Not all fragrances with a cult following deserve their accolades. DI SER‘s Kyara does, in my opinion. It’s a superb, opulent, smoldering oud with Kyara or Kinam (Kynam) agarwood, the best, rarest, and highest grade of oud whose exorbitant cost and scarcity preclude most perfumers from using it in perfumery. It’s actually considered rather insane to do so and, yet, DI SER did. The result – in conjunction with a truly exquisite, lush, intoxicating, honeyed rose – is fantastic.
KYARA, KINAM, KYNAM OUD – WHY IT’S SPECIAL & UNIQUE:
To understand the significance (and cost) of Kyara parfum, you need to understand the importance of the raw material at its heart. It is a form of rare, aged, wild, intensely resinous Vietnamese agarwood of the highest grade quality that is so scarce and close to extinction as to be almost impossible to find. When it is available, it is either collected, sculpted into art, or small chips of it are used in Asian or Japanese incense ceremonies.
Apparently, Kinam or Kyara wood has a unique chemical, olfactory compound structure as compared to other types of agarwood. Kyarazen has a fascinating explanation that I think you may appreciate and which reads, in small part, as follows:
Kyara/Kynam/Kinam is a tiny subset within aloeswoods in a very very small percentage. In a historical context, it refers to a special type/grade of aloeswood with unique and excellent fragrance properties. The Chinese have a saying that one needs an accumulation of 3 lifetimes of virtues before one would have the chance of encountering real kynam, and 8 lifetimes of merit to have the chance to use and appreciate kynam. Such a saying could only suggest the rarity and precious nature of kynam. [… snip]
How Kyara is formed out of agarwood trees, or from agarwood is unknown. Given its complicated chemical and dynamic scent profiles, with more compounds than normal agarwood, including a very high sesquiterpene content, there are speculations. In Japan, its been speculated that recurrent or multiple infections at different time points over centirues could have caused kyara to be formed. The Chinese speculate that it could be bees making hives in agarwood tree trunks, with the honey affecting the resination process causing different scents to result. Others believe it to be centuries of aging and weathering in a humid climate resulting in the “ripening” of resins, breakdown of hard resins into soft pliable materials. Another theory was an extremely special species of fungus infecting the tree and changing its genetic expressions relating to plant defense, causing secretion of special/unique compounds. [Remainder snipped.]
DI SER – THE BRAND, THE AESTHETIC, THE MATERIALS:
DI SER is a Japanese perfume house that was founded in 1999. Luckyscent has a good synopsis:
Established in 1999, Di Ser is the all-natural perfume line of a Japanese research facility in Sapporo, on Hokkaido, a rugged island off the coast of Japan known for its hot springs and volcanoes. Di Ser applies the concept of Slow Food to perfume; the scents are all natural, mixed slowly, using only botanical materials native to Japan, or used in the traditional ceremonies of Japan since the early 6th century BC. The raw materials used in the line are largely unfamiliar to Westerners, but share similarities with natural perfumery and aromatherapy in that they are light (but substantial), herbal-woody, and sometimes medicinal in feel. Di Ser perfumes perfectly embody the particularly Japanese aesthetic of delicacy, transparency, and purity.
DI SER’s explicit mission and concept statements elaborate further, particularly on the central role of “Kōdō” to its olfactory aesthetic:
DI SER selects natural materials gathered from Japan and around the world.
Our perfume is made from natural fragrance, plant-based alcohol and water only, from which we have recreated the fragrances of Japan’s traditional culture of scent.
In order to bring out the original character of each flower and wood, the aromatic oils are combined gently one by one.
Over a long history dating back one thousand four hundred years, the Japanese people have refined their perception of fragrances or “Kō”.
It is a state of mind in Japan, a “way” or “Dō”, a spiritual culture of the non-visible. In this way, one “listens” to odours rather than “smell” them. through listening to smells, one can connect with one’s inner-self and reconnect honestly with human nature.
What the Japanese call “Kōdō” is a way of life and a game intimately connected to their culture and everyday life.
It is by combining this tradition with modern techniques that DI SER has created it’s line of perfumes. We hope these Japanese fragrances can soothe you and bring serenity to your daily life.
