Perfume Review: Xerjoff Mamluk (Oud Stars Collection)

Mamluk. Source: Fragrantica.

Mamluk. Source: Fragrantica.

Xerjoff is an uber-luxury, Italian niche perfume house founded in 2004 by Sergio Momo. In 2012, Xerjoff (pronounced as “Zer-joff”) launched its Oud Stars Collection of fragrances which included Mamluk, a gourmand take on agarwood. Like the rest of its siblings, Mamluk was created by the perfume house’s founder, in conjunction with Sonia Espelta and Laura Santander

The notes in Mamluk according to Xerjoff and Luckyscent include:

Italian Bergamot, Honey, Caramel Accord, Jasmine Garndiflorum, Osmanthus, Laos Benzoin, Vanilla Madagascar, Indian Oud, Crystal Musks, and Amber.

Photo: Blentley via fr.fotopedia.com

Photo: Blentley via fr.fotopedia.com

Mamluk opens on my skin as the most unbelievably sweet bouquet of lemon and honey with a beautiful, but faint, floral tinge. Quickly, sour notes emerge, smelling rather urinous, though simultaneously infused with an incredible sugariness. Thankfully, both the sourness and the pee-like nuance are very short-lived, and fade away in a matter of minutes. In the meantime, subtle whiffs of a sharp, slightly astringent oud flicker on and off, while musk, amber, and a warm plushness stir in the base.

The famous Cora "Sun Drop" yellow diamond. Source: extravaganzi.com

The famous Cora “Sun Drop” yellow diamond. Source: people.com.cn

What’s interesting about Mamluk’s opening minutes is that, despite smelling the nuances of the individual notes, you’re subsumed by the overall effect which is far more over-reaching, all-encompassing and lovely. Yes, you can detect the lemon or the subtle florals, along with the other elements, but Mamluk envelops you in a blooming cloud that feels absolutely radiant. It’s like a giant, yellow diamond shining in the dark, throwing off rays of crystal clarity and sharpness. And, yet, there is incredible softness billowing out as well. It’s like a juxtaposition of angles but, also, of extremes that’s very hard to describe. Take, for example, that lemon and honey combination. It is so sweet, it almost hurts; so intense, it can verge on the sharp; and yet, there is a radiant softness that almost glitters.

Bergamot. Source: a1.ro

Bergamot. Source: a1.ro

Ten minutes into Mamluk’s development, the perfume turns even sweeter and warmer. The citrus is heady, conjuring images of the fruit lying ripe, thick, and heavy on the branch, and so sweetened by the sun that it verges on the over-blown. The subtle floral nuances are simultaneously airy, thick, gauzy, dainty, indolic, and slightly voluptuous. Again, it’s the story of contradictory extremes. In the background, the Indian oud now feels so sweetened that it almost verges on the caramelized. It’s a far cry from the medicinal, ripe cheese and fecal characteristics of the very aged, rare agarwood from Laos that dominates Mamluk’s very masculine sibling, Zafar. The overall effect of the different elements in Mamluk is an intoxicating, honeyed headiness that feels almost piercing in its sweetness and glitter.

Slowly, slowly, the sweetness starts to take some shape. Twenty minute in, the heavy honey cloud takes on a definite salty caramel undertone. There is a similar salty vibe to the musk and golden amber, leading me to believe that there may be actual ambergris — that really rare, difficult to find, incredibly expensive ingredient — in Mamluk, and not the generic sort of “amber” that is used in most perfumery. The floral notes aren’t as easy to distinguish. They feel amorphous, and never like distinct jasmine or osmanthus. In fact, I don’t smell any of osmanthus’ tea or apricot undertones, though I detect something that feels a lot like peach. Perhaps, it’s the effect of the rich honey and the lurking caramel that have made the osmanthus into something far richer than delicate apricot. Over time, the caramel becomes stronger and more powerful, infusing everything with its sugary tones. When combined with the honey, the sweetness completely overpowers and overshadows the subtle flickers of oud, which now retreats far, far to the background, never to be seen again until the drydown. At the 40-minute mark, even the flowers feel as though they’ve been drenched in caramel and, to be honest, it’s a bit cloying at this stage. Have I mentioned that Mamluk is a very sweet fragrance?

