Incense perfumes seem to be the dividing line between true perfume enthusiasts and everyone else. For the great majority of the public, incense perfumes smell like Church- especially if they are Catholic- and, curiously, seem to have otherworldly associations even for people who are not religiously affiliated.
Frankincense is in the vanguard in this perfumed assault on heaven, although I find in reading the notes that one perfume on my list contains no frankincense. This is Andy Tauer’s L’Air du Desert Marrocain. It does have everything else that he could crowd into a sacred conference room: coriander, petitgrain, lemon, bergamot, jasmine, cistus, geranium, cedar, vetiver, vanilla, patchouli and ambergris. Wow. I could swear that was frankincense in there out-whiffing everybody else – but no havana.
The effect is like something being burned in a cathedral, and wafting in serpentine plumes above the heads of the congregation. I would never have the hair to wear such a fragrance. It smells like something the pope should wear. It is also tremendously dry – hence the name, I guess.
Second comes Sonoma Scent Studios Incense Pure. A disclaimer here. I would have preferred to discuss the likely inspiration for this scent, Creed’s Angelique Encens, but it is no longer widely available and the price point at which it is available doesn’t make it a practical subject.
Nevertheless, Incense Pure does notably contain frankincense, and every other note in the perfume is subordinated to it. There is myrrh, cistus, labdanum, sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss, angelica, orris, and vanilla but the effect, first and last, is frankincense. It comes across paradoxically as slightly less ecclesiastical than the Tauer perfume, and does recall Angelique Encens, but it is longer lasting and somewhat louder in tone than the Creed original.
Lastly, there is Guerlain’s Bois d’Armenie. This one was not initially my favorite. I thought it had perhaps subverted its incense for pecuniary reasons, but its notes suggest otherwise. There is the same lineup of fixatives: olibanum, orris, guaiac, benzoin, balsam, patchouli, pink pepper, and coriander. It is also the most discreet and the most wearable of these three perfumes. So I find myself admitting that if it came to a matter of wearing one of these, I’d plump for the Guerlain.
But can frivolous people wear these kinds of perfume? Somehow I doubt it.