A very long while ago – in the blog scheme of things at least –  I wrote, half-jokingly, about my grave disappointment over Fame, Lady Gaga’s woeful entry into the arena of fragranced celebrity. My instincts were borne out by the reactions of other reviewers and also personal experience when I took Fame, and Madonna’s Truth or Dare, to an excited Japanese friend’s house and got her to guess, eyes shut, which one was which. And, naturally, tell me which one she preferred.

Madonna’s plastic tuberose won out – just – but Aiko was really shocked by the banality of the Gaga (“really? really?”) reminding her as it did of Shibuya teenage trash in the mid-nineties. Its cheapness truly astounded her.  My observation that Fame was not much above the level of Toilet Duck also bore interesting fruit during my summer travels: even on my first morning at Tokyo’s Narita airport I was astonished by how much the gap between personal and antimicrobial perfumery had closed. In other words, where once a woman may have smelled exquisitely, mysteriously- alluringly, for God’s sake –  of an inspired orchestration of high quality essences of flowers and fruit, mosses, woods resins spices – and any toilet she may have alighted upon would probably have smelled neutral, or else of disinfectants and pine, lemon soap or bleach –  a place to do one’s business in, but not to linger perchance –  right now, in this current age of cheap, functional perfumery, she and her throne might blend as one. An uncanny marriage of human and water closet, where the scents we give off are almost interchangeable. A whole new angle to eau de toilette.

The scents I experienced in airport lavatories – Tokyo,  Barcelona and Amsterdam, were all high grade – very pleasant as these things go, to let you dream and fend off the inevitable anxiety of flying in a metal tube across the world, to make the whole process just that little bit easier. The Narita ‘restrooms’ had a sweet, inviting little floriental smell very similar to Lady Gaga; Barcelona a rich, enveloping honey, and Amsterdam a pretty, if a touch harsh, serotonin-enhancing orange blossom that really wasn’t that far from  Palazzo by Fendi.

To clarify, I am not one of those who believe in basking in the scents of nature: as far as I am concerned toilets in all homes should be equipped with fine incense to dispel smells that no-one should ever have to be exposed to, and when it comes to public conveniences I favour the strongest aromachemicals in existence, rather than the collective stench that can arise in such places (some train stations in Japan take relieving oneself on a daily basis to the level of trauma ):  if they can actually smell pleasant to boot then that is great. And this functional perfumery I came across, where you almost sigh like a pervert at the urinal, really had developed in leaps and bounds.

The problem arose when I emerged from these places and I realized that the people around me, waiting with their trolleys and suitcases, smelled almost the same. Whether it is the fault of the big fragrance houses making those toilet scents just that little bit too expensive- smelling, or those same houses making their ‘high end’ commercial products smell a touch too piss-cheap, the effect was quite disturbing. When the two merge in your mind – person and toilet bowl –  you desperately just want to inhale fields of grass, forests, or natural air to escape – those sweet, noxious clouds in the context of a glass-sealed, airless airport can be almost sickening.

Judging from the women round me, thick, jaunty vanillic florientals à la Flowerbomb, Dior Addict, and their ilk are obviously the standard for the Europeans: pleasant, easy-sexy, if ultimately very vulgar, and as people wafted about me in the queue through immigration I realized to what extent these in-your-face formulae lack mystery (especially at 7am, when travellers are at their most stomach-churned and sleep deprived – a full on nightclub cleavage in your grill just as you have been trying to nibble on a piece of dry toast and coffee).

Coming into Duty Free the feeling was compounded by the stench of the trite and shallow ‘fragrances’ on offer by the main houses, those market-tested nasty-smelling things that can never elicit in me much more than irritated snarls. The new releases were so banal, or down right nasty – Ralph Lauren’s ‘Big Pony’ (idiot!!) series for ‘men’ and ‘women’ winning the prize for worst value for money –  such antagonizingly ugly rubbish – Christ I’d genuinely rather smell of the honeyed water closets of Barcelona.

Which brings me again to travel.

