Monthly Archives: July 2017







I was strangely restrained on Saturday. Partly this is because I have to be – I have not been paid since the end of May, and won’t be til the end of September – but also because after all the years of tidal vintage, I am perhaps inured to the sight of a Miss Dior extrait, a Madame Rochas, a Nina Ricci Farouche, because I EXPECT to find these twilight treasures just tossed in the bargain bins now: a Joy here, a Diorissimo there; old No 5 and Guerlain Mitsouko, half-drained; unboxed, unloved, history; and as long as I have a pristine, or as close to pristine as is possible example of those particular perfumes in my collection for reference purposes, for reasons of economics and just plain common sense, now I largely leave them.

The recycle shops of Tokyo don’t discriminate by quality. The cheapest imitation scents will be unceremoniously jumbled up alongside along the finest, and yet for me this is part of the pleasure: it’s all in the breath-bating excitement of the potential; the rare but possible holy grail. In Asagaya, however, site of the first shop that we went to, the best selections had already been skimmed by my friend Zubeyde, who lives there and who came to our house last week with some UNBELIEVABLE finds, some of which she gave me ( in return, I presented her with bottles of Jacomo Parfum Rare and Lancôme’s vintage Sikkim – which she did like very much but which unfortunately means ‘fuck you!’ in Turkish), and one which is on loan to me for the summer, just so I can LOOK at it, ogle its Parisian grandeur, but I will perhaps leave these more boudoiresque beauties for another post ( I am quite slow at the moment- this post is already a week overdue and out of date)………suffice it to say that even in the gradually dwindling sea of Tokyo thrift shop vintage, miracles still do happen.


I plan to do a full and comprehensive Tokyo Guide To Perfume soon. In fact I wanted to get it written before Persolaise ( that suave and urbane writer of the perfect perfume prose) and his wife, the legendary Madame Persolaise, come to stay at our house tomorrow and Thursday night so that they could use it for practical purposes while traversing the city, but I need to be fully mobile and of rational, detailed mind in order to do so, to research all the metropolis’ most newly unveiled ( and utterly superfluous, frivolous) retail spaces in the city such as Ginza, Shinjuku, and Harajuku, to do it proper justice. Any valid fragrant guide to Tokyo will need to include everything from ‘fine fragrance’ and the most venerable incense establishments through to the downtown scuzzy emporia that D and I adore to frequent ( I think it is the ‘one-offness of these places that so appeals; the element of chance, the singularity of the experience over the ruthlessly mathematicized and super-elevated profit margins of the concept-inflated baloney of the niche counter); the more down-to-earth jumble bins aimed at the more modestly earning shopper, the friendliness. One is Tifana:chain of recycle shops situated along the shabbier, more human stations of the Chuo Line, and a part of Tokyo that we have truly come to love and become a part of ( it is here that we do our cabaret): rambling railtracks and antiquated, ‘shotengai’ shopping streets, invaluable, warm, because they still have the individual, generational charm of hardworking establishments run by families and not just trending, soulless conglomerations. Buying a brand new niche perfume in Shinjuku’s Isetan ( something that I find I am doing less and less these days, I just can’t really afford it )is very exciting, but finding an endangered, beauteous  classic at a twentieth of the price among the bargain priced detritus is surely even more so.


Saturday I was feeling more frugal. Look, but do not touch. There is a certain pleasure to be had in that more sensible, level-headed approach for once – the joy of saying no. A new place we found in a neighbourhood I had not explored before yielded two places, another Tifana and also a more antiques-like place in Nishi Okubo ( I think), more chichi with vintage clothes and overpriced ornaments and some fifties Chanel colognes (just the fonts on the boxes could be enough for me); some Givenchy, and a beautiful Blue Grass vintage bottle that I liked but didn’t buy, even though it was only the equivalent of about ten dollars (that decision I am slightly, mildly, regretting now.) Likewise I was intrigued by Cuio Vero, a soft and balsamic, powdered but modern leather by Dr Vranjes di Firenze, whose interior perfumes I love as I tend to any profumeria Italiana for their escapist, artisanal but simple goodness, but this was in fact a ‘car perfume’, I don’t really wear leathers much, nor drive for that matter, and it was a bit expensive to just spray around the house on my curtains, even just to try and attempt to impress a well known perfume writer. Uncharacteristically, I desisted.



It was nice to see some hard to find perfumes by Molyneux:, both Quartz and Fete, a Dior Dune parfum; but again I resisted temptation and eventually just ended up taking two bottles of perfume home with me :  Hermes Eau D’Orange Verte and something I have never found here before, vintage Jill Sander Woman 3.


