Hello, dear people. Today is my birthday, and as usual it is a beautifully sunny, crisp December morning ( I do associate this day with sun: not always, but almost – me running to school deliriously excited with whatever presents I had received that morning in the bright cold sunlight, usually a new record which I would be desperate to get home to play again, or, later on, a new scent). I have always loved this day, and I right now I feel like being extra self indulgent as I am alone at home on this (unfortunately) working day – I teach later on, but fear not, tomorrow is a big birthday extravaganza as per usual: like last year, both the D and myself are performing at the club in Tokyo and it is going to be fun, and wild, and the predictable ageing disgracefully.
At this precise moment though I feel like some perfume talk. I have always liked lists – the nerdish side of myself not usually presented here on the Black Narcissus for some reason – but there is always a slightly squirming, masochistic pleasure in trying to whittle down your favourites to a top ten, and the cruel and unimaginable exclusion of so many creations that you love and couldn’t bear to say goodbye to…….but it’s fun to try and think of the perfumes you feel you really couldn’t live without, the ones, say, that if there were to be some bizarre edict : “you can have unlimited supplies of these scents until your death, but only these”, ugh, which ones would you choose? Which ones would you let go of?
I love doing the same with films, actually, and which I also find painfully impossible, and albums, artists, anything. Yesterday I was at work, and had fifteen minutes where I couldn’t be bothered to do anything sitting in that teacher’s room full of po-faced stiffs, except try and work out a top ten list. Naughty, but it is almost the end of this school term and I am utterly burnt out and exhausted and just DESPERATE to cocoon in the home nest after the year that has been 2016….but let’s not get into all that again now.
No. It’s my birthday, so if you don’t mind, let me bathe in my own ridiculous spotlight for a few more moments or two. Let’s shut out that nasty outside world and concentrate on perfume. That misunderstood, culturally underrated, beautiful, invisible skin of radiance that can give us so much unadulterated pleasure and joy. If it were you (and I really hope you will then give me your own top tens as a birthday present to me – I will really enjoy reading them later and plunging into regret and dismay at what I had forgotten to include), what scents would you take to that remote, cut off, mythological desert island? (Or other planet, come to think of it: I don’t want to limit our imaginations or curtail the choices based on climate…)
Then again, when it comes to perfume, it is almost impossible to ignore temperature and season. Now that winter is almost upon us (here in Japan it is still quite Autumnal: sometimes very cold, other days, like today, quite pleasantly warm in the sunshine), I am naturally gravitating towards all my soothing orientals in my choices, as these are ultimately my favourite category of perfume and the ones which suit me the best, but come summer, what would I do with a bathful of Bal A Versailles?
Still, at least half of my selection would definitely always be those perfumes that I can ease into like a cream fur hood in a snowy white landscape- I suppose ultimately I am just something of a crazed, self-indulgent male odalisque. I find so much of the world, and people, so stuffy, conservative, tight-lipped and well, dull as fuck, that I feel that is practically my duty to go out there and fill the skies with sensuous, sensual, thick, rich and delicious perfumes that demonstrate how delightful being alive can really be and that it doesn’t have to be this constant, furious hairshirt of ideology, skinflint bitterness and grim-lipped, self-negating misery.
Having said all that, like most true perfumists, I cannot in truth completely limit myself to just one restricting category of scent. Like all of you, there are particular smells for particular moods, particular days and moments: sometimes, only one will do, a perfume I wear only once in a blue moon but which is absolutely right just then: cases in point, for me, might be a sudden urge to wear vintage Rochas Mystere (sorry, can’t access French accents right now: don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly become illiterate in my dotage), which on a particular winter day puts me in a fantastically removed, dark (but light) mood; Hermes Hiris, which again, is cold, clear, depressive, but sometimes is the only thing I want, and, likewise, the exquisite Caleche, which I find almost unconscionably elegant and poetically moving in the right circumstances, like a protectant veil against stupidity, of which, on this planet, there is much; (stop it, stop it, stop it), but yes, cloves, yes cloves, sometimes I don’t think I can live without them, either: I need my home remixed Bellodgia parfum (with stacks of added clove, black pepper essential oil and few drops of ylang ylang to get it just nice and bitey), or, preferably, a nice, thick bottle of vintage Caron Poivre: one of these might in fact make it into my top 10: not quite sure, as might Guerlain Vetiver or another vetiver of some kind such as Maitre Gantier et Parfumeur’s exquisite Racine (aaaghhhh all the perfumes I want refills of!!!): great, but possibly just outside my top ten. I even have my totally macho days when I head towards the ‘men’s closet’ part of my collection and douse myself in Azzaro Pour Homme, which is a bit Saddam Hussein on steroids, but which I like sometimes, as I do Kouros, and even Ungaro I (though that is almost too much for me now, as though I were Burt Lancaster taking a bath in pure testosterone) : still, there are definitely times when I need them.
