Comme des Garcons Avignon and Jaisalmer, from series 3: incense

Comme des Garcons Incense Series

Comme des Garçons launched Series 3: Incense in 2002 with five unisex fragrances, each one painting an "olfactory portrait of a particular milieu" in the incense tradition (via Women's Wear Daily, 1/4/2002). It is easily my favorite series from this house. All five of the fragrances are interesting but also very wearable, and several of them are downright gorgeous.

Avignon in the south of France was historically an important center of religious activity within the Catholic Church, and was the Papal seat for part of the 14th century. The use of incense in the liturgy has its roots in ancient Hebrew practices, and is traditionally a symbol of purification and of the rising of prayers to heaven. The fragrance has notes of Roman camomile, myrrh, cistus oil, elemi, incense, patchouli and vanilla.

Avignon

Avignon starts dark, gloomy, and rather strong, approximating the immediate effect of a priest swinging the censer during prayers. The early dry down has a bitter green resinous edge; as it continues to calm, it gets much softer and more meditative, with mild wood undertones and very light, dry notes of patchouli and vanilla joining into the smoky blend.

Of the five fragrances in the series, it has the most direct focus on the frankincense note, and so for many Westerners (even those who have no association with the Roman Catholic church) it will come closest to the aroma traditionally associated with incense. It is a beautiful fragrance and one of my favorites from the series, but women who like a bit of femininity in their fragrance will not find it here.

Two random connections: Avignon was said to be Matthew Williamson's favorite scent before he introduced his eponymous fragrance, and was also one of the three fragrances (along with Bonne Bell Skin Musk and a nameless "Egyptian oil") that Sarah Jessica Parker layered to create her own signature scent before she introduced Lovely. Sarah Jessica Parker has the right idea here, by the way — Avignon is eminently layerable.

Jaisalmer takes us across the world to Rajasthan, India, where the fortified town of Jaisalmer was once an important stopover on the camel trade routes known as the Silk Road. Here incense is one of the traditional offerings used in Hindu ritual, and as in the Catholic Church, also a symbol of purification and prayer. The fragrance has notes of cardamon, cinnamon, pepper, benzoin, ebony wood and gaiac wood.

jaisalmer

The opening is a very dry and dusty blend of cardamom and cinnamon, warmed by a strong hot pepper note. The spices get milder, and somewhat sweeter, as it settles on the skin, and the smoky incense notes are joined by dark woods, and almost certainly some cedar as well.

It is a rich, exotic scent, and probably a bit more feminine than Avignon (although a man could certainly wear it). I would not call it a gourmand, exactly, but it is more foody and has less of a meditative feel than the others in the series. It is very well done, and I do like it, but it is not my favorite of the five.

Avignon and Jaisalmer are available in 50 ml bottles of Eau de Toilette; for buying information, see the listing for Comme des Garçons under Perfume Houses.

Tomorrow: Series 3, Incense: Kyoto & Ouarzazate, and Marlen on the Agatha Brown fragrances

Update: Comme des Garçons Avignon was developed by perfumer Mark Buxton. Jaisalmer was developed by Evelyne Boulanger.

Note: image of Avignon is Avignon, Palais des Papes depuis Tour Philippe le Bel by Jean-Marc Rosier via Wikimedia Commons. Image of Jaisalmer is India-Jaisalmer_12_01-05_05_30 [cropped] by luxagraf at flickr; some rights reserved.

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9 Comments

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  1. Just finding this now in my most recent quest to find a ‘Cathedral’ scent.

    I find myself intrigued by Avignon. I spent a good deal of my college days studying medieval history and the Crusades and have always wanted to find a scent that captured the feel of a medieval church. I’m surprised with my love for incense-y perfumes that I was not aware of this fragrance collection.

    I’m so in love with your description that I’m already wanting to buy it while wondering if I really need another perfume at this moment in time — the answer is, of course, yes.

    I’m curious as to how heavy the smoke is, though. I don’t wish to smell like I’m trying to cover up some illicit substance.

    • Robin says:

      Oh my, all the old comments are missing! Now I’ll have to go find them.

      It is not, to me, that smoky. But do try the Heeley Cardinal as well.

      • Yeah, I found it a little odd that there were no comments, but I figured they hadn’t survived the transition.

        Thanks! I’m really going to have to try this. A bit of a bummer that the price has risen by 33% over the past few years, but I suppose that’s expected. At any rate, $80 is a bargain.

        I simply wish the bottle was a little prettier, like an Old World glass splash bottle but I suppose I can’t have everything.

        • Robin says:

          The Heeley Cardinal bottle is probably closer to what you want:

          http://www.nstperfume.com/2006/12/15/heeley-cardinal-fragrance-review/

          Plus, it’s cheaper per ml, or used to be. I still like Avignon better.