Eau D’Orange Verte, a scent that is just perfect for this hot weather, and a scent I can spray on with abandon, is interesting for me in that it is an introverted shade of orange; cool, subdued, even verging on depressive, which is unusual for a note that we more usually associate with energy, happiness, and uplift.  Like Caron’s Alpona, these are the orange groves at night, umbrous, more mysterious, when the sun has long gone down and the night shadows brush the branches; the oiled, contained, petitgrained leaves. If I find it in some ways incomplete, this scent, unfinished ( it is not something I could ever give my whole heart to), the subtlety and yin of this refined and semi-cerebral citrus to the usually yellower, solar yang are, I think, precisely what appeal to me about it. This was a good buy.



Woman III, a complex, but gentle spiced floral chypre from 1985, is a uniquely soothing, and not much discussed, rose patchouli composition with a long list of ingredients including bay leaf and coriander that to me comes across as the most perfectly realized pot pourri, delicately tingeing the porcelain still air of an English summer cottage; mellow, loving, tranquil.  Pinpointing the feeling more exactly, it is a  particular holiday we once had down in Looe, Cornwall, as a child, where I remember the intensity of the gentleness of the bedspreads and pillows of our quaint little rented holiday house (I was always so deeply receptive to, and filled with, new environments as a child; their unfamiliarity would completely thrill me, particularly the smell; like the dark, cold, interior of an urn I would take up temporary residence in its still, fragrant new world of harbouring quietness as though I no longer existed, but in a good way); just sink into the cold white sheets and new covers of my bed, sleep like an angel, and this perfume, though deceptively dressy and ‘put together’ at first, has this precise quality for me; its heart notes and base like a freshly laundered eiderdown of tender, Wedgewood reassurance.













(Duncan’s flip flops on the day we had some torrential rain and thunder)















As you will gather from this, my brain has kind of turned into incoherent mush. I have so much to write about in terms of perfume, my recovery, this summer, Persolaise’s visit, life and the universe, but there is a backlog in my mind, I can hardly think straight (might also be all the painkillers, which I am coming off now, actually, hardly take them). Writing is taking me longer. My days, now Duncan is also off for the summer, have just turned into a pleasant wooze of hot lazy


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It’s roasting hot outside. But we are going up to Tokyo in a minute to explore some very real perfumed possibilities (a whole line of ‘recycle boutiques’ along the Chuo Line).


Last week I failed with my scent – my rich coconut /white flower combinations quickly smelled vile in the heat of Yokohama, and so today I am going for a darker, stronger, vetiver/blackberry melange to last the day and resonate through the sweat: Roja Dove Vetiver eau de parfum (classical, dusky) + Roja Dove Elysium (a peppery, fruity, very masculine vetiver with a plummish undertone); Nubian Heritage Indian Hemp and Haitian Vetiver lotion, from New Orleans throughout the body;  L’Artisan Parfumeur Mure et Musc Extreme on the wrists, as well as Roger Et Gallet Cologne Imperiale for improvisation – (a lemony blackberry cologne that blends very well with the others I am wearing as a top up spritz). Plus, essential, scented ‘ice sheets’ from Japanese maker Gatsby (they have the summer relief technology down pat for the panting population): mentholated wet wipes very popular here that slice through the grime and leave you feeling fresh and ice popsicle as a futuristic blackcurrant.



I am ready.














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do you ever use perfectly good perfume as a toilet spray?




Had a lovely day yesterday. We finally got to Yokohama’s Izezakicho, the place I had wanted to go to more than any other ther, and had a wonderful time walking in the heat, eating ice cream, perusing the junk shops, and finished off with a delicious Greek meal, where we sat outside on the pavement watching the curious people walk by drinking retsina.


There is no doubt that the vintage perfume is drying up though. It used to be a wonderland,  but several shops that used to be bonanzas have stopped selling scent, and even those that do had lean pickings. Still, I found a beautiful Mitsuoko vintage extrait, a small bottle of Acqua Vitae by Maison FK, and another Guerlain, one I had never smelled before, a full, inexpensive bottle of the long discontinued Orange Magnifica. I already have, and like, Mandarine Basilic, which is fresher, greener, but as a committed fan of oranges of all varieties ( I consider their scent the happiest smell in the universe ) and a diehard fan of Guerlain – something about them just makes me irrational -I had to get this other orange as well. And it is nice : like unpeeling a Jaffa while a joss stick burns away in the background, a woody, ambery, almondy  basenote that is just a tad too insistent for me to wear with ease but which melds beautifully with the spicy incense I use in the toilet. It feels a bit wasteful ( this is not a bad perfume- I can’t stand bad fragrance in my vicinity, even in that particular context : do you also ever do this? ) but I can’t say either that I entirely dislike the sheer plenitude of it all : the ‘decadence.’