DI SER’S KYARA PARFUM:
Kyara is a pure parfum that was released in 2000. Luckyscent‘s long description provides many olfactory details on how kyara-grade oud smells as well as how DI SER’s Japanese-based approach makes its treatment of oud different from others that you may have tried before, all resulting in what many perfumistas consider to be the “Holy Grail” of oud perfumes:
Japanese treatment of agarwood in perfumery is completely different from that of Middle-Eastern perfumery, so let’s take a minute to re-set expectations. Since the 6th century AD, the Japanese have used kyara agarwood in the Kodo ceremony (the way of incense), which is the art of “listening” to scent. Kyara is a very special type of agarwood. It refers to wood from extremely old, wild-grown agarwood trees in mostly Vietnam, now rare to the point of being extinct. The word “kyara” is a description of a scent profile, but also used in grading to mean the highest quality of agarwood. Most authentic kyara pieces were sold to private collectors in Japan, which is how Di Ser came into possession of its own small collection of the precious wood. Kyara is normally heated gently over ash and mica plates as incense; due to its rarity and scarcity, it is never used for distilling oud oil.
Until now, that is. In an unprecedented move, Di Ser took the decision to distill oil from its own private collection of kyara. This was an enormously bold and risky undertaking, considering the expense of the raw material, the tiny yield, and the difficulty in extracting oil from such densely-resinated wood. Most oud oil fanatics will never have smelled genuine kyara, either in oil or incense form, so this fragrance, Kyara, is literally the opportunity of a lifetime. The holy grail of oud.
Kyara has a uniquely resinous, green aroma when burned, said to be calming and transporting in equal measure. The opening notes of this 100% natural fragrance are, in fact, pure kyara – verdant, minty, and slightly antiseptic, with the evergreen sting of camphor. Although recognizably oud, the note is as vaporous and clean as early morning mist in a Japanese forest -never dirty or smoky. A massive, gauzy rose note swells up behind the green kyara opening, fleshing out the kyara into a luminous rose-oud concerto against a spicy-woody backdrop that feels like powdered ginger root diffused in sunlight. In keeping with the Japanese classification of oud as rokkoku gomi (meaning “of six countries” and the bitter taste from “the five tastes of sweet, bitter, sour, pungent and salty”), the sweetness and powder is kept in check by the peppery, balsamic-vinegar underbite typical of Vietnamese agarwood. If you’ve grown weary of oud or simply dislike the more animalic, Arabic treatment of the material, then re-set your nose and give yourself a treat with Kyara, the Japanese silk screen of the oud world. Di Ser’s Kyara represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to smell authentic kyara agarwood in liquid form – do not cheat yourself of this experience!
The note list is:
Kyara grade agarwood, cedarwood, rose otto [Japanese Hamanasu rose], patchouli, and sandalwood.
Kyara opens on my skin with truly heavenly roses paired with a shimmering, fresh, green-tinted oud. As regular readers know, I’m not a particular fan of roses in perfumery, partially because they don’t smell naturalistic or authentic like real roses growing in a garden, partially because their scent feels thin and one-dimensional. Kyara’s rose, however, feel three-dimensional and real. It’s: opulent, lush, bright, lemony, honeyed, fruity, jammy, leafy, and slightly woody – all in one.
The oud which swirls in and around the rose is equally multifaceted and beautiful. It smells: crisply lemony; minty; fresh; camphorous; spicy; resinous; smoky with both incense and singed wood aromas; and, oddly, unexpectedly, a little clean like the cleanness of freshly chopped wood. I think the latter is really the result of the Japanese cedar, but it’s so thoroughly subsumed within the stronger oud note as to feel like an elemental part of it.
The cleanness of the oud in the opening stage is a fascinating touch. So much of niche oud perfumery centers on the Hindi or Assam varietal with its completely different olfactory profile: skanky, cheese, barnyard-like, animalic, and musky in a slightly dirty way. None of that is the case here with the kyara-cedar combination.
Kyara’s bouquet in the opening is paradoxically rich and sheer at the same time. Lying close to the skin, the fragrance smells rich up close, largely because of the honeyed, jammy, lemony rose. In terms of overall weight and body, however, the opening bouquet feels diaphanously light. The extremely discreet opening sillage (which grows later on) adds to the sense of a shimmering but small halo around my arm.
Kyara changes the most during its first hour when it is a joint and equal partnership between the rose and the oud. However, I wouldn’t categorize Kyara as a rose-oud fragrance when taken as a whole. It is, at its core, an oud soliflore, in my opinion, one which is dominated by the kyara olfactory aspects of the oud. The progression of the scent during the first hour reflects that because the kyara’s darkness gradually swells and blankets the rose like an eclipse moving over a red moon.
