At the beginning of every month, after just getting paid, I skim some money off the top of my salary as my ‘free for all splurge’; a guilt-free sum I can just go out and spend on something I really want. This month, as I am very much back in a vanillic, comforting amber kind of mood, I was considering getting the Van Cleef Vanille Orchidée perhaps, just as an easy (if possibly pedestrian) vanilla scent to see me through the coming colder months, or, maybe, another bottle of Serge Lutens Louve, that syrupy, gooey cherry-almond vanilla scent I find so enjoyable when the occasion is right.
As luck would have it, though, Sunday and Monday brought different, even more luxurious, dividends. It’s funny how intuition (or premonitions…) can work: when a place suddenly comes into your mind for no reason, somewhere you haven’t been for a while, and you suddenly have a yen to go there. It happened with Jiyugaoka, an area of Tokyo D and I like for its winding backstreets, intriguing little eateries, second-hand bookshops and cafés, but especially for the old-fashioned shopping arcade near the main station that houses endless stalls run by old-school, elegant Tokyoites : sushi, silks, haberdasheries, cosmetics, bento; stationery, wigs, coffee, anything. If you are after a particular kind of button, an old, traditional brand of shampoo or shaving cream, a fedora, a sequinned gown to do the cha-cha, then this is the place for you.
It also happens to have two amazing vintage perfume shops. Good lord. One, downstairs in the underground passageway, is run by an astute, immaculately presented woman of a certain age who really knows her stuff and sets her prices accordingly. She has everything: a whole cabinet of vintage Guerlains, a stunning glass case of Patou parfums (a big, alluring bottle of Moment Suprême extrait, mounted on a plinth, 28,000 yen, about 290 dollars, or 180 pounds), alongside Vacances, 1000, and of course Joy: plenty of lustful curiosities such as a large bottle of Balenciaga Prélude parfum, all treasured and catalogued items that she will certainly not be letting out of her finely manicured clutches for a song. I like to go in ogle her treasures and flirt, leaf through her exquisitely illustrated Guerlain encylopaedia, but usually somehow always leave without buying anything.
This is because, I usually, like this time, have a gorgeous swag bag of goodies in my possession that I have bought from the far cheaper place upstairs, a small and very cramped, eclectic, shop selling bags, accessories, and various other sundries, that just happens to also have a glass cabinet crammed to bursting with perfume, things you want, all vintage, stacked on top of each other with no rhyme or reason, the kind of deal where you have to get the shopowner to open it with a key (he watches you like a hawk), feel it; remove this, remove that, until you have a WHAAATT!! in your heart and head and take out, slowly, a perfume you have wanted for years, suddenly, there, in your hands.
Funnily enough, one of my holy grails, something I have been dreaming of finding for so long, was found not in this treasure trove, but just near the top of it, there by some old piles of material, the place where he keeps throw away perfumes that he doesn’t imagine to be particularly noteworthy or covetable. And there it was: Caron Nocturnes, in extrait…….
I pick it up and can’t believe my eyes. I have wanted to own this gorgeous perfume, the only Caron I can wear with ease and regular pleasure, in its strongest format, for god knows how long I can’t even tell you. And there it is, for 1500 yen (under ten quid!). I will admit that I was disappointed that the bottle wasn’t made of black glass, as I had always envisioned, but merely of black plastic (perhaps there is a glassier, heavier, better bottle out there for me to find…..) but ,you know, as I carefully (for me), pulled off its glass pearl of a stopper, I could smell that wonderfully inviting stephanotis/mandarin aldehyde, that viola-like vetiver, the gentle caress of vanilla in the base that in this headier, more concentrated version surrounds the wearer like the luminous rings of Saturn, and I no longer cared.
Gorgeous, and it really suits me. Shame I am using it up in such large amounts already. Need more self-control.
But already I have asked the man to open up the cabinet. Yes.
Back-to -back vintage Chanel Nºs 5 & 19, the former in cologne version (two bottles) and tons of extrait, the latter in big bottles selling for 7,000 yen. One day I will be old and poor probably and wishing I had bought up every N°19 I have ever come across as it is so precious, but I have bought so much of the stuff since living in Japan, giving half of it away as well (Marina, Helen, my mother loves it now as well), as well as spilling tons too, so it no longer excites me in quite the same way. I always want it, know how precious the vintage is, but I know for a fact that there is a LOT of it circulating still in Japan so it can wait.
