Review: Essential Parfums The Musc — 4.5 points

I disliked The Musc (Essential Parfums, 2018) at first, because the combination of lavender and musk tends to remind me of fabric softeners, toilet cleaners, and soaps. My personal association is firmly entrenched, and upon detecting the first hints of lavender in it, I put the bottle down just as soon as I had picked it up. But, as the saying goes, ‘never judge a book by its cover’, I did ask for a decant in order to live with its company for some time before passing judgement on the composition. Indeed, the more I wore it, the more I came to enjoy its luminosity and complexity.

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The main theme is musk, a note that tends to be opaque and dense by nature. But in the hands of perfumer Calice Becker who also created Noir Aphrodisiaque (2016), Pure Oud (2009), Rose Oud (2010), and Amber Oud (2011) from by Kilian—compositions featuring rich, hefty notes—the musk note is rendered airy and faceted. Its sensual sweetness is foiled by the herbal edge of lavender and the spicy ginger that open the composition. A rapturous mélange of accents, including rose, peony, fruity pear, and berry-like vibrancy confer it with the brilliance, fire, and scintillation of a skilfully cut diamond.

Another aspect that I find interesting about The Musc is its excellent execution of lavender note. Ubiquitous among masculine fragrances, fabric softeners, and soaps, the raw material has acquired a somewhat negative association; one easily thinks of grandmothers and their perfumed sachets. Here, the floral facet of this note is enhanced by beeswax and pairs perfectly with the sweetness of musk, and its camphoraceous aspect softened by warm powdery note and sandalwood. The floral, fluffy result is distinctive.

In the dry down, it is enveloping with the voluptuous notes of beeswax and powdery warmth. I keep noticing the powdery and the mellow sensuality of musk accompany me from morning to night, and it feels like being wrapped in the silky comfort of a chiffon. It has a soft, airy feel, but also a clear presence and character. Its tenacity and presence also mean that a gingerly spritz suffices to create a radiant aura.

And, those who are wary of lavender and musk need not worry: The Musc possesses the complexity and vibrancy that steers it away from the potency and harshness of a fabric softener. Even the lavender note is stripped of its camphoraceous fangs and claws. The composition is about the constant presence of polish and comfort.

Source: Essential Parfums

Review: by Kilian Noir Aphrodisiaque — 4.5 points

Chocolate is a challenging note. The sweet chocolate with which we are familiar is created with the help of vanillin, a principle odorant of vanilla that is used to flavour chocolate, but tuning that up alone would make for an intensely sweet milky bar. The rich overtones of fruits, flowers, spices, and woods are needed to bring out a grand cru chocolate, but the dense note of cocoa can also mask these, leaving the composition flat. For this reason, I am amazed by the sumptuous chocolate accord in Noir Aphrodisiaque (by Kilian, 2016) replete with complexity and glow.

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The subtle layers of notes add to the nuances of dark chocolate, making it rich and decadent. Bergamot, juicy lemon, and citron provide a bright prelude that quickly makes way for the confection. Chilly iris lends its cool, dusty texture of chocolate, whilst fruity jasmine bestows its voluptuous, narcotic scent.  A dusting of cinnamon serves as a spicy contrast that balances the languorous richness. It feels as though I had just had a bite into Choc-Abricot of Sprüngli: the dried apricots reveal their intense fruity and floral notes wrapped in bitter-sweet chocolate from Santo Domingo cacao.

These largely confer refinements to the chocolate, but the secret to a bitter chocolate impression lies in patchouli. Its warm, woody, balsamic facet is the perfect foil for the chilly, dusty iris, and its diffusiveness helps lift the composition. The effect is similarly observed in Dior Homme (2005), Coromandel (Chanel, 2007), and Borneo 1834 (Serge Lutens, 2005).

As it develops, it furthers explores the nuances and becomes most addictive. The bitter chocolate impression led by patchouli is softened by creamy and tantalising smoky notes. Here, sandalwood provides the milky chocolat chaud fantasy and tonka bean lends the sweetness and warmth of toasted almonds. The dark woody tang contrasted by a mellow baked good suggestion keeps the dry down engaging and airy.

Perfumer Calice Becker authored Noir Aphrodisiaque, and her signature luminosity and layered complexity are telltale.  It is chocolate from beginning to end, but it does not feel dense and flat. Instead, it peels away in layers to reveal nuances of citrus, floralcy, spice, wood, and vanillic sweetness. It is polished and each transition seamless. I can imagine wearing it at just about any occasion; it is just as alluring and elegant.

Sources: fragrantica.com

Review: by Kilian Amber Oud — 4.5 points

Previously, I confessed to my aversion to oud. But ever since Pure Oud (by Kilian, 2009), I have consistently been wearing the oud collection from by Kilian. I reckon I am beginning to warm up to this multi-faceted note, especially when it is as excellently crafted as the ones from by Kilian. And, Amber Oud (2011) is yet another sublime creation around this note that I heartily recommend.

