888,246 Poppies, Time to Remember The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

Ceramic poppies at the Tower of London

One hundred years ago today, The British Empire, as we were, took the fateful decision to enter the conflict then ensnaring Europe.

The war that would come to be known as The Great War.

More than four years later, at the point of armistice, 888,246 men of that Empire had been killed, just one part of a horrible total of ten million soldiers sent to their death by the combatant nations combined. As though this were not tragedy enough, up to a further seven million civilians had perished of causes from starvation to fever, Zeppelin attack to war atrocity.

An unsatisfactory and unstable peace brought officially into being in 1919 at the Palace of Versailles would see the world consigned to return to all encompassing destruction within a generation.

The Great War would become the The First World War as a second conflict of even greater size and scale eclipsed a disaster that had seemed impossible to outdo.

What has perfume to do with all of this?

After all it is a trivial, ephemeral, petty plaything for the empty-headed. A poor cousin of fashion, a distant relation of interior design.

Nothing more and probably much less than olfactory decoration.

Not at all.

If scent is art, as I believe it is, then it has the ability to reflect the sentiment, the sense of an age whether that is destructive awful, or insatiably consumerist or unstoppably hedonist or all three, each because of the others.

And so it is with perhaps the most inspiring perfume there ever was, and is.

So, today, 100 years after that most ominous of political announcements I’m reprinting my review of the fragrance that makes me think most often…

Mitsouko Parfum

Half her world, or so it seemed, came to give their lives at Verdun.

But what she got, was given or perhaps took was freedom.

So if she chooses now to smell of petroleum and peach schnapps and drive cars and boats too fast, surely we can all understand a little why.

She parties hard, lives each day, they say as though it were her last on account of lives that did not fly, men who died in trenches to move lines on maps and bleed angry armies white.

Yesterday, ambulant driver, she scuttled back and forth through filth ferrying human shrapnel to medical ward ammunition dumps.

Today, she presses her foot down hard on every kind of accelerator, sprays on every sort of new scent, tries on every type of new sex, but nothing brings erasure.

About her person she still smells iodine and the moss that grew everywhere no matter how cold or wet or hot and dry or lonely it became.

Others fancy that the War will pass from memory, its greatness given up to greater sadnesses yet to come.

Its sorrow so it follows will be surrendered to gentler Orientals, when in desperate-to-forget dancehalls grass makes way for hay, bitter oranges for sweet ones and lilacs for irises.

But for her, with her name that recalls the other side of the world and its war, that future happiness will never happen.

Tomorrow will be as today is and yesterday was: a machine age tragedy in three acts played out over petroleum gas and peach schnapps.

Mitsouko is peerless.

It was the perfume to end all perfume.

And though it could not hope to be that, it remains the greatest of them all.

Some sniff it smells of automobile gas, others pretend to perceive only peaches.

Truthfully both parties are in part true. There is an essence of petrol in the stronger concentrations, but this is a kerosene to carry away souls not some dirty old diesel.

And the peach is the antithesis of soft, sugared, supermarket-sparkling clean soft fruit: it is an ageing momento mori too fleshy, flabby and fast on its way to mould to be too long of this world.

Then there is the moss, which is at once warm woodland floor and dank winter tree bark, which pervades every part of the composition giving lie to the idea of a flat Earth in fragrance.

The grass here is not green but dry and yellowing, the spices subtle yet, in the cinnamon especially, sometimes deceivingly strong: seeming to come and go from the scene.

Flowers play a very second fiddle, only lilacs catching the melody upon occasion to give mournful orchestration too the whole piece.

And quite an astonishing piece Mitsouko is: perfume’s first unquestionable masterpiece.

Talking of male and female here seems silly and frankly insulting.

Does Guernica have a gender?

Guernica II

 

 

On a personal note, dear friends, work on The Great War and other matters have been keeping The Dandy very much otherwise engaged of late. This is likely to be the case for a little while yet, though I will be contact by means of briefer, summer-friendly, image-led epistles in the very near future. 

On which note, the first image above, I should say, is of The Tower of London, where 888, 246 ceramic red poppies now swell the moat to commemorate those who gave their lives the conflict now passing into more remote history. 

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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Our Agent Above… Tubereuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

It seems almost inconceivable, sitting here in this age of aluminium and steel that we could ever have dreamt of taking to the air in those paper thin things.

Of being held aloft by pairs of petal-like translucent wings, only part enclosed in their cloth bodies, slight and taught as skin pulled tight and glued across skeletons of softwood.

“Moths” we called them, and in truth they were as insubstantial and transient as the beasts from which they took their names.

But my how they soared, and turned, looped and dived, swerved and survived especially in his hands.

Except that one plane, a French “Goliath”.

She was built to hold a literal tonne of bombs, but came into being only as The Great War ended and the fashion for killing was coming to a finish. Luckily she could carry any cargo, incendiary or sentient. Short-fused twenties people with their insatiable, expensive appetites for adventure, risk and thrill would do as well as high-explosives.

