You are always being told about the most ‘precious essences sourced from the finest sources’ and all that rubbish: your nose and brain and your olfactory instincts, however, usually know differently. But at Henry Jacques, an exquisite perfumery serenely sequestered on the top floor at Les Salons at Harrods, I really did feel that the materials being used here were the toppest of notch: gorgeous, limpid, potent elixirs in pure perfume only that were expensive and unattainable in some ways but ones that I dream of and WANT: you never know, there might be a windfall at some point when I don’t hesitate to just treat myself and come home with a flacon of dream.
I wasn’t intimidated. We sat ourselves down in the two available arm chairs there (once they are occupied, no other customers are allowed in the space) and asked to be taken through the range. From florals through citruses and then other blends, please. Leave out the standard masculines. Just show me the flowers. And the orientals. And possibly the musks, and even a couple of oudhs. I want to smell them all, and please also seal the blotters in hermetically sealed envelopes. I want to smell all of them at my leisure later. These look really interesting.
We were there for at least an hour, undisturbed. The assistants, personable, enthusiastic, but with just the right level of dignity and mild hauteur, would then dip the paper blotters into the thickly glassed flacons and bring them over: I knew right from the very start that these were indeed made with principally natural materials of extremely high quality, and was pleased that there was no bullshit, no PR materials, no advertising, no extraneous imagery (the perfumes are available in the standard, almost Caron-like bottles or else fancy flourishes of glasswork that were housed in secret, walled cabinets, revealed to you at precise moments); just perfumes, made in Grasse, that you wanted to own, and cherish, and wear.
Opening my bag of about fifty Henry Jacques perfumes scent a strip a week later, I am amazed at how living and real and gorgeously fragrant all the perfumes still are on the card. Potent: undiminished. Their hearts on their sleeve, ready to seduce. Seemingly divided into soliflores, contemporary note-centric formulae, or else stunningly neo-classical aldehydes and balmy orientals, there honestly wasn’t a bad scent among the ones I tried: the extortionate Bulgarian Rose would be the best possible indulgence, just a dot on the skin, before going out in the evening – this couldn’t have been more reflectant, effulgent – the very heart of the Bulgarian rose essence. Picking up scent papers randomly (they are sprawled out as I speak on the bed at my parents’ house), Decibelia is a beautiful galbanum focused-sweet pea; Kavianca the most perfect aldehydic floral – all jasmine and rose and raspberry and iris, like No 5 raised up to goddess status and looking down through the crystalline clouds of Mount Olympus; Valentys probably the best peach perfume I have ever smelled; all honeysuckle, bright jasmine; Nahema roses and powder; and Whydia an almost Ysatis-like beauty of mandarin, neroli, ylang ylang and cedarwood balsamics.
Wisely, the assistants asked me to save the ones I wanted to sample on skin until last, although I was unable to resist trying the gorgeous rosa centifolia based Rose Myosotis on my left hand that put me in mind of the original Caron Rose, in extrait, but less mossy and Daltroffesque. On my right, though, I knew from the start that I was going to have to have the devastating Dentelle Dans La Coeur, the best tuberose I have ever smelled and that had me going goggle-eyed in ecstatic white flower pleasure: the tuberose to end all tuberoses (so fantastic to have this kind of revelation): shimmering, white inflorescences of sheer petallic pleasure; the wintergreen weirdness of Tubereuse Criminelle and Carnal Flower self-pleasured to perfume strength; outrageous; but no sweetness, no sugared, vanilla musks or sandalwood, just the most delicate, creamy skin scent that lasts underneath (and which merely from a little perfume on my hand, which graced my cashmere sweater, and emerged again, a few days later, when out with Helen, a non-tuberose lover who admitted that this indeed, smelled utterly beautiful on me; marmorean, like a ghostly but living white statue from another world.)
I had no more skin space. But I asked the two Henry Jacques assistants which scents they had left out of the equation, whether there were any that they had omitted. Although I had sampled some of the house’s masculines (very good: Fabian Absolue a more natural reworking of Fahrenheit; Soudain L’Hiver a deep coniferous rendition of the original Polo) this is never my main line of interest, and I wondered what the curious green-tinted bottle at the front of the tray of perfumes was: had I already smelled that one or not?
This is a lavender. I didn’t think you would like this one, given your taste for the white florals and orientals. Would you like to try it?
And good god. Lavenders are always too thin; too vanillic; too incensed; too cologned; too animalic. This one, this absolute beauty, though graced in the undertones with some sandalwood and light oriental facets, felt spiked; green; vivid ; alive: but not the almost gaseous evaporatorial emanations of the farm-distilled standard essential oil; that yes, but welded with the lavender absolute, cleaner, but deeper; purer; self contained. The sheer strength of this botanical panacea captured in perfume: I was desperate to just own the thing (‘we only sell about five pieces of this one a year’) : it seemed to hold tranquillity in concentration, as though spiritizing the plants on the stem, in the fields of England, Bulgaria, and France; so green, so replete………………. a marvel.