Of scents and other things

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Perfume, it seems to me, is one place where an over-40s babe can continue to express herself, whatever her age.

PerfumeI will be reviewing perfumes more often on this blog, so I thought perhaps I should give some background as to what I like and don’t like in scent, to give more of a base line. Because the thing is, I’m not what you’d call an ardent perfume fan – in fact, I haven’t bought a bottle in years.

It is my recent introduction to the more selective perfumes lines that has proved something of a lightbulb moment. For many years prior to this, I had been a bit fed up with perfumes, for several reasons. 

Firstly, many of them smell the same… Ammonia-powered top note, migraine-inducing heart note, chemical-smelling base note. Nothing special, nothing individual, all way too artificial for my liking.

Secondly, I have a strong body chemistry that turns many perfumes rancid, and the majority of high-street perfumes mature on me in a way that I don’t like, unless I faff about spraying them onto tissues, etc.

Therefore, when I find a favourite (usually in a selective or organic brand) I tend to stick with it. I will wear a perfume for years if I like it, because – after all – they are expensive. In this, I am remarkably boring.

I find many perfumes too unsubtle. In my hectare of garden I grow roses (about which I am PASSIONATE), along with lavender, witch hazel, osmanthus, lilacs, buddleia, jasmine, viburnums, elder, phlomis etc. Scent is crucial to me in the garden, and an important criterion when I choose plants. So I know the scent of a Gloire de Dijon from a Belle de Crècy, how some perfumes carry on the air and how some require you to bury your nose in a blossom to appreciate them, how violets anaesthetise your sense of smell, how witch hazels can’t be smelt close up and how some flowers smell only at certain times of day. I ofen feel that artificial perfumes fall far short of what can be found in nature.

I mostly detest the scents to be found in air fresheners and household cleaners – so I make my own from white vinegar, bicarb and lemon oil. I use pure essential oils in the bath (lavender, black pepper, rosemary, grapefruit…), favour unscented skincare products, wash my clothes with Savon de Marseilles, don’t use fabric softener at all because I can’t bear the smell, make my own talc from cornstarch and bicarb, and prefer a deodorant stone to a scented anti-perspirant.

So, fragrance, for me, has to be either very worthwhile, or not used at all.

Having said that, I am not immune to how useful fragrance can be to induce a mood, or complement your clothing. It’s delightful to use a beautifully scented body lotion (current favourite, Mariella Rossetti’s Lime and Caffeine), or have your friends use your loo and say it’s the best-smelling bathroom they’ve ever been in (Airwick Apple and Cinnamon candles). 

When it comes to actually wearing perfume, then, for summer evenings, I favour florals such as YSL Paris, Crabtree and Evelyn’s rose (eau fraiche), or an essential oil such as ylang-ylang, while my pillow gets a spritz of Durance’s Bouton de Rose pillow spray or lavender oil. During the daytime, I’m quite happy with true lavender scents such as Norfolk Lavender (a memory, also, to me of holidays spent at my auntie’s house in Gayton), which smells nice and clean (lavender, from ‘lavare’ – to wash).

in winter – perhaps because I like cooking – I favour edible offerings like apple, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, lapsang souchong, ginger and clove. I also like woody, leathery, tobaccoey and smoky perfumes, along with a dash of patchouli.

For over 10 years, my main winter perfume has been Tea for Two by L’Artisan Parfumeur – a smoky, black tea-based scent, and I am also fond of Jean-Paul Gaultier’s first perfume for women (now known as ‘Classique’). Having recently tried Serge Lutens’ Jeux de peau, however, I am a complete convert and will definitely be wearing it for the rest of the winter.

In spring, I tend to switch to clean, sharp, lemony perfumes, or alternatively what the trade calls ‘aquatics’ – perfumes that smell of the sea, ozone and fresh air. Aquatics are a new note in perfumes, incidentally, and the accord that creates that smell was only created in about 1991.

For some time I favoured L’Eau d’Issey (the main problem being that everyone else I met seemed to be wearing it), and when my bottle ran out, I switched seamlessly to the DH’s L’Eau d’Issey pour Homme – rather more musky but in the same general ballpark.

However, for a few years now, my main spring perfume has been another tea-based offering – Thé Vert by Roger et Galland. This is a very crisp, sharp, green perfume that feels instantly fresh, but like many fresh perfumes, it doesn’t have much in the way of staying power – a perennial problem with the volatile oils on which these lemony perfumes are based. I also like L’Occitane’s Vervaine, but this too fades – and after an even shorter time.

Finally, I hate celebrity perfumes, and dewberry and all other similar, cat’s pee type smells, so anything with even a whiff of this is enough to put me off. Even walking past Bodyshop’s Dewberry range has always been enough to give me a pounding headache. 

Actual perfume reviews to follow over the next few days. 

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