L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage d’Enfer : Perfume Review



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.



  • Sisonne: Dear V, lovely review of a lovely fragrance 🙂 When I first tested Passage d´Enfer I wasn´t sure what to think of it – but then my love grow & grow. It´s not a fragrance you can wear on a daily basis – at least I can´t. But it´s wonderful for autumn, not too light nor too heavy.
    Perhaps you can tell me whether the CdG No. 3 Black incense scents are much more heavy on the incense? October 10, 2005 at 6:37am Reply

  • parislondres: This is one of the rare L’Artisan perfumes that somehow manages to last on me for more than 30 minutes. I too love that it is an easy incense to wear and not like Etro’s serious and heavy duty Messe de Minuit which I love to sniff but feel claustrophobic when I wear it.

    Yet another lovely creation by the wonderfully talented Olivia G!
    Lovely review and I hope you are well dear V! Will catch up soon.
    🙂 October 10, 2005 at 3:03am Reply

  • Laura: I often put a touch of this on before bed–it seems to go well with the traces of whatever I’ve worn during the day (provided I haven’t applied anything for several hours) and it has a very nice calming effect. Too much of this and I find the lily note overwhelmed by the ponderous notes and then little mildew spots start to form in the nose’s eye. :D. Hee. It’s early and I’m leaving for Paris in a couple of hours. Forgive the execrable writing. October 10, 2005 at 5:48am Reply

  • Robin: One of my all time favorite fragrances, and one of my favorite noses. Thanks for the lovely review! October 10, 2005 at 10:28am Reply

  • Shifts: What a lovely review! In a few months time L’Artisan has grown to become one of my absolut favourite perfume houses and Passage D’Enfer is next in line to be discovered, together with Tea For Two.

    For european perfumeshoppers I would like to recommed FiF as well: http://www.ausliebezumduft.de/index.php?cPath=23 October 10, 2005 at 6:52am Reply

  • Judith (lilybp): Mistakes corrected, I hope–ignore earlier. What a wonderful review of one of my favorite fragraces–a fragrance that I just happen to be wearing right now! You beautifully evoke all the stages it goes through. As I mentioned to you, the scent in its entirety (not just the drydown), seems (pleasantly) “cold” to me, recalling the feeling of stones in very old European churches or catacombs. I find it simultaneously deeply mysterious and eminently wearable.

    Have a great day, and a wonderful week! October 10, 2005 at 11:18am Reply

  • Tania: This was actually the first L’Artisan I ever bought, from the first batch of samples I ever ordered from Aedes. (Awwww.) The chilly lily beginning has its appeal, but my favorite part comes in the middle section. I remember when I wore the sample, I had forgotten all about it, when in the afternoon this hot wisp of something smoky and dark came wafting up out of the cup of my collarbone. It is the transition between the end of the cold incense and the beginning of the balsamic stage, when there is an hour or so when the whole scent seems to flare up in a warm moment of unsweet, uncreamy, very dry sandalwood before the whole thing dies down. October 10, 2005 at 8:15am Reply

  • mreenymo: V, this is my favorite L’Artisan. I love the intensity of the incense, with that layer of freshness weaved into it.

    This may mean that I am not a true incense lover, which is probably true. Incense makes me congested and sneezy. But, Passage is a perfect fragrance for someone like me who wants to explore an incense note without being overwhelmed by it.

    Love to you! October 10, 2005 at 12:32pm Reply

  • Marina: Wonderful review, V! Passage is one of my favorite L’Artisans and one of my favorite perfumes in general. So melancholy, so comforting…I think I will wear the remains of my decant this morning. 🙂 October 10, 2005 at 9:56am Reply

  • linda: V, I tried Passage d’Enfer after you mentioned it a couple of weeks ago in one of your comments to me. You were right! It is a beautiful and wearable incense. Thanks for another lovely review. October 10, 2005 at 2:40pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: N, I absolutely agree. Incense is not an easy fragrance to wear, even though it is one of my favourite notes. Bois d’Encens is my unrivaled incense, but it certainly requires a specific mood. I am glad to hear that you like Passage d’Enfer though. October 10, 2005 at 11:20am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: L, lily note is more visible on a strip, although on the skin it resurfaces fairly quickly as well. I like that element, because it seems to lighten the sharp quality of frankincense.

    Have a wonderful trip! October 10, 2005 at 11:25am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: C, thank you! You pointed its quality well–it is neither too light nor too dark. It is very easy to wear, and it is fairly memorable, all of which are good things.

    CdG Incense Series are much darker by comparison, although Zagorsk, which I reviewed in the past is the lightest. Passage d’Enfer has a more delicate manner of approaching frankincense, which I find appealing. October 10, 2005 at 11:27am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Shifts, thank you! Like you, I am a big fan of Tea for Two. It is definitely a wonderful composition that keeps one guessing as to what will come next–a swirl of smoke, a cured tea leaf or a sweet accent of star anise.

