Category Archives: Scented thoughts

A Love Letter to Neroli

Is there one particular note in fragrance that you find yourself seeking out time and again? A flower, resin or fruit that you know will bring you instant joy and comfort? For me it is Neroli; the absolute obtained from the tiny white flowers of the bitter Seville orange tree, using steam distillation.

It has been a love affair that began when I started to experiment with essential oils as a teenager. The aromatic properties of neroli are said to soothe chronic anxiety and bring feelings of peace and euphoria. The beautiful white blooms are also used traditionally in wedding bouquets as a symbol of innocence and undying love. I find the scent of neroli exquisitely haunting, it is so much more than a simple citrus floral. There are multifaceted depths within it that are at once sharp and soft, green yet plump and lush, bright but also somehow slightly bitter and smoky.

As a popular ingredient in perfumery, there is a plethora of fragrances that feature neroli somewhere in the blend. My scent collection is heavily biased toward citrus, yet my olfactory appetite for neroli is insatiable. My two most recent favourites are Neroli Blanc Eau de Parfum from Au Pays de la Fleur d’Oranger and Grand Neroli from Atelier Cologne. Both encapsulate everything I love about the delicate white flower, in very different ways…

Grand Neroli, created by Cecile Krakower, is part of The Cologne Absolue collection and as such has all the splashy beginnings of the best cologne. It has sharp and brightly bitter notes of bergamot and petitgrain (also derived from the orange tree) which sparkle and fizz upon the skin during its opening moments. Deeper beneath are stirrings of galbanum, oakmoss and birch, which emphasises the perfumes’ shady green character. When the neroli arrives it is like a ray of sunlight, casting the shadows into sharper contrast and dominating the rest of the development. I love the razor edge that cuts through any sweetness here, how the scent only alludes to the sugary qualities citruses can have, rather than dissolving into orange soda after ten minutes. This is not a floral arrangement of neroli. Rather Grand Neroli is a portrait of bitter fruits and crisp leaves, chopped upon a wooden board in the morning sun. The flowers stand in a vase nearby, fluttering white petals in the gentle breeze.

Neroli Blanc is a collection of three fragrances, based around the different qualities of bitter orange, depending on the process by which the scent is extracted. I’m head over heels for all three and I particularly enjoy the gourmand deliciousness of the Eau de Parfum Intense. However the Eau de Parfum, created by Jean Claude Gigodot, features that true neroli that I crave, alongside petitgrain and a big floral bouquet of jasmine and rose. The opening of Neroli Blanc is, for a few seconds, similar to that of Grand Neroli. The petitgrain has the same sharp, green effect in both fragrances. However very quickly Neroli Blanc becomes an altogether softer perfume, the jasmine instantly blurring crisp edges with indolic voluptuousness. There is also a far more pronounced sweetness that is reminiscent of honeycomb, a little waxy and oozing with golden nectar. A woody base of cedar and benzoin keep the scent from becoming overly floral and the neroli is truly beautiful, a superb balance of delicate blooms and bitter bark. The rose becomes pronounced as slightly dry, bringing the perfume to a close in a very different place to Grand Neroli. It is a bridal bouquet left among the hay bales at the end of the day, the grass beginning to collect dew as the evening closes in.

I don’t believe I will ever tire of the multitudinous ways in which perfumers use neroli. It is a constant journey of discovery and one that I would happily continue to explore into infinity. If you adore neroli and orange blossom as much as I do, please seek these fragrances out, you won’t be disappointed. At the cusp of springtime, what better way is there to welcome the sunshine?

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When perfume doesn’t solve everything.

daisies

For someone who is supposed to be writing a blog about fragrance, I have found myself doing something a little different recently. I am in awe of those who are constantly seeking out new perfumes to review because of late I have not felt inclined to go on ‘scented journeys’ in quite the same way.

I’m not entirely sure what has caused this shift. my fundamental love of perfume still remains. I still get emotionally transported by wonderful scents and I’m still constantly chattering away about perfume to anyone who will listen. But when the time comes for me to actually sit down and write about it, I encounter a rather large question mark.

Maybe this is what they call writer’s block; my style has always aired on the side of fiction, even with a very real product as the focus. Up until this point I’d always found that a huge bonus, I didn’t have to try and conjure a story from thin air; it was already filled with the scent of the characters. At the moment it’s like those performers won’t quite step into the imagined spotlight, instead remaining grounded in the shadow of reality. A bunch of molecules encased in a glass bottle with some excellent (or not so excellent) branding. It’s all feeling a little too controlled and contrived to bend to the will of my imagination.

I am at a point in my life where I am very much living in real time. My daughter is growing up so quickly, she’s definitely not a baby anymore and I can’t quite believe how fleeting the last 18 months now seem. As a family we are gradually shifting our lives to bring in more of what we hope will lead to lasting happiness and job satisfaction. It’s exciting and tough going so buying perfume samples has had to go right to the bottom of the shopping list. If it wasn’t for those people in perfume land who occasionally send me things I’d be pretty ignorant of what smells new and interesting right now.

I never intended for this to be a place where I just reviewed fragrances in a straight forward way, there is already a wonderful selection of blogs to go to for that. Truth be told, at the moment a lot of fragrances just aren’t doing it for me, with the exception of one or two that I hope to write about when I can find words for them. I think that when life gets stressful and change is shaking the foundations, it’s the everyday scents that I find the most soothing and comforting.

I’ve been craving vanilla to extreme levels. Not the complex, smokey, boozy vanillas available on the niche market, and not the creamy candy fluff from the designers and celebrities. I want real vanilla; ice cream, patisserie, a jar full of pods to bury my nose in. I want simple food; granary bread, salted butter, tomato soup. Cucumber in chunks with slices of strong cheddar. Asparagus with a little salt, lemon and olive oil. Food that smells wholesome and uncomplicated. I’ve cooked the same fish pie about five times in the last two weeks because the combination of smoked fish and fluffy mash is the ultimate comfort.

I would cover every surface in my home with flowers if I could. Summer is coming and the parks and roadsides are vibrant with colour and scent. I have been seriously tempted to pull onto the hard shoulder of the motorway and gather huge armfuls of the big white daisies that grow in abundance there. The simplicity of their smiley faces brings me untold joy. I would fill every vessel with fluttery sweetpeas and voluptuous lilacs, great sheaves of pink and purple scented stocks, cornflowers for their dazzling blue starbursts and peonies with their tumble of petticoat petals. I’d line up pots of lavender along the sunny garden wall for the bees to feast upon.

I’ve also been changing the bed sheets with unnecessary regularity, just so I can sink into that fresh scent every evening. Linen sprays don’t cut it. The smell has to be crisp and line dried. There is a flowering palm tree in our garden that smells incredible at the moment, it’s white flower scent lingers in the cloth and reminds me of sunshine.

There are only two perfumes that I’ve felt even half comfortable wearing over recent weeks. The first is Penhaligons Orange Blossom. It is smooth, full of golden light and it makes me feel pretty, with just enough projection to be complimentary. The other is Papillon Angelique, a quiet, almost savoury blend of iris with a comforting fennel note that I just adore. Everything else has seemed wrong. Either it’s too strong or too complex or too strange for my pared down mood. Most days I have been content to smell of the products I use on my skin; a cheap and cheerful gardenia shower cream and raw coconut oil. My husband wears The Voice of Reason from Gorilla and I find that scent deeply comforting. Sandalwood, coffee and tobacco blended into a smooth, smoky perfume that will eternally remind me of him.

I feel a little guilty admitting that I’m not loving perfume right now, after all, that’s supposed to be ‘what I do’. But life is full of scent and during times when I need my wits about me, perfume almost seems to mask the reality of my situation. I feel more at ease just appreciating the scent that I encounter all around me. I find it grounding, it makes me stop and wonder at this most powerful of senses. It brings me back to myself somehow. I have no doubt that in another few weeks I’ll be spritzing away with the best of them again. Something incredible will waft in my direction and my imagination will spark into excited flames. For today though, I’m going to go and climb the highest tor on Dartmoor with my little family, breathe in the fresh air and try to see what’s coming next. I can smell excitement on the breeze.

