Tag Archives: Vincent Van Goch

All tomorrow’s parties… Shalimar by Guerlain The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

“Really, I don’t understand why some people have such a problem with parties.”

“I do believe I was born to the sound of a champagne cork and I tell you I am determined to spend what little time I have on this Earth having the best possible time this planet can provide.”

A certain slyness in her eyes says there’s more to it.

Darkness flashes beneath the surface like a sea serpent in shallow water.

There’s danger here.

Best appreciated on her own, away from her set, she’s an incredible jewel of a thing.

Intricate and simple, worldy and naïve, sexy but oh so straight laced.

Happy, happy, happy all the time, but oh so inconsolably sad.

You see her at parties across the room, sipping fizz or gem stone cocktails, making small talk with big men, opening her eyes a little too wide when she smiles, throwing her head back a little too far, too fast when she laughs too wildly at another “too funny” unfunny joke.

And in the daylight?

Mostly her make up is too heavy, too sweet.

Her leather boots too high and her dresses too low on top, too short down below.

She looks always like an actress between scenes.

She smokes frankincense cigarettes through a filter three feet long, pours vanilla syrup in her coffee and always takes cream when everyone else settles for milk.

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She insists on irises all year round to fill the rooms she shares with no one.

She’s too, too much for the real world.

For the real world was too, too much for her once.

She rolled in honey harvest time hay with a swell in uniform smelling of polished army boots and wood smoke cologne.

He promised her they were only “going across The Pond to finish things off”.

And they were, except he got finished off first.

The Roman Catholic funeral mass helped, but not much.

Not as much as a brace of Manhattan’s made with Canadian whiskey.

So now she settles for this life of extremes, for a pot bellied pig on a lead for a pet, for singing in Speakeasies for fun and smoking hashish for the giggles.

For flirting with everyone and sleeping with some. For forgetting half the time and never loving, no one except “the one”.

For staying out of the sunlight and hogging the limelight.

For being a star not a woman, though that’s all she ever wanted to be.

Except, occasionally, on a Winter’s day, when the light is thin and she can wrap up in furs without being the first thing they see.

Then she’ll go out without the makeup, the filter, the fans and even the pig.

And then she really is a woman, living in a real world, just one who really can’t help but be a star.

A lone star.

To talk of Shalimar merely as a party perfume is a little like dismissing Proust as a man who wrote about miniature cakes.

The original of the modern Oriental, it is both the most magnificent of going out scents and so much more besides.

Like those other great Guerlain’s of the period Mitsouko and l’Heure Bleue it is impossible to divorce from history.

If they are the perfumes of remembrance and contemplation respectively then this is fragrance of forced forgetfulness.

To understand the 1920s, the wild parties and wilful self-destruction it is perhaps necessary to consider the mass destruction and wide, seemingly endless pain of The Great War.

To comprehend Shalimar one must be aware of all the memories this ray of glamour sought to bleach out of millions of minds.

Yet at the same time it is new found wealth and extravagance, it is fresh pressed myths and the magic of the movies.

It is the olfactory equivalent of a Busby Berkeley Broadway show or the silent movie spectacle of Ben Hur.

It seeks to entice, amuse, enthral and amaze.

It seeks to be the ultimate diversion.

In all of this it is very nearly succeeds, for it is a joyous explosion of the senses, a smell synonymous with dressing up and going off down town.

But at once, in the thick saving face maquilage of powdery iris, the soothing crème-brulee-of-the-soul vanilla, in the taught leather gloves of motor sport drivers’ victory waves and army officers’ good bye salutes, in the high mass smoke and balsam of incense and bezoin, in all of this it is a record of all that has gone before.

Shalimar is darkness and light, pleasure and pain, hope and despair.

Shalimar is legend.

Forgive me for not talking too specifically of notes so far as Shalimar is concerned… it seems superfluous, there are so many and blended much as they might be in a symphony.

And like a symphony, or perhaps more aptly an opera, Shalimar is a work of art not a collection of crotchets and minims, A and B flats.

Needless to say The Dandy wears Shalimar as much as any other single perfume in his collection.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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Of jungles and joy in Arcadia Scenes from The Perfumed Dandy’s American Adventure Part Four : Washington DC

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The National Gallery of Art is perhaps the most perfect example of the American neo-classical, not just in The Smithsonian, but anywhere in Washington, perhaps even America.

Its collection of paintings is exquisite.

It has a depth and range that few museums anywhere could even begin to aspire to. And unlike say, le Louvre, or even el Prado, its scale is determinedly human. A wing need not exhaust one if approached early and with care.

For The Dandy this treasure chest contained some very special pictures he had his heart set on seeing.

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Henri Rousseau the self taught tax clerk turned post impressionist par excellence, created some of the most outlandishly decorative paintings ever committed to canvas.

His naive shapes in bold yellows reds and especially greens combine to create urban jungles of a distinctly inviting kind. Here lions dance, tigers pounce and apes of all sorts go amiably about their business.

