|Source: Wikimedia Commons (by Tejvan Pettinger)|
As I mentioned in that post, Oxford is the scent inspired by her reportedly hedonistic university days, when she smoked Gitanes, and generally lived life in the fast lane rather than the library. I do think that perfumes named after places - Oxford, Paris, New York, Moscow etc - though rather Ronseal-like in their way, have an advantage over more obscure and nebulously evocative names such as Skarb, Pohadka, Blamage and Blask. Even if you haven't been to the place in question - and let's face it, who has been to Timbuktu or on an Escale à Pondichéry? - you can often conjure up the scene quite well in your mind. And when it comes to somewhere as squarely on the tourist trail as Oxford, the chances are that many of us will have been there - to visit, if not necessarily to study.
I will come back to my own recollections of Oxford in a bit. As you will see, these are a very mixed bag indeed, but I shall get straight to the perfume itself, which is most distinctive, although facets also remind me of a handful of other scents.
On Ruth Mastenbroek's website there is a brief synopsis of Oxford the perfume's persona:
"Daring, rough and chic...Oxford captures that moment in life that you discover you can make your own choices, your own mistakes.
An explosion of fresh, green, basil and peppery notes bursts from a herbal heart of clary sage with sensuous jasmine; vanilla, amberwood, and oudh bring a cashmere texture to the base."
Before going any further, will you check out that Oxford comma after 'amberwood'! Well played. ;)
|Source: Ruth Mastenbroek|
In my last post I said I thought Oxford reminded me of Penhaligon's Blenheim Bouquet, on account of the crisp, herbal opening, not that I have smelt the Penhaligon's scent in ages. I didn't really observe Oxford last time beyond the top notes, but having worn it several times now I can confirm that the opening reminds me more of one of the Eau de Sisleys - maybe No 2? - crossed with a muted version of Puredistance Antonia. Not so sappily galbanum-forward, more a diffuse herbal bouquet. The comparison with Antonia persists into the beautifully creamy drydown, because of the combination of sundry greenery, jasmine, vanilla and amber. Okay, so there is no amber listed in the notes of Antonia, but I detect an amberlike warmth in the base all the same. That is my favourite part of the development of Oxford (or should that be the Oxford Movement?), and the soft, pearlescent, pudding-y quality of the perfume in its later stages also conjures up Cloon Keen Atelier's Castana and a hint of Fils de Dieu (du Riz et des Agrumes) by Etat Libre d'Orange. So lovers of rice pudding-cum-junket scents are in for a treat here. A junket, even!
I can't say I smell anything remotely suggestive of cigarettes, louche behaviour or late submission of assignments - it is more redolent of the refined English rose that Ruth embodies today - hmm, she was wearing what I believe are known in some circles as 'cigarette pants', though.
But enough of the perfume, lovely as it is. What do I associate with Oxford...?
|Source: Wikimedia Commons (by SirMetal)|
Well, not my university days, for starters. I spent those in the mock Tudor cloisters of Queen's Belfast, huddled in a duffel coat over a bar heater, my bed just feet from a two ring Baby Belling bearing the telltale tomato-y traces of overexuberant tinned ravioli.
But I did have girlfriends who went to Oxford, who snuck me into their room in halls at St Anne's College, which I had to vacate in the morning before I was discovered by a 'scout' (the university word for a housekeeper / chamber maid). We dined on beef and Guinness pie at Brown's, the epitome of fine dining in 1978, and made daytime pilgrimages to Blackwell's and the Bodleian.
By the early 1980s, I was living in High Wycombe, and thought nothing of jumping on a bus and travelling the 23 miles to Matthew Arnold's city of dreaming spires. High Wycombe at that time was dominated by the chocolate factory of Stewart & Arnold, and was also home to the floppy haired New Wave musician Howard Jones. But I was already a fan of The Monochrome Set by then and spent my 24th birthday at a gig in the grounds of Exeter College, standing on my own nursing a bottle of Heineken, and trying not to look like Jilly No Mates.
During the winter of 1983 I dated a postgraduate music student at Magdalen College I shall call M, whom I met on holiday that summer (the ill-fated and entirely inadvertent one spent in a nudist camp). I did not go out with him till well after we were back, I should add, by which time he had put his clothes back on again. M was very wrapped up in his work, so much so that an enjoyable weekend in his student digs up the Cowley Road was unexpectedly followed by a six week hiatus in communications. Eventually I summoned up the courage to write to him, asking if the radio silence was because of something I had said, only to learn that he had been so engrossed in the absorbing task of transcribing medieval lute music that it had quite slipped his mind that he had a girlfriend! So that was the end of that.
|Source: Wikipedia (by Henry Flowers)|
When I moved to Swindon in 1984 to take up my first job, there were other visits to Oxford - mostly with colleagues to characterful pubs by the river such as The Perch Inn, where we made the most of the long summer evenings.
Later in the 80s, the Headington Shark appeared, a draw to rival any of the architectural gems of the city proper. Although living in Stafford by now, Oxford periodically exerted its gravitational pull. My mother died in the Churchill Hospital there a decade later, and sadly I didn't make it in time to be with her at the end.
And then in 2013, The Monochrome Set played in Oxford again, 30 years on from that Exeter College gig on my birthday. Which shows how the band and its music have cast a long shadow, and completes the circle of real and imaginary cigarette smoke.
So yes, perfumes named after place names embody the creator's own story, but they are also an open invitation to the wearer to wreathe them in their own memories, and give them a bespoke spin...
What are your associations with Oxford? (The perfume or the place.) Do share in the comments!