L’Artisan Al Oudh ~ fragrance review

L'Artisan Parfumeur Al Oudh fragrance

2009 turns out to be the year of oudh, at least in the niche perfume sector. Let's see, there was Pure Oudh from By Kilian, and Midnight Oud from Juliette Has A Gun. Czech & Speake relaunched Dark Rose. Le Labo contributed Oud 27, and Bond no. 9 did an oudh for Harrods and then another as their first signature scent, Bond no. 9 Perfume. Indie line Soivohle did Oudh Lacquer, and Micallef did Aoud Gourmet, and Amouage did the Epic duo. Comptoir Sud Pacifique did a quartet (Aoud de Nuit, Aouda, Nomaoud & Oud Intense), but got beat out by the 8 (!) fragrances in the Boadicea the Victorious Oud Collection. For all I know, Montale beat them all — it's so hard to keep track of new fragrances from Montale that I've mostly given up trying.

Al Oudh, L'Artisan Parfumeur's latest entry from their travels series, thus joins an already overcrowded room. That, plus the fact that perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour is working with a traditional oudh palette of Middle Eastern spices and rose (the notes: cumin, cardamom, pink pepper, neroli, rose, castoreum, civet, leather, musk, oud, sandalwood, Atlas cedar, patchouli, myrrh, incense, vanilla and tonka bean), might make you suspect in advance what turns out to be true: Al Oudh is not the most original or unusual oudh fragrance of the year.

Still, Al Oudh is a bold, very enjoyable outing. The opening is a highly spiced citrus, only slightly medicinal — you'll find nothing here like the heady, swirling bandaid-fest that opens your typical Montale oudh. That's followed by a mellow, rather soft rose laid over a lively and rather skanky blend of oud and animalic notes, lightly sweetened with vanillic notes and with faint undertones of stewed dried fruits à la Amouage Jubilation XXV (or L'Artisan's more recent Havana Vanille).

Al Oudh is on the darker side of Bertrand Duchaufour's list — think L'Artisan Aedes de Venustas or Méchant Loup rather than Dzongkha or Fleur de Liane. Still, it doesn't feel dense or heavy or overly dark, and it's perfectly unisex to my nose. Whether or not you'll like it might depend on how you feel about clean vs. dirty in perfume — in other words, just how much skank can you take? I generally think of myself as middle of the road on this issue. I like a touch of animal, but too much is, well, too much, and I'm usually something of a cumin-phobe. Despite that, I found Al Oudh quite enjoyable to wear: I'm not sure I'd douse myself in it on the way to the grocery store, but I didn't find it hard going in the least, and it has a refined, almost elegant feel despite the allusions to the barnyard. But opinions diverge wildly — over at Basenotes, I saw several complaints that it was too tame, meanwhile, Denyse at Grain de Musc notes an "outright animalic funk, with a practically Lutensian level of cumin and enough civet to put the neighborhood toms in a state of alert" and Patty at Perfume Posse mentions "a body builder’s hair armpit fresh from the gym". So, your mileage may vary: do try before you buy. Perhaps this means I'm finally ready for Rochas Femme?

As for me, I like but don't adore Al Oudh. Part of that is probably just oudh-fatigue — I like oudh, but it's an aggressive note, and it tends to dominate a composition in such a way that I don't feel the need for a zillion variations on the theme.1 A bottle of a rose-heavy oud like Montale Roses Petals or Czech & Speake Dark Rose, and then another of a less floral oudh, like Yves Saint Laurent M7 or Tom Ford Oud Wood, would probably cover my oudh needs for the rest of my life.

L’Artisan Parfumeur Al Oudh is available in 100 ml Eau de Parfum, $155. For buying information, see the listing for L'Artisan under Perfume Houses.

1. I've heard the same accusation leveled at vetiver, and it's probably true: most vetiver fragrances smell mostly like vetiver. But I adore vetiver, and even minute variations are interesting enough to me that I want to own them all. Here's hoping the niche sector doesn't launch 20 vetiver fragrances next year and wear out my interest on that front as well.

