Monthly Archives: May 2012

Night with Delibes: :HERMES ROUGE (2000 )


























coppelia 9










Because I would dance, clandestinely, alone, to the Nutcracker; would perform the imaginary role of Schéharazade in my bedroom (I secretly really loved the ballet: really not something you admitted to at the school I went to),  when I was nine, my mother, as a birthday treat, took me to the theatre to see Coppélia.


What was to have been a magical night at the theatre though, was in fact me, mortified; slumped in my seat at the deeply sissifying shame of being a boy – a ‘ponce’ –  at the ballet. Somewhere deep down, as I watched the action onstage, I was thrilled; ecstatic, but in my basic being I just watched the stage throughout in a mortified paralysis; slouched agonizingly  in my seat: dying,  with glandular, redly feverish cheeks.




My fears and shame notwithstanding, my terror of being ‘found out’ ( my mere presence at the ballet, rather than at the football stadium felt like damning evidence), the stimulating giddiness of the grand occasion, of the cultured, public big night out in childhood is something that really stays with you internally for a lifetime : the excited, womb-like darkness : the velveted, ruched-red, claustrophobia.















































Rouge by Hermès reminds me very much of this sense of occasion and also the emotion underneath it; your mother cleaning your face with flurried powdered lipstick-spit as you climb the carpeted staircase together to get to your seats on time and then hear the first animated murmurings from arriving crowds; the beginnings of the orchestra as the players tune up their instruments in discordantly lavish cacophony:  a ravishing, stupendously romantic perfume (Rouge is very much a perfume, not a ‘fragrance’) that definitely deserves far wider recognition – in the extrait especially – where the troubling richness of its elegant carnality truly comes to the fore.



The perfume, a reworking of the earlier, and equally beautiful Parfum D’Hermes, dazzles in its sheer compact and multi-tiered complexity: impossible glamour from the first spray, but with that subtly distancing, impeccably  Hermès taste: a shimmering rush of powdery myrrh-fused roses, heated and lit up with bright ylang, cedar, and a light veil of spice; pulsating beneath this delicious cloud a costly seduction of resins, vanilla, costus, musk……








It is this disturbing finish, the Oedipal animality at the heart of this fragrance, contrasted brilliantly with the beautiful shine of the first notes, that makes Rouge so exciting as a still-available contemporary perfume. Superficially, and overtly, similar to Guerlain’s Chamade in many ways ( the Japanese perfumer Akiko Kamei who created it only made homages to Chamade ), Rouge nevertheless has more self-composure, sensuality, self confidence.



Where the former has an almost limpid, embarrassing sincerity (Chamade is probably the most ‘in love’, in many senses, of all perfumes), Rouge has more fortitude, is real flesh and blood. She is perhaps the same woman twenty, thirty, forty years later: richer, harder, more mature and more experienced,  careworn; yet still undeniably beautiful.













Polish Poster
























Filed under Flowers

JUSTIFY MY LOVE: Truth or Dare by MADONNA (2012)





I must begin by admitting that I am obsessed with Madonna, and I don’t use the word lightly.

Ever since the glorious moment at the age of thirteen when I was struck by the celestially ascending laser-arpeggios of Lucky Star and its taut, quasar funk, she has exerted fascination over me. With her power; cold eroticism; that voice, and those beautiful, feline blue eyes that hold me like a medusa, it is a love/hate relationship that after more than a quarter of a century shows no sign of relenting. I am fixated.


I have dreamed about her continually since this time, probably more than any other person in my life – a fact I find almost inexplicable. Although I believe that Madonna has produced some of the most delectable, exhilarating pop music of all time, she is not my favourite musician, and I am not even sure I like her. However, a strange little book  came out in the nineties  – ‘I dream of Madonna’, that shed some light on the mystery and showed me that I am apparently not alone in having my subconscious so deeply penetrated by this beautiful, inexhaustible performer.


