By Aleta, Fragrance Contributor
Aleta is the associate editor of a national history magazine (World War II), and an unapologetic fragrance nerd. Growing up on a farm west of Portland, Oregon, she spent many summer nights attempting to make perfume by soaking flowers in cups of water (if only her mother had let her use the vodka). Her most prized possessions include a bottle of French cologne brought home by an American GI after World War II (L’Ardent Nuit by Cotay), a signed copy of Perfume: The Guide, and a handwritten “enjoy your purchase” note from perfumer Mandy Aftel. Other obsessions include lipstick, Pellegrino, Adirondack chairs, and yoga. You can find her at worldwarII.com.
Scents for the Holidays
My first college holiday season was…brief. November and December went by in a blur of studying, social events (okay dorm parties), and finals. My dad and I had to stop at the grocery store after he picked me up for winter break, and I realized that the campus bubble had utterly shielded me from the season–the music, the decorations, the food. Lesson learned: when you leave the nest, you either get yourself in the holiday spirit or it will pass you by.
One of the easiest ways I’ve found to fell merry and bright this time of year is to–you guessed it–surrounding myself with nostalgic, festive fragrances. Bonus: the fragrance notes we often associate with the winter holidays are ones that play nicely with big family meals and intimate social gatherings, times when everyone would rather smell the turkey, fresh-baked gingerbread, or their glass of Riesling rather than someone’s boldfaced eau. Here are some of my favorite fragrances for the season, most of which are available as dry skin-soothing lotions, pick-me-up cleansers, and candles:
Years of making orange pomanders has left me with a serious citrus fixation every December. My favorite is Fresh Hesperides ($32.00) it balances the effervescence of grapefruit peel with a dose of sugar. Aftelier Candide ($45.00) is also gorgeous, tempering its zesty orange notes with a kick of pepper. Pacifica Blood Orange ($22.00) is perfect for purists, plus the brand is widely available and an absolute steal .
Evergreens feature prominently in Western holiday traditions; Yankee Candles fill in for the Douglass firs I grew up with, particularly Christmas Tree. Holiday Bayberry smells like the fresh-from-the-attic decorations did when I was growing up. It’s a hard note to wear on the skin, but Pacifica’s Avalon Juniper ($22.00) is beautiful. The resinous juniper is perfectly balanced with juicy grapefruit, simultaneously warm and fresh. Those who grew up in warmer climates may resonate more closely with Chanel Sycomore ($110.00), it’s a gorgeous balance between sap and smoke–meant for men, I think, but gorgeous on anyone, anytime.
Vanilla and spice abound during winter, and there are too many fragrance iterations to count. Personally, I like something just a touch inedible, like Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleu ($71.00). It has recently been reformulated, but I never smelled its previous iteration, so I am unabashedly smitten with the bottle I purchased this November. If you grew up with anise and almond extract in your holiday cookies, this one’s for you–especially if you went through a rebellious stage involving countless sticks of Nag Champa ($71.00) incense. Many also love Guerlain’s Shalimar ($55.00) and its many vanilla-spice offspring, though it’s not one that grabs me. You also can’t go wrong with Bath & Body Works Warm Vanilla Sugar ($5.00), a gorgeous vanilla bean tempered with Basmati rice water and cinnamon. Spice lovers: try Pacifica’s clove-laden Madagascar Spice ($22.00).
Sometimes the brightest holiday memories attach themselves to a non-holiday scent. For me, it’s Victor & Rolf Flowerbomb ($100.00). Each year my parents would skip the Macy’s line for Santa and take me to Nordstrom to see Father Christmas. And in my mind, nothing conjures Nordstrom like Flowerbomb.
What scents keep you warm during these darkest months of the year? And for those who grew up in a non-western culture, I’d love to hear about the scents that speak to you during November and December!
Pacifica Lotus Garden Spray Perfume ($22.00 for 1.2 oz.) is a soft scent of citrus-y floral. You can detect a little hint of grapefruit, but overall, it’s a very light, feminine floral scent. Pacifica describes this scent as “[a] meditative and intoxicating blend of sparkling yuzu, lotus blossom, jasmine, olibanum and bright, radiant green notes.”
