Monthly Archives: April 2018


SO in the mood for all this kind of thing.

The Black Narcissus
















The bazaar at the Salvation Army store in Tokyo is held every Saturday from 9 til 2, and on the infrequent occasions that we decide to go, D and I always end up scrambling to get out of the house in time when we would rather be staying in bed. Yet somehow the shining beacon of potential bargains always beams bright enough for us to make the long-winded journey to the bristling heart of the metropolis, Shinjuku station (the busiest station in the world – 3 million people use it every day) and from there a meandering trip to a nice little neighbourhood called Nakano-Fujimicho, where the Salvation Army has its headquarters.


It has a lovely, bustling atmosphere, very friendly and non-avaricious, Tokyoites and foreigners and people who look rather down on their luck rummaging happily…

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Like most  perfume lovers, I usually associate the great Germaine Cellier, one of the most daring and innovative perfumers of the twentieth century, with her fierce productions for Pierre Balmain and Robert Piguet : Vent Vert, Fracas, Bandit, and the gloriously androgynous Jolie Madame – all uncompromising, forward-looking perfumes that speak of intelligence, independence, and an emotive olfactory beauty.



We forget ( or in my case just don’t know ) that she also composed for Nina Ricci: a house with softer, more traditionally feminine codes that don’t necessarily tie in with our image of this legendarily provocative scent creator.




Yet if Fille D’Eve, one of the most suggestive and erotic perfumes in history, potentially indulged Cellier’s own sexual fantasies and took womanly carnality to an almost salacious extreme in its unveiling of naked pink flesh and the temptations of the serpent, Coeur Joie – a perfume I discovered only for the first time recently – hovers on the edge of tantalizing, but restrained, powder of peach blushes;  flourishes, then, into the cool of iris and violet and fecund jasmine rose, shimmering in an acknowledgement of classical aldehydes,  green-tinged with bergamot; delicately subdued …a gorgeously charismatic, but never overstated, secret, more yielding side of Cellier I had never known existed.












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bergamot #2




I had a bergamot bath this morning. Beautiful.  I don’t think there is any other essential oil I find more refreshing. I can’t use orange or grapefruit: in even small amounts they give me hives. Lemon burns. Lavender is too multifaceted for morning clarity; rosemary can make me feel aggressive. Cardamom is great when you find a good quality oil, but it is rare; that green, fresh and beautifully focused spice is like putting in a new lens: it brings you back to life.


Bergamot, for me, has similar qualities, but more delicate. It brings you round more gently : there is an inherent slight mystery in that scent, a quality removed. Despite its photosensitivity, I never react to it just in bath water, and as I float, immersed, in the morning silence ( just the birds and muffled ambient noise from the neighbourhood outside ) it is almost like a meditation: I dip a couple of notches into slight dream mode, while concurrently veining my way into consciousness.









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Bowie's Thin White Duke persona, smoking a Gitanes cigarette, 1976.



When we made our first excited forays onto the streets of Berlin ten years ago this summer, Duncan and I made our way, one rambling evening, to the cafe in Schoenberg where David Bowie and Iggy Pop were said to have spent their days plotting and scheming and smoking and just absconding, for a while, from the rock world of England and America. It was now just a standard place to get a drink, cosy with wide windows, comfortable cushions, and nice views of the road outside and the park across the way, a relaxing eatery, but just knowing that this was once the location where Bowie would hang out when he was here during the dark days of gloom and the continuing existence of the Berlin wall – visible from the Hansa recording studios where he made his masterpieces with Brian Eno during the ice and fog and the depths of the Cold War – was exciting: his ‘Berlin Period’, comprising the albums Low, Heroes and Lodger – all snarling funk, menacing, misery-laden electronica, desolate instrumentals and genuinely interesting experimentation as he struggled with cocaine addiction and the fall out of fame, one of my favourites of his oeuvre: legendary. It is natural, then,  that the great changeling and chameleonic innovator should now be synonymous in some people’s minds with the great mysterious and energizing city that is Berlin itself: a place that when we visited that first, delirious and heady summer, when we felt we were rediscovering ourselves, and found an ally: an edgy, conflicted city, fractured down the middle into East and West (a palpable, difference that is intriguing and aesthetically stimulating); a place laden with history and darkness but also thriving, creative, fun, and genuinely artistic, that was like an exhilarating injection of amphetamine in the arm. We loved the feel of it immediately and felt at home.