What’s your ultimate comfort when life gets crazy? Do you disappear in a cloud of your favourite perfume or do you feel the need to pare it back like me? I’d love to hear from you…

 

 

A Short Story

This is a little story I’ve been working on for a while. Inspired by scent and memory.

shoes on stairs

The mirror is round and slightly convex, secured in a dark wood frame to the wall in the hallway. There is a smudged fingerprint at either side where someone has straightened it after a knock. She wonders if the ghostly, complex whorls belong to her.

Behind, light spreads muted and dappled through the frosted glass of the front door and is too pale to be anything but a winter’s morning. The air hangs like a chilly exhalation of breath, nipping slightly at her ears. It is always a thrill to view the familiar reflection of the hall made strange by angles in reverse, slightly bent in the mirror’s curve. Her winter coat, well worn and soft, oddly animated, as if she had hung it upon the coat stand with part of herself still concealed inside. The pretty willow pattern jug on the sill from a visit to an over-priced antiques market; seemingly taller and more slender than it’s actual, rather squat little form. The wooden rungs of the banister appear to be both climbing the stairs and bracing them; at once high stepping and bending as the stairs make their bizarre journey upwards and into the dark of the landing.

Her eyes dart back to her own reflection and she catches an expression there, one that she has never seen before. A flicker and it’s gone and in that moment her face belongs only in the mirror, the gaze already turning to join the electric stillness inside the glass, where inanimate things move so quickly that they remain still. She can sense something in the air of that mirrored hallway; an expectation, the acrid scent of burning paper while the match lies unlit in its box. She is tucked slightly too far into the wings, while shadows flit across the unseen stage.

She finds herself often transfixed by objects. Trinkets hidden in plain sight that flare brightly at the corners of her vision, as if trying to catch her attention. Of course they are just ordinary things when she turns her adult gaze upon them but she becomes convinced that they must have a secret purpose. Like the willow patterned jug for example. She found it amongst the vast cascades and toppling piles of antiquity, partially obscured by a rather grandiose gilded chamber pot. When glanced at, it seemed to peep its delicate form out from behind the immense frilled bottom of its guardian and shimmer a little. The air had momentarily thickened and a suggestion of burning caught her at the back of the throat. With closer inspection she noticed that it was in fact a rather plain, lazy reproduction, cracked slightly and discoloured inside. It lay absolutely still and cold in her hands, yet hadn’t it caught her attention for a reason?

And so it goes, she must have it. How could she possibly leave it behind? On the way home she picked one flower head from an abundant hydrangea bush to crown her prize with softest blue and bronze. Once inside she had placed it reverently on the windowsill and stepped back to admire her purchase. It was such a simple little thing, the flowers with all their fluttering petals somehow threw the shabbiness into sharper contrast. She puzzled over what had possessed her to buy it in the first place.

Looking at the jug’s reflection in the mirror now it seems to regain some of that shimmer and her heart skips slightly. She understands once more how such an ordinary object could practically jump from the shelf into her hands. The blue and white is such a vivid contrast against the dark windowsill, the pattern of boats, bridges and little men made somehow more animated by the amateurish, hand drawn lines. In the mirror’s reflection the jug becomes a vessel in which to hold something precious. She must find a beautiful bit of nature to fill it once again. There will be no hydrangea so late in the year but maybe a sprig of holly. The red of the berries will contrast nicely with the willow pattern blue. There is a magnificent combination, she thinks, the harlot and her sailor boy.

Her need for colour is as important as breathing. She craves it like a drug and puzzles further over whether this is normal. She feels so sad to see Mr and Mrs next door, going about all swaddled in beige and brown and grey. It is as if they are trying to disappear. The soup and porridge hues in which they are cocooned whisper of untold misery. Mrs wears the beige of a hospital curtain when she could have cream, rich and soft as a barn owl’s wing. Mr wears trousers that are mud shot through with ash. It looks as if he has been wading waist deep in gloom. Why does he not want deepest charcoal or chocolate brown?

Last Christmas, feeling especially festive, she bought the Mrs a gift in the hope of lifting the fog which clouds her, making her bland. A scarf of softest, finest wool the colour of a new leaf, almost a silvery green. Not too bright but just enough to bring out the flecks in her eyes. On opening the gift such a look of bewilderment crossed the woman’s face, she stroked the softness of the wool with guilty fingers as if this was not something that should belong to her.

As far as she knows the scarf has never been worn. She imagines it neatly folded in a drawer and glowing subtly whenever it is glanced upon. Maybe that is enough. She believes everyone should have a little colour in their life, no matter how well hidden it is. It amuses her greatly to entertain the idea of the Mrs wearing red lingerie beneath her putty coloured trouser suit.

Sometimes, when she least expects it, she gets the slightest glimpse into other peoples lives, just by touching them. If she were to deliberately lay her hands upon a person in search of their deepest secrets, she’d see nothing but their alarmed face staring back at her. It is the odd moment; like when someone hands her change in a shop, that she sees more than she should. A front door, a favourite item of clothing, the echo of voices. Just small things really, but enough to piece together the bits of that person’s life. Maybe she is just very perceptive. The idea that she might be anything more is faintly alarming. Besides, that sort of thing is all psychological anyway…

She remembers being a child, holding her upturned palms out for goodness to fall into as easily as raindrops. She feels an almost painful stab of nostalgia for those times, when innocence flittered and glistened around her like fireflies and reaching out to make a wish was instinctual. Those fireflies are still dancing, she is sure of it, but now she is grown they stay at the corners of her vision and always just out of her reach. Doubt is a constant presence, muddling her best intentions, dipping a bitter finger into her freshly brewed tea, peppering the downy cloth of sleep with tiny holes. It has such stealthy shadow, she can be sitting in full sunlight and still sometimes it finds a way to darken her day.

She sighs and finishes applying her lipstick, a blushed berry pink that makes her cheeks look rosy. As she tucks the little golden tube back into her purse her mind begins to turn back to the mundane tasks that will take up her day. As she buckles her bag she remembers she has not put any perfume on, so she reaches back into the leather recesses and pulls out a little vial. Another little stab of nostalgia leaps within her as she spritzes a mist of fragrance around her head. This was the scent her mother wore when she was very young and now it seems to throw her recent musings into an even sharper light. It reminds her of forgotten things.

All of a sudden her eye is caught by a slight movement in the mirror. There, halfway up the stairs, is the suggestion of someone small, with a hand clutching the banister rail. She is hit by such a wave of recognition that she feels herself locked into the reflection, unable to turn around. She knows what is about to happen but cannot move her lips to utter a single sound. The little form on the stairs, the size of a four year old child, seems to bend its knees and with an almost audible intake of breathe, jumps.

Her heart is lurching in her chest, the stairs are too steep and the child is too small. She sees it all distorted in the bend of the glass, the arc of limbs as they are raised in flight, the impending impact of fragile body against hard floorboards. Then there is a sudden thickness in the air, a change in pressure that makes her ears pop. The atmosphere sparks with the strike of a match and in that moment she is released from her paralysis, spinning around to face the stairs. There she watches as the child, in blue denim dungarees and small yellow shoes, executes a perfect landing. All around the little figure the light dances in golden beams. The child looks straight at her, dark eyes and brown curls all lit up with delight. There is a delicious little giggle of pleasure, echoing so clearly in her mind that she is rocked again by an immense sense of recognition. As she struggles with the growing rush of blood in her ears the whole scene begins to fade, slowly fizzling away until nothing but the winter sun and the scent of her perfume is left behind in the hallway.

She sits down slowly upon the seat below the mirror and continues to stare at the bottom of the staircase. She knows the small yellow shoes. She remembers them quite clearly. The Velcro straps had rows of ladybirds marching along them. She used to pretend that they were her magic shoes.

For how long she stays there she is unsure, the sudden snap of the letterbox spewing its mail onto the mat dislodges her sharply from her reverie. Glancing out of the window she sees that it really is a lovely morning. She puts on her coat and hat and steps out of the front door into the pristine winter air. The chill nips at her fingers as she pulls on her gloves but the sun is bright and sparkling in the crystal sky. Her hand instinctively flutters over her belly as the child inside does a little flip of excitement.

The scent of her perfume follows behind as she shuts the door. Perhaps it might still be possible to make wishes after all, she thinks as she sets off down the frost-dusted road. So she wishes for her child’s first pair of shoes to be yellow.

