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Monday, November 05, 2007

Perfume Review: By Kilian L'oeuvre Noire Collection

By Kilian press kit, available for all to read on, stirred in me two simultaneous and contradictory instincts. First one is an instinct to respect anyone who is capable of mentioning Rimbaud and 50 Cent in the same paragraph…because, heaven knows, my tastes are nothing if not eclectic…and the other – to snicker when faced with phrases like “nudity of another kind”, “quasi-Faustian ambience” and “the sound of ‘Hennessy & Buddha’ by Snoop Dogg seems to attain Nirvana.” The modestly named L’oeuvre Noire, The Black Masterpiece, is apparently built around three themes: Ingénues, Artificial Paradises and Parisian Orgies, and is no less than the “new take on La Comédie Humaine, Balzac's consummate masterpiece”. I would say that my tolerance threshold for conceptual pretentiousness is fairly high, higher than normal even (witness my love for Tom Ford’s Private Blend or for early Lutens), all I ask is that, when the posturing copy and the over-the-top packaging are stripped off, they reveal complex, imaginatively-constructed, striking fragrances. And so, I wasn’t necessarily turned off by the blah-de-la-blah descriptions. But I was largely unimpressed by the actual perfumes.

The Ingénues

“The woman wearing these fragrances epitomizes tenderness. She tastes like youth
but already knows how to deploy feminine wiles. Sin is just a kiss away.”

Love, which takes inspiration “from the Marshmallow”, certainly “tastes like youth”. Or, to be more precise, like the very pink and very hard to get in USSR bubblegum of my childhood. Not too sweet, unexpectedly delicate, the blend is whimsical, childish and, in a strange and frankly disturbing sort of way, rather sensual. I am at once attracted and almost repulsed by this Lolita of a scent, which, I suppose, might have been the effect the creators were intending to achieve, and, in that case, I applaud them. Those who loved Framboise Tralala or D’Humeur a Rire, might finally find their bubblegummy fix in the floral candiedness of Love.

Beyond Love. Whereas Love was the epitome of Ingénue, Beyond Love would have been better off placed in the Parisian Orgies category. Since when was tuberose (seemingly) innocent? As every self-respecting tuberose fragrance, Beyond Love is all about “feminine wiles”. Slightly mentholated in the beginning, the scent warms up and sweetens considerably, transforming from frigid to fairly uninhibited in a matter of minutes. In its heart, I smell a gardenia note, which, of course, strengthens the sensual white-floral impact of the composition. The luscious, expansive bouquet is, not surprisingly, my favorite scent in the By Kilian collection. Gorgeous as it is, however, it is not earth-shatteringly original. In fact, it strongly reminds me of Lauder’s radiant Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia. To be purchase-worthy for me at $250 for 50ml, the perfume would have to add something new to the time-honored tuberose genre, a quirky note a la Tubereuse Criminelle perhaps, an overdose of the star ingredient a la Carnal Flower…just being beautiful is not quite enough, in this case.

The Artificial Paradises

“To taste paradise, a man must defy holiness and magic. These fragrances hail from a new paradise, one that man has chosen for himself.”

A Taste of Heaven. I would have been shocked if this apparently Baudelaire-worshipping line did not have an absinthe-inspired scent. Although it doesn’t actually smell like absinthe, the sharply aromatic and smoky-sweet blend does in fact evoke the experience of drinking absinth…sugar cubes on a spoon, the pungently smelling “Green Fairy liquid” poured over them…unfortunately, something went wrong in the preparation of the drink, and instead of finishing the ritual by pouring water over the sugar cubes, someone dumped into the glass a whole tube of shaving cream. As the fragrance progresses the very soapy lavender starts to dominate A Taste of Heaven turning what could have been an original, quirkily gourmand blend into a cliché masculine composition.

Straight to Heaven. One absinthe scent doth not a decadent image create, and thus By Kilian also offers a rum-inspired fragrance. I like the dry spiciness and the earthiness of Straight to Heaven more than the green, soapy sweetness of A Taste to Heaven, but every time I wear it I can’t shake of the feeling of having smelled its boozy smokiness before…perhaps in Idole, Egoiste or Basala. Like Beyond Love, it is very attractive but I suppose not intoxicating enough to lead me into the temptation of purchasing it for $250.00.

The Parisian orgies

“In fragrances for both men and women, the Parisian orgy is a source of pleasure…. Bodies slick with sweat, hot with the odours of sexual favours bestowed and received during the night. In line with 18th-century libertine tradition, these two fragrances symbolize transgression, the pleasures of the flesh and defiance of prohibitions and conventions.”

Liaisons Dangereuses. The silky fruity-rose blend should have taken place of Beyond Love in the Ingénue category. Delicate and very feminine, it keeps its eyes shyly downcast making one believe that butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth, whereas its décolleté would suggest otherwise (OK, these scents have a really bad effect on my prose!) I think those who like their roses dewy, juicy and not too complicated, would be delighted with Liaisons Dangereuses. To me, slyly coquettish as it is, the blend lacks either an animalic note to underscore its seductiveness or a generous amount of, say, aoud to make it truly dangereuse.

