By the Fireplace Eau de Toilette by Maison Martin Margiela Review

Collage of By the Fireplace and its notes, including vanilla, palo santo, cashmeran, cloves, pink pepper, and chestnut.

The smoky vanilla grandaddy of TikTok-viral perfumes beloved by Doc-Martens-wearing 20somethings far and wide, By the Fireplace is actually quite good. It’s a cozy woody vanilla pleasure with a uniquely realistic smoky opening that lives up to its name. It’s my favorite so far of the Maison Martin Margiela Replica line, and I’m far from alone in this opinion.

The first thing I smell in By The Fireplace is dense, smoggy balsam of Peru smoke, and lots of it. Something about balsam of Peru always strikes me as sausage-y, thick and mildly aromatic in a way that suggests the smoking of meats on an open fire.

The smoke here isn’t a polite curl of sweet incense: it is dense, dark charcoal-gray, thick and heavy smoke, the combined smell of a fire that’s just been put out with water and the meats that were smoked in it.

Black and white botanical illustration of the myroxylon balsamum tree, which is the source of balsam of peru resin.

It’s a rather dirty smell, and not something I expected from a mainstream Maison Martin Margiela creation. Indoors and in warm weather, it’s absolutely stifling. Outside, it gets slightly more diffuse, and is much more tolerable in cool fresh air.

It’s realistic enough, in a way that feels almost embarrassing: what will people think when they smell this smoke on me? It isn’t exactly like the way your skin, hair, and clothes smell after a bonfire — that scent is more airy, light, and cool to me, smoother and less dense — but it’s realistically fireplace-adjacent.

On other days, perhaps in other weather, the smoke in By the Fireplace is quieter and better-behaved. On days like these, the first thing I smell in the vial is a vanilla that feels slightly boozy in the same woody-boubon-barrel way as Imaginary Authors’ unparalleled Memoirs of a Trespasser.

When this is the case, I get a better look at the marvelous spices at the edge of the opening of By the Fireplace. There’s a definite piquancy of pink pepper here, less light and airy than pink pepper often is in floral and feminine concoctions, heavier and more granular and textured.

A pile of dried brown cloves.

Along with the pink pepper, there’s a light brown spray of cloves. I’m often cautious about clove notes, but there’s no need to fear: this isn’t a clove bomb like Diptyque’s Eau Lente. Nothing here feels really overtly clove-y. Sure, if you know they’re there, you can pick them out, but otherwise the cloves just add another twist of warm brown spice to the perfume, kicking up that rich vanilla smog.

I don’t get anything like neroli or orange blossom at all on my skin. Nothing about By the Fireplace is even remotely floral on me.

In ten to fifteen minutes, the dense, dark smog dissipates into something much closer to what I expected: a lighter, slightly more incense-y balsam of Peru like most I’ve experienced, along with the appearance of chestnut.

A white bowl of fresh brown chestnuts.

Within half an hour, this is predominantly a chestnut scent, with some warm balsam of Peru smoke in the background. It mostly reminds me of the scent of a chestnut body wash I recently tried (specifically, Love Beauty Planet’s Roasted Chestnut & Ginger), with the scent played up and perfected, nutty and warm, but it also has something in common with real roasted chestnuts.

It lacks that dense, textured, legume-y savory quality of chestnuts, and predominantly features a concentrated, sweetened form of that distinct smooth and nutty chestnut scent. This does not smell at all clean like a soap or shampoo, but the chestnut is cleaned up and concentrated in the way a scent would be for such a home or bath product.

This is the scent that continues to fade linearly into the drydown. It is warm and nutty, with nuances of warm spices: perhaps a hint of something like ginger keeps the chestnuts warm, along with a subtle undercurrent of well-blended vanilla.

Guaiac wood, also known as palo santo, and juniper make up the warm woody backbone of By the Fireplace. Like the orange blossom, I honestly don’t get any juniper here. Nothing here feels like cool, aromatic wood to me, like pine or balsam fir or anything remotely coniferous.

A short, thick pale golden-white stub of palo santo or guaiac wood incense, lightly charred on one end.

The rich, warm familiarity of palo santo, on the other hand, is most definitely present. This makes up much of the body of the smoky vanilla scent in By the Fireplace, stretching the gaps between the actual vanilla and the actual balsam of Peru incense smoke. It’s a lovely, flexible guaiac wood note, sweet and smoky and woody and warm, comforting and malleable and light. It’s the strongest link connecting By the Fireplace to Memoirs of a Trespasser and reminding me of its woody, almost-boozy vanillic comforts here and there, all without its sharp clay edge.

It holds together the center of a vanilla-woody accord that’s light and fluffy in its sweetness like a perfect aromatic marshmallow. There’s nothing here that’s literally gooey and marshmallow-sweet, but the sweetness and vanilla here stay so light and airy and fluffy that I can’t help marshmallows coming to mind, especially in the context of this scent and its story.

Perhaps some of the spices of chai are here: hints of ginger and cardamom, maybe even a suggestion of pepper, but no cinnamon, thank goodness — the subtlety of the spices keeps this from becoming too much of a holiday room spray scent. The particular palo santo here adds further dimension to the chestnut, accenting its woody smoky roasted qualities, along with a vanilla-like hint of sweetness.

