Perfume Notes by James Peterson
I’ve always been drawn to the expensive and precious. Diamond necklaces in Tiffany catalogues and twenty-dollar gold pieces never fail to draw a second glance and a twinge of desire. When I discovered that oud costs many times more than gold, my fascination grew such that I had to track some down. When the sample arrived at my door, I thought it was some kind of mistake since so little was in the vial. But once I opened it, I was struck by an ethereal yet animal scent that smelled of a barnyard crossed with the most pronounced and complex wood aroma I had ever smelled. After acquiring more samples—each one was different—I set out to make an oud perfume.
Despite the popularity of oud perfumes, few people know what oud is. Oud oil is distilled from agarwood trees found in India and southeast Asia. To produce oud, the trees must be mature and ideally rather old. They must be attacked by a particular fungus that turns the wood black and makes it so heavy that it sinks in water. People trek through many miles of dense jungle to find a tree that they then bring out in logs. A single tree may be worth well into the six figures and will have its own special character.
I discovered that some ouds are like super highways or bullet trains, sleek and streamlined while other ouds are more like dirt roads. Now don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against dirt roads. In fact, I usually prefer them to super highways. The only problem is that these dirt roads may smell like a subtle blend of various notes of animal effluvia, exotic mushrooms, fields of wild flowers, fruits, and, of course, the smell of wood, not just wood but whole jungle forests.
But describing oud in these terms is analogous to similar describing of wines. I’ve smelled ouds as complex as 50-year-old Bordeaux and Burgundies, yet I can buy 3 ml of very fine oud for $600 for 3 ml, the price of even a bottle of even young wine, from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti. Since I only take a swipe every month or two, my bottle of oud will probably out live me.
One of oud’s miraculous characteristics is its immediately accessible complexity. The same kind of complexity in wine (think Burgundy, Barolo, Brunello, Bordeaux, Mosel, Reingau, Champagne…) is far from cheap and, in any case, is a one-time event. I don’t mean to imply that oud can replace the gentle euphoria produced by the ingestion and aroma of fine wine, but it does have a calming effect in that it forces you to concentrate. It’s a hard thing to just let it wash over you, the aroma of wood and its nuances of licorice, tangerine, pine, gravel and earth. There’s something in it that’s vaguely anal (but not fecal) in a pleasing, sexually stimulating, way. Oud (in particular the burning chips of wood) is used for meditation and draws one’s attention away from the travails of the world.
I know that there are plenty of oud perfumes out there, but frankly they rarely smell of oud. They may contain facets of oud but rarely the whole picture. After much experimentation, including working with ingredients such as nagarmotha that emulate oud’s aroma, I’ve discovered that the only way to make an oud perfume is to put a frightening amount of oud in it.
The oud used in Brooklyn Perfume Company’s oud is cultivated in Assam, in northeast India and is completely sustainable. It has a complex wood aroma reminiscent of fruits, musk and honey. It also has a tiny bit of funk that might remind you of cheese, but the most delicious cheese you’ve ever tasted.
Enjoy your oud in the day or evening. When you first apply the oud, those around you will smell it. As the oud evaporates, only you and your lover will smell it. It’s a powerful aphrodisiac.
Wood, deeply earthy, a terroir reminiscent of the ancient, ethereal, fruity (grapefruit), funky, leather, musky, animalic, vanilla, fresh, deep, rich, floral (osmanthus), soft, musky.