Labdanum

Cistus x pulverulentus 'Sunset'There are many garden smells I love. The evening scent of honeysuckle in June, pure, bright, overwhelming. The evening scent of angels’ trumpets in November (no frost here yet) – heady, intense, overpowering. The fresh loaminess of turned earth. The sweet floral crispness of stored cooking apples, their springlike zing always surprising me. The greenhouse smells of wood and geranium and salvias.

But of all the smells that halt me in my tracks, it’s the scent of cistus or labdanum that halts me most, and then haunts me. I can’t pin it down; it oscillates between categories too much – balsamic, leathery, animalic, resinous, green – for me to move on. Defying categorisation, it’s become one of my favourite perfume ingredients.

I’ve had all sorts of cistus shrubs over the years, most notably Cistus creticus with its shell pink flowers and its reputation as the best source of labdanum, and the variety ‘Sunset’ with brighter flowers, often described as rose pink but tending towards magenta in the best (or, if your tastes are less garish than mine, worst) examples. All of them have sticky leaves, from where the gummy resin is extracted (I’ll leave the details to better people than me – perfumeshrine has explored this with great eloquence). My current favourite cistus I grow is the hybrid x cyprius, whose leaves become lead grey in cold weather, as though metalwork rather than plant. And its aroma is everpresent – in rain, sun, or on still, dull days.

Cistus flowers don’t last, and they seem to be short day plants, at least with me, the flowers blooming best in spring and sometimes again in autumn. The flowers open in the early morning and if the day is hot, shatter by midday, their papery petals lost, their yellow stamens fading.

And in many perfumes, the aroma doesn’t last either. Take Donna Karan’s Labdanum from her Essence series. This is a perfect cistus scent for 20 minutes but fades to a creamy sweetness, that hints at everyday amber, way too quickly. I like it, but wish the wonder lasted. And Poivre 23 by le Labo has a wonderful journey through labdanum a few  minutes in. Here, I don’t mind its loss: the many facets of this scent are the reason to wear it.Resized_Cistusxdans.Decumbenssm

Perhaps Andy Tauer’s l’air du desert marocain is the best example of a cistus note that lasts, held up and supported by other equally rugged aromas. This is a rough-hewn perfume, in all the right ways, and undoubtedly still Andy’s masterwork. ‘Learning to be satisfied with what I have’ has been my motto for this last year of the first decade of the 21st century (what an elaborate way to avoid using noughties, which makes my toes curl); perhaps I should stop with my cistus hunt and just accept I’ve found the best already.

What note haunts you, and why? And, cos I’m a contrarian type, if you think, ‘What a dolt! He hasn’t sniffed x or y for his labdanum fix? Man, that guy’s like a noob.’, please lemme have your recommendation toot sweet.

89 Comments
Momlady November 23, 2009

Mmm, Labdanum. Yummy. Clary Sage (essential oil) does that*tripping on a olfactory high*thing for me too. And most recently Oud/Agarwood. They all have a strange quality that just bumps me out of everyday reality and sends my spirit/imagination soaring. For me Lavendar was the first scent that triggered an OBE(out of body experience)...must have been all of 6 at the time. lol.

janh November 21, 2009

Best smell in the world: my Sutter Gold rosebush flowers. Citrus and rose mixed.

Scent Hive November 21, 2009

Roxana Villa of Illuminated Perfumes uses labdanum quite frequently and very beautifully. It's in her amber base, used in: Lyra, Aurora, Sierra and Vera. (I love both Lyra and Vera) Her new one, Terrestre also has labdanum I believe. Cimbalom has it as a main note: Labdanum, Patchouli and Jasmine with Citrus and Spice. Vera: lavender, sage and hay Lyra: Ambery, floral. Jasmine, Frangipani (Plumeria blossoms), Ylang Ylang, an old Vintage of Mysore Sandalwood and a few varieties of Orange for the top notes. Lee, check out her line if you want to explore labdanum :)

Tara C November 20, 2009

I love labdanum too... and benzoin, and styrax, amber, cedar, iris, sandalwood, gaiac... just about anything to do with wood, resins and incense... plus tobacco and leather. I'm a woody oriental girl at heart.

Cheryl November 20, 2009

Osmanthus at some times of the year. Ambergris. Hay. These notes I find utterly haunting, rich, and elusive. Sigh.

