Recently, my husband and I hightailed it out of Hollywood and went daytripping to Vasquez Rocks. It’s a violently beautiful landscape of skyscraper-sized rocks jutting at crazy angles towards the clouds -- the freeze-frame of a prehistoric earthquake. Vasquez Rocks is named after a 19th century bandit who holed up in the zig-zag terrain with his stolen gold, but nowadays, the area is more popularly associated with the Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk sluggishly battles a reptilian alien called a Gorn. It’s just one of life’s little treats to venture into this majestic wilderness and encounter Star Trek reenactors, complete with costumes and communicators, scampering urgently over the rocks. And depending on the time of year, your chances are also pretty good of running into Jesus with his entourage of cranky Roman soldiers, rehearsing the annual Passion Play. (I sense an opportunity for the mock crew of the Starship Enterprise to take a stand on Easter Sunday and rescue pretend Jesus from his grisly fate, but I guess that would violate the Prime Directive.) On our day out, there was no Captain Kirk, no Jesus, no Gorn -- just regular ol’ nature lovers. And me. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I like nature fine. But if there’s a chance to enhance it -- with a cocktail, say, in a “rustic luxury” resort at the end of a long hike, then that’s my preferred flavor of nature. No camping for this show poodle. Another favored form of enhancement is to wear perfume during my outdoorsy doings. I try to pick something that works with the local vegetation, but won’t attract mountain lions. So far, my choices have been successful: L’Artisan Parfumeur Safran Troublant, Creed Angelique Encens, Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan. (I’m qualifying “success” as smelling good while not being eaten by mountain lions.) For Vasquez Rocks, I wore my latest fume purchase: Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure. I’d been following mostly-natural perfumer Laurie Erickson’s development of it on her blog, and with incense fragrances my specialist subject, I was keen to try her interpretation of this ancient blockbuster. She’d kindly offered to send me a sample first, but I was ready to plunge right in after reading Incense Pure’s ingredients:
Frankincense CO2, myrrh EO, cistus oil fraction, labdanum absolute, sandalwood, natural oakmoss absolute, aged Indian patchouli, cedar, ambergris, orris, angelica root absolute, elemi oil, vanilla absolute.As far as I'm concerned, that’s an all-star cast of characters. Even before I received it, I was squeeing about it to my perfume pen pal Dan, who agreed it was “me”:
Incense Pure is pure KP. Seriously, someone should name one of these incense/sandalwood/patchouli/labdanum blends after you.So much for the build-up. How did Incense Pure handle on the road? When first sprayed, the ambery thickness of IP’s labdanum made me think of one of my old favorites, Tom Ford Private Blend Amber Absolute. But going into an immediate sidebar on labdanum while reviewing IP makes about as much sense as the time my husband claimed he was watching a Hannibal Lecter cannibal movie "for the lighting". (What kind of freak does that? All I heard from the TV was screaming and chewing and crunching and lip-smacking as I tried to focus on my frilly-dilly perfume writing.) So let me back up and state that the first blast of Incense Pure is frankincense a go-go. The eau de parfum features an emphatically non-ecclesiastical treatment of incense, one that celebrates its own rugged beauty rather than referencing a churchy ritual. The incense starts out sharp -- not quite a pine fragrance, but with a sinus-clearing intensity that approaches menthol. As IP wears on, it mellows and becomes less dry, a little more “muggy” as the myrrh and oakmoss reveal themselves. There’s an herbal quality which edges it toward Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan turf, but it never heats up to AS’s spicy weeds. And after about an hour, the baseline hum of labdanum flips the script from an incense perfume to an amber one. With Tom Ford Amber Absolute kicking around in my head, I applied some to compare, and that’s when I fell dramatically out of love with AA. Instead of the dense labdanum mystery I remembered, it turns out that Amber Absolute is a sweetly warm inside-of-a-cedarwood-drawer smell, distinctly vanillic. Which is okay, I guess, but the real issue was that next to Incense Pure’s Old Testament-style resins, AA came off phony baloney and synthetic. Back on the trail, IP’s dry-to-humid path perfectly complimented our ramblings through Vasquez Rocks: the aromatics of juniper and sage baking in the hot sun, the boulder puddles filled with tadpoles, the shaded canyons threaded with creeks. After passing the mountain lion test (Katie not eaten: check), I can now declare Incense Pure my new favorite incense -- Nature Enhancement Division.