Wait For The Moment When: Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers…

Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers in Rebecca (1940)

Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers in Rebecca (1940)

…shows Joan Fontaine the eponymous Rebecca’s knickers and transparent nightie, “made specially for her by the nuns in the convent of St Clare”. St Clare is the patroness of light (and television¤) and light is everywhere in this scene. The set is saturated in it: although Mrs Danvers is a murderous monstrous bully with a quasi-supernatural aura (a witch in a modern Grimm tale) Hitchcock reverses our expectations, shooting not with dark shadows but exploring a dream bedroom scintillating with a diffused glow, a luminosity coming from no particular source. We are in a fairy grotto hung with veils, the shrine of a dead saint, a legendary enchantress. “The loveliest room you’ve ever seen!” (Anderson’s lines have her repeat the word “room” over and again as though Hitchcock is revelling in her native Australian intonation. “Ree-yoom”, she says).

In another sense light is also beginning to dawn on both the viewer and the terrified second Mrs de Winter: things are even more rotten at Manderley than we first imagined. We don’t yet know (though by now even the uninitiated must begin to suspect) that Rebecca herself was another monster*; but the scene prepares us for the lurid revelations to come of her nymphomaniacal private life by sensually dwelling on the intimacies of her bedroom and apparel. Mrs Danvers references the sado-masochistic sexual complexities of “Venus in Furs” by pressing Rebecca’s chinchillas against her own cheek and wonders aloud if her late mistress (in every sense?) comes back from the dead to “watch you and Mr Winter together”. Cinema goers of a certain age will know what THAT means.

It’s a strange scene all right, packed with allusions and oddities. Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers can be seen to be wearing unsuitably high heels beneath her anachronistic floor length black gown. We think of Catherine Lacey’s nun in Hitchcock’s THE LADY VANISHES (made only two years before REBECCA in 1938) and the fashionable shoes glimpsed beneath her habit that betray her true identity. Mrs Danvers seems to be as much a nanny, a creepy-controlling mother figure, as a housekeeper. Like every other character in the movie she infantilises the second Mrs de Winter and here she talks of Rebecca too as though of a small child:

“…and then she would say, ‘good night Danny,’ and step into her bed”.

Later in the film Mrs Danvers offers a more disconcerting image:

“She used to sit on her bed and rock with laughter at the lot of you.”

Then there’s the hair motif that runs throughout the movie¤¤: Joan Fontaine is repeatedly subjected to adverse comments on her hair. When she tries for a new more sophisticated look her screen husband Maxim (Laurence Olivier) hates it. Hair (confined, unbound, luxuriant, neglected) is a many-threaded symbol of sexuality¤¤: we may wonder in this bedroom scene whether the second Mrs de Winter’s marriage has yet been consummated, especially when she and Mrs Danvers start fiddling with hairbrushes** on the dressing table and we hear about Rebecca’s nightly grooming sessions.

“‘Come on Danny, hair drill’, she’d say.”

‘Danny’, indeed! As has been much remarked upon, the sapphic theme is done almost to death here. But it may also be suggested that Danny is introducing Mrs de Winter to the whole idea of sex, to the wider and wilder shores of love: nerving her even for the eventual step of becoming a wife “in the fullest sense”. Were the censors, as usual, asleep? Or just baffled? The director throws out so many signals and references here that the viewer is sent chasing all over the place. As ever Hitchcock is primarily concerned with creating an effect, not a watertight coherent narrative. It is said that he encouraged the cast of REBECCA to shun Fontaine, even to the extent of whispering in her ear “everyone here hates you”, with the aim of making her performance even more nervous and jittery. The menace of Mrs Danvers in the bedroom scene is allowed to ooze out in every possible nasty manifestation: a predatory lesbian, vampire, voyeuse and obsessive nutcase sexually intimidating (and even partially enthralling?) her schoolgirlish employer.

“All this in one day! It’s too much!” as Twiggy says in THE BOYFRIEND.

