Willy Wonka would probably have loved Areej Le Doré‘s new Russian Oud. The chocolate and candy magician in Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book was noted for transforming sweet items into something fun outside of its usual structure. The same can be said for Russian Oud which puts an oriental twist on the famed sweets factory or, to view it in a different light, takes Willy Wonka’s magic factory and places it firmly in the Orient. Imagine Willy’s river of chocolate, but now slash it through with caramel and treacly labdanum toffee and transport it to Ali Baba’s cave of oriental treasures. The cave lies deep in the heart of a Hindi oud mountain, its carved walls emitting gusts of black smoke and heavy brown muskiness. Willy Wonka’s gourmand river now runs alongside tall river beds made out of resinous, smoky red sandalwood and brown-red earthy patchouli, and is watched over by Oompa Loompas clad in birch tar leather, their skin orange from a thin patina of spices, and Ali Baba’s forty thieves clad in myrrh and more leather. Together, they stir the molten river of chocolate, toffee, and caramel with long paddles made out of creamy sandalwood, oud wood, and buttered oud calfskin, sending it down into the heart of the mountain where it finally winds its way into an ambered pool of caramel muskiness flecked with a pinch of cocoa.
Russian Oud is a pure parfum which Russian Adam describes, in brief summary, as “the grandfather of our previous sought-after compositions, Oud Zen and Oud Picante. It is richer in oud, resins and soothing, incensy base notes.” The note list is as follows:
Top notes: multi-layered Choco-Borai Oud oil [mixed Thai ouds co-distilled by Russian Adam];
Heart notes: Indian oud, Russian Castoreum, Cocoa extract, and Siberian deer musk maceration, derived from a gigantic musk pod;
Base notes: Guggul resinoid, Indian Myrrh, Labdanum, Birch Tar, Sandalwood, and Cedarwood.
Russian Oud opens on my skin with a slew of dark, gourmand, and musky notes. The central core, lasting from beginning to end, is composed of a trio: guggul; milk and dark chocolate; and toffee-scented labdanum. I’d never heard of guggul before, so I asked Russian Adam what it smelled like and he described it as: “very resinous, closer to labdanum but lighter and more refined, incensy and caramel like sweet.” It is exactly like caramel on my skin, and it always encases the chocolate on my skin, lapping over, under, and around it, to recreate the richest Mars bar around.
This is the central core, but there is so much else besides in the opening phase. Sandalwood, oud musk, smoke, and leather are layered one after another between the core, just like an olfactory ice-cream sundae drizzled with caramel and toffee. The leather smells of birch tar, oud, and castoreum, while the smoke feels just as resinous and as myrrh/incense-y as it does of dark woods (oud and cedar). The Mysore sandalwood is heaped in extravagant, decadent amounts, smelling both creamy and resinously red-black, and emitting puffs of smoke which curl up to the stronger ones emitted by the myrrh and oud. Everything overlaps, blended perfectly and with meticulous technical balance, one note flowing into the next, each one accentuating and enriching the last, but each one individually clear as well.
One of the many things which I love about Russian Oud is an alchemical transformation which always occurs about 10-12 minutes in and which consists of a magical recreation of one of my favourite notes: patchouli. A good number of the raw materials in Russian Oud have similar or identical olfactory traits to patchouli like, for example, its woodiness, spiciness, smokiness, and earthiness, not to mention its occasional chocolate-y and leathery sides. Those traits are on full display here, along with one or two others which pop up when patchouli is combined with amber, like its cognac-scented booziness or its sweet-dry resinousness.
In the case of Russian Oud, its notes coalesce exactly 15 minutes in to recreate the perfect cocktail for someone with my tastes: boozy cognac-and-amber “patchouli,” layered with resinous and immensely spicy red sandalwood heartwood, dark chocolate-caramel, resinous incense smoke, dry woods, smoky birch tar leather, and a veritable tsunami of labdanum toffee. Plumes of wood smoke lick the sides and guggul “caramel is drizzled on top before the whole thing is enveloped within a cloud of dark, slightly growling muskiness.
