Incense Oud signed By Kilian is the latest installment and part of the Arabian Nights collection. It will be introduced in March of 2011. The collection was created in 2009 to meet the demands for the new and somewhat manufactured taste for oud in Europe. More theoretically, I thought of it as the Middle Eastern genre the Orientalist family in fragrance, as I put it in a review of Annick Goutal Musc Nomade in 2008.
Oud has become the key material of a new process of fragrance acculturation I dubbed Oud Aromania. It makes you think of a historical parallel, that of the arrival of patchouli in Europe from the mid 19th century.. Perhaps more importantly contributing to the durability of the phenomenon is the fact that there appears to be a dynamic of self-appropriation, a Western liberty and playfulness with revered oud which is apparent and runs parallel to the more heavily Middle Eastern atmosphere of evident oud compositions. An early, non-evident oud perfume is a contrario the little known Nina Ricci Deci-Delà.
Incense Oud is an evident oud composition and a less evident incense one. It is, generally speaking, a subtle pairing of the two main materials. If you expected this new opus to be particularly smoky, in-your-face as well as the most mystical to date of the Arabian Nights perfumes, you would have soon to realize that perfumer Calice Becker working jointly with Kilian Hennessy both instinctively decided to turn to understatement and elegant restraint leaving the intensely mystical atmosphere at the door...
Incense having a much more quotidian, domestic use in Middle Eastern culture than in the Western one, it can always eschew any religious connotation fairly easily by celebrating instead its role in beauty rituals and home fragrancing.
Notes: Guatemala cardamom, pink pepper, Turkish rose, Egyptian geranium, methyl pamplemousse, Virginia cedarwood, Indonesian patchouli, Indian papyrus, Somalia incense (oil and absolute), sandalwood, Macedonian oakmoss, Spanish cistus labdanum, musks.
Moving in a new direction however, we are offered a Gallicized hedonistic treatment of the note, with the oud becoming somewhat clearer and lighter than expected, a little as in Jimmy Choo EDP where it was made to feel sparkling. It is also in the free spirit of Coeur de Vétiver Sacré by L'Artisan Parfumeur, where the central ingredient, vetiver, does not entail an overdose of it, but rather leads to a creative, sinuous variation on it. It takes the liberty of invoking a perfumery material as a point of departure for musings and interpretation rather than making you enter into the fragrance material as in a macro photo. The material colors the composition and is part of a palette.
Incense Oud opens on liquorishy top notes, evoking rummy vanilla, dessert-y white wine, on a background of understated patchouli hinting at hard and mineral tonalities. A classic leather note usually associated with oud is also in the mix but without being omnipresent.
What is most striking at first for me in this oud and incense composition is the manner in which it seems to want to emulate the wine-inspired fragrances done for instance by Frapin. The perfume is deliciously sweet and vintner-inspired with this slight umami smell which evokes the end of a gourmet meal. If incense there is going to be, it is going to make a delayed entrance, taking a detour by the caves of Bacchus. As time elapses, the oud note takes on a more forceful woody, oak-like, terrous scent as if we were now looking at and smelling the oak barrels containing the deliciously aged wine. The animalic facet of oud which takes on a fecal hint, mingles with dusty woods ranging from oak to cedar. It even becomes all a bit cacao-scented, no doubt due to the patchouli.
Incense Oud is a curiously pagan and I want to say, oh-so French twist on an a priori mystical theme. Where one expected volutes of mystic smoke swirling up to the above - encouraged in that by the visual for the fragrance - the perfume takes on instead a Rabelaisian tack, singing the praises of the gods of wine country. In a way, the real incense here seems to be wine. Wine is another traditional food for the gods but a permutation takes place. Nuances of blond hay and papyrus which help pale down the darkeness of oud; sweet tobacco and honey notes evoking Sauternes wine as well as Calice Becker's work on J'Adore inspired by Bayeuls wine, but also the wine-y Rose Oud By Kilian, point to preference for expressing a joie de vivre à la française, humming a pean to mother earth and turned into an urban motif of elegance. A discreet iris note sweetened with coumarin, lends a toned-down, floral and city aspect to the incense accord.
Is it in the end all that surprising? You are reminded that Kilian Hennessy comes from a family of Cognac makers and therefore this ancestral gustatory palette is present to convey a sense of personal authenticity and ancestral heritage. If it is still a mystery why the vintner theme would appear most evidently in a fragrance destined to evoke the more impalpable smoky aspect of incense and quite contrarian to do so, on the other hand, there is something spontaneously and charmingly Gallic about this restraint expressed towards the fumes of religion and this deep, atavistic belief in earthly-cum-spiritual pleasures (the blood of Christ.)
So in the end, we are invited to raise our glass of Cognac and savor the incense nuance in it.