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In addition to the incenses Katlyn was kind enough to send me, she enclosed a number of sample vials of body incense, perfume oils that can be used for anointing or otherwise perfuming the skin.  Two of these, Kyphi and Elf Oil, are still available on her site.

Their textures are, well, oily, as opposed to watery.  As such, they stay on the skin and are slowly absorbed.

Kyphi is based on ancient Egyptian formulas for temple incense.  Its blend is composed of Oman and Somalia Frankincense, Somalia Myrrh, Cassia, Labdanum, Port Orford Cedar, and LiquidAmbar.

Kyphi is composed largely of dark base notes that stick with you for a long time, slowly fading away.  The amber is pervasive from the beginning, lying beneath the other notes in a blanket of sweet smoothness.  Katlyn’s amber reminds me very much of Eden Botanicals’ lovely amber oils.  The prominent notes at the beginning are frankincense and myrrh.  The cedar lends a pleasantly piercing, piney note to the blend, reminiscent of menthol.  This balsamic accent cuts any cloying sweetness that the blend could have.  The result is a resiny amber that is velvety without being cuddly.

Elf Oil is a “’Fayrie’ formula that comes from the Bodleian Library 17th-century magickal manuscript” used for the anointing of the eyes to see the Faery realm.  Katlyn gives no list of ingredients (all 100% essential oils and absolutes), but here are my impressions of the scent:

It’s a lovely, light sweet floral that would suit springtime pursuits.  Initially, notes of petitgrain lend a green, citrusy, floral wood scent.  That part is fleeting, and is quickly followed by a dominant white floral like neroli or orange blossom.  As the neroli starts to fade, rose joins the blend and acts as a floral base note.  Interestingly, on my skin, the woody aspects of the rose showed up first until the neroli had faded enough to let the rose peek through.  The blend didn’t last long on me—maybe an hour at best—but the sweetest scents are often the most fleeting, are they not?

These and another new blend, Blue Lotus, can be found on the Mermade Magickal Arts web site.  Blue Lotus sounds yummy; it’s a blend of sandalwood oil and coconut oil.

Katlyn’s blends are often limited releases, so get yours soon before they’re gone!

Springtime is upon us!  I’ve been slogging away all winter working on my dissertation, and am ready to blossom in the warmer weather.

The incense has fallen by the wayside (for various reasons) until recently.  My restlessness takes the form of an increased yearning for the sensual–bring on the incense!!

I’ve been dipping into the stash of samples that Katlyn Breene kindly sent me from her incense making company, Mermade Magickal Arts.  For whatever reason, Indian incense just doesn’t seem fitting right now, nor does Japanese incense.  I feel like dancing around a bonfire in the night to waken the earth, not meditating or relaxing.  Push out and up into the light of spring.  For whatever reason, Katlyn’s incense blends push that button for me.

Sacred Grove and Earth Church:

Similarities thanks to the ingredients in common: fir balsam, cedar, juniper, and pine – all the foresty goodness you could ask for.  (Aside:  Why can’t piney body fragrances work so well??  They tend to end up smelling like Pine Sol: pine-scented household cleaning products)

Sacred Grove, however, riffs more on the resiny aspects of woods by emphasizing frankincense, storax, and labdanum.  While this good slug of resin could tend towards the sweet, powdery, ambery, or even citrusy, the balsamic-smelling aspects of the resins “hook into” the balsams proper.  To my nose, the piney, cedary aspects sneak up on you while you’re being dazzled by the orchestra of resins.  I love this stuff.

On the other hand, Earth Church focuses on the leaves and woods of the balsam family—the cedar and fir seem to take a front seat while the resins act as a bass line, rounding out the woods nicely.  The result is a blend that smells primarily of sweet, warm woodsmoke, with overtones of cedar and pine.

