Monthly Archives: March 2019

BLACK VINES by KEROSENE (2014) +my last three SURREAL days in London



– Anne Pigalle





I have had an unbelievable few days in London but as I am preparing for tonight’s big launch event ( The Perfume Society, mine and D’s family, old friends, people I haven’t seen for over twenty five years all in attendance), this might have to be an abridged version. I feel slightly breathless.



On Monday we went to Rouillier White (the perfume shop extraordinaire in East Dulwich where the event tonight is to be held), just to get our bearings, and to meet the owner, Michael Donovan, who is highly involved in all aspects of the industry , owner of the shop and his own perfume line, St Giles, and who was incredibly friendly, down to earth, ebullient and effusive with an almost intimidatingly vast knowledge of and passion for scent ( he loves the extreme, the wonderful and the weird, like Black Vines, a smell which is like cramming your face with licorice allsorts while guzzling ouzo or pernod – I have never known such a shocker of aniseed in such high concentration over cinnamon and woods – one of the most singular scents I have ever experienced : I asked for a sample, while D bought a bottle of Histoires de Parfum’s excellent 1899, a tobacco celebration  of the birth of Ernest Hemingway whose sillage on the streets of London  leaves me giddy with pleasure).




What I also really respect, aside knowing everyone who is anyone ( I heard some tantalizing secrets ) is Michael’s ethos : he deliberately won’t stock anything over 150 pounds because he believes it can alienate certain people in the local community – when luxe is taken to absurd levels of snobbery – and so he also has very inexpensive colognes stacked close to the higher niche to make the whole experience more relatable;  while in the home furnishings section there are wooden chopping boards made by prison inmates to help them get back on tbeir feet after they are released; lights made by Syrians living in war zones to keep them alive – for me this is a beautiful place that celebrates perfume but is also socially conscious and very human. I couldn’t really ask for a better place to celebrate the book ( I will be taking the audience on a tour of some scents that are featured in Perfume but are also sold there as an interesting collaboration).






Tursday was UNBELIEVABLE for me. As a pre-launch party, a friend had spontaneously decided to hold a gathering at his stunning flat at the Barbican – which has a 26th floor fully panoramic view of the entire city that has to be seen to be believed). I met the tailor to Queen Noor, the king or queen of the London underground  drag and cabaret scene who cannot live without a house full of hyacinths and tuberoses, a New York stand up comic, old friends I hadn’t seen for decades, and, to my utter astonishment, on a whim, because we had been connected through Facebook, a singer – Anne Pigalle ( pictured), whose album from 1986, Everything Could Have Been So Perfect I have loved ever since, and whose second one, 33 years later – Ecstase, a drunken, Fassbinder evocation of late night bars and chansons ( she calls herself The Last Chanteuse ) we have recently been listening to in our kitchen.



Not only did she decide to come to the party, even though we have never met in person ( this was my first time meeting a pop singer whose records I own and I was slightly starstruck), we ACTUALLY PERFORMED TOGETHER. I quickly tried to work out the chords to Looking For Love on the grand piano and then we just did it as friends chatted drinking red wine.




I am still reeling.











And then yesterday : I was at the BBC, on Radio London, speaking live in front of half a million people in a segment between Brexit and Bananarama with the lovely Jo Good, a really fun woman and genuine perfume lover who clearly really likes my book (as she was quoting extensively from it )………. …    I don’t know ::::::::the whole experience was dizzying: all the security, the rushedness of it (‘ok Neil, you’re on after the news and a song’), and then suddenly there I was, just saying whatever came into my head over the natural course of the conversation  and then flushed and mindbombed out into the fresh air where Duncan was waiting for me.






He and his parents have just gone out for the day, to go to Westminster to see all the Brexit protesters – for and against- quite interesting to see it all up close, history being lived,  and do other sightseeing – and let me just mull on what I am going to talk about tonight while I marinate in the bath  ( a gorgeous Italian iris soap I found at a charity shop which will prepare my No 19 very nicely indeed ).






