Oud Satin Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdijan is a big, fat Middle Eastern sweet, the kind that is doused in rose syrup, thickened with salep, aromatized with mastic, sprinkled with rosewater and pistachios, and then, finally, dusted with a thick layer or five of powdered sugar so thick your teeth leaves indents in it.
Which means, of course, that I love it.
How could I not? I live in a country so thoroughly marked by a Turkish occupation in the late 1500s that every second word in the food vocabulary is Turkish. And since Turkish cuisine is influenced also by high Persian cuisine, we have quite a few Persian woods for food too. Lokum (Turkish delight), halva, tulumba (fried cakes doused in honey syrup), baklava, sutlias (rice pudding) and many, many others – well, you get the picture.
To be honest, I don’t like to eat that stuff – but I do love perfumes that are based on what they smell like.
Tom Ford’s Noir de Noir reminds me of drinking coffee in those traditional little metal cups in coffee houses in Baščaršija, the old town of Sarajevo, and biting into the rosewater-scented cubes of lokum they send out to cut through the bitterness of the Turkish coffee. The fact that the rose in this ends up smelling a teeny bit cheap, like rosewater, is a plus in my eyes. It’s authentic.
Pekji Perfumes’ Ruh reminds me of kulfi, an Indian iced dessert made by boiling down condensed milk, sugar, rosewater, and cardamom into a thick paste, and then freezing it. But this one is not sweet per se – the smoky myrrh and cardamom add a resinous, coffee-like aroma that saves it from being a dull, sugar overload.
Montale’s two ‘gourmand’ ouds, Red Aoud and White Oud, also fit the bill. After a confusing, almost obnoxious start, Red Aoud dries down to a smell deliciously reminiscent of halva, that Middle Eastern sweet made from pounded sesame paste and honey. The cumin and saffron notes contribute a bread/pasty feel and the sandalwood adds creaminess. The name of White Aoud captures the character of the scent very well – it is a dusty white cloud of saffron, rose, and vanilla, like a delicate Indian pudding freeze-dried, pulverized and made aura.
L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Traversee du Bosphore, on the other hand, is something I go back and forth on. The dusty, pink lokum in the base is gorgeous, and it captures very well the slightly jellied texture of the gelatin as well as that plushy, cushioned feel of sinking your teeth into it. But the pomegranate syrup note at the start is violently sweet, and smells more like cherries in syrup rather than the tart-sweet-floral character of pomegranate syrup itself. My mother-in-law makes her own, so I know of what I speak!
But my two absolute favorites in the ‘Middle Eastern Dessert’ fragrance category are Safran Troublant by L’Artisan Parfumeur and Calligraphy Rose by Aramis. Safran Troublant is a trembling vanilla custard dusted with rose petals and permeated with that hot-leathery-bitter-fiery-medicinal bite of real saffron. It smells both edible and inedible in equal measure – again, it’s that weirdly floral (rose-scented) vanilla custard that people in the Middle East crave. Half-flower, half-dessert.
Calligraphy Rose is one of those perfumes that, whenever I put it on, I am anxiously checking the level of the bottle, such is the perfection of the aroma. What I love about this one, apart from the copious amounts of my favorite note – saffron – is that the rich, syrupy red rose at the core is never allowed to be obscured or desiccated by the smoking myrrh and frankincense in the base. Everything is in perfect balance – the sweetness, the smoke, the richness – no one part is allowed to dominate the others. It is my idea of a perfect oriental rose-incense perfume, but there is something thick and syrupy in the rose and saffron pairing takes this into the Middle Eastern ‘sweet’ category for me.
So, coming at last to Oud Satin Mood, where does it stand in my imaginary pantheon of great Middle Eastern sweets?
To me, it is a real standout. The opening smells like a thick jam of berries and rose petals stirred through a pot of condensed milk on the stove. We are preparing to make Kulfi here. As vanilla, milk, sugar, and rose petals are cooked down, the sugar and sweet milk combine to produce a sort of toffee-like note.
This sounds almost oppressively sweet, doesn’t it? But it’s not, I swear. There’s a shot of violet here too, which combined with the rose, injects the mixture with the powdery smell you get when you open a Chanel pressed powder compact. It smells, in short, like a Middle Eastern sweet crossed (and leavened with) a rich cosmetics powder accord. There is also a very faint backbone of oud, and although it’s very subtle, it adds a medicinal woodiness that keeps the sugariness of the vanilla-milk syrup and rose jam in check. At this stage, it smells like MFK’s original Oud got together with Chanel’s Misia and had a baby. In a Middle Eastern pastry shop.
Oh, and the sillage, baby, the sillage!……this one wafts across crowded bars and noisy parties. A perfume as opulent and as powdered as this demands a generous bosom from which to radiate. Could a man wear this? I don’t see why not, as long as the man in question likes deeply sweet, powdery fragrances. He will be missing the cleavage, though. This perfume needs the cleavage.
It gets a bit too monotonously sweet in the dry down. The oud and rose disappear leaving only the hefty vanilla-amber and violet-y powder to do the heavy lifting. I wonder, with the amber and violet, if this smells anything like the fabled Guet–Apens by Guerlain? I’ve never smelled it, so I don’t know. Maybe someone can try both and then report back.
Anyone who dislikes powder or very sweet vanillas and ambers might have a problem with this. For a while, I could have sworn there was both caramel and white musk in this, so powdery and syrupy-sweet was the dry down, but I can’t see it listed in the notes anywhere. It must be the amber.
It reminds me somewhat of the crumbly butter cookies I smell in the far dry down of Tocade, but maybe even more of the oppressively-thick musk and caramel dry down of Dame Perfumery’s Black Flower Mexican Vanilla, which represents my own personal line in the sand when it comes to powder and sweetness. In short, I love most of this perfume except for the final last gasps, where it gets a bit cloying.
The price is €306 for 70ml, which is a bit too rich for my blood and especially for a perfume where the oud note – real or synthetic as the case might be – is simply too subtle to justify the cost. But there’s no denying that this is a real bombshell of a perfume and a standout in the Middle Eastern sweet gourmand/oud genre.