Monthly Archives: July 2019

CHARLES WONG INTERVIEWS THE BLACK NARCISSUS

 

 

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https://www.mymoderndarcy.com/single-post/2019/07/30/An-olfactory-conversation-with-Neil-Chapman-Author-of-‘Perfume-–-In-search-of-your-signature-scent’-Fragrance-Blogger-‘The-Black-Narcissus’?fbclid=IwAR22g88nZeDhr5XMhiVp2ZYuD4V_Sm5g0Vn7yBhQ64JlIfMBesfvq1l1uW4

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MOMENT IN TIME : FLEUR DE LALITA +LA DOUCEUR DU SIAM by PARFUMS DUSITA (2017)

 

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What I want from perfume is not a bland betrayal but, especially on another person, a scent  that stops me in my tracks: brain stem engaged; instinct aroused; rationality  dismissed.

 

Pissara Umjavani, founder and perfumer of Dusita, has an ability to put together ingredients in a way that – as it should be with quality perfumery – is more than the sum of its parts: perfumes that graze and stimulate emotion. Last year’s release, Fleur de Lalita is a sultry but living, and fresh, green magnolia ylang smouldering in vanillic ambergris and bois de santal that ignites an immediate reaction with its almost untenable sensuality : you can imagine a suddenly smitten and hopelessly in-love man haplessly falling from his bicycle in Bangkok upon smelling this on a girl : both familiar and unknowable, inviting ; yet ever so slightly disdainful.

 

 

La Douceur Du Siam, which I personally prefer, is a big, gorgeous, luminous rose de mai absolute tinged with a tingling  of green carnation; the spring leafery of galbanum and violet, but blooming, graciously,  on a warm, carnal base of white flowers and balsams that embodies the reaction I was talking about earlier :  on the right person this perfume could be heartstopping. I don’t think I could wear it myself : despite the unbordered, sensitive androgyny in this house’s perfumes,  there is still very much something of the ‘eternal feminine’ about much of the line – a contoured tenderness – but I would LOVE to have someone walk by me in this perfume on some hot summer’s evening. I know for a fact I would turn back and look.

 

 

 

 

 

After my last post on Dusita a few months ago, I got in contact with this perfumer  in the hope of doing an interview with her, sensing, for some reason, some common affinities. Her love of poetry : both of us foreigners living in cultures entirely different from our place of birth.

 

 

I decided, also, to throw caution to the wind and circumvent the usual PR protocol and polite chatter by asking exactly what I wanted to ask, about Thai culture, film, her late father – one of Thailand’s most famous writers –  and over several days, in written or voice mail form, Ms Umjavani  replied to my questions as time allowed and the answers came to her.

 

 

But where my own posts are fast and impulsive ( I am writing this on my phone, on a train, on a gorgeous sunny afternoon ; the sun is finally shining as it should be after all this rain as I go to my next classes), collating, transcribing,  and writing  a coherent piece on somebody else’s words and life feels like more of a responsibility than my usual opinionated and spontaneous ramblings :  I need the proper time – days – and space,  to do it all justice.

 

 

To be continued.

 

 

 

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You never know what’s going to happen

 

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Duncan is very good at choosing what to watch on Netflix. I had discounted ‘Strong Island’, simply because I thought the name was so crap and unevocative (and it is: a real shame in my opinion for a documentary so overwhelmingly raw and brilliantly executed).

But this was coruscating, searing : we couldn’t really speak throughout. But we both dreamed about it the whole night (literally in my case, my brain gripped like a leather glove); yes, the director was ‘performing’ his pain, but it was in the name of something deep and wounded and guilt drenched that had to be expurgated (not that it ever could be).

The unvarnished rawness of the film – unlike anything I have ever seen I think – was accentuated, and emphasized beautifully, and very noticeably ( the aesthetics were so good they made you uncomfortable ‘with the fact that you were enjoying’ it – often an intrinsic problem with documentaries I often feel ) with – FINALLY !- the minimal use of background music, which my cold heart rejects after a while no matter how tragic the story: I am simply too musically and cranially sensitive to endure too many overwrought strings or pianeggios ripping off the dreaded score of The Hours: ::: here, the pain was left to burn itself into your brain preconceived but unadorned :: my heart was palpitating as I watched it but I couldn’t actually ‘take’ the emotion as it happened : it had to be stored, and worked around, later.

Yes, it verged on emotional or experiential pornography, if you want to think of it like that. But the director, pictured – so unflinchingly earnest, honest, and assured in the rejection of the cliche ( which I fucking HAIL, personally ; YES to looking straight into the camera and addressing the audience directly when it works; yes to letting people stutter or go back on themselves or cough on camera or backtrack slightly, just as people actually do; yes to art where a person excavates, and illuminates, their family’s most unbearable agony for the common truth): was so intuitive, and merciless, that the film added up to something beautiful, and devastating.

