December = special occasion fragrances.
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It’s that time of the year when there seem to be more events than usual, from family get-togethers to office and end-of-year parties.
The good news: you don’t have to spend a fortune, so we’ve included some fantastic budget options in this selection too.
Where known, the name of the perfumer is included in brackets after the name of the fragrance.
Our Shortlist for Best Special Occasion Fragrances
There are rose perfumes that bludgeon you with their intensity and potency. And there are those that seduce you with their artistry, such as this Ormonde Jayne Ta’if EDP (Geza Schoen) 2004 release from the London-based niche house.
An oriental mood is evident right from the start. Honeyed saffron mingles with rosy pink peppercorns, while date oil brings delicate fruitiness to the composition.
Schoen’s treatment of taif rose is masterful, balancing its sweet depth, soft powderiness and tea-like qualities with utmost skill. The mood is enhanced by a trio of florals – freesia, jasmine and orange blossom – fresh and sweet at the same time.
The drydown maintains the refined sweetness: the earthiness of Ugandan vanilla absolute meets the floralcy of broom and muskiness of amber.
What gets us going even more than a luxurious fragrance? A cheap, cheap fragrance that smells luxurious.
Launched in 1982, the debut scent from the American fashion designer was created by none other than the great Sophia Grojsman (Lancôme Trésor, Estée Lauder White Linen, Frédéric Malle Outrageous).
Gloria Vanderbilt EDT opens up with aldehydes on high and a sliver of pineapple in the background.
Then it’s the turn of a floral bouquet that includes tuberose, ylang-ylang, jasmine and, in particular, carnation.
The drydown is a creamy joy, with sandalwood, vanilla and cinnamon notes.
This EDT fades fairly fast, but for the price, top up as you go.
It settles with a seductive blend of smooth vanilla and musky ambergris (a quality synthetic has been used no doubt).
For those more used to streamlined Hermès affairs, this complex beauty might come as a surprise. Either way, this is spectacular stuff.
The style we most associate Kilian with is decadent luxury, and Back to Black, Aphrodisiac EDP reflects that ethos perfectly.
From the Paris-based niche brand’s The Smokes Collection, this 2009 release is a fan favourite for good reason.
From the get-go, delectable honey is infused with cardamom, nutmeg and saffron. Touches of herbal chamomile and soft cedar make an appearance too, but it’s the combo of tobacco, vanilla and incense that sets this EDP apart. So sensual and smoky.
We approach overly sweet fragrances with caution, but when they are done this well and in such a sophisticated manner, we make an exception.
Some tuberose fragrances are so powerful, they’re the equivalent of a floral nuke. This Bvlgari Splendida Tubereuse Mystique EDP (Sophie Labbé) 2019 release from the luxe Italian jewellery brand’s Bvlgari, Splendida Collection is not that kind of perfume.
The opening is fruity-green, thanks to a combo of davana and blackcurrant notes.
The titular tuberose is given plenty of room to breathe, without suffocating everything else in its immediate vicinity. It’s more creamy than animalic.
Splendid stuff, indeed, in a most elegant and smooth way.
As shown by the 2013 release from the Arabian Breeds Collection, the Paris-based niche brand always gets the balance between crowd-pleasing accessibility and quality right.
In Oajan spicy cinnamon and powdery honey make for a great combo in the opening, with the fruity floralcy of osmanthus in support.
The amber accord – lots of vanilla, benzoin and tonka beans here – is all about creaminess. Patchouli gives it earthy depth.
The other releases in the range – Habdan, Hamdani, Kuhuyan – are also good options if you’re looking for approachable Middle East-influenced perfumes.
From her eight marriages and Hollywood roles to her love of luxe jewellery, Elizabeth Taylor did everything on a grand scale. In the make-a-quick-buck-while-you’re-hot world of celebrity scents, her fragrances are still big sellers.
Originally launched in 1991, the White Diamonds range has been particularly successful. A flanker from 2016, White Diamonds Night is audaciously glamorous, in Elizabeth Taylor style, and potent for an EDT.
Apricot is the first note to make an impression in the opening, with its tropical nuances. Notes of mandarin orange and bergamot bring citrus freshness.
Sweet-ish night-blooming jasmine and powdery freesia up the opulence ante.
A 2012 release Roja Amber Aoud (Roja Dove) which shows Dove’s time in the Middle East (three years, according to the brand website) to familiarise himself with the intricacies of oud was time well spent.
There’s a brief barely noticeable citrusy-fresh opening, courtesy of notes of lemon, bergamot and lime.
Voluptuous rose de mai then makes an appearance, honey-ish powderiness to the fore. Its fruitiness is accentuated by notes of fig and ylang-ylang.
The oud is rich, smooth and slightly animalic, but without the skank. It’s fleshed out with the sweetness of spicy cinnamon and leathery saffron.
