Chinese Oud, the latest release from Areej Le Doré, is a perfect example of a self-taught perfumer honing and refining his style over time to become the equal of many professional, big house noses today. The opulent parfum is the result of a collaboration between Russian Adam and his friend, Jamira Oud, who distilled and worked on many of the rare Chinese raw materials, including wild, aged, nearly extinct Hainan agarwood which is considered by many collectors to be one of the top varietals in the world due to its unusual floral, fruity, and citrus tonalities.
I’m going to tell you upfront, right from the start, that I loved Chinese Oud and I thought that it was not only complex but also one of the more approachable, versatile, refined, non-blocky, and smooth floral leather ouds (or floral oud orientals) from Areej Le Doré.
A few housekeeping and time-saving matters before we start. Chinese Oud was released Saturday, February 27 in two sizes, a 30 ml bottle and a 10 ml atomizer decant. My decant was supposed to arrive last Tuesday but problems with DHL delivery meant that I didn’t get my hands on it until Friday evening, thereby precluding me from testing and writing a review prior to the launch so that you would all have time to buy a bottle if you wished. (I did cover the scent on Twitter on Saturday night, but I know most of you don’t “do” Twitter. Also, my Twitter is admittedly mostly about dogs now, so why follow it?)
Unfortunately, all the 30 ml bottles of Chinese Oud sold out within an hour or two of the Saturday morning launch and the 10 ml bottles sold out on Sunday. In other words, if you didn’t manage to get a bottle, all of this review will be academic for you, so save yourself some time in skipping thousands of words and feel free to click out of the page right now. I will understand completely. Why get frustrated over a fragrance that you cannot try or buy?
For anyone who did purchase a bottle, I’ll cover in detail Chinese Oud’s breakdown on both my main testing arm and, briefly, the fractionally different version that occurred on my right arm which frequently turns everything drier, darker, smokier, muskier, or all the above. (Don’t ask me why fragrances are the same everywhere else but there on my body; my best guess is that the skin is significantly drier?)
I don’t normally cover my weird right arm versions unless the differences are only of degree, as they mostly are here, as opposed to flat out anomalies (as they typically are) but there was enough substantive overlap with Chinese Oud that I thought some of you who also have extremely dry skin —that is extremely voracious, amplifies dark notes and base notes, or eats through top notes like a locust— might find the second version to be useful or mildly interesting?
Chinese Oud is a pure parfum or extrait that is the result of a collaboration between Russian Adam and his friend from Jamira Oud in China and has wild Hainan oud as its centerpiece. As I wrote a while back, China has a vast, noble, and intriguing history with oud, but they don’t always treat or approach it as the West has done since the latter’s introduction to the material. In fact, China’s fragrance market shows that very different things are emphasized when it comes to scent application on the body. But oud…oud is as venerated in China as it is in Japan and the Middle East —for highly symbolic and meditative ceremonies, for art, and, most of all, for incense.
The demand for agarwood has outpaced supply, particularly when it comes to the wild, natural sort, and one of the rarest or most expensive now is the Hainan varietal which is nearly extinct. You can read more than you ever wanted to know about oud, terroir, different agarwood varietals, wild vs. natural, extinction, marketing, prices, fake “oud,” Cambodi oud, sheiks, Middle East oud fragrances, Western Oud fragrances, Ensar Oud, and more in an article that I wrote a while back. It covers about 12-14 different aspects of the oud world, including Ensar Oud and his perspective on things, so be aware that it is not a 2-minute read. (Not that I have ever written 2-minute reads, let’s be honest.)
All of you who are still reading at this point have bought Chinese Oud and are thus already familiar with Areej Le Doré‘s official description on its website, so I’ll just jump straight to the note list in order to refresh memories before we begin:
Top notes: boozy aldehyde accord, sweet orange and bergamot
Heart notes: wild Hainan agarwood oil from 2003 and a bouquet of extremely rare, pure and natural florals; namely rose, jasmine and gardenia, all of which were grown and extracted in China
Base notes: old Mysore sandalwood extracted in China, Indonesian vanilla tincture, oakmoss and patchouli.
