by Olivia

I found it, finally, in Paris. I’d read about it months beforehand, my heart simultaneously skipping and sinking as I read through the notes and the ever-hyperbolic PR spin (it sounded wonderful/I knew I had to find this, inevitably Far Away Land exclusive.) Having just left the hushed purple womb of Serge Lutens Palais Royale – a shop like no other, beautifully suffused in pomegranate, shadows and stars like an empyrean antechamber – and leaving the lesser interested party dangling his feet in the mossy fountain in the Galeries de Valois, I spun off towards Maison Francis Kurkdjian. The day was hot and sticky and the crowds swarmed and bumped along like glistening dodgems as I veered along the Rue de Rivoli. Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s tiny boutique, cool, conservative with a carefully spare urbanity – was when I found it, a little entirely deserted oasis.

Released in 2014 to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the GUM department store in Moscow, and inevitably exclusive to that shop save for MFK’s miniature flagship in Paris, Ciel de Gum is a warm, spiced floral amber. The top notes present a somewhat deceptively transparent accord of pink pepper and cinnamon. These fiery spices are painted here with the trademark effervescence of the perfumer; rather than burn and tickle, they sparkle and glint as if seen through a kaleidoscope’s refracted sunlight. Soon though, these melt into a fuzzy, sepia jasmine and the same wash of loukhoum-like rosewater that suffuses the delectable Cologne Pour le Soir from the same line. The jasmine here, spun and spiced with cinnamon reminds me of the furry indolic Egyptian variety of The Different Company’s Jasmin de Nuit. The rose though is quite subservient, playing very much a supporting, sweetening role. Once the basenotes, a baroque recline of velvety amber, a scuff of leather and a blurry glaze of vanilla arrive the effect is that of being buried, suddenly swallowed, within the heaving chest of a hugging Aunt – a whoosh of warmth and skin and draped fabric. It’s thick and chewy, enveloping and decadent, familiar and yet somehow exotic. It is a closet of comfort, redolent of fur stoles and pain d’epices, as golden as the domes of St. Petersburg. There is a faintly tarry nuance that joins the comfort blanket of amber – specks of tobacco leaf and liquor, a warming nip of something sweet and strong clasped with frostbitten hands. Inside that glazed vanillic cocoon, there is a hint of fireplace, a dusting of coal perhaps, bringing to my mind snow melting on dark kindling and glowing tinder from the hearth. It smells like the place between battered boots, stamped icily on the doormat, and the toasty snug of heavy coats.


Although it is undoubtedly vanillic, this is not a gourmand perfume. Rather its sweetness pays a homage to the lush balsamic Orientals of the past – Fendi’s Theorema, Coco, perhaps even a little Obsession. It has the same fudgy texture as Musc Ravageur, although the indoles lent by the jasmine here in no way combine to resemble the kitty tummy animalics of the Malle. The honey-and-hide quality also reminds me of the toothsome, musky nectar in Centerpiece extrait from 4160s Tuesdays.

Though this perfume, coloured like a lit Christingle, is certainly enveloping and rich (smoldering perhaps even), it has been made with the lightness of touch characteristic of Kurkdjian. There is plenty of air here between the notes, and it’s carefully steered away from anything sweatily overwhelming. This is the drama of Russian Orthodox liturgy refracted through a very contemporary Parisian lens. Despite its warmth, it is in some ways a nostalgic perfume: a bathetic tribute to the luster and pageantry of a Tsarist past. This edge of melancholia amid the grandeur of luxuriant balsams and comfort strikes me as a fitting scented token of the heirlooms of bounty and theatricality, personified (it seems from photos: I’ve never been there) by the grand and gilded GUM store.

