Monthly Archives: October 2017









Right now I am overwhelmed. I haven’t been writing, because I can’t (even now) – this term has been utterly exhausting physically and mentally and I sometimes feel that I am going under. Not wanting to taint my image too much  – a man has to care about how he is seen – I haven’t been blurting about all my problems just because I don’t want to be seen as some kind of whining cripple who has gone back to work but is suffering from absolute overload.


I exaggerate. As always. I distill my experiences into potent elixirs that give skewed impressions of reality. In many ways I am fine and happy ( and let’s face it – I only work four days a week ),  but at the same time physically , and thus mentally as well, I am overwrought. It seems, or just feels to me, that all have I done recently is worked or been inside hospitals; the sheer exertion of intense teaching and dealing with cultural issues because it’s Japan and just the pure movement and banality of the world (all I want to do is hide away – never have I been more sociophobic) after six months of traumatic surgery and its aftermath, has led to dehydration, kidney stones, stomach problems (I spent all day at the hospital yesterday drinking horrible liquids in preparation for a colonoscopy looking for evidence of what might be causing my stomach pain…)….it’s as though I have just collapsed internally.



I mean I can function – just about. I am teaching with vigor and clarity. But at the same time I am in constant fear that a kidney stone (I have three, waiting in the wings…who knows, perhaps all the painkillers and all the rest of the medications have brought this on, maybe they have given me ulcers) will suddenly and unexpectedly lead me to start doubling up and writhing on the floor and be carted off by men in white coats to an ambulance; yet another mortification, another deep, organ clenching embarrassment.



So I lug my legs around my life at the moment, drenched in Roseberry (the only perfume I am wearing apart from No 19, and they go perfectly together), just trying to hold it together. I have been out to Tokyo a couple of times; to a cabaret pre-Halloween thing that was fantastic and an amateur production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturday night that really wasn’t; so awful I couldn’t even watch the stage for the majority of the time because everyone involved looked so uncomfortable and nervous and unprepared and my empathy just couldn’t take it ; and then my bile spewed forth and I said hideous things about it and I realized just how much poison has built up in my evil, vitriolic bloodstream.


























There was an article in the New York Times the other day about Amy Tan, a writer I quite like (though I prefer her non fiction). She was saying that she was lured by her editor and best friend, almost against her will, into producing a kind of memoir, or autobiography which delved into her traumatic past and she felt unwilling to expose herself yet found that she was almost unconsciously doing so and that once she started she could hardly begin to stop. The interviewer also stated that Ms Tan is quite unusual in that she is ‘both tortured, and happy’ – an apparently uncommon combination.





I don’t think I am personally tortured, though I am certainly troubled (but then, who isn’t? Even if I didn’t have my own private demons to contend with and this internal hell in reaction to the operation, the world itself at the moment is enough to doom anyone to eternal anxiety), but like Amy Tan, I think I am also simultaneously quite happy, most certainly not depressed, anyway. I am enjoying all the things I always enjoy with no impediment; I am grateful for the things I need to be grateful for; my senses are alive and I am almost hideously sentient (I think this is the problem; I am just so absorbent and hypersensitive: where D is equally sensitive artistically – and mercurially perceptive – in fact  – he is also, as he said the other day, in a bubble, and has been since birth; in many ways hermetically sealed from within, so that, although he might quite often, being a Virgo, naturally worry about a lot of things, he doesn’t get affected by everything around him to anyway near the same level as I do. I am porous to the core; I live through osmosis. I notice everything, imbibe everything, I am a vessel of nerves and feelings and sensations and empathic absorption to the point that I just can’t socialize any more and don’t want anyone coming down to the house (we have done way too much hosting this year and I just can’t take any more).




The outside world, Japan, with its organ clenched passive aggression and suppressed and repressed emotions, is doing my head in. Western over emphasis and declamation is equally irritating. I just want to hibernate. Where my other half becomes ever more gregarious and expressive, I just feel done in at the moment: crushed. 



And yet alert. As I write this, it is colder and greyer outside. My brain and fingers are working together quite handily. I am ENJOYING this. I have to get ready for work quite soon but just wanted to see if I could write something on here, if I still could ( a couple of weeks without writing something new can feel like an eternity), before I begin ‘the process’; the shaving, soaping, and transformation into The Teacher on his stick and smile and effervesce and try to deal with the world (do any of you ever have feelings like this, as if you just can’t deal with reality and other people and the shit in the news and anything any more just want to hide away and recoup from within until you feel you have your strength back and can dart through the world again, more ready for battle and for exchanges and enjoyable communication, rather that you can hardly bear talking to a single soul? If you are or were a psychotherapist, how would you pathologize or diagnose me, based on these words?) Am I ‘just’ adapting to the world again after the unprocessed horror of the surgery in March? Is this normal? Will I ever be back to my robuster, more exuberant, self?





Forgive me. This kind of ‘piece’, where I have virtually no idea in advance of how it is going to come out, is usually regretted by me later when I then realize that I have revealed much more than I intended ever to reveal, and it always leaves me feeling overly exposed and raw and peeled away, like showing the pink and red tissue under the skin and then having to heal it into a scar again. But perhaps it is cathartic. I was also, in an attempt to sew the perfume and the experience together, to try and be a bit clever and combine the ‘pink evidence’ idea of internal medical tests and searching for growths; for nodules or tumours or inflammated pink tissue, and the ridiculous perfume name featured here into one digestible conglomeration but now I can’t really be bothered : it just feels like far too much effort.







