is Spanish for chestnut, a familiar nut with a singular smeared and floury
taste. Sweet or savoury, chestnuts are very distinctive; an acquired taste like
asparagus, anything caprine and pomegranates. I love them candied, cooked with
game, ground, distilled, fried or simply roasted in their shiny shells. They
smell of the earth, chthonic. Despite growing on trees, they seem more correct
on the ground amid leaf litter and the colours of autumn.
I have a
very specific memory of roasted chestnuts linked to a miserable night in Paris
as a student in the early 90s. I was an early manny and as such, part of a vast
network of often unpaid naïve student slave labour, expected to appreciate the
glamour of the city and the experiences being somewhat grudgingly extended to
us and yet work ridiculous and demanding hours.
C and I didn’t go home that Christmas and the guy I’d been seeing brushed me off
like snow on his shoulder. We lived off Boursin, horribly cheap wine in plastic
bottles, baguette and C’s miraculous garlic-laden macaroni cheese she managed
to conjure up on a hot plate in her little room. God knows where our money
went. We look amazing in the photos, so on clothes, booze and cigarettes I
evening we were in the Marais, after a few hours of pastis on a chilled
terrace, wandering the Place des Vosges, one of our favourite places, vibrant
by day, shadowed and eerie at night. It was drizzling and the streets were
mobbed with shoppers, bags crashing into us as we moaned to each other,
over-dramatising as only petulant, slightly pissed English students could. I
was never dressed properly for any weather, thin t-shirts, ripped jeans and a
cricket sweater that had seen better days. More rent than tourist. I’m sure it
was all horribly deliberate. The photos demonstrate a smug knowingness I hardly
recognise now. I always had a fag in my hand no matter what the weather.
we wandered, peering in at windows and dodging manic cars and raging klaxons,
we could smell roasted chestnuts. It’s a very distinctive smell, unlike
anything else, soft and inviting, wrapped in milky smoke. The little Dickensian
stands emitted its heat and glow into the saturated evening. I wanted some, badly.
The smell made my stomach howl. The marchand
des chataignes wasfrom
Marseilles, his singsong accent, blurring his vowels like Mireille Matthieu. I
remember begging him for two bags as I only had enough for one. Whatever I said
worked, he waved his black-smutted hands at me and muttered joyeux noel…smiling through the rain. I
shouted joyeux noel back and ran to find C, who was standing in a doorway,
angrily trying to light a crooked damp cigarette.
of those sweet hot chestnuts, split and crisp, reeking of the newspaper cones
the seller had made himself has stayed with me forever. Ink and floured
nuttiness, sugared starch, but most of all, a scent of streets, of lights and
rain, traffic fumes and exhaustion. I am very wary about eating roast chestnuts
now. I see the vendors, smell the whiff of cracking burnt shell, the ooze of
sweet inside. But I’m not sure I want to actually rekindle that particular
memory. We walked for miles as we always did, Rue de Rivoli, Louvre, Chatelet,
Gare de Lyon, Bastille, back to our rooms. In the morning I remember my fingers
smelled of fire and sugar, the smudged newspaper tossed across the floor near
my crumpled Gitanes.
cooked with chestnuts since, stuffed partridge with them, pan-fried them with
sprouts, maple syrup and walnuts, made a sauce with them, mixed with prunes and
Armagnac and poured it over venison. And I’m anyone’s pretty much for a quality
marron glacé… If you told me I had a
rare disorder which meant I had to spend the end of my days living off marrons glacés and honeydew melon, I
would be a very happy Fox.
as a fragrance note is rare enough to stand out. Strange really, because it is
a very distinctive note, warm and sugared, floury and woody-soft. They taste
like they look. Snug and golden. There are hints of saffron, patisserie, spiced
apple, sweet potato and artichoke. The texture is glutinous and dry, powdered and strangely
sherbety. There are a few rather unusual perfumes that have taken chestnuts as
a theme and done lovely things with them. Betrand Duchaufour has been creating
perfumes for the Sersale Family at the Hotel Sirenuse on the Amalfi coast for a
number of years now. I am huge fan of his hot, terracotta-infused Paestum Rose. But his melancholic and
comforting Sienne L’Hiver is layered
with notes of the earth: truffles, leaves, straw, coal roasted chestnuts,
violet, woods and musks. The elements of wandering through forests, of trying
to lose oneself, kicking at the ground, all around the odours of autumn descend
and infiltrate the senses.
