ZEN by SHISEIDO (1964)

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always something about the musty, fusty musk/oakmoss finish at the bottom of this scent that made it more than slightly outdated – a flower print hot summer nylon dress and tights at the back of the bus.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.

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SCENT OF A WOMAN : : : FLEUR DE ROCAILLE by CARON (1992)

Fleur de Rocaille is the 90’s, powerhouse honeyed uberfloral often erroneously assumed to be the perfume in the movie Scent of A woman identified by Al Pacino – who (over)plays a blind, cranky retired military colonel with a marvellous sense of smell and the ability to recognize fragrances fluttering from the skin of the fair sex. When this old grump then meets his protegé’s mother (Frances Conroy) for the first time on a cold Autumnal day in New York state – leaning in a little he catches her scent and says, knowingly, ‘Fleurs De Rocaille.’

‘Yes’, she says, taken aback.

That extra ‘s’, here, is crucial.

The original Fleurs de Rocaille, created by Ernest Daltroff in 1934, is a very different entity to its much more strident, unrelenting and at times, even slightly tacky, almost fifty yearl-later follow up. A tremblingly vulnerable, very poetic, musky floral aldehydic scent based on lilac and a posy of other flowers that is at once almost too pallidly emotive to bear, emitting the sense that it truly does intimately know the deep horrors of this world and just wants to be forever protected from them; Fleurs is painfully feminine, exquisitely constructed, otherworldly (if rather old-fashioned, or at the very least; truly not of these times), and yet, because or despite of all this, somehow rather irritating. Sometimes, with Fleurs De Rocaille, you just want to slap it back into reality.

The 1992 release of the ‘new version’, in contrast (minus the ‘s’, still with the lilac, but with a whole bunch of strongly perfumed flowers besides,; gardenia, jasmine; a ton of honey all drowning in amber and sandalwood, very starlet barfly), actually coincided with the film – which I must admit, I thought was utterly dreadful at the time, but which I now, in my young dotage, almost feel a nostalgia for and wouldn’t mind watching again : at the very least it would be fun to see which perfumes Lieutenant Frank Slade gets right and how The Ladies react when the preternaturally gifted nose and army man comes in closer and tells them what they are wearing.

For sure, Fleurs De Rocaille would have been rather special for 1992, no longer fashionable, very much a personally selected gem of a perfume, and would also, you can be certain of this, have smelled quite lovely on Christine Downes ,as she stands looking rather seduced by his attentions in the beautiful light. As he says, ‘auburn hair, beautiful deep brown eyes…’ – a Pre-Raphaelite, glowing delicacy that is ideal for this scent.

If, in contrast, the Woman had been wearing the just released Fleur, we would have an entirely different aura indeed and our Frank might have been quite overwhelmed; repelled, or quite likely, just more blatantly horny. Part of what I consider to be a trilogy beginning with Grès’ Cabotine in 1990, Fleur De Rocaille in 1992, and then Dior’s Tendre Poison in 1994, these three Power Flower bouquets form a very datable, immediately early nineties vibe, at least to me (smelling Fleur De Rocaille in a Chinese restaurant yesterday evening – I had been compelled to go out to Isezakicho in Yokohama and buy a vintage bottle of this Caron as I had seen it sitting in a window in an old junk shop one day and even though I knew that I didn’t entirely like it, I felt like I had to have it. Just to add to my collection, for completism; to be able to smell it again – – – but as I was saying, D, listening to me blah blah blahing about the chronology of fragrance trends and how it was quintessentially nineties, said that on smelling it, surely, it was more eighties, and in many ways he would absolutely right: but during ‘the period of adjustment’ following the end of the loud 80’s florals, there was actually an (ever) diminishing continuation of those brash, intoxicating themes in a lot of mainstream perfumery (think Christian Lacroix C’est La Vie! Ungaro Senso, Ricci Deci Dela etc) even as the gaunt skelettas of the ozonic lotuses were simultaneously gaining in popularity and rendering these out of date florals out of date.

