Paris Perfumers: Laurent Mazzone & LM Parfums

Fate, planning, and a little bit of serendipity gave me the chance to meet with three, very different, Paris perfumers during my trip. Actually, to be completely precise, one is primarily based in Grenoble, and one is an actual nose/creator, while the other two are more technically considered as perfume creators with their own houses. Semantics aside, I had a marvelous time with each one, and thought I’d share a little bit of the experience, each of which was very different but utterly memorable. Today, the focus will be Laurent Mazzone and some of the LM Parfums that I tried, including some gorgeous upcoming, new releases slated for November 2013 and early 2014.

LAURENT MAZZONE & LM PARFUMS:

Hotel Costes. Source: hotel-costes.semuz.com

Hotel Costes. Source: hotel-costes.semuz.com

The Hotel Costes on the Rue St. Honoré in Paris is perhaps the pinnacle of stylish, ne plus ultra, sophisticated cool. Velvet, opulence and excess are the bywords for the decor inside, but one of the main attractions is the indoor courtyard. And what a scene it is! Imagine a large, covered, indoor courtyard surrounded on high by Roman statues and greenery. At its pristine, white tables covered with crystal glasses, an array of pencil-thin, black-clad, social x-rays — draped in ennui as much as in Hermès — pose stylishly on thin, black chairs. Their fragile bones seem likely to be crushed by the great effort of lifting their cigarettes. And they’ve clearly followed the mantra and example of Anna Wintour, Vogue’s “Nuclear Winter” editor-in-chief, when it comes to haughtiness. Their male counterparts are all tanned, in dark suits with crisp white shirts that are opened a few buttons, and fixated on their cellphones as they sip a glass of chilled white wine with one well-shod limb elegantly crossed over the other. All around are a phalanx of haughty waiters, many of whom seem to be aspiring models, who look down their noses at your from their great height and seem almost offended that you’ve bothered them with a request. (Or perhaps they’ve simply got issues with people who ask for ice, or for directions to the loo? At the very least, they’ve got issues with a variety of things, and need a serious attitude adjustment.)

Hotel Costes courtyard. Source: lefigaro.fr. photo : DR.

Hotel Costes courtyard. Source: lefigaro.fr. photo : DR.

Outside the Hotel Costes. Photo: my own.

Outside the Hotel Costes. Photo: my own.

As I walked up to the hotel from the aristocratic, luxurious Place Vendome just around the corner, a large chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce was idling, and a bodyguard talking into his microphone. The chauffeur stood in the middle of the road with the famous Chopard jewellers behind him. Hovering like a gaggle of geese, outside and in, were extremely tall, elegantly clad women whose clothing, looks, and attitude marked them as somehow being involved in Paris Fashion Week which was ending the next day (October 2nd).

It was into this overly hip, excessively cool, “in” scene that I arrived — sleep-deprived, with my voice half-gone from the early part of my trip, and feeling rather bedraggled, if truth be told. I was scheduled to meet Laurent Mazzone and Fabienne, the international business agent for LM Parfums, whose incredibly warm, sweet, and friendly emails had resulted in this meeting. We had begun communicating just a few days before my departure and after my enthusiastic, extremely positive review for LM Parfums‘ gorgeous Sensual Orchid.

As luck would have it, Laurent Mazzone was going to be in Paris for the fashion shows. He had greatly enjoyed the thoroughness of my review (happily, my verboseness seems to a positive thing for some people!), and invited me for drinks. When I warned Fabienne that my French was rusty and that I hadn’t spoken it consistently in almost 20 years, she offered to come along as well. (It was just as well because, despite her opinion that I wasn’t at all rusty, I most definitely am! Plus, in the fog of my exhaustion, I often blanked out on words or phrases. Merci, Fabienne, for saving my linguistic hide.)

Laurent Mazzone and Fabienne during Moscow Fashion Week 2013. Source: annarusska.ru

Laurent Mazzone and Fabienne during Moscow Fashion Week 2013. Source: annarusska.ru

I found Laurent and Fabienne easily, sitting at a couple of tables in the corner along with Laurent’s partner, and was greeted with kisses and even a hug. Laurent Mazzone is a very dapper, youngish man in his early ’30s (I think), with a cherubic face, a naughty gleam in his mischievous, warm, brown eyes, and a big grin. He has an enormously exuberant personality, which I loved, and endless passion. Yet, he is also extremely serious when it comes to the subject of perfumery, and has a true commitment to the idea of making luxurious, sensuous perfumes in the grand tradition, but with a modern feel. There was enormous sensitivity in those brown eyes when listening to my comments about some of his line, sometimes followed by a huge, infectious smile from ear to ear when he saw that I understood and appreciated their nature.

Source: uae.souq.com

Patchouli Boheme. Source: uae.souq.com

He had brought a chic, black, and black-ribboned, LM Parfums bag of what I thought would be perfume samples. They turned out to be actual, full, 100 ml bottles of 3 of his fragrances: Ambre Muscadin, Patchouli Boheme, and the new, limited-edition, Chemise Blanche. Yet, despite my patchouli and amber obsession, I never tested any of those perfumes that day and, instead, ended up trying his forthcoming, new perfume, Hard Leather.

Hard Leather will be released in November, and I can’t wait because I absolutely loved it! In fact, I think I may have yelped or cried out rather loudly upon sniffing it because, suddenly, some tables of black-clad, haughty Parisians were turning around with raised eyebrows. I didn’t care, and I think I may have hugged Mr. Mazzone at one point over Hard Leather because it was (and is) absolutely fantastic. Mr. Mazzone describes it as an “animalic leather” that, to my opinion at least, isn’t particularly animalic or aggressive after the opening 10 minutes, but, instead, much more beautifully well-rounded and warm. It might be “animalic” by French standards, but I don’t think it is generally or as a whole, and especially not by Middle Eastern or Amouage standards.

Hard Leather has its musky side to be sure, but it’s primarily woody, sweet, rich, spicy, ambered, and incredibly sensual. From the first sniff, I could instantly tell that there was oud from Laos in it, with its own very unique, aged character, but what I liked about this version of it is that it didn’t smell fecal like so many fragrances that use that particular Laotian wood. Even better, there is none of that revolting Gorgonzola or cheese undertone that very aged Laotian oud can sometimes have. Soon after the agarwood announces itself, there is a burst of pungent civet which quickly calms down (in less than ten minutes), and melts into the rich, well-blended, richly burnished whole.

In essence, Hard Leather smells like your boyfriend’s leather jacket, lightly mixed with his musky scent, along with deep, almost honeyed, slightly smoky oud, and a vague tinge of floral sweetness, atop a base of ambered warmth. At times, it seemed to share some kinship with Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque, which is one of my absolute favorite Lutens fragrances, but there are clear differences in smell. Even apart from the oud, Hard Leather has a little more edge at first, and is significantly more woody. It also seems to have a different (and much smaller) floral vein running through it. I can’t remember the rest of the notes that Laurent later told me about, but, if memory serves me correctly, there is iris absolute in Hard Leather as well. [UPDATE 10/17/13 – I have the official press release for Hard Leather with its sleek graphics and the full list of notes in the perfume.]

I also can’t recall the name of the perfumer with whom Laurent worked, but I laughed at his description of the process whereby he kept telling the nose to put in “more. More, more, more!” Not only is such a comment completely in keeping with Mr. Mazzone’s character, intensity and passion, but the perfume really has deep richness. I was so crazy about Hard Leather that Mr. Mazzone sent his friend up to their rooms to get his own small decant to give me as a gift, which resulted in a further exuberant outburst that undoubtedly horrified the Hotel Costes’ snobs, but too bad. This is such a fantastic perfume! I will do a review closer to the perfume’s launch date, but I’m telling guys, in particular, and women who like masculine, woody or leather scents: you need to check this one out.

Source: Silkcosmetics.nl

Some, but not all, of the LM Parfums line. Source: Silkcosmetics.nl

What I love about LM Parfums is that they are luxurious, sensuous, full-bodied, and rich. Hard Leather, unlike most of the perfumes from the line, is an extrait de parfum (only three of the current LM Parfums have that concentration), and clocks in at 20% perfume oil. All the perfumes, however, have an opulence that really harkens back to the golden age of perfumery. They’re not fuddy-duddy, old or dated in smell, but Laurent is clearly driven by his love for the classic perfume greats. These fragrances all feel like actual, serious perfumes — they proclaim their richness and luxurious nature without hesitation, announce their presence, and feel no shame over the fact that they are both perfume and French in nature.

Yet, the thing I found with Sensual Orchid and Hard Leather is that their richness contrasts with a surprising airiness in feel. These are not opaque, thick perfumes by any means! Based on what I’ve tested thus far from the line, even the sillage drops after about 2-3 hours to hover somewhat discretely just an inch or so above the skin. The perfumes are potent when smelled up close and linger, but they aren’t battleships of heaviness with nuclear projection that trails you for hours. (In all honestly, I wish they were like that, but I realise that my personal tastes are not the modern style, and that ’80s-style powerhouses are rarely made today.) Still, LM Parfums are all very French in feel or spirit. Mr. Mazzone mentioned a number of the perfume legends, like Guerlain’s Mitsouko, for example, and how he wants his perfumes to reflect the same sort of sophisticated complexity with layers of nuance.

His philosophy certainly shows in Hard Leather, but also in another upcoming fragrance called Army of Lovers. It is a chypre and, honestly, this is a true chypre! None of that neo-chypre or wanna-be, pretend, quasi-chypre business. (Le Labo’s Ylang 49, I’m looking straight at you with your revolting purple patchouli!) No, this is an actual, genuine chypre with an amount of oakmoss absolute that you have to smell to believe. It’s beautiful, very elegant, and reeks of class. It was created by Mr. Mazzone with a Robertet nose (I think) whose name I have now forgotten, and the perfume name references a Swedish group that Mr. Mazzone loves. I have to wonder if there will be any trademark issues in using the same name, but the perfume won’t be released until 2014, so I’m sure he has time to work out any problems that may arise.

I wish I could recall the notes in Army of Lovers, but all I remember now is how impressed I was with its elegance. At one point, I had Hard Leather on one shoulder or bicep, and Army of Lovers on the other — and I may have uttered a rather strangled, guttural moan. I certainly did something very loudly that seemed to have (further) shocked the constipated denizens of the Hotel Costes, and I saw a very disapproving gleam in our server’s eyes when he stopped by next. At this point, I most definitely did not care. Laurent Mazzone was spraying me with glee, and then himself, and we were standing up to sniff each other publicly without the slightest bit of thought to those around. I might have entered a slight fugue state at one point as the potent chypre of Army of Lovers, and the spicy, oriental, animalic leather-oud warmth of Hard Leather billowed out around me. I may have this incorrectly, but if I recall, I think Laurent Mazzone stated that Ambre Muscadin and Patchouli Boheme are two of the main corner stones or representational fragrances from his line. I suspect that either Hard Leather, Army of Lovers, or both will be soon joining them.

