Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure ~ fragrance review

incense smoke

I love incense in almost all its (perfume) guises, from gothic to boho to meditative. Sonoma Scent Studio's new Incense Pure, in my own entirely idiosyncratic fragrance family classification system, goes neatly into the "outdoor incense" category, a group that also includes Tauer Perfumes Incense extrême and Comme des Garçons Ouarzazate. Both of those fragrances have a contemplative quality, but they're too airy and fresh to be churchy.

Incense Pure, despite being denser than either Incense extrême or Ouarzazate, likewise smells like the outdoors, and in this case, a specific time and place: it reminds me of early fall in northern New Mexico, a particular smell of woodsmoke (although it is not a smoky fragrance) and piñon pine and sagebrush, although none of these things are in the notes.1 It is rich but crisp, and not at all too heavy for spring or early summer. There is just enough vanilla to keep it from being bone-dry.

I've been very very good this year, in fact, I still haven't bought anything since my big splurge last September with Van Cleef & Arpels Bois d'Iris. I've got 5 ml bottles — wouldn't the world be a grand place if everything came in 5 ml? — of Incense Pure and Vintage Rose in a shopping cart right now, and I'm thinking of getting samples of some of the body lotions as well, so please comment if you've tried them.

Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure is an updated version of Encens Tranquille (2007). It is available in 5 ($19), 17 ($36) and 34 ($58) ml Eau de Parfum, and the lasting power is very good. For buying information, see the listing for Sonoma Scent Studio under Perfume Houses.

Note: top image is Smokin'! (1) by Kyle May at flickr; some rights reserved.


1. The notes for Incense Pure include frankincense CO2, myrrh EO, labdanum absolute, cistus oil, natural oakmoss absolute, aged Indian patchouli heartnote fraction, sandalwood, cedar, ambergris, orris, angelica root absolute, elemi EO, vanilla absolute.

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  1. meadowbliss says:

    I’ve hiked in NM and that pine smell is glorious! Pure sounds very intriguing, love each of those individual notes. Time to go sample shopping. I looked at the pic and thought–ribbons of smoke. The world would be a grand place like you say, if we were offered 5ml of all we loved.

    • Robin says:

      This smells so like pine to me — not strong pine, but still, pine! Don’t know if anyone else will agree. It’s definitely stronger on the frankincense than anything else.

      • Rappleyea says:

        Robin, I was lucky enough to test this, and I think what you’re reading as pine is the elemi. It has very much of that same quality.

    • Minnie says:

      I have not been to NM myself (although I would love to), but my parents sometimes go. My mom has an incense she purchases there that smells amazing, so your description, Robin, of this is really intriguing to me.

      • Robin says:

        It’s probably based on desert sage? This doesn’t really smell exactly like that…just something about the combination of notes reminds me of all of those NM smells.

        • Robin says:

          Oh, but see the link March posted below…maybe it’s cedar/pinon.

  2. Word on the 5 ml. bottles. I have four that I snagged from Nordstrom rack. Gucci Rush, Envy, Bvlgari Pour Femme, and Lolita Lempicka. Only one of them sprays, which is frustrating, but still. Campaign for 5 ml!

    • Robin says:

      Yes, that’s the problem with most miniatures — they’re splash, and often with tiny openings. These are 5 ml travel sprays.

      • That is fantastic that Sonoma Scent Studio offers that option. I will definitely look into this selection. Thanks!

  3. Thanna says:

    SSS is quickly becoming one of my favorite lines. I’ve never sniffed Encens Tranquille so any updating will be lost on me – but those notes have me reaching for the credit card! I’ve only recently discovered that I like notes such as frankincense, myrrh, and labdanum (used to think that clean scents were the only ones for me – shows what i knew!!).

    Nice to see the 5 ml option. If more of those were available think how many more scents I could afford!

    • Robin says:

      I liked Encens Tranquille but didn’t adore it — in other words, I would have worn it if somebody gave it to me, but wasn’t moved to buy. And to me, there *is* something clean about IP, not in the sense of smelling like laundry detergent, but more in the sense of “purifying”, I guess. Has something to do with the way it’s kept crisp even with the rich notes. The other two I mentioned, Incense Extreme and Ouazazate, also seem clean to me.

  4. Daisy says:

    ahhhh, yes—this is a good one! You’ve described it perfectly!

