The Duke of Windsor, Style Icon

I love the late Duke of Windsor (1894-1972). Would that he could have remained King Edward VIII. In the Cantos, Ezra Pound called him a “fanatic for peace,” writing of “the three years peace we owe Windsor ’36-’39.” Edward presented a formidable obstacle to the bipartisan war party, which existed then as now. But in this fallen world no good deed goes unpunished so he was forced to abdicate in a coup d’état and smeared as a Nazi sympathizer (much like Charles Lindbergh in America) though he was nothing of the sort. In his memoir, A King’s Story, Edward wrote, “Intuitively I felt, that another great war in Europe was all too probable; and I saw all too clearly that it could only bring needless human suffering and a resurgent Bolshevism pouring into the vacuum of a ravaged and exhausted continent.” And so it did.

If Edward had remained on the throne we would still have the glorious Queen Elizabeth II (Edward had no children), but she might have kept her empire. Instead he lived out his days as the Duke of Windsor, in tactful exile, as a colonial governor and socialite. Looking back on his life in 1947, Edward wrote,

At 56 a man is not inclined to consider himself old. Yet, to a generation that takes for granted nuclear fission, radar, television, psychiatry, and God knows what else, somebody who was dandled on Queen Victoria’s knee must appear as an old fogey, a relic to be classed with square-rigged ships, kerosene lamps, and the Prince Albert coat. Indeed when I add up all that has overtaken mankind since my birth, I feel as if I have been travelling through history in a time machine.

It is a touching and rather wonderful passage from a man who was always the epitome of style. As Prince of Wales in the 1920s he was the idol of the youth—a sort of Wodehousian terror who eschewed formality, listened to jazz, spoke with an affected American accent, and dressed audaciously. He knew the rules of fashion inside and out and broke them like an expert. In my opinion the Duke of Windsor was the all-time best dressed man; he must certainly be counted among the top three, with Fred Astaire and Cary Grant.

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Halcyon Days of the Hollywood Cricket Club

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Hollywood Cricket Club members Cary Grant and Boris Karloff in their whites

From The Rake, a history of the Hollywood Cricket Club:

On the morning that Laurence Olivier first arrived in Hollywood, he checked into the Chateau Marmont hotel to discover a handwritten note already waiting for him with the concierge. It read: “There will be nets tomorrow at 9am. I trust I shall see you there.” This seems about right for the calling card of the Hollywood Cricket Club: terse, cordial, presumptuous, and with just the right amount of suspense.

The young Olivier had no cricket flannels, and certainly nothing resembling a bat. But, bound by a sort of schoolboy duty to the national folly, he appeared at the grounds of the Hollywood Cricket Club the next morning in a pair of boots that he’d borrowed from Boris Karloff (a boat-like size 13 – Olivier stuffed the toes with newspaper before remarking that Karloff must have pinched them off the set of The Bride of Frankenstein). The welcoming arm twist had come courtesy of C. Aubrey Smith, a white-whiskered former test cricketer who’d found favour in his autumn years as officer-and-gentleman fodder for the British invasion. On his first session with the club in May 1933, Olivier soon discovered that the old boy conformed to type, receiving a two hour tirade against the deficiencies in his technique, a stiff drink, and an invitation to dinner in the order named.

This was a club that had its priorities firmly in order. At the top, an obsession with the sport that would make even the old birds in the M.C.C. lounge groan, followed closely by an appreciation of the game’s liquid assets, and finally an utter disinterest in who you happened to be off the field. Let the opposition be distracted by the slip cordon of Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) Sinbad the Sailor (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) – if you’re putting down catches, you can make the sandwiches (or at least prepare the Lobster Thermidor and make sure the Veuve is on ice.)

Smith had long dreamed of annexing a corner of the Home Counties to Southern California, but it wasn’t until 1932 that he’d pulled enough errant Englishers into his orbit to populate a side (“Aubrey found us playing on rough fields under dangerous conditions” wrote Boris Karloff with just a splash of ham horror.) When the time came to pick a spot, the founding father took the brief as literally as possible, transplanting five cartloads of English grass seed onto a field in the Hollywood hills to make a wicket, and erecting a nostalgic Victorian pavilion at the cost of $30,000. The spiritual clubhouse for the team remained, however, Aubrey Smith’s home at 2881 Coldwater Canyon Drive –  a wide and low Californian villa that, underneath it’s raised Union Jack (not to mention a weathervane constructed from a set of old stumps), seemed an unofficial embassy for Britannia’s lost sons.

