As I was walking down the escalator of the Saikaya department store – a fusty institution in Fujisawa from the sixties or seventies that seems to be perpetually haemorraghing money but is still somehow clinging on and that I use as a shortcut to the station, in the cramped Shiseido concession on the third floor, hemmed in at the back on the left side, through the glass of a cabinet, I saw the above.
Always a sucker for Shiseido packaging and their general aesthetic, I couldn’t resist having a quick look (although I was already late). I had never heard of Cymbidium Sinense – though looking it up I find we have one growing in a suspended hanging vase on our balcony, I just didn’t know its name; but without even properly smelling it, at ￥2200 – about £13 – I spontaneously got it for my collection of florals, and just because I like looking at the box.
Purchasing perk aside though, I must say there is something slightly baffling about this product.
As you can see, ¥2200 is the suggested retail price for this perfume, which is extraordinarily cheap for what we initially would naturally imagine to be a special niche, limited edition and probably ultra expensive.
And as it turns out, this perfume is a limited edition, and a collectible.
It is a one off fragrance for the Tokyo Grand Prix Orchid exhibition.
The official orchid website tells us that :
“Each year at the Tokyo Dome Grand Prix Orchid Festival, Shiseido releases 3 orchid-based perfumes.
They are only ever released once, as the next year will be 3 different orchid fragrances.
The cym. sinense perfume has a slightly sweet musk scent (similar to the flower). Typically Japanese perfumes are not overbearing. They are sweet and light overall. Since these are only ever released once at Tokyo Dome and not sold anywhere else, they are instant collectibles!”
And how, also, if they are exclusively sold onsite at the orchid Mecca, did this unofficial boutique scent creep its way down the Tokaido line all the way to Fujisawa?
Was this, in fact, an illegal purchase?
If not, it probably should have been. As a perfume, it is dreadful. D’s pronouncement when I got home in the evening was was : “Foul” – a one word review, but I wouldn’t go that far. Part of me genuinely kind of likes it : a childishly potent peach pourri oil blended with mandarin, some greenery, and a mystifying, slightly unreachable florality lurking somewhere in the inner mists; on me, it smells a little like taking out a half sucked fruit boiled sweet and then rubbing it on your hand; but there is also a coquettish muskiness as well that I l know could probably be very seductive on the properly cutesy coy lolitagoth pretender. It’s all about the lace, and how you use your eyelashes.
Ultimately, I am not sorry I bought it. This scent is yesterday: embottled forever now, going to bed with an oversugared ‘orchid’ floating somewhere in my night conscious. And, like the bizarre fortune tellers booth I found in the corner of the semi-deserted restaurant floor at the top of the building later that day, the whole enterprise for me captures some of the unexpected (for westerners expecting only neon and robots and gleaming skyscrapers) dowdiness of Japan; its unwillingness to sweep away the cobwebs of the past; its embrace of the clandestine layers.
There have always been Japan-inspired perfumes, from Mitsouko through Eau Parfumée Au Thé Vert to Japon Noir and Plum Japonais; Gaiac 10 Tokyo by Le Labo; Mousse Arashiyâma by Le Jardin Retrouvé to Art Et Parfum’s Kimono Vert and Nightingale by Zoologist : the incense temple of the first Aedes De Venustas…..a very particular niche of the fragranced landscape usually based on ideas of subtle eroticism and tact; ancient forests; powdered silk. The Tokyo-Parisian hybrids of Kenzo, Comme Des Garcons and Issey Miyake further globalized notions of Japaneseness in the modern mind : a sensual simplicity; a strictness; one step removed.
But what of Japanese perfumes created specifically and domestically for users in the home market?
Do these perfumes also necessarily rely on the country’s own historically exquisite cultural tropes stretching back millennia, as a way of distinguishing them from the equally popular European perfumes worn here by Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, Guerlain ?
Or do these creations merge with them in some way, creating home variants?
I would say a little bit of both.