Yes, yes. Cabochard (but in spray: I find the vaporisateurs don’t age well), two or more bottles of vintage Mitsouko parfum, lots of Madame Rochas, L’Air Du Temps as always, and wait a minute, is that…..is that…. those zebra stripes….
So strange. I had literally the day before taken out my empty, identical bottle of this and thought, god I wish I could find this again. So mysterious, so enigmatic, so damn beautiful and priceless. I hate the fact that I have none left: this is a perfume I always want to have, just, late at night, to apply to the back of my hand and dream…..
This extrait was not that cheap, 6,000 or so I think, but there was no way I was not having it. Where the new version of Vol De Nuit makes an interesting, spicy, angular, mossy chypre, quite masculine and intriguing in its own right, it is not like the vintage, which I still haven’t managed to properly review yet as I find it so….elusive. How brilliant to have it in my possession again.
EXACTLY what I wanted, more than anything else. A vintage parfum, F U C K !!!!!!!!!!!! And not in spray, but in that old, classic, heavy glassed bottle, the one that fits in the palm of your hand, weighty, delicious. Again, I am very low on Shalimar ( I gave my bottle of vintage edt away to our translator on the vanilla plantation, would you believe… I had been explaining about the kind of vanilla perfumes that exist, and Rizal seriously couldn’t stop sniffing his arm: almost in a trance…I don’t think he had smelled anything like it before so I had to), and anyway, there, suddenly, is the parfum, in all its animalic, husky, sensual glory. A filthy and delicious scent if ever there was one. Not cheap (7500), but not really expensive either (let me know what you make of these prices, how they might compare with other vintage emporia.)
I should stop now. Spoiled. Too indulged.
I REALLY want that bottle of vintage Caron Infini parfum, one of my all time favourites, and another one I actually wear (Nuit De Noel, Narcisse Blanc, Narcisse Noir, Bellodgia and Fleurs De Rocaille I have in the collection, but more to contemplate their beauty than actually don myself: I am gender-free when it comes to perfume, but don’t want to smell like some octagenarian, musky dame). Yet, one of those musky dames is there, right there in a beautiful box: Fleurs De Rocaille, a stunning scent, and as this one has some particularly tender memories for me and Helen, it is has been preying on my mind. I think I might have to go back and get it.
What I did get, and have been having a SPLENDID time with, even though I shouldn’t really have spent that extra 8500, is Chanel Gardénia, in, get ready, a 28 ml parfum !!!!!!!!
My eyes were simply feasting on its glory, self-contained and above it all on that shelf. How could I not? So beautiful. Just those words, Chanel Gardénia, with the French accent over the ‘e’; Gardenia, in its immaculate, pristine white box.
Look at it. I shouldn’t.
I have to (still within my designated ‘skim’ money, you see……such perfect timing! Everything I bought added up to less than I would have paid for the Van Cleef, for one niche perfume….)
And though the Shalimar, Vol De Nuit and Nocturnes extraits are all to die for, pristine and olfactively perfect, precious, to be enjoyed drop by drop, it is, surprisingly, the gardenia that has proved the most exciting. After we had left the arcade, Duncan having bought a nice little dress for his niece, we went to one of those posh Tokyo cafes that try to out-Vienna the Viennese, for overpriced cafés au lait to a backdrop of mournful classical music and European painting. Refined with a capital R, a touch ludicrous actually, but the perfect environment for unstoppering my treasures ( I know I should wait until I get home, but I just can’t). The last one to be opened was the Chanel. I know the edt intimately, having got through two bottles of the stuff (see my review: I think this is a very underrated scent, personally, though I suppose I can understand the accusations that the perfume doesn’t actually capture the smell of a real gardenia).
Not so with the extrait : W O W !!! Huge, blowsy, narcotic white gardenias unfurl from the bottle , almost headache-inducing, despite the perfume’s immaculate subtlety. Practically a different scent entirely to the one I know ( and VERY far from the current version offered at Les Exclusifs ): fuller, rounder, more musky, more intimate, far more lovely. Spiced; green, living. In fact I have been going a bit nuts for it, to be honest these last few days, splashing it about like a nutter, and I have already half-destroyed my box and bottle. If part of the beauty of a Chanel lies in maintaining its perfection intact, then I am evil. My existence should no longer be condoned.