Read the whole article here. Also, Sherlock Holmes-star Basil Rathbone discusses the HCC in an interview from 1959; watch below.

Hammam Bouquet

The perfumer and barber William Penhaligon opened his first dedicated shop in London on Jermyn Street in 1891. By that point he was already something of an institution. Since 1869 he had been the resident barber at the elegant Turkish baths next door on Jermyn Street. He created and sold his first fragrance there in 1872. He called it Hammam Bouquet, in honor of the baths that inspired it.

The scent is floral, as the name suggests. Rose is the dominant note. But it is imbued with a “dirty,” sexual, almost obscene under-note of civet musk—that is, pheromone secretions from the wild civet cat. This is tamed by a bright, clean splash of alcohol, bergamot, and powder. It is, in my opinion, perfect.

Hammam Bouquet was the iconic men’s perfume of the High Victorian period. It might surprise the average nose today. It is dandyish and anamalic; one reviewer likened it to “a harlot’s knickers.” But rose and civet is a classic combination in perfumery. King Solomon was said to have imported civet oil from Ethiopia. It first reached England during the reign of King Henry VIII. The Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen, a recipe book from 1608, includes instructions for making “King Henry the eight his perfume.” Here rose and civet are the dominant ingredients: “Take sixe spoonfulls of compound water, as much of rose water, a quarter of an ounce of fine sugar, two graines of muske, two graines of amber-greece, two of Ciuet, boyle it softly together, all the house will smell of Cloues.”

Hammam Bouquet is a secret treasure of mine. It is the only fragrance I wear, despite the increasing difficulty and expense of procuring it. Until 2007 one could purchase a bottle of the same scent sold by William Penhaligon at the Jermyn Street Hammam a hundred and twenty-five years ago from the company he founded. Not anymore. Penhaligon’s still carries a product called Hammam Bouquet but it bears no resemblance to the original formula. If you wear any old perfume you will have noticed a similar problem. In the early 2000s, the International Fragrance Association, a self-regulatory body of the perfume industry, under pressure from the European Union, banned or restricted the use of almost all natural ingredients in perfume. More than one hundred and seventy ingredients have been restricted, including the principle materials of the trade: oakmoss, rose oil, jasmine absolute, spices, and citrus oils. The pretext was that they evidently cause some people minor allergies, although they have been used safely for centuries. Perfume houses have reformulated their fragrances using synthetic chemicals. The result is that every perfume now smells like cloying and artificial.

The only way to procure an old fragrance is to acquire an old bottle of it. This presents its own set of challenges. The major labels were produced in sufficient quantity to make them readily available on the second hand market. But Hammam Bouquet? That is hard to come by. The demand for it dwindled long ago. I have a horde of bottles that I acquired before the formula was changed. I occasionally add to it. But a natural perfume, like a wine, is a delicate and tenuous substance. Unless it is kept carefully the true scent will break down and become lost in alcohol fumes. I have bought vintage bottles only to end up pouring them down the drain. But it is worth the speculation to acquire a flawless vintage. Eventually the last of my Hammam Bouquet will be used and that will be the end of it. No one will ever smell this wonderful scent again. C’est la vie. In the mean time it lingers in the air here: a faint aura of the glorious past.

Sources:

Anonymous. (1608) A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen: or, The art of preseruing, conseruing, and candying With the manner hovve to make diuers kinds of syrups: and all kind of banqueting stuffes. Also diuers soueraigne medicines and salues, for sundry diseases. London: Arthur Ionson.

Humphries, Courtney. (October 21, 2011) “Engineering Replacements for Essential Perfume Ingredients,” Wired. https://www.wired.com/2011/10/ff-perfume/

Various (2003-2017) “Reviews of Hammam Bouquet by Penhaligon’s.” Messages posted to: http://www.basenotes.net/fragrancereviews/fragrance/26120746/

“From the Archives: William’s Wit.” (January 20, 2015) The Penhaligon’s Blog, https://www.penhaligons.com/us/blog/from-the-archives-williams-wit/

“Father & Founder: Mr William Penhaligon.” (June 19, 2015) The Penhaligon’s Blog, https://www.penhaligons.com/us/blog/father-founder-mr-william-penhaligon/