"Her sillage was creamy and warm like a sable stole, cocooning her in this winter wonderland. Well, metaphorically anyway, as we both ended up buying hats."
Now obviously I wouldn't compare a perfume to a cosy stole anymore, having set up the hoary trope equivalent of a swear box for it some time around 2013... ;) But I mention it because I was wafting an equally memorable trail of Guerlain Bois d'Arménie. I had recently acquired a decant and had fallen hard for its soothing blend of smoky incense and warm, sweet vanillic woods.
Notes: pink pepper, iris, rose, coriander, benzoin, Indonesian patchouli, incense, precious woods, musk and balsams
Back then, I was dimly aware that this 'Armenian paper' from which the Guerlain scent took its inspiration was a venerable form of room deodoriser: it came in booklets comprising strips of paper that you would fold into a concertina and light like joss sticks. I have since learnt that they were invented in 1885 in a suburb of Paris by one Auguste Poncot, and that the family still jealously guard the recipe to this day. The primary ingredient, benzoin, a resin from the styrax tree, is mixed with aromatic 'natural essences' and used to coat an absorbent paper.
|Source: Nature et Decouvertes|
Three years after the trip to Bruges, in June 2012, I received a card out of the blue from Woking - from my cousin Tim's wife, Sue, enclosing a book of Paper d'Arménie(!) and the following note:
"Now you are probably already familiar with these Papiers Arménie things, but they were new to me. One of my favourite blogs (Mr London Street, he's really very good) wrote about them so evocatively I had to try them for myself. And having eventually got hold of some through French eBay, I thought you might like them, as our resident scentaholic. Let me know what you think of them.
PS Tim hates them, btw, says they're too much like joss sticks. But I'll wear him down eventually."
I was about to move house at the time, so I tucked the little booklet away in a safe place. Later that summer, it resurfaced in my shoe box of perfume paraphernalia, and I decided to take it with me to show Victoria Frolova of Boisdejasmin, along with the very few perfumes I owned that I thought she might not have tried. I was going to Brussels specially to meet her in fact, and also to visit the niche perfumery in Waregem, Place Vendôme (aka Birgit Heaven). During our time together - spent sniffing and eating the several delicious meals Victoria rustled up - we talked amongst other things about our shared love of Bois d'Arménie, and I passed across the booklet of papers for her perusal. Indeed, through an oversight I left it behind in Victoria's flat, and she confirmed to me in a message yesterday that she still has them, awaiting collection on a future visit.
Fast forward to last week, when I was in touch with my friend Jessica about an upcoming gig of hers I planned to attend, and also inquiring about the last stragglers she hopes to test in her ongoing rose perfume quest, one of which was A La Rose, by Francis Kurkdjian.
"I don't think I've tried the Francis K yet. (That sounds like a Kafka character, doesn't it?) I am addicted to 'papier d'arménie' which I buy by mail order from France - the best one by far is the limited-edition one by Kurkdjian. So I am sure I will like A la rose."
Well, well, up they had popped again! - we are clearly not out of the Armenian woods yet...;) Thus it was that I decided to take a sample of Bois d'Arménie with me to the Would-be-goods gig on Saturday, so that Jessica could compare the perfume to the papers she knew. The band were performing in an indiepop charity festival in Cheshire. To be more specific, they played in what looked for all the world like a shiipping container on its side in the car park of a family-friendly pub in Congleton. And the weather also caught me out. Heavy rain had been forecast, so I felt quite smug about my choice of wellies and hooded anorak. I was wearing a zip up hooded top under that (can't have too many hoods in a Glastonbury-type scenario), and had also brought an umbrella and waterproof overtrousers. I still had concerns that the toilet arrangements might involve a two day trek, as I was only going up for the afternoon. As a precaution, I popped into the ladies at the local Tesco superstore before heading for the festival site. In the event, there was just a bit of light spitting during the gig and ample toilet facilities in the pub. Outfitwise I felt a little cheated, to be honest, and I ended up leaving the wellies in the car. Andy, the bass player (the same one as in The Monochrome Set), admitted that he had rather expected 'a bit of a field'.
Not to worry - it was a most enjoyable afternoon regardless! After the band came off stage, Jessica and I sat on a bench by a table laden with raffle prizes, and I gave her the sample of Bois d'Arménie. She applied it immediately, and wrote back with her verdict later in an email, namely that she had enjoyed it, but it wasn't quite 'her', before adding:
"If I haven't said so already, the best Papier d'Armenie by a long way is the 'Armenie' version with the pale blue cover. I find the rose one (also by Francis Kurkdjian) a bit sickly and the original version somewhat harsh by comparison."
This is interesting, as I wasn't aware of the rose version by Francis Kurkdjian to which Jessica had referred earlier, and now here was yet another - blue, superior! - variant to consider. And even though Victoria has the booklet, I am pretty sure it is the original one that I had...
A bit of googling led me to this review of Papier d'Arménie by Robin of Now Smell This, in which she also nails her colours to the blue mast!
"This is the perfect Papier d'Arménie. It is even creamier and sweeter than La Rose — the powdery myrrh, incense, benzoin and vanilla scent of the unlit paper would be wonderful in a personal fragrance (or dusting powder) and would make a nice follow up to Guerlain's Bois d'Armenie."
So the smoky incense trail of Bois d'Arménie and its associated paper has led from a snow clad Bruges to Woking, to Brussels...to Congleton(!)....that's a fair few 'wegomleggings' along the way!
And then to Now Smell This, and now to Amazon. Because of course I am keen to try this ultimate blue version by Kurkdjian without delay...
UPDATE: In response to Sabine's inquiry below about the practicality / safety of burning these papers, I had a go today with one of two remaining two strips I found that didn't go to Brussels. All was well - it was over very quickly! - though the little concertina needed relighting twice, as my dining room is on the draughty side. ;)