Jane Winkworth

Heavenly Scent April 10th 2012

Since childhood I have suffered from chronic allergic asthma. Every day I inhale vast quantities of Seretide followed most evenings by more puffs of Ventolin. The strangest things will trigger an attack and very often it is the smell of someone’s perfume….this is tricky for me as I am an absolute perfume addict. I first discovered the heady, sweetly sickly and distinctive aroma of my beloved Grandmother’s scent which she made herself from roses grown in her own garden. I have no idea how she did this, but it was because as a struggling artist she had very little money and I presume that shop bought perfume was beyond her limited budget.

My grandmother lived between two tiny cottages in Gloucestershire in the Slad Valley. During the winter months, she used her “winter” cottage at the bottom of the hill in the village of Bisley at number One, High Street and once the summer months were upon her - she would pack up her Lambretta scooter and head up to her “summer” cottage which was high up in Brimscombe at Quarhouse Cottage and had the most amazing and beautiful views over the luscious Slad Valley. I spent most of my school holidays with my grandmother and I simply adored her.

We would go off for the day on the Lambretta, paints and canvases packed into the front pannier, with a picnic and a rug and spend the days painting, picnicking and talking. At aged fifteen and home from my boarding school, my grandmother allowed me to dye my hair. She even went on a shopping expedition alone to Cheltenham looking for a record I desperately wanted called Johnny Come Lately by Brian Hyland! She could not get this, so came back with Telstar by The Tornadoes!! She was absolutely the best Grandmother in the world and I worshipped her.

Back to perfume, Gran always made her own using a variety of strange oils, some boiling water and saucepans full of rose petals which I would have to collect. An old stocking was used to sieve the disgusting rosy mess into small glass jars and the lids were tightly screwed on and these were left to ferment for some weeks. Back again the following holidays and it was time to label the little jars. We used plain brown paper, cut into pretty oblongs with a decorative edge and this was stuck onto the jars using Gloy glue, which came in a triangular shaped bottle with a very hard wooden brush - but it did the trick.

We labelled these jars of scent with such exotic names such as Eau de Kitty, Parfum de Kitty, Rose de Kitty, and Bouquet de Rose a la Kitty etc and yes you’ve guessed it - my Grandmother’s name was Kitty! Then it was time to test the jars. We smothered ourselves with this gentle, sweet, home grown deliciousness and although it was wonderful and I genuinely loved the smell - within five minutes I was wheezing and coughing and fighting for breath. In those days, there was no Ventolin Inhalers or magic steroid pills, we just had fresh air or a bowl of boiling water and towel over the top covering our heads while we inhaled the steam.

Anyway, today, I am quite unable to tolerate certain perfumes and anything with roses is always tricky, so as I got a little older I found myself drawn to certain fragrances that were spicy rather than floral. My first ever serious perfume was given to me by my Aunt who had tired of it - I was seventeen and the perfume was Joy by Jean Patou. It was utterly wonderful. When my aunt realised how much I loved her old perfume bottles, she became quite generous and would sometimes let me have her almost unused bottles and as she was stylish, fashionable and glamorous - perfume was readily available at her house, so I would visit for tea - walk her bad tempered and always angry Pekingese dogs and as a reward she would give me perfume from her boudoir!

I soon became an expert at an early age on what was good and what was not. Chanel No 5, Bal A Versailles, every single Guerlain scent and Je Reviens by Worth, Le Dix by Carven, Quadrille by Balenciaga and Caleche by Hermes were her special favourites until she discovered Mitsouko by Guerlain and then there was no stopping her.  I was given all the other perfumes and from that day until the day she died aged 92 (almost in my arms as I spent a lot of time with her at the end of life) she wore only Mitsouko and now whenever I smell someone wearing this heady and sexy fragrance, I am instantly reminded of her.

During my twenties and early thirties I wore anything and everything and then aged about thirty one I discovered Shalimar by Guerlain and just as my aunt had done, I abandoned all the others for this one sensuous and sensational oriental, spicy, sticky, heady and sexy scent. My love affair with Shalimar lasted until I was forty three and then I suddenly woke up one morning and hated the smell. It had become unpleasant, sickly and made me feel ill to look at the bottles (over twenty!). Friends and family all gave me Shalimar every birthday and Christmas and suddenly it was repellent to me.

Since then, and I am now sixty five, I have spent a fortune on almost every scent that is “unknown” to most people. The thought that I might be wearing a scent that anyone else wears bothers me ridiculously and I aim always to find strange, new and exotic perfumes from under -the- radar perfumeries. When anyone asks me what I am wearing, I always lie and usually pretend that is some horrible every day scent readily available from Boots the chemists, in reality it will be a specially concocted one from Miller Harris or from my favourite Los Angeles perfume haunt The Scent Bar in Hollywood where I first discovered Molecule 01. Don’t ask - just buy it if you can. It is pure divine scented heaven.

Tocca is another of my favourites and Diptyque’s fragrances Tam Dao and L’Eau are quite unique, although getting more popular, so I may have to stop wearing them, but I have used them a lot when I travel as they are long lasting and lingering. Currently I am trying to locate a very new, almost unheard of Parisian perfume from an Indian perfumier working with incense and spices, rather like Comme des Garcons brilliant Incense which I buy from Space NK. Looking at the photograph of my dressing table at my home in the country, you will see clearly how devoted I am to my perfumes. However, what you will not see are the bottles of my “secret scents” which I have removed from the picture - just in case you are tempted to copy me !

Perfume has been renowned for it’s intoxication throughout the ages - here are some quotes and facts I thought you might enjoy!

“What do I wear in bed? Why, Chanel no.5, of course!”- Marilyn Monroe.

“A women who doesn’t wear perfume has no future” Coco Chanel.

“He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men”. Patrick Süskind, Perfume, The Story of a Murderer.

Cleopatra, perhaps the most famous ruler of Egypt was well versed in the power of scent, and lavish in her use of perfume. After the assassination of Julius Caesar, she left Rome to become the queen of Egypt. There she greeted Mark Antony, a Roman politician, on a ship with perfumed sails. Cleopatra’s arrival was announced by clouds of perfume before her barge came into view. Antony fell under her spell.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité . . . and fragrance! The house of Lubin has revived the lush floral blend originally worn by Marie Antoinette. Created for the queen by the royal nose Jean-Louis Fargeon in the late eighteenth century, the rose, jasmine, and bergamot-spiked scent was originally conceived as an ode to her beloved Trianon gardens at Versailles. Even during her imprisonment in the Temple Tower of Paris, Antoinette kept it with her, carrying it in a midnight-colored jade vial before slipping it to her most trusted confidant, the Marquise de Tourzel, shortly before her death. The original flask remains in the possession of de Tourzel’s descendants to this day, safeguarded in the family’s Burgundy château.

Categories: My Week

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Charities Jane supports:

The Royal ballet school English National Ballet Starlight ACCA The Royal Marsden Havens Hospice