The Scent of Winter

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A most charming regular correspondent and LES SENTEURS competition winner has kindly written in for advice on the glitches that may occur in the wearing of perfume during the winter months.

Here are my own thoughts on the matter, by return and with my warmest thanks and wishes. I hope these will help to enhance the pleasures and minimise the problems.

1. Personally I always feel slightly grubby from November to March. There are too many layers of clothes to maintain, too much padding against rain, damp, snow and wind. Unlike the summer months when you can chuck everything in the wash at night and have it dry by morning there is the perennial problem of laundry. Perfume sprayed on garments can be effective and delicious, but in winter a confused miasma may build up on garments especially if you enjoy wearing a varied wardrobe of fragrances. At the festive season – in and out of parties, pubs and restaurants – food smells have an unfortunate tendency to linger. Lack of fresh air, overheated houses and shops tend to distort or exaggerate scents of all kinds and in a variety of ways.

So, first of all, keep everything you wear scrupulously clean: anything with a DRY CLEAN ONLY label I no longer buy. Don’t forget to include gloves, hats and scarves in the regular wash. If a warm kitchen is the only place to get things dry, then afterwards air the clothes at a window before wearing or storing.

2. Remember that when you are trying a new scent the most obvious place to spray it is on your wrist. In wintertime this may be the meeting point for as many as 4 or 5 layers of clothes, plus gloves, bracelets, watches etc. All these naturally accumulate and emanate their own scents: bear this in mind & remove as much as you can before applying. The palms of your hands retain fragrance well too and if you’re the type who makes a lot of gestures they will disseminate perfume beguilingly as you speak, like lilies swaying in a breeze.

3. Keep your own person immaculate. Never ever wear scent to cover up unwelcome odours. Keep your practice of perfume pure and pristine: don’t use fragrance for anything other than pure pleasure. Fragrance is not functional, nor is it camouflage. It is an expression of imagination and joy.

4. Nourish and pamper your skin & hair. Wind, cold, central heating, air conditioning all starve the skin of water, and perfume abhors a dry base: it has nothing to cling to, no natural oils to work with. When you come out of the bath or shower apply your favourite creams while the skin is still slightly damp. This helps to trap precious moisture. A slightly oily skin is perfume’s perfect partner.

5. ALWAYS wait a while after bathing before spraying perfume: allow your body to stabilise at its natural temperature and for the natural oil balance to return. If you spray scent too soon you may experience a harmless but unwelcome sense of burning – the alcohol, you know; in addition, you will find the perfume may not last as long as it should. It has insufficient foundations to build upon. If your perfume of choice does not come with its own body range you may like to use an unfragranced cream and personalise it with a spritz or droplet of your own favourite. Layering a scent creates a profound sillage: the scent will last longer as your clothes slow down evaporation, and of course a far larger area of skin is perfumed and radiating scent.

6. Use slightly less scent than you would in warmer months. Cold weather makes it much more difficult for our noses to pick up and interpret smells of any kind; so does the tiredness that is concomitant with months of darkness. Therefore the temptation is always to over-apply perfume which is not necessarily attractive and which may add to the overall feeling of dowdy staleness referred to above. If you wish to intensify your aura, why not use that glamorous old trick of flourishing a perfumed silk handkerchief? It will give you something to do with your hands, too, in these non-smoking days.

7. Personally I would recommend against the wearing of overly light floral perfumes in an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of the summer months. These can appear vapid and colourless under leaden skies and they sit oddly with winter fabrics and styles. Try something richer, warmer, darker, deeper. Or greener, fresher, full of icy verdance and rising sap. There are a huge range of fragrance types to choose from, including orientals, fougeres, chypres, gourmands and woods. If you are taking a trip through our website have a closer look at scents marked with BLACK, BROWN, GREEN, ORANGE & PURPLE dots in our unique Senteursystem.

8. Remember that your health – often below par at this time of year – can affect both the way perfume works on your skin & the sensitivity of your nose. So can stress and excitement – whether engendered by Christmas or any other event. A gifted aromatherapeutist at Miceline Arcier (SEE LINK) explained to me how mental upheaval can play all kinds of tricks with our sense of smell. A very good reason for not rushing back to exchange perfume gifts in too much of a hurry. Give a new fragrance a chance: it’s like making a delightful and complex new friend. It takes time. Do not judge by one sniff on a hectic Christmas Morning! Hang on, until your nose and brain settle down again.

