Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Not to be confused with the Arabian instrument of the same name, Oud is a secretion produced by the Agarwood tree (or Aquillari Tree).

It's been used in Arabian perfume for centuries and appeals to the Middle Eastern preference for strong, rich scents made from high quality natural ingredients. It's only in the past few years that it appeared as a new, trendy note in Western perfumery, intially in niche perfumery.

As such, it was very much embraced by hipsters alongside joke beards (thankfully we seem to have to reach peak-beard some time ago, though oud survives!) and it's true to say that oud gets a bit of bad press in perfumista circles for this reason. Once marketing teams decide it's a trend there's no stopping its ubiquity. I'm kind of surprised not to see it sprinkled in cocktails or salads, like pomegranate seeds.

Nonetheless it was and is a welcome change from fruity, sweet patchouli style perfumes, which I'm far from alone in loathing. Most oud in contemporary western perfume is synthetic, since the authentic stuff is so rare, difficult to make and therefore expensive. Similarly to ambergris, oud varies in quality and effect due to an ageing process. In perfume it's quite difficult (for me anyway) to tell if it's the real thing, I've only tried one or two Arabian perfumes with a touch of oud, and in my far from expert opinion, I'd suggest the real thing is more challenging, the synthetic versions seem softer-edged and seem to have added synthetic woody musk of some description.

If you're into perfume you don't need a description of how oud smells; it's very distinct. From the Arabian oils I've tried I'd describe it in its authentic form as initially sharp, tarry, medicinal, sour, very dry, astringent and smoked in effect. The medicinal quality has been described by some as smelling like old-fashioned cloth plasters, which is pretty accurate - imagine a woody germolene scent or a touch of TCP left on aged wood and that's quite close.

It sounds unpleasant, but what it seems to do is refresh the nose; the foody equivalent might be a touch of mustard. I can definitely see why it's enjoyed in the Middle East - the dry quality is astringent and the effect in hot weather would be refreshing in an entirely different way from, say, a citrus scent. Perhaps more lasting. For example (to use another food and drink comparison) you can see why green tea is enjoyed in hot countries- the tannin astringency is more refreshing than a sticky, sweet drink could be. Citrus is cooling in effect, yet it does have a slight sweetness.

I think the other advantage of oud might be that it blends so beautifully with those classic notes of Arabian perfume, such as strong rose, aber and woody resins, which is why most oud-based perfume whether Arabian or Western, usually pairs rose and oud. Personally I love the combination. It lends a little dirt and depth to rose, yet unlike patchouli (often paired with rose) it's not cloying or heavy due to its dryness and the smoke-like effect. Add incense notes to this and it creates yet another harmonious facet.

For the purposes of this blog, I've dabbed a few samples on my arms and wrists (I also tried on a couple of new ones on my travels today when I dropped into a perfume department) so here are a few below (in order of least to most liked!) ...

Another Oud by Juliette Has a Gun
Hmm, another frutichouli with oud, more like! The combination of synthetic ice-cream sundae raspberry and austere oud is utterly wrong, though humorous in a way - evoking the soberly robed Muezzin of a Mosque being accosted by a lap-dancer wearing a pink vinyl bikini. Possible in this day and age, but just wrong!

Rose d'Arabie, by Armani PrivĂ© 
Very nice - oud warmed with amber, vanilla and damascus rose, but it's far too light and fleeting for this price. If I had money to recklessly throw away, I'd buy this as a daytime oud/rose.

Oud Cashmere Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Much as I love others from MFK's oud series, this appealed the least to me, probably because it's a more masculine, harsh take on oud with a hefty dose of labdanum (a resin from the rock rose plant). I find labdanum quite goaty and sweaty, so it really depends on what it's paired with. In this case I find the combination of oud and labdanum too dirty and animalic -a bit like something left to dry on the bottom of a shoe, I'm sorry to say. For others though (and I think men more likely) this dirty aspect may have a pleasingly satanic beastiness to it.

