2014 In Review: 30 Personal Favorites

Source: designzzz.com

Source: designzzz.com

My list of favorite fragrances that I’ve tried this year is quite different from yesterday’s list of the best new releases of 2014. The latter centered largely on scents that I thought were good, very elegant or interesting representations of their genre, regardless of whether they were my personal cup of tea, and they were only things that debuted in 2014. Today’s list is purely about what I really enjoyed and does not consider the date in release at all. So, this time around, there are very few qualifications and caveats, and the vast majority of these fragrances are things that I bought for myself, am thinking about buying, or would love to buy were their price not a consideration.

You will notice that a good number of the fragrances are not complex masterpieces at all, but quite simple in nature. One reason for that is that I love cozy, comfort scents, and they are generally not very nuanced or multifaceted to begin with. Plus, mindlessly simple but really well-done fragrances that combine richness with soothing warmth are, in all honesty, a huge relief to me after a long day where I do nothing but analyse every nuance and change in a scent for hours (upon hours) on end.

Ferdinand Leeke,  "The Last Farewell of Wotan and Brunhilde," (1875). Source: Wikipedia.com

Ferdinand Leeke, “The Last Farewell of Wotan and Brunhilde,” (1875). Source: Wikipedia.com

A few other points. As always, I have to repeat my mantra regarding the subjective, personal nature of reviewing in general, and how a list like this is even doubly so. With regard to the rankings, it’s always an utter nightmare, but the Top Ten chosen here are generally quite firm in order. There is a bit more leeway with the next 10 names, as a tiny handful could go up or down one to two places of where they are at the present time. I’m most undecided about the placement of the last 10 which are the most subject to fluctuations in order. One reason why is because perfumistas are a fickle bunch who can change their mind from one month to the next, and I’m no exception. The other reason is that I’ve gone back and forth on a few scents, switching their places repeatedly until I just gave up in the end. So, for now, this is where things are, for the most part. Finally, you will notice that some of my summary descriptions are verbatim from my list of best, new releases of 2014 or from my mid-2014 best or favorites list. My apologies in advance. Covering almost 60 fragrances in two days is rather an exhausting process, so I hope you will forgive me.

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Xerjoff Richwood: Smoky Sandalwood

On a mountain top in Rajasthan grows a Tree of Life whose mighty body is made of smoky sandalwood. Gnarled roots of oak and rosewood dig into patchouli earthiness, while its limbs bear bright, yellow citruses. Higher up, hidden amidst a canopy of more patchouli leaves, lie rosy flowers that drip a dark plummy liqueur. Natives come from far and wide, bearing gifts of incense that they burn in tribute to the magnificent tree that they call “Richwood.”

Source: ishafoundation.org/blog

Source: ishafoundation.org/blog

Richwood is a stunning sandalwood fragrance that grabs your attention from the start with its smoky woods, spicy patchouli, and an aromatic booziness that veers between oak-soaked cognac and plummy liqueur. It is an eau de parfum from the Italian luxury house of Xerjoff (pronounced as “Zer-joff”), which was founded in 2004 by Sergio Momo. Officially called “XJ Richwood,” the fragrance was release in 2010 as part of the XJ 17/17 Stone Label Collection whose name refers to the stone labels on the handcrafted bottles. It is intended to be a more affordable option than the collection’s original packaging which consisted of extremely expensive, limited-edition Murano glass art or quartz. According to Now Smell This, XJ Richwood (hereinafter just “Richwood“) was created by Jacques Flori, the nose behind Amouage’s Opus IV and Jovoy’s Psychedelique, among other scents. And it is really quite something.

Richwood in the Stone Label bottle. Photo: Xerjoff via The Parfum Shop website.

Richwood in the Stone Label bottle. Photo: Xerjoff via The Parfum Shop website.

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Xerjoff Al Khatt (Oud Stars Collection): Jasmine Excess

“Debauched jasmine” rendered musky from Laotian oud, sweet from vanilla, and fresh from bergamot lies at the heart of Al Khatt, an eau de parfum from Xerjoff that seems more like an attar in its concentrated richness. It’s a creamy, sometimes animalic jasmine whose petals often feel as though they had been drenched in sharp honey, and which wafts a quiet animalic sensuality that is subtly amplified by the earthiness of a very muted, truffle-like oud.

