The poshest-smelling perfume I own is probably the plush chypre, 31 Rue Cambon by Chanel, which I bought at Selfridges in a late night shopping event after being plied with Prosecco, the most reliable sales tool there is.
You know when you stay at someone’s home which is really well put together, and you want to sit on their sofa all day reading books and drinking sparkling water alternating with wine, and wish your fridge didn’t have three out-of-date Thai curry sauce pouches which you know you need to retrieve sometime? Well 31 Rue Cambon smells like being a guest at one of those houses. And though it’s a wonderful perfume, sometimes I feel a bit too ragamuffin to get away with it. It only really comes out on those days where I’ve shaved my legs, plucked my eyebrows and have put pawpaw lotion under my lipstick to stop it flaking.
There is no reason why you shouldn’t wear a posh perfume whenever you like unless you’re saving it for best. But somehow 31 Rue Cambon seems a little out of place in particular contexts. It gets lost.
This month’s perfume prescription is for a scent to wear for messing around outside: having a picnic in the park, or sitting on a hot splintery bench in a pub garden with whatever flavour cider is au courant. The kind of occasion where you might think: ‘’Now usually I hate Scampi Fries but with the packets hanging off the bar like that, I’m tempted.” Scampi Fries appeal on a slightly sweaty Sunday afternoon because they’re pungent and salty. We all know that gutsy food comes into its own when dining al fresco; what sort of perfume can stand up to a slopped pint of Früli and adds to the party?
I think there are two ways to go. The first is to wear something that smells a bit like the ground on which you’re sitting and which later, you’ll lie down in, that tickly, slightly dried-out grass. One of my favourite fragrances with this scent is the parfum version of Je Reviens, £30.02, originally released by Worth in 1932. The Eau de Toilette version which you’re more likely to encounter, is a bit Elsa in Frozen. But the perfume, first supplied to me by Stephan, a friend who doshes out fragrance too, is much more mellow. It’s particularly emphatic in coumarin, one of our earliest synthesised fragrance materials, which smells of hay or sweet woodruff. In some versions the liquid is the colour of a Costa del Sol swimming pool and somehow the azure works, as to me it makes me think of climbing up Parliament Hill after a hot day to watch the sunset, with everything starting to retreat into shadow. A tangier, more feral option, is Afternoon of a Faun by Etat Libre d’Orange, £105, with its dose of Immortelle flower, which has the heft needed for park life: it’s treacly with a burnt spice, curry smell. Because you know that straight after your afternoon in the pub garden you’re going out for a biryani.
My favourite pick takes us down a different path. And this is for Tipsy Social Blah Blah by the cheeky Portland-based house, Smell Bent which recently started being sold in the UK. Yes, it’s the Blue Nun of perfumes and it does actually smell like a sweet wine from the 1970s, mixed up with all the Happy Hour cocktails. It also comes – quite deliberately to show it’s not uptight – in the sort of plastic travel bottle you’d find in Muji. Aspirational in the manner of 31 Rue Cambon it is not. But the first time I tried this, expecting to hate it, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was just so fun, and giddy, like those times you’re with your best friends and relishing in their latest anecdotes. With Tipsy Social Blah Blah that pint of Früli’s spilt all over your arm and you don’t mind one bit. Don’t forget to wash it off before it gets too sticky.