Niche Perfumes: Style, Substance and Finding the Balance

What is ‘niche’?

The dictionary defines the word thus:

1. a shallow recess, especially one in a wall to display a statue or other ornament.“each niche holding a shepherdess in Dresden china” synonyms: recess, alcove, nook, cranny, slot, slit, hollow, bay, cavity, cubbyhole, pigeonhole, opening, aperture…

2. a comfortable or suitable position in life or employment. “he is now head chef at a leading law firm and feels he has found his niche” synonyms: ideal position, calling, vocation, métier, place, function, job, slot, opportunity…

ECOLOGY a role taken by a type of organism within its community. “the niche left vacant by the disappearance of wolves”

3. a specialized but profitable segment of the market. “a niche market for quality food”

wall-niches

The word is being bandied about with increasing frequency within the perfume industry and because of this it seems to be losing some of it’s potency. Niche, for many people who love perfume, represents a company that solely produces scent; in small batches using quality ingredients. Niche means buying into exclusivity, of wearing a scent made by an artist dedicated to their craft.

There is also the assumption that a niche perfume will be special in ways that fragrance from a large company isn’t. It will be different, maybe even unique; it will step over the boundary from wearable perfume into art, to be spritzed on and marvelled over. Considering the price tag attached to many niche perfumes, the customer has come to expect all of the above mentioned plus exquisite packaging and a ’boutique shopping’ experience; be that physically or digitally via the company’s website.

This demand for something special, something other than what’s available at the counter of the department store, has led to a huge influx of ‘niche’ perfumes created by big brands, marketed to ooze luxury, quality and exclusivity but which in reality are no more ‘artisan’ than the mass produced offerings in the local chemist. Meanwhile, there are genuinely talented perfumers who feel they are struggling to carve out their own tiny niche within this larger ‘niche’, their product becoming overshadowed and wildly outsold by their wealthy competitors.

During the time that I have been writing this blog, I have come across many small brands, tentatively introducing the fruits of their labour to the market. As a rule I do not publish a review about a perfume that I have not enjoyed. Because most of my interest lies in discovering these truly niche companies, I somehow feel that in writing negatively I would be damaging the already tentative hold that has been established. I understand that there is a need for honest opinion, if the only reviews available on a perfume are positive then a potential customer can be led to a misguided purchase. I seek out what intrigues me and if I don’t like it I don’t review it. There are other exceptionally talented writers out there who are willing to be critical about a perfume; I don’t feel that I am one of them.

There is one particular factor that I do feel needs to be critically addressed however and that is the importance of product branding. As this blog evolves and I discover more about the industry, I find myself increasingly bewildered by extreme cases of style over substance. Even more frustrating is when the opposite happens; when a lovely perfume is branded poorly, the lack of aesthetic appeal leaves a lingering feeling that the scent is not somehow worth the money required to purchase it. The subjective nature of perfume does indeed extend to the way it is presented, as olfactive tastes differ; so does one’s idea of what is aesthetically pleasing. I feel strongly that there is no room in this cut throat industry for poor quality when it comes to branding. If a perfumer is proud of their creation then the huge amount of work that has gone into it should be evident to the customer in every aspect of the presentation.

Companies that have obviously placed priority on style and marketing over the quality of the actual perfume infuriate me. But I feel equally exasperated when I come across a lovely fragrance that looks like it’s packaging was made at the kitchen table; and not in a deliberately quirky, homespun way. As a reviewer I feel duty bound to sing it’s praises, help generate interest so that other people will discover that inside the cheap bottle there is a beautiful perfume just crying out to be worn and appreciated. But other people’s initial reactions will probably be the same as mine: The perfume doesn’t look like a luxury item, why does it cost so much? In much the same way that I feel begrudging towards cheap juice inside an expensive bottle, I wonder at the massive oversight made by some perfumers when it comes to the importance of presentation. Balance is required for both parties and I’d really like to see it happen more often.

So what steps can be taken to enable small businesses to find that balance on the increasingly slippery ladder to success? How does an artisan with a limited marketing budget get their product noticed? I can only answer this question from the perspective of a customer, former merchandiser and fragrance writer. I am by no means an experienced business woman and if I were a perfumer I would have lost my nerve long ago. This industry is brutal, it’s like haute couture fashion except even more subjective. The restrictions and regulations hanging over the heads of perfumers are increasingly inflexible. The cost of production is high so the price point in turn must be high. And it’s solitary work, hundreds of hours spent at the organ blending, re-blending, perfecting, pondering and deliberating.

It takes a pretty spectacular individual to create, package and sell their product successfully and it’s very true that not all artists are good communicators. The process of making a scent, conveying emotion and mood through olfaction is an art form; actually selling that art is a whole different ball game and requires a different approach. Not every artist is a salesperson. It would also be true to say that some of the most effective salespeople have little real appreciation for the product they they are touting. They may have no artistic flair at all. Companies trying to relaunch a once established name, or those whose first thought for their business was how they wanted their product to look before it has even been created would also benefit from a little more balance; beautiful packaging will be enough for some but it will never convince the connoisseur.

Those perfumers inexperienced at sales and those working with a limited budget can find their scents woefully overlooked because the branding isn’t strong enough to hold it’s own. Without the help of designers and PR people, that beautiful perfume might never sell to it’s full potential. On the other hand, perfumes that are placed into the hands of salespeople who care very little for the juice they are marketing will most likely be unable to convey the message that is intended by the perfumer. As scent is so subjective, package and market it wrongly and it’s illusive beauty will be scrubbed out by inappropriate branding.

The saying ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’ springs to mind here, but in this fast paced age of instant gratification it is becoming a more and more outdated concept. Until the invention of digital smellovision it will be impossible to convey the contents of a bottle of perfume without first offering the customer guidance via it’s wrappings. For small niche perfumers this is even more important because the price point of the fragrance is so high and their own marketing budgets are often very limited. There are no megastars available to pose seductively, eyes closed in rapturously golden photoshopped billboards. The truly niche companies have to give their customers another reason to consider spending upwards of £100 on a bottle of perfume, before they have even smelt it. People are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to spending. Luxury items need to be dazzling.

Dazzling doesn’t have to mean blingy. Nothing says quality better than chic simplicity. As a customer I believe it only takes five things to make a good perfume stand out from the crowd: a beautiful bottle; crisp, excellent quality packaging; clear photography; engaging copy and the opportunity to sample.

The bottle and it’s box are the first physical contact a customer has with a scent. It needs to be a tactile experience, one which will encourage them to remove the lid and inhale the scent within. Shape, weight and colour should all be taken into consideration. The customer will be imagining that bottle in their own home, sitting on the dresser or in the bathroom cabinet; a luxury item, the finishing touch to their daily beauty routine.

The logo should be artistic without compromising clarity so that the customer can actually read the name of the brand. I believe simplicity is always most effective because it allows for a diverse range of tastes to become intrigued by the contents of the bottle. If the budget doesn’t allow for expensive embossing or colouring on the packaging then the typography should be strong enough to convey quality and luxury on its own. The same applies for the website. Simple, strong graphics and accessibility far outweigh the need for fancy Flash animations.

Photography should be professional, artfully shot and above all it should express the mood of the fragrance. The visual identity of a perfume will stay in a customer’s mind as they take their first sniff. As most niche perfumes are only available in a select number of boutiques, the majority of custom will come via the internet; therefor the imagery of a brand has to entice and excite the customer’s eyes before it can excite their nose.

Information about the company, it’s ethos and descriptions of the perfume is entirely personal to the creators and therefor is perhaps the most subjective aspect of all. As a customer I like to know about the personalities behind the brand, their motivations and inspirations. I like to see a note listing, however vague it might be; I also prefer a concise description of the scent without too much elaboration. (As a writer I tend to go off on my own creative, sometimes obscure tangents about a perfume and I find that easier to do when my own interpretation isn’t coloured by lots of flowery prose. I appreciate that this is personal to me and will not apply to the majority of customers.)

