Monthly Archives: May 2013

Sandringham rose : ROYAL ARMS (DIAMOND EDITION) by Floris (1920/2012)

The Black Narcissus

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The house of Floris has released this re-edited eau especially for the queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and as children across the nation dig into  Victoria sponge beneath miles of bunting and fluttering Union Jacks, their mothers, nans, and aunts might fancy a few spritzes of Diamond Edition to get into the regal spirit: an appealing, and very British scent that captures this moment, and the monarch, rather perfectly.

More Lloyd Webber than Britten, the queen’s tastes have always veered more towards the bourgeois than the aristocracy, and this polished scent, of cosseted roses, trellises and perfected bedspreads, is to me like a paen to middle England: a plump, stocky rose that rises above. The pinkest, shiniest, satin cushions rest on freshly embroidered sheets. Pot pourri, in porcelain, lightly scents the air on the dresser, while back notes of ylang ylang, jasmine and tuberose address the floral coronet above (this is very…

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THE BASE NOTES OF BLEU DE CHANEL

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I often hate Wednesdays, and yesterday was no exception. The day started off well; I slept like a log and woke up invigorated;  the sky was blue, if sultry and humid, and I felt kind of in the mood to face my twelve hour day (Wednesdays and Fridays are my killers….)

Walking along in my own world, still half daydreaming, out of the blue…BAM! a woman in her fifties on a motorbike crashed head on into another on a bicycle, ramming into her and throwing her from her bicycle and onto the road, as a car came down the hill. Startled into action by the sudden shock of violence I rushed over to see if they were ok – fortunately the only injury was a cut leg, but both were shaken up and she seemed to be in some pain. Looking at the time I worried I might be late for work, but decided to stay awhile. Perhaps I should have walked her home….

I left the scene adrenalized and disquieted, but what had upset me much more, sent me livid, was the total indifference and inaction of passersby, who did nothing to help, not even a ‘daijobu desuka?‘ –  ‘are you alright?’

Stiff businessmen, just walking by with their briefcases on their way to work, deciding that that it wasn’t worth getting involved with, not worth dipping into, and even the man whose house the accident happened outside of just came out for a moment, disturbed by the noise, took a look, mumbled something, and went back into his house without so much as a word.

I helped the woman with her bicycle, and stayed a while to make sure they were both definitely alright (I left them altercating about whose fault it was, something about shadows or a mirror (‘kage’? ‘kagami’?) , then headed off to the station, fuming wildly at the coldheartness of these middle-aged ‘salarimen’ showing no human feeling, not even expressing anything on their furrowed, ‘dignified’ visages, and then found myself ranting and raving in my teacher training classes like a madman, refusing to talk about anything else until I could at least start to get to the bottom of this callousness (sometimes I am like a volcano, and the magma rises up and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop myself; I even don’t want it to stop, unafraid of the consequences).*

Lunchtime came, and I had an hour to kill, so I went to the local book store that carries all the lowest denominator US and UK gossip magazines: Kim Kashardian (‘is Kanye West really gay?’) and other celebrity slobs I don’t really give a toss about, but sometimes feel a need to connect with anyway (perhaps in moments of deep cultural alienation like yesterday we need to plug into even the most meaningless of baloney if it somehow reminds us of home, not that I really know where home is any more):  lardy dardy, is Katie Holmes just ‘skin and bones’, is Brad Pitt supporting Angelina’s brave decision, let’s move on now to a fashion magazine, ok James Franco, good, and this one has fragrance strips in it as well which I can naughtily rip open (a shifty trick all perfumistas must know – we cannot resist), even though they are all men’s, so guaranteed to be dull doppelgängers that will foul up my mood even more, and yes of course they did, all the same; always the same pattern that I can’t be bothered to even describe because you know that pattern as you have smelled these blends a thousand times yourself. Bleu De Chanel, Salvatore Ferragamo, Armani something or other, dull as dish water, but then I suddenly remembered two weeks ago in Tokyo, when we went to a Eurovision Song Contest party which began at 4am  with a bunch of fun people, and I remember one, an Adam, smelling, yes a bit typical I suppose, but good; attractive; a bit strong, but fully aromatic, with integrity and definite character. I was sat next to him on the sofa for the entirety of the contest as we scored each number, and thus that rounded, warm smell (after all, it was created by Jacques Polge), permeated my memories of that evening completely, most of us conking out on the floor before the awards were even given; and smelling the strip again with that usual sherbety woody ‘sport freshness’ in the top notes, I could still catch some of those memories still, now in my brain fluid, there right down in the base.

