[A guest post by Duncan…]


Although my scent tastes have obviously been molded from day one by Ginza and I now share many of his olfactory foibles and phobias (distaste for synthetic sandalwood (‘scandalwood’) and buttery musks, for example), our olfactory territories, meaning our signature scents, are actually very distinct. In fact, in the past two decades together, it occurred to me, we have almost never shared a bottle. Although this may not seem particularly surprising to you, actually, given the number of phials that have been in our possession during that period (…the mind boggles), I’m surprised there hasn’t been more overlap!

In the early days, we both frequented JPG Le Mâle, that flamboyant kiss curl cacophony of Cocteau-esque mid-90s euro-camp! An extravagant modern confection that nevertheless resolved sensuously and (importantly) lived up to the delectable JPG/Pierre et Giles packaging and the designer’s l’enfant terrible repute.

(Aside: In the late 90s, Ginza delved even deeper into this riotous genre with Jungle L’Elephant by Kenzo and Pi by Givenchy, until his rind could take no more. These powerhouse ‘fumes are not for the faint of heart or delicate of peau!)

At about the same time, we double-doused with the beguiling, cavernously masculine, Ungaro I, the scent equivalent of seduction in an outsized sunken bath! Yet, there is something slightly ectoplasmic hovering over the marbled luxe and machismo of the seduction scene. Perhaps it’s the lavender which, in the context of that ambery base, hints of at a ghostly presence? The hunk’s pile is defo haunted, but perhaps this element of supernature is no small part of his allure.

In the noughties, I guess, we did vie over stately Racine by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier. I definitely coveted that redoubtable number and wanted sole dousing rights. I would file it wishfully in my section of the perfume cabinet (nestling up to L’Artisan Parfumeur Navigateur and Rocco Barocco Vetiver) — something that Ginza was having none of! We may have argued about it even (‘You have so many bottles, surely you can spare one!’ ‘But it suits me more!’ ‘It does not!’ etc. etc.).

But to my knowledge those three scents, Le Male, Ungaro 1, and Racine, are the sum total of any overlap!


Of course, Ginza’s scent territory is vast – from coconuts to carnations, heady orientalia to matronly oud, encompassing Cossack leather, oceanic ozone and citrus spritz; the whole gamut, really, from primordial animalic soup to apple-white ethereal (the scarcely perceptible scents of his workplace)!

My scent range is certainly very narrow by comparison (though impeccable, obviously!). Much as Ginza is always trying to have me in some floral olfactory get-up (he partially succeeded this summer as my Japanese sun screen was plumeria-scented), I best like scents with sunlight and a dry rustle in them – aromatics that blend vetiver (above all, vetiver!), tea, tobacco, pepper, pine, cedar, with Silk Road spices and a handful of dust. The kinds of scents where sun-baked rock melds with Mediterranean herb, where moss kisses bark, and stubble-field ash mingles with the salt sea air, like pine-smoked lapsang souchong…

Here are the scents that I currently wear and love.


QUINCE, MINT AND MOSS by Union (2012)

When I was a child, fruit picking was a summer institution. My brother and I would cycle to a strawberry field, which had an opening onto the main road, to pilfer punnets for dinner (and sometimes to earn a bit on the side, too, by selling them on). We weren’t supposed to but the field was too tempting and no one ever said anything. Others in the know could be observed loading up, too.  

One day we clocked some miniature pear-like fruits on a tree by the opening to the field and assumed they were crab apples. I’m sure we must have had a nibble for we took a few back home for identification purposes. My parents realised these were quinces and could be stewed and served in pies and crumbles (though in truth, suburban people weren’t that much given to cooking with them by the 80s!). This bygone ‘pome’ hadn’t really crossed my mind since that summer (have never seen it in Japan – and have missed the last decade of UK artisan emporiums with super-posh conserves)… hadn’t crossed my mind, until I read the name of this scent: Quince, Mint and Moss. What a lovely idea.




Apparently, since antiquity, quince has been used as a breath freshener, owing to its sweet perfumed aroma. Brides chomped on it to create a pleasing oral first impression. Meanwhile, Edward Lear’s owl and pussycat took rhyming slices of it with their mince!





