Fragrance for a Gold Autumn

One of the most interesting principles in Japanese garden design is the idea of borrowed scenery, shakkei. Using existing landscape elements—distant mountains, ponds, and neighboring structures, a creator would plan the garden in such a way as to incorporate the surroundings into her composition and create her personal vision of nature. Perfumery is generally more about artifice and fantasy, but as summer fades, I too become inspired to borrow autumnal scenery for my fragrant accompaniment. My perfume choices become led by the scents of fall.

Even in the deodorized urban environment, autumn is a fragrant season. The moment that leaves start to fall, the air is filled with a mellow sweetness reminiscent of walnut shelves and faded leather. On my way to the metro, I take a roundabout way through a park, kicking the golden leaves and glossy chestnuts with the tip of my boots. On my scarf I carry Serge Lutens’s Chypre Rouge, a perfume that smells of maple syrup and bittersweet moss. Or I might select the delicate Bulgari Eau Parfumée Au Thé Rouge, an infusion of tea, ripe figs and maple leaves.

The Belgian autumn is an etude in gold and grey, and as the rains descend, an earthy, damp scent becomes an ever-present leitmotif. An old favorite for such days is Etro’s Messe et Minuit. It evokes damp stones, wet paper, mossy bark, a strange but beguiling combination. Messe et Minuit is a perfume to wear for oneself, for walks in the autumnal drizzle or for evenings by the fireplace.

Tender and wistful, Dusita’s Issara is another perfect companion for the grey days of fall. Dusita’s creator, Pissara Umavijani, wanted to pay homage to her father, a renowned Thai poet Montri Umavijani. Issara is her olfactory poem, a juxtaposition of lavender and vetiver, leather bindings and roasted hazelnuts, antique woods and musky mosses. Perhaps I’m reading some of my own visions into it, but a good perfume should inspire reveries and fantasies, and Issara certainly does that.

Another element of my autumn is the green scent of chrysanthemums. Florists around the city set out buckets filled with variegated curly mops, and the spicy, dense aroma lingers in the street. I too borrow it, and when I wear the chrysanthemum inflected Chanel Bel Respiro, the fragrance of real chrysanthemums seems even more vivid. Another perfume with a similar effect is Serge Lutens’s De Profundis, a composition that oscillates from incense ashes to bitter flowers. It’s a fragrance with a melancholy, pensive character that occasionally can be too brooding. But in the autumn it feels exactly right for it’s the season that inspired the Japanese poet Buson to write:

Utter solitude – fine! –
still another pleasure
of autumn twilight.

What are your favorite autumnal fragrances?

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31 Comments

  • Alexa G: For me, when the weather turns I reach for Vol de Nuit extrait – it’s so melancholic and beautiful to me. Sad it’s so hard to find these days! October 16, 2023 at 9:07am Reply

    • Victoria: One of my own favorites. October 16, 2023 at 9:51am Reply

    • Kate: Oh! My !
      Vol de Nuit ..
      Ahhhh ~ yes , beautiful and melancholic..
      Smiling as I write this ..
      Thank you! October 17, 2023 at 7:22am Reply

  • Laura: Autumn has many facets. We’ve had really warm days, drenched in sunshine, perfect for an optimist aroma such as Juliette Has a Gun’s Sunny Side Up. Then comes the first bite of autumn chill, perfect for Rose Barbare (from Guerlain’s collection L’Art Et La Matiere). The pleasure of wearing something leather again invites thoughts of La Bottega Veneta (or Armani Cuir Amethyste). For even colder days and as Halloween aproaches the mysterious Feminite du Bois beckons (although I’ve noticed the new formulation is a tad less mysterious). And for a whiff of incense, YSL Nu is just about perfect. October 16, 2023 at 9:26am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re right about autumn being multifaceted. That’s one of the reasons I like it. October 16, 2023 at 9:51am Reply

    • Ruth: Laura, I too love Bottega Veneta in fall and I am hoarding the final 1/8th of the bottle I have. It seems it has been discontinued, as I can’t find it anywhere. So, I am looking for a leather as refined and elegant.
      How would you describe Armani Cuir Amethyste in comparison? October 21, 2023 at 2:38pm Reply

