HAVE YOU SEEN KARL?
Posted on 18 December 2011.
Posted on 01 September 2011.
Has editor Pablo finally gone nuts?
This may be. But first, introducing (l-r):
In Part 1, I argued convincingly (cough) that “giant” watches are not a fad, but a correction, a harbinger of the future, and that watches have been too small all along. I stand by that claim. Look at the lines, people, look at the lines.
In the process of trying to get pics for this story (which, along with the video, was so taxing I’m going to make this story short and let the images and vid speak for themselves; I’m just that easily fatigued), my neighbor Eryn approached our tiny, crappy apartment building in Silver Lake / Hollywood, making for the following humorous montage.
(Our street is at Sunset Junction, so you can choose “what kind of cool” you want to be: douchey Hollywood cool or even-douchier Silver Lake cool: it’s all good.)
I don’t know what to say, other than I love all three of these watches.
They just look great. (Okay, the Diesel might be a tad extreme, but it’s fun, and people will “ooh” and “aah” and laugh over it. And sharing is caring, or something, right?)
I think we already addressed the basic size jokes in Part 1 (and they’re all great), so let me just say, again, that I wish to appeal to your aesthetic sense. Small watches just look “off,” once your eyes adjust to a more continuous line from shoulder to arm to hand. And if that’s not a scientific proof, unfurling with an eerie Calculus-like certainty from point to plane to surface, geez my friend, you are demanding.
Anyway, hey, all these watches are great, aren’t they? And they all worked really hard and put on a really great show.
In the real world, the meaningless platitude above would be followed, at least, by a bit of rigor: In other words, some brave, or heartless, soul would at least have the guts to actually declare one winner and several losers, but not me. I don’t roll like that. If one of these watches had actually crossed me, I might grind it beneath my black, wish-they-were-intimidating Doc Martens and then regret not trying to pan it off to some rube on eBay instead, like a respectable modern human. (J/k; eBay is far too complicated for me.)
But no, let’s face it, if these watches were women I’d be darting from one to the other in a frenzied attempt to fill a chasm of desire that can never be satiated. Nah, probably not, ‘cuz actually I don’t roll like that either, having been too badly beaten by the whip of past mistakes; and, once flailed, forever shy. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be gutless, rzight? So onward:
Most Beautiful “Better-Sized” Watch: Nixon 51-30
Jeez, I don’t know what it is, but you could marry the band. I keep my watches stashed on my bedside and I could swear I’ve spent an hour or more just staring at it, like Gollum at the ring. The gunmetal is “totes” amazing; so amazing I’ll say “totes.”
Best Overall “Better-Sized” Watch: Kyboe BS-005
Bigger than the Nixon, and it lights up like a 1978 game of Simon when you hit the “illuminate” switch. The Nixon, for all its splendor, alas, hides a bit too much. I spend enough time in my apartment. When I go out, I don’t want my watch to hide; I want it to be making introductions. The Kyboe is big enough to say hello before I do, but not so big that muggers hiding in the bushes on my street get a 15-second heads-up that I’ll soon be turning the corner.
Biggest and Baddest-Ass “Better-Sized” Watch: Diesel DZ7193
The Diesel DZ7193 is the stylistic equivalent of a punch to the face. It can’t fail to get a reaction. I’ve worn it exactly one time and received 2 gushing compliments (one from a girl, one from a dude, so you can get “respett” across the spectrum of society), and noticed more than one person checking it out from a distance. The Diesel is basically a fearless throwing down of the gauntlet, as though to say: “That’s right, mofo. That’s right. Beat this. … If you dare.”
It also covers four time zones, so after a series of imaginary 40-hour flights from LA, to say Paris, to say Africa, then maybe (even) home to New Orleans, I can bludgeon myself over the head with it, to get some rest.
Pablo Avion lives in a 250-sq. ft. apartment in either Hollywood or Silver Lake, or both, when he really wants to impress you. The watches barely fit in his apartment. Welcome to hell.
Posted on 12 July 2011.
By Pablo Avion
Beloved by princes. Lately finding its way into some of the world’s fanciest fragrances. But what does it smell like?
*** Very nice.
**** Oh wow.
***** Holy moly, Batman!
First of all, oud is a complex, amazing smell, which is probably why some bottles fetch $7,000 or more for 1-3 ml.
If you’ve never smelled oud, mix some peanut butter with coffee grounds, add jungle mud, a pinch of peppermint, patchouli and maybe menthol or (in some cases) raspberries. Then strain it through a band aid. (Probably the most important step.)
