Who: Maggie Alderson, novelist, journalist, editor and mother. Maggie’s work life started in magazines, she was the launch editor – at the age of 27 – of London’s Evening Standard ES magazine, edited British Elle and wrote style columns for numerous magazines and newspapers. These days she concentrates on writing books and has a fabulous new one out called The Scent Of You, which all perfume fans should add to their summer reading list. We caught up with Maggie at the book’s launch recently to discover how perfume inspired her writing.
Dear Polly is very important to me. When I got the idea to write a book about perfume, I went to some of Odette Toilette’s amazing evenings with Josephine Fairley (co founder of The Perfume Society), and I thought it was really interesting subject. I asked Jo if I could become an intern at The Perfume Society, to soak it all up and in the office I noticed this incredible yellow and black box, it was called Dear Polly, which I thought was a lovely name. Then I smelled it. I thought, “that’s me in perfume”. When I looked at the ingredients, one of the important notes is black tea and I’m a black tea addict, it seemed perfect. So I called the heroine of my book Polly.
Dear Polly makes me feel like my best me. It’s a chypre, and that’s my perfume identity. I wear a lot of colognes like No. 42 The Flower Shop for the day, just to perk me up a bit but my fundamental perfumes are chypres. I put Dear Polly on my wrists and décolletage and I spray No. 42 The Flower Shop madly everywhere else. I love spraying it down the back of my neck and behind my ears and in my hair, it makes me feel peppy.
Since I was a little girl I had a very good sense of smell. We lived in a big house and when I was about nine, I told my mum I could smell burning, but she told me not to be so silly. Like a little bloodhound I went through the house and at the top, under my big brother’s bed I found a hot soldering iron on a wooden floorboard, it was just beginning to burn into it. I smelled it away in the kitchen, which was down two flights of stairs and through two doors. I could also conjure up smells in my head, like the smell of my ballet school, so I’ve always felt strongly connected to scent.
I do have a lot of perfume. When I was a magazine editor I went to every launch and I’ve got some very special ones. I’ve got the Yves Saint Laurent Maison de Couture perfume where only a few bottles were ever made, in its little gold flacon. I can’t describe how beautiful it is. It’s still good despite being over twenty years old.
I open my perfume cupboard every morning – it’s a bit of a ritual – and think ‘who am I today?’ Do I need to be pepped up? Do I need to feel confident? My go-to at the moment is No. 42 The Flower Shop, but I pretty much wear something different every day. I have perfumes I wear in the evening, including Bas de Soie by Serge Lutens, which I think is the sexiest scent I’ve ever smelt.
I always start my books with a milieu, the area my heroine works in, what she does. While I was the intern, I met wonderful perfumers such as Francis Kurkdjian (from Maison Francis Kurkdjian) I thought it was a fascinating world. There’s gorgeous Frenchmen, glamorous women, nightmare people, fantastic artistry, loads of money and sex, what else do you you need for a book? So I made my heroine a perfume blogger.
I felt quite aware that I was a bit of an amateur at writing about scent, I copy edit The Scented Letter for The Perfume Society, and Suzy Nightingale’s writing just sends me, so I try to be like Suzy – and Jo!
I’m very wary of scented candles because a friend of mine was very badly burned by one, they’re dangerous. Instead I love Agraria Bitter Orange burning sticks, from a company in San Francisco. I could only buy them in Bergdorf Goodman, which was a very good excuse to buy a couple of packets every time I was in New York. They are expensive but I’m obsessed with them. I would like that smell to be what friends associate with the smell of my house.
I love Bronnley Lemon Soap in the shape of a lemon, it makes me feel really English. It’s such a treat, taking the tissue off and I love the smell of lemons.
Thanks to Jo Loves and Les Senteurs for accommodating our interview and photography.
The Scent Of You can be bought here