You can get so accustomed to never smelling anything new or innovative in mainstream perfumery that when you do come across something different it can come as a shock. The use of a very fresh, green, bright and convincing Roman chamomile accord at Gucci guru Alessandro Michele’s request in the new Memoire D’Une Odeur is unusual and arresting, utilizing an unfamiliar (to most people) floral/herbaceous note as the lead in to a ‘unisex’ fragrance in an almost fragile, vintage looking bottle focused on the memories of childhood and innocence.
Chamomile is a strange and risky choice for what the brand is hoping will be a big commercial hit. I find this quite commendably bold and risky – not that Gucci doesn’t already have enough euros in the vaults if things go haywire – even if the smell of the flower itself has always personally given me feelings of ambivalence. I have never liked Roman Chamomile essential oil (the variety that Alberto Morillas has based the perfume around, adding light floral notes of Indian coral jasmine, fading to transparent woody skin musks); neither do I especially like the German chamomile variety, used in aromatherapy for its anti-inflammatory and calming properties due to the presence of the naturally blue soporific azulene. Something about the smell, a peculiar hay/honeyed inner friction, rubs me up the wrong way; my innards don’t sit naturally with its aromatic composition. Similarly, although for a while I tried drinking chamomile herb tea at night to help me sleep (these days I only drink rooibos or peppermint), ultimately, there is something about a lot of chamomile teas that just smell to me of warmed catheter; the dozing night ward………….and as soon as that aspect becomes apparent to you it becomes repulsive to say the least (and don’t even think about adding vanilla or honey to it, because it just makes that hot bladderbag aspect of the stewing flowers even worse…).
While it is interesting that Michele assumes that chamomile forms an important feature in all of our childhoods (Roman chamomile has been grown in household balcony pots since the 16th century in the city so perhaps the scent is better known to Italian families), in our own household growing up there were no herbal teas, no variants of Darleejing, Assam or the bergamot–infused delicacy of Earl Grey either: I was not familiar with any of them. Among my schoolfriends and family you drank PG Tips or Typhoo in a mug with some milk and maybe sugar and that was that. In fact, the first time I ever drank anything different, tea-wise, was at university. I was in my law student friend Sarah’s room on the floor below mine and I remember that one afternoon she offered me some chamomile tea. I had never had it before and had no idea what it would taste, or smell, like (I was yet to discovery aromatherapy) but as soon as she opened the paper box and plunged the paper-sacheted infusion into a cup of hot water I had a Proustian rush of such extreme proportions that suddenly I was running along the river with my brother, my grandfather and his dog Candy, panting in the fresh early morning air, carpets of chamomile flowers crushed underfoot giving off the most beautiful green-appled leaf smell of happiness; wrapped up in hats and coats and red wellington boots through the trees; the stream flowing beside; I remembered vividly how I had picked up the flowers as we ran along like daisies where bees could nest inside yellow like a hotel; sheltered; I instinctively pressed those fragrant heads together, releasing the smell that replenished my young brain, suffusing heart and smell; trapping that memory there forever in my limbic system.
I don’t remember precisely what that make of particular herb tea was, but it was fresh, airy, green, and it captured the exact smell of the living flowers in nature rather than those sun-dried, malted, heavesome counterparts I can’t abide. Though unobtrusive and subtle – perhaps, ultimately too tentative in its entirety, Memoire D’Une Odeur shows no hesitation in putting the greener, more living memory of chamomile flowers in the main thrust of its composition, in a pleasant, even emotive release that takes contemporary commercial fragrance to newer pastures.
20 responses to “MEMORY OF A MEMORY: : ::MEMOIRE D’UNE ODEUR by GUCCI (2019)”
Great read, as always, Neil. Good to see Gucci taking a risk with this scent. And the fact that it’s “universal” is most refreshing. Will be interesting to see if other big designer brands start taking the unisex route too.
I hope so.
Love your Francis Kurkdijian interview by the way. He’s a megastar ! I would have been quite starstruck.
He also shares my tragic failed dream to be a ballet dancer ( though in his case I reckon it is still not too late).
Thank you so much, Neil. I was very excited to meet him. South Africa is not on the perfume publicity circuit, so it was a huge thrill to meet a perfumer of his calibre. The fact that he was so down to earth and chatty just added to the special occasion.
