Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
To be perfectly honest, I find many Montale oud fragrances to be overly brash and lacking nuance, yet I am ready to eat my words anytime I discover something that proves me wrong. Black Aoud, a surprisingly authentic Arabic style fragrance, made me forget both my distaste for the oud trend as well as for Montale. Oud (agarwood), derived from a species of Aquallaria trees affected by a fungus, has a unique fragrance, which ranges from honeyed tobacco to warm fur. Given the numerous nuances of this material, it is possible to fashion different effects, whether dusky and smoky or luminous and suave. Black Aoud exemplifies the East Arabic style of perfumery that tends towards the latter.
Although I doubt that many agarwood trees suffered to make Black Aoud, it nevertheless has an interesting complexity. While the oud note is a central piece of Black Aoud, its medicinal roughness is smoothed out sufficiently to allow for a harmony with other notes. In contrast to the animalic and spicy oud renditions popular in other parts of the Middle East, Eastern Arabic perfumes rely on amber and sandalwood to lend oud an elegant twist. Plush rose notes further soften the animalic richness of the main accord and pervade it with a delicious velvety sweetness.
The initial heft of oud and sandalwood gives way to an earthy patchouli and amber, with the red rose petals melting into the honeyed warmth. At this moment, as I wear Black Aoud, I invariably feel an exhilarating moment of recognition. Dark roses, smoky wood and incense, it is a fragrance that evokes the generous Arabic custom of scenting guests with rosewater and oud smoke. Leaving one’s hosts, one goes away not just with the pleasant memories of time spent together, but also with the opulent scent that clings to the skin like warm silk. As Black Aoud dries down to rose inflected amber and smoldering woods, it indeed becomes reminiscent of rosewater and incense smoke.
As in some of the best Arabic attars, the composition hits different facets as it warms up on the skin—from oud to rose to amber and back. This shimmery sensation makes Black Aoud beguiling, and while it is a dramatic and tenacious fragrance, it is marked by a certain refinement. For those who wish to experience a traditional Arabic perfume rather than Western fantasies on the theme (by Kilian, Tom Ford, L’Artisan, etc.), Black Aoud offers a glimpse into this venerable heritage.
Montale Black Aoud includes notes of rose, oud, labdanum, and sandalwood. Available at fourseasons, luckyscent, parfumsraffy, theperfumeshoppe (Canada), and first-in-fragrance (Germany). $115, 50 ml, $175, 100 ml of Eau de Parfum (note that the fragrances are significantly less expensive if purchased directly from the boutique in Paris.)
Image: miniature painting, 17th century, via wikicommons.
Sample: my own acquisition