Monthly Archives: December 2012

COCOON

 

Currently I am in total hibernation, cocooned inside with Duncan watching films and dramas (yesterday we watched Downton Abbey for twelve hours- it was utter bliss, but my own brain and words have been wiped out….all night I heard the theme song in my head, mourning the loss of Lady Sybil in my subconscious) 

This morning I watched Jackie Brown, in my view Tarantino’s best film, and we are now going to watch it again with copious beers after dinner ( I spent the afternoon planning the next concert with Yoko (” A kiss in the dream house”, eating gold-leaf chocolate cake given us by my piano teacher, and we played and worked on the order of pieces for three hours…..)

… It is heaven to be released from the regular schedule, to go to bed whenever you want; sometimes at 9.45, the next evening at 3.30am….sometimes to leap out of bed at 5.30am and start practicing the piano then go and watch Mt Fuji covered in pristine snow from the Hansobo temple viewing platform….other days to sleep in until midday as the cold rain pounds the roof and you thank heavens for how lucky you are, tucked up warm inside being seduced by Visconti…..

My brain is mush: I smell of the usual orientalia…this morning I bathed in emu oil macerated with ylang ylang..

 

but I am waiting for the post desperately, as a belated Christmas present from sister is on its way…either Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille or Tonka Imperiale, an exquisite torture not knowing which.. Maybe then I will be able to write again. But right now my brain is Bailey’s drenched cotton wool and there is no chance.

I hope you will bear with me….back soon!!

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Merry Christmas !! WINTER DELICE by GUERLAIN (2000)

 

Christmas day.

 

Stuffed with turkey and all the trimmings, wine and champagne, and pudding you really didn’t need (plus that custard and brandy cream), you take a walk outside for some much needed fresh air.

 

The smell of the dinner and the warmth of the light still linger on your clothes,  but now you walk down the road away from the house, head for the park and the night-green to clear your head in readiness for part two………

 

Pine and fir trees; balsams, sugar, frankincense and vanilla essence: these are the principle ingredients in Winter Délice: an unusual and uncommercial perfume that is just perfect for this time of year, as it conjures the entire day: from dinner; to church, and the walk through the yew trees home…..

 

 

 

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Igor and me:::::: EQUUS by LALIQUE…. (2001)

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The legendary producer of some of the most exquisite perfume bottles ever created is now an American conglomerate; their flagship shop in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles host to a smorgasbord of lugubrious, glassed, grotesquerie; the newest limited editions that speak of wealth; of largess, and often crass, conspicuous consumption of rather questionable taste.

 

Sheepishly you enter the gloom, and are immediately greeted with a musty smell of old carpets, furniture polish, and undusted, glowing green heirlooms; ring a bell, and wait, in the half-light, before a blonde, high-coiffed sales assistant arrives from a door somewhere; paints on a smile; and tries to flog you off some three-thousand-dollar, twirling tube of scented water from among her torrid wares…

New to America, I  remember finding the experience disconcerting and odd, as I squinted back into the dazzling sunlight on Rodeo Drive, emerging from a corridor of doom-laden motes of sweet, time-travelled dust.

 

 

 

 

 

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Yet, when you think of some of the classical perfumes that were housed in those stunning original bottles by Lalique himself long before ‘the takeover’, your heart sings, you feel such lust. I will soon be going back to the Perfume Bottle Museum in Enoshima, a curious little place near where I live, to do a piece for this blog and and you will see……..for the perfume lover the items on display (some with liquid, still, in the bottom) are nothing short of heartrending, yearning pornography.

 

 

Lalique was a genius, and his name is synonymous ONLY with bottles, the perfumes in the company’s current incarnation varying hugely in quality and inspiration over the years, as though the scent were put in merely as an afterthought.

 

While recently the quality of the juices has improved (Encre Noire being a very well-respected vetiver, for example), many of the perfumes just come and go with the seasons as they somehow seem to lack a hook; a catch, a smell that you deem worth wearing. Le Baiser,  which once I bought (at a bargain sale) for my mother only for its flacon, is quite vile and unwearable: crass; sinister; the kiss of an industrial barrel of liquid, rose-sandal chemical effluent.

 

Attempt to put your lips back together and they have gone; acified.

