Tag Archives: Christmas

Tea Shop Time of Year… Must de Cartier by Cartier The Perfumed Dandy’s Twelve Days before Christmas Part III 

In electric December twilight beneath thousands of Paris’s lamps the lovers’ locks on the Pont des Arts shimmer and gleam.

A hardware hoard of brass and steel is transformed by romance and the season’s illuminations into a sea of gold and silver: a jewelled arc across the river.

A block or two removed from the Seine, just far enough for peace from the avid advent bustle of tourists on the Pont Neuf, upstream of the dock for the bateaux mouches carrying their endless tide of visitors through the City of Lights, the petite maison du the on Rue du Pont de Lodi, nestles in its quiet street.

Behind the imperial purple door, bearing a fresh wreath for Christmas, new owners are fashioning what they fancy is a fragment of the Far East on the fringes of the fifth arrondisment.

They have added orange blossom oolong tea to the carte of regular tisanes.

Its sweet, floral citrus reaches up a welcome upon your entry.

You settle into newly lowered-chairs. Their dusty, musky, furniture polished faux second empire frames strewn with raw silk cushions and lit by reproduction Tiffany lamps and chintz-shaded 40 watt bulbs.

You look up at the once-low counter and peering beyond spot an unknown object: alongside the old steaming urns and a bedsit stove topped with milk pans, there is an oil burner.

A porcelain contraption that gives no heat, and exists solely for scent.

You imagine, for you cannot see, a small slurp of viscous liquid hanging in a china crater above the solitary night light that seeks to slowly diminish it and diffuse the aroma into the air.

A pool of ever-reducing resinous residue.

A slick of fragrance added after fragrance until no note is left distinguishable from the whole warm and comforting confusion.

There is vanilla certainly, and amber, some sandalwood and something, well, distinctly animal.

Though on reflection, that might be the ancient cat adopted by the ancien regime that has outstayed the old owners and sits perched atop the out of tune upright piano.

A bunch of haphazard flowers are squeezed onto the instrument too, and seem to shade our feline friend like a tiny floral palm tree – a few roses amongst carnations and the very odd orchid – on his Parisian indoor desert island.

You come to order and think to try the oolong tea, then, discovering that deserts have similarly gone East, resist and instead hold onto the past with a generous boule of hot chocolate, which serves to warm your hands and heart.

The chocolat chaud goes down easily, especially when the waitress offers to add a Cointreau as a token of their affection for returning customers and to mark the time of year.

With satisfaction you find the only tampering inflicted on the peach flan to make it oriental has been a heavy pinch of cinnamon added to the custard supporting the fruit.

Who can argue with such an addition so close to the Noel?

The cat, Albert, jumps onto the stained piano keys, his paws yielding a major chord as he pauses before making his way over to you and placing himself aloofly in your lap.

His manner says ‘I’m doing you a favour’ a moment later his rough tongue licks the excess spiced crème anglaise from your fingers as his powder puff body quivers with a purr.

The maison du the on the Rue du Pont de Lodi is not quite what it was.

Christmas even here these days comes a little bit made in China.

Even so, dimly lit and quiet, with its slightly narcotic smell it is a haven this hallowed season from which to watch the festive world go by.

The quietest and in some ways most reserved of the balmy orientals of the 1970s and 80s, Must de Cartier is unlikely ever to offend.

It is an exercise in good manners.

Where others scream and seek to shock or pass themselves off as the real Far Eastern deal, Must seems happy with itself, comfortable with the notion that it is an allusion to the orient and not the actual thing.

After a surprisingly bright opening orange and bergamot flourish, aided by aldehydes, the perfume settles down into familiar territory of amber, sandalwood and vanilla, with a distinctly resinous quality to the heart, though the galbanum here is decidedly not green.

Equally, though there is musk, those fearing powder should be calm as it is kept at bay with some fine handbag leather and civet.

Finally, floral notes are distinctly muted in a drydown that sees this become as much a next to the skin scent as something so spicy can become.

Some will undoubtedly find the fragrance too sweet and muddled, but the drydown is so subtle that any over sugaring and note mixing mellow gently into a pleasant ambient perfume.

Must de Cartier is every inch a comfortable, if eccentric, teashop sort of scent.

A subtle choice for a special occasion or spoiling yourself because you can.

As I alluded to yesterday, I find both Musts de Cartier interchangeable and their designations as homme and non-homme quite superfluous.

Who doesn’t like hanging out in slightly off the wall tea houses?

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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What to get for…? Liu by Guerlain The Perfumed Dandy’s 12 Days Before Christmas Part I

Born wealthy and gasp-inducingly beautiful she is, naturally, a difficult woman to buy a gift for.

From a distance, at a champagne reception gleefully devouring mini crème brulee canapes, she might be mistaken for a cousin, maybe two.

