Xerjoff is an uber-luxury, Italian niche perfume house founded in 2004 by Sergio Momo. In 2012, Xerjoff (pronounced as “Zer-joff”) launched its Oud Stars Collection of fragrances which included Mamluk, a gourmand take on agarwood. Like the rest of its siblings, Mamluk was created by the perfume house’s founder, in conjunction with Sonia Espelta and Laura Santander.
The notes in Mamluk according to Xerjoff and Luckyscent include:
Italian Bergamot, Honey, Caramel Accord, Jasmine Garndiflorum, Osmanthus, Laos Benzoin, Vanilla Madagascar, Indian Oud, Crystal Musks, and Amber.
Mamluk opens on my skin as the most unbelievably sweet bouquet of lemon and honey with a beautiful, but faint, floral tinge. Quickly, sour notes emerge, smelling rather urinous, though simultaneously infused with an incredible sugariness. Thankfully, both the sourness and the pee-like nuance are very short-lived, and fade away in a matter of minutes. In the meantime, subtle whiffs of a sharp, slightly astringent oud flicker on and off, while musk, amber, and a warm plushness stir in the base.
What’s interesting about Mamluk’s opening minutes is that, despite smelling the nuances of the individual notes, you’re subsumed by the overall effect which is far more over-reaching, all-encompassing and lovely. Yes, you can detect the lemon or the subtle florals, along with the other elements, but Mamluk envelops you in a blooming cloud that feels absolutely radiant. It’s like a giant, yellow diamond shining in the dark, throwing off rays of crystal clarity and sharpness. And, yet, there is incredible softness billowing out as well. It’s like a juxtaposition of angles but, also, of extremes that’s very hard to describe. Take, for example, that lemon and honey combination. It is so sweet, it almost hurts; so intense, it can verge on the sharp; and yet, there is a radiant softness that almost glitters.
Ten minutes into Mamluk’s development, the perfume turns even sweeter and warmer. The citrus is heady, conjuring images of the fruit lying ripe, thick, and heavy on the branch, and so sweetened by the sun that it verges on the over-blown. The subtle floral nuances are simultaneously airy, thick, gauzy, dainty, indolic, and slightly voluptuous. Again, it’s the story of contradictory extremes. In the background, the Indian oud now feels so sweetened that it almost verges on the caramelized. It’s a far cry from the medicinal, ripe cheese and fecal characteristics of the very aged, rare agarwood from Laos that dominates Mamluk’s very masculine sibling, Zafar. The overall effect of the different elements in Mamluk is an intoxicating, honeyed headiness that feels almost piercing in its sweetness and glitter.
Slowly, slowly, the sweetness starts to take some shape. Twenty minute in, the heavy honey cloud takes on a definite salty caramel undertone. There is a similar salty vibe to the musk and golden amber, leading me to believe that there may be actual ambergris — that really rare, difficult to find, incredibly expensive ingredient — in Mamluk, and not the generic sort of “amber” that is used in most perfumery. The floral notes aren’t as easy to distinguish. They feel amorphous, and never like distinct jasmine or osmanthus. In fact, I don’t smell any of osmanthus’ tea or apricot undertones, though I detect something that feels a lot like peach. Perhaps, it’s the effect of the rich honey and the lurking caramel that have made the osmanthus into something far richer than delicate apricot. Over time, the caramel becomes stronger and more powerful, infusing everything with its sugary tones. When combined with the honey, the sweetness completely overpowers and overshadows the subtle flickers of oud, which now retreats far, far to the background, never to be seen again until the drydown. At the 40-minute mark, even the flowers feel as though they’ve been drenched in caramel and, to be honest, it’s a bit cloying at this stage. Have I mentioned that Mamluk is a very sweet fragrance?
Mamluk never changes in its primary essence, only in its shape. From start to finish, it is predominantly a very sweet citrus-honey fragrance with other notes that circle around it like planets around a honeyed sun. For the first three hours, the florals are the main lady-in-waiting, though they always feel abstract and indistinct. Sometimes the floral-peach note seems a little more prominent, sometimes the caramel, but, at all times, the star of the show is the tangoed dance of honey and heavy, sun-sweetened lemon.
