Winter in London

 

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I must admit that leaving the house just after 7am in the dark and the freezing rain made me almost call the whole thing off. By the time I boarded the train for London, my hands and feet were so cold that I spent the entire train journey bundled up in my coat, scarf and gloves, trying to warm my fingers with lots of tea. But then the sight of the magnificent St. Pancras station never fails to lift my spirits and I hurried down the platform to meet Amanda and Sharly by the statue of the great Sir John Betjamin. The first time I met Amanda it was in the same spot but during one of the hottest weeks ever. This time, the contrast in the weather couldn’t have been greater but we still had a wonderful day in spite of the rain. The Winnie the Pooh exhibition at the V&A was sold out but we went to the new Ocean Liners: Speed and Style instead which was just fabulous. I’ve always had a soft spot for vintage photos and posters from the golden age of travel and there were plenty here, along with gems such as The Duke of Windsor’s Goyard trunks which straight away made me think of my friend Jan, Marlene Dietrich’s suit, socialite Emilie Grigsby’s Paul Poiret satin trousers and dresses, a Louis Vuitton vanity set, plus beautiful furniture, panelling and music by Fred Astaire and clips from classic films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to enjoy.

After lunch, we headed for Harrod’s, then Fortnum’s, then Hatchard’s where my energy flagged and I collapsed on a sofa in the art section with my bags full of exhibition merchandise, makeup and tea around me. We said our goodbyes in Burberry where Amanda was trying on a beautiful coat. It’s a shame we don’t live closer but I’m already looking forward to our next meeting in Berlin, Paris, London, New York or somewhere different.

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I dream of Dior

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It was Dior that made me book the Eurostar tickets. After persuading myself since summer that I didn’t need to see every exhibition and that I could be satisfied with the catalogue, I could no longer resist. For Dior is the stuff dreams are made of, whether you prefer designs by CD himself, YSL, Marc Bohan or any of the later designers. Even if you hate most of the stuff that comes down the runway today, there is nothing like the magic of a Dior dress to restore your faith in fashion and elegance.

The exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs is not without its drawbacks. Although I had booked tickets, it was absolute chaos just getting in and then there are the enormous crowds in the first few rooms which make it almost impossible to see anything. But you forgive them that for the lighting which makes the clothes look even more exquisite. Each room is more beautiful than the previous one until you come to the grand finale – a temple of fashion with the most magnificent dresses – jewel encrusted or plain, dreams in satin, silk, tulle or taffeta – with the shimmering light show in gold overhead and on the walls. There is nothing to do but pause and gaze open-mouthed. I shall never forget the experience and can only say merci, Monsieur Dior.

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My favourite dress in the whole exhibition.

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Gift guide for women, 2017

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So here we are, just a few weeks from Christmas. Soon the lights will be switched on and the festive tunes will be playing wherever you go. As usual, I’ve put together a guide but this year, I’ve decided to do one for women and then a separate one for men by popular request, although of course there are many gifts in both which are unisex. I’ve tried to include a range of desirable things for all budgets but I’m also not afraid to include some seriously expensive ones either because there is no better time to dream of luxury than on those cold, dark nights. My selection is also makeup heavy, reflecting my own personal obsession, but when I contacted several female friends, looking for more inspiration, they requested makeup, perfume and accessories. Your wish is my command. Enjoy! P.S. A final note – all items were in stock at the time of writing but as some are limited edition, certain links may expire.

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Chanel No 5 Fragments d’Or body oil, £70. No other fragrance quite suits Christmas like No 5. The sparkling gold makes is perfect for party season. Limited Edition so hurry!

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A saying from the 1920s stated that no respectable woman should smoke, dance the tango or wear Shalimar. I suggest you at least try the third. Deliciously spicy and comforting for winter. From £51.

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Red lipstick is my great passion as you know and I always have it on my Christmas list. Chanel lipstick is always beautiful and the stunning pillar box shades inside the red casing this year makes them the ultimate object of desire as far as I’m concerned. Limited edition of four red lipsticks, two satin, two matte. But hurry! £30 each.

I’m going to be honest and say that I don’t really wear nude lipstick very often. But I know many women love them and if I do, it’s always one by Charlotte Tilbury. This year, she has created three limited edition matte shades – two nude, one deep red. English beauty (£24) is particularly lovely. There’s also a lip masterclass kit with all three lipsticks, plus liner and gloss, packaged in a stunning box for £130.

