A swirling vortex of gold and red lies at the heart of Ciel de Gum, an eau de parfum created by Francis Kurkdjian in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of Moscow’s famed G.U.M. department store. The fragrance was released in 2013, originally as a GUM exclusive but later available at other Russian retailers.
I try to avoid reviewing fragrances with extremely limited availability, but several bottles of Ciel de Gum found their way to American shores last month. The New York niche boutique, OsswaldNYC, obtained quite a few and the American decanting site, Surrender to Chance, began offering samples soon after. That’s still not the widest availability possible, particularly as OsswaldNYC only has 2 bottles left at this time, but I decided to review the fragrance after a friend told me that Ciel de Gum was available on the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website for €195 and could be shipped worldwide.
Alas, that no longer seems to be the case as of the date of this review because a search of the entire MFK website yielded not one reference to Ciel de Gum. Perhaps they changed their mind or, more likely, the fragrance sold out. I thought I would review the fragrance anyway, on the off-chance that it returns for online purchase. Plus, I’ve heard Ciel de Gum is available at Francis Kurkdjian’s two Paris boutiques, so perhaps truly eager fans might be able to purchase it by telephone order. (See the Details section at the end for the numbers.) [Update: one of my readers kindly informed me that the fragrance is now listed there again.]
Now Smell This shared the official description of Ciel de Gum, quoted from the Maison Francis Kurkdjian Facebook page:
A fragrance as flattering as an evening dress. A creation worked like haute couture that could suite both women and men. Its elegance is highlighted by the gentle opulence of a delicate amber accord, with notes of pink peppercorn, white jasmine and vanilla infusion.
The Russian Maison Francis Kurkdjian website has a very different comparison, judging by what appears when I use Google Translate, but I think it’s more accurate than comparing Ciel de Gum to an evening dress or to Haute Couture. The fragrance simply isn’t that elaborate or formal, in my opinion. That is not a criticism of Ciel de Gum; fragrances merely have different styles or aesthetic profiles. In my opinion, a much closer analogy is the Russian MFK’s comparison to an “expensive scarf made of natural cashmere [that] wraps and warms, soothes and fills [with] special sensuality.”
In either case, Ciel de Gum’s complete note list according to OsswaldNYC and Fragrantica is:
Top notes: Pink peppercorn, Cinnamon
Heart notes: Jasmine, Rose
Base notes: Vanilla, Amber
Ciel de Gum opens on my skin with cinnamon, cinnamon-scented benzoin resin, and amber slathered thickly on a delicate, pale pink rose. Generous dollops of fruity pink peppercorn berries, jasmine, and vanilla are strewn over the creamy, spicy, sweet petals, and the flower is then veiled with clean, white musk.
What’s interesting is that nuances or prominence of various notes vary in the opening depending on how much fragrance I apply. With a small quantity, equal to one good spray of Ciel de Gum, the rose, jasmine, and sticky, jammy pink peppercorn berries are very muffled, while the various forms of cinnamon, ambery benzoin resins, and the clean musk are significantly more dominant. The latter is far, far too laundry clean for my personal tastes, but it’s a quieter note when I apply a greater quantity of fragrance (several wide smears equal to 2 good sprays), and hovers more on the sidelines.
In both cases, however, the fundamental core of Ciel de Gum always ends up being the same on my skin; it merely takes varying amounts of time to get to it. The central, driving focus is always and consistently a rich, comforting deluge of cinnamon, ambered benzoin, and dark resins laced with vanilla. That core simply happens to be placed initially against a moving, fluctuating backdrop of rose and jasmine floralcy. The flowers are a distinct, prominent factor on my skin solely in the first 75 minutes but, after that, they retreat to the background where they shimmer with gossamer demureness before slowly disappearing entirely. The fruity pink peppercorn berries remain far longer, but the large dollops shrink with every passing hour into something smaller and smaller until they finally vanish in the middle of the 3rd hour. That is around the same time that all lingering traces of the rose and jasmine disappear as well.
