Modern Trends in Perfume – Part IV: Oud/Aoud – Elegant Wood or Medicinal Sexiness?

While the Fresh & Clean scents outlined in Part III have been around for almost two decades, our final category involves the very latest and hottest trend in the perfume industry: Oud or Aoud fragrances. These scents use, Agarwood, one of the oldest ingredients and most expensive ingredients in the world, and its distillation is responsible for a truly different, modern fragrance.

In its purest incantation, it can evoke a cold campfire in the outdoors. At times, it can have a definitely medicinal element to its woodiness, smelling of bandaids or, in one case, reminding me of a lime disinfectant sprayed in a cold, steely hospital morgue and creating the olfactory equivalent of Chernobyl on my arm. If done well and with the right body chemistry, it can descend into smoky, incense-y, sweet, leathery richness. Oud is always expensive and used mainly by the more niche perfume houses. It can also be an extremely polarising scent. In fact, the most controversial, polarising Oud fragrance of all may be the Tom Ford-created YSL “M7,” a cologne whose very advertising campaign broke all the rules by featuring a hairy, nude male model in full frontal… er… glory. We will get to that bit later.

Let’s start at the beginning. While spellings may vary, Aoud and Oud (I’ve even seen Oudh!) both refer to Agarwood which is an extremely ancient element found in the East. No-one explains its heritage, characteristics and its current usage half as well as the experts at CaFleureBon, so I will just link to their marvelous, brilliant analysis of it here. To make a long story short, however, Fragrantica states that Agarwood “is reputed to be the most expensive wood in the world” and that Oud is the “pathological secretion of the aquillaria tree, a rich, musty woody-nutty scent that is highly prized in the Middle East. In commercial perfumery it’s safe to say all ‘oud’ is a recreated synthetic note.”

There are an increasing number of different Oud/Aoud fragrances on the market these days, from the 2011 Creed offering for men (Royal Oud) to Tom Ford. But the majority of the oud scents come from even more niche houses, from Juliette Has a Gun (founded by Nina Ricci’s great-grandson), to Montale, to the offerings of the Sultan of Oman who founded the ultra-exclusive niche house, Amouage, reputed to be the most expensive fragrance line in the world. If “clean and fresh” is a more commercial, mass-market scent, then ancient Oud goes the exact opposite way. It’s hardly surprising given the expensive nature of the ingredient.

I’ve tried a number of unisex Oud scents, thanks to the incredibly useful website, Surrender to Chance, which sells small vials or large “decants” of almost every scent imaginable – from department stores lines to the niche houses to the rare, discontinued and vintage. (I cannot recommend them enough and the shipping is a fantastic price for a fast turnaround: $2.95 for First Class Shipping on any order within the U.S., and starting at $5.95 for international shipping.) Thanks to them, I was able to try a selection of Oud/Aoud fragrances from such lines as By Kilian and Montale. By the way, you may be interested to know that Kilian is a scion of the famous Hennessy cognac dynasty. (The Hennessy company is now a part of the LVMH luxury conglomerate). You can find reviews for those Oud/Aoud fragrances here.

The very first mainstream fragrance to feature oud was M7 by YSL, under the direction

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to below.

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to below.

of Tom Ford. It was 2002, and I don’t think the mainstream market was ready for either an oud fragrance or for the way it was marketed. As CaFleureBon put it in the article linked to up above, “[i]t was a resounding failure at the time, although it would probably be very popular if it were introduced today due to the current market’s new familiarity with oud. It was apparently too much, too soon, as it was a very powerful fragrance, but it has a cult following to this day, due in part to its provocative ad campaign.”

One Thousand Scents has an excellent review of M7 that I highly recommend, though I should warn any readers who are at work that it features that absolutely NSFW, full-frontal photo which we’ll talk about momentarily. The review states that official list of notes for M7 are:

Top: Bergamot, mandarin, rosemary.
Middle: Vetiver, agarwood.
Base: Amber, musk, mandrake root. 