In telling you all this, I’m being completely honest. Just as I am when I say that there were some things I smelled that day that were not my cup of tea at all. Very well-made, and beautifully blended, yes, but most definitely not my personal style. Mr. Mazzone sprayed me with something and — blame my usual bluntness or, perhaps, massive sleep-deprivation — I instinctively recoiled, my whole body jerked back, and I grimaced. It was some floral fragrance with purple, fruity patchouli and a synthetic element. So much purple, sweetness, and fruitiness! I had blocked out the name entirely due to my sheer horror, but, in looking over the list of names in the LM line now, I suspect it was O de Soupirs.** If I recall correctly, Mr. Mazzone described its feeling or inspiration as something a woman would wear before going to a rendezvous with her lover. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out something along the lines of “Absolutely not! This is for a 14-year old girl!” (Oh God, now that I’m remembering more of the day, I think I even tried to rub it off my arm with a napkin!)  ** [UPDATE: it turns out the fragrance I didn’t like was a new, upcoming, not-yet-released perfume called Lost Paradise. It will be launched in 2014. — Further Update 1/29/14: the name has been changed to Ultimate Seduction. ]

I usually try to be more tactful and polite, so I’m quite chagrined at my rudeness, but I really couldn’t help the outburst or my instinctive, gut-level reaction. There was a pause in the conversation, and Mr. Mazzone blinked, but he was extremely gracious about it, though there was a hurt look in his sensitive eyes. I tried to explain that I was always very honest in my opinions, and that my candour should let him know that I was quite sincere in my raves for the other two perfumes. He actually seemed to like that a lot, but he’s also incredibly polite, so perhaps I’m just hoping that he put it all into context.

Even before this incident, Mr. Mazzone had quickly caught onto my personal tastes, which strongly mirror his own, so it wasn’t a surprise when he immediately noted that I would very much dislike another perfume that he had included in the very generous “samples.” It was the new, recently released but limited-edition Chemise Blanche which — unlike its siblings — is not done in a black, velvet box imprinted with the LM Parfums logo. It’s also not in one of the black bottles that Mr. Mazzone has intentionally made almost just barely opaque, but not quite. He was concerned that perfume owners would not be able to see how much was left in their bottle if it was a solid black, so he specifically had the glass done in a way which would show how much liquid was left if the bottle was held up to the light. I loved the thoughtfulness and attention to detail involved in that, especially as the issue of remaining quantity is a problem that I always have with my old, jet-black bottle of Fracas.

Chemise BlancheInstead, Chemise Blanche is in a clear, glass bottle and in a white velvet box. The reason Mr. Mazzone was sure I would dislike it is because it is very much the opposite of my favorites from his line: it’s a perfume centered around aldehydes and citruses. To me, it very much evokes something crystalline in visuals, almost Alpine, if you will: white, pure, clear, airy, and very light in feel, despite being an extrait in concentration. According to Fragrantica, the notes include:

aldehydes, bergamot, mandarin, iris, lily of the valley, rose, benzoin, tonka, amber and musk.

To my surprise, given my loathing for aldehydes, the note was much tamer than I had expected but, alas, even Mr. Mazzone admitted that Chemise Blanche smelled of soap and dishwashing liquid on my skin. (By now, sniffing yet my another portion of my shoulder, we were really receiving some strange looks!) Chemise Blanche is not my style at all, and my skin is always a huge problem when it comes to aldehydes, but I freely admit that the perfume is very well-done. Actually, with a few wearings, I occasionally persuaded myself that Chemise Blanche might almost be something I would opt for if I were looking for a crisp, light, gauzy perfume with a citric edge. Almost. I’m wearing Hard Leather as I write this, and I doubt I would ever go for crystal white when I could have shades of richly burnished brown, red, black and amber instead!

Nonetheless, Chemise Blanche turned out to be quite a hit with my friend with whom I was staying and who has very difficult perfume tastes. It’s not only that she is someone whose tastes are the polar opposite of mine; it’s also that she finds almost everything to be “too sweet” or “too strong.” She recoils in horror at even the slightest bit of Orientalism or spice, isn’t a huge fan of most pure florals, and adores airy, light, clean and citrusy fragrances. Even in that last category, however, she thinks the vast majority are “too sweet.” (It was quite interesting going perfume-shopping with her one day! No matter what citrus fragrance I found for her, almost all were rejected and, in a few cases, deemed to be “too masculine” as well.) Chemise Blanche, however, smelled lovely on her skin, and she seemed almost convinced that it wasn’t the dreaded, verboten “sweet.” (It is not. Not even remotely!) So, I left her a large decant for her to test out while she decides if it is full-bottle worthy. 

Laurent Mazzone. Source: unique.ru.com

Laurent Mazzone. Source: unique.ru.com

All in all, I had an absolutely wonderful time meeting Laurent Mazzone, his partner, and Fabienne. They were incredibly warm, friendly, effusive, generous, and filled with life. It was truly fun, whether we were laughing over Mr. Mazzone’s astringent views on some of the Paris Fashion Week collections, sniffing each other publicly, or having passionately robust discussions about the state of perfumery in the past versus today.

You know, all perfumers talk or claim that they put a little bit of themselves or their personalities within each fragrance, but it’s not always true. Commercial perfumery certainly doesn’t have that, and neither do some purportedly “niche” lines. Yet, in sniffing the various LM Parfums, I can actually and genuinely see a little bit of Mr. Mazzone in most of them. There is a quietly refined, passionate lustiness or sensuality in the ones that I’ve tried — whether it’s the overtly sexy Sensual Orchid, the smooth, sweetened, goldenness of Ambre Muscadin, the hugely smoky Patchouli Boheme with its almost mesquite-like opening, or the more masculine Hard Leather — that really seems to epitomize different parts of the gregarious, outgoing, exuberantly passionate man I met. Chemise Blanche seems to be an anomaly, at least to me personally, in terms of that character assessment theory, but the line certainly carries something for everyone and its clean crispness should definitely appeal to some modern tastes.

I may end up doing a proper review for Chemise Blanche down the line, but I definitely plan to cover Patchouli Boheme and Ambre Muscadin. Hard Leather as well, when it is released next month. In the meantime, if you have the chance to try any LM Parfums, do give them a sniff. The line is now in the U.S., and is no longer exclusive to Europe. Plus, Osswald in New York has a very affordable deal on samples which should make testing quite easy. For readers in Europe, the line is not hard to find, and LM Parfums sells 5 ml decants at a very reasonable price (€14 or €19). As for me, I suddenly fell upon the genius idea of layering Sensual Orchid with Hard Leather on occasion, and now, I really have to get my hands on a proper decant of both. The people at the Hotel Costes are lucky they’re not around to witness my reaction….

[UPDATE: I have now reviewed Ambre Muscadin and Hard Leather, with shopping information and pricing information provided in the appropriate reviews.]

Disclosure: Some of the perfumes covered in this post were, as noted, provided by LM Parfums. There was no financial compensation for any of this. I don’t do paid reviews or posts, and my views are my own. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: LM Parfums always come in a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle. The European price is generally either €120 (€125 at some online vendors), or €195 (or £195). The American retail price is either $175 or $225. In the U.S.: Laurent Mazzone’s fragrances used to be European exclusives, but the range just came to America two months ago. It’s sold exclusively at OsswaldNYC. For some strange reason, the website seems to show only two fragrances now, and not all the ones it had earlier when I reviewed Sensual Orchid. In terms of samples, none of the U.S. perfume sample sites currently carry the LM Parfums line, but Osswald has a special deal for all its perfumes for U.S. customers who telephone the store: 10 samples for $10, with free shipping in the U.S., and it’s for any perfumes that they stock! That means the full, existing, current LM Parfums line (or whatever parts they may now carry of it), and some other goodies only found at OsswaldNY, for less than a $1 a vial! The deal is only available for telephone orders, however, so you have to call (212) 625-3111. Outside the U.S.: In Europe, you can buy the perfumes directly from LM Parfums for €125 or €195. (At this other LM Parfums site, some of the bottles are priced at €120.) Samples are also available for €14 or €19, depending on the perfume in question and its concentration, and they come in a good 5 ml size. In the UK, the LM Parfums line is carried exclusively at Harvey Nichols. In France, you can find the perfumes, and 5 ml samples of each (usually about €14) at Laurent Mazzone’s own Premiere Avenue. In Paris, LM Parfums are sold at Jovoy. Germany’s First in Fragrance carries the full line and sells samples as well. You can also find LM Parfums at Essenza Nobile, Italy’s Vittoria Profumi, or Alla Violetta. In the Netherlands, you can find LM Parfums at Silks Cosmetics or Parfumaria. In the Middle East, I found most of the LM Parfums line at the UAE’s Souq perfume retailer. For all other countries, you can find a vendor near you from Switzerland to Belgium, Lithuania, Russia, Romania, Croatia, Azerbaijan, and more, by using the LM Parfums Partner listing. Laurent Mazzone or LM Parfums fragrances are widely available throughout Europe, and many of those sites sell samples as well. 

Armani Privé Oud Royal & Cuir Noir (2013) (Mille et Une Nuits)

Armani is re-releasing some of its limited-issue Privé line, and I obtained samples of three of the fragrances from La Collection des Mille et Une Nuits. This review is for Oud Royal and Cuir Noir, neither of which is complicated enough or compelling enough to warrant an individual review. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if Armani could ever make a fragrance that would move me. His style is simply too bloodlessly refined for my tastes. Plus, for the cost, I keep thinking that one could do better. That is especially true for one of the Privé fragrances which seems to have been reworked into something completely different and rather terrible.

THE RE-LAUNCH:

Refinery29 has the details on which Armani Privé fragrances are being returned to the market:

The brand has been releasing its ultra-exclusive Privé scents in limited-editions since 2004, usually debuting just one at a time in small batches. Once they sold out, they were gone for good. Well, someone over there was feeling generous, because this summer sees the launch of four brand-new scents and the re-issue of all 10 of the previously launched scents. […]

The four “new” scents — Oud Royal, Cuir Noir, Ambre Orient, and Rose d’Arabie — were originally launched overseas back in 2011, but never made it to the U.S. They are part of the La Collection des Mille et une Nuits that was inspired by the classic Arabian tale, One Thousand and One Nights. They showcase notes of oud, leather, amber, and rose, respectively.

There is no word on whether these 2013 fragrances have been re-worked and re-formulated, but I think at least one of those fragrances must have been, as you will soon see.

