…you can’t find a bottle in your collection.
…you can’t find a bottle in your collection.
“A flower that couldn’t exist, in a bottle that shouldn’t exist….”
It was a cold, clear day on Monday when I headed out to Tokyo to buy Kyoto. Junko and I have a tradition now of exchanging presents each year – I buy her a perfume, she gets me films – and though last year’s offering, the exotic and pungent Powder Flowers by Montale, had gone down quite well, I decided to try something different this time and go for incense, something more contemplative and grounded. I love the challenge of trying to instinctively nose out what someone might like, to edge closer and closer towards their holy grail, and this time my inklings turned out to be right.
She loved it. We met last night at a bar in Fujisawa, where I presented birthday present 2012, and the look on her face as she kept on smelling it incessantly…
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Nitobe Inazo, author of the classic (if highly supercilious) tome on Japan, Bushido, may consider the Japanese quite superior with their love for the evanescent fleetingness of the cherry blossom flower, a sweet but sorrowful bloom that symbolizes the ‘stoic’ samurai warriors’ desire to sacrifice their lives at the drop of a hat; while the gaijin, or westerner, ‘selfishly’ favours the rose that clings, with every last drop of its life, to the putrifying, stinking stem even when dead ….but I’m sorry, the rose is one of my very favourite flowers, and I imagine that I also will be clinging at my last; thorny and desperate, rather than plunging a sword into my gut and ripping out my innards, all for the sake of appearances and some dull and pointless idea of ‘honour’ (the code of the samurai is much more nuanced and spiritual than this, I realize, but you get my drift: I have never quite forgiven Nitobe for the disdain he shows the non-Japanese in that book, and the rose is an emblem I therefore adhere to even more passionately as a result.)
Anyway, the rose is a tricky one.
Rose oil, or its synthetic reconstitution, is a component of the vast majority of perfumes, and there are wildly different interpretations of this flower, meaning that although you may think you hate the rose if you have been brought up on granny talcs, or else Stella, and Paul Smith, and all those uptight, irritating contemporary roses, there still might be a perfume out there that might sway you if you deign to explore the rosaceous galaxy further.
Though none in my opinion has ever truly captured the exquisite beauty of a living, breathing flower (surely one of the most enthralling scents in the universe), a few come close, or take the theme to newer, unexpected places.
Rose is also, my view, a floral that is perfect for winter, not clashing with that touch of patchouli oil that is still hanging on to your jacket, remaining poised and stoic……an aroma of both piercing sorrow and hope; with a dignity, poeticism, and romantic attachment that make it far superior in my (not even remotely) humble view, to the puny, and nothingy, frou -frou cherry blossom.
ROSE ABSOLUE/ ANNICK GOUTAL (1984)
Supremely expensive for an eau de toilette, Rose Absolue is a diaphanous, sense-delighting spray of real rose oils, with several of the most prized species in perfumery. The crisp, exuberant top notes are truly delightful, and come very close to smelling like a garden of roses on a summer morning. The middle and base notes lose something as the essential oils evaporate (making it a costly habit to maintain), but for a delicious rose spritz, this cannot be beaten.
NAHEMA / GUERLAIN (1979)
The top note of the Nahéma vintage extrait is breathtaking: perhaps the most ravishingly gorgeous and complete rose absolute in perfume; a scent to make your heart swell, your diaphragm tremble. Whether you will fall for Nahéma or not though, (and it has its very faithful adherents), will depend on your liking roses romantic, full on, and sweet. Nahéma folds this stunning rose note in peach, hyacinth, aldehydes; ylang, vanilla and musk, and is deliriously rich, romantic – very Guerlain. If it is right for you, you will smell resplendent. If not, overdone.
ROSE/ CARON (1949)
If the roses in Goutal’s Rose Absolue are freshly picked, and the scent their breath, Caron’s is their blood; the enshrinement of a beauteous Bulgarian absolute (more regal, melancholy than Moroccan rose – the more ‘classic’ rose note) over a gentle bed of vanilla and musk. The extrait is beautiful; potent, emotive; a scent to be cherished. Almost painfully pure and beautiful.
For a similar, but somewhat chicer rose, try the other Caron rose perfume, Or et Noir: for sexual mystery, the house’s woody, musky incense rose, Parfum Sacré.
