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Serge Lutens

Wear a leather jacket

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It’s getting chillier and after my last post about Chypres, I started thinking about other categories of fragrance that might be good at this time of year. It’s the perfect time of year to re-organise your cupboards for a new season and bring out the leather.

Leather fragrances, like chypres, hark back to the age of glamour and romance, summed up by the classic movies of the 40s, 50s and 60s. Can’t you picture Cary Grant or Kathryn Hepburn wise-cracking and arching an eyebrow sardonically while wearing crisp tailoring and smelling elegantly of leather with a faint hint of roses or sandalwood? KEEP ON READING

Are you a Fragrant Flyer?

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I’m planning my summer holiday, as I guess many of you are. And along with the eternal question of ‘how many clothes do I need for a week in a tent?’ there is the greater problem of ‘which perfume to take?’

It’s more than just a frivolity though. Your finest fragrance is safest at home when there’s a risk of it being confiscated at customs, or wandering off if your luggage gets separated from you. And if you’re flying, you can’t take anything in your hand luggage in a bottle of more than 100mls, or anything that won’t fit into that little plastic bag. That bag doesn’t hold much, especially when you’ve got to fit toothpaste, mascara and suncream in there as well. Equally, if like me you’re going camping, you don’t want to take any precious fragrance that can get boiled in a hot tent, lost, squashed or stepped on. KEEP ON READING

Aftelier Perfumes : an exploration of natural luxury – part three

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This is the last installment in my Aftelier miniseries and I think I’m right when I say I’ve saved the best for last. And when I say the best I’m not necessarily using any objective criteria like technical brilliance, composition originality, and so on but rather the subjective impact both fragrances had on me. They stirred me, churned my guts and soul in their perfumed vertigo, drawing me in like a feather towards the center of their whirlpool. And once you reach the center the only way is down, into the darkness of the depths.
Memento Mori genuinely frightened me. It is so evocative, almost too literal in reproducing it’s intended concept. Remember you are a mere mortal. Remember you are going to die. Remember all your loved ones are going to die. Over and over. Remember death. This perfume won’t let you forget. It grips your heart, twists your stomach into knots and pulls the curtain away. Mandy Aftel goes for the solar plexus with this baby. No pussy footing around the subject, no ultimately delicate, tender melancholy in the manner of Serge Lutens De Profundis with its dewy chrysanthemum​ blooms swaying in the chilled, smoky autumn air. Memento Mori is real despair, real decay, real anguished intimacy, real love and fear. Memento Mori is all too impermanent flesh and all too easily bruised skin. Vulnerable and unnerving. One sniff and I’m ten years old, back in my mother’s sick room. She was so ill we nearly lost her. And I was too​ afraid to cry because I felt crying would have made the nightmare come true. So I walked around in my childish trance, taking refuge in drawing and story books, trying hard to believe that things were ok and my mother is not going to be taken away from me. And she wasn’t. Not in the way I couldn’t even dare imagine. She was in hospital for a while and then she was back. Difficult episodes became sort of a new normal, because she’s a chronic sufferer and her condition has a habit of flaring up often and hard. We adjusted as best we could and the smell of her room when she was unwell made its appearance more habitually than any of us would have ever wanted. It’s that sickly sweet smell of suffering bodies, with fevered skin covered in a fine beading of sweat, the warm, vaguely unpleasant breath of a parched mouth and the slight musty odour of crumpled bedclothes. A bunch of dark red roses, redolent with fragrance, wilting away in a cobalt blue crystal vase in a futile attempt to soothe the sadness and cover up the waxy, buttery, yeasty, musky, sour smell of illness with its undeterred persistence, like a bad premonition of things to come. She was in her early thirties and she was fighting for her life. It chills my spine to think I’m older now than her age then. Puts things into perspective like nothing else. I think you can understand that it’s impossible for me to analyze Memento Mori as I would many other perfumes. I can tell you it’s an unsettling floral, mostly rose I think but perhaps jasmine too, and it’s part dry, part stale, part waxy, part sweet and part disturbingly ripe. But to even say Memento Mori is a perfume is to underplay it in a big way. I don’t know what it is. It’s as if the perfumer in a moment of alchemical inspiration, has thrown a few essences together and they coalesced into being, into breathing, a vision which could easily be real, tethering on the edge between life and death. Everytime I wore Memento Mori it felt like there was another presence in the room apart my own. I came out of this experience wrung out and teary eyed. I’m not strong enough for it yet. Maybe I have to learn first that remembering death is in fact remembering that I am still alive.
On the other hand, I can dance Mandy’s Tango. And I can let it dance me. I want it to dance me. If Tango was a man he’d have me in a second. It’s the head spinning sensation of falling in love or at least in desire. It’s crazy sex that lasts for hours on end and doesn’t happen in the soft comfort of a fluffy bed but on sweet earth under the stars.It’s burning away the boundaries between mind, body and soul. It goes deeper and harder than most. It’s an embrace that never lets go. You might be burn to cinders but that flame is worth any price. How can I describe this beautiful vortex? When I smelled Tango for the first time it was like a flash of recognition, in spite of it being almost unlike anything else I’ve ever smelled. I recently read in a Murakami’s book about the Tibetan Wheel of Passions. The wheel is ever turning and the outer rim’s feelings dip low or raise to the surface but one’s true love stays fastened to the axel, immobile​ and always present. Tango is like one’s true love. Rare. Exceptional. Memorable. Tango is one of Mandy’s most complex creations, blending many botanical essence to devastating effect. It is a sort of spicy marine oriental with leather and floral elements. Smoky, ambered, fiery hot, with a gutsy salty breeze blowing over the burning embers only to make them glow even brighter, Tango smells in turns oceanic, medicinal, sweet, creamy, herbal, fruity, resinous, bitter, animalic and the list goes on and on. Peering into Tango’s ever-changing kaleidoscope reveals more than anything else the passion and joy of creation. I like to think Mandy had a lot of fun making Tango. Maybe stomping her feet like an Argentinian flamenco dancer, hair loose and favourite sensual music resounding in the background. I should perhaps promise myself that one day, when I grow up, I will write the way Tango smells like. But then, there is only one Gabriel Garcia Marquez. KEEP ON READING

