Lavender’s Blue

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Lavender is one of the first benevolent plants we meet as tiny children. It’s non-poisonous, tough, grows more or less like a weed and smells delicious. Most gardens and patios have a bush somewhere. Lavender is one of the relatively floral smells we all know from infancy. It thrives on dry poor soil and is cheap, or used to be. This year however it was going for £10 a pot at the local hardware store on Mothering Sunday which I thought a bit saucy. You can dry it and make sachets or pot pourris to scent the laundry and deter the moth, at least up to a point. I lost some of my faith in that last quality when a favourite cardigan embalmed in lavender was completely devoured by moths, the worst damage being in the region of the pockets which I’d packed with the stuff.

I love lavender and resent the way it is too much associated with faded maiden ladies, an image perpetuated even in the 21st century by the eponymous Maggie Smith/ Judi Dench movie. Miss Marple uses lavender water for high days and holidays; and then there’s that maudlin Gracie Fields song about the Little Old Lady Passing By – “in your lavender and lace”. It’s an English tic, this: the French, Italian and Dutch see lavender as virile and energising, clean and uplifting, healing and calming. They take the aromatherapeutic view, I suppose inherited from the old Romans who loved the stuff and gave it its name, deriving from “lavare” – to wash. They cleansed their bodies with the fragrant healing oil which is yielded by every part of this ancient plant, and laid up their heavy woollen togas in the dried flowers. It was probably Roman colonists who brought the herb to Britain, two thousand years ago.

I grow lavender: the common or garden type, and that fancy variety which looks like lilac bumble bees. And I wear it. My old favourite was Jean Patou’s long discontinued Moment Supreme: purple prose in perfume! Vast amounts of lavender suspended in sweet vanilla and tonka like a medieval flan for an Emperor’s feast. At Les Senteurs we have three especial crackers: Lorenzo Villoresi’s dark, intense, austerely beautiful Wild Lavender which smells like great bunches freshly culled from a wet garden. Caron’s immortal Pour Un Homme, one of France’s perennial bestsellers since 1934, blends lavender oils with a dash of rose absolue and a lingering melting base of tonka and vanilla. It is as soft and relaxed as a lilac cashmere sweater: although it earned its place in perfume history as the first fragrance specifically branded for men, it also works deliciously on a woman’s skin. The jury is out as to whether lavender can be sexy – and I think it is! – but it is certainly (as Tynan wrote of Dietrich) without gender. I rest my case.

And then there’s Andy Tauer’s Reverie Au Jardin.pa This is my current summer favourite, my passion. Andy uses Alpine lavender grown high on the slopes which imbues it with a wonderfully cool, slightly mentholated tang – “cool as a mountain stream”. The dry woody fragrance of lavender is accentuated and exoticised with orris, frankincense and cedar; the sweetness increased with rose and vanilla. There is a glorious generous freshness and a slight juicy fruitiness withal; Reverie Au Jardin is as far as you can get from drawer liners and the old Bazaar & Rummage image. It’s lush, expansive, intricate and as beautiful as a Mediterranean dawn.
Use lavishly.

Gentlemen’s Scents For Discerning Ladies.

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Of course one of the whole points of Les Senteurs is to encourage our customers to wear whichever fragrance appeals to them: we do not sell by gender. Increasingly the niche perfume industry has followed us here: a perfume is sold as a beautiful scent aimed at the sensibility, psychology and emotions of the individual; its attraction is not confined to a specific sex.

Yet, nonetheless, certain fragrances whether by name or by the use of certain ingredients do carry connotations of being specifically male.

Ladies! I’m going to ask you to be bold,set aside your prejudices and preconceptions and have another look, another smell of the following scents.

We’ll start with 5 exemplars: that will be enough for most noses. If you find you like the idea, I’ll prepare you another batch. So do let us know. Thank you.

Vetiver Extraordinaire
By
Frederic Malle – Editions de Parfums

vetiver extraordinaire at Les Senteurs

We often hear ladies complaining – and with reason- that modern commercial fragrances are too sweet, overly laced with vanilla, tonka and liqueur accords. Here is the perfect antidote. Spraying VETIVER EXTRAORDINAIRE is like diving into a cool jade-green lake or showering under a forest waterfall.

It’s curious: most women adore the chthonic earthy smell
of vetiver grass (perfumers tend to work with the root) but when the oil is worked for women’s scents (sic) all the tangy edgy sharpness is usually ironed out. Here Dominique Ropion uses an egregiously high concentration of smoky Haitian vetiver and emphasises the bitterness with pink pepper, oak moss and – most dramatically – with slightly acrid biting myrrh.

On a girl’s skin this can be absolutely divine if you are looking for a crisp, super-elegant, immaculate chypre. A scent to wear with your most expensive tailoring, with your best shoes, a £200 hair makeover. Don’t be put off by my stressing the severity of VETIVER EXTRAORDINAIRE: as with all the perfumes described here, remember that the chemistry of a woman’s skin will in most cases naturally soften even the most extreme of austere scents.

