Be My Valentine?

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What’s one of the very nicest things you can buy your loved one on Valentine’s Day?

“Perfume” I hear you murmur, with quiet confidence. Quite right.

I’ll tell you why.

Perfume smells lovelier than store-boughten flowers which nowadays seem to have sacrificed scent for gorgeousness of colour and immensity of size.

It will smell even more delicious than a fine dining experience or a designer box of chocs; and fragrance carries none the concomitant risks to health and fitness.

And it lasts so much, much longer than either of the above. You always get your money’s worth with scent; besides which, you can personalise it in witty and exquisite ways.

Look, I’ll show you:

To make a successful gift of perfume you have to give a lot of yourself and that is always the best gift of all. You need to plan your purchase to fit your loved one as snugly as a pair of hand-made shoes. Get into his (or her) head – take a tour around his personality and choose a scent accordingly. Staff at Les Senteurs are always happy to help you translate ideas into actions if you need a little assistance.

Think laterally: consider, say, your partner’s favourite movie, colour or flower and pick a perfume to reflect that. If you were going down the cinematic route you might choose a fragrance notably worn or inspired by your inamorata’s favourite star ( Frederic Malle & Dominique Ropion created Carnal Flower with Candice Bergen in mind; Catherine Deneuve was Francis Kurkdjian’s inspiration for Lumiere Noire). Or you could select a perfume worn in a much-loved film. Think of Norma Desmond’s tuberoses in Sunset Boulevard or Caron’s Fleur de Rocaille in The Scent of a Woman. If you wept over Titanic, then track down a scent that was captivating the world in 1912. We have several such treasures – cast your eye and nose over the great Houses of Houbigant, Grossmith and, once again, the inevitable and unique Caron.

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Candice Bergen in Carnal Knowledge

Matching flowers is easy to do, but so romantic and adorable if you take the trouble to discover what she really loves: we have luscious rose perfumes of all types ( dark, dewy, spicy, fruity, innocent, lascivious, smoky, waxy ); but Les Senteurs also holds captive the most beautiful examples of gardenia, ylang ylang, lily of the valley, magnolia and orange blossom. A married gentlemen may like to remember what his wife carried in her bridal bouquet and match those blooms in fragrance. Ladies, you can do the same with your husband’s boutonniere or the favourite plants he cultivates for the garden show. Don’t forget: men love flowers too.

A rose that's perfect for men and women.

A rose that’s perfect for men and women.

Now I mentioned colour which may surprise some of you. I don’t mean the colour of the packaging or the bottle (though this may play its part). I’m talking about a factor that’s rather more subtle. By and large, if a person likes brilliant, strong vibrant hues then that individual will go for expressive rich perfumes too. Contrary wise, admirers of white, beige, cream and pastels will tend to prefer lighter airier fragrances. So consider the colours your beloved wears, the shades your lover paints his rooms and let your instinct guide you like a bee to the honey.

Bette Davis in 'Now, Voyager'

Bette Davis in Now, Voyager

Nothing stimulates memory like the sense of smell so another cute idea would be to conjure up thoughts of a special time you have enjoyed together and celebrate it in scent. If the earth moved for you, try Nu_Be’s explosive and elemental dawn-of-the-universe fragrances. Recreate a day at the sea; an ocean voyage; a holiday in Havana, Istanbul, London, China or Morocco; an evening at the ballet. Or, more modestly, an afternoon in the vegetable garden, a shared creamcake, a romantic breakfast – even the wicked intimacy of a shared cigarette. “O Jerry don’t let’s ask for the moon, we have the stars.”
Getting the idea? Choosing a romantic gift should and can be such a pleasure: and I think I can promise that the more you enjoy the selection, the more delight the chosen perfume will give to the recipient.

Happy Valentines from all at LES SENTEURS!

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The Splendour of Splendours

Pharaoh Hatshepsut

Pharaoh Hatshepsut

 

They were talking about the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut on the radio the other day and I was taken back 20 years to my visit to her mortuary temple on the West Bank of the Nile. To the ancient Egyptians this was the land of the dead, the domain of the setting sun. From a distance the Splendour of Splendours looks like an Art Deco cinema or a 3,000 year old shopping complex rising in three pillared tiers and terraces hewn out of the rockface backing the Valley of the Kings.

