Monthly Archives: January 2014

Teardrops, raindrops: EN PASSANT by EDITIONS DE PARFUMS (2000)

The Black Narcissus

It is pouring outside today, in that melancholic, chilling winter way; the rain coming down in sheets.

 

The cat is in the futon cupboard, curled up into a ball; it is cosy in here and I am steeling myself to go out…..

 

 

I wondered. What perfume best captures rain?

Perhaps Olivia Giacobetti’s fleeting encapsulation of a lilac bush laden with rain drops in the city park, as you pass by on your way to your destination; that momentary soar in the heart as your brain picks up the flowers’ heartrending, overripe perfume before you even know the source…that sudden mad rush of possibility amid cold emptiness.

 

 

Winter is here. Spring is still far off.

 

Which makes these flowers seem even colder, even icier on the skin in this rain now –  more cruel.

 

 

 

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FAG ASH LIL : : : JASMIN ET CIGARETTE by ETAT LIBRE D’ORANGE (2006)

The Black Narcissus

 

 

 

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The Etat Libre d’Orange perfumes all have a very human quality.  The first impressions are generally flashy and ‘philosophical’, but the ends usually smell like real peoples’ lives.  In the case of Jasmin Et Cigarette, rather than designing a perfume to be worn in a late night bar, the company hilariously put the end result of this scenario (the morning after) actually in the perfume.  And so the top note of a beautifully fresh, living jasmine flower,  delicate, alive, kidnapped directly from nature,  is soon taken over, convincingly,  by the stale aroma of cigarette butts stubbed out by Saturday night careless punters in some overflowing,  snooker club’s ashtray.  Having myself actually on occasion at teenage parties mistakenly drunk from a beer glass in which someone’s fag had been extinguished, and paid the subsequent wrenching,  bog-heaving price,  I must…

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IN THE BLEAK MID WINTER: IRIS 39 by LE LABO (2006)

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Iris 39 is an unusual iris perfume. Eschewing the usual  pleasantries, it plunges us straight into sour, bitter-lipped, patchouli-driven angles laced with searing ginger, lime, and cardamom.  With none of the preimagined light, downy play between powdery orris butter and other florals, this is forceful and pungent.

 

Like people, though, with their inevitable character flaws, there is something missing here, a hole:  it has been left raw, wild; un-airbrushed. We sense the stark architecture, relish no warmth; no soft, bone-protecting furnishings.

 

 

Iris perfumes magnetize me with their coolness, even when I cannot always give myself to them in my entirety. To do so would be somehow to surrender myself to their snobbery and imperious gaze; become sucked right down into their roots and their morbidity: the petals; grand papery matrons, crinkling our touch – the Virginia Woolfs of the marshes, watching in the English garden; arch-duchesses, knowing death but perennial; the dust of tomed libraries and dead angels swirl in earth-bound; violet-doomed time tunnels.Those sweated, dried out and pulverized bulbs, with their silken, water-sodden shimmer. Aerated; beautiful, porcelain faces turned away; the unfurled flowerheads of their melancholia; argent, moon-coddled powder……

 

 

It is all right here in Iris 39, in that opening salvo of cool, vegetal iris, leached entirely of all serotonin. No sweetness, no compromise: a sighing breath of Après L’Ondée as the iris juice expires its last; and then a cold, twisting witch’s mouth of patchouli licked with spice: emotions sucked right, right in; a chic, deathly submergence.

 

 

 

I am quite transfixed by this perfume, even while sensing its privations, its sense of not being quite coloured in, and wearing it on my arm one evening I find that arm being raised to the nose quite regularly: it felt familiar; cold comfort; an iris with subcutaneously cruel intentions.

 

 

On my sweater the next morning, the scent had clung, maleficently, stubbornly, and it was then that I realized the source of déja vu: Clinique Aromatics Elixir. Yes, that was it most definitely, the aromatic, powdered patchouli of Elixir, a perfume I know very intimately as it is the signature scent of my great-aunt Jean, who has worn it for decades, from the height of her glamourous phase as a wartime showgirl to her current, miserable existence as a sad and moribund ninety two year old in a Birmingham nursing home. Her Elixir still gets a spray now and again though. You can smell it in her room. Every time my mother visits her she just talks about how much she wants to die, as the scent of her past clings, tauntingly, to those sad, lonely, walls.

 

 

Iris 39 has that same smell; the same intensity of sillage (stylish, distant; complete) but with a far deeper indifference. Elixir has a chamomile-touched, powdered magnanimity, an American generosity. This Parisian take is more dark-hearted; callous.  Absorbing; desolate.