          • Yeah, I’ve been reading reviews for both and while Cardinal’s bottle is more of what I have in mind, I keep hearing that Avignon’s juice is better. Cardinal appears to be a warmer incense, whereas I actually prefer the gloomier aspects. I want something that really captures the feel of an Old World church, the dimly filtering light from arched windows, the tiny bit of creep factor when you realize that they often display the mortal remains of saints.

            Definitely picking up a bottle of Avignon. I may see about acquiring a decant of Cardinal for comparison, but all my dislike of the bottle aside, the fragrance sounds to be exactly what I’m after. Seems to have that same SMN ‘weirdness’ that I enjoy.

            Thanks for much for the lovely review and your helpful comments.

  2. Robin says:

    Please note: the comments for this article were not properly exported when we moved to a new domain in early 2009. Here they are, in one big lump:

    On January 9, 2006 colombina said:
    Avignon is a great scent, though rather intimidating to me due to that Church association you mentioned. Stiil, I love it. It is my 3rd favorite in the line,after Kyoto and Zagorsk.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    M, I haven’t got the church association, so to me it just smells good ;-)
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 lilybp said:
    I love this whole line! I think my favorite is the woody, contemplative Kyoto (at least that is the one that caused me immediately to buy a FB), but Avignon is a much-loved second. I have little sprayers of them all–and I would buy a coffret set in a minute!
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    J, why these are not sold in a coffret is a complete mystery to me. It would be a big seller, I am sure.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 Victoriaf said:
    I like Avignon, however I do not find myself wanting to wear it often as it is very strong and resinous. I know that it exists in a candle form too, however I have not tried it yet.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    Ah, the “strong & resinous” is just why I like it! The candles look lovely & surprised you don’t own them already :-)
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 Sisonne said:
    R, I don´t know Avignon, but have to try it soon.
    I don´t know what to think of Jaisalmer, it´s not a bad scent, rather interesting, but I think I wouldn´t wear it often.
    My favourite one from the line is Kyoto. You´ll write about that one tomorrow, so I´ll post my comment then ;-)
    In general I´m not so much into incense fragrances, I think I mentioned that already: They remind me of a church & I don´t like the smell too much.
    The only incense fragrances I like are L´Artisan´s Passage d´Enfer & DK Black Cashmere which I just discovered a few weeks ago & enjoy quite a bit – I´m thinking about ordering a bottle…
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    S, as much as I like these, none of them beats Passage for me. Black Cashmere is a wonderful scent & I need to revisit it one of these days.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 marchlion said:
    I have only smelled the Avignon but find it perfect in a 3-bears way: not too cold (Armani Prive), not too weird (Etro MdeM), not flowery (Creed Angelique), not spicy (Villorezi Spezie), not too cedar-y (Passage d’Enfer)… I love all these others, BTW, but Avignon is perfect — provided you like your incense fairly frankincense-laden and resin-y. I look forward to your post on Kyoto.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    M, love the “not too weird”, LOL! The Etro, Creed & Villoresi don’t work for me, but adore Passage.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 marchlion said:
    Well, Passage is in a class by itself — this sounds nutty, but I don’t even really think of it as an incense — because Passage is so buoyant — it’s uplifting, it’s antigravity, it’s great for layering because it brightens any other scent. Other incense frags (and I adore incense) pull you inside of them. I have no childhood associations with incense, so no baggage… are you surprised how many frags are incense-based, considering how many people dislike them?
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    M, really, do so many people dislike them? Admit that the thought never occurred to me, since I love them. I do know that many people don’t love Avignon.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 Gina said:
    I love Avignon! It’s one of my favorites, though I don’t wear it all the time. Occasionally, I like to spray it in my hair. I discovered it while doing a shoot in someone’s house – the guy had the whole Incense series in the bathroom, and I kept going back to smell the Avignon again and again.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    Lucky guy to have the whole series in his bathroom — wish I did! Will have to try Avignon in the hair, good idea.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 Gina said:
    I work as a makeup artist, have been for 13 years. Often, we shoot at locations, swanky houses in the hills. It’s like I get to see how the rich live, without actually having to pay for that lifestyle. This guy was a big fan of Comme des Garcons Incense line, and in his beautiful stone and marble minimalist bathroom, the bottles looked incredible. I love how scents take you back to a place and time.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    Sounds like a great job!
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 Gina said:
    It has it’s moments…I met a fellow perfume junkie through my work who turned me on to Passage d’Enfer, so that’s a great thing.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 Bela said:
    I adore Avignon, but it’s so like church incense that I don’t think I could wear it. Like V, I would like to use it as a home fragrance. Too expensive for that, unfortunately.

