OF TOKYO: PLAY SERIES (BLACK) (2012) by Comme des Garçons + HINOKI (MONOCLE 1) (2008)







Hinoki, or Japanese cypress, is a very beautiful smell that you cannot really avoid if you live in Japan. It is more smoky than cedar, more lemony than cypress, a soothing yet powerful essence that the Japanese use as a building material for temples and shrines, as an incense, in bath salts essences, and to make the wooden rotenburo, the open air hot springs that the people so revere. Even the soap you use before you enter the waters, at my favourite onsen in Hakone, is hinoki scented.


I love hinoki. Unlike other evergreen essences it does not have a harshness – the lung-searing directness of pine, the depressing forest-floor darkness of fir. It is antimicrobial, like those; pure, but also somehow tranquil.



In fact, I like the essential oil so much that I once made a rather lovely homemade blend of Moroccan rose otto, patchouli, a touch of ylang ylang extra; then clove, iris, and a big dose of hinoki, the essential ingredient at the centre of the perfume that took it almost to the realm of the spiritual.

A small dab here and there was great on a winter jumper.









Monocle magazine’s ‘collabo’ with the ever-quirksome fashion legend Comme des Garçons sought to capture the Nippophilic air of a perfectly designed onsen, taking the essence of hinoki and combining it with an appealing chart of ingredients (on paper, or the computer screen at least): camphor, cedar, pine, thyme, frankincense and a strong dose of turpentine, that, like the latter, with its well known paint-stripping qualities, somehow succeeds in desapping the hinoki like a particularly virulent form of Dutch Elm’s. The addition of these moistureless greens somehow lessens the title note, a vascular desiccation that sees the tree juices sucked out, along with their Japanese spirit.



I know that some people love this fragrance, and rhapsodize on its evocations of ancient, shinto-filled forests. I cannot agree. Real Japanese incense has a smouldering liquid at the heart of it – never simplistic or linear, it seems to contain the carnality of humans even as it renders that animality to smoke: it is sensual while being severe.



The incense note in the Monocle fragrance is dead. Dry; it signifies ‘urban’ in the worst sense of the word (cut off from nature, believing every word of the latest ‘directional’ hype). The result is a flat, ashen little scent for fashionistas that I wouldn’t give the time of day.














As for Comme Des Garcons, I have bought a fair few of their scents over the years (the original spicy eponymous scent and its offshoots White and Cologne; Calamus, Incense Jalsaimer and Kyoto, and Vettiveru), and although I can never fully get into the company’s taut efficiency, I still find them intriguing as a brand, like to try out their modish offerings. At one of the Tokyo boutiques on Sunday, where I always feel horribly boring in whatever I am wearing as it seems that nothing less than a mushroom smock, a bustle and striped leggings – the full industrial rumpelstiltskin caboodle and hair of razored black asymmetry (and that is just the boys), will do. But scootling uneasily among the racks we did come across the new ‘Play’ series, which comes in colour-coded thematics of red, green and black, and thought they deserved a sniff. Black seemed the most inviting, and I got Duncan to spray some on. He immediately went for it, pepper hound that he is, declaring it full bottle worthy.



Though the notes – birch, black and red pepper, pepperwood, thyme, and citrus notes – sound harsh, the scent is in fact quite comforting and warm, a pleasing grey smudge of scented charcoal; snuggly almost, the notes of violet and black tea ceding to a masculine base of tree moss and soft incense. It was familiar, somehow (we both felt this, and I was struggling to come up with what it was – the first minute reminded me, strangely of Tuscany by Aramis, which I always thought was a beautiful scent), and easy to wear. The longevity on the skin was unexceptional, but overall the creation was aromatically satisfying, if slightly lacking in depth.




Still, I was ultimately unmoved. In recent times, Japanese aromatherapy companies have started to produce more indigenous essences, such as hinoki, hiba (which I like even more – a darker, richer, smoky cedar that I scent the house with), shiso, and yuzu among others. I was even startled to find an oil of my favourite winter fruit – iyokan – the other day, which is the most gorgeous orange you have ever smelled, a lip-smacking joy in wintertime when you rip off that thick, oil-filled peel.





For the time being, If I want the smell of Japan I will stick with these. Sometimes you don’t need to tamper with nature.








Filed under Japanese Cypress, Japanese Perfume, Masculines, Pepper, Perfume Reviews, Woods

24 responses to “OF TOKYO: PLAY SERIES (BLACK) (2012) by Comme des Garçons + HINOKI (MONOCLE 1) (2008)

  1. Helen

    Is there nothing on the soulless shelves of a UK department store, or even a niche perfumery, that you would recommend to capture what the Monocle fragrance fails to?

