Dark, wild and with a peculiar origin, Oudh is one of the most precious materials used in perfumery since forever. Let’s follow our perfume expert to see why.
Behind the Essence:
Oudh is one of the most haunting and fascinating notes in the history of fragrances, but also a mysterious and unclear one. Let’s shed some light on it.
Oudh is a product of the trees of the Aquilaria family, mostly of Aquilaria malaccensis. It’s also known as Agarwood or Aloeswood and has been cultivated by ancient Asian populations since forever. The Aquilaria trees are native to Southeast Asia, and most of them are tall, with long leaves and small yellow/green flowers. When it’s attacked by a fungus, the tree reacts producing an oil to protect itself; the oil produced by the infected heartwood is fragrant, with a pungent, musty odour.
There are several kinds of oudh, depending on the quality of the wood and the duration of the infection. The older the tree and the longer the wood is infected, the higher the quality of the oil – and the higher the price: in specific areas of South Asia, the most ancient trees are even guarded by soldiers, for the value of the material is priceless.
Oudh essential oil is extracted from the infected wood by steam distillation or CO2 extraction. As already stated, there are several kinds of oudh: for instance, one smells warm, velvety and spicy, with saffron facets, while another one is dark but fruity, and almost smells a little like blackberries and mould. Other kinds are deeply animalic and smell fecal. All of them, however, smell balsamic, three-dimensional and have outstanding projection and lasting power.
One of the most precious oudhs is known as Kyara, and it’s used during the Kōdō, the Japanese art of appreciating incense.
Oudh is highly expensive, and true oudh is rarely used in pefumery, because it’s hard to get and it would also boost the price range of the fragrance. However, synthetic oudh smells little like the original juice.
One of the first fragrances to list oudh among its notes is Yves Saint Laurent’s M7, created by perfumers Jacques Cavallier and Alberto Morillas in 2002. M7 contains synthetic oudh, and it was the first “mainstream” fragrance to use it, along with vetiver and aromatic notes.
The niche market owes a lot to Montale Parfums in terms of wide-spreading oudh fragrances in Europe and America. The now huge range of references from this line lists several oudh perfumes, but one of the first and most famous is Black Aoud (2006), a classic oriental blend of oudh, rose and patchouli – a real sillage monster. Niche perfume house Mona di Orio launched Oud in 2011 as part of their Les Nombres d’Or line. The fragrance lists real oudh from Laos among other notes, even though probably in small amounts, and it smells dark, earthy, deep and intoxicating.
Founded in 1983 by will of the Sultan of Oman, perfume house Amouage has exported the tradition of Oman perfumery throughout the world, thanks to a line of fragrances created with high quality raw materials from Oman, like silver frankincense. Part of their Attar line, Oud Al Khaloud (2008), a 12ml/0,4 fl.oz bottle of which costs way over one thousand Euros, is said to contain only the most precious kinds of oudh and it’s a real olfactive experience: it smells like far away lands, dark, wild, leathery and fecal.
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