And though “Goliath” was no aerial gymnast, she was made to fly, far.

Perhaps that was what gave him the idea, an idea that, years later sat in a Tangiers bar serving as his sitting room and travel bureau prompted with enough cheap spirit, he would propound to anyone.

“I wanted to take her down to Yucatan.”

He’d had enough of New Mexico, arid, dry and dust.

“There are no flowers outside of Albuquerque, and all my time was spent outside of Albuquerque.”

His job was to push the plane for as long as she would go, sailing the currents from dawn to dusk to morning and night again. Making the motors whir in ever increasing numbers of circles, forever going nowhere.

Counting minutes and miles and never moving from within sight of the hut where the men from the military kept their logs. Books and books of figures and sums, fuel coefficients and calculations on effectiveness.

“I longed to see the forests. I’d read there were jungles on the peninsular and that native peoples still held sway down there. I figured a free spirit might fit in.”

He chances a still winning smile, his face just hanging on to handsome despite sun damage, it is decayed but debonair, its beauty not yet quite destroyed by the wrecking ball of alcohol. The kind of look one could forgive someone who’d fought a war.

Every half hour he squeezes out a miniscule amount of ointment from an unmarked metallic tube and in tiny rotations rubs it into the sliver of a scar that runs from his wrist to his elbow along the soft inside of his left arm. The wound itself appears entirely healed, the procedure a small act of habit perhaps, or maybe the strange, dirtily medicated smell is a sign it is intended to hold infection at bay in this hot, contagious place.

So, he recalls with a start, one day with a compass, map and heap of hard-earned courage he swung out of the constrained concentric, took the plane up and on an arc south west, first across vast Texas, then the sea.

Their calls from the ground were gone in an instant, the space where the radio should have hissed was silent, for they’d taken it out: superfluous in a flying machine not meant to skip the aviary.

Above the Gulf the gauges gave way as he knew they would and all official idea of fuel remaining was gone. He had simply to judge what was left on “how weightless we felt, how unencumbered and released.” Oh, and, of course, on scent, how much kerosene there was in among the scarce clouds.

Some people are scared in the air above water, here he felt he cheated gravity most surely. Caught between the two amorphous elements. He was flesh inside an ephemeral exoskeleton: a floating human insect. A physical impossibility.

And all that blue below, oh that “Goliath” were more nimble now, he tried a few swoops at the water, but his ship wasn’t for it, she was made for the steady path and so he contented himself with the patterns of the tide on the surface and the occasional shoal of flying fish, a school of dolphins, and the sun to keep his course.

It was after the second morning that land came into sight.

Soaring out of the sea: cliffs, palms, wetlands, waterfalls, and a few miles inland a second ridge, of trees this time: the rainforest. The jungle canopy two hundred feet tall. A lush and levitating carpet of green leaf.

When the engine spluttered, spat and choked to soundlessness, for a moment he imagined he could set the great bird down upon the treetops as though they were an elevated lawn, solid and safely close to the sky.

Then the first branch tore through a wing, an indifferent implacable trunk snapped the propeller, another bough punctured the fuselage, he thought with calm horror his body would be next to be broken.

And so it was they told him afterwards, a sinew of vines opened up Goliath on her descent and then the small workings of the massive plants did their work on his tissue ripping at his exposed flank, a thousand tiny fissures caused by twigs and thorns.

The first miracle was that he escaped being impaled, decapitated or too mutilated. The second that the low drone of the plane drew a group of tribesmen just close enough to track its final fall. The third that they were not too fearful or rightly cautious to walk or run away from this unheralded, inexplicable visitor to their world.

“Were you swaddled as a child?” he says, incongruously, as if the baby Jesus had any place in the International Zone.

“I mean, do you have any memory of being wrapped so tight you can’t move?”

I shake my head. His voice is raising and a few eyes turn in your direction, narrow in recognition of the narrative and then return to their very dirty martinis. After all this corner of what was once Morocco is the place for which the maxim live and let live was invented.

He shakes his head in turn.

“I didn’t think I remembered either, not until I was on that stretcher.”

For reasons never explained the quiet invisible people of Yucatan, living in the shadow of the rainforest and the ruins of their ancestors, took pity on him. This man who fell to earth.

“Perhaps it was written in their scriptures. Do they have scriptures?”

He recalls that they wrapped him tightly, of being afraid that they were mummifying him alive, then they bound him to a pallet and carried him above their heads for “days”. He felt, could feel, nothing. No sensations. He doesn’t know if they gave him a potion, some “sleeping draft” or if the pain subdued, confused his senses. He is, in truth unsure whether they travelled for days or if what he took for nights were merely lapses into unconsciousness. It is not, emphatically, not like a dream, but like something that happened to someone else, something read about and remembered second-hand.

