Ah, the power of peer pressure! A few years ago, you needed quite a few fingers to count the number of brands who said they'd "never do an oud." Now, the gaggle of cool kids in the corner - the ones who refuse to listen to the sweet chime of those cash registers - is positively skeletal. Granted, its members are amongst the most illustrious names in the world of scent - Hermès, Malle, Chanel, Lutens - but I wonder if even their resolve is beginning to crack under what must be considerable commercial weight.
Last year, Patricia De Nicolaï gave in and signed up to Team Oud by releasing two agar-inflicted compositions: Amber Oud and Rose Oud. Fans of her work wondered if this duo might be little more than a soulless concession to public demand, but they needn't have worried. Nicolaï probably couldn't make a dull scent if she tried, and although these latest additions to her highly-respected range were likely inspired by visions of petro-dollars, they display the balance and refinement for which her work is rightly lauded.
Rose Oud is perhaps the more predictable of the two. It is essentially the 'rose + dry wood' fragrance which we have smelt countless times before from several other brands, but the manner in which its central idea has been executed lifts it above most of its competitors. Under Nicolaï's expert guidance, this rose seems to grow larger with the passage of time. Its peppery aspect becomes stronger, its leathery base dirtier, its jammy, osmanthus note more and more surprising. Towards the end, the synthetics become a touch too prominent and spoil the illusion somewhat, but by and large, the desert mirage is sustained.
Amber Oud comes with a delightful trick up the sleeve of its dishdash. As its name suggests, it's based on an amber accord: sedate, burnished and cut by a well-judged note of dry saffron. The agar wood facet is suitably animalic: a veritable barnyard of fecal debauchery, made less threatening by being placed downwind, quite some distance away. But then comes the Nicolaï twist: an injection of fresh, soapy lavender. Its floral soul links with the amber and its camphoraceous edge connects to the oud, turning the whole into an unexpectedly translucent take on the genre. Versace attempted a similar feat with their Oud Noir, but - surprise surprise - Nicolaï's effort is superior. Both scents take you all the way to Dubai, but Versace's is decidedly an 'economy' affair, whereas Nicolaï's is First Class on Emirates, with canapés, Agwa dates and a seat that folds out into a bed fit for a pea-fearing princess.
[Reviews based on samples of eau de parfum provided by Nicolaï in 2013]