Tag Archives: Marlene Dietrich

Sapphire and steely… Chamade by Guerlain The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

Vogue cover greeen

That day, late spring, she wore a satin trenchcoat in a shade just north of turquoise blue.

Indigo jeans and silver shoes, and, under her heavy fringe, those same steely grey eyes that can see straight through a glassy lens to you.

When she looks in your direction, be it across a room, or out from a magazine, she breaks the rules: she watches you.

Vogue cover Penn

The observed becomes the observer: the unmoving girl in the photograph who holds your gaze no matter how you wriggle; the clotheshorse on the catwalk who stares you down every time you eye her hemline.

She won’t blink first. She’s frozen. Crystalline.

“She’s not a model, she’s a work of art.” Andy said, or would have done if he wasn’t already good as dead.

The hyacinths were past their prime when they came to take her away, the flowers’ scent, almost fermented, was at its strongest: sharp, high, piercing as one imagined her scream might be, except of course, she would never scream.

They rapped the door three times and hollered, got ready to barge it in: a show of strength for assembled tv crews no doubt.

But no one seizes her moment.

Vogue pink sunshine

They pull back to charge and just then in full maquillage she opens up the entrance way and steps out into the day, a feint smile on her plush flesh-toned lips, her horse-hair mane of chemical blond glistening in the newly golden sunshine, its rays dappled through the lilac tree to form a pool of light that serves as her spot, a pale pink rose in her buttonhole, a purple patent Kelly bag thrown across her arm.

She has been surveying them all the while on security, waiting to steal the scene with her entry.

The plan was always to become famous first, then notorious, to use cool and stardom as a cover for as long as possible and then make infamy the tool to spread the message.

The Officer in Charge isn’t.

Porcine and perspiring, his efforts after dishevelled police inspector chic wilt in her shade.

Confronted with his prey – beautiful, implacable, perfectly presented – he panics just a little, mumbles his way through the statement of arrest, wishing the media would melt.

She meets each camera’s gaze as she has a thousand times before. Showing no more emotion than if she were selling a Saint Laurent or parading a Prada.

Vogue lips and eye

She has no problem with hollowed out: devoid of care, devoid of remorse… emptiness is all the same. She does it electrically.

And, besides, she’s waiting.

A shot, muffled only by the proximity of the body it enters.

A thump, said body hitting the floor. Andy. Upstairs.

Confusion. Journalists and cameramen on the deck too. Some police begin to go inside, then hesitate, withdraw: waiting for his word.

“Hadn’t you better go up, there’s a man dying in there.” Her marquise diamond cut voice.

No concern at all. The practised, callous warmth of a thousand interviews. Pleasant, carefree, casual and deadly.

He gives the order to go inside.

She smiles.


He screams: urgency and saliva ejaculating at all at once.

A hail of bullets like a drumroll ricochets through the house.

Vogue cover red

Andy’s jam now. That was always part of the plan too. That nothing should remain of the cold hand that created the scheme.

She’s all that’s left. Upright, flawless, ready for a close up, chaos all around her.

She could be here to sell you soap flakes or sell your country down the stream.

Everyone wonders if she’s wired, fears more surprises: death, an explosion, carnage.

She’s a swan. Gliding across the surface of their pond she’s just made choppy. Underneath she’s working overtime, her heart beats like a machine gun. This is how she imagines love must feel.

Vogue unspent summer

Head high, back straight: sense the invisible thread pulling the body into the vertical: that’s what they said in ballet school. She assumes her position, her poise, her pose.

She’s already ready, in the dock of public opinion and awaiting trial.

Only one possible verdict.


Chamade by Guerlain is a scent of international espionage.

The perfume of a spy: at turns sophisticated, razor sharp, ice cold, sensual, faux shy, sly and insinuating.

This is a fragrance never to be fobbed off or thought lightly of, it is an odour that means business, serious business: affairs of state and matters of import.

This is not a Bond Girl’s bombshell, it is a complex, subtle and strategic scent as impressive for its structure as it is awe-inspiring for its intelligence.

Diana Rigg as Mrs Emma Peel in The Avengers

The opening accord of aldehyde, galbanum and green is one of the most seriously cool and alluringly aloof in all perfumery.

It is froideur made fragrant.

Soon hyacinths, at that moment when they can no longer be tamed, intrude.

Their smell is overpowering, glamorous and artificially natural, lent kerosene power by the lingering chemical taint of that sparkling opening rocket blast burst.

There is a slow segue into softer florals: rose touched with lilac and muguet, yet the sharpness of the start, the hard-headedness of the hyacinth, the rasp of galbanum does not dissipate until we are well through the main part of the perfume’s heart.

Then a wonderful coup de theatre: everything turns from surface and sheen, steel and violent style to manicured, almost polite seduction: with a reveal the Guerlainade appears as if from nowhere, the wings perhaps.


