Perfume Review: By Kilian Sweet Redemption

Orange blossom image from theflowerexpert.com

Oh-kay.

Okay, okay, okay. Okay, all right?

I surrender. There. I said it. Are you happy that I have turned into a cheese-eating surrender monkey*?

No? That’s not good enough?

(heavy sigh) Okay, but I’m only going to say this once.

Idon’thateorangeblossomanymore.

(* No, no, I like the French.  And I love cheese, too.  Everything is fine.)

See, I used to hate orange blossom. Well, not so much hate it as be horribly bored by it. Orange blossom still has a tendency to go all soapy on me, and I really intensely hate the idea of buying perfume, only to smell like hygiene products. NO. THANKS.

There are tons of perfectly lovely orange blossom fragrances out there that people love and that are adorably orange blossomy and smell very nice. Except on me. The following are just examples of Orange Blossom scents that went straight to Nice Floral French-Milled Soap on me:   AG Eau du Ciel (it smells like sheets freshly dried in the sun in the backyard, which is a wonderful smell but I prefer it as a linen spray), Bvlgari pour Femme, Jo Malone Orange Blossom, John Varvatos Artisan, L’Artisan La Chasse aux Papillons, SSS Femme Jolie, Caron Narcisse Noir (reformulated), Hermes 24, Faubourg.

Even Robert Piguet Fracas and Karl Lagerfeld Chloe, with all their tuberose and va-va-voom, luxurious, sexy qualities, seem nearly dominated by as much about orange blossom as tuberose to my nose, and they veer somewhat soapy on my skin. (AHA! The answer to the question of why on earth my mother, who deemed most white florals “too mature” for a teenager, let me go out of the house wearing Chloe: on me, it smells like floral soap. Mystery solved.)

Then this past fall, I tried Elie Saab Le Parfum, and I really enjoyed the tender, smiling orange blossom in the topnotes. Huh, I said to myself. Maybe it just didn’t have time to go soapy since the OB lifted off so fast. And in the middle of my Serge Lutens self-challenge (oh, yeah, that’s ongoing and I have more Lutens reactions to post at some point), I found that I enjoyed the unabashedly-floral Fleurs d’Oranger. Pretty, I said to myself. Of course, there is a bunch of tuberose in that one, too.

And Donna, who reviews at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, and who is the one perfume blogger who might have the greatest amount of preferences in common with mine**, loved Sweet Redemption. (For the record, Donna loves green chypres, and I don’t. But we’re both suckers for Big Diva Roses, violets, lilies, muguet, Big White Florals, gentle floral chypres, and bosomy florientals as well as a number of truly-vintage fragrances, so we’ve got a lot of overlap.

** Other bloggers with whom I share some preferences are Musette at Perfume Posse and Abigail at I Smell Therefore I am.)

Aaaaand there was a drawing at Perfume Posse for a handful of By Kilian samples, which Musette kindly sent to me… they arrived just before Christmas. I sniffed Rose Oud and thought it pleasant, but I was busy with Christmas stuff and vainly attempting to write reviews of Prada Candy and Bottega Veneta (which I have yet to actually write!). So I set them aside until I could get some time, and promptly forgot about them. Oops. So when I mentioned on my “Year 2011 in Fragrance Review” post that I didn’t get to try Sweet Redemption, she reminded me that she’d sent me a packet and that one should have been in there. It was.

Not to mention that way back in October, I “liked” By Kilian on Facebook, and the company had promised to send a set of samples to anyone doing so before a certain date. I hadn’t received them, had almost forgotten about them and had concluded that I had missed the deadline after all… and then they showed up on the very last day of the year.

Sweet Redemption was the one I seized out of that envelope from France and sprayed on immediately. My eyes rolled back in my head with WOW.

When I was first married and had leisure time, I spent a goodly amount of it with Ruth Levy Beranbaum’s wonderful book The Cake Bible, making cakes and frostings and custards and jams and confections I’d never even heard of before, including sugared blossoms such as violets and rose petals and lilacs. I suspect that orange blossoms are too thick-petaled and waxy to respond well to the sugaring treatment, but I know that orange blossom water is commonly used in delicacies across the world, and it’s not a stretch to imagine an orange blossom I’d like to eat. Sweet Redemption opens up with an accord that is as close to a delicate, tender, sugared orange blossom as I could possibly imagine. It’s romantic and sweet and gorgeous and I just want to wipe happy tears from my eyes with my white lace-trimmed handkerchief as I smell it.

