Monthly Archives: January 2015
Some perfumes really do smell different in winter.
I first bought Night Scented Jasmine a couple of summers ago for its hints of fresh, white and pink jasmine flowers seen through frosted glass, and quite enjoyed it. As jasmine perfumes go, though, it was certainly on the timid and underwhelming side (most jasministas would probably hate it) and it somehow found itself pushed to the back of the cabinets for a while until a couple of days ago, when its singular and rather delightfully subtle and fresh bouquet appeared out of the blue in my mind.
To my surprise, this now works perfectly at this cold time of year as an understated work scent. Where classic English perfumery is often deemed to be too pallid and polite, particularly the house of Floris, which rarely ‘pushes the envelope’ and just smells of country hotel bathrooms, for me that ‘politeness’ can be its strength. Although I like a variety of jasmine scents, it is nice to have one to hand that is non-indolic and fulsome, but rather tightly compacted, cool and subtle. Unspoken, almost.
In colder temperatures (now hovering around freezing in Japan, as it always is from January to March before the cherry blossom, with intermittent snow storms) this perfume really blooms. Where previously I hadn’t really been aware of there being a violet note – a note I tend to be a bit anosmic to in any case – now the scent feels intensely violet centred, with a very English, frosted powdery jasmine and rose accord complemented by a quietly lush bouquet of soapy white flowers and piquant blackcurrant buds. In the undertones is a vetiverish, ‘amber, sandalwood and musk’ base accord, but when Floris say amber and musk it really just means a light and delicately behind the scenes anchoring. As I write this I am about to take a bath and go in to work to do some extra classes this Saturday morning, and I am literally excited about coming out of the water, getting dressed, and spraying on some more of this Floris, which to me over the last couple of days has felt incredibly comforting yet also curiously elegant, wreathing about my person like an aura. The green, violet accord puts me in mind of Grey Flannel, a scent I have always loved; the central floral theme of violets, jasmine and rose like a winter- in-summer memory of a forgotten English garden.
We live in quite an old Japanese house, and in winter it gets really cold. Most of the perfume collection is housed in old antique cabinets in the tatami room (where we sleep with the cat), now shuttered up and covered in wall hangings to keep the warmth in at night and thus dark; catacombs of perfume.
I have decided not to change anything for the time being nor rearrange what is there for these photos. When spring comes and I can let in the sunlight I will clean it all up and present it in its full glory, perhaps.
Here, though, is a glimpse, as it is this morning.
The first photo you see above is a small section of some of my most precious treasures, including the vintage Balmain parfums, as well as a lot of magical Guerlains, like my Vol De Nuits, Chamade, and Shalimar. I reach for these a lot.
On the first shelf of the main armoire we have what you might want to call ‘les noirs’. Though things aren’t really ordered thematically, and what you see is only the perfumes standing at the front ( I often have no idea what is behind and am delighted on rediscovering things), there is a basic taxonomy to the collection. Here are all the fierce oudhs, patchoulis, roses and night perfumes like Eau Du Soir, the Montales, scents I feel like wearing on big nights out. My more masculine side (though the nifty of eye will spy a vintage Diva parfum as well, so so much for that).
On the shelf below we have what you might call ‘Les Rouges’: more sumptuous affairs, things like Samsara, Parfums De Rosines and plenty of other things tucked away for a whim.
The three shelves below that are jam packed with things in disarray and will not be debuted today: they will have to wait until later.
Moving on to the smaller cabinet, with its glass windows and mirror, we have an eclectic section of vintage beauties plus Diptyques, Goutals and the like. When I do this one properly for guests in spring and summer it looks really nice and people always make a beeline for it (imagine how much fun this room is for dinner parties: the PERFECT post dinner entertainment as people ooh and aah and reach out to try different things out).
The space below that is all my classic men’s aftershaves: Kouros, Armani, Krizia etc for when I am in that kind of mood, but it is too much of a mess to be presented right now. For a more gentlemanly angle, instead we will move on to the the smallest cabinet As with all these pictures you can only see the scents in the front row, but the majority of these are Lutens, Penhaligons and the like, many of which Duncan wears. I like this section a lot actually, as it looks quite compact, classic, and inviting.
I know it all looks a bit dark (this is the only room like this; an insulated cocoon), but at least it’s good or perfume preservation.
Lest you think we live like vampires, though, let me tell you that this is not the case at all. There are perfumes scattered about the house
Lots of vetivers, and green teas and citruses. Things to spritz on on a summer’s day. I need variation and eclecticism.
So anyway, this presents about half of the collection.
I think that my credentials as a perfume maniac are thus probably now assured.
The other day I came home with two small bottles of very good ylang ylang and bergamot essential oils, and, as you do, I decided to terrorize my perfume collection .
