Monthly Archives: November 2013

BLOOMS A ROSE IN THE DEEPS OF MY HEART…… Rose Volupté by Sonoma Scent Studio (2012)

The Black Narcissus

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I like a big rose. A rose that is generous and of itself; a lovely rose: not a mean, thin-lipped rose; nor a methane-dipped rose, a high street rose or a sneering, clipped, high-octane rose; a fashion rose or a bridal rose; a cheap, leering acid rose, nor some dusty old, crabby rose, no: I like a full, joyous pronouncement of a rose, a rose that knows who she is.

 

The world, though, it seems, loves scents like L’Eau Chloé, a mingily pertinent fragrance formed of rose water and green things and reduced-fat patchouli, but I most certainly don’t: we smell far too many of these perfumes around us in cities, especially in Japan, where immaculately turned-out young women walk the streets of Tokyo, untouchably beautiful, a red-blooded, heterosexual male’s idea of paradise; girls with the flawless patina of a Shiseido commercial

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JAPANESE CHRISTMAS

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I was asked recently to write something about Japanese Christmas. I have no idea what mental images or (pre)conceptions you may have of this curious time in Japan, but if I think back on those first Christmases and compare them with how I feel now, I realize that I have become acclimatized almost entirely to what I used to find quite creepy. For the Japanese Christmas, in some ways, from certain angles, is quite creepy.

 

I could write reams on my wonderful remembrances of innocent childhood Christmases, of the fierce, wondrous magic; the school nativity plays; the Christingle kid’s services at our local church with their candles, angels, and clove-studded oranges; of the impossibly exciting thrill of Father Christmas and Christmas eve, and of snow, and presents under the sparkling tree, but I know that many of you reading this will have had very similar experiences, and that even a short invocation of those things will be enough to make you glassy-eyed and nostalgic.

 

That Japan, a country whose Christians constitute less than 1% of the population, should so fully embrace an entirely Western tradition that has no connection whatsoever to its own culture might seem surprising. But just like the exhortations of those ennervating shopping malls in the west, come November, the carols and Christmas songs are blasted out on loop (sung in English, a language that the majority of the population does not understand), the decorations, the illuminations, just as fancy; there are elaborately made, expensive wreaths on practically every door in my neighbourhood, along with lit-up, flashing, reindeer and Santas in people’s front gardens; baubles, tinsel, Christmas trees, cakes (the strawberry ones, of the American ‘shortcake’ variety), and chicken (KFC); children just as thrilled as their US or British counterparts at the thought of what presents they are about to receive from Santa Claus (parents going along with the fantasy just the way ours did); the whole twinkling, red-nosed  nine yards. While for Japanese Christians, who celebrate the occasion more modestly with services at the various churches dotted across the landscape, Christmas is naturally a profoundly important religious festival, for the rest of the nation, it is a celebration, essentially, of a ready-imported atmosphere; a feeling, a mood, a fully realized, set-up fantasy with a no-strings attached guarantee of fun and magic;  entirely foreign, exotic even, and yet a part, now, undeniably, of the culture.

What I used to find bizarre, disconcerting, unnerving, and even at times deeply infuriating (though that was probably much more to do with my own issues that I had to deal with at the time) was the fact that, like the ‘Christian’ weddings that the majority of Japanese couples have (with unconsecrated  ‘chapels’ at what I call the ‘wedding factories’ – banquet centres with many couples getting married at the same time on the same day, brides going down escalators, others going up them, and then disappearing behind closed doors to have their hair and make up done by professional staff, and ‘priests’, who more often than not have no religious background –  no liturgical credentials are required, just the right costume and look (Caucasian) – I could work here part time as a wedding priest probably if I really looked into it); the fact that, like the equally celebrated Halloween and Valentine’s Day, I felt that there were literally NO cultural foundations for these festivities: just something strangely absorbed, something existing purely for commerce, used to really disturb me. Just decoration. Pure surface. As though British people were to begin celebrating the ancestral ghost homecomings of the O-Bon summer festivals, start dancing to centuries old Japanese music, clad in summer kimono, feasting on grilled squid, and banging taiko drums clad in happi coats and hachimaki headbands just because it looked cute and did wonders for sellers of sake; the whole orientalist, Katy Perry geisha drag.  Initially during those first two Christmases or so, I just couldn’t get my head round it all. Notwithstanding the post-war ‘Americanization’ of Japan and the capitalist hegemony of western culture worldwide, whose influence I realize cannot be underestimated, the fact that these imported traditions should so embraced so fully and wholeheartedly (and often unthinkingly) by the Japanese was something I used to find unfathomable in those early days. I almost felt offended, as if it were my culture that were being apportioned (and often ‘incorrectly’:  I will never forget the mixed-symbol monstrosity of a Santa hanging from a crucifix in one (hilariously) messed up window display).