9. And winter eating habits, too, may play a part in changing a perfume’s reaction. Unusual and abrupt changes in diet, an excess of alcohol, New Year detox regimes or switching to a heavier cold weather menu will all have their effect. Needless to say, spicy & heavily seasoned meals will dramatically alter the smell of our own skins and thus that of our fragrances.

10. Lastly, don’t allow winter to force you into hibernation: experiment, try and explore. Winter may present hazards but the time is also full of unequalled delights – for many of us, this is the best of Seasons. How you wear and choose your fragrance will undoubtedly be influenced by your own reactions and attitudes to winter. We each of us take a perfume – whether the rarest of the niche or the most comfortably commercial – and make it our own. The season merely adds light and shade to the whole.

Image: Prettycleverfilms.com

Christmas Competition!

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Now here’s the perfect mid-winter competition to win you a splash of Christmas glamour! We have two 50ml bottles of gorgeous Gardenia Grand Soir to give away to 2 lucky winners. A glorious head-turning scent for the season of parties and romance.

All you need to do is go to our website and leave a review in no more than 200 words of your favourite Les Senteurs fragrance. Be as expressive as you wish, in verse or prose.

The 2 winners will be selected on Thursday 2 January 2014. For full terms and conditions please see below.

(Terms and Conditions: Entries submitted after midnight on Wednesday 1st January 2014 will not be considered. Due to postal restrictions, this competition is only open to residents of the UK. The prizes are as stated, are not transferable to another individual and no cash or other alternatives will be offered. No responsibility can be accepted for entries lost, damaged or delayed in the post, or due to computer error in transit. The winner(s) agree(s) to the use of their name and will co-operate with any other reasonable requests by Les Senteurs relating to any post-winning publicity. The promoters reserve the right to amend or alter the terms of competitions and reject entries from entrants not entering into the spirit of the competition.Reasonable efforts will be made to contact the winner(s). If the winner(s) cannot be contacted, or are unable to comply with these terms and conditions, Les Senteurs reserves the right to offer the prize to the runner(s)-up selected by the same judges.)

 

Vignettes of Old Marylebone 4: “King to Abdicate” – December 1936

Duchess of Windsor in Sleeveless Dress on Lawn

Two minutes walk to the north of Les Senteurs is the imposing but discreet bulk of Bryanston Court, such a solid but withal modest dowager that it has taken me nearly two years to find. From here – Flat 5B 1st floor – Wallis Warfield Simpson sallied forth to win the heart of a king; here, she and her second husband Ernest entertained; here, the Ladies Colefax, Cunard and Cooper knocked back Sidecars and Martinis to oil their repartee; and to this flat Cecil Beaton bustled round with proofs of his latest flattering snaps. ” Quite a Wallis Collection”, quipped Mrs Simpson and the King Edward fell about with that curious yelping bark of a laugh.

Even before she became France’s hostess with the mostest, Wallis was getting her hand in with natty little dinners at Bryanston Court. Stick-thin and coruscating with Cartier she’d maybe sport Schiaparelli’s Surrealist lobster gown (brought over from Paris in the diplomatic bag) to serve her Aunt Bessie’s recipe for chicken Maryland (a big ‘hit’), salad leaves graded to identical size and never, ever soup: “you can’t build a meal on a lake”. Every afternoon Mrs Simpson would be off down to the German embassy at Carlton Terrace for tea with the Ribbentrops and it was said that whatever was discussed in Cabinet in the morning would thus be the talk of Berlin by the cocktail hour. It was this curious friendship which some 70 years later led to the blocking of a Blue Plaque on Bryanston Court, it being argued that the “traitress” deserved no such memorial. A short-sighted decision, for surely one of the most influential women of the last century deserves to have her presence marked as well as felt. In a piquant contrast, the original lavatory pedestal at Flat 5B was recently reported to be still in place.

