In the middle of August I crashed. I am coming back to myself now, and will get back to all that perhaps later. Throughout, though, I have certainly been very heavily perfumed. There is too much to handle: I need to intoxicate.

One of things I very much love about wearing scent is the sense of demarcation: of separating and deliberately contrasting different pointers in time into retrievable, memorable chunks of consciousness. On the last day of term, jubilant I had got through the year and that the last month or two – post second vaccination and all the relief that had ensued = had gone well I finally put away my Penhaligons Gardenia, which in very hot weather I had been wearing for three or more weeks continuously, along with Floris Gardenia talc (after taking a bath each day before heading out in Floris Gardenia foaming shower gel……….as though an English Cleopatra ( ‘do I smell like an Edwardian Lady?’ I asked Duncan with semi-concern, in my white shirt and suit trousers, feeling instinctively that I did in fact smell beautifully fragrant and floral in a way that was perhaps unusual but still seemly (“No: you smell clean and sherbety: I like it” ); feeling already as I put all of these white flowers back into their boxes for another year how potent the temporal stamp is in the mind with smell – they were already past tense; already filed away; already reminding me, almost nostalgically, of this July and August, even though time was still progressing. But of a particular time, gone forever. But now stored. Ready for recapture.

It had been gloriously sunny. Then, as my holiday began, bad and disturbing news from home and an approaching typhoon suddenly made the temperatures plunge and all the light go into total retreat. it was a week of literal, and figurative ,darkness in which I found myself regressing back decades into depressing remembrances to the soundtrack of Tori Amos; inescapably. Drinking wine, zombie-like, I hardly even remember what I did for about eight days, except slowly rearrange my perfume cabinets; bottle by bottle; therapeutic in a way, and meaning that when the sun did come back again – with glorious revenge – I was fully ready to drench myself thoroughly to societally objectionable levels of intensity. Frankincense oil. Patchouli oil on the body. An unquenchable thirst for the leather chypre or aromatic combined with marine: Kenzo Pour Homme under the arms, and then lashings of the rose-mimosa leather patchouli masterpiece that is Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum eau de parfum (completely essential in my life – I need some more ); the original Sisley Eau Du Soir, which in vintage (the black bottle), a perfume I adore at the right moment and which I only have a few drops left of now but which I have found a suitable substitute for in Montale’s Aromatic Lime – also indispensable when I get into this mood; the final accord lingering on everything you touch broodingly, dramatically.

One morning, cloudy but not dark grey and pouring as it had been for days on end, it could only be Courrèges Empreinte: a curious hybrid of light floral-fruit facets (jasmine; melon, peach, a bitter twist of artemisia and coriander over what smells like a chic white leather French trench coat) that on me settles into the most elegant and enigmatic final accord, something like the younger sister of Miss Balmain parfum, but paler, and distinctive in its own right. Robert Gonnon, the perfumer behind this creation, has quite a slim resumé, but if I tell you that he created Paco Rabanne Métal; Cacharel Anais Anais, Grès Quiproquo, and Ô De Lancôme (all of which I own and wear), this should give you some idea of Empreinte’s sleek and ambiguous credentials. It is a very interesting scent indeed that gradually unfolds over time, unlike the great majority of contemporary perfumery, (the perfume’s original ad tag line reads: “Many women leave an impression. But few leave an actual imprint.…”)

If Empreinte is the swish of that white coat, as it is removed and hung up in a Parisian bistro, Falcon Leather, by Matiere Premiere, is a much darker, directer leather made liquid: centered on birch tar and oud, labdanum and benzoin and a touch of saffron – smelled from the bottle this is heady, aggressively masculine stuff with a strong-beating heart. It smelled good on Duncan, but would smell even better on some of the leather-jacketed body guards and for-hire high end killers in some of the adrenalizing Netflix action films I have found myself absorbed in these last few days (anything but the real world outside, please – the news everyday has just been too overwhelming. I read it but have to hold back) Black bomber jackets are de rigeur for these professionals, no matter the location – and a spray or two of Falcon Leather on their ubiquitous garments could only increase the sense of grounded, guarded propulsion.

In great contrast, Serge Lutens’ latest addition to the Gratte Ciel collection, another Christopher Sheldrake collaboration, La Proie Pour L’Ombre, is warm and nuzzly; a familiarly Lutensian, strangely gorgeous and mysterious scent ostensibly centred around leather (and licorice and vanilla), a powerfully immortelle, almost celery-like note cedared with spice in the top that at first is disconcerting but then begins to pull you into its own unusual sense of unique gravity. D thinks it smells like butterscotch: the ambered texture is certainly odd; almost chocolatey; with tones redolent also of coffee absolute; but also medicinally enveloping and pungent like some of the more extreme and esoteric Japanese incense towards which I quite often find myself gravitating. Unlike the flamboyance of the two other perfumes I have been describing to you today, I feel that La Proie Pour L’Ombre is more private; a dark, shadowy-like-its-name fragrance that suits these particular times: less a leather for a publicly viewed sillage than a quiet, personal cove of introspective luxuriance.


