Serge Lutens Datura Noir + Coconut Skin Trip + D&G Velvet Desire
Serge Lutens Datura Noir + Coconut Skin Trip + D&G Velvet Desire
Unbelievably, one of the most popular perfumes of all time in Japan.
Ultramarine, perhaps the most popular scent for men – EVER – in Japan, is in my opinion, an absolute, bottled oxymoron : a ‘morbid oceanic’, if you like, and surely the weirdest perfume ever to be a megahit (which it undoubtedly still is here, even two decades after its release: an extremely popular choice for the young surfer about town – so much so that if you smell a perfume on a man in this country it is quite likely to be this surprise hit flanker for Givenchy). Though nowhere on the best seller lists in other countries, in Japan it is considered something of a reference perfume, one that everyone knows will help you pull, a scent that is seen as definitively sekk-u-shi (….er…SEXY). To me, though, having been exposed to its ‘charms’ at close range on countless occasions, this cadaverous wave of nautical chemicals just smells like…
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It has reached that time.
Proper hot, yellow sun.
And so I am CRAVING some more bottles of this.
For me, there is no better work scent once the solar rays start blasting.
Kenzo is a fashion house I can’t help but enjoy: a (privileged, expensive) refuge from reality that combines a precise, childlike Japanese aesthetic with a vivid, jungled, ‘ethnic’ spectrum: an idealized, Franco-Japponic, rainforest-batik world of colour. On occasion I go to their shop in Aoyama, Tokyo, just for a quick Kenzo fix ( love how they print flowers), and to consider the possibility of buying one of their leafy, kookaburra neckties. Eye-catching, lush, is the way I would describe the brand.
There is also something quite artificial about Kenzo: it’s ‘le monde est beau’ mantra, its smooth, plastic, futuristic packaging; those poppies, ubiquitous, trapped in their eye-brimming plastic towers – but somehow, on the whole, it all works. Many of the perfumes in Kenzo’s range, whether discontinued or not (Le Tigre, L’Elephant, Kashâya, Parfum D’Eté) are…
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It’s near the end of May; the jasmine is fading slowly but the hillside where I live is replenished with swathes of wild honeysuckle trailing down in surprise ruptures of scent as you find yourself passing by in the dark: the nectarous, sweet siren call of honeysuckle. I have always loved it so much. And yet, to my knowledge, this scent has yet to be convincingly captured in a perfume. I have never smelled one that even comes close.
skin smells of sun, the
insides of roses. I want
to eat that light. Every
|FAIR flower, that dost so comely grow,|
|Hid in this silent, dull retreat,|
|Untouch’d thy honey’d blossoms blow,|
|Unseen thy little branches greet:|
|No roving foot shall find thee here,||5|
|No busy hand provoke a tear.|
|From morning suns and evening dews|
|At first thy little being came:|
|If nothing once, you nothing lose,|
|For when you die you are the same;|
|The space between is but an hour,|
| The frail duration of a flower.
|(The Wild Honeysuckle|
| By Philip Freneau )
I PLUCKED a honeysuckle where
The hedge on high is quick with thorn,
And climbing for the prize, was torn,
And fouled my feet in quag-water;
And by the thorns and by the wind
The blossom that I took was thinn’d,
And yet I found it sweet and fair.
Thence to a richer growth I came,
Where, nursed in mellow intercourse,
The honeysuckles sprang by scores,
Not harried like my single stem,
All virgin lamps of scent and dew.
So from my hand that first I threw,
Yet plucked not any more of them.
(Dante Gabriel Rossetti)
I have just re-watched this upstairs….
Delighted that Julianne Moore won the Best Actress at Cannes for David Cronenberg’s Map To The Stars……….I cannot W A I T to see it.
Two days ago I went to see, for the second time, the new David Cronenberg film Cosmopolis. It is a work, for me, of insidious, glacial beauty matched perfectly to my own visual aesthetic, and it had been surreptiously replaying itself in my mind ever since the first time I saw it in Ginza three weeks ago. It was still on in Shinjuku so I found had to go and see it again.
I write about Cosmopolis here because it strikes me as being one of the olfactively sensitive films I have seen. In fact, smell, and the bodied, fleshed realness of the human odour seem to be one of the film’s subcutaneous themes, embedded in its dark, redolent celluloid. It is a cold film, certainly, but sensuous, and one that got under my skin.
As the main protagonist, Eric Packer (Robert…
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The delighted and envious uproar over my cache of vintage perfume finds the other day (at a run down underground Tokyo arcade), led more than one reader to ask the obvious question : why? HOW?! Why is it that a country famed for its attraction to subtlety; barely perceptible scents, and soft, smudged ambiguity in general, should turn up such treasure troves of unwanted, pungent, classic French scent? How did it get there?
It gave me food for thought….
I am no social anthropologist, nor Japanologist. I can speak the language passably (though that is debatable), but cannot read or write it all, and thus do not have the abilities to bore my way properly into the country’s own literature and current thought, to turn up answers from the inside (without this ability, I don’t think you can ever really get to know a society inside out). I am not…
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Jasmine taken outside just now by my Japanese piano teacher’s house
The previous night we had stayed in a stuffy, foul smelling hotel in Bandung, where you could practically see the fungal spores floating in the air. So lungeing and moist, we should really have gone somewhere else, but it was too late and we just decided that we had to put up with it. This was then followed by a blistering row on the streets, where we practically came to blows down one of its back-alleys; a bad night’s sleep; vile breakfast, and tense, infuriated silence.
We were soon on the train to Yogyakarta, though, a seven hour journey that passed like a dream, and let our souls ease back into a gently relaxed pace again as Javan scapes bled slowly past in a light green blur of elegantly shaped mountains, paddy fields, and the self-contained, feline elegance of the Indonesian people themselves, one of whom, coming down the train a few hours into the journey, was giving out fliers to the passengers offering a massage service.
I couldn’t resist, and was soon being led to a carriage down the ramshackle train (comfortable, spacious; cracked windows), where a guard was half sleeping but didn’t in the least bit seem to mind sharing the space with the masseur and his client.
A village, and young women in headscarves, traipsing through the rice fields near the station, passed by in smiles inaudibly. There was a smell of tea and coconut rice. I was seated; reclined back. Closed my eyes.
It was a rough massage, painful at times, the bones of my hands forcibly pressed; my face kneaded and manipulated, but the man himself was beautifully gentle with the nicest smile you have ever seen, and the smell of the jasmine oil massage cream he was using – effluvious, inviting – was simultaneously easing me into a reverie. It was a pungent, rough jasmine, but one that nevertheless piqued my senses, and immediately cut off the line between logic and reality, allowing me to float, distendedly, into the realms of flower-drenched dreams, as the knotted tension in the musculature eased away – slowly – in smiling, downward, waves. You sank back into your seat, and the intriguing city of Yogyakarta began to come closer.
We took a taxi from Yogyakarta station to the hotel. It was hot outside: very.
The doors were opened.
And I was plunged, suddenly and sensorially, into a cool, air-conditioned atrium of sheer jasmineness.
Jasmine, jasmine, nothing but JASMINE; natural, looming; not floating on air so much as inhabiting the airstream.
At the check-in, as we approached with our suitcases, I had to know what this jasmine was and how I could get some, and so, the Yogyakarta Grand Aston being the classy joint that it is, they rang upstairs to the spa centre where the staff usually procured the jasmine oil from a local supplier, and promised to bring some shortly, decanted for a price, to my room.
