BUTTER & PERFUME

Queen Midas of Vermont: Gardener’s Glove,

First Cut & Frost by St.Clair Perfumes

Brilliant bitch and scent writer, the Silver Fox, on the debut of American perfumer, Diane St Clair and the beauty of her process. From butter to perfume, get ready for a smelly treat… 

As a scent writer one of the main reasons I gravitate toward niche and artisanal perfumery is that the makers, creators and artist perfumers are born to tell stories. Theirs is a different route to scent as opposed to those who enrol for perfume school and courses, inhaling their way through the exacting tenets of commercial perfumery. There is of course nothing wrong with this route and the olfactive world would be a poorer place without the dedication and determination of each new generation of perfumers trained immaculately with access to the world’s top materials courtesy of connections made as they worked their way through thousands of odours, both natural and synthetic.

I have been writing for many years now on perfume, the allure, oddities, passions and revulsions of olfaction and the remarkable people who dwell in this odd and sometimes infuriating world. Artisanal perfume makers create from the ground up. Selecting raw materials, blending, compounding, bottling and selling it; some stock sent off to selected and trusted distributors around the world. These makers are people who are instinctually gifted, raw talent that hones itself against a critical world with home-schooled gut instinct and repetitive trial and error. Some people can move a pencil across a sheet of paper, but they are hardly artists. Others can sway to pop music’s insistent beats, but principal dancers in a ballet company they are not. There must be vital fire, a natural creativity that makes such people curious and restless.

Many of my favourite artisanal perfumers are naturally gifted in other ways. Mandy Aftel, the Artisan Godmother was a weaver when she first moved to San Francisco, making her own natural dyes for yarns and she also trained as a successful therapist; these two facets of Mandy, creatrix and nurturer are still at the heart of how she conducts herself in the world of perfumery.  Her generosity and kindness are legendary. Hans Hendley is a photographer, David Moltz and his wife Kavi of D.S.& Durga are musician and architect respectively. Antonio Gardoni is an architect and designer, Dannielle Sergeant, John Biebel, Bruno Fazzolari and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz are all painters, Carlos Huber, the Director/Perfumer of Arquiste trained as an architectural historian and Paul Schütze… well, the man is a polymath with a quiver of many arrows; composer, photographer and of course composer of unique perfumes that resonate like his soundscapes and eerie electronica. Ellen Covey of Olympic Perfumes is not only an award-winning perfumer but also an expert orchid cultivator and world-renowned expert in bat echolocation informatics that was useful when she created Bat for Victor Wong’s Zoologist perfumes. Vincent Micotti at Ys Uzac was a concert-playing cellist before he embarked on his journey of musically inspired compositions. These are people who create; from ground to sky, hands stained with fretful failure, crafted elation and the beauty of personal endeavour.

Now I add the extraordinary Diane St Clair to my list of love.  She is a dairy farmer in Orwell, Vermont down on Animal Farm (yep…) Her gorgeous cows are the soft grass-fed Jersey kind, those beautiful perfect cow-cows that you picture as a child, caramel brown, big eyes and remarkable lashes. It seems somehow wrong to refer to Diane’s cows as a herd, they number only ten or eleven, so I think family is somehow more appropriate.  The butter she makes is literally like gold and despite her quiet Orwellian existence; it caused a sensation in the competitive, high-octane haute cuisine world of American top-tier eating.  Now she is composing exquisite, atmospheric perfumes reflective of herself and the world she inhabits.

She posted a picture on Instagram recently of her alluring butter and the bismuth hue vibrated with intensity. It looked more like colour pigment, linseed oil and yellow powder folded together. A decade ago Diane decided to learn how to turn buttermilk into butter the homestead way, with hard work and studious attention to detail, each part of the process with her hands on it, her nose in the milk as it were, sniffing the cow, grass and Vermont terroir that she loves so much

My interest in Diane was originally piqued by an insightful two-part essay by my friend Kafka for their blog and I urge you to read it, examining as it does Diane’s bold yet somehow understandably vivid urge to explore the full range of her terroir senses. Kafka’s scrupulous examination of the St.Clair perfumes is important in terms of how this experienced writer places Diane’s’ debut creations in the artisanal spectrum. The critique made me hungry to smell Vermont grass, thorny pollen-soaked air and rubbed leaf ambience.

Cows, butter, perfume.  Intrigued yet? Such an arc of ambrosial ambition.  The words seem simple and evocative, tugging at whatever associations we have with them roaming in our recall. But all three things in the heart, hands and mind of Diane St Clair make rich, redolent sense.

The school bus yellow of Diane’s celebrated butter is quite astonishing: a result of the rich creamy milk she is given by the Jersey cows that she loves and cares for. I asked her about the colour and she told me that the Channel Island breeds process the carotene in the grass differently from other bovines. On pasture, this translates into the sunflower yellow hue and also according to Diane a taste and whiff of seasonality. In the summer months the cows’ lush greener diet imparts a sweeter verdancy and herbaceous mouthfeel to the butter and the dry hay in the winter-feed ramps up the buttermilk content resulting in a more luxurious creamy taste. Butter that tastes of love and shifting seasons.

There is inherently a sense of uxorious unease with butter; its very animalic nature and love/hate relationship with food-lovers and diet gurus make it a sensual and forbidden substance- spreading it like molten gold over freshly cut sourdough, moist Russian rye and wrenched steaming baguette.  Oil is oil; butter is decadence.

There is a sense of wonder in what Diane does; her immersion in terroir: grass, hay, earth, rain, starlight, sunlove, her soft beloved cows, their husbandry, midwifery… their heat, colour and comfort. All of this is folded and creamed into moreish gold.

Diane hand-works her butter on marble like patisserie chefs turn pastry and chocolatiers temper chocolate; this allows her to work the fats and I suspect gives her another level of connection with the processes that matters so much to her. As well as being the colour of gold Diane’s butter has the culinary status of the precious metal. Early on she sent a hand-written note to the celebrated American chef Thomas Keller along with some of her butter – a quarter pound round, packed in a plain transparent Ziploc bag. To say he was impressed is probably understating his reaction and even now his legendary French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley is one of the few places where you can taste Orwell Farm butter.  Keller owns Per Se, Bouchon and Ad Hoc along with French Laundry and he was the first US chef to hold multiple three star ratings in the Michelin Guide.  In 2011 he was the first male US chef to be made a Chevalier Légion D’Honneur for his commitment and upholding of French traditions of cooking in American cuisine. He greedily (but understandably) buys nearly all of Diane’s butter with small amounts going to a couple of other blessed chefs and any leftovers or glut butter being sold along with the buttermilk at Middleburgh Natural Co-op near the farm and Saxelby Cheesemongers in NYC.

Happily for the process, the quality of her product and the welfare of her cows, Diane has resolutely resisted any obvious opportunity for expansion and more money. She is committed also to the artisan quality of her perfume process – her senses tuned to the Vermont surroundings. It seems on the surface an enviable work/life balance but I get the feeling it is has been hard fought and while the idyllic nature of pioneer-style butter making and cow devotion looks alluring, her dedication and single-mindedness has been gnarly and sleepless.  

Writing about these St Clair perfumes during an intensely fraught period of convalescence has been the most beautiful escape. I sense the perfumes’ slipstream in the air, graze fingertips through grass, and inhale air redolent with pollen and the mote-drunk air of seasonal variance. There is such immediacy and personal welcome in Diane’s perfumery, her notes, accords and blending are more akin to well-written words, pulling you into a bucolic fiction of Thomas Hardy landscapes. This mix of expanse and privacy is a key part of the sensual appeal of the St Clair scents as if Diane has an unspoken hesitancy about her skills while at the same time knowing that her compositions have instinctual memoir.

The move from butter into perfume is not as strange as it might at first seem, Diane carries her detailed preoccupation and awareness of her surroundings into acutely observed olfactive impressions of Animal Farm and its shifting seasons.  I sense an inquisitive spirit in her, someone who is aware on many levels of the odours around her and how they might fit together to create immersive scentscapes. Lots of us might feel we notice things, smell the air and flora, take in the hidebound ripeness of animals and imagine these things casting the spell of a blissful rural wander. But few of us set out to truly capture them.