It’s a complex layering of notes which is always shifting in its emphasis or focal point on my skin, especially when I smell Russian Oud on the scent trail from afar. One minute, “patchouli” dominates, the next it’s either sandalwood, birch tar, labdanum toffee, or oud musk. The chocolate (which is always layered in-between the guggul caramel resin on my skin) is typically the least important component from afar, at least during the first half of the fragrance’s lifetime, but it is frequently one of the more dominant notes when I smell my arm up close.
For all the sweet-smelling elements, Russian Oud is never a pure gourmand on my skin and it never skews into cloying territory. This is one point where individual chemistry is bound to make a significant difference, and the balance may well be different on you but, on me, there is simply too much smoke, dark musk, oud, and leather when Russian Oud begins its second stage at the start of the second hour. Each element is apparent individually but, collectively, they become an even greater force and they serve to keep the chocolate, caramel, and toffee (along with the mysterious, occasional whiff of something which resembles resinous, cedar-oaked Bourbon vanilla) all firmly in check.
The second stage and hour go beyond that mere counterbalancing; there is a noticeable change in direction. The labdanum, chocolate, “patchouli,” and caramel fall by the wayside and retreat to the sidelines as the dark notes take over. Leather covers my skin, a composite accord which smells simultaneously tarry (like birch), smoky, oud-based, and musky. Castoreum probably plays some role, but I can’t detect it distinctly amidst all the Hindi oud and the general olfactory overlap. The second most powerful element is another composite accord, this time a resinous one. In actuality, it’s an interplay of woods — sandalwood and oud — but they don’t smell woody on my skin; they smell as though Russian Adam had drilled into their core to extract their darkest resins. They’re treacly, smoky, musky and, once again, leathery.
It’s a synergy of darkness, but there is balance in it. There is just enough toffee’d labdanum weaving on the sidelines to prevent the sandalwood, oud, birch, and their “leather” mimicry from going butch or feeling dry. There is also just enough “patchouli,” chocolate, and spice to give the leather some oomph beyond its mere smoke and muskiness.
In terms of the oud, there are two interesting aspects to it. First, I like its relationship to the other notes. The oud is the backbone which runs through the fragrance, the skeletal frame upon which the sinews of “patchouli,” chocolate, labdanum, sandalwood, and leather have been built, but it’s frequently content to take a back seat to those other elements, letting them shine in the spotlight. It’s the cavernous structure within which everything is built and it’s the glue which holds them all together, but it’s not a bullying focal point which takes over. Consequently, this is not a fragrance which screams “oud” or uses a bullhorn to announce its presence.
Second, the Bengali/Hindi oud works very well here, and I say that as someone who usually twitches or winces at this varietal. Unlike the Hindi agarwood in Areej‘s Oud Zen or in some other oud-based fragrances, there are no barnyard notes, nothing fecal, goaty, cheesy, Gorgonzola-like, camphorous, mentholated, raunchy, or skanky about it. It is musky and smoky, however, and the smoke levels go up on my skin after 30 minutes, then up even further at the end of the first hour. At that point, the oud also turns extremely leathery and musky, growling away quietly with the sort of dark musk that one finds with Hindi agarwood (and some wild Thai varieties, too).
Yet, lurking below, there are early signs of something else under all that smoke, leather, and musk, the first indications of Hindi oud’s buttery and suede-like qualities. Typically, these develop later in the wood’s evolution, but they’re always different, in my opinion, to the sort of butteriness which is created by Mysore sandalwood. With Indian agarwood, it’s like creamy, buttery calf-skin leather and velvety suede. Oud Zen had a ton of it later on, thanks to its heaping amounts of Hindi wood, and Russian Oud’s second hour bears traces of the same olfactory note and quality as well, even if they’re quiet and nowhere to the same degree.
Russian Oud continues to shift in its focus and balance of notes as it develops. By the end of the second hour, the labdanum is engulfed completely and there is no longer even a small whiff of chocolate or caramel on my skin. Instead, the scent is a seamless blend of smoky birch leather, incense resins, resinous woods (sandalwood and oud), dark oud muskiness, and wood smoke. The “patchouli” recreation weaves in and out. It’s sometimes swallowed up by the resins and leather but, when I smell Russian Oud on the scent trail from afar, more often than not the primary impression I get is “smoky patchouli-oud leather.”