Source: Wallpaperscraft.com

Source: Wallpaperscraft.com

Mamluk never changes in its primary essence, only in its shape. From start to finish, it is predominantly a very sweet citrus-honey fragrance with other notes that circle around it like planets around a honeyed sun. For the first three hours, the florals are the main lady-in-waiting, though they always feel abstract and indistinct. Sometimes the floral-peach note seems a little more prominent, sometimes the caramel, but, at all times, the star of the show is the tangoed dance of honey and heavy, sun-sweetened lemon.

The only big change in this period is in Mamluk’s texture which becomes softer, warmer, smoother, lighter, and less thick. The edges have been rounded out, even blurred, so that the whole thing feels more billowy than ever. The perfume feels better balanced, particularly the sweetness which, at the start of the second hour, seems much less overwhelming. Mamluk is that oddest of combinations: a fragrance whose potent, indolic notes feel simultaneously thick and airy, strong and light, voluminous and heavy, sharp and blurry. It would almost feel like a vague cloud, except you can clearly detect those main notes — limited and monotonous as they may be.

It’s only around the fourth hour that the notes themselves start to shift their place in the rotation. Now, the oud starts to peek out from behind the sun. It’s as though it needed the power of the other notes to fade a little before it had the chance to be noticed. Taking its place in the background is the floral bouquet which becomes softer and less noticeable with every passing hour. Mamluk is now a honey-citrus perfume infused with sweetened agarwood and the barest suggestion of rich vanilla bean paste. In its final moments, Mamluk is nothing more than abstract sweetness with the vaguest suggestion of honey.

All in all, Mamluk lasted a little over 11.25 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. It’s an incredibly powerful perfume, even when its projection drops from its initial heady heights towards the end of the second hour. At that point, Mamluk only wafts 3 inches above the skin, though it is still extremely strong within that small cloud. It takes the fragrance about 7.5 hours to become a skin scent, though it doesn’t require voracious sniffing to detect it even then. For all that Mamluk sometimes feels like a billowing, radiant cloud in weight, the strength of the fragrance cannot be under-estimated. I merely dabbed, approximately 2.5 large-ish smears, and I cannot imagine the power of Mamluk if one actually sprayed it on, never mind if one sprayed on a lot. My God, they might smell you out at the space station!

I like Mamluk, though I think one could get a little bored of it and exhausted by the fierce onslaught of its richness. It’s linear, monotonous, far from complex, and, yet, it’s also pretty, lush, rich, heady, and languid. Mamluk is really a honey lover’s fragrance, and not something I’d ever recommend to those whose skin chemistry always turns the note sour, urinous, or animalic. I’m lucky and, with one single perfume exception, honey always blooms on my skin, so obviously this review reflects that aspect. As a whole, Mamluk feels quite unisex, though it may be too feminine for those men who like their agarwood on the very undiluted, masculine, edgy, raw side (like in Zafar). Mamluk is actually a perfect fragrance for those who normally struggle with oud, who like it highly tamed and sweetened, and who prefer it to be a minor, unobtrusive player instead of a main one. It’s definitely a fragrance for those who love very sweet or gourmand perfumes. For me personally, it’s a little too repetitive, one-dimensional, and boring, but I can definitely see its heady charms. Mamluk is frightfully expensive, however, and I personally think it’s actually far too expensive for its very simple nature. However, price is always a subjective issue, and Mamluk does feel opulently luxurious, so if you love honey and dislike strong oud, then you may want to give it a try.

