Peek behind the doors of London’s private members clubs, and sniff the rich tobacco that hovers over dark woods and boozy drinks in a haze of golden amber laced with expensive incense. That’s the inspiration behind Ryder, the newest release from Ex Idolo, a British artisanal brand. It is the sort of olfactory story that I normally love, but Ryder did not work for me, alas.
Ryder is an eau de parfum and the sophomore creation of Matthew Zhuk, the founder and nose behind Ex Idolo. On his website, he describes Ryder and its notes as follows:
Inspired by the history of the members clubs of St James and Mayfair, Ryder is a juxtaposition of sweet tobacco and aromatic esters against a warm woody-amber accord. The fragrance is anchored by a sparkling and ultra-rare Omani frankincense. Although inspired by the past, Ryder is a modern and unisex fragrance; it is worth mentioning that although many of the members clubs started as male-only, a large number of them now invite women as well. To represent this, Ryder’s distinctive character has been enchanced with a heady, royal jasmine note.
Sweet pipe tobacco
In case you’re like me and have no idea what an “Ester” is, it is apparently an organic compound where the hydrogen element has been replaced by an alkyl, like ethyl or methyl. I don’t know what any of that means, let alone what it translates to concretely for perfume notes. Not the faintest clue at all, but it seems to involve some sort of chemical manipulation.
Ryder opens on my skin with booze and cooked fruits washed in a smoky, woody-amber aromachemical. It feels like there are raisins and a few dark plums, cooked in a boozy rum and cognac mix, then lightly sprinkled with cinnamon. Labdanum’s chewy, toffee’d notes percolate throughout, followed seconds later by a sweet, fruited pipe tobacco that occasionally takes on a gingerbread undertone. It smells as though a few drops of ambergris are added to the mix as well, because there are the tiniest suggestions of a marshy, lightly salted, musky caramel lurker at the hintermost regions. All of it would be right up my alley except for the slightly raspy, smoky woody-amber aromachemical weaving its way quietly throughout. For reasons I can’t explain, it made my back teeth and jaw hurt, though that was nothing as compared to what was to come.
Ryder slowly begins to shift. The first tendrils of incense appear after 10 minutes, then become a real presence after 20 minutes. As they bloom, the lightly spiced, cooked fruits recede to the sidelines, then vanish completely 45 minutes into the perfume’s development. At the same time, the labdanum begins to expand, filling the air with dark, chewy warmth and richness, far overshadowing everything else in its path.
The result is a fragrance whose opening smells a lot like Tom Ford‘s now discontinued Amber Absolute, except with the addition of tobacco and significantly less incense. It also reminds me of an airier, initially boozy version of Rania J.‘s Ambre Loup which, on my skin, is heavily tobacco’d. The difference is, from afar, Ryder feels primarily like a mixed amber (labdanum laced with a little ambergris) bouquet. In contrast, Ambre Loup skews more towards the tobacco when you take in its full development. As for Amber Absolute, it has a good dose of incense, but the similarities are still striking nevertheless during Ryder’s opening. After 20 minutes, Ryder’s labdanum overshadows all the other notes to an overwhelming degree. If one were to approximate percentages for the breakdown of notes wafting from my skin, then roughly 80% of Ryder would be that one accord, if not more. The tobacco might be 8%, the incense 5%, the woody-amber aromachemicals another 5&, and the fractional remainder would consist of droplets of raisin-y booze.
But at least 80% in the first hour would be labdanum laced with tiny slivers of ambergris, and that makes Ryder’s opening skew extremely close to Amber Absolute in profile, too close for the fragrance to feel very novel. I’m not the first to make the Amber Absolute comparison as you will see later. That said, on my skin, the similarities are ultimately short-lived and Ryder becomes something quite different. Plus, even in its opening hour, I think Ryder has fractionally more involved, thanks to the pipe tobacco which adds an ephemeral quality to the bouquet, even if it’s a shimmering ghost that hovers behind the thick wall of amber.
