The Phuong Dang Collection: Leather Up, Obscure Oud & The Calling (+ Cryptic & Vermillion Promise)

Ms. Phuong Dang. Sources: her website & girlboss.com

Ms. Phuong Dang. Sources: her website & girlboss.com

Phuong Dang Perfumes is a new luxury brand that recently debuted this year with 10 fragrances, 9 of which were created by Bertrand Duchaufour. According to her biography, Ms. Dang is a mixed-media artist who was born in Vietnam and now resides in Singapore. She’s had a varied career, ranging from the high fashion industry, to being the Creative Director for Elite Modeling Agency, a makeup artist, and, now, a visual artist. Her biography states that her sculptural paintings have been exhibited around the world, but that she’s also had a longstanding interest in perfumery and created fragrances for herself from her collection of oils.

She chose Bertrand Duchaufour to turn her perfume dreams into reality. According to an interview that Ms. Dang gave to a site called Girl Boss, she wrote to him blindly and presented her ideas and artwork. He replied, “This is the project I’ve been waiting for.”

The Phuong Dang Collection. Photo sent to me by Autumn PR, and lightly cropped at the top and bottom by me.

The Phuong Dang Collection. Photo sent to me by Autumn PR, and lightly cropped at the top and bottom by me.

After that, Ms. Dang went to Paris to work with him in his lab on the fragrances. She says they employed extremely rare raw materials, and that Monsieur Duchaufour also utilized techniques “he has never shown anybody. Never shown the world. Some of them have taken years and years to work on.” The result was 9 fragrances. The 10th, “Raw Secret,” was made by Marina Jung Allegret, a perfumer who has reportedly made fragrances for Dior, Givenchy, Jacques Zolty, and Malle. She is also a teacher at the ISPICA perfume school in Versailles. All 10 fragrances were launched in the Fall. All 10 are extraits de parfum in concentration, are quite expensive, and are currently exclusive to Barney’s New York and its online website. (I assume that the fragrances are available at all Barney’s stores, nationwide, not simply its New York flagship one.)

Today, I’ll cover five Duchaufour creations, focusing primarily on Leather Up, Obscure Oud, and The Calling. Leather Up is a leather-floral-oud; Obscure Oud is not easily categorized but is mostly a fruity-figgy-incense-woody fragrance; and The Calling is primarily a tobacco scent with gourmand, rum-soaked, leather and tobacco-vanille  aspects. I’m going to try to be as succinct as I can, so I’ll skip Phuong Dang’s detailed official copy for each fragrance in order to keep this post at a manageable length and to enable me to briefly discuss two other fragrances from the line, Cryptic and Vermillion Promise, at the end.

LEATHER UP:

Leather Up via Barney's NY.

Leather Up via Barney’s NY.

Barney’s describes Leather Up and its notes as follows:

a fragrance that is contemporary, wild and stylish.
Top notes: aldehydes, mandarin, bergamot, carrot seed, whiskey, saffron.
Middle notes: leather and suede, carnation, frankincense, mimosa absolute, Moroccan rose absolute, Florentine iris.
Base notes: oud from Lao, grey amber, cypriol, Indian patchouli, musk, labdanum, tree moss absolute.

Source: 123RF.com

Source: 123RF.com

Leather Up opens on my skin with plush, feathery soft, floral-scented iris layered between pale pink roses. Golden, fluffy, slightly powdery and pollinated mimosa is sprinkled on top, along with a handful of clean aldehydes, saffron, and a pinch of spicy, peppery carnation. In the base, a suede-like note quietly stirs, followed a few minutes later by a jammy patchouli and the smoky, leathery woodiness of cypriol that’s been fused with a dry oud.

Source: vk.com

Source: vk.com

The fragrance changes quite quickly. Within a minute or two, the petal soft roses turn richer and darker as an intense, jammy stickiness descends upon them. It’s accompanied by a liqueured note, but it doesn’t smell much like whisky on my skin. There is none of the salty, peaty, earthy, and smoky aspects that characterize the alcohol to me but, instead, more of a rum-like, intensely fruity (mandarin?) syrupy sweetness that’s soon infused with the saffron and fruitchouli raspberry jam. As they spread over the roses, they strengthen its presence, amplify it, and muffle the delicate iris.

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

Other things happen at the same time. The leather awakens in the base, and joins with the cypriol and oud in sending up puffs of smokiness to stroke the rose. The end result 15 minutes in is a sweet, boozy, heavily liqueured red rose layered with saffron and fruitchouli, then stained at the edges by a leathery smokiness and faint iris shadows.

In its broadest parameters, Leather Up is primarily a smoky, dark leather fragrance. Initially, that core note is initially accompanied by a boozy, syrupy, jammy saffron rose, fluctuating levels of iris, and a touch of oud. Later, it’s almost entirely a leather-oud scent enveloped in smoky darkness and dryness with fluctuating amounts of rose, woody patchouli, and an extremely elusive, ghostly wisp of iris.

