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…

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5 perfumes: spicy fragrances for summer


For many of us, this is about the time of the year when we start to shuffle the contents of our perfume collection, moving the darker and heavier fragrances towards the back. It’s not at all unusual for me to reach for a light citrus or beachy fragrance in winter as a form of denial, but it’s sometimes harder to pull off the reverse, that is, to wear a spicy comfort scent in summer. Many of them are just too thick and rich and overwhelming to wear when it’s hot, or worse, hot and humid. Here are five sheer spices to try in summer when you’re missing your winter favorites.

Demeter Gingerale ~ a perfect rendition of gingerale, including the fizz…

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5 perfumes for: a Desert Sun-seeker


Like many kids — including, currently, my daughter — in elementary school, I dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. We lived in Steeltown, Central Canada, but my parents humored me by giving me books on whales and sharks. Then, when I was ten, we moved to the Pacific Northwest, to live within walking distance of the ocean, and my mother realized humoring me now was going to involve keeping tanks full of weird, wet, smelly sea things in our laundry room. She was a good sport about it. Eventually, I went away to do half my double major in biology as an undergraduate and in the meantime, my parents had moved to the other coast. I spent two university summers living with them, working for an Atlantic fish conservation agency, and those months spent in hip-waders, prying errant eels out of fish ladders and tagging traps, cured me of the childhood career dream. But my love affair with the ocean has not wavered.

For a while after I left home, then, I was suspicious of any vacation destination or employment opportunity that lacked access to saltwater. Once I was married, though, my husband coaxed me into moving to Alberta. After I got over the nosebleeds, I found I enjoyed the famed high blue skies of the west, and day-trips to the badlands to the north and in Montana suddenly appealed. Again, I started reading, desert stories like The English Patient and Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, books about Mexico, Wilfred Thesiger, the Battle of the Little Bighorn and, oddly, Los Alamos. The reading led inevitably to vacation plans and traveling, trips to New Mexico, North Africa and to the arid edge of the South American altiplano…

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5 perfumes for: Foodies

Ice cream cones, Jordi Roca

Recently, I re-watched El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, Gereon Wetzel’s very scrupulous, very German 2011 documentary about one of the final years at the restaurant many food followers believe to have been the most influential of the last two decades: elBulli, brainchild of rumpled Catalan genius Ferran Adrià. Besides falling in love again with both the mad scientist menu and Adrià’s right-hand man, dashing chef de cuisine Oriol Castro, the thing I really noticed on this viewing was how familiar the scenes might seem to our readers. Adrià and sommelier David Seijas discuss what families scents fall into and how to emphasize notes from individual ingredients with other ingredients. Adrià, Castro and Eduard Xatruch go to the market, and are frustrated by the variable qualities and availability of the raw materials they need. In the lab and kitchen, there are endless “mods”, sampling and editing sessions and passionate discussions about the time-lapsed impressions a product gives. Everyone sniffs, and then stares thoughtfully off into space.

Of course, if you’ve been following perfume in the news, none of this will be a surprise. Chefs and perfumers have long recognized their mutual interests. Cooks have used essentials oils in recipes since the thirteenth century, and medieval cuisine included dishes like ambergris pudding, rose and almond milk pottage, candied calamus root and marigold (calendula, or “pot marigold”) stew. Perfumers, meanwhile, have always sought to make their creations mouth-watering, and a few contemporary ones, like Christophe Laudamiel, started on the flavorings side of the trade. It certainly seems, though, that both fragrance and food industry spokespeople have recently become more vocal about publicizing collaborations, particularly on the luxury ends of the markets…

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5 perfumes: At the Discounters

Kenzo Ca Sent BeauGeoffrey Beene Grey Flannel

Before I collected fragrance, my “hobby” (read: single-minded fixation) was used books. When I first started buying perfume, my husband rather encouraged the interest, because he thought it might distract me from my bibliophilia: he was tired of hauling dozens of very heavy boxes full of my dusty, smelly, fragile purchases each time we moved, and besides, how much perfume could one bluestocking wife buy?1 HA!

We still have many, many books about the apartment, including the out-of-print literary fiction and back issues of The Paris Review of those times. Reading the acknowledgements and writer interviews, I’ve noticed there are some authors so frequently mentioned as “underrated” that it’s a wonder how anyone manages to overlook them. Occasionally one will reach a critical mass of “underratedness” and then a clever publisher will reissue a handsome series of books from his or her back catalog, hopefully while the writer can still enjoy the attention and royalties. Just as I was starting this post2, I found out one of my favorite authors, Evan S. Connell, died in January, in Santa Fe, New Mexico; if you know his work, you’ll join me in a moment of silence for a great literary stylist who long toiled in relative obscurity. Luckily, in recent years Connell had his revival and much of his fiction and non-fiction has been reissued, including a book I think would find an appreciative audience here, The Connoisseur. While I was delighted to see Connell recognized with glossy new editions, there are some books best encountered among the overflowing shelves and random piles of a good used bookstore, and The Connoisseur is one of them. Any fragrance nut will recognize the path to obsession charted by Connell’s recurring protagonist Karl Muhlbach: the chance find of a fascinating thingy, the curious way time and space collapse as the new interest is researched and money is spent, and the hungry and vaguely alarming welcome one is given by more experienced collectors…

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