Monthly Archives: July 2014

old shower gel














The Black Narcissus is so excited by perfume that he will even buy old discarded shower gels and body creams from flea markets, discarded for a dollar by the owners who found no use for them, even when they have been opened and when most people wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. I don’t care. They intrigue me. I need to know how they smell, the voyeuristic curiosity of other people’s bathroom cabinets, when you lock the door behind you, look around, and sample their treats and toiletries at your leisure.




Trésor: Surprisingly deep and woody, cedary, taut, shot through with that pungent, spiced, Lancôme rose – the shampoo of a seductress goddess extraordinaire (she sits next to him, almost coyly, and runs her hands through her hair with one hand,, knowing the effect that this is going to have on him as she holds the stem of her martini glass with the other….), but too strong for me to use that way when I tried it on myself the other night. I could hardly sleep.




















Calandre: How old is this? Why do I risk some decades-old bathroom product on this body of mine? How do I even know it’s even safe for human use?





I don’t.






But it smells sublime. Sublime. And Calandre is a scent I often pick out from the back of the perfume wardrobe when summer comes, usually in August for some unknown reason, as it smells lovely down on the beach by the water, combined, on skin, with all those brain-soothing suncreams, sunlight, and daydreams and you drift in and out of yourself and just don’t care about anything. This is rich, silvery, aldehydic rose/ green lather, gorgeous on hair as well as you rinse it out with water and watch that indulgent, washed away foam go swirling, slowly, down the drain like Janet Leigh. I used it yesterday; a lot, all over, before putting it back in the drawer and heading out for my day feeling clean, Paco Rabanne’d and distanced from the mundane. A subtle, dreamy, 1960’s on the surface of my being. My clandestine pleasure.


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The Black Narcissus



When high school boys in Japan gather after school in ‘family restaurants’ such as Gusto and Jonathan’s,  inexpensive eateries with one main attraction – limitless soft-drinks and beverages of all kinds available at the ‘drink bar’ – one familiar pubescent rite is to egg each other on to create the most bizarre and unpalatable mixes possible by chucking, in one big plastic glass, some orange juice, some milk; a healthy dose of tabasco; some coke, some cocoa, some miso soup, some apple and mint tea, some salt and pepper and ketchup for good measure….then of course getting some poor designated sod to try and down it in one…

Interlude, a perfume for women by those seasoned purveyors of Franco-Arabic good taste Amouage, is a similarly baffling experiment in chaos, seemingly a case of bunging everything in the blender, pressing play, and seeing what happens.

This is, in fact, the stated…

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The Black Narcissus


Plagiarism lawsuits don’t seem to occur in the world of perfumery. This is good news for fragrance houses, else writs would be hurled left right and centre. As the exact formulae for perfumes are always very well guarded anyway (Estée Lauder phobically added the final 5% of ingredients herself behind closed doors to ensure secrecy), intellectual theft in the invisible, ephemeral world of scent would just too much for jurors, judges and witnesses to handle –  the stench and olfactory confusion in a closed courthouse is easy to imagine.



Opium was a direct challenge to the insipid sport greens that were taking over the perfume world, and in its criminally erotic complexity, was daring, of the moment; dynamic. So was Cinnabar, which was undoubtedly a copy of Opium. But there are important differences, which I will come to. Opium’s mandarin/jasmine/husking tiger’s breath/amber-cinnamon template was copied and remodelled, redeveloped with varying…

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Plumeria Frangipani Floating On Clear Blue Aqua Lagoon Water Sea Ocean Desktop Background












I must admit that despite all the suave aromatics – the Hermès Poivre Samarcande, the Quince, Mint and Moss, by Union; Eau du Gloire by Parfum D’Empire, the sensual, elegant, gentlemanly lavenders – Sartorial, Jicky, Ungaro, Lavande Velours de Guerlain; the occasional spicier, and dirtier scent such as Czech & Speake Cuba or 4160 Tuesday’s spicebomb Shazam, among others, that, despite the olfactive prowess and style these scents show, and the trails of intrigue that they leave in his presence, I would trade them all in, in an instant, for the scent, on Duncan’s skin, of Coppertone SPF 30 UV Protect.





The boy will steadfastly not consent to a floral, and yet here he is, inadvertently wearing one; all fresh air, frangipani leis, salt-kissed skin, and manly, oceanic florality doused in sweet, delicate memories of waves, of the beach, of the sky, and freedom; a delicately arousing sillage, sun-fused with DNA and the epidermis, better than perfume, riveting; but a perfume nonetheless; I LOVE this smell.






Although the school term has ended, and there are plenty of people in beachwear headed for the coast wherever you look, fanning themselves in the summer heat as they wait to board the trains and buses, where I work, it is just the beginning; the ‘summer courses’ at the prep schools that practically all students in Japan are expected to attend if they are to stand a chance in hell of getting into the most prestigious schools, that they spend the entire summer attending. Think, for a moment of my colleagues (no, no westerner would ever be expected to work in such conditions, so fret not for the Narcissus and, also, please do not be writing comments commiserating on my poor existence or the supposed ‘banality’ of my work, something that education could rarely be accused of, I am fine).





No, I am lucky. I have more days off in any given year than on (how many people can say that?) and the fantastic number of holidays that I have was the very reason I took the job in the first place, and the reason that my writing for The Black Narcissus can exist at all.  The other teachers, though – Jesus. Briefly I will describe the work situation, because I have woken up in such a fantastic, if ridiculously adrenalized, mood today, now that this horrendous eight day stretch of lessons is almost at a close ( I still have two weeks left in total of quite intensive teaching, and only seventeen days until the Lady Gaga concert – enough reason for my doolally feeling of excitement this morning in itself, there is a light!!) that I don’t want to wreck it : the sun is shining outside, I am blasting pop music in the kitchen and dreaming of freedom and the ocean and diving to the bottom of the sea floor from my favourite rocks in Hayama, even as I have to get ready, quite soon, iron my shirt and select a tie, for another day at bloody work in Hiratsuka.






