Monthly Archives: July 2013

A TEPID PERFECTION: THE FRESH, CRISP AND EXQUISITELY TAILORED PERFUMES OF ATELIER COLOGNE: featuring Trèfle Pur, Orange Sanguine, Grand Néroli, Sur Le Toit De Paris + Vétiver Fatal (2010 – 2012)

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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 of 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.

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MARSHMALLOW GIT: Divin Enfant by Etat Libre d’Orange (2006)

The Black Narcissus

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The infant-baiting song ‘His majesty the baby’, by Scottish singer Momus, has a protagonist who ‘swallows breasts as big as mountains’ and commands the attention of a cooing clan of women, much to the singer’s disgust and jealousy. The ‘bald and dribbling little git’ has his audience rapt and can do no wrong.

 

This is also, incidentally,  the theme of Etat Libre d’Orange’s ‘Divin Enfant’: the story of a baby, a ‘polymorphic pervert’, who smells so beautiful and sweet that he can pull the cotton wool over your doting eyes and behave like the devil.

 

Or so they’d have you believe

 

(“ …..leather and cold tobacco, a shrilling symbol of our sleepless nights….” )

 

 

 

In fact, this is probably the softest, cutest and easiest to wear of all orange blossoms. The threatened leather (‘

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COME HEALING: ANCIENT RESINS (for Leonard Cohen), by AFTELIER PERFUMES (2012)

The Black Narcissus

‘Ah, the man she wanted all her life was hanging by a thread.

” I never even knew how much I wanted you” she said.

 His muscles they were numbered and his style was obsolete.                

 ” O baby I have come too late”. She knelt beside his feet.’

 

           –    ‘Death of a Ladies Man’ (1977)

 

 

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Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet and singer-songwriter, is currently undergoing a period of late-career renaissance, having recently completed a world tour that received ecstatic, rave reviews verging on religious reverence, a number one album (“Old Ideas”), and virtual canonisation, in the anti-establishment, as the author and singer of some of the most penetrating, uncompromising lyrics in music.

I have a couple of Cohen albums myself, and there are a fair few songs of his I love, including “Who By Fire”, ” Suzanne” and ” Famous Blue Raincoat”, but…

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FLIGHT OF THE MOSQUITO…..BLOOD CONCEPT RED + MA (2012)

 

 

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Our mosquito rises, repellently, elegaically, on its flight – zigzagging, ghostly, and dangly, towards its victim:  our plump darling, sat drinking iced milk through a straw in a flowery, dainty summer dress and some banal, little powdery rose perfume she has pilfered from her mother’s table.

 

 

 

She know the insects love her, so she is slathered, also, in citronella, in a futile attempt to stave off the little bastards that always have her skin come up so hard:  so rude; ruddy and elevated; the metallic, synthetic deetness of her sprayed repellent mingling, absorbedly, with her rosebuds: her warm, milky afternoon breath.

 

 

 

In her sunhat, under the shade of her favourite tree, on this boiling hot July day, she is reading.

 

 

 

 

DH Lawrence.

 

 

 

 

 

” What do you stand on such high legs for?

Why this length of shredded shank,

You exaltation?

 

 

 

Queer, with your thin wings and your streaming legs

How you sail like a heron, or a dull clot of air,

A nothingness.

 

 

 

Queer, how you stalk and prowl the air

In circles and evasions, enveloping me,

Ghoul on wings

Winged victory.

 
Settle, and stand on long thin shanks,

Eyeing me sideways, and cunningly conscious that I am aware,

 

 

 

 

You speck.

 

 

 

 

I hate the way you lurch off sideways into air,

Having read my thoughts against you”

 

 

 

 

 

 

(she bats herself, unconsciously, swiping away imagined, invisible insects……)

 

 

 

 

 

“Come then, let us play at unawares,

And see who wins in this sly game of bluff,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man, or mosquito.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The creature is honing in greedily. Blindly, on its goal, a huge, perfumed mountain of pink human flesh on which it can gorge;  torrents of blood to be tapped; siphoned, to fill itself silly……

 

 

 

 

 

 

” Blood, red blood,

Super-magical,

Forbidden Liquor”

 

 

 

 

it thinks to itself, steadying itself now, stealthily swooning down through the stench of citronella, which will not stop it; clenched with purpose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It penetrates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That smell.

That delectable plasm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The irony is not lost on her.

 

 

 

 

 

” I behold you stand

For a second enspasmed in oblivion,

Obscenely ecstasied,

Sucking live blood

 

 

 

My blood.

 

 

 

 

Such silence, such suspended transport,

Such gorging,

Such obscenity of trespass.

 

 

 

 

 

You stagger

As well you may;

Only your accursed hairy frailty,

Your own imponderable weightlessness,

Saves you, wafts you away on the very draught my anger makes in its snatching.

