Friday, March 9, 2012

Persolaise Review: Oud from Maison Francis Kurkdjian (2012) + Give-away Reminder


THIS POST WAS SHORTLISTED IN THE 'DIGITAL' CATEGORY
OF THE 2012 JASMINE AWARDS

When I announced the news that Francis Kurkdjian’s next perfume would be an oud, the responses I received weren’t exactly filled with enthusiasm. “I’m all oud-ed out,” one person wrote. Many others shared her feelings.

You can’t blame people for being apathetic. Oud has featured in the names or the notes lists of a ridiculous number of releases of the last few years, to the extent that it now feels as though everybody has added an agar wood scent to their line up. Tom Ford, Armani, Dior, The Different Company, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Le Labo, Byredo... the list really does go on.

Current attitudes to the perceived profitability of the ingredient are best summed up by M7. When the fragrance appeared in 2002, YSL decided they didn’t need to place excessive emphasis on their claim that it was the first western fragrance to feature an oud note. But for the 2011 reissue, they saw fit to add the words ‘Oud Absolu’ to its name. Incidentally, I have it on reliable authority that YSL’s assertion has always been suspect: apparently Caron beat them in the race to the agar tree by about 25 years when they used some oud in 1976’s Yatagan. But I digress.

Is the stuff in all these perfumes the real McCoy or is it a synthetic substitute? Is the oud frenzy being fuelled by the demands of the Middle Eastern market? Does it show any sign of abating? In some senses, the answers to these questions don’t really matter. The more interesting issue - in relation to today's review - is the ingredient’s place in the palette of ‘western’ perfumers.

Until now, there has been a clear dividing line running through the agar wood scents created by European and North American perfume houses. On one side are those in which the perfumers have gone straight for the tried-and-tested ‘Arabian’ approach. And on the other are the fragrances which allegedly fuse oud’s characteristics with Occidental structures... but which actually achieve nothing of the sort. So, in the first camp we have the likes of Roja Parfums’ Aoud and Heeley’s new Agarwoud which don’t set out to shift their star component’s cultural allegiance: they’re happy to operate within the traditional territory of rose, sandalwood, patchouli and leather notes. That’s absolutely fine: such perfumes offer a great deal of pleasure, which is probably why their basic accords have been around for centuries.

The second, smaller camp houses products like Oud from Mona Di Orio. In an attempt to present the eponymous material in a different light - or to make it more palatable to non-Arabian tastes - these perfumes’ formulae drown the agar beneath other notes, to the extent that it becomes virtually unnoticeable and ceases to warrant a mention in the fragrances’ names. There is nothing wrong with such scents per se, but they’re not really ‘oud perfumes’. They may contain the ingredient somewhere in their structure, but then not all fragrances which contain vetivert automatically become ‘vetivert scents’. If you’re going to name your perfume after an ingredient or a note, the least you can do is offer punters what they’re expecting to smell.

At this point, it’s worth mentioning that there are a few recent creations which have used oud without the fanfare of sticking the three-letter word on their bottles. Pierre Guillaume casually lists it as one of the ingredients of his L’Eau Guerrière and I wouldn’t be surprised if Dominique Ropion had poured some into Portrait Of A Lady.

This is all a terribly circuitous way of saying that, so far, we hadn’t been offered a bona fide oud perfume which truly bridges the gap between east and west, a scent which comes across as convincingly European without obliterating every aspect of agar wood’s distinctiveness. François Demachy’s Leather Oud for Dior may be one of the most striking releases of recent years, but as far as today's debate is concerned, it isn't the missing link we've been awaiting: it’s more leather than oud, and it’s about as European as Marrakesh.

But now we have Kurkdjian’s latest effort. For a start, it undoubtedly earns its name: be it synthetic or natural, there’s something in this juice that smells very believably oud-y (or, for the uninitiated: woody, leathery, faecal, boozy, earthy and petrol-like). It plays down the animalic aspects and opts to extend the drier, more peppery facets with the addition of Atlas cedar wood and elemi. So far, so souq.

Then comes the twist! Kurkdjian injects a citrus note into the top section and places the whole over a synthetic musk whose size and sweetness are just two spin cycles away from tumbling into fabric softener territory. In other words, he has given us nothing less than CK Oud... and guess what: it’s good stuff! The balance between the two elements is as impressive as a bridge spanning the Bosphorus. The oud never stops being an oud and the lighter, safer (dare I say: preppier) facet holds its own too. Just when you think the equilibrium has shattered and the whole has given way to bland hygiene, something darker in the structure rises to the surface for a moment and gives you a reassuring wink. And like any scent that leans heavily on musks, it melds with the wearer's skin and displays impressive tenacity.

Depending on how it’s marketed - and, of course, how it’s received - this new Oud may well turn out to be a landmark creation. It represents a successful attempt to place agar wood within European olfactory codes without compromising its identity. It pays homage to the ingredient without kowtowing to any cliches. It’s refreshing, in every sense of the word. It's surprising. And, most poetically, it’s been given to us by someone whose roots lie not just in France, but also in a land beyond the Black Sea.

[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Maison Francis Kurkdjian in 2012.]

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Please don't forget that you have less than a week left to enter the exclusive draw for a special 30 ml bottle of the brand new Opus VI from Amouage. Even if you're not interested in the draw, do take the time to read the comments people have left on the post: many of them are incredibly touching and thought-provoking. And be sure to come back on the 16th for a triple whammy: another exciting draw, a special post AND some news about my Top Secret Writing Project.

Have a great weekend,

Persolaise.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review.

    I used to wear CK One, but I can't imagine it having an oud twist. I'm very, very intrigued.

    Shomla

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, I'm a new follower ~ looking for a great perfume blog, and I've found it! ♥♥
    Best,
    Anne

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a fantastic review, Persolaise! I'm so excited to hear that this may be the first Western Oud. Very fascinating perspective and, as always, well-written, too. Is this next year's Jasmine Award?

    xoxo

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  4. Shomla, thanks for writing. It's the synthetic musks that made me think of a connection with CK One. If you try the scent, let me know what you make of it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anne, you're very welcome. I hope you enjoy what you read here.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Jen, thanks very much indeed. Next year's Jasmine? I appreciate the confidence!!

    ReplyDelete

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