December 2011


A perfumista’s go-to guide for the very best in fragrance choices

As the days grow shorter, nights turn cooler and holidays approach, I find myself pondering perfumes—old and new classics, big-ticket splurges and fragrant bargains. Here is my idiosyncratic list...


Andy Tauer Miriam: The Swiss niche perfumer has created a bewitching fragrance using a large percentage of high-quality natural ingredients that blend violets, sandalwood, rose, powder, orris and a touch of citrus.

Ayala Moriel Parfums Zangvil: As a fan of Moriel naturals, I can’t get enough of this subtle holiday skinscent that blends ginger-spiked amber and candied orange.

Bottega Veneta Eau de Parfum: It took forever for this luxury firm to enter perfumed waters, but the wait was worth it. Florals and leathers are a heavenly match, and when Michel Almairac throws in a whisper of shapeshifting plummy chypre à la Diorella, I’m in perfume nirvana.

Esprit d’Oscar de la Renta: Back in the day, I loved the creamy hay-tobacco-tube-rose of original Oscar. Esprit layers in sandalwood, fruit and vanilla to create a sweeter, woodsier perfume that still references my beloved Oscar.

Heeley Hippie Rose: This might just be ideal for a laid-back SoCal evening when you’re gettin’ mellow: rose, patchouli, incense, amber and musk.

Parfumerie Generale Indochine: Pierre Guillaume creates intriguing perfumes that are both ancient and extremely modern. Notes of balsam, cardamom, pepper, florals, thanakha white wood, benzoin and honey. Sounds heavy. Instead, it’s transparent and shimmering.

Prada Candy: Liquor is quicker, but Candy is a gourmand-esque dandy that does a 180-degree switch from Prada’s recent wan florals à la Jean-Claude Ellena, with notes of fruit, caramel, vanilla, woods, cola, spice and benzoin.

Serge Lutens De Profundis: I’ve been lukewarm on recent offerings, but this transparent green floral incense, with its nod to Oscar Wilde’s essay, reassures me that Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake remain the high wizards of niche.

Tom Ford Violet Blonde: May sound like a sultry femme fatale, but it smells like silky jasmine, oriental woods and violet.


Amouage Gold / Ubar: Its roots lie in the Sultanate of Oman, which hired French perfumers years ago to create sumptuous scents. How could you not want notes of rock rose, lily of the valley, silver frankincense, myrrh, orris, jasmine, musk, ambergris, cedar and sandalwood?

Ayala Moriel, DSH Perfumes, Floris, Miller Harris, Neil Morris, Yosh and many others: Bespoke fragrances in which you and the perfumer collaborate to create your dream perfume.

Chanel Bois des Iles Parfum: Plush sandalwood, iris, jasmine and rose in the ultra-luxe Chanel tradition. Stock up before they discontinue this rare gem.

Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur: A modern mix—musks, vanilla, cinnamon and spices—that even under fluorescent
department-store lights conjures up carnal thoughts.

Serge Lutens Sarrasins: Available only in France, so factor in plane tickets. Once you arrive at Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido in Paris, feast your eyes on the dark purple juice in the gorgeous bell jar, then envelop yourself in the scent like a leather jacket lined with indolic jasmine. Sip some red wine as the intoxicating first act slides into apricot suede. Masterful!


Angel: Thierry Mugler birthed a monster, but this now cliché fruity-floral-patchouli-chocolate creation still pleases. Apply sparingly or be shunned.

Boucheron: Original Boucheron for women is a symphonic floral limned with spice and incense; Jaïpur Homme is a rich floral oriental that smells like Amouage’s thrifty little brother—and it’s delish on women, too.

Chanel No. 5 Parfum: There is nothing like this instantly recognizable timeless fragrance. Plus, you can pretend you’re Catherine Deneuve.

Dior Homme: With a hint of iris and dried fruit, this one’s unisex.

Guerlain L’Heure Bleue: A seamless, melancholy blend of anise, powder, tonka, benzoin, carnation, clove and bergamot It’s been reformulated, so look for an older bottle.

Guerlain Vetiver: Smell like a posh gent, even if you ain’t.

Jean Patou Joy Parfum: Exquisite florals morph into an indolic jasmine white-floral heart. Try it at least once in your life.

Narciso Rodriguez for Her Eau de Toilette: A modern classic—the one in the black bottle—with radiant musk, florals and fruit.


Dead Sexy: Edgy offerings like this will seduce your inner goth. It’s just one from Tokyo Milk, a more curated and mainstream version of pioneering Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab.

Estée Lauder Cinnabar /  Alliage / Private Collection Perfumes / Youth Dew Bath Oil: Sick of the tsunami of aquatic, fruity florals? These onetime stars linger at department and drugstore counters, forlorn and nearly forgotten.

Guerlain Aqua Allegorias: Guerlain is known for timeless orientals, but someone convinced them (rightly) to launch myriad aquas with notes of grapefruit, neroli, lavender, pine and more.

Hanae Mori Magical Moon: A cuddly pashmina shawl of warm woods and sweet florals.

Jean Desprez Bal à Versailles: You’ll either love this old-world favorite with skanky civet or run screaming. Tip: Sample first.

Kiehl’s Musk: A pharmacy staple that still smells great.

Les Exclusifs de Chanel: Get some friends, buy empty bottles at a site like Accessories for Fragrances and split a 200 ml bottle of Sycomore (smoky vetiver), Coromandel (smooth patchouli) or No. 22 (incensy, aldehydic florals), available only at Chanel boutiques or online. Not cheap, but a deal when divvied up.

Lush Karma: Patchouli and orange—what’s not to like?

Old Spice: Good-natured, bracing, spicy, refreshingly unisex, it’d score high in a sniff test.

Paul & Joe Bleu: A modern, user-friendly Shalimar, with intoxicating spice and resins reminiscent of gifts of the Magi. Will leave you humming “We Three Kings.”

Perfume Samples: Many small firms (Frédéric Malle, Ineke, Ormonde Jayne) offer reasonably priced sampler packs on their websites. And the Perfumed Court and Lucky Scent are trustworthy sites that offer thousands of samples by the vial.

Pour un Homme de Caron: A yummy lavender-vanilla blend that will have the filles fighting you for the bottle. Also Caron’s Aimez-Moi, a blend of violet, rose and amber, smells much more expensive than it is. Caron doesn’t have the best distribution, so find these online at reputable sites such as Beauty Encounter, Parfum1, CheapSmells and Beautyhabit.

Rochas Tocade: A rich, creamy mélange of vanilla and rose in a colorful bottle that looks sculptural enough to display in any modernist house.

Sung by Alfred Sung: Twice recently, I’ve been smitten by perfumes on women. Each time it was the humble white floral Sung and not some fancy niche brand.