As a former nurse, my mum knows how to strip and make up a bed. Fast. She once showed me how to do hospital corners but, easy as it looked, I’ve never quite achieved these fabric-origami heights. Changing the sheets is a task to be dreaded. It only takes five minutes but, by the end, I’m sweating, cross and somehow standing inside the duvet cover like a Halloween ghost. The saving grace is smelling the hot, still-steaming pillows. Yes, that moment in laundry ads where the woman (it’s never a man), eyes closed in rapture, kneels in front of the tumble drier, nuzzling a towel.
These are the magic moments on which the fragrance industry thrives, the opportunity to inject olfactory joy to household tasks as exciting as "wiping the surfaces". As the market for fine fragrance in the West goes sluggish, consumers have gone mad instead for the everyday treat of laundry-care scents.
Forget the old choices of "the blue one" and "the yellow one". Now, we’re invited to escape to a tropical paradise with "Snapdragon" fabric conditioner (i’m not sure what a snapdragon is meant to smell like), go on a pastoral reverie with "Enchanting Dahlia", or purchase a bottle of the tube-of-lube-sounding "Twilight Sensations". Touch-sensitive encapsulate beads impregnated with fragrance ensure we’re hit with a wave of perfume whenever we lie down in bed. One of the industry’s recent hits? Lenor Unstoppables – pellet boosters which promise fresh smells for up to 12 weeks (I urge you to change your sheets more regularly).
Any unusual format stands out and refreshes our notion of what fragrance can do. In this case, letting us have – quite literally – a duvet day, even when we’re forced to leave the house
But, as our laundry fragrances migrate towards these glamorous new territories, some of our most beloved perfumes invite us back to earlier incarnations of what we believe clean should smell like. What lies behind the desire for our skin to mimic cotton? The quest for for homeliness? For a puritanical sense of purpose and productivity? For stripping everything bare, a massive clear-out for the nose?
In 1978, White Linen from Estée Lauder, £37, became the first self-proclaimed washing-line perfume, with its knowing blend of synthetic musks, from the shiny bright galaxolide to the bounciness of ethylene brassylate. Even these smell desciptors arguably come because we tend to encounter musks on clean towels and therefore perceive them to be soft and nuzzly.
Twenty years later, fragrance house Demeter (known in the UK as The Library of Fragrance) introduced us to the delights of the everyday aroma spray, which, alongside Dirt and Grass, includes the bestseller Fresh Laundry, £15. For fanatics, there is now a dedicated brand called Clean, purveying sprays in Warm Cotton, Cool Cotton, Cashmere and Ultimate. At the elite end is Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Aqua Universalis, £110, so beautifully bleached it’s like being reborn, and which you can buy as fabric wash as well as an eau de parfum.
The summit of this peculiar sub-category has now been reached with Byredo’s Toile fragrance for textiles, £42. Eliding the gap between body and garment, Toile is almost a parody of its functional fragrance counterparts, including the nose-scouring fortitude of its aldehydes and the soapy, bright ringing of aroma chemicals that evoke lily of the valley. I’d say this product speaks not only to the enduring allure of clean, but also to the fatigue we’re experiencing, trying to navigate all the new perfume launches. Any unusual format stands out and refreshes our notion of what fragrance can do. In this case, letting us have – quite literally – a duvet day, even when we’re forced to leave the house.