Whenever some sort of seasonal equinox passes, one of the many beauty conundrums to consider has to do with fragrance. After all, what better way to switch over to a seasonal mood (or any, for that matter) than a new scent to tell you “Hi, it’s spring—put the cinnamon and peppermint stuff away now, please.”
Those of us with allergies, however, will appreciate that just because it’s spring doesn’t mean florals are the only botanical option for perfuming yourself. If you appreciate scents a bit more on the mysteriously deeper and complex side, perhaps ouds are for you.
Typically found in woodsy scents, oud comes from the Agarwood tree. Specifically the substance occurs when a particular mold fungus attacks the tree and the wood produces a dark aromatic resin to protect itself. It’s this resin, the oud, that has been so prized for centuries by many cultures for its distinctly unique scent, so much so that over time harvesting of it has nearly depleted the natural resource of Agarwood trees. Oud resin is pretty much the liquid gold of fragrance, understandably making it very expensive. Don’t feel like you aren’t able to experience it though if you aren’t stacking cash—oud is found in a lot more fragrances than you may suspect. Here are a few of our favorites.
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Photography: Sable Yong
Graphics: Rolly Robinson
It doesn't get much woodsier than this.
From L to R: Diptyque's Tam Dao, Hendley Perfumes' Fume, Tom Ford's Tobacco Oud, &Other Stories' Arabesque Wood, Strangelove NYC's DeadofNight
& Other Stories — Arabesque Wood
This eau de toilette from European fashion retailer, & Other Stories, falls in line with their minimal but fresh and unexpected offerings. You can probably tell from the name that this is a woody scent, but it's not terribly boastful with the oud (other than having it printed on the ribbon encircling the bottle). It's equal parts citrusy and fresh with top notes of tangerine and ginger, but the real hook is in the earthy sweet campfire element in the mossy heart of it. It definitely errs more on the fresh side rather than spicy but settles to a warm crisp finish.
This is a great scent if you usually enjoy fresh herbal scents and want to dip a toe into woodsy scents.
(Where to Buy: Arabesque Wood, $40, Stories.com in the UK or in-store only)
Strangelove NYC — Deadofnight
Deadofnight is not a fragrance for the timid. This perfume oil is deeply as complex as it is compelling. You're not quite sure what it is you're smelling but you want to keep smelling it. That is the vibe. If you're looking for straight-up oud, this would be the pick for you. The maker, ERH1012 AKA Strangelove NYC, won't be found splashing advertising all over the place, but with Helena Christensen at the helm as creative director, this is one of those in-the-know scents for perfume enthusiasts.
The oud at the heart of it is surrounded by jasmine and rose, as spicy/woodsy sandalwood, amber, and white musk muddle the floral top before it gets too sickly sweet. It's a grounded scent for sure, and that it comes as an oil makes it that much more intimate, as it's meant to be applied in very deliberate places since it's so potent. The best part of this scent is how it morphs with your body chemistry and settles into your skin, imbuing you with your own personal fragrance aura that's equal parts comforting as it is exotic.
(Where to Buy: Deadofnight, $55 for 1.25ml, Strangelovenyc.com)
Hendley Perfumes — Fume
Hendley Perfumes is the work of independent perfumer, Hans Hendley, who has crafted a small but deliberate selection of sophisticated unisex fragrances. Fume is one the woodsier selections, as though a campfire with a sap-filled wood had been burnt and the smoke was somehow bottled into this scent. This fragrance is like a cup of gunpowder tea, with evergreen notes nestled within smokey leather, all hidden underneath mossy dew. It smells like your favorite vintage leather rucksack that had most likely previously belonged to a cabin-dweller in the Pacific Northwest. Don't be surprised if any dudes in your life steal a spritz.
(Where to Buy: Hendley Perfumes 'Fume', $64 for 75ml, Hendley Perfumes)
Commodity — Moss
You may have seen Commodity's 'mix bars' around Sephora—the niche fragrance brand, Commodity, has just partnered with the beauty megastore to offer you the ability to create a custom fragrance using their single-focus scents, like Paper, Book, Whiskey, Tea, Rain, Gold, and of course, Moss.
What's the woods without moss? One could think of it as the safety blanket of all things forest, Commodity's Moss fragrance lies somewhere in-between the crisp and smokey woods and fresh cut grass. While it possesses elements of both, the sweet green of the Eucalyptus and Italian Bergamot it opens with is buffered with warm amber and white musk, which fades so cozily into a base of cashmere wood and cedarwood. If a forest somehow made a laundry detergent and bottled it, this might be it—as it's equal parts crisp and cozy while still remaining elusively in the woods.
(Where to Buy: Commodity 'Moss', $99 for 100ml, Commoditygoods.com)
Diptyque Paris — Tam Dao
A daytime spice, Tam Dao may live in the "woods" family of the Diptyque collection, but we find it to be a bit more multifaceted than that. Its initial impression is very green and fresh, like sweet grass that rests on its amber and sandalwood heart before it gets too tonic-like. It's like an herbal infusion found in a sultry jungle, definitely rooted someplace dewy and close to the earth. The woody and exotic spice heralds a type of ceremonial grace that inspires any day you wear this fragrance to feel that much more intimate.
(Where to Buy: Diptyque Paris' "Tam Dao Eau De Parfum, $140 for 75ml, diptyqueparis.com)
Tom Ford — Tobacco Oud
Another heavy hitter, Tobacco Oud comes on strong from the get-go. It's a heady rush, with a cacophonous mixture of amber, dried fruit, and tobacco that fills your nostrils completely upon first whiff. But unlike inhaling second-hand smoke, this tobacco is robust and leathery with a velvety darkness that might be too powdery if not for the bittersweet twist in it, kind of like dark chocolate or cacao.
Beneath the smoke is where the oud lies—its best quality being how it harmonizes with your skin's natural chemistry to create a unique scent all your own. It's a bit of a shape-shifter, fading to a velvety spice and then a near-vanilla plume. You'll probably find yourself smelling your wrists (or wherever you may have spritzed this one) all day if not just for the pure enjoyment of it, but to also try and wrap your brain around deciphering that mysterious oud element.
(Where to Buy: Tom Ford 'Tobacco Oud', $215 for 50ml, Tomfordbeauty.com)