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.













































Filed under Flowers

48 responses to “JAVA by BLACK NARCISSUS ( 2014 )

  1. Cath

    OMG, I’m so wanting to try this. (Imagine a drooling smiley here now, LOL).

    I’m a bit shocked to hear your samples were sent back to you labeled “dangerous”. I’m still sending stuff all over the country and the world. I hope the Japan Post won’t become core SS like the Royal Mail when it comes to perfumes.

    • They were actual bottles of vintage perfume, but the woman didn’t ask me to write any label. I thought it was a bit odd, but then somehow thought it would be ok (then again, they were going to America. ).

      I guess it will have to be lies and EMS.

      Regarding Java, when some friends came round I asked them to smell it and their response was something akin to …’er…..’ but duncan just tried it and quite liked it.

      It’s not masterpiece, that’s for sure, but I think it is distinctive. Where can I get empty vials from?

  2. Tara

    Fabulous. I smiled reading about you in your reverie under the papaya tree. Blissful.

    I think a lot of people suffer from “messy perfectionism”. It’s hard to know when to stop.

    Do you know Richard Lüscher Britos Terroir Perfumes? They’ve already done a natural perfume based on Madagascar so it would be great to chat with those guys, even if you don’t take it further.

  3. Marina

    I would love to smell your blend. Thank you for sharing the Java experience.

  4. So happy to hear you’re blending a fragrant project! I remember reading about your trip to Java. It’s exciting that you’ve captured the essence through scent as well. I love that you’ve chosen to work with a natural palette that includes hand made tinctures. Brilliant!

    I think you should continue to work on instinct so you get a chance to express your authentic voice and experiment with materials that have a direct connection to the context of your experience. Who cares if it’s a “perfume” at this point! The journey is just as valid. If you continue to explore, you WILL arrive at a wonderful destination. I’d be happy to offer you pointers, but I think you know what you have to do.

    Did you encounter any Java vetiver? It’s one of my favorite vetivers because it’s richer, smokier and more chocolate-y. Check it out:

    Would LOVE to swap samples!

    • I LOVE vetiver, and am not sure if I have smelled it.

      My effort is not even tinctures, really, just things thrown into a bottle of vodka. It does, though, despite its imperfections, have something to it.

      Thanks for the vetiver link. It sounds really intriguing. Hopefully at some point I can send you some of my Java, although I would definitely be embarrassed doing so.

  5. I would love to smell Java…I think it’s great that you actually created a fragrance of your own after writing about them for all these years!

    • I still feel modest about calling it a ‘fragrance’, seeing as it looks like frothing mud and was just made with vodka, but it does have something. Hopefully at some point I can send you some.

  6. God, you write well!
    I laughed out loud about all the essential oil you have wasted in your search for “better”. I have done the same…too often.
    Try not to do any improving, if you can, on your fond Indonesian creation: it sounds pretty good all ready.

    • I sometimes wonder. If I were to add up all the money over the years I have spent not only on perfume but on essential oils as well, what percentage of my expenditure would it amount to? A LOT I can tell you.

      The problem is that I always get overexcited, and can’t help wanting to add. But with Java, I have actually shown some patience. Let it sit and become itself, and I think on this one occasion I can restrain myself!

  7. Tora

    How fantastic that you made a scent memory you can revisit whenever you want. I would love to smell Java, as would probably everyone who reads your beautiful words. And I bet that someone like Mandy Aftel would be thrilled to smell your creation.

    • I wonder. Would an artist like that want to reinterpret another person’s idea?

      I mean the whole coffee/chocolate thing has obviously been done before,probably also with cardamom somewhere in some niche perfume I haven’t heard of, but I do think there is something distinctive in it. Like all natural perfumes, though, despite its initial oomph, it does fade quite quickly.

  8. Wow! I am so very impressed with your project to bottle an olfactory memory! Bravo, Neil! This is wonderful! I bet it smells wonderful too!

    As for continuing on, are you in touch with Barbara Herman? You know her kickstarter campaign to have her own perfume crafted by Antoine Maisondieu got fully funded! I think it might be good to reach out to some perfumers and see if you can make your dreams come true too. Start a kickstarter campaign, and I’ll throw some money behind it!

    • I am always amazed and delighted by your energy, optimism and generosity (what star sign are you?!)

      Not sure if I have enough of the entrepreneurial spirit to take it any further, but you have certainly given me some ideas. I should send you some first and let you see what you think.

      Like me, it is kind of weird .

      Thanks again for the burst of energy. x

      • I just realized that I needed to get back to you!

        I am a Virgo, but really trying hard to be less OCD. But you know, when you are OCD about not being OCD, that’s just really OCD, isn’t it?

