Monthly Archives: February 2015


















We went to a snake shop in Yokohama earlier this evening, as the D is doing a snake-based dance piece at a tiny theatre in Tokyo tomorrow night and we wondered if there might be some last minute props.



The ‘hebiya‘, or place that sells all things dead snakeish, has been there forever it would seem; unchanging in the nineteen years that I have been in this country  (though I have never been inside, or if I have it was only once, and long ago) : dried, and dessicated, whitening snake bodies in the window panes, a man at the end of the shop beyond wooden Chinese screens who, when he looks at you from afar, makes you feel you shouldn’t enter.



We did anyway today but god the stench: I was so disoriented by it I couldn’t even bring myself to take photos (these here are stock ones taken from the internet). Cobras gasping half out of jars; vipers; anacondas; all manner of decaying and formaldeyding serpents in varying states of undress and decomposition as well as turtles wrapped in plastic bags just out there drying on the counter and god knows what else stacked up in chairs and drawers and in glass cabinets. It smelled unearthly; of rotting reptile and amphibian flesh, slimy; yellowing, repugnant: one of the most memorably foul and gut-churning odour experiences I have had in a very long time;  we were out of there in a flash as I Iet out a breath and gasped in air deeply on the shopping street pavement.



If the man in the shop does, as I suspect, have some other businesses going on out in the back (because, how much business can a ‘hebiya’ make? ” Hang on just a sec, I’m just popping out to the snake shop….”) this scent is canny on his part: no one is ever going to be able to stand being in that place for more than a couple of seconds, not even the police. The smell of dead snakes, here, is assaulting; vituperous, sickening, the kind of thing that kids would do for a dare. Go on I dare you. Try and stay in that snake shop in Yokohama for a full five minutes…..






On the subject of snakes, though, and dance: perfume in performance art is a very underrated layer of meaning and effectiveness that can work quite brilliantly in adding psychological and sensorial depths to a piece by closing off your more rational receptors and allowing you to be more convincingly seduced on a three dimensional level by what you are experiencing (see also my piece earlier this year on The SmelI Of Kabuki). I have been intending to write about this for a while, but I remember a couple of years ago how a young butoh dancer, at Duncan’s studio, the beautiful Moe, after coming to my house and discovering By Kilian Love, then used that perfume in a mesmerizingly dream-like dance piece at the Kazuo Ono studio, emerging out of the dark as slowly as a Rothko stain as the edges of her sweet and lovely perfume rose out hypnotically into the audience. Another friend, and full time performance artist, Dominique BB, was also amazed when I presented to her the harsh and exacting Black March by I Hate Perfume (as she was doing a project with that exact name);  its uncompromising and fierce smell of damp earth, death and cruel bulbs an intriguing fit for similar themes that she was exploring.




But to Snake/ Succubus, tomorrow’s thing, still being gestated as we speak, I was wondering if you have any suggestions for vivid, and serpentine perfumes? Duncan wants something a bit shocking, a smell that will hypnotize the audience into the mood of the performance when he comes out, snake-hipped, on to the stage. I am thinking L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Humeur Jalouse, if I have any left in my cabinets upstairs because there is nothing more stinging nettlish, poisonous and green, but perhaps there is something else you know that would work. Jacomo Silences? Something earthier, more biting: spicy?




What perfume would be perfect for a snake?






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The Black Narcissus




“There she goes, the independent woman. The girl who’s so contemporary –  she’s having too much fun to marry”

Nothing like the past

proclaims a soap opera husk, concluding this clunky and hilariously gauche  late 70’s TV ad for this perfume as a blowsy discolette sprays her legs up and down with Yves Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche:

“…the rightperfume from the left bank of Paris…..”

Which is funny, because I always in fact associated this legendary smell, this legendary perfume, with tights – that musky smell of stockings coming off at the end of the working day; the holy grail, perhaps, of a (not so) secret foot fetishist like Quentin Tarantino.

Not that there’s anything remotely unsavoury about Rive Gauche: quite the opposite – it is beautiful and delectably charismatic. But its flirtatious, polished exterior conceals a very animal sexuality deep down in the mix; a…

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The Black Narcissus




I have no idea what the meaning of life is, but I do know that while half the world is starving, a significant proportion of the richer quotient is wandering around department stores and bijou little fashion concessions just looking for something to buy, to spend some of that hard earned money else what’s the point?  A naughty, unneeded item of luxury on the way home just to pamper; something to buy for the sake of buying, just……….because.


