(image source Fine Art America)
Perfumer Aurélien Guichard
Long in the tooth. Flogging a dead horse. Stick a fork in it. Something wicked this way comes.
There are so many expressions hint at the sense of ennui/dread I feel at the thought of a new oud perfume. Niche designers are releasing two or three at a time (The Different Company, by Kilian, Francis Kurkdjian. Even Patricia de Nicolai!) Designer and celebrity fragrances are scrambling late to the table. (Chanel Bleueoud, Madonna Truth, Dare or Oud, Dior J’Oud, Estée Lauder Youth D’Oud, Paris Hilton So Oud! So Hot!) It would be revolting if it weren’t so tired.
It was with particular angst that I saw one of my favorite perfumers, Aurélien Guichard had made the latest oud perfume. And for Robert Piguet, no less. Guichard captures the Persephone-syndrome afflicting contemporary perfumers better than most. Part of the year trapped in Hades (Davidoff, Mugler) and half a year on free on earth (Robert Piguet.) From a company with a track record of enticing, suggestive one word titles (Bandit, Fracas, Visa, Futur) comes an uninspired monosyllabic title. Oud. Almost rhymes with turd. Expectations, low; hopes, nil.
Outcome? Surprising. To all the nichy perfumers trying to find the new compositional trampoline that will allow them to jump this shark, and for all the hacks who are simply pouring buckets of Oud Note ™ into their their stock of Flanker Base ™ come look close. Guichard did what he does best and treated oud like any other tool on his palette. That is to say, he executed classical perfumery.
I’m not sure I’ll ever love or even like Oud, as I don’t particularly love oud but I appreciate this perfume. By classical perfumery, I mean applying deliberate compositional techniques to oud in order to create a rich, perfume that demonstrates artistic principles such as proportionality, intent and aesthetics. This is what Bernard Chant did with patchouli in Aromatics Elixir and Germaine Cellier did with galbanum and isoquinilone in Bandit. What Jacques Guerlain did with vanilla.
I’ve read that Oud contains next to no oud. However the fragrance was composed, Guichard enhances oud’s properties and plays to its strengths. The band-aid note isn’t hidden, it’s amplified and made sweaty with a heavy dose of myrrh. Oud’s chalky/resiny/prickly/parched quality isn’t smoothed over, it’s developed. It becomes the principal characteristic of this perfume from the almost disagreeable top notes to the more settled bass notes.
Oud has a distinct, pronounced character, and fits in more with Piguet’s relic perfumes than it does the new young dudes in the line like Mademoiselle Piguet and Petit Fracas, also by Guichard. There’s nothing diminutive in Oud. It has the forget-me-not quality of Baghari, but none of its charm. Like Bandit and Fracas, it has a caged-animal quality that suggests a fragile safety. Despite an occasionally calm appearance, they aren’t tamed. They’re held captive. It carries the same unsolvable mixed message as a person who comes on to you and then snubs you when you pursue the apparent invitation. I think Germain Cellier would have appreciated Guichard’s Oud.
Oud possesses another quality that often gets confused with age. Vent Vert, Cabochard, Youth Dew. Nahema, Poison, Lou Lou. Even Angel. These classical perfumes aren’t successful due to their age. They succeed because of the deliberate approaches that technically proficient artists used to produce the new ideas that they express. They are remembered not for the fact that they are old, but because they are beautiful. Oud and Guichard join the above-mentioned perfumes and perfumers in the tradition of using a formal approach to create a new idea.
(Small note. More than most perfumes, one spray is sufficient. Two, uncomfortable. Three, traumatic.)