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Five more winter perfumes

Five gorgeous fumes for enjoying by the fireside.

Today is the first really cold day we've had this winter. It was glacial in our bedroom this morning, and it was straight out and into my down-filled dressing gown and mohair socks, then raking out the woodburner and getting it fired up. 

Perfumes are a great comfort in winter, the olfactory equivalent of a blankie (or onesie, or slanket, wherever your taste may lie). Here are five that are perfect for the freezing weather. Curl up and enjoy with a good book and some chocolate.  

* Five O'Clock Au Gingembre, Serge Lutens
With top notes of tea and bergamot, middle notes of ginger, cinnamon and wood, and base notes of cocoa, honey, amber, patchouli and pepper, where could you go wrong? The scent equivalent of the traditional pain d'epice - the more cinnamony French version of ginger cake - this fragrance is just made for afternoon tea with friends around a roaring fire, after a crisp country walk. Crack out the fruit cake and Speculoos and enjoy to the full. Five O'Clock is a quiet fragrance - spray it on your clothes if you need more of a 'hit'.

* L'Air du Désert Marocain, Andy Tauer
A bewitchingly beautiful frag that is warm and comforting for winter. The top notes are coriander, cumin and petitgrain, with rock rose and jasmine in the heart and a base of cedar, vetiver and animalic ambergris. For me, though, it's mainly those traditional churchy spices, but in a combination that feel warm and dry (rather than cold, like Incense Avignon) that makes this fragrance so appealing. The perfect thing for arming yourself before stepping out into the cold night air. Five stars from Turin, and no wonder. 

* Tea for Two, Artisan Parfumeur
My introduction to the tobacco scent in fragrance, this was the only perfume I wore for about 10 years. Designed by Olivia Giacobetti, it's good enough to eat, with top notes of tea, bergamot and star anise, heart notes of cinnamon, ginger, gingerbread and spices, and base notes of honey, vanilla, leather and tobacco. Makes me think of Aran sweaters and tweed skirts, peat fires and lardy cake. Wonderful. For some idiot reason, Artisan are discontinuing production, so get it while you can. 

* Parfum Sacré, Caron
My first perfume from the house of Caron, and oh how I love it. A full mixture of perfume categories, it is all at once smoky, oriental, flowery and gourmand. Notes of pepper, cardmon and coriander meet rose and white musk (not that I can smell roses at all), amber and sandalwood, but over it all lies a note of incense. A truly warm, wintery and delightful fragrance that will wrap you up like a pearl-grey cashmere sweater. Get the strongest version you can find - Caron are stingy with the concentrations of their perfumes. 

* Un Crime Exotique, Parfumerie Générale
Part of Parfumerie Générale's Private Collection, Un Crime Exotique is a fantastic gourmand. With notes of gingerbread, Chinese osmanthus, tea, cinnamon, star anise, vanille, maté and sandalwood, on me it smells quite simply like the most delicious spicy apple pie in the world - all sugar pastry, cloves and cinnamon, fresh and hot out of the oven. You know that feeling when you walk into a really high-end bakery at Christmas time? This is it.

Perfumes for the Christmas season

Every perfume has its rightful place, whether that's a cocktail party or a visit to the bank manager. Here are five for the party season.

It's an interesting thing, perfume, because it's very very personal. I know this from the perfume evenings I sometimes hold here. Because I get a lot of perfumes in for review, and because I have now become a perfume collector, there are over 100 samples to try, and it's very interesting to see what people absolutely loathe and absolutely love. 

The thing I love most about perfume is that it gives me the chance, every day, to decide who I want to be. It's like picking out your clothes. Some days - Mondays, meeting with the bank manager, presentations at work - you want some armour. Other days, or other times of day, you might want to be seductive or flirty, cosy or kittenish, Zen-like or meditative.

There's a perfume for every mood, and for every style of dress, and when you add personal taste on top - whether it's white florals or woody orientals - the choice is limitless.

Here are six of my favourite fragrances that you might want to try out this winter.