They all smell different, but I was always so frustrated by phrases like “hard to describe,” I swore I’d come up with something, and there it is. And truly, it’s an accurate starting reference.
CONS OF BUYING OUD: Pricey!
PROS OF BUYING OUD: It’s oil, not perfume, which means you only need a tiny swipe. So it’ll last longer.
According to Oriscent: “Each swipe of our oud is approximately one hundredth of a gram. Mathematically, if used every day by applying one swipe, your 3 gr. oud bottle should last you an entire year. If kept unused in the bottle, your oud only appreciates in value. The oldest oud is the most prized.”
I chose Ensar Oud, Agar Aura and Oudimentary because they were the most highly praised on Basenotes, one of the world’s most respected scent forums. When you’re ready for oud, go to them, because they’re the real deal.
(Again, note these ratings are for a NEWBIE IMPRESSION — what you may like as a newbie — not overall quality or anything else.)
Best in Show
$790 for 3 ml (1/2 ml sample available for $150)
WOW! Lord, how I wish they’d sent me more of this one. (Though at $263 per ml, not too surprising) Cruelty.
It’s like an explosion of intense, almost camphorous nutty sweetness, with as many layers as a baklava.
Excellent sillage that doesn’t seem to let up. (Meaning others will easily smell it, too, which is a good thing.)
Waited three days after smelling ALL of the ouds to smell it again, just to see if it could live up to my initial hype. My first thought at re-smelling was: “Heavenly.”
“Emerging like daybreak, the oil radiantly erupts with a pristine herbal-earthiness which moves it from its initial smokiness to sparkling forest leaves and a fresh efflorescent thread along the pond.
“Like Kyara LTD, at best you’ll only pick up a slight resemblance to the typical Burmese scent, while being completely free from the farmyard qualities you’d normally associate with Indo-Chinese oils.”
Where to Get It:
Newbie Impression: *****
$550 for 3 ml (1/2 ml sample for $119.95)
A firehouse of pepperminty-hay wood that dries to a pungent woody aroma, wet cedar chips, then an ancient library filled with old books and wet hay. Intense sillage.
You may like this more than Kyara Koutan if you like intense cedary smells. Seems to last longer than Kyara, too, although it seems to stick resolutely in that peppermint-woody gear. Your call.
Carlos at Scent Bar was the person who first turned me onto Kilian’s Pure Oud. So of course when my samples arrived I had to rush to Scent Bar so Carlos could smell the real deal.
Borneo 3000 was Carlos’ favorite of all the ouds. His take: “Extreme hay note, with the smell of a swimming pool’s concrete edge.”
“This Oud is the oil everybody remembers. It is the reason many people started to wander into the world of agarwood oil, and the reason many people still do.
“The first time you smell Borneo 3000, you’ll be completely taken aback. The ordinary world will disappear for a second, the moment having left you dazed and confused.
“When you return to your senses, you’ll be utterly baffled. Your sense of smell has never before been the source of such euphoria. It’ll get you thinking. It’ll get you feeling. How can this be? What is this?
“Even though perfume always had its obvious appeal, few ever thought of their olfactory sense as a ‘higher faculty’ able to open a window looking out onto another plain. Not in the way poetry, music, painting, or fine Danish chocolate could.
“But in that instant of Borneo bliss, you’ll know that your eye could never see, your tongue never taste, and your ears never listen to the beauty you just smelled. Borneo 3000 opens a window to a garden that you would have otherwise never known existed.”
Where to Get It:
Newbie Impression: ****3/4
$330 for 3 ml
Raspberry animals covered in clover honey.
Deep, fruity, sweet. Not so much a smell as an experience.
Maybe the first sample of oud I got (from eBay) already had me accustomed to the idea of oud as something animalic. So to me this was actually welcomingly smooth.
But for another perspective, Carlos at Scent Bar said:
“This is the most animalic thing I’ve smelled in my entire life.” He seemed impressed, so I think he liked it.
“At long last, after many days of disappointment, we walked into the backyard distillery of two remarkable artisans, and that deep syrupy wallow instantly made our mouths water. We knew this was it – that hallmark Cambodi sweetness. You wanted an Oriscent Cambodi. Behold. This oil is rich, it’s delicious, it’s Cambodi Caramel.”
