Monthly Archives: October 2015
‘We both know that it was a girl
back in Bethlehem
And on that fateful day
when she was crucified
She wore Shiseido red’
sings Tori Amos on Boys For Pele, cementing once gain the iconic status of Shiseido in the western eye, its rarified, aloof and untouchable Franco-Japonicity.
And yet the Shiseido that we know way out west and the one I know here are really quite different. The gleaming, curved beauty of the feline Serge Lutens collaborations such as the groundbreaking and quite brilliant Feminité Du Bois, or the now almost mythical Nombre Noir, have almost nothing in common with the far more homey and almost pedestrian fare that one finds here on your local Shiseido counter: sweet, and outdated, aldehydic nothings such as More, the original old musty fresh Zen, or Mémoire; or the powdery, green and irisian Chanel N°I9 wannabe, Murasaki.
While the best of the standard contemporary lineup, available in every high street Shiseido store, is possibly Koto, a fresh floral chypre that has a certain very refined and patchouli-touched atmosphere, it is nothing compared to the criminally discontinued Inouï (which is perfection) or Kamakura, a beautiful rose perfume whose existence I would probably have doubted ( I can’t find any information about it anywhere), had I not myself physically decanted a little from a Japanese friend’s rare bottle.
The same thing goes for the perfume Concerto. You become inclined to believe that though you are holding a miniature of the scent physically in your hand, that there must be some mistake, that it can’t actually exist, as there seems to be no mention of it anywhere on the netosphere, that if it isn’t written about, somewhere, on the great cosmic spider’s web of information technology that dominates our universe that it is almost as though it had been redacted out of our collective consciousness and cannot be allowed to have ever been there in the first place. But there it is: again, a copy of a western perfume (this time, Jean Patou’s exquisite I000; nice, well crafted, intriguing).
Before I continue with this properly, and illustrate for you my amazing find of a rare, untouched cache of vintage miniature Shiseido extraits, I think I am going to first just pop out now with Duncan’s iphone around the corner and show you my local Shiseido. I think you are going to be surprised. Less than minute’s walk away from my house, the ‘Shiseido Chain Store’ as they are called here, is a zillion, zillion miles away from the glamour of a a Shiseido concession in a department store of Paris or of Tokyo, and is more, in fact, like a Boots or a Walgreens ( except in my local case it is a total endearing shambles: more Sally-Ann, than rigidly covetable cosmetique. The proprietor knits woollen frogs and tunics with ladies from the neighbourhood and puts them in the shop window (and her is the photographic evidence)
oh the glamour
, and you can buy anything there from expensive Shiseido cosmetics and perfumes (so artfully arranged!)
to pens to cellotape, washing powder and glue; cigarettes; magazines; candies, hairclips and medicines .
Let me go now, actually – and I will take along my box of long lost, ‘secret’ Shiseido parfums (one of my truly great ‘recycle’ finds of the last few months, an exhilarating find,) to see exactly what she makes of them.
Just look at the drab dowdiness of ‘my’ Shiseido! Are you not surprised?
As I expected, the Shiseido lady was with her Saturday late morning knitting companion. They sit there with the radio on and chew the cud on neighbourhood gossip, as Shiseido perfumes malinger on shelves and the whole feels rather more like somebody’s in-need-of-a-tidy-up kitchen. I got three boxes of laundry detergent, some toilet freshener and some headache pills, and then whipped out my box to see what she made of them. ‘Wow!’ she said, or the Japanese equivalent, and then, ‘natsukashi’i, which is one of my favourite words of the language actually, for its ease of use, and its concise encsapulation of much longer English expressions we use in these situations such as ‘God that takes me back’, or ‘Haven’t seen that for a long time’ or ‘Wow, that really reminds me of the long and drawn out summers of my junior high school days’. As I pulled out the draws with the tips of my nails (though I haven’t really got any in truth as I bite them) – this set certainly isn’t very ergonomic – the ladies broke up their knitting to come and have a peer, and how lovely it is: like a chocolate box with a guide map written to what is within, a selection: mmm………..what perfume shall we wear tonight?
