Carola Long: The most interesting fragrances are those that also offer a conduit to years of social history'

Sunday 23 October 2011 06:34

Much is made of perfume's Proustian properties; its ability to teleport the wearer back into their memories. However, the most interesting fragrances don't just offer a conduit to our own personal past – to hosing ourselves down with Body Shop White Musk, for example – but to years of social history.

The perfumer, Roja Dove, is your man when it comes to appreciating the evolution of scent, and he's put his considerable knowledge into two new olfactory projects. He's curated The Perfume Diaries, an exhibition at Harrods of the most epoch-defining scents to have emerged since the 1800s (on until 2 October) and he's created the fragrance Diaghilev for the V&A (£75, from the V&A and Harrods) to coincide with the museum's upcoming exhibition about the legendary founder of the Ballet Russes.

Diaghilev takes its inspiration from the 'chypre' fragrances pioneered between 1909-1929 which offered something fresh after the heavy, powdery perfumes of the Belle Epoque era. Against a background of some women getting the vote in 1918, Dove explains that chypres "took what had been considered masculine materials such as vetiver, oak moss and cedarwood and redefined femininity for women who didn't want to smell flowery any more".

However, Dove is adamant that Diaghilev isn't a retro scent, but a contemporary take on the chypre. After all, as a pioneer of art deco and modernism, Diaghilev was "about looking forward not back". Unlike the dark chypres of the era, it's a warm and sensual fragrance which leads you through a rush of citrus, bergamot, lemon and mandarin, a heart of Rose de Mai from Grasse, a "main story" of peach and touches of ambergris, vanilla and Orris. If you want a more creative way to enjoy it, take inspiration from Diaghilev himself, who would always perfume the drapes of his room when travelling. Dabbing it on your wrists seems so bourgeois.

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