The scent of lavender silk.
There once was a young woman named Heather Firbank. Sister of the writer Ronald Firbank, she was very fond of clothes, and spent her generous allowance on building a substantial and beautiful wardobe of garments in peau de soie, fine linen and substantial Egyptian cotton. She favoured shades that echoed her name: heather and lilac and lavender and violet and hyacinth and iris and mauve…
If this perfume had existed then, I’m absolutely certain she would have worn it. It has the most glorious, delicious, evocative smell of the past – in the very best sense it is old-fashioned – or perhaps a better word would be ‘nostalgic’. It reminds me of ladies in lavender, old ladies’ talcum powder, my lovely Aunty Gladys with her Camay soap in the bathroom and her flowered cretonne-covered furniture.
Bas de Soie (Silk Stockings) was released in 2010 by Serge Lutens. Many of the firm’s perfumes are unisex and some, to me, edge into predominantly masculine territory. But Bas de Soie is one that you can safely put on your dressing table without fear of it being borrowed by the men in your life.
When I passed it around at a Girls Night In recently, it proved too sugary and sweet for the others, who were universally bowled over by the cooler charms of L’Eau Serge Lutens. "Smells like a maiden aunt," said my friend K, smiling, which I think is bang on. It’s sweet without being girly, and has almost a spinsterish quality. Wearing it makes me feel immensely feminine.
Bas de Soie apparently contains a hyacinth accord, married with ‘powdery notes’ and iris. For the iris I couldn’t speak. No iris flower that I have ever smelled has had a scent, and I think what we are talking of here is orris root, used as a perfume fixative. But strangely enough, every year at this time of year, i buy myself a forced hyacinth plant and place it on my desk. This year it’s a pink one, and they’ve potted up a garden variety, so there it sits, flopping all over the place with its too-tall spikes of bloom and filling the air with a crytallised, green, clove-backed, insistent sweetness that I find utterly enticing. To me, this is what this perfume smells like.
One odd effect that I have noticed, though, is that it doesn’t quite settle down. Most perfumes have top notes that you smell for about half an hour, then you get hours of the middle notes, and at the end of what perfumistas call the ‘drydown’ you get the last lingering notes, often based on woods and resins as these have the most lasting power.
But this perfume is different. One moment it smells strongly of hyacinth, and then two hours later it’s like a different smell altogether. Then it switches back, and so on throughout the day like a pendulum. This is clearly a characteristic that Lutens himself has chosen. "It is a perfume at the center of doubt… the beam balance never settles between iris and hyacinth in the main accord, which is what makes the composition interesting," he says.
Whatever the breakdown, I find it delicious. I thought that I would wear this perfume mainly in the height of summer, but just recently, I was feeling very fragile after a hospital procedure, and instinctively I reached for this fragrance. There is something comfortingly womanly about it on a painful day.