I hate new things. I love things with a history attached. Fragrances, for instance. Bois des Iles is from 1926, the year The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published, Agatha Christie’s first ‘whodunnit’ story featuring Hercule Poirot, her Belgian detective, and reformulated or not, it still smells like Coco Chanel, au petit jour in the backseat of a black Rolls-Royce, wrapped in her sable coat, on her way home from a delightful sexual encounter with some of these men way out of her league, socially speaking, they were all of such noble birth, rich as hell or nouveau pauvre – très nouveau, très pauvre, but in fact, they all were out of hers, they just had names, names they were just born with, she had made herself a name, a name worth millions then and now, she chose her lovers like others chose jewelry, and was hated for it, envied at least, but to hell, she was no bourgeoise, she just dressed them. The dresser it stands on is from the same time, by the way. It belonged to a pharmacist, so the antique dealer I bought it from told me, considering it’s art deco, it wasn’t even new when he bought it. Inherited, maybe. Or a pharmacist who was into art deco, sounds like an interesting man, somebody who had looked out for something special, who wanted to enjoy opening his sock drawer, suavely, pulling it open with the gentlemanly grip burl wood demands. On the other hand, he might have hated it. Too many memories attached. It might have belonged to his wife who left him for another man. A younger one. Although he was only 36 when she left. He waited all his life for her to come back. Didn’t touch her personal things, her silk stockings, kept them as if she would come back for them, or him – as if, she’d reply – maybe it was just one of those things, he kept telling himself. Or maybe not. Maybe he was just way out of her league.
Coco Chanel was cool, Jean Patou not so much, he looked like a dandy, some kind of Parisian Fred Astaire, smartly dressed but without any insolence, ever so uptight, to me, he lacked a great deal of casualness, actually Patou himself lacked the very casualness his dresses had, for some reason, the women he dressed looked way smarter than he. And they looked gorgeous. Emmanuelle Polle wrote a terrific book to show us all what made Jean Patou eternally famous: the elegant gowns, the sportswear, imagine, sportswear with an haute couture approach, Nike only dresses women on the brink of exhaustion, ever so prone to dehydration, if any of the women in Patou’s sportswear ever were dehydrated it was just from champagne, believe you me, or the juice called parfum, he offered plenty of stylish perfumes, Joy was the costliest fragrance of its time, well, you had to attack Chanel and Guerlain somehow, his world was leisure and luxury, and with this book, published by Flammarion, we are allowed a glimpse into this world, let’s take those stairs, they are every bit as stylish as Chanel’s famous staircase.
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?