Yes : I liked his no bullshit straightforwardness
I love rooibos and even peppermint rooibos tea. Chamomile just makes me think of warm pee. I guess I haven’t had a good one. Mémoire d’une Odeur was pleasant but unremarkable on me and longevity was nil, which is a shame as the bottle is gorgeous.
Yes it is not remotely earth shattering I agree, bland even as it fades, but the mere existence of such a prominent note that has never really been used like that ( l think the patchouli / chamomile combo in Aromatics Elixir is genius but this is using the flower as the central theme) made it worth writing about.
Glad that someone else thinks that chamomile tea though often smells like a chamber pot of hot piss
I will definitely be less hysterical as Neil Chapman I think if it is in a magazine. I like both control and the floodgates equally.
Can’t get enough of your childhood reminiscences. Feels more real to me than my own memories. Miraculously transporting.
I was trying to figure out just a week or two ago why, as I was dutifully popping the last of my ancient chamomile (relaxing! good for digestion!) teabags in the teapot, I was glad to see it finally go. Now I know. Exactly. Good riddance, old pisspot.
The tone of this post struck me as a little more, hmm, formal perhaps than your usual fingers-blazing-over-the-cellphone-keypad stream of consciousness riffs. More considered or edited or structured. Is this a review that you wrote with Vogue Japan in mind or publication elsewhere? It’s wonderful, polished . . . and somehow feels like it was mindfully written by your professional alter ego. Could I be on to something, my dear?
I wrote it even faster than the other posts from the last week actually, but woke up feeling more subdued as I was cold in the night, which removed the sting from my heat perhaps.
Plus my memories were of green and of a cool morning so I wanted to capture that feeling ( that is a VERY distinct memory for me, actually because I hadn’t really been ‘conscious’ or chamomile until I was transported by that tea – I know the Proust thing is too obvious with the name of the perfume as well but it was true so I couldn’t help it). A true memory of a memory.
It’s interesting also, because although I loved both sets of grandparents I don’t really talk about them very much – they kind of stay in the peripheries of my memory, whereas Duncan often puts up pictures of his and reminisces more- I don’t know why. I did write one piece that featured them a lot though, and it was one I was thinking about reblogging but I think I will just put it up here now instead. I hope you like it.
Lovely read first thing in the morning with my cup of tea (not chamomile). Thank you, N.
Your grandad was a force. They don’t make them like that anymore — or do they? Now, let’s hear about your grannies, if you can remember a previous post about one or both. How did Grandma Chapman cope?
Actually both grandmothers were honored in the book ( under Hyacinth and Cuir D’Ange ); typically I was closer to them than my grandfathers
“Because it just makes that hot bladderbag aspect of the stewing flowers even worse…” Wonderful! I wonder how that will translate into Japanese, and how the most precious reader, turning page by page in infuriating cautiousness and affecation, will react to that!?
All human beings must know, that unless they have the choicest chamobags, that beneath there always lurks the steaming deep orange yellow
I will have to revisit this one, as your review of it piques my curiosity. At first smell I wasn’t all to impressed, but then again I didn’t know what to expect or look for.
Hopefully if I spray it on, it will strike a chord within me.
I don’t know if it will. The problem with this review is that I was amazed by the fact there was a prominent chamomile note I forgot the rest of the scent. It IS nothingy, but still pleasant : I would gladly be sat next to someone wearing it
I’ll revisit it.
About 4 years later, after your review, I wore Mémoire—once again—today (on a Sunday spent at home). And I must say I am impressed: it has excellent lasting powers without being overwhelming; it has a winner as its main actor: I love this chamomile scent which I find, doesn’t smell anything like the brewed stuff which I detest; it has a perfectly acceptable dry-down (cuddly musk); it is superbly affordable; and most importantly—I think it smells rather charming!
Funnily enough I was looking at a bottle of this the other day and wishing it was cheaper as it still kind of has a pull for me. You are lemming me
Gosh, here on Ebay Germany you can get a 40 ml bottle for 40 €, sometimes for less.
However, I thought you didn‘t really enjoy it. I love the scent of the essential oil of both the blue and Roman chamomile, therefore it is an easy thing to like Mémoire; if you do not, it might remain a no-go?