This one's difficult to review, not because it's gross or unpleasant (it's not!) but because it's radically different than the other fragrances this particular American nose has smelled before. I haven't smelled authentic oud oil so I can't say whether this smells like the real thing; but if this IS what oud really smells like, then every other niche oud fragrance I've tried (and I've tried a whole lot) fails miserably to replicate it. The first impression of Gao is total confusion: a powerful blast of turpentine, sour woods, and saffron. The complexity here is really something else - I have no referents for this, no other fragrances I can list that smell like this. What I can say is that I've grappled with Gao for a while now and have found it to be an immensely addictive scent, perhaps because it's so mysterious and hard to parse, and because it's obviously made with very good quality materials. Also, this stuff is POTENT. Like, nuclear power levels of potency.
Gao is full-throttle excess, and should probably carry a health and safety warning for those of a weak disposition. A crazed, almost unhinged, composition of earth, smoke and wood tones, it offers the wearer the power and still focus that is at the core of the whirlwind.
Opening with the most intense saffron as yet encountered in perfumery combined with a strong dry and warm oud, this is the genuine article alright, completely Arabic in inflexion, heady, hypnotic and rich, paying full respect to its precious components. As the saffron becomes milder over time, the smoky resinous aspects of nagarmotha (cypriol) complement the oud wonderfully, assisting the opening up of a wide spectrum of rich and dry woody tones that rise singing from the skin.
Whereas the dry woody category is getting a bit crowded of late, this perfume is way ahead of the rest of the class – for one, it doesn’t seem to have the nostril scraping aspect of many of these perfumes, it’s pure, rugged, pleasure all the way.
Of all the Oud Stars this is the one that delivers something novel, edgy and thrillingly wearable – if one sprays sparingly.
This really resinous and strong. One spray and you're done for at least 1 day. The oud is sharp and medicinal, with saffran added to make it drier. A must have for oud lovers.
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OK. So this is saffron. Now I get it. And I now can say I love it. The bombastic dominating spice at the head, midsection, and tail of Gao is much more earthy and smokey than what I thought to be Saffron in Noir de Noir or Red Aoud. Someone in an initial discussion on these boards likened Gao to other Montale Ouds (Aouds :-), a similarity that I also sense so much to the extreme of confusing this with Black Aoud once some paper strips had been resting a few days. It is the dry down where the similarity is apparent (so I assume a similarity in the oud accord.) Though the rose and saffron are really polar opposites on the dry-and-dusty continuum, Gao carries THAT style of medicinal oud (ala Montale) - whether real or synthetic - for those wondering. This is quite different than the velvety richness of the Laotian Oud in Zafar or the Barnyard sensation of Najaff and perhaps Al-khatt. Still it is fantastic, tenacious, and striking. Thankfully, it does have a softer side, though it never reaches any of the sweetness suggested by notes in the base. Until the peppery saffron ceases, the other players don't really stand a chance. Loud. Spicy. Intoxicating. Magnificent.
Gao was my immediate and clear-cut favorite among the four Xerjoff Oud Stars I tested. A commanding healthy oud leavened with a bit of amber et al. It reminded me on first application of By Kilian's Pure Oud and while they do have some ingredients in common, notably amber and saffron, testing them side by side brought me back to reality. They differ in significant ways. The oud note in Gao is much bigger, a little harsher,and slightly rubberbandy. It's powerful, clean and quite capable of standing on it's own. Pure Oud is all delicacy and that touch of warm perfumed sweetness done to perfection. Gao is a wonderful oud fragrance. I prefer Pure Oud. But then I prefer Pure Oud to almost anything these days. It's one of the prettiest fragrances around.