Smoke and Fire : Spellbinding Dark Perfumes

The smoky aromas of bonfires, roasted chestnuts, frankincense and lapsang souchong tea are among the most complex, and I know quite a few individuals who fantasize about a fragrance that smells like a smoky charcoal-grilled steak. There is a difference, however, between enjoying a scent in its proper context – charred ribeye at a barbecue or burning leaves in an autumnal park – and wearing a fragrance that reprises such odors. For this reason, perfumery interpretations of smoke tend to blend it into a more familiar setting of woods, spices and resins. In my FT Magazine column, Smoky Perfumes, I explore how smoky notes are used in fragrance and what effects they produce.

One of the best introductions to a smoky perfume is L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Passage d’Enfer (£105 for 100ml EDT). Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti is known for her ability to create olfactory watercolours – airy, transparent compositions. Passage d’Enfer combines lilies and incense, filling the spaces between the white, cool petals with smoke. Giacobetti’s touch is light, and the perfume remains soft and radiant, from the smoky opening to the vanilla- and cedarwood-accented drydown. To continue reading, please click here.

What about you? Do you find smoky fragrances appealing?

Image via FT HTSI



  • Danaki: Quite right V! My current ‘smoke’ obsession is Lush’s All Good Things. It is a playful and fun take on bonfire. February 11, 2019 at 8:24am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a good option for those who want smoky and yet not too dark and sharp. February 11, 2019 at 3:02pm Reply

  • Nora Sz.: Hi Victoria and perfume lovers,
    Great recommendations.
    I just bought Dark Lord by Kilian and it does smell smoky. So much so that my boyfriend commented that I smelled like a pub. Oh well. I wear it to myself from now on I guess.
    Passage d’Enfer is a light option that I love to wear in the office as well. February 11, 2019 at 9:36am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve only smelled it on paper, but Dark Lord was one of my intense smoky contenders. February 11, 2019 at 3:03pm Reply

  • Nora Sz.: And I enjoy Habanita cologne immensly. Sheerer than the original but still has a smoky character. February 11, 2019 at 9:37am Reply

  • Debi Sen Gupta: I have used Jo loves smoked plum and I just love it. Can be an acquired taste though as the smoke note is very heavy February 11, 2019 at 9:46am Reply

    • Victoria: The drydown is very polished though. February 11, 2019 at 3:03pm Reply

  • Ann: Interesting article. I’ll have to revisit Shalimar with a nose out for smoke…I haven’t smelled Habanita yet.

    I sampled The Different Company Santo Incienso just the other day and thought it was very nice. February 11, 2019 at 10:18am Reply

    • Victoria: I still haven’t tried that Diptyque, but it does sound good. February 11, 2019 at 3:04pm Reply

  • Mel: Smoke (and incense) is my favorite category of scent!!! I have to give a shout out to a perfume I discovered in Tucson. Incendo by La Curie makes you feel like the tail end of a desert bonfire kindled by purple sage and fir needles! I’m with Nora on Passage d’Enfer – it’s a great “light option” but it also burns out on me fairly quickly. Looking forward to trying Jo Loves Smoked Plum! Great article, V!!! February 11, 2019 at 1:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: I was just thinking that Eau d’Italie Sienne en Hiver might be a good delicately smoky perfume. But Passage d’Enfer is a classic, one might say. February 11, 2019 at 3:06pm Reply

  • Bill: I’ve come to realise that I love smoke but only in a well-blended proper “perfume-y” context, like Shalimar, Habanita, Cuir de Russie. I’ve recently tried a couple smoke perfumes which are just plain smokey and nothing else (Hiram Green Hyde and Zoologist T-Rex) and I really disliked them. I guess finally I don’t want myself to smell like something burning. February 11, 2019 at 3:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: I usually prefer smoke mixed with something else, flowers, woods, spice, which makes it softer and less alarming. February 12, 2019 at 9:59am Reply

