Source: ANAIS ANAIS by Cacharel ( 1978 )
Monthly Archives: January 2017
On my way back to school yesterday, in Fujisawa ( you could see Fuji-san today, when I took this picture ), I was pristinely unscented as is humanly possible.
Every work garment, from coat, to suit, freshly washed. Brand new shirt and sweater. Shampoo: a rosemary and geranium organic affair that leaves no perfumed residue. Body: generic soap and then eucalyptus bath: tonic, regenerative – but evaporative.
Waiting on the train platform, complimenting myself on my relative smellinvisibilty (ideal for the Japanese workplace) I suddenly felt disturbed. Nude. Balded. Peculiarly vulnerable.
I couldn’t stand it. And with just a couple of tiny, tiny spritzes on the back of each hand ( Guerlain Mandarine Basilic, because let’s be realistic), I felt like a black and white colour-by-numbers; coming back to life.
Just a hint of scent, at the borders of my periphery, and I felt more natural. Like a lens, coming into focus.
As a high school seventeen year old stripling, of a morning, before leaving my house, I would always raid my father’s after shave collection ( these were literally ‘after shaves’, the lighter, fresher, apres rasage format of men’s traditional fragrances that are often subtly different and more pleasing).
All of these were impeccable, scents I retain in my collection and wear even now : Eau Sauvage, Kouros, Paco Rabanne, Givenchy Gentleman, and Chanel Pour Monsieur. All of them fresh with complexity and aromacy: none of them the chest-beating machos ( Jazz, Tsar, Drakkar, Safari) that make me want to take my life.
The above creations suited me quite nicely, ( alongside Armani Pour Homme and Givenchy Xeryus that I had also bought for myself), but it was Chanel Pour Monsieur alone that had, and still has, the unique capacity to not only transform my own mood, but the air itself.
Essentially an aromatic citrus chypre, this curiously uplifting, innovative yet traditional cologne is based on lemon, verbena, bergamot, cardamom and neroli with lightly spiced undertones of lavender, nutmeg and a gentle, almost vanillic oak moss. While the eau de toilette can sometimes veer into almost flyspray-like citronella briskness, the after shave, for me, as a teenager, splashed on my face and neck and wrists, was nothing short of heaven.
I would walk through Malvern Park on the way to Sixth Form College; Tennessee Williams, Shakespeare, Keats and Bronte in my rucksack along with my French and German textbooks, look at and smell the sky, the trees, the flowers all around me and they, and my life itself, would be truly ameliorated and intensified by the beautiful smell that was emanating from my skin, a blissful harmony of nature and man-made art that has not been replicated since. It would be no exaggeration to say that it was a sensation that made me ecstatically happy.
I believe that this beautiful, softly exhilarating effect comes from the brilliant contrast between the citric uplift of the top accord, experienced simultaneously with the pliant and softly sensual mosses of the base, like new April sunshine filtering down through young leaves onto the soft, mossy bed of a forest clearing- a facet this perfume has in common with Guerlain’s Mitsouko ( after an hour or two these scents smell virtually indistinguishable on my skin).
But where there is something miserable and dour for me in Jacques Guerlain’s grimly beautiful masterwork, Pour Monsieur, while a touch old fashioned for me sometimes, nevertheless achieves a feat that cannot be dismissed lightly. Almost thirty years after I first started wearing this beautiful perfume, on this bright, sunny morning in January, Japan, in its understatedly joyous, lemon-leafed, contrapuntal elegance, I feel almost exactly the same as I did back in those days of future-forward, world-is-my-oyster oblivion: that Henri Robert’s most uninvasive of citrus masculines: refreshing to the senses and the spirit: glassed, nuanced, liberating -really is optimism, bottled.
I watched Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Paul Schrader’s Cat People again last night. They filled me with strange yearnings: I NEED TO GO BACK TO NEW ORLEANS
There are some cities I love but could not live. Kyoto is one. New Orleans is another. While diametrically opposed in many ways, both of these places are so drenched in their own atmospheres, so full of ghosts and their self-prolonging essences, that when I am asleep they pervade my dreams; insinuate themselves perniciously in my bloodstream, leaving no room for space.
