Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cruel Intentions By Kilian: fragrance review & myth debunking on Oud

Cruel Intentions tagged "tempt me", along with Liaisons Dangereuses, is part of the Parisian orgies unisex duo, meant to denote a source of desires, transgressions and pleasures of the flesh. The fragrance was composed by Sidonie Lancesseur and inspired "by the warm, enfolding, balsamic notes of oud, a legendary wood whispered to be worth more than its weight in gold". Of course when it actually comes to revealing the actual components, the brand has the decency and -to be applauded- honesty to admit there is an agarwood accord. Accord is perfume-speak for the combination of more than one ingredients to produce a sum larger than its parts, a co-existance that sings together to produce the odour impression of oud/agarwood.
Not everyone who does "oud fragrances" dares to admit so!

But what is oud? Let's explain and dispell some myths. Agarwood is the resinous heartwood from Aquilaria trees (predominantly from Aquilaria malaccensis), evergreens native to southeast Asia. As they become infected with mold (Phaeoacremonium parasitica, a dematiaceous fungus) they compensate by producing an aromatic resin. Thus the growing of the infection results in a rich, dark resin within the heartwood. That resin is known as gaharu, jinko, aloeswood, agarwood, or oud/oude/oudh, valued in many cultures since antiquity for its distinctive aroma ~terribly complex with nutty, musty-earthy undertones redolent of undergrowth. However oud is prohibitevely expensive, even for niche and ultra-expensive brands and quite rare, which raises questions as to how so many fragrances can claim harnessing its complex bouquet! One of the reasons for the rarity and high cost (above $62,000 cash for one kilo) of agarwood is the depletion of the wild resource: Since 1995 Aquilaria malaccensis has been listed in Appendix II by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, while in 2004 all Aquilaria species were listed in Appendix II, even though some countries have reservations for the latter listing. Middle Eastern or French perfumers seeking oud at source must establish ginormous bank funds in the pertinent countries, because governments are aware of the trade capitalizing on it. Additonal obstacles arise from the sheer reality of harvesting: Dead infected wood cannot be distilled and heavily infected live wood is not worth it as the wood itself is so more pricey. Thus the only wood distilled is live. Distillable wood is only good for a few months on the other hand, as the essential oil cells dry out, making oud a stratospherically expensive business.
Besides there are also grades within the product: The highest quality comes from the tree's natural immune response (known as agarwood #1) while an inferior resin is rendered by deliberatily wounding aquilaria trees (agarwood #2, within which there aslo several grades of quality). Adulteration is not unheard of either, according to Tryvge Harris. The average oud available in the US will have changed hands at least 10 times (!), while rumours abound about Chinese factories who churn out beautiful but fake product ~made of the lowest possible grade agarwood soaked for a month in synthetic (European manufactured) oud. It's also worthy of note that Arabs are not that concerned with purity as might have been supposed, instead focusing on the pleasure principle the aroma brings.
Some years ago (well, ever since M7 by Yves Saint Laurent at least) there have been ways to approximate oud's odour profile by combining ingredients with ambergris, jasmine, earthy and woody facets. Therefore a tsunami of oud-centered fragrances flooded the market (yes, Montale, I am looking at you!). Precious few companies do use the natural distillate, Zeenat and Amouage among them. It's all worth keeping in mind when faced with claims about oud/agarwood included in your latest niche bottle!

At least, like noted above, by Killian is honest about it. On the other hand most of the other ingredients they include are top-notch: the castoreum, styrax resin, Centifolia rose (May rose) and vanilla are all natural absolutes imparting a rich vibrancy, while the bergamot oil comes from Calabria, a region that has been declining due to the the material being slowly substituted for cheaper locations' product.

Cruel Intentions is not terrifically oud-like, yet it has a bittersweet facet that can be interesting to see flesh out and indeed, contrary to the grand ball room of Dangerous Liaisons, it offers a panoramic vista of notes evolving out of the bottle in quick succession: Opening with discernible bergamot with its refreshing yet sensually complex attribute; the sweet combination of violet and rose very smoothly blended; an earthy-musty phase that might be due to the violet accord in combination with the woody-grassy elements of patchouli and vetiver ~or it might not; and a creamy leathery impression that persists for a while, wearing itself closely to the skin. After all, the vogue towards woodies has breached into the mainstream as attested by the dubious Magnifique and the innofensive Secret Obsession and I predict it will continue its course for a long, long time.
Alberta Ferretti, the Italian designer with her own portfolio of fragrances, admits to Luckyscent to be smitten:"I love it's {sic} homage to old-school glamour and that it comes in a beautiful black case with a lock and key". I can't say I am equally struck. For those prices I expect something which will rock my world and make me abandon everything I do to pay closer attention to the microcosmos playing tiny strings' sextets on my wrists as I go about my day. Still Cruel Intentions is not as confused or undecided as other authors have made it out to be, although not dangerous by any stretch of the imagination, and if you happen upon a sample or a decant it is an interesting fragrance to investigate on closer quarters.

And if you want to see what the hell is this "Cruel Intentions" stint, click here, here and here.

Notes for Cruel Intentions: Bergamot calabria oil, orange blossom oil, violet accord, centifolia rose absolute, agarwood, Indian papyrus oil, gaiacwood oil, Haiti vetiver oil, sandalwood, styrax absolute, castoreum absolute, vanilla absolute, musk.

