Cedarwood : Perfume Note

Cedar_of_leb

God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore… He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. 1 Kings 4:29, 33.

Since Biblical times, cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) was among the most prized for its scent properties. Indeed, as Morris notes, Lebanon comes from the Akkadian word lubbunu, which means incense (55). Besides being used in incense blends, cedar was a wood of choice of the aromatic architecture reserved for palaces and temples. Sargon II (722-705 B.C.) used it for his Khorsabad palace, while King Solomon selected cedar for the construction of his temple.

My first encounter with the scent of cedar was through a couple of sticky cones my father brought from Siberia, where he unsuccessfully tried to hit the gold mine by working in the diamond industry. They rattled when shaken and contained small nuts, which with much difficulty revealed soft balsamic flesh. I remember keeping the cones in a small box, which eventually became permeated with their sweet resinous scent. Every time I would open it, I envisioned tall cedar trees of Siberian forests cloaked in white snow that protected its domain from adventurers like my father.

In perfumery, there are several main sources of cedarwood oil, not all of which are technically cedar. Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) is steam distilled from the wood of an evergreen cedar tree. However, Virginia cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) and Texas cedarwood (Juniperus mexicana) are not actually cedar trees, but junipers, both of which are related to a plant (Juniperus communis) that yields juniper berry used for flavouring gin (Morris 243). Virginia cedarwood oil is softer and less balsamic than Atlas cedarwood. The conifers’ needles can also be expressed for their oil, which is very inexpensive and is commonly used in soap manufacturing. The precious cedar of Lebanon is no longer felled for its oil as it has become endangered.

Cedar bears a distinction of one of the most frequently used base notes. If presented in moderation, it rounds out sharpness of spice and incense notes, grounds sentimental florals and adds interest to more transparent accords, without compromising their clarity. It is often encountered in fragrances intended for men, since it combines particularly well with citrus notes, the top notes of choice in many masculine fragrances. Given the potential of cedar, it is no wonder that some perfumers like Chris Sheldrake are particularly fond of it and incorporate cedar marvelously in their compositions. My interest in cedar was revived after I encountered Serge Lutens Boix range, which includes cedar variations on violet, spice, musk and autumnal fruit themes. Although cedar is an effective insecticide, mothball associations are usually indicative either of mediocre quality cedarwood or of wrong ornamentation. Testing several types of different cedarwood oils I found the scents to range from smooth and voluptuous, with sweet resinous edge, to sharp and balsamic, with distinct naphthalene smell.

In aromatherapy, cedar is said to encourage confidence and calm anxiety. Perhaps, it is one of the reasons why Japanese baths have such a wonderful effect. The cedar lining of the traditional Japanese bathrooms emanates the sweet balsamic scent, which combined with the steam makes for a true relaxation. It is this experience that inspired Olivia Giacobetti’s Iunx L’Eau Sento No.2.

Perfumes dominated by cedar: Armani Privé Bois d’Encens, Donna Karan Black Cashmere, Iunx No. 2 L’Eau Sento, Ormonde Jayne Isfahan Pour Homme, Parfums 06130 Cèdre, Serge Lutens Cèdre, Serge Lutens Bois de Violette, Serge Lutens Bois et Fruits, Serge Lutens Bois et Musc, Serge Lutens Bois Oriental, Shiseido Féminité du Bois.

Perfumes containing cedar (this is hardly an exhaustive list, and I welcome additions of your favourites): Agent Provocateur, Caron Parfum Sacré, Caron Alpona, Caron Fleurs de Rocaille and Fleur de Rocaille, Caron N’Aimez Que Moi, Caron Pois de Senteur, Caron Royal Bain de Champagne, Caron Tabac Blond, Chanel Cuir de Russie, Diptyque Opôné, Guerlain Chant d’Arômes, Comme des Garçons Sequoia, Guerlain Eau De Fleurs De Cedrat, Hermèssence Poivre Samarcande, L’Artisan Parfumeur L’Eau du Caporal, Ormonde Jayne Osmanthus, Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Woman and Ormonde Man, Ormonde Jayne Frangipani Absolute, Parfums de Nicolaï Pour Homme, Rochas Tocade, Serge Lutens Chêne, Serge Lutens Miel et Bois, Serge Lutens Arabie, Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque, Serge Lutens Douce Amère, Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist.

References: Lawless, Julia. 1992. The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. Element Books, UK. Morris, Edwin T. 1984. Fragrance: The Story of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel. E.T. Morris and Co., New York.

