Wednesday, February 16, 2011

By Kilian Incense Oud: fragrance review

Nothing is more alluring than the forbidden and at a time when the Muslim world appears as West's "enemy" in the zeitgeist, the surge for Arabian-inspired perfumes is gaining momentum thanks to that very axiom. Incense Oud by Kilian is one member of the cast in this multi-character play where prestige and polish are given to niche lines through the claim on age-old materials, such as oud/agarwood and incense; but it's not just a supporting player.

Incense Oud managed to make me notice ~my nose has become seriously jaded with oud-claiming notes in just about every price-point in the market!~ and that's no small feat. Is it because oud has become a play on perception since the perfume doesn't -apparently- contain any? Smoother than the Montale aoud scents, which possess that "Band-Aid note" so distinctly and which announce their presence from five blocks away, the Kilian fragrance feels very wearable and with its elegant eloqution of Eastern materials manages to smell at once mysterious and meditative. It's an "oud fragrance" for non-oud-lovers, but it doesn't betray the promise of Middle Eastern atmosphere.

To an audience of men and women tired of the pop celebritoids popping up through reality TV and one-hit wonders, a media plate brimming with upstarts ready to forsake their panties at the drop of a nickel and eager to leak their own sex video tapes online, a veiled lady or a tanned Arabian prince half hidden under a djelaba look not only exotic, but infinitely classy. When on the other hand you have a Colossus such as LVMH, the Group behind the By Kilian brand (indeed Kilian Hennesy is the heir to the throne of the cognac empire) supporting and pushing the Arabian Scent Concept to anyone willing to look beyond Walmart, you can bet you have a sizzling hot trend on your hands!

As announced, By Kilian Incense Oud is the newest installation to the "Arabian Nights" collection. It is a dark and well balanced blend of frankincense & woods (cedar, patchouli and sandalwood get amped by the naturally leathery accents of cistus labdanum and the murkiness of a little oakmoss) evoking the "impression" of oud. The patchouli gets a boozy, almost licoriced facet, it's soft and quite delicious.
The first impression you get from Incense Oud is terpenes-rich frankincense, the kind you smell in Catholic churches (the Roman Catholic Church sources its supplies from Somalia); in fact the brand claims it makes a quart of the total formula! It doesn't present itself as a hard-core incense fragrance nevertheless and there is no smoky trail, but rather a resinous quality about it. The naturally citric facets of this ancient gum are reinforced by complimentary notes (methyl pamplemouse for one, which is grapefruit-like). The natural pairing of oud on the other hand is traditionally rose, but you can't quite pinpoint this is as rosy. Rose is smoothly blended with the patchouli and therefore nothing like you'd meet at the florist's or ~heaven forbid!~ in a toilet freshener. Think of the treatment of rose in Voleur de Roses in L'Artisan for that segment in the fragrance, a dark rose unfurling its petals under a moonless sky.
The lasting impression is patchouli with a hint of myrrh to reinforce the sweetness in Incense Oud: the longer the perfume stays on skin, the more pronounced the sweet leaves become. Of course, patchouli is to the 2000s what hair mousse was to the 1980s: there's simply no escaping it. Not that I particularly mind.

Sidonie Lancesseur had composed the oud-themed Cruel Intentions, as well as Straight to Heaven, for the brand’s introductory "L’Oeuvre Noire" series. The rest were composed by Calice Becker. Although the info on shopping sites presents Lancesseur as the creator of this scent as well, the Kilian press says that Becker is the real creator. Here she was presented ~oddly~ with the challenge of composing an oud-themed fragrance without including the essence or the synth. I seem to think there's a smidge of it there, but I could just be showing my contrarian colours!

The whys of such a decision not to advertise as it containing oud, when the name alludes otherwise, could be seen in diverging interpretations: It could be that the challenge is a plea to people's intelligence and consequently perfume aficionados' increasing cynicism: "You distrust oud as a mentioned ingredient, so here, we're offering you one which doesn't lie in its notes about what it contains or not". Or it could be interpreted differently, along the lines that since oud is the material du jour, it doesn't matter whether or not there is any included; "as long as it's mentioned in the name, people will try it and buy it". Of course I am not professing any of the two versions as truer than the other; I'm just noticing things!
Kilian offers cardamom as a featured note too (probably because the inclusion of cardamom pods are a time-honoured tradition in the preparation of delicious Arabian coffee and is too good a reference to eschew), but it's not as discernible as in Cartier's Déclaration for instance; it doesn't form a major part of the experience.
Simply put, if you like frankincense and patchouli-rose accords, you stand good chances to like Incense Oud, because it lives up to the former (being the first half of its name) and offers a polished interpretation of the later. The sillage is medium and tenacity is very good. It's a sneaky scent I found, growing on you upon consequent wearings.

Notes for Incense Oud By Kilian:
Guatemala cardamom, pink pepper, Turkish rose, Egyptian geranium, methyl pamplemousse, Virginia cedarwood, Indonesian patchouli, Indian papyrus, Somalia incense (oil and absolute), sandalwood, Macedonian oakmoss, Spanish cistus labdanum, musks.