The source of the scentful haze: a jasmine essence that was heated in oil pots, placed on tables in the lobby and allowed to evaporate vehemently – but very seductively – into the hotel’s atmosphere. I had to dip my finger into its bubbling heat to get some on my wrist: and yes it was hot, and it burned, but it was great perfume, and I knew then, that we had come to exactly the right place.
For me that smell in the lobby was heavenly: a triumphant, dramatic, floral entrance. Glorious : you can ask Duncan – I was ecstatic. I can imagine, however, that if you, like a fair number of people, have an aversion to strong-smelling jasmines, or to overly vivid natural white floral essences in general, you would have most certainly been in hell : sheer migraine central.
I myself of course, though, was excited, as we patted down the duvets of our fancy room that overlooked the city, and I doused myself in the oil that one of the staff had so kindly just brought directly to our door, thrilled by its quality; thrilled by its pungency, particularly after the malodorous atmosphere of the previous hotel where I thought I was going to be sick. A place you could barely breathe. So I was in heaven in this new clean, jasmine-avalanched environment – it felt like a multicoloured dream.
Having said all this, however, strangely enough, I do, ironically, share the headache-averting worry.
For as much as I love this ‘king of flowers’ (and wear it, in various guises, on a regular basis, more and more actually), jasmine in fact also sometimes give me headaches, in any of its guises: be it a modern American jasmine (particularly a modern American jasmine) or a florid, indolic Indian attar: in fact, any truly, blastworthy jasmine can actually send me reeling. The generosity of the scent, the pureness of the flower, sung and unsung; its ineluctable erotic energy, its death-sway, its power………jasmine has the power to fascinate. But to also, sometimes it would seem, malign the skull.
For me, jasmine is the most sense-altering of flowers. One could become deranged by jasmine: quite rendered, yet in perfume I still masochistically enjoy it in all its differing guises, from thick, unguenty, and animalic; to sheer, skin-scented and pure; to diabolically florid and jasminesque.
And so, as the flowers are flowering everywhere where I live, in neighbourhood gardens and in ours, growing wild in hanging profusion from host trees on the side of the mountain (the beauty of the rainy season when the earth of Kitakamakura releases its loam: dark, dank, earthiness and vetiver grass – used to stave off flooding), the time when the wet air is living perfume; from moist, cavernous base, to sense-assailing top; jasmine, drifting……
Ladies and gentleman I present you with The Black Narcissus’ guide to Jasmine. Nothing but. In all its glory. Until it comes out of your ears.
This is going to be a long and heady trip (too long, actually, probably impossible to sit through in one go – think of it more as a reference, apersonalized, gelsomino compendium: an attack.) It will not be completist or exhaustive, as jasmine is such a key component in so many perfumes, the effulgent, lip-drinking star of the soliflore, as well as the main diva in so many other perfumes, that I simply have not, in this brief and ridiculous life of mine, been able to smell them all.
So I am afraid to say, then, that there is no Nuda Nasomatto here, no Bruno Acampora, or Tawaf, which is supposed to be quite stunning; the indolic, swoonworthy jasmine to end all jasmines. There will be gaps, there will be lacks in the jasmine organization – I have yet to get my greeding hands on the new Jasmine Sambac by CB I Hate Perfume for example, or his other grand white floral, Cradle Of Light for that matter, so if you are a Jasmine-Head as well and sense some glaring omissions, feel very free to write and enlighten me. Let’s make this a monstrous, gorgeous, jasmine-free-for-all. Le Labo Jasmin 17 I quite like as a jasminish-orange blossom (though it struck me as an inessential inclusion); Keiko Mecheri’s well loved Jasmine should have really made an appearance as it is a full, belly-button-jigging adult jasmine, nicely proportioned in its summery, curvaceous siren call, but I couldn’t think of much else, really, to say about it. I tried to review Jo Malone’s odourless White Jasmine and Mint but bored myself silly in the process, as I did also with Bulgari Jasmin Noir, which makes absolutely no impression on me, although I do still have a bit of a tiny weak spot for their Voile De Jasmin simply because I enjoy the original Pour Femme so much (which this is simply a light, frosted, jasmine-inflected version of). I did do a review of Thé pour un été by L’Artisan Parfumeur, but then decided, nice as it is, that it wasn’t quite jasmine-oriented enough for inclusion. Likewise, I have already written about By Kilian’s Imperial Tea ( a jasmine tea scent that I really like), but for economy I decided that you could just instead read my original review of it here. As for Joy, by Jean Patou, in some ways the very ultimate jasmine, you can read about her and some of her many flatterers in my original, more expansive review; and for another classical take on jasmine that is very nicely done, please read my short review of Creed’s Jasmal.
Omissions aside, in compiling this piece, I realize that not only do I know a lot of jasmines, I own and wear a great number of them as well. Not always successfully, I might add : much as I love this floral note, my skin doesn’t carry it off perfectly every time. I misguidedly bought Serge Lutens Sarrasins at the Palais Royal boutique a few years ago, and on my skin it just does not convince for some reason (at the Jasmine Awards in London this March, incidentally, both Persolaise and The Candy Perfume Boy were both wearing this perfume and they smelled fabulous, as the scent of real French jasmine flowers – which were everywhere – intermingled in the air).
There are others that do most definitely suit me, though – before L’Occitane became dull and frustrating they used to do a nice, high-pitched sheer jasmine extrait that I would combine with Kouros and a touch of coconut to great effect on summer nights and dance parties (and then wait for the compliments to come flooding in); I have also almost drained my favourite ever jasmine, ‘Jazmin’ by ‘Le Jardin De Jimmy Boyd’, an obscure and seemingly discontinued perfume from Barcelona, with its divine, creamy-clear, banana-leaf like top note and dreamily pure scent of August contentment. Likewise, that bottle of jasmine oil I got from Yogyakarta that I treasure – viscous; lithe, a drop on the wrist just heavenly……
JASMIN DE NUIT by THE DIFFERENT COMPANY (2005)
There are few biological entities on earth that command the senses like these flowers.
On a warm summer evening, the smell of jasmine as it drifts on the air makes your heart soar – forget your troubles, if only for an instant. No wonder, then, that for thousands of years, on different continents, in different cultures, the jasmine blossoms have been gathered in the moonlight (when they smell best, as opposed to roses which are gathered at dawn), in pursuit of capturing their delectable odour. Jasmine can be distilled, or pressed in a pomade to extract its scent, but even then never fully yields its soul: it is up to the perfumer then to fill in the missing links and make his or her own version.
Thus, we find the jasmine repertoire to be wildy eclectic. To begin with, the different species have very characteristic bouquets: the Italian decadent, fruity; the Indian full bodied, lustful, the French from Grasse (the most prized species) a perfect balance of lushness and light. The type used, and the preferred vision of the perfumer, will lead to different conclusions.
Egyptian jasmine has a very hoarse, almost spicy, fruity langour that is very distinctive, arousing, and quite different from its more classically restrained French or trillingly bustful Italian counterparts ( I adore how it it used in vintage Eau Du Soir for that very reason where it is combined with spices and chypric patchouli). It is heady stuff. But rather than try to compromise this intensity, perfumer Céline Ellena mysteriously decides here to down the ante by combining this luscious, rapturous note with a sly, undergrowth-emerging mandarin, star anise, cardamon and cinnamon accord that initially masks the jasmine, like a jaguar, still and glowering in the bush. Only the eyes are shining meaningfully in that darkness as the jasmine slowly lets itself be known, in most intriguing manner; vanillic, oriental – a delicate, but proper perfume.
