I once had a colleague who owned a horse farm. Every year about this time he would be waiting for the moment that it was time to go harvest the hay that would feed the horses through the winter. I went to visit during the harvest one year. The smell of the dried sweet grass was beautiful in the midsummer heat. Because of that experience I always think of hay as a summer style of perfume. Most others see it as something to be worn in the fall. Because it is the right time of year I thought I’d share my five favorite hay perfumes.
My first perfume encounter with hay came from Serge Lutens Chergui. Named after a desert wind that blows through Morocco, perfumer Christopher Sheldrake would set the table for most hay perfumes to come. He chose immortelle and tobacco as the companions for the hay to replicate the hot wind. On that stiff breeze is also carried sage, orris, sandalwood, leather, and honey. It is one of the best of the entire Serge Lutens collection.
Parfumerie Generale Bois Blond was inspired by the smell of the hay harvest in summer. Perfumer Pierre Guillaume comes the closest to capturing the smell of that harvest. He cleverly marries a green grass accord which as it develops dries out to the hay with tobacco providing more sweetness. It all rests on a desiccated cedar base. This is usually my yearly reminder perfume of the hay harvest.
Santa Maria Novela Fieno is named after hay but doesn’t contain any hay absolute. Instead the heart is a hay accord which is a bit of an abstraction as hawthorn, jasmine, myrtle, and coumarin combine to form this olfactory illusion. When I wear Fieno I always notice the pieces at first. It is only when I stop focusing that I get this beautifully composed facsimile of hay.
Diptyque Volutes is a perfume which has continued to impress me more every time I wear it. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin uses the same immortelle, hay, and tobacco nucleus as Chergui. The difference is he infuses his with resins and spices namely black pepper and myrrh most prominently. It is a perfectly balanced perfume that is nearly flawless.
I have only had my sample of the last choice for a few months but Cognoscenti No. 30 Hay Incense has imprinted itself on me. Independent perfumer Dannielle Sergent keeps it simple. Hay absolute and frankincense intertwine. Immortelle also makes a late appearance as well as birch leaf and vetiver. It is a gorgeous perfume.
I will not be standing in a field this summer but any of the five perfumes above can transport me there if I breathe deep and close my eyes.
Disclosure: I have purchased bottles of everything except Cognoscenti No. 30 Hay Incense which is courtesy of a sample from Cognoscenti.
There are times I probably treat independent perfumers like Pokemon; gotta have ‘em all. The downside of that mentality is I too often forget about them after the initial acquisition. Back in 2012 I became aware of a young independent perfumer by the name of Dannielle Sergent and her brand Cognoscenti. She created five very beautiful initial releases. At the time when I was at CaFleureBon the other writers were as impressed as I was and they ended up writing about them. I would meet Ms. Sergent in New York City soon after this and we spoke about independent perfumery from both of our perspectives. I enjoyed our interaction but I never followed up once I started Colognoisseur even though I was seeing great things written about the line. Thankfully this particular Perfume Pokemon didn’t like being shuffled to the bottom of the deck and contacted me. Which then led to my receiving samples of the entire collection.
One thing that was beneficial in having that four-year interval was being reminded of how good the original five were. It also showed how much she had been growing as a perfumer. Ms. Sergent composes in a minimalist way. Her fragrances have a number followed by a simple two-word phrase indicating the keynotes most of the time. Even though the perfumes are simply defined they carry that portmanteau of simplexity I like to use when describing these kind of fragrances. Of all of the new releases I tried, the one which shows this best is No. 30 Hay Incense.
When I use the made-up word simplexity I mean to convey that something which seems straightforward has hidden depths. When I wear Hay Incense the hay and the incense are ever present. It is those notes which run underneath that surface which turns Hay Incense into something more than a simple two-note fragrance.
Hay Incense opens upon the titular notes right out there. For a few moments I am able to take in the sweet dried grass of the hay against the slightly metallic feel of a church incense. Then from below bubbles up birch leaf providing a pungency which enhances the hay. Immortelle which enhances the austerity of the incense. Throughout the next few hours another note arrives and adds depth. Benzoin followed by lavender, followed by leather then vetiver. None of this disturbs the hay and the incense always in ascendance.
Hay Incense has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
This style of perfumery is too easily dismissed as lesser because it is seemingly so simple. It requires a bit of attention by the wearer to truly get the most out of wearing Hay Incense. That extra awareness pays dividends because the real beauty is right there under the surface.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Cognoscenti.
Header Photo: Annabelle Breakey Photography for Cognoscenti