Diane very kindly sent me samples of all three perfumes, but I ended up buying them, I realised I needed them in my collection. The samples were dabbers and I wanted to spray as liberally as my mood required. The mix of air and perfume in atomisers is always preferable to me unless the concentrations of essential oil suggest otherwise. The difference in atmospherics was subtle but different enough to create shifts of Vermont weather on the skin.  You also get a true sense of how richly botanical these perfumes are and the careful balancing act that Diane has achieved between surging horticulture and quiet contemplation.

As the perfume bug bit, Diane realised she would need help. She approached olfaction in much the same way as butter, small batches of excellently made product, created using the finest natural ingredients.  Diane attended a workshop held by Grasse-trained perfumer Eliza Douglas who splits her time between the UK and New York where she works for DreamAir, the highly regarded and innovative fragrance factory founded by Christophe Laudamiel, one of the most fascinating and original scented voices in the business today. With some of the industry’s big hits under his punkish belt (like A&F’s Fierce and Polo Blue…) he finds oddness in seemingly mundane accords, surrealism in the ordinary. The perfumes he created for Strangelove NYC are magical lavish constructions of carefully considered materials that both harmonise and sing along. His debut collection The Zoo is startling, each perfume loaded with dazzle and addictive intrigue. I am obsessed with Scent Tattoo, a post-coital sandalwood and leather scent that glistens and refracts like petrol spills.  The name has a brilliant double reference: scent akin to ink patterned, swirled and traced onto skin and also the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the dizzying annual spectacle of Christophe’s beloved tartan, musical ceremony and military tradition that unfurls on the dramatic esplanade beneath Edinburgh Castle each night in August.

Eliza agreed to work and communicate with Diane, thus becoming a valued mentor, teacher and friend.  Trials, accords and hope travelled back and forth between Orwell and New York and slowly but surely Diane painted her world into a detailed and beautiful trio of perfumes.  Christophe has also helped, sampling her work and making suggestions. His payment? Diane’s delicious butter of course. He is French after all. He even visited her in Vermont and was very taken with the beauteous Jersey cows. This invaluable assistance has helped Diane hugely on her journey as a perfumer, working her way through the technical challenges of olfactive assembly and the difficulties of building accords that would hold together and help her ideas bloom.  Frost, Gardener’s Glove and First Cut are the work of a woman entranced by her environment, learning as she inhales, pulling ideas from soil, air, water and sky. They are learning scents, but the curve is divine.

Quiet is the new black.  The conception of hushed perfumery and its private harmony with skin is truly to be prized.  Bombast and targeted pomp despite selling well in some markets is ultimately unfulfilling and generic. As I have withdrawn from the world my search for authenticity in many things become paramount, including fragrance. This doesn’t mean organic or necessarily 100% natural but it does mean personal, properly artisanal makers in touch with their materials from inception to wearer.

When you work with naturals there will always be a concern that the resulting perfumery is more hushed in comparison to more conventional fragrance or the feral radiation of ouds or dessert tables groaning with gourmand excess.  Each to their own and my collection is no stranger to excess, but perfumers like Hiram Green, Rodney Hughes at Therapeutate and Tanja Bochnig at April Aromatics are using measured stillness and elemental power to explore the minutiae of environment and mood. We pause and walk their worlds, taking care to absorb the scentscapes. Diane St Clair’s terroir perfumes are the perfect embodiment of this style.

Now, onto the perfumes themselves. There is a gleeful rush of smashed jasmine in the opening of Gardener’s Glove, mixed with the green yeastiness of linden and divisive curves of waxen lilies. It is quite the start. A smartly arranged trio of apricot, saffron and enigmatic bittersweet lemon underplays the floral opening as it settles into a muted yet arresting pollen mood. This is pungently shot through with the gourmand familiarity of blackcurrant bud, deliciously tea-like, heightening the sense of garden and meadow harvest, broken stem and trodden leaf.

The concept of Gardener’s Glove is beautiful. Garden tools and paraphernalia gather gradual soul with the accruement of dirt and decay, the rubbed, snapped history of hedgerows, borders, orchards, meadows, flowerbeds, fields and woods. And there are the evocative delights of spades, trugs, secateurs, trowels and twine, bamboo, flowerpots, seed trays, kneelers and wheelbarrows. These objects, much used and well loved, they smell and feel potent with age, dust and blooms crushed across iron, wood and leather.  I’m aware that many of us don’t have access to working gardens, something that makes my heart ache as I age. Daily wanders through the Royal Botanic Gardens assuage the longing, but not quite enough.

Diane has conjured up this extraordinary concept of a gardener’s glove. I think the singular glove subconsciously is an important part of the fiction, something elegantly familiar, used over and over in a semi-feral garden drenched in bees. The leather of the glove has been healed with waxes over the years and these have absorbed the shed, porch, greenhouse and pull of leaf, berry, thorn and rain-soaked petal. Earth and chlorophyll stain the map of unfurled cracks that over time have moulded into the malleable palm.

One of the things you notice with all three St.Clair perfumes is the big naturalistic embrace of the openings, Diane imprinting the details of terroir upon us. While you are being seduced by the notes on skin you realise the diffusion of Vermont mood into the air around you. I think this frisson of weather turning, arresting us, only really comes with artisanal perfumers and the way their souls seep into the essence of their work.

Spraying Gardener’s Glove creates a rush of abandoned greenhouse, the air has a slightly different weight in my nose, and the texture somehow smells brighter, more sparkled. I get lost in meadow notes, cut grass and the odour of whispering flora. Diane has used leather and saffron to suggest the body of the glove, bolstered by a delicate use of patchouli, benzoin resin and a distinctive rice-like vetiver.  Some wicked, mucky castoreum (a synthetic form of beaver musk) and smoky fir needle add eccentricity and fleshiness to the layers of grasses, resins and citrus. This glove has rubs of intense jasmine, the blossoms leaving giddy impact on the leather. Perhaps a little soapy on the flooded nose, but then increasingly joyful and alive. No matter what else they gather, the ghost of these sensual blooms will haunt the glove like persistent enfleurage.

Each occasion of wearing affords new and subtle pleasures. The sensation of wearing nature in its tactile hazy summer residue way is at times quite moving. In the wrecked garden of the family home that my parents sold in the wake of a deeply unsettling and often bitter divorce were the remains of a Victorian coach house. In front of this was a sullen mossy greenhouse where I have blurred recollections of dissolvable seed trays and the sharp lemon-green finger sniff of tomato plants. Many of my home memories have been tainted by the rendering of a forty-five year marriage, but that top corner of the garden remains a heady recollection of linden, elderflower and decay, mingled with the abandonment of tomato plants, fractured glass and weary aluminium.  There were feral fruit trees and a mossy stone bench that had collapsed like an ancient henge. These memories were lured into life again by the dizzying, close capture of Diane’s perfume work.

They say the first cut is the deepest. Diane’s First Cut is certainly an olfactory incision of sorts in air, on skin, of some arresting beauty; the chafed herbiness of basil and rosemary initially rich, buoyed up by the honeyed pressure of a lovely rose. The effect is of early morning light in a still, warm kitchen.  Over the years of writing I have developed a reserved preoccupation with immortelle, its gorsy cicada warmth adds a sense of stillness to the opening weather of First Cut, working beautifully as the top notes mellow the yuzu fruit, its expressive facets oscillating between grapefruit, litsea cubeba and mimosa. This beautifully made start flickers and floats on card as a cold, cold hay note rises; not a tobacco, coumarin exhalation as I might have expected but the olfactive vision of a worn Shaker table scattered with fresh straw, low light, as evening falls.

It is of course skin that causes revelation and Diane’s work is no exception. First Cut is more intensely abstract and cohesive on flesh, the elements harder to read. On card it is easier to track and recognise materials but on skin, as it should be, it becomes more elusive, yet all the more fascinating. It is here that the golden-sweet hay St. Clair leitmotif stains First Cut in the most addictive way.

During the preternaturally hot weather that sulked over the city and most of Europe in June and July, First Cut felt like the most divine stint of rehab; lost in a green-thrashed floral bower, light filtering through layers of chlorophyll-rich leaves and shrubby air. A lemon tree sweats a citric mood into your recovery and lavender, roses and the lovely dry barkiness of oakmoss catches on the edges of a thousand imagined sensual throats. I really love the hay absolute Diane has used; it’s a hard note to control, small doses often dissipate and leave an uncomfortable space, but calibrated correctly and blended with imagination, hay absolute brings beautiful atmosphere and warmth to compositions.