For me, this is a fragrance that’s great for everyday wear; it’s not strong or particularly noticeable from across the room, but it’s a scent that just works. Even though I do like perfumes and the like, I tend to choose subtler scents on an ongoing basis and save the more potent scents for special occasions. (I think it’s probably because stronger scents tend to cause my allergies to flare up.) I find the scent lingers for a few hours before dissipating a bit. It’s been one of my favorite everyday scents this past spring, and I’ll continue to use it throughout the summer, too.
Pacifica is cruelty-free (they don’t use beeswax either!), are working towards carbon neutrality, and their packaging is recyclable and made with recycled content. Pacifica products do not contain parabens, propylene glycol, phtalates, synthetic dyes, triclosan, or sulfates. Their products are 100% vegan, which is definitely something that can be hard to find for some.
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Pacifica Candles’ Soy Candles ($13.95), Pillar Candles ($15.95), Soaps ($6.95), Perfumes ($19.95), Body Butters ($15.95)
Each Pacifica candle is made by hand, using century-old techniques to ensure the highest quality. We combine our exclusive Pacifica Wax Blends, in your choice of food-grade paraffin or vegetable-based soy, with the highest quality lead-free cotton wicks, essences, and essential oils in order to create the perfect candle. Our fragrance oils and candles are made in small batches, allowing us to test our products regularly to guarantee perfection. We believe that if a candle isn’t burning well, quality ingredients are being wasted. Regardless of the wax, whether it is soy or paraffin, there must be a perfect balance between the wick size and the fragrance to create a safe, healthy, and smokeless candle.
What makes it worth it: This is not an organic line per se, but it definitely has the right feel and attitude about the environment, natural ingredients, and being a responsible member of its community. Pacifica uses soy and food-grade paraffin in its candles, while they make sure to use natural essential oils rather than artificial fragrances. They have excellent employment policies, are working towards becoming a carbon-neutral company, and take inspiration from culture around the globe.
- Soy Candles: I tried Tibetan Mountain Temple (a spicy, woody scent of Patchouli, ginger, and orange) and Bourbon Island Vanilla (another spicy scent with lots of vanilla). I enjoyed both scents, but my boyfriend adored the latter. I felt like Tibetan Mountain Temple reminded me a lot of the holidays and the cinnamon-y goodness you find in so many holiday baked goods.
- Pillar Candles: I tried Roman Frankincense (a blend of Frankincense, Myrrh, a touch of mandarin, and I’d swear some lime) and Vietnamese Ylang Ylang French (a lovely blend of ylang ylang, lavendar, and a touch of vanilla). I’m totally reminded of Sprite or 7UP with Roman Frankincense, but I like the scent – pleasing, very masculine. The Vietnamese Ylang Ylang French pillar candle is a much subtler scent, entirely feminine and just lovely.
- Natural Soaps: I tried Spanish Amber (deeply woody, amber scent) and Wild English Clary Sage (a great clean scent with clary sage notes). Spanish Amber definitely takes me back to a few moments of my childhood; it’s a strong scent, distinctly masculine. Wild English Clary Sage is also a bit masculine in its scent, but it’s such a clean scent that I know it’s a must-have for any family or couple who shares soap.
- Perfumes: I tried Waikiki Pikake (a blend of jasmine and sandalwood) and Tuscan Blood Orange (sweet orange and mandarin scent with a touch of strawberry). I found both of these scents to be pleasing, and they come in these petite containers. They make great stocking stuffers!
- Body Butters: I tried Sandalwood (rich Indian sandalwood that’s very woody with top notes of sweet orange) and French Lilac (a delightful spring scent of fresh lilacs and magnolias). Sandalwood is a very rich, heady scent, which reminds me of seduction. I felt like French Lilac makes a great spring scent, because it’s light and airy and utterly floral.
Why you might pass on it: You can’t. They have a wide variety of products, scents, and the prices are perfect for this holiday season. Everything feels a bit luxe and rich, and I really can’t wait to wrap these up and hand them out to my family and friends this year.
Find Pacifica products at www.pacificacandles.com and www.nordstrom.com.