The fragrance is most complex and layered within its first 30 minutes, but many of its finer points or notes seem to have been used in such small amounts that they are mere flickers that come and go. For example, every now and then in the opening phase, I detect the saltier aroma of whisky, its subtle peaty mossiness aided no doubt by a drop of true oakmoss or lichen. But, every time I think I’ve gotten it pinned down, the “whisky” disappears amidst the greater welter of syrupy, rum-cognac-like, fruity liqueur. It’s even harder to pin down the carrot and oud in the opening. The carnation and mimosa vanish entirely after 20 minutes, while the iris sadly turns into nothing more than a vapor that weaves around the edges, occasionally sending out quiet ripples to touch the main notes. As for the leather, it’s initially not a factor at all, merely tendrils of tarry, birch smokiness that curl out of the base to stroke the central jammy, saffron rose bouquet. However, roughly 45 minutes in, the leather arrives on center stage as a main player, and Leather Up begins its real journey.

Tuscan Leather. Source: Amazon.

Tuscan Leather. Source: Amazon.

I think it’s a shame that Leather Up lost so many of its finer details as quickly as it did. The opening scent in the first 15-20 minutes was different and interesting, but a boozy, fruity, saffron, fruitchouli rose layered with leather smokiness is extremely conventional and mundane. I’ve smelt so many similar fragrances in the past. What keeps coming to mind again and again, particularly as Leather Up develops, is a mix of Tom Ford‘s Tuscan Leather with Armani‘s Cuir Noir (the reformulated, heavily saffron-ish version) and any number of gooey, fruitchouli, saffron rose fragrances like Tom Ford‘s Café Rose or Grossmith’s oud-infused, Saffron Rose. Another dark rose-leather, Hermes‘ new Galop d’Hermes, also comes to mind except that one has hawthorn instead of iris and booziness. Guerlain has a spicy, fruitchouli, saffron rose layered with smoke, leather and (allegedly) oud in its Desert d’Orient Collection; Montale has more than I can count.

Dry black leather. Source: naldzgraphics.net

Dry black leather. Source: naldzgraphics.net

The only things that separate Leather Up from those scents are the fluctuating ripple of plush, silky Florentine iris that weaves about like a grey ghost in the background, as well as the richer heft and the higher quality of the bouquet. Well, the quality bit applies to the first few hours and to everything but the actual leather note. I wasn’t impressed by the latter at all. It’s not the richly burnished smooth leather that you find in, say, Puredistance‘s M. Instead, it’s initially the scratchier, rougher, and more intensely smoky sort found in Tuscan Leather (minus the latter’s ash undertone), which would have been fine, except the one in Leather Up subsequently turned even rougher, harsher, and more synthetic — so much so, that roughly 10 hours in, I would have been grateful if it had resembled the one in Tuscan Leather. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves in the story.

"Vampire Rose" by Kaboomachu on DeviantArt. (Website link embedded within.)

“Vampire Rose” by Kaboomachu on Deviant Art. (Website link embedded within.)

At the start of the 2nd hour, Leather Up is almost entirely a boozy, spicy, jammy rose-leather. There is little iris unless I smell my arm up close and inhale deeply. There is absolutely no carrot, moss, whisky, mimosa, or carnation. There  is also no real oud at all, merely the leather-woody, smoky aspects of cypriol. It begins to slowly climb out of the base, followed by a patchouli note that is now dry, woody, and slightly sharp. The end result is the sort of cypriol-heavy accord found in Tom Ford’s Patchouli Absolu layered under a bouquet that resembles Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather mixed with his Cafe Noir. By the end of the 4th hour, Leather Up is basically just a saffron rose, smoky leather fragrance with cypriol woody dryness running underneath.

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

Leather Up’s long drydown begins midway during the 6th hour. The saffron rose retreats into the background, and the oud takes its place next to the increasingly smoky and blackened leather. To me, the oud smells purely of the fake, Western-style, synthetic accord that is heavy on the cypriol, and is not actual, genuine agarwood at all. At this point, Leather Up is basically nothing more than smoky leather-oud bouquet with an elusive tendril of dry, withered, saffron rose in the background. Around the 8th hour, the scent dissolves further, turning into a simple but an intensely dry smokiness that is leathery, woody, sharp, and desiccated all at the same time. I found it grating, shrill, unpleasant, angular, and overly synthetic in feel.

By the end of the 10th hour, I’d had enough and sought to scrub it off, but Leather Up wasn’t having any of it. Like many fragrances with a big dose of aromachemicals, the fragrance clung to the skin despite 3 separate attempts to remove it (with a variety of different products from acetone to baby oil and detergent). It remained loud, clear, and present after a shower, puffing away its arid, faux leathery-oudish, chemical smokiness well into the 13th hour when I became desperate enough to pour a ton of hydrogen peroxide and concentrated Tide HD detergent on my arm, scrubbed hard, then took a second shower.