 

 

 

 

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One perfume Lalique made for men, Equus ( from a set of three), was more interesting, however, a scent chosen for me by a Japanese friend of mine, Seiji, a writer-aesthete who lives for Mishima but who also has a penchant for 80’s American icons such as Mapplethorpe and Herb Ritts and probably chose the bottle for its ironic aspect of Italian Stallion (though I suppose he really should have got me the Sagittarian centaur…)

 

 

 

 

 

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Feeling fragile and very mortal after being quite ill that summer in London, The Russian Winter party we decided to hold, Petrushak, in which we turned our apartment into a winter wonderland of icicles, magic and quaint russkyiana in homage to my favourite composer, Stravinsky, and his thrillingly beautiful atavistic ballet, was my birthday and our Christmas party combined, and featured a beautiful white horse galloping across the steps in a frieze that Duncan made in a brilliant moment of inspiration; its mane spray- painted white as it galloped fearfully through the snow towards Siberia….

 

With a soundtrack of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korskakov, cold-war Bond soundtracks and Goldfrapp, I was lost in the world of my childhood black-swan imaginings;  feeling tearfully thrilled to be alive on that day; grateful to my friends, lost in vodka, music, twinkling lights, and magic.

 

 

 

 

 

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That same morning, before the party preparations began in earnestness,  I had gone for a walk to pinch some delicious pale-yellow lemons for the drinks from a  tree growing down the road. The sunlight was diamond-sharp, ice-cold, and as I plucked the fruit from the trees and the waxen scent of unborn lemon-blossom grazed my hands from the leaves, a family of little partridges and their mother scuttled beneath and off into a copse. It felt like a blessing…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After Duncan’s white stallion piece, propped up triumphantly in spectacular fashion in the entrance,it was another beautiful coincidence when Seiji later then turned up unexpectedly at the party with this equine bottle, a synchronicity that added to the enchantment of the day (which really felt like my re-entry into my Japanese world as my friends all welcomed me back after three months away..)

 

 

 

While not the type of scent I would usually wear, Petrushka, which was one of the most beautiful parties we have ever had, is thus forever enshrined for me by this smell of Equus, which I wore with abandonment as we danced to cossack-danced kalinka and served up three types of steaming borscht.

 

 

The scent within that horse-frosted bottle is certainly no miracle of perfumery, but it is quite nice: a tea-laced, cedar-based, dry, fresh and elegant accord headed in by a sharp, unusual top note of pepper, mace, citron and jasmine placed over serotonin-depleted musks and watered woods….quite poised; if a little maudlin and straight; a perfume for a thoughtful, slim young man.

 

His character?  Possibly quite nuanced; of the trends but with a few twists and turns.

 

Slightly sociophobic.

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A daybreak impetus: ARTILLERY No 4 by ANGELA FLANDERS (2012)

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Vetiver is my antidote.

Sometimes, after all the coconut-vanilla baccanalia of the night before, the lunging sweetness, I want a pointed clarity; a more virile freshness. The length of a leaf; a clarified root; nature, in other words – a walk in the trees to refresh the lungs and head.

 

A good vetiver is a point of dignity. A no-nonsense striation of elegance in the plant world; less golden and voluptuous than sandalwood; more reserved and discreet than its fuzzy, soil libating sister patchouli.

 

For me it is also one of the few aromatic materials that almost do not necessitate a perfumer. Where rose or jasmine essential oils smell woozy and unfettered in their raw state and require dilution and embellishment before their setting in the jeweller’s ring, a good vetiver oil I can dab on neat. Once the initial cursory roughness dissipates, the complex, head-grounding oil can resonate beautifully, and uninterruptedly, for hours.

 

At the same time, pure vetiver essential oil is not something I want to wear every time – sometimes you want a slice of citrus and some tonic in your gin, and vetiver oil combines so naturally with delicate florals and citrus notes that when watered down and freshened, it can have that regular, beautiful simplicity of early morning ablutions.

 

This is exactly what Angela Flanders has done with her new Artillery Series; simple and inexpensive colognes formed around one key aromatic material: contemporary but pleasingly classical throwbacks to unfussy transparence and briskness.

 

The most fêted vetivers tend to be the sculpted and perfected citrus/woody/resinous interpretations, such as Grey Vetiver, Encre Noire, Sycomore, and Vétiver Extraordinaire, all of which are very fine perfumes, ‘urban vetivers’, if you like, for the impeccably-dressed and the chic. I can wear these scents for a short time as they buoy me up and make me feel as though I have rejoined the world, but, ultimately there is something quite passive aggressively proscribed about these scents for me. There is no room to move: I feel constricted within these never-ending, synthetic spines that give me headaches: so-called ‘masterpieces of vetiver’ that quite honestly leave me cold.

