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Sometimes I smell a perfume and I just don’t know what to make of it. Whilst many fragrances I smell can provoke an immediate reaction – filing themselves neatly in to piles of ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘ew’, and ‘oooooh’, some take time, and some forever remain in a purgatory land where an opinion is the absolution never to arrive. OK, so I’m being a bit dramatic (just a tad, mind) and this is all a very longwinded way of saying that sometimes, it takes me a while to make up my mind about a fragrance.

Aaaaaand you can probably guess where this is going, right? Yes, when it came to Opus XI from Amouage, the 11th instalment in the brand’s Library Collection (where Amouage does its most unusual and often challenging work), I found myself unsure what I thought, even after spending a considerable amount of time with it. Opus XI was created by perfumer Pierre Negrin – it takes inspiration from the Orient and presents oud, one of perfumery’s most popular materials, in an entirely new guise. It’s a singular perfume that brings nuances to a material that could easily be described as tired, forging something that really is fascinating.

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There are so many fragrance launches each year it’s difficult to write about them all. Speed Sniffs is a way to bring you to the point reviews fragrances that are quick and easy to digest. After all, sometimes all one needs is a few lines to capture the essence of a scent. Speed Sniffs are perfume reviews without all of the faff.

Oud Wood by TOM FORD is a fragrant tour de force. A cult classic that is one of the brand’s most popular fragrances, Oud Wood may not have started the oud trend, but it certainly cemented it as a prominent part of the olfactory zeitgeist. I find it to be a soft, comforting take on oud with an unusually rubbery texture that makes it stand out from the crowd – and even now I’d say that it’s an absolute must-sniff for anyone exploring the world of oud. Oud Wood is sexy and alluring, smart but casual – a complex perfume with a bold signature. Well, fans of Oud Wood can now rejoice because TOM FORD has just launched Oud Wood Intense, which promises Oud Wood but more!

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Oud Minérale

Tom Ford knows his way around the note of oud. Within his own brand he has a mini-collection of oud fragrances amongst his many Private Blends, each of which takes the style of oud in a very different direction. He’s also the man behind YSL’s M7 which was one of the first mainstream fragrances to promote the use of oud (whether it was the first is up for debate). So it’s safe to say that oud is very much a signature of the Tom Ford brand and it’s a style of fragrance (and I say style instead of note because it’s really more of a genre than a singular ingredient).

The latest addition to Tom Ford’s oud oeuvre is Oud Minérale – a fragrance that intends to approach oud from a much fresher angle. The brand describe it as a scent that merges “rare and precious oud with the fresh exuberance of the ocean”, which may lead one to think that perhaps this is an oud too far. After all, smoky, animalic, middle eastern oud is on the polar opposite end of the fragrance spectrum to anything remotely aquatic. But to think that, whilst justified, would not be correct because Oud Minérale is a clever little composition that manages to find the common ground between these two opposing styles.

Vinegia
Vinegia

If you asked me to sum up my thoughts on the Italian niche brand The Merchant of Venice, I’d say that I think their fragrances are very nicely done and beautifully presented but lack a bit of inspiration. They’re not the type of brand one would go to for something new or innovative, instead they offer up familiar styles of perfumery executed very well. The quality of The Merchant of Venice is apparent in everything they do, from their bottles to the fragrances themselves, so it would be fair to say that what the brand offers is a classical take on perfumery where luxurious materials are central to everything they do right from the compositions to the presentation of the bottles.

The Merchant of Venice have a number of collections, with the newest being the Murano Exclusive Collection. Launching exclusively in Harrods, this collection celebrates the ‘East meets West’ aesthetic of the brand with six oriental fragrances, each of which is housed in a heavy flacon shaded in gold and deep venetian blue. Vinegia, the stand out in the collection, is composed by perfumer Valérie Garnuch-Mentzel and promises to express “the splendour, the opulence, and the fascinating alchemy for which the ancient world of spices is justifiably renowned”. Let’s check it out.

Amour for Oud
Oh for the Love of Oud

One could quite easily look at Amouroud, a new niche brand that celebrates oud, perfumery’s note du jour, and feel a little bit skeptical. One might even be inspired to exclaim “oh for the love of oud” in a loud, exasperated tone. But that would be a bit OTT, admittedly. Just ask yourself this question, how many niche houuses out there are offering exclusive oud fragrances, not to mention exclusive oud fragrances in black and gold bottles? Well the answer is many, but Amouroud isn’t just another cynical brand trying to make a quick buck, they are in fact, passionate about perfume.

Amouroud comes from The Perfumer’s Workshop, who have been creating perfume since the 1970s and are most famous for their Tea Rose fragrance. They launch this month in Harrods with an initial collection of six fragrances, each of which showcases or contains oud. Speaking of oud, my good friends Nick and Pia made a valid point in a recent episode of their Vlog Love to Smell (subscribe, goddamit), when they said that oud is now its very own olfactive family, in the way that orientals and chypres are, rather than just an ongoing trend. Anyway, I digress. Amouroud are not the brand that one may think they are and what they have done is really quite intriguing.

I’ll do a bit of a topsy-turvy review here and provide my overall verdict of the collection before I do a scent-by-scent rundown. Amouroud is a very nicely pieced together brand. One can see that years of experience have been poured into each and every single detail. The bottles are heavy and luxurious, the box has a metal plaque appliquéd onto it and the fragrances themselves are well thought out, and exciting. But the best thing about Amouroud is the price. Where other brands think that £300+ is acceptable for any old scent in a blingy bottle, this one is content with marketing 100ml of interesting and enjoyable Eau de Parfum for £145. That’s practically free in this post-niche day and age! One other nice touch is the fact that the brand will give you a generous spray sample of your second favourite scent in the collection, alongside your purchase. How nice is that?

Alien in Red
Alien in Red

It was reported last week that NASA had found evidence of liquid water flowing on Mars. The red planet is no longer a dry, and arid collection of rock and dust, it seems. In other surprising and space-related news, Thierry Mugler has made the decision to launch a limited edition version of Alien called ‘Alien Oud Majestueux’, an oriental fragrance that sees the hyper-jasmine of the original accompanied by oud, the ever popular heartwood extracted from the Aquilaria tree, and seen so often in modern fragrances over the last few years. Composed by the masterful Dominique Ropion, who co-signed the original with Laurent Bruyere, this new version of Alien promises to tantalise with its opulent spices and sweet flower nectar. Colour me intrigued.

Now, I must confess that the news of an oud-injected version of Mugler’s successful Alien did arouse some titters on Twitter in addition to the usual moans about the over-exposure of everyone’s favourite noble tree rot. Of course, Mugler has all but resisted the oud trend for quite some time (although, they have flirted with the note in their Miroir Miroir! series) and the fact that the last non-oud converted bastion of the industry had finally given in did elicit a sigh or two, from yours truly included. As time progressed however, the idea of an Alien oud grew to be an interesting one. I mean, Alien is a pretty fierce woody jasmine fragrance that lends itself well to remixes (see Alien Essence Absolue & Alien Le Goût du Parfum), and a middle-eastern take on an intense, space-age floral actually seemed like something worth sniffing. At risk of spoiling the rest of this review, I can confirm that it is.

“Cocoon your mind, body and soul in Alien Oud Majestueux, the new oriental fragrance. This scent will transport you to the spice markets of the Middle East where your senses will be tantalised with the fragrant notes of opulent spices and sweet flower nectar.”

– Thierry Mugler