OUD ROYAL:

Armani Oud RoyalAccording to Fragrantica, Oud Royal was created by Alberto Morillas, while Bois de Jasmin says it is Symrise perfumer Evelyne Boulanger. Some people give the original release date as 2010, others say 2011. Regardless of whoever made Royal Oud or when, the fragrance is certainly described with opulence. In the original press release description of the fragrance, as quoted by Now Smell This, Oud Royal and its notes are described as follows:

“When Giorgio Armani turned his attention to oud, he decided to work it the way he would a heavy brocade lined with gold and silver, leaving its weight, its noble intensity and majestic sedateness. Respectful of its personality, Giorgio Armani set about highlighting each facet of character in its composition: depth is amplified by an amber harmony, the reddish glow is fanned with spices, the dark earth reflections are smoked with a veil of myrrh and incense.” Additional notes include black earth note, animalic notes.

The current description of the fragrance on Armani’s website is largely the same, though much less detailed and focusing more on the mystical nature of oud wood. Thus far, that much is the same. Armani, however, doesn’t list any notes for the fragrance. So, if we take the Now Smell This press release report, and combine it with the notes listed on Fragrantica, the list of ingredients in Oud Royal would be:

Oud from Laos, saffron, amber, rose, sandalwood, myrrh, incense, black earth and animalic notes.

Oud Royal opens on my skin with a very leathery facade, so much so that I actually had to double-check my sample to make sure I hadn’t accidentally put on Cuir Noir. The fragrance is dry, earthy, very dusty, only slightly sweetened by saffron, and reminds me strongly of Dior‘s Leather Oud. There is a subtle undertone of smokiness, but it’s extremely muted. After about five minutes, the saffron becomes a little more noticeable, taking on an almost meaty quality, but, like almost everything else in the fragrance, it’s restrained, refined, and very polite. The rose also makes an appearance at this time, but it’s bloodless, and remains a muted, virtually hidden presence in the perfume’s life.

It takes a mere 30 minutes for Oud Royal to turn into a highly refined, elegant, very pleasant blur. It hovers discretely above the skin as a pleasant haze of soft leather and oud, with saffron and a touch of incense. The rose is barely perceptible, the saffron loses its meaty touch, and the fragrance eventually turns slightly sweeter at the end of 90-minutes. A pretty little pop of sandalwood appears around the end of the fifth hour, but it is very subtle and is largely overpowered by the oud. Those are all minor changes, however, and the core essence remains the same: an extremely pleasant, almost pretty, soft, gauzy leather-oud fragrance that sticks close to the skin. All in all, Oud Royal lasted just short of 7.75 hours on my skin, with weak sillage throughout.

Our Royal is exquisitely blended, very refined, and highly conservative in every way imaginable. I can see its high quality, and even its prettiness, but something ultimately leaves me unmoved. On some levels, it seems like the perfect oud fragrance for those who: 1) dislike true agarwood scents; 2) are looking for a refined fragrance that is highly unobtrusive, in addition to being somewhat blandly safe; and 3) have a lot of money to spend on a prestige name in luxury goods. I think all three factors must apply for Oud Royal to really be worth your while.

The general reaction to Oud Royal is mixed. Bois de Jasmin seems to have been singularly unimpressed, giving the fragrance a 3-star (“adequate”) rating and finding its price (even back in 2010) to be too high for the scent in question:

the fragrances from this collection are in fact quite opulent, well-crafted, made with high-quality materials. Yet, as I am trying to get over the sticker shock of £170 per bottle (according to Harrod’s pricing,) I have to ask myself whether this price is warranted. I really enjoy the decadent sensuality that Oud Royal conveys as well as its prêt-a-porter interpretation of the leather-oud notes that sometimes are quite difficult to wear (such as by Kilian Pure Oud, beautiful though it is.) Yet, it does not strike me as particularly new or original. Or perhaps, something of this Arabian Tale was lost in translation.

On Basenotes, there are mixed reviews in one thread, while a Basenotes poll about the best oud fragrances for men that gives 11 different options has Oud Royal coming in seventh place with 4% of the votes. Are those voting numbers representative or comprehensive? No, and I’m not claiming that they are. Nonetheless, the poll shows that Oud Royal — while being perfectly pleasant and beautifully refined — isn’t necessarily a fragrance that sweeps people away. At the end of the day, the bottom line is that there really isn’t much to say about Oud Royal, and I think it has been intentionally made that way.

CUIR NOIR:

Source: Aishti.com

Source: Aishti.com

I find Cuir Noir to be singularly misnamed, and rather irritating to describe. The fragrance sample I obtained from Neiman Marcus would be more aptly called Saffron Rose, because a leather fragrance it is not. You wouldn’t know that from the Fragrantica description, however, which seems to quote the original Armani press release from 2011:

Cuir Noir was inspired by the art of Arabian tanners. “Leather is an art. From Cordoba, Spain to the borders of the Atlas Mountains. With a wine patina, it takes the name of “cordovan”. Tattooed with gold, it is called “maroquin”.” The perfume composition consists of Australian Sandalwood, Rose essence, Coriander, Nutmeg (in the top); Leather, Smoky Guaiac and Oud (in the heart); Tahitian Vanilla absolute and Benzoin balm (in the base).

I read that description, started testing the fragrance, then immediately stopped in my tracks. Leather? Sandalwood? Nutmeg? Not on my skin, it wasn’t. I double-checked the name printed on the manufacturer’s vial, I re-read Fragrantica, and then I went online to see what some reviews might say, because what was appearing on my skin was gooey, rose syrup with walloping, hefty amounts of saffron, and nary a whiff of leather in sight! I read with confusion Bois de Jasmin‘s bored, negative review of the scent and paid close heed to the statement: “Cuir Noir was created by perfumer Nathalie Lorson and includes notes of Bulgarian rose, nutmeg, coriander, guaiac wood, leather, oud, Australian sandalwood, ambergris accord, benzoin.”

I’ve concluded that Armani must have changed his mind about Cuir Noir, and that it must now be a very different thing from what it was back when it was originally released for the Middle Eastern market. You see, in his current description for the scent on his website, Armani barely bothers to talk about leather at all. Instead, the purportedly black leather fragrance is actually a tribute to saffron, and with rather a different focus from what Fragrantica originally quoted back in 2011:

Cuir Noir showcases the raw material Saffron, a spice with leather accents. The roundness and sensuality of its notes bring suppleness and warmth, reflecting the enveloping sensuality of skin-on-skin contact.  Derived from the crimson stigmas of Crocus sativus, saffron is the world’s most expensive apice [sic]. Its ochre colour symbolises inner happiness, which is why saffron-hued clothing is often mentioned in ancient mythology, tragedies and poetry. In perfumery, saffron lends a full, leathery and sensual note to fragrance compositions.  With Cuir Noir, Giorgio Armani journeys into the heart of an Arabian night. He revisits  the saffron accord to create a captivating Oriental. Golden and voluptuous, saffron infuses a profoundly sensual experience  that recalls the redolence of tanned hides with the wild scent of tallow and  e [sic] smouldering, tarry aroma of black birch.

Well, I don’t smell any tarry black birch at all, but the description does explain why my skin is reeking almost solely of saffron mixed with a syrupy, gooey, jammy rose. It’s revolting, cloyingly sweet, and backed by a sort of chewy darkness that feels like purple patchouli. Cuir Noir is also wholly unoriginal in bent, a retread of very tired old ground walked by so many other fragrances. In fact, the scent reminds me strongly of Tom Ford‘s Café Rose which was the same sort of jammy rose, saffron bomb on my skin.

From beginning to linear end, the same two notes dominate Armani’s Cuir Noir. For the first five minutes, there were flickers of something smoky (though it never felt like guaiac wood), but leather? Bah! BAH, I tell you! My notes are littered with comments about saccharine sweetness, and the complete absence of any mythical tanners from Cordoba. Even the oud is pretty much of a lost cause; it disappears within thirty minutes. Oddly, around the 10 minute mark, there was a momentary pop of a powdered lipstick tonality with a slightly violet aspect, but it vanished within minutes.

Cuir Noir becomes soft and sheer very fast. It takes less than 30 minutes for the moderate sillage to begin its sharp decline and drop; by the 90-minutes mark, the fragrance is a complete skin scent. Yet, Cuir Noir is oddly potent when sniffed up close, and I had almost a burning sensation when I sniffed the saffron, patchouli, rose combination during the second hour. It makes me wonder just how synthetic the fragrance is, and how much fruit-chouli is lurking underneath.

Cuir Noir doesn’t drastically change from its main, boring, sickly-sweet combination until the very end, so I should be thankful that it died so soon. In its final drydown, a rich, faintly custardy vanilla note shows up, along with some abstract, generic smoky woodiness that might be guaiac or ersatz, fake, Australian “sandalwood,” but both notes are as muted and sweetened as everything else in the fragrance. All in all, the fragrance lasted exactly 4.75 hours, ending as a whimper of vanilla sweetness. I know my skin eats fragrances quickly, but come on! For a $275 eau de parfum that is ostensibly made from the richest and best ingredients, that seems rather pathetic. As for the mythical tanners from Cordoba, all I can do is mutter about misleading names, and analogize to that old 1980s commercial for Wendy’s: “Where’s the beef?!”

As you can tell, I’m hugely unimpressed by Cuir Noir, especially in light of its $275 price tag. I never tested the original version released in the Middle East, but I find it hard to believe that the 2011 fragrance whose descriptions and reviews I read is the same one I tested now. The difference between the press release quoted by Fragrantica and what is now on the Armani website seems too vast. I even contemplated the possibility that Fragrantica was incorrect in its description of the scent’s leather, seeming press release quotes notwithstanding. So, I checked the Cuir Noir entry on Osmoz. Nope, Fragrantica wasn’t mistaken. Osmoz usually relies on press release descriptions, too, and its entry for Cuir Noir reads:

The Italian designer was inspired by the refined, ancient art of making leather. He wanted to “recreate the fascinating atmosphere of tanneries, which blend the pungent odor of tallow with the burnt and tarry aromas of black birch.’

Osmoz does reference that “This oriental-leather scent opens with spicy notes of coriander and nutmeg, with a sort of saffron effect.” However, that mere “effect” still differs from the way saffron is highlighted front and center in Armani’s description which, again, states flat-out “Cuir Noir showcases the raw material Saffron.” That seems to be a far cry from Armani’s prior focal point in 2011.

My conclusion about a difference in versions is further underscored by reading the reviews on Fragrantica where very little matches with either Armani’s current description or the manufacturer’s fragrance sample that I obtained from Neiman Marcus. References to leather (subtle as it was even then and lasting a mere 30 minutes) are joined by comments about the vanilla custard drydown, and quite a bit of talk of the amber. One person writes of a sort of industrial machine scent in the fragrance:

My father used melted stannary and resin to glue together small metal parts of broken machines. I used to love to see how the metal melts and the resin melts and evaporates into a wonderful perfume. The melted resin is what this perfume reminds me of.

