MARIE ANTOINETTE: an old acquaintance

marie antoinette

Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette, 1938

 

Contemporary travellers and observers  had certain things to say about eighteenth century European cities and the urban assault on the senses.  London was the noisiest, Amsterdam the cleanest and Paris by far the dirtiest. Paris smelled appalling. Unlike London, pre-Revolutionary Paris still had no pavements and the city was essentially medieval in lay-out. The effluvia of its streets gave its name to a racy tint of shot silk  – “boue de Paris” – a  striking example of the perverse – not to say morbid – desire of fashionable Society to roll in the gutter. The mud glowed, you see, just as the colours changed in the fabric: the muck of the avenues was all phosphorescent with rot. Where it splashed and spattered, the filth burned holes in clothes and scarred delicate skin. Another new colour, a purplish-brown, was christened “puce” – the colour of a flea when engorged with blood. Maybe because the structure and etiquette of French aristocratic circles had become so rarefied and stultified, the ton enjoyed childish jokes about potties, enemas, underwear (or the lack of it) and the like. All this silliness was described as being in touch with Nature. Queen Marie Antoinette is said to have had Sevres cups modelled from her own generous bosom for the serving of foaming fresh milk in her let’s-pretend dairy at Rambouillet. A few of these curious “bols-sein” survive today: whether the royal belle poitrine did in fact provide the originals remains to be seen.

Ironic isn’t it? Marie Antoinette spent millions over a very brief period – 15 years – on creating her own fantasy world: and, ever since, the reality of the woman has been lost sight of in an agglomeration of myths and legends. When I was sixteen, I read Stefan Zweig’s celebrated “post-Freudian” biography over and over. I have just returned to it: still fascinating, but now the terrible American translation grates – the Queen lost in “a fit of the blues” and what not. And maybe because I am so much older, I now find this poor woman far more maddening than of yore. Unlike our own dear monarch, she consistently put her foot wrong, sometimes wilfully so. Her defenders tell us how she settled down to home economics after the birth of her children and the devastating shock of the Diamond Necklace Trial. And yet, in those last years just before the storming of the Bastille, she was spending as never before. That new dairy; the constant refurbishment of her rooms and palaces; the famous toy village at the Petit Trianon which was still being added to by the architects Mique, pere et fils¤, right up to the end.

But then you might say, what else was she to do? The Queen of France was expected to keep up appearances and to patronise French arts and industries. Marie Antoinette certainly kept a French perfumer, Msr. Fargeon; and she probably used Houbigant products. Aside from that, I think I have read more twaddle about Marie Antoinette and scent than almost any other person. We read of her collecting samples en route for the guillotine; being recognised by her fragrance as the Royal Family attempted to flee the country in 1791; even wearing perfume in a phial around her neck as she was taken to execution. As her Hungarian biographer Antal Szerb remarked, the Martyred Queen involuntarily attracted libels, slanders, factoids and trolls all her life – and has continued to do so ever since. Like some magnetic Hollywood star – or modern princess, come to that – she was an perpetual object for the projection of hostile, crazy and sometimes pornographic public fantasy.

On August 10 1901 the English tourists Misses Moberly and Jourdain believed they had seen the Queen’s shade – and those of her entourage – in the park at Versailles. They were so convinced by their experience that they set it all down in a book; and well worth reading it is, too¤¤. Wouldn’t it have been remarkable if they had remarked on the phantom’s sillage – a haze of roses, tuberoses, jasmine and amber?¤¤¤ Or, rather, a shifting variation of the same, as Msr. Fargeon had his work cut out thinking up continual new creations. In the days of Louis XV – Marie Antoinette’s grandfather-in-law – Versailles was supposedly known as “le cour parfume”. The great perfume entrepreneur, Eugene Rimmel, writing less than a hundred years later, tells us that Court etiquette demanded the use of a different perfume for every day of the year. True, do you think? Or the retelling of an enchanting fairy tale? It does sound rather like Grimm: the 365 Princesses with their 365 Perfumes.

