After Kabuki in Ginza the other day, we decided to stroll down Showa-Dori to peruse some perfume.
The forbidding Dior store, a towering glass edifice of the utmost, gleaming luxuriance, is a place that I have never before entered, but a sudden whim ( wanting to reacquaint myself with Patchouli Impérial) led to the flourished opening of the heavy, thick doors by the footman, past the twitching and shifting of the assistants, and to the Dior Collection Privée. Or, at least, a selection from it.
Not finding the patchouli, nor the Vétiver, which I remember liking last time I tried it in Harrods, we decided, anyway, to try some other perfumes from the range. Duncan sprayed on the pleasant, but somewhat nondescript, Gris Montaigne; on myself I tried Ambre Nuit (quite nice, ticks most of the boxes), and, on the other arm, Oud Ispahan, Dior in-house perfumer François Demachy’s supreme recent take on some very familiar, Orientalist, themes.
The perfume is effortless. Vivid, and perfectly constructed. Damascena rose essence; Indonesian patchouli; sandalwood, an intense and endless Laotian oud, and to pad out the gaps between the ingredients, suffusing the whole with a powdered, animalic sensuality, a rich and tactile dose of labdanum absolute.
It is flawless. Strong, proud, and expertly crafted.
But I find it boring. Really boring: it is just there, on the skin, triumphant, fashionable, and rather too pleased with itself. The idealized, and perfected, fusion of Paris and the East, perhaps, but, for me, too staid. It clogs the mental pores. There is no room for personal interpretation here, no air, no quirk – just Ispahan Oud : thick, expansive, and diffusive on your skin: too stubborn and expensive (45,000 yen, or 432 dollars) to budge.
No, I hate it (and so does Duncan). It eventually has to be scrubbed off, as I dart into a toilet in Printemps department store to try and get rid of the smell (it proves an actual impossibility – this perfume is very tenacious, demonstrating the obvious quality of the ingredients used).
Still. Instead, around the corner at the modish department store EstNation, I decide to overlay the remains of the Dior with some Montale Aoud Rose Petals: harsh, maybe – piquant, but a perfume I own myself, know to death (along with Aoud Flowers, Aoud Queen Roses, and the most extreme of them all, the fantastically dark and sharp Aoud Lime), to me, more familiar and pleasing smells with which to lay to rest the Ispahan.
I am much much happier here in Montale’s unpretentious, fierce embrace: its freshness and simplicity, its grand oud obsession unleashed at least a decade before anyone else even started thinking about incorporating this classical Arab aromatic ingredient in Parisian perfume and made us sick to death of smelling it: good value, long-lasting scents with sharp and curious beginnings, but always trailing, and memorably seductive, sillages.
EstNation is in fact the only place that you can get Montale’s perfumes in Japan (including two Japan-only exclusives – Mango Manga and Rose Tea), and although they don’t stock the perfume house’s entire range (which is huge – for that you have to go to the Place Vendôme in Paris), the selection, for Tokyo, is quite impressive.
I pick up Royal Aoud, which I don’t really remember. Wow. The notes for this perfume when I look it up are listed as kumquat, grapefruit, oud, and Indian spices, but to me this just smells like a leather saddle; a stallion’s neck in sunshine; muscular, dense; each hair smooth, fragrant, and lit up by the hot afternoon light. Warm; elegant, lustful. Animal. I am not really a horse person, but here I make an exception. I love this beast, and want it: the smell of the sleek, equable blend making me want to caress, kiss; hold on tight.
Yes. Unlike the Dior, with its overly thick and tasteful, door-locked rendering of oud, Montale’s Royal Aoud has some kind of undeniable life here inside its veins.
Spritely. Feral. Real.