The gifts of the three wise men have a long and hallowed history in perfumery. Few ingredients are more romantic and mysterious. Myrrh is a notoriously difficult resin to work with- it is bitter and medicinal, a wonderful antiseptic, in fact. Yet used correctly it adds a grounding balance. Peppery, sweet, and pungent, frankincense absolute is easier to work with, but can easily overwhelm. And gold has recently appeared in the Ormonde Jayne line in the form of gold-dust-spiked body creams. I’ve got a little red velvet bag full of samples of various incense-dominated perfumes that have debuted in the past couple of years. Incense is my favorite scent category, and I’m thrilled to see more of these entering the market. Some are very cold scents, others warm and cuddly. I’ll start with a few of the cold ones.
Olivier Durbano is a French jeweler who is working on a series of scents to go with particular stones. So far he has three: Amethyst, Rock Crystal, and Black Tourmaline. The notes for Amethyst are listed as follows: bergamot, pepper, grape, raspberry, incense, palisander, jasmine, orris, amber, sandalwood, musk, and vanilla. I pick up the pepper and bergamot, the palisander and sandalwood dominate the incense, not a lot of jasmine or orris here, and a synthetic fruit note which jars just a little. Though the notes sound fairly soft, it’s actually a strong, quite masculine scent, and reminds me a bit of 10 Corso Como.
I prefer Durbano’s Rock Crystal, however. This one is almost medicinal, but in a good way. Incense/wood resin scents can go the way of turpentine, bug spray, and things your mommy made you take when you were sick. This one stays just on the correct side, with strong, in-your-face, yet intriguing resins. Notes are listed as frankincense, benzoin, orange, pepper, coriander, cardamom, cumin, cistus, sandalwood, cedar, vetiver, everlasting flower, oakmoss and musk. I mostly get the pepper, woods and incense, with vetiver wafting softly in the background, and just a hint of coriander, which adds a nice herbal touch. I don’t detect any warm benzoin, everlasting or cardamom here at all, and thankfully no cumin, either. This is an elegant, masculine scent and could easily take its place in the CdG Incense line. Durbano’s latest, Black Tourmaline, is very similar, but a bit sharper and smokier. I can’t wait to see what he does with rubies and emeralds.
Now on to soft, warm, cuddly incense. Heeley’s Cardinal is delightful, just pure, warm, high-quality frankincense absolute, warmed with a little this and that, without any other notes dominating. There’s a little soapiness in the finish, but not much. I love Avignon but I actually like Cardinal better because it is so pure and simple. The notes list incense, cistus, patchouli, amber, and vetiver, but I don’t pick up any patch at all. Messe de Minuit (Etro) has a strong mildew note to my nose, but not Cardinal. Crazy Libellule and the Poppies make the lovely solid perfume Encens Mystic, very similar to both Avignon and Cardinal. It retails for around $16US, a great deal. If you’d rather your home smelled like frankincense, Lorenzo Villoresi makes a wonderful home scent called Incenso. Pure church. Another home-scent option is actual incense. Shoyeido, the centuries-old Japanese incense house, makes a western-style, frankincense-based incense called Diamond. It’s sold in most Whole Foods and new age stores in the States. The adventurous can order pure frankincense resin (I recommend the Aden variety) online from a variety of retailers and burn it at home.
Now on to the most obscure, the most economical, and loveliest myrrh in existence, L’Erbolario’s Myrrhae EdT. It’s sold mostly in Italy and retails for around 17 euros for 50ml, so it’s a good deal. Frankincense and myrrh (several types of myrrh, so far as I can make out) dominate, with a little sage and ginger to add interest, and a drydown of musky vanilla. The body oil has a very lovely toasted cumin note; I usually can’t bear cumin but it’s gorgeous in this case. There’s an odd juxtaposition in these with the warm incense and vanilla edging up against the bitter sage and piquant myrrh; the effect is unusual and very refreshing. This is a great one for the holidays, and also works very well in hot, humid weather, unlike many incense scents which can be unbearable in the heat. Therefore it might be a good choice for those who celebrate the holidays during their summertime or in tropical latitudes. I haven’t found any other myrrh-based perfumes I really like; they either come out musty or horribly oversweetened and soapy. A good clean myrrh is hard to find.
Enjoy the gifts of the Magi this holiday season!
Image source, Wikipedia.