Caron Cocktail

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I don’t know about you, but the recent hot weather has left me craving a scent that’s exuberantly floral. Something cool and white and petally to spray liberally of an evening, after a tepid bath or a cold shower & before the first sundowner. A perfume to calm the fever of heat and complement one’s loosest linen slops, bleached out and soft by constant launderings. This is really the only time of year when it’s permissible to spray fragrance on your easy-wash clothes, knowing they’ll be back in the Bendix and up on the line again in a couple of hours.

Tiare, gardenia and magnolia are all perfect on a langourous summer evening but I’ve been really knocked for six – and not for the first time – by Caron’s 1933 stunner FLEURS DE ROCAILLE. Isn’t it interesting how perfume crushes go in cycles? I’ve been in and out of this one for the past thirty years at least. Maybe not one of the cult Carons, FLEURS is one of the easier to wear. In its day it was as influential and significant as Tabac Blond or Narcisse Noir, letting in light, sunshine and air to a perfume public stifled and oppressed by world recession and Depression. FLEURS DE ROCAILLE was the olfactory equivalent of Jean Harlow’s blindingly monochrome cut-on-the-bias satin; Crawford’s dazzlingly crisp ruffles and the ubiquitous Syrie Maugham cream decor of everyone’s new drawing room. And it’s not just stylish, its witty & fun – in the style of Beatrice Lillie’s surrealist telephone connection via two lilies.

A dazzling whoosh of aldehydes makes the initial hit smell like a foam of iced champagne cascading from a celebratory Nebuchadnezzar. Roses, violets, ylang ylang, lilac and muguet de bois pop pop pop in the pale gold bubbles like wedding confetti while underneath lies a damp green darkness of oakmoss and woods. Maybe the heady signature musk helps to brings out the alcoholic accord, too: Caron had been expert at creating the illusion since their gorgeous 1923 bath essence Royal Bain de Champagne. And here’s a thing: a couple of years ago I blew £1.00 on a bottle of Musk and had been fooling around with it when a visitor called and complained of the smell of flat stale champagne in the apartment. What can I say?

And there’s the hint of another scent in FLEURS DE ROCAILLE, too: a lovely Swedish girl once put her finger on it – “pigs!” she said. “Nice clean pigs!”: the sort of animals, all bathed and scrubbed, that Marie Antoinette might have herded on blue ribbons at the Trianon. It is this audacious whiff of the animalic that gives FLEURS its unique and unforgettable fascination: delicate fairytale flowers in a well-manured, very urban, rockery.

ATT15710Meanwhile I’ve had the rare chance to smell the flower that inspired Frederic Malle’s EAU DE MAGNOLIA: a huge grandifloria bloom the size of a Sevres soup bowl has opened in a neighbour’s garden and overhangs the pavement like Goblin Market fruit. I keep going to have another inhalation: very strange and fascinating, like green lemons rubbed on a metal grater but with an additional curious backnote which is as disconcerting as those pigs but less attractive. It’s as though the citrus is cupped in old dry plastic, a cracked basin from the back of the cupboard – or one of those plastic water beakers we gnawed at school. Truth is stranger than fiction: Editions de Parfums have retained and developed the lovely hesperidics – but wisely left the plastic accord for Mother Nature’s personal use.

The Sweet Smell of Success

Image: independent.co.uk

Image: independent.co.uk

Having sat their exams, thousands now await the dread results in August. Although in my schooldays we sat examinations in all three terms it is with midsummer that I always associate them, from Common Entrance to A Levels: the hot beautiful weather of June and July, the smell of cut grass, roses, linden trees, and chlorinated hair fresh from the swimming pool. The soothing noises of cricket, tennis, hedge clippers and lawn mowers drifted in through the high corded windows. It was obligatory to write with fountain pens – old Osmiroids – and somehow mine ( a brilliant parrot green) always leaked so I’d be up to my wrists in inky Quink by the time the statutory three hours were up.

I can smell that ink now – so pungent and aggressive, but impossible to describe: musty, acrid, exciting and complicated by the scent of the battered old wooden desks at which we wrote and which we mutilated in our agonies with pairs of compasses and razor-knives (officially sold to anatomise frogs in biology classes but available to all comers at Stationery Supplies). I always licked the desks – why, I don’t quite know. Emotion, perhaps? Their flavour was intriguing: woody, salty, waxy: consequently, like mealtimes, the taste and smell of exam rooms are all compounded. Add to the experience the scents of blotting paper, rubbers, much chewed rulers and protractors, pencil shavings; the challenging stimulating smell of expensive creamy foolscap paper; floor polish, dust, sweat and the idiosyncratic emanations of invigilating teachers. One seemed impregnated by chalk; others emanated wet dog, halitosis, expensive soap, tobacco, ripe fruit or even a curious metallic tang akin to iron filings. These body odours were very intrusive as the supervisors prowled about peering over shoulders, pulling ears or checking for cribs written on rulers or concealed in socks and cuffs. There would be much tongue clicking and sighing as unsatisfactory answers were briefly scrutinised before the invigilator passed on down the aisles like the Angel of Death.