one is Aqua di Casta by Testa Maura,
created by Corsican perfumer Xavier Torre. These are really beautiful intense
fragrances, made with true passion and desire. Carticasi is another one, a profoundly resinous floral with ylang
and rose but tempered with the weird brittle snap of mastic. Wonderful. Aqua di Casta is a homage to the
chestnut trees of the Castagniccia Corsican highlands. Blended with pepper,
wood and ginger it is a dry sun-swept scent, filled with the rustle of leaves
and sound of coruscating summer winds.
I am not
sure how sexual and graphic I will end up being in this piece, but it’s a long
time since I have smelt perfumes this visceral and erotic. With me, perfume is
a skin thing. Juice on skin. Ink on skin. Flesh as canvas. The body beautiful
bores me. The body painted, anointed, dipped, carved, oozing smoke, indoles,
musks, sweat, vanilla, hot petals, tears and leather. Now that’s interesting.
incomparable Vero Kern is inseparable from her wanton and compelling
fragrances. Once worn, they own and haunt.
Her Onda was the subversive and palpable hit
of my poetry and perfume event at Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens on a late May
evening of sun and sensuality. Séville à
L’Aube by L’Artisan Parfumeur and Gorilla’s The Smell of Weather Turning also caused considerable ripples. But
it was Onda as it name suggests that
caused the biggest wave. I chose it as my scent of the evening to wear. I knew
I would as soon as I smelt it in Bloom Perfumery in London moths ago. My flesh
and garments were doused in the bitter-sexy tarantella of ylang, bergamot,
honey, passion fruit, musk and woods. This was just the eau de parfum. I then
anointed my pulse points and laced my throat with Vero’s skeletal extraitOnda companion. Pared down it may be - mace, vetiver, ginger and
coriander – but it packs quite a salacious punch.
the night I radiated Onda with the
subtlety of an erotic dirty bomb and smelt bloody gorgeous. Everyone I greeted
wanted to know what I was wearing, leaning in like olfactory vampires to
inhale, tempted in several cases to even lick me.
calling the sensual reek of Onda is something mainstream perfumery
has been fleeing from for years. Skin, real skin, flushed and handled, lit with
libido and longing, a blush of coition or just the promise of all the above to
come. The French have always embraced this reek, the skank beneath the vanillic
bouquet. Exploring in classical delicious formulae, the hint of something
unsavoury yet intensely moreish lurking under jasmine, roses, iris, lavender
and exotic balms. Animalic notes bringing the skin to the edge of disrepute.
the rise of clean scents, white musks and the weird crossover of detergent and
towel notes into mainstream perfumery have caused a massive backlash against
reek and skank. The world of ozonic and deadly locker room sport scents have
laid waste to the decadent beauties that once sashayed their lascivious wares
through international perfumery. The US mainstream market is obsessed with
these clean smelling scents and the stickier neon end of the gourmand trade. (Although
some fascinating small niche houses like DS & Durga, Slumberhouse and
Kerosene are doing innovative and fascinating olfactory things in the US). Far Eastern
tastes are generally more floral, the weather and cultural desires dictate a
more feminine and accessible approach to scent. Another huge market is Brazil,
where it is all about the fruit, in everything, shower gels, home scents,
detergents and of course fragrance. The humidity and weather patterns often
mean multiple showering, cleansing and therefore Brazilians love love love
their fruit. It’s a tough market to break. No coconut, papaya, banana, kiwi,
passion fruit, local specialties, it ain’t gonna happen.
however a secret yearning for reek and skank explains the ubiquitous rise in
the use of Oud (agarwood) by nearly every major player, mainstream or artisan
across the global market in recent years. Few have resisted its sweaty allure. Essentially
Oud wood is the infected heartwood of Aquilaria
or Gyrings trees. A form of mould, it
parasitises the heart of its host and the result is both prohibitively
expensive and well nigh on irresistible.