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THE SWEET, SWEET SMELL OF JOHNSON’S BABY POWDER

 

 

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BLACK PEPPER by COMME DES GARÇONS (2016)

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Black Pepper is peppery.

REALLY peppery.

As in, tumultuously, treacherously peppery – a trail of crushed peppercorns that lingers in the air in sinisterly suave fashion for an entire day  (this scent is a miracle of modern technical perfumery);a light, invisible muslin of discreet coumarin, agarwood, cedar and musk giving dryness, arid heft..

 

Whenever Duncan wears this (I bought it him for his birthday last year at the Comme Des Garçons boutique in Aoyama), I tune in to the unrelenting black spice, the precise smell of the Kampot black peppercorns I bought at a market in Cambodia, and cracked the other night for food.

 

Not fresh, nose tingley, or slicey, like some of the recent pink peppercorn florals, Black Pepper is completely unique in its fidelity to the theme ; the scent palette spectruming from light grey to pitch; a low registered, masculine thrum.

 

 

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the air

 

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– photo by Helen

 

 

 

The political air may be foetid and menacing, but on my bike ride this morning it was rich : humid, green; steamy; fragrant with memory. Weeks of rain, swollen skies, sometimes strange and cold, otherwise fungal and clammy, tropical : and yet I go back to twenty four and the melancholy of a particular summer listening to Under The Pink and the soundtrack to The Piano, not knowing what to do with my life but taking solace from the music and the sky; the way clouds drift along so rapidly in England, a particular scent of hedgerows and trees that I nevertheless was just plunged into as I rode past the local forest entrance that leads to Kamakura; before, a little earlier I was immersed in my thoughts about the dangerous and alarming climate the world is foolishly entering into but suddenly I passed into another realm; I was in my maternal grandmother’s garden in summertime; her yellow dress; the fierce smell of roses that I would lie amongst and sunbathe, happy as Larry, the sprinkler on the lawn, her bird baths and gnomes and garden fairies; a kitsch paradise of flowers and natural perfume aerated by cloudless blue; how odd that we don’t consciously conjure these memories with a sought out association but PASS INTO THEM, unknowingly, like chambers (does all of our life still exist within us, rooms to be unlocked, at random?) My heart lifts, I keep pedalling, down past the beginnings of winter oranges growing solemnly in oiled, dark green leaves, flowers whose Japanese, and English names I am unfamiliar with but whose scent reminds me of now; and the LILIES, wild, flowering from gardens, in the mountains, by the side of the road… perfumed, insane, oblivious …….

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AFTER DONALD TRUMP SAYS PEOPLE SHOULD GO BACK TO THEIR OWN COUNTRIES IF THEY ARE NOT HAPPY IN AMERICA, ONE WOMAN IMMEDIATELY BOARDS A ONE-WAY FLIGHT TO SLOVENIA

 

 

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a tantalizing glimpse of Rome, ‘82

 

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SUMO WRESTLER by J-SCENT (2017)

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Sumo wrestling is one of those quintessential and uniquely Japanese experiences  I have yet to experience. Although in and of itself, the sight of willfully and dangerously obese men nudging and pushing each other outside a ring does not hold much appeal, I realize of course that there is also much more to this revered national sport in terms of technique, history and symbolism; the pomp and  highly ritualized sense of ceremony and almost sombre seriousness of all the Japanese traditional passions always something to behold ( see my piece on The Smell Of Kabuki).

 

 

 

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Sumo wrestlers themselves are rare sightings. They are usually confined to their ‘stables’, where they live, train and eat in harsh circumstances, the sites of scandals involving beatings and even an unwitting murder a couple of years ago by overzealous trainers ; recently there was another incident in the news about a female paramedic ‘defiling’ the sacred circle in order to see to a senior official who was having a cardiac arrest : this stirred debate throughout the country.

 

 

 

 

But sumo wrestlers are respected; they are like superstars – and there is almost obsessive coverage of them in the national media ; whether the Mongolians, who are begrudgingly accepted as repeat champions again and again will prevail once more this year  ( we were thinking  about going to Mongolia this August, incidentally, on a whim:  I fancied karaoke in Ulanbataar and the vast blue skies of the plains: just somewhere completely unexpected –  but the visa application seems too complicated for UK nationals: with its fully established sumo relationship, travelling for Japanese citizens is much easier ); the tracking of the sumo wrestlers’ rankings in the annual tables consistently receiving painstaking, feverish attention.

 

 

 

 

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I have seen, and smelled, sumo wrestlers less than a handful of times up close; on the train once or twice, where everyone is trying not to stare or get their phones out, and otherwise lounging elegantly in the doorway of some hotel lobby or other;  almost surreally imposing and gargantuan, yet, in their luxuriant silk kimonos and the gleaming topknots of  fragrant, oiled hair, simultaneously flamboyant, even feminine.

