Explaining Oud and Middle Eastern Perfume Trends

I get lots of requests to talk about perfume trends–what themes are promising to remain popular, why white florals are perennial favorites, what we might see in the upcoming season, and other questions along these lines. Answering them is a bit like reading a crystal ball, and some marketing agencies earn a nice profit doing just that. On the other hand, what people wear in different countries and why they enjoy what they do is something I find fascinating. This is the topic of my recent FT column, Perfumes with Middle Eastern panache. Based on my travels and interviews, the article explains why fragrance is such an integral part of Middle Eastern culture and how European perfume houses are taking note of it.

middle-eastern-perfumes

One of the main reasons for everything coming up oud is that the Middle Eastern beauty market remains vibrant, plunging oil prices notwithstanding. Customers in the region are spending increasingly more on skincare, make-up and fragrances, and this attracts European and American brands eager to expand their reach. So what appeals to perfume lovers in the Middle East and how do they use aromas in their daily life? To continue, please click here.

Oud has been an overplayed theme, of course, but there are many beautiful oud inspired compositions out there. I mention by Kilian, Tom Ford, Christian Dior, Roja Dove and Guerlain in my article, alongside Middle Eastern brands like Ajmal, Rasasi, and Amouage.

Do you enjoy oud? If you have favorite perfumes with dark, rich notes, I’d love to know. 

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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56 Comments

  • Karen A: Always enjoy your FT articles, Victoria! And for me, rose plus Oud equals beautiful in most cases! Rose Nacree du Désert is one of my most complimented perfumes, and Jo Mallone’s take with Velvet Rose and Oud is another stunning fragrance. I think Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 does Oud-based fragrances beautifully. And I’m not sure if Isparta by Parfumerie Generale qualifies as an Oud-rose, but it’s been on my FB list for a long time.

    Skanky ouds don’t do it for me, although I know they have their fans. After more than one year, a paper sample of Malle’s Oud is a reminder of what I don’t want in an Oud perfume. But the hint of incense and benzoin in PoaL brings a beautiful depth to the rose-patchouli notes. November 7, 2016 at 8:01am Reply

    • Victoria: Real oud definitely has a strong animal component, and some varieties more than others, but my favorite kinds are on the sweet, honeyed side, without too much raunchiness. Which Malle oud are you talking about?

      Can’t agree more on Rose Nacree du Désert, which is a good example of a French-Arabian perfume, as this genre blending the two traditions is called in the Middle East. November 7, 2016 at 11:42am Reply

      • Karen A: I am not 100% sure as my scent card only has Oud written on it. Anthony, the SA that has helped me so much, spritzed the card with the caveat that it was developed for Middle East clients. In researching, I am guessing (??) it’s The Night, but not sure. Bottle only had name in Arabic.

        A while ago, the NY Times magazine – maybe the men’s Style one – had an article on oud, and the author’s search for some real oil. Once home and wearing it resulted in people nearby wondering why it smelled like a barnyard. November 7, 2016 at 12:14pm Reply

        • Victoria: Gotcha. I completely forgot about The Night, and yes, you’re right, that’s the oud they created for the Middle Eastern market. Although it sounds like bringing coals to Newcastle, many of these European brands are very popular in the Gulf.

          There are so many different grades of oud, it boggles the mind. The whole kodoh ceremony in Japan is about assessing the smells of different types of agarwood. Can you imagine that? I didn’t buy oud essence in Oman, but I got a bag of oud chips for burning. They were in the mid range as far as quality goes, and still, cheap they weren’t. But the smell is heavenly. November 8, 2016 at 4:28am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: I don’t know oud that well. Some kind person gave me a decant of Oud Royal (Armani Privé) and I once had a sample of an Acqua di Parma cologne with oud. The scents are rather different, so I don’t know how oud smells, never smelled the real thing either.
    The Armani is not so rich, in my perception it is a refined, elegant, woody. rosy saffron perfume. I wear it with pleasure; I love the Armani Privé style. Refined, elegant, easy to wear. But pricey, maybe overpriced. Some people call it too synthetic, but synthetic does’nt bother me as long as I like the perfume. I found a tester of Cuir Amethyste and I wear it a lot this fall, synthetic or not. I like the suede and the violets and feel elegant!
    There is an oud I love very, very much. not the oud part, but the rose! Oh, that rose!!
    Oud ispahan by Dior.
    I hope somebody will stop me when I am trotting to De Bijenkorf with € 227 in my hand.

