There is a photograph from my childhood of a brightly tinted group holidaying by the Red Sea on the Arabian Peninsula. The sun is low and we have our hands up to shield our eyes. Every time I look at this image I can smell roses, as if the torn and curled print itself were impregnated. Not the blowsy collapsing scent of English garden roses or the timid squeak of perfume from over-cultivated sculptural topknots in supermarkets. Not the wet neon heads shimmering in manicured gardens that puzzled me on fleeting visits home from the Middle East nor the melancholy washed fragrance of saddened petals in bonfire night gardens. All these things have their olfactory place too. But this scent… this scent is something else; ephemeral, sweet and yearning. Loukoum, halva, the soft and persistent tumbling of scented water from silver ewers into open hands. The chilled interiors of hidden houses, rooms veiled from the heat outside. Gardens and courtyards like delicate oases tucked away from prying eyes.
I travelled so much as a child memories tumble over one another but the olfactory anchors resist the ebb and flow of time's tides. That cool milky scent of eastern roses is so potent, a direct emotional link back to those early years in Saudi and Iran; hot journeys to Persepolis and Petra, swimming pool parties, air-conditioned rooms, and vast empty supermarkets. It is the aroma and taste of syllabubs, syrups and teas. Roses floating in cool water to rinse the fingers. Jewel-coloured jams, the divine marriage of almond and rose, pastries bubbling in perfumed syrups. And of course loukhoum or Turkish delight, enveloped in silky powder that billowed up as you savoured the floral melt of each bite.
All of this rush of memory has been recently triggered again by the remarkable new Rose Water & Vanilla scent launched by Jo Malone. Part of their stylish new Cologne Intense series of four new fragrances inspired by the scents and rituals of the Middle East. The other scents are Iris & White Musk, Oud & Bergamot and Amber & Patchouli. Rose Water & Vanilla is the stand out scent of the new quartet, (with the White Iris & Musk coming in a slightly distant second), and one of the sleekest and most complex fragrances Jo Malone have created in my opinion. Signed off by Christine Nagel of Fragrance Resources, it is modern, intriguing and for me, personally, a very emotional riff on sweet Middle Eastern pathos and silvered desire. I am a little obsessed by it for now. Whenever I wear it I am asked what I have on. Friends lean in, close their eyes and inhale. It makes them smile. I like my aura of poignant powder.