White Rose is the first one she takes out of its felt indentation (each perfume fits snugly into its own), and in fact this also takes me back a few years or two because I vividly remember when I first moved to this neighbourhood – almost twenty years ago – there being a precious big bottle of the extrait of White Rose, a perfume I had never heard of before and was very excited to be discovering, under the counter: a very expensive, made to order, haute couture number that Princess Michiko, now Empress, apparently as she has just told me, wore on her wedding day. Of the collection, this is the one in fact that stands out, probably : transparent and pure – it is in fact the smell of a white rose , and I really like it. ‘Jasmine’ seems like a weirdity, somehow: ‘Shiseido Jasmine’, but it is also quite nice in a perfumey, aldehydic kind of way, a bit like something by Le Galion. Concerto is there, as is Mémoire, with its bathtime heliotrope softness, and the still available More.
More excitingly, however, there is Sylvia (what a great name), which one immediately of course hopes is an olfactory homage to Plath. It could be, who knows, though it certainly lacks her savage wit. The lady at the shop reckons this collection is probably thirty to forty years old or so though and it smells it: Sylvia is a nondescript, but sweet and pleasing woody aldehydic in the manner of Givenchy’s L’Interdit – but nothing to get your knickers in a twist over- while Prior (pronounced Pree-orr, according to the Japanese katakanization) is a dead ringer for vintage Miss Dior (in truth it does often seem that pre-Lutens, and with the exception of Inouï, blatant plagiarism was the order of the game for the perfumery division of Shiseido). Yet, like Koto, Prior is a very well made green chypre and has reall life to it: I can certainly imagine a I960’s well-kempt secretary clicking her heels along a pavement in Shimbashi, a touch of this latest perfume release by Shiseido gracing her neck and wrists, then when it has faded on her post-work skin, changing later into Tonight, described, if I am reading it correctly, as an enchanting and ‘relaxing muguet’ bouquet over sandalwood, and indeed it is (how nice to smell that genuine sandalwood again; still with integrity after all this time, like a genie from a lamp: you do sense that with a touch of Tonight (“Tonight, Tonight, It all began tonight. I saw you and the world went away”, god I love that song) she will be happy and perhaps let her hair down a bit; yes, you can imagine her going to a production of West Side Story at a theatre in Hibiya, snug in her Shiseido Tonight, happy in the economic brightness of the era she has brimmingly and luckily found herself in.
Primax, which now would be like calling a luxurious extrait Walmart, is yet another classical rose jasmine woody aldehyde (you would think that the only perfume ever invented in the history of humanity were Chanel N°5 sniffing this box), while Jyakko, on the other hand, is a more interesting and heady chypric white floral with slightly more lift.
No. In all honesty, while I was certainly thrilled to find this set, dusting away as it was at the back of a Yokohama antiques shop, because it is rare and probably extremely collectible (and I have already collected it), although I was hoping to torture and tantalize you drippingly with the exclusiveness of my acquisition, in truth the perfumes themselves, though pleasing, could never really be described as exciting. Only Deluxe, the final scent in this collection, has that extra, animalic, almost Bal A Versailles like heft and texture (actually, it is quite similar, though not quite as good (but then, what is?)), hinting, perhaps of that brief spell of gloriousness Shiseido was to have soon in the future, in the eighties, when the wizard from Marrakesh Monsieur Lutens melded the f philosophical chic of his art fashion brain with the grande dame reputability of Japan’s most highly held cosmetic conglomeration, and inspiringly opened the magnificent Les Salons Du Palais Royal Shiseido, that mesmerizing magnet of covetable elixirs that puts this anachronisitic little bunch rather in the shade.
And yet. How beautiful it is, nonetheless, to have found it. And to have had the opportunity to discover its contents, and share them with you here on The Black Narcissus today on this grey and cold October afternoon. A portal into another time; housed secretively and hermetically; in its drawer-like, jewellery collection box.
