If sadness has a smell this may be it.
Not an ending unhappiness, you understand, nor mere momentary melancholy, this is an emotion, an experience profoundly and long felt that changes a life, perhaps millions of lives.
The first pain of loss comes quick, sharp and spicy. Coriander and anise compete in an anti-septic scratch that pierces the skin, just briefly, but leaves a scar.
Then a funereal majesty, the floral ceremonial heart of the fragrance.
A moving wall of irises, carnations, heliotrope and rose and more and more.
Favourite flowers of the deceased, the family, other mourners and florist adjutants pile up on top of one and other, wreaths placed on a royal catafalque.
As the procession passes by, a pocket square, scented with powder: sweet, resinous, vanilla-ed , is pressed into your hand by a stranger who wants to help you staunch your tears.
But still they flow.
The handkerchief, un-returned, is what you retain now.
Its silken regularity and honeyed smell transformed by grief to both momento and momento mori.
The reminder of a living love and the promise of otherworldly reunion.
That Jacques Guerlain should have known in 1912 that the sun was about to set on the bright days of the Edwardian age is inconceivable.
Yet, that his masterwork L’heure bleue for Guerlain, literally ‘The Blue Hour’ captures the faltering twilight between the bright and hopeful dawn of the twentieth century and the dark, dark night of the carnage of The Great War is equally unquestionable.
There is an opening of improvised antibacterials, of coriander and anise long known for their medicinal qualities.
What follows is not floral but floricultural.
Not a bouquet or even wreath but a field, fields of flowers a presentiment of Flanders’ poppies.
And then powder, that is more like fine fragrant dust.
The dust that settles on carefully stored away mourning clothes. Clothes that will see more use than is right in the years ahead, in dignified response to unspeakable, as yet unforeseeable, loss .
It is that preservative smell; bezoin, clove, vanilla, a solitary scent of certainty, that will come through familiarity to breed comfort rather than contempt, that will come to make L’heure bleue the ultimate smell of solace.
Just like grief, and the consoling memories of the departed’s life, this is an emotion that sits as easily yet uncomfortably on men and women, young and old.
The Perfumed Dandy.