Monday 2 October 2023


A picture of composer Alexandra Harwood

There can’t be many television programmes that have been as well-received in recent years as Channel 5’s reboot of All Creatures Great And Small, and a lot of its success lies with the composer of its evocative music. Alexandra Harwood studied at the Royal College of Music and The Juilliard School, and her list of award-winning credits embrace television, film and theatre. With her musical creations mirroring the notes and chords of perfumery, I wanted to hear what scented memories she would reveal during her “Stephan’s Six”.

What is the first smell that you can remember?
The real honest answer is, “can I really remember my first actual memory of smell?” I’m not entirely sure I can, but I definitely have an early memory of the smell of my parents' cigarettes, which I absolutely detested! They smoked Gitanes, which were so acidic, and because everybody smoked inside in those days, our house reeked of them. My brother and sister both ended up smoking, but I’m the only one in the family who didn’t. So, the smell of Gitanes cigarettes has to be the answer.

An original advert for Paco Rabanne Pour Homme
What perfumes did your parents wear?
My mum wore Opium by Yves Saint Laurent and, because she mostly only wore perfume when she went out with my father, it had a real feeling of sophistication to me. My mum was incredibly elegant, and so when she would put on one of her beautiful dresses she’d also have this wonderfully warm and rich smell. I definitely think that Opium was very much THE scent of the seventies. My dad wore Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, which seemed just as lovely, warm, and sophisticated. Now I’m thinking about it, maybe I just think of both of those fragrances as sophisticated because mum and dad would wear them when they got "dressed up" and went out? Perfume was definitely only put on for special occasions when I was a child, but the smell of the house on a daily basis was Roger & Gallet or Imperial Leather soap. That’s what dad washed with, so it's very much the smell of my him in my head.

What was the perfume of your twenties?
There are two, but they’re actually earlier than my twenties. I started with Victorian Posy from Penhaligons, but then moved on to one that was much more obscure. My best friend’s brother bought a perfume for his girlfriend, and my friend and I thought it was so sophisticated and grown up. His girlfriend was French, and both of them were seven years older than us, so we looked up to them big time. The fragrance was Quartz by Molyneux. I’ll never forget that smell because, even though I don’t wear it anymore, I know it inside out. In my head I can recall it immediately, and it does remind me of spending time at my friend’s house with her brothers. So, when we wore it, I think that it probably made us feel that we were the grown-up girls.

What was your biggest perfume mistake?
There is a smell that I absolutely love, and that’s the one that Abercrombie & Fitch spray their store with. It’s called Fierce. Now, I love Abercrombie & Fitch and, because I used to live in New York for ten years, every time I smell it in the shop I remember those wonderful times. So, a couple of years ago I thought I’d buy a bottle of Fierce. However, by the time I got home I hated the smell of it on me so much. I never wore it again, but it taught me a very important lesson; fragrance smells so different when it’s actually on your skin. So that was my one and only mistake. I got swayed by the lovely ambiance of the shop and the lovely clothes, but the smell is definitely something that I’ll stick to just enjoying in the air.

An advert for the perfume Quartz by Molyneux
You can only choose one perfume?
Well, I have to answer this as the person I am now and what I like today, because I wouldn’t go back to Molyneux, and nor would I choose mum or dad’s smells, even though I loved them. For me, for the last five or so years, I’ve been wearing the original Chloe. I like it because it’s quite fresh, it’s not too heavy, and it doesn’t stay on the skin for too long. I only wear perfume when I go out, and even then not very much, but I like Chloe because it doesn’t feel like it gets in the way. People always comment that it’s a lovely smell so, right now, that’s what I would choose.

What perfume should I try?
This is hard to answer, and my choice might be a bit of a surprise, but I would recommend Tom Ford For Men. It’s the one that my partner wears, and I love it on him, so I’ve got personal associations with it. I wouldn’t normally have been able to answer a question like this, so if it wasn’t for him then I would have been completely stuck. However, if you don’t know any of those classic smells that I mentioned, like Quartz or Paco Rabanne, then go and smell them because they’re also beautiful. But I don’t know whether people would wear those smells anymore? It’s really hard to recommend fragrances, but if we were talking about body products then it would be Hawaiian Tropic all the way.

For more information about Alexandra Harwood you can visit her website at, and the new series of All Creatures Great And Small begins on Thursday 5th October at 9pm on Channel 5.

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