I was standing in a hotel, tracing my fingers over the ice crystals that had formed on the outside of the window. My skin exuded immortelle, burnt sugar and lavender. My lover was still asleep, but I was up early, imprinting Eau Noire on my skin, Paris and my memories.
There is a beautiful void in Eau Noire, a gathered darkness I still find incredibly compelling. It is my thunderstruck, lightning ripped sky. I am partial to melancholy. Indulgent perhaps, but introspection requires silence and time alone, something it seems to be increasingly hard to find in this buzzing, light-filled, socially obsessed world. Eau Noire slowly filled the room with soft cedar and liquorice. Trails of violet and vanilla and settled like the remnants of a waking dream. I kept thinking tweed, tweed, dark green tweed. I’d packed two Harris Tweed jackets, re-cut and fitted to me more sharply and they looked wonderful. I’d been wondering what scent to wear with them: something with tar and leather? A counterpointing vanilla and amber with a whisper of iris? Perhaps a neglected Guerlain; Vol de Nuit, or Jicky? Or maybe Sycamore by Chanel, woodsy and grassy, with a whiff of crushed hazelnuts and a sense of twilight as cypress rises and blends with a beautiful Vétiver note.
I had been toying for years with the concept of a scented wardrobe, matching and layering fragrances with shirts, jackets, accessories, colour, texture, mood and skin. Mixing fragrance with the vagaries of thermal motion: skin and the delicacy of the evaporation curve. I like to take time and think about how I might enhance a fabric or an outfit with the right fragrance. The reverse is true as well; fragrances can be framed and enhanced by texture, finish and detail. You can play with or against the grain. The concept of silk on steel if you like. Powder and heliotrope with dirtied denim and killer heels. Oriental rose and leather buried (only just..) under Burberry Prorsum tailoring. Or the simplicity of limes and orange blossom wrapped in cashmere and walked along a city riverside.I have pared my wardrobe down over the years to black, white and grey and my fragrances have followed accordingly. From a large sprawling collection, my tastes have become more spartan and controlled. Wardrobe wise I allow a little colour, a splash of red, a ribbon of yellow. Otherwise I move through the realms of muted slates, ash, cinder, pearl, smoke, powder, silver, dove, granite and other dolorous tints. They suit me. My hair is ashen; my eyes colder now against the snowier palette. I am partial to the feral scent of oud wood and dried fruit in fragrances. I love white lily notes; sometimes it’s a funereal thing, sometimes it’s a cotton T-shirt and starch thing. Tonka and cocoa bean done correctly with deftness and imagination will break my heart. Look at Dior Homme Intense, a profound alien beauty, addictive to the point of suffocation. And Il Profumo’s Chocolat Amère, a skin-licking delight, like driving through the night in black velvet, top down, moon burning in the sky. And I can melt over a powdered rose, a whiff of childhood candy, the handbaggy riff of lipstick, a lingering weirdness of hairspray. There are certain times when only a dirty sexed up rubber scent will do, something shimmering and petrolic, like a bass beat thudding through the floor, insistently scenting its way into your brain. Smoked rubber and vanilla car wreck. Has to be Bulgari Black; Cronenberg’s Crash in a bottle.
These notes and desires need skin of course, sometimes just that. But layered under fabric the messages range from subtle and nuzzling to puzzling, electrifying and porno. For me it’s a matter of imagining a texture or finish to the scent. Many of us know our fragrances have a feel or rub, a silken drop, velvet plush, a tweedy nubbly drag or a rosy powdered sheen. I love the vulgar bloody neon glare of Gucci Rush with a Tuxedo. L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Traversée de Bosphore with grey cashmere and flashes of red. Oud wood with black denim and faded grey ripped t-shirts. But also with patent black shoes, tartan trousers and a fave red mac. I have a favourite vanilla called Lann Ael from Lostmarc’h in Brittany which I love under crisp white shirts. My beloved Tabac Blond (extract only....) under all things black and night time; ink hued shirts, bowties like bat wings, zipped trousers and cracked worn shoes. And Nahema, a cacophony of roses, layered with musks and aching waves of nostalgia, wrapped into scarves, through hair and across fine merino wool. And my Eau Noire, devil and darkness, rich and profound, liberally sprayed on the inside of jackets.
Opening my wardrobe can be an unsettling olfactory experience. Memories tumble and dance. Some fabrics grip molecules, pushing them deep. We do the same, connecting scents to times and places deep within ourselves, creating a weft and warp of emotional connections to experiences, people and moments. It always amazes me how strong these memories can be as we pull on clothes, catching a trace of something buried deep in fibres or spray something fresh as we dress, making the connections over and over again with skin, scent and fabric.
So, think about scent as form and texture. How does it feel? What colour is it? How are you feeling? Like sympathetic backdrops in literature, set a scene with fragrance. I pick out a battered soft denim jacket, layered under a navy blue merino pea coat. I might wear Jacques Bogart, a haunting classic fougère, bitter and wise, smoky, like Alain Delon on a cold November airport concourse, collar turned up, eyes dark with lost love. Or maybe Patchouli Patch by L’Artisan Parfumeur, enough sexy velvet biker chic to snag an Easy Rider, but deeply sensual as it dries down to a bruised and melancholy echo of all things smoke and softly hippie. A little imagination, a little scented storytelling. Not much is needed to weave a seductive and interesting scented persona. The scented wardrobe creates a different timbre of memories; connecting up days, moods, weathers, places, parties, kisses, scents and tears. Witnessing and experiencing. Intricately linked by molecules of flowers, spices, balms, woods, lemons, grasses, fruits and balsams. For me this is an intoxicating state, the brain can mix and stir the images and odours, but it’s worth it for the visceral tingling thrill as the images connect to emotions and BANG: you feel.
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