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Scents for the Holidays

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!

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Illamasqua Force Nail Varnish

Illamasqua Force Nail Varnish
Illamasqua Force Nail Varnish

Illamasqua Force Nail Varnish

Illamasqua Nail Varnish Force ($14.00 for 0.50 fl. oz.) is described as a “deep electric blue.” It’s a really rich, cornflower blue with a creamy finish, and it even has a faint purpleness to it. It almost looks purple in certain lighting–more royal blue than electric blue to me! Deborah Lippmann I Know What Boys Like is similar but bluer. Essie Declare Your Denim is a bit darker and bluer.

It’s opaque in two coats, and like many Illamasqua shades, the formula is excellent; the polish flows across the nail easily, doesn’t streak or bubble, and never feels too thick. Illamasqua is one of the longest wearing polishes on me; I can wear their formula for ten days or longer and only have minimal tip wear, which is just barely on the edges. When I travel, I often reach for an Illamasqua shade, because I know it will hold up to the vigors of traveling.

Illamasqua Nail Varnish Force
Force
Force
10
Product
10
Pigmentation
10
Texture
10
Longevity
5
Application
100%
Total

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Guerlain Les Aquas Eyeshadow Palette

Guerlain Les Aquas Eyeshadow Palette
Guerlain Les Aquas Eyeshadow Palette

Guerlain Les Aquas Eyeshadow Palette

Guerlain Les Aquas Eyeshadow Palette ($59.00 for 0.25 oz.) is an upcoming new and permanent quad that features an “iridescent blue, matte navy, velvety turquoise, and glacier metallic blue.” This is one of the better eyeshadow quads I’ve tested from Guerlain since they reformulated and relaunched their eyeshadow range, so it was a welcome surprise. The pigmentation is good across the board, and it applies easily. I did find that without a primer, there was some fading after eight hours, but over a primer, it was fine.

The left most shade is a semi-matte, dark teal-blue with a grayish overcast and sparse teal shimmer. The base color is more matte, but there is definitely some sparkle to the shade. It has good color payoff, though the texture feels a little dry. Illamasqua Android seemed similar, though it is much more metallic and frosted. It has a similar base color to MAC Blue Spruce but doesn’t have the copper sparkle.

In the center, the top shade is a aqua teal with an iridescent gold shimmer-sheen. It does flash more golden depending on the angle. The color payoff of this shade was really nice, and the texture was silky soft and applied smoothly. Milani Caribbean Sea is similar but has less golden shimmer. Make Up For Ever #83 is much more intense. theBalm Open to Offers Olwen is darker. Inglot #415 is more vibrant.

Below that shade is a medium-dark bold blue with a soft, metallic shimmer-sheen. The pigmentation is excellent, and the texture feels soft to the touch and smooths out easily. I find Guerlain’s more frosted shades to have the best color payoff and feel compared to some of their mattes, satins, etc. MAC Pure Creation is a touch lighter. MAC Deep Truth is a bit darker. MAC Freshwater is comparable. Inglot #426 is also similar.

The right most shade is a bright, metallic silver. Of all the shades in the palette, it had the weakest color payoff–there was some underlying sheerness but it felt smooth to the touch. IT is similar to MAC Misty and Bobbi Brown Iced Blue.

The palette initially bears resemblance to Les Ombres de Nuit, but this is a brighter, warmer palette. None of the shades actually overlap in terms of color, but here, we have a vibrant aqua teal instead of a muted grayish teal; vibrant medium-dark blue instead of a navy blue; the other two shades are not similar.

Guerlain Les Aquas Eyeshadow Palette

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Estee Lauder Cyber Lilac Pure Color Gelee Powder Eyeshadow

Estee Lauder Cyber Lilac Pure Color Gelee Powder Eyeshadow
Estee Lauder Cyber Lilac Pure Color Gelee Powder Eyeshadow

Estee Lauder Cyber Lilac Pure Color Gelee Powder Eyeshadow

Estee Lauder Cyber Lilac Pure Color Gelee Powder Eyeshadow ($24.00 for 0.03 oz.) is a medium-dark red-toned purple with a silvered shimmer-sheen. It delivers good color payoff both wet and dry, and when it is applied wet, the metallic finish comes through more. Urban Decay Rockstar is less shimmered, so it looks darker. Bare Escentuals Encore is also similar.

I liked this one better than Cyber Green, because the texture was softer and smoother, even when applied dry. Still, the texture is like a cross of “baked” eyeshadows (like MAC Mineralize Eyeshadows) and a regular powder, but infinitely better than baked products, because it retains the vibrancy in color when it is applied damp–it doesn’t dry down to something faded. Alone, it wears about six hours without any issues when it is applied dry, and when it is applied wet, I was able to get to eight hours without issues.

Estee Lauder Pure Color Gelee Powder Eyeshadow Cyber Lilac

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