I have often been heard lamenting the demise of many great old perfumes due to IFRA regulations on the ingredients perfumers can now use. My beloved Miss Balmain is no longer produced, so I guard my stash of vintage eau de parfum like Gollum with his precioussss. For a while, I turned my back on modern releases, believing that nobody could match my vintage beauties for sophistication and polish.
I’m hip to modern ideas about a banging vetiver or an overdosed ISO-E Super frag; and I can and do enjoy wearing startling new scents that conjure environments or occasions. I will happily wear an oudh that takes me straight to a soukh where hard-tanned leather is sold, or a fragrance such as Dzing! that somehow puts me straight into a horse’s stable. But truthfully, I like the mystery of composed, complicated perfumes like those of yesteryear. I like not knowing what makes Madame Rochas smell so off-kilter and interesting (strange aldehydes that add a ‘just snuffed candle’ note, according to Luca Turin), or which flowers are in my beloved Miss Balmain (carnations apparently, which explains a lot). For me, a great deal of the perfumer’s art is in creating something unknowable but beautiful that creates an emotion in me, melds with my memories and becomes part of my skin.
I’m lucky enough to count the lovely Liz Moores of Papillon Artisan Perfumes among my friends, and for my 50th birthday she sent me a bottle of Salome. I was bowled over by her generosity, as I had been bowled over by the perfume, for this is an extraordinary fragrance, which has become my stand-out favourite of 2016.
This is a perfume that reminds me of my beloved vintage collection in its seamless presentation and gentle, elegant dance from phase to phase. There isn’t a single stand-out note, discord or jangle to disrupt your enjoyment of the experience. And despite the IFRA, this is a fragrance that isn’t out of place among my vintage glories – I can imagine Bette Davies or Ava Gardner dabbing it strategically behind her ears to accessorise a Dior gown.
I spend a ridiculous amount of my time with my nose pressed to my wrist when I wear Salome. It’s very sexy with lots of musks and scrumptious animalics like Africa Stone (also called Hyraceum and derived humanely from sweet little marmot-like creatures called Dassies that live on Table Mountain in Cape Town and are friendlyish to tourists). But while this perfume has come-hither curves and knows how to use them, it also has sophisticated femininity and an indefinable, but all-important charm.
There is a face powder quality to Salome that reminds me of my Grandmother’s dressing table – perhaps it’s the rose? And there is an elegance and restraint that makes this perfume a new classic, rather than a flash in the pan – maybe that’s the carnation? It’s a note that’s used in so many of my favourite vintage perfumes, from Caron’s Poivre, Tabac Blond and Bellodgia, to Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium and Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, perhaps it’s that which gives Salome a grace that lets her glide into a room while still turning heads. So many reviews have dwelt on the animalic side of this perfume, but few have mentioned her classical bone structure and elegant exterior.
Ava Gardner had a magnetic sexuality, but she also had poise and wit that took her everywhere. That’s what Salome has done for me in 2016; she has accompanied me everywhere, and charmed me more as I’ve got to know her better. She will, of course, be accompanying me on any adventures I may have in 2017, as well.