no denying the underlying armpitty and unwashed corporeal headiness that Oud
brings to scent. But it requires quality and the right aromatic partners to reveal
its true beauty. I love it with rose and iris, sometimes a dusting of
chocolate. L’Artisan Parfumeur's Al Oudh
is my favourite, followed closely by Francis Kurkdjian’s original Oud (which just burns out my synapses…),
the fabulously foul Musc Koublai Khan
by Serge Lutens and then Amber Oud by
By Kilian which I am reluctant to like because as a brand they so blatantly
signal all the exotic clichés of Oud I have come to hate. But hey ho, the skin
likes what it likes.
many of us I would imagine, my first real introduction to mainstream Oud was
through Tom Ford’s hirsute M7 for YSL
in 2007. It was quite a revelation, created by the power pairing of Alberto
Morillas and Jacques Cavallier, it really shook up the world and had so many
people asking: what is agarwood? The rebooted 2011 version M7 Oud Absolu however is ghastly, a namby pamby pretender to the
Burt Reynolds Cosmo Centrefold original. I liked the coldly burnished way M7
vibrated off the skin like varnished cello notes. It was oddly medicinal too,
feral in its search for purpose.
campaign reeked of sex too, shot as a full frontal of French martial arts
champion Samuel Le Clubber; the guy was as hairy as hell and had his bits out.
Not everywhere mind, some countries (well most actually) panicked and cropped
him. The image was composed as an echo of the Yves Saint Laurent’s daring
bespectacled nude campaign for Homme, his
first men’s fragrance in 1971, taken by Jeanloup Sieff.
anyone who has ever worn Kouros by
Pierre Bourdon, launched in 1981, will know that YSL is no strangers to skank. Kouros still divides, despite signs of
obvious tinkering. The graphic civetty bathroom odour of aldehydes, wormwood,
musks and lemon blended so outrageously with carnation, orris, leather and
jasmine tipped a fougère into a piss-stained, backroom work of art.
great reek and skank perfumes I would mention include Schiaparelli’s gussety Shocking, the original Jicky by Guerlain, Germaine Cellier’s
original knife-wielding Bandit and
Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet, which
must have been achingly beautiful before being gutted of its animalic roar and
gossipy sexuality. I consider all of these prime examples of fragrances that
once allowed us to truly explore the concept of the brothel beneath the skin.
We all have a hankering for carnality; only some of us choose to embrace it as
the blue hour approaches.
spring of the year; young men buying tickets for the
because the air is full of apple blossoms.
woke up, I realized I was capable of the same
remember sounds like that from my childhood,
for no cause, simply because the world is
Tables under the apple trees.
raising and lowering the colored flags.
the lake’s edge, a young man throws his hat into
his sweetheart has accepted him.
or gestures like
laid down before the larger themes
then unused, buried.
in the distance. My mother
out a plate of little cakes—
as I remember, changed
detail, the moment
intact, having never been
to light, so that I woke elated, at my age
for life, utterly confident—
tables, patches of new grass, the pale green
into the dark existing ground.
spring has been returned to me, this time
a lover but a messenger of death, yet
still spring, it is still meant tenderly.
It is the
final verse of this poem that haunts me.
Vita Nova, (new life) was published in 1999. The
eponymous poem, Vita Nova for me,
looks at loss and memory. A lover gone. Childhood recollections surfacing as
gestures and minutiae unfurl scenes and elemental images in the poet’s fertile,
wandering mind. It is a poem that seems fragranced; sun, apple blossom, cakes,
grass, tables and the promise of spring, the hint perhaps of rebirth, shift and
You saved me, you should remember me.
I find intense
melancholia and uncertainty in Gluck’s airy depiction of a European childhood. Echoes
of things vanished. It is a painterly scent, depicted in poetic small strokes
laid down over a larger more resonant canvas. A little like Impressionism, the
details shift, merge and finally coalesce into sharper focus if you step back
and allow distance to settle between you and the language.
