Keep Your Powder Dry!

“A bit of talcum
Is always walcum” – Ogden Nash.

Tins of Devon Violets, Damask Rose and English Lavender are the archetypal gifts for Mum and female family circle.  But now, and not for the first time, talc is in the dock over health concerns. Vast damages – $72 million! – have been awarded in Missouri against Johnson & Johnson. How poignant and strange that our dear old childhood friend and innocent lifetime companion, baby powder, should be besmirched. That symbol of cosy innocence, smelling faintly of orange blossom with distant reassuring echoes of eau de cologne, NARCISSE NOIR, and the firm but fair security of mummy, nanny & the monthly nurse: it’s too sad for words.

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I love silky talcum – not corn starch or rice powder – but it’s on borrowed time and not only because of medical reservations. Talc’s delightful and fatal impracticality is part of its charm. To use powder with the abandon and lavishness it is owed, one needs a readily wipeable bathroom – chrome, glass and tiles – and a maid on the payroll, for favour of constant mopping. No doubt the pace of modern living has contributed as least as much as health concerns to the decline of talc. Powdering takes time. Do you remember Vanessa Redgrave, years ago, playing Clementine Churchill on TV? She sat at her glass, leisurely, sensually and thoroughly powdering and patting her arms & shoulders preparatory to going downstairs to a Chartwell dinner. And at Downton Abbey, the insufferable Lady Mary used to powder her kid gloves, the easier to roll them on, in that notorious bedroom.¤

For thousands of years women – and men – have powdered their faces and bodies to sop up excess moisture and oil, and to present a flawless matte smoothness to the world. In the chronicle of fashion, powder is also inextricably involved with the story of false hair. The history of male pattern baldness in our present royal family is a fascinating one. Not less so is the tale of two abnormally hirsute monarchs who started a trend for men’s wigs. In the 1660’s two cousins sat on the thrones of England and France: both Charles II and Louis XIV had magnificent heads of black curling hair and it was probably a form of flattery that their male subjects of any consequence very abruptly took to shaving their own heads and wearing hot heavy wigs – a trend that lasted well over a century and which has still not quite died out in our modern law courts. By the 1700’s men were powdering their perukes with gold dust¤¤; blue or silver tinted orris; perfumed rice and pumice powder (available in violet, rose, neroli, ambergris, musk); even with flour. It was the use of the latter, with concomitant setting creams of bear grease and lard, that gave rise to those occasional head infestations of insects, mites and even baby mice. Or were those stories merely envious satires, put about by those who were unable to fork out the modern equivalent of around £5,000 for a decent wig ?

Circa 1750, A political cartoon entitled 'The English Lady in Paris, an Essay on Puffing by Louis le Grande', showing a seated old lady having her wig powdered by a nasty looking Frenchman.

Circa 1750, A political cartoon entitled ‘The English Lady in Paris, an Essay on Puffing by Louis le Grande’, showing a seated old lady having her wig powdered by a nasty looking Frenchman.

At any rate, the powder ritual may have begun as a sort of dry shampoo routine but it soon became a de rigueur accessory. Women followed suit. Marie Antoinette’s return from Varennes to Paris house arrest in 1791 is one of the great set pieces of the Revolution. Her women washed her hair clean of stale powder and the grime of the roads, only to discover that her blond cendre tresses had turned as white as snow in the course of three days.

To be sure, powdery scents are all about romance and nostalgia. Powder suggests not only the milky warmth of starchy soapy nursery security but also the childhood scented kisses of female friends and relations; their bags, their maquillage, their clothes. There may be a spicy snuffy-tobacco tang of dad too. And a memory of certain foods – rice pudding, custard creams, meringues, icing sugar ( “dredge generously”) – that whizzes you back through the Time Tunnel to sitting on someone’s knee in the warm crumby comfort of cake and caresses.
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So powdery scents can scatter and melt and segue into the gourmand tribe. People come to Les Senteurs from far and wide for Villoresi’s TEINT DE NEIGE – “the colour of snow”. Think of drifts of ice crystals in the opalescent glow of the Northern Lights – emerald, gold, carnation pink and mauve. And at a high window, behind glass, a professional beauty sits powdering her face, her cheeks painted by the reflected rosy stain of the snows, and her colour heightened by a dish of candied dragees.  More sexually ambiguous is POUDRE DE RIZ, the aura created by love and its illicit practitioners – a stifling evocation of  hair and warm lickable skin polished with coconut-tinged monoi oil, and nacreous with sheer rice powder. Compare it if you will with an authentic Edwardian fragrance, SHEM EL NESSIM. Here all is frou frou and susurration; an ivory miniature world of crepe de chine tea gowns, feather boas and endless drifts of embraceable iris. This last is perhaps the most sophisticated and, at the same time, the most innocent of our great powdery triad.

Divinities sitting slightly below this triptyque and exhibiting permutations of powder might include:

– the raspberry waxiness of LIPSTICK ROSE with its warm and lusciously generous cleavage

– the wanton confectionery/tobacconist boutique of DIVIN ENFANT

– the witty hot pepper powderiness of PIPER NIGRUM

– the sweet smoky gunpowder/ pistol-cap/ Christmas cracker trick that inflames LA FIN DU MONDE and HIMALAYA.