OLENE by DIPTYQUE (1988)
There is something fabulously raspy about Diptyque’s Olène – a fearless white (or purple, or at least mauve-tinged) floral whose flower mouth escapes unscathed, puckered, fiercely florid from the spray hole, almost unpleasantly harsh and untamed.
Indolic jasmine combines with wisteria, narcissus and a white rush of honeysuckle for an extremely extroverted and well composed perfume that my good friend Claire, art historian and white floral lover in general, would always wear to parties. It was a scent that encircled and fitted her quite brilliantly. Too exuberant to meet the politer jasmine requirements, Olène announces something more tameless, far-reaching and giddy. I think of it as quite a hilarious perfume, actually, as you do have to have a sense of fun, and drama, to want to wear it in the first place.
VENT DE JASMIN by IL PROFUMO (2005)
Where some jasmines can be torridly overbearing, sambac jasmine, or mi lo as call it in parts of China, is far more lithe and spirituous and tends to reel me in more directly. I like the smell of it more, and have in fact made my own jasmine perfume oils with the (supremely expensive) sambac absolute, an essence you can get from certain specialist aromatherapy stores that rings with joy, less torpidly voluptuous and full of itself; more enchanting, refreshing; tea-like and ecstasizing.
Il Profumo’s Vent De Jasmin, or ‘jasmine breeze’, has a definite presence. A clear, fresh jasmine perfume with a fulfilling yet gentle sillage; clean – but with just the right dose of jetstream, lustful exoticism. It is lovely, but if I had one criticism, it would be of its linearity, its lack of an enamourating hook; this is more just a dependable, straightforward, well made jasmine perfume to comfortably waft around the city, trailing flowers.
A NUIT/ SERGE LUTENS (2000)
Perhaps in some ways the most perfectly realized modern evocation of jasmine, A La Nuit, Serge Lutens’ much favoured classic, is a triumph; heady, waivering moonbeams – air-drinking, slow-thinking floralcy, drifting straight, endlessly, into the night.
While it may lack the tenderness or transparency of some other fresher jasmine soliflores, as a conceptual piece – the capturing of that dense summer night air – A La Nuit is quite hard to beat, almost Lynchian in its tangible sense of lurid, night-breathing jasmine fuming the thick, dream-like evening.
SARRASINS by SERGE LUTENS (2007)
Though A La Nuit is perhaps ultimately a more pleasing and wearable perfume, Sarrasins is probably, in some ways, more interesting. Lutens and his perfume maker Christopher Sheldrake must always have their little ‘in-jokes’: Tubéreuse Criminelle takes its wintergreen/petrol top note to an extreme you would believe impossible until you smell it; only after ten minutes or so does the delicately fleshly tuberose raise its head. Here the joke is a bizarre and unexpected top note of blackcurrant and mint over dirty leather hides – unsettling; strange.
Shortly, the most divine floral notes come: delirious, jasmine smells that haunt the winds that blow, tauntingly, over endless moonlit battlefields, where dead and dying saracens lie bleeding after the slaughter (Lutens likes to tell a tale, and the perfume is dyed a stage-blood red just to prove it….)
And the smell on the skin, at this stage of the perfume’s development, is exquisite and thrilling, even if that weird, perceptible lick of leather never quite dissipates.
OIRO by MONA DI ORIO (2006)
The absolutes of jasmine – condensed, psychological, potted – are all so different from the nonchalant, air swaying scent of the living flowers.
The absolute is more a material, like paint – a leadened, consolidated jasmine that is usually used in small touches for anchoring. In Oiro, it here forms the basis of the perfume.
Oiro, as you may expect from a line as non-conformant as Mona Di Orio, is an alternative take on the jasmine perfume: an intelligent, resinous scent that is dry, sculpted as a Picasso head.
A boozy, lemony, Egyptian jasmine first pulls you in: heavy, oilingly compelling, over sweet-pea flowers. Then : spices, immortelle, cedar, and musk, in a curiously beguiling perfume that undulates, not clamours, for your attention. It is a dignified, strangely self-contained jasmine perfume, almost masculine in its richness.
ACASIOSA by CARON (1924)
I can still remember vividly the first time I smelled Acaciosa.
It was as though I had entered a fortune teller’s boudoir – all orange-coral velvet, mysteric exoticism; dangling, shining things, and warm, husky adultness. Old fashioned but fascinating, this dark and enticing perfume is a promiscuous intensity of jewelled, dressed up Indian jasmine for the individualist.
More an elixir of jasmine than a perfume – a concentrated, heavy, honeyed ointment of the flowers, blended with rose, ylang ylang, sandalwood and moss, Acaciosa is a jasmine to dab– sweet, exultant, and strange – with its rich, note of ambergris and syrupy, cake-shop ananas: a perfume to muse on the state of things; or else to head strategically out the door (in a turban) and seduce.
IKAT JASMINE by ERIN LAUDER (2013)
The thing about Ikat Jasmine is that it doesn’t really seem to contain any jasmine.
Not in the usual manner we expect, at any rate, with that familiar, white, fleshy, indolic lusciousness. Far more prominent is a light, imaginary air-soaring honeysuckle, which graces the fresh floral accord and soft, shadowy musk-sandalwood base quite beautifully in a blend that I personally can’t help but find rather seductive.
Like the jail-baiting Curious by Britney Spears and also Jean Charles Brosseau’s Violette Menthe, this perfume has that flirtatious insouciance of a devastingly sexy young thing, that moment when an inspired combination of ingredients somehow produces an entirely different kettle of fish; in this case, to me at any rate, a classroom scenario in which a dreamily beautiful girl is playing with her hair indolently, knowingly, and the scent that is moving deliberately, slowly, across that room is driving the teenage boys that secretly love her, but don’t dare to admit it, wild.
As I said, to me this is not a jasmine perfume, really, more a pleasingly dusky, abstract floral, but one that I just instinctively know on the right young thing could be the school’s best kept secret:::: What IS that perfume she is wearing? I need to know…..
LOVE AND TEARS BY KILIAN (2010)
‘Love And Tears (Surrender)’ part of By Kilian’s ‘Black Masterpiece or Oeuvre Noire series, is another fresh, more watery possibility for those who emphatically want a contemporary jasmine. And part of me quite likes this perfume. Its melody is pure, it captures a point, but for me, ultimately…… your tears, my dear, are rigid……..fake.
Bright to the point of blinding, its fresh, oil-stained, surgical brightness is pitched so high, so photoshopped, so bathroom fresh, that the perfume appears permanently fixed in a top-model, waterfall rictus of glass-piped aqueous: the futuristic, expensive rendition of a strictly first class only, jasmine-scented bathroom (there is definitely more than a hint of air-freshener in this perfume).
Though Love And Tears is certainly an impressively pretty scent, in many ways, as it nails a previously untapped jasmine impression, and is therefore certainly worth trying, it is also like its name, somehow also disconsolate.
ECLAT DE JASMIN/ ARMANI PRIVE (2006)
The estimable perfumes in the Armani Privé collection, at four times the price of the regular Armanis, are obviously intended to denote a certain Made-In-Italy, designer luxury.