 

To get further to the bottom of this complex topic though, I was talking about religion yesterday with some of the more thoughtful and analytical Japanese English teachers at my school, and they found my way of looking at all this quite interesting, baffled slightly by my curious dismay at what I saw as the total disregard of the significance of the crucifix under which these couples were sharing their nuptial vows (can you imagine people having ‘themed’ Islamic, Hindu or Jewish weddings purely for the ‘feel’, in Europe or America?) But for many Japanese, they said, religion is a fluid thing, less fixed and fixated on adherence to one faith to the exclusion of all others. ‘We can believe in it all at the same time’.

 

I found this interesting. Japan, I would say, on the whole, is about as religious as the UK (and in case you are wondering, I am fully agnostic myself, ‘not being able to say for sure’ the only logical conclusion I can come to), in the sense that people only really go to places of worship for weddings, funerals and the new year. The society as whole is undeniably very secular and permissive, and yet there are always fortune tellers on city corners and tucked away inside strange corners of department stores, sitting there patiently even in the bitterest chills of winter to read palms and predict the future; and a belief in the supernatural, or the soul existing in all things, is very prevalent in this culture (no one will have an office on the fourth floor of a building, for example, as it signifies death), meaning that many Japanese people can see no inherent conflicts or contradictions in moving from a Shinto wedding, to a Buddhist funeral or a Christian wedding; it is just a transference of symbols, for which they have equal respect. There is an intriguingly fluid inclusivity here that I find strangely beautiful in some ways, though I will still never be able to quite get over, personally, that first wedding, – the hallelujahs, the sacred music, the ave marias piped in through state of the art speakers concealed somewhere within those white, plastic walls…..I was both appalled and electrified by its post-modernness, its semantically disorientating, gleaming allure.

 

And like that immaculately overproduced occasion, Christmas here has more the illuminated, uncomfortably smiling face of Mickey and Minnie in neon at a Tokyo Disneyland parade (my idea of hell). What was once a solemn religious festival, centuries ago, far far away on distant shores, is now a dazzling, sprightly simulacrum: Christmas at its most frolicsome, geared up heights; cheerful and happy, especially if you are a kid, but, to be honest, as a thinking adult, it can bring you down. When Helen came to Japan the first time, I remember she was quite floored and depleted by this feeling, this dark hole we could both feel, from our own cultural perspectives, at the centre of all this empty, commercialized bedazzlement. I can see us going down the escalators in Sakuragicho, Yokohama, the centre of Christmas festivities in this area (they have an amazing, automatic, singing tree that can make me cry in the centre of Queen’s Square); the twittering, bleating, high pitched voices urging us to celebrate the bargains, the oppressively vacuous joy leaving us like strange, disoriented husks, some very potent darkness rising up from under it all like the seismological terrors that do lurk, morbidly, underneath the strata; beneath these shallowly constructed streets and the glib, electrifying frivolity:  we both felt exhausted. And we only came back to life again in the much more real-seeming nearby China Town (the biggest in Asia), where we settled down at one of the many excellent restaurants there to have revivifying treats of hot tea, dumplings and Chinese soup. I can remember these feelings perfectly – they feel like pleasant memories, but I can also feel the desolation of that time, connected also to the fact, that in certain ways, I was lost, and didn’t entirely know what I was doing here. I had culture shock, yes, but the foreignness was magnified threefold when it pertained to something I knew so well personally;  a Christmas that felt, despite, or because of all the red and the gold, the lights and the music, overwhelmingly empty and alien.

