There is a small church nestled in a pine forest clearing, a church whose wooden pews are covered by the dust of ages and whose stony floors echo the footsteps of monks swinging a thurible censer. White smoke from myrrh fills the air like a thin wall of purification, but that is not unexpected in such a traditional place. What is different is the bridge outside, a bridge made of creamy, honeyed beeswax and sweet myrrh. It links the stony, dusty Catholic church to its polar opposite on the far side of the world, an oriental temple filled with black smoke, not white olibanum. It is a temple where spicy patchouli sweetness and dry woods are offered to the gods alongside the frankincense, swirling together in a haze of great warmth. Two sides of the same coin, two very different worlds, and two very different perfumed aromas. But they’ve been bottled into one fragrance, Ecclesiae.
Ecclesiae is an eau de parfum from the Italian perfume house, Arte Profumi. The company, whose name translates to The Art of Perfume, is based in Rome and seems to have been founded around 2013, the year when it launched all its fragrances. I first encountered the line at Jovoy in Paris, though I never gave them a proper testing. The name stuck in my mind, however, so when Surrender to Chance suddenly started to carry a few of the scents, I seized the opportunity. Arte Profumi’s website isn’t very detailed or helpful, but the one thing that it makes clear is that its founders are passionate about art:
The passion for modern art and, at the same time the world of essences, as well as the need for combining them has led to the organization of multi-sensorial events.
By extraction, you get the concept of perfume as works of art, capable of replacing visual impressions through the perception of olfactory consent.
A source of inspiration for this implementation was the distant recollection of an old dressmaker’s shop where the choice of cloths, original patterns and precious trimmings stood for a lifestyle.
Arte Profumi’s website doesn’t provide the official description or notes for Ecclesiae, but I found the details on First in Fragrance:
A touch of eternity in the hallowed stone halls of a medieval cathedral where prayer and hymns along with incense soar heavenwards – in fragrant clouds of smoke, circling choirs of angels in reverence and devotion.
Arte Profumi pays homage to frankincense with their sacred scent aptly named “Ecclesiae”. Spicy elemi paves the way for the protagonist frankincense and a heart of sandalwood. Smoky, earthy patchouly and vetiver lend the composition depth and volume, a choir with many voices that intone the same harmony.
Friends of church fragrances and frankincense, but also lovers of oriental fragrances will welcome this creation from Arte Profumi as a blessing.
Top Note: Elemi
Heart Note: Frankincense, Sandalwood
Base Note: Patchouly, Vetiver
Judging by what appeared on my skin, I think those notes are a bit incomplete or lacking in detail, because Ecclesiae opens with a heavy amount of myrrh. The white smoke is infused with elemi that reflects both its piney and its lemony characteristics. The patchouli arrives quietly on the sidelines, casting a tiny millimeter of spice to the cool, dusty, chilly notes. An equally muted hint of woodiness lurks in the base, evoking the pews in an old church. Much more significant, however, is another element not mentioned on the list — sweet myrrh or opoponax — which adds a honeyed touch to the bouquet. The overall effect evokes a cool, austere church in the middle of a forest and one whose wooden pews haven’t been dusted in months (or years).
Yet, even from the start, Ecclesiae may be the warmest, churchy, olibanum fragrance that I’ve ever tested. This is no brittle, High Mass fragrance with soapy, dusty, cold notes like Heeley‘s Cardinal, a fragrance that I personally found to be well-nigh unbearable with its piercing white musk and cotton. I haven’t tried the seminal Commes des Garcons‘ Avignon to compare, primarily because I generally find the “High Church” coldness, dustiness and soapiness of myrrh to be extremely difficult to handle. It doesn’t help that my skin often turns the note into soap by the end of a fragrance’s development as well.
So you can imagine my surprise at the difference here with Ecclesiae. This is a dusty, cool, white incense, yes, but there is something really lovely about how the notes are handled. It’s never too cool or barren, never too ancient and aloof in feel. There is the merest touch of warmth that ensures I never feel as though I were about to join some monks in a vow of silence in a very isolated, ancient church. At the same time, there is something honeyed about Ecclesiae that goes far beyond the usual waxy touches provided by sweet myrrh.
On the other hand, I don’t detect any sandalwood, and the patchouli isn’t at all distinct in its usual way at first. However, a few minutes in, there is a muted earthiness wafting around, along with the faintest flicker of something nuttied and vaguely chocolate-y. It wasn’t apparent in my first test when I only applied a small quantity of Ecclesiae, but 3 big dabs definitely bring out the perfume’s sweeter, richer undertones. As the warmer elements rise to the surface, the elemi’s lemon facets fade away, and its smell of chilled, fresh, pine needles soften.
Ten minutes in, Ecclesiae is primarily an olibanum and sweet myrrh fragrance, lightly infused with muted patchouli and abstract woodiness. It hovers in a moderate, extremely lightweight, airy bouquet that wafts about 3 inches above the skin. I really like the scent, and find it to be very refined. There is a polished feel to Ecclesiae but, more importantly, it’s been perfectly calibrated so that the incense never feels ponderous, overly somber, or gloomy. My favorite part is the honeyed beeswax of the sweet myrrh which cuts through the dusty aspects of the myrrh, and thereby ensures that the perfume is never stony or icy.
Ecclesiae starts to slowly, very slowly, transform. The perfume grows warmer with every passing minute; the patchouli’s sweetness becomes more noticeable; and Ecclesiae takes on a creamy, beeswax softness as the sweet myrrh starts to build the bridge to the perfume’s second stage. Ecclesiae is also turning more indistinct and hazy in feel, as the notes start to overlap, and its sillage drops. At the end of 25 minutes, the fragrance is only about 1-2 inches above the skin.
