There have been at least a dozen oud-based fragrances released in the last two years—Killian’s ultra-expensive Pure Oud, Le Labo’s Oud 27, Al Oudh by L’Artisan Parfumeur and Juliette Has A Gun’s Midnight Oud, for example—but what exactly is oud?
Oud, also known as agarwood, is an exotic and expensive wood resin created when the Southeast Asian Aquilaria tree is attacked by a certain type of mold. The richly fragrant resin, which the tree produces in its core to fight off the infecting mold, has been harvested from affected trees for centuries (it is apparently even mentioned in the Bible) and used for incense and perfume oil.
From The RainForest Project:
The “Wood of the Gods” has been traded and highly appreciated for thousands of years. Resinous wood is used as incense, for medicinal purposes, and pure resin in distilled form is used as perfume and perfume component. Outside native countries it is most widely known in the Middle East, China, Taiwan and Japan. A strong connection exists between use, religion and curative properties, and elaborate traditional and religious ceremonies are known from around the world. Faith healers in the Middle East use it at curative ceremonies, Japanese pilgrims donate flowers and Agarwood oil to Shinto-Buddhist temples, and Vietnamese religious groups are obliged to bring Agarwood to ceremonies at their temples in Mekong delta communities.
Because of over-harvesting, many countries protect Aquilaria trees, but some scientists, including the University of Minnesota’s Professor Robert Blanchette, have been working on sustainable agarwood farming, wherein the resin is collected from young trees instead of old ones.
The RainForest Project says that efforts to create a synthetic agarwood oil have proven even more difficult and expensive than harvesting the real thing.
Pure oud oil, that is, agarwood oil made from boiling down the tree resin, is very expensive. It’s got a powerful smell that isn’t quite like anything else. They can cost hundreds of dollars per ounce. A few online retailers sell it, either as incense or as oud oil.
Smelling various oud-based fragrances gives you a pretty clear idea what the real thing smells like, and how well it combines with other fragrances. L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Al Oudh ($155 for 100ml) is a strong, pungent oud that wouldn’t work for everyday wear. Le Labo’s Oud 27 ($200 for 100ml, but it comes in smaller bottles) is very sweet and wearable. By Killian’s Pure Oud ($395 for 50ml) is quite good, but ridiculously expensive. My favorite oud so far, by Juliette Has A Gun, is Midnight Oud ($135 for 100ml): it’s the perfect balance between the sweet and pungent aspects of other oud scents on the market. Combine Oud 27 with Al Oudh, and it might smell like this.
The blog Bois de Jasmin has a good post that lists more oud-based fragrances. I’ll write a proper review of some of the oud fragrances I’ve mentioned later.