In this scent, a lighthearted, tangy feminine quince note certainly softens the mint, which is scarcely detectable making this a more rounded and honeyed scent than mint and moss alone might have been (mint can, after all, be bracing – take, for example, Dirty by Lush). Conversely, I suppose, the mint keeps the quince from becoming overly cloying and mead-like. Juniper suggests the civilized clink of ice in a summer cocktail (yum), while the mountain ash and soft mossy lower reaches are lovely, too, adding just enough earthy depth without flattening things out.

A little bit of this elixir goes a long way and smelling it after a couple of hours I am reminded faintly (because of the lime leaf perhaps and a lingering lilt of quince?) of the gorgeous lemon grass accords of Thai cuisine.

All in all a fabulous piece of work. Well done Union. (Rather a shame about the packaging, but there.)



EAU DE GLOIRE by Parfum D’Empire (2005)

This elegant scent was inspired by the cologne-loving Napoleon Bonaparte. Knowing this, you will definitely feel like you are striding out, assuming a perfumed mantle that is imbued with the complex dignity (and arrogance) of one who was statesman, militarist, despot, lawmaker, lover, emperor, and exile… so fasten ya scent belts.

Smelling this in the bottle, I am vaguely reminded of Rectoverso Man’s Tea Tobacco, which I have always liked, though Eau de Gloire, obviously, is more nuanced. A mildly medicinal quality at first, with lavender, bergamot, tangerine and myrtle… scents of herb and citrus carried on a breeze over the Corsican promontory.

Freshness fades and a velvety, amorous core is revealed. I like the persistent aniseed note, suggesting the intoxications of power (mingled with bittersweet wormwood mortality). It’s a heady parabola, that includes liquorice, and what goes up, must come down to earth: the law of gravity, the patient pull of the grave.

The final chapter is deliciously dry and dusty with leather, oakmoss, tobacco and incense. And so with dark delicacy the scent fades. A dignified olfactory epitaph.

(NB, meanwhile, was denied the dignity of comfortable confinement and had to live out his days in dank and meagre circumstances on Saint Helena, allegedly slow-poisoned by his captors, or his wallpaper, or both. Spared the gallows or the guillotine, though.)






POIVRE SAMARCANDE by Hermes (2004)

Something about Poivre Samarcande is just beyond reach. This scent is perfectly suave but it keeps you at arm’s length. It’s silvery and masculine, sexy but cerebral, with a strong aura that loses tangibility the closer you get.




Samarkand was a central station on the fabled Silk Road trading route and so it has as brilliant and chequered a history as you might expect, with marauding Mongols and mendicant monks aplenty, a mess of religions and rulers, and a rich culture of commerce and architecture. Here, the dominant colour of buildings is said to be blue, a colour once associated with warding off evil, and with life-giving water, so precious in a desert kingdom.

Poivre Samarcande starts with a riveting pepper note (paired with chili). This is underpinned by oak and cedar. Chinese moss and musk smudge the cool minimalism of the peppery wood palette. A mysterious kid glove effect.

I am very drawn to this scent and for me it conjures those refined young aristocrats painted by Titian with their grey green eyes and impeccable mien. Worldly. Slightly adrift in reverie. Untouchable in their way.








FEMINITE DU BOIS by Shiseido (1992)

I have appropriated a small bottle of the original Christopher Sheldrake parfum that I use sparingly. I love the strong plum note in the opening (trumpeting, almost black forest gateau-rich) and the tinge of peach-stone bitterness (a tad medicinal, cherry brandy-soaked). The warm woody dry down (including cedar and sandalwood) keeps things spicily elegant. For me, the balance of fruit, spice, wood and musk delicately hints at chocolate liqueurs and yuletide mirth, mercifully avoiding the wretched headache-inducing marzipan effects that sometimes smother lesser accords (dire Dolce e Gabbana Pour Homme, for example!). Fruity and sensual in its final stages.


