Thursday, 15 December 2011

My year in perfume

I spent the weekend in a nostalgic haze of the Body Shop's 'White Musk'. I'd sniffed it on someone this week, and got one of those immediate scent memories that dragged me all the way back to 6th form English, where every second girl in the class (including me) was drenched in the stuff.

Today, it smells strangely old-lady for such a classic starter perfume (there were, of course, no 'by Taylor Swifts' or 'by Beyonces' or 'by Britney Spears' back in my day). It's got a big white flower, and then a big musk (the clean laundry variety, not the dirty sheets) and underneath it all a powdery sweet cosmeticy note. It's as sweet as all get out, and kind of soothing.

Wondering around snuffing at my wrists (I spend rather a lot of time doing this) I got to thinking about my year in perfume. It's a vain pleasure, sure, but one that pleases me deeply.

Summer was spent drenched in Guerlain's Vetiver - sharply, freshly green, a cold spice smell (if you can imagine that: not cardamom or star anise - green, yet with that same intensity), that makes me think of the very innermost leaves of a blade of plucked grass, cast in crystal.

When I felt like a change I'd swop to Guerlain's Mitsouko, which I find pleasingly sharp, almost aggressive - the angular cousin of Jicky (see the next paragraph), beautiful in its own way but far less eager to please.

Winter was spent alternating between Guerlain's men's cologne Habit Rouge (I can't top Luca Turin's description of it smelling like 'sweet dust') and their classic women's fragrance Jicky - apparently the oldest perfume in continuous production.

I love the progression of Jicky - a big hit of lavender, then a very weird moment where it smells like curdled milk, then a deep purple oily cloud where the lavender is balanced with vanilla, with an underpinning of dried herbs - a salty lick under all the sweetness.

On a visit to Melbourne (and more specifically, the magical Klein's Perfumery) I added to my collection with Frapin's Terre de Sarment - a rich blend of woodsmoke and vanilla freshened by dollops of citrus, with an underlying note of booziness, more whiskey or bourbon than berried wine. It smells like the night after the pub, in the best possible way.

I also gave in to L'Artisan Parfumeur's 'Dzing', which smells like vanilla-drenched manila folders with a strange musk underpinning. It's a very odd smell, curiously flat (not lacking fizz, but flat like a huge roll of butcher's paper - a single, uninflected surface) but I find it compelling.

During the year, I also experimented with a bunch of samples of leather perfumes, drawn from Turin's top 10 list: Estee Lauder's 'Azuree' (work glove and citrus), Chanel's Cuir de Russie (amazing, impossible to find here) and S Perfumes S-eX (does what it says on the bottle). I couldn't find one that I could wear (as opposed to it wearing me) so I'm saving that up for when I'm an irascible old lady with a lip full of snuff and no qualms about being thought odd.

But the perfume that blew me away, that lingers, that delights every day, is L'Artisan Parfumeur's Timbuktu. Turin describes it as woody smoky - I get less of either of these than an incredibly clear, bright shaft of pink peppercorns - but it's taught me what he means by 'radiance', a smell that sings out like a cleanly plucked note. I can't wear it myself (not yet, anyway) but luckily someone else in the house can.

What's next? There are some Chanels I'm still very keen to lay nose on: Bois de Iles, Sycomore. I've been ummming and aahing about a bottle of Eau Sauvage all year; that or maybe Guerlain's Eau de Cologne for an alternate summer scent (yes, Guerlain is a bit of a theme here, but in terms of readily accessible, high quality perfumes, they're our best option). I might put more effort into exploring Serge Lutens. Overall, I'll continue to feed my healthy little obsession.

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