No, I am a spoiled brat and I know it  ( and no need to tell me that either, I know I am childish and self-indulgent, but I am Sagittarius to my core and always have one eye on the door. I just want to be free. Always. I loathe all restraints, a bucking colt, screaming for liberation and I would be the same in any workplace, whatever the job, I know it.  Don’t you also feel as though you were about to explode sat in that bloody same chair before that same stupid computer? Don’t you just want to explode like Mt Fuji and just start dancing? Sometimes my spirit is just so……..wild and alive, so damn tempestuous and full of energy,  that I am sure I am destined to return as a ghost. There will be no keeping me down).






Yes, I am highly conscious that I have a very easy life, grateful that I even have a job and can live the life that I do, so no need to tell me, Undina I know; I know that I can’t complain, yes I know I know know know (though have you tried teaching?! God it can be draining!). I do read the papers: I have been very upset by the Malaysian plane crash, the situation in Israel/Palestine, at the mess of the world. It affects us all. And yet……







As I have written several times before, because sometimes I have to just write what is happening in my life rather than blathering lyrical and waxing my muse about perfumes – I just have to, on impulse, I need this conduit, even if you don’t – compared to the relative bedazzling splendour of my life, the Japanese teachers have a schedule that should by rights be illegal and probably is.  It is sick.  Most of them in my school have nine 50 minute lessons a day for six days in a row, then one day off (on which all they can do is sleep like the dead or frantically try and prepare lessons for the next stretch),  for a full SIX WEEKS;  then a week off, then another three weeks of it until the regular term begins again after a desperately deserved eight or nine day holiday that they have been looking forward to all year because it is, in reality, the only time in the year that they can go anywhere.





They have ten minute ‘breaks’ in between the lessons, when students are usually asking them questions and they scramble to gather their materials for the next lesson, and no time for lunch, just grabbing a mouthful here and there. And, worse: the Japanese martryr-like self-sacrificing mentality is so strong that even when they DO have that holiday in the middle that I have just described, the manager has often seen fit, then,  to make the teachers go on a ‘gashuku’ in the mountains during that precise week off. Yes, dear friends, this is an ‘intensive course’ (er, what was the nine lesson day, then?) where the teachers get no sleep, and teach ALL NIGHT, giving up the one holiday they do have; up at six, teach all day and all night, get no sleep, repeat. Repeat, rep…..








I am going to stop there lest my fury spilleth over and I start writing bile-splattered filth about this side of the Japanese character that makes me want to spit blood. No, I shall not. It is another culture, and as we all know, it is all relative. And anyway, the kids love it, or a lot of the more brainwashable ones do, and so do the teachers in some strange, affectionate way. Giving up their lives and sanity for the sake of educational goals that are bullshit to begin with, if you ask me. But it is all about ‘gambaru’, doing your best in order to achieve your goals, and to become a well trained Japanese for the future, so accustomed to having no free time as a youth, that as an adult, corporate slavery workplace sacrifice will be so second nature that you will never complain. At least, until that day when you dive in front of a train at Shibuya station. No, just ignore me. I have long learned ago, attempted, like Elsa, to try and let it go, to not let it affect me. As you can see, I have done really well in that regard.







My schedule is much, much lighter. And yet. As a European at heart, and in my soul, who grew up with the idea that the summer is all about freedom and having time off – all those wonderful childhood memories of the beach, and dancing around the hosepipe in the garden, just reading in some umbrous, bosky, dark green shade as the sky stretched beyond and life seemed eternal and I sipped on lemonade, I suppose I will just never get used to this idea of the summer being entirely taken up with ‘club activities’ and extra lessons. That this space has to be filled. Concreted in with organized activity, that people must be herded and corralled like sheep, with a timetable, an alarm clock always going off, or the lesson bell of the permeated classroom. No, really. THE ENTIRE SUMMER. The whole, f****ing summer! They have about five days in the middle of it all when the juku, or cram school, actually does close for a few days and the teachers nurse their mental wounds ( I have a month off, so I will be alright, Jack ), but other than that they all ‘return’ in September, psychologically incinerated husks ready to start the new term, whereas I am usually refreshed and ready for it all again as you should be,  for the new term culminating in the ‘winter seminar’ which begins in the middle of December for three weeks (f%*$ you, we’re going to Cuba and Miami ).








And it goes on and on and on (they have a ‘Spring Seminar’ at the end of all this there is never any respite …….. why are they all still alive, why have they not all just committed suicide?









But as for this privileged fat foreigner, well, I myself have a month off to go travelling, a month in April, yes, I agree, it is like some kind of reverse discrimination, so unfair, but the country knows that ‘we’ just wouldn’t put up with it and might even try legal action were we forced to work under such slave-like conditions so they keep the foreigners at bay with cushy contracts – I am not complaining ( – except that I am)).






Yes yes yes you know all this Japanese crap about my life as it sometimes surfaces on here when I just can’t suppress it any longer and must rant, but as you also know I am not so callous and un-empathetic as to not be affected by my colleagues’ ‘plight’ (my company is one of the better ones, actually, quite a positive atmosphere and the compensation is very good) ; but it does affect me, it does, as I am so porous, and prone to osmosis, especially when some of the people in question are my friends that I see outside socially, whose eyes widen in disbelief when I tell them the truth of my own space-filled timetable.







And yet, at this time, when all my friends in universities and high schools are off for six weeks or more (as are all the teachers in the countries you are reading this in, so nothing special or extraordinary there): off at the beach, relaxing, doing their own thing……although rationally I know that this is my job and blahdy blahdy blah, blah-blah, in fact I walk around in a permanent state of teeth gritting infuriation except when I am actually in the classroom, when the gregarious professional that you might suspect does not exist actually does emerge : I am a showman, and give it my all. I do think that I am a real teacher. I care about the students and the quality of the teaching (especially considering how much the poor parents are paying for it: there is nothing more depressing, I can tell you, than a badly taught lesson), but having given it my all I suspect that this is also how Madonna or Lady Gaga or any other artist must feel when they wake up, mentally and physically mangled in the morning after a show and think, oh Christ, not another one tonight, I can’t, I just can’t, I’m going to cancel , exhausted from the effort and the depleting extroversion; the putting yourself out there, the being watched and thought over, the beacon of the lesson: the instructor.







