Comme des Garcons Incense Series Kyoto : Perfume Review

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If I feel particularly tired at the end of a day and I don’t have time for my usual de-stressing rituals–a bath, an hour with a cup of tea and a favorite book, I burn some incense. I store the joss sticks in a large box that after several years of being used as an incense receptacle smells of sandalwood, oud and spices. As I watch the slender sticks turn to pale grey ash and inhale the rich aroma, my worries seem less important.

When I want the incense to linger on my skin, I reach for my favorite incense fragrances–dry and woody Donna Karan Black Cashmere, bright and fresh Atelier Cologne Bois Blonds, or Comme des Garçons Kyoto. Kyoto, created by perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, is a part of Series 3 Incense, which was launched in 2002.  Avignon took us to France, Ouarzazate to Morocco, Zagorsk to Russia,  Jailsamer to India, and finally, Kyoto to Japan.

I’ve worn Kyoto for the past five years, and I still haven’t tired of the journey on which it takes me. In contrast to the sweet and opulent Indian incense, Japanese incense is a symphony of woods, with a delicate accent of star anise and patchouli. It smells dry and effervescent, and even the sweetest blends retain a crisp, bright quality.

In Kyoto, Duchaufour chose to explore the contrast between the woods and incense by searing them with a toasty, nutty coffee. At first, it smells cool and smooth, reminiscent more of a tactile sensation–my fingertips gliding over smooth stones–rather than a particular scent. The elegant way in which incense makes its appearance is fascinating. One moment the fragrance smells like cedarwood shavings, and the next you distinctly smell the smoky, peppery darkness of incense, as if someone waved a burning joss stick around you.

As the fragrance lives longer on skin, its fresh woods turn darker and earthier. The caramelized sweetness of coffee is an accent, but it gives Kyoto more complexity. Despite its rich materials, Kyoto is vivid and radiant, reminding me more of L’Artisan Timbuktu–another Duchaufour creation–than of heavier incense blends like Avignon.

I think of Kyoto as a warm and cozy wrap, up there with the sexy Yves Saint Laurent Nu, Tom Ford Jardin Noir Cafe Rose, and Costes Eau de Toilette. Kyoto lingers well on skin, but especially so on fabrics. To add a touch of exotic to the grey Belgian winters, I sometimes use it to scent my scarves, so that I can enjoy its delicious, toasty presence as I make my way down the rain streaked streets.

Comme des Garçons Kyoto (Series 3 Incense) includes notes of incense, cypress oil, coffee, teak wood, vetiver, patchouli, amber, everlasting flower, and Virginian cedar. $80/50ml Available at AedesApothiaEscentualBeautyhabitLuckyscentMiomia, Barneys New York, Senteurs d’Ailleurs, or at the Comme des Garçons boutiques.

Photography (top image) by Bois de Jasmin

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79 Comments

  • FearsMice: Hi, Victoria. I have a dabber sample of Kyoto, and I experience the fragrance as cool and green, and try as I might, I can’t get any coffee from it! I lived near Kyoto for several years; while this fragrance doesn’t really evoke the place for me, I still really enjoy wearing it. Thanks for the review! January 9, 2013 at 8:12am Reply

    • Victoria: The coffee is just an accent, and it makes me think more of how coffee tastes–nutty, caramelized–than how it smells–toasty and smoky. It’s a subtle touch, but I enjoy it very much.

      What scents would evoke Kyoto for you? January 9, 2013 at 12:45pm Reply

      • FearsMice: Ume and wisteria, especially… January 10, 2013 at 7:17am Reply

        • Victoria: Those are beautiful scents! January 10, 2013 at 9:15am Reply

  • Jenna: Kyoto was the first incense perfume I’ve tried and it seemed very odd to me at first. But I grew to like it and even used up a whole bottle back in the day when I believed that I must wear a signature perfume. Thanks for a beautiful review.

    P.S. I love the photo you chose for this post. It’s so serene. January 9, 2013 at 8:30am Reply

    • Victoria: I immediately loved Avignon, but in the end, I wear Kyoto much more often. It seems easier and less somber.

