The Japanese have long been aware of the comforting effect of the smell of wood. They even created a ritual and a name to describe this phenomenon. “Shinrin-Yoku”, translated roughly as “forest bathing” is the practice of spending time in a forest and immersing oneself in its atmosphere as a method of self soothing. When it comes to fragrances, woodiness has a darker, more seductive alter ego.
Sandalwood promotes a sense of calm but is also used to entice and seduce when distilled into a bottle. Once used in money spells and to soothe inflammation, Patchouli is used as a sweetener of sorts to increase a fragrance’s intensity. We tend to think of woody scents as being rich, warm, and spicy. But this fall’s waters are crystal clear.
The definition of transparent, “allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen”, leads to the common misconception that opacity levels in a fragrance correlate to sillage strength. It is true only sometimes. We can instead think of perfumes as if they were coloured paint.
Transparent fragrances are more like glazes, as light can pass through the layers without one ingredient overpowering another. Contrary to this, the ingredients of a fragrance that is more opaque tend to pile up until one ingredient, which is usually the strongest, stands out.
It is important to not dismiss clearer wood scents as weak or thin, because they are often formulated with synthetics that can increase sillage and lasting power. Amouage’s Purpose contains Mystikal — a clearer-smelling version of frankincense that radiates gently on the skin while providing depth to airier adjacent ingredients like bergamot, papyrus and rose.
Meanwhile, the “watery” notes in Kenzo Homme Marine adds a crystalline clarity to what would otherwise be an overpowering blend of vetiver, ginger and clary sage.
In a more pellucid manner of speaking, a question to posit to those keen to try their hand (or rather, nose) at woody fragrances might be: “Do you want a fragrance that smells good or a fragrance that You can also find out more about the following: you smell good?”
There are no easy answers to the mystery of how we perceive one another on a neuro-chemical basis. After all, how good a person is perceived to smell often starts from one other thing — himself as the main ingredient.
Photographs Daryl Tan
Styling Manfred Lu
A version of this article was first published on MENS’ FOLIO Singapore.
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