If you are curious to know how Mrs Simpson smelled – Beaton disloyally recorded a trace of halitosis, no doubt due to the rigid dieting – come round to Les Senteurs and inspect Caron’s 1930’s best-seller “French Can Can”. This fragrance first appeared in the year of the Abdication and was created originally for export sales only, expressly designed to suit Anglo-Saxon women especially those of the Simpson type; slim, brunette, burnished and ultra-chic. A rich floral chypre it is less outre than many of the Caron classics and is quite at home in the modern West End: brittle, sparkling, emerald-green and teaming perfectly with fine tweeds, furs, patent leather and loads of chutzpah. A strange thought that Mrs Simpson may well have known our little shop in Seymour Place, though not as a perfumery: 30 years after her death it still carries her sillage.

Vanilla

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When I was young, no one had much time for vanilla. To most of us it meant no more than a boring flavour of anaemic ice cream, the one that was always available once the strawberry and chocolate had run out or proved too expensive. People came out of confectionery shops with their faces on the floor: “They only had vanilla…”. My grandmother had a horror of food colourings or flavourings (poisonous) so we never experimented with vanillin, and vanilla pods were unheard of in our neck of the woods. My father’s interest in puddings was as a test for alcoholism. To see someone refuse dessert was a sure sign that person had a drinking problem, as certain as a vampire recoiling from garlic. “They can’t stand the sweetness!”

So we missed out on a lot of erudition and amusement: vanilla is a fascinating substance, chock-full of romance. Of course it has a justified reputation as an aphrodisiac, and as we’re all grown ups I’ll remind you of one of the reasons why. It’s the fruit of a species of orchid, bearing green and white flowers: the two words “vanilla” and “orchid” derive from the Latin and Greek words respectively for the female and male genitalia. This is on account of the intrinsically suggestive shapes of the plant, and something to remember when you’re lighting Mizensir‘s delicious Orchidee Chocolat candle. The ancient Mexicans prized vanilla, whisking it with chocolate and chili (though not sugar) to a cold foaming drink served to royalty and the gods to stimulate their appetites. Imported to Europe, it was sold at vast price to inflame rakes and courtesans, something in the style of modern Viagra. Modern scientists established that it contains a molecule very similar to that found in human milk: no wonder then that vanilla is a comfort food par excellence, stimulating thoughts of the nursery, the kitchen, animal warmth and nurturing protective snug love.

What excites me, too, is the reflection that vanilla is one of the oldest plants on the planet, a link between us and the dinosaurs. We are smelling a blossom at which a Stegosaurus might have snuffed in the Cretaceous period 30 million years ago. What a mind-expanding thought is that! Dinosaurs lived in a terrain very different to ours: flowers were only just beginning to evolve during the Cretaceous. Frederic Malle’s Jurassic Flower is a delicious anachronism. No grass; few deciduous trees, but rather palms, ferns, horsetails and the like. Dragonflies the size of swallows buzzing about. And then, this extraordinary evolution of dinosaurs into birds: when I look at my budgie – especially into his little blue eyes – I can see how an erect biped like a Tyrannosaurus might well have gone down this route, given enough time. However I find it very hard to imagine the horned Triceratops or the tortoise-like Anklyosaurus mutating to become airborne. But through all these vast changes, the eventual arrival of Man and the birth of civilisation, the vanilla orchid has remained constant, our living link with Eden. Pretty heady stuff.

Vanilla’s reign in modern perfumery is but a moment in time, dating from 1925 when Guerlain made vanillin such an exaggerated and successful feature of Shalimar. Now it warms, softens and expands florals, sweetens gourmands and takes the spotlight as a solo performer. Often confused with tonka (another plant derivative) vanilla is darker, smokier, far less sweet. It’s easy to study in the raw: buy a packet of pods and inhale. And then you can infuse them in anything, from coffee to custards. Keep one in the sugar jar, the tea tin or the biccie barrel. They last for ages and having been steeped in cream or other liquids can be washed, dried and used again.

