Monthly Archives: July 2015


The Black Narcissus



I learned a lot from the real tuberose flowers I encountered last year in Indonesia. Mainly, that the slovenly, skirt-hitched, snow-white she-devils – sloe-eyed, tropical, sultry – tuberose: that classic, buttery tuberose you either love or hate, sickening and stench-breathed to some; voluptuous and heart fluttering to others, is a very loose interpretation of the natural reality of the flowers I regarded and smelled before me, which I found, rather, to be more chaste; green : contained. Quite innocent, almost. Pretty. White. Yes, as I wrote in my piece on those Malang tuberoses, as the day wore on, the flowers did release vague olfactive reminiscences of all those classic tuberoses at different hours of the day; a reality that fascinated me, as I name-checked favourites that I got brief perfume snatches of; but which did nothing, all the same, to detract from the fact that tuberose, despite that lactic…

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THE GRASS IS NOT ALWAYS GREENER : Trophée by Lancome (1982), Central Park by Bond Nº 9 (2004), & Herba Fresca by Guerlain (1999)

THE GRASS IS NOT ALWAYS GREENER : Trophée by Lancome (1982), Central Park by Bond Nº 9 (2004), & Herba Fresca by Guerlain (1999).


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I started drinking at thirteen, and I blame my drama teacher. Mrs Bradbury had got us doing ‘ad lib’ impersonations in class one day, and one of them was to act like a drunk. As the pupils staggered about like zombies, arms outstretched, lolling their mouths and with skew-wiffy eyes, I realized that as I didn’t actually know what being drunk felt like I couldn’t really pull it off convincingly. As a result, that night, while my parents and grandparents sat in the living room drinking their usuals – whiskey and orange, gin and tonic – I stealthily crept down to the garage with my younger brother in tow and plundered my dad’s home-made elderberry, the wine he used to make from those gorgeously English wild-gathered plants – fragrant, entrancing elderflowers for the white, the berries for the red – that we would trample under foot ourselves to begin the fermentation process: the fruits of our many drives out to the countryside for stickleback fishing by the streams, and elder berry gathering (there were so many plentiful fruit heavy trees down the country lanes that you never felt that you were stealing anything); the strange, adult brews that were kept in giant jars and that were strictly off bounds for curious, sticky fingered youngsters.

Except that now, with the seeds planted of alcohol intrigue – what would it feel like, why do the adults always do it? – I proceeded to not only sip and taste the pungent forbidden liquid but drink it by the mugful. I don’t exaggerate. My brother, who must have been about ten, didn’t have too much and was unimpressed, under duress, but I myself was determined to go the full hog, and before I knew it I was gurgling hysterically and falling right down to the bottom of the stairs from the top bannister in a great thud: my booze- relaxed body too soft for my bones to be injured, but, much to the great consternation of my grandmother who, paranoid, was convinced that I was making fun of her as I slurred my words ridiculously and kept laughing inexplicably, I was eventually furiously sent packing by my parents to my bedroom.

It was by far the drunkest I have ever been in my entire life and I can remember it vividly. My head spinning round like a helicopter; the room lurching and looming, the nausea rising, my young brain pickling in dank, organic spirits, and before I even knew it I had passed right out into black. To awake, drenched, swimming, in wine-loaded sheets, crimsoned as though I had given birth, the spew of my unready guts staining everything right through, the evidence I would now have to try and conceal. Which I obviously couldn’t (the stupidity of a teenage boy stuffing the sheets in futile fashion into the laundry basket, thinking he might be able to get away with it because, well, who does he think does the washing?) My mother did of course immediately notice and I was quite rightfully screamed at for being outrageous and debauched (” You think you’re an adult? You know nothing about being an adult”!), me, like a criminal, sent to my bedroom to sulk and ponder my crimes.  I was in the dog house for days, the story scandalously passed to my parents’ friends and our relations of the young and budding lush.

In England, though, and the rest of Britain and the northern countries generally, drunkenness and underage drinking are practically welded into the DNA. In a way that doesn’t happen in say Italy, where children are so used to seeing wine at the table (and where they are not legally restricted from drinking) that they aren’t really that interested, or in Japan, where people are so damn obedient that I once met a nineteen year old girl at a dinner party who had never tried wine or champagne in her sweet and well behaved life but told me that she soon might like to have a taste (” I have not, but I will be able to in two months or so when I reach the legal of twenty”)…..

