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. 

Review: By Kilian & Montale Oud perfumes

I’ve tried a number of unisex Oud fragrances from such niche perfume lines as Montale and By Kilian. (The latter was founded by the grandson of the famous Hennessy dynasty whose high-end cognac company is now part of the LVMH luxury conglomerate.) Oud scents are not cheap and the niche houses who put them out can charge a pretty penny. I could afford to try so many only thanks to the incredibly useful website, Surrender to Chance, which sells sample vials or larger-sized “decants” of almost every cologne or fragrance imaginable – from department stores lines to the niche houses to the rare, discontinued and vintage. (I cannot recommend them enough and the shipping is a fantastic price for a fast turnaround: $2.95 for First Class Shipping on any order within the U.S., and starting at $5.95 for international shipping.)

From By Kilian (hereinafter referred to just as Kilian), I tried four unisex fragrances from his Arabian Nights Collection: Amber OudRose OudIncense Oud and Pure OudIncense Oud opened with a sharp lime note which quickly receded to the background as the smoky, incense-y wood notes appeared. I liked this scent, though I swing back and forth as to whether I prefer the Rose Oud which opens with that sharp lime note before adding a rose element to the smokiness and woodiness. Honestly, I’ve concluded that that bitter, acrid, sharp, almost burning lime element has to be some element of the Oud distillation because I get it in a number of different Oud scents on the market. Not all, but enough such that I sometimes wonder if I’m imagining its pervasiveness, particularly as “sharp, acrid lime” is not something usually associated with Oud. This is obviously where personal chemistry comes into play.

Regardless, both Incense and Rose Oud settle into a comfortable, smoky woodiness that is quite different.  Neither has much sillage or longevity on me, but as I have repeatedly mentioned, few things do. With both Kilians, they fade into softness as quickly as 15 minutes later! However, they do remain, albeit close to the skin, with the Incense lasting for about 2 hours and the Rose Oud lasting a bit closer to 3 hours.

Kilian’s Amber Oud was a different experience because I smelled no oud whatsoever! No acrid, sour lime here but, rather, a lovely, very sweet opening note of amber and brown sugar. Almost a caramel feel, you might say, mixed with some 1970s-style patchouli and vanilla. The wood accord is simply nonexistent. So much so that I wondered if I was completely insane and decided to check the website, Basenotes. Apparently, I’m sane. There is no oud, according to most of the commentators, even though the official notes include it, along with bayleaf, cedarwood, amber and vanilla. As one person noted, you could get  the same result from Prada’s Amber series. I will say this, however, it lasted longer on me than the Rose or Incense versions.

Pure Oud was a completely unique experience out of the four Arabian Night fragrances that I tried. Basenotes states that it is composed of: “Oud, Saffron, Copahu balm, Amber, Gaiac wood, Cypriol, Cistus labdanum, Myrrh, Animalic notes.” On me, it (thankfully) lacked the strong opening lime note but descended immediately into a pure, almost synthetic perhaps, explosion of woodiness. It was different, there is no doubt, and quite fascinating. I can honestly say I’ve never smelled anything like it, perhaps as it is a cold, stony, wintery wood scent with a leather undertone. It strongly reminds me of the inside of a new, very expensive luxury car with ample (real) walnut wood and leather that is like butter. Except here, the leather isn’t hugely prominant in the face of that cold, steely wood. There is definitely an outdoorsy feel to this that is quite mentally and psychologically evocative. Living in warm Houston, I was strongly reminded of living in New York at Christmas time, wrapped up in a thick woolen coat and walking a street decorated with Christmas lights and covered with snow as tall steel or stone structures loomed up above. There is a slightly stony element and a coldness (in a good way) to the scent, along with the outdoorsy elements and leather. It made me wonder if this was what “cold,” “winter” or “stone” smelled like to the antihero, Grenouille, in the famous book Perfume.

Alas, even half a sample vial of this (in one go!) started to mellow on me within 15 minutes. It did not, however, fade completely. Instead, something different emerged. I actually could smell some Saffron (I cook a lot) and definitely some Myrrh. From that very cold, almost stone-like opening of wood with leather, now emerged lovely Myrrh, Saffron and Oud. My nose is not distinguished enough to know what Gaiac Wood, Cyprior or Cistus Labdanum smell like exactly but, whatever this is and whatever they do, the overall result is lovely. All in all, Pure Oud lasted perhaps 2 hours on me. I can’t say that it is something I would reach for daily but for those occasions when I want to feel different, unique and strangely enough, powerful, I would reach for this.