DETAILS:
General Cost: Oud Stars Mamluk is an eau de parfum that is only available in a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle that costs $315 or €240. In the U.S.: you can buy Mamluk from Luckyscent, though they seem to be back-ordered. There is also an Oud Stars Discovery set of 6 fragrances in 15 ml sizes for $250, but they are sold out of that too at the moment. Mamluk is also offered by Parfums Raffy for the same price of $315, and it is not sold out there. MinNY does not list Mamluk, though it does offer a sample for purchase. Outside the U.S.: You can order Mamluk directly from Xerjoff for €240, or you could opt for the sample set (which is currently sold out) for €195. In the UK, Xerjoff is carried at Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie in Harrods. In Paris, Mamluk is carried at Jovoy which sells it for €240, Germany’s First in Fragrance sells it for €247, and the Netherland’s Aafkes for €240. In Russia you can buy Mamluk at Orental for what seems to be 6,000 Ru, and also at Lenoma. The Oud Stars Discovery Set is offered by some perfume retailers, such as Aafkes and First in Fragrance. It’s priced at €195 for 6 different fragrances in 15 ml sizes. For all other locations from Sweden to the Middle East, you can turn to the List of Retailers on the Xerjoff site to find a Xerjoff vendor near you. Samples: you can buy Mamluk from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $6.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Samples are also sold at MinNY.

Perfume Review: “The People v. Xerjoff Zafar” – Prosecution & Defense

The People v. Xerjoff Zafar– Case # 13-276891XZ

[The Bailiff]: “All rise! The Court is now in session, The Honorable Charles Highblossom presiding. On the docket, The People v. Xerjoff Zafar, Case # 13-276891XZ. The charge is olfactory assault and battery. State your name and business before the Court.”

[A small, goat-like, balding man rises]: “I am the District Attorney, Luke Sneering.”

[A tiny, dark woman wearing a custom-made Chanel suit rises]: “I am Loverly Limburger from the firm of Wealthy Lawyers, Screw Them, & Howe representing the Defendant, Sheikh Zafar of Xerjoff.”

Source: "Black Gold" movie still.

Source: “Black Gold” movie still.

[She points to the table where a young, handsome Arab man sits with his dark beard, long robes, piles and piles of heavy gold chains, and a peculiar collage of rubbery pink bandages on his arm.]

[The white-wigged judge bangs his gavel]: “The Prosecution may proceed.”

THE PROSECUTION:

Source: CaFleurBon

Source: CaFleurBon

[The D.A., Mr. Sneering]: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We are here to convict Zafar of Xerjoff with olfactory crimes. The case before you is limited only to the criminal issues of assault and battery. You may have heard in the news of the civil suits brought by the Blue Cheese Industry and the Barnyard Manure Lobby for defamation and misrepresentation, respectively, but you cannot consider those issues. All you are allowed to decide is whether Zafar is an assault on your nose.

oud_zafarpackLet us start at the beginning. Zafar, along with his siblings in the Oud Stars collection, was let loose upon the unsuspecting public in 2012. He comes from the prestigious, exclusive, uber-expensive Italian perfume house of Xerjoff and is the creation of Sergio MomoSonia Espelta and Laura Santander. His parts, according to Luckyscent, consist of:

Rose, Green Apple, Black Pepper, Neroli from Morocco, Oud Laos, White Flowers, Cedar, Incense, Vetyver Haiti, Musk.

Blue cheese close-up via Flickr.com

Blue cheese close-up via Flickr.com

Zafar’s character is revealed from the very first moment he sidles up against your skin. There is a blast of cheese. Specifically, the Italian blue cheese of his homeland, Gorgonzola. It’s oddly sweetened, yet also a little off, and quite rancid. Veins of metallics and pepper run through, with just the merest hint of florals. The whole thing sits atop a foundation of extremely rubbery, pink bandages — the sort you’d cheaply buy from a drugstore — and a strong tinge of rubbing alcohol.

