The legendary producer of some of the most exquisite perfume bottles ever created is now an American conglomerate; their flagship shop in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles host to a smorgasbord of lugubrious, glassed, grotesquerie; the newest limited editions that speak of wealth; of largess, and often crass, conspicuous consumption of rather questionable taste.
Sheepishly you enter the gloom, and are immediately greeted with a musty smell of old carpets, furniture polish, and undusted, glowing green heirlooms; ring a bell, and wait, in the half-light, before a blonde, high-coiffed sales assistant arrives from a door somewhere; paints on a smile; and tries to flog you off some three-thousand-dollar, twirling tube of scented water from among her torrid wares…
New to America, I remember finding the experience disconcerting and odd, as I squinted back into the dazzling sunlight on Rodeo Drive, emerging from a corridor of doom-laden motes of sweet, time-travelled dust.
Yet, when you think of some of the classical perfumes that were housed in those stunning original bottles by Lalique himself long before ‘the takeover’, your heart sings, you feel such lust. I will soon be going back to the Perfume Bottle Museum in Enoshima, a curious little place near where I live, to do a piece for this blog and and you will see……..for the perfume lover the items on display (some with liquid, still, in the bottom) are nothing short of heartrending, yearning pornography.
Lalique was a genius, and his name is synonymous ONLY with bottles, the perfumes in the company’s current incarnation varying hugely in quality and inspiration over the years, as though the scent were put in merely as an afterthought.
While recently the quality of the juices has improved (Encre Noire being a very well-respected vetiver, for example), many of the perfumes just come and go with the seasons as they somehow seem to lack a hook; a catch, a smell that you deem worth wearing. Le Baiser, which once I bought (at a bargain sale) for my mother only for its flacon, is quite vile and unwearable: crass; sinister; the kiss of an industrial barrel of liquid, rose-sandal chemical effluent.
Attempt to put your lips back together and they have gone; acified.
One perfume Lalique made for men, Equus ( from a set of three), was more interesting, however, a scent chosen for me by a Japanese friend of mine, Seiji, a writer-aesthete who lives for Mishima but who also has a penchant for 80’s American icons such as Mapplethorpe and Herb Ritts and probably chose the bottle for its ironic aspect of Italian Stallion (though I suppose he really should have got me the Sagittarian centaur…)
Feeling fragile and very mortal after being quite ill that summer in London, The Russian Winter party we decided to hold, Petrushak, in which we turned our apartment into a winter wonderland of icicles, magic and quaint russkyiana in homage to my favourite composer, Stravinsky, and his thrillingly beautiful atavistic ballet, was my birthday and our Christmas party combined, and featured a beautiful white horse galloping across the steps in a frieze that Duncan made in a brilliant moment of inspiration; its mane spray- painted white as it galloped fearfully through the snow towards Siberia….
With a soundtrack of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korskakov, cold-war Bond soundtracks and Goldfrapp, I was lost in the world of my childhood black-swan imaginings; feeling tearfully thrilled to be alive on that day; grateful to my friends, lost in vodka, music, twinkling lights, and magic.
That same morning, before the party preparations began in earnestness, I had gone for a walk to pinch some delicious pale-yellow lemons for the drinks from a tree growing down the road. The sunlight was diamond-sharp, ice-cold, and as I plucked the fruit from the trees and the waxen scent of unborn lemon-blossom grazed my hands from the leaves, a family of little partridges and their mother scuttled beneath and off into a copse. It felt like a blessing…
After Duncan’s white stallion piece, propped up triumphantly in spectacular fashion in the entrance,it was another beautiful coincidence when Seiji later then turned up unexpectedly at the party with this equine bottle, a synchronicity that added to the enchantment of the day (which really felt like my re-entry into my Japanese world as my friends all welcomed me back after three months away..)
While not the type of scent I would usually wear, Petrushka, which was one of the most beautiful parties we have ever had, is thus forever enshrined for me by this smell of Equus, which I wore with abandonment as we danced to cossack-danced kalinka and served up three types of steaming borscht.
The scent within that horse-frosted bottle is certainly no miracle of perfumery, but it is quite nice: a tea-laced, cedar-based, dry, fresh and elegant accord headed in by a sharp, unusual top note of pepper, mace, citron and jasmine placed over serotonin-depleted musks and watered woods….quite poised; if a little maudlin and straight; a perfume for a thoughtful, slim young man.
His character? Possibly quite nuanced; of the trends but with a few twists and turns.