There is a lot of misunderstanding among those not in the know about perfume how long it actually lasts. Yes, some perfumes do ‘turn’. But many do actually in fact last in perfect – or near perfect – condition for decades, particularly if boxed. You can get an old Guerlain from the fifties or sixties and sit in utter amazement as you lift up the unstoppered flacon and inhale the incredibly unsullied beauty. Rochas lasts very well, as does Hermès. Caron extraits can remain immaculate for half a century, or even longer – no problem, their unctuous oils untroubled by time. Quality perfume is often a lot more resilient than you might think.
But what about the other products that are often sold together with liquid fragrance? Are they as durable? Soap, body lotion, shower gels? Not really. Obviously it depends; and I know nothing about chemistry so cannot comment on how different compounds deteriorate over the years in the scientific sense, but from my personal experience, these auxiliary extra indulgences do lose their scent much more quickly. Sometimes if you buy what was once a luxurious soap, deeply infused with your fragrance, it is now, with the passing of time, nothing much more than a mournful faint remembrance of its former self. If it is a cheap bargain bin mystery I don’t mind it his, and enjoy using it anyway, but if I pay more than I should for these elegant toiletries I can’t deny that there is sometimes a slight feeling of deception (look, though! a pristine rectangular stiff white paper box of Chanel Nº19 soap! How could I not? And the glorious ridiculousness of a Rive Gauche soap that comes in its own YSL plastic container and that inimitable silver, blue and black iconic packaging that I have always hugely enjoyed looking at (and which I might therefore take to work when it is used up and then fill it with paperclips…..) Being me, it is often impossible for me to resist such an item, because if it does pay dividends in the bath or shower, I will be set up for the rest of the day. I love how a well-scented hard soap lasts and imparts a more abstract groundwork for the rest of the fragrance, the same DNA, just a different branch of the family – a different perspective – which will then meldeven better right from the start when you apply the actual perfume, like a sword lowered into a chamois leather sheath.
Unfortunately, the soaps you see pictured above were quite disappointing. At least initially. Very underwhelming. Not very perfumed. I think what happens is that while the core of the product often stays scented, the outer layers get exposed to the air or the light over the years and gradually become much more attenuated. And so I was bored and a bit miffed with the generic old lather these were generating: not sufficiently scented, even, to accurately resemble the perfumes in question.
But now that the soaps are half used, a few baths and showers down the line, I am excited to report that they are really starting to come into their own. And both are divine. I have had better Nº19 savons de toilette in the past – some of the most pristine vintage versions of these soaps are utterly incredible in the iris and dark vetiver leather aura they produce as you are using them (current soaps in the line bear no resemblance whatsoever to this scent – I consider the modern version an entirely different perfume, ; quite a nice fresh green muguet/iris/modern sandalwood, but nothing like the original); but I used this original edition yesterday and was in love, seduced into a kind of hot water zen state until the time I started saying to myself “No : : : don’t use all of it now”. Likewise, the extraordinarily pleasant Rive Gauche savon, which, as a classic floral woody aldehydic template I use as a pre-base for wearing Calandre or Farouche (both by the same perfumer, Michael Hy), feels quite different from using a standard modern soap or shower gel, which I often do like by themselves in a different context, but not the way that they, and many shampoos and fabric conditioners, contaminate the scent profile you have carefully been preparing for that day, which then puts me in a state of permanent olfactory irritation. This is the beauty of a great soap like these when you find them – they give you harmony (which is is making me wonder, now, about a whole cache of vintage soaps I spotted the other day at a shop in Ofuna – Calèche, Eau D’Orange Vert, and intriguingly, Equipage, which I would really like to try in order to whip myself up into a more masculine lather – but they are not cheap, I think they were asking for 1400 yen each for the larger size and you never know which way they are going to go – nicely perfumed, or sud duds -until you use them. Mmm. I am tempted, but am currently trying to economize).
With its ergonomic container though (more soaps should come with a hermetically sealable dish like this!), I am going to take the Rive Gauche with me today in my travel bag on our trip to Shizuoka. We are travelling down and staying a couple of days to see the cherry blossom and do a mini hanami (flower viewing party) with some friends, go to a strange open air art museum with bizarre sculptures in the middle of nowhere and perhaps do some filming ; just catch up, generally, and take in the natural scenery of the prefecture famed for its fields of green tea and proximity to Moun Fuji- undoubtedly we will come home ladened down with matcha-themed souvenirs. On the way back from Mishima, we will also go to the cinema to see the only film I am willing to travel so far to experience – the newly released here Memoria, by one of my favourite ever directors, the visionary Apichatpong Weerasthukul, starring Tilda Swinton. I can’t wait to sit in an art cinema in a new city; scented correctly; lose myself; and bliss out into dreams.