By Kilian Apple Brandy

Source: dailymail.co.uk

Source: dailymail.co.uk

Some fragrances are not meant to be practical, versatile, daily experiences. They’re intended to be playful whimsy, a bit of a laugh for those with very deep pockets who can afford to indulge in a rich man’s expensive luxury once in a blue moon. I think that’s perhaps the best way to interpret and approach Apple Brand, the brand-new, recently released perfume from By Kilian. It is a fragrance that really isn’t something practical for most people to wear on a daily basis, unless you want your boss to think you’re an alcoholic and write you up to HR, or a police officer to look at you askance and subject you to a breathalyzer test. In a nutshell, Apple Brandy makes you smell like you were smeared from head to toe with a 1000 plates of Crepe Suzette, and then fell into an oak barrel of cognac after an all-night bender.

Source: Instyle.com.com

Source: Instyle.com.com

Apple Brandy is an eau de parfum that was created by Sidonie Lancesseur, and was released at the end of 2013 as a scent exclusive to Kilian Hennessy‘s new store in New York’s meatpacking district. As the Kilian website description makes clear, the fragrance is both a playful wink at the “Big Apple,” and an homage to his Hennessey cognac heritage:

BRANDY is the term used to designate “Cognac“ when your product is not actually produced in the region of Cognac. In order to recreate this very specific “Cognac” scent that belongs in Kilian’s olfactive memory, Sidonie created an accord combining the smoked wood from the Oak casks – Cedar wood from Texas, white Cedar from China and Labdanum from Spain – and the sugar from the alcohol – Vanilla and Ambroxan.

APPLE is of course a wink to New York, the “Big Apple”. In order to create an “Apple accord” that would not be anecdotal or too simplistic, we created an “Apple liquor” that would blend, rather than contrast, with the “Oak cask” accord.

The complete list of notes is as follows:

Oaken barrel, Texas cedar, Chinese white cedar, Spanish labdanum, Vanilla, Ambroxan.

Source: NYTimes.

Source: NYTimes.

Apple Brandy opens on my skin with a tsunami of pure, hard alcohol. I absolutely adore boozy notes, but Apple Brandy takes it to a whole new extreme and level, to the point where I actually said, “Whoaa…..” out loud. For an instant, the opening note is of apple — tart, crisp, and tangy like a Fuji — but it is almost immediately covered with cognac. The liqueur is sweetened with an extremely nutty, toffee’d undertone, and has traces of oak and a thick amber as well. It’s nice, but, my God, is there a lot of it! It’s intense, almost to the point of rawness, and beyond any “booziness” that I’ve previously encountered.

Source: yumsugar.com

Source: yumsugar.com

The overall effect is exactly like a caramelized apple at a fair, covered in heavy, dense toffee, and then dunked into an oak barrel of alcohol. Perhaps a more precise comparison is to Crepe Suzette, the kind were the apple-stuffed crepes are doused with sugar, then flambéed to a caramelized crisp with copious amounts of brandy. On the side, and all around the plate, is a luxurious crème anglaise sauce of slightly eggy, rich vanilla.

Crepes with creme anglaise. Source: foodspotting.com

Crepes with creme anglaise. Source: foodspotting.com

The intensity of the alcohol tsunami softens after 5 minutes, losing some of its rawness and undiluted, hard edge. I still smell like apple Crepe Suzette, but it’s after some of the brandy has been burned off. The first time I tested it, Apple Brandy was actually quite enjoyable as a cozy, warm, dense, boozy gourmand. I liked the ambered apple compote, and I have a particular weakness for crème anglaise sauce. The vanilla isn’t a huge part of the scent on my skin, but the flickers of it at the edge provide a lovely richness that makes Apple Brandy feel like a decadent indulgence. My favorite part, however, is the oak which really evokes oak barrels in the strongest way possible. It rather brilliant, in my opinion.

Oak Barrel with 1973 GC Le Peu Hennessy cognac/ Source: blog.cognac-expert.com

Oak Barrel with 1973 GC Le Peu Hennessy cognac/ Source: blog.cognac-expert.com

Apple Brandy is an enormously linear scent with very little change throughout its lifespan. It never transforms in any substantial way, but there are variations of degree that occur after the first hour. The fragrance’s apple tonalities weaken and slowly fade, while the oak barrels become much more dominant. There is something incredibly appealing about the oak when doused by the caramelized apple and the heady, boozy cognac. The wood is extremely smooth, slightly smoky, and rich, adding a layer of depth to the otherwise simplistic scent. The cedar never appears on me in any distinctive way, but I think it works indirectly from the edges, heightening the oak with that subtle smokiness. Really, the wood parts are beautifully done as a counterbalance to the Crepe Suzette and hard liqueur.

Ambroxan. Source: Aromachemicals.net

Ambroxan. Source: Aromachemicals.net

At the end of the first hour, Apple Brandy becomes increasingly drier and woodier, particularly as the Ambroxan starts to stir in the base. The synthetic, alas, is a little difficult for me. According to the Good Scent Company‘s olfactory database, Ambroxan’s strength is assessed as “high” or intense, and its aroma is: “ambergris, old paper, sweet labdanum, dry.” Here, it initially adds a warm, sweet, ambered feel to Apple Brandy’s opening, but the dryness takes over about 90 minutes into the perfume’s development. I am much more sensitive to aromachemicals than the average person, and Ambroxan is no exception. The inside of my nose hurts each time I sniff my arm up close, but it’s thankfully not an extreme reaction. As a whole, the aromachemical is well-blended into the fragrance, and doesn’t seem hugely excessive. Still, it’s enough to make Apple Brandy a much drier scent than it was originally.

At the start of the third hour, Apple Brandy is a blur of sweetened booze and woodiness on a very dry base. The caramelized apple compote note is muffled, and soon fades away entirely. The vanilla really never showed itself on my skin outside the opening hour where it was more of a supporting player on the sidelines. As for the other notes, they feel quite indistinct and abstract, lacking delineation and overlapping each other, with only the brandy really dominating. The sillage — which was initially quite intense with only a small amount of perfume applied — now drops, hovering only an inch or so above the skin.

Hennessy's aged, cognac oak barrels. Source: graperadio.com

Hennessy’s aged, cognac oak barrels. Source: graperadio.com

That’s really the sum total of Apple Brandy’s development on my skin. From the third hour until its very end, the fragrance is merely a dry, semi-sweet, woody, oak and cognac bouquet. In its final drydown, Apple Brandy is just an abstract smear of woodiness tinged with some vague sense of booziness. All in all, the perfume lasted just over 9.5 hours, with generally good sillage that only became a skin scent at the start of the 6th hour.

Source: autoblog.com

Source: autoblog.com

I enjoyed parts of Apple Brandy a great deal, but I have numerous caveats and issues with the scent. I live in a place where I cannot go anywhere without driving, and where the jackbooted police are notoriously aggressive over the smallest thing. I simply would not dare wear Apple Brandy outside my house for fear that — were I ever to get pulled over — the police would think I’d been drinking and driving. Knowing the police here, there is no way they’d believe my protests, “Officer, it’s only my fragrance.” I wince just imagining the scene.

I also would not be comfortable wearing the scent to social occasions either, lest people think I’d been on a bender or had alcohol problems. The smell of liquor is simply so intense from a few dabs, especially in the first two hours, that regular application might smell as though I’d doused my clothes with an entire bottle of expensive brandy. Lastly, as an attorney whose speciality was employment law for big corporations, I would strongly advise against wearing Apple Brandy to any workplace, period. This is the sort of thing that would lead to HR problems, because it really does not convey an appropriate, professional image.

