Monthly Archives: January 2014

Gardens of melancholy : Amyitis by Mona Di Orio (2008)

The Black Narcissus

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Mona Di Orio, whose untimely passing robbed perfumery of a true pioneer of the mysterious,  was to perfume what some avant-garde musicians are to music :  so far beyond mainstream tastes as to be almost indigestible. Though clearly made of rich, natural materials, many people have found her creations to be quite simply bizarre. From the shocking orange-blossomed animalia of Nuit Noire, to the soiled,  tainted bloomers of Carnation and Lux, I was convinced I would never be able to wear a single perfume by this house.  However, Amyitis, one of Di Orio’s less celebrated creations,  managed to continue the perfumer’s reputation for stubborn, curious originality while veering off into cooler, more poetic tangents with an iris and sage creation that is austere, otherworldly.

 

The…

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SHUT UP AND DRIVE: CALANDRE by PACO RABANNE (1969)

 

 

 

 

 

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In his day,  Paco Rabanne was the Clockwork Orange of fashion: an iconoclast smashing the past;  futuristic, sci-fi; metal-fixated. The brief given to perfumer Michael Hy, therefore, for the edgy, yet ironically soon-to-be-classic perfume Calandre,  was to capture the feeling of a couple making love on a car: elegant, undressed bodies caressing and thrashing on metal (the name refers to the metal grille on the front), he picking her up chez elle;  white gloves;  leather seat;  the streets passing by, leisurely, but with purpose, to the pre-designated forest clearing.

 

 

Despite the shimmery and musky, low and erotic undertones in the base of this scent, though, there is nothing explicit or vulgar about Calandre: quite the opposite (which I suppose sums up the genius of French perfume). The man involved in this vernal escapade must have been really quite the seducer, and quite the dresser, too, I imagine, as the woman in question here is about as aloof, and as classy, as you can get. From the current perspective, where sexuality seems to have lost much of its mystery and little is sacred or clandestine, it is hard to imagine how such a well-behaved scent as this could once have ever been considered risqué, as it is in essence just a cooler, more metallic interpretation of the classic, floral, woody aldehydic; a silvered, rose-hued moonbeam resting on skies of green: seamless, powdered; yet also a somewhat brow-creased and moody scent, with its sharp floral top notes of hyacinth and iris, its citruses and rose oxides: its pensive, almost depressive, heart of woods, soft mosses and musks that murmur self-knowingly beneath.

 

 

 

Similar in theme and execution to Yves Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche, which came out a year later (created also by Michael Hy, who seems to have been quite brilliant at producing these cultured, effortlessly elegant scents, being the author, or co-author, of such other beautiful perfumes as Ivoire, Y, Signoricci, and Farouche), Calandre is nevertheless more distant and strange: less flirtatious, less full-bodied than Rive Gauche, who with her deep self confidence, vivacity and more upfront sexuality likes to usually take the lead in these matters.   Calandre most definitely wants you to do all the work.

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THE UNUSUAL AND UNEXPECTED INFLUENCE OF THE UNFAIRLY MALIGNED CHANEL GARDENIA + eight more examples of this exquisite, luscious flower

The Black Narcissus

 

 

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The original Chanel Gardénia – available now only very intermittently from vintage, rare perfume web sites –  was by all accounts a masterful, creamy floral aldehydic typical of its creator, the genius Ernst Beaux: a perfume of its time, now gone forever.

 

The reformulation and relaunch of the perfume in the late 1980’s, however, exciting as it must have been for those in the know,  was apparently an affront to lovers of the original. Where Bois Des Isles, Nº 22 and Cuir De Russie by all accounts retained the essential character and formulae of their original incarnations, the rebooted Gardenia was by far the least faithful to the original formulas of the first four ‘secret’ Chanels, and Luca Turin famously hates it (but really;

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SOPHISTICATED BOOM BOOM: TOM FORD NOIR (2012)

The Black Narcissus

 

 

 

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Any half-decent release in the dire world of commercial men’s fragrance is cause for celebration. And Noir, the latest Tom Ford release from his mainstream collection (his Private Blends are about four times the price), is really rather nice. The louche, airbrushed seductor has come up with a convincing men’s oriental for the twenty first century that will hopefully catch on with modern males and start a new trend for smells that attract rather than repel, bringing some softening and intelligence to the ghastly, weapon-like woody-citruses that usually dominate this market and club you on the head with their heavy-set, meat-head preposterone. I would happily snuggle up to someone wearing this blend and I am sure that there are many others out there who will feel the same.

