Winter and winners

My memory dances and shimmies – I can’t trust its movements. In childhood, winter was a time of snow, outdoor adventures and breathing out ghosts over my face. On the walk to school, we’d shiver and stay warm by pulling lengthy icicles from gates and signposts, playing first Musketeers and then later, when I was all of 8, Kenobi vs. Vader. There’d be sheer pools of black ice on the pavement, and skids would end in success – a monumental speeding up across land that was no such thing, with a stumble back to terra firma – or failure – a bruised posterior whose tenderness would be an echoing reminder of the laughter we’d shared in the days to follow.

But these are highlights, moments that my memory has inked in luminous yellow and pink so brightly that the rest of my childhood text disappears under their dayglo brilliance. They’ve become posed portraits of my experience, rather than representative snapshots, and that’s why trust and memory, for me, are awkward companions.

In adulthood, winter disappeared somehow. No real snow, and a handful of frosts throughout the entire period that would melt before the day was halfway through. Instead, winter became a season of browns, umbers and dull greens, soggy underfoot, smelling of mushrooms and old leaves.

This year however, we’ve had more winter than I thought possible now, given our increasingly temperate conditions. Snow storms that have halted journeys. Last week, I had to turn home after my car decided the route I was taking along the road would be made more interesting by diagonal sliding. This weekend, floods have covered much of the countryside surrounding me, so that back routes are cut off and I’m in a land of lakes. I want log cabins to materialise beofre my eyes. They haven’t yet. Most rivers and streams have burst their banks, and the ditchwater dirge of the water is made glorious in the morning by winter’s etching on its surface. And, on a handful of days, the frosts or snow have lasted for more than a day. It’s actually been cold. Cold for here.

But the variability, the shifting from one unexpected element to another – snow storm, flood, snow storm, sunny ice day, mild dullness with lowering cloud, fog, sudden mists – is too much. It makes me yearn for simplicity: perhaps the endlessly democratic sunshine of southern California, or the true winter of the Sami inside the Arctic circle. And this yearning for simplicity is reflected in my daily habits too – what I am eating, what I am wearing (clothes), what I am wearing (scent).

In perfume, I’m generally a lover of the baroque, the bizarre, the scent that leads to olfactory shock, pleasure brought about by the unexpected. For every modern minimalist number in my collection, I have ten heavy syrups of kohl-lidded decadence.  Though today, I’m tired of those. I want clean. I want pure. I want constancy.

I’ve been wearing the marvellous Eau de Cartier, a summer favourite. Its parma violet hush is surrounded by the glitter of citrus (a glitter I could live without quite frankly, but fortunately it doesn’t last). If it could preserve only the middle notes as an elongated chord, it would perfectly capture my mood – green violet wood that whispers of its tranquility. Unfortunately, the drydown isn’t such perfection – a perfumey melange of musks and woods that nudges into a powdered thickness when what I want is something ‘like gold to aery thinness beat’. Still, it’s as close as I can get right now.

What do you turn to when simplicity calls? And can you recommend anything else? I’m guessing the new Vanille Galante might just fit the bill.

WINNERS! Expect an email from me, if I don’t hear from you first.

Voleur de Roses stolen by Pantera Lily.

Rocabar rocks out with pyramus.

Dzing! sings for hongkongmom.

Vetyver roots out Tommasina.

Bois d’Ombrie gets wood for Christine L.

  • Jarvis says:

    Hello, Lee. Another Canadian here, at least originally, so my childhood memories of winter also involve a lot of snow.

    I have been reflecting recently on these two impulses within me — one that revels in the baroque, the bizarre, the opulent, the “maximalist”, and the other that craves clean lines, simplicity, clarity, the minimalist. I find both aesthetics compelling.

    For simplicity and clarity in perfume, I may have found a holy grail of sorts in the new Vanille Galante. It’s utterly gorgeous, simple without being “simplistic.” It feels effortless in the way that exquisitely crafted things can be. It reminds me of the 2nd movement of the Ravel G-major piano concerto, which has a heart-breakingly simple and beautiful theme that sounds like it must have just poured out of the composer, though in reality it required painstaking work to construct. In the final product, though, there isn’t one note out of place, and the whole seems simple and perfect.