I was very impressed by One Thousand Scents‘ review. I have not smelled M7 in person, but absolutely want to now as a result. A close friend of mine who adores it (but is not sure he dares wear it out the house yet) sent me a few sprays on thick stationary and I loved the sweet, smoky notes that linger on it.  I asked him to write a guest review, but he felt he wasn’t enough of an expert to do M7 true justice. However, he kindly agreed to let me share some of his impressions which I thought added to M7’s intriguing nature. He found it:

weirdly intoxicating. Medicinal yes, perhaps smokey as well? Like dousing a campfire with some antibiotic perhaps” but not in a bad way. After some time, the incense came out but not in a strong, pungent way that would nauseate one. “It does still smell medicinal, but in a more intriguing and less abrasive way.” Like “a clean bandaid or like gauze with a mild ointment on it. But less potent and unpleasant. I’ve read some comments that liken it to a hospital, but I think that does it a disservice…. Someone on basenotes described M7 as both hypnotic and comforting and I utterly agree. I am totally under its spell. It’s definitely for cool/cold weather. […]  M7 makes me want to mysteriously wander the streets of Paris on a cold, rainy day while wearing a trenchcoat.

[In the very end though,] M7 is basically Grenouille’s final scent where people don’t know why they are descending into a giant orgy!

As you can see, M7 is a complicated, complex fragrance, and I bring it up not to review it per se (I can’t, I haven’t worn it!) but to demonstrate how far the market has changed today. In 2002, the perfume world — mainstream or even, perhaps, as a whole — was not ready for such an aggressive, confusing, novel scent. As One Thousand Scents noted, M7 is “a smoky, incensey, bristly, growling thing. You’ll either love it or hate it; there’s no in-between. It is not kidding.” (emphasis in the original.)

M7 might perhaps have had a chance in the mainstream world had it not been for “That Ad”! One Thousand Scents talks about, very amusingly, the British reaction:

Some people were a little less sanguine than the French. The British, for instance. This article about the ad in the Sunday Herald tried to keep its tone light and amused, but it smells like borderline panic to me; it really boils down to OH MY GOD IT’S A NAKED MAN IN A MAGAZINE AD AND HE’S NAKED AND YOU CAN SEE HIS DICK AND EVERYTHING OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD!

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

If that was the British reaction, one cannot begin to fathom what the American one would have been!! Of course, that would require the full advert being shown here in America and that would have been highly unlikely given the puritanical mores. (The lingering effects of Janet Jackson’s “Nipplegate” are still not over!)

How did M7 have a chance to make it, and to introduce the mainstream, soccer dad world to Oud? It didn’t. Not a chance in hell. Even if the perfume notes hadn’t made it too alien for the time (mandrake root?!), that ad simply sealed its doom.

Poor M7, it was not only ahead of its time but, then, it suffered in inquity of being utterly emasculated. Adding insult to injury, a new version was put out in 2011: M7 Oud Absolu which, contrary to what its name would seem to imply, was most definitely not a more intense version of the original. By all accounts, it is a de-fanged meow of a scent as compared to the ROOOOOOOOOOOOAR of the original.

If 2002 was too soon for Oud, look at the market now. What a difference a decade makes! Givenchy, that old, extremely conservative house, now has Eaudemoiselle de Givenchy Bois de Oud! Demoiselle (or “young lady”) and oud… what a surprise. (Particularly from a house as conservative as Givenchy!) Givenchy is not alone. Dior, another mainstream house, has a Fahrenheit flanker, Fahrenheit Absolu, with Oud. Jil Sanders, Jo Malone, Armani, Calvin Klein (Euphoria Intense), Trish McAvoy, and even Juicy Couture (Dirty English) have now gotten into the act with fragrances containing some degree of oud.

But perhaps few things better epitomize the increasingly mainstream acceptance of Oud than the fact that, in 2009, Bath and Body Works came out with a fragrance whose notes include oud! Honestly, I’m not sure I believe it. And, yet, Fragrantica explicitly states that Bath & Body Work’s Twilight Woods includes “oud wood” in its dry notes. I’ve owned the candle version of Twilight Woods, and I don’t detect any oud — at least not proper, true oud which would seem to be far too expensive for such a line — but far be it for me to dispute the official ingredients for the perfume.

Regardless, the point remains the same. Oud is entering the mainstream in a way that was not imaginable at the time of M7’s launch, or even 5 years ago. And Oud fragrances are no longer extremely hard to find. Tom Ford now sells mainstream perfumes featuring oud (but not featuring male genitalia!) at Nordstrom’s and Saks. Juicy Couture’s Dirty English is available at Target and KMart. Interestingly, however, Sephora — that key destination for most mainstream beauty buyers in the U.S. — doesn’t carry Tom Ford’s Aoud perfume, though it does sells several of his other fragrances, and it doesn’t have any oud fragrance that I can remember seeing. (Perhaps Oud isn’t truly mainstream until it’s commonly sold at Macy’s and Sephora?)