What do you think all those clothes smell of as they lie there waiting for their dead owner? What heavy musky fragrance fills the room and clings to the furs and lingerie? Think back to the dialogue in the first reel when Joan Fontaine talks of storing up her memories like perfume. Olivier grimly reminds her that those little bottles “sometimes contain demons that have a way of popping out at you just as you’re trying most desperately to forget”. No wonder he prefers his second bride in a state of nature and, one suspects, smelling of nothing more than Pears’ soap and Jasper the dog. Scent is as suspect and degenerate as all Rebecca’s luxuries : a trap, a snare and a betrayal. In the end Rebecca is nothing more than the sum of the smell of stored camphorated minks, bundles of old letters and address books, a dusty damp beach house, and her own rotting bones brought back from the sea. The grand illusion – Vanity Fair.

¤ like Mrs Danvers, Clare of Assisi was said to have the power of being in two places simultaneously. Hitchcock was one of Hollywood’s most devout Roman Catholics.

* “You thought I loved Rebecca? You thought that? I HATED her!”

¤¤ As is, of course, food. Mrs de Winter has trouble with coping with meals and eating. Food is heaped up throughout REBECCA – see how sexy George Sanders tears into cold chicken; Mrs Van Hopper wolfs down chocolates; and “Oh! What a plateful!” exclaims Gladys Cooper. But even scrambled eggs – “that mess” – are beyond Fontaine. Notice too how the long, long lonely table separates her and Olivier at meal times….

**We also remember Snow White and the wicked Queen with the poisoned comb.

JOAN FONTAINE 1917 – 2013
JUDITH ANDERSON 1897 – 1992

Spring Fever!

Image: BFI

Image: BFI

Though I say it myself, my little patch of back garden looks a treat just now. I’ve just mowed the grass for the first time in honour of my brother’s birthday: along with the clock change, having the lawn neat again really does mark the return of spring. Newly cut grass is to a garden as the application of lipstick is to a woman’s maquillage, or a tidy bed to a bedroom – it sets a certain seal and a sense of completion. And of course the smell of that juicy aromatic greenery heightens the seasonal mood. I like to have the beds a jigsaw of colour, a riot of hues – pink, blue, mauve, crimson, orange, white and most of all yellow. Hyacinths, crocus, hellebores, scillas, windflowers, daffodils, lungwort and camellias are all out. A little more warmth will bring on the crown imperials with their exotic interior pearls and sour bitter perfume; the intoxicating bridal crown narcissi; and the dazzling waxen tulips.

What I cannot get going in this garden are violets: the soil is wrong, or the light or something. They flourish down the fields and even by the bus stop – but not here. This morning I passed a magnificent patch of big purple violets set glossy emerald leaves by an old medieval mud wall; even in a cold wind the scent was sensually powerful, arousing and passing strange. More like perfectly fresh sweet meat than flowers: not modest nor shrinking at all, but exotic and disturbing – brutally beautiful.

You know me and my synaesthesia: do you, too, maybe think that spring is the noisiest of the seasons? Winter is still and muffled; autumn rattles & rustles; summer sings and hums like a kettle or beehive, but spring is raucous. I always think of Virginia Woolf in one of her fragile states hearing the birdies singing in Greek: the season can be very loud, insistent, aggressive. There is no softness to spring, but a rather wild unstoppable gallop that only slows down and peters out in the drowsy days of midsummer. Highly invigorating and exciting; but challenging and demanding too.

No wonder we perfume fanciers start looking for fresh fragrances around this time: with the return of spring and the light everything can seem a little stale – clothes feel faded & rather too heavy; dull winter complexions need a toner; we fluff up our feathers like sparrows in a sunny dust bath, and turn out our dwellings like broody fertile animals. Watching all the bulbs and buds bursting open makes us want to slough off our old skins and burst forth with a new brilliance and sheen, smelling uninhibitedly pristine and delicious.

