Forest-inspired scents are more popular than ever this year. Here’s what you need to know about these lesser-known, harder-to-define fragrances.
IMAGINE you’re walking in a dense, dark forest, breathing in the aromas of plant life, resin, pine needles, damp soil and leafy branches. That’s essentially the olfactory family of wood. Its most common raw materials include vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli, cedar, pine, cypress, guaiacum and the bark of the fig and agarwood trees, all of which provide structure, character and hold to a perfume when worked into its base notes. There’s no question that over the years, some cult masterpieces for women, including Bois des Îles by Chanel, Samsara by Guerlain and Féminité du Bois by Serge Lutens, have played with woody notes, but the movement has remained relatively quiet. And while there have been some standouts—Dolce Vita by Dior, Miu Miu by Prada and Women by Calvin Klein—wood is taking centre stage at both boutique and larger perfume houses this fall.
“Wood is an infinite treasure source,” says Isabelle Michaud, Montreal perfumer and founder of Monsillage. “Its vibration can be warm, creamy, resinous and even earthy but also fresh and transparent. That’s what makes it so beautiful.” Michaud, whose scents include the vetiver-forward Eau de Céleri, has a vision that’s shared by Barnabé Fillion, the French perfumer behind the fragrances from Aesop. “Wood is among my favourite materials,” says Fillion. “It brings texture and depth to blends while interacting well with other materials, making them sparkle.” Delphine Jelk, a perfumer at Guerlain and the woman behind its intoxicating new woody floral, Santal Pao Rosa, agrees. “There’s nothing like an exceptional wood to trigger strong and contrasting feelings,” she says. “In my latest creations, sandalwood—a precious Indian wood—highlights the rose in a totally unexpected, carnal way. It anchors it and gives it the creamy power I’ve dreamed of.”
While traditionally reserved for men, woody fragrances are now being appreciated by anyone in search of a unique and assertive scent. “The predominance of woody notes in a fragrance combination enriches the feminine dimension of the person wearing it,” says Michaud. “Maybe it’s because of the juxtaposition of masculine-feminine codes. One thing’s for sure: Their presence transports us. One whiff of vetiver or pine and you’ve got one foot in nature.”
Perhaps our deeper appreciation of nature over the past couple of years explains the welcome return of woody scents; during these uncertain times, we’ve been turning to things that bring us comfort. “A scent creates a world that’s both real and imaginary,” says Fillion. “It’s also an open window that looks out onto nature and invites us into a dialogue with what’s around us—something we no longer pay attention to.”
Wood has this strange power to soothe us and renew how we see the world; it also offers us a collection of scents that touch both our hearts and our skin. We’re definitely warming up to a little more wood in our lives.