“It’s true that man should not give in to the dream, but without it, what is life?”
This poem, by Thai poet Montri Umavijani, father of the perfumer and founder of Parfums Dusita, Paris, Pissara Umavijani, in its simplicity, and philosophical profundity, really speaks to me. You might even say my life is based on this push and pull, as is D’s, for sure, as is many people’s ( but not everyone: I feel certain that a majority of people are more rooted, and contented, in ‘reality’…… there are some of us certainly more lost to dreams, or ‘giving in’ to that impulse to escape into anywhere other than hard facts, railway tracks, and the ticking of the clock.
Les Parfums Dusita specifically promote Siamese influences in their creations ( I would actually like to interview the owner and maker of the perfumes to ask her specifically about this ); my own knowledge of Thailand is limited to a trip we made to Bangkok and the island of Ko Samui over twenty years ago; a wooden hut on the beach; mosquito nets, the warm waves lapping at the bottom of the submerged poles; the brilliant gold of the royal temples; coconut milk straight from the cool warm source.
Other things : Thai food, which I adore – one of the only cuisines to stir both the appetite and the loins simultaneously (some French dishes share this attribute, interestingly) ; thinking about this piece I found myself wondering how relevant a link there might between food and perfume ( I had some jasmine and orange blossom yoghurts the other day that blurred the lines quite beautifully ). If British traditional food is simple, plain, pleasing, but unadorned, then Floris, Penhaligon’s, Woods Of Windsor, Yardley and the like perhaps share perfumed characteristics; France, with its rich, complex sauces, has the eroticism of Dior and Guerlain; Italy more vivacious, tasty, easily satisfying – something I find to be true of many Italian perfumeries like Santa Maria Novella, Profumum, I Speziali Fiorentini and so on; and this with its perturbingly satisfying fermented fish sauce bases; chillis, fresh herbs and spices, you can’t help wondering if some of the very pungent aromatic elegance of Thai traditional food will find its way into Dusita.
But first back to dreams. I have written about this before, but one of my very favourite film directors is Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Palme D’Or in 2010 for his exquisite Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives ( Duncan did past life regression at the weekend ……… more on that later ); a slow moving immersion of cinematic poetry that takes you to places you have never been to before nor thought of going ( that is, if you can stay awake: many – finding his films plotless and excruciatingly low paced, cannot). I am / we are the opposite : as Duncan lay sweating in a delirious fever in Laos I wrote about the film Tropical Malady, which for me is one of the best films ever made; on Sunday night we were lost in Blissfully Yours, his second film; in hospital, this time two years ago as I lay recovering from my leg operation and the extraordinary trauma of it all, for both of us, as we watched his beautifully serene and strange film Cemetery Of Splendour, the wind outside blowing the curtain gently, mirroring the same scene in hospital, a man with injured legs, with a visitor ( both of us in pale green pyjamas), the breeze blowing in through the curtains in his room, it felt like some kind of passageway into another world : mystifying, yet cleansing and purifying.
All of the films I have seen so far by Apichatpong Weerasethakul deal with reincarnation, in which spirits live side by side with the living, come back to visit us, or we are suddenly plunged into remembrances of being a Laotian princess from centuries before, being ravished by a catfish; or in the case of Cemetery Of Splendour, soldiers with a catatonic sleeping sickness are fighting battles in other realms, other centuries, a deep belief in other rooms, other lives, which is apparently how many Thai people experience reality.
To preface perfume reviews with all this might seem indulgent and perverse (forgive me if that is so : my reality is not so good at the moment : I have found, and am finding, the adaptation from the surreal thrill of everything that happened in London to the isolated timetable of my peripatetic loneliness unacceptable – something is going to have to change; I have reached a crossroads and feel slightly as though I were drowning ), but Parfums Dusita itself is based, it seems to me, on similar ideas, about giving, or not giving, into the dream; Pissara’s father, a wanderer who condensed his experiences into encapsulated poetry, apparently, according to one quote I found, had similar feelings about identity to the ones that I do:
He said there were two kinds of journeys, from the familiar to the strange, and from the strange to the familiar, and some of the perfumes I have sampled by Dusita do definitely make me feel like this:
Melody De L’Amour, a ravishing white floral with an animalic, woody finish – all tuberose, gardenia, honey, Indian jasmine and Mona Nuit Noire sultriness, is quite something: tenderly erotic, potent yet refined- the passion of the above poem suited to its colouring in of emptiness and the void of nothingness ( I often feel at the moment ); Oudh Infini, again, connects a very rude core – on certain days, the sheer animal of the Laos Oud Palao base is simply shocking, not suitable for society, and yet at others I have understood the poem, which I don’t have to hand – I am on the train, speeding across the countryside to my evening’s teaching assignation, and might not even be able to finish this; it may have to be a two-parter – one moment in the early morning there was indeed a beautiful, noble freshness that aligned with the poetic line about a streak of silver in the morning light painting the whole sky shining gold….
I talked before about the relation of food to perfume, and if there is one. The umami, bodyliness that lies at the base of many Thai dishes: it does seem that this perfumer is specifically seeking a sublimation of erotic impulses almost hidden within her perfumes, an aspect of her style I like on the whole for its forthrightness but cannot necessarily carry off convincingly on myself. The new Splendiris, for me, has some similarities in terms of its musky, cedarwood base notes to both Melodie D’Amour and Oudh Infini – but I think I prefer my irises more plaintive and unsullied.
Issara, a fresh, musky hay scent with vetiver, sage, pine needles and other wood notes, smells absolutely gorgeous on the D and he might even get himself a bottle: sensual yet fresh, it reminds me a little of how he used to be in Jean Paul Gaultier’s Le Male back in the nineties, a very natural, warm masculinity with the ideal sillage.
Erawan, a darker, greener masculine based on vetiver and clary sage, is spikier and dark; resonant, like the lovers entering the jungle at night in Tropical Malady and transforming into mythical beasts. There is an interesting music to this scent, even though I am not the world’s biggest clary sage fan ( as some friends of mine know – and you are probably reading this; drinking alcohol and inhaling this herb together can be deleterious to the mind; it can even make you go a bit nuts ( but no details, please ); I probably wouldn’t wear this one for that very reason – the clary sage is quite prominent here – but I do find it original and intriguing.
Of the ones I have tried so far, probably the marvelous Sillage Blanc is the one I would wear most easily myself. In my notes to myself I wrote that it is
‘like vintage Paco Rabanne Pour Homme and vintage Cabochard de Gres parfum meeting in space and falling in love ‘
with this perfume the possible progeny; a gorgeously dry, green and powdery patchouli chypre with an excellent scent trail that brings to mind the classical French perfumery that Pissarra Umivijani obviously respects, and is channelling, yet through a modern, and quite different, thoughtful, fragrant consciousness.
To be continued..