      Thank you! I’m glad that you liked the photo. January 9, 2013 at 12:46pm Reply

      • Daisy: I agree: I loved Avignon right away, but find Kyoto much more wearable. It just feels fresher and less … um, Catholic 😉 January 9, 2013 at 5:54pm Reply

        • Victoria: 🙂 Avignon is a bit stern for my tastes, although on very cold winter days, it (surprisingly) works beautifully. January 9, 2013 at 6:12pm Reply

  • Elena: This reminds me that I have a sample that I haven’t even tried yet! I spent a year in Japan in college, and brought back quite a bit of wonderful incense which is long gone by now. I wonder if you or your readers have any recommendations for places to get Japanese incense (online, I suppose?) in the US? I could use it today… my dog barfed in the living room this morning and my little girl peed on the couch last night, so while my house smells complex and evocative, it’s not exactly a good thing! January 9, 2013 at 9:27am Reply

    • Rachel: You too! Where did you stay in Japan?

      I recommend this place for Japanese incense–
      http://www.japanincense.com/
      If you’re in San Francisco area, go to their store as well. It’s called Koshi and you can find very good incense there. January 9, 2013 at 9:45am Reply

      • Rachel: Sorry, a typo… it’s supposed to be Kohshi. January 9, 2013 at 9:45am Reply

      • Masha: I second your recommendation. Japan Incense is a wonderful store, and owners are terrific and service and quality are exceptions. January 9, 2013 at 10:29am Reply

        • Masha: That’s “exceptional”! Never write comments when your kids are pulling on your arms for attention…. January 9, 2013 at 10:30am Reply

          • Elena: Thank you Masha, I am going to their website right now. My daughter just closes the laptop when she wants my attention! January 9, 2013 at 7:39pm Reply

      • Mel: Hi! Any particular recommendations for the japan incense site? Thanks! January 9, 2013 at 12:06pm Reply

        • Masha: They have so much, and it’s all good, so it depends on your taste. I’d email the owners and tell them your preferences in perfume, and ask them where to start with incense. They have great advice and love to help! January 9, 2013 at 12:55pm Reply

        • Rachel: I also recommend asking at the store, because the service is helpful. My faves are amber, cedar wood, rose and a blend called Gossamer. January 9, 2013 at 3:27pm Reply

      • Elena: Thanks, Rachel! I studied at Kansai Gaigoku Daigaku (Kansai GaiDai) outside of Osaka. You? January 9, 2013 at 7:37pm Reply

        • Rachel: I taught in Nagoya. It was such a great experience. January 10, 2013 at 3:26pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, that’s evocative for sure. I don’t know if incense will help, but a vinegar rinse might do the trick.

      As for incense, I’ve tried incense from Nippon Kodo, and some varieties are very nice. I particularly liked pine, sandalwood, and cedarwood.
      http://www.nipponkodo.com/en/cat/ January 9, 2013 at 12:59pm Reply

  • Rachel: You’re inspiring me to burn some incense right now! I’m at home sick with flu and feeling depressed. Reading this post is lifting my spirits. I worked for a few months as an English teacher, and I loved it. Unfortunately my mother got very ill and I had to cut my stay. Always wanted to return. January 9, 2013 at 9:42am Reply

    • Victoria: Rachel, please feel better! I wish you a quick recovery.

      Incense really has such a wonderful calming effect, but if your nasal passages are irritated from being congested, please take care not to inhale too much of the smoke (especially if your incense contains spices or other materials besides frankincense). I find that it can be irritating. January 9, 2013 at 1:02pm Reply

  • Anat13: Due to having had the misfortune of singing in a church choir procession almost directly behind the censer (it is rather difficult to croon while coughing), I assumed I’d hate incense perfumes. Seville a l’Aube convinced me otherwise, thankfully 🙂 January 9, 2013 at 10:13am Reply

    • Masha: I didn’t get any incense from Seville! I got orange blossom, wax, and Fruity Pebbles. Another one I clearly missed the boat on…. January 9, 2013 at 10:31am Reply

      • mough: YES!! That’s it! I got this odd sweet note and all I could think of was bubble gum, the big pink kind from years ago. It totally overtook the fragrance and no one else mentioned it. So thanks for pinpointing the sweetness of Seville. January 9, 2013 at 10:39am Reply

        • Masha: I’m glad I’m not the only one! January 9, 2013 at 10:59am Reply

          • sara: i like it but it doesn’t last on me… January 9, 2013 at 11:42am Reply

    • Victoria: Incense in perfumery is a surprisingly versatile note, and it doesn’t have to smell like a church. In Seville, there is a generous amount, but because it’s set against that lush orange blossom and bright herbal accord, it doesn’t evoke anything liturgical. Not to me, anyway. Kyoto also doesn’t smell like a church. Another non-liturgical incense I like is Bois Blonds by Atelier Cologne. January 9, 2013 at 1:05pm Reply