Aphrodesia:

Aphrodesia is a sweet blend showcasing rose otto, the fabulous essence of the rose flower.  The sweet, musky rose intertwines with other ingredients that are reminiscent of the sensual smell of skin or traditionally used in elixirs of love: sandalwood and aloeswood powder, ylang ylang and and a pinch of sweet amber/vanilla Tolu Balsam.  Labdanum and Hougary frankincense act as the resinous components.  This blend is simply yummy.  I love rose fragrances, but this blend excels beyond other rose-tinged incenses in my collection.  While rose is evident, its musky, sweet floral qualities are intensified by the ylang ylang.  And let’s not forget naughty naughty labdanum, so often used in perfumery to imitate ambergris or leather, and incorporated in amber blends to lend depth and sweetness.  (For more on labdanum, please read helg’s fascinating and thorough article.)  So for me, Aphrodesia works as smoky-sweet-skin-smell yumminess.  My favorite of the lot, but Sacred Grove and Earth Church are different enough from Aphrodesia that I need not pick Aphrodesia over the other two: buttons they do push, but each push different ones.

Pan’s Earth:

And let’s not forget Pan’s Earth:  It’s an earthy blend punctuated by piney notes.  Totally causes flashbacks for me:  when I light it, I’m back in my 12-year-old days.  We went to a retreat center in the mountains of North Carolina several times when I was younger, and I would often play in the forests and streams neighboring our cabin.  The air smelt earthy-damp and fresh with pine needles all the time–even though it was the middle of summer.  Wonderful time of freedom and relaxation in the mountain woods.  Aloeswood, patchouli, vetiver, vanilla, labdanum, Hougary frankincense, and Himalayan juniper wood.

You can also read my earlier thoughts on Sacred Grove, Earth Church, and Pan’s Earth.

Today marks the Autumnal Equinox, when the days begin their slow descent into winter darkness.  It also marks one of the first cool days we’ve had since July in my part of the world (US Midwest).  The sky outside is an even, pale gray.  Rain has been predicted, but none has fallen.  My tomato plants haven’t wilted yet, but the first average frost date is rapidly approaching.  The corn field I can see from my deck has gone past the gold of harvest into the brown of decay.  The leaves have not started to turn yet, but I anticipate they will soon enough.  It’s a perfect time to start talking about scents that help one start cocooning against the elements.

Incense:

I think spicy scents form a good bridge between the lighter woods of summer and the richer scents of winter. Shoyeido’s Kyoto Autumn Leaves is an obvious choice, featuring a spicy, rich blend of sandalwood, cinnamon, patchouli, and benzoin.  Shoyeido’s Golden Pavilion is similarly spicy, but adds the pervasive note of cloves to Kyoto Autumn Leaves’ blend.  Baieido’s Sawayaka Kobunboku / Imagine series Koh serves cinnamon lovers well with its toasty blend of aloeswood, cinnamon, and Chinese herbs.  Shoyeido’s Incense Road series may also appeal to spice-lovers, especially its Spicy Chai scent.

I don’t usually pay any attention to Martha Stewart, but she seems to love Halloween just as much as I do.  She’s got an interesting project for a “pumpkin incense burner” that allows one to fill one’s living space with the scent of spiced, baking pumpkin–specifically, pumpkin pie, for those readers who are familiar with this autumn treat.  I’m curious about how the project would turn out, but the amount of time needed to complete it gives me pause.

Autumn is also time to be outside amongst the falling leaves and chill breeze.  Scents that evoke earthy loam and bonfires are perfect for autumn.  Mermade Magickal’s Pan’s Earth is awesomely earthy and slightly musky, bringing together aloeswood, patchouli, vetiver, vanilla, labdanum, Hougary frankincense, and Himalayan juniper wood.  Mermade Magickal’s Sacred Grove and Earth Church both evoke the scent of the wild woods and nighttime bonfires.  Both feature a good proportion of fragrant woods and evergreen wood and resins.  They bring the scent of the ideal bonfire to your house.