Al Khatt via the Xerjoff website.

Al Khatt via the Xerjoff website.

Xerjoff is an Italian luxury perfume house founded in 2004 by Sergio Momo. In 2012, Xerjoff (pronounced as “Zer-joff”) launched its Oud Stars Collection of fragrances which included Al Khatt. (The perfume’s name is sometimes written as Al-Khatt or Al Khat, but I’ll go with the version given on the company’s website.) Like the rest of its siblings, Al Khatt was created by the perfume house’s founder, in conjunction with Sonia Espelta and Laura Santander.

I love Xerjoff‘s description of Al Khatt as a “debauched jasmine” that meets the “irrepressible sweetness of vanilla” in a 1000 and One Nights tale. Other sites provide the more boring, general press release summary:

Al Khatt is a mystical and seductive fragrance crafted to transport the wearer to a far off land. Refreshing and floral top notes of Bergamont and Jasmine tantalize the senses as a warm heart note of Cashmeran lends a soft musky and woody core to the heart. At the base, Vanilla, Oakmoss, Laos benzoin and Oud Laos provide a warm and long lasting finish to scent sending the wearer to a glamourous reverie reminiscent of 1001 nights.

The notes in Al Khatt according to Xerjoff and Luckyscent include:

Italian Bergamot, Jasmine Sambac, Cashmeran, Vanilla, Oakmoss, Benzoin, and Laotian Oud.

Jasmine & its oil. Source: krishnaaromatics.com

Jasmine & its oil. Source: krishnaaromatics.com

Al Khatt opens on my skin with a veritable tsunami of jasmine that is syrupy, treacly, heady, and massively concentrated. Initially, it is flecked with vanilla, then with a jammy richness that turns into plush oakmoss for a brief moment. Slivers of fresh bergamot slink around the edges, feeling as though the fruit were so over-ripe that its sweet juices had burst from the skin.

It takes less than 2 minutes for a musky oud to appear, though the note stays firmly in the background. At first, the wood is slightly sharp and definitely honeyed, but there are also quiet, very muted whispers of the same blue cheese Gorgonzola note that was such a strong presence in Xerjoff’s famous (or, rather, infamous) Zafar. Here, however, it’s merely a subtle undertone that only lasts about 10 minutes, at most, and which is always deep in the base. Neither that muffled whisper nor the actual oud itself ever detract from Al Khatt’s main focus which is, from start to finish, the jasmine.

The flower has been expertly manipulated in Al Khatt to reflect every one of its natural characteristics. When I first wore the perfume, I was initially puzzled by a jammy quality underlying the jasmine which felt as if a very fruited, syrupy patchouli had been used in lieu of the oakmoss. The fruitiness went far beyond mere bergamot, no matter how rich or sun-ripened the latter might be, and it really felt more like dark, plummy fruits.

Source: co.marketmaker.uiuc.edu

Source: co.marketmaker.uiuc.edu

After 30 minutes, those fruits clearly read as purple damask grapes, and a light went off in my head: methyl anthranilate. As a Wikipedia entry explains, one of the natural organic compounds in white flowers like jasmine is methyl anthranilate which is the same natural compound that exists in Concord grapes as well. Wikipedia adds that the element has also been synthesized into an aroma-chemical which is used a lot in perfumery. Whether here, in Al Khatt, the grape element comes from the natural side of the jasmine or from something else, I don’t know, but the floral component in the fragrance is definitely fleshed out on my skin by the sweetness of grapes.

There is another side to the methyl anthranilate found in jasmine, and that is muskiness. The Wikipedia entry states that the compound is also naturally “secreted by the musk glands of foxes and dogs, and lends a ‘sickly sweetness’ to the smell of rotting flesh.” Rest assured that, on my skin, Al Khatt does not smell remotely like “rotting flesh,” but the jasmine’s grape undertone is definitely accompanied by a sharp muskiness. The latter is amplified further by two things. First, a honey note that appears after 90 minutes and which seems to coat the jasmine’s white petals with a sweetness that almost verges on sharpness. Second, the oud.

