We cedar-WOOD urge you to try these fragrances!

Do you remember the smell of your school pencil case? That’s really the smell of cedar, which is of course also the wood used for pencils. Of course it smells woody, but that’s just too simple: it also has a freshness, with hints of resin. If you’ve ever walked in an evergreen forest, cedar will transport you back there, too. And so many utterly fabulous fragrances employ cedar to evoke this forest-y wonderment.

It’s mostly the foliage (from trees grown in the Atlas mountains of Morocco, or Virginia in the USA) that is steam-distilled to produce the intense oil, which is also used in aromatherapy for calming and balancing. Sometimes, the roots and the wood of this slow-growing tree are used, putting some environmental question marks over its use today. Partly for that reason, there are now quite a few cedar-like synthetic notes used to give depth and a ‘grounding’ quality across some women’s fragrances – and many men’s.

As ‘nose’ Christine Nagel explains, cedar wood can be used to different effect: ‘Virginian cedar has a dry and almost “nervous” effect in a fragrance, whereas cedar wood from the Atlas Mountains is much warmer…’

Which of these cedar-infused fragrances do you want to try first? We urge you to seek them out in the colder months ahead for the comfort of nostalgia plus the magically spacious quality they can offer in a scent…

 

 

Ostens Cedarwood Heart

‘Cedarwood Heart leaves a dry, almost pencil-shavings scent on the skin that’s then softened by an unexpected, slightly creamy and almost vanilla like quality’ they say, and within seconds of this sumptuously comforting scent being on your skin, we know you’re going to fall for it in a big way. The cedar is nuanced, flinty at first then sinking into that deliciously soft creaminess, which has a natural sweetness but stays far away from the ‘gourmand’. Truly woody, with a sense that you’re floating above a forest in a dream, or are somehow living in a storybook treehouse. Magnificent!

Try a sample in the Ostens Discovery Set£40 for all six scent samples to adore!

 

 

 

Maya Njie Nordic Cedar

Within Nordic Cedar, you truly feel as though you’ve walked into one of the atmospheric photographs Maya Njie is inspired to create her fragrances around. Harking to her part Swedish heritage, although we may never have visited the exact forest this scent evokes, all of us wearing it can feel a sense of towering trees, the shadows thrown by lofty canopies far above our heads, that reassuring comfort of cedar mixed with earthy patchouli – all enclosing us in a hug as cardamom gifts brightness, ambergris adds cool mist, and it feels like we’ve been on a fabulously fragrant walk.

Try a sample (along with five other fragrances) in the Maya Njie Discovery Set – £34 for 6 x 2ml samples

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale

 

 

 

Experimental Perfume Club Smell Like a King

A brilliant blending of heritage and modernity in which so-clever perfumer/ founder Emmanuelle Moeglin melds ginger, turmeric, salt-tinged woods and mellow tobacco of her Cardamom Moss with the unashamedly magnificent leather and herbaceous depth of the stunning Cedarwood Absinth base (do also try this scent on its own – glorious!) Think wooden-panelled rooms and freshly rolled cigars glinting with a verdant freshness, mellowed with a husky muskiness that exudes confidence. Easy to wear yet stylishly characterful, this really deserves a fanfare.

From £35 for 8ml eau de parfum experimentalperfumeclub.com

 

 

Laboratorio Olfattivo Tonkade

This cedar-enriched stunner is from the perfume house’s Nero collection, with an unusual opening of seasonal dried fruits, neroli, tonka bean, and a cool breeze of cardamom spice leading to a crescendo of warm woods – all swirled with that deliciously dry cedar to meld the composition. In the trail, patchouli and soft vanilla add to the moody, woody vibe which positively bursts out of the so-stylish bottle. Then as the pace slows again, enjoy a smoky-sweet base accord that swirls with soft musks – a misty perfumed path you’ll be following (and trailing) all day…

From £110 for 100ml eau de parfum pulseofperfumery.com

 

 

COSMOSS Sacred Mist

Kate Moss taps into powerful ingredients to showcase into her spiritual side, embracing meditation  and mindfulness with her signature gusto. And we couldn’t be happier with that metamorphosis, expressed via her Cocomoss skincare collection, also offering us an astonishingly accomplished Chypre creation in which subtle jasmine and tuberose fuse with geranium and bergamot. It’s the sense-soothing, calming notes of oakmoss, cedarwood and tonka that we’re spritzing and re-spritzing – on and off the yoga mat.