FLEURS DE BULGARIE / CREED (1880/1980)
A centenary reformation of an aristocratic, very strange scent from Creed, this peculiar, haunting rose perfume evokes another time and place, leagues away from brash current trends. It is at once tender, reserved, unabashedly tasteful, yet with an undeniable whiff of madness: generations of interbreeding among the loopy upper classes. A dry, high pitched, almost saline bunch of Bulgarian roses over an insinuating natural ambergris: the smell of stately homes, the fragile, yellowing pages of old books.
A difficult, but rather brilliant perfume, to be placed on a dresser by a window over the lawns, on which to do ‘one’s toilette.’
Beyond, the reedy river, in which perhaps to drown…
SA MAJESTE LA ROSE / SERGE LUTENS (2000)
A scornful rose. Dark swishes of crimson rose fragrance: grand, extravagant, a perfume of strength and beauty, but with ironic, opaque bitterness. Serge Luten’s rose is not romantic: his perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, was presumably ordered to do away with such nonsense. Instead there is a stark regality here, just as the name suggests (a tart note of geranium, lychee and guaic wood sees to that), but also an elaborate heart of white roses, vanilla and honeyed Moroccan rose. It is an effective, gorgeous perfume that will leave you feeling splendidly detached.
CE SOIR OU JAMAIS / ANNICK GOUTAL (1999)
Perhaps the most vulnerable of rose perfumes, Ce Soir Ou Jamais (‘Tonight Or Never’) is a rich, breathy Turkish rose, unfolding in a tearful desperate embrace. It is natural, supremely feminine, and one of the most romantic perfumes you could ever wear.
ROSE OPULENTE/ MAITRE PARFUMEUR ET GANTIER
As it says, opulent, gorgeous, red-silk Bulgarian roses, for high camp and rose adorers. Quite beautiful, with leafy green top notes gracing a subtly spiced, ambergris rose.
ROSE EN NOIR/ MILLER HARRIS (2006)
Exclusive to Barney’s New York stores, this is a mildly repugnant, dark animalic rose with woody musk facets and top notes of jammy rhubarb.
Interesting, like someone unravelling at the seams.
ROSE DE NUIT / SERGE LUTENS (1994)
Paris. Had I had any money left by the time I got to the Lutens boutique at the Palais Royal (having already ‘done’ Caron, Guerlain, and Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier), this is what I would have bought from the astonishing selection of perfumes curated by the mysterious ladies hovering behind them. On myself I like darker, more menacing rose perfumes, preferably underscored by patchouli, and this really did the trick for me. Rich, effusive, and very outgoing, with a touch of jasmine, apricot, beeswax, and chypre. A rose for nighttime and adventure, to be worn with leather.
SOIR DE LUNE / SISLEY (2006)
A gorgeous, dark, honey-drenched rose enveloped by rich notes of chypre, mimosa, and powerful patchouli, Soire De Lune is almost tailor-made to my personal olfactory tastes. It is diffusive, warm, sexy and of high quality; not dissimilar to the company’s fantastic Eau Du Soir, but in my opinion even better. A rounded, accomplished scent with presence, and a new alternative to such night time illuminaries as Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum and Voleur De Roses. I doubt I will ever be without a bottle of this.
VOLEUR DE ROSES L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR (1993)
The rose thief is a dark figure dressed in black, moving with stealth through the undergrowth, night soil underfoot; rose bushes standing erect and waiting in the moonlight, sensing they are about to be picked. A sensous, woody patchouli is entwined with a deep, rich rose and an unusual note of black plum, resulting in a very gourmand, intriguing scent worthy of its wonderful name.
Vanilla Part VII has come out on Olfactoria today for all those vanilla nuts who might be interested. We look at Vanille des Isles, Havana Vanille and 7 Billion Hearts this time….
You can read the reviews here…
Last part of the vanillathon next week (for the time being…my love for the smell is inexhaustible and, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ll be back….)
Yesterday we looked at gardenias; those gorgeous, perturbing flowers I am somewhat obsessed with (though I don’t know quite why I am writing about them at the moment when their blooming is so far off…outside the snow is still melting from the huge snowfall of Monday….)
While the Chanel Gardenia template is one direction that perfumers can go in; nipping it in the bud and giving it propriety, taming a flower which is something of an animal when all is said and done as it stands there, immobile, feverish and lurid under cold moonlight, other perfumers embrace this disconcerting angle of gardenias and fill their scents with it ( the carnal flower by Santa Maria Novella comes to mind in particular). A certain Madonna/whore dichotomy exists then with this flower: few perfumers take the gardenia out of these traditional moulds and inject it with modern verve.
