Review En Bref: Montale Aoud Cuir d’Arabie

I always try to be fair. In fact, I’m a bit obsessive about giving things second and, sometimes, third or fourth chances. (I think it’s my Libra side.) So, I decided to give the high-end French niche house of Montale one final chance.

If you’ve read any of my prior posts, you will know that Montale is my kryptonite, a perfume house that consistently brings me to my knees — and not in a good way. At various times, I’ve described Montale fragrances as: “horrific,” or “Chernobyl” on my arm, and Lime Oud, in specific, as something warranting a “Silkwood Shower,” an extreme measure normally suited for cases of radioactive contamination that will lead to inevitable death.

Montale aoudcuirdarabie-fragranticaBut, my Libra side is hard to ignore so, a few weeks ago, I ordered Montale’s Aoud Cuir d’Arabie. I did so even before a fellow perfume blogger, Scent Bound, suggested it, but when he recently warned me that it would take a few tries because “it is the smell of a raw skinned animal,” I paled. No, really, I actually paled when I read that. So, last night, I put on Aoud Cuir d’Arabie, fully expecting to end up huddled in a foetal position in the corner, sobbing and crying “Mommy!”

The fourth time is the charm? I’m shocked — truly and genuinely shocked — to say that it wasn’t bad. In fact, I think I may have liked it?

The Hairy German.

The Hairy German.

Now, I should confess right at the start that, soon after I put it on, The Hairy German jolted my arm and almost all of my sample vial ended up on my sheets. So, I didn’t have enough to try it out for 2-3 days to see if Scent Bound was right and I’d end up liking it, but I certainly had enough to know that it was very different from my prior experiences with Montale.

I started by putting on (cautiously and with great fear) 1 small dab on each wrist. Normally, I put 3-4 on each arm, but this is Montale! It is a line where prior experiences have shown that a miniscule tiny drop on your finger can last through numberous, frantic, desperate washings, through Lady Macbeth-like pleas to “out, damn spot, OUT!” and through hysterical fear that you will never, ever (ever!) be free of Montale. You see, all three of my prior experiences with Montale followed that exact same path, and I am a woman upon whom almost nothing lasts. But Montale is a whole other story; it is nuclear stuff and you can’t escape it. A single drop can drag you by the hair, caveman style, and clobber you like a T-Rex. And it’s not just Montale’s Aoud line, either, as I tried one that wasn’t. (Oriental Flowers.)

But Montale has as many as 27 different oud fragrances, and this one definitely strays from that horrific, nuclear path. I put on that initial dab on each wrist, waited to be brutalised, but soon realised I was still alive and unharmed. So, I put on some more. Yes, I actually did. Me! Montale!!! I put on 2 more dabs on each arm, and still I lived to tell the tale.

Aoud Cuir d’Arabie isn’t a hugely complicated scent. According to the notes on Fragrantica, it consists merely of: tobacco, leather, birch and oud. Birch is an element whose extract, tar or oil has often been used in treating leather, as an antiseptic in medicine, and to treat eczema or psoriasis. Here, in Aoud Cuir d’Arabie, it creates an immediate impression of the pink rubber in Bandaids. It is medicinal. But so is the initial smell of oud, and the two together create a rather singular, linear note. There is leather — black and cold, almost raw and feral, but never (on me) painfully fecal like horse manure, the way it was in Chanel‘s Cuir de Russie.

Finally, there is an oddly soft floral note that almost evokes rose and hovers as faint as a ghost in the background. I must be hallucinating it from the pinkness of the rubber bandages because rose is the furthest thing from the notes listed anywhere, though I smelled a rose note in both the prior Montale ouds that I tried. I later learn that, according to the Perfume Niche, the rose note is a signature to Montale’s aoud fragrances.

Aoud Cuir d’Arabie is a cold, cold, cold scent. I smell cold leather and cold, stone fireplaces. There is smoke, but it is not the warm smell of tobacco. Rather, it is the smell of burnt paper. I imagine a giant, cold, stone hearth where there is a lingering trace of burnt papers. It is not acrid, and it is nothing like the smell of burning that one finds in incense, but it adds an interesting note to the leather and birch. I am reminded of By Kilian‘s Pure Oud which has similar cold notes of smoke, stone and pure leather. I liked it then, and I like it now.

