Fire Down Below!

Image: Tate.org.uk

Image: Tate.org.uk

The last time I lit a fire was to burn a packet of indiscreet letters in a flower pot – “Ne brulez pas vos lettres d’amour” – but for many years fire raising was my routine daily activity. Like a votress of Vesta I once had a job which revolved around it so I know that part of the appeal of a fire is that each one has its own character: every one is different. Winter mornings began on my hands and knees raking out the warm clinkers and cinders. For wood fires you leave a bed of fragrant powdery silver ash; a coal fire calls for a tidy grate with an empty basket. I had learned the routine at home from infancy: first the ash bucket, then the twisting of scrap paper into wreaths; the construction of a miniature wig-wam of sticks (small hatchet to hand on the hearth) and then the selection of tiny pieces of coal like black pearls, small enough to delicately hand-feed the new flame. There was also the risky trick of holding a double sheet of newspaper over the fireplace to encourage the fire to draw: this was not comme il faut at our house, being considered both dangerous and a bit of a fraud. I know I was petrified the first time I saw it done by Mrs Woodall from up the road. She was not above overcoming reluctance by also splashing a drop of paraffin about.

My father held that a fire should be kindled simply by skilled and simple laying: anything else was cheating. Maybe this was reaction on his part as his own dad was reckless and flamboyant with fire. Astonishing and wonderful noises, smells and colours billowed out from my grandfather’s hearth: squeezed-out tubes of oil paint, stale cocktail snacks, 78rpm records and once even an old radio were all chucked on. Amazing turquoise, green and orange flames roared up the chimney like Pamela Browne’s visionary fires of Isis in “Cleopatra”.

The biggest cheat in my father’s eyes was the use of firelighters: both an unnecessary waste of money and lacking in artistry. I’m not certain of their current retail status but no doubt you can still buy them. There was a type that looked a bit like meat faggots – lumpy bundles of sawdust and twigs: intriguing but not especially incendiary. And then there were ‘Zip’. Ah! ‘Zip’, once the light of my life. Zips came in a black packet licked by stylized flames. The packet somehow felt slightly damp and to me the contents looked like bars of moist, succulent nougat coconut cake: I always longed to lick them, bite and chew them. You could break or slice them in two (leaving oily crumbs) and the smell was addictive and tempting beyond belief – petrol/napthalene/ paraffin – so dense and literally mouthwatering. It lingered deliciously on one’s fingers but o! the punch of it when a new packet was opened. I never did taste, though: perhaps I wouldn’t be writing this now if I had.

Wood smoke is now a perfumery standard and you can smell coal mixed with rose in Nu_Be’s terrific ‘Carbon’. Coal has a great scent. It’s cold with a sooty dustines, an icy purity and the mysteries of a buried eternity. At home we went down steps into the pitch darkness of the coal house smelling the fossilised woods of one million years BC heaped up next to green logs, dry bark and sawdust. Hares, pheasants and the odd side of beef hanging for the table swung from hooks in the shadowed ceiling. There was a metallic tang from two great axes which were propped against the wall like props from a Tudor epic. It was a shed of horrid romance and imagination.

And we also had bonfires in the garden: the cardinal sin was to light one on a Sunday. (It was also said that a cheque written on a Sunday was automatically invalid). Bonfires of household rubbish, garden waste, soiled cat papers and whatever were heaped up on a concrete plaza beneath the apple trees. Fascinating smells filled our hair and clothes as we spent whole days playing around the pyre, the only pleas from the adults being that we didn’t waste too many matches. I think we got a little high on the smell of those too: the initial exciting hit as the flame takes wing. I imagine we smelled terrible but this I do not recall: like so many things the odour of bonfires seems to have changed with the years due I guess to the quality of things burned. We were like little devotees of Moloch, pleasing the nostrils of the gods with dead leaves and cardboard.

 

Don’t forget to book your place at our exclusive Grossmith London event on Sunday 28th September!

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Interview: Papillon’s Elizabeth Moores

Elizabeth

Papillon Artisan Perfumes are one of the most innovative and exciting fragrance houses to emerge in recent years. The three fragrances, each unique yet somehow connected, created by Elizabeth Moores have been met with great excitement with those inside the fragrance world.

Elizabeth is not only charming but most extraordinarily talented; a natural and spontaneous ‘Nose’. Self-taught, she has produced 3 divine scents of stupendous imagination and quality: not for a long time have I smelled such richness, depth and volupte. She is also a mother, keen gardener and equestrienne. A Renaissance personality!

