It is now the 118th day of January. Christmas was five years ago and winter is positively Narnian in length. It’s cold, it’s miserable and it’s time to crack open the heavy hitters.
I have owned Fille en Aiguilles for just over a week. It’s not a full bottle, but it was pressed into my hand by friend and co-blogger Lisa Wordbird, who said “better give you this whilst it’s still cold.” Everyone needs a friend who does this.
Now although the thinking behind Fille en Aiguilles is that of pine needles in the hot sun, its deep resinous heat is inescapably both cosy and sophisticated. It makes me feel like a proper grown up and temporarily alleviates the suspicion that I may actually be a frump in winter.
Fille en Aiguilles is the work of genius, and I mean genius, perfumer Christopher Sheldrake. He also had a hand in the stunning Serge Lutens (initially Shiseido) Feminite du Bois, as well as the majority of the Serge Lutens back catalogue, for which I thank him daily.
Fille en Aiguilles means girl on needles, which also translates, idiomatically, as girl in stilettos (hence the pic of Louboutins). It is primarily an incense scent, but the spiky pine needles give it refreshingly green edges, which appeals both to my love of all green scents and my love of the smell of a very Old High Church. Thuribles are non-negotiable, as far as I’m concerned..
Fille en Aiguilles opens and ends with incense, as if it were the cover to a book. I don’t know about sun baked pine needles, but the combination of sharp, bitter green leaves alongside the incense is a heady mixture indeed. Add in some dusty dry black pepper, grassy vetiver and a hint of sultana, and you can see why I have a full bottle in my sights.
Fille en Aiguilles is spice, sophistication and balsam-y incense. It’s totally unisex. If you were a man I would sniff you to levels that are incompatible with being a happily married woman.
There are certain smells associated with Christmas that we don’t come across in the course of the ordinary year (i.e. the boring non-Christmas period). Now, I might be romanticising things here, but I have vivid Christmas memories of the exact smell of 1970s tinsel, the smell of roasting beef (we didn’t eat turkey) and Mum and Dad smoking all day. In the 1970s you were encouraged to smoke all day and anywhere you pleased. Unimaginable now, I know, but the scent of cigarettes always takes me back to the family home back where chocolate advent calendars hadn’t been invented and the internet was just a twinkle in the sky.
These days, any kind of foodie/boozy scent has me thinking wistfully of Christmas and I use it as an excuse to step outside my usual chypre scented comfort zone and into cosy, smoky gourmands. Basically, I want to smell good enough to eat.
Here are five fragrances that have me salivating around Christmas time. They are rich, evocative, wintry and absolutely delicious. Dive in with me. Sherry?
Zadig et Voltaire This Is Her
The plain white bottle from this achingly cool Parisian brand doesn’t look particular festive but it has dominant chestnut notes and lashings of whipped cream. This is an unusual fragrance, but I like it because of that. They could have played it safe but no, they thought they’d confuse our brains with jasmine and chestnuts and whipped cream and cashmere wool and pink pepper and, did I say whipped cream? It sounds confusing but I promise you, this scent really works and I could happily plough through a whole bottle, and the body lotion and candle too. You can find it here.
4160 Tuesdays Captured by Candlelight
With overtones of Cluedo and Agatha Christie in the intriguing title, this fragrance smells as Christmassy as a tangerine in the bottom of your pillow case. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a Christingle service, but it reminded me vividly of that. What happens is that children attend a simplified Christmas service in a church (an old one for preference) and each child is given an orange with a candle embedded in it. Jutting out of the orange are cocktail stick with little Haribo gummy sweets on. Combine the old wood of church pews with the orange, the sweets, the candlelight and the flask of Baileys you have in your bag, and you’ve got Captured by Candlelight. Check it out here on the 4160 website, which is dangerously tempting at this time of year.
Christmas isn’t Christmas without some sort of marzipan encounter. Hypnotic poison allows you to carry that scent around on your skin. With rich, boozy vanilla and thick, rich almonds, Hypnotic Poison is hard to beat, and very long lasting. By the way, just holding the pumpkin shaped bottle feels like magic. I keep thinking its going to turn into a tiny coach at midnight. You can buy it here.
