Peppered Tomato Leaves, a ‘scented mist’ from Perfumes Longmarch that comes in great big bottles of 250ml to be sprayed everywhere (‘on t-shirts, tulips, Tintin, tissue, trapezes and tomahawks…’ ) is a stern, pared down tomato; bitter green, brusque and ruddy kneed from being dragged – through the hedgerow backwards – by a lock-jawed, hardbodied sex fiend. In contrast to the tomate charmante we looked at the other day, the likeably extrovert but innocuous Vice Versa, this is a more attention-seeking, spiced matrix of green pungency.
After a beautifully fresh-leaved, anise-twisted opening of peppercorns, orange, cassis, and photorealistic tomato vines, the scent quickly loses tomato kudos and proceeds, nimbly, on a more rough and ragged Lady Chatterley path of outside sex. The musky, almost acrid, absinthe-green of Frederic Malle’s French Lover, immediately apparent and familiar, is here in the base of the scent: a deep, hardened ferret of no sweetness…
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To reacquaint myself with the authentic Indian Mysore sandalwood extract in order to write this piece just an hour or two ago I gave myself one tiny spray of vintage Guerlain Samsara parfum. Just a small dot or two on the top of my left hand, by far the most natural sandalwood-based perfume in my collection (the original formula contained a massive 20% pure essential oil when it debuted) and a smell that you just don’t really get to smell firsthand in perfumery anymore. Head to head with some eau de parfum on my right, at first the pure perfume seems verging on odourless – compact and demure, without all the hairspray fuss and glamour of the other concentrations, no throw. But this is a sandalwood perfume that really, really enjoys to takes its time: where the eau de parfum concentration is now a delicately balanced, if still very strong, blend of jasmine, iris and sandalwood, the parfum, on me, in its full, later stages, is just the latter. Sandalwood as I like it: creamy, dense, sun-filled, languourous – slow, like liquid gold.
The original Mysore sandalwood essential oil, extracted from trees that were overharvested to the virtual point of extinction and therefore placed under protection by the Indian government, is unlike any other perfume component, in its sheer richness and glint; its anchoring, full-bodied self-confidence, and its laconic, sexual grounding. And while this is not my favourite perfume heart or base note by any stretch – I much prefer vetiver, patchouli, even cedarwood – there is something very ‘splayed open’ and courtesanish, to me, about sandalwood (it doesn’t leave much to the imagination) – it is also very easy to imagine how the trees, the wood and its inimitable aroma could have played such an important role in South Asian culture across millennia, in the form of wooden carvings, temple structures, in euphorical aphrodisia, and as an essential and founding component of Oriental incense.
Although I am not a person who likes ‘woody’ perfumes in general – to me they can feel like being trapped in my own funeral casket, too moisture sucking and weighty, enclosing and solidifying rather than languid and free (like flowers, which are always opening and reaching out towards the light), there are, on occasion, days when I do find myself more in the mood for the more form-fitting strength of this kind of perfume, particularly in winter, when I might use a Bois De Santal body cream that Brie sent me (probably the best sandalwood I have ever smelled; so sweet and spiced and eternally lasting), layered with vintage Shiseido Feminité Du Bois parfum, a divinely beautiful perfume that to me smells as though there must be some natural sandalwood extract buried beneath all that beguiling Moroccan Atlas Cedar, the plum and the spices and niggling base notes of vanilla that linger in the most dignified and elegant manner on the skin for hours.
Other sandalwood perfumes I quite enjoy the smell of are the quite classicist Santal Noble by Maitre Parfumeur Et Gantier, Sandalo by Santa Maria Novella – which has an inspired note of thyme that cuts through the length of its duration – Narcisse Noir by Caron, which I ultimately consider a sandalwood perfume, and Serge Lutens’ collection of sandalwood perfumes, Santal Mysore, Bois De Santal and the last of his sandalwood creations, Santal Majuscule, with its calmly stupefying rose and cacao (although if I am absolutely honest I never entirely really believed in the quality of the sandalwood in that perfume; for me, the Australian or ‘East Indian sandalwood’ just never quite cuts the mustard; too thin and flat and unmysterious. Even if I do find true Mysore sandalwood to be a little too forceful and straight in its blatantly carnal message, I nevertheless still do feel that there is always, underneath, also something timeless and soulful about it that appeals to the heart muscle and soul).
When I was in my early twenties I got through several bottles of the exquisitely pleasing Sandalwood by Crabtree & Evelyn – my ultimate sandalwood and favourite of this genre for all time. If you could still buy this light, rosy, powdery, sunlit composition that was as dreamy and clean as a sunset on a beach then I most definitely would: in fact just writing about it here makes me crave the stuff quite badly – but they discontinued it a very long time ago. Does anyone reading this remember it as fondly as I do? I know I used to find that perfume so calming and soothing – soapy and talcy but also quite enveloping and sensuous… I think this is how I basically enjoy sandalwood best, in the desert-wind lightness of say, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s L’Eau du Navigateur, or else full on oriental and packed with exotica, like Lorenzo Villoresi’s Alamut, a 1001 Arabian-inspired sandalwood that is the holy grail perfume of a Japanese friend of mine and which she smells perfectly gorgeous in (she is also the person who I give all my boisé sample bottles I receive to: as a fan of as-woody-as-you-can-get perfumes like Diptyque’s very literal Asian wooden temple Tam Dao or Comme Des Garçons Kyoto as well as Ex Nihilo’s Bois d’Hiver (2015), a very woody sandalwoody/cypriol scent that she adored so much she brought herself a full bottle from Harrods that summer when the small sample bottle ran out); as the most fiercely independent person I have ever known, Junko smells brilliantly contained in this style of perfumery; a mode of fragrance I personally just can’t get with on my own skin, but which I like to experience closehand as long as I am on the other side of the table).