The only big change in this period is in Mamluk’s texture which becomes softer, warmer, smoother, lighter, and less thick. The edges have been rounded out, even blurred, so that the whole thing feels more billowy than ever. The perfume feels better balanced, particularly the sweetness which, at the start of the second hour, seems much less overwhelming. Mamluk is that oddest of combinations: a fragrance whose potent, indolic notes feel simultaneously thick and airy, strong and light, voluminous and heavy, sharp and blurry. It would almost feel like a vague cloud, except you can clearly detect those main notes — limited and monotonous as they may be.
It’s only around the fourth hour that the notes themselves start to shift their place in the rotation. Now, the oud starts to peek out from behind the sun. It’s as though it needed the power of the other notes to fade a little before it had the chance to be noticed. Taking its place in the background is the floral bouquet which becomes softer and less noticeable with every passing hour. Mamluk is now a honey-citrus perfume infused with sweetened agarwood and the barest suggestion of rich vanilla bean paste. In its final moments, Mamluk is nothing more than abstract sweetness with the vaguest suggestion of honey.
All in all, Mamluk lasted a little over 11.25 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. It’s an incredibly powerful perfume, even when its projection drops from its initial heady heights towards the end of the second hour. At that point, Mamluk only wafts 3 inches above the skin, though it is still extremely strong within that small cloud. It takes the fragrance about 7.5 hours to become a skin scent, though it doesn’t require voracious sniffing to detect it even then. For all that Mamluk sometimes feels like a billowing, radiant cloud in weight, the strength of the fragrance cannot be under-estimated. I merely dabbed, approximately 2.5 large-ish smears, and I cannot imagine the power of Mamluk if one actually sprayed it on, never mind if one sprayed on a lot. My God, they might smell you out at the space station!
I like Mamluk, though I think one could get a little bored of it and exhausted by the fierce onslaught of its richness. It’s linear, monotonous, far from complex, and, yet, it’s also pretty, lush, rich, heady, and languid. Mamluk is really a honey lover’s fragrance, and not something I’d ever recommend to those whose skin chemistry always turns the note sour, urinous, or animalic. I’m lucky and, with one single perfume exception, honey always blooms on my skin, so obviously this review reflects that aspect. As a whole, Mamluk feels quite unisex, though it may be too feminine for those men who like their agarwood on the very undiluted, masculine, edgy, raw side (like in Zafar). Mamluk is actually a perfect fragrance for those who normally struggle with oud, who like it highly tamed and sweetened, and who prefer it to be a minor, unobtrusive player instead of a main one. It’s definitely a fragrance for those who love very sweet or gourmand perfumes. For me personally, it’s a little too repetitive, one-dimensional, and boring, but I can definitely see its heady charms. Mamluk is frightfully expensive, however, and I personally think it’s actually far too expensive for its very simple nature. However, price is always a subjective issue, and Mamluk does feel opulently luxurious, so if you love honey and dislike strong oud, then you may want to give it a try.
Stunning longevity on your skin. Zafar for me.
Zafar definitely seems to be the choice of those who love their oud the Laotian, untamed, super masculine way. 🙂 And, yes, very good longevity for me, though nothing beats Profumum Roma in that regard.
Urinous, pee-like opening? Even if it is only for the first 10 minutes, I’ll just walk past New York Penn Station or past ANY subway entrance (or really, just about any corner in NYC except perhaps the more chi-chi addresses) on a hot day to have that smell waft over me for free. Thanks for saving my wallet and skin-time, dear Kafka!
Only for about 2-3 minutes, Hajusuuri, hardly any time at all! And I know you love your gourmand fragrances. But LOL at the NY streets comment. 😀 I promise you, this does not smell like Penn Station, or the corner of Lex and 59th.
Or any big city in Europe…good God that stench you sometimes get from some parts of Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid… 🙁
Ew! Gross. I try not to think about it. While my parents were here, they insisted on taking any elevator they saw in the subway. They thought I was crazy for taking the stairs but I personally think the elevators are disgusting because drunk people use them as urinals 🙁
Your parents are a hoot! I don’t think I had ever been in a subway elevator and don’t plan on using one, ever. The use of it as urinals is probably not limited to the drunks…oh yuck!
