There is that special category of exquisite, practical gift that, by the very nature of its fussy simplicity, imparts an unusual kind of sensuousness to the beholder, who thus becomes the proud owner of a refined bit of utility not otherwise considered over the course of one’s quotidian self-care. By this we mean those gifts that, while not necessarily pricey in a general sense, are nonetheless “dear” owing to the enduring qualities of craft, craftsmanship, and quality with which they are made. And so, herewith a list of beautiful little extras for gents to keep in mind for the lady love (or loves, as may be the case) in his life that are under the $150 mark. It is guaranteed She will love these. Writer’s note: The author has no affiliation with the products/companies recommended herein other than the affinities of pure vanity.
1) Luxury Soaps: Where to begin here. Women love fat, frothy, beautifully scented soaps yet “rarely” buy them for themselves—the guests, however unwelcome, tend to get them or at least a tempting array offered to them. Yet such “bath bars,” as some prefer as an alternative to the somewhat humble “soap,” make for a wonderful sensory experience. The ritual of bathing becomes a more formal delight, and the scents of luxury soaps can be as transporting as any splendid bath cologne. Also, luxury soaps are so wonderfully packaged they become bathroom accessories simply to show off the attractiveness of their often ornate wrappings. This inexpensive gift is always welcome, just as with any luxury cosmetic that contributes to a woman’s sensory well-being and love of pampering. Recommendations: Claus Porto, which offers colorful, whimsical gift sets starting at $54; Agraria San Fransisco, which offers beautiful gift sets of bath bars and matching-scent bath salts beginning at $60; and Caswell-Massey, the all-American classic that has lovely lilac and gardenia sets starting at $24.
2) Waterford Perfume Bottles. One seldom finds perfume bottles today, which once upon a time adorned a woman’s vanity or dressing table as part of her toilette. These days, they can be found while antiquing or in upscale consignment shops and they just never fail to charm. Here again is the kind of item that a woman might never think to offer herself, yet is such a rarity that she can only be but totally delighted at the old world high style of their glamor. Waterford Crystal puts out two beauties: The Lismore Diamond ($135) and The Lismore Tall Footed ($115), both of which are sculptured works of art and utterly divine.
3) A Mason Pearson Hair Brush: This is the classic she has long wanted but questions the price. Considered the discerning brush to massage forth a silken curtain of luster, a Mason Pearson brush is hand-made of very fine boar bristles, or a mix of boar and nylon (one can select these bristles, as well the brush size), using what the company calls a “patented pneumatic cushion” (a rubber cushion) at the base of the brush. This cushion, they maintain, “conforms to the contours of the scalp” thereby offering a gentle scalp massage and the resulting healthy tresses like no other hair grooming tool. The 100-year plus pedigree speaks well for them as does the year-long warranty against defects. But these are a bit of an investment. The pocket-size pure boar bristle will run about $120. The Mason Pearson website does not offer buying options for the U.S, but is worth a look just for the heritage stories featured therein. Otherwise, give Saks Fifth Avenue a try.
4) Gorgeously Scented Candles. There are candles and there are candles. In this category, one must think: sumptuousness. Yes, the higher-priced ones are worth it, but one needn’t break the bank—particularly since there are so many ghastly, polluting designer candles for home out there that are simply absurd in price and, to boot, often quite ugly or too strongly scented. Nonetheless, go up a few notches from the day-to-day variety and you will find there is a splendid world out there of the lightest, most luxurious candles that will turn any home, bedroom, bathroom into an oasis of calm, elegance—and indeed, sexiness. Women tend to love luxury candles and this gift is almost always a hit. The candle itself must be lovely, however, and the scents must be healthy and pure. This fan likes very much the Voluspa line: USA-poured, this line is one of the first candle-making/home scent companies to use coconut wax; the wicks are all-natural, and the company claims their candles burn 90% cleaner than the usual 100% soy wax candles. No parabens, no pesticides. These candles come in stunning glass designer jars, jewel-toned glass, or attractive floral-patterned tins, ranging in price on average from about $9 to $35, with great gift sets to boot that are around $45-$65. I quite like the Pedestal 4 Candle Gift Set ($60). The Voluspa line is reasonable, beautiful, the candles last long, and the clean, natural scents range from the delicacy of rose and magnolia to the energy of orange and cinnamon, to more masculine scents of cedar and pine. Heavenly.
5) Silk and Wool Scarves from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It doesn’t always have to be jewelry. And one should never underestimate the arresting charm of a bold, dramatic scarf at the neck, or around the shoulders of a simple black dress, a classic suit, or even with jeans and a cashmere turtleneck sweater. A shawl is yet more dramatic. The Met scarves and shawls take themes from great paintings or design—whether Monet, Paul Klee, the works of the Qing Dynasty or of Louis B. Tiffany—and the results are dramatic, festively complex patterns so subtly hued as to flatter any skin tone. For example, the Tiffany-inspired Peacock Feather Shawl is colored soft blue, turquoise and mint green blended together and shimmering lightly with iridescence that just illuminates the face ($75). These scarves are magnificent accessories—an eye-catcher, show-stopper and a conversation piece for any time of day or evening. Ranging from about $65 to $145. Shawls can range in price from $85 to $450.
