Although winter in Florida is often sharp with sun and steamy with humidity, each year I envision a cooler northern climate dressed in icy snow as white as a glacier and brushed with evergreen boughs and red berries. In this fantasy landscape I smell pine and fir and chestnuts; moonlight takes on a brief hint of peppermint and pale winter sunshine smells of lemon slices in water. Overlapping shadows of trees and animals moving among them leave traces of fur, civet, and bark. The smoke from a neighbor’s chimney trails wisps of oak through the night air. Winter murmurs rather than shouts in my imagination. It is a more delicate time of year than is summer, when things are so enormous, hot and huge, that they crowd one another out. My winter perfumes are my favorite ones and are often more environmental than are the scents I wear at other times of the year.
Here is my top ten for winter, in no particular order of preference:
Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles: Pine is my favorite note, in or out of a perfume. My home is decorated with pine cones I have collected in the great forests of North America and I burn pine candles year round. Serge Lutens melds his pine to an un-iced gingerbread house that wafts incense smoke from its chimney. The opening reminds me of rubbing pine sap between my fingers and inhaling the fresh, wintry aroma.
Frédéric Malle Noir Epices: A dry and occasionally pungent hit of spices and gummy orange that is mildly bitter and resinous. Don’t expect to find a universally appealing spice here; this Frédéric Malle scent is sexy-ugly par excellence. Geranium leaf adds the bitterness to the dusty cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and pepper.
Donna Karan Black Cashmere: On the opposite end of the spice spectrum, Donna Karan’s darker “textile” scent is a long-time favorite of mine and one that involves sweeter spices than the Malle. Black Cashmere is an incense scent accented with clove, saffron, and pepper. At one point you could buy parfum, shower gel, body cream, body lotion, and powder. The powder had silver sparkles that glittered like tinsel on snow. How I wish this product would reappear!
Neela Vermeire Creations Trayee: Mohur’s incense scent speaks volumes to me, in hushed tones of smoke, balsams, and leather. Despite a long list of notes, Trayee feels spare the way the best couture is spare, cut along knife-sharp lines where others are overcrowded with detail. Trayee is one of the few fragrances with oud where I really understand and appreciate the note.
Comme des Garçons Zagorsk: From Comme des Garçons Series 3: Incense, Zagorsk has a touch of Russian melancholy that calls to my mind a white birch set against a snowy landscape in the deepest, darkest of winters. It’s a cold fragrance but not an unwelcoming one with its notes of pine, pepper, iris, and cedar swirled in a gray fog of incense. This is the most meditative fragrance on my list.
Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Santal Noble: Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier’s sandalwood scent gets sweetness from amber and dry nuance from coffee and spices. The overall impression is of a sandalwood cake—I mean the type you eat. Santal Noble skirts the edge of gourmand without being toppled by the foodie notes. It’s a good entry-level, uncomplicated sandalwood.
DSH Perfumes Winter White (Holiday No. 4): A white musk gourmand from DSH Perfumes featuring vanilla, heliotrope, red berries, white chocolate, and white musk. Winter White is a cozy and playful fragrance that has me imagining myself in a cozy and playful fantasy of Sweden. Hot chocolate awaits inside my snow fort, of course.
biehl parfumkunstwerke eo01: biehl parfumkunstwerke’s subtle and disarming first cousin to Organza Indécence with tangerine and blood orange squeezed over hot spices and a gentle orchid-iris-lily bouquet. Where OI never settled on my skin, eo01 does, in a soft blanket of creamy florals and vanilla. Basenotes of cedar, vetiver, and patchouli keep it from turning into custard.
Arcana The Ulda: White almond, bayberry, pink pepper, and cardamom star in this oil from Arcana. I read about this on a perfume board a few years ago and ordered it unsniffed. The Ulda are fairy-folk from Lappland who live under the Earth and who get around by means of reindeer sleighs. This is a straightforward fragrance blend recalling the use of cardamom in Scandinavian Christmas baking that I enjoy at night as a comfort scent and also for scenting my home. A very inexpensive pleasure!
Lubin Idole de Lubin: My preferred winter nip of rum and bitter orange peel, with a mysterious smoky background. The rum sweetness is adequately tempered by a distinct note of smoked ebony that is as dry as bleached-out wood. I prefer the original eau de toilette to the creamier eau de parfum. The lack of longevity in the EdT is a plus for me, since I prefer reapplication to something that fatigues my nose.
What are your favorite cold weather fragrances? What perfumes do you reach for when you want to beat winter blues?
Photography by Bois de Jasmin