Russian Oud’s third stage begins roughly 3.5 hours into its development when the wave of darkness ebbs away, like an eclipse which has finished its journey and thereby lets the sun’s golden light shine forth once more. The leather retreats to the sidelines, casting only a small glowering shadow of smoke over the sweeter, more gourmand notes which re-emerge in its wake: chocolate, caramel, and toffee. It’s a sea of bronzed gold whose edges are stained black with treacly incense myrrh resins and leathery smoke, brown from oud muskiness, red from “patchouli,” and an artist’s palette of all the above from resinous, red-creamy sandalwood heartwood. The result is cozy but dark, sweet but dry and smoky, gourmand but also much more than just that.
If the opening bouquet in the first hour made me want to lick my arm, this one makes me relax, unwind, and just want to burrow into my arm with a happy comforted sigh. For someone with my tastes, it’s the olfactory equivalent of having a relaxing massage with fragrant sandalwood, chocolate, and ambered oils, then being bundled up with a plush, warm robe. That’s probably why Russian Oud has become my go-to comfort fragrance to unwind and relax, replacing an old standby, Rania J’s tobacco-opium-benzoin-labdanum amber, Ambre Loup. In all candour, I’ve had an extremely stressful four months trying to save my Teutonic Overlord from several chronic, serious health issues, and “comfort” has sometimes been in short supply. Something about Russian Oud’s rich, deep blend of toffee’d labdanum, chocolate, caramel, patchouli, sandalwood, incense, and dark musk acts like an automatic relaxer on my brain. I spray it over my duvet and sheets, burrow into them with my furry son by my side, hold his huge paw as he sleeps under the influence of his latest batch of meds, and feel some of the worry slip away. Obviously, it’s a purely subjective personal response but I think it’s worth mentioning because I’ve tried a hell of a lot of patchouli-ambers, tobacco-ambers, smoky resinous ambers, and gourmand-orientals hybrids at this point, and Russian Oud is the first fragrance to dethrone Ambre Loup, which had reigned supreme since 2015 as my go-to comfort scent.
Russian Oud doesn’t change in any significant way from the 3.5-hour mark until its drydown begins, roughly 8.5 hours into its evolution, when it changes direction and also turns simpler and soft. It’s now an uncomplicated, hazy blur of caramel and toffee, woven together with fluctuating degrees of milk chocolate and buttery sandalwood, then stained with thick plumes of smoke and muskiness. The chocolate is a mere shadow of what it once was. From the very beginning, it had always been layered in-between the guggul’s caramel on my skin and it turned quite soft in the 6th hour, but now it’s become this darting presence that pops in and out. Whenever I think it’s finally died away, it ends up making a comeback. The sandalwood is the same, although it’s even quieter and more elusive on my skin. When taken as a whole and reduced to its nutshell basics, Russian Oud is really ambered resins with different gourmand subtexts. It’s warm, musky, sweet, dry, smoky, chocolate-y, creamy, resinous, quietly spiced, and just a wee bit salty, almost as if there were a slug of salty, musky, popcorn-scented ambergris tossed in there as well. I think all of it is lovely.
Russian Oud doesn’t really change beyond this point. Over the next few hours, its texture and body turn gauzy, and its scent is laced with occasional puffs of burnt honeyed beeswax from the labdanum. In the 11th hour, all traces of chocolate disappear and the sandalwood dissolves into nothing more than a fleeting, ghostly whisper of creamy woods. What’s left behind in the final hours is simple musky, dark toffee and golden warmth.
Russian Oud’s sillage, projection, and longevity numbers varied depending on how much I applied and by what method but, generally speaking, its projection was low, its sillage was average, and its longevity was good to very good. I initially tested the fragrance using atomizer samples which yielded higher numbers than when I dabbed on the scent from the vials which I was also provided with for testing purposes. Dabbing/smearing yielded a surprisingly soft scent, both in reach and body, and that was true even when I increased the quantity of scent. The fragrance also had a shorter lifespan than I had expected for an Areej oud; it wasn’t short-lived by any means but it wasn’t the behemoth of some of the others. Spraying from an atomizer improved things, but I had the best results when apply from an actual bottle and applying a generous portion at that.
