Hannah Betts’s Better… not younger: Heaven scent list for lovers still stuck for a gift…
The wise men came bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh. Two millennia on from their fragrant visit, we come bearing Diptyque and Chanel perfumes.
A hefty 49 per cent of scent sales take place at this time of year. As Christmas Day draws near, I find myself longing for seasonal wonders: Caron’s Nuit de Noel, a heady amber-floral evocation of smoking church candles from 1922; Etro’s Messe de Minuit, a contemporary (1994) take on the midnight-mass theme; and a new pash, Laboratorio Olfattivo’s Sacreste, an incense blend concocted in 2018 (£110, jarrold.co.uk).
My partner and I usually escape abroad over Christmas. Wherever we roam, Terence brings a mini Diptyque Feu de Bois candle as our own portable Yule (£29 for 70g, diptyqueparis.com). Its architect was the brilliant Olivia Giacobetti, who created Hiris for Hermes and Diptyque’s figgy Philosykos.
UK-based columnist Hannah Betts provides some stocking filler fragrance favourites which will get you in the good books in the final days before Christmas (file image)
The sublimely woody Feu de Bois (1999) somehow contrives to both be robustly literal — a log fire — and conjure the primordial desire for warmth, comfort, sanctuary.
December always spells Chanel No. 5 (from £62, chanel.com), which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, yet forever young — not least at Christmas, when it is the scent via which the globe’s menfolk pay tribute to the women in their lives.
Jacques Polge, house nose between 1978 and 2015, asserted that: ‘No. 5 is the only example of a fragrance that becomes more intriguing as time passes. Each year adds to its charm, its mystery, its depth.’
He wasn’t wrong. In an age in which the shelf life of many fragrances is less than 18 months, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel’s first perfume is less a scent than a cultural phenomenon. Perfumer Ernest Beaux’s creation for Coco remains the best-selling fragrance in the world — a status it has held since the late 1920s.
So famous was it that, during the liberation of Paris in 1944, American soldiers lined up on the Rue Cambon to buy it for their sweethearts.
Later, it was the only thing to come between Marilyn Monroe and her bed sheets. Despite the May rose and jasmine bouquet at its heart, No. 5 has a stark, bracing, modernist aspect, the product of the then radical — still radical — aldehyde crystals, or fizzing ‘champagne’ quality, that distinguishes it.
It is this that made it the perfume of the 20th century —marching on into the 21st. No. 5 is the scent of a life lived luxuriously, which is why it lends itself to the festive season so well.
Hannah (pictured) says a hefty 49 per cent of scent sales take place at this time of year
Like me, Clinique’s Aromatics Elixir turned 50 in 2021 (from £26, clinique.co.uk).
I am addicted to Aromatics throughout the year, but it is in mid-winter that this rose, carnation, patchouli, sandalwood and vetiver-rich chypre (or mossy) scent truly takes flight. Fabulously uncompromising and aromatherapeutic, Bernard Chant’s marvel deserves its cult following.
‘Womanly’ is a platitude tossed about too often when it comes to perfume — typically to describe some watery mishmash insufficient to beguile the most skittish girl. But, here, the W-word can be deployed in its fullest sense. Aromatics is knowing, worldly, unapologetic — a status one has to grow into and earn.
Some users therefore advise a ‘spray into the air and step into the mist’ policy. To this, I say ‘Pah’ and continue to drench myself. As no less an authority on womanliness than actress Mae West decreed, ‘Too much of a good thing can be wonderful’.
My final festive fixation is Estee Lauder’s unjustly neglected Youth-Dew of 1953 (from £32, esteelauder.co.uk).
The indomitable Estee first sold it as a bath oil (still available to buy at £34) so that women might be persuaded to purchase it for themselves.
Hollywood beauty Dolores del Rio claimed that the secret to ‘driving men gaga’ was to brush this sensuous, softly spiced classic into your hair then sweep your tresses up onto the top of your head.
Try it. It works.
RACE YOU TO IT
Ren’s All Is Bright set contains two gems.
The Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic is a soothing exfoliator that brightens skin with lactic acid, while Overnight Glow Dark Spot Sleeping Cream is my go-to for a ropey complexion.
By morning you’ll look as if you lead a life of milkmaidish innocence.
MY ICON OF THE WEEK
Hannah’s icon of the week is Gwen Stefani, 52, who looks no different from her younger days
The 52-year-old singer looks unchanged from her No Doubt days, with her platinum ponytail and Revlon’s 1953 classic Cherries In The Snow lipstick.
Her make-up artist, Gregory Arlt, decrees: ‘If a woman has 32 seconds to get ready, then definitely use shimmer because it just pops. It puts a little life in your face.’
I get sent a lot of slap, but the limited-edition Pat McGrath Dark Star 006 V2 is my Christmas present to myself.
Dame Pat, the world’s most fashion-forward make-up artist, has created a small but utterly joyous package containing the most coruscating, super-saturated, ultra-violet eyeshadow; a silky PermaGel Ultra Glide Eye Pencil in Xtreme Black to serve as smoky kohl and/or a jet-black base; plus a pot of Cyber Clear Eye Gloss to give lids (and anywhere else) a ‘heavenly holographic shine’.
It’s cosmic cosmetic genius for DIY catwalk looks. Invest now to be a New Year showstopper.