Re-running Sunset Boulevard (1950) yet again last night on the DVD, I was struck by Billy Wilder’s set-up for the line in which Norma Desmond’s notorious use of tuberose perfume is described. She takes her place on the sofa with a dark gauzy handkerchief floating from her wrist: it is evident that her suffocating scent – the odour of seduction, madness and death – is emanating not from her skin but from the fabric. Women were spraying perfume on their skin by 1950, to be sure; but how interesting to note that, as children of the late Victorian/Edwardian age, Wilder and Swanson still regarded fragrance as a phenomenon that surrounded the human body, but never actually touched it. Marie Antoinette may have soaked her hair & face powder, her fichus, her Trianon muslins in scent – she burned perfumed pastilles in her apartments and had her Sevres bowls filled with flowers and pot pourri – but she would certainly not have dabbed scent on wrists and decollete. That would have been altogether too risky – not only morally objectionable but also probably injurious to health, playing havoc with the volatile humours of the body.

At least we know – and for many of her admirers this is important – that the Queen kept herself clean. It is the done thing to go on about Versailles being as filthy as a Paris street, and no doubt the public rooms accumulated heaps of waste matter and unpleasantness. But the Royal Family had designated bathrooms – I have seen Louis XV’s: most attractive. Marie Antoinette’s bathing suite is now restored and, I believe, open to view – at a price. Her contemporaries thought the Queen bathed more often than was wise. Having a bath was then regarded as more medicinal than hygienic. Marie Antoinette went into the tub wearing what Quentin Crisp used to call a “minimum risk” kind of nightgown, well buttoned up to the neck. For she never bathed alone, but always surrounded by a retinue of ladies. The Queen of France may have given birth in public but for bathing she covered her modesty.

My more mature readers will just about remember –  as I do – the puritan days when it was still considered boorish, common and gauche to praise anything. Delicious food, a delightful personal appearance, lovely clothes were never commented upon in polite society. They were verboten topics, same like money, politics and religion. Marie Antoinette’s contemporaries may well have been enthralled and bewitched by her perfume but no memoir or letter ever refers to it. Marie Antoinette is remembered for her seductive walk, her stately carriage, her beautiful hair, her complexion – “literally a combination of lilies and roses”. But not for her scent. That would be going simply too far, even for her most implacable enemies. Cosmetics, yes: we hear a lot about the royal rouge and powder. Perfume, no.

Fragrance two hundred years ago – as now – remains the most personal and intimate of topics. When did you last read an interview in which the subject’s smell was referred to?

Precisely.

¤ for which creative endeavours they paid with their heads during the Terror of 1794.

¤¤ ‘An Adventure’,1911.

¤¤¤ as ghosts are noted for the odours which attend them.

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Wait For The Moment When: Bubonic Plague

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…” The Black Death” – comes to Paris in 1889. This is the ghastly premise of SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950). Ingenue Victoria Barton (Jean Simmons¤ at her shrillest) arrives from Naples with her brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) for the opening of the Exposition Universelle. John feels unnaturally tired. During the night, the bell in his room – No 19 – at the Hotel de la Licorne¤¤ rings and rings and rings. The night porter – sturdy but apparently half-witted – goes upstairs. It is 1.50 a.m.

A fresh and brilliant May morning dawns for the Exposition; everyone dresses in their best, blithe as larks. But Room 19 and its occupant have now unaccountably and completely disappeared.

This short and pacey movie pivots on two pairs of brothers and sisters: in each case the woman proves the stronger and more vigorous half of the partnership. John and Vicky have a relationship more akin to that of father and daughter; they are also mistaken for man and wife¤¤¤. Their opposite numbers are the hotel proprietress Mme Herve and her submissive brother Narcisse. Madame is played by Cathleen Nesbitt, Rupert Brooke’s great love. She is the dominant figure of the entire film, stealing the picture from a cast which includes Dirk Bogarde, Honor Blackman, Andre Morell and Eugene Deckers. Playing the predatory concierge as a French Mrs Danvers, and terrorising – though never subduing – the tiresome but persisent ‘petite Anglaise’, Cathleen also finishes as the (implied & ironic) heroine of the picture. In removing the English patient to a remote provincial hospital and by denying his very existence, Mme Herve has saved France and the vast investment of the Exposition from scandal and complete disaster. The unspoken inference is that despite her GASLIGHT tactics with Miss Barton, Madame may well end up by being decorated with the Legion D’Honneur in appreciation of her quick thinking. A subversive view of our French cousins if you like.

