Guest post by Olivia
I have a confession.. I could never really get there with summer. Instead, falling squarely if not neatly into the misfit camp, there’s a prominent facet of my character that really gets off on the disenfranchised gloom, the ennui-flecked hinterlands of colder weather: I go about willing, even buoyantly braced for climatic underwhelmisms. Genuinely, for the most part, the long looping requiem that is the starker side of the year here speaks much more to me, in the ugly-beautiful vistas it creates, in that electric zing of foggy morning air and the almost abrasive clear headedness it breathes in. A paean to winter isn’t remotely the way you’d want to start a review of a paint-by-numbers summer perfume, but while all the above is true (almost heretically so) – I do love the scents of summer, and year round; the densely creamy florality of sun cream; the thick unction of monoi; the gorgeously over ripe slimy-banana scent of ylang; robustly sexy jasmine; the lactonic, pillowy quality of coconut.
Perversely, summer sits easiest with me in concept: I like the idea, the colours, of painfully blue sky and fierce midsummer sun, everything exaggerated by a heat that seems to balloon the senses and add a crazed hyper real touch to life. In an ambient light that is beamish and bursting, there is an intense veil of something pure and life affirming that somehow connects everything up: the phosphorescent sunsets, flamboyant flowers fanned out like Day-Glo dancers and the rocking whoosh of salt water as your feet lift, weightless as shadows off the seabed. Crucially too, it always makes me think of giddy teenage holiday flings and falling in love: that lickety-split, glittered adrenal rush that leaves you tingle toed and cherry cheeked and your heart weeping round the edges like a tub of Soft Scoop. Things feel exciting, reanimated, and pregnant with possibility. Perhaps it’s these qualities that cast a particular kind of romance over the idea of a summer perfume: at the same time as being necessarily utilitarian (cooling, airy) it should embody these fantastical moments in some way, transporting us like a talisman to some removed technicolour daydream, a strict and lovely inversion of the diurnal tumult and tedium.
The French do summer well. Each August as Paris drains itself toward the coasts, everything seems to take on a universal open-shirted bon vivre: work can do one. The focus now is on late and long lunches, on family and wine, on protracted indulgence and a gorgeously relaxed sense of hedonism. All preferably slathered and slipped in the buxom butteriness of Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse (a divine tiare scented body oil) and buckets of Sancerre. Guerlain, alongside their signature, beautifully moody wink ‘n’ smoulder orientals (Shalimar, Vol du Nuit..) have several perfumes that reflect this sentiment. Olfactory explorations of that summery, particularly franco-bacchanalian lilt focused somewhere between the Croisette and the Comoros: the honeyed, heady imperialist fantasy Mahora, with its piquant and petroleum undertones; Metallica, that gorgeous over-ripe slick of ylang, gnashing carnation and smooth as Chartreuse vanilla overridden with a bizarre and lovely brassy bite; the lazy, late morning yielding sand between the toes insouciance of Lys Soleia. This year, Terracotta Le Parfum – an accessory to the summer make-up line of the same name, joined the gang.
To spray it on is to be caught up in a sudden solar squeeze, a near perfect Polaroid of warm air and sunshine. From a little, light bite of bergamot things tumble through a fairly prominent green jasmine and into a salicylate rich lei with ylang, orange blossom and tuberose all twirling around reasonably indistinctly from each other. The lactonic element of this composition binds the florals together, lickably, sinking into a balmy (characteristically nouveau Guerlain/Wasser-esque) base of slightly vanillic musk reminiscent of tanned, touchable skin. Its final, lilting resting point is a radiant, peaceful kind of sensuality – an evocation of that intuitive and irresistible sexiness that you sometimes catch in someone when they are totally unaware of themselves, languid within their own skin. In essence then, this perfume is in perfect alignment with the (gorgeous) Terracotta make-up range, which it joined this year as a limited edition: the aim is just that allusive healthful, sun-ripened and happy glow – la bonne mine – that seems to glint and gleam innately from the inside (..pretty much an entirely alien notion to me to be honest, but these products are great at faking it.)
Terracotta actually feels quite classical to me. At least it bows quite low to those bigger boned French floral perfumes of the ‘70s, but removed by several degrees as if quoted in Chinese whispers. There is, actually, something of that Biba (or possibly more accurately, Bardot) era about it perhaps: a carefree, salt-tousled hair and beads quality that makes me think of long late summer grass the colour of freckles, of face paints and daisy chains, of listlessness, acoustic accords and beatific wooze. That said, it isn’t nearly sullied enough to tip over into full bohemia. Rather it comes across with clean lines and desaturated, block colours (it is ultimately quite a simple perfume) – shades even, reminiscent of sun-bleached photos: pale orange, rinsed indigo, foggy duck egg set against a pale sepia background curling lazily at the edges. It’s brimful of that particular sort of mid-century optimism, all technicolour and tans, but seen through the refracted lens of a modern (more reticent?) touch.
Just maybe, predictably, I’d like a bit more coconut in there (I have been, and would recommend layering it with a coconut lotion – probably the Yves Rocher one, just because.) But then again that might detract from its essential feathery, prêt-à-porter quality; because despite the archetypal heavyweight heft of these florals, Terracotta wears like a billowed veil on me – it’s a sotto voce accessory: an adornment rather than an armour, blended as smoothly as the bronzer of the same line is delicate. Imagine the thick impasto and lush, steamy tones of a Gauguin seen on acetate: the texture and weight of a daydream, designed to be caught on the air almost as an idea rather than a laboured study in exoticism. Besides, the extra dollop of fatty-luscious coconut would likely anchor this perfume into a wobblesome monoi pudding (akin possibly to Montales’ fantastically loudmouth, coconut drenched, maraca-clacking carnival Intense Tiare – a one spray event, and trust me.) The best features, and utility actually, of this fragrance – to be splashed on, on your way out to have some fun would be lost if it were heavier.
While ultimately it probably lacks that certain indirect, strange quality – like olfactory Escher drawings – that personally renders perfumes close to my heart (the weird and moodily diaphanous Dune is probably my de facto beach scent: which given its windswept gloom and wonderful despondency probably isn’t so surprising.) But I think I’ll probably enjoy Terracotta’s contrarian ebbing from my skin in the husk of winter, when its simple light will sharpen up and become more abstracted. Then, the clash of its inherent positivity with an onyx, ink washed afternoon will be a nicely disarming colour separation: uncomplicated, bright blooms huddling under heavy jumpers like a portable warmth, as outside monastic skies play their shadow show behind bell-black, bony fingered trees and anti-freeze air.