Kilian Black Phantom (“Memento Mori”)

Black Phantom (“Memento Mori”), the latest fragrance from By Kilian, is a fragrance that is a far cry from the terms and imagery surrounding it. The phrase “Memento Mori” means “remember you must die” in Latin, and was given to objects which were meant to make you ponder or remember your mortality, like skulls. And, indeed, a glittering black skull is placed right on top of Black Phantom’s perfume box.

Source: bykilian.com

Black Phantom in its skull box. Photo source: beautyinsider.ru

Photo: foodbeast.com

Yet, this is not a “black” or noir fragrance for me at all, let alone something that gives one intimations of one’s mortality. Instead, Black Phantom is an adult version of childhood treats, like ice-cream sundaes or milk shakes. They’ve been drenched in caramel or butterscotch, dusted with cocoa, vanilla, toasted nuts, and even bear an occasional whiff of Nutella. Instead of skulls as decorative adornment, there are marshmallows, an endless series of marshmallows, both vanillic and chocolatey, like something out of a child’s Count Chocula breakfast cereal. There is even the olfactory equivalent of a cherry on top of the sundae, thanks to the cherry undertones of an almond accord.

Source: Pinterest.

The “adult” aspect of this gourmand tale comes in the form of boozy liqueurs, namely Bailey’s Irish Cream, that’s been mixed with coffee Kahlua, milk, and rum to make a White Cuban, a variation on the more typical vodka-based White Russian cocktail that was such a big hit in the 1980s. Some parts of the end result are delicious, even for someone like myself who isn’t keen on gourmands and who shies away from excess sweetness, but Black Phantom’s biggest problem at the end of the day is that it isn’t particularly distinctive from other things out there on the market and it feels like a rather mainstream scent with a luxury price tag. Unless you’re a hardcore gourmand lover with cash to spare, I suspect that Black Phantom will end up being a rather forgettable scent.

Source: bykilian.com [Photo lightly cropped by me on the sides.]

Black Phantom is an eau de parfum that was created by Sidonie Lancesseur and was released in March of this year. It may be part of a new collection called the Memento Mori, or the fragrance itself may simply be called “Black Phantom /Memento Mori,” the way it seems to be written on his website. I think it’s the former, but I’m honestly not certain. Either way, on his website, Kilian describes the fragrance, its skull box, and its notes as follows:

Inspired by the moto [sic] of the pirates: “Memento Mori”, the scent Black Phantom is a sensual and suprising [sic] twist on an Irish coffee created for those who live for pleasure.

The jet black flacon reposes in a black lacquered coffret from which a smiling skull rises.

Opening: rum from Martinique and a cyanide accord

Heart: a woody accord – vetiver from Java, patchouli from Indonesia and sandalwood – balanced with the dark coffee absolute from Ethiopia.

Drydown: a sugar cane accord adds a gourmand facet to the fragrance.

The note list posted at most places, however, makes no mention of vetiver or patchouli, and is quite different. Luckyscent and Fragrantica have the common version:

Rum, sugar cane, dark chocolate, coffee, caramel, almond, heliotrope, sandalwood.

Boozy Irish Coffee milkshake with Baileys and Bailey’s caramel. Photo and source: Meg is Well blog (direct link to site where there is a recipe is embedded within the photo.)

Black Phantom opens on my skin with wave after wave of lovely Bailey’s Irish Cream  laced with coffee Kahlua. Every single time I’ve tested Black Phantom, my immediate first thought is that I smell like a White Russian (or, to be precise, the rum-based version called the White Cuban), and I’m instantly transported back to my high school years in Paris in the 1980s when my friends and I had discovered the joys of Bailey’s and Kahlua cocktails. The Kilian version goes beyond coffee, cream, and liqueur to also include hefty amounts of chocolate and vanilla ice-cream doused in thick caramel sauce, then dusted with caramelized sugar cane, vanilla and cocoa powders, marshmallows, and a smidgen of almond cream, before being served on a thin sandalwood platter.

