Scent is everything. It’s the finishing touch, it’s the defining feature, it announces our arrival, and it drifts in our wake. You can be dressed like a slob but wearing a lavish perfume will imbue you with an element of glamour, of intrigue. It’s utterly transformative, and can be used to attract, to confound, to flirt, to boost the spirits and, of course, to make memories.
In common with Fyne Associates, I’m also celebrating a twenty-year anniversary this month. My wedding was in early December and each year on that date I make sure my treasured Chanel No5 shower gel – kept for the most special occasions – is on hand, then I massage in the corresponding body lotion before spraying and inhaling; the same ritual I carried out twenty years ago. I’d never worn Chanel before that day, but it felt right for a wedding; classic, modern, self-assured yet romantic. I walked up the aisle in a cloud of elegant, powdery florals combined with that addictive ‘seasoning’ of aldehyde; hard to define, but the fragrance equivalent of delicate bubbles in the finest champagne. And each year my husband looks at me and says something corny but wonderful about how he feels the same about me as he did on the morning of our wedding. I don’t want to negate the romance, but I’m aware that science is playing a part: within his brain, the olfactory bulb in his amygdala has been triggered, unleashing a scent memory, provoking an emotional response, courtesy of that iconic glass bottle.
More memories, in the form of Gallant, by Faîr Parfum which is fabulously old-school and gives me a massive dose of nostalgia. There’s something robustly masculine about the throbbing bergamot note which announces itself on arrival; one sniff of its clean crisp aroma leaves me thinking of the first round in the pub on a Saturday night, when the men with crisp ironed shirts are still shower-fresh and exuding butch bursts of aftershave. That initial acerbic quality mellows with the warmth of patchouli and oakmoss and there’s some clever use of florals to soften the whole effect. I’m not sure why, but it feels reassuring – perhaps because that musky base lends it a universal familiarity. Listen, I can’t skirt around this and I’m worried that if I admit this is giving me dad-vibes it may put you off – it shouldn’t. It’s super-attractive, like a safe pair of hands and a broad set of shoulders all in one, plus the high concentration of oils used means it can be relied on to stick around.
Is this all an overshare? Much as I love the way scent can take me back, I also love it for its ability to take me to new places. There have been some splendiferous launches this year, each worthy of their place in a considered fragrance wardrobe and one of which leads me to admit something which has been a source of secret shame for a long time: I don’t like tuberose. There, I’ve said it. OK, I can see that it may not seem like a huge deal but back in the 90s (yes, I’m aware I’m referencing last century, thank you) one couldn’t move through the beauty world without being confronted by its potent force; it was the star of pretty much every fragrance launch. I could recognise its lure and appreciate its audacity, but it left me feeling awkward, nervy. Even the look of the plant unsettles me, so delicate and unassuming with its pretty blooms, not in any way the fleshy, waxen flowers my imagination conjured. Seeing this written this down does make me concerned that I’ve overthought this, but I was at an impressionable age and those Tuberose-wearers were unilaterally cool and aloof, and could probably apply their ubiquitous liquid liner without recourse to a mirror (or even phone camera) Why am bringing this up now? Because after all of these years I have finally found my way into Tuberose, thanks to Cochine’s new range of fragrances, an extension of their home/body range. They’ve blended the bulbous beauty with fresh, green fig which knocks back the grandstanding of the white floral. I think it must be because I’ve always steered well clear that when I was trialling the collection, I genuinely spent a full day wondering where that gorgeous scent was coming from before realising it was me.
More white florals, this time from luxe clean beauty-brand, Romilly Wilde. Their Idle scent is described as quiet and polite: a disruptive adaptive scent. Personally, I found it anything but. The heady burst of blooms was nothing short of attention-grabbing and I welcomed it. So mellifluous, so intense; such depth to that bouquet. The quintessentially summery notes of jasmine and linden blossom remain present even after the dry down but by this point, they’ve been mellowed, warmed through with woodiness and some serious sexy musky notes. The idea is that Idle adapts to its wearer through the magic of molecules. That being the case, I clearly can’t get enough of myself as I thought it was wholly compelling in all its incarnations throughout the day. This is definitely one to draw on as an aide-memoire to remind me of my own capacity to adapt.
