Monthly Archives: October 2013

THE WITCHY CHYPRES : Mon Parfum by Paloma Picasso (1984) + Magie Noire by Lancôme (1978) + Eau du Soir by Sisley (1990) + Sinan by Jean-Marc Sinan (1984)

ROSES FOR SORCERESSES….

The Black Narcissus

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I was, in some ways, quite a weird child.The boys would be playing football, play-punching, or moronically shooting each other with invisible karashnikovs. The girls would be playing with dolls and each others’ hair, skipping daintily, bitching, and doing whatever else little girls do.

I was always off somewhere with my posse, imagining I was a warlock doing magic with my petalled potions;  reading my secret collection of Flower Fairy books, or else pretending to be a black panther (which was my ultimate dream at the time…)I would lie in bed at night and see myself morphing, slowly, into that beast, feeling the power of the claws start to surge as I leapt off into the undergrowth…

Might these childhood urges be one of the reasons why I am so drawn to the sleek, pantheresque perfumes that follow; the rose/patchouli/ leather…

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CORPSES FOR HALLOWEEN: ROUTE DU VETIVER by MAITRE PARFUMEUR ET GANTIER (1988) + EARTHWORM by DEMETER

The Black Narcissus

 

 

 

 

My first thought on trying Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier’s Route Du Vetiver, one Autumn fine day in London, was

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I have been interred.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A first impression –  cavernous; deep – of dark, loamy soil; a grasping clutch of webbed, fibrous roots surrounding, dragging you further beneath, down, rapidly, unwillingly, right into the ground….

 

 

 

 

Down.

 

 

 

Down, down, we go, our last breaths leaving us..

 

 

Subsumed; drawn in.

 

 

 

 

 

Yet, there is serenity down here in this cool, worm-pured earth; we relent and acquiesce, surrender to our fate; and slowly, the grotesque wonder of our predicament begins…

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GINGER!!!!! Five O’Clock Au Gingembre by Serge Lutens (2008) + Un Crime Exotique by Parfumerie Generale (2007) + Ginger Ale by Demeter (1997) + Ginger Musk by Montale (2006)+ Versace Pour L’Homme (1984) + Ricci Club by Nina Ricci (1989)

The Black Narcissus

 

The first real cold has hit and I am putting ginger in my tea for that extra wall-tightening glow in the stomach.

 

Grated fresh ginger, brewed with some ceylon leaves and milk: a lovely way to warm up a morning, or a wintery mood-dip in the afternoon.

 

Hot, delicious, an ancient root of suffusive goodness and fiery health, ginger (zingiber officinale) has long been very popular here in Asia for various ailments and health conditions – it is practically a medicine. You might even say that there has been an actual ‘shoga boom’ in Japan recently: while pickled red ginger has always been a condiment for sushi, and fresh ginger often served with grilled pork, currently, a lot of shoga sweets, beverages and various other powders and medicines have been hitting the market here: the rhizome is seen as something of a cure-all –…

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La Bohème: DIVA by UNGARO (1983)

 

 

 

 

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” By the way, you’re such a diva”, a new acquaintance on Facebook said to me recently.

 

 

 

“He is”, said Duncan, picking up the thread.

 

 

Attention-seeking, a touch tempestuous and flamboyant, I suppose it might be true, but I do know one thing: I love that word. Diva. It evokes something besotted, rarified: a gilded, beautiful soprano on stage at La Scala. The audience in the palms of her outstretched, coloratura hands as she hangs on, virtuosically, to that tremulous, sky-piercing C and lets it voluptuously float, time-bound, to the rafters.

 

 

All eyes on her. They all have paid good money, there, for the diva.

 

 

Jacques Polge’s creation for Ungaro from 1983, a form of prelude or sketch for his later, more fleshed-out and carnivalesque Coco (1985), certainly lives up to its name: a voluminous, full-throated, honeyed spice-rose chypre that would conjure up crimson red theatre curtains even if you didn’t know its identity. But combined with the bottle – itself beautifully redolent of the ingenious draping techniques of couturier Emanuel Ungaro – and the name, Diva, placed strategically on red label in full centre of the flacon’s décolletage; this intentioned, orchestral plush of a perfume is one of those rare, fully realized executions- from head to toe – that in these often crass, vacuous days of contemporary perfumery feel as invaluable and priceless as a bruised and dazzling firebird like Maria Callas.

