The holiday season is upon us and many of you have already started shopping for gifts. I thought I’d present a few ideas, whether it’s for the fragrance lover in your life, or merely an office coworker for whom you have to get a “secret Santa” gift. A few of my suggestions are suited for those who don’t even have a serious interest in perfume. For example, a book of poetry by 100 contemporary American poets who were each sent a different vial of unnamed perfume (ranging from Jo Malone to Tom Ford, Creed, Kilian or others), and then wrote a poem in response to the unknown scent.
As you will see, very few of my ideas have to do with buying actual perfume. I think it’s a truly terrible idea to gift someone fragrance unless you know them and their tastes extremely well or, ideally, have a precise shopping list of the exact perfumes that they want. Otherwise, it’s a potential disaster and, quite possibly, a huge waste of money. Given the vagaries of skin chemistry, you simply can’t know how a perfume bought blindly will actually turn out on their skin and if they’ll like it.
So, it’s far better to leave the choice up to them. For example, you can send an e-card, even on the day of Christmas if you’re a procrastinator who is truly behind schedule. Some people may see gift certificates as a sign of laziness or lack of thought but, for a perfumista, they’re the best thing ever! Even small amounts give one the freedom to sample new things, each a potential passage to olfactory Nirvana. Non-perfumistas might also enjoy certificates to places that sell luxury candles, men’s beauty products, or home fragrances. Or, you can go another route, and opt for fragrance-related things like books, foodie essences, or perfume-making kits. Here are a few suggestions.
You can buy gift certificates for either perfume samples, actual perfumes, or both. For samples, Surrender to Chance is a perfect place to start, as it has a wide variety of niche and mainstream fragrances across the price spectrum, and they ship to most places worldwide. Their gift certificates or e-cards start at $1 and go up to $200.
Luckyscent focuses mainly on full bottles, but they also sell individual samples and sample sets. Then, there are gift sets of minis from Tom Ford Private Blend, Penhaligons, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, and Comme des Garcons. In addition, they have a huge range of candles, lovely soaps from Oriza L. Legrand, beauty and men’s care products, home scent, and such accessories as fragrance trays. Their gift certificates come as e-cards or the regular thing, and start at $50. They ship their products worldwide, so your gift recipient can be located anywhere.
Twisted Lily in Brooklyn is similar to Luckyscent, and has a different range of excellent niche brands, but also products for the home and body, incense kits, room diffusers, scented soaps, and sample sets. They have an extensive page of gift ideas, including stocking stuffers and gifts under $25. They have e-card or gift certificates, too, starting at $20.
- In Europe, First in Fragrance has an extensive list of gift sets for brands ranging from Amouage to Acqua di Parma, as well as sets for candles, cosmetics, and home fragrance. They offer e-cards starting at €25, and ship products worldwide. They’re definitely a great choice for international fragrance lovers.
- In the U.K., you can turn to Les Senteurs for Christmas Gifts or gift vouchers starting at £25. They don’t sell e-cards, though. Roullier White also sells a wide range of fragrant products for the body and home, Gift Hampers starting at £24, teas and coffees, stationary, cards, gloves, hats, and more. I don’t see any gift certificates on their site.
“This book is like crack.” That was the thought that ran through my mind after reading a few chapters of Mandy Aftel‘s new book, Fragrant. Not that I’ve ever had crack (or drugs of any kind, for that matter), but I was hooked on Fragrant from the start. It’s received wonderful reviews by everyone from the New York Times to Vogue, Vanity Fair, Time magazine, and others — and it’s easy to see why. It’s an easy-to-read, well-written, and very absorbing book that guides you through the history of 5 of the main ingredients in fragrance history, from cinnamon (“the Julia Roberts of spices”) to amber, frankincense, jasmine, and mint. But you don’t have to be a history nut like myself to find the book to be of enormous interest. One of the things that I loved the most was the really easy, layman’s guide to how to make your own scented products — whether a Chypre-Spice Body Incense taken from the Japanese tradition, a jasmine body oil, or even a recipe for Coca-Cola. What is so wonderful about “Fragrant,” is how clearly and simply everything is laid out for those who want to make perfume. Ms. Aftel starts with something as basic as how to set up your bowl or beaker on a paper towel in relation to your droppers and ingredients, then proceeds to walk you through things step-by-step. The recipes themselves look temptingly easy: 10 drops of this, 2 drops of that, and 6 drops of another, in 8 milliliters of jojoba oil or basic ethyl alcohol. Throughout it all, Ms. Aftel never condescends, and she’s always aware that people may not have a lot of money, so there is a lot of talk about budgeting yourself (both mentally and financially), as well as practical, low-cost ideas (like using coffee filters for straining products). I could go on forever (and I will in a proper review some day soon), but I’m telling you, this book is mesmerizing! History, recipes, How-To guides, and perfume, all wrapped up in a beautifully colourful hardback book that retails for $28. There is even a separate Companion Kit of the main 5 fragrant oils who are “characters” in the book to help you “smell along” as you read, or to use in trying one of the recipes. You can buy a signed copy of Fragrant directly from Mandy Aftel for $28. Amazon has Fragrant for about $20, with 2-day shipping for Prime customers.
