Viewer Mail: Help Me Smell Like My Favorite Tree

Hi Katie,

I'm the outdoors type. I'm a bit nuts when it comes to the forest -- I can't pass a day without roaming in the woods. I have favorite trees in the area where I live, even favorite ant colonies!

Yeah, I like the woods, but what I like most about it is the smell. That dry, earthy scent that seems to rise from the ground, evaporate through the trees, and swirl around the blueberry bushes. I have searched high and low after that smell in perfume but it seems like no one can do it -- or I simply haven't found it yet.

The scents that have come somewhat close, but still don't quite cut it are Profumum Thundra, CB I Hate Perfume Patchouli Empire, and Serge Lutens Féminité du Bois. Oh, and I've tried Wild Hunt and November by CBIHP, but I would never wear those perfumes amongst other human beings.

I guess I'm after a dry cedar patchouli blend. So what say you? Can you help?


Sara, I know all about that yearning to match one's perfume to Mother Nature. Some might consider this over-egging the pudding, but I like to carefully choose a hiking scent before entering a wilderness area. I usually go with some sort of sandalwood or incense, but during a recent road trip to the Anza-Borrego desert, I had to improvise with whatever I'd hastily thrown in my valise.

The desert's weird idea of a flower.

I ended up in the Slot Canyon (a narrow crack in the earth that zigzags into a deep maze of devilish twistiness) smelling of Etat Libre d'Orange Like This. It turned out Like This' dry, ginger scone coziness wasn't too incompatible after all: it provided an olfactory trail snack!

Lost in the Slot? Follow the trail of Like This.

So let's match you up with your forest. Taking a cue from the trees as well as your previous perfume explorations, I've come up with a range of of earthy fumes that take you from autumnal dankness to Smokey Bear fire danger dryness:

Eau d'Italie Sienne l'Hiver (wet leaves and wood smoke with a salty olive cast.)

Serge Lutens Un Bois Sepia (cypress, vetiver and patchouli unite to deliver a plausible tree to your nose.)

Satellite Padparadscha (peppery, sappy, evergreen juniper and sandalwood.)

Sonoma Scent Studios Incense Pure (piney-sharp frankincense fleshed out by cedar and patchouli, and mellowed by labdanum.)

L'Artisan Parfumeur Patchouli Patch
(nice'n'earthy dirt-covered patchouli develops into a really dry upper-branches drydown.)

Diptyque Tam Dao
(cedar and sandalwood to the max! So dry you'll need to crack open a fresh bottle of San Pellegrino.)

Fumies, can you see the woods for the trees? Help Sara achieve her nose forest, if you please.

Desert photos by J McMahon


  1. I would go with Ormonde Jayne’s eponymous scent ‘Ormonde Woman’. Great outdoors vibe, but with enough wood, jasmine to not veer into (too) strange!

  2. Oh, what a wonderful suggestion, HerMelness! I'll throw Ormonde Man in there too for that woody evergreen sharpness.

  3. Comme des Garcons Monocle Hinoki always makes me feel like I'm in a cabin in the woods. And then there's their Wonderwood.

  4. I am sorry I cannot help Sara, but I am so happy she wrote you! I loooooove cedar, if I could I would stay the hole day in a room full with fresh cutted wood (I miss so much my childhood when my grandparents were still using wood to warm their house). And another scent I love is the smell of fresh washed and frozen clothes (there is nothing that smells more fresh). I get crazy just writing this. I think the perfume industry tries for years producing more and more complex perfumes, but still didn't manage to bring out this natural and fresh scents (at least not what I smelled until now).

  5. Sara! Sara, Sara, Sara - get thee hither to your nearest Jo Malone counter. Therein you will find their Sweet Lime and Cedar offering. This is tailor-made for you. It will become your happy place, your BFF and your polestar upon first whiff.

    Failing this, I would guide you to the Wonderful World if Italian men's offerings, where the absolutely brilliant Acqua di Selva and Agua Brava live. Acqua di Selva is perhaps more eucalyptus than forest floor, but if you're like me and grew up around that kind of tree, it's heaven on earth. Same with the Agua Brava, only with the spicy hit you like (i.e. patchouli-esque, etc.)

    But definitely start with the Jo Malone Sweet Lime and Cedar. It's one of my all-time favorite scents, and is as warm and peaceful as camping outdoors.

  6. I'm wearing Boyfriend this a.m. and was just thinking "What a great scent to wear in the woods!" It is just turning spring here and the tree aromas have finally hit the air...what is in boyfriend? Patch, sweetness...and I get a little bit o' marine something too...