On the silver-blue and apricot early morning of my visit the air was full of the scent of fresh mint and sweet basil. 3,500 years ago it was here that Hatshepsut planted the myrrh trees brought back from the Land of Punt, the Realm of the Gods beyond the Red Sea: the guides still show you the plots where the bushes grew between the paving slabs. Among them flowered fragrant henna: strands of hair dyed with the leaves can still be seen on the skulls of certain mummies, though the body of the Woman-King has vanished, probably for ever. Myrrh was a sacred substance in Egypt as in so many other ancient middle eastern cultures. Today we recognise it as a powerful beneficial antioxidant (once prescribed for my mouth ulcers) and a natural preservative, so it is not surprising that the Egyptians used it in embalming, believing it to be the scent of their gods’ immortal flesh, the flesh that was all of gold.

Hatshepsut had it recorded that she was herself semi-divine, conceived by the supreme god Amun. Her royal mother recognised the intrusive deity by the heavenly scent of myrrh emitted by his gilded skin. The legend of the phoenix originated or at any rate was elaborated in Egypt: the unique gold and crimson bird that lived for 500 years and nested in cinnamon, cassia, spikenard and myrrh, dieting on drops of frankincense. When the old bird died its offspring was said to enclose the corpse in an egg of pure myrrh and bring it for burial at the temple at Heliopolis, the former City of the Sun now prosaically incorporated into the suburbs of Greater Cairo.

Anyone who thrills to these old tales will love Papillon’s ANUBIS by perfumer Elizabeth Moores, a poem in perfume to the arcane beliefs of the ancient world. It is also very apt for Christmas by the way: as one of its central ingredients is – you’re sure to have guessed it! – myrrh, the gift brought by the Magi to presage Christ’s suffering and entombment. “Myrrh is mine / Its bitter perfume / Breathes a life of gathering gloom…” . And don’t forget that genial old Santa started life as St Nicholas of Myra, the city in modern Turkey where his sarcophagus was said to weep miraculous tears of sweet-scented myrrh resin: which is why the saint is now the official patron of perfumers and all things fragranced.

Anubis from Papillon Artisan Perfumes

Anubis from Papillon Artisan Perfumes

ANUBIS is not Liz Moore’s only scent – there are two other beauties – but it is perhaps the most exotic. Anubis was the god of embalming & mummification, the guardian of cemeteries, the conductor of souls to the afterlife. At the core of his perfume is absolute of pink Nile lotus, not flowery and pretty but dark, vegetal and virile like the vital sediment of the inundation which fertilised the green East Bank of the Nile. Then around this Liz wraps a series of powerful pungent oils, as intricately as the linen bandages swathing a dead monarch. One can almost hear the funerary priests in their black jackals’ head masks intoning the ritual names of benzoin, castoreum, opoponax, saffron, labdanum, tolu and sandalwood. There’s jasmine too, like the dried flower wreaths sometimes found by archaeologists in the tombs. ANUBIS is a precious and unique thrill: don’t start worrying that it might be a touch morbid – the Egyptians believed that all the joy they found in life would be redoubled after death. So with this scent: ANUBIS is an explosion of life-affirming energetic delights!

You can meet the wonderful Elizabeth Moores at our Seymour Place shop on Weds 10th December, alongside two other incredibly talented British perfumers.

 

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Paradise Regained

The Butterfly that Stamped - Rudyard Kipling

When we were studying Paradise Lost for English A Level, I remember Mr Edwards expounding on the nature of the fruit that ruined Eve. The idea of it being an apple was all wrong, he thought. The fatal fruit should have been a luscious peach, a satin-skinned nectarine or a furry-velvet apricot – soft, tactile, fragrant; dropping sweet perfumed nectar, and of a rosy golden colour, blushing at the cosmic shame of the Fall. It’s not just that most of us today have the image of an apple as a hard green waxed ball sat in the supermarket: the early Church fathers suspected the intrinsic perversity of apples and this is why the fruit was stigmatised as the undoing of Eve and Adam. Apples grow harder as they mature, unlike respectable soft fruit; they are indecently slow to decay, defying the Divine Law. To put the tin hat on it, the Latin name for an apple is the same as that for evil. (“Malo I would rather be/ Malo in an apple tree/ Malo is a wicked man/ Malo in adversity” – remember?).