Attar Al Kaaba by Al Haramain Perfumes 
The real deal, therefore a slightly more challenging perfume. I dab it on every so often just for that odd perfume hit which I think of as the equivalent to enjoying mustard! This is definitely medicinal at first, but into dry-down it becomes more and more like the lingering incense scent you'd expect to find on the clothing of someone who works in a Bazaar. The rose is powerful, quite clean and hard edged, the oud almost chlorine-like, but there's underlying amber and sandalwood, so that into drydown the effect is like rose-scented treacle (though not as sweet) quite more-ish. The name refers of course to the journey to Mecca and the black cube-shaped building at the centre of Islam's most sacred mosque, so the perfume is correspondingly challenging, yet rewarding in the end.

Oud Velvet Mood, by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
If you can imagine a velvety/dusty tarry effect, I think that describes the texture and scent of this perfume quite well. Dusted with saffron and cinnamon, the effect is warm and pleasing, though the tarriness of oud remains throughout. As someone who likes leather scents (which often use birch tar notes for the leather effect) I enjoy this, but I wouldn't describe it as feminine or elegant. It's more of an outdoorsy effect, which is lovely in its way.

Arabian Nights by Jesus Del Pozo
I really enjoyed this perfume from the sample I was gifted a while back by a generous member of Oud is balanced by an abstract, elegant bouquet of woods, rose, herbs and grasses. The effect is a very blended oud, not in-your-face yet distinct because of oud. I wore it first on a warm summer's day nd found it highly refreshing. This perfume is described as 'for men' but I think it's quite unisex.

Oud Silk Mood, by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
To me, this has exactly the right blend of that oud-y smoky astringent/dry bite alongside a beautiful rich, sweet rose and hazy musks, to make this elegant, intriguing and mysterious. It's very distinct and I'd say ideal for evening, especially when wearing something either ethnic and silky, or black with a contemporary, arty cut. It's stylish and unusual. Other notes include papyrus grass and chamomile and while I can't say I identify these notes alongside oud and rose, there is a haziness and dry quality that's really lovely.

Lastly my favourite so far, Santal Royale by Guerlain, combining the usual suspects - rose, sandalwood, a hint of cinnamon, leather and of course oud, but also jasmine, neroli and peach. The last three alongside sandalwood are maybe what gives this a softer edge, not so challenging, with the oud adding a small bite but not taking over. It's very soft, very unisex and perfect for cooler weather.

Monday, August 1, 2016


Tuberose; a divider of taste. Despite the name it has nothing to do with rose. Rose can be described as anything from soapy or pretty to dark and gothic but it's not likely to be described as fleshy, voluptuous, carnal, buttery, decadent, strident or narcotic, as tuberose is.

Such is its reputation that in Victorian times it was believed it had a corrupting effect on young women, like Elvis's hips in the 50s. It was even said it could induce spontaneous orgasm, which just makes me think those Victorian ladies needed to get out more!

It's instantly recognisable. If you think you don't know the scent, once you get a whiff you'll know it straight away - most recognisable in perfumes where its most strident qualities have been amped up, two of the most notorious being Piguet's Fracas and Dior's Poison. If you hate those don't let that put you off, since (as with all perfume notes) it depends which facets are highlighted and what's in the perfume composition.

Most tuberose in perfumery is synthetic, but there are natural extraction versions, perhaps the most well-known being tuberose steeped in natural coconut oil and used as sun tan lotion, especially popular in tropical islands such as Hawai.

In the west we obviously associate tuberose with the idea of the 'exotic', or tropical holidays, and it's why a lot of tuberose perfumes contain coconut notes. Natural tuberose flowers on their own though are not very sweet. Like most tropical flowers the scent varies throughout first opening of the flowers to their point of decay.