There is something about Javanol, the synthetic molecule now regularly used in contemporary cutting edge perfumery as a substitute (or, to be honest, now actually preferred by the majority of people to the original, natural, sandalwood oil), that is addictive, sexy and in your face. Many of the scents that Junko has in her collection – aside the aforementioned Alamut, which I do think smells best on her – do contain Javanol (or Polysantol, the creamier variant) and if I hadn’t already found immediate recipients for the two new Escentric Molecules perfume based entirely around this note that I am writing about now here and that I received in the post from a friend, I would most definitely have given them to her as well.
Javanol smells fashionable, current. Sexy, in an urban vacuum kind of way; endocrinic, a bit pheremonal; ‘woody’, but in no way connected to nature or the outdoors. There is a no-nonsense, ‘get to it’ aura around this odour molecule – which is extremely potent and which I am really very sensitive to (if I even imagine I can detect an even hint of the stuff in the base of a perfume, it is what the Americans refer to as a ‘deal breaker’ – this happened with Guerlain’s expensive Spiriteuse Double Vanille and Tonka Impériale, both of which I had full bottle of but became detached from when I realized there might be something there , just hiding in the very base tones, though in truth it could quite easily just been a tiny smidgen of my even greater bête noire, ambroxan).
What Javanol does have, though, to its credit, is a certain dryness; a ‘stripped’ quality, and a strange, oxygenated freshness that is a million miles from the sweaty, almost indecently kama sutraness of the original, and natural, odour material; a Tindr or Grindr social media network hook up down the back alley behind a club instead of an elaborately staged, contortionist’s nightmare on an ancient bed of bleeding roses leading to procreation and a dancing Bollywood finale. It is the smell of the present, of what the new sex smells like, the new genders, the sloughing off of labels and traditions, and Geza Schoen, the perfumer of the very popular Molecule line, does an interesting job here of dressing and disguising the essential element at the heart of both of these fragrances – the Javanol, here, there, always waiting to take pronouncement – and presenting two very contrasting perfumes that go very different routes until they reach similar, inevitable conclusions.
Molecule 04 is very simple and futuristic; airy, almost invisible, citrus-like, with the familiar, fat-free glimpse of ‘woodsy’ featured from beneath, like a lemon-pip trapped inside an ice cube. I immediately thought of my neighbour’s daughter Aiko, who is never averse to a gender-subverting scent or two, and sure enough, she took to it straight away. ‘Nice’, she said, as she surveyed the scent on her wrists. It smells clean, fresh, laundered but wordlessly flirtatious and aura-constructing; a masculine/feminine conglomeration that smells quite hip but understated. Intelligent, quite fashionista.
Escentric 04, a very different beast entirely, was snapped up upon smelling it, somewhat to my surprise, by my other half. He always loves the pepper notes, especially a rambunctiously bracing, nose-tingly top note of pink pepper (he is always shoving whole poivres roses into salads as well, so you crunch down on their dried, crunchy stimulation when you are expecting the smoothness of avocado), and this perfume has a very pleasing initial pepper profusion that grabbed him, when he sampled the bottle, right from the get go. The D also has an inclination for anything rhubarby; berry -like; non-banal fruity that isn’t too sweet, and the fruit-salad accord of this perfume (very, very far from the candy cane syrup of the ethymaltol ‘gourmands’; there is something quite stark and Teutonic about the way that the barbed fruit notes are handled) is a heftier, more fun-packed Javanol perfume that forms a fetching complement to the far more transparent and subtle Molecule: a big boost to the senses of hedione and floral notes (rose, osmanthus, orris) that smell as red and pink and indomitable as its packaging.
Boxy, uncluttered, and of the moment, later – quite a lot later, Escentric 04 dies down to the much more predictable, more instinctual basenotes of pure Javanol, musk, and Ambroxan. Just that smell. Potently. Essentially, therefore, what you put on, is not what you end up with here. D goes out for the evening: spruced, and sprayed happily all over with a new burst of hedgerow, colour-blocked charm. He comes home, hours later, and the whole room is quickly fit to bursting – obliviously on his part – completely, with the inglorious, but involuntarily riveting – and for me, quite conflictingly sexual – smell of pounding, synthetic woods on human flesh.
I was never an ‘outdoors man’ even if I have always been something of a nature boy. Yet it was still strange that as a young child I somehow ended up being a cub scout. I don’t remember how or why I would have been enrolled in such an unsuitable organisation, with its toggles and songs and uniforms and ‘manly pursuits’, but I do know that I detested every moment of it except for our time in the woods and the forests when we went camping, and were forced- sorry, encouraged – to make bivouacs out of ferns and bracken and branches and twigs; tents made purely from the forest’s provision that you could hide in, close yourself off and inhale; a smell I will never forget.
It is said that the ‘fougere’ is an imaginary accord, as ferns have no smell, but this is not true. If you crush these filigreed, ornate and primeval plants between your fingers there is in fact a most distinctive, fresh, ancient, milk sap that I have always loved, the very essence of woodland and a window to another world. While I may not appreciate the beauty of mountains and grand vistas and rocks and great valleys, I have always adored the sylvan; the magic of the forest clearing and the trickling, hidden stream.
Amouage’s inquisitive and eccentric, ‘neo-hippie’ perfume from 2016, ‘Bracken’, taps into this alternative, paisley green world of the great outdoors with a very original – if difficult – scent that was created to evoke memories, or at the very least, the stylings and ideals, of the flower power era: meadows of daisies, swaying pampas grasses, and love in the undergrowth – and I must say that I have never experienced anything else quite like it.
