Twelve Smells of Christmas – Day Six: Beginning to Smell a lot like Christmas

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.

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8 thoughts on “Twelve Smells of Christmas – Day Six: Beginning to Smell a lot like Christmas

  1. Blacknall, thanks for the mention! When I was looking at a number of reviews of Nuit de Noel, like you I also noticed varying differences of opinion. I often think that a perfume that receives mixed reviews must have something going for it – better this than totally bland and banal. A Christmas perfume that I really enjoy is Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Festive. Have you ever tried it? It is a bit more conventional in terms of smelling like a classic spiced citrus pomander.

    • No I haven’t had a sniff of Festive, but I do like Dawn’s holiday scents very much. My particular fave is Nourouz, though Ma Folie de Noel is nice too.
      Mixed reviews sometimes do mean something complex, but I have to say I struggled with Nuit de Noel, always sure that it wasn’t going to come through on my skin but unable to leave it alone. What is the extract like? Now, I’ll bet that must be interesting.

  2. I posted on Meg’s blog about how I never “got” NdeN as a Christmas fragrance – just couldn’t find anything Christmassy in it. Winter Delice didn’t do it for me either.

    Last evening I snipped off a few inches of the top of our tree so I could put the glass spire up there. I was wearing Wrappings body lotion, and I sniffed the cut end of the branch, then my arm, back and forth. Eureka! It was the true piney scent that represents the holiday to me. However, I swapped away my bottle of Wrappings perfume last year. Unfortunately, my skin just doesn’t carry off greens or chypres well. The body lotion is less strident, so I can deal with it.

    Now, Chantecaille’s Kalimantan – THAT could become the Christmas fragrance for me…

    • You’ve hit on two fragrances that I find very interesting. Wrappings always struck me as being quite unusual for a Clinique, much closer to Aromatics than Happy, and I used to have a bottle long ago. It does contain that pine smell but manages not to smell like Pine Sol in the process which is pretty good going.
      Nuit de Noel has taken me years(and three straight days recently)to make head or tail of. I keep thinking that I don’t like it but then I just go back and whiff some more. Have to get the extract.
      Kallimantan is really pretty, you know Dawn Spencer Hurwitz mentioned that one as well, as being something she was struck by; it’s another one of those arresting patchouli orientals like Lovely Patchouli. We really do like our dark scents don’t we? Is it something in our diet?

    • The question for study here is: just who are the heathen? Most people (and by people, I mean ‘fume heads who’ve smelled everything and then some) do not like Nuit de Noel. Meg doesn’t get it, Patty doesn’t like it, you don’t like it, half the people on Basenotes don’t get it, Luca Turin thinks it’s the dullest Caron ever, and to add to all this consensus, my Hub says it’s not for him. That leaves me and Michael over at From Top to Bottom, we seem to be the only ones who get N de N at all. Weird, no?

      But it was a big seller back in the day, that day being the twenties through the fifties. Shows to go ya.

  3. AYN RAND?!! That knocks me out! She seems so stern and authoritarian, not the sentimentalist at all– and Nuit de Noel seems above all a perfume of nostalgia, emotion, and kitsch, the very thing Rand spends thousands of pages decrying. I suppose you never know about folks…. 🙂 But I’m so glad you enjoyed White Christmas! I’m loving it myself. Strangely enough, it strikes me as an olfactory trip to sunny Florida, which is exactly what New Jerseyan snowbirds expect in December.

    • It’s not the cuddliest reference now is it? Suppose it had been Marion Davies, we would feel differently then. But there is something sort of stuff together about Nuit, it’s the perfume of somebody who knows their own mind (which is me out right there!)but suits La Rand.
      White Christmas is a bit like Florida, quite true, a trip through the lemon groves.

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