A mix of East and West lies at the heart of Oud Assam which showcases and highlights a true, authentic Middle Eastern oud in many of its complex facets before giving a nod to the West through touches of vetiver greenness and neo-chypre-like elements. It is not a scent for everyone, particularly those who have only experienced Western “oud,” a different animal entirely, and your reaction is going to depend on your familiarity with and appreciation for the more challenging aspects of the genuine article. On the other hand, if you love cheesy, creamy, musky, smoky, and slightly barnyard-like oud, Rania J.’s creation is one for you to try.
Rania J. is a Parisian perfume house whose founder and nose, Rania Jouaneh, is strongly influenced by her Middle Eastern roots. As she explains on her website, her “passion for fragrances and perfumes originates from her childhood in the Middle East and Africa where she was surrounded by the aromas of the jasmine trees under which she played, the spice markets, souks and African bazaars.” Originally, her fragrances were all-natural, but that is no longer the case. In a 2013 interview with Fragrantica, she said that she now uses synthetic musks (like the Galaxolide molecule) and synthetic ambers in all her fragrances in order to increase their longevity and strength.
Oud Assam is an eau de parfum that was released in 2013. According to the Rania J. website, its notes are:
Top note : Bergamot, Sweet Orange, Bitter Orange
Middle Note : Agarwood/ Oud (Essential Oil, India)
Base Note : Cedar Wood, Vetiver, Frankincense, Black pepper, Tonka bean, Musk.
Oud Assam opens on my skin with an oud that is creamy, earthy, and cheesy, the way so many Indian, soufy-style agarwoods can be. It is lightly drizzled with bright, tart, bitter orange bigarade and a dash of crisp bergamot, then sprinkled all over with candied orange peels. Bringing up the rear is a sweet, creamy tonka note, a hint of incense, and the tiniest splinters of a drier woodiness, thought it’s not decipherable as “cedar.” For the most part, Oud Assam’s opening bouquet is primarily centered on a very creamy and cheesy oud with slightly earthy undertones, then splattered with sweet citruses. From afar, the fragrance feels both simpler and more heavily suffused with actual oranges.
Within minutes, the oud shifts to reflect further nuances. There is the subtlest suggestion of something barnyard-like that develops amidst the earthiness. It is never fecal on my skin, and there isn’t anything properly “animalic,” either, because there isn’t a true skankiness about the scent. It certainly is a far, far cry from the agarwood in AbdesSalaam Attar‘s Oud Caravan No. 3 for La Via del Profumo which wafted aromas of Gorgonzola blue cheese and goats, along with a fleet of semi-feral, unwashed camels. Given that a few Middle Easterners interpreted Oud Caravan No. 3 as a “refined” oud, they would probably view the aroma of Oud Assam as child’s play because it really doesn’t register in the same way at all.
Even for me, with my significantly lower tolerance for “camel,” animalic, and barnyard oud (and zero tolerance for blue cheese), I was a little surprised. I had expected something more than the musky, cream cheese sort. In fact, I had expected some sort of funk and camel poop but, on my skin and by the standards of what I have experienced in the past, there is merely a heightened sort of earthiness that just barely hints at the barnyard. It is mixed with muskiness that evokes images of heated, slightly damp (but not sweaty or dirty) skin.
As I alluded to at the start, your own reaction is going to depend strongly on your familiarity, experience, and comfort with true, proper, authentic agarwood, as well as what nuances your personal skin chemistry brings out. If you’ve only experienced the synthetic, pink rubber band-aid, or generic “woodiness” of the Western variety, or if you think that Kilian fragrances have any real “oud” in them, then Rania J.’s Oud Assam is going to come as a complete shock to your system. Don’t even bother trying it. You would probably have the same response as one woman on Fragrantica whose co-workers thought Oud Assam’s opening resembled “buffalo dung,” and who concluded that she preferred “more blended and subtle” (presumably Western) ouds instead of the “real” thing.
