Niche Fragrance Magazine

If You Go Down to the Woods Today: A Round-Up of Good Woods

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It\'s 4:20 at the Teddy Bear Picnic
Kristine Kristan / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Omer Pekji is one hell of a talented perfumer. I have been working my way through his pack of samples since March, and even though there are only five of them, they are the kind of perfumes you have to take your time with. Not because they are inaccessible – far from it – but because each of the perfumes is such a clear statement on each of the categories he has taken on (woods, incense, aquatic, leather, and oriental) that it forces you to think about everything the perfumer must have included and excluded on his way to finish the perfume.

So when I smell Odoon, I am not smelling and evaluating just a wood perfume, but rather the finished outcome of a thought process that kind of goes like this:

“I have smelled all the great woods perfumes there are to smell. Some of them are great, some of them are almost-great, and some of them are missing a lot. Here’s my answer to all of that. This is MY wood. This is what I think wood should smell like in a perfume.”

That kind of confidence could go either way, frankly. Because either my vision of what a great wood scent smells like lines up with his, or it doesn’t. Thankfully, it does. Actually, it’s the exact shape of the perfect wood scent I’ve been carrying around in my head for a while.

Actually, I am kind of amazed because this Omer Pekji has managed to create not only an Ur- woods for me (Odoon) but also an ur-Smoke/Leather (Cuir6). Given that I only like maybe one sample out of twenty, and even that one sample not necessarily making it onto my must-buy list, this is a weirdly phenomenal success rate. I guess I should just hand him my credit card and be done with it.

Anyway, Odoon. I don’t know what the name means, but every time I say it, I think of “Brigadoon”. I only vaguely remember the movie, but there were small people living in a forest and it looked like everyone was on acid. I broke my sample vial of Odoon and the liquid evaporated down into an attar-like sludge at the bottom, but I can tell you that it’s been ages since I smelled something that smelled this good.

It opens on a crisp note of wood smoke. It’s dry wood but there’s a slight sweetness to it, like little droplets of maple syrup caught inside the wood going pop, pop, pop when the log is put on the fire to burn. It is not at all acrid or ashy. It smells clean and sweet, like the start of the burn, not the end.

There’s a good brown, rich sandalwood here performing its deep bass thrum in the background, but its creamy, lactic pungency is kept nicely out of the picture, allowing the clean cedar to shine. Balancing out the clean, creamy side of things is a wet, green, rooty vetiver note, just bitter enough to keep things in perfect balance.

It smells rich and clean and sweet in that natural way a wood log does when it’s freshly split open. Nothing more and nothing less. I like it because it smells like wood without any unnecessary upholstery, and yet is not in any way blunt or raw.  To me, it is the most perfect lullaby of woods ever, and relaxes me in a way I thought Tam Dao would (but doesn’t). It is a restful, beautiful perfume, and an example of what happens when a perfumer has utter confidence in what he’s doing.

 

Tam Dao by Diptyque is one of those perfumes that always get cited in top ten lists of sandalwood perfumes, and so, when the opportunity presented itself, I bought it. Semi-blindly, I should add, because I was in a great rush. I did smell it briefly. But after having read about it for a full year before I got the chance to test it, I was at that stage so convinced that this was the calming woody perfume I was searching for, that it almost didn’t matter if I liked the brief sniff I had of it or not. I was determined to have it.

Of course, by the time I got it home and had time to think, I realized the truth. And the truth is that Tam Dao (the EDT version at least) is a perfectly nice cedar woods perfume, but it is not the grand Mysore sandalwood I’d read myself into believing. It’s more the plank section at the hardware store than anything else, and while this is indeed a very nice smell, it is also rather ordinary. I was looking for a spiritual revelation – a sandalwood dream – and I got builder’s crack. Oh well.

 

Precious Woods by April Aromatics – now that’s more like it.  This is a wonderful woods perfume. Although natural perfumes can sometimes be rather squat and muddy, Precious Woods has an impressive scope to it. There are several layers at work, and surprisingly I can smell them all quite clearly at different stages of the perfume’s progression from top to bottom.

The top notes are pretty dark and oily – pungent almost, with fir balsam, pine, and the full-on lactic sourness of sandalwood. It’s not pretty. Actually, it’s so dense it almost feels like the top notes of something like Norne by Slumberhouse (not in terms of smell, but a general sense of notes crowding in on you too thickly). Each time I wear my sample of Precious Woods, I have to admit I have to brace myself through the opening.