    Other simple masterpieces I reach for: L’Eau D’Hiver, TDC Divine Bergamot, Hermès Osmanthe Yunnan, Ether de IUNX and Eau Sento, Chanel No. 18. I’m tempted to list Dzongkha as well, for its otherworldly iris and smoke opening, although texturally it feels like it has a more complex orchestration.

    • Lee says:

      I’m even more longing for VG now, after your points of comparison…

      And funnily enough, I’ve been wearing Dzongkha a lot, even though it is complex…

  • hongongmom says:

    My body “dances and shimmies” I can trust it’s movements…but my DH cannot, in fear that the jumping and “yay, Dzing, I won… I won,” singing on the bed (included in between the dancing and shimmying)might land on him….let me just continue this lightness of winning, by sharing the light and giving….so PLEASE be in touch soon!!!
    Stangely here, in HK we have had unseasonally warm weather…like summer and I found a cheap Italian cologne called Agrumi de Sicilia(orange blossom, tnagering, bitter orange, jasmin, butterbush and white musk…it smells uplifting,fresh,clean and soft….simply put…for me right now, GOOD.
    Simple for me would be….no thoughts,,,just smell and feel that “I love it” look at the snowdrop and think how perfectly gorgeous it is Simple is the shape of a leaf…Simple is the calm in the mind to enjoy the moment and the sense without thought!!!!
    Thank u for ur beautiful article, photograph and for the Dzing

  • Shelley says:

    I recently overdosed on sweet thickly things, and found that a dose of Jacomo Silences helped clear the senses. Something about the galbanum, perhaps? In that case, it was less a case of going to simplicity than of turning from junk food to something healthy.

    However, there are scents I have that I like to use in the spirit I think you mean. Dior Cologne Blanche…and of course Chanel Bel Respiro. Just thinking about Bel Respiro helps me breathe more freely, makes me inhale more deeply–that, AND enjoy the scent notes on the way. Clean. Pure. Constant.

    Good to see/hear you again.

  • Anthony says:

    We are so in the same fragrance place right now… When simplicity calls I reach for the bright and breezy Un Jardin Sur le Nil. But if the citrus part of Eau de Cartier doesn’t do it for you than probably this wouldn’t either. I’m curious what you think about Eau de Cartier Extreme.

    • Lee says:

      I quite like the sour aspect of Nil, though no longer wear it. I have *never* sniffed the Concentree. Should I?

  • Kate says:

    Lovely post, pretty much sums up that odd nostalgia that came along with the snow this year.

    I’ve been pushing the limits of my heavy spicy scents for the last couple of weeks, but woke up this morning and put on Guerlain Vetiver; clean, simple, slightly bitter and just such a nice contrast to everything I’ve been wearing recently.

  • Anne says:

    From the first amazing sentence I knew it was you. Thank you Lee. :)>-

  • Mariekel says:

    Another exquisite post, Lee. You write with a lovely combination of lyricism and bright clarity — how I envy that!

    When I feel a need for something that will slice through the grey and just feel comfortable in my won skin again, there are several perfumes that do the trick for me. When my brain needs a jump start, my choice is usually PG Querelle. Not at all a simple fragrance, but for me, bracing and intellectual at the same time. I wear it and instantly feel smarter and more complicated.

    If it is low-key comfort I crave, I reach for either Manuel Canovas Route Mandarine or Laura Tonnato Safram. And for something pure and simple, my choice is often I Profumi di Firenze Agrumi di Sicilia — it smells like lime and linden blossoms to me (even though neither is in it) and automatically wafts a glimmer of summer in the Med my way.

    PS. Even though I didn’t win the raffle, my basset hound is still more than willing to send you sloppy kisses. Little tart.

    • Lee says:

      Thank you – not much to envy irl, I promise you!

      Querelle is stunning but it’s one of the few ‘fumes that’s headache inducing with me…. Shame. Your other suggestions sound wunderbar though.

  • pyramus says:

    Yay! Rocabar! Thanks so much! And I WILL rock out with it, too.

    I think you have my e-mail address already (it’s attached to this comment somehow, yes?), and if you don’t, you can toss a comment at my blog and it will be e-mailed to me and I can take it from there.

