Thursday, December 16, 2004

It's Beginning to Smell A Lot Like Christmas

Here's my brief survey of fragrances for the holidays (which really means Christmas, since I simply don't know enough about Chanukah, Kwanzaa or any of the others to even look for fragances for those festivities). Basically I just looked around at the candles or sprays that I came across and noted what they smelled like and if I liked them. Generally Christmas scents tended to fall into 2 categories: the Christmas tree type and the orange spice/cinnamon type. Occasionally there were gingerbread or peppermint accords offered, but the preponderance of holiday scents are pine or orange spice. Let's get started.

But first, I should mention my favorite holiday scent, one that I buy every year: Noël, by Crabtree and Evelyn. It's a blend of frankincese and Siberian fir, orange and spiced cranberry notes. It's simply wonderful. And strong too. I always get the potpourri refresher oil--you only need to put a few drops here and there (on a cloth, light bulb ring, sofa, anything) to completely fragrance the room. And it's long-lasting as well. Truly an excellently made fragrance. And now on to the survey.

Yankee Candle
As expected, they have a wide variety of holiday scents from which to choose. Here they are:
  • Christmas Wreath - In terms of sheer odor, this is far and away the best holiday scent I've encountered. It's an exquisitely natural fresh-cut pine scent (I'll use the word pine to refer to any coniferous, Christmas-tree type scent) and is head and shoulders above most of the competition. I actually bought the candle for this (the large size!) and several tarts. I've had good results before with the tarts; last year I used them and they filled the room well. The only problem was that the smell seemed to fade quickly. But that was the first time I'd used them, so I could've been using them improperly. With the candle, I've had less success. I bought the candle when I went home last year, and it performed disappointingly, not filling the room with fragrance. (I was quite surprised, as I had the Sage & Citrus candle, and it performed exceptionally well; I assumed the Christmas Wreath would too.) Rooms are different in the way they perfuse with scent, however; things like air circulation and humidity can affect it. I bought the candle this year for my party, and, regretfully, I had the same relatively poor performance in terms of fragrance output. Alas. So I'm left to conclude that while Christmas Wreath is a lovely fragrance, it's not as effusive as I'd like.
  • Balsam Fir, Balsam & Cedar - Balsam Fir is quite pleasant. It's deep and woody, darker and sharper than Christmas Wreath. It smells quite a bit like fresh cut pine branches. I burned the tarts, and unfortunately they didn't prove too effusive, but that may be the room. It's a nice odor, though, and if you like something woodier and stronger than Christmas Wreath then this is the way to go. Balsam & Cedar is a pine note similar to the Balsam Fir but with the addition of cedar; I don't find the cedar pleasant. I think that Balsam Fir is the better of the two.
  • Holiday Bayberry - This is a typical bayberry scent - sharp and minty fresh. (Does bayberry smell of mint or spice? I've never been able to piece it apart in my head) It's also effusive and seems to be quite popular as a holiday scent. It also mixes well with the pine scents.
  • Mistletoe - This one has been around for some time, and Yankee Candle has apparently made it, along with Home for the Holidays, their signature holiday scent. I like it, but I don't see how it should be at the forefront of the holiday season. As a matter of fact, I commented on the Yankee Candle site to ask them why they chose it as their holiday forerunner; I was actually wondering whether there was something I'd missed in the actual aroma, whether Mistletoe indeed is so superior a fragrance, or whether it's something more about sensitivity (I assume one wouldn't want to really push a product with the word Christmas in the title, risking losing the patronage of someone who doesn't celebrate the holiday. That said, I can't imagine that Yankee Candle has a large following in the Jewish, Wiccan, or whatever else community). Of course I got an email saying that decisions about product naming and promoting are done in the corporate office (well, duh) and that they'll get back with me. No response. Oh well. I guess if I want responses I can buy from Bath & Body Works. But that's another story.
    Mistletoe basically smells to me like evergreen notes, perhaps around a core of a berry-type scent. It also smells slightly moldy, for lack of a better term, but the effect is interesting. I like to burn the Mistletoe tarts with the Christmas Wreath ones. I should also point out that the Misltetoe candles and tarts smell dramatically different from the oil. The oil starts out with the same green notes, but they vanish very quickly, leaving a peculiar fruity, berry-like scent, one that you don't smell with the same prominence in the candles. Overall, the scent isn't one for everyone, and if you're looking for a straight coniferous smell, you'd be better off going with Christmas Wreath or Balsam Fir.
  • Home for the Holidays - This is largely a cinnamon scent, but there are balsam notes. If you like the smell of cinammon candles, then this is pleasant enough. I think that there are better options, though. Mainly a cinnamon orange one. In fact, for an orange spice note, Clove Bud & Citrus by Yankee Candle is an excellent choice.
  • White Christmas, Snow Angels - Both of these struck me as very abstract. White Christmas smlled kind of like toilet paper, and I couldn't really detect any of the 'evergreen' notes that I'd read were in it. Snow Angels was so abstract it just smelled like nothing to me.
  • Christmas Berries, Christmas Eve, Hollyberry - The first is basically a berry scent-- no surprise there. The second struck me as very berryish as well. The Hollyberry struck me as slightly berryish, with perhaps a bayberry note or a woody nuance, very like what one expects from a fragrance called Hollyberry.
  • Peppermint Cocoa, Cranberry Peppermint, Jack Frost - I'm not a big fan of peppermint scents, but all of these are superb. Peppermint Cocoa is a lovely mint chocolate type smell, very much like a cup of hot chocolate with a candy cane in it. Cranberry Peppermint didn't sound very appetizing to me when I first read the name, but when I smelled it I was surprised and quite pleased. Tangy cranberry with cool peppermint--it really works well. Jack Frost seems to be a blend of peppermint and vanilla; it actually smells like a flavor of Velamints (back in the day, when they had flavors other than chocolate). It's the most pleasant peppermint-dominant scent I can think of; and the design on the candle is fun too.
  • Hot Buttered Rum, Christmas Cookie - The first is a sweet, heavy butterscotch scent (I found it similar to peru balsam), very pleasant. The second is your standard confectionary vanilla type scent. I've always thought it was superior to the original Vanilla Cookie, although I'm not really sure if there's any difference.
The holiday scent that I didn't get to smell, in spite of the fact that I've been to 2 separate Yankee Candle stores, was Holiday Twinkle. I really wanted to smell this one, because it's a pine accord with citrus and spice. But alas, I've not been able to find it anywhere. Also, as an aside, today I discovered a candle called Crisp Spruce, which I hadn't seen before. It seems to be a much greener coniferous smell, with herbaceous tones. And for some reason when I smell the candle I think of Chinese food.

