Angel Belsey is a Londoner. She owns too much perfume and too many books.

Nuit de Noël

To me, there are some perfumes that smell of particular things, and there are some that just sort of smell of . . . perfume. Through experimentation, I've learned that the "perfumeyness" culprit is none other than floral aldehydes, which were first used in abundance in Chanel No 5 in 1921 and have inspired generations of plagiari . . . um, perfumers since. Floral aldehydes by and large don't work very well on my skin. I may be unfairly tarring an entire group with the same brush, but floral-aldehydic fragrances, which can be beautiful on other people, often seem to create a metallic tang on me. This is not as entirely unpleasant as it sounds, and it does not stop me from wearing Chanel No 5 (in fact, I have a little bottle of the parfum which I handle with kid gloves), but as much as I love it, I always feel like I'm wearing someone else's scent.

Nuit de Noël is heavy on the floral aldehydes and, at first glance, close enough to Chanel No 5 to make a cynical person look askance at the House of Caron (especially since Nuit de Noël was launched only a year later). Both are full of ylang-ylang, jasmine, and sandalwood, and both dry down to that typical chypre/musk powder.

Nuit de Noël does have its own personality, though--for one, it's softer and less attention-seeking than Chanel No 5. To clarify their differences to myself, I wore them alongside each other. Through the heart, Chanel No 5 moves toward a subtle emphasis on rose, while Nuit de Noël retains more ylang-ylang; where Chanel no 5 is very very slightly sweet, Nuit de Noël is mossy. And both smell just a little wrong on me.

While I was wearing both and out with friends, my friend Zoë caught me sniffing my wrist. "I'm just trying to make mental notes for a perfume I'm trying," I said, offering her my wrist. "Wow, that smells lovely," she said. When I said that I'm wondering if it's, ahem, heavily inspired by Chanel No 5, she said that she couldn't see the similarity. So I offered her my other wrist. "That's Chanel No 5? It smells nothing like that on me! But yes, on you the two smell similar. I like Chanel No 5 but I just can't wear it; it's too much on me."

I want to love Nuit de Noël, really I do, but because I can't wear it successfully, I don't feel inspired by it the way some others are. But for people who can wear those old-fashioned perfumey floral aldehydes well, and who like Chanel No 5 but, like Zoë, find it overwhelming, Nuit de Noël could well be the answer. Zoë thought it was lovely on me, but I know it could be far, far lovelier on just about anyone else.

Nuit de Noël, Caron, 1922 Notes: ylang-ylang, tincture of rose, jasmine; sandalwood, oak moss; musk and amber

Bois de Violette

Santal de Mysore