The Rise And Rise of Enigmatic Oud In The Global Fragrance Market 


Tom Ford in his quest for newer ingredients in his perfumes released Oud Wood back in 2007. In effect what it did was this: the luxury brand took a much-loved regional scent – that of the GCC & India – and introduced it to the world, kickstarting a domino effect that has today led to Oud now becoming a widely popular and much sought after fragrance note globally. In recent years, perfume houses across the world have launched their spectacular renditions of oud-based fragrances that have found takers aplenty.

Understanding Oud

But what is Oud and where does it come from? One thing is certain, Oud is a scent unlike any other, which is why it’s caught the attention of perfumers across the world. Dubai-based Philippine Courtiere, Senior Perfumer, Symrise who discovered oud when she arrived in the Middle East, describes it as “a fragrance that is a very complex combination of woody, animatic leather notes, full and intense.”


It is fascinating to learn that much like an oyster that unintendedly ends up creating something as beautiful as a pearl to tackle that grain of sand or unwanted food particle that’s entered its body, similarly oud is born in the agarwood tree when the tree goes into self-defence mode. A recent trip to Ajmal Perfumes’ plantations in Hojai, Assam (India) is where I learnt that oudh, or oud, is formed inside the bark of the agarwood tree when it is injured either by a storm or pecking of birds and a fungus starts growing within.

In order to tackle this, the tree secretes an enzyme that engulfs the fungus and kills it, but the tree doesn’t know when to stop, thus that enzyme keeps spreading and growing through the bark over 15-20 years. The resultant dark resin that is formed within the tree is painstakingly and sustainably extracted to be used as oud and its derivatives – oud wood chips, oud oil and more.


And just like the process of cultured pearls came about where these were cultivated, when it comes to oud too, the agarwood tree is now artificially infected through a process called ‘inoculation’ in order for the tree to go into self-preservation mode and therefore, the process of oud production. The precious Oud is grown in the North-east of India, particularly in Assam, Bangladesh, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia and even in the south of China.

Oud may be highly sought after but comes with a hefty price tag. It has even come to earn the moniker of ‘black gold’ because of its price, and of course, dark colouring. The steep price is because of the years it takes to grow and the subsequent limited yield – a kilo of oud wood when distilled for two weeks yields about 1.2 ml of oil.

The Oud Obsession

So popular has Oud become in recent years that there isn’t a fragrance house that hasn’t released its own version of an oud-based perfume. We ask the experts what it is about this ingredient that has caught everyone’s fancy? Abdulla Ajmal, CEO of Ajmal Group, which is globally recognized as the connoisseur of Oud, says, “The scent is like nothing else and that’s why world-over perfumers and designers are homing in on this ingredient to give their composition a unique differentiation.”


He adds, “The perfumery industry is always on the lookout for new and good raw materials. Very importantly, refined raw materials, be it outstanding quality rose oil, high-end orris butter, saffron amber replacements of course, or high-quality jasmine. Similarly, oud has been around for a very, very long time in the GCC, and has been used as a perfume and a mixer for raw material for decades. While the international community has yet to realise this, it has started using oud as a raw material in recent years. Although it has been used for longer, most credit goes to Tom Ford, who made it global with the first launch in 2007. Since then, it is just booming and will boom even further.”

Philippine, who is the granddaughter of Jacques Rouet, founding president of the Dior house, adds that what makes oud so irresistible is “it gives a special signature and power to fragrances.” In fact, she has personally worked on developing Oud-based fragrances such as Roberto Cavalli’s Divine Oud. “For Divine Oud, the challenge was to create a very gentle, European-friendly oud, not animalic or too dark but a clean, white oud.”

Oud In a Cultural Setting

Abdulla points out that oud has great cultural significance in the Middle East, especially in the GCC. “It’s extremely important to share oud while you are sitting at home when guests arrive. Oud is also used to infuse clothes before using the other perfumes as well, that’s the incense part of it. The oil is used as a perfume as well and can be used along with other fragrances be it oriental or French.”


Philippine, who turned away from a law career in Paris and stumbled upon the art of formulation was later drawn to Dubai, which she felt stood out for its incredible olfactory richness. After living there, she realised how precious oud is and how it is considered holy and purifying. “It is used either pure on the skin, or mainly burned in bakhour (incense burner) in the house or over the clothes and hair. It is also used to welcome guests at home, where the oud bakhour is burned.” Philippine shares that she loves the way women wear it layered with lighter or fresher fragrances. “I personally love it and wear it pure!”

The Great Divide

When smelled on its own, oud is either loved or disliked. Philippine points out, “It is quite polarizing indeed, as it is very strong, heavy and warm. The ones who don’t like it, that is usually because they are not used to it. The more you smell it, the more you get hooked.”

Abdulla draws a parallel when he says, “Oud is a bit like caviar; it is an acquired taste. It’s your first experience with Oud that determines whether you love or hate it, what kind of notes you care for, and what you don’t. I can show you five renditions of Oud, and the same person may hate some and love others, so it all depends on the perfumer’s composition more than the usage of oud itself.” No wonder then perfumers globally over are obsessing over this ‘black gold’ and eager to present their very own formulation to the world.

Intrigued by Oud? Take your pick from these bestselling Oud perfumes:

If you enjoyed this article, continue reading here to trace the roots of Oudh in India.

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