Monthly Archives: April 2014

PIU BELLODGIA + MY YLANG by CARON (2013)

The Black Narcissus

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You cannot envy Richard Fraysse, head perfumer at Caron. Much maligned by perfume lovers for his reformulations of the Caron classics (whether in an attempt to bring them into line with modern sensibilities, to match IFRA regulations, or to bring the price of the formulas down for the pleasure of his accountants I couldn’t say), but in any case his strikes me as being  something of a lose-lose situation. Caron is in a funny position: revered, adored, yet with little consistency. The new perfumes are rightfully scorned (Yuzu Man? Miss Caron? I think not…), and when the perfumes you think you are buying are not what you hoped they would be, you know that with Caron, every perfume is something of a precarious risk.

Though I often think the rumours of total and disastrous reformulation are exaggerated, I have myself owned and been highly disappointed by certain contemporary versions of

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OCCIDENTALISM: : FRANGIPANE by SANTA MARIA NOVELLA (1828)

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One of the weirdest, but most intriguing, florals I have ever smelled, Santa Maria Novella’s enviable status as apothecary as much as perfumery certainly comes into focus in their most unusual offering.

 

With a dense, medicinal, almost creepy take on a tropical flower – herbal, smoky, heady and unlike anything else – it is hard to imagine what the monks were quite thinking of as they checked the macerations in their cellars; nodded ‘si’, and sagely began to pour the tarry liquid into bottles.

 

 

With its almost perverse combination of sanctity and putridity, I think that Frangipane is probably one of my favourites from SMN (along with the thyme-laden Sandalo, Tuberosa, Pot Pourri, Garofano, and their emotive, inimitably rarified patchouli), although I have yet to actually take the plunge and buy some. Surprisingly, I have also heard that Frangipane is popular with certain, in-the-know swathes of Tokyo dandies, who make the pilgrimage to the city’s fashion Mecca, Isetan, to keep themselves in stock. It is an oddball’s scent, certainly, with its faint, bourgeois-repelling echoes of the centuries; compelling in its strange austerity. The palpable, fruited loneliness of the basilica.

 

 

 

Frangipane is a warm, lilting oddity, as if the tropical flowers in question had been marauded; sequestered; and were now feverishly practicing cello in a grotto (cavernous notes of nutmeg, thyme, and Peru balsam overladled onto frangipani, tuberose and coal-touched orris). A genuinely original scent, it is definitely worth investigating if you yearn to escape from the every day; love flowers, herbs, spice, and dreams, but crave singularity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THREE SHOUTS OF: JOY by JEAN PATOU, 1930 : ODE by GUERLAIN,1955 : SNOB by LE GALION (1952)

The Black Narcissus

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Joy, despite its legendary iconic status as one of the world’s classical grands parfums, is very much an acquired taste.

You can lust over this perfume, with its luscious, almost lascivious, natural rose and jasmine essences, its hints of tuberose, aldehydes and pear, then suddenly find it too much –  its tremulous, civeted in your faceness.

 

And this happened to my mother. A true jasmine lover, in her garden, or on her person, she has worn Joy or Eau De Joy (vintage, sent in the post by me), off and on for years, but then recently found that one day it suddenly repelled her and that she could no longer wear it, and so, instead, she has been sticking to her other trusted jasmine consort, First by Van Cleef & Arpels, surely an orchestral, vivacious grand parfum if ever there was one.

I myself think that Joy is a…

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THE BASE NOTES OF BLEU DE CHANEL

Was there something in that lunar, red eclipse last night?

Had a great Tuesday, energized and happy, but today…. Wednesday ( I was born on a Wednesday, actually ( were you ?)

Is it true that we Wednesday-ites are excessively full of woe?

The Black Narcissus

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I often hate Wednesdays, and yesterday was no exception. The day started off well; I slept like a log and woke up invigorated;  the sky was blue, if sultry and humid, and I felt kind of in the mood to face my twelve hour day (Wednesdays and Fridays are my killers….)

Walking along in my own world, still half daydreaming, out of the blue…BAM! a woman in her fifties on a motorbike crashed head on into another on a bicycle, ramming into her and throwing her from her bicycle and onto the road, as a car came down the hill. Startled into action by the sudden shock of violence I rushed over to see if they were ok – fortunately the only injury was a cut leg, but both were shaken up and she seemed to be in some pain. Looking at the time I worried I might be late…

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BOSOMS IN MY WALLET………. TRESOR L’ABSOLU by LANCOME (2013)

 

 

I have a tendency to not pay my phone bill until it’s been cut off for enough time for it to become a real problem. That moment had definitely come today, so I dutifully went to the Softbank shop to do my business, opening my wallet to pay the unpaid bill for March/ April, forgetting, of course, that I had put, in amongst the Japanese bank notes I had got out the other day, a sprayed blotter paper full of Tresor L’Absolu ( that I had absently mindedly picked up while coming home from Shinagawa station on Sunday afternoon post flea-market (nothing to report I’m afraid apart from a two dollar bottle of vintage Dune parfum that I half poured all over myself on the train).

