Monday, 23 January 2012

Scents Inspired by Turkey

Apart from Moorish Spain, Turkey is the nearest European destination where one can really feel the profound long-term influence of non-European culture. In Istanbul the smells, the sound of the Muezin calling the faithful to prayer, the architecture, the markets and the bustle of people being about their business combine to create an atmosphere that to many Europeans is mysterious, exotic and beautiful. It is a place where an open mind can sense the relativity of mainstream European cultural values.

The Bosphorus being the narrowest water crossing that separates Asia from Europe was destined to be a crossing point and meeting place of important trade routes. Inevitably this also involved an exchange of ideas from many diverse origins.

People’s relationship with scent is culturally conditioned and in Turkey’s case their preferences are an inheritance of Islamic culture. The two main factors are the importance of scent in Islam and the most precious natural aromatic materials available within Islamic countries.

The impulse to modernise and globalisation with its conformity of brands and attendant conspicuous consumption are changing things slowly but deeper down the love of heavy Orientals prevails.

In terms of European scents inspired by Turkey a friend of mine drew my attention to a website (Turcopedia) containing a short article on scents inspired by Turkey albeit to European perfumery. One wonders about certain Victorian painters some of who were highly accomplished technically but saw the ‘other’ from a fixed cultural standpoint. Edward Lear is a possible exception.

The oldest one mentioned, ‘Hammam Boquet’ was created by William Penhaligon in 1872 and is described as being animalic and golden. Wouldn’t be wonderful to be able to smell a bottle, as it would have been when it was made? This is probably the scent out of all mentioned that would match most closely scents revered in Turkey itself. Looking at the ingredients it appears not to have been to far away from either Empress of India or Souk.

Traversée du Bosphore is the next scent mentioned and is described as being a ‘the link between cutting edge French and its ancient Oriental roots.’ Cutting edge French perfumery sounds like a euphemism for synthetics. Apparently inspired by the smells Turkish delight and Anatolian leather.

Finally, ‘Fumerie Turque’ we are told ‘evocatively weaves references to the honeyed tobaccos smoked in the seraglios of the Ottoman Empire and exotic cigarettes flaunted by the Garçonnes in the gender bending 1920s.’

I don’t know about exotic cigarettes from the 1920s but I recently spent two evenings in Tophane, which is the part of Istanbul famed for smoking water pipes. We were made very welcome in a particular establishment and took tea by a nice hot stove and were able to examine many of the tobaccos on offer.

Tobacco absolute as an ingredient in perfume can be glorious and is indeed preferable to the smell of the real thing in atmosphere, hair and clothes. In fact for some reason Turkey remains the place where in my experience more people are still smoking heavily than anywhere else I have been.

The cigarette packets have graphic images of the consequences of smoking on them. My favorite is a picture of a couple sitting up in bed looking glum. It is left to our imagination whether conversation without a post-coital fag is elusive, impotency or erectile dysfunction is suggested.