Some years ago, after a slow recovery from a debilitating double lung whammy of pneumonia and pleurisy, I was shopping in Liberty for perfume. Not for myself; I wanted to find something just so for a friend of mine who loved, and loves, figgy smells.
Brief aside: my rediscovery of the sense of smell actually dates to that incidence of pneumonia. Lying in hospital, nebuliser attached 24 hours a day, I was cut off from the world. When I could breathe the air again, I noticed wonders. Even in the grotesque. I’d loved smell as a young man – encapsulated in my obsession for Christian Dior’s Fahrenheit, but now it seemed launched into new heights of sensory wonderment.I couldn’t get enough. But I think I’ve told this story before.
Back to Liberty. I’d only discovered niche through Basenotes and other online worlds a few months before this shopping trip and, like so many folk, had started in the world of l’Artisan Parfumeur. Premier Figuier was probably right for my friend, but I wanted to try other things first so I’d moved through Diptyque, Marc Jacob for men and something by Carthusia too.
The unassuming sales assistant, after holding off for some time (a very pleasing Liberty trait) asked me what I was looking for. And I told her of the figgy hunt. She suggested, in her lilting Caribbean accent, that perhaps I could try something different, and led me to the Serge Lutens display, my first real contact with those pared down, elegantly unstable export bottles. She picked up Arabie and told me it contained dried fig.
I’d never smelled anything like it. It may well have contained dried fig but like the fabled horn (I speak not of March’s Bois de Matin, people), a cornucopia of other things poured out with the first seductive spray. Sweet and dry, fruity and rich, leathery and sharp, it seemed to hold opulent worlds inside its gamboge liquid. And these worlds were then, and now, ineffable to me. It was edible and toxic and somehow impossible. Suddenly, perfume had invented its own language inside my head and it would be some time before I would make all the cognitive shifts to fit in this new terrain (and would spend A LOT of money while I did).
And the seduction was so intense that I forgot all about my firend until I snaffled up some l’Artisan for her the following week. It just didn’t compare the opulent beast I’d bought for myself.
I’ve been away with work for the past four days and the only perfume that accompanied me was Arabie. It wasn’t suitable, but nonetheless it’s all I wanted. Like all real first loves, it doesn’t quit me.
Your first real love in perfume? And where now, in your affections, does it sit?