Ex Idolo Thirty-Three

Matthew Zhuk. Source: Ex Idolo.

Matthew Zhuk. Source: Ex Idolo.

There are some incredibly nice people with real talent emerging on the perfume scene, and I think the founder and perfumer behind Ex IdoloMatthew Zhuk, is one of them. He seems to be a genuinely nice chap with a thoughtful bent, a self-deprecating sense of humour, and a passion for perfumery, both vintage and modern.

Thirty-three. Source: Luckyscent.

Thirty-three. Source: Luckyscent.

Mr. Zhuk is a London-based perfumer who sent me his debut fragrance, Thirty-Three (spelled with the hyphen) with full knowledge about my reviewing policy and my tendency towards bluntness. His obviously genuine passion for vintage scents, his desire to create something outside the typical framework of oud fragrances (which he’s studied a lot), and his down-to-earth affability made me really want to love Thirty-three. Plus, it has the most stunning cognac-coloured liquid. Alas, Thirty-three is not for me for a variety of reasons.

Ex Idolo describes Thirty-three and its notes as follows:

Thirty-three is a fragrance crafted from very special ingredients. The soul of the fragrance is built around a vintage oud – distilled in 1980 and aged until its release in 2013. It is also the only modern perfume to use a significant amount of wild-harvested Chinese oud oil and natural Chinese rose oil to build the scent profile. Contrary to most ouds however, Thirty-three is a surprisingly soft and velvety fragrance, and genuinely fits in an innovative space in terms of the wider oud category. Thirty-three is a deep and dark unisex fragrance, with dry and cold facets.

Thirty-three packaging via the Ex Idolo website.

Thirty-three packaging via the Ex Idolo website.

As Mr. Zhuk wrote to me in an email:

Thirty-three is an oud, but in a time where the genre is rapidly commercializing, it sets itself apart with a number of differentiating points. The most important of those are the tone it projects, which is decidedly less harsh than what is typical in the genre, but also because it is the first “western” mainstream release to use a vintage oud in its formulation – in this case, distilled in 1980 (hence the name).

Thirty-three has an interesting set of notes:

Soft black pepper, Candied mandarin, Caoutchouc, Chinese white tea, Chinese rose, Taif rose, Orris, Damascus steel, Rare, natural vintage ouds, Aged patchouli, Heliotropin

Black pimento pepper by R.Boroujerd via Wikicommons.

Black pimento pepper by R.Boroujerd via Wikicommons.

When I smelled Thirty-three from the vial, it was a plethora of: jammy roses; fruited, sweet, purple fruit-chouli; black rubber; fiery black pepper with almost a pimento or chili-like bite; honeyed oud; and a boozy cognac element. On the skin, Thirty-three isn’t very different at first. It opens with the fiercest pepper and chili note imaginable, almost searing the nose, followed by heaping amounts of syrupy, jammy roses that are deeply infused with the purple, fruited, molasses-like patchouli that I hate so much.

Damascus or Wootz steel  in a sword's edge. Source: vikingsword.com

Damascus or Wootz steel in a sword’s edge. Source: vikingsword.com

Then, the discordant, surprising twist occurs. There is a sharp, industrial clang that is chilly, sharp, pungent, and metallic. It has to be the “Damascus Steel” in the notes, as the note genuinely feels frosted and cold. Underneath is a black rubber element that is dry, dry, dry, followed by a rather contradictory warm, boozy cognac tonality. I can’t get over the nose-clearing pepper, or that iced, industrial steel which I’ve never encountered before. I give kudos for originality, but that doesn’t mean I love it.

Milk of rubber or Caoutchouc tree that later turns to black latex rubber. Source: rubberroofingshingles.net

Milk of rubber or Caoutchouc tree that later turns to black latex rubber. Source: rubberroofingshingles.net

The truly unpleasant part is the profound dryness to Thirty-three that burns the back of my throat, creates a tightening in my nose, and sends a searing pain through my head each time I sniff my arm in the opening phase. I’ve tested Thirty-three a few times at different levels and dosages, and the dryness consistently renders my throat scratchy, irritated, and sore.

