The second time around I switch the order of the oud samples. For my first sniffing trial, I randomly lined up my little sample vials which were all diluted to 10%. The dilute samples on the scent strips yield the nuances in different ways as the fragrance dries out. A few things happen as I go through the samples, mainly I confirmed that evaluating oud is a learned skill and that I could probably go through these few samples many more times and get something different each time. But I also found that some aspects come through whether it is the first sample of the day or the last sample.
I like to think I have a well-trained nose but I have known all along that the determined character of agarwood essential oils would put my nose to the test. Which happened. What also happened was that I walked around with the smell of oud in my nose – kind of a nice effect that fragranced the world around me. But it also limited any other evaluations I could conduct for at least a day.
It won’t be surprising that the more subtle aspects of fruit and fine wood are lost as your nose becomes a bit overloaded with oud. I did pretty well the first time through, picking up nuances of woody notes, spice, water, and even honey in all samples even though some of the stronger and more animalic samples came up early in the evaluation. For the second evaluation, I used my notes from the previous one to put the samples in order from lightest fragrance to strongest. By doing this I was able to find the more subtle nuances: hints of cedar, definite floral aspects in more of the samples, and green notes appeared as well. But the best find in my second time through was a wonderful deep fruity and wine-like note in two of the samples that I missed the first time around. In one it was intertwined with spicy berries and the other it appeared as a sort of wine-y wood. Honeyed tones also shone through a bit more. I seemed to detect smoke less often and used watery and mossy descriptors less often as well.
So what spoke to me? I loved especially the fruity, spicy, wine-oud fragrance of an old wild-grown sample; the clean, green-floral overlay on fine wood of a second sample; the beautiful leathery dry down of another; the traces of honey or spice that were woven through several samples; and the sheer bombastic oud and animal scent that spoke out in the most assertive of the samples.
JK DeLapp, owner of Rising Phoenix Perfume, says this of oud: “Whereas a rose smells like a rose smells like a rose – regardless of species or country of origin – one of the unusual things about Oud is the vast diversity of odor profiles possible. Variations from particular species, the countries (and even regions) of origin, type of equipment and techniques used in distilling of the wood – even the type of water used to distill it! – all of these variable create a vast array of profiles. From the brightest tropical floral notes to the skankiest backside of an animal – all is possible with Oud. It is for these reasons that it has captivated the hearts and imaginations of everyone who has been fortunate enough to experience the vast depth of the material…it has certainly captivated mine.”
Friends and colleagues who have studied various oud oils for a much longer time than I have consistently espouse the use of oils alone as a perfume. That the beauty of many oils should be celebrated in pure form or enhanced by small amounts of other aromatics such as a beautiful rose or antique sandalwood. For blending, some of the cultivated oils are more appropriate. With this I wholeheartedly agree and am going through my notes to find the perfect one…..or two.
More than 10 years ago when I began working with natural aromatics for perfumery, each box of essential oils and absolutes were a little treasure to be explored for the first time. As time passed, the new and exciting oils came less frequently but the challenge of sniffing out new notes, of finding words to describe what I smell, and the effort to make sense of a complex blend of constituents still brings me joy. I can’t think of anything I would rather do that sit at my workbench with 6 kinds of rose or 8 kinds of conifer laid out side by side with my scent strips to hand. Now, when I am looking for a challenge, all I have to do is reach for a little oud. Or perhaps just a little on the wrist while I work?
Do you like the woody or the sweet? Floral or spicy? Do you wear oud oil alone or do you have a favorite perfume?
Read more about oud in my post for CaFleureBon here: http://www.cafleurebon.com/cafleurebon-oud-in-perfumery-wood-of-the-gods-12-oud-agarwood-aloeswood-oudh-perfumes-draw/
Photo credits: Thanks to Katlyn Breene of Mermade Arts for generously sharing artwork Deep Earth Scent Vision. Smashed berries by bakerjim dreamstime_xs_48273438.