 

 

Handing over the money in the mobile place today I think I must have blushed, at least inwardly, for there bloomed before me, suddenly and out of the blue, an enormous, rose-peached, cleavage. The guy receiving the money seemed to acknowledge something – though he kept it to himself –  but there was no mistaking that incredible smell: it was TRESOR REDUX, back in all her full-bodied, curvaceous, Italianate glory; powdered, almost Nahema-like in its intensity and in ya face absolution, it gave me the sweetest, most nostalgic pangs; made me totally miss my friend Denise –  not short of a bob or two herself I might add in that department – she who now lives happily in Australia but who we used to spend so much time with here in Japan; Denise who wore the original Tresor like no other, who it suited, in her white t-shirts and freshly washed jeans, strutting along singing hysterical operatic arias and Julie Andrews madnesses, to utter perfection. 

 

 

After the nuclear levels of boredom that were engendered by Chanel Coco Noir, on espying the black bottled Tresor I imagined that some equally abhorrent dullness must have been committed on Lancome’s sweetest. But smelling it today, dazzling in its Bulgarian rosy, peach-killing, Marilyn Monroe-ish (surely she would have worn this?) no-ransom beauty, I realize that instead they absolved themselves of the perfume’s recent edition – wan, poor, and lacking something,  according to the armies of loyal Tresor-philes on Fragrantica – with a fuller, Godzilla edition of a scent that, while asphyxiating me in its big-cupped, dreamy fullness, makes me smile even now as I smell it wafting on the blotter, and truly, and deeply, miss my friend. 

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THE KNEE AND LILIES

 

 

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Kamakura is a small, ancient city an hour south of Tokyo. A centre of zen Buddhism and samurai history, it is a deeply appealing little place replete with temples, interesting shops and restaurants, a kind of mini-Kyoto.

 

 

 

Yet while Kyoto remains the ultimate traditional Japanese experience in grandeur, atmosphere and exquisite refinement, the temples atmospheric and impressive, a deeply mysterious place where you can still see geisha disappearing furtively behind doorways, I am still happy that I live in Kamakura. Kyoto is a landlocked city surrounded by strangely oppressive mountains, swelteringly hot in summer, frigid in winter, and while I love going there to visit, it ultimately remains, for me personally, a touch overimposing and eerie.

 

 

 

Besides, Kamakura is by the sea and you can feel it. And as a lover of Tokyo, which I can get to in about eighty minutes from our house, I feel that we live in the perfect location. I can immerse myself energetically in the packed, neon futurism of the teeming metropolis, a place I cannot live without but cannot bear to live in, and then come back home to Kita-kamakura (north Kamakura, our nearest station), wait for the train doors to open and let the beautiful smell of the air, the flowers and trees assail and refresh my senses; the very real darkness (no neon here) that is always such a soothing contrast after a day in the hustle and bustle of the city.

 

 

 

Most Japanese people like to live very close to the nearest station, understandable when they spend so many hours working and convenience and time cutting become an absolute necessity. We however, specifically chose to live where we do because of the hill you have to ascend to get to our neighbourhood, Imaizumidai, a quiet, residential area right at the top. I like a separation between work and home, and also like having the time to think. In fact, call me a sociophobe, but I deliberately take certain trains when I have left school, stand at certain points on the platform to ensure, wherever possible, a lone walk home. It takes about twenty five minutes to walk it, past some of the finest temples in Kamakura, including the famed hydrangea temple, Meigetsuin, and the sublime wooden structures of Engaku-ji and its gentle bamboo groves where in the afternoon you can stop and have cups of powdered, matcha green tea.

 

 

 

 

It’s just that because of the knee injury I have, this hasn’t been possible for over six weeks, and I have really felt the difference, always taking the bus on a different route to Ofuna, sedentary, no exercise, no flowers. It has been very frustrating. I am not a sports person by any stretch of the imagination, but I do like to walk, and having that removed from my daily pattern, the walk up the hill after an evening of teaching (my solace, my silence) has been deadening.