At the drug store (and there are so many pharmacies and chemists and toiletry stores here it is overwhelming; perusing them is practically a pastime for a lot of people on their days off) you can get every possible variety of sweet, cute, erotic, soapy, woody, or fresh themed fragrances at ultra-cheap prices, skin scents for schoolgirls essentially. Further up the adult ladder there are of course the iconic skincare brands such as Shiseido, who have their own range of mid-range (and in truth, somewhat dowdy in image) perfumes such as More and Koto and Murasaki sold exclusively in their Japanese boutiques (the Serge Lutens cooler-than-thou variants were international exportations that were never really part of the domestic repertory).
Likewise, other popular makeup brands here such as Kanebo, Pola and Decorté have historically had their own perfumes as part of the in house product selection (the latter’s recently released Kimono Tsuya is priced at around ￥8,800, which would be seen as a luxury product by most average people on the street, though nowhere near of course the outrageous cost of niche, which becomes even more extortionate through import taxes and exchange rates and is exclusively for the purist fashion conscious with money to burn in the metropolis at Hankyu and Isetan).
Kimono Tsuya, a new release, is a quintessentially 21st century Japanese perfume for ladies that is very pretty and prim with its roses and peonies and magnolia and plum yuzu trimmings: I know exactly the type of person here it would suit, though I wouldn’t necessarily be wanting to sit next to her at the wedding. I find this kind of thing pleasant to an extent – a fresh floral quite well done, with its ume undertones giving it a vague hint of poignancy, but it is also really quite annoying for me personally in a ‘passively aggressive perfect kind’ of way – as though it were a Japanese relative of Chloé and L’Occitane’s heinous Eau Des Quatres Reines – a rose perfume of synthetic mien that polluted the airwaves for way too many years here and denotes a very precise socio-economic age bracket and culturally moulded, typical personality.
Too much exposure to this would seriously grate.
The perfumes of Osaji, on the other hand, a very reasonably priced perfume and skin care brand that I tested again properly yesterday in Fujisawa, most probably would not.
Like other perfumeries here that deliberately mine ‘Japaneseness’ in their blends, such as the mysterious, understated romanticism of Parfums Satori, or the more novelty-ish/gimmick (but still very nicely harmonized) perfumes by J-Scent, whose Sumo Wrestler and other perfumes I have reviewed on here before and whose thick, floral powder aldehyde Paper Soap I am thinking about possibly investing in next, this range of very natural and rather dreamy smelling perfumes combines a very full-bodied, powdered burst of one thematic accord which then rapidly dissipates into something more attenuated and ‘background’; thus Hiba – a wood oil related to cedar and hinoki – encapsulates the renenergizing and strengthening spirit of hiba wood but surrounds it with a gentle cloud of heft that makes it softer and wearable; Jinkou perhaps taking off the bite of the Japanese agarwood tradition a little too much, but despite its unfanged gentleness, still irrevocably enigmatic.
While a new limited edition perfume by the brand, another coniferous blend called Kuromoji, is possibly the most unsexy date fragrance I can possibly imagine, a kind of reverse Spanish Fly that smells just like pine disinfectant, the same cannot be said for the florals……..which are definitely their own kind of unique gorgeous.
When going through all of the the range with me yesterday and photographing the bottles, D jumped back and said ‘blimey!’ or something more salted, when smelling Suisen (Narcissus), which I have reviewed before and actually ending up going back to buy a few months ago because I simply needed to have it in my collection. When compared with the other perfumes in the range, it really is the stand out , as an extraordinarily indolic and potent jasmine and narcissus perfume whose photorealism and audacity I greatly admire but which to a lot of people is probably quite shocking and revolting. Today on my hand it smells lovely – fresh and jolting, but at other times it is as though something has withered and died, an animalic pissiness that is slightly vile in its later stages even if the opening floral triumphalist blast is simply fantastic.
Fuji, or Wisteria, unfortunately doesn’t quite rise to the occasion in the same way as Suisen, which is a shame when this flower is so blousy and psychically overpowering in nature, and still flowering in all the mountains around here (stand under the great bower of wisteria trees here, as my friend Katie does – see her picture below – and you will be drugged into an immediate trance).
