Sexy, or Cigarette-Adjacent? We Ranked 11 Smoky Scents

Sexy, or Cigarette-Adjacent? We Ranked 11 Smoky Scents

A burning barbershop. A leather-bound saddle. A dark graphic novel. If you want to smell like these things in the winter, you absolutely can. Let us help.

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As the temperatures drop outside, we are naturally compelled to seek warmth: a crackling hearth, a roaring campfire, a burning... barbershop. Even just the scent of these things can bring a certain comfort and snugness. Sometimes there’s tobacco, or a hint of leather or herb. But where there’s heat, there’s often smoke, and, for some reason, a lot of people want to reek like it.

An emerging sub-genre in commercial fragrances—akin to that of sunscreen scents, perhaps—are smoky fragrances. Some of the most popular perfume houses in the world—Comme des Garçons, Maison Margiela, Tom Ford—have released iterations of their own in recent years. Many marry it with notes of vanilla, spearmint, and even gunpowder to avoid smelling too much like a forest fire or a Pall Mall. Others, however, delight in fanning the flames.

Because there’s a plethora of fragrances attempting to evoke the comfort smoke can carry with it, we created a definitive ranking based on our impressions, noses, and experiences wearing them in the wild. Bundle up, because here are 11 of the most polarizing, ranked from the worst (wanna smell like an ashtray?) to the so sexy, it makes you sexually attracted to yourself.

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No. 11: Burning Leaves (CB I Hate Perfume)

No. 11: Burning Leaves (CB I Hate Perfume)

Description: “The smoke of burning maple leaves—pure & simple”

Audra: I was born and raised in the Midwest, meaning the smell of burning leaves should probably evoke a distinct nostalgia for the autumnal traditions of my youth (bonfires! hayrides! tailgating, and wishing I wasn’t!). CB I Hate Perfume’s take does none of those things. In fact, it’s so foul that it could very well taint every core memory I have from fall. Score: 3

Emily: This fragrance blew through me with the angst of a quick-moving forest fire. The initial impact was overly pungent, as though 305 burning leaves had swirled down my chimney without consent, all doors and windows locked. During the drydown, the scent mellowed and invoked something adjacent to sophistication, but it burned off far too quickly. I’m similarly unenthused by the inclusion of this fragrance on a blog called “Death Scents.” Score: 4

Rich: I did not get anything burning, just early ‘90s crock pot potpourri in my mom’s friend’s bathroom. At least it was weak? This was a bummer. I love CB I Hate Perfume! Score: 3

Average score: 3.3

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No. 10: Corpus Equus (Naomi Goodsir)

No. 10: Corpus Equus (Naomi Goodsir)

Description: “A deep black animalistic composition, with assertive leather notes. Inspiration: A tribute to a fiery & impetuous horse.”

Emily: Well, this one certainly incited something animalistic in me, though it wasn’t really the Adam-Driver-naked-on-a-horse lust the brand seems to have been going for; it was more of a gag reflex. I was instantly transported to a vaguely traumatic memory of my uncle smoking a bong and trotting through the house like he didn’t, and for this reason, I’m out. Score: 3

Rich: The opening blast of this gave me everything horsey, including the hay. I didn’t get a huge puff of smoke, but it was there, like something clinging to the body of a horse that ran through a fire without stopping. For me this dried down to basically a Tuscan Leather dupe, which is to say that it smelled like cocaine. I didn’t mind that for a while, but by the end of the day it was still so strong that I was starting to get nauseated. Score: 7

Audra: Fiery and impetuous horse? I mean, maybe if it galloped on into a roadside smokehouse and gnawed a rack of ribs right down to the bones. Not only does Corpus Equus reek, it’s potent. Even after a scalding shower spent scrubbing my pulse points with an entire floral wreath, it lingered like a case of the meat sweats. Score: 3

Average score: 4.3

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No. 9: Tonnerre (BeauFort London)

No. 9: Tonnerre (BeauFort London)

Notes: “Accords of smoke, gunpowder, blood and brandy combine with sea spray and a penetrating citrus note.”

