I will admit that my first reaction, from just a little touch from a sample vial on my hand, was that this smelled a bit like the gunk you used to get in the plastic top of an old orange squash bottle. Citrussy, sure, and bit sugary, but, what’s all this nonsense I thought to myself as the perfume began to then slowly de-coagulate into a closer perspective: a thick, Lemon Pledge cake shop scent for an old dear; a cloth; a mop: and a vanilla-themed pastry treat waiting for her over there on the counter at the end of her labours.
The story behind the perfume, to my surprise however, is as follows:
” You’re walking down a cold street in Manchester, listening to Joy Division, sipping on a warm cup of London Fog. This fragrance opens with the smooth sweetness of honey with Earl Grey tea, with a zing of lemon. It dries down to a cozy vanilla, soft tonka bean, and waffle cone base sure to make any gourmand lover smile. “
The second time I tried this perfume, to try and get this very American take on the miserabilist Manchester experience (the ‘waffle cone’ probably gives it away I would say), I put on a lot more, half the sample probably, and, suddenly, there it was: a blast (and it is a blast) of creamy, furniture-polishy lemon bergamot making quite the impression, fused together richly with some buttery, ginger biscuit-like vanillic undertone, quite curious and immediate, but for me, I have to say, a weeny bit sickly. On my skin at least this stage feels a bit like a battle: lead singer Lemon belting out furiously against whatever creamy, fattening business is trying to rise up from below the bonging and thronging stage floor; and and until the perfume softens down to the later stages of a more convincing citrus-oriental, when I start to quite enjoy it, I find this stage of Unknown Pleasures kind of hard to take ( I do like sweet perfumes, but I also have my limits).
The idea of someone’s personal experience being translated into perfume, however – almost like the Etat Libre D’Orange concepts gone more individualistic – is quite appealing to me, as is the basic idea behind this scent. I like the precision. Before I got tinnitus, six or seven years ago (self-inflicted, from dancing too close to a speaker in Tokyo when my favourite Madonna song came on), I was also a headphone wearing pop maniac, and I miss it (though myself I always preferred New Order, the group that Joy Division became after lead singer Ian Curtis hanged himself: more exciting, electro, fun, and danceable). I am similar to Detroit -based Kerosene indie-perfumer John Pegg, however, in that I am also prone to a bit of The Cure, and a bit of Gothic, New Wave misery once in a while, and I can easily imagine the strangely British thrill of the huddled up, cold city ice; the private death-cavern industrialism of music such as Joy Division flooding your brain, all contrasting with the soothing, sugar-cup warming of a hot styrofoam latte warming your hands as you trundle along. The strangely oxymoronic pleasure; literal and aesthetic cold contrasted with the hot sugary invasion from the throat (although it does also have to be said that this is very much the foreigner’s fantasy; the ‘London Fog’ beverage alluded to in the spiel would be unknown to most Brits (looking it up I discover it is a kind of Earl Grey Latte); the entire scenario, like the scent itself to be honest, to me, not personally ringing any Mancunian evocative bells.
But what of the perfume itself? The base of Unknown Pleasures is certainly quite sweet and convincingly neo-gourmand – very literal holographic cake. Where, say, Hermès Ambre Narguilé encapsulated a cinnamon-tossed crême brulée aspect within a pared down, but still very smoothed, classic ambery structure, this, despite the pleasingly richly ambered conclusion, feels a bit ‘novelty’: it really does smell just like a lemoned, honey-centred cheese cake. Quite enticing, actually, if you like a bit of overt miel in your perfume (I’m not always sure that I do), but I must say that the oddness and the lingering sensuality of the base does make me want to try some more Kerosene scents, particularly Copper Skies which I hear is a straighter, heavier, amber without all these extra cake shop condiments. I like Unknown Pleasures, though I think that this perfume would probably have Ian Curtis spinning in his grave. It is much less Joy Division, somehow, no matter which way you look at it; I think it sounds, to me, ultimately, much more like an album track by Bananarama.
31 responses to “LOVE WON’T TEAR US APART: UNKNOWN PLEASURES by KEROSENE (2013)”
It’s a hilarious concept, n’est-ce pas?
And interestingly, I have just attempted to concoct a ‘London Fog’ by boiling up some Ahmed Earl Grey (very heavy on the bergamot), some honey, and a vanilla pod, and me and the D are drinking it now. And you know what: it smells extremely close to the perfume.
Just somehow I don’t quite associate Manchester and Earl Grey…..the Americans don’t understand our bands, our ludicrous class system. I literally hadn’t even heard of Early Grey, let alone tried it, until I went to Polyversity.
No I don’t either!! I associate Manchester with whiskey and dodgy Canal St cocktails! And likewise – never tried Earl Grey till I went to a certain Auntie Esmerelda tea shop at polyvassity in the first term and got addicted to the bergamot and crumpets.
Earl Grey simply didn’t exist in my world at that time. It hadn’t yet begun its spread down through the classes.
