I've smelled many good fragrances in my lifetime. I've even smelled some great ones. 5 out of 5! True pieces of art and ingenuity. There has been only two, however, that have made me truly happy. One of them is Oudh Osmanthus by Mona di Orio. And the other one? I'll tell you next time.
Sometimes, perfumes are like people. Some you have known forever. They are family friends. These are the fragrances your parents love and wear. Others you meet on the street. Or in a coffee shop. You bump into them, say hi and before you know it, you are chatting away. These are the friendly ones. The fragrances everyone knows and loves. The social butterflies.
Rarely, maybe once or twice in a lifetime, you come across fragrances that changes the meaning of perfumery for you. You are just sitting there, minding your own business when they come along and turn your world upside down. They are like that first love, which opens your eyes and brightens your day. They embrace you gently in their aroma, dizzy your head, and make you smile for no good reason. You roll your eyes with pleasure, breathe in and tell yourself: life is beautiful.
Oudh Osmanthus is that fragrance for me. It showed me that the purpose of perfume is not just to smell pretty. Its meaning is not to get you complements or get you laid. A fragrance's true calling is to make you happy and show you that the world around you is beautiful. Just like with people, only few can do this and when you find one, you better hold on to it.
I discovered Oudh Osmanthus by accident. I was shopping for samples of oud fragrances and the name Oudh Osmanthus stood out.
I was looking for fragrances that use real, unadulterated oud. The kind that comes with splinters and speaks to you is a harsh raspy voice. That's why, along with Aoud Cuir d'Arabie and Oud 777, I picked a sample of Mona di Orio's Oudh Osmanthus.
I had already heard of Mona di Orio and was aware of the high quality of her line. I also knew parts of her interesting story of becoming a perfumer.
Mona di Orio was born on July 19th, 1969 to a Spanish mother and an Italian father. Born and raised in France, Mona loved smell and perfume since she was a child. According to Basenotes, the first perfume she bought was L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain. She had saved up her pocket money for months before she could go to the store and buy it.
In 1987, at the age of 17, Mona met Edmond Roudnitska - one of the greatest perfumers of all time. This encounter changed her life and after a brief time studying, became Roudnitska's apprentice.
After working with him for 15 years, in 2006 Mona joined forces with Jeroen Oude Sogtoen and Frank de Ruig to start their own perfume house. Mona was the face and the creative force behind Mona di Orio, while Jeroen and Frank took care of the business side. Mona's initial creations gained popularity and soon after she released the popular line Les Nombres d'Or (The Golden Number).
Untimely, due to post-surgical complications, Mona di Orio passed away on the 9th of December, 2011. The last fragrance she released before her death was Oud, now called Oudh Osmanthus.
The Birth of Oudh Osmanthus
In one interview with Ca Fleure Bon Mona di Orio explained that she had never been interested in oud as a raw material. It wasn't until her supplier brought her a certain type of natural Laotian oud oil that she fell in love with the ingredient.
Creating another oud fragrance, however, wasn't what Mona di Orio had in mind. She wanted something original and precious. Therefore, pairing oud and rose, or oud and leather was not an option.
Instead she decided to match the oud with another, equally precious material - absolute osmanthus. The jasmine and apricot accord of the osmanthus worked very well with the oily creaminess of the Laotian oud oil and Oudh Osmanthus was born.
In the same interview, Mona recalled that working with a natural oud oil had been extremely challenging for her. She explained that the complexity of the oil required her to macerate her blend much longer than usual for the ingredients to start working together.
Mona explained that Oudh Osmanthus is a marriage of two notes with strong personalities. Combining the oud and osmanthus in the right proportion took extra effort and skill. The result, however, is a gorgeous fragrance that makes me smile and say to myself: life is beautiful.
What Oudh Osmanthus Smells Like
Oudh Osmanthus opens with a soft fresh accord of elemi and light florals. A faint note of citrus (closer to orange than lemon) creeps in. The official notes list Calabrian green mandarin in the opening and I attribute the freshness of the opening to it.
My initial impression of Oudh Osmanthus is that it is a light-woody fragrance. Unlike most of the designer offerings in the genre, however, Oudh Osmanthus smells different. For one, there is no trace of synthetics in it, at least in the opening. The overall feel is that of a refined, luxurious fragrance that sits right in the middle of the unisex category.
Mona di Orio has masterfully manipulated the material to achieve unsurpassed smoothness.
After the first 15 minutes Oudh Osmanthus turns softer. It almost feels like a soft leather jacket that envelops you. More of the elemi becomes present and gives the composition a soft resinous, balmy feel.
Oudh Osmanthus doesn't show any of the difficult facets of oud. Mona di Orio has masterfully polished off the medicinal accord and the dry dustiness typical for the Laotian oud oil. What has remained is a soft, creamy accord caresses my nose and makes me want to smell my hand incessantly.
As Oudh Osmanthus dries down, the creaminess intensifies. I attribute it to the Cypriol and the Laotian oud.
