Perfumes on a pinch: 5 fragrances under £20

If you’ve been on a no-buy or slow-buy regime of late – or are impatiently awaiting payday – but want a fragrant fix RIGHT NOW: we totally understand, and have you covered. We think the best collections have a mixture; so yes, perhaps some of those high-end scents we save up for, but also a good selection of the more pocket-friendly purchases we can collect and enjoy along with them.

These budget friendly fragrances have been selected to showcase a range of our favourites available on the high street – perfumes that really pack a punch and smell incredible (of course); and with many of them having been made by some of the world’s best noses, they may surprise you.

So which of these will you treat yourself to…?

 

 

If you have shied away from ‘celebrity perfumes’ or thought them dull, prepare to have your mind blown. This is properly weird – and I mean that with the greatest of respect. Hold onto your hats because the first few seconds (and it’s only seconds, I promise you) smell like a hot photocopier: warm paper and wet ink. Now that surreal image has dated me, buckle up because you’re about to be propelled straight into the heart of a forest, a tunnel of trees with tender green leaves unfurling. An hour after spraying, I feel as though I have built a secret den from twigs and moss, lined the floor with slightly damp cardboard and garlanded the walls with sprigs of lilly of the valley and swags of honeysuckle. Snug in this scented hideaway, the drydown becomes a hazy reverie of joyfully sucked chocolate squares, a daydream to savour. Think ‘celebrity’ ‘fumes are humdrum affairs? Ditch your snobbery. This is like wearing a legal trip (half a tab, anyway). The perfumer was Frank Voelkl – chappie who also did Le Labo Santal 33 and Chantecaille Tiare. And look at that price (currently on offer – snap them up before they disappear).

Sarah Jessica Parker Covet, £7.99 for 100ml eau de parfum
theperfumeshop.com

 

 

Big name houses doing collaborations with clothing brands? I’m a huge hands up for such enterprises, and the new Jo Loves fragrant offshoot at Zara created by Jo Malone is going great guns, if the breathlessly excited reviews by our friends are anything to go by. It’s hard to choose, as they’re all very well done, but I’ve plumped for this one simply because it’s not something I’d normally try, and that’s half the fun. Think of early spring days when the fat buds are bursting and signs of life stirring, a drafty picnic in a bosky dell, wrapped in a cashmere jumper and smiling at clear blue skies. The lavender, musk and sandalwood noted become a swirl of slightly subdued laughter on a lightly frost-tinged breeze. Delightful. (PS: The 10ml bottles are just £5.99 and full-size £25.99).

Zara Bohemian Bluebells, £15.99 for 40ml eau de parfum
zara.com

Perhaps there are times you want to feel swathed in comfort and warmth but with some sunlight filtering through and room to breathe? This is just the ticket: the richness of patchouli and oak moss tempered with transparency and shot through with shards of pink pepper. The cedarwood offers a soothingly dry shadiness, the sense of a late-afternoon stroll with the sun gently dipping and long shadows stretching to infinity on the grass. Before a chill sets in, the dry-down emerges – a splendidly sheer cocoa that enhances the airy earthiness of the patchouli and feels more of a dusting atop a latte than a ribbon-wrapped box of chocolates. Rather lovely on the chaps, of course, but at this price I’d buy myself a bottle, too, instead of nicking his. (This comment is not legally binding).

Yardley Gentleman Legacy, £19.99 for 100ml eau de parfum
yardleylondon.co.uk

 

Now here’s a little gem you may have overlooked – and one created by Francis Kurkdjian no less. An incredible burst of freshness that encapsulates the drowsy luxury of basking in Provençale sunshine, from the first sniff I’m transported to sunnier climes and can practically feel the warmth on my skin. It’s just the perfect balance of sparkle with that lactic lap of milky figs a balm for the soul. A fizz of mandarin fruitiness and the aromatic air of lightly spiced caraway seeds is sliced by a zing of grapefruit to awaken the senses, stirred through with fig pulp and grouded with the greeness of fig leaves. But it’s the dry-down I find particularly swoonsome, with a delightfully dry cedar smoothed into perfection by a creamy base of that fig milk. It’s something I find myself reaching for throughout the warmer days and whenever I need a happy holiday memory to get me through more challenging times; so often.

