It wasn’t until Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, that the tradition of the Christmas tree began in Britain. Before then, it was the holly and the ivy that were twined around banisters and railings in English homes. There were even sprigs of holly stuck into the tops of Christmas puddings. The tannenbaum tradition, really was a German import along with the Prince Regent.
Trying to find scents that replicate that gentle slightly leafy smell is hard. Ivy turns up as a note in perfume, most successfully I think in Annick Goutal’s Eau de Camille, and as a very smooth component in the soft jade Puredistance Antonia.
The point about both of these fragrances is that they convey ivy’s foliage scent without the fusty earthy element you smell in the garden. Both perfumes feature ivy leaves, and not the earthy, steel woolen roots. The leaves are definitely the best smelling part of the ivy, and their musty undersides, definitely the worst.
Holly, by contrast, has very little fragrance to my nose, and mistletoe – to drag in another traditional English Christmas green – none at all. Maybe mistletoe does when it is fresh, but the only mistletoe I’ve ever been down wind of, is dried out and what ever smell it once possessed is long gone.
My fantasy substitution is Celadon a velvet napped green scent of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s. It is a very textural perfume, and now that I think of it, if you like Puredistance Antonia, you will probably also like Celadon. They share a sensibility that domesticates green, and makes it elegant and tactile, not at all strident. These are greens very well suited to a lady’s wrist, there’s nothing aromatic or piercing about them. Both of the scents are hushed and civilized with self effacing good manners.
Lastly, I am using old Emeraude as a Christmas smell this year. I’m not clear why Emeraude is called a green oriental, since there is no listed note in it that sounds particularly green to me. The top of orange, bergamot, and lemon recall its near relation Shalimar, but Emeraude on me, does contain a kind of powdery allusion to malachite in its upper registers. I smell it particularly in the extract.
Oh well, the tint may be an illusion but Emeraude still manages to have a Christmasy smell to it, that I don’t find in Shalimar, and that I do like a lot. It’s a sort of fantasy holly smell. Emeraude is a gentle interpretation of the holly, not a prickly one. It’s very easy to wear, a holly with no spines.
These perfumes allow you to wear a lightly seasonal scent, even if you normally don’t wear Orientals or gourmands (which are the usual suspects in the Christmas line-up). But greens were there long before those central European spices, and it is good to find a place for the holly and the ivy, even if they end up as the ghosts of Christmases long past.