Given the longevity of the other extraits that I’ve tried from the line, I assume Leather Up has enormous longevity if one were to wear it all the way through. Its sillage was initially strong and took a while to turn soft, while its projection was average. I applied several spritzes from the mini atomiser sample that I was sent, equal to 2 solid sprays from an actual bottle. Leather Up opened with roughly 4 inches of projection. The sillage was initially around 3 inches when the iris was a major note, but the scent trail rapidly grew to about 7 or 8 inches once the saffron rose, booze, and fruitchouli sweetness kicked in. Towards the end of the 2nd hour, the projection was 1.5 to 2, and the sillage was about 4-5 inches. Leather Up turned softer during the 6th hour, but it didn’t become a skin scent until roughly 7.25 hours into its development. As I mentioned, I gave up at the end of the 10th hour and scrubbed, but it was a tenacious bugger. (Alas.)

Source: Vgulp.com

Source: Vgulp.com

On Fragrantica, there is only one review for Leather Up at the time of this post, and it’s a negative one. “The Scentrist” gave it a store test at Barney’s, experienced a “bombastic” amount of whisky, no leather, and only a tiny bit of oud at the end. His review reads, in large part, as follows:

First impressions: The fragrance tries to hard to be everything in hopes of pleasing everyone, and it ends up being rather a let down. The opening notes can’t decide whether to hint at the upcoming complexity and depth of the heart & base, so it skews toward being light and sharp. The one note that is too bombastic was the whiskey accord. It’s really difficult to get past smelling like you’ve had a glass of Dewars thrown at you, and that’s precisely how this felt. No hint of leather at all.

[…] Everything else is so muddled that as to become indistinguishable. It just hints at being ‘something’ but lacks that signature note because the leather and suede that are allegedly there are drowned out by everything else. Toward the end, the Oud peeks through and it’s also an anti-climax because it’s just ‘in-there somewhere’ and not very highlighted. Leaves with the impression of “another fragrance that had to jump on the Oud bandwagon and hasn’t done a decent job of it”.

At the end of it, the only thing that makes this an unforgettable experience is how poor the execution was. For all the good notes and great promise the description holds, it’s astounding how it doesn’t even merit mediocrity.

tl;dr version: A hot mess with an identity crisis. Unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.

I share his dislike of the scent, even though I obviously had a very different experience and see things differently. I don’t think Leather Up is unforgettable for all the wrong reasons or that it has an identity crisis. I think it seeks to replicate very established, popular olfactory styles — leather-ouds, saffron rose-ouds, rose-leathers, Tom Ford’s fragrances — and it’s that generic, “we’ve seen it before” character which makes the fragrance so forgettable.

The synthetic nature of the two main accords contributes to the unmemorable nature. I don’t care how much the company says it supposedly spent on raw materials, but, in my opinion, nothing on my skin resembled genuine agarwood, and I don’t think the leather smelt expensive, smooth, or luxurious, either.

Rudis. Source: Essenza Nobile

Rudis. Source: Essenza Nobile

The fragrance might have stood out more if the booze note actually had been “bombastic” whisky on my skin, but I never encountered anything that resembled the long-lasting, gorgeous, authentic, salty, peaty, single-malt scotch in Nobile 1942’s Rudis, or the short-lived but equally distinct and unquestionable whisky in Profumum‘s vetiver Fumidus. (Rudis’ leather and suede were also fantastic, a far cry from the sort here.) The only thing that actually smelt genuinely expensive in Leather Up was its iris, but there wasn’t much of it on my skin, no doubt because Florentine iris is so exorbitantly priced that not a lot of it was used, probably for cost-benefit reasons. Once the iris faded away, there wasn’t much that left me feeling like Leather Up was an opulent, luxury fragrance.

And, yet, Leather Up has a luxury price tag. The smallest bottle, 50 ml, costs $300. The 100 ml bottle is $450. And there is some media buzz about the fragrance as well. There have been blurbs about it recently in Allure (as a whisky, rose, suede fragrance), in The New York Times T Magazine (as a patchouli leather fragrance), and in The Hollywood Reporter. In my opinion, you can do better for $300 or $450. If you absolutely had to try one of the Phuong Dang fragrances, this is not the one that I would recommend.

OBSCURE OUD:

Obscure Oud via Barney's NY.

Obscure Oud via Barney’s NY.

Barney’s describes Obscure Oud and its notes as follows:

a fragrance that is innovative, mesmerizing and magical.
Top notes: red berry, cardamom, clementine, kumquat effect, green mango.
Middle notes: cloves, carnation, iris concrete, frankincense, lily of the valley [muguet], apricot, fig leaf.
Base notes: patchouli, opoponax [sweet myrrh] resin, oud, amber, castoreum absolute, cedarwood, fig milk.

Green mango via alegriphotos.com

Green mango via alegriphotos.com

Obscure Oud opens on my skin with tangy, tart, green mangoes fused together with peppery, tannic, piquant, green fig leaves. Drops of fig milk, sweet tangerine, and tart cassis (blackcurrant) are splattered on top. In the base, cedar stirs quietly, smelling both green and a little like pencil shavings. Next to it are dark, treacly, earthy, and spicy elements that are abstract and largely like shadows. For the most part, the opening is a mix of tart, tangy, sweet, crisp, refreshing, and fresh fruits-citruses infused with peppery fig leaf and fig milk atop a woody base.

