I really don’t know why people are making such a fuss about No 5. Okay, it has been the world’s best selling perfume since 1921, Marilyn Monroe wore it, apparently mostly when naked and in bed, but so did the doyenne at my very first agency, and rest assured, although she was the sweetest person who used to feed me with biscuits, I’m pretty sure no one pictured her in bed, let alone naked. Anyway, I digress as usual, my point is, I like Ernest Beaux’s No 22 from 1922 so much better. And like Karl Lagerfeld, I only care about my opinion. No 22 is like dessert. A very fine dessert, that is. Made of tuberoses and vanilla, cream and candied roses, with a little whisky in the cream, a single malt of course, even a harsh one, Lagavulin, just a tiny dose, a hint, but enough to add the strangest depth to it, transforming the femininity of all those fragrant flowers into a gentleman’s dessert, into some sort of diplomat cream, I once made one, a so-called crème diplomate Couloubrier, but it turned out as a real culinary disaster, marshmallows are sour in comparison, only my father who has the world’s sweetest tooth, would eat it, but that’s another story, where was I? Right, No 22. To put it in a nutshell, this perfume is an olfactory diplomat cream, and as this dessert was named after the famous Russian diplomat Nesselrode, known for his love for English puddings and desserts, No 22 is quite a manly scent. One cannot be any manlier than a Russian, can one?
In the early 1980s, a close friend of my mother’s owned a boutique, selling mostly Jil Sander, long before the Pradas had cast an eye at the brand, when the Hamburg flagship store was still on Milchstrasse, a paradise lost with the most stylish windows, and years before Jil Sander did menswear. But I digress. My mother’s friend Angelika is a woman of exquisite taste, she drove a vintage Rolls-Royce at that time, a 1972 Silver Shadow, dark green, I’ll never forget its backseat, that supple leather, one just dove into softness, it actually breathed luxury, although unlike the 1954 Bentley Type R of Luca Turin’s stepfather, it didn’t smell like Chanel’s Cuir de Russie. Well, you can’t have it all. But I digress again. In Angelika’s boutique, there was no cash desk, she had a Biedermeier secretary instead, very old Biedermeier, from the 1810s, an adjustment to her interior design notion, where she sat down to sip her tea, write her bills, stuff the cash into one of the drawers, and take a new pack of cigarettes from another one. When she closed the store and stopped selling Jil Sander’s various shades of beige, some twenty years ago, I got this beautiful piece of furniture, it had a hard time moving with me from one apartment to another, it lost most of its ivory knobs, got bruised and kicked, but I wouldn’t want to live without it, to me it’s a piece of family history, a most treasured heirloom indeed.
In 1986, I fell helplessly in love with Inès de la Fressange. I don’t recall the exact date, but whatever Monday or Thursday it was, in May or in August, it brought thunder and lightning. I was struck, smitten and lost. As a matter of fact, I am still struck, smitten and lost, when I look at this advertisement for Chanel today, almost precisely thirty years later. I took it from my favourite newspaper supplement, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Magazin, on the very day it appeared, regardless of the fact that my father hadn’t read it yet, and I have kept it safe between the pages of my beloved Georges Lepape monography by Claude Lepape and Thierry Defert ever since, next to another perfume advertisement by Lepape for Les Parfums de Rosine, protecting it from dust, sunlight, crinkling, and unworthy hands like a work of art. Taking that book from the shelves, opening it, and contemplating Inès de la Fressange’s utmost beauty and elegance, was like attending mass. I can’t find any excuses for such excessive worshipping hyperbole. Adoration is my thing, I guess.