Roger & Gallet Fleur de Figuier, £19.50 for 30ml eau de toilette
marksandspencer.com

 

 

If you don’t have days you want to be wrapped in a whisper of white, soft cotton and powdery peonies, are you even alive? I adored this the moment it came out (1998, fact fans) and simply haven’t stopped. It’s somehow both effortless and uncomplicated but soothingly nuanced, and full of the most tender poignancy. The darling little bottle resembles a pearl in perfume form, and wearing this does feel as though you have become subsumed in that pearlescent radiance. Delicate blooms of freesia nuzzle fuzzy peach skin and ylang ylang dances with a shower of sheer rose petals to an intriguing base of coffee, silvery wisps of incense, and an aerated ivory smoothness akin to a long, cool glass of cream soda. Created by Olivier Cresp – of Mugler’s Angel and Penhaligon’s Juniper Sling fame, among many others – it’s a masterpiece in understated loveliness that I like to wear on lazy sundays.

Cacharel Noa, £15 for 30ml eau de toilette
superdrug.com

When searching for a little something to treat yourself with, do also have a look for travel-sizes and special edition giftsets in stores and online, because there really are some bargains out there.

If you’re already well versed in the charms of the high street and want to venture into indie and artisanal fragrances, It can sometimes be more difficult to find a cost effective way in, but we’re thrilled to currently be offering FIVE luxe niche Discovery Sets, all £20 or under. And don’t forget – our own carefully curated Perfume Society Discovery Boxes are all £19 (£15 to VIP Club members).

By Suzy Nightingale

Fragrant Reads – scent books to snuggle up with

Now there’s a distinct nip in the air, now is the perfect time to snuggle up with a good book – and we have a whole scented selection of great books to recommend you in our Fragrant Reads library of reviews.  All of them focus on our favourite subject (obvs), with some specifically on the topic of perfume, while others explore the wider scent-scape of our sense of smell.

We read A LOT of books about perfume, but we don’t always have time to write up our reviews in full. So lately, we have been concentrating on updating our virtual library with some of the more recently published books we’ve come across, including this FANTASTIC volume by longtime Perfume Society subscriber, Catherine Maxwell, which we will pull out of the bookshelf for you now and examine below…

Scents & Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture, by Catherine Maxwell

We’re honoured that Catherine has been a Perfume Society subscriber pretty much since day one, so when we heard she’d published a book, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. And even more wonderful was the realisation that her choice of subject tied together two of our greatest loves – perfume and books. Delving deep into literary culture, she explores the myriad ways writers have been influenced and inspired by perfume, and how scent can become an invisible ‘character’ or reflect the inner workings of an actual character’s mind. More than that – the way a writer describes and uses scent can give us an insight into their own personality. We were particularly fascinated by how outrageously catty Virginia Woolf, for example, could be!

Catherine’s inclusions from her personal diaries and correspondence reveal Woolf loathed strong perfumes, and had very exacting opinions about those women who wore it (we feel she definitely wouldn’t have approved of us!) On meeting the writer Katherine Mansfield, Maxwell relates, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary that she wished ‘that one’s first impression of K.M. was not that she stinks like a civet cat that had taken to street walking.’ Later, Maxwell cites Woolf’s further biting comments regarding overly scented women, quoting an occasion Woolf condemned some women she’d met in the library, saying ‘A more despicable set of creatures I never saw. They come in furred like seals and scented like civets.’ Don’t hold back, Virginia – what do you really think?! Further writers and their works are examined – from Oscar Wilde – Catherine also draws on a wealth of contemporary material such as ettiquette guides, advertising, beauty manuals and perfumer’s guides. Altogether, it’s the most eye-opening account – a scented snapshot of perhaps the greatest literary period in history – and a must-read for anyone who loves literature and wants to enhance their sensorial understanding (and enjoyment of literature.

