Romantic Scents for Valentine’s Day

By Sarah Ingram February 12, 2013 10:57 AM
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Romantic Scents for Valentine’s Day

Saint Valentine was a third century Roman saint who died on February 14. Not much is known about him except that he was listed in a Roman book of martyrs and the feast of Saint Valentine, commemorating his death, was first established by the Pope in 496 AD. How Valentine’s Day went from a day marking a saint’s death to one celebrating romance can first be traced to the English Medieval poet Chaucer. In 1382 Chaucer wrote a poem to celebrate the engagement of King Richard II, and it included the phrase, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” Other poets picked up on the idea, and the first “Valentines” were actually verses or poems written to someone you love.

Today Valentine’s Day is celebrated throughout the world. For most of us poetry has largely given way to flowers, chocolates, champagne and fancy dinners. It is also a big day for the perfume industry, which promotes fragrance as the perfect gift for someone you love. But why wait for someone to give it to you? Perfume is also a perfect gift to give yourself. Start a new tradition this Valentine’s Day by celebrating with a romantic new fragrance, one you can wear for either a special night out or a cozy night in.

So what constitutes a “romantic” fragrance? Although there is no real definition, some fragrances seem to have been created with the idea of romance in mind, either because of their name or the way they are marketed. Others seem romantic because they evoke some of the things we associate with Valentine’s Day—fresh flowers, roses, shades of red and pink. Others are simply pretty, and make you feel good when you wear them, which is always romantic.

It would be hard to find a fragrance more aptly named for Valentine’s Day than by Killian’s Love (Don’t Be Shy). Its inspiration is said to be marshmallow, but that description does not do the scent justice. Love does have the airy sweetness that characterizes marshmallow, but it is not sugary. Rather Love opens with the floral sweetness of orange blossom, and then blooms into jasmine, Turkish rose, and iris, with a warm base of vanilla and white musk. It’s as if you got your Valentine’s gifts of flowers and candy in one big fragrant package. By Killian is a splurge, but the black packaging and bottle are gorgeous, and the scent is versatile enough for both daytime and evening. You can find it at Saks Fifth Avenue, select boutiques, or online at

Two fragrances from Christian Dior are perfect for a Valentine’s Day night out. If you want to feel glamorous try the house’s most popular scent, J’Adore. The name is obviously a perfect Valentine’s Day sentiment, and I love the new ad that shows Charlize Theron, the face of the scent, running into Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe as she races from backstage onto the Dior runway (you can watch it here. J’Adore is a radiant floral with top notes of mandarin, ivy leaves, and champaca, with a heart of rare orchids, roses and violets. It is not too heady, but has a warm glow reminiscent of the gold bottle it comes in. It is widely available at department stores and online.

Another romantic option from Dior is the quieter Milly-la-Forêt, part of the house’s exclusive Collection Privée. The fragrance is named after a small town near Paris where Christian Dior had a country house surrounded by woods, flower gardens, canals, and ponds. The designer said the retreat was a place where he could find quiet tranquility, far away from the hothouse of fashion.

Wandering through those same woods, perfumer François Demachy says he imagined Milly-La-Forêt as the embodiment of a romantic walk in the forest. He created a fragrance that is, like a country pond, bright and clean, with a hint of the cool green moss you might find on the stones that surround it. Its heart notes include orange blossom, iris, and a bit of jasmine, all warmed by a base of white musk. The perfume itself is a clear, soft shade of pink, and comes in an elegant heavy glass bottle—a perfect Valentine’s Day package. The Collection Privée is available at select Saks Fifth Avenue stores and Dior boutiques, and on the Saks and Dior websites. I tried Milly-La- Forêt at the Dior boutique in Beverly Hills, where the very knowledgeable Shannon Wertz helped me explore the whole collection. You can order from the boutique by calling 310-859-4700.

Estée Lauder’s Beautiful has always been about romance, with ads that portray beautiful brides, at beautiful weddings, presumably wearing a beautiful fragrance from a pretty pink box. Like its box, Beautiful is very pretty. It is a pure floral, with none of the fruity sweetness that I think mars many popular scents today. It has top notes of rose, mandarin, lily and tuberose, with a blend of orange blossom, muguet, jasmine and ylang-ylang at its heart. It is priced very reasonably and is available at Estee Lauder counters everywhere, in several formulations. After trying it at Bloomingdale’s I was pleasantly surprised by wafts of fragrance throughout the afternoon, and was inspired to take a closer look at all of the Lauder fragrances—definitely a subject for another post.

Oscar de la Renta’s new Something Blue is also about the romance of a wedding. It opens brightly with notes of mandarin and linden blossom, and then warms to a finish of bourbon vanilla and white musk. De la Renta told Elle magazine that the scent was inspired by stephanotis flowers from his home in the Dominican Republic. “It is a flower that I grow in my garden myself. Not only is it beautiful, but it has a beautiful scent.” The packaging for Something Blue is also romantic. The bottle cap is made of a rare blue stone from the Dominican Republic, and the collar of the bottle is a silver ring engraved with the Oscar de la Renta logo that can be removed and worn. The design of the box is a replica of a white lace and baby blue organza De la Renta gown. At the moment, the scent is exclusive to Saks.

After trying the American Lauder and De La Renta scents, two other European scents captured my attention. Cartier’s Baiser Volé—“stolen kiss” in English—was created by Mathilde Laurent, the in-house perfumer for Maison Cartier. Laurent has said in interviews that her goal with Baiser Volé was to bring perfume back to the pure essence of a flower, and leave out the sweet, sugary notes that overwhelm so many floral perfumes. With Baiser Volé she focuses on the lily. It’s soft and dewy, and Laurent told Vanity Fair that as she created it she had a specific image in her mind: a woman wears a scent in the crook of her neck; a man leans in to inhale and steal a kiss. Romantic, yes?

For some of us, the ultimate image of romance is Colin Firth in “Pride and Prejudice,” climbing out of a lake on the estate of a fabulous English country house. The British perfumer Penhaligon’s captures the scent of the garden next to Mr. Darcy’s lake with its fragrance Ellenisia. It is a white floral, but not extravagantly over the top. Ellenisia smells like wild English bouquets, not heady perfume, perhaps because the gardenia, jasmine and tuberose are cut with plum and vanilla. The result is like a waft of petals on a summer breeze. What could be more romantic than that?

Happy Valentine’s Day!