Olfactoria’s Travels was one of the perfume blogs I was always instinctively attracted to. There was humour; there was intimacy, and there was immediate, and beautiful writing. And the writer, a person I knew nothing about, named Birgit from Vienna, was not even writing in her first language (which I always found SICKENING, because to be honest, although I can ‘speak’ some foreign languages, myself, I will never even come close to being able to express myself so naturally, and so exquisitely, in any foreign tongue the way that she so effortlessly does; nowhere near).
When I started The Black Narcissus, and no one was reading it, and I was somewhat despondent, as I couldn’t quite see the point in continuing it otherwise, because in that case you are just addressing a void, for some reason I intuitively one night decided to write to this mysterious woman in the land of Freud before I contacted anybody else, and asked her ( rather desperately, and dramatically, I have to say), for advice. She responded immediately, and very sweetly, suggested I do some guest posts for her (and I did, a whole Vanilla Series), and as a result, I started to finally receive some visitors on the blog (and before you know it was invited to do the Perfume Lovers London talk on vanilla, a still from which you can see here in this picture taken two summers ago, if I am correct, though it feels more in truth like it was a lifetime).
We met; we looked each other in the eye, and it was, I have to say, a bit like Vertigo. I was somewhat awed, even quite bashful, that she had come all the way from Vienna just to meet me (and had decided to give me a vintage Shalimar extrait as a ‘souvenir’); that she was so self-deprecating, while contradictorily bathing all the same in her own inimitable golden glow. In the pub around the corner afterwards, where I think I bought her some prosecco or something sparkling (though I could of course be quite wrong as there had been gin, and beers and the whole thing was getting rather boozy during the evening beforehand), I know that we were talking about psychology, and perfume and various other aspects of our lives, both quite strangely intimately dark and light; there was a depth (and dare I say it, Birgit, even almost mystical – for such a brief encounter – connection). Of course I was projecting my own Hitchcock Blonde obsessions onto you, probably (no: definitely), but I do have to say that I felt that you had a presence that can only truly be described as shimmering. So dignified, and Mysterious. A touch sad, perhaps. Gilded; intelligent; and beautiful.
This is a picture of us both here, meeting for the first time. At the end of the evening, a I began to properly recover from my nerves ( I had been hySTERICAL, as anyone who was there will gladly testify) and when I was able to finally enjoy and gloat in the truly pleasurable feeling of recovering from the trauma of my first dose of real public speaking; meeting new friends; bonding over scent, and truly delighting in the late summer London moment. In this photograph here I was definitely properly starting to unwind a little. We had just met. But I definitely felt that there was some connection.
Birgit, thank you for everything, and the very best of luck for the future.
And if I am ever in Vienna, I hope that we can go out for coffee and Viennese swirls; spray the perfumes at Hermes; and continue our conversations in some wintry, dream-laden, statued; snow laced; and out-of-the-way city park.
One of the weirdest, but most intriguing, florals I have ever smelled, Santa Maria Novella’s enviable status as apothecary as much as perfumery certainly comes into focus in their most unusual offering.
With a dense, medicinal, almost creepy take on a tropical flower – herbal, smoky, heady and unlike anything else – it is hard to imagine what the monks were quite thinking of as they checked the macerations in their cellars; nodded ‘si’, and sagely began to pour the tarry liquid into bottles.
With its almost perverse combination of sanctity and putridity, I think that Frangipane is probably one of my favourites from SMN (along with the thyme-laden Sandalo, Tuberosa, Pot Pourri, Garofano, and their emotive, inimitably rarified patchouli), although I have yet to actually take the plunge and buy some. Surprisingly, I have also heard that Frangipane is popular with certain, in-the-know swathes of Tokyo dandies, who…
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THE SARACEN AND THE COSSACK: TWO CHEST-BEATING LEATHERS – YATAGAN by CARON (1976) & CUIR DE RUSSIE by PIVER (1939)
YES. Finally found Yatagan at the flea market yesterday, very vintage, leathery and silvestrian, for three dollars.
Duncan smells spectacular in it.
What we understand when we smell the new release by Maison Kurkdjian, Acqua Vitae Forte, is twofold: First we realize that urban, contemporary, clean, perfumery can still smell lovely; (as this really does: like angel’s breath, and pink-lemon meringues; laundry musks and the modern sublime): and second, that to achieve this, to have an even half decent, fashionable and futuristic release, it must cost the earth.
