Home for Christmas: seasonal smells fragrance experts love

Christmas is undoubtedly the most fragrant time of year – smells of fir trees, crackling fires and deliciously spiced foods helping us feel cosy, even if we’re actually rather stressed and craving sunshine. Nothing uplifts and comforts us quite like being surrounded by your favourite seasonal smells, and so, we wondered, what do three of our favourite fragrance experts most associate with the scent of Christmas…?

Michael Donovan, MD Roullier White, founder of St Giles fragrance
‘There are so many – sloe gin, sprouts (it’s the only time that my family ever ate them, probably why I adore them now), and my mother made rather elaborate pomanders from oranges with cloves… Drakkar was my very first Christmas gift of fragrance! I remember the warm plastic of my favourite light-up Santa – he went in the window to welcome us home and I could smell him every time I came through the door. Apricot brandy was my grandmother’s favourite tipple and smells delicious, and we always had little fruits fashioned from marzipan. My father’s ‘Grey Flannel’ and my mother’s ‘Madame Rochas’ were worn, scent for special occasions only! The smell of a new album – the vinyl and paper of the sleeves as we always received records for Christmas  – I miss record sleeves.

My grandparents ran a small grocers – ‘Donovans’ – and at Christmas they made individual Christmas lunches for sale, which was great for those who were on their own or were on a budget. The turkey was, consequently, so enormous that it wouldn’t fit into the industrial oven and the door had to be tied, half-closed, with string. The bird was cooked on a very low temperature for about 8hrs overnight and the smell permeated every corner of the building and was utterly delicious. I am a long-time vegetarian but I still remember it as my most delicious smell and laying in bed, salivating…’

If you’d rather smell of something more appealing than sprouts, might we suggest the magnificent St Giles fragrance, The Writer (well it would be our favourite, wouldn’t it?) With gloriously fresh ginger and rosemary absolute amidst a fizz of aldehydes, clary sage and rhubarb, the resinous heart wraps frankincense in leather and a darkly inky base resounds with castoreum absolute, creamy sandalwood, cedarwood from the Atlas mountains and driftwood. So perfect for a fragrant pick-me-up at any time, but most especially right now, don’t you think…?

St Giles The Writer, £130 for 100ml eau de parfum
Try it at Selfridges or stgilesfinefragrance.com

Viola Cserkuti: perfume & cosmetics history curator, student perfumer, skincare & beauty specialist
We first met Viola at a vintage fragrance event in London, where she showed her extensive (and endlessly fascinating) collection of perfumes. Being obsessed with history, vintage clothing and all things fragrant, she told us her childhood scent memories of Christmas (pictured, above)…

‘Growing up in Hungary and celebrating Christmas with my family holds the most vivid scent memories for me. In my early childhood, I remember the potent smell of sparklers, the satifying smoke after they glittered away, and the occasional burnt fir sap as they were attached to the Christmas tree. Also, paraffin church candles and our special Hungarian Christmas chocolates – Szaloncukor – had such distinctive scent. They came in many flavours but the original retro ones were filled with fondant icing. The icing for the Szaloncukor had a cold, sweet, alcoholic scent with a vanillary chocolate and fake fruit aspect that filled the room with an eccentric medley of fragrant delights, coming from the church candles, burnt chemicals and cheap victorian era confectionary…’

Carlos J Powell: aka mega-successful perfume vlogger Brooklyn Fragrance Lover

Carlos is known for his passionate reviews about perfume, sprinkled with in-depth knowledge delivered in a down-to-earth completely approachable, and often humourous way; and for his adorably cheeky cats, ‘Jean et Claude’, who can often be found knocking fragrances off shelves and chasing them around the apartment floor. His views recently topped 6 million, with over 35k subscribers around the world tuning in to hear his weekly updates. So, what are the wafts of Christmas that transport Carlos the most?

