– Anne Pigalle
I have had an unbelievable few days in London but as I am preparing for tonight’s big launch event ( The Perfume Society, mine and D’s family, old friends, people I haven’t seen for over twenty five years all in attendance), this might have to be an abridged version. I feel slightly breathless.
On Monday we went to Rouillier White (the perfume shop extraordinaire in East Dulwich where the event tonight is to be held), just to get our bearings, and to meet the owner, Michael Donovan, who is highly involved in all aspects of the industry , owner of the shop and his own perfume line, St Giles, and who was incredibly friendly, down to earth, ebullient and effusive with an almost intimidatingly vast knowledge of and passion for scent ( he loves the extreme, the wonderful and the weird, like Black Vines, a smell which is like cramming your face with licorice allsorts while guzzling ouzo or pernod – I have never known such a shocker of aniseed in such high concentration over cinnamon and woods – one of the most singular scents I have ever experienced : I asked for a sample, while D bought a bottle of Histoires de Parfum’s excellent 1899, a tobacco celebration of the birth of Ernest Hemingway whose sillage on the streets of London leaves me giddy with pleasure).
What I also really respect, aside knowing everyone who is anyone ( I heard some tantalizing secrets ) is Michael’s ethos : he deliberately won’t stock anything over 150 pounds because he believes it can alienate certain people in the local community – when luxe is taken to absurd levels of snobbery – and so he also has very inexpensive colognes stacked close to the higher niche to make the whole experience more relatable; while in the home furnishings section there are wooden chopping boards made by prison inmates to help them get back on tbeir feet after they are released; lights made by Syrians living in war zones to keep them alive – for me this is a beautiful place that celebrates perfume but is also socially conscious and very human. I couldn’t really ask for a better place to celebrate the book ( I will be taking the audience on a tour of some scents that are featured in Perfume but are also sold there as an interesting collaboration).
Tursday was UNBELIEVABLE for me. As a pre-launch party, a friend had spontaneously decided to hold a gathering at his stunning flat at the Barbican – which has a 26th floor fully panoramic view of the entire city that has to be seen to be believed). I met the tailor to Queen Noor, the king or queen of the London underground drag and cabaret scene who cannot live without a house full of hyacinths and tuberoses, a New York stand up comic, old friends I hadn’t seen for decades, and, to my utter astonishment, on a whim, because we had been connected through Facebook, a singer – Anne Pigalle ( pictured), whose album from 1986, Everything Could Have Been So Perfect I have loved ever since, and whose second one, 33 years later – Ecstase, a drunken, Fassbinder evocation of late night bars and chansons ( she calls herself The Last Chanteuse ) we have recently been listening to in our kitchen.
Not only did she decide to come to the party, even though we have never met in person ( this was my first time meeting a pop singer whose records I own and I was slightly starstruck), we ACTUALLY PERFORMED TOGETHER. I quickly tried to work out the chords to Looking For Love on the grand piano and then we just did it as friends chatted drinking red wine.
I am still reeling.
And then yesterday : I was at the BBC, on Radio London, speaking live in front of half a million people in a segment between Brexit and Bananarama with the lovely Jo Good, a really fun woman and genuine perfume lover who clearly really likes my book (as she was quoting extensively from it )………. … I don’t know ::::::::the whole experience was dizzying: all the security, the rushedness of it (‘ok Neil, you’re on after the news and a song’), and then suddenly there I was, just saying whatever came into my head over the natural course of the conversation and then flushed and mindbombed out into the fresh air where Duncan was waiting for me.
He and his parents have just gone out for the day, to go to Westminster to see all the Brexit protesters – for and against- quite interesting to see it all up close, history being lived, and do other sightseeing – and let me just mull on what I am going to talk about tonight while I marinate in the bath ( a gorgeous Italian iris soap I found at a charity shop which will prepare my No 19 very nicely indeed ).
I know these days will remain with me forever.
I will get back to you later.