Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure : Fragrance Review



Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Incense Pure was my introduction to Sonoma Scent Studio’s collection. The first time I wore it, I was reminded of the initial role of perfume as a healing potion—one drop of Incense Pure on my wrist, and I felt uplifted and refreshed. Since then I have tried most of the Sonoma Scent Studio’s fragrances, and my initial favorable  impression of the line remains unchanged. With every fragrance, regardless of whether it made my list of favorites or not, I have been delighted to discover not just a memorable scent, but also the very distinctive fingerprint of its creator. This is what touched me about the fragrances; they make a coherent, yet diverse collection and provide a glimpse into someone’s universe.

Incense Pure is an introspective fragrance, but unlike most dry, dark incenses like Comme des Garçons Avignon and Armani Privé Bois d’Encens, it does not have strong liturgical connotations.  Despite its rich notes of myrrh, amber and woods, there is a fresh, bright element that lends Incense Pure an effervescent quality. The smoky amber forming the core of the composition along with the bright, peppery frankincense and elemi, evokes the crisp scent of autumnal air, distant bonfires and wet earth. The sweetness of vanilla and the musky softness of angelica provide an alluring counterpoint to the rich notes, with the end result being quite polished.

While Incense Pure stays close to the skin, it has a very gentle and caressing presence, the olfactory equivalent of a soft cashmere wrap.   It has a great tenacity and a pleasant, if intimate sillage–it is not a fragrance that announces its presence; instead, Incense Pure encourages others to lean in closer. It creates a very comforting aura, which makes Incense Pure my fragrance of choice when I want something soothing and relaxing. Those who likes Comme des Garçons Incense Series would find Incense Pure to be an interesting discovery, which explores the incense theme as a fresh and vivid accord.

Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure (an updated version of Encens Tranquille) includes notes of frankincense CO2, myrrh EO, labdanum absolute, cistus oil, natural oakmoss absolute, aged Indian patchouli heartnote fraction, sandalwood, cedar, ambergris, orris, angelica root absolute, elemi EO, vanilla absolute. It is available as the Eau de Parfum and is quite reasonably priced: 5ml ($20), 17ml ($31) and 34ml ($80). It is available directly from Sonoma Scent Studio.

Sample: my own acquisition

Photograph: “Incense” by eviltomthai, via flickr.



  • Melanie: Glad to see you reviewing one of the “indies”! There are a lot of good things happening with independent perfumers, and they’re often more interesting to me than department store fragrances. Incense Pure is one of my favorites from the line and one of my favorite incense fragrances. It has an outdoorsy feel to me, and reminds me somewhat of Annick Goutal’s Encens Flamboyant. February 21, 2011 at 5:22am Reply

  • Zazie: I am currently on an incense kick, mainly driven by a recent home-fragrance acquisition, the wonderful Fornasetti diffuser. It’s about incense and labdanum, orris, tolu and cedar wood, thyme and styrax.
    I was looking for a similar round, sweetened and friendly incense – someone very nice at NST suggested incense pure, but I haven’t tried it yet. Your review makes it sound very intriguing.
    For the moment I am quite happy with Shaal Nuur (the closest match I could find), but I am looking for something more… How could I put it? Well, something as sweet, round and over-the-top as the Fornasetti home fragrance and designs.
    Any suggestions? How does Shaal Nuur compare to incense pure?
    Sorry for the many questions, no incense I know (Tauer, CDG,…) reaaly fits my brief! February 21, 2011 at 6:49am Reply

  • Olfactoria: This was my first SSS perfume too. You describe it so perfectly. Along with Tauer’s this is my favorite incense. I also love the affordability of SSS, truly a line worth looking into more deeply for me. February 21, 2011 at 4:14am Reply

  • Suzanne: I love your review of Incense Pure, which makes me want to wear it today. Like you, I also find it a refreshing and uplifting incense, which I think makes it rather unique for this genre of fragrances. And you’re so right about Laurie’s line — all of the fragrances have her very distinct signature and are like a window into her world. February 21, 2011 at 8:05am Reply

  • maggiecat: This is one of my favorite lines, and while I’ve been shying away from incense scents for fear they would be too strong or overpowering, I now feel I must try this one. Thans for the wonderful review. February 21, 2011 at 1:18pm Reply

  • ScentScelf: Big smile, both at you discovering and finding happiness with SSS Incense Pure, but also how we tend to love when others share a love.

    And I am quite attached to Laurie Erickson’s scents; the fact that they are so well done and so affordable is augmented by how open she is and willing to share her creative process. (Have you seen her blog?) It’s a gift, the ability to be a part of the creation, as well as to partake of the creation. February 21, 2011 at 10:09am Reply

  • Victoria: I need to try Tauer’s latest scents, and his Incense sounds particularly appealing. In general, for someone who is looking for something different, these indie lines provide plenty of interesting discoveries. February 21, 2011 at 10:10am Reply

  • Victoria: I have a friend who wears Incense Pure, and she always smells so good whenever I lean in to hug her! It prompted me to discover more of SSS fragrances, and Incense Pure really set me on a fun journey.
    I also find Incense Pure to have an outdoorsy feel, very fresh, crisp, rather than smoldering and heavy. February 21, 2011 at 10:13am Reply

  • Victoria: This is what I loved about the line–being able to smell someone’s unique fingerprint. It is what I miss in big commercial launches, which are often so polished that they lose their connection to the creator. February 21, 2011 at 10:14am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you for pushing me onto this road! Your comments the other week really inspired me to explore this line further, and I am so glad I did. I also love Rose Musc and Vintage Rose, and Fireside Intense is wonderfully compelling for its dramatic, unapologetically smoky darkness.

