When it comes to connecting fragrance and literature, Patrick Süskind’s 1985 novel, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, immediately comes to mind. The story's depraved antihero is born scentless--completely devoid of the milky baby smell that other small humans exhibit.
Despite not being a stinker, he is totally a stinker: he engages in the predatory pursuit of the perfect smell, which is, it seems, ensconced in the flesh of virgins. It’s a weird book. But it plays with the notion of scent’s gravitational pull on emotion and behavior, riding the wave into some truly chilling depths while adroitly commenting on the egocentricity inherent in obsession.
When I bought Creed Royal Oud, the saleslady told me a story not quite as weird as Süskind’s, but meriting an honorable mention.
“I have a customer, a man,” she said, looking up and extending the kind of charged glance that portends sexual allusions," and he buys a new bottle of this scent for every woman he’s with.”
I'd always thought that we come to love scents for their associations with adored people. That a smell could supersede an individual, or, in this case, that a lover could be rendered a vessel for a hyper-specific fragrance, had never occurred to me.
Creed Royal Oud’s overarching note is rare and sumptuous oud, an ingredient born from the heartwood of Indian agarwood trees infected by a corruptive tropical mold. Oud is the dark, resinous byproduct of the tree’s futile bid for self-preservation against an intruder within.
One of the most expensive natural raw materials in the world, oud wields a spiritual significance referenced by ancient religious texts. Much like Süskind’s character's ultimate elixir, Royal Oud is the intoxicating result of an innocent’s submission to the impure.
The character of the fragrance is, of course, woody and spiced, evocative of incense and the opulent boudoirs of legendary courtesans (see: Kuchuk Hamen). A hot, pulsating smell savvily concocted to avoid cloy, it’s heady, not headache-y.
This scent is very intentional. In fact, it’s almost sentient. How else can one explain the particular, active way it beckons, or its pouty refusal to disperse from clothes?
With a 10 plus hour lifespan and a smoky sillage of cedar campfire and smoldering villages, curious tendrils creep out over time. Fieriness melts into sharp pink peppercorn and the lush of herbaceous angelica and galbanum, foamy blossoms categorized as “umbelliferous” due to their hollowness and near medicinal green aroma.
A soft, sweet lemon note flickers in the wood-heavy heart, playing well with the smokiness. (Ever thrown citrus peels into a flame?) Spice, smoke, and verdure combine to create an appetizing humidity--the mysterious draw of something hot, ripe, and removed from reality.
The whole potion is choreographed to reach out and pull you in with its long, lacquered fingernails. Confident and dominating, it is the scent of not only being in charge, but setting out to destroy.
Back to my saleslady's memorable male customer: Royal Oud's off-duty dominatrix quality offers insight into his infatuation. Being incapacitated is the ultimate pleasure of an egotistical mind, one which, I presume, necessitates control over a lover's scent.
He's out there somewhere, orchestrating his own power-imbalance, welcoming helplessness like a fly woozily circling the lush petals of one of those fatal, fleshy flowers that let their prey come to them, the whole scene a redolent dream born within a tainted heart.