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Bombay Duck London

The 12 Scents of Christmas No. 7: Hermes 24 Faubourg

I suspect that if you blindfolded 1,000 people, wafted a 24, Faubourg-drenched spill under their noses and asked them to tell you where this honeyed floral fusion hailed from, they’d chorus:  ‘Paris’.  This 1995 classic, to me, has always seemed one of the quintessential French perfumes:  a sophisticated, heel-clicking, smart-suited grande dame of a fragrance, from one of the world’s legendary luxury houses.  (And can I just say now:  at time of writing, the Scent Critic is desperately hoping that Hermès manages to cling onto its independence, with Bernard Arnault and his LVMH empire circling to gobble it up.  LVMH has Dior, and Vuitton, and Guerlain – to name but a few – and adding Hermès seems just plain greedy…)

You could classify this as mega-floral:   a giant, complex bouquet of decadent floral notes (orange blossom, ylang-ylang, powdery iris and jasmine), all tied up with a glittering gold bow.  It almost fizzes, actually.  Shy and retiring it is not.  If you want to sneak into the back of a party unseen, hang out demurely in  the equivalent of Siberia and comfort-eat the vol au vents as they emerge from the kitchen, don’t wear 24, Faubourg.

Funnily enough, 24, Faubourg has always seemed more of an 80s than a 90s scent, in my book.  Powerful.  Imperious, even.  A padded shoulder, in a bottle – at first powerful spritz, anyway.   Allegedly, it was the late Princess of Wales’s signature scent, which makes sense:  all those power suits and ballgowns and teetering Manolos would have been accessorised perfectly by 24, Faubourg.  I can imagine Diana spritzing it on – a liquid confidence boost – last thing before she headed out of the Palace door to a bullet-proof limo purring outside.  (Though in the end, bullet-proof-ness wasn’t what mattered, was it…?)

Despite its boldness, I find 24, Faubourg perfectly balanced throughout all its phases.  After a while, it becomes resinous and spicy, with an amber/ambergris softness that keeps on pumping. Unsurprisingly, there’s a leather note that sweeps in, too, as 24, Faubourg is skin-mellowed.  (Entirely appropriate for a fragrance house with its roots in saddlery.  Note:  this perfume gets its name from the address of Hermès’s flagship store, so was always destined to be a Very Important Perfume, to them.)

Now, I’d be being economical with the truth if I didn’t admit it goes the teensiest bit sour on my skin after eight hours or so – a little ‘off’, a shade musty.  But by then, the party’s well and truly over and you’re onto the Alka Seltzer, so it doesn’t impinge in the least on 24, Faubourg’s party-perfect pleasure factor.  (Besides, that’s just my own personal body chemistry:  I always used to give this to my stepmother, for Christmas, and it smelled wonderful on her as it foxtrotted smoothly from first zoosh to last whisper – or from marmalade on toast on Christmas morning right through to the final kiss on both cheeks before bedtime.)

The bottle’s inspired by an Hermès scarf:  the same shape, with a swirly pattern.  And this blog posting inspired me to riffle through my drawers to rediscover my own very 80s/early 90s precious collection of Hermès scarves, including the ‘perfume bottle’ edition photographed as a backdrop here.  As we all know, in fashion, what goes around comes around.  And it’s true in scent, too.  Extravagant florals haven’t been in favour for a while – and nor have silk scarves.  But with the opening of an Hermès scarf pop-up shop in Notting Hill recently – it’s on Ledbury Road until 23rd December, if you can catch it – it’s probably time to move my scarves from the bottom drawer and start experimenting with them again – in the funkier, joyful, almost iconoclastic way demo-ed on Hermès’s www.jaimemoncarre.com website.  (Think:  bandanas with motorcycle leathers, looped through the waistline of jeans, or origami-ed into a kind of boob tube.)  Ditto 24 Faubourg:  suddenly, a v-e-e-e-r-y French floral feels right again now, with the prospect of a whole raft of exuberant flower-fuelled scents on the spring launch horizon.

But the whole scarf reinvention thing has me thinking:  24, Faubourg probably deserves to be taken off its pedestal, extracted from the bejewelled evening bag and taken out to play.  Worn not just with a nifty little tailored evening suit and some high heels, but maybe with jeans.  Or a very, very short skirt.  Led astray a bit, to discover its naughty, sassy side.  Bounced around a bit on the Parisian cobbles by a ride on the back of a Harley-Davidson, perhaps, and given a tequila slammer or two.  (Or three or four, since in my experience there’s no such thing as one or two tequila slammers.)

That might give your typical 24, Faubourg-wearing, 1er Arrondissement madame – with her scarf knotted neatly and classically through the handle of her Kelly or her Birkin – the vapours.  But The Scent Critic says:  tant pis, if it means breathing new life into a classic.  (And besides, then her slightly wayward daughter could enjoy it, too.)

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