The box – heavy, solid, very ‘designed’ – is made of African Kotibe wood, an objet in itself, nestling perfectly in any expensive, metropolitan apartment.
The bottle – simple, oblong – is made of similar material, and each in the series has a lid made with a different coloured semi-precious stone, in the case of Eclat De Jasmin, a shimmered, opalescent, gyno-pink.
And the scent, along with the box, is certainly worlds apart from the rest of the sporty, high-street Armani line and their common, easily-digested modern themes. This Privé – which I own, strangely – is a florid, very woody, and dirty Egyptian jasmine, teamed with plum, patchouli, vetiver, and amber; surprisingly animalic and raw given the formulaic packaging.
In keeping with it though, this flower also exudes a tired, airless quality – resolutely shut and non-oxgyenated, behind heavy designer doors. Stylish, sexy, but serotonin-low.
This, ironically, is perhaps this perfume’s appeal; there are few ‘urban’ jasmines I can think of besides this one, those that undeniably embrace jasmine’s more morbid side. Wearing it is like being locked after hours inside a mahogany fashion dungeon with no natural light, and there being nothing really else to do but compulsively have sex, halfheartedly, with the other assistants.
VELVET DESIRE by DOLCE & GABBANA (2011)
Ostensibly a tuberose/gardenia, a combination I always yearn for personally anyway, to me this fine white floral just smells of sweet and delicious jasmine sambac (and is my most recent full bottle purchase).
I love it and am wearing it all the time. One reader suggested the combination of jasmine and coconut and that is how I am using Velvet Desire, deliciously, though I say it myself. While it doesn’t have any truly singular facet – that uniquely identifying moment of originality that separates the wheat from the chaff and makes a perfume something really memorable – Velvet Desire (a very unfortunately named fragrance I must say, like some kind of soft-core straight-to-video starring Lindsay Lohan) is nevertheless to me quite gorgeous – a simple, well-made trio of singing white florals that is like a new day dawn of happiness: bottled. It saved my sanity a few weeks ago when I was stuck for eight hours in Dubai airport.
JASMINE FULL by MONTALE
A typhoon of extreme, honeyish, Arabish jasmine over orange blossom, in the Montale shop at the Place Vendôme you could hear ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah’ when people first smelled this luxuriant jasmine, as it captures, with a corpular exuberance, the head-filling rush of the concentrated flowers. Intense, and indeed ‘full’ as its name would suggest, this is an exciting jasmine scent that nevertheless doesn’t leave all too much room for maneuver .
JASMINE ATTAR by AMOUAGE
Jasmine Attar….for jasmine lovers, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Straight, but fleshed, romanticized, aestheticized, golden-yellow jasmine perfume in all its voluptuous glory – this is JASMINE.
Shining, luscious, and gorgeous.
JARDIN BLANC by MAITRE PARFUMEUR ET GANTIER (1988)
I do think that there is a place for unruliness in perfumery, a touch of chaos, of excited exuberance, a sense of the perfumer letting things run away with them a bit, even though ‘precision, precision, PRECISION ‘ is said to be the mantra that is drummed into classical perfumers during training.
Jardin Blanc is a sense-rising plethora of powdery, over-the-top white florals, a bit giddying, a bit suffocating, but also, it has to be said, a little bit thrilling as well. The allure of jasmine, of tuberose, and honeysuckle giving off scent in a warm, evening garden is allowed to entwine itself unselfconsciously around a tempering, more woody accord of tolu, sandalwood and vetiver, while in the top, the perfumer, the masterful Jean Laporte (and original creator of L’Artisan Parfumeur) feels it sensible to douse the whole concoction in a crisp, bloody blur of myrtle, mandarin and sharp, verdant, green leaves. For me, it works, and sometimes I wonder if in fact Monsieur Laporte simply left the original company that he had founded in order to let loose a little, as the perfumes in his second range for Maitre Parfumeur Et Gantier are in some ways more scatty, more creative – more lurid.
CAROLINA HERRERA by CAROLINA HERRERA (1988)
Released in 1988 but still going strong, the first, eponymous perfume by Carolina Herrera, doyenne of fifth avenue socialites and in some ways, First Lady of American Fashion, is a nod perhaps to her Venezuelan (pre-Chavez) roots.
Later scents in the Herrera canon all seem to be rehashes of her later, less interesting releases, but this was way before – a sugared, floral fiesta of four different jasmines, fully dressed from the 80’s, glittering, padded, and womanly, from the time when the release of a polka-dot collared perfume was still an event, exciting; good enough to get you through a star-studded gala.
GIANFRANCO FERRE by GIANFRANCO FERRE (1984)
Another old school, but very pleasing jasmine combustion, Gianfranco Ferre, master of the fitted, but artfully tweaked and fitted white shirt, released several interesting perfumes during his lifetime, and his original, eponymous perfume is a scent of nostalgic elegance – a champagne bubblebath of pure sweet sambac jasmine and summer white flowers; warm, aldehydic, complex and romantic, perfect for evening and parties, and for some reason apparently very popular with Russians.
This is a proper perfume with jasmine as its main header – an event scent, but one that is quite spirit-lifting in its sweet and feminine optimism.
FIRST by VAN CLEEF & ARPELS (1976)
Released in 1976, and therefore very neo-classically retro given the contemporary thirst for all things tiger-skinned, musky, or sporty, First, a throw-back, lady-like scent, takes the classic aldehydic floral mode in the manner of Calechè and Arpège, with a lushed out, green bouquet of flowers (rose, orris, muguet, and jasmine ( lots of jasmine: three different kinds in fact) taking cues from all the beloved grandes aldehydés, but then takes the whole thing even further; fresher, more jasmined.
Jean Claude Ellena, an entirely different individual, seemingly, in this phase of his early maximalism, then just adds moreof everything to the formula (orchid, carnation, hyacinth, tuberose, and a gorgeously vivid Turkish rose), making the jasmine triad sing as though at the top of an opera chorus.
A dazzling creation is the result of these held-back provocations, with lift, and vitality, provided with the addition in the top notes of blackcurrant bud (the first perfume to use this note, hence the name): peach, mandarin, and raspberry. It is a stunning scent, vivacious and extrovert, dying down to an understated yet sensual accord of vetiver, honey and musk.
SAMSARA by GUERLAIN (1989)
Can a perfume as creamily, throat-drenchingly, heavy as vintage Samsara, – clad, weighed down with its huge percentage of natural Mysore sandalwood – be considered a jasmine?
Well, yes. Maybe. The genius of this perfume – and it is a form of genius in a way, despite the grotesque throw of its sillage (there is no perfume on the planet stronger, save possibly Giorgio of Beverly Hills: someone sprays Samsara on their wrist upstairs, you’ll soon smell it coming at you through the downstairs front door)….the genius is in that unique compounding of rich essences.
The vanilla, the amber, the ylang the narcisse; the juicy bergamots and lemons, but mostly, to top this glorious excess off, the slick of glittering, top notch jasmine oil that gives this controversial perfume its indelible signature. It is all, it must be said, verging on ridiculous: I have the vintage parfum and eau de parfum in my possession, and I sometimes wear them for sheer amusement, like a masked, horny reveller, carousing on a bridge demonically in the night of the Venetian Carnival.
