\"Oud is now part of the perfumer's palette, the same way roses and sandalwood are\" – Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian

"Oud is now part of the perfumer's palette, the same way roses and sandalwood are" – Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian

In conversation with the nose

Interview: Farouk Chekoufi

Editor: Shannon Wylie

Image: Francis Kurkdjian

Maison Francis Kurkdjian is the name you need to know in perfumery and oud is the game he plays. Discover the rich scented secrets behind this Middle Eastern favourite now...

Just under two months ago, Francis Kurkdjian announced that his award-winning perfume house had joined the LVMH portfolio. Now, the French-Armenian perfumer is in Dubai to discuss his palette of scents and why oud has struck the ultimate note in his collection...

What is oud?

In the perfumer's palette, Oud wood oil is the most expensive natural ingredient after iris. More precisely it is the combination between a tree and a fungus. The tree gets infected and develops a scent, which is unique in the perfume palette. It has a strong animalic facet although it does not come from an animal but a tree. There is also a dry woody facet along with a honey like note, combined with a waxy undertone. 

Describe oud in five words?

Disruptive, animalic, sensual, opulent, long lasting.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian

As a nose, what makes oud so unique and charismatic today?

Oud was something that was ignored for many years by Western perfumers. This is because oud wood conveys a sensuality that we used to have with animalic notes and perfumers before the '80s. The other reason is its strength; it's a very long lasting product. Oud wood is now part of the perfumer's palette the same way that we have roses, orange flowers, jasmine and sandalwood. What I do like the most about it, is its rawness. Beside its unique signature smell, it gives body and strength to a fragrance.

Oud has a rich and luxurious aroma, representing a modern interpretation of the ancient Arabian perfumes. 

Where do you source your oud from? 

Sourcing the natural material is an important issue many perfumers face when working with oud wood. The oud wood I use comes from Laos, where it's the purest and is not counterfeit. Oud is a product protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES). CITIES is an international agreement between governments, which aims is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. So the trade of oud is highly regulated. To have a scented trunk takes years and years, almost 20 years sometimes depending on the grade and the richness of the final oil. The yield is very low as well, so that contributes to the increase in price as well. 

What is the history of oud? 

For 30 years, the market was driven by American taste (it was mostly French and European before that era). Now the Middle East, Russia, Asia and Brazilian are taking over. Fragrance reflects who has the power and the money! So oud-based fragrances have become a true family on their own, the same way gourmand fragrances became popular.

Francis Kurkdjian

Why is oud the most wanted perfume in the Middle East?  

Oud conveys a sense of mystery. It is a favourite amongst the Arab nations for its strength, smoky distinctiveness and power. It also brings a unique sillage that conveys a sense of comfort and sexiness. It's very appealing for those who enjoy warm, woody scents. 

What inspired you to create your very own chic oud collection? 

I have been thinking about doing oud for almost 10 years ago, so I asked a supplier to sample different varieties. Many other brands have done their interpretation of oud so I started working on it seriously some seven years ago but wanted to find my point of difference. A different treatment was my main challenge. I also wanted to create a fragrance that was a lot lighter than one would normally expect from an oud but deliciously honed, modern and approachable. So, in 2012, I came out with the Eau de Parfum Oud. Then in 2013, we launched the Oud Mood collection, which reflects my sources of inspiration. It is linked intimately to my love for couture and clothing and part of an ideal fragrance wardrobe I am creating season after season, year after year. The art of tailoring and couture is very close to the art of fragrance. In 2015, we added one more oud fragrance to the collection, Oud Satin Mood, which conveys the desire to bring a shimmering Orient to life. With your eyes closed, you can imagine flowing fabrics delicately draped over the skin. Then, next month we'll launch Oud Satin Mood but in Extrait de Parfum, to accentuate the fabric's oriental reflections and really play with the audacity of opulence.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Maison Francis Kurkdjian, including the new Oud Satin Mood fragrance, is available across the Middle East at Paris Gallery in the UAE and Qatar, Secret Notes in Saudi Arabia, Jamal in Iran, Harvey Nichols in Kuwait and ABC in Lebanon.