The Best Oud-Based Perfumes

Oud, or agarwood, is the biggest perfumery trend of the past ten years, and while it might occasionally show signs of flagging, it won’t disappear anytime soon. While we have seen many excellent fragrances based on the note derived from the resin of the Aquilaria tree species, uninspiring, bland compositions have been just as common. In my latest FT magazine column, The Best Oud-Based Perfumes, I explain what makes oud as a perfume note and a traditional Middle Eastern ingredient so important. Then, I describe several oud-based fragrances that I consider gold standards. Since oud is a material that comes from an endangered plant species, I also talk about the ethical issues we have to keep in mind as we seek out oud perfumes.

“Oud is a paradox. The exquisite aroma that set the imagination of Japanese poets and Sufi mystics aflame develops as a result of a disease. When healthy, the wood of the Aquilaria tree species is odourless, but once a certain type of mould affects them, they release an aromatic essence to protect their tissues from decomposition. It’s a slow process, during which blond wood turns dark and hard as a stone and develops a fragrance of uncommon complexity. It has the notes of sweet tobacco, incense, leather and smoked spices, with a lingering undercurrent of bitter honey and crushed mint. While it’s known by many names, including aloeswood, agarwood, gaharu, or jinko, its other name, dark gold, will be instantly recognisable to oud lovers. To continue reading, please click here.”

What are your favorite oud fragrances?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, oud chips and essence.

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88 Comments

  • maja: Mine must be Rose Oud By Kilian and Satin Mood MFK. I am not a huge oud lover and can stand it only paired with roses. Rose Nacree is also magnificent. 🙂 November 27, 2017 at 7:29am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s one of my favorites too. Such an elegant and plush composition. November 27, 2017 at 10:34am Reply

    • Jehanne: I so love Rose Oud. I’m wearing it today! November 30, 2017 at 9:52pm Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Great article! great picture as well.
    I have Armani Privé Oud Royal, and I love it, but maybe it’s not the real stuff. In your description the smell is rich and complicated, and to my nose the Armani is rather bright. Anyway, I love it very much, makes me feel elegant.
    I have also a sample of Aqua di Parma Colonia Oud, to my nose a little bit sharp.
    I have in mind to explore more Oud based perfumes, so your article is very timely. Thank you.

    I guess Juliette Has a Gun is the one for me, I love saffron.

    Of course the trees must be spared, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with synthetic ingredients. November 27, 2017 at 7:34am Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: One of the most beautiful perfumes I ever smelled is Oud Ispahan by Dior. That rose!! November 27, 2017 at 7:36am Reply

      • Nora Szekely: I have to sample Oud Ispahan! November 27, 2017 at 8:03am Reply

        • Victoria: Definitely worth trying! November 27, 2017 at 10:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Juliette Has a Gun is a smooth oud, but the touch of saffron adds a shimmering note.

      I also don’t mind synthetics. Of course, lab-made oud accords aren’t 100% synthetics, as there is no artificial material that mimics the oud well. Usually, those accords are a mixture of different naturals and synthetics. November 27, 2017 at 10:38am Reply

  • Nora Szekely: Hi Victoria and perfume lovers,
    The oud trend seems to go on, with more affordable brands joining in, like Yves Rocher. First time I tried a heavily oud scented perfume, I got the swimming pool effect I read others had experienced too (it smells like the medicinal disinfectants they use in pools). In time, I came to love oud scents, especially when paired with roses. As a perfumista, I love to sample and wear scents with natural ingredients in the mix, but do not wish to participate in the destruction of species due to overexploitation, so it is a heart-wrenching decision to decide which perfumes to buy.
    My favouries are By Kilian Rose Oud and Montale Black Aoud which ones if I’m correct, are composed of oud accord but not the actual thing. They sure smell unusual to the everday nose, but are beatiful blends with exotic feel. I wear these in cold weather (or maybe summer nights) and they never fail to make me swoon. November 27, 2017 at 8:02am Reply

    • rosarita: I love Black Aoud too, especially this time of year, it’s so powerful and long lasting. My 10ml decant is only half gone and it’s probably 10 years old. November 27, 2017 at 8:50am Reply

      • Victoria: All of Montale’s ouds dry down to the same finish on me, but Black Aoud is their most interesting one. It smells more like the traditional Omani ouds. November 27, 2017 at 10:41am Reply