‘The smell of Christmas for me growing up was Pernil – Latino roasted pork shoulder with tons of garlic – and… lasagne! I am Dominican, but grew up with an Italian stepfather. So I wish you Feliz Navidad y Buon Natale!’

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Seven Wearable Shivers…

Have you ever worn a fragrance that made you shiver? I’m not talking about accidentally spraying yourself in an ex’s favourite scent, but deliberately wearing something that unsettled you slightly? Fragrances can send us into reveries of rapture, but they don’t have to be traditionally ‘pretty’ to do so.

There’s pleasure to be found in challenging your perfume habits – delighting in the pricking of your preconceptions, a sharpening of the senses. The Germans use the term unheimlich, which roughly translates to the experience of something feeling weirdly familiar while remaining mysterious, eerie, uncanny.

These seven scents are best worn with a nip of frost in the air, golden sunlight softly streaming through brightly-dressed trees, and sense of delicious mystery swirling through those misty mornings and rapidly darkening nights…

A concoction of woody and fresh notes with hazelnuts, blood oranges and tobacco at its heart, Damn Rebel Witches ‘…commemorates witches burnt at the stake, those prosecuted today for witchcraft and people who identify as witches.’ The toasty nuttiness is shot through with the red juice of those blood oranges, and rich tendrils of tobacco smoke weave their way through the entire composition, making this one of the most addictively unusual fragrances I’ve tried in ages.

Reek Perfume Damn Rebel Witches from £25 for 7.5ml eau de parfum
reekperfume.com

Inspired by the destructive and regenerative Australian bush fires, its smoky heart of mysterious spices is spiked with shards of fresh (surprisingly fruity) eucalyptus and citrus to create a wonderful juxtaposition of hot/cold and intriguing textures. A smouldering smoky wood accord underlines this contrast of dark and light, with the house’s signature Australian sandalwood smoothing the seared edges, wonderfully.

Map of the Heart Black Heart v.2 £150 for 90ml eau de parfum
harrods.com

A thrillingly dense formula full of overlapping facets, there’s jasmine, warm skin muskiness, dark cracked leather and resionous balsam lapping at white flowers. The concept follows the unsettlingly tense relationship of Agent Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, and is named for the moment Hannibal says: ‘You use Evian skin cream, and sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps … but not today.’ Most certainly a wearable shiver, but of fear or delight? Only you can be the judge.

UNUM But Not Today from £10 for 1ml extrait de parfum
bloomperfume.co.uk

The mere mention of the word oud (sometimes spelled ‘oudh’) causes some to clasp their pearls and screech in horror, jumping on a chair like the maid in Tom & Jerry, and likely fainting clean away. But there’s many types of oud, as perfumer Sarah McCartney discovered, including a softer, ‘white oud’ included here. Beguiling plump plums and fuzzy peaches trickle stickily over rivulets of fresh grapefruit and raspberry flecked with piquant juniper. Overall there’s a hushed leafiness that hides a devil-may-care attitude (and possibly cloven hooves).

4160 Tuesdays Be Careful What You Wish For from £40 for 9ml eau de parfum
4160tuesdays.com

A bewitching concoction that marries the sweetness of toasted marshmallows unctuously melting into an overdose of ginger, with a fluffy heart of jasmine, rose and peony that’s girlish glee personified. Sugar and spice and all things nice? This is the too-perfectly-painted doll whose eyes follow you around the room, the tinkling nursery rhyme in the soundtrack of a horror film, a half-glimpsed lightning flash in a foxed mirror. And that bottle! It looks like something you’d pull out of a purse to surreptitiously drop into a beastly husband’s tea. Beautifully dangerous.

Dior Poison Girl Unexpected from £32.50 for 20ml rollerball eau de toilette
johnlewis.com

Frolicking about with the idea of forbidden fruit, you’re first intoxicated by the tumble of ripe peaches placed at your feet in tempting heaps. Just one bite can’t hurt, right? Lychee, blackcurrant and blood orange suddenly fuse into a licentious cocktail, sharp punches of spicy pimento berries and hot pepper slowly making their way to a velvety bed of vanilla and an almond-like, cyanide kiss of tonka beans. With a trail that snakes on the skin for hours, here’s a fruit salad that could easily lead you astray.

