Mary Linehan makes ‘scents’ of summer fragrance, and talks to perfumer Lyn Harris
When the warmer weather comes (when? when?…), fragrance as well as fashion generally comes in for something of a seasonal review. Lighter, clean notes are refreshing, less heady and altogether more alluring and wearable when the heat is on. At this time of year, citruses and light florals associated with warmer climes tend to lead us by the nose. But these are just the top notes; every great scent, summery or otherwise, needs a heart and a base to give it a complexity and character and the all important affinity with our skin. It’s what makes a classic.
When Miss Dior made its debute in 1947, it was acclaimed as a ‘New Look’ in fragrance – a chypre: that is to say, a blend of citrus and florals with woody, earthier notes. It was created at a time when the norm was for powdery ultra-feminine boudoir style scents. One of a stable of chypres, it took the fashion world by storm.
Still a summer staple for women the world over, today’s reformulated version has a more developed citrus top note introduction of blood orange and neroli, heart notes of Turkish rose and gardenia with patchouli keynote at the base. Miss Dior remains modern, despite its age, and manages to retain a classic elegance making it perfect for a summer evening – as illustrated by sultry actress Natalie Portman who is the face of its advertising campaigns. Wear this, and you too… (fill in the blank…)
For summery chypre lovers, another beautiful timeless creation is Cristalle by Chanel. Launched at around the same time, Cristalle is a joyful burst of citrus and hyacinth top notes. Floral heart notes of jasmine and lily of the valley are perked up with the sparkling fruitiness of peach and tangerine and it dries down to a clean, fresh mossy and woody base of oak and sandal.
Aside from the citruses and chypres, other summer staples are those that have a natural affinity for the season purely through their floral bouquets. Antonia’s Flowers is an iconic example of one such. Created in 1984 by hip New York florist Antonia Bellanca, it uses ‘living flower’ technology to capture a wonderfully seductive freesia top note, with a mix of jasmine, magnolia and fresh cut lilies. Light, sweetly floral, again it’s totally wearable and very, very feminine.
For something über-trendy, offering simple, seasonal modernity, look to Le Labo, a Franco-American company with an edgy design sensibility from New York and its heart notes and soul in the South of France. Its beautiful Fleur d’Oranger 27 is a fresh, clean and warmly uplifting blend of orange blossom, bergamot, lemon cedret and petit grain. Light yet sensual, undeniably hip, it’s perfect for a summer’s day or balmy evening.
Lyn Harris, of British perfume house Miller Harris, one of the most important influencers in today’s fragrance industry, has her own distinctive take on what to wear, when and how to wear it. For Lyn, it’s not actually a question of switching your scent according to the seasons. As she explains, exclusively to Optima, her fragrance philosophy is to be “completely free and unbound by definitions. Wear a summer fragrance in the winter for a burst of sunshine. Or wear a rich oriental in the summer if the mood takes you. Having said that, a citrus fragrance lasts longer in warmer climates and can really uplift and refresh.”
One of Miller’s new offerings, Fleurs de Sel, is a note-perfect illustration of mood and the emotional connection of fragrance – and a lesson in individuality and daring to be different. “Summer is all about holidays,” Lyn continues, “and there is nothing like smell to evoke a memory of your favourite holiday. As a child, I used to visit a small village in Brittany called Batz sur Mer, where my family had a holiday home. I spent some of my happiest times here, visiting the Côte Sauvage and the famous salt fields, which are the inspiration behind the fragrance Fleurs de Sel.”
The language Lyn uses to describe the scent is rich and exotic: “Earthy top notes of red thyme oil, rosemary and clary sage are bound with wild flowers of iris nobilis, narcisse flowers, rose and a hint of ambrette seed (which gives the salty note), finally blending them on a base of woods, vetiver grass and moss with a note of leather. It is a deeply sensual and earthy fragrance that to me, will forever symbolise the summer of 2006 in Batz sur Mer, where I created and finalised the formula.”
Scent is, of course, a very personal thing. According to Lyn, “Ultimately, fragrance is as expressive as the clothes you wear – if not more so – and is utterly revealing of our personality and mood. Use it like you would one of your favourite accessories and match it to the occasion, be it to dazzle, to comfort, to boost confidence or to make a little statement about yourself. A well chosen fragrance can convey so much more about yourself than you could even imagine.“
Fleurs de Sel is indeed earthy, wild and very green, just as Lyn describes. There is a sort of raw, complex and masculine raspiness to the notes; perhaps it’s the savage coast that inspired it. But it is beautiful and hypnotic and has a drama that draws you to it – and it’s totally different from anything I’ve worn before.
Certainly, this is a lesson that shows how limited our knowledge generally is when it comes to perfume, how creative and exciting it is, and just how much there is still to discover about scent: not just for summer, and not just for women. On a closing note, a classic chypre for the boys…
Created in 1966, Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior (£44 for 50ml) is almost a fragrance rite of passage. Fresh, stylish, and warm… top notes of lemon and rosemary… petit grain and basil at the heart, and base notes of vetiver. and oak moss are elegant yet discreet – a perfect partner for Miss Dior and a summer classic for him.
Dior & Chanel: counters nationwide
Antonia’s Flowers: Fenwick,
New Bond Street, London W1A;
Le Labo: 37 Devonshire Street, London W1G;
Miller Harris: 21 Bruton Street, London W1J.