        • Nora Szekely: Indeed, Red Aoud did not work that nicely on me but Black Aoud was an instant sizzle 🙂 November 28, 2017 at 10:49am Reply

    • Victoria: Oud can be a very difficult note, since it’s such a potent and sharp accord (especially the natural one). But when it’s used well, the effect is stunning. November 27, 2017 at 10:40am Reply

  • Marco: I love Leather Oud and the pre-reformulation M7. November 27, 2017 at 8:42am Reply

    • Victoria: I also prefer M7 the way it used to be, but even the current version is good. November 27, 2017 at 10:38am Reply

  • Hamamelis: I love April Aromatics Pink Wood, when I wore it the other day my husband immediately recognised its oud base. Not barnyard oud here, but a lovely earthy warm background for a beautiful rose. As far as I know there is a lot if not all natural oud in there. November 27, 2017 at 10:45am Reply

    • Victoria: I wonder where it’s sourced. November 27, 2017 at 10:56am Reply

      • Hamamelis: As far as I know it is Omani Oud. November 27, 2017 at 11:15am Reply

        • Victoria: As far as I know, Oman doesn’t produce any. All of Omani oud is imported places like Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam or Malaysia. November 28, 2017 at 3:56am Reply

          • Hamamelis: I mailed Tanja Bochnig and the oud she uses is indeed from Laos, not Oman. November 29, 2017 at 4:45am Reply

            • Hamamelis: PS and it is ethically sourced as are all her raw materials. November 29, 2017 at 5:22am Reply

            • Victoria: Thank you for taking time to contact her and let us know! So helpful. December 1, 2017 at 4:42am Reply

  • spe: Thank you for the link to your article. The destruction of healthy trees is disturbing.

    As I enjoy medicinal smells, I’m a fan of oud. Oddly, I don’t have an oud perfume, however. If I were to go in search of one, I’d go toward your suggestion of a Kurdjian or Montale. To me they are closely linked to rose chypres of the past. November 27, 2017 at 10:49am Reply

    • Victoria: I see what you mean about the rose chypres. It’s because oud accords use lots of patchouli and woody notes, and this gives them a chypre-like twist.

      Yes, the natural oud trade is a disturbing business, and I wish that brands were more transparent about the sourcing of their materials. Of course, given the price of natural oud, few brands can afford to use it. November 27, 2017 at 10:56am Reply

    • Elisa: Echoing Victoria, that’s smart, the connection to rose chypres!

      I think of Dior Ambre Nuit as a rose oud even though it’s not marketed that way. November 29, 2017 at 4:37pm Reply

      • spe: Me, too! I wonder if Ambre Nuit is still available? It was a favorite of the Dior collection. November 30, 2017 at 11:20am Reply

        • Elisa: It’s still on the Dior site! November 30, 2017 at 11:22am Reply

      • Victoria: I can see what you mean. It has that characteristic earthy-leathery note I associate with ouds. December 1, 2017 at 4:46am Reply

  • Bela: I can only take oud in small doses. My favourite perfume containing it used to be TF Sahara Noir, but it’s been more or less discontinued. I found that Guerlain Santal Royal had just the right amount of oud for me. I love it. November 27, 2017 at 11:05am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree with you Santal Royal. The first time I tried it I couldn’t even figure out what gave it that velvety, dark note, because oud and other woods are blended so smoothly. November 28, 2017 at 3:57am Reply

  • Filomena: I love the original oud oil I bought years ago called “Arabian Oud”, but I also enjoy three ouds from MFK, Oud, Oud Silk Mood and Oud Satin Mood. November 27, 2017 at 11:05am Reply

    • Victoria: Arabian Oud does have several excellent blends. They smell especially good on clothes. November 28, 2017 at 3:56am Reply

  • Klaas: Hello all, I love the smell of burnt agar wood, and Omani friend of mine burns it in his house, and my clothes smell like it for days after. It is dark, smokey and so incredibly decadent and complex!