* Shalimar. A leading light of the Guerlain range, Shalimar remains the epitome of vanilla-based perfumes. But it's not only vanilla - we're a long way from the ice-cream parlour here. With smoke, bergamot and incense, creamy, boozy Shalimar is a complex, subtle perfume that is perfect for dinner (vanilla perfumes go well with food), seduction, snuggling up with your beloved or going to the cinema or theatre. It remains close to the body, so it won't disturb other diners or theatre-goers, but close-up it is utterly libidinous. 

* Ambre Sultan. One of the best amber fragrances on the market, Ambre Sultan, by Serge Lutens, has herbal top notes and a drydown of amber with resins such as benzoin. This makes it a very warm fragrance, and it's one on which I've received many many compliments. Great for dining, close encounters of any kind and especially winter - makes you want to pull up a mug of hot cocoa and dive right in.

* Séville à l'Aube. This Artisan Parfumeur concoction mixes top notes of fresh petitgrain with orange blossom and a drydown of beeswax that it so sexy and melting it defies belief. It also apparently includes incense and lavender, though I can't detect it, but for me, it is the sexiest perfume I own, bar none. In fact I've just bought a second bottle so that I never, ever run out. Don't wear it to the gynecologist or you might get more than you bargained for...

* Pour un Homme. Forget the idea of lavender being for a man - we don't actually have that tradition anyway in the UK, where lavender is often thought of an an old ladies' fragrance. Pour un Homme, probably Caron's best-known fragrance, is a smooth, creamy mixture of lavender and vanilla. My vintage version has strong herbal top notes, but the modern version, though more linear, is still very good. A great fragrance for days when you can't think what to wear - a bit like pulling on your favourite jeans. 

* Arpège. Lanvin's classic fragrance is fabulous for anyone who feels Chanel No 5 is vile (which I do). This is a classy perfume that smells like red lipstick, stilettos and furs - it smells like money. Arpège has been reformulated a dozen times but try a miniature in the small black bottle and you won't go far wrong - just a dot or two is fine, don't go spraying it everywhere like mustard gas. Great for cocktail parties, intimidating the bank manager and cowing minions at work.  

* Incense Avignon. All perfumes by Comme des Garçons are well worth a try and this one is one that some people might say is more of a smell than a perfume. It is exactly the smell of an old, cold, stone church: the burned-out candles, the incense, the dust, the leather hassocks. What could be more Christmassy? One of the few fragrances I've fallen in love with at first sniff. 


Vive la difference?

Why is it that the French and the English differ so much in style?

Ines de la Fressange

I received a new comment on an old blog the other day, and it set me thinking about the difference in style between French and British women. 

Why, my French correspondent asked me, do the English get so hung up on the mutton-dressed-as-lamb thing?

Her comment is perhaps worth quoting at greater length, as I had to do some hard thinking about it:

"I'm now in my late fifties, and to be honest, I don't feel less attractive than I did in my twenties," she says. "In fact, maybe the reverse because I have more self-assurance and a better understanding of what's right for me."

I do think that this understanding is something British women lack, and one reason for it is consumerism. British women are simply bombarded with choice in a way that is not open to French women, and most of that choice is completely unsuitable for them. The prices are lower, so it's easier to make a mistake. A consumerist culture is encouraged, meaning British women, rather than making gradual and careful investments with their clothing and thinking about every purchase, tend to buy clothes as a way to cheer themselves up, with the focus on the buying, not the wearing. That is a very good way to end up with a wardrobe full of rubbish - the British have never learned the value of the crewneck black tee, the navy v-neck sweater, the nude ballet flat and other staples of the French wardrobe. 

Amy Childs

The British also value youth in a way that the French don't - or, in other words, British culture is ageist. French men, I have noticed, never stop noticing you or complimenting you, no matter what your age. This simply doesn't happen in England, where if you're not 18 with tits up to your chin, men don't know you exist at all. British clothing is designed for girls, not women.

When I visited London briefly in 2005, a very tall, young, strong man barged me out of the way in Oxford Street, almost knocking me down, and then said: "Fucking women - think they own the fucking road."

