Let’s do a little side-by-side with the Areej Le Doré ouds, shall we? It will be kind of like when Basenoters start threads pitting one fragrance against another, like prize bulls, only hopefully not as cutthroat. My reviews will be purely impressionistic – short on helpful detail and long on the images that jump to mind when I wear them, so if you’re in the market for a quick take, read on. If you’re looking for something more detailed, look anywhere else. If that’s not a fair warning, then I don’t know what is…
In the interests of science: I have samples of all three, and I wore all three on the skin for an entire day, recording my impressions in a notebook. I bought a full bottle of the Areej Le Doré Siberian Musk, when it came out, but don’t have the moolah or the intention of buying anything else, so I don’t really have any skin in the game. My samples were provided free of charge by the brand; my reviews, however, are not compensated and my views are always my own.
I don’t find the oud in any of these three oud fragrances to be dirty or animalic, but then, I’ve been testing a wide range of pure oud oils for a couple of years now, including some from Russian Adam out of his other outfit, FeelOud, and some of the more animalic Hindi oils seem to have re-set my skank-o-meter. It’s worth bearing in mind. Another reviewer (and friend of mine), Darvant on Basenotes, disagrees violently with me on the issue of Oud Zen’s wearability, for example; while I think it’s very easy to wear, he doesn’t see “any credible wearability in this straightforward combination of agarwood-pure oils, rancid resins, smoked woods and animalics”. Ha! I’m sure he’s right, since his nose is famously good at picking up almost each note in a fragrance. But I still think, as a total experience, that Oud Zen is just a supple, easy wear.
So, since I’ve reviewed Oud Zen before, let’s start with what I said about it back in May 2017:
Oud Zen: “People who are a bit wary about the oud note need not worry; the Indian oud oil is authentic (and smells authentic) but it is not nearly as animalic or as feral as uncut Hindi oils can be, when worn neat on the skin. Instead, right from the start, the leathery, sourish smoke of the Indian oud is folded into sweet, smoky woods and vetiver that together smell rather like the saltwater taffy of labdanum. The Hindi oud oil is also moderated by the fresher, more sparkling aspects of a Papuan oud, a variety that often displays surprisingly hints of green tea, mango, and flowers.
The main impression is woody, smoky, and leathery, with the Hindi elements of fermentation slowly fading away in the heart, leaving a trail of cool, ashy woods. I suppose it is a traditionally masculine perfume, but I think any woman who wants to could certainly rock it.
Interestingly, just as I think the perfume has given up its last breath, it revives and puffs out its chest in a death display of feral honey, vetiver, and dry leather, a combination very much in the vein of Vero Profumo’s Onda Voile d’Extrait or the far reaches of vintage Habanita when the powdery florals have burned off. An extraordinary finish, and one that gets me spraying again and again, just to arrive at the same destination.”
Wearing Oud Zen again, after a period of almost a year, I’m struck by the similarity in my impressions. I stressed the presence of vetiver in my original review, and again, it is vetiver that is the strongest player alongside the Hindi oud. It lends the composition a pappy “nutmeat” element that makes me think of the feral, nutritious vetiver-honey combination in Onda. It’s dry and elegant too, with a backbone of ashy woodsmoke that recalls both Sycomore (Chanel) and Lampblack (Fazzolari). It is cool-toned, in feel.
Oud Zen is still my favorite of the three Areej Le Doré essays on the theme of oud. I’ve had time to think about why, and it’s simply this: Oud Zen has a dogged purity about it that hits the sweet spot for me. It is linear, streamlined, and straight to point, but still has plenty to say. If Russian Oud is sweet and chocolatey, and Oud Piccante is sour and spicy, then Oud Zen has its flavor dial turned firmly to neutral position. Shorn of any unnecessary ornamentation, its plainness seems stoic and good: Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Russian Oud: I had a brief stint as a copywriter for a major scent subscription company in the United States, which ended only when every last scrap of confidence in my own writing had been whittled down to a nubbin by an over-zealous editor. One of the things he would constantly remind me not to do was to compare fragrances to food. Ew, he would write in one of his ten-point comments on a 300-word product description – nobody wants to think their perfume smells like food, that’s gross.
My whole being rebels against that. It’s been my experience that not only do plenty of people want to smell like chocolate, or caramel, but that people reading a review for, say, Tom Ford’s Orchid Soleil, generally find it more useful when it says that it smells like tortilla chips than if it says something overly technical about tuberose.
But then again, you can’t write something like that when you’re trying to sell perfume, because even if it does smell like masa, the brand will take that as a negative reference and automatically black-marker it. Oh, I understand it, but I’m on the side of the reader/buyer here. If something smells like food – and food that you, the reader, can immediately identify with, then you better believe I’m going to mention it. My language is impoverished enough with someone taking my food references away from me.
Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because it’s impossible to describe Russian Oud without bringing food into the conversation. If Oud Piccante is a piece of raw steak covered in peppercorns, slapped down into a pan sizzling with lamb fat, then Russian Oud is a dainty piece of chocolate cake laid out on a doily, tendrils of caramel drizzled on top. For something so delicious, it is remarkably spacious and fine-boned. Even in color, Russian Oud distinguishes itself as finer than her rugged big brothers, being clear in color, while Oud Zen and Oud Piccante leave great big yellow-brown oil stains all over the skin.