Visiting Uncle Serge

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This Easter I was lucky enough to be able to take a trip to Paris with my daughter. Having spent our first day wandering around the Latin Quarter (she insisted on seeing the dinosaurs in the Musée Nationale d’Histoire Naturelle in the Jardin des Plantes, and the cafés nearby seemed to understand the need for coffee, crêpes and icecream after extensive paleontological explorations), my itinerary on our second day took us to the Champs Elysées. Here we strolled, munched, sniffed, and smiled in the April sunshine, managing to resist the temptation to spend a fortune in the shops. Instead, we headed down through the Jardins to the Place de la Concorde for a ride on the Big Wheel, which gave us remarkable panoramas of Paris, taking in the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur and the Louvre. KEEP ON READING

Scenting the ski lift

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Riding on a ski lift with my friend last week we were chatting, as you do, about our teenage years. When we got around to perfume – that most potent of memory-joggers – we laughed about the changing-room-filling cloud of assorted Impulse body sprays that were the compulsory scent of those years (have things changed much? My own teenage daughter has quite a stash of body sprays). When we moved on to our first real perfume, hers was Revlon’s Charlie (very sophisticated at the time) and mine was Cabriole by Elizabeth Arden, a gift from my wonderful Aunt Tina, who was a journalist. KEEP ON READING

Le Galion Sortilège: but this is Marilyn!

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The day has come to say what I never thought I will: I love aldehydes! And I ain’t talking about the delicious C-14, the one with an almost lactonic peach skin vibe which gives Mitsouko its lit-from-within glow, although I love that one too, in fact I loved it from the get go. I’m talking about the fatty, waxy, fizzy, soapy brigade: C10, C11 and C12 which are used abundantly in fragrances like Chanel no. 5, Chanel no. 22 and practically any other perfume that smells as if you’re drinking a glass of Moët while you’re soaking in a big, white porcelain bathtub filled to the brim with the bubbles of the finest, most expensive soaps money can possibly buy. KEEP ON READING

Smoke, Woods, & Resins: Top 15 for Fall/Winter

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2016 has been a bad year for celebrity deaths and an even worse one for celebrity presidential elections, so I’ve found myself craving and wearing mostly woody, resinous perfumes that perform like one long howling basenote, working my tired neck muscles like a Russian massage therapist. This year, no roses, no leathers, and no ambers – just a long line of calming, resinous woods that make me feel like I’ve slipped into the Nirvana of a silent forest, isolated from all the problems of the world around me. KEEP ON READING

On the doorstep of December

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I think I’m allowed to use the C word now, aren’t I?
I woke up this morning to a frosting of white on the leaves and grass, and friends in the Alps have been posting pictures of snow on the mountains. It’s cold and clear, with starry nights and bluebird days that merit a scarf and gloves. It’s time to pull out the special fragrances that work best at this time of year.