Oud wood with its "noble rot." Source: The Perfume Shrine via Dr. Robert Blanchette, University of Minnesota - forestpathology.coafes.umn.edu

Oud wood with its “noble rot.” Source: The Perfume Shrine via Dr. Robert Blanchette, University of Minnesota at forestpathology.coafes.umn.edu

The oud in Al Khatt merits a separate discussion, primarily because it was not at all what I had expected when I first applied the scent. I was extremely wary of Xerjoff’s handling of the wood, primarily because of Zafar where it was like ripe Gorgonzola blue cheese and extremely intense. Aged Laotian oud — like the kind used here — can also smell like a barnyard, verging on an actual fecal aroma. A quick reading of Al Khatt’s Fragrantica’s entry did not reassure me, as there were differing opinions of the note and just how fecal it was. So, I had quite braced myself to experience either mounds of manure or, even worse in my estimation, rotting blue cheese.

Truffles in the dirt via sunset.com

Truffles in the dirt via sunset.com

It didn’t happen. On my skin, the oud is neither fecal, barnyard-like, urinous, or Gorgonzola. Instead, its most defining characteristic is a muskiness that is earthy. Once, and for a mere 5 minutes, it smelled a bit like a horse’s sweaty leather saddle. To be honest, the thing I keep detecting the most is a black truffle aroma, mixed with a tiny, miniscule dash of sweaty, sweetened, loamy dirt. The overall effect is to create the strange sense of wood that has been coated with musky, sweet black truffles, but it’s only a vague, nebulous feeling because the oud is barely perceptible on my skin.

I’ve never worn Al Khatt and instantly thought to myself, “Oh, oud.” On me, the perfume is always about the jasmine, then the vanilla and bergamot, with various undertones dancing at the edges that alternatively translate as “animalic,” or “musky.” It merely happens that the “musky” note occasionally has a wood-like basis as well. Even then, it is more like a subtle vein that runs below the top layers, that is thoroughly imbued into the jasmine, and that only pops up intermittently. And it doesn’t appear at all after 40 minutes.

Chandelier reflectionsIt’s hard for me to dissect Al Khatt and its evolution the way that I normally do because this is one supremely well-blended fragrance. It is what I call “prismatic,” and throws off different notes each time I wear it and at different times. Like light hitting a crystal chandelier, those notes bounce around throughout Al Khatt’s development. Each time I think something has vanished, it pops up again later, most noticeably in the case of the bergamot. Everything is seamlessly blended into the dominant jasmine note, infused into its fabric in a way that transforms it into a musky, sweet, syrupy, sometimes animalic creature, but which is hard to pull out in a separate, distinct way. That said, the oud is one of the least noticeable things on my skin. The other elements appear and reappear almost in a circular continuum around the jasmine, but not the oud.

For the most part, Al Khatt is a linear bouquet of jasmine, vanilla, and bergamot, nestled in a generally abstract bed of woodiness. The nuances of those notes change over time, as does their individual prominence, but the core essence of the perfume never does. The bergamot’s heavily sweet character adds to the jasmine’s syrupy nature, but also providing a contrasting touch of bright freshness from time to time. Every time I think it has faded away or been overtaken by the creamy vanilla, it comes back like a tidal wave. The creamy, extremely smooth vanilla ebbs and flows in the same way.

Source: Wallpaperscraft.com

Source: Wallpaperscraft.com

Those two notes are almost constant companions to the jasmine, which is the only thing to really change in the perfume. Its Concord grape facet vanishes after an hour, to be replaced by a coating of sharp, thick honey — though where the latter comes from is a mystery to me. Honey is not listed in the notes, so I assume that my nose is reading the intensely syrupy sweetness of the jasmine sambac in the first few hours as “honey.” However, the flower also has a creamy velvetiness, largely thanks to the vanilla. The latter sometimes appears as a very distinct entity in its own right, but it’s generally just infused and melded into the very core of the jasmine. Throughout it all, the jasmine remains musky and excessively sweet. At times, there is almost a feel of something brownly leathered lurking underneath, though I don’t know whether it stems from the methyl anthranilate, the Laotian oud, or the flower’s naturally indolic essence.

