More legendary than incense, rarer than saffron, more expensive than amber: Aquilia is one of the authentic treasures of the world of perfume. Or at least, if not the tree itself, then the resin it produces when attacked by a parasitic fungus. This is known as liquid gold, agarwood, gaharu, jinko, eaglewood, calambac or aloeswood. Or, borrowing the generic Arabic word for “wood”, al oud.
Known for millennia in Asia, oud is not strictly a plant but rather the secretion produced by the host species to defend itself against attackers. Like Botrytis cinerea, which transforms ripe grapes into the nectar known as Sauternes, various fungi turn a large, ordinary, odourless tree native to the forests of South-East Asia into an extraordinarily fragrant material.
Oud, a heavy, dark-coloured gum, develops a hypnotic scent. Woody, naturally, but also leathery, slightly animal, intense, vibrant, rooty. Remarkably powerful and incomparably long-lasting, it is mentioned in the Indian Vedas and the Bible, described as a means of bringing man closer to his gods.
unity in multiplicity
Oud has made its entry into the House’s catalogue thanks to little-known work by Christiane Gautrot, the co-founder of diptyque alongside Desmond Knox-Lee and Yves Coustelant.
Christiane, an architect by training, spent many years studying the Moroccan craft of zellige, the ceramic mosaics that decorate fountains, private and public spaces and the walls and sometimes floors of houses, from the humblest to the most sumptuous. She has designed many herself, combining traditional and contemporary motifs, including some that can be seen today at the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca.
In the contrast between its geometric order and the chaos of the world, zellige encourages meditation, soothes torment and offers universal harmony… Stars, curls, polygons, circles; cobalt, manganese, antimony, oxides; tin, lead, clay, copper: works in which form, rhythm and chemistry find their true compatibility.
The composition of perfume is governed by very similar principles, and for diptyque the correlation was striking. This approach to Arab heritage by a European artist has thus given birth to Oud Palao.
FROM EAST TO WEST
The key to Oud Palao lies in its diversity. The blend of its components into an inseparable cohesion. And its balance.
For every apparently “oriental” note, there is another, less clearly recognisable, that harmonises with it, tempers it or subverts it.
Bulgarian rose illuminates Laotian oud (of the “palao” variety) and adds sensuality to its organic character. It softens the sharp edges, contributing something of the freshness of an English garden.
Indian cypriol (earthy, smoky, slightly bitter) and Somalian olibanum (cool and spicy, smoky, resinous) come together to push the composition towards muted depth and resonance.
Madagascan vanilla adds its spicy personality, similar to certain rums with an overtone of tobacco. It fuses with Sri Lankan sandalwood, smooth but not too smooth, which helps diffuse the whole blend.
Spanish cistus ladanifer and Indonesian patchouli, one amber and lightly floral, the other with sustained camphor notes, provide the opulence and density that make Oud Palao the great perfume it is proving itself to be.
Each essence blends into the tracery of its neighbours, forming motifs, repeating forms and vibratos. It takes flight then returns, seizing the attention before giving way to the next. The nose loses itself and is transported away before returning to its senses. A journey or melopoeia.
Selected by the perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin, its creator, the raw materials are all sourced from producers who demonstrate the strictest respect for the environment and their staff. The same applies to the oud, whose source tree, Aquilaria, is threatened with extinction due to wild logging: sourced from Laotian plantations where the trunks are harvested by hand, the oud we use comes from a supply chain that respects the environment and the producers. It takes an average of six years before the resin can be used.
The same inspiration provides the source material for the visual world of Oud Palao: graphic, abstract Oriental archetypes combined with motifs from paintings by Gustav Klimt and his contemporaries: pentagrams, rosettes, scrolls, stylised foliage, memories of runes.
A black and white illustration is inserted into an oval, as always with diptyque. Art Nouveau is never far away, and the Arabian nights are within reach. Naturally, the side of beauty wins.