I walk along like a deranged Asperger’s with Tourette’s, dragging my clodhopping feet and my f***ed up knee, muttering to myself with expletives (the language, people, the language this week! My mouth a foul hole of filth, spewing swear words and cursing the very pavement I walk on, just, just not being able to face any more teaching  (the term began on April 3rd, it finishes on August 9th (at least mine does:  for the Japanese teachers, the concept of  ‘end of term’ is an impossibility, a mirage in the deserts of their computer screens)). Is that not too long, though? Are you feeling my blood pumping from the screen upon which you read these deranged, self-indulgent and frazzled words?








As a human being, not just a pawn in the world economy, I yearn for freedom – I am gasping for it – and, as I sit here, and the sun is blowing through the blue-skied plants outside, I can feel it coming.









And Duncan, in from a lovely day at the coast, or else from a fun day out in Tokyo, covered, always, in his delectable smelling Coppertone, flowers entwined in olive brown skin, a rush of the foam on the crest of a Kamakura wave, makes me practically hallucinate. The smell, so evocative, makes my mouth water, my mind rush with images so strong that my whole limbic system, so aroused and hyperstimulated that I cannot see the reality in front of me, made me feel, just now, that I already am on holiday. I woke up this morning, leaned over and kissed him, and the smell on his skin was so beautiful that I felt as if I were in heaven.












Floating White Plumeria Frangipani Exotic Tropical Flowers On Swimming Pool Water Desktop Background









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The Black Narcissus



‘Io sono L’ amore’, or ‘I am love’, is the self-consciously, meticulously rapturous film by Italian film director Luca Guadagnino that had the art house cinema crowd in a flutter a few years ago:  the ‘must-see’, gorgeously romantic, ‘exquisitely crafted’ work of the season that had the critics, and some of my friends, swooning, and foaming, at the gills.

The story of an aristocratic Milanese Russian emigrée, played by the redoubtable Tilda Swinton (acted in Italian, with a slight Russian accent; no mean feat), this is the story of a pale and beautiful, yet strangely unpresent woman, the matriarch and bedrock of her family, lost in her own numb, unregimented life, who comes gradually undone, erotically and socially, at the hands of a brilliant young chef.

A friend of her son’s, the handsome man’s independence, artistry, naturalness and almost guileless, masculine simplicity stand in such contrast to the glassed and…

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because I’m craving it

The Black Narcissus


Infini is probably the vintage perfume I have found the most at flea markets in Japan:  I have had bottles and bottles of it. Some of which I have worn myself; many given away as presents, and far, far, too many that I have spilled. 

I grew up being told I was the clumsiest boy in the world and it was/is true (I even, and I can’t quite believe I am writing this), managed to drop and empty out two thirds of the most perfect Je Reviens parfum the other day, the one that was used to write my delirious review of that unearthly creation…….

Tragically, Infini has had a similar fate….the bottle you see in the picture has a stopper that comes off ridiculous easily and    oops..……..see, smell, that gorgeous golden liquid splash down and stain the tatami mats….I have done this so many times now…

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Yes, you have guessed right.   I am reviewing my own perfume.








(Is that narcissistic?)







































If you can really call it a perfume, that is. But this juice, made at home with all natural ingredients suspended in a high percentage vodka, has been percolating and blending within itself, now, for almost twelve months since I came from the most magical holiday of my lifetime in Indonesia last year ; kept in the dark, added to, messed with; but now, I think, ready.






















































Java is my ode to that place, to the vanilla plantation we stayed on:  an elixir of memory that seeks to encapsulate some of the experiences we went through there, which, looking through some of the photos from last August just now, sears through my being with a nostalgic intensity I almost find unbearable. In all honesty, I had to stop looking.
























The basis of the perfume that I have made is ripe vanilla pods from Villa Domba, (organically grown on the most idyllic of locations in a village about an hour outside of Bandung, alongside coffee, papaya, and durian fruit), a place that we had the fortune to stay at and study as part of a Vanilla Tour we embarked upon in the middle of last August.






It was an incredible experience, deeply memorable, and I somehow wanted to bottle it, impossible though that might be.






To make Java, I simply steeped handfuls of the sliced-open beans, cut length-wise, for many months, adding Mandheling coffee beans in the process (whole), also left to marinate in the blend – coffee being such an integral part of Javan agriculture (and extremely delicious to boot); and Indonesian cacao, which, though texturally wrong for a perfume (giving it a sandy feel that I will have to strain and purify) makes a nice combination with the coffee and the vanilla.





Indonesia is the originator of patchouli (hence Serge Luten’s wonderfully addictive patchouli, Borneo 1840, one of my favourite perfumes ever, and one that this crude concoction of mine bears some vague resemblance to); this also replete with Indonesian patchouli essential oil in the base; earthy, dark, but warmed and surrounded with the other ingredients to make it feel sunkissed, benelovent, and spicily aromatic. Other essences that I added to the formula, just basing it all on instinct, were some ginger, orange and ylang ylang essential oils, in small amounts, for roundedness and ‘lift’, and then, last, but most definitely not least, a massive overdose of fresh, green, and very spicy cardamom essential oil in the top.