– the pancake stage makeup and black suede ankle-strap lavatory heels which seduce in PARFUM SACRE.

– and a new arrival on these shores, exclusive to Les Senteurs: IRIS PALLADIUM – ample, luxurious and paradoxical. Blue chiffon iris with a glittering mineral accord.

Lest anyone should be inclined to consider powdery perfume a mere frivolity, let him think on. What is powder but the very stuff of Time itself? All things – ourselves included – come from dust and ashes and return into them. And here thoughts arise of the immortal Ashes of Roses – an evocative and profound name! A three minute sermon in itself.
¤ talc is excellent for removing oil and grease stains from fabric, too. Keep the soiled item well away from water. Coat the stain in a good thick layer of talcum and leave for as long as possible – at least 24 hours – for the powder to absorb the grease. Brush off. Repeat as necessary. Be patient: you will be nearly always be assured of total success. I have seen pale blue silk and new white linen perfectly restored.

¤¤ a charming extravagance briefly revived by such exotics as Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead in the early 1930’s.

“Anything in the fridge?”… What Alice Found There

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Cellophane boxes of mauve cattleya orchids, maybe – or fragile gardenias keeping cool and creamy before their last and only outing, pinned to a satin shoulder strap or a jacket lapel. Very Dolly Sisters. So, are you looking at the new (and the final) series of MR SELFRIDGE? It gets increasingly perfume-y; claustrophobically and wonderfully scented. The great Elizabeth Arden – remember Blue Grass? – has now put in an appearance, magnificent in elaborate draperies of rose pink. And those Sisters! I don’t know why they are portrayed as tousled wiggy blondes – the twins invariably wore signature sleek black bobs with bangs – but the characterisations give some idea of Rosie and Jenny’s extravagant and tragic erotic hysteria. Last week we were treated to the spectacle of Rosie between the sheets with the Chicago-born store magnate. She was sporting nothing but a dazzling parure of diamonds, including improbable and rather risky chandelier earrings. I guess this is how Gladys George, in pre-Hays Code days, might have been presented in THE ROARING TWENTIES. Like the Marquise de Pompadour and other successful courtesans the Dollies were compulsive collectors of exquisite fragrances: tools of their craft. You can try some of their favourites by Isabey, Molinard and Caron at Les Senteurs today.

But back to the fridge and its exotic cargo. Nowadays, in even the most modest dwellings, fridges tend to be great big things, the size of locomotives: the kind of chillers in which Eva Peron kept her blue minks during the summer months. Or the flower cold store in which LW was once briefly locked. (“It was just for a laugh…”). Cold always diminishes the projection of odours but this is no reason not to keep a refrigerator in good order. I have smelled some beautiful things in there – sherry-soaked ratafia trifle, bowls of stewed plums, summer raspberries half-crystallised in sugar – but also some of the worst.

We always kept a clean fridge at home but my father did bring in strange things which were kept chilled in bowls: ink caps or unidentified fungi, skinned hares, whole ox tongues, ribbed whorls of spongy tripe, dusky-feathery rook pie. Such dishes could give you a bit of a turn when you opened the fridge door unawares in the deep dark larder. They often had an uneasy queasy natural redolence, but at least they were fresh. I think one of the vilest and intensely nauseating smells I have ever encountered came from a tupperware box of decomposing kidneys found at the back of an icebox in a professional kitchen, victims of slack stock rotation.

Communal fridges are always tricky: those installed in staff rooms, offices and shared living accomodation. They get cluttered up – no one likes to be seen to be interfering with other people’s provisions by doing a bit of ordering so of course food becomes dried up, contaminated, neglected and forgotten as junky Pelion is piled upon wholefood Ossa. Quinoa versus Chicken MacNuggets. But, have you noticed? Nowadays, nothing seems to actually go bad. Or, at least, decay takes such a long time to set in that you are almost bound to notice, and have made your own pre-emptive strike before the sliced bread and cheese grows its own blue furry coat and runs off. Modern food is so pickled in salt and sugar that it is more or less mummified¤.

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A certain staleness is usually the worst thing that you now smell in fridges. I’m always having rehabilitated young offenders at the door – these poor folk who are sent out by our masters to sell ludicrously priced domestic items to householders:  three dusters for a tenner or individual J-cloths at £5. I feel very indignant on these callers’ behalf but who can afford much of that sort of thing? Anyway, ages ago – rather in despair – I bought three little devices rather like perforated golf balls and they kept my fridge as sweet as a nut for years. A good wipe out with a solution of bicarbonate of soda or vinegar is nature’s own disinfectant, as is a large open bowl of cold water, replaced every hour or so. Add a cut lemon for added effect and a splash of colour. You can’t beat vinegar. Years ago I went to Paris on shop business with our manager. We put up in a picturesque old hotel by the Gare du Nord. The garden walls were lined with shards of looking glass; and every morning the entire establishment smelled like a pickle factory as a sub-concierge went right through the whole of the ground floor with vinegar and scalding hot water.¤¤

Coming full circle, I’ll remind you that if you keep your fridge nice and clean you can also store your scent in it! Light and heat are the enemy of fragrance. As Frederic Malle demonstrates, perfume does excellently in a wine cooler, or in a refrigerator at medium temperature. To me, a chilly-minded cologne – Atelier Cologne’s Cedrat Enivrant is an especial favourite – is especially delicious on a sticky summer day when served direct from the fridge. “Cheers!”

