Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review Showcase: SoOud (2010)

How many perfumes should you include in the launch of a brand new fragrance range? Well, Stéphane Humbert-Lucas and the people at Intertrade Europe seem to think that the answer's eight, because that's the number of scents they've unveiled in one fell swoop under the SoOud brand. This makes life a bit difficult for reviewers trying to find a balance between brevity and comprehensiveness, but the plus side is that all eight perfumes have one particular characteristic in common: an evocation of Arabia through a European sensibility. Although not all of them actually contain oud, a certain dry exoticism in their woody aspects tries to conjure an impression of the Gulf as seen by occidental eyes. Humbert-Lucas uses the phrase 'Dorian Gray meets Sheherezade' and whilst I probably wouldn't go for quite so fanciful an analogy, it's easy to see what he means.

In simplistic terms, each of the eight scents offers a variation on this very theme and attempts to tick a different box on the tally chart of olfactory families. So, for instance, Al Jana plays the role of the pale, barely-perceptible marine scent, Nur flirts with the idea of turning into a 70s-style aldehydic milky-floral, whereas Ouris immediately announces itself as a sugary, peachy gourmand. A darker - and arguably more interesting - atmosphere is created by Fam and Burqa: the former nudges a hint of oud to the forefront of a compelling wood blend, whilst the latter brings out the leathery aspects of agarwood and places them against a backdrop of a faint, violet-tinged sweetness.


I'd recommend Asmar for ballsy originality. Although it opens with a fatty honey note reminiscent of some faux-Provence bath products, it rapidly shifts to an unusual mix of cinnamon, coffee and wet cardboard hovering over a do-I-like-it-or-don't-I base of animalic amber. I was also impressed with Kanz. With its rapid-fire burst of oud, it's probably the most convincingly - or should that be stereotypically? - Arabic member of the collection, combining a strong rose accord with sandalwood, beeswax and leather. A single spray succeeded in transporting me back to idle teenage hours spent wandering around the fragrant shopping malls of Dubai, so far as I'm concerned, this juice is the real McCoy.

Despite Kanz's undoubted power, I think my favourite of the eight is Hajj. There are moments when it grows too cloying and threatens to lose balance, but its smoky apple accord also provides one of the happiest representations I've ever smelt of an evening spent sharing a sheesha with friends. More importantly, it dares to prove that the sorts of perfumes we like to call 'Arabic' need not always be heavy and heady. Essentially fresh, easy-going and open-eyed, Hajj is perhaps the fragrance which most vibrantly conjures a tableau in which a lethally beautiful Victorian gent settles down to hear a tale from the most alluring storyteller the world has ever known.

[Reviews based on samples of 'parfum nektar' (a term devised by Humbert-Lucas to denote a 35% concentration) obtained in 2010; fragrances tested on skin.]

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Thanks to the generosity of Stéphane Humbert-Lucas, I'm pleased to be able to offer a sample of any one of the eight perfumes to a lucky reader. To enter the draw, please leave a comment on the topic of the west meeting the east.

Please note: i) the draw will be open until 10 pm (UK time) on Sunday 16th January; ii) the winner will be selected at random and announced on this blog; iii) readers from anywhere in the world are eligible to enter; iv) by entering the draw, you indicate that customs regulations in your country permit you to receive an alcohol-based perfume posted from the UK; v) if the sample is lost in transit, it will not be possible for a replacement to be sent; vi) the address of the winner will not be kept on record, nor will it be passed to any third parties; vii) Persolaise takes no responsibility for the composition of the scent, as regards potential allergens and/or restricted materials.

Good luck!

Persolaise.

47 comments:

  1. The Duftarchive brought it to the point on facebook the other day:
    always thought Oud is so exclusive and rare. It makes you wonder where all this Oud comes from...

    I thought Oud is a trend that's gone by but I see more is heading towards us...
    Thank you for your introduction to this brand.

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  2. Andy, thanks for getting the discussion off to a VERY interesting start. When I interviewed Humbert-Lucas for Basenotes, he insisted that he's used only natural oud. I have no reason to doubt his statement, but I do wonder why we seem to have this negative attitude towards synthetic agarwood. After all, we don't seem to have a problem with 'synthetic' coumarin, civet, ambergris etc. I've smelt at least two really convincing synthetic ouds and I would have no objection to a perfumer using them in his or her compositions.

    As for the oud trend, I do think it's slowing down somewhat.

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  3. West meets East? I'll keep it sweet, Lost In Translation? The madness, the confusion... The hilarity.

    I'm not sure which one I'd like to win a sample of, they all sound so compelling and full of far eastern mysticism, not to sound like a Turkish Delight advert or anything!

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  4. Oh, don't get me wrong. there is nothing wrong with using synthetic substitutes. Actually, there is by far, far not enough natural ouf of reasonable quality around to make all the oud fragrances. The same is true for jasmine and roses and sandalwood and...... Some of the synthetic substitutes are good, indeed. And provided the result smells interesting and is well composed, yes indeed, all fine with me.
    However, I sometimes wonder about all the "Überbau" , the superstructures of words and pictures, mysticism and brown smoky things that seem so odd.

