Dawn by Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle (2018) is one of the "Desert Gems" collection, coming on the heels of Promise (2017) and The Night (2014), being something of a sequel to the latter. Like The Night, Dawn claims to use a large amount of natural oud oil in its composition, and focuses mainly on this note throughout. Also like The Night, this scent comes with an enormous price tag that pushes $1,200 for a 3.4oz or 100ml bottle of eau de parfum, testing even the most spendthrift oud fan with a cost that pushes what could be close to a month's rent somewhere. As such, you'd think that what is delivered here would smell like the epitome of Arab oud opulence and European refinement merged into one bottle, but that isn't the case. Not saying this isn't good, because it is very good, but Dawn by Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle smells too close to oud fragrances (real or not) to be taken seriously for its price. Even with The Night, which was a very cheesy/animallic oud in the raunchiest way imaginable, you can dig hard enough and find something pretty close to it for a fraction of the price.. The type of oud Dawn is on the other hand, is the far more common slightly sour and leathery kind that tends to be the subject of lower-price oud perfumes actually from the Middle East, devoid of much bedroom shenanigans but still animalic enough that its wearer comes across assertive. Everyone from Jacques Bogart and Montale to Perris Monte Carlo and even Le Labo has done takes on this style, and all of them cost less than this (especially the Bogart). Now I'm not saying all these represent the same quality of experience, but they do offer the same type of experience, which may be all that matters to the frugal fraghead.
This time around, the notable perfumer du jour is Carlos Benaim instead of Dominique Ropion. Both perfumers come from rather commercial (and these days soulless) backgrounds, although Benaim in particular has a number of huge blockbusters from the 70's, 80's, and 90's under his belt. Therefore, I was really kind of curious as to what he'd do with oud oil if given the chance and he did... pretty much nothing. In a similar move to Ropion's classic cheese funk oud, the sour leathery oud vein Benaim chose takes no risks within the oud realm, although smells very risque to the outsider not accustomed to stiffly animalic perfumes. If you've smelled anything like Dior Leather Oud (2010) or Montale Aoud Cuir d'Arabie (2006), you're already pretty close to what Dawn offers. The cheese is not as high as the Montale, while the leatheriness is closer to something like Bogart One Man Show Oud Edition (2014). Funny how I can compare a $1,200 fragrance to perfumes costing $340, $150, and $50 respectively, which is a problem. Sour oud and dry Turkish rose accompany a thin layer of pepper on top of a vivid frankincense note in the heart. No doubt this is real olibanum and not norlimbanol giving the incense effect, while the base is full of dry ambers, patchouli, labdanum, and a bit of sour cypriol to give a combined leathery amber effect similar to Perris Monte Carlo Oud Imperial (2012). As a daytime counterpart to The Night, this works in my eyes, although this is not something you put on before going to work. Wear time is going to be all day, and projection is so strong I don't need to mention it, really. You also get to figure out when to smell like this, or just not to care about that.
I think overall, this is a very serviceable, masculine-leaning oud interpretation, that avoids pitfalls like over-using rose or saffron to "silken" the accord, and doesn't sweeten or overly dry out the oud so it goes too musky or woody. Right down the center this goes, without a ton of floral flash or dirty underwear waving, and less lewdness for those who don't appreciate barnyard romps. For fans of more ambery ouds like Diptyque Oud Palao (2015) or even the long-dead Balenciaga pour Homme (1990), this one won't do, as the dryness and sourness of the amber here is of a different nature. Of course, speaking strictly of the fragrance itself, this is on another level from anything MFK or Tom Ford calls an oud too, so don't think that by dry I mean comet cleanser and soot ash like those seem to rely on. There are no rubbery ambery gummy mastic notes to get in the way either, and no cashmeran overtdose in an attempt to hide the rough-hewn seams of the oud treatment. In regards to being a true luxury perfume experience, this is clearly not, as it does not wear easily nor will take anyone aback in a positive way. What this is here, for those who love oud but refuse to dive into the esoteric world of distilleries or attars, is the next closest and authentic thing to that experience, housed in a convenient spray bottle that looks like any other Malle. Therein lies the luxury I suppose, of wearing a raw oud fragrance that still has a French perfumer's touch and clearly French presentation. Like The Night, you have to ask yourself if that's worth $1,200, or if you want to keep digging among a plethora of more affordable yet similar-smelling options. Thumbs up
Well-heeled and well balanced. Its excellent, buttoned-up masculinity if thats what you are looking to add to your fragrance accessories. For those that want a short description imagine a steady low key woody-incense beeswax candle after the slightly boisterous opening.
