Annick Goutal’s 1001 Ouds (2015)

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Annick Goutal’s 1001 Ouds © Victor Wong

Annick Goutal’s 1001 Ouds is a big surprise to me because it doesn’t smell like any typical synthetic oud perfumes. It actually smells like… oud. And dry woods. It smells natural, and it triggers memories of certain places that I’ve been to, one distant and one recent…

The distant one: In Hong Kong, there were many claustrophobic Chinese furniture stores all trying to cramp as many pieces of furniture as possible because space had always been very limited. Each store was filled and stacked with uncomfortable mahogany hardwood furniture with no cushioning, and the air in the stores was permeated with scents of dry and somehow fragrant wood scents, for the lacquer could never seal the wood surfaces completely. It was my mom’s dream to fill the living room with traditional Chinese furniture that no one wanted to sit in and use, and when I was a kid, I got dragged along to visit those shops very often. I wanted to see toys, not chairs carved with dragons and phoenixes. Now I miss the days go shopping with my parents.

The recent one: I was in a night market with my partner in Cambodia, and there’s a shop that sold wooden bead bracelets. Hundreds of bracelets were displayed in cabinets, and taped on the glass was a card that read, “Authentic oud bracelets. We do not sell phonies”. I never really cared for ouds before I had become a perfume addict, but at that moment, I wanted to ask the shopkeeper to show me one – imagine, a scented oud bracelet! My partner immediately stopped me in an angry tone, “Are you an idiot? This is a tourist area, these are of course phonies! Also, they are from China, they must be fake! Those bracelets must have been soaked in some chemical to give off that smell and colour, and if you wear it, the skin on your wrist will get burned.” Fine, when your partner lost his marbles like that, it’s time to tell him, “Look, there’s an UFO in the sky!” and run out of the store. As we were leaving, I could detect traces of supposedly oud in the air.

Now I have memories of my childhood and unfinished shopping distilled into a bottle of perfume. Smelling 1001 Ouds gives me instant solace – the smell of wood and oud in this perfume is never too sharp; and although the oud is not very strong in this scent, the strength of the wood in this scent helps extend its longevity, and it creates an illusion of a young piece of wood that has been infected by the oud virus not for too long. There’s also a little bitterness in the scent that makes it smell precious. When I am wearing it, I feel like I am a mature, well-travelled man with stories to tell and a drawer of ouddies to sell.

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Ex Idolo’s Thirty Three (2012)

Ex Idolo Thirty Three, 30ml
Ex Idolo Thirty Three, 30ml © Victor Wong

Ex Idolo’s Thirty Three is a Energizer battery. Once you put it on, you will keep marching and banging your drum for the whole day, shouting  “rose, oud, rose, oud, left, right, left, right,” along your way.

Thirty Three is a relatively simple perfume – rose, oud, patchouli and some auxiliary notes such as black pepper, iris and white tea. What’s really attractive about Thirty Three is its potency, jammy rose and the use of real, good Chinese oud oil. This makes the perfume skanky, as it should be, and addictive. However, there are also some metallic and caoutchouc (rubber tree) notes in it, making it smell like soap – wearing it sometimes makes me feel like I didn’t rinse after applying soap in a shower.

When I knew my local niche perfume shop started carrying Ex Idolo I was quite excited. I walked in the shop and looked around for minutes until I spotted them – they were tiny 30ml bottles! Recently, I have noticed there’s a trend of niche and indie perfume houses releasing smaller size perfumes priced at the “sweet spot” ($100 or less for indie, and a bit more for niche). The amount of perfume in the bottle is actually not too important, but affordability is. $100 is a mental barrier – perfume collectors want a lot of bottles, but they hardly finish one. A 100 ml niche perfume easily costs over $250 or more, so being able to bring home a new bottle at a easier-to-swallow price pacifies your inner demon to acquire more but not break the bank.

Bond Number 9’s Shelter Island (2014)

Bond No. 9 Shelter Island © Victor Wong
Bond No. 9 Shelter Island © Victor Wong

“Diana Was Still Alive Hours Before She Died”
“Statistics Show That Teen Pregnancy Drops Off Significantly After Age 25”
“Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons”
“Bond No. 9 Puts Oud In An Aquatic Fragrance”

I guess no one was surprised? People say that it’s rare to find a niche perfume house that has an aquatic scent because a lot of men’s fragrances, particularly the inexpensive ones are aquatics. Those similar smelling marine notes can sometimes be found in $5 bottle of body wash, so unless you have a really great or creative aquatic scent, people aren’t going to buy your $200 bottle.

Amusingly, the retail price of a 100ml bottle of Shelter Island is $275, but it really is just a nice, quite standard aquatic scent mixed with some oud. Of course, I didn’t pay full price for it; I found it at a discount super store for much less than half its original price, and I regard it as my first “true” aquatic scent in my perfume collection.