In Japan, quite the drinking culture when you come of age and enter university and the work place culture, though not as intense as Korea, which is really quite hardcore, people do get drunk and say things you wouldn’t quite believe them capable of until they get the beer or sake-soaked courage to do so, yet they still, on the whole, nevertheless manage to do it with decorum. Yes, you see salarimen vomiting onto the train station platforms, but they don’t get loutish and aggressive in the way that we Anglo-Saxons seem predestined to do when the ethanol starts coursing through our veins ( I think of Vikings; of pillaging, rape, and ransacking; of hooligans and gin-drenched British housewives……there does seem to be something in our culture that makes boozing more than just a method of dissolving social niceties but more a psychological necessity). Yes, the Japanese also need the sauce to let their inhibitions go, but it is somehow different. It usually remains quite jolly and benevolent, not the wanton, vandalizing rottweilers you see screaming and kicking in Birmingham on a Friday or Saturday night, groups of girls vomiting down the drains, people crying and out of control. Given this culture, then, the constant prevalence of that need in our society to ‘get pissed’, it wasn’t very long before my friends and I were out on our block, gathering like thieves, and trying to get our hands on some cider, some lager, or some ‘Martini’ – some Cinzano Rosso.

Any teenager of my generation remembers that taste. Sitting on the pavement, swigging it from the bottle or else in plastic cups drunk with lemonade, usually ending in a puke in the gutter, this was the unsophisticated youngster’s take on spirits before we ever knew what a real martini was. And in all honesty, it’s the kind of taste and smell that I now find brings on the quease. I still drink red wine,  but you won’t generally catch me with Cinzano: the smell brings a smile to my face, of course – all those hormonal crushes and rages and wild teenage parties – but the associations of bile and bringing up the evening’s stomach contents are just too strong now, which is why I was bemused when I first smelled the new perfume by Paris based perfume house Jules Et Mad, Nin Shar. This is Cinzano Rosso for me, albeit steeped in thick, beautiful roses. A warm, ‘rose liquor’ top note fused with the bitter and interesting note of artemisia (one of the key ingredients in vermouths such as Cinzano Rosso) that lees down cosily into a plum, Turkish rose heart, where the usual Arabic cushions of sensuality lie purringly underneath (the expected oudh, patchouli, benzoin, vanilla). But what I like here in this preparation is that unlike most of the oriental roses you get of this ilk which are just waiting to turn into brash, harsh oudh bombs, the incense accord of the base accord here is more like a rich satin lining for the cushion of red, booze-kissed roses; sinous and insinuating; the mellifluous, gliding heart notes that form the macerating intoxicant of the mainstay.

Nin-Shar is unusual. While smelling it – and it is quite a wrist-attaching concoction – I can’t quite ever detach myself from the virulent young sap of my melodramatic teenage self (such tender memories, though, all those emotional, uncontrollable scrapes); the associations of Cinzano, of cider, and the raucous, brain-freeing necessities of those happy, but insecure, coming-of-age nights. At the same time, there is something, also, of wine in this calming, well made scent – rounded, pleasingly smooth and beguiling, more mellow and ‘adult’, that reminds me of my current, and hopefully more balanced, more Rioja-quaffing self.


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(Photo:  Mori, queen of the house, in her younger days….)

N: You surprised me last night by wearing Fleurs D’Ambre. It confused me. At first I wasn’t sure if it was just incense from the house, because I know that despite the utter olfactory horror I feel at the smell of the cat food baking in the landing sun ( is there no way we can find a way to put Mori’s food somewhere else, like the balcony outside for instance or do you think she has just got too used to having it there when she finds her way back at night demanding it like the queen that she is?): despite the fact that I worry the house smells horrendous, often, just from the sheer amount of incense and perfume used over the years, when I meet you in my work clothes – all laundried up and modern clean smelling, you have the aura of the house about you and sometimes it smells really nice. Of Kamakura. Of warm, balsamic incense, that smell that people say lingers on everything that has been in our house like books and all the rest, and last night before we went to the Indian and I met you at Ofuna station you smelled like this but more intense. A beautiful, delicate haze of amber about you but not sweet – as I say, like incense smoke. It really suits you. And yet I would never have imagined that you would wear an amber. As I also wouldn’t have imagined you ever wearing a fruited oriental like Melagrana E Uva (both of which we picked up at recycle shops), yet one day you just unexpectedly rocked up wearing it, all rich and winey and fruity and smelled positively decadent, almost imperialistic. What has made you suddenly start exploring obscure scents you find around the house : is it part of your more general renaissance and entrance into cabaret and performance art? Were you feeling restricted by your more gentlemanly lavenders and tobacco?

