Lavender is soothing to the spirit, strengthening, relaxing as it galvanizes; the essence takes off some of life’s sharper edges. D’s mum Daphne always sends us big sachets of bundled dried lavender from their Norfolk garden on special occasions, and for me there is no better exemplar of this flower on the planet; the scent penetrating but in perfect harmony with itself; herbal; floral; indigo, mauve and blue… .I place it, press it under my pillow to release the fragrance then turn the pillow over. Sleep is immediately more nourishing.
Lavincense, a new release from Hermetica Paris, a vegan, cruelty free ‘clean’ perfumer whose fragrances come in a more mellow, oil form than the usual bracing alcohol format, is a very warming, musky, smoothed out lavender, lavandin and sage composition that captures well the ‘goodness ‘of lavender, fusing it with a more sensual musk and incense base that is somewhere between Serge Lutens’ Gris Clair (angrier, harsher, more flinty) and Jean Paul Gaultier’s Le Mâle (lazier, more slovenly). An easy wear, calming and grounding, this perfume is one for the more solid, contented days of just mozying about the house by yourself, or for casual lunches in a local cafe with good friends in your latest winter knitwear. Simple, but a scent with a positive, easygoing aura.
In the entrance of our house there are two stone jars full of the unburied remnants of years of incense sticks. Over time, I have added patchouli oil and clove to the tamped down interior, and once, on a whim, poured in an entire vintage eau de toilette of Grès’ seminal Cabochard – just because I had found the design of the bottle, upon unboxing, so exceptionally ugly; the fancy bow of the original, sly grey velveteen, in this edition an ersatz glass stupid, gainly as a Toby jug.
Sacrilegious. Perhaps. And this was a long time ago. But I noticed, when I came in the other day, that when left to itself, other incense dissipated, windows left open – the cold chill that quickly descends on this old house when the heat is let out – I can still smell this perfume delicately in the air – a beautiful, ghostly, spirit of sepulchral Cabochard infiltratred through brittle fragments of Japanese incense, alongside lingering nuances of patchouli.
On my birthday on Thursday- naughtily taking a longer lunchbreak than allowed, in the hope of picking up a bottle I had seen in a recycle shop of the violet/heliotrope/ iris limited edition Les Metéorites by Guerlain that I hadn’t realized was as rare as it was and should have bought when I first spotted it (naturally, it had gone) ; I did, in its place, glancing constantly at the time, get another scent I was very pleased with and will write about soon, as well as a bonus 15ml vintage parfum (pictured above) of the lovely Cabochard, in its original, lost-in-a-Siberian-birch-forest box.
Once again – realizing that this base heavy, thickened unguent – a parfum extrait that had inevitably lost some of its top notes and was lacking the sharp hyacinth tang I require in a pristine version, I found, against my will, that I just couldn’t stop myself from repeating my past impulsions. Some patchouli essential oil I had received as a present; and half of the parfum. Into the urns. Splashed or dripping down into the dark space inside; the sepulchral, cool camphor of the incense and the space below, welcoming the new refreshment of its scent in quiet whispers.
I associate the Japanese narcissus, or suisen, with the end of the year and the beginning of January – never November.
But cycling the other day on a warm bright morning I was suddenly met with that unmistakeable sweet insistence, encircling me, invisible, hidden in gardens – blinding me – until other clusters of narcissus flowers became visible fully opened by the roadside.
The scent of these flowers always alarms, even while it gets me as instantaneously high as a drug. Narcotic, as befits the origin of their Greek name, narkos – the ravishing prettiness that sends one into narcosis upon one sweet inhalation, yet also always with that plangent, intrinsic essence leaving traces of ambivalence: evil: : poisonously idyllic.
In perfumery, the excitement of the soliflore is also something for me that never dims. A unique portrait of a particular bloom in a flacon, the components secret except to the creator, perfuming the liquid with alchemic precision, a constantly evaporating, and re-evaporating, apparition.
Breathing in Parfums Osaji’s Suisen yesterday, this was manifestly narcissus. The fresh adultnessof the narcissus: decaying newness of the flower mouths; low-breathed, almost foul: a rich essence of jasmine – mature, full-bodied indolic jasmine, yet with intestines removed; lab-clipped; edited into an intriguing modern floral that is certainly unsettling, though also also probably lacking something (beauty? ) . Even so, like the flowers the other day by the wayside, in the department store in Fujisawa. – Suisen did stop me in my tracks.
