I have tears in my eyes as I start to write this. This utterly strange and savage scent broke through my usually strong emotional barriers of accreted cynicism and skimmed a stone across a distant lake of memory. The ripples slowly broke on a distant shore and caught me totally unaware.
I remembered a dusty verandah in Nigeria. A layer of fine powder lying over everything, leaves, tables, fingers and hair. It was exhausting keeping clean. The air was heavy and bone dry, pregnant with something ominous. Insects threw sounds into the air. I was bored, watching ants walk in single file across the cracked soil, carrying leaves and dismembered crickets. Everything felt disconnected and muffled.
The first cracks of thunder shattered the silence, shaking everything; even the bones in my body seemed to vibrate. The air became very very still, all moisture sucked out of it as if nature herself were holding her breath. Then the sky tore open with enormous cackling violence, jagged and brutal. Overhead, birds wheeled, scattering into the void. The manic cacophony of insects was cut short. The ants vanished. I stepped off the verandah into the garden and looked up. My hair moved slightly, skin kissed by hot moist air. There was a pause and then the sky exploded.
The shock and awe as the rain dropped out of thrashing skies was astonishing. All around me water crashed and bounced, scattering dust and scent into the air. Hot cement, smeared marigolds, meaty smoke from the houseboy’s kitchen fire and glorious baked earth drenched in the craved for rain.
As I stood listening to the water pour to earth around me, the dizzying heat of earlier started to shimmer and play through the rain. I tilted my face to the sky. I felt like I could drown. It was a beautiful and terrifying moment.
Then suddenly it was gone, as if the sky had been wiped clean. Everything around me was utterly silent. The heat of the rain seemed to boil and sizzle in the air. The lush heaving scents rising from the drowned earth were dizzying; mulchy, green and noxious. A crush of dead insects caught my nose, rivers of dead ants flooded past my feet in eddies of muddy water. The overwhelming odour of bruised garden and hot wet metal is a smell I will never forget.
As the sun clawed back though through the rain the mugginess fell across me like the end of the world. The weight of the weather was extraordinary. The air swirling with flickers of electricity, smashed leaves, mud, echoes of rain and something else, something melancholy and strange. Like a leaving, a farewell. I felt something had been taken from me. I never really understood what. But I shifted in myself imperceptibly.
Storms are melancholic. They wash the skies and trash the land. They can wreak havoc, shift and shatter objects, kill and displace. The skies can burn and roar and the rain falls like punishment from above. But for some of us, storms resonate inside our bony cages, the thunder booms in the chambers of our hearts, the lightning blinds us. We are blue with the drama of the tempest. The dying of the storm is sadness. The light and calm bring little respite. Just an unsettling feeling that something has gone.
The Smell of Weather Turning by Gorilla Perfumes and Lush is a magnificent olfactory experience. It is for me the scented recreation of my African storm. It is described by the folks at Lush as staging a thunderstorm in reverse. It was created by Simon and Mark Constantine to capture the sensations of rain and water on landscape after the passing of a storm. The clouds move away, the earth steams. The dampness starts to dry and radiates the aromas of sweet damp hay and eternal green comfort. The weather turns. The storm is but a memory. The sun warms the soul.
The concept is inspired and the fragrance itself is quite shocking when you first put it on. I had never worn anything quite like it. Even the wondrous and shimmering Breath of God had not quite prepared me for the overwhelming sadness of The Smell of Weather Turning.
Now I will be the first to admit I have long been a Lush snob. I still don’t like the body ranges, the bath bombs and soaps. The smells trigger my migraines. And truth be told I really don’t like the busy all over the place newsletters and instore signage. It just is not me. I know people who love and swear by it. So be it. The stores themselves radiate that smell of overpowering Lushness that you buy into you or you don’t. I never really have. I did always keep an eye on B Never too Busy to Be Beautiful, the ethical beauty sideline that Mark and Simon Constantine started in 2003. The quality of the innovative formulae fast become a staple of beauty industry insiders and incredibly popular with consumers, building up quite a cult following. The marketing was witty and different, executed with gusto and deeply personal convictions. The staff (BNTBTBB and Lush) were, and still are, wildly passionate about the brand and their roles. Yes Lush is boho and a little hippy and achingly earnest but the manifestos and beliefs are rock solid and consistent.
I came across Breath of God about five years ago; Simon Constantine’s ‘accidental’ masterpiece, the blending of Inhale and Exhale. Sweet & clear meets smoke and stone. Inhale was inspired by the mountain air of Tibet, Exhale by monastic incense. Inhale is all top, Exhale all base. Combining the two was genius; layering transparency with solidity and transcendental depth. The complexities are melodic as they unfold on the skin. The sweet wet notes of melon and rose play against rooty vetiver and tethered with smoky cedar and sandalwood. Touches of jasmine, neroli and lemon move through the air around you like ballet dancers en pointe, barely touching the floor, but beautifully poised and elegantly formed. Every time I wear it I am moved by its weirdness, its ability to adhere and transmute. I have Exhale and Inhale separately too and like to play with the levels. The melody is different each time. On a freezing night as I walked home recently through Edinburgh’s Georgian streets, embedded in scarves and exhausted thoughts, the blend rose off me and played in the air like vibrating cello chords echoing through a frozen forest. Quite extraordinary.
Ladyboy is another favourite, again oddly twisted and strange. It has an incredibly addictive banana top note that is creamy and milkshaky, backed up by a seductive violet and seaweed accord. It is very surreal and abstract, like blindfold nudism in Hongkong perhaps. It starts off so bouncy and sweet with smiles and coy charm and then drops subtly into a cavernous and sensual base of oakmoss and cistus. This soothes like the steady rhythm of long distance trains as you watch the sun set through flashing glass. I have had so many compliments wearing this, people leaning into to smell me, almost inhaling the skin off my bones.
But I always return to The Smell of Weather Turning. On the Lush website Mark Constantine talks about the rather surreal genesis and inspiration of the fragrance. It was born out of a concept floated to them by a girl who worked for Lush who was also a witch.
Periods of strange weather have always traditionally been ascribed to witchcraft and sorcery. Sudden storms, floods, strange showers, lightening and star showers were viewed with a jaundiced eye as evidence of devilry. The ability to affect the weather, fail harvests, blight cops etc, much of this was lain at the door of many a poor defenseless woman. Mark also talks about a druid bard and his musical influences and his memories of a visit to Finland, one of the most surreal places in the world. One my friends went there years ago to study printmaking and told me a wonderful story of cycling home night in the heady sticky high summer through a field full of people lying around drunk of vodka, drunk, singing at the sky.
Mark wanted to work with ancient notes available 5,000 years ago. The climate was different, Britain would have smelled so different, the skies and countryside more pure and somehow more sacred and personal. There was a genuine awe of Mother Nature; of her harmonies, rhythms and violence. She nurtured, killed and soothed.
So the influences and ideas that flowed in and out of the creation of The Smell of Weather Turning were complex and challenging. The fragrance has an unsettling savagery to it, a raw, hand-woven quality and genuinely startles the senses as it hits the skin. I do find it an incredibly moving scent.
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