Mary Greenwell, how do I love thee…? Let The Scent Critic count the ways. First, Mary is one of the most gifted make-up artists ever to whisk her brushes over a famous face (including, as many know, countless supermodels and the late Princess of Wales…) Secondly, she is an inspiring, charming bundle of energy: a whirlwind of tips, ideas and anecdotes. And thirdly – relevant here – she has now created two fragrances of some considerable note.
Plum, Mary’s debut scent, is in The Scent Critic’s opinion one of the most dazzling fragrances of the last decade. (You can read my review, here.) But Lemon, while less opulent, is no less lovely. Quite some time ago, garnering second opinions, Mary gave me a teensy sample bottle of Lemon. When it squirted its last, it was all I could do not to take a hammer to the bottle, to get the weensiest last drop.
In its whacking great final flacon (as lethal a weapon as Mary’s first fragrance), Lemon does not disappoint. I get Limoncello. Sherbet lemons. A bowl of lemons on the kitchen table. In the wrong hands, lemon can go – well, pear-shaped, rapidly headling downhill in the direction of loo cleaner or furniture polish. Not here. It’s like zesting lemons into a spring risotto, or (something I can only fantasise about on yet another bloody freezing British Sunday), plucking a sun-warmed lemon from a Sicilian tree.
It literally couldn’t be called anything but lemon. The opening burst is citrus-a-go-go: not just the eponymous fruit, but a head-rush of other citrus – bitter orange (quite a fragrance note du jour), Calabrian bergamot, lime – and a squeeze of mandarin.
But underneath the shimmering, peel-powered surface pulses a green and sophisticated heart. I get a surprising whisper of Floris Rose Geranium soap (not a clue why), and then the floral note tiptoe in – spring flowers like hyacinths and narcissi, which really ought to be blooming outside right now, yet there’s nary a daff daring enough to blow his yellow trumpet, even on the south coast.
Like Plum (which is also a chypre), it was created by fourth-generation ‘nose’ François Robert – some coup, and definitely elevating this above the potentially disparaging label ‘make-up artist’s fragrance’. (Mary’s raison d’etre for creating perfume, rather than the more obvious range of lipsticks or foundations is that for her, scent was always the finishing touch, applied to photo-ready supermodels before she sent them in front of the camera, to get them in the perfect sexy, feminine mood for their close-up.)
And like Plum, it lasts almost forever on the skin. Days. Literally days. Not the top notes, of course, or even the green floral heart, but the woody, aromatic dry-down. Emphasis on the dry. It’s a Mediterranean backstreet, at the end of a baking hot day, with grey-leaved plants tumbling over rock walls. It’s strips of high-wattage sunshine, filtered through the slats of a shutter while you take a siesta. It’s a little bit Santa Fe cedar and pinõn, to me, too. (Reminds me, actually, of a fabulous shop in New York’s Soho, called Zona, where I bet Mary used to sink a lot of cash, too.) I definitely get the signature chypre oakmoss and patchouli, but fundamentally, it’s hot-hot-hot holidays, in a bottle.
The challenge of an independent perfume house, though, as Mary’s is, is a classic one: without massive advertising or PR budgets, retailers don’t always take niche fragrances seriously. House of Fraser had the exclusive on Plum, at its debut, and strikes me they didn’t have a clue what a gem they had on their hands. The best place to get yours on Lemon, right now, is probably Mary’s own website, www.marygreenwell.com, where (oh, why doesn’t everyone do this?) you can buy a very affordable sample.
Personally, I feel that perfume-lovers should be shouting from the (terracotta-tiled) rooftops about Lemon, to get it on the fragrance map. Lemon should be showcased in fine perfumeries, around the world, a worthy shelf-mate for the countless designer fragrances out there. So that these two fragrances – Lemon and its sibling Plum – become the first in a long, long Mary Greenwell line.
Lemon? It’s my new perfume squeeze…