There is not a single word about saffron. Not one. Not even indirectly. And there is nothing about how Cuir Noir is equally dominated by the rose note, either. The only things that seem to be exactly the same are the vanilla custard drydown, and the fact that the old version barely lasted on people either. There are complaints about its short longevity, with one person saying that it didn’t last above 4 hours.

Bois de Jasmin also seems to be describing a different scent. Her review is brief, so brief as to feel like she just wants to get the whole thing over with. Giving it 3 stars for “adequate,” her entire description of the way Cuir Noir actually smells is limited to four sentences:

Cuir Noir starts out as a big sweet amber and leather in the style of Tom Ford Amber Absolute or Annick Goutal Ambre Fétiche. There is a distinctive rose note that lingers from top to drydown. The medicinal, smoky oud is such a rich accent that it makes the leather play a second fiddle. Fans of oriental blends will enjoy Cuir Noir, but if you are looking for a smoky rich leather, it will not satisfy the craving.

Well, I certainly agree with her last statement, but I am more convinced than ever that the 2013 version of Cuir Noir is a wholly different fragrance. My skin might be even more insane than I had previously thought, but that doesn’t change the fact that saffron is the focus of Cuir Noir’s entry on the Armani website. No, this has to be a new version, it simply has to be.

ALL IN ALL:

I was unimpressed with both fragrances given their high price, but if one looks at Oud Royal in a complete vacuum, it isn’t a bad fragrance by any means. It’s actually quite pretty! Oud Royal has the trademark Armani signature stamped all over it: luxury ingredients incorporated seamlessly into a well-blended blur that is hyper-refined and proper to the point of being too elegant and bloodless. It’s just like Armani’s clothes: superbly crafted and reflecting a refinement that is minimalistic, aloof, and understated. Unlike his Privé line of clothing, however, Oud Royal lacks the style to make it really stand out. It’s also linear, uncomplicated, and so refined as to feel rather dull on occasion.

When I tested Nuances, Armani’s limited-edition, ridiculously priced ($500+) iris haute Couture line fragrance earlier this year, I thought part of my discomfort stemmed from the fact that I wasn’t an iris lover. Now, however, I think that the Armani signature simply doesn’t move me. I truly think that, if Armani could sanitize the slightly dirty, earthy qualities of oud to render it as suffocatingly prim as he did to the iris in Nuances, then he absolutely would. Oud Royal lacks the claustrophobic qualities of Nuances, a fragrance so elegant that its refinement gasps for life, but that’s not saying much. After all, there’s only so much one can do to suck all character out of oud combined with leather. That said, I still find Oud Royal to be largely unremarkable, in my opinion, and I much prefer the more nuanced, richer, longer-lasting Dior version (Leather Oud) with its significantly more palatable price tag.

As for Cuir Noir, I’m not sure the 2011 version was much to write home about, but the 2013 absolutely is not! In short, the less said about Cuir Noir, the better. Bah!

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Both Oud Royal and Cuir Noir are eau de parfums that come in a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle and which cost $275, or £190. The Euro price in 2012 was €205, but I don’t know if it has been increased for the re-launch. Armani: You can purchase Oud Royal or Cuir Noir directly from the US Armani website, where the fragrances are listed under the Mille et Un Nuit section. However, I couldn’t see either perfume listed on the Armani International Privé section, and I’ve somehow never been able to select a Privé fragrance to put into a shopping cart on that particular site. Maybe you can figure out how it works. Finally, the UK Armani site does not carry Oud Royal, but does list Cuir Noir. In the U.S.: All four of the new Armani re-releases are sold exclusively at Neiman Marcus, which is where I obtained my samples. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, Harvey Nichols carries Oud Royal and Cuir Noir. The Heathrow Duty-Free boutique carries Oud Royal, but not Cuir Noir. In France, the fragrances are listed on the French Armani site, but no prices are given, and it doesn’t seem as though you can actually purchase fragrances directly from the website. In South Africa, I found Armani Privé at a store called Luminance. For all other locations, you can rely on the Index of different geographical Armani websites, or use their store locator within the site applicable to your area. Samples: I’m afraid you have to rely on an Armani store near you for Oud Royal, or the sales counter of one of the handful of boutiques that carries the Privé line. However, Surrender to Chance does offer samples of Cuir Noir starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Given the newness of the relaunched fragrances, I’m assuming they carry the original 2011 fragrance and not what I am testing now.

Nasomatto Black Afgano

Source: Nathan Branch.

Source: Nathan Branch.

I never thought I’d spend time researching hashish for a perfume blog, but it seems to be an unavoidable aspect of Black Afgano, the famous, slightly notorious fragrance from the Dutch niche house, Nasomatto. It’s a pure parfum that supposedly seeks to replicate the effects of hashish and, perhaps, even its actual smell. The whole thing is done in a very wink-wink, coy manner, right down to the perfume’s ingredients which are kept secret and which some jokingly claim include a little bit of the drug.

Some people aren’t joking about it, though, and they genuinely believe Black Afgano contains hashish or cannabis. (Technically, there is a difference between hashish and cannabis.) I find the possibility extremely amusing and hard to swallow, but they may have a reason for their conviction. According to the Nathan Branch blog, at the time of Black Afgano’s release, there was much “talk about how perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri spent several years experimenting with actual Afghanistan hashish (even “smuggling” it to his lab) in order to make a perfume that either features the essence of hashish or smells somewhat like the stuff[.]” Like me, he also dismisses the likelihood of hashish as a note, saying “that strikes me as more a fantasy story that’s good for generating hipster buzz.” Still, the bottom line is that hashish and Black Afgano seem intertwined, whether in terms of the perfume’s description or in terms of people’s expectations. A number of people truly expect to smell cannabis, and, for some, those expectations led to disappointment and harsh criticism.

Hashish via fadedfools.com

Hashish via fadedfools.com

I’ve never done drugs of any kind, and have no familiarity with hashish or its related, supposedly weaker counterpart, cannabis. In Europe, however, everyone knows about Amsterdam’s open stance on drugs, and I had quite a few high-school classmates who’d tried the city’s famous hash brownies (or who… er… exported… other souvenirs of their trip). I knew full well the visuals, even if I didn’t experience the product, and I have to say, the visuals are dead-on for Black Afgano. The scent, though, was a surprise, and nothing like what I had expected. In a nutshell, Black Afgano is a very nice amber oriental dominated by medicinal oud, incense, nutty labdanum, chewy tobacco, patchouli, and vanilla. A wholly conventional, if potent and super-rich, oriental — and hardly the dangerous, completely daring, hardcore fragrance that I had expected. In fact, it strongly reminded me of another, earlier, much more pioneering, and genuinely innovative oud scent: YSL‘s famous M7 in vintage form.

Source: Nathan Branch at website linked up above.

Source: Nathan Branch at website linked up above.

Black Afgano was created by Nasomatto’s founder, Alessandro Gualtieri, and was released in 2009. The Perfume Shoppe has a description of the scent, and its notes:

One of his boldest creation invokes the best quality of hashish. It is the result of a quest to arouse the effects of temporary bliss. The fragrance’s description (“smuggled” ingredients, harsh herbs, marijuana-as-incense) conjures wild thoughts yet Black Afgano’s dark brown juice is syrupy and the fragrance opens with strong aromas of oud and musk. There is also a hint of wood-scented cigarette smoke in the opening minutes of the fragrance. Black Afgano’s mid-notes develop into smelling like marijuana with a dry, herbal-leafy accord (cured tobacco) tinged with a sweet sweaty note. In the dry down Black Afgano becomes vanillic ambery with a touch of patchouli. The lasting power of Black Afgano is sensational.  Bold and masculine which says “Dare to wear me”.

The specific, official elements in Black Afgano are unknown. Nasomatto doesn’t release notes for its perfumes, and lists nothing on its website. Fragrantica has nothing, either, but Luckyscent vaguely references “coffee, oud, tobacco and hash.” It seems far too minimal a list. While different blogs mention different elements, Scent Intoxique has one of the better ingredient lists, with “cannabis, herbal notes, resins, woods, coffee, tobacco, frankincense, oud.” Nonetheless, I don’t think that’s complete either, and since everyone has their own version of what is included, here is mine:

Coffee, oud, frankincense, tobacco, labdanum, herbal notes, dried fruit, wood, vetiver, vanilla, patchouli, amber resins and/or benzoin.

YSL M7.

YSL M7.

Black Afgano opens on my skin with a blast of coffee and oud, followed quickly by tobacco, fruited raspberry and cherry notes, labdanum, and incense. There are strong undertones of both leather, and something that is aromatic but floral. In truth, it is extremely close to YSL’s fabulous, vintage M7, only more concentrated and potent (which is a plus, as M7 was incredibly sheer and short in duration on my skin). Black Afgano has the exact same cola note from the labdanum amber resin, though it’s more raspberry in nature here than in M7 where it was almost wholly cherry-like. The medicinal nature of the oud, and the manner with which it combines with the amber, incense, and slightly honeyed undertones of the labdanum, feel very close as well. There are differences, however: M7 opens with herbal lavender, juicy bergamot, and a powerful element of cardamom; it lacks even a drop of coffee, something which is quite robust in Black Afgano’s start. Yet, ultimately, M7 is hardly about the lavender or citruses, and the two fragrances have enough similarities that my jaw was a little agape.

Source: science.howstuffworks.com

Source: science.howstuffworks.com

Putting M7 aside, Black Afgano’s opening is quite lovely. The rich coffee feels like freshly roasted beans, as well as the somewhat wet, black grinds. The labdanum is beautiful here, showing all the reasons why it is my favorite type of amber resin. It’s dark, very nutty, just barely animalic and musky, with a tinge of dark leatheriness underlying its glowing, golden heart. 

Source: colourbox.com

Source: colourbox.com

The other notes are lovely too. The tobacco element is similar to the sun-dried, sweet leaves in Serge LutensChergui with their sweetly honeyed touch, but there is also a thick, almost wet feel to the note in Black Afgano. I never detect cigarette smoke or ashtrays, though. At the same time, there is a subtle suggestion of patchouli at play in Black Afgano, and it’s the dark, dirty kind which adds some rich, textured depth and chewiness to the tobacco. Flickers of dark, rooty, slightly earthy vetiver lurk in the base, while, up top, there is a surprising fruited note. It smells strongly of raspberries, with a touch of plum, and it adds another source of sweetness to counter the darker elements. The whole thing is very much like the middle and drydown stages to M7 that I’d hoped to experience in full potency, but which my wonky skin turned instead to a thin, sheer gauze. And absolutely none of it smells of hashish or cannabis….

