Monthly Archives: June 2012

RARE BLONDE: Ivoire de Balmain (1979)





One Sunday morning, Duncan and I went to a Cassavetes retrospective in Tokyo. Although it was something of an effort to get up so early to be at the cinema by 10.40am, I knew it would be worth it. Having seen ‘Opening Night’ (1977) twice before, but never on the big screen, I knew that it would be a rare opportunity to gaze at the mesmerizing face of possibly my favourite actress, Gena Rowlands, who, as the character Myrtle Gordon – a confused, emotionally flailing star, plunges willingly into a masochistic rabbit hole of self-doubt, hallucination and tragedy in the pursuit of theatrical technique and authenticity.


The first time I saw the film I was alone. It was Autumn, about twelve years ago, and I had never even heard of Cassavetes. I had just randomly picked the film from a video shop in Fujisawa, and sat down on the tatami to watch it as the crisp October sun dappled on the garden outside. A shadowy melancholia was present already in the room, and this set the mood perfectly for a film that had me wide-eyed in love: I had never seen anything so seamless, and while stylized and oddball, so real. It was the ultimate ‘star gone mad’ film, and somewhat tediously and obviously perhaps on my part perhaps, I reached out for my vintage miniature of Ungaro’s Diva (a gorgeously rich Turkish rose chypre), this forming the scented backdrop to the film (eyes on the screen, back of hand attached to nose: a frequent pose in my cinematic viewing).  I have forever associated its rich complexity with Ms Rowlands ever since: this WAS the smell of Opening Night for me.The character – glamorous, chic, fiercely intelligent and feeling, but troubled and angry (and rightly so), I imagined would wear a scent that is full bodied and carnal at heart, yet with an unpenetrable enamel of enigma at surface.


Watching that day, enraptured by the beauty of this film and totally unable to take my eyes off Gena Rowlands: the flick of those hard-hitting blue eyes, her thick, blonde-curled hair, that alabaster skin, another perfume suddenly floated up into my consciousness, particularly in the scene where she is about to ascend in the elevator with Ben Gazzara in a long cream fur coat…..


IVOIRE. Yes! Ivoire de Balmain, that deep, feminine creation from another age when scents were orchestral and beautiful, and embraced the full female corporality, rather than the one-note pink sex bunnies we too often get these days. Thinking about it now, though both perfumes came out after the film, and Diva seemed perfect at the time, the Balmain somehow wins out. Diva is too joyous, too throaty. Ivoire is more brittle and vulnerable, yet so attractive, out of reach.


Yes, this is how she would smell.


Also because this scent truly strikes me as being a perfume made for blondes. Although I bought it for my (brunette) mother over twenty years ago (having spent an entire day in Birmingham department stores trying out scores of different perfumes to find the ultimate scent for her birthday), she found it too sweet. Too something. Not quite right. And thus I soaked a pale-leather diary I took with me to Rome that year (it still vaguely smells of Ivoire), and everytime I wrote about any experience there, on the train to the coast, on the streets of Testaccio, this scent would waft up and mingle with my associations.



I first encountered it, though, at Cambridge when I was nineteen. A friend of mine at Queen’s, Dawn – a sybaritic, self-indulgent History of Art student with blonde honey hair who lazed about half the day in shiny cream satin pyjamas – wore this (or the divine Courrèges in Blue) and she always smelled incredible. Quite dazzling. Sweet, soapily fresh, sensual, yet somehow out of reach. Divine. She would send us out for cigarettes and sandwiches on blustery sunny days and for some reason, like idiots we always complied, possessed by the feeling in that room.


The composition of that scent is complex, yet as smooth, and cool, as marble. Rich and full: yet cold, the departure a fresh, green aldehydic sheen of galbanum, bergamot, mandarin, violet, and lily-of-the-valley, blended effortlessly with a lushly creamy heart achieved with an interesting juxtaposition of flowers and spices: Turkish rose, ylang ylang and jasmine overlayed with a dusting of nutmeg, cinnamon and berry pepper (the scent has something in common with L’Air Du Temps and Fidji in this respect: those ethereal spiced garlands that encircle the flowers and lift them up higher to the heavens). Then: a slow, langourous base of labdanum, sandalwood (which dominates), vetiver, tonka bean and vanilla.


The concept of ivory is realised around the intense binding of all these ingredients together so we experience at once a smoothness – the scent as clean and fresh as a newly laundered blouse in tulle – yet underlying it all a buttery, emotive decadence…..



Myrtle Gordon ultimately triumphs with her voyage to the heart of her instincts.  And backstage, where buckets of champagne lie on ice, she is drunk on her success. The effect would be, I believe, deliciously, heartbreakingly, compounded with Ivoire.




Note: I have two bottles of this perfume. A vintage eau de toilette found in a Zushi recycle shop (how my heart leapt when I saw it!), and a new, reformulated edition from The Perfume Shop in Solihull. The difference is astonishing. What was flat, and disappointing to me (was this really how it smelled? Had I exaggerated it in my mind?) is alive and glowing in the vintage. I hope you have the opportunity to try it.


Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Green

ROASTED MEL GIBSON: Celtic Fire by Union (2012)


Celtic Fire is possibly the hairiest, most virile scent I have ever encountered. Intense, rugged, romantic, it is also the best ‘smoked’ smell I have come across – a very specialized nook in perfumery that includes such alumni as Feu de Bois by Diptyque (technically a room spray but fine as a perfume), and Le Labo’s legendary Patchouli 24. While the Diptyque is severe and somewhat one note as you claw among its embers, and the Labo has a meaty jambon/vanilla fusion I can find nauseating, the first half an hour of this scent achieves a fiery perfection:  it  is natural, clean, and trustworthily sex-charged. Presumably it is the ingredients that count here: a litany of no-nonsense UK sourced botanicals that, when blended together, add up to a club-wielding brute to set hearts pounding (the company itself describes it as ‘positively tribal’ and I can’t say I disagree).

Bog myrtle from Fife; glowing birch from Inverness; an ‘oak extract from ancient forests’: pine needles from the wilds of Aberdeenshire, the list of storm-lashed ingredients goes on, though one will get the most attention: a touch, in the heart, of Marmite, that yeast-extract spread that polarizes all those who taste it with its sour, hoary breath.

Fear not: the effect when you first smell this scent is more fragrant lapsong tea chest than weird savoury: a fierce, glorious smoke that conjures a hunter, fresh from the forest, thrusting you to the ground with a feral intensity acted out brutally on a black bear rug, as the open fire crackles and emptied whisky glasses glow in its light

  (…………..pause as the writer fans himself….)

Then, as this arresting accord dissipates, though, a more typically ‘masculine’, harsh woody drydown begins to feature more prominently, at which point I am no longer enthralled.

We find ourselves now less in a hirsute wood cabin and more in a Friday night meat market: the bestial grunts have gone, and we are left instead with winking chat up lines.

Nevertheless, it is still a good smell, and sexy – I just wonder who could carry it off.

Perhaps a naturally manly type who can wear it with humour; a desperate woman with Joan of Arc fantasies; or else by a pale, timid urbanite who imagines a bit of hair on his chest and dreams of a fireside, booze-drenched frenzy



Filed under Masculines, Perfume Reviews, Smoke

Cherryade and the fluff: G de ROMEO GIGLI (1994) + DIAMONDS AND RUBIES by ELIZABETH TAYLOR (1993)


Sometimes I wake up and my brain has already, instinctively, reached out for a particular kind of smell: I know upon opening my eyes that only that smell will do. And yesterday it was cherry. Something sweet, light, and fruity. Reminiscent of freshly plucked cherries, the stalks intact, but also that deliciously cheap and artificial, cerise-coloured drink from my childhood: chip-shop cherryade.

I have two scents in my collection that happened to fit the bill perfectly (…the joy of a large collection and being able to pinpoint the specific in mood by reaching into ones cabinets!):  G by Romeo Gigli, an early nineties concoction that fell by the wayside rather quickly (possibly because of its luridly overdesigned harlequin flacon) and Elizabeth Taylor’s cheerful, fulsome Diamonds and Rubies, which I have in perfume extract and which complements the greener, more bracing Gigli perfectly (wearing the rubies on my wrists and spraying the Gigli liberally elsewhere as I headed out to Tokyo on Saturday, I enjoyed their company throughout the day immensely). Both perfumes were released within a year of each other and comprise a very similar basic accord that is pleasing and somehow serotonin-boosting when you are in the mood for easy comfort.

Despite the complexity of the notes contained in G, the perfume comes off as simple and buono, a warm yet fresh fragrance with a gorgeously Italian optimism: two different themes fusing deliciously with each other after initial apparent frictions. The vanillic cedar of the base, with its clean, gentle orchids, wisps of sandalwood and oakmoss, is far from apparent in the Milanese zest of the opening: an inventive, herbaceous scherzo on pineapple, citrus, green notes and a curious dose of fresh tarragon leaves that is quite frankly delightful.  Cloves, not listed in the official notes but apparent to my nose, cleave to the floral heart (cyclamen, jasmine, rose and orris), but the tarragon remains throughout like star anise in a fragrant compote de fruits. When spritzed, G de Gigli is immediately happy and uplifting, but subtle: it lasts for hours yet remains close to the skin like a flower-patterned silk.

A more American riff on morello is Elizabeth Taylor’s Diamonds and Rubies, which is also constructed on a ambery cedar base with lashes of orchid, but which is richer, more powdery and, well, Elizabeth Taylor than the Romeo Gigli: a thick-waisted embrace of sweet cherry liquor: heliotrope, ylang, orris, cyclamen and bitter almond; red rose, benzoin and peach. The base of the scent is significantly erotic, in a mature, experienced kind of way, while the opening – tender, as fluffily romantic as a puffed up angora sweater, has the blow-dry glamour of a pressed, immaculate Floridian dame:  soignée, not a hair out of place on that dandelion head: yet benign, loveable; sweet.