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  1. cazaubon says:

    It was way too much cumin for me… hate that BO note. Couldn’t really smell the oud either. Pass!

    • Robin says:

      You won’t be alone on that ;-)

    • Gilty says:

      That was my reaction too. I’ll take the band-aid accord over that much cumin any day!

    • Bee says:

      I’m a bit late, but I tried it yesterday for the first time. Preamble: I normally love cumin ( as a spice – it’s one of my staples, and in scents such as LL’s Rose 31), but too much is too much, what a pity :-(

      • Robin says:

        Too bad! I love that LL too.

  2. Joe says:

    Thanks for the review, R. Before I even read your footnote, I was thinking that I’d prefer to own 10 variations on oud and just 3-4 vetivers. My nose actually finds vetiver more dominating in compositions than oud is, believe it or not. For example, I really don’t get an oud blast from Epic Woman and I feel as if I want to go hunt for that note (I brought my decant to NJ with me for “holiday wear”… along with a bunch of other stuff… oy!).

    I hope I get the animalic funk and civet that Denyse gets. I was excited when the list of notes was revealed a couple months back to see the Holy Trinity of musk, castoreum, and civet all together.

    I’m hoping to try this when I hit Aedes when I get to NYC in the next week or so. Also, Carlos (and I, if interest is high) are hosting a split(s) on Google groups Scent Splits for those interested. (will post on the wiki soon as well).

    • Robin says:

      What can I say — turns out I like vetiver more than I like oudh, I guess! But I didn’t get that much oudh from Epic Woman (or Epic Man) either…they were more generally orientals, but not oud-heavy, to me.

  3. mals86 says:

    I’m not intrigued, but maybe I should be. (Wallet butts in here to say, NO, YOU SHOULDNT!)

    What does intrigue me is the description of Dark Rose as a rose-oud fragrance. Gosh, what am I not smelling in there? I should go haul out the sample, but I only remember rose and saffron with vaguely astringent woods as a quiet background. Maybe oud doesn’t hijack my nose the way other things do (patchouli or indolic jasmine) – I just find it pleasantly medicinal. Hmm. And both Roses Petals and Queen Rose were ROSE ROSE ROSE with a wispy little hint of wood, to my nose. Hmmmmmm. Interesting.

    • Rappleyea says:

      I agree completely with you on the two Montale’s. Huge rose, and soapy rose at that. Not my favorite. But when I commented to Helg about only smelling the Montale ouds, she returned that I hadn’t smelled good oud then. I need to ask her what she’d recommend. I’m beginning to think that what you characterize as “vaguely astringent wood” is indeed the mysterious oud.

    • Robin says:

      Really, even Aoudh Roses Petals doesn’t seem like an oudh scent to you? But it is true that Dark Rose & Aoudh Roses Petals are both much heavier on the rose than Al Oudh, and Dark Rose uses the oudh in a much subtler way than the Montale. Washington Tremlett also has a scent similar to the first two: Black Tie. And there is a leathery oudh from Montale with some rose, Black Aoudh, I think, that is probably closer to Al Oudh, but not nearly so smooth & polished. To me, these are all variations on a theme even if some are heavier on the rose, some are heavier on the oudh.

      • mals86 says:

        Really, all three of those I mentioned are big humongous rose, leeetle teeny medicinal wood, to my nose. No “heady swirling band-aid” thingy at all.

        I haven’t been seeking out any oud, being occupied with other stuff, so I can’t really talk about one scent being more oud-y than another.

        I’m just hugely surprised that Big Bad Oud people complain about on the boards, regarding those rosy Montales, doesn’t seem all that prominent to me. Usually it’s ME running and screaming, “Stay away! Big bad hairy patchouli! Eeek!” Not this time – honestly, I barely noticed it, which I think is fascinating.