Try Vetiver Extraordinaire.

Original Santal
By
Creed

Original Santal from Creed at Les Senteurs

Creed offer many opulent florals but it has to be said that the true glory of the range lies in the masculine lines. Creed has the perceived character of being fundamentally a House for men. So get in on the act, girls, and pinch one or two boys’ fragrances for yourselves.

I recall that when ORIGINAL SANTAL came out a decade ago the first consignment, which arrived in mid-winter, was almost exclusively snapped up by ladies for their own use. Now why? Well – there’s the glorious fiery bottle for a start. Now I know that in the final analysis the container is irrelevant – as with an oyster it’s what inside that counts. But, a fun flacon IS important and the graduated reds of SANTAL grab the attention as startlingly as Bette Davis’s scarlet ballgown in ‘Jezebel’.

And it becomes the contents perfectly: sweet, yes, but most winningly so and also woody, warm & generous-hearted. The tonka bean lusciousness is balanced with sandalwood, ginger, bitter orange, coriander, cinnamon and Creed’s famous juniper. A party scent, a scent that picks you up and makes you smile; you could never feel depressed in ORIGINAL SANTAL. How great is that?

Try Original Santal

Bois du Portugal
By
Creed

Bois du Portugal from Creed at Les Senteurs

Another cross-over act and my own favourite of the entire Creed range.
BOIS DU PORTUGAL goes back some 30 years and is one of those delicious scents of which it is hard to be sure of the ingredients. Undoubtedly I am not alone in finding this an added attraction: we all love a little enigma in a perfume.

BOIS DU PORTUGAL is deep and soft, dark and green: but of a quality quite unlike VETIVER EXTRAORDINAIRE. This is velvety, embracing, lulling, warm and enveloping. The smell of summer forests in Portugal filled with fragrant woods, lavender, oak moss and touches of lemon and citrus. Maybe a little leather, rose and a hint of lily of the valley underfoot The base is sandal and cedarwood bolstered & enriched with Creed’s signature ambergris.

Ladies who love Mitsouko, Eau du Soir and Femme should try this. It’s simultaneously chic and confident, sexy and assured. Like every good scent it should smell as though it is part of the wearer, as though exuded by the pores not by an atomiser.

Try Bois du Portugal

Pour Un Homme
By
Caron

Pour un Homme de Caron at Les Senteurs

The name and the plain square no-fuss bottle are uncompromisingly masculine. The fragrance is something else, a scent for everyone and anyone. Launched in 1934 this is in one sense the perfume that started all the His & Hers trouble: Caron claims it was the first fragrance marketed for men. It has been one of the world’s most iconic creations ever since.

Even if you think lavender is not for you, give POUR UN HOMME a go: this is sexy amorous seductive lavender, not a tired drawer freshener or faded cologne. PUH is the most luxuriously simple blending of complementary lavender oils with a discreet heart of rose absolue on a swooning base of expertly deployed vanilla and tonka which soften and enhance rather than sweeten. They also prolong tenacity as do the precious woods which hold them: PUH lingers leisurely on the skin.

This little masterpiece is one of a great quartet of lavender scents which includes the eccentric Jicky, the surreal beauty of Cologne Pour Le Matin and the blue afternoon of Reverie Au Jardin. Viva lavender, vive Caron!

Try Pour un Homme

Geranium Pour Monsieur
By
Frederic Malle – Editions de Parfums

geranium pour Monsieur from Editions de Parfum at Les Senteurs

The late great Mona di Orio used to reflect nostalgically on the scent of garden geraniums, gratefully watered on a hot dusty summer evening. Colette, too, wrote about this spicy green aroma. Now we can all wear it in
the setting of Dominique Ropion’s glorious green jewel.

GERANIUM is initially cool, even cold, a symphony of all the mints and peppermints. It’s bracing, sparkling, alive, tingling – there’s a slight mentholated quality to it, a morning wake up call. Because of this you may find it a perfect scent for daytime, for the workplace. This is the fragrance for a tall Hitchcock blonde, sure of herself and her frosty magnetism. Like her, GERANIUM melts and warms upon acquaintance, as your skin transforms it into a lightly musky creaminess, with touches of cinnamon and incense resins. Ingrid Bergman would have done it justice. So would Grace Kelly.

Try Geranium Pour Monsieur

Please have a try: in some ways this is maybe the most superficially masculine of my five choices but it is so unusual, unique and, frankly, gloriously unpredictable that I urge you to try it.
You may find the results sensational.

Stars With No Papas

Bette Davis Deception

If you make a list of some of the greatest female stars of Hollywood’s golden age it is remarkable to see that so many grew up without the prescence of a father in their lives, either because he died or had absconded in their infancy. Garbo, Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Mary Astor, Jean Harlow, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Foantaine and her sister Olivia de Havilland, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Mary Pickford all fall into this category. Consequently, the gifted and luminous child became not only her mother’s fiercely cherished daughter but to some extent, a subsitute for the vanished husband. As an adult, the successful daughter operated psychologically, as the film historian Foster Hirsch so fascinatingly points out in his dvd commentary to the Davis vehicle “Deception”, on a level both male and female; an ambiguity that extended to so many of these women’s notoriously complicated sex-lives.

