Al-Kimiya is the latest brand from Sergio Momo, the founder of Xerjoff, Casamorati, and Sospiro. In America, Luckyscent calls it Kemi, but that seems to be the exception to the rule. “Al-Kimiya” means “alchemy” in Arabic, and the house launched in 2014 with eight fragrances, each bearing a name derived from alchemical or Arabic traditions. (As a side note, “Al-Kimiya” is also the name of an unrelated collection from Parfums d’Orsay.) Out of Al-Kimiya or Kemi’s eight fragrances, four are eau de parfums, two are parfums, and two are attars or concentrated perfume oils (CPOs). Tempest is one of the attars, while Layla is one of the eau de parfums. I’ll take a look at each in turn.
Tempest is an attar or concentrated perfume oil (CPO). According to Luckyscent, its notes include:
Bergamot, lemon, orange, petitgrain, lavender, elemi, ginger, cedar, cypriol, gurjum balsam, cashmeran, jasmine, rose, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, amber, oud.
Tempest opens on my skin with a juicy, rubied rose drenched in purple-hued patchouli that smells like gooey raspberry jam. The flower is splattered with bergamot, sour lemon, sweet orange, and a pinch of ginger. There is also something that, for a fleeting moment, smells like cumin. It’s a rather sweaty spice note that I detected in several of my tests but it only lasts a minute or two and is quickly overshadowed by ISO E Super and sharp, clean musk. The rose rests atop a trio of synthetics in the base: cedar; a musky and cedar-tinged amber aromachemical in the vein of AmberMax; and Javanol, an arid, highly smoky “sandalwood.” In the early moments, though, the primary focus is on the rose, an intensely sweet, sticky concoction accompanied by citrus fruits and red berries, then amplified further by layer upon layer of fruitchouli.
It would be akin to an Homage-style attar, except Amouage never gave its rose such an unbalanced nature. I don’t know what overwhelms my nose more. In initial tests with a moderate amount of fragrance, a few small smears of oil, it was unquestionably the boatload of ISO E-like aromachemicals, though it’s difficult to say whether the chemical soup stems from actual ISO E Supercrappy or whether it’s merely a side-effect of the aggressive quantity of wood and woody-amber aromachemicals, several of which can manifest an ISO E-like facet at high doses. In one test, what overwhelmed me was the intensely laundry-like sharpness of the white musk which made me grimace. In two tests, I used a slightly larger quantity of fragrance to see if that would bring out nuances other than aromachemicals. And, for a brief time, it did. The larger dosage emphasized the fruitchouli, amplifying its volume and excessively syrupy quality to a degree that repelled me, but then it launched the chemical blitzkrieg anew. At all levels, though, Tempest is one very sweet, very chemical fragrance with most of its parts feeling equally loud, bombastic, and unbalanced.
Homage may be now discontinued, but there are better alternatives out there than Tempest. Al Haramain‘s Mukhallath Seufi attar emulates Homage far more closely and, somehow, they have managed to create an immensely opulent, grandiose, 3D opening without ever seeming so lopsided or tawdry. Their intense, rich, strong, and lushly spiced, ambered, woody, fruity rose was over-the-top in a way that felt simply like super-saturated photorealism, not bombastic imbalance. Even better, their opening never screamed synthetics.
Tempest falls short on every single one of these counts, but the painfully aggressive, overt chemicals are the worse sin at this price point. It smells like a barely elevated version of one of the cheap Arab attars, but those don’t go for $270 or €240 for 15 ml. The superior (and far more complex) Al Haramain costs €140, and can be found at a further discount in America for around $92, though I grant you that the bottle is a smaller size. But the point is that it’s a better fragrance in both aroma, complexity, and quality.
I’ve tried Tempest several times, and it was a scrubber each time. I found it to be such an unpleasant experience from the start that it took me four attempts to last a mere 2 hours. The first time, I was so repelled by the aggressiveness of the various wood, woody-amber, and ISO E-like chemicals, I scrubbed it off after less than 10 minutes. The third time, I gave up at the end of the first hour which is precisely when the chemical soup turns up several notches in volume. The fake cedar and the increasingly smoky Javanol grew louder and louder, their scratchy roughness and aridity cutting through some of the fruitchouli’s syrup and the fragrance’s general fruitiness. Whenever I smelt my arm up close for too long, I experienced sharp shooting pains through my eye.
My final 2-hour foray the fourth time around was an attempt to see if Tempest would develop some saving grace or additional layer of complexity in its second hour, but it didn’t. Attars tend to last 16-24 hours on me, depending on the amount I apply, so Tempest may well have shown some twist or change later on, but I don’t have that sort of patience or masochism these days. Not when something is so physically difficult to wear from the very first sniff. Plus, as you’ll see in a moment, a Luckyscent review indicated that things would only get worse in the drydown, not better.