THE SCENT #1- THE MAIN, REGULAR ARM VERSION:
Chinese Oud opens on my skin with a balanced bouquet of aldehydes layered with dark woods and crisp and sweet citruses. The aldehydes don’t smell fatty, unpleasant, Chanel-esque, or extreme in quantity. Rather, they smell like fresh cotton infused with warmly rounded, mild, sun-ripened citruses, and cedary woods.
Within minutes, the oud grows in strength and presence. It’s softly smoked, reminding me of cedar chips that have been ever so slightly singed on a barbeque grill. Following closely behind is a lightly resinous, woody patchouli note and the merest suggestion of a boozy, wood-soaked vanilla. At this point in time, there are no florals on my skin and everything other than the aldehyde-infused, softly smoky woody accord feels amorphous, gossamer soft, and indistinct — like clouds floating around and behind a brown-woody core.
Roughly 25-30 minutes into its development, Chinese Oud shifts. The booziness grows, though it is still primarily a vanilla-based one, evoking images of aged Bourbon vanilla in equally aged oak caskets. More importantly, the patchouli surges in strength, engulfing half or most of the clean, fresh aldehydic “cotton” in a wave of quietly spiced, deeply resinous woods. The sweet orange also grows in strength, wiping out most of the bergamot on my skin, for now at least.
Meanwhile, the oud deepens, evoking images of a sticky, toffee’d, tarry, viscous, thick black resins layered with a leathery birch tar resin and an equally black, sticky, incense-based resin.
It’s pretty sexy — and it’s absolutely nothing like what I had expected or imagine. A few years ago, I tried a very old, 2005-era distilled then aged-12-years Ensar Oud oil of rare, now-extinct Chinese Hainan agarwood: Hainan 2005. It was fantastic, but I found its opening to be slightly…challenging. Its first 30 or so minutes strongly replicated Hindi agarwood with its cheesy, creamy Gorgonzola and barnyard traits; uncured rawhide, hot cow piles, and something practically goaty floated all around.
Eventually, however, it turned into a glorious, complex, floral and citrusy leather and then, later, into a lilac-imbued peachy floral-leather chypre (??!!!) that left my mouth agape. I’ve never, ever forgotten it. But I also haven’t forgotten just what a rollercoaster that opening barnyard put me through initially, either. In speaking with Ensar about it at the time, he told me that it wasn’t unusual or uncommon for Chinese agarwood to resemble Hindi oud in its earliest stage, nor for the Hainan variety to manifest floral, citrus, or fruity attributes as it develops later on.
With Russian Adam’s Chinese Oud, I confess that I had braced myself for a full-on onslaught of oozy goat Gorgonzola or a cow-filled barnyard that eventually segued into animalic raw hides cured in the sun before they slowly bloomed into a sexy, smoky Perfecto leather jacket à la Marlon Brando, before finishing as buttery, smooth, intoxicating calfskin leather. (Seriously, this is how all my experiences with Hindi oud have gone, without exception, as well as one Asian varietal than I can’t recall right now (not Laotian, not Cambodi).)
To my surprise, that is not the actual development here with Chinese Oud. The oud’s opening phase does not (on my skin at least) have a single whiff of steaming hot cow piles. I’m happy to report that there are also no oozy blue cheese cream mixed with goat, no animal or fecal undertones of any kind, and no animalic, urinous, or skanky raw hide percolating in the sun.
Instead, there is a beautifully resinous, sticky, tarry blackness that is simultaneously like really great, aged, birch tar leather and like incredibly sexy Opium-Coromandel EDT-style incense. I’m certain that the patchouli and dark Indonesian vanilla play a role in creating the latter impression as they fuse with the oud, but who cares what the precise cause is and let’s simply call it some sort of lovely alchemical side-effect, if you will.
Chinese Oud becomes sexier and even better when the second stage begins, roughly 45-50 minutes into its development and when the florals kick in. At first, it’s primarily a lush, syrupy, sticky, almost honeyed and hot-house jasmine. It’s not indolic in the sense of mothballs or camphor, but it is most definitely a wee bit smoky, thereby adding to the sense of a vintage Opium-Coromandel style of incense. (The vanilla, patchouli, and drop of bergamot help in adding to that impression, too.) Trailing far behind the jasmine is the merest splash of rose.
