If you were to rewind time back precisely twenty five years, at this exact moment I would have probably been dancing ecstatically around my bedroom in a daze of awe and elation to my 12″ record of Like A Prayer. It was a song – no, more than a song – a monument, that had been out for a couple of months now but which had taken an absolute, reckless hold of my consciousness. I couldn’t actually believe how good this new release was, how she had managed to change herself so utterly effectively again just at the moment that her image had begun to get stale, that her profound, chameleon intuition had allowed her to lay low for a while, dye her hair black, get divorced from Sean Penn, and re-emerge, triumphantly, with a fantastic, epic record of such monster proportion. I had always really liked Madonna, but now I loved her.
We had already seen her acute sensibility to cool, and the brutal, unsentimental ability to shear away the past, in the swift conversion from the ribbons and lace shenanigans of Like A Virgin to the shorn, cold, ice-bitch gleam of True Blue (a look she had blatantly ripped off from Melanie Griffith’s porn star turn in Brian De Palma’s Body Double), but by 1987, four years into her success, the sound was already beginning to get a touch samey and ‘typical Madonna sounding’ with the Who’s That Girl soundtrack and You Can Dance remix album; she was resting on her laurels, she was stuck. I, personally, pop pundit extraordinaire, thought that was that, that she was finished, because at the time I felt that I was so attuned to the fortunes and misfortunes of all pop stars and rock bands, the shifting conscious in relation to their positions in the pantheon, that I could sense, like a seismological instrument, the exact moment that their fashionability dipped, the tragic moment when Duran Duran released ‘Notorious’ and lost their edge (although in reality that was with the release of ‘Wild Boys’), or when solo acts like Howard Jones or Nik Kershaw, popular at their exact moment of hit status i.e 1984, suddenly entered the farewell land of uncool gone forever. Essentially, it was, and is, extremely difficult for a pop act to keep their edge, their relevance in the fickle world of teenagers, record companies and trends, and virtually no one was able to sustain interest, let alone dazzle the public, beyond a couple of years. Cyndi Lauper managed it for about three years, Michael Jackson already seemed outdated by the time that he released Bad, Culture Club looked, and sounded ludicrous at the five year mark, and although the Human League had latched onto Janet Jackson’s producers Jam & Lewis to update their sound for their ‘Crash’ album, it was to be just luck; a fluke of fate.
Madonna was an entirely different entity. With Like A Prayer she crashed back into the public sphere fresher and more vital than ever. Seriously, whatever you may think of her, the woman is a genius in this regard, her antennae always listening in, her instincts, in those early days especially, infallible. When Like A Prayer was released, with its genuinely uplifting, gospel chorus, and dance floor power, it was as if she were an entirely different person ( and so were we). It felt as fresh as a daisy and just as shiny and new. Sensing the oncoming beginning of the nineties, she had updated the sound, ditched the disco nuances, brought in a live rock band to record the music, and imbued it all with emotion; memory, familial reminiscence, melancholia. And rather than the separate, four minute pop slices of the previous albums, there was a continuum to the songs, a cohesion of spirit, with upbeat, rousing anthems such as Express Yourself and Keep It Together being juxtaposed by far sadder, emotive songs such as the exquisite Oh Father, Spanish Eyes and Promise To try, tracks that brought her back to her childhood, the sixties, and the death of her mother. And, fascinatingly for the olfactive sensitive, Madonna did something that I have never experienced before this album or with any musician since: she had each album scented with patchouli oil. I don’t know how this was achieved, precisely, with the record company and logistically (you can imagine the manufacturers being up in arms at this request), but it is a well known fact among Madonna-philes that the initial editions of the album inner sleeve were all doused in musky, well-aged patchouli essences to add, overtly or subliminally, to the church-incense vibe of the title track. And it worked, brilliantly: when you lifted the paper inner sleeve out of the jacket, you were assailed with just the right amount of spectral patchouli – not the cheap music festival ‘oils’ but the essential: it lingered, and it of course scented even the record itself, the label in the middle, meaning that as you put on that album for the millionth time, as it spun round and round it gave off an evocative atmosphere of patchouli, making you associate that smell with Madonna, the paisley patterned aura of the music, the Strawberry-Fields-Forever sixties’ longing of the sweet child’s lullaby Dear Jessie, the delicately scented past. My original copy is still in my parents’ garage in England, but I am pretty sure that even a quarter decade later, if I were to take it out from the pile of records it would still be smelling, clearly, of patchouli, a gimmick if you like, but one that three-dimensionalized the experience of Like A Prayer ingeniously, making the music, the scent, and the icon fuse into one.