I’ll share some rough numbers to give you a basic idea of the sort of divergences which I experienced depending on the different method/quantity applications. When I applied several light smears amounting to 1 small spray from a bottle, the opening projection and sillage numbers were, respectively, about 2 inches and 4 inches; the fragrance turned into a skin scent after 5.5 hours, and I had about 10 to 10.5 hours of longevity. Russian Oud was much airier and lighter in body than I had expected, too. With dabbed smears equal to 2 big sprays from an actual bottle, there wasn’t, at first glance, a huge amount of difference: the respective opening numbers were the same, but the sillage grew to about 6-7 inches after 20-25 minutes, and the fragrance lasted about 12.75 hours. However, I thought the larger scent application had noticeable results in other areas: the fragrance felt chewier and deeper in body and texture; it was smokier, darker, and muskier in aroma; and the birch was not only more noticeable but the birch leather second stage kicked in sooner. Interestingly, the “patchouli” mimicry was weaker and more muted with a bigger scent application. It’s as though the birch tar and the oud’s dark musk drowned it out. The sandalwood went through something similar in the first few hours, because it was definitely more overt right from the start with a smaller scent application. However, it was never eclipsed to the same degree as the “patchouli,” and it was always a noticeable factor in the later hours no matter how much or how little scent I applied. The guggul caramel was present throughout in both versions, but the more fragrance I applied, the more it was offset by the dark, smokier notes.
Those basic observations or trends were even more noticeable when I sprayed instead of dabbed. The more I sprayed, the more the dark elements came out. It’s interesting because that was the case as well for Areej’s new Walimah Attar where a large dose brought out the oud’s smoke, musk, and leatheriness, but it absolutely was not the case for Russian Musk where an increase merely amplified the orange blossom and its candied sweetness but did not bring out more deer musk, oud, or oakmoss. With dense, complex, natural-driven fragrances like the ones from Areej Le Doré, there are so many variables at play in shaping a person’s scent experience and I’ve found that quantity or method of application can matter just as much as individual skin chemistry in terms of the notes which may be accentuated or even the balance of notes as a whole.
Spraying versus dabbing Russian Oud brought that home to me once again. Several atomizer spritzes equal to 2 medium-ish, fair-sized sprays from an actual bottle on the same patch of skin, yielded roughly the same opening sillage, give or take an estimated increase of an inch or two, but the scent was darker, muskier, more leathery, and less gourmand in its first three hours; it took roughly 7 hours to turn into a skin scent; and I had about 14 hours of longevity. However, when I applied two sprays from an actual bottle on one arm and three on the other, I was surrounded by an initial opening cloud which extended about 9-10 inches in radius, perhaps a little more; it took about 9 hours for the fragrance to turn quiet; and it lasted about 17.5 hours as a whole, with faint traces of musky sweetness lingering on for an hour or two longer on a few tiny patches of skin. When smelled from afar and cumulatively, that cloud was the darkest, most resinous, muskiest version out of the lot and it had the most noticeable, significant degrees of both birch tar and smoke on my skin.
In short, when I applied the smallest quantity of scent and did so via dabbing versus spraying, I had the lightest, quietest, and most gourmand-skewing version of Russian Oud. The more I applied via spray, the darker, richer, more leathery, and more resinous it smelled, the deeper its body, and the better its reach and longevity. While I try to use a baseline standard application for all my reviews as a general rule — one based on dab vials because that’s what the majority of us use for our tests and one limited to a 2-spray equivalent because that is a rough median between what different people may apply — it’s obviously relevant that Russian Oud performs better and lasts for longer when one applies from an actual bottle (and in large amounts).
Having said that, I’m not trying to imply that Russian Oud is equal to Oud Zen and Oud Picante in force, might, heft, and reach — because it’s not. Based upon my memory of those two, I’m pretty sure that applying comparable hefty amounts of either fragrance would have wafted my scent straight out to the stratosphere and to Elon Musk’s Tesla currently traveling through space. The same could never hold true for Russian Oud, no matter how much I apply.
