#SmokeWithoutFire: Everything You Need To Know About Smoky Perfumes

Here's Why We All Love A Little Smoke...

Here's Why We All Love A Little Smoke...

Perfume. It all started with smoke. Incense-laced wafts of it heading skyward were considered to be pleasing to the Gods and a vehicle upon which prayers may reach the heavens by the ancient Egyptians. The word itself came to us “through smoke” which is what the word “per fumem” meant. From these wispy origins, the art of perfume emerged. Today, smoke still lies at the core of perfumery, acting as a vehicle for other notes to shine: leather and smoke make for a heady, masculine scent, for example. Smoke lends florals substance, pulling them out of cloying and into bewitching. Pop a little smoke into an oud and it pads it out, giving the base notes depth and interest. The modern synthesis of that smoky note comes courtesy of birch tar, a rich polish used in tanneries. Other options include cade oil, quinoline (which smells like a leathery, smoky mix), and resins like styrax, labdanum and opoponax. Animalic notes like castoreum (derived from the North American beaver and often used in cigarettes to add flavour and scent) are also used to add smoky nuances. Key in the use of smoke - as in all things perfume - is getting the balance right. Smoke has power on an instinctive level. The presence of it awakens the brain’s survival mechanism - it believes that where there is smoke, surely there must be fire. Too much, then, and you have a scent that kicks you into high alert on a subconscious level (and smells like burnt rubber or smoky bacon, which we wouldn’t recommend as your daily spritz of choice). Get it right, and you’ll have an olfactory hit that will put you right by the fire. These do just that:

Hermes Cuir D’Ange, £167 for 100ml This is a clean take on smoked leather. It is a sweet haze coupled with an airy leather that smells refined with just a hint of tobacco aroma. It is the smell of a new leather handbag, opened sat next to a crackling fire. It is, in a word, addictive. Christian Dior Leather Oud, £120 for 125ml Smoky, sexy and seductive: this perfume embodies our favourite S words and some stellar notes including leather and oud to make this a powdery, wearable scent that recalls medieval churches. Les Exclusifs de Chanel Cuir de Russie, £120 for 75ml Chanel’s take tiptoes around smoke, pulling little tendrils of it into the otherwise floral, fresh perfume. The result is warm, uplifting and spicy all in one. Maison Margiela Replica By the Fireplace, £80 for 100ml This is an unabashed celebration of all things smoke based on cade oil, which is one of the smokiest notes used by perfumers. Add in notes of grilled chestnuts and firewood and you have yourself a quintessential winter evening in a bottle. 

Here are our 10 other smoky fragrances that fuel our fires:

1. Lancome Cuir de Lancome, £49.99 for 50ml 2. Givenchy Oud Flamboyant, £150 for 100ml 3. Jo Malone Orris and Sandalwood, £105 for 100ml 4. Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque, £115.95 for 48ml 5. Penhaligon As Sawira, £150 for 100ml 6. Fire by Mary Greenwell, £130 for 100ml 7. Armani Prive Bois D’encens, £155 for 100ml 8. Atelier Cologne Gold Leather, £145 for 100ml 9. Tom Ford Tuscan Leather, £145 for 50ml 10. Comme Des Garcons Amazing Green, £62 for 50ml ... And we love these candles to conjure up bonfires and smokiness: 1. Jo Malone Incense and Embers Home Candle, £42 2. Cire Trudon Ernesto Gold Candle, £74.95 3. Perfums De Marly Smoky Vetiver Candle, £75 4. Diptyque Feu de Bois Scented Candle, £20 5. Jo Loves Log Fires, £325 for 2.2kg 6. Roja Parfums Christmas Candle, £75 7. Willow + Honey Lemon Leaf & Amber, £27 8. Byredo Apocalyptic, £60 9. Iiuvo Woodgrain, £50 10. Malin + Goetz Tobacco Candle, £37

Lisa Oxenham

An award-winning health and beauty writer, stylist and creative director, Lisa Oxenham is one of the UK’s top beauty editors and the Beauty and Style Director at Marie Claire UK. With 20 years of editorial experience Lisa is a brand partnership expert, and a popular speaker, panelist and interviewer on a range of topics from sustainability to the future of beauty in the digital world. She recently spoke at Cognition X and Beauty Tech Live and is on the Advisory Board for the British Beauty Council’s Sustainable Beauty Coalition.

A well-respected creative director she works on celebrity, model and influencer shoots with the highest calibre of photographers, filmmakers, make-up artists and hairstylists to create timeless images, attention-grabbing videos, digital events and masterclasses. Most recently Lisa has directed covers such as Lily Cole and Jameela Jamil, films such as Save The Arts featuring Francesca Hayward and sustainable fashion shoots such as Be The Change. Supporting the beauty industry over the pandemic has been a top focus, directing the British Beauty Council’s six inspirational short biographical films for their Bring Back Beauty campaign.

Lisa is a wellbeing and beauty influencer with a focus on mental health and a large and engaged audience on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.