I wish I didn’t like this so much. It’s beyond my budget (like, totally beyond my budget). But even worse, smelling this, I got that sickening feeling you get when you invest $$$$ in an iPhone4 just two days before the iPhone5 launches. Damn that Betrand Duchaufour if he hasn’t improved upon about three or four of his previous perfumes with Oud Shamash. And sure enough, I own some of those early models…
Something about the combination of the fruity incense smell (davana) and the dry woods reminds me of Timbuktu or even of Jubilation XXV, both also by Duchaufour. There’s also a toasty, slightly sugared “bread” aroma here that reminds of the dry-toasted cumin seeds in Al Oudh (Duchaufour again). But Oud Shamash does not have the stark stillness of Timbuktu, the armpitty, disturbingly sugary funk of Al Oudh, or the glowing, ruby-red orientalism of Jubilation XXV – rather, it has the dusty, faded brilliance of a complex brocade that has been folded up and stored in a wooden casket for two centuries. It’s a ghost.
And strangely, it’s a perfume that takes shape only on the skin – not on paper. Like a paraglider, it lifts straight up into the air from a flat position. In that sense, Oud Shamash shares something of the character of Bois d’Armenie, Spirituese Double Vanille, and Volutes – they all smell kind of like a woody, fruity rubbing alcohol at first, and then seem to almost rise and swell from the skin in great big layers of fuzzy woods, spice, and powder. None of the Guerlain exclusives ever impressed me at first spray, but within minutes, what seems to be a single layer of aromas start to knit together and fluff up into many interlocking layers like a piece of puff pastry exposed to fierce heat.
Oud Shamash does this. The first spray brings on an avalanche of aromas, all welded together in one dense layer – all I manage to pick out at this early stage is boozy pink pepper, a leather (or saffron) note, rose, woods, and the alcoholic smell of a fruit on the point of collapse. Within minutes, though, it fluffs up into a spiced haze of sweet-and-sour woods, dry spice, and vanilla that hangs around the body like a red-brown dust cloud. The transformation – the lift – is breathtaking.
The oud in Oud Shamash is magnificent. It is lightly sour, woody, and a bit powdery, but not in the slightest bit animalic. Only a handful of Western “oud” perfumes succeed in working oud into the picture without blowing up the frame entirely – and in my opinion, only Betrand Duchaufour, Francis Kurkdijan, and (in admittedly one example) the late Mona di Orio have managed the trick. These perfumers how to work with oud, cajoling it, polishing it, presenting it in a variety of different ways that show off the material’s aquiline brutality without allowing it to dominate the other notes.
Kurkdijan has featured oud up front and center in his namesake line, but brings a superb refinement and sense of grace to bear on the brutish material. Mona di Orio buried the oud in a magnificently retro, civety fruity-floral base and made it part of the furniture in the room, a leather couch unearthed from the bowels of the earth. Duchaufour infuses oud with light, radiance, and smoke – turning it into a diffuse aura just like he does with other heavy stuff like incense, vetiver, woods, and fruit. The oud in Oud Shamash is fused with sandalwood, patchouli, and saffron, and sent out into the air on a wisp of woodsmoke.
It’s a pleasure to wear, and perhaps the best thing I’ve worn recently. But that price – gack, I’m no match for it.