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I was recently reading the latest edition of Helena Fitzgerald and Rachel Syme's perfume newsletter, The Dry Down (it's excellent; you should subscribe), and paused at the description of Avignon, a Comme des Garçons perfume, which Syme calls "the perfect incense perfume." Before expanding on the allure of this specific scent, Syme explains that she and Fitzgerald are often asked how "to smell like an old church"—though, she says, "it seems like it should not be such a strong bodily desire."
And yet, it is—nearly as universal as the desire to smell like freshly baked cookies or the saline-spiked ocean air. Syme thinks it's "because people crave the comforting scents of religious ceremonials, but want them unburdened from the rest of the pomp and strictures. They want to experience the sacred and the profane at the same time, on their collarbones."
All of that is true, but then also, there's just that smell, one that has nothing to do with the conceptual importance of a church, and everything to do with the way stone slabs smell when they're cold (like lake water, gray and ancient), the subversive spicy tickle of incense smoke curling its way down your throat, the particular musty scent of a darkened, cavernous room, one that never gets full sunlight even in the middle of the day, and only lets in beams tinted by the marion blues and cardinal reds of stained glass windows. It's a smell that always feels like too much; it's obscene, really, in its level of decadence. And it's all there in goop's Eau de Parfum Edition 03, otherwise known as Incense.
Although goop offers a perfume (Edition 01) literally called Church, it is Incense that gives wearers the feeling of entering a Gothic cathedral, inhaling the fumes from centuries of residue from dispersed frankincense. Spraying Incense into the air and walking through it feels like a baptism of sorts, but a purely secular one, in which you're entering a world that is, as Syme writes, "sacred and profane at the same time," but leaning more heavily toward the profane. It's a scent that feels like an oath; it holds the promise and allure of an adventure that could never exist within the walls of a church (though maybe it could be found within its catacombs), but that you'll be sure to find if you walk through its spicy cloud and out into the light or the night or wherever you may be going—just know that along your journey, you're likely to be asked a dozen times over, "What are you wearing? You smell amazing."
Goop, Eau de Parfum Edition 03, 'Incense', from $55, available at Bloomingdale's.
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