Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

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!

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

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.


Fragrance is a State of Mind

Fragrance is usually treated as a part of one’s wardrobe, but for me it is an extension of my state of mind. When I feel gross I still may put on trousers and a crisp button-down to go to work, but you can bet my perfume will be the equivalent of a cashmere hoodie and Uggs. I can live without some perfect wardrobe items, like an Hermés Kelly bag or a pile of silk blouses, but I (have and) will structure my whole week around obtaining a bottle of Something Or Other if the mood strikes hard enough. A few things I always have on hand after years of self-discovery and playing the field:

Something cozy. I am often is a state of exhaustion, and it doesn’t help that my office is freezing. When I cannot climb into a pile of down comforters, a veil of Chanel No. 5 Eau Premier ($88.00) is the next best thing. I truly cannot live without this one. Its warm candied citrus, creamy sandalwood, and a bouquet of dreamy roses and jasmine are cozy but tailored. For me it’s the equivalent of wearing pearls with jeans; no shapeless sweatpants here.

Something fierce. There are days when I do not have the patience. Or someone needs to realize that I am kind of a big deal. Or I am just more fabulous than usual. I usually keep a rollerball of Robert Piguet Fracas ($95.00) in my purse for these days. If you need to make yourself loud and clear, Fracas is your girl–the queen tuberose, brazen but with a buttery smooth purr. If Fracas had a soundtrack it would be Bowie’s “Queen Bitch,” or “All That Jazz” from Chicago.

Something green. Spices and resins really shine in cold weather, but so do imperishably verdant notes. In winter, Estee Lauder Private Collection Jasmin White Moss ($80.00) is like wearing an aura of greenhouse. No matter how bleak the weather, this one makes it impossible to forget the bliss of warm mossy earth and flowers. If it’s too green, Balenciaga Paris ($95.00) is also exceptional, as is Cartier Baiser Vole ($100.00)--the first is like a potted violet, the second a vase full of lilies.

Something refreshing. I love summer; I do not love Virginia humidity. Anything that takes the steaminess down a notch, especially before bed, is crucial. My favorite is Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia ($80.00), it’s like splashing on cool water with a bouquet of white flowers. Any body splash would do as well, though my pick would be the classic fresh-citrus-herbal 4711 ($38.25), which is a steal at fragrance discounters and on Amazon.

Something simple. Lately I have been prone to migraines, and when one strikes, most perfume becomes skeletal and synthetic in a way that I just cannot tolerate. Badger Headache Balm ($8.00) is my best friend during these times, a happy tin full of all-natural, icy, candy cane goodness that keeps the nausea at bay. And while I’m recovering, or when I need to relax, Lolablue Blackberry ($12.00) perfume oil takes me away to a lazy afternoon picking dusty sun-ripened berries. It’s the most effective aromatherapy I’ve found.

What are some of the scents you can’t live without? Other moods that strike often?

Monday, October 24th, 2011


By Aleta, 26, Virginia

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. Her website: worldwarII.com.

The Perfect Halloween Scent

The possibilities are endless for pairing fragrance with Halloween costumes: one of the fresh-scrubbed Clean fragrances would be cheeky for doctors and nurses, cowboys and cowgirls can’t go wrong with Stetson, and Demeter Fragrance Library’s Dust, Dirt, or Funeral Parlor are just a few literal options for the various undead. But in terms of capturing the overall trick-or-treat spirit of the season, a few fragrances come to mind for their candy-like sweetness paired with an unexpected quirky edge.

Lolita Lempicka matches near-medicinal red berries with a kick of licorice that’s both icy herbal and molasses-cookie warm, all carried through with a breathy white floral. When I saw Twilight, someone in the theater treated the entire audience to this scent; perfection. It would also suit those who are attracted to gingerbread houses and chatty wolves. Or, if your sweet tooth leans a little more Wonka (or Gaga), you can’t beat the original that sparked this scent–Thierry Mugler Angel, an over-the-top confection that passes on the licorice in favor of husky, chocolaty patchouli and adds a dose of ultra-ripe fruit for good measure.

Bvlgari Black starts with a blast of smoky black rubber and leather, rendered weightless with sweet, inedible vanilla. If your mood this holiday leans toward pleather–or the real thing–take note. For something a little less devilish/biker and more Stepford, try the equally inedible Kenzo Amour, a space-age vanilla lacking any hint of pastry warmth.

I’ll be pairing my Bride of Frankenstein ensemble with one of my favorites, Aftelier Cepes and Tuberose. The cepes (mushroom) note is a stunningly earthy, subtly wine-like complement to a tuberose note that’s far less restrained than its sisters found at the department store. A perfect pairing of forest decay and insatiable full-bloom life–hopefully just the thing to catch the nose of my Dr. Frankenstein. (Newcomers to this brand: don’t let the price tag scare you. The seemingly wee bottles of pure perfume last me about as long as a 1.7 oz eau de parfum.)

What are you wearing for Halloween? Need help picking a fragrance? Let’s talk in the comments!