Cold Blossom April : Reviews – Angel Muse, L’Ideal Homme Edp, Narciso Eau Poudree

It is way too cold for this time of year.

It is nearly May and the North Wind doth blow, and we all know that means poor Cock Robin is sheltering in an icy barn somewhere freezing his tiny little bolĺocks off. I mean come on, it is nearly the First of May for Gods sake : I want to be half undressed underneath a canopy of quivvering Neroli, to be caressed by a tender breeze bringing with it the scent of mixed blossoms, hope and love in its wake.

Alas this is not to be.

The sun is shining yet the air is biting – so bright along these old city streets, yet it is bitterly cold and I keep moving to halt the damp creeping into my bones. I am in search of many things in my life, but today it is to simply to try out new scent. I have not worn Perfume for a week, as I rest my nose from time to time in order to sharpen and fine tune what can become too familiar. It also makes sampling new scents more enjoyable and often more intense.

Town is quiet this morning which is always a bonus. Within the Department Store, I carefully edge my way towards the cloud of invisible, toxic, diabetes inducing, aromachemical warfare 
(Prada Candy anyone ?). I am hopeful I might be able to try a few new commercial releases that are at least not trashcan Gourmandes, or godforsaken generic Fougere ‘Sports’ for spotty grotty Man-Boys. I am destined to be only partially successful.

First up is an eagerly anticipated pre-release sample of :

Guerlain’s ‘L’Homme Ideal – Eau de Parfum’.

I had high hopes for this as like many high end houses, the Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum and Parfum are frequently variations on a theme, and can bring out very different aspects of the Perfume composition, adding light, shade and subtle shifts in nuance.
I was expecting this to be a big, boozy, leathery affair but it is terribly polite : a brief tart-sour citrus blast followed by a pleasant but ultra safe aura of warm spiced woods. We are talking the middle management of Chanel’s ‘Allure Homme’ here, not the lofty, arrogant airspace of say Lubin’s ‘Idole’, despite a waft of Myrrh and Almond creating some intermittent refinement here and there.
This flanker has neither the clout of it’s cocky predecessor, nor the confidence to be something more mature and sophisticated. It feels a bit  jumbled, muddy and indifferent – an exercise in money for old rope perhaps ?
I so wanted to like this … at best it is agreeable and something inoffensive. It is not powerful in projection but it’s sillage is reasonable; a few hours later a mellow vanilla and a trace of amaretto is detectable up close but really is little more than a skin scent. Not what Guerlain afficionados are yearning for, but I appreciate this is not the demographic that is being targeted.
Disappointing, but perhaps I was expecting too much from what is essentially a footnote to the rather lovely original. The Ideal man is a myth, and here it would also appear to be true of the fragrance.

Moving on to another new release, I was presented with
Mugler ‘Angel Muse’.

Firstly, I disliked the name which means nothing to me and screams ‘Yawn’; the bottle looks like an intergalactic sex toy which wobbles perilously on a flat surface and is sure to smash spectacularly on the new kitchen floor.
The sales assistant assures me it’s really nice : you know – like warm and sexy. Mmm…
The big question, does it smell good on first whiff ? No, not really … well sort of if you like uber sweet, remixed, unsubtlties.
The Vetivert does not seem wildly apparent but there is a strong Tonka/Heliotropine overload for a good hour which is synthetic and murky. According to the blurb, it’s meant to be groundbreaking in the sense that it is a ‘Female Vetivert Gourmande with cream of Hazelnuts’. Perhaps the marketing team conveniently forgot Givenchy’s spectacularly brilliant but teleported elsewhere ‘Very Irresistible for Men ‘ which had Vetivert and er, Hazelnut in it ?
Up close it is brash and disconnected as if someone had superglued a bar of chocolate to an aromatherapists couch, yet in sillage it begins to smell really quite nice. A little generic but interestingly not much like the original, more a cut and paste of the long forgotten Body Shop ‘Amorito’, a watered down ‘A*Men’, with a touch of the dreaded Prada ‘Candy’. This is totally unisex if not veering towards a mainstream masculine : the juice does smell a little recycled and familiar, and the bottle looks suspect, but it lasts and is very approachable when it rests a few hours into its development.

In short, the general public will love it. Ker-Ching !