Where to Get It:
Newbie Impression: ****1/2
$195 for 2.8 ml
If you want an EXCELLENT, affordable Cambodi, I highly recommend this one. About 60% the price of Cambodi Caramel, with slightly less intensity on the top, and slightly less fruitiness. If the sky’s the limit, by all means get Cambodi Caramel.
My next Cambodi, based on my budget, will be this one. I won’t really notice the difference.
“There are primarily 3 different types of Cambodian oud oils; those that are woody and sumptuous, those that are fruity and scrumptious, and those that are penetrating and resinous.
“Cambodi Sultan falls under all three categories. It displays a powerful contrast of rugged wood notes and sweeter highlights.
“Vibrant and lively, the opening note has a sweetness of berries balanced by an addictive resinous note that is present throughout the life of the scent. A bright and clean ethereal note hovers over the scent.
“As the scent develops on the skin it becomes smoother, and subtle accents of musk and wild flowers emerge.
“Hints of cork, amber, herbal foresty notes, and other nuances speckle the scent profile of this oil, and give it a completeness which leaves you satisfied.”
Where to Get It:
Newbie Impression: ****1/2
2.8 ml = $390
Jiwa is a TRULY beautiful Borneo oud, slightly cheaper than Borneo 3000, and lagging only slightly behind in intensity. Differs from Borneo 3000 in that it resolves to a fruiter accord, whereas 3000 keeps its insanely intense hay top-note.
“This oud defies all norms and its scent proves that aiming for high quality is worth the higher cost.
“Distilled from wild-harvested agarwood from the depths of Borneo, this oil delivers the heart and soul of the tropical rainforest it hails from.
“As the oil develops on your skin, it displays more of a classic Borneo oud character. The oil’s bright top notes are uplifting and coupled with the oil’s citrusy kick, make it perfect for summer. Subtle hints of creamy vanilla and a healthy dose of sweet pears smooth out the top notes and also make the scent profile more complete.”
Where to Get It:
Newbie Impression: ****1/4
$150 for 3 ml
This is a gorgeous one, an “I can’t stop smelling it” one. First blast is actually surprisingly reminiscent of a Borneo but then turns nutty, to dark cedar, then bright cedar. Mysterious, edible, deep woody, like walk through a mulch wood of decaying cedar chips.
It just seemed to fade fast (unlike Borneo’s almost frighteningly unremitting projection), which is the only reason I gave it 4.25 stars (teased up from an equally bizarre 3.75), but it may have been how little I had to work with, in terms of sample size. At beginning drydown it reminded me a little of Comme des Garcons Kyoto, but really more wet cedar chips followed by pine needles.
For the price, this might be your best bet as a starter. (This is the one I can see myself buying, based on my preferred budget.)
“Less sweet notes than our Cambodi oils. A fresh, distinct sharpness, which slowly gives way to deeper jungle air, earth and organic life. As you become more aware of your surroundings, notes of pine and herbs.”
Where to Get It:
Newbie Impression: ****
$200 for 3 ml
Super-complex, old peanut butter.
I love the nuttiness of this one. Although the site describes this as “animalic,” I find this quite smooth, like tahini, resolving to old leather briefcase straps. Animalic drydown.
“A bittersweet, honeyed aroma releases into sharp and musky, animalic undertones. An evocative, sensuous fragrance, exhibiting stunning body, depth and tenacity.”
Where to Get It:
Newbie Impression: ***1/2
$280 for 2.8 ml
Wet cedar chips with a fresh hay note and deep tobacco sweetness, with an echo of barbecue or cade oil.
“Almost all Indian oud oils have a learning curve, due to their robust oudiness and farminess. Oud Bengal has a scent profile that loosely falls under the Indian oud category. But it is completely devoid of fecal notes, and the only animalic aspect found in the oil is a soft suede smell, similar to our Purana.
“Oud Bengal has a remarkable coolness, a dark chocolaty base, hints of roasted coffee beans, and a jungly earthiness that would make you think this is a South Papuan oud oil. But more than anything, Oud Bengal is a pure wood scent, and the bold woodiness coupled with the soft suede note gives it a gentlemen’s club or antique store vibe.
“Many people use Indian oud solely for meditation, relaxation and personal enjoyment. Wearing it in public is often times out of the question. If you have been yearning for an oud oil of the Indian genre that you could wear as a fragrance and not worry about scaring others away, Oud Bengal may be just what you’re looking for!”
Where to Get It:
Newbie Impression: ***1/2
$395 for 2.8 ml
Sweet, fruity, funky oil.
