Snuggling In: Winter Favorites Old & New
Winter uses all the blues there are.
One shade of blue for water, one for ice,
Another blue for shadows over snow.
The clear or cloudy sky uses blue twice-
Both different blues. And hills row after row
Are colored blue according to how far.
You know the bluejay's double-blur device
Shows best when there are no green leaves to show.
And Sirius is a winterbluegreen star.
- Robert Francis
I must confess that I have never been a “winter person.” You can imagine how this was a problem for me since I was born and raised in northern New England, where Old Man Winter arrives early and stays late like an unwelcome house guest and we once had a blizzard on Memorial Day. I can’t abide being cold for very long and as I get older I become even more sensitive to it, and as the evening light turns that inevitable shade of chilly winter blue I dread the coming darkness. However, as a perfume lover, the cool days of fall signal the beginning of the season when the most ornate and luxurious of perfumes can be taken out of their summer slumbering place, and by the time it gets really cold I can reach for the most comforting scents I own, which really does help soften the blow of winter’s advent. If I can’t abide the weather, I can still revel in the richness of winter fragrances.
For a long time I thought I did not like ambery perfumes, which is kind of funny since I wore Jean Patou Sublime by the quart when it was first launched twenty years ago – I guess it must have been selective amnesia. I have found so many of them to love now that I seek out new ones to try, and several amber scents have become firm favorites. One of my all-time best loved fragrances and unlikely to be dethroned from my permanent top ten is Andy Tauer’s wonderful L’ Air du Desert Marocain. Since it is a “dry” amber, it works great in summer too, but it’s simply perfect on a snapping cold winter day. Ambre Narguile by Hermès is another that I fell for instantly; its combination of warm, radiant amber, mouthwatering honey, hypnotic hookah tobacco and dried fruits makes me want to lick my own arm whenever I wear it. For evening, it’s hard to beat Rochas Absolu, now sadly discontinued but still fairly easy to find online, but if you can find a bottle it should last approximately forever; a blend of narcotically rich orange blossom and other florals on a base of sweet, seductive amber notes means that only a few drops are needed to create the desired effect. (I still adore Sublime, but it is no longer what it once was, so I am keeping an eye out for a “vintage” bottle.) Recently I have sampled some really good ambers and they are going on my list: Tom Ford Amber Absolute, Laura Mercier Amber Passion Velvet, Montale Blue Amber and Teo Cabanel Alahine. The gold standard for most amber lovers seems to be Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan and I cannot disagree; it’s not as sweet as many ambers and therefore is a great choice for men, but I love it too. It’s dry, complex herbal aspect makes it intriguing for as long as it’s on the skin, which is as long as you want it to be; it has truly extraordinary longevity.
Winter also means that it’s time to get out the big guns – the bombshell perfumes that are too room-filling for summer. The towering Bal à Versailles by Jean Desprez from 1962 is a perfect example; this deep, heavy Oriental composition as luxuriant as the velvet curtain on an opera stage is so generously dosed with civet and musk that it’s downright indecent, in good way of course, that it’s almost impossible to pull off in summer unless you live in the Arctic Circle. Ah, but in winter it sings like a famous contralto and I reach for it frequently; it is deservedly a legend and the formula sold today is still fabulous. A more recent (1994) introduction is Tocade by Rochas, which is the ultimate expression of the affinity between rose and vanilla. This delightful fragrance is the ultimate in mood-lifting cheerfulness as well a being a great comfort scent. It is powerful enough for most people in the Eau de Toilette strength currently available, but since I wrote my review of it a couple of years ago I have obtained some of the sadly discontinued extrait de parfum, which is stunningly good. In this concentration the vanillic character is more dominant and it has a darker feel. Just a drop of this elixir lasts for many hours of sensual pleasure. Rochas would get more of my business if they brought back the parfum, not to mention the rest of their wonderful classics, but that’s another story.
Roses usually make one think of summer, and hundreds of rose perfumes celebrate their fresh floral beauty, but some of them are not the fresh blossoms of June and are therefore ideal winter companions. Chief among them is my beloved Parfum Sacré by Caron. This classic scent opens with black pepper and has a heart of the most divine dark, “boozy” rose and a base of frankincense and myrrh wrapped in the most delicious non-foody vanilla imaginable. But be warned: this beauty has been reformulated in recent years and is now a dry, woody composition with much less vanilla and less sheer beauty. I only wear the original myself, and although the new Intense concentration is better than the regular, it has a sharp woody-amber note in it that was not there before.
