Monthly Archives: April 2013

………..GREY VELVET: POIVRE SAMARCANDE by Hermès (2004)

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Recently we looked at Terre D’Hermès, the magically disappearing/reappearing masculine sensation by Hermès in-house alchemist Jean Claude Ellena.

 

This curious olfactory phenomenon, whereby a fragrance seems to have vanished entirely, only to sneak up behind you in great clouds of secrecy, and which I believe is unique to this perfumer alone, is not, however, limited to the ubiquitous Terre. It is even more impressive in the underrated, Houdini-esque Poivre Samarcande from the Hermessence Collection: a broody, peppery moss and spice scent that is invisible, almost, on first application, yet will suddenly surrender its dark grey velvet cloaks in the night like the Hooded Claw, revealing a troubling heart that can be smelled from the other side of the street – just not necessarily by the person that is wearing it.

 

 

 

 

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One of Duncan’s Holy Grails, Poivre Samarcande is almost too dastardly suave, dry and sexy for me ( I never like the feeling of being reeled in, and this perfume for me has ‘sly, elegant beast undercover’ written all over it….  ): the Chinese mosses, bone dry cedar, and chilli peppers brook no softness, no sweetness; the river-pebble wateriness of the peppercorn-drenched opening a precursor of nothing other than a strangely cold, yet fiery and emboldening GREY (for me this is by the far the greyest/grayest scent ever made: mean, stone-laden eros-fruit for the flies….)

 

 

 

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Although, like many other people who have tried this scent, I was initially dismissive, I was to realize its perversely understated power the first time we were in Berlin (where, plot reveal, we actually have an apartment…….) We had entered a bar, the dingy but refreshingly unfashionable ‘Tramps’ if I remember correctly:  a motley, ancient venue full of gay bikers in leather, worse-for-wear Otto Dix decadents, and other, trashed, and generally hors de la société types, and were standing by the counter ordering a Flensburger Pils or two when some people sitting in the corner, several metres away from where we were, approached us uncoyly to ask us what that incredible perfume was. Flattered they were enjoying my duft ( Montale Aoud Lime ) I proffered myself for inspection but was rudely scoffed away immediately. It was Duncan who was flaming up the moths from afar, and it happened again later that same night in the street, a stranger coming up to us from behind and asking the same question – what is that unbelievable smell…….?

 

 

If there were ever a (wo)man magnet then, and you seek the quiet, non-vulgar fire of the held-in, dignified seductor, a perfume that is simple, cool, yet deadly, then Poivre Samarande, one of Hermès’ most secretive, effective stealth weapons, is surely it.

 

 

 

 

Notes: black pepper, chilli pepper, paprika, cumin, Chinese moss, cedarwood, and, possibly, leather.

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MITT, now you GIT on down to New Orleans right NOW and take out that MAN!!!!! I MEAN it!!!!!! (Senso, by Ungaro, 1991)

IN THE SPIRIT OF RAINBOW PRIDE TODAY, PERHAPS MY MOST ‘COLOURFUL’ POST…..WRITTEN ON THE DAY THAT THE VILE MITT ROMNEY WAS DEFEATED…..

The Black Narcissus

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Today I expect there will be a good few Republican vixens despairing across America with something like the facial expressions above. Tearing their teased, well-groomed hair in their master suites at the mere mention of their taxes being increased, their wealth being siphoned off by those hordes, now with health care and no longer dying in the streets, edging ever closer, and blacker, to their white-gated paradises….

 

 

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The first time I ever smelled Senso, I thought ‘Marietta’. Marietta: screeching, taloned harridan in her Texas satin dress, Lula’s hit-man devouring mother in Wild at Heart – David Lynch’s kaleidoscopic mash up of The Wizard of Oz and the classic road movie that mythologized the beauties and horrors of America,  all captured brilliantly in Diane Ladd’s interpretation of the gorgon, man-chewing  blonde: a matriarch who’d slit your throat at the flick of a…

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Party girl : LOU LOU by CACHAREL (1987)

 

 

 

… Because I am SERIOUSLY into this again at the moment.

 

Olivia, at least I know that you understand…..

 

The Black Narcissus

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‘Pandora’s Box’, a silent film from 1929, stars Louise Brooks in the role of Lulu: a ravenous, naughty fille fatale who leads all those who fall for her irresistible charms to catastrophic ends. That is, until she herself tumbles into the greedy hands of one Jack The Ripper – and we all know what happens next.

