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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63 responses to “WE WENT TO A SNAKE SHOP

  1. Wow fantastic photos and snakey musings! What would a snake wear? Something very dry and powdery with a soft velvety underbelly that persists a little undefinable in a certain uncoiling sameness… For some reason Guerlain’s Habit Rouge has come to mind! Wish Dunc lots of tongue-darting, slithery, scaled luck for tomorrow and enjoy!! Looking forward to hearing all about it x

    • ninakane1

      ‘Snaky’ ‘undefinably’ that should say.. Grr autocorrect!

      • I want him to say a few words but the boy is totally immersed….I have just come from downstairs (watching this weird film called ‘some velvet morning’, very theatre, very actorly, but i can’t quite turn it off) and he is looking somewhat amazing and egyptian in the kitchen i love it)

    • ninakane1

      Scaly luck!

      • ninakane1

        Sounds wonderful! Wish I could be there. Sure the performance will be fab. Enjoy xx also, one of my workshop participants keeps talking about that film. Will have to watch it. I’m just sorting through and laundering bags of old textiles from the shed and listening to Tom Waits… Wearing unadulterated Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene today. Just felt like something fresh, green and simple! Hope you find the snakey scent… Xx

      • ninakane1

        Also re performance and perfume – this is always really fascinating. did one a few years ago at Leeds Art Gallery based on some of our facebook conversations about perfume (back in 2011 before you had the blog) with Cast-Off Drama. it was all about gender and perfume and how different perfumes helped audience participants see the gallery works in different ways. We used a load of them – miss Dior, Le male. cedarwood by Goya, elixir of hypnotic poison, tweed, kouros, agenda chakra 1… the gallery was very fragrant and it was quite trippy how it made peoples’ perceptions of the artworks alter- everything from the ‘story’ of paintings to the way people saw the colours or textures in them changed when smelling a perfume. Opened up a whole dreamscape of narratives and emotional impulses. Finished the thing with a solo nude clown show based on the biblical Song of Songs wearing Le Male and The Hypnotic Poison Elixir. Funnily I’ve been revisiting this recently and been planning a Spikenard 2 (that was its name) involving interventions in site-specific spaces (all links to Song of Songs) but smell and fragrance is coming into that too… Will have to tell you more about this when I’m over. Xx

  2. ninakane1

    Also coming to mind on snake scent – Fougere Royale Houbigant?

    • Haven’t got that one but do have Habit Rouge….

      • ninakane1

        There’s also Guerlain vetiver for a more full-on dirty smell – perhaps lace it in with the Habit Rouge and see what happens…?

      • If only Vetiver still were dirty. I can’t forgive its reformulation and keep praying I am going to find a bottle of vintage one day. It was amazing. I adored it.

      • ninakane1

        But I think snakes are generally quite dry, warm and clean – in the outside at least. They do smell foul in pet shops when they’re all cooped up under glass with hot lights, poor things.

  3. I’d go with the l’Artisan. Tauer’s Pentachord verdant? Yves Rocher’s Neblina? Serge Noire? Something very peppery? Or a smoky Vetiver (Etro Vetiver) Or do you have The Unicorn Spell/ Les Nez? Dior Poison – maybe? If he can tolerate it…

    • The Unicorn Spell might be perfect actually. I have a mini bottle somewhere upstairs. An inspired choice. Serge Noire would be lovely as well if we had a bottle. Don’t know Neblina: interesting name. What is it like?

      • Octavian Coifan called it a sci fi rainforest. It is very weirdly green with some strange flower and fruit notes. Wafting in and out of the scent. If Hunger Games could smell, this would be the arena. By Sophia Grojsman. Typical Rocher, lacking just this tiny bit to fantastic, a bit on the cheaply done side for stretches. On the ebay for nothing, hideous bottle.
        Thanks for pointing me to Rocher’s Coconut in another of your posts by the way! Perfect and such a steal.

  4. empliau

    Niki de Saint Phalle? Check out the bottle – and it was a fabulous scent back in the day.

  5. Rafael

    Snakes are wet looking but in reality extremely dry to the touch. I suggest Carven’s Vetiver. Aside, I hate snakes. There aren’t big enough pearls at Mikimoto to have gotten me into such a place. i think you’re very brave. When my godson was young and we’d go to the zoo , we’d of course have to go to the Reptile House. I would stand outside and berate myself for being such a coward and praying he came to no harm while in there alone.

  6. Love Carven Vetiver. Had it (gone) and wish there were some to hand. I remember it vividly.

  7. (seriously Rafael it fucking stank).


  8. Having had a snake problem in the condo where I live and knowing the smell of live snakes, I could hardly get through reading this…but I did!

  9. Sister Mary

    All I can think of is Niki de Saint Phalle. But Tauer’s Vetiver Dance if you have it is a creamy sort of Vetiver in the vein of the Carven.

    You turned my stomach with the description of amphibian rot, and I have horrors thinking of all that poorly sealed formaldehyde and alcohol too – the place must be toxic!

    Thank you for setting up the thought of the perfumed dancer – it got me thinking of scenting a small ensemble of dancers and enjoying the movement of the fragrance with their bodies as another layer to performance.

