Ensar Oud — Part I: The Man & His World of Oud

Dedication to quality, an emphasis on olfactory authenticity, a passion for the materials, and a vision for how they can be presented in the very best, truest, and most beautiful fashion possible — these are some of the key traits common to the artisans who make the biggest splash in the fragrance world. These men and women put their products ahead of any price tag or marketing trends, desire for fame, or interest in the spotlight in the pages of glossy magazines. They do their own thing, by their own rules, following their own internal vision, and any plaudits which may ensue are merely a nice side recompense.

The world of luxury niche oud is a parallel but completely separate universe to the fragrance one and, while there are fewer artisan stars in its firmament, the same rules hold true for what makes them special. There are several names which stand out in this small niche world — Ensar Oud, Agar Aura, and Russian Adam of Feel Oud — but one seems to shine the brightest and is frequently spoken of in almost reverential tones: Ensar Oud.

Ensar Oud and the banner on his site: agarwood.ensaroud.com

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Stéphane Humbert Lucas 777 Oud 777

Smoke #6 by Stefan Bonazzi. (Website link embedded within photo,.)

Smoke #6 by Stefan Bonazzi. (Website link embedded within photo,.)

Oud 777 takes you on a journey through the darkness of leather, smoke, and oud, before you emerge on the other side in the soft light of silky creaminess. Along the way, you stop to picnic on labdanum amber, licorice, black truffle and anise, but the main leg of the trip is primarily about sharp smoke, tobacco, leather, and singed woods. It’s not The Heart of Darkness, but it sometimes feels like “The Smoke Monster” from Lost put on a leather jacket, dabbed on a little Amouage Tribute, then went to chew some tobacco on a stroll through burning woods in Cambodia. In fact, I suspect there are some leather-clad biker gangs who would very much enjoy Oud 777.

Stéphane Humbert Lucas, via the SHL Facebook page and used with permission.

Stéphane Humbert Lucas, via the SHL Facebook page and used with permission.

Oud 777 is a brand new, 2014 parfum extrait from Stéphane Humbert Lucas 777 (hereinafter just referred to as “SHL 777” or “777“). All the perfumes are created by Monsieur Lucas himself, a man who used to be the nose for SoOud and Nez à Nez. Up to now, the 777 line was exclusive to Europe, Russia, and Middle Eastern, but there is excellent news. The complete SHL 777 line will be coming to America in a few weeks, including the stunning amber, O Hira, that was previously contractually limited to Harrods and Printemps, and such new releases as Qom Chilom and the mandarin-ginger-immortelle-tobacco scent, Une Nuit à Doha. They will all be carried at Luckyscent and Osswald NYC. I have samples of the complete line, thanks to the generosity and kindness of Monsieur Lucas, and I will be going through them, one by one (though perhaps with some breaks and perhaps not all in a row) so that you will be well prepared when 777 hits the stores.

Oud 777. Source: Stéphane Humbert Lucas.

Oud 777. Source: Stéphane Humbert Lucas.

Oud 777 is a pure parfum that Monsieur Lucas described to me as follows:

Grand OUD
Brown Oud from Burma
White Oud from Laos
Leathers selection
Tonka

Based upon what I smelt, there is absolute no way that list is complete. None. In fact, I have the sense that Monsieur Lucas is one of those perfumers who, like Profumum Roma, prefers to give merely a nutshell synopsis. Perhaps it’s because he believes that one should experience a scent and let it transport you where it will, instead of focusing on the tiny specifics. (He has been very amused by my OCD obsession with facts and details, though he’s patiently taken the time to answer my numerous laundry-list of questions, and always with graciousness.) I suppose we should be grateful that he’s not Serge Lutens who doesn’t offer any notes at all, but that doesn’t change the fact that Oud 777’s official list doesn’t really give you a full sense of the actual fragrance. 

Photo by Daniel Fox. Source: petapixel.com.  (Website link embedded within.)

Photo by Daniel Fox. Source: petapixel.com. (Website link embedded within.)