¤ Mind you, when I was at boarding school we kept butter (if we could occasionally get hold of a piece) in inky study cupboards. It got to taste very musty, and acquired a curious texture, as did the bread it sat upon. And I remember a boy regularly being sent a large carton of pork pies by his grandparents and having them lying in and around his desk and locker for weeks. Another child kept fruit cake down his bed: for safety’s sake.

¤¤ these are my preferred methods, but I have just seen on the web a “tip” for disinfecting the fridge by inserting a tray of cat litter. Fresh and unused, of course: but this idea still makes me feel rather sick.

WAIT FOR THE MOMENT WHEN: Claudette Colbert…

Claudette

…sits on a dowager’s Pomeranian in MIDNIGHT (1939). It takes quite a lot to make LW laugh aloud, alone on a wet May evening, but the gorgeous girl known at Paramount as The Fretting Frog¤ does the business. The dog-squashing is neither dwelt upon nor laboured, it flashes past and you’re already onto the next bit of business in this wonderful movie. Miss Eve Peabody arrives Third Class in Paris from Monte Carlo with nothing but the golden gown she stands up in. Picked up (in both senses) by a taxi driver with a beautiful nose – Don Ameche – she embarks on a series of comically saucy adventures in the horrible haute monde. The film (script by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder) is as fresh, exhilarating and inventive as it was 76 years ago: it unreels with the polished rhythm and incantatory structure of a Weltschmerz fairytale – “Every Cinderella has her midnight”.

Posing as a Hungarian baroness, Eve falls into a succession of disastrous situations only to be miraculously delivered and propelled into the next pickle. In one of the most glittering casts since GRAND HOTEL, the snobbish fairies and sex-mad witches are incarnated by such entrancing personalities as:

– intoxicatingly beautiful and hatefully haughty Mary Astor, author of the notorious diary burned by Court Order, gamely going along with a gag about her slightly problematic chin. Amazing Astor, one of the greatest of forgotten stars.*

– John Barrymore, the Great Profile of the Silents in terminal alcoholic decline: very funny indeed (intentionally so) as the drunken but faithful Fairy Godfather. “I’ve always had a weakness for size 12”.

– Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnist as actress, playing a philistine musical saloniere with toy boy escort.

– Rex O’Malley (Garbo’s sympathetic aesthete in CAMILLE) as Astor’s malicious best gay boy friend.

– Francis Lederer! Need LW say more?

All this and Prince Charming Don Ameche (inventor of the telephone) too. The music is by Dietrich’s pal Hollander; the art direction by Von Sternberg’s Hans Dreier; gowns by Irene: MIDNIGHT is a confection of supreme cinematic luxury made at the peak of Colbert’s career.

She was then the highest paid woman in the USA, ergo the world. Unlike some of her legendary contemporaries – Astaire, Garbo, Crawford, Hepburn, Dietrich – she was never branded Box Office Poison (but then there was nothing disturbing about her)** and hers was the first face to be used to grace store window mannequins. Born in France but reared in the USA she had enough of the Old World to charm and enthral without being cast as a chilly exotic or an aloof vamp••. She tried all the genres except horror but excelled in romantic or screwball comedy, dressed to the nines before being stripped of her wardrobe by some unlikely catastrophe the better to show off her perfect figure, wasp waist and sculpted legs. In MIDNIGHT we are almost convinced that we have seen her nude as she wriggles into a negligee beneath the eiderdown.

Erotic but droll; audaciously risque, Colbert has the exquisite knack of leaving you to figure how much of the sometimes quite amazing suggestiveness is entirely in your own mind.

“What kind of work d’you want?”

“Well at this time of night and in these clothes I’m not looking for needlework.”

There is little gossip about her: she seems to have aroused affectionate if sometimes exasperated admiration in all including (rare in a star of her vintage) her own family. Her mother lived in; her brother was for a time her manager. Her second marriage (to the doctor who reputedly ruined Merle Oberon’s face) lasted over 30 years. An ancient story goes around that she once had a fling with Dietrich. I was told that in luxurious old age on Barbados she preferred to pinch magazines from the hairdresser’s rather than buy her own. Endearing peccadilloes: and on screen Claudette was equally appealing – tiny, discreetly sexy, chic, playful, flirtatious, delivering wisecracks in that smooth chuckling contralto. Confident, poised, cuddly and easy going she drove men nuts though not in the manner of her more frightening contemporaries. She sat on a lot of laps, was sometimes spanked. She was provocative & shrewd, but a reliable pal and a sport: the viewer always loves Claudette – an ideal girlfriend, best friend, wife, mistress, confidante and, later on, mum.

