Wednesday afternoon, the day before the D had to go back to work, we decided to have one last stab at Tokyo and the summer holiday before some relative seriousness takes over, and went up to Shibuya to see Bunkamura’s current Fantastic Art In Belgium exhibition.
It is always strange being thrust from the overwhelming youth fashion hub that is Shibuya – the site of the famous Hachiko crossing, the panoramic, overhead rash of neon screens all flashing together noisily and disorientatingly, insanity inflicting, in town; hordes, throngs of people all moving in all directions, the real Lost In Translation Tokyo that visitors want to lose themselves in and marvel, as they recombine themselves, at the energizing, oriental futuristic – – and then suddenly finding yourself in the dark, air-conditioned tomb of a respectable gallery, five hundred years past, underground, in the brain of Hieronymous Bosch, Reubens, Rops, Magritte, and other, morbid and otherworldly, Belgiana.
It was so cold in there that a small majority of the skinny Japanese women moving about respectfully, wide-eyed, were making use of the gallery’s brown blankets offered at the entrance of the gallery to stave off the chill. D and I were also quite cold, but I was also pleased, from the olfactory point of view, that the canvas preserving temperature had allowed me to properly enjoy my scent of the day – Shiseido’s mythical InouÏ, from 1976 – to perfection.
Leaving the house that afternoon, the air roiling and humid before a downpour, I had wondered. The civet and ambered sweet myrrh in the base of the perfume was troubling me. I have made that error a couple of times this summer, thinking that a scent choice would work because it felt right at home, forgetting that once the heat and the sweat took over it could all go disastrously wrong (animalics and my skin just don’t work very well if I get hot); but it turned out that my intuitions on that day- Inoui immediately came to my mind when I woke up that morning – I have two bottles – precious; very hard to get now – in the doleful, dolorous world of the Belgian exhibition, there was a very dark and melancholy aspect to all of the paintings running through it all despite the disparate nature of the artists in question; black swans at twilight, sad, caverous forests; Flemish landscapes silenced in hushed snow; vulnerable souls prey to satanic attentions; that my perfume, so soft, and enveloping, and mysterious – Inouï is a foresty, androgynous chypre, unusual yet familiar: with cypress fruits, pine needles, thyme and galbanum/oakmoss creating a quiet, woodland canopy to hide yourself in, reflect; while a warmer, jasmine /peach cedarwood heart make you less lonely – it felt like a soundtrack, a being.
An intriguing and perceptible presence in my own backdrop, the perfume worked quite perfectly against the sad pall of the paintings, in which demons and angels grappled with the virtues and the seven deadly sins; decadence wore masks of death, and you wondered what made Belgian, and Flemish, culture in particular, gravitate so strongly towards this crepuscular and life-snuffing melancholia. But this is what art does: it changes you, even if only momentarily, even if you don’t like it (but I did, I felt myself dropping, inexorably, into this world), so that you emerge back into the blinking sunlight of the outside, Orpheus-like, different than you were before, in a differing, darker, synapse-tweaked headspace.
Completing the long forested dreamline, Duncan was wearing Penhaligon’s beautiful Blenheim Bouquet, a perfect suffusion of lemon and coniferous notes that I love on him every time I smell it – so crisp and understated, gentlemanly, yet still up there in the peppery confines of the fir cones, when you scratch them and they exude those primeval nubs of power; of sap; of nature and life. At particular times I do love this genre of perfumery: sylvan yet urbane, the pine needle and the sweat flower; Christian Dior’s Jules has some of this quality, as does Loewe’s beautiful Esencia; perfumes that can be erotic, but that still keep something back. I was very much an admirer, back in the day, of Givenchy’s lamented original Insensé Pour Homme, which I would like to have again, and which I finally realized, after a long bout of brain inquiry, was the perfume that Inouï somewhat kept reminding me of, at least on my skin. A feminine masculine (where Inouï is a masculine feminine), Insensé, a very original composition that was just too ahead of its time, and soon failed, infused a sharp, but slightly sweet, fruity, fir-laden main heart accord with florals – jasmine being prominent – with an aromatic, solar, love-inducing dry down. Though softer, more withdrawn, and more shadowy, Inouï offers a very similar ultimate accord; somewhere in between the male and the female: a perfume of intelligence; not drowning in obviousness, gender clichés or vulgarity, but untenable, pensive: unreached.
17 responses to “SHISEIDO INOUI, GIVENCHY INSENSE, & BUNKAMURA’S FANTASTIC ART IN BELGIUM”
QUESTION: DO YOU WEAR SCENT, TO PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION?
Inoui resembles Insense, you say? I think I see what you mean. I have both: I will try to compare. I always read you eagerly, but I don’t comment as often as I would like to. I have nothing but admiration for your brave spirit during your difficult surgery and recovery and for your ability to express your creativity and philosophy of life in a way that is very inspiring to others. I think you are more of a teacher than you sometimes give yourself credit for!
For myself, I am now recovering my equilibrium after seeing my oldest daughter off to college. Joy, pride and…brief but stinging moments of desolation. After 25 years working in universities, you would think I would be well prepared for this change, but it has been harder than I expected. As I see one child becoming an adult, another almost there, I am realizing that a major phase in my life is coming to an end and that I need to change as well.
