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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. 

 

Is LVMH restricting trade?

Why can't I buy LVMH fragrances on Ebay?

Lately, I'm becoming something of a perfume fanatic, but since only have a small budget, I have been buying from various resellers on Ebay. This way, I can get part-used bottles, small sample bottles, discontinued fragrances, etc. But yesterday I noticed something very strange - you can't buy luxury LVMH-owned perfume brands on Ebay if you live in France.

There's not a single Dior, Givenchy or Guerlain fragrance (or, for that matter, beauty product) listed on Ebay.fr, though you can get LVMH's lower-priced brands such as Fendi and Kenzo. There are masses of Diors, Givenchys and Guerlains listed on Ebay.co.uk, and Ebay.com, but when I bid on them from France - even if the seller permits overseas bidding - my bid is blocked 'pour raisons judiciares'. 

Interesting.

I would have thought this amounted to restriction of trade, though doubtless the companies concerned would claim it's an anti-counterfeiting measure (it is a criminal offence to buy or own a counterfeit object in France, so even by having it, you're breaking the law). But why assume that all vendors are counterfeiters? And why would this only apply to the luxury end of the brand spectrum? And why only LVMH-owned brands? I can, for instance, buy niche luxury brands such as Serge Lutens and Annick Goutal perfectly easily on line, so I assume this is not a government matter.  

Anyway, I find it annoying, really, when all I'm trying to get is a little 5ml sample of each perfume, and it leaves me thrown back on firms like The Perfumed Court, and having to pay for postage from the US, as I am obviously not about to drop 100 euros on a large bottle of perfume which I then find I don't like after all.

However - I have also found a way around it, for anyone who needs to do the same. It's (obviously) not allowed by Ebay, and you have to trust the vendor, but just ask them to list an item that doesn't exist, with a buy-it-now price, and you buy that and they send you the real thing instead. Yes, it's a risk, but for a 10-quid sample bottle of fragrance, no great loss if you do get shafted - though if you do, it's a simple case of caveat emptor. 

 

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

PerfumeI will be reviewing perfumes more often on this blog, so I thought perhaps I should give some background as to what I like and don't like in scent, to give more of a base line. Because the thing is, I'm not what you'd call an ardent perfume fan - in fact, I haven't bought a bottle in years.

It is my recent introduction to the more selective perfumes lines that has proved something of a lightbulb moment. For many years prior to this, I had been a bit fed up with perfumes, for several reasons. 

Firstly, many of them smell the same... Ammonia-powered top note, migraine-inducing heart note, chemical-smelling base note. Nothing special, nothing individual, all way too artificial for my liking.

Secondly, I have a strong body chemistry that turns many perfumes rancid, and the majority of high-street perfumes mature on me in a way that I don't like, unless I faff about spraying them onto tissues, etc.

Therefore, when I find a favourite (usually in a selective or organic brand) I tend to stick with it. I will wear a perfume for years if I like it, because - after all - they are expensive. In this, I am remarkably boring.

I find many perfumes too unsubtle. In my hectare of garden I grow roses (about which I am PASSIONATE), along with lavender, witch hazel, osmanthus, lilacs, buddleia, jasmine, viburnums, elder, phlomis etc. Scent is crucial to me in the garden, and an important criterion when I choose plants. So I know the scent of a Gloire de Dijon from a Belle de Crècy, how some perfumes carry on the air and how some require you to bury your nose in a blossom to appreciate them, how violets anaesthetise your sense of smell, how witch hazels can't be smelt close up and how some flowers smell only at certain times of day. I ofen feel that artificial perfumes fall far short of what can be found in nature.

I mostly detest the scents to be found in air fresheners and household cleaners - so I make my own from white vinegar, bicarb and lemon oil. I use pure essential oils in the bath (lavender, black pepper, rosemary, grapefruit...), favour unscented skincare products, wash my clothes with Savon de Marseilles, don't use fabric softener at all because I can't bear the smell, make my own talc from cornstarch and bicarb, and prefer a deodorant stone to a scented anti-perspirant.

So, fragrance, for me, has to be either very worthwhile, or not used at all.

Having said that, I am not immune to how useful fragrance can be to induce a mood, or complement your clothing. It's delightful to use a beautifully scented body lotion (current favourite, Mariella Rossetti's Lime and Caffeine), or have your friends use your loo and say it's the best-smelling bathroom they've ever been in (Airwick Apple and Cinnamon candles). 

When it comes to actually wearing perfume, then, for summer evenings, I favour florals such as YSL Paris, Crabtree and Evelyn's rose (eau fraiche), or an essential oil such as ylang-ylang, while my pillow gets a spritz of Durance's Bouton de Rose pillow spray or lavender oil. During the daytime, I'm quite happy with true lavender scents such as Norfolk Lavender (a memory, also, to me of holidays spent at my auntie's house in Gayton), which smells nice and clean (lavender, from 'lavare' - to wash).

in winter - perhaps because I like cooking - I favour edible offerings like apple, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, lapsang souchong, ginger and clove. I also like woody, leathery, tobaccoey and smoky perfumes, along with a dash of patchouli.

For over 10 years, my main winter perfume has been Tea for Two by L'Artisan Parfumeur - a smoky, black tea-based scent, and I am also fond of Jean-Paul Gaultier's first perfume for women (now known as 'Classique'). Having recently tried Serge Lutens' Jeux de peau, however, I am a complete convert and will definitely be wearing it for the rest of the winter.

In spring, I tend to switch to clean, sharp, lemony perfumes, or alternatively what the trade calls 'aquatics' - perfumes that smell of the sea, ozone and fresh air. Aquatics are a new note in perfumes, incidentally, and the accord that creates that smell was only created in about 1991.

For some time I favoured L'Eau d'Issey (the main problem being that everyone else I met seemed to be wearing it), and when my bottle ran out, I switched seamlessly to the DH's L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme - rather more musky but in the same general ballpark.

However, for a few years now, my main spring perfume has been another tea-based offering - Thé Vert by Roger et Galland. This is a very crisp, sharp, green perfume that feels instantly fresh, but like many fresh perfumes, it doesn't have much in the way of staying power - a perennial problem with the volatile oils on which these lemony perfumes are based. I also like L'Occitane's Vervaine, but this too fades - and after an even shorter time.

Finally, I hate celebrity perfumes, and dewberry and all other similar, cat's pee type smells, so anything with even a whiff of this is enough to put me off. Even walking past Bodyshop's Dewberry range has always been enough to give me a pounding headache. 

Actual perfume reviews to follow over the next few days. 

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