Abnormally preoccupied with her looks, like anyone whose face is a greater part of her fortune, the fatherless star was also depended upon by her mother and siblings for the family earnings. No wonder that Olivia de Havilland developed the life-long feud with her younger sister which has now run to six decades of “non-speakers” – professionally jealous but also maybe competing for their mother’s affection as not only daughters but surrogate partners and breadwinners. In other cases, the successful sister allowed (within limits) a sibling to trade on her own success: like Mae West’s sister Beverley who made a living imitating her sister on the stage in Mae’s cast-offs. Claudette Colbert employed her brother as her agent. Ginger Rogers’ mother wrote some of her daughter’s material. We also note cases when the original broken marriage which had fired up successful ambition in one child, caused others in the family to fall by the wayside to be ruthlessly dealt with – put in asylums, paid to keep away; and the bizarre case of Merle Oberon’s parent, turned into her own daughter’s maid, pushing in the tea-trolley incognito when gossip columnists were being entertained at the star’s home. The mothers often lived to a great age, fighting for their daughters but simultaneously feeding off them; while, as in a Greek tragedy, they witnessed their child’s rise, apogee, decline and retirement. As Bette Davis had inscribed on her mother’s tombstone: “Ruthie: you will always be in the front row.”

The male side of the star’s character was forced even more to the fore by the incessant unrelenting struggle to survive at the top of the Hollywood tree in an industry dominated by mostly misogynistic male monsters and the decisive role of the casting couch. “She thinks like a man and she drinks like a man,” was the highest accolade the industry could pay while simultaneously covertly mocking this “unnatural” behaviour. Mae West was so strong and powerful an operator that she was stigmatised by the accusation of being a man in drag: a woman could not BE that tough, have such control. Despite the most expert cameramen’s work you can see on film the ocular proof of how quickly the unrelenting fight of keeping at one’s professional and personal peak took its rapid toll on a star’s looks. And of course, she harder she worked and the more she worried, the quicker the lovely face aged. It was said that Garbo was not really concealing her face when she hid from photographers; she was attempting just to hide her beautiful mouth which revealed all too clearly the strain, bitterness and disappointments of her life.

Of course on any terms there is no decent perfume that is JUST for men, ONLY for women. A perfume is a collection of gender non-biased notes, and the user should select a scent that appeals to him emotionally, instinctively and which works perfectly with his skin. A perfume which appears to be more overtly feminine (say, Lys Mediterranee, with its predominantly floral character) can still work well on a man’s skin because his skin chemistry and hormones will tend to subdue the flowery elements of the fragrance and accentuate the greeness, the leafy woodiness at the base. Again, a dark leathery fougere (Knize Ten, say, or Royal Oud) will often soften on a woman’s arm, revealing those rose and jasmine underpinnings which form the spine or core of most scents, but which usually lurk unrevealed. It is often remarked that a man with a more pronounced feminine side will try as it were to “balance” his character with an obviously manly scent – and vice versa. Hard to quantify in Hollywood terms. Often it appears that female stars were trying to enhance their authoritative power aura rather than their orthodox femininity with scents which are heavy, heady and ambiguous: Jean Harlow and Mitsouko, Dietrich with Tabac Blond, Shalimar, Youth Dew and anything with a deep tuberose note; Swanson in Narcisse Noir; all of which incidentally can work superbly for a man, too, if he has the nerve. Crawford tells us in her memoirs how she, like Garbo, preferred contemporary men’s colognes, especially variations on geranium. Zarah Leander, massive, tall, stately with that basso-profundo singing voice made Bandit her signature.

It is harder to know for sure what the male contemporaries of these girls wore: cologne for men was not exactly tabu by then: Caron‘s Pour Un Homme had got the male fragrance industry going in 1934, but it was still not the sort of information that a press agent of a Great Lover would flash around. Memories of Valentino and the “Pink Powder Puff Scandal” were still a tender subject. Knize Ten was a favourite of Maurice Chevalier and Charles Boyer: Gary Cooper (and I believe Charlie Chaplin) wore the interestingly ambiguous Jicky. But if female stars lacked papas, a corresponding pathological syndrome demonstrates that so many of Hollywood’s legendary men seemed unable to procreate male children of their own bodies, despite serial marriages; and if they did, the sons often suicided or died young and tragically. It is as though Cooper, Tyrone Power, Valentino,Cary Grant, Robert Taylor, Hope and Crosby, John Gilbert and the rest needed to muster every scrap of virility and masculinity for themselves: there was nothing left over for their heirs. A  depressing and tragic reflection: how fortunate that we can always lighten the mood (as ever) with a memory and scent of their perfume.