In the modern niche market there exists a strong rift between the synthetic and naturally derived oud within a fragrance.
One camp focuses on the natural derivation of oud. Treated minimally, and constructed through an exercise in pairing complements. The consequence is an oud placed in a position of high reverence. For instance, the enchanting attar formulation is an exercise in gluttony and regality, unapologetically loading the agarwood among animalics, spice and rose. Mona di Orio’s intelligent and innovative Oud Osmanthus relies on substitution where the application of rose is swapped for osmanthus. What this does is alter the usual relationship without disrupting the tension, bringing the oud and complimentary floral component even closer together. Osmanthus flower’s rich presence, leathery bounce and warm ripeness echo the agarwood material’s features while also presenting an enveloping floral element, presenting optimism towards a dark ingredient.
A synthetic mindset (not inferior) engages more freely with oud, bending it in interesting ways. Tom Ford does this particularly well. YSL’s M7 Oud Absolu offers similar effects of illusionism as Oud 27, however maintains an approachable, washed mindset through the crisp mineral effects of bitter myrrh balanced with sweet mandarin. Oud Wood is further white washed to the acceptable limits of synthetic oud, made herbaceous, clinical and clean. In Noir de Noir, oud is functionally moved to the back, present only on the mid-to-back of the palette as a way to support the luscious surrounds of rose and dark truffle chocolate. Tobacco Oud instead relies on labdanum tied with a note of whisky to give fruitiness and an impression of chesterfields and cigars giving a well-padded quality.
Le Labo’s Oud 27 manages to merge this rift in which synthetics are used and are unusually exalted shamelessly, while the naturalistic approach is taken where the best and worst qualities of agarwood are utilised.
It is a struggle to find any presence of real oud in Oud 27, rather relying on the power of suggestion to formulate a passable illusion of its namesake ingredient. 27 embraces the construction of a fragrance through the synthetic.
Photo by Liberty
Pull apart what is expected of oud – the fecal undulation balanced against florality, the classical mindset, found everywhere from Shalimar, Arpege, and No. 5. Further, the challenging, somewhat peculiar personality inherent in oud and its natural complexity: presenting impressions of ripeness, fruit, plastic, musty old books, and rubber, which are also found in applications of patchouli, incense, leather, honey, amber, and animalics (read: more musky civet), are mimicked here. The clinical clean and hidden calm undertone found in the eye of the agarwood storm, bolstered with herbaceous notes. Each of these aspects in Oud 27 is recreated, without actually relying on the natural material itself to create these effects.
Oud 27 relies on no tension to produce diffusion or neutralisation, rather, it spreads itself out as a tempestuous scent playing with aspects of cedar wood, tangy leather, and the vintage dusky chypric treatment of rose with a patchouli backbone. Spiced generously with black pepper, unstabilised with a pissy wash of incense, and smoothed with a high dosage of saffron. This is maximalism that at times doesn’t feel that way, generous to the point of gluttony, and more visceral than cerebral – heavy handed and carnal in a backseat encounter manner.
Overall, Oud 27 is linearly flat with great expanse, deliberately cryptic to create an idea of complexity, with a completely salty ‘banana skin’ funkiness that qualifies a labelling of oud. In that respect, it is a contemporary fragrance, at once an oud and not an oud. Regardless, Oud 27 is an exercise in the brashly synthetic scent inspired by exoticism and moved into legibility, something Etat Libre d’Orange’s Rien Incense Intense could learn from. Everything is present, the complementary components, the inky indoles, wood varnish, and burning industrial metal/rubber/plastic notes, the overtone of calmness and opulent refinement, and the velvety texture, but all that is missing is oud. Even without it, the fragrance is varied with chiaroscuro and tension. So, in attempting to create an oud style, Oud 27 is a resounding success. In attempting to use oud, Oud 27 is a complete failure, and a good one at that.
Subjective rating : 4/5
Objective rating: 4/5