Although my city of origin, Birmingham, seems to be considered to be the dog’s arse of the UK – the region whose accent is always used in TV soaps to denote stupidity, backwardness, forever uncool, ugly, unaesthetic, I have to say that in many ways I love it. The unpretentiousness, the friendliness, the space, the ease, I had a lovely time yesterday afternoon wandering (in my limited capacity with my knackered knee) down the back streets, taking pictures in the piercing afternoon light of abandoned industrial warehouses, absorbing the changes, remembering things from my teenage years, meeting up with an old friend from 30 years ago and having an intense, cyclonic, wonderful conversation that can only be described as quite amazing, cosmic.
Before we met, though, I went to Selfridges, which is housed in the iconic silver alien spaceship building that I am always very drawn to, and compared to the anally retentive, if immaculately turned out (obviously) sales assistants of Japan and their cold, possessive, rapturous awe for the costly foreign ‘brands’, hovering above you, not letting you spray, NEVER giving you samples unless you propose marriage first, it was a delight to be able to just browse the surprisingly extensive ranges they were selling, pick them up, smell them, put some one, gather samples, with sales assistants who were affable and sweet, non-controlling/passive aggressive, and happy to let you get on with what you SHOULD be doing – ie. sampling perfumes and enjoying them at your leisure until you find the right one.
I loved the Armani Prive high tech bell jars, which allowed you to somehow fully experience each scent from top note to base in a sensurround olfactory panorama that you would never get from merely spraying on a tester strip or from the bottle. I knew most of them already, but had never smelled the latest addition to the collection, Myrrhe Imperiale (sorry, I don’t know how to do French accents or put up pictures on my father’s computer so this is just a tossed off post before we go out to the countryside to look at daffodils – they are egging me on to finish this quickly as we speak), but I was surprised to find that it was really quite an excellent rendition of myrrh that I had an almost synaesthetic reaction to.
Myrrh is a weird essence, a compelling but off-putting substance that I am magnetized by but slightly repelled by in equal measure. It glows, it beckons, it has soul: it binds and dries (I have made some fantastic skin creams with the rich, viscid essential oil that drips, oh so slowly from the dropper if it hasn’t already coagulated and iced up and gone solid in the bottle); it is both hot and cool, pungent and subtle, sweet, yet burnt. These last attributes were used interestingly in Annick Goutal’s Myrrhe Ardente, which I like and admire for putting myrrh at the centre of a scent so stridently, although the tension between the vanillic sweetness of the backdrop and the seared myrrh crystals is not one I would readily want to challenge myself. Lutens’ La Myrrhe is divine, that angelic upward swoosh of aldehydes and oranges among the incensed floralcy, and I would certainly like to own a bottle if I ever manage to get back to the shop in Paris. It is though the myrrh had been sanctified in that scent, looking down from some Sheldrakian, celestial plasm in the sky – unreachable, cherubic, crystalline.
The Armani take on the note, Myrrhe Imperiale, struck me yesterday as extraordinarily vivid, earthed, and burning, now, slowly but surely, in the present. Over the years I have myself burned a lot of frankincense and myrrh crystals (it made me chuckle when reading Denyse Beaulieu’s book The Perfume Lover, where she talks about trying to cover up the swathes of smoke that would seep from her apartment doors, vexing the neighbours. In my previous apartment, my Japanese neighbours complained to the landlord about me doing exactly the same thing). There is something exciting, slightly pyromaniac, about alighting the edges of a piece from Somalia, standing there with the lighter, waiting for it to set fire and bubble, watching the flame go as high as it will before you blow it out and watch plumes of black smoke descend to the ceiling, releasing the myrrh, or the frankincense, clinging to the rafters, hoping that the scent will stick…
This perfume is no way as hooligan nor untrammelled as my own mischievous myrrh business : it is an Armani. And all is in ingenious balance, clasped in a perfected vanillin, oudhishly fierce amber backdrop that persists for the duration of the perfume’s skin life, yet never threatens to overwhelm or drown out the rich, smouldering myrrh that seems to burn before our very eyes. On smelling the scent just once, my mind’s eye was seeing, quite clearly, trays of firing myrrh resinoids, translucent, burning orange, piercing the air.