I love scent. To my mind, there is no better beauty treatment. It makes me smile, gives me a confidence that even the best facial cannot quite match.
I love buying scent too, lingering over descriptions of base and top notes – rose, sweet violet, sandalwood, orange blossom, patchouli, vetyver, a heart of jonquil. What is there not to smile about?
Scent must be new and complex or old and precious and half-forgotten. I don’t want a film star’s overpriced notion of scented water or a fragrance for Desperate Housewives – apparently the next big thing.
It is something to fall madly, passionately in love with, not simply like, and buying it should be a joy.
In Italy, there are 1,800 independent perfumeries. The Italians buy scent with the same love and devotion as they buy food or wine. I think we should too. Why deny ourselves one of life’s great pleasures?
While there are a few good dedicated scent shops in this country (including the marvellous Haute Parfumerie on the fifth floor at Harrods) the oldest and the best is Les Senteurs in London.
I know it’s a little tiresome when a shop is to be found only in London, but they also offer a mail-order sample service and a beautifully descriptive catalogue.
If you know the family of scents you love (floral, oriental, woody, green), you can call and have a chat with the delightful James Craven, the resident 'nose'. He will recommend a few to suit and will post off samples to try before you splash out.
He will also try to find something to echo a much-loved but discontinued fragrance. Better still, go to see him and treat yourself to a couple of hours of pure pleasure.
“Try this,” he says, pulling a bottle of Frederic Malle’s Angeliques Sous La Pluie from the shelves.
“It’s the smell of a French kitchen garden, a potager on an early March afternoon with the earth just turned. There’s the root of angelica, with a just a little vetyver and a hint of pepper. Very fresh and lovely.”
Where else would you find such lyricism? Not at a department store beauty counter or a soulless airport duty-free shop.
We slow-dance, twirling from scent to scent, amid crystal bottles, fragrant candles and pots of face powder (heavily scented with roses, by Caron).
“Isn’t this delicate?” James says, picking up the ancient scent, Acqua di Genova, “Lemons, neroli and orange blossom, always a big hit with blondes.”
I love it. I am blonde, with a little help. “I mean, blonde at heart,” he says with a smile. James has a theory about scent and colouring.
“I think it’s because people cast themselves from childhood, in their own style. Blondes tend to like the white florals and the citruses. Brunettes love the orientals and the spices. By that I mean the olive-skinned brunette. The Irish brunettes with cream, dairymaid skin and that lovely black hair and blue eyes are best with the greens, the chypres and the fougeres.”
Redheads, apparently, find it most difficult to find a scent. It’s something to do with their skin composition, which can turn a perfume.
“They are usually best with spicy notes. The fleshy white flowers can go very bad, while very red hair seems to speed things up so the scent doesn’t last.”
I find my scent and fall madly and passionately in love. But scent is so personal that it is impossible, of course, to say which is loveliest.
Instead, I ask James to select some summer fragrances for blondes, brunettes and redheads. Enjoy.
Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle (£95 for 50ml, exclusive to Les Senteurs). A fabulous, highly concentrated tuberose, undercut with orange blossom, jasmine and musk. Created by Dominique Ropion, one of the great French noses. Wonderfully sexy but sophisticated.
Very light blonde
Acqua di Genova (£55 for 50ml at Les Senteurs). A perfect high-summer scent – sharp lemons with a heart of rose and neroli. Still as fresh and lovely as when it was created in 1853 and made by the same Italian family ever since.
Love in White by Creed (£48 for 30ml at Harrods). A new scent from a great old perfume house, it heralds the first flowers of spring – hyacinth, magnolia and narcissus with a heart of white lilac. At first, a light floral, it lingers, ending on a warm, spicy note of vanilla.
Pois de Senteur (Sweet Pea) by Caron (perfume only, £83 for 15ml, exclusive to Harrods). The sweet pea refuses to give up its fragrance to perfumers, so in 1927, Caron’s creator Ernest Daltroff evoked it with a subtle blend of rose, hyacinth, cyclamen, jasmine and lily of the valley, bound with vanilla, musk and sandalwood. A complex but gentle scent with a powdery base.
Lux by Mona di Orio (£75 for 50ml, exclusive to Les Senteurs). A brand new scent from a brand new talent. Mona di Orio trained under the legendary Edmond Roudnitska, who created many of Dior’s greatest fragrances. She created Lux as her personal scent, and it was 10 years in the making. Top notes of lemon zest, bitter orange and bergamot give it a citrus hit, followed by a warm, lingering finish of attar of roses, cardamon, saffron and amber. Sensational. A future classic.
Written by Sally Brampton