Yet, you know, to me, there is also something rather timeless – or should I say memorable, relevant – about Fleur De Rocaille, just in a different way to its much more rarified relative, Fleurs, who will always be off in a world of her own. And wearing a little – trust me, you need only a very little – on the back of my hand, last night, as the nuclear orange blossom/ lilac slowly morphed into a musky, ambered cedar, I could actually detect the DNA of its antecedent somewhere in the heart of its base (Caron has always claimed that Fleur was a ‘reworking’ of Fleurs). Where Cabotine and Tendre Poison are tighter, cattier, and much greener, Rocaille is quite loose (in many senses); more unapologetically erotic. Possibly stumbling a bit after having too much to drink. A bit ridiculous, like this vintage ad from when it first came out: (“a flower that is not easily picked:’)

Indeed, you could almost even possibly go so far as to say that that is something really rather ‘shameless’ about this perfume, which also gives me another reason to rather like it. When we talk about ‘innocence’ in relation to human history, I doubt that there ever has been such a time in reality, but in retrospect, the period when this perfume came out, for me at least: the tail end of the Economic Bubble in Japan – where Cabotine was a smash hit, Tendre Poison also, and probably Fleur De Rocaille too – was in many ways dumber, ignorant, carefree; silly. There was no internet; the world felt more contained, and a woman could go out on the town on a Friday night wearing a perfume like this and feel sexy, magnetic, and believable. Applied in the right dosage, I am sure that she would, to many, have proven to be irresistible.

Looking at the Caron website, I see that many of the classic Carons have been repackaged and redesigned (yet again ), though I think these look rather intriguing.

I have no idea, however, if the current Fleur de Rocaille smells similar to the original, but the notes are almost the same, and the in house description of ‘an assertive personality…excessively generous‘ certainly sounds familiar and about right. Probably, in some ways, a slightly polished, more up to date version of this perfume might be a good idea, as the bottle I have – slightly tired; some top notes not at their best – the perfume inside stronger than ever as though it has been macerating itself into a frenzy for three decades, awaiting my inevitable arrival – is, as I said, definitely from A Particular Time. Like the much more troubled and troubling Fleurs, however, it also has its own, inimitable place in the perfumery canon. And in truth, the title of the film we have been referencing, The Scent Of A Woman, suits it just as perfectly.

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BOOK REVIEW: THE PERFUME COMPANION by SARAH McCARTNEY & SAMANTHA SCRIVEN (2021)

Discovering that writing existed on the subject of perfume was one of the most significant events in my life. Obsessed with scent since late childhood, perfume was something that lived in the format of experience; physically and psychologically felt, internalized, but not expressed. Magazines such as Vogue, with their brief PR intros alongside the mesmerizing new adverts for the latest perfume releases were always eagerly sucked up into my brain and consciousness, but it wasn’t until the 2000’s, with the gradual rise of the internet, and the birth of the first perfume blogs such as Bois De Jasmin, Now Smell This, Perfume: Smellin’ thing, and the like, that the lightning bolt struck and I would sit before the screen imbibing and digesting every word and humming bristingly with excitement.

Prior to this, I had got my greedsome hands, in the late nineties, on two books – somehow even more thrilling to me at the time – The Book Of Perfumes, which I had picked up at Waterstones one day – a very small gift book stacked by the till that was full of some of the many classic perfumes I was intimately familiar with,but described in passionate, sometimes rather camp detail (‘wear only with green taffeta and opal earrings etc). Nevertheless, I lapped up every word, and would sometimes take the book out of my desk from the top drawer and sit there absorbing and re-reading it until I knew practically every word. Another, much larger hardback that was sent me by a friend when I first came here was Perfume by Susan Irving – a history of the Egyptians and the Romans and the Spice Road and Ernst Beaux – the whole shebang from how the roses and jasmine were collected, to heart-stirringly mesmeric vintage bottles of Caron that ignited a shameless lust in me – —- it was a house I had never even heard of until this moment as they never appeared in any department stores of my childhood nor anywhere else; again, when drying my hair in the morning, I would go over passages again and again, a drug to my addiction. Somehow, what had been almost abstract, in my imagination, even as it swirled about my person and clung to my skin like living memories, became even more loomingly important once it was consecrated in text. Once I then, rather late in the day but better late than never, first came across somewhere descriptions of the original guide by Luca Turin: Le Guide, written in French, my friend Helen sent me a photocopied, downloaded manuscript of that epoch-making book, with its witty, literary, and often deeply poetic, completely subjective renderings of perfumes that I thought I would never encounter, and I was on fire, not long afterwards embarked on writing my first perfume review myself ; sat at my desk one bored, autumnal afternoon with nothing to do, I tried my best to conjure up the mythological perfection of Guerlain’s Mitsouko.

