Oud... The Sexiest Scent Around?

There’s something about this musky, heady oil that’s driving master perfumers and scent-lovers crazy. We read between the cryptic whiffs of this Middle Eastern gem to decode what makes it so desirable.

10 August, 2018
Oud... The Sexiest Scent Around?

Perfume has been known as the ultimate tool of seduction. Research has proven that not only does it make you feel more attractive, it also acts as a carnal catalyst. Oud is one such intoxicating scent that has caught the fancy of perfumers around the world. And its arousing powers have been the subject of many a study. One research published in the Personality And Individual Differences journal even concluded that this dark resin’s smoke boasts of a mysterious alchemy that can make anyone go weak at the knees. Just imagine, what it can do to you when spritzed on for date night. Do we have your attention? Thought so. Here, everything you need to know about the scent du jour...

If you’ve been to the Middle East, chances are you’re already familiar with oud. It’s a type of oil, derived from agar wood, a tree found mainly in South East Asia (including India and Bangladesh). When the inside of the agar wood gets infected by insects, it leads to fungus or mould inside the tree. The tree then attempts to defend itself by creating agar wood: a fragrant, dark resinous heartwood, which is also known as the ‘wood of the Gods’. And that is where oud comes from. While it sounds simple, it takes decades to form—the very best oud comes from some of the oldest trees, which have an unparalleled complexity and richness of aroma. The only way of knowing which trees carry oud at their core is by chopping them, which means a lot of innocent trees are cut down as oud hunters look for a jackpot (sad face). Sold in teeny-tiny bottles at an astronomical price, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill oil. A recent study, sparked by the sudden obsession with oud, claimed that less than two percent of wild agar trees produce it, making it one of the most expensive perfume ingredient known to human nose. 

As an ingredient, oud has a long and glorious history. Back in the third century AD, the Chinese extracted it from central Vietnam to use it as incense for religious ceremonies. By the 16th century, the Vietnamese traders began exporting it to Japan along with China as the demand for incense grew. While its roots are in South East Asia, Middle Easterners are the biggest consumers of oud in the world. For years, people who went
to Dubai (the unofficial oud capital of the world), picked it up as a keepsake to take back home. But for Arabs, it isn’t just oil, it’s tradition—using it for religious ceremonies, as an oil, and perfume. If you’ve been raised on delicate, floral fragrances or fresh, citrusy ones, you might find this rich scent a bit much to take in at first. When Elie Saab, the Beirut-based designer, decided to launch his first fragrance, he consciously stayed away from this ingredient in order to create a lighter fume for the Western market.
But we have the globe-trotting Emiratis to thank for bringing oud into the spotlight. As European perfumers saw them layering this ‘black gold’ (a term given to oud, considering its price matches that of gold) with modern fragrances, brands like Jo Malone London and Tom Ford picked up on the trend, making way for oud in mainstream perfumery. When Jo Malone London came out with the Oud & Bergamot Cologne Intense, the House thought it would be region specific. But it turned out to be a huge hit everywhere... And now almost every fragrance house has a ’fume spotlighting the note. 

However, they’re merely using it as a supporting act, as real oud on its own can be a bit overwhelming for the average scent-wearer. But that’s the thing with scents—it’s only ever as good as the sum of its parts. And in order to make people appreciate its earthy, sexual scent, perfumers often dilute oud with other ingredients like patchouli and amyris. Fragrances like Guerlain Rose Nacrée du Désert or Dior Oud Ispahan use a palate of oud, saffron, sandalwood and rose attar to veil its bold scent. There are synthetic ouds, too, but it’s not easy to mimic the original, which is often described as complex, woody, and barnyard. It’s a scent that goes on strong and dries into something potent and mysterious. 

Layering scents is all the rage at the moment. But it's an old trick—even our grandmothers knew that slathering on a matching body cream underneath one’s favourite scent would increase its longevity, as moist skin holds perfume better. But if you think about it, it’s just like make-up: you get to decide the kind of coverage you want, light or intense, and build it up. The one thing we learnt while trying out all the delectable oud-based scents is that if you’re layering oud with another fragrance, apply both of them in different areas. The heavier one (like the oud) should be applied on pulse points, and the lighter ones on hair and clothes—so that they work in harmony.

Consulting Perfumer, Ajmal Perfumes


“As a brand with over 65 years of experience in the intricate art of perfumery, we’ve been working with oud-based fragrances for a long time. Most of our fragrances are oud-based, and looking at the newfound oud craze, we recently launched Oudesire. It was actually my late uncle Nazir Ajmal’s personal fragrance, who was also the nose of the brand. Oudesire is an aristocratic blend, created with timeless oud fused with spicy and floral notes—giving you a fragrance that’s lush with the best of both worlds. Oud on its own is very potent and enticing, and we decided to add a dash of contemporary notes to make it more appealing and easy to wear.”

Founder and MD, Forest Essentials


“The Western markets might have just caught on with the oud trend, but the Vedic literature talks about its use for skin, in perfumery, incense and fragrant balms since 2000 BC. Oud has stimulating properties when applied to
the skin—it retains moisture levels exceptionally, to make the skin soft, supple and hydrated, and also leaves one enveloped in a long-lasting sharp, musky scent. This Forest Essentials Body Mist is created with oud sourced from Assam (it has the finest agar wood in India) and refreshing green tea, which leaves you with a long lasting aroma. It has a refreshing effect on the senses and also keeps skin hydrated.”

Founder, Mocemsa


“We have two oud-based fragrances in our current range: Al Ameera and Al Ameer. And it’s probably the most expensive compound I have worked with, to date. We wanted to create something that would capture the Middle Eastern essence by blending the old and the new. For both fragrances, we sourced oud from Assam and Cambodia; and the other ingredients that we’ve worked with include sandalwood from Mysore, saffron oil from Kashmir, cardamom from West Bengal, and hinoki."