Monthly Archives: June 2013

HOT!!! : CUBA by Czech & Speake (2002)

The Black Narcissus

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Decaying, plant-straggled Spanish houses falling into dereliction;  old  banged up cadillacs roaming the streets; rum, cigars; geckos; the music –  I have never been to Havana but would love to, as I imagine I would be in my element…..

 

Sometimes perfumers are given briefs in which they are asked to try to conjure up specific places (YSL’s Paris; Biagiotti’s Roma; Kenzo’s Tokyo, the entire Bond No 9 range, geared to capturing every nook and cranny of New York), and any scent attempting to convey a sense of Cuba will have to incorporate the torrid generalities that the popular imagination associates with the place. For most, Havana is surely all about smoky dance halls and sultry locals; that curious contradiction of control, extroversion and unrepressed repression, that energy  (which, incidentally, dazzled my parents when they went there a few years ago to celebrate my father’s successful operation…

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He drifted off, blissfully, in the sand……………..SUMMER by KENZO (2005)

 

 

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Kenzo is a fashion house I can’t help but enjoy: a (privileged, expensive) refuge from reality that combines a precise, childlike Japanese aesthetic with a vivid, jungled, ‘ethnic’ spectrum: an idealized,  Franco-Japponic, rainforest-batik world of colour. On occasion I go to their shop in Aoyama, Tokyo, just for a quick Kenzo fix ( love how they print flowers), and to consider the possibility of buying one of their leafy, kookaburra neckties. Eye-catching, lush, is the way I would describe the brand.

 

 

 

 

There is also something quite artificial about Kenzo: it’s ‘le monde est beau’ mantra, its smooth, plastic, futuristic packaging; those poppies, ubiquitous, trapped in their eye-brimming plastic towers – but somehow, on the whole, it all works. Many of the perfumes in Kenzo’s range, whether discontinued or not (Le Tigre, L’Elephant, Kashâya, Parfum D’Eté) are good: pleasing little concepts of scent and visuals that are very neatly, appealingly, packaged. 

 

 

 

Like the magnificent Kenzo Pour Homme (one of my favourite summer fragrances of all time), Kenzo Summer is deliciously evocative of this season, and on first spray brought back to me a delirious myriad of photographic images of childhood holidays, flashing by in my mind in rapid, emotive succession: the unfamiliar yet comforting scent of a rented chalet’s bedclothes next to sunkissed skin after a day by the sea: my father asleep on a beach towel in the evening sun; flickering white and yellow light behind closed eyes as the waves crash on the shore and you slumber, beneficently, in that oceanic, dreamy limbo-land between sandy, sun-lidded consciousness, and shaded, cavernous more watery underworlds.  

 

 

 

I don’t know how the perfumer (Alberto Morillas) achieved this estival feat, but it is all really rather clever. While the scent does contain an odd jarring synthetic, soapy note initially, this can be quickly forgiven, as from the start the scent is so extraordinarily cheering; the loveliest, yellowest, looming mimosa flowers cut through with a bladed breeze of leaf-green grass;  a skin-caressing scent of sweet almond milk and sunscreen that softens, then, to a delicious, lingering, note of airy, care-free, sun-filled afternoons.

 

 

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a flash of fruit and the night was mine………….BLACK ANGEL, DEVIL IN DISGUISE and SLEEPING WITH GHOSTS by MARK BUXTON (2012)

BLACK ANGEL WAS THE PERFUME THAT DUNCAN CHOSE THE OTHER NIGHT FOR OUR CHAMELEON PARTY, AND ONE GUEST, ALEX, WAS TOTALLY BOWLED OVER BY IT:

‘what IS that perfume, i could could (expletive) whoever it is right on the spot………… (always a good sign that a perfume is kind of working…).

The Black Narcissus

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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…

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MOOD KILLER: : : : : HAPPY for men BY CLINIQUE (1999)

It’s a Wednesday after all.

The Black Narcissus

 

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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…

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GREEN DAY: What is cool and refreshing on a hot afternoon? (starring OMBRE HYACINTH by TOM FORD, from the JARDIN NOIR COLLECTION (2012))

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It is getting hotter and hotter.

 

My strangely lizard-like constitution, though, is just warming up in this gorgeous mid July sun, and though people around me are huffing and puffing in the sun, I myself usually feel healthier, incubated, and more alive, in temperatures around 26-30 degrees ( it is not until the full endangering swamp of Japanese August  – 34 and higher, with about 95% humidity, as though life had somehow become a permanent sauna –  that I start to feel a bit debilitated).  Even so, this hot and humid weather needs fresh fragrances, be they light tropicalia; citruses, or the icy, transient leaf florals that take you down a notch, allow you to float more serenely in a poetic envelope of Cocteau Twins blue-green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ombre De Hyacinth is a perfume I first tried this last year in Barcelona, which happened to be going through an August heatwave (one local told me it was the hottest she had ever known it to be), and, heat lover though I am, I must admit to having a multidimensional  meltdown outside the Sagrada Familia where I literally overheated, was panicking and barking at Duncan and his parents and had to run into a cheap dollar store to buy hideously unfashionable and unwearable shorts, tank-top and flip flops in a maniacal attempt to cool dow – – –  style had to be immediately sacrificed, or I was about to become human casserole….

