Starting from scratch

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When it comes to perfume, I’m beginning to realise I didn’t really get a head start…

I was corresponding with a perfumisto friend recently when it dawned on my that in some ways, you know, I really am starting from absolute scratch when it comes to perfume. 

Tania Sanchez defines the first phase of perfume addiction as watching your mum put it on when she gets ready for the evening – the first hint of the fascinating, glamourous world outside your four walls when you’re a small child.

The problem there is, my mum never went out. My parents literally went out once a year – to the ‘do’ at the colliery where my father worked as a miner – and that is precisely how often she wore perfume (one of those many things of which my father did not approve).

She used a tiny weeny little black bottle of Coty’s L’Aimant (which means slightly more than just ‘magnet’ in French). It was her favourite perfume, but she wasn’t allowed to wear it the rest of the year, nor any form of deodorant, nor use fabric softener, or air freshener, nor did we have scented soap in the house (or toothpaste either, but that’s another story).

Our toilet (nothing so grand as a ‘bathroom) smelled of the puritan wholesomeness of shit, carbolic and Vim and to this day, the smell of Jeyes Fluid can make me homesick. Maybe once a year I was given a present of skin-scouring bath salts (six to a pack) or bath oil pearls by some kind relative, and then I’d have to wait for another year.  

When I was 13, my aunty Margie gave me Astral Skin Creme Soap and the luxury of it overwhelmed me. Soap that actually lathered (my father baked the coal-tar soap, which he got free from the pit, in the airing cupboard until it was rock hard. It lathered like a stone in your hands). But this was different – soft, and fluffy, embracing, and left my hands feeling soft and fragrant.

On holidays to my glamourous Aunty Glad’s house in Gayton, the scent of her bathroom, with its Lux and Camay soaps and little ladies in crinolines to hide the bog roll, was an earthly delight to me. I bought myself Norfolk Lavender perfume on trips into Norwich, and revelled in it, quickly followed by cheap-as-chips Jovan Musk, still made by Coty, and which I probably smelled of from the age of 11 to the age of 20. 

The slippery slope, clearly, though it’s taken me a long time to really start sliding down it – something very common, I’m told, in young women who came of age in the era of the big heavies – Poison, Opium, Samsara, Giorgio – but who couldn’t bear the olfactive reek of those big aromachemicals. Personally I retreated into the world of soliflores like Yardley’s English Lavender and Jasmine from Culpeper (sadly no longer with us), or 4711 Cologne. 

So, for me, as once it was for the world of wine, the world of perfume is an unexplored territory,  which I must say I am having great fun charting. I got my first Diptyque fragrance recently, and a stack of Etat Libre d’Orange samples is on its way from an Ebay friend. 

I will report back from the frontiers…

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