I used to go to church every Sunday as a child, and on high holidays like Christmas or Easter I went for up to five days in a row. (Easter sure is a busy time for Catholics.)
There were times when I protested, but mostly I just went to avoid strife and because, later on, I found ways to enjoy myself like playing the violin in the church orchestra or singing in the choir. Making music in church was great. Also, I was a Girl Guide and we all had parents who sent us to church regularly, so we teamed up and together it was almost a party, albeit a quiet one of whispered conversations an hushed giggling in the back rows.
Catholicism played a huge role in my childhood and the scent of incense is closely bound with those memories. But many incense fragrances I like evoke the outdoors (like Tauer Incense Extreme or Armani Privè Bois d’Encens), are calmly meditative (like CdG Kyoto or Heeley Cardinal) or combined with other interesting materials and thus deflecting my associations away from incense that was used in the church of my youth.
Not so Avignon.
Avignon is the incense of Sundays past, the direct path into my memories, one spray of Avignon and I see our beloved, old, now passed away, priest standing there and swinging the censer. All the smells, bells and costumes are instantly back with a whiff of Avignon.
Created by none other than Bertrand Duchaufour in 2002, Avignon includes notes of Roman chamomile, cistus oil, elemi, incense, vanilla, patchouli, palisander and ambrette seeds.
Avignon opens with incense and myrrh, deep, somber, holy. It widens into a dark resinous heart, rich and smoky, later it calms considerably drying down to a woody incense with a hint of vanilla on the edges.
Avignon is cool, deep and dignified. It is not something you apply without second thought, at least I can’t, when I wear it, it is an occasion to be marked.
Avignon is an outstanding fragrance, long-lasting, well-made, the reference incense, a necessary part of any Perfumista’s collection. But that is just my opinion.
For me it is all there: the old wooden pews, the cool, slightly stale air, the incense of course, the burning candles, the flowers on the altar and the many, many people in their Sunday best avidly listening, thinking of entirely wordly matters or some even silently asleep.
What I liked best during a service, when I was still a small child and had not yet grown into my other in-mass occupations, was looking at people. It was very interesting to watch their behavior, watch their faces and imagine their stories.
There was “Bear-Man”, a huge older man, with the stature of a boxer and the nose to match, who was very fascinating in that he managed to irritate many a pious woman in his vicinity with his incessant and completely unapologetic snoring. He was fast asleep during most of the early eighties, as far as I could see.
Then there was a woman I called “Die schöne Helena” in my head, because I thought she was exactly like Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in history.
I had read about her and was fascinated with her beauty and power over men. The Helena in my church was standing out of the crowd. When she entered the church, a hush fell over the congregation, men and women alike, although for entirely different reasons, stared at her and followed her down the aisle with their gazes. So did I.
One time she sat in the row before me and my family. She was wearing a red coat and a black fur shawl. Her long blonde hair was open and flowed down her back. My mother looked slightly scandalized whenever Helena swung back her mane of golden hair. I remember wanting to touch it and sitting in an undecided agony of tension for the entire service. Every time she swung her hair over her shoulders, I got a whiff of the most delicate scent, soft and flowery. I decided then and there that I wanted to grow my hair long, which ended up to be a point of endless, vicious discussions with my mother.
As soon as I was old enough for her not to be able to object anymore, I grew my hair long, and wear it long still. From time to time I swish it.
I wish I could see Helena now, I bet she grew old in style.
What a wonderful review. I love incense so this is perfect. And to have Helen of Troy in your church…truly epic, Homeric and delightful.
Thank you very much for reading, Lanier!
I loved the story! I’ll find and try this perfume – just because of the story.
(I’m still smiling after reading it)
I’m glad I made you smile, Undina! Thank you.
My favourite incense perfume is Ambre Noir by Sonoma Scent Studio- the “dusky” child of Avignon and Ambre Sultan!
Thanks for sharing your lovely story!
Strangely enough, despite loving amber, this is one of the few SSS scents I have not yet tried. Clearly an oversight.
I really look forward to your review of Ambre Noir!
What a wonderful story and it would be so nice to see Helen of Troy again today to see if she did indeed grow old gacefully and if she still swishes her hair.
I have no childhood recollections of the times I was made to go to Church other than being cold, I certainly don’t remember any incense but then maybe that is just a Catholic thing? I wish we had had our own Helen of Troy though :-).
It’s probably a Carholic thing…
I’ll have to ask my mother how Helen is these days, at the risk of her looking scandalized again. 😉
It felt like the beginning of a longer story – could you please continue?
(I’ve never tried the parfum Avignon, because I’m not an incense lover. But I love the city of Avignon, one of my favorites ever… )
I’ve never been to Avignon, but I’d love to go. It looks like a beautiful city.
Avignon is not only beautiful, but also has a lovely atmosphere – with lots of students and artists, places to eat & drink. Avignon was made to write a book there… I keep telling to my husband : should I ever want to learn French I’d do so in Avignon !
I should go there soon then!
Perfect review. It sounds like we had similar church experiences. We were always in church in catholic school. I love the incense. We had a priest who was a bit heavy handed with it and it was the best. I bought Avignon unsniffed and it was exactly what I hoped it would be. It’s not something my hubby wants to smell on me but for me it’s just what I need some days.
It’s good to hear you experience Avignon similarly (Is Bertrand Duchaufour catholic? One would think so!)
I didn’t grow up Catholic, but I can see how this fragrance can usher in such memories. I found that it felt more like a memory than a fragrance myself. That said, when I tested it, I wondered when I would wear it.