Hermes Elixir des Merveilles
The nose behind Hermes Elixir des Merveilles is none other than legend Jean Claude Ellena. Famous for his blending, which is often described as having the delicacy of a watercolour painting, Elixir des Merveilles is a gourmand that has the kind of mouth-watering appeal that never feels too rich for a second helping. To my nose, this smells like caramelised oranges, but without any stickiness. Imagine a crème brûlée with slightly seared bitter orange fruit. I’m not usually a fan of gourmands, except at Christmas, obvs, but this one has me drooling with undisguised avarice. You can buy it here.
Yves Rocher Bourbon Vanilla
Never let it be said that I don’t cater for all budgets. This cheap and cheerful vanilla scent from trusty Yves Rocher stopped me in my tracks and made me check the price again. Twice. This is a rich, golden vanilla scent that smacks of boozy vanilla liquor, rather than the more commonly found synthetic cupcake note that sometimes poses as vanilla. Not, this one, though, No Sir. Yves Rocher Bourbon Vanilla will make everyone ask what you are wearing. Even the most curmudgeonly perfume resister will be unable to stop sniffing you. Don’t blame me. Blame Yves Rocher! Oh, and the price? My 30ml bottle was the princely sum of £3.99 five weeks ago.
How about you?
What will be wearing this Christmas? Something cosy? Something new? Do you always wear the same fragrance at Christmas? Do let me know. I always love to hear from you.
I was delighted to receive a little parcel via Fed Ex all the way from Berkeley California recently. It was from master perfumer Mandy Aftel and was wrapped like a piece of precious treasure. Mandy is a fragrant and flavourist expert who has the worldwide respect of customers and peers alike.
I received my sample spray phial of Amber Tapestry last week and I have been taking my time in getting to know it before reviewing it. After all, Mandy didn’t rush making it, so I owe it such courtesy in return.
Amber Tapestry is suitably named. Each component makes up the overall picture with splashes of colour and vibrancy that make this scent a constant unfolding enigma.
The heliotrope, which my nose mistook for lilac, speaks of springtime optimism. There was a note of pollen in there too, that reminded me of the dust you get on your nose when you sniff a daffodil (I should know, it’s the National Flower of Wales). The orange and the jasmine together give this a creamy and alluring opening act. The combination of the two makes for a sort of exaggerated orange blossom.
The middle phase is where this gets more tapestry like. The resin-y incense tones of benzoin (often used in cough mixture) seem to add a faded grandeur to the big white flowers that start so brightly. The heady white blooms are toned down by the warmth of golden amber as the base notes cast a sunset over this evocative scent. There is a subtle touch of animal in the finale, but rather than being a body odour animalic, its more of an intimate back-of-the-neck scent- if you’re familiar with my review of Aftelier Memento Mori, you’ll know the honeyed skin scent I mean.
Each note is interwoven to give an overall accord of a resinous, leathery vanilla. It was a real grower on me. The longer I have worn it, the more I like it
Amber Tapestry is a scent for all seasons. From Spring to Autumn in one fell swoop, the floral optimism of its opening gives way to a cosy richness that ends with the feeling of being hugged by an amber blanket of warmth.
Mandy uses natural ingredients and to my nose, these have an authenticity that makes for a deep and rich olfactory experience. It is my ambition to visit her perfume museum in Berkeley one day. Like Aftelier fragrances, I just know it will be unforgettable.
The Body Shop White Musk is such a well loved classic that they wouldn’t dare to discontinue it. Popular since the 1980s, it remains a steady seller and even those who don’t wear it have some nostalgia for it. I know this because whenever I wore it to meetings in my previous job I would often hear “that reminds me of my first girlfriend/ the student house I shared/my wife when we first met”. Personally, I am never without my little bottle of Body Shop White Musk oil, which lasts me about a year. (But then I am promiscuous when it comes to other scents)
Red Musk opens with vodka and spice and beds down into a very tobacco-y haze that reminded one Fragrantica user of Serge Lutens Chergui. A compliment indeed. In fact, although lacking in the hay notes of Chergui, there is a touch of Serge Lutens Louve in the dried scent of cherry tobacco as the drydown kicks in. Several hours later, this is White Musk with a hint of spiced fruit cake, but a sugar free cake, solid with dense dark spice and none of the sickly cakiness I get so tired of in scent.
This has a masculine tang about it which makes it a perfect unisex fragrance, and is rounded off nicely with a tobacco-y musk Final Act. All round, it’s not bad at all and I’m pleased to see this veer away from the sweet and further towards the rich. Longevity is good at around six hours so far on skin and its been making my coat sleeves smell delicious.