By Killian Cruel Intentions comes in 1.7oz/50ml (225$) refillable bottles of Eau de Parfum and a candle version. Available from Printemps Haussman, Parfumerie Victor Hugo, Bon Marche in Paris and Monaco, La Mure Favorite in Lyon, Verso at Anvers, Oswald in Zurich, Skins in Amsterdam, Bergdorf Goodman and Aedes (also online) in NYC, Apothia and Luckyscent in Los Angeles, Saks in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Beverly Hills and Holt Renfrew in Canada (Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary). Also from their site.

Pics from the film Cruel Intentions through and of box presentation courtesy of By Kilian


  1. Anonymous14:33

    Very enlightening Helg! My guess now is that the less-than-enthusiastic review of Black Oud I wrote wasn't actually about Oud, but something...else.

    Interesting too about the Chinese factories. I have read that ultra-cheap "art" (and forgeries, on the higher end) done in that country are becoming problems in the decorative art business and even the art world. I suppose that, when there is a need, there will always be somebody willing to fill it.

  2. Anonymous15:25

    So couldn't work in a shirtless picture of Ryan Philippe into your post?

    I'm just saying...


  3. What a coincidence...after your post yesterday, I decided to revisit CI today and wear it for the full day. Well, my suspicians are confirmed--I hate it. I can't seem to find the right words for what it smells like to me: plasticy blonde woods? Something like that, with some strange sweetness in there. The only words I keep conjuring are "empty" and "hollow." It seems to echo and disappear; it's a very "indecisive" fragrance on me, fading into a vague nothing. Not cruel at all. Insipid, maybe. Insipid Intentions! It has now morphed into something vaguely smokey, but not in an interesting way. Give me my Straight to Heaven!

  4. Anonymous16:47


    Now that you've discussed the "pricy" agarwood accord (;-b) I am absolutely curious about Givaudan's oud base (Black Agar Givco 215, Code n° 21214743). Is that base better than the accord in terms of faithfulness to the real thing? Thanks for the review and your candour once again.


  5. Haha! Thanks for that VERY informative review, E. You confirm what I have long suspected about most of the supposedly oudh-containing fragrances I have sampled recently. I must say, I sampled Cruel Intentions a few months ago, and it did not make much of an impression.

    Now Mike, tell me, did you have a particular picture of Ryan Phillipe in mind? :-)

  6. Thanks dear P! Yes, I believe you're right.
    And I have no doubt that when there is demand there is a way.

  7. LOL, M! Well, that look above the glasses fit my questioning tone. But I can see how a shirtless pic would be more popular :P

  8. B,

    sorry about that. I am not that negative, but it hasn't really grabbed me either. It's queer in that it morphs in and out, in and out and I can't put my finger on what it is exactly. Maybe there was some sense of humour involved? ;-0
    I do recall how you love STH! ;-)

  9. A, I have the sneaking suspicion that that is what everyone is using anyway!
    The few batches (mere drops you comprehend) of natural oud I have smelled are much more intense.

  10. You're welcome J and thanks!
    Yeah, too much "fuss" about oud these days. A small plantation should have been depleted to cater to last year's demand only ;-)

  11. Anonymous12:39

    U-oh - makes me wonder about the oudh/rose/saffron thing I bought earlier in the year at the Arabian Oudh shop across from Selfridges. I was aware that most oudh scents are based on an accord rather than the real thing but hoped that what I sprang for was a smidgen of the real deal. (Don't know if you've been there Helg but the ground floor is full of strangely packaged perfumes only one of which, called, Wood, caught my attention but the lower ground floor is where you're taken to sample what they say is proper oudh based scents and most of them are stratospherically expensive. I bought my tiny bottle down there. There is a richness which I do not smell in any of the Montales I've sniffed. Not to say I don't like the Montales but they're not the same thing at all.)Anyway, this sounds sniff worthy at least but at the same time my credit card aint scared! Have a lovely weekend. Donanicola

  12. N,

    I don't think you have been "conned" because yes, I've been to the Arabian Oudh Store (marvellous!) but like I had commented on another blog didn't buy anything: there was a little too "harsh" a sale for my taste; it usually makes me all nervous and undecisive, LOL
    I recall being impressed by the musks, though, which were all to varying degrees quite good.
    Your mix sounds lovely (those are all traditional Arab favourites).
    The Montales are fine and one is certainly entitled to like them (I even like some myself!), just not believe that this is what oudh is supposed to smell like really. ;-)

  13. Anonymous22:04

    Hi Everyone, I was just turned on to this blog by MikeP and I'm loving it. Thanks for your thoughfull and very informative reviews of the By Kilians - my favorite house .. (this month :) )

    I just wanted to point of that at the bottom of your review it mentions that they are available in 100ml bottles. As far as I know they only come in 50ml and 1000ml fountains.

  14. Thank you Futami (and Mike, of course!). It's always interesting to share thoughts with perfume enthusiasts and hope to see you often here.

    You're of course right: it's 1000ml (1L) as posted in the body of the review of the previous By Killian scent, not 100. Thanks for the correction!

  15. I just read about the collaboration between By Kilian and Sophie Matisse, By Kilian is taking perfume bottling to another level...

  16. L,

    indeed: the emphasis on packaging is very pronounced with this brand. The Matisse bottle can be seen in the Liaisons Dangereuses article/review.

  17. I see I have missed the photo in your review :D.

  18. The re is no such thing as arabian oudh. Hehehe since oudh trees can only grow in India and South East Asia.
    You will find knowlegde base about oud.


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