That is about the sum total of my experience with Aoud Cuir d’Arabie. I find little else because — on me, as with all the prior Montales — it is an incredibly linear scent. It doesn’t morph or vary, and it never turns into something hugely animalistic or rich with sweet tobacco. On the other hand, it is also nothing as extreme as the experiences noted on Basenotes where the scent is described with something approaching fascinated horror or bewildered love. Some of the comments:

  • A hospital janitor using bleach to clean puke off the floor. Oh, and an animals corpse by the roadside rotting in the hot summer sun. Why do I love this?
  • Limberger cheese. Vomit. Dry down did improve to leather, but what a nasty start!
  • This is a difficult fragrance. When I first applied it, the fecal/animal note was a turn-off. Luckily, after dry-down plus 15 min. that lessened, and the Oud and Leather predominated. It’s projection is great, and longevity is excellent. I wouldn’t EVER blind buy this, you must try it first. I enjoy it after the fecal smell dissipates, and own a large sample spritzer of this. I can’t apply it unless I have 15min. to let it dry-down before I have contact with anyone.
  • The first thing you get when you apply this is a very barnyard, fecal note, I’m not sure if this is caused by cambodian oud or a very animalic leather. But once you pass that stage the whole composition gets softer and a toned down version of the classic rose oud Montale combo emerges. I also get a pipe tobacco smell together with the leather in this stage that is very interesting. While it evolves the composition becomes very resinous, leathery and animalic, it gets very close to the skin becoming a skin scent, and when you think the scent is gone, you suddenly get a waft of it trough the air. Just marvelous!
  • it wreaks its dirty havoc all around me. The thick, pungent, hot leather of this fragrance, further pronounced by the Oud, is a leather reminiscent of an attire which has clearly been used repeatedly for numerous socially unconventional sexual acts and yet has never been cleaned once. It is almost verging on repulsive. Nevertheless, when I wear this, there is some aspect of this which gives me the greatest pleasure. […] Perhaps this says more about me than of the fragrance itself, but at least in my opinion, it resembles an almost forbidden indulgence of monarchial proportion.

Portia from Australian Perfume Junkies also loves this passionately. (You can read her review for Perfume Posse here.) As did the Perfume Niche who wrote:

It opens with an animalic note of sweaty, worn leather combined with a medical hit of oud. Pungent, rugged and raunchy. A note of tobacco adds richness, Soon Montale’s signature rose note appears and adds a gentle floral presence. As it dries down, the leather becomes more refined; the oud softens, becomes warmer and more resinous. Together they combine to create a sexy sensuous intimate scent that stays close to the skin.

I certainly liked it enough to want to give it a further, detailed review over the course of a few days. That said, I have to confess, I frequently wonder if I’m confusing enormous relief (at surviving a Montale without being clobbered with ghastly, nuclear strength horror) with actual liking. I think relief may be a huge factor here, particularly as I did find the scent to be very linear. But, I’m a Libra and I like to give things chances, so I will buy another sample of Aoud Cuir d’Arabie. If things change, if multiple tries end up revealing far greater complexity, or if I fall for it without question, I will be sure to update this review.

 

DETAILS:
If you’re interested in trying out Montale’s Aoud Cuir d’Arabie, you can get a sample on Surrender to Chance where the smallest vial starts at $3.99. If you are intrigued enough to want to buy it outright, it is available at Lucky Scent where it costs $110 for a 1.7 oz/ 50 ml bottle, $160 for a 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle, and $4 for a sample. And, of course, you can purchase it directly from Montale on its website where it costs 80€ for a 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle.

Perfume Review: Amouage Jubilation XXV: An Oud Fit For A Sultan

The royal perfume house of Amouage would be perfect for a fairy tale or Greek myth. It would be the story of King Midas, and all he touched would be perfume gold. It would The Arabian Nightshave Ali Baba and a cave filled with treasures of scent and spice, incense and frankincense — not stolen by thieves but given freely by the Sultan with the order to create the most luxurious scent in all the land. Or, it would be the story of “Perfume” without serial killers and death, and with a happy ending.

As the renowned perfume critic, Luca Turin, said in a 2007 German magazine article:

The story of Amouage is remarkable. Twenty five years ago an Omani prince decided that his country, renowned since Egyptian times for the quality of its frankincense, home to the unique Green Mountain rose and on whose beaches half the world’s ambergris lands at random, needed a perfume firm that would take on the world’s greatest.

