Monthly Archives: July 2013

KASHMIRI TEAK: BLACK SAFFRON by BYREDO (2012)

The Black Narcissus

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A person’s reaction to any art form is always highly subjective, and this is especially true of perfume: one man’s Poison really is another man’s cat piss.

And after reading perfume collective Cafleurebon’s recent review of Byredo’s tarry Black Saffron I was amazed :  the talk of soft black violets, dewy crystal roses, and soft, enveloping wisps of Hindi saffron stigmas bore almost no resemblance to my personal experience of this  fragrance, which, while cleverly put together and in some ways obviously attractive, feels to me more like an assault.

I adore saffron, and have an involuntary reflex action whenever I open my little jar of fragrant ochre strands in the kitchen (usually when I make my signature pasta dish of crab and salmon in a white wine saffron tomato and white cabbage sauce): a cross between a groan and a sigh, a slightly…

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BOURGEOIS WITH A TWIST: THE FINE, SWEET, AND DECEPTIVELY CONSERVATIVE FRAGRANCES OF E COUDRAY.

 

 

 

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One early summer afternoon at the end of a certain August, the lovely ladies of Cologne and Cotton, a very nice shop in the Warwickshire town of Royal Leamington Spa, introduced me to their wares.

 

 

Among their thick white towels; triple-milled soaps; the shop’s own range of perfumes (worth looking into), and the embroidered cotton sheets (the blue downy coolness of Wedgewood summer bedrooms) I discovered some intriguing new things. The reassuringly domesticated, soothing air of the shop itself smells lovely enough for a second visit.

 

 

I didn’t actually get to try the samples they gave me at the time properly, though, until I was back in Japan a couple of weeks later, feeling homesick and watching an episode of Inspector Morse (which had come as a freebie with my parents’ Daily Mail): murder and sexual intrigue behind closed doors and twitching curtains of middle class Oxfordshire homes, all to a wonderfully civilized backwash of Bach and Vivaldi.

 

 

It was the perfect backdrop for these pleasant, spritely, home counties scents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GIVRINE (1950/2004)

 

 

The hostess with the mostest.

 

 

Givrine is intensely, shockingly pretty: a modern re-orchestration of a 50’s Coudray creation with a lovely sheen of hesperidic fruit and floral notes, in the brightest, shiniest aldehydes possible, almost maniacally intent on being more immaculately house proud than thou.

 

 

Not a brainwashed housewife though, like some recent releases , because underneath it all is a clever, light, catch-me-if-your-can femininity; a devil-may-care spriteliness that is quite refreshingly sexy.

 

 

It is perfect for feather dusting and other games during your annual spring cleaning.

 

NOTES: Bergamot, kumquat, watermelon, aldehydes.

Peony, lily of the valley. Musk, blond woods.

 

 

AMBRE ET VANILLE (1935)

 

Soft and sweet as a baby’s bum, this fluffy, powdered, honeyed scent is one of the few vanillas I know whose raison d’être is not sex. While still significantly kissable, Ambre et Vanille suggests snug, clean, homes; children tucked in bed, and brand new cotton pyjamas. A perfume for the bathroom dresser or any of your preferred comfort zones, Coudray’s creation is a truly happy scent; sweet, yes; but delectably innocent, gentle and lovely.

 

Head: sweet orange, bitter orange, ylang ylang.

Heart: cinnamon, heliotrope, iris, tonka.

Base: vanilla, amber, patchouli.

 

 

JACINTHE ET ROSE (2003)

Jacinthe Et Rose is a young Emanuelle Béart on a cold April day getting herself ready for a day in Paris: out of bed: rouge à levres, white blouse, tweed suit. The scent is marvellously dualistic: at once crisp, coquettish and innocently flirtatious (a clean, magic note of hyacinth and rose), yet casually sensual in the manner of all the best French perfumes.

Underneath the floral top notes is an earthier, sexy, yet extremely subtle dry down reminiscent of the great No 19 (Chanel), the whole amounting to a beautiful, lithe,  and effortlessly chic young girl. Like all the Coudrays, reasonably priced and probably worth your attention.

 

 

NOTES: Hyacinth, bigarade, peach.

Rose, peony, orange blossom.

Cedar, vetiver, patchouli.

 

 

MUSC ET FRESIA  (2002)

 

Musc et Frésia goes even further in the ‘eternal feminine’: a delicate, delicious concoction of rasperries, freesia and icing sugar, at first as light as a meringue, just as sweet, but with seriously erotic musc-driven undertones. There are few scents around as disingenuously jolie as this: I can seriously imagine it driving someone wild: a crisp and spritely, summery eau de toilette for budding Lolitas, sex-bombs, and pouting mademoiselles, so if you are ‘over the hil’l or you think it is in sight, I would possibly avoid it.

