Whitney Peak is the new face for Chanel Coco Mademoiselle, and we are delighted to bring you an exclusive behind-the-scenes film of Whitney visiting in-house perfume creator, Olivier Polge…
A talented actress who completely embodies the spirit of Coco Mademoiselle – and echoes the revolutionary, fashion-forward sense of Coco Chanel’s ethos – Whitney filmed much of the footage of this behind-the-scenes visit herself. In this utterly-engaging film footage, she was excited to discover the ingredients that make Coco Mademoiselle so beguiling, and exactly why the fragrance is so iconic. As you will see, during her tour of his office, and the legendary Chanel perfume lab; Whitney also put Olivier’s nose to the test…
OLIVIER POLGE – CHANEL IN-HOUSE PERFUMER-CREATOR
How would you describe the composition of the COCO MADEMOISELLE fragrance?
At CHANEL, we create fragrances based on ideas and visions. COCO MADEMOISELLE reflects this ethos, which translates to a certain abstract quality that goes beyond a list of ingredients. COCO MADEMOISELLE reveals the scent of a bold, free woman, combining the brightness of vibrant, sparkling citrus with a sensual, modern patchouli note that has been fractionated and refined. Soft jasmine and rose accords lie at the heart of the fragrance.
Tell us about the fractionated patchouli that makes COCO MADEMOISELLE so unique.
Patchouli is a very important and distinctive element of COCO MADEMOISELLE. This particular patchouli is fractionated using a technique that was developed by CHANEL and that revolutionized the way fragrance is created. It allows us to refine the raw material so that only the purest fractions remain. This lends it an elegant, sophisticated feel.
What makes COCO MADEMOISELLE so special and timeless?
When it was first released, COCO MADEMOISELLE defied convention in a way that was ahead of its time. In the early 2000s, when fresh and light fragrances were very much in style, COCO MADEMOISELLE brought more intense scents back into fashion.
Its abstract nature has enabled it to transcend the era in which it was created, like all CHANEL fragrances. COCO MADEMOISELLE is not the expression of a single ingredient, but rather of a style. And as Gabrielle Chanel said: “Fashion goes out of fashion. Style never.”
How would you describe COCO MADEMOISELLE to someone who has never smelled it before?
It can be difficult to put a scent into words. When I smell COCO MADEMOISELLE, there is something vibrant about it. It evokes a feeling of effervescence. It makes me think of a young woman who is expressing herself freely, moving as if wind was blowing around her. To me, it always feels full of life and energy.
In your opinion, what role does fragrance play in our everyday lives?
Fragrance has an extraordinary ability to evoke things in people and recall memories from their lives; it’s one of the aspects of my job that I enjoy most. Fragrance reaches us on a very intimate level, and I think that is what makes it so powerful. I often hear extremely personal stories about cities people lived in, memories of loved ones—we have so many anecdotes about fragrances. We tend to personify them.
Fragrance is a connection to the world around us, a way of portraying ourselves to the world; it expresses our personality just like the clothes we wear or our mannerisms. Fragrance reveals yet another facet, something that cannot be conveyed any other way.
What words come to mind to describe Whitney Peak?
Whitney is a free-spirited, joyful young woman as well as a very talented actress. She is the embodiment of COCO MADEMOISELLE.
Chanel Coco Mademoiselle£126 for 100ml eau de toilette chanel.com
In our continuing series scenting popular culture films, books and music, may we present: Perfuming Persuasion – matching characters from the recent Netlfix adaptation of the Jane Austen novel to fragrances we feel really reflect their characters (and, perhaps, yours…?)
It’s a two-way street, this ‘scenting of’, because describing a perfume can be so tricky to acurately convey (there being no distinct words for any smell in the English language). So, bereft of exacting language, we always seek to liken a scent to something else: music, textures, colours, places and, yes people. Then, it suddenly becomes tangible, a thing you get a grasp of and at least partly understand.
Hot on the heels of the annual Jane Austen Festival, in which participants from all over the world get together and dress as their favourite characters or in period clothing to share their love of the pereneially Persuasion is a fabulous film to do this with, because though an adaptation of a classic novel, in style it is distinctly modern, breaking the fourth wall by having characters talk confessionally to the camera as though they’re addressing us directly – think Fleabag, The Favourite and Bridget Jones’ Diary. The costumes, too, display the more contemporary mix of historically acurate and distinctly modern styles (not quite as obviously as Bridgerton, but that was a modern novel set in an almost fantasy historical setting). Allowing Austen’s socially observant humour and tenderness while reflecting the far-reaching aspects of the charcaters we can still relate to today, this 2022 re-telling of Persuasion is ripe for the perfuming we feel!