I generally rise early but this summer I was getting up at five am to work in the residue of any night coolness before the hammer blow of the heatwave fell. With repeated wearings I’ve realised it is the entwining of rose and immortelle in First Cut, a kind of buzzing ochre-smeared madder that transmits blond pipe tobacco on skin.  In the mornings this odour utterly delights me and right now, calms the fuck out of a weary fox. As the tobacco forages skin it aids the gentle development of smoke and a grassy vanilla. The kitchen-rubbed basil and rosemary don’t completely fade but sink into the base like piquant culinary memory.

If I had to choose one of Diane’s trio that felt somehow different, it would be Frost, inspired by Robert Frost’s poem To Earthward, it is a little more insistent with a mood and reach that points to future direction and thought processes. It is the strongest of the three or at least the one from bottle to skin with the most powerful flesh bounce and echo.

It is also the part of the trilogy I have taken longest to love but that love has deepened to something akin to obsession. When you first hear the name Frost it will settle in your psyche depending on how you hear the word and your associations with it. For most of us this will be chill, cold, Jack Frost, first frost, hoarfrost and gardens veiled wedding white as dawn breaks on gelid petals, stalks and blooms. Intriguingly there is none of this in Frost, but those of who read poetry, especially American poetry will hopefully think of Robert Frost, nature poet par excellence whose emotive words profoundly shaped how America has considered its rural environs, listened to its skies and inhaled its weather. In times of bleak shadow I have often picked up my collected poems and lost myself in Frost’s revelatory natural minutiae of the human condition. I had to re-purchase my copy of his Collected Poems after lending mine to someone who lost it. (LOST IT! Don’t lend books people. Your heart will always be broken.)

Reading Frost’s poems again chronologically, I felt the power of his connections to land and spirit swell, falter, crack and mend. His words remind me that perfection is impossible and chasing it is sad folly. To Earthward, from Frost’s 1923 collection New Hampshire that also includes Nothing Gold Can Stay, and Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening is an eight-stanza poem that celebrates a journey of loving; the first four verses look at that intoxicating first flush of passion when anything seems possible. Love renders us immortal, senses alive to everything around us and we cannot imagine how it could ever come to an end.  The second darker, more rooted half explores the shadows of reality creeping over the light of love. Difficulty, struggle, smoke, amertume, weariness. Time marks us. The ceilidh of infatuation and first crush fades. Love is grounded.

To Earthward is not a particularly easy poem to open, but poetry like with many things in life, interpretation is subjective and often dependent on personal experience. I personally never quite forget the power of reading new poems, discovering new poets and feeling their words and rhythms blow through my mind like squalls of unexpected weather.

It was delightful to discover a poetic homage to Frost, tipping an olfactive hat to the poet’s understanding of American flora and fauna. Love as flower, love as trees, spice, petal and ground. To Earthward breaks the back of sadness and exposes the burial of love after a lifetime of shared intimate detail.  There are key natural motifs in the poem, redolent images that echo the shifting schematics of giddy all-consuming first love to the charred aromas of endings.

Frost is a noticeably stronger perfume than either First Cut or Gardener’s Glove and its initial overture is divine, a scent of Christmas homemade pomanders; mandarins studded patiently in cloves and then rolled in orris powder and left in a dry, dark place to desiccate slowly. The orris adds its own alluring odour of powdered mystery. My mother used to make these, inspired in part by Eleanor Farjeon’s poem The Clove Orange.

I’ll make a clove orange to give to my darling.

The mix of clove absolute in the base, Meyer lemon, bergamot, mandarin and woody sweet petitgrain is the most perfect rendition of freshly made pomander, the fruits sticky and dusty with labour, lined up on a juice scattered table top.  It is a persuasive start and this pomander note drifts like a heritage phantom throughout Frost’s journey on skin. It becomes less clovey as Diane replaces its sweet spiked spice with a moody smokiness in the final stages to remind us that love and the fumes of passion are essentially ephemeral concepts.

‘Now no joy but lacks salt,

That is not doused in pain

And weariness and fault;

I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark

Of almost too much love,

The sweet of bitter bark

And burning clove.’

If you read this out loud savouring the taste of the words in your mouth, you can smell the odours; an aftermark of woody bark and the madder-mist of clove. (The word aftermark makes me sigh with joy). The aftermark of Frost on skin, the shadows of materials lingering like past conversations in empty rooms is why I find this particular perfume so compelling. Diane has in some respects used To Earthward like a recipe, words handed down from mother to daughter, and perhaps over the years women have scribbled notes on the page. But Frost is more than this, Diane, like Frost is profoundly influenced by her surroundings and the Vermont terroir.  

Frost’s ‘…sprays of honeysuckle, That when they’re gathered shake, Dew on the knuckle.’ are given soft luminosity by the Stil de grain yellow accord that Diane surrounds with rose geranium and elderflower absolute with its lovely chocolate-dipped apricot nuances. The vividness of Frost’s ephemeral wet words is quite visceral in its olfactive rendering. When I worked in perfumery I was asked many times for sweet peas and honeysuckle, two blooms deemed as old-fashioned and unextractable. Things have moved on considerably in terms of technical applications and creativity but ultimately it is still the instinctive skill of the perfumer that allows us to experience such flowers.

The gift, or trick if you want to be churlish, is to balance the fleeting knowability of such blooms yet also impress upon us their beauty and classicism. Poets use economy and huge emotional resonance in their arsenal to move, enrage, romance, shock and awe us. The perfumer must do something similar, creating from a palette of natural materials in Diane’s case to illuminate, hopefully prompting us to inhale and momentarily conjure memories of fragile and elusive flowers.

The nostalgic paroxysm of honeysuckle, a lipstick blur of rose geranium, grass, the earth beneath us, air, grapevines and musks; these things move like weather through To Earthward as the love rises and falls to the soil, grounded by the weight of time and perhaps our own expectations of desire. Love is in the details, the minutiae of time spent together and eventually the drydown of our lives is both humbling and scented with relief, honeysuckle and the beautiful drift of smoke, clove and setting sun.

This essay has taken me months to write, Diane St Clair’s debut trio deserved this attention and intense scrutiny. They made me think a lot. I have chatted back and forth to Diane and she has been immensely kind and generous with her time. It is not telling tales to say she questions this olfactive shift in her life, immersed in the brutal delicacy of perfumery as she creates her treasured golden butter and mothers her creamy, dreamy Jersey cows.  She wonders if her work is perhaps too quiet for an olfactive world preoccupied with money, blatant trends and repetition. But as with modern cities and banal architecture there will always be delicate flowers and verdancy that peek through paving, split facings and commuter pathways. These things are all the more beautiful and valued because of their rarity and unexpected loveliness.

I search now for quietude in my life but I still want moments of intensity and difference; these don’t have to be accompanied by flashing lights and booming aromatic pomp. The fact that Diane St Clair has thought to move her considerable skills sideways from conscientious animal husbandry and artisanal butter making into the often divisive and highly competitive perfume world makes me feel at once passionately supportive and fearful. Niche is on it knees and mainstream scent is running on wearisome empty. True innovation or a natural awareness of real beauty is rare. There is a lot of talk of finely sourced materials, as if these will transmute mediocre visions and skill sets into perfume gold.

Each wearing of Gardner’s Glove, First Cut and Frost reminds me why I love artisanal scent and the world of creative olfaction but also poignantly why I chose to stop being a part of it, halting more regular essays and my social media presence, withdrawing into a world of floral photography and botany.  The words flow slower, my mind focuses a little less, burned out I guess by disaffection. But then Vermont weather dawns, my skins smells of meadows in sunlight, grass pollen and peaceful woodland. Flowers sigh, insects hum and I say to myself…Diane St Clair thank you for slowing time a little, creating perfumes of such personal resonance and grace.

Read more from The Silver Fox here.


Bread & Butter Berlin

Bread & Butter Berlin

Rachel Shepherd, Berlin-based photographer, make up artist and damn rebel bitch hit up Berlin’s style fest Bread & Butter earlier this month. Here are her top 5 picks.

Bread & Butter Berlin, September 2017

 

The General Public

 

The street style was impeccable and inspiring. My pick was a woman who wore a bright leather green skirt, red lipstick and a flawless YSL over-the- shoulder handbag. People celebrated who they were as individuals and this was empowering for both sexes. More than anything, the attendees really made the event.

