Caron Secret Oud and Oud by Caron : Perfume Review

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caronoud

Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Oud by Caron, Secret Oud… I so wish that Caron called these fragrances “Tabac Noir” or “Narcisse d’Encens” or anything else but Oud, because the moniker not only lumps these fragrances together with the cliched trend in the niche, but also belies the fact that they do not even smell of any oud. Instead, the dark, earthy, woody notes that Caron tries to pass for oud work remarkably well with the somber aesthetic of classical Caron accords. These rich, opulent notes replace the classical dark Caron undercurrent of oakmoss and lend the compositions dusky beauty and retro glamor.

Secret Oud is the most interesting of the two, reminiscent of the dramatic elegance of Tabac Blond, yet earthier, darker and smokier. The composition opens up on a camphorous note recalling the dry, fiery pungency of patchouli. While this accent runs through the whole structure of the fragrance, it becomes softer as time goes on. The lush notes of rose, jasmine and carnation—a classical Caron touch—provide a beautiful embellishment to the dark, woody structure of the composition. The backdrop of smoky amber, sandalwood and patchouli becomes darker and richer as the composition dries down. It is seductive, yet restrained, retaining Caron’s patrician spirit.

Oud by Caron is interesting as a study of how dark, oriental notes can play a similar role as the classical oakmoss bases once did.  Oud by Caron has a stronger Middle Eastern attar impression than Secret Oud, with saffron and amber giving it a medicinal, leathery touch. Carnation and rose provide a welcome spicy, floral counterpoint to the heft of the woods, while patchouli lends its scintillating quality to the drydown. However, I do not find the elements of the composition to be well-balanced, and as a result a strong note of camphor dominates. Secret Oud manages to rein it in, weaving it successfully into the arrangement, but Oud by Caron becomes overpowered by its presence. The result is a somewhat jarring blend of Caron classical darkness and blandly rendered rose attar sweetness.

As I kept thinking about Caron, I decided for myself that the main problem with Secret Oud and Oud by Caron is their marketing positioning, which is liable to make these fragrances outdated as soon as the current fascination with oud has passed. If oud is the prince that kisses La Belle Caron out of her long sleep (the last Caron launch to my knowledge was Eau de Réglisse in 2006), then it is not such a bad thing. However, I also feel that as time goes on, Caron’s identity as presented through the brand’s positioning, distribution and marketing becomes diluted. This saddens me, because Caron is such a fascinating fragrance house, with a unique collection of scents that allow one to travel as close in time to La Belle Époque as one can possibly get. Perhaps the future will prove me wrong. In fact, I sincerely hope that it does.

Caron Secret Oud and Oud by Caron are available from European Caron boutiques. In the US, they are available as a pre-order (715 Lexington Avenue (58th Street); 212-308-0270, ask for Diane) (thanks to Marina for this information). The Perfumed Court carries the whole line of samples and decants, which is where mine came from.

Samples: my own acquisition

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22 Comments

  • Olfactoria: Thank you for your review. Going from the name alone I would not even have blinked before dismissing them. I totally agree with you that Caron does itself a major disservice with that naming and positioning of the perfumes. I love many Carons for their classic feel and timeless elegance. Did I mention I hate the names of these? 😉 March 7, 2011 at 3:37am Reply

  • Melanie: I’m glad you reviewed these. I also would have completely dismissed them as Caron just jumping on the oud bandwagon. I love many of the classic Carons, I adore that classical Caron darkness, and it sounds like these are true to the Caron aesthetic except in name. They are in serious need of a better marketing strategy…and it wouldn’t hurt to get a new in-house perfumer. March 7, 2011 at 5:20am Reply

  • Irina: Thanks for the review!
    I didn’t like Carons, not a single one smells like something in my taste, but those look promising. March 7, 2011 at 9:47am Reply

  • Victoria: Totally agree that it is a disservice. Also, I am trying hard to understand what Caron has to do with the traditional Middle Eastern ingredient. Not from the standpoint of using an “exotic” effect of an interesting material, but from the point of view of brand identity. Plus, the names are just dull. March 7, 2011 at 10:11am Reply

  • Victoria: Secret Oud is the best out of the two for me, and I was surprised how well that dark-woody so-called “oud” accord worked instead of the classical patchouli-moss.
    You are right though that their marketing strategy is in need of some overhaul! March 7, 2011 at 10:23am Reply

  • Victoria: I am not sure if you would like these if you did not care for the classical Carons. They are in the same spirit. Still, you never know… 🙂 March 7, 2011 at 10:24am Reply

  • Marina: Love the names you suggested, especially Narcisse d’Encens. I’d buy it for the name alone 🙂 March 7, 2011 at 10:44am Reply

  • Victoria: I guess, I myself gravitate to these kind of fantasy names. Like Bois de Jasmin, for instance! 🙂 March 7, 2011 at 11:20am Reply

  • dee: Victoria, I’ve been waiting in anticipation for this review! Having read it, I feel only a little bit deflated 🙂 I’m still looking forward to testing them, but I was hoping for more oud. I’m not tired of it! Roses, Amber, and oud fall into my category of Never Can Have Enough Of. I’m sure I’ll grow up someday, and be embarrassed by that statement 😉 March 7, 2011 at 11:41am Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, I have nothing against oud at all! It is just that it is now just a marketing tool to make fragrances seem more expensive and exclusive than they really are. I just find this kind of message unappealing. The fragrances on the oud themes themselves can be very interesting–YSL M7, by Kilian ouds. Did you know that by Kilian oud collection will have Amber Oud? Sounds totally up your alley (and mine too, for that matter)! March 7, 2011 at 12:18pm Reply

  • ScentScelf: I’m just the opposite of Dee…actually rather relieved that these new ones are not really about oud, but about Caron. Which means I would share your concern about the marketing aspects of the naming decision.