Try a sample (plus 11 other scents & a body care treat) in our Garden of Delights Discovery Box £23 / £19 for VIPs

 

 

Straight to the (pulse) point: the scent of pencil shavings & ‘back to school’ nostalgia

To get straight to the point (I’m not even sorry) the scent of pencil shavings is often cited as one of the most-loved nostalgic smells. One whiff can transport us to nostalgic reveries of childhood, and the giddy ‘back to school’ excitement of buying a new pencil case and assorted accessories.

‘In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.’
Vincent Van Gogh: letter 136, 24 September 1880.

So which pencil did Van Gogh for? He reportedly favoured a carpenter’s pencil for his intial sketches, at first, but later came to prefer a Faber pencil, writing to his brother that ‘They’re soft and better quality than the carpenter’s pencils, produce a marvellous black and are very agreeable to work with for large studies.’

Pencils matter very much to the writers, artists, creative thinkers, list-makers and stationery nerds among us. Because, no matter our actual experiences of school – gilded, halcyon days for some, unsettling and full of trepidation for others – that scent just takes us right back; and in a perfumer’s hands, can evoke a kind of olfactory optimism.

The pencil as we know it today was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. Previously, pure carbon (what we call graphite) was wrapped in material or used on its own for mark-making. When it was first discovered, carbon was mistakenly believed to be lead, and, as the always excellent brainpickings.com informs us, ‘…was called ‘plumbago’ or black lead (hence the ‘plumbers’ who mend our lead water-carrying pipes), a misnomer that still echoes in our talk of pencil “leads”.’

Most often, we hear people sniffing cedar-rich fragrances ahhh-ing blissfully and saying ‘pencil shavings!’ when asked what they’re smelling. And there’s a good reason for that. As wood-database.com tells us (there really is a website for everything, isn’t there?): cedarwood ‘is the primary material for wooden pencils, because it is soft and tends to sharpen easily without forming splinters.’

 

 

Perfumers love cedar for its smooth, dry resilience, and its ability to play well with so many ingredients. It smells woody, obvs, but that’s just too simple: it also has a freshness, with hints of resin. If you’ve ever walked in a lush, evergreen forest, cedar will whisk you back there, as well as the schoolroom. It’s mostly the foliage (from trees grown in the Atlas mountains of Morocco, or Virginia in the USA), then steam-distilled to produce the intense oil, which is also used in aromatherapy for calming and balancing.

 

 

The artistry of precise pencil sharpening is not to be ignored, either. David Rees enjoyed it so much that he wrote a book on How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening, and he was so good at it, he took to being paid to sharpen other people’s pencils. Though the demand has been so great, Rees has since stated he has ‘effectively retired’ – now charging up to $500 for his services, so that ‘…I don’t know if I’m technically retiring, or just raising my prices so high that I assume I will never have another customer.’

Many fragrances wishing to evoke the schoolroom must also find a way to incorporate the slightly metallic aroma of graphite – along with the cedar, wood polish and other, more abstract smells that somehow represent a sense of naivety, a yearning for a chance to start again, captured in a bottle.

Some smells associated with school are best left out of a fine fragrance – overcooked cabbage, damp mops and sawdust covering various effluvia sping to mind; but these fragranced products and personal scents are cleverly composed to provide a highly refined – and sometimes welcomingly whimsical – time-travel trip for your nose…

Noted pencil-makers Caran d’Ache have collaborated with perfumer Alberto Morillas‘ fragrance house, Mizensir, to create pencils infused with the scent, Alps Spirit. The set of four graphite pencils ‘carved from fine woods and manufactured entirely in Geneva will transport artists to the opulent Alpine region’ via foresty patchouli, musk and nutmeg and a background glow of subtle orange, to recreate ‘…the sensation of watching the awe-inspiring sunrise over the Alpine peaks.’


Caran d’Ache + Mizensir Pencils No.9 £35
carandache.com

 

A novel take on the traditional reed diffuser, here Hindmarch uses ceramic pencils to draw up the scent and diffuse it into the room. The Pencil Shavings’ scent is satisfyingly dry and woody, with the cedar punctuated by mandarin, pink pepper, rose, cypress and a surrealistically realistic accord of ‘novelty erasers and fresh notebooks.’ Adding quirkiness and humour to a WFH (Working From Home) desk, the expression definitely matches my own on many a day.