Netflix says: ‘Persuasion is a story about the one who got away. Eight years after breaking off her engagement with Captain Frederick Wentworth, protagonist Anne Elliot still isn’t over him. As the middle of three sisters, the 27-year-old is isolated and lonely in a family that doesn’t understand her. But when the dashing blast from her past suddenly crashes back into her life, she must choose between real closure or a second chance. Can she stop self-sabotaging long enough to take it? Based on Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion is full of quirky, endearing characters that make up Anne’s social circle. Get to know some of them below…’
Anne Elliot (Played by Dakota Johnson): Wilgermain Passion Victim
‘Sarcastic and witty, 27-year-old Anne is the sometimes flawed narrator who takes the audience through the colorful cast of characters that populate her world. When we first meet her, she’s living with her father and older sister, having turned down her big chance at love and happiness almost a decade earlier.’
Unconventionally free-spirited and often caustically socially observant, Anne would wear Passion Victim with aplomb. Not that she’s a victim (other to her darker emotions, at times); but the ‘usual suspects’ (as they put it) of vanilla, cistus and frankincense being shot through with mandarin, feel like they’re floating through motes of gold dust suspended in tendrils of smoke. Simmering with passion it tips over into being truly sublime as it throbs to the dry down.
Captain Frederick Wentworth (played by Cosmo Jarvis) – Jean Paul Gaultier Le Beau Eau de Parfum Intense
‘After being rejected by Anne on the advice of Lady Russell, Wentworth sought a life of adventure in the British Navy. He returns to England as a rich man with far better marriage prospects. But has he forgotten the woman who broke his heart?’
A fragrance inspired by giving in to temptation, this swashbuckling-ly handsome scent has something of a subdued swagger – it’s not in-your-face, but oh how it builds (and sexily so): the bergamot burnishing the exotically creamy coconut in the heart, while addictive tonka bean is enough to make you fully swoon. You feel this is worn by a chap more worldly, wearing his medals with pride rather than ostentation; an intense soul that’s been battle-scarred but ultimately readier to submit to true feelings.
Lady Russell (played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) – To the Fairest Aubine
‘Lady Russell was best friends with Anne Elliot’s late mother, and in her absence acts as a role model, mentor, and confidant. She feels guilty for having pushed Anne away from Wentworth all those years ago, and is constantly trying to make up for it. A widow, she has little desire to remarry, instead taking extended trips to Europe, where she can have sexy continental affairs with no judgment from others, thank you very much.’
A glorious celebration of honeyed light, gardenia, frangipani, and orange blossom feels gilded, as though filtered through amber glass. Embracing the warmth of sunsets and new beginnings, this stunning bouquet of brightness blossoms into something altogether honeyed, assured and humming with secret, self-assured sensuality. The frankincense and woods in the dry-down, meanwhile, offer a welcome hug of reassurance that you’ve got this: keep going!
William Elliot (played by Henry Golding) – Carolina Herrera Bad Boy Cobalt
‘Anne’s rich and eligible cousin who once snubbed her sister Elizabeth by — gasp — marrying an American is what the mothers of Bridgerton would call a “capital-R Rake.” Now, he’s back in England, single once more, and on the prowl for a new wife. Wentworth better watch his back.’
Elegantly ‘redefining a modern masculinity’, the salt-licked breeze segues to contemporarily sophisticated lavender, the heart amplified by a rosy tinged geranium. In the base, confidence abounds absolutely, with addictively moreish truffle enhancing smoked oakwood, vetiver, and ultra-smooth cedarwood. Altogether, this Bad Boy is dashing, dapperly dressed and hard to resist. And he knows it.
Mary Musgrove (played by Mia McKenna-Bruce) – Olfactive O Gourmand
‘Anne’s spoiled, selfish younger sister has a single priority: herself. Married to Charles Musgrove, she treats her husband and children much as she does Anne — as disposable creatures blessed with the opportunity to add to her own comfort and happiness.’
We feel Mary (and those like her who might, shall we say, be prone to dramatising events and casting themselves as very much hard done by) would be well-served by this utterly delectable and soul-soothing scent. It thows a velvet rug over your knees and feeds you chocolate cake still warm from the oven, honeyed rum and a hug. For indulging your every need, every single day, you can’t do better than this.
Elizabeth Elliot (played by Yolanda Kettle) – Contradictions in ILK Nonchalant
‘Elizabeth is widely known as the beauty of the Elliot clan — although it’s entirely possible she started that rumor herself. Vain and haughty, she’s her father Walter’s pride and joy, and the only one who travels with him to Bath in an effort to escape bankruptcy.’
Elizabeth’s reluctance to settle for a suitor lead to many castigating her as self-important, but we wonder if that’s not actually better than being betrothed to someone you loathe for the sake of it? In the spirit of believing in your own worth, then, let’s allow her to arch an eyebrow in this. Redolent of cast-aside love-letters and a dressing table full of fabulous fripperies, ripples of raspberry and red berries are draped in cinnamon-dusted violets and laced with labdanum.