This lithe, luscious character was supposedly the inspiration behind Cacharel’s oozy ’87 blockbuster, Loulou, a fragrance that made no effort whatsoever with restraint (some might say taste, either): a thick, gorgeous, but airless block of scent by the creator of Obsession – that other 80’s, giantesque sex kitten which it resembles like some exotic, Polynesian cousin.

On the right girl, however, (and strangely enough, on me), Loulou is simply one of the most instantly feel-good perfumed things that there is: fun, disinhibiting, and gleefully sexy.

 

The perfume’s addictive, shock-sweet main melody is…

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FELL IN LOVE WITH A MANGO…..BOMBAY BLING by Neela Vermeire Creations (2011) + MANGO MANGA by Montale (2005)

STILL FEELIN FRUITY

The Black Narcissus

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A mango in Japan will cost you around 4000 yen. That’s fifty US dollars, or about 32 pounds Sterling at today’s exchange rate, and even then it will often be somewhat tarnished in its journey from Narita airport; small, sometimes stringy, a bit unfulfilling. While it’s true that these days, now the Japanese economy is supposedly in a state of permanent stagnation, and deflation the norm, mangoes do pop up more cheaply at certain fruit and vegetable shops, sometimes as ‘little’ as 700 yen,  the fruit, over here, remains a rarified exotic animal: clothed in a dainty little polystyrene protective hair net to lessen bruising, looking out in cold solitary confinement from the shelves of the fancier supermarkets.

 

 

 

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I had never even eaten a mango until I came here, as the fruit just did not feature in my childhood nutrition…

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I WAS ABDUCTED BY A GIANT LYCHEE SPACESHIP: CHAMPAGNE by YVES SAINT LAURENT (1991)

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It’s Sunday, and I’m off to the flea market in Shinagawa, Tokyo.

The flea market, where I have had such days of  excitement at finding prize vintage specimens that I thought my head would blow off: other Sundays when I come back emptyhanded; and then others with just some old miniature bottle or other that nevertheless  yields me pleasure.

I always love going there in case, and never feel less than brimming as I enter that space, with all the stalls and the endless possibilities………….

Over the years, despite some unbelievable bargains, I must have spent a fortune: I am extravagant by nature, and can barely hold back; but I do sometimes have brakes, just about; and a more fiscally conservative side of me can kick in occasionally when I just say NO.

But when you find an extraordinary bargain, but for whatever reason don’t buy it, the…

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PIU BELLODGIA + MY YLANG by CARON (2013)

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You cannot envy Richard Fraysse, head perfumer at Caron. Much maligned by perfume lovers for his reformulations of the Caron classics (whether in an attempt to bring them into line with modern sensibilities, to match IFRA regulations, or to bring the price of the formulas down for the pleasure of his accountants I couldn’t say), but in any case his strikes me as being  something of a lose-lose situation. Caron is in a funny position: revered, adored, yet with little consistency. The new perfumes are rightfully scorned (Yuzu Man? Miss Caron? I think not…), and when the perfumes you think you are buying are not what you hoped they would be, you know that with Caron, every perfume is something of a precarious risk.

 

Though I often think the rumours of total and disastrous reformulation are exaggerated, I have myself owned and been highly disappointed by certain contemporary versions of classic ‘Carons’  (Poivre, Nocturnes), then, conversely,  found myself ogling at, and spraying on, the urn perfumes in Fortnum & Mason,  finding many of them strange,  glorious and in perfectly good condition. That name, ‘Caron’, still has so much cachet and appeal for me, and I can’t help hoping against hope that Mr Fraysse will, one day, somehow again deliver the goods.

 

 

Bellodgia, the legendary perfume Caron originally released in 1927, was/is a spicy, musky, creamy and very emotional oeillet soliflore that enfolded cloves and thick, cinnamon-embalmed carnation petals in quilts of roses, jasmine and musks, and it is yet another well-loved classic from the house that I have in the original perfume extract. She is, to me, the Grand Duchess of carnations, this Bellodgia:  vulnerably bosomed, sensitive, and hopelessly, almost embarrassingly, romantic. But she is also rather old-fashioned, and Più Bellodgia ( a play on the Italian words più bello, meaning ‘more beautiful’), is a decent attempt to bring the carnationy rose template back to the modern palate.

