Being an indoor sort of person, I appreciate winter only inasmuch as I can glance out the frost-feathered windows and admire the perfect pillowed hummocks of snow I won’t have to shovel. (We rent.) To heartier types I leave the joys of those first cleansing breaths of cold air, the silvery light and quiet walks in forest wonderlands. I shall stay right here, thank you, with my double scotch, my copy of A Child’s Christmas in Wales and my winter fragrance favorites, dug from the back of the perfume closet.
Serge Lutens Arabie: Say you made a Christmas pudding from dates, sugared citrus peel, cardamom, bay, a spike of cumin and some exotic, thick liquor that tastes like flowers and looks like Mountain Dew. You’d have: a) Christmas pudding I’d actually eat; and b) something darn close to Arabie. Winter is the only time it is even remotely polite to wear this scent. If the sweetness of Arabie bothers you, then, heaven help you, Diptyque’s L’Autre or Clinique’s Aromatics Elixir might be good choices.
CB I Hate Perfume Gingerbread: Bless Christopher Brosius. He writes that the 2007 version of his holiday fragrance, re-released last year, is an olfactory interpretation of “the slightly burnt edges” of gingerbread, and by Zeus, he is exactly right! Like many of his creations, this is more a fantastic smell than a perfume, so if you’re uptight about literalism, try Bois 1920 Sushi Imperiale.
Pacifica Tibetan Mountain Temple: Add clove to the listed notes — vetiver root, patchouli, ginger and orange rinds — found on the back of the tin for this solid perfume. It costs $8.95, it smells great and Robin picked it for fall, too.
Heeley Spirit of the Tiger: Inspired by Tiger Balm, this fragrance is carefully balanced between airy, gentle cool (mint, camphor) and unrepentantly cozy spices (clove, cardamom and cinnamon). It is hushed and weightless, with none of the oily burn of traditional potpourri perfumes. If you want to clear your sinuses out instead, then I recommend starting with Santa Maria Potpourri.
Parfumerie Generale Aomassaï: Normally, the sticky toffee opening of this makes me feel like one of those stiff-armed gingerbread people, haplessly stuck in the Candy Land swamp. But after weeks of holiday shortbread and cashew brittle, I’ve worn Aomassaï several times this week, each time with less alarm. The light sweetness of the wicker-furniture heart and base is as lovely as ever, and the start is beginning to seem almost restrained.
Guerlain Attrape-Coeur (Guet-Apens): Like Aomassaï, this is a scent to be tested in winter. The first time I sampled it, I thought: Oh, a nice, honest amber that is definitely not ‘me’ and is almost a little bit… well, yes, old-fashioned in the way of some Guerlains. (There, I said it!) Having loved some other scents from the venerable house, I should have known to wait until an hour into the development, when a rich cloud of floral, woody and citrus notes magically and irresistibly begins to follow me around.
JAR Golconda: An oddly seamless carnation oriental — and yet startling notes pop forward when you focus on them. Here is the briny lily, some wax, cinnamon, a note like holiday ribbon candy and a weird umami smell that I interpret as shitake mushrooms (Patty at Perfume Posse got stewed tomatoes.) Yes, it’s terribly expensive, even to sample, but you bought the Pacifica solid, right? There you go, it all balances out.
Chanel Bois des Iles: Hey, I wasn’t going to forget! Warming, soothing sandalwood perfection.
Burberry Brit Red: I’m irritated this oddity is so hard to find, when Burberry is still flogging and flankerizing London. The rhubarb and mandarin top notes of Brit Red are just fun (if occasionally a little skunky — what is that, anyway? Blackcurrant buds?) An enveloping jasmine and gingerbread notes are the perfect accents to the patchouli, a note I normally feel torn about. Like Dior Hypnotic Poison, a strong contender for the cozy crown.
Frédéric Malle Noir Epices: This is the orange-pomander scent, all grown-up and supported by a rose that glows like stained glass. Sillage warning: my husband begs me not to put this on in the car. If you’re feeling less elegant and more whimsical, you could try Soivohle’ (formerly Liz Zorn) Blood Orange and Vetiver, which smells rather like a Terry’s Dark Chocolate Orange, charred black.
For more winter favorites, check out Lee & Nava's lists at Perfume Posse.