And finally to Narciso Rodriguez ‘Narciso Eau Poudree’

The third installment of the never ending Musk Odyssey that is Narciso Rodriguez. A flanker to the Edp, and Edt, this smells wildly retro which shamefully I admit I am rather fond of : dense synthetic florals underpinned by huge clouds of powdery fluff and warm musk undertones. This sits somewhere between Caron’s ‘Nocturnes’, Anais Anais and other soft focus olfactory romances of the early
1980’s but with a contemporary injection of subtle spicyness.
It’s a pinky beige and of cashmere touch,  essentially an enveloping embrace of a scent : possibly a little Mumsy, but wearably classy without being aloof.
This will not set the world on fire but Narciso devotees and the odd impulse buyer will enjoy its soft cozy glow very much.
This would make a nice gift as it is safe, but looks and smells expensive.

So, the day has been cold, but my nose and soul have been uplifted by experiencing various scents and talking to some lovely if not slightly dim Sales Assistants. Out of the three new releases I sampled today,  I would probably not buy any of them : which by all accounts I suspect,  means they will all be hugely successful.

Interlude: The Quiet Lady with the Loud Bottles ( A Modern Day Fairy Tale )


Not so long ago in a province known as The North, there lived a retired unassuming lady who lived on an unassuming street in an old mining village. She lived with her quiet grumpy husband and her menagerie of strange animals who were mischievous and always up to no good. He would watch sport every night and shout at the magic box as if it might just reply, whilst she went about her chores singing songs that normal people her age wouldn’t normally sing or dance around the house to.  She was a contented lady with a happy outlook on life and wherever she went, people would warm to her kind and cheerful nature. She had seen and done many things in her varied and interesting travels and had met many kinds of folk – some good, some very bad, but she had always kept her calm and humble nature to all those she met.

Until the day she discovered bottles. Perfume bottles to be exact.


She had worn Perfume since she was a crazy young lady, when she was so full of zest and youthful exuberance, she nearly exploded like an overripe Orange with all the excitement she was having. Her bright clothes, colourful lipsticks, and big hair matched her zany beauty and she heightened this even further with the exotic, heady scents she would wear. Her favourite of all was an elixir of mischief and naughtiness, which smelt of night blooming Tuberose and forbidden purple berries, underpinned by spices from afar and musk that would make boys swoon as she raced pass like a whirling dervish in lime green and clementine.


It was many years later when she had reached her mid life that she discovered some rather beautiful Perfume bottles and decided she might rather like to collect them. All of them. Every single one. That EVER existed. Hundreds, Thousands, not quite Millions but probably not far off.


She began with some old treasures that held perfume which had come and gone before you and I were possibly even born : shapely, voluptuous glass creatures from a post war era that oozed femininity and sophistication. Many of these were shipped from far across the great cold Ocean from the Americas to our tiny island. This exoticsm excited her very much. It would be fair to say this quenched her desire briefly, but simultaneously grew her hunger to be surrounded by more beauty in the shape of these glass creations.


This family of bottles grew and grew, and she decided she might like to collect their children, and their grand children, and all their crystal offspring. It was one cold winters morning when the snow had come early and her three strange miniature furry beasts were curled up in front of the fire, that she stood back and admired her small but perfect collection of French bottles and realised she wanted more.


Different shapes and sizes, tall and squat, rounded and angular, some deep coloured like rich exotic jewels and others plain and simple but equally important to her aesthetic cravings. She wanted to house all of these weird and wonderful bottles like a gigantic clan of whispering giants in her house somehow. So she asked her grumpy husband to build her shelves, and more shelves, and yes – you’ve guessed it – even more shelves.


First it was in her grand dining room around every wall, towering right up to the ceiling. Stories and stories of exotic bottles, like an indoor skyscraper but with no lift and no escape route, these treasures looked magnificent and gleaming. Some were shaped like a woman’s curvy body, others were sharp and architectural in their stance; there were even some made in the form of animals, peoples heads and one that looked quite rude. The strangest thing of all was that many of the bottles had their original magic juice inside and for the most part, she cared very little for what they might smell like, it was the majestic elegance and stature of their sculptural form that delighted, excited and ignited her joy for her ever growing quite magical gigantic collection.


One day, she was asked by the untrustworthy folk at the very important magic tele box station if she wanted to star in her own programme all about her collecting. She politely declined as her love of bottles was more important to her than fame or fortune. She did however become locally known as the crazy bottle lady and people from miles around would drop perfume through her letterbox and send her their empties.

She made lots of friends through the talking computer and would get packages sent from all over the world. When the postman would ring the doorbell, she was like an excitable child at Christmas and she never tired of it. She would rearrange, polish and tend to her bottles every single day as if they were the most precious thing in the world. And to her of course they were.