It’s funny. The world outside feels ever increasingly fraught, frightening and apocalyptic. And yet the vast majority of us still eat our toast, take our morning shower, and head out for the office – leaving the safe familiarity of our lair and putting ourselves out there in humanity. In Japan, working from home was obviously never going to catch on – only a small fraction of the populace has ever ‘teleworked’ – it is just so antithetical to the drummed in ethos of the working as a group, and being seen to be working by that group – that unless we get a new Godzilla sized variant that kills you the second you leave the house, the population will be continuing to commute on the arteries of city trains and buses as per usual. Work is of paramount importance in the culture – and the office is where people feel valid.
For me, scent can be a way of easing this day to day; you might, in the back of your mind, be keenly aware of the fact that killer viruses are spreading across the world’s airwaves as you type on your computer surrounded by your co-workers, but at the same time you have to get a grip, and just get on with it. A normalizing, stabilizing – not exciting – accompanying fragrance as a light soundtrack to your day can be useful in this regard, which is why I am currently wearing Gucci Rush 2. It smells conformist enough and unthreatening to not offend, but also has a certain elevated elegance that lifts a person up as you gradually get through your day.
Nice Bergamote, which I assumed at first must mean a bergamot from the French Riviera town of Nice (because surely they wouldn’t just call a perfume ‘nice bergamot’……….would they?, but it seems as if they might have..) is part of a series of fragrances from Essential Parfums, a niche house that has a series of scents – a rose, a vanilla, a bois, a vetiver, etc – signed by established perfumers in the mould of Frederic Malle, but more affordable. I will be going back to assess all of these more closely, but my first pull was towards the bergamot, as I do love it so much as an essence (I am never without it) and always wonder if a perfumer will be able to use it effectively in a perfume when usually so many nasty and for me unwarranted elements start to appear after the first hour or so in almost all citrus fragrance and I end disappointed.
Nice Bergamote is intriguingly natural/synthetic, a fresh symbiosis of the two. Official notes are bergamot, jasmine and ylang ylang, with a cedar and tonka bean finish: on my skin the initial spritzes are voluptuously fresh lemon and bergamot boostered by airy additions like puffs of laundered steam – the kind of scent that is perfect for the weekday work journey, strap handling the train line and daydreaming as you make your way through the suburbs to the company. People will inwardly nod as you walk by: it is indeed exceedingly pleasant.
Later, unexpected, light, unobtrusive fougère notes made themselves known as I stood at the photocopier – at first I was wondering what they reminded me of (a little like the original Colors by Benetton which I quite liked in the eighties), but then the final accord of this perfume put me also in mind of the original Calvin by Calvin Klein, his first fragrance for men and one that got lost, completely, in the megahits that followed in the mid-eighties to early nineties period,like Obsession, Eternity, Escape, and CK One, Calvin is far less of a ‘production’ than those conceptually curated blockbusters – (I can’t even find an old advert for it online, when we know that the ‘controversial’ Marky Mark and Kate Moss ads were half the reason the perfumes became so popular in the first place). No, Calvin is subdued – almost too much so, a four by four tarragon/patchouli fougere in the manner of Azzaro, but with the barb taken out to make it almost powdery in its chamomile traced approachability. You still get the classic masculine contours, but also a soft congeniality. Probably I could wear both (I have a miniature bottle of the Calvin); this and the Bergamote, which I am thinking of actually getting, in small quantities, on certain days when I just want to be anchored in reality, and not let my mind stray too far from its confinements.
So it is not all over after all (not that we thought that it was).
We have ‘Omicron’ – but I can’t quite face looking into it (will we ever be able to leave Japan and get back in again?…..)
A year and a half ago, we were just into the first stages of an unknown illness, which was taking the world by death and hysteria, and / but somehow, we got drawn into an online Tokyo Sunday event called Covid Cabaret, a collection of storytellers, folksingers, actors and god knows what trying to pull some levity and entertainment out of what was undoubtedly a very grave situation (for those about to cancel; remember – during the Black Death in the 14th century humour was one of the best protections; you do have to take the piss out of what ails you, your enemy ): we were not being flippant: just trying to express something other than what was being bandied about in the ugly media. A valve of darkness – and some light.
We just happened to have a pangolin – bought from the recycle shop you may know from several posts, and which D had naturally spray painted gold. As a pangolin was apparently Patient Zero, meeting some bats, and some pigs, this formed the momentum behind the impromptu ridiculousness that was our entry to the evening’s programme, where we incorporated the 12″ Japanese remix of Paul Hardcastle’s British number one single 19, with a tape we once bought twenty five years ago at a Capucin cellar in a church in Rome, a song from Brian De Palma’s sublime Phantom of the Paradise, and Duncan dancing about with a glowing golf ball to a hippie song – Mandala – by Sally Oldfield.