JASMIN IMPERATRICE EUGENIE by CREED (1870)
Another jasmine scent of vaguely similar bearing to Samsara, and which smells as if it came out at around the same time (1870? Really?) Jasmin Impératrice Eugenie is a buxom, overtly sensual perfume composed mainly of jasmine, rose, sandalwood and vanilla with suggestive ambergris, whose salty, lascivious embrace makes the entire over-the-top creation rather doolally (and actually quite delicious).
Rather than royalty, dignity, and subtle, jasmine refinement, however, think : knickerbockers, boobs, and giggling, groping shenanigans down the furtive, boozy backstreets behind a pub. This is one lustful jasmine.
JASMIN ET CIGARETTE by ETAT LIBRE D’ORANGE (2006)
Another jasmine for good times and excess. Rather than a tobacco-leafed, adult, leatherette as its name might suggest – a scent to be worn while holding a cigarette holder in some popular saloon while drenched in jasmine essence – this skittish French perfume house decided, amusingly, and corruptively, to put the end result of this scenario (the morning after) actually in their perfume. It almost feels like some kind of Dada-esque joke, or a post-card by Magritte.
In Jasmin Et Cigarette, the top note of a beautifully fresh, almost holographically alive white jasmine flower – natural, breathing – is soon taken over, within minutes, by the familiarly stale aroma of cigarette butts stubbed out in a snooker club’s ashtray.
Its breath has suddenly become sheer ash.
And having on occasion at teenage parties mistakenly drunk from a glass in which someone’s stub had been extinguished, experiencing the consequent throes of heaving and disgust, I find this aspect on myself, hard to deal with.
On some skins, though, the resinous tobacco note does achieve the Dietrich pall the perfumer intended: a femme fatale lording it up in some smoky bar, and on these lucky individuals, this perfume smells fantastic. Others, I am afraid, will just smell spent, trashed, and a little bit dirty.
The Indian word for jasmine apparently translates rather beautifully as ‘moonlight in the grove’, and although jasmine perfumes often tend to eroticize the flowers’ already potent sun-kissed longings, as we have seen above, it is also entirely possible to find less fervent and fruited jasmines that are more ethereal, shadowed or verdant. Let’s look.
OPHELIA by HEELEY (2009)
Not quite drowning in jasmine, exactly, but Ophelia is a dreamy, bucolic floral, with a lactic, nebulous quality coronetted with muguet: lunar, ethereal, ghostly (if a little artificial in some ways); a touch overtenacious à la Guerlain Idylle, but with its hopelessly romantic English edge, its tuberose and ylang, this unusual perfume has a green, noctural quality that is worth investigating if you fancy yourself floating riverward.
PALAIS JAMAIS by ETRO (1989)
For another sylvan, sage-laced, mossy green scent, with a bergamot and jasmine strewn opening, look no further than Palais Jamais: created, rather poetically I think, as a green, floral ode to ‘Allah’s Garden’. A quiet, eveningtime eden of hushed, green spaces and light.
While it is stretching it a bit call this scent a jasmine perfume per se, it is alsonot a standard vetiver (ie. lemony, oudhy, plummy, spicy) with all of those overfamiliar calling cards. No. Palais Jamais is intriguing: androgynous, a touch bilgey and twilight-ish; fern-like, zephyred, with touches of birch; as though it were a beautiful lake that had not seen quite enough light, but derived a curiously sublime pleasure in any case, constantly, from the mere fact of its own existence.
FLEURS D’OMBRE JASMIN LILAS by JEAN CHARLES BROSSEAU (2006)
I have really rather enjoyed using my bottle of Jasmin Lilas over the years: a rain-forest, under-canopied and umbrous jasmine scent that makes me feel, in a similar vein to Annick Goutal’s Eau De Camille – as though I were huddling under a giant, oily leaf in some imaginary equatorial garden as the trees looming high above drop down their moisture, and the resinous sap in the hot, damp, vegetal flowers release stimulating, steamy fragrance.
An original take on jasmine, with its undertow of breathy lily-of-the-valley and succulent lilac, this rather artificial creation (notes of ‘leaves, melon, nectarine, and pineapple’) is quite enjoyable even if it does not ever deeply satisfy: I am never entirely sure whether I should be using Jasmin Lilas as a perfume, or as an air freshener – it definitely has that odour-flattening ‘aerosol’ quality that you get in your standard, floral deodorizers. Just that little tiny bit too cheap, perhaps.
Despite these misgivings, strangely, however, I am pretty sure that I would buy this scent again if I came across it somewhere, simply for that pleasing, opening sensation: of jasmine flowers hiding from a monsoon: a rain-washed experience .
JASMINE VERT by MILLER HARRIS (2002)
Another pleasingly green and cool jasmine, Jasmin Vert is a jungly, rough cut linked with boronia flowers, the murmurings of the forest floor and glistening lianas; a wet, green top note forming the sun-sodden rainforest roof over a sultry, revivifying jasmine that is quite left of centre; enlivening, and all the better for it.
SONGES by ANNICK GOUTAL (2005)
To me, this swoonworthy, delicious, perfume is more about the ylang ylang and vanilla absolutes that make me feel a delirium of pleasure every time I smell it (has a perfume ever been made that smells more romantic, more lusciously, dreamily, tropical?)
But for a more vanillic, South Island take on a high quality jasmine absolute, the ingredient that constitutes the crucial, synergistic ingredient in this trinity, you could never find a better perfume. Whatever the level of its jasmineness, this perfume (in eau de toilette, the edp is too musky, somehow leaden) demands to be experienced. It is heavenly.
EVA EVANTHIA’S JASMINE
When Duncan’s Greek Cypriot grandmother, Eva Evanthia, passed away at the age of ninety three, she left behind an intriguing little brown ivory pot full of Indian jasmine.
A perfume solid, of set, thick, condensed paste, whose surface you have to rub hard with your finger to absorb its scent, like a very strongly scented animalic, indolic (almost faecal) plasticine or jasmine putty.
It is a secret, an heirloom ( I never met her), something concealed and shut within that perfectly fitted, heavy lid.
Where did it come from?
Did she ever wear it?
Was there a culture, in Cyprus, of using rich, disturbing perfumes (unlikely, I would imagine) or was it – much more likely – a souvenir from an exotic adventure that her husband and she had had long before they set foot in the east of England?
Eva Evanthia was an unhappy lady for much of her later life, by all accounts, following the premature death of Duncan’s grandfather and her inability to ever move beyond that. Never fully literate in English, though she had her own charming malapropisms (apricot was ‘odricot’, which I always think would be pleasing name to give to a cat), she never completely recovered from having her nerves shattered in the Blitz of World War II London. She didn’t entirely feel at one with her life in England, and yet she was way too accustomed to its lifestyle and idiosyncracies to ever go back to Nicosia.
Eva suffered from depression during most of these years, and I sometimes think that there is something so deep and even depressive in these dense Indian absolutes, despite their obvious eroticism: these iddish fonts of compressed emotions and sexuality that are so far from the girlish, wavering fruition of the actual, living jasmine petals (and idealized females, for that matter), as if intense, repressed emotions had been boiled down, like a deep, perfumed, bodied wine reduction; concentrated; cooled, and then sealed.
NIGHT BLOOMING JASMINE by FLORIS (2006)
India and England: you would be hard-pressed to find a more different jasmine to the one described above.
Although Eva Evanthia was originally from the island of Cyprus, in such close proximity to the potent perfume cultures of the Middle East, with Turkey and the Lebanon just a boat journey away across the water, and where strong rose perfumes, and jasmine, and ouds and attars hold sway, it was in England that the Christos family decided to migrate to, and Floris’ Night Blooming Jasmine, to be honest, couldn’t really be more English if it tried.
