Hello, I’m Wordbird, and while IScent takes a well-deserved trip to the perfumeries of France, I shall try to fill her shoes. I hope I won’t bore you!
I know IScent said all kinds of nice things about me, but in fact, she has been a ‘perfumista’ longer than I have. I always liked perfume, but I wasn’t fascinated by it. Until, that is, I went on holiday to France seven years ago, taking with me a book called The Emperor of Scent, which I’d picked up in the SciFi section for holiday reading. It turned out to be real science, not fiction: the story of a talented biophysicist called Luca Turin who was researching how we smell things. It was a fascinating read, but what really inspired my imagination was Luca Turin’s comments on perfumes and the perfume industry.
Turin claims Mitsouko is the perfume he would take with him if he was being sent off on an inter-galactic space mission. He describes it as lovingly as if it was his favourite child. I had to smell it. Being in France meant that I could spend hours in a handy branch of Marionaud, smelling many of the amazing things he described in glowing terms usually reserved for works of art. At a shopping mall in a provincial French town I was able to try things I would have struggled to find at home in Wales, including the entire Guerlain range of classics – Jicky, Shalimar, Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue, Apres L’Ondee, Vol de Nuit, Chamade, Jardins de Bagatelle, Nahema, Parure, Mahora, Champs-Elysees, L’Instant, Insolence… I came out of the shop reeling and reeking.
Some of those perfumes repulsed me – traditional, oakmoss-laden chypres were definitely not to my taste and I did not like massive florals or 80s stinkers – others confused me, some left me cold, a couple were interesting but difficult and one or two were pretty.
But one made me come back again and again to sniff the bottle and then the inside of my wrist where I had sprayed it: L’Heure Bleue. It was strange and just a little magical, wonderful and very grown-up. It did confuse me, I couldn’t say ‘this smells of x y and z’, as Luca Turin did in his reviews and when I read the notes listed, I could smell no particular iris, violet, heliotrope or carnation. Instead, I had an impression of melancholy, face powder and a ladylike, delightful deliciousness, an edibleness like a rich almond pastry with a creamy vanilla custard filling. It hypnotised me and fascinated me and I was hooked.
If you haven’t yet got around to trying L’Heure Bleue I strongly recommend you do. Persuade the sales assistant at the Guerlain counter to pull out the beautiful little bottle with the heart-shaped stopper from under the counter and try it, I beg you. Failing that, somehow get your paws on a sample of this rare gem. It is pensive, complex and gently intelligent, utterly unlike the modern watery vanilla/ thin floral/fruitichouili things that are being pushed at consumers nowadays. This remarkable perfume celebrated its one hundredth birthday last year, and like so many delightful Centegenarians, it still has powerful charm and character, which is no bad thing.