To be rendered properly, a real wisteria perfume needs gusto and colour, but Fuji, though purple in spirit, unexpectedly also has an ozonic/sport element running through it that makes it curiously androgynous, toning down the heat with a certain coolness but not the curvaceous bombshell that I was hoping for (on the subject of wisteria, I personally adore Diptyque’s jasmine/’wisteria’ florically maniacal Olène, my bottle of which I wore with great pleasure the other day alongside some Glicine (wisteria) by Borsari 1840, but just like CdG’s Wisteria Hysteria, this doesn’t really plug into the flower realness I am aching for : have you ever smelled a convincing version of this floral in a perfume? If so, i need to know).
Yūsuge (golden day lily) – another gleaming, living Osaji flower scent – was very pleasing on me : a yellow floral that shone, then faded, as we sat in a retro 70’s cafe drinking cold bottled beers with yolk yellow plastic banquettes- which is how I like it (ideally, all floral perfumes, for me, would be like this with no woody underpinnings or musk – I like a soliflore to be a soliflore). D wore Botan on one hand (peony), and this was also bright and fully rounded and vastly more pleasant than the tight artificiality of the teeth-whitened ‘peonies’ in Kimono Tsuya, though the best of the bunch aside the narcissus was definitely Sumire (Violet), which he wore on the other; a perfume I would consider actually getting as it combines so many facets that feel correct to me in a Japanese context; a very sensual, almost voluptuously warm steamed aspect that brings to mind the beauty of hinoki soap at a hotspring, alongside a powdered violet that verges on lustful, but maintains its good behaviour; while still definitely hinting at the flesh beneath an elegant attire. There is something deeply atmospheric about this one: enough to draw me in.
I came across this inconspicuous little patch completely by chance outside a 7-11 last month, and of course I had to go over and sniff it.
I immediately felt homesick.
Where I grew up in Canada, our house is almost half surrounded by lilacs that have been there since before me, thanks to my dad, who was an avid gardener .
Despite the fact that I was only nine years old when my dad passed away, we developed a pretty tight relationship. He let me ‘help’ him with the gardening from as far back as I can remember, planting, admiring, and harvesting flowers and vegetables.
He’s the one who taught me the names of most the flowers I know.
He brought me to gardening shows – at least one focused on tulips – and I ran around, gathering all the cards displaying the photo and name of each kind of tulip; when I got home I proudly put them into my sticker album (even then I was particularly taken back by the deep black purple one; I can’t remember the name……but I feel it had ‘queen’ in it.)
As I ran around playing in the back yard during the spring and summer, I would always shove my nose into flowers, discovering what smelled and what didn’t (and what smelled bad: I decided daisies smelled like bum); picking veggies to eat after rinsing them under the garden hose.
To this day, freshly-picked carrots with garden soil on them is probably the most nostalgic scent that I haven’t smelled since then…………………. but I think I can remember it perfectly.
The lilacs: Dad had planted them all along the back border of our big back yard, with a couple of teasers in the front yard, too. When they were in bloom, and when I had a friend come over to play and it was time for them to go home, Dad would come out with the shears and cut a bouquet of lilacs for my friend to take home to their mom.
But back to that random 7-11 in Japan by the train station.
I didn’t want to leave the spot, but I eventually had to.
It was a pretty busy area, and I was standing there huffing with tears in my eyes for long enough that I know I looked weird.
Whatever. Passersby don’t know what they’re missing.
Some perfumes change name. Yves Saint Laurent’s Champagne famously turned into Yvresse due to the fury and chagrin of French grape farmers. Heeley’s white flower orgy and extrait de parfum Bubblegum Chic is now Jasmine OD; veteran rock gods Metallica forced Guerlain in court to change their marvellously mellifluous orange blossom carnation to the name of Metalys – but then Guerlain probably wouldn’t have minded too much in the first place as they have always had a field day discombobulating Guerlainistas by pouring the same perfume into different bottles (often at twice or three times the price to add insult to injury): Lui is now Oeillet Pourpre (!); Mahora – an unsellable name to begin with – became the weaker and attenuated Mayotte; Chamade Pour Homme the more macho-acceptable Soul Of A Hero (L’Âme d’un Heros), Guet Apens became Attrape-Coeur became Vol de Nuit Evasion became Royal Extract (sometimes the formula are slightly tweaked but the perfumes are still basically the same); Figue-Iris became Promenade Anglais – and I think Baiser de Russie (Russian Fuck) was once something else as well – but I can’t quite remember what it was.
