully blended and very artistically clever ode to the musks of old — but it is also challenging and, at times, difficult, especially in those opening minutes. It is not something you can just throw on to go to the PTA or to a business meeting. But, then again, it’s not meant to be. It is, however, meant to be powerfully erotic. To the extent that it replicated warmly heated flesh and funky intimacy, I’d say it succeeded in that endeavor.

DETAILS:
Your best bet in obtaining Musc Tonkin is to order directly from Parfum d’Empire’s website where it is still available (as of this posting) and costs $150 or €120 for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle. Luckyscent is sold out of the scent and has been for a while. Surrender to Chance offers samples starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.