Winter Fragrances and Holiday Scents

Winter

The dark slender branches are bent under the weight of the snow, forming an arch over my head. Shielding my face from the large soft snowflakes, I look up at a sky in which the pale disk of the sun drowns in a pearly white haze. My first memory of snow is difficult to trace. I just remember walking to school through snow banks that were twice my height. The snow would sparkle under the street lamps, lighting the early morning darkness, a darkness that would only lift much later in the day. Even now I can wake up in the morning and sense that it is snowing because of the serenity and slumber which seem to take over the world at that particular moment. The only thing one wishes is to make a strong cup of caravan tea, wrap oneself in a blanket and sit next to the cold window watching the snow fall, fall, fall….

The crisp, mineral and slightly ozonic smell of the snow is one of the most important smells that I associate with winter. I have yet to encounter its realistic rendition in fragrance; however, there are a few fragrances that capture the spirit of the winter garden. Frozen branches and soil attain the most unusual scent that folds earthy and woody elements into metallic clarity. Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist is the scent of frozen roots and iced flower petals and has a beautiful chilliness that does not dissipate even after the fragrance dries down. …

Frédéric Malle L’Eau d’Hiver manages to create a cool sensation clinging to the flowers on ice. Lorenzo Villoresi Teint de Neige, on the other hand, is a cloud of powdered sugar and talcum powder, sweet and soft, which is at odds with my associations. Before introducing its soft leathery accord, S-Perfume S-ex is the scent of metal railings covered with snow, wonderfully evocative.

As I enter the living room, the wave of warmth washes over me, its contrast with the coldness still permeating my skin and clothes momentarily depriving me of the ability to notice the smell of fir tree branches and mandarins. The dark orange of Caron En Avion arranged over the amber and incense of its dusky base reminds me of the scents that would pervade our house during the winter holidays. I grew up under a regime that proclaimed its anti-religious stance; therefore, the big holiday of my childhood was not Christmas, but New Year. Most of the traditions practiced in the West during Christmas would apply to New Year in the Soviet Union: the tree, the gift exchanges, the big dinners with family and friends and even a Russian version of Santa Claus, renamed Father Frost, who appeared everywhere with a young Snow Maiden (presumably, his daughter, although other speculations abound). Boxes of oranges and mandarins brought from the market still bore the traces of snow and would become an indelible part of my olfactory winter memories as would the smell of condensed milk heated to make cream filling for various confections and pastries that my grandmother would create. This is all complemented by the aroma of a pork roast stuffed with bay leaf and peppercorns, tiny nut cookies rolled in hot chocolate glaze, boiled potatoes, sweet sparkling wine, dust on the tree ornaments brought in from the attic, starched tablecloths and wood polish.

The gourmand scents have resulted in certain fragrances becoming associated with winter. The first time I smelled Angel, the memories of holiday preparations such as the scents of fir trees and hot chocolate competing with the aroma of sugared fruit preserves rushed on me with intensity. More abstract was Serge Lutens Borneo 1834, hinting at powdered chocolate sprinkled over the Christmas cake. Annick Goutal Quel Amour! brought to life the memory of pink champagne fizzing in a tall slender glass. L’Artisan Tea for Two unraveled a string of recollections as protracted tea drinking is a beloved pastime during the winter months. The unique dryness of Caron Nuit de Noël conjured a vision of roses set in a room heated with a crackling fireplace. Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque revealed a vignette of the same room after the celebrations, with the cognac glasses still bearing traces of liquor forgotten on the mantle. The smell of the traditional Russian holiday dish, Olivie, a medley of boiled potatoes, carrots, eggs and pickled cucumbers is not something I have encountered in perfume yet, but perhaps this could be a new idea for Demeter.

However, even the official banning of religion in the former Soviet Union did not displace the traditional celebration of Christmas completely, and I remember the sweet smell of ladan, frankincense and myrrh mingling with the scents of wine and wheat bread during the church services on January 6th, the Orthodox Christmas Eve. L’Artisan Poivre Piquant possesses the nutty sweetness of poppy seeds soaking in warm milk about to be ground with walnuts for a delectable filling that is folded into the sweet yeast dough of a poppy seed roll, a classical Ukrainian holiday cake predating the Soviet era. Donna Karan Black Cashmere beautifully evokes the sweetness of the Orthodox church ladan clinging to one’s clothes after returning from midnight mass.

