Thursday, 8 April 2010
I had a merry little shopping spree yesterday, in honour of the force that through the green fuse is presently driving the flower, an' all that.
First: new hair. It's exactly the same as the old hair, but just tidied up. It took me until the age of 28 or so to finally acknowledge that I need to get my hair cut every five to six weeks, or else it looks less like hair and more like something in dire need of a vet, inexplicably perched on top of my head.
Then I went shopping for stuff to spray on myself. Friends and regular readers may know that I have become a bit of a fragrance fanatic of late, after reading Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez's ravishing, life-changing Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. Never before have I come across a book which opened my eyes to the existence of a (to me) entirely new art form of dazzling sophistication, handing one the grammar and vocabulary, the understanding of topos and genre, which grants one the ability to make an informed critical decision. This is a kind of family thing for me really, as my mother---and yet again I prove dear Oscar wrong---is a perfume junkie, who owns about 130 different fragrances. Until I read Turin and Sanchez's hilarious, poetic book, almost all of them smelled exactly the same to me: a jet-engine haze of alcohol, honking flowers, and general bleugh. I have now had my nose educated, and know why this is---I just happen to hate big florals and most orientals, because I find them overpowering and aggressive. The worst of these is of course Dior's famous 'Poison', a vast, blowsy number that encapsulates the 1980s alpha female in a bottle. Wearing it, Turin and Sanchez aptly comment, is like driving a Sherman tank down the High Street. People just get out of the way, 'and if they don't, you just swivel the turret to remind them you're not kidding.'
In fact, I nipped into John Lewis today and out of curiosity decided to have a sniff of 'Poison' for the first time while I bought something else. The expertly maquillaged, slightly brassy girl on the desk duly sprayed some on a card for me and I nearly passed out on the spot. This stuff reeks. It creeps over your clothes in the same way that a petrochemical bloom spreads up an unspoilt river estuary. Slightly shellshocked, I put the tester-card in a book, put the book in my bag, and walked home, self-consciously aware all the way that my personal space was klaxoning 'TUBEROSE!!!', as though through an olfactory megaphone. And, look you, all this despite the fact that not a drop of this stuff had ever touched my skin, hair or clothes. 'Poison' is, as the phrase went, A Perfume You Know You've Been In A Lift With.
But such unstoppable floral godzillas, thank goodness, are not the end of perfumery; no indeed, not by a long way. A bad habit of mine used to be the wearing of a single fragrance until I ran out. There are two reasons why this is not a good thing. Firstly, no one smell---unless very genteel indeed, like 1974's 'Eau de Guerlain'---can possibly suit all occasions and weathers. The second is that said smell becomes indelibly associated with a period of six months to a year in one's life, and in that limbic-brain way can afterwards instantly reawaken memories of temps perdu. This tends to overwhelm me with maudlin nostalgia and a sense of the evanescent pointlessness of life in the face of relentless, devouring Time. Quite apart from such lugubrious reflections, I also made some questionable fragrance choices. At school and in my first year at university I wore 'Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme', a sensible herbal cologne which was ten years too old for me then, and which, now that I am ten years older, I disdain as too dull by half. It's the fragrance equivalent of a well-cut suit, an expensive haircut, and a job in a merchant bank. I also wore Yves Saint Laurent's 'Opium pour Homme' for a long while, an overpowering woodsmoky oriental which now makes me feel sick, as it reminds me of an especially unhappy period in my life, around 2002. But there were some good ones too: Dior's 'Dune pour Homme', a light, citrusy cologne with a lovely green note of bitter herbs, which I still wear despite the vague feeling of melancholy at gaucheries long past which it induces. I also like 'Acqua di Gio pour Homme', which is pleasant enough---it has that split-melon-in-the-rain smell of things like 'L'Eau d'Issey', mixed with a herby-lemon tang---but it's ultimately too boring for me to contemplate buying again.
So these days I hover between seven different fragrances depending on mood. Standard day-at-work issue is either 'Dune', as described above, or Hermès's lovely 'Eau d'Orange Verte', a woody, bitter-green cologne with lots of basil and lime notes in it. Both are fresh and light, but the latter is more suitable for wearing in winter as well as summer, because the orange in it allows it to take on something of the aura of a very, very tasteful Christmas decoration. Also in winter I like Tauer's gorgeous 'L'Air du Desert Marocain', which is actually a woman's perfume but which smells great on me. Full of ancient, purifying resins---benzoin, styrax, frankincense---it has a chilly, grey cedarwood basenote which somehow makes it smell warm and cold and sweet and austere at the same time, like the day and night of the North African desert which it so skillfully evokes. Related is Armani's 'Bois d'Encens', which smells exactly like High Mass: a diffuse, lemony pall of frankincense falling on the congregation like smoky stars. Unfortunately, it's both very expensive and lasts less than half an hour on my skin. But while it lasts, it's like having a personal choir following you round singing the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. Another more daring favourite is Givenchy's 'Insensé', which is that rarest of things, a floral for men. I know I said earlier that I hate florals, but this is an exception: a slightly overcast, herbaceous smell with woody undertones which lingers elusively on the edge of the senses. I'm not at all sure it suits me, but I like it very much because it is a beautiful, complex, slightly cerebral thing. And finally, I love L'Artisan Parfumeur's radiant, almost transparent 'Timbuktu', which is supposed to be inspired by Malian women's personal grooming rituals. (Bear with me here.) Apparently, the thing to do down the Mali is to make up a very personal dry paste of scented resins, woods and spices, which you then burn over a the embers of a fire while you stand above it drenching your skin and hair in the billowing clouds of smoke. The fragrance has topnotes of green mango peel and the spicy warmth of cardamon, with a background of completely clean, unoily smoke, a bit like well seasoned applewood being burnt on a bonfire. It's absolutely beautiful; I feel like a shaman when I'm wearing it.
So that's me for you. Now I simply must do some actual work.