After the aftershave.

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Many people ask me, “Mr Wedge, what IS the difference between a fragrance for men and an aftershave? Or, is there NO difference? Please shed a ray of light: I am so bewildered and get so confused in the shops.”

These enquirers have all my sympathy. The semantics & issues have become entangled and confused. Now let me try to explain. As ever at Les Senteurs we aim to give crystal clear advice and information on every olfactory theme.

Originally, classically, formally an aftershave was, and is, any gentleman’s fragrance in a very low concentration – around 1% – 2%. Ergo, a very small amount of perfume in a great deal of alcohol. It stung like mad when splashed or patted onto tender freshly-shaved faces and necks, but it disinfected nicks, cuts and grazes and it tightened the skin like an astringent. In the dreary old days when most men feared that their use of scent might be considered effeminate – not least, as Mr Crisp would say, by themselves – the sheer agony of aftershave and its starkly masculine, quasi-clinical name was reassuring to its users.

As we became more liberal and adventurous in the 1960’s and ’70’s, many men’s fragrances were sold in two formats: an aftershave concentration plus a stronger eau de toilette strength. The latter lingered on the skin for hours rather than minutes and was intended to be applied as required about the person. Today ( thank goodness ) men increasingly have scents available in eau de parfum, even parfum concentration: far richer and more full-blooded.

The trouble is, that many men and women still use the word “aftershave” when what they really mean is “scent/ fragrance/perfume”. In a similar way Americans often say “cologne” to denote the same products. No one loves a pedant; in some ways I’m with Humpty Dumpty on this – “When I say a word it means what I want it to mean” – but you’ll see how misunderstandings can and do occur.

I think today that by and large true aftershaves have gone the way of the lava lamp, knee breeches and rainbow-haired trolls. However, what has taken their place are the much more comfortable and beneficial aftershaves balms, moisturisers and emulsions; rich soothing creams and lotions to nourish and soothe tender skin. Creed is especially good at these products: they feel good, are kind to your face and are strongly scented to eau de parfum strength to wear alone or to enhance the effect of your matching Millesime.
For day to day I swear by Nivea or Astral, but for high days and holidays the luxury of a Creed balm is hard to beat.

Vignettes of old Marylebone No 13: How Green Was My Valley

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Supermarkets rarely have much  romance about them these days; now, 50 years ago, when I was taken shopping at the ‘Piggly Wiggly’ in Hamilton, Bermuda it was another matter. I’d never seen such a store at home and the ‘P.W.’ was not only embowered in mauve bougainvillia but sold unheard-of exotica like deep fried battered jumbo prawns, maple syrup and Hershey bars. 

Nowadays you have to look to the Arabic and Asian cultures to bring a little fantasy and imagination into the aisles. Both touch the everyday with  magic. There’s a glorious establishment in Leicester which is best seen at night when it’s lit up like an Edwardian toy theatre in scarlet, coral, turquoise and pink lights. These shops have wonderful names too: the Ishtar, the Baalbec and the fabulous Astarte Mart. In Tunis I have the happiest memories of the Jasmine Superstores. The Jasmine was tiny with a staff of one, but was packed with Jaffa cakes, cheap cigarettes, tangerines, perfume oils, painted pots & candles all spilling over onto the pavement in a madman’s paradise of abundance.

Now we at Les Senteurs love our local Lebanese GREEN VALLEY store at 36-37 Upper Berkley Street W1. First of all it is irresistible because it shares its name with a lost Creed floral fragrance. Here I will advise that lovers of the discontinued Green Valley Millesime may care to smell Atelier Cologne’s Trefle Pur when passing No 2 Seymour Place. This sweet pure clover fragrance has something of the same meadow-sweet mood: come by and try. 

You’ll love the smell of the Green Valley store, too: a delicate aromatic temptation of mouth-wateringly fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables that look as though just culled from the gardens of the world. Then there are tiers of potted, pickled and preserved eggplant, chillis, peppers, mushrooms and every sort of cucumber you can think of. There’s sour cherry jam, hibiscus tea, myriad coffee blends and a dozen varieties of honey. You’ll be tempted by apricot nougat done up in frills of pink lace, baklava, pistachios and turkish delight all set out on great brass and silver chargers. And what makes all this bounty irresistible is the warmth and cheer of the lovely staff, all smiles and kindness. I guess that’s another reason why the Les Senteurs personnel like the Green Valley so well: it’s home from home!

For me, the finishing charming touch is that when you come to the check-out there’s not the usual racks of horrible plastic sweets but strings of worry beads, umbrellas & sunshades, tiny packets of dried pink rosebuds. The Green Valley lifts the heart: it’s only 2 minutes’ walk from Les Senteurs so do make us both part of your essential Marylebone lifestyle routine!