I used to read Sophie Dahl’s fantastic perfume columns in Vogue when I was in my earlyish 20s and wanted to be a beauty writer. I decided if I couldn’t have her fascinating life as a model (and those blue Manga girl eyes), I would try to make my writing emulate hers as hard as possible. Sadly I couldn’t get away with quoting Vanessa Redgrave in Camelot musing on "the lusty month of May" and didn’t have the anecdotes that involved popping into The Ritz in Paris to get my hair done for a date. (More’s the pity.) But I did love the whimsical way she wrote about scent, without listing every ingredient and trying to describe the top, middle and base notes with academic precision. Yet that’s still what many of us do to some extent – not just writers, but when we smell perfume we feel like there’s a right way or a wrong way to describe it – a bit like tasting wine. All quite intimidating if it’s not a world you’re used to.
I recently went along to a How To Improve Your Sense of Smell workshop by The Perfume Society, who are at pains to do away with this elitist approach. Their ethos (one to which I wholeheartedly subscribe) is that scent can be whatever you want it to be. It’s intangible and completely subjective and that’s what’s so wonderful about it. During the workshop, you’re presented with a series of perfumes and encourage to write down whatever springs to mind - and everyone discusses the different impressions they got. I can’t remember who came up with this analogy, but basically you wouldn’t describe a painting by just listing the colours, so why would you do it with a perfume? By associating different scents with personal reference points, you become more attuned to them in the process - and more likely to detect subtle differences between scents, the more practised you are.
With that in mind, when it came to reviewing new line Parle Moi de Parfum, I decided to take this slightly offbeat personal approach, which might sound lofty and pretentious, but I found it fun so you're going to have to suffer it. PMDP are a new luxury French perfumery I really rate – founded by Benjamin Almairac, and his father: the renowned perfumer Michel Almairac who is the man responsible for mainstream classics like Dior Fahrenheit, Gucci Rush, Chloé’s signature scent that every other woman I know is obsessed with. So it’s fair to say he knows his proverbial oignons when it comes to knocking up an olfactory hit.
The bottles are unisex and not your typical frilly, girly dressing table affair. A chap would be just as comfortable displaying this on his bathroom shelves as a woman would – and similar sentiment goes for what’s inside them. Their latest creation - Cedar Woodpecker is bright, yet delicately underscored with woods, like looking at broken pieces of timber at the bottom of a lake, slightly refracted by the water. (Yet it’s not too avant-garde that Barry Bloggs would be put off wearing it with his three-piece suit, trying to entice prospective customers to put an offer on a three-door hatchback…)
Other hits are Totally White, a “strong, fresh floral” which call to mind soft white leather sofas in an 80s music video, as well as creaky unvarnished floorboards with an undercurrent of baby powder and caramel. (In a nutshell: it’s a good'un.) Chypre Mojo, with carnation, mango and patchouli, has the confectionary appeal of burnt toffee and penny sweets. There’s something cosy about it too, the perfume equivalent of putting on pants or pyjamas that have been warming on the radiator. (Is it just me who loves doing that? Oh well.)
The star of the show seems to be Milky Musk – and it’s easy to see why. It's a warm, vanilla latte-laced comfort blanket, yet very subtle – not at all cloying or saccharine. Take my advice, if you’re smelling this in a department store, spray it on your skin – not a sample blotter. Warmed up on a wrist or in the crook of an elbow is where it really starts to work its magic. It makes skin smell incredible – enhancing that natural salty ‘body odour’ smell that’s so addictive when you get up close to someone. I'm definitely thinking of suggesting this one to a friend of mine, who’s currently after a wedding fragrance.
Sadly I can’t accompany this review with a Sophie Dahl-style anecdote about some glamorous Parisian rendez-vous, but with scents created with such gorgeous French flair such as these, it's enough of a Gallic love affair to see me through summer and beyond.