I originally wrote this jubilantly just after Obama’s re-election in 2012.
Oh the pain now …….
I originally wrote this jubilantly just after Obama’s re-election in 2012.
Oh the pain now …….
Habit Rouge, in my humble view, is one of the most unique and troubling scents of all time. It is one I own but find essentially unwearable – I use it instead to scent red velvet curtains and the like, once basing a whole party in Tokyo on this theme: all the scarlet velours banquettes sprayed copiously with this decadent and headily enigmatic smell, the guests all clad in dress code red…
A curiously ghostly creation, despite its supposedly manly credentials, this perfume, for me, is rather more like a melancholy, powdered octogenarian traipsing confusedly and crimsonly about his old mansion, down whispering, cobwebbed corridors; in long silk dressing gown and softly pressing pantouffles; in the cold, and spine -tingling, dead of night.
This house is probably haunted. A headspinning, olfactive evocation of long, wintery passages; old, stuffed, armoires; and crisp, freshly laundered sheets. But still: : : the shadows; over there…….in the corner……
Later, once this astounding and inimitable mirage (a brilliantly creative synergy formed of anti-intuitively oppositional forces of opoponax and benzoin, of orange blossom, carnation, cinnamon, versus a deliciously fresh accord of bergamot, lavender, pimento and lemon) has begun to slowly dissipate, there is then, finally, the musky, leathery, patchouli/vanilla heart finally more in keeping with the image the name of the scent was originally supposed to evoke: a confident, and elegantly attired monsieur and his red riding habit, galloping across the French countryside, off down the avenue of trees of lime, over fields and meadows and into the distance…..
It is all strangely beautiful. But as I say, I have always found this perfume very difficult to wear. On me, for whatever reason, it smells far too feminine; too ‘old queen in powdered wig‘ somehow: sad, plumped up and poudré (let there be no doubt that certain perfumes are slimming, while others are quite definitely fattening), even though Vol De Nuit and Shalimar are, conversely and ironically, quite the contrary: warm and enveloping, replete…..
Having said this, there will always be something about Habit Rouge that fascinates me. In my view, Jean Paul Guerlain has always been criminally underrated as a perfumer, seen as being inferior to his illustrious, Parisian forbearers. But though different in the style to the great Grand Dames perfumes of Jacques Guerlain :Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue, Apres L’Ondee and all the rest of those museum-ready masterpieces, the brilliantly innovative and always perfectly executed perfumes of the sixties and seventies, such as Vetiver, Habit Rouge, Parure, Chamade, Chant d’Aromes and Nahema are, in my view, quite their equals: complex, full of stories: inspired and inspiring, ambiguously intricate webs of (candle) light; of love, and darkness, and the sensuous, invisible lines of sweet, untraceable mysteries.
The widening gap between the words and the smell is getting hard to take.
I write The Black Narcissus because I adore the potential of what is written on the screen to evoke the invisible olfactory sense – ungraspable and difficult to communicate linguistically- but a challenge I always enjoy, endlessly.
Yet I am also fully conscious of even my own tendency to be verbose or to reek of hyperbole at times, to want to drench myself and you in Baudelarian decadence and the dying breath of flowers (see I have already started doing it), to arouse the senses in this simultaneously overstimulated, but sensorially flat world that we find ourselves in.
I live for beauty, I understand it. But with the sheer diluvial number of new perfumes available, it seems the purveyors of these scents are not only competing for shelf space, now, but also for the sweet lies of breathiness, PR, and supposedly seductive bullshit.
Venenum Kiss, described as “opulent and poisonous” by this new fashionable niche brand who have set up shop in Paris, is a nice name for a perfume : I am all for Poison (especially if it is by Christian Dior). But if you are going to give a scent that name, you had better deliver the goods.
“Les sillages sont tonitruants..the sillages are thunderous” intones the card inserted neatly in the white, satin bag that the promotional edition of the perfume comes in.
Er, actually they are not, mon petit amour, they are subdued, boring as hell, and thoroughly, thoroughly, typical of practically any oudhish (though that note is never mentioned) modern woody oriental out there on the generally mediocre, and very deeply oversaturated, market.
“Wherever you go at night, you succumb to this same hypnotic smell. The obsessive caress of amber and suede, the velvet breath of rose and saffron…. the strong and intense feel of an electric night in the Orient”….