Fig leaves via healthwantcare.com

Fig leaves via healthwantcare.com

Obscure Oud changes quickly. Roughly 10 minutes in, the cedar explodes on center stage, engulfing the fig milk and the assorted fruits. Most of the latter turn into tiny flickers, but the mango seems to disappear entirely. The mandarin and cassis turn into a simple fruity sweetness that weaves quietly around the background. At the same time, the fig leaf grows in strength, becoming the second main note and adding its piquant, peppery, fuzzy, and green tonalities to the powerful cedar bouquet. The fig milk, however, becomes a ghostly, elusive blip on the radar. Things change again around the 30-minute mark when the sweet myrrh arrives on center stage and covers the main cedar and fig leaf bouquet with a sweet, resinous smokiness. Everything else is practically irrelevant for all intents and purposes, or dying.

Source: Houzz.com

Source: Houzz.com

By the end of the first hour, Obscure Oud is mostly cedar and myrrh, framed at the corners with lesser amounts of peppery, green, piquant fig leaf. There are no citruses, fig milk, or cassis notes left at all. However, if I sniff my arm up close, there is now an occasional suggestion of oud flickering from time to time in the base, but it’s minor, heavily muffled, and quite elusive. When I smell Obscure Oud from afar and on the scent trail, it’s mostly a cedar-myrrh, smoky-woody fragrance flecked with a bit of peppery, leafy greenness. About 1.75 hours in, that bouquet becomes almost the sum-total of the scent even when I smell my arm up close. The fig leaf has turned into a minute, elusive flicker, and everything is focused squarely on the smoky cedar-opoponax pairing. However, the oud makes its debut at this time, but the “obscure” adjective in the fragrance’s name is apt because it is sublimated into the central accord.

Photo: Jo Van Damme on Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo..)

Photo: Jo Van Damme on Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo..)

In fact, on my skin, nothing about Obscure Oud feels particularly oud-ish at any point in its development. For the first 5 hours, it’s basically a simple, masculine, smoky, dry, incense-woody scent dominated primarily by the other two notes. Roughly 3.25 hours in, the fragrance takes on a slightly parched, nebulously oud-ish peppery dryness, but it’s subsumed within the central bouquet. The cedar and myrrh both grow quite abstract, and they’re so fused together that the scent feels even simpler than before, a haze of arid, smoky, charred woods more than anything else.

Towards the end of the 5th hour and the start of the 6th, the frankincense arrives and changes the focus of the scent again. The wood smoke and singed woods retreat to the background, leaving the frankincense as primary note. It’s woody in a very different way than the sweet myrrh, and definitely not smoky. Instead, it’s sometimes soapy, faintly dusty, and quietly churchy or liturgical. Soft whiffs of pine are detectable if I sniff my arm up close and concentrate, but the fragrance is now so discreet, quiet, and wispy on my skin that it’s difficult to detect much beyond a general “incense-woody” aroma.

"Yellow jag" by Nancy Simmons Smith. (Direct link to her website embedded within.)

“Yellow jag” by Nancy Simmons Smith. (Direct link to her website embedded within.)

Obscure Oud shifts a tiny bit when its long drydown begins a short time later. To my surprise, the fruits and citrus make a comeback. At first, there is merely a passing whiff of mango, noticeable only if I stick my nose right into the skin and inhale hard. Once in a blue moon, the cassis (blackcurrant) and mandarin flicker as well. But, roughly 6.5 hours in, all three fruits suddenly grow stronger, appearing on the sidelines in distinct form. They transform Obscure Oud into a fruity, citrusy, incense-woody bouquet. Tiny particles of soapiness, dustiness, and greenness dart about like fireflies. Once in a while, I think there is a suggestion of green-white soapiness that is almost floral-like and a bit watery, hinting possibly at muguet (lily of the valley), but Obscure Oud is so incredibly discreet and wispy on my skin from the 6th hour onwards that it’s difficult to tell. It may simply be a side-effect of the frankincense and the soapiness that it can sometimes manifest. Everything is a blur.

"Inquisitive (2013)", abstract art by T30 on Etsy. (Website shop link embedded within photo.)

“Inquisitive (2013)”, abstract art by T30 on Etsy. (Website shop link embedded within photo.)

Obscure Oud changes little from this point forth. It simply dissolves even further as the drydown progresses, but the scent is nice, at least from what little I can tell of it given its wispy nature on my skin. The frankincense loses its soapy and dusty qualities, turning into simple incense-ish woodiness that is enveloped within a cloud of sweet, fresh fruitiness that occasionally hint at mandarin and, once in a while, at cassis, one of Bertrand Duchaufour’s favourite notes. In its final hours, there is only a soft cleanness that has a tenuous, nebulous fruitiness lurking about deep, deep down.

