Monthly Archives: November 2014

PERFUME IN MOSCOW: a look into Soviet scent







I have never been to Russia, much as I would love to. This article has just appeared in the Guardian, though, providing an intriguing insight into Soviet perfume culture in the days when even perfume could be seen as political.


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It is getting really cold. It is time for Bal A Versailles.

The Black Narcissus




The first time I encountered Bal a Versailles was in Luca Turin’s original Le Guide from 1992. There is something in reading about a perfume that you think that you will never be able to get your hands on that almost makes it more enjoyable: the thrill of the holy grail; the abstract, luscious taunting of the unreachable and unattainable.  I can see myself poring over his reviews again and again, dreaming and yearning, trying to prise apart his spare, poetic French, his enticing yet hermetically sealed descriptions of long lost perfumes by Molyneux, Jacomo, Revillon, of the just opened Shiseido Palais Royal, of dozens of delectable sounding perfumes I would probably never smell in the future and just feel my internal organs clenching up with intense longing; an almost masochistic craving that was acutely pleasurable even when unfulfilled. His cunning words painted sufficiently salivating, impressionistic pictures to gloriously pique…

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Apricot dunes; the glow from a studio-lit, ochre trompe l’oeil sunset; seagulls on the soundtrack; the glistening ‘ocean’ beyond. A seasoned French actress, distractedly reaches down into the pillowing sands and scrutinizes, with her smooth cream hands, carefully placed pebbles, starfish and seaweed.




On the beach, pensive, to a backdrop of golden, solar rays…



















It is probably quite hard for the perfume youth of today to imagine how exciting – and rare an occurrence – it once was when one of the great ‘houses’ – Guerlain, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Givenchy, Christian Dior – released a new scent. They were like monuments, fortresses, designed to be aesthetically pleasing but also infallible, made to last. Perfumes that, naturally, were not designed for everyone, but once, if they did catch your senses and made you hers, would then become your perfume, to buy again and again, your signature: huge money-making engines for their parent companies, who relied desperately on these gleaming olfactory colossi to line their coffers for couture.




Rather than the constant floods and inundations of scent that we are treated/subjected to now, ever intrigued but over and underwhelmed, we were almost starved of new perfume back in those days. What you saw was all there was, and if you were bored by what you were smelling you just had to wait. A long time. Many years would pass between the launch of one major scent and the next, and to budding young perfume obsessives, always on the look out for new perfume adverts in fashion magazines like Vogue, the arrival of a long gestated new perfume always felt like a real, magnificent, event.




The concept for Dune had apparently already been thought out and worked on behind the scenes at Dior back in the 1980’s, but it was presciently decided that the next project, the purple hearted, bullet shocker Poison, was more scandalously fitting to the Joan Collins times (and their instincts were most certainly right in that regard), with the result that the project was somewhat put on a back burner for a while until the radical explosion of all things ‘natural’, pared down, marine and ozonic occurred in the following decade, when Dune then suddenly emerged as if out of nowhere: a heavily, but immaculately, made-up Venus, transpiring from the foaming waves of luxeful Perfumia to claim her crown.





At the time, I myself was a second year university student, back home for the summer, working, believe it or not, on a golf course. Although I am the last person on earth to play golf (those pastel colours; checked trousers, all that ‘gear’…….) it was, in many ways, the ideal job for me at the time: entirely solitary, surrounded by trees and nature in my wooden hut, just listening to music, looking at the sky, and finally having definitively enough time to properly read the long novels I had always wanted to read as the hours of green and blue stretched on before me ( I have great memories of losing myself entirely for days on end in great big nineteenth century tomes such as Anna Karenina). There, with the kettle boiling quietly, the birds in the trees, the occasional customers coming for a round of mini golf – I merely had to collect the money and hand out the tickets, and then take the flags down at the end of the day – passing the summer quite nicely, saving enough money to set myself up in Rome that November: I was immersed in aloneness, literature, music and perfume, and, more importantly, the great and exhilarating unknowingness of an upcoming Italian future.





Dune was released during that summer. It was a period in which samples were given out more freely at the department stores, and, as usual, I managed to get a lot of them, vials and vials of the scent which I would try on my hand while sitting outside, or even soak the cassette liner notes of the tapes that I had in the hut with their contents, to make the scent last longer, to be opened and experienced at will, so that in this way Dune formed an almost permanent scented backdrop to that carefree period and is seared in my memory as such (maybe that’s why my Prokofiev Violin Concertos I+II tape went all funny – the very reels of music themselves were drenched in sea broom and soft burnished powder of mollusc).





Although I was never entirely sure if I actually liked this scent – and certainly never wore it beyond the confines of my golf cabin – despite the fact that there was something too full, opulent and strangely off-putting about it, I knew that I was extremely fascinated by it: that weird combination of ambery, salty warmth, and floral, quite definitely duney seaness that all felt so peculiar and uneasy, yet new; compelling. It had a certain thrall. I had simply never smelled anything like it before.