And so we leave our story happily exactly where we started, the tale of a quiet, unassuming lady, living on a quiet unassuming street somewhere in the northern province of a tiny island. And all around the world, people knew her as the quiet lady with the loud bottles : it was as if they had sung to her, at first quietly; then over time, in an almighty rich spectacular crescendo .. a chorus of light, form and reflection.

She really was a very happy lady indeed.

The End ?











Guerlain – Scented Paper From Versailles : Part Two


Parfum Champs Elysees / 1904

Queen Victoria has only been dead three years, cars are in their infancy, air flight is but a dream and women are fighting for the right to vote. Yet, yet …

For all of the primitive, archaic rule, we had Perfume, Art and Music so complex and so modern, it was astounding : We were witnessing Picasso’s  late Rose Period, listening to bold new works by both Stravinsky and Bartok, and the Flat Iron Building in New York was completed – the first skyscraper, reaching 22 stories high.

And Perfume, although seen suspiciously as somewhere between alchemy, science and commerce was tentatively becoming an art form with the huge advancements in synthetics used not only by Jacques Guerlain himself, but also Francois Coty. In this instance, Parfums Champs Elysees very much supports and encapsulates the spirit of the times as the majority of Guerlain creations have done from the houses inception in 1828 ( right through to the glowing neon pink glow of La Petite Robe Noire in 2016).

Impossibly beautiful, etheric and bordering on an olfactory hallucogen, this is a floral but off the richter scale, and this is only being tested two dimensionally on a blotter card : how gloriously 3D this would smell on the skin ! Imagine being surrounded – almost immersed, in the most beautiful sea of deep yellow Jonquils, as far as the eye can see : drowning in a sea of golden, sumptuous honey and you begin to get the idea. I almost detect an air of rapeseed due to the ‘nether region’ sweetness of the indolic ‘bummy’ floral nuances. For a fraction of a second, there almost seems to be a Mimosa or Buddleia scent floating angelicly within the mix – and how odd that 92 years later that ‘Champs Elysees’ too contained these hauntingly evocative Spring florals.

Against this symphony of light, there inevitably has to be some shadow and sure enough something partially sinister flits here and there, just out of the corner of ones olfactory bulb. I think it may be a dirty musk of old, which never fully appears or shows itself; after all the general public were not ready for the animalic nuances of 1889’s seminal ‘Jicky’, nor ‘Shalimar’ which arrived nearly 20 years later and was not an overnight success either. Perhaps the fleeting appearance of something less than ladylike is intentional, titillating and teasing an olfactory cleavge but never fully bearing its beautiful scented breasts.

If this was available today, I would drink it. Literally. This is utterly preposterous and I adore it. Absolutely awesome.


Sillage / 1907

Powder, powder, powder.

Fruity, whispy little marshmallow pastel balls of fluff. Yet with an intensity that brings a sugared almond little sister of Mitsouko into the fold, minus the oakmoss. This borders on a Chypre but with a slight creosote element and a woody fruity texture creeping in. A few hours later, there would appear to be the bedrock or foundations of an Oriental base which was yet to be fully explored but touching upon a Gourmande before its time. No musk or dirtier elements here, just an immensely pretty if not slightly coquetteish demi parfum.


Muguet / 1908

A most beautiful portrait of a young lady : poised, tender and refined.

This is lovely. A very delicate Lily of the Valley with suprising depth and more sensuality than you might expect, not just for the date but also for the flower – usually associated with innocence rather than subtle sensuality. There is a dry powder element to this that works nicely counterpoint to the the verdant greenery and springlike dewy freshness.

I cannot get over its intense crisp leafiness and sharp edged modernity.


Chypre de Paris/ 1909

Emotional knee jerk writ large.

Sad, cold and prosaically beautiful – a quiet melancholy olfactory orgasm, to be frank. Complex, nutty, leathery – as if you were being chauffeur driven through the deserted rainwashed boulevards of Paris in a luxury car, its interior reeking of that near aphrodisiac scent of suede-soft, virginally fresh leather seats.

Powdery, decadent, opulent, excessive, stupendous. The scent of tears behind closed doors, or perhaps the long, lonely days of early spring under dark, silver skies.

A depressives olfactory wet dream.


Mitsouko/ 1919

This is so audacious, so beautiful, it literally – upon inhalation- can reduce people to tears.

By the time of my first encounter with Miss M, she was already Eighty years old, and in the best traditions of French black cats and their nine lives, had already used up a good few already ( in the light of modern reformulations ).

