I’m loyal. My favorite summer fragrances haven’t changed (much) in years, but unlike most people on Earth my “favorites” are over 25 in number. I’ve reviewed and praised those perfumes already, so for this summer’s “top 10,” I’m expanding and tweaking the process to include non-perfume, but perfumed, products: things like shower gel, candy bars, candles and incense.
On summer days, it’s pleasurable to sweeten the air inside the house with a scented candle. A closed house coupled with air conditioning can make air stale indoors. Un-air conditioned air also benefits from some “aroma therapy.” I usually opt for lots of fresh floral bouquets inside during summer, but a candle comes in handy as roses, lilies and tuberose peter out in the garden. My candle of choice this summer is not floral or citrus-y, it’s the LAFCO New York Majestic Oak candle (in LAFCO’s House & Home/Dream Home Collection of 15 candles; $55). Majestic Oak (“Tree House”) has a smoky, raw-wood aroma, not cloying or oppressive at all (it contains oak, geranium, fir, vetiver, and light amber). While Majestic Oak burns, the air in the house smells and feels clean, and I’m invigorated.
I’m a fan of scenting the air outdoors too. I shun citronella-scented “garden” incense (soooo utilitarian!) and opt for something more exotic, like Nado Poi Zokhang “Bamboo” incense from Bhutan. This spicy incense is scented with sandalwood, clove, red sandal, cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, agarwood, honey, cane sugar, gum dammar, spikenard, camphor and juniper powder (get “Grade A” for the highest quality incense blend; $17 at Sensia). Simply find a flower pot you love, fill it with ‘clean’ sand and you have an incense burner you can move around the garden, your deck, porch or balcony. Since my neighbors torture me with the smells of lighter fluid and charred food all summer, I “retaliate” with incense.
Wonderfully scented bath products help us all get through the hottest days of summer. The moments I spend in a shower during a heat wave are some of the most pleasurable, so I don’t skimp when it comes to shower gels. I recently “discovered” the beautifully perfumed Jurlique Jasmine Shower Gel (300 ml; $22). While using it, Jasmine Shower Gel smells so intoxicating it makes me forget the heat…and the fact that my bathroom needs a major renovation.
I have not forgotten perfume for summer. Where has Hermès Rocabar (100 ml; $120) been all my life? For sale, of course, but apparently not on my perfume radar. I absolutely love Rocabar’s mildly sweet, rich wood notes; it’s a perfect, and sexy, casual perfume with some heft that can still be worn in warm weather.
When I want lighter fare, I choose Astier de Villatte Eau Fugace by perfumer Françoise Caron. Eau Fugace is sharp, intense and clean, a blend of orange, bergamot, lemon, spruce, herbs and a smidgen of patchouli. Eau Fugace has a retro vibe. In the French film A Christmas Tale, Catherine Deneuve’s character sniffs her husband on Christmas Eve and says: “You smell like Italy.” Eau Fugace produces that same effect on me.
My friend Rekha, from New Delhi, told me that during the searing heat spells of an India summer, people scent the water in their swamp coolers with khus (vetiver). An excellent idea! I always love to wear vetiver perfume in summer and in Rekha’s honor I recommend Indian Khus Attar from Floracopeia ($45 for 1 dram/3.75 ml) This attar (perfume) presents vetiver mixed with sandalwood…an excellent combo of earthiness and smoothness.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Bois Farine is one of my all-time favorite perfumes. Yes, it’s strange, sometimes smelling floral-floury, sometimes reminding me of ice-cold clay…or peanuts in their shells being pulled from the dry earth on a hot day. This quirky, change-able, semi-rich fragrance is one I reach for on summer evenings when heat lightning promises, or threatens (your choice), a storm.
