Sudden Fear

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Do you remember the wonderful Jibby Beane? “Don’t be scared!” she used to gurgle, tempting you round to her new space. Years ago I was Christmas shopping in a very beautifully stocked and decorated West End store and a woman behind me inhaled deeply and luxuriously, saying to her husband, “ o darling, doesn’t it smell good!” The husband, I saw on turning, made a very wry face indeed. He was right: there was a very curious reek in the air, almost like foxes. Rank and feral and earthy. In short: the smell of fear. Fear of Christmas, shopping, buying the wrong thing – the whole schmeer.

Please don’t be shy or fearful of coming to see us: I hope and believe that we are informal, hospitable and easy-going. We can make you a drink if required and no one will force you to buy anything. We hope to help, and promise not to hard sell: that is not our way. Les Senteurs aims to help you to enjoy yourself; to provide you with both entertainment and the discovery of unique fragrance; to offer a little perfume education if you desire it. Scent should be all about adventure, pleasure, fulfillment, excitement, relaxation and fun; and that should also be your experience while you are with us. In warm weather our street door stands open: whatever the season we keep open house.

Do you like this illustration, by the way? It’s that ambiguous card, the Nine of Cups, from the Tyldwick Tarot and I think it wonderfully clever. I used to be terrified of tarot cards and even went so far as to throw a pack away. But now a learned doctor is training me in a more civilised and relaxed approach. No more fear…

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Vignettes of Old Marylebone 1: Home thoughts from Abroad

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One of the most famous and romantic addresses in Marylebone, a few minutes brisk walk from LES SENTEURS, is 50 Wimpole Street. Here the invalid Elizabeth Barrett spent long sad years on her sofa and from here she eloped to Italy with her future husband Robert Browning: two poets who fell in love via their work. The set-up is legendary: the vague but distressing illness;  the monster Papa with the dreaded tankard of medicinal porter; the numerous doting siblings; the hysterical scenes; the devoted maid Wilson and the spaniel Flush. The whole boiling  of them piled into that grim house dominated by old Mr Barrett’s possessiveness and neuroses. Elizabeth lived behind windows sealed up against London fogs and soot, the glass panes covered in summer with trailing nasturtiums. She was almost elderly by the standards of her day (over 40 ) but with her dark mournful face, soulful eyes and luxuriant ringlets to rival her dog’s she remains a figure of high romance, a mysterious captive princess finally rescued by an adoring younger man from the fashionable but alien chasms of Marylebone. Highly political, blazingly intelligent, fascinated by spiritualism and the struggle for Italian independence Elizabeth bloomed again in the warm air of Florence and even bore a healthy son at the age of 43.

”This verbena strains the point of passionate fragrance…” she writes in Aurora Leigh, a poem saturated in sensuous imagery which some think was fired up by her chronic dependence on opium and laudanum. When you’ve found Mrs Browning’s Blue Plaque, meander back to LES SENTEURS and smell our Verveine d’Eugene by James Heeley; and those 3 flowers of late Victoriana by Grossmith Phul Nana, Hasu no Hana and Shem el Nessim. Surrender to the spell.

 

Competition winners!

As you know, during September we ran a competition on our website asking you to leave reviews of your favourite products for a chance to win a set of deluxe samples. Your entries were all wonderful, but Mr Craven had to choose just two, and we are delighted to announce the winning entries!

Gina J – Ambre Russe from Parfum d’Empire

“Anna Karenina. Alexey Vronsky. I listened to their love story on the Home Service when I was 12 years old when I began to be a feminist. I railed at the social mores, which took the child away from the wife of a loveless marriage, I wept at the hypocrisy of the society. I adored but eventually despised Vronsky for his moral cowardice. What a precocious child! And I vowed never to chuck myself under a train for love or despair. Ever. Hurrah for that awareness, not least of which allows me to buy my own jewellery and to choose, buy and wear my own beloved Parfum d’Empire Ambre Russe, a mixture of resinous amber, woods, spices, vodka and champagne, a swirling, louche memento of long-gone Tsarist Russia. It’s androgynous. I can wear it to reflect a poise and confidence which I have learnt over nearly 70 years. I breathe in and I sense the beloved ‘березу’ (birch tree) of the Russians, and the shock of fine frosty vodka. And so do others. It intrigues them, they and the scent follow me. It surprises and satisfies. Ваше здоровье! Cheers!”