The film presents other ambiguities. Has the plague in fact been securely contained in a convent lazaret? We remember the early scenes of the picture with Johnny Barton already sickening on the boat¤¤¤¤ to Marseilles; his mingling with the crowds in the lobby of the hotel; his evening with Victoria at the Moulin Rouge. And here the film cheats a little as the famous dance hall did not open until October 6th, a month before the end of the exposition. Be that as it may, we see the famous elephant and the knickery girls¤¤¤¤¤ leaping about and descending to the dance floor by saucy chute. One dancer even sits on John’s knee and steals a kiss. Goodness! His infection must already be all over Paris by the time Mme has his room bricked up. Maybe there is a hint of this in the black lace domino donned by Victoria. A decorative disguise which also suggests a sinister facial rash or skin eruption; a more glamorous version of the leather hoods and masks worn by seventeenth century plague doctors.

Death is in the air, literally. On the Champs de Mars we see ‘Nina and Louis’ gaily ascending in an air balloon only to be burned alive as the thing mysteriously ignites during the flight. Jean Simmons’ facial reaction to this horror is inadequate – as though she has missed a ‘bus – but the incident suggests a universal meaningless malevolence now abroad in Paris. The appalling reek of the balloon wreckage encourages the viewer to consider disease as many people would have still thought of it in 1889 – the widespread notion that sickness is spread by smell; the ancient miasma theory. We have another clue to the importance of smell in the presence of tardy decorators in the Hotel de la Licorne and the concomitant odour of paint. Not to mention the impressionist canvases in Dirk Bogarde’s atelier and – maybe – the extremely elaborate dresses of the women, boned and buckram’d and bustled: entirely restrictive and quite unsuitable for touring a vast exhibition on a warm May day. “Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, ladies gently glow”.

And then there are the lavish dressings of the hotel sets: busy, fussy, crowded, claustophobic. Mme Herve’s private parlour is an extraordinarily faithful re-creation of late Victorian interior decoration – a closed and airless room crammed and hung with thousands of knick-knacks and gewgaws. in the early 1950’s the craftsmen who built these sets could – like the costume designers – still remember the authentic look of such things from their youth. We can also appreciate Mme’s priorites – her worldly goods and respect for her own wellbeing – reflected in this crammed assemblage which includes a comforting champagne bucket.

My grandmother (1891 – 1966) certainly subscribed to miasma theory. I remember very well as a child being made to cover my mouth and nose with a handkerchief, preferably cologne-soaked, when passing pools of stagnant water or whiffy ditches – sure breeders of disease simply by inhalation of odour. Mrs Taylor had learned these theories from her own father who was famous for his championing of The Leicester Method in his work as Health Inspector of Leicester. The city was still experiencing smallpox epidemics as late as the early 1930’s: my great grandfather had died in 1923 at 1979. He had never retired. He – like many contemporaries – had vehemently resisted inoculation, instead recommending isolation and seclusion of patients and (as in ‘The Tale of Mr Tod’) intensive fumigation of their bedding, belongings and premises. The sick were sealed up with their families, just as in 1665. Then, Londoners had packed their mouths and nostrils with herbs and spices before venturing on to the streets and believed the plague smelled of sweet rotting apples. And maybe they were right: we know now that dogs can be trained to smell cancer in humans, and to detect the ketones which predict the approach of an epileptic seizure.

