Of course, men in woods.

But it isn’t that often that you actually smell a woman walking by softly encased in a perfume of warm woods, at least outside of Japan, where this more stress-levelling form of aroma, reminiscent of hinoki wood onsen tubs at hot springs, or sandalwood incense, is thankfully becoming more common. Elsewhere, it’s virtually all fruity florals still with fake vanilla, yahdy yahda which gets so very, very, tiresome and predictable. Sometimes I just yearn for a much bolder, more riveting, boisé sillage to drift by my consciousness: a different, less cliched sensuality. One that doesn’t make me roll my eyes.

The seventies were full of ingeniously complex, inventive, and truly perturbing woody chypre perfumes such as Lancôme’s Magie Noire, Shiseido’s Inouï, and Rochas’ Mystère; perfumes that I adore, and that beguile, but can also almost frighten, with all their lichens and oakmosses and sassafrilla barks and scary patchouli roses lurking underneath- so it is easy to understand why the dark aspects of sorceresses apparent in these fragrances might be offputting to a younger Instagram Tiktok generation taught only to be cute.

Woodiness in feminine perfumery didn’t just grind to a halt in the seventies, obviously. The groundbreaking Feminité Du Bois by Serge Lutens for Shiseido from 1992 was the first ever women’s cedar based essence and was hugely influential, resulting in countless imitations such as the lovely L’Enfant Terrible by Jovoy, not to mention Dolce Vita by Dior, which I always personally found sparklingly lacklustre in comparison to the Shiseido. We had Armani Mania, Givenchy Organza Indecence, the Neela Vermeires, where sandalwood usually plays a vital role, the (overly) stark woodiness of the Byredos, and, of course, the legendary Le Labo Santal 33, which put woods very firmly back on the map for anyone who was interested (I have only ever smelled this icon once here, though, on a Japanese male artist friend of mine, who wore it brilliantly), but even so, for me, there is always room for more.

Ormonde Jayne Woman is another modern woods classic by iconic perfumer Geza Schoen (also the creator of yesterday’s feature, Molecule 01 +Iris) which has now been on the market for over twenty years but with its reputation as a sensual mood booster is still going strong.

A soothing, cozy, wood perfume based on an unusual central note of black hemlock spruce absolute, I actually used this scent in my scent workshop (it was featured in the official catalogue) as an example of how women’s perfumes need not subscribe to the central, overly prescribed tenets of ‘how to smell sexy’. With coriander, cardamom and grass oil over an emotionally empathizing ambered sandalwood, vetiver and cedarwood, Woman (though I wear this happiliy) is a very homely, intelligent perfume that works equally well when with other people or by yourself on a forest walk.

Mysore sandalwood from India is something I miss. I remember when I posted once, may years ago, on my favourite sandalwood perfume ever by Crabtree and Evelyn (read here for a full sandalwood odyssey) and Tora and I bonding over how much we loved and missed it. The Australian version used in many contemporary perfumes due to its easier availability, just isn’t the same – and neither are the synthetics.

Maher Olfactive’s Waking Dream is an intricately composed Mysore sandalood/ iris and amber triad, which settles eventually into a tranquillizing synergy you can sink into – Ida Meister’s detailed review of this perfume on CaFleurebon can’t be bettered so I will leave that here, but this definitely another wood scent that embodies the theme of today’s piece: that woods, when divorced from an ambroxan/fougere/citrus aggression, can have an entirely different, ungendered, intriguing dynamic.

Aqua Dos Açores is a brand from Portugal whose inspiration for its perfumes comes from the Azores island chain. While their ocean inspired Azul was a little too abrasive/aquatic for my tastes, the peculiarly fresh and fecund tropical flower fest that is Flores reminded me of Hawaii the second I smelled it (while actually in Hawaii)- almost as though it was capturing something – hot tendrils and moist air – as it happened.

Canto, the newer release, is an entirely different kind of scent – less the islands themselves than the ships that are travelling to them. Guaicwood, carnation absolute, cabreuva wood oil, fir balsam and benzoin grace a mellow and natural smelling sandalwood with a delicate whisk of saffron and pepper that becomes very rounded and legible – the kind of scent that bestows calm and confidence and could become a daily signature. My friend Aiko has been borrowing my bottle the last few days – her response (‘I loovvvvve sandalwood!’) precisely the response that I was hoping for as I knew it would suit her busy – but yoga-loving self. Adventurous, but very instinctive, in her scent choices, I somehow knew that she would gravitate towards Canto. The days when she would wear popular, scintillating pink fruities, are, I think it is safe to say, probably in the past.


Filed under Flowers


  1. One of my first projects if I ever start a fragrance company would be the perfect Mysore sandalwood tinged with a dark and non gourmand vanilla.

  2. Jools

    I love this piece! Damp wood is my favourite smell in the world and I can’t get enough of saunas (as long as there are no other people in there spoiling the smell! Magic Noire is a perfume (or rather the body cream) I wore almost every day to work in the early 1990s. My mum wore the perfume first and I loved it on her. When I wore it I felt like I’d taken some kind of happy drug – It made me feel beautiful and INVINCIBLE. Wish they still made the body cream.

  3. It is a coincidence that I am reading this tonight, I am wearing Feminite du Bois, and it is perfection. All of these scents sound wonderful. No fruity florals for this gal.

  4. Robin

    Singing my song, dear N. You’ve mentioned some of my favourite woods. Sailed through the reading of this post in happiness. Love Ormonde Jayne Woman. I find it gorgeously understated and chic.

    Oh, the memories of being a young woman and owning Magie Noire in every form, feeling so good about everything — myself, the world — when I wore it. Glad I stocked up, because vintage is the only MN that tickles those memory chips. And FdB is almost too beautiful for this planet. Not the first Lutens label version and NOT, in caps, the current reform. The magical, transcendental Shiseido original. I hunted for the last bottle in Vancouver years ago before it vanished. Oh, all this talk of this genre thrills me wee soul! Thank you for understanding us.

  5. I think FUEGUIA 1833 has made some wood perfumes that Japanese women love it.

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