    • OtherWise: Hyde and T-Rex are also examples that have challenged my smokey tolerance. These have a BBQ/steak sauce note in common, I think, that both draws me in and repels me. I now love Hyde and enjoy T-Rex partly because, for me, the odd openings set the beautiful dry-downs in sharper relief. February 13, 2019 at 7:45am Reply

  • Andy: Bois d’Ascèse is a good one! It brought to mind what flames might smell like, because it felt so brightly ablaze. Smell Bent did an unusual smoke scent called The Fall which had an outdoorsy smoke odor, a little hard for me to wear, but interesting. My main smokey “perfume” is Lapsang Souchong; if I have it to-go in my travel cup, passerby comment–“what’s that burning smell?” February 11, 2019 at 3:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: I can’t get enough of those kind of smoky notes, especially in teas. 🙂 February 12, 2019 at 9:57am Reply

  • Nina Zolotow: How about Le Labo Patchouli 24? To me it smells like a burning wood fire, softened with a sweet vanilla base. I love to sniff it but to be honest I don’t wear it very often. Probably smoky fragrances are not my thing, though I love incense notes. February 11, 2019 at 7:51pm Reply

    • Victoria: I think that it’s a great option. Smoky but not too much, especially in the finish. February 12, 2019 at 9:56am Reply

  • Muriel: Hey Victoria and all, a few months ago I went to a BBQ restaurant in Brussels (Holy Smoke). I’ve lived in North Carolina for 3 years and it was a nice way to remember the great time we had over there. The place is obviously very smoky and when we got out, we were all smelling of smoke and I must say, I loved the mix it made with the perfume I was wearing (Bois Iridescent). I loved it so much, that I was reminded of your earlier review of Comme les Garçons Black and I ordered a sample. There as well I love the dryness of the smoke and the peps of the pepper and find the drydown very tender indeed. February 12, 2019 at 7:48am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy to hear that you liked Black! I must say that the opening is more outrageous than the drydown, and it’s worth waiting for it.

      The restaurant does sound great. I lived in NC for some years, by the way. February 12, 2019 at 9:55am Reply

      • Muriel: Where were you in NC? We were in Charlotte and really enjoyed it a lot! So different from Brussels, and therefore enjoyable for totally different reasons 😉
        The restaurant is really nice, be prepared for meat! we are no big meat eaters, so sharing a plate was more than enough, but it’s really good!
        And as far as Black goes, I haven’t put it on my skin yet… I move very slowly with perfumes… but it makes me think of a sawmill and I think I could wear it for an evening out… February 13, 2019 at 4:05am Reply

        • Victoria: I was in Durham, which to be honest, I didn’t like at all. Charlotte, on the other hand, was another story. It had a much nicer ambiance.

          Try Black on fabric, if you’re reluctant to put it on skin. It diffuses so well on a scarf! February 15, 2019 at 5:47am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Charred ribeye at a barbecue—I’ve got one great contender for that: the attar Al Shomoukh by Amouage. It’s quite ghastly actually (pitch, tar, charcoal, and deep somewhere a smidgen of rose).
    I am so-so as far as smokey scents are concerned. Cuir de Russie, Jolie Madame, some newer scents. It’s fun in the beginning but I seem to tire of them rather quickly. Then at some point, it’s just too much and I want the scent gone. February 12, 2019 at 4:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: Too much smoke can be indeed tiring. Al Shomoukh is a good illustration of that. And then it stuck like tar to skin, which would have been a good thing had I liked it. February 15, 2019 at 5:49am Reply

  • Aurora: I had no idea there were so many smoky perfumes. I was so pleased to see Habanita mentioned in your article, I have a small bottle (the modern one as I’ve never smelled the vintage), it is powder and smoke to me. I will add Rouge Bunny Rouge Embers, do you know it Victoria? I found it easy to love with its balsamic notes when I tried it. Smoky perfumes are intriguing and yes to smoke in teas. February 17, 2019 at 3:46am Reply

  • Sephora Couturier: Interesting recommendations. I have been using Le Labo Patchouli 24 and I’m lovin’ it. March 27, 2019 at 11:37am Reply

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