I loved this one. It didn’t last as long as I’d like, but it was quite nice.
“Purana starts off with a classic Indian oud profile. As it develops on the skin it gets sweeter; jammy fruitiness and creamy woodiness dominate the heart of the scent.
“Most Indian oils have a bold bovine leatheriness, but this particular oil features the soft scent of suede. There are varied scent notes present in the oil simultaneously, and smelling the oil carefully and attentively conjures the image of a million tiny violins playing the most harmonious of melodies.”
Where to Get It:
Newbie Impression: ***1/2 – **1/2
3 ml = $250
Sweet barnyard. Very complex.
I’m honestly not sure what happened here. Originally I gave it 4, then 3.5, then 2.5. Maybe the available sample was so small I couldn’t get a good whiff after the first one. I’m not sure, so I’m putting all my notes in here.
These were my original notes:
Reminds me of Comme de Garcons Monocle Laurel in that it’s like a torn green twig or the taste of water chestnuts, but the animalic notes here are strong and unmistakable, if enjoyable. Other times smells like sweet carrots. Very nice projection/sillage.
Then on the second pass I wasn’t as excited, and I’m not sure why.
So again, be aware of the fact that this is a “newbie perspective” ONLY.
A true connoisseur of Indian oud might give this 5 stars.
“A very ‘old’ smelling oil, with a hardiness that lasts throughout the day after only one application. Our Super Assam offers a heavy body and strong character with undertones of fresh earth and rustic spice. Primal. The original funk.”
Where to Get It:
Newbie Impression: ***
$300 for 3 ml
Distant echo of incense rose. Sweet, bright, fun. Then nutty, chocolate-y, awesome.
Choco-plasticky drydown. (Like a more subtle, yet multi-dimensional Montale’s Black Oud.) Low-medium projection/sillage.
“Deliciously sweet, Cambodi Cacao brings the famed Cambodi fruitiness to life, like paint does to a canvas. Thicker and more contained, Cacao evolves more gradually than Caramel. Starting off with woodsy undertones shaded by plums and figs, the oil matures until its fruity base blossoms to fruition, revealing just how special a Cambodi this oil really is.”
Where to Get It:
Newbie Impression: ***
$190 for 3 ml
Leather or new Italian shoes. I personally would love to buy more of this one down the line, and it’s even a price I can (sort of) afford.
But I wouldn’t start with this one unless you LOVE the smell of leather, in which case go here first, because it’s beautifully leathery.
“Its cool, tangy top-notes breathe with a lavish herbal undercurrent, typical to Oud from this lush Indonesian Island.
“Refreshingly moist and exotic, Irian Emerald adds some body to the subtle and smooth aroma unique to other Indonesian Ouds – if Borneo oils take you for a mid-day stroll along a dry forest path on a blue-sky summer day, Irian Emerald takes you for an early morning jog deep in the jungle, where the pine leaves glitter with the clean morning dew. It is unspoiled, fresh, and crispy, with a soft, tropical muddiness to sink your toes into.
“For those familiar with our now legendary Papua oils, Irian Emerald will remind you of the wild green, foresty, even minty character that made Green Papua so exceptional.”
Where to Get It:
Newbie Impression: **3/4
$300 for 3 ml
Unfortunately, the sample was so small I could only test it once, which made is hard to compare it to the others and fit it into the continuum. It might be higher than this bizarre rating of 2.75 stars: I honestly couldn’t get a second sniff, so I had to estimate and try and remember from my first notes.
Apricot, menthol, minty mud with animal notes.
“Nice,” I wrote originally, “drying to something like Kilian’s Pure Oud: band-aids. At 30 min., I smell pencil shavings.”
“At the base there are foresty notes, mahogany and dried berry. Top notes indicate apricot, pipe tobacco. It is pure bottled subtlety.”
Where to Get It:
My first foray into oud was from a tiny vial purchased on eBay for $28.
Newbie Impression: *
$28 for 1 ml
Wood, mud, an elephant covered in cough syrup, plus monkeys.
While it did have some serviceable oud elements (I’d also like to emphasize this was the cheapest the eBay seller had, with samples allegedly from 1969! selling for much, much more), obviously the ouds reviewed below are leagues more interesting, complex, and just better.
My original joke based on first smelling this was of Robin’s new catchphrase, after he and Batman retire from crime-fighting and become import/exporters.
“Sweet, sweet monkey meat, Batman!”
