A couple of years ago, I did a dorky thing and googled “Italy filming location Branagh Much Ado.” It was a miserable February and I’d just re-watched the ultimate cinematic Shakespeare adaptation to warm myself up. I love Emma Thompson nailing it as Beatrice. I have equal admiration for Keanu Reeves' abominable acting. I have sung along to “Hey Nonny Nonny!" about a zillion times.
Most of all, I love all the romping around a Tuscan estate in the middle of bucolic countryside, framed by cypress trees. So much so I actually booked a holiday with my husband to Villa Vignamaggio, the place in Chianti that formed the setting for Much Ado. He looked at me as if I was a right dweeb when I told him the plan.
He bore the same expression when I made us restage and photograph key Beatrice and Benedick moments from the film in and around the fountains and privet hedges (me giving instructions like: "LOOK MORE STEALTHY. YOU’RE TRYING TO HIDE FROM DON PEDRO"). And again when I insisted on walking through the beautiful walled kitchen garden, stealing the property’s tomatoes and tearing off lettuce leaves to munch on while pointing at bits of the building and musing: “Do you think that’s the window where Margaret and Borachio had sex?”
Eau de Campagne is pure medicine for the soul. It’s a gush of mown grasses and herbs, which beds down into salad vegetables in watered earth
Beautiful as it was, like many fantasy places the villa could never match the perfection of its fictional guise. But something of it did live up to the myth and that was the scent: a haze of sun-baked terracotta, extremely vertiginous Italian topiary and herb-lined pathways. In this dreary September, I’d do anything to go back there and just lie about, enjoying the air, never mind which room Denzel Washington might have stayed in.
The sorts of perfumes to dupe this experience are those which I think have a predominant tomato leaf note. Tomato leaf is one of those instant high-summer smells. It has that shrill, blackcurrant sourness with a shady, herbal tone and a dirty, soil-like smudge underneath. Because we also have that association with hot greenhouses, tomato leaf can make us feel relaxed and like we’ve been left to run amok in the garden. But it needs to be incorporated cleverly or you will smell like the greengrocer’s.
There are two perfumes that work with tomato leaf’s soaring, vivacious quality and take me back to the Much Ado villa. The first is Epririt du Roi from Penhaligons (£97 for 100ml), which opens with a whoosh of mint and bergamot, and which ties the cassis element of the tomato with a wine-like raspberry note. Espirit du Roi is that sense of abandoning work stress and lying under a noble tree, reading.
The second perfume is a new love, but it’s been around since 1974, made by Jean-Claude Ellena, more recently of Hermès. It’s one I often spray in airports, but which gets overwhelmed by pushier perfumes, so never had the space to shine. It’s Eau de Campagne from Sisley (£58 for 50ml), the beauty brand with those famed but expensive hydrating face masks I also load on to my skin at duty free from the sample tubes. Yes, I do like to loiter round the Sisley counter. Eau de Campagne is pure medicine for the soul. It’s a gush of mown grasses and herbs, which beds down into salad vegetables in watered earth. I see it as something more to dose myself with, rather than wear, and one afternoon did a fresh spray every 10 minutes. Eau de Campagne is admittedly transient – it dies away into pleasant but less exhilarating green undergrowth in the time it takes to watch a certain film starring Kenneth Branagh. But in that fleeting window, you’ll surely sigh no more, and be you blithe and bonny.