Obscure Oud had average to low projection and sillage, but surprising longevity. Using several spritzes from my tiny atomiser sample equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, Obscure Oud opened with about 3 to 3.5 inches of projection, and the scent trail extended about 4 inches. The projection dropped to about 2.5 inches after an hour, then to about 1.5 inches at the end of the 2nd hour and the start of the 3rd. At that point, the sillage was close to the skin. Obscure Oud became a skin scent 3.75 hours into its development, and required effort to detect from the 6th hour onwards. However, in total, it lasted just short of 14.5 hours, although it coated the skin like a vapor after the 8th hour.

I haven’t found any reviews of Obscure Oud to share with you. There are no comments on Fragrantica at the time of this post. While all the Phuong Dang fragrances have a Basenotes entry page, no reviews have been posted in any of them thus far, and I can’t find any Basenotes forum discussions on the collection, either. So, you’re stuck with me for now.

Considering Obscure Oud on a purely olfactory basis, I thought the fragrance wasn’t bad, and it had some interesting — even enjoyable — bits that occasionally made the scent different than the norm. After my experience with the oud in Leather Up, I had rather dreaded what might ensue, so you can imagine my surprise at finding the oud note to be literally “obscure.” That was quite an unexpected bit of “truth in advertising.” The mango and fig milk parts of the fragrance were fantastic, and the opening was different as a whole. The cedar-opoponax phase was overly simplistic, but at least that combination hasn’t been done to death a thousand times before. And the frankincense-fruity drydown was certainly different.

Yet, all that notwithstanding, none of these stages or combinations were so riveting, so compellingly distinctive, and so fascinating as to warrant Obscure Oud’s price, in my opinion. There are two “ouds” in the Phuong Dang Collection (I wasn’t sent the other one for review), and both have a much higher price tag than the rest of the line. They’re $450 for 50 ml, $650 for the $100 ml.

Dusita Oudh Infini via Fragrantica.

Dusita Oudh Infini via Fragrantica.

I might understand the pricing if Obscure Oud had lavish amounts of unmistakable, genuine agarwood, even though I would point you to Dusita‘s fantastic, superlative, multi-faceted, and significantly more complex Oudh Infini instead because it’s cheaper (comparatively speaking) at $395 for 50 ml. But Obscure Oud doesn’t have copious amounts of genuine, authentic agarwood in it. In fact, whatever little oud it has is neither unquestionably genuine nor prominent. It’s “obscure.” I’m all for truth in advertising — what a novel change that is — but $450 or $650 for mangoes, fig leaf, and cedar that turns into hours of a simplistic incense-woody bouquet with an obscure, completely sublimated, and rather elusive, impressionistic wisp of oud? $450??! Pffft. No thank you, I’ll pass.

THE CALLING:

The Calling via Barney's NY.

The Calling via Barney’s NY.

Out of the five Phuong Dang fragrances that I was sent, The Calling was the one that I liked the most, although I don’t think it’s either perfect or particularly original. Barney’s describes the parfum and its notes as follows:

a fragrance that is rock’n roll, creative and effortless.
Top notes: lavender, cumin, cardamom, pink pepper, cypress, green mango, rum.
Middle notes: saffron, cinnamon, carnation, clary sage, gaiac wood.
Base notes: blended tobacco, cedarwood, sandalwood, musk, vanilla, caramel, chocolate, labdanum, papyrus.

Source: cigarettezoom.com

Source: cigarettezoom.com

The Calling opens on my skin with tobacco streaked lightly at the edges with creamy lavender, then dusted with cumin and softer touches of cinnamon, cardamom, saffron, and pink pepper. Mere moments later, rum, vanilla, caramel, and a touch of cedar arrive, turning the tobacco sweeter, like something in the vein of Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille. From afar, The Calling is a simple blend of pipe-tobacco layered with vanilla, then lightly dusted with saffron, cumin, smaller pinches of creamy lavender and cedar, and a drop of rum.

Tabac Rouge. Source: Fragrantica

Tabac Rouge. Source: Fragrantica

The tobacco doesn’t remain the focal point, however. Less than 25 minutes in, the vanilla, caramel, and rum balloon in strength, washing over the tobacco in such powerful, strong waves that it’s sometimes engulfed entirely, and occasionally almost obscured out of sight. The cumin, lavender, and cedar are so overshadowed, they become mere glimmers within the unctuous, creamy, mixed tobacco-gourmand bouquet. The saffron and cinnamon fare better, relatively speaking, as does the chocolate which arrives on the sidelines around the same time. The cumulative effect is very much like a caramel praline, doused with syrupy tobacco and booze, then dusted with chocolate and small pinches of spices and cedar. It’s basically the Phaedon Tabac Rouge version of Tobacco Vanille, except the gourmand elements have been turned up three decibels on my skin, and there is chocolate instead of plum or fruitiness.

Source: foodgawker.com

Source: foodgawker.com

Interestingly, the first time that I tried The Calling, the tobacco didn’t appear until much later. With two tiny spritzes from my mini atomiser sample, roughly equal to 1 good spray from an actual bottle, the opening was purely gourmand, a blend of caramel, vanilla, praline, and chocolate with a small dose of cardamom and creamy lavender ice cream. The tobacco and booze only showed up in a significant way at the end of the 2nd hour. At that point, it wasn’t completely sweetened pipe tobacco but had an occasional undertone of more aromatic, unlit cigars as well.