Don’t. They are disgusting. My parents also sat on those nasty wooden benches in the stations. I don’t touch them. Why? They surely harbor bedbugs!
I have to admit I was very distracted by the yellow diamond 😛 , but when I managed to read the review I was impressed…mainly by the price. I don´t know if a fragrance deserves this much money, unless if it was absolutely lovely, but then this smells like urine for some minutes, no 240 euro fragrance should smell like urine, not even for a second, at least in my book 🙂 . I don´t think I will search for this, even if the yellow diamond is tempting, my perfume list is already too long .
LOL, that diamond is enough to send anyone off track for a few minutes! Spectacular, isn’t it? 🙂 As for Xerjoff, yes, their prices are very high, especially for the size of the bottle, though there are a few perfume houses which are in the same range and a few which are actually far more. Still, it’s too expensive for me. With regard to the urinous sub-note, that’s actually a pretty common perfume nuance of very concentrated honey. It rarely smells like the sort of urine you’d detect on a street corner, I promise. 🙂
Great and interesting review Kafka. You got me interested in Mamluk. I generally don’t fancy Xerjoff because of the prices (that I’m never going to pay and am probably never going to afford too!) but I like Irisss, which is lovely buttery and rooty at the same time.
Quality Missala carries Xerjoff here but they don’t have an Oud Collection in offer.
The prices are very off-putting, I agree. As for the fragrance, I think you’d like it. If the remainder of my sample were more than just a few drops, I’d send it to you. Hopefully, the Oud Stars line will come to Ms. Missala’s boutique soon.
I definitely have to give this one another try. I think I smelled them all one time at the store and got so turned off by Zafar that I didn’t give the others a fair shot. Fortunately, in Dubai, besides the actual Xerjoff store, these are sold a quite a few locations including duty free 🙂
HA, I can see how Zafar would send you fleeing and completely erase all memory of everything else that may have preceded it! It’s not an …. easy…. scent, that’s for sure. As for this one, I will bring my vial to our upcoming, mini Sniffapalooza, but there is so little left that you may not be able to get any proper test out it. There are only a few drops left, but I’ll toss it in the pile nonetheless!
This sounds so lovely and rich and deep. I have stayed away from the line because of the expense, but you describe them exactly how I thought they would be. I am turned off by the bottle though, why is that?
Is it the shape or the colour that you don’t like? I like some aspects of the bottle, but brown is far from being one of my favorite colours, so….. eh. As for the scent, I’d love to know what you think of it, if you got around to trying it. If you love honey, you may very well adore Mamluk. 🙂
I love a honeyed fragrance. What turns my off is the shape. There is nothing soft about the bottle. Who know why we love and dislike some bottles…I never could figure that out!
I did get a decant of this from STC. I somehow miss the pee stage (yay) and just enjoy the honey/lemon/caramel goo. It is darn sweet. But pleasant. I don’t know when I would ever wear this outside my own home, but it is nice to just enjoy the sweetness of it sometimes. I marvel at your ability to sniff out all the little details and nuances of perfumes. Thanks for another interesting review.
“honey/lemon/caramel goo” — GOO, ha, I love it. It’s so true. But it’s airy, billowing “goo” at the same time, at least on my skin, so it was an intriguing contradiction. Why would you hesitate to ever wear it outside of your own home? The sweetness, or something else?
Since I’m not a big agarwood fan in general, I have no plans to test this line. In general, the brand interests me but because of the limites availability so far I’ve tested just a couple of their perfumes and none of them warranted spending that amount of money (for me, I’m not arguing the price in general). So for now I’ll stick to reading your reviews 🙂
I actually think you may like this one, Undina. Seriously. The agarwood is so nonexistent, you have no idea. In fact, the Micallef Durand fragance with its convergence of elements creating an “oud” scent is a thousand times more oud-y than this one. This one is gorgeously golden and very sweet, perhaps a little too sweet for you, but I think you’d be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, it’s not easily accessible unless you order a sample. If I had anything beyond two minuscule drops left at the bottom of my vial, I’d send you some to test.