Rich: This introduced itself with a blast of mesquite. Literally, I smelled like chips. Within a minute of my spraying, my boyfriend called from the other room to ask me if I smelled smoke, which is I think exactly the kind of reaction you want to elicit from a fragrance such as this. As Tonnerre calmed, it got greener for me, almost aftershavey, albeit singed. The ultimate dry down was pure sitting-in-the-car-of-my-best-friend’s-mother-who-used-to-smoke-cigarettes-with-the-windows-up. Score: 4

Audra: I’m with Rich. Tonnerre is what I imagine a hug from a Hells Angel smells like: mostly exhaust, with a hint of beef jerky. It had staying power, though I’m not certain most people would appreciate that. Score: 4

Emily: Tonnere certainly nailed its element of smokiness, but I was left with an overwhelming scent of woodsy umami as though I’d stuck my head in a flaming barbeque. Given the fragrance’s heart notes of blood, brandy, and seaspray, I’m more confident this scent would alert potential suitors to my recent attendance at a Hawaiian pork roast than evoke the sexy glow of a subtle open flame in the night. Score: 5

Average score: 4.3

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No. 8: Wood on Fire (Montale)

No. 8: Wood on Fire (Montale)

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Image: Montale

Description: “Straight from the flames, this bold fragrance will set your soul on fire with its tender notes of Oud wood, Sandalwood and burnt Vetiver root. Its smoke, enhanced by a powerful Vanilla accord, marries the mystical Amber scents to give you a fragrance that resonates with the history of the world.”

Audra: As evidenced in our ranking of sunscreen fragrances, I’m quite keen on Montale. Though I personally haven’t found the brand’s scents to endure an entire day, there’s undoubtedly something warm and sensual about them. Perhaps it’s the layered notes of sandalwood, vanilla, and amber alongside the smoke, or the fact that it’s so wildly un-subtle upon first spritz, but this one just stands out for me. Score: 7

Emily: The experience of wearing Montale’s Wood on Fire left me feeling as though I, personally and physically, was on fire, rather than my libido. The smoked cedarwood and “mystical incense” overpowered all of the quite lovely base notes (amber, vanilla, etc.) and threw it off balance. Score: 4

Rich: This was the picture of “screechy” on me. I didn’t get smoke, fire, or even wood, just generic fragrance with a weird sweet and sour vibe that evoked rotten grapes. Score: 3

Average score: 4.67

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Description: “A fire broke out in the Curling Bros. barbershop in Westlake, N.Y. in 1891. All the shaving tonics with their spearmint, lime, vanilla and lavender burned. A charred bottle was found half-full. It smelled like this.”




Emily: My only remaining association with this scent is “sour”—mostly drawn from the heart notes of spearmint and lime. Clearly not the ideal wearer, I smelled as though I had left a straightening iron singing on my hair a tad too long. I actually had to dust myself with a spritz of lime juice from the fridge to cover up the stench. Score: 4

Rich: I wanted to love this because it’s such a cool concept, and D.S. & Durga are capable of great things, but it let me down. The barbershop aspect of it just reminded me of a more muted, less spicy take on Musc Ravageur, and its dry down just made me smell like I’d been smoking cigarettes. I don’t want to smell like that??? Score: 6

Audra: Vanilla, where? Lavender, who? Hay, what? I detected not one of these notes upon first or second whiff. Regardless of the array of aromas, all I could detect was burnt hair...which is more beauty salon than barbershop, no? However, the spearmint did make an appearance on the dry down. Either that or it was menthol—like pack of Kools you forgot were at the bottom of your purse. I don’t hate it. Score: 5

Average score: 5

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No. 6: A City on Fire (Imaginary Authors)

No. 6: A City on Fire (Imaginary Authors)

Description: “A brilliantly dark graphic novel, A City On Fire, is the story of two match-makers. Rupert literally fabricates matches in a factory on the waterfront while Frances writes a dating column for the city’s newspaper. Both are recluses who haunt the night’s shadows observing clandestine activities from afar but never partaking. That changes one fortuitous evening when they are both witness to the same high-profile murder and are forced to come together as an unlikely vigilante pair in order to save their own names.”