Remember Proserpine in the timeless myth: kidnapped in the bright springlight by Pluto in his roaring chariot and sable steeds dyed black (Ovid’s curious detail), the goddess of vegetation was dragged down into Hades and the earth closed over her in perpetual permafrost. Finally returned to the surface by divine decree, Proserpine unwrapped a spring that was brighter than ever for its long absence though we still feel Pluto’s pursuing malevolence in the frosts that nip the magnolia and the winds that strip apple blossom in a night. And, like A. E. Housman & the cherry trees hung with snow, once we begin to feel the draughts of eternal winter blowing round our shoulders the spring is even more precious and more unsettling. We must enjoy every moment.

Bodhi and Birch

Bodhi and Birch

A jolly good reason then to seize the day and celebrate with the fabulous all- English products of Bodhi and Birch. Les Senteurs always has an extensive range of their Bath & Shower Therapies in stock. I love the scents which, as the label says, are “100% pure indulgence”: Bodhi & Birch have a depth, richness and earthiness which make the senses reel – try for instance the sharp crisp aromatherapeutic tang of rosemary and bitter camomile; the languorous sensuality of jasmine or ylang ylang blended with incense. There’s ginger too, black pepper and mint tea. There is also an powerfully authentic artisanal quality about this gorgeous brand which is – and get this! – entirely FREE of petrochemicals, sulphates, parabens, phthalates, animal ingredients (apart from honey), poor old palm oil AND synthetic colours & fragrances. Fabulous: no wonder the Therapies smell so gorgeous and feel so pure and soothing on the skin. Elegantly packaged, Bodhi & Birch cry out to be bought as a personalised gift for yourself or a loved one. Founder Elijah Chooh draws inspirations for his creations from the healing power of nature and traditional botanical healing. Reviving,calming,relaxing,invigorating…whatever you lack or need, Bodhi and Birch have the perfect balancing product to put your mind, your skin and whole being right back at the top of your form. Stop by and buy one!

Bodhi and Birch at Les Senteurs Invite

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see you haste away so soon…

Easter daffodils Les Senteurs

Consider the lilies at Easter: throw open the windows of both house and soul and admit the glory of the golden daffodils. Heap them up on the Paschal altars in drifts, in all their shades from white, cream and new-fangled tangerine to chrome, sepia, egg-yolk and imperial Chinese yellow. In Germany they are called Osterglocken – ‘Easter bells’ to ring in the springtime and the Resurrection; to celebrate sunshine, and the scent of the fertile flowering earth. You can still buy them for a pound a bunch in all the big supermarkets: never was magic so cheaply purchased. Earlier in the season they were being flown in too far & too chilled: they perished while yet in bud, but now a jug of brilliant yellow flowers or their paler brothers lasts for a week in an averagely heated home.

“Daffydowndilly has come up to town
In a yellow petticoat & a green gown”

Yet the stems and leaves are more grey or blue than green, especially on a damp or misty morning; wonderful shifting tints of slate through to eucalyptus, eau de nil and pale jade. Plant daffodils in bulbs in pots for doorstep, patio or windowsills; stick them in drifts in your flowerbeds or in rough patches of grass. Display them indoors in brilliant jars and vases of contrasting colours – I buy half a dozen bunches and dot them around in pink, turquoise, emerald, electric blue and lime green containers. Daffodils light up the home like sunbeams – and, my word! the scent of them!

For they pour out perfume – let no one tell you that daffs have no scent – it gushes forth, especially on a warm day when they fill a room or a garden with their bewitching giddy fragrance. Powdery, slightly gaseous, faintly rubbery, highly pollenaceous, a touch honeyed, even a trifle oily and a whiff of mackintosh. Not unrelated to the more intoxicating odours of jonquil and narcissus, daffodils are smell greener, drier, fresher. They are the first truly scented flowers of spring and that’s why we love them so well. For me they rival the rose for our national flower: currently there is a poll taking place to choose our archetypal British bird. Well, one of the great sights of Eastertide is a male blackbird, sooty-black and glossy, with his bill as yellow as the flowers hopping through the daffodils looking for love, comfort, inspiration and worms.

