Monthly Archives: November 2014

JAPANESE CHRISTMAS

The Black Narcissus

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I was asked recently to write something about Japanese Christmas. I have no idea what mental images or (pre)conceptions you may have of this curious time in Japan, but if I think back on those first Christmases and compare them with how I feel now, I realize that I have become acclimatized almost entirely to what I used to find quite creepy. For the Japanese Christmas, in some ways, from certain angles, is quite creepy.

I could write reams on my wonderful remembrances of innocent childhood Christmases, of the fierce, wondrous magic; the school nativity plays; the Christingle kid’s services at our local church with their candles, angels, and clove-studded oranges; of the impossibly exciting thrill of Father Christmas and Christmas eve, and of snow, and presents under the sparkling tree, but I know that many of you reading this will have had very similar experiences, and that even a…

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A LUSTY, MUSTY SELECTION OF PATCHOULI :: : : PATCHOULI by SANTA MARIA NOVELLA + PATCHOULI LEAVES by MONTALE + PATCHOULI NOIR by IL PROFUMO + PATCHOULI 24 by LE LABO + PATCHOULI by MOLINARD + PATCHOULI by LORENZO VILLORESI + PATCHOULY by ETRO + PATCHOULISSIME by KEIKO MECHERI + PATCHOULI by L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR

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Winter. The antisocial, deep pull of it.The malingering invasiveness. How it clings to you; piercing your bloodstream.Patchouli, reminding you of where you came from, and where you are going.The earth. Black, deep, wet: beyond the depths of the subconscious.

 

 

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I adore patchouli, with reservations. For my Serge Luten’s classic Borneo 1834, my personal favourite, see my other piece on patchouli, Patchouli Patchouly. For a more recent and dressed up Dior take on the patchouli note, look here. For Madonna’s intriguing linkage to patchouli oil look here, but for a simple, more comprehensive look at a selection of the bona fide classics of the patchouli genre, go no further.

 

 

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PATCHOULI / SANTA MARIA NOVELLA

A must-have patchouli: rich, stinging and pure, the workers at the monastic, Florentine profumeria allegedly having done their patient and diligent work for you with these sour and pungent leaves. A dark, formal preparation, an elixir: root-coloured, viscous, in the classic gold embossed bottiglia.

While Santa Maria Novella’s patchouli doesn’t show off (there are no ‘twists’ or ‘facets’ here to undermine the harmony), the Santa Maria Novella rendition of that darkest of perfumed notes is perfect for those who simply want a well balanced, elegant patchouli.  Backed up with the subtle, warm, yet stern and stringent  base notes typical of the house, it lingers, sumptuously, all day: a beautiful Italian equilibrium of darkness and light.

 

 

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PATCHOULI LEAVES/ MONTALE

Already of legendary status among patchouli lovers, this is one of the best ‘straight’ patchoulis. If there is a problem with pure patchouli oil (which, I ultimately think is the best if you can find the right one), it is that it is sometimes much too rough and unwearable in it freshest state. You would have to stay in at home twelve hours before venturing out to get the exact stage of patchouli you were after (and this only with a good oil, they vary so much). And though not the precise balance of dry, musty and earthy I have long been after – I like it really, really earthy – this excellent blend by Montale saves you the bother of sequestering yourself in a patchouli dungeon waiting for the right moment to emerge by instead giving you an instant, fully formed, patchouli hit.

All of Montale’s perfumes are good, especially for those not interested in pale evanescence but who want their perfumes strong, erotic and proud. Patchouli Leaves is exactly that; the leaves of the patchouli plant, macerated for two years in oak tree bark. Under this fulsome melange is an ambered layer of vanilla, musk and Cystus Ladaniferous from Tibet that warms the blend (for me perhaps too much so), but rounds it, smooths it into a full fledged perfume that is sweet, replete and exotic.

 

 

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PATCHOULI NOIR/ IL PROFUMO

Il Profumo is an interesting Italian niche brand which has what it claims to be a unique method of ‘osmosing’ its ingredients together: a ‘slow evaporation curve which allows a very intimate and sophisticated use of the perfume.’ All their perfumes are apparently given psychological directives; Patchouli Noir, according to the website, is ‘pervasive, decisive, antidepressant, tonic’, and it is, in fact, a peculiarly bodied, warming, musky, bodily patchouli that I find very emotive and enveloping. A chocolatey, vanillic base underlines the title note (with cedarwood and poppy), and it lasts, and lasts, and lasts, forever, on its wearer’s receiving skin.