Source: it.123rf.com

Source: it.123rf.com

On the upside, Apple Brandy might be a lovely scent to wear in your own home on a chilly, snowy winter’s night. It is the perfume equivalent of having a brandy while sitting before a fire. Yet, even as I write that, my brains whispers the other problems with the scent: it’s linear, it’s a novelty act, and it would get boring very quickly. I enjoyed parts of Apple Brandy quite a bit the first time around, especially before the dryness and Ambroxan kicked in. The second time around, however, I was less enthused and a bit bored. There is a somewhat exhausting quality to the scent; it beats you over the head at first, and you’re quite awed by both the intensity and the novelty. Later, though, its unchanging nature wears you down a bit, and you’d like something a bit different than just the incessant clamour of brandied oak barrels. In short, Apple Brandy’s playful, exuberantly celebratory act is perhaps something best suited to a rare occasion.

All of that brings me to the next issue: price. Apple Brandy costs $235 for a small 50 ml bottle, and unlike many other Kilian fragrances, I don’t see the (relatively) cheaper refill option listed. I personally would never spend $235 on a fragrance I wouldn’t dare to wear outside the house, and to which I’d turn only once in a blue moon as a novelty. On the other hand, in the same way that a really expensive bottle of brandy can be an occasional indulgence, so too is Kilian’s perfume equivalent. Parts of it are truly enjoyable at times.

At the end of the day, price is a subjective matter, so if you have no problems spending $235 to smell like flambéed Crepe Suzette and Hennessy oak barrels, go for it. Just don’t spray on a lot, or you may appear like an alcoholic on a bender. And, for the love of God, don’t drive while wearing Apple Brandy!

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Apple Brand is an eau de parfum that costs $235 for a refillable 1.7oz/50 ml bottle that comes in a black, wooden box. I don’t see the actual, and usually cheaper, refill option listed. The fragrance is said to be exclusive to the new Kilian store in New York, but you can purchase it from the US Kilian website. You can’t find it in Europe, or from the Kilian International site. However, you can always try to call the new boutique in New York to purchase it by phone. The store’s address and phone number are: 804 Washington Street, NEW YORK CITY, NY, 10014. +1 212-600-1298.  Samples: I obtained my sample of Apple Brandy from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $6.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.
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By Kilian Playing With The Devil (In The Garden of Good and Evil)

The Devil slinks into the Garden of Good and Evil, cloaked in red, emitting fire, and adding a painful bite to everything he touches. He curls his way around the cedar tree that smells mostly of green freshness with a tinge of damp earthy sweetness, entwines himself around branches carrying lychees and cassis, and breathes a hot red mist of chili all over it. Then, he vanishes in a puff of crimson smoke, leaving fruits that are sweet with a slightly poisoned, synthetic touch. But his crimson present barely lasts, and the evil drains quickly from the Garden of Eden, returning it back to a state of fruited sweetness. It’s an increasingly abstract “goodness,” a fresh blur of fruits that soon takes on a creamy tone with vanilla, before turning into powdered and a little bit sour in their staleness. That’s what happens when you are Playing with the Devil.

Michelangelo,  “The Temptation and Expulsion of Adam & Eve.”

Michelangelo, “The Temptation and Expulsion of Adam & Eve.”

The impact of the Devil in the Garden of Good and Evil has been turned from a whimsical allegory into concrete perfume form by Kilian Hennessey. This month marks the release of Playing With The Devil, an eau de parfum created by Calice Becker. The scent is the fourth edition in Kilian’s In The Garden of Good and Evil collection that was first launched in 20012 and which is centered around a common theme. According to the original press release for the collection (quoted by Now Smell This) and Playing with the Devil‘s description on Luckyscent, “it is the myth of original sin” where “the world of perfume enters into the garden of Eden and shows us another side of the story” with a “tribute to forbidden fruits.”

Source: Fragrantica.

Source: Fragrantica.

LuckyScent gives the following notes for Playing with the Devil:

Blood orange, black currant, white peach, lychee, pepper, pimento [chili pepper], cedar, sandalwood, patchouli, Rose, Jasmine, tonka, benzoin, vanilla.

Playing with the Devil opens on my skin a burst of lychee and tart, juicy, zesty, slightly sour blackcurrant. (I’m used to calling it “cassis,” so that’s what I’ll go with from here on out.) There is an unexpected touch of damp earth underlying the scent, which symbolically melts into the very green, leafy images I get from the fruits. On their trail is a fiery chili pepper (pimento) that feels as visually red as the most brutally piercing Scotch Bonnet or Ghost Chili on the market. It’s a very funky, odd, fascinating note because its bite feels a little like the capsaicin that you’d experience if you nibbled on a pimento pepper. Yet, the second time I tested Playing with the Devil, it was largely overwhelmed by a very fresh, clean scent that sometimes borders a little on the soapy, powdery aroma that you’d get from a deodorant. I actually own a deodorant that has some similarities, so it made me grimace a little, I must confess.

Lychee. Source: fanpop.com

Lychee. Source: fanpop.com

In its opening stage, Playing with the Devil is primarily a lychee and cassis fragrance with that fiery chili pepper bite lurking underneath. Minutes into the fragrance’s development, the peach makes its quiet, very muted debut, feeling white, delicate, pastel and almost liquidy like a thin nectar. It’s followed by a slightly smoky, dry, woody note that initially doesn’t feel like cedar but which soon takes on that tree’s aroma. It smells of bright greenness, mixed with pencil shavings and a light touch of smokiness. The blood orange isn’t a very noticeable note at all on my skin. At best, there is something that feels like the suggestion of its tart, citric nature, but it’s only a vague, fleeting impression. Increasingly, however, Playing with the Devil is dominated by the cassis with its tart, sometimes sour freshness leavened a little by the lychee’s watery sweetness.

Source: splendidtable.org

Source: splendidtable.org

The note that fascinates me the most is the pimento, a type of chili pepper. I’m rather obsessed with how it appears here, though not always for positive reasons. You see, I tend to have an allergic reaction to the chili peppers where my lips swell up in response to the capsaicin that is so much a part of them. Here, with Playing with the Devil, I feel a slight burning in my throat, a sensation I’ve gotten from some chili peppers on occasion, but also, from some synthetics on a much more common, frequent basis. I find it difficult to believe that Calice Becker used an essential oil derived from chili pepper distillation in Playing with the Devil, so I’m venturing a guess that the pimento note here is largely an aromachemical. Well, congratulations on mirroring the sort of physical reaction that I get from the real thing.

Source: free-hdwallpapers.com

Source: free-hdwallpapers.com

On the other hand, a more sincere, genuine congratulations are in order for such a brilliant piece of symbolism. The intellectual conceit or theory here is damn clever, and I absolutely love the thought of the fiery, red-hot pepper representing Satan in the Garden of Eden, thereby turning it smoky and evil. Intellectually, I was impressed with every bit of it. Perfume wise, I find it an extremely interesting, wholly original counterpoint to the lychee and cassis.