Whether or not I can convincingly talk of Rush by Gucci as a gardenia I am not sure, but the flower is certainly there in the fore and back ground of this scent, sucked out violently from its clandestine lunar hedgerows and thrust, almost uncomfortably, into the twenty first century sass of the urban mall where teenagers strut, chew gum, and toss back their hair, to the easy, friendly bitchiness of this fragrance’s jeans-and-t-shirt vibe. I am not sure if Rush is still popular, as 1999 is quite a long time ago in modern perfumery terms, though my guess is that it still would be. Although the majority of recent mainstream releases lack a hook, a chorus you can sing along to and remember, certain perfumes do succeed in locking into their DNA a refrain, a simple accord that rings true. Perfumes like Beautiful, which I am fond of, still sell by the bucketload for this very reason……you can remember them.
So once in a while a product arrives in the vastly overcrowded fragrance market that is new yet somehow familiar, striking a nerve like a characterful person you’ve not met before, yet immediately take to: Gucci’s Rush, in its iconoclastic plastic red oblong bottle, was one such perfume. It was the Obsession of the early 2000’s – a legible perfume with a message – a sexy, unpretentious, direct hit. As soon as Tom Ford was given the scent strip by his perfumer he apparently said yes, immediately, without second thought, not even bothering to sample the other applications for the brief. He knew a money-winner when he smelled one.
The perfume is simple and streamlined with four main features: a fresh, leaf-green note with hints of coriander; a lactonic apricot with the touch of white chocolate; a lingering skin-musk patchouli that lasts all day: and draped over this, with its holographic petals, a sexy modern gardenia (a concept of the flower rather than a botanical reconstruction), with Bulgarian rose and a hint of vanilla.
This accord in Rush is both immediate and effective; odd, with its mix of cream and green, and it certainly doesn’t smell expensive. Yet it is very memorable, and smelling it again recently brought back vivid memories of a trip to Taiwan, where my friend, a Ms Katherine Ng, used to drench herself in the stuff. Fourteen years later it is still very appealing.
The original Chanel Gardénia – available now only very intermittently from vintage, rare perfume web sites – was by all accounts a masterful, creamy floral aldehydic typical of its creator, the genius Ernst Beaux: a perfume of its time, now gone forever.
The reformulation and relaunch of the perfume in the late 1980’s, however, exciting as it must have been for those in the know, was apparently an affront to lovers of the original. Where Bois Des Isles, Nº 22 and Cuir De Russie by all accounts retained the essential character and formulae of their original incarnations, the rebooted Gardenia was by far the least faithful to the original formulas of the first four ‘secret’ Chanels, and Luca Turin famously hates it (but really; who gives a damn..)
Knowing only the later version of this perfume myself, though, I have nothing to compare it to, and in any case fell straight in love the moment I smelled it, chiefly because it reminded me very strongly and vividly of my first ever love: at primary school, the friend who sat next to me every day in class had a wonderful smelling cedar-wood pencil case that then fused completely in my mind with her: and to me – this sharp, woody smell, unmistakably, is Rebecca.
I can picture the yellowish interior of that pencil case perfectly; can smell that intense, almost sour scent again and can conjure it up my mind upon demand, when I would sit there in lessons when bored, inhaling it deeply, and rapturously, and dreaming. I was infatuated; weirdly so for a boy of six. I could hardly sleep at night I was so besotted.
We had little romances at six, at nine, and at fourteen, were kind of besotted with each other, and are still friends (although she now lives in the south of France and has no recollection of this pencil box at all….)
But back to the perfume that jolts this memory. Compared to the soft beauty of those other Chanel extraits (all of them so soft and elegant and beautiful), I admit that Gardénia is quite an artificial creation, but I do think that it is very original in the way it steers away from the standard, southern belle creamy white shoulders and flor in the hair and goes for an entirely different interpretation.
Here, a fresh, piquant gardenia flower is fused with other florals – tuberose; orange blossom, and jasmine; a very chic, a classic white floral that might be too heady a scent were it not chastened, and freshened with a sharp, spiced note of clove, sage and pimiento, on a subtle, wooded base of cedar and sandalwood.
To me, the cedar and pimiento are key, bringing her back down to earth and resulting in a perfume that is lovely: crystal sharp, like freshly cut flowers placed on a box of brand new pencils in September.
