Tag Archives: A Matter of Life and Death

There’ll be bluebirds over… Fleurs de Rocaille by Caron The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

His hair has the silver white hue of the chalk cliffs he walks each morning.

Following his path implacably, without regard to the weather, his eyes are fixed in the middle distance looking out towards where the sea is, though he does not see it.

In the warmer months he appears a little happier, it’s hard to tell: his face changes so little with the seasons.

Arrested in an air of benign, bemused detachment it is the visage of a kindly if disinterest god.

Only his body gives away that things are better in summer, he holds himself more upright and alert, his whole being seeming relieved not to have to fight against the wind and rain that will battle him all winter.

From your window you have watched him steer this same course for years and as the years have passed you have seen him grow more fragile, his path more perilous.

The cliffs are slowly folding into the sea. Yielding back to nature that which is properly hers.

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And so, regardless of whether he knows or not, his unbending path winds closer to the precipice each day.

One dry August, when the soil is its most friable he gets too close to the abyss.

A little of the ground gives way under him, his foot falters, an ankle twists, finally a leg fails and he falls.

This time he lists inland and his collapse is cushioned by the long wind-grown grasses that fringe the outer edge.

Soon though, if nothing is done, the ocean will have him.

You are unsure at first how to reach the fallen man.

Your voice is strong, your mind unbowed, but the body no longer willing or able.

It is so long since you were out there on the edge.

Wrapping a scarf around your head to shield rice paper thin skin from the sun, you are enveloped in the high-pitched note of the pre-war perfume the daily help dutifully douses your clothes in.

It is 1941 again and you are on your way to work, smelling of Paris, dreaming of its liberation.

Throwing the door open bone dry air brings rockery flowers to your nose, a tough briar rose, ylang ylang, the only thing your Dutch sister-in-law got out of the East Indies in time, some late flowering violets, and the draw of the lilac tree just by the gate.

You fix on its purple pine cone flowers and the sweet near edible smell.

If you can get that far maybe there will be the chance of getting help.

You allow the lilac to draw you in toward it.

Every step is an effort, you a toddler learning to walk again, this time on old legs.

Eventually, with a fortitude forged seventy years before you reach the wall.

Leaning against the dry crumbling stones, breathing heavily, aware of the deathly beautiful bitter aroma of desiccated moss on the rocks you see him, still lying wounded in the grass:

A flash of white hair and a spark of red.

Is it blood?

You can go no further.

Looking left, looking right.

There is no one.

It is 1941 again, you are at work, the scent of bottled flowers surrounding you and you must guide them home.

You raise an imaginary radio handset to your immaculate red lips.

“Peter. Peter! Can you hear me?”

The even tone returns, the training never undone.

He is an airman to be brought back across the constellation between here and the coast.

“Peter. You need to concentrate on my voice.”

“I’m going to bring you home…”

There, at the cliff’s edge, you see a hand emerge from the grass.

You continue, knowing there is no physical way he can hear you.

“Peter. You’re still alive, we can get you back safe but you must follow instructions.”

Slowly, a Lazarus, he rises from the rough lawn. Silver hair first then after the immobile face that flash of red.

It is no wound but a wonderful bright carnation.

“Now follow my voice, Peter, I need you to follow my voice. Let it bring you back.”

He begins to walk toward you.

“That’s right, just keep your course steady, let me guide you.”

But he is unsteady, the path unfamiliar and at every mound and dip he falters.

You fear he might fall once more and be lost forever.

If the spell is broken there may be no way to summon him again.

“We’ll get you home, you’re nearly there, just keep coming.”

“Follow my voice.”

He approaches.

Five yards out a cool breeze catches him from behind and whispers soft clove and sandalwood cologne to you.

A carnation. Clove and sandalwood cologne.

He is in the garden now, walks past you unawares.

You see his grey unseeing eyes.

Examine the plastic sheen of his reformed skin as it shimmers in the bright light, the reflected red of the flower recalling the flames that did the damage as he fell from the sky.

“You’re coming in to land now Peter.”

“I’ve got you back.”

He walks through the door and into the whitewashed house.

You follow, every footstep feels a fathom deep as heavy legs carry you home too.

You enter.

Your eyes adjusting to the darkness you realise there is no flash of white hair here.

Nothing old, or injured or infirm.

Just a young airman with a flower in his flying jacket buttonhole, sitting on a settee, holding a teapot aloft.

“You’re just in time!” he says.

And you feel your old legs become young beneath you.

Fleurs de Rocaille by Caron is a thrilling, stoic yet utterly fragile fragrance.

It recalls so much of the history of perfume, of which it is itself an important part, that it seems at times to be both present and past.

It is a confluence of memories and current experience, a sensation bordering on the transcendent.

Wearing Fleurs de Rocailles is like taking tea with elegant ghosts.

The opening has the hallmark champagne freshness of the 1930s floral aldehyde it is, but with a welcome otherworldy intrusion.

It may well be a dry musk, but the sensation is neither exactly powdery nor dust-like. It is best imagined as fine white chalk or unsweet icing sugar, the effect is assertive yet porcelain brittle, a magical paradox.

Fortunately the broad floral accord that emerges after this overture has faded is so excellently blended, to the extent that individual flowers seem to come and go within it, that there is no time for disappointment.

One flower, however, does remain discernable throughout and that is carnation, its slight spice lifted by Caron’s signature clove and forming a soft counter melody to the main sweep.

Indeed in the long dry down it is this softer, sweeter tune, combined with rose and sandalwood, and made more memorable by an underscoring of oakmoss that plays the perfume out to its tender conclusion.

Fleurs de Rocailles is undoubtedly a fragrance that one can imagine people in other eras wearing even as one wears it oneself.

Yet like a great novel or film, it remains, relevant, not just as a living lesson in the development of the olfactory arts but as a delicate and beautiful work of art in its own right.

Caron, can like to confuse, and it should be noted that whilst undoubtedly related Fleur de Rocaille, released in 1993 is a different, more simply floral, perfume.

It lacks the aldehydes, the chalkiness and the moss of its near namesake.

Subtractions one assumes made to make it more ‘relevant’ to modern buyers, to The Dandy it simply makes it less of a scent.

Likewise the Fleurs de Rocaille of today, though recognisably the progeny of the original has had many of its features smudged over the generations to form a more anodyne, if still attractive a face to present the world.

Again, something of a shame for those of us who enjoy strong and original looks and scents.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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