Clothes In The Wardrobe¤

Delicious fumes of Norman Hartnell's In Love surge forth...

Delicious fumes of Norman Hartnell’s In Love surge forth…

I worked for years next to this exotically buoyant and very vocal girl who sold heady sultry Chiara Boni perfume. She habitually wore emerald eye shadow and cyclamen lip rouge, and she used to hang around the public pay phones to grab potential customers the moment they hung up. Her big line as she plied the bottle was –
“..is the sort of perfume, when you open your wardrobe door you smell it!”

And that magic tag shifted a lot of stock. As Lord Beaverbrook would have said, it “shook hands with people’s hearts”. I love this notion too, but to be perfectly honest it’s not a phenomenon I seem able to materialise in my own home. Maybe my family and I don’t spray heavily enough; maybe we wear too great an assortment of fragrances for one particular scent to cling.¤¤ Or perhaps the fabrics are all wrong, no leathers or furs; not enough wool, feather, silk or velvet. Like an pre-Columbian Aztec, I tend to live principally in plain or wadded cotton. I am currently sweetening a built-in closet on the bedroom landing by hanging scent-soaked flannels on the clothes rail: it works but I’m still not greeted by a gorgeous billow of fragrance when I open the door. (It’s maybe another aspect of this current pseudo-scientific obsession with projection versus sillage: a controversial subject which we might come to on another occasion. Or on the other hand which we might choose to ignore).

But thousands DO get this enviable boost! A survey taken by LW on your behalf reveals that around 50% of habitual perfume-users experience a buzz from their own clothes whether in cupboards, on hooks or slung over chairs. A regular reader confides:

‘Over the years I’ve loved opening my wardrobe door and being hit by a wave of Shalimar: it’s just magic… It makes you feel wonderful and I can’t put my finger on it… however, as the perfume has been differently formulated that hit has become less and less..’

I think, maybe, that sense of wonderment my correspondent refers to, and which so many share, comes from the perfume seeming to have developed another life, a separate existence as a comforting avatar. For those who enjoy the wardrobe effect, fragrance has become the wearer’s Doppelganger, animating the garments in her absence so that she opens the closet to find her other self rushing out to greet her like the reflection in a glass. A mirror image graced with her own perfume: a second, perhaps idealised, self with (intriguing if spooky speculation) an entirely different character altogether.

closet
And of course we love, too, to smell the clothes of loved ones  – whether absent temporarily or for ever. The widowed Queen Victoria slept with the Prince Consort’s nightshirt in her arms and his dressing gown was placed in her coffin. Toyah Wilcox talked on the radio last week of working with Katharine Hepburn in 1979, and Hepburn still wearing Spencer Tracy’s old clothes – shirts, suits, trousers – twelve years after his death. “This is his sweater, never been washed. I can smell him…”. And think of how babies and infants reject much-sucked, licked and cuddled toys and “snitch-cloths” once they have been cleaned. The intermingled smells and fluids provide the animal comfort not the texture nor the cute faces.

Our wonderful Sarah McCartney created a glorious perfume around the idea of a secret scented storage space: The Lion Cupboard is named after her late father’s personal treasure cupboard. It smells of lavender-strewn cashmeres and scarves, dark fragrant woods, tooth powder and paste (heavenly pink Euthymol perhaps? Eucryl?), leather-bound diaries, distant colognes and the familiar, ever-present yet always tantalising mystery of the past. Lorenzo Villoresi’s Alamut was once described by its creator as a ancient carved sandalwood chest found in a fairy castle of the Arabian Nights, crammed with rich oriental fabrics, spices and perfumes: wonderful odours released as the seal is broken and the heavy lid lifted.

Then there’s the redolence of fabric itself. All materials have a definite and not always attractive odour, especially the natural ones. Wet wool. Gaudily dyed new cotton. Leather jackets impregnated with take-away dinners and hung over the backs of too many cafe chairs. Remember Polly and Fanny in ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ discussing their party dresses?

“Mine’s silver lame, it smells like a bird cage when it gets hot but I do love it.”

Polly is so right: I always had this problem with the odour of lame – and indeed any fabric shot with metallic threads – but thought it was just me until I read Nancy Mitford. It’s a wrenching grating smell almost as tormenting as chalk on a blackboard, tearing cotton wool or licking the wooden stick of an ice-lolly. Ugh!