I have tried Diamonds & Rubies only in parfum form, but can say it is surprisingly enjoyable and well-made: recommended for those who like an ‘occasion’ floriental. Although I wear these two only rarely, I like knowing they are there: scents with a ripe, cherry-lipped goodness. They are both available for a song at online discounters.


Filed under Floriental, Perfume Reviews

returning …… JE REVIENS by WORTH ( 1932 )














There is nothing else quite like Je Reviens.








It is the blue night, the moon.





















A mysterious, troubling perfume that evades classification.  A scent with a cool, cerebral langour;  a quietness;  yet with compelling sexual undertones.







Aldehydes – watery, Venusian – take you to unchartered places in the constellations:  a light, aqueous freshness deleting all vulgarity.  Draped, cerulean.  But then, with a narcotic dose of freshly picked wild narcissus and iris, this moon soon swings to a more tranquil violet floating on lakes aldehydic ; an amphibious, and voluptuous, bath-house atmosphere which is sculpturesque,  soothing; familiar.








Beneath, like glowering stalactites in an underground grotto, is a sapient, luminous, accord of woods: an eerie note of incense; and a spiced, medicinal aspect that only serves to make the composition become more distant and strange as it goes from stellar to subterranean :  darker, more musked;  mesmeric. The perfume thus seems to develop in different directions simultaneously,  the delicate aldehyde/floral and spiced/woody accords intertwining vinelike,  sporadically, as the unified heart – that brilliant, haunting Je Reviens refrain – emerges elegaically, slowly, from the shadows.

































































Je Reviens is a melancholy scent ultimately. Not depressing, but not of this world.  In the particular vintage bottle I have, it achieves a perfect, alien,  orchestration I find tender, arousing, and very beautiful.






Filed under Flowers

Epiphany on a golf course: HOLY THISTLE by UNION (2012)



The idea is captivating. Locally sourced plant materials native to Scotland are used in the blend: bracken from the Borders, bay from Pembrokeshire, pine sap, and the starring substance, Cnicus Benedictus, or Holy Thistle, picked from the highland estate of Kinra.

With this description, you may be forgiven for expecting a Braveheart green of bitter intensity, as was I. Having experienced Union’s Gothic Bluebell (see my earlier review), I readied myself for another full-blown Brontëan fantasy: something peculiar and diffident – a scent to admire rather than love.

The scent is nothing of the sort. Rather than a rugged, windswept, boreal rush, Holy Thistle is more like the most heavenly green herbal shampoo (found, perhaps in the exclusive bathroom of some expensive Scottish castle resort); an emblem of the easy life. An unambiguously lovely smell, mouthwateringly uplifting and happy, its effect instantaneous: a grassy, kiwi fruit cocktail, natural and leafy, with a slightly bitter underkick, delightfully zinging and fresh. A sense of the cold outdoors; the sharp intake of the morning air that awaits after you make your way downstairs, shower-stoked and clean for a full Scottish breakfast, and a day on the greens of St Andrews.

The holy thistle is traditionally used in therapeutic herbal tonics as an appetite stimulant, and there is something sharp and thirst-quenching about this smell. While it contains none of the edginess of ancient myth and valour you expect from its name, eventually, as the top notes fade into the soapily verdant heart, something darker and bitter does rear its thistled head, stubbornly remaining until the scent – which I can wholeheartedly recommend – gently fades from the skin.


Filed under Green, Herbal, Perfume Reviews

Sandringham rose : ROYAL ARMS (DIAMOND EDITION) by Floris (1920/2012)


The house of Floris has released this re-edited eau especially for the queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and as children across the nation dig into  Victoria sponge beneath miles of bunting and fluttering Union Jacks, their mothers, nans, and aunts might fancy a few spritzes of Diamond Edition to get into the regal spirit: an appealing, and very British scent that captures this moment, and the monarch, rather perfectly.

More Lloyd Webber than Britten, the queen’s tastes have always veered more towards the bourgeois than the aristocracy, and this polished scent, of cosseted roses, trellises and perfected bedspreads, is to me like a paen to middle England: a plump, stocky rose that rises above. The pinkest, shiniest, satin cushions rest on freshly embroidered sheets. Pot pourri, in porcelain, lightly scents the air on the dresser, while back notes of ylang ylang, jasmine and tuberose address the floral coronet above (this is very much an interior fragrance; those rose gardens and flower beds viewed from far off, through thick panes of glass). The perfume is so seamlessly blended however that listing notes seems superfluous. Feminine and slight initially with its touches of bergamot and lemon, it becomes more imposing as it blooms, pink and full-figured like the character played by Imelda Staunton in Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix.


Royal Arms is  the kind of scent I would put in the ‘comfort zone’ section of my perfume collection if I were to get a full bottle (which I would happily do): post-bath, pampered with talc, the dry down of patchouli and lightly ambered musks over vanilla, finishes a nostalic and clean English guesthouse rose that soothes and pleases, so much so that I almost wish I were back in the UK to join in the celebrations.



Filed under Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Rose