Tobacco has never been an easy sell when it comes to fragrance: it makes people think of ashtrays. This impression is not just unfair but wildly misguided, as tobacco leaf only smells smoky after it has been smoked. As a raw material in the hands of a master perfumier, it brings a distinctive, resiny sweetness with herbaceous and “green” undertones.
As with any great recipe – which is essentially what a fragrance is – the presence of tobacco in a scent isn’t always obvious or immediately recognisable; in many great perfumes its appearance simply adds “seasoning” to fuller-bodied and more commanding ingredients, such as cedar, patchouli or vetiver.
That said, tobacco has occasionally been called upon to play a lead role. I first discovered it thanks to a fragrance called Feuilles de Tabac by Miller Harris. Opulent and seductive, it sets its honeyed hero ingredient alongside sizzling pimento, the freshness of pine needles and – yes – smoky sage.
Tobacco Vanille, part of Tom Ford’s luxurious Private Blend fragrance line, is another watershed moment for the humidor-inspired ingredient. Very different to Harris’s interpretation, it leaves a powerful impression: a blend of tobacco leaves, vanilla and ginger on a base of creamy-textured woods.
All the fragrances below bring something to the party, though as with anything sensory, it’s a matter of personal taste. Of course tobacco’s other great virtue – like leather, incense or tonka bean – is it brings a uniquely heart-warming cheer to any cologne: just right for the winter months.