I know these days will remain with me forever.






I will get back to you later.








Filed under Flowers




I am not one for the barbers ( I have actually had a phobia of getting my hair cut my entire life), but after a pub lunch in Pimlico, on the spur of the moment, I decided to pop in to a place on the corner of the road – all tattoos, bikers, ZZ Top and Guns N Roses – to have a quick hair cut and beard trim.



The stylist was from my neck of the woods – Birmingham – and was as beautiful as a woodland satyr: piercing blue wolf eyes, lanky, floppy indie boy hair, and as the d and I sat down to beers ( since when do you get beer at the barber’s? I have been in the wrong country for too long ) we discussed horror movies, Japan, and what to do about my conservative visuals ( only Burning Bush is wild and wears anything ……… I myself am boring and staid fashion-wise in the extreme).




He smelled really nice. Typical – blue sports fragrance- but not intrusive, nor abrasive, not staggeringly brutalizing your senses like so many I have come across: I assumed it was just some supermarket body spray but was intrigued enough to ask him about it eventually, and it was Versace’s Eros.




We havejust got back to the flat and his smell is all over me. I can smell myself and him on my clothes and skin, like a forty minute infatuation that lingers on the body like an imaginary kiss. And I think this is what perfume is : even if the scent in question is not a masterpiece (which this unquestionably isn’t), if at the very least it is balanced and well made, and suits the skin of the individual wearing it,  it seeps into your consciousness and bloodstream….,, the momentary pleasures of real, and spontaneous, human interaction.






Filed under Flowers





London in spring is cold and windy but the blossom delicate and beautiful : we are staying at an apartment in Pimlico near the Thames; quite odd but enjoyable being tourists in our own capital city, if necessary for the week’s engagements – we have just come back from an interview on Monocle Radio London which will air on the Sunday Brunch show from 10am tomorrow.



We co-ordinated our scents somewhat : me in vintage 19; D in Suede De Suede, a sample of which we picked up from Les Senteurs on a rushed trip there after arriving at the nearby Victoria Station from Norwich just before closing time ( many, many perfumes I didn’t know : I will have to go back – the whole place has been completely refurbished since the last time I was there ).  I am quite intrigued by the Atelier Des Ors range, and liked Heeley’s Vetiver Veritas (2014), a very earthy vetiver that develops gorgeously on the skin but is essentially just the essential oil just slightly embellished with lavender and mint and thus, it has to be said, a total rip off ( I could easily make it myself).



Suede De Suede, on the other hand, is quite original. I tend to prefer suede scents over leather ( as in the original pre-reformulation Daim Blond ), and this Mona Di Orio take on the material is quite an odd beast – suavely tiered with deeper wood notes underneath in the usual oudhish contemporary vein, but fluffed and honeyed up with unexpected notes of osmanthus, strawberry leaf and Norwegian cloudberry – you get all the tactile strata all at once, in a smooth, yet not predictable formula that smells quite gentlemanly on the D (and the radio interviewer, Georgina, loved the combined smell when she entered the room at the Monocle offices where we were waiting – I told her the connecting factor between our two perfumes was leather).



The interview went quite well I think -this was my first time ever having this kind of experience,  though Duncan was on Radio Norfolk once as a kid after winning a helicopter ride for scholastic achievement ; we talked about the genesis of the book, and we tested it out on air ( so annoying, though, that my Histoires De Parfums Noir Patchouli was in the wrong bag to be whipped out at exactly the right time on air, as it would have been a perfect match in her request for something musky and hippyish – —- she found the Fragonard Reve Indien – a gorgeous patchouli-laden amber I instead selected too sweet and overbearing, though interestingly did seem to be drawn towards my musty old box of vintage Vol De Nuit which she applied to her wrist; on the other a blast of Sana Jardin’s Savage Jasmine, carnivalesque and brazen, which smelled heady to say the least).




