I watched too many horror movies as a child. I did. And while I credit the terror that those brilliant products of the seventies and eighties engendered in me with helping to give me a rather unchained, lurid, and vivid imagination, the searing, mind-altering experience of seeing such petrifying films as Salem’s Lot; The Exorcist; and The Omen I + II with my younger brother, both of us scared beyond witless and hysterical and unable to sleep (our father barking at us even more terrifyingly to GET TO SLEEP) has given me not only a subliminal fear of crows and their eye-pocket-pecking potential (for life), but also left me with a profound fear of anything devilish, evil, or satanic; not even funny: not even in jest. The topic is one I quite simply fear to touch – exposing perhaps, a conservative side of myself on The Black Narcissus, that I am yet to fully, (and will never, probably) explore.
Duncan brought home a copy of Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus the other day, a masterpiece of European literature by all accounts that I am dipping into with definite fascination, but also a certain trepidation, with its tales of artistic genius and pacts with the Dark One, particularly since some Italian friends of ours the other night suggested, in all seriousness, that Lady Gaga, who I am going through an absurd thing with in these last few weeks, might actually be a satanic force ( and I have been POSSESSED; still am: by her latest, and brilliant, album ARTPOP).
To me, while I took this all – discussed over dinner in a pasta restaurant in the north of Tokyo – with a certain bunch of salt, they were, as I say, genuinely in earnest; and they are both, in any case, fearfully intelligent types; fingers really on the various pulses (so oops there goes my innocent pleasure….)
While deep down inside I think that Stefania Germanotta is probably more of an angel to be honest: more an angel, certainly, than the devil’s hand maiden; I have to admit, embarrassingly, that nonetheless, some fearful, infernal seeds have still been sown: unwantedly, and a bit frighteningly, in my brain.
I know that I do have a strongly mischievous and contrarian side to my nature, I am naughty, quite rude, and a bit saucy; and I do truly hate the hypocritically pious, and the ‘holy’, and the whole of right wing America, and of England, who are obviously way more aligned with Satan, if he exists, than Lady Gaga, (isn’t advanced capitalism, in some ways, the devils’ work?): but there is nothing remotely, actually, (surely!!! surely…. tell me!) devilish about me I like, naively to believe…….. ( is there?!!)
And though I am highly attracted, still, and always, to the lavish baroque ridiculousness of the luxuriant vampire, that whole world (of Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey’s exquisite Blood For Dracula; of Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to name but a few- a pile of ludicrous, luscious nonsense from 1993 that, as any friends of the time will attest sent me into total rapture when I was at university; saw me speaking in a Transylvanian accent for two weeks after, despite what anybody thought), I am never drawn, ever, I don’t think, to anything genuinely evil. This may seem like stating the obvious, but I have known people who have flirted with such things; and I am always, myself, deeply wary of even approaching these dark, nether regions of cosmology that may, or may not, truly exist. You will never catch me within even a mile of a oujia board; oh no siree (though if someone close to me died, who knows?……….)
In any case, today’s admittedly weird post (come on, it is the end of a long term) might seem like an odd choice for a perfume review, especially during this spiritual (in theory) festive season in the run up to Christmas, but I have just in fact received samples of two perfumes, fun little things, actually, that touch on the very themes I have been superficially elaborating on right here; one, the great sulfurous, Luciferian abyss that mankind has (rightfully?) feared for millennia; and the other, the actual, tectonic shaking end of humanity itself.
In truth, if you were to smell either of these new scents blind, images of destruction, annihilation, or of almost any form of malevolence would almost definitely not surface, particularly in the case of the cloud-fluffily floss-minx that is Fin Du Monde; which, like Divin Enfant, another supposedly devilish scent from this deceptively rule-breaking enterprise, is definitively all bark and no bite. Sulfur, however, a fine new perfume by Italian outfit Nu-Be, whose seven current perfumes are all conceptually based on the periodic table, does have a certain, hot-spiced Mephistophelian spike in its tail. A person leaning over you at some restaurant, or at a club, or even on a train, wearing this scent: nonchalantly, blatantly: might be really, physically, or just intensively, rather irresistible.
This is what Etat Libre D’Orange has to say about their latest perfume….
“Etat Libre d’Orange presents the end of the world.
Okay, we know what you’re thinking. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. You’ve heard the ominous warnings, the dire threats. You know all about the cults, the cataclysmic visions, the Armageddon battle. You’ve endured the panic of the Millenium and the Mayan prophesy, you’ve read about the End Times and the Rapture.
And you’ve actually seen it! Yes, we’ve all witnessed the end of the world, in one or more of its possible manifestations. Maybe you remember the look of horror on the face of Charlton Heston, when he realizes that this savage planet dominated by apes was actually good ol’ Earth. You might have seen Slim Pickens as aircraft commander Major T.J. ‘King’ Kong, who straddles the bomb like a cowboy and rides it to the ground, thereby setting off the Doomsday Machine. Or Will Smith, running from the virus-mutants, the only survivors of a plague. You gaped at the two sisters and a child, huddled together in a teepee as the blue planet Melancholia hurtles toward earth, and you watched how a variety of Canadians observe the last night on earth – praying, partying, finally achieving an orgasm.
And maybe you screamed when that giant hand came crashing up through the cabin in the woods as the ancient gods reclaimed earth….