Tom Ford is a savvy fashion genius who single-handedly resurrected Gucci from the ashes of…

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HAIR: OSCAR by OSCAR DE LA RENTA (1977)

The Black Narcissus

 

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Krystle Carrington, in soft-focus dream time, slowly lifts her hair from her pillow.

 

 

 

Her eyelids snap open.

 

 

 

 

Light furls in through the blinds as she descends the white, spiralling staircase in her ivory colored nightgown; one slipper after the other; her towering, great tent of hair not moving, not an inch.

 

 

She is alert. Primed,  somewhere in her gut, for another ferocious, nocturnal encounter.

 

 

 

 

With Alexis.

 

 

 

 

Sleepily, Krystle fumbles; switches on the chandelier, glancing quickly about her in the opal landing mirror, trying worriedly to make sense of what is going on, as Blake, finally waking up from a dream about oil, and finding his wife absent, intuitively follows traces of her luminous, phantasmic, skin-oozing scent down the ivoried, cascading staircases towards her.

 

 

 

The…

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MY CHERIE AMOUR……LA PETITE ROBE NOIRE de GUERLAIN (2011) + CHERRY IN THE AIR by ESCADA (2013) + WHAT WE DO IN PARIS IS SECRET by A LAB ON FIRE (2012)

 

 

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The only thing really lacking at our party the other night was perfume. Conspicuous in its absence, whenever someone did emanate scent the effect was startling: Chie in some fruity shampoo Japanese concoction that suited her slinky sequinned dress to perfection; Takako all femme fatale in her Songes by Annick Goutal: Aiko smelling beautiful as ever in the perfume she was surely born to wear, the dazzlingly alluring jasmine epic Sarrasins, and Duncan in the slick, gorgeous lavender semi-oriental Sartorial by Penhaligons: a ultra-suave, yet brilliantly measured scent that is quickly becoming his signature.  Aside these notable exceptions, however, and my own overly applied force field of Eau Du Soir, the evening was about as scented as the photographs I put up the day afterwards.  So boring, so bereft of depth, this flat, visual universe.  Where is the perfume?  It astonishes me the extent to which people are oblivious to the joys of three dimensionalizing their presence with a beautifully crafted scent; of their indifference, or their deep and potent fears of smelling ‘too strong’, or even of smelling at all, a profound paranoia of standing out that bores deep into the Japanese psyche, and, seemingly, the westerners living here as well.

 

 

 

 

Boring!

 

 

 

 

What so many people don’t seem to realize is just how much a scent can adorn you, embellish you, become the ultimate finishing touch: make you come more alive on the dance floor or in conversation; how a well-selected scent can draw people in, magnetize, intrigue, even enthrall, with a beckoning sense of layers uncovered, an unmasking of the soul that simultaneously, and perversely, keeps you even more ostentatiously well-hidden. I want more encounters with people clad in interesting perfumes, the mutual intimacy of the internalizing of another person’s molecules; the breathing in, the mental and physical reaction, how we inhale, and exhale, each other in passing.

 

 

 

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The evening after the party, tired and hungover, before going to bed I happened to pick up a sample spray of Guerlain’s Petite Robe Noire that was lying around on the floor long ignored, and thought I would give it another try. And I realized that although I had completely discounted this scent on first try as nothing but cheap Duty Free trash, I would have loved in fact to have smelled something like this on one of the girls, or boys, that came to the event; something sweet, fun, flirty and light-hearted, an ideal scent for the many little black dresses that were indeed dotted about the sparkling scape just begging for a dab or two of scent.

 

 

I love cherries, the fruit, the word itself, the connotations, the smell, and though demonized by many in the fragrant community as too ditzy and brainless, I am personally very drawn to cherry perfumes, and also to almond: to Serge Lutens’ Louve and Rahat Loukoum: delicious, simple pleasures with their gustatory allusions to Turkish Delight; L’Artisan Parfumeur’s light, Ottoman adventure La Traversée Du Bosphore –  another chewy gourmand scent I would also consider buying with its cherry almonds and fresh, delicate suede-vanille undertow. Some scents have a direct air of morello, others seem to allude more to cherries in a more pointillist manner, from the haze of their overall impression than the inclusion of actual cherry notes in their formulae; scents such as G by Romeo Gigli, an obscure nineties scent I am very fond of and love to wear in Spring with its very Italianate sense of benevolence, comfort: a breath of fresh air.  But if only I could smell some of these lip-watering scents on other people as well : the cherry-lip gloss calling card of a free and easy, up-for-it party scent.

 

 

La Petite Robe Noire is certainly no classic, but I think when you smell it independently of the great Guerlain classics that it is usually placed alongside at fragrance counters (which can only do it a great disservice in comparison), its good-natured, black-cherry/ almond, well-put-together vibe, with  sharper notes of red berries and bergamot on top over rosy, licoricey, vanilla/iris/patchouli base isn’t half bad with its cheeky glow you know and makes a convincing argument for Guerlain’s ability to stay commercial and relevant for the younger generation in the world of mainstream perfume. I would have danced very happily next to a girl wearing this.

 

 

And then, later, for a slower smoocher, What We Do In Paris Is Secret would also have been nice: sultrier, richer, more warm and powdery nape of neck:  a very pleasant, if perhaps overly unthreatening, floral gourmand by Dominique Ropion that has the heliotropine, honeyish Turkish roses in common with the Guerlain, and the bergamot, but with its doe-eyed, slower conclusions of powdery tonka, tolu, sandalwood and vanilla, you feel that this girl is more emotional – needy, even – that she is just about ready to really drape herself longingly over someone’s shoulders. Secrets indeed; the perfume might not be scintillatingly original, but it does have that elusive aspect of concealment that I like in perfumes. It reminds me in fact a little of Ropion’s similar work for Frederic Malle, Une Fleur De Cassie, but attenuated, less disturbing ( I have a hard time with that perfume for some reason and its feral, musked, renderings of Après L’Ondée). What We Do In Paris Is Secret is a warmer, sensual whisper of a perfume, with a well judged sense of subtlety.

 

 

For party purposes, though, you couldn’t ask for a much better scent that Escada’s Cherry In The Air, a ridiculously named perfume that I couldn’t help buying last year for that reason alone and also because in its initial stages it really is a cherry : synthetic, artificial as hell. When I sniffed the bottle, only semi-expectantly at a discount perfume emporium in Tokyo one evening, to my surprise I got that pleased, immediate, smile-inducing lift that a well composed scent always gives, perhaps because it reminded me so much of the Sour Cherry boiled sweets my grandmother always gave me when we went round to her house: I ADORED them (god I’d love to taste those again: can you still get them in the UK?). Yes, this is more sour cherry flavour than anything related to the fresh, tongue-dyeing juice of the real thing, which I imagine would be very difficult to replicate in a perfume. But the more the merrier: this scent is just intended to be fun I think, and it succeeds. With a hint of marshmallow and an admittedly less pleasing, eventual finale of false sandalwood, it nevertheless would have been divine on one of those laughing party girls. An effervescent, invisible kiss of hoopla and charm; someone who has forgotten the 9 to 5 tonight and is simply sipping on her drink, making jokes, living and laughing in the moment. 

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HEAT ME UP WITH CINNAMON : Ambre Narguilé by Hermès (2004) + Vanille Cannelle by E. Coudray (1935) + Rousse by Serge Lutens (2007) + Incensi by Lorenzo Villoresi (1997) + Ambre Cannelle by Creed (1945) + Noir Epices by Editions de Parfum (2000) + Cinnamon sherbet by Comme des Garcons (2003) +..

POST-PARTY BLUES

The Black Narcissus

 

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It is  absolutely freezing here in Kamakura today. Grey, icy, miserable, with the possibility of sleet or cold rains tumbling down this afternoon as I have to head out into the sticks to do my evening classes.

 

Ugh. While the temperatures this week, hovering just above or below zero, might seem positively balmy to some of you reading this, especially those suffering under the current deep freeze in North America, the particular problem here is the heating systems, or lack thereof. With a country as hot and humid as Japan is for much of the year, the traditional houses here are not insulated at all, and there is no central heating as Europeans know it, with the hellish result that any heat generated by the detested ‘air conditioners’, those nasty machines that make you sweat yet always seem to have a top layer of…

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