Personally, however, it’s a whole other matter, because I’m not swooning over any of it. Playing with the Devil is pretty on some levels, and I like the effect of the cedar in adding an increasingly dry counter-point to the fruits, but none of it really wows me. I also enjoy the liquidy sweetness of lychee, but that alone is not enough to make the overall fragrance something that really knocks me to my feet. Moreover, the clean, fresh, slightly soapy, faintly powdered aspects of the beginning are most definitely not me. It’s a pretty opening, but perhaps you have to really adore fruity fragrances to really love it, and I’m afraid I’m not one of those people.

At the end of the first hour, Playing with the Devil starts to shift. At first, it’s just the slow stirrings of vanilla in the base, adding a different sort of sweetness to the zesty, tart, slightly green, fresh top notes. At the same time, the fiery, red kick of the chili pepper recedes to the background. There is the vaguest hint of something floral wafting about, but it’s so muted, it’s virtually impossible to really identify. The dry woodiness in the base starts to increase, as does the hint of powderiness. Playing with the Devil’s sillage drops, the notes start to overlap each other, and the fragrance starts to feel a little abstract. These issues were especially noticeable the second time I tested the fragrance, when I put on substantially less of Playing with the Devil. With two small smears, instead of about 4 large ones, the fragrance turned vague and abstract far sooner, became a skin scent more quickly, and the nuances in notes were significantly harder to detect. The capsaicin chili pepper element was also substantially less noticeable, though the burning sensation in my throat remained in a faint way.

In both tests, however, Playing with the Devil became a total blur of fruity notes quite quickly. The first time around, with the large dose, it took about 1.25 hours for the fragrance to turn into a generalized, somewhat abstract haze of tart, sweet fruits atop vague woodiness with vanilla. The most you can really single out from the lot is cassis. Underneath, in the base, there is the start of something synthetic lurking about that isn’t clear or distinguishable, along with a touch of fruited patchouli. The peach, and lychee have largely faded away, replaced by hints of blood orange. The chili pepper has disappeared entirely. The whole thing is a soft bouquet of fresh fruits with patchouli, cedar and vanilla that hovers just barely above the skin in an airy, gauzy blur.

Playing with the Devil continues its subtle changes. By the end of the second hour, the soft, leafy, green feel of the fragrance is joined by a shadow of a dewy, pale, watery pink rose, but it’s an extremely muted note. As a whole, the scent is a soft, cozy, fruity vanilla with an increasingly synthetic patchouli note that burns my nose when smelled up close. Playing with the Devil loses its dryness as the patchouli overwhelms the cedar, and the fragrance takes on even greater sweetness. For some strange reason, I have the subtle impression and feel of green tea, only in a creamy ice-cream version. It comes and goes, however, during the third hour, then dies completely as Playing with the Devil becomes increasingly fresh and clean.

Source: popularscreensavers.com

Source: popularscreensavers.com

Starting at the fourth hour, the Garden of Eden is a place where all traces of the Devil have been wiped away. The Luckyscent description of Playing with the Devil talks about how naughtiness wins out in the fight between good and evil, but not on my skin. The fragrance is now a completely nebulous haze of clean, fresh sweetness with fruity vanilla and some powder. The latter soon takes over completely. By the 4.5 hour mark, Playing with the Devil is abstract floral-fruity powder with a slight tinge of vanilla underneath. At the 6 hour mark, the powder takes on a slightly sour, stale characteristic, and the fragrance remains that way until its very end. All in all, Playing with the Devil lasted 9.75 hours with a very large dose (4 very big smears) and just over 7.5 hours with a small one (2 small smears). The sillage throughout was moderate to soft.

Playing with the Devil is far too new for there to be extensive reviews out there. On Fragrantica, only two people seem to have tested the perfume, writing:

  • smells exactly like “Enchanted Forest” but the blackcurrant note isnt as loud. if you want loud blackcurrant buy Enchanted Forest. if you want a more softer blackcurrant note buy this.
  • Fresh, peachy, fruity, bright and feminine. If you like fruity (but not sticky sweet) fragrances, you must try Playing with the devil.
    I can detect all the fruits, the peach, cassis, blood orange and lychee. The rose is present but is subtle not overpowering
    This is how fruity fragrances should be done. Thumbs up!

My experience with The Vagabond Prince‘s The Enchanted Forest was quite different because I had quite a lot of pine develop on my skin, but I do agree with some of the commentator’s assessment: this is a much softer cassis note. I wasn’t a particular fan of The Enchanted Forest, and I’m not of Playing with the Devil, either, and the reasons are somewhat encapsulated in the second Fragrantica review: it’s a fresh, feminine fruit cocktail. Playing with the Devil is also powdery, somewhat synthetic, quickly abstract, and rather boring. If that fiery pimento had really lasted, maybe my reaction would be different, but I highly doubt it.

I think you have to really love cassis, and “fresh, clean” scents to appreciate Playing with the Devil. You also have to be one of those people for whom blackcurrant doesn’t turn urinous or into “cat pee” on their skin. You’d be surprised how many people have that problem with the note, so I’d definitely counsel testing Playing with the Devil before you buy it. It’s not a cheap fragrance  — and, in my opinion, Playing with the Devil is rather over-priced for what it is — but at least there is a more affordable refill option at $145 if you really love fruit cocktails. I don’t, so I shall play with the Devil elsewhere.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Playing with the Devil is an eau de parfum that costs $245 for a 50 ml bottle or $145 for a 50 ml refill bottle. The fragrance is not currently listed on the Kilian website, so I don’t know its Euro retail price. In the U.S.: Kilian fragrances are usually available at a variety of fine department stores, but Playing with the Devil seems to be too new to be listed on the websites of either Bergdorf Goodman, or Saks Fifth Avenue. However, you can order it at Aedes or Luckyscent, though both vendors seem to be back-ordered at the time of this post. Outside the U.S.: Playing with the Devil is not yet listed on By Kilian’s international website. In London, Harvey Nichols always carries the Kilian line, but they don’t have Playing with the Devil listed on their website yet. Elsewhere, you can find the Kilian line at Harvey Nichols stores around the world, from Dubai to Hong Kong. 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: you can find Playing with the Devil at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Perfume Review – By Kilian Musk Oud: Cardamom Rose

Consider me surprised. I actually like Musk Oud, a fragrance from the luxury house, By Kilian. I don’t think it’s a fantastic, complex, original, nuanced — let alone impressive — fragrance, but it actually smells really good. And that is truly a first for anything that I’ve tried thus far from Kilian Hennessey, the grandson of the founder of LVMH. Of course, since it is a By Kilian fragrance, my feelings come with all sorts of huge qualifiers regarding sillage, longevity and an even more ridiculous price than usual, but you could have bowled me over with the feather when I kept sniffing my arm appreciatively.

The newly released Musk Oud is the fifth (and last) in Kilian’s Arabian Night Collection of oud perfumes which first launched in 2009. Unlike all the rest of its siblings, Musk Oud was created by the legendary perfumer, Alberto Morillas, who was recently awarded the very first FiFi Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. branch of the Fragrance Foundation. He’s a fantastic perfumer and co-created my favorite oud fragrance thus far: the spectacular (and sadly discontinued) forerunner of the whole oud trend, YSL‘s M7. The Kilian website describes Morillas’ latest project as follows:

An animalic perfume with a sensual feminity

Musk Oud is a perfume built on the contrast between a liquorish Rose and an animalic Oud accord of great sensuality. In the opening, the Lemon and Mandarin bring a ray of light warmed by Cardamom and Coriander. The heart is an explosion of Roses made syrupy and intoxicating thanks to the Rum extract CO2. A trace of Frankincense and Indonesian Patchouli bring a smokey facet to the composition saturated with dry woods.