Sir Walter Elliot (played by Richard E. Grant) – Penhaligon’s The Blazing Mr Sam
‘ “My father. He’s never met a reflective surface he didn’t like,” Anne says early on in Persuasion. That pretty much sums up Sir Walter, a spendthrift dandy whose only fatherly instinct is to instruct his children on how to be more like him.’
What could be better for Walter than this warmly woody and sophisticatedly spiced scent that was, so Penhaligon’s tell us, inspired by a gentleman who ‘…lives fast, spends freely and speaks loudly’? Brazen, bursting with confidence and living for the moment, this fragrance makes itself comfortable in the best leather chair at the club, sinking into rich seams of pepper-flecked vanilla and oodles of tobacco (which he’ll pay you back for, no he means it this time.) Smooth, utterly charming, he’s fun to be around if you’re not the one taking responsibility for his actions…
For those of you missing Bridgerton and already wishing a new series would be delivered faster than one of Lady Whistledown‘s infamous newsletters, we present to you a themed scenting of some of the major characters in season two of Netflix’s smash-hit show. And if you’ve not yet succumbed, fear not, dear readers – it’s all scents and NO spoilers at Perfume Society Towers. So, pull on your best gloves (fragranced, of course) and get out your feathered fans for an aristocratic olfactory romp…
Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma
Fesity and fabulous, Kate’s main motivation is the happiness of her younger sister, Edwina, and she doesn’t suffer fools gladly (Anthony Bridgerton very much included). Clever, witty, often hot-headed and a brilliant horsewoman who does things her own way, we feel she’d love the simmering sensuality of Bascule. Succulent peach juice sizzles on hot leather, tobacco frottages smouldering hay while a hint of saddle-soap, lily of the valley and cut grass beckon a bath (following a torrid tumble, or a quick gallop in the park, perhaps?)
Utterly charming, Edwina’s often underestimated because of her kind nature. Enthralled by society’s welcome, and in thrall to her much-loved older sister’s wishes, there could be no better match than Delina. A sparkling rose leads the dance – swiftly followed by delicate facets of lily of the valley and peony. Lychee, rhubarb and bergamot beckon a hint of nutmeg swirled in vanilla, twirling through gauzy white musk and cashmeran. An invitation to follow your true heart…
Lady Danbury is highly respected wherever she goes, holding many of society’s secrets and always a trusted confidante. Stopping people in their tracks for decades, now, the opulent rosiness of Portrait of a Lady is shot through by piquant berries, rich sandalwood woven with resinous ripples of patchouli musk, amber and benzoin. Equally unmistakeable and unforgettable, this lady is gloriously unique, powerfully projecting and with an enormous heart.
Queen consort and wife of King George III, Queen Charlotte is always dignified, commanding respect and great loyalty in her subjects, but that’s not to say she doesn’t hold some secrets of her own (soon to be revealed in a spin-off series!) Deserving of a truly regal fragrance, the always-poised elegance of 1872 Feminine is beautifully balanced with crisp citrus atop the intense bouquet of rose de Maï, (often called the ‘Queen of flowers’) and a reassuring woody base.
Refined and warm-hearted, the Dowager Viscountess is the calmly assured matriarch of the Bridgerton family trying to keep their social standing and her children in check; and with eight head-strong offspring she certainly has her work cut out for her. We believe she’d find great comfort in the classic beauty of April Violets – a luminescent abundance of dewy violet leaves rose petals with delicate white peach, all becommingly dusted with orris and honeyed, luminous mimosa.
Burdened by grief, and his well-meaning but misguided attempts to assume the mantle of patriarchal perfection; Anthony obstinately careers between his true (passionate) nature and what high society expects. As the heart of the family tree, we think he’d benefit from the grounding nature of Quercus (Latin for oak), a true classic with a vibrant zing of lemon and basil Cologne freshness, with a warmer, woody and soft moss-swathed base (once you get to know it).
Strongly self-willed, unpredictable and often unruly, Eloise very much does things her own way. Finding the false politeness of high society utterly vile (and most of its members utterly vapid) she’s happier reading a book than dancing, and discovers her voice through subversive feminist literature. Her perfect perfume is Not a Perfume – a scent made from a single ingredient: cetalox. Zero florals or flounce, think warm, clean woodiness, your skin but better.
Artistically spirited and with a yearning for something more meaningful than glamorous but vapid parties, Benedict is keen to give himself over to his bohemian soul. Endearingly sensitive, he would be well-suited to the expressive yet enigmatic This is Not a Blue Bottle 1.1 (inspired by the Magritte’s surrealist painting). Bubbling bitter orange gives way to a heart honey-drizzled geranium, resting on an hypnotic ambered-musk base that resonates with rich patchouli.