(Sacred Grove’s ingredients: Hougary and Oman Frankincense, Turkish Storax, Labdanum, Fir Balsam Essential Oil, Western Red Cedar Wood, Powdered Grand Fir Tips, Himalayan Juniper Wood, Pinon Pine Resin, Copal Elemi Resin)

(Earth Church’s ingredients:  Poplar Buds, Fir Needles, Port Orford Cedar, Juniper, Oman Frankincense, Pine Resin, Salupati, Rose Petals, Bay Laurel, Cedar, Labdanum , Ylang Ylang)

My household has been sick for the past two weeks.  DH had either generic or H1N1 flu for a week (with a fever), and I came down with some sort of respiratory demon (sans fever) that has been living in my sinuses and chest for the past week.

For the first few days, I had the unpleasant experience of living without a sense of smell.  I can vouch that chocolate and ice cream are not very yummy without a sense of smell.  Forget incense or perfume!

The only thing I could smell (because I was practically stuffing it up my nose) was an essential oil mix I came up with called Cold-Be-Gone.  Feel free to try it out at home.  (Please attribute me as the original author if you want to share the recipe with others.)

DON’T actually stuff it up your nose.  Doing so will make you cry or worse.  I used a heated essential oil diffuser that I put next to the bed at night, which generated an intense sphere of scent that expanded to fill the bedroom.

Cold-Be-Gone Blend

12 drops peppermint essential oil
12 drops lavender essential oil
12 drops tea tree essential oil
12 drops eucalyptus essential oil
6 drops lemon essential oil

Depending on how much stock you take in aromatherapy, the above essential oils are either powerful antivirals working in midair, or will provide a pleasant, strongly medicinal-smelling placebo based on your past experience with strong-smelling vaporous balms and medicines.  YMMV.

Peppermint – chosen to sweeten up the blend – also supposed to help suppress coughs.
Lavender – chosen because I like it, also has floral and herbal components that work well with strong herbal scents – also supposed to calm and generally cure all ills.
Tea Tree – chosen because of its smell – very mentholated – used topically for skin problems, considered an antiviral, etc.
Eucalyptus – chosen because of its smell – supposed to help with chest congestion, considered antiviral, etc.
Lemon – chosen to brighten the blend a bit, could be eliminated – supposed to invigorate the senses and have a cheering effect.

Like I said, your mileage may vary.  But it helped me sleep a bit better, and seemed to keep DH from coughing so much.  And it smelled like it should be doing something. That’s a major part of the fun, right?

After a short break from perfumes, I’m back to my original olfactory obsession.   After the Japan trip, I started dipping into my shoeboxes of samples again.  This time, I’m on a quest for something that reminds me of Japanese incense, so my Top 4 reflects that.  No particular order.

  1. Comme des Garçons   Series 3: Incense Kyoto – The Comme des Garçons Incense series is supposed to reflect the incense traditions of five major “religious capitals” around the world.   That said, as in most perfumes, there’s quite a bit of poetic license at play.  Kyoto does not, as you might expect in a traditional Japanese incense, display the usual blend of sandalwood/aloeswood, cassia, camphor, etc.  Instead, the notes are incense (probably meaning frankincense), cypress oil, coffee, teak wood, vetiver, patchouli, amber, everlasting flower, Virginian cedar.  The overall effect is one of slightly smoky hinoki and earthy cedar incense at first, drying down to a somewhat musky smoked cedar smell that reminds me of a dry sauna.  (Note: It does not smell like Baieido’s Imagine Hinoki, Nippon Kodo’s Ka-Fuh Hinoki, or Mermade Magickal Arts Sacred Grove).  Note: This is the fragrance series that I mentioned in an earlier postMore reviews of Kyoto.
  2. Comme des Garçons Series 3: Incense Avignon – From the same series.  My appreciation for this went up 100% after having smelled Mermade Magickal Arts’ Golden Bough.  (Side note: I highly recommend smelling good examples of individual raw materials in order to pick out notes in perfumes–whether they be burnable or sprayable perfumes.)  I swear that the top notes smell just like Golden Bough.  Avignon then dries down to a very similar base to the Kyoto, somewhat muted earth and smoke but close to the skin. (Not surprising, since both are creations by perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour.)  Notes: Roman chamomile, cistus oil, elemi, incense, vanilla, patchouli, palisander, ambrette seeds.  More reviews of Avignon.
  3. Shiseido/Serge Lutens Féminité du Bois – Blends cedar with plum and violet notes to create a more wood-dominant that goes beyond the usual masculine accords involving wood, without falling back on the usual “add a bunch of vanilla or candy” that’s used nowadays to make woods “more feminine.”  I don’t detect any vanilla at all, just a silky, slightly powdery, slightly fruity cedar.  The fruitiness recedes on me as time passes, but the cedar stays prominent throughout its progression.
    I mainly mention the masculine/feminine dichotomy because it’s in the name–I’m all for finding perfumes based on how they suit me, rather than on who the target audience is supposed to be.  Notes: Ginger, cinnamon, clove, plum, peach, orange blossom, violet, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla, benzoin.   More reviews of Féminité du Bois.
  4. Diptyque Tam Dao – A sandalwood-dominant fragrance.  I wasn’t terribly impressed by this, and only wore it once.  At the outset, it smells like decent Australian sandalwood oil.  As it progresses, however, I find the drydown rather on the cloying side, or perhaps a little too close to the Sandalwood body spray I’m able to buy for a song locally.  Notes: Goa sandalwood, rosewood, cypress, ambergris.   More reviews of Tam Dao.

