It wasn't too long ago that I was lamenting the inexorable rise in the number of oud-based releases. Although many people are willing to concede that some of these fragrances are worthy of attention and praise, most patient scentusiasts are now ready for perfumery to abandon its favourite fungal infection (be it natural or synthetic) and move on to something else. In fact, some brands are winning brownie points precisely because they've chosen not to follow this particular trend (think: Hermès, Lutens and Chanel), a decision about which they’ve probably got a right to feel more than a little smug, in light of a recent announcement from Persil. When a smell is poured into a fabric conditioner, you know it's probably gone past the point of no return from cliche country.
Towards the end of 2010, Dior decided to enter this particular fray by including Leather Oud in their well-regarded Collection Privée. The move was a resounding success: in addition to being one of the most astonishing scents released in the last few years, LO has also proved popular at the till. You would've thought that this might have persuaded LVMH to proceed with caution, but they've obviously remembered the Gallic equivalent of proverbs about striking hot irons and they've gone ahead and glued the controversial three-letter word onto another one of their bottles. Are they courting embarrassment by trying their luck again or has François Demachy figured out a way to pull off the same trick one more time?
Well, Mr D must be a dab hand at extracting rabbits from hats because Oud Ispahan is pretty wonderful stuff. As in the case of LO, its central accord is based less on oud and more on cypriol, a smoky, tarred, husky material derived from papyrus. But whilst Leather Oud links the ingredient with cedar and spices, this new release opts for a pairing with rose.
At this point, you’d be forgiven for raising your eyebrows with apprehension: after all, oud and rose is the least original combo since someone decided to pour cow juice into an infusion of leaves. But Demachy has avoided the pit of banality in three ways. First, he’s added a rose water feel which makes the floral facet sweeter, more translucent and fruitier. Secondly, he’s taken the wise decision to veer away from what’s becoming the standard ‘woody, medicinal, leathery’ interpretation of oud by allowing the cypriol to dominate the drydown, alongside a tanned, sweaty, animalic note that will have dirt-loving niche fiends scrambling for their credit cards. And thirdly, he’s attached an amber spine which runs vertically through the entire fragrance, softening its more unapproachable aspects and aligning the whole with modern orientals in the vein of the recent Opus VI.
All of this makes perfect sense when you consider that Ispahan (or the more phonetically accurate Isfahan) is the name of an ancient Persian city, a particular variety of Damask rose and a patisserie composed of raspberries, rose macarons and rose petals. Concept meets fragrance with impeccable neatness.
Tenacious, tactile and deeply visceral, Oud Ispahan is the perfect companion to the lonely desert wanderer of Leather Oud. He’s returned home after days of trekking in the scorching heat and all he wants is the relief of chilled water, but his rose-scented lover has a much warmer welcome in mind for him. And it involves more than just macarons.
In brief... Estée Lauder have done an oud too, although it's nowhere near as compelling as Dior's effort. Originally intended for the Middle Eastern market (can't think why) it is slowly creeping into some of the world's top department stores on an exclusive basis, before hitting the mainstream in time for Christmas. Wood Mystique shows what happens when the east-meets-west idea doesn't go quite right, like those times when you decide to order a korma at a Dorset gastro-pub and you end up with an unconvincing, albeit edible, dish that's neither Bournemouth nor Bombay. Yes, it features the brand's signature powdery leather note. Yes, its heart contains the all-too-familiar abrasive wood + rose accord. But the two sit awkwardly next to each other. And they're not helped by the presence of a tropical fruit note (papaya? coconut?) which tips the whole into confusion. For a more memorable American take on exoticism, reach for Youth Dew.
[Review of Oud Ispahan based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Christian Dior; review of Wood Mystique based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Estée Lauder; both samples provided in 2012.]
Those of you who follow me and/or @candyperfumeboy on Twitter will be aware that we've decided to hold a joint give-away when we both reach 1000 followers. I'm pleased to announce that the generous people at Penhaligon's have agreed to support our little campaign by donating a prize: a 50 ml bottle of their massive hit from last year, Juniper Sling. So if you'd like a chance to win, then the first thing you've got to do is spread the word and persuade as many people as possible to follow us. Once we reach the 1000 mark, we'll reveal more info about how we're going to run the give-away.