Being romantically inclined, I had always been drawn to the idea that one's favourite perfume should be an invisible, unconscious signature - Chanel's unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion…. that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure.
Finding a scent that perfectly describes you is no easy task: it seems to require an outrageously bold sense of self, or the kind of dog-like nature that constantly wants to mark its territory. For many years I opted out of the whole thing, and wore whatever I'd been given for Christmas: if you don't quite know who you are, how can you determine a signature scent, or a signature style? Even my signature at the bottom of letters and on cheques was a somewhat indeterminate scrawl.
Still, the idea persisted. It once took me all around Paris - to Caron, to the wonderful Guerlain boutique on the Champs-Elysee, to tiny perfumiers in dark streets off the Marais, in a Grenouille*-like hunt for the hit of recognition that would mean the scent was mine. But, although I discovered many delicious things on that trip - Jolie Madame, Shocking, Mitsouko, Narcisse Noir, Chanel No.22, Balenciaga's Le Dix - the perfect perfume eluded the imperfect me.
Many years later I've learned how to be happier with myself, and to accept my mutable nature. I'm no longer so obsesssed with there being one defining scent, and so I've ended up with a portfolio of perfumes which project different facets and moods. Mitsouko lends me a sophistication and glamour I don't always feel; I like to pretend I have it in me to be as mysterious and complex as Ormonde Woman; Diorella's bright, herby androgyny suggests a breezy efficiency that belies my default behaviour in the office. Most often, you'll find me in No.5: it reminds me of my Grandmother, whose influence on my life I didn't appreciate until long after she died. I like its rather old-fashioned elegance - bone structure over botox, if you like. Chanel No.5 may be the world's best selling perfume, but it's thankfully, it's not the world's most frequently worn, or there'd be the olfactory memory of a zillion Mrs Trefusis' wafting round the streets of London.
Ormonde Woman, Mitsouko, No.5 and Diorella became fixtures on my dressing table after a laborious process of trial and error. I can't imagine them ever losing their enchantment but they're surrounded by a dozen other bottles of scent I've tried a couple of times and given up on. I regret the waste as much as I admire the beautiful bottles, and looking at them makes me wish I'd discovered something like Linda Pilkington's Perfume Portraits at Ormonde Jayne rather sooner. The idea is incredibly well-conceived: at the Bond Street store - and at Harrods - Linda or one of her team will take you through a simple yet sybaritic fifteen minute process designed to take the guesswork and slog out of choosing a scent that's perfectly suited to you.
Perfume Portraits starts with a short questionnaire - likes, dislikes, whether you're looking for a signature scent or something for the new season and so on - before moving onto a blind test (blind sniff?) of twenty-one different ingredients from seven fragrance families. Linda notes your instinctive reactions as you work through, building up a portrait based on those you respond to, and the process ends in a choice between the two Ormonde fragrances that will suit you best. It confirmed me in my devotion to Ormonde Woman, and brought me to Frangipani, a fresh, beautiful floral that smells exactly like a Mediterranean garden at dusk.
Perfume Portraits at Ormonde JayneOrmonde Jayne - 12 The Royal Arcade 28 Old Bond Street London W1S 4SL To book your perfume portrait, telephone the Bond Street boutique on. +44 (0)20 7499 1100 or email. firstname.lastname@example.org