Niche Fragrance Magazine

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.

Of course, our first perfumes weren’t the ones we remember wearing. For me, my late teens and early twenties smelled of Rive Gauche from YSL, which I still wear very happily, as it’s not a particularly ‘young’ perfume. It is rather odd, though, with a silvery outer-space shimmer to it that makes me feel it should be worn in a gleaming white rocketship on its way to Mars. (I read a lot of Scifi novels in my teenage years, so perhaps that’s the association.)

The best description I ever heard of it was from my lovely Creative Director a decade or more ago, who gave a wistful sigh when I wore Rive Gauche to work one day: “that is the scent of posh Sixth Form girls who wouldn’t go out with an oik like me”. After a little more sniffing, the Studio Manager agreed solemnly and both chaps sat and stared into the distance for a good five minutes before getting back to work. Perfume is powerful stuff.

As a sporty young thing during my teenage years, what I mostly smelled of was Ralgex. This is a warming liniment like Deep Heat and dozens of other similar products based on capsicum, and it has a spicy, medicinal scent that is distinctive. It has the strange chemical allure of coal tar soap, petrol, turpentine, new road tar, and car tyres. I’m sure this description isn’t as alluring as roses, jasmine and lavender, but the strange, rubbery, spicy note does have one floral connection: tuberose.

While enduring the after-effects of a day on the ski slopes, I had no liniment to soothe my muscles (though some mysterious ‘sport gel’ did a fantastic job and didn’t smell of anything). However, I did have my hit of ‘Ralgex’, thanks to a perfume from 4160 Tuesdays’ Vintage Cities collection. I must firstly say that this fragrance has no warming or medicinal effect – so don’t worry about that. But to me, it does smell like my old companion!

To my nose, 4160 Tuesdays Rome 1963 has a green, rubbery wintergreen linimenty topnote and I absolutely revel in it. It reminds me of other favourite oddities such as Elastoplasty Serge Lutens’ Tubereuse Criminelle (my gateway to strange narcotic tuberose flowers), Bulgari Black’s rubber and baby-powder comfort, and the ‘lady astronaut’ metallic glamour of Rive Gauche. Rome 1963 smells like Ralgex and I love it.

While it doesn’t warm the skin or muscles, its heart is warm, woody and very wearable. I can’t detect any chocolate or tobacco, but they’re in the notes listed; I do get cedar and a light patchouli that hold it on the skin for a few hours. Sadly, I can’t really tell you about the longevity of this fragrance, because I keep re-spraying myself to experience those stunning spicy topnotes. I wore it on the ski-lift the next day and enjoyed it even more.

A decade ago in a little secondhand bookshop, I bought a biography of an obscure biophysicist written by a New York Times journalist and my life changed. Yes, I blame it all on Luca Turin and Chandler Burr; thanks to them I fell in love with L’Heure Bleue and haven’t looked back since.

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