Source: Luckyscent

Source: Luckyscent

Musk Oud’s full list of its notes, as compiled from LuckyScent, is as follows:

Lemon, mandarin, cardamom, coriander, cypress, Bulgarian Rose, geranium, davana, Rum extract, frankincense, Oud accord, Musk accord, patchouli.

Musk Oud is the furthest thing from complicated and, on my skin, it is also the furthest thing from either an animalic musk fragrance or a true oud one. It opens on my skin with a rich, beefy, dark red rose that drips thick, jammy juices and which is lightly infused with lemon and a touch of orange. The whole thing is covered with a heavy layer of gorgeous cardamom, and sits upon a quiet, woody base of cypress tinged with patchouli.

Crimson Rose by Karen Betts. Source: redbubble.com

Crimson Rose by Karen Betts. Source: redbubble.com

Seconds later, like a crocodile’s tail moving in muddy water, there are tiny ripples of animalic musk. To my slight unease, it smells very much like dirty, unwashed hair. However, the note is not only incredibly subtle, it essentially vanishes for most of the perfume’s development. It subsequently pops up only two more times, gives a brief bow for a few minutes, and then disappears completely. I was actually surprised by how evanescent it was since one blogger (who admittedly loathes anything animalic) was completely traumatized by the note in Musk Oud. Since my skin actually amplifies both animalic and base notes, I’d fully prepared myself to be overcome by every possible filthy, dirty, raunchy, unwashed, fetid aroma imaginable. Never happened. Not once. And if it should happen to anyone, it should happen to me with my wonky skin that amplifies animalics. Instead, there were only the most minuscule of stirrings in the brown waters of Musk Oud’s base. Perhaps a more accurate analogy would be to compare it to a mosquito in water instead of a crocodile’s tail.

Cardamom. Source: kitchenheadquarters.org

Cardamom. Source: kitchenheadquarters.org

The primary, overwhelming impression of Musk Oud in the first hour is of a cardamom-rose fragrance with other notes just dancing in the sidelines. The richness of the rose is accentuated by a darkly liqueured note, while the cardamom… oh, what cardamom! It’s sweet, nutty, a little dusky, and very spicy. So much so that it almost feels as though it’s accompanied by a fiery red saffron. Undoubtedly, that is just my mind interjecting things, since saffron is often the third twin to the rose-cardamom combination, but Musk Oud does feel as though there is saffron in there, too. As for the dry base, the cedar is lightly sweetened by patchouli and entwined by subtle tendrils of black smoke. There is absolutely no oud at first, and it takes ten minutes for the note to show its face. It’s slightly medicinal but, like all the other elements in the base at this stage, it is extremely muted and serves only to add indirect depth and body to the overall fragrance.

Things start to go down hill a little near the end of the first hour. It took all of 40 minutes for Musk Oud to become a complete skin scent on me. I tried the perfume twice — which wasn’t hard to do, given the usual, below-average longevity that I experience with all Kilian fragrances — and the second time, I applied double the quantity. This time, Musk Oud took one whole, whopping hour to become so glued to my skin that I had to inhale at my arm like a rabid animal to detect its nuances.

Frankincense Smoke  via iStock photos

Frankincense smoke via iStock photos

And, in truth, those nuances were few and far between — in both tests. Just over an hour into the perfume’s development, the base notes come to the foreground as frankincense and oud emerge as the dominant duo. However, neither note is very rich or deep. There is still a heavy sprinkling of cardamom, but the rose note has receded somewhat to the background. Occasionally, it will pop up and become more noticeable, then vanish, then come back to take over the whole scent for about five minutes, then retreat…. and so on. The animalic musk makes a brief appearance around the 90 minute mark, but quickly decides to throw in the towel completely. So, those simple, repeated notes with their varying fluctuations are really the sum total of Musk Oud. The citrus notes had departed long ago; ditto for the cedar; and there was never any geranium or davana to begin with. As for the rum and patchouli, both are essentially undetectable in any distinctive, individual way, except in helping to create that liqueured base to the rose.

After a brief period of time as an oud fragrance with tablespoon of cardamom, a teaspoon of rose, and a pinch of smoke, Musk Oud turns into a simple, more abstract, woody fragrance. There are subtle flecks of oud and cardamom with just a light whisper of jammy rose, but the whole thing feels quite muted and is extremely hard to detect given the nonexistent sillage. Then, Musk Oud dies entirely, having lasted no more than 3.5 hours with my usual dose and 4.25 hours with my larger one. Neither number is very impressive.

I had been curious to what extent Alberto Morillas’ co-creation of the fabulous M7 might have influenced the smell of another spicy agarwood fragrance. The answer is none at all. With the exception of the citrus, cardamom and oud, the two fragrances have no familial olfactory resemblance at all. To my surprise, it is a wholly unexpected perfume house which comes to mind: Guerlain. Kilian’s Musk Oud really evokes early parts of Guerlain‘s Rose Nacrée du Désert from Les Déserts d’Orient Collection. The first hour of Rose Nacrée has the exact same sort of rich, darkly liqueured, jammy, beefy rose infused with cardamom that dominates Musk Oud. Of course, the two perfumes eventually part ways, with the Guerlain turning into an overly syrupy, sugared, almost gourmand fragrance, while the Kilian turns into frankincense and oud. I’m sure there are even more cardamom-rose fragrances out there that resemble Musk Oud (especially from Montale) because, the truth of the matter is, it’s not a very inventive fragrance. It smells great for what it is, but it treads some well-worn ground.

Going by my experiences, the name “Musk Oud” feels like a misnomer. For one thing, on my skin, there was almost no musk in it. For another, the quantity of agarwood was hardly enough to render the scent a true oud one. It reminded me Kilian‘s Amber Oud which, to my nose and on my skin, had virtually no oud in it at all. Musk Oud has more of the note, but it’s all relative. In fact, given how the fragrance is such a skin scent, what little oud there is may be even harder to detect.

There aren’t a lot of in-depth blog reviews out there for Musk Oud. The fragrance is so new that I couldn’t even find a Fragrantica entry for it. However, out of the two comments on Luckyscent, both focused on the musk issue. One poster loved the scent, writing that Musk Oud was “[j]ust the right balance between the oud and the musk, neither too animalic nor too clean.” The other tried hard to be polite and mask his disdain:

Not impressed. I love rich, deep musk scents. My favorite perfume is Musc Ravageur. So when you name something Oud Musk, well I’m expecting something rich and dark and almost dirty. There is nothing unique about this. It’s not a clean musk mind you, it does have the dirtiness but its done in an oddly sheer way. I will say however, that that is probably perfect for some people. A polite, dirty musk. I guess there is a place for it.

Both commentators thought that the perfume had outstanding longevity and wrote that it “lasted all day.” I think that may be the first time I’ve ever seen that said about any Kilian fragrance, but, hey, I’m happy there are exceptions.

How you feel about Musk Oud will depend solely on two things: how you feel about animalic notes, and how your skin deals with them. The second review on Luckyscent is significant because it underscores that point. If you’re someone who loves a scent like Frederic Malle‘s Musc Ravageur (or, even more extreme, Parfum d’Empire‘s Musc Tonkin), then Musk Oud will be disappointing child’s play. If you’re someone like me whose feelings about musk can depend on its treatment, you may greatly enjoy Musk Oud, especially if your skin chemistry decides to play nicely with the note. But if you’re someone who can’t stand any animalic notes whatsoever, then Musk Oud may be a nightmare regardless of chemistry.