Cardamom. I love it. Duncan and I have long been putting ground, piquant, cardamom powder in our Ceylon tea of a morning as I prefer how it tastes (as many people do in South East Asia, apparently) and I even sometimes make cardamom coffee, which is wonderfully invigorating and really gets the tired and somnolent system rolling into action. The essential oil, hard to find, but one of the most revivifying essences I have ever experienced in the bath water, is bright and feisty; clear-eyed and eastern, health-giving, with definite bite (rather too much in this blend, I fear: I have never been one for subtlety, as you will know too well, hence the failure of all perfume blends of mine in the past – yes, lots and lots and lots of precious essential oils have been wasted over the years), but as one of the most fantastic days we had on our stay was a paradisiacal saunter through another vanilla plantation in a neighbouring village connected to the Villa Domba, where lemongrass and cardamom trees were grown alongside the papayas (my favourite fruit! I was in heaven) and vanilla vines (which we studied in a great amount of detail the entire time we were there: surrounded by, our senses plundered by them), cardamom most definitely had to be prominent in the top notes.




















Cardamom. Alive, right in front of me: picked, plucked from the ground………






(Now I am editing this for the reblog, and this post is KILLING ME!!!!!!!)





(Honestly, I bloody loved that holiday. Neither of us could even speak properly for about two weeks afterwards it was so gorgeous.)










Men from the plantation showing us the ‘mom.


















Right in front of our eyes, on a perfect, hot, sunny day: a village plantation, me with my camera trained on it all, sucking it all in, lying down in the grass (excusing myself as I went off for ten minute reveries just staring at the Javan sun flickering through the papaya leaves and dreamt of eternity – surely the most elegantly shaped umbrella trees you could ever see, they are beautiful:  I really don’t think I could have been happier.)





















underthe papayatree_7217















Me and our delightful guide laughing simultaneously….













And unless you have studied these things in advance (which we hadn’t), then it can come as a great surprise to find how certain plants grow, or how the aromatic extracts are obtained from them. I had no idea that cardamom grew in clusters on the ground, for  instance, as you can see in these pictures. The plantation owner and our host, the lovely Mr Agus, as well as our fantastic translator, Rizal, took us through the process of cultivation for each spice or plant, as the people who work with each crop demonstrated, by hand, the various techniques necessary for keeping each plant in its optimum state of health.






I was thrilled beyond measure to be picking real cardamom pods in this location, and thus, into my perfume, has gone a whole load of the spice (possibly, as I said, too much, as, when you open the bottle and just smell its initial evaporations there is an almost medicinal, if somewhat exciting blast of this delectable green spice that is, fortunately, nevertheless offset by the coffee beans, a foody embrace I rather enjoy and which then gradually fades into a patchouli aromatic skin scent that is quite sensual). I am fairly pleased with it now, and must resist any temptations to modify it further. One of my worst tendencies is a kind of messy perfectionism, which, coupled with a natural inclination to do everything in dramatic proportion, can lead me to wonder if I should add just a little of this or of that, getting carried away in the process, and then, inevitably, ruining everything. Please tell me to just stop here while the going is good.







No. I think I am going to leave it. There is about 90ml (just one bottle) and most of that is going to be for me to keep as an olfactory souvenir. To return there, through olfaction, by wearing on my own skin, the vanilla beans at Villa Domba: so distinctive, that, having been surrounded by them for five solid days and nights, there is now some kind of Pavlovian response, I think, when I smell them in the base of the perfume.




I am almost , if I close my eyes, halfway back there.





















I would quite like, also, though, if possible, to share some of this perfume with friends and maybe also with some Black Narcissus readers if you would be interested in smelling it. Just small vials (if I can get my hands on some), but it would be nice to share the experience with others (although I had problems sending some perfumes that were promised to two people on here, the other day – they came back, most frustratingly, in the Japanese post, two days later labelled dangerous). (Reblog note: sorry, this is now officially impossible, much as I would have loved to).






To finish, as I sit here, here is a picture, just taken, of the very same cardamom cluster you see in the photos on that gorgeous day, now dry; dessicated; almost odourless, but still a precious bio-souvenir I keep in the corner of the kitchen along with some vanilla pods that still hang down from the wall, the remnants left from the great bag full of deliciousness that we hauled back, at the end of last August: from Java.













































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FOUGERES AND THE BABE MAGNETS: Classics and otherwise in The Ladykillers’ Hall Of Fame………. featuring Kouros, Aramis, Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, Fahrenheit, Green Irish Tweed, Tsar, Drakkar Noir, Antaeus, Jazz, Platinum Egoïste, Azzaro Pour Homme, Safari, Cerruti 1881, Rive Gauche Pour Homme, Polo, others……












The Black Narcissus, like most contemporary perfume writing, takes the stance that there is no gender in scent. That such thinking is an outmoded, and very limiting approach to fragrancing which in the modern world of liberated, even poetic perfume, seems like some form of restrictive, gendered apartheid.






You wear what you damn well like.


Perfume is perfume. Smell is smell. It is personal: instinctive.






In fact, there is no reason why anybody needs to smell as they are expected to smell. I had a Japanese male colleague come round for dinner the other day, and, his eyes widening when he saw my collection, having no idea where to start, I suggested he just give me a smell descriptor, a scent he loves in life, in nature. And to my delight (and great surprise) the one word he came up with, hesitating for a moment, was “Kuchinashi”. Gardenia. So off I went on a white floral mission, getting some gardenia/tuberoses for him, perfumes he had had no idea existed, that he loved on himself, and couldn’t get enough of. And he smelled beautiful. Just starting from instinct, and natural inclinations, from memory, and experience, rather than the dictates of the flavor conglomerates and the vulgar meat market dating circuit, where scent is exclusively used, and marketed, as a come-on to begin the process of dating in the crassest manner imaginable.







No. In the world of Lutens, Malle, L’Artisan, and all the myriad of other creative and imaginative niche perfumeries, the possibilities are endless: the potential to override these limiting and depressing barriers of spirit, enormous. Only in high street department stores and the soul numbing miasma of Duty Free are the genders still segregated in the old manner: men and women smelling blindly, uselessly, as they are guided around the juices by pancaked, lipsticked, high-heeled assistants wielding nasty little sprays that pollute your journey all the way from Tokyo to London and beyond if you are unfortunate enough to have your skin maimed from a few stray drops…







If you are reading this now, chances are you know this already. All true perfumists know the segregrated approach to perfume, the pour homme/pour femme old dictate, is pure nonsense.