 

 

 

 

 

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Now I see it all slightly differently. Though I still find it ultimately weird that a culture so different from Europe of America should celebrate Christmas purely for its atmosphere (in that case, let’s start a national celebration of diwali because I love those candles), I wonder whether, all in all, it is really actually different from where I am from. The kids feel the magic just as keenly, of that I am sure as I teach them and hear their stories; businesses prosper just as happily – strawberry growers must do an absolutely roaring trade at this time of year, though quite how and where they grow them out of season I wouldn’t like to conjecture. Restaurants do a roaring trade, as so do all the shops, and though the core of the Japanese celebration is very different – Christmas Eve is seen more as a romantic occasion when couples hold hands and gaze out longingly at illuminations (inspired by characters doing the very same in endless TV dramas), book ‘love hotels’ for secret trysts, and every table at the fanciest restaurants will be fully reserved, ultimately, illuminations are illuminations, gift wrap is gift wrap, and Rudolph is Rudolph. And what does any of all that have to do with the reputed birth date of Jesus Christ in any case?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We were invited to an English handbell concert a couple of weeks ago, much of it Christmas themed, and though I was a tiny bit skeptical going in, to a brand new concert hall facility in the dreadful suburban zone of Totsuka, I have to say that it was extremely charming. The high ringing, ice-conjuring clarity of the Japanese ladies’ music, their entirely convincing renderings of all the most famous carols, the Skater’s Waltz, and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town brought tears to the eyes of this sentimental old fool, and how could it not? It was lovely. I was taken back, almost, to the frosts of my irreplaceable youth.

And undoubtedly I will also be strolling myself, romantically, down through the Marounouchi illuminations with the Duncan sometime in the coming weeks, and then to some pub or restaurant or other down the Ginza, and I can tell you now in advance, that we will both be loving it. And unironically. We have absorbed it. We like it for what it is. Tokyo, at Christmastime, when it is all lit up, bright, and pika-pika, lights flashing all starry eyed as characters in an anime cartoon, can be extraordinarily, shimmeringly seductive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fundamentally, then, I would say that Japanese Christmas, in my personal experience and opinion (I realize that this very subjective piece does not touch sufficiently on historical precedents and so on, sorry), has no fundaments, not really, despite the first recorded celebration of Christmas going back to the sixteenth century (and the fact that Christ is believed by certain Christians here to have not been crucified but to have settled, and married in Japan – he is supposedly buried on the island of Herai in the north of the country), but it is lovely, in many ways I suppose, all the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is most fascinating, for me though, is what happens on December 25th, Christmas day itself.

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In England, my memories are not just of Christmas Eve – when I would find the magical excitement almost unbearable in its intensity and would be told off by my parents and ordered to try and calm down –  but also of Christmas Day, Boxing Day, of an entire week of celebrations, where the world ground gratefully to a stop and the days bled into themselves in a pleasant stodge of family time and country walks to get some necessary fresh air into those cooped up lungs; the time extending itself into the New Year, the decorations often not being taken down, traditionally, until January 6th, the day of Epiphany .

 

The change from the 24th to the 25th in Japan, by contrast, is astonishing. One minute it’s a western winter wonderland, the next it is instant, pure Nippon. You wake up on Christmas Day itself, and all traces of Christmas have disappeared, been whisked away, taken down over night, mere afterthoughts. Suddenly, as if by magic, gone are those green and red holly-wreaths, and in their place are the traditional door decorations of O-Shogatsu, the Japanese New Year – bamboo, bitter oranges, pine – ancient symbols of purity and rebirth, the beginning of a period of long practiced traditions that continue through to the first week of January, when millions descend on Kamakura temples to pray for health and good fortune, koto music fills the department stores, and everything is instantly immediately, potently Japanese. The starkly crystalline mountain air, the profound and evocative white of the indigenous, animist, Shinto priests; the rites of purification. It is at this time, when the starry skies where I live are filled with the sounds of monks chanting and intoning bells, of families going for walks, and kids excitedly taking their white paper O-Mikuji good luck charms from trees, when all the shops shut down for the family gatherings and the traditional foods eaten at this time such as toshikoshi soba and O-sechi-ryori –  sweet, expensive treats bought in black, lacquered bento boxes to give mom a rest – it is at this time that I feel at once more outside of Japanese life – these are not my traditions –  but simultaneously more involved. It feels natural. Part of the country’s history. The family rituals of drunken togetherness, slobbing around doing nothing for a few days are in fact much more reminiscent of our Christmas and Holiday Season, and we have been invited to several wonderful New Year gatherings, had the unusual foods (sweet chestnut paste; black beans and shrimp, each with its own significance, some really magnificent spreads put on by our Japanese family); it is at this, more genuine, and relaxing time that the flimsy, glitzy Japanese Christmas fades very quickly from memory and is revealed, quite clearly, for what it is: fun, jolly;  a wintery novelty: a whimsical, but ultimately rootless, simulation.