In a way it is quite a poignant thing to realize. When I was growing up, perfumes were affordable but still high quality. I am talking about the high street, big name releases. They literally contained essential oils. And artistry. And genuine will power. They had character. And poise. And something memorable; indelible; and even if you hated them, which you quite often did (because why wouldn’t you? They were take me or leave me, love me or leave me, fuck you or love me, and that’s why you were taken); you plonked down your money and went with the show; you took the scent on board and gave her a run for her money; there were less of them but enough to go round; enough for some of them to still remain unidentifiable, at least to that bloke in the bar who had no clue about such things but still liked how you smelled, and that was kind of what it was all about , in the first place, anyway.
Acqua Vitae Forte is a new release from Francis Kurkdijian that is possibly my favourite from this line so far. I will admit that I find the perfumes in the range quite difficult: they are so straight and unconsensual and unforgiving in a way, in their rigid, almost android-like, robotic, perfections, yet they are also, as I wrote in my review of APOM, possessed of a kind of strange genius. Like Mozart or Salieri tossing off sonatas or fugues, there is a kind of inconsolable airlocked immaculateness in the Kurkdijian universive that leaves no stone unturned. Not for this perfumer jagged edges and extraneous puffs of hideous aromachemicals (that cheap, and nasty, pink-bitch shit that wrecks your day and makes you wish you had never even picked up the bottle), no: even if your tastes lie in the more classical, verbatim constructions or along the lines of the shaggy and the aromatherapeutical, you can’t quite deny, upon smelling one of this perfumer’s creations, that there is an exquisite efficacy there, a deal that is nailed, with no airholes; and no compunction.
You have to pay almost three hundred dollars though, now, for a twenty first century creation that smells current, and new, and in the moment. And to be honest, I did consider this one today on my way to work in Yokohama as I do quite like, sometimes, my laundry musk angelics, when worn in the correct contextual situation (like teaching in a suit in front of seventeen year olds, and eighteen year olds); this is exactly the kind of smell that I would like to evince: a CK One redux: expensive, embellished, cast beautifully and peachily and stratospherically into the future, but more soulfful than Acqua Universalis (which struck me as even more of a CK One contender-rejoinder), or the pristine, if in some ways disturbingly piercing, work that the perfumer did for his Absolue Pour Le Matin.
Acqua Vitae Forte, a ‘meeting between sun, and the sea’, takes these quality, almost movingly and ice-hearted citrics, and fuses them, ingeniously, with more sensual, floral notes of ylang ylang and orange blossom (and even cinnamon, and ‘Guatemalan cardamom). The effect, for me at least, as I went up the escalator into the department store while wasting some time before I had to be at school for the beginning of my evening lessons, was a kind of fateful mmm, or perhaps an ooh, or maybe just a vague sigh of pleasure to myself that a new release wasn’t utterly vile (like Sauvage; JESUS, things are getting rough out there, people), or the lamentably mediocre Miu Miu, which isn’t entirely bad, when it kind of gets going, but doesn’t exactly blow your socks off either, and you know now that perfumers are working with quite ludicrously limited budgets so you can’t entirely blame them, as all the money is getting spent on crafting trendily coloured plastic flacons, and cats, and the girl from Lars Von Triers’ brilliant Nymphomaniac, but again, I digress: given the flotsam and jetsam levels of plasticky, mind-bending shit, when something has a charge that even vaguely hits the olfactory button and has been released in the years of 20I5; you somehow can’t quite help having a smile to yourself. This one might not quite be a modern masterpiece, but I do know that I will be going back to smell it again in Takashimaya Yokohama with a view to a potential work-buy; and in the context of the holocausts of dross that we currently find ourselves in, you know that really does not amount to nothing.
