2015 Gift Guide: for the Fragrance Lover

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Have you started your holiday shopping yet? Yeah…we haven’t either. But never fear. Our 2015 Gift Guide series will help you nail every single gift on your list.

What would the holiday season be without its assorted scents? From the sweet aroma of baking cookies to the bracing crispness of pine and fir, we’re surrounded by olfactory heaven. Like Proust’s madeleines, specific scents can trigger a cascade of memories; fragrance is often the catalyst that sparks our brain’s limbic system, pulling up vivid emotional responses. Accordingly, a gift of fragrance is a deeply personal and sometimes tricky prospect—you have to really know a person to find the perfect scent for them. That’s part of the magic, though. When you pull it off, your giftee will think of you with each dab and spritz.

To help with the hunt, here are five dazzling suggestions (and a bonus Editor’s pick); just follow your nose to gift giving bliss.


For the iconoclast: Etat Libre d’Orange’s Perfume Sampler, including a variety of seven 0.05 oz fragrance vials. ($12) Etat Libre d’Orange is a singularly creative and edgy fragrance house, known for scents like Secretions Magnifiques—a perfume with notes of salt, blood and milk. We’ll go a bit more refined for holiday gift giving, though: this sampler set is perfect for that one-of-a-kind friend, the one that bucks the trends rather than follows them.

Included are: Dangerous Complicity (rum, ginger, bay, leather); Fat Electrician (vetiver, chestnut cream, olive leaves, vanilla); Fils de Dieu (ginger, coriander, lime, jasmine, rice); Jasmin et Cigarette (jasmine absolute, tobacco, apricot, tonka bean); Putain des Palaces (rose absolute, violet, leather, rice powder, animal notes); Cologne (blood orange, orange blossom, bergamot); and Like This (yellow tangerine, ginger, pumpkin). As it’s so inexpensive, this would make a great stocking stuffer or small gift, allowing the giftee to find their favorite Etat Libre d’Orange scent. I particularly love Jasmin et Cigarette, which smells like one’s own skin amplified in a sweetly melancholic and mysterious way. Fat Electrician is lovely as well; the strident, smoky vetiver is softened by a creamy underpinning of vanilla and chestnut cream.


For the artisan: Firebird Bath and Body Woodsmoke and Vanilla perfume oil. ($10) Firebird Bath and Body, a handcrafted line of perfumes, soaps and bath products based out of Baltimore, MD, has myriad options for those that prefer more individualized, artisanal scents. Each .3 oz glass roller bottle contains intense oils in a fractionated coconut oil base, making them long lasting yet subtle. These scents don’t announce your presence in a brash way; they’re the kind of scent you have to lean in to smell, making them your own delicious secret. I have a handful of Firebird scents that I love, but my recommendation for holiday gifting is Woodsmoke and Vanilla; a delightful blend of frankincense, myrrh, fir needles, balsam, cedar, vanilla and honey. It’s like hanging out by a cedar wood bonfire on a chill winter’s night and roasting vanilla-sugar marshmallows, and who doesn’t want that?


For the artiste: CB I Hate Perfume Russian Caravan Tea perfume. (from $55 to $110) Don’t let the brand name fool you. These fragrances are thoughtful olfactory recreations of founder Christopher Brosius’ memories—like chapters of a memoir, in fragrant form. Brosius founded the Demeter perfume company and left to create CB I Hate Perfume in 2004; he’s been releasing beautifully nuanced and artistic scents ever since. According to his online manifesto, he believes that “Perfume is an art that shows us who we can be if we dare—an invisible portrait of who we are.” Creatives, artists and dreamers alike will love his creations, and Russian Caravan Tea is a lovely holiday perfume. With notes of “smoked black Indian tea, bergamot and the hint of shelves full of old books,” it’s cozy yet dignified— the kind of scent that wraps you in a warm cocoon of spices and paper and wood. The sunny bergamot heightens the whole thing and reminds me of clove-studded oranges.

For the designer darling: Marc Jacobs Decadence. ($95) If a glam dame is on your list, look no further—Decadence will induce swoons. With top notes of Italian plum, iris flower, and saffron, heart notes of Bulgarian rose, jasmine sambac and orris, and base notes of vetiver, papyrus woods and liquid amber, it’s divinely rich and sensual. This is pretty much like old Hollywood in a bottle, smoky florals and woods commingling into something impossibly glamorous. The cherry on top is the utterly glorious bottle: it’s like a mini Marc Jacobs purse, complete with a gold chain and a green python pattern. YOU CAN CARRY THE BOTTLE AROUND LIKE A HANDBAG, is what I’m saying. Between the scent and the packaging aesthetics, this one is a win-win.


For the writer/bookworm/history buff: Sweet Teas Apothecary Dead Writers perfume. (from $28 to $40) Sweet Tea Apothecary, founded by JT Siems, offers a variety of scents based on literary works like Jane Austen’s Pemberley and famous historical figures like Anne Boleyn. All perfumes are free of animal ingredients and composed of essential oils and fragrance oils, and they smell delectable. Dead Writers perfume has notes of vanilla, tobacco, black tea, heliotrope and musk in a jojoba oil base—it’s sweet, spicy, and the kind of scent that garners lots of “who smells so good” comments. It’s meant to evoke “old libraries and the ghosts of words past,” making it such a thoughtful gift for writers, bookworms and history buffs alike.


For the Musk lover: Sabon Musk perfume. ($45) Do you remember my virtual love song to Sabon? This Israeli bath and body line (with 130 stores worldwide) has the most heavenly scents around. And seeing as the line was introduced to me via a gift, I’ve made it my mission to introduce others to it in the same way. I think any fragrance lover worth her vanity tray NEEDS a musk in her collection. Sabon’s Zohar (Hebrew for sunrise) is perfect for the part: soft and warm, with a beautiful vintage-looking bottle.


If it’s a REALLY special recipient, pair the perfume with one of their body products. I recommend the Rose Bath Salt ($16), Patchouli Lavender Vanilla Butter Scrub ($35) or the Amber Butter Cream ($26) – all of the notes would mingle beautifully with the Musk.

we heartsters, do you have any go-to perfume gifts?

Amity writes and teaches in Central PA. Her obsessions include: Rodarte (she can’t afford any Rodarte, mind you, but a girl can dream), espresso, books, vintage/thrift fashion and fountain pens. She thinks you should dress like a weirdo once in a while, just to shake things up.


  • Amity

    Amity teaches rhetoric, composition, and creative writing in Central PA. Her non-fiction has appeared in xojane and Story, as well as on Snap Judgement and This American Life; her fiction has appeared in Hobart. She is the cohost of Bone Palace Ballet, a true crime podcast focusing on murder, mysteries, and the macabre.


  1. What a great list! I’m especially excited about Firebird Bath and Body! They’re based in my hometown, yet I’d never heard about them before. I’m looking through their etsy listings and writing my own Christmas list!

    1. You will love Firebird B and B, and it’s so edifying to support local businesses to boot! I couldn’t’ fit this one on the list, but another similar company that I LOVE is Long Winter Farm–she’s based in Maine and does all natural roll-on perfumes. I have maybe 12 or so? They smell so good and are ten bucks a pop, and with scents like Drunk Santa and Dark Witch, I just can’t help myself, haha. Happy scent gifting!

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