Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Eastern Oud vs Western Oud: The Battle Begins!

In many spheres of life, there has always been some form of debate or another on the battles between the east and the west. But this time, our battle is something of immense importance. Forget about the conflict of civilisations or conflicts of culture or religion – we have a more important battle to fight here and this is a battle of interest to perfumistas or perfumistos: this is the battles of the Ouds. We all know that many mainstream fragrance houses, including the likes of Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Lancȏme and Dolce & Gabbana have included the oud notes within their fragrance lines. But are they the real deal? Does it matter? The actual fact of the matter is, is that it would be nearly impossible (note I say nearly) for mainstream fragrance houses to include the real deal in their precious formulas, and this is mainly down to the fact that the authentically delicious, sometimes referred to as disgustingly faecal oud, need hundreds of years, and in some cases even more time to mature into the final splendour of a perfume note. By looking at the rate that these oud based fragrances are being released by perfume houses, year in year out, it would be impossible that there would be such easy access to ouds created from the world’s rarest and endangered species of trees. Many oud producing trees of Southeast Asia, such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Burma have local strict regulatory practices in place, providing protections to these endangered species of trees, creating even less access to the preciously prized ouds. It will not come as a huge surprise, however, when we come to know that some fragrance houses have admitted to using synthetic versions of oud oil, all reeking with its barnyard deliciousness, which is really what fragrance formulae call out for. Firmenich produces Oud Synthetic 10760E, which has very mixed reviews; described as being full bodied, rich and earthy – all elements that we would expect in an oud perfume, whereas it has also been described as having a lack of strength and the right elements of real ouds. To a trained oud nose, synthetic oud screams up through the various floral and sweet notes of the likes of Tom Ford perfumes, being very apparent. In fact, the more it smells like oud, the higher the likelihood is that it isn’t. Being a natural product, each individual distillation would produce oils of various different characteristics, with its notes dancing along to punctuate the surrounding environment it is native to, absorbing the essence of it. With synthetic oud, there is none of that rustic feel, and that characteristic that make ouds so special.
The warms, the woodies, and the punctuated deep floral notes of ouds can be easily reformulated – and it is this base that the large fragrance houses desire, arguably defeating the whole purpose behind oud. Its exclusivity vanishes along with its natural reserves of the prized Aquilaria tree. Within the range of authentic ouds, the grade scale is quite vast – with the best and the smelliest of course reserved for the Arab Royal houses, going down the scale to the lowest grades, usually found in Attar Mukhallats – which historically have acquired its place profoundly within the Arabian luxury goods markets, appealing to local populations of the region for whom oud based fragrances are as common as the English cup of tea. Until relatively recently, even the Arabian luxury perfume niche fragrance markets have had to resort to using the synthetic ouds, to please the well refined tastes of local oud connoisseurs – making western mainstream brands not the only culprit.

So, is this really a battle of the oud and who has won? Although high quality excellent ouds are still available, with trees still producing them, albeit in varying maturities and quality, the Arab world still holds the position of being the beacon of Arabian oud, when it comes to expertise and blending – the historical heritage assures that position. But at the end of the day, it is the oud itself that has won the battle – since it has earned its prized position all over the world, driving demand within the perfume niche markets, boasting its uniquely tasteful unrefined qualities – whether those be authentic or synthetic.


  1. That was fascinating.I am sure some of my fragrances have synthetic oud .I admit I am only getting to like that.The price of the Arabian ouds is beyond me ,alas.I would pay a great deal for Taif rose though.Keep up the good work.

    1. Angie I am so glad that you enjoyed the read! Yes, once you become more acquainted with the oud, you will certainly notice the differences, however small. Taif Rose is also one of my favourites too, and I treasure my small collection of it, as it were gold! :)

  2. So sorry if I got you into trouble with Kelly on Facebook Fragrance group. I was told off myself for saying I was ill. Angie <3

  3. Hahaha its OK - no problems. I am used to getting told off ;)