If I was stoked by those first entries into perfume writing – The John Oakes book contained only feminine big hits but delved into their construction with fascinating detail and a lot of military metaphors – ‘now come the big guns, an artillery of jasmine’ etc, I would have been ecstatic and foaming at the gills receiving a copy of ‘The Perfume Companion’, the new book by perfumer Sarah McCartney and perfume writer Samantha Scriven, author of I Scent You A Day. Described on the cover as ‘The Definitive Guide To Choosing Your Next Scent’, it really is. Jam packed with information, on point and quite often hilarious reviews, this book gives perfume writing a new lease of life and zest (McCartney is quite the cheeky rascal throughout the book – which is how she also comes across in person (we met once at my Perfume Lovers London Vanilla event, where she kindly handed over to me two of her creations, one of which, Shazam! was a fantastically dense spice concoction that D wore to perfection); ‘cocky’, rebellious, eccentric and clearly a very good writer, many of the laughs that I had out loud through the book come from Ms McCartney’s almost bizarre choice of words (on the subject of 4711 Original Eau De Cologne, by Maurer & Wirtz she writes: ‘4711 is a real bargain and a delightul fragrance: you are commanded to get some‘. Samantha is perhaps more the dreamy romantic, with yearnings for the French Lieutenant’s Woman and stormy shores, more emotionally open than the Naughty Northerner and occasionally rather wistful (“Arpège has the potency to transport me to the Paris of 1927, even when I’m folding laundry in Wales”), though both are equally truly passionate about perfume. In fact, the book positively fizzes throughout with the glee of smelling and creating and wearing scent – Sarah often amusingly flogging quite a few of her own works (” How do I know so much about this? Because I made it“) etc, the overall effect being one of extreme positivity and joy. I started devouring the book on a Friday evening on the bus and felt like a kid in a toy shop – it is quite a hefty tome that is bigger than it looks in this picture, meaning that the authors can truly get in a lot of proper detail and comprehensive reviews for each scent and that it is definitely too much for one sitting – which is exactly what you want. Perfume mad people can’t get enough of this kind of thing . You want to believe that there are still always going to be parts of the guide unread for when you pick it up again for a random perusal, even though in my case I was reading it furtively in the teachers’ room, deliciously post-work with a can on the train, and then had two very late nights on Friday and Saturday as well as a lie in still glue to it this Sunday morning – and I still haven’t read every review.

The structure of the book ensures that all bases in the olfactory spectrum are covered.

Within each of these categories, there are always sub-categories, so that, for instance, within the Herbal section, we find Herbal Classic, Herbal Green, Lavender, Mint, Juniper, and Herb Garden (on Coty’s Aspen, Samantha writes ‘..galbanum and citrus form a vernal dance that could bring a frozen Narnia back to life’, a line I thought was rather lovely, while on every other page there are also little sections of boxed anecdotes or informative briefs such as ‘Smell like a gin palace ‘ – which add extra intrigue, humour (no perfume book has been so full of comedy before) and help to give a sense that you are, along the way, accruing a great deal of knowledge about the history of perfumery and its techniques: this book would blow the mind of the neophyte approaching the entrance to the rabbit hole with trepidation; covering as much as it does – with equal love for every genre of perfume, from marine, to oud, to caramel, to light florals (Samantha is the doyenne of the light floral); you get the full panoramic view of what is available out there in the perfume world, very often masterfully described.

While the lay out of the book allows the authors to stratify scents more rigorously within one umbrella – so under Leather we have separate chapters on Classic Leather, Floral Leather, Tobacco Leather, Patchouli Leather, and Woody Leather (these girls do like their leather), I can imagine that the book might be at times be a little bewildering for some initially. The first time I opened it I was looking at two Vanilla pages and thought I was hallucinating; I then quickly realized that I just happened to be looking at Soft Amber (Vanilla) and Gourmand (Vanilla) simultaneously. Once you get used to the layout, however, it makes total sense and allows the writers to gather and separate their fragrant choices accordingly (on the subject of Soft Amber: there has been a late in the day change in the perfume industry recently, and the term Oriental – the former term commonly used in fragrant anthologies (along with fougère and mossy , still in use – here they use the word ‘mossy’ instead) is now considered offensive and out of date. I completely agree, which is why in my reprinting of my own book, I recently scrubbed all references to ‘Oriental’ myself as well ). ‘Soft Amber’, its obvious substitute, certainly doesn’t have quite as much of a ring to it – tough tits though – and I will admit that I was occasionally bemused and secretly horrified by some of the juxtapositions in certain chapters (Lancôme Magie Noire perched next to the (execrable) Jimmy Choo in the ‘Soft Amber Woody’ section ? (!!!!) but then again, I like the the verve and boldness of both writers, and their logical and rational justifications for their choices (I can relate to a great deal of what they write, incidentally; from quite similar background to me – Samantha was a gothy Cure fan at precisely the same time that I was, and was presumably as hypnotized by all the Big Perfumes just the same way as me; both writers are deliciously anti-snob (there are quite a few sarcastic asides on the preposterously overly expensive fragrances out there, and deodorant sprays such as Impulse and Lynx/ Axe are included right next to perfumes 50 times more expensive than them, an approach I applaud entirely; it is very refreshing).

With each entry in The Fragrance Companion beginning with the name of the scent, a subtitle (under Philosokos, ‘The scent that launched a thousand figs‘), the perfumer who created the potion, and then a £/£££ mark to denote how much you will be forking out (a very Sarah-like expression; for US readers not familiar with a lot of the UK vernacular, this book will be like a grammar refresher on British slang), the reviews are engaging, knowledgeable, and frequently very beautiful. Sarah’s leaflets for her 4160 Tuesdays range are extraordinarily readable (she was the head writer at Lush for a long time); I Scent You A Day is a blog I have long enjoyed for its complete lack of prejudice; its wry humour, and linguistic prowess (I once almost cried at the beauty of a review on there of a perfume from Ariana Grande); all of this present in the Companion. Sarah and Samantha, with their contrasting but complementary styles, pull it all off rather marvellously – my own book feels to me at times tragically solipsistic and melancholically indulgent in comparison – but I am happy, nevertheless, that we will undoubtedly be placed next to each other on international book shelves. The pink will look great alongside the black and gold.

In short, The Perfume Companion is a triumph: and essential reading for the perfume lover, or anyone who is starting to find an interest in the subject.

Brilliant.

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( DISCO ) NARCISSUS


This has been getting a lot of kitchen dancing traction recently on vinyl. The Narcissus legend set to a laconic neo 70’s stringbeat.


Thank goodness for music and all the private pleasures these last few harrowing eighteen months.

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THE FLOWERS OF AUTUMN : : : : : : ODOR 93 by MEO FUSCIUNI + ORANGER NEROLI by MATIERE PREMIERE + TUBEROSA D’AUTUNNO by I PROFUMI DI FIRENZE SPEZERIE PALAZZO VECCHIO

Well, it has been a strange time. ( But when hasn’t it been a strange time recently? )

So up and down. I am not even sure if I can write. But I just thought I would check in anyway, now that I have found a way to circumvent all the obstacles thrust in my path by my computer and by this blog system ( I have not been ‘allowed’ in for ‘privacy concerns’ ); our internet has also been super patchy since a gardener snipped the cable last year; so slow that the lightning speed K-netizens of Seoul would tear our their hair in frustration were they to be confronted with such torpor for even a few seconds; usually I just switch off. Patience has never been one of my virtues.

Where to start?

I don’t know. Until I heard the extraordinarily alarming news that my parents had caught breakthrough infections of the coronavirus over the last two weeks I was on a real ‘life is good’ high (I still am). Possibly, I ‘overreacted’, – moi? ! – this being a very common story in the UK, though not in Japan – but hearing my mother tell me that she has completely lost her sense of smell, I pray only temporarily (” I tried spraying on the strongest perfume I own, Aromatics Elixir, and couldn’t smell a thing”! ); hearing her deep, chesty cough over the phone as she played it all down — prior to this ‘spanner in the works’ I had been in some kind of ecstatic, autumnal floral renaissance.

Unusually for me, going back to work at the beginning of September, for the first time in my life, I decided I was going to wear a neroli. Usually, in my extensive fragrance palette ready for my delectation at any moment I feel the need, the section of orange blossom scents is reserved for a ‘private dab’ here or there on bright sunny days; not perfumes I wear out the house. Firstly, I don’t know if they actually suit me (I suspect that they do not). Secondly, D hates them. Thirdly, who knows if such perfumes are appropriate for the classroom? There are indoles tucked down in those stamens; all might go horribly awry.

Neroli is such a brashly and buoyantly uplifting flower note though – so joyous it bursts through grim and gravity with such a vivid alacrity that I sometimes find it irresistible; particularly in what I have decided is my UR neroli/orange blossom now, Matiere Premiere’s Oranger Neroli, a perfume I have briefly reviewed before, but which I fell totally in love with from the moment I started wearing it every day to the office from the start of the term until now ( I am going to have to get another bottle).

I think of this fragrance as a ‘mathematical’ scent; there is nothing poetic or evocative about it necessarily, aside the memories you are making while you are wearing it – probably in the future it will evoke quite a lot for me, I would imagine – but in and of itself this is not a ‘story’ or a clotted, conceptual maze like so many a perfume these days. Instead, Neroli Oranger is an equilibration of notes: a very alert and spritely neroli and bergamot pas de deux at first generous spritz, fused expertly to a gentle, warm orange blossom from Tunisia; a touch of ylang ylang extra, sometimes perceptible, sometimes not, and finally, for modern anchoring, very subtly rendered, some ‘floral musks’ to keep everything together without feeling too intrusive. The whole is very natural, and I have been loving it so much I could drink it. I love it. Sometimes I think it is good to just go back to the niche scents you have tried briefly and quite enjoyed in the past and give them their proper due; to actually wear them and not get caught up in the ‘what’s brand new’ news cycle.

The same is certainly true of Meo Fusciuni’s heavenly Odor 93, which I wrote about back at the beginning of February when things were heavily chaotic and mind-bending, and the scent of this gloriously woozy tuberose amber felt like some kind of life saver. Like a light in a dark forest. It suddenly ‘appeared’ to me again in my smell conscious one day, and I immediately started craving it again on weekends – strictly neroli for work, tuberose for the days off, alternating in rotation (………..with the palpable positivity in the air here in Japan; vaccination popular – and thus trendy among the kids; all of them getting it done in my classes ; there are of course the allergic and the skeptics and the worried, but very few of the western style ‘anti-vaxxers’ – virtually all of my students have been or are getting vaccinated, the feeling so liberating; everyone masked; case numbers dropping precipitously, even if the lifting of the state of emergency has made everyone go a little bit too crazy in terms of bars and restaurants filling up too quickly – – but let me have my moment of positivity, I beg you; let me bask in this relative feeling of freedom and space; and grace, actually, even if it is just interior and mental; let me immerse myself in my neroli and orange blossom and bergamot oil in my pocket if it gives me that sense of optimism and possibility; that feeling of uplift and light-footed semi-carefree; a vernal sensation that in this topsy turvy world right now feels optimal, instead, for these sunny months of the current Japanese autumn); tuberose, intoxicatingly, innately perfect for a more nocturnal and sensual counterpoint to the orange flower, particularly the Meo Fusciuni, which with its powdered, almost fungally dark ambered narcissus with cumin, birch leaf and clove, but with a pure and beautiful and slightly heartbreaking tuberose flower towering above, is just like a vintage Vol De Nuit Guerlain nixed by the love of a mesmerizing white flower. It is completely addictive and narcotic. The beginning is odd; medicinal, overpowering, but it still sends me into a weird kind of frenzy; I adore how it stays on my clothes, and so I don’t wash them if Odor 93 is still lingering (something animalic; soft…….musky); again, I want to imbibe this one. And I have perhaps been wearing it to excess (“Oh, (chuckling slightly), are you wearing that tuberose again?”). Yes I am. And I know that you like it as well.

Unable, in this current stage of surging, to sate myself only with one, I have been in full Dionysian mode tuberose-wise, these last few weeks, also wearing touches or full sprays of Flos Mortis, Roja Dove Tubereuse, Le Jardin Retrouvé Tubéreuse Trianon: I also finally unstoppered my extract of Tuberosa D’Autunno, a perfume whose moment had surely been waiting until now, and which almost seems to ‘sanction’ my thirst for this flower usually considered more suited to the hot nights of spring and summer rather than the transitional, melancholic bridge leading into winter. A very clear, ‘pink and beige’ classical tuberose soliflore with touches of violet, ylang ylang, tolu balsam, benzoin and coconut, when my vapour of my Odor 93 begins to wooze itself into the nether regions of subconsciousnesses, Tuberosa, in contrast sings clear and bright as a soprano up in the air above when I wear them together (right at this moment, I am still in my not-quite-clean tuberosian pyjamas and hoodie writing this before I hit the shower and switch back to the neroli before I head out to work, although today it is suddenly much colder, and I am wondering if I can get away with a touch of this Profumi di Firenze number instead……….. (?) I remember standing at the Palazzo Vecchio around this time two years ago, a bright morning after a deluge of rain, marble sculptures at the Uffizi standing cleansed in the matinal sunshine, and approaching the boutique, where the passionate Ida Meister was herself perusing the many profumi available in that delightfully well stocked shop, proclaiming her own love, as I approached, for this scent. ‘Such a delightful little tuberose’.

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SECOND OSMANTHUS

The osmanthus has bloomed twice. A darker orange. Softly perfumed; lovely. But this also gives me an eerie feeling, as though I am in some form of alternative reality: that even if the scent is mellowly resplendent, the rules have changed. All over the neighbourhood the flowers are in peak form, following the semi-typhoon we had last Friday that segued into the most beautiful Indian summer ; all of the finest specimens are now doing their finest apricot duty. This photo was taken a couple of minutes ago, just outside my house.

I have many posts in mind; have been in excellent spirits, and thoroughly enjoying life. Totally alive. Everything would be fine right now except for the disturbing fact that I heard on Sunday that my dad has come down with Covid-19 (double Pfizered, but back in January or February); a breakthrough infection caught at a family gathering that has become the expected flu-like symptoms. He is doing ok, but was already under the weather beforehand and not very well – so it has all come as a bit of a shock. I am worried, and will get back to writing on here about fragrance etc when all is well again.

It is clear, obviously, that the vaccines do work in keeping most people from having severe symptoms: a wondrous success on the part of the scientists. Covid is hardly rare: everyone by now knows someone, a few people, or possibly a large number of people who have been infected with the coronavirus, with varying severities of symptom ; I know that many of my cousins back home have come down with it and come through it; my parents’ friend who lives nearby has gone through the dreaded heavy fatigue and loss of taste and smell but is gradually getting it back.

Still, with all the Halloween festivities soon to be upon us, this knowledge has strongly reinforced my feeling that although things are much better generally, it is not safe enough to go crazy (Japan has been in a real cultural Halloween fever these last few years : it has caught on like wildfire; I experienced it once, in Roppongi, and couldn’t believe my eyes when I arrived at the station and saw oceans of zombies and witches and every other conceivable costume partying all night with the police and loudspeakers telling people to go home (almost riot-like behaviour in Shibuya, also, with cars being turned over etc, to the point that it was banned for a couple of years or at least suppressed with a strong law enforcement presence: last year, with the pandemic, it was off limits); but it was fun; wild, and after all the self restraint and lack of freedom over these last eighteen months it is easy to imagine people really going for it again and throwing caution to the wind, now that the state of emergency has officially been lifted here nationwide (we have been invited up to a costume party in the park at Yoyogi but I have told Duncan no; we are not going to Tokyo for the foreseeable future, and are still going to keep being careful). This latest news, bringing it all shockingly home, is a warning to me that we are not out of the woods, and that caution is key.

As they say in Japan, dad – get well soon –

O-DAI-JI-NI

X

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WHY PATCHOULI HAS MADE SUCH A COMEBACK

I am quoted in this article from this month’s edition of Good Housekeeping:

https://www.pressreader.com/uk/good-housekeeping-uk/20211001/281698322838424

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SUNLIGHT; NO SHADOWS: : ANAMCARA by PARFUMS DUSITA (2021)

The genesis of Dusita’s latest perfume release, Anamcara, a bright, cheering wood-fruit-floral with a name that translates as ‘soul friend’ is rather unusual ; it was formed by group consensus. Voting for the notes that the members of scent forum Eau My Soul most wanted to be in the scent, the perfume was designed to represent positivity and friendship, a ‘reaching out’ of olfactivity : a fragrance, after all the doom and gloom, to definitely raise the spirits. In this regard, it is certainly a success.

Fortunate to be invited to an online exclusive presentation of this new creation, I and the other attendees were sent a box containing a small bottle of the perfume along with three vials, labelled ‘tea’, ‘bouquet’ and ‘rainforest’, which we were urged to resist smelling until the event in the presence of perfumer Pissara Umavijani, who would then guide us through her creative process and show how the interlocking blocks of the various accords she had evolved for this scent would come together. I found this a very intriguing concept, and was eager to join, but unfortunately it came at the end of my first week back at work after the summer holidays, and started at 3am Japan time; 7pm in Paris is the ideal time for such a demonstration – light still in the Parisian skies over Le Marais and Montmartre as summer turns to fall, but in Japan it was the middle of the night, and I had already fallen asleep.

Still, I have of course now tried the accords in the intervening time, and find that all are ultra-optimistic and bolstering to the spirits – for me, almost too much so. Giddyingly happy: peach, blood orange, petitgrain, tuberose, tea, freesia and jasmine sambac are fused with a potently woody base (sandalwood, cedarwood, vetiver, vanilla) that on me immediately boldly overtakes the citruses and flowers; the result a very galvanizing and serotonin-boosting perfume that is almost like a tropical relative of Ralph Lauren Polo; androgynously sexy, lingering, extremely woody: and definitely yang yang to the max.

Like Ms Umajivani’s other release from this year, the excellent Cavatina, which I bizarrely failed to recognize as a muguet in my initial review, somehow not seeing the wood for the trees (now I just smell a dazzling lily of the valley each time I retry my bottle; in fact, when going for dinner at some friends’ this summer, as a present I took along a vintage Diorissimo parfum, and a small bottle of Cavatina – a homage to the former : Setsuko adored both, particularly the freshness of the latter, a very clever modern interpretation); the 2021 additions to the Dusita collection seem to be a deliberate attempt to encourage feelings of newness and positivity, a philosophy I salute.

As a person, however, who is often far more drawn to minor keys in music (or preferably, stimulating modulations between the two), I must admit I find too many major keys experienced at one time quite imbalancing to my system (one of the fundamental problems of J-Pop, which is power chord, power chord, power chord, power chord, happy happy happy wave your glow-stick in the air: D and I will often have to escape from any place where too much commercial chart music is being played here, as it is poisonous to the soul); similarly, Anamcara – a solid blend with absolute integrity in its structure – is not suited to my current mood, which is more of a wary, delicate jubilation. Others, on the other hand, particularly those who have been feeling empty and depressed after this difficult period, will definitely benefit from the sunny, warm soulfulness of the scent. Personally, I am secretly hoping for a return to the darker, more shadowy, melancholic, and ambiguous Dusita perfumes such as Sillage Blanc, Oud Infini, or the intractable mysteries of the splendid Pavillon D’Or.

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DIVINE PERVERSION by HEDONIK (2021)

Hedonik is a new brand in Italy specializing in high-end semi-fetishistic jewellery and leather accoutrements such as ready for gala neck chokers and studded belts: Divine Perversion is the first perfume for the set up, created by niche superstar perfumer Francesca Bianchi.

A leather gourmand, DP is an ambery quartet of iris, leather, caramel and raspberry. On first application, these notes appear together; clearly discernible; ingredients of high quality, ceding, after a slight prickle of rose and pink pepper, to a soft, animalistic purr of amber and to what on my skin smells slightly of coconut. Those who are drawn to sweet, woody, biscuity perfumes such as Frederic Malle Dries Van Noten may enjoy this one : it is well blended and will give off a buttery, suedeish burr on the correctly leather-harnessed skins.

For me, I must admit that this perfume is a little too sweet (I am never very good with caramel); the name of the perfume also somewhat problematic. Perhaps because I am basically not quite kinky enough (if anyone attempted to strap me into the attire above – a more dog kennelly picture that is unconnected to the brand, but a lot more low down and dirty than the pieces from Hedonik – — , I would kill them), so I am probably not the right contender for a fragrance with this overly declarative S+ M theme. I think, though, it’s more that these particular words, for me, don’t go quite go together – (I don’t know: I would maybe have called it Sublime Perversion; Sex Poodle, or just something like ‘Leather Pervertito’) : although obviously, the deliberate jarringness in the juxtaposition of the very contradictory ‘Divine’ and ‘Perversion’ – in a country as full of permanent Catholic guilt as Italy, is presumably the point.

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PERFORMANCE : : : CASANOVA by TIZIANA TERENZI (2014) + SYMPHONIE PASSION by UNUM (2015) + EXPERIMENTUM CRUCIS by ETAT LIBRE D’ORANGE + VELVET TONKA BY PARFUMS BDK (2021)

There is always a great deal of talk about performance and projection on perfume-nut websites, as though one were test driving a Maserati. At the current niche prices, however, it is perfectly understandable that purchasers of high-end cult perfumes value mileage per millimetre. You want your scent to smell good from start to finish, and you want it to last. Hence the prevalence of nuclearized wood amber oud bombs that never end and coil the intestines in disgust; or else the ululating, fake vanillic cyberflorals that singe off one’s eyelashes. With olfactory tenacity, there needs to be some midway level for me of pleasuring the senses while not dominating my vision, but, conversely, not just dissipating into nothing.

Currently, I am in quite a niche-appreciating mode of olfactory being, having, to my surprise, not just tolerated, but actively enjoyed wearing several recent releases. For whole days at a time. As I come back into a much more balanced and cheerful state of mind after all the mayhem of this last year and a half, I find myself more curious about samples I may not properly have taken time to analyze sul serio : I have some Symphonie Passion, for instance, by Unum – a house I tend to be quite drawn to – but this had laid forlorn and ignored in my bedroom for a few years until I randomly tried it again yesterday and found myself liking its delicate architecture and understatedness. It is very nice; a soft yet initially sharp aromatic vetiver/cedar with an unusual top note of peony alongside a press release of sheer gobbledygook (the alarming levels of utterly incomprehensible drivel from perfume houses that are pumped out by automatic translation apps – though I often doubt whether the original copy for these hyperbolized spreadsheets of machine-like purple prose was much better in the first place – is almost, now, an ironic and quite hilarious art form in itself: many a night has seen me and D laughing in the kitchen reading through the latest risible blurb that often doesn’t even approach basic grammatical competency. Passion is infectious, but it does need some lexical constraints). I enjoyed the Comme Des Garcons 2-like edges in this scent, though, the contrasting sharpness and softness, even if overall, it is not especially longlasting. At $210 dollars for 100ml, however, and with a bottle (above) that I find quite covetable and stylish, I would definitely consider getting this one – I like to have weekend scents that I just feel comfortable in; to just tune out to.