    Wasn’t it Incense created for Matthew Williamson by Miller Harris that was inspired by Avignon rather than MW’s eponymous fragrance, which is exotic and fruity?
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    J, I am sure the MH scent for MW was inspired by Avignon, but in an interview shortly before the release of his own fragrance, he said that his favorite scent was Avignon. Perhaps because the MH was already discontinued & gone? Either way, obviously, Avignon was *not* an inspiration for the new Matthew Williamson scent.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 Bela said:
    Oops, clicked on the wrong Reply link. :-(
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 Bela said:
    I took his saying that Avignon was his favourite fragrance as meaning, “That’s why I had Incense created,” so I couldn’t see the connection with his new scent. Sorry if I misunderstood what you wrote.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    J, No, the MH Incense would have already been discontinued by the time the interview I’m talking about was done…and I guess what I wrote wasn’t clear, sorry!
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 mahgwet said:
    YAY! I love this series, too! (I’m always so happy when you and I like the same fragrance!)

    Love the article–thank you *so* much.

    Mahhhhhhhhhgwet
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    M, so nice to see you even if it is rare that we like the same thing, LOL!
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 cazaubon said:
    I have and love the entire series – I am an incense fan all the way. Love MW Incense as well, I am hoarding my stash.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    T, Happily for me, I liked but didn’t love the MW Incense. Really too bad he doesn’t release an incense under his own name.
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 lachendwolf said:
    hurrah! this line houses two of my top 5 incense scents (the other three being Passage, POTL, and the new Idole de Lubin). Avignon is a miracle of cold marble on me, so while i adore its composition i do have a tough time wearing it. it is reminiscent of MW Incense on me, though Avignon is more intriguing in the drydown than MWI is.

    i found Jaisalmer the only one of the group that i outright didn’t care for. something in there smelled like green peppers on me. ;)

    thanks for this review – was marvelous!
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    It is funny, I don’t think of POTL as an incense perfume. It is kind of off in a class by itself (in my mind, that is). Not sure anything will ever displace Passage in my affections, but do love this series.

    Jaisalmer is my least favorite too, but not sure if it is the pepper or something else that keeps me from adoring it…
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 KevinS said:
    My bottle of Avignon ran out last fall and I was about to replace it when I succumbed to Marlen’s review of Tumulte by ClaCroix, bought a bottle, and felt having it and Avignon at the same time was overkill. Since I know you just tried Tumulte pour homme…how does it stack up to Avignon in an arm-to-arm or wrist-to-wrist test? I started wearing Avignon “religiously” when a person on one of my tours at the Seattle Asian Art Museum (I was giving a gallery talk on Buddhist art) asked if we burned incense in the museum. HA! No, t’was moi. And I wore it to all tours after that.

    I can’t believe I have never tried Passage d’Enfer! When so many here claim it as their favorite incense.

    K
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    K, Only gave the Tumulte a very quick try, but offhand it didn’t remind me of Avignon, particularly. Promise to try them together later this week and report back!
    Reply to this comment
    On January 9, 2006 whitebar said:
    I find it interesting how people’s tastes vary so widely. I too love this series and own three of them. In order of my preference I like Jaisalmer best, then Kyoto, and finally Avignon. All three are great scents but I was surprised at all the negative comments on Jaisalmer as it is my favorite. I’m also a big fan of Passage d’Enfer and as a matter of fact I am wearing it today. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s installment. Will you be reviewing Zagorsk as well?
    Reply to this comment
    On January 10, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    Zagorsk coming on Wednesday!

    Mind you, I don’t dislike Jaisalmer, not in the least. It just has lots of competition in that the whole series is so wonderful…so although it ends up at the bottom of my list, it is still a fragrance that I would happily wear if I had a bottle.
    Reply to this comment
    On April 23, 2008 platinum15 said:
    Your oder of preference is also mine and i too am surprised at everyone’s LOVE of Avignon. I find the dry down too sweet. Jaisalmer and Kyoto are the ones for me.
    Reply to this comment
    On June 6, 2006 Crickers said:
    I love this perfume! Does anyone know which “nose” created it?
    Reply to this comment
    On June 6, 2006 NowSmellThis said:
    I’m afraid I don’t, sorry!
    Reply to this comment
    On February 6, 2008 JanAlways said:
    Jaisalmer is the only one of the Incense series I haven’t tried yet. I loved the others so much I bought a bottle of each. I agree that Avignon is the best of the four I do own, serence, deep and rich. I find I mainly wear these scents at night, for myself. They are terrific to wear when going to bed. (As soon as I can source a bottle of Jaisalmer, I will buy it too.)
    Reply to this comment
    On February 6, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    Jaisalmer is my least favorite of the set, but it would be a great thing to have all 5. They did a coffret this past year, and wish they had done them in smaller sizes, but they’re 50 ml.
    Reply to this comment
    On March 13, 2008 JanAlways said:
    Finally got a bottle today, and I’m loving it so far. It has a warmth the other four in the series lack, and I’m delighted to have the set. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of longevity it has…
    Reply to this comment
    On March 13, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    Lucky you to have all 5!
    Reply to this comment
    On March 18, 2008 JanAlways said:
    At the moment I’d rank them slightly differently than you. I’d place Avignon and Jaisalmer in joint first place, followed closely by Kyoto. Then Ouzarette and lastly Zagursk. The latter pair are colder and their dry-downs are less satisfactory to me.
    Reply to this comment
    On March 18, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    Yep, we’re opposites…as it turns out, Ouarzazate is the one I actually wear most often these days.
    Reply to this comment
    On March 20, 2008 JanAlways said:
    Of course, that’s only a matter of degrees, and all five are wonderful fragrances. I can see myself re-stocking Avignon and Jaisalmer, but maybe not the other three. Of course, that could well change over time (as, I think, your list has too).