As it dries, gets more and more dull and animal-y. Low sillage/projection. Interesting, though.
“This is a 1 cc of Qadim or Ateeq (meaning old & classics scents), pure dark & rich Aloeswood oil from the remote jungle of Cambodia. It aids in the relaxation of the mind, warm the heart & calm the mind, it is a truly uplifting experience and open an avenue of peace and contentment. Agarwood is the most potent aphrodisiac of all the essential oils. Valerian is a natural component of Aloeswood resin and functions to relieve insomnia allowing one to calm nervous energy before sleep and allowing one to have a deeper, more relaxed and longer sleep. ”
Where to Get It:
THANKS TO ENSAR OUD, AGAR AURA AND OUDIMENTARY FOR PROVIDING SAMPLES.
NEXT (WHENEVER I RECOVER FROM THIS ONE): “OUD” PERFUMES REVIEWED
Posted on 05 July 2011.
In the end, your nose will educate you profoundly. You will not be able to bear the smell of anything compounded of synthetic chemicals. They will stick in your nose like glue and create a really uncomfortable feeling. They may smell good for a minute or two but then they begin to fall apart. … In the end, it really depends on the purity of your own understanding and heart.
The words above were words of advice given to Ensar Oud as he embarked on his “oudissey.”
They also mirror to a certain degree my own olfactory journey: Store bought perfumes as cloying and uninteresting. Niche perfumes as a journey.
Oud as an adventure.
Among purveyors of Agarwood, Ensar Oud stands at the forefront, with one of the most storied histories, hands-on productions and the most expensive collection for sale (with 29-year-old “Oud Royale” at the pinnacle for $6,999).
His surprisingly personal and honest blog details his journeys: India, Burma, Borneo, Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia and beyond. The funny thing is how much it really reads like a spiritual quest.
I contracted my oud craving back when I started attending the mystical gatherings of the Sufis.
They’d always have these little stalls at the “bazaar” section, where all sorts of Sufi goods would be on offer, among them little greasy vials of oil called “oud.” Most of them nameless oils obtained from nameless sources. But the scent had its appeal.
Being somewhat of a snob by nature who could never be pleased with anything but the finest quality in all things, I started looking for higher and higher quality oils. The quest, needless to say, was extremely difficult.
Believe it or not, as recently as 2004 there was almost no awareness of oud in the West. Far from the fad it has now become, most folks did not even know oud existed. I packed my bags and started looking around the Gulf, initially, for the “perfume of the sultans and rulers of the Eastern lands”.
This led nowhere, and all I ended up with was a collection of DOP-laced oils similar to the offerings of the major oud companies from the Gulf: Arabian Oud, Abdul Samad al Qurashi, Al Haramain, etc. These companies openly mix their oils. I’ve visited their factories in the UAE, met the staff, the chemists, and the “artisans” as some rookie internet entrepreneurs like to call them. There was nothing artisanal about it is all I can say, and I was grossly disappointed.
Heading to Amman to live by my Sheikh in early 2005, the Sheikh ordered me to travel to the Far East in quest of oud. “I want you to bring me back the finest oud oils in the world,” the Sheikh ordered me. The story is re-told in my blog.
With his blessing, and by the grace of God, we were able to fool certain Quixotic souls into the profitless venture of distilling artisanal oud oil for us. Not caring about the costs, the potential major losses if the distillations went bad, we soon ended up with oils that are to this date referred to as Oud Legends by fellow distillers, collectors, entrepreneurs, what have you: Kyara LTD, Borneo 3000, Royal Kinam, Borneo 4000. And the list went on.
How has it been catching on in the West? That is a funny question. And I crack up as I say this, because now everyone, including previous customers of Ensar Oud (formerly Oriscent) has launched their own website, with their own “Beginner’s Guide,” “Starter’s Guide,” “Oud Guide,” Oud Regions, Origins, what have you; and everything else as we had it arranged on our old site.
Everyone now distills oils worthy of the title “Oud Royale” (an extremely famous Ensar Oud Legend); and recently someone even juiced an “LTD” oil. No doubt, everyone is now a purveyor of “the highest quality oud oils in the world” in his own right.
I recall a poem by W.B. Yeats titled “To A Poet, Who Would Have Me Praise Certain Bad Poets, Imitators Of His And Mine”. It goes something like this:
So in short, oud’s been catching on, that’s for sure.