6) Chanel No. 5 Body Cream. The all-time favorite done as a velvety, luscious body cream that is infused with the famous scent but is nowhere near as overpowering. It can be worn morning, at work or in the evening with its whisper-warm echo of that legendary bergamot, ylang-ylang, and jasmine mix. Though a body cream, the parfum formulation is such that the cream just lingers on for hours on the skin, which in turn is left petal-smooth, supple, delicious. The “now and forever” fragrance par excellence. $85 at Saks Fifth Avenue.
7) Beautiful Pens Stainless steel with gold trim; lacquered red with gold, matte lacquer with a chrome trim; tortoiseshell barrels, 18k gold nibs… the appeal of a beautiful pen is forever, and few things look smarter. Gift or not, no one should live a life of cheap pens any more than they should one of cheap wines. No matter if the lady in question lives business life and much of social life online and/or at the mercy of hand-held buzzers and bells, she will appreciate the unusual joy of this very un-faddish, but nowhere near forgotten, mark-of-breeding accessory. Indeed, a lovely writing instrument in hand is an emotional experience; a kind of instant psychology of self-improvement. For to employ one is simply to write better. Language, the care of a turn of phrase, sincerity of expression—all these seamlessly improve at once. But just remember: If not fountain pens, then ballpoint. But never, ever rollerball! Some wonderful options: Try Cross Pens, which range from $40 to $185 for beautiful, basic pens. Slim, sleek thoroughbreds can be found at Parker Pens ranging from between $65 to $120 (fountain pens will take you into the $500-$600 range). Goulet Pens sells a beauty inspired by an all-American classic, the Conklin tortoiseshell fountain pen, for $75. Made from fine European resins, this attention-getter is as handsome as its signature model is famed.
8) Florentine Stationery Readers of The Imaginative Conservative are lovers of beautiful paper, as they are books, booksellers, book-bindings, end papers, paper boards, Moroccan leather, fine vellum—you name it: If it is printed, it is precious, and God save us from the tyranny of hand-held plasma. There is certainly no shortage of fine stationary—but then, there are those papers that top all the others. So our thoughts turn to Florence, the very capital of beautiful paper. The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC has a wonderful collection of Florentine stationery sets that are quite reasonably priced. As a set, these would make for a marvelous gift for the writer-of-letters/lover-of-beautiful-notepaper now occupying your mind’s eye and heart’s song. Ranging from about $12.00 per set to $35.00. Grab a few sets—they are fun, beautiful, and an addictive aesthetic.
9) Grace Kelly-esque Driving Gloves: With the cotton-crochet back design against the tan leather palm, these are still big in England. Stylish driving gloves, such a chic anachronism, truly makes driving a nice kind of To Catch A Thief experience—you can throw in the French Riviera on down the line and be Cary Grant while you are at it. The British company Dents (est. 1777, which I believe just makes The Imaginative Conservative’s cut-off date for acceptable-pedigree Finer Things) has a lovely version called the “Lesley” that features the classic crochet design against an imitation peccary leather (an imitation of the beautiful markings found on the leather of the peccary pig). These are lightweight and cool, with acrylic lining warm enough in chillier climes. About $80.00. A pricier version is offered by Fratelli Orsini, a company that specializes in driving gloves for both men and women. Their women’s driving glove features hand-stitched crochet back and genuine lambskin leather in a deep, rich cognac hue. These run about $115.00 a pair. Be forewarned, though her next gift-wish will be a Sunbeam Alpine Convertible (ca. 1955).
10) A Deep-Tissue Massage. If the girl who has everything has all of the above, then there is simply one gift she can never do without—holiday or not! A mere “massage” is not enough, the deep-tissue variety, on the other hand, can change lives, save souls, and harmonize mankind. “Deep Tissue” is a specific massage treatment in which the therapist uses knuckles and elbows to “strip out” muscle tissue as far down to the bone as possible. In contrast, a Swedish massage, (that is primarily used to relax the client) uses a heavier hand to take it from a light touch to a “medium” or “firm” touch. At the Aveda Salon, a very nice upscale chain (the link shows services in Washington DC, for example), these go for about $135 for sixty minutes. If there is no such spa service in your area, then your best bet—and hers as well—would be for you to learn the technique and give “home for the holidays” a new, intensified meaning. If done correctly, gents will be quite pleased to learn, some later evening, that this is the one gift, among all the beautiful things above offered to her, that she has decided she will have to return. Merry Christmas.
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