    Great article, as always. November 7, 2016 at 8:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Synthetic also doesn’t bother me, and in the end, the balance and character make more difference than the ingredients alone. Most of the ouds used today are not real ouds, but rather blends of natural and synthetic ingredients. The real thing is too expensive and rare.

      I do like Oud Ispahan very much November 7, 2016 at 11:45am Reply

  • Sandra: Amouage was the first house that introduced me to middle eastern notes in perfume and that was my first non-european non-american perfume purchase.
    I also adore attempting to cook middle eastern..still trying to master some things! November 7, 2016 at 8:17am Reply

    • Victoria: Amouage is a curious case, since the bulk of their collection are the classical French perfumes. Amouage Gold is really a more expensive version of Guy Robert’s Madame Rochas. On the other hand, they do it all well, and their attars are splendid. November 7, 2016 at 11:47am Reply

  • Nick: Hello, Victoria.

    Oud note is a bit of a hit and miss for me. Some accords are so harsh it makes me dizzy! I have not had much experience with oud, so I can only think of few. Oud Ispahan has a nice accord of oud, but is still quite pungent in the dry down. Annick Goutal 1001 Ouds is more on the earthy myrrh side of things. The only oud that really leaves an impression is Maison Kurkdjian Oud Silk Mood with its animalic, ambery, musky character with a fruity, raspberry-rose top and a leathery balsamic dry down! There is not a hint of brashness typical of other oud perfumes. The chamomile contrast is there, too. And its dark and strong, but gentle ripples are simply so memorable. November 7, 2016 at 8:34am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, I agree. As I mentioned earlier, ouds aren’t created equal, and some oud bases are better than others. If you haven’t tried Kilian, I highly recommend their ouds. November 7, 2016 at 11:48am Reply

  • Andy: Since both notes are so theatrical, the rose/oud combo can smell a little clumsy to me at times. But I have had luck with a good number of oud fragrances. The Francis Kurkdjian “Oud Mood” perfumes mentioned above seemed to add something different to the mix, and I also liked the treatment of oud in Atelier Cologne Gold Leather, Byredo Accord Oud, and Diptyque Oud Palao. For straightforward oud, TF Oud Wood is my top pick. November 7, 2016 at 8:46am Reply

    • Victoria: For this reason, it’s always interesting to see how these notes can be interpreted by different perfumers. One of the ouds that missed the mark was Parfums de Nicolai’s. Caron also did a strange oud that had nothing to do either with the brand history or with the oud itself. November 7, 2016 at 11:50am Reply

      • Austenfan: Which Nicolaï oud is the one you mean? I love the house, as you know, but her more recent releases are not quite as good as some of the stuff she has done in the past. I loved her amber though, which I seem to remember you didn’t care for much. November 8, 2016 at 9:32am Reply

        • Victoria: I think that she has Rose Oud and Amber Oud. The former was better, but neither smelled right. I also didn’t like Cuir Havana (if I remember the name correctly.) So far none of the recent launches hit the spot for me. November 8, 2016 at 11:47am Reply

          • Austenfan: She has since added Oud Sublime Elixir and Incense Oud. I haven’t tried either yet. I rather enjoyed Amber oud, although it seemed more of a lavender fragrance than either an amber or an oud to me.
            Cuir Cuba Intense, I enjoy, although it does feel a little random. (if that makes sense) November 8, 2016 at 12:53pm Reply

            • Victoria: Ah, yes, Cuir Cuba. I didn’t dislike it, but it also didn’t move me the way SacreBleu or New York did. November 8, 2016 at 2:03pm Reply