Parfumerie Vilhelm, a newish niche house from Paris that has poppy and upbeat titles in its collection (Darling Nikki, Morning Chess, A Lilac A Day, Modest Mimosa) has now released Poets Of Berlin, a fragrance that supposedly represents some of the Berlinesque current running through the liquid of its veins and which also explicitly references David Bowie, and his series of brilliant albums made there, as direct influences:







“Named for David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, Poets of Berlin is a subtly sugary confection of blueberry and lemon. But Poets of Berlin isn’t just empty calories: its vetiver undercurrent makes it the perfect perfume metaphor for the serious talent underneath Bowie’s glittery glam.”












Now, David Bowie was no idiot. In fact he was something of a genius. A genuine iconoclast and intuitive musician who spent his artistic public entire life in a constant process of reinvention; cutting himself off dead from his past entities, no matter how popular; attuned to everything related to his image and its effect; an artist who was hyperaware of everything ( I would imagine even smell and perfume too………. ), and I can tell you, that if he were to smell this affront to his memory, right now, I am sure that he would be spinning (or snarling ferociously) in his grave. Because although I am not an out and out Bowie Worshipper – I have plenty of friends that are though – his music has still given me an extreme amount of pleasure during my lifetime, and I do really think that if you are going to make a perfume that purportedly is directly inspired by the great man and his reputation in the city that he lived in,  it had better not just be some thick, sweet, and sickly cheap smiling concoction that smells exactly like every other candy floss floriental on the market – Marc Jacobs ‘Decadence’ I am looking at you – (and in truth smells closer to an international airport restroom), with a bogus concept – the simplistic contrasting of blueberry vanilla with vetiver – just obviously placed on the label completely after the fact. Because the fact is that this perfume, quite simply, is an insult.  The supposed ‘vetiver’ that allegedly runs under the ‘glittery glam’ (what?) of Bowie’s imagined shallow and empty pop exterior and represents ‘gravity’; the bogus vanilla that runs through the tacky base, which smells actually more like a Club Med poolside orgy with the local beachbums and sunburnt lager louts as cleavages are flashed drunkely in the moonlight than anything involving the real muse; the tagged on and to me cynical ‘poetical’ idea of this perfume – “hey, let’s link this with David Bowie!” – striking me as the most contrived and vacuous PR spin I have possibly ever encountered. The man would be fuming. Or grinning, and smoking, mystically. With a wolf’s glint in his bi-coloured eyes. Laughing at you and your silly, misguided commercialism. Or more probably, would simply come up with a brilliant, caustic and scathing song about it. That I would buy the 12″ mix of. Because, although not entirely disastrous in terms of olfactory makeup – the blueberry note is not so bad, even though it was nailed long ago far better in Britney Spear’s blueberry ur perfume Midnight Fantasy-  it is disastrous in terms of its totally fucked up name and mindless, unthinking thoughtlessness. This perfume, I must categorically argue,  is not the Poets Of Berlin.