I think that was an age thing. At the age of 40-odd, I was simply invisible to him - beneath his contempt. But French men, I would suggest, are not as fucking stupid as British men when it comes to appreciating older women - they know the value of experience and self-assurance. And that is perhaps one reason why French women continue to make the effort to look good, no matter what their age - it is a chicken-and-egg situation.

My correspondent continues: "To be honest, I have never quite understood the Anglo-Saxon obsession about ageing. I don't think we French change our basic style very much as we age. Rather, we adapt it. Perhaps it's because we learn from our mothers that in fashion, as in make-up 'less is more'. We know from an early age that a neutral colour palette and the best quality clothing we can afford will always pay dividends, and look far more elegant than a wardrobe full of high, but fast-forgotten fashion. I suppose I'm trying to say style is more important to us than following the latest trend, even if it doesn't suit us."

She is right - elegance is not a lesson that the British generally learn. In our youth it makes us more interesting dressers than the French - more innovative, more individual, more iconoclastic - but many British women dress for effect in a way the French simply don't and this kind of thing can catch you out when you get older and the strapless, skintight, rocker, biker-chick, hippie or goth look starts to do you no favours. What looks good on older women is generally a version of the 'classic' look, which many British women hate (along the lines of 'who wants to look like an air hostess?'), and they simply don't know how to personalise classic to bring out their individuality, especially if they never wore these kinds of clothes when they were younger. 

"This also means that I dress in a very similar way to my daughter," continues my correspondent. "In fact we sometimes borrow from each other. BUT we do accessorize these basics differently in order to put our personal stamp on them. My daughter is far more likely than I am to wear scarlet nail polish, or accessorize MY little black dress with incredibly high red patent Louboutins, while I will wear the sheerest black stockings and classic patent pumps, choosing a gold leather clutch for MY touch of panache. But that's almost the only difference."

Well, with the exception of Mrs Middleton and her daughter, I think you'd be quite hard pushed to find many women over 40 in the UK who can fit into their daughter's clothes because British middle-aged women are so fat. Only if they have fat daughters (which, actually, is quite likely, come to think of it) will they be sharing clothes. The fatness of Brits is something that every Continental dweller notices as soon as you step off the ferry, in the way that we once used to gawp at the gigantic American tourists waddling round our historic sites. 

But Brits are fatter not just because they're lazier than the French (though they are) but because British culture follows the American model in being utterly in cahoots with the corporates, who push sugar and fat-laden fast food at a weak-willed populace who cannot resist it. Food appreciation is not taught in British schools and a snack culture is encouraged, all of which makes more money for the food producers. The inevitable result over 30 or so years of this is that the Brits are now 3 stone heavier than they were in the 50s, according to Jacques Peretti, and the condition of our internal organs is frightening - there is a REASON that Brits have the worst cancer rates in Europe. 

It is not only, though, a question of weight. British women, because they are taught to dress only in an 'alluring' manner when they are young, sticking all of their assets on display as if it were a male smorgasbord, simply don't know what to do when they get older and a bit of restraint is called for. What DO you do when the only shoes considered attractive are those with high heels but you just can't walk in them any more? How DO you hide your bingo wings when the only measure of attractiveness is to display as much flesh as possible? (I actually read a women's magazine interview recently where one young man said he would never date a woman who wore long sleeves because "women who wear long sleeves are no good in bed"!)

A French woman, in contrast, although she limits her food portions and walks about more, also tends to stick to flats whatever her age, and knows the value of a decently-cut jacket whether she's 20 or 60. In France, these things are not markers of age but of style and a woman isn't required to totally change her look and 'give everything up' as she gets older. 

My correspondent finishes up: "We share the same golden rules that my mother taught me, and I've passed on to Marie. NEVER, EVER, even at 6.00am, go out in sweatpants and trainers (it takes no longer to pull on a pair of jeans, and a breton top, with a black blazer if necessary, and a pair of ballet flats) or without a touch of make-up. This can be a beautiful Chanel-red lipstick and a touch of mascara, or smokey eye make-up (but NEVER both!!) and never forget a soupcon of perfume."