The main reason I am able to write this blog is because I can purchase samples. I live in a sleepy little corner of the UK where perfumeries are few and far between. I cannot simply wander into town to get my fix. I believe making samples available for purchase via the website is an essential part of selling a fragrance and they should be presented to an equally high standard. Sampling always feels to me like a kind gesture from the perfumer, it say’s “try this, I hope you like it.” It encourages a return visit. Personal touches are very much appreciated, as long as it’s done with elegance and style.

I feel I should state again that I am no business woman and I can only imagine the difficulties of establishing a brand in such a crowded industry. I can simply offer the perspective of a merchandiser and writer who is constantly searching for new scents to inspire me. I’m bewitched by aesthetics almost as much as I am by perfume. For me the two are closely linked. As a customer I want the whole package; the luxury, the feeling that I own something special; beautifully crafted and presented to reflect the amount of money I have paid for it. When I buy a bottle of perfume it is not a throwaway purchase, it’s a treat I can afford myself only a few times a year. I don’t want to regret that purchase, I want to enjoy every single spritz from beginning to end and I want to save the empty bottle because it’s just too lovely to dispose of. I don’t believe I am alone in wanting all those things from a perfume.

I believe that’s what it takes to create long lasting success, that and lots of shouting on social media sites. Word of mouth has incredible power these days. As long as the perfume can deliver what it promises then why wouldn’t people want to buy it? Looks can only carry a brand so far though, at the end of the day if the juice is of a poor quality then the truth will out eventually. I want to see more talent shining though while the glamorous facade falls away in tatters. I want to see importance placed in the right areas: If the brand is strong then make sure the perfume matches it; if the scent is glorious, dress it appropriately. I have enormous respect for those who have already struck the perfect balance, I am grateful to be on the receiving end of all your hard work.

Let’s talk about Rose

aphrodite-adonis

The Queen of blooms, an ancient representative of love and beauty. In Greek mythology, the sea foam falling from Aphrodite’s body as she is born from the waves turns to white roses, a sign of her innocence and purity. When she must heal her wounded lover Adonis, she sheds her blood onto a white rose, turning it’s petals crimson with her passion and desire. After the wedding of Eros and Psyche, Zeus instructs his children the Hours and the Graces to set everything aglow with roses, spreading the blooms throughout the whole of Ancient Greece and carrying all the power of the gods.

Flower_Nymph

Of the thousands of myths surrounding the rose, the story I find particularly beautiful is about the Roman goddess Flora, queen of the spring and protector of flowers. When one of her beloved Nymphs dies, she begs the other gods to help turn her into a beautiful flower. Apollo gives her life, Bacchus bestows nectar, Pomona gives her fruit, Vertumnus creates for her a beautiful perfume and Flora crowns her with petals. The rose becomes the united effort of multiple gods, making it the most magically powerful bloom of all.

vintage roses

Personally I have lots of memories surrounding roses. I’ve spoken about it before but my grandmother used to wear a rose scent, I don’t know what it was but that particular perfume is trapped forever inside a still frame of her dressing table, jewellery boxes overflowing with pearls and paste gems, golden cased lipsticks and my granddads old war medals.

rose blue sky

In the city where my grandmother lived there was a garden on the seafront filled with roses. During late summer we would go and wander through the rows of carefully tended bushes, surrounded by high walls to protect the delicate blooms from the sea breezes. It’s the colours that I remember here. White, yellow, peach, pink and red, all glowing against a backdrop of azure sky. I can also remember an intense urge to pick the flowers from the earth and gather them into a huge bunch to take home. I was severely scolded for trying.

photo-3

Another memory from my childhood is of the Cotswold Perfumery, in Bourton-on-the-Water close to where I grew up. It’s a beautiful place, limestone cottages with a wide stream running through the centre of the village. The perfumery makes very classic fragrances, as well as running courses in perfume making. As a child I was mesmerised by the shop, all the twinkling glass bottles and the wonderful smelling perfumes within. For a couple of pounds you could buy samples of the perfume, except instead of packaging them in the traditional test vials they were artfully encased in perfect, minuscule bottles, complete with a tiny label and a lovely box patterned like watered silk. I’m sure you can imagine that for a little girl in love with perfume and also firmly insistent that fairies were real, owning a bottle like this was about as wonderful as you could get. I had a rose perfume, I think it was called ‘Rosa’. I used to put a tiny dab on before I went to bed in the hope that the flower fairies would visit me during the night. We went for a lovely walk around Bourton on Boxing Day and although the perfumery was closed for the holidays, peering through the window was enough to bring the smell of that perfume back into my nose.

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A more recent memory, one that still makes me feel tingly with happiness, are the roses that grew around the door of the house we lived in (pictured above) when our daughter was born. It was November and having been in hospital for nearly two weeks, I came home to find a single pale yellow rose blooming just at head height, perfect in every way. The scent of that rose was so delicate and fresh after so many days inside stuffy hospital rooms that it felt like a gift from nature. I don’t know the variety of rose it was, it had a soft citrus character that I found extraordinarily beautiful. I have yet to find that exquisite delicacy in a perfume and I wonder if I ever will, sometimes things are only beautiful when they are growing in nature.

The only time I’ve actually chosen a rose fragrance for myself was in my early twenties. I was a teenager in the nineties when scent was all about clean, watery and unisex. I spent much of my teenage years covered in ‘Tommy Girl’, Davidoff ‘Cool Water’, Issy Miyake ‘L’eau d’Issey’ and ‘CK One’. I also had some Elizabeth Arden ‘Sunflowers’ and Clinique ‘Happy’. You can see a theme developing there. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I began to tire of the citrus- water- white musk triangle and go in search of true florals and more gourmand fragrances. The first perfume I bought that broke my previous perfume rules was ‘Stella’ from Stella McCartney. I really don’t like this perfume anymore but it seemed so chic and classy at the time, a very feminine floral like a sheer tumble of pink and purple petals. It’s the only rose perfume I’ve owned since my tiny bottle of ‘Rosa’. I cannot seem to find the right fit somehow and it’s not through a lack of trying. I am incredibly fussy when it comes to this particular note in perfume, even more so than my beloved orange, to the point where I’ve pretty much dismissed everything I’ve come across so far. I believe my expectations to be rather too high.

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I have a bottle of expensive Turkish rose essential oil that I use very sparingly in my bath water. I’ve tried it directly on my skin and incredibly as it warms it turns woodier and drier until the moist petal quality that I love completely disappears. I smell like pot pourri after an hour which is not what I was aiming for.

I’ve been on this rose quest for a while now. I’ve worked my way through quite a few of the best known scents that sounded appealing to me and so far I have not found what I’m looking for. Admittedly I have probably only scratched the surface and I’m sure people would have hundreds of recommendations. I believe that for me, the vision of a rose that I hold in my head doesn’t ever quite fit the perfumes I have thus far tried.

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I also feel a clear divide between rose as perfume and rose as confection. I adore Turkish delight and rose scented cream chocolates and there is always a bottle of rose water in my kitchen cupboard. ‘Une Rose Vermeille’ from Andy Tauer is a light, frothy, rose, lemon, vanilla and raspberry delight that I would feel proud to place on the table in a cut glass dish but somehow cannot quite handle when it’s on my skin. I have some odd prejudices when it comes to gourmand perfumes. Only certain ‘foody’ notes seem acceptable for me to wear on my skin and unfortunately sweet rose is not one of them. So you can imagine that rules out a fair few fragrances.

Frederick Malle ‘Lipstick Rose’ is far too powerful for my rather delicate sensitivities. My skin turns it completely to powder, to the point where I actually feel as if I am inhaling the fine dust from a lady’s glided compact. For all the love out there for this perfume I just cannot make it work for me. The same is true for ‘Une Rose’, a perfume I was sure I would adore as it draws the lightness of rose into the shadows with an earthy truffle note. Although I found wearing this perfume an interesting experience, the earthiness was not somehow dark enough for me, the truffle note turning musty and smudged on my skin, dirtying the rose petals with road dust rather than the loamy earth that I was hoping for. Again, I know I am in a minority here, ‘Une Rose’ is much praised. It is simply not what I’m looking for.