Adding oud to an aquatic scent does “spice it up” and bring some novelty to a classic composition, like adding vodka to orange juice and suddenly you have a “screwdriver”. I enjoy wearing Shelter Island, and the lemon+seaweed+pepper opening karate kick combo is fresh and a little bit atypical, and the amber makes Shelter Island sweeter than most aquatic scents I have smelled. And finally the oud, although it is supposed to be a “dirty” scent, it is mixed in with just the right amount, never making the perfume smelling dirty, otherwise a dirty aquatic is really just sewage water.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Oud (2010)

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud © Victor Wong
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud © Victor Wong

My friend Fifty-fifty told me that the beef patties from McDonald’s were not all made out of beef, but they called it 100% beef because they bought their meat from a company called “100% Beef”. It’s an urban legend, according to McDonalds. This piece of information or myth didn’t bother at all; I go there for fast food and the fries are quite good. A Facebook friend also said that 99% of all the “oud” perfumes out there did not contain real oud but a synthetic chemical made by aroma chemical giants such as Firmenich. This didn’t bother me neither; I wear “oud” perfumes to make me feel dandy or special. That being said, I could tell all the oud perfumes in my collection have the same kind of synthetic oud in them.

Except Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Oud. Because if all the oud perfumes smell like oud, then MFK’s Oud doesn’t. I don’t even care if it has no oud in it, because the perfume doesn’t smell like anything I have smelled before and I quite enjoy it.

I call MFK’s Oud chemical X. It smells like some mysterious chemical solution you found in an immaculate, sparkling clean clinic… you twist open the bottle cap and carefully take a sniff… and find the scent smelling unnatural, yet non-pungent and strangely unharmful. You keep on smelling it with a frown until you succumb to the scent with half a smile on your face. Can’t exactly tell what it is; may be the smell of a cotton ball soaked with anesthesia solution that stuffed beside my gum when I had my wisdom tooth pulled? Maybe it’s love? Maybe it’s oud?

Le Labo’s Oud 27 (2009)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Skanky Oud

One summertime, I went to an Apple store jam-packed with people. I had to leave the store without making a full round because it smelled like a men’s locker room after a soccer match. It just stank to high heavens. Eventually, the air in my local Apple store has improved, and I think I know why. Le Labo probably has built back-room ventilation systems to suck the air from all the Apple stores to make Oud 27.

Strangely… depending on your mood and imagination, Oud 27 somehow smells pornographic. You will never get any compliments (never say never, I guess) from strangers when you wear it, but I believe occasionally you will get a secret admirer. If you have a hot body, definitely wear it! Because when you have a hot body, you look sexy regardless of what wear, even nothing. If not, you smell like a public washroom without ventilation and the floor is always wet.

I am wearing it today at home, not brave enough to leave the house.

Yves Saint Laurent’s M7 (2002)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Daddy Oud

I believe this is what a lot of people have been saying, the first mainstream perfume to use oud – YSL M7. This has been a difficult perfume to find, for I know that it’s been discontinued for some time, and recently the discussion forum shows renewed interest in this perfume and a lot of people are buying the last few bottles.

I have smelled both Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Oud and M7, and I think MFK’s Oud smells like a lab chemical scent, very medicinal and strangely addictive; while M7 shares a bit of medicinal notes of MFK’s Oud, it smells super manly and sexy. Like young Tom Selleck and Clint Eastwood would wear it.

Image from Fragrantica.com
Image from Fragrantica.com

Atkinson’s Oud Save The Queen (2013)

Atkinsons Oud Save The Queen, EDP, 100ml
© Victor Wong

British Amouage Contender?

I remember visiting British perfume house Atkinson’s brand new website a few months ago – super confusing to navigate, a bit cheesy and very British-looking. My immediate association was Penhaligon’s and Floris, both British perfume houses that no one is crazy about.

Today I went to a department store (Toronto’s Holt Renfrew) and to my surprise, found out that it is now carrying Atkinson’s perfumes. A British sales woman wearing a huge sparkling ring with a British flag design standing next to the table greeted me and showed me their products… in a British accent and with pride, of course!

I immediately checked out their range, and wow, they are good! Fresh ones smell fresh and not synthetic; rich ones smell posh and decadent! The ones that stood out was “The Odd Fellow’s Bouquet” and “Oud Save the Queen”

Oud Save the Queen and Oud Save the King are really good perfumes with silly names; they reminded me of Amouage Gold (without the dirty musks) and some Tom Ford’s oud perfumes.

Atkinsons save the British asses! No more lame perfume houses!

You know I am joking, right?