Maison Francis Kurkdjian Ciel de Gum: Golden Delight

Francis Kurkdjian. Photo source:

Francis Kurkdjian. Photo source:

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.

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Maison Francis Kurkdjian A La Rose

Mary Antoinette by Vigee Le Brun, circa 1783. Source:

Painting by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Source:

An homage to roses in a scent inspired by a queen — that’s the story behind A La Rose, the latest release from Francis Kurkdjian. He was inspired by Marie-Antoinette‘s love for roses and by her famous portrait by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. According to details in Luckyscent and Mr. Kurkdjian’s January 2015 interview with Le Figaro, he used 250 Centifolia roses (May or cabbage roses) in the form of an absolute and 150 Bulgarian Damascena roses to create what he imagined to be Marie-Antoinette’s scent when looking at that portrait. He wanted it to be vision of delicacy that was far from spicy but, rather, as soft as the flower’s velvety petals and evocative of a certain “tendresse” (tenderness). He succeeded.



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Perfume Review – Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud: My Twilight Zone

“I must have the wrong sample! It must be the wrong perfume!”

“What is going on???!”

“Am I crazy?”

Those were a few of the bewildered thoughts going through my mind, as I tried on Oud by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (hereinafter sometimes just shortened to “MFK“). It is a perfume whose scent was so little like its title or notes that I was thoroughly confused and had to dig up a second sample. As I splashed “Oud” on my other arm and took another sniff, I simply couldn’t understand what was going on. “Surely this can’t be right??!” Frantic scribbles on my notepad ensued, followed by my unearthing a third sample that I’d gotten as part of an eBay niche variety set. After splashes on a wholly different part of my body — this time, my leg, lest the skin on my arms was at fault — I finally concluded that I must be a complete freak who lived in the Twilight Zone.



On my skin, Francis Kurkdjian‘s “Oud” is a neo-chypre floral fragrance centered around carnation and daffodils (with a light dash of rose), sweetened by spicy saffron and rendered somewhat candied by syrupy, fruited patchouli that evokes Concord grapes and, later, apricots, with a subtle sprinkle of lemon. The whole thing sits atop an extremely muted, almost imperceptible base of smoky, woody elemi, and is then subsequently covered by a massive, walloping veil of aldehydic soap with synthetic white musk. Does this sound like a spicy, oriental oud fragrance to you??! On me, there is only the faintest (faintest!) twinge of agarwood — and that’s only if I really push it. (Honestly, it’s really a strong case of wishful thinking.) I’m so bloody confused, you have no idea. If I didn’t have the exact same scent wafting up from 3 different parts of my body and from 3 different samples, I would chalk it up to mislabeling and vendor error. But no, whether it comes from Luckyscent (x2) or Surrender to Chance, Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s “Oud” is always an ersatz chypre floral on me, and an “oud” fragrance in the same way that a Yorkie is a German Shepherd.

MFK OudThe starting point for my confusion was the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website which described Oud and its notes as follows:

Safron – Elemi gum from the Philippines – Oud from Laos – Cedar wood frol [sic] the Atlas – Indonesian Patchouli

A fragrance story sketched between the fine-grained sand of the desert dunes, the fragrant harmattan wind and the star-studded night – an opulent Arabian perfume born from a western sensitivity.

Do you see a floral listed amongst those notes? A citrus? Any mention of fruits or musk? No, neither do I.



And, yet, Oud opens on my skin with fragrant florals infused by the most beautifully sweetened saffron and patchouli. The top notes smell like a bouquet of the most syrupy carnations (and possibly, roses) mixed with a heavy dose of narcissus/daffodils. Coated by a fiery, spicy saffron, they are grounded in a base of soap that is, at least initially, somewhat subtle. The patchouli adds a fruited touch to the fragrance, evoking dark, purple Concord grapes mixed with plums. Lurking far, far, far back in the shadows is a hint of a dark, somewhat smoky resin.