There seems to be a kind of coven of cougarish perfumistas who insist that every jasmine, that all white florals, should by rights be heavy; skanky, measuring the indoles on the indolometer to check that it is shitty enough to count as a real jasmine, that anything less has somehow copped out and is afraid to go all the way.
As a lover of strong and unapologetic fragrances I can certainly relate to this jasmine approach, but I also, in my Jekyll and Hyde existence in Japan, appreciate a more subtle, lighter, less-mallet like approach to perfuming oneself, and in fact I actually (when drunk and passing by the Hankyu department store in Yurakucho after a film one night) did buy a bottle of this pleasant, and unhaunting, perfume by Floris.
What is it exactly about English perfumery?
Something that smells like the freshly washed, embroidered eiderdowns in the guest room of a country B+ B : clean, comforting, and cloistered, with the lawns and the oak trees stretching out beyond, the white lacy curtains draped just so, and the tea, in the finest china cups, waiting downstairs to be enjoyed with cream and scones.
Night Blooming Jasmine captures all this, somehow, an English idyll viewed through a lens of thick, bottom-bottled frosted glass, as if all the sex and the insects, and the indoles and the rot had just been sucked right out of the jasmine and instead, in its place, there were nothing other than privet hedges, trimmed summer grass and trails of gently breathing jasmine trellissing their way up the front of a cottage. Black currant buds, violet, and mimosa nuances embellish the jasmine, with pleasant powdered, woody traces of sandalwood and something sweet foundationing the base, but all in all it is as if the scent had been compressed into a bite size, sugar-frosted pastille of unthreateningness, and for this reason alone I have to say I like it.
While we are on the subject of clean hotel rooms, and water closets, and bathrooms, I happened to pick up a book the other day, that seventies erotic classic ‘Fear Of Flying’ by Erica Jong, which, intriguingly, has some interesting observations on the distinctions between international ‘powder rooms’:
British toilet paper. A way of life. Coated. Refusing to absorb, soften or bend (stiff upper lip). Often property of government. In the ultimate welfare state even the t.p is printed with propaganda.
The British toilet as the last refuge of colonialism. Water rushing overhead in Victoria Falls, and you an explorer. The spray in your face. For one brief moment (as you flush) Britannia rules the waves again.
The pull chain is elegant. A bell cord in a stately home (open to the public, for pennies, on Sundays). ”
JASMIN ROUGE (2011)+ JASMINE MUSK (2009) by TOM FORD
But to traverse the Atlantic again in pursuit of our perfect jasmine (do you think you might find one within these invisible pages?) we find two pleasing jasmine fragrances by Tom Ford: both of which I would happily own and wear myself.
Where Jasmine Musk is probably the cleanest of all the jasmines featured in this piece – deliciously so – like a lithe young woman in body-hugging white dress sucking on a lychee in some expensive hotel room, Jasmin Rouge, which I think smells a litte like the aforementioned Velvet Desire by Dolce & Gabbana, that rich, jasmine-tea, slightly oriental sambac smell with sultry, multifaceted underlay, is the more opulent of the two, although as with all Tom Ford creations, it has to be said that it takes no real chances. Both are city jasmines, perfectly put together – rich, light, sexy. And that is all.
LE JASMIN by ANNICK GOUTAL (2004)
In Haruki Murakami’s typically surreal 1980’s adventure ‘Dance Dance Dance’, the Culture Club-hating writer simply cannot find it within himself to imagine how anyone could think that Boy George, the humorous and beautiful iconoclast of that decade, can sing.
As an avid, lifelong fan of the group however, I find it equally unfathomable that a person could possibly imagine that The Boy, with his inimitable and mellifluous white-soul voice, could possibly have this defect.
And every time I smell Annick Goutal’s Le Jasmin (and I’ve tried it at least five times in different places), I’m take aback by a horror chemical blast, which I’m told (or have read somewhere) is the ‘ginger note’, but which prevents me from smelling anything else beyond it. And yet for some jasmine lovers, ‘Le Jasmin’ is their very highest jasmine holy grail – ‘pure femininity’, the essence of jasmine, and the like (please enlighten me if this describes you).
I have the highest respect for the Annick Goutal range, so perhaps it’s just me – a strange, innate inability to appreciate its savours or to smell the jasmine for the trees – like Murakami’s inexplicable blind spot for the bendy, pop culture beauty of Boy George.
GELSOMINO by SANTA MARIA NOVELLA
When I smelled it for possibly only the second time yesterday in Tokyo, in the midst of a great long day of jasmine ravaging – asking myself second opinions and smelling as much as I could just to get as wide as scope on jasmine as I could, as I went up to the eighth floor of Isetan, I sprayed on Gelsomino, though the assistant was frittering about me disturbed and fussingly in gloves and wanting to dab some on a tiny scent strip, I went ahead with my instincts and covered my hand in Gelsomino anyway, letting its jasmine virtuosity just splash and dribble down my hand.
And I just broke out into a big, uninhibited smile.
Gelsomino is all that I love about jasmine, and all that I love about Italy. A huge, operatic thing, unfettered, unchained – warm, natural, imbibed, the sensation of its unedited romanticism almost bringing tears to my eyes (it actually did, but I thought I should try and hide that from you).
There is nothing in this perfume but jasmine, real; macerated; adored, of the sweet, typically Italian variety, and though it later turned quite sour on me and is completely unwearable, too big mama napoli, I still delighted in the mere fact of its existence. It felt like returning back to a grander, more natural world, and I came away with a gelsomino soap in any case, which I had a bath with earlier before starting on this heady jasmine odyssey.
LA REINE MARGOT / LES PARFUMS HISTORIQUES (2007)
Our penultimate jasmine.
A savage jasmine, brilliantly animal, which conjures up well the bloodied queen of French history: a wild, spicy, and disgusting jasmine with a mesmerizing brutality created by an always interesting company, and a perfume apparently made using the original sixteenth century techniques, which would perhaps explain the lack of standard ‘finesse’, but also its integrity, its thickness, its sang froid.
This was one of those perfumes that dented my brain with its vivid, floral realism when I smelled it the first time, and I do wish, now, that I had bought it as I stood there at the Maitre Parfumeur Et Gantier boutique in Paris weighing up my options, actually – this is one of those creations – unhindered, real – that lingers.
LUST by GORILLA PERFUMES (2010)
And: last, but definitely not least: Lust.
God this scent is fascinating.
I had actually briefly sampled the solid perfume on previous occasions, with its carnal, but slightly dulled, rubbered edges, and knew then that I would have to come back to it, but had not, until the other evening in Shinjuku – the heart of commercial Tokyo; the busiest station in the world, the core of the yakuza crime syndicates, government, the ‘fuzoku‘, or sensual underground, and a place I feel strangely myself in – ever actually experienced the liquid.
After combing the available perfumeries for jasmines and taking notes (probably carelessly looking like a weirdo to the Tokyoite onlookers), I went to my favourite Thai restaurant to restore my energy, and then decided that I would go and see a film, the current internet sensation and apparently ‘scandalously erotic’ Ai No Uzu, or ‘Vortex Of Love’, a semi-comic drama centered around a group of Roppongi swingers who meet (several of whom have never done this ‘sort of thing’ before and are consequently embarrassed when they first arrive, sitting around in bathtowels, exchanging pleasantries with people they are expected to f***).