The Smell of Weather Turning is still the best piece of
scented work from Gorilla in my opinion. I know Breath of God is highly regarded and quite rightly so, but The Smell of Weather Turning marked the
beginning I think of a beautifully mined set of perfumed beliefs in English
pagan and folkloric past. This obsession of Mark and Simon Constantine’s became
apparent in the last set of new releases from Gorilla, or Volume 2 as Gorilla
like to refer to them. With influences and inspirations as diverse as
smugglers, Kerouac, Sikkim, English folklore, jazz, electronic surveillance and
ancient barrows, Gorilla produced a startling and highly original selection of
deeply wrought formulae. New packaging and a marked difference in olfactory
style really set these new releases apart. They have depth and resonance beyond
the bottle, that is rare in perfumery. Each scent is wrapped up in an olfactory
mythology of its own. They are singular and divisive as all truly interesting
things should be.
blogged on The Smell of Weather Turning,
it was a scent that really caught me unawares, causing huge emotions and
memories to well up and overwhelm me. The scent is made form ingredients only available
5000 years ago: oakwood, beeswax, roman chamomile, English peppermint, nettle,
mint and hay. This weird astringent smeared blend transported me back to my
African childhood, standing in a dusty yard, watching a column of ants as the
sky tilted and the air ran dry. The storm that followed was both utterly
terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Debris everywhere, and the most
extraordinary smells. Loamy odours of smashed earth and shattered marigolds,
drowned acidic insects and steaming soil.
fragrance has druidic origins and is supposed to represent the scent of a
landscape after a thunderstorm, the sudden scudding of clouds across the sky,
rain fleeing. The sun appears and everything is warm again, safe.
reading has always been deeply personal, influenced as we all are by our
upbringings and olfactive influences as we grow, love and experience life. In
my blog piece I mentioned Hardy’s Tess (one of my favourite novels) and the
appallingly calm moment they come for her at Stonehenge in the early morning.
This scene would reek of The Smell of
Weather Turning hanging in the damp Wessex air as the police and Angel wait
for Tess to wake, to take her away to face her terrible inevitable fate.
strange poignancy is why I thought of it for Vita Nova. At once, green and medicinal, a sharp and inclusive
promise of things to come and yet pervasive, forcing memories to rise and fall.
A suggestion of spring, but a reminder too that things die and the heart stays forever
broken in places. A scent that conjures landscape and elemental forces for a
poem about emotions lost amid the delicacy of shattered memory. Both concern
the emergence into light from darkness.
A new life. Can we truly ever really do that? Memories
haunt and follow us. It is in their nature to do so. But we should embrace
this. The Smell of Weather Turning is
a profoundly elemental scent, tied to landscape and memory, notes that have
purpose and resonance, possess reason. At first glance poem and scent seem
worlds apart, but the almost claustrophobic blend of notes, cast across ancient
skies and Gluck’s litany of rose-tinted obsessive recollections echo and blur
across each other meeting finally in the final skin-shaking lines.
raccoons washed their hands. And this, I know,
that raccoon we'd watched for every day.
at the time her wild human hand
gestured inexplicably, I say
meaning now is more than I can stand.
reasons, we have reasons, so we say,
giving love, and for withholding it.
who would love must marvel at the way
know aloneness when I'm holding it,
near and far as words for live and die,
distance, as I'm trying to draw near,
immense, and know, but don't know why,
seen up close enlarge, then disappear.
this small room seems too huge to cross.
my life is that looming kind of place.
left with this alone, and at a loss
hold an alien and vacant face
shrinks away, and yet is magnified—
so than I seem able to explain.
the giant galaxies outside
tiny, tiny on my windowpane.
This was another case of fragrance
first. Pierre Guillaume is a prolific
and mercurial man, beautiful too. Vain, prodigiously talented and totally
secure in his awareness of himself as someone how can create singularly unique
His main line is the rightly lauded Parfumerie Générale, a
collection of truly inspiring and individual scents that have garnered
tremendous critical praise and a loyal following. They have clarity and intent,
each fragrance created using the best possible raw materials and glorious
aromachemistry. Pierre likes to play too, with our senses and expectations.
There are often notes that shock and surprise in each creation. He likes to
find something that will bring the unknown to the mix. Like a host inviting a
wildcard guest, someone edgy and unpredictable; however the canny host knows
the mix of guests will be enriched by the addition and the result will be an
unforgettable evening. His work is the marriage of modernist olfactory
architecture wrapped around the beautiful and innovative naturals he can
source. I can only really describe it as the sensation of being in a glass
tower of scent, thousands of feet off the ground, knowing that only a pane of
glass is between you and the vertiginous exterior. But somehow, the fragrances
contain safety, cocooning. The
juxtaposition of cold glass, steel and the sensualities of the natural world is
how I view Pierre’s unique world.
