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Miller Harris La Fumée

For someone who’s never taken so much as a puff of a cigarette in her life, it’s perhaps a little odd that The Scent Critic is addicted to smokiness.  Give me an open fire.  A steaming pot of Lapsang Souchong (actually, give me that at 4 p.m. sharp in the afternoon and I’ll worship you forever).  I’m no Papist, but give me Catholic churches, an hour or so after Mass, where the incense swirls with dust motes in the shafts of multi-coloured light beaming from stained glass windows.  Why, The Scent Critic has even been known to stand by steaming vats of tar beside roads being mended, and just b-r-e-a-t-h-e, like some kind of weirdo…

So yes, please, give me Miller Harris’s new La Fumée, which is my first love affair of the new harvest of autumnal fragrances.  (There’s a surprising number of real gems, which I’ll work my way through in upcoming postings.)  Woods, of course, are something that British perfumer Lyn Harris does particularly well:  girliness just isn’t her ‘thang’.  But this is probably my favourite of her couple of dozen creations to date.

I wouldn’t call it the most original creation in the fragrance world – there are not-so-distant echoes of Serge Lutens’s light-the-blue-touch-paper-and-retire Ambre Sultan, not to mention Nez à Nez’s cedar-and-amber Atelier d’un Artiste, which has recently had a cameo role on my dressing table.  But this is really, really worth discovering by anyone seduced by amber notes, or drawn to dry woods, because it’s just so darned snuggly and wearable.  And just as soon as this heatwave ends, and I’ve retrieved my opaques from the bottom drawer, I’ll be wrapping myself in its pashmina-warmth pretty compulsively, and it’ll almost compensate for the drop in temperature.

La Fumée has a fleeting dry, aromatic resinous quality at first encounter, which I put down to the cistus – but then the tendrils of incense creep stealthily, and linger.  Real, proper, church-y incense (so that’ll be lots of frankincense, then – such a favourite note of mine I sometimes wear the essential oil, on is own.) It’s subtly spiced, like a cup of chai.  To me there’s also a vague demerara sugar quality – almost certainly from the amber – which stops it being too masculine.  (Though there isn’t a male neck in the land I wouldn’t want to smell this on, frankly.)  It’s the perfect counterpoint:  without sugar, what would chai be…?  (Bitter, is the answer.)  Just sometimes, if in need of extra oomph, I’ve been known to add a few grains of sugar to my afternoon Lapsang – not something I do with any other tea – for the same reason:  it softens its butch woodsmoke character.

Just as Lyn Harris is a dab hand with woods, she’s a maestro (or whatever the female equivalent is) with geranium (viz her scent Geranium Bourbon) – another reason this appeals to me:  there are moments when you can almost feel the hairy leaves being crushed between fingers, in your granny’s greenhouse.  Oh, OK, my granny’s greenhouse.  (Odd, though:  such is scent’s memory-trawling power that even though I’ve got my own Alitex, and my own scented geranium plants, it’s still my grandmother’s that I think of…)

La Fumée stays a tad religious, throughout, but at some point travels through space from Vatican City to India:  all of a sudden, you sniff your wrist again and realise that this has become more Buddhist temple than cathedral-esque.  Now I love, love, love sandalwood, as a fragrance note – I still treat myself to Roger & Gallet’s Sandalwood soaps (the smell of which is still discernible in one box I’ve kept for over 30 years) – and every time I stumble into it, in a scent, it still lifts my heart.  Here, the sandalwood hangs out with birch tar.  So, no need for me to loiter roadside for my tarry hit, here.

What Lyn seems to have resisted, cleverly, are the tobacco notes that can make some smoky scents smell a bit old-ashtray-like, after a few hours.  No, this is fireside embers, in a velvet-curtained room, before you throw them open to let pale winter sunshine flood through the windows on the morning after a sensual evening before.  (Did I mention it was sexy?  Because it is, in a come-closer rather than an in-your-face way.)

I adore it.  And even more pleasingly I gather it comes in a scented candle, which I can’t wait to get my hands on, too, with a hunch this could go instantly rocketing up my home fragrance charts.

Miller Harris, you just lit my fire…

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4 comments to Miller Harris La Fumée

  • What a brilliant review, I came across this perfume last week and I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it. I love Lapsang Souchong too

  • Cathy

    This sounds lovely. Have you acquired any of those wooden amber filled balls by L’Artisan Parfumeur? I have one and it is heavenly. Wish they did a perfume like it.

  • Spent the day in Leeds yesterday looking for my winter scent and discovered La Fumee having set out to sniff Miller Harris Fleur Oriental which was lovely but too powdery on me. Just reading the perfume notes would have been sufficient for me to have been reaching for my purse, even without smelling it on my skin, it all sounds so wonderful. I love this one every bit as much as you do and having checked that OH loves it too will be beating a path back to Leeds to purchase my bottle very soon. I will also be keeping an eye on this website for your future Autumn reviews, as I have a feeling anything you like may work for me too!

  • jesuissantal

    I have also, since early childhood, been in love with the sandalwood aroma of Roger et Gallet’s soaps. Can you mention to me any other fragrances where I may encounter this scent? Thak you!

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