Thursday 2 February 2017


You often read about the power that fragrance has for transporting us back into the past. Those forgotten perfumes, that selection of banned ingredients, these are all ways of "experiencing" the scents that would have been worn in previous decades. However, bottling a true snapshot of real life is a little more difficult. There are so many things to consider and, ultimately, it will be an interpretation based on facts and memory rather than a real "fragrance photograph". So, you can imagine how excited I was when I got to experience a real journey back in time to 1960, and even the mess that it caused was worth it.

The idea of capturing a moment in time is something that has been attempted in many ways. Artists hold on to a moment by freezing it within a painting whilst many perfumers have tried to create the scent of a period or time. The problem with both of these is that when glanced or smelled many years down the line we wonder if any artistic license has been used. Sarah McCartney of 4160Tueadays created a range of fragrances based on the cities of Paris, New York, Rome and London. She placed each between the years of 1948 to 1969 and used ingredients that would have been popular along with fragrance styles that summed up the feel of each. They are truly excellent fragrances, but ultimately an interpretation.

So, where is this all leading? Well it's not a bottle or a canvas, it's something slightly more unusual. The house that I bought in 2015 was originally built in 1891, and so it came with a long history. Modifications and boundary changes had luckily not altered the structure of the house but one of the upstairs fireplaces had been blocked up. I’ve always wanted to have an open fire in an upstairs bedroom and so a few weeks ago work began to open it up. Out came a built in wardrobe, off came 1950s plaster and, after almost sixty years, the brick fireplace was once again revealed. The opening had been bricked up and it was as these were removed that the room was filled with an extraordinary scent.

The air inside the chimney had been trapped for sixty years and I hadn’t really thought about how it would smell. The initial burst of smokey soot was inevitable, the scent of the last fire that had been lit in the fireplace, and an aged coal aroma was incredible. However, I wasn’t expecting what came next. To everyone’s surprise it was followed by a gentle violet that suddenly got stronger. I checked the rubble and there was no broken perfume bottle, unfortunately, and so all I can think is that this was the scent of the room before the chimney was closed at the top and the bottom. It really felt like stepping back in time.

Over the course of the last week I’ve burnt candles, sprayed room fragrance, opened the windows, but that smell of violet just won’t go. I’m not worried because violet is one of my favourite scents but, along with a few other “unexplained” things that have happened since the fireplace was opened, maybe I’ve gained more than just a new chimney.

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