 

 

 

 

I was supposed to have had a torn meniscus in my left knee, according to one specialist, but the results of a recent MRI scan have shown, apparently, that in fact that is not the case and I don’t need an operation. Instead, it is a more complicated situation involving damaged cartilage, much more difficult to treat, and something I apparently just have to grin and bear for the time being. You can walk, though, says this new doctor: better to strengthen the leg muscles…

 

 

 

 

And so yesterday evening, at about 5.45pm, I set off down the hill for the first time in ages, delighted to find myself absolutely inundated with flowers. Small, alpine white ones; strange, blackened calla lilies; the small, delicate irises that grow in abundance in this vicinity. Violets, beautifully scented azaleas, decaying, grand camellias. These purple wild flowers I never know the names of……. it was so gorgeous to be walking there again, knee pain or no.

 

 

 

I was going to be meeting D after work to have some Chinese, our local near the station that does great gyoza dumplings, but it was closed for some reason and we decided to be extravagant instead and have dinner at the expensive Italian place (in a fully Japanese interior, but trust me, it works for some reason) just down the road.

 

 

 

There the flowers continued; white callas and narcissi in the bathroom, and then when we left, even the station car park attendant’s office had a vase of flowers on it: I approached, touching the petals expecting artificial plastic, but no, they were real, blousily fritillated peonies. We then walked back up the hill as well in the dark, the new green leaves gleaming and new…

 

 

 

 

Everyone loves the sakura, the cherry blossom season best (which has already peaked), a time when the parks are packed out with people having hanami (blossom viewing) parties under the trees, drinking beer and sake, having fun, but for me it simply isn’t warm enough by any means to be sitting outside, and anyway it all feels a bit preordained and set somehow. I myself always prefer the onset of colour that comes after, when the spring winds have blown all that pale pink confetti from the trees: when winter is finally definitively put to rest, and the earth becomes more loamy and pungent (jasmine, frangipani, vetiver in the rainy season), and I can just walk, put my head back, breathe.

 

 

 

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SCENT OF MALE : JULES by CHRISTIAN DIOR (1980 )

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Notes:

Artemisia, galbanum, lavender, bergamot, black pepper

Sage, jasmine, cyclamen, basil, rose, cumin

Leather, costus, tonka bean, oakmoss, amber, civet, musk

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The last time I was in Paris you could still buy Jules. That was almost a decade ago, though, and even in reformulation I doubt that it was destined to remain very popular. Jules is just too intimate, too husky and sensual, to appeal to the fashionable common man.

The gravest mistake in contemporary men’s perfumery is the conflation of masculine and macho. Almost any scent released onto the market these days that is targeted at homo erectus is fuelled with clichés. Granite-jawed, gym-locker hardness: wooden aggressions with slim concessions to ‘freshness’ (immaculate,  GQ grooming); the latest spice; ozone; citrus. And though these perfumes can occasionally work on a subcellular level as Pavlovian lust-flaggers (the heterosexual woman, the homosexual man responding with their pituitary gland in a spike of involuntary sexual arousal), on the aesthetic, and more importantly on the spiritual level, they surely evoke emotions more akin to disdain .

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I was at Helen’s house in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago, sitting with the kids and looking out into the garden and the park beyond, the big trees that stretch their arms out across the wide, March skies. We were there for a while, talking, catching up and relaxing, when Helen’s partner Steve arrived back from his studio in the city centre after a bike ride in the evening air.

As he passed by us through the kitchen, Steve left the most troubling, imperceptibly resonant scent in the air around him: part fresh, clean sweat; part vintage Jules. A scent I recognized immediately because I own a small bottle myself, but mostly because it has, along with Loewe’s darkly coniferous Esencia, over the years, become his own signature. It suits him perfectly.

In scent terms, Steve and I are opposites, as we are in several other ways. He is cautious: I am a car crash. He loves comedy: I can’t stand it. He is meticulous: I am a slob. And while he would smell ludicrously wrong in anything even remotely vanillic, sweet or balsamic ( I am personally not convinced he can even carry off the bottle of vintage Guerlain Vetiver they have hidden upstairs in their bathroom – though that is partly because I want to get my hands on it myself), it is equally true that I myself just smell indelibly wrong in any scent that is even slightly redolent of a forest. Pine, fir, myrtle, juniper are of course all beautifully spruce, natural essences that I like aromatherapeutically (though I will admit that I do find them slightly depressing), but for some reason, on the skin, they remain to me too morbidly sylvan, too starkly prickly, rough and alive.