To be honest, I’m not too sure what to make of the rose during this particular moment in time. At this initial stage, it reminds me of dusty, potpourri dried roses with a slight grandma-like association. I think the latter is because of its dusty, dusky character. But, thankfully, the potpourri dusty tonality only lasts about 10 minutes or so. The more central character of the flower is a desiccated, shriveled quality, thanks to how the smoke and oud have dried it out.
The result is a wizened, black-brown thing that reminds me of the incense-woody, blackened rose in Guerlain‘s Encens Mythique, minus any churchy, High Mass aspects of the latter’s frankincense. However, Chinese Oud’s rose at this stage also reminds me of the shriveled oud-patchouli-vanilla rose in Encens Mythique’s sibling in the Déserts d’Orient Collection: Rose Nacrée du Désert. The flower here, like the ones in those fragrances, is at once dusky, dusty, gothic, wizen, and redolent of smoke, dry cedar wood, and incense, all atop a quiet but unmistakable base of vanilla and amber that, here, with Chinese Oud, just so happens to be of the boozy Bourbon vanilla variety.
Chinese Oud does not change in any dramatic or fundamental way in terms of its core essence or its fundamentals for a great many hours. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it changes in small ways —constantly even, like a cresting wave that hits the shore, only for another one to follow it— but those changes are primarily of degree. Or to put it another way, Chinese Oud realigns which notes are the most prominent, first one, then another and another, but they are ultimately changes to the visibility or strength of a particular note. They do not alter Chinese Oud’s core, bottom line identity during the entirety of this second stage: A floral oud leather oriental.
As I said, the fluctuations are constant. For example, roughly 1.5 hours in, Chinese Oud grows much smokier and much more leathery. These facets of the agarwood have essentially doubled in the last 30-40 minutes, yet the ultimate end result or cumulative effect still continues to be the same: Chinese Oud is an oud-derived, Cuir de Russie-style leather infused with treacly (labdanum- and amber-style) resins, woody resins, smoky resins, lushly sensuous indolic jasmine, spicy woody patchouli, dark incense, boozy-woody vanilla, and lesser splashes of fragrant bergamot and smoky, dry rose.
At the 2.5 hour mark, Chinese Oud is again fundamentally the same, only now it feels as though some of its smoky, leathery edges have been rounded out. That is not to suggest that the fragrance was previously harsh, abrasive, or extreme in any unpleasant way before. It was not. However, its smoky birch-tar-style oud leather and resinous incense did heavily overshadow the other notes. Now, however, the jasmine is starting to surge, slowly lapping at the edges of the oud’s various facets, diffusing their intensity, and making them slightly more proportionate to the other elements in the bouquet.
What I’m particularly enjoying at this stage is the first real (and really strong) impactful blast of the bergamot. For whatever reason, it was pretty mild and subdued on my skin during the opening stage. It’s a whole other story now and it melts into the syrupy, rich, and silky smooth jasmine in a beautiful way.
I’m struck, once again, by how much Chinese Oud feels, simultaneously, like a really concentrated, vintage Guerlain (and an aged extrait at that) in its feel, body, richness, and smoothness of materials, but also like a really top-of-the-line modern re-interpretation of the classique Guerlain style and themes, replacing Jacques Guerlain’s core mainstay of birch tar leather with an extremely similar variant derived from oud. Whatever Guerlain or the perfume world’s issues with birch tar even back in the mid-1980s, it seems inescapable that the company reduced its formula amounts more and more, especially circa 1984 onwards, turning more towards sandalwood to compensate, and then reducing the birch tar even further.
As some of you may have noticed, I have a huge preference for pre-1980s Guerlains and this is one of the reasons why. First they took away the nitro musks (okay, that one I kinda understand), then cut out the birch tar more and more, then they started to change the actual Mysore sandalwood to god only knows what is masquerading in Shalimar now (let alone the Guerlain’s wretched Santal Royal). But Chinese Oud’s Hainan replicates, safely and healthily, all the very best aspects of pre-1980s Jacques Guerlain creations, from the particular vibe or essence of “birch tar” to the innate muskiness of oud, thereby mimicking the olfactory aesthetics or feel of now-forbidden nitro musks.