 

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HIT ME WITH YOUR RHYTHM STICK : : : : PENHALIGONS TRALALA (2014)

 

 

 

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And, in the top we have : : :  Aldehydes, Ylang Ylang, Galbanum, Violets, Whiskey, Saffron

In the heart: : :  Tuberose,  Carnation, Heliotrope, Incense,  Leather

And In the base: : : : :    Musk, Vanilla, Opoponax, Patchouli, Vetiver…..

 

 

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I spray on the perfume and I can immediately smell Bertrand Duchaufour. Ah yes, unmistakeably his signature; that familiar, directional, semi-cacophonous dissonance that always, subsequently, coagulates into something more legible – out there – but usually quite  fun. That modern laboratory edginess that sometimes strikes me as being over-intellectualized, never instinctual; over-complicated, even, but still, on the whole, rather undeniably pleasing and bright.

 

 

Recently, I have come round to this perfumer more and more. His Traversée Du Bosphore is a luminous slice of cosmopolitan Turkish Delight I can’t help but enjoy; I was amused and somewhat swept away by his recent metallic pineapple-fest Déliria, and as for Sartorial, I think I am going to let Duncan tell his side of the story about that one. On him it is wonderful and straightforwardly gorgeous.

 

Tralala, a cute name, in a cute bottle (if you ask me; I am always somewhat drawn to the carnival; magic toyshops; puppetry and the grotesque) is not quite what you might expect from the waywardly bizarre list of ingredients. Reading those on paper, I would be expecting a heavy orient; brusque, thick, and dense, whereas in reality, as befits the name, the scent is more of a sweet, dangly legged thing that wants to bop about like an overexcited jack-in-the-box in a toy shop.

 

On my skin, Tralala opens on an effervescent, cherry-leather uplifting overture of red fruit, tuberose, and aldehydes with just a tiny touch of the pre-mentioned whiskey: this is not a ‘boozy’ type of perfume by any means, not liquourous, oozing or honey-thick. No: this is upbeat, fresh, and zany:  soon, the white musks and vanilla will hook up willingly with the ylang ylang and the violets to become, strangely, a perfume that was the star of the show at Duchaufour’s alma mater L’Artisan Parfumeur; to me, this perfume is essentially the classic Mûre Et Musc gone haywire. A snazzier, more marshmallowy, Mûre for sure (a scent I love and wear myself) but which can be a bit plodding, insistent and one-dimensional. Here, instead, as befits a perfume by Mr Duchaufour, there is always much more olfactorial detail going on; something zizzing, something pinging, then being narrowly pulled back into line so that the whole can then  shine; like his work in the recent rhubarb-tastic Aedes De Venustas, which manages the astonishing feat of turning that tangy, delicious fruit into something regal, plush and austere, this perfume, with its popping, silver-eyed aldehydes bringing all the ingredients up up up, begins stark and fresh and attention-grabbing, yet then attenuates, well-measuredly, into something else; the rhubarb, over there in the Aedes becomes a stately vetiver-incense; here, the bubblicious, almost heady opening of the perfume calms down nicely into a sweet, gentle, and rather sexy, skin scent I am quite happy to carry about with me for the rest of the day, thankye very much.  Whistling while I work.

 

Tralalala indeed.

 

 

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Thanks for the sample bottle, Bethan!

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SHEER LUXURY………..SHALIMAR EMBELLISSEUR POUR LES CHEVEUX

 

 

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Just look at it.

 

 

In the mail the other day came a most extravagant package. Embarrassed to open it, yet seething with pleasure at the contents – which I shall not reveal in all their entirety right now –  the most thrilling creature inside this wrapped up, beautifully thought out,  and entirely uncalled for box, was surely Shalimar Hair Gel.

 

 

 

Yes, Shalimar Hair Gel. You did in fact read that correctly. And look at the bottle! Like some nubile Egyptian amphor by way of Alphonse Mucha, the blue, exquisite container surely makes the Shalimar lover quake in his slippers:  begin to doubt the beauty of the perfume and eau de toilette bottles themselves…………………………surely this blue, hypnotic, elegantly tall creation should have, instead, been the bottle? (this is never leaving my permanent collection).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘luxury’ as being

 

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“The state of great comfort, and extravagant living”

 

 

 

&

 

 

 

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“An inessential, desirable item that is expensive, or difficult, to obtain.”

 

 

Both these descriptions aptly seem, surely, to apply to this elegant ‘bath product’ that seems entirely extravagant, luxuriant, and, to the everyday, workaday, mortal, completely inessential.