Winter_veniceYet, having traveled extensively, I have added other olfactory memories of winter to my collection. The Italian memories include the smells of resinous Catholic church incense, fresh fennel served with balsamic vinegar, Roman prune and walnut cookies, and crema montata, the Venetian winter specialty of whipped cream served with vanilla wafers. Among other recollections are the lactonic and warm scent of cheese shops in France and the fragrance of coffee, cardamom and rose water in Turkey. Keiko Mecheri Gourmandises unfolds like a paper wrap bearing morsels of rose scented rahat lokum, its sweetness complementing the medicinal richness of saffron lacing its voluptuous heart. Antica Farmacista Vaniglia, Bourbon & Mandarino di Sicilia smells like an Italian pastry shop, its citrus scented vanilla embracing the richness of rum soaked cakes. Jean Patou Sublime captures the vivid sunshine that is not made less vibrant by the chill in the air, and its warm orange and amber is between a gold leaf and a silk wrap, radiant and sumptuous. Serge Lutens La Myrrhe manages to awaken memories of exploring churches in Bologna on cold December mornings and being mesmerized by the play of light dripping on the grey stones through stained glass windows.

For a number of years after moving to the United States, I have spent Christmas with my Korean friends, and the pungent smell of kimchi, smoky fish, salty seaweed and the sweet, mushroomy aroma of soy sauce based dishes would become a part of my recollections. Moving away from home I at once longed for big dinner parties and traditions of sorts and abhorred the inevitability and obligation associated with the holidays. Yet, I only need to catch a whiff of Iunx No. 7 Eau Latine, with its tangerine peel, flesh and leaves melding into a crisp and icy fragrance, and I already crave the bustle of the holidays and the madness of last minute dinner preparations.

Photos (top to bottom): Winter Forest from sao.ru. Venice in Winter.

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32 Comments

  • Campaspe: Ah, a wonderful piece dearest V. I agree, the smell of snow is unique, though I would always experience it in the city where the snow smells are different. I do love winter and right now am having a small sulky fit because Toronto is non-stop RAIN. Your article makes me wish I had picked up L’Eau d’Hiver when I was in NY, however. I have En Avion and you have inspired me to wear it today to see if I can find the same sensations in it that you do. December 26, 2005 at 8:40am Reply

  • Sisonne: Dear V, what a wonderful article, you made me smile while I was reading 🙂
    Of course you made me also curious: I´d love to test L´Artsian Poivre Piquant along with S-perfume S-Ex, but they aren´t available here…*big sigh*
    Today it snows & it´s rather cold over here. I feel like wearing a cosy, sweet scent, but haven´t found the right one yet *another big sigh* 😉
    Merry christmas! December 26, 2005 at 11:42am Reply

  • Cait: Victoria,
    I was very intrigued to hear about how Christmas was reconfigured to be nonreligious. I think you should consider writing a memoir, if you don’t already have that in the works.
    On condensed milk desserts, if you’ve never visited Brazil, you I think you’d adore the pattiseries in Rio that feature all kinds of elaborate creations with condensed milk. I, for one, liked pastries involving maracuja (passionfruit) mousse with little green seeds on top and pirata, which refers to creations with a chocolate and coconut combination. What were your grandma’s desserts with condensed milk? And did you make a Korean feast this holiday? December 26, 2005 at 12:27pm Reply

  • Laura: This was a beautiful essay, V. You write so evocatively. Oranges and tangerines still carry Christmas connotations in my mind from the days when I discovered them in my Christmas stocking as a child. And, of course, for over twenty years, my children have discovered them in theirs. This Christmas, influenced by Sweden as it was, featured the scents of cardamom and roast pork and cinnamon and the light of many, many white tealights scattered around the house. If there is a fragrance in the mix of brisk wind and high blue skies and fallen leaves dashed up and down, then add that to the 2005 Christmas inventory. Happy holidays to my dear friend. I look forward to seeing you early in the new year. December 26, 2005 at 12:47pm Reply

  • Marina: This is such a lovely post. LOL at “other speculations abound”. Poor Snegurochka 🙂

    To me, winter and holidays is the smell of mum’s baking, mandarines, fur-tree and yes, Olivier and “herring in fur” (seledka pod shuboi). Demeter, are you listening? 🙂

    Oh well, now I am tearful and hungry 🙂 December 26, 2005 at 12:52pm Reply

  • Prince Barry: Fabulous article!

    I have often wondered about CB I Hate Perfume’s The Fir Tree. That has a note of snow covered earth. I will have to try it sometime. December 26, 2005 at 1:13pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear F, I much prefer the snow to the rain, although with snow, the first day is always the best and then it gets old rather quickly. I also find that snow smells differently in different places, and in the city it has a stronger metallic/mineral smell than it does in the countryside. I know that Demeter has a fragrance called Snow, however it did not capture it as well for me. December 26, 2005 at 2:22pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear C, Merry Christmas! Today is the day for something warm and cozy indeed. I have not picked a fragrance for today yet, however it might end up being Shalimar. I am craving it for some reason.

