ARE YOU STUMPED?
The great outdoors. Where would we be without the majestic tree, they shade us in the heat, naturally filter and oxygenate the air we breathe, and in this case draw both resinous and balsamic qualities into the world of fragrance. Whether its cedar, pine, fir, oak, palo santo, maple, hinoki, birch, aquilaria, royal empress – the flowers they produce, the sap that is tapped, the bark and branch. The fragrances that I am discussing today were released anywhere from 2006 to present day, and all are still on the market. Woody notes are a staple in perfumery, and here are eleven that reference the world around us.
Ambre Loup (Rania J, 2012): Starting things off is the evocative, spicy and distinguished perfume. It’s an Oriental that is wood-forward, in particular cedar and agarwood. This has some incredible spices like clove that keeps it feeling cool and once-removed. This blend also incorporates something akin to an animalic accord as well as both guaiac and peru balsam only aiding and abetting its already delightful soft woody finish. They say: “Amber vibrates on the skin like a heartbeat with labdanum, vanilla, tonka bean, agarwood, and vetiver. A warm fragrance, sensual and mysterious.” To my nose, even though there are no notes to indicate it, there is a slight post-bourbon boozy/soft smoke quality, like the rim of a shot glass, a sweet thin residue. The balsamic quality is undeniable and desirable. A gorgeous unisex fragrance that may only slightly lean toward the masculine side of the spectrum. To be worn in the cooler months to take the edge off! (86%)
Boreal (Curioso, 2017): This is from Erin Fraser’s line of botanical natural perfumes out of Nashville. She says about this fragrance: “A portrait of a quiet forest walk at twilight. Sweet fir absolute whispers across a violet bed of orris butter with hints of champaca. Clementine adds lightness while frankincense grounds the mood. Meditative, introverted, dusky.” I say, get your nose on it ASAP. This is a wondrous amalgamation of evergreen and citrus, unlike any other I’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to. It’s got both a tangy and balsamic set of features that seem to work hand in hand. It’s higher toned than most woodsy type fragrances and this is scaled nicely by the lighter tea notes of champaca which help to flesh out something richer and slightly more grounded than the treetops. It’s a disciplined work with numerous layers which is most impactful after about 15 minutes of wearing. This will adapt to your skin nicely as it warms, creating an introspective cocoon of sorts. (84%)
Bowmakers (D.S. & Durga, 2013): This is a peppery resin fragrance with distinctive notes of fresh wood shavings. This has a dynamic wow factor, especially for those who can appreciate low-lying smoky tonalities and something that smells as if it washed up along shore. It’s an open air scent of spiced evergreens and even scarce mahogany, which I grew up respecting for its rare qualities. This is a serious find for me as I feel as if I am coming home to New England. It’s elegant but not beyond the pale. Pale it is not. There are, in fact, several woods (pine, cedar, cypress, maple, etc.) that make this blend so magical, and if you’ve ever been to a carpenter or woodworker’s studio you will understand readily. Easily one of the more refined and wood-forward in this larger selection. The story behind the singular fragrance discusses the Pioneer valley and its violin makers. The romance is in the music that this brings to my nasal cavity in this artful sensory work. (91%)
Eaglewood (House of Matriarch, 2011): This is the tenth anniversary of an all-natural extrait celebrating sustainable oud (agarwood) referred to here as “the real deal”. Aside from this enigmatic fluid form House of Matriarch also offers incense cones of this one. Warm and compelling it’s as if the smaller branches, like fingers are reaching out to find a better relationship with us earth dwellers. It’s mother nature calling in a voice of kindred spirits to find more harmonious ways with all in our path. To me, the whole evolution of agarwood is completely mystifying in how you can take something natural, that is suffering from infection, and cultivate it in such a way where it comes out the other side to optimally inspire the senses. For something usually quite dark and resinous, this is sweet and light-filled, in hues of golds and warm bronze. It’s such a refined oud, an open channel. (87%)
Encre Noir (Lalique, 2006): Honestly, I didn’t think I’d ever get to a staple in my personal arsenal, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to look at this Nathalie Lorson brilliant stroke amid this grouping. The iconic woods are cypress and cashmere, and once this takes hold, oh, it’s on! It comes on rather like a green aromatic scent at first with a twinge of vetiver, but that delightful opening turns into the deeper forest in the mid, bringing along with is a notable cascade of warm welcoming woody accords. Simply said, “An iconic black bottle, showcasing dark, woody vetyver, the most sophisticated masculine note.” The vetiver warms into something akin to a near cannabis feel, or perhaps the overall infusion of notes just make for an elixir for your psyche. This has stood the test of time for good reason, its casual and sensual and rouses a bit of taboo. Woody, musky, resinous divine intervention. (89%)
