Despondent, inconsolable, and thoroughly litigated, when last we met not even Mouton Rothschild and locker room photos of the Brazilian national soccer team sufficed to drive off the spleen.
But that is all in the past: triumphant and rejuvenated, I again face the world and your travails. How have you spent the last few weeks? I envision package tours from an online travel retailer, complete with meal vouchers and a chardonnay whose top unscrews.
I am freshly returned from Ibiza and the annual conference of the Lytton Society, an ancient and proud membership devoted to the study of uranistic adverbs in ancient Roman poetry. Tears were shed; teeth were gnashed. A volume of Catullus very nearly severed my spine.
Even more than my keynote speech on men’s hosiery in the Horacian Odes, I was admired for my choice of holiday scent. One poetic admirer recalled Papylus, who Martial quips had a member so large that “ut possis, quotiens arrigis, olfacere.” But I digress…
For the holidays, one must have a scent that is dark, deep, warm, and rich, not unlike a Bahraini oil sheikh but without the threat of stoning. Think spices, cloves, musk, resin, woods, and incense. Leave the bergamot, cardamom, and aquatic notes for spring; in the cold weather they’ll be as flat and lifeless as Renée Fleming attempting Isolde.
Here are four to consider: the first is a secret gem, Guerlain’s Winter Delice. Hard to find and oddly marketed as part of their light, inexpensive, and usually fleeting Aqua Allegoria series, this one is a strong, subtle blend of spice and musk. Far from being loud and cloying, it sticks close to the skin and reminds one of Christmas time on the Avenue George V, holding hands with the evening’s preferred sailor on leave from Marseille.
Dipping away from quiet potpourri and into something darker is L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Passage d’enfer. Imagine stone gates, centuries of incense smoked into wooden benches, and cathedrals lit only with a few wax candles. One confesses to forbidden sins through damask curtains, and Ebenezer Scrooge delights in stealing coins from the offering plate.
A little more joyous and less likely to inspire excommunication is Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier’s Secret Melange. Happier, sweeter and less spicy than the others, it is an interesting blend of cloves, citrus fruit, and has a wonderful soapy quality that feels warmer than it does clean. The lovely cut-glass bottle in red and the gilded cap alone are worth the price of admission. Like all MPG scents, it’s a love it or hate it affair; but like most things French, it’s worth at least one ride along the Pigalle.
Perhaps best of all, and most pleasant to the widest audience, is Comme des Garçons’ Incense series. Choose from several varieties, each with a different spirit and essence in mind. Kyoto is a perennial favorite; light and moody as a temple in the Japanese Alps. My own choice is at least a single sniff of Ouarzazate (an obvious and far-too-easy joke about rocking one’s Kasbah will not be a part of this review, my dears). Avignon, Jaisalmer, and Zagorsk round out the series, and all are worth a try. Although well-known for their avant-garde fashion, CdG also has some of the best designer fragrances on the market.
Even if one wishes to voyage beyond the four above, you must remember that, for scents, the key is impact. One should never buy a scent because it is “nice.” The goal is not to smell “clean,” but to make a mark. Avoid anything that would clash with your scent, so leave your scented soaps, lotions, and deodorants in the dust bin of history. You want to leave a trace of yourself behind, not unlike a fog of wonderful stink that lingers on in a ballroom even after the badinage has run its course. To do otherwise is to make a grave offense to the nose; to borrow a phrase from the Emperor Justinian, such transgressions are a well-known cause of earthquake.
This article was originally published on Styleforum.net by Professor Fabulous.