What Is Oud? Your Guide to Perfume’s Most Mysterious—and Expensive—Scent

What Is Oud? Your Guide to Perfume’s Most Mysterious—and Expensive—Scent featured image

Spend enough time around the beauty world and you’re sure to hear the term “oud” tossed about once or twice. The word itself oozes seduction and mystique, but most people don’t actually know what it means.

When it comes to fragrance, oud is one of nature’s rarest botanical ingredients—in fact, it’s so scarce that it’s not actually used for production in its pure form. Instead, expert perfumers recreate the effects of “oud” through a mix of other high-quality oils that replicate a similar scent of woody sweetness.

While many fragrance brands play with their own versions of oud, and it feels like oud is having a buzzy moment, not all oud perfumes are created equal. Here’s everything you need to know about the deeply alluring scent.

  • Euan McCall is a Scottish perfumer and the founder of JORUM STUDIO
  • Chriselle Lim is the owner and creative director of Phlur

What is oud?

Oud is an oil that comes from Aquilaria trees, found throughout India, China, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. According to Scottish perfumer Euan McCall, founder of JORUM STUDIO, the oil is created when the wood becomes infected with fungus. When the Aquilaria lumber is healthy, it doesn’t produce any odor. “When the older trees are attacked by the fungi, the infection creates an oleoresin in the tree that is removed, chopped and macerated in water before being distilled to yield the oil we call oud,” says McCall. 

Before it found its way to luxury perfume, oud had traditionally been used in religious and ceremonial endeavors across cultures for thousands of years. 

Why are oud perfumes pricier than other scents? 

Pure, wild oud is an incredibly scarce natural resource, making it impossible to produce at scale. According to McCall, high-quality, commercial-grade oud oil runs around $20,000 per pound, while the finest oils on the market far exceed those rates, often fetching high six-figures. Using even the tiniest drop of oud oil in a perfume can dramatically increase the price.

Therefore, an entire marketplace of synthetic oud options has emerged.

What is synthetic oud? 

“Synthetic oud is usually a combination of multiple materials formulated and manufactured by perfumers in order to mimic real oud at a fraction of the price,” explains McCall. It actually offers perfumers a unique opportunity to get creative in their formulations, crafting interpretations of oud using other components that feel true and authentic to their personal palette and sensibility.

“It’s worth noting that many oud bases are created using a high percentage of natural materials and are often not the most economical materials,” McCall continues. And while other botanic oils may not be as expensive as oud, they’re still not cheap. McCall cites cypriol, spikenard, vetiver and patchouli as quality ingredients that exhibit oud-like characteristics. “Armed with these materials, a skilled perfumer can create a close approximation of oud,” he says.

What does oud smell like?

Owner and creative director of Phlur, Chriselle Lim, says, “Oud has a deep, woody scent that’s super luxe and captivating, but it’s not just the woodiness—there’s a sexy, smoky undertone too.” Perfumes featuring synthetic oud oils typically offer this enchanting mix of woodiness, sweetness and earthiness. Though, they can also feature floral and fruity notes that surprise and delight as well. 

Depending on what notes it’s paired with, the experience of the scent can differ greatly. “A couple of my favorite pairings with oud are rose, which gives it that luxurious and romantic scent. Or amber, which adds warmth and sweetness,” says Lim. 

Plus, when working with genuine oud oil, varied fermentation processes can also result in a myriad of scents. According to McCall, these can range from “intensely sweet and fruity to cheese-like or animalic.” Whether real or synthetic, it’s these unexpected blends that make the fragrance so hard to pin down, and therefore, so beguiling.

Oud perfumes to try

1 / 10

D.S. & Durga Notorious Oud ($210)

D.S. & Durga’s ode to oud incorporates an array of global notes—including Bulgarian rose, French lavender, Egyptian papyrus and Afghani saffron—to create a complex fragrance unencumbered by categorization. It’s both woody and floral, spicy and lushly warm. Expert perfumer David Moltz crafted the scent after extensive studies of the world’s rarest oud oils, guaranteeing an authentic and richly individualistic experience. 

