Gift guide for men, 2017

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For this year’s gift guide, I’ve not only included a few suggestions of my own but also asked some stylish men for advice. Thanks to them for giving me ideas and for making this a fun post to put together. Presents range from the very affordable to objects of dreams but I hope you’ll find something desirable and inspiring, even if it’s just window shopping. And don’t forget to visit the beautiful blogs by my friends Jan and Kenneth for more style ideas and inspiring writing.

George Jensen elephant bottle opener, £35. I personally could never give this to a man unless I lived with him because it’s definitely something I want for myself.

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Le Creuset The Waiter’s Corkscrew, £25.60.

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Laguiole Olivewood Three Piece Cheese Set, £289 – the ultimate set to bring out with the cheeseboard.

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A classic leather hip flask in deep brown croc, £45, Aspinal of London (currently 15% off as well). Can also be engraved. The perfect accessory for long winter walks.

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Bucks Fizz Orange Marmalade from Fortnum’s to add a touch of elegance on Christmas morning, £7.95

Two of my favourite fragrances for men which I also love to wear:

Chanel pour Monsieur Eau de Toilette, from £52

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Sycomore by Les Exclusifs de Chanel, from £140

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The finest handmade combs by Kent, starting at £3.85

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An Abbeyhorn shoehorn which really is beautifully made and designed to last. Prices start from £13.88.

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A cashmere tie to keep warm and look elegant in the winter months, Emma Willis, £140

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Hermès passport holder, £155, sadly no longer available in red but vert Titien is still gorgeous.

Hermès

A beautiful dark red wool twill scarf from Loro Piana, £360

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And another in blue cashmere and silk, £635

A double-breasted topcoat in camel hair, £1246, J.Crew.

Double-breasted topcoat in camel hair

Bugatti Sports Coat in black watch tartan, currently in the sale for £155 from Peter Hahn

Bugatti - Sports coat

A vintage Daytona Paul Newman watch from antique stores and Ebay among others. From £325,000 – good luck with that!

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Or perhaps you’d rather have the Todd Snyder Military Watch in black, $138

The Military Watch in Black

Steve McQueen by William Claxton, £8.99 because he was just the epitome of style and cool

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James Dean by Dennis Stock, £24.95. Handsome coffee table book of one of the ultimate screen icons.

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And finally some Dorothy Thorope style 1960s roly poly Mad Men whisky glasses because what man doesn’t want to be Don Draper? £125 on Etsy (set of six)

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Gift guide for women, 2017

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So here we are, just a few weeks from Christmas. Soon the lights will be switched on and the festive tunes will be playing wherever you go. As usual, I’ve put together a guide but this year, I’ve decided to do one for women and then a separate one for men by popular request, although of course there are many gifts in both which are unisex. I’ve tried to include a range of desirable things for all budgets but I’m also not afraid to include some seriously expensive ones either because there is no better time to dream of luxury than on those cold, dark nights. My selection is also makeup heavy, reflecting my own personal obsession, but when I contacted several female friends, looking for more inspiration, they requested makeup, perfume and accessories. Your wish is my command. Enjoy! P.S. A final note – all items were in stock at the time of writing but as some are limited edition, certain links may expire.

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Chanel No 5 Fragments d’Or body oil, £70. No other fragrance quite suits Christmas like No 5. The sparkling gold makes is perfect for party season. Limited Edition so hurry!

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A saying from the 1920s stated that no respectable woman should smoke, dance the tango or wear Shalimar. I suggest you at least try the third. Deliciously spicy and comforting for winter. From £51.

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Red lipstick is my great passion as you know and I always have it on my Christmas list. Chanel lipstick is always beautiful and the stunning pillar box shades inside the red casing this year makes them the ultimate object of desire as far as I’m concerned. Limited edition of four red lipsticks, two satin, two matte. But hurry! £30 each.

I’m going to be honest and say that I don’t really wear nude lipstick very often. But I know many women love them and if I do, it’s always one by Charlotte Tilbury. This year, she has created three limited edition matte shades – two nude, one deep red. English beauty (£24) is particularly lovely. There’s also a lip masterclass kit with all three lipsticks, plus liner and gloss, packaged in a stunning box for £130.

