Musty-Have: Le Labo Oud 27
“He became aware that he was uncomfortable; but then like so many times before, his uncomfortableness started to feel like pleasure. Then revulsion. Then guilt. Then pity. Then love.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
I detest pretense in perfume. It clouds the judgment. By Kilian, for instance, makes beautiful juice but the creative and marketing pain me. Le Labo has a handful of things I admire and wear, but the tone of the brand is so bloody holier-than-thou. The former is like an interior decoration job that is filled with things that serve no purpose other than ornament; the latter reminds me, in my less ingenuous moments, of a trendy bar washroom that’s been made to look like it dates from 1950; when, in truth, it dates from last Tuesday.
Revulsion is a great marketing tool. Aside from sensation and intrigue, we really do secretly become fascinated with the things that turn us off. With bad taste, ugliness and vice. After all, a pinch of one of these or other is what turns run-of-the-mill beauty into something addictive.
When I first smelled Oud 27, perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and I looked at each other and mouthed “laundry bag.” (In all fairness, it was a warm May day; I’d smelled at least 40 different fragrances in the four hours preceding.) But something happened over the next ten days -- call it a strong Scent Memory -- that sent me back to Elizabeth Street holding my wallet in hand. It was like tasting black licorice as a child for the very first time, or those nasty black pellets sold in gas stations along the Autostrada that blend anise with Pirelli tire rubber. Unwittingly, a taste had been acquired. I was in love with an oud I could afford.
Oud 27 is all about that place between the sweet-savoury and the medicinal. In that sense, it occupies ground held by things like saffron and myrrh. But, allied to this dichotomy, is a hefty dose of castoreum and synthetic civet as well as a sappy woody note (birch oil). The oud used is most likely Oud Synthetic 10760 E by Firmenich. The drydown is Atlas cedar and musk. As with many natural ouds the sweetness can stray into the putrefactory, but the nose here is diverted from that path by a beautiful succession of ancillary notes: including honey, rose, labdanum, and gaiac wood.
While many will want to call this unisex, I safely can aver that this belongs on the male of the species, preferably dried on a favorite t-shirt. There is nothing pretentious about it. But, then again, on a humid summer day it’s not exactly courtly love that we’re after.