Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ouder than Bombs - A Best of Aloeswood

The extensive Oud-hype in "niche" perfumery has been an object lesson in how this marketing regime works: on fashionable trends rather than creativity, as business rather than art, as a branch of the mainframe aromachemical industry rather than a countercultural and economic project by aesthetic elitists. "Oud" became completely dissociated from the actual natural product, a rebranded signifier representing exclusivity, rarity, mystical oriental traditions on the marketing side, but a stereotypical woody iso-e-super base in terms of actual scent. The usual highly profitable game of high-flying illusions above  a bland mainstream safety net.     
Of course, such corruption is not specific to western capitalism. Oud is a substance so rare and yet so highly desired in the Middle and Far East, that its sources have been plundered as wrecklessly as those of musk and sandalwood, while the market has been swamped for years with inferior products, stretched with or entirely consisting of either low grade materials or synthetics. Even extremely high prices offer no protection from forgery. Thus it will take a very experienced nose and a very trusting relationship with suppliers, or even better producers, to get at the real thing. One should always keep in mind Jean Paul Guerlain's story from his wonderful "My Journeys in the World of Perfume" about seeking a sandalwood supplier for Samsara, thus travelling through the remotest countryside of India near Nepal only to find "neatly lined-up drums bearing the labels of companies well-known in the perfume industry!" (p. 91)
Dominique Dubrana of La Via del Profumo, of whose work I have clearly outed myself as a great admirer previously, has chosen a different route. Armed with the deep respect of the natural perfumer for his or her materials, he has embarked on a journey with a number of members from basenotes to create refined Ouds which put the true high quality oil at the center, but carefully mounted as a precious jewel with a ring of accentuating materials. Fittingly named Oud Caravan No.s 1, 2, & 3, I have graciously received samples of these labors of olfactory love and shall be writing about them, as I explore these complex fragrances. The Ouds are quite distinct, and I shall begin today by noting their primary opening characteristic:
No. 1: decomposing foliage. A sharp clear impression based upon the childhood memory of playing adventurous games upon huge steaming mounds of leaves which were slowly turning to humus. Fruity-earthy-smoky-rotting this takes me right back to that moment in the past
No. 2: herbal-spicy ambery wood. The most accessible of the trio as it references well-known factes of perfumery.
No. 3: horse stables. That unique sweetness of horse's bodies and their dung mixing with the sweet hay of their feed,  a peat-fire burning nearby. This one best confirms my theory that if you love those phenolic peat-sated Islay Malts you cannot but enjoy Eaglewood as well. 

These are just impressions from the first seconds of smelling - the caravan has not yet crossed through the city gates, but a central theme of the journey has been clearly established. Too fascinating not to continue onward, and the experience happily makes you forget the dreary legions of industry banalities that besmirch the name "Oud," here returned to its true glory.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The primary characteristics of the Oud Caravan you mention are very close to what I've experienced smelling from a bottle of agarwood oil! Decomposing foliage, bark, and the smell of male goat. I haven't been close to horse. But since a male goat passed by me, I remember this strong appalling scent! When I read about oud as "medicinal" note, I really wonder if I got an adulterated oil or if they are very misguided. And the few that I' ve smelt, smell nothing like male goat - more like saffron.

I am looking forward to your reviews on Oud Caravan's! I would be curious to smell them, some time. I probably would never wear them. The association is with the MALE goat; maybe I would enjoy smelling it on a man.