There’s nothing fair about house-hunting, and it does lead to civil strife. Our current home has just gone on the market; it seems we have a buyer. So far, so good. But the problem comes in finding a new place; here’s where the faultlines in love most fully emerge. We’re (dreadful neologism coming up) downsizing to afford a new way of life, and I think I’ve found a place to achieve that dream. I’m the type who falls in love hard and fast – no shilly-shallying about – I know, quite simply, when it’s the one. Matt, on the other hand, is all calm logic. Passion vs. detachment. Hot-headedness vs. methodical decision making. I know he’s right, but I can’t stop feeling I am. I was sulky and irascible by the end of the day yesterday, simply because I wasn’t getting my way. Matt accused me of bullying him into submission and I did my storm and stomp routine. Quite embarrassing really.
This house thing applies to perfume. We looked at a place on Saturday – it was beautifully finished, the location was exceptional and there was nothing to complain about, but it fired neither of us up. And that is essentially how I feel about the new Chanels. It’s a house I’ve always had a problem ‘getting’ – I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of perfume antecedents, especially in the female lineage – and Chanel’s refined, elegant sophistication seems to speak a language I can only just recognise. It took me a long time to learn to love Bois des Iles and her sibling à‰goà¯ste (more about the big head in our threesome next week), and perhaps this will happen with the six exclusives. My nose is probably being unfair to them. This is not to say I don’t like them: every last one has something in it that appeals, but doesn’t grab. Perhaps it’s the drydown – a Chanel accord that mystifies me in its softly spoken calmness. So, in mini-portrait mode:
Coromandel: hippy gets dressed up in twin set and realises she’s been a debutante all along.
18: Whilst powdering her baby’s bottom, Flora caught wind of the pickling factory leakage. Vinegar seeped into the dusty trails of her small lowland village. Something, somewhere, blossomed.
31: Ever been able to travel to a precise destination by an almost infinite variety of routes?
Bel Respiro: crushed leaves leave a sigh of themselves.
La Pausa: Don’t sneer at me, just because you’re unreachably beautiful.
Eau de Cologne: Have we met before?
In contrast to Chanel, I feel at home in Hermà¨s. To be honest, though I sniffed all of their male range a long time back, I didn’t really get into the house until Jean Claude Ellena started weaving his magic there. I tested out the Jardin series first and though I loved them, there was eventually something Not For Me about their limpid beauty. This wasn’t the case with Terre d’Hermà¨s, Poivre Samarcande, Ambre Narguilé or Vetiver Tonka though, all of which I love. More recently, I’ve been drawn to the pre-Ellena days and, probably unlike a lot of purists, love the way both à‰quipage and Bel Ami have been repackaged in the chunky square bottles of the Ellena scents. Whether they’ve tampered with the fragrances, I’ll leave for others to say.
à‰quipage is the Hermà¨s version of Chanel pour Monsieur (oh, a Chanel I did love straight off…) or Eau Sauvage and, whilst probably not quite as good as either of these two grade A classics, it’s a quietly remarkable barber shop number based around carnation. Soapy, old school, clean – it smells exactly like an elegant gent should. I’m not often elegant myself, but feel like I can aim to be when I wear this.
Bel Ami is in my knee trembler category – an orgasmic, dizzy with excitement number. The first few seconds are a bracing, almost sweet lemon, but then this astringency softens, rounds out, and the spices that you smell in the bottle begin to kick in. It needs time to develop into a superb leather scent with a twist – always retaining that spicy edge whilst the smoke becomes more prominent. And then there’s a beautiful sandalwood to round it all off in the basenotes. Lots of people class Bel Ami as an 80s powerhouse, like Chanel’s Antaeus. In my mind, it’s shoulder pad free. And it’s never less than wonderful no matter where you are on the journey.
Rocabar is the Hermà¨s 90s scent, and as such it has something of a confused identity. The advertising campaign with its Native American symbolising strength (or something) always puzzled me, and the bottle’s packaging is irritating – except for the little wool saddle blanket that comes with it, which is daft and cute. The scent doesn’t achieve the heights of Bel Ami, but is comfortably secure as a no-brainer rainy day in autumn standard. It starts off pretending it’s going to be a fougà¨re – all woody goodness and resins, with just a hint of the sweetness that will later dominate – and ends as an oriental in balsamic vanilla. It takes you from the great outdoors to snuggling under a comforter, and that to me is what autumn is all about.
If you’d like a sample of each of these Hermà¨s scents, let me know in the comments, and I’ll tell you the winners in two weeks’ time.
(first image is a 1907 photo of where I currently live, saved online by http://foxearth.org.uk. The second is a Christmas card by English Heritage, showing where I MUST LIVE NEXT. Follow the signpost to the right – my new house is 20 yards down on the left. Oh yes it is Matt!)