My father always said that brainwork makes you famished and I finished all my exams with a splitting headache and a ravenous appetite for the invariable lunch of creamed chicken (people said it was actually mouse as the portions were so generous and poultry was still expensive then) served on dry gritty rice. Two generations before mine students’ nerves were more specifically catered for: they were routinely sent into the examination room with burned feathers, vinegar and smelling salts of sal volatile to ward off faintness

A wonderful recent letter in The Times recalls a trick with perfume to stimulate memory at these testing times. Felicity Bevan from Powys ( the lady would be roughly my age) wrote:

“..when taking ‘A’ levels .. the rumour that we should wear perfume when revising and then wear the same again when sitting the exam did the rounds. Allegedly the familiar scent would help recall the necessary facts and figures”.

Isn’t this marvellous? And something I can’t wait to try out: surely good for memorising anything, from a shopping list to Tennyson. Or for those – are their name is legion – who can never remember the name of their own perfume!

Interview: Papillon’s Elizabeth Moores

Elizabeth

Papillon Artisan Perfumes are one of the most innovative and exciting fragrance houses to emerge in recent years. The three fragrances, each unique yet somehow connected, created by Elizabeth Moores have been met with great excitement with those inside the fragrance world.

Elizabeth is not only charming but most extraordinarily talented; a natural and spontaneous ‘Nose’. Self-taught, she has produced 3 divine scents of stupendous imagination and quality: not for a long time have I smelled such richness, depth and volupte. She is also a mother, keen gardener and equestrienne. A Renaissance personality!

I sent Elizabeth a few questions about her experiences, and approach to fragrance.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be the creator of these 3 unique beauties?

I have always adored perfume, although it wasn’t until later in my life that I started creating my own fragrances. After realising that many of the traditional routes into perfumery were closed to me, I embarked upon a period of self-study, training and reading with the sources available in order to make perfumes for myself. This often led to friends and family asking what I was wearing and slowly I began to create unique fragrances for others. At the time I was a single mum of four, and upon insistence from friends that I should begin selling my perfumes, I decided to create a business with its heart set in my long love of fragrance.

Your scents have tremendous opulence and dazzling shine, a glow, a polish. How do you achieve this superlative expansion and depth?

I weave accords within accords inside each composition; each one layers across the next, like a Patina, if you will, across the perfume to create olfactory depth. I wanted the perfumes to have strong evaporation curves: perfumes that move and display their various facets at different times. Perpetuating the classical composition of perfume, that adopts a roughly 50/50 ratio of natural and synthetic materials, was important to me as I believe it creates texture and the polished finish that you have mentioned. After I have blended the raw materials, I then allow this compound to macerate for 8 weeks. The compound is then diluted with perfumers alcohol, and the finished bottle then macerates for a further 6 weeks.  Through early trial and error I have found that this process is essential in creating the finished perfume.

I love the way your scents have total individuality, and yet seem somehow connected to one another. Maybe this has to do with your source of inspiration: where do you find your ideas?

Inspiration can come from many sources. I have found nature to be particularly influential in the initial emergence of my ideas, but I also find literature, people, places and experiences all play their part in conceptualising the initial sketches for my perfumes. When I first began creating Anubis it was a nameless leather fragrance, a genre I have great love for, which started to take its true form after reading a book on ancient Egypt. Perhaps without even realising it the intense Egyptian imagery began to permeate my imagination and find its way into the perfume. I’m very fortunate that I am not restricted by focus groups and am free to create in my own way. This might go some way towards explaining the connection that people have identified between the collection.
I have never struggled to find my inspiration, in fact quite the opposite. I often find myself overwhelmed with ideas, and have to be selective in choosing which ones will become a fragrance.

Anubis - Paillon Artisan Perfumes

Do you have favourite ingredients? Are your creations influenced by your love of certain oils?

