Every season has its smell, and every perfume a tale to tell. Here at SCENTURY, we’ve handpicked 10 quintessential winter scents to defrost your imagination this winter. Join us on a trip through fictions and fancies — from a wooden cabin in the Alps to the interminable steppes of Siberia, the apothecaries of Shanghai to the steep vaults of gothic cathedrals. Berlin-based artist Rainer Metz enlivens the journey with his accompanying illustrations.
ILLUSTRATIONS: Rainer Metz
TEXTS: Helder Suffenplan
10 olfactive winter’s tales.
… inspired by 10 quintessential winter scents.
01. Tam Dao by Diptyque
A House with a Past.
These ancient alpine cabins seem to me at times to be memory incarnate. Everything about them is made of wood, from their frames to their walls, roofs, floorboards, and window shutters, to say nothing of the tables and chairs within. Even the bowls and spoons by the stove are carved. Many such homes have seen entire generations come and go, in good times and bad. People used to sit then on this bank by the window — as I do now, entranced by the drama of the setting sun, which is burnishing summits, clouds, and treetops, first with orange then with red and finally purple, until every last thing beyond this sheltered spot is swallowed up by an impenetrable dark. Although I cannot tear my gaze from this spectacle I have one ear cocked to the creak and groan of the cabin, whose recollections and secrets the stove-dried air is teasing forth: the scent of sandalwood, pine and cedar, the spices used in winter treats, and the pungent smoke of grandpa’s pipe.
Everything in this velvety dry perfume from the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris revolves around precious woods and their spiritual properties. For women and men.
PERFUMER: Daniel Moliere
02. Tellus by Liquides Imaginaires
03. Siberian Snow by D.S. & Durga
A secret Life.
Is that a tree in winter, or a carcass picked clean? In wintertime, it is very hard to tell. Bony stiff branches claw at the bleak sky and neither a leaf nor a single fruit relieves the dreadful monotony of the grey-brown day. A walk in the woods in the winter months can plunge you into a Caspar David Friedrich experience and the plaintive wail of a screech owl will round it off. But whoever approaches one of our stalwart friends, and closes his eyes and listens, will observe that life is simply slowing down a while so as to renew its vigor for the springtime. Beneath the seemingly dead surface, the sap is still flowing, the molecules merging, and the cells are taking up position. The tree knows, too, that humus is forming from the fallen leaves at its foot, that Mother Earth will hold tight to its roots even in the raging storms of winter, and that the spring will soon be coaxing fresh green from dry twigs. This steadfast trust carries an odor of earth, roots, bark, and resin — and I find it unbelievably good!
The unusual composition is part of a trilogy conjured from the characteristics of trees. Tellus describes the roots and soil. For men and courageous women.
PERFUMER: Nadege le Garlantezec
White, Wild and Windswept.
Many people I know claim the city I live in lies on the edge of Siberia. I guess they are referring to Berlin’s drafty squares, frosty excuse for humor, and the sludge-trudge of winter walks. I feel those people are doing Siberia a big disfavor, since in my imagination the world there looks very different, namely white, wild and windswept! In my mind’s eye, snow covers it all — the land, the interminable steppes, the thickset forests. It fills the air, blurs contours, and swallows up sound and color in a complete and silent wraparound. All you can hear is your own heartbeat and the tread of your snowshoes. You are alone. In the daytime you must hunt, skin rabbits, and wax the runners of your sled. When night falls, you sit by the fire and carve the mysterious figures that people your dreams — one figure each evening. When it grows even colder, the snow will cease to fall and you will awake each morning to the blinding glare of the sun and the world will glisten and the brook will sing beneath the ice. And on the air you will detect an inkling of a distant spring.
We just had to include this exciting venture from the New York cult label in our lists of winter scents: like an Impressionist painting, it captures the vigor and vastness of Siberia by extraordinary means. For women and men.
PERFUMER: David Motz
04. Essence No. 6: Vetiver by Elie Saab
Nordic by Nature.
