At night I often sleep clutching a bottle of frankincense oil in my right hand. A reflex perhaps from when I was a baby, a clenched fist – the tucked thick glass of the essence fits perfectly into my hand and is comforting : pale streams of olibanum dematerialising into my palm.

Whenever I think of this essential oil, oddly perhaps, I think of Boy George. Known to wear pure frankincense as a perfume, the singer of Culture Club and a personal icon from my childhood has, despite his litanies of controversy over the years, always, like Madonna, been fascinated by spirituality, incorporating visual and lyrical religious themes into his work from the outset, particularly in his excellent 90’s incarnation as the singer of Jesus Love You.

A bizarre incident from ten years ago or so confirms this. A Greek Orthodox Church representative, Bishop Porfyrios, was apparently sat one evening at home, watching a BBC documentary on Boy George (as you do), when he suddenly spotted, to his astonishment, hung on the pop star’s living room wall, a stolen painted icon of The Jesus Christ of Pantokrator, looted forty years ago (- not by Boy George, naughty as he always was) from the church of Charalambos in Neo Chorio-Kythreas in northern Cyprus. Startled, he immediately set about contacting the former George O’Dowd through his Cypriot composer friend John Themis – and the precious artefact, without contention, was promptly returned to its original source. According to a legal document published by the University of Geneva, ‘during a personal meeting between the singer and the bishop, appropriate certifications for the ownership of the icon by the Church Of Cyprus were presented to Boy George and both parties orally agreed to a settlement’.

When I worked in the leafy, ultra wealthy area of Hampstead, North London, in the mid-nineties, I used to sometimes deliberately walk past Boy George’s house on my way to the Heath back home – noting wistfully and nostalgically all the graffiti and chalked kisses on the walls scribbled outside the house from still obsessed fans (Japanese particularly – he was a superstar a megastar, here; worshipped by screaming stadia of young teenage girls who fell in love with his kabuki androgyny) and reigniting my obsessional adolescent pop enthusiasms in my bedroom when I would play both Culture Club and Dead Or Alive on repeat and do pastel paintings of both lead singers – I went to their concerts, out of my mind with excitement, shrieking hysterically with female friends from school (and for Pete Burns even wearing an eyepatch as he did in Spin Me Round): I even once somehow actually persuaded my dad to go in costume as Boy George – a combination of the Victims sleeve – see top – and the Miss Me Blind/It’s A Miracle cover – below – for a fancy dress party where his colleagues and acquaintances were quite horrified by his camp mutation into the Karma Chameleon, but where I was, obviously, the reverse and rather ecstatic.

Keeping it in the family, another interesting Culture Club anecdote: : one evening in 90’s London, the very same Boy George was giving unambiguously come-thither bedroom eyes to my brother (a sound engineer/ mixer at clubs in London) when he was guest star DJing there and Greg was working his graphic equalizers ; flirting with him outrageously and trying to take him home – to no avail. I was very jealous – not that I could ever see George that way; to me he is more a rebellious instigator, a gorgeous singer, and a bitch-tongued melodicist who loves or loved the limelight and who I looked up to because he was just so out there, ‘gender bending’ along with the divine Annie Lennox and others of the period and almost terrifying when he first appeared on Top Of The Pops singing Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?…. Like other icons – David Bowie, Bjork, Prince, Kate Bush, Lady Gaga – I could never see him as a sexual being (to me they are more like extra terrestrials and he was more like Mother Theresa). I would have loved to have swapped places with my brother through, to have the opportunity to meet and chat with the Church Of The Poison Mind, to tell him what we meant to me, perched on a leather banquette in the venue with a couple of drinks, if not necessarily – as he was apparently hoping with mon frère – in the sack.

George receiving the gift of an icon in exchange for a bigger one.

But back to frankincense.

Saint George

Like the man himself, at night I sometimes put some frankincense essential oil on my wrists (in my case for sedation purposes – it changes the mental calibration), but there is always also a medicinal rush of terpenes too sharp on the skin at first, transposing to more spectral octaves only a few hours later, when the smell has a hallowed purity to it that makes you understand why it is vital to the rituals of so many world religions. It really is a kind of sanctuary.

As a perfume though, it doesn’t quite cut it. Serenity notwithstanding, unlike patchouli, vetiver or sandalwood, it is just too volatile and vaporous – always rushing its way towards the heavens. To be worn aesthetically, for me it needs to be fixed with other materials to do it justice, to anchor it more in the real world. I like how the substance is handled in the majority of the best ecclesiastical niche incense perfumes on the market, particularly those by Filippo Sorcinelli, who treats frankincense quite beautifully, with an almost masochistic, devotional transparency: I can also enjoy it though in much more secular ‘oriental’ settings, sweetened with amber or vanilla. Goutal’s Encens Flamboyant was always compelling to me but a little too harsh and burnt among the sweet embers of the crystals; scents like Heeley Cardinal a little too self serious. More sugared, and gentle frankincense perfumes include the lovely Baiser De Florence by Ella K – heliotroped and fluffy, eminently wearable, and the rich, crimson cushioned frankincense-amber that is Herve Gamb’s wonderfully simple Rouge Cardinal, one of the best in the genre. Now, another delightful addition to the frankincensian canon, (finally, he gets to the perfume, exclaim the billowing readers) is Encens Suave, by Matiere Premiere.