 

Nike

 

Nike’s stall installation was urban cool and eye catching, with an excellent female empowerment message. The stall had a section where you could customise your Nike trainers, which made for a lot of interaction among the Nike community as people decided what to put on. Fancy a shot? You can do it online here: https://www.nike.com/gb/en_gb/c/nikeid

 

Seeing Rin Rap

 

Berlin rapper, Rin, was amazing live. Rapping in German the energy alone and atmosphere was incredible. Hip hop and dance music is hugely popular in the city and Rin is an upcoming rapper with a unique aesthetic and attitude -definitely one to watch. https://www.facebook.com/pg/RINTHETHING

 

VIKTOR & ROLF FASHION SHOW

 

Dutch designers, Viktor & Rolf specialise in creating conceptual and avant-garde designs and put on an awe inspiring show including reclaimed materials being used in an extravagant Couture way. Eco-friendly, it was great to see designers taking responsibility. The audience was blown away by V&R’s interesting colour palettes and contrasting patterns. Pics posted here: https://www.instagram.com/viktor_and_rolf/

 

Mint & Berry

 

Mint and Berry had an excellent message – the world needs more romance. Their hashtag #moreromance was launched at the event. One focus point of the campaign is how to deal with hate speech on the internet – the aim being to raise awareness of the issue, to advocate understanding, and promote constructive conversation online. Their ‘Wall of Romance’ featured an installation made up of the sentence „The World Needs More Romance“. The first four words were constructed of negative tweets, while the last word (romance) invited visitors of the event to stick post-it notes onto it containing positive messages in response. Winner. The World needs more romance merch here: https://www.mint-andberry.com/en/

Instagram – @madamedaze


FEMALE EMPOWEREMENT, BONDING & CELEBRATION

FEMALE EMPOWEREMENT, BONDING & CELEBRATION

Photographer Linda McIntosh shoots a raw story for REEK Perfume, in an effort to celebrate bonding and female empowerment.

Tell us a bit about this particular photography project.

When planning this shoot, it was important to me to focus on Reek’s core values, and values I hold myself, of female empowerment, bonding and celebration. Inspired by the BITCHES UNITE tee featured, I wanted to show a closeness and bond between my subjects and saw shooting real life friends as the best way to achieve this. hence leading me to shoot Amy and Maddie. I decided to use a fun play on perfume as the driving theme behind the shoot, using it as a tool to heighten ideas of uniting and connection through shared and almost intimate interactions with the water. Doesn’t get much closer than sharing fluids amarite?!!! This way I also hoped to take a step back from the conventional beauty shoot standards, and instead show a real rawness by celebrating the beauty in what could be labelled the “gross” and “disgusting” which is the stuff I live for. I swear, my phone memory is 80% occupied by snaps of my tongue bar and my boyfriend’s bruises.

How does photographing women make you feel about your own femininity?

Photographing women is something that is organic and comes very naturally to me yet I find it to be a very powerful experience. Surrounding yourself with deathly beautiful women with razor sharp jawlines, who look soooo much better in the shoot clothes than you did when you tried them on at midnight the night before just to “check them”, and who you place on little Instagram pedestals as being the coolest people ever, could be daunting and intimidating at times and is a feeling I assumed could be consuming, but I have found the opposite to be true. Meeting all these different women through the job is nothing but empowering. Yes, everyone is just as beautiful and cool as they seemed online, but they are also funny, kind, creative, clumsy, nervous, excited, tired, hungover, polite, insecure, plus whatever else makes a person a person. This might seem devilishly obvious and something I should have worked out before I was 24, that people are people, but from a previously insecure mindset, that still gets insecure at times obvs because I’m a person and people are people if you haven’t been paying attention, the fact that I’m gaining confidence in myself from each shoot has been fab. I think it also goes without saying that shooting women gives you such an appreciation of the female form. No offence boys, but god we’re beautiful.   

What smells remind you of femininity?

With my favourite smells being WD-40, petrol and pubs, this is perhaps a tricky question for me but if we’re being real, I’d say that “femininity” has no set definition and shouldn’t anyway. At the risk of sounding 90 years old I would have to go with the smell of books. There’s something about reading that I find completely refreshes my head, brings me back to reality and helps me “reset” my frame of mind. Actually using my brain instead of tuning it out with Netflix or social media,  makes me feel 100 times more human and comfortable inside my head.

What signifies female strength to you?

Female strength to me can take many many forms and a lot of the time can be circumstantial. What can seem brave in one country or family or relationship or time may not be perceived that way in another and vice versa. I think a big factor of strength comes from confidence in choices by which I mean being unafraid to make choices for you and not forgetting yourself in a plight to please others. Being aware of the importance of your own needs and happiness is something which should be a priority but can slip in situations where you feel intimidated or less important or unworthy of it. Knowing your worth and not letting yourself be treated below that by others or even by yourself is what we should strive for. Strength is something that you don’t always form alone and so female strength to me is also a coming together of all female identifying people where we support and celebrate one another without judgement and prejudice. Insert Mean Girls clip about making the cake made of rainbows and smiles.

What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch? Tell us what kind of bitch you are.

This may be an unconventional answer to such a question, but I believe my positivity makes me a damn rebel bitch. Horrible as it is, I often find that looking at the positives and being optimistic and hopeful puts you in the minority and I often find myself having to rebel against negative views and ways of thinking.  Maybe it comes from being a photographer, but I think I am always searching for the beauty in every situation and actively trying to keep my head a negative thinking free zone. As soon as you find everything beautiful or intriguing and see situations as opportunities to learn or help, life is so much more fun. You might get less done or be late for everything because you had to stop and take a pic of an insanely good oil spill on the road that was too good to miss or because you can’t walk 10 steps without looking up at the way the sun is hitting off a window, but paying more positive attention to everything around you like magic seems to bring more positivity to you. I seriously need to chill on the tongue bar pics though.


An image of Damn Rebel Bitch Julian Kynaston, founder of Illamasqua, to accompany an interview for REEK Perfume's platform 'Bitches Unite.'

JULIAN KYNASTON

REEK INTERVIEW: JULIAN KYNASTON

Julian Kynaston is a legend in the beauty business. As Marketing Director he led hair beauty brand, ghd, to become the UK’s fastest growing private company in 2005. Following its management buy-out in 2006, Julian left ghd to establish Illamasqua, a global cosmetics brand, which is already breaking industry sales records. He sat down with us to talk perfume, beauty and gender politics.

Which women have inspired you most in your life?

It’s got to be Kate Bush. I love her voice, her attitude, her spirit, and her sheer stage presence. She’s one of the most influential singers of all time, and to cap it off she was so incredibly young when she started out.

Do you think female success differs from male success and, if so, how?

I do, yes. The word equality gets thrown around so much these days, but realistically, for a woman to be considered anywhere close to being equal with a man, she’s going to have had to work ten times harder than him to get close – and she probably still won’t get recognised for it.

What smells do you consider feminine?

I particularly like Habanita de Molinard, the fragrance created by Richard Burton for Liz Taylor, and the original Fendi perfume from 1985.

How do you feel about beauty industry advertising? What would you like to see change?

Quite honestly, I think it’s stereotypical, condescending and damaging to society. It feels like we’re seeing an accountant’s tunnel-vision of what he thinks advertising should be – it’s unachievable and unfulfilling. But I’m trying to change this with Illamasqua. We were one of the first brands to use men in makeup adverts and celebrate models with skin imperfections, all to try and break down these barriers and social norms we’ve become accustomed to.

What are the challenges of being a male feminist?

The biggest challenge I’ve had to deal with is society’s preconceptions. I’m really proud to be a feminist and to break the traditional stereotype. I’ve got tonnes of really ‘laddie’ mates who I go to the football with and as a group, they’ll say loads of stupid things – but when we’re alone, or I’m with one or two of them, they take pride in telling me how much they love what I do.

You were involved from the beginning with Sophie Lancaster Foundation. Tell us about your work there.

I can remember the exact moment – I was drafting my mission statement for Illamasqua. I’d written the words “I want women to wear their makeup bolder and prouder, and I want to help men rediscover makeup,” and Sophie’s story broke on the news. As you know, Sophie was killed by a group of feral youths simply for looking different (part of this difference being the edgy way that she wore her makeup). And this was the very thing I was fighting for – self-expression and acceptance. In that split second, I knew I was prepared to do everything I could to stop this from happening again.