Not since Ai No Corrida (‘In the realm of senses’) has there been a commercially successful, semi-pornographic film that has had the prurient masses furtively sneaking in to have a look to this extent (the office ladies in front of me were giggling nervously when the ‘action’ began, and there was quite a lot of action), and, as it was the last day that it was showing, I decided that I would have to see it. I was the only foreigner in there.
The Lush store was just around the corner from the Musashinokan cinema, and I just couldn’t resist the humour (and the obviousness): why not go and see this minor cause celèbre, a work that deals with promiscuity, desire, boredom, and sex addiction, drenched in possibly the most shocking jasmine ever made? Add another dimension to the film, and perhaps conversely, to the perfume?
And so I went into the shop, and to the bemusement of the shop assistants, I gave myself a hefty dose of Lust.
As I came out onto the street – and yes, I know I am prone to ‘overheightening’ things with my prose- I did, though, literally feel disoriented: transported in a pinkish, flesh-cushioned, cloud-cradle of sandalwood and vanilla-touched jasmine absolutes, a bit delirish; thoughts deliciously addled and momentarily incoherent.
The world was a rainbow; floral, irreal: this jasmine, surely, in short, was a drug.
But less than a minute or so into its development on my skin (this perfume is inexpressibly wrong on me, hysterically so), the soft, light beauty of pale pink jasmine petals was taken over by a scent so fabulously indolic it was though I was being assailed and suffocated by moths: giant, powder-heavy moths battling moth balls battling me and discomposing my senses: a riveting journey from boudoir to corpse in a matter of seconds as though I were ageing, rapidly, like David Bowie in ‘The Hunger’: you could almost feel the cobwebs creeping around my decaying flesh, my vociferously grannyish tendencies, as I went to the convenience store, pre-film, feeling amusedly self-conscious and reeking of a jasminoid, eros/thanatos death stench.
The brilliant Eva Vosnaki of Perfume Shrine does a thorough analysis of indoles, one of the components of natural jasmine essence: their origins, chemical make-up, and psychological effects in perfumery – the fine line that can be drawn between a bodily, faecal element in a tuberose or jasmine scent (a natural oil can contain up to 2.5% pure indoles); the very evidently sexual note that can be extremely arousing in white florals, with its hint of the naughty underpinning the butterfly.
It is the natural combining of the other constituents of the flower, with this one note in very small proportions, that gives this effect : the dying decay of a weighed down, bobbing head of rain-drenched lilac that is simultaneously heartrending, erotic and perturbing – but in isolation apure indole has a very strong intimation of death, of decomposition, not merely of shit, but of napthalene.
I don’t know if you know this word (I didn’t myself for a very long time), but it is precisely the smell of clothe-protecting mothballs, or even urinal cakes – those chernobyl balls of disinfectant that can render even the most urinous juice, and its stenching after-effects, antisepticized.
I had no idea what napthalane was, which for almost everyone is simply the obvious smell of mothballs, until I went to Italy at the age of twenty (do we even use the stuff in England?) I’m pretty sure that my parents didn’t, nor even my grandparents – are the moths so especially ravenous for cloth in most countries that all vestments – never washed in a washing machine for decades, for centuries, but which must never face neglect, only dry cleaning, be then preserved in this highly odorous substance? The fibres morbidly, slowly delineating themselves in toxic solitude, then, to be breached and packed for the winter in boxes and paper-lined boxes with the zombie bride of cold, ice-ditch, napthalene?
I am quite certain I had not smelled the stuff until I lived in Rome, when one weekend in the midst of my falling in love with all of my friends, one of the sweeter, ‘rougher’ but more introverted of them, Pietro, invited me out of the blue to go and stay at his mother’s house located just outside the city.
Pietro had always made himself out to be very ‘rustic’ and ‘simple’ (though his passion was never remotely in any doubt: when jilted by his Swedish girlfriend, who had treated him most cruelly, to show how he felt about her, despite my horrified protestations, he sent her, in a carefully sealed tupperware box, wrapped, carefully and posted, a most clearly voiced token of his deep disgust, which he had produced, that morning, from his own body….)
He was obsessed with The Pogues, and poetry, and all things Irish for some reason, and he was the sweetest of all the friends I had in Rome, if not the closest, but I was delighted, in any case, that weekend, to have the chance to stay in a real Italian house with a real Italian family in the countryside.
And it was a palazzo. Freezing, in stone, but beautiful as something from a Pasolini or Visconti film, a hunkered down block of familial stone that was carved, and embellished, and turned into a casa, with every room as simple and exquisite as you would naturally expect it to be, and me, wondering if my natural lack of manners and insufficiently decent command of polite Italian expression would allow me to suffice the weekend stay (if the cold itself didn’t kill me…..I have an image, real or dreamed I am not sure, of myself and Pietro shivering in nightshirts in his room, not daring to dip a toe from the sheets it was so spectrally icy breath outside the letto), but most of all, the overpowering, and overwhelming, napthalene. I felt as though I were being choked on this bracing, chemical smell that muted itself glacially down the corridors.
Though, like Terence Stamp in Teorema, I was an English fish out of water, I adored that experience, that weekend – its smell of packed-together moth balls that, crucially, imprinted itself forever as a romantic smell in my head, despite its medicinality – and it is the intensity of such memories that makes me feel, now, that Italy will always remain in some ways the apex of what I consider beauty (though Japan could most definitely give her a run for her money….).
But what is it about jasmine, the surge of life in its florality, yet also the disturbing undertones in its natural makeup, its indoles, its napthalene, that has this discombulating effect on the senses?
When you examine the flower further – as I have been these last days – explore its history, the fact that this precarious dialectic of life/ death vs the continuous flow or ‘circle of life’, known as samsãra, or sangsãra in Sanskrit, should exist, ready formed, inside a flower, is not that surprising. All flowers fade, their flesh gradually falling from fresh and alive to foul. As it is for humans, putresence is a fact of life. However, it is hard to think of another flower that possesses these opposing facets simultaneously and in such exquisite balance. A rose smells fresh, lemonish, dewy, exhilarating, but then it turn it goes musty: all sour and mildewy. Though the ylang ylang and tuberose flowers I smelled in Indonesia, despite the obvious presence of some white, indolic facets in the latter, smelled pure as the driven snow when they were in full bloom, they simply then became unpleasant, rank and and mucoid in the cusp of the descent towards dying.
Of course, other flowers do display their beautiful allure at the peak of their powers while equally emanating the death urge: bluebells, narcissis, hyacinths, lilac blossoms, and lilies (not to mention the fungal white doom of Japanese gardenias): all these flowers (and I love the smell of all of them ) are nevertheless noxious, almost putrid from the outset when you loom in close, all nauseating in excess : not scents to have in a windowless closed room of too much profusion – the olfactory volume set too high – it is never truly balanced – which adds, dramatically, of course, to these flowers’ excess, their undeniably addictable qualities.
Yet I could never think of the lily, be it Casablanca, or Stargazer, as being vital.
There is a woozy, blowsy decadence, a sense of overblown, of limp melodrama, the flowers, as soon as they bloom, like unselfaware, tragicomic divas. The scent seduces, yet it also repels: we sense a flawed excess, a toxicity.
Jasmine, on the other hand, achieves a perfect balance. It tantalizes from a distance, it is almost edible up close.