Norlimbanol. Source: leffingwell.com

Norlimbanol. Source: leffingwell.com

The swirl of dark, smoky, chewy, wood, incense, labdanum, and tobacco notes have something else underlying them. It almost feels like ISO E Super, but it’s not. I can’t pinpoint which precise synthetic is at play, but I know it’s there and it adds to the slightly medicinal feel of the oud. I was very relieved to have some help from the blog, Scent Intoxique, whose review of Black Afgano noted two synthetic elements:

Straight out of the bong you’re greeted with a dense aroma chemical sucker punch made up of synthetic Givaudan oud, coupled with an underpinned cedar effect in the form of Kephalis (which is an Iso-E-Super substitute, only with a more woodier/smokier feel).

Finally I can make out some quite prominent vetiver/tobacco notes, adding to the “greenness” which the general nose picks up. I may be off, but I definitely feel like I’m picking up one of the main players here and that’s Norlimbanol™, which is described as an “extremely powerful woody/animal amber note. That has a dry woody note in the patchouli direction”.

As described by Chandler Burr, “Norlimbanol is one of the most amazing scents around, a genius molecule that should be worth its weight in gold; Norlimbanol gives you, quite simply, the smell of extreme dryness, absolute desiccation, and if when you smell it, you’ll understand that instantly—the molecule is, by itself, a multi-sensory Disney ride.”

It’s this same compound which I believe gives the scent its subtle leathery undertones along with the amber.

I don’t share his enormous familiarity with either aroma-chemical, but I’d bet he’s right. That said, I would say the labdanum is also responsible for the leather nuances in Black Afgano, though they aren’t very profound or dominant on my skin. And I’m pretty sure there is actual patchouli at play as well.

Forty minutes into Black Afgano’s development, the fragrance begins to shift. The notes turn hazy, overlapping each other and creating a soft bouquet. The coffee, medicinal oud, sweet raspberry, cola, slightly honeyed tobacco, and nutty, leathered labdanum are all still there, but they’ve lost some of their edge and distinctiveness. A quiet hint of powderiness lurks underneath, and the whole thing has started to lose projection.

Painting by Holly Anderson. "Spherical Romance Art Set" via Artbarrage.com. https://www.artbarrage.com/item.php?id=656

Painting by Holly Anderson. “Spherical Romance Art Set” via Artbarrage.com. https://www.artbarrage.com/item.php?id=656

With every hour, Black Afgano becomes quieter and quieter, though its primary overall bouquet remains on a singular, linear trajectory for many more hours to come. At the end of the second hour, the fragrance hovers just barely above the skin scent, and thirty minutes later, sits right on it. Around the same time, both the coffee and vetiver fade away entirely, the patchouli becomes much more noticeable, and a chocolate note creeps into the mix. Some aspect of the labdanum’s dark, nutty, slightly leathery characteristic has combined with the patchouli to create a definite but subtle chocolate undertone to Black Afgano. Around the 3.5 hour mark, a quiet hint of vanilla pops up in the base, and it eventually becomes much more prominent.

By the start of the fifth hour, Black Afgano is a blur of sweet woodiness with smoke. The fragrance is a well-blended hazy bouquet of medicinal oud, cola labdanum with its faintly raspberry-like undertone, patchouli, amber, incense, and vanilla, but they are really hard to tease apart. Flickers of tobacco and leather lurk at the edges, but they never feel distinct either. Soon, Black Afgano turns even more nebulous and abstract, wafting only patchouli, vanilla, and labdanum amber with faint tendrils of black incense. In its final moments, the fragrance is nothing more than the merest suggestion of patchouli with ambered sweetness.

All in all, Black Afgano lasted just short of 10.75 hours on my skin. It was nothing like the purported legend of longevity that I’d read about with its rumours of a single drop lasting for 24 or 36 hours. I know my skin is wonky and consumes perfume, but this was really a surprise, especially for a fragrance that is pure parfum extrait! A few people on a Basenotes thread reported a similarly moderate or average lifespan, but the majority find Black Afgano to have monumental longevity. My experience with the sillage, however, was wholly consistent with all the reports; everyone agrees that it is a scent that doesn’t project much and which remains very close to the skin.

part of "The Blooming Tree," Painting by Osnat Tzadok, via osnatfineart.com http://www.osnatfineart.com/art/landscape-paintings/6088-The-Blooming-Tree.jsp

part of “The Blooming Tree,” Painting by Osnat Tzadok, via osnatfineart.com
http://www.osnatfineart.com/art/landscape-paintings/6088-The-Blooming-Tree.jsp

I have very mixed feelings about Black Afgano. It wasn’t at all what I expected. In fact, I’m a bit perplexed by how Black Afgano — that supposedly hardcore, brutish, super macho, edgy, dangerous scent — makes me envision curling up in winter before a fire in a sweet, smoky, woody amber cloud, but it does. It’s a totally safe, easy, approachable, comfort fragrance for me, without any edge whatsoever. I absolutely enjoyed wearing it, and I’m pleased I have an alternative to the rare, discontinued, vintage M7 which actually lasts on my skin. Vintage M7 lasted a whopping 3.5 hours on me, and the equally discontinued, reformulated M7 was even worse! Both fragrances only felt noticeable for a mere, solitary, wholly abysmal hour, so even the soft, minimally projecting Black Afgano is a step up in that regard. And, again, it was a very pretty, even occasionally beautiful, warm, rich amber on my skin. As Now Smell This put it: “Black Afgano is a handsome oriental fragrance for men; it’s a “well-rounded” perfume with no ragged/jagged edges. Black Afgano smells more like the incense people use to cover up their pot use than it does the drug itself.”

Source: lolzparade.com

Source: lolzparade.com

Yet, despite my enjoyment of the scent, there is the issue of hype. When I wore Black Afgano, I wondered to myself, “Is this IT??!” Even if one puts aside its similarity to other fragrances, it doesn’t feel revolutionary or edgy at all. Black Afgano has such a reputation for ferocity, and I don’t understand that given the largely soft, sweet cloud I experienced. In fact, I have to wonder if there is some sort of hipster cool or bravado swagger associated with the scent that makes people — young men, in particular — like to hype it up? Is this part of a certain subculture in the perfume world that likes to brag about “panty dropper” fragrances? Is Black Afgano the perfume equivalent of a Porsche’s penis extension symbolism for guys who thinks it makes them seem super cool, macho, and virile? Or is it all the fault of my skin which has muted the fragrance’s supposedly “beastly” roar?

Whatever the reason, I simply don’t get the fuss. Black Afgano is a perfectly lovely fragrance — one I enjoyed, in fact — but what I smelled didn’t rock my world, make me feel like a dangerous rebel, or make me lust for a bottle right away. Don’t kill me, but I could see a grandfather wearing Black Afgano in a sweater and slippers by the fire as he sips a glass of scotch, just as much as I can see a hot young guy or woman wearing it. In my opinion, Amouage‘s Tribute is the beastly, smoky, dangerous Darth Vader or Hell’s Angels of fragrances. Black Afgano could work in a NASA library.

The reactions to the scent are very interesting. There is that one small sub-group that I mentioned earlier (who are almost invariably young males) which adores to brag about the dangerous toughness of the scent. Then, there is a much larger group which simply enjoys Black Afgano’s dark, chewy, sweet-smoky, ambered nature, without regard to the perfume’s reputation. Finally, there is a massive group who seems to loathe the fragrance, either on its own merits or in conjunction with the extreme hype.

On Basenotes, the views seem very split. For example, in one thread, most of the Basenoters are extremely negative about the scent, despising it as rather unwearable or genuinely unpleasant, or else regretting having bought it. Apparently, a month earlier, there was another Basenotes discussion which was wholly positive in nature. In the official Basenotes entry for Black Afghano, the fragrance has an 82% score out of 33 reviews: 66% (or 20 people) gave it Five Stars and 21% (or 7 people) gave it three.

On Fragrantica, early reviews seem to be wholly gushing in nature, while the vast majority of subsequent assessments are sharply negative. I can’t tell you the number of people who find the scent to be over-hyped. For some, it’s because they are genuinely upset that there is no actual smell of weed. If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. For example:

  • Cant believe the price for this rotten flanker of M7 , i would call it a suffocating oxygen sucker. Where is the marijuana and coffee btw?
  • Nothing like the hashish or cannabis, and those notes were exactly what I was looking for. And I know too well what I`m talking about.

Apparently, some people were hoping to get a legal form of hashish in perfume form. I’ll spare you my thoughts on that quixotic dream. More interesting (and sane) to me, are the repeated references to M7 amongst Fragrantica posters. I’m glad to know it’s not just me, but I’m a little surprised by some of the anger over the similarities. Yes, actual anger about Black Afgano, and it’s not just the quoted commentator up above, but some others as well. M7 has a worshipped, protected, cult status amongst many perfumistas, but still! Again, I think the issue of hype is partially responsible, with many finding the fragrance to be much ado about nothing (particularly in light of M7), or being disappointed by their expectations when they experienced a perfectly nice, conventional, sweet, smoky, woody, amber fragrance.

Perhaps the more useful part of the reviews is the discussion of similar fragrances other than M7. On Basenotes, a few people shared my thought that Black Afgano has a similar tobacco note to that in Serge LutensChergui. On Fragrantica, 20 people voted for a similarity to Carner Barcelona‘s Cuirs. I haven’t tried it, so I don’t know how true that may be. On both Basenotes and Fragrantica, a number of people bring up Montale‘s Dark Aoud. I haven’t tried the latter, either, so I can’t compare, but it may be something to keep in mind if you can’t get Black Afgano. Apparently, Nasomatto only makes the fragrance once a year in somewhat limited quantities, so I’ve read a few people claim that it’s not always easy to obtain. (However, I had absolutely no problems finding sites from the U.S. to Russia and South Africa that sell Black Afgano, so take that claim with a grain of salt.) However, the Montale is significantly cheaper at $110 for 50 ml than Black Afgano, which costs $185 or €108 for a 30 ml bottle. Also, as a slight warning, Black Afgano supposedly stains clothing, so if you get it, be careful where you spray it.

Treating Black Afgano in a vacuum, and without reference to the larger context, the fragrance doesn’t work on everyone’s skin. One problem is the tobacco note. A friend of mine wanted to like Black Afgano, but said it smelled like “a sour and stale ashtray” on his skin, and he’s not alone; I’ve seen a few references to an “ashtray,” along with chewing tobacco, and pot smoke. A tiny handful struggle with something completely different: cumin. I have never seen any site or blog list cumin as one of the notes in Black Afgano, but clearly, something in the scent replicates a stale or sweaty aroma to some noses. Finally, some people have problems with the synthetics, detecting either a rubbing alcohol note (which would be the ISO E Super-like element mentioned up above), Ambroxan, or various unpleasant, abrasive chemical aromas. One person even compared the scent and feel of Black Afgano to latex paint!