Pure nonsense. But kind of fun. One minute we were doing the laundry, and having Sunday lunch like everyone else, the next we were upstairs against a green screen, live, which I found quite daunting, and which was a shambles, ducking and diving, having no idea what was going on, spurting tomato ketchup on my face ): I’m not quite sure what it was all about, and why I was required to decapitate my own boyfriend at the given moment (at around the 7:00 minute mark: D fancied some Grand Guignol, for sheer expurgation, the theatrical horror of the time in late nineteenth century France also a way of catharsis for the people to let off steam during times of death and violence ): but I suddenly feel like putting it up, as this shitshow continues to careen across the globe.
I am enjoying this discontinued gem as a work scent so much at the moment that both D and my parents are giving my bottles for my birthday. It might be boring; nondescript – but I like it. A floral green with a blackcurrant undertow, I float along with my grapefruit hand balm in pocket and know that I smell good.
It also coincides nicely with the release of the film House Of Gucci, which looks so hilariously bad I don’t know if I will be able to resist going the cinema to see it .
Why did I buy a four-fifths-full 15ml vintage parfum of Guerlain’s monstrous/ gorgeous Samsara from a Fujisawa antiques shop yesterday when I know full well in my heart that I don’t even like it? Or rather, that I have a hate/love relationship which settles far more on the former but most definitely comprises some of the latter? The answer probably lies in the previous sentence: while Samsara, in its original eau de parfum, possibly the strongest and most outrageously spatially-consuming fragrance ever made by mankind – a scent you could literally smell several blocks away, that preceded a person like an ugly reputation, and yet clobbered its nasal recipient over the head with such force, such jasmine/vanilla/deep Mysore sandalwood voluptuosity, that you had, despite your rational objections, no way to withstand its laborious seductions………..is in some ways undoubtedly an outdated relic from another age. It is, though, in its original form, as in the bottle you see above, of such quality ingredients and such unmistakeability that I knew I simply had to have it in my possession. And at £19.47 (￥3000), nestled comfortably in a glass cabinet along with Japanese inro and ivory name stamps and the like, even merely as a sheer contrast to the normality of the workday, there was no way that this wasn’t getting tucked naughtily into the front zipper of my workbag.
I have written about Samsara before. This blog is essentially an almost decade-long stream of consciousness on perfume and life, and sometimes the totems of each era make a re-appearance, either in a review by themselves, or in relation to other perfumes. I occasionally enjoy these repetitions, as a story is never quite told the same way twice, and new readers bring their own unique perspectives to the table (I do remember some amusing anecdotes being exchanged, corroborating the Stephen Hawkings levels of molecule travel through known air space and time that this perfume notoriously wields like a superpower ; those unfortunates who had actually lived with a flatmate at university who would douse herself in Samsara (one dot is enough of this stuff) and had barely – clutching their mottled throats, weeping – lived to tell the tale. My own musings, smelling the desperate warmth of the perfume emanating from the bottle yesterday, were fondly of the time I first properly encountered it, when my mum brought a bottle home from the fashion establishment that she worked in at weekends in a department store and I was utterly mesmerized by its potency and yes, in a way, its alluring fabulousness (sometimes Samsara can smell rather beautiful), even if, I also could never fail to notice that it clogged up your brainwaves and filled every available nook and cranny of the house.
Another memory is going to my friend Hillary’s house. If her mother’s Samsara, apparently just sprayed somewhere upstairs in her bedroom as I rang the doorbell, hadn’t actually penetrated the door and made its way outside through the keyhole (which is kind of how I remember it), it most definitely did assault me the moment I walked in the door, even if, Mrs Evans had not as yet, taken a single step on the carpet as she made her way down the stairs to say hello. I remember us both laughing about this semi-conspiratorially, but also good-naturedly (“She does like it”), Hil told me : : after all, we were talking about perfume, and as a teenager I was already totally besotted. But why was it that, although my mother had worn some other heavy hitters in her time (Oscar De La Renta, Youth Dew, and my favourite by far, Ysatis, alongside her usually much more demure fragrances such as N⁰19 edt, Rive Gauche, Van Cleef & Arpels’ First), there was something uniquely vulgar about Samsara, even as it glinted in its obviously luxuriant – i.e overdone – ‘Parisian’ extravagance. This was, of course, due to the legendary overdose of genuine Mysore sandalwood by Jean Paul Guerlain, revolutionary at the time, which made up 30% of the formula. Sandalwood, in itself, is already an extraordinarily dense, dry, yet moist and glistening oil that eats through negativity and melancholy with full force; the essential oil – buttery, dense, rich, erotic – lasting for days on your skin. If you then pack in loads of very sweet vanilla, musk, tonka amber,etc, along with the Guerlinade, tip top quality ylang ylang (this note was particularly singing on my skin when I attempted a little last night), layers of iris and orris, violet, peach synthetics and effervescent citrus notes fizzing in the fusillades of nose-blasting pomposity,you are really talking sillage here.