 

 

 

 

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PATCHOULI 24 / LE LABO

It’s rare to encounter a scent that hits the gut like the end of a love affair, but that’s exactly what this brilliantly original scent did to me the first time I smelled it in Paris. Once in a while a perfumer hits the jackpot with a collection of notes that cut straight to the emotional jugular, and this is it; the poignant smell of a lover gone, an ache of perfume, the perfumer taking the dark timbre of patchouli (very little – this can scarcely be called a patchouli in fact) a hint of cloves, and fused it with a beguiling, almost meaty, smoky-forest note of bonfires; Russian silver birch tar – a poignant, cruel smell, like smoked, Lapsong tea in a freezing wintery room. Fused to this strange and alluring smel is a sex-charged vanillic musk, for a very original, disturbing, and emotive patchouli of a totally different nature.

A hint of this on a lost lover’s shirt would be unendurable.

 

 

 

 

 

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PATCHOULI/ MOLINARD

The Grasseois house of Molinard has been producing classical, impeccably made yet reasonably priced colognes and perfumes since 1849 in the old tradition, with its own flower fields, distilleries – the original artisanal methods of Provence that the town of Grasse still holds dear. And this is a very French patchouli, very much in the eau-de-cologne tradition of citrus, neroli, lavender, musk; at first glance merely delicate, refreshing, old fashioned.

Shortly though, as the day wears on, the pure, clinging scent of a very dry and well aged patchouli comes through the scent with an impeccable strength of character; staying fresh and close to the skin in a very loveable manner. Molinard’s Patchouli is an unusual scent, at once clean and conservative, mannered, yet eerily seductive.

 

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PATCHOULI/ LORENZO VILLORESI

The great thing about the scents of Lorenzo Villoresi is their passion; fine quality materials blended in generous proportions with a deft, self assured and snarling distaste for the banal. This perfumer does, however, sometimes tend to pack quite a large number of essences into his perfumes and he is famous for his quite startling openings, his lunging preparatory overtures. His Patchouli, I find, on some days that I try it, seems smudged, perhaps, with a few too many ingredients: herbs and spices; a preponderance of dry, herbaceous lavender; vetiver; sandalwood; and warming fixatives of oakmoss and benzoin.

The resulting scent is thick, rich and strange; it disturbs with a dark, sexual power: an under-arm, animal muskiness that is very potent. A friend of mine likened this to the smell of a sweaty mechanic after a day in the garage, and I have to say it is true. This will be, for some, though, not an entirely bad thing – myself included, and I must admit I am actually thinking of buying this at some point.

 

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PATCHOULY/ ETRO

There are plenty of patchoulis out there that do the typical patchouli/musk/vanilla combo for that loose-limbed, oofy, splayed-on-the-sofa thing, and these are rarely my favourites. Etro’s Patchouly is quite an original take on the theme, recognisably an oriental patchouli, but not slack, molly-coddled, or doe-eyed; rather it is a tight, airtight blend; persistent, dry, balsamic, under an arid and beautifully persistent patchouli from Java. Recommended.

 

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PATCHOULISSIME/ KEIKO MECHERI

In Japan’s traditional folk medicine, the leaves of the patchouli plant are the best known antidote to the bite of the mamushi; a poisonous snake that lurks in the grass in mountainous zones (and in the woods near my house). But in perfumery, the Japanese are known for quiet, transparent scents, and like all Keiko Mecheri Eau de Parfums, this does not graze the feral.

Mecheri, Japanese in name but a very New York based perfumer, makes urban, stylish scents that don’t demand too much on the wearer or her public, the appeal of the brand being an instant, colourful and rich likeability. Patchoulissime (a misleading name – there is nothing extreme here) is a light, floral scent with light ambered undertones: the patchouli hazes in and out when it feels like it with a certain clean grace. This patchouli is fresh and wearable, with a restraint that will appeal to some, but not too exciting if you are, like me, a true patchouli fiend.

 

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PATCHOULI / L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR

If you find this somewhere, on the internet, at a fleamarket, anywhere, anywhere and you love patchouli, then please, please snap it up. Usurped by the much more compromising, less interesting (and far more commerical) Patchouli Patch that came many years later, the powers that be at L’Artisan misguidedly decided to let this haunting classic go.