We have already remarked on the role of the Moulin Rouge in SO LONG AT THE FAIR; and we see the Eiffel Tower as it was then presented – though not yet quite finished – as the official gateway to the Exposition. But a third Parisian icon of 1889 is not referred to. For this was the year in which Aime Guerlain launched the farouche and magnificent Jicky upon the world. A candidate for the accolade of being the first ‘modern’ perfume, Jicky is still, despite 21st century tinkering, a stunner. I first read about this scent about 100 years ago in J R Ackerley’s startling & singular memoir My Father And Myself. Old man Ackerley was not only the Fyffe’s Banana King but a bigamist who treated both wives to huge bottles of this most eccentric of scents. (J.R.’s mother kept a pet fly in her bathroom). Entranced by the name and the context, I took myself off to Harrods to smell Jicky for myself: with all that coumarin, vanillin, patchouli lavender and civet I thought it the wildest thing I had ever encountered.

Years later, I took a large flacon of Jicky eau de parfum with me to Samarkand where it helped to pull me through a devastating bout of food poisoning. The aged and resourceful chamber maid swabbed me down with a filthy floor cloth dipped in raw vodka, and I made with the Jicky. My temperature fell from that moment and I was soon fit to be bundled onto a bus bound for Bukhara: the designated hotel in that city was – we were told – built on the site of a medieval plague pit. It was undoubtedly haunted. A curious set of circumstances, weirdly  foreshadowing those of SO LONG AT THE FAIR…

¤ she lived in my road, in N7. The current occupants of the house are trying to get up a Blue Plaque.

¤¤ The Hotel of the Unicorn: the unicorn may be lured, trapped and harnessed only by a pure & virtuous maiden. Our Miss Barton.

¤¤¤ in the 1938 German version of the story VERWEHTE SPUREN, an UFA vehicle for Kristina Soderbaum, the unlucky couple are mother and daughter.

¤¤¤¤ a ship which looks very similar to that which crushes Magwitch beneath its paddles in David Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Is it the same?

¤¤¤¤¤ the girls of The Damora Ballet, screen can-can dancers par excellence? Unbilled: but I think it must be them. One or two of the faces look familiar – and of course the legs…

Knize Ten

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The end of the Great War saw a frenzied creative activity in the creation of scent: without Caron’s Tabac Blond there would have been no Knize Ten; without Knize Ten there might have been no Habanita. We have all three pillars of perfumery holding up the roof of Les Senteurs: the most remarkable and oddest of the trio is Knize Ten. Extraordinarily difficult to find, its reputation is enormous but in no way belied by its reality, once found. It is surrounded by an almost sinister aura.

When I was young and warnings came via whispers rather than the internet, certain things were held to be arcane and dangerous, to infallibly bring bad luck: such as possession of tarot cards, writing cheques on a Sunday, sticking a postage stamp upside down and reading The Golden Bough. Knize Ten is a bit like this: it has such an accumulation of myth about it and such a powerful presence that the challenge of wearing with it without being overpowered by its legend is too much for some.

Knize Ten is one of the final legacies of old Imperial Europe – the Kaiserzeit in full decadence with all the glamour, gloom and grotesquerie that children of that era – Von Stroheim, Pabst, Von Sternberg, Zweig, Mann – brought to their films and books. The tailoring firm of Knize was founded in 1858 by the Czech Josef Knize but had been bought out by the Wolff family long before the Emperor Franz Josef gave the House its Royal and Imperial Warrant in 1888, the year Queen Victoria’s daughter became Empress of Prussia for just 99 days. In its heyday there were Knize showrooms in Prague, Berlin, Paris, Karlsbad and even New York dressing not only royalty but the German military; gentlemen of both sexes; Maurice Chevalier and Marlene Dietrich. Today Knize Ten, always a star since 1921 (though the exact date is debated) is a murky canary diamond gleaming in the shadows of its own past.

Knize’s Teutonic darkness closes in oppressively and hotly after a brilliant hesperidic burst of rosemary, lemon and orange like sun burning through Berlin fogs over the swamps of the Spree. Knize draws across heavy baize-lined velvet curtains, shutting you in with a padded heart of rose, jasmine and clove carnation whose animalic notes come panting after, echoed in accords of castoreum, civet, amber, cedar and patchouli. The full expression is immense, bursting out of its confines – heady, heavy, swollen; and faintly sweaty, like fine wool heated by vigorous exercise – the feverish walkers of “The Magic Mountain”, or Luis Trenker in one of those unhinged mountaineering Silent pictures of the late 20’s. A wholesome unwholesomeness – or maybe vice versa.