 

 

Where perfume itself often seems so very profligate; so pure indulgence: auxiliaries: those body creams, and talcs, and bath oils, and powders and shower gels and deodorants and body mists seem surely more so:  so excessive; so damn delectably superfluous, guilt-ridden, even.

 

 

You will not be even remotely surprised to know though that I spent half my student loans at university on such sweet nourishing trifles. The amount of money that I gave out in order to maintain my Calvin Klein Obsession For Men body product obsession was quite honestly mindblowing: I was a living, barely breathing bonbon: my first true perfumed love as I rocked my oriental in deliberately provocative excess – pouring them down over my young body like an emperor, reeking out the stairwells; creating quite a reputation, smelling, and I know I did:  gorgeous.

 

 

This is the first time I have ever owned, or even owned a perfumed hair gel, mind you. I have seen Chanel N°5 hair perfuming sprays before, those brumes that must adorn the horse-kept, ribboned locks of kept, unquestioning, fine Parisians, but this is the first time for sure that I have seen a perfumed gel.

 

 

Gel.

 

 

 

Gels, I have been using since I was a teenager. And they always come in tubes; cheap tubes of pliable soft plastic, with names on them written squarely across them like L’Oréal; or Schwarzkopf; or Boots. Squeezy tubes you add to your strands at the end as a touch-up, to lock things in place ( not that I have all so much thickened foliage up there these days to worry about maning and taming…….)

 

 

Still, that a hair gel should smell so delicious; and be housed in such a glass bottle; and that it should wing its way to my house here in Japan all the way from America, strikes me as very glorious.

 

 

 

How has this product been kept under wraps all this time? It smells like pure Shalimar blue-tinged perfection: all that you love about that scent without the weird leather-bergamot harsh contradictions of some recent batches. Just the soft vanillic-ness: the heart you knew all along from vintage, the classic Shalimar smell essentially, yet there dripping; fresh; unguently, waiting to just be manipulated there, right onto your head.

 

 

 

It is to be applied with an applicator, a top; a graze against your freshly washed locks to soften, and then beautifiully perfume them. I wore it on Sunday, in Shinjuku, and just taking up that bottle, and applying it to my finished person, with its lovely, lovely scent, I have to say, was absolute, and pure, wastrel luxury.

 

 

 

 

Thank you Rafael.

 

 

 

 

 

I miss it already.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

shalimar 1

 

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CHEAP! ! ! HOW IT IS POSSIBLE TO FIND A VINTAGE MADAME ROCHAS PARFUM SPRAY IN A YOKOHAMA CITY THRIFT STORE FOR 50 YEN; 29 pence, A MERE 48 cents

 

 

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Every city has its posh, expensive areas but also its more thrifty, down-to-earth and even downtrodden neighbourhoods, and Yokohama, the bayside, third biggest metropolis in Japan, and a place I have become increasingly fond of over the years (just twenty two minutes from our  nearest station, more easy-going, breathable  and wider streeted than Tokyo) has it all. While I do love the fancier areas, such as the quaint, chichi Motomachi, with its French restaurants, designer shops and boutiques, I also love to walk from there along to seaside Yamashita park, through upright business district Kannai, with its upscale bars and restaurants, but then to traverse the busy thoroughfare and find myself in Isezakicho, the more Asian, gangling and rambling zone full of Thai and Korean restaurants, clothes shops of questionable taste, massage parlours, pet shops, prostitutes, and second hand ‘recycle’ shops; streets where I instantly find myself relaxing somehow, for all pretensions disappear here. All is human, feet on the ground ease for me and I sense instinctively that I can just disappear into the ether, into the neon anonymity of city life.

 

 

I am in a period of intensity at work at the moment and on Saturday night, after a really long, if enjoyable day of teaching, I was completely mentally exhausted and just wanted to be alone. I talk all day, and sometimes at night there are simply no more words. My well is dry.

 

 

Duncan was out in Tokyo, dancing at a friend’s birthday party that I had also been invited to, but, having decided instead to go and see a film by Danish director Winding Refyn, the strange, hypnotic red-steeped Bangkok-set Only God Forgives ( I just need to sit in the dark, isolated, absorbing someone’s art, my own thoughts temporarily silenced), prior to going to the cinema,  I just wanted to drift. Have some food, a beer, read my Morrissey autobiography, just blend into the background.

 

 

But first. Have to check my haunts, the three shops I know of that occasionally give windfalls of cheap, vintage perfume that never fail to give the boy a boost. First one: nothing. Second one: a slightly degraded, but still rather lovely Eau De Calandre for 1000 yen, a very strange serendipity seeing as I have just been writing about it the other day ( this often happens, incidentally); and a full bottle of Guerlain’s Winter Délice that I couldn’t resist for the price of 2000 yen, an odd but satisfying blend of fir, frankincense and vanilla that I am extremely fond of come Yule.