Away with a paen of derision,

You winged blood drop.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frowning, profusely sweating, livid, she swats hysterically, all cloying rose and sour milk rising up from her, curdled with deet, as the insect fills its consciousness orgiastically with deep, foul, red;  its outer membranes drowning up with iron and the delectable fat girl’s platelets.

 

 

 

 

But she has had the upper hand…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Can I not overtake you?

Are you one too many for me,

Winged Victory?

Am I not mosquito enough to out-mosquito you?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has been too greedy.

 

 

 

 

 

“Queer, what a big stain my blood makes

Beside the infinitesimal faint smear of you!

Queer, what a dim dark smudge you have

disappeared into!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its endeavour has been pointless: nasty, smelly, much like this gimmicky little  perfume of ‘milk and blood’……….. in reality just a citronella-laced, cheapo, powder gum rose, and  something stomach churning, metallic, nasty, lurking within its belly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She stomps back into the house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SHALL WE NOT TALK ABOUT LAST NIGHT: L’OMBRE FAUVE by PARFUMERIE GENERALE (2008)

The Black Narcissus

 

 

An unclean, and obsessive perfume, Ombre Fauve (‘bestial shadow’) is crepuscular, haunting; dirty, with the smell of unwashed hair;  unmade beds.

 

 

The soft, musked, amalgamating amber and patchouli, slovenly, tameless, feels like a real man or woman; libido overflowing with encroaching mental illness,  wanting more, sprawled in your sheets, depraved.

 

 

 

 

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I AM LOVE : : : : : MONA DI ORIO VANILLE (2011)

 

 

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‘Io sono L’ amore’, or ‘I am love’, is the self-consciously, meticulously rapturous film by Italian film director Luca Guadagnino that had the art house cinema crowd in a flutter a few years ago:  the ‘must-see’, gorgeously romantic, ‘exquisitely crafted’ work of the season that had the critics, and some of my friends, swooning, and foaming, at the gills.

 

 

 

The story of an aristocratic Milanese Russian emigrée, played by the redoubtable Tilda Swinton (acted in Italian, with a slight Russian accent; no mean feat), this is the story of a pale and beautiful, yet strangely unpresent woman, the matriarch and bedrock of her family, lost in her own numb, unregimented life, who comes gradually undone, erotically and socially, at the hands of a brilliant young chef.

 

A friend of her son’s, the handsome man’s independence, artistry, naturalness and almost guileless, masculine simplicity stand in such contrast to the glassed and gilded cage she finds herself in on a day to day basis that she surrenders, perhaps inevitably, to a honey-lensed, edenic ecstacy of eroticism in his hillside flower garden; making love in the guiltless Italian outdoors as butterflies flit above their skin and fronds and eyelashes bat with sunlight;  nature; desire. A latter day Lady Chatterly cleaving to her young, bearded lover in a delectable, unfettered paradise that is aeons away from the gendered rigmarole of her life in the family home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*        *         *         *

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was assured I would like this film;  no – I would LOVE IT:  it was totally up my street ( am I that predictable? probably ),  but I am never very good at being willed, or expected, or worse, told to love something – I always buck against it in childish rebellion or else find it can’t possibly meet my expectations – and in all honesty, though the film had an undeniably gorgeous sheen and the production and set design were certainly easy on the eye, ultimately I have to say that it left me cold, and Duncan too actually (and, incidentally, Nina also, the one who had sent it to me in the first place – not because she particularly liked it herself, just for the cinematic, indulgent, hell of it.)

 

 

 

 

 

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In any case I was completely unmoved, to the point of irritation, almost;  the scenes of gustatory sensuality ( she is seduced, in the beginning, by his food)  seeming too obvious, somehow – the swiftness of her adultery too much of an improbability. It was all just too……..perfect. Too earnest and wilfull, or simply just not my personal cup of colour-drenched, lurid tea.

 

 

 

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Mona Di Orio’s Vanille, a very well regarded vanilla perfume, had also been highly recommended by everyone and anyone who likes vanilla scents: a new departure; divine; the only vanilla I can wear; the best vanilla of all time, you have to try it you have to try it and so on and so forth, and so I was intrigued, to say the least, by this hugely heralded vanillic masterpiece, from the equally posthumously fêted Nombres D’Or collection, quite desperate to smell it, and I must say that the first laying of this delicate, gold-dusted scent on my skin elicited a small exhalation of pleasure, an ahh….ah yes I see.  Another of her ‘difficult’ perfumes, une vanille compliquée.

 

 

 

Original? Certainly. A sensitive, emotional perfume (like many of the late perfumer’s creations), most definitely, but like the film, so delicately, painstakingly crafted – it didn’t move me at all personally.

 

 

 

A feeling of appreciation for its skill, certainly, and integrity, yes, but not something to touch the Narcissus’s cold, critical heart in reality.