Another superb book is Roja Dove’s beautiful coffee-table book, “The Essence of Perfume.” I wrote a detailed book review back in August that you can turn to for inside images, discussion sections, quotes, and analysis, but the bottom-line is that this is a fantastic gift for anyone with even a passing interest in fragrance. It’s as informative as it is beautiful, hefty, glossy, and chic. Whether it talks about the history of fragrance going back to Cleopatra (a hardcore perfume lover, by the way), the basic structure for the most important fragrance groups, or what key perfume ingredients smell like, The Essence of Perfume is always clear-cut, interesting, and educational. And the photos are fantastic! Page after page of the most exquisite vintage or antique perfume bottles — many of which are more like works of art than what we see today — along with fun vintage ads; many of these things were dug up by Roja Dove and are exclusive to this book. I bought “The Essence of Perfume” for myself, because I think it’s informative about so many aspects of perfumery, but I think that general book lovers would enjoy it as well. It’s not expensive either, by the standards of most huge coffee-table tomes which can often start at $60 or more. The Essence of Perfume only costs $26.25 on Amazon, down from a retail price of almost $40.
Patricia de Nicolai might be called the first lady of niche perfumery, both by virtue of time and experience. She is a member of the Guerlain family who started her own perfume house, arguably one of the very first niche ones and definitely the first one run by a female nose. (You can read my profile on her if you’re interested in her experiences as a woman in the industry, as well as her life within the Guerlain family.) Madame de Nicolai is also the President of Osmothèque, the world’s largest archival repository of fragrance, a museum, and a sort of Fort Knox for the last-known, original samples of some of the rare perfume greats, as well as fragrances over the last 2,000 years. In short, Madame de Nicolai knows perfume, inside and out, and this year marked the 25th anniversary of her house, Parfums de Nicolai. She’s written a new, bilingual, French-English book about her experiences called Nicolai which details her journey, her perfume beliefs, and her history (Guerlain and otherwise). She talks about how fragrances are made, the essential character of key ingredients, perfume regulation in today’s IFRA/EU world, how she started her business, what each of her own fragrance creations is like, and where she sees the perfume world going in the future. It’s a very interesting, hardcover book that would appeal to any Guerlain and Nicolai fan. It costs €20 and is available right now on the Nicolai website, and they say that they ship worldwide. It may also be available at Parfum de Nicolai’s regular retailers.
Someone with a more literary bent of mind might be interested in The Book of Scented Things: 100 Contemporary Poems about Perfume, edited by Jehanne Dubrow and Lindsay Lusby, and released a few months ago. It’s an anthology of poetry from 100 American poets who were asked to write in response to blind-sniffing individually selected vials of fragrance. I’ve meant to review this book for a while now, as I found the experiment original and fascinating. 100 poems, all inspired by perfume, but not necessarily about perfume at all! In fact, you don’t even know which poet received what fragrance when you read their words; you have to look up the name in a list at the back of the book afterwards. So, Poem No. 59 is by Erin Belieu, entitled “Victoria Station,” and opens with the line, “When a girl is the disaster.” It then goes on to tell the a tale about a wreck of a day that leaves a red-haired girl in tears, before she finally meets with kindness in a tea shop near Victoria Station. There is only a brief mention of a “cologne of pears” and freesia, because — like many of the works in this book — perfume is merely the catalyst or trigger, not the actual subject-matter. Later, in the Appendix, you learn that Ms. Belieu was given Jo Malone‘s Pear & Freesia cologne. Other poets were paired with such scents as: Tom Ford Tuscan Leather; By Kilian Pure Oud; Guerlain Insolence; Frederic Malle Lipstick Rose; Heeley Sel Marin; Creed Sublime Vanille; Andy Tauer Incense Rosé; Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine; Bond No. 9 New Haarlem; Diptyque Philosykos; or Caron Narcisse Noir. The Book of Scented Things is a paperback that retails for $20, and is available on Amazon for $18.62. I assume it’s also available on Amazon’s various International websites for readers who are overseas. Finally, the book is also sold at Barnes & Noble.
