Last week began with Gaudete Sunday, the mid-Sunday of Advent when, as our vicar said, we give thanks for having made it half-way to Christmas. I am ashamed to say that this festival of progression was a new one to me. Mind you, I have got to the stage when I might just have forgotten about it. I was struck by the roses-in-the-snow motif – that timeless emblem of hope; and a recurring theme of folk and fairy tale. About her neck the vicar wore a deep dusky pink stole – a stylised damask garland of the Mystic Flower. Roses represent such a complex kaleidoscope of symbols – everything from perpetual immaculate virginity to raging passion. No wonder every perfumer wants to have a least one crack at a rose fragrance.
I can think of nothing more delicious and festive than the gift of perfume. This year I have received one such already. It’s lovely! I was warming a bowl of soup at noon. There was a terrific double knock at the door like the arrival of Marley’s ghost: and there stood a special postie carrying the most perfect cardboard box you ever saw – it was all stuffed with golden paper and in the depths of all the gleam and glitter was a heavenly little bottle. You know, at Les Senteurs when someone purchases scent as a present, we always offer an accompanying sample so that the recipient can try the fragrance from the phial first, in case the gift doesn’t suit. But personally I am so touched by the thought that a kind friend has chosen me something, that I am invariably disposed to be crackers about the incoming perfume.
Also, I am rarely given scent because, of course, people think, “look at him, surrounded by hundreds of the world’s most glorious scents! Why should he want another one?” But life works the other way about. I remember years ago at work we were looking for a leaving gift for a dressy lady, and I voted strongly for a thick silk twill scarf. My mates all cried out, ‘But, no! Joycie already has hundreds of scarves” – and I said, “so evidently they must be her favourite thing!” Fragrance lovers will always be panting for the next one, that I can assure you. Impossible to overdo it.
The University of Prague has produced a survey. They did this test, and they found that if you want to choose the perfect scent for a man – I mean, as a Christmas surprise – then bring along his sister and ask her to pick it out. “The reason may be that brothers and sisters smell the same”; and “that sisters prefer odours that match products of their own genes”¤. For, to really work, a fragrance should compliment the natural odour of one’s own skin. I think we all know that by now. We’re chasing the beautiful phenomenon whereby a scent seems to bloom on the skin, coming apparently not from the bottle but from the very pores of the wearer. A million molecules of body and perfume blending exquisitely in one perfect reaction.
Reading this newspaper report caused me to think about the fragrances I’ve worn over the years that have provoked a reaction: the rare and much-desired audible, vocal reaction I mean. I can’t answer for what secret thoughts have gone on in people’s heads, thank goodness. A kind friend once told me I should be “very careful” in what I wear, and I appreciated that. It’s sage advice that has resonated down the years.
It’s evidently the oriental tribe that work best for me. The warmest compliments I’ve had in years have been for Malle’s MONSIEUR. (mobbed in the library – and at the butcher’s): and Tauer’s INCENSE EXTREME – solicited in the street. Most gratifying. I remember from thirty years ago the “oooh’s” and “aah’s” in a train carriage on a foggy damp New Year’s Day. These gasps were apparently prompted by a spray of Shalimar – in the eau de toilette concentration. There were those more ambiguous squeaks at the National Gallery indicating strong reactions to that very intense rose-coloured Joop! And – a Warning To The Curious – unmistakable sounds of disapprobation in the stalls during a cinema showing of ‘The Last of the Mohicans’, indicating that I’d sadly overdone Chanel’s Coco.
But, what the hell? Any kind of reaction brings a perfume to life, and slightly too much scent is always preferable to rather too little. Otherwise, what is the point?
Wishing You All a Very Merry and Joyous Christmas filled with Sweet Smells and Happy Thoughts.
¤ see The Times Tuesday 13/12/16; report by Tom Whipple on p.3.