Upon a Midnight Clear

Sometimes in smelling all sorts of things you stumble over a creation that is simply beautiful.  In writing about holiday scents – which is a difficult thing to do because there’s a jumble of scents tumbling about houses during the last week in December, you often are road blocked by cliché smells. The worst of them is pine.

Let me re-phrase that. The strongest of them is pine.  It out-smells everything else. Pine is the prima donna assoluta of Christmas time smells, and like the prima donna, will not be ignored.

Some perfume houses have ventured onto this perilous ground patrolled by Pine (previously the undisputed territory of Johnson & Johnson with their Glade brand), but few perfumers seem to feel that you can successfully tame the Christmas tree to scent the human wrist and live to sell another flanker.

Let’s just say, that it’s a tricky proposition.  You the consumer, don’t want people to suspect you of raiding your husband’s pick-up truck for the car deodorizer in PINE CONE he has hanging from the rear view mirror. I mean I wouldn’t.

Somehow or other, this very misfortune happened to Guerlain with Winter Delice, an Aqua Allegoria fragrance from about a decade ago.  It is relatively refined pine you understand, but the scent is still predominantly evergreen, and anyone not particularly versed in perfume, like your garrulous old uncle who doesn’t know Guerlain from gumboots, will be sure to ask about that PINE CONE car sachet that somebody has smuggled into the dining room.  It will not make the holiday lunch any shorter.

When Winter Delice came out, it was called an innovative perfume.  Only the Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune was similarly bold in featuring a smell not easy to wear.  This is undeniably true, but Winter Delice received an “Ugh!”assessment from my husband, and I  suspect that possibly this perfume might work better as a candle than as a personal scent.

So what was that beautiful smell of pine I was talking about at the beginning of this post?  That smell was Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Minuit.  It is a gloriously beautiful Christmas fragrance that features notes of many things, since this is one complex scent, but it does feature silver fir in the beginning, and it is a beautiful and somehow understated presence.

I’ve worn this fragrance for years and wasn’t quite sure what that note was, until the day that the local composting truck came by to collect the ex-Christmas trees.  Not the most romantic time for an aperçu, you might say, but there it was, that fir smell, beautiful, clear, and somehow miniaturized by the outdoor air, as though viewed through the wrong end of a spy glass.  It’s this scent, the smell of fir trees attenuated by distance and made ethereal by cold, crystalline air that Minuit reproduces.   Then I detect roses, and I think that Ms Herwitz does roses with the very best in the business.  No one, not even Caron, currently does them better.

At last, the scent segues into a complicated dry down involving incense and oud.  It is one of the most lovely finishes of any perfume I can remember.  My daughter, aged seven or so, simply called Minuit “The most beautiful smell.”

So you can retro engineer this tree smell well or clumsily, and sometimes it’s not the obvious suspect who pulls the trick off.  In any event, if you want to smell Christmas trees as they should be smelled, smell Minuit.


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2 Responses to Upon a Midnight Clear

  1. Meg says:

    So true that pine seems to push its way to the front of the line when it comes to evergreen smells in the popular mind. And yet, that sour, cold, pissy, “hospital” pine smell we all know from functional products like PineSol and Glade is so off-putting– why do we pin all our nostalgic feelings on THAT smell? Real live pine trees smell sappy and warm, somehow– I almost think their perfume is best in high summer. But in winter, NOTHING beats fir– a warm friendly incense-like smell that (as you say) cold air magnifies a thousandfold. Lovely!

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      What is that with pine? It is curious and the fir smells so much better that you wonder why perfumers ever go for the pine in the first place? Oh well.

      Loved your take on Cuir Mauresque, by the way. I haven’t smelled it myself but was planning to because it’s lea-thuh, and I am a Jersey girl-at least currently. Did you catch that bizarre fragrance by Etat Libre for Bendel’s? It was called Bendelirious and was 7UP and cherries. Seriously bent.

      Happy Hols, Blacknall

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