Gray is the new black.
Thirty is the new twenty.
And oud is the new patchouli.
Those of you who are new to perfumery are like, "What's oud??" And those of you who are longtime perfume worshipers might be rolling your eyes up just hearing the word: "Ughhhh, yup, oud!"
Although oud is a popular and common ingredient in Middle Eastern perfumery, it is native to Southeast Asia. It is really called agarwood, and "oud" is sort of like a nickname. I want to clarify, because I often see this mistake on the internet, that agarwood (oud) is NOT guaiac wood. Guaiac wood comes from South America and is more commonly known as palo santo, which is part of the fragrant botanical family that includes frankincense, copal and myrrh. Oud is not part of the family. Consequently, oud smells very different from those other trees.
One should be careful, when reviewing perfumes, that they are speaking of the correct wood. I come across reviews with complaints like, "Hey, there's no oud in here!" when the note pyramid lists guaiac, or "The oud in this perfume is so smooth and mellow," which makes me giggle because the fragrance doesn't contain oud whatsoever, it contains palo santo.
When agarwood is infected with a particular mold, it creates the beautifully scented resins we are (now becoming) familiar with in oud fragrances. Regarding frankincense, myrrh and palo santo, the wood and resins smell wonderful. No mold infection required.
It seems like oud is to the Middle East as patchouli is to Western hippies. Both scents generate strong love/hate opinions! Some people are totally fine with smearing pure patch oil all over them (or the "dreaded patch" as many people, including myself, refer to it!). Both notes can be an acquired taste. Both of them can be likable in the perfect dose or in a blend that is "just right" for an individual's particular taste. Both of them vary in scent profile and quality, just like, in subtle ways, no two strawberries will ever taste identical.
Just because oud has caught on in the West, and seems to appear everywhere now from designer "noir" perfumes as well as the full gamut of niches, doesn't mean that we all swoon over it. Personally, I like my oud the way I like my patch: mild.
I often read opinions about popular, palatable, oud-centric perfumes, such as Montale or Tom Ford fragrances, like, "This is an oud for Westerners." Is that true? So just because a person is Middle Eastern it means he or she wholeheartedly loves oud at full throttle? I kinda doubt it. Talk about generalizations and stereotypes. And if a Middle Eastern woman prefer perfumes with very soft or nearly imperceptible oud (or, Heaven forbid, no oud at all!), she has sub-par Western taste? I sincerely hope not.
I especially love reading proclamations such as, "I have worn 100% real oud from the Middle East, I know what oud smells like!" as though only the most pure oud is the only kind worth enjoying. When I really think about it, I am not sure I see more snobby and judgmental comments than I do when I encounter opinions for perfumes containing oud.
Well anyway, I was just scribbling down some thoughts on oud as they came up. As always, I'd love any feedback, experiences, comments, or naming your own faves!