E. Coudray do a brace of contrasting vanilla perfumes. Vanille et Coco is almost maddeningly gooey-sweet, incorporating coconut, amber and sticky fruits; but it has a gorgeous golden greed and voluptuousness which in a certain mood can hit the spot exactly. Its stately sister Ambre et Vanille is more restrained, though hot with iris, heliotrope and marigold, spices and woods. Villoresi’s Teint de Neige has its own cult following: a gauzy gossamer cloud of jasmine, white roses and sifted powdery vanilla icing sugar. The quintessence of soft and romantic femininity, an Edwardian glass dressing table cascading with lace, glace ribbon and goffered muslin. Pierre Guillaume is the niche king of sophisticated gourmanderie, so vanilla fanciers should inspect his Parfumerie General and Huitieme Art with method and enthusiasm. Don’t miss Creed‘s luxurious Sublime Vanille; and we end with the grand finale of Mona di Orio’s resplendent Vanille, a French galleon sailing out of Guadeloupe or Martinique, laden with bitter oranges and a whole plantation of vanilla pods perfuming the trade winds.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Vignettes of Old Marylebone 3: You know my methods, Watson

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When I leave Seymour Place of an evening, my head full of shop cares, I’m often pleased to fancy myself as a client of Mr Sherlock Holmes, hastening up to 221B Baker St to pour out my heart. How reassuring to be ushered upstairs by the vague but cosy figure of Mrs Hudson and have Dr Watson offer strong waters while the great man listens intently to your knotty problems. I’m proud to say I’ve read every one of his cases and no doubt you have too. Which is the most compelling?
Hardly coincidentally, I remember the ones featuring strong scents. The type of lady to be found at 221B is not likely to be a perfume wearer though of course Holmes’s curious habits fill his rooms with fumes of shag tobacco (kept in a Persian slipper), violin rosin and the tang of opium poppy. I remember the reek of chloroform in Lady Frances Carfax’s unusually and suspiciously large coffin (they get the pad off her face just in time). Scent is the vital clue to murder in the horrible Adventure of the Retired Colourman: he’s gassed his wife and her lover and then repainted the house to disguise the tell-tale smell. And then there’s the tragic Veiled Lodger who at Holmes’s behest surrenders her means of suicide: “I send you my temptation”. There on the mantlepiece is a vial of prussic acid: ” a pleasant almondy odour rose when I opened it”…

But my favourites are The – alas! unscented –  Speckled Band: the snake posted through the bedroom vent and down the bellpull – and poor Miss Violet Hunter’s perils in The Copper Beeches, forced to cut off her luxuriant chestnut hair and sit in the parlour window of a morning wearing a borrowed dress in a peculiar shade of electric blue…nip up to Baker St after your trip to Les Senteurs and find out why.

 

“Warm hearted and demonstrative, that’s me”

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Kay Walsh was the second Mrs David Lean, an accomplished dancer, screen writer and as a character actress one of the chief glories of British cinema in the 1940’s. Her speciality was the evocation of lower class females; to “get yourself some old clothes and make yourself common like me”. You must have seen her, maybe without knowing it. She knocks back the gin (“not too much lemon, dear”) as Dietrich’s blackmailing dresser in Hitchcock’s Stage Fright; breaks Celia Johnson’s heart as the wayward daughter in This Happy Breed; excites pity and terror as Nancy in her husband’s production of Oliver Twist; knits in the cupboard under the stairs in In Which We Serve.

One of her best parts is her short but key role in the John Mills’ thriller The October Man. “Good natured, easy going, generous to a fault” Molly Newman is the lingerie model and ex-Woolworths girl who entertains men to the customary gin and lemon (“oh, come on don’t be stuffy”) in her boarding house bedroom and ends up strangled on the Common. In four brief scenes Walsh creates an entire life for the character. She is always rich in humour – even as Nancy she makes you laugh – and though in life an elegant and attractive woman she has no qualms about unflattering make-up or on-screen behaviour. Whether picking orange pith from her teeth at a Christmas dinner, ironing from the light flex or spilling cigarette ash down her jumper she is plainly enjoying herself, having fun in a way that you rarely see today. Like bigger stars such as Bette Davis and Charles Laughton she tears at a role with her teeth and fleshes out her lines with the high colour of her own invention like a child in the dressing up box. When I met her (at Harrods cheese counter) she told me with pride how she’d been out and about with Hitchcock during the filming of Stage Fright when they saw a greengrocer cycling down the Kings Road wearing an old mac perfect for her charcter. “Run after him Kay and offer him 7/6 d” said the director. She told me,”I got it for half a crown.”