The studio ponged afterwards with all the airlocked, coalesced odors, D also taking part in the interview and the bag rummaging and talking about the female pioneers of flight in the 1930’s and the indoles at the heart of white flowers. Georgina thought it was charming we had coordinated our scents as we leaned into our mics,  a deliberation that could, I imagine, come across as Gilbert & George eccentric, but to me it is necessary. Sometimes I think couples don’t actually think enough about their confused miasmas when they go out and swirl together :::: two great perfumes have the possibility of smelling vile when malcombined…….like tomato ketchup and vanilla ice cream, or horseradish, roast beef, and violet.







Filed under Flowers

my book has come out today and now i will shut up about it





Filed under Flowers







The journey back to England began horrendously.




We were safely at the airport, on time, and I went through customs. And Duncan was taking a long time. Much longer than he should have been taking, when you usually go straight through. I waited. What was going on? Had he suddenly been taken ill? There is  a history of fainting. But he had been fine, both of us were, really excited to be coming back to England for a bit for my designated five minutes of fame and I couldn’t quite imagine that that was the case. Something was delaying him.I considered looking at the Chanel concession, but the thought bore me to death. I looked to see what other Duty Free there was, but why was he taking so long. And the clock was ticking, boarding was becoming an imminent necessity. And still he hadn’t passed immigration. But with all the officers and plexiglass and barriers you can’t go back, obviously, and I couldn’t see what was happening. But finally, when I went to the far right, the ingress for the officials, and,  there he was…….


















The red no entry sign. The not being able to talk to each other or kiss or hug goodbye – we were like Pyramus and Thisbe, whispering through walls. I was utterly gutted and speechless. And no idea what to do. And I decided to continue, because the tickets are so expensive from Japan – fixed at vastly elevated prices – and I have radio interviews; a big launch party and a family gathering yesterday evening to celebrate (fantastic – a really lovely evening), but I had no choice but to get onto the miserable plane alone, crying cheap tears watching A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody, and then gradually , slowly, as all the booze sunk in, drawn in and mesmerized by the real cinema of First Man and the first flight to the moon, which allowed me, for a while, to finally forget the empty seat next to me and endure the sleepless 12 hour journey to Paris, where I smelled the vile chemical miasmas of all the disgusting perfumes on offer and felt nauseous at how foul contemporary perfume is;  got on a plane to Birmingham but had a panic attack becauseI didn’t have an aisle seat as requested; then switched and sat next to a man I started talking to – a Pakistani hypnotherapist from Leicester who was amazingly interesting and who absorbed some of my pent up stress; and we talked about the meaning of life; our hatred of the strictures of nationality, and agreed that all culture is a strait jacket and that ultimately, all we really care about is being free.  Fascinating. And I finally got my suitcase, which took so long…..met my parents waiting for me at arrivals, who hugged and commiserated me on the lack of D and arrived home utterly zonked, stinking,  and exhausted and unable to even properly utter any sentences.







D, back in Japan going through the bureaucratic motions, is going to do his darnedest to get the visa sorted out and pay for another flight as I NEED HIM HERE. This is my time: the book comes out next week, I am going to be in Japan Vogue (!!!!!!!!!!), on BBC London Radio (!), the devastatingly trendy Monocle Radio (what to wear?!) as well as Talk Radio Europe, with a potential listening audience of two million people, a fact that I find incomprehensible, especially considering that I stutter and garble and will just sound like a gibbering idiot probably and will just have had breakfast at Duncan’s parents’ house – IF HE GETS HERE- and







Anyway I just felt I needed to share some of that in an update. It was a hideous journey out. But I must say that it was s a marvellous antidote, the next day to discover that  the lovely Persolaise, who received an advance copy of my book a few weeks ago, had reviewed it on his website : the timing couldn’t have been better for me – and what a lovely balm to my mangled nerves.




