Scented Advent, December 22

Scented Advent, December 22

Today’s Advent scent, by independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, is Sugar Plums. Every year, her house DSH Perfumes releases a new, limited issue holiday fragrance. (Fear not, you can still buy the prior years’ fragrances in her holiday sample sets). Sugar Plums is number 22, this year’s holiday fragrance, also particularly apropos on December 22.

Ms. Hurwitz says that Sugar Plums was inspired by her love for the ballet “The Nutcracker”, and especially the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Her description:

A dancing, celebratory plum chypre fragrance with a frangipani heart bouquet, soft cardamom & ginger spices, touches of incense, and delicious gourmand elements in the drydown. How beautiful and festive! This year’s inspiration comes from a perennial holiday favorite “The Nutcracker”. I have long loved this dreamy ballet; especially the dance of the sugar plum fairies. I have to admit that I have long considered this theme (it’s been in my notebook of ideas for years) for the dancing, dreamlike quality that the concept invokes. Sugar Plums is not really all that sweet… instead it is a celebratory swirl of rich plum, delicate spices, warming incense, and a surprising combination of gourmand elements in a classical chypre structure in the drydown. This may sound like a cacophony of elements, but it comes together beautifully to make a true holiday classic.

DSH Perfumes and Now Smell This
The Nutcracker ballet, Atlanta Ballet
Atlanta Ballet Nutcracker, 2014, Waltz of the Flowers with the Sugar Plum Fairy; image from Atlanta Ballet

Finally, a fragrance in which I can really smell the cardamom! Sometimes I see it listed as a note or accord and I just can’t detect it; that makes me sad because I love the smell of cardamom. Sugar Plums is a very beautiful fragrance, with just the right level of spice and incense. I think the gourmand aspects of the drydown, mentioned about, come from tonka bean; it seems to be combined with some patchouli, giving this modern chypre its base note that in a prior era might have been oakmoss.

Sugar Plums has a spiced fruit opening, which I believe is a combination of a plum accord with the cardamom. The incense slowly appears and rises; it is a soft, gentle incense. I’ll have to take Ms. Hurwitz’ word for it that the floral heart is frangipani; it’s beautiful but I don’t think I could have picked out frangipani as the floral accord. The cardamom and incense persist after the floral notes have receded, and they carry on right into the base notes, two of which I think are tonka and patchouli. This isn’t a sweet fragrance, though it has some sweet accords. My sample is the Voile de Parfum formulation, which is oil-based, and it lasts well on my skin, still very detectable several hours after application. I like it very much! Now I’m eager to try the rest of DSH Perfumes’ holiday fragrances.

My favorite version of The Nutcracker is the former production by the Atlanta Ballet, choreographed by John McFall, in which our daughters appeared as children for several years. I always loved the sets and costumes, which looked more Russian than Victorian, and the choreography was spectacular (ignore the advert for ticket sales, this production ended 4 years ago!):

Is going to The Nutcracker, or watching it on film, a tradition in your family? Do you have a favorite version?

Scent Sample Sunday: Bond No. 9 I Love New York for Holidays

Scent Sample Sunday: Bond No. 9 I Love New York for Holidays

As I’ve been learning about and exploring more fragrances, I find myself doing something I never used to do: picking fragrances to suit seasons of the year. I’m sure this is because I am paying more attention to the fragrances themselves and their notes, instead of just spraying on something I’ve always liked and used, lovely as that might be. So I used to rotate reliably among a small group of floral fragrances, no matter what the season, weather, or time of year — nothing wrong with that, but very predictable. Now that I have a larger collection, and one subscription (Scentbird), I am more intentional in what I choose to wear on a given day.

This fall and winter, I sought out fragrances that emphasized fewer floral notes, though those are still a major love of mine, and had more of a cold weather vibe. Two that come to mind are ELDO’s Noel au Balcon and Bond No. 9’s I Love New York for Holidays. I’ve enjoyed both very much.

I’ve found different descriptions of the notes for the Bond No. 9: Now Smell This and Basenotes listed them as: tangerine, blueberries, plum, freesia, osmanthus, sandalwood, white amber, teakwood, vanilla gelatto and musk, when it was launched in late 2013. Fragrantica, however, says the notes are: mandarin orange, apricot and pomegranate; middle notes are fennel, nutmeg and freesia; base notes are patchouli, leather, musk and praline. It is no longer listed on Bond No. 9’s own website (I think it has been discontinued), so it’s hard to know which is correct, although I would guess that the notes listed when it launched were the ones announced by the maker. Based on my own nose, the opening seems closer to Fragrantica’s description: I get mostly a strong apricot note, which I like. I definitely smell the freesia in the middle, with the apricot still going strong, and there is an astringent middle note which could be nutmeg or fennel. Not smelling any blueberries, plum, or osmanthus. When I first apply it, I get a little pop of something green, almost like balsam, but it vanishes quickly.

There is certainly a sweetness that emerges as it dries down; to me, it smells more like the praline described on Fragrantica than the “vanilla gelatto” listed elsewhere. Other commenters have said this fragrance smells like Angel to them, because of the praline and patchouli notes, but I don’t like Angel and I do like For Holidays; they don’t seem similar, to me. The latter’s sweetness is never overpowering, while I find Angel both overpowering and cloying.

CaFleureBon had a great review back in 2013, and the reviewer listed notes that were a combination of both lists, including a comment that it was osmanthus that gave off the apricot smell. I have an osmanthus in my garden, and I don’t smell it in For Holidays; I smell spot-on apricot. Regardless, this is an excellent summary of my own experience with it:

An unlikely trio of mandarin, the fruit of good fortune, blended with osmanthus flower, with its buttery smoky peachy/apricot aroma, and tart pomegranate all create this delicious “fantasy” fruit compote that had my mouth practically watering. I Love NY for the Holidays is unisex from start to finish, and despite the listed usually feminine fruits it stays balanced thanks to heart notes of crisp licorice-tinged fennel, alluring nutmeg and a soft silken (not powdery) freesia. Perhaps the fennel is where the green came from and the spices flowers and fruits are arranged just so that the sublime scent of Christmas at home comes wafting through. The finish here is beguiling. At first it is almost oriental and floral smelling and veers very close to the feminine before settling into a comfortable pseudo-gourmand haze. Labdanum, woody warm and resinous, lingers with soft skin musk and a caramel-chocolate praline note. Woven together not unlike a fine colorful tapestry, this unites fruits, a hint of flowers with herb and spice and frames it in sensual and oriental deliciousness; resulting in a festive modern gourmet/floral blend. This is a genuine beauty and truly a gift worth giving…and owning! Sillage: very good. Longevity: excellent.

Truly, although only a few of the notes are traditionally “holiday” fragrance notes, like apricot/orange and nutmeg, this DOES evoke winter holidays! I have spent many holiday seasons in New York City, and that season is magical. The tree in Rockefeller Center, the ice skating, the elaborate lights and store window decorations on Fifth Avenue, the festive events all over the city — everyone should experience them at least once. One of the ultimate holiday experiences in New York is to see the ballet The Nutcracker, performed by the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. Ultimately, THAT is what For Holidays evokes in my mind: a dance of fruits, flowers, spices and sweets that lingers after the last orchestral strains have ended.

Two ballet dancers in the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker

The Nutcracker; photo from New York City Ballet.