These are places that could possess you.
I only spent four days in New Orleans, but it has made quite an impression. Compared to Miami, Tampa, and Anna Marie Island, with their clear, ocean-kissed florid air (and where I had almost dreamless sleep), walking around the so-called City Of The Dead, built upon the colonial conquests of an all-pervading, palpable Louisana swamp (the city is fading; sinking, it is the Venice of the Americas), the air there is damp, tainted; flourished. There is something inexplicably unsanitary about the…
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THE WITCHY CHYPRES II : : : CORIANDRE by COUTURIER (1973) + BELLE DE RAUCH (1966) + PARFUM RARE by JACOMO (1985)
I tend to do the olfactory in blocks. Or perhaps you might want to call it seasons, or periods, or phases – weeks where I only want vetiver or patchouli, months where I am desperate for vanilla and opoponax-laden orientals; tropical white flowers, oranges, or lemon. Right now, it is rose. Heavy, brocaded, spiced, velvet-rose-leather, ornamental chypres: grand, sensual, yet mysterious – like weighted winter curtains to shut out the cold and the outside world in a vast, rococco mansion hidden in the country.
We ventured outside today, properly, for a walk : for the first time in a week, and walked around our neighbourhood, the light exquisite and clear, the air full of clarity and the optimism of a brand new year. Call me naive, but I believe in this time. A time to just recoop and relax and regenerate……………. illness sometimes has the positive flip-side of allowing you to cocoon and shelter and not think: right now, also, we are nearing the end of Season Seven of Dynasty, having watched about 180 episodes since starting it at the beginning of 2016. We are entrenched. Of course I know that this 1980’s soap opera is laughable, ridiculous and over the top, but it is also completely mesmerizing for a myriad of reasons, dramatically; aesthetically (we watch it on DVD boxed sets, on a big screen, with a projector, and it is divine); observing the atmospheres and the fashions change, even though the characters are by and large continuously in the same place and trapped in the same entitled, and privileged, locations (though this familiarity of place is also exactly what makes it so addictive. Despite the absolute artifice, it feels real, like lived experience).
I am fascinated by witnessing, through the flamboyance of the clothes and the styles and the heavily, lacquered makeup – in particular the passionately beautiful face of Joan Collins – the real passing of time, and of the gloriously outdated (and really quite gasp-worthily grotesque and sometimes amazingly beautiful) clothes that these women wear every time that they walk into the room; dazzling; outrageous: the quintessence of late seventies, then early to late eighties fashion that is now nothing less than a joke in some quarters, but which nevertheless, for whatever reason, on me exerts a magnetic, and irresistible, grasp.
And then the perfumes. Every dressing table replete with them. De-labelled of course and carefully photographed so as not to reveal what they are, but you know just from from looking at these women that they smell amazing; strong, overpowering, but perhaps this is one of the things – all this luxe and opulence and sartorial and olfactory unafraidness – that is making me crave these particular scents, these seductive temptresses with claws. As I wrote in my piece the other day, or rather last year in fact (so glad that we have left that one behind and are starting on a new period of time, even if today, I am already harking on about the perfumes of the past, sorry), I have been smothered in all my spiced and luminous roses: Krizia Teatro Alla Scala, the original Armani (divine, and surprisingly masculine in its tranquil and elegant in its inimitable way), and I finally drained my last drops of the beautiful Nombre Noir. Oh well, I can only hope that it one day crosses my path once again. But I am always, in any case, drawn to these scents that are compacted and compressed with their multi-tiered complexities, that radiate out the way that the best perfumes should. Not just cheap, vanillic auras that promise easy sex and no secrets, but wry, enigmatic sphinxes with a hint of the inscrutable; come-ons that say yes, but which warn you, simultaneously, to keep a distance.