Except, he remembers the smell.

The profound and inescapable odour that surrounded him throughout.

An aroma that blocked the excreta of his body, the decay of his wounds, the verdancy of the forest, the unfamiliarity of these people, joined now by the exquisite painted women of the tribe.

A fragrance of healing intensity, neither pleasant nor ugly, but irrevocably, and here looking around at the room for of misfits in what was once an Arab merchant’s house, he laughs at himself “undeniably holy”.

When they removed the bandages at the hospital much later, he has an image in his mind of them peeling layers of wet petals from his skin, interleaved with spices. He believes, truly believes, the lacerations had been packed with resin, that scented and saved him.

“Though all that could have been the morphine. They were dead keen on it and I don’t know how to say no!”

A signal to the barman and another pichet of indistinct spirit a little like pastis arrives, a plate of almonds on the side.

After the opiates, the hospital was clean, too clean, bright and cheerful.

White, white-toothed nurses in white starched uniforms, white washed walls and white jasmine flowers.

“Hell, I might as well have gone to heaven.”

The only colour came from some blue hyacinths that the “only other living creature in that place” a Mexican woman working as an orderly brought in.

How, I wonder, did a man in search of Yucatan end up here on the Sahara’s Mediterranean shore?

To sharp for me, he senses the question to follow and foils with his own.

“So, did you say you still wanted the ride down to Marrakech?”

He takes the tube of ointment from the table and begins his every thirty minutes ritual.

That Serge Lutens’ iconic Tubereuse Criminelle opens with an enormous anti-floral near antiseptic intensity that can take the unsuspecting wearer’s breath away is the stuff of perfume legend.

Sadly, that this overture accord has an emphatic and contrary beauty is all too often over-looked on account of its formidable apparently camphorous novelty.

This clamorous arrival, the olfactory equivalent of the opening of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 is achieved by means of the balance it expertly strikes between the healing and holy: the marriage of tuberose in overload with bug-eating clove by the bucket, all preserved in styrax.

The effect of this intensity can almost be anaesthetising, but pleasantly so, more like full Latin Mass with bells and smells (to an unbeliever). As much a consuming act of theatre, as mere ornament or proud sacrament.

Yet there is familiarity here, not only to the endless mouthwashes and ointments and poultices and remedies that reviewers – myself included, I smell ‘Germolene’ – quote, but to an adventurous strain in perfumery that is now almost dead.

For me, Tubereuse Criminelle references the playful intensity of a certain sort of scent of the twenties through to the fifties. Fragrances that married intense emphasis on an individual or pair of floral notes with unusual or unexpected spices or animalics.

Germaine Cellier did this for Robert Piguet and Balmain; Michel Morsetti and, in particular, Ernest Daltroff for Caron, and they were not alone.

None of this is to say that Tubereuse Criminelle smells like Jolie Madame, Visa, Poivre, Bellodgia or even Fracas… it doesn’t.

It shares with all the above a dual personality of frivolity and seriousness, of tough exterior and yielding flesh, of astringency and assuaging. It is intellectual and sensual and with a sense of self-aware humour.

The meld to the middle part of the structure, where the smell becomes creamier and more classical is slow, with constant references to the striking opening. Every time one comes to believe that an easier simpler tuberose has arrived, as though in a Nouvelle Vague flashback, we are transported to the baroque cathedral of the commencement.

Finally, in drydown, another musical metaphor springs to mind, that of Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony No. 45, in which each player of the orchestra in turn departs the stage leaving at last two sole violinists who simply stop playing then quit themselves.

Here those notes are a tuberose made at the termination moist and shimmering and a whiter than usual jasmine to keep the melody aloft until the moment it extinguishes itself.

From orchestral flourish par excellence through complex central passages writ with allusion and irony to a faltering tender conclusion, Tubereuse Criminelle is never anything short of great music made fragrance.

It is olfactory art.

It leaves the unerring sense of a creation seeking to tell a story through a medium other than words.

Great. Truly great.

Tubereuse Criminelle was the first of three perfumes to tempt The Dandy most severely at Serge Lutens’ Palais Royale store in Paris.

Scented letters to follow soon on the other two… and then perhaps we’ll guess which one I chose!

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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The Irresistible Allure… The Perfumed Dandy’s Parisian Quandary

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Beyond Daniel Buren’s confrontational black and white columns, now mostly commandeered by marauding children.

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Through the gardens where, even in late May, the roses seem in an advanced state of decay.

Like the ladies who, a century or two ago, kept in these gilded cage apartments, once ‘sang’ for their suppers.

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Purple arches call, like luminous architectural song birds.

Beckoning to the arcade where “Oncle” holds olfactory court.

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In his crepuscular domain of half-remembered destinations, ill-forgotten love affairs and old friends.

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All bottled.

The Dandy allowed himself one bell jar from Serge Lutens.

But which to chose?

In the event it came down to three scents.