Let’s take a tip from him and choose a glorious new perfume to celebrate springtime and Easter. For “then my heart with pleasure fills/ And dances with the daffodils.”

May I wish you on behalf of All of Us at LES SENTEURS a peaceful, joyous and superbly scented Eastertide? Happy Easter to All our Kind Customers and Readers!

Wait For The Moment When: Gloria Swanson

sb95

…Goes To Bed With William Holden.

No director was as layered, coded and mordantly witty as Billy Wilder at his best. His contemporaries were shattered by SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) – Louis B Mayer, Mary Pickford, Pola Negri, Norma Shearer, Garbo, Mae West and Montgomery Clift all had their own reasons to be disturbed by it. The American public was baffled. Surely no movie is more complex. I have seen it at least 100 times yet every viewing reveals another detail, another clue or flash of gallows humour. Wilder is a generous director: he gives you a mass of stimuli and then allows you to take these hints, symbols and allusions as far as you like.

SUNSET BOULEVARD is a satire, a black comedy, a psychological thriller and occasionally a horror movie. The first half of the movie ends with the scene of Norma Desmond’s first coupling with Joe Gillis : a union of two vampires come together at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

The fatal party that ends the evening in Norma’s suicide attempt in “that grim Sunset castle” is seen in retrospect to have been a macabre wedding feast complete with a great cake and a tango band playing the erotic rhythm that originated in the porteno brothels of Buenos Aires. As Norma and Joe dance – “there are no other guests” – Swanson tears off her hair jewel and veil, a bridal disrobing, self-defloration for her putative fourth husband. Is there also a reference to an abdication as she removes this winged diamond falcon¤, just as Garbo removes her diadem in QUEEN CHRISTINA? Will Norma give up the career – the lost career that only she still believes in – for marriage? Is the whilom Queen of Hollywood renouncing her crown for paid love? What an irony of absolutely sterile futility: Billy Wilder is not always a comfortable companion.

Later, lying on her “bed like a gilded rowboat” – dreamboat? – Norma is visually the more evident succubus, what with her brilliant white teeth, her snaky black curls and her slit wrists bandaged to look like evening gloves, arching varnished nails as though painted with her own blood. But look at the predatory incubus Joe, still wearing the luxurious evening clothes, vicuna coat and jewellery paid for by the doting employer so soon to be his mistress. Tenderly as an expert torturer, he unties and removes her shoes, well-worn conjugal symbols of fertility and sex, before Norma draws him down into a literally fatal embrace like a mantis. And in taking off her shoes Joe is about to hobble Norma with sex, just as she has captured him with money. The pair of them are now fatally enmeshed, inextricably entangled .

“Happy New Year, Norma”

In the springtime one of them will be shot dead; and his murderer taken off raving to the asylum.

“Happy New Year, darling”.

Sunset15

And then immediately follows a sinisterly skittish scene in the (ruined) garden to which Norma, usually a creature of the shadows, has briefly returned like a middle aged Persephone. By the poolside• and for the only time in the movie Swanson and Holden seem briefly almost at ease with one another. For a mad moment you think that they might even have the possibility of a future together: Joe Gillis capers in his swimming trunks and Miss Desmond, revived by salaried sex and astrology, is positively girlish¤¤, but then comes that unsettling moment when Joe emerges from the water (the last living creatures seen in that pool were rats: he himself is “a stray dog”). Norma swathes him in a towel that is horribly like a winding sheet – or a straitjacket. The phone rings, Paramount is on the line and Norma’s only true love – herself & her own fame – once again takes over.