I haven’t found the perfect Oud fragrance for me, though granted I’ve only tried 6 variations on it. It doesn’t help that my body seems to process the ingredient in a less than charming way. Most of the time, though not always, it is incredibly medicinal, bandaid-like, metallic, screechingly sharp and acrid with a peculiar lime note that really shouldn’t be there. (Particularly when lime isn’t listed as one of the ingredients in the perfume.) One iteration of it drove me to utter and complete madness. And not in a good way….  On many other people, however, oud can be sweet, woody, leathery, evocative of cold stone, vegetal, and/or very outdoorsy. I’m still on the hunt for one which will work on me and I will probably turn to Tom Ford’s Oud Wood next. I also plan on trying M7 for myself, if only to understand the huge polarising nature of the cult hit and to see if I fall into the camp of admirers.

Are you interested in trying Oud? If you have, do you have a favorite that you adore? What makes it so great and how does it smell on you? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any suggestions that you may have.

For Part I: “Sugar, Spice & Even More Sugar,” go here.
For Part II, “Sweat, Genitalia, Dirty Sex & Decay,” go here.
For Part III, “Fresh & Natural, or Soapy Detergent?,” go here.

24 thoughts on “Modern Trends in Perfume – Part IV: Oud/Aoud – Elegant Wood or Medicinal Sexiness?

  1. M7 is a favourite of my boyfriend’s and I adore it on him; I may now sneak some onto me to see how it smells on me. The advertisement, though – honestly, what’s the big deal? It’s a naked man. It’s a _gorgeous_ naked man. Heaven knows the world sees enough of women’s bodies, with nothing left to the imagination, thrust at them from various angles. I think it’s only fair that men’s bodies have a say. 😉

    I liked your friend’s summing up of the perfume; when Kace has it on him he smells dangerous and seductive, and I find I can barely keep my hands off him; I’m forever touching him, running my hands through his hair, or kissing him. But there’s one other scent of his that does that to me as well (Tobacco Vanille, which I adore on him). Or it might just be him. *laugh*

    Anyway, I loved the review. 🙂 And the naked man. 😉

    • I LOVED the Ad too! But then, neither you nor I are very British, let alone puritannical. Me, I share the French reaction: “*shrug* what’s the big deal?” You, you’re just sane and untainted by the effects of Victoria’s system. LOL. And lord knows, the model definitely is beautiful as you mentioned.

      How interesting and, yet, totally explicable that Kace wears M7! It really fits in my mind with my impressions of him. I’d love to know the details of the notes as it progresses on him and how medicinal it is, if at all, in the beginning. Tobacco Vanille….. hm, that’s the Tom Ford one. I think that’s one I will be getting with my recent order of some things.

      You know, the “forever touching thing” thing… that’s all Kace. I don’t think Tom Ford/YSL/M7 can take credit for it. 😉

  2. Oh, this ad is so Tom Ford. He could have been featured in it himself, like Gucci did. I think he’ll have to get the model to shave his chest if he wants to go more mainstream today.

    Has anyone tried Oud by Francis Kurkjian? Any thoughts?

    • Nice to see you, Scent Bound! 🙂 No, I haven’t tried it. Perhaps I need someone else to go first and be the guinea pig? 😉 To be honest, I’m a bit leery of oud fragrances after my disaster with the Montale ones. Your explanation of the synthetic nature of things probably explains why it can turn so noxious on me. And, yes, the ad is definitely very Tom Ford. I love it though! lol

  3. I see we are both not fans of the notorious oud/aoud note.To me it’s smells so medicinal and band-aid like. I can never wear it unless the Oud is blended properly and not treated with such a heavy or “lead” hand. I tried a sample vial of Montale’s Black Aoud is it was a complete disaster. It was the most disgusting thing I ever smelled. Black Aoud tricks you and sneaks up on you. It starts very pleasant, with a very fragrant rose, then you are greeted with a very camphorous oud note that engulfs you. It made me nauseous and gave me a terrible headache. It was horrible! It lasted on my skin more than 12 hours! Excellent longevity, but for me that wasn’t a good thing.LOL ( I also wrote a review on basenotes under my username kingpharroh)

    As far as the notable oud fragrances it has to be Montale’s Dark Aoud, Red Aoud and Bond No. 9’s NY Oud. What I like about each of these scents is how the Oud is treated, delicate and soft in Red Aoud and NY Oud or counter balanced by a heavy note of leather and smooth resinous sandalwood in Dark Aoud which makes it a lot more wearable. Red Aoud is slightly gourmand with the red pepper and is wonderful. It kind of smells like sugar cookies with a spicy edge and it works! NY Oud on the other hand is a rose, Oud, honey, saffron combo that’s a bit floral then turns a bit soapy ( oud note). The drydown is great too, with the honey and musk. It lasts forever too, 16-24 hours plus, so a little goes a long way! Dark Aoud is the complete opposite of Black Aoud and is balanced perfectly. The leather, sandalwood and black pepper work so well to balance the powerful oud note which can come across as harsh, extremely potent and unwearable.

