Revisiting Nuit de Noël

Viola Levy looks back on a Christmas classic that would cheer up Scrooge

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This time of year inevitably goes hand-in-hand the latest designer flanker fragrance or gift set doing the rounds. I’ve just been working on a Christmas gift guide for a major retailer, which has included many pretty fragrance gift sets in shiny boxes, complete with additional trinkets to tempt buyers - shower gels, clutch bags … that sort of thing. But when it comes to a real Christmas perfume, for me Caron set the standards way back in 1922 with their classic “Nuit de Noël.” A jazzy oriental, created by Caron’s founder and self-taught ‘nose’ Ernest Daltroff, it was a fragrant paean to the “Roaring Twenties” a generation determined to party till the bitter end, when the ghost of WWI still loomed over them. Author Evelyn Waugh even gave this perfume a plug in his era-defining 1930 novel Vile Bodies:


“… the waiter came in with a tray, the smell of kippers contending with Nuit de Noël rather disagreeably...”


This scent wastes no time in announcing itself - with its riotous blend of ylang ylang, rose jasmine, oakmoss and sandalwood, it’s the olfactory equivalent of stepping out in a cocktail dress, killer heels and a smattering of glitter. The bottle is lots of fun too: a sleek black hip flask, the kind you keep in your clutch bag – echoing emancipated 1920s women embracing their new-found freedoms and partying till the early hours, punctuated by the occasional secret swig of gin.

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To me, it also brings back memories of Christmas in the early 90s, with my parents (mum draped in her Liberty peacock wrap and doused in Miss Dior) going to their friends’ house parties. In lieu of a babysitter, all the kids would be thrown upstairs in one room - pacified with The Muppet Christmas Carol and chocolate coins - while the music, drinking and chatter carried on below us into the early hours. At some point I’d eventually fall asleep and get scooped up come 3am and carried to the car (some things never change). It’s that slightly frenetic and chaotic time of year, those first few weeks of December, that I’ve always cherished and still look forward to (probably more than the actual day itself), which Nuit de Noël perfectly encapsulates. This isn’t the type of scent to be unwrapped on the 25th, but to see you through the December festivities. It’s bright lights, streamers and sloe gin – and everything in-between.

Les Senteurs’ fragrance expert and archivist James Craven shares my enthusiasm. “It's a strange exotic farouche smell - definitely an evocation of a rarefied high-society in 1922. It’s Christmas in Paris, dressed by Lalique and Poiret and illuminated by rare cognacs and a matinée chez Les Ballets Russes. Nuit de Noël is a stylised fantasy 'art-house' Christmas: an almost pagan version of the festival. Not cosy but operatic, it changes radically depending on the wearer. There is a lot of tuberose in the formula which occasionally flowers on certain skin types, so that the fortunate individual smells like a glass conservatory or winter-garden full of rare tropical white flowers, with snow crystals falling against the windows.”

It’s currently sold at Escentual for £192 for 28ml - pretty steep, but for a parfum concentration, one or two spritzes should see you through the evening (and the next day if you don’t make it home). (In the US check Nordstrom)

But if you’re after something more contemporary to make December go with a bang, below are a few suggestions …

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Amaroud Agarwood Noir – An old-school-style oriental, it’s not the dark and brooding concoction the name might suggest, but far more fun with a good jolt of apricot and jasmine to send the wearer on a sugar high. This reminds me of the rich 80s perfumes that were popular with the grown ups during party season.


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Hervé Gambs, Pink Evidence – This perfume was developed to capture the smell of make-up and it doesn’t do too badly. With soft powdery notes of violet and ylang ylang, it captures those nights when getting preened and primped for the office Christmas party is actually more fun than the party itself.


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The Perfumer’s, Story Fever 54 – Perfumer Azzi Glasser’s scents are highly sensual and hedonist, perfect for the festive period. Fever 54 is a decadent rose bouquet - a tribute to the exotic creatures that frequented Studio 54 – ideal for, ahem, “catching up” with old flames under the mistletoe.


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Floraïku, I Am Coming Home – As the name suggests, this is “Driving Home For Christmas” in olfactory form. It comes skipping in with sprightly ginger oil, coupled with soft enveloping cardamom – embodying that giddy feeling of sipping champagne, singing out of key to Wham!, living on borrowed energy, eating one too many salmon blinis … you get the idea.