I’ve been the owner of a trench coat for about twelve years, ever since stealing my mum’s 1980s Burberry (she makes wry reference to it when I meet her for lunch wearing the spoils). It’s the longest-serving, most loyal item of clothing in my wardrobe and it’s out for duty again this spring.The lining may have ripped a bit, and one of the wrist straps got lost, but my God, this thing has endured. As I get older my trench remains sprightly, captured in so many photos through the years, even appearing the first time I held my nephew, as I didn’t even take it off in the hospital. Wedded we are!
Trench coats have been written about quite a bit lately, as they were first modernised into the garment we know today during the First World War. The earliest 19th century versions were cut from rubber rather than the tightly-woven gaberdine made famous by Burberry, and had vents in them to try to diffuse their disagreeable smell. Which is my moment to mention perfume.
Yes, the suggestion that you need to find a dedicated coat perfume is ridiculous – the fragrance wardrobe concept gone hysterical. But because we all understand the aesthetic of the trench – tough, utilitarian yet elegant – we can consider how certain fragrance styles might complement this look.
And there is precedent for outerwear and perfume. Right up to the mid-twentieth century you could readily buy sachet scents made from powdered materials, to be hidden in your pockets. In the 1920s and 30s one fad for fur coat owners was to get hold of one of the many gloriously animalic fragrances specifically designed to go with their chinchilla or mink stoles. Recently YSL beauty have revived this idea somewhat – without the fur part – with their fragrance range Le Vestaire de Parfums, £195 for 125ml, in which each scent has been inspired by one of the house’s cover-ups. There’s Caban (this is a pea coat, which is clearly a less enticing name for a perfume), Tuxedo, Saharienne, and of course, Trench which is meant to evoke the rain through iris and citrus. But, lovely though they are, they do cost a small fortune.
So what could we think about to go with our sturdy, detective-channelling outerwear? Part of me will always think a trench coat should exhale stale cigar smoke but I think that’s the ghost of Humphrey Bogart talking. One thought is to look for an slightly starched fragrance – something you get from flowers like magnolia or an osmanthus. Sweet osmanthus is cultivated in East Asia where the blossoms are used in green tea and wine. Apricot is the usual aroma descriptor you’ll get – often at the unripe, resistant stage. Ormonde Jayne’s Osmanthus, £110 for 100ml, has that facet. It exudes a parchmenty smell, slightly sobering, like a dove grey sky through which the sun is just appearing. A bargain of an osmanthus perfume is Roger & Gallet’s Fleur D'Osmanthus Eau Fraiche Spray, £32 for 100ml, well worth checking-out, which like Ormonde Jayne’s has plenty of grapefruit to offer that watery sun-ray feeling.
My favourite option, which has the spirit of the above, but with messed-up hair, is briar rose (from where we get vitamin C-packed rose hips; the flowers smell like apples). I first smelt Angela Flanders’ Rose Sauvage, £40 for 30ml, on my friend Alison, who used to meet me at the pub having cycled over in her short camel trench coat, smartly tied, and pillar box red lipstick. Alison is the kind of capable woman who organises wild swimming expeditions and day trips to the coast. She is often to be found at a lido, even when it’s ‘slightly nippy’. And she’s great fun, always up for an early evening cheese board. Rose Sauvage, which former costume designer Angela and her team make by hand at her Columbia Road studio, is a dewy, hedgerow rose in a thicket of green, with a cheeky spritz of strawberry – real ones rather than sweeties. If you used to wear or remember Dewberry from The Body Shop, this is the chic, grown-up version. It has nicely ironed edges, and is ordered just so, like all those buttons, straps and epaulettes you get on a good trench.
Alison has told me that she later lost her coat at a party and switched to another perfume. But I hope that someone reading this might cover their trench in Rose Sauvage one day, so well did they work together. If not, I will.