L’Artisan’s patchouli was beautiful, and the best ever: earth-full, but not earth-bound. A clarified, and purified beautifully brittle vine of dry, sinuosity that trailed behind you like a a stark winter sky viewed through thick bottled glass.

Aerian, light; a dry, holy spirit.

 

 

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MEET ME IN SHANGHAI. OR TOKYO. OR BANGKOK. OR HANOI. OR WHEREVER………CREED ASIAN GREEN TEA (2014)

 

 

 

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Although I don’t wear them very often, I am quite fond of tea-based fragrances and have several in my collection: Bulgari’s Eau Parfumée Au Thé Vert in both eau de toilette and Extrême, L’Occitane’s innocuous Thé Vert in parfum solide (good for dabbing on sultry August work days); Roger & Gallet’s refreshing, summery Thé Vert, and a small bottle of the delightful Imperial Tea by Kilian – to me, one of the best tea perfumes you can buy.

 

 

 

 

Tea perfumes have a gentle, neutralizing effect on the senses. An ease of spirit, if not quite of passion, they have a delicate, androgynous, appeal: distancing, aloof: a sly and beguiling ‘gentrification’, almost, of the spirit.

 

 

 

 

And only the gentry of Tokyo will be able to afford, surely, Creed’s latest release from their ‘Acqua Original’ series, Asian Green Tea, due to debut here in Japan next month (it is already available elsewhere), a perfume I smelled with curiosity yesterday at Ginza’s swankily luxuriant Hankyu Men’s Department Store, as the arch, fashionable, and brand-obsessed metrosexual population milled about the crowded store with the usual dismissive swishes of hair and chin this bustling national holiday weekend.

 

 

 

What I can’t entirely understand with this new perfume is the price: 42,000 yen (on the way to 400 dollars: it sounds cheaper in sterling) for 100ml. Creed was surely already upping the ante price-wise with its recent, extravagantly price-tagged ‘Royal Exclusives’ line (which I must admit did include the subtle and delicious Vanille Sublime, a perfume I would very much like to have in my possession if I could afford the eye-popping seven hundred dollar price tag for a beautiful, 250ml flacon of the stuff). This new fragrance is even more expensive per ml, though – an outrage almost – and, to be honest, I can’t really find any objective justification for the price hike beyond greed.

 

 

 

 

It is quite nice. A green tea variant on the plum-themed Acqua Fiorentina ( I find them quite similar), Asian Green Tea features the usual Creedian, steely metallic ambergris, the familiarly silvery florals (rose, violet, heliotrope), as well as a sheer and refreshing top accord of bergamot, mandarin, lemon and neroli. The green tea note is prominent, sensual (combined in the base of the perfume with a lick of sandalwood and musk), and the whole is pleasing, fruité, if not quite stunning – although I can easily imagine the person this matches – someone clean, perfectly groomed and self-assured – smelling quite magnetic and stylish in its firm and delicate embrace.

 

 

 

 

 

The name, though. So generic: so obviously led by market research and hopes of expansion into the ‘luxury Asian markets’ of Japan, China and elsewhere: so pinpointed to the Stilettoed, Moneyed Doyennes Of The Eastern Capitals, their Gucci pant suits, their gleaming white smartphones.

 

 

 

‘Asian Green Tea’ is a name that is just too bland and race-specific for my own tastes (what do you think of it? And what could be up next in the line: ‘Caucasian Sausage Platter?’ ‘Pan-African Coconut’?). For me, there is no beauty in that name. The scent, also, though enjoyably translucently floral and well blended, somehow doesn’t quite get there either. It is OK. But for that amount of money, I’m afraid, I need poetry.

 

 

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HAUTE VOLTIGE by L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR ( 2014 )

WHO JUST PISSED IN THEIR PANTS ??

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Not too much happenin’ at the flea market today

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the mountain moonlight, and roses…..TAUER PERFUMES’ INCENSE ROSE (2008) + UNE ROSE DE KANDAHAR (2013)

The Black Narcissus

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The very existence of an innovative and imaginative independent perfumer such as Zurich based Andy Tauer, an alchemist who produces strange and unique perfumes within his own apartment and boxes them, packages them, and sends them to his eager recipients all over the world, is quite gratifying in this overly compromised and commercialized world of vacuous, olfactory pap. Tauer’s releases regularly get the fragrant stratosphere all lathered up; stark, strong, and very contemporary blends that defy the usual gender-seductive expectations and take perfumery into interesting, and unidentified, zones.

