Probably the hottest perfuming ingredient at the moment, oude is faintly understood in the West so I would like to tell you a bit about it. Oude is the product of a parasite which infests evergreen trees in India. The parasite causes the trees to secrete a dark substance which neutralizes the infestation in spots. It just looks like dark wood. However it is harvested and refined and turned into a strong and delightful perfuming ingredient.
Oude is very expensive. The evergreen trees from which it is made are now becoming scarce, and due to the rising demand they are even becoming rare in their natural range. It’s a vicious circle, the rarity (and high price) of oude encourages over harvesting and poaching and that destroys more trees.
However, as with sandalwood, there are synthetic oudes which faithfully mimic the scent of the real thing. What does it smell like? I think it’s volatile and aromatic, somewhat woody with a note of denatured alcohol. The scent becomes stronger as time goes on to about an hour after you put it on in blends where it is featured. Very long lasting, it can be star of a perfume, or it can be used in very small amounts as a fixative for the other parts of a fragrance to ride on.
Oude is also known as agarwood, and there are as many grades of oude as you care to think about. Some are adulterated and added to with fillers to stretch the scent, camphor and just about any other volatile filler like menthol.
Oude burst on the perfume scene at the same time as the Arab Spring, as things Eastern became spotlighted in the world consiousness. Perfumers in all of Arabia have been masters at producing the most lovely renditions of perfume using agarwood and so it became a symbol of our times as well.
I used oude for the first time in my perfume Orion, named after the winter constellation and inspired by a trip to the Cincinnati Observatory. It is a strong blend which does increase as time goes on for the wearer! More masculine and commanding, or equestrienne in nature, I would classify it as sportive and dominant for either sex.