On me, other things quickly become far more noticeable than the minor barnyard or musky elements. A balsamic leatheriness soon starts to snake its way through the wood, accompanied by a growing smokiness from the incense, and a new touch of spiciness that almost resembles woody patchouli. Up close, the orange is quite overwhelmed by the cheesy, earthy, leathery, smoky, and musky accords but, from afar, the sweet citrus is rapidly becoming the primary note that carries on the sillage trail in the air. I happen to love orange in fragrances, and I like the soufy-style, creamy oud, so I’m happy either way.
Oud Assam continues to change quite quickly. The vetiver bursts suddenly on the scene 15 minutes in, smelling extremely smoky and thereby amplifying the subtle touch of incense. It also feels green and a little mossy. On the sidelines, the tiny specks of crisp, cool bergamot grow stronger, cutting through both the candied orange sweetness and the oud’s muskiness. It adds a subtle lift to the scent, a growing streak of freshness that completely ends all possibility of a truly barnyard, funky oud. Increasingly, Oud Assam’s cheesy woodiness is being layered with strong, thick veins of multi-faceted smokiness (frankincense and vetiver), multi-faceted citruses (crisp, lemony bergamot and sweet, candied orange), and greenness (mossy vetiver). The depth of the oud’s creaminess is slowly weakening, though the cheese remains, and the suggestion of tarry leather in the base grows stronger.
To my surprise, the combined effect or end-result consistently makes me think of an oud neo-chypre, and that impression becomes particularly strong at the 30-minute mark. It’s not a vibe which lasts very long, but this is a very chypre-ish oud composition in the opening phase. It’s not simply the bergamot, the mossy greenness of the vetiver, and the spiciness of the wood (similar to a true, brown patchouli). There is something elusively floral lurking in the background as well. Initially, the note is nebulous and wholly faceless but, halfway in the first hour, it takes shape: green orange-blossoms. The citrus accord carries an aromatic sweetness that occasionally smells like the green, fresh, neroli-ish, non-indolic flowers growing in nature. It’s subtle, but it combines with everything else to give Oud Assam a chypre-ish quality, even if it is a very untraditional sort. I wish it lasted for longer, because it was an extremely interesting, appealing twist, but it fades away entirely by the time the first hour ends.
What happens then is that Oud Assam enters its second, heart phase dominated by increasing greenness and smokiness. The earthy and musky undertones begin to fade, while wave upon wave of vetiver and incense ripples over the oud on top, and balsamic leatheriness starts to seep up from the base. The notes are starting to overlap, except for the bergamot which seems to have melted into the vetiver or perhaps the orange. It’s becoming harder to separate out some of the notes individually because of how seamlessly and smoothly Oud Assam is blended.
By the 2.5 hour mark, Oud Assam is primarily smoky, spicy woodiness dominated by oud whose creamy undertones are much weaker now and whose smokiness is amplified by vetiver. Both the actual cream cheese aroma and the candied orange really fluctuate, to the point that I actually wondered if I had temporary anosmia to them. On a number of occasions from the end of the 2nd hour onwards, I actually thought both elements had disappeared whenever I smelt my arm, though tiny tendrils of candied orange and bergamot would occasionally rise up in the air when I moved. The cheese was the most mercurial element. One minute I couldn’t smell it at all, and the next it was undisputedly there, wafting out of the cloud of incense and dark, smoky vetiver. The cheese’s ghostly disappearing act is significant because, without it, Oud Assam is starting to feel more like general woodiness enveloped with vetiver and incense than an actual agarwood scent. Even with the cheese, the fragrance is increasingly turning into a simple, blurry haze of spicy woods gilded green with woody, very smoky vetiver, wrapped up in thin, black ribbons of incense, and then cocooned in the sheerest, most nebulous haze of something vaguely citrusy and sweet.