If I were at The Different Company, I am sure I would also probably try and change the rather outdated and generically titled Oriental Lounge, which, rather like Creed’s ‘Asian Green Tea’, is both sweeping and staid in one stale breath – even offensive, in a climate where ‘oriental’ as a fragrance category has been replaced by ‘amber’ even at the highest echelons of perfume stratification à la Michael Edwards due to its colonialist overtones (while still not quite capturing perhaps the full range of the former scent genus with its preponderance also of flowers, spices, earth tones and resins, the new classification is less racially stereotypical and does feel much more in keeping with the times).
Despite its ungainly name, I have had brief, cursory sniffs of The Different Company’s OL in the past, having quite liked a few perfumes in their extensive range including their other ‘exotic’ offerings, Adjatay and Al Sahra, and thought that at least it had olfactory potential, in an Obsession or original Moschino kind of way. Sometimes I like the full-on, balsamic erotica, and what better time to try this one finally, albeit semi-ironically, properly on the back my hand and wrist for the first time than yesterday, at a department store in Fujisawa after finally leaping into the darkness and booking a flight with Etihad Airlines of the United Arab Emirates from Tokyo to London via Abu Dhabi in August at a fifth floor travel agency (which felt so weird and overwhelming and exhausting it is hard to explain, as though we were virgin travellers going to terra incognita, never having been anywhere abroad before). All the rigmarole and viral precautions and necessary apps and vaccination checks and new passport and alien registration card checks – we were roiled, avidly eating our delicious Chinese lunch afterwards in virtual silence.
The journey from Kamakura will be unbearably long – and in a mask all the way I can’t even quite even imagine it. Nor how utterly foul and grotty I am going to feel by the time we finally get to my parents’ house in Birmingham, months later. But direct flights were howlingly expensive ($3300 per person for economy class?!!!! – we laughed out loud ) and somehow, we both felt irrationally slightly safer going the ‘sub-continent’ route than going even ANYWHERE near the north of the world or the Baltic region where that rubber-faced and botoxed, grim-lipped dickhedski could press any missile button he felt like at probably any moment he liked and take out commercial air liners just for the fun of it (if he takes ours out, though, so be it – at least I will be with Duncan, drunk, and thoroughly enjoying a film on the in-flight service as I soar my way down crashing into flames in the scorching desert sands); if not, and we make it, I will be in simple human ecstacy perusing all the Arab hair creams and body products at Abu Dhabi airport as I did, once, many years ago in Dubai, where I picked up nice soaps and deodorants and some cheap, almond and saffron-tastic fragrance masterpieces that I still use to this day. A new location – even a stopover somewhere – is always exciting (I will never forget the utter thrill of the jolt of a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice in Istanbul airport I once drank that electrified me with health before the final leg of the journey back to Blighty) – for me there is always something intriguing and stimulating to try; an unexperienced ambience, even just the mesmerizing excitement of International People watching, as you wait nervously near the gate for the announcement of the next endless stage of your airless, compressed, flying odyssey.