I had such a wonderful summer back in Europe (hence my rude and lengthy silence – apologies if you wondered if I had been swallowed up by a black hole, or, like some tragic ‘Little Monster’ taken my own life in despair over the abysmal quality of the Lady Gaga perfume. I didn’t  – in fact I have to confess that I was watching Almodovar’s trashy High Heels on Saturday night and as the pink and red melodrama hotted up I did find myself clamouring out for Fame  – something to match the cloy – and almost enjoyed it on my left arm, right during those tumultuous moments of high camp Spanish excess…I may still come round:  I am trying )

.. I must say though that despite all the aforementioned cheapness I also have many quality olfactory tales to tell. I did not, in fact, spend the whole time sniffing  toilets, but came across some beautiful creations, old and new, that really stimulated the palette; had some great perfume experiences, like meeting the creator of the Parfums de Rosine series, the lovely Francois Robert, and hearing the fascinating stories of his perfumed heritage (his father created one of my favourite perfumes of all time, Calèche – see my review – and Madame Rochas among many others;  his great uncle was the author one of my holy grails, the original Chanel 19…I sat listening to him quite rapt at Les Senteurs): interviewing Mark Buxton of Comme des Garçons about his new eponymous collection (to be published online in Aesop magazine very soon): treasures discovered in the troves of London perfumeries and the perfumerias of Barcelona, as well as things that had been lost at my parents’ house in Solihull (vintage Diorella!)

But what I realized for sure is this: with a few notable exceptions, in the current state of perfumery, if you want to smell more inspiring than a newly scrubbed bathroom, you will either have to trawl the flea markets or e-bay for vintage treasure, or else spend over 100 pounds for a good niche scent, of which there are many (although having said that I did buy Agua Fresca by Adolfo Dominguez(1993), a gorgeous, and very reasonably priced Spanish citrus men’s cologne that perfectly suited the hot city I was in while I was there, so economical purchases obviously still can be made if you look hard enough).

However, the general releases are, on the whole, getting more and more crass; less and less artistic and quality, and it seems that I was wrong to be overly harsh on my bleached muses, Madonna and Gaga for their sickly ‘creations’ – they are obviously, as always, just going along with the trends.




Filed under Flowers

22 responses to “LIKE A MONSTER

  1. ninakane1

    Hurray! Good to have you back Ginzaman. Love this piece here x

  2. ginzaintherain

    Thanks Nina. I had to start somewhere, and it may as well be in the pits. I can hopefully work my way up from there!

  3. George M

    Nice diatribe Neil, very nice. I don’t know what you’re going on about mind, having less sensitivity about scents than I have ability to sing, but I enjoyed the writing. It’s great to hear someone (you!) very excited about something totally mysterious to me. And of course no words were minced (I would have been surprised if they had).

    Love to you and Duncan.

    Ps I saw your blog last week some time and subscribed. Then on Thursday I noticed Justin Bieber’s Girlfriend ( down in Superdrug and thought of your Gaga no-no review and had to laugh.
    Tempted to buy any? 😉

  4. ginzaintherain

    The Bieber has no appeal (though the bottle was grotesquely fascinating!)

    I am astonished to find you on here George, and delighted. xx

  5. brie

    I completely agree that the general releases are of no quality and getting more and more “crass”. Even some of the niche and high end fragrances I have sampled don’t move me the way many of my beloved vintage scents always did (and back then they were SO AFFORDABLE!!!!)
    These days I stick to small artisinal houses (my absolute favorite being Sonoma Scent Studio- gorgeous blends made perfume strength and reasonably priced) and just playing around with essential oils from Eden Botanicals. I am still perfume obsessed and love reading but my purchases are getting significantly more selective.

    • ginzaintherain

      Aggggh you obviously hail from L’Amerique where many of these amazing artisanal houses are, that I will probably never smell….I have heard great things about Sonoma

      • brie

        Yes, I reside in the Northeast, USA. We seem to have similar taste in fragrance so I think you would adore Laurie’s creations. A pity that she doesn’t ship to Japan! But if you ever get a chance to sample anything by SSS jump on it! And do check out her website/blog! It is fun to get a glimpse into her creative process 🙂 !!

