Monthly Archives: December 2015

BARBRA STREISAND’S NOSE

D’s mum and dad are here and we are listening to Barbra…

The Black Narcissus

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She has one of the most famous noses in the world: a honker, a schnoz, an unmistakeable profile that provokes love/hate reactions from her fans and detractors. But Barbra Streisand was surely in on the big nasal joke when she took on the role of Hillary Kramer in the 1979 comedy romance film ‘The Main Event’.

The story of a ‘nose’, director of her own successful perfume house, the film begins with Kramer ecstatically inhaling a new team-effort formula created by her in-house perfumers, a revolutionary unisex number that she is convinced will be a super-hit, the camera honing in woozily on that proud Cleopatran nez as she swoons heartily with approval:

” Smooth…….high quality….

There is an orgy going on right here in my nose!!”

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Soon though, despite my delight that here at last there was a movie about a perfumer (I had had no idea that the film…

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SHE’S ALL THAT: : : COCO by CHANEL (1984)

Goodness.

You know I think this is actually starting to suit me.

 

I just bought a cheap vintage parfum as just an adjunct to my Chanel collection and woof….it smells kind of fabulous.

The Black Narcissus

 

 

 

 

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Coco, always Chanel’s most exuberant and joyful creation, to me exudes a conspicuous air of eighties consumption. Blazing gold jewellery and glinting, multifaceted jewels, this woman knowingly struts her real or imaginary red carpet no matter the weather – transforming grey, mundane realities with a brush of the colourful high life.

 

 

 

 

Though she is loud and a little persistent, this fruity Miss, you still can’t help somehow inhaling, with rich pleasure, her dense, baroque carnival of odorous riches; her compressed, spiced, fusillades of peach, coriander, orange blossom, Spice Island clove; Indian jasmine, mimosa; the heart of Bulgarian rose over an effortlessly shoulder-wrapping base accord of sandalwood, amber, patchouli, leather, and chocolate: a complex, sweet…

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“We know, without being told, that this woman smells of delicious perfume….”

 I NEED TO SEE THIS FILM.

 

CAROL

ROONEY MARA and CATE BLANCHETT star in CAROL

 

In an afterword to her 1952 novel “The Price of Salt” (published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan), novelist Patricia Highsmith recalled an incident that took place when she was working in a Manhattan department store during the 1948 Christmas season. A “blondish woman” in a fur coat, “slapping a pair of gloves absently into one hand,” approached to buy a child’s gift. On the surface, it was an unexceptional encounter — the woman chose a doll, paid and departed — but Highsmith writes that she “felt odd and swimmy in the head, near to fainting, yet at the same time uplifted, as if I had seen a vision.”

In real life, the two never met again. But the moment inspired a novel in which the women fall in love, and has now become the gently dazzling movie “Carol.” That word “swimmy” describes it precisely; together, director Todd Haynes, screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, actors Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, cinematographer Edward Lachman and composer Carter Burwell immerse us — nearly drowning us, happily — in beauty and longing. You leave the film’s soft-grained world reluctantly, as if taking off a warm coat when it’s still a little chilly inside.

Haynes, whose nostalgic 1950s melodrama “Far from Heaven” is something of a companion piece to this film, softens Highsmith’s sometimes hard-edge world — this, remember, is the novelist best known for creating the murderous psychopath Tom Ripley. Mara plays Therese, a quiet, thoughtful young woman not yet sure what she’ll do with her life; Blanchett is the poised, precise title character — we know, without being told, that this woman smells of delicious perfume. (How does Blanchett convey that? It’s something in the posture, perhaps.) The store encounter becomes a meal, which becomes a visit to Carol’s elegant manse (where she lives with her husband and young daughter), which leads to a road trip. Along the way, they fall deeply in love: Therese instantly, like a soft thunderbolt; Carol more deliberately, but just as passionately.

Movie Review ★★★★

‘Carol,’ with Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, Sarah Paulson. Directed by Todd Haynes, from a screenplay by Phyllis Nagy, based on the novel “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith. 118 minutes. Rated R for a scene of sexuality/nudity and brief language. Guild 45th, Lincoln Square, SIFF Uptown.

This being the 1950s, a lesbian affair brings its own peril; we know things can’t go smoothly for Therese and Carol — and they don’t. (Highsmith, though, allowed her literary doppelgänger some hope, which shines through here.) But the film is less about telling a story than creating a mood; letting us wallow in the way Blanchett’s voice, low and carefully placed, makes you think of pearls dropping onto a carpet; or how Mara’s face seems to open up and her breathing changes when Carol is nearby; or how the whole movie, with its burnished colors and city lights, looks like a Hopper painting come to life. “Carol” is, to quote Highsmith’s words written so long ago, a vision.