Publisher: Oxford University Press 2017

At Amazon

*****

By Suzy Nightingale

So you think you hate… vanilla?

Love it or loathe it vanilla is everywhere. Touted as the aroma found most universally pleasing, there are many who reel back in disgust at the mere mention of the ingredient. But vanilla doesn’t just smell like an explosion in a cake shop:  it’s kind of magic, in flavour and perfume terms.

When we smell or taste anything, our ‘receptors’ constantly wipe those fleeting encounters to prepare for the next flavour or a smell.  But when vanilla is added to food or fragrance, naturally-present vanillin (and other vanilloids, which we’ll talk about in a moment) work to ‘hold open’ our vanilloid receptors, slowing down this wiping process – which in turn gives us more time to perceive, experience and enjoy both scents and flavours. (Vanilloids are also found in cocoa, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and hot peppers – which partly explains why they’re all such ‘taste sensations’.)

Vanilla comes from the seeds of a dried pod from a climbing orchid-like plant which flourishes especially well in Madagascar;  the very best quality of vanilla comes from the Île Bourbon, now known as Réunion. It gets its name from the Spanish word ‘vaina’ (meaning sheath or pod, and translates simply as ‘little pod’.  (Strangely, the flower itself is scent-less.)

Perhaps because vanilla is the second priciest spice in the world, after saffron, the vanilla you smell in many perfumes today is synthetic vanillin:  clever chemists have worked to mimic the real thing – although the most gifted noses will probably tell you that real vanilla is earthier, with touches of treacle and a touch of ‘booziness’.

We love this legend about vanilla which we found on the excellent Perfume Shrine blog. ‘According to the Australian Orchid Society, “Old Totonac lore has it that Xanat, the young daughter of the Mexican fertility goddess, loved a Totonac youth. Unable to marry him due to her divine nature, she transformed herself into a plant that would provide pleasure and happiness – that plant was the Vanilla vine. This reputation was much enhanced in 1762 when a German study found that a medication based on vanilla extract cured impotence — all 342 smiling subjects claimed they were cured.”’

Vanilla’s reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac endures, and it’s often present in ‘sexy’, come-hither fragrances, especially Orientals and gourmand fragrances, as well as ‘girly’, ‘younger’ creations (and perhaps why vanilla naysayers have come to shun it).

Times have changed, and vanilla is used in all sorts of interesting, innovative ways within fragrances, now. I guarantee that none of these smell like cupcakes, so come on: it’s time to challenge your own perfumed preconceptions once again…

JULIETTE HAS A GUN
VANILLA VIBES
This vanilla’s sliced through with a healthy sprinkle of sea salt, plunging us immediately to childhood memories of the beach, sandy picnics and sticky fingers hastily licked as ice cream melts. Natural vanilla absolute is noticeable in the opening, but take a while to drip fully to the orchid-laden heart – and all the while a transparency completely prevents the sweetness from overtaking, it’s the salt on centre stage: a tremulous sunshine-filled daydream that shivers in the breeze.
£110 for 100ml eau de parfum
harveynichols.com

PERFUMER H
DUST
You need to move fast to catch this intimate and intriguing take on vanilla, for twice a year, like the scent couturier that she is, Lyn Harris unveils her seasonal offering of (mostly) new fragrances. Spring/Summer 2018 sees citrus Petit Grain, floral Suede, fougère Pink Pepper and woody-as-it-sounds Indian Wood in the collection. But the compulsive wrist-sniffer this time, for us, is this exquisite Oriental – a gentle, powdery miasma of iris, raspberry leaf and orange flower, benzoin resin, opopanax, sweet musk and that deliciously dry vanilla.
£130/£350 for 100ml
At Perfumer H

