When I moved back to Wales from Switzerland, where summers are HOT and winters COLD, I found I couldn’t wear some of my favourite fragrances because they need the extremes of weather to work. This was a surprise, to put it mildly. I had assumed that fragrances just work, regardless of climate.
Here in Britain this summer has been a comparative heatwave, with temperatures reaching a scorching 30C at times and surprisingly regular sunny days. I know this is lukewarm for many readers, who are used to coping with 40+ regularly, but in Dear Old Blighty it’s worth commenting on. Especially for me, as I have been able to get out those much-missed hot weather fragrances and have been wearing them delightedly, trying to figure out why they are now enjoyable again.
The very first thing I pulled out when the mercury hit 30 was a bottle of Soleil de Corse eau fraiche from Les Bains de Marais (long discontinued, and not widely distributed when it was for sale). Corsica had a little moment a couple of years ago, when the ‘maquis’ scrublands there became a favoured inspiration – the unique combination of flowers and herbs that make up this sunbaked scrubland include juniper, rosemary, laurel, cistus, heather, sage, myrtle, thyme and lavender as well as lentisque and a dozen native flowers. You can imagine, I’m sure, the powerful scent they create. It has a certain rasp to it, and a sharp greenness and resinous power, which in Soleil de Corse sits behind a vivid green fig leaf that is as rough as a cat’s tongue. I love it. It sounds ghastly the way I’ve described it: raspy, rough, green and sharp aren’t the most approachable adjectives, but it’s gorgeous. And it absolutely blooms in very hot weather in a way that is both refreshing and aromatically rich and fascinating. In cooler weather it remains rather grating and too sharp, (possibly explaining its discontinuation).
Since you’re unlikely to try Soleil du Corse unless you pop round to my house for a cuppa, I could point you in the direction of Parfum d’Empire’s Corsica Furiosa if you’d like to try something that takes its inspiration from the maquis. Alternatively, if you’d like to enjoy a fragrance that has a similarly raspy green quality, head for one of the classic green fig fragrances such as L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Premier Figuier or Diptyque’s Philosykos, both of which marry the green leaf with a little sweet fig fruit and coconut and add a creamy, woody base. My handbag has contained a small bottle of Premier Figuier for the last fortnight and I am relishing the ability to use it once more. As before, I find the sharp/rough aspect of its greenness difficult to take in anything but scorching heat, but then it refreshes like no citrus can.
I hold one man responsible for my love of fig leaves: Jean-Claude Ellena. Yes, I am a fangirl, and I am unrepentant. His Un Jardin en Mediterranee for Hermes was a turning-point for me, conjuring as it does a sun-baked garden overlooking the blue sea, with ochre-yellow shingle paths, a fig tree and tomato plants. I can see the garden as I write, and this fragrance always brings me here.
I can happily wear Un Jardin au Mediterranee even in a cooler, wetter British summer. M. Ellena has tempered the green fig leaves with some of his watercolour magic to make them much easier to live with. But I cannot wear this scent in cold weather. It refuses steadfastly to do its magic trick past October, when I have to return it to the cupboard until June.
It was a different Ellena composition that signalled to me that summer had arrived this year, another one that I cannot wear in wintertime: Hermes Kelly Caleche, a lithe and joyful sueded rose that shares some DNA with the Mediterranean garden. Whether it is a certain smack of sunbaked dirt or leafiness, I don’t know. That is, of course, part of the genius of Jean-Claude – he uses elements I cannot even guess at to add lift, bounce, translucency to his creations. He has a remarkable grasp of aromachemistry, as his book ‘The Diary of a Nose’ shows – while remaining very human and down to earth about what he wants to produce and why. That book, by the way, is a great read and a wonderful excuse for sitting in the garden, soaking up some of the last of this summer’s sunshine. While it’s turned grey today here in Wales, I hope you are having a little Indian Summer where you are, and that we will soon see the sunshine return.