Obviously, my analogy isn’t a 100 on 100 perfect fit. To list just one obvious difference, Chinese Oud feels significantly deeper and richer than any modern 21st-century Guerlain creations which haven’t had the benefit of decades to even further reduce into what is, basically, a Guerlain extrait on steroids. Chinese Oud does, however, perform much like a really aged, vintage Guerlain extrait, including in its sillage, though I’ll talk more about that at the end of this review.
Going back to the dance of notes on and then off center stage, further fluctuations take place roughly 3.25 hours into Chinese Oud’s development. The bergamot slinks to the sidelines and its place is taken by a heavy, concentrated slug of booze. It smells like a mixture of rum, bourbon, and Bourbon vanilla. The liqueured note is substantial enough to muffle a lot of the jasmine, the “birch tar” (oud) leather, and the oud incense. Behind it all, wisps of the rose dart in and out, sometimes smelling jammy sweet, sometimes smelling woody and dry. (It does not smell dusty, dusky, or potpourri-like, however, and hasn’t for a few hours.)
Another change, again one of degree, occurs near the end of the 4th hour. In essence, the oud starts to emit a certain amount of dark muskiness. It’s not animalic on my skin at all. If anything, I would say that it feels analogous to some amber resins —like a much more extreme version of what you experience with some types of labdanum absolute, especially if subsequently mixed with a resinous and musky oud.
Chinese Oud is not remotely “animalic” in any true sense of the word —on my skin at least (and your skin may well be different). I know Areej Le Doré’s official description used the word “animalic,” but I wanted people who are leery of skank, poop, funk, and full-bodied oud wildness to know that —on me at least— neither of my arms (or neck and chest) had the raw sort of roaringly wild agarwood experience that was listed. (What I did have was minor, muted, and barely lasted more than 5 minutes, and that was again only on my one wonky, always anomalous right arm.) I think Russian Adam had a different experience, judging by his official description for the fragrance and one word in particular:
Animalic and bittersweet, with faecalicious nuances, it is an oud lover’s dream come true. Chinese Oud is matured, full-bodied and unapologetic.
Again, everyone’s skin is different, so maybe ALD’s Hainan will go full-throttle on you just as Ensar’s 2005 Hainan did on me during the first 20 minutes or so. I wouldn’t be totally surprised. But, if that does happen and if you’re not a fan of oud “faecalicious nuances,” then just hold on, because I swear it won’t last for long and the rest of the scent is worth your patience.
Roughly 4.5 hours, another small shift in degree takes place but, this time, it also impacts vibe and texture. Chinese Oud turns creamy, as if a highly fragrant layer of buttery calfskin and floral cream now coated the core bouquet. I’m assuming that this is due primarily to the impact of the sandalwood, though I’m guessing that the vanilla tincture plays a part as well. (Maybe even the gardenia which, heretofore, has not shown up in any obvious, distinct, clearly delineated way.)
The creaminess ends up being the first sign of a shift in Chinese Oud’s character and also the start of the slow segue into the fragrance’s long third phase. The new stage really kicks in around the 5.5 hour mark and what makes it distinct is that Chinese Oud’s core identity begins to fracture and split, moving away from a creamy, smoky, resinous, jasmine-dominated floral (oud) leather into something which is more like a creamy, smoky, boozy vanilla, rose-dominated floral woody musk.
It’s as lovely and enjoyable as the second stage but quite different in vibe, feel, and the fragrance associations it evokes in me. Now, at the 5.5 hour mark, Chinese Oud begins to undulate masses upon masses of creamy, romantic, petal-soft pink roses infused with equally creamy vanilla.
The intertwined duo is then slathered over a smoky but smooth leather layered with spicy patchouli, indolic smoky jasmine, an Opium-Coromandel-like myrrh incense note, lots of sticky ambered resins, a splash of bergamot, and several slugs of heady bourbon-rum-like liqueur. The booze, smoke, and dark vanilla accord evoke repeated thoughts of Guerlain‘s Spiritueuse Double Vanille but, of course, that fragrance was never layered with patchouli, smoky oud leather, or rich, creamy, and indolic florals. Even so, if you focus only on that one component or part of Chinese Oud’s bouquet, the echoes on my skin are striking.