I will admit that our first impressions were poor. In fact Duncan recoiled in horror when he sprayed some on (he tried it first for me….”Oh my god…….it’s Toilet Duck!!!!”, and passing his hand over for me to peruse, before scrubbing it off at the sink, I will admit I did burst out laughing as he had nailed it completely in two simple words: suddenly, I had a flashback to the green toilet cleanser of my parent’s house when I was a boy; the urinous, central tang of chamomile and narcissus working with the citrus green, herbal notes of the top accord enough to provoke that remembrance exactly).
Trying the perfume again today, I see a more panoramic view. This is a very full, outspreading, complex, citric, green (fern accord) sharp, fruity (wild berries), floral (lily) and gently mossy composition that although quite odd, is also in another way quite beautifully harmonious. It definitely does have soul and spirit. Like Penelope Tree, the offbeat sixties model pictured here and the ‘alternative Twiggy’, it is the kind of scent that one in a hundred will fall for, but when they do, they will smell fantastic.
The evernew green of my childhood adventures – away from the tedious and moronic bondage of the cub scouts, I would spend my summer holidays playing in the woods all day long with my friends on our bikes, ‘our place’, where we made a secret cabin on an island in the middle of a bog where we could hide out from the adults; it was illegal to be there, we had cut our own hole in the wire fence of the private golf course the woods backed onto, but the heart pounding terror when someone was coming only added to the excitement and the sense of being trapped within a story; great lungfuls of searing fresh air, panting in mud and grasses, bluebells, great ferns….. none of that is really represented here (the closest I have ever come to a true ‘bracken’ like accord is perhaps English Fern by Penhaligons, a gentle, powdery scent from an entirely other era I find soothing and quite dreamy and evocative of the beautiful nature of England). But what is good about Bracken – such a risk-taking name for a perfume I think – is that for once I am smelling something bold and new, not that common these days in perfumery, whether it be niche, or otherwise, on every level from the concept and realization of the fragrance to the execution. An adventure.
A shocking thing happened to me last night. D and a friend of ours, Kevin, were in the dark watching the new TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s brilliant and timely The Handmaiden’s Tale – the first episode surpassing all my expectations (this is one of the best novels I have ever read by far: I could not breathe properly throughout – I have even referenced it explicitly before on here in relation to Byredo’s Tulipe and the subjugation of women in perfume), a date of release that feels somehow perfect and utterly relevant because what is depicted in the story – women being kidnapped, raped and forced to be the fertility concubines of their masters has already happened with the Nigerian women captured by Boko Haram and in many other places; brainwashed, enslaved; baby machines for blood-lusting thugs in the name of religion. With the Christofascist movement in the U.S also a major force in politics, affecting women’s ability to make their own reproductive choices, and backing the dystopian nightmare of Trump being in power – which still, six months on, feels utterly surreal (I can’t actually accept, still, that this dangerous monster is ‘the leader of the free world’, that his catastrophic policies, both in terms of international politics – pushing and provoking adversaries deliberately closer to war; destabilizing efforts to contain global by petulantly pulling out of the Paris climate accord, a man who genuinely seems to be mentally unstable and who has the true potential to wreak destruction not only on his own beleaguered nation but the rest of the world as well); The Handmaiden’s tale just feels so apposite and so quietly condemning of those that fall under the tyrannical spell of organized ‘religion’, no matter what the origins of that religion might actually be; so very far from any of the realities of their central tenets; how the words are twisted and perverted; how ‘Christians’ can be so full of hatred for their fellow man, so lacking in compassion; how ‘Muslims’ can blow themselves up at concerts full of children, or plunge knives into human beings just out and enjoying themselves at Borough Market and London Bridge. While my optimism for humanity ultimately remains undimmed – the reactions and caring shown by people the world over for their fellow human beings is always cheering and wonderful to behold; the fact that the fury against Trump’s deliberately oblivious environmental attack and denial has already resulted in waves of new regulations across US states vowing to adhere to, and even go beyond, the limits set by the Paris accords, shows that the human spirit is very, very strong indeed and refuses to be held hostage by evil and violence, the concert held by Ariana Grande and others in Manchester last night, One Love, being further proof of this, I don’t believe that the world is doomed to disaster. But what is occurring right now certainly is extremely unsettling and desperate. These truly feel like volatile, violent and angry times.
We can say what we want and add to the dialogue, but what can I, personally, do about any of it? I am trapped inside my home. It feels as if the world is marching into madness somewhere on the other side of the rainbow. In one sense, it all has absolutely nothing to do with me.I spend the vast majority of the day on the bed in the kitchen, only hobbling outside, just about, to sit on the chair and read about all of these atrocities and maniacs, powerless to do a single little thing about it (I can’t even vote: neither in my country of origin or the one that I live in: I am truly the dreamy disenfranchised). I am frustrated by my lack of progress, and by not knowing whether it even is a lack of progress. Once you have left the hospital, there is no further contact to ask for advice, there is no physiotherapy. I am not supposed to ring up my former rehabilitation ward (I tried once, and it didn’t go down well; they have other osteotomy patients to deal with now, it’s neverending, they don’t have time). I understand that, but I also feel abandoned in some way, unsure of how to proceed; is the exercise bike I have bought and started using the right thing to be doing? It feels good, but am I overdoing it? Should I be trying to walk outside around the neighbourhood, eleven weeks after the operation? Or should I be resting? Won’t inactivity, though, just lead to the atrophying of my legs? What, exactly, am I supposed to be doing? Several of my kind Japanese neighbours have offered to take me for a walk when Duncan isn’t here, and have done so; I have managed to walk the block, very tentatively, with my cane, about five times now, very nervous about falling over, or tripping, and sometimes it really hurts and I have to grip the wall of someone’s garden before I recommence…….It feels great to be actually doing it, though, to be walking again outside, because I sometimes getquite claustrophobic, always being stuck in one particular room; I feel confined (the neighbour across from us has offered to just take me out in the car twice a week just so I can get a change of scenery, particularly as where I live now is just so beautiful. Perhaps I am doing better than I think. There are plenty of people out there worse off than me, I know: limbs blown off in callous explosions, bodies ripped into with cruel knives by crazed, masked marauders. But still. I am here and they are there….