Two, as you’d expect available only at Palais Royal (and in America occasionally).

One used to be everywhere, then withdrew, and now is only here…

Can you guess which trio of fragrances made up the shortlist?

Scented letters on all three will follow…

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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A Dozen More Fragrant Reflections On Paris… The Perfumed Dandy’s Picture Postcards

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Sweetly Smelling Friends

More moments from my recent sojourn across la Manche.

And the aromas to match.

Empty Streets, Vivid With Colour

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Gold and Bright : Caron / Montaigne

Surprisingly Modern Gothic

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Smoke From The South : Comme des Garcons / Avignon

Open Mouthed, Green Door

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Drumbeat Knocker : Guerlain / Chamade

Flowers On A Window…

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Are They Geraniums? : Creations Monsieur Dior by Dior / Dioressence

Chandeliers, Balconies, Boudoirs and Love Affairs

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Consummative Kisses : Jul et Mad / Amour de Palazzo

The Gate To The Archives

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Key To The Past : Jardins d’Ecrivains / George

Pink Parisian Roses 

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Pale, Almost Without Smelling : Fragonard / Emilie

Palace Garden

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Brought From The Chateau : Sisley / Eau de Campagne

Modern Maghreb

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Marrakech Leather Souk : LT Piver / Cuir

Left Bank Child In A Labyrinth

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Juvenile Intellectual : Byredo / Baudelaire

Art Deco Temple

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Angular Aromaticals : Guerlain / Vega

The Opera In Bronze

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Music, Sculpture, Scent : Lanvin / Arpege

Too much to divert one.

Yet all paths seemed to lead to the same place.

Where? We shall find out in a flight of three scented letters this week.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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A Dozen Fragrant Reflections on Paris The Perfumed Dandy’s Picture Postcards

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Dearest Scented Ones

Before all memories of The City of Light slip from The Dandy‘s mind to be supplanted by other travels, some images, and aromas to recall the magical Gallic capital.

A Store Fit for a Distinguished Visitor

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Perfume for a (Naughty) Boy : Histoires de Parfums / 1740

Grand Green Interior

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Chartreuse Blast : Balmain / Vent Vert

Then We Talked Only of Red Clay

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Now It’s All Grass : Nez a Nez / Foret de Becharre

Stone Roses

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Slate Grey and Pink : Lyn Harris for M&S / La Rose

The Decadent Entrance

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That No One Forgets : Guerlain / Shalimar

Garden Square, Imperial Past

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Equatorial Imports : Coqui Coqui / Tobaco

The Stairway From So Many Scenes

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Old Romance In Black and White : Cartier / Baiser Vole

Arcade Contemplation

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Honey Coloured Thoughts : Maison Francis Kurkdjian / Absolue Pour le Soir

Exercise in Colour

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Sharp Lines : Jean Louis-Scherrer / Jean-Louis Scherrer

Extraordinary Procession

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All Human Life is Here : Etro / Royal Pavilion

Where Seurat’s Swimmers Swam

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Sadness in Blue : Hermes / Eau de Narcisse Bleu

An Inky Light

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As We Write, Longhand : Comme des Garcons / 2 Silver Words Comme des Garcons

That has set me trawling through the thoughts, more images will follow.

Then a puzzle… where did my voyages take me?

And what perfume, finally, did The Dandy purchase…?

Until tomorrow.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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Salty, scented air… The Perfumed Dandy’s Seaside Postcards

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Dearests

The Dandy has been away… again, I know, c’est trop…

In fact I’m only treading toes for a moment in old London town before I depart in the morning for The City of Light.

But before I head off across the Channel, a moment or two to share some images and scented impressions from a few days just past beside the waters at Brixham.

Azure Pool

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Sharp Cool : Shay & Blue / Sicilian Limes

The Ragged Rocks

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Stone White : Comme des Garcons / Odeur 53

Persistent Purple

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Rock Lilac : Balmain / Jolie Madame

Bright Boats Bobbing

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Insouciant Sailors : Worth / Je Reviens Couture

Stalwart at Slumber

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Seadog : James Heeley / Sel Marin

Cliff-top Flower Meadow Miss

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Gone With The Breeze : Guerlain / Flora Nymphea

Fierce Green

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Alive or Machine? : Robert Piguet / Futur

Flowers By The Sea

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Among The Herbs : Miller Harris / Fleurs de Sel

Night Swimmer

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Mysterious Skin : Hermes / Eau des Merveilles

Sunset Pilot

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Hitchcock Stranger : Guerlain / Vol de Nuit

A Paris with The Dandy maintenant.

When I return, in a touch over a week, a clutch of scented letters will be yours, plus a very special aromatic encounter with a new and wonderful novel and, I’m sure, a postcard or deux.

A bientot!

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

 

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Sapphire and steely… Chamade by Guerlain The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

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That day, late spring, she wore a satin trenchcoat in a shade just north of turquoise blue.