However, it’s most certainly an anemic, wispy wallflower on my skin and it does have good to excellent longevity if I apply a fair amount in spray form, comparable to extraits from other brands. I’ve tried a number of Roja Dove parfums which perform just like Russian Oud with the same scent amounts/applications, and Roja Dove is not exactly known for making short-lived, silent, intimate scents. It’s merely that the prior Areej fragrances had such crazy, atypical numbers in so many performance areas that the standard is completely skewed when it comes to Russian Oud. So, if you’re an old Areej user and you’re experiencing a comparatively quieter, softer scent, you’re right and, yes, this oud is not as powerful as the prior ones, but consider whether you’re applying the scent via a different method this time around (a Luckyscent dab vial rather than an atomizer) because that format is not helping things and also consider the quantity you’re applying.
Speaking of the prior Areej ouds, Oud Zen and Oud Picante, it’s worth discussing how the new release compares to its predecessors. There are obvious note overlaps and a clear Russian Adam signature running through the three fragrances. In fact, this one is officially described as the “grandfather” which implicitly suggests a familial tree and genetic similarities. However, I think taking a broad view approach overlooks the specific differences, particularly in focal points, between the trio. To put it another way, reducing the Areej ouds to their simple commonalities is like saying that all chypres are basically the same just because they contain citrus, rose/florals, oakmoss, labdanum and/or patchouli. Yes, sure they do, but they don’t all smell the same, either because of the note ratios, the accompanying ingredients, or some other factor.
It’s the same situation here, in my opinion. All three Areej ouds include common base denominators of oud, leather, and sandalwood, but Oud Picante played with coffee, tobacco, cumin-costus skank, a clove-cinnamon spice blend, honeyed opoponax, and labdanum. Oud Zen explored Hindi agarwood’s cheesy, animalic skank and layered it with tobacco, booze, a saffron-amber attar, and peaty Laphroaig-style vetiver. While Russian Oud is closer to Oud Picante than Oud Zen, what appears on my skin is hardly identical, despite their joint labdanum core. That would be like saying that rice biryani and rice pudding are alike simply because they are both built around rice; it ignores the specific differences, accompaniments, and focal points.
Russian Oud takes some aspects of each prior fragrance, but envelops them within chocolate, caramel, and labdanum, not to mention “patchouli” and birch as well as far greater degrees of smoke and incense and a totally different type of muskiness which has nary a whiff of skank about it. If we ignore the roughly two or so hours where Russian Oud is predominantly smoky birch-oud leather and dark oud musk on my skin, I would say its central bouquet emphasizes toffee (labdanum), caramel (guggul), and chocolate, not tobacco, coffee, cloves, and cumin. Yes, there is no doubt that I thought of Oud Picante when I first applied Russian Oud, but that was merely because of the strong labdanum component. When I consider the specifics and the full scope of each scent, they are dissimilar on me and not redundant. In short, from a macro and micro perspective, they smell and feel different to me, although I recognize that individual skin chemistry is bound to play a role in just how different or how similar they may be on others.
Russian Oud is very new but there are some brief alternative reviews out there already. One source is Basenotes’ Areej discussion thread. The link I’ve provided goes to page 32 where, midway down, you’ll see the first comments about Russian Oud pop up. They extend over the next few pages, interspersed with comments about the other new Areej releases. The last time I looked, the main response to Russian Oud was: several people felt it was too similar to Areej’s Oud Picante to warrant purchase; one person thought its performance was too soft, discreet, and short-lived; and one person struggled with the quantity of caramel in the first few hours. I’ll let you go through the thread at your own leisure. On Fragrantica, Russian Oud just received its individual entry page, but there are no reviews or votes at the time of this post. You can check it later in the weeks ahead if you’re interested.
On my own site, two people have shared their thoughts and their takes are informative because, unlike the vast majority of Basenotes reviewers, they are new to the Areej line and don’t come laden with the baggage of past fragrances. “Lady Jane Grey” was happy that Russian Oud was tame as compared to the animalics which she had feared from the note list and from Areej’s reputation. She wrote:
Russian Oud is really tame on me, I think I need to test with a larger quantity (I want more of the chocolate!), it‘s a cozy, hugging sandalwood, I even get something faintly floral (?). Quite fascinating !
