Malefic Tattoo is the latest release from LM Parfums, and a scent that is meant to evoke the darkness of a tattoo with “wicked” notes that “manipulate the emotions, desire, and lust” within the “dark chamber fulfilled with passion” that lies within each of us. Laurent Mazzone generously sent me a bottle, but I’m afraid my reaction was not the lustful passion which was intended. I have great affection for Mr. Mazzone, so I’ve sat on my review for weeks, using free moments to see if I could warm up to Malefic Tattoo, but nothing has changed. I find it not only disappointing, but mediocre, a tired derivative retread devoid of any distinctiveness, and cheap in feel.
Malefic Tattoo is an extrait de parfum that is part of LM Parfums’ more luxurious Intimacy Collection. The press release sent to me describes the fragrance and its notes as follows:
Your beauty is not just a mask.
Have you ever wondered how a tattoo is made? It’s not just about putting ink on your skin; it’s engraving your soul and your heart forever. It’s the sublime moment when you let your desires play. Malefic Tattoo is a real intimate experience of manipulation. The manipulation of emotions, desires and lust. The manipulation of your soul and spirit in this dark chamber fulfilled with passion. Malefic Tattoo is not an ink, it’s the tattoo inside of you, forever incised.
Full of tricks (saffron), wicked oud and divine incense, Malefic Tattoo is a personal experience that you need to beware of. It’s the ruler of all the devils and angels within you.
Pepper, Cinnamon, Saffron, Cistus, Incense.
Woody amber, Oud accord.
Styrax, Labdanum, Papyrus, Musk, Cashmere wood, Patchouli, Sandalwood.
Malefic Tattoo opens on my skin with synthetic waves of smoky, blackened woods slathered with fiery Safraleine synthetic saffron and intensely sweet, gooey, jammy fruitiness from patchouli (fruitchouli) that is also peppered and berried in a way that smells a lot like pink peppercorn (baie rose). They are followed almost immediately by sharp incense, a very soapy clean musk, a dry paperiness from the papyrus, and slugs of Norlimbanol, the powerful woody, smoky, arid, and ambered aromachemical that is present in so many of LM Parfums’ woody or oriental creations. In Malefic Tattoo’s base, a quiet leatheriness emits a synthetic smokiness. A vague hint of oud lies on the sidelines, but it’s more of a cypriol-drenched note and minor to boot in the first 30 minutes. It certainly doesn’t smell like real Middle Eastern agarwood, or the Laotian oud that was used in Hard Leather.
Within minutes, Malefic Tattoo shifts, for the worse. The white musk balloons into whopping amounts of soapy cleanness that smells exactly like the Bounce fabric softener sheets I use in the drier. The synthetic saffron and the thick, jammy fruitchouli notes thump even more loudly, joining the deep bass of the amber-woody “woods” wrapped up in sharp incense. The latter never smells once like true olibanum, but is simply blackened smoke.
I find the overall bouquet to feel very dated, and some of the combinations are odd together. The combination of pepper with fruity, purple-skewing, patchouli jamminess and torrents of soapy cleanness is extremely reminiscent of the pink peppercorn, fruitchouli, musk accords that dominated so many fragrances in the 2000s. The Safraleine leather and smoky woods is equally tired, and briefly makes me think of a rougher, less finished version of Armani Privé‘s Cuir Noir.
Most of all, though, Malefic Tattoo reminds me of cheap Middle Eastern fragrances. I have a small decant of an inexpensive eau de parfum sent by Arabian Oud that smells virtually identical to Malefic Tattoo, but it’s such an ordeal to wear that I’ve stuck it at the back of the perfume cabinet and avoid it. There are cheap woody orientals from other Middle Eastern brands whose scent I recall as being enormously similar to Malefic Tattoo as well. The common denominator: a massive amount of fresh, white musk mixed with fiery saffron, intense sweetness, deeply synthetic smoky woods, and sharp incense. Yet, Malefic Tattoo also resembles any number of European fragrances that are centered on a spicy-woody-smoky-leather aromachemical cocktail.
The first time I tried Malefic Tattoo, I scrubbed it primarily because of what happens at the 30 minute mark. To my disbelief, the ghastly Bounce laundry musk grows even stronger, briefly emitting a hair spray undertone that feels quite jarring next to the blobs of fruitchouli’s jam and fiery red saffron. At the same time, the smoky, woody aromachemicals become so sharp, they singe my nose, make my throat seize up, and give me a pounding migraine. One of them wafts a synthetic cedar tonality, but it’s overwhelmed by a new arrival to the party, a sandalwood note that smells aggressively rough in its smokiness. I suspect it’s either Javanol or one of the louder, stronger sandalwood synthetics, but it’s typically Javanol that gives me a really bad sore throat, like the kind I experience when I wear Malefic Tattoo. The fake “oud” isn’t much help, either. As it grows stronger, it takes on a splinter-like dryness suffused with what I would bet is a large amount of raspy cypriol.