Indigo jeans and silver shoes, and, under her heavy fringe, those same steely grey eyes that can see straight through a glassy lens to you.

When she looks in your direction, be it across a room, or out from a magazine, she breaks the rules: she watches you.

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The observed becomes the observer: the unmoving girl in the photograph who holds your gaze no matter how you wriggle; the clotheshorse on the catwalk who stares you down every time you eye her hemline.

She won’t blink first. She’s frozen. Crystalline.

“She’s not a model, she’s a work of art.” Andy said, or would have done if he wasn’t already good as dead.

The hyacinths were past their prime when they came to take her away, the flowers’ scent, almost fermented, was at its strongest: sharp, high, piercing as one imagined her scream might be, except of course, she would never scream.

They rapped the door three times and hollered, got ready to barge it in: a show of strength for assembled tv crews no doubt.

But no one seizes her moment.

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They pull back to charge and just then in full maquillage she opens up the entrance way and steps out into the day, a feint smile on her plush flesh-toned lips, her horse-hair mane of chemical blond glistening in the newly golden sunshine, its rays dappled through the lilac tree to form a pool of light that serves as her spot, a pale pink rose in her buttonhole, a purple patent Kelly bag thrown across her arm.

She has been surveying them all the while on security, waiting to steal the scene with her entry.

The plan was always to become famous first, then notorious, to use cool and stardom as a cover for as long as possible and then make infamy the tool to spread the message.

The Officer in Charge isn’t.

Porcine and perspiring, his efforts after dishevelled police inspector chic wilt in her shade.

Confronted with his prey – beautiful, implacable, perfectly presented – he panics just a little, mumbles his way through the statement of arrest, wishing the media would melt.

She meets each camera’s gaze as she has a thousand times before. Showing no more emotion than if she were selling a Saint Laurent or parading a Prada.

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She has no problem with hollowed out: devoid of care, devoid of remorse… emptiness is all the same. She does it electrically.

And, besides, she’s waiting.

A shot, muffled only by the proximity of the body it enters.

A thump, said body hitting the floor. Andy. Upstairs.

Confusion. Journalists and cameramen on the deck too. Some police begin to go inside, then hesitate, withdraw: waiting for his word.

“Hadn’t you better go up, there’s a man dying in there.” Her marquise diamond cut voice.

No concern at all. The practised, callous warmth of a thousand interviews. Pleasant, carefree, casual and deadly.

He gives the order to go inside.

She smiles.

“Stop!”

He screams: urgency and saliva ejaculating at all at once.

A hail of bullets like a drumroll ricochets through the house.

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Andy’s jam now. That was always part of the plan too. That nothing should remain of the cold hand that created the scheme.

She’s all that’s left. Upright, flawless, ready for a close up, chaos all around her.

She could be here to sell you soap flakes or sell your country down the stream.

Everyone wonders if she’s wired, fears more surprises: death, an explosion, carnage.

She’s a swan. Gliding across the surface of their pond she’s just made choppy. Underneath she’s working overtime, her heart beats like a machine gun. This is how she imagines love must feel.

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Head high, back straight: sense the invisible thread pulling the body into the vertical: that’s what they said in ballet school. She assumes her position, her poise, her pose.

She’s already ready, in the dock of public opinion and awaiting trial.

Only one possible verdict.

Guerlain-Chamade-Extrait

Chamade by Guerlain is a scent of international espionage.

The perfume of a spy: at turns sophisticated, razor sharp, ice cold, sensual, faux shy, sly and insinuating.

This is a fragrance never to be fobbed off or thought lightly of, it is an odour that means business, serious business: affairs of state and matters of import.

This is not a Bond Girl’s bombshell, it is a complex, subtle and strategic scent as impressive for its structure as it is awe-inspiring for its intelligence.

Diana Rigg as Mrs Emma Peel in The Avengers

The opening accord of aldehyde, galbanum and green is one of the most seriously cool and alluringly aloof in all perfumery.

It is froideur made fragrant.

Soon hyacinths, at that moment when they can no longer be tamed, intrude.

Their smell is overpowering, glamorous and artificially natural, lent kerosene power by the lingering chemical taint of that sparkling opening rocket blast burst.

There is a slow segue into softer florals: rose touched with lilac and muguet, yet the sharpness of the start, the hard-headedness of the hyacinth, the rasp of galbanum does not dissipate until we are well through the main part of the perfume’s heart.

Then a wonderful coup de theatre: everything turns from surface and sheen, steel and violent style to manicured, almost polite seduction: with a reveal the Guerlainade appears as if from nowhere, the wings perhaps.

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Slowly at first and then onto centre stage, a more balsamic than usual take on the house’s ‘superior crème brulee made aromatic genius’, treads the boards.

It’s as though the perfume knows that to win hearts as well as minds it must show a gentler side, some feather down cushions to mellow the angular geometry that has gone before.