 

 

It is the end of the month and I don’t really have much money to be honest. In truth I probably shouldn’t really be ‘wasting’ money on things I don’t ultimately need, but sod it, I am not letting these bargains go. Probably I should have bought Flora Nerolia as well, but buying everything in the shop just makes me feel like a whore.

 

 

One more to check. Yes, Opal, our favourite, which is set up in an old Odeon cinema, tucked away behind the facade, just an elevator ride away from the street, a hilariously trashy emporium selling second hand Prada, Chanel and Gucci clothes and accessories at fairly high prices ( I love watching, from a distance, the interesting looking types from the area’s netherworld who peruse these flashier, more high investment items),  but the shop also has bargain bins of half-used lipsticks, foundations, and old, half-used perfumes sometimes tossed into the unhygenic cheap mêlée for good measure that I love to rootle about it in. There is an exquisite, astonishing  Diorissimo there at the moment that I imagine could be worth quite a lot of money;  it has ‘collector’s item’ written all over it,  but as it is 5, 000 yen (50 dollars) I keep desisting, seeing as I would never wear it myself. Amazing bottle, though; black enamel, stunning. Should I go back and get it for my collection? Do any of you need it?

 

 

You know, I also didn’t buy the Madame Rochas in the picture, despite its amusing little price. No, I have learnt my lesson regarding vaporisateurs; those ‘natural sprays’ that I have found don’t last as well as dab-on bottles during the inevitable passage of time; some chemical perhaps, added for preservation, that always seems to ruin the blend slightly with a gassy, vegetal aspect (the Calandre spray I had picked up earlier does have these same ruined top notes, incidentally, even as it then progresses to its perfect vintage heart). Nevertheless, upon sniffing the Madame Rochas as she calls out to me pitifully to be rescued from her heap of maquillaged garbage, I detect too much degradation in the top and middle, and in any case have no use for its musky, ladyish business on my own skin. I do love that perfume, though, and know that it is always popping up everywhere at fleamarkets and vintage shops, really one of the most ubiquitous so know she will surely be back.

 

If you don’t know Madame Rochas intimately, I can tell you that in its original, vintage form this beautiful perfume it is ANYTHING but cheap; on the contrary; it was a solid, monument to elegance that was, obviously, entirely ruined by reformulation. No, in the original, the perfume, an immaculately put-together creature, takes a similar theme to No 5 (in a sense), but is infinitely less soft, wide-eyed and fleshy: yes, there are woods, flowers and shimmering aldehydes, but the perfume refines the whole to a more aloof, superior level with harder, enamelled edges. In parfum there is a marble translucence, a dimension of light not seen in any other scent of this genre that lends the perfume a very refined, white-gloved dignity. With genius, the complex list of ingredients is tightly bound into such a scented, glinting fuselage that the effect is almost startling. When you apply Madame Rochase vintage parfum, in exquisite, concentrated dot to the wrist – at first the perfume is silent, wondering where it is. It waits, unrelenting. From an imperturbable, cool smoothness then sing out, gradually, individual flowers: rose, ylang ylang, lily of the valley. This accord graduates gently to a tender, yet very sensual, soft woody finish that lingers until it finally disappears much later in the day. In the Madame Rochas I find in the trash box, age has taken too much of a toll. I pick it up, I smell it. I put it back.

 

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THE SARACEN AND THE COSSACK: TWO CHEST-BEATING LEATHERS – YATAGAN by CARON (1976) & CUIR DE RUSSIE by PIVER (1939)

The Black Narcissus

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According to the house of Caron, the yatagan was a Turkish saber once used by the fierce, proud horsemen of the Ottoman empire, with a ‘curved and finely sharpened blade’, its very name hinting unambiguously at the unmerciful, sheath-laden phallus and its inexorable, compulsory conquests.

A virile journey: a battle in the sour-thighed, chest-rugged stakes with a similarly resolute fragrance, Piver’s classic Cuir de Russie. Both flowerless, dry, rugged creatures, expertly constructed to throw up jaw-clenched, fist ready accents as the accords develop within their worn, leathery hearts and they prepare to slay their (knee-buckling, pliant, and often extraordinarily willing), victims.

Yatagan is severe: dry, spicy, with precious woods, artemisia, styrax, and a good, healthy dose of sweaty leather. It is a pine forest: our frowning Saracen alone, in battle garb, listening to the trees and the smell of the soil.

In the distance are snow-capped mountains.

The Turk, growling…

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