8 gifts that smell as good as they look

Panicking in the perfume isle? Breathe, says Lizzie Ostrom. Put down the eau de toilette and try one of these lovely smellies instead

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By Lizzie Ostrom on

In my opinion, perfumes as Christmas presents are fraught with danger. Even if your loved one tells you exactly what they want, you’ll get it wrong by accidentally buying the Eau Fraîche version of Chanel Chance, rather than the Eau Tendre they wanted. And a guesstimate purchase of classic No5 is like a one of those logic problems you do on long train journeys: “Martha chose the new L’Eau version, which was available on a Wednesday. Meanwhile, Dave didn’t buy Wendy the small bottle of pure parfum.” If you go renegade by choosing something you think the recipient would like, they’ll analyse the purchase more than with any other product, as though you’ve written out a therapist’s note on their darkest traits (“Why did she think I’d like Hugo Boss Nuit? Am I that boring? Oh, God… I’m dull, aren’t I?”).

Of course, as a scent-head, I’m not going to suggest you avoid fragrance as a gift altogether. There are loads of wonderful smellies out there and I’ve put together a tour of some of the most fun and unusual around. 


Are they addicted to new notebooks, have an actual pencil-case in their bag and send hand-written cards even if they just came over for a coffee? What their correspondence arsenal is probably missing is scent. I’m not talking about strawberry glitter scratch ’n’ sniff rollerballs, but a bottle of J. Herbin’s rose or violet perfumed hydrosol ink, £9. Get them a bottle of this, alongside a dipping pen and some nibs from calligraphy shop Quill London in a jaunty colour, and they’ll be happy. 


Another fun option: Liberty is selling packs of graphite pencils cedar soaked in jasmine fragrance oil, £8. Though these fall under the “Essential Waitrose" definition of household necessities, I think we can agree that the concept is delightful (Note: don’t soak a pack of Ryman’s pencils in lavender essential oil. Your fingers will give off an exhaust for weeks). 



They made it. While your toiletries are strewn over the shower floor, bathroom cupboard and a few manky make-up bags, they sit down on a stool to apply their evening toilette in front of one of those mirrors with Hollywood bulbs. 

Every dressing-table owner requires a roster of A-list products which make it out on to the display area next to the Mason Pearson hairbrush. There aren’t many more stunning than those of the French pharmacy house Buly, which ships from Paris and recently launched an edit at London’s Dover Street Market. Just take a look at this exquisite bottle of Huile Antique, €38, a dry body oil which comes in four fragrances (damask rose is a good bet; there’s also tuberose, honey and Scottish lichen). Huile Antique was a very fashionable product in the 18th century and used to be made by putting layers of flowers and cotton soaked in oil in a pewter vessel, which would be left in a warm water bath for 24 hours. Sounds intensive. This is easier. 

Buly also sells high-end toothpaste called “Opiate Dentaire”, which has an illustration of a snake on the tube and comes in a Christmas scent of orange, ginger and clove. It’s €20, so only buy this if they really have a thing about their teeth.  



Scented candles are always welcome and you probably don’t need me to inform you of the latest offerings from True Grace, Diptyque and co. The most exciting novelty candles I’ve spotted this year are the scented wax cameo charms, £38, from Cire Trudon, which you can burn on a little ceramic dish. For Christmas parties, the spicy cigar scent of Ernesto is a lovely choice. 


This alternative home-fragrance option WILL make the recipient resemble a Greek Orthodox priest at home. Oh, and they should probably own a fire extinguisher. And not drink a litre of mulled wine before using. Otherwise, it’s perfect! 

First, get them a brass brazier, £5.99, which looks good on a mantelpiece, and some charcoal disks. Then choose a blend of incense resin to burn on the coals. A great shop for ordering this kit is Indigo Herbs, which, as you might guess, is based in Glastonbury. They sell incense from the beautiful Mount Athos, northern Greece’s holy mountain, which is a World Heritage Site; various monasteries on the site produce their own grains in various scents. Or, try out some Palo Santo, a purifying holy wood from the Amazon, which is lovely for a Christmas Eve ritual to create a welcoming home – or to cover the smell of burnt mince pies. If your friend likes "immersive experiences", there’s a lovely blending kit comprising mixable doses of frankincense, myrrh, benzoin and dammar (a Sumatran resin), along with all the other bumph they need.





While I’ll never turn down a box of mini Aromatherapy Associates bath oils or one of those Laura Mercier creams with the wooden honey dipper, they are fairly ubiquitous now. 

If your friend’s bathside resembles a branch of Space NK, so well-represented with unguents it is, try a pack of Tabino Yado’s Japanese milky bath salt sachets, £10.99, which take you on a fragranced tour of four of the country’s hot springs or Onsen. A few years ago, I went to Kinosaki Onsen, expecting a blissful spa experience. Unfortunately, it was August and about 40ºC. Easing into in a scorching tub wasn’t the most sensible idea. And most of the clientele staying in the resort were teen couples on a quaint version of Spring Break, hoping to get to second base. But I do remember the steaming cedar wood scents of the Onsen baths were wonderful; these mineral and herb salts are a surrogate version of going there yourself. They come in single-use packets, so if you were doing stocking fillers, you could split up the contents and no one would be any the wiser…



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