Natural disasters, man-made catastrophes, plagues and religions and nuclear bombs – so many options! And as the world comes to an end, we shudder and shriek and weep and maybe even laugh (Dr. Strangelove!) – from the comfort of our plush seats in the dark movie theaters………
But now we know what the end of the world might look like. And we know how it will smell.
Like popcorn. “
You know, I actually kind of love this.
So conceptual! So playful, so hilariously Dada-esque; the end of the world being reduced to the scent of popcorn, which this perfume doesn’t exactly smell of, but which is about as equally threatening. I do kind of love this tongue-in-cheek total silliness. And La Fin Du Monde is, in fact, very typical of this perfume house: a fun, and in some ways quite daring, enterprise whose perfumes I often like, but which I also find quite thin and overly similar to each other, usually, once I have overridden the thematic pleasure that the always amusing copy engenders (essential to this house’s enjoyment; without the story dreamed up for each scent I honestly don’t think there would be very much there at all to get excited about: but here, plugging right into the Chapman heartstrings, they even blatanly reference one of my very favourite films from last year – Melancholia by Lars Von Trier…….they really covered all the bases with their cinematic end-of-worlds here….)
This latest release – cute, playful, pliant, kind of typical – is a sweet, gourmandish, iris/carrot seed/ambrette number with curious top notes of cumin, sesame and popcorn (and, apparently, though don’t necessarily believe it – gunpowder) that goes from a irisian, papery, and peppery, pleasant initial freshness, to a more vanillic, sugary and sensual ending of sandalwood, vetiver, and styrax that you have, in some ways, smelled before. It lingers, and finally even emotes, (empathy for those hyperventliating heroines trying to escape on the big silver screen?), quite nicely, if a touch weirdly. It has character, certainly, and that is definitely something. In the long run of things, however, I would say that La Fin Du Monde, a name for a perfume that should surely command respect, a reaction, or at least something, something EPIC, is most definitely a case, unfortunately, of (rebellious, audaciously, gallic) sugar-spun style over real substance.
“represents the demonic spirit, the darkness. A juice coming from the shadows, a satanic elixir… ……notes revealing the bowels of the earth………nothing is pure, a fragrance evoking hellish potions: warm spicy accord of pimento, cinnamon and black angelica . Earthy and root notes of vetiver, patchouli and moss. Animalic character of costus and castoreum………. And deep resins like opoponax and myrrh.”
I must say, actually, that this perfume is pretty good. It is a taut and masculine composition, modern but classic, that makes me feel as though Tom Ford’s Grey Vetiver had suddenly ripped off his tailored suit, his overly manicured attitude, and, for reasons, not yet disclosed, instinctively got low down and funky in some back room…….the opening a nose-tingling miasma of reddish elements that does in fact capture some feeling of heat and of volcanic-ness (this comes by no means from the bowels of the earth I would say, though – not that I have been there….), but, definitely, more enclosed and tingling than the usual………
What it does indubitably evade is a certain thinness that I hate in many recent perfumes. While there is none of the musky plenitude of the eighties’ machos, those Ungaros, Tsars, Kouroses and the like, those perfumes that bent from the neck, from the chest, and announced themselves unbearably (so wonderfully!) in your face, there is still a tightness here; a bound-together, spiced and turned up woodiness that is dry, feisty, a touch troubled; quite sensual.
When it comes to sulphur, though, the natural smell of which I despise, especially when it comes in the guise of the bubbling, helliciously eggy spouts of steam that rise up from Japanese hot springs, I am very glad, to be honest, that the perfume in question today does not actually smell of this substance (Who would actually want to smell of sulphur?). Though in truth I do have another ‘angry’ scent like this in my collection, actually, the tinder-dry D’Humeur Massacrante from L’Artisan, a limited edition from back in the day that likewise played on a sulphurous theme; the heat of a match being struck, an incandescent moment of fury. That also has pimiento, and pepper, and other fiery substances, particularly an overdose of nutmeg, and it kind of, I have to say, makes Sulfur seem a bit of a pussy in comparison.
On the other hand, Massacrante (I always loved that name! A perfume to massacre people by!) was meant as a mood diffuser, as part of the Sautes D’Humeur collection that also starred perhaps the greenest perfume ever made, the stinging-nettle laden D’Humeur Jalouse, as well as the girliest; the little girls’ nails and puppy dog’s tails pinkness of the hilarious D’Humeur A Rire.
These scents were never really intended as fully fledged, orchestrated perfumes anyway; they were designed, more I think, as little excerpts to break up your day, to accentuate or else get rid of a certain mood. Massacrante is great, undoubtedly, but has a certain two-dimensionality. Sulfur is more rounded; gets deeper, and more resinous and impressive as it goes on, increasing in horniness, smooth-tonguedness and well-rehearsed, urban-seductive techniques as the hours, slowly in your purgatory of boredom, waiting for this horndog to arrive……. pass.
Nu-be’s (what kind of name is that, incidentally?) ‘Sulfur’ is not really supposed to represent the devil, then, I am happy to say; but, like the about-to-go-out-person wrapped up in furs and defiant last-minute squirts of Etat’s Fin Du Monde, with its later, more suggestive notes that linger more than you might expect from that jazzy, easier-than-thou opening, this perfume, in its arid truculence, its sly elegance and vetiver assertion is, undeniably, despite a lack of any real originality or transgression, really, actually, kind of devilishly sexy.