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CHRISTMAS IN KYOTO

Thanks to everyone for everything this year. xx

The Black Narcissus

 

 

 

 

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SNUG : : VANILLA SMOKE by AFTELIER PERFUMES ( 2015 )

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I am intensely familiar with the smell of natural vanilla. Intensely: as if I myself, in a former life, had been a grain of unctuous vanilla ‘caviar’, emanating oily vanilla-ness gaily from within my warm, brown seed pod.

 

Having stayed on a vanilla plantation in Java and seen the process of vanilla bean cultivation and after-production first hand, standing in an Indonesian family’s drying attic and being overwhelmed by the intoxicating scent of natural vanilla; from crates and crates of the beans just stacked there in open caskets, giving off scent, each one of them replete with vanillin and hundreds of other natural aromachemicals, so different, so so different from the ‘vanilla’ you get in most perfumes – far deeper, leathery, textured, complex and animalically three dimensional (if not as easy or even as necessarily pleasing), I learned, with own my nose, that this is a fulsome, living and breathing smell; of a multi-dimensionality you simply don’t get from the synthetic vanilla we all know so well  –  a much clearer smell that maintains a smoother, lighter, more crystalline and ice-creamy transparency.

 

No. Vanilla beans in the flesh, and in great profusion, so strong that your brain tastes of it and you dream it again at night, are far more savoury, masculine and obstinate than one might expect; percolating and ruminating within themselves oleaginously and without compromise. As a result, I think of vanilla pods almost more as creatures than as just a ‘spice’, the way in which the air root of the vine is constantly searching and moving down towards the ground to gain anchor, the fact that the vanilla orchid flowers on one day and on one day only (and if you miss it, you miss the pollination, which is done by hand); the way the pods have to gestate for such long periods, hanging fecundly and with high suggestiveness, before they are ready to be plucked; even the curing process itself, when the beans (which have no scent until cured) are ‘killed’ before being wrapped up in shrouds, and put in wooden boxes, and lovingly and caringly placed in the sunlight to sweat and be cured, and embalmed, like miniature  mummies.

 

When I came back to Japan with my suitcase (illegally) full of vanilla beans and living orchids that we managed to keep for a fairly long time though ultimately the climate was wrong for them here, I tried, without much success, to make decent perfumes of my Javan vanilla beans; doused in spirits; soused in vodka to infuse the browning, tangible molecules I was always trying to get the blend right with (see my Black Narcissus Java review for the one exception that didn’t turn out too badly). Yet there was always something off in one or more of the later stages; the strange, bodily, dirtiness always coming out on the skin at some later point, just one of the vanilla pod’s inevitable facets, something skeezy you don’t get in the ‘purer’ synthetic (which is why Shalimar is so seamless). The pod always seems to spread itself out and not curtail its unrulier, oozier elements – it is quite a difficult essence to control, which is why it is very interesting for me to smell Mandy Aftel’s new and quite original take on natural vanilla extract, Vanilla Smoke.

 

 

From the first microsecond of smelling this perfume, I was plunged immediately back into the world of vanilla steeping – the type here is unquestionably natural, and I found the vanilla pod department of my brain cells lighting up the second I whiffed it – but it has also been cleverly smoothed out; lit up, decorated but also rounded, in all the right places with intuitively (and counter-intuitively) chosen aromatics. We are immediately aware of a smokiness, as the name of course suggests, but here it is a fuzzy and soft, warm and gustatory smoke, rather than, say, the broiled ham horror of Le Labo’s Patchouli 24 (I used to love the bonfire aspect of that scent, with its strong vanilla undertones, but once I had honed in the birch tar, barbecued meat-fest lurking at the heart, I could never put it on again). No. This is rather the mellow, snug infusion of lapsang souchong tea leaf extract (a very acquired taste among teas, but one which is very atmospheric I always find; somehow nostalgic and touching; historical) fusing together with the vanilla in great ease, cradled with some ambergris, some coumarin and some synthesised vanillin, so that in the base, once the hazy, autumnal-wintery vibe of the opening (also tinged with mandarin and saffron) subsides, you are left with a sweet, and quite comforting scent that clings peacefully to the skin.

 

 

While this may not be an ‘event’ oriental in the style of the traditional grand parfum (it is hard to imagine anyone wearing this to a gala for example, or to the opera), every well made perfume has its place. Personally, I would like it stronger and more intense, so am interested in sampling the perfume version as opposed to the edp (and it is crying out for a really intense solid version, surely; it would be lovely to have a secret compact of Vanilla Smoke in my pocket to just open and dab on at the right moment in winter) but even in this concentration, the scent, rather than a paen to extroversion, is more for the indoors and for the introverted, or at the very least a scent to snuggle up to. Caught on the wool hairs of a sweater, for instance, or on a soft and favourite scarf, as you wrap yourself up and step out into a cold winter’s day, I imagine that this could be really rather lovely.

