Because I would dance, clandestinely, alone, to the Nutcracker; would perform the imaginary role of Schéharazade in my bedroom (I secretly really loved the ballet: really not something you admitted to at the school I went to), when I was nine, my mother, as a birthday treat, took me to the theatre to see Coppélia.
What was to have been a magical night at the theatre though, was in fact me, mortified; slumped in my seat at the deeply sissifying shame of being a boy – a ‘ponce’ – at the ballet. Somewhere deep down, as I watched the action onstage, I was thrilled; ecstatic, but in my basic being I just watched the stage throughout in a mortified paralysis; slouched agonizingly in my seat: dying, with glandular, redly feverish cheeks.
My fears and shame notwithstanding, my terror of being ‘found out’ ( my mere presence at the ballet, rather than at the football stadium felt like damning evidence), the stimulating giddiness of the grand occasion, of the cultured, public big night out in childhood is something that really stays with you internally for a lifetime : the excited, womb-like darkness : the velveted, ruched-red, claustrophobia.
Rouge by Hermès reminds me very much of this sense of occasion and also the emotion underneath it; your mother cleaning your face with flurried powdered lipstick-spit as you climb the carpeted staircase together to get to your seats on time and then hear the first animated murmurings from arriving crowds; the beginnings of the orchestra as the players tune up their instruments in discordantly lavish cacophony: a ravishing, stupendously romantic perfume (Rouge is very much a perfume, not a ‘fragrance’) that definitely deserves far wider recognition – in the extrait especially – where the troubling richness of its elegant carnality truly comes to the fore.
The perfume, a reworking of the earlier, and equally beautiful Parfum D’Hermes, dazzles in its sheer compact and multi-tiered complexity: impossible glamour from the first spray, but with that subtly distancing, impeccably Hermès taste: a shimmering rush of powdery myrrh-fused roses, heated and lit up with bright ylang, cedar, and a light veil of spice; pulsating beneath this delicious cloud a costly seduction of resins, vanilla, costus, musk……
It is this disturbing finish, the Oedipal animality at the heart of this fragrance, contrasted brilliantly with the beautiful shine of the first notes, that makes Rouge so exciting as a still-available contemporary perfume. Superficially, and overtly, similar to Guerlain’s Chamade in many ways ( the Japanese perfumer Akiko Kamei who created it only made homages to Chamade ), Rouge nevertheless has more self-composure, sensuality, self confidence.
Where the former has an almost limpid, embarrassing sincerity (Chamade is probably the most ‘in love’, in many senses, of all perfumes), Rouge has more fortitude, is real flesh and blood. She is perhaps the same woman twenty, thirty, forty years later: richer, harder, more mature and more experienced, careworn; yet still undeniably beautiful.