Monthly Archives: April 2012

A dependable tonka: Umami by Florascent (2007)

 

 

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‘Umami’ is the fifth taste. Not sweet, sour, salty or bitter, but ‘umami’ –  a Japanese term that translates as ‘savoury pleasure’ or ‘mouthfeel’. And while this perfume by Florascent – a German fragrance house that apparently uses only natural essential oils – is not conspicuously gourmand nor notably edible, there is a certain texture or heft in this scent that is more than liquid; a soothing, binding, moisture-absorbing quality that is very comforting, particularly when it starts to get cold and even you yourself need binding.

The main theme of Umami (which I bought as a new winter perfume recently from Charis, my favourite aromatherapy shop in Fujisawa, the city where I work), is tonka bean (a warm, nutty, coumarin-drenched aroma), fused with black pepper, a dry, unsaturated sandalwood, and a pleasingly gentle, unsweetened vanilla. Chewy all-spice; ginger and a barely discernible osmanthus form the heart, while the all too brief top note of Japanese yuzu gets rapidly subsumed in the self consuming warmth. It has to be said that there is not a great deal of development in this perfume – what you smell in the bottle is pretty much what you get on the skin –  but I was pleased I bought it.

Perhaps the closest comparison I can make to Umami is Guerlain’s Heritage, which in the rare to find eau de parfum used to comprise a stunning and enduring note of black pepper in its blinding initial stages, over a gorgeous, heady,  male blanket of tonka, vanilla and a smooth, delectably oriental base. But while the Guerlain, as you might expect, was luxuriant, fluffed up, recherché, Umami is more…….. huggable (really, very huggable), particularly on a freezing winter’s day. An arran sweater lacking drama, you might say. But somehow that is what I liked about it: it is  a completely dependable, go-to scent that never really raises its voice, so to speak, but stays tucked up and taut – and that’s somehow exactly how you want it to be.

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Filed under Orientals, Spice Orientals

My musky stench…………….. Serge Lutens Muscs Khoublai Khan (1998)

 

Musk.

 

Musky.

 

 

When you consider these words and how they are used; as euphemistic substitutes – ‘the musky smell of his/her …..(supply word)’ in erotic fiction, the etymological origins of the word (muska – testicle in Sanskrit), it is clear what the intentions of most musks will be. Whether of the dirty, natural type, extracted from the gland of a Siberian deer; or the modern, more wholesome ‘white’, synthetic, variety, it is certain that for various reasons, musks flick some primal switch….

 

 

 

 

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They never come up in conversation.

 

And even when you are alone, it is difficult to admit to the pleasure that some smells give: those tinged with disgust, revulsion, even shame.

 

 

 

 

An example: I was recently sitting on the train, nursing a beer one evening after work: my shoes (cheap leather, and rather old) having, earlier on in the day, got soaked in a summer rainstorm. Any carefully constructed soapy-clean odours I had achieved for the uptight Japanese work place that morning were, suddenly, quite overpowered, now, by a sweet, rancid scent: a sour, sweaty, animal that rose up; was starting to embarrass me; yet was strangely, and undeniably, turning me on. A weird, autoerotic reaction to something dirty, prohibited…..from another zone, beyond and disconnected to the polite.

 

 

 

 

 

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Unlike most perfume houses, Serge Lutens –  that elusive, most enigmatic purveyor of the orient –  usually only gives out solid wax samples of its perfumes, rather than the more usual liquid vials. And when you dab the little round disc of scented wax that is Muscs Khoublai Khan solid on your skin, you are immediately assailed with a plush orchestration of animalics (musk, ambergris, civet and castoreum); hints of Moroccan rose, ambrette and cumin (the smell of unwashed armpits) in a strangely gentle, but regally filthy,  blend of perfect proportion. If you are anything like me, let yourself go with it, you will feel the sap  rising. It is an uneasy scent, to be sure, but the perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, has erred just enough on the side of propriety, I would say, to make it fit for society.

 

 

But wax samples focus on a generic sweep of a scent, a mellowed olfactory vista that doesn’t prepare you for the shock of the actual liquid. At the beautiful shop at the Palais Royal one pale, wintery Paris morning, I had been sampling the sumptuous range of bell jar bottles with great pleasure, trying desperately hard to decide which ones I wanted to take home with me.  Unstoppering the Khoublai Khan I almost retched. Then recoiled a few steps – to the amusement of the assistant, who had probably witnessed this reaction countless times before.

 

 

But we all have our taboos: for me, the sweaty crotch of this perfume is fine: a sour, musky heart like lovingly, carelessly unwashed jeans. But damp animal fur, a vivid stink of sheep, plus a hint of disgracefully fresh seminal fluid was too much. For me. At least.

 

 

 

The addicted do say you get used to, then come to love,  this musk in all its instinct; its animalic splendour.

 

I doubt I would, but at least the scent lives up to its name: hairy, Mongolian warriors after days on the steppes, curled up on sheep skins in their warm, thermally reeking, yurts.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Musk, Perfume Reviews

Let all of me seethe: Vitriol d’Oeillet by Serge Lutens (2011)

‘Vitriol d’Oeillet – the carnation, alias the clove pink. The fragrance fraught with anger. It’s petals, laced with tiny teeth, hold out the solution; a burst of fragrant spikes…’

 

 

 

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Thus, in 20II,  Serge Lutens’ entered his curious foray into the fragrant obscurity of the carnation: a much maligned flower, long out of fashion for its bland, mumsy, truck-stop associations; its banal intimations of death; cheap mother’s day bouquets; and the wreath.

 

 

Carnations and pinks: who really loves these floral run-of-the-mills now?

 

 

Once, however, many moons ago, these flowers were considered the height of elegant fashion.  By ladies, gentlemen, dandies, and fops; worn ostentatiously in the buttonhole, or on hats at the end of the nineteenth century. But what might once have been considered decadent, (Oscar Wilde famously dyed his carnations green to wear on his lapel, as well as sporting Floris’ carnation perfume, Malmaison), has, unfortunately, become disdained.

 

 

Still, there are many carnation and clove lovers out there (myself included), and the concept of a Lutensian vitriolic pink had many in a frenzy of anticipation upon its release. What would the provocateur do this time?  Would there be a scandalous, reinvented floral along the lines of his legendary Tubereuse Criminelle? How angry would these carnations actually be?

 

 

Not enough, it would seem. The perfume’s reception was a collective sigh of disappointment, as it was not the flurry of eye-blinding cloves we were perhaps expecting: somehow, by the majority it is seen as too tame, insufficiently vicious, given its fiery, provocative title.

 

I must say that am personally rather drawn to this scent, however, and have recently really enjoyed wearing it (particularly when layered with the vintage extrait of Feminite du Bois to rather elegant effect, though I say it myself). But to some extent I can understand its detractors: we always expect grand theatrical flourishes from Monsieur Serge, and Vitriol d’Oeillet has a subdued, almost melancholic air to it – aeons away, for instance, from the carnationy spiced joy that is Santa Maria Novella’s Garofano (by far the best carnation in my view) – a plushly, burningly exuberant Italian creation that fangs forth from the flesh, piercing the air all around it with its St. Sebastian pinkness. If Garofano is the feel-good king of carnations, hyperreal and fresh ( I feel like John Travolta wearing it with an open-necked shirt of a Saturday summer evening ), then Vitriol is his dour, imperious queen.

 

The scent is a two-faced Janus –  Lutens also refers to it in the press release as a Jekyll & Hyde –  with two competing facets: a pretty, even somewhat prim, rose/lily/wallflower accord (with none of the creamy, clovey ylang we associate with the traditional carnation soliflore); and then an acerbic, almost corrosive cold/heat accord that favors pepper and red spices over the expected warming buds of clove (which are there, but in a background role). The peppers (black, pink and Cayenne, along with an unexpected note of pimento) adorn the flowers like a claw-sharp, iron-spiked petticoat. Further beneath is a quiet, gnarling murk of nutmeg and woods that on me smells very much like a light Japanese incense.

 

At first, while I found it difficult to reconcile the two sides ( I received my bottle as a Christmas present from my sister, who likes to give me a surprise Lutens each year – I love it when you are given a scent you might not have chosen yourself but have the luxury of getting to know it anyway, having the impetus to try….) and felt, initially, that somehow something was missing (a heart?) .  Gradually, though, I have come to appreciate this perfume’s unique qualities.  I wore it constantly during the New Year period, sprayed it inside the house during those cold winter months on blankets and curtains, loving its frosted, supercilious air; living with it daily until it became part of my memories ( I still get a shiver of pleasure now every time I smell it from the bottle).

The tingling, graphite-grey peppers; the pale, quietly seething, cayenne-tinted flowers in those watery, minor chords, all, for me, despite the perfume’s  slight conservatism, add up to a delicate, hard-hearted chic. Vitriol d’Oeillet might be thought of, then, not as the failed carnation soliflore that it is often perceived to be, but ultimately, more a curiously beautiful, and fractious, floral spice. Alone, cold and remote.

 

 

 

Notes: black pepper, pink pepper, cayenne pepper, pimento, nutmeg, clove, carnation, wallflower, lily, woods.

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LOVE IN PURPLE : CARON’S AIMEZ MOI ( 1997 )

 

 

 

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‘Aimez moi‘: an insistent, clamouring plea.  Love me. 

But to whom?  A lover? An unrequited passion?  ‘Aimez,’ in the formal, or plural form of the French verb suggests the unknown.  Anyone –  a complete stranger; the world. And the first blast of engorged, extravagant top notes surely suggest the latter, this perfume reaching out with outstretched, desperate arms – all cards on the table –  saying LOVE ME, LOVE ME to whoever out there who will listen. There is an almost deliriously sweet intensity here- a greedy, peach-licorice violet, with lushly overladen uses of anise, vanilla and mint, that at this stage in the perfume quite simply either overwhelms ( you fall in love), or repels. It is certainly something of a love gamble….

Aimez Moi had been absent from my olfactory mental landscape for a very long time until a few weeks ago when I came across a very cheap bottle of the vintage juice at a second-hand emporium in Yokohama. I spied it there, unassuming under glass in its crappy, quite badly designed blue and yellow box, but the smell suddenly came flooding back to me in a flash…..me recoiling, when I first smelled it in a Japanese department store all those years ago, and couldn’t quite believe my nose. Yet here it was again, calling to me, and I couldn’t resist buying it ( having many other monsters in my perfumed closets to keep it company), and, as we walked down the street in the Autumnal sun I sprayed. And laughed. And then sniffed. Then sniffed again; and again; and again; inhaling continuously, more emphatically with each breath; my nose glued to my wrist as the purple yellow weirdness was transformed into an extravagant, velveteen violet that struck me as amazing and almost grotesquely beautiful. Compelling. And sighably tactile, like sun-drenched, indigo velvet.  A glorifying madness, like the first onburts of passion, that, likewise, does not last forever, for at the heart of Aimez Moi there is sanity, legibility.  The opening salvo of confectionery mercifully (or otherwise, depending on your dependency) mutes down, slowly,  to a delicately balanced anisic rose/violet, with whispers of blackcurrant and peach/vanilla:  a sweet entreaty to love that lasts for hours on the skin and is ultimately, surprisingly very wearable.  (The usual top to bottom progression is reversed here: rather than the more aphrodisiacal notes blooming later on the skin, as in a Guerlain, these are all brought out in the first moments, only to coalesce quietly under the perfume’s tender main theme later on.) In any case, amazingly to me, Aimez Moi has quickly become a favourite. A suffocation of pleasure. I have never really worn violets before, but soon after buying this perfume, as I walked out into the starry night in my patchouli-lined coat, having sprayed my Caron on liberally, I felt like Lord Byron, enveloped in a haze of romantic, deranged poetry.

And then, when sliding the door open of the local bar with a certain trepidation ( expecting to be thrown out smelling as I did ), I was really quite amazed to hear people I had never met before, saying out loud to themselves: “My God, what is that perfume? It is gorgeous”, looking at me with softened,  changing eyes.

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Filed under Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Violet

George Sand (Les Parfums Historiques)

Sometime in the 1850’s, Frédéric Chopin was beginning to make a name for himself in the salons of Paris. Aside from his obvious musical genius, the young man had garnered a reputation for exquisite, almost excessive politesse and gentility, gracious to a fault. He was much in demand. By all accounts ‘fragile, delicate, reserved, somewhat languid’, Chopin was nevertheless frequenting similar circles to a woman he ‘dreaded above all others’, Aurore Dupin, otherwise known as George Sand. Having already ‘conquered’ Franz Liszt, among other luminaries of the nineteenth century, she had written to Liszt that she ‘idolized’ Chopin and was desperate to make his acquaintance. They would shortly be lovers.

To see George Sand as some kind of predatory monster, as many have done,  is, surely to fall prey to the misogynist clichés she herself was railing against. In fact this woman, a hero to women of the day, was unstoppable: fierce, proud, alive, celebrated as much for her reputation as one of the greatest contemporary novelists in France as she was vilified for her uncompromising stance on gender and sexuality. Her conquests were legendary, and though Chopin’s friend the Marquis de Custine lamented that ‘the poor creature does not see that she has the love of a vampire’, Chopin fell, perhaps inevitably, under her spell.

Like the great Colette who was to follow her, George Sand forged her own path in society and remains a fascinating figure of the period. Les Parfums Historiques, a limited edition line from Maître Parfumeur et Gantier, have done something very interesting with their perfume – a celebrity perfume if you like, but for someone long gone; an attempt to recreate, somehow, the ‘essence’ of George Sand in a perfume. The result in my opinion is extremely good, having subtleties and complexities not easily found in a modern release. It is open yet enigmatic, erotic yet refined, a perfume that takes a while to reveal its secrets.

George Sand’s most controversial aspect was perhaps her desire to be unshackled of gender (‘the mind has no sex’), dressing as a man whenever fancy took her, and taking female lovers. She was determined not, at any cost, to be deprived of experiences in society merely because she was a woman. Balzac writes of ‘coming across her in her dressing room, smoking a cigar by her fireside after dinner. She had on some pretty yellow slippers, ornamented with fringe, some fancy stockings, and red trousers.’ (This was, at the time, literally illegal).

Though she was practically accused of having brought about the early demise of Chopin – ‘I was said to have worn him out with my violent sensuality’-  the passion, at least for a time, was surely mutual. The weaker the consumptive composer got, the stronger Sand: she made it her mission therefore to restore him to health, with ill advised trips to southern Europe, and (more congenial to Chopin) lengthy stays at her idyllic country retreat, Nohant, where he is fact said to have produced some of his best work. Perhaps their diametrically opposed personalities were in fact more compatible than has been supposed.

The ‘housebound genius’ would be happily esconced in an apartment off her bedroom, ‘cheerfully decorated with red and blue Chinese wallpaper’, where he could work on his compositions. Some of this orientalist warmth, an elegant drawing room quality, has found its way into the perfume, as well as some of the writer’s exotic dandyism. Sand wore a pendant around her neck containing a particular patchouli she had acquired in Venice and ‘couldn’t live without’: this dark, earthy note then forms the basis of George Sand the perfume: a rich, but very elegant patchouli encased within a warm, spiced, resinous heart that bears a cursory resemblance to orientals such as Opium, through refracted through a more sober, aristocratic lens.

While Chopin was at work on his valses and polonaises, Sand loved to go out into her garden, where she grew herbs and her favourite flowers, roses and lavender. These essences are thus used as an interesting counterpoint to the more sensual notes of the base, with an added invigorating accord of bergamot and orange in the top notes. The scent thus maintains an interesting tension between poise and abandonment, light and dark, vigour and restraint –  all qualities that come through in accounts of the woman.

What drew me to this scent, besides its delightful bottle, was its enigmatic, bisexual aspect, endowed as it is with both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ ingredients (all of good quality), combining  to form a perfume that is unique and outside the mainstream of current fads. It is perfectly suited to a woman or a man and highly recommended.

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ANAIS ANAIS by Cacharel ( 1978 )

 

 

For the writer Anaïs Nin, if you dare enter the diluvial self-obsession of her journals, life was a neverending rush of hypersensitivity.  She was  too precious, almost, to live. With complete contempt for the trivialities of daily life,  she survived on her emotions, indulged her impulses and crushed conventions – seducing even her own father on a sudden morbid whim of narcissism. For Anaïs, to be desired was to be alive: without sex, the mirror glass of her soul would shatter. She was sensuous, fragile; huge-eyed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A woman such as Anaïs, then,  might seem unusual inspiration for an unthreatening perfume such as this – Cacharel’s first fragrance from 1978, a classic that went on to great success in the eighties and remains ever popular today. Yet despite its commercial appeal (she would have been horrified), the scent did in fact succeed in capturing some aspects of this creature’s nympho-purity with its spray of white lilied delicacy. It is a very romantic perfume that inspires devotion in its admirers because few scents are of comparable mood; a scent for women who seek reticence, or almost  studied shyness in perfume: delicate, feminine, and young.

 

 

Under the pallid white and pale pink tendresse of the opening chords lie more carnal, shadowy undertones though – veils of musk, patchouli and Russian leather – a dusky quality foreshadowed in the perfume’s original packaging: I have the parfum de toilette concentrée from 1979 in my collection, a wonderful, somewhat eerie dark velvet grey box adorned with creeping flourishes of dark green leaves and pink petals, the scent inside also darker, more ambiguous than the current cleaned up version with its neat, white, perfect-for-bathroom cylindrical flacon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anaïs Anaïs’ floral wistfulness comes from a concentration of glorious white Madonna lilies interlaced with other white flowers: crisp, vernal meadows of fresh hyacinths, blackcurrant leaves, galbanum, muguet and ylang, a bridal bouquet softening gently to a warmer hue of lilies and rose that always retains something of its rather insistent chastity.

 

 

 

 

 

Your reaction to this mélange might therefore be of rapture, if breathless tendrils are your thing: irritation perhaps at its undeniably conservative tones (it is a somewhat tame scent that renders a woman pliant and demure in an instant): or, like me, you may enjoy its mysterious, immaculate form, its creamy melancholy – the cool, sepulchral sweetness of a funeral bouquet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The new self she offered him, created for him, appeared intensely innocent, newer than any young girl could have been, because it was like a pure abstraction of a woman, an idealized figure, not born of what she was, but of his wish and hers. Outside of this room, this bed, was a black precipice……’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Anaïs Nin, ‘A spy in the house of love’)

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ON THE ART OF JAPANESE INCENSE, AND ZEN BY SHISEIDO (2001)

 

 

In ‘Japanese Cultural Code Words: 233 Key Terms That Explain the Attitudes and Behaviour of the Japanese’, author Boye Lafayette de Mente talks of the ‘grave beauty’ of Japan and its effect on blundering westerners encountering it for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Foreigners are often left speechless…They know they are in the presence of extraordinary beauty, but generally they do not have the experience – or the vocabulary – to describe it.

 

 

It is difficult to argue with this. The austere, filtering light of incense smoke unfurling slowly above a Zen temple in December; the strict symmetry of the Japanese interior; or the tranquillity of a Zen garden in spring, can be astounding in their otherworldliness, yet still of the utmost simplicity. Whatever the chosen ‘path’- be it zen, tea, kimono, haiku, calligraphy – the Japanese are surely unsurpassed in their almost fanatical dedication to perfecting an art, paring it down, revealing its ‘essence.’

 

 

 

 

Of the traditional arts, kodo, or ‘way of incense’, has perhaps faded the most into obscurity, practiced only by a select (high class) few. Morbid associations with the Buddhist wake and funeral rites, where incense is continually burnt, are enough to prevent your average Nihon-jin from lighting up a stick on a Saturday afternoon. So while every large town will have a Buddhist shop stocked with a wide selection of incense, the main products on display are the dark, polished, expensive household shrines bought for the worship of ancestors: incense is just an accessory for this. (Japan is not a religious country as such; it’s usual to pick and mix – you have a ‘Christian’ wedding, a Shinto new year, and a Buddhist funeral – but it is a stickler for tradition.)

Kodo, probably a dying art, does persist in pockets of Japan however, and I was lucky once to be invited to an incense ceremony in the strictly-no-admittance third floor of zen capital Kamakura’s premier incense establishment. The first floor of the shop sells exquisite boxes of incense, from soft floral blends (iris, rose) to the finest kyara and jinko (agarwood): powdered, musky sandalwoods blended with the strange, dark resins and spices (clove, camphor, among others) that make Japanese incense so unique. I was very excited to get an invitation. Not equipped, though, with the requisite dignity, linguistic skills, or social status even, to blend successfully into the background of the ceremony (what were foreigners doing there?!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In fact my friend Claire and I were late, which was truly unthinkable. Going up the dark, carpeted, airless stairs to the second, then hallowed third floor – social climbing with the gentry of Kamakura – we arrived twenty minutes after the ladies had begun: standing with trepidation before a closed, silent shoji screen.

The door was opened: and there we stood, flustered and embarrassed, then horribly hot-under-collar as Claire’s thigh-boot zip stuck, and we stumbled, almost falling over as we tried to wrench it off. Total buffoons. We were not a class act, and there they sat, in the incense room – purse-lipped, barely blinking, immaculately turned out Kamakura ladies with not a hair out of place; staring, concealing whatever pity/irritation they felt for these coarse intruders under the blank, expressionless Noh mask that every Japanese learns to perfect.

Once perched on our mats in the Japanese style, an embroidered cloth over Claire’s knees (“there are gentlemen present”) we did our utmost to blend as well as we could into invisibility and watch what was taking place. Which, though snobbish and somewhat self-congratulatory, was in fact fascinating – so esoteric and removed from daily life as to be astonishing.

The incense master gently passed round, on a small plate for the purpose, a tiny, smouldering piece of the finest kyara (the most prized wood in the world); a scent that is part patchouli, part vetiver, part cannabis, part pepper – but drier, more sinewy and powerful than all: true opiate.

With eyes closed, each ‘listener’ (you ‘listen’ to incense) would have to try to guess the ‘name’ of the piece of wood the fragment came from: ‘Moon in the grove’, ‘Still waters at Izu’ and so on (each is subtlely different; particularly prized specimens are in fact priceless, and stored as investments by banks and other institutions). But name guessing, difficult even in English, was only the beginning. The bearer of the kyara would then, in elegant, calligraphic kanji, compose a haiku, an ode to the incense, while the others looked on.

Such excruciating refinement was clearly beyond such mortals as ourselves; we fumbled, mumbling – and couldn’t begin to perfect the slow, beckoning motion of smoke to bearer that to the ladies was second nature (you don’t just stick your nose in). And with the unbearable pins and needles from the sitting pose, the torturous, pained, poetic silences; the grim-lipped patience of the ladies, the forbidding circular zen window that gave only glimpses of the world outside (“let us out!”) it took great stamina not to burst out with hysterical laughter (we did, in great gusts, as soon as we fell out into the sunshine). Yet the scent in the room, as precious perfumed materials gave off their spirit, was extraordinary.

The above scene illustrates fairly well I think the Japanese attitude to scent. These ladies were unscented themselves; the smell of the burning wood strictly exterior to the body, to be ‘listened to’, a communing with hidden ghosts. The body itself should be kept clean: at a Japanese hot spring, the length of time spent soaping down – everyone naked, together, child-like almost – before thoroughly rinsing with water, can seem bizarre to foreigners. Some people spend the whole day washing, then entering the waters, then washing again. This goes far beyond mere bodily hygiene: it is ritualistic, has been this way since antiquity. In fact, hot springs (onsen) are not only a way to relax, but a form of purification and spiritual reflection.  Having sat in pools under trees in the light of the moon, listening to the night, you feel cleaner, more serene than you can possibly imagine. You smell of nothing but water.

Yet Japan is of course also a nation much influenced by the West: ideas, goods flow in, are transmuted to the Japanese ideal, incorporated in the culture. It is a society of appearance, and thus of status symbols. Look at the success of Vuitton, Gucci, Dior here: status is big, and perfume (though a relatively small market in Japan) is an inevitable consequence of a desire for conspicuous consumption. Pass a group of old ladies dressed in their finest and you may catch a drift of Guerlain’s Mitsouko or Vol de Nuit – two well established classics; walk by some twenty somethings, a whiff of the latest pinky Dior. But it is still possible, probable even, to ride a crowded train packed with hundreds of people and smell no perfume. Kosui hasn’t really caught on: not deep down, and I doubt it ever will. The recent rush of incense perfumes on the market, some Japanese themed such as Comme des Garcons Incense Kyoto, Santa Maria Novella’s ‘Citta di Kyoto’, are strictly for westerners chasing the exotic – such perfumes would rarely, if ever, be worn by Japanese themselves. You never smell an oriental here.

 

 

 

 

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What, then, is Japanese perfume?

 

 

 

Well it has to be light. It has to be airy. And it has to be subtle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the ‘smell’ of Zen? In a Kamakura zen temple, the scents that fill the air: incense, fresh water, wood: blue breath of hydrangeas; wind in bamboo; osmanthus; pine, stone.

 

 

 

With Zen: Perfumed Essence, Shiseido is therefore attempting the impossible. Trying to incorporate this Japaneseness, this purity, in a fresh, floral, commercial blend designed to appeal to the ‘spiritual’ aspects of the fashion conscious on both sides of the east/west divide. Really it is a contradiction in terms. But the company apparently employed the latest research in aromachology to find scents that would relax and transport the wearer to a nicer place than stress; a neatly packaged product- zen for the twenty first century. And you might say that Shiseido does a good job here, providing you don’t take too seriously the words inscribed on the box.

 

 

 

 

“ A soul enlightened.

A world anew.”

 

 

 

 

The perfume begins with ‘fresh budding florals’ (a shining, translucent rose) ‘spiritualized by the peaceful influence of rare Eastern moss, bamboo, and Kyara wood.’

 

 

 

The possibility of this perfume being the source of an enlightenment is, I would say, fairly low, but the composition is very pleasant: clean, fragrant – a calmer, purer version of Eternity and other white woody florals. The green of the bamboo leaf lingers intriguingly, momentarily, over fresh laboratory flowers and perfectly controlled, light woody essences that give the scent a certain grace. A hint, just a hint, of kyara underlines the whole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essentially a pleasant perfume to wear to the office (not really a fragrance ‘to inspire moments of quiet meditation’), Zen could be dismissed as yet another faceless addition to an overcrowded genre. But there is indeed something – a luminous, white cloud of Japaneseness suspended above the scent – that almost lives up to its name.

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Filed under Japanese Perfume, Perfume Reviews