That was the case with Lucas of Chemist in a Bottle whose traumatized account of the fragrance reads, in part, as follows:

The opening act of By Kilian Musk Oud is a tidal wave of musk on my skin. I smell raw, animalic if not a fecal kind of musk. It has that dense, powerful structure that will be definitely too much for those who are not infatuated and obsessive by this raw perfume material. I definitely don’t belong to that group! Couple of minutes later I start to smell trouble. Double trouble because here appears the oud. In the whole oud fragrances trend I am quite lucky that oud notes don’t manifest themselves too bold on my skin. However Musk Oud doesn’t classify as one of those. As I write this my arm is almost dripping with oud. No joke! [¶]

[Later] I was attacked by a hard to describe smell that to me, in the closest comparison, was a mix of unwashed, sweaty clothes and sticky, greasy hair. So gross and so off-putting.

As you can see, a wholly different experience from either myself or the two chaps on Luckyscent. The odd thing is that my skin normally amplifies both musks and agarwood to the point where it can overwhelm a perfume, while Lucas — in testing the exact same fragrance — can find them to be completely minute and tolerable. So, I’m not quite sure what happened here to flip the situation so much on its head but, for me, Musk Oud was neither a musk fragrance nor an oud one. (It certainly was nothing like my experience with Opus VII, the animalic, musky oud fragrance from Amouage!) Where my experience does parallel (a little) that of Lucas is in terms of sillage and longevity. Musk Oud lasted 6 hours on him, and he found the sillage to be very low.

Musk Oud, 50 ml bottle. Source: Aedes.

Musk Oud, 50 ml bottle. Source: Aedes.

I very much enjoyed the cardamon-rose aspects of the fragrance, but I would never buy Musk Oud. I think it’s ridiculously over-priced for what it is, and simply isn’t special enough. Kilian’s prices are high to begin with, but the Arabian Nights Collection takes it to ridiculous levels given the generally uncomplicated, bare bones, and sometimes mundane nature of the scents. (Yes, Amber Oud, I’m looking at you.) Normally, Kilian charges $235 for a small 50 ml/1,7 oz bottle of one of his fragrances, like the recent Flower of Immortality. However, Musk Oud — like all the oud scents in the Arabian Nights Collection — retails for $395 (or €295), with the “cheap” alternative options starting at $185 for a refill bottle. Until Mr. Hennessey corners the world supply of either jammy roses, cardamom, musk or oud, I see nothing in this simple, relatively linear, fleeting, and sometimes impossible to detect fragrance that is worth $400 (more, with tax) for a tiny bottle, or even $185. There are half a dozen fragrances from Montale alone that are based on oud, rose, cardamom, frankincense and/or musk; they cost $110 for the same size bottle, have projection, and last forrrrrrrrrrrrrrrever!

That said, I do think Musk Oud is pretty enough to be worth a sniff or a small decant. However, given the sillage, longevity, cost, uncomplicated and non-oud nature of the fragrance, it may not be worth more than that.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Musk Oud is an eau de parfum that costs $395, $235 or $185 (depending on the form in which you buy it). The lovely lock-box version is 1.7 oz/50 ml of fragrance and costs $395; the refill bottle is $185; and the travel option is $235. In the U.S.: Musk Oud is available at Bergdorf Goodman (in all 3 options), Saks Fifth Avenue (2 options) and Aedes (just the $395 lock box). All 3 options are available at Luckyscent, along with samples for $5 for a 0.7 ounce vial. Outside the U.S.Musk Oud is available on By Kilian’s international website where it costs €295 (with VAT included) for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle. The site also has the more affordable options. In London, you can find Musk Oud at Harvey Nichols which carries the 50 ml/1.7 oz size lock box version for £265.00 or the 50 travel refill for £110.00. Harvey Nichols stores around the world, from Dubai to Hong Kong, also carry the Kilian line. In Paris, the Kilian line is carried at Printemps. As for other locations, By Kilian’s Facebook page lists the following retailers and/or locations: “HARVEY NICHOLS (UK, Honk Kong, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Koweit, Turkey), Le BON MARCHE (France), TSUM (Russia), ARTICOLI (Russia) and HOLT RENFREW (Canada).” Samples: Samples are available from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. 

Perfume Review: By Kilian Flower of Immortality

The daintiest of Chinese watercolours with sheer, minimalistic and translucent brush strokes. That is what comes to mind when I wear Flower of Immortality, the new fragrance from the luxury perfume house, By Kilian.

Chinese watercolour. Source: Xiami.com

Chinese watercolour. Source: Xiami.com

Flower of Immortality is an eau de parfum which will be released next week, in early April 2013, as the third in Kilian’s Asian Tales series of perfumes which first launched in 2012. It is a simple, uncomplicated, fruity-floral scent which is pretty but alarmingly evanescent — and not just for my skin.

Source: Tumblr.

Source: Tumblr.

Flower of Immortality celebrates white peaches, the flower of which represents immortality in ancient Chinese folklore. The perfume was inspired by “A Tale of the Fountain of the Peach Blossom Spring” where a fisherman follows the scent of peach blossoms and ends up in Utopia. Luckyscent has the full details on the scent which it describes as follows:

For Kilian, Flower of Immortality is, above all, an olfactory homage to the peach blossom and its very strong symbolism in China. This blossom, whose pink petals are unveiled only in the middle of the winter, is believed to have the power to bewitch the human soul and to make it immortal. It is the set of symbols and myths that surround the flower that Kilian wanted to recreate in this new fragrance.

peach blossomFlower of Immortality was composed as the memory of the utopian paradise, where the fragrance of peach blossoms brings a promise of hospitality and immortality. The smooth and juicy scent of White Peach, interweaved by the sweet and powdery notes of Carrot and Iris. A dazzling breeze of Blackcurrant Bud absolute refreshes while the exquisite Rose Crystal is softened by the Tonka Bean and the scent of Vanilla beans drying in the sun.

By Kilian FOI 50 ml Bottle.JPGThe perfume was created by Calice Becker and the full list of its notes, as compiled from both Fragrantica and LuckyScent, is as follows:

White peach, carrot seeds, blackcurrant bud, freesia, iris, rose, vanilla, tonka bean, and white musk.

Flower of Immortality opens on my skin with the very sweetest of white peaches. There is nothing heavy or ripe in the note which blossoms like an airy cloud on the skin. Seconds later, there is a fleeting touch of black currant (or cassis) with a touch of tart juiciness — but it doesn’t last very long. Soon, it is replaced by notes of fresh carrots and light roses on a white musk base. I happen to like the sweet touch that carrots can bring and think it adds a little depth to the very predominant fruity aspects of the perfume. There are also some very quiet, subtle floral hints from the freesia; like the black currant, that doesn’t last long, either. I don’t detect any iris at all in the perfume.

Source: TheCleverCarrot.com

Source: TheCleverCarrot.com

A few minutes in, Flower of Immortality turns predominantly into a white peach scent. It’s almost like a watery nectar in its airy, shimmery, gauzy feel. There is the muted hint of white musk and, like a ghost popping up every now and then, some extremely subtle touches of carrot. None of these notes change the simpleness of the basic scent: it feels as though I have the lightest veil of actual white peach juice on my skin, and not much else. It’s very pleasant for what it is, but this is a not a complex fragrance by any stretch of the imagination.