ANNA SUI
FANTASIA MERMAID
Like the sparkling light reflections that shimmer on the sea, Fantasia Mermaid weaves radiant ingredients together. Blood orange, mandarin and cooling cardamom make for an effervescent start. Aqueous blooms float together in the heart of this scent, with peony, jasmine and watery lychee. An incredibly uplifting floriental, soft wisps of spices are woven throughout, and the vanilla is a cushion for the other ingredients, not a smothering blanket.
£40 for 50ml eau de toilette
qvcuk.com

[You can try BOTH the Juliette Has a Gun and Anna Sui scents in our Globetrotter Discovery Box, £19 / £15 for VIP members, part of ELEVEN fragrances to try at home with extra beauty treats – perfect to take on you travels…]

VAN CLEEF & ARPELS
COLLECTION EXTRAORDINAIRE RÊVE DE YLANG
Concocted around one of perfumery’s most noble ingredients, the ‘flower of flowers’, here we see how vanilla can whisper to a flower, and Rêve de Ylang captures the heady, exotic, intoxicating and spicy aroma of the ylang ylang flower being softly seduced. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin used an invigorating cardamom and a whisper of saffron to enhance the opulent spiciness and warmth of ylang ylang, while an aromatic vanilla and rich patchouli add depth. The result is a fabulous, ultra-luxe floral nectar, pierced with light.
£260 for 125ml eau de parfum
harrods.com

GIORGIO ARMANI
SÌ EAU DE PARFUM FIORI
The gifted Julie Massé reinterprets Sì’s so-classic Chypre theme in a fragrance that bursts into life with sparkling green mandarin and blackcurrant – the familiar twin signatures of this contemporary classic – before white floral neroli unfurls its lush petals. As the temperature rises, prepare for an encounter with the vanilla – all diaphonous gown barely concealing the va-va-voom, leaving with a trail of white musk.
From £54 for 30ml eau de parfum
Armanibeauty.co.uk

Perhaps you’re thinking that, apart from the name of the first fragrance suggested, here, there’s no overt focus on vanilla, but that was the whole point of this post – to show just a fraction of the ways vanilla can surprise, cosset, whisper or seduce. To put it another way: we didn’t want to ram vanilla down your throat. But, we have to say, if you try some of these, we feel you’ll be reaching vanilla again and again – there’s a reason it has a reputation for being addictive, you know…

By Suzy Nightingale

 

Bloggers’ choice: scents of the summer

We asked some of our favourite fragrance bloggers which scents they’ll be reaching for throughout the summer. Do you automatically switch up your scent game when the season changes, or are there some fragrances you reserve only for the most sultry of days (or to use on holiday?) Let’s have a rifle through their checked luggage…

Thomas Dunkley The Candy Perfume Boy

‘This summer I’ve been obsessed with the zesty, tart and refreshing note of ginger because it’s an unconventional way to cool down on a hot day. My two go to picks are Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Ginger Piccante, which is soapy and spicy, with a hint of rose, and Mizernsir’s Eau de Gingembre – an ice cold eau de cologne with an invigorating blast of freshly sliced ginger.

On the hottest of days, when I can’t take the heat and I need some olfactory refreshment, I’ll usually reach for Atelier Cologne’s Orange Sanguine because it’s like diving into a swimming pool filled with juicy oranges. Who wouldn’t want to do that?’

 

Katie Cooke Scentosaurs

‘I am no sun-seeker, preferring climates that need a summer coat rather than shorts and sandals, so as it gets hotter I reach for perfumes that evoke cool shadows rather than tropical beaches. I’ll retreat to the old stones, incense, and clear air of Oriza L. Legrand Reve d’Ossian, or hide in the chilly crypt of Serges Lutens Iris Silver Mist and the dark, smoky underworlds of Papillon’s Anubis. Or Chris Rusak’s 33, where the balance of vetiver, orris, and angelica feels like sitting by an open window in the shady corner of an old library.

I do love the way some lusher scents bloom with warm skin and humid air, though. I am smitten by the heady florals of the night gardens conjured up by St Clair Scents’ Casblanca, and while I’d not inflict it on the sweaty confines of the London Underground, the spiced rose and ambergris of Encens Mythique is amazing, if a little antisocial, on a hot day.