There must be something synthetic in the base that is triggering such an intense reaction each and every time. In the past, the only thing that has made my throat close up is Norlimbanol, but I don’t smell that in the way that I’ve encountered before. However, Thirty-three has the same sort of intense aridness, verging on the dust in a land undergoing a severe drought, that Norlimbanol can generate. Perhaps it stems from the Caoutchouc element which is the rubber latex from a rubber tree, even though I don’t smell “black rubber” in any significant way after the opening minutes. Whatever the cause, the dusty aridness feels completely discordant and contradictory with all the intensely syrupy, overly sweet, fruited roses.

Turkish rose petal jam via amideastfeast.com

Turkish rose petal jam via amideastfeast.com

The black pepper begins to pipe down after 10 minutes, enabling the other notes to come through, though they’re often hard to detect under the tidal wave of pink jam. There are tiny suggestions of the dried, candied orange, but much more noticeable is a slight woodiness that smells of dried cork with a singed nuance. It is fleeting, and certainly doesn’t smell like oud in any noticeable, individually distinct way. For the most part, all I detect with Thirty-three are roses infused with heaping amounts of syrupy, purple, fruited patchouli molasses. Perhaps the problem is one of skin chemistry; my skin takes fruit-chouli and runs with it, amplifying above much else. Thirty Three is no exception to the rule.

"Cottage Garden Rose-Petal Syrup." Photo: BecR on Food.com.

“Cottage Garden Rose-Petal Syrup.” Photo: BecR on Food.com.

From start almost to finish, Thirty-three is largely roses, roses, and more roses on my skin. There are tiny, subtle variations at first, but everything is muffled under the thick blanket of syrupy roses. About 45 minutes in, the fragrance mellows a little, losing some of its discordant jangle, and almost all of its chilled steel. There are tiny flickers of something vaguely like dry woodiness in the base, but it often feels like a figment of my imagination. There is no question of imagination about the synthetic dusty dryness, however, which remains for about 3.5 hours as a strong underpinning to that fruited rose.

Other changes pertain to sillage. With a large application of 4 sprays, the fragrance softens after 2.25 hours, dropping to about 2-3 inches above the skin, and later turning into a skin scent around the fifth one. With a small dose of 2 sprays, Thirty Three becomes a skin scent after two hours. It’s always a discreet scent as a whole.

A little before the start of the 4th hour, Thirty-three finally shifts. The syrupy, highly sweetened jammy roses finally take a small breather, and there is something vaguely discernible as oud. It’s dry, lightly honeyed, and refined. Texturally, it feels very smooth and almost creamy. Unfortunately, though, it is extremely subtle and muted. Neither the perpetual force-field of pink roses nor the extremely low sillage help detection much. Before I know it, less than an hour later, the note vanishes.

Source: wholeblossoms.com

Source: wholeblossoms.com

At the start of the sixth hour with a large dose, but the fourth hour with a small one, the roses becomes very pretty. They feel incredibly creamy, and petal soft. Though they are still infused with that bloody fruit-chouli, the delicacy of the floral note is really lovely. Gauzy, high-quality, and very refined, it’s the merest breath upon the skin. A subtle powderiness lurks underneath, as does a lingering touch of dryness.

Thirty-three soon transitions into its final drydown phase. At first, it’s a sheer whisper of a powdery rose, but soon the powder takes over completely. At the start of the 7th hour, Thirty-three is powder with a definite soapy tinge to it, and nothing more. It dies as an abstract, sheer blur of soapiness shortly about 9.25 hours from the start with a large dose of 4 sprays, but after 8 hours with 2 small ones.