At the end of the 7th hour and start of the 8th, Chinese Oud is a simply gorgeous, addictive bouquet of creamy, satiny, vanilla and sandalwood infused pink rose petals piled high in opulent mounds on, around, and beside a jasmine-flecked birch tar leather. Droplets of fragrant, rich, smooth and warm bergamot are splattered on top, while veins of spicy, resinous patchouli run underneath. The whole thing is then cocooned within a decadently boozy cloud of bourbon, rum, and vanilla which has turned dark, liqueured, and smoky at its edges from oud wood smoke and oud-derived resinous incense.
I love it, particularly as it’s pitch-perfect in balance on my skin with regard to sweetness. As many regular readers know, I have an extremely low tolerance for sticky, sugary, gooey, or hardcore gourmands. A lot of vanillas are far too saccharine for my tastes and I wasn’t totally crazy about Spiritueuse Double Vanilla. I mean, it was nice, but I think it’s overhyped, overly simplistic for the price, and far too sweet for me. Chinese Oud, however, counterbalances its liqueured sweetness with thick slashes of smoke, woods, dryness, and leather, thereby keeping the vanilla in check and preventing it and the accompanying booze from ever feeling cloying.
There is another component of Chinese Oud’s new development that is important now: the sandalwood. It is, in some respects, a new arrival. Previously, some hours back, it contributed indirectly to the textural changes in Chinese Oud, serving first to soften out the darker, smokier, and leathery notes, then to render the roses as soft as a newborn’s skin. However, it isn’t until the 7th hour that one can easily pull out the sandalwood as a distinct, unmistakable note in its own right.
Just as the other notes in Chinese Oud take turns to bloom, flow, then ebb, so, too, does the sandalwood. Having slowly inched its way onto center stage, it blossoms further and further in the hours that follow. Slathered with vanillic rose petal cream, ambered resins, indolic jasmine, incense, wood smoke, and smoke-tinged vanilla booze à la Spiritueuse Double Vanille, the sandalwood becomes a real knock-out. It is floral and citrus-flecked in a manner briefly evocative of Ensar Oud‘s superb Santal Sultan, but it’s also extremely different, more complex, softer, more approachable, milder, and nowhere near as musky or dark. That said, this Chinese sandalwood is much like aged, 1970s vintage Mysore in feel to me — and what a truly beautiful combination when paired with the mounds of clotted cream roses, jasmine, vanilla, and booze.
Vintage Égoïste (especially the Concentrée version) is an even stronger olfactory comparison that keeps flittering in and out of my mind, but I’m not sure I can explain it without causing misunderstandings. I’m not saying that Chinese Oud smells like Égoïste when taken as a whole, but one particular component makes me think of the great Chanel fragrance nonetheless: the creamy, skintastic quality of roses layered with the buttery Mysore sandalwood, oodles of vanilla, and soft lashings of leathery smoke over a warm, ambery base. Chinese Oud is, of course, an oud fragrance and also quite different in terms of concentration, richness, and depth as well. But if Chanel ever did a flanker to Égoïste and used oud, syrupy, indolic jasmine and vanillic booze in lieu of tobacco, cinnamon, and carnation, then the end result might well resemble the Areej fragrance during its 8th to 10th hour.
By the way, while I love vintage Égoïste, I should add that it has been about 5 years since I wore either it or the Concentrée version, so I’m talking broad strokes here, not identical cloning or a note-by-note rendition. Though I realize the tobacco and cinnamon are significant parts of Égoïste, its great shining beauty and fundamental heart in my mind have always been the bouquet of roses, vanilla, Mysore, and amber, lashed together with threads of smoky leather (or leathery smoke), then drizzled with warm, fragrant citruses. The fact that Égoïste finishes with a slightly powdery quality due to (unlisted) tonka/coumarin also parallels parts of Chinese Oud’s drydown, as you’ll see in a moment.
At the start of the 10th hour, Chinese Oud shifts to show off another new facet: powderiness. It’s nothing like makeup or face powder and it’s pretty minimal and mild, but there is some powderiness nonetheless. I’m pretty sure it must be some coumarin byproduct from the vanilla tincture because it has that tonka-like feel of something slightly grainy, softly crumbly, and lightly vanillic. Égoïste’s base has the same thing on me, though it’s much more prominent in post-2005 versions than in the old 1990, 1994, and 1998 samples that I got a few years ago when I thought (quite ridiculously) that I had the time and energy to do a guide on decades of Égoïste.
