The vintage Carons are sweet; dense with essence and a yearning, romantic spirit. They are also extremely old fashioned, in a manner that the classic Guerlains manage to somehow avoid with their more intuitively realized timelessness. Fragrances from Caron such as N’Aimez Que Moi, French Cancan, Nuit De Noël and Fleurs De Rocaille, belong to a powdery, gas-lit past that I love, but which tug on me almost unwillingly back to old Paris: to garters and dress-rituals; to lace-concealed candled boudoirs; and the melancholy shadows of the long-fading Belle Epoque.
I talk of the florals especially. The more futuristic, angled scents in the collection such as Alpona, with its strange, orange-green bitterness; En Avion: peppered,flecked: determined and unyielding; Tabac Blond, with its shimmering, gilded interiors, and Poivre, my favourite from this era, a furious, life-loving crooner with a carnation and clove-studded whip, are so rebellious and distinctive in their genuineness that time can never quite dim their brilliant oddness. The florals, such as Bellodgia and Pois De Senteurs De Chez Moi, though, are the bottles on Miss Havisham’s dresser; dream boating belles to the ball: the last respectable vestiges of Blanche Dubois’ hope.
Anachronisms they may be, but I do still rather love them. The sight of sweet peas, and the smell of them, are a delicately fragrant reminder of my childhood. They were always in my garden of an early summer ( I see blue skies: wisps of clouds; upwardly climbing trellises of pink blue and white: modestly coloured and scented flowers, trailing untamedly in the back patch wildness of the vegetable garden, where my parents grew runner beans by the basketful to go with our Sunday lunch. Only when you pressed these flowers close to your face, which I would do when my mum picked them to go in cut glass, were you fully treated to their loveliness, that most lovely of smells, so pallidly exotic, sweet, beguiling, thoughtful and naïve).
Les Pois De Senteur De Chez Moi, or ‘The Sweet Peas Of My Garden’, is thus, for me, a vulnerably romanticist perfume trembling with remembrance. And even in the deep and unctuous florality of the precious and rare extrait it does, from a pointillist distance, like dots joining up on the parasol Seine, produce a hazy gouache painting of the flowers.
Rose tincture, hyacinth, cyclamen, jasmine and muguet (but oiled and almondy) team up with vanilla, lime, Virginia cedar and musk as well as the famously obfuscated house signature of mousse de saxe, and somehow, thus, in this blend, Ernst Daltroff managed, in his beautifully compressed instinctualism, to really capture, and even quite deeply eroticize, something at the heart of of the actual sweet pea’s scent – if not quite entirely, somehow, ensnare the full plenitude of the very finely membraned, and shy-looking, air of its innocent, June-breathed, flowers.