The bottom line — and the reason for this extended discussion– is this: Black Afgano is complicated scent on a variety of different levels, some of which have absolutely nothing to do with the fragrance’s actual aroma. It’s a perfume that comes laden with expectations, whether it’s about the notes, its effects, or its reputation. Block it all out. If you do, and if your skin plays nicely, then you may experience a very rich, deep, oriental, amber scent. Not a revolutionary one that will knock your socks off, but quite a nice one. If your skin doesn’t comply, then it will be a dark, unpleasant tobacco or synthetic oud experience for you. And if you’ve smelled or own vintage M7, your primary reaction may be déjà vu.

Either way, Black Afgano won’t be the dark, brooding, difficult, revolutionary “beast” of legend. It’s not radically daring, it’s not a high, it’s not like cannabis, and I highly doubt you’ll be transported away in state of euphoric, drugged-out bliss. My advice is to approach Black Afgano with low expectations, and not to expect the Lost smoke monster or some sort of hashish drug replacement. If you’re lucky, then you may be surprised at the loveliness of the chewy, dark, incense-y, tobacco-y, nutty labdanum and cola, oud opening. You may really enjoy the soft patchouli, vanilla, and ambered sweetness of the drydown, and you might even think Black Afgano is a cozy, comfort scent at the end of the day. Whatever you do, however, don’t buy Black Afgano blind, and don’t believe the hype.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Nasomatto is a concentrated parfum extrait (or pure parfum), and is generally sold only in a 30 ml/1 oz bottle. However, a mini 4 ml version is available directly from Nasomatto, who sells the 30 ml bottle for €108 and the 4 ml mini for €38. Nasomatto ships world-wide. In the U.S.: Black Afgano retails for $185 for 30 ml. It is available at Bergdorf Goodman, BarneysLuckyscent,  , BeautyBar, C.O. Bigelow (where it is currently sold out). Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Black Afgano at The Perfume Shoppe which sells the 30 ml bottle for US$185. In the UK, Black Afghano costs £108, and is available at Roullier WhiteBloom Parfumery, and The Conran Shop. Liberty London sells the Nasomatto line, but I don’t see Black Afgano listed on the website. In France, you can find Black Afgano at Premiere Avenue for €108. In Spain, it’s sold at Parfumerias Regia, in Italy at Sacra Cuore, in Russia at what seems to be Nasomatto’s own Russian site, along with Orental.ru. In Germany, Black Afgano is sold at First in Fragrance (where it’s priced higher than retail at €120). In the Netherlands, you can obviously find it at Nasomatto’s own shop in Amsterdam. In Australia, you can find Black Afgano at Libertine which sells the 30 ml bottle for AUD$220. In Hong Kong, I found Konzepp carries the fragrance, in South Africa at Rio Perfumes, and in the UAE, I found it on Souq.com but it seems to be sold out or currently unavailable. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for a 1/4 ml vial. Samples are also available for purchase at many of the sites linked up above.

Amouage Al Mas & Asrar Attars

Source: free wallpapers at antemortemarts.com.

Source: free wallpapers at antemortemarts.com.

Red, yellow, orange, and gold. An explosion of vibrantly bright colours that are infused with tendrils of smoke, and which soon turns into the browns of smoky oud. The beauty that is saffron showcased in two ways: sweet and dry, gourmand and woody. And the richness of an ancient attar as a common thread between the two. They are Al Mas and Asrar, “The Diamond” and “The Secret,” from the royal perfume house, Amouage.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to try these two, lesser known Amouage attars, thanks to the kindness of a reader of the blog, “Dubaiscents,” who generously sent me a sample of each. I was surprised by how the two attars seemed to be mirror opposites of each other, showing two differing approaches to the traditional Middle Eastern combination of saffron and oud. (Attars are concentrated perfume oils, and if you’d like to know more about the millenium-old process by which they are created and how they differ from essential oils, you can read the brief explanation in my review of the glorious Tribute attar.) Both Al Mas and Asrar are simple attars that are well-done, and which I thoroughly enjoyed testing, but neither one really sings loudly to me. 

AL MAS:

Al Mas. Source: straightrazorplace.com

Al Mas. Source: straightrazorplace.com

On Valentine’s Day, 2010, Amouage released Al Mas, which apparently means “diamond” in Arabic. It opens as a delicious gourmand attar centered on saffron and rose, atop a subtle base of woods. Unlike some modern attars which use paraffin to compensate for the lack of real sandalwood oil as a base, Al Mas includes some of that precious oil, in addition to oud. The notes, according to Surrender to Chance, include:

roses, oriental spices, saffron, amber, musk, sandalwood oil, oudh wood oil and cedarwood.

Source: ForATasteofPersia.co.uk

Source: ForATasteofPersia.co.uk

The first few seconds of Al Mas on my skin are a little similar to the glorious Tribute attar, only without the tarry birch and its loads of dark smoke. The impression of a gourmand version of Tribute lasts but for a few moments, however, as the fragrance quickly turns into every delicious Middle Eastern saffron dessert imaginable. There are gallons and gallons of sweet, syrupy saffron and rose, followed by amber, musk, and the most delicate hints of oud.

Zoolbia. Source:  Biblechef.com

Zoolbia. Source: Biblechef.com

The saffron dominates, turning everything in its path into visions of fiery red, gold, orange, and bright custard yellow. The syrupy, sweet rose follows suit, combining with the saffron to add to the overall impression of a rich Middle Eastern pastry or dessert. If you’ve ever had Persian Sholeh Zard or Zoolbia, Indian Phirni or Kheer, Lebanese Riz B Haleeb with saffron, or any variety of syrupy, saffron and/or rose-infused pastry from Egypt to Turkey, you’ll have some idea of both the visuals and the feel of Al Mas. Yet, the attar isn’t completely and wholly a foodie’s saffron fantasy. There are delicate whiffs of a very nutty, warm, mellow sandalwood and sweetened oud which flicker at the edges, along with the merest hints of a peppery cedary and musk. A subtle smokiness curls its tendrils around the far edges, sometimes feeling more like the suggestion of frankincense than anything sharply concrete.

Usbu Al-Zainab via TheCookingDoctor.co.uk (recipe & link within. Click on the photo.)

Usbu Al-Zainab via TheCookingDoctor.co.uk (recipe & link within. Click on the photo.)

Five minutes in, Al Mas turns profoundly nutty and honeyed. I almost expect to see pistachios and nuts sprinkled on top of the saffron rose. A powerful layer of treacly, gooey, thick honey quickly infuses the duo, overwhelming the hints of smoky incense and adding to the impression of Middle Eastern desserts. Whatever mild, momentary resemblance there may have been to the Tribute attar in the opening minute is long obliterated under the tidal wave of sweetness. The sweetness in Al Mas impacts the rose, turning it deeper, sweeter, and quite fruity in its syrupy heart. The fruitedness really makes me wonder if there is a very dark, purple patchouli at play in Al Mas as well. I would swear that there is the subtlest, tiniest hint of raspberries underlying the scent, and it’s hard to shake off for much of the first hour.

Around the 90-minute mark, Al Mas shifts and changes. It suddenly turns much drier, and starts to hover closer to the skin. The smoke has increased, as has the oud, countering the sweetness in the fragrance with an equal amount of smoky woodiness. With every passing hour, the syrupy, gourmand elements in Al Mas weaken, and the oud-frankincense combination grows in strength.

Source: samsunggalaxy.co

Source: samsunggalaxy.co

The fragrance turns into a skin scent about 3.5 hours in, wafting a sheer, delicate gauzy veil of oud smoke with nutty, sweet saffron and a touch of rose. Al Mas feels quite thin in comparison to that extremely heavy, rich, almost unctuous start. I actually applied far more of Al Mas than I did of Tribute, but the latter was a profoundly richer, deeper, stronger, and more nuanced scent with far less. Al Mas, in contrast, is much simpler in nature, and primarily limited to a smoky oud-with-saffron combination despite using almost double the amount (4 small drops). I’m a little surprised by how quickly the rose element faded away on my skin; by the start of the fourth hour, it’s largely disappeared. Soon, Al Mas is nothing more than wispy oud with saffron and, 7.5 hours into its development, it dies completely.

Al Mas isn’t listed on the Fragrantica site, and I can’t find any blog reviews for it except for one. Over at The Perfume Posse, a reviewer called Musette writes about the attar but I find myself somewhat confused by her assessment. She talks about the fragrance’s lightheartedness with geranium, clary sage, and lily of the valley! She also says: “The notes (courtesy Surrender to Chance) are counterintuitive to what I deemed ‘attar’ : orange blossom, lemon and rosemary; middle notes of lily of the valley, geranium and clary sage; and base notes of sandalwood, oak moss and musk.” None of those notes are what are commonly attributed to Al Mas or, even, what is currently listed on Surrender to Chance’s entry for the perfume oil. There must be some sort of mix-up in attars, and in the sample she obtained. Either that, or my nose is completely wonky because I swear I don’t smell a whiff of anything remotely “light-hearted,” green, and white in Al Mas. On me, the attar is primarily saffron and rose, and then, later, smoky oud and saffron.

ASRAR:

Asrar. Source:  via profumeriapepos.eu

Asrar. Source: via profumeriapepos.eu

When Amouage had its 25th Anniversary celebrations in 2007, they released a special attar called Asrar (also, sometimes written as “Asrer“). According to Fragrantica, Asrar means “secrets” in Arabic, and the tale associated with the attar is as follows:

Interwoven with golden hints of, the plot of Asrar, whose name in Arabic means “Secrets”, is decorated with notes, as if by magic, they appear under the nose an oriental garden nestled between Dream and Reality. […] A touch of saffron, a handful of spices, four drops of amber, musk, and then a puff of a distillate of Oudh, the bark of an infusion of exotic wood and sandalwood.

The full notes in Asrar, as compiled from Fragrantica, Surrender to Chance, and the ASF-Dubaishop perfume retailer, includes:

oud, oudh distillate, rose, amber, frankincense, musk, saffron, orange blossom, sandalwood oil, and moss.

Saffron OrangeAsrar opens on my skin with a powerful blast of fiery saffron that is so rich, it feels almost buttered. It’s so buttered and hot, in fact, so hot and buttered, that I almost expect a plate of Basmati rice to ensue. Moments later, other elements appear. There are subtle whiffs of burnt orange, smoky orange, and sweet, buttered orange with saffron, but they are very brief. Equally light and muted are the flickers of rose and frankincense which lurk below. The main, primary focus, however, is that strong blast of saffron. It differs from the note in Al Mas where it is wholly gourmand in feel, because, here, the saffron is a little bit smoky, a touch woody, and infused with a burnt element.