Oud 777 opens on my skin with such a rich blast of heavy labdanum that I instinctively reached for my decant to make sure I hadn’t accidentally re-applied O Hira. There are differences, to be sure, but for an instant, Oud 777 is all about dark, toffee’d, resinous, stick labdanum amber just like O Hira. Oud 777 had a definite whiff of tobacco lurking deep down in the base, but this labdanum was also animalic and redolent of chocolate. Then, the oud arrived — and all thoughts of O Hira vanished. My first thought and the exact comment in my notes upon smelling the agarwood was, “Uh oh.” It had the same blue cheese tonality that some really aged, very expensive Laotian woods possess, and I gulped in dread. Thankfully, it barely lasts. In fact, it lasted less than 4 minutes, and, yes, I timed it to be sure. (I know some of you all too well….)

Even though the blue cheese note in Oud 777 briefly brought back memories of Xerjoff‘s infamous Zafar, the two scents are nothing alike and there are strong differences. The oud here is not pure Gorgonzola for one thing. It’s also sweet, honeyed, and creamy. For another, it’s also much more animalic than Zafar was on me. Unlike some, I personally didn’t experience a heavy barnyard scent with Zafar, and had no feces. With Oud 777, however, I’m afraid the blue cheese segues into a few minutes of something that is both lightly fecal and strongly like a barnyard.

Source: artclon.com

Source: artclon.com

I’d like to clarify that, in my mind and to my nose, there is a definite difference between, “animalic,” “horsey,” “urinous,” “barnyard,” and “fecal” — with the progression moving from left to right in terms of intensity, rawness and brutality. Let’s just say that Oud 777 covers all of those bases for a few minutes, with the exception of “horsey” and “urinous.” I can see a few of you shuddering right now, so let me repeat that all of this lasts another 5-8 minutes. So, in total, there was a 15-minute period of difficulty, at most.

There are other things happening on the periphery of that multi-faceted, complicated Cambodian wood. Oud 777 is also musky and earthy. In fact, I would swear that I detected both a truffle-like aroma and the sweetness of loamy, black soil. The whole thing sits upon a river of labdanum that feels very leathered, slightly honeyed, and subtly smoky. It’s now very different to the labdanum in O Hira, as it has a significantly stronger leather component, less honey, less sweetness, and much more of a styrax-like smokiness.

Source: sggwaser.ch

Source: sggwaser.ch

More importantly, however, there is an odd herbal note flittering about that feels like a dot of green in the vast vista of brown-black. It drove me quite crazy at first, because it was so muted and minor that I felt I was imagining it. Was it really there, and was it really some mix of tarragon with fennel/anise??! Slowly, slowly, the note grew stronger and, yes, 10 minutes in, Oud 77 has a definite touch of fresh fennel, though with a slight tarragon whiff as well.

By an incredibly strange, unplanned twist of fate, I went to my parents’ for a very late dinner last night with my notepad, computer, and 2 hours worth of Oud 777 on my arm. Guess what was on the menu? Caramelized, grilled fennel! The funny thing is that, sometimes, I can almost “taste” some perfume notes on my tongue (it’s a really odd feeling), but last night, I was quite literally eating the same notes that were wafting from my arm. When caramelized and grilled, fennel heart has a strong black licorice taste. Previously, my notes for Oud 777 stated that, 20 minutes in, the “mystifying” herbal note transformed into “bright green anise fennel with a hefty side plate of chewy, black licorice.” Having that precise combination subsequently confirmed in person, on the tongue, was quite disorienting, I can assure you.

Source: science.nationalgeographic.com

Source: science.nationalgeographic.com

At the bottom of all these layers is the leather. Initially, and for the first hour, I really don’t smell leather, per se, but rather the mere impression of “leather.” It feels more like a subset of the labdanum, than leather in its own individual right. That subsequently changes, and in a big way, but at no point does the leather feel like black birch leather. Instead, it’s almost like a textural feel at times, a raw roughness, if you will.

Licorice. Source: Dylanscandybar.com

Licorice. Source: Dylanscandybar.com

30 minutes in, Oud 777 is a blend of leathered labdanum with animalic, musky woodiness, anise, chewy black licorice, strong smokiness, a slightly muted earthy black truffle, styrax, and tiny suggestions of chocolate. With every passing minute, the black licorice grows stronger and nestles itself right next to the leathered labdanum. As for the oud, I have to say that I really don’t detect the note as actual agarwood any longer. The blue cheese left the building long ago, followed shortly thereafter by the barnyard and fecal tinges. What there is now is merely an abstract woodiness that is taking on an increasingly singed aroma.