        If you have a little tiny bit to spare, I would love to smell Java by Black Narcissus! And I hope it is kind of weird, because if it wasn’t it would be boring and I don’t like boring. I like weird!

      • It’s so funny that you are a Virgo. My life is full of them. We are supposed not to get along, but not only Duncan, loads of friends, both my Japanese teachers and my piano teacher are Virgos as well. I am so chaotic I suppose I am drawn to my opposite. And when I can get my act together I would love to send you some, embarrassing though it might be!

      • It will NOT be embarrassing at all! You are fabulous and have fabulous taste! How could it not be equally fabulous!

        That’s funny about how you are surrounded by Virgos. We are a strange sign, notoriously stubborn and difficult. More than once I have read that the sign we are most compatible with is . . . Virgo. Geez.

        Many, many moons ago I was in a very long relationship with a Sagittarius. We drove each other crazy, but we had some amazing adventures.

      • With me and D it works. We have adventures, a similar life philosophy just very different ways of seeing things. I definitely see the bigger picture and ignore detail (except when I am writing). He is meticulous in the extreme, and it can drive me insane. Also very critical at times, which is very Virgoan.

      • Every sign has plusses and minuses, and each can veer into extremes sometimes. That’s what I take away from how each star sign is characterized: these are your tendencies, and now that you know what they are, you can control them instead of letting them control you.

        The most important thing, I think, in any relationship is that you have a partner on the same page and you share the fundamentals. Me and my ex? We always said that with his sense of adventure and my attention to detail, we could probably win one of those reality TV shows where you race around the world. That was the great way Virgo and Sag meshed. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have enough in common in other areas.

      • Definitely true that you shouldn’t get too obsessed with astrological nonsense, which is why I think it’s important not to ask that question of people too early on to avoid letting any prejudices you might have cloud your judgement of them.

        Having said that, I do often find that with my students, whose star sign I never ask initially, when I do, later in the term find it out, so much makes sense.

      • I’ve found that to be true too!

        Or rather, my students ask me and then say, “Oh, that makes sense.”

        So I guess they really do notice.

  9. How delicious sounding, a memory bottled for future revisiting. Wish I could have thought of that while I was in HK, the lovely aroma of dried oysters in the markets might not have made the best scent though. But ginger would have.
    You fragrant concoction sounds absolutely divine and swoon worthy. Would love to try a bit of that one my pulse points. I always make homemade vanilla extract, macerating vanilla pods in rum, and some days have thought of just dabbing a wee bit on…just to see what it is like.
    The ” dangerous” returned package, is a bit saddening, but it will make its way. I think it is humorous though that people are able to ship liquor, with some of the higher proofs one has to wonder about the volatility.
    After reading, and pondering, your post, I now want to go to Java, it sounds delightful.

    • The ‘dangerous package’ (as IF) was in fact your Quiproquo and Farouche. The other was Lilybelle’s Joy extrait. I have to find a way round those mtfhckrs and lie. You WILL receive them by the middle of the summer, I insist!! Perhaps I should slip in some Java as well….although when worn next to those suave beauties it would be like going from frilled mademoiselle to rutting gorilla….

      • I would love to try it and am sure it would stand its own quite nicely. Vanille, cafe, cardamom…a gourmand delight if ever there was.
        Am absolutely waiting on pins and needles to try Quiproquo, evil postal workers, I will wait patiently though.

      • So annoying though. I was really pleased with myself for FINALLY getting round to doing it and then…..

  10. Rafael

    This isn’t a reckless teasing game is it? This exists? Please, please don’t make me have to survive a flight to Japan to get my hands on a vial of the above described elixir. Wrap it in a wad of cotton and send, send send. Do it now. On this the future world relies. I have a new address.

    • Babe this ain’t no elixir. This is just my own crap creation. But I do kind of like it. I will send it (though this post thing is a bloody pain in the arse. It used to be so EASY!!!)

  11. Katy

    How exciting! I hope to be in Japan some day, so perhaps I will meet you and we can huff together! I am thrilled that you are making perfume! I love that you love Serge Lutens Borneo! Me too! I did a test last week with Borneo on the left side and Angel EDP on the right. Angel is far juicier and Borneo so dry and tremendously evocative of patchouli wrapped silk bales in a wood hulled ship. I wish it was available in the export line instead of the those huge and expensive bell jars!

    • Angel is all well and good but Borneo! When they had it in Tokyo in limited edition I got through at least 3 bottles. But even then I was adulterating it and putting more patchouli in as it wasn’t QUITE patchouled enough for me. I adore it and crave it. I kind of think I could put more patch in Java, but then I run the risk of ruining the balance of it. Patchouli is something I feel infinitely comfortable in and yes, if you come to Japan, it’s a date.