Available in 50ml bottles for $395 (ouch!!) at Luckyscent et al. Smart tip: go for the refills for same quantity for 175$ (i.e. perfect for splitting).

Disclosure: I was sent a sample vial for reviewing purposes. Pic was sent to me by email unaccredited.


  1. I love frankincense. There is something mystical/ spiritual about it. For me it evokes the feeling of serenity and peacefullness.
    I remember smelling it in the Basilique du Sacre Coer in Paris many years ago, and I was surprised because, being an Arab, I thought only Arabs use it in their homes and Mosques.

    I only tried 'Back to Black' by Kilian few months ago. It was a gift from a friend. But I wasn't very impressed with the smell. It's still in its 'elegant' box, unfotunately.

    Regarding the Oud, I forgot to mention in our last oud-conversation, that there are differen qualities of the oud wood (the raw material). Not any oud is a good quality oud. Arab people in the Gulf area can tell the difference. But 'some' sellers take advantage of uninformed foreigners by selling them low quality oud with high prices.
    And good quality oud is becoming rare by the way. Really rare.
    That's why I wonder what quality of oud is being used, if any as they claim, in the western-made perfumes.
    But fromwhat I read in this post, I am really looking forward to trying this one out :)


  2. bevfred02:38

    Well, I for one am not tired of oud and I've always loved patchouli. You've made this sound quite heavenly. I find that the Killian scents sneak up on me and all of a sudden I realize that I love this. Alas, the price is so steep.
    I love your tip!

  3. I am amazed at the notes here. Oh, I should try this Oud by Kylian.The notes are so appealling. Egyptian geranium for example and Somalia incense... but it is quite expensive...

    I think Luckyscent doesn't sell to Spain but I could be wrong. Will check again.

    Thanks for this great review.

  4. Yes, they do, but the costs are a bit expensive, 28 dollars... hmm..

  5. Shahlab,

    the reaslly expensive scents can be hit & miss, so often.
    I think BtB was amongst the brand's less "perfume-y" products, it's so gourmand. But for that kind of money one (me) wants something to be on another plane, where there's consciousness at all times that this is a work of art; not a pleasant, even gorgeous, smell only!
    I think I.O. would please you, because the frankincense and the patchouli are quite discernible and the frag grows on you. Try it out!

    And thanks for the reminder on different grades of oud. As with everything I suppose there is some sourcing to be made. Do fill me in with more info on favourite suppliers & sources for tinctures/oils if you get a spare minute. :-)

  6. Bevfred,

    you know, I might be harsh with oud-frags because it's the principle of the thing that bugs me (the deception of the public; did I say this loud??) more than the smell, which I generally appreciate.
    This Kilian is a very soft, very persistent scent which has its own beguiling way. I didn't expect it, honestly. It's worth trying out!

  7. VL,

    you're most welcome, glad you enjoyed the review; it's worth sampling if you can!
    Yeah, it's very expensive! Obscenely so. You know, if I wasn't sent a sample vial for reviewing purposes I might not have chosen to test it out. I find this increasing of prices asked rather irritating!

  8. Oh, I forgot to tell you. Forget Luckyscent on niche, since you're also in Europe. The shipping is too much and they can't help it.
    Try First in Fragrance which is Germany-based:
    They offer free nsamples (as per YOUR choice) with purchases and they also have a sampling programme where you only pay for the samples of your choosing, if you want so. Very reliable service and great selection.
    I don't see Kilian there right now (funny I think they carried it).
    But you can always try the official site:

    (they have the travel sprays for the rest which are really good value for money, but not yet for IO; though I trust they will soon enough).

    Also, have you checked Scent Splits? It's a site for perfume enthusiasts who share fragrances (in decants) amongst themselves.
    Email me if you want a specific link ;-)

  9. Hi Dear! Thanks for all the info. I didn't know about the German link, I was thinking of visiting but I also did not know about Scent Splits at all. It sounds so great.

    Thanks, I have taken note. xoxo

  10. You're most welcome. Any other info or clarification, don't hesitate to email me privately: always glad to help out!

    Hope you have a great evening :-)

  11. Thanks Dear. I will keep it in mind. xx

  12. My pleasure :)

    In terms of suppliers, the oldest and most trusted that most people here buy from is a company called Ajmal. Their speciality is oud products, but they also carry a big range of perfume oils, such as musks, rose oils, amber...etc. They have a website (, but I think it's under construction.
    Ajmal is an Indian company that have been in the Gulf area since I could remember. There are other companies, such as Swiss Arabian and Rasasi, but again, Ajmal are the pioneers that we, our parents, and our grandparents' generation were dealing with whether in the UAE, or when they travelled to India.
    With regards to the the Oud Oil, the best kinds are Indian, and they come in may types, but the two best types are: Dehen Oud Seyoofi (Oud Oil Seyoofi), and Dehen Oud Sheyhookhi (Oud Oil Sheyookhi). They are extremely expensive since they are pure oud oil, and which are very thick and dark brown colored. A drop of this oil in any of your favorite perfume can transform its smell 180 degrees.
    In terms of the Oud wood, the good quality is usually shiny, which means it's rich in oils. When it's burned, you can see dark bubbles coming out of it, and its smell resonates longer. Some suppliers, unfortunately, mix regular woods with the oud wood for more profit since it's sold by being weighted.
    Unlike oud oils, oud woods doesn't have names or labels. But it's smell is very distinguishable and you can smell it from a long distance.