    However, in fragrance I find it a difficult note, because I like to wear light, discrete perfumes. In the end I settled for Kurkdjians Oud. It’s a real Oud, but a very light and luminous one. It floats around you rather then drowns you. It’s chic in all seasons, too! November 27, 2017 at 3:58pm Reply

    • spe: Which one of Kurdjian’s Ouds, Klaas? Thank you. November 27, 2017 at 4:07pm Reply

      • Klaas: The regular Oud. I do not know his silk, satin or cashmere versions, they might be nice as well! November 28, 2017 at 5:03am Reply

        • Victoria: Silk Oud is also very soft, so you might like it. November 28, 2017 at 7:02am Reply

        • spe: Thank you for the clarification. November 29, 2017 at 12:26am Reply

    • Victoria: The scent of burning oud is the best, without doubt. And the perfume really clings to clothes and skin for a long time. That’s my favorite way of wearing oud. November 28, 2017 at 3:53am Reply

  • Mary: I love oud and enjoy Juliette Has a Gun’s version, and the original M7 was great, but for me the queen of ouds is Dusita’s Oudh Infini, which I’ll buy the moment I win the lottery. At the moment I have an empty sample bottle that I sniff from time to time and dream… November 27, 2017 at 4:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: Dusita’s oud is stunning. I also have a small sample, and while I rarely wear it, because it’s almost too much, I love to smell it time to time. November 28, 2017 at 3:52am Reply

  • Isabelle Takahashi: Other than agarwood chip burned like an incense I never can tell what it’s supposed to smell like and how accurate the synthetics are from the natural. I know some are more animalic than others but from the few I’ve tried like Tom Ford Oud Wood, it smells nothing like agarwood to my nose. According to Ensar Oud its hard to tell the real deal. November 27, 2017 at 8:29pm Reply

    • Victoria: Actually, it’s not that hard at all. In my classes, even non-professionals can identify the two side by side easily. But when oud is blended with other notes and is used as a supporting character, then it might be more difficult.

      Tom Ford Oud Wood also doesn’t smell like oud to me, real or otherwise. November 28, 2017 at 3:49am Reply

      • Isabelle Takahashi: Yes, it’s when it’s blended with other base notes both woody and animalic I can never detect it and a blend can make a favorite scent turn on me. I absolutely love Jasmine Sambac as an essential oil but it turns out that a scent I hated in many perfumes was a Jasmine blend and never knew it for the longest time.

        Can you recommend perfumes that would be easy for a newbie to get the good oudiness without confusing it with other animalic/woody notes? When looking for an oud fragrance to try, often the popular ones are in praise of an artistic blend that is achieved rather than, this is oud love it or not, and a pure oud oil is beyond my budget. November 28, 2017 at 1:38pm Reply

        • Victoria: Do you mean the real thing or the replacement? For the replacement oud, I recommend trying Montale. They all drydown to essentially the same oud base. December 1, 2017 at 4:40am Reply

          • Isabelle Takahashi: Thanks Victoria, I meant both real and replacement. I think I may have trouble telling things apart when oud is combined with other bases especially musk or amber. I will definitely give a try on the Montale. December 1, 2017 at 12:45pm Reply

            • Victoria: Then only the real thing will give the correct impression, but Montale is fine enough to see what a synthetic type of oud smells like. Of course, there is no way to use oud in a perfume without mixing it heavily with musk, patchouli or woods. I’m not sure where you live, but Enfleurage in NYC sells essences and they have oud essence too, which they can show you. December 1, 2017 at 12:59pm Reply

  • Eric Brandon: Oh, lovely article. I don’t smell very many ouds unless they happen across my lap but I’ve liked all of MFK’s ouds. Silk Mood was rather a lovely soft rose and oud if I remember correctly. Reminds me of Luca Turin’s review of Angel Violet, trying to hide an 18-wheeler behind a purple satin handkerchief. I know Kurkdjian is a master but the balance of Silk Mood is impressive. Satin Mood was a ton of fun, juicy berries and big oud base. My favorite is Oud Palao though, which smells like a shoulder-pads 80’s scent. Go big or go home! 🙂 November 27, 2017 at 8:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: I agree! I keep returning to these perfumes, since they’re so masterfully put together. I love your description of Oud Palao. November 28, 2017 at 3:50am Reply

  • Mare: I love to wear Czech & Speake Dark Rose.