Because I’m feeling it difficult to read much at present, I recently went back to an old favourite Elizabeth Goudge, that most soothing and – in a modest way – inspiring of novelists. I found The Scent of Water at the Loros shop and it really calmed me down: Val slips into a new & expensive golden and bronze house coat. Her husband is entranced both by the colour, and by the smell of new silk. For silk, too, has a very particular odour: slightly akin to steel, and also something about it of a clean budgie or parrot after a shower bath and concomitant preening session. A certain mineral quality – though far less pronounced than the sour bitterness of Polly Montdore’s slinky gown. Nowadays I occasionally smell silk in a lovely fresh tie or scarf, and it certainly holds perfume exquisitely. But I remember the scent of silk especially from old clothes in childhood: two blue evening gowns relegated at the end of their lives from once fashionable wardrobes to the grubby infant-theatre of the dressing up cupboard.

I see all this is now leading me on to further thoughts, the overlap of old clothes with the supernatural, which must wait for a further instalment on this theme in due course. Talk to you later.

¤ with grateful acknowledgement to the genius of Alice Thomas Ellis.

¤¤ and of course all my drawers and closets are filled with herbal moth repellents, smelling delicious in their own right.

From Blackpool to Havana.

Sarah McCartney

Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays

I am dotty about What I Did On My Holidays, Sarah McCartney‘s preservation of past summers like so many flies in sweet-smelling amber. Highly original, devastatingly pretty: here’s an elegant scent that’s cunning and clever, amusing, witty and a treat to wear. A jeu d’esprit, a tonic, a irresistible pick-me-up even on the weariest, wettest and wickedest of August days. WIDOMH is a hand-tinted picture postcard album of seaside nostalgia; what Charlie Drake used to call “a world of toffee and tears”. Take a pierrot line of melting Neapolitan ices, creamy whorls of dusty pink, pistachio, gold and vanilla. Then fold in green cucumbery notes of sea breeze, rock pools and crab teas; pink sticky watch-your-fillings peppermint rock; coconut suntan oil from the pre-SPF era; and the yellow haze of sunshine filtered through Bank Holiday traffic fumes and serenaded by the melancholy Sunday afternoon chimes of the Mr Softee van. Does this have you reaching for your purse? I’ll take two, please!

What I Did On My Holidays

What I Did On My Holidays

Holiday memories are the sharpest, because one is living out of the ordinary for a week or two; and because the camera that we all carry with us is so tuned up by anticipation to snap a sharp succession of new experiences. I used to hate those intrusive essays demanded on the return to school: “What I Did on My Holidays” seemed absolutely no one’s business but my own. Yet, here are 4160 Tuesdays and I sharing these long-ago experiences, caught in this extraordinary scent which smells elusive, heart-tugging and hilarious in turn. It has a whiff of that most comical and grotesque of trips, Dora Bryan and Robert Stephens lugging a sullen Rita Tushingham (“be nice to him, love, he’s brought you chocolates”) along Blackpool Pier in A Taste of Honey. And it has the melancholy dreamy beauty of a faded water colour in an old bedroom looking out to sea, a room I’ve not seen for more than half a century; where if I stood on top of the water tank I could just about make out the grey waves and the sand dunes away across the marshes.”

I wrote the above two summers ago and my love affair with 4160 Tuesdays and the ineffable creator has proved far from a brief holiday romance. I am fathoms deep in love. Sarah McCartney has not only brilliant eccentric talent, but you sense that she has the most enormous fun in creating her perfumes: she appears to get a hell of a kick out of her own products and this I find quite irresistible in an over-serious world. Sarah’s scents are full of joy and wit; laughter, memory, imagination and fantasy – all those things that we perfume-pickers constantly reference as fundamental foundations of a great fragrance. She composes like a bold Fauvist painter – using brilliant gemmy colours; great bold strokes camouflaging insightful subtlety. Sarah is eclectic, weaving all kinds of symbols, totems, allusions and glittering ephemera into a magical web: she is the Shena Mackay of fragrance, a mordant mistress of illusion. 4160 is a wardrobe of highly sophisticated scents which one can also play with – in the same way that Carl Faberge’s jewels are also the most fantastic toys ever made.