Let’s talk about that first hour, though, in a bit more detail. About 20 minutes in, Kyara grows spicier as the patchouli awakens and curls around the rose, adding an almost clove-like aroma to its rich bouquet. The rose itself changes a little, turning significantly sweeter, jammy, and honeyed, and less lemony or fresh. At the same time, the oud’s minty, fresh, green, and clean qualities weaken; its incense and resinous facets double in strength; and a sort of treacly, balsamic darkens starts to stain the rose’s red petals. The cumulative effect after 30 minutes is a darker, spicier, more resinous, less green-skewing bouquet in aroma as well as a richer, heavier one in body and also a stronger one in sillage.
At the end of the 1st hour and the start of the 2nd, Kyara’s focal point changes dramatically and ceases to be a co-equal partnership between the rose and oud. I’d estimate that the oud now comprises 70% to 75% of the bouquet on my skin, with that number growing higher as the 2nd hour progresses. The fragrance wafts increasingly resinous, incense-laden, woody, and wood-charred smokiness. Tarry leather and dark musk appear for the first time, running alongside the oud’s muted but constant background camphor. The rose and spicy patchouli are secondary notes now, weaving around the oud like spicy and jammy floral handmaidens in service to the king. It’s a stunning head-turning bouquet that is multi-faceted, opulent in aroma and richness, sultry, smoldering, and smooth. I love every bit of it as much as I did the opening bouquet.
The start of the 3rd hour (or about 2.25-hours in) marks another change in the note ratios or proportions. The rose is essentially obliterated as a significant element. I’d estimate that roughly 92% of Kyara on my skin consists of incense, charred oud, wood smoke, tarry leather, and treacly, smoky resins. The remaining 8% is mostly medicinal camphor in the background with a bit of honeyed rose tossed in.
Kyara remains this way for several hours, turning more and more leathery and incense-like in its bouquet. It also starts to grow incrementally lighter in body, airier in feel, and quieter in sillage as the hours progress.
Kyara shifts a little at the end of the 6th hour and the start of the 7th. The mint returns, adding a touch of green freshness to a bouquet that is now mostly smoky, incense-laden black leather. Though the rose and patchouli had vanished a few hours before, the camphor remains as a quiet background note, providing a little medicinal zing when I smell my arm up close. I have to smell up close at this time because the bouquet is a light, airy one now that projects about an inch, at most, above my skin.
Roughly 8.25 hours in or early in the 9th hour, Kyara enters its drydown stage. The oud’s tarry leather has turned into buttery, soft, calf-skin suede imbued with green mint, camphor, incense smoke, and campfire wood smoke. However, none of these tonalities are powerful or impactful now. They’re merely wisps running quietly through the plush suede. Joining them is a deeply honeyed rose whose return suggests that the kyara’s previous degree of resinousness, darkness, smokiness, and leatheriness had simply blocked it out temporarily like an eclipse.
As the drydown progresses, Kyara shifts in small degrees in its nuances and their prominence. Around 9.25 hours in, the rose dissolves, becoming abstract, smelling simply like fresh, sweet floralcy. After the 10th hour, the suede changes, too. To my surprise, it’s gradually growing a little cleaner, smelling like new suede in a shop in addition to old suede stained with smoke. It also grows warmer, more golden, though I wouldn’t call it ambered in any clear or olfactory way. It’s more of a feel in that regard, not a scent. I suspect the sandalwood is indirectly responsible for some of these changes and for the soft butteriness of the scent, even if I can’t detect it in any clearly delineated or concrete fashion. (In neither of my tests did the santal show up in any solid or obvious form, but the buttery suede always did.)
By the middle of the 12th hour, all that’s left is a slightly sweet, vaguely floral, slightly smoke-tinged, slightly clean, minutely woody plushness. Kyara remains that way until the end.