A sympathetic appearance in the witness box and an appealing back story to get the remorseless criminal off the hook.

Though if this perfume were to be charged with ruthless, electric, sublime beauty then the answer must be guilty, guilty, guilty.

Chamade is that rare thing: a shimmering, transcendent scent of enduring, yet somehow untouchable, pleasure.

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Sometimes dismissed as a perfume of the middle rank, perhaps because it deceives simpler minds with its intended duplicities, this is a fragrance of the first order, an enigma within a mystery wrapped up in a miasma.

Glory in it before it gets too hot.

It’s good to be back.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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She’s making perfume not war…………. In Conversation with Barb Stegemann, Founder and CEO, The 7 Virtues

theperfumeddandy:

Dearest All To break silence and celebrate the appearance of fabulous friend and force of nature Barb Stegemann on the BBC’s marvellous Midweek programme ( find it here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qrpf ) here’s another chance to read my encounter with the woman herself. The Dandy will be back tomorrow with a classic perfume that has reawakened my fragrant passions! Until then, I remain, yours ever… The Perfumed Dandy

Originally posted on The Perfumed Dandy.:

Barb Stegemann is a presence.

Cliché has it that some people have the power to ‘light up a room’ with their personalities, one can’t help but think that if Barb were connected to the power grid she’d produce enough electrical energy to keep a decent sized city glowing well into the night.

Tall, athletic and casually glamorous, Barb seems like a body in perpetual motion: a restless and inquisitive soul forever on the search for new experience and outlets.

When we meet for the second time at a café in London’s Selfridges department store, she is in the midst of saying farewell to a writer from The Telegraph, a British newspaper that will carry an interview with her to coincide with the launch of her perfume range The 7 Virtues at the mammoth store later in the year.

Barb embraces the young woman like an old friend before saying…

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From the archives: Spring is in the air… Part II: Lily of the Valley… The Perfumed Dandy’s Seasonal Selection

Dear Friends

Happy Muguet-scented May Day.

I’ve been so busy elsewhere of late, there’s just time to slip in a beautifully perfumed selection from last year…

My favourite Lilies of the Valley, the most delicate and fleeting of flowers, ready for their foxtrot, paso or pas des deux.

Blooms for a Spring wedding or “La Fete du Muguet” perhaps, but as much about consummation and physical labour as matrimony and May Day, at least so far as The Perfumed Dandy is concerned…

Do you have any suggestions you’s add to the list?

1. Odalisque by Parfums de Nicolai

A strange way to start some might say, for Odalisque is an olfactory oddity: a muguet chypre.

The outsider intent of the scent continues in the blending too: it is so beautifully blurred that beyond the tart tangerine opening some people struggle to locate both lily of the valley and bitter oakmoss in this little wonder.

They are there however and in abundance; but the moss is softened to a lawn and the muguet, lifted slightly by jasmine and made more spreadable by orris root, assumes a cloud like composure floating above the composition.

Lacking the darkness of patchouli or the chilly chalk of galbanum, this could be argued not to be a true chypre at all.

Whatever the taxonomy, Odalisque is a truly engaging fragrance, with the sensation and refreshment of morning dew about it.

2. Lily of the Valley by Yardley

Quite simply citron presse meets lily of the valley.

This light, citrus, sharp yet slightly sweet muguet is a debonair, or perhaps, debutante’s delight.

It speaks of an uncomplicated antique freshness in a manner which is totally alien to tiresome modern laundry and ocean fragrances.

Sometimes it’s oddly sporting, in a lawn tennis and croquet sort of a way and on other occasions bizarrely soporific and a kind of ‘clean and ready for bed’ feeling abounds.

Frankly this is a bit of an all purpose spray for The Perfumed Dandy, though not one that takes itself or expects you to take it too seriously..

3. Silences by Jacomo

“Silences by Jacomo is a perfume that particularly deserves to be talked about, a hush that demands to be broken.”

But why you may ask would this glorious green be included in a list of lilies of the valley?

The answer lies in the vintage version…

“The opening itself is quite special, a surprising cool breeze of aldehydic muguet, shot through with sharp lemon. Be alert though, for in this changeable spring day of a scent it is gone tantalisingly too soon.”

That devilishly diverting opening would almost be worthy of a place in this set of sic on its own, but a little layering with a classic muguet takes this Jacomo gem into an entirely different realm.

Could Silences plus Yardley be the brightest, greenest lily The Perfumed Dandy‘s ever seen?

For more on Jacomo’s Silences do browse my recent review.

4. Diorissimo by Dior

“Diorissomo is one of the most discretely but decidedly sexual of all scents.”

If silences starts with a hint then this is a great mass of aldehydic muguet, the parfumeurs’ sleight of hand for the seemingly innocent Lily of the Valley.

“But like the flower carried by wealthy brides on their wedding day, this scent conceals deeper and more animal pleasures beneath its surface of propriety and cleanliness.”