Source: RGPeixoto on Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Source: RGPeixoto on Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

As a whole, Thirty-three was a high-quality rose soliflore on my skin. It may not be to my personal tastes, but I can see how women, rose lovers, and those who don’t like conventional or masculine oud fragrances may enjoy it. For me, it’s very much in the same vein as Frederic Malle‘s Portrait of a Lady. I’m not a fan of the Malle, but then I loathe purple patchouli and syrupy sweet roses. Those who approach Thirty Three expecting a truly oud-centered fragrance — like something from Amouage or Xerjoff — may end up disappointed. The perfume may have been intentionally crafted to have a “surprisingly soft” focus and refinement, but to the point of having the oud be nearly invisible?

It’s not merely my opinion. The one review on Basenotes in the official Thirty-three entry reads:

Roses, Roses, Roseeeeeeesssss

Was intreagued by the add copy…..Im a sucker for a fancy presentation as well as oud so ordered a sample from Roullier White which arrived promptly in the mail. The liquid looked gorgeous with its dark almost cognac like hue and I applied it and…..enter The Rose. OK….roses are usually found alongside oud so now big surprise there but after 5 hours there is still just…..rose……

Granted,I dont have a mass spectrografer for a nose but I just cant smell the oud at all.

Quite a disappointment ……..

Well, I did detect other things in the fragrance, but, unfortunately, it was primarily the patchouli, and that incredibly unpleasant, dusty, synthetic element which gave me the most pounding migraine for a while.

Some people are big fans of Thirty-three. I’ll skip detailing the thoughts of Mark Behnke on CaFleureBon who loved Thirty-three, because he praises everything — always, lavishly, and uncritically. Instead, I’ll focus on some other perspectives. Octavian of 1000 Fragrances apparently wrote, sometime this summer, a positive review which I can no longer pull up to link for you. (His site is now closed down, and he has moved onto other things.) However, a small part is quoted on the Ex Idolo website, and reads:

One of the most spectacular compositions of the year comes from an unexpected place… Thirty Three is not “une odeur”, but “un esprit” a quality which refers to the ability of a perfume to “bloom” when you wear it like a living masterpiece.

Tara of Olfactoria’s Travels also enjoyed it, writing:

Thirty-three is extremely well blended. Apart from a burst of mandarin at the start and a beautifully deep red rose accord that persists throughout, the rest of the notes seep seamlessly into the pillowy bed of oud. It is sophisticated and seductive in the mould of the wonderful Rose Oud from By Kilian.

For some reason, I had suspected Thirty-three would be rather masculine, but that’s not the case. It isn’t a macho, hairy-chested, animalic oud at all. It’s highly refined and undeniably soft. It has that skin-melding quality which gives it a sensuous, understated elegance.

She’s right that Thirty-three isn’t masculine, and I actually agree on the issue of a similarity to a Kilian fragrance. In my case, however, I wasn’t thinking only of Rose Oud, but of Amber Oud which is remarkable for not smelling even remotely of oud on my skin. (Nor on that of many others.) Yes, Thirty-three is definitely a feminine fragrance with so little discernible, hardcore oud in it that it feels quite like a Kilian. High quality, pillowy, feminine roses all the way.

The feminine aspect was noted by a reviewer on a different Basenotes thread. As one of two people who had tried the perfume, “gandhajala” wrote:

Gave this a sniff briefly on a mouillette: the oud and whatnot came across as quite woody with slight spice/leather/ tobacco facets; the rose is nice, but personally, I’ve had my fill of oud+rose.
This is certainly not a dirty oud by oud standards and many people on the evening seemed to find the fragrance quite femme.