I’m so glad you re-posted this review on OT as it’s a favourite of mine. It’s stuck in my head ever since I read it on PST. I agree with Lady Jane Grey that it feels like there’s a lot more to this story.
For anyone looking for a full-on church incense, I agree Avignon has to be The One.
Thank you for these kind words, Tara!
Great story, Birgit 🙂 Such nice memories and associations – after reading I found my sample of Avignon and sniffed it once again.. trying to feel everything what you just described… Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thank you for reading, Ellia!
Oh, I love this post. Like Tara, I remember reading it at PST and being captivated by the entire piece, but especially loved your mention of Helena. Gorgeous!
That is very nice of you to say! Thank you, Suz!
From CdG Incense series I only know Kyoto which I fancy a lot. I would dare to say Kyoto is the only incense fragrance that I can wear easily. Other incense fragrances make me go “no-no”
Kyoto is great, it is a lot easier to wear than Avignon. I wear Kyoto whereas a sniff of my sample of Avignon now and again is enough for me, I wouldn’t wear it for the entire day.
Wonderful fragrance, wonderful post! I always loved people-watching in church, too. We didn’t have incense at my Lutheran church… Catholic services always seemed so much more magical and mysterious with their incense and Latin!
Avignon is supposedly Morrissey’s signature scent. I mentioned this to my sister one time when I was wearing it. She said “Huh… I figured he would smell of hair gel and sadness” That made me laugh for days!
Catholics have a great sense of drama and theatricals and I mean that in a very positive way.
Haha, that is really a great description – hairgel and sadness. 😉
Catholicism is a choice for me later in life. The incense is a lovely part of the experience. I was a church pianist too, starting as a very young age. The lovely church where my mother took us had been destroyed. That’s one thing Catholic’s do NOT do. They preserve the beauty of the past, and that’s one reason I love that faith so much. I’ll be looking for “Incense” on line. Will probably wear it on Sundays and High Holy Days.
That is very interesting. I don’t know anyone who is Catholic by choice, since Austria is so steeped in Catholicism, so I admire your conscious decision for the faith. I hope you will enjoy Avignon.
I am Catholic and your story brought back so many memories. I too was in the choir, and when I was younger I used to make up stories about parishioners, too. I have never tried Avignon, but I bet I would like it. Thanks for the lovely post.
It is lovely to hear the story stroke a chord with you, Maureen. I’m glad you enjoyed it and I hope you’ll enjoy Avignon as well.
Breathtakingly beautiful post! The only CdG I have is their Red Carnation (which I just sprayed on in your honor), but now I will have to get a sample of this one. When I was younger, I went to church regularly, but there was no incense, just the smell of the air conditioner, and the odd waft of tastefully dabbed perfume/cologne on the other members.
Some of my very favorite stories are of the people (not mother’s and father’s, who, for better and for worse, we cannot shake being molded by) who teach us how to be women and men. I wonder how many of them know the impact of their influence upon us.
Thank you, Kimberly.
You are right, we learn through watching others, and some influences stick with us even if the encounter was a very brief one.
I have wondered if there was a fragrance out there that was close to the scent of incense used in Catholic mass. I have always been entranced by the smell. Will have to search out a sample of Avignon. I have been an avid people watcher from a very young age. I often get mistaken for shy, but that isn’t the case. I am just “taking it all in”. 🙂
I hope you enjoy Avignon, it is the closest to church incense I have found.
Nice to see CDG Avignon getting some love! I too love this smell though I wonder how people around me might react to smelling something that possibly brings up so many memories, as it does to me. It really does remind me of the priest in my old church walking down from the altar swaying incense at the pews in its gold chain and holder. I’ve always and in fact still do wonder what exactly is in that holder producing all that white smoke. A large piece of burning incense? Who makes them? Where do they get their supplies from? As far as I can tell, that scent is consistent across so many different Catholic churches around the world. As a kid, I used to imagine that it was some kind of unusual smelling dry ice.
My husband, a former altar boy, says that the incense granules are placed on a bed of glowing coals, then the censer is rapidly swung to let air in, that produced the smoke.
Avignon is a beautiful incense perfume indeed. 🙂
Mystery solved! And I learnt a new word: censer. Thanks for that!
You are welcome! 🙂
I really enjoyed your story, Birgit. Beautifully written!
Thank you very much! 🙂
I was born and raised in the Catholic Church. Parochial schools and Church every Sunday was all I knew until my parents could no longer afford to send all seven of us kids to private schools. The very first time I smelled Avignon (thanks to my sister Amy), I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and calm. It was my first full bottle niche purchase and I still love it. Thank you for the fond memories!
thank you for sharing your own memories. Avignon really seems to hit the spot.
Incense was not a part of my church experience growing up, so I come to it with more of an intellectual appreciation. Not only does the notes play nice with my skin, it carries some impressive historical baggage with it that I’m more than happy to carry. Something about knowing how old the idea of it is just works for me.
I also own some Avignon, and although it’s not the incense I reach for most, I also consider it the reference point for all other incenses; this is the one I reach for for comparison when I want to better understand any new incense I’m trying.
What great praise that is for Avignon. To be your benchmark incense is surely an achievement.
I like what you are saying about the long history of incense, it feels at once humbling and elating to wear it.
You just described my memories too. The same feelings and toughts. I appreciate having a sample of Avignon in my collection. But I wear it rarely. For Christmas or something to do with church. It is very good perfume, but I find it too distinctive to wear it easily. I agree a parfumista should have this in a collection. It’s a good example of an incense perfume.
I’m glad we share these memories, Civava.
I won’t need a full bottle of Avignon either, it is more a smell it, than a wear it perfume. But it is one of the best incenses out there.
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