I’ve probably put off doing this specific ingredient because I’m not fond of spelling it. An extra “p” here an “o” turns to an “a” there. Before I get done writing this I’ll probably correct a dozen or more misspellings. Opoponax is one of the linchpins of Oriental perfumes. It is one of the critical components of three of the classic perfumes of all-time; Guerlain Shalimar, Yves Saint Laurent Opium, and Dior Poison. They owe much of what makes them so special to opoponax. It is used extensively as an earthier more balsamic alternative to myrrh. It also carries with it a sizeable powdery component which makes it especially amenable to providing the grounding for those kinds of ingredients.
I would wager most who love perfume don’t know what opoponax smells like although there are probably multiple perfumes on the shelf which contain it. I’m starting this month’s list with three different versions of the ingredient surrounded by benzoin and sandalwood. Each of them is slightly tuned differently around the opoponax. The most straight-forward is Santa Maria Novella Opoponax the benzoin and the sandalwood provide subtle foundation. It is the most unadulterated version of these three. The benzoin rises to be a more equal partner in Les Nereides Opoponax. It ends up also tilting a bit sweeter because some vanilla leads it that way to give a warmly satisfying sweetly resinous hug. Von Eusersdorff Classic Opoponax adds a floral shine on top via rose and a bit of animalic purr via castoreum but it is still primarily opoponax, benzoin, sandalwood. Once you’ve introduced yourself to opoponax here are three more where it stands out.
Diptyque Eau Lente was one of the original releases from the brand in 1986. Perfumer Serge Kalougine wanted to create an opoponax perfume as they imagined it might have been used by Alexander the Great who scented his cloaks with the smoke from burning the resin. What M. Kalougine does is to take an equally fantastic cinnamon as a partner to the opoponax. The cinnamon heats up the opoponax making it less viscous that it is by itself. While being one of my favorite opoponax perfumes it is also one of my favorite cinnamon ones, too.
Carthusia Ligea unleashes the powdery nature of opoponax more fully. Perfumer Laura Tonatto transitions from a crisp citrus opening into softer mandarin which accentuates the powder in the opoponax. Over time patchouli and benzoin find and magnify the more balsamic elements.
Before perfumer Mona di Orio’s untimely passing she made several incredibly artistic perfumes; Mona di Orio Cuir is among the best of those. Mme di Orio uses opoponax in conjunction with castoreum to provide a thoroughly engaging base underneath a smoke-laden leather accord. One of the best examples of the chiaroscuro style of perfume Mme di Orio practiced.
If you love perfume you’ve definitely worn a perfume with opoponax; now try one of these to try a perfume which features it.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased of all the perfumes mentioned.
One of the things I like about autumn mornings is the smell of smoke which hangs in the air in a visible haze. Smoke is a longtime part of fragrance. It can often be used poorly overbalancing a composition. Yet when it is used in balance it provides one of the more unique chords in perfumery. Here are five of my favorite smoky perfumes.
The perfume which made me fall in love with fragrant smoke was Tauer Lonestar Memories. It was the third fragrance by Swiss independent perfumer Andy Tauer. It was also after he had become the first independent perfume star due to receiving a 5-star review from Chandler Burr in the NY Times for L’Air du Desert Marocain. Hr. Tauer did what has always made me enjoy independent perfumers he set this anticipated release on fire. This is the figurative campfire scent of the American West. The early moments are the herbal slightly spicy greenness of the prairie. Then the campfire accord is formed around birch tar, labdanum, and leather. This smolders enchantingly before giving way to woody embers of sandalwood, myrrh, vetiver, and cedar. Hr. Tauer has always shown the admirable quality of following his muse; Lonestar Memories laid down an early marker to the truth of that.
My introduction to another independent perfumer was also shrouded in smoke. Olivier Durbano Black Tourmaline was a perfume with a smoky charcoal-like color to the juice. M. Durbano would layer on multiple versions of swirling clouds of smoke. Starting with skirling curls of frankincense swathed in cumin and cardamom. Leading to an intensely smoky heart accord of leather and oud before grounding it all with an earthy patchouli and musk. It was M. Durbano’s third release but it has always been near the top of my personal chart.
One of the few celebrity fragrances which rises to be able to be included on this list is 2nd Cumming. A collaboration between actor Alan Cumming and perfumer Christopher Brosius. Together they made a fragrance of whisky and cigars on the Scottish heath which has a fantastic haze of the peat fires burning. There are amazing fun grace notes to be found throughout like rubber, truffle, and mud but it is the burning peat which makes 2nd Cumming a smoky stunner.
Most smoky perfumes are either cade or leather. Perfumer Mona di Orio chose to use both in her Les Nombres D’Or Cuir. She wisely keeps it simple with a mix of cardamom and wormwood on top providing a twisted absinthe accord. The cade and leather could have become incredibly boisterous but Mme di Orio keeps it all controlled. The animalic is accentuated with castoreum and opoponax in the base. One of Mme di Orio’s best.
Australian designer Naomi Goodsir and her partner Renaud Coutaudier started the Naomi Goodsir brand in 2012 with an example of how to use cade for the smoke effect in Bois D’Ascese. Perfumer Julien Rasquinet leads you to it with a progression of mandarin, tobacco, labdanum, and incense. Then mixing cade with oak he provides a forest fire of charred wood which is gorgeous in its simplicity.
If you want to surround yourself in a smoky veil here are five of my favorite things.
Disclosure: this review was based on bottles I purchased.