Following his heart rather than listening to sense, Colin often comes a cropper and ignores what’s under his nose. Recently returned from Greece, Anthem will remind Colin of his travels, hailing from a Greek fragrance house and inspired by the history and rich mythology of Ancient Greece. A gilded glow of saffron illuminated by zesty lemon feels like wearing sunshine, ylang ylang and rose a reminder of romantic idealism and a spicy silage to tingle temptations
Determined to make good for her family (and herself), Lady Portia bursts into a room with all eyes on her, and often dressed in eye-popping colours. Sopoudrage is a a magnetic and vibrant composition that often surprises – the seemingly classic combo of rose and iris are beautiful but chilled at times, their contrast walzing to a harmony of brightness, here, dusted with powder for a truly lasting finish that’s way ahead of its time and cannot be ignored.
Clever, curious and treadling lightly through society (always lingering on the edges of a room), Penelope seeks solace in her close friendship with Eloise (and her deep yearning for Colin) Bridgerton. Woody has the soft paperiness of parchment lingering in the background, a whisper of a scent, with a soft cashmere hug and delicious chocolate beckoning you closer; while smoked leather, vetiver and myrrh suggests deep secrets soon to be spilled…
Brilliant British perfumer Nancy Meiland has announced an exciting event as part of the Artwave Festival in Lewes – a screening of the magnificent Les Parfums film, followed by an interactive fragrant talk by Nancy…
‘Artwave is the annual festival of artists and makers from Lewes, Seaford, Newhaven and the surrounding villages.
As part of Artwave 2021 Depot will be hosting a program of events with the theme of Flowers. Running from 11th to 26th September. Our annual open call exhibition will show a selection of artworks in a range of mediums by local amateur and professional artists inspired by flowers. Accompanied by talks, workshops and films to entice and excite your senses and creativity.’
Nancy says: ‘Kicking off with a screening of Les Parfums (film 2019) at 5.45 on Thursday 16 September followed by a talk hosted by myself to explore the sensorial world of perfumery. Tickets are selling fast so don’t delay in booking
Lewes Depot say: ‘An evening of discovery through scent with local perfumer and trained nose, Nancy Meiland
Have you ever felt curious about the world of perfume? Allow Nancy to guide you through a micro-history of perfume from its earliest forms to a crystal balling into the role of perfume in the future. What can we do to improve our sense of smell and how can we use scent as a meditation – a way to come home to ourselves.
Tickets include a glass of fizz on arrival and the opportunity to have a 1:1 fragrance consultation with Nancy after the talk.
Nancy Meiland is a perfumer and trained nose who shaped her career in bespoke perfumery, designing signature scent for this coveting something highly individual and special. PAPER LEAF is Nancy’s collection of five fragrances and one perfume Attar as Nancy Meiland PARFUMS.
She has created them as an ode to all she treasures, and her hope is that they come to mean the same to those who wear them. Her belief is that every scent that touches your skin defines you and redefines your space, helping to project the image of yourself that you want to convey.’
We reviewed Les Parfums when it was released in the U.K. – follow that link to read our reactions and watch a trailer. Suffice to say, it’s a warm, funny and utterly fascinating look at how a professional ‘nose’ works, and we highly recommend watching, even if you can’t get to the Lewes screening of it. Though of course, the added lure of smelling Nancy’s faboulous fragrant creations (and a personal consultation with her) is more than reason to make it if you can!
We’re ready to celebrate in more ways than one, not the least by saying Happy Birthday, Chanel. Incredibly, N°5 is celebrating 100 years of being adored by celebrities and fragrance fans the world over. We urge you to join in by spritzing some, now, while watching the fragrantly-themed full-length film and resting your eyes on gorgeousness awhile…
‘Its name is universally renowned. Its wake, a revolution. Its bottle, an unmatched masterpiece,’ says Chanel. ‘Created in 1921, N°5 is the best-known perfume in the world. The new episode of Inside CHANEL looks back over 100 years of celebrity.’
Delving deeply into just what makes it so enduringly special, Chanel explains that:
‘From the start, N°5 threw habits and conventions to the wind. At the beginning of the 1920s, Gabrielle Chanel had already changed people’s views on fashion by suggesting a new allure. Her first perfume is consistent with her pioneering designs, simple yet well thought through. Revolutionary in its composition, N°5 is also the first perfume imagined by a woman for women.’
N°5 has spawned many iconic scent memories over the decades, ‘Whether it be Marilyn Monroe turning it into a myth by confessing she only wore a few drops in bed, or Andy Warhol screen printing it as a pop art icon.’ And did you know – N°5 was the perfume to be advertised on TV!
The visual images accompanying N°5 have always been swoonsome, too (just cast your eyes around this page for proof) – inspiring some of the greatest names in photography and cinematography — including Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, Ridley Scott, Jean-Paul Goude or Baz Luhrmann — and has truly ‘become a visual symbol that has never lost touch with the contemporary creative scene.’