I’ve yet to use a material that I have not liked. I go through bursts with my tastes, one week I am in love with vertiver, but the next week it might be Sandalwood. Anubis was very heavily influenced by a rich Egyptian jasmine absolute I was desperate to use in a composition.   I adore rose in all its forms, and I’m going through a period where I am in love with Rose de Mai. Maybe it’s because the roses are blooming in my garden that I am feeling a particular affinity to this material at this moment in time. I used Rose de Mai and Bulgarian rose in Tobacco Rose.  Angelique allowed me the freedom to use mimosa which always evokes such happy feelings for me. Orris concrete is one of my favourite materials to work with, tiny amounts within a composition can softly blur the edges of a perfume and create a glorious downy finish. I used a huge amount of Orris concrete in Angelique because I simply couldn’t resist! I sometimes smear the concrete on my wrists, and the deep intense smell always reminds me of the backs of my children’s necks when they were babies.

Tobacco Rose from Papillon Artisan Perfumes

If you were to define yourself in terms of fragrance, which perfume would you be?

I resisted the temptation to come up with something highly amusing, and have instead handed this questions over to my daughters who are probably better qualified to answer it honestly!

There can only ever be one fragrance that can come close to defining my mother. It is one which delicately falls as a backdrop to our childhood memories, and still offers its powdery comfort now we have grown. It is Shalimar by Guerlain. From the hundreds of perfume bottles than adorn our house, it is the feathered neck and royal blue top of the Shalimar bottle that is marked with the finger prints of each of us, sneaking in to spritz some, foolishly hoping we wouldn’t get caught, and secretly wishing that it would bring with it the effortless class and glamour that our mother has always exuded. It is not only the memories that we associate with this perfume, but the essence of the perfume itself that makes it so much like her. It is quiet in its power, but is as determined in its morning vanilla burst, as it is in its soft goodnight kiss. It turns heads not with loud insistence, but with a delicate and timeless sophistication that is warm, encompassing, and never fails to catch you off guard and take your breath away. It will never tire of bringing happiness to those around it, weaving new dreams and memories. It is beautiful, and it is constant.

Angelique from Papillon Artisan Perfumes

If we were to ask you for a top tip, one golden nugget of advice, concerning any aspect of perfume?

There are so many things I have learned, but if I were to offer just one piece of advice it would be to step outside your comfort zone. This can evoke new emotions and often our greatest works are constructed in the difficult space outside familiarity. If you dislike rose, wear rose fragrances for a week; try to pinpoint your dislike, and more often than not you may realise that an aversion to a material can be dissected, and trigger new understandings. Be brave, because I promise you, you will amaze yourself!  

         

 

Lavender’s Blue

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Lavender is one of the first benevolent plants we meet as tiny children. It’s non-poisonous, tough, grows more or less like a weed and smells delicious. Most gardens and patios have a bush somewhere. Lavender is one of the relatively floral smells we all know from infancy. It thrives on dry poor soil and is cheap, or used to be. This year however it was going for £10 a pot at the local hardware store on Mothering Sunday which I thought a bit saucy. You can dry it and make sachets or pot pourris to scent the laundry and deter the moth, at least up to a point. I lost some of my faith in that last quality when a favourite cardigan embalmed in lavender was completely devoured by moths, the worst damage being in the region of the pockets which I’d packed with the stuff.

I love lavender and resent the way it is too much associated with faded maiden ladies, an image perpetuated even in the 21st century by the eponymous Maggie Smith/ Judi Dench movie. Miss Marple uses lavender water for high days and holidays; and then there’s that maudlin Gracie Fields song about the Little Old Lady Passing By – “in your lavender and lace”. It’s an English tic, this: the French, Italian and Dutch see lavender as virile and energising, clean and uplifting, healing and calming. They take the aromatherapeutic view, I suppose inherited from the old Romans who loved the stuff and gave it its name, deriving from “lavare” – to wash. They cleansed their bodies with the fragrant healing oil which is yielded by every part of this ancient plant, and laid up their heavy woollen togas in the dried flowers. It was probably Roman colonists who brought the herb to Britain, two thousand years ago.

I grow lavender: the common or garden type, and that fancy variety which looks like lilac bumble bees. And I wear it. My old favourite was Jean Patou’s long discontinued Moment Supreme: purple prose in perfume! Vast amounts of lavender suspended in sweet vanilla and tonka like a medieval flan for an Emperor’s feast. At Les Senteurs we have three especial crackers: Lorenzo Villoresi’s dark, intense, austerely beautiful Wild Lavender which smells like great bunches freshly culled from a wet garden. Caron’s immortal Pour Un Homme, one of France’s perennial bestsellers since 1934, blends lavender oils with a dash of rose absolue and a lingering melting base of tonka and vanilla. It is as soft and relaxed as a lilac cashmere sweater: although it earned its place in perfume history as the first fragrance specifically branded for men, it also works deliciously on a woman’s skin. The jury is out as to whether lavender can be sexy – and I think it is! – but it is certainly (as Tynan wrote of Dietrich) without gender. I rest my case.