BUY NOW – $210

ds and durga oud
2 / 10

Byredo Oud Immortel ($225)

Byredo’s Oud Immortel leans on an intense woody base of tobacco and moss with striking top notes of incense and cardamom. The aromatic scent leaves an air of mystery and sensuality in its wake. Evoking the timeless, or “immortal” nature of the quest for the ever-elusive and luxurious oud, this French-made fragrance feels rich and dark yet surprisingly bright. 

BUY NOW – $225

byredo oud
3 / 10

Jo Malone London Oud & Bergamot Cologne Intense ($160)

Though this edition from Jo Malone London is technically a “cologne,” the unisex fragrance is beloved by all genders. And while we tend to seek out the brand for the light and airy quality of many of their beloved fragrances, Oud & Bergamot effuses a darker, more intense and longer-lasting scent than you may expect from Jo Malone. Notes of cedarwood, bergamot, oud and orange create a spicy, sexy mix.  

BUY NOW – $160

jo malone oud
4 / 10

Tom Ford Oud Wood ($195)

Another genderless favorite from the king of deep and rich perfumes—Tom Ford. This particular scent really leans into its woodiness, featuring sandalwood and rosewood for a truly earthy sensory experience. Amber, vetiver, tonka bean, Chinese pepper and cardamom add complex layers to the scent, resulting in a smoky and exotic interpretation of oud. 

BUY NOW – $195

tom ford oud
5 / 10

Diptyque Oud Palao Eu de Parfum ($230) 

As an arbiter of modern luxury fragrance, it’s no surprise that Diptyque would throw its hat into the oud conversation. The Parisian perfumery’s Oud Palao takes a different approach to oud with the addition of Madagascan vanilla—providing the faintest hint of sweetness to the otherwise sultry and earthy scent. Incense, rose, patchouli and cypriol add intriguing depth for a luxurious effect. 

BUY NOW – $230

diptyque oud
6 / 10

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Silk Mood ($310)

Oud Silk Mood is one of those special cult-favorite fragrances in the beauty insider world. Its unique complexity exudes luxury. The scent is a master class in contrasts. Unlike most other ouds, it walks the line between earthy and airy, infused with notes of rose, bergamot, papyrus and Guaiac wood for an unexpected harmony between East and West. 

BUY NOW – $310

maison francis oud
7 / 10

Juliette Has A Gun Another Oud ($155)

We’re big fans of the in-the-know indie fragrance brand Juliette Has A Gun. Founded in 2006 by artistic director Romano Ricci, a history of style and craftsmanship inform all his creations. Another Oud is a thoroughly modern and original interpretation of the timeless scent. The fragrance contains notes of raspberry, bergamot, norlimbanol and ambroxan for a grand and exuberant essence. 

BUY NOW – $155

juliette has a gun oud
8 / 10

JORUM STUDIO Arborist ($96)

We’ve had our eye on indie perfumery JORUM STUDIO since its founding in 2019. And while several of their fine fragrances contain high-quality oud oil (like Nectary and Fantosmia), we’re partial to Arborist—a unique ode to the enchantments of nature. Expert perfumer McCall crafted the scent from memories of his native Scottish woodlands. A verdant blend of forest fruits and raw botanicals mix with the potent base of Spruce and Fir timber to create this dreamy and alluring fragrance. 

BUY NOW – $96

jorum oud
9 / 10

L’Artisan Parfumer Ode a l’Oudh ($280)

French perfume house L’Artisan Parfumer is known for its bold, avant-garde scents. With its woody base and floral accents, Ode a l’Oudh is no different. Fashioned after a mysterious potion, the fragrance mixes the essence of a fruit liquor with the likes of coriander, saffron, nutmeg, vanilla and musk for a soulful and eccentric perfume. It’s a personal favorite of JORUM STUDIO perfumer McCall. He says, “I love it because it’s raw and reminds me of oud plantations.” 

BUY NOW – $280

artisian oud
10 / 10

Phlur Somebody Wood ($99)

Somebody Wood is one of those aforementioned fragrances that doesn’t actually contain oud but is heavily influenced by the historic scent. We love that it’s an oud-inspired perfume that’s actually light enough for everyday wear. “It has that sexy and cozy woody layer with notes of sandalwood and spicy amber,” says Lim. The musky base grounds it in earthiness, while top notes of bergamot and lemon give it a bright, floaty burst. 

BUY NOW – $99

phlur oud

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