You can keep your boughs of holly and your clove-encrusted oranges. If there's one thing that's enjoyable about the yuletide season, it's the opportunity to scent your home with olfactory creations that are as complex and evocative as those in our favourite perfumes. Fragrance brands are well aware of this, which is why the run-up to December invariably sees the release of several different forms of parfums d'ambiance.
This year, Diptyque earns top marks for innovation with its new Un Air De Diptyque fan-assisted diffuser. It's rechargeable and doesn't have to be connected to the mains whilst operating (no need for unsightly wires or replacement batteries), it can be used with different scent capsules (no need to stick to just one perfume) and it is housed in an elegant ceramic casing (no need to be embarrassed by some ghastly Lampe Berger creation). At the moment, Diptyque have made only five of their home scents available for the device - Figuier, Ambre, Feu De Bois, Baies and 34 - although I suppose more will come if sales warrant wider production. I haven't had an opportunity to give the gadget a test-run at Maison Persolaise, but it was certainly effective at the multi-room London launch a few weeks ago. What's the drawback to all this? Well, Un Air De Diptyque clocks in at a budget-crushing £240, so it definitely falls into the category the PR folk love to call "an investment". That said, the refill capsules are £25 each and apparently they last for 40 hours, so I suppose if Santa is willing to make the initial outlay for you, then you can console yourself with the fact that the running costs won't be horrific.
Angela Flanders has released a festive candle in collaboration with the curators of the Dennis Severs house in London. Although it smells wonderful - obligatory cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon given the characteristically opulent Flanders treatment - I can't recommend it because it doesn't burn terribly well. I followed all the correct procedures when I tested it - letting the entire surface liquify when the the candle was first lit; trimming and re-positioning the wick - but the wax failed to melt evenly and a hollow was formed. Shame.
The Cannes-based Rive Sud Interior are hoping to raise the profile of their candle quartet, composed by Delphine Thierry (Castaña). Of these, I've only tried Via Della Basilica and I can't say that I was especially won over by its presentation of incense and ecclesiastical resins. Its volume is turned far too low and it lacks a distinctive personality.
New on the block is the British set-up, A Life With A View. Their tagline is "Architectural fragrances for the 21st century," which is an unnecessarily pretentious way of saying that each of their candles and reed diffusers is inspired by specific geographic locations. Their 'New York Loft' is an indelicate mix of synthetic sandalwoods and musks (I daren't ask precisely what happens in this loft!) but their 'English Cottage' (composed by Ruth Mastenbroek) is a commendable piece of work. Deftly mixing garden floral notes - sweet pea, lilac and lily - it captures that moment when you walk into your room at a quaint B&B, you bury your face in a clean pillow and you're overcome by a sense of olde worlde homeliness.
Frederic Malle has released a limited edition Christmas candle containing a perfume by the incomparable Dominique Ropion. This is another product which, sadly, hasn't been let loose at Maison Persolaise, but based on an 'extended sniff' of the sample at Liberty, I can say that it presents the usual festive cliches - pot pourri, pine and sugar - with startling newness. This seems to be one of Ropion's many party tricks. In Carnal Flower, he had us thinking we were encountering a tuberose that was simultaneously the sum total of all other tuberoses and completely distinct from all predecessors. In Joyeux Noel, he seems to have sprinkled the same magic on Santa's favourite smells.
My top pick of the season has got to be Francis Kurkdjian's festive candle for his eponymous brand. Both deeply odd and deeply comforting, it takes jasmine, cranks up its indolic, mothball facet to alarming levels, links it up with musks, patchouli and various woods and creates an olfactory mirage that is almost tangible enough to perch itself atop the Christmas tree like some indescribably-hued angel. Fans of Kurkdjian's Isvaraya for Indult may well recognise this smell: its very similar to the drydown of that equally weird, equally spiritual creation. I should point out that the official list of notes for the candle cites gingerbread, cedar and iris, so I expect my assessment of it is completely off base... but I really don't care. Just light the wick and let me drift off to sleep in a cloud of this stuff.
[Reviews based on samples provided by Angela Flanders, Rive Sud Interior, A Life With A View and Maison Francis Kurkdjian in 2013.]