Perhaps, like me, you're finding the mall especially trying lately. Maybe it's that my family had a recession-friendly homemade Christmas in 2009 or maybe it's because I now have a breastfed infant to accompany me, but the shopping trips I've made during the last few weeks have turned me into a sweat-soaked, cuss-word-using, stroller-ramming fanatic. Our visit for the annual Christmas photo happened to fall on Pet Day and the woman in front of us spent half an hour and more than $100 on many, many photos of her dog with Santa. Afterwards, I felt like spray-painting anti-consumerist slogans on mailboxes....except I didn't have any paint and the craft store was at the other end of the mall. 'Tis the season for none of the elevators to work and a shopping cart to be abandoned in the last parking space and for the exact Zhu Zhu Pet you need to be sold out when you're not even sure what a Zhu Zhu Pet is. (Here.) On Monday evening, as my children looked on with alarm, I collapsed into an incredibly rare seat in the food court and vowed with a grimace: Enough. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. I will go home to make a donation to MSF/Doctors Without Borders, warble along festively with Yoko Ono and spray on something beautiful that I already own.
In truth, I love this time of year and the smells I associate with it: pine, mandarin oranges, mulling spices, incense, smoke, peppermint, wet wool, candle wax, lemon and brandy sauces, latkes or donuts frying in oil. Despite this, I find I don't wear holiday scents that jingle those bells: Etat Libre d'Orange's Noël au Balcon, Parfumerie Generale's Un Crime Exotique or Serge Lutens' Fille en Aiguilles, for example.1 Most "Christmas in a Can" fragrances are too rich and heavy for me, and while I enjoy some spicier, chewier favorites in the deadest frozen darkness of a Canadian January, I find these don't work for my "Serenity Now!" moments of the dying year. Instead, I crave still, airy scents, perfumes balanced between cozy warmth and contemplative coolness. I read with approval Angela's recent list of "calming, centering" fragrances for braving the mall and I particularly second one of her several excellent suggestions: Jean Patou's Moment Suprême is my favorite olfactory aid for special circumstances — or indeed, any circumstances. If Santa isn't prepared to bankroll a bottle of that discontinued wonder for you, please find below a handful of recommendations for holiday zen. My wish for all of my fragrant friends today, regardless of faith practiced (or not practiced): Peace be with you.
Caron Pour Un Homme: Along with Le 3eme Homme/The Third Man and Yatagan, this is one part of what I have always blasphemously called Caron's Holy Trinity of Male Fragrance. Plainly stated, Pour Un Homme is a chord of lavender and vanilla. But what a chord! There is something endlessly mysterious and yet soothing about its simplicity. It stirs none of the restless passion of the equally beautiful, but more ornamented Guerlain Jicky. Wearing Jicky, I feel like I've either just fallen in love or just caught the flu: the sweats, the shivers, a warm flush and the goosebumps, all at once. Meanwhile, it would be impossible to sweat wearing Pour Un Homme. New facets of the warm and fresh notes in this Caron classic appear only as you focus on them. Pour Un Homme is the reflecting pool of the fragrance world, the most limpid scent I know. (Years ago, in a poetry workshop, I vowed to one day use the word "limpid" without feeling like a complete fool. Perfume makes all things possible!)
Kenzo Amour: The advertisements for this scent featured a turtledove. How perfect is that? (Mercifully, no five golden rings of bling for the house of Kenzo.) Amour is one of my favorites from a favorite brand: an innocent cloud of vanilla and rice steam, tinged at the edges with something like a haze of cooled incense ash. It would be an ideal scent to accompany the hypnosis of falling snow.
Cartier Must de Cartier Pour Homme: This reminds me a little of Serge Luten's Bois et Musc — a weightless, lung-expanding cedar given a feline warmth and glow by animalic notes. Both naughty and nice, it has the rare kind of short-range radiance that would be sensed only as the target leaned in under the mistletoe.
La Via del Profumo Hindu Kush: Dominique Dubrana's all-natural "new age perfume" is the closest thing on this list to being a conventional choice for the holidays. On the profumo.it website, Dubrana comments that this fragrance was designed to contrast "peace, silence and meditation" with the bustle, noise and profusion of the marketplace. It seems to inhabit the borderlands between the chypre and oriental genres, and features notes of incense smoke and aromatic woods as well as ginger, pepper, nutmeg and cumin. I do not think of myself as someone interested in the eastern mystics, as Dubrana's "olfactory psychology" indicates I should, but this is my favorite in his Scents of the Soul line and the one I would reference if I managed to scrape together the funds for his personalized perfume service. In a similar vein, I recommend Tabac (also from La Via del Profumo) and Aesop's Marrakech. Please comment if you've tried Dubrana's "anti-stress perfume" African Night or his Tea of the Isles, which is supposed to evoke "winter and Christmas memories, family and home".