Comparing even the version of 15 years ago to todays is a leap of faith, and smelling this 1921 formula, restores it. The biggest shocker is how incredibly fruity it is, not just a little bit peachy but seriously ripe, mouth-wateringly three dimensionally tantalising to the nose as well as the tastebuds. Somehow this shouts Christmas long, long ago – magical, enchanted, nostalgic. A scent of peace, warmth and sheer joy – purely my own response as I know the original muse and story  is quite different indeed.


Ultimately, this formulation shows how very balanced this was, how much depth was being played out, yet at odds with the fact that the formula is uncomplex and reputed to have only around thirty ingredients. Even more suprising, is the seemingly small amount of oakmoss diffusing amongst the lower regions of this exquisite ode to the Orient, as in the last twenty years – before EU restrictions on certain raw materials – the ‘forest floor’ element to this scent was fairly pronounced.

Instead, once again, we are being immersed in great vats and skies full of powder clouds. I think for our great grandparents who wore these creations initially, it was all about the soft and tender enveloping aura these perfumes diffused, perhaps a symbol of love and intimacy that could never be created again like this for modern times, which makes Mitsouko even more precious and uniquely special.

A masterpiece in any of its formulas or concentrations. A groundbreaker and a legend.

Guerlain – Scented Paper from Versailles

It is February and the air is biting cold. The skies are dark as charcoal, and hail is rattling upon the conservatory roof like a sinister plague from an ice cloud somewhere up above. Inside, dressed in a thick wool jumper and slacks, I am temperate and thoughtful, yet barely contained with nervous excitement, as an envelope stuffed with historic olfactory rarities has arrived from a rather special place called the Osmotheque in Versailles. So rare that these are not even samples, but blotting strips which have been cautiously dipped in hushed bottles of mercurial and mysterious liquid. They have been sent to me very kindly upon request and have been sealed in tiny plastic pockets so that I as an olfactory writer can at least witness a whisper, a trace, a fleeting moment of these inexorable and haunting perfumes.

Guerlain perfumer Thierry Wasser and his assistant Frederic Saconne have over the last few years painstakingly recreated many creations from this perfume house with it’s grand and illustrious past, stretching back to 1828 – using where possible – original and now restricted ingredients. The reason for this was partly driven by curiosity, partly out of historic interest and also to compare the formulations of existing current perfumes in the catalogue against their original formulae.

For those not in the know, the Osmotheque in this leafy, grand outer suburb of Paris is somewhat of an Olfactionists babylon – essentially a perfume museum that holds the rarest, most transient last drops of the least regarded of the arts, Perfumery. In temperature controlled rooms and vats,  long lost forgotten scents from times gone by are kept preciously and reverently for those lucky enough to experience them. I have not yet managed to travel to this remarkable library of scent, but upon opening the envelope in front of me, I feel humbled to experience at least a few drops on paper of the brilliance that these hallowed bottles from Versailles contain.


I am staring at eighteen concealed scent strips in front of me and out of these, three are familiar to me in their modern formulations. The other fifteen are pieces of glittering history that I thought I would never smell, having this one chance to concisely and hastily write down my thoughts as these precious blotters are holding molecules which are fading by the very minute. It is the sort of childlike rush that makes you feel so very alive, as what you are dealing with is so fragile, so transient that it almost doesn’t exist at all.  As the following hours unfurl, I enter a world of opulent ghosts, of the bittersweet melancholy of jilted lovers; the sillage of virginal debutantes in great echoing halls, and the push pull of history in all its voyeurism. Not unlike an afternoon spent in a time machine, briefly suspended somewhere between love and death, and every flower  in between. I begin by carefully pulling the first strip out of its small plastic seal.


Pao Rosa/ 1877

Upon first intake of breath, this would appear to be a distant ancestor to Apres L’Ondee : a soft layer of tender angelic powder resting upon an overdose of Orris – contained as if within a perfect miniature snow globe. Hovering underneath mysteriously, comes the delicate quivering Victorian Violet. & as soon as she arrives ( somewhat like the real flower ) she enigmatically disappears, then reappears without trace or warning.

Imagining the era in which this was created, I feel this may have been a little avante garde – conjuring not only tiny purple flowers but suggesting the cool watery addition of cucumber and a smattering of bright pink peppercorns too. Unorthodox and uneasy to the modern nose, and more than a touch eerie because of this. Think Miss Haversham in Springtime, cool – aloof – and at odds with the season.


