Tom Daxon: Bear with me

BEARANDLOGO

How do you feel about bears? I am devoted to the creatures: my favourite wild beasts. Some biologists think that they are closer to Man even than the primates. The skeleton of a bear – and the bear’s posture when it gets up on its hinders – is very like that of a human. Whether they be black, brown, white or grizzly, bears have about them an apparent affability and solid self-sufficiency that is deeply attractive. They are also powerful, resourceful and enigmatic: the polar bear keeps a poker face so that one never knows until too late whether his mood is benevolent or deadly. Solitary, intelligent and brave bears are a formidable animal role-model. “I always think bears are simply terribly attractive” says Victoria in Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate.

Clearly, classy young perfumer Tom Daxon feels the same: he has a confident and massive brown bear as his logo, an unexpected touch which I find extremely engaging. There is a wonderful contrast between the huggable furry face and the classically elegant bottles and packaging of Tom’s brand: the beast adds a touch of humour and quirkiness to a product which for my money is one of the most satisfying and interesting lines of British perfumery today. And how marvellous it is, to see this resurgence in the art of British fragrance. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries England played a central role in European perfumery: London was the most important and powerful city in the western world, the centre of a vast empire. The fragrance trade flourished accordingly, equalled in splendour only by that of France and fed by exotic ingredients from the British colonies. The wheel has come full circle – we are once more the epicentre of scent with products known and exported all over the world. Tom is based England but his scents are made in Grasse, in a long-standing intimate partnership with family friends of the bosom Jacques and Carla Chabert, father and daughter perfumers whom Tom has known since childhood.

My current Daxon rave is still CRUSHING BLOOM – an absolutely inspired title for a glorious green spicy rose weighed down with raindrops, nectar and gorgeous scent. The first word makes you think of pashes & Schwarmerei & swooning in the conservatory; it has a wonderful onamatopeic quality and it rhymes with “lush”, a quality it has in abundance. “Crushing”: it’s kind of fun to say the word out loud, rolling it around the tongue, thinking of crush bars, fresh fruit drinks, Imperial Roman revellers crushed under tonnes of petals. Then “bloom”, a great silky flower pinned in one’s hair, in a corsage or lowering, vast and heavy and outsize in a flower bed: I’m sure if we could hear a huge flower opening it would make a sound like this, a whooshing resonant noise as great velvet petals roll back like theatre curtains or lilies trumpet forth nectar and pollen. But CRUSHING BLOOM is more than just a thrilling name it is also a perfume of immense panache, style and eternal chic: it bows to the past and salutes the future.

Crushing Bloom from Tom Daxon

Crushing Bloom from Tom Daxon

Then consider the pale golden beauty of another favourite, SICILIAN WOOD: a delicate but exquisitely defined orchestration of citrus, floral and woody notes which conjures up the presence of a southern orchard carpeted with jasmine, lily of the valley and glowing windfalls, the sunlight drawing the fragrance from the barks and branches of the ancient trees. Tom always delivers what he promises: his scents are never tricky or showy but have an assured confidence and silky authority, just like those bears.

Sicilian Wood from Tom Daxon

Sicilian Wood from Tom Daxon

Many of us yearn for a signature scent, something as near as we can get to an involuntary animal identity, a defined seductive/ warning presence, an assertion of personality. Humans long for the reassurance of recognition: “I shall know as I am known”. Tom Daxon takes his inspirations from the fascination of raw materials; he appreciates perfumes that recreate a specific material or perception – the touch of cool long wet grass or silver-iris cashmere; the odours of fine leather, frankincense and cognac. This visceral response of the creator gives his scents a frankness and purity that make them instantly recognisable; the smooth link of an old tradition illuminated by a new perception. It also makes Daxon fragrances ideal for use as the most prestigious of perfume wardrobes with a mood to suit every occasion. Much as I was entranced by a lady who told me that the Free French were able to find her London apartment by following a long long trail of Shalimar a-winding down the Goldhawk Road, I would much prefer the infinite variety so praised in Cleopatra.

Tom Daxon

Tom Daxon

Maybe one day Tom will present with us with the definite odour of the Serpent of Old Nile. Meanwhile for now, EXIT PURSUED BY A BEAR.

You can meet Tom Daxon at our festive soiree on Wednesday 10th December at our Seymour Place shop!

