Last week I bemoaned the fact that Etro Rajasthan didn’t smell like India. I’ve smelled what seems like a zillion perfumes, watched plenty ad campaigns, and read through news releases, so I know I shouldn’t expect fragrance names or PR to match reality. I may be disappointed Rajasthan didn’t conjure India (for me) but if that fragrance had been good, I would have forgiven false advertising. This week, I’m wearing Naomi Goodsir Bois d'Ascèse* (ascetic wood) and the aura of the perfume matches its name and description: “…a secluded CHAPEL, BLAZING dusk, moment of GRACE, DIVINE smoke, silent CANTIQUE….”
Bois d'Ascèse conjures one of my favorite places — northern New Mexico; the fragrance creates a dry, austere, pungent scene. Willa Cather was on my mind as I wore this fragrance (I’m reading her letters) and I think a tiny vial of Bois d'Ascèse should accompany every volume of Death Comes for the Archbishop — Cather’s New Mexico novel in which her European characters travel through Santa Fe, Ranchos de Taos, and Acoma, Isleta and Laguna pueblos.
The scent of Bois d'Ascèse reminds me (at first) of an old pantry full of assorted “stuff”: musty tobacco boxes, spice dust (or maybe a fragrant bag of BBQ rub), a glass hurricane lamp filled with oil, a bundle of aromatic wood destined for the fireplace or grill. As Bois d'Ascèse develops, quickly, it begins to smell like an outdoor scene: a dry valley full of baking stones and adobe houses, junipers oozing sap. The aroma of incense (or a piñon-fueled campfire) is on the wind. Up close Bois d'Ascèse is intense (and long lasting); but its sillage is sweeter and gentler. In the extreme dry-down, a malty note emerges with some amber.
Within ten minutes of application, Bois d'Ascèse settles into a linear, smoky wood/incense perfume…where it remains for hours. I enjoy the fragrance, but I would have liked more layers of development and some unexpected “pops” from that campfire. Bois d'Ascèse’s main ingredient is either one helluva tenacious accord or a super-powerful single ingredient. A flower, strong, assertive, would have been welcomed somewhere in Bois d'Ascèse: a lily blooming in the adobe’s court yard, perhaps? Marigold would be heavenly. A fistful of pungent desert herbs/leaves? I layered Bois d'Ascèse with a mimosa fragrance oil I own and love the result. Bois d'Ascèse reminds me of Boadicea the Victorious Explorer, but it's even more “bleak.” (That is not a put-down by the way!)
I’d buy Bois d'Ascèse in candle form in a split-second, but my incense perfume collection runneth over…I don’t need another one any time soon.
Naomi Goodsir Bois d'Ascèse Eau de Parfum is $150 for 50 ml.
*Perfumer: Julien Rasquinet; fragrance notes of tobacco, whiskey, oak moss, cinnamon, cistus labdanum, amber, smoked cade wood, Somalian incense
Note: top image of Old Church at Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, 1902, via Wikimedia Commons.