Retro fantasy perfume

It’s week 21 of working from home for me—the return-to-office plan has been adjusted yet again due to rising cases of coronavirus infection in the United States and the new estimate, hot off the presses, is October. I am not sure if my waistline is marking each passing week with a new layer of adipose tissue, the way tree trunks record their years, but I am grateful for my other half’s foresight months ago in setting me up with an indoor bike trainer. With renewed fervor, I am pedaling more frequently, each time with the ideal accompaniment of a half-hour episode of the ’70s British sitcom Are You Being Served?.

The show takes place almost entirely within the walls of a fictitious department store called Grace Brothers, and the tropes make fun of corporate hierarchy to no end. It’s a politically incorrect world where bowler hats are only allowed on the heads of upper management, and floor walkers (self-proclaimed “lower middle management”) must wear a red carnation in their buttonhole—not another color of carnation, nor a different kind of flower.

Screenshot from episode The Think Tank

The sales staff impose their meager authority in pecking order every chance they get, while the unionized maintenance crew (who are repeatedly chastised for appearing on the shop floor during opening hours) devise myriad schemes to earn overtime pay, coming out on top in the grand scheme of things. (In Roots [Christmas Special], Mr Harman sits down to chitchat with the sales team in the canteen on their lunch break, and then announces, “‘Ere. In ‘alf a minute, it’ll be my official tea break. I’d better get back to work.” When questioned on why he would work when it’s his tea break, he replies, “Because, brother, if I work during my tea break, I’m on overtime!” Duh, brother!)

Perfumery is on the ground floor, as the opening jingle informs us, but also makes regular cameos on the first floor ladies’ department. Season 9, episode 1 (The Sweet Smell of Success) does one better and showcases it front and center.

As the staff lament wage cuts and worry about their future, Mrs Slocombe smugly reveals that she has a “sideline.” When pressed, she hints, “It’s to do with nature,” before explaining that she has been making perfume at home. “I’ve been experimenting for years,” she rhapsodizes. “I love the aroma of flowers.”

As to how she expects to make money selling homemade perfume, she replies confidently, “I’ve mixed herbs that no one else has ever mixed before,” and she’s come up with something that attracts the opposite sex.

“Which opposite sex?” queries a visibly intrigued Mr Humphries (arguably the most beloved character, a true dandy).

“Whichever sex is wearing it, it attracts the opposite!”

Not only that, “the ingredients are so simple,” Mrs Slocombe continues. Apart from her “secret ingredient X,” her recipe is “panther’s breath“:

  • Honeysuckle
  • A compôte of roses and wild thyme

When she brings in a large jug of it to sell “under the counter” at the department store, her coworkers realize it doesn’t have a proper name. “It’s not easy to find a name, you know—’specially one that applies to both sexes,” Mrs Slocombe remarks. Right away, Miss Brahms—who never gets the credit she deserves due to being a young woman with a “common” accent—proposes a brilliant solution: “Why don’t you use separate labels and call it ‘is and ‘ers?”

Which is exactly what they do—well, almost. Instead of having “his” and “hers,” they have the same label for all as “his and hers.” They could be sensible sometimes!

Screenshot from episode The Sweet Smell of Success


To my delight, the color of the perfume was the same as my own very first attempt at making “perfume.” As a child, I had been fascinated by a sample vial—it was something by Christian Dior that a cousin had given me because he didn’t want it. Later, I tried to make my own by squeezing the reservoir of a marker pen into water, and the loveliness of the diluted cherry-red color made me almost able to convince myself that I could smell something other than very diluted marker ink.

Who knew it was an augury of things to come decades later.


Any suggestions on what “secret ingredient X” should be?






6 thoughts on “Retro fantasy perfume

  1. I was disappointed enough in the faintness of the scent of diluted conditioner to never try again. Although I just remembered that I tried to make my own perfumed oil a few years ago – a DIY of the commercially available Coco Mademoiselle oil (back when I was trying to convince myself that I liked it) – by spraying perfume into a small vial of jojoba oil. Guess what? It doesn’t stay in solution and you have to shake it! 😂 Story of my life apparently.

    Yeah, I couldn’t think of any plant-based ingredient (assuming we open it up to herbs and spices, stuff you’d find in a pantry or garden) besides vanilla that seemed generally liked by all. Lavender, cinnamon, sugar, pepper, etc. Lots of fans but lots of non-fans. Most everyone likes a touch of vanilla? 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ingredients can be so finicky!
      I have to say, while I love vanilla ice cream, I’m not so keen on “vanilla” (most likely ethyl vanillin) in perfume as it often leans too sweet for me. If it’s blended well so it doesn’t dominate, then OK!


  2. Hello again 🙂,
    I’m “fortunate” to have a Peloton bike and have a goal of riding 3 times a week. I typically watch YouTube – fragrance or other hobby channels – because I’m not sporty whatsoever and can’t stand the classes (this bike was my hub’s idea 😑).

    My perfume-making attempt around age 8 was to dilute our thick pink conditioner in water. It didn’t want to stay in solution so I had to keep shaking it. 😬 I set up a stand on the front lawn on Sunday morning and hoped someone would buy a vial for $0.25. No one was walking down our dead end street that day (or any day really), so I started yelling “Perfume for sale!” quite loudly. I finally attracted the attention of my next door neighbor who came over to see but, sadly, did not buy. 😢🤦🏻‍♀️ I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who attempted to make perfume!

    The secret ingredient – I’ve been thinking about this… in today’s time, for his and hers… how about vanilla? 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like a great (ad)venture! It’s too bad that your neighbor didn’t support their local artisanal perfumer. 😉 Have you made perfume since then?

      Vanilla sounds about right for modern popular fragrances! I thought ambergris or civet might fit as well, but they’re not herbs… 😉

      Happy cycling!


  3. Alright.. Now I know that not only I like watching British TV shows, but I also enjoy reading about them 🙂

    My first perfume attempt was steeping rose petals in water for several days… I learned my lesson and has never tried perfume-making again.

    Our company stopped even talking about returning to the office. I don’t mind in principle, but … let me put it this way: I don’t have a bike 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Your first perfume-making idea was much more sensible than mine. I just bought some rose water—thinking to try it in coffee or tea.
      You seem to be more diligent about going on daily walks than I have been, so I’m sure it all evens out. 🙂


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