The scent of coffee is simultaneously a significant part of the opening and something layered within everything else. A number of people who have tried Black Phantom have compared its scent to walking into a Starbucks store and smelling the aroma of roasted coffee beans in the air before ordering a caramel frappacino. I can see that, but the coffee is not that hardcore or separate on my skin. Rather than pure black coffee or roasted coffee beans on their own, this “coffee” is so inexorably transfused with booze and cream that “Bailey’s” is really the best analogy. The Bailey’s accord is one reason why Black Phantom doesn’t resemble L’Artisan‘s coffee, caramel, and patisserie scent, Noir Exquis, but another is because the Kilian has more chocolate than coffee on my skin when you consider the fragrance as a whole from start to finish. On me, Black Phantom is primarily either a caramel or a chocolate-caramel fragrance, not a coffee one. I know a lot of gourmand lovers who become twitchy over cocoa notes in fragrance, so be warned that there is quite a bit of it here.

Toasted marshmallow pie. Photo by Shannon on A Periodic Table Blog. (Direct website link embedded within.)

By the same token, be warned that Black Phantom also has a significant amount of heliotrope which I know is not the easiest of notes for quite a few male readers. Here, it smells predominantly of marshmallows and vanillic meringues without any of its floral facets or the more challenging “Play-doh,” and there is thankfully none of the scented baby powder/talcum powder tonalities that can sometimes appear. But there is definitely a powdered marshmallow quality to Black Phantom, and the heliotrope becomes both more noticeable and more powdery as time goes on.

Almond cream parfait. Source: tasteofhome.com

Black Phantom’s basic character doesn’t change in any significant, major way during the first three hours, only its nuances, the relative emphasis of its individual notes, and its level of sweetness. About 30 minutes in, an almond note appears that typically smells of a layer of nutty cream within the Bailey’s, but it’s sometimes a separate note that resembles toasted hazelnuts or the cherry nuances of an almond pit. What’s nice is the way Black Phantom’s toasted nuttiness combines with the dark cocoa powder and the milk chocolate to give off subtle whiffs of something resembling Nutella, which is rather a guilty pleasure of mine.

Caramelized sugar cane cubes. Source: 123rf.com

I’m significantly less enthused by other changes that occur at the same time. The steadily rising levels of sugariness give Black Phantom an increasingly saccharine quality that I find quite difficult. I’m even less keen by the nature of the sandalwood which slowly begins to seep up from the base about 30-40 minutes into the fragrance’s development. Both the sugar and the sandalwood smell excessively synthetic and both irritate the back of my throat with their raspiness.

By the end of the first hour, the sugar not only turns into a mix of crystallized caramel and saccharine, but it becomes so prominent that it kicks the lovely Bailey’s coffee cream aside, pushing it into the background where it fluctuates in strength and visibility. By the middle of the second hour, the white sugar dances a vigorous mariachi on center stage with the caramel, chocolate, milky cream, and heliotrope marshmallows. The raspy sandalwood hovers in the wings, sending out occasional wisps of smokiness and dry woodiness. The Bailey’s coffee and almond creams wax and wane in the background, sometimes individually noticeable, sometimes swallowed up by Black Phantom’s increasing focus on caramel, chocolate, and sugar.

Source: tri1025.com

I have very mixed feelings about the result. On the one hand, I’m not crazy about the fact that I frequently feel as though I’m wearing Count Chocula breakfast cereal, decorated with chocolate marshmallows, then dunked in a geyser of caramel syrup. I’m also not thrilled with the really intense levels of sweetness emanating from my arm from the start of the second hour onwards. Black Phantom is far, far too sweet for me when smelt up close, not to mention far too overtly synthetic for such an expensive fragrance.

Source: Pinterest.

On the other hand, I am clearly not the target audience for this scent which is aimed squarely at hardcore gourmand lovers. Plenty of people adore Kilian’s orange-caramel cotton candy fragrance, Love (Don’t Be Shy)and this is basically the caramel, chocolate, ice-cream, marshmallow and cotton candy equivalent except Sidonie Lancesseur has also added a hefty slug of creamy liqueurs and sandalwood. (Her other fragrance for Kilian, Straight to Heaven, was supposed to be a boozy, tropical rum scent, but it didn’t quite turn out that way on my skin.) Even more people love the bombastic caramel intensity of Profumum‘s gourmands (the creme brulee Vanitas in particular), and the Kilian is far less singular, narrow, and limited in its focus. Moreover, to be perfectly fair, there are some rather delectable aspects to Black Phantom when it’s smelt from a distance, and a certain cozy, childhood comfort quality to it at times as well.