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in the shade



















Time keeps slipping. I can’t believe I have been home now for two months. The days and hours have become amorphous and melt into each other; a week or ten days pass like a dream; it’s now July.

It’s strange having all this time off, taken only to get better and to recover from what in retrospect was much more major surgery than even I had realized or anticipated- the hospital I am going to now for extra physiotherapy ( because my leg muscles have atrophied; so much conflicting advice and perhaps I have been quite the lazy convalescent, I don’t know), doesn’t even offer double osteotomies – the new physio seemed quite shocked that I had gone through it. Wow, really, both?

It’s not always easy to measure your progress when it is yourself, your own body, and any changes are gradual and incremental. It has often felt like two steps forward and then one or two steps back, but despite certain setbacks, I am less tentative, more robust, coming out of pathetic patient mode and more ready to enter back into the outside world.


But not quite yet.


One thing I have really enjoyed, having limited access (I have to get taxis anywhere), is exploring my own neighbourhood. It’s almost as if I am seeing it all for the first time. I have lived here for twenty years and we have always gone for walks on Sundays and tried different streets, so of course I do know most of it quite well, but as this is the only place I can go to practice walking, now, I have gone much deeper into its detail within these hot, sunny, humid weeks: I have meandered, on my sticks, along these private, quiet residential streets punctured by the sound of cicadas and other flying insects, huge black butterflies, and the full-thirsted warbling of birdsong.












While down the hill, the valley road I can no longer walk up or down, towards Kita-Kamakura station there are the grand, solemn zen temples of Engakuji, Kenchoji, and many others- the famous hydrangea temple, Meigetsuin thronging with tourists, the tea shops, the history, up here is the quiet, more suburban area, formed in the late sixties and seventies, known as Imaizumidai. My home for all these years, it as at once completely familiar, and yet mysterious. Who lives here? What do they do? At night there is no noise.


Where we live is quite affluent, but curiously overgrown, unkempt, even deserted ( Japan has a big problem with abandoned houses due to the hassles of inheritance tax, or something) and there are some of them here; boarded up, but occasionally cared for, and yet not out of keeping with the general slow, natural flow of this area, where gardens are often left to grow wild ( our own house is getting covered with creepers and we love it) and many of the houses are starting to look a little frayed around the edges.


I have never liked neatness, though, especially in gardens. Growing up, we always had foxgloves and bluebells; delphiniums, sweet peas… it was a place I could dream in, read books, play with friends. Further down the road there would be the great big houses with their hideous, hideous competitive manifestations of rows and rows of illfitting, fluorescent yellow and bright orange marigolds, pansies, fuchsias, patterns of regimented plants as if chosen by the blind, but maniacally arranged in tight fitting clumps, as anally retentive, fierce, and obedient as Nazis, with no soul nor grace orany sense, really, even of nature; I personally like flowers free and overreaching, lilting, strangling,  as in Rome’s Villa Doria Pamphilii, where the grass grows long and is filled with wild flowers, daisies you can pick, the perfect backdrop to the beautiful, fading wedding cake palazzo of the villa itself,
(and the government is too lazy to do anything about it.)











Walking around and along these streets, I notice something similar. The local council is obviously not prioritizing the culling of weeds nor the purity of our pavements. Liana-Iike vines often gang down, the gardens have an indolence. It is a reserved place : people keep themselves to themselves, disperse silently in their own private directions when disembarking from the bus, but there is also something magical that happens when the monks come up from the temples and chant to purify the  neighbourhood, something binding, and then more so during the O-Bon festival held every August, when the spirits of the dead are said to come back to their homes to visit their relatives, and the people wear light cotton summer kimono and dance to old folk songs, let off fireworks, and people get drunk and quite animated and eat and drink in the streets, little children dart about, and teenagers crawl out from under their rocks and sprawl lazily, and you actually, for a day or two, get a glimpse of what has been hidden, the rest of the year, from view.


As you approach the mountain, the green smell is intense: steamy, teeming with undergrowth, mosquitoes, wild lilies; the air thick, the shadows looming, inviting, like portals to a subterranean world. Sometimes I go into a drowse state in these conditions, as if I were not quite here: somewhere dense and close, between reality, and a dream. This is how I would be as a child: where I dwelled.


I have always loved summer, I feel full, present, unmelancholic, alive :there is a deathless infinity to it: a respite from analysis; all of nature teeming with life and the virulence of chlorophyll, the rapacious need of the cicadas to procreate and die as they whirr from tree to tree and then to a standstill: their sarcophagi lining along the pavements when their tiny engines have somehow stopped; the swallows swooping joyfully down onto their telephone wires: I am a person who can laze for hours by the reeds of a river and watch the water go by, just lying on the grass and watching the clouds drift above me in the sky, and while my friends in Tokyo complain incessantly each year about the heat, up here it is a couple of degrees cooler, and I just bathe in it.