So, in 1983, His Highness Sayyid Hamad bin Hamoud al bu Said was ordered to do just that by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the ruler of the Sultanate of Oman. As the perfume store Aedes explains, they wanted “to tell the world about the ingredients particularly found in Oman – the rarest frankincense from Dhofar in the south of the country and the rarest rose of all, the rock rose harvested high up in the mountains of the Jebel Akhdar range towering over the Sultanate’s beautiful capital, Muscat.”

A Thousand and One Nights.

A Thousand and One Nights.

Consequently, Amouage tends to use very Middle Eastern ingredients such as oud or agarwood, rose, incense, resins like labdanum, and spices. It also hires some of the most famous “noses” in the perfume world to create its fragrances, supposedly with an unlimited budget. No expense spared. And the result is some of the most expensive perfumes in the world, even if no longer the most expensive. (It amuses me that the Amouage website describes its offerings as “The Gift of Kings” because it truly means that – both literally and figuratively.)

The Sultan of Oman with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in Oman.

The Sultan of Oman with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in Oman.

On its 25th anniversary in 2007, Amouage launched two celebratory eau de parfums Amouage 2 Jubiliationsunder the guidance of its artistic director, Christopher Chong, and created by the famous orientalist nose, Bertrand Duchaufour. (“Orientalist” is Luca Turin’s description, not mine.) The men’s version was called Jubilation XXV and the women’s version was Jubilation 25. Both versions are eau de parfum concentration and both are essentially considered to be unisex fragrances. Certainly both genders seem to wear the different versions. I have both and plan to review Jubilation 25 tomorrow. For now, let’s focus on the men’s version.

Jubilation XXV is classified as an “Oriental Fougère” fragrance for men, which essentially means its a woody, aromatic oriental. (See the Glossary for a full explanation of the Fougère family of fragrances.) Fragrantica lists the notes as follows:

Top notes are orange, coriander, labdanum, tarragon, olibanum and blackberry;

middle notes are guaiac wood, cinnamon, bay leaf, honey, orchid, rose, clove and celery seeds;

base notes are opoponax, patchouli, myrrh, cedar, musk, oakmoss, ambergris, agarwood (oud) and immortelle.

Amouage describes the perfume’s evolution as follows:

With the grandeur of a great epic, Jubilation XXV opens majestically with notes of the finest frankincense from Oman.

At its heart are elegant notes of rose, orchid and smoky gaiac wood, evoking the philosophy of the enigmatic man carrying the essence of his sophistication across all eras and cultures.

Like the magic of a spellbinding epiphany, notes of musk, myrrh, cedarwood, ambegris, patchouli and immortelle resonate in the depth of the fragrance expressing his longing to travel far, across all continents, to find the ethereal unknown.

Jubilation XXV.

Jubilation XXV.

I don’t see it. Jubilation XXV opens with a massive bear hug of oud, concentrated honey, sweet myrrh, a  touch of saffron, an almost imperceptible whisper of blackberry, and a strongly boozy amber accord — all under the strong auspices of balsam-heavy orange amber. It is incredibly reminiscent of Hermès’ Elixir de Merveilles, a fragrance I truly adore and which I reviewed here. It is all bitter Seville oranges which, just like in the Elixir, are wrapped in bitter black chocolate (compliments of the patchouli), salt, amber and woody balsam. I find barely any of the supposedly massive blackberry accord that a vast majority of the people have noted. There is a miniscule hint of it seconds into Jubilation’s opening, but it is mere seconds for me. The real fruit that I smell is, as noted, orange.

I was so astonished by the similarities that I tested it out a second time, late in the evening, with a different perfume on each arm. The only difference between the two openings is the touch of oud but — bar that — they were essentially identical. I’m extremely surprised that no-one else has noticed, but I suspect that most men don’t realise the Elixir is really unisex, and perhaps the average Elixir woman isn’t likely to try a seemingly “men’s” oud fragrance.

The oud note is extremely interesting in Jubilation’s opening hour. It is a fleeting, flickering thing; a darting ghost that pops up unexpectedly for a little while before vanishing from sight. Numerous commentators have said that Jubilation is a ghost as a whole: one minute it’s here, the next it’s gone, then it’s back again. They say the scent keeps disappearing, before reappearing. I haven’t had that experience with Jubilation as a whole, but I have had it with the oud element. Sometimes, it feels as though there is absolutely no oud in Jubilation and that I somehow accidentally sprayed on my Elixir. At other times, it appears with an almost mentholated note that cools down and cuts through the narcotic headiness of the warm, boozy resins, the rich heavy balsam-infused orange, and the peppery, smoky frankincense.