In spite of the rather banal name, Amber Oud offers an interesting vantage point from which to appreciate the rich oriental notes. It opens right away with a stirring whiff of incense and labdanum, and without any attempt at a prelude, segues into warm amber. A vanilla so resplendent sets the stage, with the complexity of the cured beans one often finds in a gourmet section. Benzoin provides the dry, lingering sweetness that harks to the fantasy of honeyed almonds. All the rich, hefty notes that make my mouth water constitute the bulk of Amber Oud, but the composition is far from being cloying. Instead, it remains lucent.

The description alone is a testament to the quality of its amber, but what is it that distinguishes it from being a mere ‘nice amber’? The answer to that can remain elusive for the first few tries, as, I find, is often the case with the deceptively simple quality that marks many of perfumer Calice Becker’s creations. However, as I pondered the question, I found myself reminiscing more and more about the time when my mother made traditional desserts.

One of the last steps is to perfume them, and this is almost always a rite to Thai desserts. She would put flowers such as sambac jasmine, rose, and ylang ylang in a small cup and place it in a lidded ceramic pot containing the dessert, thereby imbuing the treats with the fragrance overnight. On the next day, a fragrant candle called ‘tian op’ was instrumental in imparting its unmistakable lingering scent to the treats. The candle has a wick that can be lit on both ends and its wax comprises a mixture of frankincense, benzoin, dried kaffir peel, brown sugar, camphor, nutmeg, sandalwood, and bee wax. After having set tian op in a holder in the ceramic pot and lit it, she would extinguish it by covering the pot with a lid, allowing the dessert to soak up the aroma for ten to fifteen minutes. Even after this step, a potent mixture of frankincense, benzoin, kaffir peel, brown sugar, nutmeg, and camphor that had been seared in a pre-heated terra cotta cup would be similarly used to suffuse the dessert with its opulent fumes. How fondly I recall that caramelised, incense-y, floral accent that staved off some of the rich sweetness of the dessert. The flavour was a combination of melancholic incense and decadent sweet amber, which is essentially what Amber Oud mirrors.

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Tian Op: a scented candle used to perfume food and clothing. Its melancholic fragrance balances out the sweetness.

Now, the answer to what sets Amber Oud apart is clear: it is the floral and incense inflection of its amber accord. Just like how the rich dessert was lifted with floral hints and dry incense, the same effect is employed in Amber Oud in taming the hefty notes. This also explains why the drydown of Amber Oud possesses an uncanny resemblance to Bois d’Arménie (Guerlain, 2006), another favourite composition of mine that revolves around benzoin, incense, and balsams with a sprinkle of rose petals. The result is an unexpected delight in an ostensibly straightforward composition, a hallmark of Becker who has a knack for subtly weaving together multiple layers and facets.

All in all, the played-up aspect of sweet amber together with the unique accent that carries well to the next day makes Amber Oud my perennial favourite. It is an intriguing oud aspect that is both cosy and refined—a quality which I rarely see in an oud composition. A spritz suffices to catapult me to those scrumptious recollection of floral and incense-y fantasy.

Review: By Kilian Moonlight in Heaven — 4.0 points

Now is the hottest time of year in Thailand, but I am still forgiving of its scorching 38°C because this is the time when mangoes become ripe and I can enjoy the fine treat of mango sticky rice or Khao Niao Mamuang. The comforting dessert pairs juicy mango with creamy glutinous rice and coconut milk, and Moonlight in Heaven (By Kilian, 2016) evidently takes up this vibrant contrast.

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‘Khao Niao Mamuang’ — mango sticky rice

The tropical air of mango is suggested by a tart note of blackcurrant. Peppery and lemony notes lend their bright clarity to it, whilst a creamy nuance of fig softens its tang. A vivid green contrast recalling the green ivy of J’adore (Dior, 1999) tames the fruity sweetness. Perfumer Calice Becker is the creator behind both J’adore and Moonlight in Heaven, and her finesse is reflected in their fruity accords, which seem to possess the supernatural perfection of a Dutch still life.

Soon, the powdery sweet accord of glutinous rice dominates, rounded by floral hints of jasmine and orange blossom. A creamy note suggests the rich flavour of coconut milk, much like the sensuality of a moon-lit woman in the photograph by Patrick Demarchelier that also inspired the composition. The floral and milky rice powder juxtaposed with a tart mango is the lively tropical idea of the composition until the dry down, in which the sweet tonka bean of coumarin and the woody nuts of vetiver complement the idea.

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The contrast between sour fruit and powdery sweetness gives it a vibrant character. The mastery with which its radiant fruity accord is woven alone is worth exploring, and its toasty sweetness is just as refined. I especially like the way its tart cassis courses through to the dry down of sweet powder. And unlike most sweet fruity bombs, Moonlight in Heaven is composed. Yet, it is tenacious enough for the hottest days of Bangkok, during which I have been wearing it. Moonlight in Heaven proves that a dessert-inspired, fruity perfume does not have to be another boring tutti-frutti: it can be just as evocative.

Sources: bykilian.com, wikimedia commons by Terence Ong