Do you remember the scene in THE PALM BEACH STORY when the senile smitten Weenie King invades her bathroom and (ahem!) enjoys her perfume? Off-screen, Colbert is said to have loved Caron’s Muguet de Bonheur, maybe attracted by the traditional French associations of the flower with l’amour. Ostensibly simple, Muguet de Bonheur is far from innocent. A highly complex formula including rose, orange blossom and jasmine plays out to a powdery lilac, heliotrope and dramatically musky finale. Needless to say there is no use of natural lily of valley for muguet defies oil extraction requiring to be synthesised from other floral oils in combination or else reproduced chemically. A conjuring trick of the highest order, a triumph of illusion and fantasy almost on a par with ‘Uncle Claude’ herself.

¤ she was tough and successful enough to negotiate a contract that limited her work to between 10 – 5pm. Her right profile was out of bounds to cameramen – “The Other Side of the Moon” they called it. Every set had to be constructed to enable this; just as every Colbert hairdo for 40 years had to accommodate her trademark bangs. It was a shock to see her on TV in The Second Mrs Greville in 1987 looking great but with her forehead at last exposed.

* when La Liz found herself seated next to Bette Davis at a dinner decades later, Taylor had the sauce to ask Davis whether it was true that she and Astor had once been to bed together. Davis “just laughed”. And don’t forget Claudette was the original choice for Margo Channing in ALL ABOUT EVE. Always an intriguing thought when you can’t sleep.

**though David Shipman thought her “probably after Dietrich the most consistently unreal of all the great stars”. Interesting, perplexing remark.

•Her portrayal of CLEOPATRA for de Mille succeeds because of her beauty but fails because she’s far too nice and jolly. As Poppaea Sabina in the same director’s SIGN OF THE CROSS she briefly exposes her beautiful bosom in a milk bath that the klieg lamps turned to cheese.

CLAUDETTE COLBERT 1903 -1996

That Glittering Night At The Ball

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Only a century ago a parade of unending entertainments was considered essential for the making of upper class marriages. In every European capital the arrival of the summer Season saw flocks of girls in white muslin and tulle herded by their chaperones to Court presentations and Society balls, opera galas, luncheons, dinners, teas, recitals, picnics and garden parties.

Prior to these outings the young ladies were prepared like lambs for the slaughter in a sensual ritual and with a faintly prurient glee that recalls the films of Max Ophuls and the novels of Stefan Zweig. Firstly the clothes: one began with a voluminous shift. Then in the Naughty Nineties knickers, which were just coming to be seen as decent and desirable rather than racy whorish accessories. Over the stays and countless starched boned & lacy petticoats, a girl’s dress must be white and made of virginal light fabrics such as muslin, gauze and tarlatan. The waist was tiny – even after having six children Queen Alexandra kept a waist that never exceeded 23″. A maiden’s decolletage should be generous, but jewellery was minimal: a christening gift maybe or a present from mama and papa – seed pearls, corals, a silver bangle and a tiny turquoise brooch in the shape of a dove. Long skin-tight buttoned kid gloves and a small posy of flowers in a filigree holder were de rigueur. Later, after a proposal of marriage, a bouquet might be sent round by the lucky gentleman concerned, but otherwise any gift to a decent young woman from a man outside the family was regarded as presumptuous indecency. Virtuous women prided themselves on never accepting presents.

Then the ingenue required a fan, ordered from Duvellroy or Faberge (London, Paris and St Petersburg). Her dancing shoes, with the soles carefully powdered, were laid out by the lady’s maid: she being lent by mama for the evening and in a mood both sentimental & archly suggestive. A tiny vial of sal volatile was tucked into the palm of a new glove in case of faintness after a brisk polka or vertiginous waltz. Sometimes an admirer might press a hand too ardently and the glass would break, emitting pungent fumes. For the face, just a touch of barely tinted lip salve, a film of papier poudre on the cheeks and maybe a hint of rouge if the excitement of the occasion was causing unbecoming pallor. Then a swansdown wrap round the shoulders, a scarf to protect the intricately piled hair and maybe a serviceable mackintosh cloak, even a sheet, draped over all to protect the finery in the carriage, to be thrown off at the last moment before the shy entry into the ballroom.

And what of scent? It is no more than a hint, a whisper, an echo of Pear’s or Cusson’s soap. Maybe a Coty floral water (as worn by the Russian Imperial Grand Duchesses) sprinkled on the handkerchief, a drop of rose attar in the hand cream or a glistening in the hair pomade. But nothing actually on the skin. Scented flesh is, for the late Victorians, highly risque, the mark of a Naughty Lady, a very Merry Widow, a barmaid, a strumpet. A strong-minded nobly-born lady can just about get away with it, though few will dare. They won’t run the risk of being banned from Court or the houses of their dear friends.

