The Pyjama Game

 

Maybe you enjoyed a “pyjama day” over the recent Bank Holiday or even last weekend? There’s been a lot of talk recently about parents in pyjamas picking up their children from school; or even shopping in jim-jams. In my innocence (as Mrs Mary Whitehouse used to say) I imagined pyjama days to be marked by an immaculate cleanliness. I had thought you showered and bathed upon arising; then slipped into a fresh suit of night attire in which to lounge all day, free of all belts, ties, stays and restraining fastenings. But according to a recent piece in The Times, this is not so. You simply wake up, hop out of bed and start living – in what Carol Midgley calls your “bed-stink”. In effect, your own filth.

It’s a nasty brutish expression, one that as a child I’d have been very much discouraged from using. But there you are. Now I begin to understand why headmasters and supermarket managers are not so keen on pyjama culture. It’s all a far cry from those beds of roses & spices we discussed on this page a while back. However, unless you are one of those persons – about a sixth of the population we regularly told – who change their bed sheets (and/or jim-jams) only quarterly, I can’t really see why there should be any disagreeable smell at all. A slight warm fug, maybe. Surely nothing more. Anyway, this week we were again warned of the obvious by the medical faculty: that lolling about is bad for you. It weakens your muscles, your mind and all that. “Wake up – dress up – and live!” – as Alice Faye used to sing: kind of.

Shall we move on? It’s not an especially pretty topic.

We had fine company to luncheon last week. The kitchen was filled with the delicious smells of home-made kedgeree, tarte au citron¤, parsley, cardamon, coriander, basil and ripe tomatoes. I can say this with modesty as it was my gifted brother who cooked it all for our dear cousin. She said, “I adore kedgeree but never make it as I cannot get the smell out of the house.” And this is true. You must fall back on the old trick – geography of the house permitting – of opening back and front doors simultaneously and letting the air rush through, as fresh water gushed through the stench of the Augean stables.

On the table I placed a blue pot of cream freesias. Freesias have changed – or I have. Probably both. They look the same; the colours – white, saffron, mauve, plum – remain constant. But the scent is far less penetrating. When my brother was born in 1960 my mother’s maternity bower was crammed with them – the month was March. The hospital room was as heavily perfumed as Audrey Hepburn’s gloriously floral railway compartment¤¤ in The Nun’s Story. Consequently my mother was never able to look another freesia in the eye – nor to abide their scent – for the next half century.

Today the odour is – it seems to me – far more subtle. Airier, faintly spicy, much less honeyed. The Easter freesias smelled faintly reminiscent of the famous JASMIN ET CIGARETTES: I detected a whiff of very dry papery tobacco, a trace of pepper. None of that suffocating fruity-floral cushiony sweetness and opulence of yore. I should of course have taken note of Country of Origin on the wrapping. The last truly pungent freesias I remember came from Guernsey: I fetched them back myself about 12 years ago.

The irony is, the blooms we smell today are much more like the ‘freesia accord’ we inhale from so many modern perfumes. Ergo, an impressionistic appreciation of the plant, not an extraction or a reproduction. Life once more continues to imitate art.

And talking of which: I don’t know whether this is an example of the synaesthesic mind or just fanciful reverie but, this ‘Snap Election’, now. The mental image the phrase conjures up is that of a fragrant dish of sugar-snap peas, just shown a pan of boiling water: steamed, buttered, minted and brought to table. Brilliantly fluorescently emerald; smelling divinely of crisp greenery, goodness and springtime.

Will it really be like that?

Finally, as I finish this, my Tube train pulls into Kings Cross and there’s a funny poster pasted up in the tunnel:

“Sushi tastes even better in your pyjamas.”

Which is where we came in.

¤ 4 unwaxed lemons are called for.

¤¤ Brussels-bound from the pre-War Congo.

Come To Bed Eyes

Kind regular readers of this page will know that I have a penchant for perfumes redolent of the unconscious and the realms of sleep. The bedroom is the room where I prefer to be: years ago I was told by a friend in analysis that this is a bad sign, a refusal to confront Life. This I doubt seeing as how our indubitably vigorous and confrontational medieval forefathers revered the bedroom as the only private space in manor or castle: a luxury to which the poor, bedded down with the cattle and pigs, could not aspire. A room for contemplation and introspection: the scene of birth, begetting and dying. The holy of holies of the home and family. Now, a reversion to life in the bathroom – a return to the warm waters from which we all sprang – that really is a worrying development, as witness the endings-up of Callas, Marat and Blanche Dubois.

Two scents to loll alongside you on the pillows, then: Poudre de Riz and Cologne Pour Le Matin. Both mesmeric and hypnotic, perfumes to drowse and lull. The germ of Poudre de Riz comes from the Belle Epoque novel “L’enfer”, a classic study of voyeurism in which a jaded gentleman spies through a hole in his hotel bedroom wall at the changing scenes of love next door. Pierre Guillaume’s creation catches the languor of spent passion, slaked desire – the scent of those observed, not of the Peeping Tom. It is also the odour of that crimson room of assignation where Emma Bovary and her lover meet at Rouen; the powdery pearly smell of Lea’s great temple-of-love bed in Colette’s “Cheri”. Pan-sexual, sweet and ambiguous Poudre is the aura created by love and its practitioners – a close, airless evocation of hair and warm skin gleaming with monoi oil and nacreous with sheer rice powder. An emanation of crepe de chine, lace, silk and feather bolsters. Compare it if you like with an authentic Edwardian fragrance, Shem el Nessim: there, too, is frou frou and susurration – but Poudre de Riz is emphatically interior and intimate while the Grossmith cracker is for the grands boulevards. Poudre is marabou, chiffon and monkey fur, whereas Nessim sports bird of paradise plumes and chinchilla.

