The greatest orange blossom neroli of all time?……….. Berber Blonde by Sana Jardin Paris ( 2017 )


When I came round I was in Hell. I was shouting and screaming. I didn’t know where I was. I couldn’t feel my legs; my right arm was in intense pain, and I couldn’t move it, either, from the six hours of tight pulsating blood pressure control it had been under in the operating theatre.

The lights in the corridors were ferociously blinding and disorienting as I was led back, blurring and jolting, to my room. Faces in masks whirled above me clamouring in Japanese, and then, suddenly, incomprehensible, assailing my drugged, tampered brain, there was the nauseating and overwhelming smell of No 19 parfum assaulting my senses from all angles – foreign, unwelcome : like a block of pure unwanted evil.

Screaming to get it away from me, get that smell oh god I need water so badly my mouth is so dry what have I done I’m going to die, why have you put 19 everywhere (he hadn’t: it was discharging from my carefully saturated bathrobe that was lurking hidden in the hospital drawer and emanating fumes- entirely my fault), but it couldn’t possibly at all have been more wrong in that situation; it just smelled poisonous.

I was in hell. I didn’t know what I had been expecting, but I hadn’t been expecting this. To be so pitiably helpless like a deformed, newborn child. And for my ‘legs’ – packed in ice packs and bandages and machine compressors- to feel so lifeless.


I wanted to disappear. I was shuddering from the shock of it. I didn’t know what I wanted : except water. Water. Water. Water. That was all I could think about, only water, but they told me kindly, but firmly, that I wasn’t allowed any more fluids for another torturous four hours.

This, unless you suffer from the same thing that I do, you won’t quite realize the impact of. The intolerableness. The unacceptability. Nobody understands, actually, except perhaps one friend of mine who feels somewhat similarly, but being deprived of water at any one time is literally unbearable for me, as is any situation in which I am denied water for even a moment. It is a fully fledged phobia, the depths of which only now I am realizing.

When I heard, from someone who had undergone a similar operation, that in some cases, in some hospitals ( or perhaps this is just how it used to be, I don’t know), no food or drink is allowed twenty four hours before an operation, despite the fact that I was becoming unable to walk through lack of cartilage, I was seriously considering cancelling it. Because it was impossible. There was honestly no way that I could have done it.

Then, other friends who have also been in hospital told me that the usual procedure before a major operation was nil by mouth after midnight- still utterly unfathomable as a doable thing on my part, and something I could never have complied with, no matter the consequences. If I was risking death, so be it.

I drink water during the night whenever I wake up ( often). I have bottles in my bag, in the classroom, on the bus, beside me at all times, wherever I am. I am never at any time without it. I CAN’T be without it.

As you will have realized from reading this, my obsession, my dehydrophobia, if that’s the name for it – -is exactly that : an irrational phobia of not having constant access to water even when you are not dehydrated………and realizing that when you are in this situation you succumb to an accelerating sensation of dryness and fear.

(or is it possible that I died of thirst in a former life?… who knows )

In any case, as the operation date approached, water, rather than pain, was my biggest anxiety. To me this is natural, normal, instinctive, but I could find almost no information on similar people when I looked into it further online.

I was surprised. I would have presumed that far more people, water being so essential, so crucial to our existence and well being, would have had a similar obsession. The fear of desiccation . Of dehydration. Of death by thirst. So much more all-consuming and murderous than hunger.

Yet while many articles discussing phobias naturally list hydrophobia ( a physically- derived symptom of rabies ) and aquaphobia ( a terror of actually physically being in the water ), no one seems to have mentioned its direct opposite: people like me, water lovers, who are aquaphilic in the extreme.

I love swimming in the open sea more than almost anything. live in the bath. have no fear of drowning ( at least it’s in water) or of diving off rocks into waves. Heaven.

I love liquids, hydration, warm, tropical rains, rivers, lakes, just staring down into the water, like Narcissus, himself, who was drowned in that treacherous pool in the forest but transformed, thereafter, into that shy but powerfully perfumed flower.

Water is the opposite of stasis, of inertia: it signifies life and the movement of the blood in our veins, the rain bringing newness and the annihilation of dryness – it IS life, so having even the mere possibility of having water taken away from me at any time: forbidden, disallowed, but then also being physically unable to reach out for it, is thus, essentially, my worst fear realized.

It is a fear that I can usually quite easily keep a lid on though – no one needed to know about it, really, until now. Because unlike, say, phobia of exposure to a particular kind of creature or person; or a terror of public vomiting or flowers or buttons – all much more commonly recognized phobias, in fact, than my own fear – no one would really have ever known about my own formidable anxiety about this issue until now because obviously, no has prevented ever really tried to prevent me from having water.

But how do you ignore doctors’ orders, when presumably those very rules that are in place in the majority of health facilities are there to protect your health, even your life?

The night before the operation I was told that I could drink fluids until 6.30am and this was quite surprising and blissful news for me, even if there was still the time until the surgery at 9.15 to be considered ( yes, I realize that I could have called to find out all this vital information in advance, but I was planning on having bottles secreted away in case I had to flout the rules and I was paranoid they would then be keeping an extra eye on me to make sure that I didn’t………..)