I have a distinct disadvantage in all this because I have never smelled Cambodian oud (to my knowledge), let alone a “white oud.” I’ve heard plenty about how Cambodian agarwood is supposed to be the most expensive or sought after variety, and the blogger, The Smelly Vagabond, once told me on Twitter that either a single or a few chips of it sold for about $600 a few years back. So I looked up descriptions of Cambodian oud to learn how it may differ from the Laotian or Indian types that I’m more familiar with. I came across one Basenotes thread where a chap described his Cambodian oud as follows:

I get the barnyard smell that everyone is talking about…it’s a very dark and a raw animalic scent…very smokey, leathery and woody…

If that is the case, then it is very close to what I detect in Oud 777. The agarwood doesn’t smell like any thing I’ve encountered previously, but initially consists just of smoky woods that verge on the burnt. At the start of Oud 777, I had ascribed some of what I detected to labdanum’s undertones and to styrax, but as time passes, it’s become abundantly clear that something else is going. I have no idea where the labdanum starts and the Cambodian oud ends, what is the precise source of the leathery undertones, or even if there is styrax in Oud 777 any more. All I know is that the perfume starts to become darker and darker, smokier and smokier.

Nicolas Obery Gicle Digital Print. Source: googleplussuomi.com

Nicolas Obery Gicle Digital Print. Source: googleplussuomi.com

At the end of the first hour, Oud 777 has become something that is completely different from its opening bouquet. There is a distinct and very prominent tobacco tonality, almost as if Tobacco Absolute has been used. It accompanies an intense, rather arid smokiness, so it must stem from the Cambodian oud. Whatever the source, man, is it smoky! It doesn’t smell like frankincense smoke, but like a super potent, concentrated, and very fierce mix of Serge LutensFumerie Turque with Amouage‘s Tribute attar. I love Tribute, but the reformulated Fumerie Turque was too sharp for me, and something about the note in Oud 777 feels the same way.

Part of my difficulty is that the smokiness becomes so desiccated and intense that it eventually began to hurt my nose when I smelt Oud 777 up close and for too long. By the middle of the 5th hour, I actually wondered if an aromachemical had been used. Probably not, judging the Basenotes description of Cambodian oud. There is probably just a hell of lot of the Cambodian wood in Oud 777, but I’m afraid I’m too much of a wimp for it. 

Source: rgbstock.com

Source: rgbstock.com

From the start of the second hour until the 5th hour, Oud 777 blasts away razor-sharp smokiness and burnt woods, mixed with strong tobacco-like aromas, a very dark leatheriness, hints of black licorice, and an increasingly subdued labdanum amber. There is a slightly vanillic creaminess that appears at the start of the 4th hour which makes things better, though it’s not powerful or significant enough at first to counter that powerful tobacco-woody smokiness. To be fair, Oud 777 definitely feels softer and slightly smoother, and the creaminess makes the smoke less parched in feel, but the singed, burnt tonality continues to have a certain sharpness that is too much for me.

Painting by Moon Beom via lostateminor.com

Painting by Moon Beom via lostateminor.com

I have to say, I rather feel like a wuss. I’ve concluded that Tribute is about as far as I can go with this sort of intense smokiness. On my skin, Oud 777 makes Tribute feel like a walk in the park. I’m quite serious. The Amouage attar had some hidden roses, a much richer, deeper softness, a velvety smoothness, and neither a burnt aroma nor any tobacco ashiness. Oud 777 doesn’t feel thick, dense, and as smooth as Tribute, and obviously the notes are completely different as well. For me, Oud 777’s smoke feels piercing, but the tobacco tonality is also substantially and significantly stronger than anything I detected in Tribute, and the leatheriness feels different as well. Rougher, rawer, and more intense. To be fair, my skin tends to amplify base notes, so maybe it’s just me.

Painting by Moon Beom via Lostateminor.com

Painting by Moon Beom via Lostateminor.com

Still, I am hugely relieved when the creaminess rises fully to the surface about 4.75 hours into Oud 777’s evolution. The perfume now smells of cream, sharp smoke, and singed woods, all flecked with tobacco, leather and vague whiffs of toffee’d labdanum. The cream note is odd because it smells quite separate and distinct, almost as if it were an actual element. The official note list for Oud 777 that I got from Monsieur Lucas includes tonka, but this doesn’t smell like the sort of tonka that I’ve encountered before. It’s neither vanillic nor powdered, and it’s not really sweet, either. It feels more like beige woods or some sort of really high-end Australian sandalwood in its smooth, creamy, wooded softness. Whatever the actual source of the note, the creaminess blessedly ends the reign of The Smoke Monster. Later on, it becomes responsible for Oud 777’s absolutely lovely drydown phase.