The perfume continues as a white peach and musk scent for another hour. And then it dies. Completely. One doesn’t aim for “immortality” in perfumes, but this is too bloody short! If I sniff my arm with intense determination to find it — somewhere, anywhere — I tell myself that I can detect some lingering traces in tiny, random patches for another twenty minutes. Honestly, I think it’s the mere power of suggestion.

The frightening thing is that I — with my perfume-consuming skin — was actually luckier than one poor woman (“raw umber“) on Fragrantica whose entire experience lasted just 20 minutes. Her frustration is quite telling:

Flower of Immortality opens with sugar-covered yellow & pink Haribo peach gummy candies in a cut crystal dish with zingy black currants and a powdery floral note. Mmhm… not bad at all.

[¶] … Only 15 minutes after application, I am holding my nose to my skin in disbelief. Did I spray perfume here once? I swear it smells like peaches, but it must be my imagination. Or maybe… It was a ghost!!!

Perhaps there is an intentional inverse relationship between the Immortal in the name, and the life-span of this scent? 20 minutes in, I’m smelling basenotes as if the perfume had been applied three days ago and this is all that remains. 

I want to put the paddles on this fragrance and shock it back to life. Alas, before I can reach for my cell phone charger, my flame thrower, or my sample vial for a refresher, ANYTHING that might in some way help… Flower of Immortality is already going… going… 

gone.

By Kilian fragrances are not cheap, though thankfully there are a few more affordable options in terms of travel-sizes and refill bottles. Flower of Immortality costs $235 (or €175) for 1.7 oz/50 ml in the traditional lock-box version, but $135 if you want to purchase the refill bottle instead. Either way, that’s expensive for a linear, uncomplicated peach scent which disappears after 20 minutes or, if you’re lucky, an hour. And this is an eau de parfum, so it’s not as if you can try to buy it in a more concentrated, lasting form!

Chinese Peach blossom paintings from FengSuej com

To be frank, I thought the Chinese watercolours I found while writing up my post were a lot prettier and more interesting than the perfume. Don’t get me wrong, Flower of Immortality is perfectly pleasant, even if it’s a little boring. If you like airy, sheer, minimalistic, peach nectars, you may truly enjoy the scent. But I would highly recommend testing it out on your skin before buying it blindly. For those who aren’t a fan of the peach note, you may want to stay away entirely.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Flower of Immortality is an eau de parfum that costs $135, $145 or $235 (depending on the form in which you buy it). It is available on By Kilian’s international website where it costs €175 for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle. The site also has the more affordable options. In the U.S., Flower of Immortality is available for pre-order now on Luckyscent with the perfume to be shipped out on April 4, 2013. The site also offers samples for $4 for a 0.7 ounce vial. Samples are also available at Surrender to Chance and cost $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. I obtained my sample from Saks Fifth Avenue, thanks to the generosity of a sales assistant. Saks also carries the scent, though it won’t be available for purchase in the actual stores until April 4th. I was going to give you the link to the Saks website but, somehow, between the time that I got the sample and saw it online, and the time of writing this post, the perfume is no longer shown online. 

Reviews en Bref: By Kilian Love (Don’t Be Shy) & Straight To Heaven (White Cristal)

As always, the Reviews en Bref are for perfumes that — for whatever reason — didn’t seem to warrant one of my lengthy, exhaustive reviews. In this case, it’s because I really don’t think I have the skin chemistry for the three By Kilian fragrances I tried from his L’Oeuvre Noire collection. In fact, I have not had such a miserable perfume experience in a while.

STRAIGHT TO HEAVEN (WHITE CRISTAL):

In 2007, Kilian Hennessey — the scion of the famous LVMH luxury conglomerate — came out with a perfume collection for his By Kilian perfume line. It was called L’Oeuvre Noire and contained a number of different scents, one of which is Straight to Heaven (with “White Cristal” being a subtitle). It was created by the perfumer, Sidonie Lancesseur, and Luckyscent gives its notes as follows:

Martinican rum absolute, dried fruits accord, Javanese nutmeg oil, hedione, cedarwood, Indonesian patchouli oil, ambergris, vanilla absolute, white musk.

I think “Straight to Heaven” might be more aptly named “Straight to the Doctor’s Office.”  This is a scent that replicates the pure rubbing alcohol, antiseptic, medicinal scent of a  doctor’s office or a hospital. It opens with a pure blast of an incredibly metallic, medicinal scent of the stuff used to clean your arm before you get a vaccination shot. Except, here, it is combined with fake powdered vanilla and sugar. Despite that, the medicinal note doesn’t have any of the sweetness that often comes with the medicinal note in agarwood. Here, it is really like pure grained alcohol and cold antiseptics. It’s like being in a hospital room after they’ve scrubbed everything down and disinfected the counters, before trying to cover up the smell by spraying some Glade Powdered Vanilla in the air.

After a little time, there are more chilly, mentholated aspects to the medicinal scent. There are also some soapy aspects that I attribute to the cheap-smelling musk. I don’t initially smell any of the rum that everyone talks about with this scent, but that does eventually arrive. About three hours later. Then, Straight to Heaven turns into an odd combination of Vick’s Vapor Rub and some oddly “off” boozy note. There is patchouli, too, but it is completely dominated by the cedar. Everything is dominated by that cedar. There is no escape from it and it turns everything medicinal. There is also an underlying synthetic, chemical tinge to everything. Straight to Heaven simply doesn’t smell particularly natural; the ingredients don’t smell rich, luxurious, or soft.

In utter olfactory exhaustion and misery, I went to bed, wishing I could scrub this off. When I woke up, there were still faint, flickering, minute traces of the fragrance on my skin. It was now mere vanilla powder, soft but with some sort of chemical twist, and musk. It was almost 14 hours after the time that I first put on the perfume!

A lot of people talk about the boozy “rum” nature of the perfume. I disagree. Strongly. This is not a scent that is predominantly rum in note — and certainly not a pleasant one at that. I love boozy rum scents, from Teo Cabanel‘s glorious Alahine, HermèsAmbre Narguilé, Guerlain‘s Spiriteuse Double Vanille or Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille. Straight to Heaven is not like ANY of those. It is primarily a cedar perfume, though I would argue it is a medicinal, rubbing alcohol fragrance first and foremost. I’m not the only one who thinks so. On Makeupalley, where the perfume has a 3.3 rating out of 5, there are as many reviews noting the strength of that note as there are those who consider this a “rum” perfume. My favorite comment is that from “cerulfox” who writes:

My opinions on the By Kilian typically waver between indifference and derision, having tried all of the L’Oeuvre Noire collection and finding myself only liking three of the ten. Straight to Heaven is one of the dislikes. It starts off with a piercing cedar note that quickly disappears to be replaced with a strident booze note. I’m assuming that’s the rum, but on my skin it’s so overwhelmingly alcoholic I might as well have doused my skin in Everclear or straight grain alcohol. All of rum’s typical spice notes are muted and virtually non-existent compared to the screechy alcohol. This remains until Straight to Heaven evaporates into a puff of generic skin musk. Honestly this is more akin to Straight to AA rather than Straight to Heaven, the booze note is so strong.

