Oudh: The Scent of Luxury

It’s intense, it’s exotic and irresistibly sensual. Meet oudh oil, one of the rarest and most expensive olfactive ingredients, also called the ‘liquid gold’. Here’s tracing the journey of the note which is most most-sought today in the world of western fine fragrances.

Rich and earthy, sweet and woody; oudh has a very distinct smell. It is truly a scent of luxury. Right now while everyone from Tom Ford to Versace, in the haute couture perfumery, is besotted by this precious aromatic ingredient, in the middle-east is a part of life. Oudh is burned over smouldering bits of coal in a metal cup called mabkharah. It is known to be an excellent scent for strengthening the body and the mind. The day begins by smoking the abayas and kandhuras with a waft of oudh burned on charcoal. During the wedding season, the sale of oudh also goes up as it is burned copiously during wedding parties as a mark of opulent hospitality. A beautifully carved piece of oudh is part of the bride’s trousseau. A tiny vial of oudh oil is a popular wedding giveaway to the inner circle of guests. Traditionally, brides use Oudh fragrances on their wedding as it has an individuality that is missing in international brands. But since oudh perfume is much more expensive than the international designer brands which is why it is often saved only for special occasions. Conventionally, oudh in its oil form (dehan) is a considerable investment and is sold in bottles as tiny as 12 ml. Of course for the rich and famous it is a part of life.

The inheritance of luxury

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Why is it the most expensive ingredient in perfumery? “Because it’s so rare, it is precious,” explains Abdulla Ajmal, consultant perfumer, Ajmal Perfumes in India. He goes on to explain why oud oil is 1.5 times more expensive than gold, and why a piece of high-quality oudh can be more expensive than diamonds.

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“Oudh or oud comes from the wood of the Southeast Asian agar tree. When the tree gets infected by a virus, which can be due to birds’ pecking or thunder lightning or even the bullets shot at the tree (like in Vietnam), it reacts by releasing a dark, scented resin that eventually what we refer to as Oudh. Now, Oudh is used to refer to both the resin-saturated wood (the agarwood) as well as the oil distilled from it. Oud is so expensive because of is its rarity. Agarwood trees are found in limited countries in South East Asia and even amongst those, fewer than 2 per cent of wild trees produce it. Even the left-over wood shavings and powder finds its use in perfumery.” India and oudh have strong ties as one of the finest qualities of agarwood in the world come from the state of Assam.

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Abdulla’s grandfather, Haji Ajmal Ali, a rice farmer by profession, moved to Mumbai, trading in the precious oudh from Agarwood tree in Assam. Today with 240 stores across the world (and counting), this homegrown company is one of the leading perfumery brands, and the indisputable leaders when it comes to the quality of oudh. Not only do they use oudh in their own perfumes but are also exporters to leading western perfumers.

Oudh is having a moment in the world of perfumery and not without a reason. It enhances the potency of other notes and lends a seductive earthy character to floral fragrances. The scent of oudh is like nothing else and that’s why world over perfumers and designers are homing on to this ingredient to give their composition a unique differentiation. “You need to smell real oudh to know what it smells like. It is not as overwhelming as many believe it to be but is amazingly uplifting. The earthy-sweet-almost-seductive scent of agarwood just fills up the senses,” explains Abdulla, a third-generation perfumer. Abdulla is credited taking the oud concept and making it as literal as possible while still accessible to the west. So the brand has on offer oudh compositions which are not just in traditional attar format but also in the form of modern French fragrances. Whether it is their unisex fragrance Oudesire, a heady mix of oudh and musk with lighter conventional top notes of rose, orange flower and jasmine or Khallab that’s a delectably invigorating scent because of fresh accords of grapefruit and rose, these scents leave a unique trail.

The new bridal must-have

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The scent of oudh is earthy and seductive, no wonder it is also famed as an aphrodisiac. Many of these scents are unisex and definitely for those who want to make a scented statement. In the last few years, both niche and designer brands have launched fragrances with oudh. If it’s designer brands you’re looking at, pick from Versace Oud Oriental, Dolce & Gabbana Velvet Desert Oud, Armani Prive Oud Royal, Valentino Valentina Oud Assoluto or Tom Ford Oud Fleur. If you go to want the more exclusive route to browse through niche brands which offer limited artisanal pieces. Musk Aoud by Roja Dove is a Chypre Floral fragrance that blends the classic floral-fruity notes with agarwood on a spicy base. Oud Wa Ward by Berdoues is a delicious blend of oudh and roses, perfect wedding fragrance if you crave a delicate balance. If you want to know how seduction smells, take a whiff of Ajmal Dahn Al Oudh Moattaq Perfume. It’s addictive, settles beautifully on the skin and is simply irresistible!
You may have heard “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue” for your wedding day. Why not borrow from this bridal tradition and add a bottle of oudh-based fragrance in your fragrance trousseau?

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The article was first published in Hair Magazine.

Author

  • Aparrna Gupta

    Transitioning from crafting stories for The Asian Age and Bombay Times to setting beauty trends in Verve, Aparrna Gupta’s journey has always revolved around resonant storytelling. Her prowess in content creation is unparalleled, with articles featured in renowned publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel India, Lifestyle Asia, Elle, and Femina. She also excels in content ideation, trend identification, mood board creation, and product styling. Her expertise has proven invaluable to homegrown brands, enabling them to authentically connect with their audience.

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