      • Anat13: To be fair, now that I am thinking back on it, that church incense may well have smelled absolutely lovely–it was the trying to sing with smoke in my lungs that gave rise to my “incense=BAD” association 😀 January 9, 2013 at 10:05pm Reply

        • Victoria: This reminds me of my long lasting association of licorice and cold medicine. It’s not that I hated the taste of that medicine as a child, but I really didn’t like being sick and being allowed to play with my friends. It took a while to shake off, but now I love everything licorice. January 10, 2013 at 7:00am Reply

  • Masha: I adore Nu and have several versions and backup bottles. But all I’ve ever gotten from Kyoto is bug spray! I am clearly missing something. I went through a whole bottle of Zagorsk, and one of Ouarzazate as well, but Kyoto was just unbearable. Jaisalmer gave me a headache as well. I wonder what went wrong for me?? January 9, 2013 at 10:28am Reply

    • Victoria: There are plenty of fish in the sea! 🙂 In the niche lines especially, there are many other incense fragrances that might work better for you. January 9, 2013 at 1:09pm Reply

  • Merlin: I once asked a friend what he thought of Kyoto on me and he said ‘it smells musty, like something out an old cupboard.’
    It was funny, because I thought it was my most sensual, soft and feminine incense: not exotic like Quarzazate and not monastic like Avignon.
    After he said that though – my reaction changed – (I’m obviously impressionable) because all I smell now is mustiness:( January 9, 2013 at 10:36am Reply

    • Victoria: I feel for you, those associations are hard to shake off. Especially if the comment comes from someone whose opinion you trust. January 9, 2013 at 1:11pm Reply

      • Merlin: I’m trying to write over it with your far more nuanced review! The stage I like least is the first one. You have found cedar to be the dominant note there and perhaps the cedar is what he was reacting to. Now I’m onto what you call the smoky peppery darkness of incense and I’m preferring it – but my favourite is the dry-down where it gets softer and a bit sweeter… January 9, 2013 at 1:41pm Reply

  • rosarita: Now I know what I want to wear today. This is my favorite of the Incense Series although I like them all. I’ve never noticed coffee, so as I wear it today I’ll pay closer attention. Thanks for the review! January 9, 2013 at 10:36am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! I’ve been wearing Kyoto a lot lately, so I thought that it might be time to review it. It feels so cozy on these cold, rainy days. January 9, 2013 at 1:12pm Reply

  • sara: i haven’t smelled any of these perfumes. i like incense but not when it’s too churchy. January 9, 2013 at 11:41am Reply

    • Merlin: The ‘churchy’ one from this series is Avignon which is quite heavy in frankincense! January 9, 2013 at 11:49am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree with Merlin, Avignon is the most “churchy” one. Kyoto is more woody and earthy. January 9, 2013 at 1:13pm Reply

  • Katie: Great review – thank you for it. I love each one of the CDG incense series. I bought the sample set and then purchased Ouarzazate and Avignon. But now I am on to Le Labo Vetiver and I am in love. The sweetness of the drydown has me smitten! January 9, 2013 at 11:56am Reply

    • Victoria: Le Labo Vetiver sounds great. I love vetivers that add a touch of sweetness like Hermes Vetiver Tonka. It’s such an interesting contrast. January 9, 2013 at 1:14pm Reply

      • Merlin: How do the Le Labo and the Hermes compare to Lutens’ Vetiver Oriental? (V.O. is the only one I have tried and I liked it very much!) January 9, 2013 at 2:59pm Reply

        • Victoria: I haven’t tried Le Labo’s Vetiver, but Vetiver Tonka is sweeter, nuttier and at the same time more transparent than V.O. It’s one of my favorites (and it actually lasts, unlike other Hermessences). January 9, 2013 at 3:02pm Reply

          • Merlin: Ok, I’m making a note to get a sample of this! Still, I’m not sure I should get too excited: I thought I would love Ambre Narguile and it turned out too apple pie sweet. January 9, 2013 at 4:54pm Reply

            • Victoria: Vetiver Tonka is not as sweet, and while I like Ambre Narguile, VT is the one I reach for more often. January 9, 2013 at 6:11pm Reply

  • Mel: I love my Kyoto. I’m on my second bottle. Has anyone tried the CdG incense? January 9, 2013 at 12:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve tried only the candles, and they are excellent. Very true to the original scents. January 9, 2013 at 1:15pm Reply

      • Daisy: I was just about to ask if you tried the candle too. It’s really great if you like scented candles. January 9, 2013 at 5:56pm Reply