  • Lillian Gish: Congratulations on an interesting article. Maybe you could have mentioned French house Montale. Their Ouds are very relevant in the current market, as well as bold and interesting. I would say it is a very unique house in French perfumery panorama precisely because of their ouds. November 7, 2016 at 9:57am Reply

    • Victoria: I like their Black Aoud, which smells very close to the traditional Omani oud attars. November 7, 2016 at 11:52am Reply

  • Gina Tabasso: I am in love with oud. Faves: Arabian Oud’s Kalemat, Aramis Calligraphy, Molton Brown Oudh Accord and Gold, Atelier Oud Saphir, Boadicea Complex, Armaf Club de Nuit Intense, Armani Rose d’Arabie, Byredo Oud Immortel, Byredo Baudelaire, Caron Secret Oud, Chopard Rose Malaki, Dita von Teese Erotique, Wajid Farah Enigma, Kerosene Elements R’Oud, Kilians (all of them), Memo Shams Oud, Nasomatto Pardon, Penhaligon Halfeti and Levantium, Rasasi Naswah, Sospiro Duetto, Mugler Miroir de Voluptes, Tiziana Terenzi Laudano Nero, Xerjoff More than Words. Did I mention that I love oud????? November 7, 2016 at 10:02am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re an oud aficionado, Gina! That’s an impressive–and very helpful–list. 🙂 November 7, 2016 at 11:53am Reply

  • spe: Lovely article, thank you! While I enjoy woody florals, I’m at a loss as to which woods I like best. Oud is a little heavy for me – but I live in the opposite climate from a desert. Perhaps that’s why rose and oud generally feel like they are a bit too much. November 7, 2016 at 10:34am Reply

    • Victoria: If I had to pick, it would be cedarwood and sandalwood. I also like patchouli (a leaf, but it smells woody, so it’s classified with woods). Of course, in the end, it all depends on a composition and a blend. November 7, 2016 at 11:56am Reply

      • Colin McArthur: I echo your recommendations for patchouli. My wife uses patchouli in our house quite often and I love the woodsy/earthy quality to it. I seem to gravitate towards ‘tree’ scents more than anything and if you are looking for something that is ‘male friendly’ you cant go wrong with patchouli November 7, 2016 at 8:30pm Reply

        • Victoria: Basically, you can’t go wrong with anything labelled patchouli, whether L’Artisan, Le Labo or Etro. Le Labo is heavier on leather than patchouli, but it’s still an excellent perfume. November 8, 2016 at 4:33am Reply

          • spe: Are there any green florals or green earthy scents with the slightest touch of oud? Thank you! November 9, 2016 at 10:30am Reply

            • Victoria: Not that I can think of. The problem is that you can’t do the slight touch of oud. It’s a very potent material, and it dominates. Green notes don’t stand a chance. November 9, 2016 at 10:40am Reply

  • Debby: Being on a bit of a tight budget at the moment, I’ve been exploring this trend via the insanely cheap offerings of UAE scent oils found on eBay and Amazon. I received one today funnily enough, Al Sharquiah by Al-Rehab, and it is truly wonderful, a rose/oud/incense combo with a boozy liqueur aspect alongside sticky dates. And for £1.30! Sheikhah is another good one. November 7, 2016 at 10:50am Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds fun! Thank you for sharing about your find. Since perfume is such a big part of the local culture in the UAE, you can find fragrances at all price points and of all types. As Jola Chudy mentions in my article, people love to layer and personalize their blends. November 7, 2016 at 11:59am Reply

      • Debby: The Al-Rehab oils lend themselves nicely to layering as some of them are pretty linear. November 9, 2016 at 5:51pm Reply

        • Victoria: My friend in the UAE usually keeps a saffron heavy attar to layer with rose or woods. Her mother used to blend her own perfumes at home, but these days it’s more common to buy readymade blends. November 10, 2016 at 7:11am Reply

    • Scented Salon: Try Attar al Kaaba. November 9, 2016 at 2:28pm Reply

      • Debby: Thank you, this sounds lovely, beautiful presentation as well. November 9, 2016 at 5:52pm Reply

  • Klaas: I love the smell of burnt Agar wood; a Omani friend of mine uses it in his home. I can smell it on my clothes days and days after, it is very potent stuff.

