Desire is not always practical or predictable. Why, then, should a gift from the heart be? If you’re giving someone a present this Valentine’s Day, consider over the top or out of the ordinary, which will only make your romantic gesture even more grand.
A sampler of chocolates from the corner store? Go with a box of chocolate-covered pretzels made in Beverly Hills decadently packaged within individual gold sleeves. A bouquet of feathers would be just as striking as fresh flowers. For even more oomph, how about a teddy bear so gargantuan your Valentine could spoon it?
This isn’t about the money spent or size of a package. Placed on your sweetheart’s desk, a pencil sharpener disguised as a swan will make them think of you whenever they gaze at the miniature bird, said by some to symbolize love. Red cotton socks may seem obvious and a bore, until you mention they come from a papal outfitter in Rome. And if they have it all, perhaps their pet does not. A Florentine apothecary’s rose-scented deodorant for cats and dogs may be just the ticket.
The following list includes gifts both inspired by tradition and totally unmoored from it. If any are not exactly right, they at least can serve as inspiration for ways to surprise that special someone, or treat yourself, on Valentine’s Day.
Inspired by Tradition
Of the things that come to mind to gift a lover or a loved one, perfume lands near the top of the list. But rather than splurging on a bottle they may not like, present a book of Papier d’Armenie ($7). The 12 sheets inside, scented with benzoin resin, can be burned as you would incense — or, better yet, stuck in a dresser drawer or travel bag to infuse what’s inside with a light vanilla fragrance. If your Valentine prefers chocolate, they will have a hard time keeping their hands off the Chocolate Covered Pretzels from Edelweiss ($52.95), boxes of which can be purchased in milk chocolate, dark chocolate or a mix of both.
A romantic getaway may still be too risky amid the pandemic. With Issimo’s special edition of Monopoly, The Italian Road Trip (126 euros, roughly the equivalent of $144), they can pass the time and plan your next tour of Italy as they play, because the board’s properties are reimagined as some of the country’s iconic destinations and attractions.
Transportive, too, are the short stories in “Difficult Loves” by Italo Calvino ($14.71). First published as a collection in 1970, but written even earlier, the stories have “some of the fascination of a photo album,” Margaret Atwood wrote in The New York Times in 1984, the year before Mr. Calvino died. Some, Ms. Atwood wrote, “are hardly stories at all but studies, carefully observed and detailed sketches of people in certain landscapes, social situations and postures.”
Jewelry is another familiar option. Less obvious than a heart-shaped necklace or diamond for a ring finger is Arielle Ratner’s Power Pinky Golden Tourmaline ring ($3,300), made of 14-karat gold and a gemstone not so precious that it can’t be worn every day. Moser Glass’s Bathing Lady dish ($40), could be a place to put some of their precious baubles or, if they smoke, put out their butts.
Fresh flowers die, but there is no expiration date on a bouquet of feathers, which can also be plopped in a vase to bring color and texture to a table. Faux, of course, would be preferable, though the quality can vary. If you go real, source responsibly: Moonlight Feathers sells a selection that have been naturally molted, including a set of colorful Camelot macaw feathers that range from 10-inches to 18-inches in height ($499.95 for 10).
From the stuffed animal kingdom comes another common Valentine’s Day gift, a Teddy bear. At four-feet tall, Steiff’s Studio Bobby Bear ($1,100) towers over most others, making it a worthy alternative for your Valentine to snuggle when you are not available.
There are, of course, people whose heart’s desire comes in the form of the vital organ. Realists will appreciate the Love in Bloom vase ($140) designed by Marcantonio Raimondi Malerba for Seletti, a lifelike replica peppered with holes where you can stick stems (or feathers). Less accurate in design is Staub’s Heart Cocotte ($219.99), which has a more abstract shape that dials down its kitsch factor and, if cared for, will last as long as your relationship. Coming off the year of Balenciaga, a trend-obsessed Valentine may prefer the brand’s Cash Heart Mirror Keychain ($375).
Out of the Ordinary
Even if they no longer write with a pencil, they may rely on one to line their eyes or lips. Catbird’s Swan Pencil Sharpener ($5) would be a sweet little something for the person who insists on nothing.
But you don’t have to spend a penny on a Valentine’s Day gift if you don’t want to. The occasion can be marked with a heartfelt back scratch or a foot rub. Consider more opulent ways to soothe their back or feet with Scully & Scully’s backscratcher ($875), which relieves itches with a sterling-silver hand, or a hippopotamus footstool from Omersa. Upholstered in leather, the piece is available in several versions ($720 for a standard size). Like the backscratcher, it is made to order — but the right gift is often one worth waiting for.
Also for the feet: The red Mid-Calf Socks from Gammarelli (22 euros, roughly the equivalent of $25). The Italian tailor, wrote my colleague, Guy Trebay, has dressed every pope in the last century with the exception of Pius XII.
If the papacy is not their love language, how about the French monarchy? Trudon’s wax bust of Louis XIV ($270) may be the elegant objet d’art your Valentine never knew they needed. For a Valentine who would rather look at the two of you together, send a favorite photo from your phone’s camera roll to Supersense, a company in Vienna that will expose the digital image onto Polaroid’s 20×24 film (from $250), which is oversize and rare.
Rarefied would be a better way to describe the set of four Lobster Bake Bibs from Bode ($325). Made of linen with embroidered edges and a satin ribbon at the neck, the accessories, like the crustacean you’d eat while wearing one, are for those who seek life’s finer things. As are John Derian’s far more affordable Peony Dinner Plates ($16 for one), which feature bright, painterly blossoms and are made of melamine, making them basically indestructible.
To simulate the warmth of being wrapped in your tentacles, they can put on The Black Octo Robe from OAS ($180), which is made of cotton terry and features a cephalopod pattern that’s cool, not cheesy. And when the way to your Valentine’s heart is through their pet, Santa Maria Novella’s Rose Deodorant ($20) is likely a treat they have yet to spoil that four-legged friend with. Should any animals dislike the spray, it could be used to freshen up linens.
All Consuming is a column about things we see — and want to buy right now.