What a reel! And I have omitted so much: the ominous figure of Max, the keychains & gaping keyholes, the recurring telephone motif, the mirrors…but run the picture and as Lilian Gish would say, “Judge for yourselves”. One last thing: by this point in the movie we have been told very explicitly how Norma smells – “…of tuberoses, which are not my favourite perfume, not by a long shot” says Joe. (There’s a whiff of marijuana, Egyptian cigarettes and “half a pound of make up”, too). Tuberoses in excess can be airless, invasive, claustrophobic, eating up oxygen: they are narcotic, obsessive, aphrodisiac and stupefying. The ancient Mexicans, struck by their skeletal white purity, called them “flowers of the bone” and wreathed their dying gods with them. In Latin countries they are often associated with death, piled up in funeral parlours and in cemeteries like lilies and chrysanthemums here. In short, lovely as they are – and I have a spray blooming by me as I write – the tuberose is the perfect olfactory metaphor for Norma Desmond: a perfection of sinister predatory glamour.”

¤ for so it looks to me, lying on the tiled floor and picked up like a holy relic by Max, now the butler and once Norma’s first husband. Norma talks of Valentino’s penchant for the tango – does this bird reference his film “THE EAGLE” with its theme of a young Cossack pursued by a much older amorous Empress?

• at least one commentator has equated the swimming pool to the waters of Norma’s womb; but as Julie Andrews once said, “I think that’s going a little too far, don’t you?”

¤¤ though her leopard outfit reminds us of her predatory exoticism – and her claws.

William Holden 1918- 1981
Gloria Swanson 1899 – 1983

That Glittering Night At The Ball

4b051db6bb7e8c28c5ff5acc7e37ea82 (1)

Only a century ago a parade of unending entertainments was considered essential for the making of upper class marriages. In every European capital the arrival of the summer Season saw flocks of girls in white muslin and tulle herded by their chaperones to Court presentations and Society balls, opera galas, luncheons, dinners, teas, recitals, picnics and garden parties.

Prior to these outings the young ladies were prepared like lambs for the slaughter in a sensual ritual and with a faintly prurient glee that recalls the films of Max Ophuls and the novels of Stefan Zweig. Firstly the clothes: one began with a voluminous shift. Then in the Naughty Nineties knickers, which were just coming to be seen as decent and desirable rather than racy whorish accessories. Over the stays and countless starched boned & lacy petticoats, a girl’s dress must be white and made of virginal light fabrics such as muslin, gauze and tarlatan. The waist was tiny – even after having six children Queen Alexandra kept a waist that never exceeded 23″. A maiden’s decolletage should be generous, but jewellery was minimal: a christening gift maybe or a present from mama and papa – seed pearls, corals, a silver bangle and a tiny turquoise brooch in the shape of a dove. Long skin-tight buttoned kid gloves and a small posy of flowers in a filigree holder were de rigueur. Later, after a proposal of marriage, a bouquet might be sent round by the lucky gentleman concerned, but otherwise any gift to a decent young woman from a man outside the family was regarded as presumptuous indecency. Virtuous women prided themselves on never accepting presents.

Then the ingenue required a fan, ordered from Duvellroy or Faberge (London, Paris and St Petersburg). Her dancing shoes, with the soles carefully powdered, were laid out by the lady’s maid: she being lent by mama for the evening and in a mood both sentimental & archly suggestive. A tiny vial of sal volatile was tucked into the palm of a new glove in case of faintness after a brisk polka or vertiginous waltz. Sometimes an admirer might press a hand too ardently and the glass would break, emitting pungent fumes. For the face, just a touch of barely tinted lip salve, a film of papier poudre on the cheeks and maybe a hint of rouge if the excitement of the occasion was causing unbecoming pallor. Then a swansdown wrap round the shoulders, a scarf to protect the intricately piled hair and maybe a serviceable mackintosh cloak, even a sheet, draped over all to protect the finery in the carriage, to be thrown off at the last moment before the shy entry into the ballroom.

And what of scent? It is no more than a hint, a whisper, an echo of Pear’s or Cusson’s soap. Maybe a Coty floral water (as worn by the Russian Imperial Grand Duchesses) sprinkled on the handkerchief, a drop of rose attar in the hand cream or a glistening in the hair pomade. But nothing actually on the skin. Scented flesh is, for the late Victorians, highly risque, the mark of a Naughty Lady, a very Merry Widow, a barmaid, a strumpet. A strong-minded nobly-born lady can just about get away with it, though few will dare. They won’t run the risk of being banned from Court or the houses of their dear friends.