  4. Rappleyea says:

    Very interesting review Robin. I’ve noticed that when you (or Kevin or Angela, etc.) are “meh” about a fragrance, then I have no interest in trying it. Depending on which fragrance it is, I can be very curious if you all either love it or hate it.

    I’m with you on the vetiver. I’m still looking for the perfect vetiver – something half-way between the floral-ness (?) of Vetiver Pour Elle and the extremely dry, earthy vetiver of Turtle Vetiver.

    The Split Meister (Daisy) and I just ordered a bottle of vintage Guerlain Vetiver to split…. and neither one of us has smelled it! I know you’ve recommended that one before.

    • Robin says:

      Well, both Denyse & Patty were way less “meh” than I was, if that helps! Kevin’s reaction was probably closer to mine, maybe even more “meh”. But do try it: I hate to think people don’t try things just because we didn’t love them.

      I want a bottle of that Turtle Vetiver! I think it’s already sold out though. I have so many perfect vetivers I don’t need another, though: Vetiver Tonka, Guerlain Vetiver, Lalique Encre Noire, Vetiver Extraordinaire. Ack, don’t want to think of how many others…

      • Rick says:

        Turtle Vetiver should still be available at Luckyscent; they sent me a sample a week ago, and it seems to be availabe on their site. A bit too muddy for me, though, I think I’ll pass.

        • Robin says:

          Thanks Rick — someone else pointed that out below too. I adore it but not going to spend $120 to get it, unfortunately — I’ll probably be kicking myself later.

    • boojum says:

      Oh, and here I had a sample made up for you and hadn’t gotten around to sending it yet. Than again, I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t think mine is vintage, so you’ll be able to compare.

      • Rappleyea says:

        Then we can trade! I’ll send you some of this vintage and we can compare notes. :-)

  5. Suzanne941 says:

    I’ve missed out on the oud mania. A kind swapper sent me some Montale Oud samples but I just couldn’t get into them. Maybe because it was summertime here in FL and they are nearly radioactive in their strength but….man! Not in an oud mood. Vetiver, now you’re talking.

    • Robin says:

      The Montales (the early ones, anyway — have not tried the more recent ones) tend to be heavier, rougher & more medicinal than some of the others. I do think the Tom Ford Oud Wood makes a nice introduction to oudh, if you want such a thing.

    • Joe says:

      Suzanne… good grief! Montale Aouds are NOT made for a Florida summer. LOL. However, once the weather is chilly, nothing is more opulent and mysterious (in a 1001 Nights way) than the very rosy Black Aoud. I could also imagine wearing a drop in the right desert climate.

  6. boojum says:

    There seem to have been a lot of lemming-killing reviews here lately…for which I am terribly thankful, lol. It’s always nice to be able to move something to the “when I get around to it” section of the to-smell list. :)

    • tsetse says:

      Hah! My wallet and I are with you :)

    • Robin says:

      Glad to help you weed down the “must smell immediately” list, but hey, do try it for yourself at some point!

  7. miss kitty v. says:

    As I’ve stated countless times, I love the oud. But I have to say, the “a body builder’s hairy armpit fresh from the gym” comment terrifies me. That, coupled with the fact that cumin is *not* my friend (it pushed me down on the playground, denied doing anything wrong to the teacher, got me in trouble for tattling… I hate cumin! Cumin is a jerk!) makes me think I need to save my money (even that which is set aside for sampling) and forgo this one.

    • odonata9 says:

      cumin is a jerk! miss kitty, you make me laugh!

    • parfumliefhebber says:

      I swallowed my coffee when I read about the body builders ampit. I can imagine how that smells, such a perfume I don’t want to try no no no.

    • Robin says:

      “Cumin is a jerk” really is awesome, LOL…

    • mals86 says:

      Cumin has cooties!