At the end of the first hour and the start of the second, the balance of notes completely changes and, with it, Ryder’s profile and character, too. The aromachemicals suddenly bloom, pushing aside the labdanum in a reversal of roles and becoming the dominant focus of the scent. They have a smoky, raspy scratchiness that smells like Kephalis mixed with a cypriol (on steroids) and at least one of the woody-amber synthetics, something like Ambermax. But the Kephalis or Kephalis-like element leads the charge. It is an ISO E-like cousin with a tobacco-woody profile that Givaudan describes as follows:
Kephalis is a very versatile and rich product, used as a long lasting heart/basic note. It blends well with floral notes (jasmine, rose, violet, lavender, etc.) as well as sophisticated amber, woody-aldehydic, tobacco and masculine creations.
Cypriol (or nagarmotha) has a woodier profile but can also smell very smoky. As Eden Botanicals succinctly explains on its website, cypriol oil has an aroma that is:
Woody, deep, with smoky notes of leather. Adds a distinctive and interesting note to masculine or unisex perfumes.
Like Kephalis, Ambermax was created by Givaudan and comes in a 10 or 50 version, both of which have strongly woody facets. Givaudan describes it as
a powerful, fusing and substantive rich ambery note with some woody cedarwood facets. […] Ambermax is a perfect fit to our existing range of ambery-woody notes including Karanal / Okoumal / Amberketal / Ambrofix and can be used across all categories.
I don’t know precisely what is in Ryder and whether it includes these things or merely related cousins. I wrote yesterday to Mr. Zhuk to ask specifically about the Kephalis and cypriol, but have received no reply as of yet. All I can say is that Kephalis is frequently used for a tobacco note in perfumery, and its smoky, tobacco-woody harshness is extremely similar to what is wafting from my skin. Others find Kephalis has an almost ISO E-like tonality or vibe, which fits with comments made by two Basenotes posters about what they smelt in Ryder.
For the next 10 hours, Ryder pulsates out Kephalis-like tobacco wrapped up with raspy, scratchy smokiness, along with desiccated, singed woods and a leathery, smoky amber-woodiness. There are faint curls of incense in the mix, too, but they’re swallowed up by the various forms of dry, aromachemical smokiness. As is often the case with Kephalis (or Kephalis-like chemicals) on my skin, the tobacco feels like an abstraction of “tobacco” rather than the real thing. There are no spices, booze, cooked fruits, or jasmine. Just a Kephalis, cypriol, and aromachemical mix that gives me a migraine whenever I smell Ryder up close for too long. It also scratches the back of my throat which begins to hurt more and more with every passing hour; it starts to burn by the 4th hour, then feels as though a knife has scraped it raw by the 8th hour. From that point forth, I tried to avoid smelling my arm as much as I could, but I was masochistic enough to want to see whether Ryder would ever improve.
Unfortunately, for the longest time, any changes which occurred were merely fractional in nature. Roughly 3.75 hours in, there is the merest hint of labdanum clawing its way back from the periphery. After 6.5 hours, it has progressed enough to soften a few of Ryder’s raspy, scratchy edges. Not a lot, but a few. By the 7.75 mark, the labdanum manages a comeback, rounding out the tobacco and woody-amber synthetics with a stronger touch of toffee’d sweetness and golden warmth.
Finally, exhaustingly, by the 11th hour, the rasping chemical cocktail pipes down to tenable levels. Ryder is now mostly an amber scent laced with a more natural tobacco and more normal, gentle smokiness. It remains that way until the start of the 16th hour when the fragrance turns into delicious golden softness, flecked with beeswax and drizzled with a honeyed sweetness. And, yet, Ryder still was not done with me. I’m an insomniac, so I was up for the entire 24 hours that Ryder lasted on my skin before I finally had enough and washed it off.
