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Bombay Duck London

Yardley Lily of the Valley

The Scent Critic has recently been too frantic to stop and smell the roses.  (Hence the lack of postings.)  To be honest, I was beginning to get worried.  On a crazy-busy book tour, criss-crossing the UK, I did take with me a selection of fragrances in my suitcase, in the hope of writing about them.  Yet here’s the weirdest thing:  although I could to all intents and purposes smell them, they failed to unlock any emotions or memories.  Between my slightly retroussé nose and my brain, there was a total disconnect.

It was perfumer extraordinaire Francis Kurkdjian who set my mind at rest, over breakfast a couple of days ago.  No, I shouldn’t fret.  Yes, it was perfectly natural.  ‘When you’re tired or stressed,’ (I was both), ‘the messages don’t get through to the brain,’ explained Francis, who’s experienced this phenomenon himself.  (Since he makes his entire living via tapping into this sense, that could be pretty serious.)  In order to focus on notes and compositions himself, it turns out, Francis works in almost total darkness, without music.  ‘Only then does a perfume start to fall into place, for me…’

So:  when we encourage people to stop and smell the roses, that’s exactly what we mean.  In order to smell the roses, we really do have to S-T-O-P.  Only in this case it was lily of the valley that I tuned into, when I finally paused to take breath.   Now, it would be wrong to dismiss this as ‘the poor man’s Diorissimo’, because this inexpensive scent – from the recently revamped and relaunched Yardley – has its own quiet charms.  And while I can’t imagine swathing myself in this on a blustery autumn day, it is apt for this ‘green shoots’ season of new hope, as the garden outside romps away and the trees are doing a rapid reverse-burlesque, putting on lime green Agent Provocateur undies all over the place.

This is definitely green, fresh, almost mown-grassy at times, and with the softly narcotic sweetness that is lily of the valley.  There’s the merest breath of jasmine, and it drifts hyacinth-wards at times, in headiness – but the overall impression is subtle freshness.  Yardley’s creation has none of Diorissimo’s swagger:  this is understated.  The shy girl at the back of the class who’s too scared to put her hand up when she knows the capital of Peru, rather than The Girl Most Likely To… Star on the West End Stage, in the school yearbook.

Funny thing, lily of the valley, you know.  I’ve seen the desire for it transform a burly chap into a pensioner-elbowing brute, as he storms the flower stall at the local Women’s Institute Market, to get his hands on a posy of these most dainty of white flowers.  Though in reality, they’re not dainty at all:  thuggish, in the garden, imitating the aforementioned portly individual as they make a takeover bid for the flower bed.  (I don’t think you can get enough of them, personally, and am pleased to let my lilies of the valley have their nodding head and romp away.)

Ah, back to Yardley’s.  After a while, on my skin, this goes slightly metallic.  Cool.  Almost icy, at moments.  If I licked an aluminium saucepan, I’m pretty sure it would taste like this smells.  I get nickel watchstraps.  Buckles.  But that’s not to say it’s totally unpleasant, at this point.  It’s shady, glade-y.  (Though not Glade-y as in those ghastly loo fresheners, NB.)  It also has a sort of ‘treasured doll’ phase:  when you reach into a suitcase, find your Baby Annabelle or your Shirley Temple doll (in my case), breathe deep, and have a comforting, nostalgic but nevertheless somewhat plasticky encounter.  Eventually, some woodiness sneaks in, and lingers for quite a while.

Do I like it, overall?  Well, I guess so.  Will I be wearing it again…?  Hmmm, maybe not, since my dressing table right now is a bit like one of those push-penny games in an amusement arcade:  if I add one more, a bottle of Shalimar, Rive Gauche or Aqua Universalis is in danger of dropping off the back and smashing.

But I’m grateful to this gentle little fragrance, for helping to restore that vital nose-brain link for me, after too long a hiatus.  I sincerely hope I will never again be so busy that I can’t smell the roses – not to mention the lily of the valley, the honeysuckle, the incense, the ambergris and 1,001 other scented delights.  Without a fully functioning, memory-conjuring, emotion-triggering nose, life’s pleasure quotient was seriously diminished for a while there.

Quite a scary lesson, that.

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