The Fragrance of Kings
Written by Kate Lord Brown
The heavenly scent of exclusive oud is at the heart of Arabia’s favourite fragrances.
Strolling through the souqs and malls of Qatar, one often smells the delicious fragrance of incense or bakhoor-scented woodchips gently smoking in mabkhara incense burners. Fine perfume is ever popular in Arabia, but there is one perfume prized above all else: oud, the dark heart of agarwood.
Evergreen aquilaria trees are native to Southeast Asia, and in their natural state their heartwood is light and pale. When they are attacked by infection, the trees fight back by creating agarwood, which has a dark aromatic resin at its core. The fragrance is complex – sweet, deep, and balanced. It is woody and warm with a balsamic aura that synthetic oud lacks.
Oud has been prized for centuries, not only as a perfume but as a medicine in many cultures, including Ayurvedic cures. The finest grade of oud is the most expensive natural raw material in the world, and the global oud market is growing. Some estimate it is worth US$8 billion a year. It is a prestigious gift, and the fine oud sellers of Doha present the wood in exquisite inlaid boxes and cut-glass canisters.
The production of oud has a low yield. It is a labour-intensive process, and the trees are becoming endangered, so the exclusivity and price of the finest wood has grown over the years – now, a kilo of the finest examples can cost US$20,000. In 2012, a collector paid US$7,000 for half a teaspoon of oil from 100-year-old trees.
But for the visitor to Qatar who would like to experience a little of oud’s fragrant magic, it is possible to buy as little as 30g from a fine oud dealer. In the delightful blue-and-gold showroom of Al Andalus Oud in Doha’s new O1 Mall, I browsed the gleaming glass cabinets of oud on display. “The wood is sold by weight,” the assistant explained, “and the price depends on the quality. The darker the oud, the more expensive it is.” The wood is surprisingly light to the touch, rather like balsa wood, and the colours range from a pale coffee to a deep mahogany.
It is little wonder that oud has influenced so many Western perfumers. From Armani Privé’s Oud Royal to Dior’s Leather Oud, and Tom Ford’s Oud Wood, the fragrance forms the heart of many exclusive and limited-edition perfumes and aftershaves. Brands to look out for in Doha include Swiss Arabian, and Amouage, which has just opened in Lagoona Mall. For fragrances with oud notes, try luxury malls such as Blue Salon and Royal Plaza in Al Saad, which have an extensive range of the finest perfumes.
To experience the fragrance of oud is an unforgettable feast for the senses; a chance to carry a little of Qatar’s unique heritage and history home with you.
Fragrances for the exclusive
Visitors to Qatar will also find branches of oud sellers popular throughout the Gulf: Arabian Oud (arabianoud.com) is at City Center and Royal Plaza; and Al Jazeera Perfumes (aljazeeraperfumes.com) sells exclusive fragrances such as Montale, as well as some of the finest oud.