On Fragrantica, more people find the “booze note” to be “rum” than hardcore alcohol disinfectant. The most amusing review comes from “gmstrack” who titles his comment with “Headline: Woody Oriental Drinks Rum in Hamster Cage” and then writes:

After reading several reviews, it seems like this fragrance is in a special purgatory: too conventional for some and too medicinal or dirty hippy for others. I definitely fall in with the too conventional camp, but at the same time, I find Strait to Heaven very comforting. Maybe childhood memories of playing in a cedar swamp have something to do with this. The patchouli could be dirtier, the cedar turned down just a tad and, oh yes, dump in something interesting (rum doesn’t count). Heh.  3/5

Well, he’s correct that it can be purgatory for some. Me, for example. I was incredibly relieved when it was all finally over. And, I was convinced that nothing could be worse. I was mistaken. Badly mistaken. You see, I hadn’t tried Love (Don’t Be Shy) yet….

LOVE (DON’T BE SHY):

Love (Don’t Be Shy) is another fragrance from Kilian’s 2007 L’Oeuvre Noire Love by Kilian By Kilian for women collection. It was created by Calice Becker and is categorized on Fragrantica as an “oriental.” If this is an oriental, then I’m the Queen of Sheba. It’s pure gourmand, in my opinion, if not a sugar bomb.

The most complete list of notes that I have seen for the perfume comes from Luckyscent which says that the perfume was inspired by a marshmallow:

Bergamot calabria oil, Tunisian neroli oil, pink pepper berries oil, coriander seeds oil, honeysuckle, orange flower absolute, orange water absolute, Egyptian jasmine absolute, Bulgarian rose concrete, Bulgarian rose oil, iris butter absolute, reconstituted civet oil, caramelized sugar, vanilla absolute, cist labdanum absolute, white musk.

Love opened on me with notes of neroli and caramelized sugar that were so strong, they just about blew my head off. Neroli always comes across to my nose as sharper and slightly more bitter and metallic than orange blossom, though they are both from the same flower and stem only from differences in production or distillation. Normally, orange blossom notes are one of my favorite ingredients in a perfume. Here, however, it is strident, screechy and damn unpleasant.

Following soon thereafter is honeysuckle, pink peppercorn, rich gooey violet notes, cloyingly synthetic, saccharine-sweet vanilla and musk. The orange and sugar notes dominate, however — by a mile. Or thousand. Though the inspiration is supposed to be marshmallow, I see more one of those bright orange taffy sweets that are pure sugar. There is absolutely nothing even remotely approaching an animalic, skanky civet note on my skin, no matter what the perfume notes may say.

As the perfume develops, it turns into a cloyingly sweet, powdered vanilla, with tooth-achingly sweet sugared roses, and sweet, candied violets. If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re not wrong. This is diabetes in a bottle. I have either developed ten cavities just from wearing it or 80 pounds. It is unbearable — not to mention synthetically cloying in the worst way possible. I am strongly reminded of those cheap $4 sweet perfumes for pre-teens, though I suppose the quality of this one is vaguely better. Except for that vanilla note. No, that one seems about as cheap as you can get.

Love eventually became less sweet — but that’s all relative. After a while, the orange notes receded and it became much more like a marshmallow with powder, sugar and more cloying vanilla. I have found I have much less patience with really unbearable scents these days and won’t torture myself for hours just for the sake of a review. So, I eventually scrubbed this one off. I simply could not bear another minute of it.

But, no, Love was not finished with me. Despite two washings of my arms with very hot water and much soap, there were faint traces of that cloying scent which remained for hours. And hours. I’ve read that synthetic, chemical ingredients are used, in part, because they increase the longevity of a scent and Love certainly proves that theory correct. The fact that Kilian perfumes cost $235, $145 or $135 (depending on the form in which you buy them) is a whole other issue. But I can tell you this, even if this were a $10,000 perfume given to me for free, I would not wear it. The mere thought of it makes me shiver.

As a side note, I also tried By Kilian’s Cruel Intentions (Tempt Me), his woody oud Cruel Intentions By Kilian for women and menfragrance from the same 2007 collection. I’m not even going to bother writing about it. Something about the vanilla base in all these perfumes simply does not agree with me. I find Cruel Intentions to be equally unbearable, despite a list of notes that would normally appeal to me:

Top notes are african orange flower, bergamot, rose and violet; middle notes are guaiac wood, agarwood (oud) and papyrus; base notes are vetiver, musk, sandalwood, styrax, vanille and castoreum.

On me, that screeching, sharp, cloying and very synthetic vanilla simply overpowers everything. I suppose there are faint traces of vetiver and, eventually, some sandalwood — but they are hard to detect. I am simply bashed over the head by that same fake, powdered vanilla which made my stomach heave in Love (Don’t Be Shy). A number of people on Fragrantica say that Cruel Intentions is primarily a sandalwood fragrance. I love sandalwood, but there is no way I’m going to last long enough to find out. Plus, I have to say, I’m highly skeptical that anything will overcome this horrid, synthetic, vanilla powder (and white musk) that has been an overwhelming hallmark of two of the three L’Oeuvre Noire fragrances that I’ve tried thus far. As I said at the start, perfume hasn’t made me quite so miserable in a while. It’s hard to believe that these perfumes come from the same house which produced the oud Arabian Nights Collection — a line that is miles apart from this one.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to scrub myself clean…..

Modern Trends in Perfume – Part IV: Oud/Aoud – Elegant Wood or Medicinal Sexiness?

While the Fresh & Clean scents outlined in Part III have been around for almost two decades, our final category involves the very latest and hottest trend in the perfume industry: Oud or Aoud fragrances. These scents use, Agarwood, one of the oldest ingredients and most expensive ingredients in the world, and its distillation is responsible for a truly different, modern fragrance.

In its purest incantation, it can evoke a cold campfire in the outdoors. At times, it can have a definitely medicinal element to its woodiness, smelling of bandaids or, in one case, reminding me of a lime disinfectant sprayed in a cold, steely hospital morgue and creating the olfactory equivalent of Chernobyl on my arm. If done well and with the right body chemistry, it can descend into smoky, incense-y, sweet, leathery richness. Oud is always expensive and used mainly by the more niche perfume houses. It can also be an extremely polarising scent. In fact, the most controversial, polarising Oud fragrance of all may be the Tom Ford-created YSL “M7,” a cologne whose very advertising campaign broke all the rules by featuring a hairy, nude male model in full frontal… er… glory. We will get to that bit later.

Let’s start at the beginning. While spellings may vary, Aoud and Oud (I’ve even seen Oudh!) both refer to Agarwood which is an extremely ancient element found in the East. No-one explains its heritage, characteristics and its current usage half as well as the experts at CaFleureBon, so I will just link to their marvelous, brilliant analysis of it here. To make a long story short, however, Fragrantica states that Agarwood “is reputed to be the most expensive wood in the world” and that Oud is the “pathological secretion of the aquillaria tree, a rich, musty woody-nutty scent that is highly prized in the Middle East. In commercial perfumery it’s safe to say all ‘oud’ is a recreated synthetic note.”

There are an increasing number of different Oud/Aoud fragrances on the market these days, from the 2011 Creed offering for men (Royal Oud) to Tom Ford. But the majority of the oud scents come from even more niche houses, from Juliette Has a Gun (founded by Nina Ricci’s great-grandson), to Montale, to the offerings of the Sultan of Oman who founded the ultra-exclusive niche house, Amouage, reputed to be the most expensive fragrance line in the world. If “clean and fresh” is a more commercial, mass-market scent, then ancient Oud goes the exact opposite way. It’s hardly surprising given the expensive nature of the ingredient.

