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Fashion

The best subtle perfumes for summer


Spraying on perfume makes me feel as ready as cleaning my teeth or brushing my hair. But what constitutes an appropriate fragrance for time spent social distancing or confined to one’s own kitchen table? Without people, traffic, fresh air and nature to cancel out its “noise”, potent perfume can seem suddenly deafening. To wear a big, heady scent in close confines can seem like doing the dishes in a ballgown. I recently find myself making lower-key selections.

Among the most cheerfully polite fragrances is Nuxe’s Huile Prodigieuse skin, hair and body oil (1; £18.50 for 50ml). For your not considerable buck, you get both conditioning moisture and the addictive fragrance of old-school suntan oil, toasted coconut, orange blossom and vanilla (a longer-lasting perfume version for £29.50 is almost – but not quite – as delicious). It evokes happy holidays and freer times.

Loewe is among my favourite fashion houses, which means, if experience has taught me anything, that the fragrance is almost bound not to be my bag. So it has half-proved. Loewe Paula’s Ibiza (2; £70 for 50ml), is a little too warm and sweet for my tastes, but it’s a cracking choice if you lean that way. Perfumes that smell of a tropical beach – hot skin, sea salt, sunscreen, white flowers – are hardly groundbreaking, but there’s something less facile about this one. Deeper, longer-lasting, sparkly rather than sticky, it never goes flat – more mellows into a rich, comforting musk.

Another new addition that already feels like family is Sunspel’s Oak Wood (3) (which seems a fortune at £90, but at 100ml, is thrice the size of most perfumes costing the same). One might not expect something so beautiful to come from an underpants and pyjamas company, but in fact this smells exactly on-brand – comfortable, understated and British (the brilliantly talented Lyn Harris was commissioned to create it). It’s gender neutral (almost all good perfume is, however it’s marketed) and is decidedly cologne-like in that it smells unmistakably breezy and clean.

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But what Harris and Sunspel have achieved here is very often the hardest and most complex feat: simplicity. Just as Sunspel’s signature white cotton T-shirts are ostensibly straightforward but painstakingly produced, Oak Wood is similarly impeccable in its makeup. There are citrusy notes (bergamot and neroli), woods (cedar and sandalwood), some English chamomile and more. But all you’ll notice is how often you lift your wrists for a sniff – truly, I have typed most of this column one-handed.

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