Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tryvge Harris: "None of the ouds in any of those commercial perfumes are real. None."

In an interesting interview of Trygve Harris on FragranceScout, the owner of Enfleurage NYC (dedicated to natural essences of the highest grade, including the very rare gardenia essence) who lives in Oman reveals some (not so astounding surely if you have been following our pages here for some time) facts about oud/aoudh and its commercial inclusion in perfumes, mainstream and niche alike. If you don't know the first thing about oud (rather unlikely unless you had been living under a rock for the past 3-4 years) you can consult our Perfume Raw Material: Oud/Aoudh/Agarwood article; it should get you started and correct some misconceptions.
Asked if one can find a good quality oud, Harris answers that there is no chance any more; "high quality Lao (and Vietnamese, Cambodian, & Thai) [oud] is finished." Of course this is where the synthetic bases popularised these past few years which have given rise to the abundance of "oud" perfumes in the market: almost one release in every eight is about oud at this pace. She also explains that even "real aoudh" used is usually just the dried chips, bearing no resin left, treated so they give off some scent, but not the authentic oud smell. "A great deal of oud is just chemical, or reconstituted. Almost all. I would say you have .01% chance of finding a real pure one. And none of the ouds in any of those commercial perfumes are real. None. It would be madness to create something for the mass market, or even a “niche market” using raw materials whose availability, origin and price are so random."
As to whether this trend for oud will stay with us, she's pretty categorical: "There is just no way that so many Westerners are connect with oud."

All in all a very interesting and frank interview to Giovanni.


  1. A shame, but probably true in more cases than not. If a company can get away with cutting costs by using synthetics, they're going to just about every time.

  2. Thanks for this.

    I have no doubt that, in the vast majority of cases, the ouds that are used are not natural. But the real question is: is this a problem? Many of the synthetic ouds are excellent.

    I think the real issue here is that of marketing honesty.

  3. A-HA! I'll never forget my first encounter with "oud" when I was new at this. I thought, "what's with the used dirty Band-Aid, have all of these people lost their wits?" I've gotten more accustomed to it now. And it just doesn't make sense that commercial perfumes would use something so difficult to source and maintain.

  4. Even if it wasn't gone when they started making all these "oud" perfumes, it would be gone by now - I'm not sure how any natural material could support the demand created by the huge, sheep-like rush to capitalize on each and every whim & fad in perfumery these days.

  5. MHC,

    it's a complex issue as Harris explains that even using the dried out wood chips can be claimed to be "natural" (and it is), but they're totally devoid of the specific resin produced by the tree to treat the "infection", which is really the whole raison d'etre of oud. Essentially even brands that use a natural product (very few among them, mostly artisanal with miniscule production rates) are removed from the true oud smell.

    Of course synths can cut down on any concerns on sustainability/distribution/maintainance etc. of even the wood chips. No wonder they've been so popular.

  6. D,

    glad you enjoyed! Thanks for stopping by.

    As I said in my above comment, the issue is rather two-fold really: even those who do use a natural product (those very few) they don't use the resin from oud, just the dried wood chips (as per Harris quoted). It's the difference between baking with real chocolate and cocoa powder. Yes, the second is derived from what gives us the first (the same cocoa beans) but there is a world of nuance in between, isn't there?
    Which of course escapes advertising copy and marketing, as you say, even for the more honest ones (It's entirely plausible that even honest purchasers can be fooled by distributors and sellers of the raw materials; the tales are endless, as retold by perfumers and raw materials suppliers alike). I don't doubt that a handful of artisanal natural perfumers derive their stuff from such outfits as Enfleurage and the like and don't fool consumers with false claims, but in those cases the price corresponds to the essence used and there are no "tricks" to make the perfume "likeable" to a Westernized nose.

    Concerning your assertion that "many of the synthetic ouds are excellent" do you mean they smell good in themselves or that they smell true to the natural product? As to the latter, I'm afraid, like with natural Tonquin deer musk, there are precious few among us who have had the pleasure of smelling the real thing and then I'm all awonder myself what grade exactly I had smelled and how it translated into the very best varieties available just decades past. I think I can't claim that I can assert with sufficient proficiency whether someone uses the best grade or a lesser one. (though I can smell a fake from the real, there's a world of difference)
    As to the former, personally I have not come across an "oud perfume" which didn't really derive its best traits from other things than the synth oud base. Kilian's Incense Oud is an excellent case in point: gorgeous loads of frankincence, just a tiny hint of "oud", lovely perfume overall. Most oud perfumes just come across as Band-Aids medicinal, smelling perverse in order to appear sophisticated and unusual. There's more than a hint of inherent masochism in a perfume lover, me thinks. ;-)

  7. P,

    exactly! It just doesn't make sense, because it's an incredibly variable "crops" so it should be common sense that the synths are at play.
    Even the natural is not what it used to be and I bet most of us have not smelled the best possible real oudh that we could, simply because of shortage and depletion. Remember the case with iris a short 4-5 years ago when everything was awash with iris rhizome, "the most expensive ingredient in perfumery", only they forgot to tell us that a new technique had managed to make iris mature in 3 months instead of 3 years and Chinese production had made it possible for anyone to claim to use "iris".