It took some effort to endure to that point, and I certainly never managed the first few times I tried the fragrance. This is a scent where quantity made a significant difference in masking or showing the aromachemicals right off the bat. The more I applied, the more the lovely boozy and labdanum-ambergris bloomed in the opening and the longer it took for the chemicals to kick in. The first time I tried Ryder, I dabbed a light amount on the top of my hand, and practically recoiled from the abrasive, smoky woody-amber blast that greeted me. There was no labdanum, let alone booziness, rich pipe tobacco, or spiced fruits. All I could think of was Kephalis and cypriol (which I hate) wrapped up with black smokiness and desiccated woods. After 30 minutes, I scrubbed. It took some effort to get the blasted thing off my skin, a sure testament to the power of the aromachemicals within. The second time I tried Ryder, I applied more, roughly 2 small smears, and this time, there was some labdanum, booze, and pipe tobacco to go with the hideous melange, but not a lot. I lasted 2 hours before I could bear it no longer.
The version of Ryder that I’ve described in this review occurred with 3 large smears equal to roughly 3 small sprays from an actual bottle, or something a bit more than 2 and half large ones. The fragrance opened with 4 inches of projection and about 6 inches of sillage, but scent trail grew as the materials interacted with my skin. After 40 minutes, the projection was about 5 inches, while the sillage had expanded to about a foot. (Even at lesser quantities, Ryder wafted quite a bit in the air around me, much to my dismay.) When the amber accord began to return around the 6.5 hour mark, not only did the fragrance’s notes began to soften, but the projection did as well. Ryder was now about an inch above the skin, and the sillage much closer to the skin. However, Ryder didn’t turn into an actual skin scent until almost the 9th hour. My skin holds onto aromachemicals like mad, in addition to amplifying the sillage and projection of any fragrance that contains a hefty amount of them (which, in my opinion, Ryder does, unfortunately). That is probably why I had no difficulty detecting the scent when I brought my arm to my nose even after the 15th hour. In terms of longevity, as I said earlier, I gave up after 24 hours with Ryder and scrubbed it off.
Ryder generally receives positive reviews on Fragrantica and Basenotes. The former has more comments, so I’ll start there. Basically, people find Ryder to be a wonderful amber-centric scent with rich pipe tobacco, that is then laced with frankincense. A few people talk about the smoky woods, and two posters detect traces of jasmine in it as well. “Kxnaiades” writes:
As a sweet, dusty amber burning on a pyre of smoky wood with a generous helping of spicy frankincense, Ryder sits neatly in the unisex zone. Jasmine and tobacco are perceptible but not key players in Ryder, actually I didn’t pick them out till after looking at the note pyramid. Vanilla tends to smooth rough edges and create a creamy amber for me but Ryder remains rather rugged throughout. Sillage is average and longevity good. I love 33 but I like Ryder, my adoration for HG Ambre Sultan remains unshaken.
“Deadidol” gives the one negative review on Fragrantica, writing:
I wasn’t into the first Ex Idolo release, but I saw the appeal as the scent was a reasonably well crafted drunken rose. This one is a step down in that the construction and the effect are both mediocre. It’s basically Tom Ford’s Amber Absolute merged with Dior’s Fève Délicieuse. Fold a creamy coumeric note in with a debilitated Amber Absolute and add a touch of dried fruit-like tobacco and that’s about it. Sweet, cloying, and forgettable; it’s your standard, predictable “modern masculine” sugar-cakes scent. Pure, unadulterated bro-nip. [Emphasis to names added by me.]
His comment is one of the 3 reviews on Ryder’s Basenotes page. The other two posters really love Ryder, raving about its honeyed sweetness, booze, amber, and richness, laced with “Whispers of a ,Non ISO E Super, Wood and a beaming sliver of Frankincense.” “Pure Caramel” is one of those Basenoters, and I’ve taken the liberty of formatting part of his single-sentence post into paragraphs for reasons of space and more succinct viewing:
My first response to this was: [¶] This is Buckwheat Honey, then Mead! [¶] As the base of the fragrance lays down on my skin, the perfume becomes familiar. I have spent the day, in the Pastry shop, of my employer, working with, superb quality Butter, Vanilla, Winter Fruit, Cognac, Honey, Molasses. It is Christmas.
