Perfume Review – Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud: My Twilight Zone

“I must have the wrong sample! It must be the wrong perfume!”

“What is going on???!”

“Am I crazy?”

Those were a few of the bewildered thoughts going through my mind, as I tried on Oud by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (hereinafter sometimes just shortened to “MFK“). It is a perfume whose scent was so little like its title or notes that I was thoroughly confused and had to dig up a second sample. As I splashed “Oud” on my other arm and took another sniff, I simply couldn’t understand what was going on. “Surely this can’t be right??!” Frantic scribbles on my notepad ensued, followed by my unearthing a third sample that I’d gotten as part of an eBay niche variety set. After splashes on a wholly different part of my body — this time, my leg, lest the skin on my arms was at fault — I finally concluded that I must be a complete freak who lived in the Twilight Zone.

Source: fabiovisentin.com

Source: fabiovisentin.com

On my skin, Francis Kurkdjian‘s “Oud” is a neo-chypre floral fragrance centered around carnation and daffodils (with a light dash of rose), sweetened by spicy saffron and rendered somewhat candied by syrupy, fruited patchouli that evokes Concord grapes and, later, apricots, with a subtle sprinkle of lemon. The whole thing sits atop an extremely muted, almost imperceptible base of smoky, woody elemi, and is then subsequently covered by a massive, walloping veil of aldehydic soap with synthetic white musk. Does this sound like a spicy, oriental oud fragrance to you??! On me, there is only the faintest (faintest!) twinge of agarwood — and that’s only if I really push it. (Honestly, it’s really a strong case of wishful thinking.) I’m so bloody confused, you have no idea. If I didn’t have the exact same scent wafting up from 3 different parts of my body and from 3 different samples, I would chalk it up to mislabeling and vendor error. But no, whether it comes from Luckyscent (x2) or Surrender to Chance, Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s “Oud” is always an ersatz chypre floral on me, and an “oud” fragrance in the same way that a Yorkie is a German Shepherd.

MFK OudThe starting point for my confusion was the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website which described Oud and its notes as follows:

Safron – Elemi gum from the Philippines – Oud from Laos – Cedar wood frol [sic] the Atlas – Indonesian Patchouli

A fragrance story sketched between the fine-grained sand of the desert dunes, the fragrant harmattan wind and the star-studded night – an opulent Arabian perfume born from a western sensitivity.

Do you see a floral listed amongst those notes? A citrus? Any mention of fruits or musk? No, neither do I.

Source: Flowerpics.net

Source: Flowerpics.net

And, yet, Oud opens on my skin with fragrant florals infused by the most beautifully sweetened saffron and patchouli. The top notes smell like a bouquet of the most syrupy carnations (and possibly, roses) mixed with a heavy dose of narcissus/daffodils. Coated by a fiery, spicy saffron, they are grounded in a base of soap that is, at least initially, somewhat subtle. The patchouli adds a fruited touch to the fragrance, evoking dark, purple Concord grapes mixed with plums. Lurking far, far, far back in the shadows is a hint of a dark, somewhat smoky resin.

Notwithstanding these other elements, however, the primary and dominant impression in this initially heady, satiny smooth, opulent fragrance is of florals, especially narcissus. The combination actually calls to mind Francis Kurkdjian’s earlier creation, the 2009 neo-chypre Lumiere Noire Pour Femme with its triptych of daffodils, roses and heavy patchouli. Lumiere Noire is a slightly more Spring-like fragrance, but the trio is similarly spiced, only with chili pepper and caraway in lieu of the saffron that is in MFK’s Oud. The overall effect, however, is strikingly similar: a spiced, slightly fiery, syrupy floral fragrance infused by a very fruited patchouli — with nary a bit of agarwood in sight.

Source: Shutterstock.com

Source: Shutterstock.com

For hours, the core essence of Oud remains largely unchanged on my skin — altering only in the degree of its nuances. Thirty minutes in, there is a sharply synthetic note that is incredibly unpleasant, and which feels almost like a white musk, but it eventually leaves after about two hours. The florals shift in primacy at various times, sometimes emphasizing the narcissus, sometimes more the carnation. Lemon comes and goes in the background, as do other fruits. The dark grape jam recedes around the forty minute mark, becoming less individually distinct and simply more reflective of general “jam.”  Later, it is joined by a definite nuance of apricots. As for the soapiness, to my chagrin, it not only increases in bent, but is joined by that unpleasant sharp synthetic note. Meanwhile, the flickers of smoky elemi and amorphous woodsy notes remain in the background, feeling incredibly muted. As for the supposed main character, the agarwood is the olfactory equivalent of Bigfoot or the Great Yeti. I actually wrote, “Where’s the beef… oud?!” in my notes, along with repeated questions about my sanity.

The final stage of Oud is only a slight variation of the start. It’s a soapy, musky, floral patchouli scent with flickers of vague woods at the back. The floral notes are still somewhat divisible into a spicy, rose-like carnation that is sweetened from the saffron, but eventually, around the sixth hour, the note turns abstract. In its final moments, Oud is nothing more than an amorphous, nebulous, sweet muskiness. All in all, it lasted just short of 11.75 hours on me, and the sillage was moderate to low. It actually became close to the skin around the second hour, but it only became a true skin scent midway during the seventh hour. Still, it’s a very long-lasting fragrance, whatever its peculiar, freakish manifestation on my skin. It’s just a shame that I don’t like it very much….