Source: jj20.com

I confess, my attempts to be fair and see both sides pretty much went out the window during Black Phantom’s second phase which begins roughly 1.75 hours in, or towards the end of the second hour. The balance of notes shifts to make the sweetness go into hyper-drive, but Black Phantom also became drier and significantly woodier at the same time. The sandalwood joined the main gourmand players on center stage, its smoky and rasping tentacles wrapping around the chocolate-heliotrope marshmallow, the increasingly gooey ethyl maltol caramel, and the now completely shrill cotton candy sugar. A heavy dusting of vanillic powder lies on top of everything, smelling like confectioner’s icing sugar infused with tonka and heliotrope. The beautiful Bailey’s that was my favourite part of Black Phantom basically lies flattened and strangled under all this. The almond cream suffers the same fate, although its cherry-almond facets remain visible.

Photo & source: Monsieur Guerlain at Monsieurguerlain.com

The cumulative effect feels a lot like one of Guerlain‘s hyper-sweet fragrances in its department store line, a flanker to one of the La Petite Robe Noires (“LPRN”), if you will. In fact, I think Black Phantom copies quite a few of modern, LVMH-era Guerlain’s signature elements, starting with its unabashed use of intense amounts of inexpensive ethyl maltol to give that caramel-praline note that is in so many of its fragrances. There is also Guerlain’s widespread, frequent use of intensely sugary (and equally cheap) types of vanillin, cherry-almond notes, heliotrope, tonka, and raspy, synthetic sandalwood, often combined together. I suspect that Black Phantom will be a huge hit with those looking for a supposedly “luxury” upgrade from the LPRN collection and with more distinctive, luxury boxes, but that still doesn’t change the fact that Black Phantom is derivative as hell and that this mainstream quality comes at a significant price hike, almost $300 for the refill bottle.

“Passion,” by Jaison Cianelli at Cianelli Studios (website link embedded within.)

Black Phantom continues to shift in small ways as time goes by. About 4.25 hours in, it is largely a generalized, very hazy caramel bouquet, a soft orb of sweetness and warmth in which one can see glimmers of sandalwood-ish woodiness, heliotrope meringue, brown sugar, vanilla and coumarin-ish Guerlainade, and a sliver of cherry-almond. To my relief, the sandalwood’s scratchiness and smoke have dissipated, and the tooth-aching, cloying sweetness is gradually beginning to mellow. By the end of the 5th hour, the end result is actually quite decent. Plus, its moderately pretty, now low-throttle creme brulee and the accompanying whiffs of cherry almond are nicer here than in Guerlain’s LPRN or L’Homme Ideal gourmands. In fact, this stage of Black Phantom is — at long last — noticeably better quality and more enjoyable to me than Guerlain’s stridently synthetic, sometimes bulldozerish department store line.

Kilian Hennessy. Source: Metro.co.uk

But then, that’s what Kilian is all about, isn’t it? He takes largely conventional mainstream compositions, quietens them down with materials that have a modicum of better quality to them, sticks the final result in glossy, luxury bottles, slaps on a catchy name and/or uses a sexualized marketing campaign, and then asks almost $300 for them. Black Phantom follow the same pattern even if he’s skipped the half-naked woman or python this time in favour of the super trendy goth theme. And, boy, does Kilian know his audience and how to attract people’s attention with his packaging! Before, he had women yearning for his one of his clutch bags, now he has men and women alike salivating over the skull. I’ve seen a number of comments where people say they’d love to buy the perfume solely to have the box.

