One of the main woods in perfumery, cedarwood has a special place in our hearts for its versatility and integral role in building impactful woody accords.
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Part of the conifer family, the main varieties include Atlas cedarwood (from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco), Lebanon cedarwood (the tree is represented on the country’s flag) and Himalayan cedarwood.
Did you know the commonly used Virginia is not a true cedar and is actually from the juniper family? Now, you do.
There are also several synthetic cedarwoods, including cedryl acetate, Cedrol, Vertofix and Cedramber.
So how does cedarwood smell, apart from, um, woody? That would depend on the variety and the combo of materials used by the perfumer, of course.
But in general, it ranges from the fresh and resinous to earthy and pencil shaving-like (the wood is used to make pencils) and even leathery. It’s also more sensual than you might realise.
Where known, the name of the perfumer is included in brackets after the name of the fragrance.
Here’re My Favorite Cedar Colognes
Serge Lutens Féminité du Bois EDP (Christopher Sheldrake & Pierre Bourdon)
Always a good place to start with an innovative classic in the genre. And this 1992 release from the French niche house (originally created for the Japanese beauty brand Shiseido) sets the bar very high too.
At the time, cedarwood was seen as a masculine note and perfumers Christopher Sheldrake and Pierre Bourdon took it in a more feminine direction (hence the fragrance’s name).
Taking its inspiration from the honeyed smells emanating from leather stalls in Morocco, it surrounds deep Atlas cedarwood with fruity (plum, peach), spicy (cinnamon, cloves), floral (orange blossom, violet) and creamy (sandalwood, benzoin) accents.
The result? An incredibly sensual experience which, more than 30 years later, even though reformulated, has lost none of its revolutionary beauty. And for the record, it’s perfectly unisex, in case you’re freaked out about the “féminité” bit.
Ormonde Jayne Isfarkand EDP (Geza Schoen)
When I interviewed Ormonde Jayne founder Linda Pilkington, she spoke about the origins of this 2005 release.
“One of our best-selling perfumes, a short formula, and originally made for my husband when he was 40 years old,” she said. “He got so many compliments on it, I had to bring it into the range.”
Its popularity is easy to understand. The opening is citrus-crisp with notes of lime, bergamot and mandarin orange.
Adding to the sharpness, a herbal take on pink pepper makes way for the earthy woodiness of cedar, vetiver and oakmoss in the drydown.
The epitome of elegance.
Kilian Straight to Heaven EDP (Sidonie Lancesseur)
There’s no missing the dark booziness in the opening of this 2007 release from the French niche brand’s The Cellars Collection, thanks to a shot of rum.
It’s quite intense, so give it time to settle with the creaminess of vanilla, the sensual stickiness of dried fruit and the earthiness of nutmeg.
The drydown seems the warm spiciness of patchouli contrasted with the freshness of cedar.
It’s not as animalic as the brand makes it out to be, but that doesn’t stop it from being a wonderfully rich treat.
Comme Des Garçons Wonderwood EDP (Antoine Lie)
If we were in the perfume-naming business, we might call this 2010 release from the Japanese brand “Wonderwoods”, because there’s an assortment of woods going down here, including cedarwood, sandalwood and guaiac wood.
CDG has never shied away from synthetics and they play their part too in the appeal of this scent, especially Javanol (clean and creamy sandalwood) and Cashmeran, with its musky-woody vibe.
They’re infused with the earthy spiciness of black pepper and nutmeg and smokiness of incense.
The brand describes it as “wood gone mad”. We describe it as soothing and distinctive.
The British niche company has produced a mind-boggling array of scents (heading for the 200 mark any day now) since its founding in 2008, so sifting the best from the rest is a project in itself. This 2016 release is one of their standouts.
The opening is rich with the rosy fruitiness of raspberry and spicy leatheriness of saffron. There’s an element of freshness from a note of violet leaf too.
Pine gives it aromatic appeal and sets it on a forest-y-woody path to the drydown featuring creamy sandalwood, the pencil shaving-like softness of Atlas cedar and oriental warmth of Dehnal oud (this variety of the precious ingredient is known for its quality).
It’s not officially listed but there’s certainly the synthetic Cashmeran, with its woody muskiness, in the mix.
You’ll get compliments, people will want to be your best friend when you wear this stuff. Not that we wear fragrances for those reasons, but it is that good.
Byredo Super Cedar EDP (Jérôme Epinette)
Super indeed. As in ISO E Super. Discovered by John B. Hall and James M. Sanders in 1973, the synthetic is known for its silky cedar-ish properties. Perfumer Geza Schoen created a major sensation when he showcased it on its own, as a scent in itself, in Escentric Molecules Molecule 01 EDT (2006).
In the 2016 release from the Swedish niche brand, it gives the combo of rose, Virginian cedarwood, vetiver and musk an uplifting spin.
A minimalist composition, yes, but big on the gratification.
Bvlgari Man Wood Essence EDP (Alberto Morillas)
If you’re going to do the signature fragrance thing, this creation from the Italian luxury jewellery brand is the way to go.
After all the boozy rumm-iness of Bvlgari Man in Black EDP (2014), Bvlgari Man Black Orient EDP (2016) and Man Black Cologne EDT (2016), the range took a more sober direction with a focus on natural elements, starting with Bvlgari Man Wood Essence EDP in 2018.
The aromatics of cypress and smoothness of cedar mingle with the earthiness of vetiver to deliver all the elegant woodiness you could possibly want, with fresh ’n spicy assistance from citrus and coriander.
The balsamic warmth of benzoin in the drydown adds sensuality to the mix, without getting too sweet.
Class in glass.
Penhaligon’s Halfeti Cedar EDP (Christian Provenzano)
The original Penhaligon’s Halfeti EDP (2015) was a big hit for the British heritage brand with its spice and oud blend. It was followed by Penhaligon’s Halfeti Leather EDP in 2020. Who says niche brands don’t do flankers à la designers, we grumbled to ourselves smugly, as we thought the range would taper off into predictable mediocrity.
Well, we were wrong. Very wrong. The 2020 release Penhaligon’s Halfeti Cedar EDP is the best one yet.
There’s a whole lot of boozy fruitiness going on at first with peach, dried fruit and rum notes at the fore.
And then something almost metallic (that must be the mineral accord in the official notes) together with the powderiness of cinnamon. Intriguing…
The Atlas cedarwood is resinous- and balsamic-rich, with vanilla rounding it off with spicy creaminess.
Now, we know why the bottle is so dark…
Chopard Cedar Malaki EDP (Alberto Morillas)
If you’ve been keeping up with the releases from the Swiss luxury jewellery brand, you’ll know that it’s seriously upped its game in recent years.
A 2023 addition to the Middle Eastern-influenced Malaki range, Cedar Malaki opens with the aromatics of cardamom, cypress and lavender. There’s a herbal dimension from artemisia, with just the right amount of bitterness.
With two types of cedarwood (Atlas and Lebanon), the effect is warm and slightly camphor-ish.
The amber accord in the drydown is big on the muskiness of labdanum and earthy spiciness of cypriol and patchouli.
The reasonable price ensures the olfactory pleasure keeps on coming.
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Richard Goller is a fragrance and grooming blogger. His blog is called Fragroom. A senior editor with 20 years' experience, his blog allows him to combine two of his passions: engaging content and the always-intriguing world of fragrances. When he isn't blogging, you'll find Richard indulging in his newly found passion for balcony gardening.