Perfume Notes: Summer smoulders

Summer's smoldering scents

Once upon a time, a perfume writer’s annual summer sniffathon was pretty predictable. (And predictably pretty.) Airy florals, refreshingly citrusy Colognes, scents as sheer as a see-thru blouse. All lovely stuff, for sure. But in the last couple of years, there’s been a shift. An increasing number launches have also begun to smoulder, sexily, showcasing darker and more mysterious woods, resins, ambers and velvety (sometimes animalic) base notes.

I’ve a very strong hunch there’s a demographic reason for this – and it’s to do with the fact that our cooler summer weather (a little too cool currently, if you ask me) lures increasing numbers of high-spending Middle Eastern perfume-lovers to London for a respite from the baking sun of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Saudi and elsewhere. Their history is bound up with that of perfumery itself – and appreciation of some of its most intriguing materials: oudh, rose, amber, frankincense and other sweet resins is almost in their DNA. A mere spritz of bergamot-fresh Cologne is never going to cut it with these connoisseurs of deep, dark perfume – and as a result, fragrance houses have adapted their summer offering with the aim of tempting Middle Eastern customers to further grow their ‘fragrance wardrobes’.

And we’re talking extensive, walk-in, sometimes ACTUAL fragrance wardrobes, here. The head of the Fragrance Foundation Middle East, no less, once confirmed a rumour I’d heard that Arabic perfume-wearers often layer as many as seven – yes, seven – fragrances, at any one time. (Some on the body, some on their clothes. Which is a whole other column.) What’s more, he told me that the average Middle Easterner in the UAE owns 170 fragrances. It’s not unknown to host parties for your friends so they can admire (and of course sniff) your collection, frequently showcased on its own custom-built display. And if that isn’t something for the Western scent aficionado to aspire to, what is…?

But of the current crop of ‘summer smoulders’, these have my pulse (and pulse-points) racing.

Sisley Soir d’Orient, £114 for 50ml eau de parfum. Sisley’s Eau du Soir has become the signature scent of so many elegant women, mostly unswervingly devoted to the original Chypre classic which is as dressed-up-and-take-me-to-dinner as it gets. But this deeper, more seductive take on that original classic adds spicy hints of Turkish rose and Egyptian geranium to the signature freshness of Iranian galbanum and Italian lemon, with incense, sandalwood, patchouli (and I get little whiffs of oudh) adding rich mystery to the base. Pure opulence, for summer evenings – and I suspect it could entice away many Eau de Soir-wearers. (Or at least be scooped up for their ‘wardrobe’.)

Jo Malone London Incense & Cedrat, £105 for 100ml Cologne Intense. Rather than play up incense’s dark side, here, perfumer Marie Salamagne gives the resin an innovative freshness through the use of zesty cedrat (a.k.a. ‘citron), and weaves through it the smokiness of guaiac wood. But it’s overwhelmingly soft, as the fragrance develops: she also used almost vanilla-y benzoin and labdanum, described by the early Arab perfumers as ‘the sweetest-scented of all substances.’

Agent Provocateur Fatale Intense, £36 for 30ml eau de parfum. The racy lingerie brand creates its sexiest yet, spicing things up with touches of pepper, chilli and black leather in a steamy floral Oriental that’s so darned smouldering that it’s threatening to ignite. The edges are beautifully softened and rounded out via touches of vanilla and amber, alongside touches of licorice and lotus blossom.

Tom Ford Noir Pour Femme, £53 for 30ml eau de parfum. A floriental with a naughty side, don’t be deceived by the fleeting citrus overture. Warming spices rapidly make themselves known on the skin, and the long-lasting trail of this is very compelling, with its vanilla, amber and polished sandalwood. In the heart? An element of surprise: an almost good-enough-to-eat accord of Indian kulfi, with touches of creamy pistachio accenting rose absolute, jasmine and orange flower. I’m crazy for the matching Hydrating Emulsion, £35 for 150ml – brilliant layered underneath, or on its own.

Annick Goutal Ambre Sauvage, £166 for 75ml eau de parfum (currently only available to personal customers at Harrods). The Annick Goutal fragrance house is best-known for its airier fragrances – but it shows a new, richer persona with a trio of Les Absolus d’Annick Goutal. ‘Amber’ isn’t an actual material, so in perfumery it’s recreated via accords of patchouli and resins, to aphrodisiac effect – Camille Goutal describes it as ‘one of the most carnal accords in perfumery’ - and this has bewitched me with velvety iris and vanilla, alongside the amberiness. (There’s an equally sexy Vanille Charnelle and a modern, subtle take on oudh, with 1001 Ouds – definitely not an in-your-face oudh, but perfectly expressing the intrigue of that Middle Eastern staple. I say: cast any prejudices aside about oudh until you’ve explored it in its manifestations. 1001 Ouds is a good place to start.)

Aedes de Venustus Pallisandre d’Or, £185 for 100ml eau de parfum at This is my favourite yet from celebrated New York perfume shop Aedes de Venustus (they’ve progressed from simply selling fragrances to discerning Manhattanites to developing their own). By celebrated ‘nose’ Alberto Morillas, 'AdV' describe this as it ‘olfactory marquetry’: a smooth fusion of spices (pink pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon), a rare sandalwood, woodily warm copahu balm and patchouli. It also offers the smokiness of Lapsang Souchong infused with frankincense. Very, very nuzzleable.

Atkinson’s Amber Empire, £100 for 100ml eau de toilette. From a heritage fragrance house which has been beautifully resurrected, this is a recreation of a 1927 fragrance which is alleged to have been one of the first Orientals introduced to the Western world. (Guerlain may beg to differ, but let’s not quibble.) It’s amber, amber all the way: another favourite Middle Eastern element, for its soft, come-hither sweetness – and I totally get why.

Amouage Memoir Woman, £175 for 50ml eau de parfum at This isn’t new – but it’s new to me (and has had strangers stopping me in the street to ask what I’m wearing - always a great sign). Omani-based fragrance house Amouage can be hard to get your head round (never mind your nostrils), with so very many exotic and intriguing fragrances in their wide portfolio – but it is worth whiling away a pleasurable hour or two at their Knightsbridge boutique to do just that. (Lovely, non-pressuring staff.) This delivers a cloud of rose, oakmoss, musk, frankincense, jasmine, white flowers and a whipcrack of leather, and is still on my skin the morning after the steamy night before.

Jo Fairley is Co-Founder of The Perfume Society, offering events, an award-winning online magazine The Scented Letter and 'discovery boxes' for perfume-lovers. You can follow the Perfume Society on Twitter at @Perfume_Society and Jo Fairley at @jojosams