    • Katie: I have tried the CdG incense and I was disappointed. I burn both Indian (my preference) and Japanese incense nearly every day. Considering the cost of the CdG, which was $50 for a small box, it was quite smokey and it permeated a heavy charcoal smell throughout the area. Yes, I love the candles! Much better than the incense! January 10, 2013 at 11:25am Reply

  • Sandra Levine: I’ve never understood the characterization of Black Cashmere as an incense fragrance. To my nose, it’s a dental office. January 9, 2013 at 12:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: I actually was at the dentist’s today, and his office smelled like mint and some sort of detergent! I wish it smelled anything like Black Cashmere. 🙂 January 9, 2013 at 1:16pm Reply

  • Vishishta: My boyfriend, who is a pain relief body worker, massaged some pure essence of Frankincense into my body yesterday (diluted in a carrier of avocado oil) and I think it was better than any perfume! Sometimes you just have to go for the real thing! Although today, I am wearing a few strong spurts of Dune–which is based in Sandalwood (my favorite incense). January 9, 2013 at 12:41pm Reply

    • Masha: Frankincense has strong anxiolytic properties, so it would be a wonderful massage oil fragrance! I think it’s been used in religious ceremonies for so long because it calms everyone down and makes them happy…. January 9, 2013 at 12:57pm Reply

      • Vishishta: Yes, we both have been unreasonably happy since using it! Of course we are in love, but anything which adds to that condition is to be appreciated! January 9, 2013 at 1:29pm Reply

    • Victoria: That sounds heavenly! I love to burn pure frankincense. January 9, 2013 at 2:09pm Reply

  • Lucas: Kyoto is my favourite scent in DdG Incense Series. It’s to transparent, fresh, conteplative and uplifting at the same time. Just great. January 9, 2013 at 1:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: That’s a great description, Lucas. Contemplative and uplifting is exactly how it feels to me as well. January 9, 2013 at 2:14pm Reply

      • Lucas: Glad to hear you think the same about it. January 9, 2013 at 3:47pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: I have some of Shoyeido’s Tranquility incense, which sounds similar to Kyoto. It has a lovely cedar scent, and I love to burn it when I’m feeling stressed. I especially need it now, between starting a new job next week, and wondering how I am going to plan TWO weddings because important relatives on both sides of the Atlantic (fiance’s mother and my grandfather) cannot get on an airplane! I think I’m going to burn some this evening. January 9, 2013 at 1:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: Good luck! It’s a hectic time, but it’s also so much fun. The best advice I’ve received around the time I planned my wedding (a destination wedding as well) was not to stress out over small things and not to try to plan out everything. I had my calm-me-down perfume on hand (La Chasse Aux Papillons and Un Matin d’Orage), just in case. January 9, 2013 at 2:18pm Reply

  • Annikky: Incense is an aquired taste for me and I am still working on it (Avignon has gone from “scary” to “interesting”. Success!) In general, I like to smell it rather than wear it, so should probably try a candle or burn some real incense. Among the CdG series I find Kyoto the easiest for beginners like me, but I have a firm plan to wear Zagorsk when the temperatures will hit -20C here over the weekend.

    On a related note: I bought a REN travel kit that included a Frankincense Night Cream. The scent is quite strong but really enjoyable in my opinion. And as it is a night cream, there are no clashing issues. Might be worth a try for incense-lovers who like scented creams. January 9, 2013 at 3:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Incense can be tricky to wear, especially if you have strong associations with incense and church. Plus, it’s such a peppery, cool scent, not the easiest one to wear. So, you’re absolutely right, it’s an acquired taste for sure. January 9, 2013 at 6:02pm Reply

  • ziuhey: I am so glad that you reviewed Kyoto, a very important perfume to me! I first met Avignon in a small shop in Avignon in 2006 and I fell in love with it. My ex bought me a bottle (which I seldom use now) and my best friend bought a bottle of Kyoto for herself.

    She always wears perfume so beautifully that I have to be a copycat (back in university I bought Gucci Rush2 and Kenzo L’eau pour femme after smelling them on her) and Kyoto was no exception! I now wear Kyoto when I want to feel calm and confident or just to sooth my tired soul. But it is my best friend’s signature scent (she is on her 4/5th bottle!) and I always wonder why the same perfume smells so differently on us – on her Kyoto is more uplifting, radiant and light when on me is much drier and woody!! It really signifies our friendship and I always think of her every time I spray Kyoto. January 9, 2013 at 3:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: Skin chemistry might make a difference, but also you experience a perfume differently on someone vs when you wear it on your skin. When you smell a perfume on your friend, it’s at a bit of distance, so the radiant effect is more obvious. But up close (when you smell it on your own skin), you will notice the heavier, woodier notes first. Either way, sounds like you wear it beautifully too! January 9, 2013 at 6:04pm Reply

      • ziuhey: Oh I haven’t thought of how distance makes the difference! Thanks for enlightening me!