  7. have you guys ever heard of PINO SYLVESTRE? It is an inexpensive line that comes in a frigging pinecone. It always sounds interesting when I have read about it and might do the trick for a forest loving fumehead.

  8. potocatapetl--

    I'm with you! While I'm not familiar with any of these scents, I'm a big-time nature girl and these are making me drool.

    And a big "yay!" to HerMelness for suggesting Ormonde Woman.

    Also, maybe a vetiver scent would work well, like Chanel Sycomore? Vetiver reminds me of autumn leaves.

    Katie--love the photo of you hiking. You look so happy!

  9. Oh wow! I can't believe all these good recommendations! Ormonde woman and man seems like they both can be something I'm looking for. GREAT recs!

    Kjanicki: Ofcourse! Why didn't I think of Comme des garcons. I'll check out Hinoki. Thank you for the tip!

    Potocatepetl: You sound like my scent twin! :) What are your favorite fragrances?

    Stefush: unfortunately, the nearest Jo Malone boutique is about two countrys south of mine :) But then there's always theperfumedcourt. Agua Brava sounds good. Thank you for your comment.

    Elise: What brand has done boyfriend?

    Onesmalldog: Loving that pine :)

  10. "have you guys ever heard of PINO SYLVESTRE? It is an inexpensive line that comes in a frigging pinecone. It always sounds interesting when I have read about it and might do the trick for a forest loving fumehead."

    Sara - Pino Sylvestre is the personage behind Acqua di Selve and Agua Brava.

  11. Sara - I know Nordstrom carries Jo Malone, and if you go on the Jo Malone site directly, you might be able to cadge a free sample in the mail? For someone like you, it's definitely worth the effort.

  12. Hi Sara -

    For pure, unadulterated Cedar (the notes include Atlas Cedar, Virginia Cedar, Chinese Cedar and Texas Cedar) try TUMULTE POUR HOMME by Christian Lacroix.

    Another fragrance that I get a LOT of "woody" complements from is Byredo's Oud Immortal.

    Oh, and one other "forresty" smell (at least on me) is Lalique PERLES DE LALIQUE.

    Good Luck!

  13. A mainstream suggestion is Estee Lauder's Sensuous - wood, wood, and more wood! If you're looking for more of an evergreen note, there's Wrappings from Clinique (available once a year at Christmas). Sonoma Scent Studios seems to have several woody offerings, like Champagne de Bois. In addition, their Tabac Aurea's drydown is patchouli-sandalwood. And speaking of sandalwood, it's also in Caron's Montaigne.

  14. This post could give me a migraine if I thought about it enough. As much as I love the smell of the great outdoors, patchouli and resins just don't smell like that to me. They smell like a head shop in an Eastern Orthodox church on a holy day.

    I have offensively strong feelings on this scent catagory. I am sorry, fumies.

  15. I'm hate to give away one of my secret favorites. I think it may no longer be in production, but you can find a version of it online. This is a true, heavenly cedar. It's soft, warm, and dry. It smells just like the woods to me - perfect. Jovan's Individuality Fire. I've only had it in the oil, which seems impossible to find online. The pray has had great reviews too and I plan on ordering a bottle soon. I'm hoping not too many of you will pay attention since this is Jovan we're talking about. It's divine though, and was my signature scent for a long time.

  16. Mechant Loup is very woody to me. Also, I find some violet scents have that wet woods thing going on. You might have to layer with something else, but consider Malle's Dan Tes Bras (maybe put this on one arm and Mechant Loup on another and see what happens...

  17. Oh I will be sampling until fall if you keep it up :) Thank you so much everyone for contributing. I will check out all of your suggestions.

    Nora: I wore Sycomore today! I love vetiver and tea so that one is a must in my collection. It does smell somewhat like the woods after a good downpour :)

    Stefush: Thank you for the Nordstrom tip. It'll be fun to try out the Jo Malone line.

    Marko: Tumulte is wonderful and has a beautiful bottle too :) ByRedos shop is on my visiting list this summer so I will make sure to check out Oud Immortal. Thank you :)

    Patty: Wow so many good recommendations! Champagne de bois is in my collection, it's like fizzy cocktails is the forest. I love it!

    Aosegueda23:So nice of you to give away the name of a dear favorite of yours. It does sound like something I might like. Thank you for sharing such a treasure.

    Lang: I really like how all of you recommend masculin perfumes too. Mechant loup has been on my "test list" for a while but I have been a bit hesitant about since almost all comments about it are from males. I might have to just try it and form my own opinion. Unfortunately Dans tes bras was salty fungus on me. I love the smell of chantarelles... but this was a whole different shroom story....

