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Arena Culture The sweet smell of success Oil from the Agarwood tree is worth more than gold. The precious wood resin, oud, has become a 21st-century object of desire for perfumers Juliet Highet Whatever it’s called – oud, aoud or agarwood – is not for the faint-hearted. Dark golden oud, derived from the Aquilaria tree, is imported into the Middle East from South and East Asia, as oil (dehn al oud) and resin (oud mubakhar). It not only perfumes mosques and clothes and is a component of bokhurs (incense blends) in the Middle East to this day, but it has a long pedigree of use for personal fragrance, healing and for heightening spiritual experience. The art of perfumery originated in Arabia. The very word ‘perfume’ derived from the Latin per fumem, ‘through smoke’, from the burning of frankincense, also a gum resin obtained from trees. Ancient Egyptians used oud for embalming – rumour has it that oud wards off the evil eye, attracting lovers as well. Sufis use it at ceremonies, Tibetans and other Buddhists for meditation, and it is mentioned in the Indian Vedas and Ayurvedic medicinal texts. Indian oud is believed to have a pacifying as well as therapeutic quality, the Quran stating: “Treat with Indian Oud, for it has healing for seven diseases.” From the third century CE Chinese texts document the use of oud, describing its fragrance as “sweet, deep but balanced” and prescribing it to balance body energy, or chi, as well as to treat liver, lung and tumour problems. Whether it’s used as the main smoky, leathery, and of course woody, component of a complex accord, or as a darkly dangerous, baroque backnote for modern scents, oud has become ubiquitous in Western perfumery over the last decade. Having been venerated for thousands of years in Arabia and Asia, its rich perfume is intoxicatingly evocative of the Orient, of the languid Odalisque. Ever since 2002, when the launch of Tom Ford’s Oud Wood and Yves Saint Laurent’s M7 Oud Absolu shook up the world of Haute Parfumerie, each month a new crop of addictively intense, sumptuous oud scents has appeared. Ford’s Oud Wood relates directly to the wood chips containing the resin which are traditionally burned in Arab homes, while ‘straight no chaser’ oud oil leaves a gloriously pungent trail behind both Arab women and men and can be jaw-droppingly expensive, often locked away in safes. In fact, due to high demand, difficulty of extraction and rarity (of high grades anyway), it is probably the most expensive oil in the world, its value estimated at 1.5 times 50 l www.global-briefing.org second quarter 2014 global


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