Back to Black by Kilian (2009)

Who is the Man in Black?

Who is the Woman in Black?

Now.  Who is the Perfume in Black?

In my quest to personify perfume (Scents act as a companion and you should really know who you’re bumming around with, no?) I am a bit flummoxed as to Back to Black’s identity.

So is Back to Black the spirit of Johnny Cash?  Nah.  I feel like we’d need grainy leather and booze.  A fragrance I would LOVE btw.  But Back to Black is not it. I do, however, see Back to Black complimenting a leather jacket.  I’ll keep that in mind.

What about the Angel of Death? Absolutely not.  That perfume would have a chill.  A shroud.  And some funk.  Again, no dice. However, there is an autumnal darkness about Back to Black.

So why can’t I get a reference for you?  A theme? Back in Black is hardly shrouded in mystery.  The major players are all readily evident upon first sniff:  tobacco, honey, spice, vanilla. And yet, it’s face remains obscurred from my view.  Well, at least we know we’re dealing with an introvert.

And a smoker.

The Tobacco

I’ve been known to like a dollop of tobacco in my perfume.  It’s sweet.  It’s strong.  It reminds me of my Gramps without downright smelling like him (For that, we would need Stetson.)  Tobacco warms things up, smoothes them out.  It keeps gourmands from being edible, and that is how I like my gourmands. Shalimar, Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille, Sacrebleu, and Back to Black.  Dessert you aren’t supposed to eat.  But rather.  Um.  Slather all over your body?  I don’t know.  But that’s the feel.

If you’ve never experienced the warmth or comfort of pipe tobacco smoke (or even unlit in the pouch), then Back to Black may be providing not just fragrance, but also a service.  Pipe tobacco is one of the great comfort scents the world has to offer.  It’s sweet, rich, roasted, smooth, a little herbal, and, spicy as it is, despite its fully developed appearance, ultimately a big ol’ leafy plant.

The Honey

To look at at tobacco and honey as a pairing, one might suspect the combination may be too sweet and Back to Black IS quite sweet.  However, when it comes to sugar, this pairing of tobacco and honey are LESS than the sum of their parts and it is all the better for it.

Which leads me to the animal factor in Back to Black.

This perfume is a sexy beast, but not so much that it sends you a dirty text (We’ll let Serge Lutens Muscs Kublai Kahn do that). Perfume newbies, you should know that a little animal factor can take a perfume from meh to wowser.  Civet, honey, musk, leather, ambergris, our own bodies make perfumes smell more complex, sexy, and rich.  There is some dubious treatment of animals when it comes to some perfume ingredients (particularly natural musks, civet and castoreum) so it is for those reasons and also my personal taste that my favorite animalic note is honey.

Back in Black delivers.

Now, when I say honey I do not mean the honey flavored syrup in a bear bottle on your grocer’s shelf. And as much as I would love to include a picture of Pooh bear, this isn’t an innocent kid cartoon kind of honey.  This is raw, organic, straight-off-the-comb, rich, sexy, complex honey.  We’re all adults here, right?  So I can say this thing I need to say.  In short, honey smells like butt.  Bee butt.  Clean bee butt.  And Back to Black, our scent story for today, has it spades.

Wait.  Is Back in Black Sam Spade?

Nah.  That man is a walking aromatic fougere.  Plus, wrong jacket.

(For experimental and culinary purposes, go to Trader Joe’s or a natural food store.  Buy their raw organic honey.  And give it a whiff.  If you’re only used to the cheap stuff, you’ll find honey is a perfume in and of itself.  Floral, warm, animalic. MAC used to carry two limited edition honey perfumes and I’ve always kicked myself for not purchasing them.)

In that we are animal, and honey is too, I find that my own skin is an essential ingredient to the mix.  The honey seems to recognize skin as familiar and warms right up and blends right in.  On paper, Back to Black seems to be missing something and I find my bod fills the gap (Yours will too.  It requires a human, but not anyone in particular.) This honey is intimate. The Perfume Posse folks describe it Back to Black as “bordering on TMI,” but the border is never quite crossed and that means Back to Black is available, yet aloof, and panties the world over metaphorically drop to the floor in response.  And thus we realize that “honey pot”  is a delightful euphemism and I will leave it at that.

Heh.

