Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage d’Enfer’s interpretation of incense is like a gentle swirl of smoke rising from hot ashes. Created by Olivia Giacobetti in 1999, it is an incense fragrance marked by soft haziness that is strikingly noticeable in most of her creations. Unlike dark and mysterious Armani Privé Bois d’Encens—a fragrance truly in place before somber blackened images of Orthodox saints, Passage d’Enfer takes austere darkness out of frankincense and infuses it with fresh floral softness.
The composition has a panoramic quality, with the notes being layered one on top of another, instead of progressing sequentially. However, after a couple of hours, one notices a reverse movement as the fragrance begins to gain more transparency and to fade slowly. Myrrh with its note of medicinal anise is classically paired with sharp resinous frankincense. Transparent darkness of the accord is ornamented with the green balsamic notes, which amplify its soaring quality.
An interesting addition is a soft fresh floral note, which at first is suppressed by the resinous shadows of frankincense. This delicate accent grows stronger over time, weaving gently around the smoke emanating cinders.
The drydown, by contrast, is sheer, as it presents amber with a touch of balsamic vanilla and musk. The candles have burned, and the incense has turned to ashes. The cold mist of the grey morning clings to the stones, stripping them of the dark warmth. Nevertheless, it is a fragrance that makes incense easy to wear by merely hinting at its ecclesiastical roots.
L’Artisan Parfumeur fragrances are available at Aedes, Barneys New York, Beautycafe, Bergdorf Goodman, Bluemercury, Neiman Marcus, Saks 5th Avenue, and Theperfumeshoppe. European shoppers can find the line at First-in-Fragrance.
Painting: Giovanni Bellini. The Annunciation. Panel of St. Vincent Ferrar Polyptych. c. 1464-68. Tempera on panel. Church of SS.Giovanni e Paolo, Venice. From abcgallery.com.