I didn’t enjoy Thirty-three, but it’s all a matter of personal taste and one’s subjective valuation of certain notes. I think there is a definite segment of the perfume market who may love the perfume. Those who enjoy the heavy patchouli-rose aspect of Malle’s POAL, the pillowy softness of a Kilian scent, the refined cleanness of his ouds, ultra-feminine rose soliflores, or fragrances with almost no major, masculine oud at all, may want to give Thirty Three a sniff. It’s clearly high-quality, and intended to be a super refined take on the note. I think Mr. Zhuk has definite talent, and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Disclosure: Sample provided by Ex Idolo. That did not affect this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own. My first obligation is honesty to my readers.

Cost & Availability: Thirty Three is an eau de parfum that is available only in a 30 ml size and which costs $120, CAD $125, or £90. In the U.S.: You can find Thirty Three at Luckyscent and the Twisted Lily. At the time of this review, Luckyscent is back-ordered. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Thirty Three at Etiket. In the UK, the perfume is available at Roullier White, which also sells samples and which ships throughout the EU. It is also sold at Fenwick, though I couldn’t find Thirty Three online. For other sites in the US, Canada, Hungary, and London, you can check out Ex Idolo’s Purchase page. Further vendors should carry the perfume in 2014. Samples: you can order samples of Thirty Three from a number of the sites listed above. You can also try Surrender to Chance which sells 33 starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

20 thoughts on “Ex Idolo Thirty-Three

  1. Dearest Kafka, you are bluntness personified! How I wish I could be doing a smell along as I have a small decant of Ex Idolo Thirty-Three but alas, today, I’m in a cloud of Puredistance Black and can’t smell anything else. I am quite determined to smell the vintage oud in this, given the big deal about its presence.

    • Promise me you’ll let me know if you find Waldo… er… I mean, the oud. 😉

      As for Puredistance Black, I was just thinking about that while writing this review. It’s another one with lots of purple patchouli and roses! Granted, that one is more than a patchouli-rose soliflore, but…. *sigh*

    • I think Rose Oud has much more noticeable oud in it than 33 does, but it is undoubtedly an issue of skin chemistry. I do think you’d like 33, Mr. Hound, and I encourage you to try it. If I recall correctly, it’s not just the Rose Oud that you love, but also Portrait of a Lady. So, you’re well set. Plus, 33 has very much a Kilian feel. I’m not a fan of Kilian’s fragrances, but I know I’m in the minority on that point, and that many others think them to be wonderfully smooth and refined.

      • K – I find that I like Kilian’s Arabian Nights collection…but past that I have not found anything to my liking. And I do like P of a Lady…but I really have to be in the mood to wear it. And lately I have not been in that mood. Interesting…

  2. Oh…my. Um, at least I like the packaging? 😀 Actually, I know that Portrait of a Lady has many adoring fans, so such a comparison will surely intrigue some folks. Alas, I really did not enjoy Portrait of a Lady and this sounds like it has potential, but that it falls short in a few different dimensions.

    Maybe the non-oud smelling oud note is the last stage in the oud domination. The first step was it being in everything. The next step is *saying* it’s in everything, even when it’s not. Lastly, we wean people off even the mention of it altogether. 😛 One can dream. I’ve decided I really don’t hate oud, I think I’m just sort of sick of it and in certain manifestations it smells quite putrid and gross to me. I like the rose/oud combo, but it’s been done to death, and then they did it some more. I wonder what the next “oud” will be.

    Thank you, though, for another honest review. Perhaps the biggest virtue of your blog, aside from the quality of the writing, is that it’s very clear your opinions aren’t influenced by the source of your sample. You straddle the line between being diplomatic and straightforward beautifully, and I’m really glad to have an honest source for information about some of these new releases .

    • “Oud domination” made me laugh. It is a note that seems intent on trying to take over the perfume world, doesn’t it? I don’t think that 33 was intended to be a purely oud fragrance, which is just as well given it’s only momentary appearance on my skin. I think Mr. Zhuk was reaching outside the box with the dry and metallic/cold tonalities. I’m afraid I just didn’t like either aspect as it appeared on my skin.