Is there too much pressure in the beauty industry to conform to a single ideal of female beauty?

There are so many different kinds of beauty. I think it’s disgusting that the industry has tried to shoehorn one particular kind of beauty into the mass market. But, that said, I think it’s finally starting to change quite rapidly. We have this saying at Illamasqua, “no amount of makeup can make a person beautiful on the inside.”

What does beauty look like?

Like I’ve already said, beauty looks like many different things to many different people. At Illamasqua, we use an analogy of a snail; some people will look at one and think, “Urgh, that’s disgusting.” Other people, like myself, will see the beauty of it, and think, ‘Wow. That’s totally and utterly incredible,’ and we’ll admire everything about it, from its shell to the way its trail glistens.


WHO'S AFRAID OF VAGINAS

WHO'S AFRAID OF VAGINAS

by Ruth McGlynn

Feminist Ruth McGlynn muses on the power of perception of the vagina. 

Pussy, fanny, foof, flower, whatever you call it, it’s a part of us that is often kept under wraps. Seeing a pair of boobs on screen (even if those pesky nipples remain censored) is now a common occurrence, but representations of actual real-life vaginas are few and far between. As a result, there has arisen a skewed and unrealistic expectation for both women and men of what to expect from lady parts, and as a sexual organ, their only consistent representation is in porn.

Now we’ve all watched it in some capacity, and I’m stating the obvious when I say that porn vaginas are super-weird and un-vagina-ey (no offence porn ladies). But as a young girl, I stupidly thought, this must be what everyone looks like apart from me. I freaked out. I sat on the toilet with a pair of scissors and thought about cutting my labia off. I imagined what a perfect and lovely sight my new vagina would be to behold, and I honestly I thought it was a really good idea for 3 whole minutes. I then realised it was actually really stupid because I would literally bleed to death clutching these tiny severed flaps of skin in my cold, dead hands. Being the logical young woman that I was (still am) I set to work, seriously looking into labiaplasties. This was the more sensible, medically sanctioned option, in which my vagina would begin to resemble more closely the only other ones I’d seen before, both on the internet and in sex ed. I settled in my head that once I got a proper job, the labiaplasty would be how I would resolve all of my issues: I would finally get a boyfriend and get married and rose petals and rainbows would follow me wherever I went. For years I had the thought looming in the back of my head, and was very self-conscious about it.

Reflecting on it now, I thought those thoughts were just the consequence of me being an insecure teenage girl and nothing more. However, then this this video cropped up on reddit (https://vimeo.com/9924049). Although it’s from 6 years ago, it spookily validates my experience in a weird way- and I’m sure loads of other women’s too. The video explains that in Australian soft porn, any vagina that is considered to be ‘non-discreet’, i.e. if the labia hang down, must be censored and airbrushed because of legislation enforced by the advertising standards agency. The idea of a ‘non-discreet’ vagina covers labia that either protrude excessively, or are overly pigmented. These qualities are deemed ‘offensive’. As a result of legislation like this, more women are pushed into thinking that their vaginas are abnormal. And aside from the graphic footage of a woman’s labia being shaved with a scalpel, (or the term ‘discreet vagina’) what I find more disturbing, is the image of some creep airbrushing and photoshopping female genitals (possibly the most gross word ever, but weirdly appropriate here) until nothing but a so called “single crease” remains.

I don’t know if anyone’s vagina actually looks like this (there isn’t anything wrong with it!), but to me this is one of the more perverse and insidious ways which women are taught to devalue and even fear their bodies. I’m not saying this is a problem experienced solely by women – simply that this overt censoring of the female body, to the point which many women feel their own vaginas to be abnormal, and that their only viable “solution” is surgery, is a disturbing consequence of our societal pursuit of “perfection”.  If we’ve managed to at least begin to make in-roads into rejecting an unrealistic one-size-fits-all, Barbie-doll aesthetic when it comes to our bodies, then why are we still expected to aspire toward this when it comes to our pussies?

The media sometimes shows a variety of body shapes and types – and it has become clear that diversity is the order of the day when it comes to what many women, want to see. Do all bodies look the same? No. So it’s obvious that an uncommon, unrealistic and frankly unattainable ideal has attracted a degree of backlash. Yet this backlash hasn’t extended to below our waists. Why should it? It’s not like women sit around discussing their foofs the same way they might with other, more visible body parts.

For centuries the norm has been to ignore it – we all know we have one, so why can’t we leave it in peace? But when people start to regulate and censor, portraying a new normal which doesn’t exist (THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A “NORMAL” VAGINA!) then a dialogue needs to begin. But if mainstream images are manipulated, when do women ever get to see normal diversity?

From a more official stance rather than my wild and disturbing anecdote, according to the NHS website, a labiaplasty costs between £1,000-3,000 and cites that:

‘It’s natural and normal for a woman to have noticeable skin folds around her vaginal opening and, in most cases, this shouldn’t cause any problems. 

A labiaplasty can be expensive and the operation carries a number of risks. There’s also no guarantee you’ll get the result you expected, and it won’t necessarily make you feel better about your body.’

Despite this advice- which seems discouraging whilst perhaps acknowledging the fact that many women who desire these surgeries aren’t entirely sure of their own anatomy- the number of labiaplasties performed on the NHS was cited to have risen 5 fold over the past ten years. (https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/news/rcog-release-reasons-behind-an-increase-in-female-genital-cosmetic-surgery-in-australia-and-the-united-kingdom-explored-at-the-rcog-world-congress/) And the number of these surgeries performed even significantly surpassed the butt lift in America in 2015 (http://www.surgery.org/sites/default/files/ASAPS-Stats2015.pdf). Many surgeons have cited the reasons for these surgeries being performed either as insecurity stemming from pornography, or lack of education as to what is or is not normal.

This marks another instance of inadequate education, or people being afraid to discuss natural bodily functions leading to girls feeling insecure about their bodies. And so the problem is being perpetuated by a number of institutions, and the lack of clarity surrounding these issues intensifies. Without women’s contributions, and proper education, these patterns will repeat themselves, and more women and girls will continue to turn to more drastic measures in an attempt to adhere to this societally constructed notion of beauty. Which is so stupid, because honestly vaginas are really lovely, the way they are. So please if you are reading this, don’t cut off your labia! (esp not with unsterilized scissors whilst sitting on the bog!)


DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH: SEX AND SMELLS IN THE MIDDLE AGES

Don’t hold your Breath: Sex and Smells in the Middle Ages

by Kate Lister

Academic and founder of the Whores of Yore blog, Kate Lister looks into the smell of sex in the medieval world. Perfume, history and just a little bit of naughtiness. 

In 1989 David Strachan proposed what became known as the ‘hygiene hypotheses’. Strachan suggested that we have sanitised our world to such an extreme that we’ve killed off bugs we need to develop a resistance to, and collectively weakened our immunity. Strachan’s work suggested we need muck to be at our best; or as a wise woman once sang, ‘if you ain’t dirty / You ain’t here to party.’ The hygiene hypotheses has been challenged over recent years, but one thing is true; despite Ms Aguilera’s protestations, we have never been less dirty, and more aware of cleanliness, hygiene and bacteria than we are today. From face wash for faces to special soaps for your ‘special places’, almost every part of our bodies has its own specialist cleaning product. Our homes are scrubbed, our clothes are washed, our streets are swept, our air is ‘freshened’, our odours are eaten, and our food and drink are manufactured within government specified guidelines.  A 2014 UK study conducted by researchers at the Universities of Manchester, Edinburgh, Lancaster and Southampton, showed that three-quarters of respondents had at least one shower or bath a day. Even if you are reading this sat in the same clothes you’ve worn for the last two days, with cornflakes in your hair and spaghetti stains on your tits; rest assured – as a society, we have never been so clean.