 

On the right temptress, though, regardless of such ageist nonsense, I have the instinctive feeling it might, if you are in the right silly, girly mood, work wonders.

 

Raspberry leaves, freesia, aldehydes.

Cyclamen, lily, muguet.

White leather, teak wood, musk.

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DUMBO DUMBO : L’ELEPHANT by KENZO (1996)

The Black Narcissus

 

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We have been  talking recently about signature scents, whether of Hollywood stars or just ourselves, and this excessive treat by Kenzo, which is still going strong, was definitely one of mine.

 

It is a milestone of sorts: the first ‘women’s’ scent I wore with pride, and also a marker of the first years of my time in Japan, when everything was new, exciting and disorientating and I would return to England periodically laden with incense and stories of my experiences, reeking (no, reeking, really) of L’Eléphant. If there is any scent my friends associate with me, it is probably this flamboyant creation, which somehow, for a while,  suited me perfectly.

 

I even wore it to work all the time, unaware at that point of the suffering I was probably causing……

 

 

One of my nicknames growing up, which…

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KEEPING THE FAITH : On signature scents and ROMA by LAURA BIAGIOTTI (1991)

The Black Narcissus

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Do you have a scent that you have worn for years; one that ‘becomes’ you, that truly suits you, that represents you, that is you?

One that everyone you have ever known associates with you; that, if left lingering in a room conjures you up like a living, disembodied phantom?

 

In other words, your ‘signature’?

 

For most perfumistas, perhaps not. Not just one.

 

I am not sure if even I do, to be honest, as we are promiscuous, and it is difficult for us to remain faithful to only one scent when there are so many temptations out there to make us stray from our betrothed. We are compelled to play the field, sample different lovers….

 

I myself have been wearing scent continuously and obsessively for twenty seven years or more, and there…

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POISON by CHRISTIAN DIOR (1985)

The Black Narcissus

 

 

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There was a time when a new perfume launch by one of the big houses was of great import, the quest for timelessness and fragrant immortality often leading to a greater artistry and perfectionism.  Perfumers pored over, and tweaked their formulae for years until they found that magic formula that sent the nostril hairs and brain filaments zinging with pleasure….

Between 1947 and 1963, Dior released just five perfumes – Miss Dior, Diorama, Eau Fraîche, Diorissimo, and Diorling –  all of which are considered classics. Since then, in a vastly oversaturated market, more than that are often released by one house in one year, mostly forgettable flanker scents that come and go like passing ships in the night, never really getting under your radar. The same cannot be said of the perfume we are looking at today, because despise, love, or merely tolerate it, Poison is most…

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REMIX! remix! ! REMIX! remix! ! ( SHALIMAR PARFUM L’INITIAL L’EAU : GUERLAIN (2012) )

 

            

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Personally, though I adore extended versions of my favourite records, current or otherwise –  12″ remixed dubs with instrumental lengths you can lose yourself in: augmentations, recuttings and reshapings of the songs that can often render them fuller, more personal, with that extra space, the sense that somehow this ‘special mix’ is somehow for you and you alone –  I am rarely impressed with contemporary remixes of old songs: dud, glitchy, shiny remixes made for the chart bitches and ‘gays’; those ‘club’ mixes, harsh and ravagingly in your face, which often just seem so superfluous to me with their fakely embellished, gleaming, chemical architecture; new versions, jazzed up by the latest DJ, that might yes inject new skeleton into a song, but more often than not do away with that song’s essential nature, soft tissue;  its flesh and marrow, in the skinnifying, reappraising, and let’s face it, money-grabbing, commercializing, process.

 

The same of course goes for perfumes. While a ‘digital remaster’ of a perfume, where the internal elements of a scent are polished, strengthened, and ‘expertly reassembled’, can sometimes work out alright (think Jacques Polge and the re-editions of the Chanel classics such as Bois Des Isles and Cuir De Russie (for the Exclusifs) which, while losing a certain emblematic fluffiness, the dusky musks of the times in which they were originally created, achieved a certain shiny clarity that made them feel fresher, more ‘relevant’ –  the dumber, more metallic, and watered down remixes of classics such as Arpège (Eclat D’Arpège), Joy (enJOY), Calèche (Soie De Parfum) and so on, drained; injected, infused with shit, can, to a true perfume aficionado like myself, sometimes feel quite barbarous.