JICKY by Guerlain (1889)

Of all the Guerlains, this and Aqua Allegoria Lavande Velours (see below), are the only ones I frequent. I am certainly often drawn to perfumes with lavender in them (true to my Norfolk roots, perhaps?). I like the way lavender contrasts with other notes, how it can seem ethereal or earthy depending…

The opening of Jicky is beyond my power to describe! So many notes vying for attention. It is only after the scent settles that I can feel the harmonies come together. Rose, lavender, jasmine, iris, orris, various citruses, leather, spice, civet, patchouli, amber, vanilla, and so on – a very fine and complex roster of notes. I am reminded of traditional laundry scents, together with something equestrian (saddles? oiled leather?). There is something very powdery sweet going on; then again, a fresh complexity that persists delightfully; one minute coppery and metallic, the next boudoir bodily…

I doubt I will ever understand Jicky but I love to wear and admire it. It has amazing staying power, too.



Aqua Allegoria Lavande Velours is the ideal eau de toilette with which to scent a handkerchief! For this scent offers a serene voluminous powderiness that could mask the stench of an eighteenth century cobblestone street – one strewn with horse crap, the contents of emptied chamber pots, rotten refuse, and putrid entrails. It’s dreamy but somehow simultaneously muscular and no-nonsense.



The lavender/violet combo is tremendously effective. Violet gives space and blanches out the initial sourness of the lavender, while lavender keeps the melancholy ethereality of the Viola grounded, with practical herbal substance and wisdom. Traces of iris, sandalwood and vanilla provide a gentle support.

Foppish and above it all. Flute sonata in a walled garden. Not much truck with the world beyond those walls.



BLACK ANGEL by Mark Buxton (2009)

Black Angel is an evocative name. My first thoughts are of leather, Lucifer, motorbike gangs, Charles Manson, the erotically charged torsos of Mapplethorpe. And then upon further reflection, a flip side to the equation: the black Virgin icons of Medieval Europe and Mexican Catholicism, multi-culti murals, and Elizabeth Welch singing ‘Stormy Weather’ in Jarman’s The Tempest!!








Nothing of the sort! At least not on my skin.


This scent has naught to do with fallen archangels, cults, homoerotic fetish objects, Catholic relics, cultural inclusion, or campy sequences in art flicks – well as far as I can tell it doesn’t. I don’t find dark sensuality or light sanctity in it myself.


Rather this is ginger fizz, a cola bottle chew, a Pepsi spritz –  a surprisingly tenacious mood-booster. Ginger and coriander make for a very striking opening, and yet there is something a lot more citrus and airy about it than this may sound. The first impression is modern and extremely optimistic.





There’s a Peter Pan lightness that feels pleasingly devoid of conscience and history, but very replete with memories of childhood in an immediate, present tense kind of way, of the Friday night miniature paper bags of treats that my dad always brought back from the newsagent – cola bottles, sweet bananas, pink shrimps, lime chocolates, flying saucers – our excitement, every time! And also of my grandfather’s drinks cabinet, whiskey, eggnog, ice bucket, tongs, mixers, wooden bowls for peanuts! This scent is full of the optimism of TGIF, of the young weekend ahead! Certainly perfect for cocktail-fuelled capers in summer night cities.


Tipsiness, silliness, banter, flirtation. You have to follow wherever Black Angel takes you, leaping off into the night like the Baby Sham bambi. (‘On and on and on,’ as the song mischievously says, ’til the night is gone…’)





The drydown may have something woody about it, but compared to what I’m used to (much more pronounced woody aromatic numbers), it seems beside the point, which to my mind is buoyant, mercurial charm.

‘Black Angel’ is very well-made, with the clean immediacy and instant appeal of a deft logo! And it makes a nice contrast to my usual gentlemanly aromatics.

So when you need to marry the night (and meet the dawn), do so with Black Angel. Amen.



Honorable mentions:  Sultan (a light woody oud Ginza picked up in Java – layers beautifully with…); … with Laguna by Berlin’s superb Harry Lehmann brand (Ginza adds lime essential oil for extra zing – the Harry Lehmann range are perfect scents to layer with others – they are also ridiculously under-priced! in any other city they’d be bloody expensive); Tea for Two by L’Artisan Parfumeur (nutty, cigar box, a bit trad jazz, a bit gap-toothed wideboy!); Cuba by Czech and Speake (powerhouse tobacco cuba libre! – not to be confused with the buttery Santa Maria Novella number – my idea of horror with its hideous musky drydown); Navigateur by L’Artisan Parfumeur (I never quite pulled it off but I still mucho admire it – Moorish Spain – intense sunlight – strong coffee – gorgeous and unique); Yatagan by Caron (I have to finally shelve out on a bottle – clearly brilliant); and my new kid on the block (birthday present from Ginza last week): Sartorial by Penhaligon’s (another gentlemanly lavender number with intriguing depths – we’ll see…); …plus too many vetivers and citrus colognes to mention here!


