Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Montale Red Aoud is available from, $120 for 50 ml and $170 for 100 ml. (ParfumsRaffy seems to have the best prices in the U.S. for the Montale line. My sample came from their store, included with a purchase I made last year.)

Images: top of page, actors Lyndsey Marshal and James Purefoy as Cleopatra and Marc Antony in the HBO series Rome is from; bottle image is from

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September 17, 2010: 

Showing Some Love for Montale and Red Aoud

When I first began reading the perfume blogs back in 2005, Montale Parfums Paris was most definitely a blog darling—and deservedly so, as this company played an influential role in introducing the western world to Arabian perfumery and familiarizing us with a note we knew little about at the time: aoud (or oud, as it is more commonly spelled). We couldn’t get enough of oud—or at least that seemed to be the perception of a good number of other niche and artisanal perfume brands which, a couple years later, jumped on the bandwagon and began adding oud-based fragrances to their lines. Soon you could hardly execute a proper K-turn in the online perfume community without bumping into an oud perfume.

Proving there really can be too much of a good thing (and that a little bit of oud goes a long way in a fragrance wardrobe), by the end of 2009, one could hear rumblings in the perfume blogosphere indicating that this note-du-jour treatment of oud was getting passé (not to mention downright fatiguing). Those were my sentiments, too: I found myself not wanting to wear my beloved Montale Black Aoud as often as I used to, nor my decant of Olivier Durbano’s Black Tourmaline, and by spring 2010, samples of oud-based scents that I received in fragrance swaps had gone unopened.

But in the same way that seasons cycle around and renew my interest in things I once thought I was tired of, a vacation from Arabian-inspired fragrances and a change in the weather now finds me welcoming a couple select aoud perfumes back into my rotation. For the better part of September, the weather here has been full of blue-sky afternoons followed by crisply cool nights: perfect for wearing Montale Red Aoud—just a dab on each wrist, from my sample vial. Red Aoud is the smell of being punch-drunk with love, which is the way I feel about September and autumn in general.

Before I get on with my review of Red Aoud, I should state that in the aftermath of the oud-fragrance explosion, Montale suffered some love loss in the online perfume community—and I should state, too, that even when Montale was enjoying its darling status, it was never universally admired. Some bloggers questioned the authenticity of the oud used in Montale’s fragrances; part of their argument being that, as this uniquely-occurring resin which forms in the heartwood of an endangered species of trees (Aquilaria malaccensis) is precious and rare, use of the genuine article would render any fragrance containing it extremely costly. Such questions are rightly posed (and I’m glad they are) by folks more knowledgeable than I. But as for me, my love of Montale doesn’t rest on whether the oud they employ is authentic or not. What I’ve come to appreciate about the line in general is the mesmerizing and expensive smell of their roses, leathers, resins, and patchoulis. (So concentrated that one small dab radiates beautifully on my skin all day, while one small spray delivers incredibly luxuriant sillage.) And what I’ve come to appreciate about their ouds, in particular, is the way their kohl-dark edges hypnotically enhance the roses they encircle.

In fact, kohl is a good analogy to use. Just as a sooty, well-blended line of kohl can make a pair of beautiful blue eyes look bluer, I find that the Montale ouds add definition and intensity to the rose accords they use in many of their fragrances. In Red Aoud, the bitter, slightly-smoky/slightly medicinal edge of oud is not nearly as strong as it is in Black Aoud; here it’s smudged and sfumato-like, enveloping a gourmand rose, berried and nectarous, which it is careful not to overwhelm. This fruity aspect of rose is what ‘pops’ when one first puts on Red Aoud, with a zingy dose of red pepper enhancing the effect. If on initial application, Red Aoud’s rose note is bright and perhaps a bit too intoxicated with its own beauty, well, that’s part of its spirit! Be patient with it, for in a short time it will come down from its high and smooth out in the nicest of ways.

In addition to the forementioned notes, saffron, cumin, iris, vetiver and sandalwood also make up the fragrance. While I can’t detect cumin at all, the combination of the other notes not only grounds the scent but firmly places it in the Arabian style of perfumery. Saffron adds an earthy, almost leathery nuance that, in addition to the oud, becomes a perfect foil for the rose, acting like a tether to pull it back down from its initial giddy state, imparting a certain amount of gravity (not too much, but enough to tamp it down a bit). The saffron and aoud combination is what makes it smell exotic, too. Wearing Red Aoud, I think about Marc Antony, as he was portrayed in the final episodes of the HBO television series Rome. Besotted with Cleopatra and living with her in Egypt (where he seems to have forgotten that he was one of Rome’s greatest and most ruthless warrior politicians), he darkens his own eyes with kohl and allows drink, drugs and this exotic femme fatale to have their way with him.

​Tipsy, exotic, heady and intense in its beauty, Montale Red Aoud isn’t something I could  wear day after day (just as I couldn’t wear any rose perfume on a daily basis). But on a high-flying fall day when I am in wont of such pleasures, this one fits the bill nicely.