It is a scent that is at once, slightly cloying, enormously comforting, vaguely alcoholic. [¶] This subsides and what arises, is a counterpoint to the, wet, moist, sugary, fattiness. [¶] Whispers of a ,Non ISO E Super, Wood and a beaming sliver of Frankincense, heighten, incise the honeyed richness. [¶] I fail to identify the alleged Jasmine, so would categorize this fragrance as Masculine, not Unisex in intent.
For “Nefertum’s Muse,” Ryder was very similar in nature, although she noticed “a mere whisper” of jasmine in addition to the “woody nuances that are NOT ISO E Super,” and only got 8 hours in longevity. Her review reads, in part, as follows:
I sampled Ryder last week, loved it, then ordered my full bottle. I should say that I also own 33, which I love. [¶] Ryder is all about quality ingredients.
The notes listed are spot on. I definitely smell jasmine, although the few other reviewers for this don’t detect jasmine at all. It’s not bold, just a mere whisper is how I would describe it. Tobacco/boozy-liquor fragrances are one of my favourites and I get some really wonderful not-too-sweet pipe tobacco. The first time I smelled this I said “ahhh” and could almost imagine sitting in a London members club with fine cognac and pipe smoke. Somewhere in this I smell leather, but that may be just my fanciful mind taking over.
Like Purecaramel noted, there are woody nuances that are NOT ISO E Super, which I couldn’t imagine. [¶] Tendrils of frankincense intertwine with pipe tobacco smoke, then glide around the glowing warmth of amber to wrap everything up nicely. This is fairly linear, but I don’t mind. Longevity is quite good, lasting about eight hours on skin. [¶] For overall quality, I give Ryder a 10. I have no regrets buying this one.
A Basenotes thread on Ex Idolo’s 33 also includes two passing comments on Ryder. “The Beck” wrote: “I thought it was good, but it didn’t inspire me enough to buy a bottle, or even a decant. Surely not the equal to 33.” “The Hawk” said even less, merely “Quick test of this one today… So close to Tom Ford’s Amber Absolute!”
If any of the fragrances mentioned above appeal to you, then you should try Ryder for yourself. The vast majority of people do not share my issues with aromachemicals, can’t detect them, or don’t care if they do. Don’t go by my experience with Ryder unless you, too, dislike a large amount of powerful synthetics in your fragrance and prefer a more natural smelling scent. To be clear, I have no issues with synthetics when they are well-balanced, well-blended, and in moderated amounts such that the overall result smells natural and lushly rich. I don’t think Ryder does.
So, I shall stick to Rania J.‘s fantastic Ambre Loup for my rich tobacco-amber fix, Nobile 1942‘s complex Rudis for my journey into a London private club with boozy drinks, amber, smoke and leather, and Jovoy‘s Psychedelique for another trip to a rich gentlemen’s club via boozy cognac, amber, spicy patchouli and creaminess. Ambre Loup, in particular, is a luxuriously dark but perfectly modulated foray into tobacco, labdanum, and smoke on my skin. It’s denser, chewier, darker, almost just as long-lasting on my skin, and much cheaper for the same size at $149 for 50 ml versus $185 for Ryder. It may be as linear as Ryder, but I found it to be a seductive, totally addictive, luxurious scent. And, at no time did its synthetics make me recoil in horror or leave me with a sore throat that felt as though someone had taken a grater to it. So, for me, Ryder is a total pass.
As a side note, I want to say that I had really hoped to love Ryder, not only because its notes are right up my alley, but also because Mr. Zhuk is a very charming, down-to-earth, self-deprecatingly witty, nice chap. I know he puts his heart and soul into his creations, but I can’t overcome my personal difficulties with powerful synthetics in very large doses, and I can only write about how things smell like to me. Most people have none of these issues, so try Ryder for yourself if you love fragrances with pipe tobacco, amber, boozy sweetness, incense, smokiness, and dark woods.