One of my earliest recollection of scent having an impact on me dates back to when I was a very young boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old. I was in my bed, and my mother came to kiss me goodnight: she was standing at the entrance of my room in her golden cocktail dress, and the light shining from the corridor made her glisten as if she was surrounded by an aura, by a corona. The only person I had ever seen with a corona was an angel, or a fairy queen from a book; enchanted by the vision, as my mother came and kissed me, the smell of her scent together with the one of her face power pervaded me.
Perfume is something more than just a futile and volatile expression of vanity: on the contrary, olfactive memory is the most powerful means of recollection that we can dispose of. People now take photographs of everything, but images are two-dimensional: while through a fragrance you can immediately remember everything. A place, an atmosphere, a sensation…
I remember being a very young child of perhaps two or three years of age. In those days, walking harnesses and reins, designed to ensure young children could be stabilised and safe when walking, were very popular. Way back then, they were made of leather and I had the habit of chewing the straps. It is the leather straps made soft and wet by my chewing that I distinctly remember the smell of.
For me, to this day, leather recalls the memory of walks in the park with my parents and the sheer excitement of going off on an adventure – albeit a restrained one. I associate leather with the luxury of travel and of packing a suitcase with things much loved and enjoyed when going off to other places.
I remember the scent of bluebells, which are a special flower which grows in Britain in May and turns the woodland floor bright blue. There was a beautiful wood at the end of the grounds of my grandparents’ home. I loved walking in it as a child, it was as if it had been transformed by magic. I remember the scent of the earth, the mosses, and the sweet scent of these narcotic blooms.
Also as a child, my mother used to bake a special dish for us. It was a cross between a bread and a cake. It was full of sweet spices, and would fill the house with its odour. She put it in the oven early in the evening and so we smelt it as we went to bed, and couldn’t wait for the next day when we were able to eat it. I love this smell and can feel my mouth watering as I am describing it.
When I was a teenager I used to spend my pocket money in perfume bottles. We all know what they contain: a colourful liquid. But when you open them, it’s like releasing a genie: and you don’t know what the genie will do. When I was 18, I saved all my money to buy me a flight for Paris: there, I went straight to the Caron boutique in Avenue Montaigne just to have a vision of that space. Those Baccarat fountains struck me so deeply, that they made me think about a sonnet by Shakespeare – A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass, Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft. They epitomised all that perfumery should be, and they are legitimate too.
Many years ago, I met a wonderful client in my perfumery who was telling me about the perfume her mother had always worn and loved. On smelling the perfume again, for the first time in many, many years, she immediately started crying. A single sniff of her mother’s much loved fragrance had instantly triggered memory and emotion in a way that a photograph never could.
I love the way perfumes act as recollections of the world, where notes fill the air with the opportunity to revisit past dreams and expectations. Golden elixirs of magical ingredients that silently resound through precious bottles, transporting us away to precious memories. Because memories are the most important treasure of all.
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