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Monday, August 3, 2009

In the mood for OUD: The latest Bond No. 9-for-Harrods perfume combines ancient tradition, modern panache, and unapologetic, out-and-out sensuality

Back in the earliest ancient times, perfumes—in the form of incense—played a vital sacred role, wafting heavenward to summon up the divine. Each culture had its incense of preference, the one most treasured being a rare aromatic resin produced by the the evergreen aquilaria tree. Traveling along the Incense Route that ran throughout Arabia and the Middle East, this aquilaria resin (also known as agarwood or aloewood) reached throughout the Eastern World. But nowhere has it been more treasured than in the Near and Middle East, where its name was and remains, simply, oud, from the Arabic el-oud, meaning branch of wood or twig.

With its earthy, animal scent, which simultaneously soothes and incites the senses, oud (pronounced ooh’d) has served as a mainstay of perfumery for two millennia now in the Gulf Region, where it is not merely an ingredient, but a full-fledged fragrance category (just as floral and herbaceous scents are categories in the West). Thus, we find rose ouds, leather ouds, and so forth. The best ouds are more precious, more costly than rubies or gold.

Along with spices and silks from the Eastern trade routes, oud perfumes entered the West during the Crusades, but they have caught on only in very recent years—no doubt due to the growing level of sophistication and adventurousness among scent connoisseurs, and to a swing in the fragrance pendulum to scents that linger on the skin like an aphrodisiac.

Now, as commissioned by Harrods—the world’s most iconic retail establishment, Bond No. 9—the vanguard Lower Manhattan scent purveyor—introduces a unique East-West oud-as-intoxicant.

The Scent

Three years in the making, Bond No. 9’s Harrods Special Edition contains as its key ingredient not an oud approximation, but the real thing, which has been accented and dressed with a cunning selection of like-minded rich and dense tree resins and spices that enhance its seductive essence. The perfume starts out with a quickening jolt of cumin and black pepper, only to be taken over by syrup-rich heart notes of amber and myrrh, until the main attraction is unveiled: a take-no-prisoners oud, mingled with grassy-green vetiver. Here we have a merger of one of the oldest forms of incense in the Ancient World with daring New World ingredients (cumin and black pepper are recent additions to Western perfumery). How better to capture both the cosmopolitanism of today’s Arabian Peninsula and the magic of the 1,001 Arabian Nights?

With its unmistakable potency (only a few strategic drops are needed) and sillage (scent trail), Harrods Special Edition will please those of both sexes who are ready for a frankly sensual scent.

The Bottle

One of the most stunning in the highly praised Bond No. 9 repertory, the lacquer-like Harrods-green bottle depicts the Knightsbridge emporium by night. Placed against a gilt-edged background, 1,600 Swarovski tone-on-tone emerald and white crystal stones trace the outlines of the world-famous retail palace’s readily recognized exterior, with its Baroque dome at the top. Superimposed front and center, meanwhile, is Bond No. 9’s identifying circular token-logo.

Harrods’ Egyptian Decor

Harrods Special Edition compliments two recent additions to the store’s interior spaces. First, the Egyptian Halls, displaying beautiful objets d’art against a background of Ancient Egypt in the 19th Dynasty, including massive columns etched with hieroglyphics and golden sphinx heads. Harrods’ newest escalator—that department-store essential—has also been given an Egyptian motif. Gliding from the ground floor to the 5th in one languid sweep, the Egyptian Escalator takes its riders on a journey along the Nile through the heart of this ancient civilization, culminating in a deep blue zodiac-charted sky.

The Multiple Meanings of Oud

Meaning No. 1: Initially, oud meant a branch of the wood of the Aquilaria, or aloewood, tree. Meaning No. 2: Later, it also came to signify the aromatic resin produced from that tree to protect itself against mold. Meaning No. 3: Oud also refers to the scent category that is based on this resin. Meaning No. 4: Furthermore, oud is the name of a stringed musical instrument known whose soundboard was originally made from aloe wood. Transported to the West during the Crusades of the 11th – 13th century, this instrument inspired the development of the similarly-named lute.

Oud Lore

* Incense in the form of chips from the aloewood tree has traditionally been used to greet guests in the home during major occasions such as a wedding or the birth of a child.
* When Oud is lit as incense among friends, it is typical for the burner to be sent around the room from person to person.
* In a centuries’-old tradition that is carried on to this day, women gather outdoors, where they dig a hole for burning aloewood incense. Once smoke appears, they circle the hole, covering their heads and bodies with a large blanket. This allows the smoke to permeate hair, skin, and clothing. So important is it to be thoroughly scented with this wood that this activity is continued for an hour or longer, with participants taking turns conversing at the hole and watching one another’s children.

Arriving on counter on August 2nd, 2009, Harrods Swarovski Limited Edition will be sold exclusively at Harrods and at Bond No. 9’s four New York stores and at and Price: 3.4 ounces, $625/£495.

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