In the "What's That Smell?" series, I'll explain some of the less obvious perfume notes that crop up in many indie perfumes. Keep in mind my descriptions and comparisons are based on my own experiences and your impressions may not be the same. Perfume notes are NOT ingredients. They can be natural essences, artificial isolated compounds that imitate the natural substance, blended accords, or a combination. Therefore, the note you like in one perfume may be unrecognizable in another. As with all sensory, subjective things, your mileage may vary.
Oud, oudh, oude...however you spell it, it's a powerhouse note. It's one of those smells I think people don't realize they love until they've smelled it a few times. Personally, I even find my favorite oud perfumes will smell strange or off-putting on first application, then blossom into their true selves after a few minutes up to an hour. For that reason, oud can be intimidating, but I promise if you give it a shot, you'll find its richness and complexity superior to any other wood note.
Oud is bold and wet (ha.) It's not a well-behaved, smooth wooden scent like sandalwood or cedar. It can smell like bandaids or wood varnish at first, with a strange, almost animalic, tangled wildness. When I smell oud, I think of old wooden furniture that's gotten a little damp in storage, mixed with a sharp smokiness that gives a strong, black tangy smell. It sounds very unappealing when put this way, but the most "unsavory" notes are truly the ones that yield the complex, gorgeous richness that keeps a perfume from being a plain and boring scent. Oud can be used in small amounts or large, to great effect, but keep in mind if you're sampling an oud heavy perfume, you should reserve judgment until after the drydown.
Oud will generally retain its dark smoky character, but will lighten with wear. Instead of staying black and damp, it will warm up, round out, and glow. It's an immersive type of smell- imagine sitting on wooden furniture in a wood-shop, constructed entirely of wood, in the middle of the forest. Just the richest, most evocative woodsy smell. It pairs exceptionally well with any other wood note for added complexity, vanilla (always), and lighter notes like tea or fruit that need grounding.
In general, I believe Solstice Scents, Arcana, NAVA, and Possets do the best job showcasing oud and using it in interesting ways. Cocoa Pink gets an honorary mention for including it in unexpected fragrances with great results.
Perfumes featuring oud:
- Arcana Honey & Venom: Here, oud is at its most stinky, debaucherous, and intimidating. The honey and amber notes are syrupy and rich, which, far from tempering the oud, just encourage its brashness. You have to be careful with this scent- not joking one tiny drop will last days and days. I have a sweater I wore that smelled of H&V for two months after I wore it one day. But if you're one for lusty, rich scents, you can't get much better than this oud and honey blend with spicy smokiness.
- Solstice Scents Thornwood Thicket: The oud in this scent is barely recognizable. It's tame, warm, woodsy, and easy to love. It lends a real, sun-warmed feel to the woodsy, brambly scent. The juicy blackberry notes are made darker and more realistic with the dark botanical oud backing them up. Please note that TT is a seasonal fragrance in perfume oil. It's available in EDP form, but is only available as an oil in autumn.
- Possets Silver Oude: Possets' silver note, which is a delicate vanilla musk, does a great job of taming, but not strangling, its oud partner in this scent. If you've smelled Solstice Scents Manor, this is a very similar scent, but I prefer the Possets version because it has more richness and heart, where Manor can smell thin on me. The oud is slick and cool here because the silver note amps up that dampness I mentioned. Although there is a spicy bite, it's not too smoky. The cool musky vanilla sweetens it up very well and gives it a creaminess that oud doesn't have alone. This is a seasonal Yule scent.