        And skin chemistry does matter! My skin tends to amplify the earthiness and dryness in perfume – maybe due to the fact that I love and eat lots of spicy food and drink coffee like water. I once asked my partner to smell Monocole Hinoki on me and my friend and she said we smelt so differently!

        It’s good that I got the ability to personalize my perfume as well. 🙂 January 10, 2013 at 4:43am Reply

        • Victoria: 🙂
          That would make a difference! Coffee, spices, garlic are some of the foods that really affect the skin chemistry. January 10, 2013 at 6:55am Reply

  • Andy: I am so happy to see a review of this one, which I have enjoyed so much thanks to your kind introduction to it 🙂

    I love the simplicity of this scent, and agree completely on its quality of vacillating between cedarwood and incense. Both are notes I love, so it’s actually very nice to get the two so distinctly. I saw coffee in the notes, and it took me the longest time to smell the coffee facet, but eventually it clicked—I was thinking too literally of the aroma of roasted coffee beans. Nonetheless, this strikes me as so serene and very clean, despite the resinous notes like cedarwood and the incense. It’s just very soothing, something I’d want to smell almost anytime. This is the first one I’ve smelled in the series but I’m also quite curious about Avignon. And the candles must be just heavenly! January 9, 2013 at 4:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s true, it’s surprisingly soft and tender despite the incense and woody notes. Perhaps, it’s its wistful, serene character that makes me think all of these soft images. January 9, 2013 at 6:06pm Reply

  • Daisy: I was just in MiN the other day and they mentioned that they just got some hinoki incense in. Have never tried it, and now I am thinking it might be good to drop by and snap some up! January 9, 2013 at 5:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hinoki incense must be wonderful. I look forward to your report from the field. 🙂 January 9, 2013 at 6:12pm Reply

  • maja: I find Kyoto more wearable than other CdG incenses but surprisingly much more masculine, if that exists obviuosly. 🙂 Can’t smell any coffee either. I like Zagorsk – one of a kind and truly evocative of Russia. Must be the birch wood which I adore.

    Black Cashmere and Nu are my favorite seductive incenses. January 9, 2013 at 7:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: Zagorsk church is supposed to be really impressive. I’ve never visited, but maybe some day I’ll get a chance. But the smell of aged wood, beeswax and incense is one of the most evocative for me. January 10, 2013 at 7:01am Reply

  • Deborah: Am looking forward to trying a different type of incense fragrance, but wanted to comment on the weather and the perfumes we prefer. I live in Seattle and am from Northern England so I know rain! And find I am craving springtime smells already – can’t get enough of Vent Vert at the moment. January 9, 2013 at 11:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: It has been so mild here (although the forecast promises a cold spell starting next week), and even the cherry trees are in bloom around my apartment. But the rain and overcast skies are depressing. Vent Vert is one of my favorite pick me ups. It truly smells like spring. January 10, 2013 at 6:58am Reply

  • ash: …Am I the only one who thinks Kyoto is similar to Passage d’Enfer? January 10, 2013 at 12:11am Reply

    • Victoria: I can see the similarity too, because both are quite woody. Passage d’Enfer is much more transparent and musky though to my nose. January 10, 2013 at 6:56am Reply

  • Vic: I love Kyoto and I wore it regularly for about a two years. Then, something happened and turned me off. Every time I smell it, the most prominent note I detect is the Iso E Super. It is not as evident in the opening and the heart notes but as the fragrance dries down, it takes over the composition.

    I am not a natural ingredient snob and I think synthetics drive perfumery as an art. However, there is something about the Iso E Super in this composition that turns me off. January 11, 2013 at 7:24pm Reply

  • Vair Clair: To me Kyoto has been a beautiful experience. This is one of the most wearable scent in the CdG’s incense collection. While spraying Kyoto, I feel peace with myself as the mystic incense lingers on there for almost 4-5 hours. Seems like I am in Japan :).. Had it stayed longer there it would have been the unbeatable fragrance in this range June 8, 2013 at 4:10am Reply

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