Magazine article The Spectator

Scents and Sensibility

Magazine article The Spectator

Scents and Sensibility

Article excerpt

I once knew an exotic and terrifying old lady who had been reared on the back of Indian elephants and who on opening her mouth to speak breathed out a heavenly cloud of something unforgettably alluring. How did she do it? Had she declined a stiff martini and instead swallowed an entire bottle of Patou's Joy? I never discovered her secret but her legacy to me has been an insatiable fascination with smell.

Smells are big these days and burning candles have recently become such trendy house gifts that they have even acquired their own verb. I know people who 'fragrance' their houses with enough flickering table and wall illuminations to resemble the cathedral at Chartres en pleine messe.

Nowadays, with everyone on a low-carb diet, house gift ideas present a real challenge for the guest. A bottle of the finest olive oil or the full yard of pricey peppermints is considered an affront to healthy eating, while ubiquitous membership of AA categorically precludes the fine wine option. My father once confided to Dear Mary that his favourite present was a full gross sheet of first-class stamps. But unless your host is a pen and paper person, the candle alternative is often a wise choice.

Happily, home smell options have suddenly become delectably, headily classy, and the merest whiff of Diptyque's Figue or Jo Malone's Pomegranate Noir can lift the seductiveness of a room as effectively as the sight of a glorious bunch of flowers or the taste of a chilled magnum of vintage champagne.

The Krug/Bendicks of the candle world is undoubtedly the Rigaud, the oldest smelly candle on the market. Even the striped black and white box and the silver-topped glass jar, once so beloved by Jackie Onassis, drip elegance and style. The popularity of its classic Cypres is now threatened by Rigaud's own delectable yellow Tournesol (sunflower) which evokes a Grace Kelly-type, south-of-France exhilaration, belching high summer and containing almost double the usual intensity of most perfumed candles.

A wonderful alternative, the Lampe Berger involves a nostalgic Bunsen burner-type contraption and a lovely chunky glass container that when filled with any one of a hundred choices, including a heavenly jasmine, gives a tantalisingly tantric slow-release scent that lasts for hours.

For those alarmed by a naked flame, Branche d'Olive from Provence has created a ravishingly pretty bottle containing a mouthwateringly strong orangey liquid into which you immerse little wooden sticks before removing them and allowing the citrus scent to diffuse throughout the room. …

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