 

By contrast, Artillery N° 4 is grace and simplicity itself: an early morning, vitreous vetiver with the lightness of a cologne that to some may lack  panache, but which speaks to me directly.  The official notes for the scent say it begins with bergamot and lavender, but to my nose it is all about rosewood and lime and perhaps some clary sage; a glassy patina of linalool like the surface of a Canadian lake where imaginary reeds of vetiver sway, cool and thriving, down below in deep waters; an agile, herbaceous beginning that brings to mind the flinty diffidence of Penhaligons’ regretted Eau Sans Pareil – not a hint of sweetness or overemphasized lemoned counterpoint – only a call to the outside; to that walk in cold air that your body is telling you need –  before finally progressing in a very natural fashion to a light, airy, mineralic vetiver that lacks any pomp or ‘perfumer’s extravagance’  – and the very reason why I like it.

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POUDRE DE RIZ by HUITIEME ART (2012)

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I love a perfume with a good story line, and the powdery, illicit backdrop of Poudre De Riz is a good one. It is a tawdry tale with a double dose of sensorial voyeurism, inspired by the French novel Inferno (1908) by Henri Barbusse: a man spying on a frantic adulterous couple in the boarding room next door through a crack in the wall; witnessing, and smelling their aromas; her bath, the splashes of heavy, sweet perfumes to cover up the scent of heat-coupled flesh; and, then, her last-minute attempts to make up her face with lipstick and powders, a disgruntled varnish to mask her true feelings before the arrival of her husband….

But he does of course notice:

“The air in the room was filled with heavy scents….soap, face powder, and the pungent smell of an eau de cologne…..” and the perfume, proficiently blended by Pierre Guillaume, is thus an attempt to capture this coagulation of emotion: of sex, concealment, passion (guilt?) and of the perfected and more preened face that we must present to the world..

Though I sometimes bore myself to tears with my own predictability (tiare monoï oil; coconut; vanilla, benzoin…..surely I am bound to like this perfume?) I really do: it is quite gorgeous and I just can’t help myself, the ‘rice powder’ of the name a pearlescent dust of sheen wavering over a sensual, but controlled and delicate, effluvium of aphrodisia that has none of the stinginess or bitter, ‘avant-garde’ snarl of some niche scents.

Poudre De Riz in fact immediately reminded me of a number of sweet, oriental perfumes that I have worn over the years, while remaining individual enough to merit a full bottle. The beautiful note of Damascena roses shining through slews of animalic, almonded musks comes straight from Louve; the soft, linty, vellutinous white powder Teint De Neige; and the ambered, cinnamony goodness a throw-back to my beloved Obsession For Men before it got spayed by reformulation; (the tolu over cedar and sandalwood note in the base also strangely took me back to that ribald old tropico-classic, Nuits Indiennes by Louis Scherrer…)

Still, the perfume works on its own terms, and all the notes are blended in such a way that despite the story and gourmand overdose, the perfume is never claustrophobic: my own skin always brings out the heavier, vanillic angle of a scent, but I can imagine on certain women that this could smell almost angelic….

 

 

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CLEFT OLD KIWI AND A KNEEFUL FULL OF LEATHER……..INTERLUDE by AMOUAGE (2012)

 

 

 

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When high school boys in Japan gather after school in ‘family restaurants’ such as Gusto and Jonathan’s,  inexpensive eateries with one main attraction – limitless soft-drinks and beverages of all kinds available at the ‘drink bar’ – one familiar pubescent rite is to egg each other on to create the most bizarre and unpalatable mixes possible by chucking, in one big plastic glass, some orange juice, some milk; a healthy dose of tabasco; some coke, some cocoa, some miso soup, some apple and mint tea, some salt and pepper and ketchup for good measure….then of course getting some poor designated sod to try and down it in one…

 

Interlude, a perfume for women by those seasoned purveyors of Franco-Arabic good taste Amouage, is a similarly baffling experiment in chaos, seemingly a case of bunging everything in the blender, pressing play, and seeing what happens.

This is, in fact, the stated theme of the scent, by the way, the ‘interlude’ in question being the moment when the fragmentary moments of madness surrounding you coalesce and you suddenly find yourself; rise up like a pillar of calm selfness from the swirling, anchovy mixed-pizza of worldy mobocracy : fragrant, smooth and serene.

My first initially astonished impressions of Interlude Woman were of peculiar, dusty old sweet figs and a rather prominent (and somewhat nauseating) kermit-green kiwi, whizzing about sherbetly on a melon-leather carousel…………….bizarre and with a very distinctive air of quease…..