Equally dazzling and – let’s be frank – equally redolent of luxury in fragrant form, is Creed’s quite masterly Aventus for Her. It’s contradictory in that it manages to be so much more than the sum of its parts, and yet all the notes are, at times, distinct; each surfacing from a glorious melee of fruit and florals to take centre stage before a gracious curtsey and retreat. The sprightly hello greets you with Calabrian bergamot and juicy green apple before asserting its powdery poshness; succulent but never cloying. Aventus is well named, if I was to try and picture this scent in human form, it would be of a confident woman, mid-stride: someone ready to take on the world, with places to go. There is undeniable sophistication here but somehow it retains a perkiness; this isn’t one for lounging or seducing (which isn’t to suggest it isn’t phenomenally attractive) but instead, this is a scent for new beginnings; visionary, a memory-maker.
Much as I adore flower-shop scents, my heart lies in the deeper, darker world of spice with earthy undertones and woody warmth, which makes Penhaligon’s latest fragrance, Constantinople a must. This is the person I want to be, the impression or memory I want to leave with others; intriguing, tantalising, delicious (this really is something of a soul-baring). The gracious gentility of iris lies at its heart, but it is imbued with spice and seasoned with vanilla making it mouth-wateringly familiar and mysterious at once. It’s certainly heady and rich; redolent of distant lands. I’d say that it captures the ‘essence of the exotic ‘but there is something in that which sounds a little problematic, so I’ll just state that I’m aware that the tale it tells is a fairy story, rather than a documentary: Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Nights comes to mind as the notes weave their intoxicating tale. Familiar and yet somehow unknowable.
Which brings me to Evernia, the latest chypre fragrance from Ormonde Jayne, and an altogether greener, more earthy sensation. Similarly magical, but here the magic derives from enchanted woods rather than mythical lands. Spice is still present, but as background to an intensely sylvan scent comprising soft, beguiling layers of florals built around oakmoss absolute, taking it from the heart of the forest into the light. The other hero of the piece is creamy, buttery orris, described by some as skin-like, soft, and powdery, and by me as nuzzle-worthy. Add cashmeran (a meltingly soft, tactile synthetic) into the mix and this delicately multi-stranded ‘forest-bath in a bottle’ becomes evocative of the immeasurable sense of content I feel when I’m walking with someone I love and their hand slips into mine. So many memories here, but mainly the soft, squidginess of my daughter’s palm in mine (taken for granted for so long and now cherished when it happens) and the rough familiarity of my husband’s hand guiding me through the roots and muddy patches, cheeks whipped by the wind; we’re together walking in woodland and I’m in my happy place.
To finish, another recent discovery and one which ultimately weaves back to romance: Tobak, created by Maye Nije, was sent to me by hoohaa, a scent subscription service for which you’ll pay a monthly charge of £14.95. In return, you receive one 10ml bottle of fragrance each month (handbag-sized spray bottle). If you love it, you can purchase a full size; if you like it, you can wear it throughout the month and then wait to see what the next offering will be. On taking out the sub you fill in your ‘edit’ of preferences. I went with ‘Take Me to Mars’ for something unusual and ‘out there’. I can’t speak for all of their choices, but with Tobak they were bob-on for me. It’s dark and naughty, the perfume of subterranean secret club nights, long abandoned but imprinted on my subconscious: scented by tobacco, spice, leather, and the musky aroma of bodies pulsating to a dominating bass. It’s a million miles away from No5, it’s so much edgier, but the memories it evokes hurtle me back through the days of the past twenty years and back to those early, sometimes-forgotten nights.
No 5 by Chanel, from £62 boots.com
Gallant, Faîr Parfum £60 fairparfum.com
Cochine Eau de Parfum, including Tuberose and Wild Fig £110 cochine.co.uk
Idle by Romilly Wilde from £52 romilywilde.com
Constantinople by Penhaligons, £178 penhaligons.com
Aventus for Her by Creed, from £160 creedfragrances.co.uk
Evernia by Ormonde Jayne, from £90 ormondejayne.com
Scent subscription service by hoohaa.co.uk