Dropping by Isetan, Tokyo’s premier temple of luxury in the heart of Shinjuku, on the way to a comedy show Sunday night, I had a cursory sniff of some fragrances that I wasn’t familiar with and was drawn to. It is always fun to browse in such places, even if Isetan is the most overstaffed department store in the world (five minutes or so from the busiest train station in the entire world) usually outnumbering customers about 2:I – I am not joking; although on this particular relatively warm evening it was packed to the rafters with enthusiastic-looking shoppers who were giving the assistants a good run for their money: the venerable institution teemed like a glittering, gilded ant hive. Those staff: hovering close by, not letting you spray anything by yourself (but as you know, I always do……) close, almost, to feel like you are about to begin mating, and probably why I am never really in there long enough to properly let the perfumes deeply sink in ( I think my ideal perfume shopping experience would be just one wise looking person standing by the cash register, about thirty feet away, nodding sagely once in a while and coming to my assistance the moment I actually required it – but there you go and never mind: this is Japan, the land of kyakusama kamisama – the customer is god, and there is just no getting away from it so you may as well just act like one).
Although undoubtedly well made and niftily attractive, I have yet to succumb to a purchase of a perfume by Atelier Cologne, even if I do quite like some of the scents in the range such as Orange Sanguine, Grand Néroli and Cédrat Enivrant (and am looking forward to trying the new grapefruit variant, Pomelo Paradis). I was also recently quite intrigued by the strange marine aromatism of Mistral Patchouli, definitely an original, aquatic take on patchouli which I liked more than I anticipated and which I thought might work quite nicely on Japanese hot summer nights.
Immortelle Blanche, a recent addition to the line, is also quite distinctive, moving away from the pale, synthetic woods and ‘ambers’ the scents are usually founded on and steering into more chewy, paprika-textured territory; rougher, more oriental, and warm. An unusual combination of mimosa, immortelle and rose in the heart of the scent is given cologne-like freshness with top notes of orange and Calabrian bergamot, creating a soft blanket of maple syrup homeliness with a smooth, familiarly boisé accord of vetiver and Australian sandalwood. Although there is nothing extraordinary here, Immortelle Blanche does have a new richness of ease about it that suggests the house might be ready to move into newer, more unconventional directions.
There is something about high quality iris bulb extracts that just stop me in my tracks, and on smelling this perfume by Aedes Venustes I was rooted to the spot. On the display next to the (perfectly designed) grey velvet packaging of the perfume, Isetan had placed a petit tableau of old books – an ideal visual pointer to a perfume that smells of smoke; paper, and mysterious, patchoulied facets. The base of the perfume soon settles into an androgynous, aromatic melange of rose, oud, leather, incense, cloves and vetiver with a spark of anise and juniper berry – contemporary yet classic, quite nice, a scent that would be good for a gallery owner or a writer, someone surrounded by space but who wants to project a stylish aura of something slightly untouchable, rarified. Still, I wish that the exquisitely captivating top accord of Nazarene iris, a very unique smell that is genuinely affecting and mystical – even otherworldly, could have lasted much longer.
I am an unabashed lover of cloves and carnations and am pleased to see this flower again being touted as a contemporary possibility. Less delicate and overtly feminine that some carnations, this creation by Rodrigo Flores Roux, a perfumer who makes some gorgeous floral scents, particularly centred on white flowers – I am a big fan of his sensuous Jasmin Rouge for Tom Ford; Arquiste’s enticing Mexican tuberose, Flor Y Canto; and another scent of his I wear all the time, the delightful jasmine sambac/frangipani/gardenia lusciousness that is Dolce & Gabbana’s Velvet Desire. Here, though, the perfumer veers away from the tropical island breeze of white flowers and gives us a denser, and more wintry, tigress carnation; peppered, spiced up hard, with troubled notes of turmeric, saffron, cardamon and cloves cladding the rose and amber-laced carnation notes effectively, but with none of the usual ylang and musk-touched sweetness that carnation perfumes usually have at the heart. The result is a modern take on this flower that is sultry (with tolu balsam, benzoin and labdanum lurking below as the final skin scent), but unsentimental.
VENT DE FOLIE
No, if we are looking for dewy eyed and sentimental we are in much safer hands with Annick Goutal, a romantic and unhardened perfume house that continues to produce convincingly pretty and delicate perfumes that seem to keep afloat with the trends without ever really compromising to them. Vent De Folie is perhaps the closest I have seen the Parisian ladies bow to the currents of scented fashionability, though, in producing a light, fresh rose perfume, of which, in my view, there are already far too many ( I hate the high street rose, really loathe it).
Rather than the protracted dulllness of all the Valentino roses, though, the Paul Smith or Stella Mccartney roses, the cheap oyster metallic musk/insistent, synthetic rose accord of the abhorrent Eau Des Quatres Reines by L’Occitane (my most hated perfume in the world), in Vent de Folie instead there is a finespun, aerial, tea-like rose accord focused on sweet pea, geranium, blackcurrant and raspberry that fits in perfectly overall with the Annick Goutal aesthetic but smells like the perfect spring scent for a young (Japanese) girl – I can imagine this one becoming popular here. The result is a scent that is as unthreatening and tame as it could possibly be, but if I could swap this (or Petite Cherie, or Grand Amour, or Quel Amour, or any of the Annick Goutal beautifully vernal fleuris) with the horrifying Quatre Reines, that mindless scent that has become a far too major hit with women here in Japan, I can tell you that I would be a much happier man.
And now to hyacinths. And a perfume devoted entirely to that flower, but unusually, on this occasion, to the more flouncing and lilting white variety. The majority of hyacinth notes in perfumes seem to be centred on the bluer types: fresher; more acidulous, with a strongly scented green aspect that I adore, but there is also a great deal of pleasure to be had in having the more wilting and languid, even opulent, scent of the white variety presented to us, bottled and blended with jasmine, orange blossom and musk – a scent that I imagine could smell really quite Anaïs Nin on the right girl: pale, yet fleshed; luring, siren-like.
I have a real thing for sparkling, iridescent aldehydes in a modern context (isolated from the lipid and creamy musks of yore, they can have the pearlescent sheen of dragonfly wings), especially when combined with citrus, and this simple but unusual scent by Il Profumo, an Italian niche perfumery I tend to really like, is such a scent, shiny and shampoo-like and suffused with lemons, oranges, and a pure shot of fresh, effervescent ginger that runs through the glassy whole, perfect for spring days I would imagine, or the beginning of term: a sweet, bubbled and very optimistic-smelling scent that struck me as probably the most ‘me’ of this selection I tried, somehow: it made me feel that spring is really coming soon, and is one that I will certainly have to go back and explore at Isetan further.