‘Imogen Rose’ from Gorilla Perfume is a lovely, very simple rose and vanilla scent that, when worn in very small doses, is pleasant and reminiscent of baby soft skin. However as with all Gorilla scents it is easy to overdose and the result is an almost visible cloud of pink that is dry and too sweet for me. Lush also make a shower gel called ‘Rose Jam’ that I adore, maybe because, like the bath oil, I leave the majority of the scent behind me in the bathroom, only a whisper stays on my skin. Lush turned ‘Rose Jam’ into a limited edition perfume that my friend The Silver Fox loves, but he mentions a ‘hot plastic’ quality that I just know I won’t like. Are you beginning to understand how fussy I am about rose perfume now?

The closest I get to really enjoying a rose perfume is when I wear Serge Lutens ‘Sa Majeste la Rose’. It’s not quite right but it’s nearly there. ‘Sa Majeste’ has a lovely, dewy opening like delicate pink petals collecting water droplets. It becomes more honeyed and dry, with a very subtle woodiness that gives the green and pink some depth. It is rather sweet but not in a jammy way, there are very gentle wafts of clove that don’t encroach on the soft rose centre. ‘Sa Majeste la Rose’ is extremely pretty, beautifully made and in many respects is a perfect rose fragrance. Alas I find it a little too airy and a little on the sweet side for my ridiculously critical tastes.

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I think I want a rose with a dark heart. A rose that exposes her delicate skin in leather fetish wear. But I don’t want a cheapened rose, one who will give up all her secrets willingly. If I could find something that balances the purity and freshness of perfectly furled petals with a deeper, more lush undertone of decadence and debauchery then I would be overjoyed. A rose perfume that isn’t too sweet, isn’t too dry, isn’t too powdery yet isn’t too light. A rose that carries all the power of the ancient gods. A perfume with petals as a costume but perhaps a harder, darker secret hidden within. That’s not asking for too much is it?

There are rumours that Vero Kern’s next perfume is focused around roses. If she can’t make rose into something beautifully twisted then I don’t know who can. While we all wait with baited breath for that launch, any suggestions for rose perfumes that you think I might like would be greatly appreciated…. I’ll try not to be too hard to please…..

Lost Senses- some writing about why I’m not writing.

no sense of smell

My most sincere apologies for the lack of content on the blog of late. I feel I should explain why I’m not writing as much as I should at the moment.

Of course it has been Christmas, which is always distracting, especially because we have a little one to make it extra special for. We had such a wonderful time, dampened only slightly by the presence  of a particularly nasty cold. My daughter had it just before Christmas, mine started on Boxing Day.

I have to say that it’s knocked me for six. I’ve developed sinusitis which is both painful and exhausting. Worst of all, I have totally lost my sense of smell. I hadn’t realised how much I had come to rely on my nose- for all sorts of things. Of course I miss sampling perfume, I have a stack of fragrance that I’m desperate to sniff but at the moment there is simply no point putting it on. It’s strange but I’ve found the more mundane aromas of life the most sorely missed. I can’t smell the food I cook, nor really taste it. I can’t smell my shower gel or my lipstick, clean clothes smell exactly the same as dirty ones. I can’t even tell when my daughter’s nappy needs changing, which some might say is a blessing!

I know that this is not a permanent affliction. It will hopefully come right after a visit to the doctors but it’s left me feeling oddly paralysed and very afraid of what life would be like if I couldn’t smell anymore. When my sense of smell comes back, I shall be even more grateful for it and I promise you lots of lovely reviews.

Happy New Year,

Susie x

‘The Scent of Winter’ A guest essay for Scentury

Back in the summer I discovered Scentury, a beautiful website dedicated to capturing our emotional and instinctual reactions to perfume. Founded by designer Helder Suffenplan, the site features fascinating interviews with up and coming designers, artists and musicians. The aim is for them to discuss fragrance like a story, a memory,  doing away with all the jargon that, if you don’t understand it, can make talking about perfume very difficult.

It is a brilliant concept. Fresh, exciting and just what the perfume world needs. The website is beautifully designed, the photography excellent. I have read every interview with great interest so you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to contribute the first essay for the new ‘We Say’ section. It is a few musings on the scent of winter.

Im chuffed to bits to be a part of this. Click on the link above the picture and come and have a browse!

To read my essay for scentury.com click here!

scentury

Scent is my Story Book

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I don’t believe there to be anything more subjective than scent. In whatever form, be it the rising vapours from the kitchen, a whisper on the breeze or held within the faceted confines of a glass bottle, an olfactory experience reaches deeper into the soul than any other. What it discovers there is entirely personal, completely unique and utterly fascinating.

One could argue that writing about scent is a self indulgent pastime. The only story I am telling is my own and a ‘review’ of a perfume doesn’t really inform the reader of anything except the emotional reaction of one person. Even the most factual reviews can seem utterly at odds with the perfume that you smell on your own skin, a breakdown of notes, composition and development make for interesting reading but were you to write it yourself, the analysis might be quite different. The beauty of writing about my experiences with scent and reading other people’s is that it opens a little window into the soul, and the story is unique to that soul. It is coloured by memories, twisted by personal interpretation. I believe that asking someone to tell you what a smell makes them think about is more revealing than asking them to draw a self portrait.

I began writing about perfume because it moves me emotionally and creatively.  I also like to examine the inner workings of my own mind. The experiences I have with scent present me with memories, pictures and emotions that are sometimes very personal, sometimes unnervingly alien. A stirring happens somewhere deep in my subconscious and struggles to break through the fog of other stuff that swirls around in there. It can be like having a thought that doesn’t belong to me. I am  continually intrigued by these reactions. There are stories to be told about these perfumes. The scent fuels my imagination and helps me to create characters that couldn’t exist without it.

As a writer, I fear a blank page above all else. It exudes malice and demands to be written upon. The biggest challenge is finding words to fill the vast expanse. Even with a hundred ideas chattering in my mind, typing a coherent sentence has sometimes been beyond me. The moment I decided to try writing about a perfume was the moment my fear evaporated. Perfume gives me instant inspiration, it takes me on a journey into a scented story book where all the characters and landscapes are there waiting to be rendered descriptively upon the page.

Often I draw from my own experience and memory. There have been times in my life that I hadn’t realised were connected with a scent until I came across it again. Even a single note in a perfume can be enough to transport me back through time. Lemongrass reminds me of a summer overshadowed by thunderstorms but glowing with love beneath the heavy skies. Powdery rose is an instant vision of my grandmother’s bedroom at the house in Stansted Road where she lived for many years. I am a little girl again, sitting at the dressing table, surrounded by vintage perfume bottles and searching through her costume jewellery as if it were treasure.

We all have scent associations. The comforting vanilla of sweet pastries, berry picking in summer, incense wafting through lofty churches. Green grass, orange citrus, coal fires and rainy streets. A mother’s embrace, the scent of a father’s briefcase, the crush of too many people on the tube. All that imagery is to be found in perfume. Even unfamiliar scents can conjure a vivid portrait. For example, I have never seen or smelt frangipani blossoming in the wild, but the scent of it in perfume is a pollen filled, fleshy wallop of tropical humidity that is expressive enough to paint a picture of paradise.

Scent has colour too. If you close your eyes and try to see what you are smelling, even if you have no idea of the components, the perfume will develop shape, shade and tone. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes a complete surprise. Not all woody notes have autumnal hues. Sweet doesn’t always have to be pink. Often there is texture to accompany the colour. Cashmere, water, silk, fur. Fuzzy fluff, spikes and grit and sandpaper. Flushed skin, oiled skin, waxy petals and freshly unfurled leaves. Ash and fire, dry baked earth, talcum and lipstick. Frozen stone, wet pavements, mulch and murky ponds.

It can be difficult to use your imagination when a scent is thrust out into the world, branded to the hilt. It struts down the red carpet in glamorous designer wrappings, with a superstar on its arm. Such dazzle is hard to ignore. I do so wish that perfume was not marketed in this way because I prefer to make up my own characters. I believe that fragrance can look just as attractive in abstract clothing. But scent is big business. Everyone likes to smell good and with directional branding it is simple to find your perfume and believe you smell great in it. For many, fashionable and popular fragrance is the only fragrance. There are so many of these to choose from, with new releases coming thick and fast. It is affordable, accessible, but most importantly, it conforms to the ideal.

