Monthly Archives: July 2012

ANGEL DUST: TAMANGO / LEONARD (1977)

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Lithe; draped in white fur (clean body underneath), Tamango is an insidious, feminine, disco smell; very much of its era (the YSL Rive Gauche 70s), but despite (because of?) its obscurity, lovely.  At the tiny Leonard boutique in Paris a few years ago, which I went into because I adore their orchid-patterned ties, the perfumes seemed relegated to the bargain bins, almost an embarrassment, hopelessly dated there in their crummy old bottles, but I was amazed at how appealing some of them were. With one sniff of Tamango, I  saw Elvira, Michelle Pfeiffer’s beautiful, gazelle-like, coked-out moll in Scarface, dressed up in this as she descends in the lift; back turned to us, for her first appearance in De Palma’s film – the moment when a dazzled Al Pacino knows he must have her (and we can’t keep our eyes off her in that blue satin dress…)

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Tamango doesn’t smell expensive (and isn’t), and you’ve experienced these notes many times before: that meringue-fresh, sparkling chypre (rose/hyacinth/bergamot/muguet vs vetiver/oakmoss/tonka, with sud-like aldehydes and musk for tenacity), but the ratio here is spot on. This scent emotes, and I can still see it really working its magic on the dancefloor.

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One of the best bargains you will ever find online.

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

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

HAIR: OSCAR by OSCAR DE LA RENTA (1977)

 

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Krystle Carrington, in soft-focus dream time, slowly lifts her hair from her pillow.

 

 

 

Her eyelids snap open.

 

 

 

 

Light furls in through the blinds as she descends the white, spiralling staircase in her ivory colored nightgown; one slipper after the other; her towering, great tent of hair not moving, not an inch.

 

 

She is alert. Primed,  somewhere in her gut, for another ferocious, nocturnal encounter.

 

 

 

 

With Alexis.

 

 

 

 

Sleepily, Krystle fumbles; switches on the chandelier, glancing quickly about her in the opal landing mirror, trying worriedly to make sense of what is going on, as Blake, finally waking up from a dream about oil, and finding his wife absent, intuitively follows traces of her luminous, phantasmic, skin-oozing scent down the ivoried, cascading staircases towards her.

 

 

 

The perfume she has lovingly applied to her décolletage, before retiring for the evening by her magnificent dresser, that she is trailing, like ropes of plush, silken-cream ribbons, is  Oscar, by Oscar De La Renta:  fulsome, blurred – a magnificently US blockbuster that she emanates from her skin, soft;  womanly and lubricious, as a dream.

 

 

 

Fuzzed. Caressing. Hyper-feminine. Close.

 

 

 

That bottle: that squat, thick stopper……..that suave, and voluptuous, and dense, almost tropically Californian blend of orchid; basil, peachy orange blossom; jasmine, tuberose, and lavender absolute, splayed unselfconsciously, lovingly, over a full, man-dominating, Santa Barbara-goes-oriental base.

 

 

 

 

Oh, she know exactly how good she smells.

 

 

 

 

And so she hovers on the landing.

 

 

 

Beatific; unmoved: radiant.

 

 

 

 

 

Yet Alexis, standing there, hands on hips, eyes defiant, vilified,  manages to outpower her, again – again, yet AGAIN !-  in the poisonest; the most sugared, powerful,  cloyingest Venus fly trap of a perfume that there ever was:  Oleg Cassini.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Krystle’s hand begins to lose its grip on the handrail….

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THE LEMONS OF DREAR: EAU UNIVERSELLE by L’OCCITANE (2012)

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Would you buy a perfume with this name? ‘Universal water’?

I used to get excited whenever I went into the L’Occitane shop. Sixteen years ago, when the brand had not become the great high street empire it has today, there was an element of mystique. The perfumes, often in delightful extrait miniatures, were of really high quality, some quite unbelievably good, such as their original clove/violet Patchouli (there have been two other completely different versions since, which were no way near as adorable); their wonderful Santal, Bois de Rose, Cannelle Orange, and the indelibly sweet and luscious Vanille Bourbon.

Yesterday, in Tokyo, in the of-the-moment-for-snoots Marounochi building, I came up the escalators to be welcomed by the dreary smell of duty free lounges, posh toilets, and the soul-depleting odour of industrial citrus. This was Eau Universelle, a scent with no personality. A pleasing generic sherbet lemon to begin with, yes, doused in grapefruit, bergamot and alcohol, that for 10 microseconds you consider buying, because it is so HOT outside, and you know that in summer you just want LEMONS.

