Oud notes reappraised, and what do today’s wood notes and bad meals have in common?

If I ate the burger picture above I have no doubt I would be in discomfort for a long time. In fact, I doubt I would have to eat much of it for this to happen. With some scents, a “nice smell” can soon generate an experience that is at least somewhat similar, with the culprit often being one or more aroma chemicals that are commonly-used in recent years. And while you can avoid certain genres of scents you don’t like, you have no way of knowing if a recent scent that is described in a way that sounds great to you (and has notes listed that sound appealing as well) will contain aroma chemicals that irritate you (when I say “contain” I mean in amounts large enough to cause the problem). The wood notes are the worst, it seems (at least in “masculines”) because so many scents list one or another wood note, or don’t list any wood notes but contain these irritating molecules.

Undeniably, many people seem to enjoy these molecules (even in relatively large amounts), but for me the major problem may be their tenacity. I can usually deal with such irritating chemicals if they do not last very long, but after a couple hours or so they become like a “bad meal” that doesn’t seem to want to “let up.” The interesting question is why do some molecules do this to some of us whereas other people are not affected in this way? After all, I can appreciate vintage scents with sandalwood notes that last a long time without ever becoming experiencing irritation. In fact, I often find myself surprised at how much I am enjoying such scents over several hours! One explanation is that the older wood notes were comprised of quite a few different molecules, even if they are all synthetic, whereas today you are often exposed to a lot of one molecule and little if any others. Another possibility is that the wood notes are being blamed for the effects of the new musk molecules, since the wood notes usually last a long time and are easy to identify.

In general, this may be what often leads many of us to think of a scent as “natural smelling,” even if it is largely synthetic. However, this brings up an interesting question, which is why do scents with strong aldehydes not generate the same experience. Aldehydes (in large amounts, of course) were a problem for me as a newbie and beyond, and they too can last quite a while. However, it seems that aldehydes “play off” the other components in the scent (I am talking specifically here about the 1970s “feminine” chypre type scents), whereas many of the new wood or wood-like notes come to dominate the scent. Whereas aldehydes enhance dynamism (even if they seem at least somewhat unpleasant), these kinds of wood notes seem to calm a scent to the point where it is boring. At that point the other elements seem like they are being pushed back by the wood note, and at this point (if not sooner), I often begin to feel like I’m breathing in toxic fumes from a chemical factory.

What about oud? My first experiences were with vintage M7 and Black Aoud by Montale. I didn’t like either one, though that is not uncommon due to the “medicinal” and acrid/harsh qualities of this substance. M7, to be sure, is not as medicinal, and while I can wear it now, I actually find the oud note to be too tame relative to some of the other notes! Recently, I decided to give oud another chance, though in all three cases my guess is that only synthetic oud was used. First there is Jovan’s Intense OUd, which seems to be an attempt to copy Montale’s Black Aoud, though at “lower volume.” I’m really impressed by this one and can’t say anything negative about it. As others have said, one can think of it as a “training wheels” oud scent, though it’s strong enough to satisfy oud fans who don’t need “the best.” Longevity is at least very good. Like aldehydes, here I find that the oud note plays off the others, providing dynamism and never feeling like a bad meal causing your stomach discomfort for hours.

Another oud I recently tried is Lanvin’s Oud and Rose scent. I think I like this one the best of the three, though it seemed more like a wormwood/oud wood combination. It’s not as harsh/medicinal as the others and there is more balance here. It was reasonably natural smelling and the dynamism was very good, with a detectable but light and powdery rose note. The longevity is great and the projection (“sillage”) comes in wafts. The only “problem” here is that it isn’t necessarily what many may think of as an “oud scent,” and so they may be disappointed. Or, if they like this one and buy another oud scent, that other one might seem too harsh and unbalanced.

The last one I tried is Ameer al Oudh by Lattafa. It was recommended by a Basenotes’ member, and when I saw it at a decent discount I decided to buy a bottle. This one is quite sweet at first, but definitely feels like an “oud scent,” with spicy and floral notes along with an obvious oud one. In fact, this is more of an oud scent to me than vintage M7, for example. Over time, unfortunately, a wood note that I have encountered before emerges and yes, this is the kind of aroma chemical that possesses the “bad meal” quality mentioned above. I think it is supposed to be sandalwood, and there might be some iso e super with it, but whatever the case may be, this is my only major criticism, as I would rather it would have been made without those chemicals, even if that meant it became a weak “skin scent” after a few hours. Still, I doubt it will bother most people who are seeking an affordable scent that has an expensive “oud scent” feel, at least for a few hours.

Note that these three are marketed as unisex, from what I understand, and I would agree, but again, if you have never tried a scent with a strong oud note, at least two of these might not appeal to you. However, this seems like the kind of note you need to “warm up to” over time, though if you only like soft or sweet scents, it may be best to work your way up to them with scents that have milder wood or incense type notes.

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