One thing that Scandinavians have in common is the childhood memories of their dearest authors. We grew up best mates with Pippi Long-stocking, being able to say “General Headquarters-Hindquarters-Gives-Orders-Front-and-Rear-Sergeant-Billygoat-Legs”, and we would have learned melancholy by the descriptions of the lonely winters in Moomin Valley.
Tove Jansson is famous and beloved all over the world for her wise and eccentric stories and illustrations of the Moomins, however, she also wrote books for adults which hold the same sense of warmth, love, and knowledge of character.
Set on an island in the Finnish archipelago, ‘The Summer Book’ is a story of a grandmother, granddaughter and the island. The three get to know themselves and each other, and their travelling is a journey of love and understanding in a beautifully underplayed way. Nearly every page of the book is filled with mystery and fragrance. I could have picked many places in this book, but the one I chose, is for me also quite quintessentially Scandinavian in its vapours.
Writing this post, I realised that I couldn’t not also make a comment on the lack of true Scandinavian perfumery. Let me start in Sweden where they have some excellent brands, which have managed to manifest themselves internationally; Byredo, Agonist, Friedmodin… However, these are really international perfumes with no hint to their origins, and no attempt at a Scandinavian scent profile, it seems only the design angle is allowed to be Scandinavian cool. When it comes to Denmark, the story is sad indeed; Henrik Vibskov’s Type C (for Copenhagen) is nothing but a grim citrus-ozonic that is as far from the smell of the sea air of Copenhagen as you can get. Or for the new brand Zarkoperfumes, just go to Serguey Borisov’s reviews at Fragrantica to read what I couldn’t have said better myself.
In fact, so far the best Scandi-inspired fragrance that I have ever come across is by Neil Morris called Dark Season. Undeniably Finnish/ Swedish in its expression and made from a fond memory, sums up how to do it without becoming the equivalent of a fragrance ‘fancy dress’ party. What I mean is that these days, with ‘New Nordic Cuisine’, which uses all our very special ingredients and flavours, why not do the same in fragrance?
“Sophia made a path through this jungle with a pair of shears. She worked at it patiently whenever she was in the mood, and no one else knew about it. First, the path circled the rosebush which was large and famous and had a name, Rosa Rugosa. When it blossomed, with its huge, wild roses that could take a storm and fell only when they wanted to, people came from the village to look. Its roots were high, washed clean by waves, and there was seaweed in its branches. Every seven years, Rosa Rugosa died from salt and exposure, but then her children sprang up in the sand all around, so nothing changed. She had only moved a little. The path led on through a nasty path of nettles, through the spiraea and the currant bushes and the loosestrife under the alder trees, and up to the big bird-cherry at the edge of the woods. On the right day, and with the right wind, you could lie under a bird-cherry and all the petals would fall at the same time, but you had to watch for aphids. They held on to the tree if left alone, but if you shook the branches the least little bit they fell right off.
After the bird-cherry, there are pine trees and moss, and the hill rises up from the beach, and every time the cave is just as much of a surprise. It is so sudden. The cave is narrow and smells of rot, the walls are black and damp, and at the far end there is a natural alter covered with green moss as fine and dense as plush.”
One could probably make many different fragrances out of this description, but how about this:
The Summer Book-fragrance
Top: Currant, bitter cherry, salty air
Heart: Wild rose, white flowers (from the spiraea), almond (currant bushes), nettle.
Base: Roots, moss, pine and seaweed.
What do you think is this how it would smell to you?
Feature picture by me, with characters from the Moomin books, Elsa Beskow’s books, the Snow Queen, the sandman (Ole Lukøje), and Pippi and Brothers Lionheart.
Translation of The Summer Book is by Thomas Teal.