I spent a lot of time as a child and an adolescent with my cousin Caroline. One year older, Piscean and ultrasensitive like me (a more outwardly confident and outrageous Sagittarius), both often to the point of being total nervous wrecks at certain points in our lives, we were whispering childhood confidantes, occasionally spending weekends together at our grandparents’s house, climbing trees in the garden, flicking through pop music magazines, ogling films, gossiping about school crushes… and though I was always the pale, skeletal goth vegetarian weirdo of the family and she thought, and still thinks, I am mad, she willingly let me re-enact The Cure’s Close To Me video one day at our house, shrieking hysterically while I shook her upside down in a wardrobe full of clothes as I poured bottles of water in through the head in the door to recreate Robert Smith’s spectacular fall from the cliff.

That, and the time we almost choked to death laughing, red faced as piglets, asphyxiating in disbelief as we watched the Mr Creosote scene in Monty Python’s Meaning Of Life, are memories we still come back to when we meet (I remember being upstairs at her house using the loo and hearing quite alarming, air-stopped sounds coming from the living room below where Caroline was hurriedly coughing and suffocating trying to rewind the video trying to get back to the gaggifyingly hilarious bit I had just missed; )

Though nowhere near as thick as thieves as we might have once been, we have kept in touch over the years, were only recently singing songs in the garden at my parents’ last summer with all the rest of the family, and still, with the ease of private communication that is Facebook Messenger, occasionally help each other through crises. She has been through hell and back recently, but is hopefully now coming through it all to the the other side to a more positive phase in her life – which is why it was so lovely, late last night, at an old antique shop in Yokohama, to stumble across her signature scent from the period that we spent so much time together – Red Door, by Elizabeth Arden – and in never seen or smelled before, for me, rare parfum to boot.

Me, Caroline, and Matt – a boy who I was desperately, passionately in love with at the time – and who I couldn’t tell anybody about – not even Caroline, and certainly not him

A photo taken by Caroline in Tudor Grange playground circa 1986:

Matt, my best friend, Helen, who was going out with him at the time (the pain! ); our friend Joanne standing obliviously in the middle; next to her, the girl who I have my arm around, my girlfriend – Jessica, who I now realize looks a little like a young Madonna Ciccone , and then, on the right, the Duran-hairstyled yours truly, attempting very unconvincingly to act like a boyfriend – what a mess !

With far more mainstream taste than me – I am sure she liked Chris De Burgh’s Lady In Red, a record I loathed beyond belief along all her Phil Collins and Richard Marx and which made me openly scream aloud in teenage disdain; loved Whitney, whose albums I would be forced to listen to and who I have always thought was dreadful foghorn bombast – I vividly remember her wearing Red Door one Christmas when The Bodyguard soundtrack had just came out and I must admit that it did smell perfect on her at the time, melding guiltlessly with the music … although she would also sometimes play records in her room at my aunt and uncle’s, five minutes bike ride down from our house, like Mister Mister’s Broken Wings and Bon Jovi and Level 42’s It’s Over and Peter Gabriel that I pretended to hate but actually liked.

Where we came together perfectly was a mutual love of True Blue era Madonna, swooning over Live To Tell and blasting out Open Your Heart into the empty sky beyond in a state of beautifully blinkered, suspended future; Kate Bush, particularly The Man With The Child In His Eyes, the summertime bliss of Scritti Politti’s Word Girl (Flesh And Blood); a huge penchant for Barbra Streisand’s exquisite Evergreen, which she would play over and over on her turntable……… Caroline is a true, bleeding heart romantic, a Princess Diana …source of so many of her woes and undoubtedly the reason why she loved films like Pretty Woman (I intended to hate it at the cinema when it came our but fell in love with Julia Roberts like everybody else, I couldn’t help it)….since she had always had a massive, hearthrobbing thing for Richard Gere in Officer & A Gentleman- with, unfortunately, a real life lookalike, later on, who completely broke her heart.

Red Door, Caroline’s perfume that embodies so much of that era now, is conservative; very American, and very eighties (people hate it on Fragrantica for its ‘smells-like-my-grandma’ vibe, others adore it for the convincing paired down opulence of its no nonsense construction; I am adamant, personally, that someone could still pull this off, particularly in the rather delightful extrait version I smelled this morning that loses some of the Sharon Goes To The Disco with David quality of the thinner (tackily reformulated) iterations, and concentrates things down to the glowful gritty, with a powerful, eugenolic, carnation tuberose orange blossom sandalwood, freesia honey cedarwood syrup medley by author Carlos Benaim – a perfumer with a very impressive resume (Quorum, Eternity For Men, Polo, Havana Pour Elle, robust floral scents like original jasmine heavy Carolina Herrera and the redoubtable Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds, as well as more recent niche creations for Frederic Malle, Nishane, and the gorgeous neroli masterpiece, Berber Blonde by Sana Jardin); the man is no fool, and certainly knows how to construct a solid vision. He knew what he was doing here as well, because Red Door was to become something of an indestructible megahit.

