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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Origins of Oud

By Ashleigh

As we look forward to 2011 and observe what’s trending in the fragrance world, one would be have to be hard pressed not to notice all the talk about the scent of the moment- Oud. From Tom Ford to Bond, Kilian to Byredo; everyone is doing it. The exotic, heady, incense like aroma has captured our olfactory attention and it appears as though our fascination isn’t waning. As we dab, spray and sniff our way through this much talked about note, I had to ask myself: What is this mysterious essence, what is its significance and where does it come from?

Formed in the heart of the agarwood tree- a large evergreen indigenous to Southeast Asia; oud is produced in response to infection. Initially pale and light in color; the heartwood turns dense, dark and odiferous as a result of the growth of an insidious mold. The resin, pungent and rich has been revered for centuries for its unique and complex aroma.

As ancient Sanskrit writings will attest- oud has had cultural and religious significance for centuries. Known of course for its distinctive fragrance and thus highly regarded in perfume and incense making; the exotic essential oil has been used in Ayurvedic disciplines throughout history to treat such ailments such as leprosy, ulcers, arthritis, cough and even halitosis.

Cultivated, harvested and traded for thousands of years, the oleoresin we have come to know and love comes with a price- and a high one at that. Increasing demand and depleting resources has made oud not only costly, but extremely rare as well. So when your fashionable and curious nose begs you to venture out and try the all the various versions the perfume world has to offer- remember this: What you hold in your hand and what lingers on your skin is a piece of extraordinary magic that not only smells divine- it was once actually thought to be.

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Blogger The Beach Bedouin said...

But we have to consider that the Oud in the mentioned Designer perfumes is not same like Oud in original or in arabian perfumes. Don't know if the Oud in the West is used as synthetic ingridients but it smells completly different as the original pure Oud.
Personally I like the western kind of oud because the original can be very strong and unpleasent to the nose because it smells a bit like horst stable and sometimes fecal though these are the most expensive fragrance of oud.

6:29 AM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

lovely writing!

11:32 AM EST  
Blogger Ashleigh said...

tmp00: Thank you for the compliment I really appreciate it!

11:39 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating topic, and I could go on and on, but from the incense perspective. Just got some agarwood incense from one of the new plantations in Asia, it's aging nicely, and smells newish but good, so there is hope for the cultivated varieties. Though the entire wildcrafted/cultivated issue is very complex and mostly grey area, Trgve Harris has written quite a bit on it. Most oud in western perfumes is synthetic, I like Firmenich's the best. Such a fantastic family of scents!

12:43 PM EST  
Blogger ScentScelf said...

Someday, I shall explore ouds deeply. The idea fascinates me, for reasons you so nicely present here.

I was given a complete and total unexpected road block by the one bottle I ever appearance, much like the one in the photo. However, it is an oud called ... "Joy."

I can confirm pungent. But as for resiny day, when I am no longer afraid to approach the bottle again...well, we'll see what I find then. ;)

5:30 PM EST  
Anonymous Marian said...

Ahleigh- Perhaps you're aware that Professor Blanchette. from the University of Minnesota, is teaching plantation owners in SE Asia how to inoculate trees with fungus in order to produce the resin? Although this process has met with varying degrees of success, it might be the hope for the future sustainability of agarwood trees.
As bosnishmuslim said, oud is Western perfumes is synthetic, which doesn't mean the scents aren't enjoyable, and also far more accessible to the Western nose.
Thanks for your interesting post.

10:55 AM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

Ashleigh, I loved Oud the moment I first smelled it, and that was in the form of a very big Montale oud scent, nothing shy about it at all. I for one am glad it's finding its way into more perfume lines. I can't get enough! Thanks for the very informative history lesson. :-)

3:53 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marian, I have the 5gm of Emperor's agarwood from the plantation you speak of, and it's really good! I also bought a box of their highest-grade incense- it was too rough at first, but now that it's aged a couple years, it's getting to be very nice. I think there's a lot of hope in the plantations, if it doesn't turn into a financial bubble.

9:53 AM EST  
Blogger taffynfontana said...

That bottle looks very familiar where is it from? Loved the writing

11:02 PM EST  

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