BL16 - Page 70

Oud is an exotic scent whose invisible
allure makes you irresistible, reveals Paddy Renouf
he concierge of a grand
London hotel recently rang
me to request entertainment
for a Qatari family who were
staying in town for a few days. I
relished the challenge and was invited
to have tea with them and offer my
suggestions. I arrived to be met by a
very shy, endearing young man called
Mohamed. He explained that “His
Excellency” was reluctant to leave the
suite. (His Excellency was his father.)
Therefore none of his eight brothers
and cousins could leave either. They
had been stuck indoors for three days.
“So, if I think of an experience to
inspire his Excellency to leave his
suite for a few hours, that would work
for you all?” I asked. “If you do, you
will be my brother,” he deadpanned.
We ran through various options:
A delightful exhibition or architecture
tour? Tea in a world-class artist’s
studio? Learning about handmade
tailoring on Savile Row? Marvelling at
the exquisite craftsmanship of the best
shotguns in the world at James Purdey
& Sons? I was met with a blank stare.
“I know!” Mohamed exclaimed with
glee. “Do you know about oud? It’s an
exotic fragrance that comes from the
agarwood tree. It makes some people
calm and serene, but others ecstatic.”
Agarwood grows in Cambodia,
India, Thailand, and Vietnam, and the
oil produced by distilling the resin is
the essence for the most desired and
expensive perfumes in the world. In
the Middle East, oud has been coveted
for more than 2,000 years. “It costs up
to $100,000 per kilo,” Mohamed told
me. “My father has about 10 kilos.”
Mohamed had seen a documentary
about an agarwood collection in
London. “If you could find it, it would
be perfect to get us out of the suite,”
he said. Discreet enquiries led me to
the research laboratories at The Royal
Botanic Gardens at Kew, where a
evidence finds
scents are
sexual catnip
charming gentleman of letters agreed
we could visit the very next day.
To my eyes, Kew’s jars of agarwood
looked and felt like petrified lumps of
kindling. We gently scratched the
brick-hard surface to release the scent.
The aroma was faint, but enchanting.
Before we left, His Excellency asked
how much Kew wanted for the lot, but
of course it was not for sale.
hat evening I mentioned our
visit to a lady friend, and the
next day she kindly presented
me with a bottle of Oud Wood by Tom
Ford. As we parted, I sprayed it over us.
Strong and musky, it was animalistic
in its sensuality.
Afterwards I went to The Donovan
Bar at Browns Hotel for a few Negronis
with a friend. I was telling him all
about oud when a sweet Chinese lady
standing at the bar came over to our
table. She introduced herself and said,
“I just love your style. When you came
into the room, there was a special
fragrance and atmosphere.” Then, more
coyly, “May I give you a hug?” And
with that I received a warm embrace.
My friend’s face was a picture. Then
her friend came along and asked, “Can
I have a hug too?” Now, I know I’m
good, but I’m not that good. Once he’d
picked up his jaw from the floor, my
friend requested a spritz of oud for
himself and, shortly afterwards, a lady
celebrating her 85th birthday
pronounced him to be beautiful. It was
like rubbing the genie’s lamp. I
scanned the room for a hidden camera
– was the concierge having a laugh?
The attention was magical, so, ever
since that day, I’ve paused in the
fragrance hall at Selfridges; sniffed
vials in Fortnum’s; and sprayed the
room in perfumer Roja Dove’s boutique
in Burlington Arcade.
Sometimes called black or liquid
gold, oud essence is so rare that it costs
more per gram than gold. It is not
weighed in millilitres, like most oils,
but in tolas – the standard measure for
gold and silver used in British India.
The Aquilaria tree, which produces
the aromatic dark-wood resin (the
agarwood) when it is infected by
mould or fungus, is now an endangered
species, owing to illegal felling. One
cannot tell by looking at it whether the
Aquilaria has the agarwood virus,
which affects only seven per cent of the
trees. It needs to be felled to discover
its precious element, and of the 17
species of Aquilaria, only a few have
the best and most potent properties,
which can drive prices sky high.
Producing genuine oud essence is a
labour-intensive process that involves
harvesting this ‘wood of the Gods’ by
hand, cutting it into small pieces, and
drying for 24 hours to evaporate 40 per
cent of the moisture. It is then ground
into powder and stored in barrels from
a few weeks to several months, to
regional tastes. For example, Kuwaitis
like a light, fragrant, subtle aroma; the
Saudis prefer a deeper, richer, longerlasting effect. The region favours pure
oud oil to avoid wearing alcohol.
First mentioned in one of the world’s
oldest written texts – the Sanskrit
Vedas – oud had great cultural and

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