Notwithstanding these other elements, however, the primary and dominant impression in this initially heady, satiny smooth, opulent fragrance is of florals, especially narcissus. The combination actually calls to mind Francis Kurkdjian’s earlier creation, the 2009 neo-chypre Lumiere Noire Pour Femme with its triptych of daffodils, roses and heavy patchouli. Lumiere Noire is a slightly more Spring-like fragrance, but the trio is similarly spiced, only with chili pepper and caraway in lieu of the saffron that is in MFK’s Oud. The overall effect, however, is strikingly similar: a spiced, slightly fiery, syrupy floral fragrance infused by a very fruited patchouli — with nary a bit of agarwood in sight.



For hours, the core essence of Oud remains largely unchanged on my skin — altering only in the degree of its nuances. Thirty minutes in, there is a sharply synthetic note that is incredibly unpleasant, and which feels almost like a white musk, but it eventually leaves after about two hours. The florals shift in primacy at various times, sometimes emphasizing the narcissus, sometimes more the carnation. Lemon comes and goes in the background, as do other fruits. The dark grape jam recedes around the forty minute mark, becoming less individually distinct and simply more reflective of general “jam.”  Later, it is joined by a definite nuance of apricots. As for the soapiness, to my chagrin, it not only increases in bent, but is joined by that unpleasant sharp synthetic note. Meanwhile, the flickers of smoky elemi and amorphous woodsy notes remain in the background, feeling incredibly muted. As for the supposed main character, the agarwood is the olfactory equivalent of Bigfoot or the Great Yeti. I actually wrote, “Where’s the beef… oud?!” in my notes, along with repeated questions about my sanity.

The final stage of Oud is only a slight variation of the start. It’s a soapy, musky, floral patchouli scent with flickers of vague woods at the back. The floral notes are still somewhat divisible into a spicy, rose-like carnation that is sweetened from the saffron, but eventually, around the sixth hour, the note turns abstract. In its final moments, Oud is nothing more than an amorphous, nebulous, sweet muskiness. All in all, it lasted just short of 11.75 hours on me, and the sillage was moderate to low. It actually became close to the skin around the second hour, but it only became a true skin scent midway during the seventh hour. Still, it’s a very long-lasting fragrance, whatever its peculiar, freakish manifestation on my skin. It’s just a shame that I don’t like it very much….



In utter desperation about the notes — invisible or otherwise imagined — I went online to the MFK Oud entry on Fragrantica. To my relief, there were a number of comments about the lack of any real oud in the fragrance, synthetic or otherwise. To wit:

  •  i barely notice the oud in it, shouldn’t be named oud,
  • There is no oud in this […]
  • It’s not oudh, but it’s definitely one well crafted perfume.
  • Another in the long line of those ‘don’t know why called Oud’.

Others seem to feel there was plenty of oud in it, so clearly, both the above commentators and I are in the minority. I’m even more of a freakish minority on the issue of fruity florals. Having combed through the internet, I found: exactly two references to florals on the Fragrantica page for the perfume; a fleeting mention of “jammy fruit” by the Non-Blonde (who did, in fact, detect the agarwood note); a brief reference to a “fruity veil” in Katie Puckrik’s review (which found the scent to be redolent of cheese and other unpleasantness); and one response to that review which said: “I cannot believe how bad this stuff is. [¶] Smells like a Fruity/Saffron chemical toilet bowl cleaner. [¶] It’s virtually unwearable.”

Just when I was ready to declare my nose to be irrevocably broken, I came across a comment by “buzzlepuff,” on Basenotes in which he wrote:

Mason Francis Kurkdjian Oud. MFK oud is a very easy to wear higher pitched but very smooth oud fragrancing. There are no bold or animalic notes of any kind. No harshness, no shrill or medicinal aspects. Why MFK Oud is so much higher in pitch than most oud blends is a mystery. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were unstated florals such as carnation or osmanthus hidden within the folds of this beauty. The stated notes of the composition are: Elemi resin, saffron, Atlas cedar wood, patchouli, oud. The fragrance has a fine grained smooth sheen of a satin fabric milled of oud and lemony incense woods. There is a slight finish that is the very softest suede leather for the base. This is an unusual and well balanced fragrance that is so finely crafted it has me looking for claims it was quadruple filtered. How else can it be so smooth? rating: 4.0 / 5.

