Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Led by the Nose

Disney villains imagined as perfume bottles
I must firstly confess to a guilty secret, which probably ill behoves an old unreconstructed lefty such as me – I love perfume. And fashion. Yes, I know I look like I am dressed by Primark and George at Asda (because I am), but nonetheless I know my Stella from my Jean-Paul, my Manolo from my Christiane, in an academic sort of way. Perfume is part of the fashion industry, and subject to the same commercialism and plagiarism, but it is so much more, for scents of all kinds are hugely evocative. Tar, for instance, will always take me back to the long, hot summers of my childhood and is therefore redolent of carefree, endlessly idyllic days with no responsibilities.
I am always surprised that particular perfumes, once sought after, somehow go out of fashion. I suppose it’s a triumph of marketing something new over our olfactory sensibilities, for surely what was once a lovely smell still is? I am the grateful beneficiary of this folly, for the prices plummet when a scent is no longer fashionable and I can thus afford 5* perfumes of yore, such as Loulou and Tommy Girl.
To explain the * rating, I was given ‘Perfumes The Guide’ by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez as a present by a friend. It is a descriptive alphabetical guide to every perfume, intended for both women and men, you have ever heard of, complete with its history, composition and star rating by the authors. The writing is delightful and it is an extreme compulsion to while away a day looking up every perfume you have  known, to compare your own experience with that of the writers. And you can feel smug that your own impeccable taste is confirmed by the star rating ascribed! This is not invariably the case, as my love of Charlie in the 1970s is not shared by the writers, who obviously didn’t go to the Mecca in Blackpool at that time.  
If, however, you prefer your perfume grim, grotesque and gruesome may I recommend a novel ‘Perfume : The Story of a Murderer’ by Patrick SĪ‹skind. This is set in 18th century France and tells the story of a foundling, Grenouille, who has a compulsion to kill young women – lots of them – in order to distill their essence for perfume-making purposes. Graphic, vivid, repulsive and very compelling.
I will finish with a rather more gentle poem by Arthur Symons.

As a Perfume
 As a perfume doth remain
In the folds where it hath lain,
So the thought of you, remaining
Deeply folded in my brain,
Will not leave me: all things leave me:
    You remain.

Other thoughts may come and go,
Other moments I may know
That shall waft me, in their going,
As a breath blown to and fro,
Fragrant memories: fragrant memories
    Come and go.

Only thoughts of you remain
In my heart where they have lain,
Perfumed thoughts of you, remaining,
A hid sweetness, in my brain.
Others leave me: all things leave me:
    You remain.

Arthur Symons

Thank you for reading,



Christo said...

Perfume was just not affordable or expected on "ordinary folk" in my 1950s childhood. My mother had one tiny bottle of Evening in Paris which she permitted one drop behind each ear lobe if having a rare "evening out".
Men's fragrances I remember being promoted on TV and cinema ads via blokes' blokes such as Henry Cooper with THE GREAT SMELL OF BRUT (which I hated and would not waste what little money I had in buying), but took up Aramis as a girlfriend bought me some one Christmas.
It is said that our recollection of childhood scents are among the longest-lasting of our memories - carbolic soap in the school washrooms is one I shall never forget.