The tampering/contaminating/ disrespecting of a perfumer’s formula is something that that probably fills most real perfume lovers with horror. And, ultimately, when I look at my own triumphs and misdemeanours and weigh the whole thing up, I would have to agree. The formulae are the way that they are for a reason, the creation of a perfumer who has tinkered, and weighed up, and mulled over the details until he or she has liked what she sees and gives the green light.
This I know.
What if you disagree, though?
Or if you have perfumes lying around that you never really use and probably never will, because there just is something about them that gets on your wick, that is never quite right, or enough, or they have gone off?
In such cases, why not give a bit of perfume terrorism a whirl? See what happens? A bit of instinctive alchemy.
You have got nothing to lose, really, and it is certainly a whole lot better than the real thing.
The majority of the creations in my collection I would obviously never even dream of touching (all the usual suspects that you hear me going on about, particularly when they are in prime and pristine condition). And yet. I can sometimes find myself lifting up certain sacred holy cows and thinking, fuck it, why not. This old Mitsouko parfum is bugging me with its fustiness. I way preferred that nice eau de toilette that I had with all that bergamot.
……. .. . . . .
Here we go then, some lovely bergamot……..yes, that will do nicely; one drop of ylang ylang and some lemon and we will wait until tomorrow……
(verdict: yes, quite good, I will actually wear it now – I am loving the velvety sharpness of the citruses versus the moss, though in absolute truth I have altered the base a bit too much and she resents me).
What other perfumes?
There have been quite a lot over the years, I must confess (has anyone else done such a thing, incidentally? Am I alone in my crazed audacity? Am I some kind of parfumeur manqué, who instead of wrecking other people’s work should concentrate on his own? have you also, behind closed doors and wrapped shut curtains, also performed midnight raids on portions of your perfume collections?)
From time to time, I must admit though, when the mood strikes me, I do have to say that I bit of ‘personal remixing’ can be kind of fun.
The nervous anticipation of it all, to see if the experiment has gone awry, or if you are delighted when you wake up and smell it in the morning and it has worked….
Here then: a list of some of the ones I can remember off the top of my head (there are way more, I know there are, and I am sure that they will come up in conversation).
The ones that worked, and the ones that really didn’t.
SERGE LUTENS BORNEO I840 : This I have written about extensively before, my adding fine quality patchouli to the scent to deepen that note. In total I have probably had about four bottles of this perfume and it is the only way that I can wear it. If I get another one at any point (it is no longer sold in Tokyo) then I will do the same. Without that extra patchouli it was just a tad too soft. With it, it becomes mine.
SLIGHTLY DEGRADED CARON INFINI : Two or so drops of great quality ylang ylang oil and BOOM she has turned into Madame Rochas. Initially I get a real brrmrmrmrmththgfhghg of perfume pleasure as the aldehydes and wood all spring into the action from the presence of the new floral invader and the whole thing smells gorgeous (it has just lost its identity, which to the holder of that identity is something of a problem).
Great to have by the bedside, though, and it does smell better than how it did before (just a faded old sad little aldehyde). I think you probably do hear the slight tones of regret though, lingering in my voice.
SERGE LUTENS GRIS CLAIR
Now this is a weird one. My mum was given a whole tester bottle free of this when she bought two other Lutens for me one Christmas, and though I quite liked it, and like it, kind of, on Duncan, I always wanted way more lavender in the top and less of that slightly irritating synthetic incense note that roars carbonically through the whole and dominates the composition.
Thus, over time: a whole plethora of lavender oils, Mexican high altitude, Bulgarian, French (for some reason, Lutens perfumes dissolve the essential oils you might put into them perfectly, not going cloudy or off coloured like some perfumes do), and I have to say I way prefer it.
What we have now is a very natural lavender perfume that heals the senses, is fresh and exciting, yet maintains just enough of that original base note once the essential oils have evaporated to make it still an actual perfume. Christopher Sheldrake and his impresario would surely be shaking in their immaculately tailored boots, but they don’t have to smell it. This one is also on my bedside table.
SERGE LUTENS DATURA NOIR
NOOOOOOOOOOOO I hear you cry..but yes. As I wrote in my review of this, there is something just too imbalanced and precarious about the weird combination of top notes that I never felt worked. Just three drops of ylang ylang oil into about 40 ml of eau de parfum and wow she has grown at least three cup sizes. I mean Datura Noir was hardly Burt Reynolds to begin with, but now we have some serious cleavage.
And yet I prefer it. The ylang ylang smooths out the composition, makes it work from the very first go, yet dries down to the vanillic coconut Mata Hari that I was hoping she would be from the offset.
VOL DE NUIT VINTAGE EAU DE TOILETTE PLUS NEROLI
I know I know.
No, you stupid boy, you can’t wreck things like this. Just because there is some neroli in the listed notes doesn’t mean it is going to work. And it doesn’t.
I have regretted it ever since (though it was off to begin with so there wasn’t really anything to lose). Even so………
VINTAGE LAGERFELD CHLOE + YLANG YLANG
What smelled old and only slightly Chloë-ish ( I have great memories of this from when I was a teenager and so really cherish having a ‘live’ bottle in the house) has suddenly become CHLOE again.
With just two drops of ylang ylang oil it has been reborn (ylang ylang is famously used to lift all notes in perfumes to begin with, and seriously, it really works here. If you do have an old perfume that is tired and listless, you might want to try it as an experiment. In this one beautiful occasion, CHLOE IS BACK).
CK ONE + DOLCE & GABBANA POUR HOMME ‘COCKTAIL EXPERIMENT’
I know, what the hell was I thinking. MIXING TWO FULLY FLEDGED, AND UTTERLY INCOMPATIBLE PERFUMES TOGETHER. But I had come to hate both, and thought if I mixed them, I might get something new…..
LESSON: EPIC FAIL OF THE HIGHEST ORDER.
AS FOUL SMELLING AND REACTIVE AS AN EMETIC.
PUKE INDUCING, AND POURED DOWN THE DRAIN.
SANTA MARIA NOVELLA VETIVER
All my vetiver experiments have been dismal failures, I don’t know why. They just end up too tarry and viscous. And my beef with this Santa Maria Novella was always that old fashioned musk in the base that I just can’t abide, and even when smothered in roots from the vales of Java it was never going to be anything different. Again, I just threw the whole lot out.
An expensive waste of money, this one.
DIORELLA + LEMON
I am starting to get embarrassed now as I realize how extensive my terrorism has in fact been. My bottles must cower and pray, and beg for my mercy each time I walk in the room.
In truth, vintage Diorella is a perfume that I adore, like everybody else, but what to do with one that has lost its top notes?
A dose of high quality lemon oil, shall we?
The jury is still out on this one. Obviously, you don’t mess with Edmond Roudnitska, and I do have a very intact parfum that I wear once a while on an early summer’s afternoon that I wouldn’t touch in a million years, but I also quite like my Limonella as well. Call me a presumptuous upstart, but I don’t mind this one at all.
THE PERFUMES OF HARRY LEHMANN
I can’t quite believe that I haven’t yet written about Harry Lehmann, because it is the most wonderful perfume house in Charlottenburg, Berlin, that makes ridiculously good valued perfumes that you get from urns, à la Caron, and they are really quite nice.
I bought several bottles of scent there (as would you: the containers are pleasing, and they are almost laughably cheap). Reseda is a delightful green N°I9 alternative, Eau De Berlin is just sexy as hell in a crisp fougère, Geo F Trumper Eucris/ Drakkar Noir kind of way but far more elegant (I would never touch that one); and there were several that I bought but that I can’t quite remember the names of (Duncan and the cat are asleep upstairs so I can’t go and raid the back of the cabinets to check). There was a lovely spiced cologne, though, that I bought a huge, beautiful bottle of, a scent that was a bit like L’Occitane’s exquisite Eau Giroflée/Eau Des Quatre Voleurs and surely enough, though it was nice, I was surreptiously adding nutmeg (one of my favourite smells) and clove in carefully graded amounts (for me anyway) until I got what I wanted.
This worked WONDERS, though I say it myself. The essential nature of the scent was left unchanged, it was just boosted by the ingredients that it was crying out to have added, and I am itching to do exactly the same experiment again.
Spices are precarious though. I love Duncan in nutmeg so much that I even added a whole load of essential to a miniature I had of Cacharel Pour Homme, the most nutmeg-prominent men’s scent to begin with, and although he smelled as though he were ready to dive into a Spanish rice pudding, I kind of liked it on him actually ( but was worried that it might sensitize and burn the skin.)
Likewise, a nice big vintage bottle that I have of Floris Malmaison, now sadly discontinued, I have also, I must confess, had the nerve to spice up (just a bit) as well.
I wanted it a touch spicier. I adore cloves. And so cloves were added, a really nice essential oil, just to get that extra kick, especially now that eugenol has been tightly controlled by the fascist perfumed powers that be and we can never really have a proper spiced carnation again (and this one was thumbs up for sure ,as well). Coming home the other night I also added ylang ylang, because I just though well what the hell, why not?
Result? Gorgeous. The ylang ylang lifts the whole perfume, which now has a really lovely bite, and yet it still softens and dies pleasingly down to a great carnation that lingers like a pillow on the skin .
(The recent edition of Malmaison was nothing like this, incidentally: it was sold down the river, conservatized, made palatable for the dull. A carnation should be fiery and florid and poetic, and unafraid. And, anyway, as you probably know, this was the signature scent of Oscar Wilde all those years ago and I and sure that he would understand.)
He wore it, in its original, audacious incarnation, as the scented accompaniment to all those musings. And he certainly wasn’t at all afraid of a little teasing, and a little rule bending, either.
Ps. Forgot to mention Gianfranco Ferre + jasmine sambac absolute.