    Personally ~and I'm donning my flame suit right now~~ I think most oud perfumes on the market today are an abomination: were they presented to an unbiased, with no interest in perfume (but with plenty of interest in sensory pleasure) person, they'd be turned down without a doubt. They just don't smell good. They just smell "weird".

  8. SS,

    "huge, sheep-like rush to capitalize on each and every whim & fad in perfumery these days" is actually the best description I've read so far! Brava!
    Indeed, not two launches go by with a different approach from the rest and everyone apes that "formula". Basta!

  9. Eliam Puente16:24

    There is so much to say about this topic that I really don't even know where to start, but for the sake of time and not boring all of you to death I will keep my post as short as possible. :)

    Oud is definitely "in" right now. Everyone is launching their own version of an oud perfume, everyone wants one, and everyone talks about it. What's sad is that the majority don't even know what real oud smells like. Every variety of oud and every batch of oud I've smelled is so different and unique that there is no way large perfume houses or even popular niche houses can get away with marketing and selling an oud perfume with a good amount of real oud in it unless they've secured a large batch of a certain oud and have launched the perfume as a special run (once the material is finished, so is the perfume).

    The only house I know of that has recently launched an oud perfume with lots of real oud in it is "La Via del Profumo" owned by natural perfumer AbdesSalaam Attar. He has secured a batch of Bengali oud and has notified many of us that once the batch is finished, so is the perfume. I think this is the only way you can be sure a house is using the real thing. Oud is also not cheap. In fact, good quality oud is more expensive than orris root. So you can't expect that a 100ml bottle of perfume selling for $60 to $120 to have very much (if any) real oud in it.

    I do encourage any reader that loves oud perfumes to seek a reputable dealer of oud oil and try some out. Not many will like it (it is very unique) but it is definitely worth exploring.

    Speaking of oud perfumes, I just remembered I have some of AbdesSalaam's oud perfume in my backpack. Guess what I'll be wearing to work today?!

    Thank you for the post! I know need to read your other posts on oud during my lunch break. :)

    Oh, Elena, I also just got some more vintage Guerlain perfumes in. I may have to just send you a private message about them if that's OK.

  10. Anonymous17:11

    Interesting article, which confirms what a lot of people suspected all along, especially with regard to the Montale line.

    Props to Serge Lutens, who has yet to jump on the oud bandwagon.

  11. Just to jump on the bandwagon; since smelling actual oud I have been completely unable to stomach synthetic ouds. The true material is probably the most complex and shifting thing I've ever smelled - there are oud suppliers who I trust and whose prices reflect that reliability (Oudimentary, Oudhasi, Ensar @ Oriscent & AgarAura).

    Oud synthetics are totally hamstrung by their tie to representational accuracy. With, to pick an aromachem at random, dihydromyrcenol, no-one can criticise its smell on mimetic grounds: it is a smell unto itself. Oud synthetics will always and forever be trying to capture a scent whose complexity I think at this point defies techonology's capacity to reproduce.

    I think the very summit of a perfumer's achievement might be to mimic the scent of oud in a whole perfume, with complementary overlaid accords; but one synthetic ingredient? It's a fool's errand.

    Warning: big claim ahead. I think that perfumes that aim for abstraction are more artistically moving than perfumes that aim for representational accuracy - soliflores, etc. And the synthetic oud note has such a distinct profile that it sticks out like a sore thumb in most all compositions. I find it really off-putting, especially knowing what a caricature it is of the real thing.

    I say we drop the whole fad, and write it off (cause that'll happen!) unless we can all agree to start dropping some serious $$$ on reputable attars.

  12. Back with you all very shortly! (off the door right now)

  13. Eliam,


    I think what Tauer does with the limited editions on specific compositions that only run for a finite number of bottles is more honest (not about oud, but it could be like that for oud for other manufacturers as well).

    It is a fad. It will run its course. The sad thing is the poaching that happens in the interim. If the trees are depleted, like almost with sandalwood, then it's a sad sad day.

    I agree on Via del Profumo, excellent stuff all around, he's a genius!

  14. Oh and Eliam,

    feel free to drop me a line!

  15. Anon,

    the Montale line is all "erzatz" on that account as far as I know. I had been crying that out from the rooftops for ages, but people just didn't want to listen. That does not mean that there are no good Montale fragrances, because there are. But that's a different matter than adherence to the real essence; one can make something wonderful with something synthetic as we all know.

    And yes, props to Serge. I sincerely hope he continues on that path. ;-)

  16. Martinus,

    wise words...