The muses have been meticulously chose over these years as well – only those women who can emody the character of the fragrance without overshadowing it, such as Catherine Deneuve, Carole Bouquet, Nicole Kidman or (current ‘face’) Marion Cotillard have been ‘…among the ambassadresses who, by their spirit and modernity, lift N°5 into the eternal feminine pantheon for posterity.’
From being included in museum exhibitions to countless scent memries we all share, we certainly agree that ‘It is a perfume which, like a coat of invisible armor, gives the strength to face life. Backed with its 100 years of celebrity, N°5 will always be one step ahead.’ That’s why we chose to continue the celebrations, while asking trend forecasters and fragrance experts how they think Chanel N°5 will sashay forth in the next 100 years – with a stunning spread in the just-published Perfume’s Bright Future issue of The Scented Letter Magazine.
Nose is a more than a documentary following Dior perfumer François Demachy, it’s a paean to the raw ingredients of perfumery, and the hardworking people who grow and harvest the ingredients around the world.
Having first premiered at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, the film has just been released – watch the trailer, below, read our review and find out where you can watch…
Dior describe it as ‘A true “smell good movie” Nose sheds light on one of the most secret jobs in the world.’ And while we mostly remainly quarantined, what a wonderful way to travel by your nose it is.
‘Perfumes are a language everyone understands, but few people can speak’ Demachy explains as he sits in his office, filled with endless bottles and piles of books, later commenting that ‘For me, a perfume is a land of sharing.’ Fascinatingly, when asked what his first ever perfume was, he reveals ‘The first thing I did was a perfume intended to whet the appetites of bovine, so they would eat the fodder.’ Quite a leap to his life, now, and yet in this film we get to see how he works with the growers of the materials he so loves, eventually whetting all our appetites with their distilled passion.
In Sulawesi, Indonesia, Demachy travels for three days to visit the patchouli plantations, and says for him, it was the most rewarding part of filming Nose.
‘We took a small plane, then a four-wheel drive, followed by a hike through a few isolated villages in the middle of nowhere. That in itself was already an enjoyable adventure, but then there was this magnificent reward at the end, and I finally got to see my favorite ingredient in its natural environment, on these steep slopes… It’s quite moving to see this… This is where it all begins for perfumery.’ François Demachy remarks as he watches the freshly picked patchouli being washed (and having covered his arms in the fragrantly oily residue).
Fragrance writer Eddie Bulliqi makes an apperance at several points during the film, discussing the links between music and fragrance, and the creative process; but again, it’s the growers who are most celebrated in Nose, even more than the often romanticised life of a great perfumer.
From the idyllic fields of jasmine and rose in Grasse, we meet the women who own the land and discover exactly how hard it is to work those so-pretty fields. And we hear from Patrick Lillis, a ‘Celtic ambergris broker’ from County Clare, Ireland. As the wind and rain lash the shore, Patrick and his dog walk beside the broiling sea, and this gruff-voiced, sou’wester-wearing man waxes lyrical on the magic of ambergris in perfumery.
‘It’s a personal taste thing, you know?’ he says, while sniffing a white (and therefore older, stronger) lump of the precious material. ‘It’s quite a profound, animatic smell… Some people say it adds another dimension to perfumery, that a normal perfume is 2D and this is 3D. It’s the best natural fixative for perfume, and it’s oleophilic – it grabs hold of the oils. But it also does another thing which is a little bit magical: it transforms other fragrances.’
Simply put, Nose is a feast for the senses, and a much-needed way for us to feed the wanderlust we’re all experiencing. Gorgeous, swooping shots of landscape and sumptuous close-ups of dew-speckled flowers accompany this portrait, that goes beyond the work of Demachy, and invites the viewer to fall as passionately in love with the world of perfumery as he and all the people behind the scenes so obviously are…
We’ve scoured the internet for this Fragrant Film Club – a curation of some of our favourite perfume-themed movies, documentaries and TV series to watch right now.
So, if you’re about done with Christmas and need a way to fill the weird hinterland between festive or new year celebrations and the return to (whatever will be) ‘normality’ – here’s a scented selection box of fragrant treasures…
‘With his incredible talent for discerning scents, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) is one of 18th-century France’s finest perfumers. He becomes obsessed with capturing an elusive aroma: the scent of young womanhood. His search takes a deadly turn, and when the bodies of 12 young females are found, panic breaks out, with families rushing to lock up their daughters.’
Based on the best-selling, and now infamous, novel by Patrick Süskind, this is one every fragrance-lover should watch. It’s remarkable not only for being filmed at all (many said the book could never be made in to a screen drama), but for changing the way fragrance was talked about in the media. Stunningly shot, utterly gripping, we of course urge you to read the book first, but do then see this and marvel.