 

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CLOVES ( or, ” One tear is enough” ) …POIVRE by CARON (1954)

 

 

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I love cloves. And today I find myself really craving them. Maybe it was writing about Nuit De Noel the other day, maybe it’s the colder weather, or perhaps it’s because my chest feels a bit vulnerable today, but the searing dignity of this most aloof of spices is what I am feeling. So I am wearing some of finest cloves in my possession: Diptyque’s L’Eau de L’Eau; Caron Bellodgia parfum, and Floris’s gorgeously carnationesque Malmaison, the latter two adulterated by me to make them more spicy: two drops of ylang ylang, black pepper and clove essential oil in each, and boo ha we have what we want (I know it sounds heretical, but the Bellodgia is just too musky otherwise, and the Malmaison too polite and trust me, my sharper remix works nicely).

Still, I am not quite satisfied. And just now it suddenly struck me. What I need, in fact, is Caron POIVRE. Yes I know that it means pepper, and there are plenty of fiery, whip-cracked peppercorns lurking in the heart of that scent, along with carnations, and a fascinating, dark, miasma that wraps the wearer like a cloak, but it is cloves, cloves, cloves that this perfume really smells of – cloves regalized and embellished until they become parfum;  the vintage edition of this perfume undulating within itself in a shrouded rhythm of solitude  –  and quiet, drawn-out, heat. Divinely self-conducted and assured, Poivre is a Cruella De Vil, dressed-up excellence of spice and refined taste with a gloomed and obfuscated heart that makes you wonder if it has one, but it is that that I love – this scent is a scoundrel. Just one that is dressed like a duchess.

I have only ever had one parfum of Poivre, one bought for me online by a Japanese friend who got it for my birthday. But grateful though I was, it just didn’t cut it. Yes it was clovy (and I added even more), yes it was peppery and full of oeillet, but it was definitely not like the vintage. Too clean, too angular, too transparent, there was none of the blackness, the incorrigible, spicy contempt. Looking the perfume up online just a few minutes ago I find this

 

 

 

 

 

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3 .oz (89ml) bottle of vintage perfume extract (ah, how I covet it), priced at $2,800. Wow. It’s not just me, then, who realises how good this scent once was, who knows that it is unique in the world of wintry spice perfumes, that there there has never been a peppercorn, or more particularly a clove bud, quite so profoundly distanced and beautiful.

 

 

 

 

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CARON’S NUIT DE NOEL (1922)

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For most people, Caron’s famous Christmas perfume is a cosy, Yuletide Noel of sweet mosses, spice, and mellow florals, a quaint, comforting refuge that is perfect come this nostalgic time of year.

 

For me, though, it conjures up remembrances of dazzling sunlight; palm trees; and the almost sinister fascination of glittering, uptown LA in summertime: all piercing dark shadows, rich people behind sunglasses, and a humming bird I saw fluttering behind a flowering bush on Rodeo Drive.

 

The Beverly Hills Perfumery is a magnificent Babylon of treasures for the perfume collector. Boxes and boxes of vintage perfumes, still in their original cellophane wrappings, piled ceiling high, all Shalimar body creams and shower gels and soaps and face powders and and hair gels and glorious, discontinued originals; rarities, things you thought would never be found again, and things you have never smelled, but are dying, just dying, to get your hands on.

 

 

I only had enough money for one bottle. And god knows what I thought that should be. I wanted Ungaro Homme I, now so hard to find, I wanted all manner of things (let’s just rob a bank together and go there in a pick up truck, shovelling the entire stock into the back of a van and take it home).

 

 

Seriously. This is not a department store, it is not a niche fragrance boutique, it is not a flea market, it is a repository. A cavern of precious, olfactory loot, and my eyes wouldn’t stop darting over the merchandise, salivating, panicking, and  wondering what to get.

 

 

Then I saw the beautiful green, gold and black box of Caron’s much feted Nuit De Noel, a scent that looked so intriguing and was so reasonably priced, a perfume I had read about and was most eager to smell, and suddenly I just knew that it was going to be the one that I would buy.

 

 

 

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And so for me, now, this dusty, old fashioned creation – woody, resinous, harmonious and affecting, the smell of spiced plum puddings and hair-spray, is not snow, and Christmas trees, and carols, and all the familiar trimmings, but rather the smell of adventure. Of my Lynchian fantasy of being in Los Angeles (just to be on Mulholland Drive, and to be able to re-enact a film that I was so obsessed with), a pungent celluloid based-desire that was just, at that moment, coming true.

 

Of my first time being so woozily in the cinematic centre of the universe, of seeing Larry King walk by us on the way back to the hotel. Of so much furniture spray and overly cold air-conditioning in that hotel room that we could hardly breathe.

 

The smell of America. Of that first martini in the bar downstairs that felt like a crystallized whirlpool of the brain; and the weird plastic-surgery lady walking her dressed-in-pink chihuahua that we giggled at, and us, google-eyed, jet-lagged, and overstimulated from our flight from Japan, Nuit De Noel oozing, sparkling, providing the soundtrack.

 

 

 

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