Overview:  I think you can detect my fandom for Japanese perfume houses coming out in this list.

I’ve got more samples coming in the mail, so next month should be interesting.

All lists of notes are taken from LuckyScent.

Féminité

I’d like to say that every single thing I bought was unavailable in the United States, but that wasn’t the case. Given my limited budget, I couldn’t afford to buy stuff up willy-nilly. A marked difference in price from the US-available stock was also a major factor for me, if it was something I wanted to try or to acquire. That’s not to say I didn’t make some random purchases, but they were usually in the 500-700 yen range. At any rate, I’m fairly pleased with what I purchased so far. Here’s my list, and I’m still working on my impressions of a few of them, so I’ll leave longer reviews and details till later. (I’ll probably start with the Kyukyodos at that point; I’ve been burning them a great deal lately.)

  • Kunjudo Karin Hien (Swallows in Flight) – awesome, will need to burn more.
  • Kunjudo Karin Zuitou (Golden Waves) – awesome, love love love!
  • Kunjudo Hachijuuhachi-Ya – real green tea incense
  • Kyukyodo Ryuhinkou – so cheap, who could resist?
  • Kyukyodo Higashiyama – aloeswood, sandalwood, and Chinese herbs – I love this
  • Kyukyodo Chitose – Old Mountain sandalwood, benzoin, camphor, other ingredients
  • Kyukyodo Umegaka – sticks with the scent of nerikou (kneaded incense)
  • Kyukyodo Ikaruga – this has been out of stock at Essence of Ages longer than I’m willing to wait ^_^
  • Shoyeido Horikawa
  • Shoyeido unnamed incense (or name in kanji) from Daisen-in temple in Kyoto
  • Baieido Imagine Hinoki
  • Gyokushodo Jinko Hoen
  • Kyukyodo’s bunny incense stand

Again, details forthcoming.

BONUS!
Things that I badly wanted to buy and that may remain on my “to try” list till my next trip to Japan, in no order:

  • Kyukyodo Miyuki
  • Kyukyodo Seigetsu
  • Kyukyodo Kinbato
  • Kyukyodo Shin’nyo
  • Kyukyodo Zuifuu
  • Kyokyodo everything (let’s just face it)
  • Kunjudo Hougetsu (Encens du Monde Guiding Light)
  • Kunjudo Matsurankou (Encens du Monde Pine and Orchid Wedding)

And the biggest three White Whales of all, which are easily caught in the States for more $$ (I’ll elaborate next time):

  • Koukando Shouchikubai (Encens du Monde Whispering Bamboo)
  • Koukando Sennenkou (Encens du Monde 1000 Years of Wisdom)
  • Awaji-Baikundo everything

I’ve been suffering from allergies and work these past few weeks, if you’ve been wondering where I’ve gone.  Because of the allergies, my incense intake has been quite reduced lately.