Nowhere is this more true than Japan, where young people live rent-free with their parents until their mid-twenties or thirties and thus have more disposable income than anyone else on the planet; money to be spent on clothes, accessories, sundries, cute nonsense, games, or prestigious European imports: food, drinks, sweets, gums; purchased, wrapped up, ribboned immaculately, in sweet little designer-printed paper fukuro.

Tuesday evening, bored, with time to kill before…

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the ume plum blossom smells unbelievably strong tonight









































When the train doors open it assails you























































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The Black Narcissus






A beautiful green chypre-floral quite delightful in spring and early summer, Yves Saint Laurent’s Y was released in 1964 and immediately declared a classic.






And with good reason. 









On beds of light, green mosses layered with a fresh, prominent patchouli, sparkling floral essences dance above like fireflies over wet green fields: rose, and jasmine, as you might expect, but, then, also, mirabelle, hyacinth, tuberose and the most delicate, piquant honeysuckle: an exquisite profusion of light, moistured flowers that steers Y on a different, more demure course than the other, more tempestuous chypres in the family such as Scherrer, Givenchy III, and the original Miss Dior. 


The initial impression of the vintage eau de toilette I have in my collection is a dazzling display of perfume technique, achieving a lightness and vivacity that is…

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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).




The perfumes:







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.






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.



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by Olivia






Like Chinese Whispers, ideas that pass through different hands undergo a metamorphosis; their stories morph through the artistic prisms of different media, of different minds. La Belle Helene, a fruity chypre from Parfums MDCI is a perfume teased from the classical French dessert, Poires Belle-Helene – itself a gustatory reimagining of Offenbach’s 1864 operetta La Belle Helene, a parody on the onset of the Trojan War and Helen’s elopement from Paris. Whereas the dessert pays homage to the operetta with pears poached in sugar syrup, adorned with pod speckled vanilla ice cream, gilded with rich chocolate sauce and the amethystine jewels of crystalised violets, perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour plays out a rococo interpretation draped between modern chypre and velveteen oriental facets: an abstract, thoroughbred gourmand shot through a fruity-woody structure.


Just as in the most delicious desserts, the success of perfume is in the balance. Rather than the dense indulgence you might expect from a perfume based on pudding, La Belle Helene flirts with suggestions of the tantalizing and sumptuous but ultimately pushes back from gluttony: its decadence is portioned, understated, brief – like that of an amuse-bouche or a single spoonful of ganache sucked from a cold silver spoon. It is a house of cards, tense and fragile in equal measure, pitched and poised at a ginger equilibrium. Taken as a whole in fact its rather understated, even somewhat aloof in parts. At the top a cool, transparent shot of aldehydic lime tickles the nose elevating the glossy, rich floral heart and allowing, even at this stage, a flash of the dark ambered base to flicker through. My very favourite part, and to my mind perhaps this perfume’s most striking feature, comes soon after – an interplay of hawthorn and dry vetiver, which alongside the floral-leathery character of osmanthus conjures a near photorealist image of pear skin. This contradiction between rough, freckled skin – the texture of velvet rubbed in reverse – and succulent, lush flesh is a startling olfactory still life, completely delicious in its tangibility. It’s a very grown up, refined approach to ‘fruity’, eschewing the all too often saccharine, hyperglycemic shock of one dimensional, ‘shampoo’ pear accords.


As it dries, these grainy edges are lulled by a voluptuous fresh/cold lipstick accord – the rose and orris emulating the sweet puckering waxiness of vintage makeup, and further enriched by the tiniest amount of the burnt butteriness of ylang-ylang. Played in symphony with the rich and warm sugar plum and crystalline violet the heart is a floral fruity miscellany that through its layered chorus straddles the line just so between boudoir and bakery.


After this swell of the heart the base cuts in a more sober angle. A sitting up straight as the dusty cocoa, mossy qualities of cedar, a pinch of the bitter-spiced resin of myrrh and a prominent anisic licorice combine to ground the long ebbing half-life of this perfume in quotations of classical orientalism. A light hand of white musk, delicate as icing sugar and pearlescent as face powder, serves to feather dust and feminise, cocooning the base in its characteristic sense of lived in skin.


