Who wants one gift, when you can have ten? Or five, or three, or whatever… but more than one is definitely better. Swathed in tissue paper and carefully arranged in a beribboned box, your lucky recipient will not forget your munificence in a hurry.
I have a bit of a knack for buying presents (apologies, at this point, to anyone who has received crap presents from me. It must mean I don’t like you). It’s partly an excuse to buy beautiful, pointless things that I could never justify purchasing for myself. Generosity is the best possible excuse for cupidity.
The best gifts are either unusual or exclusive (or both, of course), and specifically tailored to the individual to show that you’ve actually given them some thought. Ideally include a range of items, from different shops and locations, to show that you’ve put a bit of effort in. Toiletries, something edible, something to read or write on, jewellery, perfume, some sort of ornament or picture frame, theatre or exhibition tickets (I never said this would be easy!) scented candles, art materials if they’re creative, nail varnish or makeup for a girl, a fancy bow tie or other manly things for a boy… Even two or three of these together will impress, but more will incite joy, admiration, and other strong emotions. I’ve given a few examples of my favourites below.
For toiletries I usually go to Crabtree and Evelyn, L’occitane, or Molton Brown.
Crabtree and Evelyn’s Summer Hill products smell of the British summer, and I always use the shower gel from May to August as it reminds me of holidays in Cornwall. The packaging also brings to mind illustrations from 1940s children’s books, which is definitely a valid incentive for spending money on boxes you’re supposed to throw away.
Their ‘black sea mud and seaweed soap’ is black and weird and exciting, and boys always seem to love it for those reasons.
L’occitane’s packaging isn’t as pretty, but their Verbena shower gel is refreshing and lovely, like herbs and sunshine in a bottle (and definitely designed for sharing with boyfriends/ girlfriends).
Molton Brown is expensive but recognisably so, and it does smell gorgeous. I love the pretty, oriental Heavenly Gingerlily, and Tom enthuses over their Bracing Silverbirch Thermal Musclesoak.
Avoid anything that needs refrigerating. Cold presents just aren’t cool. Anything in jars, tins or wax is usually safe though, especially if it comes from Fortnum and Mason. You can easily spend a good half an hour just looking at the jars of preserves here, with names like Strawberry and Fortnum’s Champagne Preserve, Blackberry Preserve Infused With Lapsang, and Old English Hunt Marmalade. Anything from Fortnum and Mason is a treat, but it helps if you know the tastes of your gift recipient. Do they always have marmalade on their toast? Get them a new, exotic flavour. Do they always have strawberries and champagne on their Birthday? Yes, you guessed it. The biscuit tins are also pretty, last forever, and are great for storing Stuff in after the biscuits mysteriously disappear.
Cheesebombs are also wonderful. I first discovered these at the Chelsea Flower Show a couple of years ago, where a tasting-table was swarming with cheese-bees and we bought as many as we could carry. They taste delicious, and covering a globe of cheese in wax and calling it a Bomb for some reason makes it even more exciting than usual.
Reading and Writing
Never buy someone a book they already have, unless it’s an original edition and signed by the author, and even then don’t bother if it isn’t one of their favourite books of all time. It can be difficult to gauge someone’s taste in fiction unless you know them well, but non-fiction is usually easier. Do you know someone intelligent but captivatingly beautiful? Show them you noticed with Arthur Marwick’s A History of Human Beauty. Perhaps you know someone adventurous, and inclined to travel… Heinrich Harrer’s Seven Years in Tibet cannot fail to grip them. A collection of poems about somewhere they visited and loved would also be appreciated by most people who can read.
Photography collections are difficult to get wrong – landscapes, cityscapes, graffiti, animals… I’ve always been fascinated by Steve McCurry’s work, as his images evoke excitingly beautiful and alien cultures, and he somehow seems to capture the souls of the people he meets. Perfect for any would-be traveller.
Liberty’s notepads are luxurious, and feel like carrying a little piece of London around with you. The art deco designs evoke a bygone era of glamorous cocktails and dancing, the leather binding is soft and supple, and their appearance only improves with the battering of time. These notepads will lend substance and validation to anyone’s dreams, memories and to-do-lists.
Chanel epitomises elegance, and somehow feels rebellious whilst also being perfectly feminine. The nail-varnishes come in every colour you could desire, and lend your newly-elegant hand gestures a sophisticated finish. We use our hands constantly, but wearing one of these nail-varnishes will make you pleasantly aware of how graceful daily activities can be. Two of my favourites below.
Something special now for the boys. Jermyn Street is renowned for gentlemen’s tailoring, and Turnbull and Asser is one shop that Beau Brummell would have appreciated. Fancy pyjamas, evening wear, and luxurious scarves are all very well, but if you’re putting together a collection of gifts you want something smaller, more special, and I have the perfect thing. Turnbull and Asser do a line of luxury bow ties, and will package them in little patterned boxes corseted with silver ribbon if you ask. This is the male version of Chanel nail-varnish – you can wear any old bow tie, but knowing where these are from will make their wearer feel that bit more polished.
Candles and Perfume
I always go to Diptyque for candles, as they last for ever and will perfume a whole room within minutes. The packaging is simple but beautiful, and the ingredients and fragrance formulae are intriguing and evocative. Their Freesia candles encapsulate spring, and Pomander winter. They also do mini candles for half the price of the larger versions, which are perfect for gift boxes. Diptyque are also very generous about handing out perfume samples with purchases, which make nice additions (or substitutions if you’re on a budget).
Finally, something they can wear. Markets are a great place to find unusual and unique jewellery and accessories, both vintage and handmade. I favour Spitalfields market, especially on Sunday when it expands, and you can head down towards Brick Lane for vintage shops, food stalls and more market fun.
These tiny purses are inexpensive and very pretty, and not something you’ll find on the high-street:
I also happened across Comeuppance at Spitalfields Market the other day, and found the most beautiful paper flower clips and headbands. They make the perfect gifts for little girls (and for me, of course), and I often buy purses and hair-grips like this for my students for birthdays/ Christmas/ treats.
The Finished Gift Box
Ta Da! I’ve added a few handmade greetings cards, for a personal touch, and before handing it over I’d also make sure everything was wrapped in tissue paper, and the box itself was decorated.
Does anyone have any other ideas for gift box additions?
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