This is ultimately the problem with Red Door (I also always wondered what ‘Open The Red Door!’ was trying to suggest, although I am sure that thought never crossed most of Middle America’s mind).

The very issue is the solidity; the rigid self-assurance and lack of air and nuance, the blind arrogance of Reaganite America. Despite the big beating red heart of romance that definitely exists in the perfume – which I think could still work well, in small doses, at a wedding anniversary dinner or a date (and I did have some pangs this morning of nostalgia smelling it again), there is still an unthinking, quite politically unaware conceitedness in this perfume that belongs very much back at that time – though I bet you any money that you can still smell this in many homes across the United States and beyond : it has that tenure; that tenacity.


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  1. I have enjoyed the snap shot of your memory. I had a strange memory of my own connected to Tommy Girl and a lost love contained in the heart of a buxom redhead. I often remember Celine Dion’s To Love You More playing in the background when I called her, not knowing that it should have been the last time.

  2. tonkabeany

    You write about that part of our lives so beautifully!

  3. Tonkabeany

    Mr Creosote though, I knew I was meant to find it outrageously funny, but even now all that vomit traumatises me, I can barely look at the picture!

    • Yes and Julia seeing it – I should have put a warning

      One point where we differ in humour – I am dying to see Triangle Of Sadness for that very reason

      • emmawoolf

        You must watch Triangle of Sadness. It is absolutely hilarious

      • Yes it was on at the cinema the other day and I really really wanted to go and see it but it was a cold and rainy day and I had to go to Yokohama and at the time couldn’t quite muster up the energy. Glad it is good though – will definitely watch it!

  4. emmawoolf

    Really enjoyed reading this, N. I was swept along by the tale of teenage years. Can picture it so vividly. The excitement and vulnerability of youth. Envy the closeness you had with your cousin – I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way about anyone in my family. And wow. Those school photos. Sooo 80s. (And I can see the vulnerability behind the flicked fringes…) x

  5. 1989. My first year at pharmacy school. Moved from the tiny cowtown of Sonoma to the glamorous metropolis of San Francisco. Or so I thought. In reality SF is a bit grubby and run down.
    There was an EA Red Door Salon on Union Square in San Francisco at that time. I worked about a block away at the Estée Lauder counter at Neiman Marcus department store on weekends. ( Zowie, did I think I was hot stuff wearing a black miniskirt, black tights, and powder blue lab coat with huge shoulder pads and stitched white EL logo) As I recall, Samsara and Red Door were the perfume hits of 1989, and I hated both of them. Red Door with its base of oily musk, toilet paper powdery violets, and matronly rose-geranium notes definitely had a vintage makeup scent (which is what I think Benaim was going for) but seemed like granny’s purse to me. Samsara with its wizened peach and ancient embalming spices was not too far from ELs Cinnabar (which I also loathed) so I didn’t get what the fuss was about. I deemed myself chic and superior wearing the upstart Laura Biagiotti’s Roma, got lots of compliments too!

  6. Robin

    Love the reminiscing accompanied by those poignant snapshots. What a cutie you were with that wide sweet grin, wild mop of hair and secret yearnings. If we’d been classmates I know you would have been very dear to my heart and had me giggling at all the wrong times. You know how much I like reading about your quintessentially English childhood.

    Red Door parfum. I’d like to sniff it. I never met Ric’s mum Lillian, but I know she had her precious annual bottle of Red Door like most housewives in rural Alberta, the fanciest fragrance you could by in the nearest large town’s single drugstore. She died suddenly in 2012 and her youngest son still has her last bottle, nearly full. I confess I never liked it, just so aggressive and stifling, so American, but if anyone could have made it smell okay to me it would have been Lill. It’s corny to say she was loved by all, but she really was. Wish I’d had the chance to know her.

    • This is very poignant to read – glad there is still a full bottle of her scent to still smell: it really can bring people back to life, even if it there is something about RD in itself that can grate for some reason.

      As you intuit, the parfum has an ‘extra’ element that takes it slightly beyond the familiar silhouette we all know too well.

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