Filed under Flowers

37 responses to “NOTES FROM THE OTHER SIDE

  1. Just to say: D started writing this while we were on a train journey in Java and I decided I didn’t want to see it or know about it or look at it in any way until he published it. I was intrigued with what he might come up with.

    And even more so now that it is here…

  2. Dearest Duncan (and Ginza)
    Garbo Talks!
    What a pleasure to stroll across the street to where the sun is always shining to hear about the scents that make the ever-present, but so far silent, D tick.
    And what a selection, almost as elegant as the words that describe them.
    Those I know I heartily approve of… how good for you that you got Jicky, and though a full bottle of Lavande Velours eludes me it is exquisite. However, as is ever the case, it is those that I have not tried that intrigue most… quince and mint? Bravo! Eau de Gloire, surely I must succumb to the squat Frenchman’s charms now.
    Than you for forsaking your role as The Black Narcissus’ Sabrina Thwaite and sharing so splendidly.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy
    Post Script
    Is that a still from the ‘Stormy Weather’ section at the end of Jarman’s Tempest? I’m almost sure as I can just make out Toyah lisping through the Bard from here.

    • secretkamakura

      Dear P Dandy
      (Sabrina Thwaite! love it!)
      Thanks for your words of encouragement!
      The Union scent is just lovely – I instantly took to it. Ginza thinks it’s macho but I don’t see it like that. I hone in on the thicket. Eau de Gloire isn’t everybody’s bag – the middle bit is a weeny bit full-on and blouse-y but it’s very intriguing. Please douse and tell.
      And yes that sequence is from Stormy Weather in The Tempest. It’s rather lovely. (Our Nina put me onto it when I was reading Modern Nature.)
      Secret Kamakura

  3. Tora

    Gosh Duncan, How fantastic to hear from you! So eloquent! Such divine and refined taste. This was pure entertainment and a bit of brilliance. I did picture in my mind’s eye the two of you, together, smelling so lovely and so distinct. And of how your friends must adore being with you for any occasion. I think you might just be the smartest, most romantic, most eloquent couple I know. Well, I don’t really “know” you, but you know what I mean. Tell us More!!

    • secretkamakura

      Hello there,
      Thanks for your compliments – I am a newby to perfume reviewing but I really enjoyed writing this and it took me out of the dumps. Ginza encouraged me to post yesterday.
      Tora means tiger in Japan and is a name often used for cats. Are you based in Japan I wonder??
      Thanks again
      Secret Kamakura

  4. Lovely. Just lovely. Thanks for joining us, Duncan

  5. ninakane1

    Hahaha! The mystery guest! I should have known! Fantastic to hear from Duncan on this forum – at last! Love the writing here! And the images are fab. Beautiful xxx

    • secretkamakura

      Haha. Thanks Nina. I am just off to recorder practice. Feeling buoyed up by a bit of creativity and music! and perfume – spritz of sartorial. x

  6. ninakane1

    Particularly like the Black Angel review, and the stories from childhood. Also I always associate JPG Le Male with you two circa 1996! Love the pink marble chest collage aussi.

    • secretkamakura

      Yes, it is a really interesting scent – the dry down really works even though the opening is pure chaos! We liked it a lot. The images in the collage looked boring separately so I pasted them on top of each other and that went with the idea of overlap!! x

  7. Sensory overload – great post Duncan.

  8. The talent for writing runs in the family. What a wonderful post Duncan.
    I still have a half-full bottle of Aqua Allegoria Lavande Velours…I’ve always loved it and revisited it last night after reading this post.

    • secretkamakura

      Thanks – apologies for super-late reply – I’m pleased you enjoyed my dabbling in perfume reviewing. I love Aqua Allegoria Lavande Velours – it’s so un-muddied – very singular accord – lavender and violet plus the softening underbelly – really works.

