I think I fancy some of this tonight
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’.
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.
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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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.
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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