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Patchouli and Violets: Scents and Scentsibilities

For the last few weeks, memories from childhood Christmases in England have been floating around in my head. The old rhyme “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat” has been a constant refrain, reminding me both of the abundance of this time of year and the need to be charitable and compassionate with others. The other memory is of a very specific year, when I was nine. My parents and I went to midnight mass in an ancient stone church and I sat there, dazed from the cold and the incense, yet full of the sense of mysteries unfolding before me. Sometimes I still feel that way and I always smile when I feel my past and present intersect so happily.

Perfume has been known to make me feel dizzy, too; sometimes from over-spraying and sometimes from the sheer delight of finding a new fragrance I love. The fragrances I reviewed this month are all luscious and one actually does make me dizzy with delight.

Tom Ford White Patchouli

I always think I don’t like patchouli, but when I smell a patchouli that doesn’t totally overwhelm me and make me sneeze, I realize that I do like it; I can’t help it, I know it’s probably faintly trashy to like it, but I do, and I especially like Tom Ford’s White Patchouli.

Top notes are bergamot, white peony, and coriander, with heart notes of rose absolute, night-blooming jasmine, and ambrette seed. Base notes are patchouli orpur, blonde woods, and incense. White Patchouli opens pretty big and spicy, but it calms down pretty fast. Those looking for the standard, musky patchouli oil scent of their childhood will not find that here. The florals almost immediately offset the patchouli and the fragrance quickly settles into a smooth, spicy-woody-incense blend that you can wear anywhere. There are no dirty edges in White Patchouli; it’s sophisticated and modern and worlds away from hippy patchouli, which is either a good or bad thing, depending on your tastes.

The bottle is pure white with gold accents, a variation on Ford’s usual chic bottles.

Eau de Parfum, $92–$138. Widely available, including at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Versace Pour Homme

Versace Pour Homme was inspired by Donatella Versace’s father and her family’s Mediterranean roots. The notes are bergamot, bitter orange leaves, neroli, citron, geranium, clary sage, blue hyacinth, cedar wood, oud, mineral amber, musk, and tonka bean.

I liked this fragrance the minute I smelled it and so did everyone else who sampled it. It opens with a tart, tangy citrus that is smoothed out by the neroli into a really delicious, faintly sweet lemon that I find delightful. I don’t really smell any of the amber musk notes, and I don’t miss them at all. There’s nothing complicated or earthy about this fragrance; it just plain smells good without being insipid. Every woman who smelled it would love for her man to wear it and I think that’s an excellent recommendation. If I could get my man to wear anything other than “eau de soap,” this is what I would buy for him—and then I’d borrow it every once in a while!

The bottle is simple, square, and masculine, with a silver Versace Medusa head medallion.

Eau de Toilette, $22–$72. Widely available, including at Macy’s.

Creed Love in Black

I can’t let the year end without a violet fragrance, and Love in Black is my pick for a totally fun, rather over-the-top violet fragrance.

The top notes are wildflowers, violet, and Virginia cedar. Heart notes are iris, clove, and tonkin musk; base notes are black currant and Bulgarian rose. 

Love in Black opens with a rather harsh chemical note that takes you aback, so sniff cautiously at first. The violet makes its presence known shortly after that and never really leaves the scene. No shrinking violet here, it mixes with the clove and musk for a while, then combines with the fruit and rose notes to make a candy-sweet, brassy violet that violet lovers should make sure to smell. It reminds me a little of the classic Violetta Di Parma, but this is the Duchess’ descendant—a Goth chick with a title and a knowing wink. I don’t know if I’d buy it, but it’s well worth a mention.

The bottle is shield-shaped in matte black with the Creed logo. Quite funerary and Victorian, it made me chuckle, although I don’t think Creed meant it to have that effect.

$130–$230. Available at Neiman Marcus and select Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman stores.

Alahine by Teo Cabanel

As Abigail Levin of the Posh Peasant says, “Ah, Alahine!” I have been sighing in delight over Alahine ever since I smelled it. I love it so much I haven’t wanted to share it with anyone, but finally decided it was just too good of a find to keep to myself.

Teo Cabanel is a small niche perfumery originally established in 1893 and was the perfumer to the Duchess of Windsor for many years. It eventually closed, but it reopened in 2003. Alahine is the third perfume in the reborn line and it’s so beautiful, I rarely wear anything else.

Top notes are bergamot, lavender, and ylang ylang. Heart notes are Bulgarian and Moroccan rose, orange flower, jasmine, and pepper plant; base notes are iris, patchouli, benzoin (a resin used as a fixative in perfumes and incense; it smells like a powdery vanilla), sandalwood, and musk.

Classified as an ambery oriental, Alahine opens with the sharp bite of ylang ylang and bergamot, so it’s best sprayed on skin when you first try it, rather than sniffed from the bottle. The jasmine and rose then combine quickly with the pepper to temper the sharpness of the opening notes. The dry-down is faintly sweet and musky, with a lot of incense drifting the fragrance. Alahine is well blended, with all the notes flowing together to create a rather mysterious, very feminine, whole. What you smell within ten minutes is what you will get tantalizing whiffs of all day. It has excellent lasting power and because of that should be sprayed lightly, although I have been known to douse myself with it if given the opportunity. I should also mention that men have been know to get glazed expressions and wobbly knees when smelling Alahine on a woman’s skin, so for that alone, it’s worth a try.

The bottle is square and heavy, with a silvery floral design on one side. Very 1930s-glamorous and perfect for the scent.

Eau de Parfum, $110–$145. $3 sample bottles are also available. Alahine can be purchased at The Posh Peasant, which also has a good selection of niche perfumes and decants.

Parting note: I like my money right where I can see it—hanging in my closet.”—Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City

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