I am not sure what the point of all this is, really (has my blog suddenly turned into a banal series of diary entries?). Perhaps I just want to say that even though I am as much of a decrier of boring men’s fragrances as the next art-yearning perfumist, at the same time, I realized that as with almost anything in this life, there is often more than meets the eye; that surface realities most definitely do not always tell us everything.

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* In a very strange moment of synchronicity, after I had just written all this down on a piece of paper at the school I was working at, I reached into my bag and happened to take out this small ‘Etiquette guide To Japan’ book that Duncan had picked up cheaply at some book store, not the kind of thing you think you would need after fifteen years in the country, but it was written by Boye De Mente, an ‘acknowledged authority’ on Japan, whose experiences often chime with my own, but written with the sharp eye of the unemotional, objectivity-driven, anthropologist. A complete Japanophile (like me to a very large extent: this place has made me; I love it; it goes deep; it is mysterious, beautiful, maddening, intoxicating, dream-like), but like me, he is also nevertheless crystal clear in his analysis of its negative points, at least from the typical western perspective.  And in some peculiar moment of Jungian non-coincidence I happened to just open the book on a page which explained exactly, or at least began to, what had happened to me in the morning.

Before I quote him directly, I just want to preface it by saying that I hope it goes without saying that am uncomfortable with any kind of racial or cultural stereotyping, especially when I know so many excellent Japanese people and you reading this may not know what I do about the country and thus get overly negative impressions ( I am very protective of Japan in many ways); and yet, the culture of ‘being Japanese’ is SO PERMEATING in this homogenous, sealed-off-for-centuries land (there are even countless, self-serving and to my view, almost racist, books on ‘nihonjinron’ – or theories on why Japanese are so unique – which are apparently eagerly consumed by a lot of people here): the country is utterly obsessed with itself, with the fact of being Japanese, that there undoubtedly are common national traits that Mr De Mente is very adept at describing:

“One of the many puzzling contradictons of the Orient is that the Japanese, internationally renowned for their refined, stylized manners and unfailing courtesy, are also infamous for being rude in public, uncaring about strangers, and heedless of the environment. While Japanese public rudeness and callous attitude towards strangers, which has been exaggerated to some extent, has significantly lessened in recent decades, the concepts of public awareness and concern for outsiders remain relatively undeveloped.

Once again, historical factors explain why the Japanese tend to reject any responsibility for the environment or for strangers. For centuries the focus of responsibility in Japan was extremely narrow and limited to the family, the work group, the village, and the local authority. Each unit of this vertical grouping was exclusive and in competition with every other unit. ….

As Japanese sociologists and management gurus point out, the Japanese work exceptionally well within their own groups, but have little or no affinity for working with other groups or taking individual responsibility for things outside of their immediate work area. Translated into public behaviour, this means most Japanese are inclined to ignore everything and everybody not somehow related to them or their group.”

I gave this passage to a Japanese colleague to read to see if he agreed with this conclusion before writing anything here, and he agreed with it entirely. Also, on the way to the school, an extraordinarily rude woman had pushed me, barging me aside to get off the train with out so much as an excuse me (this is perfectly common, and I won’t repeat what I shouted out after her), but even another Japanese friend told me the other day that she had been on an immensely crowded train (you don’t want to experience a rush hour densha here I tell you:

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there are NO manners, it is all herd, look out for yourself, fuck everybody else – thank god I don’t have to get trains at these times working the hours I do). There was a poor girl who was practically suffocating, and as the doors opened, and the blind work zombies surged forth, she collapsed onto the platform, pale and obviously in trouble, and in a weak voice was saying ” kyukyusha, kyukyusha, get me an ambulance”, but to my friend’s horror and disgust, people just rushed pasther, leaving her lying on the platform. Only Yukari actually stopped what she was doing and went to get the station master.

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” I couldn’t see you……but I could smell you..” (EAU DU SOIR, SISLEY, 1990)

 

 

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I left the house a few minutes before Duncan arrived home last night, but I as I turned the street corner, making my way to start walking the hill down to the station, he suddenly came running after me:

” I couldn’t see you…but I could smell you…..” he said, my dark trails floating all the way from the house on the air – vintage Eau Du Soir by Sisley – the first time I have worn it.

