Monthly Archives: April 2013

SCENTLESS IN JAPAN (or, why my life here is like a fragranced Jekyll and Hyde)+ THE COLOGNES OF GANDINI

The Black Narcissus

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I haven’t yet written about the strange double olfactory life I lead in Japan, and plan to do so more extensively at a later date. Suffice it to say that I learned the hard way that the scents I had been wearing to the series of preparatory schools I teach at were utterly incompatible with the delicate smell culture, and nasal apparatus, of all who studied and worked in them. Admittedly, I had not been subtle. In my job prior to this one I had taught doused in Kenzo L’Elephant and Héritage, among others, the orientals I am naturally drawn to, but the sophisticated Yokohama adults I was teaching never seemed to complain (not that Japanese people would….)

It was in teaching kids that I got into trouble. Of course, common sense would dictate that sweet, smothering scents are not suitable for the classroom (and, wait for it,  WE ARE

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I LOVE THE WHITE AZALEAS

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Japan is famous for its cherry blossom. But every year I like it better when the sakura is washed away by spring rain, the warm sun comes, and the walk down the hill is awash with white azaleas.

We talked the other day of the chemical, imaginary scents of poppies and tulips; how they were invented by perfumers for their clients’ prime-targeting briefs of uptown demography: hermetic, fiercely synthetic; uptight, squinting florals with issues.

I leave my living room and my cards sprayed all over with these monstrosities.

I walk down towards the station, ambling, and see to my great satisfaction that they are out (they seem to come out, all of them, simultaneously in great bursts of tumbling, translucent banks…)

How free and pure these azaleas smell: how softly liberating to my senses. I can smell whole other worlds in them as I bury my face in their petals: yes, they do have a perfume, azaleas – though it is not often mentioned –  and it is beauteous. Delicate, nectarous snowbirds: still: transfixing themselves like newborns in the warm ruffling, breeze; shyly, delectably fragrant like shells, whispering the secrets of the sea.

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HOT BANANAS!!!! LADYBOY by GORILLA PERFUMES

SORRY I JUST FELT THE DRUNKEN URGE TO SABOTAGE BORING OLD TERRE D’HERMES WITH LADYBOY. CALL IT GENDER POLITICS

The Black Narcissus

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Greetings everyone and a very happy 2013 to you. Thanks for being part of The Black Narcissus: I am meeting some lovely, really interesting people on here and am very much looking forward to some more exchanges over the next twelve months and beyond. Don’t be shy! Let’s rant, wane and wax together…

I hope you had a lovely Christmas/holiday period and are rested and ready for the new year. Myself, I emerged, reluctantly, from my cocoon yesterday and went off into Tokyo to research vanilla perfumes for my latest Sweet Little Thing guest post over at Olfactoria’s Travels (it will come out on Friday, so please have a look if you are interested in the various discoveries of my bean odyssey). Stopping at Lush in Shinjuku, which was SO packed with people bargain hunting at the sales it almost precipitated a claustrophobic panic attack, I tested their sandalwood-heavy Vanillary…

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CONTRADICTIONS: TERRE D’HERMES / HERMES (2006)

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Minimalist perfumer Jean Claude Ellena really shook up the world of men’s fragrance with this innovative, modern masculine that eschewed the aggro-baiting air of many standard ‘aftershaves’ in favour of something far more interesting and persuasive. Leaving its crude, leering competitors in the dust, it has become something of a modern classic. 

This scent is original in many ways. Firstly, it is made without animal by-products or musk, in fact without any bodied components at all: the scent is virile, but transparent; an animist spirit passing invisibly over forests and rivers. Pine, pepper, and a mineralized accord of flint and grapefruit smell like warm sun on rocks, while the ‘earth’ of the name is a sexually enticing, yet contemporary and elegant, dry, sun-baked cedar/vetiver.

Spatially, Terre is also interesting. The scent seems to do a vanishing trick: on first application it is a refreshing and purifying scent that might seem slight, almost imperceptible. In fact, as the scent unfolds it hovers somewhere in the vicinity of the wearer (rather than on him or her), elegant; seductively aromatic; an effect that is fascinating.

My only gripe with Terre D’Hermès is my feeling that it is one of the most invariable scents I know, smelling almost identical on every person I meet. On men especially,  there is that familiar, that deeply overfamiliar, grapefruit and profound, overstrident vetiver that rises up and announces (the projection of this perfume is unbelievable sometimes, as if someone were wearing it in another room at high dosage); emphatically, that you are wearing TERRE. When a scent becomes fashionable, and is as insistent as this, it is rather easy to get sick of. 