Cruel Intentions. One has to give credit where credit is due, the blend is certainly complex: the iodine undertones of oud are apparent here as is the sharp woodiness of gaiac and the green earthiness of vetiver…there is even a frankincense-like note in the composition. But somehow the scent feels flat, lackluster. All the ingredients are there to make magic happen, and…nothing! The wonderful notes should perhaps been stronger to achieve the forceful, brooding, “cruel” effect the creators must have been striving for. As it is, Cruel Intentions is just not daring enough to actually ever participate in an “orgy”.

Overall, it seems to me that the perfumes, nicely crafted as they are, just can’t live up to the big, complicated, decadent promise of the concept or to the exorbitant price. As for the latter, it is undoubtedly in large part due to the very fancy packaging. So when you think that By Kilians are overpriced, remember this: “The Greek motif places this fragrance under further divine protection: Achilles' shield protects its wearer.” In immortal words of Snoop Dogg, Fo' shizzle!

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Blogger tmp00 said...

I was tempted by the "Liasons Dangereuse" and "Cruel Intentions" when I read the names. Thank you for going bravely into that "Rimbaud and Rappers" twaddle so I didn't have to,

10:21 PM EST  
Blogger Shi McGregor said...


I've always loved perfume and recently discovered this amazing blog. Currently, I use some Jo Malone (grapefruit and french lime blosson cologne), Park Avenue by Bond, and Christ 1947. I've run out of the Christ 1947 and now on the hunt for a new perfume, but I'm not really sure how to go about that. I want to be able to buy it in New York City, but where do I start? Am I allowed to just ask for samples? Please help! Thank you so much.

11:56 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cruel Intensions fortunately sparkled all over my wrists. The name means little sense, but the aoud, rose, and bergamot remain vibrant yet also soft on my skin for hours. I cannot call it--or the others--highly original, but Cruel Intensions is so well made that this doesn't matter. I consider it a very demure Montale oud, and my oud moods shift so often that this oud is a lovely thing to have on the dresser. Sometimes I wish to smell my skin through the oud and rose, rather than being enveloped in a mantle, however luxurious.

12:16 AM EST  
Blogger elle said...

I hadn't gone to the site and read the press. Hilarious! But I did try all the scents and was delighted to find that I won't be needing any. The only one I truly loathed and lost some skin in my desperation to scrub it all off was Taste of Heaven....making a sign of the cross at the memory. Straight to Heaven seemed to have my name written all over it w/ the list of notes. I did like it, but for some inexplicable reason, it fell short on the magic front. Laughed out loud when I tried Liaisons Dangereuses since it reminded me of nothing so much as Pez dusted w/ a liberal amount of cinnamon - a nice, bright, sunshine scent. I actually initially thought I might want a decant of Cruel Intentions, but boredom set in quickly and I ended up putting it on my fatal "forgettable" list.

5:30 AM EST  
Blogger lilybp said...

I am so glad you warned me about these! Otherwise, I would have been even more disappointed. Cruel Intentions, which I had been eagerly awaiting, was all Intention and no Cruelty on me--unless that Cruelty was TO me: it was nice, rather soft, and completely forgettable. I liked the tuberose one; it was actually better on me that the EL (which comes out smelling too much like Kai on my skin), but not interesting enough to justify the price. I haven't tried the others yet, and I am still curious about Straight to Heaven, but my expectations are suitably lowered.
Your descriptions of the descriptions, though-----PRICELESS!

6:29 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

You did it for me with Blue Sugar, so it's only fair :-)

6:39 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Shi McGregor,
I would recommend you shop in smaller boutiques rather than in big department stores, and, yes, just ask for samples. Jo Malone has a boutique, so does Bond. For a wonderful place that has all sorts of amazing "niche" scents, do visit Aedes de Venustas.

6:41 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I am so glad CI worked for you. A demure Montale oud is a perfect description for it.

6:42 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

None of them, thankfully, was a real scrubber on me, but, like you, I don't even think Beyond Love, which I liked the best, is decant-worthy for me.

6:43 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

All Intention and no Cruelty! ha. That can be said about the whole line :-)

6:44 AM EST  
Blogger marchlion said...

Fo' shizzle, dawg! You had me at your brilliant opening, and I loved you all the way through. Excellent post. I confess to a higher tolerance for conceptual pretentiousness when it's not of the New Age variety (I had enough of that in Santa Fe for a lifetime). But yeah -- if you're going that route, the frags have to follow through. I'm sure I'll try these, but I'm less excited. Word.

7:14 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Yo, March! :-D (Nah, I can't pull off talking like this :-)) I like the New Age variety the least too, I guess. But most of all I hate the "revolutionary" kind, the "world-changing" one. You know, the Elternhaus one :-)

7:20 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haven't tried any of these and probably won't, but just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading this post. Fo shizzle--- Tru dat.