Rich: I definitely get the match note—this is zesty like when you strike a match and it goes directly up your nose. I’ve worn this like four times and I cannot for the life of me figure out what it’s drying down to. It smells fruity but synthetic, like something that CdG would execute with more grace and deliciousness. It’s weird, I’ll give it that. Score: 5

Audra: Like most things that describe themselves as dark graphic novels, I’m intrigued but for the most part, unmoved. There’s definitely woodland berries in the dry down, but by and large, I just get scorched pine and the kind of liquor sailors might swill. It’s rustic? And forgettable. Score: 5

Emily: Is it 1666? Because it smells like the Great Fire of London up in here. Normally not one to inhale soot as an extracurricular activity, I quite enjoyed the pungent tartness of this morbid scent. Perhaps the fabricated story of two recluses-turned-vigilantes that inspired the fragrance allowed me to project a more complex profile onto this one than its actual chemical composition was capable of. But what is the point of a great perfume if not to transport its wearers and sniffers to an ash-addled world where the everyday act of getting dressed is an act of imagination? Score: 7

Average score: 5.67

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No. 5: Ébène Fumé (Tom Ford)

No. 5: Ébène Fumé (Tom Ford)

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Image: Tom Ford

Description: “Ébène Fumé conjures transcendent spiritual calm through the mystical essence of palo santo smoke—stoked by the warm elegance of cistus absolute, roses, and seductive notes of ebony wood, captured in sleek, sublime notes of leather.”

Audra: There’s something about a Tom Ford brew that always seems to summon to mind a specific fantasy—one that begins with a sumptuous hotel lobby bar and ends with stache rash and an “I’ll call you” from a man in a Brioni suit who most certainly won’t. Anyone can wear this, but a select few can wear this, if you know what I mean. Score: 7

Emily: The combination of Palo Santo, rose, and leather served the perfect funky, ashy fragrance—a balanced femme/masc scent that transported me to Venice beaches, far enough from the smoke shops and close enough to the ocean to leave just a hint of Bohemian, smokey flair on my clothing. Score: 8

Rich: This is just vaguely smoky, but so so nice in my opinion. The palo santo is already wafting us in the direction of sweetness, and the roses ground us there. This is supremely wearable. If I were writing its report card, I’d say it’s a joy to have in class. Score: 7

Average score: 7.3

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Image: Snif

Description: “A low-key sweet and earthy scent that goes from inviting to addictive fast. Its silky blend of moss, woods, and fir balsam is balanced by hints of tonka and black vanilla bean. You’ll want to carry it with you so you can get your fix at a moment’s notice.”

Rich: Sweet Ash is the major discovery of this project for me. Oh, how I love this scent, which is a sort of mystery every time I wear it. I think what really pops is the moss here. Before I even looked up the notes, I thought, “This smells like the original Masters of the Universe Moss Man action figure,” and then was not surprised at all to find that moss was in the notes. (Was that figure scented, or is whoever is controlling my matrix doing a great job with motifs at the moment?) I also get nicer spins on what some of the other fragrances on this list are giving: It’s zesty like A City on Fire but not punch-you-in-the-nose obnoxious, and there’s a gentle Burning Barbershop thing going on. The dryer it gets, the more I like it. The more I wear it, the more I like it. I don’t know what I was doing without this in my life, and I’m so glad that it’s here. Score: 9

Audra: “Oh, this is for the basics,” I thought upon sniffing Sweet Ash for the first time. Reader, I was mistaken. Well, kind of. Is vanilla bean the most recognizable scent? Yes. Is it awfully reminiscent to Le Labo’s Santal 33? Definitely. Do I consider this an instant (and very affordable!) classic in the genre? Mmhmm. If that makes me basic, well, so be it. Score: 10

Emily: I had hoped to like this coworker-approved scent more than I did. The scent was certainly delicate—the amalgamation of patchouli, vanilla, and bergamot could’ve been as tacky as an early aughts Victoria’s Secret perfume if the proportions were off—but I found myself partial to less floral fragrances. Score: 7

Average score: 8.67

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10 / 13

No. 3: BLACK (Comme des Garçons)

No. 3: BLACK (Comme des Garçons)

Description: “Modern dark smoky addictive perfume, men and women can both wear it.”

Rich: This stuff is so sexy, it makes me sexually attracted to myself when I wear it. It’s kind of a deeper, more charred version of what I think of as a prototypical masculine smell, like if Drakkar Noir grew up to be a millionaire. CdG was the first fragrance house that I became obsessed with, but I never tried this one as I figured it would be basic for some reason. Boy was I wrong. I love you, BLACK. Score: 8

Audra: Like Tom Ford, CdG is just really, truly solid. Regardless of the scent profile or the concept, if it’s CdG, chances are, I’ll be turned on by it. BLACK is unapologetically masculine. If this scent were a person, it would be a 6'4 stalk of a human in a shearling coat, leaned up against a brick wall. Pick a wall, they’re there—smoking a cigarette they rolled themselves and not giving a shit if you come closer or not. Score: 9

