Just remember, do not spray it on. ?Walk through the cloud!?
The yellow box states: "Believed to have specific effects on mind and spirit, this blend performs the role of perfume but goes far beyond." The French text below it is identical in every way, except that it promises the same effect on the "spirit and body."
That in itself says speaks volumes about the two cultural discourses.
How, pray tell, to write about a perfume, the smell of which made your body perform a hunting stance much like a trained dog would (ears upright, tail parallel to the floor, right front paw raised, nose up and sniffing the air), and quietly say, “You know ... I would not want to rush things... but have we just found our signature scent?"
We have a special relationship with our body; if you listen to it, it sometimes tells you very interesting things. I remember that many years ago, after my first visit to England, I made the mistake of choosing Italy for my next trip. And so, looking out of the airport window at the planes ready for departure, my body asked me, happily rubbing its hands:
— Well, off to London again, are we?
— No, — I answered.
— But wheeere?! — the body's eyes nearly popped out of the head from hearing such nonsense.
Well, it's much like a joke about a young mother we have in our language ("A boy? — No. — Then whooo?!").
The body usually knows where its home is very clearly.
Château de Fontainebleau, France
The Welsh language has a wonderful word, hiraeth. It means a feeling of nostalgia for something that's now left in the distant past or... something that has never happened at all. The "sweet poison of a different existence," that longing for the unrealizable largely constitutes the poetic essence of the British and especially the Celtic culture. It can be "auld lang syne" (good old times) - the historical past of a particular country that is gone forever, yet is also forever cherished in one's memory, like a person's own childhood, or it can be a different world, where gods, spirits, ancestors live, a world that is definitely close to our own but also infinitely far away from it.
A well-trained body catches such moments of recognizing one's home (something of your own, something internal, sacred and precious) without fail - in music, in a landscape, in the changes of light, in the way one feels the ground beneath one's feet, in the way someone's speech sounds. Most often, home is not a single object, but a state, an image; it is like mosaics, put together out of dozens of fragments that come at us from all our perception channels, from visual to olfactory. There are plenty of them, but there cannot be too many, for that would mean that the soul is overly fragmented, scattered in an even layer over too vast an area, and the task of putting it all together would thus be overwhelming for just one human life. However, there are exceptions, too - it is possible if you are a saint from any mystical tradition who can say "I am everything."
Whenever we acquire any of the missing fragments, any after sound or echo of our inner home, it results in us feeling incomparably serene and at ease; the body says, "I am here, I'm back," and curls up all nice and cozy on the rug in front of the fireplace while the master stares at the fire, lost in thought, blowing puffs of pipe smoke into the dark. Gradually, a palace, a castle or, a Mind Palace, if you wish, is built from those bricks. The topic of a symbolic home has always been of interest to writers capable of looking at the other side of existence (not necessarily in a mystical way, but definitely in search of meaning) - from Stoddard to Woolf, from Poe to Waugh.
The search for a signature scent is related to the very same sensation of inner home (one that is either lacking in one's tangible, available reality or is insufficient) — that mythical one and only scent that you will always feel comfortable and happy in, one for all time. Very few things cause more disdain on the part of perfumery journalists than signature scents, except for maybe note pyramids; both concepts are deemed utterly useless, devoid of meaning and limiting our perception. Meanwhile, it is merely our soul, that is not quite at ease in this world, that yearns to find a home, something to lean on, a feeling of "I am where I have always wanted to be", so that one could always turn to that for protection and solace.
A signature scent does not mean self-isolating and never leaving one's home again. It simply procures a place where you can always go back to - like an actor who has played dozens of roles, claiming his own self back after each one; like a seasoned faraway traveler who comes back home to rest, only to depart on a new trip soon after. It does not disavow new perfumery experiences per se - it validates them. The ability to find your own scent among fragrances, to listen and hear your body with its instinctive "animal soul" as a Kabbalah follower would put it (in that system, intuition is divided into two parts, the higher, spiritual and figurative, aka Neshama and the lower, Nefesh, which is the very one we are referring to here), which is quite instrumental in helping you resist the spirit of Luxury Consumption and the informational avalanche both of which have run so rampant in our world that cannons and barricades may soon be needed to protect yourself from them. Most importantly, one's signature scent certainly does not necessarily mean just one single fragrance. .
To find one's home - big enough to contain it all; to find one's signature scent - deep enough to reflect both your present sources of inspiration, and your memories of the past - now that is real luxury.
