K-beauty has been trending for the last decade or more in Japan, and I’m sure since the start of the BB cream boom it’s been a big hit in Western countries as well. And now, it would seem, South Korea is stretching its fragrance muscle. Since the country is so flavourful in the cuisine department, I’m not surprised. Korean perfume brands aim to attract customers who are drawn to the allure of exclusivity, quality, and artistry. Some niche market producers I am aware of from the land of kimchee include Tamburins, Nonfiction, Grandhand, Pesade, SW19, Visum, and the one I’m going to talk about today, Youssoful.
Last June of this year I went to South Korea for a long weekend, and enjoyed a fair bit of shopping, picking up a few goodies from Youssoful, a producer of perfumes, candles, and room diffusers. Their best seller fragrance is Saint Moritz, which smells great, but a little too mainstream and fresh for my personal tastes. I tend to be drawn to warmth, spice, wood, and amber. I think that comes through in the three I picked out from the brand on that trip to Seoul, and now that we are well into the autumn season, it’s a perfect time to talk about them.
The first is Santal Sequoia. This is an obvious dupe for Le Labo’s Santal 33. The wood notes are strong, and the Ambrox keeps it going for hours. The fragrances in this house seem to all be branded as extrait de parfum. If that’s true and not just marketing, then it’s not surprising that they are more powerful than EDP concentrations.
- leather accord, sandalwood, vanilla,
- cardamom, iris, violet, musk, papyrus
I am indeed a Le Labo fan, especially of that New York favorite, Santal 33, but I’m certainly not a fan of Le Labo’s prices. So when I come across an affordable dupe, I’m all in. This one, I’m happy to report, is not only leaps and bounds better than the Zara dupe Energetically New York, but also Scentgourmand-approved as an excellent alternative. It does have the same notes after all, the only difference being the addition of musk and the lack of cedar. Santal 33’s amber might as well be Ambrox. Maybe it is. Anyway, this one is smooth – not screechy, rough, or insecticide-like. If you’re not familiar with Santal 33, know it can be a tad polarizing. If you don’t think you’d adour powdery sandalwood and papyrus soaked in refreshing, iced cucumber water, stay clear of this one. I love it. I got a free travel-friendly extra with the purchase as well.
Now while many say that Santal 33 leans masculine, I feel it’s very unisex. I feel this next one, Kingsman, does lean a smidge more masculine, but of course, that doesn’t mean you need to be masculine to wear it. It simply has a note composition that is traditionally more associated with dudes, like leather and vetiver.
- agarwood, leather, rosewood, amber
- sandalwood, angelica root, cypress
- tonka bean, vetiver
No florals, no fruit, no frosting, but lots of different woods and leather, warmed up with amber and tonka bean, on a fresh and grassy vetiver base. There’s no syrupy sweetness in either of these fragrances, and yet they are both warm and savory as opposed to cool and dry. I don’t know if Kingsman is duping anything, but to me, this is extremely Tom Ford-esk. Or perhaps a Spirit of Dubai type of thing. This is a sexy fall fragrance. The oud note in here is indeed perceptible, but no, it’s not the real thing. Fake agarwood or oud can be a tad nasty (well, so can the real thing I suppose), but there’s only enough in here to skank up the composition to add enough come-hitherness. I really like how the cypress and vetiver add a freshness that balances the fragrance out. Also, there is almost a sweetness with the tonka bean and amber. It’s well-rounded. And again, I would wear this (I have, as you can see), but the mainstream market will likely see this as one for the gentlemen. Oh, I would eat up my man if he wore this. I’ll savor it on myself in the meantime.
The third and final bottle is Milan Fever, another warm and fall-appropriate fragrance with little in the way of florals, typically how I like it. I believe this one is more for the ladies, and is also very sexy, in a sophisticated way.
- clary sage, lavender, bitter almond,
- tonka bean, orris, cashmeran,
- leather accord
Guys can wear this one, too: It’s aromatic and there is lavender. The bitter almond and tonka bean really shine in this one. It’s smooth, seductive, powdery, creamy, and delicious. This one is familiar, but I cannot put my finger on it. I know La Petit Robe Noire has bitter almond, but it’s not as powerful as this and Guerlain’s is also sweeter and far more mainstream. Of the three that I bought this one is the most gourmand. I’m trying to figure out where that tastiness comes from. Perhaps it’s simply due to the tonka bean taking up a more prominent position in the mid-notes. This is the type of fragrance I recommend putting on your scarf on a cool day. When you move it around on a walkabout and catch a whiff of it, you’ll be summoned to press it against your nose and drink it in. It’s beautiful. My Seoul-based friend bought a bottle of this one, too. Milan Fever is also very Tom Ford-like. You know what? Yes, I think this just might be a F@cking Fabulous dupe! No vanilla in here, but that leather and bitter almond with the interesting sage and lavender opening is it!
Despite my feeling that this is more of a dupe house than anything that would warrant admiration for originality, I’m still impressed by this Korean house for a few reasons.
First is obviously value for money. I cannot recall the exact price I paid, but it was certainly closer to 50 dollars than 100 – and that’s Canadian dollars. Also, your buck is accompanied by quite a bang. You don’t need to drain the bottle to last you throughout the day, though personally, I like a refresher spritz of all of these a few hours in.
Second, I feel a lot of their fragrances make for good layering if you’re into that type of thing. Because they cost less, you can perhaps worry less about making a Frankenstein combo, not that that likely happens a lot.
Third, although there are indeed a lot of inspirations from popular fragrances in the house, they are not perfect dupes and still manage to put their own spin on things. I managed to get a sniff of everything in the house, and they generally all a) smelled like quality concoctions and 2) reminded me of things I had smelled before but couldn’t always identify. There were probably inspirations of fragrances with which I wasn’t familiar as well. Santal Sequoia brought Santal 33 to mind immediately, and their Côte d’Azur had to be inspired by Jo Malone’s Wood, Sage, and Sea Salt. Perhaps I’ll get that next time I’m in Korea since I had a bottle of Jo Malone’s years ago and rather enjoyed blasting through that.
I think it will likely be tricky for you to purchase these unless you’re in Korea. There is an online presence for the brand but the site is only in Hangul and I don’t know if they ship internationally. But, if you’re ever in Seoul, and you want some really good dupes of pricier fragrances, Youssoful is definitely worth checking out!