But the holistically perfumed woman is yet flamboyant and magnificent in sequinned violet, mauve, magenta and rose satin, fragrant from its sandalwood chest and herb-lined cedar closet. She is crowned with osprey aigrettes and bird of paradise plumes. Her scarves, handkerchiefs and gloves are soaked in oils of ambergris, Russian leather, jasmine and musk. Her hair, gleaming with bear grease scented with ylang ylang, has been conditioned with the Empress of Austria’s own blend of a bottle of brandy and a dozen egg yolks. She wears a corsage of mauve orchids, and trails two yards of train (lined with crumpled tissue paper to rustle the louder) with the intoxicating sillage of Houbigant’s Fougere Royale, Grossmith’s Phul Nana, the mauve powdery Jasmin Imperatrice Eugenie or an early Caron masterpiece. The Merry Widow’s redolent hummingbird fan is used not to conceal her blushes but to cool her after too much iced champagne or too sprightly a hop in the mazurka. Perspiration is her only enemy, to be combated with sweat pads, borax, vinegar and rice powder. But oh! the horror when a certain dampness appears around the waist line after working through a full dance card or too many oyster patties. Fortunately the gentlemen,too,are all wearing gloves, too. Or – as in the notorious case of Lillie Langtry’s new pink gown being ruined in the waltz by the dripping hands of a teenage Archduke Rudolph – not!

Mama Rose

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Madonna of the Roses

Mothering Sunday falls on March 15 this year, which still leaves you time to choose a glorious perfume for that unique lady in your life. Maybe Mother has already dropped a hint as to what fragrance she would love as a gift; or perhaps you have a standing order for her favourite signature scent. If not, here are a few ruminations at the shrine of the modern Matronalia: potential perfumes to offer up with thanks at the altar of the Mother Goddess!

By and large the British are not so hot on botany but a rose is the one flower that everyone knows. It is a symbol of universal currency: even the name is basically the same in all the main European languages. The rose has not been on the planet as long as the Jurassic magnolia – flowers came late in evolution though they pre-date Man – but it has entranced us since anthropoid apes first stood upright and tucked blossoms in their fur.

Because of their universality, and due to their scent, delicacy, beauty, richness and colour, roses have accumulated a great body of lore and cult significance. The rose is the symbol of maternal love as well as of carnal passion. It represents altruistic suffering (the flowers sprang from the blood of Christ); or wounded rejected love (the thorns which injured baby Cupid). The goddess Aphrodite – “foam-born” – was blown ashore in a cloud of rose petals on the sands of antique Cyprus, the birthplace of perfumery. Roses are the emblem of the Queen of Heaven whether she be personified by Juno, Isis or the Blessed Virgin – “The Mystic Rose”. Mary appears in countless medieval paintings crowned with roses, or sitting with the Christ Child in bowers and arbours; even enthroned among the stamens of one vast Cosmic Rose, with angels swarming overhead like exotic insects attracted by the Divine Sweetness and Odour of Sanctity.

No wonder with all this tremendous back story we all think we know what a rose smells like; or what it should smell like. One of my favourite perfume legends is the rumour that Nahema, Guerlain’s gorgeous hymn to the Flower of Flowers does not contain a drop of rose oil: all is magnificent illusion, a dance of pink and crimson veils. What a stroke of genius that might be! Every perfumer longs to create the definitive rose scent, as he does the sheerest and most glittering of colognes. But in perfume terms, what is the scent of a rose? Should it be a beautiful template, like Garbo’s face, on which to project our olfactory desires and perceptions? Science now allows molecules to be identified, isolated and manipulated to the nth degree: yet a rose fragrance still remains one of the most controversial of creations – “THAT doesn’t smell like rose to ME!”

Consequently, Les Senteurs have cultivated an extensive nursery of roses on the shelves. Here come 12 of the best, in no particular order but all beautifully long-stemmed and worthy of Mother’s finest crystal vase. And we have plenty more to choose from,too, so why not come by before Sunday? Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

UNE ROSE by Editions de Parfums

Editions de Parfums - Une Rose

Editions de Parfums – Une Rose

Red wine, black truffles, blue camomile + Turkish rose. Stately and majestic.

ROSE ANONYME by Atelier Cologne

O8-RA 100ml Packshot
Hot dark nights spiced with ginger, incense, oud and patchouli.

TOBACCO ROSE by Papillon

Papillon - Tobacco Rose

Papillon – Tobacco Rose

Heady surreal clouds of overblown rose, beeswax, honey and patchouli.

DELIRE DES ROSES by Caron.

Caron - Delire de Roses

Caron – Delire de Roses

Sweet and diaphanous; jasmine, lychee & lotus at a cool poolside.

PORTRAIT OF A LADY by Editions de Parfums

portrait of a lady 100ml

Editions de Parfums – Portrait of a Lady

Turkish roses fizzing with spices,patchouli and amber. Audaciously elegant: a silver frost melting to golden sun.

LIPSTICK ROSE by Editions de Parfums

Editions de Parfums - Lipstick Rose

Editions de Parfums – Lipstick Rose

Raspberries, vanilla and the scent of a gleaming lipstick warmed on a lovely mouth.