I managed to remain relatively calm, knowing what was going to soon be happening to me, all things considered, and I didn’t really even drink that high a volume of water I don’t think, at least as far as I can now remember. For me, anyway.

The night before, I had had a Skype conversation with an old flame of mine, Christopher Green, a well known comic performer and resident performance artist at the Royal College Of Art in London where he works as the Singing Hynotherapist. He is fully qualified, and practices, but given our history ( a three day fling at Cambridge in 1991, all very poetic and passion in the daffodils ) he said it probably wasn’t wise to have a real hypnotherapy session over Skype; you need to be treated in person. The trust needed to go under that way requires the energy of person to person interaction, and it shouldn’t be someone you have been involved with.

It helped, though, certainly: the visualization he suggested, the breathing practice, but it wasn’t enough. Although I had read about the dangers of combining water and anaesthetic, my anxiety level, by 6.31 am, was such that I had no possibility internally of stopping all fluids; kept sipping water, even drinking it normally, swallowing quite a lot, right up until the dreaded time I found myself dead man walking into the operating theatre, where I was strapped to the gurney in the middle of the room, stared down at by the Japanese medical team, ready for them to begin cutting and sawing at my leg bones….but all I could think about, aside noting all the people, the machines, the sound of my heart beat on the monitor, the pattern on the dull, glassed, ceiling, was WATER, WATER, I just can’t stand not having it, I can’t wait for the anaesthetic please give it me, and and so in pity they finally let me rinse my mouth with a side gargle tray – though I took undisguised sips as I was desperate for it, it was necessary for me to have it, could not not just spit all of it out, and then RIGHT BEFORE, just before the actual moment of surrender and I went under I begged them for another.

No more.



And they let me have one more final drink before my lights went out.

But then I woke up – what was actually six hours later but what felt like immediacy, and the all consuming need for hydration was so potent that it overwhelmed ALL other considerations, including whether I lived or died. But it was denied me.

Those first four hours after the operation were the worst of my life so far: queasy, paralyzed, in pain, dying for water and just trying to get through each interminable hour ( I could only get the mouthwashes, but they still were some mental salve as I was going in and out of consciousness….) until I reached the magical hour of 8pm when I could resume having water again.



Going into hospital I had initially, as you know, settled on No 19. My underwear is scented with it, which I like, because I have been stuck in the same position in bed for six days, but that outrageous bathrobe drenched in the parfum, the one that made me feel so sick when I was coming round, is just too much. What the hell had I been thinking? Strong tasting food and overwhelming odours become like anathema.

In the first days after the Trauma, though, as I began to gather myself and feel more human, I noticed how nice the nurses, both female and male, who were giving me round the clock care, were smelling. But thismight just have been the contrast with my own foetid squalor in the bed – caused by the shroud I was wrapped in with hot heating apparatus during the surgery and what I was carried in on as they brought me to the bed, drenched in panic sweat which seeped into the bed itself; I was changed into other hospital clothes two days later but god, the smell……although I like my skin smell and don’t think on the whole I have a particularly pernicious body odour, in concentration, like that, sickly and perspiring at my most perilous I would say the ooze I was emitting was a something like a pungent melange of warm, wet digestive biscuits and dead dogs with a pinch of nutmeg.

As for my mouth…….parched, lying there wide open for six hours in dehydration, well I am sure I would have won Top Honours at the Bad Breath Awards 2017. Uueuurgh. That taste….. it’s as if the day when you know your exhalations weren’t at their freshest – you know, that smell – that exact, dreaded scent were changed from a cologne fraiche to a double strength extrait de parfum; viscous and arid; but you can’t do anything but lie there like a bandaged open sewer and accept it.

In contrast to all this vileness emanating from my brutalized and sutured, dehydrated self, then, the fact that the staff all smelled so fresh and fragrant was an immediate boon. Not perfumed, as such, although one nurse, smelling as Atlas cedary as Serge Lutens Feminite Du Bois, told me that her scent was from products she had got at an onsen, or hotspring – perhaps something floral and hinoki, but every time her hair is anywhere in my vicinity as she is changing a drip or inserting an intravenous, I feel more alive.

Even my physiotherapist, the lovely, tiny, Ms Iikura (god, getting made to try and stand up- even supported by Duncan and her the day after the operation- and get into the wheelchair, to go to the rehabilitation room,….Christ the agony), smells cute and fresh as a daisy. I can’t identify what she is wearing – no doubt the hospital doesn’t allow any perfumes, it must be toiletries, or shampoo, but the gentle sweet cleanness of her scent, that perfectly matches her personality, is a much needed accompaniment to the excruciating challenges of that room.


My tastes are different in here. I thought I would be sickened by the meals, but in fact the light, healthy and very balanced Japanese food is just what I feel like, even things I ordinarily don’t enjoy, such as seaweed. Strong food, snacks, coffee, all just seem nightmarish at this stage. I am sure I will tire of it at some point ( edit: I already have):  the food is fresh and good to the point of saintliness, but in truth it’s exactly what I want. I have to feed the healing.

The same goes for my oils. Vetiver : no. So wrong. It just smells like exhaust engines and creosote. Frankincense : miserable, morose – horrible, actually, and ylang ylang just took me aback with its repellent, overfull yellow pink sweetness, and made me almost heave.

My Tasmanian lavender oil, however, was a godsend those first twenty four hours when I felt a regret that I have never before felt in this lifetime ( I just wanted to go back to how it was before…)

– a bright, purple, almost cassis -noted organically grown lavender that cleared the air of the room beautifully, changed it, and took away some of my worry. I could concentrate on that smell and imagine landscapes, feel less  confined to my body.


It is predominantly citrus, though, that I have wanted and have been using all the time here. The nurses are either beguiled or disturbed by it but I just sprinkle some bergamot here, some lemon there, just on towels and tissues to brighten things up, on my tongue, on my chest ( last night the male night nurse obviously had bronchitis, was feverish although he claimed otherwise – I could feel his hot fingers though, when he gave me the antibiotic injection and I wasn’t taking any chances; these essential oils not only smell beautiful, but they are germ killers as well, and right now, there could be no better essences. Bergamot, in particular, just clears the air, it relaxes me, it enlivens me, it just smells like a big giant aura of green orange happiness.)


By chance Duncan, one point on the third day of my stay here, sorting out what we had brought with us in our bags and putting the room in order, just took out, at random, one of the perfume sample bottles I had brought along to review in case I found myself in such a mood one day and……rejoice ! it just seemed so perfect for that particular moment that, suddenly mood-altered, immediately I began spraying it in tiny amounts on different parts of my pyjamas: sunshined: respirited, and elated.


As the press release from this new ‘ethical perfumer’ says ( and no, I don’t usually take these things seriously either, nor have even the slightest expectations any more from reading the purple prosed verbiage spewed up by pen-chewing copywriters, but this sample just winged its way across the ocean to me via a friend, and I like to keep an open mind) – Sana Jardin Paris, a new perfume house prioritizing sustainability and fair trade of all the jasmine, orange blossom, neroli and citrus oils used in the perfume grown in Morocco, is apparently designed to just smell like pure yellow happiness and sunshine in a bottle.

And the thing is, IT DOES.

This could of course simply be because of my current situation. Things I normally like, I am finding I don’t. And vice versa. So it’s quite possible that my ecstatic reaction to this scent that only smells of the orange blossom tree on a hot blue afternoon and just took me away from this immediate environment to somewhere happy, where I could walk freely among the orange groves  and just BE, is because of one of subjectively extreme experience, not intrinsic beauty.

Berber Blonde, a curious name for an orange blossom perfume but one I like, is all about the neroli and the orange blossom and nothing else, and I had in fact already been sampling on my skin before coming into hospital and already liked it. To me it just smells like  beams of sunlight: zinging, new – so blindingly optimistic when you first unlock the bottle, the future seems so bright that you’ve got to wear shades.

Some, who like the softer orange blossoms, many of which I also quite like myself and have written about here on The Black Narcissus, such as Mademoiselle and Petit Guerlain; Divin Enfant, Penhaligons Castile, Lorenzo Villoresi’s Dilmun or the sweet and lovely Eau Des Minimes Cologne Of Love, will perhaps find Berber Blonde too illuminated and lucid, though it is never as sharp and strong as Lutens  Fleurs D’Oranger, Gaultier’s Fragile, nor as citrussed and rasping as my own personal (and prior to this discovery, favourite) Annick Goutal’s Neroli cologne with its green and white on-the-bough realness.

No, Berber Blonde has a different, more psychologically lucent register.

You spray, you go; to a different place instantaneously, somewhere bright, and simple, and fragrant smelling;; just orange blossom buds and open flowers in some hot, imaginary place……..fresh, alive; breathing in sunlight, suspended above pools of bottomless clear blue water


Filed under Flowers

bionic narcissus


MY new legs.


i just can’t use them yet.


Filed under Flowers


but I can’t write, sorry






Filed under Flowers


Source: THE BELOVED (vol 1): CALECHE D’HERMES (1961) & ARPEGE DE LANVIN (1927)


Filed under Flowers

plum blossom




last walk around the block for quite some time

I have always loved the shape and scent of these classically springtime trees


Filed under Flowers






Vintage Chanel Nº19 soap


Yes, I do think so. I had been saving this beauty for some unspecified future special occasion, but I think this is now going in with me.

It is in the auxiliary products of this perfume that the differences between the vintage and the gutted, debrained reformulation are even more glaringly obvious and damning: the new soap is a flashy yellow citric vetiver thing with an unpleasant undernote I can’t abide and would never buy again (the same with a body cream I got as well that was quite vile).

The original soap, though, is glorious and really beautifully scented: deep, leathery suds combine with vetiver and iris and a touch of the floral green notes up top, forming the perfect layer for the perfume.

In truth, this will be a bloodied, wounded man on crutches trying desperately to salvage some smell dignity in the confines of the disabled hospital toilet but so be it: the savon is so strongly scented that it will tint its surroundings with Chanel, and that is no bad thing.






My personally remixed vintage Chanel Nº19 eau de toilette


In thinking about what perfumes I should be taking into hospital and should have as ‘my smell’ (aside the foul one I will have from lying in my bed all the time and not showering or bathing), it didn’t take me long to settle on this, one of my top three holy grails. Not because I always feel like wearing it, not by any stretch – I go for sweeter, more tropical scents on the whole – but because the vintage is just so good, and so multi-faceted, that I feel it will give off exactly the sillage I want (it is already drenched all over my dressing gown – that’s bath robe to you North Americans) and all the other clothes I am taking.

I believe that this perfume will confer on me some kind of immunity to embarrassment. And the supercilious, Parisian greenness of it will absorb some of the mortification of what I know in advance is going to happen from being The Foreigner in the hospital.

As for the remix, well it was necessary. I acquired the bottle you see here ( LOVE that thick, oblong bottle):  a vintage that had quite nice, rich, base notes, and still enough iris to still merit buying it, but it wasn’t quite good enough to wear. I therefore added some bergamot and galbanum essential oils ( I know!) and then varying amounts of other extraits that I have in my collection to turn it into something like my own private parfum de toilette.

It is pretty much perfect now; very green ; irisian, with all the penetrating and lingering vetiver base notes there as well.

This is my hospital scent.







Chanel Nº19 vintage parfum


Because when certain visitors come, I will still need the thicker paint to dab on the wrists.









My personally remixed Guerlain Vetiver Cologne

I know: the arrogance. But I basically know what I am doing. I have yet to do a full review of vintage Guerlain Vetiver, which I truly think was an extremely beautiful, mellow, smoky perfume that was a vital part of the Guerlain canon; emotional, intelligent, crepuscular. One day I will.

This old bottle of cologne from a flea market was given to me half full, slightly turned, but in dry-down, redolent enough of the original I remember so fondly to merit me adding a third of the current eau de toilette (not so bad, really: just as though the original had had some of its most important memories extracted but were still, basically, the same person).

To body it up, I added specially chosen vetiver essential oil for depth; black pepper (in the original notes) to rev it up and add vitality, plus some bergamot and lemon.

I have possibly made it slightly too citric (but then you see it was a cologne), but I basically do love this new reconstructed version of mine. I also think that it won’t clash too much with the Chanel, but will rather add to the Noel Coward charm I hope to cultivate while hospitalized.





My snake skin case of specially selected essential oils




More important than perfume in fact.

With all those germs flying about and the danger of hospital infections so prevalent these days you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be surrounded by an aura of bactericidal essences that smell nice (lemon, bergamot, lavender), soothe the spirits and senses, kill infections before they get anywhere near my person, or are cicatrising agents.

I don’t intend of course to sabotage the doctors’ work, don’t worry, but I know for a fact that thick, viscous, Biblical essences such as myrrh and benzoin, and particularly frankincense, are great wound healers and will be self-administered.

I will use them if I get a chance to have a bath, or else put them in other places on my body in areas not directly connected to the operated area.

Like Lazarus, I will walk again.


The vetiver……

In fact, what I was planning (and this might strike you as quite abnormal, somewhat), was to enter the operation theatre bathed in vetiver essential oil; not so much as to interfere or interact with anything, nor to be overtly there on the skin, interrupting the good surgeons’ work, but to have imbibed and macerated myself in it beforehand, for days, like a Hindu yogi.


About twenty years ago I was in Melaka, Malaysia, one of my very first experiences of Asia –  and it is a memory that has stayed with me forever.


I was alone, staying with some friends in a business district of Kuala Lumpur, but had then come to this alluring, ancient town for a couple of nights, entranced just wandering around and breathing it all in.


The highlight though was undoubtedly one street, which seemed to be some kind of microcosm of how the world might be today and always if people weren’t so stupid and so full of hatred of difference, and almost unbearably idealistic in retrospect.


There was a Dutch colonial Christian church on the corner in one part of town, and then, when you went down the road  a bit, there was a Hindu temple next door to a mosque next door to a Chinese temple, all the sounds and smells comingling to the extent that you could never fully escape your neighbour……….but to me it was a beautiful cacophony.


I actually spent that afternoon recording the sounds on my tape recorder, interviewing people in some kind of naive ecstacy of exotic excitement, felled by the smells and aromas and atmospheres and musics, but one of the most vivid recollections I still have was when I finally went into the Hindu temple and was assailed with the deepest, coolest, almost minted, earthen vetiver that filled every cavity of that space and my head as the holy man, naked save for a loin cloth, sat there in a meditative pose, silent, covered head to toe in vetiver khus: pasted on his body, I just stood there and savoured it, inhaling the roots, lost in the moment and becoming vetiver. It was exquisite.


Thus, sadly bringing you back round to my current Japanese reality……I wanted to replicate that exact sensation by bathing all this week in vetiver essential oil, to the extent that it would just breathe from my pores while I am being operated on (the plant is naturally anti-februge; prevents fever; is bactericidal as well as mellowing down the heart rate, and calming the nerves)….


It would have been perfect, but me being me I overdid it a bit last week with the citrus oils in the bath  ( I should have known better; I know which oils suit me and which don’t; I can bathe in bergamot and never have problems – I find it so re-equilibrating as an essence, and emerge lucid and clear, but should have remembered that I can’t tolerate even very small amounts of orange or grapefruit near my skin as I immediatley hive up and come out in red patches. Lemon I thought was different but uh-oh: I hadn’t dispersed the water properly and, shit! I have come up in a big sensitized burn on my right thigh where the oil had collected in concentration, and this week, on top of a hundred other panics, I am now worrying that this might prevent the surgeons from operating (although it is now, thankfully, beginning to fade) .


They were very clear, however, on the fact that I couldn’t catch a cold, as you will recollect from the post from the other day (in the end, just for your information, I decided to stay at home, as the threat of potential viruses outside just assailed my consciousness way too much and I thought it better to relax here: which I have, when I haven’t been sucked into hysteria, usually in the dark hours of the middle of the night): but anyway: this sensitized patch  – why couldn’t it have been on a different part of the body?!!!, such bad luck) –  seems to be going down now and I don’t want to risk any more sensitization.


I did have a bath yesterday, actually, using the Tasmanian lavender you see in the box (fantastically relaxing!) and I think it has had a positive effect on the patch, but vetiver I don’t know.


But in tribute to that otherworldly Malaysian Indian man, I will have some oil placed strategically in certain private places, just to emit, silently –  while under,; but it will not, sadly but sensibly, be the full Melakan fantasy. I wouldn’t want the surgeons in a state of oneiric hypnosis, in any case. They have their work cut out already.


In the snake case you will also notice some lotion, and some vaseline. The latter is lemon-infused lip balm – divine!  – just standard vaseline with lemon essential added to it, but it is so uplifting and cheering and germ killing that it is perfect for when I get a visitor or a nurse comes and I want to evince a sudden burst of lemon peel (the effect is almost holographic). I will also need seriously lubed up lips for the anaesthetic as I know that when you come round (I will be under for five and a half hours, yikes), your lips are as dry as  dead leaves: I would prefer to begin the proceedings glistening and citrussy than stoically dried out and desiccated.


For skin  – because just I don’t do leather face, and take these things seriously, we see in the photograph my home-adultered Shiseido Lait De Beauté, familiar to all friends who have ever come to stay with me who usually end up stealing my moisturizers and taking them home with them.


This is a very effective, but inexpensive lotion (500 yen, or about five dollars) – unscented, to which I add whichever oils suit my skin (and mood) best at any given time. Over time, they have included palmarosa, patchouli, ylang ylang, geranium, neroli (amazing), galbanum (- a recent addition), myrrh, but perhaps most effectively, frankincense, which just soothes the face so beautifully at night and helps you to sleep as well. The only other skin products I use are pure coconut oil – just lather me up like a Thai banana fritter and eat me: you might think it too greasy and pore-clogging, that you would just wake up the next day like a greased up, zit-tastic teenager, but nothing could be further from the truth.


I have a strange intuition about when and when not to moisturize: my skin just tells me not tonight, please, or else it just says slather me in coconut. A more immediate wrinkle eradicator I can’t imagine, the stuff is nature’s dream, and it is well known on The Black Narcissus that coconut is probably my favourite note in all of perfumery anyway so I am quite content to just lie there like a sweet Thai dessert and see rich, oleaginous dreams.


Yes….so this case of goodness will be beside me at all times: I shall be self-dispensing; a drop of sweet marjoram on the tongue when it all gets too much, here, some hyssop oil, as well – one I have never tried before but which is good for bone healing and which smells very strange and intriguing and so I bought it at the shop in Tokyo, Tree Of Life in Harajuku, my favourite haunt for such things: (I also think that essential oils are so instinctive and intuitive; some really suit you, and others don’t, and you know immediately: if you were to replace my selections here, for instance, with my migraine- inducing nemeses : basil, aniseed, petitgrain, sandalwood, pine, helichrysum (immortelle-  hell in a bottle!); fir, cinnamon leaf, tea tree (brilliant stuff therapeutically, but I just hate the smell of it so much); carrot seed, cumin, citronella (mosquito horror personified!) and lemongrass (so rasping!) the oils would actually have a detrimental effect on me, despite their proven qualities; be head-splitting and rough, but hyssop…. my body just said yes.


Same as it does with eucalyptus. Oh that stuff is good in the bath….




Some new perfumes


Because I will need something to do and I want to review for you.

This new range, to be launched later this year, is very good…


And then some old familiars: 




Roger & Gallet Gingembre Cologne


This, I would say, is the perfect remedy for slovenly piss-in-pyjamas modification: the kind of scent you can just spray on when someone is coming to the door and you want to smell fresh as a daisy.

I love ginger anyway (but not really the essential oil, I forgot to add that one), but this gentle creation is not especially gingery; that note is just there somewhere among the classic cologne notes, that are nevertheless not too classic colonia/cologne a la 4711 or Acqua Di Parma (and which I don’t really like).

No, this is a modern interpretation; clear; uplifting, a touch staid and unexciting, perhaps, but clean, loveable, long-lasting, and good. 




