Having taken a look at the official note listing on the By Kilian website, I fully expect Back to Black to have a fresh-herbal opening, but instead we plunge into dark sweetness from the first moment. The opening is soft and subdued - a hint of subtle leather and rising myrrh, bittersweet and perfectly discernible, despite the fact that it makes no appearance in the official note listing. The tiny herbal-floral voice of chamomile gasps and fades into nothingness as the dark, soothingly wintry scent intensifies, blossoming into an extravagance of outrageously beautiful opoponax (again, not listed, but oh-so-definitely-there) laced with gourmand notes of cherry and hints of tart raspberry bliss. Unexpectedly, the volume drops lower again as the central note of tobacco emerges through the fruity nuances. Its entrance is diffuse yet full-bodied, as though someone pried open a prize cherry wood humidor housing preciously sweet pipe tobacco within. At this point it’s all I can do to stop nuzzling my arm and to keep writing this review - I just want to keep my nose buried in the crook of my elbow, inhaling this sweet, deep scent that evokes images of grand fireplaces and sipping cognac curled up in luxurious leather armchairs. Gradually, a honey note emerges - subtle at first, forming perfect continuity with the fruity notes of the fragrance, but eventually gaining in intensity and becoming as strong as the tobacco. The two however do not antagonize, but rather complement each other. In fact their union is so perfect that even though I do not normally like honey in perfume unless it is subtle and very round (and this one is very mildly sharp) I find myself not being able to imagine Back to Black without it. It is perfect as it is - honey and all. The drydown is darker, with the honey having died down and the cherry now freely wafting in and out of the sweet tobacco veil that has settled on the skin. Milky almond and soft, powdery notes enhance the feeling of comforting calm, while a beautiful balsamic base simmers gently in the background.
If I had to describe Back to Black by way of comparison, I’d say it smells like the love child of Serge Lutens’ Rahat Loukoum, Fumerie Turque and The People of the Labyrinths’ Luctor et Emergo (wow, what a love triangle!). It almost feels like the best elements of these perfumes were combined to create a separate, brand new entity whose sole purpose is to comfort and delight. While I wouldn’t wear Back to Black outside (it doesn’t really fit my personality nor my image) it would be a dream to own a bottle just to wear this absolutely delightful concoction to bed. Because what Back to Black does, is make you want to close your eyes and keep smelling this perfume that evokes the most beautiful images, grab a book, curl up under a comforter and purr, delight in the warmth of the house even as it thunders, pours down with rain or snows outside. Or at least, that’s what it does to me. It is the ultimate complex comfort perfume. What a luxury.
Images: Antique pipe via National Museums Scotland (nms.scran.ac.uk). Swivel cognac glasses by Bodie and Fou available for purchase via www.notonthehighstreet.com (Editor’s note: Fragrance Bouquet is not affiliated with this webshop)