  9. efemmeral

    what a wonderful selection and such delicious writing. please return some time and tell us about vetivers…!

    • secretkamakura

      Efemmeral – thanks so much for compliments. I would love to return some time to review vetivers – I sprayed some new ones recently in Tokyo and would like to compare them with my tried and tested faves. Maybe if Ginza will have me again, I will. Are you into vetiver??

  10. Dubaiscents

    Duncan, so wonderful to hear from you! Your perfume reviewing is amazing (as is Ginza’s). I hope we get to read more from you.

    • secretkamakura

      Thank you so much. I appreciate your comments. I enjoyed guest posting tremendously – and I would like to write more. I’m really interested in vetiver scents (pine and cedar, too). You are based in Dubai? (That must be an exciting place for scent.)

  11. I love this one… The historical aspect especially (which is obvious and sounds stupidly broad), the alchemy of things that could take you so far from the present, something on the other side, but the medicinal qualities of which simultaneously bringing you back down to earth, a grounded reality in the past. Not particularly illuminating or specific enough commentary I know, but needless to say how evocative and stimulating I found your post Duncan, on first and second reading!

    • secretkamakura

      Katherine – you are a perceptive reader! I have always loved history. It was my favourite subject at school, and the whole process of writing a historical essay – honing the info, marshaling your argument with reasons and examples, conveying the mood or atmosphere of the times – was something I really went for back in high school. This partly stems from having the most amazing history teacher when I was 10. She was passionate about the past and adored Tudor history – she totally brought it to vivid life and was absolutely inspiring (she was fiery and formidable and I was super serious and studious at that time – like a little sponge!). Our 5th grade summer trip was to Kentwell Hall in Suffolk, which has a historical reconstruction of a year in Tudor history – it still happens every summer – you go through the time tunnel (white sheet tent thing) to the past – our year was 1535, around the time that Sir Thomas More was executed and Anne Boleyn had become queen, poor Katherine of Aragon had been ditched: divorced and shunted off to a castle up north, basically under house arrest. I remember the experience vividly, including the sugared rose petals and spiced fruit cake that were passed around! So that intense feeling for history was very formative for me. I think it is integral to the way I write. I always look for the ghosts that lurk – I imagined Napoleon’s humble beginnings and his dreary final years bookending his glory days and I try to feel that in the scent itself – its extravagance mingled with its dryer eventualities – and the quince makes me think slightly yearningly of old English summer – George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and the 1890s, thickets, and the early 1900s with the arrival of the automobile! But obviously perfume writing brings in lots of currents: subjective, sensual, ethereal, bodily, our intimate memories, all necessary for conjuring/capturing the spirit of a scent. Actually, I don’t really know much about scent – not as much as most people on this site – certainly nothing compared to Ginza – but I do appreciate it in my own way and I have some instinct for it (- nurtured by Ginza). But the opportunity to engage with the scents I love and contribute something a little artful and eccentric from time to time is very enjoyable for me – as is the opportunity to commune with charming peeps who frequent Black Narcissus.

      • I would have loved a trip like that at school! I do remember visiting the remains of an old castle somewhere in the middle of nowhere (I wonder where that was) and can feel the atmosphere of the day, running around beautifully kept grass, imagining a time so different. I also really enjoyed writing my history coursework in school and regret not taking it further. In fact I was bizarrely in the midst of writing a letter to my old history teacher the other week, which I fully intended to send, but I lost my thread and the moment passed – I think I wanted to engage about the teaching of history, but then it seemed silly and eccentric and indulgent. But in a way it made sense as I think it can be hard for people to find a way in sometimes and it would be nice to start on a path of research. And the methods of investigation that we learn from people’s work in the field of history is so useful, and absolutely essential.

        I feel similarly in that I may be no expert on scent and often here will pick up on the conversation around it, but I do definitely feel that I get it, and how wonderfully it can evoke a time and place, and so much more!