    I have tried Laurie’s body butter (creamy shea butter) it’s really nice on uber-dry skin. I got the unscented and really liked it. I bet her scented butter is nice too. I don’t usually do too much scented body lotion since I rarely know what the SOTD is going to be right when I step out of the shower.

    • Robin says:

      She is all out of the body butters :-(

  5. Joe says:

    Thanks for the review, Robin. I really feel that I love incense too… except… that most incense fragrances I own (which include the standards: CdG, L’Air du Desert, Heeley Cardinal) feel so one-dimensional and dry and I find myself *rarely* wanting to wear them. Or else I need more complexity (maybe that’s not the right word) and just a hint of sweetness in my fragrance most days. Still, I do have the occasional day where I want to spritz down with Avignon.

    I received a sample of Encens Tranquille from our generous Mals recently and it was lovely but… with all the incenses on my shelf getting love so rarely, I don’t need to buy another. However, I did buy a decant of Angelique Encens recently, and that one is a hit. I’m reminded that I need to wear it soon.

    And HUGE kudos to SSS for offering 5ml sizes, though I’ve never ordered from her. Femme Jolie is lovely.

    • Robin says:

      Joe, I do know what you mean (I think!) — I just like that aspect. But I also like layering these kinds of incense scents, sometimes, to punch up basic florals.

    • mals86 says:

      Hey, Joe – that sample I sent you was the final test sample batch for the updated Encens Tranquille, which was named Incense Pure for launch (after the sample was labeled, I suppose). And like you, I thought it was really wonderful, but that I didn’t need it. It didn’t touch me in any emotional way.

      It’s funny, you never know what’s going to grab your heart and squeeze. Sometimes scents I’m sure will be a hit with me – just aren’t, and I don’t know why. And of course, sometimes the lightning bolt hits out of the blue…

      • Robin says:

        Ah, so it didn’t change after that? Interesting.

        • mals86 says:

          It was my understanding via communications with LE that the “ET test # whatever-it-is” on the label of that particular sample was the final product. (I could still be wrong.)

          • Robin says:

            Well that settles it then — Joe does not like it :-)

    • AnnS says:

      Joe, incense is always tricky for me b/c I was raised Catholic and it always makes me think CHURCH even if I kind of like the fragrance anyway. I do like a few fragrances with incense accords though when they play a supporting role. But I do really like L’Air ddM and Timuktu!

  6. Rictor07 says:

    I recently sampled everything from SSS that i thought could be worn by a man(8 samples in total). This wasnt in my top 3. I didnt get any freshness or pine. Compared to other incense frags ive tried, I think it smells most similar to Wazamba, but without the fruit notes.

    • Robin says:

      Too bad! What were your favorites?

      • Rictor07 says:

        In no particular order: Sienna Musk, Amber Noir, Fireside Intense

        • mals86 says:

          I think Sienna Musk would be terrific on a guy. (It smelled pretty good on me too.)

        • Robin says:

          Then we agree on Fireside Intense, I love that one.

    • boojum says:

      Interesting…so many said they got pine from Wazamba, too! I wonder if there’s some common pine-like note that translates differently to your nose.

  7. March says:

    Robin, feel free to delete this if it violates your policies, but as someone who lived in Santa Fe for a decade, I have to mention this:

    The “Cedar Mountain Mist” in the spray bottle is what many of us used there, it was (and I think still is) made locally in Placitas NM. To me it is the smell of northern NM. It’s a room/linen spray. Under “household scents” you can just get the cedar needle essence, which is then mixed with water. Totally unaffiliated, just a happy memory and a darned great smell for not much dough.

    • Haunani says:

      Ooh, thanks, March. I live in a cedar log house that has lost some of its smell. Perhaps this is just the ticket!

    • Robin says:

      Oh, that sounds so nice! Wonder if it helps keep cloth moths away too.

      The SSS scent, I’m sure, is nowhere near as cedary.

  8. mals86 says:

    Meant to say, that picture has a very meditative quality. I’ve been enjoying it.

    • Robin says:

      There are an amazing number of really cool “smoke” pictures on flickr now!

  9. Will def have to try this one.

  10. cazaubon says:

    I’m wearing my incense pure sample right now on my wrists – I get that clean pine smell too, I love it. Finances are tight right now but it’s on my to buy list.

