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…
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?
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.
The Perfumed Dandy.
10 responses to “888,246 Poppies, Time to Remember The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter”
I just saw that image in the news–beautiful and disturbing–perhaps like Mitsouko?
So very true.
I recently organised a blind smell-in for some friends to introduce them to vagueries of fragrance and they simply thought Mitsouko smelt like death.
Not literally, not of decay or putrefaction or funeral parlours and their great displays, just abstractly.
As a Rothko sings sadly of despair.
As you say “beautiful and disturbing”.
For even I would admit it’s not every day one wants to smell like death.
The Perfumed Dandy
I also saw that image in the news, the Tower of London with the poppies, a river of blood pouring forth. People are (were) volunteering to “plant” them (I think they’re ceramic?). I love that. Mitsouko is almost impossible for me to wear. It is a haunting fragrance, and I mean that literally. And I don’t have much alone time for hauntings. Nevertheless, I hang onto my small bottle of edt just in case the opportunity comes along. I was just thinking the other day, my mother’s husband’s father joined the New York Cavalry in WWI. There was actually a cavalry. He made it back from the trenches alive, having been gassed and seen who knows what nightmares. We’ve seen films but the reality is unimaginable. It’s so good to see you again, Mr. Dandy! I hope your Great War project is going well. ❤
Hello Dear Dandy! I agree with Vickie and Lilybelle – it’s a beautiful and sad image. I also agree Mitsouko is a work of art, definitely created with the tragedy of war in mind and not a perfume I could wear casually. I like your comparison to Rothko, looking at those in real life always makes me feel I’m falling into a sort of somnambulic melancholy trance that feels eerily enjoyable.
Best of luck with your war project. I’m still in Eigg mode till late spring next year, then it will be a complete change of scene, i.e. sunshine and exotic food!
My decant of De Profundis arrived, and I feel like it would suit this very well.
I wonder: are the regular readers expected to comment (again) on the reposts?
I always thought Mitsouko smelled like a grande dame. Not because it’s old, but because it’s a bit musty and opulent. The peach is come-hither, but I wouldn’t call it warm. Never got the gasoline scent. Maybe in the vintage?
Dear Perfumed Dandy, Beautiful post. I’m looking forward to reading more about your project. Sending positive vibes your way! ~Theadora
Great (and pretty unusual) article!