5 perfumes: incense fragrances for summer

Incense sticks

It's almost August...for many of us, the really hot summer weather is just around the corner. Citrus fragrances often carry me much of the way through the humid late summers typical of the East Coast of the US, but last month I looked at some spicy fragrances suitable for summer wear, and today I've got five incense fragrances that work well on steamy days when anything too heavy will make you wilt before lunch. Do add your own picks in the comments!

L'Artisan Passage d'Enfer ~ arguably the quintessential summer incense, and a long time favorite of mine. It was developed by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti and reflects her quiet, almost-transparent style. There's a hint of flowers, a whoosh of cold, clear incense, and a lovely pencil-shavings dry down, all of it perfectly clean without smelling like laundry detergent. I haven't smelled a new bottle in some time and hope it has not been reformulated...my own bottle is almost empty.

Comme des Garçons Black Play ~ lighter than the more recent (and confusingly named) Comme des Garçons incense outing, Black. When I reviewed the latter, I said Black Play could be "the Eau Légère / office-friendly flanker or something", except that Black Play pre-dated Black. Anyway, Black Play is spicy and peppery, with hints of black tea and birch tar, but it's lighter than it sounds and works just fine in hot weather.

Comme des Garçons Ouarzazate ~ one of my favorites of the extensive incense offerings from Comme des Garçons, Ouarzazate manages to be both mild and invigorating, and smells just like what the name implies — a hot summer day in the desert. The very chilly Zagorsk (both scents are from the Incense series) would work fine in summer as well.

Aftelier Ancient Resins ~ a scented body oil that works just fine in any weather. When it's hot, I like just a squirt or two mixed in with my regular unscented body lotion. The result, once it settles, is a very light, close-to-the-skin layer of airy, outdoorsy incense, fine on its own or perfect as a base for whatever other fragrance strikes your fancy (it adds some depth to light citrus fragrances, for instance).

Annick Goutal Encens Flamboyant ~ the brand description emphasizes the "olfactory journey amid the Orient and its mysteries", but the persistent fir notes give it the feel of a cold night in a pine forest. Applied lightly, it's a great antidote for a too-hot day, and it's a calming scent in nearly any weather.

Your picks?

Note: top image is Colorful incense [cropped] by BizanceNCo at flickr; some rights reserved.

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74 Comments

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  1. Jamie K. says:

    Very nice list. I’d also add Chanel No. 22 (incense and aldehydes) and Serge Lutens L’Eau Froide (mint, incense and sea water).

    • Robin says:

      Nice picks. Admit I do not love the Serge but it’s a perfect summer incense.

  2. Erin says:

    Hard to say: I’d probably pick Etro Shaal Nur for warmer weather, but I wear that one in the fall, too. I admit that I don’t think of wearing incense fragrances during our short Canadian summer. I’m such a citrus-head that I stay boring and wear colognes all through the heat. (I like this series, though – really enjoyed the spicy-for-summer picks.)

    • Robin says:

      And to me, Shaal Nur is spring! It’s funny how differently we all categorize. May just do this post again 3 times and have a year of incense scents…

    • Tara says:

      Shaal Nur!!! It’s perfect for summer.

    • AnnS says:

      I love Shal Nuur all year round. Different aspects of it come out in different weather. I do always get a lot of rose and vetiver though.

    • Laurels says:

      I love Shaal Nur in hot weather.

    • trixiesweet says:

      I love Shaal Nur for summer but I get more of the spices rather than the incense. Too bad I slept on my sample (thus breaking it and having a Shaal Nur-scented mattress for several days later).

  3. Frederik says:

    I love Encens Flamboyant. I guess that would be my desert island pick.

    • Robin says:

      Ah, that’s a bold statement! I’d have a hard time narrowing down to a single desert island incense.

    • hajusuuri says:

      I will have a decant of this coming my way in two short weeks :-)

  4. Tara says:

    How about Bois d’Encens? I almost wore that today, but it’s only in the high 70s today.

    • Robin says:

      Very cool here today, for late July…yes, that would work, although I tend to think of churchy incense scents for winter myself. But either way, I do think if I could have just one of the Armani Prives, I’d pick Bois d’Encens.

  5. sweetgrass says:

    I’d add CdG Kyoto to the list too. Also L’Artisan Timbuktu.

    • Robin says:

      And I think Timbuktu came up in the summer spice post too :-)

    • bastet says:

      I also wear Timbuktu in the summer (and all other times of the year, actually).

    • MikasMinion says:

      I second Kyoto.