There isn’t much more to Black Phantom’s development. By the end of the 6th hour and start of the 7th, there is nothing but ethyl maltol caramel-praline laced with caramelized sugar and bearing a tiny, subtle undertone of dry-sweet-vaguely creamy woodiness underneath. Black Phantom remained that way until it finally died away, just a little over 10.25 hours from its start.

The sillage and longevity numbers were average, but tended to the lower side on my skin. With the smeared, dabbed equivalent of two good, solid sprays from an actual bottle, Black Phantom opened with about 3-4 inches of projection and about 4-5 inches of sillage. The latter grew to about 6 or 7 inches after 40-50 minutes once the caramel and sugar really kicked in. At the 1.75 hour mark, the projection dropped to somewhere between 1 and 1.5 inches, while the sillage went back down to roughly 4 inches. Black Phantom became a skin scent 4.5 hours in, but soft vapors would occasionally waft up from my arm from time to time. At the start of the 7th hour, I had to stick my nose right into my arm to detect anything but the caramel. In the middle of the 9th hour, the scent seemed almost gone except for a light glazing on one part of the long patch where I’d applied my sample. Black Phantom remained on that part until the 10.25 hour mark.

It’s important to note, though, that Black Phantom didn’t seem to fare very well in the immense humidity and heat that is currently blasting my city, and I think that may have affected some of my numbers. The humidity seemed to squash down both the scent and its sillage, because Black Phantom felt stronger and more noticeable whenever I was in a cold air-conditioned environment, bouncing back up in its scent trail, at least during the first 4 hours. You may want to keep that in mind if you try the fragrance for yourself.

Reviews for Black Phantom are generally positive, although there are some exceptions. While a number of people love the booziness, coffee, caramel and chocolate, several people on Fragrantica and in a Basenotes discussion thread find the Kilian fragrance strongly resembles other scents. Two Basenoters point to Zadig & Voltaire This is Her, also made by Sidonie Lancesseur, which they prefer, finding it to be “better,” stronger, and more interesting. On Fragrantica, two people (and 5 votes) find Black Phantom to strongly resemble Zara’s Tone Indeterminee which apparently costs around $15-25 for 100 ml. I haven’t tried either fragrance, so I can’t comment on how much overlap there may be or how the quality may compare. All I can tell you is that, on Fragrantica, some people think Black Phantom is absolutely “gorgeous,” while some people shrug, calling it “simple and pleasant” but “highly forgettable,” or writing, “Meh. To me this smells like your average of ‘black/dark/night’ sequel to XYZ hit mainstream perfume.”

While I enjoyed parts of Black Phantom during its opening moments quite a lot, I’m not particularly blown away or impressed when it is taken as a whole from start to finish. On the other hand, I’m not a gourmand lover and, therefore, not the target audience. For that group, I think Black Phantom would be an instant hit — were it not for its similarity to other scents, many of which are significantly lower in price. Then again, let’s face it, you’re really just paying for that glittering skull box.

What should be quite obvious by now is that Black Phantom is best suited to hardcore gourmand lovers, preferably those who enjoy chocolate just as much as vanilla or caramel. My advice is not to expect a predominantly coffee fragrance, at least not all the way through or in a truly concrete, intense, dark, and solid way.

If you’re not a gourmand addict but are nonetheless tempted by some aspects of the scent, my advice would be to give Black Phantom a test try. I thought the Bailey’s/White Russian opening in the first 20-30 minutes was absolutely fantastic and delectable, and the drydown isn’t bad. It’s simply the middle stage that is rough going, so you may want to be patient. That said, for me, personally, Black Phantom is a pass.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Black Phantom (Memento Mori) is an eau de parfum that comes in a refillable 50 ml bottle in a black Kilian skull box and costs $295, €260 or £245. There is also a huge customizable glass and gold carafe in a 250 ml size for $780 or €540. The links below are for the more affordable, regular 50 ml size. In the U.S.: you can find Black Phantom at Luckyscent, Kilian’s US website, Nordstrom’s, and SaksOutside the U.S.: Black Phantom is available at Kilian’s International website, his shops, Canada’s Holt Renfrew, the UK’s Harvey Nichols, Harrods, Germany’s First in Fragrance, Paris’ Nose, Le Bon Marché, Australia’s Libertine, and other Kilian retailers. Luckyscent, FiF, and Kilian ship worldwide. Kilian ships for free on orders over €100. Samples: FiF and Luckyscent sell samples. In the U.S., Surrender to Chance has Black Phantom starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