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Beautiful quality brushes to take with you everywhere. Magical mini brush set, £45, Charlotte Tilbury

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The year’s most stunning palettes by Nars, inspired by Man Ray (the glass tears one is currently on offer at John Lewis for £27.50)

Buy NARS Man Ray Glass Tears Eyeshadow Palette, Multi Online at johnlewis.com

The Veil Cheek Palette is £29.50

Buy NARS Man Ray The Veil Cheek Palette, Multi Online at johnlewis.com

Overexposed Glow Highlighter, £23.80

Buy NARS Man Ray Overexposed Glow Highlighter, Double Take Online at johnlewis.com

A perfect kit for cat eyes on the move. Eyeko Eye Travel Wardrobe, £20

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The best nail polish around in a seasonal sparky shade (you can’t go wrong with Pop Art either if you don’t want glitter). YSL La Laque Couture Dazzling Lights Nail Polish, £19.50.

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Giving face cream as a present is a no-no because nobody wants to be reminded of ageing but a luxurious face mask or a beautiful hand cream is always welcome. At £45, the Chanel Crème Main is super expensive but I love the travel friendly, no mess packaging and formula (a cheaper alternative is the gorgeous L’Occitane Shea Butter hand cream).

Buy CHANEL LA CRÈME MAIN Smooth-Soften-Brighten Bottle Online at johnlewis.com

Sadly I’ve run out of the Sisley Black Rose mask (£84.15) and can only dream that someone will give me a tube as a present.

Buy Sisley Black Rose Cream Mask, 60ml Online at johnlewis.com

A yummy Christmas candle by my favourite brand. Diptyque Dragon: Fiery Orange from £28.

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Moomin fans are in for a treat this year with the release of the ‘True to its Origins’ set.  Tove Jansson’s illustrations from her final book, ‘Moominvalley in November’, written just after she had lost her mother, and ‘Moominpappa at Sea’ are incredibly touching and beautiful. The collection comprises a mug, bowl, plate, teapot and cookie jar which can be bought separately. From 24 euros.

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There are also new collectors’ editions of four Moomin books with the original artwork, £9.50 each, published by Profile Books and available here.

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The catalogue from one of the year’s most beautiful exhibitions to make you dream, £50

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The most luxurious vanity case ever to make you feel like a silver screen goddess, even when you travel economy. I’m unlikely ever to own one but have been dreaming of it ever since I saw this in someone’s Instagram gallery. Safari 13″ Vanity Case, £695 from Globetrotter.

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Leather gloves from Madova (from 32 euros) a very old company in Florence, to remind you of the wonderful time you spent there. Marks and Spencer also do an excellent range, starting at £17.

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A beautiful leather bag in a stunning shade of green to enjoy using for many years. £135, And other stories.

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A couple of cosy scarves

John Lewis glitter yarn scarf, £30

Buy John Lewis Glitter Yarn Scarf, Teal Online at johnlewis.com

 

Oasis Jenny chunky knit scarf, £20

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Some Art Deco inspired statement earrings, £20, Accesorize.

Or some sparkly ones for the party season. Monsoon short sparkle teardrop earrings, £8.

 

Some stunning silk pyjamas for that Carole Lombard glamour. Pure silk tie front long sleeve pyjamas, £150 Marks and Spencer (there are also some beautiful black satin ones for £35).

A personal notebook to inspire you to keep a journal. Kate Spade Initial Notebook, £16

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The best marzipan there is in a cake form. Amazon, £6.99

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A selection of Christmas teas, Fortnum and Mason, £13.95.

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And finally some of the finest shortbread biscuits to go with the tea. Traditional shortbread fingers, £5.95 from Fortnum and Mason.

Favourite books of 2017

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Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles is just one of my favourite books I read this year. Some are new, some were published a few years ago but all are wonderful. I hope you find something to interest and inspire you on my list.

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One of the greatest living photographers, Fred Lyon, pays homage to his beautiful city of San Francisco and its noir heritage. Stunning and atmospheric photos.

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Two books about the darker side of Hollywood. Piu Eatwell makes a convincing case for finally solving one of the most notorious crimes of all time, that of Elizabeth Short, nicknamed The Black Dahlia. Gripping and well told with great compassion for the victim. While in High Noon, Glenn Frankel turns his attention to the blacklist and the making and influence of one the great westerns, High Noon. A revealing portrait of America which still resonates today.