There aren’t many reviews for Tempest at this time. On Fragrantica (which lists all the fragrances under the Al Kimiya brand name, not Kemi), there are only two comments thus far. One is written in Arabic; the other merely mentions how 4 drops of the scent lasted 24 hours and says “great.” On Luckyscent, the sole review is a negative one from “Dave” who seems to have experienced the same thing that I did:
This probably contains the maximum amount of iso-e super allowed, and it smells like it. The drydown is one huge blast of it. If I wanted that I’d wear Fierce or something, this is horrible. Sorry.
Even if Tempest had revealed further nuances and complexity down the road, I would still never recommend it except perhaps to those who love Montale-style fragrances, are looking for such scents in concentrated oil form, and don’t care about something being over-priced. For everyone else, life is too short for expensive fragrances to be such an ordeal. There are better fragrances in the same vein for less. If you want a chemical soup attar, you can pay less for that elsewhere, too. However, if you have no issues with intense aromachemicals and enjoy attars, you may want to give it a try for yourself.
Layla is an eau de parfum, not an attar or CPO. According to Luckyscent, the note list is:
Clove, nutmeg, ylang-ylang, cedar, wood, amber, patchouli, musk, vanilla
Layla opens on my skin with creamy, sweet vanilla layered atop a clean floral that’s been imbued with white musk, then lightly sprinkled with sweet, dry, and woody brown spices before being placed on a woody, synthetic base. Except for the vanilla and musk, much of the debut feels rather faceless and generic. The spices don’t waft a distinct, clearly delineated clove or nutmeg aroma; there is only a generalized, brown “spiciness.” The ylang-ylang is just as generic at first. It’s not heady, narcotic, or redolent of the flower’s usual, banana-like, custardy character. Instead, it has an odd butteriness and I mean actual butter, the sort you’d find melted on popcorn. I’ve never encountered anything like it with ylang-ylang and I find it incredibly peculiar, though thankfully it only lasts about 10 to 15 minutes.
Ylang has slowly become one of my favourite flowers, but nothing about the flower in Layla’s opening sweeps me off my feet. The essence oil is something spectacular, especially in Grade 1 or Super Ylang form, rendering me giddy with its richness, sweet spiciness, and custardy depths. This smells nothing like it. It’s like a generic white-gold floralcy given supposed depth through the addition of strange butteriness.
Equally strange is the distinct, unmistakable presence of fruitchouli which isn’t on the note list but which appears nonetheless after 5 minutes, redolent of both roses and berried jam. It rapidly overtakes the ylang, muffling most of its defining traits except for the impression of floral butteriness. From this point forth until the 75-minute mark, Layla is centered primarily on a generically spiced, fruity rose and a buttery, floral “something,” both layered with vanilla and clean musk, then placed atop a generic, woody, synthetic base.
Layla does improve, though it takes about an hour and happens in small steps. About 30 minutes in, the random bit of generic spices disappears, while the fruitchouli, its rose-like quality, and its syrupy sweetness grow stronger. They completely muffle the woody base and even manage to mute the white musk. On the plus side, though, the ylang-ylang finally emerges in a truer form, wafting its more typical characteristics of spicy, custardy, vaguely banana-ish floral richness.
Things really get moving about 75 minutes in when the patchouli finally shuts up, retreats to the sidelines, and leaves the ylang-ylang to shine. It’s now rich, surprisingly tropical, and unexpectedly bears a distinct coconut cream aroma instead of its normal, typical banana. The vanilla is still there, adding to the richness and the semi-gourmand quality of the scent. There are no spices or cedar. Despite the white musk’s growing strength, Layla is now a moderately nice tropical floral, a blend of ylang-ylang, vanilla, coconut, and white musk, all enveloped in a very soft, golden warmth. It’s like a cross between the middle stages of LM Parfums‘ Sensual Orchid and Tom Ford‘s new Soleil Blanc, a beachy, coconut twist on the vanillic, ambered, ylang-ylang floriental. It would be fun as a slightly trashy, casual, cheap thrill summer scent if it weren’t for the white musk, the fruitchouli of the opening phase, and the fragrance’s price. (I’ll get to that later, but it’s quite a jaw-dropping figure in American dollars for this sort of scent and not all that much better in Euros.)
In any event, the “fun” stuff doesn’t last, perhaps a mere 90 minutes at the most, then Layla tips back into dreary mundanity. In the middle of the 3rd hour, the synthetic cedar and the increasingly laundry-fresh white musk rise up from the base, cutting through the vanilla, the ylang-ylang, and the fragrance’s overall sweetness. The coconut and tropical quality to the scent vanish, while the vanilla and even the ylang-ylang change shape, becoming thin, wispy, and diffuse. Roughly 3.5 hours in, Layla has turned into a blurry, rather shapeless, indeterminate vanillic floral woody musk. It’s clean, fresh, and sweet, dominated by as much sugary musk and dry cedar as it is floralcy. Over the next few hours, the fragrance turns more indistinct and the floralcy even more tenuous. At the start of the 9th hour, the fragrance has gone from being a soft, vaguely ylang-ish floral with vanilla, woods, and clean musk to a clean, sugary vanilla with increasingly faint vestiges of something nebulously floral and dryly woody at the edges. In its final hours, all that’s left is sweet cleanness.
