Thursday, March 10, 2011

Some Ouds: Bond no.9 Signature and New York Oud, Dior Leather Oud, L'Artisan Al Oudh, By Kilian Pure Oud, Juliette Has a Gun Midnight Oud

Oud has been trending, as they say, for well over a year now, but it isn't exactly something that gets my imagination roaming, and for the most part I've ignored all the latest iterations.  I've smelled them, but they haven't been bottle worthy to me.  This is probably the only time I'll write about them, yet I don't intend to make anything like a definitive statement.  I'm not going to get into the history of Oud--the what, why, and where.  I think other people have said it better than I can, and generally the narrative of oud seems very manufactured to me at this point anyway, something which has steeped in corporate speak for so long that it resembles fantasy and fiction more than reality.  I'm not interested enough to parse the layers.  I just want to put my very narrow-minded two cents in.

I bought Bond no.9's Signature Scent last year and liked it very much, but it seemed only peripherally about oud to me.  It's a strange, brassy thing, and while I can't get enough of it I can see where its detractors would be coming from.  The truth is, I haven't heard much about Signature either way--good, bad, or indifferent.  Bond has done some damage to its image the past several years, partly due to its attack dog tactics, partly due to its overabundance.  People don't seem to want to say much about Bond at all these days, and I totally understand that.  A 300 dollar fragrance isn't going to change that.

But Bond no.9's New York Oud certainly changed my mind about oud.  I realize now that maybe it isn't that I dislike oud or am even indifferent to it, necessarily.  Maybe I simply don't like the overwhelming majority of oud fragrances because of the fragrances themselves, rather than because of a distaste for their theme.  On the surface, New York Oud smells like every other oud, just as one fig fragrance smells like fig, thus like all figs.  On the surface, New York Oud is true to form for an oud fragrance--so why do I like it so much and the others so little (i.e. not enough)?  Don't expect me to get to the bottom of anything, but I'll start with the oud decants I've tested over the past year, in the order they arrived.

By Kilian: Pure Oud

Oh, I don't know.  Here's the thing.  It doesn't take much to turn me away from a By Kilian fragrance.  And I have no real justification for this, other than the impression I've always gotten that they're just basically full of it.  Many fragrance lines have overblown images and copy--and pricing--which are just as mind numbingly self-inflated.  I suppose I haven't fallen in love with a By Kilian fragrance, and have only read interviews with the people behind the line, and judging by their personalities, for lack of a better word, I've been less than compelled.  Pure Oud does nothing for me.  It's rich--but perhaps too refined.  I admire it and see its merits.  It's like the pretty girl at the party.  Unless she gives me reason to think otherwise, I'm going to assume she's as uninteresting as she is beautiful.

Juliette Has a Gun: Midnight Oud

What makes it midnight when it comes to oud?  I can't say.  I thought very little if anything about Midnight Oud--until after spraying it to compare to Bond's New York Oud.  Suddenly I liked Midnight Oud very much indeed.  It seems unusual for an oud, to me.  I've been less than thrilled with Juliette fragrances.  Add to this my unenthusiastic regard for oud and you can see why I passed this one up without much more than a cursory sniff.  Midnight Oud is a clean oud, but it isn't sheer, like many of the latest ouds seem to be.  It feels robust for a clean oud.  And it lasts very well.  Next to Bond's Oud, this is my favorite.  Online, Midnight is compared often to Czech and Speake's Dark Rose.  I don't see the comparisons.  Dark Rose is so transparent and fleeting, where Midnight has impressive presence and persistence.  Compared to the ouds I've smelled, which are preoccupied with smelling recognizably of "oud" and more washed than unwashed, Midnight veers into interesting territory, emphasizing rubbery facets and subtle atonalities.  The combination of saffron and geranium is a fruitful one here.

L'Artisan: Al Oudh

This is Bertrand Duchaufour, so while the list of notes is complex, don't expect the fragrance to stick around long enough for you to delineate the various things supposedly at play.  Cumin, cardamom, pink pepper, date, rose, neroli, incense, saffron...  I'd keep going but the list bears very little relation to what I smell, and tying them together is such an abstract exercise that I've already lost interest.  I like some of what Duchaufour does--especially Amaranthine and Sartorial--but I don't often understand his aesthetic, which seems to involve hovering at the limits of perceptibility, and the partnership with L'Artisan has made about as much sense to me as Heidi Montag's union with Spencer Pratt.  Hearing that Duchaufour has come on board as perfumer at the Different Company, replacing Celine Ellena, doesn't fill me with excitement.  His collaboration on the laughable project which is Petite Mort only encourages me to dismiss what he does.  Al Oudh doesn't do much to dissuade me from continuing not to take him too seriously.  It's lovely, for all of ten minutes, boozy the way Dzongkha and Sienne L'Hiver are.  Actually, for me, it's boozy more than anything.  It's like a shot of whiskey with medicinal thrown in.  It is very much a skin scent and sheer to the point of barely there.