The lover, here, is all eyes and come to bed with me glances, but I find myself yawning and demurring and thinking about tomorrow’s breakfast.
How will I get out of this…….
In truth, Venenum Kiss isn’t at all a bad perfume per se. It is a well-blended scent with its own internal harmony; the apricottish top notes blending neatly into a rose/saffron/wood/ambered structure you have smelled a million times before, but they are well done. Some people, especially those that have never come into contact with a real perfume before, might be beguiled. In terms of texture, it is quite close to the skin and touchable, suave – and modish, certainly – if not directly kissable, but you certainly wouldn’t be poisoned by it, for god’s sake, writhing in paroxysms of agony and ecstasy as she or he derides you dismissively and slams shut the door (and there I go again).
No, you, or at least I in any case, would remain unmoved. Totally. And this has suddenly reminded me of a kiss at dawn, in Rome, I once had and that had almost forgotten.
I was at the age we are at our most (conventionally) attractive. I was twenty one, blonde (‘il biondo inglese’) and living in Testaccio, just down the road from Keats’s final resting place in the beautiful Protestant Cemetery (see my piece on Caron’s Violette Precieuse for more on that), and would be out clubbing on an almost nightly basis. Testaccio is a fascinating part of Rome – such a beautiful city; writing this is making me deeply miss it – but although the well known landmarks are equally astounding – wandering in the Foro Romano at dusk; the exquisite pleasures of the Villa Pamphili, where we would lounge about all day on the grass, drink prosecco and just talk about life, love and death; the beautiful and flower-strewn, winding streets of the ancient Trastevere area (just down the road from my apartment where I was living with three university friends), Testaccio had an appealing, grittier quality, combining ancient Roman graveness – the pyramid that St Paul saw before he was martyred part of the cemetery wall, old villas and churches, fused with the more dangerously erotic realism of night time Roman seediness: married men courting Brazilian transexual prostitutes from their cars, eh bambina, as they trotted about in their high heels and tossed back their synthetic hair, loud and feisty like something from a film by Pedro Almodovar; gay boys lounging about like lizards on the crumbling walls as night turned to day; it was all heady, and exciting, and very, very beautiful.
But I could’t get a break. Not even a kiss. I had been there for six months, and although these people are possibly the most beautiful in the world, or so they say, it just wasn’t happening. This is partly because of my extreme selectiveness: it takes a LOT for me to fall for someone, almost impossible, actually (and smell is a huge contributing factor in all of this: I am so easily turned off!) but it was also a terrible clash of tastes. My friends would try to convince me that this person or that person was gorgeous at some club or restaurant or bar, when I all I would see personally was unoriginal, well-groomed horror (fashion, and neatness is another ultimate turn off for me). Particularly when it was always just so. In that typical, commodified Italian manner: slick; narcissistic; designer. People I did like were unavailable or so shocking to my friends (what, him? Rachel would spit at me, you’ve got to be joking), and so nothing ever actually happened.
But then one night I decided just to go with the flow. Okay, I’ll go out with you, Armani model. Cheek bones, tall (another no-no for me), typically handsome in that bland and beautiful fashion model way, but absolutely what other people like, what is considered attractive (as in all likelihood Venenum Kiss probably will be).
Not me, though. I can’t remember how the evening progressed, but it probably included dancing at the Castello dell’Angelo or just hanging out in the Campo Dei Fiori drinking wine, but I do remember that the inevitable moment came as the sun came up and it was time for this chaste little English boy to go home. There was a tennis court somewhere I think, down near the river, and we were standing against the fence; and then this typical, well-defined, perfectly proportioned face came closer to mine, much to my great indifference (though half the population of the world would probably have been swooning). And, as usual, my instincts were quite right. I felt absolutely nothing.
His kiss just tasted of ashes.
Coco, always Chanel’s most exuberant and joyful creation, to me exudes a conspicuous air of eighties consumption. Blazing gold jewellery and glinting, multifaceted jewels, this woman knowingly struts her real or imaginary red carpet no matter the weather – transforming grey, mundane realities with a brush of the high life.
Though she is loud and a little persistent, this fruity, brassy Miss, you still can’t help somehow inhaling with pleasure her dense, baroque carnival of odorous riches; her compressed, spiced, fusillades of peach, coriander, orange blossom, Spice Island clove; Indian jasmine, mimosa; the heart of Bulgarian rose over an effortlessly shoulder-wrapping base accord of sandalwood, amber, patchouli, leather, and chocolate: that complex, sweet and chewy rapture that is never vulgar (well, maybe slightly ), but still, always, a very likeable scent; fortified internally, forward-looking: the life and soul of the party, and a perfume suffused for me with memories.