She shares their sparkling eyes and effervescent conversation, stage whispered between slightly parted pearlescent teeth.

But beneath the fizzing small talk and latest fashions she runs to greater depths.

She is less likely to cut a dash on the social pages, has no ambition be a couturier’s muse.

At the opera she doesn’t take a box, but can be found on the balcony amongst her musicologist friends.

She is happiest here, analysing the soprano’s coloratura technique, dissecting the dense prose of a nouveau roman or hunting down meaning in a vast abstract expressionist blur.

On a personal level some, most people, find her spikey.

Her razor sharp mind, mildly acid tongue and brutal directness is not to metropolitan high society’s taste.

She lacks manners they say, missing that what she has in quantities is grace.

Presents though, are a problem.

She is a likely as not to dismiss a diamond ring as ‘porn star bling’, return or send to charity unwanted silk scarves, the marks she says of ‘grand bourgeois conformity’.

The thought, you see, as always, is the thing.

So from six weeks out you begin to worry, with a fortnight to go you find yourself approaching mild panic.

For she’s not too grand or contemporary or unconventional to accept a token of affection at this time of year.

She expects it, sets up an annual ritual of exchange, makes of it a tournament of the interpersonal talents.

Who knows the other best? Who can read the other’s desires perhaps better than they can read their own?

Who loves who most?

It is a high takes game. She knows it, thrills in it.

If you had the money some Van Gogh irises would do, except you haven’t and she’s already set to inherit two.

A first edition of someone French and middle century would suit, but she’d end up donating it to a public library so it could go on show or better still be auctioned to buy hundreds of books more decidedly lower brow.

Jewellery? No.

Why buy her dresses when she’s happy in her relatives worn once cast offs?

A holiday?

She once asked “why would anyone want to take a break from their life if they actually enjoyed it?”

Then, some lucky Friday, a memory comes clattering like a subway train into your suburban station mind.

A smell.

The smell.

The scent of her mother.

She came from the same country as all those testing books, translated everything silently, internally to the language of Collete, Robbe-Grillet and Duras.

She had the aroma of a woman who had grown up in perfume.

Layer upon layer of fragrant complexity.

Depths exceeded only by her personality.

Why had she to die so soon?

Salt and pepper haired in an immaculately laundered white cotton shirt, tailored indigo jeans and burgundy patent brogues the parfumeur is not what you expected.

He has the air of a contemporary artist scrubbed up for a private view.

Earnest and almost scientific he approaches her apartment with an attitude composed of reverence and exacting curiosity in equal part.

He notices the roses left to dry in a baccarat vase on a book shelf, the well-used kitchen its refrigerator full of fresh herbs, rosemary to the fore.

He draws a finger across an antique amber dish and inhales the dust that collects there.

“Are there photographs?” he asks, innocent of the inevitable torture of the words.

If you had thought, for just one moment you could have found back copies of fashionable magazines of a few decades ago, scanned images of her radiant face peering out from gallery shows and gala nights.

You didn’t think.

The thought is everything.

It’s thought that counts.

Of course you know where the private family shots are. In a side drawer in the bureau in the bedroom.

Such an intrusion.

In the balance you weigh whether such an attack might be borne, the heavy price for a truly personal perfume.

The tiny key turns stiffly in the centuries old lock.

You hand him the bundle tied with a crimson ribbon.

The artist’s eyes follow every contour of her face, the cut of each dress, the angle of her smile, the curls of her hair.

Nothing betrays his thoughts, no flicker, grimace or raised brow.

Finally, after what feels like a feature film’s worth of time, he lifts the photographs to his nose and then returns them.

In turn you replace them, still unsure of your Faustian pact.

“It will take a month” he says unemotionally.

“But that leaves no time for me to try it before.”

“A month.”

In the end you elect for a plain flacon.

The Lalique bottle would have been too much.

Besides what a shame if she decided to smash such a thing of beauty.

So here it is, a simple glass cylinder in an unremarkable black box.

After making love, an uncommonly quiet city in the background, and a breakfast of scrambled eggs on buttered brioche toast, the moment arrives.

Your two hands outstretched like a Japanese assistant proffering an exquisite purchase, she accepts the package.

She opens the box.

Unscrews the cap.

Sprays the scent first into the air then onto her wrist.

Silence hisses.

A tear wells in her left eye.

“Maman”

She slaps your face, right side, hard.

For the first time you catch a little of the scent.

Perfection.

A pause.

“I forgive you.” She says.

Then…

“I saw. You left the ribbon untied.”

Liu by Guerlain is an elegant, unshowy aristocrat of a perfume.

It is a scent in possession of a certain near perfection born of impeccable breeding.

