Two of my fellow bloggers, Meg at Parfumieren and Michael at Top to Bottom both posted about that old Christmas classic Nuit de Noel recently. You can see that they had fairly different opinions about the venerable standard, the favorite perfume of Ayn Rand by the way, and it got me musing about the Christmas fragrance itself, the designated driver of oh so many Holiday fetes down the decades. Do old Christmas fragrances really get you where you want to be?
Let me start by saying that there are definite misses in this category. Winter Delice was certainly one. At best a candle (but really, I’d chose an old Rigaud candle over it) you had to wonder what Guerlain were thinking? Winter Delice was the slow motion crash of vanilla into evergreen, like something they should screen for perfumers in Perfume ED as a cautionary lesson. WD constituted a very rare collision for Guerlain with its unusually good driving record, and one of the few times that their standard vanilla trailer did not hitch itself obediently to a perfume’s rear hook-up.
The Christmas fragrance was much more of an industry standard in the past. Meg and I found one at the Antique Center in Red Bank called White Christmas, a surprisingly pretty perfume that was mostly citrus on the top and a musky dry-down on me, that did smell a bit snowy.
Then there was Molinard’s Xmas Bells, a 1926 introduction that came in a black bell shaped bottle, and was supposed to be “fresh and discreet”, actual notes seem to be gone now.
Still, it was Caron that specialized in the Christmas perfume, Voeu de Noel from 1946, started out life as Rose de Noel in 1939, with notes of carnation, lilac, and rose.
And then of course, there was always Nuit de Noel from 1922.
It isn’t the most immediately likeable perfume for modern smellers- see the previously mentioned reactions, and that of Luca Turin who finds it dull-and you realize that even among sophisticated noses there’s a difference of perception here.
It is a favorite with perfumers though. The formula is somewhere in between a Chypre and an Oriental. The basic notes, citrus, rose, orris, jasmine ylang ylang, and sandalwood, over vanilla and oakmoss, certainly suggest this. The formula was the inspiration of a number of classics, among them my old favorite Caleche, done by the late Guy Robert, which came down, as it were, on the chypre side of the formula.
What makes Nuit de Noel fascinating is that at times it comes off as an oriental – that is, roses, incense and that vanilla note - and alternatively sometimes as a floral chypre, aldehydes, roses, iris and oakmoss. Both of those aspects of the perfume are present and working all the time and which side predominates, seems to depend on the skin of the wearer.
It took me some time to discover this, and a lot of applications of the edt (which is all I’ve ever tried). in the end I do see the point of N de N, but would guess that this slow process of gearing up and down is not what a modern young woman necessarily wants on her skin. Zero to sixty in 3.5, please, and not too much fannying about with the gear box either. Nuit de Noel just takes a long time, no matter which wrist you try it on, outside or inside of wrist dab or spray.
On me, I smell aldehydes, which remind me of falling snow (see day 2), and red roses, and iris, (which in this case smells like marrons glaces, hence Mr. Turin’s description in the Guide), then a slightly soapy hit of oakmoss, and something that does smell like incense, and a bit of vanilla.
If pressed, I’d say Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, a snowy Christmas Eve, followed by a walk home through silent deserted streets while looking in candle lit windows. Newer scents might include a ride in that bow-decorated Boxster, past brilliant Christmas displays, but with Nuit, you have to walk.
Trudging is less glamorous, but personally, I can use the exercise.