By all accounts, Zafar then shifts into something even more frightening. I did not experience it for myself, but plenty of people have. You see, the blue cheese is but the start. Soon, within less than 10 minutes, Zafar takes you to the barnyard to roll around in sheep and horse manure. 

Source: Flickr.com

Source: Flickr.com

I see the look of skepticism on your face at the thought of rancid but slightly sweetened blue cheese and pink rubber, drugstore bandages being followed by wet mounds of animal feces. Well, let me present as witnesses some posters from Fragrantica.

[The court security guards escort in some very pale, wan looking witnesses, some of whom are still holding onto small buckets reeking of vomit. In between dry heaves, they vow to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,’ so help them God. And then they testify.]

  •  this is a roller coaster ride through the farm I think. This begins with a cheesy note and then goes right to the barnyard with a totally fecal smell. Sorry, folks, but that’s what it is. I grew up on a farm and I know that smell-this one is somewhere between horse and sheep manure. It lasts for almost 15 minutes, then the juice smells like maybe flowers growing in the manure, and then like rotten fruit left in the garbage too long. Manure
  • A blast of smoky agarwood opens this terrific composition bringing to mind of creamy bluecheese and animalic secrections. [¶] … It’s an assault to your senses in the meaning that unless you’re completely aware of what you’re just about to smell, you’ll probably be disgusted.
  • Strap yourself in and prepare for a bumpy ride.lol…… This opens with a strong smell of cheese in a barnyard with a peppery apple freshness. […] this is imo definitely one for the Oud connoisseur as I cannot see many people getting past the first half hour.

The final testimony is that of the Complainant, a perfumista who shall only be known as “Kevin” and whose experience with this perfume led to the present court action. Unfortunately, “Kevin” has since suffered a complete black-out on this issue. His deeply traumatized mind refuses to return to the scene of the crime, if you wilI, so I will read to you his sworn testimony that was presented to the Grand Jury:

Upon dabbing on my sample of Zafar, I wretched. Audibly and continuously. Never in my life have I smelled anything so repulsive, and I have worked as a janitor and have performed animal dissections on week-old pigs.

Picture if you will, a filthy, heinous, broken and nightmarish Penn Station toilet. Then, picture filling it with pounds of the most rancid, pungent blue cheese you can imagine. Now picture blending the filth with an immersion blender and heating it on a stove. You now have only an inkling of the atrocities of Zafar.

Zafar struck a fear in me that made me doubt all perfume.  How could something so expensive, from such a prestigious house, smell so outrageously bad? […]

If there were a challenge to which required me to create the most outrageously bad perfume, I couldn’t even begin to imagine the horrors of Zafar. It is truly that repulsive. And while many claim perfumes shouldn’t be judged on their opening, there is no way any sane person could withstand the opening for a drydown that is only better in the sense that it doesn’t make you wretch, cower, and want to crawl out of your own skin and wish you had no sense of smell whatsoever.

You don’t believe Kevin, I can see it in your eyes. Well, we shall prove it to you. Guards! Bring in the testers!”

[The guards set up two, tiny canisters at each end of the room. The jury shifts in their chairs nervously. A small phalanx of the judge’s clerks tiptoe in and discreetly set up small garbage cans at intervals along the gallery and the jury box. The District Attorney dramatically puts on a giant gas mask, akin to those used by soldiers in the first Persian Gulf War when there were fears of Saddam Hussein using chemical warfare against American troops. Mr. Sneering points to the guards and nods.

Pfft. Pfft. Pfft.

Abstract Black Smoke via mobile-wallpapers

Three small whiffs of scent are released from each of the two canisters. Massive chunks of veiny blue cheese leap out, followed closely by limburger cheese in a slightly sweetened white robe. Rubber bandages dance around, one by one, on their bendy pink tails. Pink rubber bandaidCorked bottles of black pepper and rubbing alcohol run up to the jury — and explode in their face. A simpering rose swirls up like a pink genie to hover in the background. Awaiting its eventual turn in the spotlight, hours later, is a very gaunt specter of Incense robed in smoky black. Meanwhile, horses, cows and sheep run amok, their hooves dripping manure on the courtroom’s impeccable floors. One cow decides to defecate right before the Jury Foreman who turns his head and vomits into the lap of Juror #2 beside him. Who then promptly faints.