    I am new to Laurie’s blog, but I am catching up. I agree, it is wonderful when someone is so generous in sharing their knowledge. February 21, 2011 at 10:25am Reply

  • Victoria: While Incense Pure is definitely worth trying, I have a feeling that you are looking for a more blended incense, where the incense note plays a strong supporting (rather than dominant) role. Shaal Nur is exactly what I would have suggested. Perhaps, Serge Lutens Bois Oriental or Cartier L’Heure Defendu?
    Shaal Nur to me is like a fresher Shalimar with an incense note. Incense Pure is more like Comme des Garcons Quarzazate. February 21, 2011 at 10:30am Reply

  • sweetlife: I love your comment about the visible touch of the artist. That’s what we miss most from things (not just perfumes) that have been market-tested to death. February 21, 2011 at 4:20pm Reply

  • Tarleisio: I’m a sucker for incense fragrances, and I try as many of them as I can stand. So, as a huge fan of Andy Tauer’s “Incense Extrème”, it goes without saying I absolutely have to try this one, too! I’ve never tried SSS, so I get the distinct impression I have a lot to look forward to and explore. 😉 February 21, 2011 at 1:07pm Reply

  • Victoria: Several people mentioned that Incense Pure is similar in character to Incense Extreme (which I have not tried yet.) Plus, any incense fiend will find it an interesting discovery.
    I like SSS line overall–interesting, personal collection, lots of explore. February 21, 2011 at 1:33pm Reply

  • Victoria: You are welcome! 🙂 I am a huge incense fan, so whenever there is a new one to explore, I get excited. Incense Pure is definitely not an overpowering fragrance. The incense notes are nicely balanced with the floral and sweet facets. February 21, 2011 at 1:34pm Reply

  • Victoria: I find that such an obvious and coherent touch is rare even among niche lines.
    I am with you, a connection with the creator/artisan is rare in our age of mass-produced everything. Not only fragrance. Which is why I love going to the farmer's markets and such. February 21, 2011 at 5:33pm Reply

  • Marina: I need a healing potion! Sounds very appealing right now. Serenity now! – as they say in Seinfeld. (back to work tomorrow…) February 21, 2011 at 8:14pm Reply

  • Victoria: Good luck! I am sure that you will have a good first week back.
    Incense is always a good fall back option for something calming. February 21, 2011 at 11:10pm Reply

  • shelley: It’s such a treat to read about Laurie Erikson. I’ve enjoyed and admired her fragrances for several years and consider her to be one of the top talents among today’s indie perfumers. February 22, 2011 at 2:22pm Reply

  • Victoria: I am still in the process of sampling, but I really like what I’ve smelled so far. A very memorable collection! February 22, 2011 at 2:50pm Reply

  • kjanicki: This sounds gorgeous. I love incense perfumes, and Avignon is one of my favourites. I’m excited by “natural oakmoss” in the notes list as well. February 22, 2011 at 4:47pm Reply

  • Victoria: It definitely has a nice cool mossy note, which I love. In general, incense perfumes can be quite one-dimensional, but I was pleased to find more facets in this one. February 22, 2011 at 5:12pm Reply

  • Dionne: Last summer when I was first sampling Laurie’s line, I happened to wear Incense Pure the first day we travelled into our local bit of the Canadian Rockies to do some camping. Imagine my surprise and delight to find that Incense Pure was the wonderful, refreshing scent of the spot where we camped (the fresh air of the mountains with wind blowing through a pine forest so aromatic it’s almost sweet)amped up a level on my skin. If Laurie lived a bit further north, I would’ve suggested she name the scent “Kananaskis.” No surprise I own a bottle now. 😉 February 23, 2011 at 8:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love this story! Dionne, I can definitely see that. Incense Pure also takes me outdoors, there is a beautiful fresh note in it that works well with the dark incense accord. February 23, 2011 at 9:37pm Reply

  • LostArgonaut: I’m very tempted to try one of the SSS fragrances! What would you have recommended among Sonoma’s creations for a member of the masculine audience? Something bold, dark and works for any season of the year? March 10, 2011 at 4:27pm Reply

  • LostArgonaut: thanks, Victoria, i’ll try your choice. They all seem to come in extrait de parfum. March 10, 2011 at 10:11pm Reply

  • Victoria: Fireside and Incense Pure would be my top choices. Also, Tabac Aurea is a good choice. Incense Pure is still my favorite though. March 10, 2011 at 8:08pm Reply

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