UNE ROSE VERMEILLE by Tauer Perfumes

Tauer Perfumes - Une Rose Vermeille

Tauer Perfumes – Une Rose Vermeille

Sweet, creamy rosebuds served with cream in a silver bowl. Playful & joyous.

A LA ROSE by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Maison Francis Kurkdjian - A La Rose

Maison Francis Kurkdjian – A La Rose

Inspired by the pastoral portraits of Marie Antoinette; a rococo cascade of pink champagne.

FLEURS DE BULGARIE by Creed

Creed - Fleurs de Bulgarie

Creed – Fleurs de Bulgarie

A favourite of the young Queen Victoria, lover of flamboyance and colour: crazily deep, dark and intense Bulgarian roses.

HIPPIE ROSE by Heeley

Heeley - Hippie Rose

Heeley – Hippie Rose

Hommage to the 1960’s and that Summer of Love: take a lovin’ spoonful of incense and patchouli with your roses.

PAESTUM ROSE by Eau d’Italie

Eau d'Italie - Paestum Rose

Eau d’Italie – Paestum Rose

Roman temples and the votaresses of Venus: myrrh, coriander & osmanthus.

ISPARTA by Parfumerie Generale

Parfumerie Generale - Isparta

Parfumerie Generale – Isparta

Turkish rose oil sharpened by piquant red fruits and deepened with woods and aromatic resins.

Wishing you all a very Happy & Loving Mothering Sunday!

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!

Toes Like A Monkey

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I once had a wonderful Swedish friend who worked for Oscar de la Renta. She had rippling tawny-gold hair and beautiful freckled hands with dark crimson lacquered nails. For winter parties she’d rub Body Shop vanilla oil into her skin, top it up with a veil of Chopard’s Casmir (in the lotus bottle, remember?) and pull a thick white fisherman’s sweater over the lot. The effect, I’m here to tell you, was devastating. “Ah”, she’d reply to all compliments “but I have a flaw: toes like a monkey!” She pronounced the word to rhyme with ‘donkey’, so these prehensile digits acquired for me their own esoteric glamour.

Heading the chapter on symmetry in our O level maths book at school was the Congreve quotation “I could never look long upon a monkey without very mortifying reflections”. For centuries monkeys and apes were used in art as symbols of folly, lust, greed and all the weaknesses of a creature that was seen as man degraded: parodies of humans who had fallen from grace and metamorphosed into graceless slaves of their own bestial appetites. Post-Darwin, the monkey assumed a different role in the scheme of evolution while artists such as Picasso, Rousseau, Matisse and Gaugin explored on canvas the animal urges inherent in man.

In the early 1930’s there was a craze for screen apes – King Kong and Cheetah course, but also the orangutan in The Murders in the rue Morgue and Mae West’s pet monkeys; Hans Albers and Luise Rainer dancing and singing the comic paso doble Mein Gorilla Hat ‘Ne Villa im Zoo. Especially we remember the huge gorilla shambling in chains onto the cabaret stage in Blonde Venus, then tearing off one of its own paws to reveal Dietrich’s luminously white hand garlanded in diamonds. (Was Billy Wilder maybe satirising all this singerie with the burial of Norma Desmond’s chimp in Sunset Boulevard?). Curiously but not coincidentally, this was also the era of such farouche leather scents as Knize Ten; the tanneries of all those variations on a theme of cuir de Russe; the animalic musks & pelts of Caron. And what was the best-dressed grande horizontale then wearing? Black satin, a string of pearls & monkey fur.

Have you met any monkeys, eyeball to eyeball? My grandmother knew one, next door, that spent his winters singeing his fur on the kitchen range. Her own mother had a peculiar horror of simians: the melody of the barrel organ coming down the street would prompt her to fly upstairs burying her head under the pillows until man and red-bolero’d marmoset could be bribed to take themselves off. As a child, I knew a monkey that lived in a pub and sipped stout; and I recall a beautiful blonde who nurtured two baby capuchins in her abundant golden hair – you’d see these minute hands like four spiders emerging from the roots, waving above the lady’s noble forehead.

The capuchins were immaculate, though I remember the ale-monkey whiffing a bit and of course the powerful smell of the monkey house at the zoo still lingers in the mind. Pungent animalic smells are of course by no means a turn-off for everyone: one of Louis XV’s early mistresses Pauline de Vintimille was said to reek like a monkey and the king was intoxicated by her. Perfumes that for me have hovered on the edge of the nauseous include Olivia Giacobetti’s famous Dzing! with its circus theme of civet and damp sawdust; and Weil’s peculiar but once greatly-loved Antelope which I found just too reminiscent of animal skin. It was rather like sitting in the back of a very expensive old car, beautifully hide- upholstered and a little too smooth in motion.

Just now we have taken delivery of the new Parfum d’Empire Musc Tonkin, a recreation of the traditional soiled old musk accords via floral, woody and fruity notes. Very convincing, highly disturbing. Gosh, how this scent clings, permeates and soaks in! My esteemed manager Mr Callum came into the shop the other day and caught my aura: “Aha! Wearing Musc Tonkin are we?” In fact I had merely held up the bottle to show a customer; I’d not even sprayed it. That’s musk in the old grand manner: musky monkey business.