Filed under Flowers


  1. M

    Glad to see a fresh post; not so glad to read of your distresses. I don’t know you beyond your posts but was getting quite anxious at the unusual silence. Keep on.

    • I will. And thanks for even noticing. When I can’t write I can’t write though: I have to wait until the natural impulse comes back and for several reasons I felt completely burnt out.

      I am pretty sure that almost everyone has had problems this last year and a half, even if they didn’t before: it is certain though that the coronavirus has impacted us in many ways, exacerbating things that were bad already in some cases (like the mental health of some of my family, for example, an ongoing trauma).

  2. Gisela Barrington

    So pleased to see that you have managed to disentangle yourself from my growing list of people to worry about with the help of scent therapy. Perfume is certainly a powerful drug and has helped me too a lot in recent challenging times. L’Eau du Soir, a forever favourite, worth mentioning.

    • It’s funny. L’Eau Du Soir when in the wrong mood is just too strong and sharp and persistent: too zingy and precise I have misguidedly used/ wasted drops from my bottle sometimes and then hated it. But when it is right (I put some on the zipper of a hoodie one day so that each time it moved I would get the scent), it almost makes me swoon. It just settles itself into this aromatic bliss that it is so elegantly sexy. The more recent version is more effervescent and far less concentrated. It doesn’t excite me in the same way.

  3. Renée Stout

    Thanks for the perfume descriptions, these leathers seem to be right up my alley and worth investigating, especially the Falcon. There is so much overwhelmingly stressful stuff swirling around us all these days that there seems to be no relief from it. Escaping into perfume helps me to maintain my sanity and sense of balance as well. Try not to internalize all of this too much. I hope that you’re feeling a lit better.

  4. Renée Stout

    I meant a little better.

    • Hi Renee.

      The last two years and more have been insane in global terms. It has been a mindfuck extraordinaire, and we have all suffered in so many varying ways from it.

      Fortunately, in my own case I am actually quite good at compartmentalizing, and am very blessed in being able to really enjoy the things I enjoy no matter what else is going on in my own life or in the world (perfume really does somehow BLOCK things out, don’t you think? Or at the very least you can embellish the day with it and enter a scented cocoon…….) It’s the same with films and music. Tremendous amounts of pleasure always had, no matter what (I think this comes from the extraordinary stress of being in the closet for ten years as a child and adolescent, during which time I had to schism myself into two people; one side of me was so passionately involved in the things I escaped into and loved that I became adept at being able to almost shut out all the rest. I am also exceptionally lazy by nature, so when anything gets too much I can just sit down in front of Netflix and zone out all day long to let the batteries recharge -binge on entire series and then the next day wake up renewed (some people can never switch off, which must be very difficult). Deeper, more longstanding issues, which you can’t always stop from resurfacing in your mind, are more challenging – but that is life I suppose. It’s never a piece of cake. I hope you are doing well.

  5. Tara C

    Glad to see you post again, I suspected all was not well given the unusually long silence. So glad you are resurfacing. This is the first I’ve read of the new Lutens, it sounds interesting. He seems to be quite into immortelle lately, a note that can easily overwhelm a composition. Looking forward to sniffing it this winter.
    I myself have been feeling despair over the state of the world. Not sure how it will end and feeling like the 25+ years I am projected to have left is far too long.

    • I hope this feeling doesn’t continue indefinitely, Tara, and that some optimism returns for you : reading or watching the news every day is hardly uplifting. It feels as though something has exploded on a massive scale and cannot be put back in the box. There is so much ANGER. On my part as well. As you know from reading this blog, I was furious, demented for a year and a half – a situation that abated somewhat after the vaccinations personally, and then had to just stay quite for a little while.

      As for the Lutens, I personally detest immortelle, which is very strong in this composition – the dominant feature, I would say – and yet somehow on this occasion I rather like it. There are aspects of Ambre Sultan there, a scent I had a couple of bottles of and could never quite commit to but still kind of enjoyed, and some of the sweet ambery joyous aspects of earlier perfumes like Cedre, but also with a deeper, medicinal woodiness that for me really works. It will be perfect as a winter scent.

  6. Robin

    I feel a lot like Tara. If the world keeps going on this steep downward trajectory, it will crash and burn in my lifetime.

    Meanwhile, we have you, each other, and perfume (among other intoxicants). Thanks for transporting us to a world where everything smells fascinating and things feel good.

    • And thanks, as always, for being there, seriously.

      You and I are similar. We feel everything that is happening out there – I never want to be ignorant of it – but also know when we need to self protect and withdraw. I am no masochist. Life is a smorgasbord of complications, both wonderful and awful – it would be a lie to deny it.

      • Robin

        We’re lucky that way. We can tune into what’s going on in the world that is terrible, feel things enormously, and then compartmentalize, change channels, switch off, switch on to something that restores us to our usual positive, engaged (or not, depending on the need for slothfulness) selves. Like you, I’m sensitive but not depressive. I am too intellectually, emotionally curious about the world at so many levels, simply find ENJOYMENT in so many things, am naturally hedonistic, sensual. I’ve also had enough trauma in my youth and done enough work on the resulting issues to be ruthless in staying away from anything that messes with my sanity — if at all possible. Your last year and a half had things in it that couldn’t be avoided, so of course you crashed. We’re all so glad to hear that you’re getting back to some semblance of mental health and vigour so that you’re wanting to write again. Always a good sign for writers.

