There are many perfect perfume notes which go together like peanut butter and jelly or as Forrest Gump would say, peas and carrots. These perfume combos then have to be surrounded by something unusual to allow them to stand out. As the number of versions keeps increasing it becomes more difficult for a brand to find that space where they provide a new experience. Most of the time a perfume brand won’t even try very hard. They’ll take the tried and true add something else and start up the publicity machine. Over the last few years as the popularity of oud has soared in fragrance there has come to be some pretty traditional pairings with that ingredient. One of my favorites is oud and incense. It is really a pairing of two types of resins. It is also a kind of juxtaposition of the dirty essence of oud against the almost sterile austerity of frankincense. By themselves they are a perfect pairing. Even though I own a lot of the incense oud perfumes that have been released I am always ready for a new one. The most recent one I received is Nicolai Incense Oud.
Over the past year and a half, or so, Patricia de Nicolai the perfumer behind Nicolai has been exploring these different oud pairings. She has shown that she is a perfumer who can find that unique interstitial space and exploit it with a well-chosen grouping of ingredients. In Incense Oud those supporting notes are absinthe, cedar, patchouli, leather and castoreum to delineate the sustainably harvested Cambodian oud and the Omani Frankincense.
Patricia de Nicolai
Incense Oud opens without either of the title notes around. Instead Mme de Nicolai takes coriander, the botanical musk of ambrette seeds, and artemesia to form a sexy absinthe accord. It provides a swirl of alcoholic entry before the resins come to the fore. The oud and incense rise up together. This sustainable harvested oud has a kind of cedar undertone to it. Mme de Nicolai adds in cedar to emphasize that. It allows a cleaner version of oud to meet the silvery quality of the Omani frankincense. Together this is more incense than oud but it is because of the nature of the sustainable oud. Since I was missing a bit of that animalic character Mme de Nicolai gives it back to me with a leather accord accompanied by patchouli and castoreum. This actually does fill those spaces I spoke of as it seems to recognize the oud and try and make it a little dirtier.
Incense Oud has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This version of incense and oud really does a fine job of displaying the qualities of the newish sustainably harvested oud. Mme de Nicolai shows it off by allowing it to find its own space to expand in to while the frankincense steps up to it. It is a really beautifully realized example of creativity within heavily explored space by making the familiar seem unfamiliar.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Nicolai at Pitti 2016.