Perfume is like a form of meditation of me, and it is a great comfort in difficult or uncertain times. The pleasure of scent keeps us from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future and insists that we live in the present, as you always seem to know and wremind us. Enjoy the last weekend of summer, my dear.
This is very beautiful. Thank you. And I wish you only the best for the next chapter.
As for the comparison between these two perfumes, I don’t know, I could be wrong….I haven’t actually smelled the Givenchy for decades…..but something in there seems similar to me. Perhaps you could let me know.
What a wonderful post and an intriguing question that you present!
When visiting an art exhibit, personally, I don’t think I’ve ever consciously decided to wear a particular scent before to provide a backdrop for the experience–but what you say is fascinating and totally makes sense!
Like you intimate, I guess there are two ways to go about this challenge: either to harmonise and cooperate with the curatorial intentions of the exhibit in an olfactory way, or to remain a bit aloof and self protective and perhaps even be a bit anarchic so as not to get sucked into the overarching atmosphere of the projected vision. So, for instance, if one were to go to an “Impressionst Flowers” exhibit, one could harmonise with Jardins de Bagatelle or be anarchic with Vol de Nuit. If one went to a Picasso Blue Period exhibit, it would be lovely to enter the spirit with L’Heure Bleu. And I hope that one might have a sufficiently developed sense of humour to wear something like Chanel Antaeus to a Tom of Finland exhibit—although it might also be fun to be a bit strange wearing L’Air du Temps in that context.
To get back to the Fantastic Belgium exhibit, what strange pictures! I hate to disappoint you, but I think I myself would have been totally anarchic and far from a “cooperator” in that projected vision. I would have braced myself with something rational and a bit boring like Serge Lutens Fleurs Citronnier or Hermes Orange Verte, just to be on the safe side, an attempt to remain sane, not that I always am.
PS: I’m quite a new reader of yours! I adore your reviews and must try this Shiseido thing that you talk about here.
Some interesting reactions here!
In fact, I didn’t really know anything much about the contents of this exhibition, so the suitability of the scent was more down to serendipity and my intuitions with the weather. It could be fun to plan for these things by either going with the flow or against it, but then it might also be too literal and blot out the nerve paths.
As for Inoui, it is underwhelming but strangely haunting. Unique.
“underwhelming but strangely haunting…” —–this sounds lovely, as so many new perfumes on the market today are just overwhelming and so easily forgettable. Please forgive my ignorance, but what on earth does “inoui” mean? Is it a noun, and if so of what language?
I think ‘unprecedented’, in French.
Thanks. And I just read your older review. But dear me, I had no idea whatsoever that this scent was THAT rare!!! You’re so lucky… So this Inoui is almost as precious as Nombre Noir would you say? But even if it is so, I think you made a wise decision wearing it on that day out to the art exhibit. Because in this way, I think you’ve added a new layer of significance to this scent as it speaks to you personally. Henceforth, just one whiff of the scent, I’m sure, will bring back for you the surreal world of Shibuya, the freezing Arctic gallery, the strange and wonderful pictures, the happiness of taking it all in with your partner, and all the other private sensations that you experienced on that day. That’s really nice.
Definitely. And I had never worn it before.
Gorgeous art. Ah, that last one . . .? Surely I should know it . . .
I just went to look up Blenheim Bouquet because it sounds like something Ric would like. Or rather, I would like on Ric. He is partial to Bvlgari Black and similar, but I would like to expand his olfactory horizons.
Love your contrast between outside and inside: “It is always strange being thrust from the overwhelming youth fashion hub that is Shibuya – the site of the famous Hachiko crossing, the panoramic, overhead rash of neon screens all flashing together noisily and disorientatingly, insanity inflicting, in town; hordes, throngs of people all moving in all directions, the real Lost In Translation Tokyo that visitors want to lose themselves in and marvel, as they recombine themselves, at the energizing, oriental futuristic – – and then suddenly finding yourself in the dark, air-conditioned tomb of a respectable gallery, five hundred years past, underground, in the brain of Hieronymous Bosch, Reubens, Rops, Magritte, and other, morbid and otherworldly, Belgiana.”
Yes, I was pleased that paragraph captured the reality of how it seemed to me. When you are not quite in the mood for it, Shibuya is a pain in the ass, just too much, and I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy it, but then you suddenly find yourself in this subterranean cold place, plunged into another culture, and it’s like a portal.
As for Bleinheim Bouquet, it is VERY slight, so I get him to spray it on clothes to make it last. I do love that coniferous lemon smell though- so crisp and hale. Definitely worth a sniff. Manly in a good way without the cliches.
P.S. Ric rides a vintage Kawasaki Vulcan, so he has an affinity for Black’s rubber/leather thing.
Does it suit him? I know the answer is yes, but what elements of it come to the fore?
OMG, yes that’s it I just got Insense and I kept thinking where have I smelled this before, of course my beloved Inoui! Though if I recall correctly, Inoui feels more fragile.
More shadowy and dusky – fragile, yes