 

Like Serge Lutens’ unpopular Vitriol D’Oeillet, which it resembles in some ways,  Più Bellodgia is boldly enlivened and refreshed with the rosey, pink-peppered top notes we have come to anticipate in many contemporary feminines, and this stage of the fragrance, I have to say, is my least favourite. However, the more sprightly headrush of the top notes lead the perfume into more zested territory that does, basically, work: Più Bellodgia has more spine than its osteoporotic predecessor (the original Bellodgia was always so cushioned I thought), so this is not, necessarily, a bad thing.

 

The good news for Bellodgia lovers is that the original formula has not been eviscerated: the essential structure of carnation, clove, cinnamon, rose/jasmine and cedar wood musk is intact, the spices just that little bit spicier, the aura brighter but essentially unchanged. She may not be more beautiful, but the Grand Duchess’ great niece is still vivacious and alive, inclined towards the classically Parisian, and she has certainly not disgraced her family.

 

 

 

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Ylang Ylang is one of my very favourite essential oils, and I get through bottles and bottles of it each year. It arouses me, lifts me, tropicalizes my senses, and in our sadly aborted mission to Madagascar, originally set for August, part of the itinerary was to have been a trip to ylang ylang distillery on the famed perfumed isle of Nosy Bé. To have seen those flowers: picked, distilled and bottled, would have been as exciting to me as encountering the vanilla we were specifically going to Madagascar to see……I love it: more than jasmine, gardenia, even possibly tuberose…for me, though it is cheaper and more readily available, ylang ylang is intoxicating.

 

Call me crazy but I have even drunk ylang ylang essence. I had read somewhere that one drop in a bottle of champagne was a dizzying experience, and, when I tried it one summer evening, it was. The giddiness was doubled, my nerve endings delighted.

Hiccuppy ylang ylang kisses…..

 

 

Sadly, Caron’s My Ylang has none of this. In fact, perhaps unbelievably, I can’t really think of anything to say about it. I have tried the perfume four or five times, but it makes almost no impression. Supposedly a ‘luminous, powdery floral’, with top notes of cassis and mandarin layered over a green muguet/jasmine accord and (practically undetectable) ylang ylang with a light base of green vanilla and woods, it is pleasant enough in a nineties sort of way: a light, greenish floriental, a bit going-outish, not entirely unsexy, but without any real draw to actually make you want to re-smell it. The only perfumes I can think of that it vaguely reminds me of are two obscure scents whose own characters were never very clearly defined either: Jean Claude Ellena’s mix-everything-in-blender leaf-floral Miss Arpels, and Guerlain’s weird, tea-ish floriental Secret Intention. It smells nice enough, and My Ylang is certainly not bad exactly, but it certainly is a slightly baffling release (I am not really sure who is going to buy it.) If you try it and it does make sense to you, do please enlighten me on how to approach it.

 

In the meantime, Your Ylang should, if do you like this flower, come in the form of Parfumerie Generale’s lovely tropical sundress Ylang Ivohibe; Calice Becker’s new perfume for Oscar De La Renta Mi Corazon (similar to By Kilian’s Beyond Love, but with a shirtier, ylang ylang twist), or, my personal favourite, the blasé, vogue-reading-girl-on-a-summer-beach, sun kissed caress of Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Ylang Vanille, a perfume I use by the bucketload when the season is right.  I have also heard amazing things about Micallef’s exotic Ylang In Gold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS

There is also, apparently, a remake of Caron’s classic Nocturnes (1981) which has just been released.

The original, an aldehydic mandarin/stephanotis/vetiver/vanilla, is by far my favourite Caron to wear on myself (you should smell the base notes on a winter’s morning, glinting and magical as crystalline sunlight on snow), though (un)fortunately this wasn’t included in the package of samples I received. I wonder what they have done with that one; perhaps it is better I don’t smell it……

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THE GOOD BOY: HERMESSENCE VETIVER TONKA + ROSE IKEBANA by HERMES (2004)

To continue the topic of my neuroses, perfumes, and Japan….

The Black Narcissus

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Monday, November 5th: I have just come back from my piano lesson with Ms Tanaka. Today we were tackling a Schubert sonata, and I had my first introduction to Rachmaninov in the form of an Etude ( I am constantly playing Debussy and Ravel and we both felt it was time for a change). Ms Tanaka is hilarious, and the perfect piano teacher for me – she really knows what she is doing, but is so eccentric and over the top that we spend half the time laughing: her mix of deep respect for the classical composers, but irreverence to life in general, plus her appearance (something like a combination of Les Dawson and Brian May from Queen, with black frizzle perm and bright red lipstick) make these Monday lessons a lot of fun indeed. Plus she only lives a minute from my house, which for this lazy creature is…

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