After Kabuki in Ginza the other day, we decided to stroll down Showa-Dori to peruse some perfume.
The forbidding Dior store, a towering glass edifice of the utmost, gleaming luxuriance, is a place that I have never before entered, but a sudden whim ( wanting to reacquaint myself with Patchouli Impérial) led to the flourished opening of the heavy, thick doors by the footman, past the twitching and shifting of the assistants, and to the Dior Collection Privée. Or, at least, a selection from it.
Not finding the patchouli, nor the Vétiver, which I remember liking last time I tried it in Harrods, we decided, anyway, to try some other perfumes from the range. Duncan sprayed on the pleasant, but somewhat nondescript, Gris Montaigne; on myself I tried Ambre Nuit (quite nice, ticks most of the boxes), and, on the other arm, Oud Ispahan, Dior in-house perfumer François Demachy’s supreme recent take on some very familiar, Orientalist, themes.
The perfume is effortless. Vivid, and perfectly constructed. Damascena rose essence; Indonesian patchouli; sandalwood, an intense and endless Laotian oud, and to pad out the gaps between the ingredients, suffusing the whole with a powdered, animalic sensuality, a rich and tactile dose of labdanum absolute.
It is flawless. Strong, proud, and expertly crafted.
But I find it boring. Really boring: it is just there, on the skin, triumphant, fashionable, and rather too pleased with itself. The idealized, and perfected, fusion of Paris and the East, perhaps, but, for me, too staid. It clogs the mental pores. There is no room for personal interpretation here, no air, no quirk – just Ispahan Oud : thick, expansive, and diffusive on your skin: too stubborn and expensive (45,000 yen, or 432 dollars) to budge.
No, I hate it (and so does Duncan). It eventually has to be scrubbed off, as I dart into a toilet in Printemps department store to try and get rid of the smell (it proves an actual impossibility – this perfume is very tenacious, demonstrating the obvious quality of the ingredients used).
Still. Instead, around the corner at the modish department store EstNation, I decide to overlay the remains of the Dior with some Montale Aoud Rose Petals: harsh, maybe – piquant, but a perfume I own myself, know to death (along with Aoud Flowers, Aoud Queen Roses, and the most extreme of them all, the fantastically dark and sharp Aoud Lime), to me, more familiar and pleasing smells with which to lay to rest the Ispahan.
I am much much happier here in Montale’s unpretentious, fierce embrace: its freshness and simplicity, its grand oud obsession unleashed at least a decade before anyone else even started thinking about incorporating this classical Arab aromatic ingredient in Parisian perfume and made us sick to death of smelling it: good value, long-lasting scents with sharp and curious beginnings, but always trailing, and memorably seductive, sillages.
EstNation is in fact the only place that you can get Montale’s perfumes in Japan (including two Japan-only exclusives – Mango Manga and Rose Tea), and although they don’t stock the perfume house’s entire range (which is huge – for that you have to go to the Place Vendôme in Paris), the selection, for Tokyo, is quite impressive.
I pick up Royal Aoud, which I don’t really remember. Wow. The notes for this perfume when I look it up are listed as kumquat, grapefruit, oud, and Indian spices, but to me this just smells like a leather saddle; a stallion’s neck in sunshine; muscular, dense; each hair smooth, fragrant, and lit up by the hot afternoon light. Warm; elegant, lustful. Animal. I am not really a horse person, but here I make an exception. I love this beast, and want it: the smell of the sleek, equable blend making me want to caress, kiss; hold on tight.
Yes. Unlike the Dior, with its overly thick and tasteful, door-locked rendering of oud, Montale’s Royal Aoud has some kind of undeniable life here inside its veins.
Spritely. Feral. Real.
I love a perfume with a good story line, and the powdery, illicit backdrop of Poudre De Riz is a good one. It is a tawdry tale with a double dose of sensorial voyeurism, inspired by the French novel Inferno (1908) by Henri Barbusse: a man spying on a frantic adulterous couple in the boarding room next door through a crack in the wall; witnessing, and smelling their aromas; her bath, the splashes of heavy, sweet perfumes to cover up the scent of heat-coupled flesh; and, then, her last-minute attempts to make up her face with lipstick and powders, a disgruntled varnish to mask her true feelings before the arrival of her husband….