Picture: Cedar of Lebanon from en.arocha.org/plants.

Enjoyed this? Get blog posts via email:

Or, stay updated via:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • RSS

22 Comments

  • Tania: Ah, cedar. The culprit when people cry “hamster cage” when they smell a fragrance. Me, I like smelling like a hamster cage. I found Serge Lutens Santal Blanc smelled more like cedar than sandalwood, but the SA at Barney’s informed me I was horribly wrong, and then he smirked at me. Then I smashed the tester bottle against the counter and slashed his throat with the glass shards for his impudence. OK, no I didn’t. But it would have been fun. July 19, 2005 at 12:29pm Reply

  • Victoria: There are so many cedars out there, it is bewildering. Some definitely smell of hamster cages, having slightly more of that musty and dry smell. I like cedar when it smells balsamic and sweet, like Lutens’ cedar. I would actually agree about Santal Blanc, although both woods are there blended in an intricate balance. Now, a sample of Atlas cedarwood oil I have smells so great, I am tempted to wear it on its own. Definitely no hamster cage there! Or perhaps I have only limited experience with hamsters. And wait, aren’t hamsters usually kept in metal cages, as they gnaw through the wood? July 19, 2005 at 12:41pm Reply

  • mreenymo: To be honest, I have never given cedar, as used in fragrances or in anything else for that matter, much thought. I am very amazed by the number of top fragrances that have it in their compositions.

    One cedar fragrance I do know of and like is Guerlain’s Precious Heart. The cedar balances out nicely with the freesia, osmanthus and the other notes.

    Hugs to you on this very hot day! July 19, 2005 at 1:11pm Reply

  • Tania: Hamsters are kept in wire or plastic/glass cages, but they’re usually lined in cedar shavings, which the critters can use to pile up nests (and to keep the floor fragrant amidst their droppings). Actually, I scatter hamster cage linings in boxes where I pack my out-of-season clothes, to keep the moths at bay. Cedar is widely thought of as a rather masculine note, but I agree with you—as a natural essential oil, cedar must necessarily be a widely variable scent. I do particularly love the way Serge Lutens has used cedar in his various Bois interpretations. I was particularly fond of Bois de Violette: the cedar turned violet, a flower I normally find too cute to wear, into something much more wearable. If only it were in the export line! Then again, better for my pocketbook that it’s not. July 19, 2005 at 1:36pm Reply

  • Victoria: Robin, it is definitely one of the most commonly used basenotes, given its ability to balance out florals well. I tried Precious Heart a while ago, however I do not remember what my impression was like. xoxo July 19, 2005 at 1:38pm Reply

  • Victoria: When I had a hamster, we lined his cage with hay. However, it was in Ukraine, and who knows whether we did the right thing. The poor thing died within 2 months. I also use small boxes of cedar shavings from a pet’s store to keep in the closet, although lately I discovered the newspapers are more effective at repelling moth. I always liked a bit of cedar in the basenotes, but I have to agree with you that in large quantities, it is a note conventionally deemed more suitable for masculine fragrances. Which is why Lutens/Sheldrake efforts are so fantastic–they take a huge amount of cedar and twist it around a particular theme, making fragrances that blur all of these masculine/feminine distinctions and showcase cedar instead of using it merely as a supporting note. July 19, 2005 at 1:46pm Reply

  • Tania: Poor Ukrainian hamster! Mine lived almost interminably. Twice we found him cold and to all appearances dead, only to discover him revived after a few moments in our pitying hands. At long last, after a number of years, he attempted another Lazarus-like revival after a third impersonation of death, but then expired in what seemed to be exhaustion with it all.

    Back to the subject at hand: I am wearing Diptyque Opone today, and its drydown seems, to me at least, distinctively cedary. I think the cedar is key to the scent’s transition between the heavy, somewhat oily saffron quality of the opening and the cool, fresh dew of the final rose. July 19, 2005 at 2:07pm Reply

  • Victoria: Diptyque Opone has a great cedar tinged drydown. Adding to the list above as well as to my “resample” list. I love saffron scent, and saffron and rose seem like a winning combination to me. July 19, 2005 at 2:43pm Reply

  • fuguetta: Thank you for this great commentary on cedar; since my discovery of Féminité du Bois, cedar has been one of my favourite notes in perfumery.

    Not widely mentioned, but for me it is specifically the cedar note in Caron’s Parfum Sacré which gives the scent an intriguing dimension of cool intellectuality against the sensualism of its rosy/spicy oriental notes.

