The name Dominique Dubrana is relatively new to me – after being put forward to review his new release (essay to come soon), a lovely Basenoter sent me samples of various fragrances in his line – La Via del Profumo. Reading up about this perfumer has been extremely interesting – his approach is so personal and thoughtful, involving us perfumista’s into his work to a point where he has allowed us to manipulate it! This is very apparent in the concept of his new release Tawaf – where two accords come with the fragrance to tweak it to your preference!

Here, with the Oud Caravan project, Dominique Dubrana has attempted to create as he calls: “The Ultimate Oud Fragrance”. Just like my recent explorations into my now beloved Aftelier – Dominique is all natural, so the quality is of course exceptional. The first OC1 was sent out to specific perfume lovers, who reported their feedback, encouraging Dubrana to work on No.2 and so on. He settled on No.3 (the only one I have yet to try at the time of writing).
The tweaks have been quite subtle, so I’ve grouped these mini reviews together to write down the evolution of Oud Caravan.

Oud Caravan 1 opens with a pungent, camphorous blast. For some reason it brings to mind Borneo 1834 – the same kind of camphorous opening but where the cocoa patchouli is replaced by pure oud. There is nothing fecal in Oud Caravan 1, but the mental image comes to mind. A hot, barn-yard like dirtiness scruffs up the smooth line that is hidden in the centre of the composition.

Crystal clear underneath the highly rugged edges, a note of oud – far brighter and neater – centres the fragrance, easing up the wearability and slight complexity. It is the subtle smooth woody notes in the middle that keep my nose to my hand, trying to break my way through the initial barrage of overpowering scent.

I get a pimento-like heat from this, a bitter/sweet vegetal spice, with an almost labdanum-like resinous undertone, rounded with intense leather. It is bold, raw and masculine – rugged and untamed. It mellows, but never enough to full let go of this image. Just as it becomes more comfortable and quiet, a flash of warmth on the skin and up rise the animalic notes again, making me wait to find the hidden oud gem of clarity in the middle.
Oud Caravan 1 is too rough for me, the depth of the singular note is highly impressive, but it feels more like a portrait of oud rather than a fragrance. Still – a great portrait.

Oud Caravan 2 has an almost identical opening, I find it hard to differentiate between 1 & 2 from the initial top notes. I’m kind of glad, I love a fragrance to begin with a punch.

After a couple of minutes, expecting Oud Caravan 2 to flood into a hot, barnyard eruption – it doesn’t. Instead, it decreases in volume, with much greater clarity and arrangement, and recreates the more rounded and comfortable feel of Oud Caravan 1 in the later, more pleasing drydown. There’s some sweetness in OC2 that isn’t there in 1, it has the bitter, earthy quality of vanilla bean, but it doesn’t smell vanillic.

I find OC2 has much more of an ethereal quality. Whilst it is always pungent and present on-and-above the skin, with all the usual challenging oud facets – the clear, smooth sweetness and lighter handled notes makes Oud Caravan 2 far more welcoming and understandable. Yet again, I don’t find that it feels like a fragrance, and I currently see it as another portrait of oud.

Oud Caravan 3 yet again has a familiar opening. The opening of these ouds seem untamable – and maybe they shouldn’t be changed. I’m looking out for drastic differences here but it seems Dubrana is manipulating the subtleties of the oud rather than its true character. That’s a good thing I assume.

Oud Caravan 3 is smoky – it has the charred leather scent of charcoal, paired with a fresher take on the barnyard hay facet. The earthy sweetness seems to be coming from this “hay” note – it’s ethereal quality in No.2 shapeshifted it into something that appeared completely separate. The fragrance is bone dry, almost jarring with its burnt quality and harsh, ashy texture. The oud ever prominent, pushing forward more powerful than No.2, but more mature than No.1. The medicinal quality is lovely, and the oud’s various persona’s all slip into place to form something quite harmonious, with nothing in particular jolting out making the fragrance uncomfortable – like the heated spice in Oud Caravan 1. The drydown is long and languid, it’s a smooth oud with sweet ambery notes – for me, the best part of the fragrance.

Would I wear Oud Caravan 3? No. Whilst the note itself – to many – has all the complexity needed to make up a fragrance, to me it is too simplistic, and as I have mentioned more than once – not a fragrance. Ok so, it’s not a typical fragrance, it’s an attar. This is the first attar I have tried, so I hope I don’t come across as too immature. I realise these traditional scents rely on great quality ingredients in simplistic compositions to enhance the characters of each ingredient – it’s a beautiful theory, and I’m sure it can work. I don’t think I’m quite ready for it yet, but I can appreciate the daring display.
I hate to compare, but whereas this seems a literal oud portrait, Aftelier’s Oud Luban is, for example, a more fully orchestrated oud portrait to me. Oud Luban enhances the oud’s true quality by pairing it with a bright orange, and then pulling at its depths with spicy frankincense – to me it is heartbreakingly perfect. I will revisit this project soon, as it’s a wonderful learning curve for the complicated oud note.