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In Les Parisiennes, historian Anne Sebba looks at the testimonies of both ordinary and well known French women who lived through the German Occupation. So compassionate, fascinating and well researched that I couldn’t stop reading. I’m not a huge fan of contemporary fiction but I loved All The Light We Cannot See which is also set in Occupied France. A heartbreaking and beautiful book which I still can’t stop thinking about.

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Nicholas Ray’s adaptations of In A Lonely Place is one of my favourite noirs but I had never read the book which is actually quite different. One of the greatest books about Los Angeles too along with Slow Days, Fast Company. Eve Babitz was one of my discoveries this year. Her writing is deceptively simple but so good and I laughed out loud many times. Eve’s Hollywood by her is also highly recommended.

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I’ve posted quite a few photos by William Claxton on Instagram and then someone recommended me this book which features his journey across the States and experience of jazz. Brilliant photography as you would expect and such a magnificent and huge volume.

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The Essential Marilyn Monroe by Milton Greene features all the photos from their 50 sessions together, many beautifully restored and quite a few published for the first time. All are remarkable and revealing photos of a woman at her most beautiful by a friend and photographer who knew how to get the best from her.

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Gleb Derujinsky was one of the greatest fashion photographers of all time and this book is both a revelation and a joy. My friend Jan wrote a superb review of it here which I recommend reading.

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Robert Doisneau is one of my very favourite photographers but I had no idea about his work for Vogue in the post-war years. This stunning book is available in English and French and you can see more beautiful photos from it and read Jan’s excellent review on his blog here.

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And finally thanks to Jan’s blog, I discovered two wonderful books on Coco Chanel, including this one which you can read about in more detail here.

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A superb book about remarkable interiors inside the homes of the twentieth century’s most remarkable women with amazing photos and illustrations too.

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A deliciously gossipy book about film, fashion and Rome. Unputdownable and fun.

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The story of the Palazzo Venier and the three women who lived and transformed what is now the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Beautifully written and endlessly fascinating.

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One of my favourite Instagrammers recommended this book. I can see the influence of John Piper in these remarkable illustrations and drawings which bring Britain’s lost buildings to life. Accompanied by a superb text.

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Extracts from Raymond Chandler’s works accompanied by atmospheric photos of Los Angeles taken in the 1980s which create the perfect mood. A must!

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I never thought I’d get the chance to buy a book of newly published Fitzgerald stories! Not all are masterpieces but some are exceptional and it’s an essential for any fan of his work.

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The story of the Riviera and those who graced it when elegance and sophistication still ruled makes for a fabulous read. At the Existentialist Cafe brings back memories of my own pilgrimage to these famous places and studying philosophy. The author explains the ideas clearly and makes you want to learn more.

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2017 was the year I officially became addicted to Joan Didion and her razor sharp prose. I bought this on a rainy day in Berlin and it was such a tonic to read someone use the English language so well and have a real understanding of the people and issues she encountered.

Far from heaven

3A3CAA25-2977-49C7-9160-94F9EC0CF8A7In 1993, my parents and I travelled to Italy for the first time, renting a villa high up in the hills where crickets were active all day and fireflies appeared at night. There was even an outdoor pool where I began each morning with a swim. But what most sticks in my mind is the lush green countryside with its rolling hills and cypress trees. I was reminded of these impressions the day I took the bus from Florence to San Gimigniano. There was something truly magical about leaving the city and its crowds behind to rediscover that amazingly green landscape. In truth, I wanted to journey to last for several hours and instantly regretted not buying a ticket as far as Siena. In San Gimigniano, I wandered further up the the steep slope, past the souvenir stalls with fedoras and the enormous queue for the amazing (and cheap) ice cream and found myself in a small olive grove where a man was playing a harp. I climbed up a little higher to the top of a ruin and surveyed the endless countryside around me. It’s impossible for me to describe how it made me feel, only that it was probably the closest thing to paradise I have known and that I wondered how it would be possible for me to leave this place after experiencing such beauty.