For “Matt,” Russian Oud was a big hit, but it was also too similar to other (non-Areej) fragrances he loves to warrant a full-bottle investment. He wrote, in part:
Got my Luckyscent samples yesterday. Immediately tried Russian Musk and Russian Oud. Both are incredibly rich and the quality is incredible as you would imagine. So complex and beautiful and a wonderful learning experience. […][¶] Russian Oud is also awesome, it’s got that incredibly rich leather/smoke/Oud accord and it reminded me of [Ensar Oud‘s] Aroha Kyaku but more balanced and complex. Fuzzy musk also adds a beautiful layer.
But I don’t think either warrants the investment for me. I have Aroha Kyaku for whenever I need/want that insanely deep leather/smoke/Oud fragrance. And a bottle of Ambre Loup (which shot right into my top 5 at first smell) on the way which satisfies the dirty-in-a-good-way spicy cocoa Oud fragrance. [Bolding emphasis to names and the Aroha Kyaku link have been added by me.]
He’s right about Russian Oud inhabiting the same general universe as my beloved Ambre Loup, but comparative scent discussions are one of the areas where skin chemistry makes a big difference to what one person experiences over another. On me, Ambre Loup is predominantly tobacco layered with a deeply chewy, opium/hashish-like spiced resinousness as well as tons of benzoin and labdanum and a lesser amount of softly animalic musk. It’s not a choco-oud fragrance on me, so its scent specifics and its focus are completely differently. But in terms of overall, basic feel and vibe, yes, there is no doubt that Russian Oud lives in the same world as Ambre Loup and Oud Picante.
I think that there are several other denizens of that same olfactory plane. Without question, Russian Oud exhibits strong similarities to Sammarco‘s patchouli Bond-T on my skin. It’s a scent where Armagnac-drenched, boozy patchouli is layered with the blackest chocolate cake, birch tar and castoreum leather, soft musk, incensey smoke, and amber resins. In its later portions, Russian Oud has some parallels to Roja Dove‘s Amber Extrait which was centered on chocolate, caramel, and toffee’d labdanum amber, licked by quiet puffs of smoke, musk, and woodiness. The difference, however, is that Amber Extrait contained some amber aromachemicals in its base which rasped away on my skin, albeit quietly, while Russian Oud doesn’t have even a ghostly hint of anything synthetic. Not a one. Finally, Russian Oud also has some overlap with SP Attar‘s Cafe Ambre Noir attar. There is chocolate in lieu of coffee, “patchouli” instead of a Kalemat-like honey, and way more caramel, smoke, and sandalwood but, putting aside the specifics and focusing purely on their cozy feel, if you love one gourmand-oriental hybrid, then I think you’re bound to love the other as well.
In short, if you love any of the central notes and fragrances mentioned here, then I strongly recommend that you try Russian Oud. While Areej Le Doré has sold out of its atomizer samples, 1 ml dab vials are available from Luckyscent. (See link in the Details section at the end.) If you want to have a sufficient quantity to test extensively before buying (and to do so in spray form in order to play with sillage issues), then you can always try a spray decant from the reputable Basenotes’ splitter, “Strifeknot.”
On a completely unrelated, house-keeping matter, I wanted inform you that I’m going to take a small break over the next ten days or so, both from reviewing/posting and also from replying to emails, FB messages, and blog comments. I want to focus entirely on my Imperial Overlord, Der Teuton Hund. I’ll spare you the long reasons why because, frankly, it’s depressing and I’m exhausted. Bottom line: I’m finding it difficult to focus on perfume, I’m going to enter radio silence for a short while, and I’m just going to hug my furry child, hold his huge paws, admire his massive fangs (which a vet tech at one doctor’s office last week said were the largest she’d seen in years, even for a German Shepherd), kiss his majestic head and his beautiful roman nose, and tend to his every need while hoping that the specialist’s “Plan D” eventually kicks in.
See you soon.
Disclosure: My sample of Russian Oud was provided by Russian Adam. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.