But he does of course notice:
“The air in the room was filled with heavy scents….soap, face powder, and the pungent smell of an eau de cologne…..” and the perfume, proficiently blended by Pierre Guillaume, is thus an attempt to capture this coagulation of emotion: of sex, concealment, passion (guilt?) and of the perfected and more preened face that we must present to the world..
Though I sometimes bore myself to tears with my own predictability (tiare monoï oil; coconut; vanilla, benzoin…..surely I am bound to like this perfume?) I really do: it is quite gorgeous and I just can’t help myself, the ‘rice powder’ of the name a pearlescent dust of sheen wavering over a sensual, but controlled and delicate, effluvium of aphrodisia that has none of the stinginess or bitter, ‘avant-garde’ snarl of some niche scents.
Poudre De Riz in fact immediately reminded me of a number of sweet, oriental perfumes that I have worn over the years, while remaining individual enough to merit a full bottle. The beautiful note of Damascena roses shining through slews of animalic, almonded musks comes straight from Louve; the soft, linty, vellutinous white powder Teint De Neige; and the ambered, cinnamony goodness a throw-back to my beloved Obsession For Men before it got spayed by reformulation; (the tolu over cedar and sandalwood note in the base also strangely took me back to that ribald old tropico-classic, Nuits Indiennes by Louis Scherrer…)
Still, the perfume works on its own terms, and all the notes are blended in such a way that despite the story and gourmand overdose, the perfume is never claustrophobic: my own skin always brings out the heavier, vanillic angle of a scent, but I can imagine on certain women that this could smell almost angelic….
We have been talking recently about signature scents, whether of Hollywood stars or just ourselves, and this excessive treat by Kenzo, which is still going strong, was definitely one of mine.
It is a milestone of sorts: the first ‘women’s’ scent I wore with pride, and also a marker of the first years of my time in Japan, when everything was new, exciting and disorientating and I would return to England periodically laden with incense and stories of my experiences, reeking (no, reeking, really) of L’Eléphant. If there is any scent my friends associate with me, it is probably this flamboyant creation, which somehow, for a while, suited me perfectly.
I even wore it to work all the time, unaware at that point of the suffering I was probably causing……
One of my nicknames growing up, which I never liked, was Nelly The Elephant (along with Neil, Neil orange peel, or lemon peel, or whatever peel you like, any chantable derivative of my name) : yet, ironically, for a time I then eventually end up being synonymous with a perfume actually called elephant, a scent I would wear in unbearably huge amounts, and even deliberately spray on people’s walls when I was staying for the night at their houses, taking the perfume association thing to ludicrous levels of self-importance (you WILL smell me and remember me even when I am not there: I will haunt you with the presence of my long, vanilla-kissed trunk…..)
It was always hilarious, though, I must say, to be asked
‘Wow, what perfume are you wearing?’
and be able to answer
…a perfume so intense it actually burns human skin (mine in any case……I always had red patches from the absurd concentration of sensitizing spices and ylang.. and Japanese Parisian aroma chemicals…….maybe it would suit the skin of the great pachyderm itself better: : : : : : : : great runs of cardamom-scented elephants charging across the savannahs and plains, scaring off the yelping cheetahs and lions with gigantic clouds of ylang ylang and patchouli
….a perfume that, quite understandably, still has a small posse of enthusiasts across the world who keep it in production (Le tigre, which I also loved, is now unfortunately extinct)…..
No. The Elephanters truly love its plummy, Christmas cake excesses: its spiced, inspiriting intensity, but more importantly the fact that it elicits such positive, even wild reactions from others (especially in its closing stages). I have practically caused stampedes, wearing this perfume; I distinctly remember the first time I debuted the perfume in a bar in Yokohama, and people were all over me, women especially, sniffing my neck wantonly, excited by its effluvium of everything in the poacher’s kitchen sink.
With a great, bellowing, fanfare, the sweetest ylang ylang flowers; cumin, cardamom and mandarins trumpet savagely from the skin, a perilous stage you have to endure before you begin to wade through the massive, uninhabitable jungle to reach that delicious main theme, which is a rich, buttery accord of vanilla, patchouli and a huge dollop of liquorice.
Gorgeous and grotesque in equal measure, this really is a fun scent to wear out once in a while, but only in cold weather lest you be cloyed to death.