With music I tend to suddenly crave a certain artist or album without knowing why exactly, and then I realize that it is because this was the season or the month that the record originally came out, when it flooded my brain and took over. I find that I start singing certain songs completely out of the blue, then impulsively have a fierce desire to hear them again, or, rather than the usual iTunes mix, as people used to do, listen to a complete album from start to finish. A similar thing happens to me also in regard to perfume. Before even thinking about Like A Prayer, a couple of weeks ago, while still in my jasmine & coconut phase, patchouli sinuously started to wind its way into the back of the brain, telling me it needed to be worn, that something deeper and more complex than tropicana was on its way.
The required scent, that was rising up slowly in my subconscious like a necessity, was not the simple, unadorned Haight & Ashbury love of the Madonna record, however, but Parisian patchouli chypre, a genre of scent I adore absolutely, that clings to you the entire day like a second, imaginary skin, orchestrated, finished, the embellishment of patchouli oil with rose and other flowers, balsams, spice and animalics to produce that black magic undertone that is always so sinewed, stylish, and je ne sais quoi. I speak, of course, of Eau Du Soir, Cabochard, Parure, Magie Noire and the like, but last week the specific perfume that was suddenly being called out for and that I knew absolutely I would have to wear come the weekend was Montale’s delightful Aromatic Lime. I bought this a few years ago from a perfume shop in Tokyo, and have not worn it all that much, but when I found it at the back of my cabinet and sniffed it from the lid I knew that I was right. This was the one. In some ways rather similar to Eau Du Soir in its essential profile and sillage, this is nevertheless possibly more masculine, less floral, and more long lasting, with a lime note in the top that keeps the whole thing smelling delightfully fresh throughout. The initial impression is quite odd, almost like a rich, lime chocolate ganache, with saffron, patchouli, vetiver and myrrh competing with the greener notes of bitter orange, galbanum and lime essence, but it soon dries down to a heart and aura that is, indeed, very ‘aromatic’. Like the perfumes that I mentioned earlier, it has that quality of complexity and shadowiness that you feel is trailing intriguingly wherever you go.
This weekend was a busy one socially, and I knew beforehand that the patchouli vibe was definitely how I wanted to be continuing. On Saturday night there was a friend’s birthday party in Sangenjaya, eighties themed, although we had been too busy, this time, to do proper costumes. What was funny was that aside one girl, who had come as an 80’s singer from The Philippines, every single other woman was there as Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, with the day-glo colours, ripped tights and leather gloves, the teased up hair, showing the singer’s absolute domination of that decade in the popular psyche. It was Madonna central. D won a lip-syncing contest (which I thought was hilarious, singing along to Tainted Love), while I spent much of the time chatting to a woman called Anastasia, who was also got up as the Madonna but to far more pleasing effect. Perfume-wise, I was perhaps a little overdressed, having decided to finally debut the glorious Piguet Bandit shower crème that the extravagant Rafael sent to me at the beginning of this year, and that I knew I wasn’t going to touch until the moment was right, until the patchouli phase began its inevitable hold.
And this, I have to say, is the ultimate. I have never worn Bandit before ( I prefer Cabochard, with its more powdery, hyacinthine edge ), not, on the whole, going for that kind of harsh and uncompromising bitter leather, Germaine Cellier’s fighting call for women’s olfactory emancipation and its acridly voluptuous smack, but on this occasion I felt, intuitively, that it went perfectly with the Montale. Where most shower gels lather up and bubble and foam and leave you only vaguely scented with the signature perfume in question, this unctuous, satin-esque creation deeply perfumes your skin with a spiced, leather patchouli, all-over-scent, to the extent that you could almost leave it at that. I didn’t, of course, and went for a Kenzo Pour Homme stick deodorant for an extra, patchouli/marine effect, with the Aromatic Lime worn on my clothes and skin. I worried, initially, that it was too much (moi?), but D assured me that the whole thing smelled actually really fresh, the citrus on top coasting on the air and jamming the patchouli waves, keeping it all strangely subtle. It was, fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, nomihodai, or ‘all-you-can-drink’ (god those parties are dangerous), and before you knew it, leaving just in time to get our last train, we were walking down the street, arm-in-arm, singing, yes you’ve guessed it, Like A Prayer, at the instigation of Yukari, belting it out at the top of our lungs, to the bemusement of onlookers (and the police), and it still felt great, still had the impact. That song is timeless.
