Monthly Archives: July 2013

THE EMPRESS OF MOSS: MITSOUKO by GUERLAIN (1919)

While we are on the subject……

The Black Narcissus

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Takedera, the bamboo temple; Kamakura. A Wednesday. Torrential downpour, the dark, sleek, shining bamboo trees ruffled with rain. Austere Buddhist furnishings: wet green; cold, grey stone. A small gate out to the back, and then the bamboo. Through this black-glistening, silent grove to the tea house. Sit and hear the water; cradling your cup of matcha in its rough, earthenware cup. Inhale the scents of nature. The cold, fresh air.

 

Helen, visiting from England, was wearing Mitsouko, in vintage extrait, on her wrist….

 

 

It had been perfect. I remember us shivering at the bus stop afterwards, the scent of Guerlain’s most revered scent prolonging the experience we had just had. Sombre, beautiful, it had fitted the spiritual clarity of the moment, while simultaneously warming the chill.

 

 

 

 

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DOES MICHAEL DOUGLAS WEAR PETITE CHERIE? – the secret and fascinating fragrant world of the rich and famous…..

 

 

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By chance, I stumbled across a rather fascinating website the other day, an ongoing list, painstakingly assembled by its author over many years, of the signature fragrances of the rich and famous. While for the average (non perfume obsessed) person it would undoubtedly make for an astoundingly mind-numbing read, for the manic perfumista, especially one who is drawn to Hollywood, the world of music, art, and even politics, this list is absolutely required reading.

 

In matching up familiar names with perfumes, we learn something of the intrinsic nature of those scents: (their soul, their identity, the emotion produced by a particular perfume that draws people in empathetically); for it would seem that, despite our difference in wealth, on the whole, ‘the stars’ wear the same perfumes that we do, not only those bespoke creations made exclusively for them that can cost in the thousands.

 

Last night I went out to meet a friend in Yokohama drenched in Shalimar, even though it was a startlingly warm and sultry evening (it smelled fabulous, as usual), and I apparently share my unvoidable attraction to this smooching, deathless sex-bomb with Rita Hayworth, Gina Lollabridgida, Brook Shields and Joan Collins (what does this say about me?)

 

Yet look how Shalimar differs in its clientele from Mitsouko, that mossed enigma I could never convincingly wear myself: Diaghilev, Charlie Chaplin (!), Ingrid Bergman, Wallis Simpson….

 

 

Yes. The more arch, mysterious and dignified scents attract celebrities we tend to associate with those very qualities (both Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich are said to have worn the divine Vol De Nuit, while Dietrich also, and famously, wore Bandit, Tabac Blond, and her own bespoke fragrance by Creed, Angelique Encens), while the brasher, more obvious perfumes tend to attract their parallel brethren in the world of entertainment and media  (Calvin Klein Obsession – another of my favourites, I am almost embarrassed to say –  is/was worn by Bill Clinton, Liza Minelli, Jane Fonda, Whitney Houston…….)

 

Green Irish Tweed, a brilliant, but to me extraordinarily objectionable perfume that just seems to scream out SEX, POWER, DOMINATION, is unsurprisingly and predictably, worn by George Clooney, Russell Crowe, Robert Redford, David Beckham and Pierce Brosnan (though James Bond himself wears Floris 89…), while women who are also not afraid of a bit of attention – Ivana Trump, Courtney Love, Madonna,  all seem to plump for tuberose-whore Fracas (Ms Ciccone gets the longest list of scents attributed to her, incidentally:  a perfume lover extraordinaire, she buys it in bulk, from Apothia IF, to Tubereuse Indiana, to Caron Nocturnes…I love her even more now, having read this, if that were humanly possible). Other rock stars are also mentioned in the list, including the simple but seductive, scent of Elvis Presley and Jon Bon Jovi, one that beautifully captures the hip-swaying bulge of their testosterone denim: the suave and insinuating, if cheap and redneckish, Brut by Fabergé (though Elvis is also said to have worn other similar fougerès, including Dana’s Canoe and one of the cheapest perfumes ever made and a vivid scent from my own childhood, Hai Karate.)

 

While celebrities bizarrely find inspiration for their signature scent in many different realms, including the vegetable –  Stella Mcartney is supposedly drawn to Demeter Lettuce, while RuPaul is said to wear Carrot, the analytical psychology of which I will refrain from  attempting at this particular juncture –  in politics, the perfumes worn by those in power speak volumes about their policies and philosophies; Hilary Clinton wears Adoration; Imelda Marcos Mad Moments, while Laura Bush, demure and lady-like, smells, naturally, of Estee Lauder’s White Linen (her mother-in-law, the great Barbara Bush, sports White Shoulders…..)