For those looking for something ‘other’, there are also hundreds of niche houses to explore. Here the perfumers are usually more dedicated to the quality and individuality of their creations and it is within this realm of scent making that I have found the most challenging and genuinely moving perfumes. There is a lot more room for interpretation and personal experiences here. The branding does not seek to guide the consumer in the same way as mass market perfume does. Of course it is still designed to intrigue and bewitch, but in using more subtle visual communication we are made to feel that the discovery of a perfume has been truly our own. I cannot deny that I am a sucker for beautiful packaging. The fragrance I first chose for myself when I was twelve, I chose because I loved the illustrated label. I don’t think I am alone in this, a lot of people’s first infatuation with scent starts with a covetable bottle. I wonder, if we were to smell those long lost scents again, whether a whole different set of memories would dredge themselves up. Memories we had forgotten about. Such is the wonder of our own minds.

Perfume is also a way of communicating something about myself, similar to my choice in clothing, music, lifestyle. My scent represents me. In many ways it is easier to express myself in this way. It may be invisible but fragrance can leave a lasting impression on the people around me. I can speak without words, impress my image into another’s mind with a simple spritz onto warm skin. I can disguise myself or bare my soul, depending on which perfume I choose. Personal chemistry plays a huge part in this communication. The sound of a scent sings a different melody for me than it may do for you and that is what makes it so beautiful. When a perfume touches skin it becomes a deeply unique expression of self.

Scent is the most intimate kind of art. I think about the motivations of the perfumer as a fragrance takes shape in their mind. I seems to me that they create a beautifully bound book, the delicate pages impregnated with essences and oils, the outlines of a story sketched in brilliant ink. It is up to me to fill in the details. Only my skin can bring the painterly brush strokes to life and summon the characters from the page to tell their scented tale. Every person will tell the story differently. To make something that is so open to interpretation must take courage. In comparison writing about it is easy.

Of all the knowledge that there is to garner out there in the world of perfume, the most fundamental lesson to be learned is that of enjoyment. Too much deconstruction of a scent renders it lifeless for me. To truly enjoy perfume my advice would be this: find something that appeals to you aesthetically and intellectually. Spray it onto your skin. Forget everything you’ve read about it, close your eyes and just let it take you on a journey.

Remember, reflect, imagine. Be emotional, be truthful, wear it however you want, as long as you make it your own.

Juliet’s Party

This is not a perfume review as such. It is story inspired by Andy Tauer’s ‘Une Rose Vermeille’. Sometimes only scent can inspire words to form on my blank page. For this tale perfume has been my muse.

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August is reaching it’s peak and summer sits heavily this year, how troublesome a shining sun can be when the mind is weary. The insistent, optimistic beam of golden light seeks only to cast the shadow of her ragged edges into sharper contrast. It is not usually like her to be so downcast when the trees are in full leaf. She is worried for herself. Somewhere in the cloudless blue above there is a higher part of her that shouts down in vain to the body, watching as it drags itself though yet another sun drenched day without so much as a glance at the copper beech, turning from deepest purple to green.

Today is Saturday and she must board a train. It is a country line and as the vehicle pulls into the station she thinks that it more closely resembles a school bus, with long benches and metal hand rails. She boards with her companions and they all sit in a row, watching through the windows as the countryside begins to surround them on all sides.

None of them really want to be here today. Their task (and it will most certainly be strenuous) is one they have been collectively putting off for weeks, polite excuses and prior engagements have become a little overused and the time has come to grit their teeth and get it over with. It is sad that although in this they are united, in every other way they are falling apart. At times during the journey the conversation becomes strained between two of them, the third looking on, both awkward and a little excited at the fractures forming, slowly creeping into the heart of things and allowing rot to take hold.

As the train chugs happily through the green and pleasant land she tries to get a hold on herself. She has noticed the watchfulness of her friend, the slight glint in her eyes when her stress bubbles too close to the surface. Always so supportive, always full of enthusiasm, holding herself back from the veiled resentment hissing between the other two. There is a danger that if she cannot keep it together today, she may lose her place within the group, that she will be pushed still further onto the sidelines. In her heart she knows that continuing in such dysfunction will eventually destroy her. She knows she should get out before she breaks but the path ahead is so misted with uncertainty that she is afraid to venture into it. Mustering enthusiasm for anything is so hard while the sun beats down relentlessly. She wants to crawl into a dark space between tree roots and hide.

As the train nears their stop they stuff the tension hurriedly into their handbags and instead share some fortifying words, for whatever may be rupturing between them it absolutely cannot show for the rest of the day. As she steps onto the platform she repeats it to herself like a mantra. ‘Do not lose your temper, do not lose your temper….’

Juliet is waiting on the bridge above the tracks. They can see her waving between the high grasses, beckoning for them to head through the gate. Her voice travels through the warm air like a bullet. They pile into the back of her car and hurtle down the country lanes at a ridiculous speed, Juliet chattering all the while about their journey, the landmarks they pass, the tenuous things they have in common. As is always the case she is unprepared for the physical jolt of energy that scatters her thoughts whenever Juliet is on top form. Perhaps she has become sensitive to it after a few weeks without daily exposure. She is barely holding her thoughts in place as it is. Glancing at her companions she notices that their jaws are set and their eyes falsely wide with interest. She forces her face into the same expression. God this is hard work already.

The car pulls up outside a lovely house with gardens spreading out around it on three sides. Juliet is puffed up with pride as they all gawp with genuine admiration. It is an idyl nestled in between rolling green hills. A tour promptly follows, where every treasured ornament and framed photograph is lingered over, Juliet’s whip crack of a laugh exploding far too frequently for them to relax. The three of them know only too well how finely tuned an instrument they are dealing with here. If one of them plucks the wrong string all will descend into a cacophonous riot.

The kitchen table is groaning under the weight of the feast set upon it. The platters of food look delightful and Juliet requires only a little help to finish it off. Whilst the others carry tables and cloths into the garden, Juliet instructs her how to dress the summer fruit salad. Juliet has a tone to rival any Victorian school mistress and the well intentioned guidance is like a physical assault. To see Juliet here, in her home environment, she had hoped to understand the woman better. There has always been such a contradiction at play, she is never sure how to handle it. Juliet is at once free spirited and stuck in her ways, open minded but also terribly prejudiced, young at heart with a lifetime’s experience, fierce yet fragile, manipulative but naive. She had been hoping that in her own home Juliet would become less frustrating. It seems though, that the whole house pulsates with the strength of Juliet’s contradictions, the pitch of her personality resonating at a purely vibrational level. It makes her head spin. She knows this woman loathes her, loathes all of them in one way or another. The invitation to be here today is an act of defiance, disguised clumsily as a gesture of solidarity. She can’t help but feel paranoid that Juliet has noticed the spots of disease forming within the group, even though they have been so careful to keep it from her. Bad feeling is like fuel to Juliet, it makes her burn all the brighter.

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Juliet leaves her instructions hanging in the air like a velvet wrapped threat and departs to ensure the garden tables are being arranged as she intended. Waiting until Juliet has gone, she lifts the lid covering the green dish and breathes in the scent of summer berries. Plump raspberries, blushing strawberries, the softly bloomed skin of dark blueberries. She sprinkles sugar crystals all over, slices a lemon in half and squeezes the tart juice sparingly. Next to the sugar pot stands a dark brown bottle of highest quality rose water. She opens the lid and inhales the wonderful bouquet that blossoms forth, wondering as she does every time at the decadence of such a thing. Luxury is Juliet’s biggest weakness, so she is never one to scrimp on things she considers essential. This rose water is simply beautiful, as you would expect. Placing her thumb over the top, she tips the bottle and pours a little into the fruit, then stirs it all together with a silver serving spoon. The scent is exquisite. Sweet, tart fruit combining with rose into a frothy pink celebration, the lemon just sparkling away at the top to keep it from becoming too sugary. It strikes her as very poignant that such a joyful combination could exist in the tension fueled buzz of this afternoon. Inhaling one more time, she places the cover back over the fruit and steps out into the garden to join the others.