Which is why if I could transport you back to medieval Europe, the first thing that you would notice would be the smell. The middle ages have something of a reputation for being grubby, or ‘brown’ (a student of mine once explained; she’d always thought of the middle ages as being largely brown.) And this reputation is not without merit. Take almost any fourteenth-century city at random and you would have to sniff your way through an olfactory assault course of open sewers, animal waste, stagnate water, rotting food, refuse, unwashed bodies and collected filth. The Medieval world was far less sanitised than our own, but its people were not unaware of bad smells. Of course, they would have grown accustomed to niffs that would have your modern day germaphobe gargling with Toilet Duck, but as St Bernard wrote, ‘where all stink, no one smells’. Comparatively pungent they may have been, but medieval people were just as self-conscious of smelling bad as we are today. In his fourteenth-century Canterbury Tales, Chaucer gives us visceral portraits of his characters and smell is a key indicator of a pilgrim’s personality. Like many medieval authors, Chaucer links physical ugliness with spiritual ugliness, and he uses foul smells to signify a wrong ‘un. The morally bankrupt, Summoner’s breath smells of onions, garlic, and leeks; and his cook, a lazy, corrupt thief, is described as a ‘stynkyng swyn’ whose breath and festering sores are revolting. The hapless fop and forerunner of the metrosexual, Absolon, is heavily perfumed, ‘squeamish’ about farting, and chews cardamom and liquorice to keep his breath sweet. Absolon souses himself in the medieval equivalent of Linx Africa because smelling good was a sign of a higher social status. In Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (1485), the poor Sir Gareth is cruelly told to ‘stay out of the wind’ by the Lady Lynette because he smells of kitchens and ‘bawdy clothes’. However, being aware of smelling like the privy on a tuna boat is quite a different thing from being able to do something about it. Bathing requires, at the very least, a river; but, more often than not, it requires bathing facilities and the means to clean yourself and your clothes regularly.

The Romans were famous for bathing. They established lavish bathhouses across the empire, as well as the infrastructure to support them. Public bathing had remained popular across Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire (C.476 AD). But, the early Christian Church quickly pulled the plug on the communal soak. As the Christian faith clamped down on sexual freedoms, attitudes to bathing in the buff changed considerably. Not only did public bathing involve nudity, but heat was believed to inflame lustful senses. Theologians like St Jerome (ca 340-420) had anti-sex agendas that would make the Jonas Brothers look like Guns n’ Roses. Jerome advocated virginity as the supreme moral state, and urged women (in particular) to cultivate ‘deliberate squalor’ to ‘spoil her natural good looks’. Many monks, hermits, and saints saw washing as a sign of vanity and sexual corruption; filth was synonymous with piety and humility. Early Christian militants emphasized spiritual cleanliness over physical cleanliness, even viewing the two as inversely proportional; you could literally stink to high heaven. Saint Godric (1065-1170), for example, walked from England to Jerusalem without ever washing or changing his clothes. Ulrich, an abbot of Cluny, France and Regensburg, Germany (1029 – 1093) said: “As to our baths, … there is not much that we can say, for we only bath twice a year, before Christmas and before Easter.” Of course, just because a saintly squad of hardcore soap dodgers shunned the shower, does not mean that every medieval citizen felt the same; but whatever the early medieval washing rota was, by the ninth century, the Roman bath infrastructure had fallen to rack and ruin throughout Christendom.

It was the crusaders that brought the habit of bathing back to medieval Europe. Whilst the Christians were busy working up a stench that could be weaponised, cleanliness remained essential throughout the Muslim world. Medieval Arab doctors were far more advanced than the west and understood the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. Medieval cities of Mecca, Marrakech, Cairo, and Istanbul all had their water and bathhouses supplied by well-maintained aqueducts. The Kitab at-Tasrif (C.1000) by Al-Zahrawi is a medical encyclopaedia that devotes entire chapters to cosmetics and cleanliness; Al-Zahrawi gives recipes for soap, deodorants, facial creams and hair dyes. Conversely, for all their ‘spiritual purity’, the crusaders stank. The medieval Arabian author of A Thousand and One Nights was one of many writers appalled at Christian hygiene; ‘They never wash, for, at their birth, ugly men in black garments pour water over their heads, and this ablution, accompanied by strange gestures, frees them from the obligation of washing for the rest of their lives.’ Happily, the Muslim habit of regular bathing seemed to rub off on the marauding crusaders, and bathhouses began to become popular throughout medieval Europe once more, and bathing became a serious business.

Fourteenth-century Italian physician, Maino De Maineri, wrote extensively about the health benefits of bathing and had guidance for bathing in old age, pregnancy and even when travelling. If you had the money, you could pay for servants to heat water and fill a wooden tub for one, but most people used the public baths. By the thirteenth-century there were thirty-two bathhouses in Paris and eighteen in London; even the smaller towns had bathhouses. It wasn’t just the habit of social soaking and an arse whooping the crusaders brought back from the Holy Lands; they had also learnt about the art of perfume. The Medieval Europeans have always valued a nice smelling plant, but oils, soap, colognes and exotic bases, like civet and musk, for perfume, were wholly new.  Rosewater, in particular, was the Chanel No. 5 of the middle ages. A donner à laver was a bowl of rosewater rich guests would use to wash their hands before dinner. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy owned a statue of a child that peed rosewater. John Russell’s fifteenth-century Book of Nurture has advice for preparing a good bath. He recommends ‘flowers and sweet green herbs’, breweswort, camomile, mallow, fennel and (of course) rosewater to scent the water. The first known perfume was created for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary around 1370. It was known as ‘Hungary Water’ and legend said it was created by a hermit who promised the queen it would allow her to live for ever; its ingredients included rosemary, grape oil, mint and lemon balm, and whilst the Queen may not have lived forever, she may have at least left a lovely smelling corpse.

So, medieval people smelled a lot nicer than you might have expected, and we all know it’s much more pleasant to get down and dirty if you and your lover are not dirty (if you follow); but, for all their rub-a-dub-dubbing, the medieval folk were a metaphorically mucky lot. Historically, wherever you have had public bathing, sex has been working up a lather at the soapy heart of it. Of course, this is still the case today and you must do your homework before arriving at an all-night city sauna with your swimming cap, nose plugs and loofah (just me?). So closely associated are sex and bathing, numerous slang phrases for sex and sex work are derived from bathing; ‘lather’, as in ‘to lather up’ was sixteenth-century slang for ejaculation. The word ‘bagnio’, meaning a brothel, derives from the Latin ‘balneum’, meaning ‘bath’. Likewise, a medieval word for a brothel was a ‘stew’, which also derives from the bathhouses, where you could literally stew yourself in the hot water and steam. Sex work and saunas were closely associated, the word ‘stew’ became synonymous with both. In the twelfth century, King Henry II officially recognised the Southwark area of London as a red-light district; it was no coincidence that this was also the area of the city with the highest concentration of bathhouses. So concerned with being thought of as a brothel, that one new bathhouse in Avignon, around 1446, felt it necessary to announce their opening with a clear statement defining themselves as an ‘honest’ establishment.

Let everyone of whatever rank be aware that Genin de Geline or de Helme, otherwise known as de la Cerveleria, has established behind his house at Helme good and honest stews for bathing by good and honest women and that these are quite separate from the men’s bath of de la Cerveleria.

Sanitation was patchy, and Beyoncé’s Heat may have been a few centuries off, but the middle ages were quite discerning about a sexy smell. In the fourteenth-century Decameron, for example, Boccaccio clearly links sex and smell together.

Without permitting anyone else to lay a hand on him, the lady herself washed Salabaetto all over with soap scented with musk and cloves. She then had herself washed and rubbed down by the slaves. This done, the slaves brought two fine and very white sheets, so scented with roses that they seemed like roses; the slaves wrapped Salabaetto in one and the lady in the other and then carried them both on their shoulders to the bed . . . They then took from the basket silver vases of great beauty, some of which were filled with rose water, some with orange water, some with jasmine water, and some with lemon water, which they sprinkled upon them.

Le Ménagier de Paris (1393) is full of helpful advice on smelling attractive; Sage water is recommended, along with ‘chamomile, marjoram, or rosemary boiled with orange peel’. William Langham’s Garden of Health (1579) recommends adding Rosemary to a bath:  ‘Seethe much Rosemary, and bathe therein to make thee lusty, lively, joyfull, likeing and youngly.'” Delights for Ladies (1609) suggests distilling water with cloves, orris powder, nutmeg and cinnamon (because you’re worth it). And in a medieval forerunner of the lynx effect, the civet effect meant musk harvested from the glands of the civet cat became highly desirable; along with castor from the anal glands of a beaver, and whale vomit (ambergris); but, these were luxury items. If you really want to know the smell of medieval illicit sex, it’s lavender.

