Not dropping any hints or anything but here are the best fragrances to buy this Christmas, in our humble opinion
Buying fragrance is a tricky old business, and that’s when you’re smelling out a scent of your own. Seeking one out for another person is an olfactory minefield, given the personal and primal natural of scent, and being bombarded by alcohol-laden smellies in a beauty hall can skew even the keenest nose. Given that the most sales of fragrance throughout the year occur in the weeks running up to Christmas, here’s a handy guide to cutting through the fluff and finding something truly special, whether it’s new to the market, a cult favourite, customisable to the wearer or a reinvention of a classic. Mull over this lot before you set foot in a fragrance department.
The old one, reinvigorated
Sometimes simple and elegant is best, and in the case of Chanel Nº5, it’s been many a woman’s perfume of choice since its debut in 1921, and still holds the record for bestselling fragrance in the world. A recent reinvention by Chanel perfumer Olivier Polge, however, has lightened up time-honoured Nº5, adding citrus and a smidge of ylang-ylang for zingy freshness, with white musk and cedar to ground the more peppy top notes. The result is the energised Nº5 L’Eau Spray , £68, housed in a pared back glass bottle and with Lily-Rose Depp as the face to convey a bit of youthful, playful pizzazz. The campaign hashtag says it all really- #youknowmeandyoudont.
The ‘whatever you want it be’ one
If you can’t find a fragrance with your loved one’s name on, it’s time to get creative. Byredo Unnamed , £90, is not just a mossy, peppery blend with more than a hint of gin going on (t’is the season), it’s also very clever in technically being a scent with no name, just a simple, white label, as is the Byredo way, but with no type. On purchase you’ll receive a set of letters in the Byredo font to etch on yourself. Choose a name, place of significance, particular memory or in-joke to create a fragrance that’s as personal as it comes, but move quick, as Unnamed was released to celebrate Byredo’s tenth anniversary and stocks are limited.
The soon to be iconic one
Frederic Malle’s Portrait of a Lady has been the talk of the town this year in particular, with fragrance expert Michael Donovan declaring it ‘the best Turkish Rose in the business’. Our Editor-in-Chief Susannah Taylor is finding herself gravitating towards regularly, and I have a Portrait of a Lady shower cream that I’m rationing for the rest of my days. Wondering what all the fuss is about? It contains an unusually high concentration of rose essence, but the likes of cinnamon and sandalwood add mysterious, oriental intrigue. This new organic hair and body oil (£130) incarnation doubles up a scent and instant hydrator for more bang for buck.
The experience one
The more luxe the gift, the higher the stakes when it comes to potential disappointment, so letting your intended recipient choose a scent themselves is a good bet. Push the envelope in terms of a traditional gift voucher by giving a unique Shot Candle™ Experience , £80, a concept designed by fragrance expert Jo Malone MBE. The experience involves a personal consultation at the Jo Loves Candle Studio in London, before creating a bespoke candle through layering a ‘base’ and ‘shot’ of your choice. The Jo Loves team will then add some very swanky packaging and you’ll have a custom candle that will burn for weeks, not to mention kudos from nearest and dearest for your impeccable taste. If your loved one can’t make it to London, it’s possible to do a consultation and candle making over the phone with a Jo Loves expert.
The understated one
The Le Labo Discovery Set , £20, may not look like much, but hear me out here, as the minis within make for a superior stocking delving experience. The five scents inside are among some of the brand’s most beloved, from Santal 33 to the ever-popular Rose 31, and while minimalist in packaging, they deliver in terms of points of difference, from the craftsmanship required to hand-blend each bottle in New York to the commitment of Le Labo perfumers to conjure something new and expressive. There’s a reason that Le Labo’s ‘formulations’ are quoted as favourites with fragrance experts worldwide- there’s nothing frilly, token or unnecessary about these creations, just pure, passionate perfumery, aided by the use of premium ingredients.
The ‘Downton Abbey Christmas special’ one
Not only will Penhaligon’s The Coveted Duchess Rose , £178, look formidable on any mantlepiece, but if your giftee is a fan of period dramas, this oriental rose comes laced with scandal and will fill a Downton Abbey shaped hole in your Christmas programming. The story goes that the Duchess Rose, daughter to Lady Blanche and Lord George in the same Portrait fragrance series, married a Duke in order to escape the stifling family atmosphere, hoping for exhilarating romance but ending up a less-than-thrilling, unsatisfying marriage. She’s now, as you can imagine, feeling pretty blasé about love, which is possibly why her signature scent is about as far from a saccharine, sickly rose as you could get- this floral has a musky wood backbone, zingy mandarin topnote and a generally alluring spark. Giving a rose is sometimes considered a bit obvious, but the Duchess’ take on it is anything but. Obviously we are talking stately prices here, so perhaps subtly waft a tester around for sly feedback before you buy…
The small but mighty one
Oils are having quite a moment in the fragrance industry currently, and the humble rollerball is one of the handiest ways to tap into the trend (no risk of spillage/ potent oil slicks). & Other Stories scents are renowned for their finesse fused with affordability, and Fig Fiction Roll-On Perfume , £12, is a long-lasting, green yet intriguing take on the often-rich fig. There’s a touch of musk, a hit of freshness and a warm but not overpowering trace of vanilla. Traditional winter fruits (plum and blackcurrant) add jammy depth, to make this a comforting but not stifling scent to glide-on on of a frosty day.
The ‘orange in the stocking’ one
Bring on the gift mandarins when they make you feel this sexy/ jazzy/ cosy/ full of festive cheer. The limited edition Jo Malone Orange Bitters Cologne concoction , £90, is wintry without evoking your typical sticky, cinnamon laden scent- think a perfectly balanced cocktail of citrus, amber, sandalwood, prune and grown-up bitters to set off an evening. The Harlequin bottle design is especially covetable, and as always Jo Malone wrapping goes above and beyond. If you can’t get your hands on it in cologne form, there will be no regrets if you opt for an equally delicious candle. It’s not too often that sophisticated limited edition holiday scents crop up and blow the competition out of the water, so I’d say this is worth the spend if your budget allows.
The shamelessly seasonal one
A candle assortment in three ‘acts’, the Une Nuit Chez Diptyque Candle Set , £80, is as much a marvel to behold as it is to inhale on a cold morning. All traditional holiday aromas are covered here, with the exception of the turkey. From spiced gingerbread to fresh fir tree and sparkling vanilla, each of these jewel hued twinklers has been designed to capture the comforting and slightly magical traditions of the festive season, and once burned the jars will serve as Christmassy tealight holder for years to come. If you’re trying to convince a certain someone that Father Christmas legit exists, this is your chance to sell it in.
After a selection of more ‘niche’ fragrances? We have just the thing…
Follow me on Instagram @annyhunter