Women have traditionally spritzed on a light daytime fragrance then switched to a more intense dab-on, come evening. Those with a signature scent might favour an eau de toilette by day, but the more concentrated eau de parfum at night. Though this approach still holds true, a quick waft through the latest launches suggests a shift may be in store.
Fresh scents still suggest bright spring days more than the darker hours, but richer romantic scents are no longer restricted to an evening role.
Changing consumer preferences mean that after decades of a preponderance of light, airy scents and overly sweet fruity florals vying for supremacy with perennially popular florals, more complex yet subtle concoctions are returning to vogue. These can be worn any time. Sometimes they fall squarely into the Oriental fragrance category, but more commonly florals still dominate, but with lingering warm, sometimes woody, base notes. I'm less convinced by the fragrances which start assertively fresh or fruity and then shift into softer territory, but a few manage this tricky balancing act.
Oriental fragrances are influenced by the Middle East's rich heritage of scent-making, as distinct from the Oriental description pertaining to east Asia where lighter scents are still much preferred. With the growth of the Arab world as a market for imported luxury goods, more international companies are picking up on the region's preferences and finding an appetite for them elsewhere.
Jo Malone is an example of a brand which developed its Intense scents with the Middle-Eastern consumer in mind, but found their depth and greater staying power appealed worldwide. Headier scents are already popular in Latin countries, and though America, northern Europe and Australasia generally favour lighter ones, recent releases are heading in a different direction. Florals have more depth and classic Orientals are being retooled into new versions for new generations, with Shalimar Initial and Belle d'Opium successful examples of classics reinvented, albeit without the full olfactory impact of the originals. They are more approachable, however, being less assertive.
A noticeable trend is where once fragrance houses would launch only breezy summer or "fraiche" versions of their most popular scents, so-called flanker scents are now also coming out under Intense or Essence monikers. Intense, Essence, Extreme and Noir or Nuit are not automatically super-strong variations on a theme, so don't steer away from all of them for fear of an overdose. In some cases I've found the richer versions have a warmer, softer finish which can be less "screechy" or obvious than some modern originals. It all comes down to the contents.
With Christmas approaching, now is a good time to time to sniff out what's in the wind.
1. Givenchy Dahlia Noir 50ml eau de toilette $129
A year on from the launch of the engaging powdery eau de parfum comes the sweeter eau de toilette, again in an elegantly simple bottle but this time capped in pink rather than black. Hints of citrus within soon subside into delicate florals and the subtle intensity of amber, sandalwood and vanilla.
Verdict: Classy couture fragrance for those who fancy flirting with a little pink number before moving on to an LBD.
2. Lancome Tresor Midnight Rose eau de toilette $128
Raspberry and rose, vanilla and musk, with a hint of spice among the sweetness lifts this from an all-too common fruity-floral syrup into more sophisticated territory. But let's not get too carried away. Most young women go through a purple patch and this bottle is perfect for that period.
Verdict: For ball night or those who like to endlessly dream about it.
3. Hugo Boss Nuit Pour Femme 50ml eau de parfum $139
Designed to compliment a Hugo Boss little black dress, this elegant evening fragrance has the same streamlined stealth-wealth look. From its weighty black and gold bottle to its choice of Gwyneth Paltrow as a frontwoman, this is perfectly put together but forgettably A-list. The fragrance notes move seamlessly from white peach, through jasmine softened with violet to moss and woods.
Verdict: If classy rather than colourful is your style, snap it up.
4. The Body Shop Indian Night Jasmine 50ml eau de toilette $43
The imagery on the back of the bottle places this in a flower-filled fairytale Indian kingdom. The scent won't transport you so far, but it has a summer festival vibe with sweet jasmine, orange blossom and sandalwood in evidence. (Fans of exotic locales get a tiki tour with The Body Shop's Scents of the World collection from which this is drawn. There's also an Oriental-gourmand called Madagascan Vanilla Flower, the green Amazonian Wild Lily, fruity-floral Japanese Cherry Blossom and the floral-oriental Atlas Mountain Rose, with the six scents also available in body mists, $28, and perfume oils $30.75.)
Verdict: Teenage treat that remains gentle and cheap enough not to scare away nostalgic adult users.
5. Jo Malone Velvet Rose & Oud 100ml Cologne Intense $255
This coupling of dark damask rose with sensual woody oud is a limited edition, which like other Cologne Intense offerings uses precious ingredients long prized in Middle Eastern perfumery. Oud is an aromatic resin from the agar tree and here it is made more darkly delicious with praline and saffron. The cologne has an unusual top note of cloves, moreishly mixed with bergamot.
Verdict: Souk it up: every sniff conjures up visions of wafting about on a balmy night.
6. Thierry Mugler Angel Aqua Chic 50ml eau de toilette Light $120
Angel goes aquatic, an exercise that takes this polarising statement scent into sheerer, less confrontational territory with its gourmand notes toned down and patchouli and vanilla amped up.
It has, though, been watered up rather than watered down, with the usual perfume-making practice of adding distilled water and alcohol to a perfume concentrate varied by replacing the water and some alcohol with hydrosols, a steam distillate sometimes called floral water which adds its own slight scent, in this case from cornflowers.
Verdict: Like making a martini with vodka, not gin, and forgetting the olive.
7. Madly Kenzo 50ml eau de toilette $129
This is a happy scent that comes in butterfly bedecked packaging and a sinuous pink-tinged bottle crafted to resemble a stylised butterfly wing, with the butterfly representing beauty and freedom. The warm fruity-floral fragrance intermingles pear and lychee with jasmine, cedar and musk notes.
Verdict: Even if summer is slow to arrive, a bottle of this will lift your spirits.
8. Green Tea Cherry Blossom 50ml eau de toilette $52
Each year Elizabeth Arden adds a new twist to its refreshing Green Tea fragrance, this time the floral-citrus mix showcases the delicate cherry blossom, emblematic of spring in Japan. It's an appropriate combination and lends itself to a pretty pink bottle that is feminine without being garishly girly.
Verdict: Get the right Green Tea blend and you've found a good value daytime drop.
9. Bvlgari Mon Jasmin Noir 50ml L'Eau Exquise $134
The only thing "noir" about this is the black ribbon round its neck. The latest flanker scent of the Bvlgari Jasmin Noir franchise is as fresh as a spring shower, unlike its more intense antecedents. This debuts strongly citrus before white floral and tea notes take centre-stage with a musky backdrop.
Verdict: Green tea laced with jasmine, a perfectly polite perfume pick-me-up that grows on you.
10. Viva La Juicy La Fleur 40ml eau de toilette $104
Juicy Couture has juiced up and softened its Viva La Juicy with berry notes and a bigger floral heart while retaining its caramel and creamy wood appeal. The scent is sheerer and clearer but the bottle is as bedecked as ever, with added rose motifs.
Verdict: Day for night, teen for 20s, La Fleur sends Viva La Juicy back to the little league to round up new recruits.
11. Red Door Aura 50ml eau de toilette $99
Red Door is the top-selling fragrance at Farmers and although the original from 1989 is certainly no shrinking violet, the new Aura version belongs to a lighter and brighter scent category. It is a deliberately more youthful mix with new raspberry and bergamot top notes and more jasmine and orange flower in its rosy floral heart. The musky finish has a contemporary creaminess.
Verdict: A reminder of many a mum or granny, without leaving you smelling just like them.