Any European with half a brain in their head (or American, or Russian, or Japanese, or practically any country that has raided and colonized other places), will have some ambivalence about their heritage. I myself have this feeling intensely. So while my eyes might brim with tears when hearing Elgar’s stirring Nimrod, every time (is this ‘patriotism’ or just an exile’s love for his family?); even though I might adore the English (though in reality, largely Indian) perfectionism of Merchant Ivory productions – A Room With A View; The Remains Of The Day; Maurice; or revel in the delightfully addictive (if unconvincing) melodramas of the redoubtable Downtown Abbey; love wandering though the beautiful stately homes of ‘Great Britain’ and their dream-inducing gardens when I go home periodically; and always enjoy a day trip to Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-Upon-Avon (just a half an hour or so from my family’s house), there is also a part of me, a deep part of me, that still questions it.
It is true that no other landscape or countryside has ever appealed to much as the English (nothing compares for me to a reedy river or the magic of the woods; all my childhood dreams and fantasies began there), yet there is still much I dislike about the land of my birth (see this piece on London) much as there is about Japan, Italy, or any other place I have lived in: I am never blind to a place’s flaws, nor to its beauty, but absorb what I like, and filter out what I don’t. This, to me, is simply commonsensical. Living in Japan for almost two decades has also given me a lot of perspective, in some ways, and also distance, in others, from what it means to be ‘British’ (though for some reason, I really don’t like that term; I find the word quite ugly, and I actually think of myself as ‘English’). It is complicated. There are contradictions. There are times here, even after all of these years, when the intractable blank stare of the most stubborn and alien aspects of Japanese culture make me also retreat into my own inner shell as a reaction, and I realize at these moments that I am truly ‘English’, that that side of myself is almost fixed within me in some ways at the psychological and cellular level. And part of me, in truth, quite likes that. That cultural backbone gives you something to fall back on. Yet we ‘British’ so often, also, want to get away; are so very critical of the place that we were born in. Why? The British Isles have one of the biggest diasporas in the world – statistically, as percentage of population, yet while slagging off and criticizing our own culture (which is in itself a very British thing to do: intransigence, irreverence, and punkish rebelliousness being one part of the culture I am genuinely proud of, as it leads to the creativity that leads to a Kate Bush or a David Bowie; unique, brilliant creatures who couldn’t have come from anywhere else), we also live in our little enclaves of chiding Britishness, with our imported cheddar cheese; our baked beans; our cups of tea, and Marmite on toast.
‘Britishness’ is still, culturally, like Frenchness and Italianness, a very marketable cultural global commodity, particularly when it relates to the British past, the Golden Age of Empire, of unquestioned global hegemony, when Britannia ‘ruled the waves’ and where the sun never set, as we plundered our way across the globe and proudly, and superciliously, and superbly, conquered the ‘natives’ in places we had no right to be, and where ladies in white lace dresses and ridiculous, affected upper class accents shielded themselves from the sun and fainted, cruelly, in the Malabah caves, and the wind and waves lashed our ships, and gentleman, smoking cigars, wearing tweeds and in silks and breeches or braces or whatever kind of costume was the order of the day, discussed our inexorable place in the world; a position that long ago slunk to nothing but a historical footnote, and which is still presumed to be the essential cause of the current malaise that grips the nation.
Beaufort London, a new range of perfumes released this year, plunges us – unironically on the whole (though I suspect a healthy dose of theatricality, having perused the company’s website and its self-titled header of a ‘tempestuous British perfumery’) headlong and unequivocally into a sea of nostalgic Britishness, in a collection of new scents that is called ‘Come Hell Or High Water’, a trio that celebrates the vanished indomitability of the former Empire with its smoky smells of mouldering holds and flinted gunpowder, the loot from the ‘tropics’ smouldering in the caskets; spices, liquor; chests of teas, aromatics, and all the blood, sweat and tears that were needed to keep it all together. This has, of course, become quite a familiar trope in niche perfumery: there is plenty a whiskey, rum and tobacco scent out there, now, to the extent that the genre has almost become a cliché: enough so that, if you wanted to , you could probably wear a different cargo hold each week of the year and walk around smelling as though you were born, unhindered, in a humidor, or slept, quite happily and disdainfully each night, aromatized, sodomized, and whiplashed, in a barrel.
