My first experience with oud may have been Black Aoud by Montale. Another early experience was with Yves Saint Laurent’s M7. Black Aoud’s sharp, acrid opening made no sense to me at the time. I didn’t like it much at any point in its development but I no longer have a sample so I can’t revisit it. With M7, I originally didn’t like it, I think due to the oud note, then came to like it as I was able to handle the oud until it largely dissipated. Now, however, I prefer the 80s scent, Fendi Uomo, because these two scents actually smell a bit a like after an hour or two, but the Fendi is more complex and has better note contrast and balance.
You probably already know how trendy oud is, and has been for at least a few years now. Do you have any idea why? Those who say they really like it haven’t done a good job of explaining exactly what it is they find so appealing. but if you can find such an explanation, please leave a comment with a link to it (or if you like them, please comment with an explanation of your own). Of course, many scents have oud or aoud in their names but hardly anything in them seems to smell like it, at least in terms of what I think it should smell like. However, I have detected in some of these scents a kind of hardness that doesn’t really smell like much of anything, and I have a feeling that is what they mean by oud.
It’s possible that some people like that searing, sharp, acrid quality that one finds in some of these scents, though that usually doesn’t last for long. Strong oud with a clear rose note seems to be a particular favorite of the niche crowd, and I think this gives us a good indication of what oud notes do. First, I’ll mention the old Perfumer’s Workshop scent, Tea Rose. This one starts out smelling like a florist’s shop to me (some have said Funeral Home), with strong rose. After an hour or so, there is a tea-like quality that emerges and the rose recedes a bit, creating a nicely balanced scent that men who like tea notes should at least sample (unless they hate rose or can’t wait for it to get to that point).
So, the opening of this scent is too one-dimensional for many if not most, but the tea “cuts” the scent, creating balance, contrast, and dynamism. This is what I think oud notes do for those who enjoy them. However, strong oud does more than just cutting the dominant note or accord of the scent; it also supplies a sense of structure due to how hard it feels, so to speak. Moreover, it has an acrid quality that seems more acceptable (at least to many Westerners) than traditional animalic notes, such as civet, cumin, or castoreum. For me it’s a kind of “cheap” way to solve several problems that aren’t really problems, unless you are worried about what others think when you think about wearing scents like Kouros. Why should I wear a strong oud fragrance when I can just “adjust” Kouros (even if I have to dilute it with vodka) and get the effects I’m seeking?
Or it may be that many who wear these scents enjoy telling people about oud when they ask about it, and indeed this may be more about perfume wearers than fragrance wearers (see my previous post for my idea for this way to classify things), which would make sense to me because as I said, I don’t see what strong oud does to enhance a fragrance that hasn’t been done already and in a superior way. However, it’s true that some say they really enjoy the smell of Terre d’Hermes, which has a similar sharp and hard quality, though it’s more sour than acrid (though more than a few have also said that after wearing it a few times they started to dislike it or get headaches from it). Another idea is that some like feeling the olfactory equivalent of a “cold slap in the face” (remeber that old TV commercial?). Whatever the case may be, I can understand the appeal of strong oud, as well as the function it can play, but at this point it doesn’t work for me at all.