‘APPROPRIATE’: a doom-laden word of today. So, is it appropriate to use the smell of blood – the essential fluid of life – as a perfume accord or a fragrance theme? I’d say it was permissible, interesting, provocative, adventurous – if risky. To others it remains weirdly and wholly inappropriate. The problem is, that blood – which could and should be perceived as awesome, sacred, even mystical – evokes in many people a sense of fright, revulsion and disgust. The very thought of it, coursing hotly within us all at this very minute, is upsetting or repellent. Blood is all too intimately relevant to birth and (of course) to death. The circulation of the blood is inevitable, involuntary and universally applicable, but is best ignored whenever possible; or distanced by the conventions of cinema, Hallowe’en grotesquerie or gallows humour. Those avant garde perfumers who have so far “had a go” with blood, have therefore so far tended to trade on shock value, rather than contemplating the austere beauties of the metaphysical.
The splendidly polarising and revolutionary ‘Secretions Magnifiques‘ is probably still the best-known and most startling example of this small and recherche fragrance family. And here’s an interesting thing: in the ten years since its launch, the perception of this startling impressionistic blend of various intimate human body fluids has somewhat tamed and softened. People do still come into Les Senteurs to smell the bottle at arm’s length and to shudder & scream; but a younger generation has now grown up who consider ‘Secretions’ more thoughtfully and analytically.
Many of us have now come to recognize in ‘Secretions’ those molecules which give the perfume a curious similarity with certain crisp florals. Like the Aztecs¤ we may subconsciously make a connection between brilliantly coloured flowers¤¤ and hot spurting blood. For it remains vital that – for now – a sanguinary fragrance accord should display a certain clinical freshness. The reek of stale blood that so repelled the Conquistadors in those Mexican temples, and which stampeded the cattle herded past the guillotine in Revolutionary Paris, is really still too awful to think about. This is the stench which helped to drive Lady Macbeth out of her mind:
“Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! Oh! Oh!”
Our olfactory decadence has yet some way to go. Sweat may play a role in ‘Secretions’ – but clots of black blood.. not at all, thank you.
Don’t forget, the ‘Secretions’ are still described – ironically or not – as ‘Magnifiques’. There is still somehow the suggestion of a divinely created grandeur. “The blood is the life, Mr Renfield.” Out in the commercial world you can enjoy Lady Gaga’s similarly themed fragrance: this is called “Fame”. You can read that name as bathetic or irrelevant – or alternatively, as a rather splendid invocation of the multi-tongued Roman goddess, proclaiming the perfume and its awe-ful contents to the nations. The veins of the Old Gods ran not with red blood but with ichor, a golden fluid redolent of fragrant honey and nectar. “Bloody Wood” by Liquides Imaginaires suggests something of this lyrically poetic theme: the scarlet succulence of a libation of richly symbolic wine, roses, cherries and raspberries. A Bacchanalian banquet before the Maenads of Dionysus run murderously berserk.
Last week we pondered the scented lure of the desert. The connection of blood & sand begins with the terrifying Egyptian myth of the attempted destruction of Mankind by the lioness goddess Sekhmet, “The Lady of the Bloodbath, the Ruler of the Chamber of Flames”. Enraged by the sins of men, Sekhmet came ravening out of the Western Desert and was stopped in her awful mission of slaughter only by making her dead drunk on jugs of red barley and pomegranate beer. This the lioness lapped, believing it to be the gore of her blasphemers.
Blood and sand coagulated in the Roman amphitheatres beneath awnings of violets and showers of rosewater. A shadow of this vanished ambience still mingles in the bull rings of southern Spain. Vierges et Torreros with its dusky musky accords of leather and tuberose is the corrida sanitised for lovers of “Ferdinand the Bull”, the dear little beast who loved to “sit quietly and smell the flowers” in “all the lovely ladies’…hair”. You might try Tom Daxon’s Vachetta too, a deep, rounded profound leather once described by an admirer as “beefy”. (All that fine Spanish leather is sourced in the ring; and the meat goes to the best restaurants in town).
I am acquainted with the metallic tang of hot blood as I grew up with my father’s veterinary surgery just across the passage from our kitchen. And in those far-off days, tots seemed to fall over and bloody themselves almost constantly: of course, we all wore shorts to a remarkably advanced age and romped about outside for much of the time. Health and Safety was in its infancy. (I remember having to have the section on First Aid in my Enid Blyton Diary slowly explained to me. “But what does it MEAN?”). The smell of blood is sharp, metallic, rather like the iodine with which all those injuries were agonisingly daubed.¤¤¤
It doesn’t panic me, as it does animals – and many humans – but it inspires me with a certain awe and I think perfume-wise it deserves to be treated with respect. And, so: this is where we came in!
¤ a percipient sociologist, whose name I cannot recall, once famously noted that civilizations who appreciate liberal blood-letting are usually keen flower gardeners, too.
¤¤ flowers scream when they are picked, as Ian Fleming reminded us. I well remember my mother and grandmother shrieking aloud when they reached this line in a Bond novel. Naturally we children were enthralled.
¤¤¤ but why does modern iodine not sting as it once used to? Have they ‘taken something out’? I bought a bottle recently, and had a dab for old time’s sake. The formula is now strangely mild. My aunt used to say it was added to my orange juice to calm my infant agitations: a suggestion my parents hotly denied.