|Image: George Dunlop Leslie|
In some ways, buying a parfum d'ambience is harder than choosing a personal fragrance. After all, you can spray the latter on your skin, and then walk away and evaluate its 'performance' at your leisure. But a candle or a room spray is a slightly different prospect: something that smells purchase-worthy in a shop may turn out to be sub-standard when you take it home. Take Jardins D'Écrivains, for instance. Designed to evoke spaces frequented by famous writers, the candles I sampled from this range are promising when sniffed directly from their jars, but when they're actually lit, their diffusiveness is what you might call 'short range'. I was looking forward to wrapping myself in a haze of musk and cedar inspired by Blixen's Nairobi or to fly off to the pines and figs of Colette's St Tropez, but sadly, I wasn't taken very far away from the chilly dampness of southern Hampshire. For the sake of fairness, I should point out that the only other two I've tried are those attributed to George Sand and the Brontes; there's every possibility that the rest of the collection is superior to this lacklustre quartet.
Thankfully, L'Artisan Parfumeur's candles almost never disappoint. The brand produces too many to list here, but in this season of chilly greyness, the first one I'd recommend is Rose Des Indes. A near-perfect spicy rose immortalised in wax, it is probably as evocative and poetic as a candle could ever hope to be, displaying as many contrasts and intricacies as the rich feast that is Guerlain's Nahema. Traversée Du Bosphore is a must-try too. Indeed, I sometimes prefer it to the bottled scent: there's a drier aspect to it - an emphasis on the iris note, perhaps? - which serves to make the whole more arresting. And for an entirely different effect, there's Intérieur Figuier, based on Olivia Giacobetti's Premier Figuier (still one of the finest fig scents around). Green, woody and entirely natural-smelling, it fills the space around it with the promise of spring and the laziness of summer.
Fig leaves also feature in Alexandra, the only candle I've been able to sample from Australia's Voyager brand. In keeping with the blurb on the website, this really does conjure open spaces and coastal drives, largely thanks to a well-judged marine note couched within greener elements. It's inadvisable to make a sweeping judgement based on only one product, but on the strength of Alexandra, I'd suggest Voyager is a name to watch. Oh, and the transparent jar in which the candle is housed is very attractive too.
Finally, I'd like to move away from wax and wicks to mention Blend #1, the debut pot pourri from Odette Toilette. Now, if the term 'pot pourri' conjures images of tacky pine cones and garishly coloured coils of plastic, then banish all such thoughts from your mind straight away. For a start, this stuff is entirely organic and has been created using techniques which date back to the 16th century. It is contained in a striking, black clay pot made by hand at an artisanal workshop in England. And all its scented flowers and herbs were grown on the British Isles by horticulturalist Stephen Nelson.
As per the the rules of proper pot pourri preparation, the odour of this product doesn't come from any additional ingredients (as long as you don't count the few drops of rose otto that go into every pot). What you smell is the olfactory harmony of all the petals, bits of bark and chunks of leaves that have been macerated and thrown into the mix. And what a beautiful harmony it is. Rose is certainly the central note, but various aromatics come into play too (notably rosemary and bay) as well as the cool exoticism of cardamom and the ambery sweetness of benzoin. I'm not one for walks in forests, but that's exactly what comes into my mind every time I sink my nose into this unusual, subtle blend: the sunlight peers through the gaps in the trees, the breeze carries the faint whisper of sweet blooms and in the distance, a secluded clearing invites you to lie down and rest your weary limbs. Time will tell how long its fragrance will last (apparently it can be rejuvenated with a few drops of brandy!) but on the basis of about two weeks' usage, I'm happy to file it under 'Highly recommended'.
[Reviews of Jardins D'Écrivains candles, L'Artisan Parfumeur candles and Odette Toilette pot pourri based on samples obtained in 2012; review of Alexandra based on a sample provided by Voyager in 2012.]