For most people, Caron’s famous Christmas perfume is a cosy, Yuletide Noel of sweet mosses, spice, and mellow florals, a quaint, comforting refuge that is perfect come this nostalgic time of year.
For me, though, it conjures up remembrances of dazzling sunlight; palm trees; and the almost sinister fascination of glittering, uptown LA in summertime: all piercing dark shadows, rich people behind sunglasses, and a humming bird I saw fluttering behind a flowering bush on Rodeo Drive.
The Beverly Hills Perfumery is a magnificent Babylon of treasures for the perfume collector. Boxes and boxes of vintage perfumes, still in their original cellophane wrappings, piled ceiling high, all Shalimar body creams and shower gels and soaps and face powders and and hair gels and glorious, discontinued originals; rarities, things you thought would never be found again, and things you have never smelled, but are dying, just dying, to get your hands on.
I only had enough money for one bottle. And god knows what I thought that should be. I wanted Ungaro Homme I, now so hard to find, I wanted all manner of things (let’s just rob a bank together and go there in a pick up truck, shovelling the entire stock into the back of a van and take it home).
Seriously. This is not a department store, it is not a niche fragrance boutique, it is not a flea market, it is a repository. A cavern of precious, olfactory loot, and my eyes wouldn’t stop darting over the merchandise, salivating, panicking, and wondering what to get.
Then I saw the beautiful green, gold and black box of Caron’s much feted Nuit De Noel, a scent that looked so intriguing and was so reasonably priced, a perfume I had read about and was most eager to smell, and suddenly I just knew that it was going to be the one that I would buy.
And so for me, now, this dusty, old fashioned creation – woody, resinous, harmonious and affecting, the smell of spiced plum puddings and hair-spray, is not snow, and Christmas trees, and carols, and all the familiar trimmings, but rather the smell of adventure. Of my Lynchian fantasy of being in Los Angeles (just to be on Mulholland Drive, and to be able to re-enact a film that I was so obsessed with), a pungent celluloid based-desire that was just, at that moment, coming true.
Of my first time being so woozily in the cinematic centre of the universe, of seeing Larry King walk by us on the way back to the hotel. Of so much furniture spray and overly cold air-conditioning in that hotel room that we could hardly breathe.
The smell of America. Of that first martini in the bar downstairs that felt like a crystallized whirlpool of the brain; and the weird plastic-surgery lady walking her dressed-in-pink chihuahua that we giggled at, and us, google-eyed, jet-lagged, and overstimulated from our flight from Japan, Nuit De Noel oozing, sparkling, providing the soundtrack.
As I sit here and take the perfume out of its box and smell it, as I often tend to do at this time of year – just to see if the perfume has become Christmassy yet – I can’t tell you quite how three-dimensional and real these memories are.
The experience is quite startling. It is time travel.