One summer, over seven years ago, I grew patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) on my front porch. Since the porch is adjacent to my bedroom, I’d often get a whiff of the patchouli plants, especially at nightfall (were they “exhaling” before bedtime?) These days, in most perfumes, patchouli has been de-clawed and neutered, turned into a sweet, safe, well-behaved aroma that even patchouli-haters don’t mind. My patchouli plants didn’t survive even their first (mild) Northwest winter, but when I sniffed Molinard La Collection Parfumée Patchouli Intense (Limited Edition), I was reminded of real patchouli, even as the note was accented with cocoa, orange and musk.
If, on a warm evening, you’re tempted to unbutton your shirt to mid-chest level, I ask two things: make sure you have a chest worth showing and “accent” your bare skin with perfume, not gold chains. Bois 1920 Sandalo e The is a perfect adult perfume to add some scented allure to your “cleavage.” Sandalo e The’s mix of cedar/cumin and rich tea leaves blended with sandalwood is enticing.
Finally, I’d love to invite you all to my home for some litchi sorbet (a house specialty) but since that’s NOT feasible, I’ll close with a food recommendation most of you can try: candy. Vosges Haute Chocolat produces two “summer” chocolate bars I enjoy: Amalfi and Blood Orange Caramel. Amalfi tastes and smells wonderful (and would translate perfectly into ice cream OR perfume); this white chocolate (cocoa butter/milk) bar is flavored with vanilla, sweet lemon zest and pink peppercorns (3 oz; $8.50) For those of you who insist on DARK chocolate, try Blood Orange Caramel (70 percent cacao), flavored with blood orange puree, burnt-sugar caramel, hibiscus and Campari (3 oz; $7.50).
For what remains of the summer of 2011: happy sniffing and bon appétit.
You can find more Top 10 lists at Bois de Jasmin :: Grain de Musc :: Perfume Posse :: Perfume Smellin' Things.
Note: top image is Men in an Outrigger Canoe Headed for Shore by Arman Manookian , 1929 via Wikimedia Commons [cropped].
Boy do I wish I could take you up on that invitation. How do you make litchi sorbet?
I practically LIVED off of lychees in Madagascar (many years ago) and have since found them exclusively in “Asian” grocery stores. I can find them fresh occasionally (although they are brown rather than the vibrant red they “aught” to be). I can always find them canned, but it is in syrup not juice. As for sorbet, I know the general idea, but not sure which of these would work better? Kevin?. . .
(Oh, and I noticed an ad for lychee “super fruit” supplements in my Shape magazine this month. Perhaps they’ll be in greater supply for a while as over-zealous fitness folks down vast quantities in search for the fountain of youth?)
MR: you can make the sorbet with canned, frozen or fresh fruit.
Dilana: I said it was a house specialty…doesn’t mean I make it…my partner does. HA!
I love this idea! Does your partner add some lemon to the mix, or is it just litchi, sugar, and water?
Haunai: you can add a TOUCH of lemon or lime…even a vanilla bean or two. But I like it “plain.”
I’ve never sniffed Rocabar, I do not know why.
Do you really think it might be siutable for an Italian Summer?
Fabio: PERFECT for an Italian summer.
Happy Friday to everyone. This is a great article, Kevin. I laughed very loud at the neighbors torturing you with the smells of lighter fluid and citronella, etc. Although I admit I love the smell of burning charcoal (not charred food), I really have an aversion to the citronella. I love the idea of using incense instead. Does it work to keeps the bugs at bay also?
The Majestic Oak candle sounds perfect to break up the monotony of all the flowers and fruits of summer. Thanks for some great info!
Fuddy: yes, “regular” incense keeps bugs away…lots of street food vendors in Asia burn incense to keep flies away too.
A second to the candle comment, Kevin!
I’ve been eyeing that thing…but so many “outdoor” and “nature” candles are dissapointing. The last I had that was what I wanted was the English Ivy from Votivo…which was what…six or seven years ago?
Will have to try the LAFCO.
Kate: it’s a good buy, to boot.