    Great article ! November 28, 2017 at 7:50am Reply

    • Victoria: I also like its matching body products! November 28, 2017 at 8:53am Reply

      • Mare: I did not know there were matching body products. I will have to check that out. Thanks for the good information. November 29, 2017 at 7:36am Reply

  • Severine: Oh Victoria! I have never worn an oud fragrance. I am scared it is too heavy and masculine. I did sniff Tom Ford Oud Wood at a department store counter once…
    I hope to explore Maison Francis Kurkdijian once I make my way to Bergdof in the Big Apple. Any other favorites from the line? November 28, 2017 at 11:12am Reply

    • Elisa: Try Lumiere Noir pour femme — it’s gorgeous and reminds me of L’Arte di Gucci. November 29, 2017 at 4:38pm Reply

      • ClareObscure: I used to love l’Arte by Gucci. Thanks Elisa. December 2, 2017 at 10:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: I really like Amyris from Kurkdjian. It’s such a radiant perfume. December 1, 2017 at 4:37am Reply

  • Deborah: My first experience with oud is bond #9 New York Oud; I am on my second bottle. I consider it a signature scent on me, and makes me feel confident and ‘can do.’ With that experience, I am hunting them out. I had the opportunity to travel to Dubai last year and picked up some oud incense – love it! I am based in the US – midwest, and some of the brands you mention aren’t around me. I appreciate your site and all the comments. I now know what i can search for. I am a perfumista! November 28, 2017 at 11:23am Reply

    • Victoria: Very glad that it’s helpful! 🙂
      Oud incense in the Emirates is excellent, including the kind made from oud replacements. December 1, 2017 at 4:38am Reply

  • Teeny: My favorite is Kurkdjian’s Oud satin mood. It’s easy to wear and lovely! I also love Jo Malone’s velvet rose & oud. Both are wonderful especially worn during the fall and winter months. November 28, 2017 at 11:49am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree, they seem warming. December 1, 2017 at 4:39am Reply

  • paola: I particularly like OUD by Reminiscence but I also appreciate Robert Piguet OUD DELICE and PRECIOUS OUD by Van Cleef and Arpels November 28, 2017 at 12:55pm Reply

    • spe: Oh, I’d like to search out and try the VanCleef. Thank you for mentioning it. November 29, 2017 at 12:25am Reply

    • Victoria: Precious Oud is also among my favorites. December 1, 2017 at 4:39am Reply

  • Sharan: My main perfume is Tom Ford’s Oud Wood. It was my introduction to oud, and while I loved it when I first tried it, I didn’t buy it for at least a year. I thought it was maybe too un-pretty (or animalic, though I wouldn’t have come up with that word then) for me. I kept thinking about it, though, and eventually bought a big bottle of it after I depleted the one I originally bought instead of it. Curious thing: when I say I like to wear this fragrance, sales people keep showing me other ouds, as if I want to buy another. One at a time is enough for me! November 28, 2017 at 3:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, that happens. They’re trained this way. December 1, 2017 at 4:41am Reply

  • Sharan: P.S. What I love about TF’s Oud Wood is that it is soft and warm, and it seems subtle on me. It is especially comforting in our damp winters, and throughout the gray, rainy seasons where I live. November 28, 2017 at 3:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: I can imagine how good it smells on you. December 1, 2017 at 4:41am Reply

  • Michael: Thanks for the informative and interesting article, Victoria! I love oud in perfumes, but not necessarily as the main ingredient. My favourite fragrances that contain oud are The Night by Frederic Malle, Ormonde Jayne’s Ormonde Man, By Killian’s Musk Oud and La Fumee Arabie by Miller Harris. I also find the “lighter” oud fragrances like Diptyque’s Oud Palao and Le Labo’s Oud 27 very wearable.

    Need to try Oud Ispahan as I’ve heard many good comments about it! November 28, 2017 at 10:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: Definitely give it a try, Michael! December 1, 2017 at 4:41am Reply

    • Surbhi: Ohh I tried the night on me once but it lasts for months so not again. It smells like horse barn on me mostly and a very faint rose.how I wish it could smell that beautiful rose a little more on me. December 12, 2017 at 5:43pm Reply

  • Figuier: Great article, thank you! I haven’t actually smelled that many ouds but typically I like them – I don’t think particularly discriminating in that regard. I’ll look forward to trying some of those suggestions when I get the chance.