There are other notes that occasionally pop up in Al Khatt, but they are either so minor or so fleeting that they don’t warrant a lot of discussion. I detected a miniscule pop oakmoss in Al Khatt for all of about 2 minutes in the opening, and then it vanished. The cashmeran wood doesn’t show up in any solid way until the end of the 8th hour. Up to then, it works indirectly to create the subtle feeling of abstract “woodiness” hovering around the edges of the jasmine-vanilla-bergamot trio. At the start of the ninth hour, however, Al Khatt finally turns drier and the vague sense of abstract woodiness grows fractionally stronger. That’s really about it on my skin.

The greatest, most obvious changes to Al Khatt involve its weight and sillage. This is an eau de parfum that feels like an attar because it is massively concentrated in smell. I cannot stress enough the incredibly potency of the aroma in the first few hours. 3 smears amounting to one 1/4 of a ml or one good spray from a bottle created a thick, dense bouquet that felt like solid, treacly jasmine syrup at first. Al Khatt doesn’t seem at all like an alcohol-based eau de parfum, or even an extrait de parfum. Yet, for all its heavy, concentrated sweetness, Al Khatt is surprisingly light in weight and has only moderate sillage at first. Those 3 smears created a small cloud that initially extended a mere 2 inches above the skin. After 90 minutes, Al Khatt lay right on the skin, and the perfume turned into a skin scent at the start of the 4th hour. Attars usually have soft projection because they are pure oil, not alcohol-based fragrances. Al Khatt is listed as an eau de parfum, but it doesn’t feel or act like it.

Art by Matthias Hauser on Fine Art America.  http://fineartamerica.com/featured/golden-brown-and-white-luxe-abstract-art-matthias-hauser.html

Art by Matthias Hauser on Fine Art America.
http://fineartamerica.com/featured/golden-brown-and-white-luxe-abstract-art-matthias-hauser.html

Thankfully, Al Khatt doesn’t remain as solid jasmine syrup throughout its development. The perfume loses a lot of its heft after 2.75 hours. As the honeyed nuances soften, Al Khatt feels lighter and thinner. By the end of the 4th hour, the bergamot-infused, musky jasmine is lightly flecked with vanilla, barely coated with honey, and feels more like a rich, deep eau de parfum. It may be a skin scent, but it is still easy to smell up close if you bring your nose to your arm. Eventually, by the 8th hour, Al Khatt becomes a gauzy wisp of jasmine and vanilla, infused with an abstract woodiness that makes the perfume a little drier in feel. In its final moments, Al Khatt is nothing more than sweet jasmine.

The perfume lasted for a monstrous amount of time on my perfume-consuming skin. Al Khatt had entered into its 15th hour when I really couldn’t take any more and finally washed it off in fatigue. If I experienced those numbers, I have to wonder what people with normal skin may get.

I have very mixed feelings about Al Khatt. Initially, a part of me reveled in the heady, very excessive jasmine, especially given the creamy vanilla with which it was mixed. The honey and musk were also pretty, but the oud’s truffle earthiness was perhaps the best part. It was so minor, so unusual, and so muted at times, that it added a fascinating mysteriousness to the otherwise syrupy flower. I kept sniffing to try to pinpoint the exact nature of the aroma, but it tantalized me by feeling just out of reach for a lot of the time. When it disappeared almost entirely after 2 hours, and was replaced by a swathe of animalic honey instead, Al Khatt became much less interesting.

Photo: Vickie Lewis. Source: Allposters.com

Photo: Vickie Lewis. Source: Allposters.com

What I’m really ambivalent about is Al Khatt’s over-the-top richness. At first, it was lovely, then it became too much, and finally I was completely worn out. Al Khatt is clearly meant to be “death by jasmine” — whether infused with oud or not. That’s fine. I’m usually all for death by jasmine. But Al Khatt’s linear simplicity in conjunction with such intensely unadulterated richness simply became too much after a while.

I’ve concluded that Al Khatt is a mood fragrance, by which I mean that it’s one of those things that is best suited for both a particular mood and a very special occasion. I think it might be wonderful as something that you’d wear once every six months, perhaps for a black tie dinner. Al Khatt’s opulent, luxurious intensity and soft sillage would make it perfect for a gala evening, especially one that may last all night. But I really don’t think Al Khatt is the sort of fragrance that people would be tempted to reach for often, let alone daily.

Source: Basenotes.

Source: Basenotes.