Whilst I’d fired myself towards Maison Francis Kurkdjian specifically to find this particular perfume, once there the assistant introduced another, perhaps for me at least, even lovelier scent. Eyes wide and excited, she told me she’d been offered a bottle to have as her own (I know, right…) She’d tussled between Ciel de Gum (‘so beautiful for winter’) and the new Oud Silk Mood. The Silk won: ‘so sexy! So fabulous for the nights!’ ..I hadn’t even heard of it to be honest. Actually I probably wouldn’t have bothered seeking it out given that I wasn’t taken with the Oud trio (Oud’s Cashmere, Silk and Velvet) of a couple of years ago, all three of which were heavy handed and abrasive on my own skin – a whirligig carnival of industrial solvent and hot oily metal with a pulse of pure filth.

This is different. Again playing with texture and the evocation of fabric, this is an altogether more feminine scent (though not girly, and the distinction is always important!) Taking the recently revived idea of a lipstick accord (seen in Malle’s Lipstick Rose, Chanel Misia, Guerlain French Kiss) – a combination of rose, violet and sweet powder – and blending that dainty, quite French association with the rich jamminess of an Arabian rose perfume, this is truly a gem. A ruby wrap of a perfume, the opening is heady with a crimson confiture of rose and sweet violets conjuring skin swaddled in burgundy. This burnt muscovado sugar and dark rose is full bodied and throaty, a vibrant ‘come hither’ shower of lush petals. It definitely has a boudoir and bodice feel to it, referring again to the playful, cheeky feminity of lipsticky perfumes.

But as this elixir like potion warms on the skin, a smoky baritone curls up through it and anchors the macaroon-flecked florals to a ballast of chocolaty amber, peppery oud and dry woods. The auburn thrum of benzoin and treacle-like labdanum sing a sonorous baseline with the oud, whose woody and smoky facets are teased out leaving behind the funk and rot it can imbue. The whole thing is blurred with a dusting of rich vanilla, which serves not to make it edible but to bind and blend. It wears like a radiant shroud, soft and lovely, with a wonderful ruby like interplay of light and dark. A decadent, dark loukhoum oud, as sexy, and as fabulous for the nights as promised.

While the rose-oud thing is obviously nothing new, and for many of us has reached total saturation point, I think this one is worth seeking out. It’s a beautiful perfume, combining sensuality with wearability and showcasing Kurkdjian’s masterly treatment of florals under a Middle Eastern gaze. While much of the MFK line could be classed as having an almost android perfectionism – attractive, beautiful even, but all so conservative and hermetic – these two perfumes represent the most interesting releases since Absolute/Cologne Pour le Soir. As with other scents from the brand, they exhibit the gingerly constructed compositions and the steady hand of a craftsman with an innate feel for his materials. But while that same precision in other fragrances can augment too streamlined (sterile, even) a feel, here it is bolstered by a more forthright voluptuousness. Both these perfumes are expansive and vivacious, but also possess the lush and fleshy oriental feel of the best of Kurdjian’s work.


Filed under maison francis kurkdjian ciel de gum review, maison francis kurkdjian oud satin mood


  1. ninakane1

    Lovely review!

  2. Glorious reviews Olivia, thoroughly glorious.

  3. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    I have visited the GUM store in Moscow ages ago, when it was a sad, derelict sneeze from the past. It seems to have been resurrected, no doubt thanks to Russian Mafia input.
    You have brought to life the vision I then had of resurrecting the tsarist exclusive splendour.
    Thanks, beautifully written. And I’ll go and investigate Maison Kurkdijan, as yet a mystery to unravel …

  4. daisyloo82

    Ahhhh…exactly. These are my two loves of MFK. You’ve expressed their beauty more eloquently than I could ever hope to. If I were not already basking in Orchidee Blanche; I would be scrabbling over to the cabinet for a spritz of Satin Mood…..

    • Who was Orchidee Blanche by again; was it not one of those lovely old L’Artisans…?

      • daisyloo82

        Oh yes, sorry….this is what happens when I am allowed to comment before coffee in the morning. Orchidee Blanche is a long discontinued L’Artisan great….from back when they had a longevity of more than 27.6 seconds…In fact I could still smell it on my arm apres le shower….so I put Satin Mood on the other arm. Yes, I spent most of the day indiscreetly sniffing both arms.