Two more crackers have just arrived at Les Senteurs – The Dark Heart of Havana and Doe in the Snow. Now the first is a riff on Carmen Miranda, Hemingway, Zarah Leander in “Cuba Cubana” – everything you ever heard about desire and indulgence and stifled laughter in the starry tropics. It takes me back to the sodden New Year of 1968 and flying off to Bermuda to visit my aunt, house-sitting in a pearly villa surrounded by groves of grapefruit which we kids noshed straight from the tree. We sipped the unheard-of delicacy of rum and cokes on the pink shell beaches, my mother bought a fabulous pair of tortoiseshell Raybans and it was fairyland after shopping for school uniforms in gritty downtown Leicester. But the best bit of all was the arrival, stepping off the BOAC flight into warm balmy midnight air and the Hamilton terminal full of scarlet hibiscus, mauve oleander and a battery of new and unknown smells. We went crazy, like dogs pursuing aniseed or sex. “Havana” brings it all back. My heart wells up at all the green and marmaladey peachy citrus, the soft brown sugar, the tobacco (Aunty’s 60-a-day Lucky Strikes – or Craven A if available), the first properly made coffee we’d ever tasted. And encircling everything like a lei, the waxy spicy floral scents of Prospero’s island.

Doe In The Snow was originally created for the intellectual perfume connoisseur’s Dream Girl, She-Who-Needs-No-Introduction: Miss Odette Toilette. Like all masterpieces of bespoke fragrance Doe catches its subject to perfection, an insightful and moving portrait in scent. So maybe it’s partly because I love Odette so well that this bottled avatar enthralls me: Sarah McCartney writes that she “stirred woods, fruits and flowers with an icicle” – like the wand of the Snow Queen. Doe is all about contrasts and illusions, a Dance of the Seven Veils which discreetly retains a final diaphanous drapery and a pellucid enigma. Classic Paris notes of oak moss and jasmine contrast with frosty yuzu, peach aldehyde and creamy-golden tonka. To me, Doe In The Snow has something of the great scent-stars of the past about it – murmurs of Mitsouko, Ma Griffe and Femme: a generous, all-embracing hommage to the chypres, that smallest, most select and genuinely glamorous of fragrance families. And how about a medal for the name, too!

I’ll finish as I began by revisiting an earlier appreciation of 4160 Tuesdays, this time a salute to The Lion Cupboard. Sarah named this wonderful scent after her father’s personal treasure cupboard – it’s redolent of tooth powder, cashmeres and silk scarves laid up in herbs against the moth, dark fragrant woods, leather-bound diaries, half-forgotten colognes and the assurance of the past. Mint, juniper oil, aniseed, patchouli and lavender on the shelves are as transient but powerful as memories, regrets and reminiscences. The ideal perfume for winter hibernation, comfort and reflection: what the best-dressed polar bear is wearing this Christmas!

You can smell all of the fragrances from 4160 Tuesdays, as well as have the chance to chat with Sarah McCartney, on Wednesday 10th December at our Festive Soiree!

christmas-flyer-dWEB

Perfume Shops Pt. One: Little Chemists

john-rogers-in-the-prescription-room-of-his-old-fashioned-pharmacyOne of my greatest pleasures on a home-grown holiday is to shuffle around unfamiliar little shops: no obligation to buy but the easy delights of a good nose around Buddha markets, second hand book stalls, antique attics, gift boutiques and Oxfam. Fusty, musty, dusty smells and all sorts of unexpected and delicious finds: a Spanish fan reeking of Maja, butterfly wing art deco jewellery, the Ladybird Book of Garden Flowers, Gainsborough Studio illustrated film scripts, old scent bottles and once even a rusty Floris soap tin advertised as “Georgian Lady’s Snuff Box: very rare. £75”.

For the open-minded and adventurous, a chemist’s shop can be fun and richly rewarding. “It’s such a mixture of nice things: herbs and scent and soap.” Celia Johnson tells us in Brief Encounter as she browses in Boots, which in those days also ran the famous lending library. Keep your eyes peeled for small old-fashioned chemists, usually deep in the provinces where forgotten treasures still lurk forgotten on the shelves, the sort of place where you can find ancient editions of Ma Griffe, Tabu, Hartnell’s My Love and Je Reviens going for under a tenner. These are the fast-disappearing stores where sea sponges, bath cubes and salts still bring in the money; plastic striped sponge bags have drawstrings and inserts of matching soap cases; vanilla-scented suppositories are still de rigueur and rubber bathcaps sprout riotous flowers like Suttons seed catalogues. You can still ask unblushingly for smokers’ tooth powder without being offered reformatory leaflets and disapproving looks.