Oh, Kevin! Such a brilliant and naughty suggestion to go out of the perfumed-box! I have been SOOOooo restrained this summer, not a single purchase in July, and now you’ve got me clicking on links for incense and candles! Bad, bad, Kevin!
MR: SO sorry!
I love both of the those Vosges bars. The white chocolate one especially reminds me of perfume. I’ve gotten so used to the smell of pink peppercorns that I had forgotten they also have a taste! The candle and incense sound terrific (I think you’re sending me down the incense rabbit hole), and I will have to get a sample of Rocabar now, since it sounds like something I’d love.
This summer has mostly been too hot for me to enjoy perfume much, especially since I’ve been trying to lose weight and spending a lot of time at the gym, where I don’t want to be heavily scented.
Jirish: Rocabar is wonderful (and it SOUNDS like a food doesn’t it)? And NO calories!
Humph. I read “I’d love to invite you all to my home for some litchi sorbet” and was ready to RSVP. Then I read “that’s NOT feasible”. Sheesh. I was just about to pack my spoon.
I love the idea of reviewing a variety of scented products – brings the idea of “surrounding yourself with scent” to a whole new level!
Fleur: I had to broaden the search this year…not many new perfumes have caught my fancy lately.
Thank you for this review! I particularly laughed at your “mid-chest” warnings: good advice indeed!
Alnysie: HA! Thank you.
God I need some good cologne/ refreshing things for Summer. I’ve went through 2- 4oz bottles of Demeter Honeysuckle this summer. And 1oz bottles of J.Lo Glow and My Glow. And the Nautica Woman $15 and Antonia Banderos Blue Seduction $5 that I got for a steal at Walgreens aren’t quite right, the Woman too mature the Blue Seduction too young. I now have an Eau de Rochas mini, and samps of Bois 1920 Sandalo e The, Diptyque L’ombre dans L’eau, L’Artisan Parfumeur L’Ete en Douce, and Parfums de Nicolai Fig Tea on the way.
Valkyrie: you have LOTS of good samples to try…you’ll find something.
I don’t know if I need to add any scented allure to my cleavage, but the Bois Farine sure sounds nice. A new one to add to the wish list….
Raymond: hope you enjoy it.
Kevin, I’m glad you mentioned the Astier de Vilatte, which I keep telling myself I have to explore, and I am totally envious of a garden where you can burn incense from Bhutan (it sounds gorgeous). My neighbours would call the firemen if I attempted it in my appartment. Mind you, French firemen have the cutest, black, figure-hugging uniforms…
Carmen: HA! I’ll have to look up images of the firemen immediately!
Another great ‘summer’ chocolate bar: Frey’s dark chocolate/lemon/pepper. A lovely lady in Switzerland send me one last year. At first I thought”oh, that’s just TOO insane” I love lemon and pepper together – but mostly on meat/fish/vegetables…..so I ….hesitated.
Then I took a bite….
Musette: don’t think I’ve ever tried the Frey’s bars.
Neither had I, until that Incredible Package arrived.
Alas, they are no longer sold in the US (at least nowhere I can find them). So you have to bug your overseas (or maybe CAN) friends – their website is one of the most irritating sites online – lots of bells and whistles – and very little info, alas.
But the chocolate is GOOD!
I live in Seattle too, and you must not be my neighbor because if I smelled garden incense coming from next door I would have already been over to say hello and beg for sorbet. I haven’t been in the mood for perfume lately except for the occasional spray of Castile, but I’ve been bathing with Roger et Gallet’s Carnation soap and the spiciness is making me happy in the heat.
Rodelinda: you must mean the “heat” of the last two days? HA!
Ha, exactly! When you get used to the 60s all summer, the high 70s feel positively tropical. But it’s about 85 in our non-air conditioned house, even with the windows open and the fans on. Other people roast outside and come inside to cool off, while we stay outside to cool off and wilt indoors.