Hmmmm. Pretty sure I tried this one. Zafar tainted the whole line for me. I forget if Mamluk was even among the samples I had – I remember Al Khatt (gross, smelled like cheap beer), Gao (the most likeable), and Zafar (I won’t rehash my loathing for that one, lest I bore you with the sordid tale once again…LOL). Even if Zafar hadn’t been so traumatizing, the price would keep me away anyhow. I know price is subjective, but it’s simply too unattainable for me to lust after. Haha!
I think you blocked out Mamluk after your trauma with Zafar, because I know you’ve tried this. My sample was from YOU! *grin*
I thought I might have, but I didn’t want to feel a fool! But I suppose it’s too late for that! 😛 I have the smell version of amnesia for this one. I literally remember nothing about it except that I know I’ve tried it!
Honestly, you may have some perfume PTSD over Xerjoff, thanks to Zafar…. *grin* It never fails to make me laugh when I think about you and your reaction to that scent. You’re very lucky Zafar was not the first niche perfume you ever smelled, or else, you’d have escaped into Acqua di Gio right now and nothing else. 😉 ROFL.
I haven’t smelled a fragrance from Xerjoff’s Oud Stars Collection that inspired lust. Don’t think that this one will either. Especially at the price point. That being said, have you ever tried anything from Casamorati or Sospiro Collections? Those are the Xerjoffs I like a lot more.
No, I haven’t tried anything from the Casamorati or Sospiro Collections, though I’ve heard some things about the former. As for Mamluk, given your gourmand love, I actually think you’d like the perfume quite a bit. The price though….. ugh.
Casamorati’s Dama Bianca. On me, it’s swoonworthy. But the price!
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I so wanted to love Mamluk, with it’s beautiful honey and caramel infused notes. The honey is not generic supermarket honey like By Kilian’s Back to Black, no, this is thick, opaque and expensive honey, like niche honey by Comvita. The only aspect that ruined it for me is the urinal note that I just so wanted to ignore, and which lasted for several hours and unfortunately not for a few minutes. I asked my girlfriend her thoughts and she said bluntly you smell of guinea pig urine. In the end I have to admit she was right. Oh well at least Fars smells incredible.
Hello Michael, welcome to the blog. What a shame the honey turned on you, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. Honey is one of the more problematic notes in perfumery, imo, due to how easily it can go south on certain skins. In very concentrated doses, the really rich honeys take on a sharpness that can be extreme and often turn into shrieking urine and cat litter boxes. (Hence, the reason why Serge Lutens’ Miel du Bois is so damn notorious. lol.) I’m generally pretty lucky with honey but, even on my skin, honey has sometimes gone terribly wrong. Bottom line, you have my full sympathy and I can imagine just what Mamluk smelled like on you. LOL at your GF’s “guinea pig” version of the usual version. Very funny.
Hey Kafka, I really liked Mamluk and didn’t smell any urine or at least my brain was blocking it until my straight shooter girlfriend pointed it out. I only applied it on my clothes and not my skin, which is generally reserved for naturals…IFRA be damned. Luckily, I saved some and made a little attar by mixing 0.2ml Mamluk with equal quantities of ASAQ Crassna Oud and sandalwood oil. I’m wearing it now and the sweetness of the Mamluk is shining through like a golden ray of honeyed light. There is a slight sourness but I don’t associate it with urine, perhaps the composition has been softened by the sandalwood oil. Kudos to Xerjoff for having the guts to not only use real oud, but for pushing boundaries. Now just have to ask the GF on her thoughts about my little attar!
Adding to this almost a year later to share my Mamluk experience.
So I live close to Twisted Lily and didn’t even know it until a few weeks ago. Spent time on their website ferreting out scents I’d like to try and went today with my list in tow. To make a long story short, I didn’t love any of the fragrances I thought I’d love. There was something honey-ish about Hedonist that I did like but it didn’t have the richness I was craving. I told Alex as much and she reached for Mamluk. It was love at first spray and I purchased it (choke$choke) on the spot.