    I wonder whether I am the only guy wondering what happens here and why.

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  5. Liam J, it IS hard not to descend into Turkish Delight cliches, isn't it?

    Anyway, you're in the draw.

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  6. Andy, thanks for teaching me a new word.

    If you're referring to all the trappings and paraphernalia associated with marketing, then yes, it is a shame that some brands feel the need to use rather stereotypical imagery, but I suppose they feel that's what the public responds to.

    Have I understood you correctly?

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  7. East meets West, and magic happens in the spaces between their mutual contradictions!

    I don't know what it is about oud, but there's something about it I can't quite get my head or my nose around. It could be I just haven't met the right one!

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  8. Well, yesterday evening, I was having some banter on Twitter with the always interesting Glass Petal Smoke (Michelle), and she brought up, out of the blue, my favorite incense brand from my late teens through my twenties. It's Shoyeido Jewel Series- Emerald. We quickly discovered that Michelle's favorite was Sapphire. We discussed how the incense has changed over the years, and gosh "What WAS that fresh air accord in the emerald?" (mysore sandalwood, to the best of her estimation, now gone from the stuff). As Kyoto, Japan came up in conversation, I told her how a Japanese friend of mine (now living in Hawaii) told me once that my personality exemplified Kyoto. Now, I've never been there, so even after she explained a little to me, I still didn't understand. It's always been a goal for me to make it there one day to see if I can find out for myself.

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  9. Tarleisio, oud is definitely a sensory onslaught. I know lots of people who can't stand it.

    You're in the draw.

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  10. West meets the East and I'll meet both. I'll study them, I'll try them, and at last I'll make my choice.Thank you for this topic

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  11. Andy, I'm glad I got your meaning.

    Yes, it is regrettable that perfume advertising tends to follow predictable lines, but I suppose all marketing relies on the associative power of visual and auditory shorthand. Personally, I think there's always room to challenge stereotypes, but that can be risky... and marketeers don't want to take risks.

    It may seem strange, but our little discussion today has made me think of the advertising campaign for Bleu De Chanel. Okay, it makes use of a celebrity, but at least it doesn't go for the obvious pecs, biceps and six-pack approach, at least the celebrity in question doesn't look like he's twelve years old and at least his face is what you could genuinely call distinctive and original.

    Well done to Chanel for presenting a somewhat engimatic image of masculinity... if only they'd made the juice equally engimatic...

    ReplyDelete
  12. Marcopietro, I like your direct approach!

    Your name's on the list.

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  13. Carrie, that's a great little story, thank you. You should find out what it is about Kyoto that makes it Carrie-ish... or should that be vice versa?

    I wonder which city I'm like?

    Anyway, you're in the draw too.

    ReplyDelete
  14. When I think of Kyoto, I think of dry woods. That happens to be what I favor in perfume, so maybe my friend really is on to something. I'll have to ask her about it again.

    I am pretty sure your city would be somewhere in Europe, you have that sensibility about you. But where exactly? Maybe you can be your own oracle.

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  15. There are so many associations for "West meets East" that I hesitate to start, especially as there are so many historical sore points therein (Iskander, anyone?).

    So I think I prefer to note happy "West meets East" outcomes from the British perspective: Paisley prints, patchouli, tea, curries:-)

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

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  16. When I was younger, anything from the East seemed exotic and mysterious, from sushi to Turkish Delight. The world is getting smaller and smaller with the 'internets' and travel to the East not reserved to only the ultra wealthy. Even so, the perfumes with an Arabian influences still seem exotic to me. Perhaps I just need to become more intimate with them...so please enter me in the drawing! (If I'm lucky enough to be selected, I'll figure out which one to try.)

    ReplyDelete
  17. I saw many interesting situations when East meets the West. Two of them had to do with men who grew up in Western culture and both practiced Buddhism. One of them is the best consultant in Buddhism I ever knew, as well as an academic of a Western type. The other... the other one has a Buddha in his garden, and his garden is the most beautiful Japanese garden I've seen, but he never gave up Western competitiveness. as a result he sounds like "I am the best and the coolest Buddhist on the block!" Oh, funny.

    Many different places where the East and West meet, I'll say :)

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  18. An odd East meets West fragrance is Anglomania by Vivienne Westwood. Asian spices and English rose make for a very interesting (not entirely nice to wear) scent. Has anyone tried it?

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  19. Recently I am seeing that East meets the West. Or maybe the West meets the East as many perfumers are celebrating the return to the Eastern scents from the 1001 nights. To me this is a great way to express not only art but also to honour the places, the scents, the beauty that conform the reminiscences of the Eastern countries and people. The beauty of its lines I can see it through the bottle's desings, the sober way to present a bottle is the sobber sense of art whose lines can build so much beauty. To go back and re discover oud and take it to the western public has more meaning that just olfactory. I think it is a true way to show a beauty that is always present in the oldest souks and hearts of the true at heart people I remember now through your beautiful post. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hi Persolaise, from many years on I've found my way to mix East and West since I'm European while my housband is Persian.
    From Iran I use to bring rose essence and oudh (not easy to find!) and I love to wear them mixed together.
    best regards!