Kyara had low sillage but good longevity on my skin. Since my sample was a small one and I wanted to test Kyara at least twice, I used 2 generous smears roughly equal to a little over 1 good spray from a bottle. With that amount, Kyara typically opened with roughly 4 inches of sillage that doubled to about 8 inches after 25 minutes when the oud’s dark facets began to bloom. The sillage dropped incrementally after that. At the end of the 2nd hour, the sillage was about 3-4 inches and the bouquet began to lighten in body and weight. About 3.5 hours in (the middle of the 4th hour), there was no scent trail or cloud around me. Kyara projected about 1.5 inches above my skin; it became 1 inch, at best, at the end of the 6th hour. Kyara became a skin scent on me about 8.25 hours in or at the start of the 9th hour. It didn’t require effort to detect until the 10th hour. By the middle of the 12th hour, I thought the fragrance was close to dying, but it lingered on until the start of the 14th hour. Keep in mind that I didn’t apply the amount of scent — 2 sprays or the smeared equivalent thereof — that I usually use in reviewing a fragrance so these numbers are pretty good.
PRICES, VALUE, & CONCLUSIONS:
The reason for my parsimonious scent application is that Kyara is exorbitantly priced. The 33 ml bottle costs $1,150. The small 0.5 ml sample isn’t cheap, either, at $40.
Is Kyara worth it? Well, that’s a purely subjective interpretation that will vary from person to person, but I think it’s essential to consider the almost extinct, impossibly rare, rarely used in perfumery, and insanely expensive raw material upon which Kyara is centered. Price-wise, I think it’s unfair to compare Kyara with an extrait that relies on significantly cheaper agarwood, let alone to any mainstream or designer oud that uses a synthetic version of the material. In the latter case, it would be like comparing a Ferrari or a Bentley to a Peugeot or a Kia. The latter may be perfectly solid, reliable, decent cars but they aren’t truly comparable or in the same league.
Having said that, I think one can experience fantastic rose-ouds for much less without resorting to a Peugeot or Kia. I’m thinking primarily of Agar Aura‘s sublime Layali which absolutely blew me away. In fact, Kayara’s first hour reminded me a lot of Layali. I’d argue that Layali might even be more complex in its bouquet due to the vetiver-like and mossy notes, its plum liqueur, and its other facets. Though Layali isn’t exactly cheap, either, at $495 for 25 mls and though brands like Agar Aura tend to sell out quickly due to limited quantities (unlike DI SER’s Kyara which has been available every year since 2000), it’s an example of a top-notch, high-grade oud-based parfum that provides an opulent, complex olfactory experience without needing to rob a bank. So, yes, there are alternatives to DI SER’s Kyara out there even if they don’t have the unicorn oud and they aren’t necessarily Peugeots, either, to use my analogy up above, in terms of their scent and quality.
Be that as it may, after testing Kyara, I can completely see why some people might splurge on a bottle. Ditto to spending $40 on a small sample. The latter actually makes a lot of sense to me if you’re someone who truly adores oud and wants to expand their knowledge of it by trying the unicorn varietal in rare liquid form (as opposed to burning chips as incense).
If we remove price from the equation and judging purely on the olfactory merits, Kyara is fantastic! I honestly think there are legitimate reasons for its many accolades and its cult status.
I can’t say the same for every fragrance with that level of adoration and ardent following. Don’t get me started, for example, on the ubiquitous banality that is Le Labo’s Santal 33, an execrable, bizarrely cucumber-ish concoction that could never, in my opinion, compare to real (Mysore) sandalwood. A closer or more apt example would be Initio Parfums‘ Oud for Greatness, a crazily popular “oud” whose utterly brutal smoky amber-woody aromachemical tsunami assaulted my nostrils even through the plastic sample bag and unopened vial. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a “bro” “oud” for the crowd that wants to waft their fragrance across a crowded nightclub and that judges fragrances by how much they’re “beast-mode” and/or “panty-droppers.” Despite Initio’s expensive pricing, its alleged oud has little in common with authentic and high-end oud offered by artisanal brands like Agar Aura, Ensar Oud, or DI SER, and yet, the raves for it keep coming in.
I view Kyara (and comparable oud fragrances like it) as special rare artistry that is worth experiencing in small form, if possible, in the same way that one can enjoy a Rembrandt or a Da Vinci painting despite lacking the means to buy it. In this analogy, a sample stands in for a visit to the Louvre. If you can afford it and if you are an oud lover or one who adores smoky, incense-laden, woody and leathery fragrances with a delectable rose at times, then I suggest ordering a sample. Trying Kyara and experiencing the olfactory profile of its rare type of wood added substantially to my fragrance knowledge — and for that I’m grateful, particularly to Luckyscent who sent me a sample.
Disclosure: My sample was kindly provided by Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews and my opinions are my own.