As a whole, and when taken from start to finish, Ciel de Gum is creamy, spicy, sweet, and heavily golden in a way that feels far more oriental than floral oriental in focus. In the first hour, it is an incredibly clean and airy take on ambered cinnamon, thanks to the strength of the clean musk. At the same time, it’s incontrovertibly embellished with floral and fruity flourishes. Yet, ultimately, none of that holds sway. The cinnamon and amber become the main driving force, swirling around in an airy but strong cloud that envelops you with delicious coziness, much like that cashmere scarf mentioned on the Russian MFK site. (Except this is a thin scarf, not a thick blanket.) With the equivalent of one spray, the shift occurs after roughly 1.75 hours; with the equivalent of 2 sprays, it takes place around the 2.5 hour mark.
Ciel de Gum doesn’t twist or transform in a major way from that point forth. All that happens is its notes vary in their prominence and nuances. For example, the vanilla melts into the cinnamon-amber near the end of the 2nd hour, becoming fully fused into the main accord, but it’s often very noticeable in its own right when I sniff my arm up close, wafting dark but creamy ripples that lap at the cinnamon. The latter is itself a rounded, soft, beautifully multi-faceted note. This is not the woody cinnamon or tree bark cinnamon of fragrances like Serge Lutens‘ Rousse, nor is it the powdery, dusty kind that you’d find in your spice cabinet. Instead, this is the smoother, sweeter, golden sort of spiciness you encounter with expensive resins or resinoids. To me, it’s far more akin to something like Siam benzoin than the sort of cinnamon you’d use in cooking.
It is a truly lovely, spicy warmth, and it grows more interesting as time passes. The faintest whisper of smokiness appears when the third hour draws to a close and the 4th begins, turning into large embers of smoldering sultriness a short time later and bearing a subtle balsamic leatheriness. (Styrax?)
Honey arrives around the same time, possibly from Siam benzoin or one of its kin, adding a soft, quiet touch that darts around the edges. When combined with the amber, it is a quiet echo of the glorious Absolue Pour Le Soir, only in significantly milder, gentler, and definitely non-animalic form. The honey adds to the fragrance’s overall sweetness, rendering it a bouquet that definitely has some strong gourmand aspects, but there are also drier streaks that keep it from ever feeling fully like dessert. One is the resinous smokiness mentioned earlier. Another is a subtle woody, tobacco-ish spiciness that sometimes feels like brown patchouli but, far more often, simply smells like a different form of resin. Personally, I think a variety of resins make up the “amber” here. It doesn’t smell like caramel ambergris or purely like darkly toffee’d labdanum to my nose. It feels closer to a mix of labdanum heavily diluted and cut with vanilla, benzoin, Peru balsam, and possibly Tolu Balsam as well. Whatever it is, the “amber” accord is gorgeous, particularly once it starts to waft a strong, distinct booziness at the start of the 4th hour.
There isn’t much else that happens to Ciel de Gum. After 5 hours, the notes swirl into one and become a blur of cinnamon-spiced vanilla-amber or vanilla-ambered spiciness, depending on how you want to define the more dominant accord. In both cases, it’s a darkly balsamic, completely molten scent that quietly smolders and that makes me smile when I smell it. Near the end of the 6th hour, the benzoin resins begin to emit a sweet powderiness that gradually cover the main notes. A hint of the clean musk returns, though it’s not much and it’s thankfully overshadowed by the resins. In its final hours, Ciel de Gum is nothing more than a blur of a sweet, spicy, lightly powdered, dark goldenness. The process or stages developed more rapidly when I applied less of the fragrance, because quantity makes a significant difference to Ciel de Gum’s longevity, nuances, and facets on my skin.
Ciel de Gum had generally moderate to good longevity (depending on the fragrance dose), very strong sillage, but rather soft projection. Using several generous smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with about 3-4 inches of projection and 6 inches of sillage that quickly expanded to 8-12 inches. It’s an extremely strong scent up close, but light and airy in body at the same time. After 75 minutes, when the florals and white musk retreated to the background, Ciel de Gum’s projection dropped to between 1 and 1.5 inches, but the scent trail in the air around me was still very large at about 8 inches. The fragrance became a skin scent after 6.75 hours, though it was still easy to detect up close for a while to come. In total, it lasted just a bit over 11.5 hours.
The numbers were lower with the equivalent of one spray. Ciel de Gum opened with around 2-3 inches of projection, while the sillage was about 5 inches. The fragrance hovered just above the skin after 3 hours, though there was still a decent scent trail. Ciel de Gum became a skin scent after 5 hours, but it only lasted 8.75 hours in total.