    (Also adding Opôné to my resample list.) July 19, 2005 at 11:38pm Reply

  • Victoria: Parfum Sacré is another favourite, and I am adding it to the list above. Thank you for reminding me about it. I also love cedar note in Alpona, which works so wonderfully with its hesperidic top.

    I also credit Sheldrake/Lutens with sparking my interest in cedar. The combinations they have created are just genius. July 20, 2005 at 9:03am Reply

  • parislondres: Thank you darling V for this very informative post. I love cedar in perfumes and Un Cedre by SL is really lovely and a must buy for me. Hope all is well.

    xoxo July 20, 2005 at 9:50am Reply

  • Victoria: You are welcome, dear! I am glad that it was helpful. Cedar often is thought of as a masculine note, as Tania noted above, but it is present in so many fragrances that it seems only proper to give it a proper tribute. July 20, 2005 at 9:53am Reply

  • Kate123: Hi V! I am enjoying your blog too! I like it when you take a note and talk about it’s history, uses, etc. I like cedar as well, CDG Sequoia is my fav in that category. July 20, 2005 at 4:19pm Reply

  • Victoria: Kate, thank you! I am glad to hear it. I added CdG Sequoia to the list. I tried it a while ago, and I clearly need to revisit it. July 20, 2005 at 5:10pm Reply

  • Katie: Ah, cedar… the first thing I think of when I think of cedar is Agent Provacateur. It’s almost an overload of cedar on me… almost. It’s got some really tenacious sillage (nearly maniacal, really) that intoxicates. It’s cedar with some oomph. July 21, 2005 at 10:46am Reply

  • Victoria: K, I am adding Agent Provocateur as well. I really enjoy this fragrance for its beautiful saffron note, which goes wonderfully with rose, as I observed (Diptyque Opôné, OJ Ta’if). The cedar in the base is very well done. July 21, 2005 at 10:51am Reply

  • moon_fish: I would add some cedar frags like
    Gucci pour Homme
    Gucci Rush for men
    the last is almost pure cedar for me April 19, 2006 at 5:14am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Thank you! I have not tried Rush for men, but now I think that I should. I also very much enjoy Gucci Pour Homme. April 20, 2006 at 1:48pm Reply

  • Dancer: Dear Victoria,
    In your overviews of different perfume notes, have you ever done one on sandalwood? My sister is looking for sandalwood perfumes right now, but the only “straight” one we could find was “Blanc de santal” of Serge Lutens… April 30, 2006 at 11:38am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: I have a list of sandalwood fragrances here:
    http://boisdejasmin.com/2005/05/fragrance_revie_2.html
    (scroll down to sandalwood). A very good sandalwood is Diptyque Tam Dao (and 10 Corso Como). May 4, 2006 at 2:23pm Reply

  • Dancer: Many thanks; will do a sandalwood smelling session. May 6, 2006 at 11:00am Reply

  • Kostas: I have always loved the scent o cedar and own a few samples of different cedar essentials. Although most of them smell great on their own, it’s another story when they are used on skin or mixed with other essences. Main problem for me is the notion of old men’s sweat that comes as the top notes evaporate and lingers on all the way to the drydown. Among the cedars I’ve tried the chinese variety is the most geriatric of all and no matter what combination I’ve tried I haven’t managed to breath some life into it. October 12, 2011 at 8:02am Reply

What do you think?

From the Archives

Latest Comments

  • Claire in Bad Smells: It’s All Relative: So, George, any insights into what Terry identified as “Raid” bug spray when she smelled CK Eternity? I had the same association whenever I smelled YSL’s Rive Gauche, and a… November 25, 2014 at 2:08pm

  • Claire in Bad Smells: It’s All Relative: Likewise (cumin aside), I adore spice in fragrance, especially clove and cardamom. I would also include carnation, since it has a similar spicy quality. I also like anise and tarragon… November 25, 2014 at 1:09pm

  • Carla in Bad Smells: It’s All Relative: Rotting leaves smell like sour milk to me. Also, Futur by piguet smells like urine to me; can’t stand it. Finally certain herbal teas make me feel nauseous, like green… November 25, 2014 at 12:28pm

  • Esra in Bad Smells: It’s All Relative: Haha this made me laugh. I always thought cumin smelled like sweat. November 25, 2014 at 12:10pm

Latest Tweets

Design by cre8d
© Copyright 2005-2014 Bois de Jasmin. All rights reserved.