I sent Elizabeth a few questions about her experiences, and approach to fragrance.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be the creator of these 3 unique beauties?

I have always adored perfume, although it wasn’t until later in my life that I started creating my own fragrances. After realising that many of the traditional routes into perfumery were closed to me, I embarked upon a period of self-study, training and reading with the sources available in order to make perfumes for myself. This often led to friends and family asking what I was wearing and slowly I began to create unique fragrances for others. At the time I was a single mum of four, and upon insistence from friends that I should begin selling my perfumes, I decided to create a business with its heart set in my long love of fragrance.

Your scents have tremendous opulence and dazzling shine, a glow, a polish. How do you achieve this superlative expansion and depth?

I weave accords within accords inside each composition; each one layers across the next, like a Patina, if you will, across the perfume to create olfactory depth. I wanted the perfumes to have strong evaporation curves: perfumes that move and display their various facets at different times. Perpetuating the classical composition of perfume, that adopts a roughly 50/50 ratio of natural and synthetic materials, was important to me as I believe it creates texture and the polished finish that you have mentioned. After I have blended the raw materials, I then allow this compound to macerate for 8 weeks. The compound is then diluted with perfumers alcohol, and the finished bottle then macerates for a further 6 weeks.  Through early trial and error I have found that this process is essential in creating the finished perfume.

I love the way your scents have total individuality, and yet seem somehow connected to one another. Maybe this has to do with your source of inspiration: where do you find your ideas?

Inspiration can come from many sources. I have found nature to be particularly influential in the initial emergence of my ideas, but I also find literature, people, places and experiences all play their part in conceptualising the initial sketches for my perfumes. When I first began creating Anubis it was a nameless leather fragrance, a genre I have great love for, which started to take its true form after reading a book on ancient Egypt. Perhaps without even realising it the intense Egyptian imagery began to permeate my imagination and find its way into the perfume. I’m very fortunate that I am not restricted by focus groups and am free to create in my own way. This might go some way towards explaining the connection that people have identified between the collection.
I have never struggled to find my inspiration, in fact quite the opposite. I often find myself overwhelmed with ideas, and have to be selective in choosing which ones will become a fragrance.

Anubis - Paillon Artisan Perfumes

Do you have favourite ingredients? Are your creations influenced by your love of certain oils?

I’ve yet to use a material that I have not liked. I go through bursts with my tastes, one week I am in love with vertiver, but the next week it might be Sandalwood. Anubis was very heavily influenced by a rich Egyptian jasmine absolute I was desperate to use in a composition.   I adore rose in all its forms, and I’m going through a period where I am in love with Rose de Mai. Maybe it’s because the roses are blooming in my garden that I am feeling a particular affinity to this material at this moment in time. I used Rose de Mai and Bulgarian rose in Tobacco Rose.  Angelique allowed me the freedom to use mimosa which always evokes such happy feelings for me. Orris concrete is one of my favourite materials to work with, tiny amounts within a composition can softly blur the edges of a perfume and create a glorious downy finish. I used a huge amount of Orris concrete in Angelique because I simply couldn’t resist! I sometimes smear the concrete on my wrists, and the deep intense smell always reminds me of the backs of my children’s necks when they were babies.

Tobacco Rose from Papillon Artisan Perfumes

If you were to define yourself in terms of fragrance, which perfume would you be?

I resisted the temptation to come up with something highly amusing, and have instead handed this questions over to my daughters who are probably better qualified to answer it honestly!

There can only ever be one fragrance that can come close to defining my mother. It is one which delicately falls as a backdrop to our childhood memories, and still offers its powdery comfort now we have grown. It is Shalimar by Guerlain. From the hundreds of perfume bottles than adorn our house, it is the feathered neck and royal blue top of the Shalimar bottle that is marked with the finger prints of each of us, sneaking in to spritz some, foolishly hoping we wouldn’t get caught, and secretly wishing that it would bring with it the effortless class and glamour that our mother has always exuded. It is not only the memories that we associate with this perfume, but the essence of the perfume itself that makes it so much like her. It is quiet in its power, but is as determined in its morning vanilla burst, as it is in its soft goodnight kiss. It turns heads not with loud insistence, but with a delicate and timeless sophistication that is warm, encompassing, and never fails to catch you off guard and take your breath away. It will never tire of bringing happiness to those around it, weaving new dreams and memories. It is beautiful, and it is constant.

Angelique from Papillon Artisan Perfumes

If we were to ask you for a top tip, one golden nugget of advice, concerning any aspect of perfume?