Newly opened tuberose has what most perfumers describe as camphoraceous notes. I.e. moth balls, or an almost gas-like menthol quality. Also green. I, and many others, find the menthol aspects also petrol or diessel-like, and with some perfumes there's a hint of fruity bubblegum or (weirdly) popcorn. These scent-exuding qualities make the flower a raging success in the jungle obviously, no doubt attracting pollinators for miles around. If you add these strident qualities, the buttery or creamy effect and pretty floral aspect to the idea that beautiful flowers echo feminine beauty, you can see why so many perfumers want to capture its intensity. Its wilting notes remind me of decaying fruit (some say it's more like rotting meat, but to me it's quite similar to the decaying notes of madonna lily, or the smell that emanates from the dustbin outside a grocer's shop in mid-summer - fruit rind on the turn).

It does have some qualities in common with orange blossom, lily and jasmine, but as someone who's sensitive to tuberose (similarly to patchouli) I immediately recognise it in perfume; the difference is in that diesel/petrol butteriness - a certain cool, waxy, gassy solidity. Texture-wise I'd describe is as rounded, fleshy, with a quality I'd associate with womanly-ness as opposed to girliness. It has sophistication, but not necessarily elegance, since elegance is usually associated with a sort of 'less-is-more' contained poise, tuberose cannot be contained, hence its diva reputation!

I've written quite a bit about other perfume notes in this blog (see 'Perfume Reviews A- Z')  and if you're wondering why I've not covered the notorious tuberose it's because truth be told I find it a challenge. Many people do, and in perfume forums we're liable to be dismissed as perfume lightweights, perhaps even envious because we don't have the requisite confidence, style or sex appeal to carry off tuberose-rich perfumes. Ouch!

My excuse is that when it's strong I find it headache-inducing. I'm not into loud, strident perfumes, also my appearance and behaviour would never be compared to that of Marilyn Monroe or Madonna (both Fracas devotees!)

The most high-end, popular and contemporary tuberose perfume at the moment is Frederic Malle's Carnal Flower, which according to many perfume reviewers is sex on wheels, so I had to try a sample of course...

I did my best with it, but since a small squoosh to my left wrist was still making my eyes water and head ache after 4 hours, I gave up and washed it off just so I could get a decent night's sleep. As for its sexy reputation, well, headaches are historically a bit of a killer! I read of someone who doesn't like it but wears it on the back of her neck so she can't smell it but others can! I'm a strong believer in the fact that if you love the perfume, it loves you and vice versa. If you don't enjoy tuberose, it's never going to suit you in its more powerful forms.

Part of the effect of Carnal Flower is the menthol aspect which echoes the actual flower, it was this that made my eyes water, the tuberose (in this perfume the highest amount of tuberose absolute in perfumery) provided the inevitable headache.

Just google 'tuberose perfumes' and you'll soon discover that the population can be divided into swoon-iduced and migraine-induced reactions to tuberose. Never fear though, in the examples below I'll mention those that I find enjoyable, so if up to now you've loathed this fleshy floral with the man-eating
reputation, there are some you might enjoy ..

Powerful tuberose
Tuberose perfumes with huge heft and presence, statement perfume for glamorous events

Fracas by Piguet
Often described as the reference-point for strong tuberose perfumes, tuberose in Fracas is accompanied by a host of white florals, woody notes and musk. Tuberose dominates though and this is one of the most distinct perfumes you'll encounter. Its statement or message suggests someone who enjoys attention and it's no surprise that it's a favourite with Madonna, also Mariliyn Monroe. (Madonna lent her name to the contemporary perfume take on Fracas; Truth or Dare by Madonna

Other glamorously strident tuberose perfumes include Dior's Poison which darkens tuberose with intense purple-toned plum, also Armani's Giorgio and Amarige by Givency. 

Elegant Tuberose
Tuberose perfumes that tone down the strident effect,either through less tuberose in the composition, or with accompanying notes that soften it

Nicolai Parfumeur Createur Number One Sophisticated, slightly green yet buttery. This is a very elegant tuberose. Galbanum lends it bitter greenery while sandalwood does its thing of lending a soft velvety effect.It's less of a party tuberose, and could easily be worn in the daytime.