There is also something oddly chilly about the bouquet, a flicker of something almost mentholated that perplexes me. It’s not like eucalyptus or like medicine, but just barely floral in suggestion. My guess is that the indoles in the orange blossoms have been concentrated to such an extent that they’ve taken on a vaguely icy feel. It’s hard to explain, but there is a surprising, subtle coolness to Asrar that sharply counters the hot butteriness of the saffron. Yet, on my skin, it never translates at any point to orange blossoms — and I tested Asrar twice. The attar also doesn’t feel even remotely orange-y, despite the initial, disappearing whiffs in the first minute, so my skin obviously muted the note for the most part.

Source: RGPeixoto on Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Source: RGPeixoto on Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

It is another flower, instead, which dominates the first hour of Asrar on my skin: the rose. It makes its debut about five minutes in, and it’s another syrupy, sweet, slightly jammy rose that feels a little bit fruited in its richness. Like everything else, it is flecked by the fiery, heavy saffron, and the two notes dance a solitary tango for most of the first hour.

Thirty minutes in, the chilly nuance vanishes, and is replaced on the sidelines by a hint of smoke that has a slightly burnt undertone. At times, the smokiness smells like burnt woods, but, at other times, it resembles the pungent, acrid sharpness that you’d get from blackened caramel. At the 90-minute mark, the note coalesces and takes shape as noticeable, distinct oud. It adds a more concrete woodiness to the scent, but it retains its slightly smoky undercurrents as well, perhaps from what Amouage terms of “oudh distillate.”

Source: top.besthdwallpapers.info

Source: top.besthdwallpapers.info

The agarwood and its smoke slowly become more and more prominent, taking over the buttery heaviness of the saffron and cutting it with dryness. Around 2.75 hours into Asrar’s development, the fragrance is primarily smoky oud with saffron. The rose has retreated a little to the periphery, and there is the start of a slightly medicinal edge to the wood notes. By the end of the fourth hour and the start of the fifth, Asrar is primarily an oud scent that is simultaneously dry, a little smoky, and a little medicinal. There are quiet undercurrents of saffron underlying it, and the whole thing sits right on the skin. Asrar remains that way until its very end when it’s nothing more than dry, somewhat medicinal oud with smoke. All in all, the attar lasted just short of 8 hours on my skin, and had generally soft sillage.

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via Zuoda.net

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via Zuoda.net

I couldn’t find any blog reviews for Asrar, but there are short assessments at some of the perfume groups. On Fragrantica, one person found the attar to be very similar to Tribute, while another thought Asrar was a herbal, floral garden ruled by saffron but with an undertone of “freshly applied rubbing alcohol,” no doubt from the oud. The third found Asrar to be simultaneously “very, very sweet,” and discordantly harsh. On Basenotes, there are also three reviews of Asrar, all of which give the fragrance 5-stars. For the most part, the commentators seem to detect much more orange blossom than I did. For example, one person wrote:

The combination of orange blossom and rose smells very familiar and friendly, but the oud and the saffron give a medicinal edge to it. It’s also very spicy, it almost feels “hot” in the nose! Absolutely unisex and in my humble opinion better than Homage or Tribute. The combination of warm top-notes and a mysterious, almost fierce base is totally stunning!

The second commentator also noted the floral elements in Asrar, adding: “It shares a little something with APOM by MFK, but with several additional notes. Everything anyone could want in a feminine attar.” The last found Asrar to be far better suited for her than Amouage’s Ubar, Lyric, or Gold perfumes, and as warmly comforting as a bath:

a rare scent, sweet and yet a little bit pungent through the massively overpowering effect of the saffron. Asrar is mainly a *saffron* scent. Thus, it has a slight reminiscence of a Tibetan temple, of Iranian saffrani chai (saffron tea) of the brand “Zanbagh”. But, then, it is infinitely sweeter than a temple, it is sweet and warm like a warm warm bath, like a lovely embrace… […] After a while, a new smell develops on my skin, like a slight reminiscence of Indian paan, the stuff they eat after dinner there, which lifts the scent up through it’s zest from the mere warmy nicey lovely bath idea[.]

The fact that all six Fragrantica and Basenotes commentators had such widely divergent experiences is interesting to me. Obviously, skin chemistry plays a key role, but I think it’s also a question of the personal experiences through which one’s nose filters the powerful saffron note. For some, it will translate as too sweet, for others, it will be a comforting scent with some foodie associations. Ultimately, how you feel about Asrar may depend on the extent to which the florals and the oud (with its medicinal undertones) come out to counter the warm, fiery, buttery richness of the saffron.

ALL IN ALL:

I enjoyed parts of Al Mas. I thought the opening was delicious, perhaps because I love saffron enough to counter my usual issues with foodie or dessert fragrances. The rose and the subtle, brief hints of sandalwood were very nice, too, but at the end of the day, the fragrance isn’t really me. On the plus side, however, Al Mas is significantly and substantially cheaper than Amouage’s better known attars like Tribute and Homage. You can find the smallest size starting at $151, which is a few hundred dollars off Tribute’s opening price of $370. If you love saffron, gourmand fragrances, or ouds that eventually turn dry and smoky, Al Mas is definitely worth checking out.

As for Asrar, I didn’t fancy it quite as much. On my skin, the saffron felt like a woodier, drier, less gourmand, but significantly more buttery-hot version of the note in Al Mas. I wish I had experienced the orange blossoms, but instead, there was the oddly medicinal edge to the fragrance that isn’t my favorite aspect of agarwood. As a whole, I don’t think my skin chemistry highlighted the prettier aspects or nuances of Asrar, since it seems quite lovely on others.

As a whole, both perfumes are well done, though quite simple and uncomplicated in nature. They’re also on the more affordable end of the scale for an Amouage attar, relatively speaking. Though they share some overlap in notes, Al Mas and Asrar feel very much like mirror opposite interpretations on saffron and oud, with one starting on a gourmand note before turning woody and smoke, while the other is more fiery and buttered before engaging in a similar transformation. The oud accord is different in each, as is the floral undertone, so both Al Mas and Asrar may be worth a sniff for different reasons.

DETAILS:
Cost, Availability & Stores: Al Mas and Asrar are concentrate perfume oils, and come in two sizes: 12 ml and 30 ml. Neither one is sold in the U.S. nor available directly from the Amouage website, but you can find them easily from various online retailers. The cheapest price comes from the Dubai perfume site, ASF-Dubaishop. Al Mas costs $151 for the 12 ml bottle, and $226 for 30 ml. Asrar or Asrer costs $207 or $307, depending on bottle size. The prices for Al Mas are higher at Kuwait’s Universal Perfumes which sells a 12 ml bottle of the “new version” (whatever that means) for $259.99. The Amouage attars are also sold at a slightly higher price at Zahras Perfumes, with Al Mas costing $175 and $325 respectively, and Asrar priced at $190 and $350. I found Asrar at a European online vendor called Profumeria Pepos which sells the attar for €168 for a 12 ml size. Italy’s All Violette sells several Amouage attars. Asrar is priced at €169 for 12 ml, though I’m not sure if it is currently in stock, along with a sample of Asrar for €20. Kuwait’s Universal Perfumes sells Asrar for $299 for a 30 ml bottle. In terms of other vendors, I assume you can also find the attars at the Amouage boutique in London, and possibly at Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie in Harrods, but that is just a hopeful guess. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells samples of Al Mas starting at $10.99 for a 1/4 ml vial, while Asrar starts at $13.99 for a 1/4 ml vial.

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.

Perfume Reviews – Dior Leather Oud & Granville (La Collection Privée)

John Wayne riding through the arid desert canyons of New Mexico. Gary Cooper in a suit in the bracing, brisk air of Normandie. Two very different images of two very different men stemming from two very different fragrances in Dior‘s prestige La Collection Privée line of perfumes. (The line is sometimes called La Collection Couturier on places like Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance, but I will go with the name used by Dior itself on its website.) The fragrances are Leather Oud and Granville, and both were created by François Demarchy, the artistic director and nose for Parfums Dior, to reflect different aspects of the life of Christian Dior.

LEATHER OUD:

Dior Leather OudDior describes the scent as follows:

Christian Dior searched the world, looking for the most beautiful fabrics that exist. Like the Designer, the Perfumer chooses the most beautiful raw materials, one of which is Oud Wood from Indonesia. Highly powerful, vibrant and deep, Oud Wood is rare and particularly recognizable by the leather scents that it diffuses when burned. Using this unique wood, François Demachy created an intensely masculine fragrance, with strong character in which Leather notes intertwine with those of Gaiac Wood, Cedar and Sandalwood.

The notes for the fragrance, as compiled from both Dior and Fragrantica, include:

Cardamom, Clove, Leather, Indonesian Oud wood, Gaiac Wood, Civet, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Birch, Cedar, Vetiver, Amyris, Beeswax, Amber and Labdanum.

According to Wikipedia, Amyris is a type of flowering plant or tree that is sometimes called torchwood, and whose trunk emits a type of balsam resin that is often also called elemi. Civet, as many perfumistas know, can have a very musky, animalic aroma that can border on the fecal if used in excess, but which can also lend plush warmth to the depths of a perfume if handled right. 

Leather Oud is sometimes described as an intensely animalistic fragrance, redolent of civet, but the Dior Privé line is not known for extreme, sharp, forceful, or loud notes of any kind — and Leather Oud is no exception. On my skin, it is almost entirely a dry, dusty, woody fragrance with nuances of dry leather and the subtlest inflections of oud, all barely sweetened with a dusty, dusky cardamom. Animalic? Not by a long shot.

Gaiac Wood via Ozmoz.com

Gaiac Wood via Ozmoz.com

Leather Oud opens on my skin with a sour note like lemons, followed immediately thereafter by varying degrees of dry oud, bitter cloves, dusty cardamom, peppered and dry cypress, and slightly smoked gaiac wood. The top notes in the initial minutes smell a little rancid, though never fecal or wholly civet-like. There is a subtle, feline urinous edge, but it doesn’t last very long, either. Instead, Leather Oud starts pulsating out different layers of dry, smoky, peppered woods. There are subtle tinges of a rooty, dark vetiver, along with an equally dark, almost sour-smelling patchouli, and the merest suggestion of a herbal, floral element. The latter makes me think strongly of clary sage whose dry, lavendery veneer has a leathery undertone. The thing I find unpleasant in Leather Oud is the sour citric note that remains throughout much of the perfume’s development, and which impacts most of the remaining notes.

Dry, antique leather. Source: buffaloleatherstore.com

Dry, antique leather. Source: buffaloleatherstore.com

As for the leather, well, it’s there, but it is incredibly subtle. It’s not soft, warm, supple, sweetly aged and rich, but it’s also not black, raw, fecal or pungent, either. It verges on rawhide at times, feeling slightly phenolic and tarry due to the birch wood, but it’s a lot milder than I had expected. It’s also incredibly muted on my skin, overpowered in large part by the cornucopia of dry woods. In fact, the woods impact the feel of the leather to a large extent, turning it into something that feels dry, cracked and antique, instead of anything supple and rich.     