On the wrong, sweaty, hot and greasy day, Elephant is nothing short of an atrocity.
I have had friends who have absolutely loved the scent on me (the closing stages) and then tried it on themselves, only to screech in distress at the initial toxic shock and run like crazy to the nearest source of water and soap. My current big bottle comes from a friend who bought it based on how I smelled, was appalled when he tried it on himself, and immediately handed it over to my willing, grabbing hands.
Sometimes I just take my giant green velvet box of parfum, open the lid, just look at Jicky undisturbed, and let its exquisite emanations reach my nostrils.
The flacon lies benelovent, secure in its felt indentation; safe in the knowledge of its beauty; and what I smell, in these moments, is a work of stunning, fleeting sensations: the living bergamot and lemon essences; a flourishing lavender; a garland of herbs from an English garden: verbena, sweet marjoram, and the tiniest nuance of mint. I am entranced.
But like Narcissus, leaning in at the edge, there lies trouble in these depths……what are the rude aphrodisia lurking down below in those murky waters…..?
I take the bottle and apply the stopper to my skin, and at first, in essence, all is an excelsis deo of perfect harmony.
I inhale : no perfume has more soul.
But the citrus has now gone….
Smiling, warmer notes now appear with the lavender in counterpoint; wisps of sandalwood, and that suave, and – let’s not beat about the bush – faecal undertone (an unembarrassed, frank anality of musk, ambergris and civet, sewn together by les petits mains in the ateliers Guerlain with a more civilized accord of incense, benzoin and coumarin)..and it is here where Jicky, suddenly, becomes more difficult.
In a modern context, this scent is almost scandalous in its animality (and very, very French – you can almost hear them laughing at us paling, moralistic Anglo Saxons running from its carnal openness): and so to really wear Jicky, therefore, to have what it takes, you have to be able to carry off this aspect of the perfume – which is never crude, more a deliciously francophile embellishment of the human ; but if you can, if you can, it can be magical: an ambisexual, historied and haunting skin scent that is simply beautiful – suited to people, not gender.
Jicky is a perfume for libertines.
I can’t wear it, but on Duncan, especially when he is in velvet-jacketed dandy mode, it smells wonderful.
Knowing, adult, and cultivated, a drop here and there is the perfect scented accoutrement.
Any half-decent release in the dire world of commercial men’s fragrance is cause for celebration. And Noir, the latest Tom Ford release from his mainstream collection (his Private Blends are about four times the price), is really rather nice. The louche, airbrushed seductor has come up with a convincing men’s oriental for the twenty first century that will hopefully catch on with modern males and start a new trend for smells that attract rather than repel, bringing some softening and intelligence to the ghastly, weapon-like woody-citruses that usually dominate this market and club you on the head with their heavy-set, meat-head preposterone. I would happily snuggle up to someone wearing this blend and I am sure that there are many others out there who will feel the same.
Tom Ford is a savvy fashion genius who single-handedly resurrected Gucci from the ashes of irrelevance with his Studio 54 background and modern take on the 1970’s night-orchid aesthetic, transforming the company into a behemoth of urbanite cool and sex, the sheen of his bi-sexual decadence unwaning for nearly two decades. With his own eponymous brand and its extension of this glossy-luxe, the clothes, the perfumes, similarly speak of the night; of the finest clubs and restaurants; of nocturnal A-listers who rarely see the light -vampiric trendsetters living the life and rarely leaving the hotel.
So it is easy to see why the Tom Ford fragrance collection has proven so successful. The perfumes are well-made, rich and provocative blends that scream ‘exclusivity’ and (prescribed) good taste in their simple, sturdy design-perfect flacons. True, I have yet to smell a fragrance in the line that I desperately want to own myself, but they are highly regarded by many and deservedly so. For me, though, when I smell any scent from the range, I feel I am sensing arch, elegant, but artificial fumes rising up from the bottlesrather than notes. I think of his scents as exotic poisons crafted in airless rooms – often hypnotic, undeniably sensual and luxuriant confections that sit on the skin like heavy garments, but not those that I can inhale with ease. It is fashion asphyxiating nature; yet this is possibly the whole point. The Tom Ford fragrances really are for dressing up for nights out in the city, and in this regard they work perfectly.
