What happens when you mix a particular species of Asian evergreen tree, let it get diseased and rotten from a specific kind of mold, then extract that destroyed heartwood and make it into oils? Well, you get agarwood or oud. And you also get the current darling of the perfume world! Oud notes are being used in all branches of perfumery from exclusive expensive brands to department store offerings to small batches created by independent perfumers.
While some perfumistas may be crying "oud burnout", I have been relieved of that burden because, quite frankly, oud and I do not mix well.
This is baffling to me because usually I have impressive and no-fail champagne tastes - and oud is an expensive raw material (making perfumes that contain high-grade oud truly precious indeed). But here's the thing about oud: it's been used in Arabian perfumes since the beginning of perfumery, but it's fairly new to the Western nose. I'm not used to it. It's sometimes rich and resinous and sometimes medicinal and, some claim, "band aid-y" (are those "plasters" in the UK?). And then there's the fact that oud just doesn't play nicely on my skin, turning shrill and astringent and simply Not Nice.
So, how would I fare when the master of natural perfumes, Mandy Aftel, turned her hand to the ingredient du jour?
Aftelier Perfumes launches Oud Luban Extrait Limited Edition
Top: elemi, orange terpenes, blood orange, frankincense CO2.
Base: oud, opopanax, choya ral, benzoin, aged patchouli.
From the press release:
Oud Luban Extrait is a perfume of great highs and lows, with no middle notes. Luban, the Urdu word for frankincense, means "the milk" which refers to the color of the finest quality frankincense – the milky tree sap that exudes from the cut bark. Oud, the dark, resinous and infected Aquilaria heartwood, is the most expensive essence in the world. To create the desired oud notes, eight different varieties are blended.
Agarwood (oud) [via]
Oud Luban Extrait opens with the fresh citrus top notes of the finest hojari frankincense, coupled with sweet incense and resinous notes of elemi and luban. This evolves onto the sweet balsamic notes of the faintly vanilla benzoin, the spicy balsamic opopanax, and the fine cognac-like notes of aged patchouli. Threading through the drydown, and softened by the resin, are the smoky choya ral and precious oud, which is intimate and softly animal like a lover's body. This perfume is perfect for layering with florals -- the oud brings an earthy richness that allows the florals to bloom on the skin. The Extrait version of Oud Luban is in an oil-base with no alcohol. Perfect for layering with florals -- the oud brings an earthy richness that allows the florals to bloom on the skin.
Oud Luban Extrait is available as a 1/4 oz. perfume ($195) and a 2 ml perfume mini ($55), and a sample size ($6) at www.aftelier.com This is a special limited edition extrait verison of the solid perfume. Mandy Aftel is an award-winning all-natural perfumer and author. She creates each extraordinary Aftelier Perfumes fragrance by hand in small batches in her Berkeley, California studio.
|Burning frankincense [via]|
My instincts are buzzing. Those champagne tastes are kicking in. Need. NEED! But perhaps we should discuss whether I liked it or not, because YAY, I got to test this!
This perfume is a new version, an extrait, of her popular solid perfume Oud Luban. I have not had the pleasure of trying the solid. And to be honest, I was ok with that. Another oud that made my head ache? No thanks! But when Mandy blew my mind with that rose perfume I reviewed the other day (read my review of Aftelier's Wild Roses here), I realized I am never, ever going to say "no" to the opportunity to review something Mandy has created*. So when she offered to send me a sample of Oud Luban Extrait, I said yes!
*Except for a spearmint perfume. That's a no-compromise situation.
|My adorable and precious sample of Oud Luban Extrait!|
The first test of Oud Luban Extrait was a tentative one. I tipped the little bottle onto one wrist, then the other - just a little dab in each place.
I held my breath and waited a moment, steeling my nerves.
I leaned in.
My eyes widened.
This stuff is good.