Idyllwild (Ineke, 2015): Deep into the woods where the aromatics are cut away from the light and nose pollution of the city comes a blend that completes a fully realized image of forest or jungle. There are bright citrus embedded in this bright work so perfectly paired with evergreen accords making for this minimalist ombre pattern in vivid shades of lemons and heightened greens. Though spices play co-star its the way the juicy fruits enhance the cypress, pine and fir trees making their atypical resinous features just pop out loud. It’s actually dedicated to a small mountain town in California where it is said: “Wildcrafted sagebrush from Big Sur and Monterey cypress oil capture the aromas that waft through open windows as you drive along the coast. Cypriol and oud contribute a campfire note.” This perfume really transports you, and heightens the experience along the way. This is for the adventurous hiker in you. (88%)
Incense Extreme (Tauer, 2007): Your dream is an open door in this fragrance. It’s a bit breezier than the usual Tauer potion. More powdery than the others here in terms of its delivery of field n’ stream, yet no less provocative. This presents more like the pages from a book than the tree trunks from where they came. Cedar is the heart here. The bi-products of these rooted wonders are as celebrated: the amber resin, the pulp, the overall air of saplings to topiaries to the tallest timber. Tauer says: “It is translucent like the first whiff of incense smoke from Boswellia resin on red gleaming coal. Yet, it is crisp like a night in the desert.” There is a mentholated sensation in the air, something slightly medicinal, terpene-like. The incense can get intense, depending on your capacity for moving into a meditative state. It builds even into the dry down: aromatic, deep and a bit isolated. (81%)
Maitre Jardinier (Extrait d’Atelier, 2019): The green leafy things making passage in this fragrance are the full house of cedar, fir, juniper, pine and laurel. Up at the top you experience some delightfully ripe oranges, and once they begin to roll on, a whole host of thunderous and deep-rooted woodlands begin to surround the wearer. This house intrigues me, and this fragrance is my fave from the house thus far in my so-called ‘journey’. Packed with hi-n-lo tones this is a Libran’s delight. There’s almost something minty embedded in here somewhere – bringing the freshness, that may be the juniper which is a much under-realized note in all of perfumery me thinks. Illuminated by mystery and majesty this gardener needs far more than a simple watering can to keep these roots at bay. A spirited fragrance that goes delightfully dim and introverted as it warms. Take this path. (88%)
Bojnokopff (Fort & Manle, 2016): A trio of woods, a creamy gourmand swirl with a green twist. An unexpected approach to the enchanted forest for sure. They describe it as something Houdini-adjacent: “My most elaborate feat of illusion, which had astounded and enthralled viewers…Hastily filling my grand, purple suede top hat with the finest French lavender, vanilla and lashings of rich Belgian chocolate, creating a small explosion, resulting in a thick plume of white smoke.” It’s a steeped tincture of vanilla bean with shades of light medicinal qualities (w/gauze) at first – and the pulsation of resin, and of its signature cedar. This mellows out really nicely after just two or three minutes. This fragrance must be on skin to best discern the undulating, indulgent milk chocolate accord. I’m thinking of a lavish sweet breakfast with powdered maple spirits served upon elegant antique furniture. I’m getting sleepy, very sleepy, the lavender must’ve kicked in belatedly. PS: It grows into a wonderful warm down crescendo. (85%).
Santal Auster (Maher Olfactive, 2020): I’m always looking for the ‘just right’ sandalwood fragrance (mysore herein), and by Mr. Maher adding oud, well now you got my attention. This doesn’t disappoint, it’s quite yummy, the patchouli in this is slightly of a bourbon accord or something aged/fermented like a hard cider. Then you get this creamy/animalic combo as well. It’s strange at first, but the more I spend time with it, the more I’m induced by its shocking new combo for my senses. This is high-pitched for the first while, and pleasingly so. It’s not the softer side of sandalwood immediately. But stick around. There’s a freshness to this without the easy-to-reach green notes, and there’s this liqueur-like quality that comes off viscous but not overtly heavy – more like one of those super dark amber maple syrups from Vermont. In the description is reads: “Supporting this sandalwood accord are precious ceremonial oils from the Far East, the types of oils that would be used to anoint royalty” and I get that, I do. (89%)
Serin (January Scent Project, 2019): How gentle can a perfume get and still take you aback? Well, this one goes deeply into the psyche of flora and fauna, in particular the oft irritating essence of the lowly marigold. But not here, somehow, some way he’s given this lil’ yellow flower new life but putting in directly in a natural setting. I get ripe tomatoes and wildflowers, I get earthy woody notes and almost a candied citrus. It’s not ‘necessarily’ a wood-forward fragrance, but I wanted to include it as reference to the way bark and branch can otherwise influence the star of a fragrance by playing a lesser role. For me there is this almost cheshire-like subliminal push/pull quality to this perfume. I can most definitely say, being one who has clearly been poker-faced in regards to this harmless flower which wards pests, that this is an ingenious reimagining of late Spring/early Summer when the nature once again takes over and shows itself. (85%)