  18. Katie,

    I'm with you on Tam Dao and Patchouli Patch. I would also add Montale Patchouli Leaves and CDG Zagorsk to the list.



  19. sara, Boyfriend is by Kate Walsh and is exclusive to Sephora, I believe. It's a nice mellow wood/dark fruit blend - I've reviewed it here:

    Oh, for sure sniff your way through Comme des Garcons - it's a fragrance house built almost entirely of spicy wood! Palisander's a lovely one, but it may be on the sweeter side for what you're looking for.

    onesmalldog, love the Pino suggestion! The pine cone bottle = huge tip-off.

    aosegueda23, thanks for sharing your secret - I've never heard of this one!

    potocatepetl, if you love fresh-cut wood, Diptyque Tam Dao is the perfume for you!

    Thanks everyone for coming out of the woodwork (kee-yuk!) with your intriguing suggestions.

  20. Sabrina, Zagorsk is the perfect suggestion! It's the most tree-like of the CdG Incense series.

  21. I haven't personally tried The Different Company De Bachmakov (yet) but I've read so many beautiful reviews where it't described as a Siberian Forest (snow and all) in a bottle. Perhaps another take on what a forest can smell like?

  22. Maggie--I understand. We don't all like the same things, which is why there are different flavors of ice-cream.

    What do you like?

  23. I don't know where Sara is from, and I think that can affect one's assumptions about what "a forest smells like". Regardless, I think she should check out Roxana Illuminated Perfumes -- specifically I'd recommend "Q", which is the forest/incense/woody scent of perfection I didn't even know was out there until I found it. If she's from the southwest or SoCal, I might also recommend she check out Chaparral. I grew up in the mid-Atlantic, for reference.

    Along the CdG woody lines, I'd also suggest Dover Street Market (my favorite CdG in the woody/incense genre, and there are SO many). Also surprisingly good is Boudicca Wode Paint (the EDT version).

  24. I really do like many different smells, but I'm currently loving powdery and rose.

  25. For cedar FM Angeliques sous la Pluie is a good foresty scent, I always think - it makes me think of tall conifers in the fog on a rainy day, for some reason. Can it be foggy and raining at once? I think so.

    I can't help you on the patch front - well, not *with* cedar, anyway, but it sounds like you have some great recs already.

  26. Maggie - you should check out the new Diptyche offering, 34 Blvd. St. Germain. I just did a review of it for another site, and it's powdery in the best way.

  27. I may get more compliments when I wear Hinoki (cdg/monocle) than anything else I wear. But I actually wear Black March (cb/ihp), so... I love all the great suggestions here. Bookmarked.

  28. Chris, Black March is a wonderful mulchy woody tip.

    Vanessa, I'd not pegged Malle's peppery-green Angeliques sous la Pluie as tree possibility, but I like your thinking.

    ahsu, good point on regional differences re our forest notions. One person's generic tree will be different to another's. Stefush has lime in his ;-)

  29. For me, the great outdoors smells of Etro Palais Jamais: the notes don't tell the whole tale, but include: Bergamot, Tangerine, Petit Grain, Jasmine, Birch, Sage, Musk, Oakmoss, Vetiver

    PJ smells to me of the campsite after you've hiked in, set up the tent and are finally sitting down to relax and enjoy the scenery!

  30. Some of the newer wood scents have the dreaded ambrox overdose (and maybe other synthetics) that cause me to grab my head and run for the migraine meds. CdG Wonderwood, I'm looking at YOU! "A positive overdose of woods, woody notes and synthetic wood constructions (Wood gone mad)." Their ad copy, not mine.

    But some of the older ones mentioned here are lovely and imo, realistic, including some CdGs like Zagorsk and Hinoki. I don't wear them very often, but I especially like this type of fragrance on my son.

    Coincidentally, I spritzed on some Boyfriend this morning (doesn't that sound sorta wicked?) and at first I almost headed for the scrubbing sink. Sort of a fruity woodchouli? Rather than a woody fruitchouli? But when it settled down, it was kind of a nice, yes, slightly floral wood scent with some COCONUT! I swear! You're right Katie! And I wouldn't have tried it if you hadn't talked it up. And posted those wacky wonderful low-budgelicious commercials. Kudos to Kate Walsh. (Doesn't she get some of the credit?)

  31. This month will definitely be sampling month for me. I can't thank everyone enough for sharing their thoughts and making me so inspired.