By Kilian Playing With the Devil from £250 for 50ml refillable eau de parfum spray
bykilian.co.uk

The Serges Lutens collection has something of a reputation for not revealing the notes of the fragrances, preferring them to remain as mysteriously illusive as the creator himself. Here all we know is this one contains a key note of fir balsam, and that it’s like wearing a midnight velvet cloak while standing next to a bonfire eating cinder toffee. Gloweringly inky, smoky as spent fireworks yet cold as starlight – it somehow makes you feel enswathed, becalmed, protected.

[Psst! Try a sample in our Niche Collection 1 Discovery Box]

Serges Lutens Participe Passé £160 for 100ml eau de parfum
harveynichols.com

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Atelier Cologne – for autumn and beyond

Think Colognes are only for summer splashes and searing heatwaves? Atelier Cologne‘s deeper twists on the classic will make you think again…

Having enjoyed the hottest summer on record in England (joint hottest for UK overall since 1976), there’s no doubt we’ve all been reaching for those fresh fragrances to cool things down. The traditional Cologne is a thing of joy – but apart from the first splash, that joy could be fleeting, until Atelier Cologne took the best elements of the tradition and infused them with more complexity, depth and a hugely boosted lasting power.

This means we can enjoy all the benfits of their range well into the cooler months – good news for those already grieving the loss of summer and who perhaps need a spirit-reviving spritz before we get those opaque tights and cardis out of storage. Here’s our guide to five Atelier Cologne fragrances you should try for an olfactory change of seasons…

 

Top notes: Bergamot from Calabria, limette from Mexico, saffron from India

Heart notes: Sandalwood from New Caledonia, gaiac wood from India, white musk

Base notes: Papyrus from India, cedarwood from Texas, vanilla from Madagasca

Satisfyingly spicy without feeling too bundled-up already, the warm glow of saffron suffuses the zestiness of the opening like autumnal sunshine filtering through trees. Gorgeously layered woods with a wisp of soft musk and the tenderness of vanilla in the base feel like a late afternoon walk through the park.

Atelier Cologne Santal Carmin £160 for 100ml eau de parfum

 

Top notes: Calabrian bergamot, Sicilian mandarin, Guatemalan cardamom

Heart notes: rose oil, Indian tuberose, coffee

Base notes: Madagascan vanilla, cocoa pod

A unique blending of white floral and modern gourmand, the coffee really shines here, all toasty and delicious with a touch of cardamom and a swirl of milky vanilla and cocoa in the dry down. Think of those days it’s still warm enough to grab a coffee outside, chic people-watching while devoring pastries.

Atelier Cologne Cafe Tuberosa £115 for 100ml Cologne absolue

Top notes: green mandarin from Italy, Sicilian bergamot, tajetes from Egypt

Heart notes: orchid nigritella rubra, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, benzoin from Thailand

Base notes: cistus labdanum from Spain, amber, tonka bean from Brazil

A little tip-toe into snugglier scents, this amber benefits from the fresh breeziness of the green mandarin as a welcome change from your usual citrus. Gentle spices never feel dusty, bringing a sense of comfort to the richer notes, instead, and adding a real spring in your step as chillier weather sets in.

Atelier Cologne Ambre Nue £115 for 100ml Cologne absolue

Top notes: bergamot from Calabria, orange flower from Morocco, black pepper from Vietnam

Heart notes: iris from Morocco, lavender from Provence, rose centifolia from Grasse

Base notes: Gaiac wood from Central America, patchouli from Indonesia, white musk accord

Just the most whisper-soft embrace of cashmere-like fluffiness and a pretty bouquet proffered throughout the composition, imagine the sigh of contentment while wearing your favourite suede jacket and shopping at the flower market. The woody-musk base feels reassuring, a scented hug to last all day.