If all else fails, Guerlain Vetiver, or vintage Dior Eau Fraiche give the illusion of ironed linen even when I’m a crumpled sweaty mess.’

Nicola Thomis the-sniff.com

‘I go one of two ways with summer scents: either light, breezy and carefree, or dark and dangerous. When the temperatures rise, it’s easy to pick a stereotypically summery scent – like Pierre Guillaume’s Sunsuality. This to me epitomises the joyful vibe of sunny holidays, and it’s a great pick-me-up for when the British summer isn’t quite going as planned.

At the other end of the spectrum, I also like darker and more smoky scents when it’s hot. I enjoy the way that increased temperatures reveal new facets and dimensions to the fragrances and they often have the extra oomph and staying power needed. This comes in handy during the summer months when I live under a constant sheen of SPF. I’ve been reaching for Embers, by Rouge Bunny Rouge to satisfy that craving a lot recently, and Nanban by Arquiste.’

Sam Scriven I Scent You a Day

‘As a freckly redhead, the only thing I like about heatwaves is that my beloved green mossy chypres really come into their own. You’ll find me in Chanel Cristalle and 4160 Tuesdays Paris 1948 most days. I also like to keep a few fragrances in the fridge in this weather and in my opinion, 4711 or Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass are hard to beat when sprayed on a hot cleavage. Speaking of all things blue, I’ve just discovered Merchant of Venice Blue Tea and it’s utterly divine for summer. It makes me feel freshly showered with a hint of butterflies.’

It doesn’t always strictly feel like ‘summer’ in the UK at times, and of course there are places where it definitely isn’t summer at this time of year. So let’s jet to Australia and see what they’re wearing in winter…

Pep The Scentinel

‘June in the southern hemisphere equates to single digit overnight temperatures, and the shortest day of the year. What have I been favouring? Two masculine classics, both firmly entrenched into my all-time favourites: Dior’s (2012) Eau Sauvage Parfum and Guerlain’s Heritage eau de toilette.

The beauty of these two is that with some thoughtful application, and timing, they work wonderfully well in the summer too. Well on my skin anyway. Each have significant depth to chisel through the icy air, and enough fizz, sparkle, and spice for hazy summer evenings.’

By Suzy Nightingale

The Scented Letter Magazine

Well you’re here, so we’re going to take it as read that you enjoy reading about fragrance! But now imagine a glossy magazine filled to brimming with the very latest news, reviews, full-length features and exclusive one-on-one interviews with the best noses in the world.

Described as ‘a must-read’ by industry-insiders and fragrance-lovers alike, we are proud as punch of The Scented Letter Magazine, and it seems the feeling’s mutual…

With multiple Jasmine Awards (the fragrance industry’s ‘Oscars’, awarded by The Fragrance Foundation) and guest articles by fellow award-winning journalists, we take a theme for each issue and explore it in gorgeously unashamed detail.

Our ethos is that fragrance should be open to everyone, and so our readers range from people around the world who adore perfume, perfumers themselves, founders of fragrance houses and PRs hungry for news they just don’t get to read anywhere else.

Expert opinions, breaking news, fragrant reviews, stunning photographs and in-depth interviews – your glossily beautiful 60-page PRINT edition of The Scented Letter – The Perfume Society‘s acclaimed magazine will open the doors to the world of fragrance no matter what your experience.

A niche-lover who’s amassed hundreds of bottles in their collection or a perfume newbie: you’re all included, and welcome to explore this exciting world that’s just waiting for your fingertips…

Our latest magazine is The Alphabet Issue, taking an A-Z look at everything from Aldehydes to Madame Zed (Lanvin’s mysterious perfumer, who nobody can trace). Take a sneak-peek here!

 

All issues of The Scented Letter can be purchased individually for £15 (£12.50 for VIP Club Members) or back-ordered if you fancy a catch-up. But don’t risk missing out, treat yourself or loved one to an Annual Print Subscription – an entire year of fragrant reading for £75 (including P&P), to be read, referred to and admired many times (so we’re told!)

