I love exotic perfumes, the kind that you don’t often find in regular department stores. And if those perfumes come with a history, so much the better.
Perfumes also can make a statement about character in crime fiction.
Scents trigger Maggie Silver’s memory in Denise Hamilton’s novel Damage Control. Here's Maggie applying a fragrance: “...clean, crisp notes of citrus, bergamot and verbena. Nothing cloying or clobbering... Just a subtle scent amulet to infuse me with secret grace and power.” Hamilton, by the way, is an expert on perfumes.
Perfume, or at least one perfume, has meaning to private detective Miranda Corbie in Kelli Stanley’s latest novel City of Ghosts set in San Francisco during 1940, the time when war was raging in Europe but the U.S. had yet to enter the battle.
For Miranda, the scent Vol de Nuit is important. Not because of its wonderful bouquet, but because Vol de Nuit reminds her of a different time and when she was a different person.
Stanley writes: “Vol de Nuit, replacement for Je Reviens and the happy time, the other Miranda, the girl in New York who liked carnations and violets, the scene of freshly cut oranges and coffee, the sound of the Elevated pounding above her tiny apartment, shouts of kids running to buy candy and a Shadow magazine at the corner store.”
In City of Ghosts, Miranda is down to her last bottle of Vol de Nuit, and knows that there will be no more shipments of the perfume until the war is over.
“She closed her eyes, inhaling the oakmoss and narcissus, the deep vanilla crème and the arid scent of wood bark, straight from the Ardennes,” writes Stanley.
Vol de Nuit is an apt perfume for Miranda to cherish during wartime. Produced by the house Guerlain (who make Shalimar, among others), Vol de Nuit was “composed in 1933 as a tribute to flight, celebrating the novel of the same name by pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Air France.” The novel Vol de Nuit celebrated courage, according to Guerlain.
Naturally, I had to order a bottle. I don’t know how much courage it brings me, but it is a lovely, old-fashioned scent that at the same time is modern.
And every time I wear it, it smells as if it were San Francisco, 1940.