The parfum, which God in his mercy has provided in a dab format (do not spray this thing!) is not as intense in many ways as the aforementioned edp, which definitely won the missile range trophy in terms of penetrating subterfuge; the extrait biding its time a little before blooming. But even a bit on the back of my hand after I came home from work filled up the room (‘blimey‘ said D); when he hugged me to say goodnight, slightly taking a couple of steps back, saying wow, you smell so Samsara-y: I replied in turn, ‘do feel free to wear some – as much as you want – tomorrow for work. “My god, he said in return, with a look of horror on his face, ‘can you imagine? It’s so…. ……… busty“.
Ordinarily I find that too much intimation of the ‘forbidden’ or the ‘naughty’ in perfumery is something of a turn off. While we all know that sex sells, a name like ‘Flower Porn’ immediately arouses my close-to-the-surface inner skeptic (the word ‘porn’ itself has also become vastly and tediously overused in my view, and in often very ineffective contexts : on social media you will see a beautiful quotation or a poem published, and soiled, by seeing the ugliness of the provider ‘word porn’ at the bottom of the page; a photographic landscape is posted by ‘nature porn’: there is furniture porn, chocolate porn, ‘inspiration porn’, you name it – but for me these simply don’t work for me as reference points for something that you fixate on or gorge on, because, quite simply, porn is porn: titillating and exciting to many, and serving a useful purpose, but with one, very obvious aim only – and not necessarily an especially edifying one.
Thus, though Flower Porn is most definitely an eye-catching name for a perfume – who wouldn’t notice that bottle first when they scanned a niche perfumery’s selection? – I initially gave it and its brethren from Heretic Parfums (again….always those ‘devilish’ and provocative names for perfumeries) short shrift: at first I churlishly didn’t even smell it out of a conviction that it must be cheap in sentiment, commercially desperate, and/or salaciously vacuous ( Florgasm, though, I have to say: what a name! This is genius. How come no-one thought of it earlier?)
Anyway, the proof is always in the pudding, in the same way that you never know how someone is going to be in the sack until they are actually in there with you. And, to my surprise, I really quite liked some of this range when I finally got my nose on the perfumes and put my prejudices aside. Moreover, I have to say that the initially slightly eye-rolling ‘dirty’ concept, when you look into Heretic Parfums motivations and conceptualizations further, is actually quite interesting; not based, as would probably be predicted, on the grungey musks and saccharine synthetics that get so many ‘erotic’ perfumeries’ knickers in a twist (and an absolute joke, to me, when so many vintage, ‘ladylike’ and ‘gentlemanly’ perfumes back in the day contained vastly more shocking quantities of genuine filth – think Monsieur de Givenchy; La Nuit De Paco Rabanne; as for Bal A Versailles…….don’t let me go there).
No. What I like about founder and perfumer Douglas Little’s officially stated approach is a new attitude to naturals, essential oils and botanical extracts in perfumery. Rather than the ‘healing’ and scientifically verified medicinal qualities of plants (to which, as you know, I subscribe wholeheartedly; empirically), the creator of the Heretic line, while appreciating those facets of aromatherapeutic substances, wants to veer away from the hippie apothecary vibe of natural perfumery and instead concentrate on the natural imperfections and messiness of essential oils in a purely olfactory setting; their lack of smoothed down edges, the strange routes that they take (anyone who has ever used a raw ylang ylang or neroli; a patchouli or a lavender – and especially citruses – knows that pure essential oils are not really wearable as perfumes: there are often unpleasant tangents (ylang ylang unpleasantly harsh at the end of its duration, drained of vitality; rose just sour and depleted; jasmine rich, foul); strange, lurking unexpectations (the hidden ‘milkiness’ of rosemary and eucalpytus; the ‘curdled’ quality of natural sandalwood in some phases of its olfactive progression; almost every oil in fact just too vibrant and multifaceted to be curtailed with a commercially viable simplicity). This brand, therefore, claims to actively embrace, indeed showcase these ‘feral aspects of nature’, while still, presumably, culminating in aesthetically pleasing perfumes.