Disteza November 20, 2009

Hmm, as much as I would like to chime in with leather, I think I'll be completely honest and go with oudh. The good stuff though, not the sort of stuff that's easy to come by. Evidently, the rule with oudh is that if you paid less than your monthly rent/mortagage payment, it's not gonna be all that. Horrible pricing, but oh, the olfactory intoxication! I swoon, I protest, I buy anyway after yet more swooning. =p~ On the plus side, a good oudh lasts for days, even on a 'fume eater such as myself.

Andrea D November 20, 2009

Also, l’air du desert marocain is stunning, absolutely gorgeous, and I would punch an old lady in the face to afford it. I have so many scents that haunt me, I wouldn't even know where to begin.

Andrea D November 20, 2009

Oh, so THAT'S labdanum? I had no idea. This grows in the park near my school, and the smell is really beautiful, but I could never identify exactly what it was or where it was coming from. Thanks for this post!

Nava November 20, 2009

I LOVE Donna Karan's Essences - all but Jasmine. Labdanum and Wenge are my faves, and you're right - Labdanum does dry down sweetly, but in my opinion, Wenge is the real star. It mixes very well with Chaos.

Kristin November 20, 2009

2scents-I'm starting to explore iris scents-can you name a few of your favorites? I think I prefer the more earthy type, not the powdery, makeup types. Thanks!!

2scents November 20, 2009

Iris is a note I grew into and it absolutely haunts me now. I've enjoyed many Iris-centric scents, but I am especially appreciative of the note as part of a composition. I wore Bois des Iles yesterday and kept marvelling at the shimmering iris within.

sherobin November 20, 2009

On a daily basis I wear gardenia, honey, leather, or neroli. All of these can be mesmerizing. Rose is reassuring. But the only fragrances that really haunt me are frankincense and ambergris. Both can make me cry, but I reserve frankincense for solemn occasions, and ambergris for those days I can afford to be distracted by the haunting. Or just need a good haunting. Frankincense is heaven and ambergris is life itself. Ambergris is so evocative of something so nameless it kind of scares me.

Shelley November 20, 2009

You cistus tease, you. I don't live in a climate that is conducive to cistus. No can grow. :-< But I am enjoying my sloooow getting to know you with the note. Notes I know I do love and love being haunted by: narcissus, sandalwood, hay. Nobody has mentioned galbanum yet, and that is one that is a double-edged haunt for me--sometimes it's love, sometimes it's a stalking. But I am really glad it is around. And, I think, castoreum? Still working that one out, in terms of how it is NOT civet. But it is another animalic sticky trap, luring you in and not letting go, but for some reason to me a little less naughty-take-a-bath as civet. Maybe it's just the combinations I've found it in.

DinaC November 20, 2009

For me, the magic word is "galbanum," another resin. Love that note, especially in No. 19 and Bel Respiro. Just can't get enough of it. My favorite category is green. L'Occitane just came out with a scent they are calling Labdanum. I sniffed it and enjoyed it. It's a nice spicy, amber-y thing. Had great sillage on the blotter paper. But I've read on MUA from those who know that it really doesn't smell like genuine labdanum at all. I'm too much of a neophyte to know. I enjoy your posts. Your gardening sounds really beautiful. I have a "black thumb" unfortunately! :((

Silviafunkly November 20, 2009

I am haunted by the smell of jasmine absolute to the point that I am contemplating buying some, diluting and applying on skin. Also I have a weird violet perfume in my head, one day I hope I'll find something that matches. Generally I tend to be a sucker for a lot of Bois (d'Armenie, de Violette, des Iles, d'Iris, Blond) and never have enough incense/resiny stuff. Love rose too. And oud. And tuberose. And cumin. And hay. And I can't possibly leave out leather and skunk either. Oh dear...

Melissa November 20, 2009

One note? Nope, can't do it. But it seems that I'm in good company here, because my list includes leather, tuberose, jasmine, labdanum, benzoin, ambergris, civet, rose, oakmoss, iris, etc. I could go on. Of course everything depends on the treatment. I almost added oud to the list. I love a good oud, but I am so picky about the way that it is presented. Amouage Homage makes me swoon. LL Oud-well, not so much.

Parfymerad November 20, 2009

Lovely & evocative description of a note I find really hard to isolate - thanks! - and once more, a question provoking radical indecision: a single note? Like the others, that feels well-nigh impossible; how about 3: Tuberose (I've recently discovered the white-floral diva within); jasmine (lamenting its soon-to-be elimination from commercial perfumery:(&#40;); saffron (my Swedish roots mean I'm genetically programmed to love this stuff).

