My Top Five Perfumes


Josephine Fairley, author of the The Perfume Bible, reveals her personal fragrance favourites


My dressing table is a bit like one of those seaside amusements where you slip a coin in the slot, and cuddly toys or 10p bits cascade off the shelf into your excited, waiting arms. Only in this case, when I add a new fragrance to my stash, it’s likely instead that a treasured perfume will drop down the back.


Just occasionally, I have a perfume purge – but usually, end up wrapping some of the more vintage treasures in tissue, and stashing them in a drawer, unable to cull them entirely. Basically, I’m a fragrance tart – loud and proud – and my list of past and present loves is almost embarrassingly long.


In my defence, I absolutely agree with Estée Lauder that you wouldn’t wear the same pair of shoes with every outfit – so why would I stick to just one scent? And I think there’s a very good reason to ‘mix it up’, fragrance-wise: if you wear the same thing, day in and night out, you stop being able to smell it.


Being asked to choose five, from my ‘wardrobe’- that rush hour Tube train of a dressing table – is a challenge. But here goes.



46923Hermès Eau de Pamplemousse Rose


You know that early summer day when you can throw open the windows on waking to find the world is already warm outside, with the leaves everywhere you look unfurling in that reach-for-your-sunglasses shade of spring green? This is my scent for that day – and onwards, through the sunny season. Everyone needs a fabulous Cologne in their ‘wardrobe’, and this is mine: as refreshing as it gets, like running your wrists under cold water, or slipping into a cool, crisp linen shirt. (Which alas never stays that way for long, in my case.) With its sense-waking pink grapefruit, this is juicy and citrussy, with a tangy edge. As that mellows, there’s a dainty rosy heart to this – and as it fades, plenty of woodsy vetiver. (Well, it smells woodsy, even though it’s a grass.) Pamplemousse Rose doesn’t loiter for long, overall – just a couple of hours or so, and you’re ready to spritz again.  (Like we did last summer…?)  But I love Colognes, for that:  they remind me of being a child, joyously whirled around at waist-level by a grown-up, squealing dizzily, ‘Again, again, again!’



lipstick-rose-by-editions-de-parfums-frederic-malleFrederic Malle Editions de Parfum Lipstick Rose


The strange thing is that I really, really don’t love most rose fragrances – too dusty, too dry, too old-lady-ish – but I absolutely, utterly and totally adore this.   Maybe because this is roses and violets:  armfuls of violets, which swiftly kick the rose sideways like a spotlight-seeking chorus girl. To balance the vanilla in the base, there’s a delicious bitter almond note, and the overall effect is a sweet powderiness reminiscent of a lipstick – or bizarrely, like the slightly strawberry-ish TASTE of a Chanel or a Guerlain lipstick. It’s exactly like I imagine the inside of my mother’s handbag would have smelled like, if I’d been shrunk to Borrower size and clicked shut inside. Beneath the obvious dressing table glamour, there are smouldering undertones: perfectly-balanced touches of vetiver and musk and amber. I always think it’s what a flapper would have worn, carelessly spilling champagne from her glass as she Charleston-ed on tabletops. Or the heroine of a short story by Anaïs Nin, beneath her silk dressing gown. Or maybe a dancer from the Moulin Rouge. Personally, I wear it when I want to feel v-a-i-r-y French and glamorous; I swear it actually puts a sway in my walk. (Everyone needs a scent that does that.) And – this tells you everything – I am on my third bottle of Lipstick Rose.  How often, these days, can a woman – never mind a perfume writer – say that…?



101635_a_LARGEChanel Les Exclusifs Sycomore


I know I’m in perfume love when I make a detour through Selfridges to spray myself and my (currently-very-unfashionable-but-I-don’t-care) pashmina with a particular fragrance – as I do with this. The name’s Sycomore – but what that translates as is that it it’s very, very woody (I don’t think sycomores even have a smell). This is actually a vetiver-a-go-go -and intensely smoky, with it: the perfume equivalent of my favourite Lapsang Souchong, in its so-chic chunky bottle. It’s campfire-y.  There’s a breath of tar, evoking those road-resurfacing boilers.  (Beside which I have also been known to stand, like a mad person, breathing the fumes.) Not a white flower within 100 paces of this, but rounding it out – stopping Sycomore being too dry, too smoky – is a rich chocolate-y edge. What Sycomore’s about, for me, is planting my feet on terra firma when my head has been too long in the clouds: as meditative, as calming to my senses as sitting in an utterly quiet room. In my fragrance wardrobe, I guess this is my yoga mat. (PS I tuck scent-drenched Sycomore spills in my hardback books, too, for serendipitous woody encounters somewhere in the future.)



208-77011643-28158700_MViktor & Rolf Flowerbomb


I don’t think it pays to be snobby about perfume. (If you happen to love Taylor Swift Wonderstruck, good for you: you’ve found something that makes you feel great – and that’s what it’s all about.) But the sheer global blockbuster success of Flowerbomb, the arrogant not-wanting-to-smell-like-everyone-else, put me off wearing this till I had to review it in-depth for The Perfume Bible‘s 100 Fragrances to Try Before You Die chapter. It’s now become the ‘guilty pleasure’ in my perfume-wearing life – and I absolutely love its cotton-candy, sweet, seductive swirl. Flowerbomb manages (just) not to tip into over-sugariness, though, as the effervescent opening gives way to floral notes, flowing like honey one into another:  jasmine sambac, freesia, rose, orchid, osmanthus – then amber, patchouli, musk. It’s soft and fuzzy and a bit like snuggling under a cashmere blanket to watch your favourite-ever film, with a mug of steaming hot chocolate in one hand, a glass of champagne on the coffee table, and your best friend in the world curled up beside you.



453-3001058-T14M01_MTom Ford Café Rose


Go on: WATCH me eat my words about not liking rose perfumes – because here’s another one I can’t live without, and in Top 5. Now, it means a lot that this was originally  given to me in New York by the very clever ‘creative director’ who oversees all Tom Ford’s fragrances, Karyn Khoury – one of the fragrance world’s unsung heroes – but it’s not for sentimental reasons that I wear it. I often like to imagine that fragrances have a texture – and this is velvet, through and through. It pairs rich, opulent rose (in my mind, they’re dark burgundy) with a jolt of coffee that ensures there’s absolutely no ‘little old lady’ about Café Rose. It’s sexy, but warm, too, with hints of incense and sandalwood. I wear it – very lightly – for day, but it really comes into its own on dressed-up winter nights out: theatre, ballet, restaurants with white tablecloths. However, I could no more wear it in summer than a faux fur coat: this comes out when I excavate my Wolford opaques as the leaves crisp up outdoors – and gets shuffled to the back of the over-crowded dressing table when shorts and swimsuits (and Hermès Pamplemousse Rose) are the order of the summer’s day.



Josephine’s beautiful new book, The Perfume Bible (co-authored with Lorna McKay), is available from Amazon.

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