Emily: Lay me in a bed of pepper grinds when I die. BLACK gave me the post-coital scent of fornicating with a cowboy—enveloped by the lingering taste of pepper-smoked sirloin and sweetness of liquorice marinating in his mouth. I got incense with the subtext of sweetness, and a pinch of good luck. I wore this to our holiday party, and it was a very good evening indeed. Score: 9

Average score: 8.67

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No. 2: Tyrannosaurus Rex (Zoologist)

No. 2: Tyrannosaurus Rex (Zoologist)

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Image: Zoologist

Description: “Zoologist Tyrannosaurus Rex is a gargantuan scent that sinks its teeth into the world of delicate fragrances and rips it wide open. Primitive woods and florals seize you and snatch you away to an ancient era. Smoky, charred wood warns of the danger of smoldering fire, setting your senses on edge, while droplets of metallic rose oxide offer a chilling premonition of blood-lust. The mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex is sometimes menacing, sometimes fascinating, but never, ever ordinary.”

Audra: Several reviews on Fragrantica call this the smell for psychopaths, but I know it simply as the scent of Scorpios. Even if I were cool enough to wear Tyrannosaurus Rex, the notes of incense invoke trauma incurred from years spent as a Catholic school choir kid. The select—and intense—few that have been blessed enough to pull it off, however...well, they’re leaving me on read. Good for them. Score: 8

Emily: About as complex as they come, T-Rex felt like a welcome bath of warm brandy or a hot toddy by the fireplace. The longwear experience of steeping in this masculine aroma greeted me with divergent-smelling sparks throughout the day. My beloved peppery scent washed over me all day, but the small surprise of nutmeg kept me engaged and fascinated. Never dull, always electrifying, and entirely unpredictable. Score: 9

Rich: There is nothing like this and there never will be again. This is my alpha and omega, a go-to scent, what I wish I smelled like naturally. What fascinates me about it is that unlike other smoky fragrances, the smoke here never dissipates, it just shifts. The opening blast is rocky—I think of it smelling like the comet that killed the dinosaurs. But then it dries down to an incense that is positively psychedelic, and you smell the ashy byproduct of that incense. I know this is divisive. I’ve worn it so many times and it’s as loud as a dinosaur roar, and I’ve never gotten a random compliment on it. (Conversely, multiple Uber drivers have asked me about Wonderwood when I’ve worn it.) I don’t care. We can all agree silently that I smell great. Zoologist is one of the top perfumers at the top of its game with this challenging, avant fragrance. To me, it is utter perfection. Score: 10

Average score: 9

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Description: “This warm and cozy Eau de Toilette fuses the smoky scent of burning wood with notes of gaiac wood, cashmeran and clove oil. The scent of roasted chestnuts is recreated by a blend of chestnuts notes and red berries oil. The sweet notes of vanilla reinforce the warm and cozy sensation brought by this perfume. Close your eyes, smell this woody fragrance and remember the enveloping sensation of a fireplace in the midst of winter.”




Emily: As a regular wearer and someone previously enchanted by Replica’s cigar-inspired Jazz Club, I wasn’t entirely surprised to find that By the Fireplace not only rose to the top of the smoky samples, but surpassed my expectations altogether in one fell sniff. Orange flower and pink pepper meets chestnut, vanilla, and Gaïac wood? This 1971 Chamonix is a crackling fireplace in a winter wonderland just waiting to be inhaled, enjoyed, and luxuriated in, mulled wine in hand and a snowsuit-donning lover nestled at your side. With sweet and ashy scents mixing just so, I’d dare to wear this scent even in summer months in an attempt to bring the nouveau riche magic of aprés-ski with me year round. This was far and away my favorite try-on experience, and a memorable scent I hope to keep on my mantle for years to come. Score: 10

Rich: I mentioned Wonderwood in my T. Rex blurb—that CdG fragrance was what I thought of as the platonic ideal wood scent...until I met By the Fireplace, which manages to be just as intensely woody but sweeter. Fireplace manages to be unique and user-friendly, and because I got my bottle last year around Christmas, it’s now very much associated with this time of year for me. Few things smell more pleasant. Score: 9

Audra: It’s sweet! It’s sentimental! It’s the most inoffensive smoke! Of course, it’s none other than Maison Margiela. The brand has exceeded at bottling universally beloved memories for years, and here’s hoping they never stop. Score: 10

Average score: 9.67

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