Today´s Valentine´s Day. This was supposed to be an exploration of some of the Neil Morris scents, which I find very romantic, or a post reporting on trying various foods while wearing what I´d imagine to be complementary fragrances, an idea I find romantic which was put into my head when we were talking about the Dolfin chocolate bars in the Eau d’Hermes post, and Divina said DSH Lumiere reminded her very much of the Hot Masala bar. Which I felt duty-bound to research, of course.
Instead, I´ve been home with two or three fairly sick children since last Thursday (strep, croup, fever, bronchitis, stomach flu, ear infection – choose your combo). It´s the high-maintenance kind of sick that involves crummy sleep at night, and daytime trips to the pediatrician, the pharmacy, and the grocery store for possibly palatable foods and liquids. Other than that I pretty much haven´t left the house. Today, God willing, they all went back to school, and I´m day two into my own round of drugs for strep.
The weirdly positive element (and yes, believe it or not, there is one!) is, at this level of onslaught I give up any pretense at normal living. We eat whatever, however, whenever. I talk a good game about my devotion to sloth, but the truth is on a day-to-day basis I seldom put down the remote controller to my little world and let things be. For the last week, though, we´ve consumed enough television and comfort food to alarm a panel of child-rearing experts, who I presume aren´t reading this blog. The kids flop around on the sofa eating saltines, drinking Gatorade and watching Cars for the 15th time. I go up to my little room in the attic, the only space in this house that is selfishly and entirely mine, a kid-free zone with an antique desk, a reading chair with an ottoman and good lighting, a couple of my favorite paintings (including a charming, third-rate oil of Kuan Yin I bought at a yard sale), and a small bed. It´s the warmest room in the house; when I’m sick, the kids know to find me there. I curl up in that little bed with Hecate, both of us feverish. I trace her spine with my fingertips until she falls asleep and I doze next to her, listening to the sleet hit the windows. It is one of the most powerfully, deliciously narcotic sensations I know. If I could, I would make it into a strange perfume.
It´s been a perfume-free week, because in the midst of all that sickness the smell makes us feel queasy. One of the few smells that pleases me right now is the cinnamon-violet smell of my blooming cattleya orchid (that´s it on my bedroom table, in the photo) which releases a powerful waft of scent at mid-day and then tucks its perfume bottle away again. On Monday I turned in desperation to my closet for something else that had warm, wonderful associations. My comfort-scent workhorses, even innocuous ones like KenzoAmour, nauseated me.
Which brings us to Annick Goutal Mandragore, done by Camille Goutal and Isabelle Doyen as a unisex tribute to mandrake, “a wonderful and mysterious plant, the mandrake that has inspired numerous legends.” Notes are bergamot, black pepper, spearmint, star anise, boxwood, ginger and mandrake. Mandragore’s dry simplicity turned out to be the perfect treatment for what ails me.
It´s not clear to me that anyone´s come up with a definitive description of the smell of mandrake, and the fragrance is bright, citrus-y and cheering; the only mystery involved is why they picked that particular angle to market the scent. To me there is very little development, and it is essentially bergamot and peppered grapefruit. I have heard other people complain about a urine-like note (helloooo, boxwood!) and others complain in a general sense that AGs don´t last very long on them.
If I concentrate, I suppose I can pick out the “anise” note, but I don´t like anise in fragrance, so I wouldn´t let that put you off (or reassure you, depending.) And while Robin at Now Smell This and I, along with some others, have been laughing about the current ubiquity of pink pepper in fragrance (it´s practically the new litchi), Mandragore is one of the first scents I can remember smelling that distinct peppery note and thinking, damn – what is that? If “pink pepper” signals a mild, tingly, slightly sweet note, then the black pepper in Mandragore is like having the perfumer stand over your plate with the grinder. It is arid, sharp and masculine. I adore it.
Unlike some of you, I came late to my perfume obsession. I smelled Mandragore shortly after its release, in their Paris store. It is the first time I comprehended that a perfume did not have to be conventionally pretty – or pretty at all – to be beautiful. Although I have smelled plenty of much, much stranger scents in the ensuing years, the smell of Mandragore always contains the ghost of that first cheerful oddity. For me it is (and I hope always will be) what winter in Paris smells like. I know that´s absurd, but it´s true and it makes me happy.
Mandragore is available in an Eau de Toilette and an EdP. Since the lasting power was never an issue for me, if you like the scent you might want to try the EdP, which I´ve been told is pretty much a scent dupe of the original, only stronger. It´s available in the handsome, square masculine bottle, which is my preferred presentation, along with the traditional bottle.
So, happy Valentine´s Day. I hope you get something delicious in a small, lovely flacon today. If you have a funny or cheerful perfume story to share with me (the totally wrong bottle you got from your lover, or the first time a fragrance really moved you, etc.) I’d love to hear it.