The Silver Fox: Vanilla Wards & Ghosted Olfaction

Beyond Fragrance for Women

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

Brilliant 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