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SHE:;:;:;: LA TULIPE (2010) + INFLORESCENCE by BYREDO (2013)

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It is almost time for the tulips.

 

Tulips: fierce, erect : pushing up through the soil… Solid.

 

Odourless……

 

 

Like Kenzo’s Flower, which it reminds me of in some ways, ‘La Tulipe’ is an imaginary rendering of a flower that in fact has almost no smell (Kenzo’s was the poppy), a concept that gives free rein to the perfumers to construct whatever they like – in this case a light, laundry musk with watery notions of cyclamen and freesia that couldn’t be a safer bet if it tried: no one at the office is going to start asking you to wear less perfume if you have spritzed yourself, unimaginatively, in the morning, with a touch of this.

 

 

Except me that is: the profound conservatism lurking at the heart of this plasticky fleur makes me want to scream….

 

 

 

 

No, I do not like this perfume one iota, but I do love the flowers the perfume is purportedly based on: lipped, springtime emergences of joy  that are also in fact an important motif in one of my favourite novels of all time – Margaret Atwood’s terrifying, and brilliantly prescient Handmaid’s Tale (1985),  in which she writes that

 

 

“the tulips are red, a darker crimson towards the stem; as if they had been cut and are beginning to heal there…”

 

 

Sutured, red spring flowers, emblematizing the handmaids in that futuristic dystopia (which always felt more chillingly possible to me, somehow, than it should), imprisoned for purposes of enforced maternity; clad, like Dutch nuns, in their tulip-like cloistered headdresses.

 

 

 

Inflorescence, another unimpeachably conservative floral from Byredo, is to me also like a form of contemporary,urbanite handmaid.

 

 

A luminous snapshot; a computerized Botticelli, that achieves a scary consummation: I can smell intuitively that this perfume is destined to be a hit.

 

 

 

An almost hysterically hygienic floral, it is the apex of the trend that began with Lancôme’s repugnant Miracle (the only perfume I know that made two female friends physically retch when they smelled it); its imprisoning of woman in extraordinarily artificial, spotless, ‘sanctified’ flowers: stripped of sex, grown in test tubes by fascists in white coats, grinning as they crush the heart’s desires and replace them with gender edicts.

 

 

Like Miracle, Inflorescence has the freshest, lemonest, top notes of the newest daphne flowers and leaves, but then goes far further in its capturing of a particular, youthful virginity with its delicate, lip-pursed white of muguet, freesia, jasmine, and new rose petals, all stitchlessly wedded to that purest of spring flowers – the magnolia;  its majestic, ivory infallibility as it stands creamily erect for those dwindling days it can remain white; the brown rot that will creep through its magnificent petals only a short, mortal time ahead.

 

 

With Inflorescence, there is no rot. There is only a pristinely, rigorously constructed bouquet of ‘vernal’ flowers that will never die, only fade; reprised and re-reprised ad nauseam as it propagates itself tirelessly throughout the city, a perfume that really does reach a particular state of perfection (you will know what I mean the second you smell it), and one that I must admit that in many ways is quite brilliant.

 

 

I cannot imagine a more stainless floral.

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Cherryade and the fluff: G de ROMEO GIGLI (1994) + DIAMONDS AND RUBIES by ELIZABETH TAYLOR (1993)

The Black Narcissus

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Sometimes I wake up and my brain has already, instinctively, reached out for a particular kind of smell: I know upon opening my eyes that only that smell will do. And yesterday it was cherry. Something sweet, light, and fruity. Reminiscent of freshly plucked cherries, the stalks intact, but also that deliciously cheap and artificial, cerise-coloured drink from my childhood: chip-shop cherryade.

I have two scents in my collection that happened to fit the bill perfectly (…the joy of a large collection and being able to pinpoint the specific in mood by reaching into ones cabinets!):  G by Romeo Gigli, an early nineties concoction that fell by the wayside rather quickly (possibly because of its luridly overdesigned harlequin flacon) and Elizabeth Taylor’s cheerful, fulsome Diamonds and Rubies, which I have in perfume extract and which complements the greener, more bracing Gigli perfectly (wearing the rubies on my wrists and…

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

The Black Narcissus

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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…

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