I really do feel that I want to MOVE. Go out, go to the city. Not just malinger, here, inside. I have done these walks, or finally actually sweated from doing some real exercise on the bike while blasting out music (the endorphins! the clarity of thought and positivity that comes from doing heartbeating exercise, I love it), but then I often find that later on I am as stiff as a board, that my legs contract and won’t move; they ache, they sometimes throb, they buckle under me, and I have no way of knowing if any of it is actually ok (my next appointment at the hospital is June 15th, which will mark about the three month mark since the operations. I will find out then when I am xrayed and examined by the surgeon, and it will be my first exploration of the outside world for an extremely long time. I am nervous, but also strangely excited…)
And Japan, though it is also heading in a very disturbing right wing direction like many other countries – the government under Shinzo Abe seems to be veering defiantly into an increasingly World War II Imperialist agenda- is at least relatively safe. No guns. No terrorists (so far, in any case – we’ll see about the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games). There are large numbers of crazy people lost in their own worlds, yes, and the occasional very psychotic one, but Japan does have the lowest murder rate in the world among the developed nations, you never worry, there is none of that tension and slight, suppressed apprehension of other countries where you have to be aware, and look over your shoulder, and I look forward to just gliding within its super-efficient gleam, and flow.
A person can be engaged with the world, yet still powerless. Interested in it, but divorced. Extricated. Alone. Right now I find myself in a vastly diminished universe that much of the time only revolves around my space, myself, my legs. And the recuperation. The concentrated effort to get stronger and be able to walk again. I immerse myself in documentaries, cinema, reading, writing, music, in sitting outside in the green of the June leaves and the beautiful sunshine. I occasionally have visitors, though contact is far less than I was having when I was a hospital patient. Last night, as I said, Kevin, an American friend of ours, came down to our house from Tokyo to visit me, and we had dinner, and talked, and they danced around the kitchen a little bit (I did so on the bed), and we then settled on The Handmaid’s Tale. I think it is great. Remarkably well done. In fact, I was very leery of seeing it at first, despite many of my friends’ recommendations, because I worry about my mental image of the book being destroyed. Instead, what the makers of the series of done is miraculously preserve the central emotional feeling of the novel, but rather than try to capture the inwardness and singular viewpoint of the central character, June/Offred – the creators have made a convincingly paranomic, widescope version of a story that needs to be told; a world where individuals, and women particularly, are stripped of all power and reduced to second-class citizens, as they are in much of the world in reality: merely housemaids, slaves, and reproductive robots.
I sit, or lounge, on the bed, a rented bed for people in my position, my walking stick hung on a nail on the wall. It is imperative that I don’t fall over. This is crucial. I am not to fall over. I was continually lectured on that point when leaving the hospital. Korobanai yoni; korobanai yoni, don’t fall over, don’t fall over (as if I would try to), emphasised over and over again that I mustn’t fall down and hurt my healing bones which are still in the process of knitting themselves together and vulnerable to breakage or shock; it is this that makes walking anywhere so terrifying and why I must always have somebody with me as I simply can’t risk doing it alone when there is nobody to fall onto or grasp. In the house I am very careful. Yet, sometimes, no matter how much care you take, things really are beyond your control.
I was sat on the bed. So was Duncan. Kevin was on a chair. We had projected The Handmaiden’s Tale onto the wall. Huge. It was a tense, dramatic moment. The music had crescendoed to something sinister and threatening. Our nerves were on edge like taut strings, waiting to see what the sex-prisoner Offred was going to do in a particular, oppressed, situation, breath bated, when suddenly –
‘Oh, Mori’ says Kevin as our cat suddenly ran and lunged into the air from nowhere, released something trapped in her mouth and we were besieged by the beating of wings; flapping, aggressively, throbbing – something, a bird, flittering in the projector light; a hideous, overwhelming fluttering and darting that was petrifying and in that instant, before I knew it, as we all shouted and lurched into reaction and confusion, I found that I had unconsciously, on pure primitive horror and instinct, tried to run from the bed – launched myself towards the floor to escape and my legs had given way and I hit the floor in a contorted position as we realized it wasn’t a bird but a giant moth, vibrating at hideous speed, whirring in the magnifying light, and I was conscious of the fact that oh my god I have fallen, no; no, no no this can’t have happened – kill it, kill it, just kill it! flying around the room dive bombing and me on the floor….I don’t know why it was so foul and unbearable – I don’t usually even hate moths that much – but I was cowering behind Kevin grabbing some clothes on the floor to protect my face and imploring Duncan to get rid of it. Usually we are not the kill the insect type – they have the right to live just as much as we do, and he tried desperately to trap it beneath a mug on the floor as it zigzagged through the air but he was worried about what else might happen to me as I was stuck in the corner on the floor in that twisted position……..there is a rock from the garden we use as a door stopper, and making a swift decision he finally crushed it to death on the floor.