    L’Artisan Poivre Piquant should be available in all L’Artisan boutiques (and counters) soon, and I hope that it will arrive near you at some point as well. I think that you might enjoy it. December 26, 2005 at 2:25pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cait, I wish I could carry out all of the plans I have, however unfortunately there are only 24h in the day. Sigh…

    I love anything with maracuja. Incidentally, the passionfruit is known by that name in Ukraine as well. I have always loved maracuja mousse my mother would buy from foreign currency stores in Kiev (special stores, where one could buy goods only if one had foreign currency, such as German marks or US dollars).

    My grandmother would make little walnut and sugar dough shells and fill them with cream made of butter and condensed milk. Then she would make tiny rolls filled with various candied fruit and jam and arrange them in a large pile, layering each section with the condensed milk cream. She would also make tiny cookies in the shape of walnuts and sandwich them together with thick cream of condensed milk cooked down till it caramelized. Of course, her poppy see and condensed milk loaf was another specialty I loved. December 26, 2005 at 2:32pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear Laura, I wish you the happiest of holidays. I hope that you are having a great week. I love your tradition of oranges and mandarins in the Christmas stockings. It is wonderful to have something that one can trace through years, even it is just a little touch. December 26, 2005 at 2:33pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: M, it is my pleasure! During school plays, I always wanted to be Snegurochka. She seemed very glamorous to me in that silver and white fur coat and tall white boots.

    My mom made Olivier last night, and I specifically asked her to make a bigger portion, because leftovers of Olivier is my favourite post-holiday food. We did not have seledka pod shuboi this year, because cleaning it is such a hassle and nobody was up to it. I made tort Karpaty, which was a success with everyone. December 26, 2005 at 2:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Barry, thank you. I have never tried the Fir Tree, however you are making me curious. I shall definitely seek it out. December 26, 2005 at 2:37pm Reply

  • julien: Wonderful review.

    For me,xmas holidays have a scent made of fir tree,fried biscuits we call rosquitos in spain,with some anise,the cooking times,the wine…it is warm and sweet.

    Miam!:)

    Thanks for the review.

    Kisses.
    j. December 26, 2005 at 3:17pm Reply

  • carmencanada: Hello, dear V… Your recollections of feeling the snowfall before even seeing it in the morning brought back my own memories of Canadian winters, and catching snowflakes with my tongue. No water can really match that tangy, slightly metallic taste. And sometimes, by the lake, the slight swish of big, heavy snowflakes falling on pine branches… I’ve wrapped myself in Rahat Loukhoum today — the drydown smells of marzipan, another Holiday delight, though not very Canadian.
    Thank you for your lovely post !
    D. December 26, 2005 at 5:25pm Reply

  • Cait: Wow, I am glad I asked about the recipes. And interesting that a maracuja is a maracuja is a maracuja. December 26, 2005 at 9:11pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Julien, such wonderful memories of Christmas for you! I love the smell of anise in general, and the anise biscuits are among my favourites. December 27, 2005 at 1:42am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, I have experienced a couple of Canadian winters, therefore I can understand how those memories can get under your skin. I always loved to watch the snow fall in the evening, when it would sparkle in the moonlight.

    Marzipan is another holiday memory for me, reminding me of my first time visiting Germany. I still have fondness for stollen, with its ribbon of marzipan hidden inside. December 27, 2005 at 1:44am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cait, writing them down made me very hungry. I love condensed milk, especially since it was always a holiday treat. To give you an idea of its preciousness, my grandfather who held a rather high post would receive a couple of jars with his holiday bonus. December 27, 2005 at 1:47am Reply

  • Madelyn Etkind: Dearest Victoria,

    Season’s Greetings to you and yours — from your new faithful reader — Madelyn. I am truly touched and inspired by your profoundly descriptive journals. Indeed, it is as if you are not only gifted as a scientist — but also as a gifted creative writer. I, adore fragrance , unusual coffees , teas and candles. I get a uplift from ingesting your olfactory observations – and those of your loyal readers.
    I have been haunted by a few things.. A few of my all time perfume favorites seem to have vanished off the face of the earth. Perhaps you could provide insight as to their status….
    Agnona – an Italian scent bought in Bergdorf Goodman – 20 yrs ago
    Donna R – by Roberta de Camarino
    Farouche by Nina Ricci – is it still made ?
    Escada – Ete en Provence (Summer In Provence)
    Calandre – Paco Rabanne – the extrait – not the eau de toilette
    Mila Schon –

    Also– If you ever visit New York – i would love to meet you in person-

    Thank you for this Wonderful web site –
    it is a Joy –

    Madelyn – December 27, 2005 at 2:09am Reply

  • Karin: I can close my eyes and smell snow. Several of my friends never knew snow has a smell! I’ve really been thinking of it this year for some reason. I don’t miss the cold of it, but I miss the smell of it.