But I’d like to share some thoughts on Green Durbar, my current favorite of the Shroff line.  (Hopefully I will be able to take part in the Shroff lovefest happening now, but it looks doubtful due to several factors. <sigh>)

On the stick, Green Durbar smells earthy and herbal, as does patchouli.  The herbal or “green” aspect seems amped up beyond patchouli, though, into something approaching a Mediterranean herb–maybe thyme?  My first impression was that it smelled a lot like honey as well.  Perhaps there’s a good amount of benzoin in the mix to sweeten it?

Burning, the scent remains earthy, but gains a sweet, green floral tone–almost like clover.  The smoke still reminds me of clover honey, which smells sweet with an overtone of green flowers. (As a major tangent, if you’ve never tried different types of honey, it’s amazing what you’ll discover about their differences once you do.)

As with the other Shroffs I’ve got (Sandal Flora, Amber 707), the scent intensity is strong but not overpowering.  There’s a decent amount of smoke compared to Japanese incense, but not as much as other Indian or Tibetan incenses.  The after-scent does not stick around for days.

Continuing where I left off in my discussion of summer scents:

“Hippie scents” are generally earthy, woody scents that I buy at the local whole foods grocery or the local bath and body store, or make at home with essential oils.  Or commercial fragrances that smell like these, although I haven’t found any cheap enough for my budget.  My favorite summer 2008 scent was Aura Cacia patchouli and orange oils diluted in  jojoba oil.  I remember wearing a similar diluted patchouli oil concoction to the local Fourth of July fireworks display, and not getting bitten by any bugs.  (you decide if it was the patchouli or the cloud of Off! wafting from others)  I’ve asked other people, and the sillage (the cloud of fragrance extending from myself) from such homemade perfumes is minimal.

I’ve also been enjoying a nag champa body spray I had custom-scented at the Soap Opera (the aforementioned local bath and body store).  It’s fairly dead-on (DH asks, “Are you burning incense?”) but occasionally smells like cola drinks.

I’m not sure where the appeal of earthy scents in the summertime comes from.  Perhaps it’s a path of least resistance rather than an attempt to mask body odor?  It certainly does invoke outdoor playtime, digging around in the mud or dirt while gardening, etc.  I’m curious to try body incenses, and perhaps I’ll get a chance sometime.

Baieido’s Koh and Sawayaka Kobunboku are the same incense in different packaging.  It’s interesting that Baieido would present Sawayaka (“fresh and clean”) Kobunboku as the lone example of traditional Japanese incense/”koh” in their Imagine series.   It is pretty user-friendly, though.  I could see this as a gateway incense from the modern Imagine line into traditional Japanese incense.

On the flip side, the Imagine line, being modern, might attract incense users not wanting a traditional scent–whereas Koh seems traditional but also friendly.  I digress.

Also interesting, to my American nose, is the descriptor of this Kobunboku entry as “fresh and clean.”  On a blind smell test where I’m being introduced to the Kobunboku series for the first time, I think I would say that I would label the original or Byakudan Kobunboku with “sawayaka.”

And yet, Koh/Sawayaka Kobunboku is fresh and clean.

The cinnamon is warm but not hot like Red Hots or like some of the cinnamon-dominant candles I’ve smelled.  Instead the effect is gentle, like roasted cinnamon.  The comparison to cinnamon toast is fitting.

It seems to have a coolness underlying the spice that might otherwise come from a cool aloeswood.  The same high quality sandalwood as in the original Kobunboku is present.  Koh/Sawayaka Kobunboku shows same restraint as the original but with more spice–but it’s not “in your face” about it.

I’d say if you’re in the mood for a quiet, spicy wood that tends towards coziness, this would be a good choice for you.