I was reminded of Coco Chanel’s legendary remark when Joseph Ghazal, an old friend of mine, recently gave me as a memento a mega bottle of my perfume which he had bought in 1985 and which smell was still as strong and fragrant as the day he first opened it. I was also reminded of my excursion into that exotic world when I decided to become a perfumier.
In September 1985 I was putting the finishing touches to the planned launch of two perfumes I had created. One was called ‘Avant l’Amour’, the other ‘Après l’Amour’. As a preview to the launch, which was scheduled for the end of October, samples were being tested at various events to gauge the public reaction. One such occasion was a party to celebrate the publication by André Deutsch of A Turbulent Decade: The Diaries of Auberon Waugh, 1976–1985. Bron himself wrote up the event for his Private Eye ‘Diary’:
Tuesday: To Gnome House for the publishing event of the century. Not since Shakespeare’s First Folio appeared in 1622 has there been anything like it. All the elegance, beauty and talent in London parade themselves on the floodlit lawns. In silk-walled drawing-rooms there are fountains of champagne with lovely topless Quartettes splashing in them (by gracious permission of His Highness Sir Naim Attallah), disguised as mermaids, to the sublime music of the London Symphony Orchestra playing snatches from Gilbert and Sullivan; . . . [in] those familiar rooms, the scene of so many momentous events, where now the indescribably delicious perfumes of Avant l’Amour and Après l’Amour compete tantalizingly with each other.
A lot of press coverage followed. The Sunday Times announced my foray into the world of beauty by calling me the whimsical entrepreneur whose Parfums Namara was bringing out two scents, the ‘sweet relaxing Après l’Amour and the more stirring Avant l’Amour’. My secretary, Amanda Lyster, told them ‘this is the latest venture by a man who likes to try all walks of life’. The Sunday Express went for a more sensational approach, citing my liking for pretty girls, the unashamed names I had chosen for the scents and then quoting the blurb:
Enter my fragrant world and discover the age-old secret of perfume’s seductive spell. . ..For the women whose nights of passion dissolve into clear mornings of tenderness and tranquillity, I bring Avant and Après l’Amour . . . They are created out of love, created for women who enjoy love and dare to show it .. .
In retrospect, I should have used less flowery language but I let my enthusiasm run away with me. I would have achieved far less in life without this tendency, however, even if it did occasionally expose me to comments that verged on ridicule. The launch party was an exotic affair. Charlotte Faber’s creativity as usual knew no bounds. She dressed eight of the Namara girls, including several from Quartet, in rubber dresses with laces up the back and velvet at the hem and collar. Four of the dresses were in white rubber, and four in black. It needed a lot of talcum powder to squeeze the girls into the garments, and much giggling was involved as they struggled and helped each other. But once they were in they looked weirdly evocative – ‘rather like Sloanes in bondage’, as one journalist went so far as to put it. Then a problem no one had foreseen occurred to them. If one of them needed to go to the loo, she was going to have to take the dress off first, and there was no way she could cope with the manoeuvre on her own. ‘You will just have to go in twos,’ I told them.
The guest list was fragrant with aristocratic, political and social names. Auberon Waugh was accompanied by his daughter Sophia. Others included Tony Lambton, Annabel Heseltine, Vanessa Llewellyn with her estranged husband Dai, Laura Ashley’s son Nick, the model Camilla Scott and Christina Oxenburg. Two huge promotional bottles containing three thousand pounds’ worth of the perfumes were on display, prompting Henry Porter of the Sunday Times to be fearful that, ‘if one should fracture, it could represent a considerable hazard to either the emotions or the ecology of Central London’. The Observer described me as scurrying around, ‘like a gleeful genie out of one of his own cut-glass bottles, giving away samples in frilly velvet pouches’. Anna Groundwater, Quartet’s PR person, went on to a fashionable restaurant after the party, still wearing her rubber dress. She claimed that all the diners rose to give her a standing ovation.
Even ‘the ebullient Attallah’, the Observer said the next week, ‘has been amazed by the response; people want his scent’.
Harrods has taken it exclusively for the first two weeks of its new perfume hall; it’s selling well, and from next week it will be available in other major stores, at £75 for a 1⁄2-oz bottle and £30 for a 2-oz bottle of eau de parfum. For which prices you could buy a goodly number of books.
Namara was now definitely in the perfume business. An office was established in Paris, run by a very attractive lady, Annie Faure, to oversee the marketing and distribution on a worldwide basis. In London, all the famous stores, along with Harrods, were maintaining a stock; Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges were among the first to take it. Elizabeth Arkus, arguably the doyenne of the French beauty industry, wrote a piece for the magazine Les Nouvelles Esthétiques, printed opposite a full-page picture that juxtaposed the stretched-back silhouette of a beautiful naked young woman with one of the bottles, its sensuous shape adapted from an artnouveau design. ‘Perfume is always being reborn,’ said Elizabeth Arkus. ‘Who,’ she asked, ‘will be the woman to choose “Avant l’Amour” and who the one to choose “Après l’Amour”?’
What, you don’t yet know these amazing perfumes produced by Namara, i.e. Naim Attallah? The first comes in a black glass bottle, the second in a container of the same sculpted shape, but transparent as (a very relative!) innocence regained. Both bottles have the same shape, with a broad base and a carved phallic stopper. This is the first time we have been presented so boldly with a passionate perfume in such a frankly erotic flask.
Avant she characterized as, ‘dark, mysterious and deep as night’. Its fine floral fragrance carried an element of chypre and a ‘trace of tuberose hinting at sin’; its lingering scent of musk was ‘archly tinged with iris and peach’. Après was also floral, ‘with a hint of powder . . . made sensual with vanilla, elegant with myrrh’. ‘Avant is full of warmth, Après is bright, joyful, scintillating.’
They certainly do not leave us indifferent. And since the perfume was created to gratify the senses, we hope [Naim Attallah] will continue to astonish, amuse us or trouble us. Will he produce the perfume of the twenty-first century?
All the posters advertising the perfumes were shot to a high graphic standard and the Namara girls took turns to act as models in promoting them. Jubby Ingrams was without doubt the model par excellence. She displayed a natural affinity with the product and was always willing to try out some novel idea. Her delightfully mischievous responses were inspired, and watching her turn a photo session into a hilarious event was pure joy. From then on Private Eye began to refer to me as the ‘seedy parfumier’ in addition to its usual sobriquet of ‘Attullah-Disgusting’.
Peter McKay, in the Mail on Sunday, wondered what anxieties about his twenty-year-old daughter went through the head of the proprietor of Private Eye, Richard Ingrams, as he sat pounding away at the organ of his parish church, knowing she had been ‘the model on a suggestive colour poster designed to advance the sales of a new scent’ concocted by her employer, who was quoted as having boasted, ‘I have created the perfumes of love.’ ‘When I called this man a seedy parfumier,’ Richard Ingrams was said to have countered, ‘he called in Jubby and asked her what “seedy” meant.’
Two years after the perfume party Jubby remembered her white rubber dress without any fondness. ‘First of all,’ she told an interviewer for the Telegraph Sunday Magazine, ‘it’s freezing cold on bare skin and it takes half an hour to get on. And once it is on, it’s impossible to go to the loo, and I look like a top-heavy milk bottle. I can’t wear any knickers under it. I can’t walk fast in it. My boobs bulge out at the front and fat bulges through laces at the back. I sweat in it and when I finally manage to peel it off, I stink of rubber.’