I fell asleep on a fall day colored crimson and burnished gold. I woke up on a winter morning veiled with snow. I can hardly make out the familiar landscape of parked cars, white houses and old trees through the graceful dance of snowflakes. We skipped fall and jumped straight into winter, or perhaps we will go back to summer given our completely bizarre meteorological record this year. So, I decided that I will take advantage of the cold by lighting up the fireplace, making a big pot of tea and wrapping myself in my favorite red blanket with Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. Yet, once this fantasy materializes, I immediately want to get up, put on a warm coat and step out into the shimmering, dancing whiteness. As I walk through the empty streets, it all feels new and surprising—the black arabesques of tree branches, the occasional splash of a red maple leaf, a snowflake that touches my cheek like someone’s surreptitious kiss.
In the cool, crisp air, the fragrance that I love the most is that of incense. Its contrast between citrus like brightness and warm smokiness is very dramatic, but the character is serene and calming. I wear incense year round, but once it starts to cool down, it becomes a staple in my wardrobe. My favorite incenses are airy and bright, rather than heavy and resinous, particularly since they lack the obvious liturgical associations. Incense accented blends are also very elegant, and their intimate sillage makes them good daytime perfumes when one needs to be conscious of other people in close quarters. Below is a selection of my favorite incense (and incense accented) fragrances, from the lightest to the richest.
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Bitter green florals and a splash of cool incense create an airy, bright composition in which incense plays a supporting but very crucial role by evoking a dream-like, ethereal image.
Atelier Cologne Bois Blonds
Soft woods and green citrus become more sparkling and crisper through the addition of peppery incense. A superb summer cologne that can certainly work year round.
Another incense accented composition that lacks any church associations. The green, rooty notes are layered over incense for an elegant twist on a green citrus cologne.
The newest reformulations of No 22 favor the incense notes, which is something I like very much. The smoky veil of incense wraps the lush accord of jasmine, rose and ylang ylang, thus, creating a dramatic, glamorous character. The incense notes are even more obvious in the parfum formulation.
Etro Shaal Nur
Shaal Nur is a modern version of Guerlain Shalimar—transparent, bright and playful. As such, it is a refined composition that can easily suit both men and women. The incense notes are played by the spicy sweetness of cinnamon and cardamom, while vanilla softens the smoky darkness.
The incense notes are dark and rich, but the orchestration makes them light and soaring. Like a whiff of incense clinging to someone’s fur collar after a Christmas mass.
A minimalist composition that is nevertheless of the incense gold standards: cedarwood, frankincense, citrus and pepper. Perfect!
A baroque twist of incense, where the cool, smoky notes are richly embellished with vanilla, sweet spices and luscious amber.
The dark backdrop of incense and woods makes Black Cashmere sonorous and opaque; however, it has plenty of twists and nuances to be memorable: the delicious richness of cedarwood and sandalwood, the dazzling brightness of peppery top notes, the honeyed softness of rose.
A fragrance that evokes the scent of bonfires in the cool winter air. Lacking the obvious sweet notes, this incense composition has an uplifting, bright character, while it retains its mysterious darkness.
All of Comme des Garçons fragrances from the Incense Series are worth exploring, but Kyoto is particularly interesting for its contrasted quality. The cool richness of incense plays up the intoxicating warmth of roasted coffee beans, with the dryness of juniper, vetiver and patchouli lending the fragrance a polished finish.
Photograph © Bois de Jasmin.