However bitter cold the winter, a few days do come around each year when he takes a break, or perhaps simply forgets himself. I call these moments of reprieve “gift days!” One needs then a spot that is sheltered from the wind yet guaranteed to trap maximum sunshine. A balcony in a 70s pre-cast tower-block in ex-East Berlin will do at a pinch, but anyone in luck will find himself on the island of Sylt, on the secluded terrace of his old thatched cottage, watching a gentle breeze caress the dunes and the deep blue sea beyond. Wearing the right perfume can enormously accentuate and enhance this experience: rosy notes of geranium evoke the native Sylt rose; tarragon and lavender fuse with the herbal scents that the winter sun is managing to cajole from the sparse vegetation; cashmere wood lends a touch of shelter and warmth; and the Calabrian bergamot has yearning set its sights on spring. But it’s the soft vetiver from Haiti and its smoky cousin from Java that most delight the Sylter heart: the little Friesian island proudly takes its place among its famous kin from overseas.
Like all Saab perfumes, this elegant Nordic vetiver interpretation was created by star perfumer Francis Kurkdjian. Available at only three spots in all Europe! For women and men.
PERFUMER: Francis Kurkdjian
05. Bois des Îles by Chanel
Let’s Get Lost!
Winter means snow, ice, and cold — but in our climes alone, since while inhabitants of the
southern half of the globe are not upside-down at all, the seasons there certainly are. Which makes it the perfect place for those who like to sit in a beach bar composing catty postcards to the folks still freezing their butts off back home. The more intrepid among them can travel even further, to where the airplanes get smaller and the buses more decrepit, before finally chugging off in a nutshell to a distant point on the horizon that draws closer and closer and then at last becomes an island. The boat sails away and there you are, on a weather-beaten jetty and bathed in light: the sky bleached white by the sun, the sea glittering and sparkling like a mermaid’s underbelly, the beach snow-white, as if a giant had spilled a big bag of coke. You take the narrow path across the beach and the sound of the breakers grows fainter. The deeper you penetrate into the island forest the better you hear the wind, soughing in the crowns of palms and outlandish trees and carrying with it the scent of ylang-ylang, jasmine, rose, and peach. Through the thicket of leaves and fronds falls the last of the light, exhausting itself in a meandering dance on the dark forest floor. Humidity and heat unlock from the barks and roots the mesmerizing aromas of ambergris, tonka bean, sweet myrrh, and vetiver. A flight of brilliant birds erupts in fury. What could have startled them so? You can lose yourself here, or get lost. For a week, until the boat comes back. Or forever.
The essence of a desert island: shimmering light, tropical plants, endless sky. One of the most magnificent creations of “Mr. Chanel N°5,” Ernest Beaux. For women as well as for men.
PERFUMER: Ernest Beaux
06. Patchouli Imperial by Christian Dior
Don Draper’s Second Chance.
The final season of Mad Men sees Don Draper at the zenith of his mid-life crisis, flung by fate onto the rocky cliffs of California and into the arms (or clutches?) of a teary-eyed, chatterbox self-help group. The tension mounts: Will Don crack up on the cliffs or re-invent himself one more time? And then it happens. During a meditation session, the suffering and strain depart from his body and mind, and cede to a celestial vision: All the peoples of the world united in love and song under the sign of … the world’s most famous soda pop! For me, it is as clear as day: Don Draper will return to Madison Avenue. Advertising is his life. But he will be a new man — stronger and more creative than ever before. His compass will be a fragrance that can transport him back at any moment to the sunny shores of California, a fragrance that is celebrating a sea change all of its own: patchouli in its consummate form. Sinewy, earthy, and grown-up. Anchored in a mild ambergris that tickles the palette even more than the nose. Refined by coriander and cedar. Fresh, thanks to a hint of mandarin and bergamot. Heaven and earth, roots and air: personal growth! Om!
One of the loveliest patchouli interpretations ever, this gem from our winter scents selection elegantly elaborates the depth and complexity of the material.
PERFUMER: François Demachy
07. Opus 1144 by Unum
Oh, how I would have loved to be there, recently, in 1144, on the construction site of the new Basilica of St Denis, when into the vaulted roof of the eastern chancel the final stone was set. It is the world’s first ever cross-ribbed vault — the birth of the Gothic era! From now on, churches will strive to reach the stars. Spaces are growing higher and higher, the pillars ever more slender and sheer, and the walls are ceding place to coruscating glass. Like these prayers chiseled in stone, a good perfume requires a solid foundation, an excellent structure, and a vision. Here, on a firm olfactory fundament of precious woods, ambergris, resins, and white musk, rises a mid-section of iris, orchid, ylang-ylang, and vanilla, which bifurcates and ramifies, growing ever finer and ethereal in those unsuspected heights, until finally, in an oblique shaft of sunlight, it explodes in a glittering stardust burst of bergamot, heliotrope, and mandarin. Gothic art as opposed to gothic — what a difference a capital G makes!
