Too suave, yes suave, a manly word for a woman just so: urbane, debonair, gallant.
Too suave for run of the mill family affairs and conventional celebrations, she turns up only where she feels she might be needed, only when she can be ‘of use’.
Unannounced, of course.
She ran around the world for forty years as the Empire gently unravelled, almost a diplomat not quite a spy, keeping our irons in the fire, giving lie to the James Bond idea of espionage.
The model of sophistication, an apotheosis of self-possession.
Above all, poised.
Now she arrives after a difficult birth or a messy divorce, to quell an unruly teen or bring an errant husband back into line.
She smoothes things out as she has always done: an iron will against the creased fabric of human existence.
These days she brings her force to bear on the domestic front.
Once it was in once grand hotel bars stranded in warzones like beached art deco liners. She rubbed shoulders with foreign correspondents and well-oiled middle aged men in import export. She quaffed fake Scotch and evaded unwelcome advances expertly. She retained her elegance though pressed against imperial oak panelling by the tiresome and overbearing flotsam and jetsam of the ex-patriati.
Today it is a cottage in Wiltshire, a flat at West Hampstead, a commuter’s semi in Altringham or a retirement villa in Aldeburgh.
The locations may have changed, the attitude and accoutrements remain the same.
Effortlessly polite to the point of insouciance, immaculately turned out in clothes one knows were made for her alone.
Her voice has lowered with age but her intonation is a pointed and brittle as it was when Britain still ruled the bulk of East Africa.
Her luggage is a wonder, her accessories, all leather, worth salivating over.
She travels in the manner of an aristocrat traversing the Atlantic to marry a tycoon before the great depression ruined everything.
A trunk in saffron scented calfskin that transforms into an armoire come dressing table complete with the aroma of antique make up. A second stowaway containing everything else she could possibly require.
One enormous, shapeless hide sack made soft and shiny and sweetly spicy with age and wear and care. The gold crest is almost invisible now, the words ‘Diplomatic Baggage’ nearly worn right away.
It may take two men to move her, but once installed, wherever she may be she relies on no one.
She is an island.
Removing her mandarin coloured driving gloves, she reveals their real fur insides and in turn her pianist perfect but ageing hands.
Tanned by endless exotic summers, the liver spots are joining up to form a single continent that will soon cover the entire surface save the pillar box red lacquer nails.
Hers is an elegance without any means of visible support that cannot exist forever.
In a day, maybe a week or two, conjugal crisis or intergenerational trauma resolved, she will disappear to no one knows where.
Will she be back?
Everyone always assumes so.
One day they will all be disappointed.
Cuir de Lancome by Lancome is possibly the most refined and elevated of birch tar perfumes ever created.
It is a leather scent with a presence and poise that seems almost entirely absent from the modern fragrance lexicon.
Sweet, deep, complex, aloof, alluring, floral and animal.
An entrancing set of contradictions held together by a thread of perfectly woven paradoxes.
Saffron and orange, both slightly sharp and sweet sparkle briefly at the opening.
The saffron broadens into an earthy floral accord with jasmine, ylang ylang and most recognisably to me hawthorn.
Both opening and pre-heart are quickly contained by the unspeakably rich leather of the base, which is not a base at all but serves as both structure and true heart to the fragrance.
This birch tar is like almost no other for it balances a lucid bitterness with luxurious resinous styrax benzoin and a sprinkling of fine maquillage powder iris.
These components and the floral accord then begin a conversation that lasts on the skin for several hours. At one moment the talk is all floral and saffron petals come to the fore, then there is a sweet smoked sensation the next a more familiar thigh length boot from Italy bought with a summer’s worth of savings smell.
It’s hard to say which part wins out in the end for, intriguingly, the perfume seems to conclude differently each time.
Indeed, though the effect of each individual element is entrancing it is the interplay between them that is quite exceptional.
Exceptional, there’s the word.
If Lancome’s Cuir were a woman her correspondence could bring down governments and the autobiography would be unstoppable, unputdownable.
The Perfumed Dandy.