First Impressions, Reviews

On the First of Oudtober: First Impressions of Guerlain’s Les Absolus d’Orient Oud Essentiel

After having made mention on Instagram last week that I’d never really spent much time with oud fragrances, it occurred to me that I should probably spend some time with oud fragrances. After all, oud is in these days, and added to that, I’ve a reasonable amount of fragrances–mostly samples, but a few full-sized bottles of the stuff, too–that all have oud in them and have been begging for attention but have instead so far found only excuses, excuses, and more excuses as to why I’d have to wear them another day. Well, no more! I may not have enough ouds on me to make an entire month of it, but I’ve plenty to pepper the next 31 days with ample oud-stravagance. Best case scenario: I leave this month with a finer understanding and richer appreciation of the stuff. Worst case scenario: I struggle to find things to say about yet another rose and agarwood combo as that seems to be an awfully common combination. Anywho, without further ado (adoud?): welcome to Oudtober!

I figured my first order of business in Oudtober should be to break out my sample of Guerlain’s Les Absolus d’Orient Oud Essentiel, a Thierry Wasser creation from 2017. I could have just as easily started a bit more chronologically with Rose Nacree du Desert from 2012’s Les Déserts d’Orient line, but I thought Oud Essentiel would be more unadorned in its oudiness, and unless it’s actually an elaborate con job on those of us to nose dumb to know it ain’t oud at all [raises hand], this one seems like the most appropriate place to start in this month-long exploration and consideration of the much adored wood.

I had actually first given Oud Essentiel a preliminary spritz some months prior to see what oud was all about. My preliminary thoughts were deeply reductive (“So it’s basically a camphor wodd baby, eh?”) and equally perfunctory (“That’s nice, but not at all for me.”), plus I thought what I got in the opening was all I’d get altogether, so I’m glad to have reason to revisit and reevaluate. Oud Essentiel isn’t only oud, but from the best I can tell, it is essentially oud. I didn’t much detect the rose or leather or frankincense that the sample’s accompanying copy makes mention of, so I suspect they’re there (if they’re really there at all) to subtly rein in and shape its funk. After all, oud’s the resinous end result of the aquilaria tree getting a fungal infection, so oud unadulterated is probably in need of a little sculptural finesse to make itself presentable to the masses.

As such, Oud Essentiel does a steady job at navigating potentially choppy waters. It’s a bit glue-y in the opening, which I appreciate as it keeps with some of oud’s odder effects, if only briefly. That might be a turn off for some people, but I was also never particularly appalled when classmates were accused of eating paste, so I’m a poor barometer for what’s too gross for consumption. From there, it settles into a rather steady, occasionally nuanced oud, an appealingly dank woody accord that smells a bit like damp earth and carries a slight, chilly pallor of decay. When applied to clothing, it smells noticeably off much longer than when applied to skin, and I also was able to discern at various points a strange metallic chill and an accord that was warm and sweet and almost floral but too tangled to tease pick apart. I wouldn’t presume that Oud Essential is by any means the referential oud fragrance if you want to know unassailably what oud smells like (maybe , but I suspect it does a pretty good job pasting together the picture. 

If anything, I imagine Oud Essential does to oud what Joyeuse Tubéreuse does to tuberose, which is take a complicated material and polish it down it’s thorniest bits ’til it has an attractive, lacquered sheen, even if that means it has fewer edges. If Oud Essential is oud as is, and I’m guessing it’s at least a decent approximation, I quite like it, though as an appreciator of indole, I’d rather it less corseted. Still, I don’t see myself getting my hands on the raw material anytime soon, so something like Oud Essential will have to suffice.

And honestly, if the other ouds I have ahead smell at least as interesting or enjoyable as Oud Essential, wearing a whole bunch of ouds will be one of the less frightening things to look forward to this October. Oops, I mean, Oudtober.


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