The fragrance of summers past


Impressions of my first trip abroad are still vivid in my mind. Our departure in the early hours of the morning, sitting in the back seat of the car in between my two older half-brothers and spending the long journey to Dover listening to cassettes on my Walkman (though whether it was the Beatles or ’80s pop, I couldn’t possibly tell you). And then after so long on the road, suddenly catching sight of the sea, that mass of blue with the seagulls squawking overhead. It never ceases to astonish me. Travelling by ferry really makes you feel you’re going somewhere, watching the boat pull away from those famous white cliffs while strangers on the quay wave you off. And then just under an hour later, seeing the French coast emerge. We drove with our caravan to a campsite on the coast of Brittany. Every morning, my parents took me for walks along the seemingly endless and beautiful beaches.

I recall the taste of galettes with cheese and of crêpes with ice cream. And most vividly of all, I remember trying to look in through the gap in a circus tent on our campsite to catch a glimpse of a magician and his glamorous assistant doing a show before getting caught by one of the staff and told off in incomprehensible French.

If summer had a particular scent back then, it was probably my mother’s Mitsouko which I secretly used to spritz and later on my eldest half brother’s bottle of YSL Kouros until he complained about me using too much. Or perhaps my American aunt who rented a house in Brighton where we spent one summer. She always smelled of Giorgio Beverly Hills which made me think of those striped yellow awnings I had seen in my favourite TV show back then, Beverly Hills 90210.

The first summer scents of my own were Ô de Lancôme, Clarins Eau Dynamisante, Prescriptives Calyx and Estée Lauder’s Pleasures. The last one was a particular favourite, worn the summer I finished high school when spent the long holidays in the garden, reading under the apple tree. I was reminded of this after finding a bottle the other day in a discount store and felt inspired to recommend some of my other current favourite summer fragrances paired with books for summer I love. Alongside Pleasures in the first shot. I chose a delightful Moomin book which never fails to lift my spirits and will make you long for adventures.


I love the greenness of this Diptyque fragrance which counters the sweetness of the figs. There are many other fig fragrances out there but for me, this is the best. This classic book transports you back to Greece before mass tourism and is a delightful account of childhood discovery and English eccentricities. Frequently adapted for television but none have the charm or magic of the original.


The first time I tried this classic fragrance, I found it rather intimidating but with a little patience, I’ve become addicted to its green sharpness which comes into its own in summer. Heartless but utterly brilliant, rather like this Evelyn Waugh masterpiece.


I cannot wear Acqua di Parma without thinking of Venice. I wore it every day on my trip there last year and saw it in almost every shop window. Although I recognise that the Colonia Intensa is probably a more complex and interesting fragrance, this is still my favourite. I cannot get enough of it citrussy opening and sexy woodiness, warmed by the sun. It’s the essence of summer for me. The Brodsky is probably the best book ever written about Venice by a Russian poet in exile who loved the city as much as I do.


I love No 5 and wear it all year but on hot days, it’s nice to have something lighter. I consider all the fragrances here unisex but this one smells especially nice on men with more vetiver than in the original. I also much prefer it to last year’s lighter version of the classic. Paired with a lovely Folio edition of a wonderful book which inevitably makes you think of No 5’s most famous wearer.


Created for the Duke of Marlborough in 1902 and worn by Winston Churchill, this is an invigorating  blend of citrus, woods and spices and goes perfectly with Tove Jansson’s stories of summer on an island which has to be one of the best holiday reads ever which its quirkiness, humour and poignancy.


Cristalle was created to remind us of the dazzling structure of a crystal. It’s a citrus chypre and its crisp opening makes me think of the dazzling California sunshine and beauty described in Ross Macdonald’s crime novels which mask a bitter heart. This is the reason why I love reading noirs in summer. I bought the Eau de Parfum which is a little softer and was developed much later but next time will try the Eau de Toilette which is closer to the original by Henri Robert from 1974.


Acqua di Parma has always been my favourite cologne. Until I tried this one from Les Exclusifs. It’s the kind of fragrance you want to drown yourself in all day which explains why the large bottle is always sold out and its dazzling, polished beauty goes perfectly with the magnificent prose of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tragic masterpiece set in the South of France.


I was inspired to buy this thoroughly delicious Guerlain scent after reading how much my friends Jan and Patricia love it. Depending on your point of view, it may make you think of sherbet lemons or freshly pressed lemon juice but the fact that it reminds me of them makes it extra special. Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is my absolute favourite summer book, best read around midsummer. It’s full of the dreams and heartbreak of youth. Quintessentially English.


My current summer read. It’s the perfect companion for a long journey – compelling, beautifully written and moving. Guerlain’s Après l’Ondée is a very old and magical scent which is like a soft blanket and reminds you of flowers in the garden after the rain with violets, irises  and carnations.


11 thoughts on “The fragrance of summers past

  1. Funny thing is, I like Après L’Ondée even better than Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat, first of all because of its evoking name, and because of its soft flowery spiciness.
    And what a great idea to combine scents with books, I wonder what perfume might fit to a Thomas Bernard novel…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. How interesting. I must admit that I also bought Après L’Ondée after seeing it in your gallery once and it really is beautiful. Hmm, I had not considered a fragrance for a Thomas Bernhard novel though – that would need to be very sharp indeed.

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  3. You’ve done it again sweet Emily. What a thought provoking essay. Sadly I am not able to switch fragrances easily, I must build up a tolerance first. But, oh boy do I love a beautiful fragrance on others! There’s nothing better than walking up to a delightful person and smelling something incredible. The list of books you have suggested is overwhelming and exciting all at once, xo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I must thank you Kenneth for always making time to read my posts and keep in touch in spite of a hectic schedule. I’m really pleased you enjoyed this one and would be interested to know what fragrance you like for yourself – surely something very elegant. I suffer from the opposite problem and can’t commit to just one so I’m always a little jealous of people with a clear signature scent they’re associated with.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hello Emily,

        I think it is wonderful you have so many fragrance choices in your dressing room. I wear John Varvatos “Vintage” for everyday and Creed “Royal Water” when I go somewhere special. However, I picked up a sample of Tom Ford’s “Oud Wood” today when I was buying candles for my clients. Who knows, perhaps I will be able to widen my circle of fragrances to three. A guy (or girl for that matter) should never stop trying new things! Have a beautiful weekend Elegant Emily, xx


  4. What a great concept and thoughtfully considered post! You’ve given me several books I want to read and fragrances I’d like to try too. I’ve had Ross Macdonald’s novels on my list for some time since you mentioned his work on Instagram – this post has inspired me to schedule him in for our southern summer. In the meantime I’m bookmarking this post for future reference! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot Rani. I’m interested to find out what you think of Ross Macdonald so let me know how you get on. I also hope you enjoy the other book and fragrance choices on here. I had a lot of fun deciding on them.


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