incense: 20 posts

On the Japanese Incense Trail with a Paris Detour

I’m sitting in front of smoldering joss sticks trying to determine whether they smell of the milky sweetness of sandalwood or the raspy sharpness of cedar. A young woman with a glossy black bob lights one stick after another, blowing each out with a gentle wave of her hand. I’m unused to kneeling for so long, and I feel the crunch of tatami mats through my thin wool trousers. The back of my head throbs slightly from jet lag, and I am being overwhelmed by the size of Tokyo and the strain of trying to remember Japanese covered by layers of other languages I’ve learned since my university days. I also feel anxious that I may not be able to guess the scents correctly, but then I remember my perfumery teacher’s words “don’t think, just smell,” and I let myself go.

I’m inside a Shoyeido incense store hidden in the elegant Aoyama district of Tokyo. Nearby are the glittering avenues of Harajuku, lined with fashion boutiques and populated by some of the most stylish people on the planet, but inside the earth toned store, there is only serenity and incense.

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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

Favorite Summer Perfumes : Around the Fragrance Wheel

A fragrance evoking crushed green leaves, or perhaps a smoked lily. Or a blend that smells of damp wood and moss. For my summer selection this year, I decided to unfold the fragrance wheel and visit 5 of my favorite styles–green, chypre, citrus, white flowers and incense. I wore one type of perfume for several days in a row and below are my discoveries.

Green

I have always thought that my favorite part of the fragrance wheel was the one where the white flowers bloomed in profusion–the tangles of tuberose, the jungles of jasmine, the groves of gardenias. Yet, this year I realized how much I like green scents, from the delicate and fresh Parfums de Nicolaï Temps d’Une Fête to the intensely green Diptyque Eau de Lierre. I can add more to this list:  L’Artisan Parfumeur Violaceum, Tom Ford Vert de Fleur, Annick Goutal Ninfeo Mio, Byredo Green, and Chanel Bel Respiro. One of the new discoveries is Parfums Dusita’s Le Sillage Blanc, a classical mossy chypre with a beautiful green accord.

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Incense and Poetry : Haiku of the Day

The smoke
Is now making
The first sky of the year.

Issa (1763 – 1828), a Japanese poet, whose name means simply “a cup of tea”

You can write about anything you wish in this thread, including your favorite poetry. For those who would like to use the Scent Diary to sharpen their sense of smell, I will give a short explanation. As I wrote in How to Improve Your Sense of Smell, the best way to do so is to smell and to pay attention to what you’re smelling. It doesn’t matter what you smell. The most important thing is to notice scents around you. It’s even better if you write it down. So please share your scents and perfumes with us.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Best Perfumes with Coffee Notes

Merry Christmas! I hope that all of you had a wonderful holiday and are enjoying the seasonal festivities as well as moments of rest with a good book and a cup of tea or coffee. Speaking of which, coffee is the topic of my recent FT column, Perfumes with Coffee Notes. I talk about the reasons why perfumers find this note difficult, how it can be used in fragrances and what perfumes showcase it to its advantage. From Arquiste Nanban to Atelier Cologne Café Tuberosa, I cover my favorite compositions.

“Coffee notes, for all of their complexity and addictive richness, are complicated to use. The solution is to approach coffee notes creatively. Instead of mimicking nature, a perfumer instead might fashion a blend that hints at coffee’s pleasing bitterness and heady richness. Such is Arquiste’s Nanban. The composition uses a plush backdrop of woods to frame the smoky, spicy notes of myrrh and incense, with an accent of coffee to lend the composition a dark, delicious twist. It teases with its smoky, nutty warmth, but keeps its presence mellow behind layers of sandalwood and leather. To continue, please click here.”

As always, I’d love to hear about the coffee perfumes you like.

Image: Atelier Cologne

From the Archives

Latest Comments

  • John Luna in Scent Diary : In Search of Lost Time: There is that wonderful line in the mesmerizing opening sequence of Paolo Sorrentino’s movie, The Great Beauty, when the narrator mentions his childhood fascination with, “the smell of old peoples’… June 19, 2019 at 1:26am

  • Jennifer in Guerlain Jicky : Fragrance Review (New and Vintage): Muriel, I too am answering an old post, but since I have been wearing Jicky since the 1960’s I’m somewhat familiar. Over the years there have been several reformulations. The… June 18, 2019 at 9:12pm

  • delia jean in Scent Diary : In Search of Lost Time: as i read these descriptions, i kept wanting to click a “like” button. thank you June 18, 2019 at 12:09pm

  • Muriel in Scent Diary : In Search of Lost Time: It’s a bit strange, but I have some sharp olfactory memories of my grand-parents’s (and even great-grand-father’s) houses, but not so much of my own childhood house… On my father’s… June 18, 2019 at 8:09am

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