Powers not to
Talks to perfumer Sarah McCartney about the effect scents have on us
STANDING in Holland Park’s Daunt Book shop, I was catapulted back to my school days as a lady walked past wearing the same perfume as my favourite English teacher.
Suddenly I am back behind my desk being told by Mrs Hall that my hand writing is completely illegible and that all my work has to be written out again.
The perfume, mixed with the smell of antique wood in the beautiful old book shop in west London, had evoked a memory so vivid I was instantly transported back in time.
Perfumer Sarah McCartney, in her 1960s inspired perfumery in Acton, tells me that as the olfactory bulb (your sense of smell) is part of the brain’s limbic system – an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it’s sometimes called the ‘emotional brain’ – smell can recall memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.
It is this phenomenon that the self-taught creator of the ‘British indie’ brand of perfume, 4160 Tuesdays, has harnessed in her wonderfully unique and now globally recognised perfume.
As an example, the perfume I take away (as I could not stop myself sticking it up my nose), is called The Dark Heart of Old Havana.
Sarah said: “It’s the smell of a walk through Old Havana in the evening, from the Hotel Sevilla to the Caseon del Tango, for a dance lesson with Ketty and Felix.
“Wafts of coffee and tobacco, sweet sugary desserts cooked with baskets of oranges and mangoes. The scent of peaches beginning to turn overripe, and citrus peel going squishy in the gutter.
“From a dark doorway a handsome man in white whispers, ‘Do you want a Cuban boyfriend?’ You speed up a little, squeaking, ‘No. Thank you very much for asking!’
“And then the old Cubanos at the tango club greet you with smiles, songs, rum and kisses.”
I’m left thinking, Yes! I do want a Cuban boyfriend! Right before I register the rainy Acton street outside. The perfume will have to do for now.
With top notes of orange, peach, grapefruit and sugar, something Sarah calls ‘heart notes’ of tobacco, bergamot, tonka and jasmine, underpinned by the base notes of vanilla, musk and black pepper, this perfume is clearly not just a perfume. It is a story. It has a life and a very real power to transport you to another time and another place.
Sarah is not so much a perfumer but more of a white witch, mixing potions interwoven with spells and incantations that really place her in a league of her own.