    I have Twilight Woods (Men version) by Bath and Body Works and I can say there is no oud in that stuff at all. The claim that it contains oud is just a marketing gimmick, and nothing else. Maybe they should do the same with broccoli, maybe it would sale like hotcakes too. LOL. It is a wonderful scent of warm spices, cedar and musk. I have the bath wash also and it is great as well. The body wash is a bit more muskier than the cologne so when used together, it’s the best of both worlds!

    • Your description of Dark Aoud sounds lovely!!! It’s going to go on my list of things to try, so thank you! So too do the others but esp. NY Oud. I like saffron notes. You should have your own blog, Ferris. I’d certainly follow it and enjoy reading it. As for Twilight Woods, I read something recently which I’ve gotten permission to reblog about synthetically created Ouds and I have no doubt that that’s what is in B&BW’s version. There is no way they could afford even a smidgeon of real oud otherwise. I think the synthetic nature of things may be one reason why I have problems with Oud on occasion. It’s also why I’m keen on trying Amouage because that’s one line which can definitely afford the real stuff as it’s founded and owned by the Sultan of Oman!

      Back to the Montales, though, I laughed at your “it was the most disgusting thing I have ever smelled” comment re. Black Oud. Heh. I definitely sympathize!

      • Now that you mentioned it, I will consider writing a blog, but I wouldn’t know where to start. Last time I tried to ” create” (and I use that term very loosely) a web page was when yahoo hosted a free web hosting service called geocities ( I don’t think it exists anymore, but anyway, it was complicated with the templates and HTML crapola. I got so frustrated and just let it go, never to return. I think the remnants of my sorry excuse of a web site is flowing around in the cyberspace graveyard somewhere. The bad thing about it is, I don’t remember the web address (URL) I had. Is it difficult to start a blog with the templates from wordpress? And with pictures, do you need to get permission if I have a picture of a perfume bottle on the blog?

        • I don’t think it’s difficult but I definitely think Word Press involves a bit of a steep learning curve at the start. There are just SOOOOOOOOOOO many options at times. And I still am not thrilled with the format of my blog, as ideally, I’d like for there to be just a thumbnail summary of each post on the main page with people needing to click to read the whole thing. (My posts are far, far too long to make it visually easily and it would be less intimidating if there could be more posts but essentially, thumnbnailed on the main page.)

          Each template offers diff. things but they have a number of good free ones. The whole thing involves some playing-around and trial-and-error. I can’t compare to what Geocities was like, but I think this has to be more updated than that old system. I think the best part of WordPress is the easiness of their post drafting system with a very advanced sort of Word version for writing posts. No HTML unless you want to do it!

          As for the photo issue, that is one I struggled with myself at the first. I’m a lawyer by trade and training, though I no longer practice and I definitely am not an expert in Copyright and IP law. (My area of practice was very different.) The gist of the photo thing is that it’s an extremely complicated, murky, grey area of the law but, if you’re not profiting from things, you can essentially use photos from elsewhere as part of the Fair Use exception if you’re essentially making the photos into a “new thing” via your commentary, research, analysis, etc. If, by your text, satire, explanation, critique or opinion, you’ve put that photo as part of a very diff., larger whole, then you’ve essentially made a new product. But what you should probably do is to read some of these links just to be safe and to have a handle on the law in question:

          Here’s a post from IFB:

          A social media site:

          Another social media site:
          ^ mentions the Perfect 10 v. Google case, though note that the Perfect 10 company was very litigious in general so that might have hurt them when the court ruled against them in part.


          I ended up going from not using any photos of the perfume bottles unless taken by myself, to using stock photos with links and/or credit sourcing when I can. Stock photos….. I don’t think a company will go to the expense of suing, esp. when you’re not making any money, have no ads on your site generating income, and simply providing fair criticism/explanation/opinion. If they have issues, in the rare event that they contact you, they’ll start by asking you to take down the photos and you can. That’s how I processed and decided on what to do for my blog, but it’s an individual choice. Either way, I hope that helped a little. 🙂

          • Thank you for the plethora of information. I will read through all of it during my work breaks or when I don’t feel like doing work at all, which is a majority of the time. LOL

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