In my first dealings with what I call The Witchy Chypres (because they are: these scents are like sorceresses: Magie Noire, Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum, Sisley Eau Du Soir and Jean-Marc Sinan, these perfumes really are Alexis Colby Carrington at her most devilish and haughtily delicious), I describe these cool, semi-precious elixirs as being like black panthers – an animal that, as I child, I would lie in bed and fantasize over and over again that I could just turn into, at will, and then transform, at my whim, into a great soaring bird that could escape any danger or threat and just disappear out the window and into the night.
Today’s perfumes, which I believe still fit into this category of dark, alluring, lip-glossed magicians, are perhaps more lithe and cryptically veiled in the concern of their own elegance; less sly ‘man hunter’, more held together, solitary; a preoccupation with the day and its intricacies, but not necessarily with the eyes that are inevitably cast upon.
Coriandre, for instance, which I have in vintage parfum (current formulations of the edt are said to be wan and uninteresting) strikes me as having quite a lot of similarities with the great 1000 by Patou, which I am still to review ( well in fact I have, somewhere, a maniacally detailed account of the pleasures of opening the original parfum in its beautiful, beautiful boxes and flacon, and then applying the scent, but I lost the papers that I wrote it on, something that has happened quite frequently, in fact) – but in any case both of these cultivatedly high class fragrances are focuses on roses, violet, and patchouli and a magnanimously complex plethora of flowers and herbs and spices that support and cradle their spirits and create something beguiling and understatedly masterful. Coriandre, of course, as its name would suggest, has a noticeable green aspect in the head notes featuring angelica and coriander, though not in any overly distracting way; more as a side point to accentuate the full-bodied (but slender) form of its more sensuous, woody, base notes that on the right person, and in the right circumstances, might really be quite tempting, erotic ……………..reclining, stretched out, in a room somewhere in your imagination, in the moonlight.
Belle De Rauch is a more obscure perfume than Coriandre (De Rauch being one of those perfume houses that was popular in its day but disappeared a very long time ago), a boxed and immaculate parfum that Duncan picked up for me one day from an antiques shop in the nearby town of Zushi. Rich, oiled, but a precursor of some of the other perfumes mentioned here, this immediately struck me as being really quite ahead of its time. While pretty and ladylike aldehydes were generally the order of the day in 1966, this curious and attractive perfume, in extrait, is intense, emboldened, witchy, in its herbed and spiced roses on a bed of thick, natural Mysore sandalwood essence. It has almost feral, yet simultaneously mannered intimations, of a fierce, intelligent, and marvellous woman, self-satisfied and perfectly put together, who will take no crap from anyone: neither her husband, nor her lover.
Parfum Rare, by Jacomo, or Coeur de Parfum, as it was also known in its original form of release from 1985 – the perfume was later tweaked a little and released in 1987 as Parfum Rare – is another hard to find perfume that all true lovers of deep, incense enriched roses simply need to have in their collections. In parfum, this little nugget of ancient Egyptian Cleopatras is so tightly constructed with all manner of spices and balsams and animalics, so dense with perfumed ingredients for its occultist, brooding femme fatale, that it is verging on gloomy and subterranean………sealed; doomed, even; as though you were an archaeologist stumbling upon the tombstone, and golden, glinting, cursed jewellery, of Queen Nefertiti.
Such perfumes – the witchy chypres – might seem outmoded to some people now, reaching out desperately for an overdone plenitude of intricately embellished and deepily embodied roses and dark ingredients that no longer feels du jour and instant and social media-ish and light; but this is, I think, the whole point: not every perfumed person wants to be a likeable goody goody two shoes smelling friendly, and accessible, and fabric softener trustworthy; more shampoo- fresh and wholesome than a nun or a bar of health food shop cranberry-filled granola. Some people wear their perfume more like an amulet or armour, for protection and carnal self-hypnosis………defences that can come down, certainly; but which remain, at the outset at the very least, like fortresses of rich, indefatigable glamour; of sex that you are probably never going to get; and of a bewitching interiority of dignity, aloofness, and enticement.
I love them.
Happy New Year dear friends, readers, fellow perfume nutcases.
Let’s have a good one. xxx