I recalled all this when reading The Song of Solomon, preparing a talk on perfume in the Ancient World. Here is a wonderful meditation of the sensual hypnosis of perfume: let the poetry stupefy you with scent. Once again, the 1907 “Helps To The Study of the Bible” suggests that we might more accurately read “apricot” for apple; the trouble (and joy) of all these ancient texts is that repeated translation may confuse such a precise science as modern botany. What the Old Testament calls a rose may have been what we know as a lily, a crocus or a narcissus. The ‘lilies of the field’ were probably the same scarlet anenomes that I saw one February bursting from the bare and snowy hills above Jericho.

But let each judge for himself as to the odour of his loved one:

” …Thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine; and the smell of thy nose like apples…who is it that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant? A garden enclosed is my sister…thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire* with spikenard. Spikenard and saffron; calamus¤ and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense ; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices…”

And then we read of the skin oozing, dripping with impossibly delicious and expensive perfumes; limbs slathered in precious oils:

“I rose up to open to my Beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock”.

Spikenard is an evocative word; it now usually refers to an extract of a root of the valerian family but, once again, the ancients may have known it as another fragrance entirely. We meet it also in the New Testament brought – “very precious” – in an alabaster box for the anointing of Christ. I have smelled it only once, I think, and it was not at all as I had expected being not creamy, spicy and sweet but dark, earthy rebarbative. In this it reminds me of the pink lotus absolute that Elizabeth Moores uses today in her perfume Anubis; a scent which leads us back into the fragrance world of 4,000 years ago.

For here is a phenonemon that links us directly with our ancestors; the sense of smell and the timeless palette of perfumers’ oils. Whereas air pollution, chemicals, saturation of odours and an increasing remoteness from the natural world may imply that we experience smells differently from our forebears, the traditional natural constituents of perfume remain largely the same. Perfumers of 2014 AD use juniper, hyssop, artemisia, iris, mint, coriander, anise and galbanum just as their predecessors did in 2014 BC. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” and despite the confusion of nomenclature we still enjoy the spices, resins, incense and perfumed woods known to the Israelites, Greeks and Egyptians when Rome was still unknown.

* thought to be an oil of lemon grass

¤ the heady fragrance of henna flowers

Interview: Papillon’s Elizabeth Moores

Elizabeth

Papillon Artisan Perfumes are one of the most innovative and exciting fragrance houses to emerge in recent years. The three fragrances, each unique yet somehow connected, created by Elizabeth Moores have been met with great excitement with those inside the fragrance world.

Elizabeth is not only charming but most extraordinarily talented; a natural and spontaneous ‘Nose’. Self-taught, she has produced 3 divine scents of stupendous imagination and quality: not for a long time have I smelled such richness, depth and volupte. She is also a mother, keen gardener and equestrienne. A Renaissance personality!

I sent Elizabeth a few questions about her experiences, and approach to fragrance.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be the creator of these 3 unique beauties?

I have always adored perfume, although it wasn’t until later in my life that I started creating my own fragrances. After realising that many of the traditional routes into perfumery were closed to me, I embarked upon a period of self-study, training and reading with the sources available in order to make perfumes for myself. This often led to friends and family asking what I was wearing and slowly I began to create unique fragrances for others. At the time I was a single mum of four, and upon insistence from friends that I should begin selling my perfumes, I decided to create a business with its heart set in my long love of fragrance.

Your scents have tremendous opulence and dazzling shine, a glow, a polish. How do you achieve this superlative expansion and depth?