However. Let’s face it: the majority of the niche perfume makers, with their ever more expensive wares, and their curious and innovative combinations of aromatic materials, are preaching to the converted – ready-made for the pilgrims ever searching for the holy grail. Yes, perfume is art, or at the very least an elevated craft whose pieces one should consider in and of themselves as olfactory abstractions. But in reality, despite some contentions to the contrary in the fragrance world and the domain of the scent critic, perfume really is, throughout most of the world, still about sex. Denying this is akin to claiming that clothes, shoes, jewellery and all the other accoutrements that human beings spend so much of their money on are all about their functionality, or are bought for their intrinsic aesthetic beauty alone. I don’t think so. They are bought to make you attractive.






The afficionado has risen above all this. The man on the street has not : he wants, basically, to find a scent to help him pull: a babe magnet. And why not? An attractively made scent, one made with vision, acuity and artistry, can be that extra deciding factor that lets a date go the way that you want it to; clinch the deal. And so, having spent the last thirty years constantly surveying what is out there in that world and knowing the reactions to men’s scents from countless female friends, let’s see what we can do. Let’s find that ladykilling juice that will have her melting, helplessly on to the bar room floor.










So. What smells masculine?









There are many categories of perfume that are fine from the traditional viewpoints of virility. You can’t go wrong with citrus (simple, elegant, fresh); vetiver; incense (though this might depend on your target’s religious beliefs): sandalwood, patchouli and all woody blends: the oceanics, ‘sports fragrances’, and ozonics. For the more confident man there are the leathers, which I highly recommend; ambers, spices, in the manner of the flamboyant Arab male; and you might even want to try the new mens’ gourmands (Dior Homme, A*Men), though here we are definitely crossing into metrosexual territory.








These categories of masculine perfumery notwithstanding, truth be told, despite the modernizing trends of the last twenty years, the masculine genre par excellence is, and always will be I imagine, the fougere. French for fern, the fougere is a category of perfume that has been around for almost a century, yet seems to show no sign of losing popularity. The basic structure of this type of scent, immediately recognizable as a ‘man’, is formed with an accord of coumarin – derived from the tonka bean – with a main core of lavender and geranium, as well as potent woody notes such as sandalwood, vetiver, cedar and patchouli, and animalic musks in the base for that added vroom revealed later in the sack, usually cleverly concealed at first beneath a fresher top accord of citrus, spices and herbs. The structure is pliable, though, and there are endless variations on the theme: the one constant being that the results are very male. In truth, this can sometimes be the fragrance equivalent of a dog rubbing his balls up against a tree, and is what some Japanese women refer to as‘okotoko no kusai’ – the stink of men. There are probably far more females of the species, however, who seem preprogrammed to go weak-kneed and pliant in the presence of such obvious testosterone: a modern but timeless variant of Me Tarzan: You, Jane.













This sensation by Creed has the reputation as the ultimate woman-killer. I can testify to its probably being true. Centered on a triad of bitter green violet leaf/verbena, Florentine iris/ sandalwood, and a magnificent note of ambergris which smooths the fragrance in a way you don’t get from the cheap stuff, the fragrance grows in strength and character as the day progresses, yet never sinks to the cheapo chest-beating of some eighties colognes (it manages the feat of smelling classy and highly sexed). Unavailable on the high street, and rather expensive, it has the cachet of being a scent for ‘those in the know’. Originally created for Cary Grant, it is also loved by such screen royalty as Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, Richard Gere, as well as one David Beckham. Its credentials thus assured, it is nevertheless, despite its balance of ingredients and good taste, rather lacking in humour or ambiguity. Green Irish Tweed just gets on with the job: dressing the man to pull in the prey.





I wore this once to my company’s annual opening ceremony, and felt ridiculous. I was enjoying the beginning, the violet leaf greenness, but as the manliness began to become rampant I felt like the Hulk, that my chest was about to rip open. Before I went to the Yokohama Sheraton, feeling more Alpha Male then I ever have before or since (quite interesting in a sense, method acting), I had a Japanese lesson. Ms Hiramura was quite disturbed by my ‘change of atmosphere.’










For the straightforward, fashionable young gent looking for that knee-weakening after-shave, this sly creation from Yves Saint Laurent will quite nicely do the trick. Svengali of seduction, ‘dreamy’ Tom Ford oversaw its development, wanting a modern masculine that referenced the past but smelled new. Most of the crap you find in department stores just doesn’t smell good up close – it is harsh, citric, too synthetic – no one wants to kiss you and taste acid on their tongue. Rive Gauche Pour Homme is smooth as a freshly shaven face.




You’ve smelled Rive Gauche before. There is a familiarity there, a Greatest Hits-Of-Male-Grooming rolled into one: shaving foams, hair gels, deodorant sticks, a certain barbershop straightness. To me it is a young well-dressed man in finance: in the City after work in a bar somewhere off Liverpool Street, London. As an olfactory chat-up for a girl at the bar it is slick and clever ; a rehash of old school fougeres (rosemary, lavender, patchouli) represented in newer, sleeker mode. It is very sexy, of obvious quality, quite beautiful, but like its bottle, a touch monochrome.










A killer. Some hate its supposed vulgarity (hooligans are naturally drawn to it), its indisputable dirt (a hint of the urinal is never far away), but many more love this classic from YSL. Chandler Burr states that the animalics of this type are ‘now categorically unwearable except by the French. Today, Kouros will get you expelled from a restaurant. It is brutally not en phase (of the times.’) Yet, it is Yves Saint Laurent’s best seller all these years later; I know women who are helpless under its spell, and it is quite simply legendary – it even featured in a Destiny’s Child song. I can see why many hate the thing – on the Basenotes website this gets a lot of negative reviews (mostly in response to its genital intimations), against the flurry of positives – those who revel in its fully fledged masculinity). It certainly isn’t for everyone.




To me, Kouros is a beautiful Mediterranean hunk of a specimen: pure sex. When I was seventeen I remember being in Crete on holiday with my family, and a man walking out from behind in the cool of the shadow and into the sun of the white square of the island’s capital, Heraklion. The scent he left behind him, hanging in the air, suggestively, was unspeakably erotic, and I am sure that I must have blushed.




This perfume is an explosionof scent; spiced oranges and lemons; jasmine, rose; woods, resins, incense and fougère, in a sea of animalic vanilla, castoreum (beaver gland), civet, honey and musk. All of this is brilliantly blended so that it is still fresh, somehow gentlemanly and suave (at the beginning, anyway). The citrus notes and the crisp spices adorning the irrepressible main theme create a fresh sensation of the outdoors for a time initially before the more extravagantly sensual ingredients gradually blend with the skin – at which point those so far seduced are ready to pounce. When worn right (it doesn’t suit everyone, so the perfume must be checked out thoroughly first), this is quite simply one of the best scents ever created – diabolically sexual – though I emphatically recommend wearing it on clean, post-shower skin, and at small dosage. On hot days, when it is wrong or overpowering, this scent is unadulterated skank.


Summer remixes of the Kouros theme are often released, and many are quite good: cleaner scents with less animal. If you like the basic theme of Kouros there is also Creed’s Orange Spice, which is similar but has perhaps more taste.










Like Kouros, Platinum Egoiste is not subtle, but has a masculine austerity and sharpness that really works. It is cold, very assertive at first, cutting through the air like a blade that, when unsheathed, is a head-turner. The sensation of platinum – a silvery, freshwater zing – is achieved with silver- birch, lavender, tarragon and citrus over woody notes and a potent base of treemoss, labdanum and cedar, giving a bodily texture that lasts up to twenty four hours on the skin.




There is not a note of sweetness in Platinum Egoiste: it is harsh, virile and not for all – but dosed strategically (say one spray on the collarbone, another on the abdomen) it can be a huge seducer. It also has the added bonus of having a certain ‘everyman’ quality, as if you are not trying too hard (which in itself is a big plus point in the attraction stakes.)




NB The aftershave lotion is a good alternative if you prefer this scent more subtle (you should: the edt is too strong when all is said and done. The same is true of Kouros.)











Ralph Lauren has always been about class: estates in New England; the American thoroughbreds. His neo-public-school style is more English than the English in its uniquely American conservatism, but the conspicuous consumption of his Russian roots are firmly intact (a Ralph Lauren clone never looks effortless, but rather always pristine and brand new, ready to be photographed by Herb Ritts.)


Smelling Polo is like entering the Ivy-League world and their perfect lawns: a scent, and a ‘lifestyle’ you won’t ever forget. So many facets of the colour green before you, like the hills of forests in Autumn at different stages of growth, and the solid mahogany furniture that you see this from. I would say that Polo is the only Ralph Lauren perfume really deserving of classic status, along with his (depressed) First Lady, Lauren, the smell of sorority girls and their gleaming, freshly washed hair. The men’s variant, Polo is patrician, authoritative, but no certainly no dumbskull. This is a man, definitely (his women love how he smells), but he has also read a book or two. The clever accord of oakmoss (which lingers for days) and minty, herbaceous greens (pine, juniper, artemisia, marjoram, thyme )is both reassuring and arousing; like the lure of old money, but with a sense of the sadness too that such a life sometimes brings.







In the 1980’s it seemed to me that from around 1986 everything split in two. Until then the radio was ripe with pop, the fashions were cool, but fun. After that, the schism occurred. Stock, Aitken and Waterman pillaged the charts, Starship landed, the Thatcher/Reagan years reached their soulless nadir. As a confused, hypersensitive seventeen year old, there was a stark choice: be one of us, or one of them. ‘Them’ was Sharon and Kevin, who went to the Ritzy and liked Phil Collins & Whitney Houston. She wore Red Door; he wore Jazz. When he walked by, the smell that lingered – stubbornly – summed up, better than words ever could, the self-centred nastiness in the air. Until the 1980’s scents had had some ambiguity, the 70’s especially, when leathery androgyny was the key. Rick Astley changed all that. It was perfumes that smelled of red or cerese for the women, and hoary granite-grey for the men; square-jawed as Schwarzenegger. In those days this represented everything a vegetarian Goth (who secretly loved Janet Jackson) despised, and I loathed it more than I could express.





I still hate this smell but two decades later I can see that Jazz, which is still a very big seller and something of an institution in male grooming, is a well-made fougere with good balance (better than Tsar, say, which it is similar to). It is less crass than most, very manly, and I see why many women find it very sexy. Definitely in the Magnet top 10 and something of a safe bet.










An entirely different kind of man to the above – young, flash – ready for a night on the town, Fahrenheit is an original scent that is extremely striking. Up until the early 1990s, Dior still had the imagination to produce genuinely groundbreaking perfumes, and this was one of them; a virile, almost violent, violet-themed fougère. The futuristic shock of the aforementioned violets, honeysuckle, hawthorn and a powerful metallic note like oil and gasoline (which had my mother scream when I doused myself in the stuff in my early twenties) dries to an arid, cedar, lavender heart; a styrax/ leather fox.





A couple of months ago I passed some American sailors waiting in Yokohama station on their way to the Yokusuka navy base, and one of them was wearing Fahrenheit. It has that sexed, flip-your-stomach ability that supercedes the rational.










For Luca Turin this is the archetypal Saddam Hussein hairy chest. For me it is too soft-hearted for that: more a protagonist from a Truffaut film; confident, a bit gauche, sweatered – a classic French ladies’ man. It is a simple scent in some ways, but the principle notes – lavender, anise/basil, woods and patchouli/ambergris – are played in perfect harmony like a well scored quartet for strings. Suave and very good humoured, Azzaro is an attractive and resolutely male scent that has good construction, and unlike a lot of new men’s fragrances seems designed to actually go on your body. (Tip: smells great when you chew Wrigley’s spearmint gum at the same time, in a club: quite devastating.)













