Expecting More from the Top Shelf: Xerjoff XXY and M. Micallef Red Sea
With fragrance prices heading steadily into the stratosphere in recent years, it's hard to know where to draw the line. What's the new standard of affordable? What's the new definition of snobbery pricing if heretofore moderately priced scents are hitting $200 a bottle just for the Eau de Toilette strength? One thing has not changed, or at least it shouldn't; if a perfume is going to cost the equivalent of a month's car payment or even a month's rent in some cases, it had better be really good. (Check out Tom's recent post for a new solution to high fragrance prices.)
I have been testing some samples of higher end perfumes and two of them stood out as being less than deserving of their price tags: Xerjoff XXY and M. Micallef Red Sea, both marketed as unisex scents and both listed as being of the Oriental style.
Red Sea is by no means the most expensive in the ultra-niche Micallef line, being $190 for 100 ml. However, the brand's reputation had led me to expect more. I was a fan of the line's first foray into the U.S. market, and it's a shame that their original offerings are discontinued. Absent for a number of years, they came back in a big way with a long list of perfumes that sound original and exciting, so I was delighted to find it among a packet of samples I received. Red Sea's list of notes is neroli, cinnamon, rose, iris, sandalwood and white musk. So why do I get synthetic marine out of it? That was the last thing I expected, despite the name. That aroma softens after awhile but something screechy is left, and I hate to think that this company would be using a woody-amber sandalwood substitute; however, that's what it smells like to me. I am not getting a whole lot of cinnamon in this so that's not it either. The white musk is a possible culprit but it does not smell very musky so I suspect it's one of those “crystal” types that do not resemble the real thing at all. The end result is that this perfume smells rather thin and cheap to me right from the start and it does not improve over time. Maybe it's just me, but I would have expected something a lot better from this house.
I tried it several times in an attempt to figure out if my nose was having an off day or if the weather was a factor, etc. but it was the same each time, so it really does not work for me. It reminded me just a little of L' Artisan's Al Oudh, which I love, but it's only a faint resemblance. In this price range I would have expected that level of quality, or even something approaching a Serge Lutens or Montale product. With the field of Oriental perfumes so crowded in recent years, a new one has to be outstanding to succeed, and I don't think Red Sea has the firepower it needs.
Whatever Red Sea's sins are, they pale in comparison to the hype surrounding the Xerjoff line compared to the actual delivery. XXY is also described as an Oriental style scent, and here the term is used loosely, because there is nothing rich or lush about it. It is ambery, but in a wispy sort of way, and it gets very quiet after a few minutes – and I am the champion perfume amplifier of all time! It is refined and smooth and nice, but if I were buying this I would want a lot more than just nice. Other alleged notes include black pepper, jasmine, ylang ylang and patchouli, most of which I can't discern; all I get is a softly sweet, slightly buttery amber along with a hint of the ylang ylang and an echo of wood so faint I can't even tell what it is supposed to be. Lasting power is pretty good, but it just never seems to get interesting.
The fragrance is presented in a limited edition Venetian glass flask that is available in several colors, for about $1,800 for 50 ml of Eau de Parfum. Yes, that is correct; I did not add an extra zero. You can also get the plain refill version for $270, which to me is still too much. This fragrance may be the ultimate in refinement in its class, but when refinement reaches the vanishing point, perhaps a little more life needs to be left in the formula. This could have been really good had it not been formulated in washed-out pastels instead of deep jewel tones. (On the plus side, the special bottles are gorgeous.)
I found XXY for sale at Parfums Raffy, and a sample vial goes for $15. Red Sea is available at Luckyscent and a sample is $4. My samples were received as part of a random grab bag of samples in a prize draw.
Image credit: Xerjoff XXY Venetian glass presentation flacon in gold from parfumsraffy.com