Like you, my feelings towards this one are a little ambiguous. I love some parts of it and others seem a little over the top. It also doesn’t help that I really don’t like lemon meringue pie which, this reminds me of. I do think it is amazing work though. You definitely need to try Copper Skies, this is my favorite of the line (and first FB purchase from it) – one of my all time favorite ambers and if you like Amber Narguile this will be right up your alley (x10 on the strength though).
Just realized: wasn’t it your fair self who sent me this one?
Agree; there is something a bit helter skelter about it, but that is partly why I am intrigued. Need to smell Copper Skies!
After Dubaiscents bought Copper Skies and gave me a decant, I had to go back and buy my own bottle. I am wearing it today.
I have been on an amber binge this week. Tauer’s L’ Desert de Morrocain and Amouge Opus VI have been the other ambers of the week. Tomorrow is Mitzah. I found the Opus VI to be the singed desert wind that is often referenced with Tauer’s scent. Not smoky, but incredibly dried out by the heat. Copper Skies is a softer feel. There are a few pillows to sit on in the desert tent.
What gorgeous images!
“Reaching up like a flower”… I love your posts, they take me back to a rain-soaked Old Master’s lawn, with the click of bowls balls and Waltz Darling by Malcolm Maclaren wafting over from U staircase… Coming to Japan in Feb, so email me please! Jo x
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If this is actually Joanna Shaw, who I have been trying to contact for ages to no avail, then I am going to piss my pants.
As a huge Joy Division fan (I always preferred the former incarnation of New Order), I have to say that I was so excited to smell this. Then, I was puzzled. It just smells like a waffle cone on me. A big, big, sugary sweet waffle cone. I love gourmands too, as you know, but this was a little much for me. Puzzling about the description given by Kerosene though: as an American, I’ve never heard of a London Fog beverage!
“It is much less Joy Division,………… much more like an ALBUM TRACK by Bananarama.”
What a put-down!
I did chuckle as I was writing it….
For some reason I can’t get the image of a packet lemon cheesecake sitting forlornly in a perspex cupboard at a supermarket cafeteria circa 1985 out of my mind.
It’s The Thompson Twins I hear though…
The Perfumed Dandy
the TWINS! I love them.
It sounds simply too sweet for me! I think I will go have a bowl of Oud Ice Cream and a cup of hot lemonade.
It is WAY too sweet!
Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus.
Bravo Neil, I enjoyed this second time round as much as the first and it raised a chortle this morning. Lemon Pledge! Happy holidays xx
You too Emma x
Really enjoyed re-reading this. And, believe it or not, I really enjoy wearing Unknown Pleasures. I am very citrus-phobic and have to grit my teeth, privately, through the opening blast. After twenty minutes or so I’m fit to be among my fellow citizens again, and from then on I have hours of pleasant vanilla, a softly mitigating citrus, wafts of amber…for some reason it doesn’t get cakey-sweet on me, although on my husband it was so sweet that scrubbing was in order. In direct contradiction of its name, it is a well-known and uncomplicated pleasure, not unlike the sensation of stirring a cup of tea with a vanilla bean, which still calms me at bad moments.
I seem to learn the most about scents that I like when I read thoughtful reviews by people who didn’t care for them that much. I think there is so much uncritical hype by many reviewers, who often sound more like advertisers, that it is galvanizing to read the impressions of somebody who actually thought about the scent. So bravo, as always, and please keep writing
I will, I will. I only wish I had more time to do it!
Nice to hear from you again.
Deliciouß review!! I lived all the references to 80’s Brit groups, how I do miss all that fab music. Now my brain is humming along to Bananarama’s Really Saying Something.
Thank you for taking me down a lovely walk on memory lane, with a dabbling of fragrance delight on the side.
Oh, I am a pop monster, and love combining the two. This really ISN”T Joy Division, though, I can tell you!
*damned auto correct. Should be “loved” not lived.
Unknown Pleasures is not my favorite Kerosene perfume. I am under the spell of Black Vines and Dirty Flower Factory. I think you would love Dirty Flower Factory which is a white floral like no other and yet somehow, very classical in structure and feel.
I want to smell it!
Like I said, the experience of smelling this one Kerosene did definitely intrigue me with his others, it was just that the whole concept and execution of Unknown Pleasures was somehow off for me .
I had that Joy Division white-on-black album-cover t-shirt when I was 23!
Yup, a Bananarama track sounds like a better fit with this ‘fume. That made me laugh. Love your knowledgeable take on the story behind Unknown Pleasures; without you, I would have read it and gotten all Anglophile-romantic. (I guess the name is apt in the sense that for a guy like Ian Curtis, a London Fog would have been a pleasure he never knew?!)
Here in B.C. we’ve been drinking Earl Grey since the early 70s, for some reason. I think maybe because the capital city of Victoria (not surprising, given its name) was culturally established by a bunch of tea-loving upper-crust Brits and the trickle-down effect here was quicker . . . ?
While it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea *giggles* the Kerosene lineup in general looks reasonably interesting. Certainly mixed reviews overall.
Highly entertaining read, dear Neil.
It was rather flippant, but the idea that this perfume could represent Joy Division was just too ludicrous
Maybe representing Joy Division’s American fans with their misguided English tea fantasies comes closer.