Speaking as part of the Ormonde Jayne faithful, and oft-wearing Roja, luxury is not merely cost of ingredients or using more of them. More often it is about restraint and removing friction. In my unscholarly opinion, I think what Malle offers is expression in good taste without being too dated. Im not sure Malle is a house I will invest heavily into though I am quite glad to spend an extended period getting to know at least part of their offerings.
My comment is based solely on a spritz in a shop -- I am unlikely to purchase it (given the price). Some reviewers talk of a shocking, animal oud note. I found it to be rather mild-mannered: definitely oud but not shocking. Dried into a light, pleasant woody-incense. The word I was thinking throughout was "subtle." Perhaps a large application would yield more depth and facets. Given the price, the shop was doling out single spritzes.
Frederic Malle Dawn opens with a quite fierce oud. It has the similarly animalic, sour and fermented aspects like the Indian oud in The Night. However, instead of a full-on barnyard stroll, it also clearly exhibits a rubbery facet that fits the profile of Laotian oud that I've encountered so far. As a result, Dawn is indeed lighter than The Night, but overall speaking it's still fairly animalic as an oud perfume.
However, like The Night, the authentic oud characteristics in Dawn retreat to the background rather quickly, and what's left is only a softly sweet and resinous woody backbone with flickers of rose petals. Moreover, it's gradually consumed by a standard olibanum incense and labdanum amber accord, and further dried out by a discreet touch of woody amber aromachemicals, to the extent that the dry down after about 4 hours is almost solely a desiccating incense than anything smelling remotely of oud.
I got a medium to soft sillage with Dawn and a longevity of at least 8 hours on my skin.
For me, The Night and Dawn share the same syndrome: a fairly authentic oud opening undermined by ubiquitous, uninspiring rose and amber/incense accords. If Dawn was released two years ago, I would have recommended it along with The Night as an example of animalic oud to sample, because even though they're fairly standard and unimaginative, at least they showcase the animalic aspects of oud pretty well and are put out by a well-established brand. However, during these two years, many artisanal and independent brands have come up with oud perfumes either more authentic, more innovative, more sophisticated or more luxurious, and with a more interesting price at that. Therefore, I would not particularly recommend Dawn before other more interesting oud perfumes.
Dawn is not an easy oud, but it's far more "typical" and unimaginative than The Night, the latter of which I recall as having a unexpectedly refined pungency, like a veil of that blue cheese note ouds can have. Dawn has more of an aggressive quality, even though it's not as difficult as The Night.
I was expecting Dawn to be more of a rosy oud, but it is heavily weighted toward oud. From the opening, oud's complexity takes the fore. It is at turns fragrant, leathery, woody, sweet. It flirts at the edges of animalism, but backs off quickly. There's a little bitterness that comes out in the dry down which pairs fantastically with the oud but for the most part, it's mostly a smooth, rich, and nicely filled-out ambery base.
The problem is the exorbitant price. I can think of other luxury ouds that cost far less and are in the same style. These tend to be thinner and more raspy but I can't justify spending 4-5 times more for this bump up in quality.
Dawn goes on with a shock of animalics, from both woody cumin and an especially fecal oud. But the star of the show is really a peppery sequoia forest smell with the animalics humming along underneath, while the ouds other aspects (most notably a medicinal rubber tinge and those animalics) add character and a creamy richness. This is beautifully balanced and gorgeous if you like this sort of thing, though it seems to fall apart a bit given time, ending up as a mix of black pepper essence and a rather cheap-smelling aquatic rubbing alcohol basenote. In all, it's decent but paying $1500 for some black pepper oil and the same basenote as an Axe body spray feels obscene.