Yves Saint Laurent M7

Posted: Nov 19 2015

Anyone who listens to me rant about perfume long enough knows that I’m not really a fan of the current oud craze. To me, oud is one note (and a very strong one at that) that completely alters the character of any perfume in which it’s included. Unlike jasmine or rose or lavender, which are all very versatile, oud invariably makes its home fragrance “an oud perfume.” I find this tendency irritating, especially because most Western ouds are not made with real oud (which is derived from a fungus that infects the heartwood of the Agar tree) but with (generally very poor) synthetic reconstructions. Real oud tincture costs a nearly unholy quantity of money ($500 for 15ml is ballpark, though many cost a lot more), so I guess I can understand it, but one would think that the various houses using the note would put more effort into making it actually smell good instead of just there.

Which brings me to M7. M7 is the perfume that started it all. Tom Ford, who was working as creative director for YSL at the time, seems to have some sort of fascination with oud (and his brand reps will tell you that he was “revolutionary and instrumental” in sparking the current craze, which I suppose is true). This was the second fragrance over which he presided and is part of what allowed him to so successfully launch his own house.

Fragrantica lists the notes as oud first, amber second, vetiver third, rosemary fourth, mandarin fifth, musk sixth, lime seventh. I don’t quite follow that. To me, M7 starts with tobacco. Lots of it. Warm, rich, sweet pipe tobacco. The tobacco is followed up by a reasonably well-done synthetic oud with an unusual hint of black tea. It’s rich and inviting and better than many of the oud perfumes in modern production. But then everything goes to hell.

Much of my problem with synthetic oud accords is that they all make use of a molecule called Norlimbanol (sometimes called Timberol, depending on the manufacturer), which is literally the smell of dryness and desiccation. It produces a weird, dried-out feeling in your nose when you smell it at full strength and it’s a molecule whose smell you never, ever forget. For me, its overuse can completely ruin a fragrance and M7, like most Western ouds, suffers from a drastic overdose. It take the richness of the tobacco and the oud and dries the whole thing out, making it smell synthetic and dead. It eventually smells so chemical that it’s nearly headache-inducing, but there are people who are far less sensitive to Norlimbanol than I, so you should really smell it yourself to see if you like it.

M7 has now been discontinued (for better or worse) and replaced with reputedly less refined M7 Oud Absolu. As I haven’t had the opportunity to try the new version, I can’t comment on whether its oud accord is better made or not. I know that many who were fans of the original feel that it’s harsh and poorly constructed, but I also know that there are many out there who consider it an improvement. Because it’s part of YSL’s new “La Collection” line, you should be able to find the new version at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Like rich fragrances, but not really big on oud? Try our Lavanille soap and aftershave!

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  • Posted by Will on November 20, 2015

    Hi John,

    Yes, all versions/formulations of it are definitely built on synthetic oud. To use real oud would blow the budget WAY out of usability; it would cost $300 – $400 per bottle, easily (which it didn’t and still doesn’t). Genuine oud is beautiful stuff (I buy mine from a vendor in Kuala Lumpur who has excellent taste in oud distillers), but it bears little if any resemblance to what you find in Western perfumes these days.

    If you want to know what real oud smells like and not drop an absolute fortune, about the most accurate (albeit accidental) recreation of oud that I know of is Andy Tauer’s L`Air Desert du Marocain, which many regard as his crowning masterpiece. It’s not for me, but I admire the stark devotion to concept that went into its creation, and it accidentally smells very much like real oud. You can find samples of it at LuckyScent.

  • Posted by John on November 20, 2015

    Hi Will
    Just wondering if the original version of this has synthetic oud? I have 1.5 bottle of the vintage (4 ingredients) and think it is amazing. Curious to know if there was a difference. For me there is nowhere near enough oud type artisan shaving soaps, splashes etc

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