I had seen Xerjoff out of the corner of my eye on different sites but was never attracted to the name or the bottles! So silly the way we judge things. I’d certainly never read any reviews about any of the Xerjoff fragrances. Anyway, I came home and googled the fragrance to read what people have said about it, and yours was the first review I read. It’s very accurate. I’d say you really have to appreciate sweet to like this one, but still, there’s a little raunch to it with indolic notes. I wanted something opulent and different and this is it. Not sure if I’ll ever wear it at the office.
P.S. I mentioned to Alex that I read your blog and she had all kinds of glowing things to say about you. That place is dangerous. I can’t believe it’s right down the street. Yikes.
I don’t know whether to be deeply, deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeply envious of you living close to Twisted Lily, or to worry about your poor bank account. LOL. It has to be a combination of both. 😉 Joking aside, how awesome that you experienced olfactory love at first sniff! Those moments don’t happen all that often, so I’m always so happy to read about them. There are few things like a fragrance that makes you feel instantly euphoric, uplifting, dazed and amazed, and simply HAPPY! So, hurrah for Mamluk.
Also, thank you for letting me know Alex said some nice things about me. I don’t know her, but it’s kind of her and a really nice thing to hear. A wonderful note on which to end my Sunday evening. 🙂
You know, a strange thing has happened. I’m having severe buyer’s remorse about Mamluk. I loved it so much and I now I almost really dislike it. It is SO SWEET. It is SO STRONG. It almost makes me feel sick. It’s like I overdosed on heroin candy or something. Have you ever heard of such a thing happening?! I’ve actually put it in a box of out-of-rotation fragrances so that I don’t have to see it and be reminded of my impulsiveness. I wonder if the other fragrances on my skin and in my nose affected the way I smelled Mamluk?
Anyway. I think I’ll re-visit it in a few months. Or maybe I will try to sell it on ebay and take the bath. I’ve never had this happen! I usually know what I like and don’t change my mind. I guess this is a lesson learned. Ugh. Probably won’t save me from doing more damage at Twisted Lily sooner or later though. (-;
Oh dear, this is not good. I’m so sorry you’re going through this with such an expensive purchase! It’s not unheard of to experience buyer’s remorse when one buys in a shop and hasn’t had time to test a fragrance in full. It’s happened to me on a few (though admittedly rare) occasions when I’ve succumbed to excitement or circumstances, and bought something against my usual testing rules. It’s why I almost never buy something unless I’ve tested it first at home.
There are a few reasons why it might have happened to you. As you noted, you had other things on your skin and perhaps weren’t focusing solely and singularly on Mamluk. You didn’t have time to test it all the way through, and you may have applied more than usual once you had your own bottle. The other thing that people often forget about is that perfume shops have a pretty heavy-duty air filtration system to clean the air of all the aromas and scent trails from people spraying/testing. I don’t think that can change the fundamental character of a fragrance, but I always wonder how much it can dull or weaken the full scope of a scent and some of its notes. Perhaps that’s what happened to you in conjunction to everything else?
Xerjoff’s Oud Star fragrances generally are THAT strong. The jasmine Al-Khatt is actually bombastic in strength and power, imo. (And in the opinion of others, too.) It’s almost as intensely sweet as Mamluk, too. So, in all honesty, Malapert, I doubt your assessment of Mamluk’s sweetness or strength is going to change in the months to come. Re-visit it in a few months by all means, but don’t be too surprised if you feel the same way. At that point, I suspect you’ll end up selling it on eBay. You can also try selling it in one of the Facebook fragrance groups if you’re part of any of them.
You have my full sympathies, my dear. It always sucks when this happens, but even more so at Xerjoff prices. My only advice to you is to go with your gut feeling and trust your innate response: if your feelings rise to the level of intense dislike, trying to convince yourself otherwise because of the cost won’t really work.
Yes, I fear you are right about the fact that I’ll probably never like it. So odd to have such an averse reaction that’s totally opposite from the way I first felt. And I was very close to going with the lovely Moon Bloom by Hiram Green instead, but it was too similar to me to another one I just purchased—Nuit de Tubereuse by L’Artisan.
But I do thank you for your sympathies. I just had to share, lest anybody else is considering Mamluk. Not saying that somebody else wouldn’t love it, of course, as it does seem to have its share of fans.
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