    Interestingly enough, I think it is Demeter that has a fragrance called Snow. I’ve never smelled it. I wonder if it evokes it.

    I can’t wear Iris Silver Mist. Not good on me at all! December 27, 2005 at 8:03am Reply

  • Charles: I enjoyed our walk of memories and the different fragrant smells along the way… it was enjoyable to be a part of it.
    You remind all of us, I would chance to say, how were running and really should slow down and walk so we could see, enjoy and smell the memories that are passing us by.
    With your beautiful descriptive writing of the fragrances and of your memories, you have afforded us all the stop sign that we need to enjoy our Winter Fragrances and Holiday Scents. December 27, 2005 at 10:25am Reply

  • Tara: What a wonderful post, thank you so much for sharing your memories! Some of them, like CarmenCanada said, reminded me of my childhood in Saskatchewan, Canada. I remember waking to the hush of newfallen snow, the clementines at Christmas, grandma’s butter tarts, and the sparkling snow blowing lightly around me in glittering swirls as I walked down the street in the pale winter light. I do miss it. December 27, 2005 at 11:24am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear Madelyn, thank you for such kind words. I am glad that you are enjoying my articles. Indeed, knowing this is the impetus for writing them.

    I must say that I do not know where one might be able to find the fragrances you mention. Calandre extrait sounds absolutely enchanting. I love the EDT, but I can only imagine how stunning the EDT would be. If I ever come across any information on the fragrances you are looking for, I will definitely contact you. Perhaps, someone else might know. Otherwise, please check ebay. It is a treasure for the lovers of rare and unusual things. December 27, 2005 at 8:28pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Charles, I feel that I need a reminder myself from time to time, because the pace of life gets too hectic to notice some of these things. Yet, when one does, the experience is wonderful. I am glad that you enjoyed the article! December 27, 2005 at 8:29pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tara, I am glad to hear it. Your recollection of Canadian winters is wonderful. I could visualize the sparkle of snow clearly when reading your comment. December 27, 2005 at 8:30pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Karin, whenever it does not snow much during the winter, I also miss the smell of snow. I tried Demeter Snow, but it somehow did not capture what I had in mind as the smell of it. Emporio Armani White Her also has a crisp ozonic element that makes me think of snow before it takes a turn for a white musk. December 27, 2005 at 8:32pm Reply

  • linda: I loved walking down the memory lane with you. My memories were brought back. I remember seeing my parents make dinner together. Each year my sister and I would bake our own cake. It resulted in disasters more often than not, let me tell ya! December 28, 2005 at 5:48pm Reply

  • Tania: Beautiful, V. Thank you for that. It never snowed in my California childhood home, but water and dew froze overnight, and so I would wake up in the morning and find our dull suburban lawn transformed into a field of fairy-sized silver-edged swords. Then my sister and I would stand around outside watching breath steam out, pretending it was smoke. December 28, 2005 at 10:55pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Linda, what kind of cakes did you make and why were they turning into disasters? December 29, 2005 at 4:13am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tania, thank you! I am glad that you enjoyed reading about my recollections. Of course, thank you for inspiring this article. Your description of dew freezing on the grass is almost magical. I recall the same wonder when noticing frost turning autumnal leaves into sheets of iced gold. They would break if one tried to touch them. December 29, 2005 at 4:15am Reply

  • Diane: What a wonderful read, darling V. Your description of snow makes me long, long, long to be in NYC. Here where I am it continues to freakishly shine with a foolish vengeance.

    Like you, my family does not make much ado about Christmas because our “Christmas” is New Year’s Day too, as it coincides with the lunar calendar. However, I did go to midnight mass on December 24th. I was captivated when the priest and altar boys exited for a trail of pungent incense filled the pews. It made me indeed wish that I had worn Black Cashmere. December 29, 2005 at 4:39pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Sounds like a wonderful experience! I think that my favourite aspect of Orthodox masses is the sensory one–the vision of glittering gold, the singing and the scent of incense.

    Now, mind you, my family makes a big deal out of Christmas, as who would pass up an extra holiday that might give an opportunity to have a big dinner and to gather with the whole family. January 7th hardly ever works out for this, but 24th/25th does. It was rather enjoyable this year. December 29, 2005 at 9:34pm Reply

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