While Duncan is also drawn to these herbaceous, fir tree formulas and smells good, if a touch tightrope, in Christian Dior’s most animalic scent (and I smell horrible in it, like someone’s sweaty crotch), Steve’s skin chemistry – pale skin, black hair –  works with this subtle yet penetrating  scent in completeness. I hadn’t smelled this scent in a very long time, but my sensors were immediately prickled ( I would say he had sprayed some on just a few minutes before), the air in the room suddenly tingling for me almost on the genetic level; imbued with an ionized, sensating clarity of the veins (the outside air; the body chemistry; the sage, cyclamen, artemisia laden, sour herbaceousness over finely calibrated animalics), all of which essentially summed up for me what I love so much about perfume: that a scent can speak for you, enhance you, enlarge you, and, most importantly, affect another person in a way that can only be described as psychotropic. This smell was, in the most elegant and understated way, pure sex.

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There is a blooded, bodily, leg-haired, at-ease-with-himself aura that surrounds Jules. Interestingly, the perfume was created by Jean Martel, whose only other creation seems to have been Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, another easy-going, indefatigable classic that I wear myself sometimes as I love its warmth and aromatic balminess. While I don’t often go for ‘pour homme’ type scents these days, there is something special, real, lovable, about Paco Rabanne, as there is about Jules, a scent that doesn’t feel that it needs to brag. Steve, a brilliant portrait painter incidentally, is kempt, handsome, but not overtly ‘sexual’ in that boring, eyebrow-raised, current manner. He knows who he is, takes care of his appearance, but isn’t in any way a peacock (though it has to be said that anyone who wears Jules may have such strutting tendencies subcutaneously….)

In recent times though there has been an exponential,  narcissistic, looks-obsessed gym culture in which males – no matter their gender or sexual persuasion – are expected to be gazing constantly; defiantly, into the void of beauty.  With their slender, calorie-counted, machine-toned musculature, assiduously cared for facial hair and coiff, theoretically I suppose I should probably be lusting after them now that I have entered my middle age (or so I am told), while in truth such paragons of manhood leave me completely, and utterly, sexually cold.

Actually, come to think of it, this has nothing to do with age – I have probably always been that way. When I lived in Rome, I was pursued by a couple of classically beautiful Armani models who, much to the great consternation and disbelief of my friends, I just didn’t fancy, no matter how hard I tried to. Immense regularity of feature; straightness of leg, neatness of garment…….. er, no grazie. Give me unselfawareness, a natural body, let the testosterone flow more surreptiously, uninhibitedly, in the veins.

And going even further than the prissy, coutured preeningness that turns off all sexuality in my body, there is even, currently, particularly among gay men – and thus probably in the straight male population as the unstoppable metrosexualisation of the male goes unabated –  a very big trend for shaving and depilation that makes me just want to take the first flight to Iraq. In this world of hard, trained, orange crustaceans and fresh, mascara’d young chickens, one must keep one’s nether regions trimmed, neat and plucked – despite the ubiquitous hipster facial beards that also bore me to death – (creating the visual illusion of size, supposedly), but to me, these prim, men’s-magazine-influenced approximations of maleness couldn’t be physically less attractive. I personally like hair, softness, snuggling animalness, not this diamond-cut, gleaming sculpture of white-teethed vacuousness. Add a scent, be it your high street Armanis, your Dolces, your Adidas, whatever sports scent to go on top, or else your Monocle-approved prickly, ‘directional’ oud or glistening high quality citrus, and you then have a pore-closed fortress of a person, preened and ready for the selfie: infallible, no remove for manoeuvre:  the direct, chemical, all-at-once scent (which, unfortunately has no real basis), suturing the whole image up so damn neat and tidily (I have a horrifying image, actually, of meeting, if I were single, one of these unimpeachably turned out individuals, self-approvingly grinning on a blind date in some bar, dressed up in Vétiver Extraordinaire or some other nifty niche men’s choice, and me there choking to death claustrophobically in the perfection of our smiling, android mate calls; desperately wondering, eyes darting about the environs, how I could possibly make an exit….)

Because, you know, in truth, many, or probably most of these crisp, sharp nothingnesses that we are exposed to these days as ‘scents for men’, despite their puffed male credentials, have no balls. It’s all flash, synthetic woods, industrial lime, and easy, friendsome, laundry musks.