    (As an aside, I reckon I’ve been ‘editing’ my collection based on which bottles I’ve purchased as back-ups. Just in case…)

    For now I’m on the hunt for the Oliver Durbano Black Tourmaline. That sounds amazing!
    Reply to this comment
    On March 22, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    I do think you’ll like the OB BT if you like the CdGs…
    Reply to this comment
    On April 7, 2008 Dana Cerise said:
    I know many people like it, but I just have to say that Avignon is the worst fragrance I’ve ever smelled. It’s so bad, I won’t even smell any CdG juice. I wish I could go back in time and prevent myself from smelling a sample! It’s just so cold and watery. It’s hard for me to put into words. It smells like suicide. The absence of all hope.
    Reply to this comment
    On April 7, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    How interesting — do you hate incense in general, or just Avignon?
    Reply to this comment
    On April 8, 2008 Dana Cerise said:
    I don’t hate incense. I do detest smelling like smoke. Avignon does not have that quality, though. It smells so… weak. There’s a weakness to it that Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. L juice has (ew).

    I hear that H&M is teaming up with CdG for clothing and a fragrance. I’m not going to sniff that juice! I know it’s weird. I know!
    On October 22, 2008 adamj2004 said:
    Jan, my order is quite similar to yours for the CdG Incense series. I just tried all of them and I think my order is: 1) Kyoto/Jaisalmer 3) Avignon 4) Outzazate 5) Zagorsk. All of them are quite close in ranking but Zagorsk is the only one that really didn’t catch my nose very much. I LOVE Kyoto and think is may be my favorite but that cinnamon note in Jaisalmer is beautiful! Also, Avignon would be great for a crisp fall afternoon. I want all of them. :(
    Reply to this comment
    On April 8, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    Dana, ah well, it helps to have entire brands that you can ignore in the future — heaven knows there are plenty of other fish in the sea!
    Reply to this comment
    On August 4, 2008 IrisNobile said:
    There have been some rumors all over the internet that Incense is getting discontinued – just letting everyone know, that’s not true. I have checked with luckyscent.com, and they replied to me it is %100 in production. They also made sure by asking comme des garcons directly for me: incense is NOT getting discontinued, I am happy as hell!
    Reply to this comment
    On December 11, 2008 Valkyrie said:
    Tell me if I’m crazy, but I don’t find Avignon dark or gothic but soft and peaceful. A wear around the house scent for cuddling or reading in pajamas not long lone walks on a crisp October night (5 Perfumes for: Creatures of the Night). I am a budding perfumista and don’t have the creds to compare this with other incense perfumes- hope too soon. I probably find incense perfums peaceful because I burn incense for meditation. I only find them really appealing when some strong patchouli/ spices/ something else adds some sex appeal to make the fragrance “smoldering”.
    Reply to this comment
    On December 11, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    Of course you’re not crazy — first of all, everyone has their own idea of what “gothic” entails, and while I find it dark, I also find it calming.

    You might want to try Donna Karan Black Cashmere and/or Olivier Durbano Black Tourmaline.

  3. bookgirl says:

    I know Avignon is touted as being quite Gothic and evocative of high mass, but I was raised Catholic and went to church regularly as a child (sometimes every day), so I know a thing or two about how a Catholic church smells, and let me tell you…..this isn’t it. I found Avignon a lot softer and sweeter than the incense I remember from my church-going youth. That incense was a lot heavier and had a denser, more somber quality to it, and a strong exotic richness to it that is hard for me to describe. Avignon is like diet incense to me. I much prefer the earthy dryness and green edge of Kyoto.

    • Robin says:

      You might want to try the Olivier Durbano Black — might be closer to what you remember.

  4. bookgirl says:

    I will definitely give it a try. Thanks!

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