Sunday, 28 June 2015

Guest Writer - Clive Sax, on how perfume can evoke significant life events

YSL, depict a statue in real (ish) man form

Recently I conducted an experiment which was designed to discover if inexpensive scents could be loved as much as their costly brethren. You can click here to read the results.
Upon recruiting my scent lover testing panel, I asked each person to name their favourite five scents (simply to enquire if they had breadth in their tastes). What I wasn’t expecting to receive was a literary delight written by my friend Clive. I invited him to take part because I admire his taste greatly, particularly the fact that he appreciates scents for their value to him, not for their current hype and bluster. What I didn’t know was that he was superbly engaging writer. With his permission, I give you unedited access to his correspondence. Thanks Clive.

"After a little contemplation and soul searching my top 5 fragrances (at this time) are....

Zelda - En Voyage Perfumes
(vintage) Kouros - YSL
Ambre 114 - Histoires de Parfums
Fleur de Matin - Miller Harris
Centrepiece - 4160 Tuesdays

That was such a painful process! I just keep thinking about all the beauties that didn't make the list.

 It's interesting to me that the selection I have made really does speak strongly to memory. Not specific events but rather periods in my life, realisations and developmental milestones. I'm going to describe how I experience the scents rather than listing notes. For me a scent is alive and so much more than it's component parts. 

Zelda represents the matriarchal and the love of mothers, grandmothers and aunts along with all the women in my life I called aunt (even though they weren't my aunties.) Auntie Win, Auntie Kitty, Auntie Brenda. All the women who worked together to raise one another’s children and grandchildren. Visiting their homes and the first time I understood that peoples houses all smelled different along with clothes, furniture, handbags, bed linen and skin. Zelda represents that to me and is a testament to family, longevity, difference, individuality, community and love.

Kouros is the period of anarchy, finding my own path, experiencing liberation and fighting against the status quo, the norm and the expected. It represents my own sexual awakening and the beginning of a time when my own hedonism became uncontrolled. Looking back to that period I could so easily have fallen and not got back up, but I was somewhat lucky or blessed or just wise enough to pull back from some precipice on the edge of a gaping chasm. Kouros represents that period. With its overbearing grandiose statement of maleness it worked to give me courage to explore darker aspects of my own psyche, and in doing I was able to expand into life. Kouros is the scent of a time when I questioned nothing and jumped in feet first. And yet it gave me a period after of reflection and with that came wisdom and knowledge.

Ambre 114 is the unconditional love of family. It is the warm cozy smell of intimacy in childhood of stories and books, of archetypes made real through AA Milne, Disney, Brothers Grimm. The magic of being thrilled and scared by the dark and monsters under the bed. It is the oversized teddy bear I held in the dark as I let my imagination run wild. Trolls under bridges, the wicked, the cruel. All made real because love was the saviour. Ambre 114 is that love. A safe haven and a constant in a wicked world of childhood.

Fleur de Matin is the summer weekend mornings of childhood in our South London back garden. When as young children we explored everything with our noses. We were small and everything within reach was touched and sniffed. We got into everything, we hid under bushes, we crawled under sheds, rooting around as the sun warmed the earth. It's the sparkle of morning dew and the sound of Terry Wogan on the radio while across the sky vapour trails melted into blue skies. It's ants, bees and birdsong. It doesn't have great longevity, but the times we spent in the garden was also limited, a morning garden becomes an afternoon garden and so time is somehow a poignant aspect of perfumery, and for me this perfume in particular.

Centrepiece represents appreciation, serenity, balance and a holding together of all the experiences of the lived life. It's the scent of acceptance and gratitude, of coming full circle, of the ouroboros and the recognition of the continuous and eternal. Interconnectedness and spirituality. For me it is the scent of wisdom without words, the benign overseer of the active mind and the intellect, the watcher of the ego and it's desperate fight to justify it's existence. Centrepiece is the antithesis of the selfish and the self absorbed. Expansive and knowing.

And there we have it."

What thrilled me about Clive’s revelation was his great ability to describe the evocative nature of scent, i.e. the capability of a little bottle of smelly water to adorn a significant moment in time, the reawakening of feelings and long lost adventures, beloved people and places. Isn’t this ultimately what it’s all about?


  1. I enjoyed these reminiscences very much, and the description of Kouros and 'its overbearing grandiose statement of maleness' amused me in particular. Big fan of Zelda here too!

    Am also intrigued about Centrepiece now - sounds very spiritual - 'the watcher of the ego and its desperate fight to justify its existence'. Sounds like we all need a perfume to knit us together like that.

    1. Kouros for me is the smell of boys in my last year of school. I can't really smell Kouros without sensing a little sweatiness and feeling a tad saucy. If I catch a whiff (occasionally on public transport) I will always have a look who is wearing it!