Cognoscenti No. 30: Hay and Incense, 2016

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Perfumer Dannielle Sergent.

Cognoscenti No. 30: Hay and Incense sells itself as a simple accord, but don’t believe the non-hype. It is a full-bodied, moving target of a perfume. Incense and hay are at the center of the perfume but they pop up in different ways at different times. At the outset, it seems like the nominal notes are circling each other, like a tango or an episode of Drag Race. In the heart, they give the composition an interesting juxtaposition of tones. Incense builds in wood and dryness while hay adds moist farm soil. The two notes keep their distance until drydown, where they find common ground in a chewy honey/tobacco quality.  The basenotes have a rounded, spiced sweetness that verges on chocolate.

A complaint leveled against many artisan perfume lines is the “accord” aspersion. Sometimes it’s a back-hand compliment, more often it’s an insult, but it is the broad swipe leveled against all artisan work. ‘It’s not so much a perfume as an accord.’ The Cognoscenti line address the challenge head-on in the names of their perfumes (others include Bergamot Sage, Warm Carrot and Tomato Leather.) The premise of the accord-accusation is that lacking “proper” training, artisan perfumers are incapable of composing complete perfumes. Further implication is that the perfumers and their audience are unable to distinguish between an accord and a perfume. Again, this fast-ball to the face of artisan perfumery is non-specific and should be questioned for specifics in every instance.

Still, why is an accord considered sub-par? Classic (“orchestral”) perfumes are the pinnacle of the form and single-molecule perfumes get high marks for concept and sophistication. Is the accord the evil goldilocks of perfume hierarchy, that is, Just Wrong? The chypre and fougère accords are considered to be the basis for the greater portion of the last 150 years of perfumery. They are primal accords. Are accords discovered with recent materials excluded from greatness?

The accord-accusation isn’t the only thing held against artisan perfumery, but it’s worth looking at: outside the new world of artisan work, isn’t simplicity of formula, another expression for well-thought accord, the state of the art? Jean-Claude Ellena has written books about it. Andy Tauer puts the premise to work in his Tauerville line. Le Labo Ambrette 9 wins the prize for least number of components–the implicit goal of the line. Look at the equation Cognoscenti shares with Jo Malone: X + Y = perfume. (Granted, simple notes ≠ simple composition.)

Cognoscenti No. 30: Hay and Incense goes nose-to-nose with the accord-accusation and wins both by refusing to accept the premise of the argument and then by defeating it. The name says proudly that an accord is a viable form of perfumery. As with any perfume, consideration, creativity and quality are the real concerns, not dogma. If Hay and Incense is an accord, it is a detailed and smart one–at which point, what is the difference between a perfume and an accord?

Perfumer Dannielle Sergent is a visual artist as well as a perfumer. She joins the ranks of other art-cross-trained artisanal perfumers like Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Bruno Fazzolari, Andrea Maack and Antonio Gardoni, all of whom have been sending a message to the big boys: the barbarians are at the gate and they smell fantastic.

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  1. Steven Riddell says:

    This provides me with better tools, to use in analyzing what I scent, feel, taste, see and think in relation to perfumery. With your writing, I do savour.
    Indeed “the barbarians are at the gate and they smell fantastic”

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