Monthly Archives: February 2014

SHE:;:;:;: LA TULIPE (2010) + INFLORESCENCE by BYREDO (2013)

The Black Narcissus

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It is almost time for the tulips.

Tulips: fierce. Erect, pushing up through soil… Solid.

Odourless…

Like Kenzo’s Flower, which it reminds me of in some ways, ‘La Tulipe’ is an imaginary rendering of a flower that in fact has almost no smell (Kenzo’s was the poppy), a concept that gives free rein to the perfumers to construct whatever they like – in this case a light, laundry musk with watery notions of cyclamen and freesia that couldn’t be a safer bet if it tried: no one at the office is going to start asking you to wear less perfume if you have spritzed yourself, unimaginatively, in the morning, with a touch of this.

Except me that is: the profound conservatism lurking at the heart of this plasticky fleur makes me want to scream….

No, I do not like this perfume one iota, but I do love the flowers…

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Eau de Camille by Annick Goutal (1983)

The Black Narcissus

‘When I go into the glass houses and I see the strange plants of exotic lands, it seems to me that I enter into a dream.’ (Henri Rousseau)

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Annick Goutal’s simple but beautiful Eau de Camille is like one of Rousseau’s paintings. A primeval dawn of innocence where seringa flowers bloom and dew evaporates on giant leaves in the ten o’clock sun. A garden where quick young children hide in secret, dark-green places.

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MUGUET, MUGUET: THE SWEET, VICIOUS PURITY OF LILY OF THE VALLEY: Diorissimo (Dior) :: Muguet de Bonheur (Caron) :: Le Muguet (Annick Goutal): Lily Of The Valley (Penhaligons): and others

The Black Narcissus

 

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In Natsume Soseki’s 1909 novel Sore Kara (‘And then…’) protagonist Daisuke – a pretence-addled, fraught, yet indolent aesthete whose descent into madness forms the core of the novel – has a predilection for sleeping in the aroma of delicate flowers to negate life’s sordid realities. Being affected by the ordinary physical world with ‘inordinate severity’, this neurasthenic book collector ‘employed a faint, lightly sweet floral scent as part of this strategy to reduce contacts to a minimum; the flowers beside his pillow would gradually lure his restless consciousness into the world of dreams.”

 

The flowers: “snowy white lilies-of-the-valley, their stems still uncut.”

 

These form an important motif in the novel, but not merely for their pristine beauty and virgin whiteness: they come almost to be seen as a metaphor for repression. We learn that in his youth Daisuke had instead loved lilies, when his natural…

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MANY, MANY THANKS FOR THE TREMENDOUS SUPPORT AND BOOST + PERFUME RAGHBA BY LATTAFA

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I was very bolstered up, moved even, by the great advice and support I received yesterday when I wrote up my ridiculous post about the knee surgery I will unfortunately have to have done. Although the piece was much more facetious and deliberately over-the-top than some people seem to have realized  (I was sending myself up, basically, and it was essentially intended to be comic: I was chuckling to myself the whole time I was writing it – I do realize that knee surgery is hardly the end of the world): it was, still, nevertheless all true, and I was, as you could tell, genuinely quite disturbed at the news that I would have to be sliced up. I do have, however, the fantastic precendent of my dad, who several years ago was actually wheel-chair-bound his knees were in such horrendous shape, but who then, having had knee replacement surgery on both knees, went on to win second prize in a hotel dance contest in Havana. With my mum whooping and cheering, he was apparently spinning around with some gorgeous señorita on stage to the wild applause of the audience, not only getting over his painful knee surgeries but twisting and shouting like a superstar. I really love that story, and know that my ‘ripped little meniscus’ thing is nothing in comparison. I am inspired by his positive attitude, but I have to say that yesterday, getting all those practical, useful and heartfelt responses from you was remarkably, and equally uplifting.  Arigato. I feel quite embarrassed now for making such a big deal about it all, even if in its entirety, the piece was meant to be taken in jest.

