Raw Materials OUD SERIES: The Oud Oeuvre

OUD SERIES: The Oud Oeuvre

01/20/14 17:36:27 (15 comments)

by: Jordan River

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring The Oud Oeuvre. We will look at some history then we will smell the 21st century distillations and interpretations of this ancient oil. Rather than exploring the works of a single artist we will explore the art that Oud itself has inspired various artisans to produce recently. If you missed Part 1 then you may like to join us on this fragrant journey here.

Many of you will be familiar with the smell of synthetic Oud in modern perfumes. This is not what we are talking about. We are talking about Oud from nature, from a tree. Most people would not have come across this smell in daily life unless they have spent some time in an Islamic culture.

Oud is a journey through scent with all sorts of interesting "breezes" making appearances over time, like a treasure trove of nature referencing smells from the barnyard to spring blossoms.

1st grade agarwood, wikipedia

I like to think of "barnyard" as the smell of Mother Nature regenerating. There are also other words used to describe this aspect of some Oud oils, especially the Hindi oils. Cambodi Ouds (agarwood trees grown in the Cambodia/Thailand area) are less barnyardy, while the Papuan Oud is more floral. In Borneo the scent profile changes to Oud with light fruity sweet notes. A burnt rubber note is found in Oud from Irian Jaya. Laotion Oud is even more of a shapeshifter, making this a fantastical perfume ingredient. The medicinal / bandaid / dentist’s chair note is a fleeting feature of many true Oud oils. These are very broad descriptions; a universe of scent swirls around in each Oud oil. We will look at these regional differences in greater depth later in this series.

 

"The other thing to note about Oud is that unlike the Western perfumes, Oud morphs and transforms with time and as it dries down the off notes disappear and you are left with other notes that were not obvious earlier on."
              Masstika, Oud Connoisseur

 

I first came across Oud by reading Trygve Harris’ website. It was the only article on the web back in 2004 with in-depth Oud information. Now there are several websites devoted exclusively to Oud, as well as a raft of rascals selling "black magic" wood and oil to the unsuspecting.

"Black Magic" wood is wood that has been impregnanted with synthetic Oud and is often painted with black stripes to appear resinous. Metal weights can also be inserted into the wood to give it heft and therefore a sinking wood (high grade) feeling with the attendant magical price. The high grade of sinking wood relates to the amount of resin in the tree—enough to make a piece of wood sink into a river rather than float. Very old pieces of agarwood / sinking wood are sometimes found in swamps and rivers in Southeast Asia.


Hindi Super Assam, Indonesian Bouya, Laotian Gold. Photo: David Falsberg


  pic. from qrbiz.com

"Black Magic" oil is Buaya Oil, the "terpy" smelling distillation of uninfected or mostly uninfected agarwood. Sometimes spelled Bouya or Boya, Buaya is the Bahasa Melayu word for "crocodile," so in this context is means crocodile oil—a warning indeed as in local Indonesian parlance a crocodile refers to a person who is a big liar.

This oil is often used to extend real Oud oil or as a base for adding Oud aroma chemicals for the purposes of trickery. It is also sold openly as Buaya oil, presumably to the tricksters. However there is also a legitimate use for this oil: to create a leather accord.

The fragrant Oud resin is formed as a defense mechanism against a fungal invasion. The fungal invasion is caused by a tear in the bark of the tree usually by insects, sometimes by a lightning strike but also by human intervention with a nail, bark-scraping or by chemical injection. It is this resin that is distilled into Oud oil. The tree, Aquilaria, only becomes agarwood when it produces the resin. It is this resin that is distilled into Oud oil.

There is one other tree, and not so well known, that can produce the resin. The Gyrinops genus is closely related to Aquilaria as part of the Thymelaeaceae tree family.

There is also a forum called Gaharu. Gaharu is the Bahasa Melayu (Indonesian/Malay) word for agarwood. Newbies to this site are often overwhelmed by the intense descriptions of various Oud oils. Commentators with tenure on this site are known as "The Gaharu Poets."

Oud connoisseurs consider Oud a perfume in and of itself. Here is a comment from "Perfumed Politics" on Oud and the proliferation of perfumes with Oud listed as an ingredient.

 

"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 type base in terms of actual scent."
            State of the [Car]Nation

 

It was Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez in Perfumes: The Guide who alerted us to the breakthrough aroma chemicals that were Oud-like and are responsible for this usually high-priced ingredient suddenly being included in modern and mainstream perfumery. Arpur (Givaudan)* is what you smell in Tom Ford’s Oud Wood and 10760E (Firmenich)** is the most prevalent oudesque aroma chemical in both niche and mainstream perfumery. Oud Synthetic 10760 E (Firmenich) is the base for Le Labo’s Oud27*. This Oud trend in Western perfumery is usually attributed to M7 by Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurent. However, M7 would not have been possible without the aroma chemicals first becoming commercially available. Alberto Morillas and Jacques Cavallier were the noses who created that breakthrough scent which still polarizes people today. Oud in the Middle East has never been a trend; it is part of Arabian culture which we will explore later in this series.

The Oud-producing Aquilaria tree, Aquilaria crassna is protected under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

 
Aquilaria tree and agarwood (darker part inside), wikipedia

Critically endangered means two steps away from extinct. This status has encouraged the planting of organic agarwood plantations which have not all been successful in inducing the trees to produce the resin.