Incense stick. Source: Stock footage and Shutterstock.com.

Incense stick. Source: Stock footage and Shutterstock.com.

There is an audible gasp from the gallery. A few women reach hurriedly for the vomit pails lining the aisles. But not everyone has turned green with horror. A few men can’t see the animal specters at all. There is no manure whatsoever to their oblivious nose. They have a blissfully happy expression as they sniff the woody base. To them, Zafar is a wonderfully true, authentic oud with luxuriously strong black incense, peppery cedar and a whiff of florals. They don’t mind the medicinal nature of the agarwood and they admire the earthy vetiver, alongside that primal “noble rot.” Zafar sees their face and gives them a wink.

His Honour, the Judge, decides enough time has passed for evidentiary analysis. He orders the olfactory notes back into their cannisters, the windows opened, and the rather large piles of unpleasant droppings to be cleaned up, before banging for a recess. He contemplates ordering a Gorgonzola salad for lunch, but decides that may create an impression of bias. 

After lunch, the court reconvenes, and the District Attorney continues with the People’s case.]

“Ladies and gentlemen, I apologise most profusely for subjecting you to those horrors. And before lunch, no less! But you needed to experience Zafar for yourself. My final point about Zafar is this scoundrelly knave’s cost. Not only is he battering you with olfactory misery, but he’s fleecing your wallet while he’s doing it! Do you know how much he is charging your for this foray into trauma? Almost $400 for a small bottle! To be precise, $395 (before tax and/or shipping) for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle of eau de parfum. You can order it from Luckyscent or MinNewYork if you have money to burn, but would you really want to? To quote “Kevin” and his testimony to the Grand Jury:

The fact that Xerjoff dares to price this product of chemical warfare at $395 is absurd. It should be priced at $1 billion so that no one ever has enough money to smell it. In fact, making someone smell Zafar should be sufficient to get one charged with a war crime.

But we are not here to convict Zafar of being massively over-priced; grand larceny is not one of the charges, though perhaps it should be. No, we are here to judge Zafar on the merits, and the evidence clearly demands that you convict! Save the people of the world, leave blue cheese where it belongs, eradicate manure from perfumery, and CONVICT!”

THE DEFENSE:

[The defense attorney, Loverly Limburger, Esq.,rises and speaks]: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, thank you for taking the time out of your busy lives to be here today and to help settle this incredibly unjust charge against my client. You know, if I were just to listen to the District Attorney, I would convict too! But he has presented an extremely one-sided version of Zafar. In fact, I would go so far as to say his intentional omission of some key facts should warrant investigation by the Bar Ethics Committee!

Take, for example, the witness testimony from Fragrantica. My, my, what selective cropping and editing. What Mr. Sneering failed to add was how almost all of those comments ended with positive appreciation of Zafar’s luxurious nature. For example:

  • Finally after much patience, a pleasant oud, woody fragrance emerges, really smelling like fresh cut wood. To my utter amazement it was nice. This is definitely a man’s fragrance, but if any of you guys decide to wear this, please warn your significant other that this one will take a while before it smells good.
  • This takes at least thirty minutes to calm down into something acceptable and when it does a incense accord comes to the forefront with that apple freshness. Then woods and some florals start to come through the peppery incense apple freshness. In the drydown the woods & vetiver start to dominate over the incense accord. […] The ingredients are top notch as you would expect from Xerjoff and this does have real Oud in all its skanky glory.

No, the District Attorney has presented a very lopsided, distorted picture of Zafar. He even conveniently leaves out the positive reviews from sites like CaFleureBon and Perfume-Smellin’ Things. I call to the stand as an expert witness, Mark Behnke, the Managing Editor of CaFleureBon!