Solid as a black onyx ashtray; brutishly compact; a spiced-wood scent starring smooth, headstrong cedar –and a troubling absolute of honey, Antaeus really and truly is a man and one of the most blatantly virile scents available (the olfactory equivalent of bulging, tight-fitted jeans), but, crucially, it also has a quiet, Chanel confidence that is beautiful.






Very 1981 but still eminently wearable.











I remember when I was entering the first full-blown throes of my olfactory mania at the age of fifteen and I was talking to my cousin Sue about all the latest things I’d been trying, and wondering what her own favourites were. Ten years older than me, she had been the most fantastic babysitter, letting us jump on the beds and stay up late, but more importantly was someone I looked up to (she had a scary rocker boyfriend called Boo and she was my mentor of pop: being baby-sat to the limited edition Human League’s instrumental album ‘Love and Dancing’ is one of my best memories from my childhood). So I was really quite disappointed when she said (with some embarrassment)



‘Actually, I really like Brut.’







To me, she was cool, but Brut just smelled of Dad, of Boots in the seventies, and an absolute, and utter, lack of elegance. Of the morning shaving ritual (the smell still in the air on a dark winter Monday morning when you had to go to school); white, foamy shaving cream and razor-nicked adult men’s faces. The horror (for me) of Match Of The Day – hideous rainy Saturdays with the football on continually, with its deadening green screen that polluted my brain. It is all these things, incorrigibly nostalgic, and will smell of dad for thousands of my generation. But it also has a quiet confidence, an ease with the body that many of the overdone, uptight modern scents can only dream of – this man can walk around without his shirt on and doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks. Michael Bywater in his brilliant paen to what has gone, ‘Lost worlds’, writes of Brut that it was “not so much butch, despite the name, as aggressively suave, with an unctuous oiliness as smooth as a seducer’s leer; women, it was said, were ineluctably captured by its smell”. Sue was certainly not alone in finding it sexy.



It has not been lost, even if it is not as intense as it might once have been. But it is still the most unpretentious, un-self aware aftershave out there. Unspoiled virility is a precious thing these days.





CERRUTI 1881/ CERRUTI (1990)


Nino Cerruti, he of the Italian sharp suits, and who dressed Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in the archetypal 80’s TV series Miami Vice, released this ‘lethal weapon’ at the conclusion of the decade. It has endured. Many of the scents in this section have a louche brutality – the hirsute intentions very clear from the start, as if you have already started unzipping your trousers.




Cerruti 1881 is a different kind of fuck-machine: chiseled, jaw clenched, fastidiously clean; an action man fresh from the shower. Extremely sharp, it begins with a herb/citrus blast of tarragon, cypress, rosemary, lemon, bergamot, basil and juniper, and dries down to a taut, woody finish.











The first time I encountered this was when I was twenty and not quite ready. Yet even then I knew. Something murky, sweaty, dangerously seductive. I remember recoiling, but then going back immediately, to this rich stew of a scent that touched some primal sex nerve. My first visual image: businessman, real man, after a hard day’s work – maybe he forgot his deodorant – and this was the smell beneath, just waiting to emerge; taut, impulsive, musclé.





This was the genius of Ungaro. A scent that harnessed sheer, brute masculinity and fused it with style and elegance in a manner only the French could master.




It is, for me, possibly the ultimate fougere. A deep, rough patchouli, fused with woods, geranium, wormwood (absinthe), musky animalics, and a sticky vanilla-honey that is almost salivatingly good. In fact I have a dressmaker friend, Rumi, who came to my house for the first time recently. We watched Almodovar’s Bad Education, drank a lot of red wine, and got to the perfume collection. Once I had realized her tastes, I went in a patchouli direction (Givenchy Gentleman, Magie Noire) which had her coiled like a cat with pleasure. The pièce de resistance was Ungaro, which I saved til last, but which she said was like sexual torture.












Aramis is an aftershave of legendary status that is still heavily promoted by Lauder (its parent company) worldwide. The fact that it is still so popular more than forty years after its release is simply that it is excellent, distinguished, and on the right person, extraordinarily sexed. But will you like it? It depends. For a large majority of the young male demographic it will smell, frankly, like piss. Like Kouros, Aramis has a sour, urinous aspect (lemon, bergamot, clary sage and myrtle together) – sharp, citric, with quite dirty animal/ clove/ patchouli undertones that will not appeal to the CK One or Aqua di Giò generation. I myself highly rate it.




What it doesn’t smell is cheap. Aramis has a stately rich grandeur. Conceited, in a compelling manner. It smells of gold, of expensive white bathrobes, and five star hotel lobbies. It needs good clothes, self belief, and a physique to match, though its purpose, really, is to blind the ladies to any shortcomings in that area.







Though it was commandeered by the lesbians for a while (an invisible eighties codeword), why not go for Drakkar?


It’s taut. It’s sleek. It’s manly, and it smells good. It is old school, severe, and it isn’t for the artistic type, but it works. Definitely deserving of its prowess credentials, but I recommend doing it on the quiet: as a stick deodorant, for subtlety – rising up from the body unexpectedly, it’s probably irresistible.








In the standard ridiculing of the eighties, it is usually the female’s perfume that gets the most stick. Admittedly, many were ridiculous (Senso, 273, Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion), but at least they were fun. But that bastardization of femininity, made grotesque and big-haired by the sickly sweet mushroom clouds you could literally smell half a mile away (literally) most certainly had its masculine counterpart in scents like this. Perhaps it isn’t fair to only single out Dunhill (there are also Tsar, Jazz, Drakkar and many others not mentioned here), but though it is true that a lot of women do fall for this bitter aggravation (so bear that in mind if you take the babe magnet thing seriously: this is one of them), nowadays, in my opinion, you really have to wear tiny amounts to avoid smelling ridiculous – or be a member of the Gun Lobby: Charleton Heston would definitely have loved this.




In today’s climate, scents such as Dunhill, the most business-like of the business man scents, almost amount to drag: olfactory Viagra to bully up your inevitably declining powers. If that sounds like what you need, Dunhill is perfect in many ways: in all sincerity, it is very well crafted, classic masculine blend; sharp and citrusy (lemon, petitgrain, clary sage, basil); (spicy: clove, cinnamon, nutmeg), and woody (sandalwood and cedar); traditional, conservative in the extreme. It has the gravitas that will suit the kind of man who dreams of being able to say ‘Yes, Mr President’ on a daily basis.











I can look at this from two points of view: the rational, and the irrational.





First the rational. Tsar is an enduring success that men still buy (or their wives for them) with a deep, commanding presence: dark as teak: rich as velvet. An uncompromising severity – the finality of a stag head nailed to the wall.





Irrational: sums up everything I loathe about the smug, white patriarch: the stench of the boardroom, the arrogance, the oil; and the vile sense of entitlement these rhinos feel. Probably the most right-wing scent in the world. A scent I will loathe with fervour, forever.












Perhaps even more painful. Detestable. What I hate so much in Tsar, that worship of the stale, rotten armpit of macho, is strengthened, here, to unfathomable bitterhood.




This safari, this cold-hearted hunt, is surely of the ladies.




Watch them run; lasso, gun’em; harpoon them with the hard-enamelled phallus.




Round up’em as trophies. Pin’em down. Subject them to your ashtray-mottled clichés.





Some women like it.













Timeless is not a word that can be applied to many scents, especially the limited clichés that make up the men’s fragrance market (trust me, it really is limiting, and boring, just to smell of a given template). But the word can probably be applied to Paco Rabanne; a herbal green animalic fougere that somehow resists the trends of each decade and still comes out smelling good.





In 1984 as a teenager this was one of the scents the girls were talking about (the other being the more recent Kouros), and even now this inviting, aromatic blend has something of a womanizing reputation – in an episode of The Sopranos, Paulie, about to go out on a date, asks if he’s got enough cologne on. The reply ‘You’ve got so much on you’d think Paco Rabanne had crawled up your ass and died’ pretty much sums up its macho credentials.





Yet the reason this scent has survived the best seller lists all these years is, I think, that it doesn’t have the preposterone swagger of many fougeres. It isn’t trying to prove anything, like some of the scents I’ve described here (which seem to be covering a lack) – and has a warm, effortless confidence that is the source of its power – a trustworthy scent – soapy clean and green (laurel, sage, rosemary, geranium) over moss, honey, amber and some soft animalics. While perhaps not an out and out masterpiece, Paco Rabanne is nevertheless a classic that I imagine will be around for many more years to come.











Probably the cheapest scent I have ever described (a pound, or even sometimes a dollar), but I’d nevertheless rather smell this, personally, than ninety (nine?) per cent of men’s scents out there. The peacock syndrome in my, and I imagine a decent percentage of heterosexual women’s opinion too, just isn’t sexy. Most of today’s fragrances are the worst combination of cheap and overcomplicated. Just too much fuss.





Skin Bracer is a truck driver in light blue jeans (the type with good personal hygiene). Simple: manly, probably a real scent in the beginning but now just a drug store bargain. Nevertheless, It’s a clean, mentholated fougere, with a denim-like vanillic cling, soothing, erotic, that beats most other things hands down.















BOUCHERON POUR HOMME/ BOUCHERON (1991)Perturbingly sexy, Germanic fougere with a brutish sheen. Worth trying.

SANTOS/ CARTIER (1981) Yet another spicy fougere in the Tsar mode, but better, with a certain dark-grey, severe, commanding presence.

HUGO/ HUGO BOSS (1995) A scent for the baser instincts, to be worn down All Bar One on a Saturday night. You will fit in, get compliments, and pull.

REALM FOR MEN (1993) Not a strict fougere, but a desperate plea formed with human pheromones. Please don’t buy this: it is repellent.



BUSINESSMAN/ PANOUGE All powerhouses, sadly gone. Probably available still from specialist online retailers.

SEX APPEAL/ JOVAN MUSK This is still available, and comes with the following inscription written on the box:






“Now you don’t have to be born with it. This provocative, stimulating blend of rare spices and herbs was created by man for the sole purpose of attracting women.




At will.








More than the usual promise in a bottle, it’s more like a guarantee.”



































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Cretan afternoon………GREY FLANNEL by GEOFFREY BEENE (1976)

The Black Narcissus


















My brother was fifteen; I was seventeen, our first time in Greece. In the white villa we lounged among the sheets, the scent of eucalyptus in the afternoon outside, sun flickering the walls like lizards.


I had got some perfume samples, just before we left, of a bewilderingly green men’s scent with the smell of frozen green beans and violet leaves, and it seemed to us at the time unwearable. Instead, we used the vials as cooling agents in that searing heat, flicked them at sheets and the walls, a beautiful, aromatic green that intensified the brush outside.  


Quite obscure now but still available, I didn’t smell this scent for twenty years until my grandfather’s funeral, when my cousin Dominic, who was sitting in the pew in front, had a gentle soap/wood scent that was…

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GREEN DAY: What is cool and refreshing on a hot afternoon? (starring OMBRE HYACINTH by TOM FORD, from the JARDIN NOIR COLLECTION (2012))

The Black Narcissus




It is getting hotter and hotter, though my lizard-like constitution is just warming up in this gorgeous mid July sun and I feel healthier, incubated, alive, in temperatures around 26-30 degrees ( It is not until the full endangering swamp of Japanese August  – 34°, with about 80% humidity, as though life had somehow become a permanent sauna –  that I start to feel a bit debilitated by it).  Even so, this hot and humid weather needs fresh fragrances, be they light tropicalia; citruses, or the icy, transient leaf florals that take you down a notch, allow you to float more serenely in a poetic envelope of Cocteau Twins blue-green.


Ombre De Hyacinth is a perfume I first tried this last year in Barcelona, which happened to be going through an August heatwave (one local told me it was the hottest she had ever known it to be), and…

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