An apocryphal story has it that Jacques Guerlain and Ernest Beaux set each other a friendly rivals’ challenge. The man from Chanel would create an ape of Shalimar, while Jacques would formulate a fragrance to match the formidable No. 5.


Only the winning perfume would be available for public consumption.

Liu triumphed.

Whether this tale has any foundation in actual fact is largely irrelevant, it is, aesthetically speaking, the truth.

While it would be fantastically simplistic to describe this composition as a straightforward cross between Chanel No. 5 and the original Shalimar, there are undoubtedly strong elements of both in its lineage.

The opening is all aldehydes of the sparkling Champagne (no Prosecco please) variety. It is an expression of such opulence and self-confidence that even the familiarity of nearly ninety years leaves the pleasure of it undiminished.

What follows though is surprising, not the customary floral explosion or even a civet-driven walk on the animalic wild side. Instead, though not the full accord, we are presented a pared down version of the house’s eponymous luxuriantly enveloping vanilla signature: what I might call a ‘Guerlainette’.

The interplay between fizzing modernity and plush comfort is quite entrancing and would be enough to sustain most scents, for Liu though, it is merely a stage.

Next, the florals arrive: desiccated rose petals, dusted with iris and darkened with oakmosss (really, the last of these notes is not listed but there’s at least an allusion to it there).

Then an herbal twist, rosemary is prominent, but I sense too a bouquet garni that includes other savoury elements made slightly indistinct by a composition as fantastically complicated as Duchess’s family tree.

Then the ‘Guerlainette’ returns, then the initial fizz bursts forth again.

The impression of each of these many twists and turns is entrancing, but taken individually these moments, though awe-inspiring, do not encompass the majesty of the work of art as a whole.

The individual parts of Liu are superior to most modern perfumes, yet they are but movements in a symphony of scent.

Acts in an olfactory opera

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This is a perfume to give to a woman, or a man, who has everything.

Happy first day before Christmas.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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Memories stored away… Coromondel by Chanel The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

A small city surrounded by wild countryside and coasts.

Outside the music store Autumn turns to Winter.

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In its window the all year around promise of prospective presents massed within.

I am eight, perhaps nine, it is an indeterminate Saturday in the interminably long weeks between a birthday and Christmas, a day about to be made distinct in memory.

I have been brought to peruse the selection at this specialist supplier of stringed instruments.

We have arrived, after an apparently epic journey, on a day as wet and unwanted as a discarded handkerchief, cool but not cold enough for snow. Our old car’s windows are misted by hot breath and my mother’s rose perfume.

We park just across the street so that everything can be seen as we wait for the rain to stop.

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With my sleeve I swab away the condensation from the glass pane on the passenger’s side and perceive the name: Polge & Co. and the words that ring excitement out of my slight still-young spine: violins, violas, cellos, double bass.

We make a run for it.

The door rings open with a high melodious chime.

Inside, I am in a rhapsody.

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Rails and rails of naked unstrung maple and spruce bodies await my passionate gaze..

Too soon though my open-mouthed awe is disturbed.

The owner: sharp featured despite his age, grey hair down to the shoulders and a black polo neck up to his chin, raises a mug emblazoned with an engraving of Beethoven I recognise from text books.

‘Welcome’ he half sings half shrugs.

I catch a draft of the medical citrus and honey of the hot cold remedy he is sipping, and something else that smells a little like a spirit cabinet.

The doors to this other sense now opened a swathe of scent descends on me.

Everywhere the smell of wood, the spice of bright varnish and most of all the resinous sweetness of treatments for bows: blocks and blocks of near transparent rosin lined up in row upon row grace a glass cabinet.

These semi-precious pre-stones glow in the soft tungsten light but are a barrier between me and the ultimate objects of my fantasy.

A hand upon my shoulder. The shopkeeper is knelt by my side.

‘And what are we looking for today, Sir?‘ I hear the smile in his voice and breathing in partake his prickly dark perfume, that now, in age, I know to have been patchouli.

‘He wants a fiddle!’ my mother laughs, gently mocking my absent grandfather’s turn of phrase and, unintentionally, her own innocence.

The next minutes, maybe ten, maybe twenty, forty an hour even, pass by as if a single moment. A symphony of sincere salesmanship and the faltering first steps of an eager nascent connoisseur.

The deal is done before the negotiations have even begun. I turn around with a flourish and hold the instrument first aloft then tight to my chest.

My mother is at the counter, sipping coffee with the ‘&Co.’ owner who has emerged , from the secrets of the backroom beyond.

Even my child”s eyes see he is young and handsome, all dishevelled in a cloud of incense and what I’ll learn at college is cannabis smoke.

He calls me over, winking above my head at his long haired lover.

He hands me a mug, this one has Mozart on and is filled with milk and honey.

