Monthly Archives: September 2016


The Black Narcissus


And so it goes. The beard is shaved off: unwillingly – I don’t recognize myself.

But that’s the rules.

The work clothes are washed; then rewashed (and hung outside in fresh air, for fear of contamination).

The body is soaped down; scrubbed. the hair, panthèned; conditioned.

Scent? A little. The rules say please do not.

But, just before leaving the house I find that I just do anyway; I can’t stop myself: a small spray, on each cuff, of Montale Sunset Flowers: that sheeny, bright lemon leaf, green apple violet wholesomeness I bought the other day on a strange anti-intuitive whim. For this precise purpose.

I iron my suit while staring out the window absently. Drinking coffee, willing myself into the spirit. A suit really shouldn’t be thrown into the washing machine in this way I realise but I am neurotic, aware of my smell at all times, and it…

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Me and Olivia out in London with some treasure…..


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One of the first things I noticed when I first arrived back in England, standing in my parents’ garden in the early morning light, my mother’s great love and a place just overflowing with flowers, trees, and plants – was that roses really smell like roses. 





While the place I am lucky enough to live in here in Japan, Kamakura, is certainly not devoid of smell stimulations – osmanthus, jasmine, wisteria in particular can be especially hypnotic when blossoming in spring and autumn; the plum blossom and narcissi at the end of winter piercing and heartrending; the gentle, pale pink drifts of sakura cherry flowers the very quintessence of Japanese beauty, at the same time, that most English of flowers – the rose, while grown here in many houses’ gardens here, is unscented.









I will often see a stunning looking rose on a stem here on my way home and lean down to smell it, but usually there is nothing, or merely a hint of a very faint, overcultivated rosiness, almost as if, just as with the cruel mastery of the bonsai, the roses have been deliberately bred to have no scent.  As with much in Japanese society, the visual and the conceptual always supercede the olfactory. It is the correctness of the rose that counts, not its fragrance.









Admittedly, when grown in profusion – in the sea-front rose gardens of Yamashita park in Yokohama, for example, when the breeze blows from the city or the sea across the heads of the flower tops, standing afar you may then catch a glimpse of true rose perfume and remember what the flowers do smell like, but this is still nothing like the wilder and thornier, raspberry-gleaned beauty of the ragged-edged sturdiness of the roses I encountered in my garden back home which were actually replete, and lush, with the full-bodied, emotionally irresistible scent of full blown roses in English summertime – a smell that almost seems, to me,  to contain the entirety of life itself, a secret just waiting to be unlocked.






































The majority of recent rose perfumes, in my view,  have been terrible. Either the perfectedly commercial, synthetic sweetnesses I intuitively reject for their ‘wedding day’ primness and banal and ugly sexual conservatism; the hystericality of all the metallic, purity-pinkness that I always abhor; or else over-egged wood and oudh puddings pillaged in slavery and patchouli. Unable to breathe, or bloom. Thick set. The rose essences struggling. Dead.





















Rose Parfum, by contrast, a very pleasing new release by Roja Dove, seems to have instinctively realized these concerns of the true rose fancier, flowering off in a totally different direction to the majority of contemporary roses, both veering in a saporously classical direction, while simultaneously revivifying the note into something fresh and new. I really like it. Unfolding, this perfume comes across like a slightly bitter green hybrid of Nahéma and Nº19; the peach-soft down rose of the former contraposed against the verdurous iris galbanum of the latter, a dew velvet poise that took me immediately by surprise ( I had forgotten that new perfumes can still actually smell beautiful ) and which drew me to immediately wear the perfume on my first few days back in England. It was perfect for long train rides and staring out of the windows on green fields and old memories.







While certainly not as magical as either of those ultra- classic perfumes (which I consider to have achieved perfection in the art of perfumery), Rose Parfum nevertheless also has a more distinctly English quality to it than its more languorous French counterparts. Though it may lack the typically suffusive Parisian powderiness and musk, it also has a certain crispness and briskness, a sense-lifting pleasure, a brightness, like rose buds themselves when they flower in the bud-green mote beams of dawn. And though the perfume’s dry down might not have been quite as well developed as the opening, veering into a slightly pot pourri sourness, on my skin at least, at the same time, neither did this truly ever irritate. I wore it comfortably, all through the day , and if you are a rose lover ( I had forgotten, almost, that I am), I most definitely would recommend it.

















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THE NEW CHANELS: : : : : : BOY (2016) + Nº5 L’EAU (2016)




chanel no.5 l'eau .jpg













Apologies for my absence. Somehow I could not get access to the Narcissus, nor even my email account, while in England for the last three weeks so I couldn’t write. Even if I had though, I was so busy gallivanting across the country seeing friends and relatives, going to art exhibitions and films, eating over priced restaurant food, and pints and pints of cider (something you can’t get here in Japan, along with real fish and chips) that I probably wouldn’t have written very much anyway.




There were certainly perfumed experiences I will be catching up with on here though, including a deliriously exciting trip to a North London pharmacy with Olivia that was a true treasure trove of vintage glory that will just have to be recounted, although in truth at no time was I ever in the mood for grand, central London and Harrods and Harvey Nichols and all the crowds and the hassle and the synthetic oudhs and the overpriced niche, so it is quite possible that I missed out on discovering anything truly new or interesting to divulge for your pleasure.