GARDENIA ROYAL/ IL PROFUMO (2004)
The Chanel gardenia, though much maligned (Why? I love it!)) is perhaps, despite its negative reputation, much more influential than we perhaps realize, because this beauty by Il Profumo, a company that make very vivid, colourful fragrances, strikes me as smelling very much like the Chanel take on the flower but transported, illustriously, to the jungle; that same, piquant scent, but denser, greener, lusher. This is a gorgeous and potent blend indeed, gleaming and effulging with notes of tuberose, jasmine and peony over a rich powdered base that according to the creators, ‘renders a woman sure of her fascination.’
GARDENIA/ SANTA MARIA NOVELLA
What I like about the Santa Maria Novella exotic florals (Tuberosa, Gardenia, and the frankly bizarre Frangipane) is the sense that the flowers have simply picked at the height of their erotic power; been forcibly submerged by the Florentines in some scent-releasing liquid, and, the liquid saturated, presented to the public as perfumes. Santa Maria Novella’s gardenia fully captures the strange, medicinal, green and fungal side, and the milky allure of gardenia flowers on a humid, summer night.
Tactile, oleaginous, green-brushed and ‘thick’, it is rounded, cool, wide-eyed and fleshy, and in some ways a quite splendid perfume (if perhaps a little torpid).
Wear it and wilt.
GARDENIA / ISABEY
Drunk at a giant mansion looking frantically for the powder room (marbled, orchid-fringed; elaborate) this gardenia is the obviously self- proclaimed leader of the pack, a gorgeous, sluttish gardenia with a patina of ingenue; sheening, plush, blooming: unaware that her shoulder strap has just fallen down.
A revived classic from the 1920’s (though the formula smells more 1980’s big-haired to me), Isabey’s Gardenia is sweet, curvaceous, and is unique in supposedly containing actual gardenia essential oil, one of perfumery’s rarest essences.
ELLENISIA/ PENHALIGONS (2005)
Putting my theory of the indefatigable Chanel’s perennial influence, Penhaligions’ Ellenisia is yet another reinterpretation of the Chanel gardenia, but done the English way (ie. utterly unthreatening).
This is a bright vaseful of perfumed white florals, modern, pretty and very wearable, with a taut, marbled, shine that shows no thigh.
GARDENIA/ LE GALION (1937)
Le Galion is an old French company whose old-fashioned perfumes I occasionally get to smell when they wash up in Japanese antique stores and fleamarkets. Their jasmine was truly excellent, and I wish I could find another bottle. Gardenia, an extrait, is very much of the old school; the dark, tweed-suited gardenia of Miss Dior with a fearfully potent surge of fur and scent-soaked anthers – an exciting, if difficult, delving into the perfume past (when women presumably smelled like purring, powdery moths). When this initial flower-smog clears, balmed and vaulted with the unguents of passion’s dust, the perfume steadily attains an interesting beachy note – like rock flowers bathed in midday sun and the whirring hot-sand smell of the air.
In summertime, as little kids, my brother and I used to crawl into the canopies of broom on the sand dunes of Bournemouth (for a child, like exploring Borneo), and this curious gardenia brought those exciting times flooding back to me beautifully, and immediately, with a vengeance .
An intriguing scent that is not what you might imagine from this semi-venerable institution, this gardenia perfume is more like one of the power florals of the 80’s than the white and trembling French white floral I was expecting; a beautifully-made, adult, and very sexy perfume somewhat redolent of the fearless Giorgio Beverly Hills.
An interesting option if you want something rich, dusky but not overly sweetened; a glamorous gardenia to get dressed up for, douse yourself in, and marry the night.
All clothes by Coco Chanel.
FOR MORE ON GARDENIAS, AND MY JAPANESE ILLEGAL ACTIVITY INVOLVING THE FLOWER, PLEASE SEE MY PUNGENT POST ‘GARDENIA CRIME’.
I was once slapped, really hard, across the face, because a girl’s taste in perfume differed from my own.
As my cheek smarted, and her boyfriend and mine, and other onlookers (at a mutual friend’s wedding) sat gobsmacked in anxious silence wondering about what would happen next, it struck me quite forcefully how the conservative U.S sense of perfume can be so wildly- WILDLY! – different to the European.
