Tuesday 14 December 2010

The power of perfume

Josine and I have been friends for thirty years, since a love of dressing up in lacy clothes and getting silly at parties showed we were on the same wavelength as students. Later on, of course, we would bond over the more serious issues of work, relationships, children…but there was always perfume.

Until I met Josine, I would drench myself in fuggy floriental clouds of Chloe and Dioressence on the basis that I liked a fragrance with punch and these instantly evoked memories of previous good times. Ma Griffe was childhood and my mother’s scent. Whenever I smell Opium, even now, (a boyfriend bought me a bottle of Opium and I was thrilled that he saw me as a woman who could carry off that powerful blast of sensuality) I am back at a Cambridge party wearing a slightly strange raw silk dress I have made myself, and anything is possible.

Josine was altogether more sophisticated. She was a Guerlain woman, even then, who knew all the scents and histories of this grande dame of Parisian perfume houses. Not only could she describe all the component parts of Apres L’Ondee, that melancholy old-fashioned iris and heliotrope scent, but she could wear too, though usually she opted for the racier Shalimar and Chamade.

My favourite Guerlain classic has long been Jicky. It was one of the first “modern” French perfumes when it was created in 1889 because it used synthetic oils. A bracing spritz of citrus and bergamot soon mellows into a wonderful lavender, amber and vanillin. Just delicious, though you have to watch for the point when it develops the same dungy tang that an excess of white jasmine can pump into a warm atmosphere.

It’s bad enough for those of us who use perfume as an essential part of our memory archives that perfume manufacturers constantly “update” their scents, even the classics. But worse by far when scents are discontinued. I still mourn the demise of Dior-Dior, that zingy accompaniment to those first months with my future husband.

And I’d only relatively recently discovered L’Occitane’s Ambre, with its gorgeous warm cistus and honeyed wood when it disappeared from the shelves. I found a near-miss at Senteurs & Provence in Apt: Lothantique’s Ambre. It’s lovely too, but for me, between the two it’s the difference in olfactory terms between hearing music played by an oboe when you long for the rich, round sexy notes of a saxophone.


Unknown said...

As your friend Josine, I love this trip down memorylane, with those wonderful sultry, opulent perfumes. However on a sadder note the moneyspinning industrialists and todays "no-smell is a good smell" society, have done away with the kick in the old perfumes. Unfortunately that means that Dioressence now smells like an airwick candle!
To find perfumes with a kick in it ands the opulence of the golden age, try the niche Roman perfume house Profumum Roma. Its tazke on Shalimar is called Dulcis in fundum and certainly has a strong efffect, as I can certify! Whenever I wear it Men follow me down the streets, saying they are caught by teh lovely smell!

Anonymous said...

Very Proustian! I am ashamed to confess that 'Charlie' still takes me back to 1976.

Anonymous said...

Ma Griffe was my Mum's perfume too for many years - I loved it, its stripy box and Carven 'C' shaped lid. Best of all, at one time in the mid 70s British Airways used to have tiny sample bottles in the loos on planes and one her choir trips abroad, she brought one home for me too.

Marcheline said...

I know I keep saying this, but you HAVE to try Jo Malone's "Amber and Lavender".... it's absolutely delicious! It's expensive, so I usually buy the tiny sample sizes ten at a time on ebay for $25. I'm able to make them last a long time, and I wear it every day. Do try some, and let me know what you think!

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