It’s hard not to take a second look when a maestro of exclusive perfumery offers you something even more exceptional. When Serge Lutens presented L’Incendiaire last year, it promised ultra rarity (Paris only and maybe some distant Middle Eastern outpost), luxury and drama. How can it be anything but intriguing? I eagerly extended my wrist to be anointed with the precious potion.
My first impression was that L’Incendiaire should make any Serge Lutens’s fan feel giddy. It has enough incense to perfume all the souks of Arabia. Its amber and musk accords are prodigious. It takes dark to another level. It smolders. It heaves. But nothing about it made me want to swoon (much less part with the $600 that buys you 50ml of this fantasy). L’Incendiaire is beautiful, but it’s about as nuanced as a three hour Bollywood drama. At some point, you crave a break.
The break comes a couple of hours too late. L’Incendiaire loses some of its dense incense smoke and a shipload of fossilized wood to become velvety and suave. The peppery, dry spices that greeted you in the opening phases still linger but only as soft embers, and as you wade through creamy layers of sandalwood and musk, you notice L’Incendiaire mellowing rapidly. For such a dashing and dark number, it has an anti-climatic ending.
I still adore Serge Lutens and his marvelous collection–anyone who has a hand in my beloved Iris Silver Mist is automatically raised to cult status in my personal pantheon. But I would love for this “more exclusive than exclusive” trend to be set aside. Lutens’s house needs no frills and gimmicks. It already includes a selection of some of the best modern perfumery, and the luxury level is just right.
If, on the other hand, you want to be smothered in incense while remaining financially solvent, there is Comme des Garçons Avignon, Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure or Etro Messe de Minuit. These perfumes offer incense with different inflections, but all are dark and brooding. Less intense are L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage d’Enfer and Donna Karan Black Cashmere. Marni and Diptyque Volutes are subtler still, with incense wafting in the far background. If you have some taste for pyrotechnics but prefer your fragrance as a soothing, soft presence, these two have much to recommend themselves.
Any other great incense perfumes worth mentioning?