A Oud I Would! Mandy Aftel's Oud Luban perfume extrait

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
Featured Notes
Top: elemi, orange terpenes, blood orange, frankincense CO2.
Base: oud, opopanax, choya ral, benzoin, aged patchouli.

From the press release:
Agarwood (oud) [via]
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.
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]
So, Oud Luban Extrait is an exclusive, limited edition perfume extrait rotating around highly rare and pricey ingredients including 8 (EIGHT!) ouds.


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.



Oh. My.

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

Mandy Aftel's Wild Roses (new!) - A perfume review

I always get so ridiculously giddy when I know I'm getting to smell a new Aftelier product (or taste a new flavor, when it comes to Chef's Essences and teas). Perfumer Mandy Aftel is such a talented person with a true gift for capturing natural materials and lion-taming them, making them sit nice and proper-like or prodding them to growl and snarl! She can urge them into incredibly deep, complex, and wonderful configurations that simply blow my mind.

Mandy's newest scent came across my path recently, and my first thought was "oh no! a rose scent!". Said before in this space: I'm not a rose kinda gal. I love looking at them, but they belong in the garden or in a beautiful flower arrangement. I do not want them on my clothing or furniture, and I really don't want to smell like them. When I say that, what I really mean is that I do not want to smell like only rose. As Mandy so succinctly put it, "I have mixed emotions about rose perfumes". Yup - right from the perfumer's mouth. She has had her own issues with  rose scents herself and admitted to me that creating this one was "a bit of a struggle".

 Here's her concept (from her press release)...
Having grown roses in my garden for years, I was smitten with the unique beauty and great variety of rose aromas. I wanted to capture in perfume the experience of walking around my garden and smelling each rose, as their perfumes blended in my nose. Wild Roses perfume evokes the garden in our imagination and memory -- the book of a hundred petals unfolding: balsamic, spicy, apricot, and honeyed roses, mixed with the smell of warm earth and herbs. This is the rose that exists in your mind after you have smelled so many garden roses -- blush, ruby, canary, purple, crimson edged with brown, pure white, candy-cane striped -- that you feel intoxicated. 
Read that last bit again. "This is the rose that exists in your mind after you have smelled so many garden roses...that you feel intoxicated".

As they say, "NAILED IT".

Wild Roses
Top: rose CO2, heliotropin, bergamot, geraniol, m-methyl anthranilate, damascenone.
Heart: apricot, Turkish rose absolute, pimento berry, p-ethyl alcohol, rose petals attar. 
Base: tarragon absolute, vanilla absolute, indole, aged patchouli.
The apricot-rose heart is perfectly rooted in a base of tarragon absolute -- its herbal round anise aroma giving a nuance of both earth and leaves. The balsamic vanilla absolute and the whiskey-ness of aged patchouli support tarragon’s warm, powdery aspect. Indole contributes the almost animal aspect of ripeness in a rose. The heart is punctuated by pimento berry, lending its nuances of clove, ginger, and cinnamon. The candied-orange flower aroma of methyl methyl anthranilate, the soft powdery floral of heliotropin, and the slightly floral citrus of bergamot contribute a modern freshness to the opening.

These flaçons are accompanied by a 2 ml miniature screw-top bottle that can be filled with the included pipette for a portable version of your perfume.

Wild Roses opens strong, racing out of the bottle onto the skin and blooming immediately into the air around me. A seemingly frenzied swirl of sweet rose and rich spice swirls around. It quickly becomes clear, though, that this wild appearance is simply an act. Mandy's deft hand has created that delirious opening that so perfectly represents the "intoxicated" feeling she was trying to evoke. It may seem unrestrained, but there's structure and purpose in there - and that makes it all the more beautiful. 

Once I get my head around the roses, which only takes a moment or two, I realize how many different nuances are sparkling in the air. I smell anise. There's something sweetly candy-like. There are green herb-y flashes. I smell some rich, dirty patchouli that shifts between fresh earth and a little bit of naughtiness. There are spices -almost an all-spice kind of blend that doesn't allow me to pick each spice out individually but gives the impression of freshly a grated pie blend. There's a bit of vanilla, but it's not super-sweet. There's citrus and stone fruit, too, with an apricot-y impression being strong and fresh, evoking the feel juice dripping between my fingers and onto the rose blossoms below. Throughout the scent's dance, there is a distinct fleshiness and slightly naughty nuance (I blame those delicious indoles). 

Just as a dream constantly shifts and wiggles beneath our hands as we try to pin it down, I just can't get this scent to sit still - in a good way! Wild Roses is not a painting of a rose. It's a jazz piece written in celebration of roses. There is no scarlet, peach, yellow, pink - it's all of the colors at once, like a prism in a lightening storm. 

Wild Roses isn't so much that "rose that exists in my mind" as it is a rose garden that exists in my mind - a wild, overgrown thicket of glorious roses draped and twining together over the supports that used to keep them in order. And sometimes, that kind of all over the place wildness, however rooted in order it once was, is simply thrilling. 

Wild Roses lifts off of the skin beautifully, projects modestly, and lasts about 6 hours on my skin. It's beautiful and wild indeed, and I need a bottle. I need one! I never imagined I'd be so infatuated with a rose scent, but I can't stop spraying this and my little sample sprayer is quickly dwindling away. I need to replace it with a bigger bottle in an attempt to capture this wild dream and make it mine, all mine!*

I want to add a special "thank you" to Mandy Aftel not only for granting me the privilege of trying this scent, but for clearing up my confusion. I don't have mixed emotions about rose perfumes anymore. I don't love all rose perfumes, but I surely love Mandy's rose perfume! 

*OK. Yes, you can make it yours, too. I won't be greedy. 
For the record, I sampled the edp.
The perfume may just blow my mind into smithereens! 

This product was provided to me by the manufacturer or a representative thereof for consideration only. 
For more information on my review policies, please check this out.