Olfacta November 20, 2009

Hi Lee -- I didn't know it was possible to grow cistus shrubs in anything but a Mediterranean climate! I wonder how they would do here (temperate winter with some cold snaps/occasional ice storms, specific springs & autumns, hot/humid summers). What do you think? Where do you get the plants? I'd like to use this in a scent garden if I can. Thanks!

Connie November 20, 2009

Since I like resins, too, and had no idea how Labdanum even smelled..(not that I would recognize it anyway) I purchased LL as part of the 3-sample kit. I like it but it quickly gets sweet-ish on me and I'm none the wiser as far as identifying the note. I'm with AllaboutEve above and need a kit to help me with identifying scents. But I do love lavenders, leather, non-sweet vanilla, tobacco--(must be the heritage) :) Oh who am I kidding? Seems as though everything is haunting with a vengeance and I can't even identify most of them. Hard to be a perfume neophyte amongst such smart folks but I'm really enjoying the wisdom they impart ... and they're pretty damn funny, too. :) Lee, I always enjoy your posts. The photos above are beautiful, what gorgeous blooms from these plants. A lovely weekend to all. Wish me luck as I'll be taking my nieces to see the Twilight movie ... along with 345843985 other teens. Weeeeeee!

Louise November 20, 2009

As for Labdanum, I love the LL-but knowing LL-the other notes overwhelm and the Lab isn't center stage. I do smell it, deep in the powdery comfort. My current scent ghoul has to be saffron-I can't eat enough, or dip myself with enough. Yesterday was Costume National 21, today will be an Arabian Oud shop oil. I must revisit Saffran Troublant-I may just be ready for now. Thanks for the lovely post, Lee, and happy weekend to all :d/

air November 20, 2009

These days I got an obsession with Iris Silver Mist of Lutens, I feel it's the first time I have really smelled iris.... By the way I think that angels trumpets is what we call "the evening", and they have such a haunting perfume, after a hot summer day, when they open, it's a precious childhood memory. And of course tuberose!!! I am a victim of it, because I suspect that it makes a quick circle on me , gets soon an explosive built up that I wish would stay there for ever , but after 2 hours a think it gets week, The only way to really find out is to buy one!

allabouteve November 20, 2009

Good morning guys! Well, labdanum..don't even know what it smells like, I confess (*hangs head in shame...*)!!So I can't give any good ideas.But if it's one of the ingredients that makes L'Air such a stunner, then I like it, indeed! Talking about single notes,actually I believe they should make little "Chemistry-sets" for perfumistas (or wannabeperfumistas,hehe)to help identify single notes. I mean, sometimes things are easy, after smelling Tubereuse Criminelle and Fracas, one fine day I identified an overload (on me) of tuberose in "poison"...but normally I need extra help.. The notes which haunt me..well, it's more like a journey to find:the perfect lavender(just love it, already have several lavenders, all good, but always wanting to know if there's something even better..), the perfect leather (normally leather smells all yucky on me, I want to find THE leather that smells like the inside of an expensive fine leather purse (scent which makes me bury my nose in some of my purses..yup..), the perfect non-sweet vanilla..and that's about it.. Btw..hey, loved your "toot sweet"! :d

Robin R. November 20, 2009

Do we HAVE to keep to just one, Lee?? If so, I'd have to say resins. (Okay, I know that's cheating already, because it's plural!) There are so many ways they can play out. They can be dark and balsamic, honeyed and golden, smoky and pale, sweet and ambered . . . At the moment, my HG of resin-centric scents is Bois d'Armenie, a study in benzoin laced with incense and balsams. I'm with Denyse on narcissus absolute. And vetiver. And I'm with Carter on leather and skank. There is fresh, creamy oakmoss. There is jasmine. There is osmanthus. There is rose. There are woods. Gaiac, sandalwood, cedar, oak, sycamore, birch . . . There is iris. There is fig. Hell, I think everything haunts me these days.

carmencanada (Grain de Musc) November 20, 2009

Ok: the one I've got under my skin... Oh God there isn't one. Leather like the lovely lady above, tuberose, narcissus absolute is pretty damn fabulous... Can't resist a good vetiver either. Labdanum fix: you need to try TDC's new Oriental Lounge. Decade soon to be over: I've finally settled on the Double Ohs. Got a Bond-ish (as in Fleming) ring to it.

carter November 20, 2009

The one note (that repeats and repeats in my ear) is leather. Want it, need it, got to have it 3:-o