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Perfume Shops Pt. 2: Health and Efficiency

Rosalind Russell 'The Women' 1939

Rosalind Russell ‘The Women’ 1939

No one has yet made a movie about the life and times of Les Senteurs but there are numerous examples of perfumeries on film. In British pictures they used to be discreetly referred to as “beauty shops”, maybe to distance them from the dubious sort of apothecary’s which Margaret Lockwood patronises to procure poison – and perhaps other services? – in “The Wicked Lady”. Celia Johnson tells us how much she loves the smell of a chemist’s shop but we also remember the sinister establishment in “Pink String and Sealing Wax”, a hot-house of frustration, vivisection, blackmail and poisoning. No, “Beauty Shop” is preferable – clean within and without: a healthy mind in a healthy body. This has a more reassuring ring about it, especially in the coded symbolism of 1940’s cinema.

But it’s a funny thing: as we have noted in this column before, once a screenwriter brings perfume into a script it usually heralds the advent of some kind of calamity. Diana Dors’s sale of a bottle of “Christmas Rose” in “Yield To the Night” is her first step to the gallows. How inspired it was of Wilder to have Norma Desmond sitting on the sofa in “that grim Sunset castle” smelling of some anonymous tuberose, maybe bought at Schwabs Pharmarcy along with her Egyptian cigarettes. I don’t suppose it was frothy Fracas ( though that was already in the shops in 1950), but rather a dark predatory tuberose with all its folkloric connotations of madness, narcotic stupefaction, obsession and lust: a thumbnail sketch of Norma’s personality that would fit on the bottle’s label. Joe Gillis tells us tuberose is not his favourite scent – not by a long shot. He would do well to heed his animal instinct (as we should all do with scent) and get the hell of there before overtaken by the havoc bred by that voracious and invasive scent.

We never learn the name of Norma’s perfume, not that of the haunting mimosa scent in “The Uninvited”. And when Ann Todd wants to keep her sister on side in “Madeleine” while purchasing arsenic ( “a rat in the cellar” ) she buys her silence with anonymous rosewater. An unexpected and mordant add-on purchase is that! A nameless fragrance makes its reference infinitely more effective, each member of the audience imagining the redolent plot device in his own terms. Naming a scent is a tricky task and, once named, fragrance is forever fixed in certain mould.

Fictional names are usually pretty uninspired: “Persian Rose”, ” Jungle Venom”, “Love Kiss”, “Summer Rain” and of course the ghastly “Seduction” which shop-girl Susan Shaw brings as a gift to slatternly sister Jean Kent in “The Woman in Question”. Here the name is all too obviously matched to the outlandish Kent character who snuffs at the bottle in a piggy kind of way before banging it down on her filthy dressing table. “Seduction” comes from Shaw’s Beauty Shop: has she nicked it, as Jean Kent rudely suggests? It comes unboxed which is odd – maybe a tester? A customer return? Faulty goods? A manufacturer’s sample? The risk here is that the viewer gets carried away with the retail conundrum and consequently misses vital details of plot.

I was once asked to propose a name for a simple floral scent created for a department store. I came up with more than 500 over-elaborate suggestions and none was quite right: in the end they called it just “Rose”: the answer was right under my nose. From the back list of classics, favourite names include “Magie Noire”, “Shalimar”, “Teint de Neige”, “My Sin”, “Moment Supreme”, “Crepe de Chine”, “Shocking”, “Vega” and “Ciao!” My current rave is Tom Daxon’s “Crushing Bloom” – an absolutely inspired title for a glorious green spicy rose weighed down with raindrops, nectar and gorgeous perfume. The first word makes you think of pashes & Schwarmerei & ardent swoonings; it has a wonderful onamatopeic quality and it rhymes with “lush”, a quality it has in abundance. “Crushing”: it’s kind of fun to say the word out loud, rolling it around the tongue, thinking of crush bars, fresh fruit drinks, Imperial Roman revellers crushed under tonnes of petals. Then “bloom”, a great silky flower pinned in one’s hair or in a corsage; or lowering, vast and heavy and outsize in a flower bed: I’m sure if we could hear a huge flower opening it would make a sound like this, a whooshing resonant noise as great velvet petals roll back like theatre curtains or lilies trumpet forth nectar and pollen. Bloom / zoom / va va voom. What’s in a name? Everything.