I must admit that this is pretty much how I dress these days (except I wear loafers rather than ballet pumps, which make my feet look weird), but it took me a long time to learn how easy and effortless it is to dress this way rather than go schlepping around the place. But on the other hand, it IS rather a uniform and part of me yearns slightly for my golden days of not giving a toss. One thing I enjoyed seeing last time I was in London was women in maxi dresses in the street. This is something you'd never see in Paris (beautiful but not stylish) and although, on the other hand, the vast majority of British women I saw were badly dressed, there was also more individuality of expression than you see in France. 

"It's a matter of self-respect, and also respect for those whom we meet in the street. So our take on clothes might be a bit different, our way of personalizing them, but basically we are the same: at 28 and 59 respectively. Why do British women get so hung up on this 'never look like mutton dressed as lamb' thing??" 

Mmn. Do British women lack self respect, and respect for those they meet in the street? Or is it that the French have a tradition of making fine things and are a much more visually literate nation than we are? I do think that the latter has something to do with it. My (female, well over 60, skinny as a whippet) wine negotiant turns up in tight jeans, red shoes and a full face of makeup, even though she drives a van all day. I can't imagine a British woman doing the same. But on the other hand, British women do create beauty in other ways, in their herbaceous borders for instance, and their homes, and fashion and style are only two of the many, many things they are interested in. They are, after all, just clothes to walk about in, not the roof over your head.

In the end, although I have lived in France for many years now, I am still not sure which attitude is best - the French never-give-up or the British never-give-a-shit and I confess to being somewhat schizophrenic in this matter because, after all, I am British, not French, and I am at heart a bit of a slob. Last week, for instance, I dressed up to go and see friends for lunch, and I got plenty of compliments and admiring glances, but I would far rather have been bumming around in my scruffs.

Well, ladies, this has been a marathon blog. What do you think? Is the French attitude better, or the British? Or should we just accept our differences and say vive la difference?


Making your perfume work for you

Hints and tips


Perfumes are a very idiosyncratic thing, as anyone will know who's ever had a perfume bought for them that simply doesn't work - or even when you've bought something for yourself that later doesn't work (the 'what was I thinking?' issue). Here are some common problems and tips on making your existing perfumes work for you. 

It's too strong 

Use less of it. Well, doh. But the average spray delivers quite a blast and when your perfume's made of strong ingredients, it might all be a bit too much. The old trick of spraying the fume into the air and then walking through it does work, but it gets it all over the outside of you - your clothes and hair - and this may not be the best option, especially if you're just about to get on the Tube. One trick used by perfumistas is to spray perfume on a cotton-wool pad and tuck the pad into your bra, where your body heat will warm it and create private wafts of fragrance that only those close to you will pick up. You can also use the cotton pad to just apply the fume to your wrists, cleavage and backs of your knees: with a very strong perfume like Giorgio of Beverly Hills, a Q-tip is enough. You can also use strong perfumes to revitalise your car air freshener, in your vacuum cleaner filter, on a cotton-wool pad at the bottom of a wastebin or in your trainers or sportsbag, or sprayed into bicarb of soda and sprinkled as a carpet freshener. 

It's too weak

No matter how much of it you put on, you can't smell it 30 minutes later. To start with, you're probably using either a cologne or eau de toilette, which is a weak formulation, so if you like the fragrance, look for an eau de parfum or parfum extrait. If that's not do-able, you can slow down the escape of the volatile molecules in perfume by rubbing some Vaseline on your wrists or wearing a heavy body cream, and spraying the perfume onto that. Perfume is also slower to evaporate if you spray it on your clothes rather than yourself. With notoriously volatile lemon and citrus fragrances, however, you may have to accept that they lack longevity - this can really be quite useful if you just want to spruce up before going out to dinner, as you won't interfere with the food. Consider also using weak perfumes in the bath (just spritz the water 10-12 times before you get in), or sprayed on your towels just before wrapping yourself in them, or as a pillow spray. Better still, look for the same fragrance in a body lotion, soap or bath product - some scents just work better as toiletries rather than perfumes and are none the worse for that.

You like the top notes but not the base notes

Spray it on your pillow before sleep - that way you get the best half hour and are asleep before the rest of it kicks in.

