Winter is a great time to wear vintage fragrance. Something about the gorgeous-yet-unfashionable waft of an old perfume is perfect when the wind bites at your face and you’re swaddled in wool. In my opinion, wood fires, old movies and long nights all deepen with a vintage fragrance on your wrist.
Here are my top ten fragrances for winter, each at least 50 years old. If you’re new to vintage fragrance, you might be put off by how hard they can be to “read.” Let me warn you, though, once you get a taste for them, they can be addicting. I look forward to hearing about your favorite winter fragrances — vintage or not — in the comments. If you can think of modern takes on these fragrances, please comment! And do check out the winter lists at Bois de Jasmin, Grain de Musc and Perfume Posse.
Weil Zibeline: I have to include a perfume named after sable. Zibeline’s spicy floral notes are deeply fused with its woody-incense base appropriately spiked with a hint of cat. Wear it with a 1970s-does-’40s fake fur chubby for humor and verisimilitude.
Caron Alpona: Alpona was named for the Alps, and it smells like the Alps might look through a picture window as you eat toast with marmalade: crisp, dry, and redolent of orange and grapefruit. A woolly fust of moss gives it body. Wear it with a mohair sweater when it snows.
Rochas Audace: Take Zibeline’s woody-incense-y base, add a walk in the woods, a wrist corsage and a dusting of powder, and you have Audace. Wear it when you go to cut your Christmas tree and plan to follow up with a hot toddy at a nice hotel.
Millot Crêpe de Chine: Crêpe de Chine might be the olfactory definition of yin and yang fused. It’s woody and mossy and dim, yet packed with floral notes. It’s irrefutably feminine, but a man could easily wear it. Crêpe de Chine is class and retro romance in a bottle. Wear it among strangers, with a hat with an eyelash veil, while the rain beats on Gotham’s windows.
Dior Miss Dior (original version): Warm, leathery, green and freaky, Miss Dior — the real one! not that fake candy trash — never bores me. I’ve chosen it for winter because the stripped-down world outside might make the best frame for its surreal beauty. Wear it with a mad blend of patterns and colors, or go stark. Wear just a dab, or really spray it on to proclaim that you please yourself, thank you.
Dana Tabu: Tabu’s syrupy patchouli-incense is all about sweet comfort, like being enfolded in grandmama’s arms — especially if grandma spent a few years in a bordello. Wear it during weekday naps when you really should be at work but can’t resist the lure of a thick quilt and a romance novel.
Caron Narcisse Noir: A perfume centered on the spring-like narcissus should be bright and innocent. Narcisse Noir, though, takes an otherwise sprightly flower and drags it through the gambling dens in Old Shanghai, gives it a few packs of cigarettes to smoke and a few too many scotch and sodas, then infuses it with the memories of love affairs gone bad. Narcisse Noir is perfect for rainy nights watching silent movies, preferably starring Gloria Swanson.
Ciro Danger: I’ve become hooked on this dark, blowsy rose with lavender and cinnamon. It’s a favorite for when I wake before the sun is up and want a full snoot of something as rich and warming and invigorating as my coffee (that is taking so danged long to make). Wear Danger in the morning with a 1940s kimono and maribou-trimmed scuffs, or in the evening with a velvet swing coat and long gloves.
Guerlain Shalimar: Winter must have a vanilla scent, but, strangely, vintage fragrance seem to skip this note. Except for Shalimar, that is, and its siblings, including Coty Emeraude. Shalimar spikes its vanilla with lemon and civet for a pull-me, push-me effect. Pull me, I’m delicious and welcoming. Push me, I’m tart and dirty. Plus, there’s a good chance an aunt somewhere in your family tree wore Shalimar as her signature scent, which complicates things. Try Shalimar for an evening when you have a fire and you’re sorting through old photos and marveling at both the familiarity and mystery of the past. You might want to trot out that Armagnac you brought home from France.
Robert Piguet Fracas: Fracas is a diva of a tuberose suitable for the operatic snowstorm you might experience this winter. Fracas isn’t interested in humdrum dreary days outside your cubicle. She wants drama. Give her three inches of ice on the streets and blinding snow, and she’ll sing. Build a roaring fire that lasts past midnight, and she sighs with contentment. Wear Fracas when you take risks — in adventure, in love, or, heck, even with a new recipe involving a ridiculously expensive purchase of truffles.
Please tell us your winter favorites, vintage or otherwise!
Note: top image by René Gruau for Dior.