I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve put on a fragrance and thought, “I could wear this and only this for the rest of my life”. In case you were wondering, the perfumes in question were as follows: Chypre Palatin by Parfums MDCI, Blackbird by House of Matriarch, Lyric Woman by Amouage, and Bois des Iles by Chanel. Now, Kalemat by Arabian Oud joins them.
Now, I’m not saying that Kalemat is wildly original (like Blackbird), complex (like Chypre Palatin), or so beautifully composed that it brings tears to my eyes (Bois des Iles and Lyric Woman). But it’s one of those rare instances when you can just put on a scent and know that it smells damn good, and that you smell damn good, and that other people (all of the other people, believe me) will think you smell damn good too. It reminds me that things don’t have to be wildly expensive or original to give you pleasure. In fact, every time I spray Kalemat on, I think of what Agent Dale Cooper tells Harry, the local sheriff in Twin Peaks:
“Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.”
Kalemat is a present I make to myself. It’s just damn fine coffee.
It’s difficult to describe Kalemat without making it seem simple or boring. It opens with a brief berry note, before sliding into a golden, honeyed, lusciously-spiced amber riff that swirls around you like a delicious second skin for a whole twelve hours. There’s a gently smoked oud feel to the base that stops the whole thing from diving off a cliff into gourmand territory. It’s not real oud, of course – not at this price point. But for once, the synthetic oud or cashmeran or whatever they’re using here for that smoky oud note is not obnoxious or dominant – instead, it adds a pleasurably smoky but unobtrusive buzz to the backbone of the fragrance. It’s there to support the spiced, honeyed amber, not to shout all over it.
I see Kalemat as the Swiss Army Knife of my collection: it works in all situations. Going out to dinner, a date night, a walk in the park, picking up the kids at daycare, sweating it out at the gym – Kalemat is always the right choice. It’s easy going. It doesn’t lay any demands on you. It just smells good, and sometimes, that’s all you need. I look at my collection, and I realize that I am surprisingly short on Swiss Army Knives. Shaal Nur by Etro and Kiehl’s Original Musk are the only other candidates I can come up with. But tellingly, I reach for Kalemat far more.
Kalemat does not smell like anything else, to my nose at least. However, I recognize that it has many things in common with fragrances such as Ambre Narguile by Hermes (a general translucency, but also the cinnamon, amber, and somewhat ‘delicious’ feel to both), Barkhane by Teo Cabanel (spiced amber accord) and Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford (the dry, woody vanilla in the drydown). But I actually rate Kalemat slightly above Ambre Narguile because of the price factor, above Barkhane in terms of longevity and sillage, and quite a bit above Tobacco Vanille, purely in terms of smell.
In terms of how Kalemat wears, on the other hand, I can say confidently that it occupies the same territory as Histoire des Parfums’ wonderful Ambre 114, Dior Privee Ambre Nuit, and Amouage’s Fate Woman – not in terms of how they smell, exactly, but in terms of how each of these particular fragrances seem to hover around your skin like a haze of fuzzy, warm, golden light, and radiate outwards to fill a room, like sunshine.
Actually, the real beauty of Kalemat lies in its sillage. I like the Muslim idea of using perfume to scent not only yourself but also the air around you, as a gift for others. Kalemat spills out over your skin and into the air around you, leaving a trail of honeyed, gently spiced amber and vanilla and woods for others to enjoy. I’ve had women in the supermarket stopping me to ask what I’m wearing. Dogs follow me. Little children ignore my asymmetrical face and smile at me. Kalemat is a gift you give to yourself, yes, but also to others.
Lots of people blind buy Kalemat. The reason for this is three-fold: it’s reputation for smelling good precedes it, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and also, the Arabian Oud distribution channels are kind of confusing, forcing many people to buy it without being able to sample it first. Until recently, it was available on Amazon, but Arabian Oud seems to have pulled their store from Amazon in the last month or so. It can be available on eBay, but shipping directly from the Middle East can be expensive, suddenly making it seem like not such a good deal after all (especially for a blind buy).
The other option is to visit an Arabian Oud store in person or send a proxy, like I did, when my husband happened to be in London for two weeks in September. What a wonderful experience that turned out to be! Now, my husband, whose very idea of a nightmare is to step inside a fragrance store, only dragged his feet into the Arabian Oud store on Oxford Street under the threat of violence from me. Kalemat was on sale for half price, and the sale was ending the day he touched down in London, so I kind of coerced him into dropping his bags and heading over to the store immediately. But the people at Arabian Oud store were so nice, and in particular a lady called Samantha, that when he rang me that night, his first words to me were, “If you want me to go back for something else, just let me know, because those people are amazing!”
Apparently, the kind people at the store, perhaps sensing that they were in the presence of a pressurized husband, took the time to talk him through the perfumes, about the culture of perfume wearing in the Middle East, about what kind of notes and perfumes I preferred, and so on. They also gave him very generous samples of other perfumes – both perfume oils and spray perfumes – to take home to me to try. It was an eye-opening experience for my husband, and although I can’t say that he is interested in perfumes per se, he is now more than willing to help me test some of the more challenging or masculine oud-based oils and fragrances I am testing from houses such as Arabian Oud, Amouage, and Abdul Samad Al Qurashi. I believe I have the kind and patient Samantha at the Arabian Oud store on Oxford Street, London, to thank for that. It is touches like that that make you well-disposed towards a company, isn’t it? Mind you, I didn’t need any of that wonderful backstory to fall in love with Kalemat at first sniff. Kalemat does that all by itself.