One perfume I know I definitely won’t be wearing on this mega-haul flight from hell is Oriental Lounge. Yesterday, in the moist humidity of a sunny/cloudy day I found it clammy, sweet and suffocating, even if at the same time it was obvious to me that this is a very well made perfume with ingredients that work from start to finish : the proper, amber musked vanilla base that one expects from a fragrance of this ilk, long-lasting; ogle- eyed; and sensual. The fresh and alluring top notes of curry leaf, bergamot and other citruses over rose and labdanum and robust tonka bean suitably create the required come-into-my-parlour-and-rub-my-genie-lamp ambience, but for me, the sandalwood and ‘satinwood’ of the scent, smudged up against the petals of white flowers lurking in the backdrop create a somewhat sickly tension that I have never liked in comparable perfumes of this type such as Ormonde Jayne’s Tolu;, Christian Dior’s Addict, and particularly Jean Louis Scherrer’s Nuits Indiennes, which this reminds me of the most; but all are similarly sultry. These perfumes – full bodied, lusty – can be genuinely seductive on the right adult woman, even if this slightly obvious and vulgar seduction does tend to involve certain unavoidable clichés in the process, such as speaking in low voiced and whispering, warm husk-breathed sentences, letting the hand and lacquered talons linger just slightly too long on said-target’s shoulder; gold and dangled, heavy jewellery, gently clanking down deliberately and caressing the back of hair; meaningful, kohl-lidded glances……………..and all the other predictable, traditional, yawnsome trappings of the sloe-eyed, occidental beguilement.
The general global mood is very far from celebratory at the moment – for very obvious reasons – even if personally I can’t deny I am truly enjoying the beginnings of summer. Weather-wise, as we come out of winter and enter the warmer months before they get sweltering, at this time of year I often find myself hankering for a mid-point between the heavierness of the hibernation perfumes and the freshness of flowers : some anchoring, still perhaps a hint of darkness (the hallmark of the chic chypre?) – but not too weighed down or white flower euphoric.
Sydney-based botanical perfumer Samuel Gravan’s delicate creations are ideal for this time of year and capture precisely some of what I am craving above. Vetiver Absolute, a scent that I would say is based more on the Indian patchouli that lies at its heart, but indeed paired beautifully with a dry, clear vetiver – is a light, herbaceous perfume initially (notes of lime, basil, juniper, bergamot and lavender) that once settled, becomes a delightfully subtle, but long lasting and enigmatic, aromatic patchouli (with notes of pine needles and cedar) that puts me in mind of some of the early L’Artisan Parfumeur perfumes like Vetiver and Patchouli – long gone, but still very much missed by the likes of myself. Those scents were extraordinarily ‘clarified’ (rarified, even), while retaining much of their natural earthiness that edged into the stylish abstract, and Vetiver Absolute has a similar quality: walking around one afternoon with a few sprays of this scent on I felt that the perfume was doing exactly what the perfumer say sit does (‘elegant, comforting, grounding’) – and I would like to get a bottle.
We all need a little gravitas in our scent collections sometimes and Decadence, another perfume in the Samuel Gravan collection is more tactful than its name might suggest (and mercifully, smells nothing like the horrifying perfume by Marc Jacobs). Like Vetiver Absolute, this refined and cultivated, very natural smelling rose leather maintains a playful weightlessness throughout its development, even when anchored pricklingly with a perfect patchouli note that is melded effortlessly with the rose. The top notes of the perfume – lemon, basil, mandarin, black pepper and cardamom – are fleeting and less essential than what happens next for me, but the incense in the base rounded off with a touch of vanilla make for a dose of the properly dry chypric – this one will give you a very elegant – but not overeffusive – sillage.
Another complexly chypric rose leather patchouli incense perfume I have come across and rather enjoyed recently is the ridiculously named ‘ManRose’ by esteemed Italians Etro – who do make a lot of good scents, it does have to be said, so we will forgive them this gauche and clumsy name just this once. I picked a pristine boxed bottle of this up cheaply the other day from a second hand clothes shop in Yokohama thinking that one of us could wear it when feeling darkrosey, but on me, despite all bergamot and elemi resin clustering the Turkish rose essence in the heart, there was something rather flat – for a similar vibe I would rather wear vintage Voleur De Roses or my Tiziana Terenzi Orion, which is brasher and has a hint of pineapple, red currant, birch and thyme along with the rose and patchouli and is good for hotter days out when I am feeling assertive – but surprisingly on D, who is not usually a rose person, somehow the notes of geranium and Sichuan pepper along with the freshness of the cardamom (one of his very favourite tastes and smells in the world) really made the central rose theme smell very alive on him, robust and almost juicy : he thus seems game for trying this perfume when we go out on Saturday – as I think I would find a scent trail of this one rather dashing.
