Sycomore is one of my very, nearly, almost perfumes. In that, if I were to somehow receive a bottle as a present I would be quite thrilled, but I am simultaneously not ever quite thrilled enough to buy one (in Japan you can only get the three hundred dollar 200ml bottle, so that is simply never going to happen). I do want it though, someday. Definitely. And when I do I will probably get through it in no time as I did with my Tom Ford Grey Vetiver and my Maître Parfumeur et Gantier’s Racine (exquisite), and all vetiver perfumes generally. I love them. I feel natural in them.
A refined, dense but very sinewy perfume that is all about vetiver from the start to the finish with its typically Jacques Polge excellence and long-lastingly quality Chanel architecture, Sycomore comes on to the skin fully realized, the vine-like vetiver central note encased in a subtle aldehyde and sandalwood papousse, a fine hint of violets, and the mulched, cool earth of the forest floor – with delicate undertone touches provided by myrtle and tobacco. If you have never smelled this lesser known perfume from the Chanel Exclusifs, however, it is possible that I am perhaps, as usual, poeticizing it (or trying to) a touch too much, because despite the perfume’s very wearable and dependable artistry, I do always feel, every time I smell it, that something is missing within the structure, that it is overly monothematic and needed some iris or some other flowers à la Nº19, or else another note of more left-field eccentricity just to elevate it more imaginatively above the merely chic and ‘beautifully done’. The perfume is very nice, certainly, and one of the very best vetiver fragrances that you can buy, but for me it definitely does lack poetry.
Still, I was happy to reacquaint myself again with Sycomore the other night at the Chanel counter in Yokohama’s grand Takashimaya store, spraying myself liberally and wishing in fact at that moment that I had enough money to just plump for a bottle on the spot (I do, also, I have to say, incidentally, that love that name – Sycomore; so evocative for me, as those trees and the little helicopter seeds that come whirling down gently from above to the autumnal ground were something I was always fascinated by as a child, at my lovely little primary school back home – Oak Cottage, a halcyon time in my education at that school surrounded by fields and trees and the perfect place for a boy like me to indulge in his fertile, strange imagination). Like oak trees and poplars, beech trees and all the beautiful deciduous trees in the parks and the countryside back in Ol’Blighty, sycamores having a very magical quality for me, the England in my DNA, the seasons.
Sycomore the perfume, however, has none of this youthful delicacy. For me, it is an impeccable, elegant, but also very urban perfume – if still a tenuously pertinent scent, in theme and partially in execution, in its green and woody evocations of forest depths, for the film we were about to go and watch at the cinema, the Oscar-winning (and oh, how it went for those Oscars!) ‘The Revenant’ , starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hardy and directed by the Mexican master of miserabilism, Alejandro Iñnáritu. I am not usually a fan of this director’s work with the exceptions of Birdman and Amores Perros (nihilism and despair are two things I am not really interested in), but I had heard good things about this latest film from some friends of mine, particularly about the innovative cinematography, and was precisely in the mood for being immersed in nature, in the iced landscapes of American and Argentina, in the uncontaminated purity of lakes and rivers and snow, and, after all the pink and camp effrontery of the recent shenanigans in Tokyo with our own film making, just some air, some space, and some good old murderous revenge served ice cold.
You couldn’t really have a more malodorous film than The Revenant. You can see quite clearly that all the characters, from our shuttered, modernised viewpoint, stink. What is fascinating about watching it, beside the intrigue of the story, with its raw desperation and gruelling arduousness, the dazzling photography (the film was made entirely using natural light and it shows), and the piercingly beautiful soundtrack, is the visceral truth that ultimately we really are just animals; beasts fighting for survival, dirty and stench-ridden to the point where we blend right back in with nature and where it doesn’t matter any more; and when the cover up and the lie – perfume, for instance – that intricate olfactory mask with which we adorn ourselves – is exposed as a strange kind of deluded frippery. Yes, we might smell beautiful in our chosen beloved perfumes on a daily basis, but how feral and rancid we would all start to smell in different circumstances, toiling rabidly in rank, soiled bear skins just to stay alive, feeding on raw bison liver and whatever scraps of meat we could get our hands on, as our foul, festering wounds from the bite of the bear reveal the organic rot of our own fragile flesh.
For me, as a man who is totally led by his senses, this fear of the wild pungence that we subconsciously know lurks always there within us was one thing that was intimately exposed in watching this quite masterfully rendered film (with Sycomore, as a contrast, always providing a mesmerisingly oppositional accompaniment). Based on the true story of a fur trapper who was savaged by a bear, betrayed by his fellow hunters and left for dead in the wilderness after witnessing his son being cruelly murdered, we watch a mauled, sick and bewildered individual crawl 200 miles through unchartered pristine terrain in vast, primal landscapes of iced rivers, mountains and wind-whipped dark green pine forests, drenched in freezing waters, always on the verge of shivering to death (as the actors and crew were in real life, apparently, always at the whim of their quixotic and sadistic director), compelling and far-reaching to the eyes and the brain in its clear and awe-filled capturing of nature……..but the stench. The putridity. The clinging, great unwashedness. I could feel it. Like the bear that bites through his flesh and drools incapably over his face (a viscerally impactful scene that is nevertheless quite hard to watch as you quake in your cinema seat), the bear is just protecting its young, reacting on instinct, just as the character, Hugh Glass, is trying to protect his. Both creatures are ensconced in their condensed, unwashed odours, the smells that chemically come naturally from their heat producing bodies, as the trappers come across Glass – helpless, bleeding and broken, almost crushed beneath the hulk of the huge wild bear that, stabbed and shot, has fallen down now into a crevasse on top of him, the man on the verge of death and oblivion. Against the back drop of all the ice, and the snow, and the howling, ferocious winds, and the constant unrelentingness of nature, you realize quite profoundly, then, that his crude, foul smells, his blood mingling with the bear’s, would just in fact, in these circumstances, be irrelevant, that they might even be a source of comfort: the warm moisture of self, of still breathing, of still being alive.