The aroma that set the imagination of Middle Eastern poets and Sufi mystics aflame is a fascinating product of the process that via slow deterioration brings immortality. Oud is a resin released by Aquilaria tree species in order to protect themselves against fungus that decomposes their bark and branches. Developing over many decades, oud is priced above rubies. The high quality oud is a true dark gold, its fragrance ethereal and complex, blending nuances of ambergris, sweet incense, tobacco and wood. The lower grades, on the other hand, have a sharp, dark, less nuanced and pleasant scent. Its rich fragrance is used for scenting mosques and clothes in the Middle East, and it is believed that oud can ward off the evil eye as well as attract lovers.
A brief glimpse at the list of fragrances launched over the past couple of years and the launches still ahead this year make it patently clear that oud has been an au courant note for the first decade of our millennium. From Trish McEvoyto Tom Ford, it appears either as a central note or as a main component of a woody accord. At this rate, we might even see Bath & Body Works “Warm Vanilla Oudh”! On the one hand, the popularity of this complex note is surprisingly, for it is certainly not an easy scent to appreciate—sharp, animalic, pungent, intense. On the other, it is an exciting backnote for modern fragrances, lending a new dimension to the compositions. It pairs well with the traditional oriental notes, from rose to vanilla, as well as with the crisp modern ambers and the effervescent hersperidic notes. It should be noted that oud found in many fragrances is not the precious natural oil, which is not only quite rare, but also quite expensive. Still, a number of oud bases I have smelled have an interesting character that captures some of the features of the natural material, which is rich and seductive.
Therefore, I would like to give an overview of 25 or so of the oud dominated fragrances on the market and to highlight a few others to explore.
10 Corso Como
A little known fragrance that is worth exploring, 10 Corso Como has a very interesting, dry, luminous woody accord. The sensual facet of oudh is subtle, but it lends a great counterpoint to the creamy sandalwood-cedarwood base.
Amouage Homage Attar
Not quite a classical Middle Eastern attar, Homage is gentle and refined. Yet, this very feature makes it a good introduction to oud, if the dramatic intensity of the classical Middle Eastern blends is too overwhelming for you.
Amouage Jubilation XXV
A fantastic ambery-woody fragrance with a dark oud accent. It possesses that Middle Eastern opulence that appeals so much to the fans of Amouage.
Anya’s Garden Temple
Orange accented oud marvel. Temple is a dark, deep, complex fragrance that showcases all of the facets of oud in its elegant and dramatic composition.
Arabian Oud range
A large collection of classical Middle Eastern attars. I recently smelled Cortoba, which is a well-made classical oriental with a prominent oud note. Be warned, these fragrances are not for the faint of heart as they are quite dramatic and intense.
Armani Prive 1001 Nights Collection Oud Royal
Prêt-a-porter interpretation of the leather-oud notes that sometimes are quite difficult to wear (such as by Killian Pure Oud, beautiful though it is.) Yet, it does not strike me as particularly new or original. Or perhaps, something of this Arabian Tale was lost in translation.
By Kilian Pure Oud and Rose Oud
Pure Oud is an interesting oud rendition, which renders this animalic and pungent note dark, yet refined. Smoky, inky, with a great backdrop of rose-tinged guaiacwood and saffron, Pure Oud is simply seductive. Rose Oud is a more feminine variation, in which the luscious rose note softens the animalic facet of oud. Luminous and quite lovely. These would be two of my picks for ouds outside of the classical Middle Eastern tradition.
Secret Oud and Oud de Caron
Oud de Caron has the trademark Caron darkness, with the rose and iris balanced well against the dark woody backdrop. Secret Oud is a softer, more familiar blend that will recall both Tabac Blond and Nuit de Noël with its dark, mossy backdrop. Incense, dry austere woods, a hint of smoky rose, Secret Oud has a very pleasing darkness and intrigue. Interesting take on oud genre through the prism of the quintessential Caron Art Deco style.
Christian Dior Leather Oud
Very appealing masculine interpretation of oud, which is set in the elegant Dior Dune structure of a fresh oriental and wrapped in a beautiful leather note, reminiscent of vintage Diorling.
Czech & Speake Dark Rose
Another rose and oud combination, but here the rose is creamier and more dominant. Overall, a good fragrance that is lacking in refinement.
Donna Karan Chaos
While the reissued version does not have the dramatic presence of the original Chaos, it is nevertheless a gorgeous woody-oriental fragrance made interesting by the contrast between the herbaceous-citrusy top and the spicy, smoldering heart.