There are so many things I have learned, but if I were to offer just one piece of advice it would be to step outside your comfort zone. This can evoke new emotions and often our greatest works are constructed in the difficult space outside familiarity. If you dislike rose, wear rose fragrances for a week; try to pinpoint your dislike, and more often than not you may realise that an aversion to a material can be dissected, and trigger new understandings. Be brave, because I promise you, you will amaze yourself!  

         

 

Be Like Dad: Keep Mum

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In the old times, when Mothering Sunday was a feast of honouring one’s mother church, children brought home a posy of wild flowers for mamma. I remember as a tot that my grandmother was still keen on this idea. When I made a fuss about the problem of finding them in our streets she allowed that flowers picked from the garden would just about do. I was wary of this as there had recently been a row about helping myself to daffodils but I remember gathering a small bunch of sea blue sillas from beneath the sitting room windows and these went down well.

So I have been scanning the shelves here at Les Senteurs looking for the fragrance of wild flowers that might intrigue you and please your mum. You can cheat a bit if you want to, as so many of our garden blooms started off in hedgerows, fields and streams before being refined for the garden. You can always blur the edges and fall back on iris, rose, jasmine and tuberose if you must. Meanwhile the more creative can use their imaginations to romantic effect.

James Heeley’s L’Amandiere is an enchanting visualisation of a perfect spring day. An orchard of almond blossom spreads a pink and white canopy over a carpet of hyacinths and bluebells while a note of linden florets suggests the imminence of summer while evoking the sweet green lushness of new grass. Almonds and their flowers are loaded with appropriate symbolism – the Mystery of the Virgin Birth, hope, fertility, life’s sweetness & bitterness, the path of righteous living, the passing of the years. Maybe to emphasise the intensity of spring, L’Amandiere is conceived as an extrait, a parfum: concentrate and compressed vitality, the richness and bounty of the two Universal Mothers: Earth & Nature.

Now wander barefoot into a field of red and white clover. Are children still taught to suck nectar from the flowers as we used to do? Atelier Cologne’s Trefle Pur continues a tradition of clover fragrances which began with Piver’s barnstorming Trefle Incarnat nearly 120 years ago. This new 21st century clover is a fragrance simultaneously lush and innocent, rainy and sunny, with touches of violet leaf, basil, moss and neroli. Knee high in buttercups, “when the fields are white with daisies” as Florrie Forde used to sing.

Lorenzo Villoresi’s Yerbamate is another perfumed pasture, this time revolving around sharp green galbanum oil. This plant, related to our cow parsley & fennel, grows wild in the mountains of Iran but this scent to me is very English: emerging from a deep dark wood into open meadows under a clear blue cloudless sky. It’s like wading through trefoil, camomile, ferns and sorrel surrounded with flowering trees rampant with sap & spring vigour.

An honourable mention here too for Ophelia by Heeley Parfums. Think of Millais’s painting of Elizabeth Siddal floating downstream on a current of flowers. Though here you must permit a certain poetic licence for we smell not rosemary, pansies and rue but the tropic elegance of tuberose, ylang ylang and jasmine. However these heady scents are treated with a freshness, lightness and modesty which are the special charms of a wild flower.

As for the charms of your own wonderful mother find them all reflected in the 1001 myriad magical perfumes of Les Senteurs. Why not pop round?

Vanilla

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When I was young, no one had much time for vanilla. To most of us it meant no more than a boring flavour of anaemic ice cream, the one that was always available once the strawberry and chocolate had run out or proved too expensive. People came out of confectionery shops with their faces on the floor: “They only had vanilla…”. My grandmother had a horror of food colourings or flavourings (poisonous) so we never experimented with vanillin, and vanilla pods were unheard of in our neck of the woods. My father’s interest in puddings was as a test for alcoholism. To see someone refuse dessert was a sure sign that person had a drinking problem, as certain as a vampire recoiling from garlic. “They can’t stand the sweetness!”

So we missed out on a lot of erudition and amusement: vanilla is a fascinating substance, chock-full of romance. Of course it has a justified reputation as an aphrodisiac, and as we’re all grown ups I’ll remind you of one of the reasons why. It’s the fruit of a species of orchid, bearing green and white flowers: the two words “vanilla” and “orchid” derive from the Latin and Greek words respectively for the female and male genitalia. This is on account of the intrinsically suggestive shapes of the plant, and something to remember when you’re lighting Mizensir‘s delicious Orchidee Chocolat candle. The ancient Mexicans prized vanilla, whisking it with chocolate and chili (though not sugar) to a cold foaming drink served to royalty and the gods to stimulate their appetites. Imported to Europe, it was sold at vast price to inflame rakes and courtesans, something in the style of modern Viagra. Modern scientists established that it contains a molecule very similar to that found in human milk: no wonder then that vanilla is a comfort food par excellence, stimulating thoughts of the nursery, the kitchen, animal warmth and nurturing protective snug love.

