I know it’s only March, but I’m going to go ahead and say that 2015 is turning out to be a very good year for perfume. There have been some strong launches, scent such as Annick Goutal’s L’Ile au Thé and Jo Malone’s Birch & Black Pepper, but there’s also been some outstandingly beautiful new things, things like Lalique’s unexpectedly striking Living Lalique, and of course, Jean-Claude Ellena’s latest offering for Hermes – Le Jardin de Monsieur Li. In a world where flankers run riot and ideas, and artistry for that matter, can seem to be in short supply at times, it is perfumes such as these that restore faith and act as reassurance that the perfume industry still has tricks up its sleeve.
One fragrance that really struck me as quite wonderful and innovative is Jo Malone’s Incense & Cedrat. Launching in June as part of the brand’s Cologne Intense collection, this Marie Salamagne-penned fragrance centers on Omani frankincense – an ancient ingredient that filters through every aspect of life within Oman. Frankincense is burned in the country for a whole heap of reasons, whether it be to simply scent a house, ward off mosquitoes, or even as an expression of sadness. It is as vital to the Omani way of life as it is wonderful to smell, and Incense & Cedrat presents an incredibly pleasing take on the note that is entirely respectful of its importance and natural beauty.
To launch the fragrance, Jo Malone transformed their (rather swanky) London town house into Oman for the day. Stepping over the threshold was a real experience. The air was thick with frankincense, the smoke of which permeated the plaster and thick carpet pile of this very British building, transporting one to a foreign land. Once inside, one could be forgiven for thinking they had just hot footed it off the plane straight on to the Arabian Peninsula. It was a door to another world. Thus is the theme for Incense & Cedrat – realism through a dash of perfumery magic.
Incense, Elemi, Labdanum Ciste, Benzoin and Cedrat
How Does it Smell?
Incense & Cedrat opens with the familiar smell of frankincense. The sour, slightly metallic feel of incense packs a real punch in the opening, flying forward in a resinous cloud of silvery pepper and golden elemi. The cedrat, which is like lemon but slightly greener and more floral, accents the citrus nuances naturally found in incense, making the whole thing feel brighter and entirely more luminous, without dominating or overpowering its fellow headliner material. What could have been a dark, brooding affair, is instead a velvety air of bright colours and weightless shapes.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Incense & Cedrat is the fact that it manages to evoke incense in a photorealistic way, without actually containing a single drop of the stuff. To preserve the natural material, Jo Malone and perfumer Marie Salamagne opted to use NaturePrint technology (Firmenich’s patented version of headspace technology) to capture the scented molecules that surround natural incense from the Boswelila tree and recreate them especially for the perfume. To me, this ecologically responsible approach not only feels well-thought out, but it adds to the magic of the fragrance. If you’re a nerd like me, you will be impressed by just how ‘real’ it feels.
With time, the incense impression fades and Incense & Cedrat starts to show its true colours, slowly unveiling the benzoin that sits at its core. Benzoin is an interesting ingredient – it’s sweet and fuzzy, with a gauzy texture, but at the same time it feels slightly tangy, an effect that feels at odds with the cushiony feel of its vanilla nuances. In Incense & Cedrat, benzoin is the real star (I’d opt to have called it ‘Incense & Benzoin’). It sits underneath the incense, softening it, allowing for any harshness to be calmed. So many fragrances pair frankincense with woods to accentuate the material’s sharpness and spiciness, but here, the use of benzoin acts as a woven fabric that allows the signature incense note to trickle through the gaps, all the way down to the base.
Speaking of the base, Incense & Cedrat dries down to a grey wisp of vanilla, benzoin and spice. It would be fair to say that it does lose some of its intrigue when it gets there, but not so desperately so that the initial experience is ruined. Sure, some darker base materials would have perhaps strengthened the beautifully sour quality that dominates the fragrance’s initial half, but in truth, I quite like the muted softness of the base. It feels calming and serene, like a waft of religious smoke.
Incense & Cedrat is exceptionally well done. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it is my favourite fragrance in the Jo Malone lineup. They really have excelled themselves here and have created a fragrance that plays on traditional perfumery themes, but does so in a modern and entirely genderless way. Incense & Cedrat has mid-range sillage and average longevity, but it comes in a big enough of a bottle for regular re-spritizing to be welcome. Colour me impressed!
Incense & Cedrat launches in June 2015 and will be available in 100ml Cologne Intense for £110.
Sample, notes and quotes via Jo Malone. Image 1 via europe-tc.ru. Image 2 my own.