  6. morgana says:

    Here are two that I would like wearing in summer (unfortunately have only samples):

    Nu_Be Oxygen
    Cinq Mondes Eau Egyptienne

    • Robin says:

      I always forget about Eau Egyptienne…great scent, and another Olivia Giacobetti.

  7. Elisa says:

    I like both YSL Nu and LADDM in summer — they have that hot desert wind vibe.

    • Frederik says:

      YSL Nu is really good. Do you have the reissue? I haven’t tested that one.

      • Elisa says:

        I have the older, weird round bottle. I wonder how it has changed?

    • Robin says:

      Took me a minute to get L’Air du Desert Marocain — so am spelling it out for anyone else who needs it!

      • Elisa says:

        Sorry, I rarely use acronyms on first mention but I HATE typing this one out!

        • Robin says:

          I sympathize! And I used to be quicker to recognize acronyms, there are just so darned many now.

    • rendangboy says:

      The Tauer I would pick is Incense Extreme. There’s something about it I find very cooling :)

  8. aimiliona says:

    I wore Parfum Sacre yesterday.

  9. akimon says:

    I love Passage D’Enfer and I actually wore it recently for several days during a trip, but my go to scent during the scorching days of summer is Holy Water by La Via del Profumo. I am wearing it today. Perfect incense with rose and real Mysore sandalwood. Although I was initially planning to use it on special occasions only, given its price tag, it’s becoming more of a Holy Grail to me, since I have just finished my fourth bottle…

    • Robin says:

      Wow, 4 bottles! I don’t think I’ve replaced any fragrance as much as that.

      • akimon says:

        I know, this is crazy – I only have a few others where I am even as far as second bottle, but that’s how great this scent is..
        I do have three bottles of another perfect incense scent, L’Artisan Eau de Jatamansi, but that’s because I panicked when I found out they have discounted it, and bought extra bottles, including one tester from nearby perfume store. However, these are HUGE bottles and it will take me a while to go through them – or so I hope..

  10. AnnieA says:

    I tried some Amouage Interlude on a sunny day recently and really liked it. Probably not going run out and get it.

  11. Janice says:

    Barbara Bui (long discontinued, I think) was a very light, almost powdery incense that worked well in the summer.

    • Robin says:

      Oh, that was a great scent! Always hoped they’d bring it back.

  12. des esseintes says:

    I’m very much in love with Passage d’Enfer. Just used up a
    100 ml. bottle. We’ll se if I can afford a new one. Next month I think. Get lots of compliments on this one.

    • Robin says:

      Wow, you guys are all draining more bottles than I do!

  13. SuddenlyInexplicably says:

    Great idea for a post! Actually my go-to fragrance this summer has been an incense fragrance: Sideris by Maria Candida Gentile. It’s very sheer and cooling while at the same time having enough “spice” to be stimulating and uplifting. I think frankincense is actually a very cooling note, while also being calming. Top notes are french labdanum, saffron, incense, myrhh and pepper; middle note is sideritis, mountain tea; base notes are sandalwood, benzoin, woodsy notes and beeswax.

    Another cooling incense fragrance is Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande.

    • Robin says:

      I like Sideris although only tried once so far…will try to review it soon!

    • nozknoz says:

      Love Sideris! Glad you reminded me of it. I need to wear it this week while it’s a bit cooler.

    • Elisa says:

      I just got a sample of this a couple weeks ago! Going to wear it soon. Also planning to wear my Passage d’Enfer this week :)

    • Laurels says:

      I’ll have to dig out my sample and try it again.

  14. Merlin says:

    I don’t own it (unfortunately) but I do think Dzongkha would be great in summer.

    • Robin says:

      It surely qualifies but for whatever reason I think of it as an iris scent. Great fragrance in any case!

    • bluepinegrove says:

      I drained the last of my Dzonkha sample the other day and was totally amazed at how perfect it was in the heat. Must have it.

    • perthgirl says:

      Dzongkha is a summer staple for me. It’s fantastic on hot humid days

  15. Cybele says:

    Timbuktu and Avignon

    • Robin says:

      Solid picks :-)

    • sarcon says:

      yep, I love both of those as well. and in solid agreement on Passage d’Enfer – LOVE that one in summer. Smell Bent had a nice dry incense – “Tibet…” something “Tibet your life”? I don’t know, it’s no longer available but may have become one of the “Vocabulary” scents with a different name. very light and crisp.