A Travers Champs/ 1898

In the most distinguished of ways, this may be the original prototype for pot pourri style composition. Once warmed upon the skin, I imagine on the right wearer, this would have smelt utterly refined and most dynamic. I see this as a predecessor to Habit Rouge (1965), therefore seriously ahead of its time : masculine and rich but never cloying;  spicy yet crisp …  an expertly balanced blend. An ambient scent as we would now perceive,  like a diffusive luxury candle or a drawing room aroma for a grand overstated house. I love the continuity of Guerlain history, as the big book of secret formulae is passed down from one generation to the next, and sure enough 67 years later came the groundbreaking first male oriental Habit Rouge, complex – defiant – assured. And this implicitly, feels like the tentative building block towards that grand olfactive destination.

Foot note : Smelling this again months later on the blotter, there is a remarkable similarity in its base notes and dry down to the Buddleia – Blackcurrant Bud – Mimosa cocktail of 1996’s Champs Elysees, and also due to the foxlike curranty nuance, a touch of Chamade ( 1969 ). There is something wondrously reassuring about the olfactory continuity and lineage of a perfume dynasty spanning two centuries. Great stuff.


Pourquoi  Jamais Rosine/ 1900

Burning rooms.

Vividly bringing to mind the disturbing and the 19th Century Paranormal, though like any review or prose, this is personal interpretation, and the reader must take into account this perfume is being experienced on a blotter.

This was a perfume ??  Elements of florality peek through a cloud of dense woodsmoke, as if a peppered jasmine flower is breathing its last upon the dying embers of a Victorian funeral pyre. Add greasy unwashed hair and a trace of spring greens and this becomes decidedly creepy. Medicinal in part and definitely within the haunted house canon of inadvertent high Gothic perfumery.

Regretful, unwavering, this is somehow a scent of loss … rain, smoke, flowers and earth.  Til death do us part.


Fleur qui Meurt/ 1901

A split second of eternity. A strange little flower.

The first thing more noticeable about these older scents are not just how subtle, soft and refined they are but how much more redolent of the countryside they seem. Here is a flower but with roots intact, a natural beauty but with the hedgerow and earth thrown in. Agrestic, bucolic and honest. So much so, you can virtually smell the huge steaming cow pat just a foot away from it’s tender floral heart. Dirty floral – delicate and feminine up top, despite the glaringly faecal bottom.


Voilette de Madame/ 1904

Geranium. Possibly the least sexy of any perfumery ingredient – dowdy, rosy and curmudgeony. Here though it is pared down with the addition of lemon and soft powder nuances making this approachable and personable, and I imagine what would have been a popular scent of its day. Delicate, tender .. think Grandmama’s hallowed Sunday best lipstick in a head on collision with a truck full of Turkish Delight. Insolence meets Meteorites before their time.


To be continued.







Guerlain Part 3 : Birth of an Obsession

Jicky and myself had become very much attached.

What had started as a prickly, alarming introduction, had slowly morphed into something quite beautiful. A cautious, sacred monospritz became two or three, what were a few liberal sprays became a serious daily body ritual.

The strange, enigmatic, animalic thrust of this 107 year old beauty – or should I say beast – had me beguiled under her spell.
I did not have the understanding of olfaction and it’s complex language back then, but part of the immense pleasure of being so captivated was the pleasure these compositions gave without the need for analysis or deconstruction. I had no real boundaries or knowledge of perfumery which in turn made Jicky all the more mysterious and compelling. I knew she smelt old and completely off the planet and that appealed to the young rebel within me. Perhaps that spirit of uniqueness, it’s androgynous air, the haunting sillage that drew uneasy glances, just fuelled the fire for my love of what was considered to be the birthmark of modern perfumery. It was only years later when I understood how complex and avant garde Jicky would have seemed in 1889, that I began to realise it’s importance in the development of not only the trademark Guerlain flourish of newly discovered coumarin, dirty vanillin and musks, but also in the forwarding of the use of synthetics and perfume composition as we know it today. It also came as no suprise that it took nearly 30 years for it to become acceptable as a perfume suitable for ladies to wear; in it’s infancy, it was deemed too brutal, too savage and men kept it for themselves, hence it’s ambivalent appeal from the earliest years.


