One of the things I like about autumn mornings is the smell of smoke which hangs in the air in a visible haze. Smoke is a longtime part of fragrance. It can often be used poorly overbalancing a composition. Yet when it is used in balance it provides one of the more unique chords in perfumery. Here are five of my favorite smoky perfumes.
The perfume which made me fall in love with fragrant smoke was Tauer Lonestar Memories. It was the third fragrance by Swiss independent perfumer Andy Tauer. It was also after he had become the first independent perfume star due to receiving a 5-star review from Chandler Burr in the NY Times for L’Air du Desert Marocain. Hr. Tauer did what has always made me enjoy independent perfumers he set this anticipated release on fire. This is the figurative campfire scent of the American West. The early moments are the herbal slightly spicy greenness of the prairie. Then the campfire accord is formed around birch tar, labdanum, and leather. This smolders enchantingly before giving way to woody embers of sandalwood, myrrh, vetiver, and cedar. Hr. Tauer has always shown the admirable quality of following his muse; Lonestar Memories laid down an early marker to the truth of that.
My introduction to another independent perfumer was also shrouded in smoke. Olivier Durbano Black Tourmaline was a perfume with a smoky charcoal-like color to the juice. M. Durbano would layer on multiple versions of swirling clouds of smoke. Starting with skirling curls of frankincense swathed in cumin and cardamom. Leading to an intensely smoky heart accord of leather and oud before grounding it all with an earthy patchouli and musk. It was M. Durbano’s third release but it has always been near the top of my personal chart.
One of the few celebrity fragrances which rises to be able to be included on this list is 2nd Cumming. A collaboration between actor Alan Cumming and perfumer Christopher Brosius. Together they made a fragrance of whisky and cigars on the Scottish heath which has a fantastic haze of the peat fires burning. There are amazing fun grace notes to be found throughout like rubber, truffle, and mud but it is the burning peat which makes 2nd Cumming a smoky stunner.
Most smoky perfumes are either cade or leather. Perfumer Mona di Orio chose to use both in her Les Nombres D’Or Cuir. She wisely keeps it simple with a mix of cardamom and wormwood on top providing a twisted absinthe accord. The cade and leather could have become incredibly boisterous but Mme di Orio keeps it all controlled. The animalic is accentuated with castoreum and opoponax in the base. One of Mme di Orio’s best.
Australian designer Naomi Goodsir and her partner Renaud Coutaudier started the Naomi Goodsir brand in 2012 with an example of how to use cade for the smoke effect in Bois D’Ascese. Perfumer Julien Rasquinet leads you to it with a progression of mandarin, tobacco, labdanum, and incense. Then mixing cade with oak he provides a forest fire of charred wood which is gorgeous in its simplicity.
If you want to surround yourself in a smoky veil here are five of my favorite things.
Disclosure: this review was based on bottles I purchased.