Monthly Archives: April 2014

SUCCESSFUL FAILURES VOL.IV: : : ‘ANIMAL IMPRINTS…………’ EMPREINTE by COURREGES (1970) + LA NUIT by PACO RABANNE (1985)

The Black Narcissus

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They kiss:  and the smear of her lipstick, the taste of her mouth, her hair, her skin – this scent, in all its complexity, kissed in a furl of hands, of gently undone white shirt and leather coat, is the imprint left on your lips: your eyes: your brain.

Fresh, light-pink top notes of peached rose, jasmine, artemisia, melon and bergamot – a most intriguing top accord – don’t attempt to mask the urgently animalic soft leather whip of the base in a deliciously ambiguous chypre that is perverse, stylish, and clever.

Like a striding, soft-shelled armor of extreme chic, Empreinte, particularly in vintage parfum – though the eau de toilette has its own breathy exhalations – is an immaculate example of the genius of French perfumery as it once was – the layers of veneer, poise and sexuality, all concealed effortlessly beneath an outwardly respectable semblance of stilettoed, modish…

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A kind of innocence: CAMELIA IRIS by E COUDRAY (1946)

I watched a TERRIFYING Japanese horror film last night, Takashi Miike’s ‘Audition’…alone.

Somehow this feels right for today.

The Black Narcissus

 

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In the notorious district of Shinjuku Nichome there are small, intimate underground venues that stage the most elaborate and effective Tokyo drag. In a recent springtime revue there were two creatures of exquisite, quivering femininity:  with great poignance in his generous figure and high shoes, the star and his partner entered, having shivered outside in the cold until the right moment had come. They really were the most delicate ladies in their white and red polka satin sixties dresses, and when they came in, the air was filled with a beautiful cotton white lightness of clean fresh spring petals that in the context (fat, hairy men) was troubling, yet touching.   

 

At the Shinagawa fleamarket the next day by some strange coincidence I was astonished to come across a graceful perfume that seemed to possess this exact same quality, almost…

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RUSH: GUCCI (1999)

The Black Narcissus

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Yesterday we looked at gardenias; those gorgeous, perturbing flowers I am somewhat obsessed with (though I don’t know quite why I am writing about them at the moment when their blooming is so far off…outside the snow is still melting from the huge snowfall of Monday….)

While the Chanel Gardenia template is one direction that perfumers can go in; nipping it in the bud and giving it propriety, taming a flower which is something of an animal when all is said and done as it stands there, immobile, feverish and lurid under cold moonlight, other perfumers embrace this disconcerting angle of gardenias and fill their scents with it ( the carnal flower by Santa Maria Novella comes to mind in particular). A certain Madonna/whore dichotomy exists then with this flower: few perfumers take the gardenia out of these traditional moulds and inject it with modern verve.

Whether or not I…

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and the peonies have bloomed

 

 

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I hadn’t even noticed, and then, suddenly there they were

 

 

 

 

 

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Everyone, meet Ms Cabochard’s younger sister……………QUIPROQUO by Grès (1975)

A warm spring day and lemon leaves…

The Black Narcissus

Cabochard, Bernard Chant’s classic patchouli chypre from 1959, looms large and elegantly in the Parisian canon as an archetype,  and it is not surprising therefore that the house of Madame Grès should have wanted to capitalize on its success with a perfume that was the same, essentially, but different: a Cabochard re-made for a new generation.

Quiproquo, one of the rarest of my vintage finds in Tokyo antique shops, is a reworking of the powdery patchouli of its exquisitely tailored predecessor, in the sportier, eau fraîche style of Ô de Lancome (an in-house restitching in those more seventies, tennis-white contours), and a quick internet search has  confirmed my instincts: both were created by the same perfumer, Robert Gonnon (who was obviously something of a genius – he also made Métal, Anaïs Anaïs, and Empreinte among others; all delicate, yet shadowed, creatures that I adore…)

Less floral and vetivered than Ô…

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Instant cathedrals….. INCIENSO ARTESANAL COPAL, VIRGEN DE FATIMA

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Copal, a gum-resin obtained from the hymenaea tree, was to the people of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica what frankincense was to the East: an ambered, crystallized substance whose scent, when used as an incense in Aztec and Mayan ceremonies (as ‘food’ for the deities) induced feelings of transcendance, succour, and religious connection.

 

 

I have read about copal before, and like any other scent maniac worth his salt, I find perfume ingredients, raw materials with exotic names (especially ones that I have never smelled) quite mesmerizing. ‘Copal’………. it resonates. Part jewel, part metal, part unknowable unguent; what, we wonder, could it smell like?

