It would have been nice to align the twelve smells of Christmas (or any other winter holiday you celebrate) with the items listed in the old carol. But I can’t think what partridges in pear trees smell like – other than pears – and so the next twelve posts will be a trifle subjective. Here, at any rate, are some holiday smells and the perfumes that express them.
One of the most Christmasy to me is Grand Marnier, or Cointreau. The smell of it is so wonderful, so delightfully orangey and spicy, that it is one of the immortally recurring fragrances of December, and good enough to swab onto your wrist, although when you factor in the stickiness involved, none of us ever do.
Thankfully, it is also one of the most successfully recreated scents and several versions of the orange liquor in perfume form exist.
The great avatar of the spicy orange Oriental is Fendi’s Theorema. This came out in 1998, and was discontinued some years ago, to the grief of practically everyone who ever wore the stuff. It can be found on line at Ebay, but you do pay the price – my personal mini bottle is the small tribute I pay to a great scent.
I have mentioned Theorema before, as it is the undisputed champ in the field. There just isn’t anything better than this. Theorema smelled to me like an Italian Christmas fair, and still does whenever I crack the bottle and put some on – rarely these days, because I hate to use up the last of it. Fortunately, there are alternatives.
One is Robert Piguet’s Baghari. Now there’s a warning attached here, that although you will smell oranges and spices, you will also smell aldehydes, because Baghari is an aldehydic floral, bordering on a floral chypre, and is much drier, and much more aerated than Theorema.
Theorema is a sweet solidity, it has all the warmth and close quarters of the holidays, and some small hint of the stuffiness of too many relations at once crammed into a room. Baghari has cracked the window, and a bit of outside, slightly cold, slightly smoky air enters as a consequence.
The amount of dry smoke means that I would recommend Baghari to men. It seems unsweet enough, and complex enough to cross the gender bar. Were I on the other side of that, I think I would wear it. It remains festive, but more elegant, more refined, in short, something that comes off with a less overt sugar glaze than the other two perfumes mentioned here, and just a hint of cold December air.
The last choice is Elixir des Merveilles. This one is very well known, but I place it last because, although it is a lot of fun, it is really a gourmand/chypre. The old format of the chypre is in Elixir, but is subverted by slotting chocolate and orange in the places where bergamot and flowers used to fit in old Chypre formulas, and the default position of oakmoss in the dry down is now occupied by a virtual vanilla biscuit. The whole thing comes off as a cookie. To be specific: langue de chat dipped in dark chocolate and orange essence. It is a wonderful virtual cookie, but I am not so sure that this is what an elegant woman wants to smell like on her night out.
Elixir des Merveilles though, is a definite end run around Hermes’ old favorite Eau des Merveilles. This is more fun, still more foody, louder, and not meant to be impressive or stand-offish at all. This is Christmas time with the kids, and not the office Holiday Party, certainly not the perfume to wear to the theater when they’re producing Twelfth Night, but fine for A Christmas Carol, in which case, this thing will probably yell out, “God bless us everyone!” louder than Tiny Tim. It is not shy.
We always used to put oranges in the toe of Christmas stockings but here the orange comes first, it is still one of the best smells of the Holidays.