Intoxicating and seductive, but also revitalizing to the nerves – rejuvenating. A fertile smell, radiant and happy, its indolic animalic presence noted, but never suffocating, and even when the flowers are limp they still retain a pleasant scent, which is why, when dried, they can simply be drunk.
Aromatherapeutically, unlike the essential oils of tuberose, hyacinth, gardenia, narcissus, all produced in minute quantities and used, only rarely for ‘high class perfumery’ (and which possess almost no physiological, or medicinal benefits for the body), jasmine oil (along with rose, neroli and lavender), is the floral oil par excellence, used as a curative remedy for a large number of physical and psychological conditions as varied as bronchitis, nervous coughs and hoarse throats; as a treatment for skin disorders, depression, septicaemia; but especially for sex-related issues, including prostatitis, gonorrhoea, frigidity, and as an aid in child-birth (as it strengthens the uterus).
According to Robert Tisserand, one of the founding fathers of modern aromatherapy, the chemical constituents of jasmine oil are almost hardwired to produce feelings of ‘optimism, confidence, and euphoria’ in human beings, which explains its pronounced effect on our nervous system. We are not just imagining it: jasmine literally is an arousing life-force to be reckoned with.
And it is for this reason that it has been used for millennia by different cultures in rituals and religious ceremonies, in legends, as peoples from widely differing traditions gravitated naturally to jasmine intuitively.
Interestingly, it is the national flower of Indonesia, and the flower has a particularly strong presence in the myths and culture of Java, precisely the place where I had my astonishing ‘jasmine attack’ at the Grand Aston, Yogyakarta. Known as melathi puti, jasmine is, as in many cultures, used in great proliferation at wedding ceremonies. In the Javanese case, jasmine flower buds that have not yet fully opened are picked to create strings of jasmine garlands called roncen melati, which are used as garlands to decorate the hair of the bride, intricately intertwined strings of jasmine garlands left to hang loose from her head.
Interestingly, though, the groom’s kris, or ceremonial sword, is also adorned with five jasmine garlands called roncen usus-usus, which refer to its intestine-like form, linked to the legend of Arya Penangsang, a rather gory tale in which the warrior Penangsang, feisty, intrepid, afraid of nothing, but rather too prone to impetuousness, was speared by one of his foes, Sutawijayain, a man who so thoroughly pierced his stomach that his intestines were hanging from his open wounded gut. Possessing ‘extreme spiritual power’, the wounded warrior soldiered on however, in that fashion, encircling his hanging entrails on his kris, or sword as he continued to fight, succumbing to death only when, in a fit of impatience, he unsheathed his sabre, unwittingly severing his stomach and finally dying. The jasmine flowers that decorate the groom’s stomach, therefore, at an Indonesian wedding, apparently symbolize strength, but also symbolize sacredness, grace, humility, kindness and benevolence, the precise qualities lacking in Penangsang. In its associations with life, birth, and death, we thus see in Javanese culture an appropriation of the jasmine flower as a symbol of all life’s rites of passage (in Bali jasmine is used for funerals as well as weddings), while equally embracing the feminine and the masculine, the area of the male body decorated also directly linking to jasmine’s more animalic undertone, even as it celebrates the beauty and purity of the bride.
These back stories, these timeless uses of jasmine go some way, then, to explain the reactions that people have had since time immemorial to this flower. As we have seen from many of the perfumes I have described above, the effect of most jasmine perfumes is of something spellbinding, magnetizing, occasionally even mysterious. Simon Constantine, the brilliant and iconoclastic founder of Gorilla perfumes, has provocatively destroyed the precious equilibrium of the natural flowers in Lust, and has instead let them intoxicate themselves from within, the combination with vanilla and sandalwood and the particular, concentrated essence that is located in the depths of the perfume producing this startlingly morbid/erotic effect in me.
I walk along the streets of Shinjuku to the cinema with my aura of napthalene. To see a film about sex. An unbelievably strong smell of mothballs, of heirlooms wrapped in trunks, in lace: cobwebbish, spindly, lace: old lace, such a feature still, of ageing Japan as it greys and crinkles in windows and dreary coffee shops, of eldery ladies as they get onto the bus to Ofuna in their winter coats that they have just brought wearily out of from their closets. Napthalene, that smell that I see now is also an element of Eva Evanthia’s Indian unguent: heavily indolic with the matured souls of jasmine flowers still intact within its paste: a life half lived, somehow symbolizing a truth that I still don’t know the identity of. She hadn’t touched it when we opened it: it was just a memento, a scented (sacred) souvenir, but still, somehow, smelling so vital, and yes, although it felt inappropriate, lustful.
It turns out that the tickets for Ai No Uzu, which has almost sold out, are numbered, so I have to wait for my turn to be called until I can take my seat. Aware of my odour (of other jasmines as well that I am covered in from the day’s explorations, but mostly of the rotting napthalene) I am eager to try and find a seat on the edges that is not too close to other people, and, fortunately, I am able to sit in the second row, on the aisle, which is where I would have probably decided to sit anyway.
The film is good from a number of perspectives, especially anthropologically ( I love anything that allows me to go deeper in Japan), although I find the embarrassed interactions between the characters excruciating. I sit with clenched feet and hands for much of the first twenty minutes, amazed at the inability of the characters to communicate with each other, two of them with heads bowed in silent shame until one of them finally manages to make a move (this while the other three couples are screaming in orgiastic ecstacy in the downstairs room). Ultimately, though, the scent I am surrounded in, with all its jasmine contradictions, is so apt. The women are flushed after their carnal couplings, flowering from their embarrassments and work frustrations and finally admitting, after the characters graduate from polite niceties (after a couple of ‘sessions’ with different partners) that they are ‘sukebe’ (perverts, nymphomaniacs, have sex on the brain) much to the shared, mutual laughter.
Ultimately and inevitably perhaps though, there are also complications, dramatic realizations, and in the cold light of day, a sense of emptiness and sorrow: and here the napthalene rising up from my hands and wrists makes just as much sense.
Something dead, wilted.
And so Lust, while not the most subtle of jasmine scents, nor necessarily the most beautiful, is in many ways probably the most compelling. Even with the napthalenic punge that underlies the other notes, the jasmine grandiflorum absolute oil used in abundance in this all-natural scent still glows beautifully, hypnotically.
It embraces all of jasmine’s inherent paradoxes, its shimmering, contradictory play of sex and death, of longing in the moment and the inexorable decay that must also come. It smells shocking on me and is therefore all the more appealing, like embracing, after pushing away for too long, your dark side.
One of the most extreme perfumes I have ever encountered, when the film ends and I walk towards the station I see that the Lush store, to my surprise, is still open, just about to close.
I cannot resist. I go in and buy a bottle.
The most exciting thing on childhood summer holidays was our enthusiastic exploring of the dunes. I loved the sea and the beach, the sun in my eyes, and especially swimming underwater, but there was always something, up close in the strange roots of broom and other beach plants; dampened, insect-laden, away from the dry ease of the sand granules, that always perturbed, drew my brother and I in; into those dark, cool, salinated shadows. The strange, tunnelled canopies where we would stop arguing for a while and just crawl along together, stopping to examine this and that, our senses and imaginations stimulated.
As soon as I sprayed on Eau de Moheli, the new fragrance from Diptyque, it felt very familiar to me, and I immediately got some of this feeling again. A fresh, commercial summer floral it may be, but there is also something quite potently tropical there (despite that…
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