Source: 123rf stock & pipesmagazine.com and

Source: 123rf stock & pipesmagazine.com and

Yet, regardless of how much or how little I apply, The Calling always ends up in the same place after a while: a syrupy, rum-soaked, tobacco fragrance layered with caramel-vanilla, smokiness, and woods that gradually turns into a darker, smoky, slightly drier, but still boozy, tobacco-leather, before eventually changing during the long drydown phase into a simple, tobacco-ish, gingerbread spicy goldenness with sweet, syrupy pipe tobacco enfolded within. The dosage application levels merely impact how long it takes for the fragrance to reach and go through each of these stages. I’m currently testing the scent for a third time now, this time having applied a bit more than the 2-spray equivalent of my second test, and The Calling follows the same progression as I’ve just described. In all cases, though, no matter how much I apply, from the third hour onwards, the fragrance is all about the tobacco, and it’s typically layered with booze, caramel-vanilla praline, and cedar, then leather.

The Calling takes a while to change and, each time, the shifts are incremental in nature. Late in the third hour, the fragrance takes on a slightly woodier undertone than it had before, but it’s subtle and a question of degree. About 5.5 hours into its development, The Calling turns smokier, drier, and significantly less gourmand.

Cuir Altesse. Source: Jovoy.

Cuir Altesse. Source: Jovoy.

The Calling enters its second main stage at the end of the 6th hour. Smoky guaiac winds itself around the rum-soaked tobacco, adding both darkness and a rather leathery aspect to the bouquet. The spices and cedar disappear; the caramel-vanilla turns into a quiet backdrop. There is no longer anything gourmand about The Calling; it’s turned into a dark, masculine, purely boozy, leathery tobacco scent. All three times that I tested the fragrance, it reminded me a lot at this point of David Jourquin‘s Cuir Altesse, created by Cecile Zarokian, except there is no bay leaf and The Calling is much darker, smokier, and drier. In fact, its balance of notes shifts strongly towards the leather about 7 hours in. Sometimes, the rum-soaked pipe tobacco feels as though it’s been enfolded within; sometimes, it wraps itself around the leather in more equal fashion.

Photo: NASA at jpl.nasa.gov

Photo: NASA at jpl.nasa.gov

The Calling typically remains this way for 6 to 7 hours straight, and with zero change. The long drydown usually begins somewhere around the 13th hour, and the focus basically returns to the boozy tobacco. The fragrance is starting to lose its shape and note clarity, turning into a haze of tobacco-ish, gingerbread-like, spicy goldenness that is infused with blurry, rum-like, syrupy sweetness and ever decreasing tendrils of smoky darkness. From the 15th hour onwards, there is only boozy-ish, syrupy, vaguely tobacco-ish gingerbread sweetness. The fragrance dies away in much the same way.

The Calling has monster longevity, monster sillage, and decent projection on my skin. With a 2-spray equivalent, the fragrance opened with about 4 inches of projection and sillage that initially extended 6-7 inches before slowly growing to a few feet after 40 minutes, creating a huge cloud around me and leaving a distinct trail behind me when I left a room. That is unusual for an extrait de parfum. It’s even more unusual for one to remain that way for as long as The Calling did. Roughly 3.75 hours in, the sillage was about 8-10 inches. It took The Calling almost 7 hours to turn quieter, relatively speaking, wafting about 4-5 inches of scent trail and, even then, it was an intense bouquet up close. In total, it took The Calling about 9.5 hours to turn into a skin scent. It lasted just over 22 hours on my skin. With a smaller dosage, several atomiser spritzes equal to 1 spray from an actual bottle, the sillage numbers were slightly less, but not hugely so until the 7th hour. Even then, the longevity was just under 16 hours.

On Fragrantica, there is only one review for The Calling at this time. “Calvini” writes, in full:

To me this is a spicy gourmand (the chocolate note is prominent during opening); my second favorite from the line and smells rather complex/well-blended, but it’s also fleeting–leaves a light semi-sweet, spicy, smoky, and aromatic trail after a short time.

The Calling wasn’t “fleeting” for others. There are 2 votes for Longevity and Sillage, and both people selected the strongest option: “very long lasting” (which is defined at more than 12 hrs) and “enormous” (which is defined as “fills a room”). My experiences are very much in line with those assessments.

My feelings about The Calling are mixed. I liked it the most out of the quintet that was sent to me, and I thought its opening was particularly enjoyable with its more layered nuances, its chocolate, its spices, and its whisper of lavender ice-cream. The rest of it was nice, too, even if it was quite monolithic in feel.

Enigma or Creation-E Pour Homme via Bergdorf Goodman.

Enigma or Creation-E Pour Homme via Bergdorf Goodman.