 

 

 

 

 

I remember later that evening, after a long shower at the apartment we were staying in, pre-Las Ramblas stroll, I decided, as a change, to try Tom Ford Ombre Hyacinth, part of the Jardin Noir collection that I had bought along with me in my suitcase, and I found to my surprise that I really loved the bluey-green blast of hyacinths and galbanum in the top. Like everyone else who has reviewed this perfume, though, I was disappointed by what happened next; a kind of generic, soapy musk that appears fairly quickly after the gorgeous, realistic jacinthes have faded, and lingers for hours, especially on clothes; I remember feeling quite irritated all evening by how I was smelling; a man with no balls, a wimpy, floral cop out.

 

 

 

Yesterday, however, for some reason it was much more enjoyable. The top accord (hyacinth, violet leaf, galbanum, olibanum and magnolia petals) was even more appealing, with an almost netherworldly pull into arcadian groves that at that particular moment was a very real, private, escape; as though I were slightly in a different dimension to the street I was walking along ( I have long adored hyacinths and had a whole rapturous ode to them planned  this spring but it somehow passed me by…it will have to wait until next year instead now…..Borsari Jacinto! Grand Amour! Chamade!!)

 

 

 

 

This perfume is no Chamade, of course but then nothing could (or should) be; it is a hyacinth more akin to Serge Lutens’ savon metallique Bas De Soie, but rather than a duet with iris, the hyacinth here is all hyacinth, so green and blue, so refreshing. Yes, the base is a nothing, but yesterday it was a nothing, a blank canvas of forget-me-not blue that surrounded me in a way that felt quite pleasant, unassailable…

 

 

 

 

 

A true perfumist needs scents for every eventuality, every last craving mood, and you know what, I think I might have to save up and buy this just for the knowledge that on a hot, grimy day, it is there, waiting for me if I need it:  that I can then shower up, spray on this, and enter my own solitary, cooled down, Grecian dreamscape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SILENCES by JACOMO (1978)

 

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With its acerbic fuselage of sharp, gleaming galbanum; bergamot, leaf notes and blue hyacinth; an unsentimental floral heart of narcissus and cassia, and a dry, resinous, woody base, Silences is both sexed and restrained;  attractive and scary, an almost callous scent, bitchy even, despite its cool, midnight vulnerability.

 

 

I always imagined Silences on a jaded Japanese ‘hostess’ of the eighties, reclining on the black velour banquette of a nightclub in Ginza, scrutinizing you as you pass her doorway, eyes meeting yours, not shrinking from your gaze. A shrewd, black cat on the surface; in reality nervous, tender, wanting you to look deeper.

 

 

This is the house of Jacomo’s keeper, its classic, and is still sold in France, or at least it was the last time I was in Paris. Often compared to Chanel N°19, another angular, no-nonsense, green-woody floral, I find that the Chanel – more powdery, complex and beautiful ultimately – wilts nonetheless in the presence of Silences, which is more bolstered, pared-down, eye-on-the-game.

 

 

Curiously affecting on the right person, Silences, with its minimalist, verdant breaths of flowers and resin, its shiver of night garden, catches your brain with a wordless immediacy: digs her talons in with a simple, mesmerizing chord structure;  fixes you with her stare;  kisses you, and never lets go. 

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A kind of innocence: CAMELIA IRIS by E COUDRAY (1946)

 

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In the notorious district of Shinjuku Nichome there are small, intimate underground venues that stage the most elaborate and effective Tokyo drag. In a recent springtime revue there were two creatures of exquisite, quivering femininity:  with great poignance in his generous figure and high shoes, the star and his partner entered, having shivered outside in the cold until the right moment had come. They really were the most delicate ladies in their white and red polka satin sixties dresses, and when they came in, the air was filled with a beautiful cotton white lightness of clean fresh spring petals that in the context (fat, hairy men) was troubling, yet touching.   

 

At the Shinagawa fleamarket the next day by some strange coincidence I was astonished to come across a graceful perfume that seemed to possess this exact same quality, almost as if this had been the perfume of the night before (a scent I hadn’t been able to identify) : the little known, and slightly difficult to find, E Coudray’s Camélia Iris. This perfume (originally from 1946) is a curiously haunting spring floral with a delicate whiff of confectionery:  virginal; evasive, like a celestial magnolia soap.

 

 

 

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