    • lilydale aka Natalie says:

      Fine — cumin and I are going to start a club, and YOU’RE NOT INVITED! The secret password, however, is “armpit.”

    • RusticDove says:

      Thank you for that Miss Kitty!! LOL

  8. nereis says:

    I just realized there is a beautiful Oudh note in Iris Taizo listed under the name of Jinkoh! I think I am liking this one best out of the few oudh’s I’ve tried.

    • Robin says:

      Ah, didn’t know that!

      • Haunani says:

        Wow, I didn’t either! I have and love Iris Taizo.

  9. GretnaGreen says:

    I don’t mean to hijack this onto a vetiver conversation, but I saw Robin mention turtle vetiver, and i know that luckyscent supposedly still has samples of turtle, but isn’t exercise 1 “phased out?” or ixnayed. Thanks so much for this blog– i’ve been following along all year. W/ all of you who post, not just the fantastic reviews. I think in part, I’ve become extremely loyal because I lost my cat named (ahem) Miss Kitty (an amazing Himalayan) over the year, and so now when I read Miss Kitty, it’s like in a way she’s come back. Hi Miss Kitty. How creepy is this.

    • Robin says:

      Hi & welcome!

      Oh, you’re right — Luckscent does still have it in stock. That’s very tempting…it was a limited edition and it’s sold out at LesNez.

  10. perfumegeek says:

    You know, I think my nose is just not ready for any fragrance with oud as the main feature. I’ve sampled Montale’s White Aoud, and Juliette’s Midnight Oud. The former definitely stronger and knocked me off my feet. I think oud is listed as one of the notes in Amouage Epic Woman? if so, my nose did detect it and loved it.

    • Robin says:

      It’s very light in the Amouage Epic, so perhaps you do like it best in small doses.

  11. Thanks for your review on this Robin. I love Oudh, and own several (probably more than I need to), but not sure how much I LOVE this one. Everyone here knows about Finicky Carlos. HA! To be honost Civet and similar notes scare me. I can’t smell them, but I would be mortified if I smelled like barn animal to others. I work with alot of your women and girls, and when I went into their dept I got 6-7 hmmm you smell so good. One girl described it as “sexual”. Soooo…there’s my 2 cents. :-)

    • Joe says:

      C: watch out for those ladies!!! HA!

      As for me, I’m becoming fairly happy breaking into the barnyard… there can be something very earthy and naturally sexy about “muskiness” for sure. And chilly winter nights are just perfect for that.

      Curious… what’s your fave oud, Carlos?

      • Hands down Montale Red Aoud! Not far behind…Montale Black Aoud, Golden Aoud, and TF Oud Wood. :-)

    • Robin says:

      I like animalic notes, and civet especially…but obviously many people found this one more heavily animalic than I did.

  12. oopsie…that was supposed to be alot of YOUNG women etc. :-)

  13. Haunani says:

    I really haven’t been oudh-educated yet. I did try Dark Rose, however, and I like it very very much! Al-Oudh will be a must-try for me, no matter the reviews, because it’s from my favorite perfumer AND my favorite house. :-)

    • Robin says:

      L’Artisan is one of my favorite houses too, and Bertrand Duchaufour is brilliant.

  14. desmondorama says:

    Don’t forget ‘Fahrenheit Absolute’ by Christian Dior which has Oud as one of the major ingredients in the composition!

    • Robin says:

      I never got to try that one. Thanks.

  15. lilydale aka Natalie says:

    “Bold,” huh? That’s one of those descriptions that whets my appetite — just call it “difficult” and I’m sold! I’m not the hugest oud-ie, but neither does it turn me off, and so far cumin and I have gotten along just fine. In any case, I’d rather be revolted by this one than feel meh about it, which is what happened with Havana Vanille…

    • lilydale aka Natalie says:

      I just wanted to add that when I asked my 4-year-old son what he thought of Kilian’s Pure Aoud, he said it smelled like scallions… I thought that was kind of odd, then I remembered that Kevin mentioned a liver-and-onions note in the scent, so maybe his nose is better than mine!