What excites me, too, is the reflection that vanilla is one of the oldest plants on the planet, a link between us and the dinosaurs. We are smelling a blossom at which a Stegosaurus might have snuffed in the Cretaceous period 30 million years ago. What a mind-expanding thought is that! Dinosaurs lived in a terrain very different to ours: flowers were only just beginning to evolve during the Cretaceous. Frederic Malle’s Jurassic Flower is a delicious anachronism. No grass; few deciduous trees, but rather palms, ferns, horsetails and the like. Dragonflies the size of swallows buzzing about. And then, this extraordinary evolution of dinosaurs into birds: when I look at my budgie – especially into his little blue eyes – I can see how an erect biped like a Tyrannosaurus might well have gone down this route, given enough time. However I find it very hard to imagine the horned Triceratops or the tortoise-like Anklyosaurus mutating to become airborne. But through all these vast changes, the eventual arrival of Man and the birth of civilisation, the vanilla orchid has remained constant, our living link with Eden. Pretty heady stuff.

Vanilla’s reign in modern perfumery is but a moment in time, dating from 1925 when Guerlain made vanillin such an exaggerated and successful feature of Shalimar. Now it warms, softens and expands florals, sweetens gourmands and takes the spotlight as a solo performer. Often confused with tonka (another plant derivative) vanilla is darker, smokier, far less sweet. It’s easy to study in the raw: buy a packet of pods and inhale. And then you can infuse them in anything, from coffee to custards. Keep one in the sugar jar, the tea tin or the biccie barrel. They last for ages and having been steeped in cream or other liquids can be washed, dried and used again.

E. Coudray do a brace of contrasting vanilla perfumes. Vanille et Coco is almost maddeningly gooey-sweet, incorporating coconut, amber and sticky fruits; but it has a gorgeous golden greed and voluptuousness which in a certain mood can hit the spot exactly. Its stately sister Ambre et Vanille is more restrained, though hot with iris, heliotrope and marigold, spices and woods. Villoresi’s Teint de Neige has its own cult following: a gauzy gossamer cloud of jasmine, white roses and sifted powdery vanilla icing sugar. The quintessence of soft and romantic femininity, an Edwardian glass dressing table cascading with lace, glace ribbon and goffered muslin. Pierre Guillaume is the niche king of sophisticated gourmanderie, so vanilla fanciers should inspect his Parfumerie General and Huitieme Art with method and enthusiasm. Don’t miss Creed‘s luxurious Sublime Vanille; and we end with the grand finale of Mona di Orio’s resplendent Vanille, a French galleon sailing out of Guadeloupe or Martinique, laden with bitter oranges and a whole plantation of vanilla pods perfuming the trade winds.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

BANDIT: by Robert Piguet out of Germaine Cellier

filmmuseumdashpotsamdotde

Back in the 1970’s, the roguish matinee idol charmer Stewart Granger talked on afternoon television about what attracted him to a woman. She should be immaculately dressed,gloved, maquillee, shod and coiffured – “because I want to look at her and think, ‘I’m going to DESTROY all that!'” Coughs and lowered eyes all round…but I bet a whiff of Bandit would have driven the old boy right off his head. Bandit is a leather chypre, the total urban scent. Colossally sophisticated, even formidable, it is the ultimate parfum-de- film-noir; a scent of night clubs, car showrooms, private seances, art galleries, penthouses, theatres, and the sort of restaurant where children are unwelcome. It wears well with green suede gloves, elaborate lingerie,sable fur, cocktail napkins, pink Sobranies, crisp eye veils, Ferragamo shoes and vintage Schiaparelli. Wallis Windsor’s painted lobster dress is a perfect Bandit accessory. So is a lapis Faberge cigarette case, casually chucked about. This perfume always takes centre stage: everything else is an add-on.

Wear Bandit if you wish to seduce and intimidate and where you intend to dominate the proceedings by force of character, devastating chic and effortless charm. Seldom has a perfume been so demanding of the wearer. Possibly a scent to catch a very specialised husband, it is almost impossible to imagine being worn by a bride unless to create the most extraordinary impression. Anti-floral, stylised, artificial and magnificently rich in synthetics (Cellier was fond of tenacious chemical bases) Bandit has no vulnerability about it and few women would wish to be perceived as incisive, and imperious at the altar.But it has sex all right, and to a remarkable degree.

