“No, you can keep them running.”
As she spoke, she raised her dignified face, lined with experience, as immaculately made up as it had been at nineteen, and looked directly into the camera in front of her.
A single tear meandered down her right cheek, cutting a groove through foundation and the tiniest hint of rouge.
“It was a job.” She said, clearing her throat.
“We had to treat it as work, everyone did. By which I mean not just our team, but the whole country. There would have been no other way to get through.”
Her voice was still young, light and crisp and even, despite choking back emotion.
It was only her intonation, too clipped and fully enunciated for anyone born too long after the war that would have given away her age on the radio.
But on television, it is clear what she is: a survivor from another age, the pain of battle showing in a certain distance behind the eyes.
Out of shot a young pretty producer, flat pumps, ‘natural look’ dyed blond hair and nude face asks,
“And the flowers?”
She turns her head slowly, on account of the aches and pains brought on by her many years, looks at the bouquet of dusky pink roses and red carnations the tv crew have bought her.
Her slow motion movements make her seem serene, or more likely simply reflect an inner serenity that actually is.
Extending a long, elegantly slender arm encased in powder blue cashmere, she touches the head of a particularly perfect carnation.
“Yes, we would give them flowers before they took flight. For their buttonholes.”
She laughs, a little sadly.
“Of course they didn’t have buttonholes. In the films you see them in smart dress uniforms, but mostly they wore leather flying jackets, lined with wool to keep the cold out.”
“The planes weren’t pressurized like today’s you see, they weren’t even airtight. Sometimes in the winter the men would come back their fingers literally frozen to the controls.”
This time she looks the producer straight in the eye.
“If they came back at all.
“That is why we gave them flowers. So if they were caught or killed they would have dignity at least of being dapper when they met the enemy or their maker.
“One of them, a funny chap I was rather fond of, used to say they were the best turned out corpses in waiting you could ever hope to meet.
“He joked that they were going to their graves ‘par avion’ like first class letters. Airmail not air men…
“He was right.”
Reaching down to her side she grasps a neat patent handbag, angular, practical, understatedly chic.
Unclasping it she releases a smell of antique beauty, jasmine and oranges, balm and lilac like the inside of an old powder compact.
She retrieves a photograph, care and thumb worn, honeyed by age and hands it to her young inquisitor.
“Handsome, wasn’t he?”
“And I suppose I was rather beautiful after a fashion.”
Before the producer can reply the veteran has regained her composure, the tears have been wiped away from her eyes with an ivory silk square now scored across with the charcoal of her mascara.
“It really was too bad.”
“So many of them lost. In aeroplanes.”
“That is why, when it was all over, I resolved to learn to fly.”
Caron’s En Avion is a redoubtable fragrance.
Determined and formidable in equal measure, it cannot fail to make a mark.
It is a scent that leaves a lasting impression.
Its opening notes are peppery and tough, leathery even.
Carnation at its most mustard-like and magical is mixed into an accord that carries the appealing bitterness of birch tar.
This passes partly, though, thankfully, on my skin does not completely disappear.
The perfume then reveals its heart: a smoked and resinous riff on orange, white florals and lilac, with a rose counter melody playing softly out of sight.
Only gradually does the long dry down into opoponax and sweetly powdered musk, so familiar in the fragrances of this house, emerge. Even when it does, it still possesses an edge which separates it from other less worldly scents.
And this is what distinguishes En Avion: it is a perfume of experience.
It is wise and self-possessed, challenging, prickly even at times, but never less than poised and robustly beautiful.
As a scent essentially of exploration I see no reason whatsoever why men and women might not go adventuring in this aroma.
The Perfumed Dandy.