Luxury fragrance’s most prolific ingredient is under threat


Creating a luxury scent is akin to alchemy – a refined art of mixing and balancing a wide variety of ingredients to create a harmonious, appealing and distinct scent.

Certain ingredients seem to be found in colognes that you may not expect or have never heard of: tonka bean, sandalwood, grapefruit, ambergris, formaldehyde… What exactly goes into perfumes most famous in the world is also a well-kept secret, with brands keen to maintain their individuality and market advantage in a fairly saturated market.

But one ingredient that many perfumes use that has become incredibly prolific is oud. Essential oil distilled from agarwood, a dark resinous wood used in incense and perfumes for hundreds of years, oud has a rich, distinctly woody aroma with a spicy smoke – perfect for masculine scents. It has seen a huge surge in popularity in the perfume world in recent years, with luxury brands like Tom Ford, Acqua di Parma, Yves Saint Laurent and Creed all offering colognes, eau de parfum, after-hours. shaves, etc.

Part of the appeal of oud also comes from its rarity. Like the way pearls are formed by oysters as a sort of immune response, agarwood forms in the heartwood of Aquilaria trees when infected with mold or other contaminants. The tree reacts by producing a dark aromatic resin, which permeates the infected area, forming agarwood. Just as pearls are incredibly rare in nature, so is agarwood – it’s almost a matter of luck whether a tree produces it or not, let alone whether you can find it.

But growing demand has made natural oud even rarer, and due to unsustainable production and poaching, all Aquilaria tree varieties that produce agarwood are now listed as Critically Endangered. Business intern reports:

“The Global [acquilaria] the population has declined by 80% over the past 150 years. Even for surviving Aquilaria trees, the frequency of natural fungal infections is extremely low. Some estimates indicate that only 2% of wild Aquilaria trees are infected enough to produce agarwood naturally, which means that the hunt for natural agarwood is extremely arduous.

Again, just like the number of pearls today coming from dedicated pearl farms, there are also plantations where Aquilaria trees are artificially inoculated in order to stimulate agarwood growth. Of course, the “real thing” is always in high demand.

There is an argument to be made that modern perfumery has reached the ‘peak oud’ – that the mania for the ingredient has not only grown the trees that make it close to extinction, but pushed it into the realm. cliché when it comes to luxury fragrances.

RELATED: Australian Master Perfumer Explains Why All Inexpensive Colognes Smell Similar

DMARGE spoke exclusively with Francis Kurkdjian, legendary French perfumer, founder of Maison Francis Kurkdjian and the mastermind behind fragrances like Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male, My Burberry, Dior Eau Noire and many others – who have recounted that the The supremacy of oud in the world of luxury perfumery will certainly diminish in the years to come.

“I think it won’t be as ‘in your face’ as it is now,” he reflected.

“I think there was a door of 10 years ago where there was this rush to create oud scents. We’ve talked a lot about oud, and there have been some great oud-based scents, but also a lot of things that shouldn’t have been created. When you discover something new, everyone rushes in… You have to give it a little time. Maybe in five or ten years someone will come up with a new combination; a new chord with the oud; something interesting. And at the moment, you can use oud as an ingredient, without creating whole perfumes based on it.

In the meantime, check out our guide to the best colognes and perfumes of 2020.

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