On the other hand, the boozy, spicy, gourmand-oriental tobacco-vanilla genre is well-trodden, and The Calling shares a lot of similarities with other popular fragrances that quite a few people already love or own. The one major olfactory difference is that The Calling lacks a plum or a plum pudding note like so many of its brethren. The other general difference is that it’s a pure parfum while the others are typically eau de parfums. The exception is Roja Dove‘s cognac-laden, spicy plum pudding, leathered, tobacco-vanilla Enigma or Creation-E, which is also an extrait. It was never quite such a powerhouse on my skin as The Calling, but Enigma is more complex and nuanced, in my opinion, less singular or simplistic in its focus. It’s also close in price to The Calling. Enigma is $325 for 50 ml; The Calling is $300 for 50 ml.

It’s up to you. If you love boozy tobacco-vanille style fragrances, particularly ones with a strong streak of gourmandise, then you should definitely test The Calling for yourself. The quality, richness, heft, body, and smoothness are all there, even if The Calling feels a bit bombastic in its focus and its linearity at times, much like an unsubtle foghorn. Still, I can’t deny that its richness has appeal.

On the other hand, if you thought Tobacco Vanille was too sweet for your tastes, this one probably won’t be for you, either. The Calling is significantly sweeter. In fact, I think it may actually be even sweeter than Phaedon’s Tabac Rouge. It’s been a while since I tried the latter, but I don’t recall its boozy note having quite the same degree of syrupy sweetness. It also never had a stage that felt almost purely gourmand in character the way that The Calling did in its first few hours when I applied a smaller dosage.

CRYPTIC, VERMILLION PROMISE & OVERALL CONCLUSIONS:

I have to confess that I’m a bit frustrated with the Phuong Dang fragrances that I’ve tried because I see so much potential within each one for distinctiveness and originality. The plethora of notes promises complexity and, in fact, several of the fragrances start out with interesting, intriguing, different, and wonderfully layered bouquets. Then, all too soon, things seem to dissolve into more simplistic, 3-note structure, typically flecked by a few, largely inconsequential, and rather elusive wisps of something impressionistic. The result often feels too similar to other fragrances with a more affordable price tag.

Source: hdwallpapersarena.com

Source: hdwallpapersarena.com

There are a few Duchaufour signature flourishes that would make the fragrances stand out if they were major factors in the scents, but they aren’t. For example, both Cryptic and Leather Up have carrots, similar to the note he used in Neela Vermeire’s exquisite rose-orris-sandalwood floriental Mohur and the even better, stunning Mohur Extrait. For Obscure Oud, Duchaufour uses green mangoes like the one he used in Neela Vermeire’s vibrant Bombay Bling, as well as the fig milk from their Ashoka and the cassis that is practically a Duchaufour signature note at this point. Vermillion Promise has a great apple note in its fruity-floral beginning that even less typical than mango in perfumery. Unfortunately, on my skin, none of these creative elements lasts beyond 20 minutes (30-40 at the absolute most in the case of Vermilion’s apple note), which is such a pity because they offer such promise, the possibility of something less on the beaten path.

Cryptic via Barney's NY.

Cryptic via Barney’s NY.

The other two fragrances that I tried — Cryptic and Vermillion Promise — were so uninteresting and forgettable to me that I couldn’t recall much about their specifics a mere 2 weeks after testing them, and I had to look at my notes. Take, for example, Cryptic. It begins as a honeyed fruity-floral centered on jammy, gooey roses laced with carrots, lemony magnolia, clean peonies, aldehydes, and chyprish mossiness. It rapidly (and I do mean rapidly) turns into a basic rose scent — gooey, lemony, fruity, honeyed, and slathered with fruitchouli — layered with a dry, faux oud-ish, often raspy, overly synthetic woodiness and, later on, a sliver of castoreum muskiness as well. Then, 7 hours later, it somehow turns into a smoky, quietly spicy, patchouli-woody scent with musky leatheriness. Meh. Maybe you have to be a diehard rose lover not to be bored to tears (and someone who thinks the word “jammy” is actually a positive adjective, which I most certainly do not), but that doesn’t explain why this patch-head was so turned off by the drydown. I think the problem was the synthetic feel of that stage on my skin.

Vermillion Promise via Barney's NY.

Vermillion Promise via Barney’s NY.

As for Vermillion Promise, its brief apple note was great, but that was the only thing I enjoyed in the fragrance. The apple was doused with an excessively jammy, fruity syrup that I think was meant to represent “rum,” and an even more abstract floralcy that I couldn’t pull apart at all. Honeyed jasmine with synthetic freesia maybe? I have no idea. The whole thing was basically a goopy ball of fruity-floral molasses with a rapidly dying sliver of green apple freshness, and a burgeoning bit of resinous smokiness. After 40 minutes, I felt as though I were wearing nothing but fruitchouli goop with something darker, treacly, resinous, and faintly smoky layered within. There was no note clarity, differentiation, or delineation. A list of 21 notes was nothing more than a welter of jammy redness slashed with resinous darkness.

About 2.25 hours in, an unpleasantly dry, slightly powdery, woody musk appeared on the sidelines, the Cashmeran aromachemical, but the vast majority of the scent was the same. I tried to last as long as I could but, frankly, my patience with the line had worn thin by the time I got to Vermillion Promise, and I found the intensity of the sweetness, as well as the singularity of the bouquet, exhausting. But it was mostly the tenacious, diabetic-level of syrupy red goopiness that drove me crazy. After 4 hours with virtually no change and with a likely longevity of at least 12-15 hours lying in store for me, I scrubbed it.