The collection (and rarely have I seen a sample selection so sumptuously packaged) is, I have to say, quite good though; deeper, more held-together and more convincing than many a thin niche release: these perfumes are quite virile, compelling and atmospheric, and redolent of what was intended: a (possibly not quite tongue-in-cheek enough for me) celebration of maritime adventure and warfare (I805 explicitly refers to the year that Lord Nelson died in battle), the year his body, after the Battle of Trafalgar, was then shipped back to London, placed in a cask replenished with brandy and mixed with camphor and myrrh, before being transferred to a lead-lined coffin in the capital filled with the spirits of wine. According to Beaufort, ‘powerful accords of smoke, gunpowder, blood and brandy’ are blended with a ‘sea-spray’ accord and citruses that are designed to be bold and provocative, as indeed they most definitely are. This is the most difficult of the scents in the collection for me, and deliberately so: the blend is extremely strong and intense (at least initially – its bluster soon wears off); the less appealing, slightly ozonic notes used to create the sanguine, bloodied notes of wounded sailors and the sooten blasts of death overidden by a very effective, impactful note of ruddied bonfire that I think could smell great on a dandyish eccentric, much like the creator of the company himself, Leo Crabtree (actually the drummer for The Prodigy, would you believe, a rockstar with Byronic pretensions, who makes me feel that this whole line of perfumes has quite a high note of camp involved ( I do, sincerely hope so – just look at his getup: can this all be taken seriously? Is all this faded ‘Britishness’ not something of a conceptual performance? )
Still, there are plenty of people, the world over, in the New World and beyond, who have a bent for all things Jeeves & Wooster and Sherlock Holmes-y, who do go for all this deep mahogany period Anglomania and spiffing upper class baloney, and a dash or three of I805 on a favoured cardigan could definitely, actually, smell rather fantastic on the right person, a savourous aroma of smoke and nostalgia that would follow a would -be gentleman quite splendiferously into a room and have people wandering what on earth he was wearing ( I also approve of the pricing: at £95:00, for the obviously quality of the formula, this strikes me as reasonable).
Coeur De Noir, the much more subdued of the bunch, to me smells like a gently smokey and aromatic lavender scent but is apparently composed mainly of notes of ‘black ink; leather bound books; papers lost and found; birch tar, vanilla tobacco, labdanum and West Indian spiced rum’ and explores the relationship between nautical art and the adventures that inspires it: Turner; libraries, tattoos, and all things sailorish, and I would say that this is in many ways the most approachable of the three. It is suave and indeed papery, if a touch dour, although Duncan wore it for a day and, though imperfect, we both felt that it held its own throughout its duration and was nice right even right into the drydown (not something you can say that often these days with contemporary purchases). The scent has a quite ‘gentlemanly’ air to it that works quite well; again, terribly British (the perfumers really have captured those aspects very effectively with these perfumes), if not quite appealing enough, ultimately, to fully capture my imagination.
Like the globe roving sailors of yore, I was also, myself, always, from a young child, drawn to travel and ‘foreign lands’. Yes, I adored our family holidays to Cornwall or Devon, or Wales, or Bournemouth – sanddunes and the sea, and cream teas, and summer cottages, and souvenir shops in kagouls on rainy days on the seaside promenade, but I was, also, entirely entranced by the postcards that my maternal grandparents would send from their trips around Europe – from Spain; Greece, Yugoslavia, Portugal, occasionally Italy, but particularly Spain. I would obsessively pore over the unknown scripts that were imprinted on the postage stamps; stare at them, touch them, and wonder what they meant. When we would pick my grandparents up at the airport; tanned, smiling, relaxed, though sour, always, to be back (they were never happier than when they were holidaying abroad and seemed to live the fifty remaining weeks of the year they were back in rainy England for those two, almost mythical weeks they would again spend overseas), I would almost smell the foreignness on them, yearn for my souvenir (Pepe the donkey is still particularly memorable), and wonder what it must be actually like to go to a place where you couldn’t understand what people were saying, something that was indelibly fascinating to me, and the reason why I was practically champing at the bit to study a foreign language, any foreign language, the second I got to junior school.