It had happened, though. We had all been drinking red wine. Relaxing. Was this to blame? I don’t think so. We weren’t drunk. I swore, semi-seriously, in my Seventeen Things I Have Realized In Hospital piece that I wouldn’t drink for the foreseeable future as it could endanger my legs too much in case of falling, but in fact, the sheer monotony of always being inside necessitates a change of mental feeling from time to time so at weekends we have indulged a bit (red wine, and you can check for yourself, is actually recommended by the Arthritis foundation for knee pain). When I have had some, I stay on the bed, and am escorted by Duncan, so I wasn’t endangering myself- in fact, it is possible that the relaxed state I was in made my fall softer and protected me. In a totally unalcolized state I might have jumped and fallen even further actually. Everything had flashed by so quickly that I wasn’t even entirely sure what had happened, whether I had actually stood up and my legs had collapsed under me or whether I had somehow just launched myself, flown, if you like, from the bed and somehow landed in the position that I did, which is what Kevin thought happened. Three screaming gay men and a moth: it just seems so pathetic, doesn’t it? I am not even particularly afraid of insects, or birds, but there is just something so primeval and in the human DNA I think about flapping wings near your face – the projector had also made the creature loom much larger, intensifying the experience – we all assumed it was a bat, or a bird – as did the fact that this had happened just at the moment of extreme tension in the drama. We were startled out of our skins and just flew. Fused together it led to this mayhem in the kitchen which we could laugh about later on again in the evening before he went back on the train up to Tokyo, but which actually took me quite a long time to calm down from : my heart was beating quite rapidly not from the moth horror but from the danger it had put my recovery in…..I read somewhere something once about how many people die a year because of their cats than any kind of shootings or terrorist attacks.. (a few years ago at work, something similar happened. I was in the middle of doing a teachers’ English conversation class one morning when I went to the school’s miniscule kitchen, about the size of a large closet, to get a drop of water and wash my hands. Suddenly, and it always seems to happen in these occasions that you simply can’t register what is happening at first – something monstrous; great wings flapping about my head and bouncing and bounding against the window and door and claws…..I was flailing my arms around hysterically shouting (the classroom was at the other end of the school and the teachers had no idea what was taking me so long). A pigeon had somehow got in through the tiny window at the top and I was having a genuine Tippi Hedren moment – Alfred Hitchcock tricking the actress, when making The Birds – incidentally Duncan’s favourite film of all time – into thinking that when she entered the room where one of the pivotal scenes of the drama was to take place, fake birds would be thrown at her by the production crew, when in fact he unleashed real seagulls that thrashed against her face with their wings….she was hospitalized for a week from the shock of it, the trauma; and I can tell you, that even having just one big bird, panicked itself, trying desperately to get out, in hyper reactive survival mode, so close, and both of you trapped in that tiny space, was quite horrific……I eventually managed to get out of there and slam the door shut and went back to the classroom where I couldnt’ speak for a while, and the teachers seemed perturbed at my change of demeanour. When I finally could tell them, we all went down the corridor together, and with various tactics, including broom and mop handles, they managed to guide the poor creature back outside into the air).
Are my legs injured? Has something happened internally? I hope to hell not. Initially I just lay on the floor and they asked me if I had any new or severe pain, and I didn’t. I felt some extra discomfort, perhaps from the way I had landed, but nothing too severe, and they lifted me up onto a chair and then onto the bed where I sat for a while dumbfounded and worried, but slept a long sleep and here I am now, writing this. I think I landed ok and wasn’t hurt. What a shock though.
Today, actually, I find myself clear-headed and happy. Perhaps last night’s real life horror moment was strangely cathartic in some way. I am outside: the birds are singing, the sun is out, I am back to that happily cocooned solitude feeling, happy to write and just bask in the quiet, covered in scent, allaying my senses. I wrote earlier about my immersion in music and the visual to embellish my reality, to make it less stifling and one-dimensional, but I do think that in fact, perfume has an even greater role in many ways, I love it, and I want to ask you: do you ever find your perfume obsession to be trivial in the face of our greater realities? When the world is the way that it is? Are we right to indulge ourselves so much in this way, to be paying so much inward attention to the sense of smell or, as I instinctively feel myself, is this more of a necessity, a vital part of life and happiness for the person for whom this sense is at least as important as the others and which gives so much sensual, cerebral, and physical pleasure? Do the jihadis of the Islamic State deprive themselves of perfume, as they do music, as a frivolous distraction from their god, even though the Islamic, Arab tradition is the finest, most intense and beautiful perfumed culture of all? Do the fundamentalist Christians, like Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, strip themselves of all frippery and wash their Christ-stricken skin only in pure water, as she does, as she prepares to be sacrificed and fertilized, and cleanses herself in a bath of the unscented ‘purity’ to ready herself for insemination? Is this love of the sheer overwhelming beauty of perfume and smell, in their eyes, a ‘sin’? Or is it a gift: yet another beautiful part of this world of sensorial pleasures that I just can’t get enough of while I am here, even when incapacitated and stuck, for the majority of the time, in one room ?
More dextrous and mobile than before, I can get myself in and out of the shower now. When I have sweated on the exercise bike, how I love to just get in there and soap down – right now the dregs of an old Chanel No 19 soap that has lost much of its greenery but still has a beautifully vetiver lactonic edge to it that is the perfect later skin setting for high quality perfumes, especially Guerlain. Shalimar, Vetiver, Ylang Vanille, Terracotta, all together, but in different places, smelling just prickly with powdered luxuriantness and threedimensional splendour; they smell just glorious on me, I feel like living art. I just sit here alone and radiate. I resonate. And Duncan will come home and say wow, you smell amazing, and I do. Is this shallow, and frivolous? Perhaps it is. I don’t know. But it enhances my spirit, it velvet-cushions my well-being, it is a boon. I love it. It is essential. Out there might be madness and chaos, but in here, where I am trapped, I can at least embroider the air around me and my own skin with the spirit of these inspired elixirs that keep me anchored in a world that still believes in beauty.
Although I am at home alone for most of the day, when D comes back at night he quite often brings me presents. The other day he had gone to Ofuna to a recycle shop called Julien that we sometimes frequent and brought me a perfume I had never even heard of, Ingenue by Kanebo, a scent that must have been from the seventies or eighties but which I can find out no information about but which is fantastic : the Duncan is a truly scent-literate person who knows what smells good and what doesn’t, which means when he comes across things on his thrift shop after work rummages he can come back with not only treasures he knows I will want, but also ones I didn’t even know I wanted until he presented them to me. Ingenue, an exquisitely green, Bulgarian rose chypre in the manner of Armani Pour Femme (1981), it is almost a copy, but with finer ingredients, including a beauteous green seventies top accord – cassis, hyacinth? – sheening with marigold that reminds me of the original Cardin de Cardin and the first perfume by Ralph Lauren, and is possibly the best perfume of this type that I have ever encountered. Not that you will, but if you do, and you love this type of scent, promise me that you will buy it; the powdered rose of the base blooms delicately in the amber of the perfume’s later stages, and I just know that this is something that I will adore to wear out on special occasions when that intricate, baroque rose type of perfume is truly called for. It happens quite a lot to me in winter Check it out on ebay if you can- I guarantee 100% that you won’t be disappointed. Sometimes the Japanese really do imitate things and improve on them, and this is a perfect example.
Friday, though. My god, Friday was a shockingly fantastic windfall of vintage perfume. And I want to share it with you. A couple of days before, as I lay on The Bed with my nose glued to my left arm inhaling the wonders of Ingenue, I lazily asked him as he was going upstairs, ‘so was there anything else there at Julien the other day when you went?’, and he said, ‘no, not really, just the usual crap, Salvatore Ferragamo etc, and some Chant D’Arômes’ …….’some WHAAATTT ? ? ? !I exclaim leaping up into the sitting position, ‘Chant D’AROMES?? ? ? ? ? ?oh my god was it vintage what was the bottle like what the box like was it the gold and black box was it the pink textured packaging of the vintage was it parfum or eau de toilette how much was it when can you go back and get it why didn’t you consider buying it and calling me’ and he said that he couldnt’ remember, but that he would go back and take a look for me some other day this week and send me a picture…..’when, when’ I don’t want anyone else to have it…!
You can see my review for Chant D’Arômes if you just search for it. But trust it to say, I love this delicate and distinctive perfume, one of the far lesser known of the Guerlain classics and would love to have some more, as long as it is not the same version as the one I had after knowing the vintage perfume; a re-issue in Japan that was given free to people who spent enough money at their cosmetics counter, but which had a nasty synthetic smell running through its entire composition and which I wasn’t interested in because I have no time for eviscerated, skeletonized, bullshit.
Friday came. He has been out and about these last few weeks on occasion after work, up in Tokyo ( I sometimes spend morning until night entirely alone), but a man can’t be at home playing carer and shopper the entire time, and he has discovered some fantastic new performance spots and odd, Lynchian dives that we will have to go to as soon as I am better. On this particular occasion he was taking some new friends that he had met recently at the screening of his film, to a place where Tokyo’s diva of rope-tying, kinbaku, the Japanese art of bondage, was holding court. He just about had time, between leaving work and coming home to change to go and check on the Chant d’Arômes before heading out to the silkier universe of Tokyo’s ‘scandalous’, hidden demi-monde.
The picture on the iPhone came. And it looked just like the bottle I had and not liked, as well as being quite expensive for a recycle shop – 6800 yen (about 47 pounds or fifty something dollars), 100ml. I knew I didn’t need another bottle of the cruddy remake but at the same time something about the lettering on the box suggested that this was an older model, still a remake but a decent one, and although I said don’t buy it, a few seconds later I said no I need it, please get it, and thankfully it turned out I was right. YES. This Chant D’Arômes is much closer in spirit to the parfum I tragically spilled – one of my very worst perfume catastrophes and something I don’t want to really dwell on -the gentle, sunny mosses intact, the fruity pear- apple dappling orchard mellowness downing peachily to the beautiful honeysuckle and mirabelles……..DELIGHTFUL, and as I lay there, with the aforementioned ratio of Guerlains already lilting gently, lustfully into their later stages, I found some skin space for the Chant and it blended in perfectly, the warm chypric tenderness of its introverted optimism sidling up perfectly next to some base notes traces of vintage Shalimar eau de toilette. Oh, and he also bought me another, much bigger, bottle of Kanebo Ingenue just for good measure. I might never see it again, it was there, and now I have a stash….
I was happy. Who wouldn’t be. I did of course wish that I could have been out finding out all these new intriguing corners of Tokyo, but I was at home contentedly watching some Netflix drama or other, when suddenly the familiar ringtone of Facetime came on, Duncan saying, ‘I got to Ebisu quite early and… guess what…….THE SHOP is open again!’