And what about summer? What about the greens, and the citruses? I have a whole selection of colognes downstairs in the bathroom from green teas to lemons and limes and orange blossoms, and they get used quite often, particularly after a hot shower. Having said that, I still don’t think I have ever found the ultimate citrus : in some ways O de Lancome might fulfil that role but it is too loaded with memories and a bit too mossy for me ; I thought I had found it in Miller Harris Citron Citron but it was a bit…….taut for me in the end: I am still looking……
No. Nice as they are, I don’t think that any of these lighter scents would truly make my top 10.
Which is, tentatively, this.
The perfumes that I can always feel good in. The ones that I feel suit me, that complement my ultra-emotional, oversensitive but at times monstrously extroverted character, and give me soft, nudging, pleasure throughout the day.
- Guerlain Shalimar.
I am not necessarily putting these in order, but I will always need Shalimar. It makes me feel just like a big, purring cat.
: my cat Mori this morning: D woke me up at 6.30 to give me this delectable vanilla slice and a cup of tea (excuse the mess in the bedroom) but she almost got there first…..
2. Guerlain Vol De Nuit
As you can see in the picture at the top, I have several bottles of this in different strengths, and there are a couple of other bottles somewhere in the house that I couldn’t locate, also in different flacons (every single one found at flea markets and Japanese recycle shops, incidentally ( I know, I know). The classic propeller bottle 30ml is probably my most deliriously exciting ever find and the one I most treasure in my entire collection. I am really trying not to use that one for as long as possible.
This scent – read my full length review for more in-depth analysis – is one I continue to be obsessed by.
3. Yves Rocher Noix De Coco
It may be quite an outrageous statement, but in some ways this is my favourite scent of all time. It is also by far the cheapest (about 5 euros), but I am telling you that it is perfect. The equivalent of your favourite fluffy sweater, t-shirt or pyjamas, great in spring, summer, autumn and winter, not only the cuddliest coconut but also almond ( I LOVE almond, but here it is in just the right quantities, delectable), vanilla too, but none overpowering nor too sweet, just utterly utterly delightful. So glad that someone created this. It was tailor made for moi.
4. Laura Mercier Lumiere d’Ambre
This is my discovery from this year’s summer in England and I now have my amber. I never need another. Like the Yves Rocher above, this isn’t poetry, it’s just a great smell and suits me perfectly. It is irresistible. I will keep buying this.
5. Jean Desprez Bal A Versailles.
What can I say? On the coldest days in winter, when I want protection, there is only this. The greatest drydown in the history of perfumery.
So, anyway, those gorgeously rich and snuggable perfumes above could keep me going in skin-powdered mellifluousness come the winter months, but what about the other seasons?
6. Chanel No 19
Obviously, one of my very great perfume loves of all time, if not the greatest, is Chanel N0 19 vintage parfum, which I am sadly finding much less of now at flea markets here and will have to stop giving away to other people because I need to stock up on it myself. If I ever make it to old age, this is the scent I hope to be able to wear. There is nothing better.
The thing with this perfume is is that it is my iris, my vetiver, my leather, and my green. It is the best of all those types: when chosen at the right time is just…..amazing. There is no perfume that continues to get better and better for a period of over twenty four hours. It is a work of absolute structural genius and unsurpassed elegance.
After this it gets difficult for me. For while I do need my patchouli and have considered including either my (extra patchouli oil added) Serge Lutens Borneo 1840, or my Givenchy Gentleman (my one concession to traditional masculinity), the latter, in dry down, isn’t all that different to how the Chanel smells, in truth, so I could probably forgo it.