What is so nice about this extremely wearable perfume is the central note of Somalia Resin Incense – beautifully clear and balanced in terms of translucence and radiation and always at the core of the scent throughout – muffled ethereally with an interesting note of ‘Venezuelan Coffee Extraction’ Andalusian labdanum absolute, and a steadily sweetening but nicely tempered base accord of benzoin absolute from Laos and vanilla absolute from Madagascar ( a real ‘culture club,’ in other words – boom boom ). The frankincense stays throughout, though, like a jewel in the centre of a gold ring, even as the benzoin, ever so slowly – on my skin at least – I wore this last night – starts to dominate the whole. By morning, rather than comfortably ghostly and resinous, it was much more vanillic and sexy – probably more like the church choir’s floozy. The point is, though, that there were no cracks in the development, no gaps – all was contiguous and smooth and expertly blended. In other words, whether you take to this particular frankincense will depend entirely on your tolerance/addiction to the benzoin and vanilla – D was loving this on me last night I have to say and I also found it very pleasurable – but which at times take on an accent that is redolent of Prada Candy ( – if it was doing Holy Communion).

The Boy aged 9.


Filed under Incense


  1. The cute boy is still a cutie!
    These photos are great, including the cutie!

  2. Z

    This. This is why I love this blog… Your particular perspective, Neil, makes me want to do a chef’s kiss.

    • Really?! So delighted to hear this.
      I thought I had written quite enough already yesterday but then wearing this very pleasing scent last night I remembered all the Boy George stuff. It was so random in the end I wasn’t sure whether to keep it but now I am glad I did. x

      • (I find the whole stolen icon thing and the bishop watching a Boy George documentary absolutely hilarious)

      • OnWingsofSaffron

        Exactly! The thought of a Greek Orthodox priest watching a documentary on a queer icon: leafing through the local TV guide, “golly what shall we watch tonight? oh goody, a docu on Boy George”, getting your red wine and pretzel sticks or the excellent black olives ready, are the cushions all comfy …? What a hoot!
        On an entirely different note: I visited Oman in what seems centuries ago when the world was still Covid-free and we actually visited far-away places, anyway, and was amazed how absolutely stunningly sexy the gazelle-eyed Omani men were in there wonderfully white dishdashas all smelling divinely of frankinscense.

      • Sigh…

        We have spent quite a lot of time reminiscing on our travels : you have just added a place to the list.

  3. Tara C

    I went through a long period of frankincense obsession early in my niche perfume journey, don’t wear it so much any more. My favourites were Bois d’Encens, Encens Flamboyant, Cardinal and Tauer Incense Extreme. These days I like it more as an accent note rather than the main focus.

    The bit about the priest watching the Boy George show was priceless. 🙂

  4. Robin

    What a pleasant romp, Neil. Most entertaining.

    Like Tara, I cut my niche-loving teeth on incense. My first was Armani Privé Bois d’Encens. It was just when the Privé line came out, so 2004. Never having smelled frankincense before, I was knocked off my sneakers.

    • Those Armani Privés are lovely, if with a ‘prohibitively foreboding’ aspect, something slightly inhuman.

      I like Encens Suave because it is very easy to wear and rollick in – a perfect vanilla frankincense rather than all that boutique bedouin business.

      • Robin

        That whole Armani Privé line was my gateway to $$$$ fragrances, the Top Tier system. It must have been one of the first. I remember the display at Holt Renfrew, Vancouver’s fanciest department store. And maybe, too, in 2004 it was the first time I’d seen a whole string of fragrances released together, period: in the same style of bottle, the same presentation, all in a neat row with different coloured stones on top in a display stand with square holes in it for each bottle. And at the time, lordie, $225 CAD was very, very expensive. It left an impression. That was three years before Chanel Les Exclusifs.

        I like the idea of coffee with incense very much, so Encens Suave is appealing. Do you remember By from Dolce&Gabbana, another coffee-centric scent? Someone gave it to me in exchange for my Marc Jacobs. Best swap EVER.

      • Marc Jacobs is pretty low on the food chain.

  5. Beau de l'Air

    How do you like it in Caron Parfum Sacre? It smelled wonderful on a female friend I gifted a bottle to.

  6. George

    Well, what a surprise to learn of Culture Club’s cross pollination. If only I could have been a fly on the wall; you know that I would have told.

