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main problem with Secret Oud and Oud by Caron is their marketing positioning, which is liable to make these fragrances outdated as soon as the current fascination with oud has passed.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