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Straight to the heart: PARFUM DE MAROC by AFTELIER PERFUMES (2010)

The cold wind is biting me after work as I wait at the train station. I need warmth, I need spice……

The Black Narcissus

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Yesterday we looked at the bizarre, if highly memorable, Arabie by Mr Lutens and his magician/alchemist/sidekick Christopher Sheldrake, an innovative blend in which the desserts and spices of the Middle East were whipped up into an impossibly smooth and sultry, if for me indigestible, perfume.

I love spices: they reel me in, especially now that we are living in the days of the anodyne and the measured in perfume, where to smell merely pleasant, clean or worst of all, unthreateningly conformist, is the order of the day. (How often do you trail behind a person on the street wearing a gorgeously spicy scent? That sensation in your brain and stomach when your limbic system is momentarily thrown off course and the instinctual drives kick in and, like a blinkered horse, you forget your surroundings and all you can think about is that scent and its associations…..?)

The perfumes of Mandy…

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Let all of me seethe: : Vitriol d’Oeillet by Serge Lutens (2011)

The Black Narcissus

‘Vitriol d’Oeillet – the carnation, alias the clove pink. The fragrance fraught with anger. It’s petals, laced with tiny teeth, hold out the solution; a burst of fragrant spikes…’

 

 

 

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Thus, in 20II,  Serge Lutens’ entered his curious foray into the fragrant obscurity of the carnation: a much maligned flower, long out of fashion for its bland, mumsy, truck-stop associations; its banal intimations of death; cheap mother’s day bouquets; and the wreath.

 

 

Carnations and pinks: who really loves these floral run-of-the-mills now?

 

 

Once, however, many moons ago, these flowers were considered the height of elegant fashion.  By ladies, gentlemen, dandies, and fops; worn ostentatiously in the buttonhole, or on hats at the end of the nineteenth century. But what might once have been considered decadent, (Oscar…

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GOOD LORD! SATURDAY BARGAINS AT THE SALVATION ARMY BAZAAR, TOKYO

 

 

 

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The bazaar at the Salvation Army store in Tokyo is held every Saturday from 9 til 2, and on the infrequent occasions that we decide to go, D and I always end up scrambling to get out of the house in time when we would rather be staying in bed. Yet somehow the shining beacon of potential bargains always beams bright enough for us to make the long-winded journey to the bristling heart of the metropolis, Shinjuku station (the busiest station in the world – 3 million people use it every day) and from there a meandering trip to a nice little neighbourhood called Nakano-Fujimicho, where the Salvation Army has its headquarters.

 

It has a lovely, bustling atmosphere, very friendly and non-avaricious, Tokyoites and foreigners and people who look rather down on their luck rummaging happily together through the well-organized sections (clothes, books, furniture, knick-knacks), while pop music blares from tinny transistors and Duncan and I feel entirely in our element. How can we not? Although not every visit to Sally Ann does yield – I think last time we came back empty-handed, the thrill of the mystery, of what might be there, never, ever abates. As I make my immediate beeline for the perfume section, tucked inconspicuously within a corner selling old jewellery and cosmetics, I approach cautiously, slowly, teasing out the moment as the bottles or boxes come into view and heartbeatingly enter my consciousness ( I remember once seeing what I knew was a vintage Caron box, and feeling my heart practically stopping with excitement……….oh my god, which one is it? Oh go on, be Poivre). It wasn’t, but it was Narcisse Noir, and you can see the very box in the header I used to create the Black Narcissus at the top of this page, along with narcissi just picked from our front garden. Ah the joy of it all; of the mystery bottles, of what small, abandoned  vintage miniatures might be lurking within those drawers….

 

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(- the aesthetic unattractiveness of this messy drawer really does belie its contents…..)

