I've "smoked" myself with incense perfumes since they first appeared on the market. I can't believe it's been over 20 years since Etro Messe de Minuit was released; I always think of it as the grand-daddy of incense fragrances and as my first 'incense boyfriend.' (Yes, in perfume years you can go from BOYfriend to grand-daddy in two decades.) Along with Messe de Minuit, I was a big fan of Comme des Garçons Avignon (2002) and Armani Privé Bois d'Encens (2004). All these fragrances, and today's — UNUM LAVS1 — are based on incense you would smell in a European Roman Catholic church.
The brand UNUM was founded by Filippo Sorcinelli (see image above). Sorcinelli is an artist, tailor and organist (his new perfume line SAUF has bottles in the shape of the stop knobs of the great organ of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris). LAVS (Laus) stands for Laboratorio Atelier Vesti Sacri and is the Latin word for "praise" (as in, Praise God/Laus Deo). Sorcinelli has made vestments for Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, and before delivery, these vestments were scented with what is now the perfume LAVS (it started 'life' as a room fragrance).
LAVS goes on rich and smoky with an aroma I'll describe as heavily peppered leather dabbed with fresh tar (frankincense?) I do smell super-dry cloves and a beautiful rosewood aroma (it smells like a bar of soap that would set you back $60...at least). The spices in LAVS (cardamom/coriander) smell as if they are being heated to a crisp in a hot skillet. There's a pungent muskiness in the heart of LAVS that I will attribute to cistus labdanum and opoponax; smell closely and you'll detect a moment of singed hair scent, too. LAVS settles into its base aromas quickly and there you'll smell ashy frankincense and benzoin.
I saw photos of Sorcinelli before smelling LAVS; he likes to present himself without clothes, drawing attention to his ripped, hairy chest and stomach. I wondered if LAVS would be a sensual incense perfume. No. LAVS is not a sweet/smiling/sexy incense fragrance; it's 'strict,' serious. I can understand why LAVS, the tailor of Vatican vestments, would scent their clothes with LAVS fragrance before delivery: LAVS has not a molecule of lustfulness or fun about it — it's all "business." If you burned incense with this scent at a party, your guests might be afraid to crack jokes or laugh; libidos would plummet (unless someone has a fetish for stern nuns, dissolute priests or sex on ice-cold stone floors). I like LAVS, but did not enjoy wearing it after a few hours; it's way too unrelentingly solemn for me. LAVS lasts all day on my skin and stays close to the body; it's unisex, but veers masculine.
Having smelled an outrageous number of incense/incense-y fragrances over the decades, LAVS didn't stand out, but if you're new to incense perfume, do place LAVS on your to-try list. LAVS has made me curious about the other scents in the SAUF and UNUM line-ups; there's got to be a blithe spirit among them.
1. Listed notes of black pepper, cardamom, coriander, elemi, jasmine, cloves, carnations, cistus labdanum, opoponax, rosewood, oak moss, amber and tonka beans.
Note: all images via Filippo Sorcinelli website.