The “special occasion” feel is probably just as well, given Al Khatt’s high price. The elaborate crystal bottle crowned with a hand crafted bronze stopper is only 50 ml or 1.7 oz in size, and costs $310 or €240. Kilian’s Ouds cost far more ($385) for a comparable size, but have never once conveyed as much concentrated richness or full-bodied weight. To my nose, they certainly don’t smell as though they contain actual oud, let alone the aged Laotian variety that is one of the most expensive on the market. There may not be much of it in Al Khatt (in contrast to the infamous Zafar), but it’s certainly there. So, determining whether Al Khatt is worth its price will be a very subjective, personal valuation. I love jasmine, especially the “death by jasmine” variety, but I wouldn’t want to wear Al Khatt even if it were less expensive.

Some people love Al Khatt. In fact, I’ve read a few comments in groups or places like Basenotes where the person will state that it is one of their favorite Xerjoff perfumes after Zafar. On Fragrantica, however, the reviews are quite mixed. One of the positive ones which mirrors a few of my own experience or thoughts comes from “Jack Hunter” who writes:

Source: a1.ro

Source: a1.ro

This opens with bergamont and jasmine giving the scent that Summer freshness. Then the skanky Laotian Oud comes in to the mix and it does have that barnyard stink. Thankfully this only lasts for ten minutes tops and mostly disappears and you can only smell it ever so slightly. It does add a carnal sensuality under the Summer fresh jasmine accord which dominates and after a while it dissappears. So if you can get past the first ten minutes its not a issue. After a few hours the vanille comes into play and slightly sweetens the jasmine accord without it losing that Summer freshness.

The fragrance projects strongly and lasts and the ingredients are top notch. The thing I like about this fragrance which for me makes it stand out is the floral fresh jasmine accord which is perfect for the Summer. Most fragrances have lemon, orange or citrus which makes this one a pleasent change. Though there is no denying that this is more on the feminine side of unisex. Those who are looking for a Oud dominanted fragrance will be disappointed me thinks as it disappears completly forty minutes in.

So to sum up a Summer fresh jasmine dominated fragrance which has the skanky Oud for the first forty minutes then disappears completly. Its floral and gets sweeter without losing that freshness which leans towards the feminine side of unisex. I have to say this would smell great on a woman.

The issue of the oud is the greater divider, splitting people into different camps. For example:

  • I love this as a flora, the jasmine is superb, but I don’t think it is an Oud Star. The oud is very earthy and animalic but it disappears very quickly. How does o base note like oud behave like a fleeting top note? I don’t think it warrants the price tag with oud being the high priced accord and not lasting long enough to satisfy my oud craving. The jasmine is nonetheless superb.
  • Source: Flickr.com

    Source: Flickr.com

    Literally smells like animal feces, specifically cow manure and hay. This is purely awful and would offend just about anyone you encounter. Unless they live on a farm and love the smell of cow manure blasting their nostrils. This is the worst smelling fragrance I’ve ever encountered in my life. I laughed at how bad it smells. It reminded me of sweaty arm pits, civet juice being drained from its body, barnyard oud and feces all in one bottle. Repulsive to the core. Who the hell would want to smell like this??????

Source: elstika.com

Source: elstika.com

One commentator, “Alfarom,” who initially loved Al Khatt, slowly changed his mind about the fragrance. His review pretty much sums up how I feel about the fragrance after only 2 wearings:

Al-Khatt, together with Zafar, have been my favorite composition in the Oud Stars series for some time but, lately, it bores me.

The fragrance opens with an extremely interesting fecal oud note paried to some indolic Jasmine. During the initial phases Al-Khatt is quite a wower if you like challenging stuff. Strongly fecal and dirty, extremely exotic but somewhat fascinating in its carnal iteration of this neglected accord. Unfortunately the jasmine takes brutally over in no time and drives the fragrance towards a more conventional territory. What I’m left with, is a bombastic and overly sweet musky-jasmine base that’s not so distant from Mugler’s Alien. Quite linear, extremely long lasting (almost exasperating), potentially cloying and, in the end, a bit boring too. Mild thumbs up more leaning to neutral.

Again, I didn’t experience anything fecal, but at least that sounds more interesting that the musky earthiness that I detected for a mere 40 minutes. I fully and completely concur with much of the rest of his description. Al Khatt is definitely “a bombastic and overly sweet musky-jasmine” that is “potentially cloying” and “almost exasperating” in how long its linear simplicity endures. I washed it off after 15 hours, and I love jasmine, so that should tell you something.

