As always, the Reviews en Bref are for perfumes that — for whatever reason — didn’t seem to warrant one of my lengthy, exhaustive reviews. In this case, it’s because I really don’t think I have the skin chemistry for the three By Kilian fragrances I tried from his L’Oeuvre Noire collection. In fact, I have not had such a miserable perfume experience in a while.
STRAIGHT TO HEAVEN (WHITE CRISTAL):
In 2007, Kilian Hennessey — the scion of the famous LVMH luxury conglomerate — came out with a perfume collection for his By Kilian perfume line. It was called L’Oeuvre Noire and contained a number of different scents, one of which is Straight to Heaven (with “White Cristal” being a subtitle). It was created by the perfumer, Sidonie Lancesseur, and Luckyscent gives its notes as follows:
Martinican rum absolute, dried fruits accord, Javanese nutmeg oil, hedione, cedarwood, Indonesian patchouli oil, ambergris, vanilla absolute, white musk.
I think “Straight to Heaven” might be more aptly named “Straight to the Doctor’s Office.” This is a scent that replicates the pure rubbing alcohol, antiseptic, medicinal scent of a doctor’s office or a hospital. It opens with a pure blast of an incredibly metallic, medicinal scent of the stuff used to clean your arm before you get a vaccination shot. Except, here, it is combined with fake powdered vanilla and sugar. Despite that, the medicinal note doesn’t have any of the sweetness that often comes with the medicinal note in agarwood. Here, it is really like pure grained alcohol and cold antiseptics. It’s like being in a hospital room after they’ve scrubbed everything down and disinfected the counters, before trying to cover up the smell by spraying some Glade Powdered Vanilla in the air.
After a little time, there are more chilly, mentholated aspects to the medicinal scent. There are also some soapy aspects that I attribute to the cheap-smelling musk. I don’t initially smell any of the rum that everyone talks about with this scent, but that does eventually arrive. About three hours later. Then, Straight to Heaven turns into an odd combination of Vick’s Vapor Rub and some oddly “off” boozy note. There is patchouli, too, but it is completely dominated by the cedar. Everything is dominated by that cedar. There is no escape from it and it turns everything medicinal. There is also an underlying synthetic, chemical tinge to everything. Straight to Heaven simply doesn’t smell particularly natural; the ingredients don’t smell rich, luxurious, or soft.
In utter olfactory exhaustion and misery, I went to bed, wishing I could scrub this off. When I woke up, there were still faint, flickering, minute traces of the fragrance on my skin. It was now mere vanilla powder, soft but with some sort of chemical twist, and musk. It was almost 14 hours after the time that I first put on the perfume!
A lot of people talk about the boozy “rum” nature of the perfume. I disagree. Strongly. This is not a scent that is predominantly rum in note — and certainly not a pleasant one at that. I love boozy rum scents, from Teo Cabanel‘s glorious Alahine, Hermès‘ Ambre Narguilé, Guerlain‘s Spiriteuse Double Vanille or Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille. Straight to Heaven is not like ANY of those. It is primarily a cedar perfume, though I would argue it is a medicinal, rubbing alcohol fragrance first and foremost. I’m not the only one who thinks so. On Makeupalley, where the perfume has a 3.3 rating out of 5, there are as many reviews noting the strength of that note as there are those who consider this a “rum” perfume. My favorite comment is that from “cerulfox” who writes:
My opinions on the By Kilian typically waver between indifference and derision, having tried all of the L’Oeuvre Noire collection and finding myself only liking three of the ten. Straight to Heaven is one of the dislikes. It starts off with a piercing cedar note that quickly disappears to be replaced with a strident booze note. I’m assuming that’s the rum, but on my skin it’s so overwhelmingly alcoholic I might as well have doused my skin in Everclear or straight grain alcohol. All of rum’s typical spice notes are muted and virtually non-existent compared to the screechy alcohol. This remains until Straight to Heaven evaporates into a puff of generic skin musk. Honestly this is more akin to Straight to AA rather than Straight to Heaven, the booze note is so strong.