 

 

 

Sadly, though, Diva has not survived. Unlike Chanel’s Coco, which I was surprised to learn recently is still among the top-selling scents in the UK,  more highly ranked even than the insufferable Coco Mademoiselle (which, people, I DETEST) –  Ungaro’s first feminine, like all the finest operatic heroines such as Giacomo Puccini’s tragic Mimi, perishing selflessly in her frozen garret in the exquisite La Bohème, died a quiet, honourable death. In fact, though I own the parfum, which I found, to my intense delight, one fine Sunday morning at a fleamarket in Berlin, I had neglected even thinking about this gem for a very long time until yesterday morning, when it was suddenly cold enough for me to need my winter coat (coincidentally for a theatre performance in Tokyo), and there, in the typical rubbish of the pockets, I curiously happened to find one of those ripped out vintage scent-strips,  one I had ripped out naughtily one night from a pile of old magazines at some retro cafe in Kamakura.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It is a Neiman Marcus ad.

 

 

 

 

 

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I really like those strange words……….’fully potent parfum’: ‘available in crystal bottle’; also, the ‘vivid, long-lasting eau de parfum’…..

 

 

 

 

I also love the dress: a woman captivated by her couture: both wearing and being worn by her creation, much as she would be by this perfume: one of those grand, foreboding, amber-roses of the early eighties, like Armani Pour Femme, Sinan, and Courrèges in Blue, that tread a beautiful, precarious tightrope between brassiness and elegance; between the sly, erotic assertion of one’s presence and the full-trumpeted proclamation of it. If you know Coco, and I know that you do, then, basically, you also know Diva.

 

 

The full-blooded, aptly patchouli’d and oakmossed, animal rose: the spice; the brocaded, baroque sweetness (though Diva has a significant note of honey and vanilla not as noticeable in Coco, plus an intriguing top note of cardamom). But where the Chanel builds on Diva’s theme, with glintier, prettier mimosas, fruits and more spice ( and indeed chocolate): the full Venetian gondola (Diva is more Paris, or Milan), Ungaro’s swan song is smoother, less harlequinesque: more brooding, definitely more tender and moody: more fur, in a way, than just fun-loving. Gorgeous, yes, but less forgiving. More contained. An undulous, begowned, prima donna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PLAYING GOD WITH SAFFRON & VANILLA: THE IMMINENT THREAT OF GENETICALLY-MODIFIED FRANKENSPICE

 

 

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A disturbing article appeared in The New York Times this morning, detailing the work in progress by fragrance and flavouring congomerates such as IFF, Sanofi and Evolva to produce (with ‘extensive genetic rejiggering’), synthetic substitutes of vanilla, saffron, and patchouli using GM yeasts. Utilizing a new technique called synthetic biology, lab technicians are able to not only approximate the scent of these biologically complex aromas, but will also, because they originate from organically active yeasts, be able to make claims for them as ‘all natural products’, destined for products including icecreams, confectionery, and perfume. While I hate to come across as reactionary, I must say that I find the idea of these beautiful, naturally harvested crops being potentially usurped by money-grabbing mega-corporations quite horrifying. While ‘supporters’ of the new technology (read shareholders) cite advantages for ‘consumers’ in the lowering of prices for fluctuating commodities such as vanilla and saffron, I’m afraid I can only play the cynic and believe that the only benefits to the destruction of livelihoods in vanilla-producing countries such as Madagascar and Java, the saffron-crocus fields of Iran, would be for the executives of these bio-perverting companies, in the form of added bonuses for their doubtlessly already overflowing retirement portfolios.  

 

No, I am far more inclined to agree with the spokesperson for Friends of the Earth who states: “There’s nothing ‘natural’ about a genetically engineered yeast that excretes vanilla flavouring”. And having spent those five magical days on the Villa Domba vanilla plantation in western Java this August, seeing first hand how much love, care and attention goes into the production of just one ripe, deliciously scented vanilla bean, all in a magically atmospheric community of people who are involved, heart and soul, with the manual labour required to produce a beautiful plant destined to give so much pleasure to people all around the world, I could weep when I imagine that such family-run enterprises might become obsolete, or else damaged financially, when their circumstances are already precarious at best. Any further losses to the vanilla farmers of Madagascar, for example, already some of the poorest people on earth, could be truly devastating.