Photo: Blentley via fr.fotopedia.com

Photo: Blentley via fr.fotopedia.com

The same split in opinion that you see on Fragrantica also exists on Basenotes, where the perfume has 2 positive reviews, 2 neutral ones, and 2 negatives. One of the latter reads:

Belongs to the mercifully small category of jasmines drowned in syrup, the point of which somewhat escapes me. All vitality is sucked out of the floral scent in order to squash it under the weighty backside of something unrelentingly sweet. The lino glue tones of the opening didn’t do much to help either. Why this is an Oud Star is a bit of a mystery, anything resembling oud is submerged.

The other negative one is rather hilarious as it mentions “being a spectator under the big top of a traveling circus with its animal stench and cotton candy,” but I was most interested to see that one of the neutral reviewers also experienced a grape aroma:

Al Khatt opens with a sweet candy accord – with all of the concentrated powder of a tutti-frutti instant drink mix (with a lean toward grape, me thinks). Luckily there is an immediately recognizable creamy (almost sour milk) oud lying beneath and this quickly begins to aid in the balance of what might otherwise become a syrupy sweet scrubber on me. Just when you think you are in a candy shop, this blend goes all horsey on your ass and you have been transported to the hides, sawdust, smokey, and yes – even fecal notes – of a well-kept stable. Truly Bizarre to pair a synthetic-feeling sugar-toothed opening with the most natural and skanky of the ouds in the series. Nice projection and longevity on this one. Still, I cannot say I love the marriage here. It is just too unbalanced to my nose, and even conjures up an odd sneeze-inducing moment from time to time as if telling my body not to dare spray this stuff again.

In all fairness, Al Khatt does have some freshness amidst its jasmine overload, thanks to the bergamot. The same positive Fragrantica review was also posted on Basenotes, and I think “Jack Hunter” does have a point in talking about “floral fresh jasmine accord.” He finds it perfect for summer, though I personally think Al Khatt is far too rich and heavy to be tolerable in the heat. That said, I definitely concur with his feeling that Al Khatt feels quite feminine in its floral intensity, particularly given the brief, muted oud note that everyone mentions.

All in all, I think Al Khatt is best suited to those who want a “death by jasmine” fragrance, and who also enjoy extreme floral sweetness. It’s a pass for me.

DETAILS:
General Cost & Availability: Oud Stars Al Khatt is an eau de parfum that is only available in a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle that costs $310 or €240. In the U.S.: you can buy Al Khatt from Luckyscent, along with a sample for $8. There is also an Oud Stars Discovery set of 6 fragrances in 15 ml sizes for $255. Al Khatt is also offered by Parfums Raffy for the same price of $310, with a sample for $6. Outside the U.S.: You can order Al Khatt directly from Xerjoff for €240. The €195 sample set is currently sold out. In the UK, Xerjoff is carried at Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie in Harrods. In Paris, Al Khatt is available at Jovoy for €240, while Germany’s First in Fragrance sells it for €247. In the Netherlands, you can find it at Aafkes for €240. In Russia you can buy Al Khatt at Orental, and also at Lenoma. The Oud Stars Discovery Set is offered by some perfume retailers, such as Aafkes and First in Fragrance. It’s priced at €195 for 6 different fragrances in 15 ml sizes. For all other locations from Sweden to the Middle East, you can turn to the List of Retailers on the Xerjoff site to find a Xerjoff vendor near you. Samples: Surrender to Chance offers Al Khatt starting at $6.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also an Oud Stars Sampler Set of all 6 fragrances starting at $29.99 for a 1/2 ml vial of each.

Perfume Review: Xerjoff Mamluk (Oud Stars Collection)

Mamluk. Source: Fragrantica.

Mamluk. Source: Fragrantica.

Xerjoff is an uber-luxury, Italian niche perfume house founded in 2004 by Sergio Momo. In 2012, Xerjoff (pronounced as “Zer-joff”) launched its Oud Stars Collection of fragrances which included Mamluk, a gourmand take on agarwood. Like the rest of its siblings, Mamluk was created by the perfume house’s founder, in conjunction with Sonia Espelta and Laura Santander

The notes in Mamluk according to Xerjoff and Luckyscent include:

Italian Bergamot, Honey, Caramel Accord, Jasmine Garndiflorum, Osmanthus, Laos Benzoin, Vanilla Madagascar, Indian Oud, Crystal Musks, and Amber.

