winter perfumes: 7 posts

Summer Cologne for Winter

I’ve noticed over the past few years that my most worn winter perfumes have been the most summery ones in my collection. Or at least, the ones that feel crisp, bright, and effervescent. Enveloping ambers, dark musks, or plush leathers edge in, but they are not as prominent. While Belgian winters have been getting warmer, the main reason is that radiant, uplifting fragrance fit my mood better during cold days than anything rich and heavy. For instance, Hermès Eau de Citron Noir gives me an instant boost with its combination of citrus, spice, and woods.

Another favorite category is white florals, from dewy Frédéric Malle Lys Méditerranée to opulent Guerlain Cruel Gardénia. This genre of fragrance behaves so differently during cold weather that it’s fascinating to wear and compare one’s impressions. The blossoms open up slower, the dew lingers, the freshness persists. Sometimes I don’t even get to the final drydown before the day is over and the winter dusk falls.

What about you? What are you wearing today?

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Spices and Perfumes

Nothing about my masala dabba, an Indian-style spice box, looks exotic. It’s a round tin, with a double lid and several compartments, that after being moved across continents has enough dents and scratches to form a geography of its own. But it’s what’s inside that counts, and the moment the slightly battered lid is pushed ajar it becomes obvious why the roots of the words “spice” and “special” are intertwined–the perfume of coriander, nutmeg, cardamom, fennel and pepper that rushes forth is so rich and heady that it alone is enough to dispel gloom on a cold winter day.

Among the aromatics inside my spice box, cardamom has a place of honor. It’s a curious spice, because unlike darker, heavier favorites like black pepper, cumin or allspice, cardamom combines the freshness of lemon peel with a peppery and metallic bite. I often crush a few green pods to flavor a cup of coffee, a batch of gingerbread or a Persian style lamb stew. Another way I enjoy cardamom is via Jo Malone Mimosa & Cardamom, a fragrance blending soft mimosa with the citrusy spice.

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5 Perfumes for a Snowy Day

Imagine that snow is falling outside your window. Everything is white and opalescent and soft shadows fill your room. It’s a moment of winter stillness at its most exquisite. But perhaps it’s just another rainy day outside your window. Or if you are in the Southern hemisphere, a lush summer day. Or perhaps you don’t particularly like snow and have no desire to conjure up snowflakes and ice. This doesn’t prevent us from dreaming of fragrances that capture the idea of warmth and softness and that suit any season.

Such was the idea behind my list of these five perfumes. I wanted to select fragrances that comforted me and yet felt elegant, warm and yet luminous. Heavy ambers, furs, and too much leather wouldn’t do for that impression.

Serge Lutens El Attarine

Spices, musk, and soft rose petals. El Attarine is the lightest of all Serge Lutens’s ambers, so while it envelops you, it remains soft and gentle. Think of delicate cashmere rather than heavy brocade.

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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.

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5 Winter Pleasures

Winter has a certain beauty in its austere color palette and the way it slows down life to a bare simmer. Yet, weeks of overcast skies and cold weather can leave one listless and longing for warmth and sunshine. The Belgian winter is almost uniformly grey and damp, with hardly any snow days to remind me of the season’s more exquisite aspects. And yet I wouldn’t trade these three months for any other. Winter’s pleasures more than make up for the late sunrises and heavy layers of clothes.

Big Books

I’m not intimidated by big books. They hold many hours of reading enjoyment. They tempt me with their promise of new facts to learn and new experiences to discover. Such books aren’t satisfying to read on Kindle. I love the heft of a thick volume as I ensconce myself in my favorite bean bag chair. I seem to have more time for reading during the winter, which is why one of my seasonal pleasures is to go through all of the thick volumes that I’ve set my sights on. For instance, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Iryna Vilde’s Sisters Richynski, Charles Dickens’s The Bleak House, Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia, and the letters exchanged by Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. Finishing Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, In Search of Lost Time, is my plan for this winter.

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