Russian Oud is clearly a gourmand take on oud. It is very chocolatey, with a sweet, incensey woodsmoke note giving it a nicely dusty texture, and labdanum later lending a toffee chewiness that, in turn, jives perfectly with the smoky chocolate. The papery dryness in the heart gives the structure room to breathe. Actually, in terms of texture, Russian Oud has a surprising trajectory, from dusty to papery to chewy.
At first, Russian Oud reminds me very much of several chocolate-woody-ambery fragrances I’ve been loving recently, including Ummagumma (Bruno Fazzolari), Dark Moon (DSH Parfums), and meltmyheart (Strangelove NYC), but later on, when the resiny, leathery – almost coffee-ish – tone of the oud asserts its dominance, it reminds me more of the woody gourmands of Parfumerie Generale. In other words, it becomes less edible as time goes on, and more woody-resinous.
The drydown is where the castoreum and labdanum really begin to take over, and to my nose, it is this phase that is most similar to that of Oud Piccante. The castoreum gives the oud and amber a slightly sour, musky undertone that suits the hot, bilious oud. Kafkaesque mentions Ambre Loup (Rania J) in her review, and yes, that’s spot on – the drydown of both Russian Oud and Oud Piccante is extremely similar to that of Ambre Loup.
Full disclosure; I sold my bottle of Ambre Loup because I found it to be a mess of contradictions: sweet but sour, delicious but super-heavy, like too much of a good thing, a faintly greasy mixture of animal fat and chocolate and sugar and freshly-tanned leather all melted down together. I liked it, but never wanted to wear it. It felt like the 24th course in a 25-course tasting menu – tasty, I’m sure, but might I save it for tomorrow instead? This is a feature of the oud or castoreum-tobacco accord that Rania uses in both Ambre Loup and Oud Assam. Both excellent scents, but stifling in their heavy, breathy, brocaded sweet-n-sourness. The Ambre Loup effect is much, much softer in Russian Oud than in Oud Piccante, though, and it’s one of the reasons why I prefer Russian Oud.
All in all, Russian Oud is a soft, smoky chocolate take on oud, and the refined sister scent to Oud Piccante’s brash, big brother. Oud Piccante and Russian Oud are definitely first cousins; Oud Zen, by comparison, is a very distant progenitor, a Romanov offshoot who found peace in obscurity, living a simple but hearty life in a country dacha.
Oud Piccante: Oud Piccante calls a very specific image to mind, or at least, it does to mine. Imagine a small, country cottage in the West of Ireland, one of those whitewashed hovels left over from the Famine days clinging to the edge of a rundown fishing village. The cottage is inhabited by an Irish bachelor, a miserable Flann O’ Brien character whose Mammy never prepared him for a life of looking after himself. Inside the cottage, his hairy fisherman’s sweater – never washed – hangs over the lone chair, absorbing and also exuding decades of soot, the sweaty miasma of old lamb grease, and the yellow grime of nicotine.
One sniff of Oud Piccante and I am instantaneously looped back to my paternal grandfather’s claustrophobically small, grimy terrace house, which smelled like this. These smells make me anxious because they are the signal bearers of neglect. This is the smell of a house inhabited by an older male, once the female has shuffled off the mortal coil, leaving him alone to fend for himself. And old Irish men don’t tend to do well alone. Oud Piccante makes me feel sad, and this is hardly an auspicious start.
Where Russian Oud is sweet, and Oud Zen is nutty-smoky (neutral), Oud Piccante is savory. The astringent meatiness of the castoreum, tobacco, oud, and metallic clove/cinnamon accord makes me think of a fat steak encrusted with peppercorns hitting the sizzling lamb fat in a pan, the pungency of its Maillard reaction mingling with centuries of soot and yellow tobacco stains emanating from the greasy walls. There is a sourness here, too, which makes me think the bachelor mixed up asafetida or something pickled with the rest of the spices by accident. This is a kitchen spice rack oud, saline and metallic, peppered and lamb-fatted. The alpha to Russian Oud’s beta.
Later on, this central “peppered steak” accord gets wrapped up in a buttery, sweet labdanum; I like this part of the scent much better than the opening, but I also recognize that it could be perceived as a weakness by other people take their oudiness straight up, cut free of any oriental bits and bobs, like amber or vanilla. But for me, it’s a relief, like moving on swiftly from a macho-spiced, half raw plate of entrails to dessert, which, mercifully, seems to have been bought in. (Christ, woman – enough with the food references, I can hear Steve saying.)
To summarize, Oud Piccante is a sour-savory take on oud that, for me, strays too far into “old man” leather territory and seems to trigger a bad set of memories. The castoreum contributes tobacco, but it also contributes a tannic, astringent “over-brewed tea” accord that when combined with the saltwater taffy of labdanum smells very much like Ambre Loup by Rania J. We’ve already mentioned my problem with Ambre Loup: and yes, yes, I know. I am the sole aberration in the almost mass adoration for Ambre Loup. It’s clearly me, and not the perfume.