Photo: Blentley via fr.fotopedia.com

Photo: Blentley via fr.fotopedia.com

Mamluk opens on my skin as the most unbelievably sweet bouquet of lemon and honey with a beautiful, but faint, floral tinge. Quickly, sour notes emerge, smelling rather urinous, though simultaneously infused with an incredible sugariness. Thankfully, both the sourness and the pee-like nuance are very short-lived, and fade away in a matter of minutes. In the meantime, subtle whiffs of a sharp, slightly astringent oud flicker on and off, while musk, amber, and a warm plushness stir in the base.

The famous Cora "Sun Drop" yellow diamond. Source: extravaganzi.com

The famous Cora “Sun Drop” yellow diamond. Source: people.com.cn

What’s interesting about Mamluk’s opening minutes is that, despite smelling the nuances of the individual notes, you’re subsumed by the overall effect which is far more over-reaching, all-encompassing and lovely. Yes, you can detect the lemon or the subtle florals, along with the other elements, but Mamluk envelops you in a blooming cloud that feels absolutely radiant. It’s like a giant, yellow diamond shining in the dark, throwing off rays of crystal clarity and sharpness. And, yet, there is incredible softness billowing out as well. It’s like a juxtaposition of angles but, also, of extremes that’s very hard to describe. Take, for example, that lemon and honey combination. It is so sweet, it almost hurts; so intense, it can verge on the sharp; and yet, there is a radiant softness that almost glitters.

Bergamot. Source: a1.ro

Bergamot. Source: a1.ro

Ten minutes into Mamluk’s development, the perfume turns even sweeter and warmer. The citrus is heady, conjuring images of the fruit lying ripe, thick, and heavy on the branch, and so sweetened by the sun that it verges on the over-blown. The subtle floral nuances are simultaneously airy, thick, gauzy, dainty, indolic, and slightly voluptuous. Again, it’s the story of contradictory extremes. In the background, the Indian oud now feels so sweetened that it almost verges on the caramelized. It’s a far cry from the medicinal, ripe cheese and fecal characteristics of the very aged, rare agarwood from Laos that dominates Mamluk’s very masculine sibling, Zafar. The overall effect of the different elements in Mamluk is an intoxicating, honeyed headiness that feels almost piercing in its sweetness and glitter.

Slowly, slowly, the sweetness starts to take some shape. Twenty minute in, the heavy honey cloud takes on a definite salty caramel undertone. There is a similar salty vibe to the musk and golden amber, leading me to believe that there may be actual ambergris — that really rare, difficult to find, incredibly expensive ingredient — in Mamluk, and not the generic sort of “amber” that is used in most perfumery. The floral notes aren’t as easy to distinguish. They feel amorphous, and never like distinct jasmine or osmanthus. In fact, I don’t smell any of osmanthus’ tea or apricot undertones, though I detect something that feels a lot like peach. Perhaps, it’s the effect of the rich honey and the lurking caramel that have made the osmanthus into something far richer than delicate apricot. Over time, the caramel becomes stronger and more powerful, infusing everything with its sugary tones. When combined with the honey, the sweetness completely overpowers and overshadows the subtle flickers of oud, which now retreats far, far to the background, never to be seen again until the drydown. At the 40-minute mark, even the flowers feel as though they’ve been drenched in caramel and, to be honest, it’s a bit cloying at this stage. Have I mentioned that Mamluk is a very sweet fragrance?

Source: Wallpaperscraft.com

Source: Wallpaperscraft.com

Mamluk never changes in its primary essence, only in its shape. From start to finish, it is predominantly a very sweet citrus-honey fragrance with other notes that circle around it like planets around a honeyed sun. For the first three hours, the florals are the main lady-in-waiting, though they always feel abstract and indistinct. Sometimes the floral-peach note seems a little more prominent, sometimes the caramel, but, at all times, the star of the show is the tangoed dance of honey and heavy, sun-sweetened lemon.

