Holiday Shopping : Gifts for All Senses, Perfume and More Part 1


Holiday Shopping : Gifts for All Senses, Perfume and More Part 2

My very first perfume gift was an abject failure. I must have been 10 at the time, and in anticipation of my great grandfather’s birthday I walked into the cosmetics shop and asked for a bottle of their best perfume. Considering that the sales associate had only one type of fragrance on the shelf, it was not a difficult choice for her. It was a glass bottle filled with green liquid labeled “Shipr” (Chypre in Russian.) My great grandfather graciously accepted my gift, but my great grandmother said that this is the type of perfume that alcoholics drink when they do not have enough money for vodka. Needless to say, my great grandfather never wore it and I developed an apprehension about chypres which only my perfumery training erased completely.

These days I am still careful about giving perfume as gifts, but I love the idea of a present that can stimulate the senses. Holiday presents give me an opportunity to indulge in shopping, but they also inspire me to create my own gifts, which are appreciated by my friends and family.

Candles and Home Fragrances

I love how the simple action of lighting a candle can lift one’s mood. A bright citrus scent like that of Annick Goutal Eau d’Hadrien instantly makes me feel rejuvenated. L’Occitane Feuille de Figuier reminds me of summer holidays, while Red Flower Moroccan Rose is great for setting a romantic mood. The candle market has exploded in the last few years, and today, whether one wants a high end candle or a budget option, one has plenty of choices. I love the presentation of Ladurée candles (6.2oz $68) as well as Tocca (10.6 oz $36). When it comes to selecting a good candle, it is important to make sure that the aroma is retained well in the wax after the candle is opened. Some of my favorite candles from among the luxury brands are made by L’Artisan Parfumeur (6.2oz $60), Cire Trudon (9.5oz $75.00) and Annick Goutal (6.2oz $57.)

Speaking of home scents, I would like to mention L’Artisan Amber Ball. An intricately carved terracotta ball is filled with amber scented crystals. The perfume is rich and velvety, with accents of smoky woods and vanilla liqueur. L’Artisan suggests refilling the balls every two years, but my three year old ball is still very strongly scented. At $90 for the smallest size, it is certainly a splurge, but it is one of the most popular items sold by L’Artisan around the holidays.

Homemade Potpourri

Potpourri does not have to come solely in the form of dusty orange slices, cinnamon sticks and unidentifiable dried leaves. In fact, making your own potpourri is very easy, and it is fresher and more fragrant than anything store bought. Build your mixture as a perfume, including both fresh and sweet, rich notes. Dried orange and mandarin peels retain their fragrance better than lemon and grapefruit (the latter is best to be avoided, because once dried, it tends to acquire a sulfuric note.) Dried lavender, rose and jasmine petals also have a rich color as well as  pronounced scent. Cinnamon is a classical potpourri spice, but it is best to be careful about the dosage, as its aroma is sharp and penetrating. Potpourri does not generally rely solely on the odor of its components, but also needs to be scented. Vanilla extract and citrus oils are commonly available and can be used for perfuming your blends. If using oils, it is best to dilute them in alcohol for more even application. If you know how to sew, you can make pretty sachets and fill them with a fragrant mixture. Otherwise, transparent tulle bags are inexpensive, but look great, especially when the potpourri matches the color—blue with lavender, pink with rose buds, golden with jasmine petals, etc.

Sample sets

If your gift recipient is a fragrance lover, a sample set might be a great idea. Many niche companies offer sample sets year round (Frédéric Malle, Ormonde Jaybe, by Kilian, Penhaligon’s, Atelier Cologne, etc.), while department stores introduce sample sets for the holidays.

Another option is to buy several elegant vials and create your own sample set.

Luxurious Body Products

By luxurious, I do not mean the price, but rather the feeling of pampering and pleasure inspired by certain products. I still remember my pleasure at receiving a Caron swan down powder puff from a dear friend. Every time I use this bright fuschia puff to apply powder in the morning, I smile. Therefore, I have given these puffs as gifts on several occasions. In lieu of perfume, a dry body oil makes for an interesting and luxurious gift. Nars Monoi Body Glow (regular or with a shimmery tint) is excellent, both in terms of its warm jasmine-coconut fragrance and the way it leaves the skin glowing and soft (3.9 oz $59.) There are other options from Chanel, Donna Karan, Fresh, Diptyque and L’Artisan.


While one has to be interested in both perfume and history to appreciate the impressive research contained in Perfume: Joy, Scandal, Sin – A Cultural History of Fragrance from 1750 to the Present by Richard Stamelman, there are perfume themed books that can engage even a person marginally interested in fragrance. Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s Perfumes: The A-Z Guide is quite entertaining. Tilar J. Mazzeo’s The Secret Of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History Of The World’s Most Famous Perfume sheds some light on the iconic fragrance and keeps the reader in suspense as the narrative unfolds. A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer by Elisabeth De Feydeau is a fascinating glimpse into Marie Antoinette’s boudoir. Serious perfume lovers might appreciate Clara Molloy’s 22 Perfumers: A Creative Process as well as Jean-Claude Ellena’s Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent.

If your gift recipient loves perfume and reads in French, there are many more interesting options: Les Parfums : Histoire, Anthologie, Dictionnaire by Elisabeth de Feydeau, Parfums Mythiques by Marie-Bénédicte Gauthier, Journal d’un parfumeur : Suivi d’un abrégé d’odeurs by Jean-Claude Ellena, La cuisine des Nez by Sabine Chabbert.

Next: Part 2 with more fragrant and delicious suggestions.

Photography by VeraKL



  • Suzanna: What a great post, V., and one filled with exciting gift ideas. I love giving and getting candles. As I write this, I am burning the Goutal Noel candle, the 2011 edition in the striped glass jar. Diptyque makes excellent seasonal edition candles as well.

    I love a couple of the Trapp candles for their floral scent, including Bob’s Flower Shoppe. A small “Bob’s” will scent a couple of rooms!

    Finally, a couple of my friends have swooned about the Caron powders, so I am glad you mentioned the puff! December 7, 2011 at 7:46am Reply

  • Anne: Love this! Thank you for all those wonderful ideas! I am burning Diptyque candles, and making as often as possible mulled wine!!! Cinamon, spices, oranges cooking in sugary wine makes a wonderful smell… 😉
    Anne December 7, 2011 at 9:20am Reply

  • Faylene: Has anyone here tried the Diptyque Perdigone candle? It sounds wonderful but I’ve had bad luck with candles – even some expensive ones have very little “throw” – so I’m a bit hesitant. Thanks, December 7, 2011 at 9:51am Reply

  • Nikki: Fun post and so perfect for the holidays…I love Frederic Malle’s candles. They are truly wonderful, the scents are amazing, created by parfumeurs and the orange red glass container which is bright white inside makes the most of the flame. Russian Nights was created by Sophia Grojsman, and I love the lily one, very strong casablanca lilies. December 7, 2011 at 10:50am Reply

  • Suzanna: Fresh-Cut Tuberose is also lovely, and there are some wonderful non-floral scents in the portfolio. I find these candles to have a lot of throw and less of that synthetic roughness that bothers me with Yankee. December 7, 2011 at 11:12am Reply

  • Victoria: I love the range of shades for Caron's puffs. They are like an assortment of bonbons. Mine is fuschia, and I have purchased lilac, green and cream for gifts at different times. If I had a boudoir with a vanity table, I would love one more puff. And I keep mine in a glass candy bowl with a lid.

    Glad that you mentioned Bob's. I've never tried them, but I will be sure to check them out. December 7, 2011 at 7:52am Reply

  • HemlockSillage: Great post. It is great fun to share our love of fragrance in well chosen gifts. It’s a challenge, and I’ll only try for friends and family who I know very well. Finding a gift (any type gift) that the recipient truly loves and enjoys is the joyful part of giving 😀

    As for candles, I’ve tried the Ormonde Jayne line, first with their small votives, now with two of their larger candles. The Ormonde candle and the Christmas (forget the title) edition candles are both lovely. Strong throw, beautiful presentation boxes. Be well! December 7, 2011 at 1:03pm Reply

  • noisome: I just got Perdigone and am a bit disappointed with it, it seems superfluous to the line. I found it to be almost identical to Maquis with an added vague fruity spiciness. So, it’s predominantly woody/resiny – I guess I was hoping for something more plummy and spicy than woody, but that’s just me. I can certainly see others having different opinions about it! December 7, 2011 at 1:37pm Reply

  • Andy: Great post! I too love to give people gifts that are engaging to the senses, but often it takes a lot of consideration since tastes vary so much. Do you know how much the Caron swan’s down puffs cost? I’m thinking that might be the perfect gift for someone. I made Pfeffernüsse (German spiced cookies) today and thought of your wonderful “dry perfume” spice blends! December 7, 2011 at 1:37pm Reply

  • noisome: (The throw is above-average for Diptyque, but not mindblowing like their Pomander or Baies throws) December 7, 2011 at 1:38pm Reply

  • Faylene: Thanks, noisome, for sharing your experience. I haven’t ever had a Diptyque candle before so I decided to take a relatively small risk and order the $32 size. I’m writing down your recommendations for future purchases. Happy Holidays! December 7, 2011 at 2:10pm Reply

  • sweetlife: What a delicious list! I’m very much looking forward to the next installment. Definitely need to order some Caron puffs for my favorite fancy ladies…

    On candles–I’ve had great luck with the Diptyque line. My latest is Foin Coupe which, contrary to their description, does not smell of cut grass and wildflowers but of hay and wax polished wood floors. Very unusual and delightful, a lovely fall/winter scent. December 7, 2011 at 2:17pm Reply

  • sweetlife: I did smell that Cire Trudon–I ended up with the Diptyque because it smelled like my fantasy of what I thought the CT would smell like, actually… I want another CT, but am never able to make up my mind! December 7, 2011 at 6:32pm Reply

  • Victoria: Mmm, now I'm craving some mulled wine. My husband makes it so well. December 7, 2011 at 3:40pm Reply

  • Victoria: Some Diptyque candles have a good throw, and usually their richer scents are best in terms of throw. The florals tend to be weak. December 7, 2011 at 3:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love all spice cookies, and I'm planning to try some German gingerbread recipes this month. I also want to make stollen.

    They are around $45, but the prices went up recently. I will double check. December 7, 2011 at 3:49pm Reply

  • Victoria: I've smelled FM candles and I like the lily one a lot. I also love the presentation. Very dramatic. December 7, 2011 at 3:58pm Reply

  • Victoria: Agree, Yankee candles smell too synthetic to me. They are strong, but the scents are overwhelming. December 7, 2011 at 3:58pm Reply

  • Victoria: Caron powder puffs are a nice gift! I'm getting one for my mom. She liked using mine to apply her Meteorites powder.

    That candle sounds fantastic! Have you smelled the one from Cire Trudon that attempts to evoke the scent of the polished wooden floors in Versailles? December 7, 2011 at 3:59pm Reply

  • bulldoggirl: I learned my perfume-buying lesson at a young age as well. It was Christmas, I think I was 12, and I told my dad I wanted to buy mom some perfume as a gift. We went to our local department store and I sniffed and sniffed, finally settling on one of the best sellers at the time (late 1970s), a bottle of Emeraude, which to my uneducated nose, smelled just beautiful! Oh, my poor mother! She literally recoiled when she opened the top of the bottle. But she loved the sentiment and she kept that bottle her entire life. December 7, 2011 at 9:52pm Reply

  • bulldoggirl: Oh, and a quick caveat. I love vintage Emeraude. But I guess the late ’70s juice was not its best incarnation. December 7, 2011 at 9:53pm Reply

  • Andy: Yes, stollen is excellent, definitely try making it yourself if you have the time. Thank you for the Caron reccomendation too! December 7, 2011 at 10:43pm Reply

  • Victoria: I made two different recipes last year, but not entirely successfully. So, I will repeat again. December 8, 2011 at 9:37am Reply

  • Victoria: I also find it hard to choose! December 8, 2011 at 9:37am Reply

  • Victoria: What a great story! Emeraude has been on a steady decline, and if in the late 70s it was already losing its beauty, imagine what it smells like today. Actually, as I think about it, is it even sold anymore? I used to see tall, crown capped bottles at the drugstores before, but nothing recently. December 8, 2011 at 9:40am Reply

  • Nick: Dear Victoria,

    Thanks for this fantastic post. On the candle front, you write that it is important that the wax retains the aroma. In a previous post I think I remember you recommending putting the plastic cover back over the top of the candle after use to keep the wax fresh. I have been doing that. Would you also advise to use them within a certain period of time? Any other tips for prolonging their life? December 10, 2011 at 12:21am Reply

  • Victoria: They say that it is best to use candles within a year, but I have 3-4 year old candles that are still good, if not as strong. Just keep them covered and away from radiators or other warm places. Also trim the wick on regular basis and remove any soot that falls into the wax. It ends up contaminating the product and giving your candle an off-odor. Also, when your candle is burning, keep it in such a draft-free spot  where it can burn steadily. That way, the wax will melt evenly.
    Also, it is best not to let the candle burn for too long, not more than 2h. If the entire pillar of wax melts, it will change the distribution of fragrance oil in the candle, and it will not be as strong the next your burn. 
    HTH! December 10, 2011 at 12:12pm Reply

  • Nick: Dear Victoria,

    Many thanks! Any advice that can prevent candle malfunction is gratefully received and greatly appreciated! December 12, 2011 at 5:13am Reply

  • Debbie: I adore my L’artisan Amber Ball. I bought it for myself but would have been in raptures had it been a gift. I got it half-price last year in the post-Christmas sales and it still smells so strong, making it one of my best scent purchases ever. I would love it in perfume form. December 12, 2011 at 11:00am Reply

  • Victoria: Debbie, I know what you mean. I got mine as a gift, and I have been delighted by it ever since. Every time I open my closet, I smell this wonderful amber fragrance. L'Artisan L'eau d'Ambre is similar, and Ambre Extreme might come even closer. Have you tried them? December 12, 2011 at 11:08am Reply

  • Debbie: Thanks for this Victoria – I will investigate. I knew they did an Amber perfume but as L’artisan is not stocked in Edinburgh I would need to buy blind I would have been so disappointed if the scent were to stray too far from that of my beloved Amber Ball. I see from the website that Jean Claude Ellena created L’eau d’Ambre – that gives further assurance that it could be a winner for me 🙂 December 12, 2011 at 4:20pm Reply

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