Later in this series we will visit an Agarwood plantation. We are also catching a camel ride with an Oud Caravan. Let’s see where that takes us. Somewhere along the way we will be meeting the man with an "alpha dog" nose as well as some Oud connoisseurs who will be sharing some deep-in-the-jungle knowledge with us. There will also be tigers.

Information Credits:
* Source: Elena Vosnaki - The Perfume Shrine
** Source: Vir Sanghvi - on Oud

Jordan River is the host of The Fragrant Man and also writes for Olfactoria's Travels and Australian Perfume Junkies.

He recently covered the first harvest of Santalum album sandalwood grown in Australia. Jordan has been been reading Fragrantica and other fragrance websites for many years and enjoys the confluence of subjectivity, knowledge and opinion. He is not a Perfume Pontiff and is always happy to be enlightened by your own knowledge and challenged by differing opinions.

His high rotation 'fumes are Jubilation XXV, Cuir 28, Fate Man and Puredistance BLACK. Special occasions scents include Cuir de Gardenia, Spiced Citrus Vetiver, Ensar Oud Oils and RealOud Feral.

 



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Jordan88888888
Jordan88888888

Peace Muznabutt - I will, with delight. When I first started wearing oils I thought that they were all about reapplication; ha! No they are not.

Jan
23
2014
Muznabutt
Muznabutt

Really enjoying your articles, pls give us more! Im learning alot and buying more oud based perfume oils!

Jan
22
2014
Jordan88888888
Jordan88888888

chayaruchama, what a wonderful companion you are to have on this fragrant journey. Let's be fascinated together. Ah, hours of fragrant fascination.

Jan
22
2014
Jordan88888888
Jordan88888888

Nebelgeîst - yes, I wondered that too about a certain male member. The German quote refers to the size of the nose, rather than the ability to smell, in comparison to, well, the male member. Lol.

Jan
22
2014
chayaruchama
chayaruchama

I'm very grateful to you for this fascinating series !

Jan
22
2014
Jordan88888888
Jordan88888888

Al-Maghrib - A great idea, albeit controversial - which may make for good reading.

Unfortunately the so called husbandry or "farming" standards are shocking.

Most perfumers would only buy vintage as they take the position not to support the current cruelty and endangerment. Maybe there will be a good news story in this industry similar to some upcoming good news about the critically endangered Agarwood trees. I will find out.

Jan
21
2014
Jordan88888888
Jordan88888888

@Descartes - we have happily added the sentence below and linked to other perfume credits by these noses.

"Alberto Morillas and Jacques Cavallier were the noses who created that break-through scent which still polarises people today."

NB: Tom Ford was never credited as the Nose in this article but I appreciate adding your clarity and the elevation and inclusion of the actual artist/artisans.

Great avatar name by the way. You are living up to the reputed wisdom of The Father of Modern Philosophy who would certainly credit those who should be credited.

Looking forward to your next comments.

Jan
21
2014
Jordan88888888
Jordan88888888

Peace Al-Maghrib, yes we will look at to the perception of outrageous prices. The Economics of Oud - great potential title for the post, thank you. I like like your questions and yes we will learn the answers as we proceed.

There are sampling 'tricks' but the best one is to know the reputation of the seller. Price is not really a guide. Cheap is not the real thing but expensive does not mean 'real' either as it could be marked up chemicals. There is nothing wrong of course with buying chemicals versions as long as you know that that is what you are buying at the correct price not the resin price,.

Nebelgeîst, have fun with the aromachemicals. There are some interesting synth compositions out there, usually from the Arabian houses.

Descartes. I did not think you to be impolite. You added to the conversation by highlighting the importance of crediting the nose. We are all here to learn. I like to know everything but I also know that I do not know everything. As that was a breakthrough release then why not mention the people who actually achieved the breakthrough as well as Tom Ford? I like that and the edit will appear at some stage.

Jan
21
2014
NebelGeîst
NebelGeîst

Ah, now I know which chemicals I would have to order, if I would not want to pay the 50 to 400€ per ml for the essential oud oil.

But... how does it come that we speak of Descates´ 'Johannes' now? xD

Jan
21
2014
Descartes
Descartes

Sorry if I sounded impolite, I love your article very much,but I love the work of Alberto Morillas and I think is fair to mention his name. The Germans have a nice saying about the nose: Wie die Nase des Mannes, so sein Johannes.....

Jan
21
2014
Jordan88888888
Jordan88888888

A great correction for clarity. Thank you Descartes. An important distinction to make. I admire Noses the most and I too was distracted by the big brand. Love your nose dude.

Jan
21
2014
Descartes
Descartes

M7 is a perfume creation by Alberto Morillas and Jacques Cavallier. Tom Ford was the artist director for the YSL campaign. He is not the nose behind M7.

Jan
21
2014
Jordan88888888
Jordan88888888

CarmelPerfumer - Glad that you are glad!
kinetisphere - it is a wonder isn't it. Depth and breadth and an ever-changing scent if you let it age.

Jan
20
2014
CarmelPerfumer
CarmelPerfumer

Enjoyable reading! So nicely researched. Wonderful images. So glad you took up the topic of oud!

Jan
20
2014
kinetisphere
kinetisphere

Very nice! I'm quite thankful for you sharing this information with us fragranticans. I look forward to learn more about this wonderful thing we call oud.

Jan
20
2014

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