 

 

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One commentator on the Fragrantica website  nailed it more succinctly:

 

“Sometimes a scent comes along that can be summed up with three letters, and Interlude is one of them………

 

 

 

 

W T F

 

 

 

 

 

She then amusingly goes on to describe it as smelling of ‘moldy basement, over-ripe cheese and bad air freshener’, while another person smells ‘roach motels’, and yet another that she could ‘vomit from this smell of deep choking smoke…..

What were Amouage thinking?  Perhaps we should let creative director Christopher Chong elucidate:

 

 ” The Interlude moment is a reflection of all the trials and tribulations one overcomes to attain personal satisfaction and achievement….”

                           mmmmmm…. but must perfume be so masochistic?

 

 

 

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Interlude is certainly not an easy ride. The perfume is in fact so complex that it emerges almost as a Rorschach test of individual interpretation: there are so many notes in this ‘air of disorder’ that everyone will smell different things. I myself got no cockroaches or cheese: for me it was all about this unhinged oudh-wood depth straddled disgracefully by Queen Kiwi, but if this review is leaving you confused perhaps the perfume would be more readily imagined olfactively if we ogle the notes…..

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kiwi (by far the most prominent note in this scent)

 

 

‘nut’

 

 

 

 

coffee

grapefruit

 

honey

 

immortelle (maple syrup, burnished copper,  burnt licorice………)

 

marigold

ginger                   &

bergamot

 

  (in the top…….)

 

and then, in the heart and base, swarthier, more Amouagey bloops of

 

 

oudh                (this is, ultimately a ‘fruit oudh’)

sandalwood

                    leather (quite prominent)

vanilla

 

benzoin

 

musk

 

jasmine (bleurrgh! jasmine and kiwi!)

 

orange blossom, rose

and

oakmoss….(a chypre?!)

 

……in other words, notes that do not form a naturally harmonious posse; more a team of unknowns who must club together to make this thing work like an episode of Survivor.

 

 

Thankfully though, the notes do actually begin to elide and collaborate with each other, and after the intial mess (and it is a mess) subsides, and you begin to transcend your ‘chaos’, a vision of a suave and contained, rich, stylish person gradually materializes: enigmatic and attractive – the kiwi-agar-chypre concept finally coalsceing into a well-dressed, mysterious and tasteful red-blooded woman.

 

This lingering end accord in Interlude is quite beautiful actually ( I stupidly put some on just before going to bed, regretting it immensely at first, but found myself gradually snuzzling up to my wrist as it settled into its curious, intelligent, oudhy night-flight groove, a veil of middle-eastern intrigue that was pulling me in to its story….)

 

It is undoubtedly very original, and if someone walked past you of an evening wafting Interlude you would certainly prick up your ears (having sat with a nose peg in her basement squinting and puffing for an hour before leaving the house..) and, having eventually understood where all the woody, fruited vom of the beginning was leading to, I started to rewind the scent gradually in my mind, comprehending more what the perfumer must have been intending all along. Ah. I see. It is leading to this…

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In some ways, for this reason alone, Interlude can be seen as a very brave attempt at breaking new ground, as it is a well known fact that top accords are the key factor in most people’s purchases of a perfume: for the average attention-deficited consumer it all hangs on those first few minutes, and this perhaps accounts for the fact that the lovely people at Harrods’ Amouage counter looked so sheepish and oh- no- here- we- go- again when I first sprayed this perfume on in August – then mimed a polite, thin-slipped smile in response. They knew that first impressions, in this perfume’s case especially, can be disastrous….

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Waking in winter: EAU D’HIVER by EDITIONS DE PARFUMS (2003)

 

 

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If you like your perfume to be subtle; preferably cold, and wistful – but not old-fashioned – then you might want to try L’Eau d’Hiver, a gentle and melancholy scent authored by that most minimalist of perfumers, Jean Claude Ellena.  A chill of winter:  bergamot, angelica, and a delicately ozonic note of ice-blanketed fields, as you gaze, incuriously, from the upstairs window, cradling tea.

 

The watery, woodish heart of the perfume – floral touches of iris, hawthorn, carnation and white heliotrope – lend touches of reassuringly honeyed reminiscence with their soothing notes of vanillic caramel.   They are notes, however, that are attenuated: sad, muted watercolours, as if seen from memory or frosted glass.

 

The delicate, soft transparency to L’Eau D’Hiver, this beautiful, wan smile of  pale, sugar-dusted almonds, is appealing initially as a comforting touchstone.   Eventually, all this fades, however, to nothing more than a sweet, featureless note of self-effacing colourlessness.

 

For the timid, and those who steadfastly plough their quiet and steely self assurance yet want a marker,  this scent has a place, though.  For the poetic. Shy, bookish girls in love with Sylvia Plath.

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