    Thank you for bringing FiF to my attention. I completely forgot that it carried L’Artisan as well. October 10, 2005 at 11:29am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tania, yes, it was in my first batch of Aedes samples, including La Chasse, Tea for Two and Premier Figuier. I love your reference to the uncreamy sandalwood that rises up before the final drydown. The note of woods is wonderfully incorporated within the composition, and it is such a great counterpoint to the accords that are present on the top and on the bottom of it.

    Do you have other incense favourites? I am always looking for more recommendations. October 10, 2005 at 11:34am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: M, thank you! Frankincense is melancholy to me as well by virtue of associations. It makes me think of Easter and all night mass, after which we would come home and eat Easter bread to break the fast. October 10, 2005 at 11:36am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, thank you! It is a beautiful fragrance. My favourite aspect is that I can recall it precisely in my mind. October 10, 2005 at 11:54am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, thank you! Your last comment, “I find it simultaneously deeply mysterious and eminently wearable” is perfect. There are few fragrances that manage to achieve this effect, especially using something as dark and resinous as frankincense. October 10, 2005 at 12:02pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, I cannot agree with you more. Passage d’Enfer is the fragrance to consider if one likes the darkness of incense, but cannot stand its clingy darkness. Here, the effect is soaring and transparent.

    Have a wonderful day! October 10, 2005 at 1:09pm Reply

  • paintrman: OK…my question is can a guy wear this? I am a huge fan of incense fragrances like CDG “Avignon” but am not sure I want to wear it either. It’s a very serious fragrance. October 10, 2005 at 2:57pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Linda, I am so glad that you decided to try it! Thank you for your kind words. October 10, 2005 at 2:59pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Paintrman, yes, it is definitely suitable for a man. Avignon is much more difficult to wear, by comparison, even though I also like it. Yet, it reminds me of Orthodox high mass service too much to be completely suitable for most occasions.

    Passage d’Enfer is much more transparent and sweeter. Nothing about it is particularly feminine, as it is more of a shared fragrance. October 10, 2005 at 3:02pm Reply

  • Evan: Burning frankincense progresses through two very separate phases. At first it has a fresh, pine-like sharpness that has almost a citrus quality. As it continues to carbonize, it takes on the heavier, smokier, darker aspect that most people associate with frankincense as this darkness completely displaces the freshness. I think another thing that adds to this dark quality is the charcoal that is usually used to burn the resin. I haven’t had the chance to smell Passage d’Enfer, but I wonder if it goes after the qualities of the first phase rather than the second (as Bois d’Encens does). Unburned frankincense has a smell close to what I call the “citrus-like” phase, maybe that is the inspiration.

    I like incense perfumes, I wish there were more of them. It’s only fitting that this group should have an important place in perfumery after all: the root of perfume (parfumare) is “through the smoke”! October 10, 2005 at 9:28pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Evan, that is a perfect description of frankincense! Passage d’Enfer starts out with the piney fresh sharpness, which is accented well by floral notes in the middle accord. However, as time goes on, a smokier aspect becomes more evident. All the while the composition maintains a transparent quality, like most of Giacobetti’s creations tend to do.

    Would you consider creating an incense fragrance at some point, if you have not already? October 10, 2005 at 9:36pm Reply

  • Evan: V: That sounds wonderful, I especially like the sound of a floral middle. Often incense perfumes tend to be rather sombre and dry affairs, I like the idea of a florality mixed in.

    I’ve done a couple of experiments with frankincense/citrus combinations that have worked pretty well. I’d like to pursue this direction further, perhaps also using the waxy/smoke aldehydes as a nod to the ecclesiastical connotations of incense in the west. Probably the second project I devote serious time to after my current one will be incense related. October 10, 2005 at 10:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Evan, your citrus and frankincense combination sounds very interesting, and I can see how the aldehydic elements naturally present in citrus would give a scintillating quality to resinous, yet soaring “un-burned” frankincense. Moreover, waxy aldehyde addition might lend a unique twist. I would love to hear more about your project as it develops. October 10, 2005 at 11:31pm Reply

  • misia: Hi V, this is my irst post here, I belong with Passage ‘ cause it is my fragrance of the heart…my servant,my alter- ego, my capricious and volatile/instabile harald…I love agarwood, and Olivia Giacobetti let this precious wood intact in his essence, without transforming it in other, as Montale does with its Oudh collection…another perfum I’ d like to suggest you for a rewiew is L’ artisan’s D’ Humeur à rien, of the coffret les sautes d’ humeur…D’ humeur à rien is much more salty than Passage, with a nostalgic, strange quality of the incense, but quite interesting…i’d like to read what you think about this. I wait for Bois d’ encens, Armani privè. it must be fascinating, as you described.Namarie. June 4, 2006 at 11:19am Reply

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