        You’d been saying in another response that you’re experienced and self-aware enough to know what you can do to bounce back. It can be the smallest things, can’t it? I don’t think the right perfume has ever failed me when I needed it to, and I’m pretty good at choosing the right one. It’s self-preservation sometimes, honestly. A lot of things have the power to cheer me up, fortunately. I indulge in them all, not always in moderation, but know when to say enough’s enough. For the most part.

        (Strangely enough though, apropos of nothing, unlike nearly all of my friends, dark chocolate doesn’t hold magical restorative powers.)

  7. myreelaesthete

    Lovely leather post. I’ll need to go find these now. Was just sampling Dame’s Leatherman, Black Leather Jesus, and a few others. I also appreciate the honesty about burning out and crashing, which describes my last week. I hit a wall and stopped moving and covered my arms in scents and dove into A Tale of Two Cities. I believe none of us are alone in those feelings, especially now.

    • I mean there is always an element of guilt in anything that might come across as ‘woe is me’ given the state of things and how many people are actually facing grief and loss, but in my case, and I only can talk about my own case, obviously, this was the end of the school year and it was a big crescendo and then totally off the cliff….The great thing about not being a teenager or person in their twenties, though, is that from experience, as you say, you know you will be down for a while and then come back up again. I am lucky in that I am not a depressive type, which is much worse: no joy, no looking forward to anything – I am more hyperyang and overly absorbent of stress than a dour or miserable type: a kind of hysterical sponge, which is why it is completely essential to do NOTHING sometimes. As you say, not even MOVE. I think it is really underrated, actually; the pressure to always be active is stupid. Sometimes, like a cat, you just need to rest. And rest big time. Diving into a book – I haven’t read A Tale Of Two Cities for 35 years – is the perfect way to restore one’s mind; there is nothing like the stimulating serenity of reading. My partner D was burned out as well this summer, as is any teacher surrounded by students pre-vaccination, hardly able to breathe in masks, always anxious about the virus, to the point where he had become utterly sociophobic and getting more and more distracted so he could hardly hear what I was saying. I was getting worried about him, actually, but he had three weeks longer holiday than I did from the middle of July and the solitude did him wonders: he just spend the entire time reading on the balcony or pottering around and doing odd jobs around the house then finally came back to himself again. It has been a year from hell.

      As for leather perfumes, I don’t think I really carry them off very well, which is probably why I prefer classic leather chypres that have a subtle undertone of leather but not in your face dungeon gimp. Having said that, one recent leather that turly blows my mind is A Lover’s Tale by Francesca Bianchi. Unbelievable! Have you smelled it?


  8. Tora

    I missed you while you were silent, and I kinda knew that you were in a slump, because I was and still am overwhelmed by all the sadness these days. On my drives for errands I listen to NPR and the news has been too much. Having the vaccine no longer helps me feel safe. I mask everywhere now. My pregnant daughter, little sister, and 6 good friends have gotten covid while fully vaccinated. No serious illness, but they did get sick and three lost their taste and smell. All the states with horrible Republican governments that are anti vax and anti mask are killing their constituents. I am so overwhelmed by their murderous stupidity. Helps us all!

    • I fully empathize with what you are saying, and how terrible that despite being vaccinated your friends have lost their sense of taste and smell. I really hope it returns. Right now, although I know I am not ‘safe’, after the sheer levels of anxiety of the last year, I am determined to enjoy my freshly vaccinated status and not worry too much about it all, although what you have written here will certainly make me careful about taking no risks.

      There was an interesting article I read, actually, about the loss of smell: perhaps you could send it to the people you know that are affected, if they haven’t read it already. May things get better!

  9. I had a feeling you were away for a bit trying to regroup, as I have been for a little while as well; just now really getting to emails, only FBing a bit daily to see the world is still moving. Glad you are feeling better and more yourself.
    I adore leathers, I am such a leather lover it is crazy, and I have to say Empreinte is truly an under the radar leather scent. It isn’t an “in your face” type, but a plush, and subtle little number that slowly lets you in on its secret leather undergarments. A real treasure.
    The other two I am not familiar with and sadly will probably not be able to try the Serge, now that they are pulling out of US shops. So I will have to wait until the eventual day I am abroad, whenever that may be, to give it a sniffa.
    I do love Serge though, so maybe it could be an interesting blind buy? Peut-etre?

    • Serge are pulling out of US shops? How can that be happening?!

      I was assuming you would know and enjoy Empreinte – YES ! A perfume that ‘slowly lets you in on its secret leather undergarments’.. A perfect description. I love how it evolves – it takes quite a while, and then smells like a white leather coat rather than a big steaming black leather saddle.

      Sometimes we absolutely do need to withdraw for a bit and regroup as you say. Hope you are doing ok in the madness of this world we are living in. x

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