It’s a while since those of us in Beautyland got to preview Jo Malone’s Tea Collection, and I had forgotten my absolute instinctive reaction to Sweet Lemon – the fourth I’ll be reviewing, out of this quintet. It is my grandmother, in a bottle. Not my warm-and-cosy, capaciously-bosomed, rock-cake-baking granny (it’s the smell of geranium leaf that brings her back faster than you can say H.G. Wells’s Time Machine).
Instead, this is my rather cooler, primmer, slide-a-coaster-towards-your-sherry-glass grandmother, who lived in America. And who smelled exactly like this. As did her house. (Especially the large basement laundry room, to which we could slide from the bathroom above via a chute, when she wasn’t within earshot.) I’m going to have to spray this on my brothers (it’s unisex enough to do that), but I’d put money on them having the same bittersweet (literally) Proustian moment.
It’s 13 years since my grandmother died but this brings up all sorts of stuff. This is very, very cool and – well, sweetly and tartly fruity at the same time. (Lemon tart. Key Lime pie. Marks & Spencer pineapple chunks, one of my all-time favourite train snacks.) In fact, I get much, much more of the tangy pineapple and rhubarb notes than the lemon itself (and I don’t encounter the promised bergamot at all). Altogether, it’s really green and appropriately spring-like: as bright as the ‘spring green’ leaves boldly through the earth right now. And it is, like most of this Tea Collection, super-clean. (Indeed, at times, just a tad furniture polish-y.)
Actually, that just about sums my grandmother up. Ultra-neat. Mega-tidy. Looking back, she was probably a bit OCD, if truth be known, and not the warmest of grandmothers. No hugs. No kisses, save the driest peck on the cheek. No rock cakes, that’s for sure. (And she kept the butter in the fridge. To this day, in my family, rock hard butter is still ‘Grandma’s butter’.) And I absolutely wish I could put my finger on what precisely it is about this tangy scent that conjures up Ethel Maude Fairley (née Griggs), but I’m grappling like a hand in a bran tub from which most of the prizes have been plucked. Suffice to say: I won’t be surprised if I dream of her, tonight.
And what’s all this got to do with perfume…? Everything. Because of the bullet train that goes straight from our noses to our memories. Above all what it reminds me is that even though I didn’t see her very often – America was a lot further away in those days: five days on the S.S. France, or a day and a night on a Comet, in the early days of my grandparents’ emigration – I always knew that she worshipped me from afar, and loved us, even if she was better equipped to express that through gifts than cuddles. (I have the early Barbie collection to prove this.)
After a while, my grandmother ‘disappears’ when I’m wearing Sweet Lemon, though. It develops a floral softness, after an hour or two: a briefly, vaguely freesia-esque sweetness, before winding down to a calmly woody finale. The cedar that’s a signature in the previous three Tea Collection scents I’ve been wearing. Plus a touch of musk. All-told, Sweet Lemon doesn’t hang around for long: very much a cologne, for re-spraying. (Crikey! Here comes Grandma again! Sit up straight and swallow your gum!)
Meanwhile: The Scent Critic (whose favourite meal, as well as her favourite meal, is tea) has had particular fun photographing this series of fragrances. And for today, what else could I choose than my grandmother’s napkin – which travelled in her suitcase from Damascus to New York – and one of her Chinese-inspired dainty teacups? She kept them for best. I don’t believe in that. I believe that we only live once, and ‘treasures’ – fragile tea services, silver cutlery, delicate linens (and especially precious fragrances) – should be used and enjoyed every day of our lives.
Your grandma may not be around to wrap her arms around you. But happily, a favourite fragrance can do that, anytime.