This is a clever, technically exciting perfume but it also wears with a beautiful naturalism and ease. Sharing a several times removed kinship with Feminite du Bois, and recalling at points both Caron’s Parfum Sacre (in its sweet, lipstick rose dustiness) and even Lolita Lempicka (through its fantastical violet-licorice dance between gourmand ‘feminine’ notes and baritone ‘masculine’ ones) La Belle Helene is a modern take on the baroque fruity chypre, a tease between sensuality and sobriety. A merging of cultural high society chypre and the fun loving, sweet toothed gourmand, it is in turns both sexy and cerebral; a perfume in which all constituent parts speak to each other fluently, creating a subtly shifting prism. A dappling effect in tones of muted pistachio and viridian drawing together complimentary textures from opposing surfaces: glossy and dry, silk and leather, cool and comfort. In its medley of perfectly pitched discord between realism and fantasy, it is a perfume unusual enough to be both strange and beautiful, mischievous but never weird. It’s seductive in it’s meeting of distinctive peculiarity and warm familiarity – interesting and easy to wear, it has elegance and sexiness running through it in parallel from top to bottom. This richness served with a deft hand conjures a sort of Marie Antoinette a la mode aesthetic – powdered and cheeky, tucked and puckered and flashing winks of pillowed flesh, managing at a step back to be both an alluring and absolutely satisfying.




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when a bottle of loulou empties itself out in your bag

just the thing for a japanese bus !!


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Perfume can bewitch; irritate; shock. But it can also soothe and simply be nice, a buffer between the harsh realities of the world outside and the cocoon within, a fourth dimension that holds us together in the moment, making us feel grounded, and real. A block.


Standing in the Hibiya boutique of Guerlain in Tokyo the other day and smelling these two new (re-edited) perfumes, I was suddenly transported to a world I am not familiar with: the complacently rarified world of the Parisian well-to-do, a moneyed family living in a beautiful banlieue somewhere in the city of light: the thick, cool, white walls of each room softened with silence, the problems in the outskirts of the city firmly shuttered out, the solid reality of furniture, of drapes; subdued light, the safety of a baby’s cries.


On the dresser are two perfumes: Petit Guerlain and Mademoiselle Guerlain, newly bought in their clutchable bee bottles, their robustness of quality and ease, two pleasant and reassuring scents that are like a nod that in this world at least, everything is alright.


Mademoiselle Guerlain is a reissue of one of the Petite Robe Noire 2 scents that was discontinued and then repackaged as a part of Les Exclusifs (with a price hike to suit, which seems a little naughty). Nevertheless, there is something very appealing about this scent both in appearance and in smell, which is cute, à la mode, a marshmallow gourmand that settles on the skin like a girlish cloud, flirtatious, vanillic, but which also has some astringent contradictions inherent in its makeup: the full vanilla base, lightly touched with white musk and leather, contrasting nicely with a sharp green orange blossom, bergamot, iris, and galbanum opening that gives the scent some extra verve and insolence, that extra sexy something that takes the scent away from the standard high street sweeties. She is pleased that she chose this one.



The price of her baby’s perfume, Petit Guerlain, was a bit much, she acknowledges (and isn’t this starting him on the ‘French way of doing things’ just that little bit too young?) but anyhow, she just couldn’t resist it the other afternoon down on the Elysées with Hélène. How could anyone? One spritz from the bottle, at the insistence of that elegant assistant, and the scent of innocence and simple beauty was so uplifting and affecting that she had to have it, even if it was just to spray in his little bedroom, or perhaps in her lingerie : the softest, gentlest notes of mimosa, orange blossom and honey; tame, pastel shades of pistachio and musk, and that beautiful, delicately citrus opening. When she sprays it into the air, and looks down at her baby, fast asleep, locked safely in his own budding consciousness, the world outside just fades away.





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The Black Narcissus











































The narcissus flower is nature’s narcotic. Worshipped by the ancients, it is an intoxicating, overpowering scent in concentration and in excess can be deleterious to the health, the bulb of the flower, if ingested, lethal.



Narcissus absolute is therefore usually used in moderate quantities, for a certain carnal luminosity: for added, troubling intrigue in fragranced blends, but rarely seems to star. Caron, however, once a fearless house of perfume, had the temerity to create, in 1927, a scent of these white flowers at their most potent (it is only available in extrait): a perfume dominated in its head notes by an intense concentration of narcissus, orange blossom, neroli, petitgrain, bitter orange, linden…

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