My fragrant friends, I come to you today with an urgent matter requiring your immediate attention if we are to avert impending doom:
the complete take-over of perfumery by the Oud Machine (hereafter, OM).
You may find my warning alarmist, and I own that it is—as it must be, given the gravity of the crisis before us. Before I offer you the tools to extricate yourself from the insidious OM, let us review the facts. According to the Parfumo.net database:
- In 2006, no perfume was launched with the word oud in its name.
- In 2007, three perfumes were launched with the word oud in their name.
- In 2008, thirteen perfumes were launched with the word oud in their name, but all came from the houses of Montale, Mancera (more on the “M” connection, below...), or Ajmal.
- In 2009, twelve perfumes with the word oud in their name were launched, distributed over eight different houses.
- In 2011, all hell broke loose, with twenty-two oud-named perfumes launched by sixteen different houses
- In 2012, the numbers leapt to thirty-four oud-named perfumes launched by thirty different houses
I think that you can see where all of this is leading:
|“Scores of sheep flock together and head in the same direction |
after being told by a sales associate in a niche emporium
that cool people wear oud perfumes.”
Three oud-perfume producing houses became eight, became ten, became sixteen, producing where there were none only five years earlier: thirty new oud perfumes!
Let's look at some of the mathematical series involved, selecting a few choice data points:
The change in the numbers:
The next number in the series, those readers proficient at standardized tests will aver, is:
From there we can continue the series:
As you can see, within five years, the world will be literally awash in oud perfume. By the end of a decade, there will be an oud perfume purveyor on every corner, all asking for our precious wallet share, and what choice will we really have by then????
Yes, I'm afraid that the complete and utter homogenization of niche perfumery looms before us. The turning point may have been the admission of Estée Lauder and Jo Malone into the oud club. So now middle-class suburban housewives are wearing oud as well? Adding oud perfumes to their shopping carts along with their BB creams so that they can qualify for the latest GWP (gift with purchase) worth all of $1? What is this world coming to? I ask most sincerely.
I suppose that I should share with those of you who do not know that “BB creams” or Beauty Balms, too, were a capitalist-generated need now clamored for by all image-conscious women of the world. But let us return to the far more pressing matter at hand: the question of oud and the spectre of OM.
The Story of OM
Perfume tastes cycle, just like tastes in everything else fashion related. How else to explain the oft-wielded locution by younger perfumistas, Old Lady Perfume, used to denounce perfumes which the whippersnappers deem fit to be worn only by octogenarians rotting away in retirement homes? Proud wearers of so-called Old Lady Perfumes may smugly reply: “ignorance.” But do you really know anything whatsoever about what you do not know, aptly termed by former U.S. defense secretary and epistemologist Donald Rumsfeld, the “unknown unknowns”?
Our concern here is not with the question of Chanel no 5, whether it is as cool as Brad Pitt or as outmoded as Zsa Zsa Gabor. No, we have much stinkier odors to mask. Yes, the latest craze in perfume, which has yet to run its course and is gaining strength with each passing day, is in fact the basis of some of the stinkiest perfumes ever concocted on the face of the earth, to wit: oud.
In truth, we are being shepherded quite contradictorily from two sides simultaneously. At the mainstream designer level, we are being told to scent ourselves as though we were dryer sheets, shampoo and conditioner, or even household cleaning products, as the influence of industrial giants such as Procter & Gamble continues to swell unabated.
Yes, the perfumers creating scents for Oil of Olay face products are indeed the same perfumers creating scents for Pantene shampoo, and they also design pseudo-niche series of perfumes for the once independent houses now comprising but a thin page in the P&G portfolio. Will they survive? Does it even matter anymore?
If we stray from the designer herd, attempting to identify creativity and novelty in the niche arena, we find ourselves corralled more and more narrowly into yet another, perhaps even more insidious olfactory ghetto: the land of oud perfumes.