Time passes slowly, compliments are lavished upon the food and the beautiful surroundings, polite conversation is painstakingly crafted through sheer force of will. Juliet seems unaware that the situation is awkward. Another of her strange contradictions is that although she is always the one to cause trouble, Juliet feels adamantly that it is not her but them who are to blame. For once she is running the show and it is a role in which she thrives. To Juliet’s mind this is the way it should always be between the four of them. It is a never ending challenge to keep her in her place, a delicate balancing act performed with a tact and subtlety that once she found admirable. Now she finds it terrifying. She is no longer safe from the master tactician with whom she travelled here today. Sooner or later the true intention of this pleasant get-together will have to be discussed. Ironically, Juliet is in the safest position, even though she makes the biggest waves. Juliet remains the only permanent fixture, like a towering cliff on the shore of a turbulent sea. No amount of crashing and splashing will budge her.

Notebooks emerge from bags and the conversation turns finally to business. It all feels very formal somehow, even though the situation has been engineered to be as relaxed as possible. As she gropes around for her pen she is painfully aware how little she has prepared for this. Her mind, so fuddled and foggy with unhappiness, has been solely focused on getting through each day. Until now she has chosen to cope in this way, but as all eyes turn to her, expectant to hear her solutions and ideas, she realises with sinking certainty that she has not done enough. However constructively her lack of input is dealt with, she can tell from a look that she has greatly disappointed the person she is expected to support the most. That look is one she has encountered with more regularity in recent weeks than anyone in her position should. Her friend happily fills in the blanks she has left, seemingly prepared to do both their share willingly. Shame rolls over her like hot thunder. She has made herself redundant in this quartet, she sees it as plain as this summers day, yet she feels totally unable to change it.

Juliet, however much she feels superior, is managed with breathtaking precision. Her misguided and narrow minded input is made, to her, to seem both valid and useful, whilst actually being of no help whatsoever. This is how the four of them have rubbed along together these past years. They know that Juliet cannot be budged, so they tread carefully and take advantage of her short sightedness. This has become entirely too exhausting to keep up for the one who is unhappy, anger flares inside her with the white intensity of a lightening bolt. ‘Do not lose your temper, do not lose your temper…..’

Juliet, smug with achievement, skips off to fetch the dessert. The other two fall into further conversation, hatching plans whilst on the sidelines, the miserable one battles the storm intensifying within her. She sits mute, with eyes downcast, shame and anger and humiliation smashing at her battered will. She is disgusted with herself for not trying harder, furious that such little effort is praised in someone else. Her fragile ego twists in pain as she listens to her friend proving how much more she deserves to be here, while a little voice in the back of her head is questioning why she cares. It is too much. She is fully aware that while all this emotion is rocking her little boat, outwardly she appears to be in a deep sulk. A child sitting morose until the adults forgive her. She simply cannot find the strength to pull herself out of it. There is that look again, except this time the eyes flicker to the kitchen and back with a raised eyebrow. Juliet must not witness her meltdown or the hierarchy will crumble like a sandcastle, leaving her at the bottom of the heap.

Dessert is served in delicate china bowls. There is vanilla cheesecake too, deep, silky creaminess speckled with black seeds. The combination of smooth vanilla, sweet fruit and fragrant rose is so stunning that in the midst of her turmoil, eating it seems like a cruel joke. A tear escapes and drips into her bowl. She prays for the clouds to roll over the sun and shut out the infernal brightness. For all the lazy bees to take cover under the leaves and cease their happy droning. Glancing at her watch she counts another hour until it is time to catch the return train. She picks up her wine glass, drinks the previously untouched pink liquid in one and reaches for the bottle.

Halfway down the second glass she risks a prolonged glance at Juliet. She still seems totally unaware that she could cut the atmosphere with a knife, working her way steadily through her own bottle of wine. The conversation has moved away from business, notebooks stowed back into bags and laughter coming more easily. Maybe it it just she who is still submerged in this murk, it appears that the others have released some of their pent up tension and the mood at the other end of the table is significantly lighter. With an odd mixture of shame and relief she allows herself to relax slightly, although she knows that in the past hour something has broken. Tiredness rushes over her, encouraged by the wine slipping too easily down her throat. In her befuddled state she watches Juliet and the others chatting away, feels so separate from them that it is almost an out of body experience. A bizarre burst of sympathy for Juliet takes her by surprise, dining blithely with the wolves who manipulate her so cunningly, though she is a dangerous creature herself. It does not last, this fleeting kindness, but is does cast Juliet momentarily in a different light.

wilting rose

The last minutes of the party play out in a half drunken fugue of hot sun and pollen filled air. She is unsure whether she rejoins the conversation fully, she still feels removed from herself. The car ride through the lanes is a green blur, Juliet’s goodbyes are hurried as the train is already waiting. She falls asleep on the journey home. At the station they exchange hugs, bid farewell to their friend, then she and the other agree that they need to ‘have another chat’. The concern is genuine but she knows this tough woman too well to feel comforted by it. As she trudges home, slightly nauseous in the balmy evening, she tries to reflect on what exactly has happened. It feels like a dream now. The reality of her situation and the ultimate change in her mindset will not dawn on her fully until the next morning.

Arriving home she lowers herself wearily onto a chair in the kitchen and opens her bag. Tucked inside is a small tupperware pot with a folded note secured by an elastic band. The pot contains the last of the summer fruits, still sublimely fragrant but slightly bruised from being jostled around on the journey. Strange, she didn’t remember asking for it. She opens the note and reads it once, then again and again. Finally she drops it onto the table next to the little pot of jewel bright berries, pushes herself away from the table and slowly climbs the stairs. In her bedroom she draws the curtain to finally shut out the sun, climbs fully clothed into bed and pulls the cover over her head. She is asleep in seconds.

The note remains on the table until she emerges the next morning to read it again……

 “For you, because I noticed how much you enjoyed it.

 Much love,

 Juliet”

She folds the note into a tiny square and throws it in the bin.

Fragrant Motivations

I have a habit of accosting strangers in the street and asking them what perfume they are wearing. I also do it with customers in the shop where I work. No one seems to mind my incredible nosiness because I am always careful to make it a complement. It is one thing to be asked where you got your lovely boots, but I find that people are even more deeply flattered when they are asked about their perfume.

My second question, if it seems appropriate, is why they chose that particular perfume. The reactions I get are fascinating. Some people know exactly why they are wearing their chosen scent, whilst others look suddenly panic stricken at the blank that this question draws in their mind. Some look at me like I’ve gone mad and say “well, because I like the way it smells of course!” I find the second question far more revealing than the first. The motivation behind choosing a scent comes before the selection of the scent itself. Few people would walk up to a perfume counter and start sniffing bottles at random, settle on the one that smells nicest to them and buy it without any further thought. There is always a more complex reason behind your choice, and that is what I’d like to take a look at further.

It is a nuanced and immensely personal question to ask, but I believe that a person’s choice of perfume stems from one of the following motivations: scent by star association, scent as accessory, scent as memory, scent as armour and finally, the serious perfume enthusiast.

Scent by star association.

coco chanel

Let’s start with scent by star association. The majority of customers who buy celebrity fragrance are buying an association with that person. Admiration of the aforementioned celebrity’s fashion choices, musical talent, glowing personality etc is enhanced by having the opportunity to smell like them too. For the most part it is as simple as that. A person likes a singer, the singer launches a perfume, the person likes the perfume and buys it. Celebrity fragrance is almost always fairly generic, because it has to guarantee huge sales. Bubblegum and candy or sheer florals are usually the theme. For the person buying the fragrance, it is the close association with the star, the novelty of the bottle on their dresser and the idea that wearing the scent gives them the same confidence and allure of the person they idolise is the motivation. It is less about whether the perfume itself smells exactly as they would want, the association is what sells it.

Brands can also use famous actors in advertising campaigns to great effect. Although the scent itself is not linked with the star, the advertising is so effective that the perfume and the star are forever after combined. I cannot smell ‘Coco Chanel’ without imagining Keira’s pouty face, it’s the same with Gwyneth and ‘White Linen’. Uber successful actresses selling big brand designer fragrance is a winning combination if you want to make money.

There will always be someone who throws you a curved ball though. Proof of this is in my dear friend Grace, who showed up at my house smelling of sparkles and hairspray and lollipops. When asked the obligatory question she replied “Britney Spears.” When pressed further on why she was wearing the perfume of a star who’s music she didn’t even like, she replied “it’s not about that. We’re going out tonight and I wanted to smell skanky.” Proof that even negative association with a star will still create sales.