D: Actually, last night I couldn’t find Melagrana E Uva, which is absolutely my perfume du jour (spice fruit and brandy depth – I love it), and so I did a quick recce of the scents on the small cabinet top (where most of my staples are located). I was feeling disinclined to wear Sartorial or Tea for Two, way way too English for summer in Shonan – it would feel like stepping back to the Raj in the context of an Indian meal – and so I tried Jour de Fête, which would smell entirely wrong on me. Its vaguely sour vanillic almondy-ness would turn thin and irritating on my skin – Battenburg is not my bag – and then I hit on Lothantique, with that delicious melty amber and light powdery touch and thought it would be much better with heat and Indian food. I used to always go for incense-like scents – the Comme des Garcons range and even the Gucci pour homme – but those po-faced one-note numbers have long failed to grab me. I like a touch of fruit and lushness these days. (And no, I do not think Mori’s food should go on the balcony.)

N: Why not? Can’t cats adapt?

D: But it is part of her night ritual – you have your night rituals why can’t she have hers?

N: You mean all the neurotic herb teas, the marjoram….does it irritate you?

D: Sure do.

N: Why? I can’t get to sleep otherwise, even though you say it’s all in my head.

D: Let Mori have her Mon Petit bickies in the night you stingy git – she is not some yard dog banished to the balcony – she is an Egyptian deity and never forget it.

N: I know, and we are lucky that she isn’t a fussy eater. She has been eating the same food for eight years now and never goes off it. Quite the robust creature, despite her elegance. And yet. That stuff stinks. And pervades the whole upper house. I feel really embarrassed when guests come as you know how much I think about these things. What is the point of incense and all the rest of it if all you can smell is synthetic cheese and foul, dessicated, vitaminized fish?

D: I think you exaggerate. A bit of fish and foulness won’t do you any harm. But getting back to Lothantique – it is pure Japanese incense isn’t it? There is often something about incense and incense-like scents that reminds me of new plasticine – the play dough we used to have as kids. Do you get that? From incense in the box as well.

N: I know what you mean. Last night though, it hung about you like a delicate cloud. On me it becomes too dense and sweet – I think it has found a new home.

I mean you are quite intermittent with perfume. You don’t really wear it. And you will only light an incense stick on the rarest occasion for me at night (even though you know how much I love to come back to it).

When do you feel like wearing scent and when don’t you? Also, how do you feel about my terrorizing your garments and possessions, which happens drunkenly late at night sometimes when I am desperate for more scent (so boring to be unscented). The recent Penhaligons Opus I870 + lashings of patchouli oil that I put in your wallet have produced unexpectedly delightful results. I swear I see Japanese shop assistants’ pupils dilating when you pull out your thousand yen bills….the smell has matured enough now to smell quite disorientatingly erotic. I love that kind of thing. As you know I scent everything.

D: I have to admit that was a stroke of genius – I have really enjoyed paying for things over the last few weeks. My colleagues immediately noticed the next day – Who is wearing patchouli? they said – it instantly conjured our teenage days of indie rock and hippy shops like Head in the Clouds in Norwich – it’s still there I think. But in answer to your question, I wear scent when I go out in the evening or at the weekend – it’s for when I am ‘going out’. Recently, however, I have started to wear a dab of Tuscany on my wrists at work – it’s my dad’s scent – I keep it in the cabinet in the bathroom at work and after lunch, I brush my teeth and apply a bit. It’s clean and smooth, a bit suave, but very fresh. I find it ideal for work and it just clings nicely to the cuffs of my shirts and to my watch strap. Very effortless scent.

N: Again, it’s very interesting because I wore that religiously as a seventeen year old; very white shirt, very consciously ‘becoming a young man’ and finding out who I was, that delicious, lemony, top accord, but I had never noticed the more aromatic, patchouli, even incense-like base notes until you met me at the station a few weeks ago. You smell perfect in that kind of scent, but it smells entirely different to how it did on me. We have quite different skin types. Perhaps it is your half-Cypriot DNA.

Yet Tuscany remains unsurprising as a choice for you as it kind of goes with this gentleman thing you usually go for (Penhaligons Sartorial being a perfect example of that, and you are a million times more sartorially inclined as an individual than I am), but I am rambling. My point is that with Fleurs D’Ambre and the Pomegranate you suddenly just lurched into recently is a whole new style of scent that I have never seen or smelled you do before. You are suddenly smelling flamboyant. I am wondering whether there is any underlying reason or whether it just happened randomly.

D: Hmm. I think that I have gotten a bit bored with the tobacco box genre (Cuba, Sartorial, Tea for Two) and am inclining towards scents that meld earth and incense with fruit and confectionery – I’m turning from a tinderstick into a rum baba…

Rum Baba

N: Well that ‘s fine with me. I am enjoying it.

