Romancing the scent

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The coming and going of February 14 highlights the romantic gesture of giving perfume as a gift. Although I’m never inclined to say no to a bottle of scent (hint, hint), telling someone how you think they should smell is not my idea of romance. Call me old fashioned, but I’m rather of the opinion that to retain an air of mystery, one’s perfume – like one’s past lovers – should be for the most part, a secret. It also makes me think about “romantic” perfumes and the notion that they should be worn for someone else or given as gifts – which is nonsense of course.

Romance doesn’t have to be about whether you’re in a relationship, or whether it happens to be the so-called most romantic day of the year. One can feel more romantic sitting in a cafe reading Jane Eyre in the middle of October or lying under a tree on a cloudy day in April, than having to wait for a specific day in February, marching dutifully into restaurants with all the other couples, two-by-two. A bit like Noah’s Ark, with bad accordion music and paper hearts in the windows.

A lady after my own heart was Marie Antoinette, who seemed to live for the idea of romance. Not with her husband (who by all accounts took several years working up the courage to consummate the marriage) but through art and nature. Her Petit Trianon chateau situated on the outskirts of Versailles was her sanctuary, a place where she went to escape the world, relish in nature and read Rousseau.

Indeed it was an 1873 painting of Marie Antoinette which inspired the perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, whose own fragrances are the epitome of romance – the perfume equivalent of running off to Le Bristol hotel for the weekend and finding a box of Ladurée macaroons under your pillow …

Á la rose is his latest scent – a grown-up take on the traditional “girly” rose scents. A blend of two roses: damascene and rosa centifolia, its blowsy, billowing floral heart sets sail with the added oomph of violet, magnolia and bright Calabrian bergamot. It’s sexy and vibrant – yet at the same time, a tad melancholic with base notes of cedarwood and musk – how one seems to imagine the typical Parisiennesitting on a bench alone, Gauloise in hand, the shadow of her fedora hat shading her eyes.

Francis Kurkdjian

Á la rose takes its name from the aforementioned painting which inspired it, which Kurkdjian discovered while researching a different project to recreate Marie Antoinette’s original scent. In the original portrait, the iconic French queen is portrayed as a shepherdess holding a rose, which provoked outrage at the time, as it was thought that she looked “too common”.

So a new version was painted (18th Century France’s answer to a flattering Instagram filter) which had her trussed up in silks and pearls – but still clutching the same beautiful flower; the only hint that she didn’t just live for fashion and fripperies as was so widely reported.

In the spirit of romance, I suggest you buy this scent for yourself and wear it even if you’re not seeing anyone, even you’re doing nothing but sitting on a bench for hours, or going for a solitary walk in the park. Marie Antoinette would have done the same, I expect.

by Viola Levy

Á la rose by Maison Francis Kurkdjian is £145, available at Selfridges

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