Little says on Heretic’s website that
“Natural fragrance is a unique and unexplored niche within the fragrance world that for the most part has been used for spa and aromatherapy products. My interest in natural perfume has very little to do with health benefits and everything to do with their depth and complexity. Natural fragrances are much like wine in that you can detect nuances of the plant, the soil and its surroundings. They have a character that cannot be found of achieved with the synthetic copies. These fragrances are alive, unique and create an olfactory fingerprint.”
The few I have smelled certainly do have a vivid life to them. Of the two flores escandalosas, I found Florgasm to be the more successful in terms of harmony (a prominent orange blossom/ neroli punctured with fresh ylang ylang, tuberose, jasmine, hibiscus, bitter orange, bergamot and lemon), though Porn is also very flower-shop fresh – both of these have a certain florist’s in the early morning feel that would make them nice off-to-the-office -in-pressed-white-shirt briskness : with its green, peppery galbanum/ geranium/ violet leaf vetiver rose spiced with coriander and black pepper; the volatile, floral notes smell quite hyped up and tingling to be all sealed permanently in the same bottle together.
Detractors do say on scent fora that both of these (and many of the other Heretic perfumes) are too short lived on the skin – as is to be expected – even if for me personally the entire notion of ‘projection monsters’ and ‘stamina beasts’ is a misguided nightmare of the modern age that has truly brought down perfumery’s status low in the eyes of the non perfumisti, and the more sensitively-inclined scent haters of the ‘general public’. Yes, there might be a spritzy faintness to some of these delicacies, but nonetheless there is definitely also something extraordinarily appealing for me about the idea that the perfume you have just sprayed on literally contains virtually nothing but flowers.
I love Dirty Mango.
Quite how one extracts the scent of a mango is anyone’s guess (and ‘musk and white woods’? Are these as kosher as we have been lead to believe?), but the main mango accord here, circled with mandarin orange and geranium for spikiness, is undoubtedly rather delicious. There is something about the overall, fresh and mouthsmacking feel to the scent that reminds me a little of Chopard’s delirious Casmir, but without that perfume’s heaviness nor rich vanilla; Rather, there is a lighter sensation to the perfume, an endearing adult cuteness, which makes it far less slimey and ridiculous than Montale’s hilarious Mango Manga; less pixellated and overly thought out than Bertrand Duchaufour’s glittering Bombay Bling. I could wear this.
Dirty Ginger I would leave for someone else: but there is no denying that this one is peculiarly sexy. Firstly, I love ginger to death – it is one of my favourite flavours and cooking ingredients (my ultimate ginger in perfumery would probably be Versace L’Homme from 1984, though it is not listed as an official note; or the sultry ginger-led Gucci Envy for Men from 1998, which D wears with aplomb) : I don’t believe that this optimistic, and ultra-fortifying rhizome is used anywhere near enough in perfumery. Dirty Ginger is more experimental and eccentric than any other fragrance I have smelled based on this note (ginger vs shiso vs palo santo vs lime, with cumin, tea and black pepper all writhing suggestively down in the mix : : : : diffident, dirty (that would be the combination with the armpit sweat note of the cumin, and definitely distancingly erotic). Ironically, I also actually find this one the most ‘aromatherapy-ish‘ of today’s selection – but that certainly doesn’t detract from its growlingly suggestive, odd-ball charm.
To finish, predictably I go for the vetiver.
While on the whole, I avoid buying expensive niche vetiver scents because – contradicting what I wrote earlier about the unwearable overcomplexity of most natural oils – vetiver is one that I do wear in pure essential (at a fraction of the cost, and with more fulfilling results). That said, if I come across a fragrance that can capture the earthiness of the finest vetiver zizanioides but then embellishes it with something that I know I can’t do by myself, then my ears prick up. Dirty Grass is one of these : the greenest, grassiest vetiver (top notes like freshly cut grass stems in the opening, along with galbanum, coriander, and CBD cannabis oil, though I am not sure that this was printed on the label I saw here in Japan where there are very strict regulations regarding this). In tandem, these notes make the fragrance feel alive, and I am definitely intrigued : to be revivified, zoned out and anchored simultaneously strikes me as a pleasing fragrance option. I will definitely be taking this one out for a second spin with view to possibly getting a full bottle; a hint of skank in the overall mix, for me, not deterring the mind from a generally, wholesome, and very clean, vitality.