Written by Suzy Nightingale

 

Fragrant reads as festive gifts? Snuggle by the fireside and enjoy five of our favourites…

Is there anything as satisfying in these cold, dreary days, as settling by the fireside, reclining on a chaise lounge (or lounging on the sofa in your favourite old pyjamas – however the mood takes you!) while sipping a cup of hot chocolate (or, y’know, gin) and getting your nose stuck in a good book? When the tome you’ve chosen is all about fragrance, all the better – and a great add-on gift for your fellow ‘fumeheads, too.
You can find an entire library in the Fragrant Reads section of the website – but these top this booklist of our seasonal, perfume-themed recommendations. (Click on the blue book titles to find them on-line.)
 

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Perfume: A Century of Scents by Lizzie Ostrom

Under the premise of ‘every perfume has a tale to tell’ the wonderful olfactive adventurer, Lizzie Ostrom, explores signature scents and long-lost masterpieces while waxing lyrical about the often wildly wacky characters and campaigns that launched them. Lizzie tells each tale with her trademark wit, yet filled with fascinating facts. We were glued to the pages from the moment we first held a copy, and this completely charming, totally accessible book is a real treasure trove of memories to savour.
 

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Essence & Alchemy by Mandy Aftel

More than a history of fragrance, this book brilliantly looks behind the scenes at the evolution of fragrance-making, and packs plenty of info about essential oils and their attributes.  A ‘natural’ perfumer herself, working only with botanical essences (and with her own fragrance line, based in California – Aftelier – and in the closing chapters it segues into a how-to book that’s a good place to start if you want to become your own ‘perfume mixologist’, and deepen your understanding and love of perfumery by having a go at making fragrance yourself…
 

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A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman

This one can be difficult to get hold of, but is often available on Amazon’s second-hand marketplace. Do find it if you can – Ackerman’s writing is exquisite – we’d call it poetic, actually – exploring and explaining not just the sense of smell, but all the senses.  In the first chapter – Smell – she looks at scent and memory, at roses, at sneezing, at the way our health (and what we eat) impacts on our body odour.  You’ll learn answers to questions you never knew you had, and though this book is over 20 years old, it’s timeless…

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The Diary of a Nose: A Year in the Life of a Perfumer by Jean-Claude Ellena

A quiet and thoughtful man who works in his own hilltop atelier well away from the hustle and bustle of the commercial perfumery world, this chronicles Jean-Claude Ellena’s thoughts, inspirations and global travels while working on new launches.  Most fascinating to us is the short section at the back in which Jean-Claude shares some of the harmonies and accords he’s perfected over the years:  his aim is to create a specific scent with the minimum of notes.  Who knew that you could conjure up the scent of sugared almonds with just vanillin, benzoin and benzaldehyde…?

book

British Perfumery – A Fragrant History

Dedicated to the fascinating history of British Fragrance (dating back to the 16th Century), this stunning book takes you on a journey through the esteemed heritage of The British Society of Perfumers, their famous clients (including royalty) and follows the scented trail right through to the great British houses carrying the fragrance flag today, and in to the future.

Formed in 1963, the British Society of Perfumers came together as a way of helping individual perfumers improve their status and deserved recognition as leading lights of the creative output this country offers the world. Celebrating the profession past and present while marking their own 50th anniversary, the book was conceived by their President – John Bailey – working with contributors Helen Hill, Yvonne Hockey and Matthew Williams. Beautiful, packed full of facts and endlessly delve-in-able, we think it’s definitely one to place on a coffee-table to have your guests swooning…

Writing about perfume really is an art all of its own. (If we do say so ourselves!) So from these fragrant reads. we are sure you’ll find something to set your senses alive – something to gift to a fragrance loving friend or to keep for yourself.

What other scent-centered books have you been getting your nose stuck into, lately? Do get in touch by emailing  info@perfumesociety.org and let us know if there’s anything missing from our ever-expanding bookshelves…

Written by Suzy Nightingale