    Well, indeed as you say there are two schools in perfumery: photorealism and abstraction and they're both difficult, but perhaps the latter allows for more creativity to show (novel forms and not just formats)

    I seriously doubt my own experiences with oud, because they have been so diverse, so the differences are really miles apart. Yes, the more complex stuff is a sight to behold, the lesser ones just too much $$ for something that could be arrived at through creative combining. It's easy to lose track of grades though and in a mixed composition a talented perfumer can "trick" us into thinking one thing and it being another (elevating a low grade through manoeuvres). I guess if JCEllena had got his hand into oud he would create VERY interesting things, but at this point when everyone is on the bandwagon, like with Serge who hasn't jumped on, I don't want JC jumping on either. I reserve them as superior to fads. :-D

    It does pain me to see people throwing away big money believing they're buying precious ingredients when they're really not. Perfume buying is buying into fantasy, yes, but... Oh well.

  17. Thank you very much for the post Elena. 
    The meeting with Trygve was very exciting, salaam introduced me to her, I smelt her super lao and it was incredibile. 
    The problem for me Is a problem of truth. 
    If perfume houses say they use synthethics oud or synthethics raw, I can not like, but It's ok. 
    If the customer believe that the fragrance was Made with real oud... It's not ethic. 
    An other problem Is that fragrances have to be' evalueted thinking to raw, not to other perfumes. 
    If i smell a rose fragrance it's wrong to think that the rose paradigma Is an other rose fragrance. 
    The online rose paradigma Is the rose Absolue. 
    About Montale... It's better that I don't write :)
    Giovanni- Fragrancescout

  18. Giovanni,

    thanks so much for stopping by to comment on this.
    Yes, it was a most interesting discussion I bet and she throws a good light on many issues. Highly recommended reading. :-)
    It's as you say: when there is this intentional blending of truth and fantasy where the consumer is left with the impression that real things are used it is a bit unethical on the part of the marketing. Of course one could argue "it's all marketing" but I always thought it was part of the story, not part of a lie. You know?
    And resounding yes on comparing with the material, not other fragrances (unless we're doing a "guidance" reference to stir consumers into a direction they'll like or won't like- making a prediction, rather than an ascertion....)

    Ha, got my butt chaffed when 4 years ago I was talking about Montale and oud. Lots of Montale fans out there at the time and all swearing I was nuts or corrupted (by whom, I wonder). Turns out I wasn't nuts at all; or corrupted for that matter. :-) Still, I do like a few of his that are NOT based on oud.

  19. Dear Elena

    Sorry I'm so late to this thread. I'm not getting email notices of your posts anymore, so I missed this.

    Trygve was the source for the Laotian Oud I use in my Temple perfume released in 2007. I have been entranced by Oud, though not in love with its scent, for many years. It started when a friend, who is the Baieido incense licensee for the USA, send me some. True Oud has the ability to slow down the brain wave speed from alpha to beta, to theta. For that reason, it has been used (the smouldering chips) by Buddhist monks for centuries during meditation.

    The first time I wore a drop I almost keeled over. True Oud is medicinal, not just perfumey. The same man gifted me a ml of a legendary distillation conducted in 1971 by Professor Maheswari for his dissertation. It is identified as Agarwood Assam and smells like ether, yes, and rather ethereal compared to other Ouds.

    Many who have purchased Temple write me that is smells just like temples in Japan and/or India. Having visited neither places, I can just assume that the Oud is the scent memory that triggers that response.

  20. Anonymous04:01

    Thanks for this. When I get the time to do it am getting ready to order more perfume from Via del Profumo; I enjoyed the oudh I sampled so much. Especially after a supposed niche bottle that cleared my sinuses like too much wasabi on my sushi. But *real* gardenia essence? Oh wow. Worth a trip to Oman, and visit Italy and Dubai on the way. Do you have a post elsewhere on the blog for reputable suppliers? I have read that Amouage also produces some perfumes for the Middle East market that are unavailable in the US or on-line.

    And I agree with whoever it was that said AAS is a genius. That's why it's taken me so long to get my order ready. Just can't decide what I want now and what must wait. Guess there are a few things I should buy while they still exist first.

    Sorry to be so long winded - you have just motivated me to get going and order. And I've wondered about most of the so-called "oudh" of the last few years, so this was a nice confirmation that I haven't lost my mind.


  21. So, what about Francis Kurkdjian for example. In his Oud Mood collection.. He lists Oud from Laos as an ingredient. Is it false?

    1. I suppose you should seek an official answer to that from the company directly.

      However may I point out that one can be technically within the claim of credibility by putting a drop of real oud in a mix of synths replicating oudh. Or they can use an inferior grade from dried wood chips instead from the resinous fungus growth itself. At both times they can claim oudh from a natural source. But it's not the "prized ancient ingredient that is the noble rot worth its weight in gold blah blah blah".


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine