FLOWERS OF THE APOCALYPSE : : : : : TYGER TYGER by FRANCESCA BIANCHI (2020) + FLAME AND FORTUNE by SARAH BAKER (2020)

I feel like Linda Blair at the end of The Exorcist: de-possessed.

As if a wieldy and bulky malign computer chip had been removed from the back of my neck.

While this year has not literally been Armageddon, it has frequently felt like it: masked populaces hiding indoors, police brutality, street wars, beheadings, looting, menacing dictators removing freedoms – and a vast sense of general oppression.

It is thus perhaps not surprising to find perfumers who are exploring precisely this in their creations : some solace, even glamour among the ruins; defiance in the devastation. Flowers growing angrily through the charred cracks of toppled buildings, refusing to be held down. The glowing embers of narcotic flowers caught on the warming breeze, as the smoke from burning cars and city buildings loiters menacingly in the air.

Both Flame and Fortune (“Pulp fiction as a fragrance. A bouquet of white flowers, spice and citrus heated until it catches fire. Deep smoky notes in the dryness of the fragrant desert. Dramatic.”) and Tyger Tyger ( “A Post-Apocalyptic scenario, where traces of a highly sophisticated civilization survived in the dark and fearful conditions of collapsed and destructured world”) are extroverted perfumes to wear copiously at this time, whether it be for the celebration of liberation from tyranny in having a private disco in your own home; or just clambering alone out onto the balcony in your metallic tiger chain dress and leather mask and dancing ferociously to Rihanna (or…. Duran Duran : though Bianchi’s inspiration for her perfume came from the eponymous poem by William Blake, ‘Tyger Tyger burning bright’…….I have to say I love to think of it also being an ode to ‘Tiger Tiger’ – the b-side of New Moon On Monday).

Flame and Fortune – such a great name for a perfume in 2020 – is a dry yet immediately voluptuous high-sex woody neroli that is perfect for an outfit with heels (if you are not fond of the oud/amber note popular in many a fragrance out there these days you may not like this, but with the addition of an apricot honey facet, squinting in the flames you can almost imagine a glimpse of Serge Lutens’ Miel De Bois; the accord in the base of the scent representing the burnt incineration of steampunk society à la Mad Max Fury Road.) Otherwise, this is a tart, glamazon spritz that works perfectly from top to bottom : a green, sharp neroli/ petitgrain opening warmed through with tuberose and a shot or two of whiskey and incense for good measure – which reminds me of the good old days of going out ( if you can still remember those…………..); the fun and grandiosely footloose feeling of taking the proper time to get dressed up, while listening to music in your room, as you grab the perfume you have decided on, applying it liberally, and head contentedly out the door into the humming air of the cold starry night.

Coming home late yesterday evening, jubilant, triumphant, to find the sample of the ultra-narcotic Tyger Tyger by Francesca Bianchi waiting for me on the kitchen table, in opening and spraying it I was almost delirious with all the white flowers (jasmine, tuberose, frangipani et al) dripping into themselves polyamorously into peach honey, heliotrope, sandalwood and an underbelly of of smoky oudh leather. Disconcerting but mesmerising, not sure, at first, about the balance, I kept nevertheless repeatedly inhaling this sweet and intoxicating perfume from the card that I had sprayed it onto (and went to bed last night in it, waking up with the more sedate, oakmoss/patchouli dry down effect still on my hand eight hours later) – feeling high. As with Flame and Fortune, both of these perfumes made me somehow think of my old compilation tapes: neat chunks of experience; songs that you loved in the charts as a teenager in the eighties that you cleverly segued back to back on your favourite playlists of the day, sealed into forever in the ribbons of radiowaved, magnetic-coated polyester in white or black plastic (I still play my audiocassettes at home all the time). The Bianchi, with its warm and luscious Colour By Numbers, made me think of the gleeful exuberance of my childhood favourites Culture Club (the Sarah Baker maybe Madonna’s Burning Up); all oozing lip gloss, rouged cheeks and chequered disco floor abundance. What Francesca Bianchi’s perfumes might sometimes lack in delicacy – her scents are always wilfully potent – she certainly doesn’t lack in generosity, soul, and fullness (there is so much stinginess these days in niche perfumery!). In contrast, this new, very timely, perfume, like her recent vanilla- patchouli-honey number Sticky Fingers, based on the classic naughty Rolling Stones LP, is packed to the rafters with goodies – almost ludicrously abundant and erotic. If you are drawn, therefore, to the rich, unstingy perfumes of the past, when perfumers poured in floral absolutes into their fragrances like lush bartenders on a bender (the original Panthère de Cartier, say; Guerlain Mahora extrait; Montale Tiare Intense, which this perfume brought to mind in terms of glimmering richness and texture) and you feel like celebrating this weekend in a giant ruched up ballgown on the flame-licked pop video movie set conflagration of a scaffolded construction site near you while downing trayfuls of shots and letting off fireworks (I will join you if I may ;Burning Bush will also be wearing these) I don’t think you will regret it. Both perfumes are fun – and marvellously unapologetic.

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so tired ………. so very fucking happy

A cafe that is next to an Indian restaurant I just went to after work alone to celebrate the political demise of this unconscionably heinous carcass of a pouting ex-casino lowlife


It is all over. At least for a while. And the windbag will naturally run out of steam, be deflated, now that it is not in the hot seat.

I am exhaustedly elated. For the world. For myself. Although I have been told recently that I have been overreacting (like hundreds of millions of other people who have been in an unbearable, unrelenting state of tension, as that is the power of this ingenious instigator of cortisol ), in my own view – despite admitting I have almost gone crazy over it all – this is emphatically not the case.

Yes, from the Japanese or UK standpoint, in other words at the national/ one person micro level, this might all just be all far away and irrelevant, just American Politics, not close to the bone. But for me, at the personal, macro, general humanity level, it has all represented something far realer, insidiously dangerous ; the approach of a new neo-fascism – an unfathomably ludicrous shallow banacrocy :and even more importantly, an incredibly terrifying (and for me utterly unforgivable) denial and re-ordering of what constitutes reality ( if he had succeeded in his admittedly outrageously, almost impressively audacious gambit, ignoring election results, and denying the popular vote, this could have become the norm all over the world and led to the end of democracy as we know it, let alone an Orwellian oppression of reconstituted ‘news’ and ‘alternative facts’ and ‘information’ (there was a reason that 1984 became a bestseller as soon as he was elected); something I find repulsive, and deeply petrifying, in the very marrow of my inner being. It would have been like dominoes : all of us would ultimately have fallen( been eventually negatively affected. Of this I have no doubt.

As documented before in earlier posts,, I am not sure of my religious or spiritual beliefs. But for all I know, we could be reincarnated within any national boundary : as a man or a woman, or any gender of any societal placing or ethnicity (which is what any books on the subject always say – people were a completely unexpected human in a previous life and which makes me deplore racism and all nationalism than I already did): I believe that we all come from the same place, ultimately: and who would want then to be reborn into a spiritless place, into a zone of futile and vacuous, meaningless Twitter hatred shackled senselessly by a McDonalded, conscience-less dictator (because make no mistake ; the actions and the events of the last few hideous weeks have demonstrably shown us that that is exactly what he is: a wannabe Robert Mugabe or Putin or fill in any dictator gap – it is such a, boring, well trodden psychological trope – just on an unimaginably richer scale : charlatan, a vacuum of a spoilt little infantile asshole that just happened to have come into possession of quite mindblowingly destructive, hitherto unknown capabilities. No, this was an administrative cancer this that HAD to be removed before it was too late.

THANK GOD

THANK GOD !

Yes, he will continue to rant and rave ( but I will not : I hope that this can be my last word on the stupid subject and I can get back to some semblance of how things were on The Black Narcissus before : I can’t bear for any more wasted space in my head to be taken up by this crude and abased, foot -stomping boot-stained orange toddler).

Yes, he might establish TrumpNews for his lamentable fans; yes, he might personally become a ‘kingmaker’ for all future potentially Republican autocrats, and yes he might still attempt to dominate our minds as he has done for half a decade ( or far longer, depending on the way that you look at it), but the point is he WON’T BE THE PRESIDENT.

He is already, instantly diminished.

And, as the Trump so finely once said himself, if he loses this election (which he has…… FINALLY: hallefuckinglujah!!! ) he will probably just disappear :::::: and ‘you will probably never hear from me again’.


Just retreat, while harrumphing, back to Mar El Lago.

This really did tell us everything.

He never cared about the people.

He never cared about anything .

And I think even himself.

It was all just a power trip. A narcissistic tantrum. A piece of astonishingly potent and mindfuckingly intense (and in many ways highly impressive) cynical, and from the future perspective, probably hilarious, evil performance art.

Clap fuckity clap.

But for the time being : fuck you Donald : really.

I can’t wait for 2021.

Congratulations to America.

Congrstulations to the entire world.



It’s a new day.

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AS COOL AS A ….. CUCUMBER + PEAR by PERFUMER H (2020)



Although the nightmare has had the audacity to linger – I feel like a fresh start. The pandemic continues to surge as autumn cedes into winter; yesterday I watched my younger sister walk across North London as we caught up by phone : it hasn’t been easy at all for her or my brother, to put it mildly, during this strange and dragged out time for a number of reasons, not the least of which has been now not having work in such an expensive city : struggling with how to get through it ; long strolls in isolation being one of the necessary respites for sanity and health. For the hour that we talked, aside a couple of police cars passing by the forbidding, dark brick buildings and grey skies, I saw hardly a soul walk by her on the pavement ( did I see anyone at all ?)

We ourselves, D and I, had a quiet weekend ; three days at home just quietly marking, reading, and making simple, fresh food: I just feel like a reset. Some calm. The world may roil and rage outside, but it doesn’t have to destroy the sanctity of the individual ; the couple nesting quietly with their cat. You can peer into the kaleidoscope for a second or two – but then just decide to say no.

Last night I tried Lyn Harris’ latest perfume creations for her Perfumer H brand, Cucumber and Pear, both very nicely done curative, refreshing colognes that went well with my mood. Pear is a soft, clean floral musk, with notes of white iris, rosewood, bergamot and mandarin on a bed of vanilla and ‘sugared musk’ : if you are looking for a private prime pyjama perfume – the general air of this skin scent reminds me a little of Hermes Cuir D’Ange (but more angelic) you might want to think about trying this one – I found it quite cosy and gentle ; comforting.

Cucumber is what the perfumer describes as being in the ‘fern’ category – presumably a new British take on fougere – and the base of green woods, vetiver and a salinated sea moss do settle on the skin in a quite contemporary masculine manner while up top, the fresh cucumber sap and cedar wood / lemon rind and violet leaf are realistic and refreshing : placatory to hot minds. In perfume, sometimes the anti-intuitive can yield interesting effects : although probably more suited to summer, watching my sister striding through the streets, morning her time, (evening ours), wrapped up warm in the cold air as she paused to smoke a cigarette outside park gates or leaning up against a backdrop of imposing, civic buildings, I could almost imagine her wearing this scent : the brisk London late November air parsed lightly against the cool notes of crisp green : a pairing : incisive – cutting through the grime of this last year ; keeping calm…………..carrying on.

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THE BLACK NARCISSUS INTERVIEW BY FRAGROOM, SOUTH AFRICA

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BLACK NARCISSUS


Hard (but exciting) to imagine there is a new tv series based on this

https://theblacknarcissus.com/2015/05/05/narcisse-noir-by-caron-i9ii/

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BITTER PEACH by TOM FORD (2020)


Bitter Peach is a fun name and concept for a fragrance – particularly one by Tom Ford. I love the presentation : a confitured venom, encased in a sealed, vitreous cyanide chamber like a nectarous poison. Or high gloss nail varnish. A bitter peach is an oxymoron : we expect the flesh to be sweet, unless we bite into the kernel of toxic amygdalin.

I am not immune to bitterness (nor averse to the taste in food or liqueurs); there can be strange pleasures to be had in that involuntary shudder. I also love the smell of peaches : fruit tones that can be found in many a classic chypre or aldehyde (the best perhaps being Femme De Rochas), lending flattering curves and inner sunshine – from MCDI’s lovely Peche Cardinal to The Different Company’s White Zagara via the Body Shop’s classic Peach Oil. They are girlish ; carefree.



The new Tom Ford release Bitter Peach, which I tried yesterday at Yokohama Takashimaya (¥41000 – about $400 for the small bottle pictured), starts promisingly, like peach pot-pourried wood shavings (blood orange, cardamom); lighthearted and easy; upbeat, but then quickly, for me at least, becomes cloying and sickly; a peach skin without pores, as davana-infused cognac and rum meld with labdanum and vanilla…………an overly sweetened confection that on most of us will smell overboiled and tongue-rotting trollope;, but which you can certainly imagine more readily – in measures doses —— on one of his gap-toothed, inveterately nubile young models.

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MADAME ROCHAS (1960)


It is evaluation time for me right now in my company, the students giving us ratings out of 5 and adding comments about our teaching and the quality of our lessons in the locked-up manual (to be taken out of the cupboard only by the most senior staff, and to be read alone in a small room down the corridor). Not being especially good at accepting criticism, I find this period – the crescendo from June to November – rather straining, and as soon as it is over and I know what is what I traditionally enter into my ultra-dreamy pre-hibernation stage where I start to detach from everything and everyone around me and just autopilot it until the second week of December, when I have a whole paid month off to hide away and do what I like.

Yesterday I realized, from the hubbub in the final class of the evening, a group of twenty very high level students who are trying to get into the nation’s top institution, Tokyo University (Todai), that these superficially very overserious young people have definitely now eased a lot around each other and that the infernal stiffness and frostiness of those initial lessons at the height of the coronafear (when I was in mask and plastic visor, shouting out like an intoxicated beekeeper and getting nowhere with them) has thawed out into something almost resembling mutual affection. They can now at least manage normal eye contact. One strategy this year has been to have them keep a notebook for writing their exam essays, which I collect and mark every week, but which I also encourage them to write anything they like in, how they are feeling; a confessional – we write back and forth, I give some written advice; and that way I have come to know some of them better, the barrier between us becoming slightly more invisible.

All the teachers are on edge at this time – it doesn’t help that everything is written in one book all together so you can see everyone else’s scores and comments as well (Japan is nothing if not egalitarian; there is very little privacy in a company setting) – the usual student/teacher power relationship here inverted: rather than doleing out report cards to nervous students worried about their parents’ reactions at home it is you, here, who are being judged instead – so I was happy, yesterday, to just get out of the more than usually pressurized building for my lunchbreak and have an amble round in the beautifully warm November sunshine.

It will not be hard for you to now guess that after fuelling up, I then couldn’t quite resist taking a quick peek in my usual secondhand megahardware store – packed with everything from washing machines to floors of old clothing and records to ornaments and useless odds and ends – even though it is a bit of a walk – to see if any olfactory oddities had washed up onto their unpredictable shores: and sure enough, there, on the perfume shelf, was a bottle of Guerlain Eau De Fleurs De Cedrat (which I love), even if it is probably the most short-lived perfume in history; at 4400 yen and not quite pristine I thought I could live without it for the time being as I would rather have a brand new bottle with the freshest citrus oils. A 15ml extrait of Madame Rochas for 860 yen, though (about £6.40)………………just clasping the box of this gem by Guy Robert (Hermès Calèche, Doblis, Amouage Gold) makes me feel as though I were gallantly riding a horse in a Jane Austen novel.

I love Madame Rochas. Cool, glassy; clear as a bell in its elegant compression of top notes, ylang ylang and muguet and rose over aldehydes and jasmine tuberose and a phalanx of other delicate ingredients ingeniously unfurling over sandalwood and musk; unperturbed, assured – yet effortlessly comforting ; No 5 blowsily coquettish in comparison; Infini oblivious; upright and unemotional confronted with Arpège, Madame Rochas is a beautiful, unshowy monument, the very essence of deceptive simplicity. Women of the day would have added a touch of this scent to finish their ensemble before heading out the door. I myself usually wear it after a bath at night to go to sleep.

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LEON CHARME & THE UNGILDED LILY (2020)


I don’t quite know how he does it, but D somehow rustled up this delightful comic miniature Roaring Twenties piece this past week for an online Tokyo cabaret.

Sit back and enjoy.

I told you we were going to party.

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TREASURE

I don’t think we even ourselves realize the impact that this year has had on us. Yesterday I met my old friend and music partner Yoko (had it really been more than a year?). It feels like longer but also as though it could have been last week. Time itself has changed.

But in that time, except for Duncan, I realize that excepting perhaps two or three nights of socializing since February I basically haven’t seen anyone. Yes, my students, but that is work : a performance. I often feel isolated and lonely with my colleagues – nice people, busy – which is why it felt almost monumental meeting Yoko yesterday for two hours of piano duet practice on rented grand pianos in Zushi : pounding out Tori Amos songs and classical pieces, the sonoroties bleeding out like prisms of the wooden church-like building flooded with natural light; it was as if all that had been building up over the past few weeks ( when in truth, as will be apparent, I almost lost it ) were finally given an outlet. I hadn’t played for over a year but yesterday we really PLAYED. Sometimes it is like sex, when you forget whose body it is and you dissolve into the universe; when instinct takes over and the music is playing you…… this couldn’t have come at a better time.

Lunch at an old fashioned Chinese turned into five hours. My god the pleasures of in-person conversation: I had almost forgotten it. With a partner you have a symbiosis : often silence in the moment is pleasure; D and I can have long conversations into the night but there is so much unspoken absorbed into our house that we needn’t.

Yesterday Yoko and I spoke in torrents : life, love, family, death, reincarnation ( she lost her mother two years ago and still hasn’t come to terms with it) but has two wonderfully eccentric, ( psychic? ) children who see her through. Suddenly at one point I found myself crying – finally something had pierced through – not a common occurrence for me but in the connection, the shared history ( we have been playing together off and on for about 23 years; done recitals and fully fledged concerts together ), the lack of artifice or polite encasements or having to choose my words carefully the floodgates were opened. And it felt immensely, and purifyingly, cathartic.

The dreadful toilets at the restaurant we stayed in.

My bicycle parked outside Strawberry Fields antique shop in Kamakura earlier today.


This morning I realized I had lost my glasses (a much more common occurrence than public weeping ), but it is a glorious day today – sunny, about nineteen – so I decided to ride down to Zushi via Kamakura to see if they were in the restaurant, meeting the D in his lunch break and having a quick look in Strawberry Fields, a place I haven’t been in a long while.

Stacks of Ricci

A favourite of Robin’s

Rare Shiseido

Damn my batteries are running out..

I am sat in a beautiful place down by the sea

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REMINISCENCES OF ROME

My mind and soul have been so eaten up with the election this last week that I almost forgot that my book ‘Profumo: Alla Ricerca Della Tua Fragranza’ comes out in Italy today.

I am excited: Rome runs deep in my blood after having lived there at the age of 21, and the thought of it being in all the Feltrinelli bookstores across the city; in the shop next to the Florence railway station, in its black and gold Italian, to be randomly discovered and perhaps dipped into by people I don’t know browsing in various places that sell books across the country, is exhilarating.

I was as profumatissimo back then as I am now: always scanning the shelves of the profumerie that dot every other street corner and coveting new scents for myself or goading on others to buy them as well; getting through bottle after bottle of Dior Fahrenheit, my signature of the time ( I can’t remember if I wore anything else, initially, except later, Kenzo Pour Homme – I can see myself on a hot summer’s night in Piazza Navona feeling ultra new; slick, young and cool in its fresh never-beforeness).

In those first few months in Rome, I had been living with some Italian university students who were taking forever to graduate, given that you yourself can decide in Italy when to take the required (oral) examinations (I think it took them about seven years )………so easy to procrastinate instead and just lounge around your apartment smoking and drinking espresso instead – amazing how quickly you make friends there and get invited to be a housemate…….. – I remember beardy, philosophical Federico and his poignantly beautiful bottle of Signoricci – one of the most refined and delicate citruses ever created; I can see it there, placed carefully on his bookshelf.

Following this I was happily living with two friends from university in our apartment next to a flashing Campari sign; the always glamorous Rachel (our diva), who wore Obsession or No 19 ( I always used to berate her for wearing such oppositional fragrances as they would sometimes linger together on clothes and create an unwanted third party); and Adam, more reserved and serious, who usually wore the hard-bodied Cerruti 1881, suiting his nocturnal exploits in the clubs near where we lived in Testaccio. We only had two beds, and had a roster where two of us would share one; one in the other. We were always out in Trastevere with our friends, Maurizio (Krizia Uomo – fantastic), and the ultra-intense Alessandra, who had a precious big bottle of Cartier Must extrait that we would pore over, and I would sniff enviously, in her room,as she told me of her obsessive train trips to see the lover that had given it to her somewhere in Germany.

Emma would come down from Florence every once in a while – a dazzling jewel box of a city that it is nevertheless less exciting than Rome – wearing her exquisite Cristalle, I believe (or had she already discovered Jardins De Bagatelle?) ;when Helen came, and we got locked in the cemetery in Testaccio sitting and dreaming in the sunset next to Keats’ grave, for all I know she may have still been wearing Eternity.

I was there again last year. And it was fascinating for me, standing in the rain in that same graveyard, alone, next to Keats, moved to tears; almost thirty years older, but though conscious of the passage of time, wonderfully alive; feeling, somehow that I was exactly the same. The same but different; evolved. A continuum. That I had not compromised myself: just a more experienced version of that hopelessly romantic young man who would come to that gated, silent place marshalled by cats and just read or write letters; wondering what life was about and what he should do, but palpitating inwardly, always, clear as a bell, with the overwhelming beauty of it all. Standing there, under my umbrella, breathing in the cold, clear air, I realized that I still feel things just as keenly, as intensely; as passionately.

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