Comme des Garçons launched Series 3: Incense in 2002 with five unisex fragrances, each one painting an "olfactory portrait of a particular milieu" in the incense tradition (via Women's Wear Daily, 1/4/2002). It is easily my favorite series from this house. All five of the fragrances are interesting but also very wearable, and several of them are downright gorgeous.
Avignon in the south of France was historically an important center of religious activity within the Catholic Church, and was the Papal seat for part of the 14th century. The use of incense in the liturgy has its roots in ancient Hebrew practices, and is traditionally a symbol of purification and of the rising of prayers to heaven. The fragrance has notes of Roman camomile, myrrh, cistus oil, elemi, incense, patchouli and vanilla.
Avignon starts dark, gloomy, and rather strong, approximating the immediate effect of a priest swinging the censer during prayers. The early dry down has a bitter green resinous edge; as it continues to calm, it gets much softer and more meditative, with mild wood undertones and very light, dry notes of patchouli and vanilla joining into the smoky blend.
Of the five fragrances in the series, it has the most direct focus on the frankincense note, and so for many Westerners (even those who have no association with the Roman Catholic church) it will come closest to the aroma traditionally associated with incense. It is a beautiful fragrance and one of my favorites from the series, but women who like a bit of femininity in their fragrance will not find it here.
Two random connections: Avignon was said to be Matthew Williamson's favorite scent before he introduced his eponymous fragrance, and was also one of the three fragrances (along with Bonne Bell Skin Musk and a nameless "Egyptian oil") that Sarah Jessica Parker layered to create her own signature scent before she introduced Lovely. Sarah Jessica Parker has the right idea here, by the way — Avignon is eminently layerable.
Jaisalmer takes us across the world to Rajasthan, India, where the fortified town of Jaisalmer was once an important stopover on the camel trade routes known as the Silk Road. Here incense is one of the traditional offerings used in Hindu ritual, and as in the Catholic Church, also a symbol of purification and prayer. The fragrance has notes of cardamon, cinnamon, pepper, benzoin, ebony wood and gaiac wood.
The opening is a very dry and dusty blend of cardamom and cinnamon, warmed by a strong hot pepper note. The spices get milder, and somewhat sweeter, as it settles on the skin, and the smoky incense notes are joined by dark woods, and almost certainly some cedar as well.
It is a rich, exotic scent, and probably a bit more feminine than Avignon (although a man could certainly wear it). I would not call it a gourmand, exactly, but it is more foody and has less of a meditative feel than the others in the series. It is very well done, and I do like it, but it is not my favorite of the five.
Avignon and Jaisalmer are available in 50 ml bottles of Eau de Toilette; for buying information, see the listing for Comme des Garçons under Perfume Houses.
Tomorrow: Series 3, Incense: Kyoto & Ouarzazate, and Marlen on the Agatha Brown fragrances
Note: image of Avignon is Avignon, Palais des Papes depuis Tour Philippe le Bel by Jean-Marc Rosier via Wikimedia Commons. Image of Jaisalmer is India-Jaisalmer_12_01-05_05_30 [cropped] by luxagraf at flickr; some rights reserved.