8:13 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, I am so glad you liked! :-)

9:19 AM EST  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

I enjoyed trying them; I had not read the'hype' until recently, but I did get to meet the fey young thing twice.And chat him up.
Misguided, maybe- but not a bad sort.

Of all, the Cruel Intentions really sang a lovely ballad on my skin.

The names are droll and not very useful.

10:58 AM EST  
Blogger Ducks said...

Heh, wonderful write-up... I would have been so tempted to try them. I think I am still tempted to try "Love" -- it sounds so wonderfully wrong -- but it would repel my partner from sixty paces. Oh well.

11:18 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That marvel Chaya sent me three samples. I need to restest but none of them worked for me and a Taste of Heaven was more a smack in the face from St Peter. Honey, them pearly gates was well closed. Cruel Intentions was the best of the bunch and Straight to Heaven did the barbershop man thing to me too...

11:36 AM EST  
Blogger NowSmellThis said...

I used to have *some* tolerance for conceptual pretentiousness but it is mostly used up at this point. Haven't smelled these, not sure if I will bother.

11:44 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marina, what a review ! A sparkling read (on this very gray and awful working day...)

And I thought already, nobody can ever top Elternhaus' senseless blah-blah about their "MoslBuddJewChristHinDao" - but By Kilian definitely managed !
I'D LOVE to wear a perfume called "Les Liaisons dangereuses" which is made as nice&ingenious as the novel of Choderlos de Laclos' (which is one of my favourites !).
I'd trust Frederic Malle to do it...

12:53 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I am glad CI worked on you!
And I am sure I'd have enjoyed very much meeting the very handsome creator of the company :-)

7:20 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I think that Love was actually the most conceptually successful of the scents. It fitted the idea, the description, perhaps even the name, in a way.

7:22 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Exactly, pearly gates shut and dead-bolted.

7:22 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I am trying to think which one of them you'd like...*maybe* Beyond Love, but not sure.

7:23 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you! Gray and bleak day here too.
I'd trust Malle too, absolutely.

7:24 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These sound um, interesting to say the it just me or does the bottle look like a little perfume R2D2 robot? Or did I just have too much caffeine today? :-D

4:21 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marina it's all good comments of course, but give yourself a favor try it and see it and then do another review.

adios soviet buble gum

7:43 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi fragrance lovers and Marina,
I enjoyed reading your comments so much. But not as much as I enjoyed Kilian. Well, we all have the right to express our opinion, but Marina's review was too cruel and I don't think this type of cruelty would make intentions smelling any better.
Kilian collection is a masterpiece. Having tried thousands of perfumes, I fell in love with these ones. Les Dangereuse Liasons, Love and Cruel Intentions are my favorite. Other three are worth trying too, but not my type really, which doesn't minimize their beauty.
I grew up in Soviet Union and I remember that hard-to-get bubble gum. I also remember that selection of fragrances was limited to half a dozen. So I don't really understand how Marina-Colombina could develop that appreciation of perfumes that would give her the right to create reviews like this one. After all, it looks like a "hard-to-get bubblegum" criticizm that falsely brings author above the crowd which didn't have a chance to try this new creations yet.

12:26 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm late to the party here, but...

Thanks for the review of these fragrances. The By Kilian SA at Bergdorf's snubbed me during Sniffapalooza a couple of weeks ago, so I never got a chance to smell any of them. Not cool. So, I will never purchase anything By Kilian, no matter how good it is. Glad to hear I didn't miss anything special. :-P

1:29 PM EDT  
Blogger katrina said...

Well, I have tried hundreds and hundreds of different perfumes over the years, and I can assure you that Kilian's perfumes use enough musk and essential oils , to result in excellent staying power. The skin will smell for hours after, and your clothing will carry the scent for days. I love this, and the only perfume that comes close to having such a staying power, is l'instant by Guerlain. A refill for the perfumes, costs only 130, which makes you realize you are paying 100 bucks for the original container and that is very expensive for plastic, metal, and cloth. The scent that impressed me the most was Love- Don't be shy, and if you love sweet and yummy scents, this is it. The other scents, make your stomach turn, or give you a headache.

12:16 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful writing.
I think you have smelled Straight to Heaven before. It's a dead ringer for Fifi Chachnil.
Have to disagree, though, on Beyond Love. I'm not a tuberose girl. But I love that scent. I'm even considering it bottle-worthy.

4:44 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've not smelled any of the By Kilian perfumes but, by the sounds of it, I doubt they're anything special and are probably like a lot of the more expensive perfumes, i.e. overpriced and underwhelming!! I've heard that the original Iceberg perfume is a dead-ringer for By Kilian's Cruel Intentions but at a fraction of the price. Personally, I'm not stupid enough to want to part with excessive amounts of cash for expensive perfumes that are inevitably fairly ordinary, and the Iceberg perfume sounds so lovely, from reviews I've read of it, that I am very tempted to buy that!

3:22 PM EST  
Anonymous pharmacy said...

Thanks fore the great review. You make change my mind I think that I will give it a try.

6:41 PM EDT  

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