I was out and about in Yokohama yesterday, the last day of the ‘Golden Week’ spring holiday, even though the beautiful sunny weather we have been having for the last seven days turned to gloomy rain and humidity and the entire day you could never entirely decide if it was hot or cold, both clammy and chilly simultaneously. It was a final day of liberty and record shopping, though (and checking out perfumes,) including the revamped Le Galion line which has finally made it to these shores. I was pleased to smell these, and the colognes and Whip were quite nice even if I am not quite sure how much commercial traction these perfumes will have here as it is hard to say when ‘classical’ becomes old-fashioned. Iris did strike me as particularly enjoyable though – an emotive, diaphanous cradle of mimosa and musk that drew me in immediately for its psychologically withdrawn delicacy.
If yesterday’s weather was ambivalent about deciding what it wanted to be, today there is no doubt: it is cold and wet and depressing as the entire country mournfully returns to work after the longest national holiday of the year, the only time when many workers across Japan get a miraculous nine days off ( apart from a few days snatched here and then in the late summer or at New Year, this is the longest vacation anyone gets for another year). How nice it would be if we could just extend it by another few weeks or so (or months even); time to relax and roam…
Me and the D love Isezakicho, the older and less fashionable area of Yokohama that is a bit less spanking new than some other districts, great for scouring the jumble in junk shops for potential costume materials and old books, records, and random inessentials for the house, like a strange little glass platypus that I just couldn’t help buying for upstairs on the first day of Golden Week when we went on our usual jaunt.
On the way to meeting a friend at a local Thai karaoke favourite place of ours, I stepped into one final ‘recycle shop’ down the end of Isezakicho street where on one shelf I came across a small boxed parfum of Le Galion’s Brumes, a perfume I had never heard of before ( and I really love it when these hitherto unknown ghost ships of the past come sailing into your consciousness through the fogs of time and somehow appear in your reality).
I knew that ‘brumes’ meant mists, though, and was intrigued by the slightly sad grey and white lettering on the box which hinted at the more genteel times long gone- plus the flacon inside is the same as the other miniature vintsge extraits I have in my collection by Le Galion, the torrid and exuberant Jasmin, Tubereuse and Gardenia ( all dense and liquorous, syrupy white florals from another age).
Brumes – long discontinued and apparently quite rare- is far more doleful, subdued, and grey than the other perfumes I have known from Le Galion : a spiced lavender floral musk with an unusual layering of gorse, kelp, tarragon and algae smoothing the usual powdery 1930’s elements of carnation, heliotrope and rose, and according to Fragrantica, this perfume was the world’s first attempt at oceanic, or at the very least, a ‘panoramic’: the perfume was intended to convey the scent and atmosphere of the French coastal brushland and beaches (and given the year of its release, you can’t help thinking that prescient Le Galion was somehow having a premonition of the horrors that were soon to occur in that very territory). This is a quiet, rueful scent, temperate and thoughtful.
Time has taken a toll on this extrait. The intensely green herbal opening of the fragrance that supposedly includes thyme, marjoram and a whole kitchen cabinet of other green things, has dissipated ( but then, this could actually be about eighty years old if is the original release and so it is not all surprising). Still, I would love to have been able to smell it as it was originally intended, how these fresh green notes developed alongside the marine touched vistas of the flowers, and how one would have felt, at that time, in those clothes, unboxing a brand new bottle, and stepping out into that morning’s anticipation.
After we had arrived back home in Kamakura that evening, with all our usual silly cheap superfluous purchases in plastic carrier bags, and plonked them all down in the kitchen, I took my little box of Brumes out of one bag and we then went upstairs to watch Robert Altman’s brilliant Gosford Park, a film I have seen several times before but I haven’t seen for quite a few years ( and the inspiration for the later phenomenon Downton Abbey by the same writer, with Maggie Smith and several other cast members making returns). But where the latter, brilliantly entertaining though it may be, is quite ‘jolly’ and good-natured but a tad sanitized, Altman’s film instead, with its mastery of mood and light, captures the darknesses, the brooding listlessness and absolute ennui of the bored upper classes as they gather for a shooting party one fateful weekend ‘ in the country’ ( it all, of course, becomes a murder mystery).
The rigid conventions of the day, in comportment and dress. The men, in their breeches, shooting their mouths off and poor pheasants. The women, languishing exquisitely in their long and elegant dresses, lackluster gossipping, and draped over their chaises longues waiting for the hours to pass until dinner, Kristen Scott Thomas ( who I adore ) epitomizing the sharp acerbic retorts of that class; others, her troubled daughter included, more sensitive, staring from windows onto the misty parklands, all with their secrets and worries and tragedies and dramas about to be played out before our eyes. It is someone like this, one of these younger modern women of the time, who might have chosen Le Galion’s Brumes I think. A less showy, but delicate, intelligent, softly layered but piquantly spiced herbal, spiced, perfume to wear as an accomplice in emotions that are hard to express, a scent to walk outdoors, or on the seashore, alone; a fellow confidante in ambiguity.