When buying Clinique's Aromatics Elixir (Estee Lauder's subsidiary cosmetics brand's first fragrance, released in 1971), I was expecting some "aggressive apothecary" stuff and some sort of "ye olde chypre." But before I even managed to open the box, right through the cardboard and the cap, and before even spraying the flacon the first few obligatory times to get to the first actual spritz, I smelled a wonderful, ambrosial, delicate rose. It was so dizzyingly gorgeous that my body pricked its ears and struck the aforementioned hunting stance. The catch unexpectedly exceeded all my expectations or even fantasies.
The list of Aromatics Elixir's notes takes up a whole paragraph. For the most part, they seem quite true: the fragrance is complex. Multifaceted, iridescent, fanciful and, according to me, radiantly regal. For me, inside that very simple opaque glass flacon (which has a perfectly slender shape devoid of any superfluous embellishment) there happened to be a veritable magic elixir, exactly as its name had promised to be; a potion, an alchemist's concoction in the truest sense of the word. It cannot be obtained physically if the soul did not evolve simultaneously with the chemical process, striving for perfection through a chain of consecutive transformations. That is the scent of my perfect rose. However, it is by no means a soliflore, but indeed a chypre, and an utterly noble, restrained and soft one at that - moreover, it is absolutely classic.
While looking for my signature scent, which I actually was not really searching for, yet somehow inadvertently found, I was constantly circling around rose chypres. When it comes to flowers, rose is my most favorite, and chypre is my most beloved scent type. I know quite a few of them, and most of them are absolutely gorgeous. However I was always a bit embarrassed by how bright, powerful and aggressive the latter were, while I naturally lean towards quieter and more nostalgic comfort scents. In some beautiful and unexpected way, Aromatics Elixir combines attributes of both kinds.
Not a single note sticks out too much, revealing its presence in an overly loud way. The miracle of the rose (it is very similar in the way it 'tastes' to the one of Rosa by Santa Maria Novella, but without the latter's flamboyant ginger-patchouli panache) is created from, obviously, rose, paired with the most delicate silky chamomile and a sweet creamy yellow ylang-ylang with a ripe peach aspect to it. The chamomile, quite apothecary per se, envelops the rose with a foggy, almost milky warmth of an herbal tea; the ylang-ylang, like the true noble knight he is, gives away to the rose all of its happy sweetness and leaves the stage, allowing his mistress to reign. Here, the fragrance goes back in time a bit: only through the chamomile, you realize that it had actually opened with a cozy, velvety bergamot that acts more like a pear than a citrus, which is precisely in tune with the chamomile. The bergamot lingers, simply moving to the background, much like a statue of a queen or a deity placed next to a wall covered in a rich, Renaissance style tapestry.
Château de Fontainebleau, France
The rose will possibly stay with you to the end - or maybe she will opt to leave quietly through the secret door hidden behind the tapestry, allowing her page-boy, ylang-ylang, to entertain her guests and give them a tour of the resplendent, regal, candle-lit house hiding in its own shadows. It is exactly here that you get to enjoy the 'apothecary' to the fullest; plenty of aromatic herbs, from chamomile to sage, are carefully sewn into their muslin covers and tucked into the slightly worn pillow cases, that you can't help but wish to place your head on, with a deep sigh of relief and bliss. "I'm free. I'm home. I'm alone." That magical mix bestows not drowsiness on you but calm and a certain light serenity, relaxed yet alert, allowing you to quietly navigate the waters of your inner timelessness, despite never actually leaving the bounds of earthly reality.
Château de Fontainebleau, France
In the drydown of the elixir, we are left with a stack of hay and, occasionally, a farewell rose - it is not wilted, but it was picked from the bush and dried together with the herbs while in full bloom. Interestingly, it is at that stage that the metallic, light and somewhat sour aldehydes are at their most audible. They have been present from the very beginning, but back then they simply made the rose gently fluorescent in the weightless, straw-colored twilight.
Another wonderful note that can be heard in the background through the entire fragrance is apple. It is an autumnal apple, somewhat withered, with its skin already shrunken... It is an apple of lingering yet subtle sweetness, one that had already fallen from the tree and is now lying on frost-bitten early morning grass - paradoxically, it is the product of those same bergamot, chamomile, and ylang-ylang.
And I'd say that after the rose and the apple with their sacred symbolism, there is nothing left for me to add to the description of this fragrance…
Well, maybe a thank you to the initial workmanship of perfumer Bernard Chant and the sophistication level of the perfume's later reformulations, so successful that the fragrance was able to live to this day in full glory.
* * *
The photographs from Château de Fontainebleau are the author's own.
Osipov was born in Moscow in 1975. With a degree in history, Alex now translates fiction and philosophy books and teaches the history of European culture. He is also an actor at two Moscow theatres assuming the role of Artistic Director at one of them. Alex started writing about perfumery in 2005. After his first visit to the British shores, he tries to spend all his spare time there. Confirmed Edwardian.
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