One might argue that Tom Ford ushered in the new dawn of oud fragrances — whether or not anyone wanted it — when he launched M7 for YSL fragrances in 2002. And, judging by the latter’s market bomb, no-one did want it. M7 was not just a trail-blazer and the first of its kind; it was also too original, unique, bold and, it seems, shocking for a world dominated by the freshness of (the revolting) Acqua di Gio. As I’ve discussed previously in my post on oud as the most popular, new trend in perfume, M7 was far ahead of its time.
When Tom Ford left YSL and began his own fashion line, it’s hardly surprising that he tried to remedy what may have been his first official failure. He returned to the oud well and launched Private Blend Oud Wood in 2007. Only, this time, he tried to make the oud (or agarwood) palatable, approachable and mild for the mainstream masses. (To read more about agarwood, you can turn to the Glossary, or to my post on the oud trend linked up above.)
And, he succeeded. Oud Wood is lovely and infinitely easy to wear, especially by the standards of many other agarwood fragrances in the market today. The reason is that — at the end of the day — Oud Wood is not a very oud fragrance at all. This is no nuclear Montale — a niche perfume house that has around 27 oud fragrances, all of which radiate post-apocalyptic intensity. And it’s not M7 either, a much sweeter, more potent, hard-core treatment of the subject. Though I’ve only tried the reformulated version of M7, I have to admit, I far preferred it to Tom Ford’s second foray into agarwood.
Exotic Rose Wood and Cardamom, blended with exuberant Chinese Pepper, envelop the wearer in warmth. Eventually, the center exposes a smokey blend of rare Oud Wood, Sandalwood and Vetiver. Finally, the creamy scents of Tonka Bean, Vanilla and Amber are revealed.
The full set of notes according to Now Smell This (NST) are:
rosewood, cardamom, Chinese pepper, oud, sandalwood, vetiver, tonka bean, vanilla and amber.
Oud Wood opens softly. Extremely softly for a Tom Ford fragrance, if I might add. It may be the softest opening I’ve ever experienced for one of his perfumes — Private Blend or regular collection! The very first impression is of rose and sweet, nutty cardamom. It’s lovely. There is also Szechuan pepper, earthy vetiver, and hints of rich vanilla as if from a freshly cut Madagascar bean.
Following in their footsteps is the faintly medicinal tones of oud. There is no huge bite to the oud, and I don’t think it’s mutedness is due to the fact that it is covered by a veil of spice and sweetness. Even putting aside the unique nature of Montale’s fragrances, the oud here is different to others that I have smelled. For example, the By Kilian oud fragrances in the Arabian Nights collection range from cold, stony oud in Pure Oud to almost no oud at all in Amber Oud. Tom Ford’s Oud Wood may be closest to Rose Oud with its rose and soft agarwood, but there is still a difference that is hard to explain. It’s as if the oud has been hidden here such that it’s merely providing small cameo performances here or there. It’s not the star, but it’s also not one of the main supporting actors either.
Thirty minutes in, it remains a fragrance that is predominantly rose, cardamom and oud. The latter has become slightly more prominent now with a heavier element of camphor. Its chilly undertones provide a balance to the rose notes that are frequently present in oud fragrances. And the combination of oud with the nutty, aromatic, sweetness of cardamom is absolutely gorgeous. But, despite that, Oud Wood is still much less sweet, and much dryer, than the (reformulated) version of M7. And, frankly, I think I would have preferred a little more sweetness.
It’s around this time that there is an unexpected twist: I’m convinced I smell mocha! Something in the interplay of the nutty, sweet cardamom with the agarwood and the earthy rootiness of the vetiver has led to a strong impression of mocha ice cream. I’m an enormous fan of the latter, so I’m very happy (though somewhat perplexed). Yet, despite that surprise, Oud Wood isn’t a particularly complex or complicated fragrance. It doesn’t morph or fundamentally change in a huge way, but perhaps that’s why it’s such an easy fragrance to wear.
About two hours in, the vetiver starts to truly emerge and it remains prominent for the length of the perfume’s development. Oud Wood is now primarily a vetiver, cardamom and (vaguely) oud fragrance with the rose becoming increasingly fainter. At the three-hour mark, sandalwood makes its appearance, pushing the rose completely off the stage and blending with the vanilla, cardamom and the earthy vetiver in a truly lovely manner. At times, it seems as though Oud Wood is mainly a vanilla vetiver with hints of oud and spice. At other times, it’s mostly sandalwood with vetiver. The perfume fluctuates and undulates, showing just how well-blended it is.
Four hours in, the perfume is extremely close to the skin and predominantly sandalwood with vetiver. The latter is increasingly sweet, fresh and bright green, reminding me of the aromatic fragrancy of lemongrass more than anything earthy or dark. It’s lovely, especially when combined with the spiced creaminess of the sandalwood. There are faint traces of vanilla and tonka, and the oud occasionally pops up like a fleeting Jack in the Box, but those are all minor things. The dry-down is mostly just sandalwood and vetiver.
I’m truly taken aback by the moderate sillage and brevity of the perfume. The projection is surprisingly mild and tame for a Tom Ford fragrance. Even more surprising, it has an unusually shortest duration: around 5.5 hours on my skin. I know I have peculiar skin, but I’m not alone in this one. From the review on NST to comments on Fragrantica, a large number of people have noted the average (or, for a Tom Ford, extremely below-average) projection, softness and mildness of the fragrance. On Fragrantica, there are repeated comments about how Oud Wood simply doesn’t last. (It’s enough to make one convinced that Tom Ford intentionally went to the exact opposite extreme of every single thing he did with M7.)
My greater difficulty, and one which has made this review a struggle to write, is that Oud Wood is hard to get extremely excited about. Please don’t mistake me, it’s an absolutely lovely fragrance and, if I had a full bottle, I would wear it. In fact, I would probably wear it frequently! It’s versatile, easy, uncomplicated, rich-smelling and that sandalwood dry-down is simply delicious. Oud Wood may even be my second favorite Tom Ford Private Blend fragrance. (I shall have to ponder that one.)
But it’s simply not remarkable. It’s hard to muster up enormous excitement for what is — by today’s standards in particular — a very average oud. I’m not criticizing it for that, especially as “average” was the express goal! Tom Ford already did “remarkable,” and fell on his tush. Personally, I’m still obsessed with smelling un-reformulated, original M7 but, since both it and the reformulated version have been discontinued, I’m out of luck for the moment. (It sometimes appears on eBay, so there is always hope.)
For those of you who have been unsuccessful with agarwood thus far but who really want to find an accessible oud to try, Tom Ford’s Oud Wood should be right up your alley. It’s really just a spiced, vanilla, vetiver, woody fragrance that simply happens to have some oud in it. It’s neither particularly sweet nor masculine. But it’s infinitely wearable, far from potent, very approachable, and utterly delicious at times. For those of you who have been previously traumatized by the bullying or “frat boy” aspects of some Tom Fords, you too may have better luck with this one. But if you’ve had greater exposure to the plethora of ouds on the market or are looking for a true agarwood fragrance, then this may be too tame for you.