My sister has the enviable, but rather daunting task of welcoming Dame Maggie Smith today at the television company she works for ; greeting the grand Dowager of Grantham when she arrives with her chauffeur at reception, making her a drink, and escorting her upstairs to a private viewing room to approve or disapprove of a documentary that they are making about her, also featuring Dame Joan Plowright, Dame Eileen Atkins, and the inestimable Dame Judy Dench (so quite a lot of ‘dames’).
What perfume – and what clothes?! – to wear, as they go up (silently?) in the lift?
My sister is usually a torrid and sensual whirl of Roma Biagiotti and L’Artisan Nuit Du Tubereuse worn together, so one can imagine the twitch of the Living Institution’s nostrils as she damningly reads the air and turns her purview in her direction; a tightening of the icon’s lips as they both fixate on the floor numbers above them, and Deborah holds her breath in.
Perusing the essential, and inexhaustible, Celebrity Perfume Guide, however, I find in fact that this most venerable of British actresses wears a perfume I have never heard of before, a scent from the 80’s called Madeleine De Madeleine, apparently a drier, more reserved Piguet Fracas, a tuberose that my own fiery and impetuous sibling also wears, as it should happen, to quite ravishing effect.
Two hot tuberoses, stuck together in an elevator.
Perhaps they’ll get along like a house on fire.
That time of year is now very close on the horizon, when we ‘gear up’ for the colussus that is Christmas, fill up our shopping carts with truckloads of nonsense, and begin to tie things up at work before the winter break. Start organizing the requisite office Christmas party, where legless backsides are photocopied during clumsy embraces, shiny red noses are ‘hilariously’ donned by the office clowns, and repressed desires are sometimes, later, regretfully expressed.
Japan also has its end of year release: the annual and unavoidable bonding ritual of the ‘bonenkai’ : usually quite spirited and raucous affairs, where sake and beer are consumed in copious quantities as company employees gather in large numbers in restaurants and izakaya, and where it is acceptable to get quite drunk and perhaps pry a little bit more than you ought to into the personal life of that person you were always a bit curious about; when your boss has the right to make fun of you, sometimes quite mortifyingly so; hog the mike at karaoke; and everyone, red-faced and stumbling for the last train, is kind of glad when it is all over ( and any long denied secret assignations will be discreetly made, later, for a ‘love hotel’ )….
Traditionally, though, the British Christmas office party is more out in the open ; over the top; even scandalous : a bit of a free for all, a disengorgement of pent up frustrations when people kind of know they have free license to be naughty, and wild; and then can later just blame it all on the booze, after they have snogged their secret crush by the water fountain, or have embarrassedly moved in a bit closer to that person they have long had an eye on stuck furtively, and longingly: frustrated and bored, for years, behind the keyboard of their computer.
Organza Indecence, a quite daring fragrance from 1999 by Givenchy that was inexplicably discontinued five years later ( to the horror of its devotees – this scent now has a large cult following and extortionate prices on eBay) strikes me as the perfect perfume for this familiar scenario : the ideal, invisible weapon for a premeditated, inebriated stumbling against that suit you have spent the entire year yearning for; fumbling; almost spilling your drink as you graze his lapels, snug – ‘unintentionally’ – in your heated, ferally evocative perfume.
Mature. Rational. A warm and pulsing woody cinnamon amber with a heart of naked vanilla, Indecence is pretty much as sultry as they come, with the syrupy, heavy breathing cedar of the parfum extrait version of Shiseido’s Feminite coupled with the dense vanilla spice of L’Elephant by Kenzo: not as elegant nor as mysterious as the former (not by a long mile); nor as sweet nor as radical as the latter, but still a rich, stealthy, and very adult-rated perfume that will make your Secret Santa clandestine desires known quite explicitly, as you move in closer- to ‘Last Christmas’ – without your ever whispering a word.
Recently I have taken to burning perfume.
This began when deciding that a bottle of Maja Myrurgia, given to me by my perfume cohort Zubeyde, would smell better in the air than on my skin, and, dipping my daily Japanese incense sticks in a used bottle of 19 ( come on, I’m not that sacrilegious ), once they had dried, and absorbed, the delicate lavender rose Spanish patchouli of that black-laced, widowed classic, when lit, I was delighted by the gentle, powdered, calming and genteel miasma that arose slowly in the air. The incense itself is benign and unobtrusive enough to not interfere with the essential components of the scent, just softens it….
In our ‘genkan’, or entrance, we have incense sticks dipped like oil slicks in a densely scented broil of raw patchouli essential oil and Annick Goutal’s strangely witchy Mandragore Pourpre. While the black pepper and citrus beginning of the scent on my skin is almost annoyingly fresh and alive, when lost in a skin of liquid patchouli, the anise and heliotrope facets of the perfume that I like work nicely as semi-hypnotic scent wands that greet me pleasingly when I come home after a hard day’s night. When burnt, the smell is outrageous, the darkest, most sinuous patchouli perfume you can imagine, snaking its way in plumes among the nooks and crannies of the house, lingering fingers of roots and dust and powdered elixirs.