 

I don’t know how he exactly knew it was me (duh you weep en masse) : maybe most other people simply just don’t wear these strong, dramatic scents at such high volume; maybe the spiced, mossy, almost angrily ambered pitchblack rose (peppery, clovey, very arrogant, yet eminently tasteful), is simply not something that anyone else in this neighbourhood would be wearing on a weekday night; perhaps that taut, rich Iberian smell (one of the very darkest of chypres) gave me away, though I think that the two key ingredients in this scent, the Egyptian jasmine absolute and seringa flowers, blended beautifully with that simmering sheen of grapefruit, mandarin orange and spruce, were something atypical for me and not entirely Neilish.

 

I don’t know, I just felt like wearing it, and it felt kind of gorgeous, and very right: that feeling when you are inhaling deep and feeling rather pleased with yourself for having such good taste, very much a case of I AM GOING OUT: I’m going to marry the night. SMELL ME.

 

 

 

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Eau Du Soir is one of the rare perfumes I have bought in contemporary format only to discover the vintage  (black opaque bottle, totally different to the other version with the gold, sculptured lid) much later, indicating that it must have been pretty acceptable in the reformulation for me to fork out my cash for it (the biggest bottle, in one of those guilty splurge purchases from the Takashimaya store in Yokohama, which I then, very soon after, dropped, and smashed, changing for a night out somewhere in a bus station near Tsujido; slipping from my rucksack before my evening artillery, change your clothes, check your hair in the mirror, switch to night mode and spray on your Sisley but then,    NO, suddenly, the sound of thick, shattered perfume bottle glass, the pungent rising of that smell, gone…splashing, gilt, effervescing jasmine patchouli: the moment when your chest stops; clenching yourself in fury and frustration and momentary despair ( I have dropped endless Caron Infinis, a rare Je Reviens, a 28ml N°19 parfum, an Arpège 14ml parfum (the day after reviewing it on here!, see my ‘Gone’ post); smashed two Chanel Pour Monsieurs, one on a train, and the worst, when I was living in Rome, a 600ml bottle of Christian Dior Fahrenheit  –   see it   ahhhhhh…slow motion slip from my and drop,            d   r     o    p   , smash to the bathroom tiles, a pond of gasoline and synthetic violets…   )

 

I was paralyzed ( I can still see it falling), but then, to my shame, but secret glee, marched out and just bought the same bottle again and pretended it hadn’t happened), this all meaning, I suppose, that my ruinated Soir was at least in good company.

 

 

I never got to wear it that much though, obviously,  because of this travesty of non-co-ordination, and was therefore very pleased when I came across a small precious bottle of the vintage (at the you know where), sometime late last year, for virtually nothing.   

 

The key difference I have found in this bottle with the current version I am more familiar with, is the fullness of oakmoss which brings out a more velvet-like texture; prominent and thick in the fundaments of the scent, melded to perfection with the patchouli and jasmine/seringa, it is a sea of midnight black that lasts and lasts, almost verging on overpersistence: the top notes glossier, the florals perhaps richer, and of higher quality, probably, as well, but not, I would say, so different to make you want to throw away your current version. Or smash on a bathroom floor…..

 

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deux parfums de bubblegum……. ENCENS ET BUBBLEGUM by ETAT LIBRE D’ORANGE (2006) + BUBBLEGUM CHIC by HEELEY (2012)

 

 

 

 

 

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Bubblegum is not a flavour that most people want to smell of consciously.

 

Cheeky memories of teenage sass may resurface for a moment, but soon the stronger worries of cheapo and air head will take over, the strawberry novelty quickly bursting its own bubble.

 

Surprisingly though,  both of the perfumes I am writing about today are actually really nice – one fresh and white-floral extrovert, the other mysterious, tender…

 

 

 

 

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Heeley’s grown up, fresh and piquant twang of tuberose and gardenia with citric, jasmine overtones is as bright as a button; falling somewhere between the full, medicinal wintergreen trumpeting of the classic tuberoses and the modern brightness of by Kilian’s Beyond Love or the original Marc Jacobs (all of which of which I love and wear, incidentally).

 

 

While there is no blatant bubblegumness here (though the amalgam of the florals, so out there, full and heady, could from a distance have a certain bubblicious effect), this scent has an upbeat, optimistic freshness and energy. It evokes an assertive and gorgeous woman walking briskly down a street in  New York with a beat in her step, and yes, perhaps even surreptiously chewing some bubblegum.

 

 

She turns a corner, when no one is looking and – pwah! ! – there goes a pink and fruity, gecko-quick balloon….