But to rewind…
The girl (whose name I am not allowed to use; I can still hear her drunk, screaming at the top of her lungs, “I will sue you! I will fuck you! I will fucking take you down if you print my name!”) was sitting across from me, and being the quintessential sassy American blonde I knew I would have to interview her on her perfume tastes, as, all irony aside, I do genuinely love how most American girls smell: so peachy clean, soft, so apple-fresh ( I remember almost swooning with pleasure when my friend Theresa wore the original Tiffany at a bar one night…………somehow we Europeans can never quite catch that strawberried, faultlessly clean yet strangely sexy halo of shower-gelled hygiene and fresh-pressed laundry…)
As this girl and I downed beers at the marriage after-party in a Yokohama Mexican restaurant, we quickly grew a fun and flirtatious rapport. And I remember us standing in the steaming cold outside, laughing and joking, as she smoked a cigarette, talked perfume and Texas; and her boyfriend started to wonder what she was getting up to.
Excited about a project on perfume I was hoping to start, she was going to be the U.S correspondent: we would expand, we were going worldwide, baby.
Back inside, over enchiladas,my Nº 19 was quickly, quite rudely, immediately dissed as too ‘woodsie and girly’ (she was a firm believer in men smelling like men) and, anyway, perhaps, on that occasion, she was right. The Chanel doesn’t work every time on me for whatever reason – temperature, that day’s body chemistry, and I am always waiting for the leather and citric vetiver to make itself known, not the powdery iris and neroli which can sometimes predominate instead, and even I knew that on that particular evening I had made the wrong choice (a familiar agony for true perfumists, when you know you have selected the wrong scent on a particular occasion and you can’t relax for the rest of the evening….)
However, her own choices also made me laugh out loud : such thoroughly dreadful . Every ‘clean’, ‘fresh’ ‘sexy’ perfume in the book that she thought were god’s gift to perfume and humanity but which I ferociously, but good humouredly (or so I thought) dissed back as they basically proclaimed her to be an olfactory moron. Ralph Lauren Romance? Give me a break. Vera Wang? Oh, don’t make me laugh…
It was a body lotion she was carrying in her bag, though, something she thought was exotic and alluring and pretty, that caused the actual assault. It was so bad, so truly and utterly vile ( Bath And Body Works ‘Japanese Cherry Blossom’ I think, so pink, so chemical and not even remotely related to the smell of the sakura) that I just had to tell her my truth, not expecting for one moment that her exquisitely manicured hand would then coming smashing down, hard, across my face…..
In all of this controversy the only perfume we had managed to agree on at any point and to any extent was Happy, still one of the most popular perfumes in America and something of an institution in the ‘clean and perfect’ type of fragrance that renders a person so radiantly scrubbed their sexual organs are smoothed out into flesh-pink Action Man Barbie mounds; skin marbellized, made acrylic; immaculate wash machine halations that mask the flesh beneath and create idealized, perfected, desexed holograms in their place.
For this girl, Happy was all about summer, and girls in short white dresses heading out on the town; clean, confident, sexy, radiating wholesomeness.
For me, it is the same, really (though I find it more asexual) ; a very cleverly blended citrus floral of grapefruit and orange and a whole bouquet of imaginary flowers (mainly ‘living headspace’ flowers, that apparently include (!!!!!!) morning dew orchid, West Indian mandarin tree blossom; melati blossom; high altitude laurel; Chinese golden magnolia and ‘Hawaiian wedding blossom’… ) ha!
– and it all just smells lovely, especially in small doses from a distance. Really. Under the complex beginning of the scent there are no woods, or musks, or any other bother, and once the initial, rather heady (and very Lauder) top accord dissipates, you are left with nothing more than a beautiful, very chemical trail of flowers and skin scent that screams
I AM HAPPY!!
I HAVE NO PSYCHOLOGICAL GLITCHES!
I AM BALANCED, FOCUSED AND HAVE NO INTESTINES!!!
I can imagine that there are people reading this who have direct experience of this fragrance, either from wearing it themselves or smelling it on colleagues at work, and I would love to know your thoughts on the subject. Admittedly, the scent is extraordinarily conservative, safe, almost monstrously synthetic, and easy to hate if you prefer the more inner-thigh fragrances. But for me, after a long hot shower, and worn with a clean white shirt, there is, it pains me to admit, nothing better for work. It suits my Japanese olfactory double life perfectly and would probably be in my own top ten of day scents, if it didn’t, unfortunately, cause me such excruciating migraines. As in, full, back of the head pulsating agony. Pierced cranium shootings. I got through at least five bottles of the stuff in my time before I finally realized that it was poisoning me, perhaps literally (I saw an internet article about Happy which was very alarming, but it is not my aim to be libellous, so I might save that for another time……)
Despite its hazardous nature though, Happy is, in my view, when all is said and done, a small work of quite original genius from certain standpoints – few perfumes have gained as many compliments from Japanese people on me (honestly: can you believe I am even writing this?): girls at school literally following me down the corridor crooning about how beautiful I smelled (“flower! Flower!”). I have to say then, that ultimately, this toxic, insidious beauty is something of a classic, if a dangerous one.