For some unknown reason, I had not made the connection between these two great perfumes and the hallowed house that was Guerlain. I was young, headstrong, and fickle in some respects, only just discovering my burgeoning tastes and finding my way in the wild and wide world. It had not crossed my mind at this point that my life might one day become consumed with olfactory obsession and scented reveries, as in my early twenties I identifed myself very much as a musician and at this time, music was my total raison d’etre. It was in a particularly beautiful Spring at the end of a Century that I found myself at a crossroads : the performing and late nights were taking a toll on my nervous system and also the work was not  in such abundance as previous years. I certainly was not ready to become an invisible little grey man fading into miserable obscurity in an office filing room somewhere deep in middle England.  I knew there was only one other thing that fuelled my fire like music and that was Perfumery.  To give up all things rock ‘n roll for something so intangible felt like a blow and somehow a failure to the Musicianship and Artistry that had taken years of sweat and toil. However, change was necessary and so the time had come to take a deep inhalation of faith  and to plunge headfirst  into the unknown fragrant abyss that was to become the constant muse and companion for an insecure and lonely boy, trapped inside a young mans aloof and clumsy body for years to come.

And whilst waiting for a certain perfume house to respond to my repeated requests to work for them, I began to slowly unravel the basic canon of classics of the Guerlain dynasty, each with their own story and myths. Two century’s worth of creativity, with so many enigmatic fables behind such prolific and profound perfume compositions and a catalogue of scent to die for. The house of Guerlain was a glowing flame and I was without doubt, the fledgling moth.

The perfume that drew me in like no other scent had ever done, and even before smelling it, I felt a great affinity towards the impressionistic and melancholy ‘L’Heure Bleue’.
I fantasised about how it might smell for months, and very fortunately was given a tester bottle by a sales assistant at the airport as they no longer stocked it. I was shocked at her generosity, but also at the prospect of owning a bottle of something that to me was like a jewel, a hallowed object, a posession that was somehow art, commerce and emotion all at once.


Upon the evening of arrival on a distant sultry island, I waited for my co travellers to embark on a night of debauchery and alcohol poisoning. I was left in the apartment alone, and as the sun sank beneath the ocean’s horizon, the dusk came.
The stillness and tranquil moment of the blue hour had emerged, where all of nature covered in the muted tones and soft light almost seemed to defy time itself : the hinterland between day and night, where blues, indigos, sapphires, and soft pastel hues cover the flowers, trees, parks, buildings like an ethereal, gauzy, muslin, filter.
I sat quietly near the pool’s edge in this reverie of life imitating art and waited. A soft warm balmy breeze played with the palms and bougainvillea creating a gentle ruffling sound and the cicadas were quietly chirrup in their exotic twilight song. And so I chose my perfect moment and reverently sprayed this 88 year old beauty.
Like soul mates, some instances in life are so familiar or so right, that you feel you have known them forever. ‘L’Heure Bleue’ was one of these such things. It’s powdery peculiar perfection of soft spiced florals, of dry billowing clouds of powder, of anisic herbals seemed not only a masterstroke but an intensely emotional, personal expression of the perfumer’s art. It would seem that Jacques Guerlain had created something timeless and quietly insistent, that over 100 years later would still be softly pulsating and whispering the wistful and poetic olfactory musings of the twilight and it’s captive inhabitants.


Alongside Jicky and Vetiver, I had found a third love. And it would seem that these perfumed love affairs would be lasting, and unlike their human counterparts, would not stray or decieve – only to give endless pleasure and happiness. I perhaps did not see it at the time, but this family of perfumes would become life long constants in an otherwise fickle, often friendless and unfathomable world.

Winter came and my curiosity grew stronger. Accidentally trying to purchase a perfume for my mother, I found Mitsouko and kept her for myself. She was to become my signature and defining stance, standing tall above the kingdom of lesser scents, and a defining lesson in the art of the Chypre style of perfumery.

This was not a turning point, more an epiphany.

Guerlain, my first love – Part 2


Time stood still, seconds faltering, as clocks froze in a long forgotten winter.  The snow filled skies thickened and closed in, not so far above the mystical arcade in a lamented small northern town.

The mysterious lady poised behind the wooden counter smiled and spoke softly as if she may have been expecting the likes of me at some point within this olfactory life. I had certainly not banked on meeting such an ethereal beauty, neither in the deep dark heart of winter or at any other given season for that matter. It seemed every line and expressive dent in her worn but perfect face would bewitch and beguile me within an inch of my short, naive life.  She had an exceptional air about her; refined yet unassuming, timeless and knowing, with an open face that suggested kindness and an assured warmth of character that only comes from many years of life and much won experience.