You like the base notes but not the top notes

This one is trickier, as you do have to live through the worst of it before you get to the best of it - something that afflicts me with First by Van Cleef et Arpels. Keep the perfume on your wrists only and don't put your hands near your face for an hour or two, or spray it on a scarf and don't wear it until the fume sweetens. 

It's too flowery or too spicy

Try using it to scent drawer liners and cotton-wool balls placed among clothes in storage. Both florals and orientals last well on paper and any perfume at all will work as a moth repellent, including citrus. When scenting drawer liners, spray abundantly and then leave the paper to dry for 10 minutes or so. With cotton-wool balls, soak the cotton-wool, then place it in a cloth bag (those little organza bags that so much jewellery comes in are useful for this), so that the scent doesn't stain your clothing. This technique has worked well for me to use up some cheap musks I bought at a discount store in a moment of madness. 

It smells like room freshener

Use it as one. There's no obligation to use perfume on yourself. I use Yardley's Lavender EDT this way - way too harsh a perfume to actually use on the body, but it's nice enough in the loo. The same applies, sadly, to Serge Lutens' Gris Clair.   

It's just not right for you

A perfume has to hit you at the right stage of your life - often, as women get older, they find they can wear fragrances that were just too grown-up and glamourous when they were younger. If you really like a fragrance but it's 'not you', either give it away to someone who'll appreciate it (the best solution if it's too girly), or close it tight, rebox it and put it somewhere cool. Take it out once a year and try it, and if it's still not you after three years, it's time to pass it on. IMHO, a perfume has to be worn several times before you get a grip on its true character, so don't throw out what may one day be your true love until you've given him enough time to reveal himself. 





Perfume swap

A perfume swap at mine the other night shows how every woman differs from every other.

Thought I would take a brief opportunity to blog, while I have internet (it's been down because of the snow).

I organised a perfume swap evening last Friday for the girls. Not all went according to plan, I must say, as many people were ill, and then the weather got very icy, so in fact I cancelled it. But luckily, some of the girls didn't get the email, so all of a sudden, five people turned up looking forward to an evening of swapping, spraying and nattering.

I turned it, instead, into a masterclass of sorts, not that I know all that much about perfume. But I took them through the differences between a chypre and a fougere, a fruity floral and a woody oriental. And what struck me most was the difference between the six of us.

M, in her early 70s, loved white florals - Eau Serge Lutens, Cristina Bertrand #3, Yardley's White Satin.

J, in (I'm guessing) her early 50s, loved loud florals: Amarige, Arpege, Poeme and Beautiful.

E, in her 40s, was on the hunt for the perfect rose perfume. Yves St Laurent's Paris wasn't quite her cup of tea, and she rejected Parisienne as too sweet. But J had brought with her Dolce & Gabbana's Rose The One, and this very much met with E's approval, so I decanted a 1ml sample for her.

K, in her mid-50s, is not a perfume wearer and had brought with her, her only bottle - DNKY Be Delicious. Unsurprisingly, she proved to be a fan of fruity florals, but rejected the idea of taking a decant, as she doesn't even wear the one perfume she's got.

A, around 50, liked citrus perfumes, but she reserved her real love for Serge Lutens' Ambre Sultan and was gutted to find that I had only 2.5ml and couldn't decant any for her. In general, she preferred the woody perfumes and orientals - Opium, Eau Dynamisante, Jeux de Peau.

And myself? Well, I'm a white floral, loud floral, woody orientals kind of gal. I loathe fruity florals, aquatics and soliflores, and I love perfumes that some might think smell a bit more like room sprays: Tea for Two, Serge Noire, Comme des Garcons Incense Avignon, Fille en Aiguilles.

It was a fun evening and I hope people went home with a better idea of what they liked and why, and what other perfumes they might profitably try in the future. Perfume is a luxury item and it's tough when you make a mistake. 

Right, I will post this before I lose internet again... batten down the hatches.  


Starting from scratch

When it comes to perfume, I'm beginning to realise I didn't really get a head start...

Is LVMH restricting trade?

Why can't I buy LVMH fragrances on Ebay?

Of scents and other things

Perfume, it seems to me, is one place where an over-40s babe can continue to express herself, whatever her age