No doubt she was the sort of actress who would have chosen a perfume to get herself into character: My Sin, Rubinstein’s Apple Blossom or Ashes of Roses. Maybe that’s where she found the humour. Common scents can be a lot of fun as well as being highly effective as the schoolgirl amateur filles de joie in The Passion Flower Hotel find out with a bottle of Jungle Venom which “smelled common but penetratingly sexy.” I use the adjective here not as perjorative but descriptive of a certain robust type of fragrance which is unsubtle, uncomplicated and which cheers you up no end. Maybe Bourjois’s Evening in Paris is the standard bearer of this type for my generation: workers at the Croydon plant were shunned on the bus because of the ripe smell that enfolded them. When a German bomb hit the factory, south London lay for days in a thick cloud of musky flowers.

A common scent by definition is by no means a bad scent; it’s obvious maybe, slightly tipsy, over affectionate, full of loopy amiability, but highly addictive and as stimulating as a good stiff drink. It does its stuff, pulls the rabbit from the hat every time. Whereas for me a bad scent is defined by its laziness of construction, a refusal to engage, an unimaginative thrusting together of ill-matched ingredients. Common scents are florid and flamboyant, golden-hearted queens of the chorus line decked out in jasmine, tuberose, caramel, red roses with vanillin, amber, musk and coumarin to excess. Easy to understand, magnetic to the nose and comforting to wear they suit a certain mood – perfect for holidays, ideal to perk up a boring day or enliven a tedious job. As to their effect on others, they may repel the snobbish or seduce those who are prepared to meet them on their own terms.

Far be it from me to provide a check list of common scents. Their diagnosis is in any case entirely subjective. But I should love to hear some reactions from you on this one.

Vignettes of Old Marylebone 2: The Land of Smiles

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I went out for a little walk at lunchtime, feeling a need for air after a morning at the keyboard. I came out of Seymour Place and crossed the Edgware Road into Connaught Square which has fascinated me ever since the Blairs moved in a few years back. It feels strangely remote from all the hustle and noise only seconds away, very leafy with tall shadowy trees and an appealing air of old-fashioned leisure and calm. There was a cheerful bobby on duty on Tony and Cherie’s step, beaming and friendly like a walk-on from “Mary Poppins”. It’s a tranquil homely place. My headache lifted after one circuit and I strolled on past the Duke of Kendal pub, which prompted memories of Ehrengard Melusine, the first Duchess and domineering mistress of King George 1st. She was tall, scraggy, scrawny and grasping: irreverent Londoners called her The Maypole, appreciating the piquant contrast with her enormous rival The Elephant, otherwise known as the Countess of Darlington.

An old friend hailed me from a cafe terrace in Connaught Street which was nice (fancy her recognising me after all these years), and I walked back via West Park where I was entranced to find a Blue Plaque informing me that the Austrian tenor Richard Tauber had spent the last year of his life in Flat 297, a long way from his birthplace in Linz and the final stage of his sad exile from Hitler’s outrages. I’ve always loved Tauber, especially when he belts out “You Are My Heart’s Delight” and “Das Lied ist Aus” . At his last performance, weeks before his death, he sang full pelt on only one lung. Decades later his old Berlin co-star Marlene Dietrich would pay him tribute during her London concerts. One of his early hits was that wonderful song about the lilacs “Wenn die Weisse Flieder Wieder Bluhn”. And that reminds me: we have a delicious white lilac perfume for you at the shop – Frederic Malle’s ineffable EN PASSANT, the breath of white lilac buds on a pale green breeze.

And so back to the Edgware road and the wonderful aroma of shisha pipes billowing along the pavements in a warm perfumed cloud: strawberry, mint, rose and amber. On the corner of Seymour Place was the final treat: our local ironmongers, with a fine new window display of various rat-traps in “traditional style” . I had to smile and thought wistfully of Beatrix Potter and the terrifying Samuel Whiskers. What a wonderful refreshing walk, packed with interest, and all in under 30 minutes. Marylebone really is a village, or rather a series of them: all enchanting and pulsating with life.