Everyone has a different inflection point that indicates the waning of summer. My own is the time when the basil plants come into the local farmer’s markets with the bracts of flowers attached, and a certain rubberiness to the leaves. When that happens, I know that summer is almost over and that soon I will be back purchasing school supplies.
I’m sorry to see the basil pass its peak. There isn’t any better herbal smell, not to me, and like the late Eleanor Perenyi, I find “the aroma so intoxicating, that I would turn it into a perfume if I knew how.”
Of course, others do know how. The first time that I recall was Isabella Rosselini’s perfume Manifesto, from the 90’s, predicated entirely on basil and owing something when you smelled it to Cabotine. Well, that wasn’t too much of a surprise. After all, Cabotine was a heavy hitter back in those days.
Then basil made another more sophisticated appearance in Sisley’s Eau de Campagne, a Jean Claude Ellena perfume that curiously seems to have become completely obscure although it is still in production. The basil note in it is pronounced, and the formula has a pleasing kind of rusticity to it, sort of reminiscent of Diptych’s Virgilio, although that scent reminded me of other herbs, thyme and rosemary, no parsley for the record or sage, but a sort of crumbling sunny garden smell. All that Virgilio needed to complete its illusion of a decaying Italian garden was the drowsy buzz of bees.
Eau de Campagne, though, was less rustic and had a lot in common with another Jean Claude Ellena composition, L’Haie Fleurie du Hameau, one of his earliest fragrances for L’Artisan Parfumeur. The main attraction there was not herbal but flowery- specifically jasmine- My Mother had a small bottle, and it reminded me of Eau de Campagne which I had met more than once on forays into Bergdorf Goodman’s. Then there was Maitre Parfumier et Gantier’s Baime, which always reminded me of a wonderful salad dressing. That featured basil too.
What all these perfumes had in common was a kind of endearing informality. There was basil in their formulas but the effect reminded you of kitchen gardens and gardens, and well, …kitchens. Basil it seemed was not a perfume ingredient that was elegant.
That is, until Jo Malone came along and created Lime Basil & Mandarin Cologne. That scent was a game changer for basil, because it gave the herb an up to date chic. The scent was crisp and had terrific lift, like a troupe of mandarin oranges and limes with basil leaves for wings had filled the air, playful, a bit surreal, but cooling and clearing not only to the air around you but to the head. Lime Basil & Mandarin was, and is, a perfume to clear the air. Currently trapped for the second day in a windowless room with a bunch of jurors in New Jersey, I powerfully wish that I had some. It might clear up the atmosphere at least.
(The Hub, who lived in Genoa for a few years, is a basil snob and insists that the minty variety that turns up in our part of the country is not a patch on the product of the Ligurian terroir. Don’t get him started on the subject of pesto.)