Today's Reading

YES SHE CANNES!

Grace Kelly attends her first film festival.

Angeline West reports for the Herald.

May 1955

Following her recent controversial suspension from MGM Studios after refusing to make the picture Tribute to a Bad Man, Grace Kelly has had an interesting couple of months. But a surprise Oscar win for her role in The Country Girl returned her to the MGM studio executives favor, and Miss Kelly was the undisputed Queen of Hollywood once more as she arrived in Cannes as part of a special American delegation for the eighth annual film festival.

Dressed in a demure two-piece suit, wearing her trademark white gloves, and carrying her favored Hermès handbag, Miss Kelly was first greeted by a swarm of international photographers and adoring fans in Nice as she alighted from the overnight train from Paris. Despite looking a little weary after her long journey, she smiled happily for the cameras and patiently signed autographs in the warm May sunshine.

In addition to a hectic schedule of formal galas and premieres at the festival, Miss Kelly said she hopes to manage a little sightseeing while on the stunning Côte d'Azur.

Stunning is the right word for Miss Kelly. Hollywood's brightest star already has Cannes, and this reporter, completely dazzled.


PART ONE

HEAD NOTES
The initial impression a perfume; the notes the greet the nose immediately and evaporate quickly.

CHAPTER ONE
SOPHIE
Cannes
May 1955

Each scent holds a mystery, its own story. That was the first lesson Papa taught me. "To be a parfumeur is to be a detective, Sophie," he'd say, bent in deep concentration over the mixing tube with a dropper of perfume oil. He would mix the solvent and sniff, mix and sniff, until he was satisfied. Only then would he soak a mouillette, a narrow strip of paper, and hand it to me. "What do you see?" he'd ask.

Because that was the real question: where the scent took me. I would inhale and be whisked away in an instant. A touch of jasmine hinted at carefree days in the sun. Woodsmoke conjured a cool autumn night and rich cassoulet for supper. Dry earth evoked our home in Grasse: a stone farmhouse surrounded by sunflower and lavender fields, windows standing open to wash the rooms with fresh air. I could almost taste the dust from the parched earth on my tongue as I fell into a memory of paper with smudged ink—the telegram announcing my father's death.

Papa's nature wasn't suited for war; part scientist, part artist, he was a gentle man who loved nothing more than the fragrant fields of Provence and the bounty they provided for his parfums. The day he left us to join the fight against the Nazis, I was a young girl just blossoming into womanhood and the lavender was in full bloom, painting the hillsides in shades of purple and blue. It was the last time I saw him, a silhouette against the sun-soaked horizon. That was the day Maman took over the finances of the family business, and the day I first understood that life did not always work out the way you wanted it to.

The death notification arrived the following spring, along with Papa's papers and personal effects. Dirt, blood, fear. The scent of a life so cruelly lost. Like all scents, it imprinted itself on my memory, and that was where I kept him now. A memory. An unanswered question of what might have been.

I sighed as I corked a small glass bottle and returned it to its place on the tray in my office. Nearly closing time, I stood and stretched, rolled my head from side to side to release a crick in my aching neck. I spent most of my time working on new scent combinations or overseeing the three perfumers who assisted me in my workshop in Grasse; they developed commercial scents to be sold to detergent companies, while I created fine parfums. That was my specialty: luxury fragrances. I blew out a tired breath. I wished I were in Grasse now.

During the tourist season, Papa had always insisted I accompany him to our little boutique overlooking the waterfront in Cannes. He wanted me to be the face of Duval one day, teaching me how important it was to mingle with our clients. Despite his humble background, he found it easy to make polite conversation with the wealthy tourists who came and went each year. I felt more at home among the hundreds of vials in our workshop, or rooting through the fields beneath the vast southern skies to track a new scent, but that shy child now found herself running the business. I played the part of confident socialite quite well, when necessary. I had to. I couldn't bear the thought of disappointing Papa.
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