I could wax lyrical all day about the naughtiness of this particular interpretation of virginal innocence, in fact I already have in my reflections on Diorissimo

Oh and what luck.. my new vintage supply arrived today!!

5. Forest Rain by Kiehl’s

Perhaps better known for their potions, lotions, conditioners and shampoos, Kiehl’s boast a small but now and again lovely perfume range.

Their “Musk” and “Fig and Sage” scents both feature in The Perfumed Dandy‘s personal collection and this forest floor floral is set to follow as soon as the pennies can be collected together.

It’s actually a pretty simple but rather unique and neat aroma.

An opening of vetiver and musk, with perhaps the merest hint of violet leaf and spice it gives way to a delicate skin scent muguet that proves a little more robust than its initially fragile demeanour would have one believe.

This could be one to convince gentlemen that who feel lily of the valley may not savage enough for them to give the flower a go!

6. Muguet du Bondeur by Caron

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The thrice milled soapiness of Caron’s Muguet seems to send people speeding away from a scent they consider to carry too much of the maiden aunt about it.

I’m sure the fact that Queen Elizabeth II is said to have worn it on her Coronation Day over sixty years ago and that the 88 year old Sovereign still sports it today is unlikely to gain it much capital in the cool stakes.

Nevertheless, this is the royalty of savon scents, an immaculately made bath in bottle that is splendidly calming and always leaves feel regally clean.

The Extra Special Extra Scent… Muguet (2013) by Guerlain

Why not include the Guerlain in the main list?

Well, even though it officially contains only a single note, this once a year curiosity, released in a new flacon in time for the “Fete du Muguet” on May 1st varies from spring to spring.

Whether this year’s incarnation measures up to it’s predecessors is still, therefore, a matter of conjecture as at time of going to press I’d not scored a sniff. I was though rather a fan of Thierry Wasser’s effort last Spring.

So, The Perfumed Dandy can think off no more suitable a scent to celebrate that most ceremonially significant of flowers the muguet than the ultimate occasion fragrance.

So this year perhaps you should, as the fancier French do, buy a bottle for someone close to you this May Day?

And there we have it my lovelies.

The most delightful and yet most deceptive of scents, for remember there is no such thing as a true muguet in all perfumery.

No essence of Lily of the Valley exists, everything is a chemist’s conjuring trick!

So concludes second half dozen (plus one) from my seasonal selection.

Violets and Lilies of the Valley done, what note will follow next..?

There are still four more to come!

Here’s to a climatically more comforting week.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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An aroma is risen… Tweed by Lentheric The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

The weather was too warm for wool.

Not windy nor crisp enough to merit the heavy woven cloth in houndstooths, Princes of Wales and other checks she chose to wear to church that Easter.

Then, she could hardly be said to be one for fashion.

Stuck somewhere in the last mid-century so far as cut was concerned, her skirt would have been at home in the wardrobe of a Bakelite suburban housewife with dreams of swapping her ’50s semi for a life in the Cotswolds.

She still tucked in silk her blouses and lacquered her defiantly neat hair years after women two decades her senior had moved onto mousse.

Her feeling was that good things last, that everything, including style, must come around again.

“Even…”, she laughed, recalling a film popular in her Cambridge days…

“Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day”.

She stood alone in her pew in a moderate example of one of the great multitude of Gothic barns built across the metropolis to accommodate the deluge of extended Victorian families at prayer. Today it was empty bar a few oddballs, herself included, and refugees from climes where belief has not perished; and she felt her faith breaking.

Maybe good things didn’t last, perhaps happiness was a once only offer.

Was it possible that the passion she had then was never to be resurrected?

The priest, as bright and shiny as the copper pans in his beautifully appointed kitchen she’d seen the night he and his husband invited her round for dinner, spoke movingly about Syria.

How quickly the suffering of millions had slipped silently from view he said, how it seemed to be the fate forever of The Holy Lands to be locked in turmoil.

She reflected that perhaps in a past time the preacher might have mentioned ‘purgatory’: that the poor souls living with cousins, brothers, friends in Beirut and the Beqaa valley might have been thought to be trapped somewhere between salvation and hell.

But this cellophane-wrapped, well-meaning, linen-suited, vanilla-scented young man was by his own admission ‘not much for theology’ or ‘religious metaphor’. Besides, she guessed he was probably struggling both with the uncivilly early start of the dawn Eucharist and the literalism of Christ’s rising, this Sunday more than most.

When the communion wine came it was sharp, just a fraction off where the vinegar held to The Dear Lord’s mouth must have been. Just citrus enough to be palatable. Softened by the strange vacant sweetness of the host that preceded it.

The portion was generous, almost more than a mouthful. There were so few of them and he seemed keen to empty the ewer.

She walked back to her seat through the slight fug of the incense that he allowed only at this time of year. She was glad of this one concession to tradition, and that the pews had lasted one final season.