Soon, though, I get my reward for being patient. Through the camphorous murk comes a wisp of incense smoke, weaving through and cutting the density, and paring back the oily balsams until you see the real object standing there unobscured – a rich, clean cedar. For much of the middle section of Precious Woods, there is an almost equal dance between cedar and incense. It smells richly spiced, slightly smoky, but clean and satisfying – never too oriental or ‘decorated’.

The best bit, by far, is the dry, creamy brown sandalwood that rises up from the base. Oh my God, it’s so good. It has that spiced gingerbread sweetness that I catch in scents where really high quality sandalwood has been used, like in Neela Vermeire’s first three fragrances or vintage Bois des Iles. I tolerate the opening of Precious Woods, thoroughly enjoy the heart notes, but I luxuriate and stretch my toes out in the base. It’s more than worth the journey it takes to get there. It’s a really expensive choice, Precious Woods, but the richness, the surprisingly well-worked-out development, and the delicious sandalwood in the base make this a strong ‘maybe’ option for me. Highly recommended!

 

Another woodsy perfume I quite enjoy is Spice and Wood by Creed. It opens on a peppery note of clean cedar that also reads as quite boozy to my nose, at least in the first few minutes. I have sometimes noticed that the combination of pepper (especially pink pepper) and cedar can produce a sort of boozy effect, because it’s something I’ve also picked up in Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille and even Ambre Nuit by Dior Privee to a certain extent. Either way, it strikes a precarious balance between vinegar-pure alcohol and a deeper, sweeter booze note.

The booze note burns off quickly, leaving a clean, simple cedar note. On top of the cedar, I notice a fresh green apple note, and what I thought was something sharp like violet leaf – but it turns out that this is angelica. The overall impression is of a classic cologne, fresh and almost sporty, like Cool Water, over a warm cedar skeleton.  It is pleasantly clean and natural-smelling, basically one of those things you could throw on and know that you smell discreetly good.

But to me, it lacks any purpose beyond its overall pleasantness – it is not distinctive enough to make me want to pay for a full bottle of it, or even a decant, and it seems a bit too shapeless to hold up under scrutiny for a whole day’s wear. It is quite weak and short-lived, which strikes me as unfair when you consider the price.

On the other hand, its genial, undemanding woody loveliness does have a time and place. Perhaps if nobody had told me the price of this, I would have enjoyed my sample more. As it is, this is a good, discreet woods scent that would suit someone who has the money to pay for it and prefers, in general, the watery, natural-smelling colognes that Creed does so well. Me, I prefer heavier, less fresh stuff, and I am not really your average Creed customer anyway, so keep my prejudice in mind!

 

Cedre Sandaraque by Parfumerie Generale is a half-singed, half-syrupy woods perfume that recalls the gourmand-woody approach used in both Aomassai and Coze, but in my opinion, without the genius of those two. It starts off strong but later develops this odd flour and praline note that’s too foody to be elegant. The blast of raw cedar and berries at the start is a wild ride, alright, but as with many PG fragrances I find myself wishing that the striking opening half hour could be sustained just a little more. The creeping sweetness and the raw wheat flour note makes for a leaden, lumbering heart, and then it limps into a sickly-sweet and almost fruited amber base. A bit stomach-churning, to be honest.

 

A simple but lovely and honest wood scent for last – Hinoki by Comme des Garcons. This is very relaxing and outdoorsy. Hinoki smells very much like cedar to me, except with a slight tinge of lemon or bergamot somewhere in the mix, and a huge dollop of camphor. The camphorous aspects of the Hinoki wood add this fresh, green, almost wet feel to the perfume and sometimes smells even a little bit industrial at times, like glue or paint – although, let’s be honest, glue and wet paint also smell bloody fantastic, so no complaints here.

In general, the slight smoky-incense feel to Hinoki makes this a true sister scent to Kyoto, also by Comme des Garcons, and who knows, it may have been the basic template for Kyoto. Either way, both these scents share a green, slightly camphorous, woody incense character and are both equally diffuse and translucent in texture. Elegant to the bone, minimalist, stylish, and grounding – these are two of my favorites for when you need to carry the great redwoods of Oregon around in your personal headspace.

My name is Claire, I'm a 39-year old mother of two, and I am a freelance writer and consultant. I love perfume, any perfume, practically all of 'em. Other interests such as writing, reading, and painting fall tragically behind the perfume. It's a hobby that tends to be all-consuming (of both my time and my money).

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