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Beautiful quality brushes to take with you everywhere. Magical mini brush set, £45, Charlotte Tilbury

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The year’s most stunning palettes by Nars, inspired by Man Ray (the glass tears one is currently on offer at John Lewis for £27.50)

Buy NARS Man Ray Glass Tears Eyeshadow Palette, Multi Online at johnlewis.com

The Veil Cheek Palette is £29.50

Buy NARS Man Ray The Veil Cheek Palette, Multi Online at johnlewis.com

Overexposed Glow Highlighter, £23.80

Buy NARS Man Ray Overexposed Glow Highlighter, Double Take Online at johnlewis.com

A perfect kit for cat eyes on the move. Eyeko Eye Travel Wardrobe, £20

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The best nail polish around in a seasonal sparky shade (you can’t go wrong with Pop Art either if you don’t want glitter). YSL La Laque Couture Dazzling Lights Nail Polish, £19.50.

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Giving face cream as a present is a no-no because nobody wants to be reminded of ageing but a luxurious face mask or a beautiful hand cream is always welcome. At £45, the Chanel Crème Main is super expensive but I love the travel friendly, no mess packaging and formula (a cheaper alternative is the gorgeous L’Occitane Shea Butter hand cream).

Buy CHANEL LA CRÈME MAIN Smooth-Soften-Brighten Bottle Online at johnlewis.com

Sadly I’ve run out of the Sisley Black Rose mask (£84.15) and can only dream that someone will give me a tube as a present.

Buy Sisley Black Rose Cream Mask, 60ml Online at johnlewis.com

A yummy Christmas candle by my favourite brand. Diptyque Dragon: Fiery Orange from £28.

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Moomin fans are in for a treat this year with the release of the ‘True to its Origins’ set.  Tove Jansson’s illustrations from her final book, ‘Moominvalley in November’, written just after she had lost her mother, and ‘Moominpappa at Sea’ are incredibly touching and beautiful. The collection comprises a mug, bowl, plate, teapot and cookie jar which can be bought separately. From 24 euros.

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There are also new collectors’ editions of four Moomin books with the original artwork, £9.50 each, published by Profile Books and available here.

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The catalogue from one of the year’s most beautiful exhibitions to make you dream, £50

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The most luxurious vanity case ever to make you feel like a silver screen goddess, even when you travel economy. I’m unlikely ever to own one but have been dreaming of it ever since I saw this in someone’s Instagram gallery. Safari 13″ Vanity Case, £695 from Globetrotter.

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Leather gloves from Madova (from 32 euros) a very old company in Florence, to remind you of the wonderful time you spent there. Marks and Spencer also do an excellent range, starting at £17.

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A beautiful leather bag in a stunning shade of green to enjoy using for many years. £135, And other stories.

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A couple of cosy scarves

John Lewis glitter yarn scarf, £30

Buy John Lewis Glitter Yarn Scarf, Teal Online at johnlewis.com

 

Oasis Jenny chunky knit scarf, £20

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Some Art Deco inspired statement earrings, £20, Accesorize.

Or some sparkly ones for the party season. Monsoon short sparkle teardrop earrings, £8.

 

Some stunning silk pyjamas for that Carole Lombard glamour. Pure silk tie front long sleeve pyjamas, £150 Marks and Spencer (there are also some beautiful black satin ones for £35).

A personal notebook to inspire you to keep a journal. Kate Spade Initial Notebook, £16

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The best marzipan there is in a cake form. Amazon, £6.99

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A selection of Christmas teas, Fortnum and Mason, £13.95.

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And finally some of the finest shortbread biscuits to go with the tea. Traditional shortbread fingers, £5.95 from Fortnum and Mason.

The fragrance of summers past

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The scent of summer

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We met by the statue of John Betjeman, that great poet and traveller whose efforts many years ago saved St. Pancras, and who today stands with his suitcase ready to embark on another journey. It’s strange thinking back just a few years to when blogging was fairly anonymous and you would wait nervously on the station platform, not knowing what each other looked like but hopeful you would eventually find one another. Thanks to Instagram, we recognised each other at once. Amanda (who writes the wonderful blog Minutiae Review) in a pretty top with colourful patterns which reminded the woman in the Chanel boutique of a dress from their collection a few summers back, me in an orange red dress which left me worried about getting sunburned shoulders on the hottest day of the year.