 

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And yesterday was a miniature bonanza. There was plenty of vintage Calèche, but I usually avoid it spray form as it never smells as good somehow. And I mulled, briefly, over an unknown Nina Ricci  (damn! just checked on Basenotes and it must have been Phileas, a masterpiece apparently, and it could have been mine for only fifteen dollars…I thought it smelled quite masculine and spicy but couldn’t quite make up my mind). But you know, you can’t buy EVERYTHING, and I had already hoovered up a stash. The people at that place are always so smiley and lovely and once you have plonked down your loot, they tot it all up on a calculator and then give you an immediate discount; quite different from the flea market, where a lot of beady-eyed bartering goes on.

 

My grand total came to 4,400 yen (43 dollars, or 27 pounds), and for that amount I got a brand new collection of vintage extraits, all pure perfumes (!!!!!!!!!!!!), and three that I had never even smelled before. You are probably tiring of hearing and thinking bout these exploits, but I myself never will. No matter how many times I go to these places, there is always a surging tumult in me of delight when I come across these things, but anyway, shut up, I hear you say: just put us out of our misery and tell us what you found this time, for such a relatively paltry amount of money.

 

 

 

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Well, of course, Bal A Versailles, which for some reason I was kind of expecting as I have just been reviewing it – I do have a kind of sixth sense and am often plundered with synchronicity – and it smells quite perfect actually: I want it, but D has claimed it for his mother as a Christmas present (I understand : Daphne wears it well, and she is one of the best instinctive fragrance layerers I have ever met. She would combine it, say, with Montale Aoud Roses and Santa Maria Novella Patchouli and smell really quite gorgeous – she is a Taurus, and lord does she like those perfumes earthy).

 

 

 

 

 

Next came a pristine vintage Yves Saint Laurent Y, which is elegance itself, and

 

 

 

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vintage Coriandre parfum! Now this really did make my heart stop. I don’t actually know it very well; I remember that Liberty used to have the reformulation but it didn’t make much impression on me at the time, yet many vintage enthusiasts often rave about this perfume, and now I have the opportunity to understand why. It is deep, velvety and mysterious, a coriander-laced rose chypre that reminds me, slightly, of Patou 1000 only less uptight; more extravagant. Stunning. This is definitely a perfume I will actually wear, and I will review it again properly later at some point.

 

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Also in this little space (you see I turn things slowly round; lift them at a snail’s pace to further my delight, like prolonging the pleasure of opening Christmas presents) suddenly I see – my goodness – extraits, parfums! of rare perfumes by Worth. Now this is serious discovery. Je Reviens I know inside out and worship like the oracle of Delphi, but here in my hands I find that I suddnely have

 

 

 

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 Miss Worth I had never even heard of (just a flirty, aldehydic rose musk) but the legendary Dans La Nuit? The one in that gorgeous blue boule of stars that Lagerfeld ripped off later for his Sun Moon Stars? (remember that one?). This is the f@$£&n’ parfum! And I love the font on the back of the box (yes, these things matter….) and the perfume is extraordinary. Downy, enveloping, mysterious and strange – as the brilliant Perfume Shrine says, an ambery oriental reminiscent, vaguely, of L’Origan and L’Heure Bleue (now THAT would be my holy grail….if – and it will never happen, as the bottle is just too opulent to find itself thrown nonchalantly among old perfumes for sale – but if I did find the parfum of L’Heure Bleue I think I would just start caterwauling, ululating with joy, and be carted off immediately to the nearest mental hospital- but anyway, yes, Dans La Nuit, for 500 yen, or five dollars, is definitely one of 2013’s best vintage bargains. It is beautiful. And I can’t wait to live with it, think about it, and get back to you later.

 

 

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What else? A Trésor parfum, half used up, but I don’t mind ( I didn’t even know there was a parfum). It smells lovely and reminds me of my friend Denise. You know what, I might even wear a bit to work, a bit of peachy transgression to brighten up these increasingly cold afternoons. Also, a vintage mini parfum of Schiaparelli Shocking You, another perfume I had never heard of (did they have flankers already back then?). This has turned and funky and smells of nothing discernible, but I like just having the bottle as well. Finally, there was a room spray, the sweetest vanilla peach chocolate monstrosity you can imagine, but I kind of like it actually – I reckon it will come in handy when certain ambient conditions are required. A spritz or two of Des Jour Et Des Nuits, with the aroma of freshly ground coffee in the background will make for a comforting environment come Christmas. Which the Salvation Army Bazaar felt a bit like, yesterday, to be honest. Laden down with booty. D was a total bag lady, carting about plastic bags of clothes, books and china he had found (vintage Balenciaga and Trussardi ties for 100 yen a pop included) for the rest of the day. I got a book and a nice pair of midnight blue corduroys as well.