Scents like Jules , while somewhat outdated I suppose in some regards I will admit – unless you happen to be lucky enough to be able to meld with them perfectly and carry them off winkingly (but not too ironically), treat sexuality in a far more erotic, genuine, gently manipulative manner. Their subliminal urinousness (which needs to be kept subliminal in order for the perfume to obtain its mysterious power), derived from the clever infusion of animalics with piquant plant essences, creates an intriguing aura of warm stealth: tentative yet resolute, attractive yet a touch dangerous, that hovers, flirtatiously but good humouredly – and this is the key –  about the person.

I am very sensitive to these internal machinations within perfumes, and on Steve the other day there was a definite, immediate change of atmosphere seconds after he had entered the room: a hunted fox; some predatory, shallow-breathing maleness that I experienced personally in my own body physically. Just a sniff: hanging on the air, but libidinously…..deep rooted, carnal : : : the smell of a man.

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ZIGZAG ON SUGARCUBE…..LA DANZA DELLE LIBELLULE by NOBILE 1942 (2012)

 

 

 

 

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La Danza Delle Libellule (‘The Dance Of The Dragonflies’) is a strawberry vanilla whimsy, rich in its base à la Kenzo L’Eléphant: fruity, ambrosial, reminiscent, vaguely of quality, peachy bath bubbles – the kind of luminous, splashabout spheres that ensure you will forget your troubles once your get in, conscious that when you emerge, slippery, from the bath tub, towelling yourself down with your fluffiest, you will slip into those childhood-like, thick cotton jim-jams: sleep, nectarous, sweet-scented, as a baby.

 

 

 

Though the softly sugared, fragola-confectionery zap of the opening accord (apple, cinnamon, bergamot, light florals) might possibly have many reaching frenziedly for their sickbags (this is sweeeeeeeeet), the innocent, ambered funbag of the musk/patchouli/ coconut, and the entangling, intertwining strawberry shoelaces that fail to entirely entrap those winged, zigzagging dragonflies in the top enable a cute, and rather charming, gourmand perfume that to my mind is not really like any other (and which for some crazed moments there I have even considered buying) .

 

 

 

The drydown of the perfume – high quality, and thus expensive – is long-lasting and skin-bedded;  more adult, arranged;  sexually aware. It’s all a question, really, of your feelings on that opening: those callanetic, strawberry-winged creatures with glittering, fairy-tale eyes, that hover, carefreely, over the perfume’s nose-thumbing overture; dart down occasionally to alight on their sugarcube castles; swooping, suddenly up again, to resume, gleefully, their naïve, syrupy ballet.

 

 

 

 

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BLOATED MIMOSA: : : : FURZE by GORILLA PERFUMES (2012)

 

 

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I couldn’t help buying Furze. Although it blurs and looms, and birfurcates vanillically, greenly, almost repellently, when you smell it up close in a bizarre and plurid, fuzzy-bloomed pollen face of naturalcy – and you move your nose immediately back, instinctively (this is rich, potent, parfum-strength natural perfumery chock full of absolutes and essences) – once that scent has oiled the end of your nose or graced your fingertips, you start, if you are anything at all like me, to acquiesce.

 

 

Dripped on a blotter, and left on a dresser, you soon find yourself wondering whether that gorgeous mimosa, almond-vanilla smell is coming from, with its woozy rural shimmering edge of neroli, green leaf, and coconut; a curious melange whose wearability I can’t yet fully vouch for, but which reminds me in some strange and pleasant way of Caron Farnésiana.

 

 

 

 

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I am also drawn to the inspiration for this scent, which is explained quite fully and amusingly in the Gorilla Perfumes’ (‘it’s all about perfume’) comic, available from Lush stores. Vikings; gorse beer; the benevolent British summer garden outdoors : Furze is certainly rather unique.

 

 

 

Discussing this perfume in person with the Candy Perfume Boy, he told me quite intriguingly that this is what his house smells of. Put some of those popular, wafting wooden aroma sticks in some Furze and I can certainly imagine it; a drifty, sweet, daydreamingly dandelion-head in a fluff-soaked, afternoon summer, that just catches in the air, as if you were half snoozing, contentedly, in lazy, sun-beam- touched haystack…

 

 

I might as yet go down this route with my Furze, use it as a room smell, though I am still tempted, when the time is right, to actually wear it. There will be no dabbing, however, because the inherent problem with this perfume, as I said, is its overwhelming strength. The mimosa absolute, bloated in its circumference with its bakewell vanilla, green notes and that frothing edge of coconut, would be terrible overapplied and worst of all, rubbed. It would best handled instead, I think, with a deft dab on the edge of the freshly washed wrist with a soft, brand new cottonbud.

 

 

 

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