The word lavender comes from the latin word lavare, which means to wash. It has been used for thousands of years for its sweet smell. Unlike the more exotic and expensive perfumes, lavender grows all over Europe and is both cheap and readily available. Lavender was widely used in washing clothes, and washerwoman became known as ‘lavenders’; in fact, the word ‘launder’ derives from lavender. As historian Ruth Mazo Carras identified, one medieval profession that was especially connected to sex work was the washerwoman. Medieval laundresses were very poor, and had a reputation for making ends meet by dollymopping (subsidising their income with sex work).  Dante calls ‘meretrices’ (sex workers) ‘lavenders’ in his Inferno. Chaucer writes that ‘envy is lavender of the court’ in his The Legend of the Good Woman (C.1380), metaphorically drawing on the double meaning of being at once both dirty and clean. Walter of Hemingburgh tells a story of King John who thought he was seducing a married noble woman, but instead had been sent “a horrid whore and laundress.” The sixteenth-century poem “Ship of Fools” includes the following lines: “Thou shalt be my lavender Laundress / To wash and keep clean all my gear, / Our two beds together shall be set / Without any let.” Given lavender’s rather conservative and somewhat old fashioned reputation today, I personally take great delight in knowing that elderly women and aromatherapists the world over actually smell like a medieval strumpet.

But, the fun was not to last. Public bathhouses went into steep decline across Europe in the sixteenth-century. New medical advice suggested bathing weakened the body, and that cleaning the skin left it open to infection. Periodic outbreaks of plague and the arrival of syphilis in the fifteenth century certainly burst the bubble bath. As people became cautious about bathing, washing the body was replaced with wearing linen shirts; linen was thought to draw out and absorb sweat. Louis XIV changed his shirt several times a day and French mansions were designed without bathrooms, as changing linen was so popular. Bathing would not come back into vogue until the eighteenth century with the rise of the spa.

When Monty Python sent up preconceptions about the Middle Ages in Holy Grail (1975), the dead collector correctly identifies Arthur as the King, because he is the one who ‘hasn’t got shit all over him’. In 2014, beloved Python Terry Jones published his Medieval Lives where he sets about redeeming the Middle Ages from unjust stigmas; such as smelling of shit. Far from living in a ditch, eating twigs and rubbing themselves with sewage, the citizens of the Middle Ages actually smelt quite good; certainly better than the people of the Renaissance who believed bathing would make them ill. Medieval lovers valued clean bodies, sweet breath, regular scrubbing and an array of perfumes. They also knew the aphrodisiacal qualities of various scents, oils and plants. They enjoyed mixed sex communal bathing and invested in bathing infrastructure. Sex was very much a part of the culture of communal bathing; at worst it was tolerated, at best it was fully embraced and enjoyed. The medieval period was undeniably grubbier than our own; but, they embraced cleanliness as fully as they could, and their sex workers smelt of lavender.


A PATCHWORK OF UNCONVENTIONAL BEAUTY

A PATCHWORK OF UNCONVENTIONAL BEAUTY

Journalist and Feminist, Gemma Tipton, on the day she found out she had a skin complaint she would be living with for the rest of her life. Vitiligo.

When something’s not quite right, you tend to dismiss it, while you can. That paler patch under my arm, and then another – to begin with it was like knowing and not knowing something at the same time. But the patches were growing, and then I noticed one on my hand, and then more. It looked like someone had spilt acid across my fingers, but it wasn’t painful. I went to the doctor. The doctor referred me to a specialist.

The Irish health system is simply terrible.

I could see a specialist in about a year’s time. Or one in the next month, for several hundred pounds (this was before Ireland joined the Euro). The thought of something creeping across my skin, or perhaps even under it, that I didn’t understand, was increasingly disturbing, so I spent the money.

But as I sat in the specialist’s office, and read upside down as he looked up my complaint in something that wasn’t titled “your bumper book of skin diseases”, but really should have been, I got angry. “Ahh yes, Vitiligo,” he said, “that’s what you’ve got”, before prescribing a cream and waiting for me to leave.

Here’s a useful tip: if you’re ever going to see an expensive specialist, or even your regular doctor when something’s worrying you, write down a list of questions.

I got my notebook out, and didn’t give up despite his increasing levels of pissed offedness. What is it? Did it make me more susceptible to skin cancer, I wanted to know? What were the triggers? Did diet have anything to do with it?

Maybe I should have got a gig as a highly paid specialist, because he clearly hadn’t a clue. On the other hand, I have a feeling I’m too ethical to fleece people that way.

The cream was useless. I looked it up with my Dad when I got home. It only works with a course of UV light, and then it doesn’t really. Vitiligo might be an auto immune condition, they’re still not sure, but whatever it is, it causes you to lose your skin pigmentation in patches. Stress is a trigger, according to the internet, and cabbage may be too. One website said I should avoid crab. Another broccoli. Yet another said that diet had nothing to do with it. It’s frequently symmetrical, and can spread, as fans of model Winnie Harlow will know, across your face.

But Winnie Harlow wasn’t around back then, and I felt scared and upset. It’s interesting, as we grow up, gently (and not so gently) nudged into routines and ideas of beauty by family, friends, magazines and media, that we don’t also learn skills to deal with the unexpected. The logic is that if you eat well, exercise, use the right products and always, always moisturise, the “right” sort of beauty will be yours.

But what if you have an accident? An illness? What if you actually get old…? My changing skin tone was out of my hands, but the minute I fully understood that, I had another realisation: I’m me. I might end up with white patches, anywhere on my face and body. I might not. I might have an absorbing and reckless adventure and gain a scar or two, and I might not. My hair might fall out, and my hands might indeed look like acid has been sprayed across them, but does that make me, or anyone else, less of a person?

No. Our faces and bodies come to be a record of our lives. Illnesses, health, mountains climbed, horses ridden and trees fallen out of. They carry sleepless nights and spa detox breaks, beach holidays and too long spent in front of a screen, but they’re fully and one hundred percent ours.

These days I tend to forget I have vitiligo, until the sun comes out, and then, when it does, I’m reminded how many rays I’m getting by the contrast. I’ve come to see it as part of me, and I’m even rather fond of it. I think there’s nothing like a spot of white to show off a tan.

Hating any part of yourself is destructive and deeply painful. Loving it is better, and the chance to revel in whatever it is that makes you differently you is one of the most amazing things that life can offer. I’d still like to punch that specialist though.

Gemma Tipton is a writer and journalist based in Ireland


GET TO THE MORAL HIGH GROUND, AND BE CRUELTY FREE, BITCHES

GET TO THE MORAL HIGH GROUND, AND BE CRUELTY FREE, BITCHES

The REEK ethos on cruelty free, animal products and use of synthetics in scent.

At REEK. we are cruelty free but that’s not that big a deal – in the EU it’s illegal for cosmetics to be tested on animals, so ours aren’t. China insists on animal testing cosmetics so we don’t and won’t sell our perfumes there. That’s a promise.

Damn Rebel Bitches also doesn’t use any animal products. Sarah McCartney, the award-winning indie perfumer who makes our eau de parfum uses natural and synthetic perfumery materials and follows IFRA (International Fragrance Association) guidelines and EU regulations. The EU has banned or restricted anything that harms the skin or the environment, so no worries there.

Shocked at us using synthetics as well as naturals? Turns out that the materials most likely to give you a rash are the naturals, because they contain 300 to 600 different chemicals – they’re naturally occurring ones. So Damn Rebel Bitches is chock full of dangerous ideas, but nobody and nothing has got hurt making it or wearing it.

We include delivery because why would we add that on? It’s not a special offer or an inducement, it’s just the way we think things should be. We deliver via the Royal Mail and Interlink. We particularly like Interlink because they are carbon neutral.

Last of all we pay everyone the living wage. When it comes down to it we’re happy to charge more to ensure no animals are harmed or perfumers underpaid. That’s us all set to make a bitch feel good and you can take that to the bank.


Image of model for artisan, independent, luxury, eau de parfum brand REEK Perfume’s rebellious, feminist, unretouched, campaign.

VANILLA WARDS & GHOSTED OLFACTION

The Silver Fox: Vanilla Wards & Ghosted Olfaction

Beyond Fragrance for Women

Brilliant bitch and perfume blogger, the Silver Fox, writing about fragrance memories and the moving experience of being ill for someone to whom scent is everything.

