Smoke can be indicative of danger: the stove is on fire, the electrics are short circuiting. But that isn’t always the case. In perfumery, smoke – be it incense, burned rubber, the smoke of alchemy, or a crackling log fire – can be intoxicating, addictive and very distinctive. Perfumes that have smoky elements linger in the mind and on the skin, and they range from charred remnants of a BBQ grate to the pure white smoke of the ecclesiastical censer.
Here we have collected together some of the best, brightest and most interesting smoky fragrances. No longer confined to just the winter months, here you will find beauties to wear year long when you simply have to smoulder.
If you’re looking for scents with other particular elements highlighted, then check out our posts on dark rose fragrances, fruity scents, leather scents, vanilla and scents which use mint in their composition.
Flame and Fortune by Sarah Baker
Listed notes: Orange blossom, pink pepper, apricot, ginger, mandarine, petitgrain, lily of the valley, iris, jasmine, tuberose, motor oil, burnt wood, labdanum, fire, mezcal.
Flame and Fortune by Sarah Baker is simply scintillating. Here we find the lift of orange blossom, pink pepper and ginger anchored and grounded by motor oil and burned wood. At first glance at the notes you may worry that the “dirtier” notes would sully that beautiful, innocent orange blossom but it doesn’t at all. They enhance the beauty even more, making it radiant and splendid rather than hum drum and dull. This is a superb fragrance which wears beautifully in the summer and definitely worth a look if you want to wear something with a sense of magnetism.
Serin by January Scent Project
Listed notes: Marigold, sage, heliotrope, incense.
January Scent Project are a brand who really push materials to their limit and Serin by them is no exception to this rule. Here the smoky element is a potent incense which is contrasted against the floral marigold. It feels like a combination which shouldn’t work, but actually it really does. Serin is also a really bold and full-of-life scent which isn’t the sort of thing you wear when you want to fade into the wallpaper. It’s almost a guarantee though that you won’t have smelled anything like this, so if you want to be memorable then this is a fantastic one for you.
Encens Suave by Matiere Premiere
Listed notes: Incense, labdanum absolute, benzoin, coffee, vanilla.
Normally, if something has to tell you that it is “suave”, I would probably argue that that was the exact opposite of what it really was. Not true here. Encens Suave by Matiere Premiere justifies that name and then some. This is liquid suave in perfume form. The incense here is the absolute star of the show, the smoky element is white, purifying, and dizzying, and the fact that it is backed by the rich sweetness of benzoin and vanilla which sit alongside fresh, steaming hot coffee, it is just altogether an absolutely intoxicating brew. Superb stuff.
Fat Electrician by Etat Libre d’Orange
Listed notes: Vetiver, chestnut cream, olive leaves, myrrh, vanilla, opoponax.
Etat Libre d’Orange never shy away from humour and controversy in their scents and the evocatively titled Fat Electrician shows their sense of humour in full flow. This “semi-modern vetiver” scent turns very “cigarette smoke” on skin. It’s reminiscent of pubs in the early 2000s before the smoking ban came into effect and indeed, if you close your eyes and inhale, you can imagine the thick scent of a slightly perspiring electrician with a cigarette balanced precariously on his bottom lip. This doesn’t necessarily sound like the most alluring of scents, but sweetened and balanced by the chestnut cream, this actually does turn into a wearable yet very distinctive fragrance.
Quality of Flesh by Homo Elegans
Listed notes: Juniper berry, baies rose, black pepper, narcissus, patchouli, styrax, costus, leather, civet, benzoin, castoreum, oud.
If that British pub smell is what you are longing for (especially when they were closed so long for the pandemic) you could do a lot worse than to reach for Quality of Flesh by Homo Elegans. Quality of Flesh is a pretty faithful recreation of the pub environment, from the slightly sticky, old wooden tables, to the carpet that has absorbed drip after drip of beer over the years.
Rausch by JF Schwarzlose
Listed notes: Pink pepper, sandalwood, cypriol, patchouli, vanilla, amber, oud.
If, perhaps, you would rather find yourself in a European club at 4am in the morning, you might try Rausch by JF Schwarzlose. This is a raunchy, debauched, riot of a fragrance. It smells of bodies pressed close together, smoke, leather. There is nothing polite about this scent which is animalic and raunchy. Definitely one to use with caution, but delight in when you do.
Rake and Ruin by Beaufort
Listed notes: Gin, orange, lemon, coriander, juniper, angelica, liquorice, pink pepper, sichuan pepper, pine needles, cypress, costus, castoreum, labdanum, cade oil, violet, orris, sandalwood, wood, ambrarome, musk and plenty of smoke.
If it is something a touch cooler, a touch more historical you require then opt for Rake and Ruin by Beaufort. This is an absolute firecracker of a scent full of uplifting elements like gin, peppers, cypress and violet, but they are obscured by drifting smoke which hides and reveals different facets in turn. Rake and Ruin is a detailed study of smoky darkness and it is the sort of fragrance you wear on a cold winter’s evening to ward off evil spirits…that is, unless you have found you’ve become one yourself.
There are many Beaufort fragrances which cater to those fascinated by smoky elements in scent, Terror and Magnificence being another one which showcases this facet beautifully.
Arborist by Jorum Studio
Listed notes:Quince, honey, saffron, osmanthus absolute, magnolia, burdock, papyrus, mugwort, rose absolute, tuberose, myrrh absolute, spruce resin, Douglas fir, labdanum, jatamansi, malt, lichen.
Jorum Studio are a brand who don’t do anything by halves. Their scents are detailed, complex, and – quite honestly – they all feel like they’re set in a parallel universe just close to this one, maybe one or two worlds over. Everything they do is either blown up or shrunken down to strange proportion, or twisted and woven into something new.
Arborist by Jorum Studio takes us deep into a garden, it’s a garden though which feels like it is run by some headless gardener though, and he has piled the leaves and pine needles high and set fire to them. This scent is what happens as they just start to smoulder. Or perhaps it is the scent as the headless gardener’s leather-clad hand snakes over your face…
Ultrahot by Jus
Listed notes: Frankincense 10%, Leather accord (orris absolute) 5%, Elemi 5%, Habanolide 15%, Astrotone 20%, Safraleine 1%, amber accord 9%, Bourbon vanilla extract 5%, Iso-e-Super 20%, Atlas cedarwood 5%, Muscenone 5%.
Ultrahot by Jus is a fragrant, white, savoury and addictive type of smoke – likened in our review to the sort of scent you get from burning dry sticks and twigs at the allotment, alongside the metallic tang of the dustbin you burn them in. There is really something quite addictive about this scent, very moreish. And there is nothing hard about the smokiness here, it is soft, pillowy, almost cocooning. Definitely a very interesting interpretation of the smoky brief.