Anya Hindmarch Pencil Shavings Diffuser £99
anyahindmarch.com

 

Drawing a huge number of fans, this classic cedar-rich fragrance from 2008 is the daddy of pencil-shaving scents, if you like, for those seeking a hit of nostalgia. Apart from the reassuringly long-wearing drydown of cedar swirling with sweet tobacco and supple leather (the teacher’s study, maybe?) bright shards of bergamot and leafy violet atop loamy patchouli beckon lunchtime walks in the woods.

Gucci Pour Homme £56 for 50ml eau de toilette
theperfumeshop.com

 

A perfumed portrait that Byredo describe as ‘A modern scent reduced to the essential,’ those seeking simplicity will sigh at the shade of Virginian cedarwood and cool Haitian vetiver, with a scatter of rose petals and silky musk in the base. Deliberately reminiscent of pencil shavings, it will immediately evoke ‘…a sense of nostalgia for school days and simpler times.’

Byredo Super Cedar £115 for 50ml eau de parfum
byredo.com

 

A scent memory etched in time, there are wafts of old wooden school desks, pencil shavings and chalk dust – the gentle scratching sound of charcoal on paper as young artists draw their dreams. Memories are played out in hints of lemon and earthy angelica root, a joyful giggle of cocoa, geranium and the sheen of freshly waxed floors reflecting in the comfort of the cedar base. It feels like wearing the pages of Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers – she said, dating herself – or any school-set book series involving cosy intrigue, pillow fights and the alluring promise of midnight feasts.

MiN New York Old School Bench
harrods.com

 

Book nerds need to check out this fine art fragrance collaboration between Rory Sparks of the Working Library and artist and writer, Catherine Haley Epstein. ‘A collaboration combining a love for scents and pencils – a one of a kind homage to a favorite studio tool,’ this limited edition has that freshly shaved woody hit and the metallic hint of graphite illuminated by citrus. The Midi Set includes 7.5 ml of the handcrafted fragrance, a pencil with a custom message, and a letterpress insert.

Rory Sparks + Catherine Haley Epstein No.2 Midi Set $50
catherinehaleyepstein.com

 

I’ll leave the pun to perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, here, as she asks ‘Isn’t there something romantic about pencils? The old school kind (get it?)’ Fully fledged daydreams abound in the interplay of Atlas and Texas cedarwood amidst a hazy drift of choya ral (the smoky, leathery balsam made from the burnt resin of the Indian Shorea robusta tree) and dusty motes of oakmoss dancing in the distilled sunlight of petitgrain. Hurwitz excels at making natural fragrances slowly reveal their wonders in a way that’s astoundingly nuanced yet so delicately handled.

DSH Perfumes No.2 Pencil Shavings
dshperfumes.com

 

Although not a cedar fragrance, I simply couldn’t leave out the tender image so beautfully transcribed in scent by Memoize – a melange of memories that tumble through layers of rose, burnished leather and the smell of distant bonfire smoke in the air, conjured by the oudh wood in the dry down. Created to inspire feelings of self-confidence and self-worth (something we could all do with a dose of right now), they describe the fragrant vision ‘Recalling a first day of school, the pruned rose bushes, games in the woods, the leather strap of a satchel, a mother’s proudest moment…’


Memoize London Superbia £177 for 100ml eau de parfum
memoizeperfume.com

I’m fully aware that the notion of ‘back to school’ doesn’t represent an unsullied pleasure for many of us – either our own memories or the particular concerns surrounding students returning to classrooms this year, in the continuing fallout of a global pandemic. But much as learning the art of lucid dreaming can transform a nightmare into an adventure; the wonderful thing about fragrance is that we can use it to shape our own recollections, to create new scent memories. And there’s no doubt, that cedar-y smell of pencil shavings – whether deliverved via a perfume, home fragrance or an actual pencil imbued with the scent itself – speaks of simpler times, of hopes and dreams, the blank pages of life yet to be filled.

Or, as Catherine Haley Epstein so beautifully puts it: ‘the ideas of freedom, focus and unlimited possibilities in the head.’

Written by Suzy Nightingale