Friday, 25 January 2013

Mysterious perfume

   By August we were sleeping with all the windows thrown open. That was why, when I became aware of the scent, I assumed it had come from outside.
It was a voluptuous scent: vanilla with rose and the heart of ripe melons, held up by something sterner, a leather maybe, with a hint of wood smoke. The first time it stole into my consciousness I was half-wakeful in the early hours, in the act of coming around from one dream before settling into another.
    Gradually it faded, and I must have gone back to sleep. In the morning I examined every possible source but nothing came close to replicating that fragrance. I decided it must all have been a highly charged dream. (…)
   After an absence of about a week it returned, and continued to do so, though with no discernable pattern to its reappearance, and with slight variations on the ingredients of the scent. At times it carried essence of vanilla, sometimes a robust note of chocolate and cherries. It might linger only for a few minutes, but strongly, or less distinctly for up to an hour. Some nights it was carried off by a whisper of wind in the courtyard trees, an ethereal smoky lavender.

                                                                                From The Lantern

Following my last post about perfume and holy spirits, here's an extract about fragrance from my novel. A scent is at the heart of The Lantern, with its roots in the herbs and flowers that grow wild on the hillside, and the lavender fields beyond. Even when there is no spiritual dimension, aroma releases memories and opens a powerful sensory path between the past and the present.

The perfume in my book is a mysterious concoction that comes and goes with no obvious source. So I was more than intrigued by Strange Invisible Perfumes, a botanical perfumery based in California that uses only organic, wild-crafted, biodynamic, and hydro-distilled essences.

Using a strictly botanical library of scents, perfumer Alexandra Balahoutis creates enchanting fragrances with no synthetic approximations of essences that cannot be extracted, like gardenia and violet. Looking closer into her library of perfumes, I found one that is very much in the spirit of the imaginary one that I mixed, using only words on the page, for my novel: Essence of Ix – a “brambly, stirring, floral” with white sage, roses, blackcurrant, Californian lavender, wild honey, and French oak.

I've been asked many times whether the Lavande de Nuit scent I wrote about in The Lantern is available to buy anywhere. Sadly, this perfume exists only in my imagination, but I can offer the inspirations.

Obviously there are lots of lavender scents, but my favourite is from L'Occitane de Provence. It's rich and sweet, and authentically redolent of the region. I've also discovered the well-loved Catalan cologne Agua Lavanda by Puig that has the requisite sense of history, created in the early twentieth century in a modest local distillery.

The closest complex lavender perfume to Lavande de Nuit I've yet found is Absinthe Verte which is one of several scents in a range called A Taste of Heaven by Kilian. It's an unfolding blend of lavender and vanilla and thyme, with oak moss and a hint of patchouli and spices. Very lovely, very very expensive. But I happen to know there are samples at Saks 5th Ave in New York!

And then there's that fabulous old-timer, Jicky by Guerlain. Launched in 1889, it mixes lavender with a zesty sprinkle of citrus which dries into an alluring creme brulee note, but then after a while the vanilla hunkers down into smoky leather with a sexy animal note of civet. Dangerous stuff and a true inspiration for the fictional Lavande de Nuit.

Along with lavender, there's is a perfume called L'Eau d'Hiver in the Frederic Malle range: this has the white scents of almond, heliotrope and spring flowers. The woodsmoke and vanilla comes from Serge Lutens' Un Bois Vanille. It is possible to mix either of these with the lavender (spraying in layers on the skin) - quite fun to experiment with the quantities of each, but if you do, go easy as the last two are both strong and distinct and easily overpower anything in their way!

The online magazine The Good Life France has posted an interview with me today, in which the question about whether certain aspects of my novel are true, including the mysterious can read it here.

P.S. If you're a loyal reader and feel this post has a ring of familiarity, you're right; it's a re-edit and combination of several earlier posts that I thought worth putting out again to link with the interview. 


Maureen said...

Enjoyed reading the interview; thank you for making it accessible.

Marcheline said...

I asked you before if you'd ever tried "Amber & Lavender" by Jo Malone, but I can't recall if you said you had. If not, it's a definite must-smell!

I'm still wearing the Absinthe Verte every day, which I bought on your recommendation. It's addictive!

Deborah Lawrenson said...

Hello Marcheline, No I haven't yet tried the Jo Malone but I certainly will when I emerge from my work zone. Looks like amber and lavender is an old French combination - found a picture of a vintage bottle from Grasse: Eau de Lavande Ambre (I posted it on my Author Facebook page. Fascinating stuff (to us, anyway!).

Bunched Undies said...

Really enjoyed the interview and pics. Thanks for posting it.

Vanessa said...

It's interesting how different lavender perfumes vary so widely. It's not a fragrance that suits me but I do love the smell of lavender.

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