Mona di Orio's Essay on Oud
While reading the Best of 2011 reviews on Perfume Smellin Things, I was shocked to learn of the death of Mona di Orio, a longtime Facebook friend and fellow oud parfumeur. What captivated me about Mona was her long tutelage with Edmond Roudnitska, one of the great noses of the 20th century.
Oud is the only aromatic Mona ever wrote about. Here is her brief essay on oud....
OUD PART 1
Here is my first review concerning a raw material and I’m delighted to begin it with this unbelievable raw material, the Oudh, the most mysterious and extraordinary essential oil I have smelt till now. As well, I was fascinated to see how all religions have adopted it as an “olfactory sign of the divine manifestation”… Let me share a few intriguing anecdotes…
The Oudh and the Divine
Egyptians already used the Oudh during their funeral rituals and for embalming their dead persons. In the Song of Songs of Solomon, it is named as the original tree of the Garden of Eden. Its scented smoke was located to the center of heaven for the Prophet Mahomet. According to Saint Jean, Jesus Christ would have been embalmed with this wood blended with myrrh. Buddha described it the smell of Nirvana… It was also the favorite fragrance of Krishna! For thousands of years, this perfume was exclusively reserved for gods and kings, due to its scarcity and cost. Its use was more confidential and above all consecrated. But it’s also used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine in India and China, and according to the legend, many cultures consider it a powerful aphrodisiac…
The Oudh today
It becomes more than difficult to find true and genuine oudh essential oil, it being more and more expensive; the world-wide request grows intensely each year and the natural production reduces dangerously… And to deal with this growing demand, we find now on the market a lot of falsified essential oils or some synthetic reproductions very well copied, worth less than 1% of the value of the natural product. It is increasingly difficult today to find it as its specie has been devastated and endangered.
Aquilara is a genus of tropical trees, it grows in Asia more specifically in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Burma, Bhutan and southern China.
Let’s say the tree itself has no interest and especially no particular smell! But a very fragrant and thick resin will be produced by the living wood in reaction to certain physical attacks (injuries, fire) and biological (insect xylophagous, bacteria and fungi).
The distillation process
The trunk of the tree is going be debited into small pieces called “chips”. Then these chips will be sorted according to their color, the darker they are, the more they contain oil. Next, these chips will be blended with water and soak for 15 days approximately. Finally the liquid mixture will be distilled.
But the yield is still very low, 300 kg of wood are distilled to obtain one liter of essential oil. Over the last ten years, we can find some plantations to solve the growing demand for this raw material and to overcome with its deforestation. When the trees reach the age of 10 years, their trunks will be perforated to several locations, then the bacteria will be injected; it will then trigger the development of the fungus. And a few years later, when black spots begin to appear on the trunks, the trees will be cut down and then taken to the distillery.
It’s a very delicate product, each tree is going to develop its own disease and each wood batch is going to produce a specific smell. Which makes more difficult the use of this oil in a mainstream fragrance.
I have used for the creation of my perfume, a quality of resin coming from a plantation in Laos. Its scent is unusually complex and has many scented facets, woody, balsamic, a little bit smoky and above all animal, musky, deep and warm, wild and carnal. Incredibly persistent, mysterious and sensual and so intense! When I experimented with this sample, almost two years ago, I was stunned… the few other samples I smelt didn’t impress me at all, both synthetic and natural and I wondered why such a legend was around the Oudh…
But this quality bewitched me litteraly, so magical and mystical, more than a fragrance, a presence…
"more than fragrance, a presence..."
Such a terrible loss at such a young age. Here's a video about her years with Edmond Roudnitska. You can feel her love of perfumes and her artistic aspiration in her words and gestures.
I had the pleasure of having a sample of Mona's latest Oud perfume. While it is a beautiful perfume composition on it's own right I could not associate it with Oud. At least not in the primary role but rather playing second fiddle to the other floral notes. I think the success of the perfume will be in it's appeal to wide western audience.
Hopefully her memory will live on along with the name and the great scents and notes...
I did not know that the religious significance of Oud was as widespread as Mona is indicating. For example, I had never heard that the Buddha said it was the smell of Nirvana, or that it was Krishna's favorite fragrance. I don't doubt it, but I wonder if there are sources for that information, if it is recorded somewhere. That would be interesting.
I too garnered a few swipes of Mona's Oud and agree that for the oud-aholic it does not spark that wow factor that we find in oud oil and mukhallats. I love Mona's Vanilla even though it does not leave me feeling a strong vanillin accord. Her work is both intellectual and almost literary, she tries to tell a story with each scent and also relies upon her classical training. Her Oud pairs oud with osmanthus which is a Chinese flower that I have never smelled as an absolute but I understand it to be a fruity-floral scent with a peach-like aroma. I do not like the choice and in an interview she stated that she wanted to pair the oud with something completely opposite and that's exactly what I got...a tug of war and the osmanthus won. I like some occidental oud-based perfumes quite a lot when the other notes are put there to complement almighty oud. That's not the case here and at the insane price it sells for one can purchase a quarter tola of a very high quality oud oil.