Despite my adoration, which I sometimes consider to be more like an addiction or virus (I remember in 1992 during the Erotica period feeling so possessed that I was literally anxious that she might be the devil, relinquishing the album to a friend so I could actually study for my finals), I don’t think I am actually what you might call a ‘fan’. Those uncritical hordes seem to be willingly ignorant of her faults, whereas I see them, in all their complexity and contradictions, with a sometimes painfully crystalline clarity.


For the fact is, despite her protestations, Madonna really is the ‘Material Girl’. It is a phrase that has become lazy shorthand for journalists but which ultimately encapsulates her. While I don’t for a moment doubt the woman’s sincerity in her spiritualistic soul-searching – Madonna is no fool – at the end of the day, those eyes are always on the money. It is a greed for mass-market success that has cheapened her music, and, unfortunately, her scent.


We need only look at her 2007 deal with Live Nation for evidence. Madonna is vastly wealthy, and at this stage in her career, could pick and choose her projects with a focus on quality and artistry. Take her time, make another classic. Instead, in a Faustian pact, Madonna signed a reported 120 million dollar deal with the tour and merchandising company that requires her to release albums every couple of years and then promote them by extensive touring (something that she herself admits to hating, apart from the first and last weeks of the shows, but which she does, as she mischievously says, because ‘a girl has to pay the rent’). Rather than leading to genuine inspiration – the five year hiatus between Bedtime Stories and Ray Of Light led to a startling transformation that surprised even me – Madonna now seems to be churning out music, enlisting of-the-minute producers with her unfailingly vampiric antennae, in a vain attempt to make her music sound relevant and of the moment. The commercial failure of her last two singles, the unconvincing bubblegum schtick of ‘Give me all your luvin’,  and the gay-by-numbers  ‘Girl gone wild’, suggests that the public (like me), aren’t buying it. We know she can do better.



But on to the perfume. Madonna’s late entrance onto the stage of celebrity fragrance – behind Rihanna, Mariah, J-Lo, Britney, Beyonce, and dozens of others is surprising, although the publicity for Truth Or Dare (the name comes from the documentary film from 1991 which I have seen more times than I care to relate), claims it has been 16 years in the making. Madonna, we are told,  characteristically oversaw every detail and had final stamp of approval.

It is this, Madonna  having director’s cut, that is so exciting for me as a perfume lover AND Madonnophile: we know that she has been smelling this perfume for years, on her skin, transplanted now onto my own, as though her DNA were somehow imprinted on every molecule. And here is the genius of the celebrity fragrance explosion from a marketing perspective: persona first, aroma second. We buy blind.










The creation process was also apparently a tough slog, and not easy to get right, feeding into the workhorse legend that Madonna has built up of dogged determination and sweat. Her perfumer, Stephen Nelson, from fragrance giant Givaudan, was apparently terrified by her into tossing the latest vials of his formulas over her high security fences to get her verdicts (” TOO SWEET!!”, “LESS MUSK!!”) and it took over 200 attempts to get what she wanted.



What was always clear from the start was that any scent by Madonna would be a tuberose/gardenia composition. All fans know  that she loves these flowers, and will regularly arrive at interviews drenched in Gardenia Passion (Annick Goutal), or Fracas (Robert Piguet),  the classic tuberose which this  perfume is supposedly modelled on. Backstage, Madonna’s dressing rooms (always painted white to show her off to best effect, according to her brother, Christopher), are filled to profusion with these flowers and their exotic exhalations, which in such close confinement can be almost suffocating (wearing the scent liberally on Saturday night I feared I might also asphyxiate a Japanese couple who were standing in the elevator with me). The scent, therefore, had to be BIG. And it is.









Like the moment when I finally saw her, in 2005, at Tokyo Dome for the Confessions tour, after 25 years of never quite managing to get to a concert, and almost passing out with the excitement (screaming so loudly I thought my head might burst) when this perfume arrived to me in the post I could barely touch the envelope. IT was within. I had to run around the house a bit to compose myself, get ready….