If you’ve already seen the film, have a gander at the made for TV drama loosely based on the premis of the novel, but in a modern-day setting: Perfume (series) Netflix
Telling the story of a preparatory school student who woefully takes a job as an assistant to an irritable, blind, medically retired Army officer, Frank, (magnificently played by Al Paccino) this is one of those films that helped highlight the importance of our sense of smell. In one memorable scene, Frank approaches the table where a woman sits alone, waiting for date. ‘You know, I detect a fragrance in the air,’ he says, ‘Don’t tell me what it is… Ogleby Sisters Soap?’ So, although not a movie about perfume per se, it’s a fantastic performance, and fun to look out for some well-known fragrance names he also detects along his adventures…
Perfumes (Les Parfums) Amazon Prime: rent for £4.49
We reviewed this charming film in full, here, but basically it’s the story of a reclusive, once-feared French perfumer and her new chauffeur. Though a gentle comedy, Les Parfums takes a serious (and very well presented) look at the life of a perfumer, and now this subtitled film has a wider release with Amazon, we hope many more of you will be able to see it. Certainly it’s a treat for the senses, and sadly such a rarity to see perfumery explored on screen in this manner. We particularly loved the scene in which Guillaume, the chauffeur, is discovering his newly-acquired appreciation for smell – in the supermarket, sniffing various shower gels, under the watchful gaze of a bemused security guard. ‘Something quite mellow…’ he says, as the guard shuffles closer, clearly unused to such behaviour in Aisle 5. Delightful from start to finish.
‘After a perfumer’s death, his daughter works to meet the production deadline for his company’s latest scent, which is complicated by the lack of an elusive ingredient.‘ Now we should really start by saying this a Hallmark movie, and as such has a certain look and feel to it that previous viewers of their oeuvre will recognise. That being said, this is the kind of whimsical film that one can happily curl up on the sofa with while eating your way through an entire tub of ice cream. Just don’t expect Süskind levels of olfactory detail, accept that everyone wears pastel and has perfect hair, and all will be fine.
We must admit to not having watched this one yet, but it certainly sounds like an antidote to excessive Christmas schmaltz, if that’s what you’re looking for. ‘After her mother dies, a chemist begins to have strange visions of a mysterious woman in black applying perfume in a mirror, and of strangers who follow her everywhere.’ That’s the synopsis in brief, but further reviews reveal that it’s a surrealistic film, also described as an ‘incoherent and inconsistent slice of psychological horror.’ Nonetheless, it’s a plot that sounds intriguing enough to capture our interest, and we very much we get to find out what the mysterious woman in black’s perfume actually is!
‘Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) can’t believe her husband’s having an affair with salesgirl Crystal (Joan Crawford). But when Sylvia (Rosalind Russell) and Edith (Phyllis Povah) deliver the gossip firsthand, Mary heads to Reno for a divorce. En route she meets Countess de Lave (Mary Boland) and Miriam (Paulette Goddard), who coincidentally is having an affair with Sylvia’s husband. Once in Reno, the Countess finds another beau, Sylvia shows up for a divorce and Mary plots to win back her man.’
Even though this really only has one perfume-related scene, we’re recommending this one mainly because it’s one of our favourite films EVER. And what a scent scene that is – set in the fragrance department of a classy department store, and featuring magnificently catty lines with Crawford as the predatory perfume counter gal. A stellar cast – made up entirely of women (practically unheard of even today, let alone in the 1930s!) – magnificent costumes and a gasp-inducing sudden switch to full-colour film during the fashion show sequence, make this more than worth your watching (on repeat).
Some years ago, the BBC made a fascinating doccumentary series about the perfume business, taking a deep dive into the creation of a fragrance, the revival of a perfume house (Grossmith) and interviewing perfume personalities such as Roja Dove and perfumers including Guerlain’s Thierry Wasser. Sadly the episiodes are no longer available on the BBC iPlayer website, though they are now available to watch on YouTube: Perfume (BBC Documentary series).
Following a rather gauche… sorry. A ‘driven twenty-something American woman from Chicago, who moves to Paris for an unexpected job opportunity.’ Emily in Paris has seen equal parts love and hate in the many reviews that followed its release earlier this year. Whichever camp you fall in, it’s a lovesong to Paris and HOW we yearn to get that back there as soon as we’re able. And you know what? It’s actually not a bad look at the creation and marketing of a perfume, as we follow Emily’s hapless adventures as she’s ‘tasked with bringing an American point of view to a venerable French marketing firm.’
YouTube is a treasure trove for archival fragrance adverts and wonderful little gems like this Pathé documentary on how fragrance is made. We might chuckle at the Stiff Upper Lip ‘Received Pronunciation’ of the voiceover, but it makes for a still very interesting look at Grasse, French perfumery and the technical side of perfumery still not often shown in such detail to this day. Click above to watch it now!
