Monday, April 2, 2007

Incense week: 2.Clean incense for Holy Monday

Although not a major celebration, today marks the cleansing of the temple in the Holy City of Jerusalem according to Christian doctrine. This was when Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers, saying to them: "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; But you make it a den of robbers". [Matthew: 21:13]
Interestingly in orthodox church the theme of Monday is that of the barren fig tree (Matthew 21: 18-20) which yields no fruit and is condemned. It is important to note here that the theme of each day is actually celebrated the evening before in the church service that precedes the day in question, therefore it is the evening service on Palm Sunday that commemorates this while on Monday evening there is celebration of the upcoming Holy Tuesday (hence the Holy Saturday Resurrection service at midnight, which would seem anachronous). However for practical purposes I am keeping the classification according to each day’s original theme.
To revert to the subject at hand, the fig tree is a classic Mediterranean part of flora that is considered a source of shade and food. Highly prized for both, it is a misfortune and a bad omen even from pagan times for the fig trees to be barren. Although in Christian texts the association of the barren fig tree with the land of Israel is something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth because of its intolerant stance toward the older Jewish population, we could take this in its purely literal sense devoid of any parabolic tendencies.
In addition, on Holy Monday the Church commemorates Joseph the Patriarch, the beloved son of Jacob. A major figure in the Old Testament, Joseph’s story is told in the final section of the Book of Genesis. (chapters 37-50).

Therefore the chosen fragrant theme for Monday should be one of cleanness and pureness of subtle wood and shade and just the hint of a promise of fruit to come.

Passage d’enfer by Lartisan parfumeur: Translated as Passage through Hell (you may also come across Road to hell or Gates of hell), but actually just named after the address of L’artisan flagship store in Paris (oh, such a naughty double-entendre), this is an excellent introductory incense for beginners, yet also a joy for more experienced players in the field as well when they want a break from all those serious and solemn types they are attracted to.
Serene and calm it is a fragrance that is very suited to casual wear, because it is light and uncomplicated. Yet that is not meant to imply that it does not hold surprises up its sleeve in typical Olivia Giacobetti’s translucent style.
The initial phase of slightly tart opening is very clean, while the illusion of soapy latheriness continues for some time. The beauty of lily blossom makes an appearance with the promise of lushness that is not fully materialized; however its prominent floral inclusion is a touch of the sublime. Lily is a carnal flower by nature, white waxy petals with a heady smell that suggests pursuits of another nature than the one associated with spirituality and meditation. And it is precisely because of that that Passage d’enfer strikes a cord of genius, as it marries the two antithetical elements of lily and smoky frankincense in heavenly harmony despite its sinful name. In fact it is the beautiful, melancholic visage of an Edgar Allen Poe’s heroine, destined to die like a half-opened bud on a warm summer’s day. It is therefore delicately feminine and very soft.
The impression of a cool soapy note is not alkaline, nor fatty; it is just a hint like the remnants of lightly scented soap on skin and not the actual bar itself, like in some other soapy perfumes. It could also be likened to a just pressed shirt without the laundry chemical aroma clinging to it, though. This renders it eminently wearable in summer and hot weather. Aloewood makes a brief appearance of guest star in the base although you’d be hard pressed to pinpoint it if you didn’t know about it beforehand. The woody touch on a bed of discreet soft musk is really very subtle and the lasting power is a bit less than average: I would love for them to come up with an eau de parfum for this one.
The reason why many people find fault is that lured by the wrongly assumed meaning of the name they expect the vagaries of the sinful which for some not so obscure reason lure and attract people into the notion that by donning such a scent they might graft that excitement of the forbidden into pedestrian lifestyles. If only…
Passage d’enfer only promises to let you glimpse a slice of heaven, really.

