Right now in Japan the rainy season has come to an abrupt end, the sun is blazing, and the daytime temperatures are hovering around 30 – 34º F.
Lounging about the house or on the balcony I am in my element: I adore the heat and the easy deathlessness of summer, which rather than giving me a sense of depletion as it does for many people here (you should hear the complaining!) gives me fortitude, a feeling of eternity, well being and simple happiness.
Work is a different matter. In suit and tie I am sweating within seconds of leaving the front door: the walk down the hill is unthinkable in these conditions ( I used to do it up until a few years ago, but no longer want the glances of unconcealed dismay emanating from the sweatless, perfectly put-together Japanese ladies as the sweat-drenched gaijin monster boards the train); even waiting for the bus in the direct sun can leave me slightly overheating. At these times, as I am sure you can imagine, I am literally OBSESSED with how I smell.
Constantly paranoid that I stink (lots of people do in this weather: another white guy got on the bus the other day and, well, he clearly wasn’t quite obsessed enough, blimey). I want to smell fresh, I want to smell clean, and if possible I want to smell interesting, even intriguing, but at any rate, after a nice long shower and the experimenting with various shampoos and conditioners for scent-co-ordination, I want to step into my work attire and then be able to SPRITZ myself all over with scents that will be pleasant, refreshing, and if humanly possible, even touch the spirit.
The perfumes, or rather colognes absolues, of the New York-based, and very popular, Atelier Cologne would seem to fit this bill quite nicely; contemporary, crisp-as-an-iceberg lettuce; bracing, well-constructed scents that are guaranteed to make you smell nice, modern, and offend absolutely no-one around you.
They are also, for me, so….how can I put it, New York; so urban-perfected and prescribed; beautiful, in a way, but like the immaculately trimmed beards of the current homo and metrosexual mode so fixed; premeditated, approved. Not a hair out of place; not a hint of roughness or infallibility, nor even vulnerability come to think about it (the best perfumes express something profound, even uncomfortable cracks in your veneer I always think; here, all is faultless and unfaulted as a Manhattan socialite.)
For me, though I know I am thinking way too much about scents that are just supposed to be fresh n’ easy, these populist, hipster spritzes to me personally amount to almost alarming constrictions of the spirit.
While many of the scents I have tried in the range are very pleasant (sometimes extremely so: the top accord of Grand Néroli is almost paradisiacally uplifting, one of the most beautiful citrus orchestrations I have come across in a while, and the initial head notes of Orange Sanguine, innocent, light, are lovely as well: Le Toit De Paris sings with the natural brightness of a brand new day and the soul-snapping vigor of a crisp, newly ironed shirt, the verifications of the shaving ritual, and the optimistic mastery of a new day), the dry downs somehow coagulate for me, snap themselves, adhering, into some kind of self-regulation I am uncomfortable with (I have always been resolutely, almost absurdly non-conformist in many ways) and as the perfumes fall into step on my skin I feel so accepted and ‘well-turned out’ that a tiny inner voice begins in a slow, irritated crescendo, to scream.
There are many ways to do citrus. The hairy, moody grapefruit that is Pamplelune; the elegant, melancholy edge of Hermès Eau D’Orange Verte with its shadowy, bosky bitter orange groves; the taut, sinuous Citron Citron or Petitgrain by Miller Harris, who really knows how to nail a rind; or the celestially bright overture of one of my very favourite citruses, Armani Privé’s Oranger Alhambra, which for me is the zenith of this type, and which Grand Néroli somewhat reminds me of. I adore the scintillating coronets of differing species of citrus doving in and out of white neroli petals, that zing of vernal freshness that cannot fail to lift the spirits, and if I could keep these beginnings (impossible, I know, those citruses will evaporate) I would hand over the spondoolas and get myself a bottle.
What comes next is always crucial with a cologne, though. As I mentioned recently, the old school Guerlain musks in the bases of their citrus colognes repel me, (as in Eau Du Coq and Eau Impériale; I once made a grave mistake in buying Santa Maria Novella’s Acqua Di Sicilia, having been seduced by the brilliance of the citruses in the top, only to recoil in horror at the musks that then evolved; you won’t believe this, but I actually poured it down the sink I hated it so much, just so I could use the lovely bottle for something else). Eau De Fleurs De Cedrat, a gorgeous evocation of citron leaves, has the grace to fade to an eiderdowny, almost imperceptible nothing, and this, to me, is the best of these old school colognes.
Regarding bases, then, Grand Néroli chooses the Route De La Banalité as far as I am concerned. A modern-musky, ‘woodsy’, pale, far too familiar accord that nevertheless outstays its welcome. I cannot walk around for the rest of my day smelling like this. The same is true of Orange Sanguine, which right from the beginning, despite its lovely oranginess, has a particular (nitrile?) musk that slightly bothers me, although trying it again today I am starting to enjoy this one a bit more: there is something airy and benign about it that is quite appealing. Even so, a bum note is a bum note, and these ‘colognes’ most certainly don’t come cheap….
Back in the 90’s for a while I wore Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme, a fresh, tarragon-laced androgynous masculine I quite liked, and I have been smelling its return recently in various fresh and soapy new releases. Le Toit Sous Paris reminds me a bit of the D + G, but lighter, brighter, crisper – a well-executed, if slightly overly chemical, violet-topped spritzer that I can imagine enjoying on someone standing next to me in the morning rush hour, even if I would never for a moment consider it for myself (I would feel as if I were trapped, uncomfortably, in a really tight-clasped, starched, top-buttoned shirt.)
The same goes I’m afraid for Trèfle Pur, which to me smells nothing whatsoever like clover, one of nature’s most adorable smells, but just something generically chemical, soapy and transparent (sorry, I can’t think of a thing to say about it). Unless ‘trèfle’ also means ‘trifle’, in which case the whole perfume suddenly begins to make sense.
Vétiver Fatal is the same; a far-reaching, multi-layered, technically excellent vetiver with character and original glints (the plum and oud), and it smells very nice with the contrast in the top of Calabrian bergamot and Sicilian lemon; not as nice as people have been saying, mind you (for a plum/citric vetiver, try the exquisite Racine by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier instead- see my review); ultimately this very un-fatal vetiver belongs with all the other overly restrictive vetivers – Encre Noire, Vétiver Extraordinaire and so on and so on, that, for me, while sharp, chic, and just so, all, ultimately, and disappointingly, like most of the perfumes in this collection, lack balls.