It’s also fairly fruity. My youngest child sniffed me and, confused, asked if I was wearing Jell-O. I was confused myself, wondering where this grapey smell was coming from since By Kilian seems to pride itself on high-quality raw materials. The grape effect seems to be engendered by methyl anthranilate, mentioned by Luca Turin in his P:TG review of Giorgio and explained further by Denyse at Grain de Musc in her review of Sweet Redemption as being an aromachemical that is naturally produced by orange blossoms and tuberose. This aromachemical is frequently added to grape-flavored items such as Kool-Aid and Jell-O to enhance the grapiness, thus leading Americans to perceive it as being a synthetic smell (see my review of I Profumo di Firenze Tuberosa d’Autonno).

After this stage, there enters a hint of floral bitterness that reminds me just a bit of marigolds, and perhaps of the bitter inner pith of orange peel. It’s something of a surprise in a fragrance that up to this point has been sweet as little baby kittens; I like it. It makes me think of the Mediterranean tradition of giving sugared almonds at a wedding reception – although there’s no almond at all in the smell, its combination of bitter and sweet, “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” makes me emotional.  I’m guessing that it’s the bitter orange leaf and myrrh that give this bitter effect to the sweet orange blossom.

As the scent develops, I pick up a spicy note underneath the orange blossom. Eventually, there is a lovely accord of orange blossom and resiny, vanillic benzoin, with that kind of sweet myrrh that I like. There is not a single trace of soap anywhere. Instead, it’s almost a gourmand floral. It makes me think of Honore des Pres Vamp a NY, that tuberose-spice-vanilla delight that, despite being made of all-natural ingredients, caused a fair number of people to exclaim, “Bubble gum! Root beer!” I’d hesitate to say that the two are built on the same structure. Vamp a NY is a lot more radiant and outspoken than Sweet Redemption, and Vamp is a good bit more weighted toward the vanilla-tolu balsam end, while Sweet Redemption stays floral longer and heads for benzoin instead of tolu. All the same, it’s perhaps not surprising that I love both of them.

The By Kilian website does not actually list Sweet Redemption on its L’Oeuvre Noire section, much less give its detailed notes formula (that I made fun of in my review of Beyond Love), but you can find it in the “shop online” section. From what I read at LuckyScent, the PR release for Sweet Redemption is fully as florid as those for the rest of the house’s scents and just as confusing, so I’ll provide you with a list of fragrance notes and completely ignore the mentions of Baudelaire and Jim Morrison. (No, this is good: I have nothing to say about Baudelaire, and my thoughts on Jim Morrison are unhelpful. Be thankful I’m not writing about them.) Notes for Sweet Redemption, from Bois de Jasmin blog: bergamot, broom flower, orange blossom, bitter orange leaf, cinnamon, vanilla, myrrh, opoponax, benzoin. 

This scent was composed by Calice Becker, who also did Beyond Love and a number of the other By Kilians.  I’m getting quite fond of Ms. Becker’s compositions; they seem clear and full of light and air, never heavy, not overdone, but not evanescent or stark.  Favorite Becker-authored scents include the first Ines de la Fressange and Cuir de Lancome.

I documented my feelings on the pricey-packaging By Kilians in my review of Beyond Love, but in a nutshell: I’m not a packaging gal. I don’t buy anything for the pretty bottle, much less a fancy-pants bottle in a satin-lined box with a key, for heaven’s sake! However, the quality of Beyond Love is stellar, and I have no qualms about buying a decant of something expensive that I really love. Can I really complain about a 50 ml refill bottle of, say, Beyond Love, at $150, when I think Guerlain Vega is glorious, and it retails at 100 ml for $325? Not that I own a bottle of either, but I do have a small decant of Vega, and I’m starting to think I need a bit of Sweet Redemption. Hmmmm. I do have a birthday coming up… 10mls of Sweet Redemption would be a lovely present.

Other reviews of Sweet Redemption: Donna at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, Jessica at Now Smell This, Bois de Jasmin, Grain de Musc, Mark at CaFleureBon, Olfactoria’s Travels, The Non-Blonde, Scent of the Day, Daly Beauty, ScentSate.  I had read Donna’s, Jessica’s, and Victoria’s (BdJ) reviews before testing and discovered the others later; reviews are generally good, although not everyone loved it. 

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20 thoughts on “Perfume Review: By Kilian Sweet Redemption”

  1. I love this piece! Laughed several times 🙂

    So, you weren’t blown away by SL Fleurs d’Oranger? That’s the best one in my humble opinion…

    I like Kilian’s Sweet Redemption but somehow it seems too ‘easy to like.’ I’m sure that makes no sense. It seems as if it could be a celebrity scent…with it’s sweetness and slightly gourmand qualities….but I do like it….maybe I’m just being difficult and I need to SURRENDER, too! 🙂

    1. Oh, I LIKED SL Fleurs d’Oranger. And it surprised the heck out of me that I did.

      However, it didn’t move me emotionally, and my new mantra about buying anything is “If it didn’t give you a hot flash, you can’t lay out the cash.”