25 thoughts on “Kilian Black Phantom (“Memento Mori”)

  1. I thought this scent was really unusual. The sum of it smells like a slightly sweetened nut butter on my skin, it reminds me of Brazil/ hazel nuts for some reason. Luckily it don’t go Nutella on me. In any case, it’s all just too weird smelling like nut butter. I would sample it once because it’s unusual but I doubt I would have any interest in going further then that.

    • Two, possibly three, people on Fragrantica experienced something slightly in the same vein. They thought Black Phantom smelled heavily of peanut butter on their skin and, while that’s not identical to Brazil nut butter or hazelnuts, it sounds like it’s the same general, basic ball park. So, if it’s any comfort, you’re not alone, and they weren’t keen on the nut butter aspect, either. 🙂 In your shoes, I would have felt the same way.

  2. Hello my dear Kafka!!! I am SURE you are not surprised one bit that I bought a bottle on the spot when I smelled this at Bergdorfs. On me, it is mostly sticky boozy caramel which I really would rather wear than eat :-). Glad you’re back!

  3. I’d like to try this, for sure, though I’m not keen on smelling like Count Chocula! Reading your review made me spray on some Noir Exquis, which has been my go-to comfort fragrance for the last six months. I would probably not have tried that one if not for you. Thanks! I am SO glad you are back blogging! 🙂

    • You were one of the people who I thought really needed to try this scent. And, yes, I thought of your love for Noir Exquis. I think the Bailey’s opening of this one is wayyyyyyy better, though, so I desperately hope it appears on your skin, instead of just a load of boozy caramel, marshmallows, and cream. If Black Phantom ends up on you even half the way it did on me, I think it would be right up your alley and your new comfort scent, Count Chocula notwithstanding! So you should definitely look for a small decant to test. Fingers crossed, the powder, creamed nut butter, and raspy synths don’t make an appearance on you. From what I know of how your skin works and has dealt with other fragrances in the past, I don’t think they will.

  4. Dear sir, I’ve been wanting to ask, why was the Fendi life essence sandalwood. withdrawn .
    Any chance of it being relaunched
    Or is there any other brand,perfume of the same kind
    Thanks
    Regards
    Ramma

    • Hi there,

      I’m afraid I don’t know Fendi Life Essence Sandalwood or anything about it. I don’t know what it smells like, either, so I can’t make any suggestions for alternatives. I’m sorry I can’t be of more assistance.

  5. I feel the same; the opening was rather nice but then it sort of went flat. I rated it in decent climate conditions, no extreme heat, air condition but it lasted just a bit more than a couple of hours. So, even though I sometimes enjoy the odd gourmand, I’m not willing to spend that amount for them. I’d rather buy a mainstream one for my sugar rush and spend that amount either on vintage or an interesting niche. Mostly vintage though gets that amount from me nowadays!! And I find This is Her far nicer and stronger, pretty decent as was their first release, La Purete!
    xxx

    • Interesting that it lasted even less time on you even in decent weather conditions. Some people have reported great longevity but, most of all, HUGE sillage. That was the part that I think suffered from the heat when I tested it. Kilian’s aesthetic isn’t for big scents or loud sillage to begin with, but this one seemed softer than it should have been, given how my skin normally amplifies the reach of anything intensely sugary. But it didn’t do so here, to my surprise, and I think the heat/humidity was a big reason why. How was the sillage on you?

      In terms of price, I completely understand why you’d prefer to spend less on gourmands. I certainly understand about vintages getting the lion’s share of your money! 😀 😀

      • Moderate I’d say; I usually get comments but this time nothing, only by sniffing my arm up close. In general Killian doesn’t really work for me, so I wasn’t that surprised. But I do like the skull and their bottles and boxes are a real treat I’ll give them that!