    The most ‘oud-y’ perfume I’ve come across is By Killian’s Pure Oud, which is a-maz-ing but not something I feel the need to own. I also liked Tom Ford’s Oud Wood and YSL M7, although they’re pretty intense.

    The one I do own & enjoy wearing is Rose Oud, but I tend to think of it as a rose, not an oud (it’s my only rose-centric fragrance). November 29, 2017 at 6:27am Reply

    • Figuier: Oh, I also like Santal Royale – I keep spraying it on at my local department store – but had no idea it had any oud in… November 29, 2017 at 6:29am Reply

      • Victoria: It’s there underpinning the sandalwood and amber notes. December 1, 2017 at 4:45am Reply

    • Victoria: I usually prefer blends, rather than single ouds, but for smelling in the air, nothing beats the real thing.

      Rose Oud is probably my most worn oud of all. December 1, 2017 at 4:44am Reply

  • Amber: I haven’t tried any of the ones you mentioned Victoria, though the Silfra one sounds amazing.
    My favourite is Ode for Him by 1000 Flowers. I originally bought it as a gift for my husband but I steal it all the time now!
    The notes are given as-
    Coriander. Cardamom. Helichrysum flower.
    Bergamot. Tarragon. Rose absolute. Cloves..
    Sandalwood. Agarwood attar. Frankincense.
    Myrrh. Cedarwood. Patchouli. Moss. Vetiver.

    It has a melancholy feel I find very comforting. November 29, 2017 at 1:00pm Reply

    • Chocolate Marzipan: Ode for Him is gorgeous on both men and women. My almost 18 year old daughter wears it and it smells stunning on her. Definitely an under rated beauty. Nice to see it mentioned! November 29, 2017 at 1:52pm Reply

      • Amber: Yay, nice to meet another fan, it is a wonderful perfume! December 1, 2017 at 12:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, that does sound good, at least based on the description. December 1, 2017 at 4:45am Reply

  • Slinkypanther: Late to these comments but what about Diptyque’s Oud Palao? It’s divine! November 30, 2017 at 10:09am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s a good one. And it layers with Tam Dao (also Diptyque’s) well. December 1, 2017 at 4:47am Reply

      • Slinkypanther: Thanks Victoria! I will have to try that combo December 2, 2017 at 1:00pm Reply

  • joseph: What do you think of the newish Oud Essentiel from Guerlain? Took a test spritz in Munich airport dutyfree and it not only was commented on at arrival some 14 hours later, there’s still a hint on the shirt cuff. December 1, 2017 at 9:35am Reply

  • Lily: The only oud-containing perfume I’ve smelled is Rose Anonyme from Atelier Cologne. I like that perfume, but it has an almost sterile edge to it (or as I like to think of it, space station recycled air, probably Bc I wear it with my Star Wars shirts a lot), which I attributed to the oud…reading the comments confirms that. It’s not a note I feel impelled to explore. Perhaps it will surprise me in the future. If so this is a great list to start with! December 1, 2017 at 11:12am Reply

    • Victoria: The oud there is barely a suggestion and it doesn’t smell like the real thing. It’s a good perfume, oud or not. One thing oud is not is sterile. December 1, 2017 at 1:01pm Reply

      • Lily: Good to know! I’ll put oud back in my “unknown” pile 😉 December 1, 2017 at 2:58pm Reply

  • Richard Goller: Such an informative read, as always, dear Victoria. Glad you highlighted the ethical aspect. One of the reasons I have no problem with synthetics, if executed well. Big thanks. R December 2, 2017 at 12:43am Reply

  • Mia: Oh oud! I love Rania J’s Oud Assam, and also her Ambre Loup and T.Habanero seem to contain a good dose of this, to my nose strongly blue-chees-y, note. Yum! December 4, 2017 at 2:49pm Reply

  • Vetiver: I adore oud! I’m South Indian, and over the years, my mother gave me some very fine oud attars in Bangalore. These are amazing-I have 3-4 and they are all different-Dehn al Oud is the finest. I like Al Haramain perfumes with an oud note and own Al Burak (Rose, oud, saffron). In Western style perfumes, I like Tom Ford’s Oud Wood very much and just ordered Rose Oud by Parfums de Nicolai. Oud and vetiver are 2 notes I cannot get enough of since they are still relatively new in Western style perfumes. December 7, 2017 at 4:02pm Reply

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