      As for that fine line, thank you. It’s not easy, especially when you think the perfumer is a genuinely nice chap with actual talent, someone who has worked very hard to create what is basically his baby, and who does things with a true passion. This review was not something I enjoyed writing, and I struggled with it a lot.

      But I do think that a lot of people will really like his fragrance. I truly do. You simply have to have a certain sort of taste and perfume style.

  3. When I tried this, I got a bit of rose, a bit of oud, and then loud unending patchouli. I much prefer Kilian Rose Oud and Malle POaL to Ex Idolo Thirty-Three… I guess the type of patchouli in POaL is more to my taste? I like the raspberry note in that one too.

    • Really interesting. How was the patchouli different here, on your skin, than in POAL? Or was it a question of degree more than kind? For me, purple fruit-chouli makes pretty much everything a No Go, especially when combined with roses. I wish purple patchouli would die a far quicker death than oud as a perfume trend. 🙁

      • Hmm, the patchouli in Thirty-Three was off-putting, kind of rough and scratchy, hard to describe. In POAL it smells smoother and cleaner to me, and there is less of it overall.

        • I bet the “rough and scratchy” part was the very dry aspect (from the Caoutchouc?) that I struggled with, and which was probably infused with the patchouli on your skin. The perfume definitely has that very dry aromachemical aspect that POAL or Kilian’s Rose Oud doesn’t have. You’re right that the patchouli is smoother in POAL, though perhaps even sweeter there as a result (on some skin, like on mine). Thank you for explaining, Tara. I’m relieved that someone else got the same scratchy dryness as I did at one point.

  4. I love PoaL so I will be very curious to try 3-3… Do you think I’ll like it? (sometime I think that you know my tastes better than I do 😉 )

    • I think you’d like it very much, and I was thinking of you while writing the review. You should definitely try to give this a sniff. I don’t know if it will overcome your passion for POAL, but then, would anything? 😉 I think it’s better to go into this thinking of 33 as a sort of Kilian-type of oud (ie, mostly a non-oud) with roses, than the Malle, and then you may enjoy it. I don’t know about the dusty, super dry bits, but you’re not very sensitive to aromachemicals and often don’t notice them, so you should be safe in that regard too.

  5. I like this one! I do smell oud, but not enough to turn me off, so that might be a hint to my level of appreciation for oud? I need to re-test this one and see if it was a figment of my imagination. 🙂 But regardless, it smells good. And to Undina: I think you’d like it.

    • LOL, I think it definitely is a question of one’s yardstick regarding Oud. Those whose goal posts or definition of an “oud” fragrance are set at one extreme, will have one sort of reaction, while those whose yardstick or goalposts measure “oud” differently will have a different reaction. All of which is to say, I think you gave me a clear hint as to your personal level of appreciation for oud, and your individual yardstick. 😉 😛 And I agree with you that Undina will very much enjoy this fragrance.

  6. I have now tried this twice, and I had the same reaction both times. It is VERY strong and it kind of hurts my nose. This is a rose with steel blades projecting from it’s stem instead of thorns. I can’t tell if the industrial cleaner smell is from pepper or oud or what. I guess you could say that there is a vague resemblance to Rose Oud, but that is so much softer and accessible and sweeter, or maybe I mean ‘kinder’. Sadly, this was a scrubber for me, after about 15 minutes the second time, I just wanted to get away from the nose singeing pain. Kafka, maybe it is some strong aromachemical responsible. But I think that someone who likes strong long lasting high sillage roses would like this. It is a monster!

    • I’ve thought about it, and it must be the “Damascus Steel” note that has gone full-blown and into beserker mode on your skin. I experienced a painful aridity as well, and it’s definitely not natural but an aromachemical, though I have no idea which one. Whatever it is, it can definitely singe the nose in the dryness and weird metallic iciness, but it was much milder on me than it seems to be on you. You poor, poor thing. It was bad enough on me in a limited, brief way, so I can only imagine what happened on your skin.

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