I’ve never had a confident understanding of the currents and obsessions in the fragrance business. In fact, my knowledge verges on the comic. I spent a couple of years as a teenager imbued with the misguided idea that perfumes had to be strong to be good and proceeded to buy with an irresistible enthusiasm anything which featured in fashion magazines at the time: Anaïs Anaïs, Loulou, Poison, Opium (this is the moment when my quest for olfactory satisfaction should have gone back to basics) and a personal favourite even today the 1981 creation Giorgio Beverly Hills. At the age of 15, after having amassed a small collection of grossly expensive bottles, I suddenly came across an exotic new concept while talking to a “cool” older friend: these powerful eighties scents would not transform me into a supermodel or Vic in La Boum, it would not bring wild teenage love. Finding my way uncertainly through a world of heady and provocative smells was brought to an abrupt end. I decided to not let my young mind be corrupted by clever marketing ploys any longer and went back to basics. The smell of soap and a clean teeshirt.
The fragrance clichés of the eighties put me off building an intimate relationship with a scent for a long time. I have nothing against stereotypes but the formula used in those days was almost too predictable and theatrical. And School is now a memorable landscape of l’Eau d’Issey. Did anyone not wear it?
My renewed love for perfumes has been very gradual. Funnily enough, Giorgio Beverly Hills has been the only constant remaining from the learning years. Despite being very heavy, used in extremely small quantities it is delicious. All you need is a vague soupçon of the stuff. About 12 years ago I discovered l’Eau d’Hadrien by Annick Goutal and Route du Thé by Barneys New York. Two extraordinarily beautiful smells which I have not ceased to wear. Fierce opposites to those intoxicatingly bad 80’s references listed above. Four years ago, I also fell in love with Annick Goutal’s Noël. It’s only available as a room spray but that has not stopped me from wearing it as a perfume (I don’t apply it directly to the skin but on clothes).
The perfume business, like anything driven by fashion, is cyclical and it seems to be the turn of more niche names to be successful. I don’t quite comprehend the fragrance industry and I’m fiercely loyal to the few smells I’ve now been wearing for years but I recently discovered Le Labo and everything in my olfactory life has been changing again. The simple unadorned displays and subtle bottles immediately seduced me. The sense of authenticity created by the brand’s environment surprised me and made an impact. Convinced that I would remain indifferent to the fragrances (now that I have my own distinctive smell since the disastrous eighties) I proceeded to open bottles. The third I tested was called Bergamote 22. Well, guess what happened… I had overlooked the potency of a smell. It was an emotional and enthralling feeling. I don’t know how to describe it. It was like the smoky-voiced seduction of a jazz singer. It was love. I bought my first bottle from Liberty and it’s been my latest greatest hit for more than a year.
I recently attended a Le Labo workshop held by the wonderfully charismatic Edouard Roschi, one of the founders, who accurately captured and described the extraordinarily difficult world of fragrances. Despite the lucidity of his words and scientific explanations I realised that a deep understanding is not what I was looking for. I don’t want to philosophise about smells. I like the mystery and irrational unconscious reactions to perfumes. I think I’m genuinely happy in my ignorance and inability to recognise certain notes. I like a purely instinctive response!
A huge thank you to Gaëlle, Edouard Roschi and Mélanie
Picture taken by me