The list of notes in Noir, particularly those in the base (opoponax, amber, vetiver, patchouli, civet and vanilla) reads like an old Guerlain, and Mr Ford has clearly been spending some time doing his homework with plush masterpieces from the house such as Shalimar and Habit Rouge and deciding to revamp them for the modern market. But despite the appearance of Shalimar’s key natural (opoponax, a sweet resin similar to myrrh), Noir is in fact more like a reworking of that house’s best kept men’s secret – the original eau de parfum of Héritage (1992), an aromatic, peppered oriental that shouted ‘hot man in silk robe’ like no other (the edt was always slicker, thinner, sharper – it was the delicious depth of the sadly discontinued edp with its tonka and animal dry down that I always fell in love with).
Yes, Héritage was powdered suavité, a scent that drew you in to its conceited, self-loving swagger, and Noir manages to capture some of this tactile, soft animality with a gently musked and bearded patchouli dry-down that is very sensual – unusual in the current climes of overdone, plastic banality.
That the scent is based on Héritage becomes even more evident if we look at the first and middle stages of the fragrance . The Guerlain began with a sharp blast of black pepper and bergamot; clary sage, violet, and a pinch of nutmeg, developing to a subtle rose and geranium heart before the lustful orientalia began to make themselves known and you realized you were in the presence of a full-blown male odalisque (this could be a great women’s scent as well, by the way). Noir, which isn’t really dark or black in any sense but is clinging, still, to the dull trend of calling everything and anything noir whether the smell merits that description or not, has all the above ingredients and develops in exactly the same way as Héritage, but has added notes of lemon verbena, caraway seed and pink pepper, all of which I find somewhat superfluous. It is less rich and poudré than the Guerlain, as if the icing sugar had been sucked off from the bonbon, and rather than the swiftly dissipating Guerlain bergamot that begins most of the house’s scents, in Noir there is a citronella-like roof to which the others notes rise and stick, rasping and a touch too synthetic for my comfort, a citric pillar thrust down through the downy ambers to keep the oriental alert and emboldened and prevent it from becoming too vieux beau, too Casanova in silk slippers.
This accord eventually attenuates, however, and it really is the base in this scent that works best, with its classic oriental finish : a retro-sassy take on old themes that is worth the wait. Despite a certain throat-tickling insistency from the verbena-geranium accord in the heart, Noir is a scent that may lack poetry but not romance, and it could prove to be another huge hit in Tom Ford’s annals of seduction.
(‘Sophisticated Boom Boom’ is the title of an early album by Dead Or Alive: a question I often ask myself about fragrances from this house)
Charles Baudelaire categorized the dandy as a man who has ‘no profession other than elegance….no other status but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own person. The dandy must aspire to be sublime without interruption…. he must live and sleep before a mirror….’
Yet the true dandy was no mere clothes horse. In cultivating a skeptical reserve with his direct opposition to the unthinking bourgeoisie, these beautifully coddled individualists were following a code which ‘in certain respects comes close to spirituality and stoicism’.
Dandyism was also not limited to the male of the species. There was, of course, Beau Brummel, but there was also Marlene Dietrich. And then Cora Pearl, the ‘quaintrelle’ (woman-dandy) courtesan, whose extravagant income was apparently sufficient to allow her to dance nude on carpets of orchids, bathe before her dinner guests in silver tubs of champagne, probably mildly bored as she did so.
Naturally then, the true perfumed dandy wears perfume for the beauty of the perfume alone; trends and petty concerns over seduction are of no concern. He might therefore wear any perfume in the pantheon; the flowers, the musks, the powders; she might pick a scent from the roaring masculines, a brisk citrus aftershave, and carry it off beautifully. This notwithstanding, the more established image of the powdered, exquisite gentle man or woman and her peacock consorts is served pretty well by some of the following scents and their decadent, nonchalant, graceful ambiguity.
“I wish to be a living work of art.’
(Marchesa Luisa Casati, renowned quaintrelle).
ACIER ALUMINIUM / CREED (1973)
James Craven at Les Senteurs told me that there’s a small but steady band of ‘epicureans’ who come to his shop for this obscurity from Creed, a most eccentric seventies’ concoction that is the perfumed equivalent of the decadent’s unlaundered nightshirt. A curious, metallic-noted orange blossom begins; then, ochred-acacia leaves of Autumn; musky, yellowing powders: leather: and a corrupt (but subtlely: this creature has taste) end of civet-hinged musks.