Yes, this rather groundbreaking perfume, which felt, almost, as if it had come from another planet, had been proudly announced by Mothership Dior to be the very first ever‘floriental oceanic’, a very unusual concept at the time, when anything that reeked of the sea simply didn’t seem suitable, somehow, for a fragrance. It was a forceful, clinging floral amber scent with top notes of sea broom and lichen, peony and lily, immersed in a smooth marine compound, edged with rich and salty flowers, benzoin, ambers, and musks. Desperately original and popular when released, I later soon got sick of smelling it in Rome, where, together with the ultra-swimmingly sweet Trésor, it blotted the air all around it with its comeliness, the women of Rome taking it to their commendable, tailored bosoms (these women were always just so deeply perfumed ; profumatissime) with an overly great abundance of maquillaged enthusiasm.




To me, Dune always felt self-satisfied and overplenished somehow, more a performance than a perfume, with several acts, all perfectly balanced (the original formula was extremely complex): warm, emboldening and luminescent, but still, always that unsettling contrast between those sandy, decaying seashells whitening in the sun, and the more demure and feminine flowers and balsamics lurking beneath, an aesthetic tension which, when all is said and done, makes Dune the enduring creation that it is.

















In a old and crowded box, dusty and thrown in together like trash, I recently retrieved a vintage parfum of Dune – the one you see in the picture – for a dollar at a fleamarket as you know I always do, and for that price I thought; well, why not. I was quite intrigued to smell this perfume again, to be able to reappraise its flaws, and its charms. And besides, I had never smelled it in extrait.




As you might expect, the current formula still on sale worldwide at Christian Dior counters is said to be a rather unsatisfying reformulation of the original perfume that was released, which was bolder; more detailed; a more extreme and delicate arc between the marine notes, the florals, and the sandalwoody ambers (these new versions of the Diors seem more like snapshots, somehow). This little bottle I got in Tokyo, a considerable amount of which proceeded to spill all over me when I eventually got the stopper off coming home on the train, was unboxed, the label worn off as well, but the perfume inside, dense and full, rich,was still fresh, intense, and rather pleasing. This smell is at once entirely familiar to me: stamped in my brain, nostalgic, comforting, even, yet still retains that inherent strangeness that the original formula always had and that made it distinctive: that insistent, almost sickly amber that also inhabits the base of Cartier Must parfum (a scent I adore); the emotional component coming I suppose from that sense, beyond the immediate, concentrated perfume essences in the heart of the perfume, of an enlivened, agoraphobic dream vista; a beach stretching off for miles and miles, and miles and miles, into the distance.


















Filed under amber floral musks, Oceanic, operatic










































An anomaly in the Caron pantheon, The Anarchist is a big thrashing mess of overcrowded ideas in a hideously, hideously overdesigned copper chalice that I could never, ever have anywhere in my possession.



That said, anarchy is the theme of the scent, and its greatest hits of brooding, fearless male (guaiac; cedar; sandalwood, mint; vetiver, mandarin, neroli, lime, basil; a fierce a prominent cinnamon note over citrus with a slew of brash and overwhelming aldehydes) does eventually, after some time, gradate to a warm, loveable hero – woody, aromatic; appeased.


































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Just to say that an article I wrote recently on my beloved Guerlain Vol De Nuit, an in-depth look at the perfume and the thematic and olfactory connections with the novel by Antoine de St.Exupery that the scent was based on ( it is such a curious, haunting and diffident creation, and one of the most enigmatic, difficult and beautiful perfumes ever made in my view), has just been published in issue three of the prize winning Odou Magazine: the piece I wrote in issue One, Perfume Haters, won the 2103 Jasmine Literary Award this year, much to my extreme delight.



It looks like it will be a very interesting issue, and you can either order a ‘physical’ paper copy or digital version at the website.











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Star-of-Beth3-350_67ab3875 Madonna-Like-a-Virgin-Album-Photoshoot-madonna-25377367-701-700 fresh-tuberose-sampangi-flowers-250x250 -Like-a-Virgin-Screenshots-madonna-25377389-685-700 img-thing There is a certain vernal regality to some of the more obscure and classic Creeds, a blasé timelessness – and I love Fleurissimo. Vivid, green; a verdant, fresh bouquet of happiness, this perfume was apparently created especially for the wedding of Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco. It must have been perfect: a lovely, natural-smelling scent of freshly cut flowers – jasmine, tuberose, rose, lily; ventilated, enfreshened– all suspended in a clear, leafy accord of the freshest soap. Fleurissimo is a sculptured, very classical creation that happens also to be loved by Madonna (presumably for those more virginal, lady-of-the-manor days she occasionally has, simply existing in her own time and space). The woman clearly has good taste in scent, because Fleurissimo is great: a romantic, joyous scent, light yet heady, for days when nothing will stop you from being free. double-tuberose-veseys1-400x500


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The Black Narcissus




















Perfection can be problematic. Like fashion models – often technically physically flawless but curiously lacking in sex appeal – or like Tom Ford’s meticulously worthy cinematic debut ‘A Single Man’, which reached an impeccable consummation in its distinguished acting and artful cinematography (but which personally left me cold), or even the man himself – a suave, handsome hunk who doesn’t seem to grey or age a whisker as the years go by (yet looks strangely plastic), there is a certain muted terror lurking in the seamless infallibility of the TF universe; the ruthless ambition;  the nail-clenched, acrylic, lip-drenching gloss. 


Grey Vetiver, the first time I smelled it, from the bottle, in an airport, had me nodding again in immediate recognition of another job well done. It was perfect –  pitch perfect. A…

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