I hear Creed is even launching a “Royal” Oud this summer containing, amongst other things: “spicy fresh top notes of lemon, pink pepper and bergamot, a dark deep heart of angelica, bitter green galbanum and Lebanese cedar.”
Needless to say, what money-driven exploits like this do is water down the meaning of the word “oud” in the West as it was watered down long ago in the East, where it no longer stands for the pure essential oil of the Aquilaria tree but for a mere scent family. “Oud” scented tissue papers are readily available in the supermarkets of Amman.
Ever smelled “musk” hand lotion at your local pharmacy? How much genuine deer musk would you guess is in there? Well … that’s how much oud is in most “oud” fragrances being mass-marketed at present.
You’ve been all over the world in search of oud. What drives you? What has been your most memorable experience? And where would you like to go next?
Most people are driven by one of a few simple drives: food, financial security, sex, prestige …. You can see it in many ways. In a way, I believe saving money is a waste of time; so I save oud instead, and have got quite a few kilograms of the finest quality wild-harvested artisanal oud oils stashed away as my retirement plan.
I’m sure oud will soon be extinct, at least the wild varieties; and the value will go up. A bottle of Oud Royale sold for $390 back in 2005. The last bottle sold for $7,000 in 2011. Kyara LTD used to sell for $550 back in 2007. The last bottles were on offer for $10,000 each at the beginning of this year. Kyara Koutan currently sells for $790 a bottle. Can you guess what it’ll be worth in 2015?
But apart from merely financial considerations, this oil has a soul. It has the power to transcend the senses and put you in touch with a higher reality most people seldom get to experience, entrapped as they are in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Some meditate. Others do yoga. Others do drugs. Others dance. Yet others wear Oud Nuh. The spiritual pull is something very palpable and unmistakable in our oils.
I’ve always wanted to go to Laos, and produce the foulest, most fecal specimens of oud the world has ever smelled. For some reason, I’ve never made it. While the appeal of “oud” has caught on in the West, the appeal of the “fecal” varieties of Assam and other types of Indo-Chinese oils has yet to develop.
The search of oud seems like a developed intuition. What kind of climate is ideal? How do you know when you’re on the right track?
The extremely moist, tropical climates of Assam, Indochina and Indonesia are ideal for producing oud. While almost all over Indochina wild oud has been harvested to extinction, there are certain areas of Assam, Borneo and Papua that still produce wild agarwood. I have absolutely no interest in the cultivated varieties of agarwood. I’ve always meant to write an article to explain the differences, just never got to it.
Very generally speaking, how do ouds differ from region to region?
The same way teas differ from climate to climate, so do ouds.
Each climate is unique, each soil has a different mineral content, the water used to treat the wood differs in each jungle; these are all factors that contribute to the different aromas of oud oils. Most importantly though, different species of oud trees grow in different jungles. This is the most significant factor that dictates the differences between each region’s juice.
You work hands-on with numerous distillers, and you have a reputation for being stringent and exacting. What sorts of things do you require from your distillers that are usually neglected?
For one, I demand that incense quality oud be used in the distillation of the oils. This will automatically disqualify most distillers. Many have even thought I was playing a practical joke when I presented this demand to them.
Secondly, I don’t want the oil to be “pasteurized and homogenized” as it is for distribution to the Gulf market and other Internet retailers. I want each batch to be labelled individually so I can study the different factors that went into the distillation and see the impact they carry on the resulting oil. Another distiller got into a mix-up with his brother when he tried to implement this for my sake. Now, thankfully, we have our own still in each distillery, and our oils are distilled separately from other suppliers’.
It’s been said that one way to get in touch with the spiritual is through the senses. Although the senses are usually thought of as a “lower” faculty, in a way they can be said to be closer to the holy or spiritual because they are untainted by the vagaries of our mind, and a direct connection to the world as created by the Creator. Perhaps, as a sincere appreciation of the world as it is, they can be said to be an expression of gratitude, and thus a kind of prayer. Do you believe this? Or perhaps, what do you see as the connection between the olfactory and the spiritual?
With heart and soul, yes, that is exactly what I believe! You have summarized the spiritual journey most eloquently in your question, my friend.
In our spiritual tradition, fragrance is perhaps the only material thing that carries a significance so great wearing it is considered an act of worship.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) used to say, “Beloved to me from your world are women and perfume, and the coolness of my eyes is in prayer.” If you study that statement closely, you’ll quickly realize the only material “thing” he really loved from the world was perfume. Women are people, one’s spiritual as well as physical partners and companions. And the prayer is an action, not a material “thing.” So perfume was the only worldly possession that the most spiritual of men was fond of. That says a lot.