  7. I did not know Boy George wore frankincense. Seems fitting with the montage of cultural and religious references that he has curated to become his personal style.
    I particularly like the Omani silver frankincense that is Amouage’s signature note. I am looking forward to trying Amouage’s 2019 release, “Rose Incense” once the plague restrictions ease. It is described as rich rose heart topped with elemi over a frankincense and myrrh base. Sounds traditionally Arabic and very suited to my taste. The fragrance is supposed to have some outrageous percentage of rose oil, I am certain Amouage has the best rose oil on the planet. The premise does seem daft though, an olfactive interpretation of Citizen Kane?

    • I love the sound of that actually : rose frankincense rather than rose oud.

    • PS – never seen Citizen Kane despite its reputation. It looked too bombastic when we started it and unappealing : I am glad Vertigo has overtaken it in the polls

      • Bombastic is an understatement.
        I tried watching CK twice (I love old movies) and it just seemed like a combination of jarring editing, ham acting, and an overly convoluted (think Byzantine) plot. Perhaps that was innovative and artsy at the time it was released? Possibly a primitive predecessor to Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick movies? I was interested not only because of the hype but because I grew up around the Hearst family.

      • If you haven’t already, you need to write your memoirs.

  8. How fitting that Boy George wear frankincense. He always struck me as otherworldly and ephemeral.
    I have yet to find a perfect frankinsence scent. I remember loving Bois d’Encens years ago, but upon smelling it again in 2019 it smelled different, much more chemical than it did almost twenty years ago.
    I want the full on cathedral experience, all high-mass and such. I don’t know if the scent you described so exquisitely in this post would be that scent for me.
    If you can think of a frankinsence scent that is full on high-mass, please let me know.

  9. JulienFromDijon

    Kate Bush? For me it was Björk. It was her in my “I’m not like other gays” starter kit 😀
    I arrived to Kate Bush much later. I needed to listen again “50 words for snow” last week.
    “Sensual word” and “Babooshka” are staples of my playlist.

    I should send you some Amouage’s Gold extrait.
    It feels like wearing a portable cathedral. I like that.
    I should say that I love it, but it’s a bit beyond words. Saying “I love it” would mean that I endorse and know most of its layers.
    The extrait is more readable and less uniform that the EDP. It has few more cogs with roses absolute, narcissus, and decipherable ambergris castoreum and maybe musk.

    Baiser De Florence by Ella K :
    It’s funny, I talked about it today on AuParfum. But I made a myrrh example out of it, not frankincense.
    It’s such an obscure reference, with no review on Basenotes. A seller in Le bon marché made me discover the line, it was one of the two I politely asked if a sample of it was available.
    But the brand is available in Jovoy. I’m a bit sad for the perfume shop owners in Paris, ’cause last Friday a 4 week lock-down was pronounced for Paris and the northern region.

    Heeley Cardinal : maybe the new extrait version, “eau sacrée” would please you?
    I stick to “Bois d’encens”, though I’m not wearing it much.
    It’s begun such a mold, those peppery frankincense with java’s vetiver background.
    Thinking of it, old Sycomore of Chanel might be the one that I wore the most. I rarely wear perfume, so it says much.

    P.S. : reading the other comments.
    Parfum sacré de Caron :
    Some golden mini of “Parfum sacré” are to be found, regularly, on the web. They often holds their original 4ml of extrait.
    Bois d’encens :
    Most of my bottle are second-hand ones. But beware, there’s a lot of counterfeited Armani privé on ebay and such, same for Amouage, and most of luxury priced brands.

    Adding :
    XII L’heure mystérieuse from Cartier expensive line
    It’s jasmine sambac, patchouli, cade and frankincense. I feels like a black-and-white vampire movie, with the lonely church at night, and the full moon.

    I have yet to read your post on the new orange blossom fragrances. (from Aurélien Guichard? so it’s very promising)
    Séville à l’aube was a magnificent neroli benjoin and frankincence perfume in the drydown, on fabrics.

    • JulienFromDijon

      I do apologize for double posting.
      “Le cri de la lumière” from Parfums d’empire is mostly a long-lasting incense.
      It’s a chalky white luminosity of a scent, with various fractal rosey undertones, and not the other way around. (to my mind).
      It misses the terpene then lemony signature of olibanum, so I wonder if it’s due to a nice synthetic molecule, or a new fractionated extraction.

    • Liking the sound of the Cartier – with jasmine sambac and frankincense together. An unusual combo.

      Re Bjork: I am a massive fan, although Utopia I found completely unlistenable (literally : we have the final but have listened to it once).

      My favourites are Volta, Debut, Selma Songs and Post ( I like her in energised mode best), though Vespertine is very beautiful as well, it goes without saying. I was less keen on Medulla and Biophilia, but obviously have all of them. When you are in the mood for Bjork, there is only Bjork. I have the Vulnicura Live album on record and find it really beautiful – the version of Come To Me KILLS me.

      What are your holy grails of hers?

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