 

 

I haven’t even been doing The Black Narcissus for even two years yet, but yesterday really made me realize how truly precious it is to me. I am the kind of person that needs to express himself or die for some reason, so the second I got home from the clinic, although I had planned another perfume review instead, I felt immediately compelled to somehow get the experience off my chest, before going out for an evening of piano duets with my friend Yoko at my piano teacher’s house that also really helped to put things in perspective and make me realize the true beauty of this life (we are doing a transcription for two pianos of Ravels’ Piano Concerto in G for piano and orchestra, the exquisitely heartrending second movement that I used to get all emotional to when I listened continually to my record at university: I had shivers going all down my spine yesterday when we started to get bits of it right).

 

 

Although it is strange that I am writing, essentially, into a void, and have no idea who might be reading at any given time, I still feel quite often that I am writing for friends. We haven’t met, but I feel that I know many of you in some way. I love the connection. You know, I used to be a whole lot lonelier here in Japan. Though I am blessed to have many friends, both here, in England, and in other countries as well, due to my time schedule, coming home late at night with Duncan already asleep, my social life until a few years ago, pre-Narcissus and Facebook, was limited to weekends and the odd Friday night, and in truth I was spending way too much time by myself in a peculiar loveless void of mornings with nothing to do, just staring into space, and colleagues, when I got to work, with whom I would often exchange not much more than pleasantries. I need more, and I was often, to be honest, at times  really quite isolated and depressed.

 

 

In the regular conversations we now have on here, as well as other wonderful perfume blogs, I feel as if I am really part of a community. We naughtily send each other samples of perfumes across the world, disguising them as other things to circumvent the ludicrous anti-terrorist current post office conventions, even though we have never seen each other’s faces: there is a trust, a generosity of spirit, a wanting to go beyond the boringness of everyday life and to let our romantic spirits soar in a way you somehow just can’t do elsewhere. And I think that perfume is the perfect medium for this, as it encapsulates so much. It is not fixed like cinema, literature or the visual arts, which are obviously open to much interpretation and individual response but are yet more undeniably there in their undeniable, physical reality for all to analyze and ponder over. With its invisibility, its searing emotivity, its inextricable bonding to personal experience, perfume lets something in the soul become released, and to share those different experiences with people all over the world, in different time zones, with different occupations, viewpoints, and ways of living, strikes me as a very beautiful thing. In essence, yesterday I knew I just had to vent (plus the whole idea of ‘What Perfume To Wear For ‘The Big Day’ struck me as strangely hilarious, the black humour of what perfume to wear for an operation enjoyably cathartic for me: I couldn’t resist it).

 

 

In truth, I know that I do lose readers sometimes for my salty language and the occasionally unconventional stance I might take on what is ‘suitable’ for a perfume blog post, but you know, I really just don’t care. I don’t want to compromise. I will just write whatever I want to write, even if it means that The Black Narcissus might not ever become the more ‘popular’ entity it could potentially be if I were to just reign myself in a bit (a lot). The thing is, being held back and distant; ‘politesse’, and the whole idea of a ‘correct way of doing things’ bores me to death, as does the whole ‘beauty editor’ approach to perfume, which is too obsequious, shallow, and cannily ‘respectful’ in my view. I like a wider perspective: something that encompasses life, and death, the beyond; sex, our childhoods, our loves, our disappointments, our dreams; art, cinema, music, history, all of which is tied up in perfume, which drifts its oneiric tentacle silks over each experience and lets us dip back into it like a well; I LOVE IT. And I truly thank you for reading the blog, and also, yesterday, for helping to make a hysterical hypochondriac feel much better. It was an ENORMOUS help and I kiss you for it.

 

 

 

Last night, while doing my knee exercises (Duncan did them with me to show me how to do it as I am crap at understanding instructions), I reached out for a bit of a perfumed accompaniment so as not to be too entirely tied to reality, and on the side was a vial of something called Raghba. I didn’t know what it was, or who it was by, but the lovely Victoria R recently sent me a fantastic package of vanilla-based perfumes, as I will soon be hobbling along to Perfume Lovers London to do my thing on vanilla scents and she wanted to introduce me to some vanillas I still had not managed to get my hands on (including the mighty Tihota by Indult, which got used up in one weekend; it really is the holy grail that everyone says it is; the vanilla lover’s vanilla – GORGEOUS). I will be writing about some of these over the next couple of weeks, as well as talking more about vanilla in general, a note I love to death, but Raghba was something I had never heard of, as were many of the perfumes in the package.