I weave accords within accords inside each composition; each one layers across the next, like a Patina, if you will, across the perfume to create olfactory depth. I wanted the perfumes to have strong evaporation curves: perfumes that move and display their various facets at different times. Perpetuating the classical composition of perfume, that adopts a roughly 50/50 ratio of natural and synthetic materials, was important to me as I believe it creates texture and the polished finish that you have mentioned. After I have blended the raw materials, I then allow this compound to macerate for 8 weeks. The compound is then diluted with perfumers alcohol, and the finished bottle then macerates for a further 6 weeks.  Through early trial and error I have found that this process is essential in creating the finished perfume.

I love the way your scents have total individuality, and yet seem somehow connected to one another. Maybe this has to do with your source of inspiration: where do you find your ideas?

Inspiration can come from many sources. I have found nature to be particularly influential in the initial emergence of my ideas, but I also find literature, people, places and experiences all play their part in conceptualising the initial sketches for my perfumes. When I first began creating Anubis it was a nameless leather fragrance, a genre I have great love for, which started to take its true form after reading a book on ancient Egypt. Perhaps without even realising it the intense Egyptian imagery began to permeate my imagination and find its way into the perfume. I’m very fortunate that I am not restricted by focus groups and am free to create in my own way. This might go some way towards explaining the connection that people have identified between the collection.
I have never struggled to find my inspiration, in fact quite the opposite. I often find myself overwhelmed with ideas, and have to be selective in choosing which ones will become a fragrance.

Anubis - Paillon Artisan Perfumes

Do you have favourite ingredients? Are your creations influenced by your love of certain oils?

I’ve yet to use a material that I have not liked. I go through bursts with my tastes, one week I am in love with vertiver, but the next week it might be Sandalwood. Anubis was very heavily influenced by a rich Egyptian jasmine absolute I was desperate to use in a composition.   I adore rose in all its forms, and I’m going through a period where I am in love with Rose de Mai. Maybe it’s because the roses are blooming in my garden that I am feeling a particular affinity to this material at this moment in time. I used Rose de Mai and Bulgarian rose in Tobacco Rose.  Angelique allowed me the freedom to use mimosa which always evokes such happy feelings for me. Orris concrete is one of my favourite materials to work with, tiny amounts within a composition can softly blur the edges of a perfume and create a glorious downy finish. I used a huge amount of Orris concrete in Angelique because I simply couldn’t resist! I sometimes smear the concrete on my wrists, and the deep intense smell always reminds me of the backs of my children’s necks when they were babies.

Tobacco Rose from Papillon Artisan Perfumes

If you were to define yourself in terms of fragrance, which perfume would you be?

I resisted the temptation to come up with something highly amusing, and have instead handed this questions over to my daughters who are probably better qualified to answer it honestly!

There can only ever be one fragrance that can come close to defining my mother. It is one which delicately falls as a backdrop to our childhood memories, and still offers its powdery comfort now we have grown. It is Shalimar by Guerlain. From the hundreds of perfume bottles than adorn our house, it is the feathered neck and royal blue top of the Shalimar bottle that is marked with the finger prints of each of us, sneaking in to spritz some, foolishly hoping we wouldn’t get caught, and secretly wishing that it would bring with it the effortless class and glamour that our mother has always exuded. It is not only the memories that we associate with this perfume, but the essence of the perfume itself that makes it so much like her. It is quiet in its power, but is as determined in its morning vanilla burst, as it is in its soft goodnight kiss. It turns heads not with loud insistence, but with a delicate and timeless sophistication that is warm, encompassing, and never fails to catch you off guard and take your breath away. It will never tire of bringing happiness to those around it, weaving new dreams and memories. It is beautiful, and it is constant.

Angelique from Papillon Artisan Perfumes

If we were to ask you for a top tip, one golden nugget of advice, concerning any aspect of perfume?

There are so many things I have learned, but if I were to offer just one piece of advice it would be to step outside your comfort zone. This can evoke new emotions and often our greatest works are constructed in the difficult space outside familiarity. If you dislike rose, wear rose fragrances for a week; try to pinpoint your dislike, and more often than not you may realise that an aversion to a material can be dissected, and trigger new understandings. Be brave, because I promise you, you will amaze yourself!