Sunday. Well, usually I don’t like to have two nights of seeing people and socializing in a row – I think one is ideal, followed by a more mellow day just spent at home, but there was a dinner party on the cards that had been planned for a while, three people who had never been around to the house before, and I was actually really in the mood for it for some reason: perhaps I am just getting more sociable now the weather is heating up and summer is almost in full swing. This time I opted for the same scents, essentially, but toned down: the Bandit shower gel used in smaller amounts (it is pungent!) and just a couple of sprays of the Montale on my T shirt, which I wore under something else. I loved how this combination smelled, the way it would occasionally rise up but not overpower, somewhere between quite masculine and androgynous, but definitely enigmatic ( or so I like to believe). Curiously enough, there were more Madonna connections: Spring Day, one of the guests – her real name, and an excellent stand up comic, incidentally, was tantalizing me with tales of how she had not that long ago had lunch with one of the dancers from the Blonde Ambition tour in Los Angeles, how she had loved Madonna for years ( I love such vicarious pleasures) and it wasn’t very long before we were on the piano singing along to Oh Father and Spanish Eyes and getting all emotional. I botched Like A Prayer itself with an ironic theatrical theatre organ sound that I thought would liven things up a bit after those ballads (in fact it just sounded stupid), but it was hilarious fun nevertheless. And then something else happened: Makana, a recent friend from Hawaii who had come along with slinky Jonathan, said he wrote songs and lyrics, and wondered if I could try and put down some chords and music for them. I have never done this before, and have an inadequate knowledge of chord structure, but before you knew it there we were writing a pop song; though I felt bad for the other guests, as once we were getting down to it the music took over and we didn’t talk to them (!) there was something delightful about the spontaneity of all this: it is something I have long wanted to try, at the back of my mind, I think: I have had the knowledge that writing a song would not be impossible, but having the lyrics and the basic melodic ideas laid out (he is a Leo, like Madam M, who also works this way, co-incidentally) meant that there was a template, that I could try different permutations until we got it right. Like Madonna, Makana is also somewhat exacting, and the song, if it ever surfaces, is not quite ready yet – I/we will have to work on it, and I look forward to it, actually, but the whole thing, at that moment felt exciting, and new, everything rising up spontaneously; freely; and without restraint.
37 responses to “PATCHOULI CONSCIOUSNESS: : MADONNA’S LIKE A PRAYER, PIGUET’S BANDIT + MONTALE’S AROMATIC LIME”
I can’t believe that! How gorgeous. If my skin were not a mess of allergic reactions right now I would be doing something wonderful with patchouli and tuberose, or just SOMETHING! Madonna videos coming up.
Nothing like them- nothing- to get the red corpuscles flowing robust
Oh and Madonna, back then, really does give one strength to be all round amazing. The things that she did with hair, and makeup, and clothes, (and well that face and a whole load of working out) – just gorgeous.
I am so loving this idea of “scented” albums!
And I know exactly what you mean about craving certain “notes” at various times…the patchouli obsession usually hits me in the fall when I blend it with sweet almond oil and slather all over myself…a walking patch bomb!
after a horrendous winter I was really craving orange blossom….and now it is tuberose…..
and I have heard that Madonna’s Truth or Dare is a quite affordable tuberose…..
Oh but too sickly for you, surely. Have you read my review. I stick by it. It is nice, but a touch too…..plasticky, insistent, or something. Mind you, not bad as a kind of ‘no-brain day scent’.
LOL! The Bandit Shower Gel IS fun! I agree, Sometimes I just use it a as shampoo and leave it at that. I just bought a cache of JP’s 1000 shower and bath things. It takes me hours in the bathroom! Summer fun! Be a good boy and we’ll see if Father Christmas can’t be sweetened to send a box of the 1000 Body Mist later this year.
That sounds amazing. What notes does it amplify? I have to send you something first, obviously.
It’s extraordinary in that not any one single note is amplified and then productive of a whole. The entire composition in all its glory comes at you full force through all the items. Soap, Shower Gel, Talc and Body Mist. I can’t imagine they make all these items anymore. The cost would be prohibitive with this much fragrance in each item involved. VC&A’s First body line has that same impact.
First! FIRST! Can a man wear it?! Le Parfum Sacre de ma mere?!
The Madonna and lady GaGa scents were both HUGE dissapointments! The kind of let-down that makes you want to go to bed and call it a day.
I know, but she DID scent her album with patchouli oil and I do still love her for that.
I never knew that Madonna’s album sleeve was scented with patchouli, but I love that idea. I remember when Like A Prayer came out. I was living in NYC, and there was a party at a friend’s apt. some time around the holidays, everyone who hadn’t seen each other catching up. And we were all dancing to Like A Prayer, laughing and happy and young. I am 99% of the time an extreme florals wearer, but I have the occasional wild-hare urge for patchouli, too, which seems to surprise people. I don’t look like the patchouli type, but sometimes I just gotta have it. How great, you’re writing a song! 🙂
It was as if the whole Madonna/patchouli consciousness thing just unleashed ENERGY. I love that.