Ciel de Gum receives very good reviews from men and women alike. On Fragrantica, there aren’t a ton of comments, no doubt because of limited access to the scent, and only a handful of the posters actually describe the scent in question, but they uniformly seem to enjoy it. For example, “Claudia0219” described Ciel de Gum as: “A heavenly floriental , smooth, warm, gourmand, spicy but not too spicy, soft and everything nice!” Others talk about the cinnamon, like “Sebjar” who strongly recommends the fragrance to cinnamon lovers. His review reads, in large part, as follows:
This stuff is amazing. It’s heavy on the cinnamon and pink pepper with loads of vanilla and amber. Can’t stop wearing it. One of the best scents I have smelled in a long time. Very unisex. Cinnamon lovers do check this one out for sure as you’ll love it!
Bloggers have really liked it, too. Victoria at EauMG called it “great” and “exceptional” but she was naturally and understandably frustrated by the limited availability, writing that “I’m such a practical perfumista…I’m also trying to talk myself out of this.” For her, Ciel de Gum’s opening bore Francis Kurkdjian’s distinctive signature in terms of his treatments of florals. Her review reads in small part as follows:
Ciel de Gum opens as something that is distinctively Kurkdjian-y. It’s that lemon custard with indolic white florals (something I now associate with him). There’s a voluptuous jasmine and a grape-jelly orange blossom. The rose in this is fresh and velvety. This man knows how to treat a rose. The heart blossoms on the skin. The dry-down is a spiced amber cinnamon bun.
Neil of The Black Narcissus found Ciel de Gum at MFK’s Paris boutique, and his long review is really beautiful. I think you should read it in full, so I’ll only quote the tiniest portion to whet your appetite:
These fiery spices are painted here with the trademark effervescence of the perfumer; rather than burn and tickle, they sparkle and glint as if seen through a kaleidoscope’s refracted sunlight. Soon though, these melt into a fuzzy, sepia jasmine and the same wash of loukhoum-like rosewater that suffuses the delectable Cologne Pour le Soir from the same line.
One of Neil’s excellent points is that, for all its sweetness, Ciel de Gum doesn’t actually feel like a head-on, proper, true gourmand: “Although it is undoubtedly vanillic, this is not a gourmand perfume. Rather its sweetness pays an homage to the lush balsamic Orientals of the past [….]” I very much agree. I would wear Ciel de Gum in a heartbeat, and that should say something because, as regular readers know, my tolerance for gourmands or excessively sweet fragrances is not high.
For me, Ciel de Gum is a heavily spiced, moderately vanillic, darkly balsamic, resin-driven fest above all else, and it just gets better as it develops on the skin, becoming more appealing and delectably dark as the base notes awaken, especially once the laundry musk that Mr. Kurkdjian unfortunately seems to love so much is happily bulldozed away after 2-3 hours. (White musk must die!)
When the dark base notes truly bloom and take over, there is something almost sumptuously decadent about Ciel de Gum and its richness, even if the fragrance isn’t actually dense, chewy, opaque, or heavy in body. (At least not by my standards). It is such a departure from MFK’s typically fresh, gossamer sheer, laundry clean fragrances that, comparatively speaking, Ciel de Gum feels practically like a devil-may-care descent into hedonism: “To hell with it, we’re going all out with the molten, vanillic, balsamic, spicy smolder. Let the rivers run gold!” God, how I wish he would do it more often. When Francis Kurkdjian sets his sights on decadently dark, hefty, ambered orientals, there are few who can beat him.
Unfortunately, as Victoria of EauMG pointed out, “Ciel de Gum is exceptional but it’s not attainable.” At least, not at this time in most parts of the world; not in America unless you rush to obtain one of Osswald’s last 2 bottles, or outside of Paris or Russia. On Ciel de Gum’s Fragrantica page, someone wrote back in July that Francis Kurkdjian told him that America might get the fragrance at some point: “Word has it (from MFK himself) that Ciel de Gum will be available to order online in the US soon. [¶] Can’t tell you how soon though.”
I hope that day comes soon, because I think Ciel de Gum is wonderful.
[UPDATE: Ciel de Gum is back on the French MFK website and is now available for worldwide purchase. I swear, I searched through all the sections manually, in addition to the name search, so I can’t explain its disappearance/appearance, but Josie at OsswaldNYC informed me this morning that this has happened to others as well. So, if Ciel de Gum vanishes again in the future, go back to the site and try later, because it should return at some point.]