Any new trips coming up? Or anything else you’d like to tell us?
I’m in Istanbul as I write this, but obviously not for any oud-related matters. So I’m already on a trip. But seriously speaking, we plan to visit Indochina (Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and perhaps Vietnam) very very soon. As soon as Oud Idrees, Ensar’s Elixir, and certain other LTD Collection oils go live.
Fragrant greetings to you Pablo. Please do keep in touch (and wear Oud Mostafa). It’s been a pleasure corresponding with you.
NEXT WEEK: OUD OILS REVIEWED
Posted on 28 June 2011.
And why can a tiny bottle cost $7,000?
What is oud / agarwood?
Oud, aloeswood or agarwood is the resinous heartwood of the agarwood tree. The essential oil extracted from the wood is commonly known as oud oil (sometimes even just ‘oud’), dahn al-oud (the Arabic term for ‘oud oil’), and agarwood oil.
The tree produces the aromatic resin as a reaction to a fungal attack, and over the years as the fungal infection grows, so does the resin in the heartwood.
Oud oil is, however, more than just a fragrant essential oil. For many, it provides a highly engaging olfactory experience due to its naturally complex scent spectrum. For others, it is grounding, pacifying and tranquilizing, and is used as an aid in meditation. Yet others use oud for purely medicinal reasons.
In short: it is a gift of nature which has more to offer than just an addictive scent.
What is the “agar aura” as you envision it?
Believe it or not, this is actually the first time someone has asked me this!
The ‘agar aura’ is a complete experience that involves the use of oud oil and the smoke of oud wood chips for scenting oneself. Basically, the combination of the two creates a scent halo around you, and you become the equivalent of a walking incense stick.
It is highly pleasing to both the wearer as well as anyone they are around, or even walk past. I remember when I was in university my friends would tell me that they always knew what days I was there because they could smell my ‘presence’. And that was hours after I had been there!
But more importantly, to me, the agar aura experience is more about pampering oneself. The scent from the combination of using oud oil and oud smoke is such an engaging and beautiful olfactory experience that often times I will catch myself zoned out, drowned in the sheer complexity of what my nose is blissing out on.
What is the oud oil extraction / creation process? What makes your oil different?
No doubt, there are numerous sources of oud oils (as well as aromatic concoctions being passed off as oud). Sadly, most oud oils available to the public are adulterated. In some cases, there is not a drop of the real stuff in the bottle. I cannot name more than a few retailers who I believe sell 100% pure unadulterated oud oils.
There is a lot involved in the process of extracting oud oil from the wood, and there are various methods employed to obtain it. Hydro-distillation and steam-distillation are the most popular methods.
In general, the quality of the wood, the distillation techniques employed, and the purity of the oil determine the scent. It would be safe to say that 99% of oud oils out there have been extracted from the lowest grades of oud wood, the worst distillation techniques are employed, and the end product is more often than not adulterated. Why, you ask? Because oud is rare and expensive, and opting for quality can become morbidly expensive if a company wishes to have large-scale operations.
Agar Aura caters specifically to the niche sector of the oud market. Our focus is on quality, purity and rarity. We believe that the difference between high and low quality oils is so huge that they should be treated as two separate fragrances altogether.
I like to use the example of carbon: it can be quite dull (coal), or it can be the most brilliant and prized of all gemstones (diamonds). That’s the case with oud as well.
The oud craze is a relatively recent phenomenon in the West, but it has been around for a long time in the East. However, it might surprise you to know that most of the same misconceptions exist in both markets.
I think the main misconception is about the scent itself: most people believe that oud is supposed to smell leathery, pungent, rubbery, or harsh in one way or another. It is often associated incorrectly with the ‘dirty’ note found in a lot of Western perfumes.
Now ‘leathery’ and ‘pungent’ may certainly be used to describe the scent of some oud oils from certain geographical regions, however they are by no means unpleasant. But what most people have come to think of as the ‘oud note’ is actually the scent of horribly low-quality oud oil, distilled with such poor extraction methods that it would in fact be unfair to call the resulting oil ‘oud’. And in many cases, perfume houses use synthetic oud, which is an aroma-chemical and is neither extracted from agarwood trees nor smells anything like real oud oil.