      • Rictor07 says:

        You are thinking of Tibet Your Bottom Dollar

        • odonata9 says:

          You beat me to it! That was a really nice simply incense, and I generally don’t like incense scents.

        • sarcon says:

          yes, that’s it! thanks!

  16. Safran says:

    Incenso Viola from Sinfonia di Note is another nice summery incense scent, the incense is paired with violet and lily of the valley, very unusual. I could also imagine, one of my favourites from last winter, La Fumee Ottoman from Miller Harris could work very well in summer. To me it’s an airy, spice and fluffy incense shawl.
    Cheers
    Safran

  17. Aparatchick says:

    PdE Wazamba. Perfect for hot weather. I wear it all summer here in Florida.

    • Elisa says:

      Good call, I love Wazamba in the heat … used up a decant the summer I moved across the country.

    • perthgirl says:

      Yes! Damn that’s been on my to-buy list for an age now..

  18. Glannys says:

    L’Artisan Passage d’Enfer
    Serge Lutens L’Eau Froide
    Maria Candida Gentile Exultat

  19. hajusuuri says:

    I would add L’AP Seville a l’Aube although most people would probably associate it more with orange blossom.

    Another one that may be good for summer is Memoire Liquide Ensens Liquide

    • Robin says:

      Quite so, I think of it as ob…but great scent!

  20. ringthing says:

    Incense is one of my favorite categories and I like your choices. Ouarzazate is so overlooked. I would add Messe di Minuit as it’s like standing in an old stone building and Wazamba just because I think it’s cooling and ashy, and it’s fun to say :)

    • Robin says:

      So true, Ouarzazate is almost never mentioned! And Wazamba is just a great name.

  21. Jonas says:

    I’m on a bit of an incense tear lately. First I ordered a bottle of Diptyque L’Eau Trois unsniffed then I ordered a bunch of samples including Kyoto, Avignon, Passage d’Enfer and Timbuktu. I wore Kyoto today and loved it. I think the heat really brought the smokiness out of it.

    For incense lovers I highly recommend Nesti Dante Borghi e Monsasteri soap.

  22. Connie says:

    Incense Pure is my favorite incense and I actually discovered it in the summer- just a bit over a year ago now. I can see how some might find it a tad heavy in the heat, but the resin-y sappiness really comes out and is strangely and miraculously refreshing. Fantastic.

    • Robin says:

      That’s Sonoma Scent Studio for anyone who was wondering, and yes, great scent!

  23. KLMNOP says:

    On my skin, Comme des Garçons’ Blue Encens is definitely a summer fragrance. So wonderfully chilly. I see on Fragrantica that most people view it as a winter fragrance, which I don’t get, personally. Although I can definitely see wanting to wear it year-round.

    Also, I live in the tropics (the Philippines), but the scents that get me the most compliments are almost always winter scents. Spicy, ambery, woody vanillas and the like.

  24. Nile Goddess says:

    I go for Messe de Minuit.

    Prague has been under heavy rain clouds for the past week but it’s warm, so we need something to counteract the glasshouse feel.

    Am wearing Herba Fresca today, a no-brainer LOL

    Loove Un Jardin En Mediterannee too, and Vetiver Pour Elle.

    • platinum14 says:

      I second the Messe de Minuit.
      I sampled it YEARS ago, in Venice of all places, and found it too gothic. But I bought a bottle last winter (I just couldn’t get that name out of my head) and this time was surprised by how not-gothic it is. Reformulation…?

      I am also a great fan of Jaisalmer from the CdG serie with its fruity/spicy/amber combo.
      This week I also tried Carbone de Balmain for the first time in the summer. I always love it in the fall, but it also works on a not too humid summer day.

      • Nile Goddess says:

        Which one would you call gothic?

        For me it’s Voleur de Roses – every time I wear it – which is not often – I get told I “smell like a church” …

        • platinum14 says:

          I haven’t tried VdR yet.
          The first time I tried MdM I called it: Fatal interview with the Grand Inquisitor. Lol so I’m glad that I feel differently about it now.
          Avignon also seems to rub me the wrong way. I find it very gothic, not bad just a bit too much for my taste. Whi knows, I might love it in another 20 years… If it’s still around!

  25. Jaisalmer says:

    I own all of the fragrances you read about..I prefer Play though is heavier than Play Black..and Jaisalmer is perfect for these days…Passage d’enfer is fantastic too..and i would add Crystalle de roques by Olivier durbano…well I have to admit the only incense fragrance I wouldn’t wear these days is Casbah by Piguet…

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