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  21. What other collections feature 8 scents? Huitiem Arts (Pierre Guillaume), and aren't there currently eight Hermessences? Eight is considered a number of prosperity in Chinese Numerology. Thanks for the review.

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  22. Anna, don't forget good old kebabs :-)

    You're in the draw.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Carrie, somewhere in Europe? I'll have to give it some thought...

    ReplyDelete
  24. Alice, there's bound to be a hint of the exotic about something that's unfamiliar. Personally, I love Arabic-style perfumes, but I know they're not to everyone's taste.

    Your name's on the list too.

    ReplyDelete
  25. aka Warum, thanks for sharing that. I think there's the potential for a short story in your little anecdote.

    You're in the draw as well.

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  26. Voyagetocythera, no, I can't say I have tried that one. I'll have to keep an eye out for it, though.

    Your name's on the list.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Undinaba, that was... interesting.

    You're in the draw.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Vintage Lady, thanks for your comment. I'm sure the west still has a few things to learn from the eastern approach to all things perfume-related.

    Your name's on the list.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Fred, you're quite right, although I'm pretty sure the Hermes perfumes weren't initially released as a set of eight.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Hellsbelle, that sounds like a very good reason to go to Iran!

    You're in the draw.

    ReplyDelete
  31. east meet west definitely..I am from the east and I feel so connected to the west..both are always curious to know more about one another.. And I would love to try those scents

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  32. Haya, you're right about the curiosity. It's a shame that there have been times in the past when it's been stifled.

    You're in the draw.

    ReplyDelete
  33. For me 'as a 'westerner,' fragrance was my earliest introduction to 'the East.' For some reason, as a youngster, I found some Japanese incense in a gift shop and liked it. Maybe I was a Buddhist in a past life! I hope to be eligible for the draw!

    ReplyDelete
  34. West meets East... well not sure - I am a bit reserved to show enthousiasm as I don't want to be disappointed with another well made marketing story. I guess I am lost. Yes, from one side I love the illusions perfumery can create, but I hate when the fragrance can't support them. So now to me - read, smell, compare and than get ispired or not :)

    To me West meets East when the fragrance keeps its eastern qualities and feels strange to the western nose. The fragrance that might frighten you and make you to come back later and really needed to be tamed. The fragrance you can learn from...

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  35. Johnl, it's always interesting to think back and work out how young we were when we first made a conscious decision to pursue an interest in a scented object or experience.

    You're definitely in the draw.

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  36. AromaX, you raise lots of interesting points. Do you think there are any genuinely eastern fragrances left which have the capacity to shock a western nose?

    You're in the draw too.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Some of you may have noticed that over the last day or so, I've been playing around with a new comments facility called Disqus. The experiment hasn't been wholly successful, so I'm disabling it for the moment. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost a few comments that were left in the last 24-36 hours.

    I just wanted to assure you that I've got a list of everyone who's entered the draw. Haya I Al-Subaiey, this includes you too, despite the fact that your comment appears to have vanished.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Well Persolaise, I guess I just don't know. To answer that question it would be nice to live in East and to see (or better smell) around. Montale and Amouages do have oriental influences and are shocking for some, but they are pretty tamed and west-influenced already.
    I want to smell real Mukhalat though or see the way how rose is incorporate the rose...

    Funny, but Andy's Le Maroc is pretty eastern spirited to me - it smells like it could be an authentic eastern fragrance.

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  39. Hi,

    i am a big fan of this kind of perfume and i would love to be one of the few first people who owns one of them

    thank you

    ReplyDelete
  40. Hello Persolaise,

    I wanted to reply to your "kebabs" by noting that I'd forgotten about buying my son a proper "kebap" in Istanbul last year, and I couldn't get along with the new comments option at all. (I hope it wasn't my explorations that knocked all the comments for six!)

    If you go for a new comments program, could it have an option for "Anonymous" too, please, because I know what I'm doing with that. (Not a techie-person at all. You've probably noticed.)

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh (who had Ashure or "Noah's Ark" pudding as a veggie option;-)

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  41. THE DRAW IS NOW CLOSED.

    Thanks very much for entering.

    Please come back to Persolaise.com soon to find out if you've won.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Suhair, the popularity of this style of perfumery doesn't seem to be decreasing at the moment. Everyone seems to want to a taste of Arabia.

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  43. AromaX, it sounds like you need to start planning a trip to the Gulf.

    And yes, Le Maroc smells quite 'authentic' to me too... but it was made by a European, so where does that leave us?

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  44. Anna, hi again. As far as I'm aware, the Disqus comments facility should have allowed you to leave a comment as a 'guest', which would have been the same as the current 'Anonymous' option.

    I need to look into a better system, because the current one is causing a few problems every now and then.

    ReplyDelete
  45. THE WINNER OF THE SOOUD DRAW HAS JUST BEEN ANNOUNCED ON WWW.PERSOLAISE.COM

    ReplyDelete

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