 

Though Jacqueline Kennedy, forseeably, selected very stylish perfumes for herself (Patou 1000, Jill Sander 4, Bal A Versailles, Joy), another First Lady, Nancy Reagan, went for Giorgio, a perfect choice for world domination (you could take out the whole of Guatemala with that one), alongside her husband Ronald’s Gendarme (also worn by Janet Jackson). His fervent ally, ‘iron lady’ Margaret Thatcher, is said to have hidden her true, grim and heartless intentions behind the decorous and bashful, prettily English facade of the Penhaligons Bluebell…

 

 

The mesmerizing list, whose sources I have no idea of, or how much it can be relied upon (the ‘Queen Of England’ is said to have worn Caron Muguet De Bonheur since 1952, while ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ apparently wears a whole barrage of perfumes from L’Heure Bleue to Fleurissimo and the vulgar Chlöé Narcisse), includes hundreds of people, from cultural giants such as Sigmund Freud (Creed Selection Verte), through to the latest teen stars such as Selena Gomez (Pink Sugar: I saw the phenomenal ‘Spring Breakers’ last week, twice actually, and this is EXACTLY how you imagine she must smell, along with all the other young nubiles in the film such as Vanessa Hudgens); we see the trends that run through the  world of film: it would seem that any Oscars’ ceremony must reek of exotic, swaying island gardenias, as that green, creamy floral überhit KAI is exceedingly popular among all the leading ladies of today, from Julia Roberts to Jennifer Garner, to Mila Kunis and Charlize Theron ( you will make your own value judgments reading this list, based on how you view the celebrity; I was unsurprised to find out that the dull Ann Hathaway wears Chanel Chance (urgh!), that ‘Transformers’ totty Megan Fox likes Armani Code Sport, and that the irritating Carey Mulligan wears Marc Jacobs Lola (double urgh), but I am delighted, personally, that Black Swan beauty Natalie Portman wears the dark and exquisite Sisley Eau Du Soir…)

 

 

In America, the eighties powerhouse fragrances for men and women by Rodeo Drive designer Bijan seem to still rule supreme (Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzegger, Aretha Franklin, Jack Nicholson, Annette Bening, and Steven Spielberg among others are said to wear these creations), while Annick Goutals’ high class, taut-structured citruses, such as Eau D’Hadrien and Eau Du Sud, have a huge number of followers as well (Prince, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman (did they share it?) Tina Turner, Celine Dion, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo Di Caprio, and our own Prince Charles….)

 

Amusing, predictable entries can be found throughout (Zsa Zsa Gabor, bless her, scents her swimming pool water with bottles of Florence Gunnarson N°67 – now that’s what I call Hollywood Babylon), but what is also wonderful about it is the unusual choices you occasionally find, those that initially seem unlikely, but when you think about them, strangely make sense.

 

Freddie Mercury, for example, is said to have worn Audrey Hepburn’s L’Interdit (she herself of course wore this as well as it was created for her specifically by Givenchy, though the gamine actress is said to have worn the sublime Chamade and Ivoire by Balmain as well). On Mr Mercury, though…how interesting. His other signature scent, the civet-laden, musky, aromatic lemon leaf that is Monsieur De Givenchy, makes more obvious sense with his bare-chested stompings, but I wonder how he smelled in the powdery aldehyde L’Interdit? 

 

Isabelle Adjani, always an interesting actress, apparently wears the mysterious and alluring Caron En Avion and Après L’Ondée; Brigitte Bardot Jicky and Vent Vert, (a lovely idea, I think), while Sophia Loren apparently enjoys the underrated and beautiful Irisia by Creed, along with Ungaro’s Diva. Yoko Ono in Ma Griffe intrigues, as does Jodie Foster in Guerlain Vetiver; and the idea of the incomparable Eartha Kitt in Givenchy Gentleman, leathery and doused in patchouli as she purrs in some smoky Parisian club, gives an inspiring olfactory portrait I could linger over all day.   

 

Ultimately, perfume does reveal who we are, I believe, whether exteriorizing our basic inner traits, or,  knowingly or unknowingly, revealing hitherto unknown facets. Who could have imagined that Billy Idol, Rebel Yell pop-punk rocker of the mid eighties, with his fixed-in snarl and peroxide do, would wear the delicate and poetic L’Ombre Dans L’Eau by Diptyque?

 

Or that Michael Douglas, sex-addicted star of Fatal Attraction and Black Rain, Gordon Gekko of Wall Street, and husband of the terrifying Catherine Zeta Jones (Creed Millesime Imperial, Coco), would be inexorably drawn, somehow, to the delicate, icing sugar innocence and spring time peach pear envelope that is Annick Goutal’s Petite Cherie?

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.celebrityfragranceguide.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FOUR LILIES

The Black Narcissus

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Lilies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you think of them, do you think of purity, death, religion?

 

Tumbling down from the pillars of a church, delicately imbued with the lucent breath of God?

 

 

Or are they sexual narcotics, their ochre-pollened stamens beckoning, and trembling, with powder?

 

 

 

 

 

LILIES AND SPICE / PENHALIGONS (2006)

 

 

Some lilies, like the stargazers, are the latter, their fragrance drowsy and ineluctable.

 

And Penhaligons – usually the epitome of propriety – have here released one of the best lily perfumes I have smelled.

 

It is stunning: a life-like portrait of living, breathing lily, spiced with clove and saffron, and with a well thought out erotic richness I wasn’t expecting.

 

 

 

 

FUNERAL HOME/ DEMETER

 

 

 

The cool breath of lilies and the casket. Crimson…

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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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