Painting by Moon Beom via lostateminor.com

Painting by Moon Beom via lostateminor.com

Oud 777 continues on this same path for several more hours, turning more abstract and creamy with time, and changing only a little around the 10th hour. (Yes, I said, 10th hour!). Oud 777 is now a blur of creamy woodiness with an almost soapy cleanness to it. (The mysterious “white oud” perhaps?) The woodiness also has a faint whiff of the sort of oud note that I’m much more used to, but it’s subtle.

The soapy quality vanishes after an hour, and Oud 777 chugs along in its increasingly lovely drydown. The vanilla-ish tonka weaves its way through the notes, but it’s the return of the labdanum which is more significant. It is golden soft and warm, and melts into the butter-smooth creaminess which now feels like silk. I love the drydown, especially as the dry woodiness is increasingly subdued and subtle. In its final moments, Oud 777 is a mere blur of silky, smooth creaminess with a vestige of dry woods and subtle hints of ambered warmth.

Source: wallpaperscraft.com

Source: wallpaperscraft.com

All in all, Oud 777 lasted at least 18.75 hours on my perfume consuming skin. I say “at least,” because it is actually still churning along as I write this review. I’m dumbfounded, especially given how voracious my skin can be. I almost feel as though I’m imagining it, but no, at this very minute, I can still easily detect creamy woodiness with labdanum amber and a slightly clean vibe at times. For all I know, this thing could go on for another 6 hours, so I’m just going to get on with the review for the sake of my writing schedule.

By the way, Oud 777 wasn’t really a skin scent for all that time, either. In fact, it had quite a strong sillage at the start. Then, for a good portion of its life, Oud 777 hovered about 2 inches above the skin. Unfortunately, my usual numeric breakdown is going to be a little fuzzy this time when it comes to the quantity that I used. The decant I was sent had an even worse spraying mechanism than my O Hira atomizer, giving out little drops and dribbles, rather than an actual spray. However, I always judge things by surface area saturation on a particular stretch of skin on my forearm, so I can approximate the amount. I applied roughly the equivalent of 2 big sprays from an actual bottle, 3 good atomizer spritzes, or about 1/3 of a 1 ml vial. That quantity gave me over 18 hours in longevity!

In terms of sillage, Oud 777 initially projected out about 3 inches at first, before it dropped down to 2 inches after 30 minutes. There, it stayed for hours, turning into a skin scent near the end of the 5th hour, though it was still easy to detect without any effort at all. Actually, I’m not sure if “skin scent” accurately conveys the situation in this case. You do have to put your nose on your skin to smell it, but Oud 777 essentially just lies right on the skin as a silken smear. O Hira really did the same thing as well for about 7 hours, so maybe I need to find more precise terminology. Whatever the linguistic phrasing, Oud 777 never really turned into a skin scent in the way that I’m used to, perhaps because the perfume still hasn’t ended. Honestly, I’m completely stunned by Oud 777’s longevity.

Source: featurepics.com

Source: featurepics.com

As a whole, Oud 777 is quite light in feel. Potent and definitely sharp at times, but quite airy and sheer in weight. Oud 777 feels very dark for the first 5 hours, with a very leathered texture that continuously evoked images of a rhinoceros’ rough hide in my mind, more than any smooth or even black, rubbered leather. Actually Oud 777 has been created in a way where texture feels like a distinct, individual characteristic, almost like one of the notes itself. That was noticeable in the middle section as well when the creaminess appeared to act as a bridge between the opening stage’s blackness and the drydown’s ivory visuals.

Oud 777 is too new for me to provide you with a comparative assessment, and the fragrance doesn’t even have an entry on Fragrantica at this time. In fact, at the time of this post, it’s not widely available outside of Harrods and Paris’ Printemps. That will change in a few days time when, I’ve been told, Germany’s First in Fragrance should receive more of the SHL 777 line. And, according to Monsieur Lucas, the collection will be released in the U.S. in roughly 2 weeks time.

