incense: 24 posts

Three Crisp and Bright Incense Perfumes

Frankincense, the subject of my recent article and video, is on my mind again. Today I would like to reply to a request for fresh and bright incense fragrances that can be worn during warm weather.

Frankincense is a chameleon of a note, and it can evoke different impressions depending on what other ingredients are used in a composition. In general, if you’re looking for a fresh incense blend, consider fragrances with green, leafy and citrus notes. If you’re after a dark, smoky incense, search for notes like benzoin, tonka bean, Peru balsam, amber and guaiacwood.

Fragrances mentioned in the video:

Aedes de Venustas Copal Azur

Comme des Garçons Zagorsk

Hermès Un Jardin sur le Nil

More on the subject of incense: why the supplies of frankincense are fragile and which brands source sustainably.

What unconventional fragrances do you prefer during summer? What are your favorite incense perfumes?

Why Frankincense Is On The Verge of Disappearing

Incense is one of my favorite notes, whether it’s the classical frankincense (olibanum) or the blends meant to evoke the aroma of Japanese or Indian powders and joss sticks. I will eventually cover the different notes that convey an incense-like effect, but today I will start with frankincense. It’s an iconic ingredient, and in perfumery if you see incense mentioned in a fragrance pyramid, it’s often frankincense. Another reason I would like to start my incense series with frankincense is that it’s an ingredient under threat.

Frankincense is obtained from about five species of Boswellia trees found in North Africa, Western Africa, India, Oman, and Yemen. Centuries before oil became the source of Oman’s wealth, frankincense was its true gold. In order to collect frankincense, harvesters make incisions in the trunks of the trees. The oozing sap eventually hardens and is gathered in pellets. Men typically gather the resin, while women clean it and sort the so-called frankincense tears by size. In my film, I described the danger of frankincense harvesting, since the trees grow on hard-t0-access cliffs.

In Somalia, trees have always been highly valued and the groves were local property, passed down within clans. Trees were tapped only after they were at least 12 years old and the harvest would be rotated to give the plants time to heal. However, armed conflicts and rising demand for the resin collided to create conditions for overharvesting.

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Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

Gold, frankincense and myrrh have been venerated since antiquity and their importance often exceeded their monetary value. Many know the Biblical story of the adoration of the Magi, but you can find mentions of these materials interspersed in Hindu, Islamic and Judaic texts. Since perfumery reflects trends in art, fashion, and society at large, I have always wanted to explore the three gifts of the Magi in the context of fragrance. I thought that it would be a fascinating exercise.

While the value of gold may be self-evident, its ability to hypnotize and dazzle is even more prized. The pursuit of such an irresistible sensation has deeply influenced perfumery, despite the fact that gold does not have an obvious olfactory profile. After all, just as gold is an exquisite adornment, so too is perfume.  Although every perfumer might interpret the gilded idea differently, many gold fantasy accords fall in the realm of rich oriental notes—spice, amber, balsam, tobacco, vanilla.

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Crisp Summer Fragrances : Not Colognes

As much as I love colognes and find them refreshing on a hot day, sometimes I want to mix things up. After all, citrus is not the only thing that feels cool and uplifting. This is the topic of my recent FT magazine article, Summer scents that are crisp, cool – and rather unexpected.

Even more unusual, however, is the coolness suggested by myrrh, a rich and complex ingredient hinting at liquorice, driftwood and green sap. In ancient times, it was burned as incense, added to wine as a digestive or blended into perfumes to give them a lingering, suave finish. The latter is the reason I seek out myrrh-based fragrances; they are at once velvety and cool – the most intriguing of contrasts. One of the best examples is Serge Lutens’ La Myrrhe (£170 for 70ml EDP), a languid rose, smothered in myrrh and bitter almond. The champagne-like effervescence of aldehydes, the aromatic compounds found in rose petals and orange peel, lights up the composition. To continue reading, please click here.

What perfumes are you currently wearing and what is your fragrance today?

Image via FT

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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