This past Thursday, 29th January, I attended Perfume Lovers London Evening of Incense with Chris Bartlett of Pell Wall Perfumes. It marked a very special evening for Perfume Lovers London as it was also the group’s third birthday.
For me, Incense is the oldest perfume. The word perfume is derived from the Latin perfumare, meaning “to smoke through”, and incense is from incendere “to burn”. The two words indelibly linked, one coming from the other. It conjures to mind visions of tendrils of smoking incense snaking up to the heavens from ornate burners used in religious ceremony carrying with it the prayers of those gathered in worship.
I grew up in a small town in Ohio that was predominately Italian with a large Catholic community. Sampling many of the fragrances on Thursday brought back memories of grouchy Sunday mornings being dragged off to mass and days at school where we would have to attend church to have ashes rubbed on our foreheads and spend the rest of the day looking like we had just escaped a burning building.
By all accounts 2014 was a very strong year for incense fragrances. Etat Libre d’Orange released Rien Intense Incense, a flanker to Rien, and Mona di Orio brought us Myrrh Casati. We also saw Papillon’s Anubis, Embruns by Keiko Mecheri, Masque Milano’s Russian Tea, and Amber Incense by Sonoma Scent Studio to name but a few incense-centric perfumes released in 2014. Furthermore, we’ve also been blessed with a hat trick of incense perfumes from Serge Lutens: L’Orpheline, L’Incendiaire, both of which launched 2014, and La Religiuese, which was released just this month. And the trend seems to be continuing into 2015 with Olivier Durbano’s Prométhée and Incense & Cedrat recently released by Jo Malone.
Chris’s informative presentation lead us through samplings of Aedes de Venustas’ Copal Azur (also released in 2014), Avignon from Comme de Garcon, Creed’s Aventous, Chanel No. 19 (which I have very fond memories of wearing), Guerlain’s Myrrhe & Délires, and Simply Sandalwood, Tuesdays and the resinous, burning beauty of Woodsmoke from Chris’s own Pell Wall Perfumes collection.
Chris also lead us through an exploration of Frankincense and Myrrh Resinoids, Frankincense Essential Oil, Opopanax, Labdanum, and Cade that are used to give incense perfumes their distinctive character. I was totally ooh’ing and ahh’ing over the Labdanum, and I am really keen to explore how it is used in more perfumes.
We toasted Perfume Lovers London’s third birthday with a shot of Sacred gin, which is blended with frankincense. Definitely something to drink to, and I wish them many happy returns!