  6. Not too crazy over gourmands, but I like one from time to time. I love cocoa (the bitter part) and you’ve written it has plenty of it, so that’s good. I like Irish Cream, Kahlua and Nutella (although it’s a bit too sweet) so I would probably like parts of Black Phantom. But as I find Love Don’t Be Shy very sweet, moments of BF will surely be more than I can tolerate.
    I think my most liked gourmand is Sorriso, which is a refined creamy dark chocolate with orange bits.

    • I thought Love Don’t Be Shy was horrid, and I suspect Black Phantom will be much too sweet for you, too, after the first 20 minutes. I honestly can’t see it as being your thing, Seb, particularly when taken as a whole.

  7. Ciaooo comme d’habitude un super bel article ! J’ai un échantillon de ce parfum et j’aime vraiment pas !!!!

  8. This review made my mouth water..
    all those gorgeous pictures of cream, booze, chocolate and caramel! And I am not even a big fan of sweet treats (more into hearty and salty snacks).

    As for the perfume. The few By Kilians I tried so far gave me headaches and/or an uneasy stomach.
    So I am not that eager to try another one from this brand. Though I dont want to dismiss it based on a few bad experiences. There probably is a scent somewehere in that catalogue that could work for me. I just dont think Black Phantom is the one.

    I never liked a hardcore gourmand scent so far. I can get used to some coffee, booze and chocolate (or even better, bitter cocoa) notes. But I really struggle with sugar, almonds, vanilla and caramel.
    So this gourmand-beginner probably needs something less grande to ease into the genre 🙂 (or maybe that will never happen…)

    • Given what you’ve described and said, I definitely don’t think this is for you! I think you’d find it to be both difficult and quite painful to wear.

      A much better option for you would probably be La Via del Profumo’s Cuoio del Dolce. I’m not at a computer right now to look up my review and post the link, but you can find it easily via the Search option. CdC is a semi-sweet, boozy, quietly chocolatey leather scent with some creaminess and a nice bit of (real) ambergris. I think would be a safer bet as a way to ease into the genre. Even so, given what you’ve said, you may never feel comfortable with the hardcore stuff. I’m not, and I never will be. 🙂

      • La Via del Profumo was already on my ‘to sample’-list (word goes around there is a good jasmine scent in that catalogue).
        But it just got bumped a few spots to the top, now I’ve read that review of CdC. I was really intrigued by some others as well. Hmmm…lets check out that sample program 😉

        • Tawaf is the famous jasmine, and the praise is much deserved. Absolutely gorgeous on my skin! I know you like lush florals, so I’ll add that I’m also very keen on the ylang ylang, Tasnim/Tasmeen (which also has some jasmine in it, if I recall correctly).

  9. Meh, I usually don’t like gourmands, but I appreciate very much coffee note and some nutty aspects in many complex compositions (think about Nanban by Arquiste for the first, and Times Square by Masque for the second).
    Anyway, I think the sugar is too much here, following the modern way of caramelized- foody fragrances. what I really can’t guess is… the reason of the name. I would have expected something human-leathery, or something hard, reminding a war (“memento mori” was a phrase Roman generals used to be repeated of when they come back to Rome from the wartime and celebrated with every honour s othat they couldn’t think they become as Goods).
    But even “cadavre exquise” has nothing of cadavre, is a gourmand… it must be a tendence!
    Anyway, I use this space to suggest you about a wonderful perfume I smelt on preview from Roberto Greco (a italian famous photographer also involved in promotional campaigns of the most famous perfumes brands) and Marc Antoine Corticchiato.
    The name of the perfume is Oeilleres, and is one of the most kaleidoscopic, complex, touching composition I got since a long time.
    I won’t reveal you more, but really hope you can smell it as soon as possible.
    I wish you all the best.

    • Thank you for letting me know Oeilleres is out. Roberto is actually an old friend of mine and I featured his photos on my site years and years ago before he ever became a professional perfume photographer. He’s told me about his work on Oeilleres over the years, so I’ve been looking forward to it. I know there is a lot of love, time, attention, and care which has gone into it. Good to know it’s finally been released. Have a lovely weekend, my dear.

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