No, these days I need my exotic flowers come summertime.
These are the ones I wear unfailingly in the heat.
7. Summer by Kenzo
This might surprise you, but in terms of sheer skin time, this is the winner this year by far. I have got through almost two entire bottles. I live in it during the summer months in Japan. Discontinued, it is getting more expensive to get hold of now, but though flawed – in the rain it is horrible, the synthetic grass and swimming pool notes too much – on the right day – a searingly bright hot, swarming city day here, for instance – sprayed on my white shirts for work, it is just heavenly: addictive, unique – almond milk and mimosa and childhood memories of wonderful holidays – just the smell, and evocation of happy times spent splashing in the sea at the beach and then drying, oblivious to all past and future sadnesses, in the sun.
8. Velvet Desire by Dolce & Gabbana
Another unexpected inclusion perhaps, but this perfume, which I picked up at Dubai airport a few years ago thinking I would buy something dense and Arabish but instead found that I couldn’t resist this at all, is one I will buy again. I love my jasmine, especially Sambac, I love my tuberose and I love my gardenia, and they are all here, with frangipani to boot in the delirious mix, and the combined concoction, by Arquiste perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, just smells so exotic and heady that despite the embarrassing name, I love it every time. On a man it is a touch transgressive and odd, which is why I enjoy wearing it under my shirt cuffs to work. If you can’t be yourself, you may as well just jump in front of a train.
9. Either Loulou by Cacharel or Eau de Tiare by Reva Tahiti
Again, you can see I am just Gaugin, basically, in temperament: I don’t yearn to smell weird or conceptual, mean or dark (except on occasion: you must realize that this list, which I am now finding almost uncomfortably revealing and embarrassing as it makes me look like a total ditz or airhead (“All along he was making out as though he were this fierce black panther in his Montales and his Sisley Eau Du Soir (adore, in the right mood) and his blacker than black patchoulis, when in fact he is essentially just Racquel Welsh at the Golden Globes), but although I appreciate my incense and the odd woody perfume (I enjoy wearing my Shiseido Feminite du Bois or Lutens Cedre on occasion, for instance and will wear virtually any vetiver), ultimately I suppose I need the joyfulness of heat and the liberation of tropical to fully satisfy my dream-seeking senses, and Eau de Tiare really does presents the sea-a wave-sprayed, aquatic extreme of frangipani/ tiare flowers and a smell I just fall for every time (the scent of those flowers drifting in the air of Luang Prabang in Laos last year was positively oneiric), whereas Loulou, god bless her, is the coconut almond, thicker version: to my absolute delight Olivia gave me the vintage parfum this year, ultra rare, covetable, and my god it is amazing. Rather than waste it on my skin, I just subtly dragged the stopper along the soft inner part of a leaf green hoodie I had just bought, and the smell it continued to exude the entire day just basically infused me with total happiness and contentment. Divine. This is why we wear perfume.
10. Mmmmmmmmm, this is difficult. But perhaps
Caron Nocturnes ( Or should it be Guerlain Ylang Vanille……..? I LOVE that in summer, like drinking childhood cherryade …..)
I don’t know. But even though I have an entire wooden antique table of vintage perfumes by my bedside that I wear all the time at night or just to enjoy at home, they don’t, ultimately, suit me. Old school musks don’t work – too feminine – and although perfumes such as Chamade or Parfum d’Hermes are scents I venerate for their absolute beauty, I know in truth I just can’t actually get away with wearing them. I just really enjoy having them.
Plus it’s quite nice to include a ‘champagne aldehyde’ in this list, the only one I can really carry off properly. Plus, it contains all my favourite elements: the citrus top note, a gorgeous, gorgeous orange/mandarin, is one of my favourite beginnings in perfumery, mixed as it is with stephanotis flowers, tuberose, and jasmine, but then it all tails off not into musks and a dithery apron of soft, mossy bedspreads, but, instead, a more mysterious ending of vanilla and vetiver that I know smells very good on me.
Yes. I think this is quite a good one to end with actually. Whether it is cool or not to like Nocturnes, I don’t know, but I do know that it is definitely me.