Brad Pitt walked right past my house the other day before turning round and knocking on the door. I’d left a window open and that was enough for him to catch a waft of the Chanel No 5 I was wearing.
Within minutes he was blathering on about leaving Angelina, running off with me and painting a picture of a celebrity life filled with parties, speedboats, luxury homes and the like. “No thanks, Brad, I’m too busy calculating my carbon footprint to go off gallivanting with you,” I replied. “And how would Mr Green cope without me?”
Have you seen Pitt’s advert for Chanel? It’s the latest in a long line of perfume advertising that aims to persuade us that dousing ourselves in any given scent will make us rich, desirable and highly adept at pouting moodily. What these concoctions smell like has nothing to do with it. From Armani Code to Calvin Klein’s Obsession, we are being touted a fantasy lifestyle in a bottle. Fair enough. Here at Green HQ, I am still on the trail of my signature scent. Eau de lentil soup and wood smoke doesn’t count.
Back in the days before anyone had heard of the ozone layer let alone begun worrying about the hole in it, my shelves groaned under the weight of perfume bottles. Dior’s Poison, Paloma Picasso and Cacharel’s Loulou were all there, each one adding to my allure. But somewhere along the line I turned into the person who winces and ducks when the ladies at perfume counters come a-spraying. Those celebrity-endorsed fumes make my eyes itch, my throat tickle and not even Brad Pitt can convince me I want to buy any of them.
Let us cast our minds back a century ago. Fragrances were all natural (some, admittedly, extracted from animal body parts) and designed to mask the odour that came from living in a world without hot showers. Fast forward to the 1930s and Coco Chanel launches perfume as we know it today, drawing on synthetic ingredients that can be mass produced. Not all synthetics are bad and they certainly can’t be accused of plundering endangered plant species for essential oils, but certain ingredients such as phthalates, aldehydes and synthetic musk have long been linked to potential health problems and allergies. A study by the US National Academy of Sciences found that up to 95 per cent of chemicals used in perfumes are petroleum-derived synthetic compounds. These chemicals don’t all have to be listed and ‘parfum’ covers a multitude of sins.
Is there another way? Yes. I can report that Lush, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Aveda and L’Occitane are all worthy of your nose’s attention, thanks to their commitment to natural ingredients plus the odd safe synthetic. Aveda’s Pure-fume range is all natural and 90 per cent of the essential oils used are certified organic, while L’Occitane has more information than any other company I came across about the provenance of its ingredients.
There are also a number of dedicated natural fragrance producers online, although mail order isn’t the ideal way to buy fragrance unless you’ve already tried the scent. Organic Glam (www.organicpharmacy.com) covers the luxury end of the market, while Rich Hippie (www.rich-hippie.com) and Florascent (www.pravera.co.uk) offer lots of intriguing perfumes. If you’re feeling creative, Balm Balm’s Single Note Eau de Parfum range (www.balmbalm.com) includes a set of seven single notes which you can layer to create your own fragrance. Apparently lavender, mandarin and bergamot combined equals ‘innocent’. I wonder if Brad would like it. I’ll ask him next time I see him.