I thought I was the only one who burns incense outside. My husband thinks I’m crazy when I do that. I don’t know if it helps with the bugs but if it keeps either the bugs or the neighbors away then that’s a good thing.
Terrific article, and thanks for mentioning Bois Farine, one of my all-time faves as well. But I don’t often wear it in summer! I’m so intrigued that it reminds you of ice-cold clay at times … I’ve never gotten that from it but will see if I can sense that the next time I wear it!
Jill: it smells so much like brown clay at times…reminds me of making pottery.
I’v never really explored chocolate as a field of complex gourmet delicacy before – but I’m obviously missing out! The most way-out thing I have seen here is chocolate with chilli. Perhaps I need to seek out more chocolatier boutiques, though they seldom sell bars. Mainly overpriced bite sized chocs.
The nicest soap I have used is Nesti Dante – someone gave me the spa one as a gift and it was looooovely!
merlin: I’ve tried the Nesti Dante soaps too…really liked the Arum Rosemary
Oooh, must try it. I’m using Castelbel at the moment – but I think I preferred the Nesti Dante: it was called Thermal Water (not spa).
What creative and tantalizing choices, Kevin! I want them all, but I’m especially fascinated with the Indian Khus Attar. I have a bit of old Guerlain Vetiver – a completely different formula from the current one – and it has a lot of sandalwood. I think I’d really enjoy wearing that.
Noz: can’t go wrong with vetiver and sandalwood!
Kevin: after a very particularly stressful week, your column today has inspired my senses! I completely agree that during heatwave the shower ritual becomes particularly important. I love AG Mandragore shower gel and the Pacifica Tahitian Gardenia gel, but your jasmine recommendation is very inspiring. This summer I discovered a new to me soap – the Mystral Coconut Lime, which is juicy and creamy all at the same time without being too sweet.
I like a bit of real patchouli in the summer too (who would ever believe it!). Just a dab of AT Maroc Pour Elle really hits the spot in the summer. It brings a more carefree attitude than I can express otherwise – sensuous and wafting – a fragrance of virtual bells on my ankles.
I am sorely tempted to try everything you’ve recommended above. Thanks for the lift!
Ann: you’re welcome and I’ll have to try the Mistral Coconut-Lime…sounds great.
Great column, Kevin, with lots of cool and unusual choices. Waving “hi” to AnnS above. Ann, the Pacifica and Mystral gel and soap sound divine; where can you get those? Many thanks!
Ann Deux: Mistral is sold at Anthropologie and Pacifica at Sephora
BTW, Kevin, any chance of you posting the recipe for the lychee sorbet? Thanks!
Ann: Robin has asked me to do a floral recipe or two…I’ll add the sorbet to the list.
Mmmmm….lychee sorbet. That sounds so good right now as I swelter through another day of 105 heat index temps. Did I mention that I worked outside yesterday in that heat? No perfume helps me when it gets unbearable like that, but I did run home, jump into the shower and shampooed my hair with mint shampoo. That felt great, but I think I need mint shower gel, too. Does anyone have any recommendations?
The un Jardin series work a little like air conditioners, and I can remember Apres le mousse (?) feeling like a cool wave of scent when stuck in a hot car. But at THOSE temperatures I cant guarantee anything!
Sorry, think I read your comment wrong. I don’t know of any mint shower gels!
Merlin/Ap: those temps requre ICE CUBES/ice packs…can’t even imagine!
A walk-in-fridge may be good:)
Aparatchick: Archipelago had/has a great mint shower gel and I’ve always liked Aveda’s Rosemary-Mint products…tingly fresh.
Hi Kevin, a while ago I discovered http://www.papierdarmenie.fr Little booklets with a ancient natural room fragrance and Francis Kurkdjian made a special booklet for the year of armenia in 2007 with incense and myrrh, notes of wood and vanilla!!! I love it. Ever heard of it??
Mary: yep…even reviewed it!