The various combinations feel not only rough, but a little discordant as well, in my opinion. The patchouli’s gooey, sticky, fruited jamminess is cloying but, when mixed with the now hideous levels of Bounce laundry musk, the end result after the first hour actually makes me feel a little queasy and nauseous. In fact, for all my difficulty with the woody aromachemicals, it is the musk that I find to be the most unbearable part of Malefic Tattoo. It is not just soapy, but also bears a sickly saccharine sweetness that brings back bad memories of the intensely sugared, sweet-clean white musk in Arabian Oud‘s Kalemat Musk fragrance oil.
Malefic Tattoo’s overall bouquet remains the same for hours to come with only a few minor changes. Many of the notes grow blurry and indistinct after 2.25 hours, except for the laundry musk and the saffron-spiced, smoky woods. Something in the latter feels as raspy and scratchy as a Brillo pad. I suspect it’s the sandalwood, not the “oud accord” because the latter has basically melted into all the rest. After 3 hours, to my surprise, the fragrance begins to turn rather thin, quiet, soft, and sheer, despite the heavy profusion of synthetics.
Roughly 4.5 hours into its development, Malefic Tattoo is a hazy blur of smoky, spicy, peppered, amber-woody aromachemicals dominated by synthetic sandalwood, laced with sharp black smokiness, then smothered under sickly sweet fabric softener laundry musk. Oddly, everything but the musk hovers just above the skin. Unfortunately, the Bounce-like musk really radiates on me, and is the strongest note on the scent wind. The cheap-smelling note finally weakens in the middle of the 6th hour, and disappears at the start of the 7th. What’s left is a shapeless, indistinct bouquet of amber-woody and woody-amber aromachemicals that are wrapped up in smokiness and lightly smeared with patchouli berry fruitiness and peppery spiciness. The whole thing feels gossamer sheer, thin in body, and unexpectedly weak.
The drydown is the most decent part of Malefic Tattoo. At the start of the 9th hour, the labdanum appears, smelling of toffee, root beer, and honeyed beeswax. Its warmth tempers the fragrance’s desiccated woods and harsh incense smokiness, smoothing over their rough edges, and adding a rare note of natural richness. In its final hours, all that’s left is a vaguely ambered labdanum sweetness that retains lingering vestiges of dark, arid woods and smokiness.
Malefic Tattoo has very good longevity, average projection, and strong sillage that turns soft surprisingly quickly. Using 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with 5 inches of projection and about 8-9 inches of a scent trail. The numbers dropped after 90 minutes to about 2.5 inches of projection and 5 inches of sillage. Malefic Tattoo lost a lot of body after 3 hours, became a skin scent after 5.5 hours, and lasted 16.5 hours in total, though it was merely an intimate veil on the skin after the 11th hour. I’ve tried Malefic Tattoo a few times with varying quantities, and a few things were consistent. It’s typically soft in body and weight in a way that feels more like an eau de parfum than an extrait. Malefic Tattoo is also generally quite soft in sillage after the first 5 hours, which surprised me given how my skin tends to project fragrances that contain a large quantity of aromachemicals. However, the longevity is always above-average, lasting between 14 to 16 hours, depending on whether I used 1 spray or 2, though I always have to put my nose right on my arm and sniff hard to detect it after the 11th hour. When I applied more of the fragrance, I detected faint traces of Malefic Tattoo clinging on past the 18th hour.
Malefic Tattoo has no Fragrantica page at this time for me to provide you with other opinions. However, today, there was a Fragrantica feature on the scent written by a Russian blogger called Juliett Ptoyan who writes, in relevant part, as follows:
The history of domination starts with a dry wine accord through which the thin trickle of frankincense eventually seeps, leaving bloody oud traces – like scarlet drops appearing on skin being pierced with a tattoo needle. The woody undertone of oud takes a back seat here (it’s being almost swallowed up with a metallic blood accord), and then everything happens as in a time-lapse animation: icy, cemeterial labdanum freezes the whole process and finally there remains only some cool, unearthly air and the echo of sandalwood slivers, dry and crooked as the hands of the 100-year-old witch from the story of Snow White.