My skin tends to amplify smoky vetiver — often to the point where it can overwhelm many other elements — and that probably explains why the note ends up being such a significant part of the scent on me. Roughly 4.5 hours into the perfume’s development, the vetiver is co-equal partners with the oud but, an hour later, the balance of notes is split 60/30 in the vetiver’s favour, giving the scent a foresty focus more than a really Middle Eastern one. The citrus has finally disappeared in all its facets, whether candied orange or mere bergamot freshness, and so has the cream cheese. Taking their place is the tonka which makes up the remaining 10% of the scent. It’s a welcome touch, adding a necessary touch of sweetness to counterbalance the drier, smokier accords. More importantly, it helps to soften the fragrance’s smokiness which is starting to skew a little sharp. Unfortunately, the tonka only lasts a short while, perhaps two hours at best, before retreating to the background. Like the cheese before it, it acts in a ghostly fashion, popping up once in a blue moon, but it’s generally quiet until the perfume’s final hours.
What’s left is largely a very smoky, incense-y vetiver fragrance laced with amorphous, generalized, spicy woodiness, and it remains that way until Oud Assam’s very end. What I don’t like at all is the sharpness that appears at the end of the 9th hour. There is a synthetic edge to the scent that hurts my nose whenever I smell Oud Assam up close for too long. I can’t describe it, or pinpoint the source. It’s not raspy or scratchy, but steely, a bit metallic, and makes me think of musky smoke turned into hard shards or metal needles going up my nose. I think it must be the indirect impact of the musk in conjunction with the incense. Whatever the source, I first noticed it in the background about 5.5 hours in, but it becomes really bad during the drydown.
In the final hours, the tonka’s creaminess returns and the vetiver takes over completely. The result is a vetiver that is simultaneously creamy but also woody in a way that evokes images of the forest floor. Oud Assam eventually dies away as a wisp of creamy, woody greenness. All in all, the scent consistently lasts between 12 and 14 hours on my skin, depending on whether I applied the equivalent of 1 spray or 2. The projection is good, and the sillage strong. Using 3 smears equal to 2 sprays from a bottle, Oud Assam opened with 4 to 5 inches of projection, and a scent trail that was approximately about 4 inches. The sillage grew to about 6-7 inches after 45 minutes, though the scent in the air is light and airy. The projection dropped to 1.5 to 2 inches after the 2.25 hours, then hovered about 0.5 inches above the skin at the start of the 3rd hour. It stayed there for quite a while, only becoming a true skin scent on me at the 6.5 hour point, though Oud Assam was still easy to detect up close without effort for quite a while. All the Rania J. fragrances that I’ve tried thus far last over 12 hours on me, so longevity is excellent.
On Fragrantica, reviews for Oud Assam are mixed, largely because of the nature of the oud and people’s comfort level with it, but most commentators are very positive. “Ginger Kitty” thought it was “a surprisingly wearable Oud” that “does not overtly hit the nostrils with the notorious piggy farmyard smell and make me want to head to the bathroom to scrub and scrub the skin for less of a distinctive pungent aroma.” The very “wearable” assessment is repeated by others, including one person who thought it was not oudy or pure enough because of the inclusion of so many other elements.
Two commentators detected more of a barnyard aroma than “Ginger Kitty” and thought it was “gorgeous,” but they were disappointed to find that the scent quickly descended into “mediocrity.” “Aphexacid” is one such person, and he loved the brief vintage M7 vibe with the orange, but then the incense aromachemical took over and ruined the scent for him:
Upon fisrt spray, i was delighted! This indeed was an excellent representation of real Indian Oud! The “barnyard” smell was poilshed nicely by the clever addition of orange. For a split second, something reminded of vintage M7. Not the oud, because M7 didn’t NOT have this kind of oud. I think there was orange in M7 as well.
The scent is absolutely gorgeous at this point. The trouble is, this totally fades into mediocrity. [¶] After 30 minutes, it shifts into a cheap incense bomb. Oud gone. Orange gone. Its like some off the shelf incense aromachemical was tossed in, and the perfumer said “yeah good enough” [¶] Annoyingly, it stuck to my skin for 10 hours so far, and while the projection isn’t huge, i smell it constantly. [Emphasis to name added by me.]