Votivo has such a great line of candles, so I was excited to see their holiday line. They have three scents: Christmas Sage, Joie de Noël and Gingersnaps. Christmas Sage is obviously the pine type; I found it a little too sage-y and not pine-y enough, but I give them points for doing something different. The Joie de Noël is a pretty standard orange spice scent, and it's quite pleasant. Gingersnaps I didn't find done so well; gingerbread/gingersnaps is a scent that's pretty easily done well, and I didn't find this scent all that pleasant. It was too dark for my tastes. I'd prefer a warmer scent.

Bath & Body Works
I've mentioned their Perfect Christmas line before, but it's worth revisiting a little. Winterberry is a lovely blend of berry and pine, Cookie is a good vanilla confection scent, Spice is a passable cinnamon scentm, and Tree is a fine pine scent, with a hint of cedar. I've since tried the plug-ins for Tree, and I must say I quite like them. The scent from the plugin doesn't strike me as too cedar-y; in fact, it smells pretty much how I'd like a Christmas tree scent to smell. And it's moderatly effusive, too. I'm very pleased with it. The other offering from Bath & Body works to pay attention to is the Henri Bendel holiday candle, Bitter Orange. It's basically an orange spice scent, but it's superbly well done, very natural and suave. It has notes of orange, musk, clove and bay rum. If you're willing to pay more for a high-quality orange spice candle, this is definitely the one to buy. Also good for the holidays is the Henri Bendel Firewood candle, which is an excellent scent (and smells a bit like the Helmut Lang cologne Cuiron). Unfortunately, it's only available as a candle, where the Bitter Orange is also available as a spray.

  • Archipelago Botanicals: Two holiday scents: Joy, in red, is an orange spice blend, and Spirit, in green, is a blend of bayberry, pine and clove (the bayberry is very evident). Both excellent, and what's more, the glass jars that hold the candles are subtle, sophisticated and very aesthetic. This brand probably wins for most aesthetic candles. They also have a gift boxed candle called Joy of the Season (orange spice); the gift box itself is irresistebly cute.
  • The Thymes: Their Frasier Fir is a wonderful pine scent.
  • Aromatique: They have a red scent, The Smell of Christmas, that is an orange cinammon and is very heavy on the cassia scent; it's not as sophisticated as it wants to be. The green, The Smell of Christmas, is a pleasant, dark pine smell. And incidentally, while I wouldn't call it a holiday scent per se, you almost always see their Cinnamon Cider scent stocked with the Christmas ones. It's absolutely ghastly, and I don't recommend it at all.
  • Slatkin & Co: They have a pleasant scent called, simply, Holiday. It has notes of orange, spice, wood and eucalyptus. The eucalyptus gives it a bayberry tone.

And there you have my holiday fragrance survey for 2004! Whew! Beep.

1 comment:

Rachael said...

Ed - I need you. Seriously. My favorite home fragrance of all freaking time just says "Christmas" on the box. It was in stores for sure in '95 and they carried melting stars, potpourri, candles, environmental oils, incense and probably some other flavored crap, but I am so desperately in love with this fragrance I can't see straight. I thought since you loved Noel by C&E, and seem to have a highly developed olfactory system, and were alive and well in 1995, you might remember this fragrance. I need it. Bad. Help!!