On Fragrantica, more people find the “booze note” to be “rum” than hardcore alcohol disinfectant. The most amusing review comes from “gmstrack” who titles his comment with “Headline: Woody Oriental Drinks Rum in Hamster Cage” and then writes:
After reading several reviews, it seems like this fragrance is in a special purgatory: too conventional for some and too medicinal or dirty hippy for others. I definitely fall in with the too conventional camp, but at the same time, I find Strait to Heaven very comforting. Maybe childhood memories of playing in a cedar swamp have something to do with this. The patchouli could be dirtier, the cedar turned down just a tad and, oh yes, dump in something interesting (rum doesn’t count). Heh. 3/5
Well, he’s correct that it can be purgatory for some. Me, for example. I was incredibly relieved when it was all finally over. And, I was convinced that nothing could be worse. I was mistaken. Badly mistaken. You see, I hadn’t tried Love (Don’t Be Shy) yet….
LOVE (DON’T BE SHY):
Love (Don’t Be Shy) is another fragrance from Kilian’s 2007 L’Oeuvre Noire collection. It was created by Calice Becker and is categorized on Fragrantica as an “oriental.” If this is an oriental, then I’m the Queen of Sheba. It’s pure gourmand, in my opinion, if not a sugar bomb.
The most complete list of notes that I have seen for the perfume comes from Luckyscent which says that the perfume was inspired by a marshmallow:
Bergamot calabria oil, Tunisian neroli oil, pink pepper berries oil, coriander seeds oil, honeysuckle, orange flower absolute, orange water absolute, Egyptian jasmine absolute, Bulgarian rose concrete, Bulgarian rose oil, iris butter absolute, reconstituted civet oil, caramelized sugar, vanilla absolute, cist labdanum absolute, white musk.
Love opened on me with notes of neroli and caramelized sugar that were so strong, they just about blew my head off. Neroli always comes across to my nose as sharper and slightly more bitter and metallic than orange blossom, though they are both from the same flower and stem only from differences in production or distillation. Normally, orange blossom notes are one of my favorite ingredients in a perfume. Here, however, it is strident, screechy and damn unpleasant.
Following soon thereafter is honeysuckle, pink peppercorn, rich gooey violet notes, cloyingly synthetic, saccharine-sweet vanilla and musk. The orange and sugar notes dominate, however — by a mile. Or thousand. Though the inspiration is supposed to be marshmallow, I see more one of those bright orange taffy sweets that are pure sugar. There is absolutely nothing even remotely approaching an animalic, skanky civet note on my skin, no matter what the perfume notes may say.
As the perfume develops, it turns into a cloyingly sweet, powdered vanilla, with tooth-achingly sweet sugared roses, and sweet, candied violets. If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re not wrong. This is diabetes in a bottle. I have either developed ten cavities just from wearing it or 80 pounds. It is unbearable — not to mention synthetically cloying in the worst way possible. I am strongly reminded of those cheap $4 sweet perfumes for pre-teens, though I suppose the quality of this one is vaguely better. Except for that vanilla note. No, that one seems about as cheap as you can get.
Love eventually became less sweet — but that’s all relative. After a while, the orange notes receded and it became much more like a marshmallow with powder, sugar and more cloying vanilla. I have found I have much less patience with really unbearable scents these days and won’t torture myself for hours just for the sake of a review. So, I eventually scrubbed this one off. I simply could not bear another minute of it.
But, no, Love was not finished with me. Despite two washings of my arms with very hot water and much soap, there were faint traces of that cloying scent which remained for hours. And hours. I’ve read that synthetic, chemical ingredients are used, in part, because they increase the longevity of a scent and Love certainly proves that theory correct. The fact that Kilian perfumes cost $235, $145 or $135 (depending on the form in which you buy them) is a whole other issue. But I can tell you this, even if this were a $10,000 perfume given to me for free, I would not wear it. The mere thought of it makes me shiver.
As a side note, I also tried By Kilian’s Cruel Intentions (Tempt Me), his woody oud fragrance from the same 2007 collection. I’m not even going to bother writing about it. Something about the vanilla base in all these perfumes simply does not agree with me. I find Cruel Intentions to be equally unbearable, despite a list of notes that would normally appeal to me:
Top notes are african orange flower, bergamot, rose and violet; middle notes are guaiac wood, agarwood (oud) and papyrus; base notes are vetiver, musk, sandalwood, styrax, vanille and castoreum.
