First Published at in December 2014

On the theme of Joy:

Tis the season to spread joy, right? That’s easier said than done when Noddy Holder’s perforating your eardrums and you’re nursing bruises from an unseemly scrum for that last wheel of discounted brie. The good news is you can smell yourself into a better, brighter mood.

Let me first state the obvious: smell is incredibly subjective, and it’s contextual. I adore the smell of cooked bacon, and the scent of a roasting chicken – with plenty of rosemary – puts me in a party mood. But would I daub those fragrances behind my ears? I think not. (Though I’d have hungry men, and their dogs, following me for miles. Hmm: note to self …)

We associate certain fragrances with people and places, and that naturally colours our emotional responses. If a toxic ex wooed you with lilies, if your late, lamented granny wore White Shoulders perfume (as mine did), if you met the love of your life in a laundromat, all these factors will affect your reactions for good or bad when encountering those scents throughout your life.

But there’s scientific proof that certain smells really do the business on our limbic systems. The most universally loved fragrances include vanilla, citrus and flowers, especially roses. Scientists speculate that this owes something to the familiarity factor: we like what we know and can identify.

According to the Smell Report, from the Social Issues Research Centre, experiments have shown that vanilla reduces stress and anxiety. Cancer patients being diagnosed via MRI reported 63 per cent less anxiety when the vanilla fragrance heliotropin was released during the procedure. Scientists at Germany’s Tubingen University found the scent of vanilla reduced the startle reflex in humans and animals.

At Rutgers University, in New Jersey, Jeannette Haviland-Jones and her team scented a room with classic florals, such as No 5 from Chanel, and asked 59 students to write about three life events. Those in the floral scented room used roughly three times as many happiness-related words in their descriptions.

Other research has found that jasmine sprayed in a bedroom leads to more restful sleep and better alertness the following day, because it increases the brain waves associated with deep sleep. A 2010 study found that jasmine can also aid in the relief of depression.

And once you’ve drifted off, floral scents produce happier dreams, as well. Trials with lavender, at Maryland University, have shown it to help alleviate insomnia, anxiety, stress and post-operative pain. It promotes relaxation and lifts the mood of those suffering from sleep disorders. Coffee is another calming scent, strange as that may sound. The scent of roses, found researchers in Thailand, reduces breathing rate and blood pressure. Finally, boffins in Australia found that the scent of fresh-cut grass releases chemicals that work on the amygdale and hippocampus to boost serotonin levels.

What about other scents associated with cooking? Lemon oil keeps you perky and reduces anxiety, and helps give others a positive impression of you, probably because it’s associated with femininity, cleanliness and general pleasantness. The ancient Greeks recommended smelling licorice to mellow out a bad mood, and more recently, scientists at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation found smelling licorice makes people happier and more physically aroused.

So how does this translate to perfume?

THE ROSE NOSE: Rose Noir from Byredo contains notes of grapefruit, Freesia, rose Damascena, citrus moss and musk. Parfums de Rosine does a range of roses, and likely has one that will float your particular boat.

No5-chanel-EAU-DE-PARFUMFLOWER POWER: Chanel’s No5 EDP contains ylang ylang, aldehydes, neroli, jasmine, mayrose, sandalwood, vetiver. Editions de parfums Frederic Malle’s Lys Mediterranee, a tribute to the lily, includes notes of ginger lily, lily of the valley, angelica root, orange flower, water lily, salicylates, ambrette seeds, musk and vanilla. Jean Patou is the maker of Joy, once known as the world’s costliest perfume, and designed, according to Luca Turin, “not to smell of a particular flower but of the Platonic ideal of flower”. Notes include: aldehydes, peach, leafy green, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, tuberose, sandalwood, musk, civet.

CITRUS STAR: 1873 (Colette), from Histoires de Parfum has notes of: grapefruit, orange, citrus, tangerine, bergamot, lime, lily of the valley, orange blossom, spring flowers, violet, lavender, vanilla, caramel, white musk.

LOVELY LAVENDER: Etat Libre D’Orange’s Antiheros is an incredible scent, composed of lavender musk and woods.

LICK THE BLUES WITH LICORICE: Azzaro pour Homme is an anisic lavender with notes of: caraway, iris, lavender, clary sage, basil, anise, bergamot, lemon, sandalwood, juniper, patchouli, vetiver, cedar, cardamom, leather, tonka bean, amber, musk and oakmoss.

bond-no-9-high-lineLEGAL (CUT) GRASS HIGHS: Bond No 9’s High Line perfume, by Laurent Le Guernec, was composed to capture prairie wildness and the beauty of leaves. Notes include purple love grass (nope, me neither), Indian rhubarb, bergamot, red leaf rose, tulip, grape hyacinth, orange flower water and bur oak. Parfums du Nicolaimakes Vie de Chateau Intense, designed to smell like freshly cut grass, leather, hay and wood. Notes: fern, cut grass, oak moss, vetiver, tobacco, patchouli, grapefruit, leather, musk and hay.

VENERABLE VANILLA: Vanille Tonka from Parfums de Nicolai has notes of vanilla, frankincense, tonk a bean and tangerine. Lucky Scent says: “Opening with a tingle of sharp lime and tangerine, this unfurls into a cinnamon-laced, smoky vanilla that makes us deliriously happy.”

EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE: 1725 (Casanova), from Histoires de Parfums is an anisic lavender with notes of: bergamot, citrus, grapefruit, licorice, lavender, star anise, vanilla, almond, sandalwood, cedar, amber. From the same company: 1876 (Mata Hari) has notes of orange, bergamot, litchi, rose, iris, violet, cumin, cinnamon, carnation, sandalwood, vetiver, guaicum, white musk, vanilla. Caron’s Pour un Homme contains notes of: lavender, rosemary, bergamot, lemon, clary sage, rose, rosewood, cedarwood, vanilla, tonka, musk and moss.

Described by Luca Turin as a “rose vanilla”, Tocade, by Rochas contains green notes, bergamot, freesia, geranium, magnolia, iris, orchid, jasmine, lily of the valley, rose, patchouli, amber, musk, cedar, vanilla. From Guerlain there is Après l’Ondée with notes of almond, violet, aniseed, carnation, thyme, rosemary, sage and a dash of vanilla.


NEWS (OF MY GREED): Santa baby, shall I tell you what I want, what I really, really want for my perfume cabinet? It’s a short list, just two things … two BIG things:

The complete range of fragrances from Histoires de Parfums. The company was founded in 2000, on the premise that theirs is an olfactive library telling stories about famous characters, created and interpreted by Gérald Ghislain. As you can see from the number of times I’ve referenced to this brand in the accompanying story, I rate Ghislain’s powers of composition very, very highly.

The complete range of fragrances from Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle and especially a gigantic flacon of Portrait of a Lady (which I’ve just heard via @persolaise, contains 300 Turkish roses per 50ml bottle). Malle – whose father founded Parfums Christian Dior – introduced the Editions in 2000. He acts as a sounding board, muse and editor – a commissioning Medici, if you like. His motto is: “Eliminate all that is superfluous or merely decorative” and this, apparently, is the only rule. Pennies are not pinched, and the fragrances are priced after their formulation – and individually – to reflect the cost of the ingredients. He works with the top artists in the business, and the results are heart-stoppingly gorgeous. And out of my price-range! The company was recently sold to Estee Lauder, but here’s hoping they’ll leave Malle alone to carry on the good work.

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