Vol De Nuit Cologne

There is no point in taking any orientals with me into hospital. In fact, I am very particular about what perfumes work in what circumstances



(…another aside, just for a moment…………one very surprising thing I learned the other day while undergoing a ‘battery’  of hospital tests, was my blood type…

In Japan, blood types are used in the way we used zodiac signs in the West. There is a deep belief in the differences in people’s characters according to what blood type they are here, even direct prejudice (some people won’t marry someone of the ‘wrong’ type, and it is one of the first questions people apparently ask when dating; many people I have met here in Japan have been very surprised that I didn’t know mine….  but do most westerners?

Type B is apparently considered extremely eccentric and selfish, does its own thing only;  O is strong, boorish, headstrong, based in reality; A is boring and careful, conservative, finnickety- the majority of Japanese are proudly A –  while AB is considered freakish and odd.

Skyping with my parents last night, I asked them what type they were because I couldnt’ remember if they had ever told me (my mother had lost the records that contained my own type and I have often wondered).

Apparently my dad is a very rare B negative, my mother A. My brother is AB, we don’t know about my sister, and I, it turns out, am A. My Japanese friends were extremely surprised, even horrified. You, A??!!! But you are so not Japanese?!

I agree: I assumed that with my big-bodied aggressivess I might be O, or with my obvious weirdness, B  or AB (Duncan is B), but never A…..but then a friend pointed out to me quite rightly that my attitude towards writing (careful, pedantic, if violently spontaneous) and perfume (obsessive, comprehensive) is actually very A)..

Of course, all of this is probably utter bullshit, but then so is the Zodiac, except for the fact that it isn’t – simply because through empirical experience I know that a lot of what is said about the signs is literally true, from my friends, family and other loved ones to my colleagues and students. Who knows: perhaps something about blood types might be true for all we know as well…..

My attitude towards which perfumes work in what circumstances, though, in many ways, is ‘very A’..

I am never going to just spray an oriental perfume onto dirty unwashed skin, for example. Some people don’t think about these perfumed points enough. But if you want to get it right, you have to. Some perfumes go great on skin and clothes no matter what their state (that Gingembre I am taking in with me is  a good example). Others, emphatically do not. You have to be clean. 


Do you think I will be lying there sweating and seeping on my ‘cot’ and ladling on Bal A Versailles to my seeping sores? God no. I hate that beloved perfume unless I have scrupulously bathed first and added talc in the right weather – for me usually the depths of winter – and then, and only then, is it heaven on earth. On unwashed skin? Skanksville. Grubby. Invasive. I would just be desperate to wash it off, as I would Shalimar or any amber or any vanilla or anything cloying or sweet that just will not go at all with my surroundings. No, they would be vile in hospital.

Vol De Nuit cologne, though.


A thing of beauty is a joy forever, and I fear I will be smelling a tad unsugared in all my lemon and vetivered finery – get bored with it, eventually, so I can imagine a time, a quiet evening on the ward, the old men asleep,when I just wash my hands and arms thoroughly, add some Vol De Nuit cologne, and let my spirits ride a bit…..


This is very different from my treasured parfum, which is by far my favourite incarnation of Night Flight, but I do like it much better than the vintage edt, which is darker, a bit too moody and standoffishly daffodilian.


The cologne, on the other hand,  has a tingly, bright-burst beginning like the white of afternoon sunlight, the oriental facets kept effectively at bay until the end of its duration on the skin, when the powdered cremeuese of the classic Vol De Nuit base comes to the forelight. I need this. Just for private moments.


As I do my




Puapuakeni and Poison


These two will not really go with my featured hospital smell identity (but who knows; when D brings in my washed garments after a week or two I might switch and go all Bora Bora – at this time of year I always start craving tropical florals anyway); but even if I don’t, and I just sink into foetid vetiver realness, having these lovelies just there on the side will remind me that one day I am coming out and that my perfume collection will be waiting for me.


This is important.


I don’t know about you, but when I am away for any length of time from home, I really crave my perfumes; I want them, I need them, I have to smell them or just have them next to me by my bed.


And a scent craving is a strange and unusual craving indeed. It’s different from a food one (caffeine, meat, sugar, fat, citrus), gut-driven and physical, base;   an alcohol one (psychological); a visual one (sometimes I need to see certain films in my collection, but it’s different), or just an intense craving for cosmopolitan stimulation (I know I will really miss the city when I am cooped up in the hospital), but something more.



With perfume it’s all of these things. It’s psychological yes, but it’s also very much stimulation, and I would also say, physical, to be honest –  from the gut, the heart and braina very three dimensional experience, something you feel and internalise intensely, even spiritually, not just some random evaporating liquid on the surface of the skin.









Filed under autobiography, Psychodrama

HIDDEN: : GEM (1987) , VAN CLEEF (1993) + MISS ARPELS (1994) by VAN CLEEF & ARPELS



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Some perfume houses (Chanel, Guerlain, Caron, Hermès) have a uniformity of style  -such that even when you might not take to certain scents in the range personally, at heart you still feel that there is a stability in the stable. A general ease of quality ; a signature,  a DNA.

