I’m all for applying the artistry of perfume to ambient fragrances (candles, room sprays and the like), but when it comes to cleaning, I like things as unadorned as possible. I use unscented Dove soap, Tide Free & Clear detergent and Comet. Even pleasantly scented cleaning products are usually way too strong: I bought a bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s Geranium all-purpose cleaner and had to stop using it because when I did, I couldn’t smell anything else for days.
I was thus unsure of how to react to the opening notes of James Heeley's new Oranges and Lemons Say the Bells of St. Clement’s, which are pure luxury bathroom cleaner – the ones that smell so nice and gentle that you wonder if they’re actually cleaning anything. There is indeed an initial blast of citrus (I get more bergamot, mandarin and petit grain than the namesake oranges and lemons), which occupies a sober middle ground between the Orange Fanta that blasts out of too many citrus scents and the aristocratic shock of something like Penhaligon’s Anthology Extract of Limes. Elegantly straightforward, the citrus in St. Clement’s owes more to the bitter peel than the sweet flesh, which is a-ok by me. A mild sweetness, though, appears courtesy of a swoon-worthy orange flower and a soapy ylang that may be better suited to plush white towels than skin, and ultimately rob the citrus of the luxurious austerity I’ve come to admire in many of Heeley’s other scents. Luckily the opening phase lasts ten minutes at most.
St. Clement’s doesn’t really click until three supporting notes yawn their way out of the woodwork: a smoky earl grey tea, a refined wet-earth vetiver, and a mellow, faintly salty musk. The bitter citrus loses some volume and in fact works much better as a complement to the tea than as a principal character. And finally, out of the musky-smoky heart, a tiny drop of lemon emerges. It’s this later phase that captivates me: both warm and cool, soft and sharp, dim and bright. The musky aspect strikes me as just a bit dirty, which is the main reason I’m so enamored of it. To noses that aren’t as sensitive to musks as mine, I imagine it would stay trapped in the unremarkable ‘fresh’ and ‘clean’ territory where it begins. (Too bad for those people.)
After its spa-candle opening, St. Clement’s is extremely reserved in terms of sillage, and its longevity isn’t anything to write home about. I’ve only applied this by hand from a sample vial, so perhaps an atomizer would make it more than a skin scent, but either way I’m very close to convinced that a bottle of this belongs in my collection.
Oranges and Lemons Say the Bells of St. Clement’s is an eau de parfum, available in a 100ml bottle at luckyscent.