Handbags

queen and her launer

And before we even start, I’m telling you now I am not going to mention Dame Edith Evans.

There was a most fascinating and wonderful inspirational speaker on the radio the other day from the University of Kent. Professor Julia Twigg (with Christina Buse) has made a study of the role and significance of handbags in the lives of elderly women with dementia; examining how life may contract to the expressions of personality and memory centring on a bag as the mind slowly loses its own ability to carry information and characteristics. Meanwhile, a cherished friend of the bosom from the world of scent writes of how she sees her vast collection of bags as extensions of herself, never just as objects or accessories. A very good reason (as with a perfume wardrobe) why she needs so many.

I have always admired the idea of a bag because I like to have a great many companionable things to hand at all times: practical stuff like glasses, keys, Polos, pens and painkillers. And also the more talismanic items such as family photos (“ancestor worship”), favourite postcards & books, scent, amulets against the Evil Eye, paper ikons, medallions and so on. So I cart all this about in a series of nylon and plastic carriers from the supermarket; or latterly in a rather smart orange canvas bag provided at a perfume conference. As with shoes I’ve never had much luck in finding a smart bag not too egregious for elderly male use; I don’t want one of those leather patchwork things in shades of maroon, magenta and dung. In any case, I think the assemblage and presentation of a decent handbag is above all a female and feminine art.

Women’s bags are much more imaginatively designed, coloured and all the rest of it. They have the added advantage of smelling delicious: and not just when a bottle of Shalimar, Giorgio or Fidgi has disastrously leaked therein. Or so I have always found during rare forays into bags when left in charge briefly by intimate friends and relations, or asked to delve in to find a pair of spectacles. When very small I was devoured by curiosity as to what was inside these bags, an itch which landed me in very hot water as “little boys NEVER EVER look in ladies’ bags!” Many years later I read some piece of popular psychology which claimed that boys who peer into handbags most generally grow up into lifelong bachelors. An extraordinary thing to say!

But my grandmother always encouraged my natural inquisitiveness and it was in her bag that I learned to appreciate that delicious texture and scent of worn soft leather, silk, suede, pressed face powder, wispy lawn hankies, sweet waxy lipstick, 10 Players, burned matches and money. Paper money (rather greasy) and old coppers used to have a very definite smell, not so much now that cash changes hands quicker. Then there were all these little folders and inner pockets and secret compartments, zipped and popped and studded and buttoned; and filled with looking glasses, bills and well-worn letters and lists – ” tonic water, lettuce, library, frozen peas”. Really I suppose my grandmother was of the first generation of women to need a bag. Before the turn of the 20th century the folds of ladies’ ample skirts were full of pockets; keys were kept on a chatelaine; no decent female admitted to smoking or making up. There was no need for a bag. Hankies and cachous were tucked into bangles, up sleeves or into the decolletage or muff. The most a girl needed was a tiny mesh purse for pin money.

Miss Nathalie Lecroc has made a good living illustrating the contents of bags; as varied as their owners, her pictures are riveting to pore over. Various perfumers have produced candles which imitate the scent of a good handbag but I think no one has made a wearable perfume to wear which performs the trick. Having said this, I have always found during our lengthy relationship that Caron’s seductive Parfum Sacre is divinely “sac a main” in style. According to Caron lore it is a blend of their notorious Poivre and the swooning Fete des Roses. What I smell is the most expensive suede evening bag with faintly damp rose-scented face powder spilled on a thick silk lining with accents of cinnamon, coriander, amber and musk oozing in from crimson-nailed hands soaked in a lifetime of scented oils. Irresistible.

Caron Cocktail

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I don’t know about you, but the recent hot weather has left me craving a scent that’s exuberantly floral. Something cool and white and petally to spray liberally of an evening, after a tepid bath or a cold shower & before the first sundowner. A perfume to calm the fever of heat and complement one’s loosest linen slops, bleached out and soft by constant launderings. This is really the only time of year when it’s permissible to spray fragrance on your easy-wash clothes, knowing they’ll be back in the Bendix and up on the line again in a couple of hours.

Tiare, gardenia and magnolia are all perfect on a langourous summer evening but I’ve been really knocked for six – and not for the first time – by Caron’s 1933 stunner FLEURS DE ROCAILLE. Isn’t it interesting how perfume crushes go in cycles? I’ve been in and out of this one for the past thirty years at least. Maybe not one of the cult Carons, FLEURS is one of the easier to wear. In its day it was as influential and significant as Tabac Blond or Narcisse Noir, letting in light, sunshine and air to a perfume public stifled and oppressed by world recession and Depression. FLEURS DE ROCAILLE was the olfactory equivalent of Jean Harlow’s blindingly monochrome cut-on-the-bias satin; Crawford’s dazzlingly crisp ruffles and the ubiquitous Syrie Maugham cream decor of everyone’s new drawing room. And it’s not just stylish, its witty & fun – in the style of Beatrice Lillie’s surrealist telephone connection via two lilies.