    I love the sound of your choices Katie and the video you posted is so cute. I wish we had canyons where I live :)

    I live in the north of Scandinavia near the ocean. The woods around here are very old, mostly pine and birch. It's scent is herbaceous, rather than fresh. It does have somewhat of a cathedral feel, both in smell and vision. I really like Ashu and Julia's recs. thanks guys!

    Vanessa mentioned a favorite of mine, Angeliques sous la Pluie. It's lasting power is however not as good as I would want it to be.

    Chris: Hinoki might be the one for me. I see a lot of people recommending it. I haven't tried Black march yet, but if it is anything like November I think I will pass. No offense! I loved November in the bottle. I think it's a clever and beautiful creation. But the people around me would probably change their area code if I started sporting it :) But I will definitely tryBlack march. God I wish Mr Brosious did scented candles!

    DeeHowe: Sounds wonderful, and classy bottle too! Would look great on my dresser, i hope it smells as good as it looks.

    Melisand61: I couldt agree with you more. Ambroxan turns my stoumach and gives me a headache. Thank you for your elaboration on Boyfriend.

  32. Sara, another submission for your tree-sniffing spree: Donna Karan Black Cashmere. It's a dry, resinous cedar/incense/clove affair that is a beautiful, spicy cold-weather scent.

  33. Sounds like a beauty. Thanks Katie!

  34. Sara, yet another P.S. for you, this time on the greener side: Martin Margiela (untitled). It's dry, twiggy and grassy with crystal-sharp incense. You're going to have several olfactory forest biospheres by the time your testing is through.

  35. Exactly what I wanted. Diversity rules ;)

  36. EEP! SARA! I am so late posting this and I have the BEST suggestion of all, I AM SURE OF IT! I hope you have not already spent the big bucks on something else.

    Straight frankincense oil. Dilute with your oil of choice. I cannot recommend this highly enough! I am certain it would please you! It's the only thing I've ever smelled that immediately made me think "forest" except for an actual forest!

    Another plus: it has no chemicals, so it won't attract bugs, and it's biodegradeable.

    Seriously. I don't know how to explain how perfect this is for your quandry. Just go to any health food store and try it on for a day, and you will realize it is the scent you are looking for, without the chemicals & alcohol.

  37. Edit: I want to add something to make my argument steadfast:

    -When I say "it's the only thing I've tried that smells blah blah..." I want you to know I have also followed a forest scent quest, but on my own. I smelled all the vetivers, cedars, & patchoulis, and I loved them but they weren't it, they did shout "FOREST!" at least not a complete, comprehensive forest. Frankinscense came to me by chance in a swap and I was shocked and elated when I sniffed.

    -I mention the natural/won't attract bugs things because I too am a forestwoman, and these have been concerns of mine when it comes to fragrances in conjunction with the outdoors.

    -I suggest sampling at a health food store or Whole Foods because that is FREE! no need to buy samps on the internet and wait for them to arrive.

    Basically, I'm trying to tell you with great urgency that my suggestion is superb. I wish I had seen this post sooner. I am literally dispairing that you have probably already shelled out a ton of $ for other scents.
    If you try the frankincense oil and don't like it, I will eat my hat. I will post a video on YouTube of me eating my hate. I am honestly, truly, dead serious about that.

    And Katie, sorry for the multiple and lengthy comments. <3

  38. xaryax, as fellow forest quester, your suggestion is most pertinent, and certainly easier on the wallet! These helpful comments are turning this Viewer Mail into quite a comprehensive tree perfume post.

  39. i'm off to get myself some frankincense ... :-)

    meanwhile, another forest-woman here (only in my case it's the southern california mountains and the forests there.)

    the closest i've gotten to the smell of the woords is the already mentioned cbip patchouli empire (it captures *our* forest pretty well.)

    also worth a try is ava luxe incense, which smells a LOT like jeffrey pines and sweet resin and dry pine-needles. (hm. that might be the frankincense and forest connection? i really *must* get myself some frankincesne.)

    on the wetter front i'd recommend cbihp musk reinvention. i know this is marketed as musk, but to me it's a damp, wet forest in the fall, hint of smoke, mushrooms and all. it's very lovely.

    also lovely, on the greener/wetter front, is neil morris northwoods, particularly in the topnotes. i recommend making sure that some of this gets on farbic. it's very good.

    katie, for an anza borrego smell try lorenzi villoresi's incensi. it's the american western desert to me, plain and simple.

    end of transmission.

  40. harper, thank you for contributing so many more branches to add to the scented tree we've been building. I am now keen to revisit Incensi.