From an early age I was also branded as ‘unpatriotic’ (oh don’t get me started on patriotism, and, far worse, nationalism (though how different are they, in reality?) the thing I hate most in the world – aside of air conditioning – mainly because, lets say as one example, I wouldn’t automatically plump unthinkingly for the British contender in the Eurovision Song Contest, or something along those ridiculous lines: it was genuinely astonishing for me, as a young and sentient boy, that I was expected, no, that I was commanded, to want the British entry to win, even if it was rubbish, even if it was undeserving, even if it was a shame to the nation, just simply for the reason that the song had its origins in Great Britain. There is a very hardcore streak of philosophical logic than runs through my brain, and there always was, and I knew from the outset that this stank, completely, as a biased, and illogical way of thinking. Naturally, when the song was the best, like when Bucks Fizz won in I98I with their ‘outrageous’ skirt ripping routine, there was an extra buzz in the fact that they were from the UK ( I am not, like the majority of people, entirely immune to the ‘spirit of the nation’), but if the song was crap and I preferred the one from Switzerland or Austria, then that was the one that I was going to go for and everybody else could simply be damned and go and fuck themselves ( though I would never have used such language when I was only ten). I suppose safe in the home of my Tia Maria quaffing grandparents who heretically preferred Spain to England anyway, my outré pop ideologies would not have been entirely misunderstood; as ultimately, my granddad, who was a Labour voting working class man to the core and is famous in our family for his outburst during the Queen’s speech one Christmas when he suddenly shouted out ‘Bugger the queen!’ much to my father’s consternation and my siblings and I’s delight, was always very different in his politics to my other grandfather, and like me, had a strong anti-authoritarian streak in him. Yes, the Euro-man in me was probably very much influenced by these maternal grandparents, whose travels across the English channel and beyond into the garlic-eating, castanet-clacking continent fed my brain with feverish anticipation and had me conjugating foreign verbs by myself ( I had a French dictionary for my ninth birthday) before I even entered the classroom.
If packaged tour trips to Benidorm and the Costa Brava were the seedlings of my latent need to travel, though, the far more potent inspirations to go around the world most certainly came instead from my paternal grandfather, who was a lieutenant in the navy, who had travelled the world on his ships, been to Japan and Indian and Africa, and whose house was filled with trinkets and ebony statues from far away places that stirred the imagination no end: almost sinister in their elongated exoticism, inexplicable to a boy who knew nothing about them but who could feel their strange and alluring energy. This stern, and somewhat undemonstrative grandfather had really travelled; he was a true adventurer and had, according to family legend but also in actual fact, run away from home at the age of fourteen to scrub the decks of ships, and had then worked his way up, through the British navy ranks, to Chief Gunning Officer later on. He fought in Okinawa in World War II (he loathed the Japanese (‘the cruellest race on earth‘), and would have been probably been quite horrified to know that I ended up living here I think, (though he would still, I am sure, have explicitly understood the wanderlust that he definitely passed down in his DNA to my globetrotting father – who travels, constantly – and also to me.)
Because although I can fully understand the joys of home and the nest, and love spending my time in the house at the weekend just relaxing and not stepping outside, at the same time, a complete lack of curiosity in other places is also, to me ultimately, totally incomprehensible. Because how can you at least not want to know, to experience them yourself, to feel the differences from where you are and from other, unexplored places? In this regard, I suppose, I think that though I deplore the expansionism and the colonialism of the Europeans and the British (even though I am usually quite often in awe of the legacies aesthetically, be it the Dutch colonial buildings of Jakarta or the French boulevards of Hanoi) at the same time, I can almost understand the desire to explore and commandeer; to stray into other lands, to go beyond the limiting horizons of the White Cliffs of Dover, even if, in reality, that is where we should have stayed.
East India, the final perfume in Beaufort’s trio of ‘Britishness’, explores these feelings extensively, the fascination with empire, and a particular, buttoned-up but sexy underneath form of idealized, British masculinity, and it is in some ways the most appealing to me of the three perfumes (even when its concept is simultaneously the most troubling).