I wonder if Lisa or whatever her name was, somewhere across the Pacific ocean, still wears it when she goes out at night: strutting the Dallas boulevards in her shorts, blouses and clean-pressed whites, trailing Happy, punching strangers in the face.
For more on Happy, see my post on my strange, schizoid perfumed life here: ‘Jekyll and Hyde and the colognes of Gandini…’
I had an interesting sensory experience with this.
I was at a New Year’s party, in a fantastic Barbican flat with great view over the London midnight fireworks.
The hosts had cooked a wonderful roast venison, and the air was replete with the warm, woozy smells of the Christmas period and the first few guests intermingling over wine.
And then the host’s daughter walked in and sucked the life from the room.
At first, I didn’t notice the slow changes taking place as the fragrance spread, but then I realized that I was starting to feel depressed and that, like the aluminium flakes used to soak up raincloads, something was happening to the atmosphere: a dessicating, chemical dry-out that sapped all the colours and moods and replaced them with something…horrible, artificial, almost….deadly.
I felt like I had been transported to an airtight departure gate with grey plastic chairs.
Or was it a car showroom?
I could taste it in my mouth: thin, harsh, lemonic metal; my serotonin dipping, my good mood draining from my pores…
And then I realized it was the the scent this girl was wearing; so I asked her, and she told me:
‘Oh, it’s Happy, For Men.’
Perfumer Mark Buxton, famous for his iconic creations for Comme Des Garçons and other houses, released an eponymous collection of scents last year comprising five striking, idiosyncratic creations that, surprisingly, despite their innovations, don’t seem to have been much written about.
I quite like them. Each perfume in this collection is pared down, simple, but plush and striking, and although the names of the perfumes might put us in mind of horror films, the morbid, and the ridiculous creations of Black Phoenix Lab, with their constant allusions to the satanic, the scents themselves are anything but. Rather, I find the perfumes to be more like stark, modern, scented novelties: a blast of rhubarb here, of ginger or elderberry there, or of quince, Buxton choosing to overdose on one or two ingredients in each fragrance, an effect that draws and locks you in or leaves you cold depending on your reaction to that particular facet.
Although I tend to prefer more nuanced, extended perfumed stories on the whole, where head notes and heart lead slowly and inexorably to base in a constant play of shifting back scenery and fragments of emotion, sometimes you want something fresh and arresting, and these unfussed creations fit that bill nicely, scents to spray on nonchantly (as you know they are going to work out on the town); quickly check your hair and face, and go out that door to your appointment in the city.
Sleeping With Ghosts (” a fantasy of extreme tenderness”), my own favourite in the collection, may sound daunting and gothic but like all the Mark Buxtons, the name is misleading (or at least playfully titillating): what you might imagine to be an incensey, ghoulish scent in fact a very fruity and vanillic thing that while linear and monothematic, is touching. It is a composition dominated by a sweet, spectral vanilla suggesting poigant memories; a lover’s body that has graced your sheets but has now gone, leaving nothing but the sensation that they are still there… just traces. These are the ghosts that the perfumer seems to be alluding to; those feelings of infatuation, happiness and spontaneity that love and reminiscence evoke, and a sense of yearning for those feelings again come springtime.
If vanilla is custard yellow, this is pink ivory white: pitched higher on the musical scale, creamily fruit-tinged; an insidious, addictive smell that dominates the scent, fused with barely perceptible touches of vetiver leather. The beginning of the perfume is the stage I like the best though, as it is all about the vivacious smells of tagetes, peony flowers and, notably, a very bright and deliciously juicy quince, an unusual note in a perfume and one that works perfectly over the softer notes in the base (which I find less compelling). I keep wanting to rewind back to that salivated beginning.
Rhubarb is another delectable fruit, with its tart, summery tang, and though it is gradually becoming more popular as an ingredient in perfume (especially as used by Jean Claude Ellena in perfumes such as Rose Ikebana, and by Duchaufour in the latest Aedes de Venustas) it has never been used as extravagantly as it has in the curious Devil In Disguise (“the divine wind of danger”).