POIS DE SENTEURS DE CHEZ MOI / CARON (1927)
A collection of old-fashioned flowers for the modern dandizette; she or he who wants to spoil themselves in musky, forlorn sweet-peas, those fragrant flowers scaling trellises in summertime. ‘The sweet peas from my garden’ are powdery, rosy, infused with heavy, trembling lilacs.
EAU DE QUININE / GEO F TRUMPER (1898)
Trumper is the ultimate emporium for the London gent (really, you have to go), and this, to me, is one of their crowning glories. Echoes of the Empire and tropical malaria cures are conjured up by the curative sounding name, and the scent – a gorgeous, luminous and powdery thing laced with rosemary – is odd and beautiful.
SIRA DES INDES / JEAN PATOU (2006)
A warm, overripe breeze. A foetid satiety, and a perfume perfect for the bronzed, sybaritic woman who wants nothing more than to lie down flat on her sunlounger with her gin. One can’t help but think of Sylvia Miles in Morrisey & Warhol’s Heat.
A pronounced banana-leaf top note conveys the sense of the tropics: full bananas, unswaying in the dead, still air: champaca flowers with their drowsy torpor, and an apricot-hued osmanthus over a salivated sandalwood/civet, these listless ingredients adding up to the most ennui-imbued scent I have ever smelled. Sira des Indes is smooth yet enticing, almost angry; and devastating on a woman over forty who just doesn’t give a shit.
PARFUM D’HERMES / HERMES (1984)
Recast as Rouge (which see), Parfum d’Hermès, which has the same basic structure, just dirtier, can still be found in various corners of the world, and I know an antiques shop near my school that has a 400ml bottle that no Japanese person would ever touch (I will, eventually). I know they wouldn’t buy it because the rude animalics here are so blatant that all the flowers, spices in the world just can’t hide its intent. It smells of a dirty mouth covering yours; a Sadeian perfume that would work shockingly well on one of his followers, female or male.
CARNATION / MONA DI ORIO (2006)
Mona di Orio, the perfumer behind Carnation (pronunciation: in the French manner – meaning ‘complexion’ not the flower) seemed to be seeking here the smell of a virgin’s face after a day in the sun – easy prey, perhaps, for the creatures above from Parfum d’Hermès (or Pasolini’s Salò). It is a weird smell at first, something paint-like and sour in among the dirty blooms (wallflower, geranium, jasmine, tinted with musks and styrax), but progresses to a heavenly maiden’s cheek, white; the thick, healthy skin just ready to pinch.
HAMMAM BOUQUET / PENHALIGONS (1872)
The maiden’s male counterpart is Hammam Bouquet; fresh from the Turkish baths with a blush on his face.
Hammam is musky, powdery and pink, with rose otto, orris and lavender over the more manly exhalations of civet and musk. Once the boy gets his breath back, he dons his white powdered wig, his cape, and rushes back earnestly to the Old Bailey.
FRENCH CAN CAN / CARON (1936)
One of the lesser known perfumes from the illustrious stable of Caron (surely one of the Dandy’s favourite parfumeurs…)is French Can Can, made especially for the post-war American Market for a bit of imported ooh la la: a strange, naughty, and now rather anachronistic perfume that treads the line between coquettish and coarse without descending to banality. Can Can is of very similar construction to En Avion (a cool, spicy, violet leather) but overlaid with more garish, extravagant bloom: rose, jasmine and orange blossom kick out from under the tulle. Behind faded, musty curtains lies a decadent heart of lilac, patchouli, iris, musk and amber.
Thinking of a candidate for this perfume (who wears tiers of fluffy petticoats that I know?) I hit upon my friend Laurie, who is never afraid to dress up in extravagant numbers – I can even see her actually doing the can-can – and with the slogan ‘Dancers: powder, dusty lace’ presented her with the scent. She came back to me later (after I had sprayed her bag with the stuff) ‘No: greying crinoline’.
POT POURRI / SANTA MARIA NOVELLA (1828)
Only the dandy would wear a perfume called Pot Pourri. Bizarrely, this has recently become a massive hit with the art crowd in Tokyo (the brand’s reputed naturalness is popular with the refined eco-conscious). It is unusual, androgynous and beautiful: spiced roses, herbs, berries and grasses from the fields of Florence, fermented in Tuscan terracotta urns with darker, interior notes of resins and balsam. The result (medicinal, meditative, aromatic) is very individual; very…..dandy.
What else should be placed in the Dandy’s wardrobe?