In the hours that ensue, Chinese Oud basically dissolves into a blur, though it is a lovely, cozy blur at that. At the end of the 12th hour, Chinese Oud is far more a floral woody musk with oriental embellishments than it is a floral leather or a floral oud oriental.
To be specific, it’s a fuzzy, overlapping haze of: creamy roses; creamy Mysore; creamy vanilla; gentle, naturalistic skin musk; an occasional flicker of jasmine; a drop of Bourbon vanilla rum; a whisper of oud woodiness; and the softest sprinkling of vanillic powder, all over a glowingly golden base.
In its final hours, Chinese Oud turns into a comforting, skintastic embrace of soft, creamy, sweet, ambery golden woods with the merest hint of something floral about it. If I press my nose deep into my arm, I can make out the creamy sandalwood with its touches of vanillic sweetness, vanillic powder, and something that just barely hints at jasmine syrup. But, for the most part, Chinese Oud is nothing more than golden, woody creaminess and, sometimes, creamy, golden woodiness.
SCENT VERSION #2, — MY RIGHT ARM:
On my peculiar right arm, the extra dry skin (I add lotion every night, I swear on the soul of the late Hairy German!!!) creates a slightly different version of Chinese Oud.
There are a few separate things that happen, mostly involving the timing, order, strength, or prominence of various notes. First, my skin absolutely eats up Chinese Oud’s top notes at double or even triple the time of the rest of the parts of my body (e.g., my neck or chest).
Second, it feels as though the same quantity of scent results in a much more muffled, muted version of Chinese Oud. So not only does my skin rapidly go through the opening notes at double speed, but it also filters everything through a thick blanket or fog. The result is that the exact same scent application results in a dampening field where all the notes feel like shadow versions of themselves.
Third, on this crazy arm, the Hainan agarwood actually does open with raw hide layered with a musky oud-ish creaminess. However, they’re minor flickers and only last about 5 minutes. There is still no blue cheese, steaming hot cow patties, goats, or barnyards.
Fourth, the florals kick in sooner, although, again, everything feels as though it’s been muffled or filtered through a blanket. Also, the bergamot is initially much stronger, richer, and more prominent.
The greatest olfactory difference, however, is that Chinese Oud #2 is significantly woodier, drier, smokier, and less lush on my right during the first two hours. It’s basically what always happens with that arm. The significance of this is that Chinese Oud is feels more like a woody oud fragrance than an oud leather. In fact, during this time, the leather doesn’t evoke birch tar or anything Cuir de Russie-like in style whatsoever but, rather, regular oud leather. (I honestly find that there is a difference in the scent of those leathers, especially when you consider the “leather” that develops with some Hindi ouds versus the birch tar leather of some Cuir de Russies.)
The divergences don’t last, and Chinese Oud #2 on my right arm basically turns into the softer version of Chinese Oud #1 on my left arm shortly before the third hour and for several hours after that during the main heart phase. Both fragrances more or less follow the same general, broad strokes, olfactory path except in terms of performance — strength, body, depth, sillage (closer to the body), and longevity (much, much worse)— until the drydown begins.
During the main heart phase, the olfactory overlap is, as I said, close or somewhat similar, but everything feels as though it’s been filtered through thick fog or a Bavarian duvet. For example: the Opium-Coromandel “incense” is the same but it’s also mixed with more oud wood smoke at the same time and is much milder in power; the Guerlain floral leather echoes are slightly, maybe 45%, the same (though significantly fainter and with woody oud instead of oud leather or oud-ish “birch tar” leather); the rose creaminess is the same, though much thinner and less full-bodied or rich on this arm; and the Egoiste echoes are the same (though, again, muffled and thinner).
Where Version #2 of Chinese Oud diverges, however, is during the first part of the drydown which is completely different on me, perhaps because the bergamot begins a major surge after Chinese Oud turns into a skin scent. Also, the bergamot remains a major factor for hours.
In essence, at the seven-hour mark, which is after Chinese Oud Version # 2 has turned into a skin scent, it radiates a simple but nice mix of bergamot, vanilla, and woodiness (both quietly singed oud wood chips and creamy, pale sandalwood), all wrapped up and tied in a bundle with wisps of slightly indolic, somewhat syrupy jasmine.