It’s still a far cry from my quasi-neo-chypre experience, but at least he thought he detected florals (and carnation no less!), lemon flickers, and osmanthus (which means he probably smelled some apricot undertones, too). Okay, so I’m only partially crazy. 

Now, I grant you that my experience seems to be a very peculiar outlier as compared to the rest of the data out there, but I can only report on what happened to me. And, based on what I did smell, I don’t like MFK’s Oud very much. First, I cannot stand soapiness in any shape, size or form. Second, purple fruited patchouli sorely tests my patience — and there was a lot of it here. Third, what manifested itself on my skin simply wasn’t all that interesting. As ersatz chypres go, I found the “Oud” to be boringly commercial and mundane.

My anomaly notwithstanding, I found it interesting to see that other people’s perceptions of MFK Oud were quite mixed. Both Fragrantica and Basenotes (not to mention the reply comments to various blog reviews) are littered with highly critical remarks, though the majority consensus seems to be generally quite positive. The utterly disdainful ones are amusingly dismissive, while the occasionally horrified comments about scrubbers, astringents, synthetics, weird plasticity, and “women’s shampoo or hairspray” feel almost irate at times. Yet, I thought the most astute comment came from “Sculpture of Soul” on Fragrantica who wrote, in part:

It doesn’t smell bad, per se, but it smells very polished and mainstream. If this same scent came in a Hugo Boss bottle, everyone here would be slamming it for being safe, boring, and synthetic.

God, yes! I may have experienced a wholly different scent than the majority, but what I did smell would have been utterly lambasted if it came under a Hugo Boss or Calvin Klein label.

Nonetheless, the bottom line is that I experienced something that is in no way representative of MFK Oud’s usual characteristics. So, consider this entire review as what it really is: a journey into an olfactory Twilight Zone. I wish you all considerably better luck with the fragrance. But, if any of you had a similar experience, especially with regard to the florals, aldehydic soap or fruit, then I beg of you to let me know. I would like to feel a little less like William Shatner in Rod Sterling’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”


The Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Source: Tumblr

Cost & Availability: Oud is an Eau de Parfum and comes in a 2.4 oz/70 ml bottle that costs $300, €195 or £195. You can find it on the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website which also sells samples of the perfume or a four-pack set of any MFK fragrance for €14. In the U.S.: you can purchase Oud from Luckyscent, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, or BeautyBar. I don’t see any MFK fragrances listed on the Saks Fifth Avenue website. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can find Oud at Selfridges, Liberty, and Les Senteurs priced at £195. Les Senteurs also sells a sample of the fragrance. In France, you can purchase MFK’s Oud from France’s Premiere Avenue which sells it at the retail price of €195 and which I believe ships worldwide. For the rest of Europe, you can buy it from Germany’s First in Fragrance for €205 (which is €10 more than retail) or Italy’s Essenza Nobile (which also sells it above retail at €205). In Australia, you can find MFK’s Oud at Mecca Cosmetics which sells it for AUD$338. Elsewhere, you can turn to MFK’s Points of Sale for a retailer near you, whether you are in Asia or the Middle East. Samples: I bought one of mine from Surrender to Chance which sells Oud starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial or $9.98 for 1 ml. Luckyscent also sells samples.

Perfume Review – Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumière Noire Pour Femme

"Inner Motions, Untitled" #6 by Azadeh Ghotbi. Used with permission from the artist. Acrylic on canvas. Price available on request.

“Inner Motions, Untitled” #6 by Azadeh Ghotbi. Used with permission from the artist. Acrylic on canvas. Price available on request. (Link embedded within.)

