Charcoal, Leather and Gasoline: Why "Harsh" Scents Smell Great in Summer

Skip the ocean and flower smells and seek out the smell of burnt rubber instead

The Apotheke charcoal candle is the perfect summer scent.
The Apotheke charcoal candle is the perfect summer scent.
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By Jason Diamond / July 20, 2020 9:33 am

Of all the seasons, summertime is the one I tend to associate with certain smells more than the others. I grew up mowing lawns for extra pocket cash, so there’s something about cut grass that will always resonate. The scent of cod frying reminds me of the start of the weekend in June and August, while you can hold a great, fresh tomato under my nose and I’ll tell you it’s August. Autumn, winter and spring all smell great, but I think you’re generally more aware of things in the summer; your senses are a little more open and engaged. It’s a time to, you know, stop and smell the roses. 

There’s also time to smell the sea, notes of fruits and woods, and — if you’re lucky — cannabis wafting around. Summer is a time that smells light and pleasant and citrusy … which is exactly why I find myself messing leaning a bit more industrial when it comes to my own choice in fragrance.

I should explain here a little. I like flowery smells. We always have fresh flowers in our apartment, and I’ve taken up gardening of late, I’m constantly smelling the herbs and plants I’ve been tending to, and it’s really getting me through an otherwise difficult year. But I’ve never quite liked smelling like flowers myself. This isn’t one of those “dudes shouldn’t smell nice — they should smell manly” things; I’ve just always enjoyed flowers in their natural state, rather than synthetically on my skin.

And while I have a couple of colognes and beard oils I tend to stick to from May until middle of September, I’ve been a little upset because one of the oddest and most wonderful colognes I’ve ever owned seems to have been a one-off joke. The Sunoco Burnt Rubber Cologne that came out about five years ago seemed like a piss-take at first, but when I shot a little on my wrist, I found a scent that I really, truly liked. Something that was just spicy enough that it stuck out but wasn’t at all overpowering, either. I was expecting gasoline, and I got grace. For all the colognes that promise “smoky,” this one actually delivered, and, to be honest, I miss it. 

Auto companies have long dabbled in making fragrances. Porsche, Ferrari, Jaguar — all have tried to bottle the essence of their products to varying degrees of success. And while I don’t know how often I’d wear it, if somebody can figure out how to make something that mixes the leather seats and faint smell of diesel from the Mercedes-Benz 300D I was ushered around in as a child, I’d appreciate it. The closest I’ve found is the Ralph Lauren Polo Supreme Leather, which isn’t as overpowering as the name would lead one to believe. 

If I am feeling like getting a little natural, I find myself gravitating towards patchouli. The problem, of course, is that’s a smell that can conjure up hippie communes and annoying college students in sandals asking you to sign petitions. So when I do wear it, I like something with some spice. One of the best examples of this is Henry Rose Dark Is Night. It’s like patchouli slow-dancing with vanilla, and available in a really handy little sampler set the company sells. 

While I don’t swear by any one cologne, one thing that has been a constant is that I’m usually burning an Apotheke candle, specifically one its famous charcoal-scented ones, which is one of the most enjoyable smelling things I can think of. I know what you’re thinking: I can just go stick my head in my Weber kettle if I want charcoal. But no, these hand-poured candles don’t smell like a burning bag of Kingsford briquettes; instead, they transport you to a cave in the woods. It’s of the earth, but not earthy. Does it smell like charcoal? A little. But it’s an incredibly relaxing scent, one that’s been keeping me company a lot this summer. 

One thing I enjoy about this season — and this season under lockdown, in particular — is the fact that I don’t have to worry about impressing or offending anyone with smells I’m interested in. Everything is for my own enjoyment these days, and while the things I want to smell might seem a little on the harsh side, to my nose, they’re anything but. Burning rubber, gasoline, charcoal: they’re not “floral” or “bright” or “fresh cut,” but they still deserve a place in the pantheon of summer scents, and perhaps your consideration as well.