I tend to do the olfactory in blocks. Or perhaps you might want to call it seasons, or periods, or phases – weeks where I only want vetiver or patchouli, months where I am desperate for vanilla and opoponax-laden orientals; tropical white flowers, oranges, or lemon. Right now, it is rose. Heavy, brocaded, spiced, velvet-rose-leather, ornamental chypres: grand, sensual, yet mysterious – like weighted winter curtains to shut out the cold and the outside world in a vast, rococco mansion hidden in the country.
We ventured outside today, properly, for a walk : for the first time in a week, and walked around our neighbourhood, the light exquisite and clear, the air full of clarity and the optimism of a brand new year. Call me naive, but I believe in this time. A time to just recoop and relax and regenerate……………. illness sometimes has the positive flip-side of allowing you to cocoon and shelter and not think: right now, also, we are nearing the end of Season Seven of Dynasty, having watched about 180 episodes since starting it at the beginning of 2016. We are entrenched. Of course I know that this 1980’s soap opera is laughable, ridiculous and over the top, but it is also completely mesmerizing for a myriad of reasons, dramatically; aesthetically (we watch it on DVD boxed sets, on a big screen, with a projector, and it is divine); observing the atmospheres and the fashions change, even though the characters are by and large continuously in the same place and trapped in the same entitled, and privileged, locations (though this familiarity of place is also exactly what makes it so addictive. Despite the absolute artifice, it feels real, like lived experience).
I am fascinated by witnessing, through the flamboyance of the clothes and the styles and the heavily, lacquered makeup – in particular the passionately beautiful face of Joan Collins – the real passing of time, and of the gloriously outdated (and really quite gasp-worthily grotesque and sometimes amazingly beautiful) clothes that these women wear every time that they walk into the room; dazzling; outrageous: the quintessence of late seventies, then early to late eighties fashion that is now nothing less than a joke in some quarters, but which nevertheless, for whatever reason, on me exerts a magnetic, and irresistible, grasp.
And then the perfumes. Every dressing table replete with them. De-labelled of course and carefully photographed so as not to reveal what they are, but you know just from from looking at these women that they smell amazing; strong, overpowering, but perhaps this is one of the things – all this luxe and opulence and sartorial and olfactory unafraidness – that is making me crave these particular scents, these seductive temptresses with claws. As I wrote in my piece the other day, or rather last year in fact (so glad that we have left that one behind and are starting on a new period of time, even if today, I am already harking on about the perfumes of the past, sorry), I have been smothered in all my spiced and luminous roses: Krizia Teatro Alla Scala, the original Armani (divine, and surprisingly masculine in its tranquil and elegant in its inimitable way), and I finally drained my last drops of the beautiful Nombre Noir. Oh well, I can only hope that it one day crosses my path once again. But I am always, in any case, drawn to these scents that are compacted and compressed with their multi-tiered complexities, that radiate out the way that the best perfumes should. Not just cheap, vanillic auras that promise easy sex and no secrets, but wry, enigmatic sphinxes with a hint of the inscrutable; come-ons that say yes, but which warn you, simultaneously, to keep a distance.
In my first dealings with what I call The Witchy Chypres (because they are: these scents are like sorceresses: Magie Noire, Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum, Sisley Eau Du Soir and Jean-Marc Sinan, these perfumes really are Alexis Colby Carrington at her most devilish and haughtily delicious), I describe these cool, semi-precious elixirs as being like black panthers – an animal that, as I child, I would lie in bed and fantasize over and over again that I could just turn into, at will, and then transform, at my whim, into a great soaring bird that could escape any danger or threat and just disappear out the window and into the night.
Today’s perfumes, which I believe still fit into this category of dark, alluring, lip-glossed magicians, are perhaps more lithe and cryptically veiled in the concern of their own elegance; less sly ‘man hunter’, more held together, solitary; a preoccupation with the day and its intricacies, but not necessarily with the eyes that are inevitably cast upon.
Coriandre, for instance, which I have in vintage parfum (current formulations of the edt are said to be wan and uninteresting) strikes me as having quite a lot of similarities with the great 1000 by Patou, which I am still to review ( well in fact I have, somewhere, a maniacally detailed account of the pleasures of opening the original parfum in its beautiful, beautiful boxes and flacon, and then applying the scent, but I lost the papers that I wrote it on, something that has happened quite frequently, in fact) – but in any case both of these cultivatedly high class fragrances are focuses on roses, violet, and patchouli and a magnanimously complex plethora of flowers and herbs and spices that support and cradle their spirits and create something beguiling and understatedly masterful. Coriandre, of course, as its name would suggest, has a noticeable green aspect in the head notes featuring angelica and coriander, though not in any overly distracting way; more as a side point to accentuate the full-bodied (but slender) form of its more sensuous, woody, base notes that on the right person, and in the right circumstances, might really be quite tempting, erotic ……………..reclining, stretched out, in a room somewhere in your imagination, in the moonlight.
Belle De Rauch is a more obscure perfume than Coriandre (De Rauch being one of those perfume houses that was popular in its day but disappeared a very long time ago), a boxed and immaculate parfum that Duncan picked up for me one day from an antiques shop in the nearby town of Zushi. Rich, oiled, but a precursor of some of the other perfumes mentioned here, this immediately struck me as being really quite ahead of its time. While pretty and ladylike aldehydes were generally the order of the day in 1966, this curious and attractive perfume, in extrait, is intense, emboldened, witchy, in its herbed and spiced roses on a bed of thick, natural Mysore sandalwood essence. It has almost feral, yet simultaneously mannered intimations, of a fierce, intelligent, and marvellous woman, self-satisfied and perfectly put together, who will take no crap from anyone: neither her husband, nor her lover.
Parfum Rare, by Jacomo, or Coeur de Parfum, as it was also known in its original form of release from 1985 – the perfume was later tweaked a little and released in 1987 as Parfum Rare – is another hard to find perfume that all true lovers of deep, incense enriched roses simply need to have in their collections. In parfum, this little nugget of ancient Egyptian Cleopatras is so tightly constructed with all manner of spices and balsams and animalics, so dense with perfumed ingredients for its occultist, brooding femme fatale, that it is verging on gloomy and subterranean………sealed; doomed, even; as though you were an archaeologist stumbling upon the tombstone, and golden, glinting, cursed jewellery, of Queen Nefertiti.
Such perfumes – the witchy chypres – might seem outmoded to some people now, reaching out desperately for an overdone plenitude of intricately embellished and deepily embodied roses and dark ingredients that no longer feels du jour and instant and social media-ish and light; but this is, I think, the whole point: not every perfumed person wants to be a likeable goody goody two shoes smelling friendly, and accessible, and fabric softener trustworthy; more shampoo- fresh and wholesome than a nun or a bar of health food shop cranberry-filled granola. Some people wear their perfume more like an amulet or armour, for protection and carnal self-hypnosis………defences that can come down, certainly; but which remain, at the outset at the very least, like fortresses of rich, indefatigable glamour; of sex that you are probably never going to get; and of a bewitching interiority of dignity, aloofness, and enticement.
I love them.