I don’t have the official American pricing information for Oud 777 but, in Europe, the perfume retails for €395 for a 50 ml bottle of pure parfum. While that comes to $546 at today’s rate of conversion, my experience in the past with European exclusives is that they are always priced lower than the exchange amount. My guess is that Oud 777 will probably retail for around $495 in the U.S., but that is only a guess.

I’m not sure what I can say about the pricing at this point, as I’m starting to sound a little bit like a broken record with regard to what I’ve termed the “Roja Dove Rule.” For people new to the blog, what I mean by that is: it’s going to be a personal calculation that comes down to each individual’s subjective valuation and tastes — and the extent to which the fragrance in question brings them to their knees such that the price becomes worth it to them.

Photo: Federico Bebber. Source: MyModernMet.com

Photo: Federico Bebber. Source: MyModernMet.com

For me, personally, Oud 777’s price is too high for the scent in question, especially as it lacks the enormous opulence of O Hira. Then again, O Hira is meant to be the crown jewel in the line and is in a whole other category, so that’s not really a fair comparison. My difficulty in all this is that judging a high-quality fragrance that is well done ends up implicitly being an assertion of (my) personal economic feelings. It’s not like we’re talking about some toxic aromachemical bomb that’s been badly put together from a 3rd rate company, or a flimsy, generic fragrance that lasts a mere 2 hours. This is a different matter, and I’ve given up trying to do the math. (It doesn’t help that Cambodian oud is said to be extremely expensive.) Bottom line, Oud 777 would be too expensive for me even if I hadn’t found the smokiness of the middle phase to be such a challenge and even if I had loved the whole thing. You have to make your own determinations.

Is Oud 777 the most approachable scent? I don’t know. I doubt you could wear it to work. I also think that Oud 777 skews quite masculine in feel. Then again, I know quite a few women who absolutely adore very smoky, dry, woody scents with tobacco and leather, so it is going to come down to personal tastes. (Yet, again.)

At the end of the day, all I can say is that you should definitely sample or sniff Oud 777 if you like really dark, extremely smoky, woody scents that eventually transition into a beautifully silken creaminess.

Disclosure: Perfume sample courtesy of Stéphane Humbert Lucas. That did not influence this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Oud 777 is an Extrait or pure parfum that is only available in a 50 ml bottle and costs €395. The 777 line should be at Luckyscent and Osswald NYC by the end of April.  [Update 5/2/14 — Osswald has now received the 777 line. It sells Oud 777 for $515.] Outside the U.S.: Currently, the Stéphane Humbert Lucas’ website is under construction, and doesn’t have an e-store. The best online resource is First in Fragrance which currently has about half of the SHL 777 line, and will soon be receiving the newer releases as well. As of this morning, Oud 777 was not yet in stock, but I’ve been told by SHL 777 that it should be in a few days. In London, you can find the entire collection at Harrod’s Black Room, while in Paris, they are exclusive to Printemps under the name 777. In France, the SHL 777 line is also said to be available at Taizo in Cannes, but they didn’t list the line on their website the last time I checked and they have no e-store. Zurich’s Osswald also carries the line, but I don’t think they have an e-store any more. The Swiss perfumery, Theodora, also has SHL 777, but, again, no e-store. In the Middle East, Souq.com has about 6 of the earlier perfumes which it sells for AED 1,500. In the UAE, the SHL 777 line is available at Harvey Nichols and at Bloomingdales in the Dubai Mall. In Russia, SHL 777 is sold at Lenoma. Ukraine’s Sana Hunt Luxury store also carries the line, but they don’t have an e-store. Samples: None of the U.S. sample sites currently carry this fragrance, but Luckyscent and Osswald NYC will be your best option once the SHL 777 perfumes are released in America. Osswald used to have a great sample program where you could try any 10 fragrances in relatively large vials for a mere $20, with free shipping. However, that program is only available to U.S. customers, and, more importantly, it may have recently changed. Looking at the Sample section on the website now, there is no set deal, and pricing depends on the cost of the particular perfume in question. They range from $3 a vial up to $9 a vial for fragrances that cost over $300. You can call Osswald at (212) 625-3111 to enquire further as to the situation.