Dior (oh read it and weep…Diorella, Diorling, Diorama, Diorissimo); Givenchy, Balmain, Yves Saint Laurent, all used to also have this quality before their cruel and vile degradations. I can hardly even bear to smell a single perfume at the Christian Dior counter now, knowing how attenuated and chemicalized the once sly, beautiful perfumes have become. The same goes for the dummies – factices! – masquerading as Opium or Rive Gauche.

Givenchy is now a joke  – I could never forgive them for the name Véry Irrésistible, particularly when enunciated with a Parisian, or I dare say, a Birmingham accent, and Givenchy Gentleman and Ysatis, two of my favourite perfumes, well, the less said about the new versions the better.

At least visually, however, even if the juices inside are fake news, there is still usually with most houses some kind of cohesion. Van Cleef & Arpels, on the other hand, has always struck me as a real hodgepodge smorgasbord of ephemeral, whoreish opportunism. The perfumes and bottles just come and go. They look horrible together on the counter. There is nothing that really binds them. And that goes for the smell of them, as well.

Yes, there are the seminal, enduring creations from the house: the beautiful First (1976), and Tsar (1989), which I despise from the depths of my heart but still grudgingly respect in that patrician, Blake Carrington kind of manner; and then, of course, the more recent Collection Extraordinaire, featuring highly wearable, smooth and classy (if quite pricey) creations such as Orchidée Vanille, Lys Carmin, and California Rȇverie that I would quite happily have in my own collection if someone were just to give them to me for free.

The main line, nevertheless, I find to be, on the whole, repugnant – Féerie (bleuurrrgh!), Oriens, Midnight In Paris and all their flankers just the standard, thin, trumped up chemical crap I can’t abide. There is just no relation to the other Van Cleef & Arpels perfumes, no family tree lineage or any particularly Parisian, Van Cleevian recognizability.









That said, what of the forgotten perfumes, never blockbuster hits back in the day;  ones you might not even have been aware of at the time,  but were still there, the ones standing doggedly at their given places on the department store perfumery shelves (remember the days when that was virtually all the perfume that there was available?)

–  – This makes me quite nostalgic, actually, the way certain perfumes – Après L’Ondée, say, or Alliage, would be kept under the counter at their respective concessions by their sales representatives, but it didn’t matter because those perfume lovers that wanted those particular scents specifically knew they could make a beeline for them whenever they wanted. They were wanted, which is why they were in constant production. The perfumes were all solid quality; you could trust in them not to be changed to sickening, pale impostors overnight – they were your beloved, signature fragrance.

Both Gem (discontinued) and Van Cleef (also, but depending on your information sources, still possibly available), are perfumes  – real perfumes, from this valued, and cherished time, before the psycho, millennial split into toilet cleaners in fancy flacons (high street perfumery) and the vastly priced, decentish perfumes presented to us as the Exclusives, the Extraordinaries, the Private, and Privé Collections and all the rest; the two-tiered approach that every perfume house seems to have adopted now.

Although I knew neither at the time, these two deleted Van Cleefs are both clearly sturdy, well-made perfumes, rich with essence. Gem, which I have no recollection of, and which I experienced for the first time only very recently when I found it for around ten dollars at a Tokyo ‘recycle’ store a couple of weeks ago, had just been tossed into a wicker basket somewhere among the general jumble of the store alongside a whole load of perfumes into the general perfumed bargain bin, and I initially walked (actually limped, like John Merrick) away from the shop deciding to not waste my money………I don’t know, the jewellers  – Cartier, Chopard, Van Cleef, Boucheron – never really appealed to me as much as the couturiers…..the matching of a Balenciaga gown with Le Dix, or Worth with Je Reviens –  there is a romance there, a duet between scent and silk, fabric and fragrance, that seems more inherently harmonious that the diamond hard surfaces of precious stones that clash like teeth.

Somehow, though, I did a double turn. I was curious. Having smelled the nozzle briefly though (spice?! not what I was expecting) I then, despite myself, found that I was going back to get it.

As it turns out, Gem is now quite a sought after cult item, going for hundreds of dollars on ebay with delirious references to Guerlain Mitsouko and Rochas Femme, a ‘perfume of perfumes’, almost, and it in fact does have some of those classically rich, spiced chypre facets, although in truth to me it is more like a cross perhaps between vintage Opium parfum, and the fruitier, more orange laden KL, by Karl Lagerfeld, just with an extra, mesmerizing aspect of rich (and quite naughtily) animalic jasmine.

With its complexity, depth, opulence and spiciness, this is quite the scintillating perfume, actually, (the plum-filled Kenzo L’Elephant and even Yves Saint Laurent’s classic Kouros even came briefly to my mind for a moment when I was analyzing it later) –  a real eighties ‘bitch in furs’ scent – quite dated for its time of release (Duncan guessed 1964 when I gave it him to smell!) and yet perfectly, eminently, full of that classic powerhouse, lip-glossed Dynasty attitude (though I still can’t quite decide whether Alexis or Sable Colby would wear it better). My bottle doesn’t feel at its optimum state – it hasn’t ‘turned’ as such, it just feels a little bit self-marinated, but I know that I will be definitely wheeling this one out again at some point in the future, either to gift to the right person (someone with the real panache and gall to properly carry it off), or else as an adjunct to costume.