Perfume, though;;;; yes: throughout all of this, despite my aches and its woe is mes, it never loses its appeal; its heft; its importance to me. Unlike reading (I haven’t been able to nor wanted to read a single book this year, I just can’t – I basically just read the New York Times), scent, like cinema and music, have been my absolute lifeblood, my pleasures, my joy. Records just flood through me in the kitchen and my eyes fill with pleasurable, grateful tears. Films (I watched Eyes Wide Shut in our projector room the other day and I couldn’t have been more receptive; Kubrick’s Christmas tree-lit visual awareness and sinister surreality just flowed through me as if I were actually a living camera lens. I felt a strange kind of ecstatic serenity. Perfume is the same. At night I crave to smell it on my skin; to just swathe in it:  last night it was my precious vintage Guerlain Chamade extrait – so beautiful I almost feel that I didn’t deserve it. Our house is an abominable mess at the moment – the worst it has ever been as we both sink ourselves into our jobs and the creativities of the weekend but somehow I just couldn’t really give a damn- it has atmosphere and is filled with the things that I love; the cat sprawled out furrily and luxuriantly purring in her dreams; perfumes abound in every room, and I love to just smell them, to coat myself in them, even though I know exactly what they are going to be like but I want to smell them anyway; I KNOW YOU KNOW THAT FEELING. 





New ones, too. I sometimes worry that I have condemned myself, on The Black Narcissus, to being purely a vintage, ‘poetic’, perfume reviewer. I know that those pieces are almost always the most popular for whatever reason – perhaps they are more passionate and heartfelt, I don’t know, whereas with the contemporary/niche scents I get harder and more objective and more stony and far more critical, and in any case, there are so many niche brands now, constantly coming out, in full collections of ten, twelve, twenty perfumes that no one can possibly keep up with them all in any case. We were long ago  burned out, our attention spans severed to the point where it is now quite possible for two intense perfume enthusiasts to rave on about thousands of perfumes and for the other person to never have smelled a single one of them. Sometimes I go to selective department stores and see full ranges by perfume houses I have never heard of and I just can’t be even vaguely bothered to sniff a single one of them; I just don’t know where to even start. All of them, obviously, contain ‘rare, precious essences’ blah blah blah, they all come with a spiel and a tedious purple marketing copy that is usually half illiterate anyway (and means absolutely nothing), and then you end up with this thin, ungenerous, woody, supposedly ‘sensuous’ exotic crap on your arm that you just hate and are immediately determined to scrub right off and just go back upstairs and get some succor from your vintage Shalimar extrait in its lovely, indented purple velvet box.






Herve Gambs, a Parisian florist, interior decorator, and specialist in room fragrances, who I had never even heard of until my friend generously sent virtually the entire collection through the post, fortunately does have a selection of perfumes that do actually remind me a little of the Guerlainish mode of richness and powdered heft while still, on the whole, remaining contemporary. I have had the sample envelopes sprayed and positioned in different places over the house for the past week and even wear some of them to bed sometimes and I must say that I am overall quite impressed by them. Unlike Roja Dove, whose scents always smell ‘quality’ but somehow lack an original personality, these perfumes are characterful, well blended and enjoyable (if rarely actually exquisite).





Still, the perfumes, particularly the pure parfums, which come in full sized bottles and are thus relatively well priced (about 180 sterling, which is a lot, but not bad when these are so potent) are really, as the copy says, properly ‘neo-dandy’, very French, very louche Serge Gainsbourg, particularly Hotel Particulier, which is a reference I get from the fabulous Ballade De Melody Nelson album I so love. This is a proper, dirty labdanum amber patchouli, familiar as old hell, powdery, musky, vanilla based, naughty, and it lasts for ever on the skin – I think I find it too persistent and insistent to wear personally, but if you do like this type of perfume I would definitely recommend trying it.


Of similar nature is Rouge Cardinal, whose base is genuinely Shalimar comparison worthy and a perfume I might actually buy the next time I am in England. Another vanilla patchouli amber, this one is also drenched in a beautiful frankincense and orange blossom top note that is very compelling, if not seamless (the notes, rather than blending all together without you even realizing, are definitely pick-outable, but then it all coalesces and you think mmm, this is absolutely perfect for the cold autumn nights; a whiff of the religious and the unsacred together; warm, furry, delicious).


Coup De Grace is not dissimilar; husky, dark patchouli, but with a huge Damask rose at the centre and at the fore (Tora if you are reading this and don’t know this scent I suggest a sample). I wasn’t sure if the sheer potency of this rose scent was too much, that there might be too much boise happening in the backdrop, but it is definitely quite alluring and mysterious and impressive and worth trying if you are a rose fiend who likes to really project.


The more masculine of the parfums are also quite good. While Ombre Sauvage is just a little bit too old fashioned hunk papa for me personally (a warmer and stronger reworking of the Hermes Equipage type of leather perfume without the delicately turned out citrus and spice elements), Bois Dahman is an unusual sandalwood scent that reminded me immediately of the old Bodyshop sandalwood oil from many years ago. Not the fresh sandalwood essential oil smell I know intimately and can recognize immediately, but a darker, moodier, more astringent smell that is quite erotic and compelling, as is Jardin Prive, which Duncan wore the other night when he was working as the barman at the Rocky Horror Picture Show (tell me, why is that film so popular? give me Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise from two years before that so obviously inspired it any day of the week but anyway); he wore this suave, green tea aromatic that evening; something like a more vetiver/tobacco, heavier and more enveloping Bulgari Eau Parfumee Au The Vert that hung about his person the entire evening and on the  morning pillow at the hotel as well. Familiar, but very sexy, as is Infusion Noire, which is like a cross between Guerlain Vetiver and Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male, all nutmeggy musks and vetiver and sage and vanilla.