In its final hours, Chinese Oud goes back to smelling like Version #1 in its analogous phase: all that’s left is an ambered haze of creamy woodiness, vanillic sweetness, an occasional ephemeral suggestion of wood smoke, and an even more fleeting wisp of something vaguely floral.
I’ve taken the time to delineate all this lest your skin also eats through top notes like Pac-Man, muffles even strong or rich scents, and also amplifies dark, woody, smoky, and base notes. If so, then your experience of Chinese Oud might be similar and not quite as glorious as the version that appears on my main/left arm (and also my neck and chest).
However, let me say this: I have always said that quantity or scent application amounts impact what notes will bloom or what the scent performance will be like. I wasn’t hugely generous in my scent application on arm #2 because I was aware that the fragrance had already sold out and that this 10 ml bottle would be all that I had left. If I hadn’t already used up so much in testing — two times on my main left arm, and two squirts each on my neck and chest — then I would have felt freer to apply a compensatory amount — like, say, 4 or 5 or 6 sprays— on the arm which I know is always ravenous and eats through scent like a barracuda.
You can just do that from the start if you have similarly wonky skin. Just apply more than I did and give Chinese Oud a chance to really bloom because, to quote L’Oreal, “you [and Chinese Oud] are worth it.”
PERFORMANCE — SILLAGE, PROJECTION & LONGEVITY:
Let’s talk about performance now, primarily for Chinese Oud on my normal/left arm in Version #1. In a nutshell, Chinese Oud’s sillage and projection perform much like a really old, aged Guerlain extrait on my skin. That said, I was surprised at just how soft and quiet the opening was during the first 20 minutes and with three sprays from the 10 ml decant. (To be precise, it was more like 2 full spray, plus a half squirt the third time around.)
Chinese Oud opened with about 5-6 inches of sillage and about 2 inches of projection off the arm. The scent cloud felt very soft, diffuse, and close to the body, though when smelled up close, the notes were rich, deep, and hefty.
However, roughly 30-35 minutes in, things change once the Hainan oud takes over as the driving force. The scent trail grows from about 6 inches to about 9-10 inches, and the projection when I bring my nose close to my arm seems both greater and stronger.
Even so, Chinese Oud does not have the power of something like, say, Russian Oud, Siberian Musk, or Ottoman Empire. Instead, Chinese Oud performs a lot like my 1930s versions of Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue, and Shalimar extraits. None of those fragrances radiate on me even halfway across a room. In the case of Chinese Oud, and in the absence of a huge scent application like a ton of sprays, I find that the fragrance performs more like Walimah Attar or some of the softer fragrances in recent ALD series like, for example, S6’s Cuir de Russie on skin. There is nothing wrong with any of this, and I’m not being critical, but just don’t expect a fragrance that will radiate across a room or a nightclub (assuming that one went to such things in the era of Covid).
Chinese Oud Version #1’s numbers change pretty quickly on me. The initial increase that I had mentioned drops down after 90 minutes, going back to the opening numbers. About 3.5 hours in, the projection remains the same at about 2 inches above the skin but the sillage is now about 3-4 inches.
At the 6.25 hour mark, the sillage is the same, the projection drops to about an inch or less, but the immense booziness makes the fragrance feel so much denser and heftier in body somehow. Roughly 8.25 hours on, Chinese Oud hovers just above the arm, but the scent is easy to detect up close. Obviously, there is no scent trail whatsoever at this point.
Chinese Oud turns into a skin scent on me about 10.25 hours into its development but it’s not difficult to detect up close until late in the 13th hour when I have to put my nose right on my arm and inhale hard. Be that as it may, the skin-hugging scent perseveres for a few more hours; I just have to put my nose on my arm to detect it. In total, Version #1 of Chinese lasted just bit past 17.75 to 18 hours. (In a second test on this right arm and using only 2 small sprays/squirts, Chinese Oud lasted between 15 and 16 hours.)