They are not to be taken lightly, however. For me personally, Tauer scents are never an easy wear. Rather than just an immediately pleasing smell to apply, to fuse with and merely enhance my own physical aura and persona, these very complex (very male, actually) perfumes feel more like miniature, fully realized tableaux or skin-inhabiting theatrical productions; dramatic plays or ballets…

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SOD’s LAW

Just when you are seriously getting back into writing again, the computer conks out.

DAMN. DAMN. DAMN.

It’s just not the same on an iPhone.

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PERFUME IN MOSCOW: a look into Soviet scent

 

 

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I have never been to Russia, much as I would love to. This article has just appeared in the Guardian, though, providing an intriguing insight into Soviet perfume culture in the days when even perfume could be seen as political.

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VINTAGE BAL A VERSAILLES: AN AERIAL SHOT

It is getting really cold. It is time for Bal A Versailles.

The Black Narcissus

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The first time I encountered Bal a Versailles was in Luca Turin’s original Le Guide from 1992. There is something in reading about a perfume that you think that you will never be able to get your hands on that almost makes it more enjoyable: the thrill of the holy grail; the abstract, luscious taunting of the unreachable and unattainable.  I can see myself poring over his reviews again and again, dreaming and yearning, trying to prise apart his spare, poetic French, his enticing yet hermetically sealed descriptions of long lost perfumes by Molyneux, Jacomo, Revillon, of the just opened Shiseido Palais Royal, of dozens of delectable sounding perfumes I would probably never smell in the future and just feel my internal organs clenching up with intense longing; an almost masochistic craving that was acutely pleasurable even when unfulfilled. His cunning words painted sufficiently salivating, impressionistic pictures to gloriously pique…

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SHE SELLS SEA SHELLS…… DUNE by CHRISTIAN DIOR ( 1991)

 

 

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Apricot dunes; the glow from a studio-lit, ochre trompe l’oeil sunset; seagulls on the soundtrack; the glistening ‘ocean’ beyond. A seasoned French actress, distractedly reaches down into the pillowing sands and scrutinizes, with her smooth cream hands, carefully placed pebbles, starfish and seaweed.

 

 

 

On the beach, pensive, to a backdrop of golden, solar rays…

 

 

 

 

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It is probably quite hard for the perfume youth of today to imagine how exciting – and rare an occurrence – it once was when one of the great ‘houses’ – Guerlain, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Givenchy, Christian Dior – released a new scent. They were like monuments, fortresses, designed to be aesthetically pleasing but also infallible, made to last. Perfumes that, naturally, were not designed for everyone, but once, if they did catch your senses and made you hers, would then become your perfume, to buy again and again, your signature: huge money-making engines for their parent companies, who relied desperately on these gleaming olfactory colossi to line their coffers for couture.

 

 

 

Rather than the constant floods and inundations of scent that we are treated/subjected to now, ever intrigued but over and underwhelmed, we were almost starved of new perfume back in those days. What you saw was all there was, and if you were bored by what you were smelling you just had to wait. A long time. Many years would pass between the launch of one major scent and the next, and to budding young perfume obsessives, always on the look out for new perfume adverts in fashion magazines like Vogue, the arrival of a long gestated new perfume always felt like a real, magnificent, event.

 

 

 

The concept for Dune had apparently already been thought out and worked on behind the scenes at Dior back in the 1980’s, but it was presciently decided that the next project, the purple hearted, bullet shocker Poison, was more scandalously fitting to the Joan Collins times (and their instincts were most certainly right in that regard), with the result that the project was somewhat put on a back burner for a while until the radical explosion of all things ‘natural’, pared down, marine and ozonic occurred in the following decade, when Dune then suddenly emerged as if out of nowhere: a heavily, but immaculately, made-up Venus, transpiring from the foaming waves of luxeful Perfumia to claim her crown.