Atelier Cologne Iris Rebelle £165 for 100ml Cologne absolue
Exclusive to Selfridges

Top notes: bergamot from Calabria, ginger from China, Turkish rose essence

Heart notes: Turkish rose absolue, incense from Somalia, velvet oud accord

Base notes: patchouli from Indonesia, papyrus from India, benzoin from Laos

Those of you not yet ready to let go of your roses (and we count ourselves among you!) fear not – here’s an opulent plunge into the more sensual side that flower. We’re especially loving the textural richness added by a drift of incense and smooth oud accord, a fragrant trail you’ll love all day and after sunset.

Try Atelier Cologne at selfridges.com or in their stand-alone Covent Garden boutique.

Written by Suzy Nightingale

5 fragrances that guarantee winter sunshine…

There are those who claim certain scents should only be worn in summer – the lighter, more citrus-laden ones for the most part – and that we should reserve the heavier, more opulent fragrances for our winter wardrobes. But is this once foregranted ‘fact’ still true…?
Certainly, in hot weather you may find your fragrance seems ‘stronger’ or more overpowering, the heat causing the notes to evolve on the skin more rapidly and bloom around you in fragrant waves.  This is exactly why brands sometimes offer lighter versions of their bestselling scents for the summer.  Indeed, some people prefer heavier more full-bodied, comforting, almost ‘cocooning’ scents in the winter – but again, this is completely individual.
Personally, at The Perfume Society, we do tend towards richer fragrances that we love to rediscover at around the time when we reach for our opaque tights, our socks (and vests!), switching to airier perfumes for the warmer months. But never let anyone tell you what perfume to wear and when – just do what feels right for you. We say: scent ‘rules’ are made to be broken, so just follow your nose…
We find winter is actually a perfect time to refresh your senses, and re-visit those scents you perhaps didn’t quite get on with in summer – cooler weather and damper climates makes your skin react completely differently, so why not try some fragrances you may have written-off forever?
While you’re at it – have a dig around in your collection for ‘spring fresh’ or ‘summer-y’ scents that you already love and see how differently they bloom on your skin at this time of year. Just as too much turkey and endless chocolates can have you yearning for a crisp salad, it’s good to go over to the light side for a change of scent-scene now and again.
Here’s our list of five transitional scents to try for a time-travelling experience out of your comfort zone. So, shake off those heavy layers and prepare to get zingy with some winter freshness…
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Zesty to the point of mouth-watering excess, the energising burst of crushed ripe fruit uses the darker extract of sweet blood orange juice juxtaposed against bitter orange peel and warming wafts of geranium for a feel-good cloud of happiness. Formulated to last far longer than traditional Colognes but losing none of their zippiness – hoorah!
Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine £49.50 for 30ml Cologne Absolue
Buy it at John Lewis
Ignore the grey skies, close your eyes and imagine the Provençal setting sun, still warm on your skin (move closer to the fire or add another layer of clothing, if necessary…)Aromatically fresh with the fizz of bergamot and pink pepper, the true heart of honey infused lavender is balanced by the milky acacia blossoms, the nuttiness of tonka beans and balsamic warmth of the earthier base.
L’Occitane Terre de Lumière Limited Edition bottle, £58 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at loccitane.com
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A lusciously fruity mixture of milky fig cut through with Turkish apricot and green tea for a deliciously refreshing blend that still feels nurturingly comforting. A wearable panna cotta with just enough wobble and topped with glistening slices of that succulent fruit – we have no doubt you’ll want to dive in.
Fresh Fig Apricot £76 for 100ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Harrods
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The tart, raspberry freshness of Turkish rose and the subtle woodiness of thorny stems enhanced by geranium melt slowly to a softly cushioned fuzziness of peonies and vibrant freesia, gently sprinkled with black pepper and drizzled with honey. Every bit as delicious as it sounds, it’s a ballerina dancing in a garden as the sun rises and blushes the sky the colour of her frothy tutu.
Aqua di Parma Peonia Nobile £78 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Selfridges
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Ripening tomatoes lovingly stroked in a greenhouse, sunlight glinting on frosty hedgerows and mint leaves floating in a pitcher of homemade lemonade – this enlivening scent whisks you to the home of the Mitchell family at Foxbury Farm. Sparkling citrus rubs shoulders with herbaceous greens and English flowers grown in their fields; drying down to the classically elegant combination of musk and cedar wood.
Mitchell and Peach English Leaf Fine Edition £55 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at Roullier White
Written by Suzy Nightingale