      • I remember it. Really sweet, powdery and enveloping.

        They were SO much better then…..

  5. Always reviewing stuff I cannot find! Sounds amazingly beautiful.

  6. Robin

    I’m a little confused. I love your description of MFK’s oud, but you write about the Oud Silk Mood as mentioned by the assistant. The heading of the review states Oud Satin Mood. Which of the two is being described here? It sounds beautiful, and I’d love to try it.

    • She needs to get on the case….


    • daisyloo82

      The description is 100% Satin Mood. I assumed it was something of a typo since Silk Mood is heavily oud and very sharply woody. Honestly I could bathe in Satin Mood’s jammy rose goodness, but SILK Mood I could not get off my arm quickly enough!

      • daisyloo82

        PS. If this is the Robin I think it is — drop me a note and I’ll send you a sample. 🙂

      • Robin

        Oh, how very good of you to reply so quickly. Thank you. Because of your description, trusting it — your writing is so compelling and so . . . credible (!) — I have been to visit Luckyscent and am about to pull the trigger on a very expensive blind-buy of Oud Satin Mood ($300USD plus Canadian duties/taxes), so wanted to be sure I was getting the jammy rose goodness you rave about.
        I have just discovered The Black Narcissus and have been glued to my screen, reading all the current and archived articles. You and Neil are so likeable. I love your shared sensibility. Really feeds my soul on so many levels: emotionally, culturally, hedonistically.
        Thanks again, although my wallet is protesting.

      • daisyloo82

        Gosh, I hope you like it! LOL ….It has the same sweet jamminess that Lush Rose Jam shower gel has (not the Rose Jam edp as that was a synthetic mess) , and also a similar jamminess to Neela Vermeire’s Mohur (which is a most glorious rose scent). Good luck! 🙂

      • daisyloo82

        PS. Ps….I’m not Olivia ….I’m just Daisy. 🙂

      • Robin

        Just looked up Mohur. Wow: Cardamom, coriander, ambrette, carrot, black pepper, elemi, Turkish rose oil, jasmine, orris, hawthorn, almond milk accord, leather, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, oudh Palao from Laos, benzoin, vanilla, tonka bean . . . all with a certain French-y je ne sais quo is? Another lemming from Miss Daisy?

  7. Robin

    “Just” Daisy is saying a LOT. I remember your kindness and generosity. With this article, I was struck by its verisimilitude. It’s a passionate description, but it also seems grounded. I don’t know how many times I’ve read stuff that’s a bit too “purple” – or, in the other direction, stuff that just sits there on the page, disconnected from the real experience of inhaling a composition. You and Neil have this same talent and skill.
    I get so confused when I read things online. Fragrantica, for instance, is a useful resource, but the reviews are more confusing than clarifying, because they come from too broad a range of contributors. I think that’s why I wanted to pounce on the Oud Satin Mood before I even finished the piece. Finally, something that seemed like it was sniffed by a similar nose to mine! I have spent a lot of money over the years chasing beauty in scent. If you love it, Daisy, and if it smells the way you describe it, so delicious and complex, I think I should perhaps just take a leap of faith?

    • daisyloo82

      Ah ha….now I know which “Robin” this is. 🙂 *hey girl!* You know, I would never recommend a blind buy and certainly not one of this magnitude….even though I’ve been known to do it myself from time to time. I can only say that I ordered a bottle of Ciel de Gum directly from Paris and they sent along a sample of Oud Satin Mood ….something I’d not have pursued on my own (oud is not usually a Daisy-friendly substance) …. the next day I was placing another order for a bottle of Satin Mood. I love the stuff…both Ciel de Gum and this……but YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. That said; let me know how you like it when you get your bottle. 😉

  8. Robin

    Okay, NOW I get it. So sorry! Daisy and Olivia are two different – and equally lovely – women. My apologies for my addled brain. So, Olivia, a specific thanks for your beautiful writing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s