"Oudh Osmanthus doesn't pretend to be a fragrance in the Arab tradition of oud perfumes, but instead an interesting imagining of East meets Far East." - Gaia Fishler, The Non-Blonde
Cypriol oil is extracted from the roots of Cyperus. The latter is a plant similar to the Papyrus and native to India. The Cypriol oil, also known as Nagarmotha, has a deep woody scent with a distinctive smokiness to it. It is used in many men's and unisex fragrances, usually as a middle or base note, to add some character and longevity to the composition.
The Cypriol adds to the creamy-woody character of Oudh Osmanthus but it is really the Laotian oud that shines here.
Mona di Orio's website says Oudh Osmanthus features oud oil from Laos. Agar Aura, a seller of authentic oud oil, explains that the Laotian oud is extremely hard to find. In Laos, there are almost no trees growing in the wild and any oud production comes from harvested trees.
The Laotian oud can come in two varieties - the one resembling Indian oud and another similar to the Vietnamese and Cambodian ouds. Based on my limited experience, the scent of the Vietnamese and Cambodian oud oils is sweet and creamy. This is exactly how the oud in Oudh Osmanthus smells like. This is why, I suspect the Laotian oud smells similar to the Vietnamese and Cambodian variety.
Regardless of its source, the oud note in Oudh Osmanthus lacks any of the fecal or cheesy notes typical for other oud fragrances. There is no harshness or sharp edges. Whatever the source, Mona di Orio has masterfully manipulated the material to achieve unsurpassed smoothness.
One hour in its development the soft creaminess of Oudh Osmanthus turns denser. The soft cuddly blanket becomes a heavier duvet. The composition turns a bit more floral. There are no sharp edges or olfactory spikes here. The blend remains blissfully soft and caressing.
As I inhale deeper, I detect an earthy nuance. I attribute it to the patchouli. It plays well against the creaminess of the oud and Cypriol and gives the fragrance some depth.
As time passes, at around the 2-hour mark, Oudh Osmanthus turns woody. The creaminess subdues and dark woods emerge. The fragrance still stays soft but there is a certain concreteness to it.
Oudh Osmanthus's projection is impressive. My experience with oud fragrances has been that they go quiet after the initial opening blast. Some of them don't even have an opening blast.
Oudh Osmanthus is different. After applying it at 7:00 AM, around 2:00 PM I could still smell it wafting from my hand. As I kept going through my day, Oudh Osmanthus kept me company. Moving my hand around kept waking it up and I kept sniffing my hand like an addict. I couldn't stop.
As I write this, there has been 14 hours since I first applied Oudh Osmanthus. I still can hear the whispering of soft musk and ambergris. The fragrance doesn't project very far at this point, however, it is clearly detectable on my skin. I can easily see Oudh Osmanthus sticking around for another two hours, demonstrating amazing longevity and tenacity.
Where to Rock It
Oudh Osmanthus is a versatile fragrance. The times and places you are going to wear it are only limited by your imagination.
Oudh Osmanthus is an all-season's fragrance. It is light enough to keep you cool in the summer and dense enough to get you through a tough winter. Overall, however, the fragrance has a warm character. Fall, winter and spring would be the times when Oudh Osmanthus will be your best friend.
The sweet mandarin and osmanthus are just perfect for the spring season. The warmth and cashmere coziness of the oud and cypriol will keep you nice and warm in the fall and winter.
I'd be cautious to wear Oudh Osmanthus in the summer. I don't expect it to turn cloying but there might be better seasonal choices.
Oudh Osmanthus is casual. Its middle notes remind me of a big, soft cashmere sweater that wraps my whole body. The feeling is so good, I catch myself smiling and rolling my eyes back with pleasure.
At the same time, Oudh Osmanthus communicates luxury and sophistication. The first time I smelled it, it reminded me of Yorkville. It is one of the poshest areas in Toronto that exudes luxury and class.
The combination of comfort and luxury seemed odd to me at first. The more I thought about it, however, the more sense it made.
Google defines luxury as "the state of great comfort and extravagant living". In this sense, Oudh Osmanthus is an epitome of luxury. It is a fragrance that creates good mood and comfort around you.
In short, Oudh Osmanthus would work for any occasion. Don't take this literally and wear it at the gym. It's like wearing your cashmere sweater there.
It is hard to place Oudh Osmanthus in a particular age group. It is the type of fragrance that adopts to its wearer and compliments his/her style. This is why, I can easily see any 20-year old and his grandpa wearing Oudh Osmanthus. Just like luxury and feeling good is appropriate for any age, so is this perfume.
What the Other Frag Heads Say About Oudh Osmanthus
The Non-Blonde writes that Oudh Osmanthus "doesn't pretend to be a fragrance in the Arab tradition of oud perfumes, but instead an interesting imagining of East meets Far East."
In fact, she doesn't believe it is an oud fragrance at all. To her, Oudh Osmanthus is an osmanthus perfume with "pretty blossom, slightly wilting in the heat, vaguely covering a darker truth that lurks beneath."