Seasonal scented ingredients that make winter sparkle…

Frosty foliage glittering beguilingly is uplifting to the soul on wickedly cold mornings, and although our hearts (and hands!) may yearn for the warmth of summer, we can remind ourselves that the onset of winter also heralds some truly magical ingredients that are inexorably associated with the season.
We’ve listed four of our favourites, below, but where does your (cold) nose take you when the frost bites? Well, if you click on the names of the ingredients, you’ll be whisked to their fascinating and fact-filled individual pages, where you can also find a list of perfumes to try with that as the prominant note…
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Myrrh
Long associated with Christmas (one of the three gifts given to the infant Jesus),used in religious ceremonies and magical rites; myrrh is actually a gum resin, tapped from the True Myrrh tree, or Commiphora Myrrha, and originating in parts of Arabia, Somalia and Ethiopia. Tapping the tree to make small incisions, small teardrop-shaped droplets ‘bleed’ from the trunk and are left to harden into bead-like nuggets, which are then steam-distilled to produce an essential oil. Myrrh gets its name from the Hebrew ‘murr’ or ‘maror’, which translates as ‘bitter’. It’s earthy. It’s resinous. It’s intriguing. And it’s still a key ingredient in many sensual and iconic Oriental perfumes today…
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Pssst! Read more about the fascinating history of myrrh, and how Jo Malone London have used this precious indredient in their soon to be released latest perfume, in our hot-off-the-press glossy magazine: The Scented Letter.
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Pine
There are good pine smells, and, well… horrid pine smells. If you’ve ever sat in the back of a taxi with one of those ‘Christmas tree’-scented cards dangling from the rear-view mirror, you’ll probably get where we’re coming from. But pine can also be wonderful crisp, spicy, outdoorsy and invigorating – and it’s been closely linked to perfume creation since the time of the early Arab perfumers, who liked it in combination with frankincense, in particular…
 
cinnamon
Cinnamon
Spicily enticing, comforting and sweet, all at once.  Our love of cinnamon dates back thousands of years:  2000 years ago the Egyptians were weaving it into perfumes (though it probably originates way before that, in China). Because cinnamon bark oil is a sensitiser – and as such, you may ‘cinnamates’ on perfume packaging, as a warning – where natural cinnamon’s used, it’s likely to have been distilled from the leaves and twigs.  But it’s often also synthesised, adding a spicy warmth to Orientals (and quite a few men’s scents)…
oranges
Orange
Studded with cloves we can hang these ultra-Christmas-sy pomanders from our trees for an instant Yuletide hit. But where would perfumery be without orange…?  The blossom of the bitter orange tree (a.k.a. neroli, when it’s extracted in a particular way) is one of the most precious scent ingredients of all.  Bigarade, from the fruit of that tree, is another key ingredient in colognes, while its leaves give us petitgrain, another popular element in citrussy scents.  And then there’s orange itself (sometimes referred to as sweet orange, to distinguish it from the bitter, ‘marmalade’ variety.)
There are many more notes to discover and explore in our Ingredients section of the wbsite, so why not take a sensorial journey and follow your nose there, now…?
Written by Suzy Nightingale