Monday, 9 July 2012

Any Questions For Jean-Claude Ellena? + Guess What: More Oud

Just a few quickies from me today. Firstly, it was wonderful to see an article on Basenotes last Tuesday reporting the imminent publication of my perfume guide. Please click here if you'd like to read it. And secondly, later this week, I'll be attending the UK launch of Jean-Claude Ellena's new book, The Diary of A Nose. The man himself will be there too and I suspect guests will be given an opportunity to talk to him, so if you'd like me to ask him any questions on your behalf, please send them my way. You can leave them as a comment on this post, or pop them in an email to persolaise at gmail dot com.

I've been giving some thought to the oud trend, which shows no signs of abating any time soon. The new Calvin Klein masculine, Encounter, is the latest in a growing line of mainstream releases which supposedly contain what is becoming one of perfumery's most notorious raw materials. As Andy Tauer pointed out in a recent blog post, it is highly unlikely that any of these fragrances contains more than a droplet of genuine agar wood oil, but of course, even this minuscule amount is sufficient to silence accusations that the perfumes' advertising is untrue. However, I'm more interested in the effect all this is having on our collective understanding of the term 'oud'.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, when most people think of the smell of vanilla, what they're actually imagining is the odour of the sweeter, less complex vanillin, thanks to the latter's over-use by the flavour industry. In a similar way, the word 'sandalwood' now tends to evoke the scent of synthetic substitutes such as Javanol or Sandalore, rather than the smell obtained from trees in eastern India. Oud is about to suffer the same fate, assuming it hasn't already. As Andy suggests in his blog, the accord that is currently being labelled with the word 'oud' is derived from several different substances. To my nose, these include cypriol, synthetic castoreum, patchouli and various 'leather' materials (such as isobutyl quinolene). When employed skilfully, they can smell pretty spectacular, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they accurately reflect the odour of the real McCoy. Was it Goebbels who said that if you repeat a lie long enough, it eventually becomes true?

Please come back on Wednesday for a Q&A with Olivier Cresp (the creator of Angel, amongst many others) and then on Friday for a review of his latest perfume for Penhaligon's, Peoneve.



  1. Which perfumes REALLY DO contain oud, that's my question? Do any?

    It seems like niche houses are lying to us as well as mainstream houses.

    1. The only perfume I've smelled that I'm convinced contained (substantial amounts of) real oud was an expensive absolute from Liz Zorn. To me it smelled like MEAT. Like really animalic leather.

    2. Susan, I'm sure almost all of them contain a tiny, sub-atomic quantity of the real stuff.

      But a more important question is: does it matter? Should we get hung up on whether a fragrance does or doesn't contain ingredient X, or should we worry more about how it smells as a whole?

    3. Elisa, I haven't tried the Liz Zorn, but it certainly sounds interesting.

  2. Regarding Ellena, I would like to know which of his frags does he feel is his most publicly underrated and why.

    1. Karen, thanks very much. I'll see if I get a chance to ask him your question.


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