And upstairs, shockingly, I have been burning No 5. My extrait bored me, and I wanted to smell it airborne. Delightful, the soft aldehydic roses and jasmine floating on clouds of ambered smoke: an outrage, an offering.
There is still much about last year’s eye-opening trip to Java that I haven’t spoken of, not least the vanilla course and the amazing things we experienced on the plantation in Bandung. But I was wearing Bal A Versailles the other day, lost in its animalic, bacchanalian richness, when I suddenly remembered that I had, in fact, actually seen (and smelled) a real civet in the flesh – the animal whose secretions form a crucial, and giddily sensual, component in some of the world’s most important perfumes.
On that day we were taking a break from vanilla to look at cardamom, lemongrass, dragonfruit, and papaya plantations, but just as we were leaving, after a delicious home-cooked lunch, our guide happened to mention, as part of an overview of the farm, the special gourmet ‘civet coffee’ (or kopiluwak) that they produced in small quantities. As this is by far the most…
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We usually go to Isezakicho, the seedier, more ragtaggle side of Kannai station in Yokohama where all the thrift shops and vintage perfume and Thai karaoke bars are, but the beauty of essentially being out of the world for a while, but ready to plunge back in it, is that you suddenly wake up one day with a place you want to go seething in your conscious like a pre-ordained destiny, a place you haven’t been to for a very long time – but you know you have to go to; there and only there; particularly on a cold, crisp but beautifully sunny Sunday stretching out before you when you just want to see and be and explore in wider, open spaces. And so we decided to go for a long stroll from Motomachi to Yamashita Park and through to the other side of the port of Kannai, the more stately and elegant side of the city with its European inspired stone buildings, maritime flavour, and melancholic, almost haunting, aura.
Through the Christmas music of the quaint and chichi Motomachi shopping street we passed by the ocean and Marine Tower; Barney’s New York; and through to Yamashita Park : families strolling, dogs frenetic, magicians doing tricks, ships at port of call, and, to our delight, an unexpected rose garden that was almost magical in its prettiness.
As chance would have it, being rather rose-oriented myself of late, I happened to be also wearing Rosarium Shiseido (the shampoo and the conditioner, which, though disastrously wrong for my hair type – it looked like pitiable strands of seaweed clinging to a rock, the worst hair day ever, the only negative point in what was otherwise a delightful day and evening out..) still does smell very pleasing; simple; a tea rose, rose hip and ‘living rose’ classical, accessible rose fragrance that provided a realistically perfumed backdrop to the stunning preponderance of flowers : the roses themselves, beautiful, fluttering in the cold breeze in their rows – inexplicably, unscented.
I do wish I hadn’t opened this though.
I will confess that will power is not my strength. Chocolate; booze; tightly sealed bottles of vintage perfume. And coming home late last night after my first day back at work, and reading the exhortations to open and experience the beautiful bottle of Moment Suprême that I discovered the other day in an out of the way bric-a-brac shop in Yokohama, I had no choice: my pitifully low levels of resistance were destroyed.
Usually when I find a flacon of vintage preciousness I have some idea of how it will smell. Not so with Moment Suprême: I had vague remembrances from somewhere, but had no concrete conception of the perfume that was locked within the bottle, and box, an undiscovered perfume that spoke to me, in its subdued presentation, of the twenties or thirties in the most elegant, and simple manner possible.
I was told that Moment Suprême was an…
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It goes without saying that basenotes are fundamental. They are not an ‘optional’ afterthought. A perfume, unless the lightest of colognes, is not a perfume without them.
While we might be tempted to fall, like people, for first impressions, it is the lingering aftertaste, the core of a fragrance that counts.
And yet these days there seems to often be a vague betrayal at the end of our perfumes, even when, like ‘Rose Nacree Du Desert’, they begin rather ravishingly, all powdery benzoin- licked roses feasting on patchouli and light trimmings of oudh and you think ah!
But what is left on the skin, a scent strip, a few days, hours- or weeks even, later?
The cheapest of insistent, even squalid, ‘white musks’
To me, such endings feel like a deception.
‘We both know that it was a girl
back in Bethlehem
And on that fateful day
when she was crucified
She wore Shiseido red’
sings Tori Amos on Boys For Pele, cementing once gain the iconic status of Shiseido in the western eye, its rarified, aloof and untouchable Franco-Japonicity.
And yet the Shiseido that we know way out west and the one I know here are really quite different. The gleaming, curved beauty of the feline Serge Lutens collaborations such as the groundbreaking and quite brilliant Feminité Du Bois, or the now almost mythical Nombre Noir, have almost nothing in common with the far more homey and almost pedestrian fare that one finds here on your local Shiseido counter: sweet, and outdated, aldehydic nothings such as More, the original old musty fresh Zen, or Mémoire; or the powdery, green and irisian Chanel N°I9 wannabe, Murasaki.
While the best of…
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