    • Robin says:

      I just hit “buy”….going to try the Egyptian Musk lotion and see how that is.

      • Daisy says:

        My daughter has the Egyptian Musk Edp and it is a really nice and soft close wearing musk—I don’t think the lotion will interfere with wearing fragrance, might even enhance other scents.

        • Robin says:

          Oh good! I love my Body Time Egyptian Musk.

  11. AnnS says:

    Robin: I’ve not tested Incense Pure yet but love reading all the reviews and comments about it. Incense is always hit or miss for me anyway – but Laurie does have a real talent for woods and resins! I have a bunch of SSS fragrances though – so many lovely ones to choose from.

    I also have two shea creams and one lotion. The shea cream is *very* dense and rich. Even though SSS is out of shea cream, Laurie’s lotion recipe is very rich too, so you should be satisfied with it if that is what you must choose. I like the Velvet Rose b/c it keeps a great scent for a long time and also layers well – I love putting it on and then wearing either Opal or Rose Musc over it. I have Femme Jolie in both shea cream and lotion – they are both great. The Femme Jolie is amazing- it is soft enough you can really slather it on without worrying you are going to be too scented up. And a year or so ago I did test the lavender cream which is a great lavender soliflore type thing – very satisfying if you like lavender.

    • Haunani says:

      Gosh, the lavender cream would probably be perfect for bedtime!

    • Robin says:

      Thanks Ann! I really wish she did the lotion in the Vintage Rose, although I think I’m way in the minority in preferring that to Velvet Rose.

      • AnnS says:

        I like Vintage Rose more and more as I keep revisiting it over the years and my aversion to incense gradually diminishes. Initially I also had some trouble with the plummy notes but that is diminishing too as my scent palette widens. It is disappointing that VR and some of the others aren’t in cream form. I would LOVE if she could do Rose Musc in a cream – it is my most favorite SSS fragrance, and in my top 10 fav fragrances of all! But she informs me that the labdanum breaks down in the shea cream formula. Something like this- basically not all of the raw essences she uses hold up in cream format for some reason I am not able to explain adequately. Boo hoo. Too bad for sure. It may be the same for Vintage Rose. Champagne de Bois is my fav of her “incense” fragrances.

      • Tama says:

        I MUCH prefer the Vintage Rose to the Velvet. Velvet is nice, but too “rose” for me or something. I like the more subdued, dark quality of the Vintage.

      • OperaFan says:

        Hear, hear! for the Vintage Rose fanclub!
        Just for fun and months ago, I blended some of my edp in with my favorite unscented lotion (which is rich with natural oils) and it held up very nicely in that base. Now I’m drawing a blank on the brand name but it’s one that you can get at the natural foods store and comes in the quart size….
        I’m not a big fan of incense fragrances for similar reasons that Ann described earlier. However, I can appreciate a good incense fragrance and IP is beautifully crafted. Also agree with you that this is an incense that blends in with natural outdoor surroundings.

        • Robin says:

          Oh, maybe that is what I need to try — just some unscented lotion. Thanks!

  12. boojum says:

    Ann, I have the same issue. Frankincense in particular is difficult for me, in any but the smallest supporting role…it screams church to me, and also has a similar feel to certain types of patchouli (of which I am definitely NOT a fan). Other incenses tend to be a lot more wearable, IMO… softer and less headache-inducing.

    • boojum says:

      Oops, I navigated away and got lost…this was in response to Ann’s response to Joe, up above. :D

      • Robin says:

        I wish I had a way to move mislaid comments, sorry!

        • AnnS says:

          Hey – I found it anyway!! ;-)

        • boojum says:

          Oh no, that’s ok… it was completely careless of me, so I just footnoted, so to speak. :)

  13. cmm says:

    Hi, R. I haven’t yet tried anything from SSS, but I love your reference to your idiosyncratic fragrance family classification system. I think we all may have too many of these than we care to admit. Just yesterday I was randomly thinking (lol) and out of the blue came to the realization that my method for selecting my daily scent makes absolutely no sense at all…but it works for me.

    • Robin says:

      If I was better at photoshop, I’d do my own fragrance wheel :-)

    • nozknoz says:

      Oh, I love the idea of idiosyncratic fragrance classification systems! I hope you’ll describe yours for us sometime, CMM, and that Robin will advance in Photoshop and produce the new scent wheel! :-)

  14. Erin says:

    I forgot you had the Northern NM (or Southwest) connection. Sadly, I won’t be there during the piñon burning time, but I’m going the third week of May for my first time in Santa Fe with my best friend, and looking forward to the sights and sounds and smells of a place I’ve always wanted to visit. Should get a sample of this…..