 

 

 

 

So there you have it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But I am afraid that now I have to retract what I have written above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Saturday morning, for no apparent reason, I suddenly felt an inexplicable urge to watch ‘I Am Love again’.

 

 

 

Even though I had hated it.

 

 

 

And this time……

 

 

 

 

 

Wow, it seared right through me,  this time, like the love-filled adrenaline of the characters in the film.

 

 

 

 

I was RAPT.

 

 

 

 

As I write this I am playing the soundtrack,  on loop,  and my heart is beating faster as a result: I am feeling heightened, alive, even on this gloomy, rainy Friday.

 

 

 

The blurb on the DVD case, and my friends, had told me, I would be breathless, and I was:  in tears, actually.

 

 

 

The film, and the perfume too, in truth, are actually really really quite beautiful. I just needed time (and a big enough sample to try it properly- thanks, Jasmine) to come to this realization.

 

 

 

 

 

Where I had initially found the film to be too obviously in ‘good taste’,  with nothing left to chance, on second viewing, to my surprise, I fell in love; with the house the family lives in and its surroundings (exquisite! ),  the exhilarating soundtrack by English composer John Adams; the kinetic propulsion that runs through the film, and the sense of exciting liberation, as both mother and daughter release themselves from the patriarchal chains that have been binding the family for generations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The perfume, also, on repeated wearings, really stands up;  it is a very sensitive, and poetic creation that seems to contain a story: I may be stretching the film/perfume analogy a little (though I don’t think so; I can feel it ),  but Vanille struck me,  as I rewatched the film,  as having several affinities with Tilda Swinton’s character, Emma Recchi.

 

 

 

 

 

On the surface she is composed, refined, brittle: almost burnished, like the peppery, protracted petitgrain and bitter orange top accord in the perfume; the aristocratic mellow of ylang-laced rhum, as she graciously hosts the grand family celebration at the beginning of the film (carrying obvious echoes of Visconti’s Götterdämmerung):  a liquid, ambery gold that flows under the citruses and spices like meniscus.

 

 

 

 

This stage of the scent, which I really like, has an almost palpably nervous sense to it; a refined heart that is clearly ‘thoughtful’ (unusual in a vanilla perfume, where comfort and/or seduction are usually key);  a lightly cloved vetiver giving further, grounding, dignified resonance ( a word that also, applies equally and strongly to both Tilda Swinton and Mona Di Orio herself). .

 

 

 

 

 

And yet. We sense the warmth and sexuality that is suppressed, about to spill over, and this is the rich, sweet, mellifluous extract of true Madagascar vanilla beating in the heart of the perfume that, like Emma, is waiting unconsciously to be released.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The guaic wood and sandalwood  ( probably the main protagonist in the perfume, I would say)  provide some brakes on fully fledged abandonment, but once she does let go, and fully embraces her lover, Emma efflulges,  and blooms,  and sheds her restraining skins of politesse and hardness, revealing her inner self.

 

 

 

 

The vanilla that finally emerges from her, then,  is of obviously high quality, quite sweet, quite tenacious – I could still smell it on my skin the next morning, and this combination of deep sensuality and refracted refinement could be truly beautiful on the right person whose skin was predestinated to unlock its secrets : I would love to have a friend or colleague who wore this scent; the connections such a scent  could create in others’ minds –  beautiful, but mysterious, are what perfumery is all about.

 

 

 

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Mona Di Orio Vanille is not a scent I could wear myself. I do not really like sandalwood, especially in conjunction with vanilla, and that beginning, though ingenious, is not what I personally like to have in a vanilla perfume ( I prefer simplicity ). At the same time, like the film which I have come to really love  (it is destined, I think, to become one of ‘my films’, those I suddenly crave as much as a person craves food),  I have come to realize that this perfume is raved about for good reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has delicacy. It has soul. And,  like the film by Luca Guadagnino, it is primarily an affecting, and voluptuously executed, elegant work of heartfelt, contemporary art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME: THE NEW ROMANTICS IN PERFUME (PART 1) : POUR FEMME by ARMANI (1982) + CLANDESTINE by GUY LAROCHE (1985)

The Black Narcissus

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My three biggest passions in life are cinema, music, and perfume.

Since my early teenage years I have loved the heady, mindless escape into each art form ; enjoyed observing how it evolves with the times; the strong sensation that each  year has a very particular aesthetic, influenced by politics, fashion, and the zeitgeist that straddles boundaries of genre, affecting everything.

While I think I have really quite an eclectic taste in music, I came of age, or more precisely came alive, to the pop music of the early eighties, which offered a beautiful refuge to a boy who was essentially very traumatized by the terrifying knowledge that he was ‘different’ to others, despite being ostensibly loved, and popular at school.

However, though piano competitions and being decent academically gave me a sense of achievement, the darkness at my centre as…

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