Shaal Nur by Etro: If you want fruity notes with your incense fix look no further. Created by Jacques Flori in 1997 for the quirky and luxurious Italian clothes brand Etro it stands alone in the galaxy of incense scents as truly unique. The inclusion of lemon as unlikely a note as it seems in combination with incense is what accounts for this. The first whiff is vaguely reminiscent of Les Nuits d’Hadrien by Goutal in that you are clearly in the presence of hesperidia, unisex in predicament, segueing on to a slightly orientalised composition that is based on a dry rendition of incense. Perhaps the innovation behind this tendency can be traced as back as the legendary Shalimar by Guerlain, which explored the lemon top and the slight incense of the bottom, yet in that gem the inclusion of deep, plush vanilla shifts the focus into powdery rich fluffiness and seduction that it is profoundly lacking here.
Herbal additions such as rosemary and tarragon shift it into unisex territory as well.
The lemony overtone here might be linked to some people’s minds with sharp smelling housecleaning liquids (and I can certainly see some connection), men’s shaving cream or even cheap aftershave. It is not to imply that it is a cheap fragrance, nevertheless it does tend to take a turn for the sour in a manner that is not particularly akin to my skin’s preferences, which could be interpreted any which way you like of course. The sour note lingers through the drying down stages only to be greeted by a smidgeon of vanillic warmth that is not enough to soften it and round it as one would expect. Rose is said to be included, but there is no potent smell of it to my nose, although the impression of sourness might also be attributed to an adverse chemical reaction between rosy notes and my skin: let’s just say we’re not on good terms most of the time. The addition of a rich wood note or a little patchouli might balance the top and heart,although it might divert from the clean route this one is destined for, but to my nose its major fault is simply its lacking in depth. The lasting power is rather nice, about 5-6 hours.
However I could see it being used by people who want a tart unisex smell for freshening up, but do not want to resort to the usual eau de Cologne types or the abundance of fruit salads on the market these days. It does smell individual after all. It is a sore pity the bottle is so nice and the weird colour of the jus so fetching to me, because it does attract the eye to be sure.

Kyoto by Comme des Garcons Incense series: In the classification of clean or woody incenses as the one on which we are focusing today, Kyoto would not be missing for long. Even though it is inspired by far eastern temples, thus bearing no relation to Christian incense collective memory, it is assuredly one of the most tranquil, wearable and popular incense fragrances around and with its strong yet clean character it befits the symbolism of the day well.
The smoky initial phase quickly fades to reveal an intoxicating richness of cedar elaborated to the max. The Virginian variety of cedar used here is a sweeter, less intense version compared to the incensy Atlas variety from Morocco. It is the aroma of freshly sharpened pencils that is so beloved by those who have good school reminiscences. The overall woody character of Kyoto is the protagonist anchored by the smokiness of incense.
This is exactly why this takes such a wearable turn on skin, because it provides just the right balance to make this mysterious enough without ever seeming gloomy or ghoulish. There is a strong calming and grounding effect when I smell this and the inclusion of a subtle grassy vetiver note, maybe a hint of pine and some smooth ambery glow is so fetching as to make me long to be in an eastern temple practicing my Oms. Tall coniferous trees swinging their branches in the breeze, white aromatic smoke emanating from censers. Because of that imagery I envision it as cool weather scent mainly.
Geraniol is maybe a note that makes it smell rather powdery and soft.
Supposedly there is also a coffee note, as well as teakwood in there, but I can swear that these are not what surfaces on skin. I think it has no specific feminine or masculine attributes, however this is one exception in which I would hesitate to call it unisex, simply because the connotation of a eunuch never enters the mind as with most scents of that ambience. It is proudly sexy in a very insouciant, understated way and it is profoundly human and serene.

Next installement is about lush, warm and alluring incense fragrances fit for sinners.


  1. i just received some incense perfume samples in the mail and kyoto was one of them. not only was it a beautiful fragrance its scent cleared up a mystery for me.
    in the early 80's i purchased an unusual perfume, mary mcfadden(1979), at bloomingdale's in nyc. it has, of course, been discontinued and i haven' sniffed anything that is like it until now. kyoto is a lighter deadringer for mary mcfadden's eponymous perfume. i guess this makes sense since mcfadden is so worldly wise and her work celebrates multiculturalism.

  2. Hi there and thanks for a most interesting comment!

    I have heard of the McFadden frag, but never tried it. I don't even think it was ever available in Europe, so it seems I missed out. But then if you say Kyoto is comparable, it's good.


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin