There is perfume for a private day out. And then there is perfume when you want to be noticed : to explode in the public realm. Particularly as Burning Bush, Big Perfume can be spectacular : I remember a lost couple in Tokyo from New Zealand in pursuit in Shinjuku shouting ‘Follow that hair! Follow that perfume ! (Giorgio’s Red, in Parfum and edp, people raving about my smell all night); Poison, Rogue’s Flos Mortis:(could I even stretch to Amarige……?) …… they all pack a delirium punch.
In Liverpool, back in the North, they are already having ‘social experiment ‘ raves to ‘see what happens ‘ epidemiologically (isn’t all this a little too soon?)….. In this picture you can see thousands of maskless party people, no hand sanitizer allowed inside in case you are secretly bringing free vodka into the club- all dancing ecstatically, let in to the space on condition they can prove that they have been vaccinated ( I understand fully their need to do so; I also can’t wait to go mad to music again in a room full of people, but you do have to wonder if this is all slightly – or in fact extremely , insane……)
If I do go out in a costumed context in a bacchanalian situation at some point in the foreseeable future though I have a secret urge to try a combination of vintage Tresor Parfum and Parfums MDCI’s Rose Siwa. A ravagement of roses. I would imprint myself on the ravers’ cilia and nose brains for eternity : the rich cedarwood musk rose of the vintage parfum a perfect launchpad for the neo- YSL Paris that is Francis Kurkdijian’s genius outlier for the usually more pretty and elegantly sedate niche brand MDCI : soaring violets and roses like the Laurent classic from 1986 (?) strafed gleefully with vivid lychee : I know that the scents would interlock stunningly to the point of mind alteration.
Alternatively, or even as a final revelation of my three acts, I might select, samples secretly concealed, a few moments of Atomic Rose by Initio – a steroidal tribute to Diptyque L’Ombre Dans L’Eau and a forceful roserush of Bulgarian, Turkish and hedione over vanilla and Egyptian jasmine that could be a fatal, strobal trip just over the edge
Last Wednesday, a gloriously sunny lunchtime, I got off at Motomachi – Yokohama’s fabled chichi little shopping street of jeweller’s, bakers, coffee houses and clothing boutiques, before proceeding to my new school that takes two hours to get to in the north of Yokohama; packed trains, the underground subway – I wanted to break up the journey. I also wanted to see what outdoor dining options there might be for our Golden Week day out in Yokohama, which, inexplicably, given I know the place like the back of my hand, I was as excited about as a kid at Christmastime.
Down the backstreets, we could have avoided the crowds, I think; crossing over to Marine Tower and Yamashita park, which was as technicolorfully beautiful as an MGM film with so many roses it almost felt to me unreal; so many people, though; albeit generally masked; I took off mine to have a take out coffee in the sun on a bench in the central rosarium which garnered some looks from passersby, but I just needed a moment.
Through the park, damp with life, sunwarmed, along the bayside to Kannai, the Silk Centre with its antique shops and bizarro emporium of old Americana, cheap records and vintage perfumes; down past the old government buildings and wide boulevards of the more austere area of Kannai (plenty of outside tables down Nihon-Odori I thought to myself), down past the baseball stadium, and across the thoroughfare into Isezakicho, with its old man park, and all our haunts – I was dying for today, thinking we would be outside the whole time so there would be few risks. It would have been fun.
D has nixed our plans this morning, though, sensibly declaring that he simply doesn’t want to be on crowded trains during this busy time of the year and that during the night he had a very bad feeling about it, feeling uneasy (we would have still had to get there and back, and probably it would indeed have been too packed with people on the Keihin Tohoku line for comfort), although I do wish he had said so before I had already had a bath and was bright eyed and dressed, ready to go in my successfully doctored vintage Hermès Cologne/Eau D’Orange Verte which I have remixed with several citrus oils, hakka mint and patchouli, creating my very own Eau D’Orange Verte Forte.
He is right though, of course. We shouldn’t really have even been considering going up there in the first place. The government has decreed that people should stay inside at this time with the increasing caseloads across the country (Osaka seems to be in quasi-disaster mode), although this is not borne out in pictures of people having happy days out in Kamakura and Tokyo: Yokohama, as one of the most beloved Golden Week destinations, would have been exactly the same. Although the young are increasingly being affected, as they are elsewhere, this isn’t stopping them from wanting to stroll in the sun with ice cream; buy snacks and souvenirs, and despite the deplorable scenes in India and South America, and elsewhere across the globe, where people are dropping like flies, it still seems far away.
One difference between my attitude and D’s stems, I think, from the fact that since last June I have constantly been travelling on crowded trains and buses to get to the schools I work in, whereas he can either walk from here into Kamakura or just travel one train stop from Kitakamakura. His year has been remarkably less claustrophobic and dangerous than mine, although the complete lack of social distancing in his working environment (aside big stores, this simply doesn’t happen here in Japan; there isn’t the space, or the will) and being in a windowless staff room with sixty teachers – they leave the entrance and exit doors open a little – doesn’t exactly inspire corona confidence in his working conditions. I worry about him. With less than 2% of this country vaccinated (the incompetent government’s slow response could make you gnaw your own fists off with frustration), you feel continuously vulnerable. Still, at least the classrooms do have openable windows, as do the corridors, some air vents. My situation has been a complete potboiler. Pure claustrophobia (I inherit this from my mother, who has panic attacks just wearing face masks even for a few moments.) Last Thursday, having arrived at the school that led to the vertigo attack (still ongoing), finding out that we now have a new staff room on the floor below, I realized, with clarity, spatially, the full extent of what I had been suppressing. I don’t think I have really conveyed the full physical reality to you properly thus far. When I say ‘school’, I think you picture these big American high schools with their spacious corridors and lockers, like in the movies, but these are juku, or night schools; Thursday’s establishment in its entirety is smaller than an average British house’s downstairs, but with about at least a hundred students – possibly 150 – crammed into it with no windows. And as I have said before, my classroom was a windowless box within this space, with just some fan extractors and air con and an electric fan to disperse air particles but probably enough to make an epidemiologist scream. Now that the school has expanded – I will have a new classroom when I go back next week – and there are fewer students brushing up against you, bumping into you, literally in your face (and how many of them are asymptomatic?) because ‘it can’t be helped’, I think the sheer compression of my mind will be alleviated a little, but I do see now that these were appalling circumstances, and that my brain, and spirit (and balance) understandably, said no, and then crashed. At the same time, like everyone else across the world, we have ‘just been getting on with it’, all the teachers sweating and stressing behind their masks for ninety minutes at a time and barking out their lessons, because the more frightening alternative is unemployment.
The world over, it has been a contrast of, or combination of, extreme suffocation and/ or isolation. People in New Delhi gasping for air and dying outside overcrowded hospitals. People trapped without work or money in their apartments in Sao Paolo, each country trying to get the right balance between sustaining the economy and containing the virus; the more callous or neo-fascistic leaders such as Trump, Abe, Johnson, Putin, Modi and Bolsonaro purposefully downplaying the dangers at the beginning of the pandemic to the people for the sake of ‘the economy’ and leading to the situation we now find ourselves in, when had countries followed the example of more responsible leaders in New Zealand and Taiwan and imposed thorough lockdowns from the start, so much of this death and devastation could have been avoided. But no – ‘business’ had to come first (even though in the long run, surely the human and financial cost of this virus rampaging through entire societies is so much higher?). What a mess. And now the Olympics?
I think I was obliviously happy to be going into Yokohama on the crowded train today because I am simply ‘used to it’. The other day, twenty minutes to Yokohama from Ofuna and then changing trains and then 35 minutes on another line with people all sat next to each other with no space between, I almost stood up to move to a more spacious, aerated place but then realized that I was too tired to. There is a sense of resignation. It is almost like a death wish, I think, you become almost blasé. ‘Fuck it, let’s just go out and have some fun.’ But then again, this type of attitude is precisely why we are where we are in the first place.
It is a given that when it comes to perfumery, sex sells. French niche house Initio, feverishly popular with urban scentholics, business people, the generally frisky, and Youtubers for its well blended, strong, direct, sweet potions, makes the erotic thwack the central conceit of its entire business. With the most extreme of Gallic overstatement in each of its copy descriptions, you might have to start wiping yourself down with an ice cold towel before you even get to the smell: perfumes that will have you gasping for air;the lust so all-asphyxiating you will be scrabbling to loosen your belt from the first inhalatio as your dress falls to the floor or you find your Saks suit being clawed off your back by some ravenous horndog who can’t even wait to get upstairs to your hotel room where the force of the hammer and tong pummelling that will immediately ensue will be enough to nail the bed through the floor and crash down onto an unsuspecting elderly couple happily reading the newspaper in the room below. The perfumes, according to the taglines, arethat hot. Fortunately, they are also actually quite good : on the whole: they are sexy, they are unbridled and just get straight to the hook up: $200 scents for the club, the hotel bar, for maximum sillage, seduction, and vitesse.
D happened to be wearing Rehab yesterday, and we soon found ourselves having frenzied sex on the seat at the back of the bus, clothes ripped off, panting and hurling, passengers screaming and children crying as the sirens wailed on the streets outside from the cars of local police who had been called up frantically by appalled local residents just hoping to go shopping for their dinner and not expecting such unforgettable scenes on a rainy Saturday afternoon . Jets of
Rewind. No. We were sitting on the back of the bus : : : : : I was wearing Fleur De Lalita, and D was wearing Rehab, and I was just thoughtfully weighing the brand’s description of the scent with my own actual experience of it:
“Fall for a fragrance. Hard. Like You’d fall in love at first sight: Rehab promises a return to the ecstatic pleasure of perfume. The harmony of its natural raw materials reveals from the perfect combination of bergamot, black pepper, lavender and spices on a bed of sandalwood and musk, building a truly hedonistic formula. Experience the pleasure of smelling something so profoundly, you have the disconcerting feeling you could reach out and touch it. Rehab. Dare to feel the ecstacy’.
Like Miss Diana Ross, I did reach out and touch (but not like that: don’t worry); to bring D’s arm to my nose, where I slightly lowered my viral inhibiting paper mask for a moment to smell the nub of Rehab up close (it is true: the sillage and general impression of this perfume is excellent: balanced and very attractive, in a Histoires De Parfums 1899 Ernest Hemingway kind of way: warm, aromatic, quite come-rest-your-head-on-my-delicious-hairy-chest, but at the same time very normal; gentlemanly, old school, (and certainly not very original). Plus, as with most of the scents I have huffed from this range – wearing a padlocked iron chastity belt so as to resist the possibility of whacking off and abusing myself constantly – I find there is a definite oversaturation of white musk in the end notes, a slightly unintelligent perfume ingredient that I have always personally considered a little tacky.
Absolute aphrodisiac, my favourite of the collection (and one I wish I could pull off, actually) is a perfect, meringue fresh vanilla musk though, with castoreum and white flowers protecting a G spot of leather and amber. Extraordinarily cute, this is a go-for-broke take me with U. Probably most suited to a slinky young woman in night mode, it really does the job as intended: to a lot of people, myself included, being whispered to in the ear by a beautiful someone brushing up close in some AA would doubtlessly prove irresistible.
Psychedelic Love, one of the few overt florals in the range, flirts openly with the link between love as a narcotic and drug use to the point of le overdose :
“The signature of this narcotic bomb lies in three essential ingredients : rose, hedione, and heliotrope. While the hedione activates the brain regions linked to pleasure and the libido, heliotrope goes even further. Equally tender and illicit, this crystalline powder hides its intention well. Beware of its creamy, powdery and floral facets, wavering between vanilla and almond! Used in over doses, heliotropin becomes a psychoactive substance. A forbidden shiver rushes over the skin. …….A substance under strict regulations, its possession is strictly controlled by law, because heliotropin is used for the chemical synthesis of MDA, a prohibited drug and substitute for ecstacy. Confronted with this diabolical indulgence, no one is safe from an olfactory obsession that can soon become a real addiction”…….
Well, what can I say? The scent is quite nice; a ylang ylang/heliotrope/patchouli configuration with kaleidoscopic facets that would make it perfect for a night club scene with Keanu Reeves in John Wick. I must confess to a secret predilection sometimes for these soulless but strangely exhilarating action films or steamy Netflix series with their sex sirens and ironed-hair pleasure pusses; the just-so tailoring, phosphorescent cocktails; hot Ukrainian bodyguards; the little black dresses and pulsating club music; the endless fight scenes and ever increasing body counts (John Wick three was quite exhausting to watch in that regard; so much wasted couture); the internationally agreed upon homogenization of club style, from Delhi to Buenos Aires to Helsinki to Miami: the consensus standards of Tom Ford/ By Kilian glamour ………….the Initio perfumes fit these style diktats like a glove. Direct. Approved. Erotic but classily turned out : sharp and taloned and premeditated as Dior nails.
On me, the morning after wearing Psychedelic Love, and Magnetic Blend 1, having almost been fucked to death at an impromptu orgy that began at an Ofuna shopping centre when I walked into the supermarket wearing the scents on each wrist and was beset by a huddle of shoppers who just couldn’t contain themselves no sorry I mean that I went to bed with one on each wrist for comparison; and while the deliberate bad breath of the Magnetic Blend, a modern twist on the Mouchoir De Monsieur civet contradiction I could imagine having a ‘dangerously attractive’ palette for certain people with little self respect ( …” The ambergris unleashes the animal drives. The scent arouses instincts, causing the abandonment in the surge of pleasures”), when I woke up the next morning, spent and sore as hell, my first thought was: what are those cheap oud chemicals on the back of my hands? And then I remembered what I had ‘done’ the prior evening…..
Most people will probably not be disappointed, however. Potent wood/amber notes are extremely popular; many adore this brand; perfume fora are full of scent wearers obsessed with ‘performance’ and ‘projection’ and potency; for a large swathe of Gucci and Balenciaga’d up consumers, perfume really can be boiled down to sex and bewitched fashion immediacy: they want to walk into that closed off VIP space and pull on the spot, based on their Instagram and cologne alone.
To finish, in case you are getting a little too hot under the collar reading this and are already writhing nude up against the wallpaper completely out of control (all of this, I must admit, to my averagely libidinous self, is so 50 Shades Of Grey: but if you do feel like some extra sauce to continue this very special Super Sexy Sunday please read my piece on sadomaschism): let’s bring things now to a geyser-like climax, screaming until we wake the whole neighbourhood, with the latest addition to Initio’s Chamber of whips, chains, and scented lubes…………..Musk Therapy.
One’s other half has shown a relatively new affiliation with musk scents recently, a trend I am enjoying: mid-toned but aromatically soft musks that give a generous impression, charismatic: and he rather likes this one, praising its skin-right and calming, peachy properties. Like many in the collection, there is definitely a neo-90’s vibe to this perfume, with sweet base accords that put me in mind of perfumes like Jean Paul Gaultier’s Le Mâle and Parfums Nikos’ Sculpture. But perhaps I had better leave the last word to Initio: I have my own desires and erotic fantasies, like anybody else, but at this stage, after all these imaginary orgasms, I just can’t keep up any more with their priapic, Gallic, erotomania:
“Close your eyes.
Smell and feel a new way of sensations. Experience the power of scent therapy….
Natural white sandalwood blended with an overdose of white and pink musk creates an ultra addictive milky and velvety accord. The white magnolia activates the pleasure receptor while the cassis stimulates the energy, releasing a supplement of eroticism. Musk Therapy, a magical mood enhancer, paves the way to relaxation and a sense of well being. Finally, a delightful alternative to artificial paradises and their illicit substances. ..
Scrolling down through Fragrantica these days, past all the adverts (so many adverts!), zigzagging charts and graphs and trend flows and intros and statistical mania – to get to the perfume you want to read about – is like reading War and Peace. Exhausting. Looking for a review on Vetiver Pamplemousse – which I had just bought in a shopping mall from Zara on my way to work in North Yokohama – I felt that approximately ten years of my life had passed before I eventually found what I was looking for (on a computer you can whizz down: on a phone it is much more orthopedic).
Scrolling back up again, feeling my hair turn grey as I waited impatiently to get back up to the top, I understood the reason for my exasperation: on the Fragrantica data base there are 641 registered perfumes from Zara (who knew? I am not sure if I have even smelled one of theirs before : perhaps just non-interestedly picked up a ‘Zara Man Night’ or something of the type: like fast fashion, Fast Perfume also steals all the ideas for the Designers or even Niche competitors – and flogs it unmemorably for a much more reasonable price) – but I did remember someone recently here recommending a scent from the brand – was it this, or Bohemian Bluebells? They also had that one, but no tester; ; only the main range had sample bottles – less attractive – and I almost had another L’Eau D’Issey MK II experience in my workwear when a curiously bedraggled individual, who looked a bit like a bandaged up sparrow, all masked up and pigeon toed and sociophobic came decisively towards the fragrance shelf and gave herself at least six full squirts (I think it was actually more like eight but I am wary of exaggerating any further), of the sweetest, most nauseating candy-numb generic gourmand floral that I worried had got all over my suit (Mr Chapman does not do knock offs of Flowerbomb). I fortunately managed to get out of the way just in time: a young couple prior to that, like me, had been hanging around by the Jo MaZara Emotions, but not being able to try them, had eventually gone for an eenie meanie money mo selection process picking one of them randomly, and walking off hand in hand giggling into the sunset.
With a bit of time to spare, my eyes swept past the Fleurs de Patchouli and the Sunset Amalfi, alighting on the Vetiver Grapefruit, and I thought to myself: : : : shall I? Summer is coming. It might be nice. Then again, it might be something I dislike and won’t be able to stand wearing, such as Terre D’Hermès or Pamplemousse Rose (the Ellena grapefruit is sour and chemical unpleasant for me; I don’t like any of that type, Un Jardin Sur Le Nil etc; the full endocrinic citrus) – but looking at the side of the sensibly sized 10ml rollerball and seeing that it was only ¥1,100, or eleven dollars, I thought what’s not to like?
Retiring to a disabled toilet within the ABC Mart shoe shop to take off my mask and tidy up my windswept embarrassment of a hairstyle – I haven’t been to a barber for over a year and don’t want to either – I thought I would have a special maskless preview of the fragrance: just a stroke before heading to the office. The great thing with a roll-on like this is that you can manoeuvre the miniature metal ball just the tiniest fraction on the back of the hand to test the waters (some sprays, as you know, are more like garden sprinklers – they like to give you a full hose down, the only problem being of course if you absolutely hate the thing).
This, I like. Very much. What fantastic value! Neither essential oil – vetiver or grapefruit, is particularly expensive, but if you were to try and make this yourself with undiluted oils, you would have a sulphurous unwearable oil slick that would take days to smell decent. You need a perfumer: dilution; proportion, fixers, maceration, and Jo Malone’s watery, uncluttered style to get a nice balance, and this does the job extremely well ; a very natural vetiver, just how I like it, but destrengthened a little to make it less intense for those around you, and a grapefruit that actually smells like the fresh fruit. Light. Cheering. Perfect for the work space, it is not long lasting nor complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. A great buy.
You know you are in safe hands with Bernard Chant. Master of the complex, but effortless, patchouli powdered chypre, this genius perfumer created the inimitable, emotive, and very distinctive adult sillages of Grès Cabochard, Clinique Aromatics Elixir, and Aramis (as well as the underrated rose patchouli quiet fervour that is Aramis 900) : all scents with his muted animalic signature, an allusion to sweat and the bedroom – particularly in the later, ultra-suggestive stages of Aramis Devin – when the moment is right, much later – after dinner – after drinks – but always with that Trans-Am panache and committed All-American French elegance.
While sometimes all of this compressed, pressed-pant-suit-and-teased-out-bouffant style that is quite prevalent in this perfumer’s work (each ingredient minisculed and moleculed into place in a symphonic exactitude that is astonishing) can arguably become a little Florida retirement home – see my piece on Estée Lauder’s Cinnabar, another Chant creation I personally find too stuffy (I am not familiar with Aliage, nor Halston Original : : : : enlighten me), the incredible muted luminosity of his moted creations – the concentrated perfume trailing the wearer like talced dust particles of scent in the air; an incredible presence – is justly revered the world over by perfumers, and perfume lovers alike, so much so that just four years ago Parfums Dusita even directly referenced the wonderfully dry and emotionally arid end notes of Cabochard in its densely chypric Sillage Blanc, a modern reworking of the style that conveys perfectly its continuing relevance. Bernard Chant perfumes are still worn the world over – Beautiful, a creation for Estée Lauder in collaboration with Max Gavarry, whose Dioressence shares some olfactive similarities with this perfumer’s style, and Sophia Grosjman, more overtly feminine and rose-based, is still one of the most successful perfumes in existence.
Although Bernard Chant’s résumé is mainly focused on the dry and aromatic chypre, the perfumer did also work with floral accords, such as Ralph Lauren’s wonderfully wide-eyed debut perfume Lauren, and later, the very unique rosewood freesia modern American classic that is Antonia’s Flowers. However, even when moving into fresher territory, there was also something niggling underneath; a suppressed emotionalism that you could always detect beneath the primmer surface. An awareness. In essence, this perfumer was simply incapable of the simplistic.
While Bernard Chant’s work for Coty – his only contribution to the house – has perhaps less iconic immediacy than some of the other masterworks in his catalogue, this sly, aromatic leather/fougère fragrance occupies a special place : somewhere between the flowers and the earth : the woodland in between. Fitting in with perfumes such as Lentheric’s Tweed from the first part of the twentieth century when society flirted with modes of masculinity in dress and scenting, the notes of the two perfumes are almost identical, with the exception of a prominent lavender note in the latter. Neither are typically ‘feminine’; both strike me as active and on the go. If there is anything unexpected about the perfume (‘imprevu’ means ‘unforeseen’), it is in the way that the standard, slightly dusty – and admittedly, slightly boring – aldehydic opening of bitter orange, bergamot, coriander and neroli and the expected carnation, jasmine/rose and orris heart, gradually morphs into a highly engaging, androgynous warm, oakmossed ambergris woody musk / vetiver / sandalwood dry down that on me is very reminiscent of vintage Paco Rabanne Pour Homme: on skin this perfume just gets better and better. While the Coty is a tad lighter, more ‘elevated’, the end impressions of the two, on me at least, are still virtually indistinguishable. I am enjoying it. Available quite reasonably online – in the past I have had the parfum de toilette and edt but was not moved until now to write anything about it, the parfum D got me the other day for nothing from a flea market is the reason I am writing this review: in its subtle ardor and expansiveness, and its internal sensation of happiness, it has become quite clear to me that this pleasing – and indeed unpredictable – perfume was yet another string in a brilliant perfumer’s bow.
Spotting a bottle of Le Feu D’Issey last week sat unobtrusively on the shelf at a closing down sale in a shop in Kamakura, I remembered that it has become a cult collector’s item since its discontinuation and now goes for $300-400 on eBay. At $17 dollars I thought it was a steal.
Part of the scent’s legendary status, now of course, is the fact that is has had the stamp of approval by Luca Turin, who has this to say :
“The surprise effect of Le Feu D’Issey is total. Smelling it is like pressing the play button on a frantic video clip of unconnected objects that fly past one’s nose at warp speed: fresh baguette, lime peel, clean wet linen, shower soap, hot stone, salty skin, even a fleeting touch of vitamin B pill, and no doubt a few other UFOS that this reviewer failed to catch the first few times. Whoever did this has that rarest of qualities in perfumery, a sense of humour. Bravo to those who did not recoil in horror at something so original and agreed to bottle it and sell it, but shame also, since they lost their nerve and discontinued it before it caught on. Whether you wear it or not, if you can find it, it should be in your collection as a reminder that perfume is, among other things, the most portable form of intelligence”.
I don’t personally find the scent intellectual as such, but the beginning (coriander, mahogany, anise, bergamot, sichuan pepper and raw coconut milk) is certainly odd, and D, as my guinea pig, was a little uneased by this top accord when I sprayed it on his arm sitting down in an empty Chinese restaurant (‘what is it supposed to be? a tit?’ he said with uncharacteristic vulgarity when taking the bottle out from the box). However, within minutes we were both quite warming to it, particularly when the restaurant itself became much warmer: we were discussing yet again the other day the issue of windows in the pandemic, and one uninteresting thing for you but completely vital thing for me is the issue of heating and cooling here; as the ultimate service culture, things must always be just one step beyond the call of duty, so that if the temperature drops a little then the heating comes on, and vice versa: it was a lovely spring day with a chill in the shadows that decisively did not merit putting the air conditioning on. I could have cried with despair when we first sat down in the cavernous restaurant down Kamakura’s main boulevard and felt the synthetic cold breeze. Asking the waiter if he could turn it off in our area, he then proceeded, naturally, to switch it from ice to fire (26º on air con is so different to 26º on heat even though they are theoretically the same): with the spicy dishes replete with chilli oil we were soon burning up. On the skin, at this point however, Le Feu was starting to smell quite stunning on the D, the woody guaiac and cedar/rose sandalwood vanilla not a thousand miles from the likes of Féminité Du Bois and Eau de Dolce Vita (by the same perfumer); sweet enough to be considered feminine, but deep, épicé and red enough for anyone.
Mark Behnke at Colognoisseur has written a fascinating piece on why he believes that Le Feu D’Issey was a colossal commercial failure. Namely, that it was ahead of its time, and that like the director Michael Cimino and the Deerhunter being given complete creative freedom for his legendary follow-up flop Heaven’s Gate, perfumer Jacques Cavallier committed the cardinal sin of going too far. Too experimental (should he have given the idea instead to Comme Des Garçons? This would surely have fit perfectly into their edgier oeuvre and with its sulphurous mandarin hot spring aroma would probably still be going strong with the Tokyo crowd and beyond as once it settles into the skin it feels memorably right). A perfume you could almost fall in love to, at the time it nevertheless wasn’t quite what the public were expecting.
What they were expecting was probably something along the lines of the ultra-successful, and phenomenally innovative, L’Eau D’Issey, a perfume I personally detest. Once I was standing in an airport duty free area wasting some time before boarding a London/Tokyo flight. I was suddenly and unexpectedly rinsed in salty citric raw oyster juice when an oblivious passenger started spraying a tester of Issey Bloody Miyake over herself with the nozzle in the wrong place, instead coating me in nauseating tiny droplets of chemical ‘water’. I could have killed her. My flight was subsequently an abomination as the ‘lotus’ and ozone and ‘melon’ had got all over my clothes ( I was standing right next to her), ruining whatever I had chosen carefully beforehand to make the long haul as comfortable as possible. I never liked this scent, even when fully conscious of its total shock of the new: My friend Ally wore L’Eau D’Issey when it first came out and we were all living together in North London post-university, and although it felt razor-fresh and ‘clean’, lacerating all perfumery that had come before it with its lancing florals and artificial zen, I far preferred her in another aquatic she also wore, L’Eau Par Kenzo, which suited her more gently and succinctly (but then again, I am more of a Kenzo boy all round).
The pour Homme version, a potent ozonic ginger/yuzu that came out a few years later, again masterfully original, and also extremely popular, I have a vendetta against for other reasons aside the fact that I feel it has no place being on human skin. I hesitate to mention this but Issey Miyake was the scent that D’s Norwegian lover wore when I first came to Japan in 1996 and 1997 when I was was being all hurtfully ‘let’s play it by ear’ and confused by what I wanted. You don’t piss around with D, and when, understandably, theory became practice, on his part, left alone in London by me suddenly flying off to the other side of the world, here at the top of the hill, I was insanely jealous and was taught a lesson I will never forget.
In the intervening years, although I have been to the Issey Miyake Pleats Please store a couple of times in Aoyama, Tokyo, on the way to Prada or CdG, or Kenzo, I have never really had much thought about this house in truth: Le Feu d’Issey is the first scent from Miyake I have ever bought. I am pretty sure it will get used as well: D really likes the middle section – on him it smells benevolently fiery and suitable. Quite smart, if possibly, when all is said and done, a little sweet. In general, though, I have to say am not drawn to the house, while still admiring its founder’s originality and artistry, in textiles and geometry, in resourcing new materials such as suits made of paper: a situation that is not likely to change with the latest fragrance addition to the line, A Drop D’Issey, which continues the sensation of whiteness and purity long associated with Miyake, but with an almost castigating wholesomeness and prettiness that I would definitely appreciate on others, male or female (a beautiful almond milk/ lilac sheer floral with a well-equilibrated internal harmony); but which I know would never work on me personally, not even sprayed on a T-shirt.
The pejorative expression ‘old lady smell’, for most perfumistas, is a justifiably hated phrase (so reductive; so un-connoisseur). In Japan, malodorous criticism is aimed much more at men; the supposed stench of the jiji, or man over retirement age. Salarymen of a certain generation tended to pick a product; be it Shiseido Vintage, Kanebo’s Eroica, Mandom, Auslese, or any one of the selection (still readily available on shelves at local pharmacies) that come in every conceivable toiletry – see the triangular Vintage box set above – and wear it for life. Imagine the scented hair tonics and creams and brilliantines plus a freshly shaven face splashed with hopeful aftershave: the result; a real cloud of aldehydic sweet woody herbal aromatics that the young men of today here would rather die than wear, the associations so strong. I have had male students talk quite avidly of how much they physically detest the smell of the overscented comb-over retirees embarking the city trains to meet their old colleagues for a game of golf or mahjong or to just talk about the old days in some cafe or beer hall: an olfactory divide that is quite different from the UK, for example, where all generations slap on their Sauvage or their Boss or Paco Rabanne or Aventus for a night out at the pub with no real cognitive dissonance. Here, a perfume like Vintage, which D picked up for me the other day for about 50 yen (about 33p) from the Zushi recycle shop, immediately confers a real sense of age, denoting wordlessly that you worked through the Bubble in the post-war years like a dog, and that you are now, in your dotage, still clinging to the old ways.
Post-war Japan was a thriving, dynamic period when men were required to sacrifice themselves 24 hours a day for the economic recovery and dignity of the nation: wives stayed at home and reared children (even now, many women don’t go back to work until their children are around ten), cooking and cleaning and socialising with other mama-san, while exhausted but nicotinized and over-adrenalised husbands would be forced to go for compulsory drinks after office hours until the last train or later to cement the bonds with the other workers in their guaranteed-job-for-life companies (the younger generation is learning to say no). Then, you couldn’t. I wonder, then, if a loyalty to a product like Vintage – warm, sad, musty, quite touching in its lingering sensuality -is a way of of just maintaining that time line; a daily men’s ritual that for many of the boom-generation now must be a visceral smell-link to the past, and for them at least, still relevant to their present.
The Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc is a storied luxury resort residence in the south of France, a series of extravagant holiday villas set within a chateau by the sea. For those in the know, and with the sufficient funds, it is said to be a kind of paradise: Chagall sketched it, F Scott Fitzgerald wrote about it, Prince wooed Kristen Scott Thomas there in Under The Cherry Moon. Picasso sat drawing the menu in the hotel bar. Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth had affairs there.
While it might seem unusual for Dior to release a pure aquatic, , there has always been an archival freshness to much of the classic fragrance from the house, from the bright luminescent florals and citruses of Diorissimo and Diorella, through to the recent prettifications of the Francois Demachy creations for Maison Dior: Souffle de Soie, Holy Peony, Lucky, Diorissima, and the oceanic pebble fig breezes of Balade Sauvage. The bright morning ablutions of the upper crust blearily flinging open the shutters of their magnificent chambers to the sight, and smell, of the sun on the waves. The tennis courts below. The stories that these long white corridors could tell….
The new perfume is a pure aquatic sea air creation, with Mediterranean citruses and a solar sea promenade jasmine with hints within of troubling indoles; otherwise, all is saline, sun-bleached, clear and dreamy, except for a note of pine that grounds the proceedings in a slight hint of dry virility. I like it. Although I would personally find a stay at an exclusive place such as the Du Cap somewhat exhausting; all the clothes you would need to pack (or buy in the first place) for each sighting in the bar; at breakfast, at dinner, while relaxing with grenadine cocktails on the oceanside cabana – for me it would necessitate suitcases and suitcases; a valet, a personal shopper and stylist and several bellhops to just select and lay it all out for me each day like Audrey Hepburn and her grand entrance at the beginning of Charade : the scent itself – simple, harmonious ; is pleasing. As a fan, in very hot summer weather, of Il Profumo’s beachwalk Aria Di Mare, to which Eden Roc bears some resemblance, I can imagine this being quite cooling and gentrifying to the senses when the heat gets too much (though for me it hardly ever does); I was teaching the word ‘exhilarating’ yesterday, and instinctively, the first example that came to mind for me of how to use the word from personal experience was one August day last year at Ishiki beach; down from the Emperor’s summer residence in Hayama, where for the first time in several years, I went running along the jetty – and dived straight into the ocean.