But the holistically perfumed woman is yet flamboyant and magnificent in sequinned violet, mauve, magenta and rose satin, fragrant from its sandalwood chest and herb-lined cedar closet. She is crowned with osprey aigrettes and bird of paradise plumes. Her scarves, handkerchiefs and gloves are soaked in oils of ambergris, Russian leather, jasmine and musk. Her hair, gleaming with bear grease scented with ylang ylang, has been conditioned with the Empress of Austria’s own blend of a bottle of brandy and a dozen egg yolks. She wears a corsage of mauve orchids, and trails two yards of train (lined with crumpled tissue paper to rustle the louder) with the intoxicating sillage of Houbigant’s Fougere Royale, Grossmith’s Phul Nana, the mauve powdery Jasmin Imperatrice Eugenie or an early Caron masterpiece. The Merry Widow’s redolent hummingbird fan is used not to conceal her blushes but to cool her after too much iced champagne or too sprightly a hop in the mazurka. Perspiration is her only enemy, to be combated with sweat pads, borax, vinegar and rice powder. But oh! the horror when a certain dampness appears around the waist line after working through a full dance card or too many oyster patties. Fortunately the gentlemen,too,are all wearing gloves, too. Or – as in the notorious case of Lillie Langtry’s new pink gown being ruined in the waltz by the dripping hands of a teenage Archduke Rudolph – not!

Wait For the Moment When: James Cagney

James Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931)

James Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931)

…comes home to Ma in the final scene of prototype gangster movie THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). I won’t spoil the surprise but for sheer grotesque horror I’m prepared to equate this with the denouement of THE MONKEY’S PAW: it shocks me rigid, every time. But from start to finish this is a wholly nasty, stylishly sadistic movie – speeding along at 79 minutes (those were the days), but seeming even nippier: maybe because in its cynicism and attitudes it is so modern.

As it is also in its lechery. Tiny (he was just under 5’5″) tough mad-eyed grinning Cagney is a sexy little psychopath. There’s a hint of the mother-fixation in THE PUBLIC ENEMY that was later to be worked out so thoroughly and disturbingly in WHITE HEAT, two decades later. And look out for the remarkable scene – now restored on DVD after being cut for the film’s re-release in the more prudish 1940’s – where Jimmy is painstakingly measured by an ogling and lascivious male outfitter. Even creepier than the creature who waits on Bill Holden in SUNSET BOULEVARD, the tailor whips out his tape & announces a waist of 31 and a half ¤. ( “O sir! Here’s where you need the room…such a muscle!”). Exactly as you’d imagine in this compact little ex-dancer and off-screen equestrian, who then goes off to shove a grapefruit into Mae Clark’s face before picking up the whorish Gwen (Jean Harlow, 2nd billed) while kerb crawling the highway.

James Cagney and Tailor in The Public Enemy

The lascivious male outfitter

 

Cagney was highly attractive to female audiences and appeared opposite a string of glamorous – and esoterically sexy – leading ladies including Rita Hayworth, Barbara Stanwyck and Mary Astor. His own off-screen marriage was a 64 year idyll. But was Cagney also a coded and unconscious gay icon in his time, as was reputedly his British contemporary, King George V? Gangsters were certainly a big turn-on for their contemporaries of both sexes and there’s a lot of evident homo-eroticism in these early “social realism” movies. The “endearing frog face of Edward G Robinson” appears as Rico in LITTLE CAESAR which premiered just 4 months before PUBLIC ENEMY. Here’s another miniature monster, this time in a satin dressing gown and spats: Rico has no time for girls, but hangs around with fawning guys who loll on the bed with the boss, or strike the sort of leggy poses Dietrich was just then making the acme of eroticism.