Slowly at first and then onto centre stage, a more balsamic than usual take on the house’s ‘superior crème brulee made aromatic genius’, treads the boards.

It’s as though the perfume knows that to win hearts as well as minds it must show a gentler side, some feather down cushions to mellow the angular geometry that has gone before.

A sympathetic appearance in the witness box and an appealing back story to get the remorseless criminal off the hook.

Though if this perfume were to be charged with ruthless, electric, sublime beauty then the answer must be guilty, guilty, guilty.

Chamade is that rare thing: a shimmering, transcendent scent of enduring, yet somehow untouchable, pleasure.

Chamade ad

Sometimes dismissed as a perfume of the middle rank, perhaps because it deceives simpler minds with its intended duplicities, this is a fragrance of the first order, an enigma within a mystery wrapped up in a miasma.

Glory in it before it gets too hot.

It’s good to be back.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy


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Falling in love again… Jolie Madame by Balmain The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

In the maelstrom of a Cold World War where the kids took rock stars and revolutionaries as their icons she kept Marlene as hers.

She was never really sure how she had ended up in the last officially occupied city in Europe, or how she found herself in a practically unheatable apartment up against the wall, on the last island of capitalism, cast adrift beyond the Tiergarten, before Check Point Charlie, and under American control.

But here she was, amongst the wannabee Baader-Meinhofs and Johnny Rottens, and happy after a fashion.

Her rooms, in a nineteenth century block blown apart then haphazardly rebuilt by the allies, were vast, indeed she held sway only over a portion of them, allowing plants and free-thinking students to invade the rest.

She laughed to herself that she didn’t know which smelt damper and more bitter, the moss that scaled the stairwell or the disaffected German youths who came to hang out with her.

Certainly the students had a more animal aroma than the well mannered mice that scuttled ceaselessly between walls and under floor boards.

The young people had arrived at first because of her flowers, they stayed they said because of her food and drew a crowd of comrades to the Kreuzberg because of her fingers.

She suspected there was still another reason for their devotion.

Something beyond the banks of sweet violets that she had taken to cultivating in the enormous and unusable sitting room, pots of which she would gift them to take back home and scent their squalid squats with.

Something other than the vats of lentils cooked with fresh coriander and the occasional clove spiced ham, simmered to submission on the aged gas stove, that they partook so freely and gratefully of.

Of course she knew there were causes other than poverty for their hunger, she saw the tram line bruises on their arms, the veins broken as abruptly as u-Bahn lines.

She even knew that it was something more than her facility for fixing up their battered leather jackets, using a Singer even older than her cooker, even older than her, to repair garments even more in tatters than their city, that drew them in.

Though it was true: her hands kept her now as they had always done: at any time there could be a hundred or more hide coats hanging in those rooms. Some awaiting repair, others in the process, the majority attending their owners’ return with the few marks in hand that they needed to pay her.

By mid afternoon the whole place smelt beautifully of new blood and old leather and she loved it and was comforted by it.

And this she knew is why they came. They came for comfort.

From about five, as night fell, they would make their way to her from across the berg.

They came drunk on the booze they bought at the Intershops at Friedriechstrasse station, where she had left her old life behind, or high on whatever they got high on that spring after the German Autumn.

They crammed in around her and talked and talked and talked until there was no more that could be said.

Then they asked her to play her music.

Placing the needle on the most scratched but most beloved of all her records, she waited a moment for the sound of an old Berlin to begin.

Then she sat amongst them as they finally found their quiet.

One of the children, for that is how she thought of them, whispered something to another, he looked straight at her and she caught the words “Die schone Frau”, then he collapsed into his lover’s arms and unconsciousness.

Jolie Madame, even in the latest toilette, stands as a salutary reminder of a previous kind of perfume.

It is a more careworn and perhaps caring sort of scent, one which seeks not to portray a perfected idea of the world but rather to suggest memories and make associations that are more real and realistically rough edged and imperfect.

It all starts with a phalanx of surprisingly savoury sweet violets.

The reason for this unsyrupy tone is quickly revealed as a slightly decayed structure of oakmoss, vetiver and animal smells, principally leather.

As the initially plush floral note fades, but never disappears, this leather truly comes to the fore and shows itself to be of an older, battered jacket type, aromatically weathered with coriander, petitgrain and not too much tobacco smoke.

Like an actual leather jacket, once one is accustomed to the scent it can tend to be subsumed into notions of the person who’s wearing it and when they have worn it.

In this sense Jolie Madame is a memory scent, a doorway into different pasts and places according to the whim of those who wear it and those who smell it.

Unlike so many contemporary perfumes, this sympathetically reformulated 1950s classic, does not close us in to a simple reading, but allows a little free thinking.

If only more fragrances today were as keen on freedom.

One has the sense that this could be quite as Jolie for a Monsieur as a Madame.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy

The Perfumed Dandy


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