I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Infatuation and Marlboro Red: Azzaro Pour Homme by Azzaro

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.

Friday, 25 November 2011

SmokeStoneRain (Redux): The Melancholy Perfume of Autumn - Part 2

I have skin favourites and I know it breaks with conventional perfume orthodoxy, but this is the time of the year for scent on cloth; collars, scarves, sleeves. Some fragrances become so ephemeral on fabric, developing a transparency that is sometimes lost in the turmoil of skin. So here are some of my seasonal favourites; some stone, smoke and fire.

A friend kindly bought me a gift of La Fumée by Miller Harris. I have worn Lyn Harris’ fragrances for years developing a particularly obsessive passion for the skanky and wondrous L’Air de Rien a couple of years ago, the scent she created for Jane Birkin. I also adored Fleurs de Sel, a limited edition I bought for my French man to remind him of his Breton home. That was a sharp and salt-brushed homage to Batz-sur-Mer in Brittany where Lyn spent childhood holidays. Her perfumed work is often very moving. La Fumée is swirling with the end of flames, that beautiful moment at the end of night when the room is heady with smudged spiced smoke. Your clothes exude a soft amber sootiness as you stare sleepily into the glowering embers. Sleep calls and you dream of Avalon.

Penhaligon’s Sartorial was inspired by the cutting rooms of Saville Row and created by Bertrand Duchaufour, so it seems fitting that this heft of beeswax and violet smells so incredible on cloth. A modern fougère, Sartorial combines natural notes like beeswax, leather, vetiver, patchouli, tonka bean and oakmoss with edgy aromachemical effects echoing paper patterns, tobacco, steam and dust. The overall effect is intensely nostalgic and atmospheric yet industrial and manmade at the same time. I wandered home one night last year wearing this after a long days work, my tweed jacket drenched in it, the fuzzy haunting aldehydes roaming around my senses. Muted and grey it lulled and comforted me under the glow of leaf-whipped streetlights. I have never forgotten how it made me feel that night.  

I want to mention Elixir by Penhaligon’s too. Created by Olivia Giacobetti, this riff on her beloved incense theme is rather strange. Not for everyone, it wraps the cold church ambience in a huge inhalation of eucalyptus and tempers the smoke with vanilla, orange and a soft pomander touch of spices. This is not the ritualistic smoke and bells of Etros’ Messe de Minuit or indeed Giacobetti’s own Passage d’Enfer for L’Artisan Parfumeur, but instead it shows us the morning after mass; spilt wax, snuffed out candles, the cold cathedral stone. And as such it is quite compelling. I love it layered with Shalimar…….the mix is like petrol thrown onto fire.

SmokeStoneRain (Redux): The Melancholy Perfume of Autumn - Part 1

I tip the glass stopper to my wrists. A small tear of amber slips so slowly down the inside of my pale wrist I can feel its transfiguration from perfume to golden flayed epiphany. I am so taken with its journey, I realise I have barely breathed. I exhale and pause, savouring the wait before I lean in to sample my own gilded skin.  I fasten my cape; wrap a huge grey woollen scarf around my neck and walk down the stairs into the street. My waistcoat hugs me close like a lover, favourite patent shoes glitter in the glow of a fluttering streetlight. Rising from the scarf is something vanillic and pulpy, a whiff of burnt jam and cedar. I try and recall what fragrance I had on when I wore it last; Figues et Garçons, Evening Edged in Gold, Mûre et Musc?. Or just strata of each. But something else catches my nose. I stop, close my eyes and inhale my wrist. 

Ah, Chanel’s Cuir de Russie. A cradling, orthodox glow of leather and amber, radiating across my skin. Campaign-worn Cossack leather, stained with vodka and blood, a whiff of fantasy St Petersburg nights, golden icons in smoke-swathed churches. Dreams of cavalrymen dashing through snow and time wrapped in a scent of horseflesh and hound. Imperial fur and diamonds glittering in the blurred light of a thousand candles.  These scented images tumble and merge as I walk the whispering autumnal streets, Goldmund meandering softly through my earbuds; an occasional gust of wind whipping leaves into eddies of fluttering umber. I leave the Russian dreamscape of my mind and pull my scarf closer; the mix of leather, fruits and nitromusks threaded through the wool is almost unbearable.

I am so lucky to live in Edinburgh. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  A backdrop for a myriad projected lives. The city’s stone reacts differently to the sun, rain, snow and the uniquely veiled northern light. There is magic, blood, spectral grace and a haunting sense of otherness, of walking through lives lived before. Strolling the shadowed wynds of the Old Town, the expansive parks and aloof splendours of the Georgian New Town, there is a sense of being watched and scrutinised. I love this unease, this ghostly surveillance. I have grown older here.  It is a magisterial city, glowing with a strange and private magnificence.

Edinburgh is at its best in the autumn as the clocks change and the light shifts and darkens. Leaves flame, piling high across the city streets, rolling in ochre waves. The buildings glisten in the low sun, glorious tangerine sunsets bleed across the streets and the smell of coming rain mingles with hops from the city’s breweries, hanging in the air like a miasma. 

A city and a season like this need fragrances chosen with care and attention to detail. There is damp, mould, mulch, smoke, stone, and a low flash of late shocking sun.  Sadness too. Edinburgh’s streets can pull huge moods from you as you walk home, wrapped in layers of wool, tweed and mohair. Moods like squalls of rain. Scrappy and uncalled for, but unavoidable. 

The castle looms large in Edinburgh, like a resting bird of prey, perched high on dark rocks, wings folded. As autumn comes, the trees below are strung with lights, odd little paths of luminescence scattered upward toward the castle like glowing guardians. They appear slowly as if they’re growing out of the air, buffeted by the winds and otherworldly. They mark the start of autumn for me and I start to think about a shift in fragrance, sniffing and tasting the air like an animal.

I sort through a wardrobe still woven with traces of aldehydes, smoke, petals and resins from last year’s foray into fragrance. This is what I love about scent. The sudden whiff of a street or a name, a burst of laughter as incense and rose rise from the weft and weave of scarves and folded merino. An evening spent by a fire in a peaty pub with an old flame, watching the fine lines around their eyes, wondering if you should have stayed and watched them softly form. Inhaling a gentle aroma of sandalwood and leather as they lean in to sip a vintage malt.  It’s this aura, the little snippets of scents carried from year to year. This is what makes autumn so beautiful to me: the whispers of a scented wardrobe.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Rose Essay 4: Sweet Darkness of Thorns – ‘Briar Rose’ by Ineke for Anthropologie

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.