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We had the whole day to spend together but knew from the beginning it would go too fast. And it did. There was a brief foray into the Great Court of the British Museum, stuffy under that glass dome, and the Egyptian galleries. We glimpsed the blue trails of the jets flying overhead on the Queen’s birthday as we stopped for lunch on Covent Garden. We pondered whether to choose Juniper Sling or Ellenisia at Penhaligon’s, astonishing the sales assistant that we could be torn between fragrances that were so completely different, before deciding upon the famous bluebell scent (Amanda) and Blenheim Bouquet (me). At the travel bookshop on Long Acre, we talked about places we have travelled to, books we love and most of all about our old city, Berlin, which has a special place in our hearts.

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I don’t often get a chance to share my passion for perfume and beauty. Few friends are interested at all but we had the best time shopping for fragrance at Chanel, Harrod’s and Liberty. Amanda introduced me to Byredo fragrances by purchasing the exclusive Cuir Obscur while I was unable to resist the lure of Chanel’s Bois des Îles, Guerlain’s Liu and Frédéric Malle’s Lipstick Rose, along with two more red lipsticks which I need like a kick in the head but never mind. The heat by the afternoon was overwhelming, especially on a short but brutal ride on the Tube to Oxford Circus which explains the lack of great photos and also why I was content to collapse into a chair in the children’s section in Liberty, surrounded by all my purchases, while Amanda scouted out a fabulous animal print washbag and sweater by Scamp and Dude. We were just too tired to even contemplate going to Selfridges afterwards and had a bite and a cool drink in the quiet corner of a nearby café, saying our goodbyes in Green Park Tube station, before heading off in different directions. At St. Pancras waiting for my train, I wished it was still morning with the whole day ahead of us and felt sad that we live so far apart but later in the taxi ride home with the colours of the sunset still on the horizon and the smell of cut grass coming in through the window, I felt glad that we had met at last and that it had been such a special day. Smelling any of the new perfumes is enough to bring it back.

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Summer things

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Big Sur, 1946, by Ansel Adams

I never long for my school days and would hate to be 17 again, but I look back with more than a touch of nostalgia at the school holidays. Six whole weeks, free from from any worries or obligations.  There were family holidays abroad in Spain, France and Switzerland, lazy days in the garden and hours of television – trashy MTV, and plenty of American shows like Saved by the Bell, My So-Called Life and Beverly Hills 90210. While summer generally doesn’t live up to expectations – British ones are generally a wash-out, Roger Federer doesn’t win Wimbledon, people ask my constantly why I’m so white and mosquitoes drain the blood from my arms and legs whenever I go abroad – I still feel excited around this time of year thinking about it. Long evenings, dinner in the garden while listening to birdsong, the chance to wear summer dresses and go out without a jacket, picnics and cool drinks. So I thought I’d put together some of my favoute summer things for inspiration. I’d love to hear what your essentials are.

Aperol Spritz

My favourite summer drink along with Bellini which reminds me of being in Venice last year, sitting on the terrace watching the sunset. Although I must admit to also enjoying a large glass of Pimm’s whenever Wimbledon is on.

The perfect summer dresses

This one, with a pattern inspired by the Royal Porcelain collection, is for me the essence of the perfect English summer and ideal for tea in the garden.

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Royal Worcester Jacquard dress, £78, Oasis

And I can’t resist polka dots

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Navy spotted ruffle sundress, £22, Dorothy Perkins

 

Red shoes to brighten up any outfit

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Lily suede flats, £198, J.Crew

 

The best facial sunscreen to wear under makeup

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Murad Luminous Shield, SPF 50, £55

A perfect orange red lipstick

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Nars Audacious Lipstick in Lana, £25

A straw shopper for that Jane Birkin feelinghmprodStraw shopper, £17.99, H&M

A cute hat for protection from the sun

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Marl Scarf Summer Hat, £17.50, Marks and Spencer

The perfect tea

This delicious blend can be served hot or cold as according to the Fortnum and Mason website, it’s also excellent for iced tea.

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Afternoon blend tea, from £5.25, Fortnum and Mason

The most delicious summer scent, as worn by Cary Grant, David Niven, Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn

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Acqua di Parma, from £66

And of course, books for summer

It goes without saying that I’ll be reading the blog written by my friend Jan over the summer.