She greeted me good day, she acknowledged the freezing temperatures,  but did not seem suprised to see a young man like myself wandering through snow drifts and lonely streets in a lack of clothes that only a student would perceive as adequate or sensible.
She offered me strong black coffee, which although not to my tastes, felt appropriate, luxurious even, and it duly defrosted my frost bitten hands. I felt like a prince, pampered and attended to whilst probably looking not unlike a frozen sea urchin lost in Antarctica.

I was distracted from her beauty only by one thing : the rows and rows of obscure, brilliant, impossibly named bottles that silently bore witness to this unfolding scene, and they were in their hundreds, from floor to ceiling. Some were old and jaded, others were waiting for their time to come, and some placed more prominently were obviously fresh acquisitions, but all had their place. Nothing in this special space was ignored or disregarded : it was as if, like a family, they may not have rubbed along side by side so well, but ultimately they accepted each others glorious differences, age and perspectives.


The lady drew my gaze back to her, as she wore the most beautiful  midnight blue woolen dress and rich earth coloured boots. She smiled silently as if to say ‘ Welcome to the Prologue of your Perfumed Odyssey, with a thousand more pages yet to be written ‘. And how right she was.
I was literally awestruck, blinded by the amount on offer : where ancient spiced giants stood, fey forgotten florals whispered; vintage leathered chypres loomed on the highest shelves, and somewhere inbetween lay peculiar androgynous fougeres from a lost era. I was for one of the few times in my life, completely lost for words. I needed guidance towards the proverbial light.

‘Let’s start with this one’, she whispered as she mecurially vapourised a fine mist of something pleasant but indistinct into the dusty air of the dimly lit gloom. I nodded my head from side to side, silently projecting a polite negative. I think she understood where I was heading long before I did, and swiftly pulled out a selection of less modern compositions, with darker juices and even greater promise. We must have made our way through three or four before it became obvious that none were hitting the spot. We rested, and spoke; inhaled arabica beans and conversed a little more before a spark of light, an opulent glint of gold caught my eye.

‘That one’ I intercepted. ‘Up there’.
She smiled approvingly and without a moments pause, reached for the bottle and gold box I had spotted a few seconds before. If I had known what was coming, I might have worn armoury or perhaps sought psychic protection from a Shaman warrior, but this was how it was, and how it was meant to be.
It hit the air like a bullet from a gun, like gunpowder on a damp November night :  it was arresting, unnerving, disturbing.
Like a spirit from another time had been rattled in its cage and then appeared before our very senses in all the ephemeral and ancient glory of an olfactory spectre, the molecules had been well and truly released.
This was how I imagined abandoned haunted houses would smell, the scent of another era altogether, of people long lost and forgotten but somehow strangely alive and defiant; this was the essence of the passage of time itself, deep and enigmatic, prosaic and persistent.
I did not like this scent. I did not love it. But I knew I was attached to it. It held me in it’s wake and would not let me be.
Obsessive, relentless, and insistent, I would return to my arm and the blotter repeatedly all day and night, long after I had left the strange, little shop. I could not work it out, I didn’t understand it, It even irritated me for the reasons stated above. Certain nuances within it’s development almost bordered on obscene.

Like the reaction that it provoked 107 years before, it still had the power to arrest and ambush the unsuspecting in their tracks.
It was another 2 years before this strange courtship finally caved in and became an official union between it’s scent and my skin.
I was young and impressionable. She was called ‘Jicky’.


Guerlain, My First Love – Part One

There is a type of alchemy that is profound.

It is near perfect, and often borders on the ethereal.
We are not talking music, literature, theatre or art, but art and artistry become the main theme here. We are referencing the great art of Perfumery, one that is often not recognised or even thought of as art form at all. And in relation to a perfume house that dates back to 1828, we are dealing with an olfactory dynasty of huge historic importance, and therefore I refer to the following perfume house and its creations as high perfumery in the truest sense.

And as true perfumery elicits an emotional response, a chemical reaction, something beyond words, colour, time and space. It is as if our pupils have dilated, our spirits and souls have momentarily been set free : dancing, floating, free falling through air; where in the flicker of an eye or in one human breath, we have surrendered completely to our senses. This experience often occurs in a demi second, and frequently lasts little longer : we become atoms and stardust hurtling through time as if life, mortality and the universe is immaterial for those fleeting moments.
Perhaps that is what makes the sensory experience so magnetic, so desirable, its utter intangibility and in turn – like love – a certain trace of transience and fragility.