While the parfums and eau de parfums in this collection are all very dusky and quite convincingly playing for seduction, the colognes intenses are all very French in a more Seurat by the dandelion field, parasol and white dress kind of way that right now as I labour away in my boring problems is fairly appealing to me (though I must say that writing this I do feel uplifted and lighter; perhaps writing is the cure after all, it’s just a lot of the time I just can’t at the moment – I just lie in my bed with hot water bottles pressed to my stomach and back and drink ginger infused Rooibos, which is my favorite herb tea combination but anyway; I think I need to get these miseries off my chest, even though I have no idea of who is going to be reading it (‘who is this cantankerous convalescent?? I thought this was supposed to be a perfume review’). Fuck it – if you can’t express what you are actually feeling then I can’t be bothered to write anything at all, even if it all ends a whole uncrafted hot mess that doesn’t fit into any of the parameters of ‘how to write an article’ (but aren’t those parameters hideously stifling?)



I digress. To get back to the pastoral French, the good life, a fantasy of good food and good wine and beautiful clothes and summery weather by the river, we can try Hotel Riviera, a rather lovely and fresh green orange blossom that vies mint and bergamots and violet leaves against neroli and orange flowers that really is, as the sample card says, like a breath of spring breezes through a field of fleurs d’orangers. Recommended if you like light and floral but not banal or chemical perfumes and something to boost your winter blues.



Domaine Du Cap is extremely anisic (with anise and fennel and thyme and citrus on a lactonic backdrop) and is quite original and light for a cologne, while La Baie Des Anges is the only truly sweet perfume in this wide ranging collection; an unusual grapefruit vanilla perfume with a rhubarb and jasmine twist that is quite a lot to take on but is gleeful and could be very nose catching on the right person. Sometimes we just need a splash of humour and bright colour in a scent to take us away from all the grimness of the world and our lives, and I approve wholeheartedly of such silliness.




Which brings me to Pink Evidence. What a hilarious name. I laughed when I opened the package from England. You see, I haven’t lost my sense of humour. In fact, I am cracking a fair few at the moment, perhaps too many actually, it is probably getting a bit wearying for my students and for D : you’d think I was Tony Hancock. What is going on with my mind then? On the one hand I am as jovial as Larry; on the other I drag myself through the odious city of Fujisawa, which I fucking hate, on rainy cold Wednesdays when I have a twelve hour day, and just want to kill everybody or else just put them, me included, in a giant sleeping bag and for us to just take tablets and sleep for a month or five. I feel my kidney stones pressing against my back, my nausea from whatever is going on in my innards as I pummel through my entrance exam lessons, internalizing my perceived essence of every student in my system and make them laugh continually.. fuck it is exhausting! But also enjoyable. Like this perfume. I love powdery roses and violets, and this is a good one, an Yves Saint Laurent Paris gone nuts, with yuzu and ylang ylang; tart, high pitched, amusing, good humoured. Genuinely mood enhancing. I actually wore some of it yesterday, during my entire, physically draining  day spent having enemas and invasive internal stomach cameras at the Ofuna Chuo Byoin hospital.













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Night with Delibes: :HERMES ROUGE (2000 )

Night with Delibes: :HERMES ROUGE (2000 )



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IMG_5738.PNGI think I fancy some of this tonight

The Black Narcissus


I recently had the fortune to pick up a boxed, pristine, vintage parfum of one of the most famous of the Coty vintage classics, L’Origan. Schlepping at the back of the key-locked glass cabinet, unrecognised among its more fashionable second hand perfumes, the owner of the antique shop in Kamakura obviously had little idea of its worth. I was extremely excited to find it – not that I didn’t already know how it smelled  (my other tiny parfum enchantillon bottle was already running low), but to have this scent in more luxurious amounts, and at such a reasonable price, is a precious, and historically important, addition to my collection.

Often compared to L’Heure Bleue, which it preceded by seven years, L’Origan is a powdered, peppery, spice carnation with violet, orris, labdanum, incense, and a sharp, almost dour aspect reminiscent of dried herbs (‘L’Origan’ is usually translated as ‘The Golden One’…

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It was wonderful, after a rather trying time recently – to say the least – to wake up in Shinjuku on Saturday lunchtime after a fabulous dreamlike time the night before, to leave the hotel; have brunch with friends (now is the oyster season in Japan), and leisurely peruse the perfume counters at Isetan.




A personable, attractive (if still coldly gracious) assistant at the Guerlain counter led me through the latest perfumes to arrive at this hallowed establishment, including the hand-crafted, Arita-porcelain flaconed  Fall Flowers – see above – bottles of which retail for 85,000 yen plus tax (about 800 American dollars), and which are apparently selling quite briskly.



‘First, our customers enjoy the beautiful container’, the lady told me, earnestly, ‘and then the scent itself is very elegant, and is intended to be worn solely at this particular time of year’.



I see.






Fall Flowers, is, in fact, rather nice. Soignée, subdued and pretty – alive, yet society-conscious – a sharp, melange of jasmine, magnolia, ylang ylang, rose;  a gently green tea-like backdrop tinged with gentle peach tones, but something older, almost putrescent, that lingers under the flowers like mulch under decaying Autumn leaves. Unessential, yet not unappealing either, I still rather like the idea of some older Japanese woman in Tokyo, treasuring her stratospherically priced item, gazing at it on the glass dresser, and occasionally applying just a little (just a little) to her well kept person as she wistfully gazes out of the window onto the unhorizoned, neon labyrinth of the city and decides on a spontaneous walk in the park to ponder the changing leaves.













Her daughter, on the marriage market and secretly despondent, might be wearing, at her mother’s behest (after a long consultation at Isetan), the latest in the Art et Matière collection – by Thierry Wasser and Delphine Jelk –  Tubereuse Joyeuse : a revitalizing, green, youthful neo-tuberose in the current style: semi-photo realistic shots of the flowers on the stalks with their leaves. If I hadn’t experienced a ton of the flowers in Indonesia; in vases, in pots, placed on tea trays, sleeping with the cut stems on my pillow, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize the different facets of the flowers but now I am able to, and I recognize this perspective of the tuberose from memory.


What is certain is that the creamy, buttery prima donna Fracas tuberoses of yore have been now replaced, in the new style : dewier, saptastic,  zesty white flowers that on the right wearer, I think, have the potential to smell positively delightful. I am just a total sucker for sambac jasmine, it addicts me, and that note, combined with a tropical lily and living tuberose stem accord with green notes and a light touch of Guerlain vanilla, makes a very enjoyable and contemporary take on the uplifting and luscious white floral.


Tubereuse Joyeuse feels neither retro nor blandly synthetic, nor cod erotic and drowning in unnecessitated musks and woods and all the usual crap. Instead, it feels quite freed up – and indeed happy, and liberated ; crisp, self-consciously optimistic, and up to date.













The same thing can not entirely be said about the just slightly disappointing Lui, the new ‘unisex’ perfume from our beloved grand masters of the Champs Elysées who are on a real release spree at the moment (hate that word though, ‘unisex’, and Guerlain is really clumsily plugging the trending gender topic with this one in a quite laboriously vacuous advertising campaign  – ‘the perfume for a new gender order’ ; it sounds vaguely Nazi-ish to me somehow, and funny that the perfume’s name means ‘him’ but there you go). It is a scent that might indeed suit either of the sexes (as virtually any perfume in fact will do), quite nicely blended and warm, but to me, this is merely a Guerlain take on Prada’s popular Candy release from a few years ago, a sweet, overly insistent benzoin  (oh! the benzoin!) and tonka festa blended, quite originally,  into a smooth, old fashioned carnation accord, creamy and zoned out; over, in the final stages of the scent, a warm, ice cream pure vanilla base note that is rather charming but difficult to imagine on your average bloke working by the water fountain at the office.  Lui is in fact quite nice, and I did  rather enjoy the cute smell of vanilla extract that lingered on the back of my hand as we took the train back home to Kamakura, but ultimately I think I find it flat and one note, too thick and opaque – it needed more feeling and interest up top.


I do quite like the bottle though.














I don’t know about you, but there is something about ‘Twilly’ (is that not a slightly ridiculous name for a perfume?) that does not quite compute for me for some reason – the bottle, the label design, this picture. I have hated all of the Hermès mainstream releases for quite some time now, even if I still retain some affection for several of the Hermessences and love many of the original, undoctored classics in the stable. Horror in fragrance for me is a metallic, synthetic rose and ‘leather’ composition dressed in Jean Claude Ellena’s limiting color palettes and gaunt, modeled cheeks, and for years these releases have quite honestly just repelled me.  Twilly, however, is a little different, again riding the nouvelle vague de tubéreuse that is young and chic right now, and fusing a very high pitched, and quite original, watery, fresh bright scintillation of tuberose flowers and ginger over a somewhat generic base notes of light, air-fashioned sandalwood. I will say that to a certain extent, it kind of pleased me. And while I was not 100% convinced that Christine Nagel’s relatively uninhibited creation will be a hit – (I did feel that something was missing), both Duncan and I did give the perfume an initial ‘that’s quite nice‘ two  thumbs up: I will certainly be going back to try it once again on my own skin.












For a more true Autumn feeling, a scent that gets you in the mood, if you are more inclined towards fragrances that seem more obviously suited to the weather rather than wide-eyed, laboratory trained, hot house tuberoses, you could do a lot worse than the new offering from Il Profumo, a perfume house that doesn’t often get spoken about but whose perfumes have a richness, and osmosed smoothness that is very Italian and has always been rather appealing to me. Silvana, ostensibly an iris and pink pepper scent, is actually almost completely all about cedarwood – the Virginia kind, not the Moroccan Atlas, and the type I vastly prefer. There are not many wearable cedarwood perfumes available on the market, and the essential oil is too harsh to be worn directly on the skin, but I sometimes do use it in the house when visitors come and attempt to transform my living space into a holographically invigorating and healthful wood cabin (there is something about cedarwood – so moth-trashing, lung-busting, so powerful and alive, yet simultaneously calming that really speaks to me : it feels both physically and psychologically useful to the body and spirit). Here, the hale, wood-ringed essence is quelled and powdered and subtly, deftly eroticized, with iris and musks and pink peppercorns,  a warm yet light-suffused facet that makes you want to snuggle up close. It is not a complicated perfume, and some might find it simplistic, but it drew us both in, and it smelled really nice on the D’s skin. And as the temperatures continue to drop here and the rains fall unabated, that is, essentially, exactly what I want.












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The Black Narcissus



Furred; reciprocated. Dense with rich, dimensionality.

Subsumed; proffering up sun-dipped, velveted flowers;  spices, balsams, and a filthily indecorous lick of costus – Fille  D’Eve, in vintage extrait, comes as something of an overtly erotic shock in the usually held back politeness of the Nina Ricci pantheon.

Costus, a rudely animal-smelling note in fact of plant origin, is often compared by perfumists to the smell of unwashed hair (a smell I can’t endure personally but can understand the compassionate human magnetism of). As a perfume ingredient, however, it is a note I have sometimes loved very much when used in the warm, subliminal undertones of such sensual scents as pre-reformulation Kouros, Cabochard, Parfum D’Hermes, and perhaps most effectively, Vol De Nuit.

Without this anchoring, lustfully  invisible lower layer, the above perfumes seem to fall apart at the seams when you smell the versions that have been ‘cleaned up’: as though the ingredient…

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MY SINFUL STASH: : : : this week’s gorgeous haul of rare, pristine, delectable extraits at the vintage Tokyo flea markets ..

Rereading this old piece on fleamarket finds from exactly four years ago this morning put into clearer perspective how much things, when it comes to vintage perfume, in a short space of time, have changed.


There I am yesterday raving about these relatively vulgar perfumes that I still like quite a bit but couldn’t get my hands on (and which are getting rarer and rarer), and yet I read through this bonanza entry from 2013 and realise that I was practically SWIMMING in pristine vintage gorgeousness without even entirely being aware of just how lucky I was.


It just reminds me once again how much a truly finite supply these old perfumes are….and that that knowledge, can only, ultimately, make the buying, smelling, and wearing of these treasures all the more loaded, meaningful, and precious.

The Black Narcissus


At the beginning of every month, after just getting paid, I skim some money off the top of my salary as my ‘free for all splurge’; a guilt-free sum I can just go out and spend on something I really want. This month, as I am very much back in a vanillic, comforting amber kind of mood, I was considering getting the Van Cleef Vanille Orchidée perhaps, just as an easy (if possibly pedestrian) vanilla scent to see me through the coming colder months, or, maybe, another bottle of Serge Lutens Louve, that syrupy, gooey cherry-almond vanilla scent I find so enjoyable when the occasion is right.

As luck would have it, though, Sunday and Monday brought different, even more luxurious, dividends. It’s funny how intuition (or premonitions…) can work: when a place suddenly comes into your mind for no reason, somewhere you haven’t been for a while, and you…

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the gimmies







Aaagggh! My friend Joan just, or a few hours ago, out of the blue, or I only just noticed it because I was too absorbed in Downton Abbey, sends me a message, and a picture attached, saying




‘fancy any of these?’




GrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrI need to be there, where it is (it looks like Shinagawa flea market, which recently has yielded absolutely nothing), NOW, barter a little bit; hoover it all up. All the Shalimars, maybe even the Jade Jagger redesigned bottle, if it is cheap enough, even if I don’t quite like the juice as much.  I need those refills though so I can just spray wantonly. Carelessly. And I have just spotted a Must Parfum ( isn’t it? or you tell me, is it the edt? ) which I don’t have a full bottle of and WANT. Real treasure. Gorgeous. Those original Chanel No 19 EDPs in the silver square bottles, also, particularly, which I remember with great fondness from my university days and have never  personally used (I always remember it being sharper, crisper, more irisey and green. AAAAAAAAGGGH I WANT THEM.)




And isn’t that Guerlain’s Winter Delice at the back, on the left? I need it! Only the other day, while vacuuming, D unearthed my miniature of this delicious and strange sweet frankincense delight, which is down at most, now, to two Christmas Day helpings (when I really like to wear it). The full bottle I once had, and cherished, he once used in some performance piece or other (almost choking the audience to death) and it somehow got lost. God knows how. I was really disappointed. It is one of those singular, unrepeatable fragrances that have ‘acquired taste’ written all over them, and how fantastic it would be to have a brand new bottle again. A weird coincidence. And people, what is the Allegoria at the front with the pink ribbon? Don’t I need it? Can you identify it? I have a great fondness for the Allegorias. I have a dream of one day coming across a bottle of the gorgeous Lys Soleia. Could it possibly be that?




Looking more intently, to the back, it’s true that I already have a bottle of Boudoir, which I love to wear on occasion –   it totally suits me, oddly enough –  but bizarrely, I gave my bottle of Vivienne Westwood Sin Garden, the flanker, to Duncan to give to a Dominatrix Mistress of Tokyo only yesterday, for her ‘Haunted Carnival’ rope tying party last night (I wasn’t up to going, but she had recently sent me get well flowers and I wanted to return the favour, and who doesn’t like being given an unexpected bottle of perfume? ) He promised he would try to get me another bottle if he ever came across one again – and here one is ( or is it, in fact, another Westwood perfume that I rather like:  : : :  Libertine?)




What else do we espy among the plastic wrapped semi-detritus selection of fine ‘vintage’ perfume splayed out on a blanket at the flea market? Eau Sauvage Extreme; love it, but my one bottle is quite enough ( I wear it on occasion and remember my delicate youth) ; Dolce Vita – want; Poison – want (that is Burning Bush’s true signature scent now) ; Tresor – want; and that isn’t that Gucci Eau De Parfum, is it, the thing at the front, that orange blossom heliotrope delight that is so cuddly and comforting ? WANT. Hypnotic Poison? Want. . And I am not right in thinking that we can see a vintage, probably parfum, of that increasingly endangered species, the incredible spice animal that is Yves Saint Laurent’s original, unreformulated, Opium?  WANT.






In short.





Is there anything I fancy?








Pretty much the whole damn lot.  










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In our melancholy twilight: LE DIX by BALENCIAGA (1947)







Source: In our melancholy twilight: LE DIX by BALENCIAGA (1947)


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Religion has a hell of a lot to answer for.



Only this week, the so-called Buddhists of Myanmar are on the cusp of a successful ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority Rohingas, who are now stuck in an infernal quagmire of squalor and uncertitude. So much for karma. The supposedly devoutly Christian Republican American government, led by the vile, living epitome of amoral greed, is quite unable to show any real compassion, let alone life-saving action – possibly through pure racial prejudice – towards the victims of horrific double hurricanes in Puerto Rico, even though they are categorically U.S citizens. Strangled by the mutual financial interests of the National Rifle Association, ‘Christians’ vote for the loosening of gun control, despite massacre after massacre with assault weapons that need not remotely be there, in a truly civilized society,  in the first place.



Love thy neighbour!




I am from a country where Protestants and Catholics slaughtered each other in hideously cruel manners for centuries; where British born ‘Muslims’, brainwashed by those most barbaric of devilish, ‘holy’ serial killers, ISIS, gleefully decapitate strangers in the name of some glorious black-bannered war. I have an apartment in, and may possibly retire to, a country where six million Jews were pointlessly and systematically murdered, purely because of their religious identity. I live in a country, also, where, in the name of the heavenly Shinto emperor, millions were annihilated during World War II in a frenzy of ‘religious’ and nationalistic fervour, hundreds of thousands gleefully beheaded, raped and experimented on, often joyously,  all in the name of some shimmering ethnic religiosity, some mythical ‘rising sun.’



From many a perspective, then, the world is complete bullshit and people total assholes. And the world’s so-called Great Religions are quite often the source. All of them. No religion is immune to being poisoned, perverted and polluted by its very own practioners : Hindu nationalists are always ready to decimate Muslim Indians, Jews Palestinians, Shiites Sunnis, the list goes on throughout history interminably. The unimaginable suffering that we human beings have suffered for centuries and millennia because of ‘religion’ would almost be laughable if the sheer chasm between the original tenets of each of the world’s religions ( essentially love and peace), and their often deeply perverted reality (hordes of Catholic priests having sex with children!) weren’t so utterly contemptible, vile, and tragic.




Because if people actually read and understood their holy scriptures, handbooks and sutras, none of this would actually happen. If ‘the religious’ were more aware of the ultimate irony, the inherent blasphemy in acting like God and meting out punishments to those they deem unworthy ( instead of leaving the justice to their creator, now or in the afterlife),  then we could all, ostensibly, live in peace, no matter our beliefs.
















For the record, while we are in the mode of grandiose, sweeping statements, although I greatly respect anyone’s individual religious identity (not as common a stance as it really should be!), I personally could never commit to any one particular religion, myself, for three  basic reasons :






1. I do truly believe the doctrines of each scripture were written by humans, not the direct word of any particular divine being: hugely influenced by history, contingent events, bias and pragmatism, they should thus not ever be taken as actual, literal, gospel, no matter how divine the potential original sources.








I believe implicitly that the vast majority of people who adhere to any particular religion simply, and ONLY do so, because they happened to be born in a particular place. If they hadn’t been brought up there they wouldn’t have been exposed to it and would never have become one of the devout. If they had been born somewhere else, then they would have been following a different creed (can anyone counter this point?). The religion they so often mindlessly cling to did not come to them from on high, they merely absorbed it into their belief system because of education and their surroundings. It is so arbitrary, so random, so OBVIOUS ( to my own irrationally logical brain at least), that I can never understand why more people don’t seem able to relativize our differences, and realize that we are the way we are because of our immediate cultural milieu and the place we physically live, and this only, and thus everybody else as well, and so we are all the same, and yet the fervent; the chanting; and the febrile of eye are so often willing to slice another person’s throat, gun them down, or blow them up in a stadium simply for not believing what they believe in, that this lack of awareness of what I believe to be a very simple and basic truth ( that both religion and ‘culture’ are simple matters of individual accumulations of events and geography ) makes me burn with frustration, exasperation, and fury.





3. I can only ever, and will probably only ever be, agnostic.




For the very reasons I have stated above, falling hook, line, sinker and machete for any of the established religions and taking any word printed in a book as a god-given truth is a total impossibility for me : I am just too global in my thinking. For all I know, all, or none of them could be correct (deep down I feel they are just regional variations on the same religious god instinct and that all contain messages that, if followed correctly, would benefit mankind). To me, it really is quite possible that there is nothing out there in the beyond; that we just get switched off like a light and that is that, as science and logic might suggest; and I do respect humanist atheists who just want to make our time here on earth as pleasant as it can be, unencumbered by the moralizing mumbo jumbo of conflicting religious cults and their haphazard, yet stridently proclaimed, dogmas that often don’t make people happy and in fact often instead make them quite miserable ( or, quite a lot of the time, actually dead).  I always have thought that this terrible nothingness after we die is a distinct possibility, greatly influenced by my French and Italian existentialist university studies, even if these days I am veering ( having read some very fascinating books in recent times about reincarnation, and just from my own observations and feelings) at times more in a direction that is a tad more optimistic and afterlifey. Oh well, it suits me anyway. We don’t know, though, and that is the point ( isn’t it?), so all I can do really at the end of the day is leave it at that- we’ll just have to see what happens when it eventually happens.