  12. Approach other independent perfumers. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Mandy seems like a lovely person and I find Charna at Providence Perfumes to be charming and approachable and talented to boot. Go for it!

  13. ninakane1

    Yes please! Do send me some! Would love to try a sample! It’s so lovely to see the photos of your holiday again. It sounded a wonderful experience – can it really be a year since you were there? The perfume sounds delightful. I love anything with ginger in, and have a regular patchoulie, orange and ginger essential oils mix that I make myself for the Winter months. Wore it in excess a couple of years’ back, sometimes adding nutmeg to balance the ginger in a yin/yang combo, and found it worked well when overlaid with the Hypnotic Poison Elixir. Not to mention rubbing it into the pine of the kitchen table – started this as I found rubbing rosemary oil in helped me concentrate when working but soon discovered it was a good way of experimenting with different essential oil concoctions. I think you should continue to mix and make your own. Great things will come from it. Liking the sound of the cardamom in this. Please send x

    • I wish we had a decent pine table, as I would love to do something similar. I like the idea of walking into the house and it being filled with natural aromatics in that way. There is no doubt whatsoever for me that rosemary is an extraordinary essence. It definitely does make my mind work better, and makes me horny as well (unwillingly, sometimes – I find certain ‘reactions’ happen when I am in contact with it). I am more nutmeg than ginger (have you ever tried Jo Malone’s Nutmeg and Ginger body cream? It is amazing), but this perfume is definitely all about the cardamom. And the patchoulie.

      I wonder what you would make of the smell of Java. Although it smells a bit as though you had spilled a mug of coffee on yourself, I think you might like it. It does have something. And it does, also, definitely remind me of that trip. I know I have gone on about it, but it’s strange: even though we have travelled to so many different places and had tons of adventures, Java was somehow different for us both. Infinitely special. If we had another holiday, I think we would go to Indonesia again. We need to dig further.

      I’ll send you some as I really want to know what you think.

      • ninakane1

        Would love to try some, do send! I had a feeling that trip was going to be an important one for you somehow. It sounds weird but it’s partly why I sent that package before you left (that sadly didn’t arrive until after you got back). It’s hard to explain but it’s why I sent the Jasper Conran coffee cups to you. I had the weirdest dream about your trip 6 months before you went (when you were still planning on it being Madagascar). Can’t remember whether I told you about it, but the three of us met up in a hotel at breakfast. Jules was around somewhere and he and I were off to another part of the island and you two were off on the first day of your holiday. It was a hot country with white buildings, huge plants and people everywhere. We went outside into a hot bustley souk-type market and said goodbye and you two headed off into the market. I turned and looked back at you, and you were standing by a stall surrounded by this swirl of orange light and haze. Duncan was wearing this deep bright blue linen two piece shirt and trousers, looking impeccably neat and calm, and you were wearing this flamboyant and beautiful light purple kaftan. And you just stood there talking while this swirl of people and orange bustled about you. It was weird but this dream stuck for ages. It’s why I sent you the cups. There was something about the two of you in the dream that linked to the coffee cups that had sat on my shelf for a while and I suddenly felt you had to have them and they somehow belonged with you! So I sent them partly as a 20th anniversary gift but mainly in blessing – the blessing came from the dream.
        There does seem to be something important for you to find there, something wonderful. Sounds an amazing trip and that return visits are definitely a good thing..
        As for Rosemary… I have some Rosemary prattle but will save it for another time, hahaha! xx

      • I love this dream, your dreamlife, and
        your prescient intuition. Always.

  14. I was going to say there’s something joyous and wonderful about all this – I feel uplifted reading about it and inspired to explore things more in general. I love the way you connected to the place and material sensory things, there’s such a feeling of wonder and magic and growing. Then I was going to comment on Nina’s rubbing rosemary into a pine table and then felt thoroughly gripped in Nina’s dream…and feel this sense of how we can be propelled forwards through following dream-like intuition and it really makes me emotional as it’s incredibly positive and very real and something I’ve been lost from recently. But anyway, this really does inspire me to make something different, or even paint in a different way, such vivid descriptions, I love it!

    • I am genuinely delighted you feel that way. My energies in regard to Java and the perfume (and Nina’s unbelievably sharp intuition) are real, if over earnest perhaps for some people). You have picked up on it.

  15. Bee

    This sounds wonderful and I hope you have managed to bottle some of your joy from that fabulous holiday.

  16. veritas

    ha! you have turned into me 🙂
    Hope you are enjoying your Java….it sounds divine!
    like you I gave up shipping samples to friends and family …too many confiscated packages that never made it to their original destinations….a shame…as I had wanted you to try VaNeilLa….and selling perfume really isn’t so easy… me…I know….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s