A dazzling whoosh of aldehydes makes the initial hit smell like a foam of iced champagne cascading from a celebratory Nebuchadnezzar. Roses, violets, ylang ylang, lilac and muguet de bois pop pop pop in the pale gold bubbles like wedding confetti while underneath lies a damp green darkness of oakmoss and woods. Maybe the heady signature musk helps to brings out the alcoholic accord, too: Caron had been expert at creating the illusion since their gorgeous 1923 bath essence Royal Bain de Champagne. And here’s a thing: a couple of years ago I blew £1.00 on a bottle of Musk and had been fooling around with it when a visitor called and complained of the smell of flat stale champagne in the apartment. What can I say?

And there’s the hint of another scent in FLEURS DE ROCAILLE, too: a lovely Swedish girl once put her finger on it – “pigs!” she said. “Nice clean pigs!”: the sort of animals, all bathed and scrubbed, that Marie Antoinette might have herded on blue ribbons at the Trianon. It is this audacious whiff of the animalic that gives FLEURS its unique and unforgettable fascination: delicate fairytale flowers in a well-manured, very urban, rockery.

ATT15710Meanwhile I’ve had the rare chance to smell the flower that inspired Frederic Malle’s EAU DE MAGNOLIA: a huge grandifloria bloom the size of a Sevres soup bowl has opened in a neighbour’s garden and overhangs the pavement like Goblin Market fruit. I keep going to have another inhalation: very strange and fascinating, like green lemons rubbed on a metal grater but with an additional curious backnote which is as disconcerting as those pigs but less attractive. It’s as though the citrus is cupped in old dry plastic, a cracked basin from the back of the cupboard – or one of those plastic water beakers we gnawed at school. Truth is stranger than fiction: Editions de Parfums have retained and developed the lovely hesperidics – but wisely left the plastic accord for Mother Nature’s personal use.

Lavender’s Blue

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Lavender is one of the first benevolent plants we meet as tiny children. It’s non-poisonous, tough, grows more or less like a weed and smells delicious. Most gardens and patios have a bush somewhere. Lavender is one of the relatively floral smells we all know from infancy. It thrives on dry poor soil and is cheap, or used to be. This year however it was going for £10 a pot at the local hardware store on Mothering Sunday which I thought a bit saucy. You can dry it and make sachets or pot pourris to scent the laundry and deter the moth, at least up to a point. I lost some of my faith in that last quality when a favourite cardigan embalmed in lavender was completely devoured by moths, the worst damage being in the region of the pockets which I’d packed with the stuff.

I love lavender and resent the way it is too much associated with faded maiden ladies, an image perpetuated even in the 21st century by the eponymous Maggie Smith/ Judi Dench movie. Miss Marple uses lavender water for high days and holidays; and then there’s that maudlin Gracie Fields song about the Little Old Lady Passing By – “in your lavender and lace”. It’s an English tic, this: the French, Italian and Dutch see lavender as virile and energising, clean and uplifting, healing and calming. They take the aromatherapeutic view, I suppose inherited from the old Romans who loved the stuff and gave it its name, deriving from “lavare” – to wash. They cleansed their bodies with the fragrant healing oil which is yielded by every part of this ancient plant, and laid up their heavy woollen togas in the dried flowers. It was probably Roman colonists who brought the herb to Britain, two thousand years ago.

I grow lavender: the common or garden type, and that fancy variety which looks like lilac bumble bees. And I wear it. My old favourite was Jean Patou’s long discontinued Moment Supreme: purple prose in perfume! Vast amounts of lavender suspended in sweet vanilla and tonka like a medieval flan for an Emperor’s feast. At Les Senteurs we have three especial crackers: Lorenzo Villoresi’s dark, intense, austerely beautiful Wild Lavender which smells like great bunches freshly culled from a wet garden. Caron’s immortal Pour Un Homme, one of France’s perennial bestsellers since 1934, blends lavender oils with a dash of rose absolue and a lingering melting base of tonka and vanilla. It is as soft and relaxed as a lilac cashmere sweater: although it earned its place in perfume history as the first fragrance specifically branded for men, it also works deliciously on a woman’s skin. The jury is out as to whether lavender can be sexy – and I think it is! – but it is certainly (as Tynan wrote of Dietrich) without gender. I rest my case.

And then there’s Andy Tauer’s Reverie Au Jardin.pa This is my current summer favourite, my passion. Andy uses Alpine lavender grown high on the slopes which imbues it with a wonderfully cool, slightly mentholated tang – “cool as a mountain stream”. The dry woody fragrance of lavender is accentuated and exoticised with orris, frankincense and cedar; the sweetness increased with rose and vanilla. There is a glorious generous freshness and a slight juicy fruitiness withal; Reverie Au Jardin is as far as you can get from drawer liners and the old Bazaar & Rummage image. It’s lush, expansive, intricate and as beautiful as a Mediterranean dawn.
Use lavishly.