The Rise of Oud

The hard-to-find Middle Eastern scent is becoming a go-to ingredient for masculine fragrances.

The most in-demand scent ingredient is the resin from a fungus that grows on endangered Aquilaria trees in Southeast Asia and aged in Middle Eastern outposts. Oud, which was largely absent from western colognes a decade ago, has been a staple scent on the Arab Peninsula for millennia. European fashion houses like Christian Dior have started including trace amounts of the famously potent, earthy scent over last few years, but today marks the true end of the smell’s trek from the jungles of Thailand to the Western market. Floris, the 284-year-old brand that perfumes the royal family (and counted Ian Fleming as a devotee), has released two new oud scents for men.

The Floris London Private Collection consists of Honey and Leather Oud, two takes on the underlying scent that compliment the layered spice with floral and wood notes  The complex fragrances are not designed to be subtle and they aren’t, but they also don’t deliver the smoke-gets-in-your-eyes punch of undiluted oud. Still, that distinctive swagger remains, making the new releases perfect for long evenings that turn into long nights.

Because a kilo of oud can sell for almost $20,000, the ingredient is used as a sort of shorthand for wealth and power in the Middle East, where synthetics flooded the market after wild harvesting stopped in 2012. Today, small firms extract oils from shaving carefully trimmed from living trees, making it more precious and more valued in places trading cities like Medina. Available as burnable wood, oud is a decadent nod to the past.

Photo Courtesy of Parfum Plus Magazine

Further west, the smell attracts brands and men who want something distinctly and unapologetically masculine – a growing trend in fragrances. The Private Collection, specifically created for Harrod’s, follows in the footsteps of a Versace’s Oud Noir and Tom Ford’s Oud Wood, both of which clings to suits and will – if the wearer isn’t careful – take over a wardrobe or suitcase. Oud fragrances layered with wood are particularly powerful. Like Floris’s new bottle, Acqua Di Parma’s OudConcentree treats the muscular scent delicately without immasculating it.

Now that oud has made its way to the top of the European market, it will likely start to trickle down – but only so far. Cost being what it is, oud is never going to be a mass market ingredient. And that’s precisely the point. Oud is supposed to turns heads – at the bazaar or in a bar – and it does. The resin resonates.

Photos by Xu Xiaolin / Corbis