    • Joe says:

      Erin, Santa Fe is truly one non-coastal city I’ve been that I felt I would consider living (possibly Abq or Flagstaff too). It’s a magical place. If you get a chance to make the drive from SF to Taos, I cannot recommend it more highly. At the very least, try to make a trip up to Chimayo.

      • Robin says:

        2nd the drive to Taos, it’s lovely. And Chimayo (I still have a vial of the dirt). But I don’t think I could live in Taos or Santa Fe, although I would LOVE to live in Albuquerque.

    • Robin says:

      Erin, hope you have a wonderful time. Santa Fe is great fun.

    • Tiara says:

      If you like Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, be sure to visit the O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe. My son was doing a report on her in 6th grade so we went while we were up there. He had to drag me out of there!

      And I’m with Robin and Joe – take the High Road to Taos and stop in Santuario de Chimayo but enjoy the vistas around the route.

      If you happen to like Nambé Ware, they have an outlet store in Taos.

      • Robin says:

        Yes…have many wonderful “seconds” from the Nambe outlet, much cheaper than usual.

  15. redscorpio says:

    I recently ordered some samples from SSS and they arrived complete with a handwritten note from Laurie which was a nice touch. I love the Incense Pure and will ordering a bottle in the next few months along with the Vintage Rose- oh my credit card! It is wonderful that this line is so very reasonably priced and comes in small sizes. My husband can hardly complain about spending less than $40 on a bottle of perfume (I hope!).

    • Robin says:

      The line is very reasonably priced, so no, he ought not to complain!

  16. Rappleyea says:

    Excellent review Robin! I love this scent, and find it very soothing and meditative. I had an “ah ha” moment reading your description of “fresh”. Yes! You are exactly right although I hadn’t thought about it in that way. I have one of the test vials on my desk, and find myself sniffing it frequently, even on days when I’m wearing something else!

    • Robin says:

      It’s hard to even use the word ‘fresh’ these days — it too often means synthetic ozone or laundry detergent notes.

  17. RusticDove says:

    Oh my – this sounds really lovely. I just ordered an incense fragrance from Ava Luxe and haven’t received it yet but Serena said it’s a ‘greener, fresher incense and appropriate for warm weather’. I wonder if it’s similar to this?

    • Robin says:

      Oh, green incense sounds great too — do report back!

  18. Jared says:

    Wow, this one is really making the rounds…and I’ve kept the webpage for SSS open for a week now with intention to buy this, incense fanatic that I am. How I still don’t own Tauer’s L’Air or Incense Extreme is beyond me, but this will be added to my CdG collection. Can’t wait!

    • Robin says:

      I very badly want a bottle of the Tauer Incense rose…the new packaging will eventually push me over the edge.

      • Jared says:

        I hadn’t thought about the female offerings from the Tauer line. Anything Tauer and incense has to be fantastic!

        • Robin says:

          A man could easily wear the Incense rose! Not particularly feminine at all.

  19. Tiara says:

    The northern New Mexico connection has pushed me to buy. Ever since Daisy mentioned Champagne de Bois a few weeks ago, I’ve been meaning to place an order with SSS (now glad I procrastinated).

    My husband’s family lives in Abq. and we’ve explored much of the state over the years, with the Sante Fe/Taos area being my favorite part. Years ago, we were up in the Sangre de Cristos on a gorgeous fall day, the aspens had turned and were doing their “quaking”, the sky was that incredible blue and there was this glorious scent all around. Quite a magical day. If this can re-create any of that, I’ll be forever grateful.

    And I need to check out that room spray March mentioned.

    • Robin says:

      Oh, I hope it will live up to all of that! A sample can’t hurt, anyway.

  20. bergere says:

    Ooh, another SSS sample to try! Laurie is truly a perfumer who keeps perfumistas in mind; many thanks for the 5 and 10 ml sizes! I have enjoyed her Champagne de Bois and Tabac Aurea all winter, and this seems right up my alley.

    • Robin says:

      She has a floral one coming too…there’s a blurb about it on her website.

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