I wear his Cuir Venenum, all raspberry beer, hops and dirty leather -which
emanates from a compulsive burnt Bakelite smell. And Felanilla, a feline vanilla, with a deeply sexy flambéed banana/rum facet that smells delicious as it settles down into
the flesh. I am currently re-visiting one of my all-time favourites Musc Maori, one of the first I ever bought
in fact and one of the most delectable chocolate gourmands of all time. Milk
chocolate, silky smooth, Galaxy indulgence. You feel dipped and cleansed, quite a feat. The beauty is in the use of Cumaru wood and
the very subtle use of coffee and green notes to float the sweetness.
There is now a clever and deceptively
simple diffusion line called Huitième Art, very
different in style, exploring Pierre’s fascination with oddity and effect. They
are minimal in tone, three to four impressions,
in very distinctive white porcelain bottles shaped like primitive smooth ceramic
owls. I wasn’t sure at first, but Pierre’s technique of layering the effects
over one other like gauze is very seductive and the more I sampled them, the
more I loved them. I liked most of them actually, but Poudre de Riz was my favourite. Powder. How could it not be? But it
is so much more than that. It is a white scent, snow, cold air, exposed skin,
the hairs on the body rising as you walk into a haunted room. Powder, chalk,
dust… smashed glass, crystalline tears, icing sugar. These are my things. I get
them. I look for them in scent. Like roses, plastic and leather, I love the
scent of powder, be it the aftermath of calamity, concrete and dust or the
vintage violet-tinted fallout of setting powder and Johnson’s baby stuff.
de Riz is an aloof gourmand. Sweet and moreish but
cold and distant at the same time. Vanilla, monoï and tiare flower lay down amid
coconut milk, maple sap, caramel, sandalwood, iris, cedar, tonka bean, tolu
balsam, benzoin and damask rose. The effect is skin, snow, loneliness. For me
it is a very private scent, one I will only wear alone. It draws in the walls
and dims the lights. So I had my scent, now I needed my poem. In my memory I
recalled a poem about that mentioned snow and bones and raccoons washing their
tiny hands in meltwater. I remembered the lines:
this small room seems too huge too cross.
my life is that looming kind of place.
Melting is a bizarre and moving poem by Gjertrud
Schnackenberg, a glittering and aesthetically complex American poet, born in
The poem explores distance and loss, the cracks
that often loom between us. We are dwarfed by nature and weight of simply living.
It is the details that will hobble us and bring us down. The poem opens and
closes like lungs, breathing softly. There is expansion. The small details, a
bone found in melting snow, a shared memory of a raccoon by a brook tied to
departure as the snows leave. A treatise on the pain and vagaries of partaking
and donating love. Then the telescoping to a room -
this small room seems too huge to cross.
my life is that looming kind of place.
left with this alone, and at a loss
hold an alien and vacant face
These lines are very hard to say out loud,
they seem to demand an inner silence, a prayer inside, behind the eyes. Life seemingly
immense and insurmountable with loss and grief, everything distorted by vacancy
of love. Snow at the beginning, galaxies at the end, tiny, tiny on my windowpane. I would need a coating of something. A
barrier. We all crave comfort from time to time, looking for it in many places,
food, love, booze, drugs, sleep and warmth. Lots of clients ask me for
comforting scents, cocooning fragrance, soft and skin-close. More often than
not, vanillic in character, powered with a lick of orange blossom. There is
immense safety in Poudre de Riz, Pierre
Guillaume’s clever manipulation of milkiness and sweetness creating a sense of
detachment and whiteness, like an ashen cell, where the body can heal.
There is aloneness in Poudre de Riz, a drifting, like snow nuzzling glass. But as it
drops into the skin, it seems to raise memories, phantoms; loves lost. So many
gourmand fragrances neglect to stir the mind, but Poudre de Riz moves with the innate and studied grace of a silent Oiran
to seduce the senses and wrap the wearer in crepuscular drifts of memory.