    I hope I knew how to describe fragrnaces the way you do, so that better explain that of the oud's but I am still a student and learning :)

  13. Anonymous03:52

    How does this Incense Oud relate to the other two in this line so far (Pure Oud and Rose Oud)?

  14. Shahlab,

    much appreciated!! I have heard of Ajmal and received I believe a few samples in swaps, can't recall which right now, will need to dive into my stash.
    And of course investigate further your other recommendations. Thank you!

  15. Anon,

    I found the rose one rosier (ha!) and rather sweeter while overall the patchouli and incense give off a more mysterious, smoky smooth feel to this edition. Not so with the others, as far as I recall.

  16. VL,

    do let me know how it goes if you want to!

  17. Hello Dear, I can't see samples at Kilian's website. the shipping cost is 20 euro. so you see i can't afford a full bottle now.

    I have not tried yet Scent Splits because i didn't have time yet. But as I see how the situation is I will have a look at it. Also I will see in Spain if I can find a sample. this is terrible:-)

    I will let you know!


  18. Here is a de niche perfumerie but as I see the one I look for is not listed plus .. no samples.

  19. I joined scents and splits. but I really don't understand what MUA stands for?

  20. To me, Kilian ouds are one of the best after Montale. In this perfume is too much incense and oud cannot come into the first plan...but never the is still great olfactory journey!

  21. Late here, but MUA is
    Lots of people swap (i.e. exchange) perfume samples there: registering is free.

  22. J,

    indeed it's more of an incense than an oud.
    I don't find the Montale ouds very true to the raw material: do you?

  23. Hm, hard to say. Montale has good Ouds, especially far, those are one of the best I have tried. As a raw find them synthetic comparing to the other ouds? Montale is maybe similar to CdG with materials but, currently, they are better to me than Sud pacifique for example. But Kilian has the bast ingredients, he's not saving on that ;)
    Do you remember M7? ;)

    If you wish, I opened yesterday my new blog, you can follow it here ;)

  24. Anonymous06:41


    Here I go again complaining.

    Some days ago I ordered two sample pouches from bykilian's homepage.

    To my great distress I only received one pouch.

    Furthermore, the exclusive oud samples bore no names but came with numbers: 28, 29, 30.

    As far as I could smell out, 28 is the enhanced version of Rose Oud (Gold Oud), 29 the one of Incense Oud (Black Oud) and 30 the one of Musk Oud (Eternal Oud).

    Of course I have paid in advance and am therefore waiting for an answer from bykilian's customer service.

    In my opinion this is not a professional way of treating a customer, even more so as this was my first order with them.

    This is due to the fact that their shipping costs verge a tad on the expensive side.

    After my experiences with Guerlain I should not be so very much astonished as I suppose Kilian Hennessy is also closely linked to LVMH.

    And that's the alleged high class.

    Best regards


    P. S.: the no 28 oud smells lovely, though.

  25. Oh Petra,

    that's so unfortunate!! Hope the CS amends this, especially if they happen to read here.
    Let us know how it went!

  26. Anonymous08:01

    Hello Elena,

    I am dropping by to say that I am still waiting for the delivery of the second sample pouch.

    As I had received no answer to my e-mail from bykilian I called their customer service.

    A nice lady promised me to ship the missing samples that day or the day after; they should reach me within four days.

    That would have been the day before yesterday.

    All this reminds me of an order I placed with around the same time last year.

    Incidentally this enterprise belongs to LVMH.

    All ever did was print a UPS shipping label, and I never received the quite expensive perfume ordered.

    They never replied to my several e-mails and their customer service telephone for foreign customers couldn't ever be reached.

    So in the end it was my bank who refunded me by transferring the amount back to my credit card.

    This is not high class.

    Best regards


  27. Petra,

    that's highly disappointing. :-((
    So sorry about the whole thing. Thank heavens for bank cooperation. I think you should write a letter expressing your disappointment to the Customer Service, stating the case, just so they get better for others at least.

  28. Anonymous11:54

    Hello Elena,

    Today the second instalment of the samples has finally arrived here.

    I had just this morning called the customer service again, and the nice lady I talked to one week ago was this time able to give me a tracking no.

    Anyway I would have highly appreciated it if someone had let me know this no. by e-mail, my address is known. I would also have been very glad if someone had answered the e-mail I sent after having received only one sample set.

    The only advice I can give is: call's customer service immediately. It helps if you speak French.

    Unfortunately, the more reasonable alternative would be though: rather don't buy from them or

    Even so, I like In the City of Sin as well as Playing with the Devil and no. 28.

    But in my opinion, if you want a real high class perfume which is worth its quite elevated price tag, go for Mohur Extrait.

    Best regards


  29. Petra,

    thanks for posting about the end results of the Kilian saga. What can I say? I agree about Mohur for one! :-)
    Happy holidays to you!! And thanks for posting.


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