This isn’t genuinely food-like or gourmand: if anything, it is like a clean-smelling, sanitized, woody-sweet imitation of chestnuts.

A cozy white ceramic mug filled with cocoa and topped with pink and white marshmallows.

In the last two hours, the chestnut begins to fade into a comforting, mild vanilla-marshmallow skin scent. Perhaps the cashmeran lends a hint of soft texture, but otherwise isn’t particularly prominent. This isn’t anything like the photorealistic cashmere sweater in something like Penhaligons’ The Ruthless Countess Dorothea.

Rather, this is an airy, sweet, fluffy-marshmallow vanilla. By the time vanillic notes predominate the scent entirely, By the Fireplace is a very faint skin scent, with just a whisper of the nutty chestnut middle and next to nothing of the smoke.

The final moments of the balsam of Peru lend their last bit of nuance and texture to the vanilla. This stage is very faint, but it is delicious. Although it is a sweet vanilla, it is not overwhelmingly sweet, and it has the interesting and comforting nuances of a toasted, pillowy marshmallow. The influence of the palo santo lends it all a labdanum-like quality, billowing with a smoky shaded sweetness that’s simultaneously light and incredibly soft.

A pile of dried medium-red-colored pink peppercorns.

All things considered, the performance, longevity, and sillage of By the Fireplace are decent compared to your average Maison Martin Margiela Eau de Toilette like Under the Lemon Tree (and better than some of their Eau de Parfums, too — looking at you, Soul of the Forest), but I might have expected a little more from a smoky woody vanilla scent. Still, it’s not bad at all, with projection a little on the lighter side but with decent longevity of something like eight to ten hours, though it’s an extremely faint, subtle, fickle skin scent for the last few.

All in all, this is a comforting cold-weather scent that evolves beautifully from smog to smoke to roasted chestnut to a final faint marshmallowy vanilla. It isn’t really explicitly woody in any way that’s loud and proud like oak or mahogany or teak. It’s smoky and chestnut-y, yes, but dominated by faint smoke, vanilla, and slightly spiced nutty notes more than any true woody sort ofwood. Palo santo is at the heart of this, but it feels more like a smoky vanillic labdanum note than anything like trees or furniture.

The evolution of these notes is clever, the individual accords are well-crafted, and most phases of the scent are comforting. That opening is one of the ost photorealistic smoky scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of smelling. Intead of this, most of the time the fragrance sticks around, it’s dominated by a clean spiced chestnut-palo-santo accord that could be found in any number of bath and body products, but that doesn’t mean it’s unpleasant.

A number of red-tipped incense sticks in a glass jar, with golden bokeh sparkles floating around it.

To the contrary — this is exquisitely comforting. It’s a great unique vanilla-ish perfume for the person who doesn’t think they like vanilla. I don’t quite group it in with what I think of as the three great popular unorthodox vanillas (Diptyque’s Eau Duelle, Atelier Cologne’s Vanille Insensée, and Imaginary Authors’ Memoirs of a Trespasser) because there’s enough going on in By the Fireplace beyond vanilla that I don’t group it in as predominantly a vanilla scent. It’s vanillic enough in spirit, but there’s so much more here.

If you’re a vanilla lover looking for something different but still cozy, this is for you. If you want something comforting and smoky and crowd-pleasing but don’t think you like vanilla, this might also be for you. Much like Chloé’s Nomade, By the Fireplace brings together disparate groups with sperate favorite notes to phenomenal effect and counterintuitive mass appeal.

Is this entirely original, niche, the most unique thing you’re ever to smell? No. But it’s still lovely and cozy and warm, and it’s honestly the best execution of this specific idea I’ve seen. If you’re looking for a cleaned-up, comforting fragrance take on a warm and cozy campfire, By the Fireplace is undoubtedly for you and will bring you reams of joy. It strikes the perfect polite balance between filthy photorealism and clean, comforting sweetness.

Botanical illustration of a vanilla flower, leaves, and bean.

By the Fireplace is smoky, then nutty, then faintly sweet. It is a very pleasant scent for cool weather, and its cult following is admittedly deserved. Nose Marie Salamagne has done a brilliant job. I’d recommend wearing it to carry something cuddly, cozy, and warm with you anywhere you go, whether to warm up a walk in the cold or enhance a comfortable evening indoors.

This is a phenomenal scent to cuddle up to this winter, whether by yourself or with an animal or friend. If it sounds like something you might like, don’t deny yourself the pleasure. I think this might be the best of Maison Martin Margiela’s Replica line thus far, and its iconic fan favorite status makes sense. By the Fireplace is here to stay, and it’s for good reason.

Clear cylindrical bottle with white label and amber liquid filled with By the Fireplace by Maison Martin Margiela.

Where to Find By the Fireplace Eau de Toilette by Maison Martin Margiela

You can find samples and decants of By the Fireplace EdT at Scent Split and MicroPerfumes.

Want more? You can get full bottles at Jomashop and MicroPerfumes.

These are affiliate links. If you click on them and buy something, the seller pays me a commission, at no extra cost to you. You can learn more about them here.

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