When I first heard the name of By Kilian’s new release I got goose bumps with excitement. Dark, mysterious and maybe even forbiddingly dirty - this is how a fragrance called Black Phantom should smell.
I quickly opened Chrome and googled it. Gasp! The box has a skull on it! And it’s all black! I started cross-breeding scents in my head - Black Afgano pollinated with Hard Leather; Al Khatt’s fecal oud violently tearing up Aoud Cuir D’Arabie. I convinced myself there was no other way for this fragrance to smell. The name and the box said it all.
In the following half hour I went through a tormenting process:
The Perfume Addict in me: I must have this. It’s a beast in a bottle! How could I go wrong?
Common Sense: Okay, you have to smell it first. It’s an expensive fragrance.
Perfume Addict: Oh, c’mon, it’s totally worth it. How else but amazing can a fragrance with a skull on the box.
Common Sense: Remember that fragrance you bought last Christmas without even a sniff? You’ve worn it twice.
Perfume Addict: Okay, whatever, this one is different.
Common Sense: What about that monstrosity you got at the Bay? Yeah, that bottle’s pretty dusty...and full.
Perfume Addict: Fine! I’ll smell it first.
I’m glad I did. Black Phantom smells nothing like its name and even less like the skull adorning its box suggests. This fragrance belongs in a star-dusted sparking bottle bearing a name Tinkerbell’s Breath.
Dig Deeper: What Does It Smell Like?
By Kilian says Black Phantom was “inspired by the motto of the pirates: ‘Memento Mori’”. It was created as a “scentual and inspiring twist on an Irish coffee created for those who live for pleasure.”
The pirate inspiration is evident. The name Black Phantom is derived from the phantom or ghost ships that used to sail the Caribbean and Atlantic Ocean. These were abandoned ships, not necessarily pirate ones, which drifted from nothingness and scared the shit out of everyone.
The skull ornament on the box of the perfume is evident reference to the pirates of their Caribbean variety.
While it is evident how the ornamentation achieves the idea of pirates, it takes some analysis to draw parallels with the juice itself.
Black Phantom smells very sweet. If someone asks you what a gourmand fragrance smells like, show them Black Phantom. It’s a confection made of coffee, caramel, milk and, just in case it is not sweet enough, more sugar.
The idea behind the sugar overload is that sugar cane in Europe came from the Caribbean, and one can associate the Caribbean with pirates (as in Pirates of the Caribbean) and pleasure (as in all-inclusive shameless binging at Puerto Plata).
Even though the logic kind of flows, but pleasure, sugar and coffee have little to do with pirates or phantom ships. The notes of Black Phantom also include rum. It is so far back in the background that I often second guess myself whether I really smell it or I imagine it.
A hallmark of a well-designed fragrance is its balance. The sweet notes are juxtaposed with bitter, sour or saltier accords. For example, coffee and caramel compliment well together: coffee is dark and bitter and caramel is sweet.
I suppose Sidonie Lancesseur, the nose behind Black Phantom, tried to create such balance at least in principle. The coffee and dark chocolate accords in her composition are too weak to balance off the sweetness of everything else.
Two great examples how such balance is done right are Arquiste’s Anima Dulcis and Zoologist’s Civet. Both fragrances use coffee and spices to offset sweet notes and both of them achieve interesting results.
Another way to tone down the sweetness is by adding a wood accord. Something dark and astringent would have added some depth and mystery to the composition. Instead, what we find in Black Phantom is synthetic sandalwood and almonds. Both of them are sweet, nutty and balmy. Not so much a juxtaposition to the sugar accords as a compliment.
Overall, experiencing Black Phantom is like eating a dulce de leche candy with hot chocolate. It’s bearable only in small doses and only once in awhile.
How to Wear Black Phantom by Kilian
Black Phantom would make for a great scent for a donut shop owner or anyone working in the confectionery business. Own a whole bunch of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises? This is the scent for you.
All the sweetness of Black Phantom promises to be unforgiving in warm weather. If I were to wear it, the Christmas holiday season would be its prime time.
Black Phantom strikes me more as a casual fragrance than a formal one. Maybe this is just me but I expect more darkness and gravitas from my formal scents. It would be a good choice if you are going to the Waffle House or The Cheesecake Factory.
Considering that a bottle of by Kilian goes for about €260 (USD$280; CAD$387; GBP£218), the likely wearer of Black Phantom will be someone of certain economic means, usually achieved at more mature age.
By saying this, I fully realize there are many young people out there who can easily pay the price tag of Black Phantom. For those lucky ones, I pose the following question: should you?
Even though price can often serve as a prevention in making poor fragrance choices, there are many ridiculously expensive fragrances that suit any age. Black Phantom is such a fragrance. It lacks depth and complexity usually associated with more mature scents. I won’t find it odd if I smell Black Phantom on a 17-year-old. At the same time, the grandma of that same 17-year-old can pull it off too.
The Experts Say...
Thomas Dunckley, The Candy Perfume Blog. Fragrance Critic
“The opening is a real cacophony of deliciousness. Toasted coffee beans swirl into the caramel and vanilla tones of rum, whilst a salted, nutty almond note adds a savoury contrast. What’s truly fascinating is that these elements are fairly abstract and they come together to create a new type of gourmand – one that is sweet, salty, boozy, bitter and woody all at once.”
Star Rating: None Given
Read Thomas's full review here.
Mark Behnke, Colognoisseur. Fragrance Critic
“Like stories where you think you know where it is going Black Phantom takes me someplace unexpected; to the coffee bar. The combination of coffee, steamed milk, chocolate, and caramel has a distinctive odor. Mme Lancesseur balances her “caramel mocha” accord brilliantly.”
Star Rating: None Given
Read Mark's full review here.
Rum, Sugar, Caramel, Dark Chocolate
Almond, Sandalwood, Heliotrope
Bottle Size: 50ml, 250ml
Concentration: Eau de Parfum
Price: €260; USD$280; CAD$387; GBP£218*
Where to Buy: most luxury department stores
*Price is subject to change.