This does not mean that I am not afraid of death. I am. It is a human instinct. But compared to much of the first twenty five years of my life or more where it obsessed me, now I hardly give a damn. I don’t even (let myself?) think about it any more. I am too busy enjoying my life. I am not entirely sure what the catalyst for this change has been – I think it is various things, gaining a certain level of wisdom through experience being one of them, but I do know that these last ten years or so, and recent times especially, have been a release and a new epoch for me of almost spiritual and creative liberty that I cannot, categorically, say is entirely earthbound. My mind does, resolutely, remain open.





Religion still fascinates me – always has, always will, – despite the disdain I might seem to heap on it here.  I find it ridiculous in many ways (because of all the entrenched rigmarole and frippery that believers seem to think was ordained in stone), but then I feel that way about most of our cultural traditions too. They are so random. And people stick to them as though they were etched into their very own marrow. But we need something beyond the confines of our own, limiting brains – something bigger, more encompassing, be it a national day of celebration, for whatever historically random reason it may be, or a religion : and this feeling that there must be something beyond the toil and materialism of the daily grind is an impulse that is surely part of humanity, something universal.





And quite beautiful. The underlying feelings, impulses and goals are basically exactly the same, surely, wherever the specific religious faith that is practiced. In Java, when we visited an Islamic academy in a village near the vanilla plantation we were staying and studying at in Bandung, there was such a feeling of purity and benevolence among the attendees living and studying at the school that it literally brought tears to my eyes as we stood there talking to the people by a river and forest; in Melacca, Malaysia, the smell of vetiver khus khus paste, smeared over the entire almost naked body of a Hindu priest as he sat in quiet, absolute, meditation was breath-hushing, sacred, and one of the most pungently evocative scent memories I have ever had. Just a little further down the street, sandalwood incense burned in droves at the Chinese Tao temple as the local faithful sang beautiful, unearthly, religious hymns, all mingling with the soul-wrenching call to prayer from the tall, white minarets of the nearby mosque.










Here in Japan, we are fortunate enough to live in the former twelfth century capital of Kamakura, when Buddhism and Zen flourished and temples and shrines were founded in the hills. Even if you know nothing of the history or the minutiae of the religions (both Buddhism and the indigenous, animist Shinto religion are curiously intermingled here ), the austere, exquisite visual aesthetic and nature-fused simplicity of the places of worship; the mind-taming otherness of the centuries-old incense tradition are immediately, whatever your background, spiritual : there is an incontrovertible timelessness in ‘listening to incense’ while hearing the solemn, heart-slowing chanting of the monks, flowing out from the temple precincts that can stop you in your tracks: transport you, for a time, to another place.






It is this double-sided aspect of religion – at once the sheer hypocrisy and evil that is generated by it, and the accumulated beauty and solemnity that appeals, innately I think, to something in human nature, that so fascinates. The intolerance; the contradictory hatred, and the rituals and mesmerizing gilded trappings all inextricably linked, and yet, despite my deep loathing of the former, I still appreciate the latter, for the interior resonances these ceremonies generate, the sense, imagined or otherwise, of the tranquil immortal ; of soulfulness; even, on occasion, the possibility of the divine.









Last year, on a Saturday morning, for no particular reason, we decided to go to the Russian Orthodox Church in Ochanomizu just to spend a day in that neighbourhood of Tokyo, but also to experience the atmosphere of St Nikolai – a chill of lingering frankincense and Byzantine mosaics and iconography that, as I entered, immediately soothed and altered the temperature in my mind. Scent, incense, perfume, they are a vital and fundamental part of all the world’s religions, and I sometimes wonder whether my obsession and fascination with phials, vials, bottles and elixirs: liquids trapped within flacons and their transformational properties; the secrets of the crypt, the release of a drop of fragrance that is like a momentary feeling of transubstantiation, a pure release of spirit from the body, is not linked to this aching, ancient need for there to be more; that a love of scent, of all art, in its yearning for pleasure in spiritual clarity, is, in its own way, almost religious. Yes, there is a Dionysian, decadent, wanton side of perfume too, and I revel, unapologetically, in that also, but I still do believe there is a deeper, yet ethereal connection to the eternal in our sense of olfaction, that is embodied in the strangely sensual chastity of such ancient, Middle Eastern resins and essences as benzoin, frankincense, camphor, galbanum and myrrh:  lulling, trance-inducing : breath-slowing, and spirit-piercing.