Edward G. Robinson as Little Caesar (1931)

Edward G. Robinson as Little Caesar (1931)

Cagney’s contemporary, Billy Wilder, full of the worldly wisdom of old Europe, picked up on all these cross currents when he made SOME LIKE IT HOT nearly thirty years later. Not only does he reference explicit scenes and shots from the Warners classics, but he goes further and makes female impersonation, sexual ambiguity and satyriasis v. impotence the main themes of his own picture. Yet for all its risky riffs ( the heavy drinking, priapic & presumably under-age bell boy; Joe E Brown’s preoccupation with his mama; and Marilyn’s astonishingly rude nude souffle dress) SOME LIKE IT HOT is an essentially innocent comedy, despite the killings and the gangster menace. “You couldn’t take offence”. To use an awful phrase, it’s a feel-good picture. THE PUBLIC ENEMY is most emphatically not a feel-good movie: it is seamy, sinister, misogynistic, heartless and very frightening. Look out for the rude song of a dirty old man at the piano; the voyeuristic touch of Joan Blondell and Edward Woods having noisy intimacy just out of shot; the inaudible but clearly lascivious whispering (“..whispery and obscene…”); and the first screen example of a horse’s head in a bag. And meantime – as in Ken Russell’s WOMEN IN LOVE decades later – the infantile, haunting “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” reprises on the soundtrack, the moans of trampled Depression innocence.

Danny Richards Jr as the Bellboy in Some Like It Hot (1959)

Danny Richards Jr as the Bellboy in Some Like It Hot (1959)

Needless to say, no one is seen applying scent: that really would be beyond the pale, of a piece with Fatty Arbuckle’s parties and Valentino’s pink face powder. Cagney expert John McCabe tells us that in private life Jimmy was addicted to heliotrope, having been entranced as a child by a teacher who smelled of this sweet powdery almondy scent. Heliotrope is a mauve floral oil, a whiff of the Edwardian era: tranquil, soft, maybe faintly fruity, slightly triste, the colour of half-mourning. Ambiguous and stylish, it sits well on both sexes. Try it at Les Senteurs, striking a chord in Secrete Datura, L’Eau d’Hiver, Un Bateau Pour Capri, Gris Clair and perhaps most intriguingly and prominently in Mona di Orio’s extraordinary Musc.

JAMES CAGNEY 1899 – 1986

¤ inside leg comes in at “33 and a half”. Poetic licence. Hips are “37 and a half”: the sequence is the titillating aural equivalent of Marlene posing beside the nude statue of herself in SONG OF SONGS or Valentino being dressed like a doll in MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE .

Mama Rose

martin-schongauer-madonna-of-the-roses-1342220404_b

Madonna of the Roses

Mothering Sunday falls on March 15 this year, which still leaves you time to choose a glorious perfume for that unique lady in your life. Maybe Mother has already dropped a hint as to what fragrance she would love as a gift; or perhaps you have a standing order for her favourite signature scent. If not, here are a few ruminations at the shrine of the modern Matronalia: potential perfumes to offer up with thanks at the altar of the Mother Goddess!

By and large the British are not so hot on botany but a rose is the one flower that everyone knows. It is a symbol of universal currency: even the name is basically the same in all the main European languages. The rose has not been on the planet as long as the Jurassic magnolia – flowers came late in evolution though they pre-date Man – but it has entranced us since anthropoid apes first stood upright and tucked blossoms in their fur.

Because of their universality, and due to their scent, delicacy, beauty, richness and colour, roses have accumulated a great body of lore and cult significance. The rose is the symbol of maternal love as well as of carnal passion. It represents altruistic suffering (the flowers sprang from the blood of Christ); or wounded rejected love (the thorns which injured baby Cupid). The goddess Aphrodite – “foam-born” – was blown ashore in a cloud of rose petals on the sands of antique Cyprus, the birthplace of perfumery. Roses are the emblem of the Queen of Heaven whether she be personified by Juno, Isis or the Blessed Virgin – “The Mystic Rose”. Mary appears in countless medieval paintings crowned with roses, or sitting with the Christ Child in bowers and arbours; even enthroned among the stamens of one vast Cosmic Rose, with angels swarming overhead like exotic insects attracted by the Divine Sweetness and Odour of Sanctity.