FRAGRANT ESSENCES & KITS:
If your loved one is foodie instead of a perfume addict, I can’t recommend enough the fantastic, bold, vibrant, pure flavours found in the Aftelier Chef’s Essences. I’m crazy about them and, in fact, have turned into a total Lemongrass junkie since the time I wrote my two-part series on 11 products in the range. You can read Part I on such essences as Ginger, Blood Orange, Rose Absolute, Basil, or Pear, or Part II on things like Chocolate, Cognac, Tarragon, and others, along with a conclusion about just why I think these things are so special. For our purposes here, all you need to know is that they are used by some of the most famous 3-Michelin star chefs in the world as well as at the White House, they’re totally food-safe, they have a wide variety of uses in drinks, cocktails, and food, and they’re something unique that would blow the socks off a hardcore foodie. Equally important, the Essences are practical, convenient, basically last forever in most instances, and save you a ton of money over the real thing. Prices start at $12 for the concentrated drops, and $16 for the sprays, with various gift kits available as well. They’re a great value, in my opinion, if you compare the $18 price of a 30 ml bottle of Basil essence that will last you a few years, to the average $4 cost of a single bunch of the fresh herb. The Chef Essences are exclusive to the Aftelier website which ships worldwide.
Let’s say your loved one is interested in aromatherapy or making their own perfumes. You can buy a range of tinctures, oils, and high-quality absolutes from one of the most respected all-natural perfumers in the world. From The New York Times to Luca Turin, AbdesSalaam Attar (Dominique Dubrana) of La Via del Profumo is praised for his mastery and knowledge of perfumery. I’ve found him to be one of the most charming people I’ve corresponded with, a true gentleman, and one whose humbleness and graciousness is exceeded only by his vast knowledge. He sells high-quality, individual essences from ambergris, jasmine, frankincense and myrrh, to such funky, rare things as hyraceum and civet paste. He also sells various kits, from a basic Perfumer’s starter kit of your choice of ingredients, to one centered purely on animalic, skanky tinctures. The latter one is cool because you can add something like hyraceum to a vial or decant of your existing fragrance to really amp it up to a killer degree. Finally, AbdesSalaam Attar is currently offering gift certificates where, in return for buying one for someone you love, you get one free yourself, valued at 25% of the amount you spent. La Via del Profumo is in Europe, but ships worldwide.
Another option is The Perfumer’s Apprentice. They have all the supplies to get someone started in making their own fragrances, but many of their items are also useful as a way of training your own nose. I’ve never ordered from them but have planned to for quite a while, primarily because they sell a vast number of synthetics in additional to their natural products and food concentrates. Aromachemicals from Givaudan, Firmenich, and IFF are there alongside natural essential oils, bases, blending solutions, perfume kits, and more. Everything that I’ve seen is very affordable, with individual items often being as low as $3 for 4 ml sizes. Discovery Sets are reasonable, too, and might be a really original gift idea. There is a $30 Perfumer’s Starter’s Kit with 12, already diluted, ready-to-use essences such as rose, jasmine, gardenia, lily-of-the-valley, grapefruit, vanilla, and more. It even comes with formulas to use, 100 scented strips, pipettes, and 5 ml bottles for the finished products. For someone adventurous, there is an Aroma-chemical Kit (shown on the same page) with such things as Ambroxan, Geraniol, or the blasted ISO E Supercrappy of my nightmares. It’s $125, but includes 50 products, along with formulas to make several key accords, from jasmine to neroli or cologne. You can also buy things separately if you know what to look for. For example, Norlimbanol, a synthetic used in a lot of expensive luxury fragrances to create a woody-amber aroma with a leathery undertone, costs $3 for a 4 ml bottle. You can look at the alphabetically listed selection here. The company ships to most places worldwide, seemingly for a low price. More importantly, they offer gift certificates and e-cards starting at $5. Again, I haven’t ordered from them, but I’m suggesting the site because I’ve wanted to try their products myself in order to widen my knowledge, so perhaps one of your loved ones would feel the same way. (Or, you can treat yourself, as part of your own perfume education.)
I hope some of the things on my list were helpful gift ideas but, most of all, I hope you have a lovely holiday season. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, or nothing at all, may the last few weeks of 2014 be a happy time for you and those you love.
Disclosure: Several of the books were provided courtesy of their respective authors or perfume houses. That did not impact this piece, or my decision to include them here. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.