Six Smells You’ve Never Smelled Before



December has its holidays and the smells inherent: piney Christmas trees, fresh baked buns, fizzing champagne. And February gets all of the allure of romance: chocolates, red wine, bubble baths. But how do you solve a problem like January? After that first day of celebration, everything fades to gray-and-white. The Christmas trees pile up by the dumpster, the weather drops in temperature but picks up in precipitation, the plans get canceled last-minute. There are two ways to cope with this expanse of dreary nothingness: hop the first flight to a warm-weather locale or immerse yourself in the winter coziness of it all with a really great fragrance. The six below play off of familiar, comforting themes–melting icicles and baking spices, the spine of an old book and a favorite wool sweater, the long sleep after a night at a smoky bar–but they’re also unusual enough to spark repeated wrist-sniffs. Niche perfumes are the transportive and nostalgic antidotes to January’s deep gloom, and these in particular are delightful and special enough to get you through the month.

If your primary tactic for surviving the season is curling up with a good book (or ten) and a big pot of builder’s tea, this crisp, cozy scent from Vilhelm Parfumerie could be your new accomplice. Opening with tart apple and bergamot, Dear Polly mellows into a base of black tea, amber, musk, and oakmoss, mimicking the bright, smoky essence of a piping hot mug of Earl Grey. It’s bright and romantic, like a sunbeam through a frosty window.

Inspired by the Transcendentalists, who were in turn inspired by the mountains and forests of the American Northeast, D.S. & Durga’s woody Bowmakers eau de parfum captures the aromas of opening a violin case and all of the music and earthliness within. An intense array of woods–maple, cypress, mahogany, and cedar–are softened and complicated by further coniferous expressions, like sap and soft fallen needles, and more specific references of violin varnish and amber rosin. If you’re daydreaming of hiking along a thawing trail or just want to revisit the feeling of high school orchestra (anyone?), Bowmakers will take you there in one evocative whiff.

This aquatic scent from niche Australian brand Mihan Aromatics is like the perfume equivalent of turning on a humidifier. Light rain and dirt accords are nestled alongside creamy flowers, rosemary, and cardamom. The effect is like the name suggests: “petrichor” is the smell of rain on dry land, and this fragrance evokes that precise, subtle yet electrifying sensation. Let it quench your dry January thirst and ease you into the forthcoming spring thaw.

Latina-owned and -operated fragrance line LARO named this scent after moody Nick Drake and found inspiration both in his music and the English countryside where he was raised. The Nick eau de toilette is deep and smoky, evoking cut firewood, smoldering pipe tobacco, wool, and damp earth. It’s intense and thick but also comforting, like a favorite sweater left overnight by a waning campfire.

There’s an Henri Cole poem that talks about mixing “the glamour and the gutter,” and this smoky floral from the prolific and delightful Etat Libre D’Orange does just that. By shoving seemingly contrasting elements side-by-side, this perfume evokes the final hour of a night on the town: the make-up is smudged, you’re a little sweaty, but you had a blast. It’s not fancy but it’s pretty, it’s not dirty but it’s natural-feeling. Spritz this on when you’re too zonked to leave the house, pour a stiff drink, and enjoy a flirty, hazy night in.

Do the scents so far feel much too earthbound? Does a dreary January have you looking up, entertaining fantasies of the cosmos? B683, named for a fictional planet, smells like what Don Draper might wear if he were an astronaut. Warm saffron, nutmeg, and black pepper blend with leather to create a dense backbone, with lift and energy from red hot chili pepper and what’s called an “ozonic” note–essentially the smell of the atmosphere. B683 is familiar and strange, like a library on a spaceship.

—Nina Slesinger

Photo via ITG