I remember walking around an exhibition on Moghul India at the British Museum, resplendent in the opulence we associate with this particular region and time. The curlicued rupees bearing intricate names alongside triangular flags, ears of wheat and fishes were not strictly limited to Moghul rule, the curator explained; the Nawabs had seized control of their own regions by that time, issuing their own coins, but continuing to cajole the Mughal emperor by keeping his name on the currency. Similarly the latest India-inspired Ormonde Jayne fragrance, Nawab of Oudh, draws upon two different wells: the silk Banarasi saris of India, with their Moghul motifs and their heavy gold work, on one hand and the mystic Muslim tradition of roses and oud resin rising in the air from a censer at the mosques of Persia on the other.
Understandably, given those references, the perfume smells the way a metallic brocade looks: lush, rich, opulent, draped for elegance. But the artistry of perfumer Geza Schoen makes it modern and wearable too. Despite the by now tired trope of "oudh", the note so often smelling more like a pack of Band-Aids than the exotic resin obtained by the pathological secretion of the Aquilaria tree when attacked by a fungus, there is none of that contemporary nonsense in Nawab of Oudh. There is a powdery, soft like cat's paws, ambery trail in the drydown, reminding me of Private Collection Amber Ylang (E.Lauder), which envelops the higher notes of green-citrusy brilliance into a cradle of plush. The distinction between phases (drawing upon the classical pyramid structure of perfumes) is here apparent, at least in a binary pattern: the introduction is distinctly separate from the prolonged (really impressively prolonged) phase of the drydown. In essence we have the interplay of raspiness and velvety softness, aided by the texture of the rose. Oud-laced roses have become a dime a dozen lately in niche perfumery, but I will withhold a place in my heart of Nawab of Oudh because it's so extraordinarily beautiful indeed.
And the name? How did it evolve and how does it unite those two worlds, India and the Middle East? Awadh or Oudh was a prosperous and thickly populated province of northern India (modern Uttar Pradesh), its very name meaning "capital of Lord Rama", the hero of the Ramayana epic. Its turmoiled history began with becoming an important province of the Mughal empire, soon establishing a hereditary polity under Mughal sovereignty; but as the power of the Mughals diminished, the province gained its independence. The opulence in the courts of the Nawabs (ruler kings of the Awadh, originating from a Persian adventurer called Sa'adat Khan) and their prosperity were noticed by the British East India Company, resulting in their direct interference in internal political matters, which reached its zenith in the eventual total loss of power by the Nawabs in 1856.
The official info on the scent by Ormonde Jayne runs thus: "Nawab (Ruler) of Oudh is a province of central India. Our perfume is inspired by the Nawabs who once ruled over it. It is a potent blend of amber and rose with a soft oudh edge. Yet surprisingly not one ingredient stands out from the others. It achieves a perfume synergy that defies traditional analysis, releasing a pulsating pungency, brooding and hauntingly beautiful, a rich tapestry of fascinating depths, a jewelled veil to conceal its emotional complexity and extravagance."
Notes for Nawab of Oudh:
Top: green notes, bergamot, orange absolute, cardamom, aldehyde.
Heart: rose, magnolia, orchid, pimento, bay, cinnamon, hedione.
Base: ambergris, musk, vetiver, labdanum, oudh.
Nawab of Oudh along with the rest of the "Four Corners of the Earth" collection by Ormonde Jayne, inspired by Linda Pilkington's travels, is exclusive to the London Ormonde Jayne boutiques at 12 The Royal Arcade and 192 Pavillion Road and at the Black Hall perfumery at Harrods.