On me, that screeching, sharp, cloying and very synthetic vanilla simply overpowers everything. I suppose there are faint traces of vetiver and, eventually, some sandalwood — but they are hard to detect. I am simply bashed over the head by that same fake, powdered vanilla which made my stomach heave in Love (Don’t Be Shy). A number of people on Fragrantica say that Cruel Intentions is primarily a sandalwood fragrance. I love sandalwood, but there is no way I’m going to last long enough to find out. Plus, I have to say, I’m highly skeptical that anything will overcome this horrid, synthetic, vanilla powder (and white musk) that has been an overwhelming hallmark of two of the three L’Oeuvre Noire fragrances that I’ve tried thus far. As I said at the start, perfume hasn’t made me quite so miserable in a while. It’s hard to believe that these perfumes come from the same house which produced the oud Arabian Nights Collection — a line that is miles apart from this one.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to scrub myself clean…..
See, maybe where we are going wrong – in respect of Straight To Heaven at least – is that we didn’t play in a cedar swamp as children. I had exactly the same experience as you with these “first generation” By Kilians, with their special “house migraine accord”. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find Love & Tears and Sweet Redemption – also Rose Oud – perfectly “normal” perfumes, lacking this synthetic fug that likewise had me running to the sink.
Ha, the cedar swamp! Part of me is glad everyone else had a similar experience, but the rest of me….. Vanessa, these were so horrible, it was enough to put me off wearing perfume for a while! I’ve tried his oud Arabian Nights collection and wasn’t in love with any of them enough to want to buy them, but their quality was infinitely better. Unlike so many others, Rose Oud never got me (and Ambre “Oud” absolutely not) but I liked the Incense one and the Pure Oud was pretty damn cool. These, in contrast….. *shiver*
Those sound absolutely nauseating– thanks for the warning. I am going to cease paying attention to By Kilian as I don’t like any that I’ve tried.
I hear that last comment quite a bit. Everyone likes HIM and the packaging (though they would never pay for a Lock Box version) but the perfumes themselves seem to trigger considerably more lukewarm responses. At best.
Wonderful and to the point! Sometimes vanilla can be a kill-ah! I know what you mean on that scene.
I scrolled through your reviews but was disappointed that you did not post a picture of eye candy Kilian Hennessy 🙂 The only By Kilian I like is Prelude to Love. I have samples of the In the Garden of Good & Evil collection and they are just languishing in my samples box…and they may stay there unloved for a little while longer…
Heh, he really *is* eye-candy, isn’t he? VERY handsome!!! I was going to put up a photo of him, but was my stomach was heaving in such a way that I decided I needed to get the perfume off me as quickly as possible. I’ll save his handsome face for when I actually like one of his perfumes. You may be waiting a while…. 😉
Interesting how you have a ton of his samples and yet, haven’t tried a single one. Equally interesting how you’re yet *another* person who hasn’t really found much to love in the whole line. That seems to be a common theme today.
That’s some horrible experience you got there with those scents, Kafka! Oh my! But I feel you with those Kilian scents. Some of them don’t make sense to me either. Love made me nauseous with its extremely sweet mess. The other one that everyone is raving about is Back to Black wich I thought I’m gonna like but it turned super powdery with slickly sweet honey on top. I had to scrub that one also. Arabian Nights scents were better with Rosé Oud and Amber Oud. But those prices? I guess they are charging 80% of the price just for the beautiful packaging cause some of the fragrances leave much to be desired…
“Straight to the Doctor’s Office”! Somebody pick me up from the floor!
I hate to bitch as Kilian is most generous in sending samples but I never managed to see the charm. The packaging is great…..
ROFL. He‘s generous and the packaging is great — but a hugely studied silence on the perfumes themselves. Apparently, neither you nor I are alone in our views on that point. 😉 In a very determined attempt to be nice, I will say that I liked Pure Oud from his Arabian Nights collection and Incense Oud. Rose Oud was okay, too. But I suppose it’s all relative. Particularly as I would never actually *buy* them for myself.