    In fact, your take on the juice behind the labels of these two scents makes me want to wrap my nose around some of that patrician spirit. Secret Oud in particular — earthier, darker, smokier Tabac Blond? Pass me that bottle and let me try! 😉 (Agree with Marina, btw, that I would have picked up a “Narcisse d’Encens” for the name alone. “Secret Oud?” Oh, dear. My associations with “Secret” include Obsession, an anti-perspirant, and something perhaps best kept that way… March 7, 2011 at 1:27pm Reply

  • ScentScelf: Hastens to say to Dee “Please enjoy your ouds!” Am just registering my own initial reactions… 🙂 March 7, 2011 at 1:28pm Reply

  • Victoria: Out of all things in perfume world I mourn the most, it is the closure of the lovely Caron boutique on Madison Avenue. I remember how much time I spent there just admiring the antique style swan down powder puffs and all sorts of frilly and delicate accoutrement (even though I have absolutely no use for such things in my day-to-day life!) And fragrances, of course! Their collection presented in those fountains was so special. The SA presiding over the whole thing seemed so serious and so formal, like some priestess at the temple, carefully doling out a bit of this and that. I am smiling at the memory as I type this. It was just too good to last!

    I am glad that you liked my totally made-up, fantasy name! 🙂 March 7, 2011 at 2:27pm Reply

  • erda: Some of the missteps Caron is making marketing-wise were on display at a recent Sniffa event in NYC.

    The presentation–about forthcoming new launches, including a relaunch of one of these ouds (they have been pulled from the boutiques, and one will return, renamed)–was made by their US marketing person, a young French woman who seemed to know a lot about marketing by-the-book, French style, and, alas, very very little about perfume. She rehearsed all the usual lines about how Caron is all about stories, and she told us a lot about Daltroff and the company, and how they were the original avant-garde, and are very French and authentic, and how they only use the best materials, etc. When it came to describing the different between versions of Parfum Sacré, she shuffled her sheets of nervously paper and read out the notes again.

    Lacking a real knowledge of perfume or an intuition for it is going to make it hard for her to pitch her product effectively in the marketplace. To say the least. March 7, 2011 at 11:01pm Reply

  • Victoria: Sounds like something I would expect. Fragrance marketing is about selling, which does not always necessarily mean a deep knowledge of the fragrance itself. I am not sure why Caron brought a marketing person (as opposed to someone from the fragrance development side) for a meeting with hard-core perfumistas like Sniffapalooza. March 8, 2011 at 10:29am Reply

  • dee: Amber Oud from Kilian? Might as well start saving now, because the Rose Oud almost put me over the edge! Gods, just when I was feeling totally content…

    😉 March 8, 2011 at 5:12pm Reply

  • dee: LOL, no problem… more for me! 🙂 March 8, 2011 at 5:13pm Reply

  • Victoria: For me, contentment lasts for a moment before some new quest plants itself in my head. Where is my Zen spirit? 🙂 March 8, 2011 at 6:32pm Reply

  • erda: Whoops. Sorry about that typo above. I mean she nervously shuffled her sheets of paper…

    I could go on at length about how that presentation was misguided, but will hold my fire. I will say that the Sniffa people (organizers and participants) were, as always, wonderful. Caron is now owned by the Alès group, and I don’t think they fully understand how this brand needs different marketing from the rest of their empire. So for a presentation pitched as a launch of four new fragrances, they didn’t bring testers of any (and didn’t even reveal the name of one). The big marketing push in the presentation was instead for Pour un Homme and Parfum Sacré Intense and their (lovely, but not really perfume) powder. It was mystifying. March 9, 2011 at 8:28am Reply

  • Victoria: What????? They gave a presentation to a group of potential customers and did not bother to bring testers??? That just baffles me even more. March 9, 2011 at 11:31am Reply

  • Michael: I must admit that having tried my sample of Secret Oud a few times now, I do detect an Oud note, particularly in the opening. It’s not forceful, like with Montale for example, but definitely there in my opinion. I really like Secret Oud and again in my opinion a good compromise between Middle-Eastern and French perfumery. March 9, 2011 at 12:18pm Reply

  • Victoria: In the opening, I see it too. Maybe, it is just that to me, it reads more like composite camphor+patchouli+woods note, rather than true oud. Still, nicely done fragrance, and I agree with your opinion that it is a good compromise between Middle-Eastern and French perfumery. March 9, 2011 at 1:29pm Reply

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