I am no fool. I am of course aware that the vanillin used in my beloved Shalimar and other perfumes originates in petrochemicals, from the by-product of wood-processing and other means. And I am not averse to synthetics in perfumes per se, particularly when they allow novel olfactory experimentation and produce new aromas that never existed before ( I recently bumped into a friend, Aru, who was wearing one of the perfumes by Escentric Molecules, for example, and I thought he smelled really lovely: fresh, clean, woody in a way that was quite arresting). One of the joys of modern perfumery is certainly the apparent limitlessness of the perfumer’s imagination when such an enormous palette of ingredients lies waiting at his or her fingertips. The true fragrance lover wants authenticity and novelty in perfume; to be surprised and comforted simultaneously. But surely there are limits to what must be re-created,? Particularly when the original natural is perfection itself?  

 

Even more shocking to me in some ways in this article were the descriptions of  the work currently being done by biochemists on the chemical compounds valencene and nootkatone, synthetic flavourings that aim to replicate oranges and grapefruit respectively. When I think of the sense-rushingly lovely scent of natural citrus fruit, not to mention their inherently healthful properties, not only for our bodies but our also psyches, I feel a mournful sense of helplessness in reading that there are people out there who would willingly decimate the livelihoods of citrus farmers across the world in order to replace them with these supposedly ‘environmentally friendly’ bastardizations. As Jim Thomas, a researcher at the ETC group, a Canadian technology watchdog, says, ” They are going after pockets of tropical farmers around the world”.

 

 

 

Am I being just too much of a romantic, too naïve? Is it only me who finds a vision of a synthetic dystopia upsetting, or do you also find the idea of natural spices and other plants, the wonderful oranges, patchouli, saffron and vanilla that we love in our perfumes and food, being replaced by these tampered, mass-produced frankenyeasts repugant and deplorable?

 

 

 

 

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WHEN MS. TOMATO WENT TO THE HAIRDRESSERS: TOMATO by DEMETER

 

 

 

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Demeter’s Tomato is a tomato, yes – that fresh, garden-touched, hand-rubbing, leaf smell – but it is also rather hairdressing salon. Very nineties’, fruit-engendered, shampoo: Ms Tomato goes out on the town on a Tuesday afternoon – because she has to –  for a wash, cut, and blow dry. Light. Easy. Green and red; nothing much to speak of.

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BITE ME!! ! ! : FEUILLE DE TOMATE POIVREE by LOSTMARCH

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Peppered Tomato Leaves, a ‘scented mist’ from Perfumes Longmarch that comes in great big bottles of 250ml to be sprayed everywhere (‘on t-shirts, tulips, Tintin, tissue, trapezes and tomahawks…’ ) is a stern, pared down tomato; bitter green, brusque and ruddy kneed from being dragged –  through the hedgerow backwards – by a lock-jawed, hardbodied sex fiend. In contrast to the tomate charmante we looked at the other day, the likeably extrovert but innocuous Vice Versa, this is a more attention-seeking, spiced matrix of green pungency.

After a beautifully fresh-leaved, anise-twisted opening of peppercorns, orange, cassis, and photorealistic tomato vines, the scent quickly loses tomato kudos and proceeds, nimbly, on a more rough and ragged Lady Chatterley path of outside sex. The musky, almost acrid, absinthe-green of Frederic Malle’s French Lover, immediately apparent and familiar, is here in the base of the scent: a deep, hardened ferret of no sweetness that I imagine will leave some people shuddering slightly, yet others yearning to be taken again outdoors to be savaged.

 

 

 

 

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My earliest scent memory probably involves the headturningly sour-fresh scent of the flowering blackcurrant. I would hide behind the big blackcurrant tree, my imaginary haven, when I was three or four years old and I can still see myself, crouched down at the bottom of the garden, inhaling and sometimes eating, to the horror of my mother, its heavily scented flowers.

It is a smell that many people hate because of its obvious allusions to cat piss (Perfume Shrine did a brilliant article on this olfactory connection), but one that some people, and particularly my younger brother included, really like. The combination of Greg’s two favourite smells in nature (tomato leaves and flowering blackcurrant) in this perfume thus made me buy it for him impromptu when I found it one day in Tokyo recently.

The dry down in Feuille De Tomate Poivrée might be a touch too angular, macho even, for me personally, a touch tight and humourless, but this is nevertheless a rather sexy scent, in a focused, direct and unpretentious way, and I feel pretty sure that my brother, much more a ladies’ man than your host, will carry off this particular tomato with aplomb.

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