My friend Helen and I have a thing about contrived experiences, in the sense that we sometimes deliberately contrive the power of recollection with scent: self-consciously create our memories.
Where the Proustian recollection was instant, uncontrived – a Madeleine, dipped in linden tea that brought back a surge of powerful, beautiful experience unravaged by the years – you can also get this effect quite intentionally; stamp a scent on an experience, fix it temporally. We can take photographs in an often vain attempt to freeze and capture time, but even the most spontaneous shots often feel flat, dead. Scent, for me at least, is effortlessly more effective.
Helen has also perfected the Art Of The Right Moment.
I am of the rip-all-the-Easter-eggs-open-and-eat-them-before-lunch school – get: open : use. Helen knows that it is sometimes best to wait until the most perfect point in time to maximize your enjoyment. This is certainly true of a much anticipated new album by your favourite artist; your first listen and what you see and feel at the time produce mental pictures for many future listens. And it is the same with perfume (especially if you have enough to be this selective); not unleashing that Pandora’s box until the moment is ripe, then flooding that moment with scent: clasp it: suspend it forever.
One time I followed this credo and it really paid off.
It was April, and to my astonishment, I had just won a free holiday to Okinawa, the only time such a thing has ever happened to me (bizarrely, I had recently bought a pair of glasses from a shop in Fujisawa and, unbeknownst to me, had been entered into the shop’s ‘lottery’? next thing I knew I had two tickets to a tropical island, much to our astonished delight). I was really excited, and thus wanted a scent to encapsulate it. I had to think, but not for too long, as I had just received a sample of Annick Goutal’s Songes (‘Dreams‘), and having had a very brief inhale, I sensed it would be just the thing. And I was right; Okinawa is a haven of flowers and lush gardens; the sub-tropical, most Asian, and most relaxed part of Japan, with its own indigenous culture and language and ways of living (and the biggest life expectancy on the entire planet) and I thought it would be perfect for our stay at Moon Beach, a wonderfully dated, very seventies hotel – Joni Mitchell’s Hissing of Summer Lawns comes to mind – replete with dangling lianas, tropical fish, fountains, and hibiscus.
At one end of the hotel-complex, on a hill overlooking the aquamarine sea, was ‘Sirena Garden’, (complete with ‘chapel’), which though meant for the post-modern Japanese ‘Christian’ Wedding – which has to be experienced to be believed – was actually, despite the weirdness, really beautiful. The lilies – pure white lilies, were in their full blooming, smelling quiveringly pure; pristine – delicate, yet with a beauteous perfume you could just drink and drink. Bowers of entwining stephanotis crowned the trellises: we sat on the grass, cracked open beer, and looked out to sea.
And then I sampled Songes.
It is a rare perfume indeed that smells as good as breathing, true flower, but Songes was perhaps the closest I have come to feeling I am in the living, hypnotic presence of some unknown tropical bloom. This is a beautiful scent – lush, dreamy, yet vital – and the ultimate perfume for summer nights.
A composition that begins with a soft tropical breeze transporting you instantly to some paradise of the Southern Seas – fresh, sense-exciting notes from the leaves of the frangipani tree, and an slightly fungal tinge of white petals that is reminiscent of living gardenia – a floral note that lingers throughout the scent, whose main theme, according to the company, is a ‘spellbinding trio of rare natural absolutes’: ylang ylang (rare because the essence usually used is the ylang ylang ‘extra’, a different distillate), jasmine, and vanilla ‘sur-absolu’. Over this ultra-luscious main accord, frangipani, tiare flower, incense, vetiver and sandalwood are all layered in a way that is controlled, yet simultaneously somehow breathless. All is heady, intensely floral, but fresh and inhaleable (you can feel the spongey texture of the white flowers’ petals throughout), drying down to a willowingly soft vanilla and musk accord of perfection.
It is GORGEOUS.
Whenever I smell this perfume now, it makes me sigh (…just thinking about it elicits almost the same reaction).
I am on an island in the Pacific.
I am back at Moon Beach.