 

 

 

Anyway, I put some on and got to work on the stretches.

 

 

MMmm……….

 

 

 

You know, I think the main problem with a lot of Arab perfume is that it makes you realize how crappy much western scent is in comparison.  Definitely including ‘niche’ as well, which is often just so…..pretentious and overcomplicated ( I am talking to you, Bertrand Duchaufour, among many others): so bloody cerebral, thin, and overconceptualized, disappointing and conservative when all you want most of the time is something that just smells gorgeous; full; sensual. The Arab perfumers know this, because Arab cultures themselves appreciate perfume so much more than any other culture on earth. They douse themselves; they love it; they wear it, they LIVE IT. It is an essential part of existence; it gives pleasure, it purifies, it helps us bond, being something to share and comment on: it fills the air with goodness.

 

 

 

 

And Raghba Bakhoor Sweet Vanilla by Lattafa of Dubai, an inexpensive little thing when I looked it up, just smells delicious. A rich, sweet, rosy, oudhy, powdery, ambered, almondy, sugared cherry wood-shavings smell that just runs so smooth in that overdosed, seamless way that only Arab perfumes have that I will have to try and look it up when I go through Dubai International Airport in two weeks’ time on my way back to England (flying Emirates for the first time – are they good? Is Dubai duty free the exciting place I am imagining it will be?). I like this kind of perfume, one that just puts me in a good mood, even if I am less overstruck on the sandalwoodish base than I would be if it were pure vanilla or amber. Nevertheless, it lifts the spirits, it is blooming and sensual, and it is the kind of perfume that would make you warm to whoever was wearing it, in a doctor’s waiting room, a school, on the street. You would just like this person, somehow. The scent is full of heart: generous, sweet. Much like the readers of this blog.

 

 

xxxx

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A DISTRESSING DILEMMA….. WHAT PERFUME DO YOU WEAR FOR AN OPERATION?

 

 

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I knew I had done something bad to my left knee as it has been hurting for a couple of months, feels all twisted up inside. But despite the fact that in the last week I have started walking like Quasimodo, I did not expect to be told, this morning at a Japanese orthopedic clinic, that I had torn my meniscus, that they can treat it, but that it will never fully repair unless I have an operation with a five day stay in the hospital, with two bonus months of recuperation time at home afterwards.

 

 

WHAT?

 

 

NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

 

 

 

 

This is not part of my plan for this year! This is not what I wanted to be told on a cold February Monday morning. That I can’t walk down or up my beloved hill, past the trees and zen temples to the station: that I will have to get the bus everywhere, that I will turn into a chair-bound, miserable fat f*** who is unable to do any exercise, yet still supposed to teach my demanding students and work in the pressure cooker of repression that is the Japanese school without the depressurizing outlet of my night walk home, through trees, stars, night air; that I will be instead stuck, forever, on the slow, po-faced bus staring forward like a drone. Just kill me now.

 

Of course I realize that it is not that serious, when there are so many terrible things in this life that can befall us. It’s ‘just’ a knee operation, which I will have to schedule for the summer I reckon if I don’t want to lose my job ( a contract worker can’t just take two months off like that  here in ol’ Japan). In the meantime it will have to be all steroid injections, anti-inflammatories and knee braces, undignified hobbling and all-round grumpiness, but coming home, feeling very very sorry for myself on the aforementioned bus, I started thinking about the thought of spending five days in a Japanese hospital (ugh, the food! all fishheads simmered in konbu broths and swollen floating daikons), how it would be at the height of the sweltering August heat, how I would not be able to sleep, or move, and then I thought: oh my god, no showering or bathing: I will S T I N K.

 

And that is almost the worst part for me; more scary even than the terrible pain of having one’s ligaments severed: the thought, hateful, of being anaesthetized, naked, vulnerable, beneath my hospital ‘gown’ and within the control of strangers who can prod me, look at me, smell me. Hideous! I can’t bear it, can’t bear even the thought of it ; I need at the very least to have some control of the scent my cadaver is giving off as they cut me up; regions of my corpse are most certainly going to be scented with something strong, something lingering that nevertheless smells nice to induce compassion. Any suggestions? What is the way to go? A nice rose oudh? A gentle patchouli? Vetiver? (ooh, vetiver, yes……) Essential oil of vetiver smeared on thigh and calf; I will smell like a royal man being embalmed in the forest; dignified, woody, the dry, healing elegance of Indian grass…..

