As is well known, Marilyn Monroe wore Chanel No 5 to bed: what do you wear in yours? Garbo wore men’s pyjamas and retired at 6: the maid’s last job before leaving at 4pm was to disconnect the telephone.
Perfume goes wonderfully well with beds, langour, torpor, snoozing and sleep. One thinks of fairytale princesses and ancient heroes, King Arthur and Sleeping Beauty,The Seven Sleepers and Snow White, lulled into death-like sleep by magic drugs and perfumes “poppy and mandragora and all the drowsy syrups of the world”. (What a brilliant perfume name was Opium..). And in the kingdom of Morpheus, dreams drift in the Valley of Sleep: those that enter via the Gates of Horn will come true; those passing through the Gates of Ivory are pure fantasy. Do you dream about smell and scent? In colour or black and white?
There is nothing nicer than a soak in a long hot bath and a hair wash, followed by clean night clothes in a crisp white linen bed: and then a spray of scent as you prop yourself up against the Siberian goosedown pillows with a new book. Perfume is wonderful in bed, it relaxes and feels magnificently sybaritic. A sparkling hesperidic cologne feels perfect in warm weather, clean and clear and soothing – something like Acqua di Genova which is soft besides citric, petally with orange blossom and a touch of sandalwood. And it has that faint suggestion of a fine silky talcum powder which I love. Maybe it is that association which also makes sweet powdery perfumes great at bedtime: atavistic memories of babyhood, warmth and total wraparound security. Then in colder weather, something more exotic…a rich floral or oriental. Or a golden crystallised gourmand: one of Pierre Guillaume’s beauties, maybe, Aomassai or Tonkamande. All the “luxe et volupte” of sugared almonds and praline but no crumbs in the bed.
And a wonderful sensation of slaked desire.
In my store days, we used to spend hectic Saturday afternoons fantasising about this routine. One woman used to have a special weekend dressing-gown laid out on the hot pipes against her return: a scalding bath, layers of Bronnley’s White Iris or Fern; then scrambled eggs with mayonnaise on a tray. I remember coming down the tube escalators one filthy wet December evening behind two exhausted girls. One was chanting her comfort-mantra. “When I get home I’m going to off every bit of makeup, cover myself in Fracas body cream and put on those pink cashmere pyjamas…”
Bed can be a great place to try out samples of that scent you are thinking of buying. You are washed and clean and in your right mind; at ease with life and ready to analyse a new perfume. Remember to wait a while for your skin to regain its normal temperature and for the natural oils to start flowing again before you apply. This ensures that you won’t get that slight brief burny sensation on the skin from the alchohol, and also allows your skin to reflect the perfume more exactly. The only danger that I have found with the years is that sleeping in a new scent can desensitise the nose to it by the following morning. I am then in the position (which we all know and dread) of having a favourite new scent and unable to smell it: the brain is so relaxed by the agreeable odour that the nose switches off. But, that’s only my personal reaction: I can still sleep very happily in old favourites and find them on the pillow when the alarm goes off.
The professors of the new Sleep Hygiene might possibly object on the grounds of perfume being stimulating (and so to be put on the Bedroom Index, along with alchohol, computers, tv and reading in bed) but for most of us perfume at night is a tranquillising experience, one to be encouraged and relished.
And what do you wear while you are getting up next day? Now while that may sound too precious or over-refined a question, this really is the time for those scintillating light colognes and eaux de toilettes – “dressing colognes”, we used to call them. Bright, delicate impressions of scent that wake up your senses, refresh the body and prepare you for a day’s work before you graduate to something heavier after lunch. Frederic Malle‘s Angeliques Sous La Pluie, Cologne Bigarade, Guerlain’s Eau Imperiale, and Creed‘s Bois de Cedrat just film the skin and hair with notes of citrus, fresh air, morning gardens and herbs – leaving a discreet trail as of expensive soap and crystal water. Spray them while you wash and dress; spritz them on newly washed hair. For myself, I always reach for a fragrance before I even boil the kettle for the first cup of tea: it lifts the spirits for the coming fray. And then I start planning what to wear tonight…