Requests for Carnation corn plasters, elastic stockings and Snowfire Jelly are sympathetically understood without having to spell out the names – or pantomime the products’ homely function. Nivea and Yardley are brought out for Christmas on tiny rickety tables jammed in the aisles and piled with hand-painted fir cones, lewdly grinning Santas and cottonwool angels. Bars of soap (rare as hens’ teeth in London) are easily come by, and occasionally razor blades and aspirin are still sold individually like wartime cigarettes. A rainbow of face flannels, almond oil hand creams, pastel cotton wool balls and sticks of frozen lavender cologne for headache relief: impossible not to get your purse out.

And there’s always this wonderful warm ( a baby’s bath not a Moloch’s furnace) comforting fragrance in the air. Soapy, vaguely mentholated and medical: Johnsons Baby Powder blended with the divine scent of Euthymol tooth paste, Universal Embrocation, Bronnley bath oils and boxes of novelty soap shaped like lemons and smelling of verbena,citrus and their dry wooden containers. Pumice stone, face flannels, nail brushes and Wrights Coal Tar radiate reassurance and the indefinable smell of calm and security, as tranquillising to us as to other animals. The dispenser in his immaculate white cotton coat is wise as a doctor and discreet as a priest but less alarming than either: one of us and not one of them. Try 4160’s The Lion Cupboard to evoke all this discreet and irresistible pleasure. The mixture as before: mint absolu and and a ginny juniper; aniseed, lavender and patchouli. Sarah McCartney named this wonderful scent after her father’s personal treasure cupboard – it’s redolent of tooth powder, cashmeres and silk scarves put up in herbs against the moth, dark fragrant woods, leather-bound diaries, half-forgotten colognes and the safe assurance of the past. I’ll take two bottles, Mr Pharmacist, please!

Blue Tits

bbcdotcodotuk

We are still officially in winter for another three weeks but these last days of February have their own loveliness. Every year without fail we always have a brief foretaste of spring round about now as if to tide us over until the real thing takes over, a little picture preview to get us through the last bit of winter. It’s already light until six o’clock, the air smells young again: the older I get the more I think I prefer these unique days at the turn of the season to the rather uncontrolled frenzy of the true spring which often feels overpoweringly passionate, making unreasonable demands of the stunned admirer.

The first daffodils came very early in February this year and now the garden foliage is the colour of the blue tits pecking at the peanuts suspended in my still skeletal magnolia. Have you noticed how uncannily and exactly the plumage of these little birds echoes and blends with the winter jasmine, the crocus, lungwort, the washed or stormy sky, and the blue grey yellow-green of all the young shoots? Only as they dart from branch to branch does movement render the tits fleetingly visible. And once April comes they appear to vanish altogether, swallowed up by golden verdance and blue sky. I never see one during the summer; colour absorbs them.

Delicious powerful scents are now lured forth by the first brief burst of warm sunshine. I haven’t seen violets in February for many years but there are stars of purple set in glowing green leaves by the bus stop – and that incredible mesmerising fragrance of musk and sugary petals: yesterday as I knelt in the muddy grass the violets smelled as sweet as though crystallised on a wedding cake. Maybe no other flower but the rose has such a familiar aroma. But be patient, push your nose beyond cliche – violets are fleshy & carnal and also reveal a faintly smoky note deep within them. They emit an echo of Frederic Malle’s Rubber Incense, a sheet of which I keep in my writing box to scent the stationery with “Saint des Saints”.

The vibernum flowers look like clots of mashed up raspberries and cream against emerald black leaves; their sharp spicy fragrance is faintly peppery, mingled with the damp earth & mould under the wall where the snowdrops’ luminous pearliness illuminates the dark purple hellebores and the mauve primulas. Those early daffodils exude the weird soaring excitement of a Sarah McCartney scent: a penetrating, exuberant and flagrant fragrance. The thrilling rubbery polleny yellow powderiness blown from satin trumpets is one of springtime’s most characteristic yet neglected perfumes.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”! For the rain is back again and the forecast for the weekend predicts sharp frosts, hail and does not rule out snow. Hold back on your planting! But spring will keep and its scents continue to discreetly herald its coming.