For a darker, more gothic rose (much darker, actually), Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s excellent recent Halfeti rose, based around the concept of the actual black Turkish roses of that name – which apparently do actually exist (see pictured above) is the perfect shroud of summer, when you are perhaps not feeling up to pretending to be bright and cheerful with everything that is going on and want a floral that smells more serious. Ultimately, while quite unsmiling in temperament, you might call it solemn, even, this perfume also smells undeniably gorgeous : unyielding, not changing nor developing very much on the skin, but if you like the central theme, as I do : rich, deep clay-like Turkish rose absolutes and ottos fused with oud (but in a ratio I can tolerate, and I hate oud – here it is a soft, animalic echo rather than a bludgeon); resins, incense and a touch of galbanum, you may, like me, enjoy the morose, luxuriant seamlessness of a perfume that surrounds your person, and your mood, like night mists descending on a rose garden.
A regular drinker of coffee, I sometimes also find myself craving the essence of coffea arabica and robusta in perfume : but only when it doesn’t actually smell like coffee. Last week in Yokosuka, suddenly in the mood for the more spring-ambered balsamic, I swooned over myself in pleasure wearing an instinctively grabbed Serge Lutens Cèdre (an amber tuberose) all over one arm, and L’Artisan Parfumeur’s phenomenal Eau Navigateur – allegedly the first perfume ever to use coffee absolute in its formulation – all over the other : it smelled great. Navigateur is one of those double-edged bottles of happiness and melancholy for me, though; sad in the sense that each precious time I decide to use it, it means there is less for the future : our bottle is now down to its last eighth. I can’t waste this any more : such an exquisitely, intuitively built perfume by the late Jean Laporte (who I personally think was a very underrated genius) – that it somehow manages to be both light as air – like blue skies and sunlight in the desert – and yet irreplaceably warm; soft; enveloping and enigmatic, with its intricately filigréed notes of spice; coffee; incense; rum, myrrh and other resins; a hint of tobacco and a delicate floral breeze (it sometimes reminds me of Chamade) – but used with such a genial deftness of touch……………to me this perfume is an out and out masterpiece. It is, unfortunately, also now very difficult to find, so I must cherish it while it lasts. While the spiced dexterity of amber and all the other ingredients is sense-prickling and inspired in this blend, the coffee note in Navigateur is, I think, ultimately what makes it – conferring a strangely unexpected and otherworldly quality. Yet it somehow never smells especially coffeeish; more a feeling; an aromatic lift – perhaps wisps of coffee aromas emanating from some unplaceable building nearby, rather than the physical, caffeined embodiment of the drink’s invigoration itself.
The weather is up and down here at the moment – summer to winter and back again from one day to the next – crazily changeable and intense. Friday, the first day of the national ‘Golden Week’, was freezing: heinous with tempestuous rains and winds, and I had all the fires on; wrapped up in sweaters and blankets and doused, and I mean doused , in about twenty sprays of the already incredibly dense and sweet Encens Suave by Matiere Premiere, an intoxicating autosuffocation that even with one spray perhaps verges on a cloying – but very natural smelling – Madagascar vanilla, benzoin and labdanum, a heart of Somalian frankincense, and unusually, a top note of fresh coffee, which I found myself nuzzling into on my knitwear with gusto on Monday, huffing like an obsessive cat; the lightness of the coffee aroma melding divinely with the incense and vanilla and making me melt. Before, with this scent, my nose had been focusing more on the vanilla and incense that dominate; but now that one’s nasal hairs have unearthed the fresher coffee nuances (once you smell something you can’t unsmell it) Encens Suave has the chance to potentially become one of the Beloveds – and I will have to savour it just a little more carefully. The scent also lingers magnificently, and that is another quality that I hold dear in a perfume – when I pick up my clothes the next day and just want to put the same ones on again they smell so good.