How can you bear to wreck a Chanel, I hear you shriek?
I can’t. It just always happens. Firstly, I have never mastered the beautiful ritual of tearing off a Chanel perfume’s waxen hymen, always complicated by that pesky black string that surrounds the bottle’s neck. Being the excited, clumsy oaf that I am, on this occasion I managed immediately to spill some, got black stains all over the box, then, at night somehow knocked the box over making some leak. I have wrecked what should have opened carefully, dabbed on elegantly, worshipped on a pedestal. Will you forgive me?
Anyway, all of this adoring vintage madness happened last Monday, and I, as I am sure you also, think that that is probably enough.
However, Duncan then suggested going to the Shinagawa flea market on Sunday, as he was hoping to get some material for an art performance he is planning this coming Saturday, and even though I had been forsworn to stay at home and practice the piano (a lesson with the terrifying/hilarious Ms Tanaka the next day when you haven’t done your homework is always rather taxing), but as you can imagine, because you are also a perfume freak if you are on here reading this, and you love perfume as much as I do, then it is quite difficult to resist going there. How can you not go there EVERY WEEK, I hear you cry? Well, firstly, I would end up broke; Kamakura is not that far from Tokyo, but it is not exactly on the doorstep either, and quite often there is nothing there anyway.
But that is always part of the excitement. I am GLAD there is often nothing there, as I don’t actually want to be spending all my money. Still, when you get to that building, and you go through the sliding doors, and you see the stalls, the excitement NEVER DIMINISHES. This time, though, was, fortunately, not a bonanza. We did get some snazzy ties, though, and I couldn’t resist handing over 4,000 yen for a 14ml N°19 vintage parfum as I don’t actually have that much at present.
Trying not to open it. See that plastic, covering the box, in the picture? Isn’t it lovely? I wonder how long it will last…..
There wasn’t much else. But one thing I want to tell you all about is how eccentric some of the people are here. Back at the aforementioned Jiyugaoka arcade, last time I was there ( I have only been about four times in total I would say, though I can see it increasing….that Fleurs De Rocaille is really plagueing me), there was one shop that surely can’t have made any money at all. Do you know what she was selling? Some frankincense crystals, a few ‘ethnic’ knick knacks, and aside that, just great piles of P A T O U. Yes. Tons of the amazing 1000, in parfum. In that covetable, beautiful jade green bottle in the brown velvet box…..just divine. Tons of Joy, in all varieties of bottles. But SO expensive (about 40,000-50,000 each). She had an incredible Dioressence parfum in a giant bottle as well that I got to smell, but unsurprisingly, her little stall, though wonderful, just couldn’t have survived. How often is some little old Tokyo lady, shopping for her soy-sauced pumpkin and marinated salmon for lunch going to say, ah yes, how about a Jean Patou 1000 parfum while I am at it?
At the flea market in Shinagawa two days ago there was another Patou man, look, who is selling, exclusively, Joy (all vintage, in those gorgeous black and red bottles you see in perfume encylopaedias). The thing was, though, was that he was asleep. And even though I expressed interest in what he was selling, and the man sitting next to him was trying to nudge him awake and he opened his eyes briefly, he couldn’t be bothered to engage with me or sell his wares (not that I would have anyway, I just wanted to know how much they were going for….I have seen SO much Joy recently you wouldn’t believe it…) Hilarious. Someone who doesn’t actually want to sell what they are selling… (closer inspection of this photo reveals the reason: he is drunk. You can see a can of the very strong grapefruit-flavoured shochu liquor there at his feet…) There is another woman there, at the fleamarket, a flinty old dragon who always has an incredible booty bag full of loot (I have seen Lanvin, Coco extraits, bought a vintage Jardins De Bagatelle edp from her as well), but she is so busy selling clothes that she refuses to open it (bitch!) even though I assure her that I am likely to buy something, that she will make some money. Boxes full of vintage extraits, just bundled up in some old kimono material.
Oh well. At least I know that they are there.
It will just all keep me going back for more…..