    I can’t get terribly excited about winter because I’ve lived my entire life in Atlantic Canada and we get more winter than we know what to do with. The last couple of weeks have basically been snow, snow, snow snow snow (rain melt slush) snow (freeze) snow. Not very nice underfoot.

    As for simplicity, when that’s what I want, I usually turn to Safran Troublant, which is strict and minimal–medicinal saffron wedded to creamy vanilla, with a brief shock of red rose smack in the middle of it–but never boring. (So beautifully constructed; I didn’t get it at first, and thought it was TOO simple. What a fool I was!)

    Either that, or some goofy Demeter like Gingerale or Eggnog or Fiery Curry.

  • March says:

    Lovely picture, Lee! Goes nicely with the lovely story. In snowy winter weather here it’s all about the vanilla, comfort stuff. But I feel like spring is just around the corner.

  • gina says:

    Lovely post, Lee. I’m here in Los Angeles – today, it’s gray and drizzling. The rain here isn’t the warm rain of the tropics, for sure. It’s cold and shitty – a good reason to not leave the house.

    For simplicity, I go for Osmanthe Yunnan. It’s sparkly and pretty, makes me think of sunshine and new love affairs.

  • Pantera Lilly says:

    Lee I am so excited I won one of your scents! I don’t know quite what to do but please let me know and I will do it! I am from Los Angeles, California and I too love the cold weather, I lived in Portland, Oregon for many years and the rain and light snow is something I still miss. Don’t get me wrong, California is wonderful, but sometimes mist and fog and rain is exactly what I want. Right now I’m wearing “a quiet morning” by Miller et Bertaux and it feels right for the cloudy and drizzly weather we’re having. Thanks for your lovely post, it made me feel nostalgic.

  • Bryan says:

    Whenever I finish reading your posts, I feel the need to readjust to the world around me…almost like waking up in the middle of the night with a start….and angry the dream had to end.
    When I want something that doesn’t require much “work” I reach for the soliflores. I know, “big shock”. I am telling you though that nothing gets me through the mad weather like florals. But in full disclosure, I am biased towards all florals all the time as you yourself pointed out a very long time ago and I swear it surprised me. I never thought I leaned towards any “family” of scent. I have a varying collection for sure, but the bottles I replace are all florals. OK, so, back to it. I think Annick Goutal’s collection of singles is charming. Her tubereuse (I think only available in Europe) is incredible. I keep four bottles on hand at all time. I think Shiseido’s white rose is magnificent but perhaps a bit challenging. I love Serge’s Un LYS, but it only appears simple.
    Well, sweetie, you want to try any of those, just ask.


  • Disteza says:

    Looking over my collection, I realize half-heartedly that the term ‘simple’ couldn’t be applied to any of them. Oh well, I have my preferences for lovely things that keep winter at bay through sheer olfactory violence: Aziyade, SDV, Ambre Narguile and Ambra Aurea, Un Crime Exotique. My seasonal preferences look pretty obvious–leather all year round; florals, incenses and grasses in the spring and summer; heavy incenses and woods in autumn; and something heady, spicy, or gourmand in the winter. Somehow the idea of ‘winter’ and ‘simple’ going together doesn’t work for me–I need my tasty spice blanket for warmth.

    • Lee says:

      So do I, normally. But, in my desperation for spring to arrive, I’m craving sobet styled palate-cleansing… Can’t help it!

  • carmencanada says:

    Having spent half my life in Canada, I feel I’ve had enough snow to last me a lifetime — but this winter when I was visiting my parents, I wore Annick Goutal Encens Flamboyant quite a bit, though it wouldn’t be my recommendation for simplicity.
    As a palate-cleanser I reach for the bracing Chanel N°18, an iris-ambrette with a clear pear alcohol taste. I’m also with Tommasina on Eau Première, which has got a pearly, dawny light to it. Or the marvellous Chanel Eau de Cologne (but not in winter). I’m pretty sure Vanille Galante will fit the bill as well.
    I don’t own any of the IUNX — I find them a bit fleshless — but I’m sure Ether or Eau de Sento would do nicely.

    • Lee says:

      I thought the IUNXes were a bit fleshless for my taste too, but your No.18 suggestion is excellento.

  • Tommasina says:

    Lee, THANK YOU: I’ve never won anything, anywhere, ever! Very excited, indeed, for a new vetiver to try – and shall enjoy imagining what Daddy would have made of it, too.

