Standing in Holland Park’s Daunt Book shop last weekend I was catapulted back to my school days as a lady walked past wearing the same perfume as my favourite English teacher.
Suddenly, I’m back behind my desk being told by Mrs Hall that my hand writing is completely illegible and that all my work has to be written out again.
The perfume, mixed with the smell of antique wood in the beautiful old book shop in west London, had evoked a memory so vivid I was instantly transported back in time.
Perfumer Sarah McCartney, in her 1960s inspired perfumery in Acton, tells me that as the olfactory bulb (your sense of smell) is part of the brain’s limbic system - an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it’s sometimes called the ‘emotional brain’ - smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.
It is this phenomenon that the self taught creator of the ‘British indie’ brand of perfume, 4160 Tuesdays, has harnessed in her wonderfully unique and now globally recognised perfume.
As an example, the perfume I take away (as I couldn’t stop myself from sticking it up my nose), is called The Dark Heart of Old Havana.
Sarah said: “It’s the smell of a walk through Old Havana in the evening, from the Hotel Sevilla to the Caseon del Tango for a dance lesson with Ketty and Felix.
“Wafts of coffee and tobacco, sweet sugary desserts cooked with baskets of oranges and mangoes. The scent of peaches beginning to turn overripe, and citrus peel going squishy in the gutter.
“From a dark doorway a handsome man in white whispers, ‘Do you want a Cuban boyfriend?’ You speed up a little, squeaking, ‘No. Thank you very much for asking!’
“And then the old Cubanos at the tango club greet you with smiles, songs, rum and kisses.”
I’m left thinking, Yes! I do want a Cuban boyfriend! Right before I register the rainy Acton street outside. The perfume will have to do for now.
With top notes of orange, peach, grapefruit and sugar, something Sarah calls ‘heart notes’ of tobacco, bergamot, tonka and jasmine, underpinned by the base notes of vanilla, musk and black pepper, this perfume is clearly not just a perfume. It is a story. It has a life and a very real power to transport you to another time and another place. If you’ll let it.
Sarah McCartney is not so much a perfumer but more of a white witch, mixing potions interwoven with spells and incantations that really place her in a league of her own.
Throughout her 14 years as head writer for handmade cosmetics retailer Lush, Sarah read 200 books on essential oils and herbalism and played with the potions her boss gave her to learn what everything smelt like.
4160 Tuesdays was then born after her first foray into writing a novel about a perfumer who solves peoples’ problems by mixing them a scent that will take them back to a treasured memory and a happier time. In telling her friends about the book, she was somewhat perplexed by the fact that no one said they actually wanted to read it. Instead they wanted their own perfumes.
‘Sarah, I want to go back to summer days in Scarborough with the salty sea air, the smell of sun tan lotion, pink peppermint rock and the vanilla ice cream bribe at the end of the day to get us back in the car.’ Said one ernest friend. And so ‘What I Did On My Holidays’ was born, with top notes of lavender and coconut lotion, seaweed, salt, a waft of peppermint and those wonderful sounding heart notes of candy floss with a base note of the vanilla ice cream bribe.
That was it as far as Sarah was concerned. She had started mixing potions and she couldn’t stop. And the requests kept coming in. And so Tart’s Knicker Draw, The Sexiest Scent on The Planet. Ever. IMHO, Evil Max and Ealing Green (amongst many others) were born.
Talking about Ealing Green Sarah told me: “I’d long wanted to make a scent for Ealing, my adopted home. I met my husband at Ealing Studios on Ealing Green, at a wedding. Then I was invited to make a midsummer scent for a charity evening, using plants and flowers named in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So I combined the two ideas and created the scent of Ealing Green on a summer evening, in the early 17th Century.
”It’s full of natural white thyme, green grass, violets and lavender, geraniums and roses, with an earthy base.”
Sarah strikes a fantastic balance between her natural and synthetic scents with many perfumes infused with molecules taken straight from the original source. Her knowledge is extraordinary and clearly driven by passion. This is not about money or prestige for Sarah. It’s about an honest desire to create a little bit of magic. And she’s happy to spread that magic too at monthly Saturday workshops where people can come to learn more about perfume.
Oh and the name? If we live until we’re 80, we have 4160 Tuesdays. Tuesdays are, Sarah believes, for doing something different and she uses hers to make perfume.
I leave the 4160 Tuesdays perfumery clutching my Cuban boyfriend in a bottle, smelling not unlike a Tart’s Knicker Draw with my head swimming with pictures and my poor old olfactory bulb close to collapse.
The book is yet to be published but the perfumes certainly tell their own story.