Source: stockhdwallpapers.com

Source: stockhdwallpapers.com

In utter desperation about the notes — invisible or otherwise imagined — I went online to the MFK Oud entry on Fragrantica. To my relief, there were a number of comments about the lack of any real oud in the fragrance, synthetic or otherwise. To wit:

  •  i barely notice the oud in it, shouldn’t be named oud,
  • There is no oud in this […]
  • It’s not oudh, but it’s definitely one well crafted perfume.
  • Another in the long line of those ‘don’t know why called Oud’.

Others seem to feel there was plenty of oud in it, so clearly, both the above commentators and I are in the minority. I’m even more of a freakish minority on the issue of fruity florals. Having combed through the internet, I found: exactly two references to florals on the Fragrantica page for the perfume; a fleeting mention of “jammy fruit” by the Non-Blonde (who did, in fact, detect the agarwood note); a brief reference to a “fruity veil” in Katie Puckrik’s review (which found the scent to be redolent of cheese and other unpleasantness); and one response to that review which said: “I cannot believe how bad this stuff is. [¶] Smells like a Fruity/Saffron chemical toilet bowl cleaner. [¶] It’s virtually unwearable.”

Just when I was ready to declare my nose to be irrevocably broken, I came across a comment by “buzzlepuff,” on Basenotes in which he wrote:

Mason Francis Kurkdjian Oud. MFK oud is a very easy to wear higher pitched but very smooth oud fragrancing. There are no bold or animalic notes of any kind. No harshness, no shrill or medicinal aspects. Why MFK Oud is so much higher in pitch than most oud blends is a mystery. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were unstated florals such as carnation or osmanthus hidden within the folds of this beauty. The stated notes of the composition are: Elemi resin, saffron, Atlas cedar wood, patchouli, oud. The fragrance has a fine grained smooth sheen of a satin fabric milled of oud and lemony incense woods. There is a slight finish that is the very softest suede leather for the base. This is an unusual and well balanced fragrance that is so finely crafted it has me looking for claims it was quadruple filtered. How else can it be so smooth? rating: 4.0 / 5.

It’s still a far cry from my quasi-neo-chypre experience, but at least he thought he detected florals (and carnation no less!), lemon flickers, and osmanthus (which means he probably smelled some apricot undertones, too). Okay, so I’m only partially crazy. 

Now, I grant you that my experience seems to be a very peculiar outlier as compared to the rest of the data out there, but I can only report on what happened to me. And, based on what I did smell, I don’t like MFK’s Oud very much. First, I cannot stand soapiness in any shape, size or form. Second, purple fruited patchouli sorely tests my patience — and there was a lot of it here. Third, what manifested itself on my skin simply wasn’t all that interesting. As ersatz chypres go, I found the “Oud” to be boringly commercial and mundane.

My anomaly notwithstanding, I found it interesting to see that other people’s perceptions of MFK Oud were quite mixed. Both Fragrantica and Basenotes (not to mention the reply comments to various blog reviews) are littered with highly critical remarks, though the majority consensus seems to be generally quite positive. The utterly disdainful ones are amusingly dismissive, while the occasionally horrified comments about scrubbers, astringents, synthetics, weird plasticity, and “women’s shampoo or hairspray” feel almost irate at times. Yet, I thought the most astute comment came from “Sculpture of Soul” on Fragrantica who wrote, in part:

It doesn’t smell bad, per se, but it smells very polished and mainstream. If this same scent came in a Hugo Boss bottle, everyone here would be slamming it for being safe, boring, and synthetic.

God, yes! I may have experienced a wholly different scent than the majority, but what I did smell would have been utterly lambasted if it came under a Hugo Boss or Calvin Klein label.

Nonetheless, the bottom line is that I experienced something that is in no way representative of MFK Oud’s usual characteristics. So, consider this entire review as what it really is: a journey into an olfactory Twilight Zone. I wish you all considerably better luck with the fragrance. But, if any of you had a similar experience, especially with regard to the florals, aldehydic soap or fruit, then I beg of you to let me know. I would like to feel a little less like William Shatner in Rod Sterling’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

tumblr_ljgiu0vU7u1qaf396o1_r1_500

The Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Source: Tumblr http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/nightmare%20at%2020000%20feet?language=es_ES

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Oud is an Eau de Parfum and comes in a 2.4 oz/70 ml bottle that costs $300, €195 or £195. You can find it on the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website which also sells samples of the perfume or a four-pack set of any MFK fragrance for €14. In the U.S.: you can purchase Oud from Luckyscent, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, or BeautyBar. I don’t see any MFK fragrances listed on the Saks Fifth Avenue website. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can find Oud at Selfridges, Liberty, and Les Senteurs priced at £195. Les Senteurs also sells a sample of the fragrance. In France, you can purchase MFK’s Oud from France’s Premiere Avenue which sells it at the retail price of €195 and which I believe ships worldwide. For the rest of Europe, you can buy it from Germany’s First in Fragrance for €205 (which is €10 more than retail) or Italy’s Essenza Nobile (which also sells it above retail at €205). In Australia, you can find MFK’s Oud at Mecca Cosmetics which sells it for AUD$338. Elsewhere, you can turn to MFK’s Points of Sale for a retailer near you, whether you are in Asia or the Middle East. Samples: I bought one of mine from Surrender to Chance which sells Oud starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial or $9.98 for 1 ml. Luckyscent also sells samples.