 

 

As for the rest of the time, stuck in a bed (the idea of the bedpan and its embarrassments makes me honestly want to kill myself), I can’t imagine how I will possibly cope. Does one really have to perform one’s most shameful bodily functions in front of an entire ward? To shit for the crowd? I think the humiliation will be seriously too much for me to bear: you can’t even begin to imagine how many essential oils I will be taking with me to that place…..each ‘session’ accompanied with an entire 11ml vial of bergamot and grapefruit….

 

 

In fact, this I have actually done once before. You can bet I most certainly did take essential oils the last time I was hospitalized (something I do not make a habit of, in case you were wondering): twelve years ago, in England, for a nasty bout of pneumonia I managed to catch on one of my many transglobal flights from Tokyo to London.  At that time, also, I remember, stuck in a hospital for eight days, how important smell and being clean and nice-smelling was to me. I have never felt so ill in my life, and was in fact alone, prior to being hospitalized, housesitting for a friend of a friend in an unbelievably posh house just off Hampstead Heath. Duncan had gone up to Norwich to prepare for his brother’s wedding, and I was to be joining him. Instead, I was curled up in the foetal position in the attic room at the top, unable to move or eat even one bite, totally isolated, semi-conscious… It was only when I managed, eventually, to slowly drag myself like a zombie to a nearby clinic, that I was given the news by the sweet and understanding doctor that I in fact had very serious pneumonia.

 

 

 

I remember tearily calling Duncan, excusing myself from the wedding, packing my bag, and walking, resignedly, down the road to the Royal Free, where I checked myself in and waited to be seen by the doctors. It was so strange. In fact, I was so feverish that the nurses couldn’t believe I had walked there (“get this man cooled down RIGHT NOW – he is forty two degrees!!!!!! Strip him off! Get him on a stretcher!!!!), but my sister, bless her, managed to get there very quickly and was in bemused hysterics as I flung lemon and lime essential oils all about me insisting that the room had to smell nice for the doctors, even as people who had been hit by cars or were in various other truly dire circumstances  (“I have gone blind“) wailed and moaned in the thinly curtained off spaces next to us. No, I was more worried about my scent than the fact that my brain was about to be fried like an egg if my temperature didn’t start to go down quickly (and I am a person who never gets fevers).

 

My delirum continued as I kept asking for more blankets to ward off the shivers (“You are honestly the messiest patient I have ever met!!!” one Australian nurse told me as she picked up the maelstrom of bedding that surrounded my hospital bed the following morning), and I felt so miserable and gross: all greasy-haired, slimy and foul-smelling, like a barnacle clinging to filthy, hallucinogenic rock, desperate, desperate to be clean and bathed.

 

 

Duncan had of course rushed back down to London, even though he had only just arrived in Norwich, and early the next morning he arrived with me pleading for toiletries, I couldn’t stand it, I was dying etc. And never have I been so tear-filled with relief to see a comb, some soap, and a new perfume. The angel had come back with some delighftul lemon soap and L’Occitane’s Vetvyer, a bracing, masculine and scent that was so perfectly chosen on his part that I thank him to this day. Although I was banned from bathing  – I remember eyeing the hospital bathtub with yearning and lust everytime I staggered past it – I remember, after a scrub, a few spritzes of that refreshing perfume and a rinse and comb of my grotesque strands, I felt a hundred times better and alive again, an effect more revivifying than any über-strengthed lung searing antibiotics could ever have hoped to achieve.

 

 

This time though ( can I be really writing about this? Should I not be processing it all before immediately splurging to the world? What is wrong with me? ) I suppose I will be much more immobile. Well I will be, of course, because my knee will have been cut up (god, I don’t think I can stand it, actually……I feel quite panicked writing this: I have always been queasy about knee-caps, the way they float in liquid, lonely above your knee, they have always felt so vulnerable….Jesus, HELP!!!! Have any of you had a similar experience or know someone who has? Will I ever dance again?  Is it going to be utterly excruciating?)