Thanks so much for those treasures I came home to the other day by the way. To have an exhausting, drab day and then come home to a vintage parfum of Vol De Nuit and a Lanvin My Sin extrait (the equivalent of five dollars and two dollars respectively – you are a genius at finding these hidden thrift stores) waiting on the sofa was really wonderful. It’s a good one as well, the VdN: really dark, dense and velveted, and the My Sin a real I950’s babe.

I love that transformation. Come back. Shower off the day, sit down to dinner with you and let the evening perfumes work their magic. Arigato. I like that Krizia book as well – makes me want to get my marvellously soapy Krizia Uomo again and write a review.

D: Yes, that junk shop is a bleeding treasure trove and it seems that though it doesn’t have many scents on offer, supplies are occasionally refreshed, and I love the long walk from work through the valleys and tunnels to it. That is a real junk shop – a right carve-up – the kind of place where, amid chaos, real discoveries are possible. I’ve been on the junk shop patrol this last week. Working, then walking far and wide to rootle through piles of bric-a-brac – though as myopic as they come, my beady eyes are second to none in these conglomerations of accumulated objects. I will find some more vintage scents for you in the coming week, I don’t doubt.

N: My heart leaps at the thought.


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Lips and hips : FEMME by Rochas (1944)

Lips and hips : FEMME by Rochas (1944).

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la dame aux camelias

Verdi’s opera La Traviata (the ‘fallen woman’) based on ‘La Dame Aux Camélias’, a novel by Alexandre Dumas, tells the story of a courtesan who dies in the usual, melodramatic style (of a broken heart and tuberculosis), and this new perfume by Amouage, part of the Library Collection, is laced with dark, peppered emotion.

Ostensibly based on the fresh red scent of the camellia – flowers that to my knowledge don’t actually have much scent (although the flower oil, perfumed, is used traditionally by sumo wrestlers, who preeningly douse their long, top-knotted hair in the stuff as they hulk by in kimono, reeking beautifully of flowers), this is also a floral with a kick and obsessive undertones.

A pulsating heart of grey amber, civet and beeswax – rich, decadent, though suffused with a peculiarly over dose of black pepper that contrasts uneasily with a thick, indolic Egyptian jasmine sewn unwiltingly into a tender and fresh camellia accord in the top accord, this is a strong and unwavering scent, superficially light and quavering, but in reality deep; morose.

There is something feral here. Noble, effusive, but disturbing, and I’m not quite sure what I make of it (it feels somehow under-detailed). We are in the realm of melancholically dense, pepper-downed camellias, a category of scent I have never come across before, and the scent smells quite wrong on me, like a puttyish, grey jasmine clay. My skin eats up the flowers, drowning in their strange, haunted saliva, but there is nevertheless something compelling about this perfume, in its contrast between pale pinks and grey, its clinging lack of optimism, that I can envisage  being quite beautifully perturbing and troubling on more pale, delicate skin.


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decadence copy

Decadence is relative. It can be Nero, Fellini, ‘The Last Days of Sodom’, or Otto Dix. It can be thick, sweet aouds, like the new Tutti Frutti collection by Roja Dove. It can be the classical Guerlain parfums – their very nature powdered and liquorous, sensual and indulgent;  Caron, vintage Dior or Patou, or the modern, Roman equivalents in the Italian houses of Profumum, I Profumi Del Forte; Nasomatto. Strong, come-to-me fragrances redolent of ransacked flower beds and steeped, ancient woods: skinned, animalic musk;, sloe, sweet-fingered unguents, and the lavishness of unbridled sexuality veering into putrescence.

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘decadence’ in two different ways. The second, more common contemporary definition is ‘luxuriously self-indulgent‘, in which case I plead guilty. I always was. I live for beauty and for pleasure, I am Dionysian, and perfume, as the ancients knew, is a bridge to the divine: a way to escape the mundane, grey realities of the daily grind, to bypass the stultifications of the physical, caged strictures of the world and to be transported in a second to an alternative sphere of reality in which your soul sings and you transcend the barriers of matter (a decadent description, perhaps, but that is what perfume is to me). When I spray on Vol De Nuit, or  Tubéreuse Capricieuse by Histoires de Parfum – now there’s a decadent perfume house for a good current olfactory example of this concept –  I am embellishing the moment, transforming it; twisting it in my direction and lacquering it in art, because though the smells out there in nature are pure, triumphant and ecstatic – where we come from and where we will return – the man-made, to me at least, is equally beautiful (which is why I choose to live near cities). Forced to live in the stark terror of mountains and their spirit-choking ‘purity’, I would surely choose to throw myself off one.

