When I Wear This Woodsy Fragrance Note, People Stop Me in the Subway

Nothing jolts my memory like getting a whiff of cedar. It’s one of those universal smells that instantly pull you in—it evokes cedar closets, No. 2 pencils, cigar boxes, and crackling campfires. It’s woody and sharp at first but mellows out the more you smell it.

Though cedar might not instantly come to mind when you think of notes you want in a fragrance, it smells downright hypnotic on skin, which is something that people who smell really good have known for a long time. (Consider Le Labo’s Santal 33, a cult-favorite fragrance with cedar notes used by nearly everyone in New York City.)

Once I started wearing cedar-centric fragrances, I became obsessed. Not only do I love the way they smell, but I’ve noticed that it’s the fragrance note other people are most likely to comment on, and it lasts all day. Read on for the best cedar perfumes—with picks from brands such as Byredo and Maison Margiela—and prepare for everyone to ask you why you smell so good.

Key fragrance notes: rose petals, cedar, musk, vetiver. If your goal is to smell like you accidentally fell asleep in a cedar closet, this is the fragrance for you. Deep, woodsy cedar is balanced out by soft rose petals for a fragrance that lives up to its name.

Key fragrance notes: tonka beans, cedar, juniper berries. In the 1960s, Paris was electrified by its exploding art and music scenes. The Orphéon was a bar in Paris where the Diptyque founders met during the time, and this eponymous fragrance will make you feel like you’re people-watching in one of the barstools. 

Key fragrance notes: amber, cedar, vanilla. Warm, cozy, and even faintly grassy, this perfume evokes the feeling of stepping on a particularly crunchy leaf in late October. This fragrance is soft but showstopping—the last time I wore it, someone asked me what perfume I was wearing and wrote it down in their notes app.

Key fragrance notes: violet, lily of the valley, cedar, gardenia, amber, sandalwood. Imagine an early morning hike in the Adirondack Mountains surrounded by wildflowers, trees, and sunlight. This perfume is that hike in a bottle, filled with bright floral notes and woodsy undertones.

Fragrance notes: rhubarb, orange, cedar. Like a jar of sticky sweet marmalade, this fragrance would be at home at high tea. Cedar works to balance out the orange and rhubarb scents, adding a zing of woodsy freshness.

Fragrance notes: vetiver, ambergis, cedar. This perfume reminds me of the first day of school—fresh, clean, and sharp. You’ll smell like pencil shavings in the best way possible. It’s subtle and enticing on its own, but you can also try layering under your favorite perfume to add hints of rich wood.

Key fragrance notes: vetiver, cedar, benzoin, pine, patchouli, bergamot. All of the notes in this fragrance blend together to make a scent so invigorating it reminds me of a crisp December morning in the mountains. This perfume is also meant to help you de-stress, so spritz it on in between meetings to feel more zen.

Key fragrance notes: lime accord, petitgrain, cardamom, coriander, mate absolute, green tea, cistus absolute, white musk. One whiff of this perfume and you’ll be transported to a sun-soaked day in the Mediterranean surrounded by lemon trees. Cedar amplifies this fresh citrus scent, giving it a woodsy base. 

Key fragrance notes: vanilla, cappuccino, caramelized cedar. If you gravitate toward gourmand fragrances, this vanilla-heavy perfume will be your new favorite scent. Vanilla and cappuccino blend together for a scent reminiscent of your morning coffee. In this fragrance, the cedar is caramelized, giving it a warm, inviting quality—like your favorite weekend coffee shop.

Key fragrance notes: patchouli, nutmeg, cedar. From the brand that makes Rihanna’s signature scent, this smoky and spicy perfume is downright addictive. Laced with patchouli and cedar, it smells like walking into a very fancy smoke shop—while nutmeg and whispers of vanilla and dried fruit bring it back down to earth.

Key fragrance notes: jasmine, saffron, cedar, ambergris. I know—$325 seems like a hefty price to pay for a perfume. But hear me out. I wouldn’t recommend something this expensive unless I knew it was really worth it, and this fragrance is. This Parisian perfumer is renowned as one of the world’s best fragrance houses, known for timeless scents. Baccarat Rouge 540 could easily become a signature scent. It’s sophisticated and airy, but it’s interwoven with floral, spicy, and woodsy layers for a truly intriguing blend unlike anything you’ve ever smelled. One spritz will last from dusk until dawn.

Key fragrance notes: white bergamot, pink pepper, aldehydes, rose, floral accord, angelica, cedar, amber, musk. The Izia rose only blooms once a year, making this fragrance distinct. Some rose-forward scents tend to lean powdery and cloying, but this one is fresh and soft—like walking through a rose garden. Cedar and musk give it richness.

Key fragrance notes: ambrette, Jamaican naseberry, violet, sandalwood, magnolia, musk, amber, cedar. Inspired by the ghost flower, a rare flower found in the Mojave desert, this perfume is deep, woodsy, and rich. Notes of ambrette and florals give this fragrance an arid quality, like the desert itself.

Key fragrance notes: cedar, lemon, papyrus. If you could spend all day wandering a library, leafing through rare books, this is the scent for you. Cedar, citrus, and papyrus blend together for a smoky, papery scent with a zing of freshness.

Key fragrance notes: violet accord, cardamom, iris, ambrox, cedar, leather, sandalwood. If you’ve ever walked past someone and instantly felt entranced by their scent, chances are they were wearing Santal 33 (especially in New York, where it’s practically the city’s unofficial mascot). Arguably the scent that truly put woodsy notes on the map, Santal 33 blends cedar, sandalwood, and leather at the base but is brightened with violet on the nose. It’s the Wild West in a bottle, and no one can get enough.

Up next, one editor wore a different perfume every day for a month—these 10 earned her the most compliments.

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