No wonder with all this tremendous back story we all think we know what a rose smells like; or what it should smell like. One of my favourite perfume legends is the rumour that Nahema, Guerlain’s gorgeous hymn to the Flower of Flowers does not contain a drop of rose oil: all is magnificent illusion, a dance of pink and crimson veils. What a stroke of genius that might be! Every perfumer longs to create the definitive rose scent, as he does the sheerest and most glittering of colognes. But in perfume terms, what is the scent of a rose? Should it be a beautiful template, like Garbo’s face, on which to project our olfactory desires and perceptions? Science now allows molecules to be identified, isolated and manipulated to the nth degree: yet a rose fragrance still remains one of the most controversial of creations – “THAT doesn’t smell like rose to ME!”

Consequently, Les Senteurs have cultivated an extensive nursery of roses on the shelves. Here come 12 of the best, in no particular order but all beautifully long-stemmed and worthy of Mother’s finest crystal vase. And we have plenty more to choose from,too, so why not come by before Sunday? Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

UNE ROSE by Editions de Parfums

Editions de Parfums - Une Rose

Editions de Parfums – Une Rose

Red wine, black truffles, blue camomile + Turkish rose. Stately and majestic.

ROSE ANONYME by Atelier Cologne

O8-RA 100ml Packshot
Hot dark nights spiced with ginger, incense, oud and patchouli.

TOBACCO ROSE by Papillon

Papillon - Tobacco Rose

Papillon – Tobacco Rose

Heady surreal clouds of overblown rose, beeswax, honey and patchouli.

DELIRE DES ROSES by Caron.

Caron - Delire de Roses

Caron – Delire de Roses

Sweet and diaphanous; jasmine, lychee & lotus at a cool poolside.

PORTRAIT OF A LADY by Editions de Parfums

portrait of a lady 100ml

Editions de Parfums – Portrait of a Lady

Turkish roses fizzing with spices,patchouli and amber. Audaciously elegant: a silver frost melting to golden sun.

LIPSTICK ROSE by Editions de Parfums

Editions de Parfums - Lipstick Rose

Editions de Parfums – Lipstick Rose

Raspberries, vanilla and the scent of a gleaming lipstick warmed on a lovely mouth.

UNE ROSE VERMEILLE by Tauer Perfumes

Tauer Perfumes - Une Rose Vermeille

Tauer Perfumes – Une Rose Vermeille

Sweet, creamy rosebuds served with cream in a silver bowl. Playful & joyous.

A LA ROSE by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Maison Francis Kurkdjian - A La Rose

Maison Francis Kurkdjian – A La Rose

Inspired by the pastoral portraits of Marie Antoinette; a rococo cascade of pink champagne.

FLEURS DE BULGARIE by Creed

Creed - Fleurs de Bulgarie

Creed – Fleurs de Bulgarie

A favourite of the young Queen Victoria, lover of flamboyance and colour: crazily deep, dark and intense Bulgarian roses.

HIPPIE ROSE by Heeley

Heeley - Hippie Rose

Heeley – Hippie Rose

Hommage to the 1960’s and that Summer of Love: take a lovin’ spoonful of incense and patchouli with your roses.

PAESTUM ROSE by Eau d’Italie

Eau d'Italie - Paestum Rose

Eau d’Italie – Paestum Rose

Roman temples and the votaresses of Venus: myrrh, coriander & osmanthus.

ISPARTA by Parfumerie Generale

Parfumerie Generale - Isparta

Parfumerie Generale – Isparta

Turkish rose oil sharpened by piquant red fruits and deepened with woods and aromatic resins.

Wishing you all a very Happy & Loving Mothering Sunday!