Which brings me to Marc Jacobs’ first supposedly ‘mature’ release, ‘Decadence’. Although that second definition, that ‘go on, be a devil’ trope used in chocolate advertising, has taken precedence in the current parlance, the first, and original, definition of decadence is, according to the Oxford, something ‘characterized by, or reflecting a state of moral or cultural decline‘. Which seems very appropriate to me, given the absolute lack of decadence in a fragrance with that name, and the general plunge into sickening cheapness and triviality that is the current domain of most mainstream perfume. Like Lalique’s appalling Living or Balmain’s dire Extatic, Marc Jacobs, ‘purveyor of women’s dreams’ and seemingly ever relevant in New York fashion and beyond, has taken an extremely tame and very standard current fixture – here the vanillic woodsy (‘warm liquid amber, vetiver and papyrus wood’), and then packaged it up into a glittering and clasping handbag shaped bottle that will appeal to the unthinking masses; a sweet, brain-melting accord that I expect to soon be smelled in many a dress-coded club under EDM speaker pounding lasers…………..smooth, inviting and both familiar enough yet appealing enough for him to self-consciously lean in; run his strong but manicured hands over her immaculately depilated and beautifully toned little body and and invite her –  a shine-buffed and long haired creature straight out of the fashion pages – back to his hotel room.

This section of the perfume is fine, in a way, if intensely mediocre and dull – but only ‘decadent’ in its relativity to the mindboggling banality of ‘Dot’ (Dot for god’s sake: I could never get over that name – the tweeness of Carey Mulligan and ladybirds all chemicalized up in a dainty little carbuncle of a bottle); Daisy, and Lola, all of which I loathe with an absolute passion. Yes, the vague hint of something a bit more ‘oriental’ is a bit more ‘sensual’ than the other workaday fragrances in the Marc Jacobs lineup, but, despite the alleged existence of ‘rose, jasmine sambac, orris, iris, saffron and Italian plum’, the perfume, in the head and heart notes, smells cheap as shit. Confused and ill-blended:  Oh my god that’s stomach churning’ says Duncan as I proffer up the bottle.

Which means it will be a hit. In the blandly homogenized culture in which we live: conservative, under surveillance; morally prissy, commanded by conglomerates, the exigencies of the dollar, the yuan, the euro, that sleek of bulimia (no: listen – real decadence is enjoying the food; savouring the vine, the moment, the grape, the skin, the sex, not recording it on your smartphone and photoshopping your perfect ‘happiness’ into a fucking selfie as the Zuckerberg lens hones in on you and ‘tags’ you in your pretend, one dimensional universe of pre-ordained tastes and ideas of beauty. It is surrendering, animal-like, to the human passions, the natural beauty that lies all around us (and, far importantly, within.) LIVING. And not like Lalique.

Yes, there can be no doubt. In this cheapened, wizened universe of exquisitely manipulative ‘trending’, three-second attention spans, and gloss, ‘Decadence’  – this chemical, riskless, dull and soulless, perfume –  will, I am sure, for the aeons of brainwashed ciphers out there in the world, probably pass, indeed, as something dangerous and beautiful……………………. as ‘luxurious self-indulgence’.


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HOT!!! : CUBA by Czech & Speake (2002)

HOT!!! : CUBA by Czech & Speake (2002).

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Mitsouko ad 1974 Guerlain

Mitsouko is not my favourite perfume. It is not even my favourite Guerlain.

But there is a I4ml vintage parfum by my bed, like the bottle in this picture, and I keep finding that I unstopper that stopper, budged though it is in that bottle, and, recently, keep wearing it while I sleep.

It is a doctored edition, I will confess (and I know that that is outrageous.)

There are several different vintage parfums in there: a touch of parfum de toilette, one drop of ylang ylang oil cause you know  I do that, and a significant amount of added bergamot.

But last night I got it to exactly how I want it.

Remixed her up a treat, to the proportions that I think I remember.

Yes, she can be witchy, damp and sour-tempered; yes she can be musty.

But when you get that golden ray effect, that Chinese empress pillow of velvet, the rueful, gustatory glow of the citrus and the mosses, then I suppose it makes sense why this is currently my night-time companion.

Duncan is always asleep. The cat is in the other room at the moment.

This glides me quite nicely to the next zone.


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DE NATURA : Four organic perfumes from the collection of Frazer Parfums (2011)

DE NATURA : Four organic perfumes from the collection of Frazer Parfums (2011).

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