Edwina Ings-Chambers: Looking for a standout scent?

These niche classics won’t disappoint.

One of the questions I’ve been most asked of late – once the details of my day job have been mentioned – is: ‘What’s an alternative fragrance to Portrait of a Lady?’

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the scent of one of the most-loved offerings from Frédéric Malle (from £120, fredericmalle.co.uk). It’s a heady concoction, sumptuous, grown-up – and very elegantly sexy. I love it and wear it often – in fact, it’s one of my all-time favourites with its distinctive mix of rose, patchouli and sandalwood.

The trouble is, so many people feel the same. And as niche scents have become so de rigueur, Portrait has become a default perfume setting for women who want their fragrance to stand out from the crowd, to demand attention. It instantly suggests authority and a certain knowingness when it comes to fine fragrance. So the chances are that if you like wearing it, you’re all too aware of how many others are too. 

So to ring the changes, for I would never suggest walking away from it altogether, here are my top contenders… 

niche scents

 Jo Malone London Rose & Magnolia Cologne (£104, jomalone.co.uk) This new launch is a very charismatic and alluring rose but the magnolia brings a dash of lightness. Still, this also has notes of patchouli and amber to keep it warm and sensual. It’s an utter delight to wear. 

Le Labo Baie 19 (from £57, cultbeauty.co.uk) This focuseson sultry patchouli but blends it with green leaves and juniper berries to bring a crispness that isn’t quite as dizzying as Portrait of a Lady. 

Sisley Soir d’Orient (£238, exclusive to harrods.com) This really is as heady as Portrait, a decadent blend of rose, patchouli and sandalwood with some geranium and incense, too. Totally delectable. And if you don’t buy it in the limited-edition packaging, it’s a little less expensive at £92.50 from sisley-paris.co.uk.

Miller Harris Craft & Glamour (£95, millerharris.com) A fragrance made for the Royal Opera House, this is seriously stylish stuff. Again, it’s a patchouli and sandalwood-based creation so very seductive, but hints of tonka bean (quite vanilla-esque) give a pirouette of airiness so it never feels too heavy. 

Zara Emotions Fleur de Patchouli (£25.99, zara.com) Yes, Zara! The fragrant Portrait route doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. This is part of a new luxury line created by Jo Loves founder Jo Malone MBE, which launched last month. Patchouli, she says, is a note she’s struggled with, as it tends to take over, but by blending it with bergamot essence and peony she’s helped to tame it. It’s still a daring fragrance but there’s almost a fresh air of innocence to it as well.

My top six spritzes to gift

Want something completely different? Try one of these…


Dior Joy Eau de Parfum Intense (£83, dior.com) A pretty mix of rose, jasmine and a dash of woody notes so it’s feminine but not girly. 

Jean Paul Gaultier Scandal (£60, boots.com) The notes of pear, honey and jasmine combine to make something more saucy than their sweetness suggests.


★ Byredo Slow Dance (£165, spacenk.com) Honeyed and smoky notes of vanilla, violet and patchouli create a very attractive ‘come hither’ fragrance. 

Roos & Roos Pale Blue Eyes (£118, Harrods and Fenwick) Think the fresh crispness of springtime merged with charismatic blackcurrant and sandalwood. Delightful.


Clarins Eau Dynamisante (£51, clarins.co.uk) A surefire hit with almost anyone. This blend of lemon, patchouli and petitgrain is a fragrance and body treatment in one which leaves skin feeling silky.

Givenchy L’Interdit (£51, debenhams.com) A new take on the already updated classic (the original was created for Audrey Hepburn). Though it’s easy to think of this as ‘for youngsters’, it’s a good all-rounder with orange blossom, tuberose and patchouli. Fresh, floral with a delicate punch. 

Beauty Assistant: Alice Robertson