Sometimes, I think I can detect patchouli proper, as there is an extremely subtle vein of earthiness that darts about. Most of the time, though, I wonder if it is my imagination, as the secondary, non-incense notes really lack clear delineation. There is something in the base that gives me a little bit of a temporary head twinge if I take really deep, prolonged sniffs, though it’s very minor and brief. It may be the slightly clean, soapy undertones to the myrrh, but perhaps it stems from the supposed “sandalwood.” I doubt it is the real stuff; I certainly smell nothing remotely like the Mysore wood in Ecclesiae. At best, the perfume has a generic creaminess in the base, though I think it results more from the truly lovely sweet myrrh.
The bridge that I mentioned at the start takes full shape at the end of the first hour, when the sweet myrrh starts to transform Ecclesiae. The perfume becomes creamier, smoother, and warmer, while the olibanum incense loses much of its remaining dustiness. Ecclesiae now feels like a very cozy church filled with candlelight from tapers dripping sweetened, creamy wax on soft floors, instead of a stony, barren, dusty place set in a forest. The sweet myrrh feels like a gateway into another world with a very different church dominated by entirely more oriental smells.
90 minutes in, Ecclesiae has suddenly turned into a spicy fragrance dominated by oriental frankincense smoke. It is thoroughly infused with an abstract woodiness, a peppered spiciness, and earthy touches. There is also something that most definitely smells like either bitter nutmeg or cloves, though I can’t explain why. The patchouli adds a reddish hue to the colour palette, while greenness arrives with the first hint of a dry, woody vetiver. The olibanum remains, but, as a whole, though, Ecclesiae is now dominated by black frankincense and warmth. It is a startling volte-face from the initial notes centered on white, dusty myrrh, to the point that you feel as though you’re in a very different place of worship. The notes are still blurry around the edges, but there is no mistaking that spicy, woody quality.
In fact, Fragrantica labels Ecclesiae as an “Oriental Woody” fragrance, something that initially perplexed me when I smelled the perfume’s opening notes on my skin. “Oriental” carries a very different connotation in my mind than that created by the “High Mass” churchy olibanum note with its cold facade. But Fragrantica is absolutely right in its assessment. Ecclesiae has a warm oriental heart, dominated by woody notes as much as it is by frankincense. In truth, Ecclesiae is really like two perfumes (and churches) in one, with the honeyed beeswax acting as a bridge between the two.
Ecclesiae remains largely the same for the next few hours. It is a warm, oriental, spicy, woody fragrance dominated by frankincense, with patchouli spices and earthiness, followed then by lingering strains of olibanum smoke and sweet myrrh. The vetiver is never really more than a muted flicker on my skin, while the sandalwood never shows up at all. What does appear, however, is a powdery quality that creeps in at the end of the third hour. The sillage drops even further, and Ecclesiae becomes a complete skin scent about 2.75 hours into its development.
Ecclesiae eventually turns into a blur of lightly powdered myrrh and frankincense after 4.25 hours, and it stays that way until its very end. There are growing touches of soapiness flitting about, but that may be simply the result of what my skin always does to olibanum. Either way, Ecclesiae is pretty linear, and very soft — both in feel and sillage. It is one of those fragrances that is so intimate in its projection that you’re constantly surprised when you see that it is still hanging on. All in all, it lasted just short of 9.5 hours, though I had to put my nose right on my skin in order to detect it by the middle of the 6th hour.
I couldn’t find any blog reviews for Ecclesiae, and the fragrance has no comments listed on its Fragrantica page. There isn’t even a Basenotes entry for it. In fact, Ecclesiae is not a fragrance that is carried in the U.S. at all. Generally, I try to avoid reviewing scents that are so limited in distribution or unknown, but I liked Ecclesiae quite a bit. Given my usual leeriness about olibanum, how painfully soapy it can become on my skin, and my dislike of dusty, cold “High Church” fragrances, I think that says something.
Alas, even if one were to order Ecclesiae from First in Fragrance in Europe (or Jovoy for EU customers), it is very expensive. The 100 ml bottle costs €225 which, at today’s exchange rate, comes to roughly $304 — and this is not a perfume worth $304, in my personal opinion. The perfume is too lightweight and sheer, the sillage is too weak, and the longevity iffy unless you apply a lot. That’s not merely my perception, either. On the Parfumo website (which is a bit like a European Fragrantica), Ecclesiae has no reviews but I was interested to see some votes for sillage or longevity:
- 2 votes give the Longevity a 63% ranking;
- 2 votes give the Sillage a 38% ranking.
It’s obviously not outstanding as a whole, but it’s a lot more troubling for $304 or €225.
I cannot tell you how much I wish Ecclesiae had more heft, weight, projection and richness. It is a thoroughly enjoyable take on incense fragrances, and feels extremely polished. Something about it reflects Italy’s inimitable, elegant, refined style, though I’m less enthused about the quiet discreetness that goes along with it. I would definitely wear Ecclesiae on occasion if a bottle ever fell into my lap, but I would never consider buying it. Then again, I’m not one who loves white incense passionately, so perhaps things might be different if I were a hardcore olibanum fan. Price is a subjective matter, after all.
So, if you truly love Churchy fragrances, then I encourage you to order a sample of Ecclesiae from Surrender to Chance or First in Fragrance. It’s very lovely, and nicely done.