Nevertheless,  both the new Chanels were there on my return flights though from Birmingham via Amsterdam to Tokyo for me to sample and assess at leisure, first Boy for my first leg of the journey, a rather disappointing, flat and drab little lavender, nice for a couple of minutes, that then quickly dries down to a skin-indelible, perfunctory lavender sports fragrance that you can’t quite scrub off – like some cheap, Yardley body product. Forget what other bloggers have written, desperate to say something nice about it, so as to keep contact lines open with their PR representatives, in truth, to my nose at least, this perfume should in fact just be renamed Bore.




Imagine the TV commercial, some woman or man yawning continuously, tears streaming down their face as they sniff listlessly at their own wrists….








‘De Chanel’.





‘Le Parfum plus ennuyeux du monde’….














The new L’Eau was thankfully much better. I had had a few hours to kill in Amsterdam, so was able to spray copious amounts of all the No 5 concentrations available on scent strips – about five fully drenched strips of each gorgeously aldehydic variation, which I then inserted into the pages of the book that I was reading in order to properly be able to ascertain just what had been changed, whether the new formula works.




For me personally, it does. From the first spray there was that beautiful recognisable Chanel signature, that velveteen loveliness we know and love so well ( I do think that No 5 is a work of total genius), just freshened and aerated with a delicious mandarin and orange note and a significant extra dose of ylang ylang – one of my favourite notes in all of perfumery – with all the muskiness (the part I like  least) toned down, reminding me, in fact, of an old Gianfranco Ferre perfume I once knew in the shape of a hand grenade (which was that one again? Can anyone remind me? ) : all sandalwood, jasmine, and a delectable corona of orange loveliness dancing tantalisingly in the top.




Yes, No 5. When smelled side by side, however, in across-the-range comparison, I was able to see that the L’Eau was in fact by far the least No 5-like of all the perfumes. It really is quite different and new. While the classic eau de toilette was curiously missing from the shelves ( I am presuming that it hasn’t been discontinued?), the eau de parfum I smelled seems the most quintessentially No 5-ish to me: all champagne aldehydes, full-bodied rose and jasmine, and all the other delicious ingredients that swirl and loop in that classic blend and make it such a sensuous masterpiece. The eau de parfum of No 5 is like a satin pillow of Perfectly Produced Perfume – willowy, dreamy and seductive, suffused with decades of self-conscious classicism, even if it does, simultaneously,  have a certain, how can I put it –  rich, bourgeois, stasis – an unthinking heaviness, a ‘this is No 5′, mumsy self-satisfaction that you can imagine putting off younger contemporaries:  that incommensurable sheen of good-living and sustained income that makes this concentration, while as comfortable as silk pyjamas, feel the least olfactively demanding or dangerous.




Moving through the pages of my book as I sat drinking an extra cold Heineken in a Dutch cafe at the corner of the airport and deciding to alight on the parfum, this version, the original, if modified, version of the Ernst Beaux 1920’s classic, really does feel dangerous, actually, almost shocking in its strength and thigh-dousing ardour: in comparison with the edp, even this current extrait smells quite thick, dense, and wild in an almost Indian attar-like fashion of high quality rose and jasmine oils ( so great that Chanel does sincerely seem to have maintained the quality of these essences), along with all the other cool, oil pressed flowers and fleshly musks and powder that have always been there in the blend – but it is precisely this aspect that I know for a fact that I don’t personally enjoy.  I have bought several bottles of the vintage at Japanese flea markets just to be sure, and know now that, sacrilegious though it might be to say so, I just find the dense, old school musk in the base so off-putting that I just don’t really like it. To me, there is none of the beautiful, rainbow-like balance of the lesser concentrations; the golden rays of glistening aldehydes melting effortlessly into flower and fruit, wood and vanilla –  all is just too fudged together; so orrissy, voiceless, and unyielding. A classic, to be sure – obviously, but always the No 5 I  am definitely personally least likely to ever wear.




The Eau Première, from 2007, in contrast, feels perfectly updated and clean (if a touch prim and proper when all is said and done), yet undoubtedly an immaculate piece of perfumed work that when seen side by side  with the other concentrations of No 5 almost smells a touch like Prada’s Infusion D’Iris (I do think that that cool, contemporary and fashionable iris note is much more prominent in this more recent edition). There is a certain mademoisellish perfection in Eau Première, a muted, statuesque and alabaster lightness that still makes it work really well as a chilled, contemporary flanker, though if l’Eau does take off, (Olivier Polge has been working on and tweaking this formula since 2013) you wonder whether Chanel will actually continue to produce it. How many concentrations of Chanel No 5 does the world in fact need?



Well, to judge from the cannily produced advertising campaign starring Lily Depp (the  beautiful young cheekboned offspring of Johnny and Vanessa Paradis), with its YOU KNOW ME. AND YOU DON’T. YOU KNOW ME. AND YOU DON’T ad tag  refrain, I do think that a new, young generation could actually really go for this l’Eau. When sprayed in the air it smells deliciously fresh and palatable, peach and rosy as the dawn, even if on card, in comparison with the other concentrations, it smells like a white-musk laden, watery, sweet and smooth-skinned nothing. Still, with that gorgeous ylang and orange opening (Olivia, are you listening?) I must say that if I could have had any of the concentrations of No 5 for my own personal consumption, it would probably, dastardly though it might sound, have to be the L’Eau. I don’t know. Sometimes you just have to look into the sunlight, face the future.







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