Well, I guess she really lived the back story. I obviously had a different experience.
As it should be clear by now, I have some major problems with Malefic Tattoo. First, I think it is suffused with powerful aromachemicals to a degree that is far greater, more overt, and more imbalanced than any of the prior LM Parfum releases. I was genuinely astonished by the quantities here. After having worn Malefic Tattoo a number of times, I wouldn’t be shocked if the ratio between aromachemicals and naturals were 85/15 at a conservative estimate, or more like 90/10. (Compare that to Papillon‘s superb, erotic Salome, one of the best new releases of this year, which Liz Moores has said is 68% natural, only 32% synthetic.) Solely for the point of comparison, if I had to guess the ratios in other LM Parfums oriental woody fragrances, I’d estimate they were somewhere around 65/35, synthetic to natural. Most of those also had a noticeable amount of Norlimbanol, but it was nothing like this. And it’s not just the powerful Norlimbanol, either. Everything in the scent feels synthetic to me with one single exception: the labdanum that appears in the final stage of Malefic Tattoo.
The aromachemicals are actually not the greatest sin here; it’s the lack of creativity and distinctiveness at this price point. I’ve seen all this before, some of it from LM Parfums itself. Parts of Malefic Tattoo echo Black Oud mixed with the spiced, musky, non-animalic, woody components of Hard Leather, only in significantly rougher, harsher, cheaper form. The focus on saffron, “oud,” incense, smoky woods, and woody-amber synths can also be found all over the place from Montale to Amouage, Nasomatto, SHL 777, Tom Ford, and even Armani Privé, not to mention every Arabian or Middle Eastern brand. The result is a wholly generic fragrance that feels as though LM Parfums’ main perfumer (Jerome Epinette?) checked off boxes on the list of key notes for the woody oriental category.
In my opinion, what’s as bad or even worse is that it feels as though quality has been sacrificed as well. When I met Laurent Mazzone two years ago, he told me he wanted to make the most luxurious, opulent perfumes, and didn’t care about the cost. That was clear in Hard Leather where he spared no expense to use huge amounts of rare Mysore sandalwood and lots of real Laotian agarwood. (I hope that is still the case, and that the fragrance has not been reformulated.) Sensual Orchid is replete with expensive natural floral essences and rich notes, and so are many of the others. The astonishing quantity of aromachemicals in Malefic Tattoo leads me to wonder if the change is possibly a business decision to save on the cost of expensive, high-quality raw materials.
If so, that is disappointing given the price of Malefic Tattoo. It costs $345 or €250, which wouldn’t be terrible for 100 ml of pure parfum brimming with super luxurious, high-end materials, but it is far too high for a chemical soup like this one. I can buy a fragrance with a virtually identical bouquet from Arabian Oud or from some of the Middle Eastern brands on eBay for $60 to $75.
With Malefic Tattoo, I find it hard to shake the feeling that something has drastically changed. It’s not only that the fragrance is extremely derivative, by-the-numbers, and of mediocre quality; I also find it humourless, flat, and lifeless on the skin. To me, it’s not polished, luxuriously smooth, sophisticated, well-balanced, seductive, sensual, or even whimsical like some of the other LM Parfums. Instead, it feels rough and rushed, as though there were more interest, focus, and time devoted to the story and to marketing than to the actual scent itself.
I blame the frenetic schedule of output. This year, in 2015, LM Parfums has released Epine Mortelle, Unique Russia, Cicatrices, and now Malefic Tattoo. That’s four fragrances in 10 months. Last year there were only two: Army of Lovers and Ultimate Seduction. (Contrary to what Fragrantica may say on its page for LM Parfums, Hard Leather came out in 2013, not 2014.) When you’re launching 4 perfumes in 10 months, something is going to suffer. Quality and creativity are usually the first to go, followed by the time necessary to finesse, edit, and polish the fragrance. In my opinion, LM Parfums needs to slow down significantly, put aside the elaborate, gothic stories, and get back to the fundamentals like top quality materials and a distinctive bouquet. True originality is hard, uniqueness may be impossible, but they should at least try to create something compelling or with flair if they’re going to charge $345/€250 a bottle.
It wasn’t easy to write this review because LM Parfums is a brand for which I have great affection and I think Laurent Mazzone is a lovely, warm, passionate, vibrant, kind and sensitive man. But I expect far more and far better from LM Parfums, especially at these prices.
Disclosure: My bottle of Malefic Tattoo was courtesy of Laurent Mazzone and LM Parfums. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.