It’s everything you want a premium oud to be: authentic, warm, cosy and extravagant.
A fruity rose is intensified with notes of tuberose and ylang-ylang, while a leather accord builds on the animalic qualities of the tuberose.
It’s an earthy drydown, with notes of moss and patchouli going deep. Who knew Siberia could be so sensual?
We love the 2014 original for its complexity, but the 2020 parfum version Cartier la Panthère (Mathilde Laurent) from the French luxury brand is something special too. Although not as intricate as its predecessor, it’s richer and more focused.
Notes of apricot and osmanthus produce milky fruitiness at the outset.
Its earthiness is complemented by the moss and patchouli drydown.
Leave the regretful party animal behaviour to others. You’re the unforgettable graceful feline with this beauty.
A 2020 Maison Crivelli Iris Malikhân EDP (Marc Zini) release from the Paris-based niche house that takes inspiration from its founder Thibaud Crivelli’s experiences, it delivers on its title note with aplomb.
The notes of mimosa and lentisque set the powdery and creamy tone respectively, while galbanum brings a hint of greenery.
The combo of orris and vanilla, all silky butteriness, is developed by a slightly animalic leather accord. The amber treatment keeps it sweet in an urbane way.
With gourmand-ish qualities, but not in an overt manner, it’s easy to understand why this luxurious EDP is one of the brand’s best sellers.
Gourmands range from the sweet and sticky-icky to the perfectly posh. Ex Nihilo Honoré Delights EDP (Nathalie Gracia-Cetto) is the latter, even though the perfumer used no obvious edible notes in its creation.
The 2020 release from the Paris-based niche house’s Les Interdites Collection opens with fresh notes of neroli and bergamot.
A large helping of oh-so-silky ambrette is blended with powdery iris and honeyed orange blossom.
If you feel like you’re sitting in one of the French capital’s top patisseries when you wear this cleverly composed perfume, you’re not the only one.
Due to their sensual warmth and the fact we’ll be eating a whole lot more at this time of the year, we’ve featured a few delicious gourmands in this selection.
This 2019 Les Parfums de Rosine Ballerina No 5 EDP (Delphine Lebeau) release is from the Paris-based niche house that was originally founded by legendary couturier Paul Poiret in 1911. The house was brought back to life by Marie-Hélène Rogeon in the 1990s (it ceased to operate during the Great Depression).
As with all fragrances from the company, rose is the focus.
Essential rose, tangerine and fig get the candied treatment in the opening.
The yumminess continues with juicy lychee and the powder of violet leaves and Turkish rose.
Notes of benzoin and tonka bean give the drydown a smooth vanilla-ish finish.
Billed as the company’s glamorous tribute to roses à la the Cannes Film Festival Red Carpet (Chopard is an official partner of the event), it’s roses from top to bottom, including Turkish rose infusion, Bulgarian rose oil, Moroccan centifolia rose absolute and rose damascena absolute from Turkey, in this 2020 release.
Chopard Love Chopard EDP (Alberto Morillas) starts out fresh and dewy, with hints of pink pepper and cinnamon in the background. Bravo to the brand for admitting to the use of the synthetic rose molecule Roseolate, with its fruity nuances.
It gets spicier and warmer as the fragrance progresses, with notes of jasmine sambac and orange blossom adding to the richness.
With notes of patchouli, honey, cacao and vanilla, the drydown goes into gourmand mode, ensuring it’s multifaceted enough to stand out in the crowded category.
The debut fragrance Alaïa EDP (Marie Salamagne) 2015 from the Paris-based luxury fashion brand was awarded the top five stars in the most recent edition of the prestigious Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez.
It’s not an aggressive leather fragrance. A contrast between cold and warm notes, the Tunisian-born designer wanted it to feel like a second skin. And that’s exactly what perfumer Marie Salamagne achieved with it.
The fresh and airy opening progresses to a floral heart with nuances of peony, freesia and rose, while leather and white musk define the drydown.
Frédéric Malle celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. For any company that’s an achievement, but for the Paris-based niche house it’s a recognition of the quality and creativity that’s become its signature.
According to the brand’s website, Lipstick Rose EDP (Ralf Schwieger) came into being after an early version captivated a blindfolded Monsieur M in a young perfumer talent competition.
This 2000 creation is now part of the company’s excellent quartet of rose fragrances that includes Portrait of a Lady, Une Rose and Rose & Cuir.
A slightly sweet and fresh violet is offset by the bitter citrus of grapefruit in the intro.
The powderiness of the violet is accentuated by the star of the show and iris.
The dynamic between the rose and raspberry is technically brilliant, each bringing out the fruity rosiness in each other, with musk and vanilla concluding the modern classic.