A gorgeously flamboyant note of rhubarb leaves and neroli is used in this upfront scent, which was apparently inspired by the experience of sitting at a café in Italy and being tantalized, and turned on, by the smell of a woman sitting somewhere out of sight, as Buxton sat with his coffee and dreamed of recreating this feeling in a perfume. The frisson of fruit and carnality works beautifully, though the contrast (some might say the friction) between that mouthwatering opening and the splayed realities of the musky, sandalwood base are something of an acquired taste.
I can imagine this perfume being extraordinarily erotic on the person that can pull it off, actually (go on….) but for me personally the scent’s bridge between head and base could have been fleshed out more. Having said that, the directness and brisk transparence of this formula are a large part of its appeal.
* * *
Once in a while you smell a scent that gives you an unexpected boost of serotonin; a bottled mood-enhancer. Many of the best perfumes are melancholic; you sigh wistfully as vistas and memories open up in your soul and you indulge your inner self; or else they are occasionally pure seduction and you swoon and loll your eyes like a loon. There aren’t that many scents, however, that just make you happy.
Black Angel, which tells the story of the moment when a stunningly beautiful woman suddenly appeared through the dry iced smoke to Mark Buxton in a nightclub, has one of the most immediately uplifting and optimistic top accords I have smelled in years (a racy jasmine and mandarin-infused ginger), capturing, perfectly, the feeling of a night to come; cuba libre in hand – that intoxicating sense of summery anticipation.
Duncan took to it immediately, with its limey disco pulse and internal good-time engines, and has worn it several times out to great effect. The base of the scent is perhaps more generic (a styrax/patchouli/amber accord), merely pleasant where the top is so captivating, but on the whole this perfume works beautifully (I am not sure whether my reaction to that gingery goodness in the head notes is some subjective memory that it re-evokes – possibly a deodorant I loved when I was seventeen?), but it is certainly somehow familiar.
Duncan’s reaction to it, however, shows that ultimately it is the perfume itself (which feels intrinsically heartfelt with its fun, upfront integrity) that is objectively good, much like the other scents in this collection (Wood & Absinthe, a good quality, quite haunting vetiver, and Sexual Healing, an osmanthus/elderberry leather (yes you read that correctly) that I am less keen on but which is certainly interesting).
For a change of scene, and an immediate, and easy blast of the positive, these nice little perfumes work a treat.
It is cold, it is icy, and like many perfume lovers, I cannot only limit myself to the cosy and the spicy in winter: I find myself dreaming of summer, fast forwarding in my mind to that moment in May here (can’t wait) when everything goes ballistically pink and green; an explosion of lush life after the cherry blossom petals get blown and washed away from the trees by the last ferocious squalls of Spring and everything heats up; jungle like; humid, moist and fragrant. Sometimes I just want to branch out, rip myself out of the January mindset and let hot flowers bloom; I find myself dousing my skin in the ylangs and noix de coco that make up a sizeable part of my daily collection; the tuberoses, gardenias, the vanilla and the frangipani. I can’t just remain dormant and docile and huddled and feasting on gingerbread.
So today, though the subject has been done to death by every perfumista under the sun, let’s revel in the alabastrine lust of these floral beauties, let their noxious transulence asphyxiate us with their lone, sensuous purpose…..
EAU DE TUBEREUSE by LE JARDIN RETROUVE
The tuberose is no rose. It is a voluptuary: a night-blooming flower from India and Mexico with white, fleshy petals and a sweet, unavoidably carnal aroma of hot skin and stamens. Victorian girls were forbidden to adorn themselves with tuberose toilet waters for fear they would swoon with certain discomforting thoughts (so difficult to avoid with a scent of such delirious candour), and the classic tuberoses, such as this gorgeous creation by French house Le Jardin Retrouvé ( a perfume I found at the flea market) up the ante of this luscious facet to glorious effect. I am very partial to the billowy soft insinuations of perfumes like the dreamy original Chloë by Karl Lagerfeld, and Tubéreuse is of the same template, only stronger, more lush, more medicinal, more…..tuberose.
CARNAL FLOWER / EDITIONS DE PARFUMS FREDERIC MALLE (2005)
A friend of mine, Yuta, lives down the hill from me in Kamakura with his wife Mikako. She has the most beautiful skin I’ve ever seen: as translucently smooth as white porcelain. One Sunday in spring they came round to the house, and naturally, like all dinner party guests, they had to be found a perfume from the collection. This is usually fairly easy, as I have an idea what people will like and what will suit them. But Mikako wasn’t having any of it. My instincts towards grey-blue iris scents were rebuffed, as were all perfumes over five years old.