And then there’s Andy Tauer’s Reverie Au Jardin.pa This is my current summer favourite, my passion. Andy uses Alpine lavender grown high on the slopes which imbues it with a wonderfully cool, slightly mentholated tang – “cool as a mountain stream”. The dry woody fragrance of lavender is accentuated and exoticised with orris, frankincense and cedar; the sweetness increased with rose and vanilla. There is a glorious generous freshness and a slight juicy fruitiness withal; Reverie Au Jardin is as far as you can get from drawer liners and the old Bazaar & Rummage image. It’s lush, expansive, intricate and as beautiful as a Mediterranean dawn.
Use lavishly.

Spanish Carnations: Vive el Rey!

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It is sad to see the old King of Spain putting aside his crown. When he came to the throne in the 1970’s after Franco’s unspeakably protracted end Juan Carlos was a great golden figure of traditional Bourbon glamour and vigour. The elegant & charming Queen Sofia was said to Hoover her own palaces and there were two pretty neo-Velasquez Infantas plus the little Infant Felipe for the picture papers to delight in: a perfect “Hola!” family to lead Spain out of the long shadows of the Civil War. My friend Dona Pilar who sold newspapers down our road had grown up in a country where women were forbidden to wear trousers nor any garment in red or yellow – the national colours. Do you remember, old books on colour symbolism used to say grimly “in Spain the public executioner is arrayed in yellow”?

And now all this has ended in the anti-climax of abdication and the dreariness of scandal. But the Spanish royals have never had much luck. Maybe Louis XIV’s pushing his grandson onto the throne in 1700 drew down a native curse on the Bourbon intruders. There followed feeble-minded monarchs who never got out of bed, were caricatured by Goya, chased out by Napoleon and subjected to anarchist outrages. An Infanta sent to Versailles as the fiancee of Louis XV was eventually humiliatingly returned to Madrid, labelled ‘Not Wanted’. The beautiful blonde Queen Ena, an English princess and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, had her wedding dress spattered with blood as a result of a terrorist bomb, an augury of a disastrous marriage.

What, I wonder, do we have in the shop as an olfactory ave atque vale to King Juan Carlos and to the new Felipe VI? Carnations are the national flower of Spain; crimson, pink and snowy flowers pulsating with that hypnotic creamy musky clove scent which electrifies you when encountered in a garden. A red carnation, say Spaniards, is the symbol of hopeless passion, erotic despair.

Ironically none of the perfumes at Les Senteurs use Spanish carnation oil but let that pass: the scent, if not the poetic conception, is similar; and (perceptible) carnation of any species is not common in modern perfumery. Caron’s Piu Bellodgia is a graceful reworking of their immortal Bellodgia first launched in 1927: a lighter, drier accord; powdery like petals. Myself, I think I may even prefer it to the great original. Creed’s Acqua Fiorentina is a decadently lush corncupia of white carnations atop velvety greengages and bursting plums; while Une Fleur de Cassie from Editions de Parfum uses the flowers to enrich an already hedonistic extravaganza of mimosa, acasias, apricots and jasmine.

But for a truly Hispanic experience, the full monty with castanets, fans, guitars mantillas and peinetas, try the Cuban pastiche of Molinard’s Habanita. This is perfumery’s legendary take on the Carmen/ Dietrich sluttish cigarette girl fantasy; you know, the one that has tobacco workers rolling cigars on their thighs; the story that inflamed the House of Molinard in 1921 when smokes were the sexiest smells in scent in the wake of Caron’s barnstorming Tabac Blond. Florid, smoky and dark as the Havana night, Habanita is spangled with stars of orange blossom, jasmine and lilac in a thicket of leather, benzoin, amber,oakmoss, vetiver and cedar with florid flashes of raspberry and peach.
It’s oily, earthy, seductive and as penetrating as a Toledo steel estoque.

Ole! We salute His Most Christian Majesty, King Felipe, as he takes the throne on June 19th.

How Are Your Roses?

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Early summer slips like your fingers like running water: you stretch out your hands to grab all the loveliness, the flowers and the blossom, but Time gallops on remorselessly. The laburnum, the may, iris, lilac, bluebells and lupins wither and perish at a heartbreaking rate beneath his scythed chariot wheels, like a speeded-up David Attenborough feature. May and June really are the months when you must force yourself to stop, stare and smell before Nature devours herself. My blue bearded iris have lasted barely a fortnight but their scent is more delicious than ever in its brevity, seeming to have something of a rich golden dessert wine in its translucent, powdery depths. At dusk, as the bats flit overhead, half dozen plants scent the entire garden.