Now THE SHOP, is, for perfumistas who have an appreciation of the superiority of classic vintage perfumes, an absolute treasure trove and Aladdin’s Cave of perfume that makes your eyeballs pop out, your throat stop in terror and bewilderment and engender semi-cardiac arrest (if we were all there together, you readers and I, as the cardboard boxes are wearily opened by the strange man that owns the place and NEVER OPENS IT, EVER, there would be shirts ripped off, hair, and wigs, flying, as we tore at each other and grabbed and clawed at this or that vintage Calèche or No 5 selling for the equivalent of a chocolate bar….this is, after all, the place where I found Nombre Noir for next to nothing and all manners of things that are crazily underpriced, sometimes over; it is all a very haphazard arrangement; you grab what you can, as he always says ‘we are closing now’ and looks at you suspiciously, god knows why, and you take it to the counter wondering how much he is going to charge you on this occasion; if the perfumes are current ones, say a Gucci, or something that seems ‘fashionable’ he will charge much more, but I have had beloved vintage parfums of, say, Caron Infini, or No 19 for ten dollars apiece, an old Givenchy Gentleman for virtually nothing – he sometimes seems to just toss things in for free, but as I said, he is NEVER BLOODY OPEN. I have gone there on my days off and it has been shut; I have gone there on the way to engagements in other places in Tokyo hoping he would be open, I have tried several times recently and it was always, always, always shut, so I have given up, essentially. And yet here is Duncan, as I am already losing myself in the pleasures of the perfumes I have received just an hour and a half before, telling me, completely unexpectedly, that it is open. And there is the camera, blurred and swishing from side to side as he surveys the shelves and I say hold on, slow down, what is that, focus in, please get this, can you get that, can you ask him if he has any unopened boxes (where the hell does this loot come from, I wonder, for it to just be loaded into receptacles as though it were trash: who is giving away this stuff, why doesn’t he pay more attention to it? Answer: probably because his main line of business, like most recycle shops in Tokyo, is second hand Louis Vuitton handbags and other designer crap that people are still obsessed with here after all these years and the perfume is just a touch of flotsam in the corner….)
BUT NOT FOR ME.
‘The man’ was in a characteristically even worse mood than ever: apparently, he ‘was closing’, there was a very limited window of opportunity, and he also charged more than he might have usually. 7200 yen. In total. Still, only just over fifty quid, or around 60 dollars, and it was pay day, after all (I am supposed to be trying to be very careful with money seeing as I am not getting paid from now until the end of September you see and have to eke out my money to some extent), but when this place is open, trust me, you just have to.
Slung unceremoniously into a big plastic grocery bag, much later in the evening, around 1am, when he finally got home from some very hilarious shindigs, at a bar in Roppongi, were these, handed out to me like Santa around the Christmas tree, serenaded on The Bed with yet more perfumed treasures:
: Two big 100ml bottles of vintage unopened Lancome Sikkim eau de toilette: a very stylish, delicate and suave green leather chypre that the D took to immediately and which we will definitely enjoy (any comments and further info on this perfume, please do, if there are any Sikkim lovers out there)
: a classic Patou Joy parfum in the black bottle and red cap (it was unopened, but I have a thing where I just can’t resist twisting the hymen of the wax that seals the mouth lid and discovering the true identity of the contents). I am wearing this today. Although the initial smell was like mothballs, the classic rose jasmine of the vintage original, once the perfume was released from its endless imprisonment, is entirely intact. Persolaise, when you and Linda come over to stay in July, I will give you this as I know how much you love it.
: a Courrèges Empreinte pristine parfum. I have reviewed this one before, but it is a curious, peach-leather chypre from the seventies that I find inestimably chic and aloof. I had used up much of my previous bottle so I am very pleased to have it again. Once in a blue moon, in a particular, offbeat mood, only Empreinte will do.
: a beautiful original Nina by Nina Ricci eau de toilette, a perfume I love and which I often keep by the bed as a night scent as I consider it to be one of the best green floral aldehydics of the eighties and a scent that really soothes my spirits- there is something forever pure and happy about this scent, and this was in perfect olfactory condition in the gorgeous original Lalique (is it?) crystal flacon
: a vintage sixties or seventies eau de cologne by Shiseido – More, that I had never properly known before and which is completely and unexpectedly BEAUTIFUL. What initially might just seem like a typical ‘old lady’ Chanel No 5 rip-off – very, very powdery; very, very aldehydic turns out to be extremely cultivated, almost peerless; both fresher and more lively in the top with a gorgeously uplifting fruit note that lasts into the drydown, which in itself is more delicate than a meringue with a note of vanilla that keeps it from the usual musky boredom that I easily tire of. D might find this one unacceptable on me, and I can see why – I probably just smell like an octogenarian transvestite ballerina in it, but there is something in this scent, some real sense of soul, real intelligence and emotion, that I can imagine having a day here just by myself, the doors bolted and locked, and post shower, just dousing myself in the stuff and spending the rest of the day just floating on the tulles of a cloud, happy as Larry, cut off from the horrors of the world like a cut in cotton wool.
: a full bottle of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s parfum d’ambiance,Mimosa Marin, which is the interior equivalent of the original Mimosa Pour Moi, whose reformulated bottle I have never been happy with ( I used to love the original). This is perfect, and has the drifty baby chick pollen of the first formulation from the nineties – I adore the scent of mimosa – with a slightly oceanic note (but not really….it is delightfully aerated though) and this was the first thing I was saying yes that, definitely, definitely, get the mimosa, get the mimosa, in those closing moments in the shop when the D was desperately trying to hoover everything up into his arms and reach the cashier. I am also wearing it today, and it smells pleasingly airy and light.
