‘Story of a Hotel Room’ by Rosemary Tonks
Thinking we were safe – insanity!
We went in to make love. All the same
Idiots to trust the little hotel bedroom.
Then in the gloom…
… And who doesn’t not know that pair of shutters
With the awkward hook on them
All screeching whispers? Very well then, in the gloom
We set about acquiring one another
Urgently! But on a temporary basis
Only as guests – just guests of one another’s senses.
But idiots to feel so safe you hold back nothing
Because the bed of cold, electric linen
Happens to be illicit…
To make love as well as that is ruinous.
Londoner, Parisian, someone should have warned us
That without permanent intentions
You have absolutely no protection
- If the act is clean, authentic, sumptuous,
The concurring deep love of the heart
Follows the naked work, profoundly moved by it.
I had to use Baiser Volé by Mathilde Laurent at Cartier, it rocked my skin when I found it. Ice cold, studied and more importantly, illicit.
I have a fetish for lily fragrances, white, fleshy, cold, erotic and indolic, drawing you to their petals with a unique force in floral nature. Flower as much as skin. At work I wore Penhaligon’s incredible Lily & Spice nearly every day since its launch in 2005. I loved its carnality and moments of purity, the constant shifting between darkness & light. The French perfumer Mathilde Bijaouai created a complex almost medicinal portrait of the White Madonna Lily, blending it with saffron, white pepper, vanilla, white musks and benzoin. It has been discontinued tragically. It didn’t sell terribly well, although to be honest I don’t think Penhaligon’s ever really understood its darkness and were perhaps a little afraid of its latent Belle de Jour sexuality. I remember smelling it for the first time in a hot, dusty meeting room in Burlington Arcade. A young French woman dressed in an immaculate snow-white Anne Fontaine shirt and licquorice leg skinny black trousers ground her vertiginous heels into the floor and told me the scent smelled of virgins and whores…. I never forgot that and every time the notes flew out of the bottle I remembered the contradictions inherent in such a loaded phrase uttered with such Gallic insouciance.
I have worn many lily soliflores and always search them out when I see new ones on the scented horizons. As I write this, I see an empty bottle of Donna Karan’s Gold on my shelf. I have worn and loved Lys Méditéranée by Edouard Fléchier for Malle and Serge Lutens’ Un Lys, which I wore with lashings of chocolate to ease its sadness.
Mathilde Laurent has been the in-house nose at Cartier since 2005 and is an imaginative and talented parfumeuse. Baiser Volé, or Stolen Kiss is an incredibly alluring portrait of the Casablanca Lily, using specific olfactory elements to describe the leaves, petals and pistil. The name itself conjures up images of pale slumbering beauties on marble biers and amatory thieves in the night, lusting in darkness, brushing the lips of dreams. While there are undeniably elements of this fantasy in most lily tinted perfumes, Baiser Volé is the flower as glass facsimile, everything exists in refraction, shattered through light.
Laurent has constructed the lily from the stem up. The strange saline mingle of leaves and stems (Salicylates, musks, vanilla) synthesise perfectly with a cool, succulent note of creamy lily petal-skin that smells like desire feels from across a crowded room. There is a reigned in hunger, a straining to lick lips and boldly caress skin. It is this struggle between control and abandonment that has always fascinated me with lilies and made me choose it for Rosemary Tonks' defiantly erotic and complexly ambiguous Story of a Hotel Room.
Tonks was born in 1932 and wrote on and off for many years in different media, poetry, literary reviews, prose and novels. Her work is distinguished for me by the strength of her voice, her passion for life. Her words are like bell chimes in fog. In the 70s she converted to Christian Fundamentalism and very little is known of her life after. All we have is her writing.
When I read the poem again in preparation for the event, I could see only lilies strewn across the cleanest and whitest of sheets, petals like the chalices of armpits, stained with the saffron dust of stamen smears.
Because the bed of cold, electric linen….
Happens to be illicit…
Illicit… illicit. One of my most favourite words. Unlawful….unpermitted. It just gets sexier.
There is a world of ambiguity in Tonks’ provocative words. An affair or random strangers? Something more dangerous, a controlled more profound routine developing in a hotel room as stage, potent emotions threatening to erode away common sense?
As intimate beings we often have an ability to over-confide in people we don’t know very well and unleash ourselves within rooms of relative anonymity. We are seemingly happy to tell strangers on trains, in cafes etc so much abut ourselves, imagining I think the words bear a physical weight we might leave behind with others. We divulge things we choose to keep from loved ones. We choose our confessors irrationally. Sex and love bind us in different way. Impulse is blind.
Are we so afraid of our own mirrors? Are we afraid if the act is so beautiful it challenges everything we already have? What then? The walls of the hotel room become less safe, less temporary. The poem for me is a struggle, the temptation to break rules, play characters and live outside one’s own life. The room is a stage. Are our names even real? Will this brutally detached scent of white petals and skin, a symbol of half-remembered purity always recall this dishevelled white drenched room?
I wanted a cold scent, with just enough clarity and heat, a perfume that would stand up, dress with dignity and measured style and walk away. Yes there would be the scent of sex rolled onto flesh, a yearning to love, to pause and say… ‘Okay…this could work away from here… what is stopping us’. But as the door to the room closes the scent of sweet urgent lovers crushed onto skin must walk down corridors and out into the daylight with regret, tears and joy. Baiser Volé is this muted magnificence, erotic, disconnected and chilled. To borrow a line from Tonks. Baiser Volé is a naked work and I am always unbearably and most profoundly moved by it.