I’ve tried a number of unisex Oud scents, thanks to the incredibly useful website, Surrender to Chance, which sells small vials or large “decants” of almost every scent 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.) Thanks to them, I was able to try a selection of Oud/Aoud fragrances from such lines as By Kilian and Montale. By the way, you may be interested to know that Kilian is a scion of the famous Hennessy cognac dynasty. (The Hennessy company is now a part of the LVMH luxury conglomerate). You can find reviews for those Oud/Aoud fragrances here.

The very first mainstream fragrance to feature oud was M7 by YSL, under the direction

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to below.

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to below.

of Tom Ford. It was 2002, and I don’t think the mainstream market was ready for either an oud fragrance or for the way it was marketed. As CaFleureBon put it in the article linked to up above, “[i]t was a resounding failure at the time, although it would probably be very popular if it were introduced today due to the current market’s new familiarity with oud. It was apparently too much, too soon, as it was a very powerful fragrance, but it has a cult following to this day, due in part to its provocative ad campaign.”

One Thousand Scents has an excellent review of M7 that I highly recommend, though I should warn any readers who are at work that it features that absolutely NSFW, full-frontal photo which we’ll talk about momentarily. The review states that official list of notes for M7 are:

Top: Bergamot, mandarin, rosemary.
Middle: Vetiver, agarwood.
Base: Amber, musk, mandrake root. 

I was very impressed by One Thousand Scents‘ review. I have not smelled M7 in person, but absolutely want to now as a result. A close friend of mine who adores it (but is not sure he dares wear it out the house yet) sent me a few sprays on thick stationary and I loved the sweet, smoky notes that linger on it.  I asked him to write a guest review, but he felt he wasn’t enough of an expert to do M7 true justice. However, he kindly agreed to let me share some of his impressions which I thought added to M7’s intriguing nature. He found it:

weirdly intoxicating. Medicinal yes, perhaps smokey as well? Like dousing a campfire with some antibiotic perhaps” but not in a bad way. After some time, the incense came out but not in a strong, pungent way that would nauseate one. “It does still smell medicinal, but in a more intriguing and less abrasive way.” Like “a clean bandaid or like gauze with a mild ointment on it. But less potent and unpleasant. I’ve read some comments that liken it to a hospital, but I think that does it a disservice…. Someone on basenotes described M7 as both hypnotic and comforting and I utterly agree. I am totally under its spell. It’s definitely for cool/cold weather. […]  M7 makes me want to mysteriously wander the streets of Paris on a cold, rainy day while wearing a trenchcoat.

[In the very end though,] M7 is basically Grenouille’s final scent where people don’t know why they are descending into a giant orgy!

As you can see, M7 is a complicated, complex fragrance, and I bring it up not to review it per se (I can’t, I haven’t worn it!) but to demonstrate how far the market has changed today. In 2002, the perfume world — mainstream or even, perhaps, as a whole — was not ready for such an aggressive, confusing, novel scent. As One Thousand Scents noted, M7 is “a smoky, incensey, bristly, growling thing. You’ll either love it or hate it; there’s no in-between. It is not kidding.” (emphasis in the original.)

M7 might perhaps have had a chance in the mainstream world had it not been for “That Ad”! One Thousand Scents talks about, very amusingly, the British reaction:

Some people were a little less sanguine than the French. The British, for instance. This article about the ad in the Sunday Herald tried to keep its tone light and amused, but it smells like borderline panic to me; it really boils down to OH MY GOD IT’S A NAKED MAN IN A MAGAZINE AD AND HE’S NAKED AND YOU CAN SEE HIS DICK AND EVERYTHING OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD!

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

If that was the British reaction, one cannot begin to fathom what the American one would have been!! Of course, that would require the full advert being shown here in America and that would have been highly unlikely given the puritanical mores. (The lingering effects of Janet Jackson’s “Nipplegate” are still not over!)

How did M7 have a chance to make it, and to introduce the mainstream, soccer dad world to Oud? It didn’t. Not a chance in hell. Even if the perfume notes hadn’t made it too alien for the time (mandrake root?!), that ad simply sealed its doom.

Poor M7, it was not only ahead of its time but, then, it suffered in inquity of being utterly emasculated. Adding insult to injury, a new version was put out in 2011: M7 Oud Absolu which, contrary to what its name would seem to imply, was most definitely not a more intense version of the original. By all accounts, it is a de-fanged meow of a scent as compared to the ROOOOOOOOOOOOAR of the original.

If 2002 was too soon for Oud, look at the market now. What a difference a decade makes! Givenchy, that old, extremely conservative house, now has Eaudemoiselle de Givenchy Bois de Oud! Demoiselle (or “young lady”) and oud… what a surprise. (Particularly from a house as conservative as Givenchy!) Givenchy is not alone. Dior, another mainstream house, has a Fahrenheit flanker, Fahrenheit Absolu, with Oud. Jil Sanders, Jo Malone, Armani, Calvin Klein (Euphoria Intense), Trish McAvoy, and even Juicy Couture (Dirty English) have now gotten into the act with fragrances containing some degree of oud.

But perhaps few things better epitomize the increasingly mainstream acceptance of Oud than the fact that, in 2009, Bath and Body Works came out with a fragrance whose notes include oud! Honestly, I’m not sure I believe it. And, yet, Fragrantica explicitly states that Bath & Body Work’s Twilight Woods includes “oud wood” in its dry notes. I’ve owned the candle version of Twilight Woods, and I don’t detect any oud — at least not proper, true oud which would seem to be far too expensive for such a line — but far be it for me to dispute the official ingredients for the perfume.

Regardless, the point remains the same. Oud is entering the mainstream in a way that was not imaginable at the time of M7’s launch, or even 5 years ago. And Oud fragrances are no longer extremely hard to find. Tom Ford now sells mainstream perfumes featuring oud (but not featuring male genitalia!) at Nordstrom’s and Saks. Juicy Couture’s Dirty English is available at Target and KMart. Interestingly, however, Sephora — that key destination for most mainstream beauty buyers in the U.S. — doesn’t carry Tom Ford’s Aoud perfume, though it does sells several of his other fragrances, and it doesn’t have any oud fragrance that I can remember seeing. (Perhaps Oud isn’t truly mainstream until it’s commonly sold at Macy’s and Sephora?)

I haven’t found the perfect Oud fragrance for me, though granted I’ve only tried 6 variations on it. It doesn’t help that my body seems to process the ingredient in a less than charming way. Most of the time, though not always, it is incredibly medicinal, bandaid-like, metallic, screechingly sharp and acrid with a peculiar lime note that really shouldn’t be there. (Particularly when lime isn’t listed as one of the ingredients in the perfume.) One iteration of it drove me to utter and complete madness. And not in a good way….  On many other people, however, oud can be sweet, woody, leathery, evocative of cold stone, vegetal, and/or very outdoorsy. I’m still on the hunt for one which will work on me and I will probably turn to Tom Ford’s Oud Wood next. I also plan on trying M7 for myself, if only to understand the huge polarising nature of the cult hit and to see if I fall into the camp of admirers.

Are you interested in trying Oud? If you have, do you have a favorite that you adore? What makes it so great and how does it smell on you? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any suggestions that you may have.

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For Part I: “Sugar, Spice & Even More Sugar,” go here.
For Part II, “Sweat, Genitalia, Dirty Sex & Decay,” go here.
For Part III, “Fresh & Natural, or Soapy Detergent?,” go here.

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.