It’s almost impossible to think back to a time when you could wander around a city maskless thronged with shoppers and go perfume hunting; spend the day going back and forth, stopping for coffee or cocktails, excitedly taking scent strips from your bags and pockets, forming ideas about which ones you think you might need. I can’t even fantasize about this now as the threat of others’ breath has contaminated the pleasure. It will take a long time to detraumatize. Many people reading this might not even have been outside their living quarters for a year, or if they have, only for essentials – not indulgent luxuries. Others might have ventured into town and experienced the semi-pointless and awkward rigmarole of trying to lower your mask to insert a scent blotter into the papered contraption for nasal perusal while carefully not exposing another to your asymptomatic killer virus and sort of sniffing it but not really enjoying it because perfume is not something to be done in half measures.
Some of my best ever perfume shopping experiences have been in Paris. I went with Helen for one trip, and another with Duncan, and it was bliss. Just wandering about down the avenues on your way to the next destination down this street or other, mentally calculating your rapidly dwindling finances and wondering which ones you will be able to take home. Back at the hotel, excitedly taking out your purchases and hoping you won’t spill them before you even get on the plane. There is nothing else quite like it – Caron, Serge Lutens at the Palais Royal, Guerlain on the Champs Elysées; Montale, Maitre Parfumeur Et Gantier, so many possibilities; rather than the standardised department store with its made-for strip lighting concessions and the encircling assistants in their false eyelashes and sallow jaundiced foundation, you are in beautiful old buildings, boutiques with restaurants and bistros you can pop over the road to when you need sustenance. If there again I would dart into Dusita to experience the perfumes in their home environment and have some tea with the owner; make my way to the Nose Boutique, Sens Unique, Parfums de Nicolaï as well as the gallery of niche that is Jovoy (I love places you can step outside like this to get fresh air and come to your senses, relocate your brain and nose rather than the interminable escalators and artificial fluorescence of Harrods or Selfridges and Galleries Lafayette / Printemps where the claustrophobe in me is often worse for wear).
I like to enjoy it, take my time.
Now I am on spring break at home, I am trying to declutter the shambolic living circumstances we have been living in for far too long by rearranging my perfume bottles bit by bit and trying old samples that have somehow escaped my attention. I know I liked Jovoy’s 60’s musked patchouli Psychedelique enough to include it in my book, along with the excellent La Liturgie Des Heures, (which I think might be my favourite ever frankincense. Really lovely). The final part of this 2011 trilogy by perfumer Jacques Flori that I had semi-neglected is L’Enfant Terrible, a rich, warm, and woody spice balsamic very redolent of Feminité Du Bois (Virgina cedar and sandalwood melded with dates and a deliciously spicy, almost medicinal, initial accord of nutmeg, caraway, coriander and orange). I don’t know if the base is as perfect as the original Shiseido in extrait, but the beginning is better in my book than the current version of Bois. I really like this as a late winter bloomer before the hot weather kicks in, and Cocteau’s novel ‘Les Enfants Terrible’ from 1929 was one of the first works I ever read in French : I have always loved his generally surrealistically elegant aesthetic. The Jovoy range also features a perfume based on Sartre’s existentialist play Les Jeux Sont Faits as well as 27 others I have never smelled. Have you? My curiosity is re-piqued. Plus, my sense of humour is naturally drawn towards any perfume called ‘Diplomatic Incident’.