And despite my wariness and skepticism, I am still, at heart, a Sagittarian optimist, and was willing myself, as I pulled off the papal orb of the cap and sprayed the scent on my skin, to love it. In my head, having read extensively about it beforehand, I had imagined exactly how Truth Or Dare would smell.


The creamy white flowers; the ‘benzoin tears’ (so ‘Like A Prayer’!!), the ‘caramellized amber’; I had imagined it would be a gorgeous, enveloping thing that would make me swoon with pleasure and ecstatically start gnawing off my arm. Instead, what greeted my nose, as the alcohol evaporated, was a WHAAAATTT?!!  – a reeking miasma of shrieking, sugared florals; a familiar, tangy tuberose, and pungent whiffs of rhubarb on the boil at 78 RPM: Madame M at the decks, rocking the graphic equalizers up to +10 on the jasmine, neroli, n’ lily; the effect, on my skin at least, unhingeing. No modulation or gradation, just a big smudge of overbearing, floralicious sweet.


Under this oily, synthetic tuberose there is also a strange watery, plasticky note – a crackle of 12″ vinyl still unwrapped in cellophane – like chlorinated flowers in a San Diego pool. A chlorborose onslaught that continues for an hour or so, when a more pleasing white gardenia scent finally – FINALLY! – emerges against a backdrop of fruits. And at this point, the scent is quite nice: a decent white floral gourmand. But the Ciccone maniac is not yet satisfied; he keeps inhaling, yearning for an epiphany, for a mirage of the Madonna to appear (she MUST be there, surely,  somewhere in the mix), but the formula, ultimately, is too cheap for that to happen. While not a resounding failure, like Kylie’s  grotesque ‘Darling’, Truth or Dare feels incomplete.


The reason is this. During its creation, Madonna was constantly drawn, as you might expect, to high quality, expensive natural ingredients, but these essences, tuberose absolute and the like, cannot be used for the mass market. Thus, as she has often been doing recently, she compromised her integrity by going for a lower common denominator (the latest album has many such moments as well: the cretinously saccharine ‘Superstar’ makes me want to burn my entire record collection). But imagine if, rather than chasing another ‘deal’, she had, instead, insisted on the best, cost no object (like the fragrance houses of Amouage, Clive Christian and the like). We might then have had a perfumed grail of veneration, a bottle to covet and adore like some holy reliquary. Instead, we are left with a plastic bottle of fake gardenia nougat.


To be fair, at karaoke (where many, many of her highness’s hits were performed this Saturday), as the hours progressed, the scent became more pleasing to me, more fun (though that might have been because I was singing ‘Dress You Up’). But it was only hours later, after taking a bath and the top and middle notes were washed away to reveal the base, that I cracked it, realized what it was that was so familiar. Once the ersatz bouquet had faded, this is what I discovered: the entire backbone of the scent is in fact the relentless, never-ending smell of the Bodyshop’s legendary Dewberry, a scent that was once so strong it could fill a stadium. It was then that I really began to smile, and had a wonderfully nostalgic remembrance of the eighties: of Into The Groove, of dancing at teenage parties; the smell of Blond Ambition.

Madonna’s Truth Or Dare: notes of gardenia, tuberose, neroli; jasmine, benzoin tears, white lily petals; vanilla absolute, caramellized amber, and ‘sensual musk aura’.


Filed under Celebrity Scents, Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Tuberose

Window wide open: MOROCCAN TUBEROSE by ILLUMINUM (2011)

ImageThe pungent white flesh of the tuberose is a famously love-or-hate-it note in perfumery, but for lovers of the flower like myself, this floral intoxication by Illuminum is a boon: a full-bodied, properly tropical tuberose with all the mentholated salicylates we expect in the top notes – that peculiar rush of wintergreen that life-like tuberose scents must include – yet smooth, enveloping, and wearable. The medicinal top notes are embodied here in the flowers themselves, rather than floating in gasolined ether à la Tubéreuse Criminelle (Serge Lutens); the scent also more sensual than the studied pallor of Editions de Parfums’ Carnal Flower. This tuberose is rich and ylangy, with hints of clove and fruited intimations of banana; but with none of the creamy, buttery elements found in certain types of the genre such as Blonde by Versace or L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Tubéreuse. Moroccan rose absolute, and Atlas cedarwood fortify the flowers behind the scenes, adding weight.

