There’s something very basic, almost therapeutic about the smell of wood, isn’t there? Rosewood, or palisander, is especially comforting, because it smells mostly like a freshly-split log of wood, but has warm, steamy undercurrents of curry leaf, pressed rose petals, and chili pepper for interest. Ava Luxe’s Palisander is not only an excellent representation of the rosewood note, but the plainness of the wood is dressed up with enough amber and incense to prevent it from ever smelling skeletal.
Palisander was one of the samples I grabbed when I was evacuating our house during Storm Emma a few days ago. And I was enormously grateful for its plain, wholesome comfort as I struggled to lift my two little kids through the snow and up into the cabin of the tractor that my mother had flagged down, having waded through snowdrifts for hours to get to us.
We were delighted to be rescued, of course. No electricity, one torchlight, a phone that died somewhere on Day 1, completely snowed in, two little kids, no husband, and worst of all, no bread or Tayto left in the country – I think it’s fair to say we were all feeling a little desperate.
But the sight of my mother, staggering up through waist-high piles of snow to our front door, red as a beet in the face, and yelling, “Claire, come on, I’ve got a shagging farmer, and if you don’t all come out RIGHT NOW, he might shagging LEAVE” is something I doubt I’ll ever forget. Imagine a 70-year-old woman, standing in front of an oncoming tractor and forcing him to stop. Like Tienanmen Square all over again, Mother shouted at me over the noise of the tractor, beaming with pride.
It all seems a little extreme now, of course. The power came back on 12 hours after our dramatic rescue, and by the next morning, the roads had cleared enough to get us back home. My husband has not stopped mocking us since he returned home. Even the Finns are laughing at you, he told our 7 year old. The Finns! (In revenge, I’ve decided not to tell him about the Aldi candle I left burning on the mantelpiece for 24 hours in our haste to catch that farmer. Nor about all the doors I left unlocked.)
But I’ll tell you this – it was a great comfort to be sitting in front of the fire in the house where I grew up, the kids happily watching TV and eating hot food. And as I sat there, wrapped up in a warm blanket and wafts of Ava Luxe’s Palisander floating up at me from my sweater, I thought how true it was that the best things in life are the most basic of things. Warmth, fire, TV, books, happy kiddies, hot food, a working mobile phone, and the glorious smell of wood.
Rosewood has a particular significance for me, because I wore the oil neat while I was a teenager in the 1990’s. Nowadays, rosewood is almost as rare as Mysore sandalwood, having fallen victim to a similar over-exploitation. The species that produces rosewood oil, Dalbergia nigra, is categorized as an Appendix I material under CITES, meaning that no rosewood produced after 1992 should be bought, sold, or traded. I have no idea whether Palisander by Ava Luxe actually contains rosewood or not, but wow, it sure does smell like the rosewood I remember.
Palisander opens with the scent of a freshly-split plank of wood – raw, high-toned, and clean in a way that reminds me of industrial glue and binding products. I admit that this sort of smell might be incredibly boring were it to stay in that track. But upon close inspection, the bland strata of wood reveals a wealth of detail that keeps me interested. I smell the pungent, faintly fecal, coffee-ish undertone of cedar, as well as a bright, plasticky red pepper note that recalls the “hot rubber” milkiness of fragrances such as Etro’s Etra and Hilde Soliani’s Hot Milk.
But there’s a plainness to Palisander that cannot be denied, and for me, that’s part of the appeal. The soporific character of the wood is similar to that of scents such as Tam Dao (Diptyque) and Cadjmere (Parfumerie Generale), and it might even be fair to call it sandalwood-ish. However, rosewood is softer, plainer, and a touch fruitier than sandalwood – like a mixture of aromatic cypress wood, pulpy chili pepper, hot milk, and sawdust. Either way, the result is a scent so relaxing it might be prescribed as therapy, or used as the ambient fragrance in an upmarket spa.
Palisander moves relatively quickly, though, from its raw lumber start to a pale wood heart full of sweet incense powder, amber, and soft vanilla. It ends up as one of those elegant vanilla-woods combinations that always remind me of sweet Communion wafers, old books, lignin, and the tail end of Dzing. A simple, but well-rendered scent for those of us who love the wholesomeness of wood, and the comforts of home.