    • No it really is an interesting addition that needs to be explored more. In the Butoh performance, I found it astonishing the way that Moe appeared slowly from the back of the stage in the gloom, and the fragrance appeared alongside her. It really took me to a strange place as it suited her so perfectly even if it was the direct antithesis of the performance (which was very dark, as Butoh often is). The combination of that with Kilian By Love, a vanillic meringue type smell, was confusing and intoxicating to the senses.

  10. Being a keeper and admirer of serpents several qualities spring to mind. Snakes are very dry feeling and when kept properly exude a kind of healthy animal smell, more warm blooded, dusty and mammalian in nature which may have everything to do with what they eat. We keep the beautiful and small Peruvian Long Tail Boas, which, incidentally give live birth. If you are trying to evoke the little green snakes of spring then definitely go for something hissingly green like the Jacomo Silences, or the excellent Niki de St Phalle, she herself a performance artist. If you are trying to invoke great serpent knowledge, the archetypal snake of wisdom and of the earth then I would lean more towards earthy woods and even a resinous patchouli EO would evoke the forest floor and the terrestrial habitat of snakes. The perfumes that come to my mind for this kind of earthy and wise snake are Serge Noire, Olympic Orchids Dev series, anything predominantly cedar, even cedar EO blended with some patchouli EO and tethered with a little Ylang-Ylang and maybe some labdanum, this also may be an occasion where a powerful oud is appropriate. I hope this is helpful and not even more confusing…..

    • This is not only helpful but fascinating. I love it when something random occurs, I write about it, and then it turns out that people on here have all sorts of connections to it. I am not a snake lover, exactly, but I certainly don’t dislike them either. They fascinate me, and I am intrigued by the thought that they have a smell (for some reason I imagined that they were odorless).

      I love the idea of the essential oils as well: for some reason patchouli also seems like an instinctive choice but it looks like he is going for Silences PLUS Black March which is going to smell seriously quite terrifying I think. Really bitter, green and ozonic.

  11. Sarrasins is delightfully snake-like. It’s a sleek black mamba slithering through the undergrowth.

  12. P.S. That snake shop sounds gross.

  13. Poison???? Don’t remember. Just a wild guess. Will look it up. Very interesting.
    Wish I could see it, would wear my silk jungle shawl with Creepers and Toucans and an insidious perfume that creeps stealthily upon you and hisses when let out of The bottle

  14. Poison Don:t think So too floral … Looked up Some Lovely serpents. The spitting Black cobra, one of my favourites. Intriguing ?

    • Most definitely.

      What is good is that I don’t know what he is going to do on stage exactly. A lot of friends are coming, and I think he is going to shock them a bit.

      Hilariously, he has his school graduation ceremony tomorrow morning…….we lead such double lives.

    • It is sweet and floral. But Poison has that suitable dreadful drilling sweetness hiss. I loathe the perfume … good for the role, but who would want to smell like migraine?

      • I love Poison personally, and it could definitely work in a performance context (perhaps on one of the burlesque girls instead or one of the drag queens) but it would have had a clobbering, rather than a fascinating effect on the audience. Duncan’s green ozone hiss smelled quite alienating but fascinating.

  15. The man in the shop he was ok? How is it so!
    Funny and interesting story

    • Seriously that is what I don’t understand. Pure anosmia or else willful detachment. And I neglected to mention that at the end (or less I am mistaken) there was a woman in her sixties at the counter. Perhaps the smell had become normal or they had learned to tune it out. I did keep asking Duncan afterwards though, was it just me? but he also found it utterly INSUFFERABLE, as would you

  16. bellaciao

    I am thinking Yatagan because of the green aspects in it and I associate snakes with lots habitats full of foliage, somehow. Not that I often have snake associations though…

  17. A little late for the party, but my first thought was Vent Vert by Balmain. There s something so green and earthy about it, that I just cannot help but imagine a reptile slithering through long grasses whenever I smell it.

    The mental image, not to mention olfactory image, you created with your description if the snake shop is truly vivid. It does not sound like a place I would wish to enter, no, not at all.

    Am very curious to see what the fragrance for the performance was.

    • It is very interesting that you should mention Vent Vert, because I found a half used bottle of the eighties edt in a shop and bought it on Saturday night. I really love that perfume and and DYING to smell the vintage parfum one day just to know what Germaine Cellier’s original intentions were, how green it actually was.

      Duncan didn’t like it, though. He could see its galbanum attraction, but found it too…..perfumey or in your face or something. I adore it. There’s nothing else like it.

  18. Just saw that he went with Silences and Black March. I can totally feel the Silences, but am not too familiar with the other. Now I will have to find out more.
    Are you going to post a link to any videos of the performance?? Would live to see that.

  19. By The way what do they do with all those formaldehydead snakes? Putting them in the space where you live would be suïcide to your nose. Or do they donate them as anti-presents, token of nonverbal loathing?

  20. Marina

    Naturally I’m drawn to this and would absolutely love to be wandering around that place with you. A snake shop. Wow!
    Black March is possibly the one but I also could smell something rich with vetiver or sandalwood or something earthy yet rich. Something with depth that could linger and carry.

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