What marks a wood fragrance? If you said ‘woods’, you’re clearly not wrong - no surprises there. But, we urge you to consider the diversity of even the most direct, simple, raw and conventionally masculine fragrance category.
In this article, we’ve broken down the woods category into a helpful taxonomy of styles, then suggesting the best occasions to wear these certain subcategories. In sum - even a fragrant wardrobe exclusively consisting of woods can feature great and eclectic variety.
True woods are your workhorses: pure and direct fragrances that emphasise the natural form of the woody note in question. These are great for a variety of occasions, but they're at their very best for those occasions when you’re unsure what to wear. Always appropriate, and always welcome. Case in point: Histoires de Parfums’ 1828 is a delightful meditation upon the dry and textural intensity of cedar, evoking a forest landscape of conifer woods against the ocean shore. Lush nutmeg, sparkling pepper, clean eucalyptus, and tendrils of incense smoke add an emphatically spicy top, lending brilliant realism to the fragrance.
Similar qualities are found in Penhaligon’s Opus 1870, which keeps it traditional by joining cedar with sandalwood, only to then fracture this woody accord with bright and tart yuzu citrus, and a complex chypre heart consisting of black pepper, cinnamon, rose, coriander seed. Altogether, Opus 1870 is utter woody dryness - a semi-abstract wood, but no less a perfect archetypal wood.
Finally, you can’t not mention a fragrance named Woody Perfecto (Parle Moi de Parfum), which makes use of beguiling vetiver roots. And whilst not technically a ‘wood’, vetiver has a profound earthiness and inky depth that mingles smokiness, saltiness, and a tempting dryness altogether. A note with complexity upon itself, this is lengthened with roasted coffee and leather. This is what you wear when you need something to cover all the bases.
Save the spiced woods for when impressions matter most, adding flair to an otherwise solid base. Perfect for the evening, special events, or simply a boost in confidence - expect bold evocations of the exotic, inflections of warm ambery spices, earthy patchouli, and perhaps even a dash of charming sweetness.
L’Air du Desert Marocain by Tauer Perfumes always finds its place on lists about woods and spice - and for good reason. This cult classic sizzles with energy, with its genius assortment coriander seed and cumin: the former pushing upwards towards cloudless skies of infinite length, and the former back down to a Maghrebi desert - of soft dunes and whirling sandstorms. This tension creates excitement and character, and the rich base of cedar, vetiver, labdanum, ambergris, and birch gives this fragrance a tremendous base. Traverse to the Silk Road with the dense and bounteous Epic Man by Amouage, which takes supreme quality agarwood: raw, smoky, virile, and deep - and augments it with a sumptuous swirl of pink peppercorn, mace, saffron, leather, and incense. The result is a surefire confidence only attainable from woods, but with a nod to the rare and the luxurious with its profusion of spices.
When there’s a need for amiable freshness without heaviness, many woods can be transformed in the right hands into works that lift as opposed to ground. Fresh woods are excellent for the warmer weather: like a cooling fluid that refreshes the wearer as opposed to stifling them.
You’d be forgiven for treating Creed’s Original Vetiver as a citrus fragrance as opposed to a woods, which is a testament to the versatility of the woody vetiver note, harnessing its steamy clean, green, and soapy facets - turning what is usually heavy and smoky into a pleasantly transparent work. With a clever dose of effervescent ginger and sunny mandarin orange, this is a woody fragrance destined for warm weather wearing.
A more pronounced body is found in Etat Libre d’Orange’s Malaise of the 1970s. A lot goes on in this fragrance - but it returns to a decidedly simple idea. Dry yet fresh woods reveal themselves in sequence: dried fruits, like boozy plums and raisins soaked in a spicy pepper, anise, and clove inflected ambery syrup, refreshed with citrus fruits of excellent sparkling clarity and then soaked into leather - a glorious cascade of textural contrasts. This is met with a classical woody base, drying down on an earthy bed of patchouli soap - reminding us of the masculine trope for scrubbed and virile post-shower freshness.
Go for bold with an injection of perfumed smoke. Notes such as incense, birch tar, leather, and labdanum add an unmistakable gravity to the woods category - turning the quotidian into the extraordinary. Make yourself present without brashness with these fragrances.
For the pure serenity of a liturgical sort of smoke, Papyrus Oud (Parle Moi de Parfum) is unrivalled. Breathe in, and find yourself surrounded in a forest of agarwood trees - with a temple in the near-distance, where incense, olibanum, pine resin and oud burn in tribute. Papyrus Oud is an event, all at once exotic yet familiar. For a scent that beckons others to inquire - this may be the one.
In contrast, Naomi Goodsir’s Bois d'Ascese builds a picture of wildfire and smoke. To achieve this, the scent calls upon peaty smoky Scotch for that certain je ne sais quoi. Captivating and dramatic, and as poetic as smouldering cade wood, traditional wood notes are set alight in an intense fury of pipe tobacco, cinnamon, amber, and incense. A fragrance for the connoisseurs.