He smiles and reveals from behind his back a conjurer’s clenched fist.

He turns and unravels it to reveal a white chocolate mouse and raises his eyebrows in silent invitation.

I look up and my mother nods happy consent.

I taste the creamed vanilla in the air before the morsel arrives in my mouth.

Then another fist appears.

It unwraps itself and unveils a second sweet rodent.

With aplomb and a tiny splash that sounds ‘plop’ it drops into my drink.

I wait for it to sink and melt before I take a swig.

I sit and drink and smell, small and observant.

Three Magi, first with warm musky felt, then fuchsia tissue and finally waxed brown paper wrap my new musical joy.

A freshly minted case must wait for another winter.

Drawing up ready for our departure I inflate my lungs and fill them with the last breaths of the owners’ and the store’s aromas.

The door opens with the same tuneful peel. My brown paper package in hand I ache anxiously for Christmas morning so that I may open my prize and play this scented song again.

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I feel no cold, no rain, though the weather has not changed.

Chanel’s Coromandel is as melodious and soft as sweet music.

A swift and citrus allegro opening of orange and neroli quickly negotiates into a second movement mostly played andante.

Here sweeping string section notes of vanilla, benzoin and incense are prevented from becoming sickly by brief interludes of a pizzicato patchouli, an accord that will eventually form part of a darkly honeyed harmony.

And whilst in dry down this smells more of imaginary bitter white hot chocolate than anything else, the quality of the ingredients, a strong backbone of hardwood and the skill of the their blending ensures that this is more refined music emporium than corner shop or candy store.

Two parts gourmand, three resin, tree and herb this is a nostalgic, near-edible memory made scent.

Yes, something of a white chocolate madeleine moment.

Unisex? Undoubtedly.

Wearable? Oh yes. On high days and holidays to make up for a warmth the weather lacks and when in the mood to remember.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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Winter in July… Nuit de Noel by Caron The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

Christmas is being imported this year.

It will come in a crate by boat and be brought, a little piece of Europe in a box, up from the harbour to our room at Raffles Hotel.

On opening it, I “must be careful” not to unsettle the contents lest one item has been broken and is spilt upon and spoils the others.

The pre-fabricated festivities will have as little to do with Christmas as our lives in this heat and 70% humidity have with a happy marriage.

The box is all flashes and flickers of the world I once knew, before Singapore, before the War even.

Candied fruit, heavy English rosewater – slightly turned, vanilla essence just good enough for custard and a cologne that promises Scandinavian forests and delivers the sweaty, peaty, mossy mass of wet woodland floor in early German spring.

Biscuits shot with caraway, aniseed and oats remind one of the cheeses, hams and cold cuts that we do not have to go with them. They draw an outline around the absence, forming a shape where Christmas and love should be.

These gifts from home serve only to unsettle. Hallowed by sea wave salts and ambers, they are little relics of lost happiness.

The hamper but half emptied, I turn away and fix a gin with something pink and something holy and something local.

How I wish this dress was more loosely fitted.

I raise the glass, a foaming mousse the liquid’s head, to my mouth and inhale the whole in one measure.

The emptied vessel returned to the cabinet I charge another and walk out onto the hot and balmy balcony drink in hand.

Ylang ylang and jasmine fill the air, sharp and distracting, they feel like passing dangers soon supplanted by the reek of the real cancer within: my chest and its presents from the past.

I should shut it up and lock it away, but know the scent it gives off and the pervading sense of an incomplete existence will remain.

I surrender to the smell of passed contentments, long to clamber inside the crate, wrap myself in padding and packaging and be posted back a steerage stowaway in time for Easter.

I will decide tomorrow, it is, after all, the eve of a day of great import.

Nuit de Noel by Caron is no Christmas as we know it.

It is a strange, apprehending and unnerving fragrance that brings forth a variety of notes all slightly off key and not what they should be.

It is an unfloral-floral, a savoury Vanilla, a wintery Chypre a Western oriental.

It is in fact a foreigner abroad, the perpetual expatriate.

It gathers around itself all the talismans of celebration and success: a little animalic, some rose, jasmine, oakmoss and leather.

But rather than a self confident Paris-dressed woman at the height of European chic the effect is of a lonely glamorously tragic gin-soaked figure carving out an existence in place of living a life, somewhere far off and unhappy.

This is a precise and beautiful perfume, done great disservice by reviewers who perceive only its sweeter and more flowery notes.

They are like the local diplomat who intentionally misses the melancholy in the eyes of his colleagues wife, just to save inconvenience.

Like many sad smells it is eminently wearable, yet fearfully beautiful.

The Dandy knows this review comes at just the wrong time of year, but as this is a perfume composed of paradoxes it seems entirely appropriate…

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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