 

 

 

 

 

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Etat Libre D’Orange’s Encens et Bubblegum could hardly be more different: a curious, delicate cloud of smoke-resting pink that fuses the aqueous, frankincense-infused holy water from the cathedral font with a dusky, fruity-pink haze of something – Madonna perhaps, sunglasses removed slowly, as she enters, furtively, in off the street:  a moment of silent introspection in the house of her former religion.

 

I know for sure that I would have gone for a Madonna theme on smelling this perfume, but, in fact, it turns out presciently that it was directly influenced by Ciccone in any case;  the song Like A Prayer to be precise…..

 

 

 

 

 

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” Before the holy of holies, she genuflects and pops her gum…”

 

 

goes the spiel from this naughty French fragrance house, riffing on sanctity and mischief;  the time ” when transgression is tinted with erotic guilt”, and ” the impish sensuality of her sham innocence takes the upper hand”….. but what I love about this scent personally is its held-backness.

 

You expect something brash and shocking, only to discover a genuinely atmospheric, tender scent that evokes the silence and space of an Italian church on a summer’s day.

 

She may be working her gum, but her defiance is softened for a moment here: for once there is no one watching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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REVOLUTION A VERSAILLES by JEAN DESPREZ (1989)

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It’s strange. Despite the reams that pour out of me on perfume, there are certain scents that I find myself almost unable to write about for fear of not doing them justice. The scents I am talking about are so complex, so ingeniously put together that they rise above the usual analysis and enter into the realm of poetry; beyond the obvious striations of most perfumes and into something tender and eternal.

 

 

These perfume ‘reviews’, which I plan to tackle at some point, but will not  publish unless I feel they have captured, at least a little, of that scent’s essence, will include some of the genius perfumes by Guerlain; Chamade, Apres L’Ondée, and particularly Vol De Nuit; N° 19 by Chanel; some Carons, and, undoubtedly, Jean Desprez’s seminal Bal A Versailles, the richest, most decadent floral amber I have ever smelled and a perfume with one of the best final accords – powdered, voluptuous, living – of all time. I don’t wear the extrait much, but when I do, and only in winter, I plan it with meticulous, military precision; calculating in advance exactly how many hours I need to bring if off perfectly.

 

 

How long in the bath, then how long to let it sit on my skin before the glorious base begins to emerge…….. and I smell, basically, like the ancient God Bacchus.

 

 

Yes, Bal A Versailles is a belovedly notorious animalic in the perfume community, and with good reason. The floral unguents of the heart, fusing immutably with the vanillic resins and animals of the finale, are like nothing else, and the extrait, available quite easily if you look for it, is a cherished trophy of many a true perfume lover. There are very few perfumes, if any at all, that are more resplendent.

 

 

 

 

 

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In 1989 I am not sure if the word ‘flanker’ even existed in perfume talk, but if it did, then Revolution A Versailles, a perfume I knew nothing about but spied at a Berlin antiques market by Schoenberg city hall, would surely have been one.  And a not very special one at that, I am afraid to say, though I do love the bottle and that red target design (sorry if this led you to believe you were about to discover a masterpiece..)

 

 

No, this revolution would not have been televised, though I have to say that I do quite like this perfume; one of those big boned, eighties-opulent affairs, taking some of the ambery base of the original Bal, and layering it with a sandalwoody, plummy, flagrant jasmine and thick rose heart à la Caron Femme, or Jasmin Imperatrice Eugenie by Creed (but not quite as bosomy and ludicrous, but then what could be?), with perhaps some touches of Balenciaga’s more tender and touching amber-rose Prélude.

 

 

 

Revolution A Versailles, in truth,  is  a  touch vulgar, rather brash, even,  but something I would be definitely quite happy to smell on a woman at some high-swinging party; unpretentious, vivacious, full of life

 

 

 

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DEATH IN A GARAGE: Synthetic Series by Comme Des Garçons (2004)

The Black Narcissus

GlassedLip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TAR

A perfume of self-hatred.

For those in any way S+M inclined, or have a gimp, leather, or torture fetish, and have spent a lifetime searching for a corresponding scent, look no further.

This perfume is tar, this is rubber; your face pounded into asphalt and the apparatus waiting; for a night of complex, breathless and painful autoasphyxiation.

I myself wouldn’t touch this in any circumstances, but as a concept, from bottle to scent, and as a just about wearable anti-perfume, it is the best of its type.

Just spray it on the PVC and wait.