Image: http://www.bbc.co.uk

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.

charm

I am dotty about What I Did On My Holidays, Sarah McCartney‘s preservation of past summers like so many flies in sweet-smelling amber. Highly original, devastatingly pretty: here’s an elegant scent that’s cunning and clever, amusing, witty and a treat to wear. A jeu d’esprit, a tonic, a irresistible pick-me-up even on the weariest and wickedest of August days. WIDOMH is a  hand-tinted picture postcard album of seaside nostalgia; what Charlie Drake used to call “a world of toffee and tears”. Take a pierrot line of melting Neapolitan ices, creamy whorls of dusty pink, pistachio, gold and vanilla. Then fold in green cucumbery notes of sea breeze, rock pools and crab teas; pink sticky watch-your-fillings peppermint rock; coconut suntan oil from the pre-SPF era; and the yellow haze of sunshine filtered through Bank Holiday traffic fumes and serenaded by the melancholy Sunday afternoon chimes of the Mr Softee van. Does this have you reaching for your purse? I’ll take two,please!

I’m told that my first sight of the dark North Sea aged two and a half prompted no response other than “I want my tea!”. I remember the kitchen curtains of our holiday house, patterned in a very 1950’s whimsy of trams and trains; and the sensual pleasures of popping seaweed between the fingers – the sun-baked black sort like dried currants and the slithery greenery yallery ropes of what looked and felt like strings of sultanas, smelling of harbour water and mud. I recall our pointer dog finding the remains of a dead seal on the early morning beach, his ecstatic and comprehensive roll and the subsequent reeking chaos. And I remember stumping over the quaggy marshy waste between sand dunes and street through clumps of red and yellow bird’s foot trefoil which my mother told me was called the bacon and eggs plant. For years I used to smell the savoury odours of the family fry pan billowing from this tiny flower: now the the trefoil seems to have vanished and the full English with it.

Then one Whitsun we went to Bognor, so beloved of George V : Bognor in a heat wave and a bright yellow house called Easter Cottage, with a piano and a window seat for the pugs to scratch; a house made even hotter by a kitchen boiler with live coals and cinders to be raked out every morning. This was my first encounter with holiday crowds, great heat, vinegary wasp traps and the prodigality of holiday ice creams, the latter very carefully rationed. My parents were dubious about cornets (made under the bed, said my grandmother, and using the cheapest sort of lard); but a choc ice might be occasionally allowed (safely wrapped, you see), and brought home before being cut into slices and shared out by degrees. Years later I got into terrible trouble with a teacher at school for being seen to eat ice cream in the street. The front and the beach at Bognor were too crowded to attempt,  and what I remember best is pottering endlessly round a tiny zoo of which my grandmother rightly disapproved, fascinated by an African crested crane. The bird looked elegant and cool under the dusty trees and didn’t have the disturbing, even frightening, smell of the monkeys and chimps. Neither did it shriek and chitter, nor wave a shaming pink behind at the bars.

In the 1960’s we made excursions to Wales, to the coast and the mountains; I developed what was either meningitis or sunstroke, the doctors could never decide. But the walls of my bedroom melted into crumbling india rubber and my splitting head was, for months after, full of the scent of the liver paste sandwiches which we were eating on the sands the day the horror struck. Indeed, I can still smell them, 50 years on. On a subsequent visit, we children all went down with chicken pox (which my brother had been told by his school nurse was a flea infestation) so the classic fougere of the wet bracken is forever mixed in my mind with the chalky kiss of kalomine lotion on red burning skin. That was the time when in my fever I fancied Satan was outside the bedroom window: the cow with the crumpled horn scratching herself against the wall of the house.

Holiday memories are the sharpest, because one is living out of the ordinary for a week or two; and because the camera that we all carry with us is so tuned up by anticipation if not apprehension to snap a sharp succession of new experiences. I used to hate those intrusive essays demanded on the return to school: “What I Did on My Holidays” seemed absolutely no one’s business but my own. Yet, here are 4160 Tuesdays and I  sharing these long-ago experiences, caught in this extraordinary scent which  smells elusive, heart-tugging and hilarious in turn. It has a whiff of that most comical and grotesque of trips, Dora Bryan and Robert Stephens lugging a sullen Rita Tushingham (“be nice to him, love, he’s brought you chocolates”) along Blackpool Pier in A Taste of Honey. And it has the melancholy dreamy beauty of a faded water colour in an old bedroom looking out to sea, a room I’ve not seen for more than half a century; where if I stood on top of the water tank I could just about make out the grey waves and the sand dunes away across the marshes.