Amouage Honour Woman 
A pricy concoction and a silkier take on tuberose, with notes of frankincense, leather. It has the creamy aspects of tuberose and gardenia adds to this. Very elegant, if a bit conservative or reminiscent of coiffed haired Chanel suited women organising high-end charity events.

Oscar by Oscar de la Renta 
Softened with sandalwood, less 'fleshy' in tone with the addition of clove, this is velvety in texture and quite complex, slightly dated these days perhaps, due its complex bouquet, but very sophisticated in effect

Soft and pretty tuberose
These perfumes enhance the creamy aspects while toning down the headache, partly because tuberose doesn't entirely dominate in these, but also because the accompanying notes have a softening or lighter effect.

L'Artisan La Chasse Aux Papillon
Though the opening is a bit bright, with white florals and lime blossom, in dry down this reminds me of suede, the soft effect is largely thanks to a buttery tuberose, minus the petrol and menthol.

Noix de Tubereuse by Miller Harris
Softened considerably with the round, powdery notes of tonka bean, also iris (orris root) and mimosa, this retains tuberose's sultry aspects while being easy on the nose. Very pretty.

Do Son by Diptyque
One of my favourite perfume houses, inevitably their take on tuberose would be to my liking (though probably not to lovers of full-on tuberose). Do Son has subtle tuberose buttery roundness added to very pretty white florals - orange blossom, honeysuckle - alongside an easy-on-the nose white musk and woody warm benzoin resin. Perfect for summer and a very popular scent.

Unusual tuberose 
Niche versions, a little bit different

Serge Lutens Fleurs d'oranger
This, as the name suggests, has more to do with orange blossom than tuberose, nonetheless its fleshier floral effect is partly thanks to tuberose's abundance, the unusual aspect is thanks to cumin, which lends a spicy, slightly sweaty tingle. Very pleasing, as long as you're ok with cumin!

Serge Lutens's Tubereuse Criminelle - a love it or loathe it perfume, so given my ambivalence to tuberose I was surprised to find I enjoyed it. I realise now it's partly that it lacks the bubblegum/fruity aspect and instead focuses on tuberose buttery/waxy roundness. Even the menthol hit in the beginning doesn't trouble me, it's moth-ball-like but I don't mind that as a smell, in fact I like it, far more than eucaylptus, which in perfume is an absolute 'no' for me, since I find it medicinal and eye watering, and which features in...

Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle
For some people this should be up there in the elegant or pretty tuberose categories but that's probably for those who don't find the eucalyptus and melon notes so unappealing. Even with sweet creamy coconut as a subtle note here, and the large amount of high quality green-toned natural tuberose absolute (I normally love green florals) it doesn't work for me.  I find that the notes compete and clash, but for many thousands of others this is tuberose Nirvana.

Tropical tuberose

Isabey Panouage, Lys Noir
A 'darker' take on tuberose/lily, you'd imagine from the name, though I don;t get much lily from it. Folks who want a strong hit of tuberose may be disappointed, but it's definitely there. Fatty and fruity with soapy coconut,  the fruity hint for me echoes Dior's Poison. Coconut isn't listed in ingredients as far as I can see, but it's definitely there. There's some patchouli here too, but very light. It feels like a glam' summer party girl perfume - a simple, yet distinct effect. Not my scene but if you fancy the idea of a lighter summer-style tropical Poison, you'll like it!

Other popular tropical tuberoses include Killian's Beyond Love (sweet coconut, heady tuberose and pretty white florals) and Hiram Green's Moon Bloom, a fresh green, sweet take on tuberose, which uses high amounts of natural absolute.

For the authentic beachy feel of natural tuberose infused coconut cream try Aloha Tiare Eau de Parfum by Comptoir Sud Pacifique, or seek the cream itselfMonoi of Maui (Maui Tuberose) which can be found online and is considerably cheaper! I have a bottle of this and like to use it in summer, or for a relaxing face massage in the evening.