Lumiere and Noire (Light and Black), an attraction and repulsion.

A black hole lit with the image of a mysterious perfume that attracts until it provokes self-abandon. It is the idea of two opposing powers that unite to create a whole that relates, at its turn, a new story. The mention of this duality is imposed as an obvious fact, like the emblematic blend of Rose and Patchouli.

That is the press description of Lumiere Noire Pour Femme, a chypre eau de parfum from Maison Francis Kurkdjian which was released in 2009 and which attempts to cast a new light on the rose-patchouli duet. Reading the description brought to mind the paintings of the artist, Azadeh Ghotbi, who often plays with textured reflections and with the duality of light and darkness.

"Inner Motions, Untitled #2" by Azadeh Ghotbi. Used with permission from the artist. Price available on request.

“Inner Motions, Untitled” #2 by Azadeh Ghotbi. Used with permission from the artist. Acrylic on canvas. Price available on request. (Link embedded within.)

Yet, Mr. Kurkdjian’s Lumiere Noire seems to be an attempt to go beyond his prior exploration of the rose-patchouli pairing in his creations for Guerlain (Rose Barbare) and for Juliette Has a Gun (Lady Vengeance). This time, it seems he sought to create something that was darker and much more of a “full-on” rose. To quote Denyse Beaulieu at Grain de Musc, Lumiere Noire Pour Femme is:

a full-on bodice-ripper of a rose, Baudelairian in its celebration of majestic female flesh –a courtesan trussed in velvet the colour of drying blood trimmed with jet beads, hair tumbling down her back as she downs a flute of champagne. Her shawl carries the smell of the patchouli leaves it was packed with to repel the moths on its way from India. A bunch of jasmine exhales its dying breath between her breasts. A sweaty tendril of cumin rises from her corset…

What a stunning visual! That description — in conjunction with the very cool, gothic vibe behind the name “Black Light” — made me fully expect a lascivious, debauched, sexualized rose fragrance. Yet, I found the perfume to be very far from sexual, dark, and twisty. Instead, on me, it was a beautiful evocation of Spring — a rich take on a field of fragrant, yellow daffodils intertwined with a fresh, mossy green, along with sweetly dark earth, dry woody notes, and a spiced rose.



The notes for Lumiere Noire on the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website are simply listed as: “Spiced Rose (cumin, hot pepper) Patchouli – Narcissus.” However, I have seen a significantly more detailed set of notes from Muse in Wooden Shoes who cites a very different list from the company:

Notes, according to the MFK site: rose, narcissus [or daffodil], pepper, lily of the valley, patchouli, balsam, orris, cumin.

I think that seems far more accurate, judging by what I smelled on my skin, so we’ll go with that version.

Lumiere Noire opens with a haunting note of daffodil-rose. It’s a dry rose with sweet hay, a rose turned on its head with a slight bitterness that is, indeed, a little dark. Yet, at the same time, it’s sweet and bright — a very successful interplay of the themes of light and dark. The daffodils add a mesmerizing touch that is very different and which I adore, though I confess to having a huge weakness for the flower in general.

Lurking underneath is a fresh, springy, brightly green patchouli, accompanied by light touches of dusty, dry spice. Though the hay note is the most prominent, the spice and chili pepper swirl imperceptibly in the background, working their magic on the rose to transform it into something much more fiery and much less sweet. At the same time, there is almost a citrus-like nuance, along with an earthy iris note from the orris.



I can’t get enough of the daffodils and how brilliantly Lumiere Noire seems to replicate the whole flower. The scent feels just like a daffodil pushing its way up through the dark, loamy, rich earth (orris), and the fresh, sweet, green grass (the mossy patchouli), until its woody, brown stalk (the hay) rises up to meet the sun and the bud unfurls its golden heart to release its sweet floral scent (daffodil and spicy rose). It is a very Spring interpretation of light and dark, if you will.

