HMS Titanic

The Titanic

My eye caught this week by a 1st Class Sunday Luncheon Menu from the Titanic, up for auction shortly and expected to fetch in excess of £100,000. The last lunch before the sinking, and a most extraordinary menu it looks to the fine diner of today: mutton chops, corned beef, beetroot and lettuce, brawn, cockaleekie soup, dumplings,jacket potatoes and custard puddings; lager at 6d a tankard. One might say at best, plain and hearty. I thought of the great Edwardian beauty Diana Cooper and her comment in extreme old age,”no wonder we were all so fat – even the ballerinas.”

So this is what the Astors, the Guggenheims and the Strausses (who owned Macy’s) tucked into. And the exquisite Lady Duff Gordon (sister of best-selling novelist and inventor of the “It” girl, Elinor Glyn). Under the nom de guerre of “Lucile” she was then London’s leading couturiere: later that night as she sat in a lifeboat in a icy sea surrounded by drowning souls, her only comment was to remark to her lady-secretary,”there is your beautiful nightgown gone!”

I discovered the Titanic one Christmas afternoon in the 1960’s when A Night To Remember popped up on tv: it was strong stuff for those days and made my parents (not generally squeamish)feel rather sick. But the disaster and all its attendant myths, legends and factoids cast its heady spell over us as it has done across the world for a century.
So many anecdotes, factoids and theories now encrust the wreck like barnacles: the cursed mummy of an Egyptian princess in the hold, bound for a New York museum; a priceless jewelled copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam; the prototype of Creed‘s Erolfa found in a stateroom; the anti-Catholic propaganda encoded on the hull; “Nearer My God To Thee” as the liner finally roared to the bottom of the ocean; and was she in fact after all deliberately scuppered as part of an insurance scam?

I’ve also wondered (as the two tragic anniversaries coincide this spring), whether the news of Scott’s expedition and death in Antarctica was already known to Titanic passengers as they sailed. Did these two sagas of British bravery and (sometimes) heroism burst on the public almost simultaneously? And on a more frivolous note, had those hearty eaters in 1st Class flacons of Quelques Fleurs, L’Heure Bleue and Narcisse Noir tucked in their muffs and Dorothy bags? Not to mention Jicky for the bold, and Apres L’Ondee for the demure. Did they radiate sillage of Phul Nana, Hasu No Hana and other Grossmith perfume spectaculars as they walked off their meals on B deck; or unwound their fur boas and hobble skirts for a massage or Turkish bath?  No doubt Piver’s spicy masculine leather scents and Houbigant‘s innovative Fougere Royale were well known to the valets of Ben Guggenheim and J J Astor: “We are dressed in our best and prepared to go down like gentlemen”.

Technically all the above should have been available, tho I cannot yet trace the month in 1912 when L’Heure Bleue and Quelques Fleurs were launched. Perfume archives tend to be rather meagre; but, regular readers, please write in if you can shed more light. Your views on this and any topic always invaluable. Probably you’ve read about Night Star, the fragrance inspired by perfume phials found in the wreck. Maybe some of you are booked for the centenary memorial cruise out of Belfast in April and have already chosen an appropriate scent.

There is something magical and deeply moving to know that you will be smelling a perfume that was in the air on that fatal night of 14/15 April. People often neglect their sense of smell but think! To smell, say, Fougere Royale is the sensory equivalent of hearing Hartley’s band playing ragtime; tasting the corned beef hash or the salt air of the northern Atlantic; seeing the iceberg looming out of the dark….Brings it home to you, doesn’t it? Gives you goose bumps. As it should.

For C. – because it happened on her birthday.

Image from titanicuniverse.com

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