 

 

 

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I expect so. Although Duncan says I am usually fairly brave in that regard. No, facetious though it may sound, it is the psychological agonies that worry me more than the operation. I remember, that last time in London, pleading with the docs for sleeping pills as I just couldn’t sleep with all the old men coughing and spluttering, all the nurses and staff coming and going all through the night ( I will leave an address at the bottom where you can all start sending me all your discarded psychotropes and mind-altering drugs for my stay, any unneeded valium, xanax, or tamazepan, just to keep me nice and calm.) Although usually a mug of rooibos tea and some sweet marjoram on my pilow is enough to send me to sleep when agitated, at that dreadful time, I was so grateful for the ‘little helpers’, weird though they were (where usually I have incredibly bountiful, strange, shocking, beautiful dreams) on this case it all felt like a razor cut film edit by Thelma Schoonmaker: one minute I was being tucked in by the nurse, the next it was suddenly the bright and breezy person shouting out ‘BREAKFAST!!!’ I felt as though my dreams had been stolen, my brain excised). But at least I did sleep. One’s worries in these situations really must be assuaged. And aside the vile reality of my gagging on fish guts or soy-cooked, straggling beef fat and fermented soy beans, the issue of smell really really does matter to me. Essential oils are most definitely vital, also for the fact that they ward off the diseases that hospitals these days are inundated with (you won’t be able to get near me for eucalyptus and rosemary).  Also, do I shave my hair off to lessen its grossness and to go the full ill-patient hog? (hair must be washed every day in my book?) More importantly, what do I drench my hospital ‘garments’ in?

 

 

 

And how about the ‘big day’ itself? I have just thought. What do you think about Kenzo Pour Homme? Should I go all fresh and ozonic? I have the deodorant stick and the vintage eau de toilette: fresh, edgy, patchouli sea waterish…..might work in the dire conditions of unconsciousness and butchering, and always good in summertime. Or do I go for something that I like more, one closer to my heart for comfort? Maybe not actually. Imagine five days stewing in Bal A Versailles or the lower echelons of Shalimar. I think the surgeons, faced with such a funky, reeking monstrosity, might just instead in that situation, put me out of my misery. Death by perfume. Execution style.

 

 

 

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NUANCES by ARMANI PRIVE COUTURE (2013)

The Black Narcissus

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The fundamental aesthetic of Milano fashion maestro Giorgio Armani has always been a form of stratospheric normalcy; an incontrovertible elegance and simplicity that most of us mere mortals could never even hope (or in my case, want) to achieve, with its unfussed, seamless drapery and cut; its perfection; its conservatism. Look at any Armani show in the haute couture season, and he is invariably the least daring creator, particularly when compared to the more ‘out there’ designers of France, the UK, or Japan who seem, often, to push the boundaries of weirdity and alien unwearability to fiercely artistic, but sometimes unintentionally comic, effect.

The thing about Armani is that his clothes, even at the very top of his range, are always, ultimately, wearable. And the same thing can be said for his perfumes. While La Femme Bleue, which I have never smelled but have some kind of weird…

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………..GREY VELVET: POIVRE SAMARCANDE by Hermès (2004)

The Black Narcissus

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Recently we looked at Terre D’Hermès, the magically disappearing/reappearing masculine sensation by Hermès in-house alchemist Jean Claude Ellena.

This curious olfactory phenomenon, whereby a fragrance seems to have vanished entirely, only to sneak up behind you in great clouds of secrecy, and which I believe is unique to this perfumer alone, is not, however, limited to the ubiquitous Terre. It is even more impressive in the underrated, Houdini-esque Poivre Samarcande from the Hermessence Collection: a broody, peppery moss and spice scent that is invisible, almost, on first application, yet will suddenly surrender its dark grey velvet cloaks in the night like the Hooded Claw, revealing a troubling heart that can be smelled from the other side of the street – just not necessarily by the person that is wearing it.

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One of Duncan’s Holy Grails, Poivre Samarcande is almost too dastardly suave, dry and sexy for me ( I never…

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