Other “dark rose” perfumes include the amazing Rose de Nuit by Serge Lutens, a masterful rose chypre that is sadly only available in the Exclusive range at present, so you have to go to Paris to get it. This is one of my favorite styles of perfume and it’s one of the very best of its kind, rivaled only in recent years by Une Rose from Editions de Parfum Fredèric Malle. This is a bold, earthy scent that includes the smell of the dirt-covered roots and the leaves along with the wine-like rose; it is most definitely a blood-red flower with plenty of thorns, and I adore it. Smelling it and Rose de Nuit side by side I can tell they have many similarities, but each has its own unique character too and I find it impossible to choose a favorite between them. (At least the Malle one is available in the U.S.) An excellent alternative is my favorite so far in the Parfums de Rosine line, Une Folie de Rose. This can be worn in any season, but its intense chypre character works very well in the cold weather. I have a decant of the Eau de Parfum and now I also have a jar of the incredibly good body cream, which is perfect for chilly evenings and bedtime. I almost like it better than the perfume it is so redolent and lush. Also close in the running is Rosine’s Rose Kashmirie, a sweet and saffron-rich Oriental rose fragrance that is perfectly named, since wearing it is like being swathed in the finest, softest cashmere shawl. It has become a fast favorite in my collection and the level in my decant is shrinking steadily.
I am very fond of tobacco scents and the best I have come across so far is Fumerie Turque by Serge Lutens. Its undercurrent of danger makes it truly addictive, and its evolution results in a most interesting surprise in the far drydown; if left on long enough it eventually morphs into the delicious aroma of warm horse skin, one of my favorite smells. Chergui, also from Lutens, is a lighter, sweeter tobacco scent with the ambrosial aura of hay absolute and I love it as well. Both of these are excellent as bedtime companions, because when you wake up you smell just as good as when you went to sleep.
One of my favorite independent perfumers has produced two of my current winter favorites. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes makes my favorite gourmand of all time, the delectable Mahjoun. It is so much more complex (and wearable) than the usual “loukhoum” compositions inspired by Middle Eastern sweets. Mahjoun pays tribute to a type of Moroccan dessert but it’s much more than that with its treasure trove of spice notes and an incandescent sandalwood and incense drydown. This is the aroma of the bazaar of dreams, where everything you could ever want is available for the asking. Cardamom, almond, cherry blossom, rose, fig, hazelnut, honey, sugar dates, amber, frankincense, cinnamon bark, clove bud, Arabian myrrh and more combine in the most intoxicating way. I have it in the oil formula and I just can’t imagine anything smelling better. Also wonderful is the oil perfume of her very popular Cimabue, a saffron-infused Oriental scent that is not particularly sweet but very rich and dense. When I first tried it in the Eau de Parfum version it smelled like a high end room spray on my skin, but then I got the oil in a swap and I fell for it immediately. Something about the deep-voiced labdanum, benzoin and opopanax played off against the brightness of bergamot, lemon, saffron and rose geranium makes it work like magic. I like to wear this one on the coldest days of all, when I am at home wrapped in fleece blankets watching a storm rage outside.
Another advantage of cooler weather is the ability to wear more of my vintage collection. Weapons-grade seduction specials like Lanvin My Sin, Prince Matchabelli Added Attraction and Corday Fame can be safely worn in public. The modern version of Balmain’s great Jolie Madame like most chypres is an all-season favorite, but the gasoline, leather and Bette Davis-in-her-prime splendor of the original vintage is best experienced in something other than sweltering summer heat. And what would winter be without Caron’s iconic Nuit de Noël? I treasure my little bottle of extrait, which to me is the pinnacle of expression for the great old Mousse de Saxe base, once Caron’s hallmark but no longer used by the house, which is a great loss to connoisseurs of classic fragrances.
I am sure I could name many more, but these are some of my top favorites. Like most fragrance fans I am always looking for more of them to love, so please tell us in the comments what your own winter perfume choices are!
Disclosure: All the perfumes mentioned in this post are either from my own collection or samples/gifts/swaps from perfume friends.
Poem “Blue Winter” by Robert Francis (1901-1987) from famouspoemsandpoets.com
Image credit: Winter scene from christmas-wallpapers.co.uk