For “K1,” Oud Assam was “the most most amusing and the most intriguing oud fragrance [he’d] ever known.” He experienced aromachemicals as well, enough so to compare one aspect of the scent to a Montale (which is never a good thing in my mind), but he loved the scent nonetheless, writing:
It opens with sour and bitter blast of bitter orange sparkling stream on potent pharmaceutical earthy agarwood smell. Right in the opening a vapor of skank animalic type of smell appears which is the result of constant citric overload of the first layer that is overwhelmed by vigorous woody notes of vetiver and oud wood and pepper. The spicy base gives the entire play a delicious yet dirty vibe which reminds Montale works in a way. But what is certain about Oud Assam is that the combination of notes are highly natural, wild and realist. Oud Assam is fresh, dusty, powdery, playful, intriguing and earthy.
On Basenotes, most people find it to be a very wearable, realistic, authentic oud. In fact, “GimmeGreen” suggested that it might be a “good beginner’s oud,” presumably in terms of the real kind rather than Western fake “ouds.” What I found interesting about his review is that he, too, thought Oud Assam sometimes smelt quite different on the scent trail than when sniffed up close on the skin. He writes:
A highly civilized oud from top to bottom, and, therefore, lacking in the rocket-to-the-moon madness (and velocity) of some other oud-centric perfumes. Despite the fermented and runny cheese overtures of the beginning, Oud Assam remains composed – perhaps it’s the airiness of the composition or the moderate projection. The progression is towards greater woodiness, with some sweet notes and smoky edges – but there’s not a hair out of place.
The aura of this fragrance is considerably different to its close-to-the-nose experience. If one relaxes and stops thinking about it, sweet citruses and fresher fougere style elements make themselves known which are not evident if one sniffs sprayed skin.
Perhaps a good beginner’s oud as it offers a realistic iteration of a certain kind of oud and stays focussed on its main accord, all in a perfume that is unlikely to scare anyone. But I guess it depends on the type of beginner – me, I usually prefer being thrown off the deep end. Joins a select group of ouds one can safely wear around other people.
“Deadidol” didn’t find the oud to be all that challenging along the agarwood spectrum, but he wrote that he generally doesn’t enjoy oud mixed with “foresty green” notes. He also found the scent too stuffily “tailored,” “polished,” and “upscale” in its overall vibe, and prefers something freer, raunchy, or looser in style. Like me, he experienced quite a significant amount of greenness after the opening citrus-oud mix:
There is a prominent vetiver than gives the blend a slightly old-school masculine feel, but it’s rendered warmer through the presence of some spice notes, shading the scent in a way that brings balance. Thirty minutes or so in and much of the opening oud drops away, leaving behind the more coniferous notes, and spinning the scent further toward a familiar, masculine blend. It ends up as a bit of a glum mossy base, but it’s probably a good choice for this scent given its forest-floor leanings.
On both sites, there is the review from “Farang” that I alluded to earlier in the context of the “buffalo dung”:
Hmm…my co-workers say the opening blast smells like buffalo dung. More precisely they say it smells like you pull some grass (that’s the vetiver part) from the ground where the dung is and rub it between your hands. Well….they may be right since this is quite a ‘real’ smelling oud fragrance. It has confirmed my point of view though, that I prefer more blended and subtle oud fragrances, not the in-your-face ones.
It dries down rather quickly to a general wood-smelling fragrance with some spices and vanilla. Projection is quite good, but it is rather short lived on my skin.
Bottom line, it’s really going to depend on your taste for this sort of oud, and possibly on your tolerance for aromachemicals. If you enjoy authentic Middle Eastern oud in all its complex nuances, if you have no issue with the cheesy or barnyard whiffs, and if you like both incense and vetiver greenness as accompaniments, then you should give Oud Assam a test sniff. For me, it’s a pass because of the synthetic sharpness in the drydown and because of the amount of smoky vetiver, but it has some very enjoyable parts, especially in the beginning.