I always liked perfume, but I wasn’t fascinated by it. Until, that is, I went on holiday to France eleven years ago, taking with me a book called The Emperor of Scent, which I’d picked up in the SciFi section for casual reading. It turned out to be real science, not fiction: the story of a talented biophysicist called Luca Turin who was researching how we smell things. It was a fascinating read, but what really inspired my imagination was Luca Turin’s comments on perfumes and the perfume industry.
Turin claims Mitsouko is the perfume he would take with him if he was being sent off on an inter-galactic space mission. He describes this peach chypre as lovingly as if it was his favourite child. I had to smell it. Being in France meant that I could spend hours in a handy branch of Marionaud, smelling many of the amazing things he described in glowing terms usually reserved for works of art. In a shopping mall in a provincial French town I was able to try things I would have had struggled to find at home in Wales, including the entire Guerlain range of classics – Jicky, Shalimar, Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue, Apres L’Ondee, Vol de Nuit, Chamade, Jardins de Bagatelle, Nahema, Parure, Mahora, Champs-Elysees, L’Instant, Insolence… I came out of the shop reeling and reeking.
Some of those perfumes repulsed me – traditional, oakmoss-laden chypres were definitely not to my taste and I did not like massive florals or 80s stonkers – others confused me, some left me cold, a couple were interesting but difficult, and one or two were pretty.
But one made me come back again and again to sniff the bottle and then the inside of my wrist where I had sprayed it: L’Heure Bleue. It was strange, rather melancholy and just a little magical, wonderful and very grown-up. It did confuse me; I couldn’t say ‘this smells of x y and z’, as Luca Turin did in his reviews and when I read the notes listed, I could smell no particular iris, violet, heliotrope or carnation. Instead, I had an impression of face powder and a ladylike, delightful deliciousness, an edibleness like a rich almond pastry with a creamy vanilla custard filling. It hypnotised me and fascinated me and I was hooked.
L’Heure Blue’s place in my heart has been cemented by my daughter’s love of it, too. From the age of 4 she has demanded a spritz from my bottle for all special occasions, from her first day at school to drama recitals and sports days. If you haven’t yet got around to trying L’Heure Bleue I strongly recommend you do. Persuade the sales assistant at the Guerlain counter to pull out the beautiful little bottle with the heart-shaped stopper from under the counter and try it, I beg you. Failing that, somehow swap or buy a sample. I guarantee you will admire this pensive beauty, even if you don’t adore it. It is utterly unlike the modern watery vanilla/ thin floral/fruitichouili things that are being pushed at consumers nowadays. This remarkable perfume celebrated its one hundredth birthday in 2012, and like so many delightful Centegenarians, it still has powerful charm and character, which is no bad thing.