Monday 27 February 2017


The words “fragrance historian” are used very freely in today’s perfume industry, but one man who truly does deserve that title is James Craven. Based at Les Senteurs in London, his knowledge is extraordinary and his stories are always entertaining. So, after spending his life talking about other people’s fragrances, what would he reveal about his own memories during “Stephan’s Six”?

What is the first smell that you can remember?
The sour musty pungency of the white mice in their blue cage on the kitchen dresser and the coconut-scented gorse on the Suffolk heaths. "When gorse is out of flower then kissing's out of fashion". The back lawn being cut, scrambled eggs and runner beans, and the blue smoke of my grandmother’s Players wreathing in the sunlight and blending with the scent of her face powder. Also a huge carpet of lily of the valley under the windows at Kindergarten.

What was the first perfume you remember your mum or dad wearing?
Pa never wore scent at all until well into his sixties when he went mad for Maître Parfumeur et Gantier’s Grain de Plaisir. I discovered this for him at Les Senteurs and he was crazy for the sweet sexy spiciness, spraying it vigorously and very liberally all over his head. My mother, when I was young, loved Youth Dew, Diorissimo and, back in the 1940s, Rubinstein’s Apple Blossom. I think it was my father’s sister who made the most impact with perfume. Her skin always took scent wonderfully and when I was small she was always radiating a warm cloud of gorgeous Ma Griffe from a tiny cashmere sweater. She smoked continuously and this enhanced the stupendous effect of her perfume. Somehow, magically, there was never a whiff of cigarette about her - just a unique amalgam of heavenly fragrance.

What was the perfume of your twenties?
I was all over the place. Coty’s Rose and Muguet des Bois, White Lilac Oil from the Body Shop, anything with patchouli in it, Mme Rochas and even a bottle of Grey Flannel. Keen, I was, and eclectic, but also a loose cannon.

What was your biggest perfume mistake?
Sadly overdoing Chanel’s Coco, parfum strength, before going to an early evening showing of Daniel Day Lewis in “The Last Of The Mohicans”. Much “comment”, chokings and sighing behind me in the Stalls.

You can only choose one perfume?
Ah! This is the unanswerable one. So many old favourites have now gone or been adulterated and changed forever. Nowadays my tastes change so quickly. Right now I'm dotty about Mizensir's Musc Eternel, but if you could find me a bottle of Lancôme’s Climat, as it was in 1988, I’d go crazy. Also, I adore the Les Eaux Primordiales range here at Les Senteurs. They are gloriously imaginative scents by the gifted Arnaud Poulain that reference the past and predict the future.

What perfume should I try?
Pozzo di Borgo is a fascinating line that celebrates an ancient aristocratic Corsican family. Each fragrance is inspired by a family member and sketched around his or her character and birthday. 23 January 1984 is maybe the most intriguing - an intriguing gauzy blend of musc, fig and iris: sensual yet ethereal. In addition, I would advise everyone to try those perfumes they have heard people constantly and ignorantly disparage. Don’t follow the crowd, don't be snobbish about scent, and don’t knock it till you've tried it.

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