Caron Cocktail

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I don’t know about you, but the recent hot weather has left me craving a scent that’s exuberantly floral. Something cool and white and petally to spray liberally of an evening, after a tepid bath or a cold shower & before the first sundowner. A perfume to calm the fever of heat and complement one’s loosest linen slops, bleached out and soft by constant launderings. This is really the only time of year when it’s permissible to spray fragrance on your easy-wash clothes, knowing they’ll be back in the Bendix and up on the line again in a couple of hours.

Tiare, gardenia and magnolia are all perfect on a langourous summer evening but I’ve been really knocked for six – and not for the first time – by Caron’s 1933 stunner FLEURS DE ROCAILLE. Isn’t it interesting how perfume crushes go in cycles? I’ve been in and out of this one for the past thirty years at least. Maybe not one of the cult Carons, FLEURS is one of the easier to wear. In its day it was as influential and significant as Tabac Blond or Narcisse Noir, letting in light, sunshine and air to a perfume public stifled and oppressed by world recession and Depression. FLEURS DE ROCAILLE was the olfactory equivalent of Jean Harlow’s blindingly monochrome cut-on-the-bias satin; Crawford’s dazzlingly crisp ruffles and the ubiquitous Syrie Maugham cream decor of everyone’s new drawing room. And it’s not just stylish, its witty & fun – in the style of Beatrice Lillie’s surrealist telephone connection via two lilies.

A dazzling whoosh of aldehydes makes the initial hit smell like a foam of iced champagne cascading from a celebratory Nebuchadnezzar. Roses, violets, ylang ylang, lilac and muguet de bois pop pop pop in the pale gold bubbles like wedding confetti while underneath lies a damp green darkness of oakmoss and woods. Maybe the heady signature musk helps to brings out the alcoholic accord, too: Caron had been expert at creating the illusion since their gorgeous 1923 bath essence Royal Bain de Champagne. And here’s a thing: a couple of years ago I blew £1.00 on a bottle of Musk and had been fooling around with it when a visitor called and complained of the smell of flat stale champagne in the apartment. What can I say?

And there’s the hint of another scent in FLEURS DE ROCAILLE, too: a lovely Swedish girl once put her finger on it – “pigs!” she said. “Nice clean pigs!”: the sort of animals, all bathed and scrubbed, that Marie Antoinette might have herded on blue ribbons at the Trianon. It is this audacious whiff of the animalic that gives FLEURS its unique and unforgettable fascination: delicate fairytale flowers in a well-manured, very urban, rockery.

ATT15710Meanwhile I’ve had the rare chance to smell the flower that inspired Frederic Malle’s EAU DE MAGNOLIA: a huge grandifloria bloom the size of a Sevres soup bowl has opened in a neighbour’s garden and overhangs the pavement like Goblin Market fruit. I keep going to have another inhalation: very strange and fascinating, like green lemons rubbed on a metal grater but with an additional curious backnote which is as disconcerting as those pigs but less attractive. It’s as though the citrus is cupped in old dry plastic, a cracked basin from the back of the cupboard – or one of those plastic water beakers we gnawed at school. Truth is stranger than fiction: Editions de Parfums have retained and developed the lovely hesperidics – but wisely left the plastic accord for Mother Nature’s personal use.

The Gathering Storm

Zeus, God of Thunder

Dedicated, with permission, to L.O. – a keener, fairer nose than mine.

Hundreds of years ago when I was young, I lived in dread of thunderstorms, a fear that was exacerbated by the horror stories then routinely fed to infants. The thunder was the Wrath of God seeking me out for telling fibs; mirrors and cutlery must be shrouded in cloths lest lightning strike and consume us all in the concomitant flames; the only way to be completely safe was to sit in the bath wearing gumboots; “your uncle Arthur was struck down mowing the lawn in a storm”. The litany was endless: I used to go to earth in the cupboard under the stairs;or seek refuge in my father’s surgery where the recklessly bright lights, reek of ether and the sense of urgent concentration as a dog was stitched up seemed to defy the elements.

Primeval fears! Remember the maiden Semele who asked her lover Zeus to appear before her in his full glory with lightning playing around his head and armed with thunderbolts? He warned her; she insisted. And was reduced to ashes on the spot. It was said at Versailles as a measure of her fearful pride, that Mme Sophie, Louis XV’s daughter was reduced to hysterical amiability only by an electric storm when her terror would drive her to hug perfect strangers, and chatter with the lowest of the low crowding the Hall of Mirrors.

Are you one of those who can detect within themselves the approach of a storm, either by scent or headache or a mounting sense of depression, oppression, high-strung tension?  The light becomes lurid, opaque; and the outlines of buildings,flowers and trees seem strangely crisp and distinct, as though emphasised by a black crayon. The landscape glows with eerie vibrancy. The senses are all on edge, colours are unnnaturally brilliant and clear; you smell the damp wash of the coming rain and the relief when the clouds burst is like the breaking down of years of inhibitions, an almost sexual release. Moody and magnificent, stressy and surreal: like the effects of a strange and cerebral perfume.

The master of scents of coruscating colour, polish and bizarre beauty, Pierre Guillaume conjures up an olfactory echo of electric turbulence in his Huitieme Art jewel Ciel d’Airain. A minimalist masterpiece of accords of pear, olive wood and amber this perfume opens with a sharp sweet keyed-up agitation of summer fruit, gradually relaxing and softening into powdery softness as the storms breaks from black and violet clouds over the Umbrian hills; the sun finally emerging to dry the steaming earth.

Caron‘s Royal Bain de Caron (alas! hard to find today) is like standing in a torrent of warm pink tropical rain; drenched in roses, wisteria and jasmine torn from their stems by the downpour. Pierre Guillaume’s Naivris is superbly sinister, a scarlet spicy African iris brooding and simmering in thick, hot, suffocating heat before the deluge opens and turns the red dust to a sea of crimson mud. If you’ve never read Louis Bromfield’s novel The Rains Came, try it while wearing this scent: a miasma of troubling sensuality. Cathartic and erotic. I leave it to you.

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