The ability of our brains to recall memories from the archive of our collected lives is a wondrous and sometimes haunting thing.  In this social media saturated age, many of us are aware of the nostalgic recall power of scent, not only fragrance for women but perfumed waters, oils, woods, smoke and balms suffusing our days and nights with faces, places, and alumni that our brains have stored and associated with certain aromatic frissons. A zephyr of Ma Griffe by Carven, vintage YSL Opium, Dior’s violent and violet-soaked Fahrenheit, the swooning majesty of buttery, vanillic Shalimar, the orchard lure of mulled cider, anisic smears of chopped tarragon, crisp glossy magazines, dying books, just-popped toast, petrichor, apricot jam, cherry flavoured pipe tobacco, Imperial Leather soap, fading honeysuckle, ripe strawberries, tomato leaves, shimmering petrol on garage forecourts, tar and freshly cut lilac. Such diversity in things that dazzle and stimulate the limbic system, the area of brain, directly responsible for memory.

Sometimes the associations are not always what we desire: the melancholy odour of violets in a widower’s empty house, invisible tendrils of daddy’s cigar smoke that drift down through the years or the powdered aldehydes of Chanel No 5 that conjure up a beloved mother. A scarf plucked from a wardrobe can be haunted by roses, a sudden jolt back to a holiday when you were happy, laughing in unexpected rain, surrounded by love before he walked away with someone else, pulling the oxygen from your world. The resurrected roses embedded deep in merino and cashmere fibres are plain witness to the reality of that day he held your face in the rain and kissed you.  

I am often shocked and moved by olfaction, be it created, curated aromatics or the world moving around me. Bouts of illness have removed my sense of smell from time to time and this has been unnerving and disorientating. We breathe to live therefore we inhale and smell all the time. Actually pausing, to wonder, contemplate and take a little extra time to interpret and quantify our continual interactions with environmental pungencies. This I think is something we have lost or no longer care to do. We have forgotten how to interpret our surroundings properly and smell our own lives.

We all have our own distinctive odour profiles, gathered and nurtured as we live, mature, love, travel, suffer, fuck, hate, care, mourn, envy, crave, pity, cherish and touch. Everything we come into contact with will mark us. Some of us are more absorbent than others, soaking up odours like cacti in the deserts of our worlds. Others are more selective, sparse perhaps in their absorption, only occasionally registering olfactory hits. But as life’s weather rolls over us, we gather extraordinary amounts of emanations and whiffs that we catalogue subconsciously, sorting them into a system that suits our individual histories and lifestyles.     

Now, it is no secret to those who know me how much I love the scent of vanilla, in fragrances, food and as objects in themselves. Have you ever really taken time to look at the sensual mahogany sheaths that hide the delicious sticky paste of black seeds? They are beautiful works of natural art, redolent with sugared, warm sun and sweet tobacco rub. My mother put drops of quality vanilla extract on baking trays in low heated ovens so the scent of soothing nectarous vanilla would radiate into the kitchen and beyond.  When my brother and I were kids, she used to make a lot of chocolate chip cookies with brown sugar and walnuts; we loved them still warm and supple from the oven, chocolate oozing. That particular scent of vanillic cookie dough and golden sweetness is a defiant odiferous thread that has followed me into adulthood and my obsessive relationship with genuine vanilla base notes in quality perfumes.

Sadly my health is not terribly robust and I have spent a lot of time in hospitals over the years. This year I have had two bouts of surgery that forced my body and senses into strange and unfamiliar territories.  My sensory systems felt hacked.  For the first time in years I came to a complete halt. Strangely, these hospitals sojourns while traumatic were in their own way oddly consoling. I found the routine and surrounding colour palette of blues and whites immensely soothing and the demanded regime of analgesics and organised care seemed to assuage a troubled mind.  Throughout my stay I wore a vanilla scent, to anchor me, the solacing Cierge du Lune by Aedes Perfume, a composition inspired by a night blooming desert cactus, conjuring up the ghosts of votive beeswax candles burning in French night churches.  My stays were infused with this gossamer vanilla wonder, but despite the daily obsession with sterility I found the panoply of hospital scents fascinating and greatly soothing.  Pre-bloods swabbing, the cold rub of hand steriliser, the lactonic scent of wound dressings and iodine.   

The oddest thing of all was the shock of rubbered vanilla amid the sterile chill and plasticity of ward aromatics; manifest in the form of brightly coloured latex-free tourniquets scented strongly with some sort of artificial vanilla compound. Apparently flavoured to divert kids who might find blood taking distressing.  The odour from the slithering neon purple, pink and blue tourniquets was really hefty, a warm, dry powdered custardy vanilla with whiffs of play dough and fresh cardboard.  The scent was incredibly intense and lingered on my arm for hours afterwards. I would find myself drifting into opiate oblivion, curtains flickering like soft blue flames, my skin stained with a rubbery, weird sniff of vanillic dust reminding me of cookie dough air and warm distant kitchens, a baking tray with amber tears of vanilla extract; a faraway me hoping a golden scent might heal all ills.

By The Silver Fox
www.ascentofelegance.com


Image of a nude woman by Edward Weston accompanying guest article

BEAUTY THROUGH THE LENS

Alan McCredie: Beauty through the lens

Beauty through the lens. Photographer and male feminist, Alan McCredie talks about his experience of the artificial creation of traditional beauty campaigns.

“No – spray more of the glycerine! On her cleavage – spray more of it!”

I’d only been out of Photography college a few weeks and was at the start of my first job as a photographer’s assistant. Here I was, with dreams of being the next Capa, or Brandt, or Liebowitz, pumping a glycerine and water solution over the cleavage of a model, dressed as Lara Croft, for what can only really be described as a vanity project for the client. This was my first, and defining, experience of the world of beauty and photography. I didn’t like it, and every squirt of glycerine only made things worse.

Photography and female beauty have always had a symbiotic relationship. From almost the earliest days of photography the examination of female beauty has been a constant. As (male) perceptions of female beauty have changed photography has been there to record the changes. Edward Weston’s nudes are some of my favourite work, and still, years after I first saw it, I am still in awe of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother (to the left) which is as far as I’m concerned not only one of the finest examples of female beauty, it is one of the finest examples of any kind of beauty. The power, humanity and feeling in the photograph is almost unrivalled. Both Weston and Lange have photographed female beauty in starkly different ways, yet both are perfect examples of it.

One needs only to watch any advert break, or pick up a glossy magazine to see the power of female beauty in the quest for advertising revenue. Female beauty is, in the hands of the advertisers and the photographers/filmmakers they employ nothing more than a commodity: a way to sell an idea, and ideal and product. It has always been like this and for all I know always will be. Female beauty has been used as a cultural touchstone since the dawn of history and this, whatever we may think, is unlikely to change soon. As a photographer, it is almost impossible to avoid this. If beauty is always going to be packaged and sold then the best way to subvert this is to change what beauty means, and what beauty is.

Beauty in advertising and photography goes almost always hand in hand with affluence. There is nothing wrong with either, although to promote them as ‘the answer’ doesn’t seem right to me. There are many paths through life and the majority of us will never be “model beautiful” or so well-off that money is not an issue. I understand why it happens, I’m just not sure it should.

What I cannot deal with, and what makes me really troubled is the manipulation of the female image in print. I understand the power of aspirational advertising, but to make that image physically unattainable is both reckless and dangerous. It also implies that simply being naturally ‘beautiful’ (whatever that means) is no longer enough, and that physical alteration is to be applauded. Don’t get me wrong, if people wish to physically alter themselves that is rightly their choice, but they should not be forced to do it in the quest for some impossible ideal, foisted upon them in the quest to make them buy more shampoo.

As a photographer I quickly lost interest in the world of advertising photography, which is unfortunate as that is where most of the money is. There are photographers with far more talent than me who do some wonderful work in this area and I wouldn’t dream of belittling them. That world is not for me. Personally I don’t find it rewarding although I understand why some do. There is scope for much creativity, but ultimately it just leaves me cold.

I now deal mostly with documentary and editorial work and my main aim now is to try and uncover truths, or at least some manifestation of truths. Once, deep in the middle of a long form photostory I was carrying out, I took a wrong turn in the car. There was a woman, battering the living daylights out of a car bumper outside her metal polishing workshop. I stopped and she kindly let me take her photo (pictured to the left). For me, there is more beauty in that photo than all my glossy advertising shots put together. And not one single squirt of glycerine solution was needed.

 

Check out Alan’s new book, Scotland the Dreich.