All the cool kids are burning incense again—but not for the reasons you’d think

aesop incense

The Western rise of luxury incense brings a heady new dimension to the boutique home fragrance market 

The creation of incense is nothing new. In fact, it’s positively ancient. In India, the world’s lead producer of agarbatti incense, it has been a fundamental part of Hindu rituals for thousands of years. 

Even still, the origins of incense stretch back further—to ancient Egypt where the tombs of pharaohs contain trace amounts of some of the fragrant resins still used in incense-making today, such as Frankincense and Myrrh, and to ancient China where incense was used to aromatise homes and clothing, and as an integral element of sacred ceremony. 

Cultures around the world have long burned incense for ritualistic purposes and crafted it with aromatic natural materials to create a product that ignites the senses. Now, boutique luxury takes on incense are on the rise in the U.S., part of a collective mental shift that favours a return to tactile design and sensorial pleasure. 

Across industries, we’ve seen nostalgia-based trends continue to burn hot, from the fashion world to cocktail bars, as well as a renewed interest in handmade goods and the perfectly imperfect. Just as home trends in the U.S. continue to move toward the use of organic shapes, textured natural fabrics, and ancient decoration methods such as limewashing, so, too, are people gravitating toward deeply sensorial ways of scenting their homes. 

Tapping in are companies such as Aesop, which just expanded its home fragrance line with the launch of three incense “Aromatique” scents and a sculptural bronze incense holder. All three are manufactured by a revered Japanese incense atelier and crafted without a bamboo core—leaving nothing behind but ash once they are burned. The scents, Murasaki, Kagerou, and Sarashina, are earthy and woody, with a distinctly Aesop herbaceousness and a settled warmth that lingers after use. 

A common thread among some of the most coveted incense releases is the intentionality behind the product. While wax candles and room spray may be scented beautifully, the messaging behind these new incense products is arguably more profound. Take, for example, the woman-owned fragrance atelier Vyrao. 

Byredo’s Trois Encens
Byredo’s Trois Encens set comes with three scents and a ceramic burner plate

“We created incense to be an extension of our fragrances, using the same precious fragrance oils within our incense sticks,” the brand’s founder, former fashion executive Yasmin Sewell, tells Robb Report. “We actually launched incense as our second category after our EDPs.” 

“I think a lot of brands in the scent world would move to candles, but I felt that incense really connected with our values with how it has been used in spiritual rituals for so long, and what I really love about incense is that it shifts the mood instantly,” she adds. “Where a candle may take 20 minutes to resonate in your space, when you light incense there is an immediate scent that fills the room.” 

Bodha incense
Bodha offers a line of smokeless incense for those sensitive to smoke

That immediate scent is usually caused by a thin line of smoke billowing through your space, but Los Angeles-based BODHA, which calls itself a “therapeutic perfumer,” has a line of incense, called Ritual, which is smokeless—great for those interested in the aromatherapeutic benefits but sensitive to smoke. Each of its blends is associated with a different feeling, from “ground” and “tenderness” to “calm” and “purify.” Directions for the product go beyond just lighting and leaving, with suggestions to set a meditative intention prior to its use. 

This all taps into the growing trend of creating opportunities for engaging in ritual within the home, tied not to religion but rather to reconnecting with a sense of self—an all-too-important concept as more people work from home all day, with the vast majority spent looking at screens. 

These modern rituals are meant to provide intentional breaks throughout the day, an idea perfectly captured by boutique atelier Cinnamon Projects, whose incense Series 01 is “an olfactory portrait of the most inspired day,” with each scent representing a specific hour. The scent 7AM, for instance, starts the day out with energising black tea and grounding clay, while 12AM is mischievous with warm notes of amber and clove. 

Cinnamon Projects incense
Cinnamon Projects, which collaborates with Apparatus Studio, offers a stylish line of burners featuring stone holders and curved brass bases

Another facet of the boutique incense boom is the vessel in which it burns. Just as candle companies have lately been iterating on attractive chalices for their wax, so too have incense ateliers—elevating the traditional stand into art that stands on its own. 

For its release, Cinnamon Projects teamed up with Apparatus Studio, usually known for its innovative lighting design, to create a sculptural incense burner cast from blackened and aged brass. Australian-based Addition Studio has a similarly spherical burner fashioned from travertine or black marble, with small holes made in the top of the lid, allowing smoke to slowly slither up and out. 

Aesop’s bronze holder is handcrafted and meant to patina over time, while Byredo’s Trois Encens set comes equipped with a dark green ceramic holder for a pop of vibrant colour. 

In some cases, the incense is art in itself, like Poj Studio’s Hako Incense—the first and only washi paper incense, shaped like delicate leaves of black or white. Each set comes with a copper tin and non-flammable mat, but if you choose to burn yours atop their handmade ceramics, you’re also provided with a kintsugi guarantee of repair. If you happen to drop or break any of their pieces, you are invited to send it back so they can mend it using the ancient Japanese art of reparation using gold. Perfectly imperfect. 

 This article was first published on Robb Report US