Here is the review:








I couldn’t be more pleased with what he says about it. Being fully aware of its flaws and lacks – he mentions that I forgot to include scents such as Habit Rouge (and how could I have forgotten Geoffrey Beene’s Green Flannel  in either the violet or green chapter?) something I realised after the fact – it was a MAELSTROM of stress and deadlines last summer and I honestly almost lost my mind at one point, there are so many omissions and things that got lost in the mania of the final edit…..and I suppose as the writer of  the thing I sometimes forget that there might be good things about the book as well: it was lovely, and very gratifying, therefore, to have someone else’s reaction to the thing after being stuck so much in my own head, someone who knows more than I do about perfume and is a great writer himself. I am delighted.






We had a wonderful family party last night, with my aunt, uncle, cousins and second cousins, animated and hilarious, like the parties of my childhood, and a moving champagne toast by my dad, and I feel quite exhilarated about the coming two weeks here – I just have to seize the moment. The sun is out, even if it was just sleeting as well for a few minutes (the weather here is insane), and I feel very much here, and present, and in the moment. Quite happy.






I really could have done without the drama at immigration though.



I felt sick to the pit of my stomach.


Filed under autobiography, Flowers, neurotic meltdowns, PERFUME: IN SEARCH OF YOUR SIGNATURE SCEN, Psychodrama









Many of us have days when we feel a bit rubbish. If not actual trash ( though ‘trash’ as an aesthetic genre in cinema and in TV and in music, has always had an inexorable pull for me).




The good thing about this brash, uplifting fruity  mishmash of a pop song is that it is at the very least not depressing. Using the depleted husks of essences that are usually deemed unusable,







this primary coloured concoction is upbeat, full bodied, and only very slightly hardboiling and unravelling at cynical seams.






Currently very popular, I have just been told, with girls in Ginza.





















Filed under Flowers


My friend gave me some Shiseido Euthrixine soap.









It smells like old fashioned carbolic: medicated, but also quite floral and talcy: a bit Grosssmith Phul-Nan, ancient dream of  Heure Bleue.



Nice. But it’s a pity it can’t wash away the Michael Jackson documentary from my head.












Filed under Flowers

KILLED BY PERFUME – a tale of Japan, earthquakes, and my potentially toppling, lethal, perfume cabinets


It is eight years since the catastrophic tsunami in the north.

Sometimes I repost this piece as a memorial / capturing of those terrible times.


943ED759-8084-4C09-A366-6D64C824CD18via KILLED BY PERFUME – a tale of Japan, earthquakes, and my potentially toppling, lethal, perfume cabinets


March 11, 2019 · 3:36 pm


The Black Narcissus


Neil : Hi, Mandy. What time is it there and what kind of temperature? Are you at home in Berkeley? It sounds like an incredibly appealing place from what I read about it in ‘Fragrance’.

Mandy Aftel: Looks like 7:02 pm and 70 degrees – gorgeous – will have a sunset soon out the window, over a distant view of the Golden Gate bridge. Yes, it’s really paradise here…

N: I love San Francisco.

MA:I see it out the window every day, well, except for the foggy ones.

 Sure beats Detroit, which is where I spent the first twenty years of my life…

N: Does it ever make you think of ‘Vertigo’? I adore that film. When we were there we were going through the streets thinking about it, imagining the film…. I did the same thing in LA with Mulholland Drive.

MA: Yes, I love…

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The Black Narcissus


According to the Guerlain website, the eau de parfum version of Heritage – though reformulated, naturally  –  is still available and in production, so I am already breaking my own rules and cheating in some ways with this post. Unlike other scents we will be discussing, this one is not defunct. And yet I can never find it anywhere: the bottle has changed, along with its contents: so to all intents and purposes it might as well have hit the bucket.

At the time of its launch in 1992, Guerlain, like most perfume houses, released new creations to its roster far, far more sporadically than it does now. While the current perfumer-in-house Thierry Wasser is apparently contracted to formulate ten new perfumes a year (that’s just over a month to create a top-to-bottom successful fragrance formula : no wonder the majority of them fall by the wayside), Jean Paul Guerlain…

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