Kenzo’s Jungle l’Elephant is the perfect match for Rousseau’s Parisian rain forests.

Not only for it  too seeks  to summon up the spirit of great beasts, but because it is as well sort of innocent art comprising of vast bold gestures… too much spice at the opening a sumptuous superfluity of vanilla throughout.

Of course there is another fragrance that has had me calling for the Rousseaus before, I even borrowed one when describing Cacharel’s Eden

But that is another story…

Irises and sunflowers are the blooms most associated with Van Goch.

Perhaps because of their ever presence in prints I have always wanted to see his roses.

And here they were.

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In a room devoid of people a profusion of delicate white petals over brimming a simple stoneware jug.

The artist’s triumph to make a daring composition and the approximate figuration of the flowers seem, if not real, then entirely authentic.

No one could accuse Dominique Ropion’s Potrait of a Lady for Frederic Malle of being any the less artful or truthful than Vincent’s still life.

This is scent as tableaux vivant, a shimmering rendition of many roses mixed together in heavy early summer air thick with soft fruit, green shrub and light incense.

Sublime and transportive like the novel that inspired it and the art it echoes.

And I had come to the Gallery in search of an echo.

The mirror of one of my very most favourite pictures.

Fragonard’s Girl On A Swing lives in the precious Wallace Collection in London, but here in Washington on a vast canvas was another girl on a another swing by the same artist…

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Unlike her naughtier European cousin, thrusting herself skywards to give her suitor a better view of whatever lies under her endless petticoats, this innocent American is slicing through the air for her own playful and pre-sexual enjoyment.

A female friend and a small boy are her attendants, exchanging a flurry of flower petals with her. For a moment I fancy them to be the white roses of the room before decapitated from their thorny stems and made make believe confetti.

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Then I have a change of heart and my mind settles on the idea that they are tiny muguet.

And the scent that embodies her lacivious London relative will do for this jeune fille too.

For Dior’s Diorissimo is both innocence and experience, sacred childhood and profane youth.

It is the daintiest sexiest scent that one could ever hope to smell.

The quietness of Washington’s National Gallery sets it apart from the many other great museums I have visited.

Perhaps I was lucky to visit on a holiday that does not attract art lovers, but rather those who have come to remember their loved ones.Whatever the reason, the sense of stillness and peace was overwhelming for one such as I so used to Europe’s sardines in a can temples of art.

The luxury of being in a room alone with twenty great paintings is impossible to overstate.

Again, fantasies of being that railroad magnate tout seul with his private collection return.

The splendour of the Gallery’s winter gardens do nothing to dissipate my delusions of grandeur.

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Resting here on cushioned wrought iron furniture redolent of the orangery or conservatory of some stately home, I mold my musings to a more conceivable dream.

I am in the palm court of a great hotel, afternoon tea is about to be served, I am meeting friends and acquaintances as is our want of a Sunday to exchange witticisms and gifts of our own new poems and publications.

The air is weighed down with the aroma of the luxurious leather luggage that porters steer silently around us, the smell of tea sweetened with syrups and honeys and the light floral fragrance of the vast arrangements that adorn the lobby.

In short the fragrance is Van Cleef and Arpels opulent Midnight in Paris a perfume that some men find too feminine and most women would not think to wear but which is, in fact, pitch perfect for either sex.

I realise quite quickly that I could rest here in my reverie all afternoon, but there are other sights to be seen and I here the call of Congress bidding me to climb Capitol Hill.

Here I enter the fairytale Italian palace that is The Library of Congress.

A palazzo that owes its existence to two remarkable sleights of hand.

The first by a librarian who convinced a reluctant legislature that it should have the right to a copy every book published in the nation, and only when they had agreed in statute, reminded them that they would need a place to keep them all.

The second by an architect who interpreted a brief that stipulated “no unnecessary ornamentation” to mean that every conceivable decorative mode was “entirely necessary” when building the greatest library since Alexandria.

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Bless them both, for they conspired to deliver us a divine space of study and contemplation.

An almost holy home for America’s mountainous collections of the printed word.

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The Dandy feels at home here. My life is spent when not with scent in libraries and so their hushed tones and near silent rituals are as comforting to me as is the liturgy to a man of the cloth.

People often describe perfumes as smelling of old books, when in fact they mean relatively new books: volumes printed in the last hundred years. The real thing, tomes of two centuries or more in age, have no uniform smell, glues and papers and bindings all being so different.

Many will resonate of  hides of their jackets, others of dark undefinable dust. Most commonly though in my experience, incense or even tobacco smoke are the nearest synonyms to the scent of old pages.

Tabacco Toscano Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is perhaps the sweetest and most sincere tobacco fragrance that there is. It sits close to the skin unobtrusively itself, forming not a self-conscious scent but more an environment.

Honestly, this is The Dandy‘s natural habitat.

It is therefore with hesitation and much reluctance that I depart back into the bright sunshine to be greeted with a view that would have made Roman Emperors blush with humility.

Across the massive piazza The Capitol resides like the ultimate palace of a people’s Empire.

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Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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