Phuong Dang art provided by her PR company. I assume that it's meant to represent Vermillion Promise.

Phuong Dang art provided by her PR company. I assume that it’s meant to represent Vermillion Promise.

As I said earlier, there is a lot of promise lying within the fragrances’ long note lists and Duchaufour is unquestionably a master at his trade. Unfortunately, the elaborate, sometimes unusual ingredients turn into a blur, and the end result is not a distinctive, original fragrance, in my opinion. It’s quite the opposite, in fact, for Leather Up, The Calling, and Cryptic with their familiar, even occasionally generic scent profiles. In the case of Vermillion Promise, I have the feeling that, as stated in the Phuong Dang interview with Girl Boss, the two artists were moved entirely by colour, and sought to create a olfactory abstraction or representation of hues instead of a complex layering of notes. Obscure Oud was the most interesting of the lot and the least typical, but you should take its name and the “obscure” part as a definite warning if you’re looking for a hardcore or actual oud-centric fragrance.

Finally, in my opinion, all five fragrances are over-priced for the bouquets in question. They’re simply not complex or distinctive enough, and a few have an overly prominent synthetic note (or two) that is disappointing at luxury price points. I strongly believe that one cannot view fragrances in a vacuum when the starting price for the smallest bottle is $300. ($450 in the case of Obscure Oud). It’s not enough to ask if a fragrance smells good; in my opinion, one must ask does it smells good and compelling enough to make one want to actually buy a bottle at that price? There are fragrances that are absolutely worth these price points, or even higher, in my opinion, but I don’t think these qualify. It’s a total pass for me on all five fragrances.

Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of the company’s PR representative. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Each fragrance is an extrait de parfum that comes in a 50 ml and a 100 ml size. Obscure Oud costs $450 and $650, respectively. The other four fragrances discussed here are $300 and $450, depending on size. At the time of this posting, the Phuong Dang Collection is exclusive to Barney’s. Phuong Dang has a website, but no e-store from which you can purchase the fragrances directly. Barney’s sells both sizes for each fragrance, but I’ll provide direct links for the cheaper 50 ml bottles: Leather Up, Obscure Oud, The Calling, Cryptic, and Vermillion Promise. The press release sent to me states that there is also a Discovery Set of all 10 fragrances in the line, each in 10 ml atomisers, for $380, as well as an individual travel spray (quantity unknown) that is priced at $125. They’re supposed to be available at Barney’s, but neither one is shown on Barney’s Phuong Dang page. On the Phuong Dang website, clicking on the photos for those items gives you a notice stating that you should contact your local Barney’s representative. Overseas: At the time of this review, Phuong Dang does not have any overseas retailers. However, Barney’s offers international shipping to 102 countries. Samples: At the time of this review, none of the US decanting sites offer samples.

10 thoughts on “The Phuong Dang Collection: Leather Up, Obscure Oud & The Calling (+ Cryptic & Vermillion Promise)

  1. Dearest Kafka,I do so love your reviews. I may not always agree with you, but oh my, I do so love it when you honestly express yourself. It is sooooooo refreshing. These would certainly not be on any list of mine, especially considering the price tag, but also given your description of their mediocrity. I also have no desire to even sample them after reading what you’ve written. Thank you again.

  2. Hmmph…..seems like the way of the obscure niche….nothing to see here…..and I have to admit, how I was struck by the ripoff plaguised verbose copy that made me think “sucker born every minute”…

  3. Damnit. This one the one house I had hope & faith in for the year. I love your reviews & can pretty much consider your nose one I can trust so this is a bummer for me. Would you be willing to offer suggestions for fragrances I’m seeking?

    • Hi J., welcome to the blog. If you were really excited about the line and its fragrances, then I think you should try them! Really, I mean that. Don’t blind buy a full bottle, but sample all the ones you were intrigued by (assuming that you have a Barney’s near you). We’re all different, all view fragrances through very personal lenses, have different skin, and different tastes. Mine is merely one opinion. Perhaps you’ll end up loving something you try, so go for it and sample them! 🙂

      Having said that, I’m happy to assist you in any way that I can. You’ll have to tell me the notes you love and hate, the fragrance genres you gravitate to, past things that you’ve adored in those genres, and any other details that may be pertinent. That way, I can tailor the suggestions better to your tastes and needs, rather than stabbing blindly in the dark. If you want, send me an email. It may be easier. That way, we can talk a little about exactly what you’re looking for, what you don’t like, and the fragrances that would meet your criteria.

      But, seriously, if you had “hope and faith” that one (or more) of the Phuong Dang fragrances would be a new love, then please try it. All that matters is what YOU think. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Bogue Gardelia: Vintage Luxury Reborn - Kafkaesque

Leave a reply. Discussion and respectful debate are encouraged. Polite disagreement is fine, but personal attacks will be subject to deletion.