Perfumes cling closely to your flesh
As incense to a censer; bright
And dusky nymph, you are all Night,
Secret and passionate and fresh!
— Charles Baudelaire (trans. Jacques LeClercq)
This is the end / beautiful friend
— Jim Morrison
I'm sorry, but I couldn't stop myself from using those images and quotations. What else can one do, when faced with promotional copy stating that a fragrance is "inspired on one hand by Baudelaire's homage to sweet and deep fragrances, yet on the other hand by the dark and mysterious poetry of Jim Morrison as he seemingly forebode his own demise"? The fragrance in question is Sweet Redemption (The End), the tenth and final release in By Kilian's L'Oeuvre Noire series. It was developed by perfumer Calice Becker and the notes for this sweet powdery woods fragrance include orange blossom, vanilla, myrrh, opopanax, benzoin and incense.
Overwrought prose aside, what do we have here? Sweet Redemption opens with a top note of orange blossom cocooned in spun sugar. It's feminine and quite pretty, and I thought for a moment that this would turn out to be one of the simpler By Kilian compositions. (Many of them are just too much for my taste, although I am fond of Liaisons Dangereuses.) However, after about twenty minutes on my skin, that sweet floral note is swallowed up by something sharp and sour in the fragrance's heart. This could be the "bitter orange leaf absolute" mentioned in the official description. It has a menthol edge, and it bothers me to a surprising degree. After an hour or so, this phase of Sweet Redemption fades away and is replaced by a base of orange blossom, neroli and benzoin, like handmade orange sorbet topped with freshly whipped vanilla cream. I'm also reminded of the marshmallowy note that I enjoyed in the earlier Kilian release Love (Don't Be Shy), also from Calice Becker.
Sweet Redemption is sweet in the end, and almost comforting, in a high-end way. The incense and woods notes are very faint, really just a whisper behind the floral and edible notes. It's the heart of the composition that puzzles me, though. Is the fragrance designed to take this jarring turn? Is that bitterness meant to be a moment of suspense or crisis just before the final resolution, the redemption, of L'Oeuvre Noire's symbolic love affair? Or is something not quite right, with the fragrance or with my own perception of it? I tested Sweet Redemption four days in a row, and experienced the same results every time. (If you've tried it and had a similar or different experience, don't be afraid to comment.)
As much as I enjoyed the opening and close of this "story" in the Kilian oeuvre, I'm not sure that it's the fragrance I'd choose if I could only choose one (or two) orange blossom fragrances. Overall, I prefer Atelier Cologne Grand Néroli for bright simplicity, Hermès 24, Faubourg for elegance, and Maison Francis Kurkdjian APOM Pour Femme for contemporary chic. And one thing I do know for certain: I'm going to spend some time with Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal this month. (The opening quotation comes from his poem Chanson d'Après-midi [Afternoon Song].) The Doors? Not so much.
By Kilian Sweet Redemption (The End) Eau de Parfum is available in 30 ml travel spray ($135; case with 4 vials), 30 ml refill ($70), 50 ml refillable spray ($225), 50 ml refill ($125). For purchasing information, see the listing for By Kilian under Perfume Houses.