GASP

Leather Jacket.
Autumnal Darkness.
Dirty Joke.
Aloofness and panty dropping?

Is Back to Black Dean from Supernatural?

Reluctantly, I say no.  Back to Black is too sweet, and missing roughness and anger.  I suspect Dean would be a vetiver guy, but that’s another discussion.

Besides, the sexy part of Back to Black sticks around for a long time.  And Dean has to leave.  Again. Nice jacket , though.

The Vanilla and Spice

I tend to throw vanilla fragrances into two categories:  Foody Vanilla (Comptoir Sud Pacifique’s line) or Floral Vanilla (Vanilla Fields, Tocade).  Somehow, Back to Black’s vanilla is both, although it leans on the foody.  I suspect that this comes from the aforementioned honey as honey is also foodie and floral at the same time.  As is the cardamom (in chai – it’s foody.  Alone – it’s dry and warm and not particulary suggestive of anything edible.) The spices don’t stand alone so much as present themselves in relation to the tobacco and honey.  Is this clove spiked tobacco?  Cardamom honey?  It doesn’t really matter.  The point is, it blends.

The Patchouli

People fear patchouli.  They think head shop hippie and of course, we all know why.  However, I often find scents that are attributed to patchouli are not actually patchouli but rather hemp, musk, nag champa incense, or cheap amber oil.  Really patchouli can smell quite green or like good clean dirt.  It can smell resinous or indeed quite hippie.  Were the patchouli rendered differently here, Our man in Black would be Peter Fonda in Easy Rider.

But that would require more dirt.  More animal.  And a drier finish.

Rather, in Back to Black, patchouli becomes my favorite form – the soft cocoa powder version.  Another perfume that does this and makes my heart soar is Chanel’s Coromandel.  In Coromandel it is nearly a white chocolate, a cocoa butter.  But in Back to Black it is dark, roasted dutch process cocoa powder.  Not fully formed chocolate, however, and avoids smelling like a piece of cake.

The Mood

On the more esoteric side of things, I feel “held” by Back to Black.  Not like an affectionate hug from my Mom but rather an embrace from my man saying “Everything’s cool. Let’s dance.”  There are times when I wear something like Youth Dew or an old vintage something or other, or even my love YSL Paris and I again feel held, but rather in a cloud of my own making and as much as I love those perfumes:

Nobody comes to visit me in my little cloud.

Not so with Back to Black.

Dammit why can’t I figure this out.  I’m gong through my mental rolodex of iconic black leather jacket wearers:
Madonna – No.  That perfume would have fruit in it.
Elvis – not gaudy enough. His leather would have an unexpected floral.
Marlon Brando – not enough sweat.
James Dean.  I love Back to Black but it’s hardly legendary.
The Fonz? Oh man.  Would I love to smell THAT one.
Kate Moss.
Slash.  In general, Back to Black (as much as it’s AC/DC esque name suggests, is not a rock star perfume.  Not quite.)

Wait.

Johnny Depp?

Tobacco.  Yes.  Honey.  He’s got that sweet quirkiness with a dirty mind.

And yet,  no.  Not weird enough.  And while Back to Black might say something suggestive, Johnny’s would make you blush.

And Back to Black is never going fuck up a hotel room.

Damn and I was so close.

So who are we dealing with here? Back to Black is stubbornly unisex.  Truly it knows no gender.  It merely craves skin.  Lest I go down the Buffalo Bill path here, it doesn’t require you to step away from your dermal system.  It just wants to be invited in.

OH MY GOD.  BACK TO BLACK IS PIKE.  PIKE FROM BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

(And yeah, I don’t care what Joss Whedon says.  I’m a purist.  Give me Swanson.)

And who is Pike?  Well.  He’s a little Johnny Cash.  He’s a little b-horror movie.  He’s a lot sexy.  And very sweet…with an awesome girlfriend.

Ha!  You don’t get out of the Perfume Pad without a couple of samples and a movie reference.

But Betsy, I thought you said Back to Black was unisex.

Dude. Buffy totally wears Pike’s jacket at prom.  DUH.

That’s it.  That’s it.  I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Back to Black is a bad boy who is really a good boy who makes you want to do bad things.

And Reader, I married a Pike.

Man I love this perfume.

4 Stars

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