Another still on our ‘to watch’ list, this series certainly sounds like it ticks many (perfume) boxes for us… ‘During the Republican era, a family empire famous for making the best fragrances and incense must guard against those who are out to steal their secret recipes. Ning Zhi Yuan is the sweet young master of his family’s fragrance empire. An Le Yan is a determined young woman who is out for revenge against the Ning family. Zhi Yuan falls in love with Le Yan, but she only wants to infiltrate Zhi Yuan’s family to steal a valuable perfume formula. Le Yan’s true heart is drawn toward An Yi Chen, an inspector. But Xiao Hui, the daughter of a Japanese imperialist, is determined to capture Yi Chen’s heart at all costs. Can Zhi Yuan protect his family’s livelihood and his own heart?‘
Something for the little ones – perhaps inspiring a new ‘nose’ in your family? – this cheeky little cartoon follows the story of Mo, who is ‘…upset when Tee accidentally breaks her favourite perfume.’ And indeed she might might be upset! ‘Tee is now determined to cheer her up by making her some new perfume from ingredients found around the house. Lucky Mo!’ Hmm. Well we’re sure that’s all whimsically delightful, but if Tee tried whipping up a batch of vintage Mitsouko from stuff he found around our house, we’re very much afraid he’d be out on his ear (having replaced the bottle and cleaned the carpet, thank you very much!)
At the time of writing, the new BBC drama series of The Black Narcissus have not yet aired, but you can watch them here when they do (starting Sunday, 27th December in the U.K. at 9pm, with the following two episodes airing in the same slot over the next two nights – Monday 28th and Tuesday 29th December 2020). Based on the aponymous Powell and Pressburger classic 1947 film, Black Narcissus, named after the iconic Caron fragrance and following the intense sensual awakening of a nun who dabbles with such vices as perfume and lipstick; this 2020 version stars the late Diana Rigg (in her last role) among an incredible cast; and promises to be an absolute must-watch.
Fancy even more fragrant viewing? A little while ago, I took a look at some vintage perfume adverts, in which a surprising number of movie stars made their televisual debuts. Or, for those seeking some scented chuckles, why not gawk at these hilarious retro men’s fragrance ads – featuring chaps being spoon-fed in restaurants, a hang-gliding man in danger of being whipped by his own moustache and an impromptu musical set outside a greengrocer’s. Ah, they don’t make ’em like that anymore.
We hope this Fragrant Film Club list provides a fragrant escape for those of you desperately searching for something new to watch – and a chance to re-watch some old faves for those of you who’ve already seen them. Whichever you choose, we suggest snuggling up, staying safe and perhaps locking the door for some blessed moments of me-time…
The Frédéric Malle Perfume Summit is a gathering of some of the world’s most legendary perfumers in conversation with the man who revolutionised the fragrance industry…
It’s not too much to claim that the reason you know the name of the person who who created your favourite fragrance, is because of Frédéric Malle.
In 2000, at the turn of the millennium, Frédéric Malle launched his fragrance collection, Les Editions de Parfum Frédéric Malle. He’s not a nose – although Frédéric grew up immersed in the world of perfumery: he is the grandson of Serge Heftler-Louiche, who created the Parfums Christian Dior line.
Malle‘s idea was to give perfumers free rein to create the fragrance of their dreams. But what was truly innovative was his decision to put their names on the bottle. Until then, most perfumers had been well-kept secrets, working behind the scenes in their labs and – except on a few occasions – remaining anonymous, while the perfume house (or the fashion designer) enjoyed all the credit.
As part of their on-going 20th anniversary celebrations, Frédéric Malle organised a round-table Perfume Summit – a fascinating conversation with some of the perfumers Malle worked with – Jean-Claude Ellena, Pierre Bourdon, Maurice Roucel, Anne Flipo and Dominique Ropion – that takes a deep dive in to the history of their creation and the inspiration behind them.
We suggest settling down and watching this so-interesting discussion – perhaos smelling along with the film if you own several of the fragrances, or focussing on your favourite. And if you’ve yet to explore the range of fragrances – which truly are modern masterpieces and something everyone should try at least once in their lives! – then oh boy, are you in for a treat.
Even if you’ve tried several of the scents, it’s so interesting to seek out those you’d perhaps previously overlooked or don’t know so well; especially after hearing the perfumers talk about them so eloquently.
It seems incredible that not that long ago, a mere handful of us knew the names of perfumers. Now? Some of them have virtual rock-star status in the scent world. What an incredible twenty years it has been – and what will the next twenty bring for Frédéric Malle…? We cant wait to find out!
Les Parfums (‘Perfumes’) is a just-released and utterly charming French film following the life of a feared and reclusive ‘nose’, and her troubled realtionship with her new chauffeur.
The English-subtitled film is a gentle comedy, but takes a serious (and very well presented) look at the life of a perfumer, and it has been released in the U.K. Now showing at selected Curzon cinemas, it’s also on Curzon Home Cinema (to stream at home, for those of us not near one of the venues or who prefer to watch from the comfort of our homes).