    When it comes to perfume, I find oud fragrences rather difficult to wear. They are usually super expensive, and very, very rich. For myself I prefer my woody fragrences a bit lighter and discreet, so sandal and cedar usually fit my bill. Santal by Le Labo and Sandal from Creed are very, very nice wood fragrences, not to mention Feminite du Bois. I’m very curious to try the new Incense Oud by Nicolai, though, it is tempting!

    The heaviest perfume I’ve worn – with very much pleasure – is Vol de Nuit by Guerlain…..I can’t wear it anymore, the new formula is not good enough. But then, there are plenty of other nice fragrences to choose from. November 7, 2016 at 12:42pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s definitely potent. Whenever I burn my Omani oud, I make sure to place a few sweaters or scarves over the incense burner to capture some of the aroma. The scent is not heavy, but it’s very compelling and evocative. Like you, straight out oud can be difficult for me, although in the hot and dry climate it works much better. November 8, 2016 at 4:29am Reply

      • Klaas: Yes, oud works well in hot and dry climates, so it seems. Though I find the smell also very comforting in dark, windy, wet, wintery Holland 😉

        Have you seen the Al Jazeera documentary on the oud-culture in the Middle East (and more and more in Westers countries)? It is a very interesting film, I highly recommend it. It’s not all good news though, the growing popularity of oud is threatening its natural supply chain. Soon, there might not be much left……

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv69pYSm2oo November 8, 2016 at 3:57pm Reply

        • Victoria: I mentioned in my previous article for the FT about the scarcity of oud, and yes, its lack of sustainability. I mostly don’t believe brands claims that they have sustainable oud in their fragrances. Because that’s not available in any significant quantity today.

          Thank you very much for the link! November 9, 2016 at 10:43am Reply

  • Alicia: A couple of years ago, perhaps more, you wrote an article on oud. I immediatle ordered samples from Surrender to Chance, many Montales and a couple of By Killian. Although I somewhat enjoyed the more attenuated forms of oud (both By Killian, rose an amber if I remember well), and survived a few Montales, my decision is that oud is not for me. Although if POAL contains oud, then I love such an avatar of agarwood, since I love that perfume. Now, I am a fervent lover of woods, sandal, cedar, patchouli, vetiver, jacaranda, but not agarwood when it is a main note. A hint of it I may enjoy, perhaps. My late husband was for many years the Ambassador of Spain in French Morocco and other Arab countries, and although I learned to cook their food to please him, I didn’t need to wear their fragrances since he was anosmic. No oud for me. November 7, 2016 at 2:29pm Reply

    • Victoria: Portrait of a Lady doesn’t contain oud, as far as I know, and instead it’s a blend of different woods that gives it that rich, dense base.

      One of the most interesting Moroccan dishes I’ve tried was roasted meat with a spice paste that contained oud. November 8, 2016 at 4:32am Reply

    • Victoria: By the way, Alicia, have you tried the new Galop by Hermes? Given your other favorites, I think you might like it too. It has a subtle hint of the dark rose, which is such an intriguing accent. November 8, 2016 at 6:06am Reply

  • Austenfan: Really nice post/article. I’m of course extremely glad to see a mention of Une Rose Nacrée. I got myself a bottle at the beginning of summer, and have been wearing it a lot.
    Do you like Montale’s Oud Cuir d’Arabie? November 8, 2016 at 9:34am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you!
      To be honest, I remember that one not at all. I struggle to differentiate one Montale oud from another. They’re decent for the price, but they’re sure repetitive. November 8, 2016 at 11:48am Reply

      • Austenfan: Oud Cuir d’Arabie merits a try. Luca gave it 5 stars and compared it to two battle scarred action heroes. (Think Cheyenne and Harmonica in C’era una volta il West).
        I’ve tried a few Montales, but wasn’t smitten, so with such a huge line, I’ve given up. November 8, 2016 at 12:57pm Reply