    • ginzaintherain

      Helen, I will bring yuzu, hiba and hinoki oils in August and we will compose our own. I am sick of these endless slick, arid, trendy incenses. To be honest they make me feel slightly sick.

      Duncan felt the same: “ugh! Boring!” and slagged it off all the way to Ginza

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. Marina

    Complete and full description that makes me want to smother mine Sergio in it whether he likes it or not…. I love your choice of words Neil you really evoke such a mental image as well as the sentimental.

  3. ginzaintherain

    I have written this three times already Marina (still not used to the mechanics of all this, especially when you toss the iPhone into the mix), but I was saying earlier, surreptitiously at work, that I hope you are referring to real hinoki oil and not the Monocle pretentious remix. Or maybe the Black, which might be OK on Señor Elegance. But in Monocle I feel he might even smell………evil

  4. Helen

    Very excited about the oils!!! Every single concoction you have ever created for me, whether oil or cream has been memorably delectable.

    Must make mention of the visuals for this blog by the way, as perfect as I knew they would be.

    • ginzaintherain

      Re: the visuals, I am having a LOT of fun with my iPhone. i don’t want the images to be too slick or perfect (or boring) like some websites; I just do it all very quickly and spontaneously and go with my gut .

      Re: the oils, shall we make something together?

  5. Hi I would like to get my hands on the yuzu, hiba and hiniko oils, would you be kind enough to tell me where I can buy them.
    Many Thanks


    • ginzaintherain

      Hi Dapo

      I don’t know about outside Japan, but in the last couple of years even big distributors like Muji have started selling hinoki and yuzu alongside the usual lavender and tea tree; hiba seems to be slightly more specialized – I get mine from an aromatherapy shop called Charis, of which there are various chains about Japan.

      In Tokyo, the amazing Tree of Life shop in Omotesando has an astonishing selection of indigenous oils, with a whole range of different Japanese firs, pines, herbs like shiso, even others. Their osmanthus (‘kinmokusei’), smells very potent, but I can imagine it being used creatively in small doses.

      Hope this helps. Hinoki oil is so beautiful. I just didn’t feel that the CDG did it justice, hence my somewhat harsh review!

  6. Stephanie

    Where do I find this delicious and sensual
    Fragrance ?

    • ginzaintherain

      I think I may not have expressed myself well! I love hinoki essential oil, but don’t actually like the Monocle Hinoki at all, and only KIND of like the Comme Des Garcons Play Black. Perhaps I was just getting carried away with words….

      Anyway, as far as I know, you can either get them from Comme Des Garcons boutiques, or order it from the divine Lucky Scent, which stocks the most incredible range of perfumes on earth.

  7. ninakane1

    Lovely review. Sounds divine. x

  8. This fascinating review makes me realize that I’ve never smelled hinoki in any form. Will have to see if the essential oil turns up in the US. In Louisiana, houses in the country were sometimes paneled with bald cypress, and I still recall the faint lovely haunting scent. I wonder if these two forms of cypress have any similarity.

  9. Time and again you leave me homesick and pining for Japan. Thank you for helping me remember.

  10. Dearest Ginza
    Proof positive that a bad review can itself be better than good and an indifferent one inspiring.
    You make me yearn for these Japanese essential oils, most of all the hinoki. The only thing we have here that I can think of is the industrially produced candles in Muji that I can imagine are nothing but the very palest imitation of the actual thing…. I will hunt on.
    No doubt there will be somewhere in this great city that sells such wonders at inflated prices.
    And the images above…. sublime, just sublime!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • It definitely does have something beautiful, hinoki, which is why I was so bored (horrified) by the Comme..

      The Dandy could lightly scent his winter scarves with the oil to beautifully elegant effect…

      • That is precisely my thought… hence I shall hunt it down, one imagines there is a sufficient Japanese or Japan-ophile community to warrant someone stocking it here… then of course there is always the internet!
        Yours ever the hinoki hunter
        The Perfumed Dandy

      • Then again there is always me you silly fool. It was high time we started swapping anyway.

        Hinoki and hiba it is.

        But what will the Dandy send me?

      • Now that’s a thought… what European pleasures might be required on that other side of the world…. you seem so well served by those flea markets that I am scarce to know what I could supply you with.
        Is lavender worn in Nippon?
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  11. Ooh, Ginza and Dandy,please complete your swap details where the rest of us can read them! It is such fun to spy on serious perfumistos swapping.

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