Fragrance Material: Frankincense

I’ve been having fun burning frankincense and other resins as incense lately. Frankincense specifically is one of the more light, “clean”-smelling resins with notes of lemon and pine.

Trees of the genus Boswellia ooze the resin “tears” from “wounds” that harvesters cut into the bark.

My favorite frankincense perfumes are Avignon by Comme des Garcons which perfectly evokes that high church blend of frankincense and myrrh that Catholics will remember from their childhood; Passage d’Enfer by L’Artisan Parfumeur, which showcases the cleaner side of frankincense, somewhere between freshly showered and cool & cavernous; and Camel by Zoologist, rich and warm with incense and sweet dried fruits. Do you have a favorite incense or incense perfume?

Fragrance Note: Lily

My love gave me a bouquet of lilies and roses a couple of fragrant weeks ago. The lilies’ aroma overpowered the roses from the start; our apartment has been filled with their scent.

For the first few days, my primary experience of it was my association with funeral homes. After a while I moved past that and was surprised by how animalic they smelled, almost savory, like a floral ham. The scent seemed stronger from a distance—it asserted itself in the room, but when I stuck my nose into the bouquet, it became shy and I smelled the softer scent of petals.

I found this spread about lilies in Nez Magazine issue 6, which was fun to read alongside my experience.

Perfume is a Language Worth Learning

perfume bottle

“Perfume is a language whose speech is worth learning and unpacking as one would a poem, book, or film. Scent is a path to getting closer to our senses, to instinct, and to our bodies and the earth at a time when those attachments are threatened.”

—Barbara Herman in her wonderful book Scent & Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume

Natural Perfume

Periodically I crave to wear natural perfumes. It’s like changing the radio station to a different genre of music—not necessarily better or worse than synthetics or mixed media perfumes, but a different character altogether. (There’s a lot of hyperbole out there that would have you believe that “natural” is a superior moral position over “synthetic”; in perfumery, however, the truth is much more complicated.) It’s like choosing a watercolor painting instead of a photograph—it’s simply a different experience.

Maybe it’s the summer heat, but lately I’ve been craving naturals more and more! These are some of my favorites from Jolie LaideJ Hannah CoAftelier Perfumes (I’m especially loving Mandy’s solid perfumes!), and Laromatica Perfume.

I’m always looking for more to try—what are your favorite natural perfumes?

Perfume as Memento Mori

Serge Lutens Borneo 1834

To wear perfume is to destroy it. When you have a bottle of beautiful perfume—especially a perfume that has since been discontinued or reformulated, as my Borneo 1834 has—it’s tempting to want to stash it away, to save it rather than wear it.

Even if it were possible to perfectly preserve a fragrance (perfumes evaporate, age, and change)—would you want to? What is it they say about a real flower being more beautiful for the fact that it will die? For me, slowly using up a beloved perfume—especially if I don’t think I’ll be able to find another bottle once it’s gone—is a kind of memento mori, a little vanitas painting I take with me throughout the day, coaxing me more firmly into the present moment.

I often think about this quote from Annie Dillard and apply it outside my writing life:

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Anything you do not smell freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your perfume cabinet and find that it has evaporated and the top notes have turned.

Perfume Shop Visit: Fumerie

If you are ever in Portland, Oregon, you must visit Fumerie. ❤️

When I visited this weekend, I asked the incredible shop owner Tracy to help me discover some new “unusual gourmands”—I love Korrigan and Upper Ten for Her by Lubin, and Ummagumma by Bruno Fazzolari, but wanted to expand on the theme. We went in a delicious fruity direction with Mandrake and Wolfsbane by Parfums Quartana, Or du Sérail by Naomi Goodsir, Sådanne by Slumberhouse, and Dambrosia by Profumum Roma.