cat van cleef and arpels gold precious gems vintage heirloom antique adorn london jewellery trends blog two b





There is a used ‘brand’ (the Japanese word for ‘designer’ – there is even a shop devoted to old Louis Vuitton and Chanel handbags and jewellery in Kamakura called Brand Panic) emporium in Ofuna, about twenty minutes from where we live, that sells perfume – Chanel Chance and Coco Mademoiselle extraits at overpriced rates – but when they first started out they used to also have plastic shopping bags out the back that they would bring out for me; loot made of perfume that had seemingly just been thrown out in the trash but which they would allow a crazed foreign scum queen like myself to happily rootle through – full, or almost full, bottles of L’Interdit eau de toilette and the like – I once also got yet another Van Cleef & Arpels perfume, Miss Arpels (ever heard of it? I didn’t think so), in a weirdly shaped, off-centered octagonal bottle with an unintelligible olfactory message; something a bit green tea-ish, melon, magnolia,  and peonied – an unfinished oddity by Jean Claude Ellena – who also created First – that I didn’t really like in all honesty and gave to my Japanese teacher (who wore it quite well, in a tediously inoffensive, green floral kind of fashion.)

Van Cleef, though, another scent from that trash bag that had remained hidden from my radar for some unknown reason, was different.

This is an odd one: familiar, but at the same time quite original, created by a perfumer I have never heard of before, Pascal Girout, who seemingly only made this. I sometimes like that idea, though – of a perfumer labouring over one perfectionized fragrance every single day until it is perfect :  then never trying again…

Classed as an oriental by Fragrantica (tonka bean, musk, vanilla and cedar; with orange blossom, geranium and sandalwood in the centre), this is nevertheless, like Gem, considerably spicy and cloved, flawless in its construction (it is impossible to discern any seams or any edges between any of the notes), yet fresh and tingly also  – all marigold, raspberry, neroli and a touch of galbanum:  a curiosity, pebble-smooth, caressingly soft (in that original Kenzo Le Monde Est Beau kind of way), yet to me, quite obviously androgynous. Actually wearing Gem in public would feel quite self-consciously camp to me and hard to imagine, whereas this, more savory, less sugared, is almost Brut by Fabergé or Ambush by Dana: a freshly shaven face eating Kola Kube sweets on a dappling Autumnal day (last summer, when Olivia was showing me the fantastically opulent treasures of her perfume collection, all of which I wanted to steal, she proffered up a small bottle of Van Cleef to me and said have you ever tried this? It’s gorgeous……………very unsurprising, in truth, this synchronicity, given that we are both equally drawn to the delicious and warm in perfumery; more, in general, than the cool, the calm and the collected…)

After I had picked up that first bottle of Van Cleef and smelled it  –  I have since come into possession of the treasured parfum for a song as well – delightfully dense and close – as I recognized  immediately that it was something I would like, I sprayed it all over my freshly washed grey and white lined hoodie as we prepared to cycle back to our house. The scent melded perfectly with the cotton, in that neat, cuddling refuge kind of way (very much a scent to stay in with at the weekend and just escape from the world outside), but, impulsively, on that particular Saturday, for some strange reason, rather than cycle back the usual route, which until that moment we had never deviated from as it was flatter, and generally more scenic – a ride past the temples –  I suddenly had a whim to go the much longer back route with its much steeper inclines ; hell on the knees, but good for the heart; and then, inexplicably (she must have been calling), to go into the woods, even though it was completely impassable and impractical on a bike. Perhaps I just wanted to see the lake, where the koi carp swim and which is rumored to be haunted. It’s a lovely place, though, and a good place to rest.

Still, we weren’t expecting – because they were hidden, or at least hiding themselves under a wooden litter bin just by a sharp drop into the forest  (there are poisonous snakes in that part of the woods as well, mamushi that bite, with pictorial explanations of what to do if that happens)  –  four tiny kittens to come suddenly mewling in desperation from under their temporary cover, so wet and bedraggled and in quite a wretched state from their abandonment and night in the forest and running towards us; one of them, with an injured leg, but the fiercest and dazzling newly born blue eyes, making her way straight towards me, crawling up and refusing to let go:  this, then,  her first ever taste of perfumery, as she nuzzled under my hood…

The park keeper in his hut over the lakeside became aware of all the commotion as we were surrounded by tiny fur balls meowing, and came out and said that he would have to take, or ‘confiscate’ the rest of the kittens –  so I have no idea what later became of her siblings, but Mori (‘forest’ in Japanese, the first name that came), clung on to me so fiercely and was so ridiculously cute that I instinctively refused to let go, and we took her home, cycling with her in the shopping basket,  where she still is lording and queening it up, in our eccentric, perfumed nest, eight or nine or so years later.

The perfume still reminds me of that day, too, and it always will.  I like knowing that it is just there in my collection; enjoy its robust, nerve-soothing predictability. Van Cleef, a scent I probably would never have discovered if it hadn’t been for that strange, lucky Saturday, is thus forever immortalized for me now:  in a fun, and life-changing, sweetly perfumed memory tinged with fur.


Filed under Floriental, Spice