The perfume is beautifully modulated, reflecting different facets at different times. Though the rose is always subsumed within the daffodils, sometimes it’s much more noticeable in the early hours; at other times, the daffodil glows even more brightly. Around the thirty minute mark, it’s the earthy, woody element which seems to rise to the surface, joining in the lead with the daffodils. After one hour, the rose returns undulating in greenish waves with the patchouli and narcissus, sharing the stage with the two in equal measure. Something about that patchouli note isn’t always pleasant; it can be a little sharp, very synthetic at times, and almost verging on the point of burning. Thankfully, it soon recedes, softening and blending in much better with the other notes.

Five hours in, Lumiere Noire is a narcissus-patchouli fragrance with soft hints of hay, rose, and earthy orris. There is a musky feel to the patchouli, along with some balsamic amber undertones, but they are not strong. For some inexplicable reason, the perfume feels a little like the middle stage of Tom Ford‘s Arabian Wood — a dry, mossy, green, patchouli with rose chypre that is neither Arabian nor primarily woody. The difference, though, is that Arabian Wood has a strong sandalwood foundation, along with honey, and more varied floral notes. Lumiere Noire’s daffodil note imparts a similar sort of dry woodsy character to the rose-patchouli duet, but it is a much stronger, dryer perfume as a whole. In both, however, the patchouli takes a turn into something much darker from its initial start. It’s not dirty, black patchouli by any means, and always feels mossy but, visually, it’s no longer so grassy. In Lumiere Noire, in particular, the patchouli turns from bright green and fresh into something much more potently dark and dry.

In its final hours, Lumiere Noire becomes dusty patchouli with narcissus, musk and the merest hint of rose. A few people on Fragrantica have said that the musky note in the drydown is like that of Narcisco RodriguezFor Her — a perfume also created by Francis Kurkdjian. I don’t really agree. Yes, Lumiere Noire has a subtle tinge of soapiness in the musk drydown that may evoke fabric softener, but it is just to a small degree on my skin. On a scale of 1 to 100, “For Her” would rate in the high 90s, while Lumiere Noire would be around a 10. To me, it does not smell clean, soapy, and white in the way that “For Her” does. The patchouli in Lumiere Noire is too green, mossy and dark for that, and it winds its way through every part of the fragrance. Nor is the musky element in Lumiere Noire so white and synthetic. I am not a fan of “For Her,” so trust me when I say that I don’t think the two perfumes share any great similarities.

Lumiere Noire lasted approximately 11 hours on my perfume-consuming skin which is quite impressive. The sillage was initially quite strong before it dropped, remaining at a moderate level until the sixth hour when Lumiere Noire became a skin scent. As a whole, Lumiere Noire is quite an airy perfume, almost transparently light in feel, but it is also extremely potent at the same time. I chalk it up to the powerful patchouli with its synthetic undertones. Whatever the exact reason, Lumiere Noire is not a fragrance that I would spray with reckless abandon; people may have to come near you to smell it, but once they do, it is quite pronounced.

All in all, I enjoyed Lumiere Noire and, at times, found myself sniffing my arm again and again with appreciation. I chalk it up to my love of daffodils and how, on my skin, the note either completely dominated the rose or lived side-by-side. In fact, I would say that the perfume had narcissus and patchouli in equal measure, followed only then by the rose. Either way, Lumiere Noire was a far cry from the bodice-ripper, sexualized rose fragrance that Grain de Musc recounted. No, my experience was much closer to that of the many commentators on Fragrantica who repeatedly mention the narcissus notes, the greenness, the grassy patchouli, and feel of Spring. Like me, very few of them experienced any cumin or chili pepper as an individually distinct, noticeable and isolated phenomenon. I ascribe that to the fact that Lumiere Noire is beautifully blended, but the absence of those notes in an individual manner may explain why so few of us shared Denyse Beaulieu’s hyper-sexualized interpretation of the fragrance.