Let us now turn to high quality oud oils. It may be surprising for many to know that in reality oud oils from most regions are not leathery, rubbery or harsh. Bold, yes – and it can take a week or 2 to get accustomed to the boldness – but certainly not dirty or harsh smelling. Did you know, for example, that oils from Borneo island can be fruity, floral, bright and zesty?
The point is: different regions produce oud oils that are very, very different from each other. Each type of oud oil comes with its own set of distinct properties and scent.
In fact, every single batch of oud oil (even from the same jungle) smells different. So the experiences you get from oud are limitless, and every oud oil that you acquire will have a different story to tell.
I believe this is also one of the main reasons why the big perfume houses opt for synthetics and low-grade oud (which is more generic smelling). They have to sell thousands, if not millions, of bottles of any given fragrance and the juice in each bottle has to smell exactly like the one next to it. This is impossible to do with high quality oud oil at that scale.
Tell us a little about yourself. Your background, how you got into this business, and what you love about it.
I grew up in Saudi Arabia, and it was during the 15 years spent there that I developed a love for perfume, and Arabian perfumery in particular.
I remember as a kid I would love spending time at the tiny oud shop just yards away from where I lived.
In malls and mosques, they would always be burning oud chips and bukhoors (incense pellets), and I would stand close to the burner greedily try to get as much of the smoke on myself and my clothes as possible. Then I would come home and enjoy the scent of the resin sticking to my clothes after the smokiness dissipated.
Now I also happen to draw and paint. I create my ‘mukhallats’ (oud-based perfume blends) the same way I paint: I envision something in my mind and then go about recreating it. In the case of paintings, I would pour out my imagination onto a canvas. With perfumery, the canvas is my mixing bottle.
For me, Agar Aura started out as a hobby; I wanted to share my passion with the world. But business quickly picked up, and today I’m happy to be one of the very few sellers world-wide who specialize in pure oud oils of exceptional quality.
How did you get involved with Basenotes? What has your experience been like there?
I remember having come across the website a long time ago, but I did not sign up or get involved back then. It was only a few years ago that I discovered the “oud lovers” group there and I realized its immense value for the English-speaking, oud-lovin’ world.
This particular discussion group embodies how oud connoisseurs perceive and express their oud experiences. The vocabulary its members have developed is worthy of being compiled into an “Oud Lovers’ Dictionary”.
Scents notes have been isolated and identified, terms have been coined, the scent of oud oils have been broken down into individual scent notes, and a wealth of knowledge and experience has been shared by members around the globe.
I myself have greatly benefited from the group as well. In fact, it was one Basenotes member in particular who always pushed me to keep stepping up my game, and she is one of the main reasons why today Agar Aura carries some of the highest quality oud oils in the world.
Agar Aura | Web
Posted on 26 June 2011.
HOW DID I BECOME OBSESSED WITH SOMETHING CALLED “OUD”?
“Oud” sounds like something from BBC science fiction. How did it start? My life, by all accounts, seemed quite normal.
I have a dim memory of walking into Scent Bar in Los Angeles, looking for a fragrance to improve my dating life.
This is my recollection: After smelling probably a dozen things, one more bottle is handed to me: a bottle that looks like any other. I smell it. Then everything becomes a haze. It’s like I’m walking into a spinning tunnel, or like when that guy thinks he’s falling in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
In a heartbeat, my life changes. I am happy. I have a reason to live. I can feel myself becoming poorer.
That fragrance was “Pure Oud” by Killian.
Ungodly expensive as it was, how was I to know:
The Kilian fragrance (or “frag” in current hip-speak) led me to a series of “oud-based” perfumes: 10 Corso Como, Montale Black Aoud, and others like Juliette Has a Gun Midnight Oud, L’Artisan Al Oudh and Bond No. 9 New York Oud.
But here’s the kicker: This, too, was a preface. It began my quest to find out:
What exactly IS oud?
How can I get REAL oud oil?
And most importantly: What will I have to pawn on eBay to AFFORD it?
Join ModelNews as we explore the aforementioned perfumes, and meet some popular sellers of oud oils, like Ensar Oud, the man responsible for bringing oud to the West, Micah at Oudimentary in the SF Bay area and Taha Syed at Agar Aura, a frequent “oudicator” from fragrance community Basenotes.
NEXT WEEK: Hey, what is Oud, anyway?
Posted on 27 May 2011.
The Fashionable Life is product reviews (perfumes, for example), and ways of making your life fun and fashionable while at home or on-the-go.
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