        • Victoria: I like Black Aoud very much, by the way. Based on the description, it sounds similar to the one you mentioned. I try their offerings time to time, but it’s true that it’s hard to keep up. November 8, 2016 at 2:02pm Reply

  • Tati: Thanks for the interesting article. Even though I live in the desert (today it hit 95) I tend to avoid oud when it is hot. I must be brave and experiment.
    The first oud I ever smelled was Oud Imperial, by Perris Monte Carlo. I’ve been told it is fairly authentic to the ones in the Middle East. It is STRONG. I usually layer it with their Taif Rose to tame it down.
    Other favorites that I wear more often: Ex Idolo 33, Histories de Parfum Rosam, and Tiziana Terenzi Gold Rose Oudh. Budget favorite is Aramis Calligraphy Rose. Apparently 10 Corso Como has oud, although I don’t get that note, if it’s there it is light. November 8, 2016 at 6:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: 10 Corso Como is often mentioned as the first niche oud, but to me, it’s also very slight. I see it as a cedarwood-sandalwood blend. November 9, 2016 at 10:40am Reply

  • Danica Radovanov: Abdul Samad al Qurashi has wonderful natural ouds at differing price points. Khashab Al Oudh is a great complex long lasting floral oud fragrance, that has the richness of a French perfume. The Qurashi Blend attar is a deep dark ruby rose and oud combination, very classic. Some of his other blends such as Fatima are sparkling and beautiful with the oud wood used as an accent, green or warm or deep depending on the fragrance. I believe he uses a lot of natural materials, and the fragrances have a smoothness and warmth that seems characteristic of his style. There is a big Ramadan sale once a year which is a good time to stock up. November 9, 2016 at 11:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: A good recommendation! Usually, these ouds are blends of naturals and synthetics, and not all of them have the real thing, but I don’t mind, since some of the manmade accords are excellent. November 10, 2016 at 7:12am Reply

  • Aurora: I loved your article, it’s so amazing how cultures differ, for eg it’s thanks to you that I learned that men wear rose in the Middle-East and in Iran. I like incense more than oud, I think, and can’t keep up with all the oud releases but I do like Montale Full Incense, not sure if it’s just incense or a mix oud/incense, almost as much as I love Encens Flamboyant which remains my gold standard of incense because of its otherworldly airiness. November 10, 2016 at 5:56am Reply

    • Victoria: I also prefer the smoky-spicy aspect of incense to the heft of oud, although when I was in Oman I couldn’t get enough of oud on others.

      Encens Flamboyant is also my incense favorite. November 10, 2016 at 7:13am Reply

  • Inma: This article reminds me of being in Senegal and, some men al least, loving “Agua fresca de rosas”, a perfume (or maybe an eau the toilette) by Adolfo Dominguez. A rose perfume which is considered “obviously” for women in my european environment.
    I also remember, most specially related to smell, that they make wonderful incense, based on herbs and flowers.

    And, the smell of rain water, so different!!

    After reading this article I am interested in exploring oud.

    Thank you, again, for your articles. November 10, 2016 at 7:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Fascinating! Traveling or just meeting other people is the best way to shake up one’s perception of things, big and small. November 10, 2016 at 8:25am Reply

  • marymary: Arabian Oud in the UK has sales around ramadan. the staff are v knowledgeable. Beware the voluminous pkg, you won’t want to be carrying it around all day! I like the oils.
    Prices all over the place from £40 to £400. I got my Ghroob for about £40. It’s very oud-y.
    I also like natural wisdom spa on etsy for solid perfumes, ingredients sourced from morocco. November 13, 2016 at 3:27am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: I read there are many Oud perfumes by Maison Kurkdijan. What do you think? November 14, 2016 at 5:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, those are quite good. Oud Cashmere Mood is the one I wore on and off. November 15, 2016 at 3:28am Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Thank you! November 15, 2016 at 7:11am Reply

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