    For simplicity, then Eau de Cartier, oh, yes; but also – very strongly – Bulgari Omnia (an HG), which is one of my no-brainer scents. I wore it a lot from September to Christmas. I’d include NanadeBary Green in the list, if I had more than a sample (!), along with another HG, Burberry Brit Red (fabulous, astringent rhubarb, in a different treatment from Ciel mon Jardin and the CdG versions). A slightly different, more contemplative and less simplistic, vibe comes from Preparation Parfumee; and, for the ‘thicker’ side of simplicity, as it were – and I can’t tell you what it is about this scent that keeps me coming back for more, since I honestly have no idea, and it’s not like anything else I have or enjoy – I Coloniali Javanese Cananga. I would have suggested Eau Premiere along with jawhara’s Infusion d’Iris; but, if you’re only waiting for the citrus to disappear in Eau de Cartier, then perhaps the sherbet-lemon of the Chanel would be too annoying.

    • Lee says:

      Good suggestions there! I’ll be emailing you today or tomorrow (dependent on how much work nonsense gets in the way of life-living).

  • Nava says:

    I have a confession to make: we blew the cold and snow your way because we thought you could benefit from experiencing and sharing our collective angst. :d

    Have you shown your Le Labo Poivre 23 any love lately? I had the pleasure of experiencing it last week (waves to March!), and I am now completely obsessed. It is everything you said, and I need some immediately. Stay warm and safe…:x

  • Musette says:

    Good Morning, my little Peanut Brittle of Love….

    what a lovely post to wake up to. I, too, love a good snowstorm but I like for it to be fleeting – and here in the Midwest ‘fleeting’ and ‘snowstorm’ are usually not linked. We have been enjoying unseasonably mild temps which allowed all the snow to melt off and I must admit that I don’t miss it a bit. Like Rosarita, I enjoy a Sunday morning gaze….but it’s usually still there on Monday, when we’re trying to wrestle 2000 lbs of steel and the forklift is sliding all over the place.

    Have you tried L’Artisan’s Verte Violette? I think you would like it mucho. When we had the warm, wet days (3 of ’em!!!< :-p I bounced between that and Liz Zorn's Violets and Rainwater - both perfect transitional scents for temperate/cool, muddy days. It's crisper-to-cold here now and we may get some snow again, alas....I haven't worn my dear Fracas in awhile.....:-? xoxo>-)

  • Melissa says:

    My taste generally leans toward rich orientals and classic floral aldehydes but your post could not have come at a better time. I too have been craving scents with some simplicity, or perhaps, delicacy. There are days when I have a yearning for a scent that whispers and recently, those days have been frequent. Maybe it is the stretch of warm weather we have experienced this week?

    My cravings have been accompanied by some frustration. I can’t quite get it right. Just when I think that I need a soft light musk (Jean Louis Gady Musk Oil), my fickle nature demands something odd and angular. Dans Tes Bras fits the bill for a while, with it’s hint of sharpness (on me) and it’s earthy violets. I’m apt to grow tired of this one too and off I go, looking for a floral. Floris White Rose? Who knows what I will try next.

    I do find orientals to be easier. They satisfy my sensory cravings and make me swoon. But the restless hunt for more “difficult” fragrances is just so challenging and interesting. Off I go!

  • rosarita says:

    Wonderful post and photo, thanks so much! I love winter and always have, esp when we have lots of snow. There are many inconveniences, but to sit on a Sunday morning and gaze out at that endless white sparkle is magnificent. Love bare branches as much as full leaf.:) For simplicity, I recently acquired Ava Luxe Angel Face, a deceptively simple skin scent that is light and sweet, with an almond note and a sheer musky drydown. Not at all bakery scented. It melts into my skin like it’s meant to be there and is the perfect tonic for all the deep syrup-y scents that I love, too.

    • Lee says:

      It is, though I always want to be outdoors and that’s when snow can get in the way.

      angel Face sounds lovely.