While very much enjoying the uninhibited beginning of Moroccan Tuberose, I steeled myself for disappointment, expecting the scent to become overly creamy and extravagant as time went on, but in fact the best was yet to come: the dry down is in fact my favourite stage of the fragrance. A lingering, tropical breeze, as serene as a southern beach hut where you lie, pleasantly exhausted after a swim in the blue, as the sea air replenishes the room. It is an accord I find immensely appealing.

llluminum is an indie perfumery based in London and this is the first scent I have tried from their extensive range. I am now eager to explore further as I am already craving a full bottle.

Coming soon: what happens to the tuberose when it falls into the clutches of Madonna.


Filed under Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Tuberose



Filed under Bluebell, Flowers, Perfume Reviews

Invisible jasmine: WHERE WE ARE THERE IS NO HERE by CB I Hate Perfume (2012)

The Criterion Collection essay on Jean Cocteau’s final film, The Testament of Orpheus (1960), the inspiration behind this peculiar new scent by Brooklyn based CB I Hate Perfume, states that the plotless, surrealist film is ‘simply a machine for creating meaning’. The same might be said of Christopher Brosius, with his willfully abstruse desire to create a ‘perfume with no smell’ (but still with, ironically, a price tag).

Before we cry the cynical emperor’s new clothes, though, it is worth looking closer. While I can’t say that I really like this fragrance, it is most definitely quite interesting. Brosius has taken the basic classic template of natural jasmine + sandalwood essential oils, used in all the traditional Indian attars, as well as being the main theme of Guerlains’ 1989 great foghorn Samsara (which could literally be smelled from great distances: I distinctly remember a friend’s mother descending the staircase back in the day and being astonished that I could smell her well in advance of her coming into view) and almost stripped them of their singing voices by locking them within two powerfully effacing synthetic accords, ISO E Super Hedione and a special accord of ‘invisible musk.’

The effect is rather like Lady Gaga arriving at the American Music Awards, encased in her giant, acrylic translucent egg – life, a heart, beating somewhere within, hidden from view by a carapace of lab-created ectoplasm. Mysterious, perhaps, but also rather silly.

‘It is completely intangible, and almost undetectable. Yet it has great presence and allure. Like the ghost of a flower, it touches the subconscious of those who wear it – and those who encounter it’. So goes the press release for Where We Are There Is No Here, and to a large extent it is spot on. When the harsh, IKEA-like top notes dissipate (probably the brash combo of the very detectable, high quality sandalwood and the synthetics that bring to mind cheap wooden cabinets fresh out of polyurethane), there is a very real tenderness at the heart; an embodied character, possibly female, approaching, looming, receding, with a breath of unwashed body and hair. Touching, almost unpleasantly invasive, despite its attenuation. A person you feel you already know, somehow; an un-perfume, a ready made, artificial sheath of identity. Slowly the jasmines (Egyptian, Indian), make their floral presences felt and the scent begins to make some kind of sense with its air of down to earth familiarity, of a life in the process of being lived.

At the same time though, the scent, is emphatically not, as claimed by the company, ‘the world of poetry. The world of the imagination and of the surreal’. While inventive, and strangely persistent, I find it utterly lacking in any kind of beauty. Perhaps I am simply behind the times, however, stranded in some Elysian fields where perfumes simply smell good. Maybe such heavily elaborated concepts are the future, and Christopher is not just a practitioner of pretentious fashions, but of art. As Cocteau himself said,

‘Art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion, on the hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly’.