 

 

 

 

At the time, I myself was a second year university student, back home for the summer, working, believe it or not, on a golf course. Although I am the last person on earth to play golf (those pastel colours; checked trousers, all that ‘gear’…….) it was, in many ways, the ideal job for me at the time: entirely solitary, surrounded by trees and nature in my wooden hut, just listening to music, looking at the sky, and finally having definitively enough time to properly read the long novels I had always wanted to read as the hours of green and blue stretched on before me ( I have great memories of losing myself entirely for days on end in great big nineteenth century tomes such as Anna Karenina). There, with the kettle boiling quietly, the birds in the trees, the occasional customers coming for a round of mini golf – I merely had to collect the money and hand out the tickets, and then take the flags down at the end of the day – passing the summer quite nicely, saving enough money to set myself up in Rome that November: I was immersed in aloneness, literature, music and perfume, and, more importantly, the great and exhilarating unknowingness of an upcoming Italian future.

 

 

 

 

Dune was released during that summer. It was a period in which samples were given out more freely at the department stores, and, as usual, I managed to get a lot of them, vials and vials of the scent which I would try on my hand while sitting outside, or even soak the cassette liner notes of the tapes that I had in the hut with their contents, to make the scent last longer, to be opened and experienced at will, so that in this way Dune formed an almost permanent scented backdrop to that carefree period and is seared in my memory as such (maybe that’s why my Prokofiev Violin Concertos I+II tape went all funny – the very reels of music themselves were drenched in sea broom and soft burnished powder of mollusc).

 

 

 

 

Although I was never entirely sure if I actually liked this scent – and certainly never wore it beyond the confines of my golf cabin – despite the fact that there was something too full, opulent and strangely off-putting about it, I knew that I was extremely fascinated by it: that weird combination of ambery, salty warmth, and floral, quite definitely duney seaness that all felt so peculiar and uneasy, yet new; compelling. It had a certain thrall. I had simply never smelled anything like it before.

 

 

 

 

Yes, this rather groundbreaking perfume, which felt, almost, as if it had come from another planet, had been proudly announced by Mothership Dior to be the very first ever‘floriental oceanic’, a very unusual concept at the time, when anything that reeked of the sea simply didn’t seem suitable, somehow, for a fragrance. It was a forceful, clinging floral amber scent with top notes of sea broom and lichen, peony and lily, immersed in a smooth marine compound, edged with rich and salty flowers, benzoin, ambers, and musks. Desperately original and popular when released, I later soon got sick of smelling it in Rome, where, together with the ultra-swimmingly sweet Trésor, it blotted the air all around it with its comeliness, the women of Rome taking it to their commendable, tailored bosoms (these women were always just so deeply perfumed ; profumatissime) with an overly great abundance of maquillaged enthusiasm.

 

 

 

To me, Dune always felt self-satisfied and overplenished somehow, more a performance than a perfume, with several acts, all perfectly balanced (the original formula was extremely complex): warm, emboldening and luminescent, but still, always that unsettling contrast between those sandy, decaying seashells whitening in the sun, and the more demure and feminine flowers and balsamics lurking beneath, an aesthetic tension which, when all is said and done, makes Dune the enduring creation that it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In a old and crowded box, dusty and thrown in together like trash, I recently retrieved a vintage parfum of Dune – the one you see in the picture – for a dollar at a fleamarket as you know I always do, and for that price I thought; well, why not. I was quite intrigued to smell this perfume again, to be able to reappraise its flaws, and its charms. And besides, I had never smelled it in extrait.

 

 

 

As you might expect, the current formula still on sale worldwide at Christian Dior counters is said to be a rather unsatisfying reformulation of the original perfume that was released, which was bolder; more detailed; a more extreme and delicate arc between the marine notes, the florals, and the sandalwoody ambers (these new versions of the Diors seem more like snapshots, somehow). This little bottle I got in Tokyo, a considerable amount of which proceeded to spill all over me when I eventually got the stopper off coming home on the train, was unboxed, the label worn off as well, but the perfume inside, dense and full, rich,was still fresh, intense, and rather pleasing. This smell is at once entirely familiar to me: stamped in my brain, nostalgic, comforting, even, yet still retains that inherent strangeness that the original formula always had and that made it distinctive: that insistent, almost sickly amber that also inhabits the base of Cartier Must parfum (a scent I adore); the emotional component coming I suppose from that sense, beyond the immediate, concentrated perfume essences in the heart of the perfume, of an enlivened, agoraphobic dream vista; a beach stretching off for miles and miles, and miles and miles, into the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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