My hand reached into my perfume cupboard for Serge Lutens Arabie, a perfume I only wear around Christmas, but I was shocked to be unable to find it. (Sadly I have begun to succumb to putting things ‘somewhere safe’ – so safe you can’t find them.) This is infuriating, as I am now stuck with a yearning for the Christmas-pudding richness of Arabie. Stuffed with spices and dried fruits, this is a truly seasonal fragrance that I can’t imagine being able to wear in summer’s heat. In winter though, its richness is warming and mouthwatering, and just thinking about it makes me want to hit the kitchen and start baking hyper-rich fruitcake and pudding, with some mince pies for added yum. I think it may be ‘stir up Sunday’ this week, and we’ll put all the flavours of Arabie into our Christmas cake – candied mandarin peel, dried dates, sultanas and raisins, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla; all that will be missing is rich resins and woods – cedar, sandalwood, myrrh and benzoin. KEEP ON READING

Beauty and the Beasts

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It’s clear that we will soon find ourselves in the midst of another wave of popularity for the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, thanks to an impending Disney film whose trailer was viewed a record-breaking 127.6 million times in the first 24 hours after its release several days ago. But as we all know, the greatest perfumers have been playing beauty against beastliness for a long time.

Relationships teach us a lot

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Both the relationships between fragrances and those with friends can teach us a lot, as I found out this last week. I mentioned before the joys of having like-minded perfumisters and perfumsistas to chat to about this obsession with Obsession and craving for Chaos. This month one of mine tipped me off to a delicacy I simply had to try: Mauboussin de Mauboussin.

I made a small financial investment (very small – this is not expensive) and the three-sided pyramidal bottle is now on my dresser. My friend Pia from Olfiction  had been the catalyst for this, as she felt there was a similarity between Mauboussin and Femme de Rochas, a classic plum and leather chypre. I have a great fondness for chypres, and leather ones in particular, treasuring my tiny bottle of vintage Femme extrait. Even though the top notes of my bottle are starting to ‘turn’ to the burnt, hairspray-like sharpness of damage, the heart and base are still beautiful and I have vowed to wear this rapidly-fading beauty as much as possible while it still glows like a plum-coloured lantern. KEEP ON READING

Serge Lutens Baptême du Feu: Dry Ice and Freshly-Fired Guns

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It’s the final moments before the band appears on stage. I’m right at the front and I can feel the tension in the air as the crowd pulsates restlessly behind me. We’ve all been waiting too long and now it feels like something is about to happen. I taste metal in my mouth. The air crackles with the peppery smell of dry ice. Through it all, I can smell the aftershave of the man next to me and I wonder if he’s wearing Insensé, because it’s sharp but also floral. I don’t know whether I feel threatened or excited. KEEP ON READING

Tea with (smelly) friends

in Thoughts by

Two weekends ago I went to London with a good friend I’ve known since I was in my 20s – that’s her in the photo with me – Sam who writes the I Scent You A Day blog. We went to hang out and drink tea with a group of perhaps twenty people, many of whom we hadn’t physically met before. What did we have in common? Perfume. How did we know these people? The internet.

Now some people get upset when I refer to them as Smelly Friends, so I may need to use some other terminology, such as Fragonerds, Perfumistas and Perfumisters, or just fragrance afficionados, but it all boils down to the same thing. We are people who love perfume. You, dear reader, may very well be one too. KEEP ON READING

Sammarco Naias – Deconstructing Violet

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When I heard that Giovanni Sammarco had shown mods of a yet-to-be-announced violet perfume called Naias at Pitti to a couple of friends, I began to salivate. Then, after wiping the drool from my keyboard, I asked for a sample. (More likely, I begged).

For the past year or so, violets have been a sort of secret passion of mine, and I’ve been collecting samples and even small bottles of some of what I see as the standouts in the genre. Opus III for a grand, oriental violet, Stephen Jones for weird crunchy space rocks, vintage Jolie Madame for leather, Insolence for trashy charm, Aimez Moi for kittenish cheer, Bois de Violette for candied darkness, and McQueen for grungy face powder. But each violet added to the collection shrinks the space left for others – could Naias really bring something new to the table? KEEP ON READING

Singular Summer Soliflores

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Confession: I don’t actually like soliflores. I mean, I don’t like to wear them. I like sniffing them from a sample and I consider them useful to have around as a reference, but wearing them simply wears me down. Soliflores say one thing, and one thing only. I admire the single-mindedness of their message, but as the day goes on, it grates. Flowers must be part of a more complex composition for me to wear them.

I will say this, though, and my apologies if this sounds like a contradiction – there is nothing like a good soliflore to move me to tears. The smell of a Bourbon rose, a tuberose bloom, or newly opened jasmine flowers are so astoundingly beautiful in nature that any successful attempt at recreating their smell in perfume has a similar effect on my senses and emotions. KEEP ON READING

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