Gallivant’s more strenuously subtle perfume, ‘Berlin’ comes a bit closer, for me at least, to the place that I have personally experienced and lived in on a number of occasions: a damaged place in many ways, but also a European centre of rebirth, creativity, and with its eye on the future. A clear, unisex, zesty composition based on grapefruit, schinus molle (a kind of conifer) and black pepper over a lightly woody black tea and patchouli, this is an energising, unthreatening, no-nonsense – an attribute I associate with many German people that I know – modern day scent that has a spring in its step (this does smell very urban); the newest trainers on the asphalt, fresh morning clothes; a self-assured keenness that is pleasant and attractive, sly sexy, and gently optimistic. Nothing to scream home about, necessarily, but well-blended, well-conceived, and a scent you would gladly be sat next to on a person riding the all night train system; beer in hand (god the beer in Berlin….it spoiled me forever; nothing has ever tasted good again since, seriously – we loved it); some clubber or other out for another fantastic night in one of the underground clubs there  (now that is the smell of Berlin: the  sweat smell of natural body odour and t-shirts on the dance floor; of horny young people living for the moment and the collectivity the city seems to inspire); or the aroma of the delicious and ubiquitous Turkish kebabs that we devoured hungrily on our way home practically every other night as we returned to our quarters ; the strong smell of German coffee, and hard black bread, drunk at dawn; the invisible scent of the Altbau stone edifices, and their cooling, yet cosy interiors; sekt; the grass and the elegant fountains of the outstretching parks. No. Perhaps cities, and people, especially, sometimes, are just too complicated, interesting, inspiring, to be ‘encapsulated’ in olfactory confections (especially if you don’t really even make the effort). Perhaps it is their uniqueness, the indefinable – felt emotionally, breathed in through the body in these places  – but not tangible, that makes their ‘pinning down’ in perfumery essentially pointless, quite a lot of the time, or at the very least, in the case of the  most complex and inspiring of beings, unattainable.














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The idea is based on rosemary, known to aid concentration; ginger, also, which stimulates the brain, and frankincense, lending the writer in question an almost holy aura of artistic suffering as he toils at his cursed desk in the search of something timeless (cedarwood, sandalwood, and ‘drift wood’ conjur up this idea effectively), Bertrand Duchaufour seamlessly blending these ingredients together in an atmospheric, if somewhat humourless, perfume made for new London outfit St Giles – other characters in the series including The Actress, The Stylist, The Tycoon, and The Mechanic.


Naturally, with the dizzying news that I am to be ‘a writer’, ‘an author’, I gravitated immediately to this one first when I opened the package sent here from England yesterday, wondering what the perfume could tell me about what, exactly, a writer is.



Like walking around saying that you are ‘an artist’, there is something quite irking when you meet people and they come out with the line ‘I’m a writrr‘; all wannabe LA waiter with screenwriting dreams and cut-throat ambition and possibly quite questionable talent;  a person who writes for a supermarket magazine and they say they are a writer; any words that you put down on paper that gets sold in some capacity making you a writer, and yet the phrase still holds such undeniable weight and gravitas that you can’t help but think of people like Susan Sontag or Philip Roth or any other literary heavyweights who have put their writerly stamp on the universe and been immortalised by their published words; it seems to me that this is an expression that almost, if you take these things too seriously, shouldn’t just be bandied about with unquestioning glibness.




A week or so ago I had lunch in the country somewhere in the Midlands near where my parents live with an old friend of mine from my teenage years who is a singer songwriter, someone who has struggled for years to get to the place that she is at;  in a cult for eighteen years, she managed to extricate herself from it eventually with a great deal of effort and difficulty; she is a single mother, has little support from her immediate family, and yet has never given up on the idea that she is going to make a living from her music, as that is the first and only thing that she has any remote interest in doing. A regular on the folk circuit in Birmingham, she has persevered with her craft, even if as yet it has been quite difficult to make an actual living from it (having a flesh and blood young child in the house to support makes that an absolute necessity for her), and before we met up she had written to me that she was supremely busy and rushed off her feet with her university studies but could spare a couple of hours on that Friday afternoon if I wanted to, and we met up.