Layla had excellent longevity, good sillage, and generally average projection. Using several smears equal to 2 good sprays from a bottle, the fragrance opened with 5 inches of projection and about 6-7 inches of sillage. At the end of the 2nd hour and the start of the 3rd, the projection was about 1.5 inches and the scent trail extended about 3-4 inches. Layla became a skin scent 5.75 hours into its development but was still easy to detect up close without much effort until the 9th hour. All in all, it lasted just short of 14.5 hours.
Layla doesn’t have many reviews for me to share with you. On Fragrantica, there are only two comments thus far. One is in Italian but, using Google Translate, the person appears to be describing a vanilla-centric fragrance that was overly sweet for her tastes. The online translator states: “after a few minutes I hear lots and lots of hot creamy vanilla […] For me overly sweet , sugary and honey […] Flowers not received, perhaps drowned in the pouring creamy [vanilla].” The second review simply states: “All I get is sweet patchouli.” I’m assuming that is the same fruity patchouli that blasted away on my skin as well. However, it was a positive thing for the one person who has written about Layla on Luckyscent thus far because she loved its rose-like aroma: “Wonderful! I get a unisex, rose/oud/ylang ylang/ nicely crepuscule edp. Beautifully composed. Gotta have it.” The fact that Layla doesn’t actually contain any oud should tell you something about the quality of its wood notes since they are obviously reading like the rough, scratchy, Westernized synthetics that are widely (but wrongly) associated with “oud.”
Layla did not impress me one whit, and I’m someone who loves ylang-ylang. None of it felt particularly distinctive, compelling, or interesting. It reminded me of something that Tom Ford might put out, not in the days when his Private Blend line was at its zenith but now. Even before Layla’s beachy, tropical floral stage, the fragrance has the same sort of loud, semi-trashy, sweet, synthetic, clean, and wholly mainstream character of Tom Ford’s recent releases. Layla even costs a comparable amount if you divide by millilitre and bottle size, although it seems far more expensive at first glance. The fragrance costs $390 for 100 ml which comes to a bit less per ml than Tom Ford’s current $220 for a 50 ml bottle. Layla is slightly better priced overseas at €290, but both of those figures are far too high, in my opinion, for this sort of fragrance.
Nothing I smelt had the quality, the complexity, and the originality to warrant a price of almost $400 a bottle. To me, Layla was routine in every way except for the intensity or strength of its sweetness which, actually, is routine in and of itself for Middle Eastern-style fragrances. Plus, its quality felt like only a small step up from things that you would find in Macy’s or Sephora. $400 for something like this?! You must be joking. Then again, I wouldn’t wear Layla even if the fragrance cost a tenth of the price. If I want a vanillic ylang-ylang floral oriental, Sensual Orchid is infinitely superior in aroma, complexity, and quality.
ALL IN ALL:
In all honesty, I don’t see the point of either Tempest or Layla in the context of Sergio Momo’s spectrum of fragrances. His Xerjoff brand has plenty of Middle Eastern style of fragrances and, in fact, his Oud Stars line is “Entirely dedicated to the traditions of Arab perfume making” just like Al-Kimiya seems to be. Those earlier fragrances had just as much loudness and bombast as the ones here but with far better quality materials, less overt synthetics, and no commercial mundaneness. His Sospiro and Casamorati brands take the European approach represented by Layla, but they’re usually considered to be full-bodied and expensive-smelling at the same time, which Layla isn’t in my opinion. So what exactly is the point of this new brand? It can’t be intended to fill the void created by Amouage’s discontinuation of its famous, complex, luxurious attars because Al-Kimiya only has two fragrance oils. Plus, Tempest is nothing like Amouage’s attars in quality. Not even remotely close. It doesn’t even match the quality of Momo’s own stuff, in my opinion; none of the Oud Stars that I’ve tried smelt like chemical soup on my skin. Layla doesn’t rise to the level of past Momo releases, either. It lacks the heft, quality, and note clarity of such floral orientals as Al-Khatt and Mamluk.
Whatever the point of Al-Kimiya or Kemi, at these prices I expect far better fragrances than what actually manifested itself on my skin. Both fragrances were a disappointment, but Tempest was so bad that I was a little shocked and taken aback. Neither one really inspires me to seek out more from the brand so these will be the last Kemi reviews for the time being.
Disclosure: My samples were kindly provided by Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.