Forty minutes into Leather Oud’s development, there are subtle changes, though never to the perfume’s primary core. The agarwood (oud) which initially felt a little sharp now softens and takes on a slightly creamy feel, almost like cheese, before it eventually turns into something that is simply dry in feel. It is completely overshadowed by the dry gaiac wood with its smoky edges and which evokes images of burning leaves. Accompanying it is a peppered cedar. In the background, the cloves add a touch of bitterness around to the wood notes, and the cardamom brings in an extra layer of dustiness. 

Soon after the one-hour mark, Leather Oud turns softer, creamier, and smoother. It’s very much as though someone had buffed and polished all the rough edges out of the wood. The thread of sour lemon remains, but all the other notes, right down to the bitter cloves, seem more refined. The leather and the oud are mere flickering touches — so much so that I’d never consider Leather Oud to be either a true agarwood fragrance or a leather one. Their muted nature reminds me strongly of By Kilian‘s oud fragrances where the element is a mere background suggestion; if you’re expecting an oud like those offered by Montale, or a serious leather fragrance, then I think you’ll be sorely disappointed. As always Dior offers an extremely refined, smooth interpretation of notes in a well-blended fragrance that is meant to be rather discreet, unobtrusive, and the epitome of moderation. Leather Oud is no exception, right down to its sillage which becomes moderate-to-low around the 90-minute mark.

"Dry Lake Bed" by *VickyM72 on Deviantart.com http://vickym72.deviantart.com/art/Dry-Lake-Bed-184992067

“Dry Lake Bed” by *VickyM72 on Deviantart.com http://vickym72.deviantart.com/art/Dry-Lake-Bed-184992067

Though parts of Leather Oud, like the cardamom become slightly sweeter, the perfume’s essence remains unchanged for the remainder of its lifespan. It is a dusty, arid, woody fragrance infused with dry smoke and sprinkled with barely sweetened cardamom. Around the sixth hour, the bouquet of woods is joined by warm beeswax, but it does little to enrichen the fragrance. Leather Oud evokes, in part, the scent of a dusty bookstore with reams of old, dry paper and, visually, a desert in the old Wild West. For some reason, I keep seeing John Wayne in my mind’s eye. And he stays there for the next 12 hours, until the perfume starts to slowly fade away. In its final moments, Leather Oud is a simple cardamom muskiness, and nothing more. All in all, the fragrance lasted just under 14 hours on my perfume-consuming skin, with soft sillage throughout.

John Wayne in "Hondo" via cinemaforever.com

John Wayne in “Hondo” via cinemaforever.com

Leather Oud is far, far too dry for my personal tastes, but I think it’s a beautifully crafted, well-blended fragrance that is a highly refined take on dry, smoky woods. It seems to be one of the more beloved Dior fragrances, and men go crazy for it, though some on Fragrantica bemoan its dusty nature. A few commentators talk about intense civet notes, but most seem to find it quite manageable and muted. One commentator who is well used to civet, can “sniff it out a mile away,” and loves it wrote that he couldn’t detect any at all; in contrast, another noted a “creamy, fecal” undertone to the fragrance, while a third who despises civet says it is done so beautifully in Leather Oud that it is the first civet fragrance he loved. Obviously, this is a fragrance that you have to try for yourself in order to assess how the note will work out for you. I will say this, however: my skin tends to amplify base notes, especially the more animalistic ones, and I don’t think the animalic dirtiness was strong by any means!

Plus, it simply isn’t the Dior style or signature. None of the Dior Privé line of fragrances are meant to be extreme in any way; they’re meant to be the epitome of refinement and smoothness. And that certainly seems to the majority consensus on Leather Oud on Fragrantica. Their raves are simply too effusively long and gushing for me to quote in any coherent way, so I’ll just say that men who enjoy super dry fragrances (think Tauer‘s L’Air du Desert Marocain levels of dryness) with the subtlest tinge of oud, leather, and musk should definitely try out Leather Oud. I don’t think this would really work for most women, however, as the fragrance definitely veers towards the deep end of the masculine spectrum.

GRANVILLE:

Granville is technically supposed to be a women’s fragrance, but its deeply aromatic, invigorating, herbal, woody nature makes it much more suitable for a man, in my opinion.

Granville, Normandie. Source: normandie-tourisme.fr

Granville, Normandie. Source: normandie-tourisme.fr

Dior describes the perfume and its inspiration as follows:

The House where Christian Dior spent his childhood is located in Granville, in the Normandy region. Built overlooking the cliffs, it is surrounded by pine trees and has a view of the sea. Inspired by this site that is so dear to the Creator, François Demachy chose to create a fresh, invigorating and aromatic fragrance. “I not only wanted an aromatic fragrance, as the estate has an abundance of pine trees, but also one that is exceptionally invigorating and extremely fresh. The gusts of wind, the waves that are constantly breaking against the rocks… Nature, in Granville, is anything but serene. This fragrance is like the wind that blows through Granville.”

Dior GranvilleThe notes in Granville, as compiled from both Dior and Fragrantica, include:

mandarin, Sicilian lemon, White thyme, rosemary, pine needles, black pepper, sandalwood and gorse.

I’m used to “gorse” being another name for a Scottish bush or brushwood, but Fragrantica tells me that it’s also called Dyer’s Greenwood which has a dry, bracken-like aroma similar to “broom” (which, in itself, has a dry, hay-like scent). Either way, I don’t think it’s a prominent part of Granville which is dominated primarily by a strong eucalyptus-like, mentholated note infused with lemon and herbal touches. 

Granville opens on my skin with beautifully sweetened lemon. It has a sunny, bright, fresh warmth to it that is simply lovely. Within seconds, it is infused by strongly aromatic, herbal notes from the thyme, to a subtle glimmer of rosemary, and something quietly floral which feels very much like dry lavender. Granville has a strong resemblance at first to Dior‘s Eau Sauvage, but that quickly dissipates under an onslaught of fresh, camphorous pine with a decidedly eucalyptus-like character. It feels extremely sharp in comparison to the smoothness and richness of the lemon aromatics. Dry, slightly honeyed, hay-like elements from the broom/gorse and cracked black pepper are the final elements to round out the invigorating bouquet. 

Eucalyptus leaves.

Eucalyptus leaves.

Granville’s primary essence remains the same throughout most of the perfume’s lifespan. The only difference is the degree to which certain notes can compete with each other, though they have no chance to overcome the piney, mentholated, eucalyptus top note at all. Around the forty minute mark, there is the introduction of ISO E Super which eventually fades away after a few hours. Later, there is a much stronger impression of a faintly floral tinge to the herbs lurking in the background. In fact, I can’t help but think that herbaceous lavender is a hidden note, and its combination with the slightly tarry, mentholated pine note strongly calls to mind Santa Maria Novella‘s cologne, Ambra, which is dominated by an extremely similar, tarry, mentholated birch note atop lavender and citrus.

Source: permanentstyle.co.uk

Source: permanentstyle.co.uk

At the start of the second hour, Granville becomes smoother, softer, better rounded. It loses its sharp edges, but it retains a certain fresh briskness. It feels rather old-fashioned, conjuring up images of a very refined, classical, suave, debonair gentleman — like Gary Cooper — in a bracing, outdoors environment like the coastal cliffs of Normandie. At the same time, however, it also evokes a very old-fashioned European pharmacy, which is a distinctly less appealing impression. As a whole, Granville is a very linear fragrance that never changes much from start to finish. In its final hours, it’s nothing more than an abstract, woody muskiness with faint flickers of pine. All in all, Granville lasted just over 11 hours, and the sillage after the first forty minutes was moderate-to-low.

Granville doesn’t seem to have a very enthusiastic reception on Fragrantica — and I don’t blame them. I do think it’s better than some of the extremely negative comparisons to scrubbers, hospitals, bathroom cleaners, medicine, chemical astringents, and Ayurvedic Tooth powder that are listed, but it’s not a fantastic, super-duper fragrance nonetheless. It’s not terrible, but it’s far from great, either. I think the fairest (and, certainly, the most positive) description for Granville comes from the commentator, “alfarom,” who writes:

An high-end version of Pino Silvestre aimed to the ladies (well, sort of).

I’ve to admit the above sentence may sound disencouraging to someone but let me say Granville is terrific. It’s a classy herbal/citrus with resinous undertones that opens with a sparkling lemon joined by leafy green citruses. In this phase it may somehow bring to mind of classic Eau De Cologne type of stuff but when you’re just about to dismiss it because of this, pine and some culinary herbs (thyme and rosemary) join the party leading the fragrance to other territories. Slightly minty (menthol), bitter, dark green and much closer to Pino Silvestre than to an EDC.

That being said, Granville is not exactly up my alley, but if you’re into bright piney fragrances this is an extremely solid option. Originally aimed to the ladies but definitely more masculine.

I’ve never tried Pino Silvestre, and I smell eucalyptus far more than mint, but his description is pretty spot-on as a whole.  And Granville isn’t up my alley, either. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend that you rush out and try it unless you are really obsessed with mentholated pine or eucalyptus notes. In all honesty, I think Granville is a rather mediocre showing in the Privé line.

 

DETAILS:
Leather Oud is available exclusively at Dior boutiques or on Dior online. So is Granville. Dior Privé perfumes come in two sizes: the 4.25 fl oz/125 ml costs $155, while the 8.5 fl oz/250 ml costs $230. In the U.S.: both fragrances can be found at Dior’s NYC boutique, and the main Las Vegas store [call (702) 369-6072]. If you’re really interested, however, what I would do is to call this number instead — (702) 734-1102 — and ask for Karina Lake, the Dior Beauty Stylist at the Las Vegas store. She is an amazingly sweet lady who will also give you a free 5 ml mini bottle of the Dior perfume of your choice, along with 3-4 small 1 ml dab vial sample bottles, to go with your purchase. Even better, you will get free shipping and pay no tax! Tell her Kafka sent you. Elsewhere, New York’s Bergdorf Goodman and San Francisco’s Neiman Marcus also carry the Dior Privée line collection of perfumes, though I don’t know if the SF Neiman Marcus carries all of them.
Outside of the US: you can use the Points of Sale page on the Dior website to find a location for a Dior store near you. You can also navigate the Dior website’s International section to buy the perfume online. The problem is that the site is not very straight-forward. If you go to this page, look at the very far right to the bottom where it will say, in black, “International Version” and click on that. You should see options for Europe, Asia-Oceana, and South America. Within Europe, there are different sub-sites divided by country. The one closest to you should have Leather Oud available for sale.
Samples: If you want to give Leather Oud a sniff, samples are available at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.00 for a 1 ml vial. Granville is also available for the same price. If you’re interested in trying the whole Privée line, Surrender to Chance sells all 13 fragrances in a sampler set for $35.99.

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.