The Obsession with Agarwood
Wood accords (notes) in a fragrance composition add a deeper sense of depth to the perfume blend. It evokes a grounding sense of being, of mental clarity and security. In perfumery, wood accords make up the base notes of a perfume composition. Like an anchor holding down a ship, it holds the other ingredients together and make the perfume last longer on the skin. I am a big fan of wood accords, so you can expect their presence in all of my original creations.
My obsession with agarwood started when a Malaysian grower gifted me with a small bottle of its pure essence distilled from his plantation. I tried it undiluted and it stayed on my skin until the next morning. You probably know it as oud (or oudh) – which has become an incredibly popular perfume ingredient, in the past few years. A key ingredient in old and new Arabic perfumery, renowned as an element within high-quality incense in Arabic, Japanese and Indian cultures, oudh has now definitively crossed over to the west.
Agarwood is rare, seriously expensive, and even endangered - as it becomes more popular, high-quality oud is becoming harder to source. That’s because it takes a long time to produce agarwood, which is actually the resinous heart-wood from evergreen trees – usually the Aquilaria tree.
The agarwood is a result of a reaction to a fungal attack, which turns this usually pale and light wood into a dark, resinous wood with a distinct fragrance. From that ‘rotten’ wood, an oil is made – and then blended into perfume. The aroma of ‘natural’ oud is distinctively irresistible and attractive with bittersweet and woody nuances - seriously earthy (and in small quantities, seriously sexy).
The power of science and research
The natural formation of agarwood with high quality needs a few years or even decades after the tree is damaged by certain external factors, such as lightning strikes, animal grazing, insect attacks, or microbial invasion. Along with the continuously decreasing supply of wild agarwood and the increasing market demand, much effort has been devoted to agarwood production. In 2010, a scientific technique was developed to inoculate the tree with fungi and shorten the process of agarwood formation to only one year, and the discovery of a new fungi and technique further reduced the agarwood formation to 6 months.
Collection of agarwood from natural forests is now illegal under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), and all agarwood used by the perfumery industry now are cultivated and grown in plantations in South East Asia, especially in Vietnam and Malaysia.
Perfumers also use synthetic oud as an alternative, although trained noses can tell the subtle difference. Synthetic oud may retain the signature woody and leathery character of oud, but somehow lacks the depth, warmth and balsamic qualities of genuine, natural oud.
Smell agarwood (oudh) in:
X by OLFAC3 Perfumes
Skin No 4 by OLFAC3 Perfumes
Besides the above obvious favourites, I'm also in love with these: