The Nutcracker and Its Perfumes

“The Sugar Plum Fairy bade Marie and Nutcracker sit down while a feast was brought before them: teas, cakes and the rarest of fruits … Marie hardly had time to nibble at her sweetmeats before the next diversion was presented: the music abruptly changed to an adagio tempo. Arabian dancers dressed in gauzy veils garnished with gold medallions and jewels swayed hypnotically past… The rich aroma of coffee drifted past.”  –from E.T.A Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

As a former ballet dancer, I can’t think of winter without associating it with Hoffman’s tale and Tchaikovsky music–even the countless Nutcracker performances and rehearsals haven’t robbed the story of its magic. December for me has a strong whiff of rosin on ballet slippers, but it is also a month of fairy kingdoms, groves made of candied fruit and coffee scented dancers.

My pointe shoes are rarely in service these days, but my Nutcracker fantasies find their expression in perfume. It allows me to become the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Arabian Dancer, Prince Coqueluche or any other character I wish. No wonder that the great American choreographer George Balanchine picked fragrances for his favorite dancers and encouraged them to wear perfume to class.

If I want to get myself into the winter fairy tale mood, I reach for Lolita Lempicka, a delicious combination of almond praline, candied cherries, and licorice candy. Its ornate, tinselly feel is balanced out by iris and vetiver, notes with a cool, earthy character. The effect is mouthwatering, addictive, and impeccably polished.

Serge Lutens’s Fille en Aiguilles must have been created with the Sugar Plum Fairy in mind, because its mélange of candied fruit, cloves and cinnamon sounds like a recipe for a luscious confection. The surprise here is the bold layer of pine needles, fir balsam and incense. It makes you feel like a fairy tale princess and a vamp at once, an intriguing proposition.

If my thoughts turn to Coffee, the Arabian Dancer, a part I have performed more than any other in the ballet, then my scented costume would be either Kilian’s Intoxicated or Comme des Garcons’s Kyoto. The former is a dark, rich blend of patchouli liquor swirled with sweet mocha, but the latter is a smoky incense accented with bitter coffee. Intoxicated lives up to its name, while Kyoto has a serene, introspective character. Both are equally perfect for playing out the Nutcracker fantasies on cold winter days.

Photography: The National Ballet of Canada performing The Nutcracker, photography by Karolina Kuras

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53 Comments

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    Thank you for this delightful post.

    I love Lolita Lepicka and it can certainly evoke a fairy tale. I have a family of different-sized bottles.

    Alas, I haven’t tried any of those other fragrances, though. Based on your description, I think I would especially like Fille en Aiguilles. With the candied fruit, cloves, cinnamon, pine needles, fir balsam and incense, it also sounds like a wonderful perfume for Christmas.

    I am addicted to my cappuccinos, and I look forward to trying both Intoxicated and Kyoto.

    I took only about a year of ballet classes from the age of seven, so I never reached the stage of wearing pointe shoes. I still have my little pink pig-skin ballet shoes, though! I quit not from any lack of interest, but because I had begun taking piano lessons and didn’t seem to have time for both.

    Are there any ballet videos with you in them on YouTube? I would love to see you dance! December 11, 2020 at 8:25am Reply

    • Victoria: Lolita Lempicka has such gorgeous flacons, doesn’t it! I can imagine how great they all look together. Do you make displays of your perfumes in your violet room? December 11, 2020 at 3:01pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: I have a display of violet perfumes in there, but I could add my Lolita Lempicka bottles, because they are violet and contain a violet note. Thank you; what a great idea! December 12, 2020 at 3:09am Reply

    • Peter: Aloha Tourmaline. I agree with you and Victoria about the Lolita Lempicka bottles. “L” was a Maurice Roucel gourmand with a lovely bijou flacon. I foolishly gave mine away. If you ever come across it, I would urge you to snap it up for your collection. December 12, 2020 at 3:36am Reply

      • Tourmaline: G’day Peter,

        I just googled L de Lolita Lempicka, and it is indeed a beautiful bottle. There are so many pretty bottles. I always wished I’d bought a bottle of Kingdom by Alexander McQueen. Victoria gave the perfume four stars, too! December 12, 2020 at 3:49am Reply

  • okat: Scents that evoke winter fairy tale mood for me are Origins Ginger Essence and Shiseido’s Feminité du Bois. I know that for most peopel Ginger Essence is more of a summer scent but the tart combination of citric scents and ingwer brings back childhood memories of my mother baking ginormous amounts of Christmas cookies using lemon juice, orange zests and lots of spices that were only used that time of the year. I woke up the other day with a headache and feeling groggy and reached for Ginger Essence to wake me up and lift my mood and it worked wonders. Shiseido’s Féminité du Bois is a different animal. I still own a bottle of the original formulation, two thirds full. Last week I decided that it makes no longer any sense to treasure it like the Holy Grail – luckily it hasn’t turned. It’s still that marvelous combination of spices and wood, rose and plum. It smells like Christmas that embraces its pagan heritage – if that makes sense. December 11, 2020 at 8:32am Reply

    • Carla: Enjoy your original Feminite de Bois! I agree, you should wear it not keep it, rare as it is. We use our real Christofle silver every day (given by my French husband’s family over a lifetime of birthdays and Christmases) and I’m using up my bottle of Theorema right now even though I’m not sure I will be able to replace it. I don’t want to save for special occasions anymore. I’d rather special occasions surprise me and I have to find the perfect scent when they arise. December 11, 2020 at 11:01am Reply

      • Tati: Carla, what an inspiring attitude! I will try to do the same. I’ve been hoarding my Theorema — no more! 🙂 December 11, 2020 at 1:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: I am with Carla, go ahead and use Féminité du Bois. It’s too beautiful to be save for those special occasions. December 11, 2020 at 3:01pm Reply

  • Marina: I wear Fille en Aiguilles every year during holiday season! December 11, 2020 at 9:26am Reply

    • Victoria: You smell wonderful. December 11, 2020 at 3:02pm Reply

  • Carla: Balanchine had his personal faults (I will never forget reading Gelsey Kirkland’s autobiography), but he was the most amazing choreographer and how interesting that he picked perfumes for his ballerinas. I love your recommendations! December 11, 2020 at 9:47am Reply

    • Marsha Smith: I read Kirkland’s autobiography and also Suzanne Farrell’s autobiography. They were two widely divergent viewpoints that basically arrived at the same conclusion. He was a monster and a genius at the same time. December 11, 2020 at 10:45am Reply

      • Carla: Hi Marsha, I read Farrell’s too but I think Kirkland’s made an impression on me because I was younger when I read it and so more shocked. I still recall the elevator conversation between Kirkland and Balanchine when he told her not to eat, just drink a little red wine! And I read that back in the 90’s!
        I also read Merrill Ashley’s, which was not so interesting, and Allegra Kent’s. Kent seemed fascinating, the way she went ahead and had babies at the height of her dancing. There are so many monster-geniuses like Balanchine in history, maybe to remind us human nature is complicated. December 11, 2020 at 10:56am Reply

        • Victoria: Same here, I read all of the autobiographies written by Balanchine’s dancers, and it’s a mixed bag. But they were damaged by him to a lesser or greater extent.

          I had a pleasure to study with Gelsey Kirkland in NYC. Her classes were intense. She would arrive in huge sunglasses, wrapped in layers of clothes and she barely marked the movements at times with her hands, but you could see exactly what she wanted. December 12, 2020 at 3:39am Reply

          • Carla: Kirkland is quite an artist – what a privilege to take classes with her! Also thank you for the Farrell documentary recommendation. My daughter is 11 and has a dancer’s body I am sure professionals would have been excited to see – small head, lean, very long legs – but I never pushed her to dance and she doesn’t anymore. Sometimes I have a little pang of regret when she springs around the house so gracefully (I danced seriously until 17) but when she was little I was determined she would have a “normal” life and not be tainted by the dance world, wonderful as it is, so I have to remind myself I probably did the right thing. December 12, 2020 at 9:41am Reply

      • Victoria: There is also a great film about Suzanne Farrell called “Dancing on Air.” The footage she shares is incredible (but she’s less critical of Balanchine in that film, as it was shot many years after he already passed away.) December 12, 2020 at 3:36am Reply

    • Victoria: Carol Sumner was my ballet teacher, and while she never said a bad word about Balanchine, it was clear even when talking to her that he was an extremely difficult person. Talented, but deeply disturbed. And damaging to his dancers, both physically (the famed Balanchine technique destroys the body) and mentally. December 11, 2020 at 3:03pm Reply

      • Mel: I have to ask you, Victoria, what did you think of Black Swan? The Darren Aronofsky film w/ Natalie Portman? December 11, 2020 at 8:00pm Reply

        • Victoria: I thought that it was aesthetically beautiful, but I don’t remember liking it that much overall. December 12, 2020 at 3:57am Reply

          • Bregje: I thought it was,like most series and movies, a simplistic view of the balletworld. Dancers being envious of one another, ready to steal your part,pressure to be thin leads to eating/mental disorders,bla bla. December 16, 2020 at 6:17pm Reply

      • Klaas: If you go on youtube and search for Kirkland and Theme and Variations, you’ll find THE most incredible recording of Balanchine’s Theme and Variations with Kirkland and Barishnikov (1978!!!). It’s magical! And my God, the tempo is so fast, especially in the finale! Nobody performs it like that anymore ;-))

        There’s a bit of interview with Kirkland afterwards that’s interesting to watch, too. December 14, 2020 at 11:38am Reply

  • delia jean adkins: individual tastes are so different! although i have thought that i would enjoy Lolita Lempicka, i have reacted so negatively each time i have tried it. perhaps i haven’t waited long enough to judge.
    my guess is that it is the iris. i have never appreciated an iris frag. December 11, 2020 at 9:49am Reply

    • Victoria: Perhaps that was it. December 11, 2020 at 3:04pm Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: I love the original Lolita Lempicka and always have a bottle on hand. Although I am an iris lover, I never thought of it as an iris fragrance as the almonds and licorice always stood out on me. With your beautiful face and overall looks and grace, I am not surprised that you were once a ballet dancer. December 11, 2020 at 10:04am Reply

    • Marsha Smith: Me either! December 11, 2020 at 10:38am Reply

      • Filomena813: 💕 December 11, 2020 at 11:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: I was also surprised by Lolita Lempicka, but it turned out to be a long lasting passion.

      Thank you for your kind words! December 11, 2020 at 3:05pm Reply

      • Terry Futrelle: Victoria, you always get me to rethink my stash of fragrance. I bought,”Lolita Lempicka”, some time ago and wasn’t immediately in love…I just gave my bottle another try and was pleasantly surprised. Thank you for reminding me that some fragrances deserve second chances. You are a joy, Victoria. I am thanking, Phyllis, as well, for her description. December 11, 2020 at 4:11pm Reply

        • Victoria: It can be such a pleasant surprise sometimes. Plus, our tastes change, and it’s a good idea to revisit fragrances that at least were memorable. December 12, 2020 at 3:56am Reply

          • Bregje: Yes,that happens all the time.
            When i first visited this site i talked about not liking EL’s tuberose and gardenia.
            I remember thinking it was so sharp but this summer i revisited it and loved it! December 16, 2020 at 6:22pm Reply

  • John: A few years ago my wife surprised me on Christmas morning by bringing a turntable and spears into the house; as she led me around the corner into the living room, the first thing I heard was music from an old recording of the nutcracker from my parents’ collection. Thank you for such evocative descriptions! My favourite Christmas fragrance is Yatagan (which my wife calls ‘Christmas in the 70’s’). Many conifer fragrances make me think of winter, including Drakkar Noir and the original Polo, both of which feel friendlier and more wearable at this time of year. I recall smelling Fille en Aiguilles on a cold rainy December night in Vancouver and thinking it was actually able to pierce that famous Vancouver greyness, which is saying something. Actually, so many Lutens fragrances feel Chistmas-like to me; Five O’Clock Au Gingembre, for instance. Happy winter everyone! December 11, 2020 at 10:05am Reply

    • Marsha: What a great surprise! December 11, 2020 at 10:37am Reply

      • John: It was… I have the great good fortune to be married to a terrific gift-bestower. It is a blessing not without its pressures however… I’m still scrambling to finish up her stocking a we speak! December 11, 2020 at 4:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a wonderful gift! I can just imagine how pleased and touched you were.

      Polo and Drakkar Noir indeed smell different at this time of year. December 11, 2020 at 3:06pm Reply

    • delia jean adkins: john, i agree with everything you have said.

      and we REALLY need fragrance this winter to encourage us to carry on. December 12, 2020 at 11:23am Reply

  • Marsha Smith: As soon as you mentioned being a ballet dancer, I picture of you flashed through my mind and I thought Oh, okay! That fits her perfectly! December 11, 2020 at 10:41am Reply

    • Victoria: 🙂 Aw, thank you, Marsha. December 12, 2020 at 3:34am Reply

  • Tara C: Love all of the scents you mentioned! I also wear Chopard Wish and CdG Zagorsk around the holidays. December 11, 2020 at 3:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: I need to pull out my Chopard bottle. December 12, 2020 at 3:40am Reply

    • Bregje: I thought about Wish too December 16, 2020 at 6:28pm Reply

  • rickyrebarco: Iris/orris notes always remind me of the ballet. I love Penhaligon’s Iris Prima, which was designed to be reminiscent of the ballet. I also love Parfums de Rosine’s ballerina fragrances, the Black Swan being one of my favorites But their Ballerina #1 reminds me of the Sugar Plum Fairy, all musky rosy sweetness. December 11, 2020 at 11:42pm Reply

    • Victoria: Iris Prima is such a nice fragrance! December 12, 2020 at 3:58am Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria, for revealing another facet of your amazing life. A Ballerina and a Perfumer!
    I was never fond of pine fragrances until I smelled a Diptyque Christmas candle. Then I became obsessed to find the perfect pine perfume. It turned out to be Fille en Aiguilles. You describe it so perfectly.
    I also love Frederic Malle Noir Epices and Hermes Ambre Narguille to put me in a Holiday mood. December 12, 2020 at 3:26am Reply

    • Tourmaline: G’day Peter,

      Well that’s another reason for me to try Fille en Aiguilles – you liked it and found it to be the perfect pine perfume! Perhaps it would remind me of the natural Christmas tree that we bought every year, and decorated, when I was a child. That was the smell of Christmas to me. December 12, 2020 at 3:52am Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t like anything that promises to smell like Christmas, because there is invariably a cinnamon note and it is not how Christmas smells like to me. My Christmas smells fresh and bright–tangerines and firtree.
      Yet, Lutens and Malle both include spices, but the effect is different. December 12, 2020 at 4:00am Reply

    • delia jean adkins: oh, h ambre narguile is wonderful! it was the first hermes i was willing to buy. and it was due to “recommend me a perfume” — long long ago. i’ll go put some on now…. December 12, 2020 at 12:00pm Reply

  • Gabriela: Ohh I love ballet. I still have classes as an adult. Do you still dance? Our group is so fun, we are all adults who did ballet when we were children. Did you dance professionally?
    Ballet and perfume, lovely combination, isnt it?

    As for Christmas, I also associate tangerines, almonds and chocolate as here in Spain we eat turrones for Christmas. December 12, 2020 at 5:37am Reply

  • Figuier: Thanks for this Victoria! I agree Fille en Aiguilles is a great Christmas scent; I also love Tom Ford’s Plum Japonais, which is similar but with a lovely waxy umami plum note. Last in my own Nutcracker perfumes list is Attrape-Coeur – a bit of snowy church incense in the top notes, then brandy, poached stone fruits and masses of sweet whipped cream. December 12, 2020 at 7:48am Reply

  • janet: Hi Victoria. I have zoomed in as much as I can on the photo and I would like to believe you are the ballerina in the center. That backdrop is stunning! For which company did you dance? Regarding scents, I’ve recently been baking Stollen bread which calls for cardamon. I just can’t get enough of that scent. Do you have a personal favorite cardamon perfume? December 12, 2020 at 11:10am Reply

  • Debi Sen Gupta: what a lovely write up. December 17, 2020 at 4:12am Reply

  • Gentiana Craciun: Thank you again, Victoria, for such a beautiful review. It brought me dear memories back… For me, Christmas is the smell of natural fir Christmas tree , mixed with oranges, tangerines, fireplace, fine food from the kitchen, candies, gluewine… And above all the freshly backed „cozonac”, a wonderful cake (made from dough with yeast fermentation) with a sweet filling containing walnuts, raisins, turkish delight, sometimes cocoa and seasoned with vanilla, rum essence, orange peel, lemon peel, maybe a little aniseed. Can you imagine that fresh out from the oven? A divine smell fills all the house ! No perfume can compete with all this fragrant universe, that has its changes and dynamic through the preparing and the holidays themselves….. but there are a few that remind me the winter holyday atmosphere: F Malle Noir Epices, Serge Lutens Bois Vanille, Arabie and Five a Clock Au Gingembre, Boucheron Jaipur, Guerlain Songe d’un bois d’ete, Annick Goutal Eau de Charlotte, Vanille Exquise and Ambre Fetiche, Artisan Traversee du Bosphore, Timbuktu And Eau d Ambre, Molinard Fleur de Chocolat, Kilian Liaisons Dangereuses, YSL Yvresse, and, Yes, Theorema (sigh, it’s empty) and, Yes, Lolita Lempicka… December 17, 2020 at 5:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Such a lovely selection! I really enjoyed reading this, thank you. December 22, 2020 at 9:53am Reply

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