In contrast, Lime Aoud from Montale made me want a “Silkwood Shower.” (“Silkwood” is a fantastic film with Meryl Streep which led to the popular term referencing the scalding shower intended to rid one of radioactive contamination.) In fact, I did take my own version of Silkwood shower. Alas, there was no remedying how revolting this smelled on me. Oh, the irony that the woman on whom most things fade is subjected to a perfume she loathes and cannot escape. (As one of my best friends put it, it’s a situation worthy of the Twilight Zone.) I should begin by stating that the niche perfume house, Montale, is well-known (and much adored) for its various Aoud scents. They have many, with Dark Aoud being one that people frequently rave about as the ultimate in pure, really dark, super intense Aoud scents. (God, if it’s stronger than the Lime Aoud, please kill me before a touch of it gets on me.)

I ordered Lime Aoud because of the many raves for it on Fragrantica. Its notes intrigued me and certainly sounded good at the time: Aoud, Rose, Iris, Amber, Patchouli, Sandalwood, and Saffron. (See, Basenotes.) Some comments mention the extremely harsh opening of lime and Aoud. (It was the first time that lime was officially supposed to be part of an Aoud fragrance that I’d tested and, yet, I sometimes smell that note when it’s not supposed to be. Baffling.) Other commentators talk about a medicinal, bitter and metallic scent. I agree with both of those impressions. I’m not sure I agree with those who say that Lime Aoud turns into amber, sandalwood and roses.

The first time I put on Lime Aoud, I put on a small amount as I could tell from the moment I opened the vial that it was intense. I was blasted back by the lime and medicinal nature of it for hours. Sharp, acrid, medicinal, camphorous even, mixed in — totally incongruously, if I might add — with competing floral scents in an utterly revolting mix that just got stronger and stronger. After about 5 hours of barely suppressing nausea, I finally caved and took a long, scalding shower. Even after that, I could still smell faint traces of the worst part of it. And my clothes and hair positively reeked of it. It was so horrendous, I threw my clothes into the washer.

A few days later, I wondered if I’d imagined it and thought that I should give it another go. After all, some scents develop and change. Maybe I hadn’t given it enough of a chance. No. I lasted even less this time. I simply could not bear it. It was like someone had sprayed a floral scent in the air of a morgue, combining with its antiseptic, harshly metallic, cold, steel, and then added about a gallon of bitter lime on top of all that. My God, I’m cringing at the sheer memory.

Montale’s Aoud Blossom was slightly more successful  on me. Probably because it seems to have very little Aoud in it! According a commentator on Basenotes, it contains: “bergamot, Sicilian mandarin, ylang ylang, violet, jasmine sambac, tuberose, rose, Mysore sandalwood, Arabian oud.”  Many seem to think there is little to no real Aoud in it. I disagree. I can definitely smell it in the opening minutes, faint though it may be. Someone says they can smell the tuberose in it. I love tuberose and I get none of that on me. What I can smell is a definite floriental. Floral from the very dominant rose component, and oriental from the more spicy notes. I’m not sure I can really detect the mandarin, violet or jasmin but I can definitely smell the bergamot, ylang ylang and the sandalwood. However, everything is essentially overwhelmed by a very loud rose note that remains consistently dominant.

While Kilian and Serge Lutens fragrances don’t last long on me (at all!), Montale ones have decent to moderate sillage, and great longevity. (Too great, alas, in the case of the Lime Aoud). Its longevity is quite surprising to me, given how niche fragrances usually die a quick death on my skin. Aoud Blossom lasted about 5 hours on me, all in all. I will be frank, however, this is not a scent I would ever reach for again. And I am fighting off the urge to take another shower. It’s simply too pungent and in-your-face. Now, I *adore* strong scents, floral orientals and anything with a POW! And almost nothing gives me a bad physical reaction. But this… I can feel it at the back of my throat, it’s so overpowering that I feel a bit dizzy and I feel the onset of a migraine. It’s a deeply unhappy experience and one which has made me conclude that I must stay very far away from the House of Montale.

That said, there are enough variations of Aoud on the market that — whether your preference is for a sweeter version, a more woody one, a floral rose variation or hard core medicinal iteration — you can be sure to find one that appeals to you. If you’re willing to pay the prices for the uniqueness! This is not Coty or even your mother’s Estée Lauder. As for me, I will continue my exploration of Oud – probably with Tom Ford’s Oud Wood next as a friend of mine reports nothing medicinal, metallic, acrid or sharp about it. If I do try it out, I will be sure to report back.