I had assumed that J would be telling me that reality had bitten, that she had jacked in her dreams of writing and singing songs for a living because she had had no other choice;  but in fact what was true was directly the opposite; not only is  she now doing a university degree in songwriting, a qualification I hadn’t even known actually existed, she is also making her living teaching choir to the inmates in a local prison and a Jewish old people’s home, living and breathing music, getting deeply into the mechanics and the psychology of classic and contemporary songwriting, the bait and the hooks, the musical theory, with a view to writing songs, eventually, for other people professionally; selling apps that create instant harmonies and the like, as well as performing her own songs (she has a beautiful voice), and, the objections of her family notwithstanding, who come from much more conservative, materialistic stuff, just writing these songs for herself because they just come out of her and because she can do nothing else. She has to create. She feels she would just die, in her soul, otherwise, if she didn’t, and I she meant it quite literally. And I could totally relate to everything that she was saying. I felt a real kindred of spirit with her, we felt like renegades. Before I started writing about perfume, I was also in a black abyss, myself – lost without purpose, frustrated, and unrealised. 



My mornings alone in the house would gape up at me; a void that I didn’t know how to fill: at a loss. And quite depressed. I felt like everything around me was like a chasm of solidity and pointlessness, just going through the material motions. People are different: some are more psychically bound to the physical daily realities of this life; the chores, the walls of the house, the bills, the shopping, the necessities of existence, but I was never really interested in any of that (of course you have to deal with the physical realia of the week, but it never really adheres to me in any meaningful sense; it is all just something I want to slough off of myself like a snake and focus on what keeps me alive and in the moment).  We discussed whether J had felt that she could call viably herself a singer songwriter when she was making hardly any money from what she was doing for all those years and her reply was absolutely ; that is one thing that I have never veered from; I have always said I am a singer songwriter because I am a singer songwriter, that is what I do, and whether other people actually recognise that or not or whether I make any money from it has nothing to do with it whatsoever, because the important thing to me is that I do it, I live it, and that ultimately is all that really matters. I write music.




And I felt very inspired by this lunch that we had together. It was certainly not a surface or small talk conversation, not that there is anything wrong with those conversations when they are necessary in the right social context. But our time was limited, and in truth, I hate that way of communicating in any case – it just bores to me death. We talked about many things: childhood, relationships, the suffocation of suburbia and how we had had to get out of it, the difficulties she had gone through being counteracted and criticised by people close to her who thought she was a weirdo and a nutcase and an insufferable unrealist; but something in her sheer vehemence really struck hard with me, her conviction in the absolute need to do what comes instinctively, to go with your gut and just put it out there, no matter what other, more ‘reality’ bound,  people might say.




Sometimes you need society’s authoritization that you are something though for it to seem real: it’s like passing through some kind of membrane, from being a passive consumer of things to a producer of them; or else somewhere in between, in the  vast ocean of people typing out words on their computers now, now that it is all so much more democratic, personal expression, in the era of instantaneous publications (such as this one). Smelling The Writer on the back of my hand now, a quite interesting creation with an ephemeral top edge, the aldehydic ether that hangs over the upper notes alluding to the almost haunted atmosphere that we imagine a ‘real writer’ to have contrasting with a more animal fleshed, human aspect of the castoreum base, I can see that the perfumer has certainly, captured something of the image that ‘a writer’ should supposedly have. It is a good perfume, undeniably, even if not one I am sure I can personally wear, comfortably,  on my own skin.

























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flower baby





The moment I touched down in Japan ( about two hours ago – I am writing this on the final leg in the taxi : this, for me, is the same day I put that other piece up earlier ) – about twenty eight hours ago?


I switched on my phone and the first message I saw was that I









The best possible way to start my time back here.




I’m saying yes.






YES !!









What this will mean, in terms of how busy I will be, and the Black Narcissus, I don’t know ( but you know I won’t be able to resist it), but for a flower baby – see me pictured with my mother and her mother, playing with daffodils, to be able to publish a book about flowers; scent; perfume, all these years later, is an absolute delight.




I have just arrived home at the door.