Tee Hee…your impressions are spot on and comical to boot! Ahhhhh, now you see why I had no problem letting go of these gems 🙂
Yes, a fellow blogger gave me a bag of about 15 By Kilian samples the last time we met. That’s how much she liked them!
I knew you would have no problems with my giving a critical review to these as I knew there was absolutely ZERO chance that you loved any of them. An unbelievably painful experience! When one thinks of the quality of the Musc Tonkin, and then of these…..
Lots of people love them… I can’t imagine as to why…but they do.
So I have to say that I covet In the City of Sin not just because I happen to like the scent, but because I like that amazing white clutch even more! Every time I go out, I think “You know what would make this outfit better? That little white clutch by Kilian!”
That being said, even though the line is pricey, the refills are actually quite affordable if you can live without the packaging.
Funnily enough, I have been wearing Love a lot for the past week. I never, ever in my life would think that I would ever enjoy wearing something so sweet. But on my, it turns quite transparent and is so lovely that I am actually contemplating one of those refills. It has also gotten me tons of compliments, which maybe says something about how much people like rose-painted marshmallows . . .
I’m glad it works on you, Bacon Biscuit! And it’s always nice when one’s perfume leads to a lot of compliments. 😀
Yes, but I never thought I would A) like this one, and b) that other people would too!
It’s interesting how differently we react to the same perfumes. In that collection there were two (or three?) perfumes that I didn’t like but the two that were scrubbers for you weren’t that bad for me.
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Yesterday I tried a sample of Love Don’t Be Shy and I love it. The first half hour it’s indeed terribly sweet, but then it develops into a wonderful true oriental on my skin. At the end of the day I smelled incense, which I love. And it lasts longer than a day.
Wish it was not that expensive.
I’m very glad you found something you love and that works so well on your skin. 🙂 Perhaps you can purchase a decant in one of the perfume groups, or split one of the travel refills with some friends? It would make it much more affordable, even if it wouldn’t be a large amount of the scent.
I know I am late to this party but I find Love truly dreadful, I just innocently squirted it on the base of my thumb and it was like someone took a vanilla pickaxe and shoved it up my nose. I really like A Taste of Heaven and I find Liasons Dangereuses quite interesting but there is something not nice hovering under that treacly vanilla…….
Heh, I had to smile at your “truly dreadful” comment. It’s not my cup of tea either, but Love seems to be quite popular amongst the Kilians. I suppose it all depends on one’s baseline for sweetness, as well as for synthetics. 🙂
So surprised at the negative reviews. .I am loving straight to heaven! And I am so hard to please )) so few perfumes I like..curious what all of you people who hate STH like..♡♡
I’m happy you’ve found a scent that you enjoy so much, especially since you say that you’re normally hard to please. That’s great. Enjoy!
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I just spent my lunchtime in a Kilian boutique … I was told that there were no synthetics used, only raw materials … what’s going on?
Probably the same thing that goes on with all the companies that insist their fragrances have never been reformulated or that they contain no synthetics at all. Whether it’s Tom Ford saying that, YSL, or Kilian, it’s the same. YSL will baldly tell customers to their face that their bottle of Opium hasn’t been reformulated. Tom Ford sales assistants will swear ’til the cows come home that their fragrances contain no synthetics at all, only the most expensive raw materials, and I’ve been told that the SAs even get sheets to memorize with their standard schtick on this issue of notes, ingredients, etc. The reality is different, and there is no way that synthetics like clean musk, vanillin, etc. aren’t used in many of those fragrances.
And for Kilian sales associates to baldly state that the fragrances don’t contain any synthetics flies in the face of published Kilian note lists for things like, for example, Apple Brandy which contains Ambroxan. That’s undisputedly an aromachemical.