 

Chanel N°5 Eau Première worked beautifully, and I think I in fact prefer that version to the original in some ways (my least favourite version of N°5 has always been the vintage parfum, heretic though that may be, as I just can’t take that persistent, tongue-lolling musk), but I would say that Monsieur Polge’s classy work with that one was something of a fortuitous, skillful anomaly. On the whole, these remixes (wouldn’t you say?) turn out to be just wannabe, tin-eared flops.

 

 

This post is supposed to be about Parfum Initial, anyway, and as I waxed boringly the other day, Shalimar, that deep twenties classic by the beautiful house of Guerlain,  is one of my holy grails. Its final notes on me reach a kind of perfection: essential, an enwrappingly soft, smouldering of leather and vanilla that in winter or summer feels like a second skin, a perfume I go to when I am too lazy to think of anything else, when I am feeling dumb and sexy and ready for a night out somewhere, tight with myself, just ready to smell good and easy.      

 

In all honesty though, one can tire, on occasion, of that top note structure; that heavy dose of skin-burning lemon and bergamot that is interacting, sometimes uneasily, (especially in the current versions), with the flowers and balsams and the animalic castoreum of that base, and which can leave me, on occasion, feeling a bit queasy. I do have bad Shalimar days, when I mourn what has been taken out and wonder what is ‘off’: it is ‘old fashioned’ this perfume; it does have baby powderyish elements, and it most certainly does not, to the young nose about to go out clubbing, smell in the least bit ‘contemporary’.  

 

It is easy to understand therefore why Guerlain should want to remix it up a bit for the next generation, this perfume, to try and conserve their famous cash-cow for just a little bit longer before she runs out, finally,  of cream – mais oui maman, bien sûr que je porterai Shalimar dans l’avenir quand je serai femme – and though I of course myself would never choose ‘Parfum L’Initial L’Eau’ (not exactly a catchy refrain, is it?) over the original – not in a million years – I did find myself buying a bottle of this slimmer, younger, Shalimarish incarnation for a friend of mine’s birthday recently.

 

Having already chosen the discontinued Shalimar Lite for herself already and worn it well,  I knew this scent would work on Nicole, and was pleased to find that I was right. She usually goes for fresh, modern, florals: Pleasures, Marc Jacobs, Dô Son, but as I said, also liked Shalimar Lite – her first foray into orientals I believe – and besides, she found the Parisian frou-frou of the pale pink pom pom on the bottle’s flacon irresistible, as do I, and you know what, that is sometimes almost enough on a mindless day when you are feeling shallow or in the mood for something beguiling and pretty.  And in any case, if you just substitute the lemon of Lite for an acceptably refreshing grapefruit (and add a few ‘fresh florals’,) they are not, really, those two perfumes, all that different. 

 

What I do like about L’Eau is the fact the heart of the perfume really is Shalimar. Those sensual, oriental base notes are all there waiting in the depths of the scent, just ever so slightly attenuated, and with an extra light citrus floral head note that persists into the heart. The modern chorus, that grapefruity, sassier, floral opening (‘freesia’, ‘hyacinth’ ‘muguet’) gives hints of the modern edit, with glintier, synthetizer chords overlapping that classic refrain…….

 

And deep down, though  I  suppose I do aesthetically find the whole exercise in a way quite pointless (because….well why wreck something nice?), as remixes go, this delicately vanilla-tinged floral-lite, aeons away from my own purring Shalimar animal, is kind of interesting in its own way, if only to see how a well loved theme can have so many different variations. The instrumentation may be sharper, the graphic equalizers a bit tinny on the middle and treble, but Shalimar’s song, in this twentyish, lite-weight take, remains, essentially, almost the same. 

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BEAUTIFUL POISONS: FOUR PERFUMES FROM THE EARLY 90’s : Allure, Cabotine, Dolce & Gabbana Pour Femme + Tendre Poison

The Black Narcissus

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The perfumes of the nineties do not have the ‘loud’ reputation of many eighties blockbusters, though this was still a period when the big houses – Dior, Lancôme and so on, still invested a great deal of time and money on development before launching an ‘event’ perfume, and the results were usually equally characterful (which is why all four of the perfumes below are still worn today: will today’s mainstream releases (La Vie Est Belle, anyone?) have similar longevity?

 

 

CABOTINE/ GRES (1990)

I have never liked this perfume personally, while admitting that it is a perfect execution of its obvious ideal – to turn a pale-skinned girl into a flesh and blood (ginger) lily.

It is beautifully done; a host of fresh white florals with green overtures; in essence a ‘soliflore’ ginger lily achieved with other notes, but there is, to me, a false…

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