Version #2 of Chinese Oud on my voracious right arm does not fare well, even though I applied the exact same 3 squirt amount as on my left arm. It’s a soft scent on me from the start and has quiet, rather intimate sillage. (To be fair, this blasted arm of mine will eat through everything except woody-amber aromachemicals which, to my chagrin, it actually amplifies.) Things are so bad on this arm that Chinese Oud became a skin scent on me at the 6.5 hour mark! Chinese Oud felt like it was close to dying in the 9th hour, and it just barely managed to crawl for life to 11.75 hours before it gave up the fight against my skin and died.
ALL IN ALL:
I’ve taxed your patience long enough so I’ll try to be as brief as possible here in my overview. I wouldn’t add the following were it not relevant.
Among the many reasons I like Chinese Oud are some unrelated to scent, per se. I think the fragrance is more refined than some past ALD oud florals or oud leathers, in part because the agarwood varietal itself is so refined and smooth on my skin. Some of the ouds used in, say, ALD S5 and S6 (only to use the series currently freshest in my memory) had a more butch quality at times or felt like ouds on steroids when it came to smoke, dryness, leather, animalics, and/or muskiness.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is a time and place for every sort of oud, just as there is for every style of scent or every fragrance family. I frequently enjoyed the smokiness, muskiness, rawness, and intensity of the fragrances in ALD S6 and many prior seasons. But Chinese Oud feels like a step further along the path of ease and refinement when the fragrance is taken as a complete whole. As I said in my Saturday all-night/Sunday Twitter breakdown:
7. By "tamer," I mean 2 things: the oud is smoother, more rounded, less in your face; and 2) the fragrance as a cumulative whole is more harmonious & easier to pull off in a variety of situations than say, Ottoman Empire, which was a big, drama statement, diva, bombshell scent.
— Kafkaesque (@Kafkaesque_Blog) February 28, 2021
Look, I’m the first one say how much I love Ottoman Empire and Siberian Musk (which I placed in a tie for #1 on my Best of list for that year), as well as many other grand, bombshell, almost black-tie worthy Areej fragrances. (Antiquity, my love!) But one of the reasons why I loved Russian Oud so much was that it felt easier to wear on a regular mortal, day-to-day basis, and more approachable. I could wear Russian Oud to bed at night or to the vet or doctor. I really wouldn’t for Antiquity, Ottoman Empire, Siberian Musk, or a few others unless I was having a really, really terrible day. (And even then, not to my vet or doctor!)
Chinese Oud feels as though it falls between those two points on the spectrum. In that regard, it functions or feels like the lovely, sunny Areej Le Doré Siberian Summer (which I reviewed on Twitter), except Chinese Oud feels more sophisticated and much chic-er. (Okay, it’s not quite as easy or versatile as Siberian Summer may have been but that was an unusual scent, in my opinion, for ALD. The opulence, intensity, and/or power of other Areej bouquets, materials, and semi-vintage grandeur render many of them things that you might want to save for a special day.(Unless you’re my mother, who will wear four or five or six blasts of War & Peace II even to Trader Joe’s. Oy!)
My point is that Chinese Oud is yet one more example that Russian Adam has come a long (and fascinating) way from some of his early ALD collections or from the Feel Oud era in terms of refining his craft and his creations. In fact, it might be the best example yet. I was probably the first blogger to write at length about Russian Adam in his Feel Oud days, and I was awed then (and still am now) at the sheer physicality of what he did in distilling artisanal ouds by hand, not to mention his lovely Feel Oud agarwood oils. But there is no denying the simplicity of his work then as compared to now.
Yes, granted, a distilled oil could never have the range of complexity of a blended fragrance but, even if we look purely as his ALD work, I still think he’s refined his skills, his creations, his understanding of scent combinations, and his blending/balance of some of the bolder, more animalic, or more challenging materials beyond several of the blockier, less graceful, less interesting, and/or less balanced fragrances in Series 2 onwards. (I don’t want to name names, but Atlantic Ambergris and Inverno Russo, I’m partially thinking of you. Also, I can’t say that I remember a single thing about Flux de Fleur at this point, nor do I have any interest in refreshing my memory.)
I suppose what I’m saying is: “Really nice job, Russian Adam. You’ve come a long way.”
Disclosure: My 10 ml bottle was provided courtesy of the company. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, I always write my honest thoughts, and my opinions are my own.