The Non-Blonde finds the projection of the osmanthus note too strong in this composition. She compares it to the heat that rises up from the asphalt on a hot summer day. As for the oud, she finds it oily and dark.
I also get some of the oiliness The Non-Blonde is referring to. I quite like it. To me, it is what makes Oudh Osmanthus even more attractive and unique.
Mark Behnke reviewed Oudh Osmanthus for Ca Fleure Bon back in 2011. He wrote that the oud in Mona's fragrance is the real thing. The fact that Oudh Osmanthus features real oud and real osmanthus is what makes it stand out from the sea of oud fragrances.
Mark beautifully described the composition of the fragrance:
"[Oudh Osmanthus] starts with a brisk palate cleanser of mandarin, petitgrain and elemi. These three top notes have the effect of setting the stage for what is to come. Like a good opening act they appear, do their job, and get off the stage because the stars are about to show up."
Of course, the stars in question are the oud and osmanthus. Mark described their dance together as "a mysterious floral accord that is simply fantastic to experience."
Mark was so impressed with Oudh Osmanthus that he goes so far to call it one of his favourite fragrances of 2011. His love for Mona's composition hasn't changed much four years later. In 2015, he wrote on his blog Colognosseur that Oudh Osmanthus is one of five perfumes that represent oud in a unique way that have stood the test of time.
Further, Mark wrote:
"Very top of my list is the Mona di Orio Oudh Osmanthus. It was the last perfume released prior to Mme di Orio’s untimely passing. It is the best perfume of her career and I thought it was the best new perfume of 2011. ... By early on embracing the faux-oud of cypriol before heading to a mix of genuine Laotian white oud and oud in the base. This is how you make oud something like you’ve never smelled before. It is what I consider to be one of the five best perfumes of the past five years."
You can read Mark's full review at Ca Fleure Bon here and his follow up on Colognosseur here.
On Basenotes Oudh Osmanthus gets 53% positive reviews, 41% neutral and 6% negative.
This distribution of the reviews is not that surprising. It has to do with the oud and people's expectations of what it should smell like. If you approach Oudh Osmanthus expecting it to smell of the harsh, splintery oud you find the Arabic-style fragrances, you'd be disappointed. You still may appreciate the fragrance but it will not be what you are looking for.
Alfarom, a well-respected Basenotes reviewer, confirms this point: "Mona di Orio's Oud [Oudh Osmanthus] is a quite complex composition but if you approach it expecting the usual sweet medicinal accord that's typical of many occidental ouds, you'd be seriously disappointed."
One neutral review supports Alfarom's point. The author writes that Oudh Osmanthus is a "very nice and pleasing scent" but it smells like "a high qaulity ordinary fragrance".
Most of the criticism Oudh Osmanthus receives on Basenotes relates to the price of the fragrance. Many reviewers find the price tag of US$395 hefty for the nature of the composition.
I usually don't factor in the price when I rate a fragrance. Most of the time price is driven by business decisions rather than the intrinsic qualities of the fragrance. From a consumer point of view, however, I fully understand why the relationship price-composition is important.
When it comes to Oudh Osmanthus, the complexity and quality of the fragrance doesn't become obvious until you spend some time with it. When I first smelled the fragrance, I made the mistake to discount it as simplistic. I loved what I smelled but I didn't appreciate the complexity right away.
It wasn't until I gave Oudh Osmanthus a full-day wear that I appreciated all that it is. Had I not been patient with it, I might have also discounted it as too simplistic or linear.
The Bottom Line
Oudh Osmanthus is extraordinary. Mona di Orio has beautifully blended two challenging notes - oud and osmanthus - to create a fragrance with its own presence. When I wear Oudh Osmanthus I feel that I have my best friend next to me, softly whispering in my ear to breathe in and say "life is beautiful".
Would you buy Oudh Osmanthus?
It's a must-have for me. You come across fragrances like Oudh Osmanthus once in a lifetime. If you find it's too expensive, save for it and get it. It's worth it.
Would I get compliments wearing Oudh Osmanthus?
In many respects Oudh Osmanthus doesn't feel like a perfume when you wear it. It blends with your skin and becomes part of your own smell. This is why, when people smell it on you they may not necessarily know if this is just your perfume. It almost feels like an aura that surrounds you.
I think Oudh Osmanthus will get you compliments but after you wear it you will quickly realize that it's a fragrance you want to wear for yourself. Oudh Osmanthus is a personal experience.
What rating would you give Oudh Osmanthus?
I'd give it a solid five, even though a six would be more appropriate. The reason I say this is because Oud Osmanthus gives me something more than other 5-star rated fragrances do. Still, I'll stick to the scale and give it a five.
Elemi, Green Mandarin, Petitgrain
Patchouli, Osmathus Absolute, Cypriol
Cedar, Oud, Musk, Ambergris
Where to Buy It
Mona di Orio Oudh Osmanthus comes in a 75ml bottle. You can get it at etiket.ca.