Draw back the velvet drapes, leave the city for the Midi dorée and smell Cologne Pour le Matin, Kurkdjian’s hypnotic child of sun and heat. This is a fragrance to celebrate the selfish animal joys of waking only for the pleasure of dozing again; the almost liquid relaxation of the body on Egyptian cotton sheets behind slatted blinds; but this time alone, cat-like, in love with sleep and torpor. Here the powdery quality is of lavender, iris, violets, thyme – veils of mauve and blue sun-dried Mediterranean flowers shimmering in the heat starred with specks of golden dust in the filtered bedroom light. You can almost hear the cicadas in the garden below the windows, and the whisper of the sea beyond. The sparkle and purity of orange blossom negates sex but emphasises escapism, a spiritual freedom as the body surrenders to heat, the white light of noon and clean dreamless sleep – a sleep like falling down a deep green well.

I have a feeling Aromafolio has still not yet exhausted this theme. Dors bien!

Image from culture.gouv.fr

“I like tired people”

As is well known, Marilyn Monroe wore Chanel No 5 to bed: what do you wear in yours? Garbo wore men’s pyjamas and retired at 6: the maid’s last job before leaving at 4pm was to disconnect the telephone.

Perfume goes wonderfully well with beds, langour, torpor, snoozing and sleep. One thinks of fairytale princesses and ancient heroes, King Arthur and Sleeping Beauty,The Seven Sleepers and Snow White, lulled into death-like sleep by magic drugs and perfumes “poppy and mandragora and all the drowsy syrups of the world”. (What a brilliant perfume name was Opium..). And in the kingdom of Morpheus, dreams drift in the Valley of Sleep: those that enter via the Gates of Horn will come true; those passing through the Gates of Ivory are pure fantasy.  Do you dream about smell and scent? In colour or black and white?

There is nothing nicer than a soak in a long hot bath and a hair wash, followed by clean night clothes in a crisp white linen bed: and then a spray of scent as you prop yourself up against the Siberian goosedown pillows with a new book. Perfume is wonderful in bed, it relaxes and feels magnificently sybaritic. A sparkling hesperidic cologne feels perfect in warm weather, clean and clear and soothing – something like Acqua di Genova which is soft besides citric, petally with orange blossom and a touch of sandalwood. And it has that faint suggestion of a fine silky talcum powder which I love. Maybe it is that association which also makes sweet powdery perfumes great at bedtime: atavistic memories of babyhood, warmth and total wraparound security. Then in colder weather, something more exotic…a rich floral or oriental. Or a golden crystallised gourmand: one of Pierre Guillaume’s beauties, maybe, Aomassai or Tonkamande. All the “luxe et volupte” of sugared almonds and praline but no crumbs in the bed.
And a wonderful sensation of slaked desire.

In my store days, we used to spend hectic Saturday afternoons fantasising about this routine. One woman used to have a special weekend dressing-gown laid out on the hot pipes against her return: a scalding bath, layers of Bronnley’s White Iris or Fern; then scrambled eggs with mayonnaise on a tray. I remember coming down the tube escalators one filthy wet December evening behind two exhausted girls. One was chanting her comfort-mantra. “When I get home I’m going to off every bit of makeup, cover myself in Fracas body cream and put on those pink cashmere pyjamas…”

Bed can be a great place to try out samples of that scent you are thinking of buying. You are washed and clean and in your right mind; at ease with life and ready to analyse a new perfume. Remember to wait a while for your skin to regain its normal temperature and for the natural oils to start flowing again before you apply. This ensures that you won’t get that slight brief burny sensation on the skin from the alchohol, and also allows your skin to reflect the perfume more exactly. The only danger that I have found with the years is that sleeping in a new scent can desensitise the nose to it by the following morning. I am then in the position (which we all know and dread) of having a favourite new scent and unable to smell it: the brain is so relaxed by the agreeable odour that the nose switches off. But, that’s only my personal reaction: I can still sleep very happily in old favourites and find them on the pillow when the alarm goes off.

The professors of the new Sleep Hygiene might possibly object on the grounds of perfume being stimulating (and so to be put on the Bedroom Index, along with alchohol, computers, tv and reading in bed) but for most of us perfume at night is a tranquillising experience, one to be encouraged and relished.

And what do you wear while you are getting up next day? Now while that may sound too precious or over-refined a question, this really is the time for those scintillating light colognes and eaux de toilettes – “dressing colognes”, we used to call them. Bright, delicate impressions of scent that wake up your senses, refresh the body and prepare you for a day’s work before you graduate to something heavier after lunch. Frederic Malle‘s Angeliques Sous La Pluie, Cologne Bigarade, Guerlain’s Eau Imperiale, and Creed‘s Bois de Cedrat just film the skin and hair with notes of citrus, fresh air, morning gardens and herbs – leaving a discreet trail as of expensive soap and crystal water. Spray them while you wash and dress; spritz them on newly washed hair. For myself, I always reach for a fragrance before I even boil the kettle for the first cup of tea: it lifts the spirits for the coming fray. And then I start planning what to wear tonight…