And I agree about the ‘wild-hare’ urges, like I was saying in the Solaris thing the other day. That part of your DNA that no one would guess at.
The cassette version of Like a Prayer was scented, too! Have you been reading about the scandal with Lady Gaga’s unrealeased “Do What You Want” video? That song was my favorite from last year.
I have: and it looks rather naff!
Coloured discs, photo discs. limited edition packaging, patchouli scented extended mixes. Somehow this post made me feel slightly sad.
Downloads will never smell of anything.
Have no anchor temporally or olfactorilly in our memories.
Is music being cast adrift to exist without visual, or visceral reference?
Your scented combo sounds divine though.
The Perfumed Dandy
gorged on that like birthday cake, left feeling just as wholly undeservedly smug sated. no finer precursor for scented cds. truly thanks for sharing.
my scented cds that are often rendered so sticky by perfume they are unplayable…..
i asked D how to break it to you. ‘You could try telling him,’ he suggested.
Shall I stop it?
How delightful to wake up to this divine effusion of Madonna and Patchoulie!! How did I miss this when you posted it first time round?? I can’t believe I didn’t comment on it before! Like a Prayer stands out as really distinctive, totally in its own space, apart from all her other eras and incarnations. In a way it’s a bit like the Ray of Light album – another amazing come-back and reinvention. Recalling the moment I saw her perform Frozen for the first time on Wogan (RIP) still gives me goosebumps. My friends Sam and Sally and I literally SCREAMED at the telly when she emerged, a hennaned goddess, draped in black looking like she’d just escaped from some Pre-Raphaelite mourning tableau! Like a Prayer coincided with my first major ‘relationship’ – a disaster on all levels in which I spent the first year of A-levels bunking off school to lounge in a tiny bedroom in Margate listening to Mamas and Paps records on a broken record player that never stopped repeating with some red-haired troubled youth, and learning how to snog! When I emerged from the wreck of the relationship, raw and sobbing and clutching at my paltry cassette collections of California’ Dreamin and the Stone Roses (‘our’ other obsession) and the flared trousers he’d made for me from some old jeans and his mother’s best curtains (oops!), I took solace in the seafront chip shops of Ramsgate, smoking copiously, downing bitter-sweet tea, and generally feeling that my life was over. It was in one such caf that I heard Like a Prayer for the first time – and was blown away! The amazing thing about Like a Prayer is it hits that true gospel vibe – it builds and builds and you feel like the song is never going to end! It definitely cut through the crap with me. I stepped out of the cafe feeling optimistic, rejuvenated seeing for the first time the possibility of a future without the long-limbed, lank-haired lover! Salvation through my own private goddess – who as it turns out was everybody else’s too! Needless to say, at that time my perfume was the 99p Spiritual Sky patchoulie (the one I left with you on my last visit), and I’d forgotten until now that she’d doused the albums in it. She was (and remains) divine.
Btw, just realised you’re off to see her tonight – are probably there as I write! Have a brilliant time! Wink at her for me x
This is so really beautiful.
Ah, for once I see that I did not respond to this post (probably had computer problems that day). I did not even realize it was a four-year old post but was just delighted to read about your being perfumed with Patchouli fragrance. It so happens that tonight….four years, three months and 9 days after your post, I happen to be wearing a patchouli scent that wasn’t even around in 2014…Dyptique Tempo. Granted it is probably cohabitation with what I wore earlier in the day, but I smell great.
I really like that one actually. Have come to like Histoires de Parfums Noir Patchouli too.
I need to try that one.
I thought it was you that had sent it to me! (going senile). I really like it actually – took me a while : odd; warm and herbal earthy, but quite gorgeous ultimately. I finally fell in love with it after spraying it unthinkingly on a black cashmere sweater and then putting it on later and not being able to fathom why it smelled so good. It actually smelled INCREDIBLE.
I’ve been on a patchouli jag this year too: Bruno Fazzolari Ummagumma, Borneo 1834, Patchouli Leaves. But after reading this I want to try that jasmine and coconut combo. Jasmine has been my other obsession this spring.
Interesting that the two of us swing both ways.
What a great article to come across! ROL truly was her best ever.
The patchouli oil drydown on the cassette, I have been searching high and low and have failed. It seemed like a mix of patchouli and musk and the closest I have gotten to it was Morning Star Patchouli Incense by Nippon Kodo..but I can’t rub incense sticks on myself *LOL*
Which colognes according to you come close to that glorious scent on ROL?
A very good question.
It was amazing !
Oops I meant LAP not ROL !
I really hope I can get some responses 🙂
nothing I know comes close either
Cheers! the search continues….