[The Bailiff administers the oath and the witness settles in to provide his testimony.]

This. Is. Oud. Period. If you have come to appreciate oud in all of its qualities and subtlety Zafar is a fragrance you must try. Not only is it Laotian oud it is Laotian oud from Malaysian Agarwoodold trees over 15 years old. That extra age adds a more resinous quality to what is already an intense note. If that was the only jewel on display in Zafar that would be great but a truly spectacular incense from Oman is also present to take the resinous quality off the scale, in a good way. Zafar opens with a rose note sprinkled with black pepper to accentuate the spicy. The old trees Laotian oud takes over the middle of Zafar and the incense then swirls out of the oud. In the middle part of this development I felt like I was in a meditation garden surrounded by the most expensive incense sticks ever. It truly felt like a religious experience for me. Eventually vetiver and cedar break the spell but not for a long while. The two stars of this Oud Star take hold and try not to let go.

Now, I can just see the D.A. spluttering in his chair about the nature of CaFleureBon as a site that never (ever) has one bad thing to say about any perfume, including cheap celebrity creations. I can see Mr. Sneering struggling to contain himself about how they are a site that caters to advertising dollars and PR teams, so they cannot be seen as anything but biased. Perhaps. That will be for you to evaluate. But, lest you think it’s just CaFleureBon, let me present to you another witness, the respected blogger from Perfume-Smellin’ Things:

“Zafar” means “victory” in Arabic and Xeroff has certainly succeeded in creating a perfume that is as sensuous, multifaceted and provocative as many of the Arabian perfume oils that are popular in the Middle East. Oud really stands out in this blend. No attempt has been made to tame or disguise it so its primal energy is unmistakable. To combine it with rose and musk is very much in the “Arabic” tradition, and for that reason this perfume seems especially “authentic”. The animalic snarliness of oud and the sweet earthiness of patchouli are the most prominent components of the scent, however they aren’t so strong as to obscure the crimson headiness of rose, the heavy sensuality of white flowers or the cool, herbal breeziness of vetiver. I began this review by saying that “oud can be challenging”. “Zafar” is a challenge worth meeting head on- it’s dark; it’s bold and it’s daring. Xerjoff has earned the laurels for creating this perfume, but I intend to share them by wearing it!

It’s a very different take on Zafar than what the District Attorney presented, no? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit to you that this is the true picture of Zafar. Ignore the allegations of barnyard turds or rancid, heated Gorgonzola. Focus instead on the fact that this is not only the very rare Laotian oud, but super-aged rare oud at that! Consider the fact that genuine agarwood is meant to smell a certain way, right down to the rubbery pink bandages, and that this is meant to be a truly Arab fragrance. You can hardly blame Zafar for that, can you? He was born that way. There was no intent to batter you. And, without mens rea, there can be no crime.

In short, you must acquit!”

[The Defense sits down, and the jury leaves for its deliberations. There is no word from them for two days, until finally a message arrives that they are hopelessly deadlocked. The Judge even gives them an Allen Charge to make them try to resolve their differences. Then, finally on the third day, they return.]

THE VERDICT:

Hung jury.

[Six jurors voted to convict the very second they set foot in the jury room. They refused to even try on the perfume for additional tests. The seventh was persuaded to their side after an extra-long bout with incredibly antiseptic, medicinal, rubbery, peppery oud that remained on her skin until the perfume faded away.

However, five jurors held out, stubbornly ignoring the issue of the rancid, moldy blue cheese. They didn’t want to blame Zafar for being, perhaps, what he was meant to be. Three of them actually enjoyed the fragrance after that difficult opening. None of them, however, were willing to spend $395 to buy it. ]

***

Disclosure: I am an attorney and former trial lawyer, but I never practiced criminal law, only civil. This is not intended to be a proper depiction of a trial or of the law. It is a parody that is meant only in fun, though the essence of the perfume is accurate.