On days when summer seems a distant memory, I wrap myself in layers of sweaters, scarves and perfume and take a long stroll in the park, watching the snow transform the landscape into a black and white Japanese painting. The cocoon of fragrance keeps me as warm and cosy as my more tangible garments, and soon the big and small anxieties that accompany the busy holiday season melt away like the snowflakes landing on my cheeks. By the time I return home, I feel rejuvenated – and in love with winter once again.
Fragrance is an important part of my winter therapy, but certain types of perfume are especially effective. Cold weather plays tricks on the nose. First of all, odour molecules are less volatile, which makes scents more difficult to detect. Second, chilly winter air also tends to be dry, and – as Dr Pamela Dalton of the Monell Chemical Senses Center notes – our sense of smell is more acute when the air is humid. For this reason, the way we perceive fragrances might change, with summer favourites coming across as flat, sharp or insubstantial. Instinctively, I look for comforting blends. “Cold weather alters our needs and desires,” observes Kilian Hennessy, founder of Kilian, explaining why perfumes that feel like an olfactory equivalent of a cloak are so appealing. The illusion of being swathed in layers of leather, suede, musk or cashmere makes the most frigid day seem warmer.
Leather-accented blends suit cold days particularly well because they have a pleasing richness and complexity. Moreover, they lend themselves to being paired with effervescent top notes, which means that they have a big presence – and are more easily noticed. For instance, Kilian Royal Leather has a bright opening of tea and flowers, while the drydown is intense and animalic. Frédéric Malle’s newest creation, Rose & Cuir, likewise combines the champagne-like shimmer of geranium and Sichuan pepper with tanned leather and woods for a striking effect. However they’re interpreted, leather scents cling to skin seductively. Carine Roitfeld Parfums, curated by the former editor-in-chief of French Vogue, is inspired by iconic cities and fictional lovers, and her Lawrence fragrance comes draped in leather and jasmine. The combination makes for a voluptuous potion that’s perfect not only for solo walks but also tête-à-tête evenings in front of a fireplace.
While leather has been widely used in perfumery since the beginning of the 20th century, when François Coty added its tannic inflection to green, mossy Chypre, suede is a much more recent invention that evokes the feel of napped leather. Created in 2007, Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather showcases a suede accord, treating it as decadently plush. The same sensual effect is highlighted in Atelier Cologne’s Oud Saphir. And when spritzing Suède de Suède from niche brand Mona di Orio, one instantly notices the luxurious softness, a trademark quality of suede accords.
Musk is another note suggesting sumptuous, enveloping textures. This classic base note is essential for making fragrances last, and for giving their drydowns languid warmth. Once obtained from the secretions of the musk deer, today it comes from the lab. Modern musk ranges from carnal to clean, and Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Absolue Pour Le Soir falls towards the “Venus in furs” end of the sensuality spectrum. Serge Lutens’s Nuit de Cellophane, on the other hand, is delicate and gauzy. Both feel as luxurious as cashmere.
Cashmere is not only an impression created by certain combinations of notes; it’s also an important ingredient in a perfumer’s palette. Cashmere, cashmere musk or cashmere woods all refer to Cashmeran, a synthetic aroma-molecule with a uniquely complex scent that oscillates between musky woods and burnished amber. Its pashmina-like effect makes fragrances like Comme des Garçons’ Wonderwood opulent and Tom Ford’s Vanille Fatale smouldering. Even in sheer blends like Dolce by Dolce & Gabbana or Jo Malone’s Peony & Blush Suede, it adds substance and depth.
The enveloping effect of winter perfumes is also enhanced by the way they are worn. The new line NCP Olfactives recommends layering fragrances, and the 704 Incense & Musk and 705 Leather & Oud create a dramatic duo, highlighting each other’s smoky and spiced facets. Also, since skin is drier in winter, a layer of unscented lotion will prolong a fragrance’s presence. Linda Pilkington, creator of the British artisanal house Ormonde Jayne, suggests applying perfume after a bath while the skin is still warm. “You can also spray it on your clothes,” she adds. Applied in this way, her Vanille d’Iris blooms. Its opening of bergamot, coriander and pink pepper explodes like a firework, while the iris leather and smoky vanilla unfold in soft waves.