Filed under Flowers







Pathetically, typically, infuriatingly, I have lost my glasses – the very day I am leaving England, making the last morning and evening with my parents more stressful and predictably Neilish than it need have been: I now face an endless flight back to Tokyo via Istanbul just able to see, but with strained eyes, the films that are necessary for me to weather the journey; will no longer be able to read the fascinating biography on Barbra Streisand I picked out from my mother’s book collection upstairs (I know, what a cliche of me, but I am loving the story of her phoenix-like rise out of emotional abuse and poverty and her absolute will to become ‘a star’, loving it); ugh, and even this, although I have just gone out to Boots and bought some ‘reading glasses’, meaning I can see the print but everything looks blurry and dizzy beyond, will have to be shorter than it might have been otherwise.


Not that I have been writing very much at all while I have been here, as you will have perhaps noticed. I have been all over the place, and not had any internet access while on the move on the train; seeing family and friends, more overbooked than I would have liked but then again you have to see people and I need that emotional connection: a lovely few days with D’s nephews and nieces in Norwich; trips to London and Portsmouth, time just spent here with my parents in the greenness of the garden watching the birds in the feeders, the constant rain and occasional glimpses of sunshine such a familiarly drab backdrop that my spirits have been absorbing some of that classic Englishness, even as I have one eye (myopic) firmly fixed on the warmer weather and cherry blossom that awaits once I get back tomorrow morning then face the anguish of an immediate return back to work on Friday.



England smells different to Japan: the air is clearer, sharper, the breath of the grasss, and of clouds, and of different trees. More replete for me, obviously, with memories that go back to when I was younger. People smell differently, too. Like Japan, the unscented are unscented, but those that are smelly here seem more so because of economical difficulty or indifference to hygiene ( in certain areas I sometimes have just felt that I have been in a George Romero zombie movie: the great unwashed: people shuffling along, grey and pasty-skinned, getting their shopping and substandard sandwiches: I have definitely missed the zing in the engine that is Tokyo); on the other hand the slower paced, less cravenly sacrificial society here, where people enjoy their private time – a much more gentle and self-centred (self-sufficient?) way of life, certainly has its cheery pluses, very far away from the cigarette breathed, dentally challenged reek that is often the norm in less smell-conscious Japan (where there is no fluoride in the water), and where many late middle-aged men, in my opinion, should be arraigned and given compulsory smell sense lessons, mandatory by law. Many of their young, freshly scented female office workers, at any rate,  would certainly be thrilled.




People here, obviously, do wear more perfume than they do in Japan, although I must admit that there has been less than I would have expected, or liked- and when I have smelled fragrance on people it has been crass and disgusting – no beauty in it  (the difference being when spent with my own friends and family: a deliriously good night of perfume was had when I went to the cinema with Helen to see the brilliant film The Square, last year’s Palme d’Or winner from Sweden at Cannes: she had booked the sofa seats at the back of the cinema where you could order drinks on your phone: I had spent the entire day bathing and preparing for the evening, doused in Indian Vetiver Khus oil worn in advance until it got to precisely the right level of scenting; coconut shampoo and conditioner, L’Occitane body lotion (the same smell as that lovely original hand cream), and by far the piece de resistance, and the scent I have been wearing the majority of the holiday, vintage Paco Rabanne Calandre Extrait, so silvery, green, beautiful and detached, yet comforting, soft and elusive that Helen was deliriously inhaling my sillage as I did hers; the vintage Chanel Cuir De Russie extrait I gave her the last time I was back which, like Tabac Blond, she renders mysterious and cold-warm and beautiful- she is always so effortlessly elegant); such pleasure to be immersed in absolute cinematic brilliance (the film is hilarious), imbibing big glasses of red wine, while swirling in a glorious aureole of each other’s perfume – this was an evening that I loved (“Swoon“, she said, as I leaned in with my perfume surrounding me from every angle); in Norwich, also, Duncan’s mother Daphne, intuitive with perfume and a giant consumer of it, wore the Lancome Sikkim I gave her mixed with some Ungaro Diva and a touch of Santa Maria Novella Patchouli for a dry, exotic, alluring aspect; Duncan himself took to wearing the Cardamom Coffee by Gorilla (delicious and dirty on him, very chocolatey), the bottle that Olivia and Greg bought me as a replacement for the ridiculous broken one; my sister was rocking her L’Artisan Nuit de Tubereuse with her usual sassy aplomb, while my mother had a daily change of perfumes at my behest, the most surprisingly stunning being one day when she wore an old bottle of Rochas Lumiere that I had given her last time she was in Japan, and which smelled almost unbearably fantastic, perhaps the best solar jasmine olfactory experience I have had in my entire life. Truly alive.



