"The Perfume Lover", but I am not sure if I could find it now! I knew it was the Spanish word for “l’aube” ie dawn, but had a feeling that it also meant “the wee small hours”, regardless of prevailing light conditions - and as far as I can tell, it does. “Rolling-home-after-a-party-o’clock”, if you will.
And whilst satisfying my curiosity on this point, I lit upon an intriguing Google search term suggestion (a topic so interesting in its own right that I was moved to devote a whole post to it), namely “Madrugada Honey Bee Lyrics”. I couldn’t resist exploring further, and discovered that Madrugada is in fact a Norwegian rock band, and Honey Bee a love song by them, fortuitously referencing perfume and a romantic clinch not unlike the one described in “The Perfume Lover” between Denyse and Román, which inspired the creation of the perfume Séville à l’aube. (Denyse was even wearing a “black lace shift”…)
There's just flesh and fire below
This drunken, senseless reeling
Hands on my face
Some silk and lace
Sweet perfume kisses
Well, now that is funny, for as I was racking my brain for a title for this post – after discounting “Navel Orange-Gazing” on various grounds, not least those of provenance - my mind flitted to images around the idea of honey and nectar, which are featured in Séville à l’aube. Blow me if Google didn’t go and serve it up on a plate, or drizzle it on my keyboard, even.
Now I said in my review of “The Perfume Lover” that my corresponding write up of the perfume itself would be short. By which I meant the actual perfume review part – as ever, the rest of the post will be what it will be... For Séville à l’aube is a complex scent, and in the “mod-by-mod” account of its development I was fascinated in particular by the gradual addition, subtraction and volumetric adjustment of the various notes. This was mostly by design, and occasionally because something that had been previously included in the formulation was simply overlooked some 25 mods later, say.
Also, I remember there being at least 43 separate materials in the formulation at one point. I can’t recall the final tally, but a lot more than my nose could ever detect, it is safe to say, so I will focus on my general impressions. It would be tough for me to deconstruct this scent in a way that does justice to the glorious interplay of its components, for Séville à l’aube is as fiendishly beautiful as olfactory sudoku...
What Denyse and Bertrand set out to do was to weave different notes into the composition to capture all the fragrant aspects of that momentous night – not in some dogged box-ticking way, but with the aim of creating a composition that far transcended the sum of its components. In her excellent review of both book and scent, Mals86 of Muse In Wooden Shoes has included a handy schema that lays out what the French might call (but probably don't!) “les grands axes” of the fragrance, ie its major scent themes and how they interrelate.
To take a specific example of this associative process or "olfactory riffing", while wearing the lush and “radiant” Mod 90, Denyse explains to Bertrand that it is conjuring up images of gardens for her – “memories of sucking nectar out of flowers” - which prompts the perfumer to explain how he works with words as much as with smells:
“…like that plaza full of orange trees in full blossom buzzing with drunken bees. From there you go to beeswax candles, from candles to incense.”
I will kick off by saying that I am a fan of orange blossom scents. They are cheery and uplifting and remind me of the year I spent teaching on The French Riviera. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I own four scents in this style: Penhaligon’s Orange Blossom Cologne (also by Bertrand Duchaufour - review here), Penhaligon’s Castile (also Spanish-themed!), The Different Company Bergamote and Jo Malone Orange Blossom (which have no discernible Spanish or perfumer link that I can think of!).
And even though there was a bit of tinkering after Mod 90, and the commercial release appears likely to be 128 or thereabouts, the finished article is also pretty darn radiant: on two consecutive occasions it lasted on my skin from mid-morning till bedtime - and as some of you know, I am not noted for my early nights. Now the Jo Malone above is radiant, and so for that matter are a couple of other orange blossom-forward scents like Elie Saab and Alien. But Séville à l’aube has more heft than either of those.
Also worth noting is that it flirts with indolic notes, but only gets to first base on the skank-o-meter. In that regard it has more in common with Penhaligon’s Orange Blossom Cologne than Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger, say. Even the Jo Malone is more indolic to my nose. And this might well strike people as odd, given some of the action in the book - it did me. Now I know Bertrand and Denyse were trying to incorporate the religious aspects of the Easter procession into the composition, which would have the effect of toning it down, but I find it interesting all the same that the finished article is as relatively demure as it is!
review here), but that is darker in tone, spicier and more woody than this composition. This incense is borderline fluffy - thanks to the honey/beeswax business it is almost gourmand, but with a citrus bite.
A belated word about the opening now! It is very green and a tad too sharp for my liking. Petitgrain frenzy at a guess. There is a word in French which merely means citrus – “agrumes” – but in my mind’s eye there is a sharp, acerbic quality to this term, which is exactly how the opening smells to me. It keeps the orange heart from being too sweet and cloying, which Denyse and Bertrand were keen to do, plus it probably nudges the scent a little closer towards unisex territory. To my nose, Séville à l’aube is unequivocably feminine, however, especially after the citrus blast has subsided.