 

 

Yesterday at an import shop in Tsujido, one train stop from where I work, to my surprised delight I came across a packet of incense that I had never seen: COPAL by VIRGEN DE FATIMA, MEXICO. The heart leapt at the sight, though I immediately checked myself, assuming that surely it couldn’t possibly be as interesting as it sounded and looked (and, wrapped up and unopened, it was impossible to sample). I of course bought it anyway, and last night when I got home late after an extremly exhausting evening of teaching in Yokohama, I burned, quite intrigued, one stick of the grey, powdering incense in the entrance, as Duncan slept upstairs.

 

 

 

The great similarities with frankincense were immediately apparent (and how fascinating that on other sides of the world, completely unconscious of each others’ identities, even existences, different cultures would hone in on a natural substance that has such an involved method of agriculture; wounding the tree to collect the ‘tears’ and exudations, drying it, and using it in religious ceremonies. How wonderful that this non-coincidence truly suggests that there is something inherently spiritual about frankincense and copal, no matter what the religion).

 

 

If you had asked me to identify the odour as the stick was lit I would have immediately said that it was of course frankincense….the plumes of thick, spectral smoke were just like those from a censer: pure, Catholic incense, undoubtedly frankincensian ( a smell I adore ), perhaps less bitter, perhaps a touch more mellow, but most definitely a direct, if chaste, kissing cousin.

 

 

 

I have written before about how I have burned Somalian frankincense in the house, and how the neighbours have complained (and who can blame them). Though strangely satisfying – the intense, pyromaniacal lighting of the corner of a piece of solidified frankincense resin with a lighter, waiting for it to catch fire, glow and begin to give off ghosts – it is in fact a painstaking and time-consuming process that can lead to singed fingertips, lots of used up lighters and matches, and vales of intensely black, acrid smoke that are not entirely what you were looking for (for what you are looking for in fact is the moment just after the resin has caught fire and you let it linger just for just enough minutes before blowing it out: that moment when the smouldering, golden coal gives off wisps of delicious, pure frankincense).

 

 

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This new find, this copal, will solve all my boswellian dilemmas. I have just burned a full stick of the incense, this fine spring morning, and it is perfect. Very similar to the haunting smell we are all so familiar with, frankincense, just a touch softer perhaps, more animalic and benzoiny somewhere in its middle and heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has taken me back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In 2007 Duncan and I went to Mexico. We stayed in the capital for a few days, wandering around in a trance, went to the strange and surreal silver mining hillside town of Taxco, then travelled down to Guadalajara (for a friend’s wedding), before coming back to Mexico City via the university town of Morelia. It was an interesting holiday, intensely stimulating, even if the food didn’t agree with us at all (Duncan eventually stopped eating completely, as you can see from the pictures). It was an entirely new experience, though, and in many ways quite thrilling. I discovered, at the very worst time, that I suffer from vertigo when trying to ascend the Piramide Del Sol at Teotihuacan……. discovered an embarrassingly sentimental side to my possibly Japanized nature when I kept bursting into tears every time a mariachi band started playing one of those emotive, heartfelt songs near our restaurant table or on the street; and I was constantly fascinated by the churches, the roadside altars, the bloodish, voodoo-laced phantasmagoria (Alexandro Jodorowsky, creator of El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre, is one of my favourite films directors, so I was basically in heaven).

 

 

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Those cathedrals…….. with the flowers, the icons, the incense – which I had assumed was frankincense, hanging in the corners of the cool, interior atmosphere – but which I now realize, geographically and economically, was far more likely to have been copal. And this morning, with that smoke lingering anonymously but tenaciously in the rafters, my house smells the same. Strangely transformed, like the atrium of a cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

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Actually, while we are (kind of) on the subject, trawling through some of Duncan’s facebook albums (hence the graininess here of these Mexico photos- I had to take them off the screen), I have just come across some more photos vaguely connected to this theme, of a fantastic evening we had at the Italian Institute in Tokyo, where Duncan won second prize in the costume competition as a bishop on a skateboard (inspired directly by the ecclesiastical fashion show in Fellini’s Roma). It was utterly brilliant, that costume, assembled in a week entirely from bits and bobs from the 100 yen shop, pieces of lace and plastic, and then just at the very last minute, the skateboard, which a friend called him up excitedly to say that she had found in a recycle shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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He was waiting in the wings, an irreligious prankster.

 

 

 

I pressed play.

 

 

 

And when the soundtrack began, to the delight of the audience, his eminence skateboarded in, a whirling pope, going round and round them in circles as they clapped and cheered.

 

 

Surreal. I loved it.

 

 

 

 

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BORN TO LOVE PERFUME

The Black Narcissus

A friend of mine put this ridiculous picture of me on Facebook yesterday, a photo taken about 23 years ago I think, and a photo I have absolutely no memory of, but it for sure is me….look at that imperial gaze, fresh from the water….undoubtedly ready for perfume directly

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