Perfume. The populace, as you already know, when they wear perfume, the ladies wear sickly vanillic florientals, and the gents wear horrifying sports scents, now with a requisite nuclear strengthed fake oudh chemical that I find so objectionable I can’t even find words for it. You get no scent, the smell of unwashed clothing and greasy hair (Japan is definitely way more immaculate in this regard); or this clobbering nasal aggression that makes me want to rewind the clock and do some kind of sabotage to prevent the oudh craze from ever happening (or just to have kept it in the Arab countries whence it originated and smells good when done in the proper manner). Ain’t nobody need, for example, a fake oudh note in the base of a verbena perfume, like there is in the base of Roger et Gallet’s Verveine Utopie, which starts off fresh and lemonish ( I love a good verbena note when I am in the right mood), but you immediately, in the back drop, sense that familiar slither of aggression and reject as it is just so unnecessary. No, on another lovely day in the town of Leamington Spa, a place half an hour from the more underinspiring place that I come from, Solihull ( I would go on pretentious aspirational days out to Leamington Spa as a seventeen year old, so much more pleased by its beautiful white Georgian buildings, nice tea rooms, and the park with the fountain), and it was lovely to go back there again on a nostalgia trip with my sister, going to all the charity shops looking for cheap bargains, and making a beeline for the lovely Cologne & Cotton, middle England at its most typical (but kind of lovely); all linen and towels and handwashes and soaps; their own range of well made perfumes; and a nice stock of French colognes: : I opted for a 500ml bottle of their Verveine – unsullied by bullshit, just clean and citric and perfect for the Japanese heat when I encounter it again in just a couple of months, and far superior to any other verbena cologne I have ever smelled before, like the L’Occitane, which again, like the Roger et Gallet, I find overburdened with aromachemicals).



Tubereuse Hedonie, on the other hand, a generous helping siphoned up from her own giant 500 ml bottle for me by perfume utopian Olivia, is a delight – and when I go back to work after Golden Week (the other spring holiday we have in just three weeks time (!) it will be my Work Scent. Clearly by Ann Flipo – anyone who knows L’Artisan’s Chasse Aux Papillons will immediately recognize this as a direct reworking; just tarter, fresher up top, less lindeny romantic flowers, but the same essential tuberosian structure, and more suitable, actually for a man. I have often considered buying the Papillons but there was always something just too femininely giddy in it for me to carry off convincingly; this is a stripped down but clarified cologne version that smells lovely on my skin and will probably become a regular signature. These things matter to me, they bring structure to my life, let me hone in on myself again if you know what I mean; it has been lovely in many ways coming back here – I needed to do it, absolutely, I needed to connect with my roots and just be here in England for a while. Eat all the calorific things I wanted to eat (fish and chips, roast beef dinners, Cornish pasties, Bakewell tarts). Just sit and watch English television.I also know though that for the time being at least, my creative life and my real base, permanently temporary though it may be, for the time being is in Kamakura, where the blossom will be out, the sun shining, the temperature higher – a woozy, future-filled, Japanese spring.





See you on the other side.







Filed under Flowers