Bond no.9: Signature

I hated this--then I liked it--then I hated in--then I loved it.  I bought it thinking I would return it within a week.  I don't know how to describe Signature.  In a way, I suppose it's fairly synthetic.  I don't sense an emphasis on cultivating some respectable impression of "quality", the way I feel with L'Artisan and By Kilian, and I suppose that make me appreciate Signature more.  Yes, Bond's self image is skewed, and they speak about themselves as if they're the most groundbreaking thing on the planet.  Maybe they are.  I don't know.  The fragrances speak for themselves and at their best--and worst--are rather cheap, cheesy, and cheerful.  Signature smells intensely of roses and aggressive shampoo musks.  It smells like oud the way a leather couch smells like a lemon sorbet.  It's as if someone told Bond, "you know, the thing that makes oud smell like oud is the fact you can feel it coming from around the block, all day, all night, in your dreams, in your waking hours, from the coffin, from the beyond."  And Bond went with that very elastic interpretation.  Me, I like this quality.  Signature is ready for business and has its big shoulder pads on.  It's like your average Bond scent with the contrast dials turned all the way up, creating very interesting, excessive distortions.  I believe it's brilliant by default, adapting Bond's aesthetic without really sublimating its relentless olfactory preoccupations.

Dior: Leather Oud

This one's very nice.  I was bored with it at first.  I'm trained to be bored with Dior lately.  I'm a little petulant.  I'm annoyed at all their reformulations and repackaging.  Maybe these new colognes are all just wonderful but I have a hard time imagining it.  At first, I thought, Great, another oud.  I really missed most of this fragrance the first go around.  It smells very much like many of the more recent Diors under the surface, but oh what a surface.  Leather Oud is almost everything I like in a fragrance: it's a little hammy, a little smoky, somewhat leathery in a medicinal way.  It has good lasting power.  Respectable if not entirely fantastic sillage.  The smokiness is truly great and reminds me a bit of Mona Di Orio's Cuir.  There's a doughiness underneath everything that reminds me a lot of Loulou, which can't possibly make any more sense to you than it does to me.  To me, it's as if someone had set Loulou on fire.

Bond no.9: New York Oud

Because the rose note is really lovely.  Because it lasts and lasts.  Because it's a bright neon oud the way Broadway Nite is a bright peony rose.  More fresh than medicinal initially, New York Oud is oud in a way which feels all-American.  It's not as loud as Bond Signature, but it isn't worried about keeping it down to a whisper.  It has no pretensions to middle eastern austerity or vaguely pandering exotic fantasies about distant cultures.  It's good fun, in a big brick bottle that could easily hurt someone.  It's a great masculine rose and would be quite nice on a woman too.  I think New York Oud makes it clear for me what bothers me about the idea of an "oud fragrance" and bores me about the niche industry's fixation on this theme lately.  Most of these fragrances are about being tasteful, and are aspirational and holier than thou in their affectations.  They're sort of tediously colonial in attitude and come off to me at least as insufferably provincial.  Oud, like patchouli, doesn't need this kind of cheerleader, as far as I'm concerned.  Why should something so wonderfully loud and assertive be so rigorously tamed?  It's almost like a victory cry: look how I can subjugate this wily native material to my civilizing will.  Yawn.  Bond I think is also concerned with being "tasteful", whatever that is, but Bond is sort of hopelessly inelegant too, despite itself.  And this makes a fragrance like New York Oud very endearing to me.  The dry down is a soft powdered rose.


Abigail said...

I love this post.
I agree that Dior's Leather Oud has been growing on me. There's a cinnamon-y warmth that I really like.

I also agree that Bond's New York Oud is the best oud I've ever tried. But I have to be completely clear and say that I generally don't like oud fragrances...I'm not an oud connoisseur.. so liking the Bond means it's the least band-aid/medicinal oud I've tried and it's also a nice dark rose floriental. I won't wear it, but I like it better than most ouds.

Also, Bertrand D. is the kiss of death for me lately. I think everything he does is amateurish and messy. His latest creation for MDCI is the only MDCI I think is utter crap.

Olfacta said...

Oud: the arboreal equivalent of earwax.

Brian said...

@Olfacta: Exactly! So why must it be so prim and "refined"?

@Abigail: You're right about the Bond. I hadn't thought of that. It is a nice floriental. It's that dark rose but unlike Malle's Portrait of a Lady it has a brightness to it; much more radiance, I think.

The Midnight Oud and the Dior are actually very nice and if I liked oud itself more I would surely get them. I might still get them, because they do things with oud that I think are interesting. I love the weird rubbery cashmere quality of Midnight. And the Dior has such a great smoky, charred spice effect.

As for Bertrand, I find it strange that he's just so universally loved. Amateurish is an interesting way of looking at what he's been doing. I always think about lines I've read in interviews with other perfumers where they talk about how long it takes to create a perfume--to reflect on the emerging/evolving composition, to allow the materials to mature or reveal their true alchemy, to step away and return to the work with renewed clarity or adjusted expectations and new insights. I think back to those interviews when I look at someone like Duchaufour, who is so prolific. What I think is: Where does the reflection come in? Where is there room in his fast-paced process of production for balanced evaluation? So I wonder if you might be right. At this point, his name is what we think of before we even smell the perfume. His name represents an image for people--and I wonder how much he's coasting on that, when the real focus for me is ultimately, no matter how much I love certain perfumers, on the perfumes themselves.

Olfacta said...

Last night I ordered a tiny sample of real agarwood ooze, er, oud, from a botanicals company. I want to see what the real thing smells like all by itself. Because I can't believe that some of the stuff being sold as "oud" can possibly be real, not when it reminds me of opening a can of Band-Aids, with no warmth at all. So we'll see.