This clever plot has obviously been designed to secure our conformity with what we are told is desirable in perfume. But have we ever spent any time asking ourselves, in our heart of hearts, whether this is really true? Why in the world should we want to smell and waft of oud, pray tell?
I recently experienced something of an epiphany in this regard, which I am anxious to share with you O Not-so-gently Scented Reader. You may have reservations, having come to the conclusion—and not unjustifiably so—that “one person's epiphany is another person's hallucination.” And I do not deny that this is true. Fortunately, however, true epiphanies wear their veridicality on their face, and I was blessed to have been the recipient of one only just recently, which happens, not coincidentally, to bear on the topic at hand.
I was testing the latest oud creation to have found its way into my queue, Rosamunda, from the house of Laboratorio Olfattivo. It smelled good, and it smelled comfortingly familiar. Sure enough, it was that tried-and-true triad of rose, saffron, and oud rolled together once again and poured into a bottle to entice those of us by now accustomed—and drawn like iron filings to a magnet—to the scent.
My first reaction was: “Hmm.... smells like Bond no 9 New York Oud.” In my admittedly obsessive-compulsive quest for truth in reviewing, I decided to do a side-by-side test of the two perfumes. What did I find? I discovered that I preferred the Bond no 9. Why? Because it wafted much less of oud and much more of rose. Suddenly the truth flashed before my eyes like a javelin hurled down from the heavens by an angry God with no stock holdings in niche oud ventures:
Do I even like oud?
I was shocked, at first, by the question. I had spent many a review taking a house to task for producing what appeared to be an oudless oud perfume, but here I was at last confronted with the fact that in a comparison of two oud-boasting perfumes, I preferred the one with less, not more of the allegedly precious substance, which I had been incessantly indoctrinated by the OM to believe that I desire!
What, then, was the basis of my complaint in earlier reviews of oud-challenged oud perfumes, my fragrant friends? That the perfume in question, allegedly issued for we oud aficionados, was too oud weak to meet our oud need.
What oud need might that be? Why it's none other than the very one which was created by the launch of so many oud perfumes over the course of the past six years! First there were no oud perfumes. Today there are dozens, and they continue to proliferate as so many of us have been tricked by the OM—the most effective promulgator of propaganda since Goebbels himself—into believing that we not only want but in fact need oud.
We will travel to the ends of the cyber-world and pay exorbitant sums (relative to the price of other perfumes) to be able to sniff yet another new oud perfume, and to be thereby granted the privilege of bitching when the perfume inside an oud-labeled bottle contains nothing of the kind. Or so we think.
But do we really know this, in the first place? Many of the honest perfumistas among us must own that we have never been to Oman and do not expect to travel there anytime soon. Our concept of “oud” derives solely from what we have been presented as “oud” in perfume. This means that if rose, oud, and saffron are often rolled together in the same composition, we may find difficulty discerning the oud as an isolable note from the complex in which it is conveyed to our nose. And if we think that we don't, we may be deluding ourselves.
The devoted-to-oud reader may snort in response to my concern, to which I can only reply: the problem is much more profound than it may on its surface seem. Perhaps the art-mongers will own that perfume is subject to the whims of fashion no more and no less than anything else proposed to consumers by design houses. Perhaps they will not worry that they have been molded into oud-ingesters, always wanting more and more oud, never satiated, just as Marx and others so incisively diagnosed.
The truth, my fragrant friends, is that the proverbial wool of your very own coat has been pulled over your eyes, blinding you to the truth of all that has transpired in niche perfumery over these past few years.
Is it too late to stop the OM? Has my little manifesto been for naught? I think not, my comrades-in-noses, but we must take action now, and we must do so swiftly, prepared to beat off those who would draw us back into the oud-herd once again.
For those stalwarth souls who are now ready to take back the oud-saturated night. I offer the following four-step program for recovery.
