Despite the attractiveness of the name (I live in the zen temple of Japan, many of the structures and their precincts just down the hill: some with such an extreme beauty just sitting in their gardens is mind and body-altering ) I have always thought of Shiseido’s first internationally launched perfume as being the prototypical – and I don’t usually use this denigratory word – ‘granny perfume’. Though obviously a vintage lover – I have long extolled the virtues of the floral woody aldehydic and wear them regularly – just last weekend I wore the extrait of Nina Ricci’s Farouche and fell in love with it properly for the first time, visiting an old park in the rain next to a lake with a bridge dating back to the thirteenth century over arching; the scent adding melancholy and internal atmosphere; I adore Calèche, Calandre, and so many others – but there was always something about the musty, fusty musk/oakmoss finish at the bottom of this scent that made it more than slightly outdated – a flower print hot summer nylon dress and tights at the back of the bus. My feelings of this gerontological edge to the scent (we all get there in the end, but may not necessarily wish to hasten the process), may also be just because I literally gave a bottle of the Zen cologne – lighter, more masculine, a bit Hai Karate and not nearly as good as the parfum that I have only just discovered at a cheap Yokosuka thrift shop – many years ago, when back home from Japan, not long before the end of her life – to my own grandmother. I can see the bottle, in my mind’s eye, gathering dust, in the chintzy, fiftiesy bathroom up the creaking carpeted stairs, with its old lacey Spanish flamenco dolls from their beloved trips to the Costa Del Sol; ceramic bambis with their overlashed eyes; the plastic flowers; the fake feather birds. Zen nested amongst all this, next to my grandad’s unused bottles of Tabac; my nan, when I kissed her hello and goodbye, when she remembered to put some on, would sometimes give off a heartwarming, soft aromatic cushion of Zen from her slightly bristly skin, a scent from a powdered cheek that was pleasant and homey (smelling the bottle of cologne, which cost next to nothing, the other day, I had a real jolt of remembrance and association).
The parfum, however, which came wrapped in some cellophane tossed together with the cologne in an old bargain bin, is another question altogether. I don’t think I have ever encountered the vintage formula before in my time here, and it is a very pleasant surprise indeed. In this concentration, Perfumer Josephine Catapano (Cinnabar; Youth Dew, Fidji – you get the drift) blends the expect flowers, musks and balsams that you get in every fragrance of this light-floral-chypre type, but in the extrait, which I came home to last night after a long, tiring – if quite enjoyable – week of work and applied and sighed to for a while, there is an extraordinarily sentient jasmine note in the vivid top accord, shaded by greenery and a clutch of hyacinath, violet, rose, mimosa and narcissus in the background scintillating quietly, before the more dated, muskier notes make their appearance a little bit later that is delicately beautiful. The scent, overall, is something of a delight in fact – not dissimilar to Van Cleef & Arpel’s First, or the original Nina by Nina Ricci – and a revelation to me. Though only a small bottle, I think I will now keep this little gem in the kitchen next to the lamp stand where I found it the other day as a perfume of ‘momentary pleasure’, one for a moment’s respite when I need to detach. Nan (wherever you are now, RIP) : Nice though it was, I am sorry I short changed you with the cologne. I should have definitely have bought you the perfume.