The 12 unexpected scents I completely adore
I confess I can be such a snob about perfume (today I’m wearing a Frederic Malle Eau D’Hiver, yesterday, Tom Ford’s Rive D’Ambre), but however many luxury scents I amass, the bargain bucket smells of some every day beauty products still do remarkable things to me. Delicious, evocative fragrances that instantly transport me to happy times, comforting and soothing smells that remind me of a simpler age, or even just scents that cause a reaction in my sexual chemistry for reasons I may have long forgotten. Here are my all time favourites – all of them under a tenner, most of them much less. Let me know your own favourites in comments.
Yardley English Lavender, £7.49
My grandmother wore Yardley English Lavender every single day and probably for this reason alone, it remains the only lavender smell I love (I can’t bear it in almost everything else). It’s soft, warm, soothing almost to the point of soporific, and elegant. To me it is a fireside cuddle, my nose pressed into my nan’s apron, or a game of gin rummy, her scent wafting over the little card table.
One of the most memorable scents of my childhood. Cheap apple shampoo bought in the sort of huge plastic bottles that normally contain turps or screen wash. The shampoo inside had a strong, crisp, artificial green apple scent that was absolutely delicious. Nowhere seems to sell it anymore – believe me, I’ve looked. The closest I’ve found is this more natural and middle class version, from Ocado, which I buy for my kids and find very hard to walk past without stopping to snatch a whiff.
Pantene Shampoo & Conditioner, from £2.69
I get sent every conceivable luxury hair product, including shampoos costing upwards of £30, but nothing ever smells as good as this. Pantene isn’t my favourite shampoo (though it’s certainly fine), but the smell absolutely sums up ‘clean hair’ to me. I find it very attractive when I smell it on others. The overall fragrance changes ever so slightly from formula to formula, but whatever ingredient appeals to me most seems to carry through the entire range.
Max Factor Creme Puff, £5.99
Creme Puff just smells of ‘make-up’, much as Christian Dior lipstick does, or Bourjois powder rouge. None of this sensitive skin molly-coddling, the Max Factor face powder hits you with a proper old fashioned dressing table scent and you’ll bloody well like it. Fortunately, I love it. If you ever hovered over your mum or gran’s open handbag, trying to breathe in the interior’s scent, then you’ll love this.
Johnson’s Baby Lotion, £1.99
One of the loveliest smells of all time. One deep whiff is like been cosseted in a warm blanket and tucked cosily into a single bed. It’s a fragrance I always think of as smelling exactly how it looks – pink, mellow, delicate, old fashioned, soft and sweet. It’s no good on my dry skin but I love the smell so much that I’m never without a bottle in the house.
Original Nivea Creme, £2.54
An iconic product with a very beautiful smell. This multi-purpose moisturiser feels and smells clean, velvety, slightly beeswaxy and feminine – very similar, in fact, to Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps, only for a tiny fraction of the cost.
I adore Pears, but could just as easily have chosen Imperial Leather, Wright’s Coal Tar or Shield (does Shield even still exist?). Retro soaps are the most evocative of all to me – they’re the generic smell of my childhood – my stepfather coming in to wash his hands after fixing the car, my mother dropping a bar of Pears into a bowl of warm water to wash the baby’s bum, the smell of the flannels my grandmother pre-soaped for when I got up for school. Lovely, fatty, sweet, lanolin-rich bars of daily British life.
Elnett Hairspray, from £2.39
I call it Posh-nan-in-a-can, because it smells exactly like the sort of well groomed older woman I aspired to be as a child (and probably still do). Elnett’s is a scent that polarises opinion – to some it’s too chemical, too gassy and strong. But to me it’s the smell of good grooming, of power, of getting ready to go out and have a brilliant time.
Coty L’Aimant, £9.99
Created in 1927 by the great Francois Coty, L’Aimant is a warm, comforting aldehydic floral that’s not too sweet or overpowering. It’s absolutely bargainous for the quality, and yet still smells like a woman of means and elegance. If you like Chanel No5, you will probably like this. A classic.
Cor. I adore this sticky, sexy, sunny coconutty smell of hot skin. One smell and I’m instantly transported to my first parent-free holiday abroad, lying on the beach reading Sky magazine, sipping duty free vodka punch and gossiping with friends. Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil is the bottled smell of happy summers.
Radox Original Bath Soak, £1.99
An instantly evocative bath gel smelling of thyme, pine and juniper. Only old school Radox and Badedas seem to give you that amazing, almost momentarily painful hit, as you submerge your cold aching body in a hot bubble bath for a long, relaxing muscle soak. Strong smelling and fresh almost to the point of toilet cleaner, but just managing to stay on the right side. Utterly blissful and cosying.
Bargain Hair Gel, £1.29
Huge tubs of brightly coloured bargain hair gel truly were the smell of the eighties for me. We’d dip our combs and brushes directly into the tubs (or squeeze on ShockWaves Wet Look if we were feeling flush) and rake them through our terrible mullet haircuts, creating stiff stripes that flaked onto our school cardigans as the day wore on. Girls with highly coveted spiral perms drenched their wet curls with the stuff, thus preventing them from ever drying and fluffing. I can still just about smell the chemical, sticky aroma if I close my eyes – it was the smell of school discos, of wet, clumsy snogs with fit boys during She’s Like The Wind, of overcrowded dormitories in school holiday camps. I’ve just ordered a tub.