As for books, this year, I’ve got my eye on The Riviera Set about all the glamourous people who spent time at the Château de l’Horizon near Cannes, from Coco Chanel to Rita Hayworth. There’s also Dolce Vita Confidential about 1950s Rome and I’m dying to read The Unfinished Palazzo which tells the story of the three women who lived in the Palazzo Venier in Venice – Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim.

Or if you prefer fiction, can I recommend something by Patricia Highsmith or Ross Macdonald (I love gripping books in summer), some John Cheever short stories, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell about his eccentric childhood in Greece or The Great Gatsby which is the perfect choice at any time of year.

The scent of life

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As you know from previous posts, I have always been something of a makeup junkie, yet looking at my relatively small collection of perfume (one of my favourites from it is in the photo above), I was struck by the importance fragrances have had throughout my life. My mother, first of all. Always made up and smelling of Guerlain’s Mitsouko for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, my father would go on business trips and golfing holidays, calling us every day before finally returning, usually late at night, with a toy or a CD for me, a bottle of Mitsouko for my mother and so many stories to tell. I can never smell it without recalling the anticipation of our reunions. Some are still in her wardrobe from that time, unopened in pristine boxes. Perhaps they never will be.

On family holidays, we generally took the ferry to France or Spain and to kill time, my mother and I would wander on deck until we were thoroughly windswept and chilled to bone by the cold sea air and then make our way to the duty free shop to test out all the fragrances. My mother never really deviated from her signature scent but I recall one year she bought Guerlain’s Champs Élysées and Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps, perhaps for the rather glamourous bottles as much as the lovely scents. My father was never one for fragrance, except for a bottle of Old Spice he picked up somewhere. As a teenager I found it impossibly strong, blending as it did with the extra strong peppermints he constantly consumed but I have a special fondness for it now, particularly compared to the rather dull range of aftershaves on offer.

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Then there was my paternal grandmother. Despite having a fondness for Gordon’s gin and smoking all her life which helped her reach the age of 101, she never smelled of cigarettes, only of Max Factor Cream Puff which was kept in her brown leather handbag along with a frosted lipstick, and Yardley’s lavender. As absurd as it sounds, neither of these products really suit me, yet I couldn’t imagine being without them in my home simply because their scent can make me feel close to her again just by opening them.

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Strangely, I cannot be sure of my own first perfume. Perhaps it was Revlon Charlie Red or Blue, spritzed with my teenage friends as we wandered through department stores on a Saturday afternoon. Or maybe Clinique Aromatics Elixir which I seemed to get all the time in a bonus time free gift but which I felt too intimidated to wear to high school. In any case, my first proper fragrance purchase was Cerruti 1881, bought after identifying it as the one worn by Louisa, my neighbour in the German class. She wore skin tight trousers, low-cut tops, rather orange foundation and had long, flowing hair and a boyfriend named Ben who drove a sports car. By copying her scent, I felt sure I could transform myself from an extremely shy and gawky teenager with awful dress sense and spots into something elegant and cool. It didn’t work and smelling it today, I find it too floral and soapy but somehow the sight of the round pink bottle on display still makes me smile, even if it is often marked down to half price.

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The most comic experience related to scent occurred in Berlin several years ago when a former work colleague, let’s just call him J., asked if he could stay with me. At the time I was sharing a flat with a very loud Brazilian woman and her son in Charlottenburg and only had the one room. But I couldn’t refuse and offered him either a small sofa (he was about 6ft.) or the floor. Unfortunately, what I had not taken account of was the fact that he smelled quite strongly of sweat and to disguise this, sprayed copious amounts of YSL Jazz constantly so that in just a few hours, my room, hair, clothes and in fact, the whole apartment reeked of it too. I would probably not mention it, were it not for the fact that he then preceded to flood the bathroom without noticing afterwards and complained loudly about how uncomfortable everything was. The final straw came when he deleted files on my computer without my permission in order to speed it up, then tried to seduce me in the middle of the night and I decided to throw him out. So he departed angrily, leaving just the lasting traces of his personal scent, but not before stealing a couple of my Thomas Bernhard novels in exchange for a Henry James, his favourite writer. “What happened to your Prince Charming?” my flatmate’s boyfriend asked. “He turned into a frog”, I replied. If you are reading this and have a fondness for YSL Jazz, I won’t hold it against you, although I hope the man of my dreams wears something else.

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