The only big change in this period is in Mamluk’s texture which becomes softer, warmer, smoother, lighter, and less thick. The edges have been rounded out, even blurred, so that the whole thing feels more billowy than ever. The perfume feels better balanced, particularly the sweetness which, at the start of the second hour, seems much less overwhelming. Mamluk is that oddest of combinations: a fragrance whose potent, indolic notes feel simultaneously thick and airy, strong and light, voluminous and heavy, sharp and blurry. It would almost feel like a vague cloud, except you can clearly detect those main notes — limited and monotonous as they may be.

It’s only around the fourth hour that the notes themselves start to shift their place in the rotation. Now, the oud starts to peek out from behind the sun. It’s as though it needed the power of the other notes to fade a little before it had the chance to be noticed. Taking its place in the background is the floral bouquet which becomes softer and less noticeable with every passing hour. Mamluk is now a honey-citrus perfume infused with sweetened agarwood and the barest suggestion of rich vanilla bean paste. In its final moments, Mamluk is nothing more than abstract sweetness with the vaguest suggestion of honey.

All in all, Mamluk lasted a little over 11.25 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. It’s an incredibly powerful perfume, even when its projection drops from its initial heady heights towards the end of the second hour. At that point, Mamluk only wafts 3 inches above the skin, though it is still extremely strong within that small cloud. It takes the fragrance about 7.5 hours to become a skin scent, though it doesn’t require voracious sniffing to detect it even then. For all that Mamluk sometimes feels like a billowing, radiant cloud in weight, the strength of the fragrance cannot be under-estimated. I merely dabbed, approximately 2.5 large-ish smears, and I cannot imagine the power of Mamluk if one actually sprayed it on, never mind if one sprayed on a lot. My God, they might smell you out at the space station!

I like Mamluk, though I think one could get a little bored of it and exhausted by the fierce onslaught of its richness. It’s linear, monotonous, far from complex, and, yet, it’s also pretty, lush, rich, heady, and languid. Mamluk is really a honey lover’s fragrance, and not something I’d ever recommend to those whose skin chemistry always turns the note sour, urinous, or animalic. I’m lucky and, with one single perfume exception, honey always blooms on my skin, so obviously this review reflects that aspect. As a whole, Mamluk feels quite unisex, though it may be too feminine for those men who like their agarwood on the very undiluted, masculine, edgy, raw side (like in Zafar). Mamluk is actually a perfect fragrance for those who normally struggle with oud, who like it highly tamed and sweetened, and who prefer it to be a minor, unobtrusive player instead of a main one. It’s definitely a fragrance for those who love very sweet or gourmand perfumes. For me personally, it’s a little too repetitive, one-dimensional, and boring, but I can definitely see its heady charms. Mamluk is frightfully expensive, however, and I personally think it’s actually far too expensive for its very simple nature. However, price is always a subjective issue, and Mamluk does feel opulently luxurious, so if you love honey and dislike strong oud, then you may want to give it a try.

DETAILS:
General Cost: Oud Stars Mamluk is an eau de parfum that is only available in a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle that costs $315 or €240. In the U.S.: you can buy Mamluk from Luckyscent, though they seem to be back-ordered. There is also an Oud Stars Discovery set of 6 fragrances in 15 ml sizes for $250, but they are sold out of that too at the moment. Mamluk is also offered by Parfums Raffy for the same price of $315, and it is not sold out there. MinNY does not list Mamluk, though it does offer a sample for purchase. Outside the U.S.: You can order Mamluk directly from Xerjoff for €240, or you could opt for the sample set (which is currently sold out) for €195. In the UK, Xerjoff is carried at Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie in Harrods. In Paris, Mamluk is carried at Jovoy which sells it for €240, Germany’s First in Fragrance sells it for €247, and the Netherland’s Aafkes for €240. In Russia you can buy Mamluk at Orental for what seems to be 6,000 Ru, and also at Lenoma. The Oud Stars Discovery Set is offered by some perfume retailers, such as Aafkes and First in Fragrance. It’s priced at €195 for 6 different fragrances in 15 ml sizes. For all other locations from Sweden to the Middle East, you can turn to the List of Retailers on the Xerjoff site to find a Xerjoff vendor near you. Samples: you can buy Mamluk from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $6.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Samples are also sold at MinNY.