      • Laura: Hi Ruth, I found Cuir Amethyste to be almost a dupe (albeit at double the price) of Bottega Veneta. The fruitiness in the first notes is a bit boozier, the apricot in Bottega being replaced by a plum-in-brandy accent I did not find in the notes but my nose interprets it as such. The Armani niche also features Cuir Noir, a newer fragrance, a bit more austere than Cuir Amethyste. I only smelled it in passing and I thought I detected an incense vibe. Another great option is from the niche line of YSL – Le Vestiaire des Parfums the fragrance is called Wild Leather. This one is very potent and more woody than Bottega Veneta, but really sophisticated and fascinating especially in the cold season. If you want a really similar fragrance go for Cuir Amethyste. October 21, 2023 at 4:28pm Reply

  • Vincent: In Autumn I usually crave woody fragrances, dry in the beginning of the season and more warm as the weather gets more and more chill.
    A fragrance that works great all throughout the season for me is Tempo by Diptyque. October 16, 2023 at 9:26am Reply

    • Victoria: Such a well crafted perfume. October 16, 2023 at 9:52am Reply

  • Perfumatrix: For sunny autumn days, I like Mitsouko or Ambre Narguile. Also golden ambery vanillas like MFK’s Grand Soir, or the heavily-spiced chypre by Sisley, Soir d’Orient (the most recent of their three “Soir”-themed chypres, along with Eau du Soir and Soir de Lune). For more overcast, iron-grey days, I reach for honey scents, such as Sartorial by Penhaligons, or warming anise, like Fou d’Absinthe by L’Artisan or L’Heure Verte by Kilian Paris. For crisp autumn nights, Lune Feline by Atelier des Ors, or a smoky vanilla such as Babycat by YSL, Vanille 44 by Le Labo, or Sultan by Royal Crown. October 16, 2023 at 9:27am Reply

  • Alityke: Serge Lutens created some of the greatest autumnal scents. Arabie, it’s dried fruit & spice celebrates extending the gifts of late summer bounty. Boxeuses, her plummy leather becomes a personal force field against the nip in the air. Finally, Un Bois de Vanille, smoky unsweetened vanilla woods is the perfect accompaniment to those golden & red fallen leaves. October 16, 2023 at 9:48am Reply

    • Victoria: I need to revisit Arabie, since it’s been too long. It’s perfect for these cold days. October 16, 2023 at 9:53am Reply

  • PrincessTonk: I am transfixed once again by the cadence, colors and sounds of your words and observations.
    For years your inspirations and mentions have guided and inspired me from my lone bottles of Bulgari and errant Hermes to hundreds of members of my scent and bottle family encased in a beautiful glass home that calls to me every day.
    Who ever thought that reading words describing scents could evoke such desire? And you are still there.
    Thank you Victoria. October 16, 2023 at 9:59am Reply

  • Hamamelis: Like Alexa, Vol de Nuit extrait fits perfectly for Autumn. Neela Vermeire’s Ashoka and Mohur fit the mellow light and colder temps, as well as Hiram Green’s Slowdive and Arbole Arbole.
    I used to wear Bulgari’s au The rouge pre-perfumista days, I am sorry it has been discontinued now. It is a lovely scent and fitting the red turning leaves! October 16, 2023 at 10:01am Reply

  • SoSuSam: I live in northern New England in the US, and autumn here gets cold very quickly–which means everyone starts using their fireplaces and woodsmoke fills the air. Just last night, my partner and I bundled up in down coats and hats and mittens and everything else we could find, and sat in the dark and looked up at the stars as we smelled the wonderful aroma of woodsmoke coming from nearby houses. Because of that, I associate autumn with smoky (and even tobacco-y) scents, my favorite being SL Chergui. A surprise for this year is that I’ve also been enjoying Mona di Orio’s Violette Fumee. I usually love that in the spring because it’s green and herbaceous and violet-y, which is welcome after winter. But the smoky aspect is working for me this fall. It also has a melancholy element, a coolness like stones and an undercurrent of mossiness, that works well in autumn. October 16, 2023 at 10:19am Reply

  • Klaas: Oh, beautiful Vol de Nuit! I agree it’s the perfect choice for the darker months.

    But then…..Olfactive Studio will be launching a smokey tea fragrance created by Marc-Antoine Cortecchiato. This could be very good also, I can’t wait to smell it.