The oud in Jubilation is not the sharply screechy, metallic clang of the very synthetic-smelling Montale Aouds that I’ve tried. Nor is it the more medicinal oud of YSL‘s M7. It is slightly closer to the softer ouds in the By Killian Arabian Nights collection (though, at this early stage, not to Kilian’s Pure Oud). No, the oud in Jubilation is too tamed and softened by the smoky resins and the balsam-infused orange. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it merely means that Jubilation’s first stage is not oud-dominant. (That comes later.)

Nonetheless, as a whole, Jubilation lacks the edge and hardness of some oud perfumes. It certainly lacks the more extreme aspect of oud scents like M7 (in its original formulation) which have resulted in descriptions like “dangerous.” Jubilation is a complex, nuanced, layered, very high quality and extremely expensive, rich scent. But it’s not dangerous, if that is what you’re looking for. And, dammit, it smells a lot like an oud version of Hermès Elixir for the first hour! It even has the latter’s unusual salty quality; a hint of the sea air mixed with saltwater taffy.

I checked to see how many of the same ingredients they share; both perfumes have cedar, orange, patchouli, resins, ambergris and incense. Jubilation has a ton more notes than the Elixir, but many of those separate notes come very close to replicating the accords in the Elixir. The myrrh, opoponax (sweet myrrh), labdanum (resin), olbanum (frankincense) and immortelle all have sweet, smoky, incense-y notes that parallel the Elixir’s patchouli, Siam resin, caramel, sandalwood, tonka bean and incense. Immortelle, in particular, has a maple-syrup, honey, caramel aspect that is definitely echoed in the Elixir. (See the Glossary for more details and definitions of these various notes and perfume ingredients.)

The real differences between the two scents begin after the first hour. Jubilation start to lose that sweet head, and the full roar of the woods start to appear. The lingering and final traces of orange are mentholated now, not caramelized. There is also far greater smoke. I smell hints of the Guaiac wood whose scent is described by Fragrantica as “smoky, tarmac notes” and which one Basenotes commentator finds to have a “rosy, honeyed-sweet and slightly smoky and waxy-oily slightly rubbery aroma. The Guaiac wood is subtle, especially under the much more overpowering oud notes, but it’s there. I don’t smell the coriander, orchid, bay leaf, tarragon or celery seeds listed in the notes. I cook extensively, and I know what all those herbs smell like. And they’re not appearing on me.

After a few hours, Jubilation turns into an intimate frankincense and oud party. The oud is much, much stronger now. It’s as though the top notes had muzzled it but now, it’s free to soar. The smell evokes a wintery outdoors, a large stone campfire among the dark, dry woods, with a brisk, chill in the air and the smell of burning leaves. There is stone-like coldness, with sharp black pepper and a definitely leather undercurrent to this oud. As such, it is very reminiscent of By Kilian’s Pure Oud. There is also that rubbery, almost plastic-y but medicinal aspect to the oud that calls to mind the pink plastic sides of a bandaid. That part evokes YSL’s M7. I wonder at times how much of this is the oud and how much is the Guaiac wood with its tarmac, rubber, pepper and smoke notes that others have found. Perhaps it really is just the oud itself combined with the incense, smoke, and biting pepper of the frankincense.

It doesn’t matter. The final result is that the two overarching smells alternate between a gentle waltz, an intimately fiery tango, and a loud cha-cha-cha. They weave in and out of the room. Sometimes, they are snuggling in the dark shadows of the alcoves – just out of sight. At other times, they tango back into the room and the rat-a-tat-tat of their heels stomp up my arm and to my nose. Then they vanish again. It’s bewildering. If I hadn’t read all those comments about the perfume’s on-again, off-again vanishing act, I would think I was hallucinating or that my nose had gone wonky.

The ghost act makes it hard for me to assess the sillage of Jubilation. Its projection for the first hour is as big as everyone says, but then it becomes much more difficult to ascertain. More than one person has wondered if Jubilation was just so strong at the start that their nose “got used to it” for large stretches of time. I will say that, on me, Jubilation does not have the massive longevity that most report — but that is hardly anything new. All in all, Jubilation lasted about 5.5 hours on me, with the last 3 being close to the skin.