Another perfume with soft vetiver in its heart is the peculiarly waxen, powdery; slightly putrid, but still charming Casanova by Tiziana Terenzi ; a perfume that I was surprised to find myself craving last weekend when watching a ridiculous genre serial killer film called Solace on Netflix. This is one of those perfumes whose ultimate structure and blend of accords I instinctively felt from the offset just somehow didn’t quite work, and yet the sum of the whole adds up to something that eventually crawls its way into your bedsheets; or at least under your skin. I would be quite unable to tease apart the notes of this perfume by myself – looking at the brand’s website, it turns out that the ambered/boisé base accord that I find rather troubling is composed of leather, myrrh, guaiac wood – never a favourite note of mine – cardamom, and the usual musk, sandalwood, ambroxan and vetiver; while the top notes feature fig leaf, pink pepper, jasmine and orchid: no wonder these weird, antituitive combination of notes – which smell of makeup, perhaps Casanova’s own, as well as his conquests as he climbs up into Venetian bedchambers to notch up yet another love conquest – feel uncannily unamalgamated. And yet something really works about it; something bodily and pleasantly intrusive, even if, it has to be said, at the end of the day, the stamina of the scent is a little weak. With a name like this, you could be forgiven for expecting a perfume with a lot more skin-clinging manpower.

Immensely enjoying record shopping and perfume hunting on a bright sunny day in Yokohama this last Monday prior to Duncan’s birthday (honestly, I feel like a completely different person since vaccination, and yes, don’t worry, I am aware of the persistent dangers and am not being stupid, or overly risktaking, but still, the change inside me right now is dramatic, feels revolutionary; unified in mind and body; not fractured and constantly in a state of bare suppressed fury and fear :: I can think clearly, and not about that) —- and so was blissfully able to concentrate on what I was perusing in each shop I went to, as though this were the only thing in the world that I would ever have to think about ever again; the amoeba level joys that sometimes exist in proper Shopping Therapy. Although I had wanted to possibly get UNUM LAVS for D, as the pope of my affections, only Nose Shop Shinjuku stocks this particular brand and I am still not comfortable heading right into the heart of the metropolis; instead I chose the not dissimilar Liquides Imaginaires’ Sancti, a beautifully balanced nutmeg/ ginger aldehydic frankincense that smells perfect. For myself, I lingered over several perfumes in the store, including the new Velvet Tonka by Parfums BDK, a house that has gained some fame for its rather gorgeously cherry coke amber, Rouge Smoking. Initially seduced by the gorgeously lilting sweet almond oil of Velvet Tonka melting into a vanilla, rose and powerfully coumarinic heart of tonka bean essence, as the day went on, on me, it started to teeter into nausea; far too strong, even withstanding several sessions of automatic train station foam soap and water. The persistently woody note of amyris and ‘amberwood’ – a chimera of a monster note that always gets my inner alarm bells ringing – were like hidden pillars of stubbornness erected through the entirety of the scent from top to bottom in a way that detracted, for me, from the ‘velvet tonka’ hidden in the heart, but which still might nonetheless prove quite sensual – this reminded me somewhat of the buttery sensuality of the original Moschino, or even the strange dissonances inherent in Paloma Picasso Minotaure – – – – quite the sex monster on particular individuals – – just not on me.

The final perfume on Monday that immediately prickled my fancy on first impressions, and which I had a couple of sprays on skin, was Experimentum Crucis by Etat Libre D’Orange, an aromatic chypre that is perhaps the closest I have ever come to finding a substitute for my beloved L’Occitane Patchouli. Complex, expensive, an undeniably well-structured creation by star perfumer Quentin Bisch, the main accord of this intriguing scent is a flinty patchouli-rose aromatica laced with honey, jasmine and akigalawood, with an unusual top accord of cumin, apple and litchi. Though not mentioned as a note used in the perfume, the overall effect of the perfume is very fresh peppery, with a dry, essential patchouli note that gathered and gathered in strength as the day went on to a point I eventually found oppressive. Though D said he quite liked it on me when we met up much later in the evening, there was something too spiny about the note – pointy as a black pencil lead, that was piercing through into my back brain as the day went on, and that made me realize, at the inner instinctive level, that this is not something I could or would want to carry off. Perhaps, as with La Traversée Du Bosphore, Bertrand Duchaufour’s poison-apple-laced perfume for L’Artisan Parfumeur, there is something about the artificial syntheticity of certain fruit notes, particularly ‘apple’, that always put an undesirable, secretly unwanted venom in my chalice. I do like my perfumes to be present, and there, but also somewhat in the background of my consciousness, not vying for my attentions, like a nemesis.

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