Parfum de Marly is one of the most hyped-up brands I’ve seen on the Internet in recent years. The house is actually young, founded in 2009, but you might not guess that from its branding, which invokes a strong historical heritage. In fact, the brand is inspired by the decadence and “perfumed court” of the Château of Versailles.
The Bey of Tunis gifted Louis the 16th with a beautiful Godolphin Arabian steed, and the king then commissioned paintings of this and other horses in 1743, and that is why you have the misleading 1743 date stamped on the bottles. The Marly Horses (paintings, I mean, not the actual animals), where some of the only bits of the estate to have survived the French revolution. Fantastic marketing. Way to go, Julien Sprecher! (He’s the company founder.)
Back in 2014, I tried PDM for the first time with a sample of Darcy, and I remember it really standing out from a package of other samples I got from Scent Trunk, a perfume subscription service I was subscribed to for a time. So I’ve known of the brand for a while, and actually do have a handful of samples which I’ll probably write about at a later time.
I wanted a full bottle of something from Parfums de Marly and I figured my first full bottle purchase was probably going to either be Delina or Herod, but as it turns out, my first full-on experience with the brand is with a red-bottled, outlier of a beast called Kalan. This is a newer fragrance – I believe it was launched in 2019.
Let me tell you fume heads, this is not a fragrance to purchase blindly, as I did. Not only is this thing pricy at 210 euros for 125 ml, but it is also a polarizing perfume. Luckily for me, I usually like these types of weird wonders that others may often loathe. Yes, this is strange, but before we delve into the peculiarities of this concoction, how about this bottle!
Well, to me, the branding for PDM reminds of Creed, which is a little pretentious and kinda boringly preppy. My own alma matter carries this vibe, but that is an educational institution, not a perfume. I can’t say I hate horses, and I’m not against the matte red finish either, but it’s a pain that you can’t see how much you have left. This is irksome for someone like me who sells in addition to buys fragrance second hand. The main thing that puts me off with this bottle, however, is the weight.
For some reason or another, it would seem that consumers believe that the heaftier the container, the better the juice inside. No, that’s probably just marketing. To me, heavy bottles are reminiscent of Middle Eastern packaging, which I have to admit, can sometimes be cheap. Not to say the juice inside is cheap. A great many perfumes from the Middle East are far from cheap in both the quality of ingredients and perfumery craft. I’ve been to a few parts of the United Arab Emirates and Oman, so I speak from perfume shopping experience. I met an Iranian perfumer during a perfumery course I took in Dubai some years ago who runs a clone brand – his bottles remind me of Kalan’s. I have a few bottles from the Middle east which I can show you as examples of heavy packaging. Until 2020 hit, I’ve been someone who travels a lot and who moves house a lot. As such, this weapon-weighted or dumbbell strength bottle simple simply does not match my lifestyle. It’s totally impractical.
And now, onto the actual perfume inside the bottle. Let’s start with the notes:
- blood orange, black pepper, spices
- lavender, solar notes, orange blossom
- moss, wood, tonka bean, white sandalwood, amber
The PDM website gives a note breakdown that’s a little simpler than that. I usually get my note information from Fragrantica, and that’s what I did here. I think the reason why people bring up Baccarat Rouge 540 when it comes to this scent is very simple. BKR was a ground-breaking fragrance that took the molecule idea of Essentric Molucules – another game-changing fragrance brand from a few years earlier, and elevated it to supreme divinity. And I think basically since then, because BKR540 was so successful, perfumers and perfume houses simply followed suit. So what I get out of this scent that does emulate BKR540 is the molecular, disappearing-reappearing, ghost-like transparency and the burnt sugar effect, which is simultaneously very sweet but also very dry, preventing it from getting cloying or sickly. These two elements are both fascinating and very attractive components to have in a fragrance.
I get a lot of alcohol with this at the top, and once that settles, I admit I don’t get much of the orange and pepper. Instead, I get a creamy, pungent, plastic-y soup with a non-spicy, sweet spice seasoning. An exotic rice pudding, if you will. Yes, this is an oriental, almost spicy, almost gourmand scent.
There is an aromatic freshness to this. It feels something like Basil – just the mildest touch of something camphorous. I think that might actually be the lavender. Strangely, this fragrance then develops into something earthly. And when I say earth, I don’t mean wood or patchouli, I mean something more like moss and wet dirt or soil. It’s weird, but not at all unpleasant to my nose. There is no must or dust or skankiness; it’s just rich.
The juxtaposition of warm creamy mild spiciness and the top with the wet and cool earthiness makes this unique in my mind. And then, add to all that phase three, the candy floss, burnt sugar sweetness that hides somewhere in the air, coming and going as you wear this throughout the day. The transition from top to middle to base notes all happens quickly for me, to the points where I feel all the notes were thrown in the soup bowl in close succession and smashed together, using disposable latex gloves which melt a little into the mix.
Yes, I need to emphasize the synthetic plastic smell in here. I get memories of Gucci rush in that regard. But this scent is not your dancing, stoned raver girl. This is the raver girl’s sober best friend, who carries a stash of poppers to placate her neurotic friend in her hello kitty bag…. which is also holding her pet ferret that she can’t bear to part with. OK, I’m really making crap up now. There is nothing animalic here, but this scent is weird. It’s a very confused and confusing perfume. And the awkwardness of the composition is a main reason why I like it! For me, this was definitely a successful purchase. But I must say, if I had paid anything remotely close to retail price I might think differently.
Another great thing about Kalan is that I think it’ll work in the summer, too, and the performance is great, although it does not project so much after the first few hours, One thing to note is that the juice is a bit oily, so I’d be careful where you choose to spray. This is a fragrance I enjoy in my hair and strangely on my legs before dressing.
PDM is a fragrance house that prides itself on its quality, but overall based on what I’ve sampled I’d say its fragrances are more mass-appealing than niche, if you feel originality is a defining quality of niche. I’d say Kalan is its most niche yet. If different is appealing to you, I’d say you should get your nose on this.