There are so many notes in there that I don’t pick up on – the lavender, for example, the blood and tobacco notes I remember reading about in the book, or the civet that I also thought had made the final cut – I am not even conscious of the vanilla particularly, though I know it's there. To me Séville à l’aube is mostly about bracing citrussy greenness seguing into a voluptuous orange heart – it is “pulpeuse” - to quote the term a sales assistant used to describe Denyse’s “blossoming” physique. But that voluptuousness is leavened by the sherbety-pollen-incense accord – which is not unlike mimosa in fact, another flower associated with Southern Europe. Now, notwithstanding the felicitous title of this post, I don’t wish to suggest that Séville à l’aube is as honeyed as Chanel Beige or as MAC Naked Honey, for that would be wide of the mark. But there is a lovely powdery pollen thing going on here, and "to beeswax lyrical" for a moment, it stains your soul…
Are you ready, folks?
Mooooaaaaaaaaan!!” (reaches for credit card – oh blow, the darn thing isn’t out yet. That was a premature...er...interjection…. ; - ) ) By the way, that silver (and not intentionally suggestive-looking) atomiser pictured is the leaky one I was talking about. Do not be fooled by its seductively sleek contours and burnished metal buffness!
Moving on, I just went to google the official note listing and fetched up this general description of the scent, courtesy of Denyse herself: "an orange blossom oriental with zesty, green and balsamic effects, with notes of petitgrain, petitgrain citronnier, orange blossom absolute, beeswax absolute, incense resinoid, Luisieri lavender absolute and Siam benzoin resinoid."
My own scent memories of Seville
Now I know this perfume is not about me or my own holiday in Seville, but inevitably I cannot help but think back to that time nearly 20 years ago, when I took myself off to Spain following the recent break up of a pretty tempestuous relationship. The fact that I ended up in Seville was quite unintentional, though. I had gone to visit a friend in Soria in the north, but it snowed the entire time I was there (in May!), so after five days of shivering in inappropriate outfits, my friend packed me onto a train to Seville, and I spent the remaining five days of my trip basking in the 90F heat, happily alone in a city I consider to be the most sensual on earth (that I have been to, at least).
This was long before my perfumistahood, but if I cast my mind back and try to dredge up some scent memories of my stay, this is what I come up with:
Apple cake glaze – every morning I would sit outside a café near the Giralda cathedral with a cup of tea and a slice of apple cake, topped with that patisserie glaze that is jelly-like and vaguely perfumed.
Bocadillo de tortilla de patatas – omelette bap, effectively, but doesn’t it sound great in Spanish? : - ) I had a warm one of these for my lunch every day, purchased from a kiosk at the entrance to the Maria Luisa Park, before finding a sunny spot to flop in for the whole of each long, scorching afternoon.
Cold stone – the contrast between the baking sunshine outside and the cool dark interiors of the churches couldn’t have been more marked, and I vividly recall that cold, damp, musty scent of flagstones in the many churches in which I sought refuge during my stay (as much to escape the heat as to marvel at Seville's ecclesiastical heritage, it must be said!)
Horse droppings – a memorable tourist attraction is the guided city tour in a horse-drawn carriage, so it doesn't take much for me to summon up the pungent pong of dung (from desiccated to steaming fresh!), especially in the area by the cathedral (see my own photo in the previous post).
Hot night flowers – one of my earliest scent memories is of arriving in Minorca on a night flight and being hit by a fragrant wall of heat as I walked down the steps of the plane. It was my first whiff of a Mediterranean summer, and wherever you go in Southern Europe you get this beautiful ambient floral bouquet in the air, especially at night.
Bonus tactile memory!
I bought this skirt and top while I was in Seville, in wonderfully slinky fabrics of viscose and acetate. I wore them for a while, before shorter hemlines came into fashion, condemning the ensemble to languish in wardrobes since the late 90s at a guess. But I note in the press that the maxi skirt is making a comeback. Mine may in fact be a midi, but I am quite stunted in the leg department. And I believe the midi itself is pretty on-trend too! So the outfit may yet enjoy a second life.
So anyway, I shall definitely be buying Séville à l’aube when it comes out. It is a stellar fragrance in its own right, plus it already feels more personal to me because I followed its gestation in the book – like a birthing partner, you could say. Or a husband coming along to ante-natal classes, perhaps, for birthing partners may only be deployed at the foetal equivalent of the "last “mod”, so to speak! But I don't have kids, so hey, what do I know? : - ) And then there are my own memories of Seville – not quite at dawn, but I saw the wrong side of 3am a few times, as I wandered aimlessly for miles by the light of a slivery (and silvery!) moon – and these also reinforce the appeal of this scent to me. For Seville symbolises my newfound single state, when I felt more energised and comfortable in my own skin (once the rash got better, obviously!) than at any point in my life, even if the height of my tactile adventures in this magical place was a clingy fabric or two and some antihistamine cream.
And if, by my serendipitous choice of title, I can introduce fans of a Norwegian rock band to a great new perfume inspired by another distant madrugada, that will be a Random Act Of Kindness in the truest sense of the term. Cheers, Google... : - )
For further impressions of both book and scent check out these reviews by Nathan Branch and the Candy Perfume Boy on Basenotes. And here on Now Smell This is an interesting Q & A session with Denyse Beaulieu, talking about her book.
Photo of Seville at dawn by Turismo de Sevilla via Flickr CC, photo of Madrugada concert by Anika via Flickr CC, photo of honey bee by Vincent Ramos via Wikimedia Commons, photo of garden with orange blossom by Anual via Wikimedia Commons, photo of Baume du Doge from Eau d'Italie website, photo of Triana district and river by Gregory Zeier via Wikimedia Commons, photo of omelette roll from Wikipedia, other photos my own