Pleasantly tired from all the adrenalined fun of the haul, we stopped off at a very nice Italian restaurant for lunch (a delicious mushroom and oyster spaghetti), and planned our further Saturday adventures for the rest of the day – which included a mime show at an underground venue in Omotesando –  me examining my perfumed treasure over and over again on the table cloth of the restaurant and realizing how lucky, as a perfume enthusiast,  I am to be living in Japan. I never take it for granted. 

 

 

 

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SUPERCILIOUS: RACINE by MAITRE PARFUMEUR ET GANTIER (1988)

The Black Narcissus

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The last time I was in Paris was 2005, a five day perfume whirl in which D and I did literally nothing but take in perfumeries; no time, even, for art or sightseeing, though the diamond brilliance of the December light illuminated every building with a beauty that was breathtaking and formed a constant backdrop as we skirted from one place to another, all the places I  I had long wanted to visit, such as Serge Lutens and Les Parfums de Rosines at the Palais Royal; the stunning Guerlain flagship store on the Champs Elysées; Anémone, Colette, JAR, Caron, Montale (which you could smell from across the street, and where I bought the glorious Aoud Queen Roses); the Etat Libre d’Orange headquarters in the Marais, and, perhaps most exquisitely, the gorgeous Maître Parfumeur et Gantier on the Rue Des Capucines, in which, after losing our way, and a big steak…

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WHO’S THE MAN? TOM FORD GREY VETIVER

 

 

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Perfection can be problematic. Like fashion models – often technically physically flawless but curiously lacking in sex appeal – or like Tom Ford’s meticulously worthy cinematic debut ‘A Single Man’, which reached an impeccable consummation in its distinguished acting and artful cinematography (but which personally left me cold), or even the man himself – a suave, handsome hunk who doesn’t seem to grey or age a whisker as the years go by (yet looks strangely plastic), there is a certain muted terror lurking in the seamless infallibility of the TF universe; the ruthless ambition;  the nail-clenched, acrylic, lip-drenching gloss. 

 

Grey Vetiver, the first time I smelled it, from the bottle, in an airport, had me nodding again in immediate recognition of another job well done. It was perfect –  pitch perfect. A beautifully rendered, citric, peppery, woody vetiver; elegant, masculine, commercial – a bit too solemn and resolute for me perhaps – but undeniably, like all the man’s work, masterfully constructed. And that was that. I didn’t think about the scent again after; for me, one sniff was enough: just one of the many tasteful and discriminating vetivers on the market such as Sycomore, Sel de Vetiver and Vetiver Extraordinaire that, while pleasing, don’t entirely appeal to my emotions, my deeper, more instinctive olfactory synapses.

 

I do really love vetiver, though. There is a sensuality, an earthiness, but  also a mystery and spirituality within the essence’s olfactory DNA, something innately dignified – yet also truthful and open – that always really draws me in. So when I recently spotted a discounted bottle of Tom Ford Grey Vetiver (along with a vintage parfum of Patou 1000) at a recycle shop in Yokohama, I couldn’t help buying it. What the hell. I figured that it might be good for Duncan, a tried and tested vetiver wearer, or if not, could be farmed off as one of the Christmas presents I must soon start amassing and packing off to England.

 

Later in the evening, after work that day, I happened to bump into a friend of mine at the train station, another Neil, not a perfume nut, but someone who does wear scent and who once texted me from some discount emporium in the city to ask me whether Calvin Klein Eternity For Men was an acceptable choice for a bloke ( I said yes; I used to wear it myself). As it turns out, it smells very good on him, though it has to be said that he might want to occasionally want to tone down the dosage (not that his coterie of Japanese females seem to mind..)