    • Robin says:

      Then it should work out, because I adored Havana Vanille…wouldn’t quite say I’m “meh” about this one, because it isn’t dull, but I just don’t love it.

  16. Tama says:

    Thanks for this review – I am less chomping at the bit now. I’ll try it, but I don’t need to order a sample immediately. Not sure how I feel about cumin. I saw George Clinton at the airport once and was close enough to him to smell him – he smelled like pure cumin seed and it was quite alluring. But in perfume, I don’t think I’ve tried enough. I also worry about civet, since I think that is the pond water note in Jicky.

    I feel like one of the few that liked the Le Labo. I have a zillion Montale samples to get through still. And I think the Tom Ford is going to have to go on my skin on my next sniff trip, because I really love it on paper.

    • Tara says:

      I don’t know much about Oud,but I really love the Le Labo Oud and am considering an FB!

      • Tama says:

        Maybe it only works on people with 4-letter names starting with T and having 2 A’s. :-)

    • Robin says:

      And I do love Jicky. Let me know if you think this one is pond water!

  17. RusticDove says:

    I’ve only tried one Oud fragrance so far – Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s version, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Another sampling is in order. [However her scents Minuit and Dirty Rose were love at first sniff.] It’s 9:45 in the AM in the mid-Atlantic, and I’d say there’s about 10 inches of snow on the ground so far and counting. Let’s get the fire places going and give the Oud another try today – seems like it would be perfect conditions for it.

    • Robin says:

      Yep, we’re getting tons of snow! It’s pretty, but I should have gone to the store yesterday.

      • RusticDove says:

        Well, that’s what I did yesterday, along with the rest of Maryland’s population. It wasn’t pretty.

      • Joe says:

        I’m definitely loving all this snow here! I haven’t seen any for many years during my holiday visits.

        • RusticDove says:

          Well, this snowstorm should compensate for that! ;-)

  18. RusticDove says:

    BTW – I never did revisit the Oud today as I decided to spend the day cooking and eating and didn’t think that would be the appropriate scent for that. I went with Une Rose Chypre instead. :-)

    • Daisy says:

      mmmmm…you smell great! :-)

    • Robin says:

      Nice choice!

  19. donanicola says:

    A bit late (as ever) but I tried this for the first time last Friday and loved it. True, I am cumin friendly and any mention of animalic notes and my ears prick up in pleasurable anticipation. This had the benefit (to me) of having no obvious rose note. I am bored silly by rose/oudh combos so anything which doesn’t do obvious gets my attention and this did with its civet and castoreum funk – yum!

    • Robin says:

      Oh good, glad a real fan finally showed up! Agree that rose/oudh combos are getting dull, and do think they were wise to keep the rose quiet.

  20. soah says:

    I’m only exploring the niche perfumes world so I got my hands on this one only now.. For some reason in the base it reminds me of Kyoto, only more sweetened and spiced, could it be the incense? Also I’m a bit concerned since on the basenotes it’s reviewed mostly by men but I thought it can veeery easily be worn by a woman, what do you think?

    (I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time and it’s been amazingly helpful. it’s my first time actually posting a comment on here and any response will be greatly appreciated!)

    • Robin says:

      Hi and welcome!

      I do absolutely think it can be worn by a woman. Offhand, it did not remind me of Kyoto, but it’s probably been a few years since I’ve smelled either scent.

  21. marios.georgiou says:

    I was thinking to buy this perfume as someone suggested it as animalic….i like perfumes that smell dirty animalic like kouros, Dzing, muscs koublai khan but it seems that this is not that much.
    Robin any suggestion for a niche perfume that is purely animalic for men?
    fyi, Bandit is not my cup of tea.

    • Robin says:

      This is probably better directed at Kevin…you’ve already listed the ones I would have thought of, esp. Kouros and MKK.

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