A friend of mine recently went through a six month caffeine-free period for health reasons rather than out of choice, and came to the ultimate conclusion that life was crap without it. I am also addicted to coffee, but try to limit myself to two cups a day now to avoid too much overstimulation – overdosing because of the cravings and the deliciousness only leads to jittery regrets and upset stomachs. It is definitely better in moderation – and for the powerful antioxidant factor, which is another reason I drink it (we all need our excuses), only ever the real thing, never ‘instant’, which I would only ever drink as a desperate last resort. It also needs to be a good bean; well rendered; hot enough (vital – must be piping) and presented in a nice vessel to get the Chapman approval. Fortunately, Japan does coffee extremely well in all the above regards, so I am usually pretty satisfied.
Are you also a coffee aficionado (and who isn’t?) If so, I would like to know what other coffee perfumes you would recommend as they have got under my skin. I am sure that in the niche world, there must be quite a few interesting numbers that fallen beneath my radar over the years: I like Tom Ford’s Café Rose, thought Aftelier Cologne’s Cafe Tuberosa was interesting, and was also an early champion of Diptyque’s bizarre but curiously alluring aquatic coffee, roasted sesame and apple blossom scent Florabellio, which I once enjoyed throughout a trip to Cambodia. I would like to be familiar with other, unusual perfumes that contain this note (not too compressedly though ) if you have any recommendations. I am rarely, if ever, drawn to the ‘designer’ gourmand popular style by Valentino/Versace/ Dolce & Gabbana et al, nor even A*Men, with all their myriads of overdosed notes that just feel clogged up with woods and oversugared commerce – perfumes that just ‘hedge their bets’ by throwing everything into the blender and coming out thick, staid and overconventional (but if you know of any standouts of these nature I am open to try them: there are always exceptions…..)
At the same time, I am not interested in the very literal smell of Cappuccino and espresso perfumes either – I spill enough drinks over myself as it is, being one of the clumsiest people in the world – and so in that sense I have often unwillingly ‘worn’ the smell of coffee plenty of times in my adult life throughout the workday having upturned my late morning mug onto my suit. I want the coffee note to play an intriguing ‘supporting role’, ideally, in an unusual and original, even underhand, way even if sometimes, the more ‘out there’ uses of the coffee note can be really quite peculiar. Lush’s Confetti, for example, combines coffee with a pungently synthetic ‘pear drop’ note and a rich, natural rose oil over hysterically sweet, powdered almond violets – the kind of crude and unimaginable perfume that could have certain swathes of the population chundering in pink plastic buckets it is so weird and headache inducingly acid-sugared — and yet there is still something very addictive about it that means I would never part with my bottle. I wear it. And let it linger in the room that I am writing in right now: there is nothing else quite like it. Billed by the company as a wedding day perfume, though, I really wouldn’t ever recommend this usage of Confetti on the day itself, as you might end up inducing your father to faint as he walks you down the aisle.
Another coffee perfume I have rather liked recently, to my surprise, is Byredo’s Mumbai Noise – probably my favourite in their range so far, and a potential buy, even if it has proved to be polarizing for a lot of people. The notes of contention are the bitter oud / ‘amber’ in the base, which I can imagine becoming a deal breaker for me ( I have yet to try it on skin )- but nicely entwined with a rich coffee and sweet, liqueurish davana absolute, normally also a note I would avoid – over amber, spices and sandalwood and with an overall atmosphere of friendliness and generosity that I know would be moodboosting: : the whole just brims with positivity. I have liked it both times that I have gravitated towards it on the department store shelf. Where Byredo perfumes are often, in my experience, so acridly woody you are immediately transformed into a creosote-coated plank upon one spray, each iron nail drilled brutally right into your head (probably why a lot of the die-hard hardcore Byredo-Heads are, unlike me, vocally less impressed with this less aggressive release – really, though, I could never in a million years take such wooded intensity on my skin for even a few seconds as I would just feel blood-poisoned ) —- Mumbai Noise, in contrast, is a new sensation for me : far mellower; rounded — aromatically full — and, at least on first impressions, just edging towards the sweet.