As a side note, there are a few fragrances to which Lumiere Noire has sometimes been compared. On Fragrantica, a number of people found it similar to Vengeance Extreme by Juliet Has a Gun, while others mention Perles de LaliqueLa Perla or Eau du Soir. I’m not familiar with any of those fragrances, so I can’t comment. You may be interested, however, in an analysis from Muse in the Wooden Shoes who compared Lumiere Noire with Frederic Malle‘s Portrait of a Lady, “one on each wrist”:

Before that, I would have described Lumiere Noire to be a Dark Rose, a dark gothic rose with kohl-lidded eyes. But next to each other, Lumiere Noire glowed like a candle, while all light disappeared into the far, far darker Portrait of a Lady, proving PoaL to be the true Darkest Rose I’ve come across. Eventually, I grew tired of the heavy balsam in the drydown of PoaL and sent my decant off to a good home with a friend. Although I think PoaL is a truly wonderful fragrance, I just couldn’t manage to wear it myself.

She far preferred Lumiere Noire, calling it “very sexy” and evocative of a boudoir.

I find the contrast between the two bloggers’ perception of Lumiere Noire and those of regular users to be fascinating. The bloggers write about the “celebration of majestic female flesh,” courtesans, boudoirs, and the spicy cumin evoking a trail of ravished, heated skin. The commentators on Fragrantica and Basenotes talk about Spring, wafting honeysuckles, aromatic gardens and green grass, the dominance of the narcissus over the rose, and even occasionally use that dreaded word: “clean.” It’s almost as if the sharply divergent impressions mirror that duality of light and darkness mentioned in the press release.



Well, I’m on the side of those at Fragrantica, because I thought Lumiere Noire had nothing to do with the boudoir. It is an elegant, sophisticated chypre that evokes Spring, sunshine, yellowness, and green. It’s very unisex, in my opinion, regardless of the “Pour Femme” designation and it’s also very wearable as a day-to-day matter. Lumiere Noire may not make a huge statement, but then I don’t think it’s trying to. It is meant to be an elegant, refined chypre, and it succeeded in that goal. For me, personally, it’s not full bottle worthy, but I think many men and women would appreciate its complexities.

As a side note, the “Pour Homme” version is similar, but has slightly different elements. It has cinnamon instead of cumin, and artemisia (or mugwort) in lieu of narcissus. You can read a brief comparison between the two at Grain de Musc, though the essence is yet another sexualized impression: “the mugwort keeps the rose tightly under wraps – as though the marquise de San-Réal had bandaged her breasts to slip into her half-brother’s slim black frock coat.”

If you enjoy chypres and are looking for a Spring scent that isn’t a typical, light, clean, fresh floral, but, rather, something with depth, body, green darkness and allure, you should give Lumiere Noire Pour Femme a sniff.


Cost & Availability: Lumière Noire Pour Femme/Pour Elle is an Eau de Parfum and comes in a 2.4 oz/70 ml bottle that costs $175, €115 or £115. You can find it on the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website which also sells samples of the perfume, along with incense paper and a candle version of Lumiere Noire. In the US, you can purchase Lumiere Noire from Luckyscent, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf GoodmanBeautyBar, or Bigelow Chemists. I don’t see any MFK fragrances listed on the Saks Fifth Avenue website. In the UK, you can find Lumiere Noire at Selfridges, Liberty, and Les Senteurs priced at £115. Les Senteurs also sells a sample of the fragrance.  For the rest of Europe, you can buy it from First in Fragrance for €125 (which is €10 more than on the MFK website), along with the full line with the candle or incense papers. Other European vendors are Essenza Nobile and Premiere Avenue. Elsewhere, you can turn to MFK’s Points of Sale for a retailer near you, whether you are in Asia, Australia, or the Middle East. In terms of samples, I bought mine from Surrender to Chance which sells Lumiere Noire starting at $2.99 for a 1/2 ml vial or $5.98 for 1 ml.