‘Exploring Britain’s dominance of international sea trade across the centuries, this addictive fragrance recalls the words of George Bernard Shaw: ‘Emotional excitement reaches men through tea, tobacco, opium, whiskey, and religion’, says the blurb, and the scent does most definitely pack the punch.
To my knowledge, my nautical grandfather was not a religious man in any knowable sense, nor was he particularly alcoholic (one or two drinks seemed to suffice him for an entire evening, unlike his grandchildren), but he definitely did like his tea – full English leaf, from Waitrose……I used to adore how their particular homebrew tasted; and he also did most definitely like his tobacco ( I am presuming that he wasn’t smoking opium when the HMS Unicorn stopped off in Shanghai). In fact my brother and I have something of a transfixation on his tobacco tins and recall them quite vividly- Old Virginia, if I remember correctly, a scent that subtly pervaded the house, but that was also, when you opened up the metal tin when grandad was in the garden or something and was not looking, moist, delicious, and compelling. The leaves of this tobacco had a sweet, curled up, pungency that we loved, and that we really associated with grandad Chapman and his presence, and which I remember having a real surge of almost unbearably poignant memory from when I first sampled L’Artisan’s Tea For Two the first time: my god, this WAS grandad’s tobacco tin: I could see my nan and granddad’s living room quite clearly, see my nan and her fancy fruit filled jellies and her Garibaldi biscuits, and I still love that fragrance for that very reason (I have a bottle of it tucked away safely upstairs in my collection as kind of scented keepsake). I would never wear a tobacco scent myself I don’t think (the nearest I ever got was The Body Shop’s Tobacco Flower – lovely, a shame they don’t bring that one back; and Herrera For Men, which had something sweet and tobacco like in its top notes, and which I wore for a while when I was at university), but the D smells fantastic in tobacco scents and wears them quite regularly. He wasn’t entirely keen on this one though I must say. Although I quite like how the edges of the scent lingered in the room, with the turgid and fixed austerity of the ‘private gentleman’s club’, despite the sandalwood-based, spicy warm sweetness, it is all, if I am honest, ladled on a bit too thick; there are too many cooks spoiling the broth here, or the pudding, or whichever British characteristic is being served up here by the big, loving, spoonful. East India, a name that some people will surely find a tad distasteful, is strong; rich; domineering, much like the Great British Empire it is trying so desperately to be emblematic of. And in that respect, this perfume, like the others in the line, is, I have to say – and in many ways quite uncynically – quite genuinely a success. They have heft. They have quality. They have atmosphere. Britannia rules the waves. Boedicia is applauding and whooping in the backdrop (and so is Margaret Thatcher, quite probably); her subjects bow down emphatically, the waves of the oceans are parted, and once again, for just an instant, we remember that She was once the very centre of the known universe, the biggest empire, to this day, that the world has ever known. This is, indeed, as the company says, ‘tempestuous British perfumery’. And my grandad, with his temper, and his fiery opinions once he came out of his quotidian post-naval shell and voiced them (I can still hear him ranting with fury when the Sex Pistols came on for the first time on Top Of The Pops, raving as though it was the end of civilization itself), would most definitely have approved.
I haven’t even smelled ‘Dior Savage’, but I know, instinctively, that I don’t need to. This piece is beautiful.
Lately I have notice a steady increase in the circulation my post on Eau Sauvage Parfum is getting. And I couldn’t help but think this is just because people are searching on the internet for news of the new release, Dior Sauvage. So I started to wonder how Dior manages to navigate potential buyers of the new eau de toilette pour homme, right around the hurdles of original Eau Sauvage, Eau Sauvage Extrême, Eau Sauvage Parfum and the recently released (and probably redundant) Eau Sauvage Cologne. How much money do they need to pay on-line to keep the newly released Sauvage afloat and why on earth would they choose such a name, overlapping with at least four other releases of the label and yet having nothing in common with them. Enter Johny Depp! This is how you do it! You take a shiny little ribbon and tie your product on…
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