What To Look For In Autumn

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7 modern niche classics to sustain and style you through the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness:

L’Eau d’Hiver by Editions de Parfums

Elusive, transparent, gleaming, mysterious, cashmere-soft.
Honey, caramel, iris, hawthorn and carnation as translucent as morning mist melted by the sun.

Aqua Vitae by Francis Kurkdjian

Throw back your head to catch the warm rays of St Luke’s Little Summer. A last holiday break to stock up on the light and heat radiated by mandarin, tonka, lemon and hedione, the blessed sunshine molecule.

Back To Black by Kilian

A rich store of honey, spicy sweet luxury stolen from the bees of Laos, combined with patchouli, cardomom, olibanum, vanilla + vetiver. The scent of fragrant fresh hay and fertility.

Tabarome by Creed

Crisp, invigorating; virile and bracing. Ginger and tobacco, patchouli and green tea for streamlined vigorous elegance. Summer has gone, autumn is full of promise and adventure.

Dries Van Noten by Editions de Parfums

Creamy vanilla and lemon verbena. Subtle hints of patisserie at a pavement cafe on a bright blue morning: a silky-smooth peaceful start to a perfect day.

Sucre d’Ebene by Huitieme Art

The woody cool grey scent of witch hazel dissipates like autumn rain in a comforting heart of tonka and sugar cane from Barbados. Draw the curtains and stir up the fire: blissful animal comfort.

Rose Anonyme by Atelier Cologne

The last rose of summer darkened with oud, plum and dark notes of the lengthening velvet shadows. Patchouli, ginger and oriental incense notes soaked in a brooding atmosphere of full-blown opulence and seduction.

Wake and call me early mother dear….

“I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May”

May day and the choirs at Oxford greeting the dawn from the towers of Magdalene; the milk maids seen dancing in the Strand by Pepys, their pails wreathed in flowers; and girls rushing out to bathe their faces in the morning dew to be beautiful for ever. In England it’s usually pouring and frequently chilly, but May Day still has a vestigial magic to it after so many centuries of pagan ritual that was banned only by Cromwell’s Commonwealth and otherwise absorbed and tolerated by the Church. There is after all a great religious symbolism too in this ancient unbridled celebration of growth and greenery and nature’s renewal. Despite the phallic fertility of the maypole and the 1st of May being celebrated as the anniversary of the death of Robin Hood, May came also to be the month dedicated by the medieval church to the Blessed Virgin.

And this in itself absorbed the old Roman dedication of the month to the virgin goddess, the Bona Dea, which led in turn to the month being considered unlucky for weddings. Even forty years ago in Italy no pious Catholic girl would wed in May. A curious paradox of fertility and chastity which was perpetuated in medieval English lore – “wantons marry in the month of May” – and given an extra fillip in Tudor times by the arrest, trial + beheading of Queen Anne Boleyn (“the great whore she is called by the people + the great whore she is”) within 3 weeks during May 1536.

The name May derives from the Latin and denotes the growing month, the shooting month, the month of budding green. The two Roman festivals in honour of the goddess of flowers took place at this time: the week-long Floralia in which all manner of licence was permitted, followed by the Rosalia on May 23rd. This was the day which honoured the rose: one of the first six Latin words I learned, aged 4. Our translation exercises were endless permutations on the theme “the girls decorate the farmers with roses/ the sailors decorate the table with roses”. May is old Dutch is called “the blossoming month” and the French Revolutionary Calendar named it Floreal, the flowery one.

In England, the name of the month has become transferred to the colloquial name for hawthorne which froths, foams and fills the lanes, fields, ditches and hedges at this time of year. Now this is a real old pagan smell! Rich + manurey; creamy, spicy, dusty – full of peppery sneezey pollen; the scent of fields and dung and exploding fertile vegetation and blossom. You can see that I like it. Tiny white flowers on prickly stems, cupped in tender brilliant green leaves, “the poor man’s bread and cheese” as it staves off the worst hunger pangs if you’re really down and out. In the language of flowers it means hope: the hope of rebirth amid the new beginnings of spring, the foliage once used to decorate the cradles of babies and the crowns of brides.

It makes the occasional appearance in modern perfumery, not usually as a dominant note on account of its farouche quality but woven in as an accord of flowery freshness or spice. It is radiantly lit up in the Manuel Canovas candle Fleur de Coton, one of the best scented candles for spring and summer evenings: a beautiful clear smell of hay fields and hawthorne hedges, sweet and golden and rather dry. Hawthorne is also an integral part of the enchanting Ellena fragrance L’Eau d’Hiver, that paradoxical warm cologne which uses a medley of unusual oils to produce a graceful and ambiguous airiness. But its finest curtain call is taken by Pierre Guillaume’s veiled masterpiece Louanges: a beautiful secretive perfume which surrounds the wearer in a cloud of technically floral notes, but which manifests more as a faintly earthy oriental or transparent chypre. Its full name is Louanges Profanes – “profane hymns” or “worldly praises” – perfect for this perfume which mixes the old heathen may with the the earthy odour of lily bulbs (charged with growing life and vigour), neroli and incense. A perfume for a highly sophisticated and knowing May Queen.

Image from Humanbodydetectives.com

The Colour of Snow

The Colour of Snow

You notice in this current freeze that cold certainly does have its own scent.

The sense of smell being essentially a survival tool, it makes sense that we should be olfactorily aware of potential lethal weather, picking up an impending hard frost or the imminence of snow: and a hard,dry,cruel scent it is too which sends us flying for comfort to the perfume cabinet.

And here we encounter a conundrum. There are thousands of fragrances which rely on the evocation of spring and summer, even autumn; and do so by an elaborate arrangement of natural accords generated by the seasons: floral, arboreal, a sea breeze, a hay field, a golden orchard. But a wintry fragrance has to cheat rather, tending to rely on the smell of things which protect against the cold rather than those that thrive on it: leather, fire, scented woods, fur, cognac and rich creamy gourmand insulators.

Creed did try their hand at a deliberately cold winter scent: their now deleted eau de toilette Acier Aluminium which took its inspiration from steel girders, frozen with frost and ice, an effect brought off with bergamot and concentrated orange blossom notes. But even this warmed into an intensely animalic base, it rather lost its nerve. Then there is Villoresi‘s Teint de Neige which always reminds me of the opening lines of Snow White: the image of a beautiful woman sitting at a lace and crystal dressing table, looking through her window at a world of snow. The red winter sun casts shadowy lights of rose, lilac and silver on the snowflakes and on her petally powdery skin……an exquisite perfume, but essentially the scent of feathery sweet warmth of flowers and vanilla: the colour of snow, but not the odour.

But go into the garden even now and thrusting through the frozen soil and iron frosts you can see snow drops, Christmas roses, crocus and the green shoots of daffodils, even early tulips.
The earth, contrary to all likelihood is far from dead: you can almost hear a low chthonic vibrato from deep below, a stirring of growth, and it is precisely this miracle which Frederic Malle and Jean Claude Ellena celebrate in Angeliques Sous La Pluie.

This transparent eau de toilette celebrates exactly this moment of the year, the very first murmurings of spring protesting against winter cold. This is the fragrance of a February day when for a few hours the sun banishes the frosts; a wet morning in early March when you step outside to inhale the scent of earth, germination and growth. Delicately green, barely peppery, allusively floral, Angeliques is an exquisite and unique fantasy of late winter seasonal magic: a perfume of hope, promise and renewal.

Image from Sun-Sentinel.com