 

Notes: town gas, vapours of bitumen, opoponax, grilled cigarettes, pyrogenics.

 

 

GARAGE

 

But you took it too far. Those exhaust fumes, the car oil, the vehicle grease for lube…

And then the rafters. Even you knew there were…

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THREE SHOUTS OF: : : : : JOY by JEAN PATOU (1930) + ODE by GUERLAIN (1955) + SNOB by LE GALION ( 1952)

 

 

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Joy, despite its legendary iconic status as one of the world’s classical grands parfums, is very much an acquired taste.You can lust over this perfume, with its luscious, almost lascivious, natural rose and jasmine essences, its hints of tuberose, aldehydes and pear, then suddenly find it too much – decadent, dirty, with its civet-licked, superb nonchalance.

 

This happened to my mother. A true jasmine lover, of the flowers in her garden, or of the perfumes on her person, she has worn Joy or Eau De Joy (vintage, sent in the post by me), off and on for years, but then recently found that one day that the fragrance suddenly repelled her and that she could no longer wear it. Instead, she has been sticking to her other trusted jasmine consort, First by Van Cleef & Arpels, surely another equally beautiful, jasmined,  orchestral, and vivacious grand parfum if ever there was.

 

 

I myself think that Joy is a difficult perfume to pull off, but if you can, it smells thrilling. When the jasmine in this scent really takes off, on the right skin, it can be dream-inducingly beautiful, dislodging something in your conscious; suggestive, embodied, yet very much in control. Unlike N°5, which almost seems to have been designed with seduction and sexual acquiescence built into its DNA, Joy has a more controlled yet commanding presence that requires a fiercer, more self conscious intelligence.

 

 

The story behind Joy is very well known so I won’t elaborate on it: perfumer Henri Alméras, asked by Patou sidekick and socialite Elsa Maxwell to produce a new, exciting perfume for the house, rose gladly to the challenge to produce, almost vengefully, an ultra expensive formula that he believed would be commercially impossible to tap. Naturally though, the extravagant hedonists loved it, coined the immortal phrase ‘the world’s costliest perfume’ , and Joy went on the market, became a worldwide phenomenon:  a scent, almost,  of discomforting, livid jouissance – a breathing, jasmine bloodstream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Though the house of Guerlain has probably produced more masterpieces than any perfume house on earth, not all of its creations have been true originals. Liù was overtly influenced by Nº5, and Ode, which I have in vintage parfum (400 yen, about 4 dollars, just over two pounds from the flea market one day)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ! ! J  O  Y   ! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ! !   !      !      !     !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ! ! ! )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

is obviously directly modelled on Joy. Here we find the same essences of Rose de Mai and Jasmine de Grasse. There is the musk; the richness, the florality, but its all so very Guerlain; plusher, softer, a bit more ditzy and gullible, but terribly, terribly romantic if you are into that sort of thing. I wore some last night to bed, and though it is not something I would dream of leaving the house in ( I would feel like a fool) the warm, gushing aura it produced –  a perfume of love, and of true, flush-hearted tenderness – made me smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Even more joyous in some ways – spritelier and more exuberant –  is Snob by Le Galion, one of the finest houses to have ever perished in the history of perfumery (their tuberose and jasmine soliflores parfums de toilette are quite simply to die for, so if you ever find them anywhere, at a car boot sale, or online, just trust me and snap them up: I used up mine a long time ago in the summer they were so wearable). These fine perfumes combine lushness with backbone; freshness with chic, and Snob, one of the house’s biggest successes back in the day, is no exception to this rule.

 

 

The Patou Joy template is immediately there from the very first sniff of the top notes (and I read somewhere that Patou tried to halt sales of this perfume in America at the height of its success for that very reason), but you can see quite easily why Snob might rile and upset its predecessor; charming, new, like Ann Baxter edging out Margo Channing in All About Eve…younger and fresher; tauter….

 

 

 

The perfume opens on a Soir De Paris tingling in the top, with singing, tight-budded effects, one eye on the game; jasmine in her hair;breath held in tightly to her ivory, figure-clasping bodice.

 

 

 

While Joy vivaciously presides, and Ode has already passed out on her decanter crystal of shiraz, Snob still sips on her rosé, not even consciously drinking. She is prizing the room, taking it in.  Waiting for that moment when she sees what she is seeking and will suddenly gasp, politely, reform her gaze; and lift her eyes up flutteringly, imploringly, effortlessly  for the kill.

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