It's winter in Australia and I’m dipping into the woodier side of my fragrance wardrobe, typically reserved for the colder months. The woody fragrances I am currently enjoying are mostly favourites carried over from last winter, and a couple of new ones. Here are five favourites.
PENHALIGON'S HALFETI LEATHER (2019)
Notes: Citrus, cypress, green notes, prune, nutmeg, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, violet, Moroccan rose, Atlas cedar wood, oud, incense, leather, patchouli
Perfumer – Christian Provenzano
This classic British perfume house has two sides to its personality. One side consists of fragrances that are well-mannered and easy to navigate like polite British society. The second is adventurous scents that inspire travel and hark back to the old world when the British Empire was expanding. Halfeti Leather belongs to the later. The best selling Halfeti (2015) is a great success story for Penhaligon’s. Halfeti Leather is perfumer Christian Provenzano’s rework of his original (last year Halfeti Cedar was also launched). Provenzano is a master at creating complex, layered woody-amber fragrances. It’s no surprise he is sought after by brands in Southern Europe and the Middle East where this style of fragrance is a commercial winner. Halfeti Leather is an opulent study of Eastern spices, leather, woods and oud. Bridging the spices and woods are accords of violet and prune which give the fragrance body and dimension. The dry down on skin is a beautifully balanced blend of incense, leathery notes, oud and a halo of dry spices.
CoSTUME NATIONAL HOMME PARFUM (2020)
Notes: Bergamot, grapefruit, cardamom, vetiver, patchouli, cinnamon, sandalwood, labdanum, musk
Perfumer – Dominique Ropion
Every time I smell a CoSTUME NATIONAL fragrance, I’m reminded of just how good this Italian fashion house is at creating fragrances. Soul and Cyber Green are some of my past favourites. The recently launched Parfum version of CoSTUME NATIONAL Homme is an excellent example of what they do well. IFF perfumer Dominique Ropion, a modern-day master, returned to rework the original formula he created with Ennio Capasa in 2009. CoSTUME NATIONAL Homme Parfum doesn’t stray far from its parent. Fans of the original will notice a subtle muting of the spicy cinnamon note and the generous overdose of vetiver, the beating heart of the fragrance. Labdanum and musk create a warm ambery dry down with powdery animal notes that envelope the wearer at the finish. Ropion tames these typically rustic notes into a sophisticated elixir.
ORTO PARISI BRUTUS (2014)
Perfumer – Allesandro Gualtieri
Allesandro Gualtieri approaches perfumery more like art than a commercial endeavour. He describes his Orto Parisi perfumes as a garden “planted, fertilised, cultivated, and harvested. Orto Parisi states that our body is experienced like a garden, and its smells are a true mirror of our soul.” There is an element of mystery in his work and instead of listing notes, which brands typically offer to guide the consumer experience, Gualtieri stays mute, leaving wearers of his perfumes to create their own interpretation. The proliferation of niche fragrances brought with it the rise of independent, artisan perfumers. While some artisan perfumes come from maladroit, self-taught creators, Gualtieri is a rare exception. His work is often unconventional but always thoughtful, and technically well-executed. Brutus is a brut of a fragrance. It has the same freakish tenacity as other Orto Parisi fragrances (I also love Bergamask but it takes at least 2 laundry cycles to remove it from clothes). Whether intentional or not, Brutus shares some similarities with powerhouse men’s fougères of the 1980s which straddle notes of fresh citrus, rosy geranium, woods, tonka bean and chest-beating musks. Brutus turns up the ambery notes and the dry down is an exceptional beautiful rosy-amber structure that glows and expands infinitely like an experiment in nuclear science.
CHOPARD BLACK INCENSE MALAKI (2020)
Notes: Lavandin, cardamom, cinnamon, clary sage, cumin, frankincense, oud, cypriol, Altas and Virginian cedar wood, labdanum, guaïacwood, leather, amber
Perfumer – Alberto Morillas
If “perfume of the year” was defined by the number of times I wore a fragrance in 2020, Black Incense Malaki would be crowned. I’m surprised by how addicted I am to this fragrance. One, it’s a concept that has been done countless times already (spicy, leather-oud), and I normally don’t lust after this style of fragrance, but there is something about it that keeps me coming back for more. Black Incense Malaki is the work of Firmenich’s master perfume Alberto Morillas. One of the industry’s most prolific creators, Morillas has created over 600 fragrances, and he is credited as perfumer for more than 30 fragrances in 2020. Unofficially, Gucci works exclusively with Morillas. Black Incense Malaki would fit perfectly into Gucci’s uber-luxurious Alchemists Garden collection so Chopard deserve respect for choosing to launch this as a prestige fragrance. For just over $100 a bottle, it’s a steal. Black Incense Malaki pays tribute to frankincense, the prized resin revered in Eastern cultures for millennia. The incense note is pitched between exotic spices like cumin and cardamom, and smoky woods like gaiac and cypriol. The real star of Black Incense Malaki is leather. I’m not a big fan of quinolene-driven leather accords, which often feel cold and austere. Here the leather note is coupled with warm and cuddly notes of amber and musk. It’s a beautiful play on contrasting textures.
MATIERE PREMIERE SANTAL AUSTRAL (2019)
Notes: Almond milk, Australian sandalwood, Florentine orris, benzoin, tonka bean
Perfumer – Aurélien Guichard
I’ve loved the smell of sandalwood for as long as I can remember so I seek out fragrances that have it in the title. As someone living in Australia, who loves sandalwood, Austral Santal was a no-brainer and it didn’t disappoint. Following the success of Le Labo, so many new sandalwood fragrances imitate Santal 33’s structure of dry woody notes coloured green with undecavertol, a molecule which has a fresh cucumber note and an accent of powdery violet. Tired of copycats, I found it refreshing to discover Santal Austral, which goes in a different direction to its predecessors. Matiere Premiere’s co-creator and perfumer Aurélien Guichard created a collection where each fragrance spotlights a single ingredient with an overdose of the highest quality. Yes, so many brands market their fragrances saying they only use the best ingredients, but I am comfortable writing this about Matiere Premiere. For Radical Rose, Matiere Premiere’s latest fragrance, Aurélien used an overdose of rose centifolia absolute, harvested from his family’s own rose garden in Grasse. For Santal Austral, he worked with sustainable sandalwood oil harvested here in Australia. When I spoke to Aurélien about Santal Austral, he spoke about the importance of being able to smell the highlighted ingredient. The formula is very concise. The nutty milkiness of natural sandalwood is amplified by an almond milk note. A gourmand facet is added with balsamic benzoin resin and tonka bean absolute. When brands avoid the Santal 33 prototype, a stereotype they often fall into is overplaying the origin of sandalwood, pairing it with Eastern spices, oud and ‘exotic’ notes. Santal Austral avoids all these clichés. It feels contemporary, urban and most importantly, original.
More of my current favourite fragrances this season are featured my Instagram.
Samples were provided by brands or their local distributors for review.