Sara McGavin – Carnal Flower from Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle

“Carnal Flower is the most intoxicating experience I have ever had with fragrance. I climb into the heart of this flower, and can almost feel the moisture of nectar on my skin and the gold-dust of pollen in my hair. I inhale again and the greenness radiates. I marvel at how this greenness, a note I usually avoid in perfumery, can be so divine here. But it truly has all the complex subtlety of nature, all the sap and the life, the heart-filling glory. As its petals envelop me, it is simultaneously luscious and luminous – and it is the union of this succulent carnality and this delicacy that reflects all the elements of me as a woman. I could never have imagined that I, usually drawn to rose, leather and animalic notes, would have Carnal Flower as my most beloved fragrance. But when a child it was the scent I would grow up to wear and when an old lady it will be the scent of my memories.”

Congratulations to both! And stay tuned for news of another competition very soon!

 

 

BANDIT: by Robert Piguet out of Germaine Cellier

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Back in the 1970’s, the roguish matinee idol charmer Stewart Granger talked on afternoon television about what attracted him to a woman. She should be immaculately dressed,gloved, maquillee, shod and coiffured – “because I want to look at her and think, ‘I’m going to DESTROY all that!'” Coughs and lowered eyes all round…but I bet a whiff of Bandit would have driven the old boy right off his head. Bandit is a leather chypre, the total urban scent. Colossally sophisticated, even formidable, it is the ultimate parfum-de- film-noir; a scent of night clubs, car showrooms, private seances, art galleries, penthouses, theatres, and the sort of restaurant where children are unwelcome. It wears well with green suede gloves, elaborate lingerie,sable fur, cocktail napkins, pink Sobranies, crisp eye veils, Ferragamo shoes and vintage Schiaparelli. Wallis Windsor’s painted lobster dress is a perfect Bandit accessory. So is a lapis Faberge cigarette case, casually chucked about. This perfume always takes centre stage: everything else is an add-on.

Wear Bandit if you wish to seduce and intimidate and where you intend to dominate the proceedings by force of character, devastating chic and effortless charm. Seldom has a perfume been so demanding of the wearer. Possibly a scent to catch a very specialised husband, it is almost impossible to imagine being worn by a bride unless to create the most extraordinary impression. Anti-floral, stylised, artificial and magnificently rich in synthetics (Cellier was fond of tenacious chemical bases) Bandit has no vulnerability about it and few women would wish to be perceived as incisive, and imperious at the altar.But it has sex all right, and to a remarkable degree.

Bandit was created by Germaine Cellier, the first great female nose of the 20th century, a woman as elegant, magnetic and glamorous as any of her clients. Fracas, Jolie Madame and Vent Vert are all daughters of her genius. Beautifully dressed, an acquaintance of Jean Cocteau and Piaf, and moving in Parisian artistic and intellectual circles, Cellier made the acquaintance of the couturier Robert Piguet, former protege of Poiret and patron of Givenchy, Dior and Balmain.A suite of legendary perfumes spilled out from their laboratory and atelier, the first and greatest being Bandit in 1944.

All sorts of stories are told of the perfume. An old gentleman told me years ago that Piguet had asked Germaine to create a scent for his lover, a wild young man known as “Le Bandit”, very soon after killed in a car crash (” I knew the boyfriend!”). Bandit is also said to have been made as a gift for the gorgeous actress Edwige Feuillere, darling of the film intelligentsia and blessed with glorious red-gold hair and a ravishing husky voice. It certainly sits uncommonly well on the sort of pale, thin translucent sometimes freckled skin that often accompanies this tint of hair; the type of complexion that so often turns white waxy flowers like jasmine and tuberose. A product of the War years it exudes such a perversity, ambiguity and sheer weirdness that it is often wrongly assumed to have been a favourite in the pan-sexual Berlin and Paris of twenty years earlier. Certainly it has echoes of Tabac Blond and it could have been worn perfectly (maybe it was) by the likes of Dietrich, Louise Brooks, Margo Lion and Jo Carstairs. Men may sport it with elan and confidence; providing they be as poised as the girls.