But not when they are backed with that crapoid, generic ‘woods’ note; that chemical, ugly sheen that scrubs up in the background.

Not when can you feel those ‘lemons’ sucking your life force.

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Filed under Citrus, Lemon, Perfume Reviews

TRAGIC ANDROGYNE: EAU D’IKAR by SISLEY (2011)

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Mastic, or pistacia lentiscus, is a rare ingredient in perfumery, particularly as the most prominent note in a fragrance. A bitter green resin, which forms from the ‘tears’ of liquid mastic when the trees are lacerated (on the Greek island of Chios, the only place the gum is produced), it was used as a remedy for snakebite in ancient Greece and regularly employed as an incense. Legend has it that as St Isodorus cried out in pain during his martyrdom, God blessed the mastic tree, which then began to cry……

 

Such lachrymosal stories are the foundation of Eau d’Ikar, a spiky, sapful scent based on green notes, resins and florals, agreeably poetic in concept and execution, but which I don’t find entirely works. The perfume is described by the company as happy and revitalizing, and while it is certainly stimulating, and very green – almost startlingly so – I can’t think of it as happy.

 

 

 

 

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In fact, given that the scent, and even the bottle (in very eighties frosted glass, reminiscent of Cerruti 1881 and Paloma Picasso’s similarly themed Minotaure) is based on the tragic tale of a quixotic, restless young naïve (Icarus), who is burnt by the sun and drowned by the sea, it is not surprising that the overall impression is morose. 

 

 

Some reviewers have compared Eau d’Ikar to several classical citruses such as Dior’s Eau Sauvage or Eau d’Orange Verte d’Hermès, but what immediately struck me on spraying this refreshingly unclichéd masculine was its curious resemblance to Estée Lauder’s wonderful Private Collection, that beautifully supercilious seventies’ green-powdery with its arch, manicured talons; its diffidence, and impactful emotionality. The perfumes share a number of notes: galbanum, and bright citruses such as bergamot; florals in the heart of iris and jasmine, and the ambered woodiness of the base. But where Private Collection achieves compositional perfection (too much so, almost – the only complaint I have about the fragrances the company produces is their olfactory equivalent to a flawless, patina of exquisite make-up that leaves little room to breathe), Eau d’Ikar, with its rough hewn maleness, has a strange impetuousness – the sense that things are not quite sewn together.

 

 

On the skin, the two in the later stages become at times almost indistinguishable. But where Private Collection has a much more natural balance, the chakras passing right through uninhibited from base to tip, Ikar is clogged up with mastic: feathers and wood bound together with wax, sweat, and honey.

 

 

 

The scent comes on forceful and green, with a waxen smell you could almost rub between your fingers: mastic, tea, bergamot, carrot seed, lemon, extract of reed, and a sour, fruity smell like just picked blackcurrants that contorts the mouth – the hard, white eye of youthful determination – as Icarus and his father Daedalus strive to escape from the labyrinth and the minotaur. At this stage, the scent is difficult to like, yet alone love, with its sense in the stomach that something is not quite right. And yet this resinousness is bright and intriguing, like a flash of sparkling clarity on the blue Aegean that beckons from the sunbaked rocks.

 

 

 

 

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Half an hour or so later, the perfume suddenly blooms; takes flight; when it becomes a quite haunting, powdered floral, quite beautiful and androgynous, with a sun starched, drier quality of vetiver and ambergris underneath and the resinous note of mastic lingering throughout. The Hellenic feel is authentic here, and Sisley do achieve something akin to impressive olfactory prose.  Still, I am not sure whether or not I would buy Eau d’Ikar (though I have considered it as a potential summer scent – there is something in the blend that pulls me in, some masochistic pleasure, even, in that bitter unpleasantness). What I do like about it though is the shimmer of shadows, the naturalness of the ingredients, the sense of erect integrity.

 

 

 

But it also has a thickness, an airlessness I am uncomfortable with: a suffocating dryness within its chlorophyll that encapsulates (if you really will yourself into the myth) the burned locks and parched lips of the dying ephebe: the shuddering of feathers; his sundazzled death chute as he falls, senseless, into the glittering Icarian sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Green, Masculines, Mastic, Perfume Reviews

NO MAN IS AN ISLAND

People!

 

I know there are some people who have discovered this newly fledged blog (which I am LOVING doing, by the way) because WordPress tells me so. People from all over the world. But no one is ever commenting! I don’t know if this is something that I am doing wrong myself (am I forbidding; overly pretentious? leave each review too CLOSED), or is there something which is disabling comments… some technical thing I am rubbish at solving (this man is a serious luddite).

 

In any case, I am desperate to converse! Not just to wax alone. 

 

Neilx

 

JE VOUS EN PRIE

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MOON BEACH: SONGES by ANNICK GOUTAL (2006)

 

 

 

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My friend Helen and I have a thing about contrived experiences, in the sense that we sometimes deliberately contrive the power of recollection with scent:  self-consciously create our memories.

 

 

Where the Proustian recollection was instant, uncontrived – a Madeleine, dipped in linden tea that brought back a surge of powerful, beautiful experience unravaged by the years – you can also get this effect quite intentionally; stamp a scent on an experience, fix it temporally. We can take photographs in an often vain attempt to freeze and capture time, but even the most spontaneous shots often feel flat, dead. Scent, for me at least, is effortlessly more effective.

 

 

 

 

Helen has also perfected the Art Of The Right Moment.

 

 

 

I am of the rip-all-the-Easter-eggs-open-and-eat-them-before-lunch school – get: open : use. Helen knows that it is sometimes best to wait until the most perfect point in time to maximize your enjoyment. This is certainly true of a much anticipated new album by your favourite artist; your first listen and what you see and feel at the time produce mental pictures for many future listens. And it is the same with perfume (especially if you have enough to be this selective); not unleashing that Pandora’s box until the moment is ripe, then flooding that moment with scent: clasp it: suspend it forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One time I followed this credo and it really paid off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It was April, and to my astonishment, I had just won a free holiday to Okinawa, the only time such a thing has ever happened to me  (bizarrely, I had recently bought a pair of glasses from a shop in Fujisawa and, unbeknownst to me, had been entered into the shop’s ‘lottery’? next thing I knew I had two tickets to a tropical island, much to our astonished delight). I was really excited, and thus wanted a scent to encapsulate it. I had to think,  but not for too long, as I had just received a sample of Annick Goutal’s Songes (‘Dreams‘), and having had a very brief inhale, I sensed it would be just the thing. And I was right; Okinawa is a haven of flowers and lush gardens; the sub-tropical, most Asian, and most relaxed part of Japan, with its own indigenous culture and language and ways of living (and the biggest life expectancy on the entire planet) and I thought it would be perfect for our stay at Moon Beach, a wonderfully dated, very seventies hotel – Joni Mitchell’s Hissing of Summer Lawns comes to mind – replete with dangling lianas, tropical fish, fountains, and hibiscus.

 

 

 

 

At one end of the hotel-complex, on a hill overlooking the aquamarine sea, was ‘Sirena Garden’, (complete with ‘chapel’), which though meant for the post-modern Japanese ‘Christian’ Wedding – which has to be experienced to be believed – was actually, despite the weirdness,  really beautiful. The lilies – pure white lilies, were in their full blooming, smelling quiveringly pure; pristine – delicate, yet with a beauteous perfume you could just drink and drink. Bowers of entwining stephanotis crowned the trellises: we sat on the grass, cracked open beer, and looked out to sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then I sampled Songes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It is a rare perfume indeed that smells as good as breathing, true flower, but Songes was perhaps the closest I have come to feeling I am in the living, hypnotic presence of some unknown tropical bloom. This is a beautiful scent – lush, dreamy, yet vital – and the ultimate perfume for summer nights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A composition that begins with a soft tropical breeze transporting you instantly to some paradise of the Southern Seas – fresh, sense-exciting notes from the leaves of the frangipani tree, and an slightly fungal tinge of white petals that is reminiscent of living gardenia –  a floral note that lingers throughout the scent, whose main theme, according to the company, is a ‘spellbinding trio of rare natural absolutes’: ylang ylang (rare because the essence usually used is the ylang ylang ‘extra’, a different distillate), jasmine, and vanilla ‘sur-absolu’. Over this ultra-luscious main accord, frangipani, tiare flower, incense, vetiver and sandalwood are all layered in a way that is controlled, yet simultaneously somehow breathless.  All is heady, intensely floral, but fresh and inhaleable (you can feel the spongey texture of the white flowers’ petals throughout), drying down to a willowingly soft vanilla and musk accord of perfection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is GORGEOUS.

 

 

 

 

 

Whenever I smell this perfume now, it makes me sigh (…just thinking about it elicits almost the same reaction).

 

 

 

 

I am on an island in the Pacific.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am back at Moon Beach.

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Filed under Flowers, Frangipani, Perfume Reviews