And like love, we love to be loved, and to seek out love; and maybe the barely perceptible, the horizon just slightly out of reach; intoxicates, immobilises and ensnares our deepest longings and achings.

Perfume is love, and love for the perfume lover is a lifelong deep pool of dark, unchartered waters; a dichotomy of light and shade, of science versus art, of romance colliding all the while with heartbreak on speed dial, an often unrecognised and eccentric obsession that permeates and resides within our every atom, fibre and cells.
My dark water, my cool still lagoon of olfactory wonder was always omnipresent, but awakened slowly, gently and seductively by an ancient force of Gallic conjurory.

Here begins the tale of a young man bewitched by a canon of extraordinary alchemy and scent : specifically the connection between someone living in the modern world, breathing in the past, and exhaling it’s future.
This is just one narrative of Guerlain and one of its many wearers, a personal perspective on a quiet legacy, a whispering giant, an undiscovered art form, that in the days to come will be recognised as majestic, important and vital to the olfactory histories of 19th, 20th and 21st Century people. And also an essential if not defining benchmark in the history of the senses – the more esoteric of the arts – an illustration of how consumerism and aesthetics can create, uneasily yet brilliantly together in a profusion of imperfect artistry.

My affinity with the Gallic Perfume Godzilla began at 16.
I was hastily given a small bottle of Habit Rouge Splash one bitingly cold autumn night by an indecently questionable school teacher who had nonetheless unquestionably decent taste. I was flattered by it’s worth, but neither enticed or seduced by the composition; I was little more than a boy and my scent palette may have been keen but not sophisticated. I found it dry and choking, powdery and passe. Let us remember I was young and living in the time of American perfume giants whose dominance of the market provided a dripping wet, synthetic ozonic orgy of freshness, an evil masterplan consisting of duping the world with aquatics and saccharine romantic ideals, banishing the continents of Chypres and Leathers for evermore to commercial exile.  Habit Rouge was to Eternity for Men, as the Symphonies of Mahler are to Justin Bieber. Need I say more.


It was not until the tender age of 19, I discovered Vetiver in its perfect, untampered with formula of tart greens, citric acidity, it’s very adult complexity and the lingering deep scent of wet earth and damp roots. I was utterly spellbound, almost drunk on the dizzying, electrifying yet somehow old school brilliance of this verdant, lush potion that your average young man was most unlikely to wear, which made it all the more provocative and alluring. I remember taking the bus from the furthest outer suburbs into the city on sultry, almost oppressive summer evenings having doused myself ritualistically with this deep green, exotic essence that made me feel larger than the sum of my parts. It gave me confidence, liberation and a sense of self, like nothing before had ever done, not even expensive mohair jumpers or bottle green faux leather crocodile shoes. I knew nothing of its formula, I just knew it felt familiar and comfortable, and I embraced it with great vigour and love. If I had known the formula was to change from the uncompromising and full bodied, to a lame soapy lemony re hash, I might have invested in a crateful. Alas, hindsight is only useful in the present. Thankful for small mercies, at least we have revisited the classic bottle with a marginally superior  re formulation to 2000’s misfire of savon and citrus.

It is occasionally that we stumble upon special places in the most unlikely of habitats. It was a year later and in the depth of a bitter, northern winter that I went walking through the eerily quiet deserted back streets, the lonely alleyways with their fresh virgin dustings of natures cold sugar icing, and the odd scent of translucent glacial snow permeating the freezing air. I have often discovered that when the snows come, magic never seems to be far behind. And so it was, that fateful day.

As I trundled through heavier and denser drifts, I came to the entrance of a small Victorian arcade, and I could see this was no ordinary place. For the view stretched steeply and whimsically from it’s opening, with a curved perspective rolling downwards with no end point in sight, a most peculiar, slightly unnerving vision. And in the way that snow brings out the child in all of us, I imagined sledging precariously all the way down, past blurred curiosity shops before reaching it’s dark mysterious end.


As if being drawn intrinsically towards a magnet; I felt pulled, compelled and lured into this curving Arcade with many of it’s shutters closed due to the Winter storms. There were few shops open, and the north wind howled through the exposed tunnel, bringing more snow and yesterday’s papers.
It was the soft light and calmness of the place that asked me to enter it; the jaded grandeur of something once splendid, the unassuming air of a boutique selling liquid poetry; I felt I had accidentally tripped on ice, and somehow arrived in an alternate reality.
And then the mature, impeccable, poised, lined but beautiful lady spoke …

To be Continued.