  • Elle says:

    Most of my childhood was spent in the deep tropics and my blood is accordingly in sync w/ that still. I *love* the idea and mood of winter and have spent many in the far north, but I hate – w/ a passion – what it does to my body. *Can’t* adjust. Still, I find myself craving the mood and visuals of winter until I’m actually experiencing them. This week we’ve had temps hovering near 70 most days and I can’t say I’ve been upset – although, the weatherman assures me that next week we’ll drop back to reality. 🙁
    I do love Eau de Cartier and am wondering where my bottle is. For the feel of simplicity and clarity I find myself turning to scents like Ellie D, Ciel Mon Jardin (can’t resist rhubarb), FM Bigarade Concentree, Jour de Fete and Yosh’s U4EAHH. They all speak to me of clear days, ease and hopefulness. I sometimes will also reach for DSH’s Hinoki or CdG Kyoto when I just want peaceful clarity. Oddly enough, cedar seems like a clear, simple note to me, but sandalwood, no matter how simply it’s presented, does not – always has a complex feel. Roses also seem complex to me. OK, but as soon as I said that, I thought of MPG’s brilliantly cheerful, clear feeling Rose Muskissime.
    Hope you have no more dangerous snows this season! I’m the world’s *worst* driver on snow. I really should have a thing on my license saying I can’t be permitted on the roads if there is snow or ice. It would be a public service (and for the sake of the public I do not go out w/ *any* snow on the roads).

  • Louise says:

    It’s odd, it’s been quite warm here, but as I read your post, I got a little chilly, and began to smell some Eau Noire whafting (damn temporal lobe)…it will be my SOTD.

    Exquisite, evocative, elegant piece today, darling man @};-

  • jawhara says:

    Hi Lee
    Wonderful post! Living in Central Europe, I think I have quite the same childhood memories of cold snowy winters, the kind that seemed not the exist for quite some years now.
    I have found that I really appreciate Infusion d’Iris in this cold winter weather. It beatifully mirrors the crip winter air, and the citrus sometimes seems to sparkle like sun on fresh snow. It does not evolve much on my skin, it basically smells like Johnson’s baby shampoo, just much much better. So bonus points in simplicity and childhood memory departement.

    • Cincy says:

      I have been lurking around for a while now and have learned so much from everyone but I certainly have a long way to go. I’m quite late to the perfume party. For years I didn’t like scented anything and now I crave scented everything. I recently received a sample of Infusion d’Iris and found I can’t smell it! It just isn’t there. Thinking perhaps somehow I missed my wrist, I carefully tried again. Nothing. Just can’t smell it. So bummed because I was so sure I’d love this one. I sort of feel everyone is in on a secret but me. On to find some other iris I CAN experience.

      • jawhara says:

        Cincy, I’ve read that a lot of people seem to have that problem with IdI, so you’re not alone, if that helps any.
        Other Iris scents you might want to check out: Serge Lutens Clair de Musc, Different Company Bois d’Iris, Hermes Hiris, Iris Ganache (think it’s by Guerlain, but not sure).
        Iris seems to be an acquired taste, though, I hated it initially, but it’s definitely worth trying from time to time!

      • Lee says:

        Well, Patty gets a problem with some ingredients in ‘masculine’ scents, and I don’t get some musks. We all have blanks where colours should be, it seems. But the great thing is, there are always plenty more scents.

        • Cincy says:

          Thanks, jawhara, for the suggestions. Have added those to the list of “must try” which grows faster than I can buy.

          Lee, one of the things I’m coming to so love about perfume is if at first you don’t succeed, try again. And in some cases, with the same fragrance.

    • Lee says:

      Thank you jawhara. There’s something about childhood memories being recalled, isn’t there???

  • Jan V says:

    Hi Lee,
    I’ve not posted yet to you but am really happy to be “meeting” everyone here! I’m in Southern California and I very often reach for Sur le Nil when I crave something to match a magnificent sunny day(it’s so transparent and yet interesting), or even Kelly Caleche which on me is very vibrant and zingy (though I so wish I got more leather out of it when I want the leather). I also really love the original Azuree, it seems so outdoorsy and breezy but in an unconventional way.

    I know what you mean about needing some sunny sparkle about midwinter as I grew up in that climate. I hope you find the perfect scent to transcend the greyness!!

    • Lee says:

      Oh, the weather here is so variable I don’t mind the grey really. I sometimes wonder if I could actually cope with the relatively constant sunniness of SoCal (and then I think – yes, I probably could)…