Scent Appreciation 2 – Slow Burn

It seemed an off the beaten track venue for a perfume launch: an ancient church in the City of London. I was intrigued. As I entered the glowing, candlelit space set out with Zen like refectory style benches and tables, a timeless misty aroma of earthy ancient woods took over. The feeling was immediately reassuring – my body melted and relaxed. That incense imbued sacred space turned out to be the perfect setting for the unveiling of the original Shiseido Féminité Du Bois perfume to press in 1992. Based on cedarwood, the scent (created by Master perfumers, Christopher Sheldrake and Pierre Bourdon with Serge Lutens) was quiet, soft, resinous and radiated a luxe androgyny that cut through the overhang of out-there fruity florals of the 80s. An understated disrupter, Féminité Du Bois was the trail blazer for niche perfumery, celebrating the craft, putting ingredients and perfumers centre stage. Even though I didn’t go on to wear the scent (a little too complex on my skin, it wore me rather than the other way around), however, it inspired me to appreciate the stark yet enveloping pencil shaving goodness of cedarwood. Also, away from the crowded shelves of perfume counters, I was able to experience viscerally the power of scent to bring us into the moment. A reminder that perfumery has its roots in the use of precious woods, flowers and herbs great sages and shamans have used in rituals for healing, transformational purposes over centuries. Indeed, cedarwood is one of the oldest aromatics – the Egyptians used it for its anti microbial properites in the enbalming process. To ancient Syrians and Mesopotamians, the Cedar tree represented enduring love, and they burned cedarwood incense to honour the spirits of their ancestors. The word sandalwood is derived from the Sanskrit Chandanam meaning ‘wood for burning incense’ and appears in the Vedas (the oldest Indian texts.) To this day sandalwood is used in Puja, yogic rituals. Even if we’re not yogis, we can benefit from what the mystics always knew, by taking moments in our day for our own little calming aromatic ceremonies. For me, burning precious wood or woody incense helps clear the space physically and ground mentally for meditation – I collect favourites on my travels – here are some recommendations. Palo Santo ‘holy wood’ is from the coast of South America, which you can find as ‘raw’ sticks – to use, hold the tip downwards, light until you see a flame and then let it smoulder and walk around to distribute the sweet, smoky aroma. Toast Palo Santo Kit, £35 contains 5 sticks of naturally collected wood, with a beautiful hand thrown pottery bowl to safely place a smouldering stick once you have diffused the smoke, ready to re-use. Copal is another resinous wood which has been used as ceremonially burned incense by the Mayans. I came across it on retreat in Tulum, Mexico, and re-create the feeling with Earl Of East Copal £16 for 10 sticks which are hand rolled in white copal resin. When I’m doing Puja (yogic ritual) I’ll use sandalwood incense for its sweet, soothing healing golden thread to the great yogic sages. In my meditation kit now is Auroshikha Sandalwood Incense, £1.25 for 10 sticks. When I’m intention setting, journalling or contemplating, I’ll light a candle. The flame is symbolic of eternal light, also the element of fire which represents transformation in the yogic Ayurvedic system – at the mind level, the conversion of ideas into deeper understanding. I choose something with a supportive, healing aspect such as Synchronicity Scents Love Candle, £45 a heart lifting blend of rose and patchouli with balanced with the warmth of clove flower oil, creamy smooth vanilla and bright notes of orange. Or, JOGB SloJo Relaxing Candle £65 a deliciously unwinding combination of mood shifting naturals including earthy woodsy patchouli, cedarwood, lavender, geranium and labdanum.

  • Get your favourite incense at the ready and join me on Instagram for a simple, meditative moment to re-set
  • Or grab your favourite candle and experience a little Trataka – candle gazing meditation here to re-focus
  • Read more about ritual, scent and calm in my article in the latest Scented Letter magazine. Got to to sign up for your free copy
  • Look out for my next column online early November

Scent Appreciation with Catherine

As human beings, we yearn for connection and the pull of scent connects us on a deep level. It’s probably the reason you’re here, reading this now. Our sense of smell is one of the most primal, yet mysterious of all the senses. Much as the science of scent is advancing, we don’t quite understand the subtleties of our olfactive receptor cells (do they work by vibration, recognition, both?) There is no doubt though that a beautiful scent can spark joy by bringing us into the moment; creating and re-connecting us to good times; giving us a lift when we need it most. We all have our own fragrance blueprint – an intertwined, complex and personal stream of subconscious emotional memories which shape our preferences. I can pinpoint my first scent wearing memory back to around 1978 when I was 13/14 years old. I was an avid reader of Honey magazine, enticed by the Charlie fragrance ads featuring Shelley Hack, 70s super model of the day, beaming smile, glossy hair, striding confidently in masculine/feminine trouser suit and heels. Soundtrack: Le Freak by Chic. This was the era of the green Chypre – which then led me to Chanel 19 – and, most recently, to the surprising Frederic Malle Synthetic Jungle. Of course, there have been many in between including Prescriptives Calyx; a 90’s delve into musks of Donna Karan Cashmere Mist; Keihl’s Musk Oil and the natural rose and sandalwood of Aveda Love Oil. And, in the past couple of decades: Francis Kurkdjian Acqua Universalis, Byredo Gypsy Water, Hermes Poivre Samarcande, Chanel 28 La Pausa. They all remain in my cupboard for those Proustian moments to just take a whiff and take me back.
Throughout 20 years plus as a beauty and health director on glossy magazines, there came a point where I needed to slow down. I fell deeply into meditation and yoga, and as I did so, my mind began to clear and it felt natural to take a scent sabbatical. My travels took me on a path of self-discovery, to silent retreats, hours of yoga in the Himalayas, a sojourn in Bali immersing in meditation. Once I began sharing the teachings I’d learned, something surprising happened – I found less of a need for new all the time, and I simplified my beauty routine. Pre-pandemic, it felt that we had reached a nadir in the industry. That the number of launches had become overwhelming. Things are different now. There’s a move towards the more sustainable, the natural, creative craftsmanship and quality over quantity. It’s time to fully appreciate the luxury of wearing fragrance in the way we want, whatever the label or the price tag. In this regular column, I’ll focus on mindful/mood news and innovation in the world of aroma. Join me every fortnight as we enjoy deepening our love of perfume together…
There’s more:
* Read my feature Aroma, Ritual and Peace of Mind in the latest issue of Scented Letter (here)
* Join me on YouTube for some meditative stillness and scent (here)
* Look out for the next Scent Seeking column Scents of Stillness online