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I am still mulling over these thought a month after my return. I still hear the delicate rustling of the olive leaves in the light breeze on that perfect autumn day. It seems so immediate yet far away now that there’s a chill in the air and the leaves have turned and begun to fall. I only hope that I’ll experience that kind of beauty again and leave you with some photos from that day and some more from Florence.

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The stones of Florence

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The cathedral and Santa Maria Novella

After returning from Florence almost three weeks ago, it’s difficult to put into words exactly how it made me feel. What could I possibly add that hasn’t been said before? Part of me almost expected to be disappointed, especially in comparison with Venice, my favourite city. Florence is certainly not without its irritations – I cannot describe it as a city for walkers like Paris – despite its compactness, luggage rolls over the narrow, uneven pavements at most hours of the day, vespas and taxis prevent you walking in the road and even in the pedestrianised zones, there are bicycles, refuse collectors and delivery vehicles to consider. Unlike in Venice, it is much more difficult to find a quiet spot. Nearly every church or museum is invaded by tour groups; almost every sight is surrounded by selfie takers. And yet in spite of this and myself, I became a little more bewitched by the city each day. Walking out each morning and seeing the stunning black and white façade of Santa Maria Novella, seeing the familiar massive form of the Duomo grow ever closer at the end of the street, looking up to discover something unexpected and beautiful on every corner, never ceasing to be amazed by the evening sun on the façade of the cathedral and the campanile, sipping hot chocolate at Gilli’s while looking out at the Piazza della Reppublica, dodgling puddles in the Bobboli Gardens and admiring the lush Tuscan countryside around, taking a break on the Uffizi terrace and at the café at the Spedale degli Innocenti to bask in the autumn sunshine and admire the stunning panoramic views of the city. Since returning, I haven’t been able to get Florence out of my head. I long to be there again and my heart is full of regret for the things I didn’t have time to do.

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Donatello’s statue of St. George outside Orsanmichaele and its stunning nave

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The Palazzo Vecchio

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Inside the Baptistry

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Visiting Santa Maria Novella

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The Boboli Gardens

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I’ll be back with some more impressions of Florence very soon.

The perfect friend

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  • I’m high street and he’s haute couture
  • He loves Downton Abbey and I much prefer Gosford Park
  • I’m devoted to Chanel No 5 and he’s in love with No 22
  • He adores the screwball films from the 1930s and I have a weakness for ‘40s and ‘50s noir
  • I don’t understand Top of the Lake and he doesn’t like Orson Welles
  • He loves costume drama and I love The Sopranos
  • My china is Lomonosov and his is Royal Copenhagen
  • He lives for nuits blanches and I never paint the town red
  • He only has eyes for Maurice Ronet and I go weak at the knees for Alain Delon
  • He dreams of riding the Tube and the Métro and I long for the Berlin U-Bahn

But we share a love for the people and things that really matter, like Matisse’s work, films by Woody Allen, Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut and those with Bette Davis and Romy Schneider.  Not forgetting Niederegger Marzipan, books by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Saki’s stories, Paris and the Café de Flore, Café Florian in Venice, Louis Malle’s Le Feu Follet, Hermès Parure de Samouraïs scarves, Raymond Chandler novels, strolls along the Kurfuerstendamm and macarons from Spruengli. Most of all, there is nobody witter or more charming I would wish to share a pot of Afternoon Blend Tea with than Jan, especially as he also puts the (cold) milk in first. He also now lives in Berlin, one of my favourite cities, and if we cannot meet regularly  at the Literaturhaus for coffee or have bouillabaisse at Galeries Lafayette, then at least I have his blog to console myself with until our next meeting.

Below are some highlights from my recent trip to Berlin.

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The fragrance of summers past

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Impressions of my first trip abroad are still vivid in my mind. Our departure in the early hours of the morning, sitting in the back seat of the car in between my two older half-brothers and spending the long journey to Dover listening to cassettes on my Walkman (though whether it was the Beatles or ’80s pop, I couldn’t possibly tell you). And then after so long on the road, suddenly catching sight of the sea, that mass of blue with the seagulls squawking overhead. It never ceases to astonish me. Travelling by ferry really makes you feel you’re going somewhere, watching the boat pull away from those famous white cliffs while strangers on the quay wave you off. And then just under an hour later, seeing the French coast emerge. We drove with our caravan to a campsite on the coast of Brittany. Every morning, my parents took me for walks along the seemingly endless and beautiful beaches.