When I smell Bandit I feel the hand on my shoulder of Zarah Leander, the great revue star, singer and actress who captivated Sweden, Germany and most of Europe in the 1930’s. Too tall and too massive for Hollywood, a natural red-head with a huge appetite for money, food, alcohol and cigarettes Zarah overwhelmed her audiences and employers: fans were said to have fainted at the sight of her,overwhelmed by her aura; an Italian journalist described her as a beautiful creature from another planet. On set she drank whisky or vodka through a straw from what purported to be Coke bottles or glasses of milk. Her voice recorded as a deep bass and her mystery was intensified by a lifetime of large impenetrable dark glasses. Nordic and practical, she liked to be photographed scratching her pigs on her Swedish farm; when she fled from Germany in 1943 with her film career in ruins, she turned to running her own fish cannery. Swathed in furs, her towering height increased by stilettoes, her skin a mass of freckles, her hair according to her own account “an interesting blend of beetroot and carrot” Zarah used Bandit to make a dream team for 40 years. Where does one end and the other begin? Cigarette papers and tobacco; then the dry fragrance of face powder, the silk lining of a coat, the tang of red hair, the exquisite soft leather of shoes, gloves, bag, all warm from flesh-contact. A hint of whisky, of body heat and feral animal oils, even fresh perspiration; the sharpness of a green corsage or stage-door bouquet. In a copse once, I saw a red dog-fox leap from a bed of violets: here is the fox but no trace of violets except a waft of their musky fleshy crushed hearts.

Image: filmmuseum-potsam.de

Popcorn Venus

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We were sat listening to the London rain the other afternoon, sipping our Quietly Camomile and really beginning to feel a bit doleful, when our dear Michel blew in from Paris and bucked us all up. Michel’s been in the business for years and years; he’s like a debonair Belgian Leslie Howard and brings us all the news and novelties from Etat Libre d’Orange. This time in his valise he had a real cracker which we all adored – which means that many of you will, too. It’s enticingly named La Fin du Monde – The End of The World – which was how we’d all felt before smelling it.
Once the genie was out of the bottle and on our skin we were on top of the world.

Now the active note is – hang on! – popcorn. Delicious, warm, sweet dry popcorn blended with gunpowder, sesame and cumin, orris, styrax, vetiver… Heavens! It smelled good: embraceable, soft, wraparound comfort and, yes, glamorous too. On me the base ( hours + hours later) had some of the deep powdery darkness of a vintage Caron or Patou scent. We each wore it home that evening and it was on all our lips – and some skins, even after a bath – the next morning. You will judge for yourselves: La Fin du Monde should be on our shelves by the end of October so watch this space for updates.

Image: Openlibrary.org

10 Key Odours

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Picking up on that new American theory of smell we were talking about on Tuesday, I drew up a list of specimens in the shop.

MINTY : Geranium Pour Monsieur by Editions de Parfum.

There’s plenty to chose from in this category, but I’m plumping for Malle’s green ice spectacular with peppermint and mint absolute and the creamy musky base.

DECAYED: Charogne by Etat Libre D’Orange

Overblown flowers, the weird beauty of ylang ylang and incense with fleshy animalic hints. The scent of gamey carrion, food on the edge of rot.

PUNGENT: Velvet Oud by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.

Weighted wine-coloured velvet drapes, impregnated with smoky earthy oud. A scent so thick and heavy you can cut it, bruise yourself on it.

SWEET: Teint de Neige by Villoresi.

Powdery and white, like snow or icing sugar. Delicately candied jasmine flower, rose petals, vanilla and soft blond woods. A lovely face, a crystal mirror.

LEMON: Verveine d’Eugene by Heeley

Lemon’s not as common as you might suppose. Here’s a dazzling lemon verbena with blackcurrant, pink rhubarb and green bergamot. Droolingly citrus: is your mouth watering?

FRAGRANT: Un Bateau Pour Capri by Eau d’Italie

Peony, jasmine, cedar, rose and heliotrope with a dash of champagne and clear morning sunshine. Smells like the plains of Heaven.

POPCORN : Aomassai by Parfumerie Generale.

If you can’t wait for La Fin du Monde try this adult feast of caramel, toasted hazelnut, liquorice and resins. Black and gold fires, smoky vanilla, liquid tonka.

FRUITY: Playing with the Devil by Kilian

Hide and seek in the woods. Dripping juicy blood orange, peach, blackcurrants and lychee.

WOODY: Sandalo by Lorenzo Villoresi

Dark, clean, sombre, grainy: Asian and European woods, sap, bark and the forest floor.

CHEMICAL: Secretions Magnifiques by Etat Libre d’Orange

The intimate fluids secreted by the chemicals of the human body – interpreted with adrenaline and azurone layered with flowery accords.

So that’s mine. Or one of mine. And what is yours?

Image: fisheaters.com