        Whilst I’m looking to study history and literature with the task of empowerment against the ruling class, I am drawn to the creative stimulation of learning and also have a yearning for that period of literature and the English landscape. And I think it needn’t go against the political – there’s a time and place for all of it. I haven’t read anywhere near enough, I’ve only seen screen adaptations of Thomas Hardy, though I did get a lot out of George Elliot’s Mill On The Floss, and want to devote more time to reading in general. I started to watch (and I say started as for some reason started watching with full knowledge I didn’t have enough time) the Merchant Ivory film Maurice the other day (in fact it was one that Neil mentioned a while ago), and it was very moving and also I think captured some of the emotions of aspiring to learn more. And though it’s not really relevant, so please forgive my going on and on, a character that always stayed with me was Leonard Bast from Howard’s End (again the film adaptation I’m afraid), it always brought about powerful emotions in me, though perhaps that’s a negative romantic side in me, when she says to him something along the lines of it all being ruined for him..

  12. nocturnes

    Fantastic review! You obviously have your hubby’s talents for writing….so artfully done that I now want to sample all the scents you have written about!
    (especially the lavender ones as I adore lavender….on days when I know not what to wear lavender straight up on the wrists is what I lean towards…but it must be a high quality lavender!

    • nocturnes

      P.S. I hope you are sparingly enjoying your Bois de Santal hand cream as it has been discontinued/out of stock for over a year now.

      • That is exactly how I am using it. I love it. I have used it twice this year and it was gorgeous.

      • secretkamakura

        thanks Nocturnes! yes I find I am really drawn to lavender scents (and to mint scents as it happens) – or rather scents with lavender and mint in them – I think there is something very ethereal and clean about them – at the same time they have great physical strength and presence – lavender and mint are so hardy – I used to enjoy gardening (our present abode has a handkerchief-size garden but the previous apartment had a bit more expansive a yard) and I have had my hands in the earth with the powerful roots of mint, and grown lavender to my own height – so I respect those herbs immensely. and yes, your sandalwood cream is lovely – I am not a sandalwood fan but I admit that’s a great hand cream!

  13. Tara

    Duncan, it was lovely chatting with you in London and so great now to read a post from you and get the view from the other side.

    I agree with others, you share Neil’s talent for writing, using words I have to look up and wonderful cultural references. Did you both study Engliash Lit at uni? You have your own voice though and I really would like to hear more of it.

    I bet the Sartorial suits you down to the ground. It’s fabulous. I think you might like Sel Marin by Heeley also. A day out at the Norfolk coast – a dry vetiver with lemon, moss, seaweed, salt and algae covered driftwood.

    • secretkamakura

      Tara – hello again and thanks very much for reading this and for your encouragement – I will try to write more for Ginza if I can – he is always encouraging me to do so – I guess I am lazy.
      I remember you too reviewed the Union scent, right?
      And yes, I did study English lit at uni so my viewpoint is really moulded by literature and history and art – as is Ginza’s, although he is more the cinema man than I am.
      Thanks for the Sel Marin recommendation. I know you have sharp scent instincts and the combination of notes sounds amazing – love a salt sea note and moss is always a boon as far as I am concerned. I might try to find it in Tokyo this weekend!

    • nocturnes

      Curious…have either one of you tried seeweed absolute e.o.? Straight up it is massively overwelming to the point of being a bit sickening but one miniscule drop in a blend creates an amazing note! I have blended it with lime, bergamot, galbanum and jasmine… smells like fresh sea air!
      and Duncan, since you brought up mint….aside from lavender mint also blends beautifully with jasmine….Indian jasmine, Egyptian jasmine, jasmine sambac, jasmine absolute and organic jasmine with a bit of spearmint and peppermint on a base of patchouli…I call it Jasmine 5….and it is divine!

  14. Renee Stout

    Wow! I don’t think I knew of the Black Narcissus perfume blog at the time this was first published, so thanks for reposting it. Duncan’s words drew me in as much as Ginza’s always do. I love both “masculine” and “feminine” scents so my curiosity has definitely been piqued by some of the scents Duncan described. Oh boy, I’m in trouble now!


    You both have a wonderful talent when it comes to expressing, in words, any thing. BEAUTIFUL.
    Love mumx

  16. You’ve been mentioned so many times here, and so affectionately, it’s lovely to “meet” you, Duncan. You two have a strong bond and it’s beautiful to witness. You also write well. Hope you write again when the spirit moves you. It would be a pleasure for us.

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