Its amazing that in this business there is such dishonesty which runs rife even at the supposed top of the market. I don’t mind houses using synthetics as long as they declare it on their materials and through SAs and charge accordingly for their product. If they use masses of cheaper synthetics why are they charging full whack? There is so much smoke and mirrors going on in order to cheat the customer who is treated as a mark by too many supposedly respectable companies. The three worst offenders who seem to be using tons of synthetics & then talking about only using “the most rare and expensive raw materials” are Creed, Tom Ford and now Kilian. Ironically these are all loved by the frag community 🙂 Its sad as those who try and create more natural fragrances and smothered in marketing BS by the big names and cant get the word out to potential buyers.
I kept saying btw to the sales assistant in Kilian that the various fragrances smelled different to what I had imagined … most seemed very ethereal, soft and light. I was looking forward to ‘sacred wood’ as I love indian sandalwood .. thankfully I didn’t blind buy the stuff! It was so soft and wispy that I was thoroughly underwhelmed by it. Most of the fragrances disappeared within 15 minutes and became a half baked skin scent at best.
Ps … this has raised another more worrying concern for me … I always wondered why female SA flirted so brazenly when I go to boutiques / perfume counters .. do you think this is also a sale strategy? I liked to think my attractiveness shoots up around fragrance counters for some reason 😉
A really quick reply since I’m in the middle of writing the next review, but you should check out my coverage of the Sultan Pasha Attars, almost all of which contain real Mysore sandalwood, in addition to real ambergris, real oakmoss, the most expensive floral absolutes, very expensive or rare types of oud, aged patchouli, and more. They’re incredibly opulent, complex, lush, and heavy. Only one of them would be described as “ethereal.” And a single drop of any of them goes a long, long, LONG way. Most are all-natural. A few have the bare minimum amount of synthetics needed to create a bit of note separation since so many of the fragrances have lengthy note lists of between 20-35 ingredients. Some of them make the now-discontinued Amouage attars look like water in comparison.
If you love genuine Mysore sandalwood (purchased from an Indian-govt. approved supplier who offers an amount within the govt’s annual quota), then you really should check out the line.
Appreciate your guidance Kafka. I was quite fascinated (despite recently blowing much of my ‘fragrance budget’ Dior’s Oud Isfahan) and so sent an email to Sultan Pasha asking for some advise on choice but haven’t heard back since last week … must be too busy making the attars! Perhaps needs a good secretary to deal with such correspondence!
ps Im really enjoying reading your detailed reviews .. looking forward to the next one!
Dear Kafka, first time commenting though I’m a long time reader and subscriber. Love your reviews and they are probably most thorough and accurate one can find. Allthough my experience with Love isn’t nearly as bad as yours (due to the fact that I love gourmands and hardly anything is too sweet for me) there isn’t a doubt in my mind that there are synthetics in this. I wanted to ask you what you thought of Back To Black? You didn’t review it and I’d love to hear your opinion. I think that one is the best in line, together with Beyond Love. I suppose the general esthetics of the brand is aimed at those who want luxury fragrances that are not really challenging to wear therefore have more of a mainstream appeal.
Welcome to the blog, Vernona. I’m glad you came out of lurkerdom. 🙂 With regard to Back to Black, it’s something that I keep planning on covering (have planned to do so for a while now, in fact), but something else always comes up. A new release, something more exciting, or a brand that interests or appeals to me more. What you say about the Kilian aesthetic is very true, and it’s one reason why I think the brand doesn’t sweep me off my feet on a personal level or why I don’t cover it extensively (unless it’s a brand new release).
In terms of Back to Black’s actual scent/aroma, it’s nice and I agree with you that it’s one of the better fragrances in the line. But there are a number of honeyed tobacco scents out there, several from brands whose aesthetic I relate to more, so I think how one interprets Back to Black ultimately depends on how one feels about the Kilian style as a whole (and that includes sheerness, lightness, softness, and/or simplicity as well). One day, I’ll get around to reviewing the fragrance in detail, though, I promise!
Thank you so much for your quick answer! I will be waiting for that review anxiously! 🙂
I agree that the honey tobacco theme has been done so many times before in so many ways, but what differs B2B from Chergui and the likes in my opinion is the representation of honey itself. To me, this is the most realistic representation of sweet honey without the urinal part often associated with that note in fragrances… Now I guess it all depends on how much one loves the smell of honey. And it’s fairly linear persistence. It lasts forever on me which is a plus in my book.