Sortilege —–‘incantation, magic spell, malediction, sorcery’ in French – is a classic floral aldehyde created in the late 1930’s by Paul Vacher (of Miss Dior, Diorling, Arpège, and a fleet of Le Galion perfumes fame). Of its time, of familiar mien if you know N⁰5, L’Aimant, Madame Rochas, the perfume extract that Duncan bought home for me the other night on his way back from Kamakura nevertheless has its own unique charm. While this format of fragrance almost always contains the following ingredients: rose, ylang ylang, muguet, iris and jasmine gemstoned and polished with aldehydes, usually pillowed with a more sexualised base of sandalwood, musk, vetiver and amber, Le Galion’s variant on the theme adds an extra abundance of of lilac, mimosa and narcissus, with a hint of warm labdanum and amber also in the base, which makes it perhaps sound very malleable, talced- feminine and soft in the usual Marilyn Monroe fashion (she, along with Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner, Bette Davis, and Grace Kelly were used in promotional placement pictures for the scent), but in fact, with its lilting skulduggery, ends up sweetly hypnotic.
Less pliant, and ‘giving’ than some of its predecessors and descendants such as Le N⁰9 by Cadolle, and Detchema by Revillon, Sortilège is cooler; more compact and aggressive, initially, prickled and immaculate, taking its time to bloom into a gorgeously rounded perfume not dissimilar to Givenchy’s L’interdit but more vivid, less morose. At this point, in the one hour intermission, you can certainly see where the perfume got its name: this is undeniable female seduction.
I will sorely miss Strawberry Field, the place we got this perfume, the source of many a cherished delight in Kamakura, and which unfortunately seems to be closing down as the lady who runs it is in poor health. Last time I was there, two people completely unfamiliar with perfume were presiding over her wares – everything half price now – meaning D can just pick something up on the way home like the Le Galion extrait pictured above – but it does look as if it won’t be there for much longer. Such is my affection for the place that it even features in the film I did for Moleskine Notebooks last January, one of the surrealer experiences in my life, in which a crew of Italians from Vice.com flew in from Milan just as the coronavirus was starting to take hold, and I had a weekend of pretending it was August in January and being constantly looked at and ‘positioned’ and filmed wherever I went – the clothes I had selected ( I had actually gone shopping and looked good) deemed not seasonably suitable for the shoot: I had to literally borrow the shirt off the Japanese cameraman’s back. Standing around in Tokyo, ‘modelling’; beyond ice cold, having a group of eleven media people invade my house the following day for the interview during which they photographed practically every corner of our odd and overpacked abode, causing mayhem in the street outside as neighbours found that they couldn’t park their cars because of all the extra vehicles, wondering what the hell was going on, it was all completely new and exciting. I felt like a star, and it was very illuminating in that regard: I got a tiny taste of what being a ‘celebrity’ would be like. and much as I know I couldn’t stand that kind of attention on a regular basis, with a big pinch of salt, it was certainly enthralling for just a couple of days.
One of the stops on the itinerary – so hilarious, being bundled into the van like fleeing paparazzi and speeding at the limit to the next designated destination each time as though our lives depended on it- was Strawberry Field, which the main organizer of the project – there had been several bungles – had misunderstood as being a literal field of elysian strawberries somehow dotted with perfumes, like a Dorothy snoozing in her field of drowsing opioid poppies, vintage perfume bottles half dug into the soil……was I to walk, daydreaming, through the fragrant beds of fruit and pluck perfumes from my bosom or was it else some kind of huge market just bulging with swooning vintagery that we would wander about it and take woozy pictures with me up close and personal with bottles of Yves Saint Laurent and Ricci? There we were, racing desperately to get there at the appointed hour, the Italian media on their walkie talkies to each other getting agitated about whether we would make it to il campo di fragole into time; one of the Japanese managers calling up sycophantically and hyper politely to placate the owner and begging her to stay open until we got there (financial incentives were eventually offered), frantically scoffing down the convenience store sandwiches that the runner had gone out to by in bulk as there had been no time to get lunch (we were all absolutely famished) – and yet the final destination was, in fact, really just a tiny and cramped (but very charming, if you like statues and mirrors and beads and ceramics and porcelain and knick knacks ) old junk/antique shop. Fortunately, the cameramen had a similar camp sensibility to me and loved it, immediately, and the proprietress in her ragdollhat; she graciously extended her opening hours; we filmed our little segment there, and it was a wrap.
I will miss many things about that place. It wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t overly expensive either – plus she always gave me a discount. Gorgeous, boxed Guerlains and Patous, some Carons, many Chanels; I got my sumptuous Amouage Gold from there; several Mystère de Rochas, among many many other things I can no longer precisely remember; the beauty being that you didn’t only have to store up on the riches and troves that you wanted to accumulate for your cabinet, but could acquire new old novelties that you might never have encountered before, such as Fame de Corday; old miniatures, abandoned and unwanted eaux de parfum, and half used up extraits. It was a mine of pleasure and perfume education : and without it, I am sure I would never have been exposed to such a lovely creation as Le Galion Sortilège.