(Guest post by Duncan)
Our meanderings around the lively entertainment district of Isezakicho in Yokohama – a long pedestrianised shopping street which leads from the historical portside town of Kannai south-westerly to the seamy Bandobashi and Koganecho neighbourhoods – often yield fabulous scent bargains, and yesterday was no exception, with Ginza bagging a rare bottle of Must de Cartier II Eau Fraiche!
In the summer, we often wait until mid afternoon to head out and we have a regular route in Isezakicho, which takes in a motley medley of junk shops, recycle boutiques, secondhand bookstores, bygone kissaten (old fashioned cafes serving industrial-strength German roast kohi), an art cinema (called Jack and Betty), and restaurants (Isezakicho is Yokohama’s Asian quarter and the best place to eat Thai and Vietnamese nosh). It’s a fascinating mishmash of trashy (bling hip hop gear, knockoff perfumes, hostess heels and lurid flounciness), highstreet bargain basements (Uniqlo, Bookoff), sex (massage parlour soapland, host/ess bars), and throwback exotica (for example, the bizarre ‘hebiya’ or snake shop, which has pythons suspended in jars of formaldehyde and stuffed scaly things in the window).
It’s without doubt one of the most unaffected and racially mixed disticts in the whole of culturally homogenous and manically regulated Japan – a bit of an outlaw zone actually, a Yokohama ghetto, though it actually feels very safe from a British perspective. Some find it too cheap and close to the bone (let’s not deny the dark exploitative side of the sex trade, which is here in abundance and pretty much impossible to ignore) – but we have come to love this Little Asia, this rather chilled and disreputable entertainment zone. There’s a lot in it if you look carefully. As the Japanese proverb goes: ‘The reverse side has its reverse side’; or to mangle Wilde, even stars are reflected in the gutter!
Yesterday, we started off with a glass of Freixenet on a grass verge in the ‘old man park’ in an adjacent street because Ginza wanted to bask in the sun before hitting our haunts. I’m not good at staying still for long but it was good to quaff some sparkly with the old stick who had been taken up with ‘summer seminar’ onerousness for eight days on the trot. About two hours of rummaging threw up some good reads (best of all being: ‘The Incorruptibles – A Study of the Incorruption of the Bodies of Various Catholic Saints and Beati’ by Joan Carroll Cruz – a New Orleans homemaker who writes of inexplicably preserved corpses at night because she ‘simply cannot tolerate writing if there is housework left undone’!), cheapy T-shirts and ties (elegant blue green silk CK stripes for 100 yen), and a clutch of perfumes (aforementioned Cartier, plus Vol de Nuit spray parfum, and KL Parfum: the folding fan bottle perched in/on an 80s grey and pink semicular prism case).
As Ginza can’t resist opening up his olfactory treasures on the street even as we are in transit, and then testing them out on available limb space, I was lucky to be doused with Must de Cartier II Eau Fraiche, which I had never heard of but which I immediately took to, as it fits well with the effect I prize when mixing light citrus colognes and simple vetiver scents to bring zing to wood and add heft to zest; indeed, a more elegantly and sensually rounded citric vetiver swathe could hardly be imagined. Cartier nailed it. Too bad this scent was discontinued. Boo.
So I have bagsy-ed this delicious accord and am planning to make it my summer signature scent. The opening is zesty but soapy, even a little proper in a luxuriant way (top notes: mandarin orange, hyacinth, peach, and lemon) and yet as the scent settles a jasmine/daffodil tang emerges sensually melding the citrus on top with the mossy vetiver beneath.
It’s a bit like the love child of Christian Dior’s Jules and Armani Eau Pour Homme – these were two scents that sprung to mind – but whereas as Jules always felt heavy-handed and smelt a tad urinous on me – especially in Japanese summer (yuck) – and Armani is perhaps a touch too reserved and dry/citric-cerebral (much as I admire it, it fades a little too enigmatically on my skin), Eau Fraiche is finely made and fully realised, refreshingly and sexily elegant. (Ginza pointed out that there is a resemblance to vintage Diorella as well – some muscularity under the citrus top notes.)
And so we ended our day admiring the Cartier and ogling Mrs Cruz’s incorruptible ancients and pickled nuns propped up in alcoves, prostrate in glass cases (St. Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart in Florence is below) – all over a fine Thai meal in a plush newish restaurant we hadn’t clocked before with white leather, purple, gold and silver decor, a disco ball, toddlers tumbling about on the banquettes, Siam karaoke on loop, interspersed with Gaga, Madonna, and Soft Cell (by us), and plentiful Chang beer to lubricate the colourful corruptions of summer.