This year I’ve fought a hard battle with the aphids: I think the long dry spell in March and April encouraged them. Myriads made desperate incursions into my herbaceous border so that I lost precious early flowerings; my tight green rose buds were caked with them. Proprietary bug killer discouraged the creatures but it also scorched plant leaves. Some experts recommend the slow and messy process of scraping the aphids off by hand in a squashed pulp; the trouble is you always miss a colony or two. You can be strictly organic and collect ladybirds and introduce them to their favourite food; but even Our Lady’s Little Beasts (as the Dutch call them ) have limited appetites.

Then a French cousin in Aquitaine sent me a tip which I pass on to you: it seems to work. You mix up a mixture of water, soap and olive oil; add a few cloves of garlic, leave to macerate and then spray onto the infected areas. The oil allows the mixture to adhere to the plants even after rain. The aphids quietly suffocate. The plant is unharmed. The only thing is, do not spray downwind on a breezy day – as I did. You will find yourself pungently and aromatically garlic-scented.

Ironic though that one of the most beautiful roses I’ve seen this year is on a patch of cinders in our local Tesco car park. Obviously a relic of an ancient lost garden, this tough old plant is untended, unloved but blooms in a fumey dusty desert like an Old Testament prophecy. No aphids there. This yellow rose of Tesco smells cool, rich and redolent of the finest tea. I attach a snapshot: judge for yourselves.

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How appropriate that the auctioning off a long-forgotten Dante Gabriel Rossetti painting should be scheduled this month. It has a wonderful name: ‘The Triple Rose’ ( good name for a perfume, by the way). Expected to fetch upwards of a million pounds, this is a study of three flame-haired sisters draped in red & entwined before a rose hedge. Their mouths – those unmistakable carved Rosetti lips – are like pouting buds about to burst into full erotic bloom. If I were to choose a perfume to complement this gorgeous panel I’d go for Papillon’s Tobacco Rose to be unveiled exclusively at Les Senteurs this June. The creation of the astonishing Elizabeth Moores, Tobacco Rose has all the sultry overblown quality of a Rosetti, the sultry sensuality and the hypnotic intensity. Beeswax, hay and amber cast a spicy veil over blended rose oils while superb oakmoss works its own arcane dusky magic. Pervasive, bewitching and all-encompassing, Tobacco Rose unfurls its petals to reveal a heart of darkness.

Find Papillon on Twitter @papillonperfum

Hello, Twins!

Olivia de Havilland in The Dark Mirror.

Olivia de Havilland in The Dark Mirror.

Last night I went in search of diversion down my favourite road – the always perfumed Memory Lane, where the trees are perpetually in flower, even though the cherry blossom be made of tissue. I went not to Manderley again but looked at beautiful and fascinating Olivia de Havilland in the 1946 psychological thriller The Dark Mirror. Her co-star here (apart from herself) is a worn-looking Lew Ayres, once the second Mr Ginger Rogers, whose career suffered from his wartime pacifist stance. I hadn’t seen this movie for decades, in fact I think my previous viewing was a dubbed version on German tv over 30 years ago.

It’s very good! Olivia plays twins – Terry and Ruth. “One of them is insane” and has stabbed a man to death. But which one? Doctor Lew Ayres has to find out. The special effects when the girls are on-screen together are remarkably adroit and convincing, and de Havilland’s characterisations are highly accomplished and subtle. Even with identical clothes, hair and make-up the viewer can soon tell the girls apart – or thinks he can.

Reader, here’s where I had to keep putting the film back for another look – and another. Towards the climax the now clearly psychopathic Terry dolls up for a late-night appointment with Dr Ayres, posing as her own sister. In black satin and sequins she nips into the bathroom and dabs on perfume – the finishing touch. A discreet little bottle – we can’t tell what it is – but it lurks beneath the cabinet containing sleeping pills, the pills with which she is fuddling her poor sister Ruth. We take the hint that director Robert Siodmak has already cast perfume as a murderess’s accomplice: but then when Terry arrives at Ayres’ apartment he kisses her – and the camera catches his face as he smells her fragrance.

Such a wry grimace! Such scorn and contempt! He turns away, repelled. He knows already he’s kissing Terry: the scent does not reveal her deception. He is revolted either by the idea that the Good and Evil twin should share the same perfume, or (and I think this more likely) perceives the use of scent as final proof that the wearer is depraved. Old Hollywood was always puritanical and reactionary in her attitudes: any mention of perfume in the movies usually heralds trouble. But, take a look sometime – ‘judge for yourselves’ as Lillian Gish once said.