      (Or something like that.)

      Anyway, yes, I thought it was “easy to like,” and at the same time, there’s this bittersweet quality to it that almost made me want to cry.

      1. Have you tried SL FdO (for the first time) fairly recently, like in the past 1-2 years? I’m asking because I find it to be reformulated from the FdO I used to know and love (and, yes, get emotional about). The current SL FdO has a lot more jasmine and I find it more shriek-y and less dark. ((huge sigh))

        … I do like Kilian’s Sweet R…and with so many really falling for it with similar taste as me (such as your sweet self) I think maybe I should give it another go…a full day’s wearing and attention.

        that image above of the orange blossoms is making me want to inhale so bad!!!

        1. Yes, it seems that the Fd’O sample I have is recent. (There’s no discernible cumin in it, for one thing.) I wouldn’t have called it shrieky, but it is fairly high-pitched. I usually have good tolerance for that sort of thing, and I love florals in general.

          Oh, I wouldn’t force myself to try to fall for something. I have recently decided that I am NOT going to try Bottega Veneta again. I don’t love it, I’m done, full stop, punkt.

          I have never lived where orange trees grow – I’m sure I’d be swoonier over them if I had personal history.

  2. Oh, how it breaks my heart to say this…and I might have to reveal that I’m a dyed-in-polyester philistine…but I don’t “get” Sweet Redemption, and I’m a serious orange blossom gal…It starts so beautifully, and then turns into something my skin turns awful…;-( Alas, I wanted to love it, alas, it refused to love me back!

    Oh, well…I have my Fleurs d’Oranger. I shouldn’t complain…;)

    Lovely review!

    1. Fleurs d’Oranger is really, really nice. * Really nice*. It felt to me somehow familiar, comfortable, very much my sort of thing.

      And I did not love it.

      Ah well. There are always plenty of scents available to us! And I do not buy the assumption that skin doesn’t matter; I think it does.

  3. What a great review Mals! Oh how I wish SR had a similar effect on me. I was so eager to try it and was terribly disappointed. It turned into something so strange on my skin. I can’t remember exactly what happened now – I passed my decant along promptly after sampling. I seem to recall a varnish on top of something sweet and the combo made me a little queasy.

    I had to smile when I read that you give SL Fd’O a thumbs up. Very surprising as I thought you might find it too skanky. I was overwhelmed by cumin with that one – and I usually tolerate cumin pretty well. Funny how these things work out. And I completely agree that skin does matter!

    1. Hi, V – I suspect that as Elisa suggested, I have a sample of Fd’O that is more recent and lacks the cumin. I usually do okay with cumin, but I’m not sure how that note really would work with an otherwise fairly high-pitched floral.

      Varnish+sweet sounds icky. And the reviews of SR are not overwhelmingly positive, so you’re not alone.

  4. I’ll probably need to try Sweet Redemption again. I didn’t love it, but so many of you did! I agree with the general review of the notes though.

    That was an awesome review. I can’t say I agree with Fracas being mostly orange blossom (I get tuberose), and Chloe smells like apples to me.

    1. Well, yeah, Fracas is tuberose, but I’ll rephrase and say as much OB as tuberose. I prefer the tuberose, generally, so the OB kind of annoys me. OLD Chloe smells like apples to you?? (I don’t mean the current stuff, I mean the original Lagerfeld one, which is a kitchen-sinky sort of thing with a ton of white florals and moss and woods and very ripe peaches. I wore it for more than a decade as a teenager.)

  5. I really enjoyed reading this, and like Abigail laughed several times while reading. 🙂 I’ve sniffed through the By Killian line in store a few times and nothing moved me. Eventually I will get around to testing on skin, simply because of all the blogger love. Thanks for the review!

    1. WEll, I think it’s worth testing on skin, N, but whether you love it or not isn’t guaranteed… I have yet to test any other BKs beside Beyond Love (excellent work, terrific tuberose, falls a bit short of Carnal Flower IMO) and Rose Oud (excellent work, lovely rose-oud, very much, I like the Montales just as much).

  6. Hi Mals, enjoyed your review. I so wanted to love SR, as a Florida-raised girl I do love me some orange blossom. But alas, it went sort of flat and one-dimensional on me and never developed into much of anything.
    OTH, so there’s less (or no) cumin now in the most recent FdO, you say? I may have to re-investigate. I tried it years ago and thought it grand until that stinky, sweaty note appeared that just ruined it for me. Maybe we should swap — I’ll send you my unloved samp of SR and you can send me a bit of FdO to try. 😉

    1. Glad you enjoyed.

      Now, I rather liked the cumin in modern Femme, and in… what was it? Arabie, maybe? I just think it would be Weird in an otherwise Pretty-girl Floral.

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