    Another autumn favorite is Black by Comme des Garçons! October 16, 2023 at 12:21pm Reply

  • April: Sonoma scent studio- fig tree, perfect transition of summer to fall. Fig leaves not the fruit. And Sonoma scent studio- cocoa sandalwood. I love this time of year and enjoying all of these suggestions. Going to order some decants October 16, 2023 at 1:27pm Reply

  • Lari: Sonoma scent studio- fig tree, perfect transition of summer to fall. Fig leaves not the fruit. And Sonoma scent studio- cocoa sandalwood. I love this time of year and enjoying all of these suggestions. Going to order some decants October 16, 2023 at 1:27pm Reply

    • Lari: sorry, when i submitted it said its a repeat. It wasn’t so i tried again. Apologies. Im about to order Vol de Nuit and a few other suggestions ias decants. Looking forward to receiving! October 16, 2023 at 8:52pm Reply

  • Lari: I love this time of year and enjoying all of these suggestions. Going to order some decants! Mine- fig tree ( leaves and wood not fruit) and cocoa sandalwood by Sonoma scent studio. Thinking about them is taking the chill out of air in my apt October 16, 2023 at 1:30pm Reply

  • Emily: Ormonde Woman, Rania J’s Ambre Loup, & Papillon’s Anubis are autumnal favorites that follow the leaves from green to gold to burgundy. Living just south of Woodstock, Lutens’ Borneo 1834 & Mazzolari’s ambery Patchouli are also required. On foggy days Andrea Maack’s Coven & Oriza L. Legrand’s Relique d’Amour are particularly entrancing. October 16, 2023 at 3:18pm Reply

    • Emily: Also just got a decant of Fillippo Sorcinelli’s Contre Bombarde 32, & o my. Meant to evoke the pews at Notre Dame, where centuries of incense have caramelized the wood. A divine addition to the autumnal collection. October 16, 2023 at 3:56pm Reply

    • Alexa G: Ormond Jane Woman is a brilliant autumn scent! October 16, 2023 at 6:49pm Reply

  • Trudy: I normally lean toward floral and citrus notes. I’m not that familiar with might be considered more sophisticated notes such as leather, tobacco and the like. However, I recently received a sample of a new EDP called Room 302 by Victoria Beckham. I looked up the perfumer who is Jerome Epinette.
    Let me say that I don’t usually go in for celebrity fragrances but bear with me on this. Upon the first spray my impression was a little sweet but not too sweet, rich and familiar somehow. Seemed well suited for fall/winter. About an hour later….wow. The fantasy started…..I was getting expensive leather (a very elegant handbag, jacket or seats in a gorgeous car) mixed with cigar or cigarette smoke in the distance. This reminds me of something you would wear to a club or on a special night out. I really like it. It is such a departure from anything I’ve ever worn but it has peaked my curiosity to explore these notes and expand my horizons. Not sure if a fb is in my future but we will see. October 16, 2023 at 3:30pm Reply

  • Satsukibare: October in Tokyo is full of warm, sunny days and just now the osmanthus trees (kinmokusei in Japanese) are in fragrant bloom. So I’m wearing Hermes Osmanthe Yunnan to carry the scent with me through the day. October 16, 2023 at 4:35pm Reply

    • Kate: I love , love kinmokusei ..
      It brings me joy and comfort-
      And … memories..

      ありがとうございます.. for Hermes
      Osmanthe Yuunan .
      On my wishlist. October 17, 2023 at 7:30am Reply

  • N: Some of my favorite autumnal fragrances are those that evoke warmth or comfort. This year for warm and spicy I’ve been wearing Jo Malone Ginger Biscuit because I want to smell like gingerbread. I also have been wearing Jo Malone Blackberry and Bay which I wear practically every evening in the fall because it is comforting to me. It reminds me of wild blackberry picking as a child. For something extra once in a while I’ll wear Maison Francis Kurkdjian Grand Soir for the very warm and rich amber and benzoin notes. October 16, 2023 at 4:54pm Reply

  • Kate: I love , love kinmokusei ..
    It brings me joy and comfort-
    And … memories..

    ありがとうございます.. for Hermes
    Osmanthe Yuunan .
    On my wishlist. October 17, 2023 at 7:33am Reply

  • Maria Perry: This last week was so cold in Berlin (at least for me) that I found comfort in using Replica’s By the Fireplace (Maison Margiela), sometimes layered with Zara’s Sand Desert at Sunset. Encens Suave by Matiere Premiere is also a favourite this time of the year, with a nice vanilic churchy incense. October 19, 2023 at 5:09am Reply

  • Deanna: Has to be Caravanserail by NICOLAI! October 21, 2023 at 12:59pm Reply

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