It is truly amazing how the first whiff of unknown perfume can dig out the very old and pretty vague memory and turn it into the bright hologram.
That’s what happened to me with Gallivant’s London (2017.). I tested Gallivant perfumes in late last summer, while preparing the review of newly launched Lost Angeles (2019.), and fell in love with London on a first whiff. The lost memory emerged, fragile and vague, hardly readable… But it was almost autumn, the roses were mostly gone and I strongly felt that reviewing London then would not do justice to a perfume. Truly lighthearted and honest perfume creations deserve the same kind of reviews. So I waited for almost half a year to review the perfume I understood right away and loved form the first encounter.
When I was a girl, my parents used to buy me new spring shoes around Easter. In the eyes of a 6 or 7 years old girl, during spring buys mum tended to be less practical and demanding: unlike winter shoes, the pair bought in spring did not have to meet her every single requirement to “endure everything” (I always hated that phrase), they were lighter and more girly than those I wore trough the winter. I remember the joy, but also the first thing I did…
– Be careful, they are new..! – mom says. Too late. The girl just steped into the muddy puddle of water on the sidewalk. – For Christ, Iva! You messed them up! These, too… Again!
The new shoes are not so new now.
But I am happy: I managed to mess them up just a little. They are still beautiful, more beautiful than those I got on last Easter, and new, too – but they are truly mine. Now.
I don’t remember if we ever passed by some rose bush. We might have. But even there are no roses in my memory, my first inhale of Gallivant’s London unmistakeably evoked roses. And Easter in the big city, new leather – barely worn. Traces of rain – mist in the fresh air. A spring breeze mixed with smell of sidewalk. Something very new, fresh and light in the very moment of becoming personal, worn and known.
The first stain. The first fold on the new leather.
Maybe there were no roses. Maybe my mom wore a rose perfume.
It’s almost Easter now.
I imagined that my return to Gallivant’s London would be different: after a spring shower, wearing my new spring shoes, I’ll look for roses on the way to work. I wanted to spray London and to be transformed into some mix between my mom and me-back-then. But plans evaporate quicker than perfumes these days: I did not buy new shoes. The shops are closed. So I put on London when I briefly left the house for groceries, on the first day I was free to leave the house after my quarantine ended.
Instead of new spring shoes, I wore old sneakers and the leather jacket: well, it is self-distancing time, nobody looks or cares… There were no roses, either: the only rose scent came from my neck. But I did find the puddle of water to step into – only this spring morning I did not mess up anything that hasn’t been already messed up.
In spite of everything, I got the most precious moment of pure, bright and serene happiness – the holographic memory really appeared. Wearing London, I was finally able to grasp it and hold it, as I was hoping to:
The feeling of blooming spring, still delicate as early morning in a day full of possibilities. Same old sidewalk and the good feeling of something very new, fresh and light in the very moment of becoming personal and truly possessed. The awareness of change, but also the awareness of possibilities that a new day, new spring offer. The opportunity to make moments between my steps memorable, even when the things are quite messed up.
London brought it all back. I didn’t dance on the street, I am in fact much more like my mother, then the girl in the picture. I did a quick pirouette, though. Perfume swirled with me. It felt like chasing a tale of London around myself. Happiness and hope in a reality full of difficult contrasts would be hard to understand or explain, but I was alone on the street, anyway.
Now really is the time to review the perfume.
London is a stunningly atmospheric creation. It opens with a sheer floral breeze: coldish ozonic violets are fresh, half moist, half airy. Imagine stepping out from a house on an early spring morning: the very light damp smell of last night’s rain on a sidewalk is mixed with dew on small pink roses in a small urban garden in bloom. Rose fragility and tenderness add subtle warmth to the moist breeze.
London starts as the impression of the spring city painted in a rose aquarel, then dried on a light fresh breze.
In an exquisitely timed moment when ellusiveness comes close to be indescrnible , the leather emerges. As if you’ve taken a turn on a corner of the street: smell of roses follows you, the fresh and moist tenderness is still ther e, but the scenery has changed, the heartbeat of the city matches your footsteps on the street. In the new spring shoes.
The appearance of firm, processed leather works as a striking and to the point olfactively disturbing factor, but it brings ballance. The leather grounds the perfume, pushing it from sheer, elusive, natural towards physical, realistic, urban, almost industrial. The effect of the strong contrast is almost spiritual: the descrete damp facet present in the opening of London behind the moist, ozonic rose-breeze extends to the heart of perfume. It belongs to the sidewalk-facet of the perfume, not new, urban, physical, known, worn.
The leather accord did not strike me as “vintage leather” right away. At first I got the smell of firm and new, right out-of-the shop leather. The transformation from new to old is fascinating: moving further away from the initial materialization, the leather starts to smell worn. It ages in progression, trough wearing. The mint facet of patchouli keeps the fresh/dump spirit of London going all the way to the woody drydown. The overlap of perspectives seems both at the same time simple/readable and complex: the smell of the leather transforming from new to warm and personal captured me.
In a way, the bases of all perfumes created by Karine Chevallier, un protege of Bertrand Duchaufour, share the characteristic spirit. Though defined and far from thin or flat – they are lighthearted. I really do think that is a sign of spiritual identity of the house Nick Steward founded. Similar to how Los Angeles lifts in the air in the final phases of development, or Tel Aviv turns to bright white floral radiance and Brooklyn to a soft relaxed cloud – even Istambul cuddles as a light warm scarf rather than a thick blanket – in the base London once again becomes airy and fresh.
Comparing to the opening freshness, this one is different: while the first fresh whiffs of London felt like coming from outside – from spring morning, dew, sidewalk, roses – these final whiffs feel like coming from within: from the heart of worn leather, light sandalwood, from the good vibe the roses and patchouli as the old friends created. London is not a freshie in a literal olfactive sense, but in spiritual – it is.
Nick Steward of Gallivant and Karine Chevallier created a stunningly atmospheric, honestly lightharted and unpretentiously complex perfume.
I know this spring nobody promises a rose garden, but – without begging your pardon – it’s in the perfumes, too. Take a perfume to a walk – to a balcony, or backyard. The open window of your room would do, too. Make a pirouette. Or just turn around, we are all chasing our tails these days, why not chasing a tail of the perfume.
Cherish the old, they had to endure many winters and they have worn many, many pairs of spring shoes.
And happy Easter.