One is confronted with a huge physicality and a sense of a faint (or rather more?) soiling. Speaking for myself, Knize Ten’s attraction never fails, but one application leaves me feeling coated, sealed, painted like that girl in Goldfinger. There’s hardly room left to breathe: Knize Ten is a total experience, it possesses you wholly, crushes you in its fatal ursine embrace. The final kicker is that oily black work-out of Prussian leather and what some people swear is the odour of rubber. And of course for many this is the money-shot, the clincher that makes the fragrance irresistible. It doesn’t play- pretend fetishism like some modern scents: it is itself a fetish, in same way as Narcisse Noir or Bandit. We keep it in a cage.

BANDIT: by Robert Piguet out of Germaine Cellier

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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

Total Immersion

thetimesdotcodotuk

As you know, at Les Senteurs we make rather a good job of finding a fragrance to complement a particular occasion. A woman came in the other day looking for a perfume to wear as godmother at a christening. Now I suppose the imagination at once goes to something light, crisp, fresh and florally green – new life, new hope; “we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree”, you know? One thinks of Malle’s Lys Mediterranee or Cloon Keen’s Bataille des Fleurs.  However, I’d been to a baptism myself only the previous day and had been overwhelmed in the chancel by a spontaneously generated redolence of myrrh, the godfathers’ smooth spicy scent and vases of crimson & cream late roses, with just a hint of pure clean baby.

So for my visitor – who was dramatically brunette with fine clear olive skin (for such things will alter the perception and wearing of a scent) – I chose the following. Parfum Sacre from Le Selection de Caron is a new translation of the classic mix of roses, pepper, cinnamon and incense. Alamut by Lorenzo Villoresi is a fantasy tour of the Persian Castle of the Assassins : the perfume is a head-turning and head-spinning kaleidoscope of sweet incense oils, rose, tuberose, amber,narcissus and orange blossom. My new friend took away a sample of each to ponder: we await her decision with interest.

Image from: thetimes.co.uk

Three Minute Sermon

IRIS

I walk out into my back garden and down the lane to the fields where at this  time of year the warm air smells like the best perfume shop in the world. There’s a bed of old-fashioned blue bearded iris beneath the kitchen window in ground as dry as dust; they are flourishing, as they have done for years, in what is little more than sandy grit. Ultimate low maintenance. They need no care or attention whatsoever: they just get on with it and for three weeks every year they smell like the plains of Heaven.

‘Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these’.

The mesmerising enveloping langourous fragrance of iris is truly out of this world. It’s the roots, the rhizomes that are used in perfumery but if you’re mad about scent please don’t forget to poke your nose into those weirdly orchidaceous flowers adorned with their hirsute inner crests dusted with golden pollen. You’ll find it difficult to move on, to return to reality.

The scent is soft, powdery: its summer’s evening warmth is enhanced by the cool silkiness of the petals. There’s a sophistication, a poise about the perfume that reminds us that the iris, not the lily, was the inspiration for the French heraldic fleur de lys. These flowers give off a note that is very close to aldehydic, a knowing stately nod to Mlle Chanel and her stable of scents created by the chemical genius of Ernest Beaux. He must have loved this flower named after the Roman goddess of the rainbow, arching her body across the skies in her mantle of many colours.

Finally tearing myself away from the Mysteries of Iris I go down the fields with a bucket and spade in search of horse manure for my roses. The meadows smell like the Caron Paris boutique, truly. You sidle in off the road, negotiate the stile and the scent comes close to knocking you over. Clouds of keck, cow parsley, Queen Anne’s Lace crown the grass with endless dancing webs of creamy flowerlets and pollen. Here I inhale that gorgeous note of hay that haunts the depths of all the Daltroff classics: green, sneezy, warm, peppery, sweet, close, simultaneously very dry and faintly damp. Here it is, free for all, on the edge of the cow pasture intensified by hawthorn and new grass. The smell of burgeoning nature, growth, reproduction, fertility and life.  Truth stranger than fiction: reality stronger than artifice.