There is also association with a non famous person that will lead people to choose a particular scent. I do not mean a memory, that is something different. I mean a choice that you make because you admire that person’s style or personality. This used to happen all the time at school. The popular girls would bring their bottles of perfume to gym class and within a few weeks every girl in the year would smell the same. I can remember a particularly frustrating period of time when every single female member of my class was wearing ‘Tommy Girl’, including me. I remember thinking at the time that it would probably be so much more interesting to buck the trend and go for something totally different, but I’d asked for a full bottle for my birthday. Again, it wasn’t so much about the smell of the perfume itself, it was the association with being eccepted and ‘cool’.

Scent as accessory.

bottles on the dresser

The second motivation, scent as accessory, links in fairly closely with the first. This is buying a perfume by a particular brand or perfume house because you admire what they represent, but also because you love the aesthetic and the kudos of owning something with a label.

For example, when I was about twenty I bought myself a bottle of ‘Diorissimo’. This was before I became very interested in understanding perfume and my choice was based purely on the excellent sales tactics of the counter assistant. I was wandering the perfume aisles, trying to decide whether to go for another bottle of ‘Issey Miyake’ (bought for me by an ex-boyfriend) or try something else. I had been avoiding the Dior counter because I hadn’t associated myself with the brand at all. It was too polished and classic for my scruffy student tastes. But the sales assistant did a stirling job of convincing me that this could be my ‘going out’ fragrance, one I would wear when I put on my high heels and nice jewellery. Her words were so persuasive that I bought it and actually found myself dressing up for my perfume, taking extra care over my makeup and choosing my nicest outfits to wear out! To this day I would only wear ‘Diorissimo’ if I was going out somewhere very nice (although I don’t wear it at all anymore because something has changed in the formulation and it gives me an almighty headache.)

To buy a perfume because of it’s label is the same sort of thing as buying a designer handbag. The bottle looks great on your dresser, the fragrance has been featured in all the latest fashion magazines and if asked about what you are wearing you can name drop with the best of them. On the other end of the scale, people may choose fragrance from a brand with which they share an ethos. For example, most of the people that choose fragrance from Lush do so because they share the company’s attitude towards environmental, animal and human rights issues. They feel that perfume created by a company they admire better represents them as individuals. Like wearing a slogan t-shirt instead of a designer label.

A similar attitude could be applied to those who search for niche/art perfumes combining extreme combinations of notes and edgy, dynamic branding, with a price tag to match. These people want a perfume that sets them apart, marks them as unique and unwilling to swim with the masses.  Like a bright feathered headdress worn to the supermarket, these perfumes shout “I smell weird and I love it!”

Scent as memory.

memory scents

This is a far more nostaligic attitude towards choosing perfume and one that is usually free of any brand association or following of trends. These people wear a perfume to remember a time in their lives or a particular person that is very important to them. If you are a person that wears lots of different scents, as time passes each of these smells will impregnate themselves into your mind in the form of olfactory memory. You might enjoy going back to them from time to time to remember that particular phase of your life. You might seek out a perfume that reminds you of a loved one who is no longer with you, or a bygone era that holds a special interest. For those with a historical fascination with perfume, finding and wearing the vintage classics, like ‘Mitsouko’ and ‘Jicky’, ‘Shalimar’ and ‘Chanel No.5’, will be a lesson in great perfume making and a vivid flash back to a time when you were not yet born.

This attitude of nostalgia is not always an easy one, it can also completely spoil an otherwise beautiful fragrance for you if the memory it provokes is negative or very emotional. It can also make a particular note difficult to wear. The best example of this that springs to mind is perfume blogger Kafka and her aversion to lavender. She says that it has such strong associations with her childhood in France, where dried lavender sachets seemed to fill every drawer and the air was thick with swathes of blue scent in summer. It makes even really stunning, complex lavenders like Vero Profumo ‘Kiki‘ impossible for her to enjoy. I have a similar problem with very powdery rose scents like Frederic Malle ‘Lipstick Rose’. It is so evocative of my grandmother’s dressing table, her powder compacts and wardrobes filled with dresses. It’s not an unhappy memory, just one that belongs back in that room and not on my skin.

Olfactory memories are potently strong and I have found myself physically swayed by scent. I think people that seek out perfume to induce nostalgia do it for the emotional thrill it gives them. They want way more from their scent than to simply smell nice. They want a relationship with it, to forge an ever lasting connection, to make the perfume an indelible stain upon their memories.

Perfume as armour.

armour

Wearing fragrance like a costume is a habit for the more seasoned perfume lover, and those of us who have the opportunity to wear and experience many different scents. I think we can all name at least one perfume that makes us feel really confident and another that makes us feel sexy and so on. Some people, however, can take this to a whole new level. Perfume is seen as the final layer of intricate armour that they don every day, choosing different scents dependant on how they are feeling. When they shop for perfume they have a clear idea of what they are looking for and on which occasions they intend to wear it.

Perfume for work, perfume for quiet nights in, perfume for dinner parties, perfume for clubbing. Perfume for every occasion and situation. Perfume to cheer yourself up, perfume to exude sex appeal, perfume to comfort and perfume to sleep in. Scent becomes such an integral part of life that it is as important as putting on underwear. It must take years to build up and refine such a varied collection of fragrance. Whereas some rely on a slick of red lipstick or an expensive watch to make them feel complete, others feel naked without a spritz or a dab of exactly the right perfume. Make the wrong choice and it might just spoil the entire day.

I grew up with the notion that perfume was a luxury item, you had one bottle at a time and you didn’t buy another until the existing one was empty. I also have an irritating tendency to feel overly loyal towards things, meaning that if I have more than one bottle of perfume I feel somehow like I’m cheating on the one that came first. I know that this is ridiculous, I’m overcoming it slowly. Imagine what I was like before I realised I could order samples! I love the idea of owning a beautiful wooden cabinet and filling it with only the most exquisite scents, each for different occasions. The reality though is that I have neither the cash or the personality to manage it just yet.

The perfume enthusiast/perfumista.

perfumista

Wow. These are a group of people whom I have only recently become acquainted with and my god their perfume stashes are vast and their knowledge encyclopaedic. Scent is their passion and their hobby and it is how they choose to spend their money.

There is serious dedication involved in building up a collection of scents. Trawling flea markets and antiques stalls for pristine, unopened bottles of vintage perfume. Owning all the classics in every formulation. Staying up to date with new launches from designer, mainstream and niche houses, ordering great packages full of samples and understanding the different notes and compositions. Being able to pull from memory all the best perfumes containing mimosa or the benchmark sandalwood fragrances which all others should then live up to. It is a serious business and one that takes years of learning and copious amounts of cash. Online forums such as Facebook Fragrance Friends and Basenotes are excellent places to chat to fellow fume heads and broaden your knowledge.

In a questionnaire, these people will write ‘perfume’ in the space where you state your interests and hobbies. It is a life choice. Having a full bottle of your favourite ‘Tom Ford’ is as, if not more, important than doing the food shopping. However fanatical about fragrance they may be, I have also found them to be extremely accommodating and friendly, more than willing to answer my naive questions on forums and happy to share their experiences of different perfumes. I would advise anyone who wants to learn more about perfume to join a fragrance forum, just as one helpful blogger once advised me.

Serious perfume enthusiasts are motivated to buy fragrance for all the above reasons with the added passion of collecting rare and vintage items, beautiful bottles and obscure perfumes. If it’s out there, they have sniffed it, or they are hunting it down with the focus of a predator. They are not afraid to tell you their opinions but the wonderful thing is that everyone tends to be fairly open minded. Scent is so personal that there is no correct interpretation and people are generally accepting of that. It’s a little like falling down the rabbit hole for these people, once you’ve taken a peek there is no going back.

I’d say that I started out as a person who bought perfume as an accessory. As I learn more about the fragrance world and continue to write I find myself hunting down scents to provoke memory, scent to create new memories and also to armour up a little bit. I am very far from being a perfumista but I think I may end up there one day. So what is your motivation for buying perfume? Do you find yourself falling into one or more of the above categories? Or do you have a different motivation entirely? I’d love to hear your thoughts…….