All in all, I liked Jubilation XXV, but I’m hardly tempted to share in the mass genuflection and obeisance for the fragrance. Much of the adoring, worshipful praise seems — to me — to stem from those lovely opening notes that some have compared to spices and dates (the fruit) in a Turkish bazaar. Believe me, I know how utterly divine those notes can be; I raved about them extensively for Hermès’ Elixir de Merveilles. I suspect the Elixir is precisely why I’m not more overwhelmed and passionate about Jubilation; I’ve already had the experience. But, for one who hasn’t and who is seeking an oud fragrance on top of it, then I suspect Jubilation XXV will make you rather weak at the knees. It is not an overwhelming, crushing oud fragrance but a very luxurious one that feels expensive. Which is just as well, given that it is expensive.

Bloody expensive, in fact! The usual bottle is 3.4 fl.oz/100 ml and costs $290, £170.00 or around €210. There is a smaller 1.7 oz/50 ml version that costs £140.00, but a cursory review of a few US websites shows it is not available on any of the usual or big perfume sites. I found the smaller size only at Beauty Encounter where it retails for $245. It’s not a particularly good deal, given that double the quantity (or 3.4 oz) costs only $50 more. (As a side note, the women’s version of Jubilation is slightly more expensive in general: $300 for 3.4 oz, instead of $290.)

Amouage Gold in actual gold.

Amouage Gold in actual gold.

So, is Jubilation XXV worth getting? As always, that is a subjective and personal decision, but the cost of Jubilation makes it a bit more complicated than that equation usually is. Amouage may no longer make the most expensive perfume in the world — that was Gold in 1983 — but it’s still not a walk in the park. Yet, for a large number of people, Jubilation XXV is a scent without compare, one of their all-time favorites, and completely worth every golden penny. I would suggest testing it out via a sample. If it steals your heart, wonderful. If not, then perhaps you can always layer one of your existing ouds (particularly if you already own one from By Kilian) with the significantly cheaper, but always marvelous, Elixir de Merveilles.

DETAILS:
Availability & Stores: In the US, Jubilation XXV can be purchased online at AedesFour SeasonsLuckyscent or Parfums Raffy. (Google and Parfums Raffy state that it is the authorized retailer for Amouage and that it provides free shipping.) If you want the smaller 1.7 oz version, you can go to Beauty Encounter. Samples of Jubilation can be purchased from all those places, as well as from Surrender to Chance (the decant site I always use) where the smallest vial costs $3.99. In London, I’ve read that Jubilation XXV is available at Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Les Senteurs or the Amouage boutique. In Canada, I’ve read that it’s available at The Perfume Shoppe. In Germany, at First in Fragrance. And, of course, it is available world-wide on Amouage’s own website. The website also has a “Store Locator” for about 20 countries which should, hopefully, help you find Jubilation somewhere close to you.

Scent Notes: Oud

A fantastic analysis of Oud and how much of it in contemporary perfumes is actually a synthetic molecule. Obviously, that impacts the nuances and smell. To quote one part of the fascinating post: “Nowadays, natural oud is rarely used in perfumery. Due to over-harvesting and the labourious process collecting the raw material, it is not feasible to use natural oud for mass market perfumery. Most fragrances on the market contain synthetic materials to replicate the natural oud scent. Vir Sanghvi (virsangvi.com) says that Firmenich’s Oud Synthetic 10760E is used in most oud fragrances on the mass market. Givaudan also has its own version of an oud synthetic. Elena Vosnaki (perfumeshrine.blogspot.ca) says that Oud Wood by Tom Ford is made with Givaudan’s Agarwood Arpur. Bond No. 9 New York Oud also contains the same synthetic.”

If you’re interested in Oud, make sure to read the whole thing. You can learn a lot, as I did. From Creed’s Royal Oud to others, there may be a market and commercial reason for why synthetic oud may be preferable for perfumers. Apart from the low(er) cost, naturally.

ScentBound

In the last several years oud has become very popular in mass market and niche fragrances.  I did some research on oud and how it is used in perfumes nowadays and here is what I found out:

Sourcing Natural Oud

AgarwoodTreeOud (a.k.a. agarwood, oudh, aoud) is formed when the heartwood of Aquilaria and Gyrinops trees get infected with a dark-walled fungus (Phaeoacremonium parasitica).  The infected tree releases a resin in the process of protecting itself from the fungus.  This resin emits a very complex and distinctive smell, which we call today oud or agarwood.

Agarwood can be produced only from eight of the fifteen species of Aquilaria.  Those 8 species are traditionally found in India, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.  Naturally, under 10% of the trees in a Aquilaria forest would get infected with the fungus and produce oud.  A common method to get higher…

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