  6. Cath

    Thank you Neil for putting my thoughts exactly black on white!! This is what I have been thinking and saying (mostly to myself and to my husband) for the past few years: everything released these days smells like toilet freshener. Hokozai. YUCK!! It lacks originality, and the synthetic-ness is totally gross and nauseating. For the past 18 months or so I’ve been wondering what that cheap smelling toilet freshener-like perfume was that I kept bumping into on the trains, in the crowds, the other day even on a man!!! I was clueless, I thought it was some cheopo celeb fume, until 3 weeks ago my friend gave me a decant of her perfume, saying she didn’t like it anymore, because too many people were wearing it. I sprayed, and almost retched. There it was: my olfactory enemy of the past 18 months.
    Name of the evil scent: Chloé Eau de Parfum.
    You can give me the deep luscious perfumes of the 80’s and 90’s any time. At least they were original, had character, and even if they were loud, they smelled GOOD! Perfumes were better when they were only released at a snails pace.

  7. Cath

    I like what I wrote here, I’m gonna rewrite this in a review for Chloé. LOL. You inspire me.

  8. Neil, I have to thank you for all the laughs I had while reading this post. Of course, I completely agree with you, but you really have a way of describing imperfect things to perfection (as well as almost perfect things). I was always chastised at work for my perfumes (which were of vintage variety or some of the new indie fumes out there like Neely Vermiere, Papillon and the tried and true like Andy Tauer, Vera Perfume, etc. Yet I finally realized that some of the people who chastised me (with the exception of my boss who smells like cream of wheat and probably never spritzed a fragrance in his lifetime), were actually wearing perfume to work…like Avon and similar type fragrances and no one complained…and yet they are louder and more vulgar than anything I ever wore. I couldn’t figure it out. However, during the past six months, I have NOT changed my perfume selections to work, but I have changed the way I’ve spritzed myself for work purposes. The most spritzes are in the chest area, with only minimal spritzes on the pulse points and neck area. No more abandoned sprays of mist for me, just strategic ones that enable me to still enjoy a lovely fragrance and not upset anyone else’s nose. Since then, I have not had one complaint or comment, although I still wear some of the exact same scents. Yes, I think that Americans would rather smell like a laundry detergent or a room spray. However, I would rather be scentless than senseless.

    • Exactly! I know I come across as a complete snob, but that mindless vulgarity (is there any other word for it) just really gets to me.

      Incidentally, I am intrigued by your ‘cream of wheat’ boss. Does he smell good or bad?

      • Neil, thank you for reposting this. It made me realize I did not answer your question about by “cream of wheat boss”. He was a freckled redhead and smelled mostly like flaky dead skin as he had very dry skin and played lots of golf, thereby getting sunburned and thus the flaky dead skin. However, luckily for me after years of agony, he retired at a very young age and my new boss (although he is not that new anymore as it’s been four years) wears more cologne and perfume to work than I do. Yet no one ever complains about his fragrances. Most of the other co-workers are scentless except for some very young girls who reek the most of cheap fragrances, but no one complains about them. I would not complain about them wearing fragrances but would like to educate them on their choices.

      • I wonder if they would listen? (Laughing out loud about your flaky boss and your ‘agony’……I can totally relate to that – they call it ‘sumeru-hara’ here, or smell harassment.

  9. Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:

    Going home from work at Yokohama station I entered the free user ‘restroom’ and was once again (relatively) pleased by the aroma. I thought I would repost these musings on the sad proximity to functional perfumery and the smells at Duty Free

  10. I had the unexpected opportunity of a free trip to Belgium and France late last November. I was traveling alone and had layovers to and from airports. However, sadly, nothing in duty free intrigued me to even test. However, in Paris, I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Pissara Umavijani of Dusita Perfumes and purchased a bottle of her newest Le Pavillon d’Or.

  11. Robin

    “However, the general releases are, on the whole, getting more and more crass; less and less artistic and quality, and it seems that I was wrong to be overly harsh on my bleached muses, Madonna and Gaga for their sickly ‘creations’ – they are obviously, as always, just going along with the trends.”

    All the MORE reason to be exactly as harsh as you were!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s