Guerlain Oud Sensuel
Elegant woody fragrance, without the characteristic pungency of oud. Iris, the trademark of Guerlain, lends a cool character, while a delicate sparkle of citrus in the top notes uplifts the composition. The perfume stays close to the skin and does not have much sillage. Nice enough, but as an oud fragrance, it disappoints.
Henri Bendel Rose & Oud
Reminiscent of Miss Dior Cherie, but in a less fetching bottle.
Jo Malone Oud and Bergamot
If you are familiar with Jo Malone range, then you know what to expect—light, uncomplicated, pale. Still, an interesting example of setting oud against the bright citrusy accord.
Juliet has a Gun Midnight Oud
One of the nicest easy-to-wear oud I have come across. It lacks the pungent animalic intensity of fragrances like Le Labo Oud 27 as well as the heft of Montale and Tom Ford, but it has plenty of character in its saffron accented woody form. What it lacks in drama, it makes up in elegance and sophistication.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Al Oudh
An interesting, if somewhat attenuated oud heart gives way to a harsh, pungent drydown, reminiscent of a typical masculine blend.
Le Labo Oud 27 and Rose 31
If By Kilian Pure Oud is intense, yet suave, Le Labo’s Oud 27 is animalic and dramatic. Definitely should be smelled, although I find it less striking as it dries down. Rose 31 only has an accent of oud, but it is very well-placed indeed. Its smoky darkness renders the rose accord almost masculine, which is what makes it interesting.
Montale oudh range
I will confess that while I used to like Montale before I have actually experienced any real oud blends, now I find them unbearably sharp and synthetic.
Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Man
A subtle accent of oud lends an alluring quality to Ormonde Man by making its woody accord animalic and yet luminous. One of the most striking fragrances from Ormonde Jayne.
Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque
Serge Lutens’ treatment of the oriental genre of perfumery is fascinating, especially in his older fragrances like Cuir Mauresque. It draws upon the Arabic perfume tradition to weave it animalic-leathery accord, while the modern dry woody and ambery notes make the composition seem radiant and layered.
Tom Ford Noir de Noir and Oud Wood
The sweetness of tobacco and dried fruit frames the opulent oriental composition in Noir de Noir. Opulent, dark, sensual, it can be overwhelming, yet like most Tom Ford creations, it satisfies one’s craving for a dramatic fragrance. On the other hand, Oud Wood is surprisingly pale and understated. It is certainly well-made and would appeal to fans of Tom Fod, but for an intense dose of oud, look elsewhere.
Yves Saint Laurent M7
The original Tom Ford oud exercise was M7, created under his direction for Yves Saint Laurent in 2002. It was one of the most dramatic launches, from the edgy, avant-garde composition to the naked male model featured in its advertising campaign. And it was one of the most resounding failures. Still, I cannot recommend this fragrance highly enough for its depth, its dramatic character and its beautifully opulent woody drydown.
Other fragrances containing oud
(*asterisk indicates fragrances dominated by oud)
Aftelier Perfumes Shiso
Ajmal Mukhallat Dahn al Oudh Moattaq and al Oudh Saif al Hind
Amouage Epic Man
Amouage Epic Woman
Anya’s Garden Temple*
Bond No 9 Perfume and Harrods Oud* (2009 limited edition)
Bond No 9 New York Oud*
By Kilian Incense Oud
By Kilian : L’Oeuvre Noire Cruel Intentions Tempt Me
Byredo Accord Oud*
Byredo Oud Immortel*
Caron Oud de Caron*
Caron Secret Oud*
Cerruti 1881 Black
Christian Dior Fahrenheit Absolute
Christian Dior Leather Oud
Comme des Garçons Wonderwood*
Comme des Garçons Red Series Sequoia
Comptoir Sud Pacifique Voyages to the Orient oudh series*
Costume National 21
Daphne Guinness by Comme des Garçons
Gandini Agarwood Man*
Guerlain La Cologne du 68
Juicy Couture Dirty English
Keiko Mecheri Loukhoum Parfum du Soir
La Prairie Silver Rain
Maison Dorin Un Air d’Arabie: Oud*
Mäurer & Wirtz CULTURE BY TABAC : ARENA DI ROMA
M.Micallef Arabian Diamond*
M.Micallef Night Aoud*
Paul & Joe Bleu
Strange Invisible Perfumes Aramaic*
The People of the Labyrinths A.Maze
Trish McEvoy Precious Oud*
P.S. I spoke too soon–even Bath & Body Works has oud in their Twilight Wood and in Citron! You can also find it in Avon Uomo and Tomorrow for Men.
Image: Begum of Oudh Flying A Kite, Mughal era miniature painting.