Determined, I kept thinking. And then, as I was looking into the living room, my eyes rested on the amaryllis flower that had just bloomed: giant, translucent pale-pink on a milky green-white stem.
‘I think I have found it’, I said.
‘What does it smell like?’ she replied.
‘Like that’, I said, pointing to the plant.
Carnal Flower is very original. Its creators wanted to make a classic perfume that actually resembled the living tuberose but which would be the antithesis to the standard, butter-saturated model set up by Fracas. The project was two years in the making while perfumer Dominique Ropion perfected the formula: a green, petal-centred perfume with florist-fresh top notes – the least sweet of the genre. It is a very unusual fragrance, like watching a plant growing in a sealed-off white laboratory. Crushed stems and eucalyptus leaves begin the scent, over light floral essences (jasmine, ylang), cradling the highest percentage of natural tuberose absolute used in any perfume (hence its rather extravagant price.) On me it smells wrong, but on Mikako, with her cool white skin, incredible. The coconut-milk/white musk finish, the tuberose stems, the green leaves, turned her quite simply into a cold, living flower.
FRACAS / ROBERT PIGUET (1948)
Mention tuberose and most perfume lovers immediately think of Fracas, the benchmark to which all others of the type must match. A dense and potent woody floral with blasts of the most flamboyant white flowers, this is a perfume for women who like to make an entrance.
The bottle in my own collection was given to me by a friend, who in turn was given it by the late Isabella Blow, doyenne of fashion and extravagant headwear, muse of Philip Treacy, and stolid socialite of the art and fashion world. She wore so much Fracas, and carried so many little bottles about with her, that she could just hand out the perfume like sweets. Wherever Isabella Blow went, so did Fracas; to the extent that for her friends, the smell was her (isn’t that what we all secretly want from a scent?). At her funeral in September 2007, the air was ‘redolent with the scent of Fracas’, according to the Guardian, Alexander Mcqueen having decided to scent the air with her presence.
Though Ms Blow’s signature, Fracas is the preferred scent of many a diva and always has been. It is gorgeous, headstrong and sexy, which is perhaps why it is also loved by Madonna. In the Reinvention Tour documentary ‘I’m going to tell you a secret’, the singer is seen backstage, flustered and sweaty, liberally spraying her Rococo pink corset with what she refers to as her ‘Italian whore’s bath’. A huge bottle of Fracas stands in pride of place in front of her dressing room mirror.
TUBEREUSE / CARON (2003)
While some tuberose perfumes verge on sickly sweet (Versace Blonde I am talking to you….) Caron judiciously allows the full sensual bloom of this flower to open without letting it cloy, tempering the florality with a delicious, creamy base; just a hint of truffle-like darkness. The result is a supremely wearable tuberose; delicate, beguiling, with an underlying texture of cool, white leather, and one I would wholeheartedly recommend for the true tuberose lover who wants to keep it close. Possibly my favourite.
TUBEREUSE CRIMINELLE / SERGE LUTENS (1998)
Until Carnal Flower came along, it was this cult creation by Serge Lutens and his wildly talented perfumer Christopher Sheldrake that had taken the crown of ‘most original tuberose’, principally due to a medicinal note of wintergreen that braced the florid top note with a shocking sensation of gasoline, rubber and Vicks Vapour rub. This highly unconventional (‘criminal’) beginning you either endure patiently because you love the beautifully petalled, fresh tuberose flowers that await beneath, or it is the principle reason you are obsessed with the perfume. I personally love it in all its perverse, ugly-beautiful glory, but understandably there are many who don’t.
MICHAEL KORS / MICHAEL KORS (2000)
Sharpness of metal: a glinting blade slices clean through ripe, lustrous tuberose flowers to a backdrop of blue lagoon. The sky is brilliant. A fresh, watery accord of flowers cuts the air, leaving a sensuous trail in its wake. A vivid, widescreen floral: notes of fresh tuberose, ‘dewy freesia’, and ‘white wings peony’, with an interesting twist of tamarind for piquancy. It is this more androgynous note, contrasting with the sweet wetness of the tuberose, that gives the perfume its character.
A future flower is on the screen, sharp focus: near enough, almost, to make you wince. A new tuberose: shot; cut; frozen in time. And there the image stays, on pause; for this perfume is unchanging. What you see is what you get with Michael Kors. It is modern, sexy, but not up too close: I prefer the outer limits of its aura, meant to draw you up in as it tingles the air. Though not devoid of tenderness, there is perhaps too much harshness, as though the tuberose were revealing truer, chillier colours.