Curzon Home Cinema says: ‘Anne Walberg (Emmanuelle Devos) is a master in fragrance who has fallen from grace amongst the upper echelons of the perfume industry. However, her skills are still in demand from companies looking to mask the smell of their odorous products. Over the years she has become selfish and temperamental. When she hires Guillaume (Grégory Montel) – a down on his luck chauffeur with too many points on his license and a rocky relationship with his young daughter – they strike up an unlikely friendship. Together they look to repair their lives and create a new signature scent to return Anne to her previous fame.’
There are so few films about perfumers and our sense of smell, and we were thrilled to discover this new movie more than lives up to expectations. Following the rather hapless chauffeur, at first, Guillaume’s first clue to the trials and tribulations ahead with his new client is when she sniffs him, names the brand of his cigarettes and, when he offers her one, throws the packet out the car window. Other clues to her profession (and her character) come when Ms. Walberg demands that he help her change the sheets in a hotel room, declaring: ‘They use a fabric conditioner full of galaxolides for that “clean” smell. I hate it!’
Asked to recreate the smell of an ancient cave to diffuse at a tourist attraction, Ms. Walberg takes Guillaume along with her, rubbing the walls. ‘Mineral, earthy, camphor, touch of moss… Iris root’ she bids him write down in her notebook. Later, she asks him to smell something she’s created on a blotter. He complains that he doesn’t know what it smells of, but she gently encourages him to say whatever thoughts come to mind. ‘Trust yourself.’ Before we know it, Guillaume is in the supermarket, sniffing various shower gels – under the watchful gaze of a bemused security guard. ‘Something quite mellow…’ he says, as the guard shuffles closer, clearly unused to such behaviour in Aisle 5.
The extent of of Walberg’s’ fame is revealed when she smells Dior J’Adore on a waitress and casually tells Guillaume she created it. (In fact, it was composed by perfumer Calice Becker in 1999, but this is a fictional film, after all). Later we learn that, after she became famous with her photo adorning the cover of magazines, she ‘began to lose (my) nose.’ She thought that ‘with my experience of blending I could do it from memory.’ But after making a mistake, her confidence in composing fine fragrance was truly troubled and Devos lost her contract. Her sense of smell came back, but ‘the perfume world is small,’ and so with her reputation struck down in flames, she stuck to smaller, industrial and functional fragrance jobs while avoiding the public gaze.
Suddenly, Walberg loses her sense of smell again. Terrified, she decides to part ways with her pushy agent and, under the treatment of an anosmia specialist – who describes the condition as when ‘The nose and the brain stop working together,’ she begins her journey back into the fragrance world. But can this chauffeur with ‘a good nose’ actually help her recover her reputation and heal his own life…?
Les Parfums is a wonderful evocation of that joy of sharing a love of fragrance, of watching someone develop and explore their own sense of smell. And it’s also a healthy reminder that anosmia – losing one’s sense of smell – can be a terrifying and life-changing experience, even if you don’t happen to be a perfumer. A gentle film that’s slow in pace but nonetheless completely gripping because of the sensitive character portrayal by the two leading actors, there’s some stunning shots of the French countryside and those Parisian streets we miss so much, too. A paean to the world of perfume and the gift that is our sense of smell, we say this is a must-watch for anyone who loves fragrance.
Now we’ve caught your interest, watch the trailer, below, and allow yourself to fall for Les Parfums’ charms…
We’re currently loving exploring ScentCulture.tube – a website offering ‘an incisive look at a research project that reveals the secrets of creative practice in perfumery.’ So how do perfumers solve a mysterious scent mystery when working on their composition?
‘In most cases, a perfume is meant to be a pleasurable odour,’ the ScentCulture piece begins, ‘Technically, it is a mixture of essential oils, aroma compounds, and solvents used to provide an agreeable scent. Yet, the process is more complex than often explained.’
In a fascinating film called Wet Dog: Chasing the Villain, offering a unique insight into (okay, we’re calling it) one of the most inventive and brilliant perfumers working today; we get to see how Christophe Laudamiel works with raw materials and traces the mysterious presence of sudden appearance that’s certainly less than ‘pleasurable’…
Together with fellow perfumer Christoph Hornetz, during the development of ‘a jewel-like perfume’, they suddenly discover ‘…an unpleasant facet, an annoying animalic note. Laudamiel calls it a “wet dog” that only appears after some delay. The two perfumers are puzzled. The phenomenon seems to be really special, if also undesired. They investigate the composition, ingredient by ingredient. In the end, the detective search for malodor delivered a suspect for which Christoph Hornetz had noticed the same unexpected effect in other previous instances.’
We wont spoiler it for you, but the chemical compound they trace it to is actually often described as ‘tropical coconut, tonka bean and tobacco’. So how do we get from delicious to dawg? The clip linked above tells the detective story of that puzzling perfume mystery…