The other week I sat on the edge of the Yarra River, which runs right through the central business district of Melbourne. I undid the middle button of my double-breasted jacket – Loro Piana – mid-grey and riddled with a black and blue check. As I undid my button and loosened my collar, a waft of Carnal Flower rose from my chest. Full and bombastic, but in no way rude, for it’s a measured creature. It is this small fragment in time, living with a fragrance that appears utterly significant to me. It is fascinating. This subtle subconscious engagement. What does it mean? Is there such thing as a perfect fragrance for a perfect moment?
Taking time off from blogging has allowed me to rediscover the enjoyment from these subtle moments. That first spritz and experience of Brin de Reglisse that I ache for, like a haunting phantasm of the past just out of arm’s reach. That emotion one more time. Once again. My first flirtation with Eau d’Orange Verte – its peppery bittersweet citrus so situationally right in the summertime and so luxurious: to spray such expensive liquid only to leave you with a faint memory of it shortly after. The feeling of maximal formality and lushness on my first spray of Black Orchid, a patchouli with all of the nuances, from Périgord truffle to cassis.
Have I lost the potential to have these raw experiences? To some extent, I think I have. I’m looking at it all differently now. A gestalt switch. Perfume isn’t perfume – it’s a stream of symbols and meanings. Brin signifies a certain proportion and length, of balance and meaning within a scented reality – my personal metaphysical quest for operational objective qualities. For instance, 31 Rue Cambon or Arabie isn’t just plainly good (indeed they smell good), and they may fit perfectly within my frame of mind at certain times (making it subjectively good), but there ought to be something weakly realisable! We leave it to the philosophy of art to conquer this challenge. But one must not neglect the intrinsic and raw experience with fragrance – something that squeezes the soul and tickles the emotional faculties. I have neglected the subjective experience in favour of the objective for too long; there is value in both. For when a scented experience within a certain time aligns with one’s expectations of the perfume itself, and when this surprise overwhelms, then these expectations have met reality. They are subjectively good.
As the weather warms up, the jackets are put away. On another evening this month, I, freshly showered, wore a sky blue shirt – a broadcloth cotton: cut generously, crisp, and adorned with white and prune stitching to form neat vertical lines. The top buttons are undone, the length is tucked into a summery khaki brown trouser and softened on the eye with a chocolate belt and a brass buckle. Chocolate Tod’s loafers and subtle brown socks follow down below. A generous shower of Lys Mediterranee completes the look. It’s the smell of prettified decay once again – the smell of a florist’s fridge that’s ever so slightly sticky, ozonic, and ultimately a very heady experience. Lys has a sharp albeit manicured claw, it has a grip. Angelica adds a peppery, herbal green bite. Someone inadequately strong would find that Lys Mediterranee would start wearing the wearer. It has a presence unlike many other fragrances but not unlike Le Parfum de Therese. It has an aura-like quality of cold gregariousness. Talk to it – but it is unwise to try to champion it. It’s generous on the orange blossom, but avoids a step into the humid, bodily direction. It’s just full and tenacious within what is otherwise an infinitely long fragrance. Lys was nothing other and nothing less than a requirement – as the weather was sufficiently warm to let the florals sing with the occasional cool breeze to showcase more nuanced facets of the fragrance. The florist’s fridge, the impression of sea spray, the salty edge of cucumber, and the long bite of ginger.
I was invited to a dinner another separate evening. It was at a juncture of the seasons where the days have become longer but the weather hasn’t quite caught up. Long days with chilly interludes. With a discrete dosage of Francis Kurkdjian’s Absolue Pour le Soir and a spray over the top of clothing – I find myself in the wilderness. It warms without being sticky; it sings in the heat and stays close in the cool. This is fragrance at its most unusual. It is easy to call Absolue dirty, but what is dirty about it? The floral sweetness of honey and beeswax? The purity of incense? The salubriousness of spices and benzoin? And how good is the rose floating in a pond of amber? This is a fragrance for those serious about fragrance, for it moves amber front and centre beyond its typical application as a basenote. This, in a general sense, is unusual. Amber is all about these secondary qualities. That requires negotiation. I don’t think the common man wants to negotiate with his eaux. But, you never know…
Summer Evening, Wheatfield with Setting sun (1888) – Vincent van Gogh
I want to draw my point further. There was Chanel’s excellent Cuir de Russie extrait at my graduation, MdO’s Oudh Osmanthus at my final high school formal, Shalimar to my first Y12 Exam, the smell of Osmanthus Yunnan in an exam hall for my business law module, the intense perfume of ice cold Gewurztraminer with my friends, a eucalyptus Diptyque candle lit at the kitchen table – attempting to solve a puzzle, the vintage brassy smell of my grandmother’s kitchen, Vetiver Extraordinaire to my first day at Men’s Biz, and so forth. Fragrance affixes and infects memories – I aim to neglect that in the interest of good reviewing, but it’s actually really nice to be reminded of that (I do say)!
This is a true musing. What’s the point of all this? I’m not so sure if there is one. This is one of those stop and meditate posts; a bit of appreciation. It’s nice not to think, as contradictory as that may sound – allow me to back that up – it’s nice to revert back to a simple language; a simple framework. A realm where fragrance fits into a lived in context. For when fragrance exhausts me, fragrance is my concurrent escape. It’s enjoyable. We return to context: for Mitsouko is enjoyable for no one with a migraine, and is much more enjoyable in a black tuxedo and a silk bowtie. That must mean something, surely. In absentia has been good for me.
6 thoughts on “Monthly Musings: In Absentia, October 2017”
Magnificent, Liam. Verbal brain candy at your best. Not a word out of place or an idea not salivated over. I will have to read this again; to milk it of all its glory. I felt I was sitting next to you on a sunny afternoon, watching the birds peck at the ground while you speak all this to me.
As are you! xx
A truly lovely essay, Liam! Thank you.❤️
Always my pleasure ❤️
A great musing, Liam. Thank you. And now, I will retrieve the Mitsouko from the out-of-rotation box under my bed.