Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure new favorite incense.

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 à 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.

Incense Pure: incense à go-go.

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.

Incense Pure is available from


  1. I went on an amber binge a couple of years ago, doing comparison tests with about five of them. TF's AA was up there as a favorite for its richness and the hint of incense under all of that narcotic amber.

    So reading your review, I was initially thinking that maybe SSS IP sorta flipped it around by playing up labdanum in an incense fragrance. But now you've informed me that AA is really a vanilla???!!! And IP is the real deal? Drat. Fooled again. But at that those reasonable prices, who cares!

  2. If 'the Incense Authority' tells me this is her new incense love, it is a definite must try! Off to Laurie's blog to read more. Thanks Katie, glad the cougs didn't get ya :)

  3. Wow, how does she get away with "natural oakmoss absolute"? Isn't that what the IFRA banned? And if she uses it, why don't the other perfume companies do so, instead of offering pale copies of what their once-great fragrances were?

  4. Patty, oakmoss isn't completely banned by IFRA, but restricted in use to 0.1% of the final product. Laurie has a helpful oakmosss Q&A on her blog, Perfume In Progress:

  5. melisand61, and think you and I may have been amber-binging at just about the same time. I practically drank my bottle of Amber Absolute, I loved it so much.

    You summed it up nicely, Incense Pure is an incense that highlights labdanum. And smelled in isolation, Amber Absolute doesn't seem particularly vanillic, but in my police line-up with IP, AA "confessed" to concealing more vanilla than I first realized.

    Incense Pure is not only a great price, but it's an edp that wears like a parfum in terms of density and longevity. Depending on how long you're willing to go without showering, it lasts for days!

  6. Hi Katie:
    Directed here by Laurie to read your review, which I loved. What beautiful country in which to experience this incense masterpiece. I'm with you in that it is by FAR my favorite incense. I think the slightly menthol hit you get in the beginning is the elemi.

    It's turned warm here this week in the Bluegrass, so I've switched to her Champagne de Bois - and I realize this one may be in my top five fragrances of all time. Definitely try it if you haven't already.

  7. Donna - happy you found your way here! I was guessing elemi for the pine/menthol hit, too. Thanks for the CdB tip.

  8. I have just fallen head over heels for Erickson's whole line. I love that she's not afraid to put a good, healthy amount of labdanum in her scents, which makes for some womanly, grown up scents. So many of my favorites are a gorgeous balance of soft spices and labdanum or musk (Femme Jolie, Sienna Musk). Vintage Rose is seriously winy, Wood Violet is sparkling and pretty but still funky and skin-warm with musk.

    Ack! I can't even get enough of her stuff. I am glad to see her getting attention for Incense Pure. She totally deserves it!

  9. Prosetry, double ack! What you said!

  10. I had so much fun being one of Laurie's testers as she developed Incense Pure. The addition of the elemi early on is what really elevated this from interesting to amazing to me. From that point on it was a pinch of this and a tad of that to end up at the final product.
    I agree with you Katie this is one full frontal incense and it is very good.

  11. Well my compliments to the chef - and the chef's assistant Miami Mark, cuz whatever your feedback was, I'm lovin' the outcome.

  12. It's amazing how different something can smell side-to-side with something else.

    I have this stuff that i tend to think smells like vanilla extract. Today I smelled it next to vanilla extract, and it made the extract smell like mustard.

    i am so for real. o.O

  13. xaryax - this fume biz is all a comparison game, isn't it?

  14. Katie--your video reminds me of the Will & Grace episode when Karen says, "hey, I'm outside!"

    Melisand61's Amber Study: A Case for Five of 'Em was interesting and maybe she'd let you lend you the executive summary.

  15. you inspired me to make a fragrance post

  16. Kate, now I want to see the Will & Grace clip you're talking about. Google/YouTube didn't turn up anything. And good point - I want to know what Melisand61's winning amber was.

    Too cool, bakerbeauty! Thanks for letting me know!

  17. I must try this and others from the SSS line - you're the second person to mention them recently. Danke!

  18. Katie, I just watched your video. Didn't realize you had a starring role! It reminded me of the Monkees - music and acting! I don't know if you are too young to remember their zany, silly, and fun montages that highlighted their songs and their cavorting! This was a peaceful, flirty version!

  19. SoS, my posts are like pop-up books: lots of funny little layers and unexpected surprises. Usually courtesy of ridiculous clips from YouTube.

    Oh, I love those Monkees! I see where you're going with that comparison. At least it's better than Dan mistakenly thinking the clip was going to be the "Zabriskie Point" orgy scene.

  20. Vasquez Rocks. I miss the desert. And the Star Trek re-enactors -- that would have made me wonder about exactly what those strange little dark bits in last night's mushroom risotto might have been. I would've loved to have seen that!

  21. Olfacta, I think the Star Trek reenactors probably enjoy the same "mystery mushrooms", heh! Or maybe not - they're deadly serious about their "mission".