Japanese children don’t get a summer holiday. For them, this is the most tiresome and tiring time of the entire year: interminable homework, assignments, club activities, cram school seminars; they are mere husks when they go back to school in September. In England, we did nothing, or we did what we wanted( time passed slowly, and I loved it. Two weeks or so by the beach somewhere, Bournemouth or Newquay, and the rest of the time just free; away from schedules and school bells and uniforms and timetables and just the garden, the woods, the late summer light…..


Now, unable to really go anywhere beyond my own back yard I feel that I am experiencing similar sensations. In life, as working adults, we rarely get the chance to just do nothing, unwind; break free, stand back, breathe; and while my time is often painful, doing my exercises, riding the exercise bike or going for a ‘stroll’;  my joints seize up or my legs start to swell, I feel some of my childhood’s long summer reverie coming back. As though you were suspended in the liquid of time itself, interior.













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The Black Narcissus


Apricot dunes; the glow from a studio-lit, ochre trompe l’oeil sunset; seagulls on the soundtrack; the glistening ‘ocean’ beyond. A seasoned French actress, distractedly reaches down into the pillowing sands and scrutinizes, with her smooth cream hands, carefully placed pebbles, starfish and seaweed.

On the beach, pensive, to a backdrop of golden, solar rays…



It is probably quite hard for the perfume youth of today to imagine how exciting – and rare an occurrence – it once was when one of the great ‘houses’ – Guerlain, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Givenchy, Christian Dior – released a new scent. They were like monuments, fortresses, designed to be aesthetically pleasing but also infallible, made to last. Perfumes that, naturally, were not designed for everyone, but once, if they did catch your senses and made you hers, would then become your perfume, to buy again and again, your signature: huge money-making engines…

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Eau de Camille by Annick Goutal (1983)






Source: Eau de Camille by Annick Goutal (1983)


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Tokyo is relatively crime free. You never worry, feel threatened. In a way it’s an urban paradise – a megalopolis with all the
stimulation and virtually none of the usual, expected dangers.

Still, when it comes to certain areas, venues, clubs, theft of bags and wallets is not unheard of. It’s happened several times to our friends recently – a night out on the town ruined by the extraordinary hassle of cancelling credit cards, reporting in minute detail to the grim looking officers at thepolice station, the inconvenience of having to borrow money from your friends…and last night it finally happened to Duncan ( it once happened to me also , a long time ago, when a ‘knife wielding maniac’ stole into the school when I was teaching some morning classes by myself and made off with my bag containing my passport, my wallet, and a brand new bottle of L’Occitane’s Verveine, a perfume I always associate now with minor criminality).

Mind you, Duncan WAS dressed how you see him above, not exactly the most practical outfit for a night out and taking care of his belongings – an all night weirdo shebang with a big group of friends at a strange but legendary event called Department H ( which I once wrote about on here in my piece titled Tokyo Through The Looking Glass if you care to find out more about it).

He came back this morning at 9.30am, and said ‘ I’ve done something stupid’, and here I am now : my first outing anywhere interesting since my confinement to accompany him, and I am loving the warm, fecund smell of the city and its thrumming, neon glow. It’s quite hard walking on my two sticks, I will confess, but it feels like a breakthrough. He is wearing the stately lemon of Penhaligons’ Blenheim Bouquet: I am in a strange but not entirely unsuccessful combination of the original Marc Jacobs Eau De Parfum – all wet gardenias on asphalt- and the vintage parfum of Cacharel Loulou for a woozy, tropical realness. The night is young. We are going to go for Chinese. Even if curtailed by my current, physical limitations, it feels wonderful to be part of the world on this hot, glittering, summer evening.






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Craving me some Mystere today.

The Black Narcissus


Critic Jan Moran describes this underdiscussed masterpiece by Rochas as a ‘dark, dank forest’, and for me, this is a very apt description of a perfume that truly lives up to its name.

Mystère dwells almost entirely in the lower notes, in the murky, sylvan depths – particularly in the stunning vintage parfum if you can find it ( I have a private stash). All, here, is patchouli, rose, resins, vetiver, styrax, leather, civet, and a strange and unexpected marriage of cascarilla bark and cypress overlaid ingeniously with galbanum, rosemary and coriander: the unusual accord that gives the perfume its impenetrable, curious, and unmistakeable identity. Top notes are creamy, almost metallic:  peppered florals that weave in and out of the centred, sodden heart like the lighter, sun-peppered moment before you lose your way.

One of my favourite ever perfumes – on me it becomes a smooth and brooding amber –…

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