Filed under Antiperfume, Flowers, Jasmine, Perfume Reviews

Gardens of melancholy : Amyitis by Mona Di Orio (2008)
































Mona Di Orio, whose untimely passing robbed perfumery of a true pioneer of the mysterious,  was to perfume what some avant-garde musicians are to music :  so far beyond mainstream tastes as to be almost indigestible. Though clearly made of rich, natural materials, many people have found her creations to be quite simply bizarre. From the shocking orange-blossomed animalia of Nuit Noire, to the soiled,  tainted bloomers of Carnation and Lux, I was convinced I would never be able to wear a single perfume by this house.  However, Amyitis, one of Di Orio’s less celebrated creations,  managed to continue the perfumer’s reputation for stubborn, curious originality while veering off into cooler, more poetic tangents with an iris and sage creation that is austere, otherworldly.


The perfume was inspired by the hanging gardens of Babylon,  and a sense of breathing, living greens across the spectrum of the plant world is captured with a freshly cut top note of verdurous new leaves plus an unusual botanical herbarium of savoury, sage, cumin and caraway. The fresh, soil-grounded iris/violet flowers at the heart also contribute to the composition an intellectual, writerly quality, while touches of saffron and opoponax add flesh.  On smelling Amyitis I was immediately reminded of the character played by Geraldine Page in Woody Allen’s ‘Interiors’ (1978),  a depressive, sensitive artist with a similarly waxen complexion and pallid melancholia. An aesthete, hair scraped into a bun, staring mournfully out onto a trailing, moss-covered courtyard.






















Filed under Green, Iris

Party girl : LOU LOU by CACHAREL (1987)



‘Pandora’s Box’, a silent film from 1929, stars Louise Brooks in the role of Lulu: a ravenous, naughty fille fatale who leads all those who fall for her irresistible charms to catastrophic ends. That is, until she herself tumbles into the greedy hands of one Jack The Ripper – and we all know what happens next.

This lithe, luscious character was supposedly the inspiration behind Cacharel’s oozy ’87 blockbuster, Loulou, a fragrance that made no effort whatsoever with restraint (some might say taste, either): a thick, gorgeous, but airless block of scent by the creator of Obsession – that other 80’s, giantesque sex kitten which it resembles like some exotic, Polynesian cousin.

On the right girl, however, (and strangely enough, on me), Loulou is simply one of the most instantly feel-good perfumed things that there is: fun, disinhibiting, and gleefully sexy.


The perfume’s addictive, shock-sweet main melody is a seductive, powdery, almost furred, tropical flower: Tahitian tiare, coconut, cherry-bomb heliotrope, iris, vanilla, ylang ylang, and a darker, woodier base of sandal and incense that is the perfume’s master stroke, tempering the leis and pina coladas with a plunge into ambiguous island shadows. The whole is perfectly constructed; though sweet, and very extroverted, it never really tips over the edge. Rather, it is a knowing, sloe-eyed cocktail of undeniable erotic presence that trails a girl like a challenge. You up to this?

If all of this sounds somewhat vulgar, it is. But it is great nevertheless, and if worn now, something of a tongue-in-cheek 80’s classic. I have been draining my bottle in the last few weeks as the Japanese spring has heated up and I crave something beachy and ‘up’; and in fact on Sunday, at Rainbow Pride in Tokyo, I  practically doused myself in the stuff, with touches of other exotica (Yves Rocher’s Malaysian coconut; a spritz of Montale’s Intense Tiare), to get into the party spirit – a silent Mardi Gras of scent that I took as my costume.  Despite my semi-ironic wearing of Loulou however, several people kept grabbing me close to smell it again saying how lovely it was.

The best thing about this perfume, apart from its depth and richness (unusual now, where even many of the best niche scents exhibit a certain anorexia) is its price: a 100ml bottle can be purchased online for practically nothing from discounters, and you can be sure that hardly else will be wearing it. For fun evenings out, and as an instant serotonin booster – and if you can carry it off – Loulou is very highly recommended.


Filed under Floriental, Perfume Reviews