Oh yes, a vintage bottle of Diane Von Furstenburg’s Tatiana, a lovely green, beachy white floral in the manner of Alfred Sung’s Sung and Rochas’ Lumière, a seventies/eighties style that I still really admire; all hyacinths and galbanum and gardenia, gorgeous, even if I don’t think I can really get away with it; still, sprayed on a t-shirt on a summer’s day it could be really rather enjoyable, as could something, another perfume that D grabbed for the sake of it called Rêve Voilé by Avon, which smells incredibly good for such a cheap perfume house, beachy and made for Californian sunsets as well.
Oh yes, some Fendi by Fendi, that glorious spiced Italianate classic, which I like on a winter’s day when I am in that more ferocious and uppity state of mind and last, but certainly not least, a very exciting,vintage parfum bottle of
SHOCKING by Elsa Schiaparelli, darling of the surrealists, friend of Dali, and author, or at least originator, of the iconoclastically titled Shocking. Although the top notes have long gone in this bottle, a full 7ml vintage extrait, the body and soul of the perfume remains (unlike a miniature parfum I also once had that had resorted to nothing but mushrooms). This juice, in this bottle, does smell equally fusty, musty and old, but also undeniably erotic. It is still so dark, rich and potent. I don’t know what this says about me, but there is something about say, the unapologetically carnal trio of Dana’s Tabu, Lavin’s My Sin, and Schiaparelli’s Shocking that is just so almost damningly femme fatale and filthy that I feel slightly endangered in some way, as if they are breathing down my neck and coming in for the kill; thrilled, at the thought of long and beautiful fur coats tinged with these perfumes, filled with their nitromusks and civet and the furry anthers of moths and satin underdresses and the newfound freedom of these times when some women said no to dainty white flowers and bathed themselves in the thick, oilpaint tinctures of opulent, dense, unguent-ridden spiced perfumes with balls. I have only just found out, while looking up information about Shocking, that the legendary perfumer Jean Carles, was also the author of Tabu, but that definitely does make sense. Both perfumes have similarities, in the same way that Cabochard, Aromatics Elixir and Aramis do. The perfumer’s signature style underlining them all. In these perfumes’ case, a thick lasciviousness. I do find Tabu unbearable, I will admit. I also, contradictorily,think it is brilliant, with its marron glacés, plum pudding relativity to Caron’s Nuit De Noël – just tripled in strength, and depth, and laden with animalics and a truly fantastic Mysore sandalwood – once, after we had found a bottle of vintage Tabu down the Isezakicho shopping mall, I got Duncan to wear a bit for me as a dare, because it was so utterly out of character and wrong for his self image, and although he did, as expected, absolutely hate it, he loathed it, and couldn’t wait to get it off, the trail of tawdry but beautiful sandalwood that he was giving off behind him as he walked in front of me down the street was so good that I wished I could trick him into wearing again – not that that is ever going to happen. Tabu is so thick and buttery and suggestive to the point of obscenity- it really is the quintessential hooker scent – which I have no objections to whatsover except for the fact that it is so creamily blocked together I find it ashyxiating both physically and mentally, I can’t stand it, really, even though I kind of love it, and it is hard to imagine many people being able to get away with wearing it convincingly now (but if you do beg to differ on this point, please tell me). The Schiaparelli, however, the earlier template, is less filled-in, and less lipidly seamless and splayed out stark naked, there,on the bed. This number is still her in her black, made to measure negligee. Musky, full of patchouli, amber, white honey, sandalwood, civet; a lick of tarragon to twist up the floral absolutes, this is a perfume full of nightime, cigarettes and seduction. You can imagine a woman, beautiful in her way, lying on her bed before going out, touching her inner thighs and intimate places with the stopper from the bottle, laughing to herself at the thought of what might be to come later, the somewhat androgynous but unequivocal sex of it all. A woman in control of herself, between the wars, in that decadent stage just before the fascists took over for a second time, when the balance of decadence and good time debauchery shifted once again, as it is now, towards damning conservatism; the negation of woman as free, public entity; and murderous intolerance.
Still, there she is, right now, in her room, by herself, bathed and tipsy from a glass or two of champagne, negligently applying her perfume to her person, and this woman is perhaps unaware of any of this, of what is about to happen, or whatever as happened before. She is quite simply enjoying her mood, deciding on what she wants to wear, no matter how risqué, quite simply, just because she wants to. Applying her perfume to her own skin, because she desires to: and she loves how the perfume envelopes her, her louche but cleverly constructed and marketed perfume, a liberating dose of accomplice.
She goes out, unattended, unchaperoned; confident in her own body, emanating confidence and sensuality, the traces of stealthy, animal perfume rising up from her occasionally in heavy breathing wisps of anticipation. A woman in control of her own destiny, far from the clutches of the zealots who wish to quell her and bring her to heel to fit their own unreligious, brainwashed and brainwashing dictats. A woman with autonomy and agency, master and mistress of her own body.
Goodness, what a shocking thought.
The release of Guerlain’s Samsara in I989 will forever be one of those utterly unforgettable perfume experiences. I remember it vividly. We had never smelled anything like it before. Nobody had. A perfume that rich; robust; strong, and eighties: its faux-oriental red canister, its ‘spiritual’ longeurs of thick, never ending sandalwood and jasmine, its shoulder-loving base tones that ate the air. This was a perfume that achieved a feat I have never quite come across since, almost a Marvel Comics-like power: the perfume, once sprayed, or even dabbed, to literally appear in the room, full-bodied and busted, dripping with lusciousness and redness, long before you ever did. You would have just emerged from your bedroom; about to come down the stairs, but before you had even put one foot forward your perfume (god what a perfume) would already be waiting for you impatiently, corporeal, present, at the front door. The…
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