 

Dying to try out the Grey Vetiver, but loathe to let it touch my own skin (I simply can’t abide anything even the slightest bit ‘macho’ on myself, especially not in my black-suited work mode), Neil, always a very open-minded individual, was quite happy to have a couple of sprays of the scent on the back of his hands, and we spent the rest of the train journey together with the stylish aura of Grey Vetiver surrounding and encircling him most effectively; it smelled rich; velvety, dark, and rather sexy actually. But, still, most definitely for me at least, there was something a bit too poker-faced and self-serious;  way too governor of the board.  Neil agreed. In fact, he had never heard of vetiver oil, let alone Tom Ford, and, to my great delight, misheard the name of the perfume initially as ‘Tom Jones/ Grave Etiquette’, which made a strange kind of brilliant sense and made me almost spit out my drink. It was grave, especially on Neil, though not quite as hairy-chested as the great Welsh heartthrob himself………. ‘Ah yes’ he said; ‘It’s not unusual, but this is the stuff;  classy; very teak-lined, executive boardroom; tailored suit; straight down to business; elegant”. Would he wear it, I asked? ‘Yes, just not all the time. Only when I need to impress.’

 

On Duncan it was the same : just way – once the lighter, more refreshing top notes had subsided – too conservative; prescribed, and straight in the drydown, too pointedly ‘virile’ : “It needs some sweetness or something” he said, and, on him, I agreed. There is no way I could have stood D smelling like that: so constricted, so self-consciously austere.

 

 

So that would have been that, had I not, the other day, ventured to try the perfume, just once, on myself –  because how could I not if I was about to give it away, profligate though that sounds? Perhaps to Neil I thought, as we often meet by chance in the evenings, take the train together, and Grave Etiquette is a scent that I would quite happily have as our scented accompaniment. Or else I thought, maybe I could give it to my dad ( although somehow, come to think of it, he has quite enough executive confidence in him already and probably  doesn’t need that aspect of his character accentuated). My mum would definitely have liked the classic, almost art deco design of the bottle though: quite often she has commandeered certain of my perfumes for that very reason, just to display in the downstairs bathroom. It was about to go in the post.

 

But I had to be sure. It’s not always easy to give away what you instinctively want to hoard. And so, quite bravely (I felt), I sprayed it on. And I braced myself for aggravation (nothing less conducive to my serenity than those thudding, aggressive, acrid male perfumes).

 

But…… wait a minute; taut, acidic, spice-laced, elegantly citric notes: nice (…..? ? …) A gorgeous vetiver heart, the kind of vetiver I really like; rich, deep, anchored;  clean but with soul; fused, surreptiously, with nutmeg, pimiento, sage, and a gentle, rounding, powdery orris : the key, perhaps, to  making this perfume settle, as it begins to, quite naturally and pleasingly as it does, onto my skin (……?!) Wow, I find myself saying to myself, amazed; I really quite like this; it could almost be my beloved Racine; surely this isn’t working on me, how bizarre. Yes, the Maître Parfumeur et Gantier vetiver is sharper, more lemony, with a plum note in the top that I love and that really clinches it, but Grey Vetiver is, somehow, similar: the warm, earthy, yet highly strung and supercilious kind of vetiver accord that I go for. And my skin always brings out the warmer notes in perfumes in any case, which is perhaps why I didn’t get the patrician, dark-browed authority that both Duncan and Neil gave off when donning this well-tempered mini meisterwerk. My goodness, I think, I really like this. Perhaps I had subconsciously been wanting a new vetiver I realize; had found my (long empty) Racine popping up into my smell brain again, craving a substitute.

 

“It suits you”, says Duncan, concurring quickly as I rush downstairs for a double check and inspection, just to make sure that I haven’t made some grave error and am about to go out the house smelling like Donald Rumsfeld. No, it really works, he assures me. And so the last two weeks, to my great surprise, I have been practically obsessed with Grey Vetiver, spraying it all over my sweaters and scarves; on my jeans, on my coat. I have already used up about a quarter of my bottle since I bought it, it is an ideal Autumn scent. The brutish ‘manliness’ I feared would be so harsh and overly apparent simply did not transpire; the perfume is masculine, but on me, pleasingly so, and just in the right measure ( and I know exactly what I measure I want in that regard).  Admittedly, I did add a touch of Shalimar on a couple of occasions – which I find, strangely, usually works very well with vetivers, as it contains a subliminal vetiver note in its base – just to plump out the overall effect of the scent when going out; but in any case, the hoped for compliments came quickly after, I felt good and very natural in it all day (nice lasting power as well), and I think that Grey Vetiver is now destined to become one of my go-to scents, my staples. I rarely feel this immediately comfortable in a scent, this happy and confident just spraying with abandon. I love how it smells on my clothes, on my skin, in the air around me.

 

 

Me, in Tom Ford. Who knew?

 

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