I recall the taste of galettes with cheese and of crêpes with ice cream. And most vividly of all, I remember trying to look in through the gap in a circus tent on our campsite to catch a glimpse of a magician and his glamorous assistant doing a show before getting caught by one of the staff and told off in incomprehensible French.

If summer had a particular scent back then, it was probably my mother’s Mitsouko which I secretly used to spritz and later on my eldest half brother’s bottle of YSL Kouros until he complained about me using too much. Or perhaps my American aunt who rented a house in Brighton where we spent one summer. She always smelled of Giorgio Beverly Hills which made me think of those striped yellow awnings I had seen in my favourite TV show back then, Beverly Hills 90210.

The first summer scents of my own were Ô de Lancôme, Clarins Eau Dynamisante, Prescriptives Calyx and Estée Lauder’s Pleasures. The last one was a particular favourite, worn the summer I finished high school when spent the long holidays in the garden, reading under the apple tree. I was reminded of this after finding a bottle the other day in a discount store and felt inspired to recommend some of my other current favourite summer fragrances paired with books for summer I love. Alongside Pleasures in the first shot. I chose a delightful Moomin book which never fails to lift my spirits and will make you long for adventures.

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I love the greenness of this Diptyque fragrance which counters the sweetness of the figs. There are many other fig fragrances out there but for me, this is the best. This classic book transports you back to Greece before mass tourism and is a delightful account of childhood discovery and English eccentricities. Frequently adapted for television but none have the charm or magic of the original.

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The first time I tried this classic fragrance, I found it rather intimidating but with a little patience, I’ve become addicted to its green sharpness which comes into its own in summer. Heartless but utterly brilliant, rather like this Evelyn Waugh masterpiece.

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I cannot wear Acqua di Parma without thinking of Venice. I wore it every day on my trip there last year and saw it in almost every shop window. Although I recognise that the Colonia Intensa is probably a more complex and interesting fragrance, this is still my favourite. I cannot get enough of it citrussy opening and sexy woodiness, warmed by the sun. It’s the essence of summer for me. The Brodsky is probably the best book ever written about Venice by a Russian poet in exile who loved the city as much as I do.

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I love No 5 and wear it all year but on hot days, it’s nice to have something lighter. I consider all the fragrances here unisex but this one smells especially nice on men with more vetiver than in the original. I also much prefer it to last year’s lighter version of the classic. Paired with a lovely Folio edition of a wonderful book which inevitably makes you think of No 5’s most famous wearer.

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Created for the Duke of Marlborough in 1902 and worn by Winston Churchill, this is an invigorating  blend of citrus, woods and spices and goes perfectly with Tove Jansson’s stories of summer on an island which has to be one of the best holiday reads ever which its quirkiness, humour and poignancy.

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Cristalle was created to remind us of the dazzling structure of a crystal. It’s a citrus chypre and its crisp opening makes me think of the dazzling California sunshine and beauty described in Ross Macdonald’s crime novels which mask a bitter heart. This is the reason why I love reading noirs in summer. I bought the Eau de Parfum which is a little softer and was developed much later but next time will try the Eau de Toilette which is closer to the original by Henri Robert from 1974.

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Acqua di Parma has always been my favourite cologne. Until I tried this one from Les Exclusifs. It’s the kind of fragrance you want to drown yourself in all day which explains why the large bottle is always sold out and its dazzling, polished beauty goes perfectly with the magnificent prose of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tragic masterpiece set in the South of France.

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I was inspired to buy this thoroughly delicious Guerlain scent after reading how much my friends Jan and Patricia love it. Depending on your point of view, it may make you think of sherbet lemons or freshly pressed lemon juice but the fact that it reminds me of them makes it extra special. Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is my absolute favourite summer book, best read around midsummer. It’s full of the dreams and heartbreak of youth. Quintessentially English.

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My current summer read. It’s the perfect companion for a long journey – compelling, beautifully written and moving. Guerlain’s Après l’Ondée is a very old and magical scent which is like a soft blanket and reminds you of flowers in the garden after the rain with violets, irises  and carnations.