Come Christmas they would be on scatter cushions.

Taking her place back in the congregation she felt a tear running down her left cheek, though she hadn’t noticed she’d been crying. This made her sadder, for it meant she must be nearly this unhappy almost all the time.

The service over, she straightened herself and, with great effort, brightened her face. The makeup, liberally, though unshowily applied, helped. She hoped it hadn’t run.

Approaching the vicar, his towelling soft and slightly childish perfume met her a few paces in advance. It did not appal her, though it did not appeal either, and she very was pleased her aroma was by contrast so spry and what she fancied to be vigorous smelling.

“My don’t you smell out-doorsy, Catherine!”

His smile reached from ear to ear and revealed teeth so immaculate that even the most beneficent god would surely not have furnished them to any other than his own son. So white, so regular, so perfect. She suspected man’s intercession.

Happiness radiated from him, and though Catherine suspected he didn’t really understand the intricacies of the religion he represented, one could not help but feel that he was an innocent enough embodiment of its hopeful teaching.

She left, if not lifted up, then better for having made an early start.

The day was bright and already, at just eight, the sun provided a little warmth.

Having no hurry to go home, she decided to take a turn via the flower market, wondering on the way if it would be diminished on account of the holidays.

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She needn’t have feared; Columbia Road was a riot of tulips, running a mock in the increasingly outrageous colours dreamt up by geneticists to keep sales from flagging. More and more they resembled the wildest Murano glass vases she was endlessly eyeing up in antiques shops. Always scared to take one home, lest it prove a little too loud for its surroundings.

Today was not a tulip day.

In fact, among all the flowers, she had the sensation of being between rows of beautiful corpses.

The already dead stems seemed to lack lustre and she longed for something alive so headed for the few stalls of pot plants and shrubs towards the back. Here, her instant temptation was to go for a herb.

Some rosemary, so practical and hardy. Just like herself. No.

Then she saw it. In an improbable imperial purple pot: a great patch of lavender. Bright green leaves softer and less fragrant than the usual sort, with flowers as big and fat and furry as giant mauve bumble bees, suspended at the end of eighteen inch stalks like shadow puppets feigning flight.

For the second time that morning something broke within her, this time it was not faith but self-control that snapped. Without quibble on price or considering where she could find enough sun to keep the plant thriving she bought it and resolved to catch a cab, not the bus, home.

“He’s slept in this year.”

The taxi driver said.

“I beg your pardon.”

Catherine could see his eyes in the rear view mirror, younger than the average cabbie’s, or perhaps drivers like policemen simply get younger as we age.

“He’s slept in. That’s what my grandmother used to say when Easter falls so late.”

She smiled, their gazes met for a moment in reflection.

“It’ll be this Spring sun that’s woken him. Puts life back into us all, don’t you think?”

“Do you know anything about lavender plants?”

Catherine asked, willing him to look at her again.

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If ever there was an excellent example of a moderately priced perfume done to perfection then Tweed by Lentheric in its vintage composition is it.

Sharply, but unfussily sophisticated. This is a scent with an air of self-assurance almost impossible to find for small money these days.

It is a fragrance that seems to have been designed and made to fulfil the ambitions of the wearer rather than please the saccharine fantasies of those who would smell it.

Based on a formulation dating as far back as the 1930s, this is a classic chypre construction paired back not to the minimum, but the essentials.

A spiced citrus opening with a pinch of peppered carnation also has a chemical punch that leads one to conclude there may be some aldehydes in this version.

Indeed the opening has a distinct air of hair spray when it was a luxurious, amorphous near-magical beauty aid to be admired and inhaled.

This allusion will, no doubt, cause some to recoil from its synthesised, stylised understanding of glamour as alien as organised religion in an atheistic world.

Very soon after an aromatic floral heart, with equal measures of lavender and blended white florals, with some ylang ylang for piquancy blossoms briefly before the main event.

For this is a scent, like so many of its era, all about the oakmoss. The moss here is a lighter shade and more effervescent (possibly the consequence of the aforementioned chemical enhancement) than many contemporaries.

The word radiant seems to suit it, for it achieves a weightlessness and aeration that is not normally associated with the note. This is bought with a certain artificiality, but to my mind at least is worth the price, for the result is more art than mere artifice.

The patchouli here is applied much more lightly than one might expect and the drydown belongs as much to the interplay between vetiver and moss, sandalwood and benzoin as it does to the herbaceous border.

The final softness of the scent is a long time coming as the wooden heart is satisfyingly enduring, but when it does come, it is worth waiting for.

How one wishes they made perfumes like Tweed today: chic, affordable, complex, filled with character and with something to say.

This is an exemplary antidote to the anodyne aromas one finds around for under £10 now.

Is it too much to hope for a resurrection of such good scents?

Happy Easter one and all.

See you again most awfully soon.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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