Saying “No” to the OM
It is high time for us to get our wits about us and nip this oud monster in the bud. Just say “No” to OM. The challenge before us may seem daunting, but a few guidelines may help you to win back your perfuming autonomy. If you are a perfumer, at last ready to break from the pseudo-niche herd, I encourage you, too, not only to cease and desist from producing oud perfumes but also to refrain from succumbing to what will no doubt remain the temptation to wear some of the oud stockpiled in the back room of your atelier. Please be forewarned that we will stop the OM, and when we do, you will want to be on the right side of history.
- Don't fall for the price trap—all that glitters of oud is not gold. Oud perfumes often cost more than the non-oud perfumes of the very same house. The first step, then, must be to refuse to pay the price being asked for über niche perfumes. Let niche be good enough for you. Don't be fooled by this little game, the suggestion that you get what you pay for. In the case of oud, my fragrant friends, you pay only to be enslaved by the OM.
- Temptation must be thwarted. When you espy a new oud offering, beckoning you from the counter of one of your customary niche emporium haunts, take a deep breath, count to eight, and walk slowly toward the door. Do not run, because you do not want to draw the attention of an SA, who may, and likely will, run after you to spritz you with a bit of the evil elixir, hoping that this will precipitate your return to the herd, that a few drops will cause you to throw open the oud floodgates, and your wallet, once again.
- Repeat after me: Rien n'est gratuit... [Nothing is free.] You will no doubt for the foreseeable future continue to receive “free” samples of oud perfumes from “generous” emporia and houses with new launches. Don't be fooled. Upon receiving one of these vials, proceed with dispatch and purpose to your kitchen sink, remove the lid from the vial, and pour the contents down the drain. This will be difficult at first, I am aware, but with time, and as your own sense of your perfumic autonomy slowly begins to return, you will become stronger and more determined with each vial emptied in a haughty show of disdain for the OM.
- Knowledge is power. Be ever vigilant of the forces at work behind the scenes of the OM. Everyone knows deep down inside that behind every Machine hides The Man, the puppetmaster pulling the strings. Is it a coincidence that in this case his name also happens to begin with the letter 'M'? I think not. The veritable flood of oud perfumes over the last few years has been yet another ingenious scheme on the part of The Man to convince perfume enthusiasts that they desire nothing more than Middle Eastern inspired oud perfume.
But once the oud seed has been planted—like a tick, or a microchip—it won't be long before the sheep all flock back to Montale/Mancera. Why? Because all oud roads lead ultimately to Montale, one way or the anagrammatically other. The Man's man on the ground, Ammar Atmeh is there to authenticate the perfumes being produced by the OM (not coincidentally located in OMan) as the real thing. That's right genuine oud perfumes, and in sufficiently high concentration so as to be detectable by even the marginally hyposmic nose, can be dependably found at one and only one house, and it does indeed begin with the letter 'M'.
So there you have it, my fragrant friends, the peculiar phenomenon of oudless oud perfumes, too, has as at its source The Man. As difficult to believe as it may be (not at all to the savvy shoppers among my readers, those who have studied up close the wily ways of capitalists, and devised ways to beat them at their own game), Monsieur M. has been sending oud-siphoning elves out to dilute the stores of oud juice at his competitors' houses the night before aliquots are to be measured and mixed into the final perfumes.
The results we have all seen—or rather sniffed—and we have indeed become, as was the intention of this ploy, ever more cynical, wary of the sheer possibility of finding a decent oud perfume produced by any house other than Montale/Mancera. I rest my case.
To those perfumers whose interest may have been piqued by my posting of pictures of their oud creations, I offer commiseration. Yes, I am afraid that you have become the feckless minions of The Man. Until today, you, too, were being tricked into complicity with the OM. Yes, lurking in the shadows of every machine, even those of which we have become unwitting cogs, stands The Man, whose covert actions keep it chugging along as though in perpetual motion, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.
My dear, honorable perfumers, it is time for you to throw your own wrench into the OM's works. Just say “No” to future oud-perfume launches! Working together, as a team, we perfumistas and you, the perfumers not profitably affiliated with the OM, can take back the oud night, allowing creativity and autonomy to reign in the glorious universe of perfume once again.