Previously, I confessed to my aversion to oud. But ever since Pure Oud (by Kilian, 2009), I have consistently been wearing the oud collection from by Kilian. I reckon I am beginning to warm up to this multi-faceted note, especially when it is as excellently crafted as the ones from by Kilian. And, Amber Oud (2011) is yet another sublime creation around this note that I heartily recommend.
In spite of the rather banal name, Amber Oud offers an interesting vantage point from which to appreciate the rich oriental notes. It opens right away with a stirring whiff of incense and labdanum, and without any attempt at a prelude, segues into warm amber. A vanilla so resplendent sets the stage, with the complexity of the cured beans one often finds in a gourmet section. Benzoin provides the dry, lingering sweetness that harks to the fantasy of honeyed almonds. All the rich, hefty notes that make my mouth water constitute the bulk of Amber Oud, but the composition is far from being cloying. Instead, it remains lucent.
The description alone is a testament to the quality of its amber, but what is it that distinguishes it from being a mere ‘nice amber’? The answer to that can remain elusive for the first few tries, as, I find, is often the case with the deceptively simple quality that marks many of perfumer Calice Becker’s creations. However, as I pondered the question, I found myself reminiscing more and more about the time when my mother made traditional desserts.
One of the last steps is to perfume them, and this is almost always a rite to Thai desserts. She would put flowers such as sambac jasmine, rose, and ylang ylang in a small cup and place it in a lidded ceramic pot containing the dessert, thereby imbuing the treats with the fragrance overnight. On the next day, a fragrant candle called ‘tian op’ was instrumental in imparting its unmistakable lingering scent to the treats. The candle has a wick that can be lit on both ends and its wax comprises a mixture of frankincense, benzoin, dried kaffir peel, brown sugar, camphor, nutmeg, sandalwood, and bee wax. After having set tian op in a holder in the ceramic pot and lit it, she would extinguish it by covering the pot with a lid, allowing the dessert to soak up the aroma for ten to fifteen minutes. Even after this step, a potent mixture of frankincense, benzoin, kaffir peel, brown sugar, nutmeg, and camphor that had been seared in a pre-heated terra cotta cup would be similarly used to suffuse the dessert with its opulent fumes. How fondly I recall that caramelised, incense-y, floral accent that staved off some of the rich sweetness of the dessert. The flavour was a combination of melancholic incense and decadent sweet amber, which is essentially what Amber Oud mirrors.
Tian Op: a scented candle used to perfume food and clothing. Its melancholic fragrance balances out the sweetness.
Now, the answer to what sets Amber Oud apart is clear: it is the floral and incense inflection of its amber accord. Just like how the rich dessert was lifted with floral hints and dry incense, the same effect is employed in Amber Oud in taming the hefty notes. This also explains why the drydown of Amber Oud possesses an uncanny resemblance to Bois d’Arménie (Guerlain, 2006), another favourite composition of mine that revolves around benzoin, incense, and balsams with a sprinkle of rose petals. The result is an unexpected delight in an ostensibly straightforward composition, a hallmark of Becker who has a knack for subtly weaving together multiple layers and facets.
All in all, the played-up aspect of sweet amber together with the unique accent that carries well to the next day makes Amber Oud my perennial favourite. It is an intriguing oud aspect that is both cosy and refined—a quality which I rarely see in an oud composition. A spritz suffices to catapult me to those scrumptious recollection of floral and incense-y fantasy.