In my childhood, fashionable clothes were frowned upon as needless “fripperies” – by my father at least, who was keeper of the household purse. But when it came to foreign travel, our family was ahead of the curve. For we started taking package holidays to the Mediterranean in the early 70s. Smitten by the climate, scenery and cuisine, I have been going back regularly ever since.
So when Ines of All I Am - A Redhead invited me to take part in this joint blogging project (co-hosted by Ines and Elena of Perfume Shrine), I was delighted to accept. I saw it as more than just an excuse to dig out old holiday snaps (though it was also that), for it prompted me to impose a semblance of order on the multinational jumble of smells evoked by the region.
My earliest scent memory of the Mediterranean (age 12) is my face hitting an aromatic wall of heat, as we stepped off the plane in the small hours at Mahon airport in Minorca. I have absolutely no idea what herbs or flowers I was smelling – let’s just call it “Mediterranean accord” - but it was a potent blend that stirred the senses and is now hardwired in my brain as the scent of hot, languid holidays abroad.
In tackling this theme, I am slightly hampered by the fact that - whilst I have "scent" memories of various countries - I have no “perfume” memories as such, as my interest in fragrance only dates from 2008. So I thought I would approach things by drawing up an inventory of scent associations with specific places (from whatever source - not all pleasant!), followed by six perfumes I would choose now to capture different facets of the Mediterranean.
THE FRENCH RIVIERA
In 1979 I was posted to the Côte d’Azur for a year as a teaching assistant in a lycée in Cannes, so this area holds most memories for me, with its rugged coastline, glittering blue sea, private beaches and palm-fringed promenades.
General scent associations
Mimosa, lavender, pine trees, sun tan oil, warm plastic sun loungers, bouillabaisse, pistou soup, fennel, aioli, Socca (pancakes made with chickpea flour), ripe melons, beeswax candles, olive wood and soap, ivy geraniums, plus unidentified perfume sillage from patrician-looking ladies wearing recklessly pale trouser suits and carrying miniature dogs.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Mimosa pour Moi
Notes: mimosa (flower, leaf and stem), violet leaves, blackcurrant bud
Spring comes early on the Riviera – as early as February, sometimes – and this scent is mimosa to the max, capturing the dazzling bright sunlight and the feeling of warmth on one’s skin after the dank days of winter. Cheerfulness in a bottle. : - )
Urban Retreat Rêverie (by Roja Dove)
Notes: geranium, bergamot, lavender (all I could find)
I am not mad on lavender, yet I associate it very closely with this part of France. So I am including a (relatively unknown) scent by Roja Dove, where the lavender is understated and blended with two other notes that are also typical of the area. I look upon it as a dumbed down “garrigue” scent for wimps, for which there should be a place on the shortlist.
Jil Sander Sun
Notes: bergamot, rosewood, jasmine, lily of the valley, rose, orange blossom, patchouli, amber, vanilla
When I lived in Antibes, the cult of sunbathing was bigger than it is today, and people slapped on factors 2 and 4 and Hawaiian tropic tanning oil with carefree abandon, as though “melanoma” was just another word for a fancy cocktail. How Jil Sander Sun manages to capture the smell of sun cream with that particular set of notes beats me, but the patch-amber-vanilla base (for which I am always a sucker), doubtless has a lot to do with it. Thanks to Wordbird for the sample of this one!
Corsica is France’s wild child little sister (though it wouldn’t thank me for saying so). It is craggy, untamed, proudly independent and still largely unspoilt. Home to the Foreign Legion, its cliff top towns have an “edge of the world”, frontier feel. Vegetarians may be treated as alien life forms.
General scent associations
Forest fires (some set by terrorists!), miscellaneous aromatic plant matter, salty mountain ham, sharp sheep’s cheese…. and antiseptic (I came off my moped at the same bend two years running, and on each occasion received first aid in the nearby monastery. Having grazes anointed with pink disinfectant by monks – twice - is something that stays with you.)
Parfums 06130 Lentisque
Notes: lentisque, ambrette seed, jasmine, melon, orris root, Turkish rose, musk, vetiver, amber
Named after the pistachio tree, a fragrant shrub common in Corsica, Lentisque is a sheer yet creamy, amber scent shot through with sharp herbal notes and a slight nuttiness. It is unlike anything else I have ever smelt, and serves me well as a symbol of this “miscellaneous aromatic plant matter” found throughout the Med that my nose finds so hard to deconstruct.
When I think of Greece, the Cyclades always spring to mind first, with their white sugar cube houses and windmills, against a backdrop of cloudless blue sky. Other memories of island-hopping holidays include straw-roofed beach tavernas, fishing boats and nets, octopi drying on clothes lines, whippet-thin cats, Greek salads, wizened old ladies in traditional black dress, and entire families riding a single scooter (on Spetses, where cars are not allowed).
General scent associations
Bread baking in stone ovens, Greek lamb and rosemary, barbecued seafood with lemon, retsina & ouzo, figs, honey, donkeys (their warm fur AND droppings), Greek coffee (strong black sludge), occasional dodgy plumbing, sea spray washing over the rails of the inter-island ferries, mosquito coils (incense, but not as we know it…), outboard motors.
Parfumerie Générale Jardins de Kerylos
Notes: fig, sycamore, musk
This scent neatly links Greece with the French Riviera. It was inspired by the gardens of Villa Grecque Kerylos in Beaulieu-sur-Mer (pictured above), which in turn was modelled on a Greek villa on the island of Delos. The name Kerylos means “sea swallow”, the harbinger of happiness, according to legend. I certainly find this lush yet green rendition of a fig as mood-enhancing as a plate of the ripe fruit, drizzled in honey and served with a blob of thick yogurt.
Italy is a beautiful country, if not very ergonomically shaped and lawless in parts, though this is greatly offset by a fine selection of leather goods. It has the hairiest driving conditions in Europe, but the best coffee, and affords occasional glimpses of the Pope.
General scent associations
Orange groves, cypress trees, mouldy church crypts, vellum paper, amaretti biscuits, ragu, basil, cappuccino, sulphur (from the Solfatara volcano), the smell of fear! (I was briefly kidnapped in Naples, but had a lucky escape at traffic lights – needless to say, this was before the days of central locking.).
Tom Ford Private Collection Neroli Portofino
Notes: bergamot, mandarin orange, orange blossom and amber, vanilla
A Mediterranean selection would not be complete without a citrus scent, and this one contains pretty much every part of the orange, though happily not in an “orange comminute” kind of a way. This is a crisp, “grainy”, bracing orange fragrance to lift the spirits when you find yourself driving the wrong way round the Colosseum in rush hour.
So those are my six picks, which collectively – and retrospectively - “distill the essence” of the Mediterranean for me.
Thanks to Ines and Elena for their work in organising the event! And assuming I have finally mastered the necessary technical wizardry, here is a list of the other blogs taking part:
I Smell Therefore I Am
Notes From the Ledge
WAFT...what a fragrancefanatic thinks
A Rose Beyond the Thames
Katie Puckrik Smells
Sonoma Scent Studio Blog
Roxana Illuminated Perfume
All I Am - A Redhead
Under the Cupola
Photo of Villa Kerylos from eliteshoretrips.com, photo of Portofino from clickz.it, photo of Corsica courtesy of David Gleeson. Others are my own.