I think even as a child I was always quieted and slightly awe-inspired by the smell of cold, whispered vestiges of the censer, hanging like the shadows of saints in the stain-glasses rafters of churches: it echoes, like silent music. Sinister, too, transgressing the mundane and the everyday : unfamiliar; the other side. L’Artisan Parfumeur’s brilliant L’Humeur A Rien, from 1994 – the same year that Etro released its groundbreaking, softer, more crepuscular, but equally Catholic Messe De Minuit ( or Midnight Mass ) – a stark, almost grim, evocation of the rain-soaked steps of church on a winter’s day, was the first ever incense perfume that I smelled, and I remember it blowing me away so much at the King’s Road original boutique in London, all curtained off in black (as part of the Sautes D’Humeur, or Mood Swings, box set released as a limited edition) that I simply had to buy it on the spot. It was chilling. Almost too evocative. This was an unwearable scent, for me in fact, death -ridden and depressing;  nihilistic, even (the ‘rien’ of the name like a void, a nothingness), yet it was marvellous for solo moments of back-of-the-hand contemplation, a temporary portal to another sphere.





Six years later, and to great, predictably iconoclastic success, Comme Des Garçons of course released the soon to be classic (and far more wearable) , Avignon, the first holographic church perfume that made me gasp out loud the first time I smelled it as it was so accurately redolent of actually being in a Catholic church (the days I would spend just gazing at Caravaggios in different locations around Rome; sneaking into mass at the big basilicas on occasion just to drink in the Latin incantations; settling, unobtrusively, into the dazzling, frankincensed air…….) ; this was obvious quite a brilliant and original piece of work, even if smelling it again recently I do still find it a tiny bit flat in the middle and base notes, now a bit generic, overfamiliar, despite its everything-in-the-pulpit-sink-including -the-pews-and-altar-and even-a- black-leather-bound-Bible vibe.





Cardinal, by Heeley, strikes me as a more single-minded incense perfume ; dry, a more commanding frankincense ; quite severe, quite masculine, despite its alleged lightness and transparency. I think I prefer this, as I often do with woody and incense fragrances,  on a girl (far more mysterious); the harsh, furrow-browed ministrations of a black or scarlet-clad cardinal used in a hipster, urban context just not particularly appealing:  too aggressive, too obvious – even though when worn by the right person, discreetly, and with the right knowingness, there is an edginess, even a humour, to Cardinal that  accounts for its continued, cult popularity.





LAVS, by Unum, perhaps the ultimate frankincense perfume in some ways, is truly quite fascinating to me from a number of angles. The back story to the perfume – that this is actually the scent worn by the present and previous popes (and thus in some ways the ultimate celebrity scent), was enough to make me really want to sample it; the perfume itself indeed, extraordinarily episcopal; garmented, ordained.




Strangely,  LAVS ( for Laboratorio Vesti Sacre), apparently started out as an ambient fragrance in the cloakrooms used to scent the vestments, airspace and costumes of the pope and other clergy with an instantly recognizable sacred air (and is there not something rather ersatz about this, even if practical?) ;  rather than the pope’s clothes being genuinely perfumed with the incense smoke that surround him in his chambers and places of worship, an idealized, almost celestial frankincense and elemi perfume was created to lightly spritz his person in his dressing room before then appearing in public. The fact that this indeed extremely religious smelling perfume is then available for the man on the street to buy strikes me as extraordinarily curious, as I would have assumed that there would have been Dan Brown levels of secrecy and exclusivity surrounding such a product – even denials of its very existence.




In fact, LAVS, as its name might suggest, does have a peculiarly laundry-like aura to it, a very high-planed, aldehydic, cherubial dryer-sheet aspect to its composition alongside its crystal-ashes of illumined frankincense tears; spectral, translucent, the holiest of holy washing machines in which the sacramental garments are cleared and plumed with soul-purging candor and released, unblemished, to the wind. It is a very interesting perfume, actually, having at once an impeccable, almost repellent cleanliness; yet also an almost spooky, ghostly aura of religious aloofness.





Mortel, from the generally impressive new range of perfumes by Parisian candlemakers Cire Trudon, is yet another religiously inspired perfume perfume chock full of frankincense, but is far more human than all the perfumes I have described above, less infallible. While the sacramental elements of its myrrh and benzoin based formula are immediately apparent and set quite a familiar tone, this perfume is ultimately more bound in our earthly, more bodily realities, the warm, erotic basenote of cistus absolute quite a vivid and candid expression of human desires. This is a man. A real person with skin. A touch retro masculine perhaps in its leanings ( but in this case, convincingly, sensually so ), Mortel represents, according to perfumer Yann Vasnier,






‘The artist, living between shadow and light …. a mortal creature.


Halfway between the religious and the revolutionary, with an unquenched thirst for eternity, Mortel is a revolutionary drive that combines virile force and natural harmonies.


A fatal attraction.’





This, for some reason, speaks to me. I don’t know why. I am not even entirely sure what the creator of Mortel is trying to say here exactly, in truth, but it does seem to be intimating and touching on,  nevertheless, the eternal dilemma that I have described above – the ever continuing struggle between the cruelty and brutality of our greed and power driven world, with its blinkered hatred, bigotry, and intolerance masquerading as love and pious ‘religion’ –  and yet, simultaneously – always – our inner, ancient, inexorable, inextinguishable, never-ending drive towards the unknown……………….the godly, the angelic, and the mystical.











Filed under Frankincense

OF TOKYO: PLAY SERIES (BLACK) (2012) by Comme des Garçons + HINOKI (MONOCLE 1) (2008)

I found an exquisitely deep and evocative hiba cypress oil the other day and thought that I would repost this. Autumn is here: it is the time for forests.




Source: OF TOKYO: PLAY SERIES (BLACK) (2012) by Comme des Garçons + HINOKI (MONOCLE 1) (2008)


Filed under Flowers