Fellini-esque: the Italian L.A.V.S. Atelier makes vestment for popes and cardinals, which is perfumed before delivery. This tradition has inspired a wonderful line in perfumes. For men and women.
PERFUMER: Filippo Sorcinelli
08. Brume d’Hiver by Volnay
The City of Light.
“I love Paris every moment, every moment of the year!” Reluctant as I am to contradict Ms. Ella Fitzgerald, I do feel it is only in winter that the city on the Seine perfects itself as a total work of art or <i>Gesamtkunstwerk</i>. Only now does the cool white light above the metropolis finally match the temperature, only now do Haussmann’s creamy-beige façades, leaded roofs and light dusting of snow come together as an Impressionist painting that — shortly before the <i>heure bleu</i> descends — emits an inner glow. For dull days I recommend the ascent to Montmartre, one’s gaze unerringly fixed on where, beyond the silhouettes of bare trees, the dome of the Sacré Cœur is mysteriously swathing itself in the mists rising off the Seine: heaven-bound mists of such nigh-tangible substance, they wrest fragrant molecules from the city air and orchestrate their beguiling composition: violet, rose, and jasmine from the flower market on the Ile de la Cité; carnation and vanilla from the wooden tea-chests of the Mariage Frères; teak and earthy vetiver from the Jardin du Luxembourg; and elemi and frankincense from the time-honored cathedral.
The perfume originally launched in 1922, now scrupulously reformulated, makes the perfect companion for a winter’s day by the Seine. For women and men.
PERFUMERS: René Duval, Amélie Bourgeois
09. Oriental Pearl by Shanghai Tang
Behind the Lacquered Screen.
We board airplanes as if they were buses, are invited to weddings on deserted islands, and lose track of which friends are where on the globe right now, whiling away their time as ex-pats. Things were not always this way. Once upon a time, people who had gone abroad were strictly gone. Having a great-uncle who can tell you about those days of yore is great: about how he once wandered through wintry Shanghai, an agent from Germany in the service of a trading station, not knowing what to do with himself on a Christmas Eve. Or about how, shortly after the six-week crossing, he went ashore for the first time and, from the moment he stepped onto the gangway, found himself riveted by individual faces, pairs of eyes, and voices, which stood out from the tumultuous mass of people, rickshaws, and motor cars, and drew him down, deeper step by step, into the smell of Shanghai. This smell, an instant smell yet beyond his comprehension, was one he sought thereafter constantly to fathom: in the tea-houses with their smoky lapsang souchong, in the temples suffused with incense, or in the apothecaries, where not only dried goods such as cistus, vanilla and patchouli could be found but also ground ivory and tiger bone. Those apothecaries with their backrooms from where drifted the bittersweet scent of oblivion, fused with a hint of rose on languid girls wrapped in whispering silks and passing opium pipes to their wealthy clientele.
Anyone who ever strolled through the markets of Southeast Asia will love this extravagant creation from the maestro Carlos Benaim. For women and self-confident men. Instant Classic potential!
PERFUMER: Carlos Benaim
10. As Sawira by Penhaligon’s
On the Silk Road.
For children, winter holds plenty of good things in store, from sledging to ice-skating and building igloos. But if the sun and snow fail to make a date (as they do!), then <i>tristesse</i> is on the cards: making conker-men, nursing a cold, or letting your kid sister win at Monopoly. That’s why, when I was a boy, the Christmas mini-series on TV was the highlight of every winter school break: with Silas, we traveled the Seven Seas, discovered foreign lands and their people, braved sandstorms, explored Oriental trade routes with Marco Polo, and dealt in cloves, cardamom and saffron — spices worth their weight in gold. Camels staggered beneath the burden of precious woods and resins: abundant myrrh, sandalwood, ambergris and the holy oudh. And, naturally, we saved the life of an enchanting princess, whose skin was scented with jasmine, vanilla and rose … Until at some point mother called and supper was ready.
Number 10 from our winter scents list: a complex but elegant exotic chypre with top notes of rose, saffron and an unusual minty oud. For men and women.
PERFUMER: Christian Provenzano
Discover more amazing winter scents here!