My love affair with Azzaro is all wrapped up in one very intense and heartbreaking summer. Involving a fragile me, a skinny Elvis-hipped Syrian loverman, his possessive girlfriend, a laidback deli and ridiculous but very real emotions lived out and crushed in thickly scented rooms.
Azzaro pour Homme is such a strange scent: skunky, cheapish, sexy and rather unforgettable. Created in 1978, played with from time to time I think and like all leather/fougère/chypré perfumes, things have fallen away from it, transformed and died. The full blown glorious original made in the image of Lois Azzaro, a Tunisian-born Sicilian, was defiantly masculine, robust, ballsy and reeked of late seventies dancefloor hedonism. Time and tweaking has faded the original but it can still stir the senses and bust some moves.
There are some lovely touches in it; the required fougère touchstones of tonka, oakmoss and lavender, rounded out and butched up with leather, cedar, sandalwood, bergamot, sage and basil. The brightness I remember like a cheeky smile at the top comes from a splash of lemon mixed with cocktail lightness with caraway, orris and anise. The potential lounge lizard leer of Azzaro has always been kept in check by the balance of the notes and the drydown, a sensual and erotic landing of musks and amber. Nothing shouts, whistles or grabs at you. It has a dated feel sometimes, but then you can watch movies with Redford, McQueen, Delon, Mastrioanni, Montand, Stamp and Bogarde; and think: dated maybe but damn they were STARS.
I have avoided smelling Azzaro for so long. I know it still wields tremendous power over me. People like him come along so rarely. I will call him Nic. I can see his smoky bottles; he always had at least four or five scattered about, tangled in sheets, in clothes on the floor, next to the kettle in the kitchen or by a pile of books and unopened mail by the door. Everything reeked of Azzaro, from his thick curling hair to the cups in the kitchen. If I borrowed a pair of paper-thin jeans or a shirt, the perfume’s leather and brown musky woods were woven through the very fibres. I could lick it off my own skin, smell it in the hair tumbling over my eyes. He’d flash that devastating grin that said ‘I’ve got you…’ and I’d go weak and realise I was hopelessly obsessed.
He wore so much of it. It was a Middle Eastern thing, the way he’d been brought up, to anoint himself, treating perfume as an essential ritual of everyday life. I used to watch him comb it through his hair or splash it across his chest before pulling on a crisp white shirt. He taught me a trick of putting scent into the palm of one hand, letting the alcohol evaporate a little and then running scented fingers through hair. I still do this now, the ritual echoing the memory of Nic’s sensual toilette. But the excess suited him, I bathed in the glow of his Azzaro overdose, it formed a sort of scented soundtrack for the memories of that astonishing summer.
He came up behind me on my first day in the deli coffee shop as I struggled with the coffee machine and whispered ‘You smell very very nice….’ I turned. He grinned and I got my first massive wave of Nic/Azzaro. The intense woodiness and spice that almost seemed to sweat out of him, mixed with the fragrance’s cardamom and weird salted lemon accord. He was jittery, always on the edge of caffeine and nicotine withdrawal. We all smoked. I loved the smoky tar and nuttiness of Camels, something I carried back from Paris with me. I liked the pictures of Paris that rose and fell in the air as I exhaled. Nic was a Marlboro Red man. Full strength, no prisoners. Sometimes at the end of an evening his voice rasped down to burning embers as he smoked on, always a spare tucked away behind his ear.
I was wearing Antaeus when I met him, Chanel’s beeswax transvestite fougère. I wore it to piss people off, it was strong. I wasn’t even sure it suited me. I’d been wearing my beloved Sagamore for years, but it was disappearing fast. Lancôme had stopped making it and I was struggling to find it. I was shocked he put his hands on my waist when he spoke to me, as if it were the easiest thing in the world, heat and pressure from his fingers on my skin. He was the deli’s bad boy. Everyone rushed to tell me so, eyes rolling. Lateness. Language. ‘Unsuitable behaviour’. I never really found out what any of this was but it just made me look at him even more closely.
Ineke Rühland is an artisan perfumer based in San Francisco. Her perfumed oeuvre is both whimsical and deadly serious. I have worn and loved her stylish and charming Evening Edged in Gold for years. I was originally intrigued by the name but the juice was heavenly; osmanthus blended with plum, Angel’s Trumpet, saffron, leather, woods and Midnight Candy, a strange, hypnotic floral note with echoes of stock and heliotrope. It smelt like a painting by Watteau; carefree, concocted with nose for frivolity and studded with coded sensuality.
Ineke uses startling floral tones with grace and deadly charm, like lines of carefully crafted verse. Her fragrances read and unfold like olfactory poems.
Field Notes from Paris is striking too, but very different to Evening Edged in Gold. A pervasive woody oriental, with tonka bean, tobacco flower and leaf, patchouli, beeswax and vanilla. Smoky, bitter, sweet and spiced, Field Notes… is a revelation on the skin, smelling of sticky Paris streets, wafts of cigarette smoke and coffee from the terraces, yesterday's perfume on skin, crepes, tarmac and the Seine. I have to be in the mood to wear it, but when I am, it wreaks havoc with my senses.
Ineke was born and educated in Canada. She trained in fragrance at the ISIPCA in Versailles. This rigid training structure, combined with visits to Grasse, the spiritual home of fragrance and her distinctive passion for literature and art has formed a unique perception of perfume. She created her innovative and quirky brand after moving to San Francisco. Her trademark manipulation of rare floral notes and other unusual ingredients has resulted in a beautiful library of scented stories.
I was intrigued by her collaboration with Anthropologie. The US brand is becoming quite the destination for offbeat scents: Histoires de Parfum, Ineke, their own very strange work with Le Labo, Tocca, Teo Cabanel, Carthusia, Royal Apothic, Happ & Stahns and A Rather Novel can all be found nestling among the eclectic mix of clothes and homeware.
The Ineke collection is called Floral Curiosities and consists of four fragrances. I bought Briar Rose and I loved the laundry hiss and linen knap of Scarlet Larkspur. Poet’s Jasmine and Angel’s Trumpet didn’t really do it for me. The collection is limited, the packaging inscribed and painterly, with flourishes of penmanship and washes of colour. Briar Rose has a TS Eliot quote inside the box lid:
‘Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose garden’.
The quote is from ‘Burnt Norton’, a melancholy and moving poem from the Quartets on regret and sense of time passing. The full quote is worth repeating.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
I did open the door. Tentatively at first, but the experience was intoxicating. Briar Rose is incredibly rich, a massive whoosh of jammy rosa rubiginosa (Briar rose), black raspberry, violet and blackberry supported by the crushed intensity of autumnal fruit picking, sticky, green and woozy. Other delicious notes include bitter almond, green apple, clove bud oil, cinnamon bark, patchouli, vanilla and cacao. The list is almost ridiculously gourmand and could have been unbearably twee and sickly. More akin to neon horrors produced by divas such as Mariah, Celine or J-Lo. However Ineke has something of the sorceress abut her when it comes to blending her potions. The pinches here and there of spices, the herbal tinctures, the ravishing floral notes. Things are used carefully. Sweetness is balanced with green. Spices smoothed with soft woods, leaves flicker in powdered skies.