Last month, I was lucky enough to spend a whole week wandering around New York City. While my husband toiled all day in a conference, I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, wandered through SoHo, met lovely perfume friends, and sniffed through MiN, Bergdorf Goodman and Barney's (twice). Of all the wonderful (and not-so-wonderful!) smells I enjoyed that week the best was the Wicked Hot Chocolate I procured at Jacques Torres' chocolate shop in DUMBO. What? Just being honest!
The second best smell was found in Chinatown, and that's the scent memory that actually applies to this perfume review.
I was walking through the markets and open-front shops in Chinatown, looking at life through my camera view-finder, when suddenly I stopped. What was that smell? I sniffed deeply. I pulled the camera down and looked around. I inhaled again, slowly, breathing in something rich, earthy, dirty (like dirt, not as in sexy). I inhaled again. Oh, to bottle that! I quickly spied the source: bin upon bin of dried mushrooms. Big ones, small ones, fat ones, shriveled ones, grey ones, brown ones... their names hidden to me by Chinese characters on their signs. I sniffed again. Amazing. If only my pictures could do them justice!
This process repeated itself several times as I prowled the crowded streets. Every time I encountered the dried mushrooms - always noticing the scent before I saw them - I was struck with the need to inhale and take in that chewy, rich, pungent odor. And every time I wished I owned something that expressed a similar mood and depth and... earthiness.
Fast forward to my initial snuffles of Oud Luban. Is this a mushroom scent? No. It is, however, that mood I was trying to capture. It's rich. It's earthy. It's almost leathery, but not quite. You can easily imagine something dark and decayed, velvety, maybe the slightest bit spongey, crumbling softly in your hand as you bend over it. It smells of the forest floor itself, the nutrient-rich dirt and decay. A scent that seems Before Time.
Oud Luban is so completely natural, so beautifully blended. Not a single ingredient stands out. There's no sharp, shrill oud. The frankincense doesn't transport you to your cousin's Confirmation or Sunday Mass. This is olfactory soup, everything stirred and swirling, no specific ingredients to catch with the spoon - a new thing, comprised of a variety of ingredients but becoming something all together new. If pressed, I can probably point to oud, to patchouli, to something slightly vanilla... but I don't bother. I just let my senses blur as I sniff again.
The color of Oud Luban, the color I see in my head when I smell it, is a dark and rich brown. It's consistent in this shade, not changing as the scent wears. This is fitting. Oud Luban is "linear" - straightforward. It opens almost the way it closes, though the intensity changes as it dries and becomes part of the skin. It's soft, like a slow walk across a thick and mossy woods. It is a scent that would be kept secret - for you and those who lean in close. I found the wear exceptional - 6+ hours of earthy beauty holding steady just inches from the skin.
This is a oud perfume I like. Actually, it's one I love! A few hours after applying those tentative drops, I dumped a bunch more on my skin and started the whole earthy experience all over again. I believe you may love Oud Luban as well. If you have tried mushroom scents like Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's Cuir et Champignon and probably Mandy's own Cepes and Tuberose (I have not tried it), or even rich dirt scents like CB I Hate Perfume's Black March, you understand the mood and presence of this perfume. If you want singed nosehairs from your oud - heck, try this anyway. The softer side of oud may suit you, too.
Leave it to Mandy Aftel to create not only a oud perfume that works beautifully on my skin, but to blend one that stands out from the crowd of other oud-based perfumes. It's a unique take on a fairly familiar note, an interpretation that modernizes and Westernizes oud but still remains true oud's basic nature. According to Mandy, this scent performs beautifully as a base for floral perfumes. You know I'm trying it with Wild Roses, right? I'll report back!
I look forward to reading reviews of this scent by people who have tried Oud Luban in solid perfume form. I see that the citrus opening and the frankincense seem to be much more prominent that I found them in the extrait.
Let me know in the comments if you've tried Oud Luban in either form, if you like mushroom and earth scents in your perfumes, and what your favorite travel memory is! And then rush to Aftelier.com to purchase Oud Luban before it's gone...
photos are my own