Bandit was created by Germaine Cellier, the first great female nose of the 20th century, a woman as elegant, magnetic and glamorous as any of her clients. Fracas, Jolie Madame and Vent Vert are all daughters of her genius. Beautifully dressed, an acquaintance of Jean Cocteau and Piaf, and moving in Parisian artistic and intellectual circles, Cellier made the acquaintance of the couturier Robert Piguet, former protege of Poiret and patron of Givenchy, Dior and Balmain.A suite of legendary perfumes spilled out from their laboratory and atelier, the first and greatest being Bandit in 1944.

All sorts of stories are told of the perfume. An old gentleman told me years ago that Piguet had asked Germaine to create a scent for his lover, a wild young man known as “Le Bandit”, very soon after killed in a car crash (” I knew the boyfriend!”). Bandit is also said to have been made as a gift for the gorgeous actress Edwige Feuillere, darling of the film intelligentsia and blessed with glorious red-gold hair and a ravishing husky voice. It certainly sits uncommonly well on the sort of pale, thin translucent sometimes freckled skin that often accompanies this tint of hair; the type of complexion that so often turns white waxy flowers like jasmine and tuberose. A product of the War years it exudes such a perversity, ambiguity and sheer weirdness that it is often wrongly assumed to have been a favourite in the pan-sexual Berlin and Paris of twenty years earlier. Certainly it has echoes of Tabac Blond and it could have been worn perfectly (maybe it was) by the likes of Dietrich, Louise Brooks, Margo Lion and Jo Carstairs. Men may sport it with elan and confidence; providing they be as poised as the girls.

When I smell Bandit I feel the hand on my shoulder of Zarah Leander, the great revue star, singer and actress who captivated Sweden, Germany and most of Europe in the 1930’s. Too tall and too massive for Hollywood, a natural red-head with a huge appetite for money, food, alcohol and cigarettes Zarah overwhelmed her audiences and employers: fans were said to have fainted at the sight of her,overwhelmed by her aura; an Italian journalist described her as a beautiful creature from another planet. On set she drank whisky or vodka through a straw from what purported to be Coke bottles or glasses of milk. Her voice recorded as a deep bass and her mystery was intensified by a lifetime of large impenetrable dark glasses. Nordic and practical, she liked to be photographed scratching her pigs on her Swedish farm; when she fled from Germany in 1943 with her film career in ruins, she turned to running her own fish cannery. Swathed in furs, her towering height increased by stilettoes, her skin a mass of freckles, her hair according to her own account “an interesting blend of beetroot and carrot” Zarah used Bandit to make a dream team for 40 years. Where does one end and the other begin? Cigarette papers and tobacco; then the dry fragrance of face powder, the silk lining of a coat, the tang of red hair, the exquisite soft leather of shoes, gloves, bag, all warm from flesh-contact. A hint of whisky, of body heat and feral animal oils, even fresh perspiration; the sharpness of a green corsage or stage-door bouquet. In a copse once, I saw a red dog-fox leap from a bed of violets: here is the fox but no trace of violets except a waft of their musky fleshy crushed hearts.

Image: filmmuseum-potsam.de

Popcorn Venus

openlibrary

We were sat listening to the London rain the other afternoon, sipping our Quietly Camomile and really beginning to feel a bit doleful, when our dear Michel blew in from Paris and bucked us all up. Michel’s been in the business for years and years; he’s like a debonair Belgian Leslie Howard and brings us all the news and novelties from Etat Libre d’Orange. This time in his valise he had a real cracker which we all adored – which means that many of you will, too. It’s enticingly named La Fin du Monde – The End of The World – which was how we’d all felt before smelling it.
Once the genie was out of the bottle and on our skin we were on top of the world.

Now the active note is – hang on! – popcorn. Delicious, warm, sweet dry popcorn blended with gunpowder, sesame and cumin, orris, styrax, vetiver… Heavens! It smelled good: embraceable, soft, wraparound comfort and, yes, glamorous too. On me the base ( hours + hours later) had some of the deep powdery darkness of a vintage Caron or Patou scent. We each wore it home that evening and it was on all our lips – and some skins, even after a bath – the next morning. You will judge for yourselves: La Fin du Monde should be on our shelves by the end of October so watch this space for updates.

Image: Openlibrary.org

What To Look For In Autumn

steptoesantiquesdotcodotuk

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.