 

 

 

 

J-Scent, a Japanese brand that makes perfumes based on Nipponesque themes – fleeting, more for momentary rushes of memories and novelty than for fully western daytime wear, is a little too coy in its rendering of the rikishi, the sumo kings who in reality, in the intensity of their perfume, actually really reek of powdery red flowers in a manner that is almost unseemly in its decadence  (transforming the flab and the obscenity of the grappling, buttocked,  loin- clothed giants into seduction – I remember my heart racing slightly as the majestic mountain of floral cotton print,flesh,  and the concentrated odour of flowers sashayed by); Sumo Wrestler, its perfume rendering,  a light, powdery amber with brief flashes of fresh violet, anise, and eucalyptus that is very easy to wear, soft and pleasant, but is perhaps lacking in the full intensity of the strange dichotomy at the heart of the towering strength of these warriors, and their shining, thick long black hair drenched in perfumed camellias.

 

 

 

 

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JAZZ by YVES SAINT LAURENT (1988)

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It has been a dreadful term.

 

Dire.

 

 

Where usually I eventually adapt back to the reality of work after our adventures elsewhere, this time, the gulf between the excitement of the book launch – that mad week in London: being on the radio, playing the piano with one of my favourite pop stars, all of it, etched something into my spirit that cannot be erased,  a chasm unbridgeable.

 

 

But reality is reality. Changes are not always easy to make. You have to count your blessings, and not be reckless, nor dangerously throw away hard earned privileges in a fit of hedonistic, childish yearnings to be a scribe and sybarite : you have to work, to pay the bills.

 

 

 

Still, it is gratifying and liberating (and amusingly subversive, actually), to have stumbled upon a fantastic little club – the Gabana Latin Lounge – in the building right next door to company headquarters, in the basement ; a whole world away and yet so close ; from classroom to dance floor in just a few anticipating minutes.

 

 

 

 

This time we invited our friends down from Tokyo – and they loved it; the  naive unpretentiousness of it all; all ages practicing their salsa and moves in line formation, but then ceding the space in waves for Prince, rare groove, funk and ZZ Top – , all kinds of stuff, a velvet buzzsaw of a blender, Stevie Wonder : I shook offthe mildew of the compression chamber, the shackles of ‘education’ and just danced (like a maniac ) with friends and strangers, the pulse of the music like pomegranates splitting open to reveal the corpuscles of a beating heart : what you might call escapism : what I call life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the bathroom they have a bottle of Jazz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember. When Yves Saint Laurent first released its monument  to tense masculinity, at the end of the eighties, it was in a different bottle to the museum piece Classic Collection reliquary seen above ( expensive, now, it has been brought back and given vintage classic status; generous to leave such a scent for sweaty dancers to spruce themselves at will like that, I think – in the UK it wouldn’t last five minutes)…… The crisp,  brutalist fougere  that was the original incarnation – though this new version smells very similar; clarified perhaps, less fuzzy; one of the few perfumes that would make me ANGRY as a teenager : like Charlton Heston, who similarly represented some form of clench fisted manlihood I loathed and rejected from the pituitary gland to the blood, I had an actual phobia of this scent; would grimace and moan when I came into contact with it ( you can imagine I wasn’t an easy adolescent: struggling with my society/imposed inner demons), but this philistinic savage of a muscled devil – mindless, materialistic, mulleted, Miami-Viced, felt truly representative of that era’s Transatlantic politics : homophobic (oh, how it reasserted the caveman’s right to wield and smash the bonehead club); to me, as pop schismed into Indie vs Mainstream, this intrusive, and spiritually invasive, ‘aftershave’ was like an era’s bullying national anthem.

 

 

 

 

I never liked the division. The goths and indie kids just seemed ridiculous to me; wan, painfully self-conscious as they shuffled, shoe gazing at the floor in their complying death makeup and uniforms: I tried half heartedly for a while, but didn’t fit in. And yet at the Ritzy nightclub, or whatever it was called, in the center of town, under the strobe lights it was even worse; like existing only on potato crisps and Twix bars; junk,; tacky, Sharon and Tracy in their gleaming white shoes reeking of Impulse or Exclamation! : while ‘Kevin’, shirtsleeves rolled up,  had  doused himself, gelled backperm slip-ons;  meat-market aggressive, in Johnny Hates Jazz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t possibly tell you how much I loathed this perfume. Only Tsar, Dunhill, and, later, Safari vyed for my teenage contempt – a migraine of the soul every time we mutually came into contact. It made me scream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Smelling Jazz again the other night – where, ironically, some of those same songs were still playing, over three decades later – I realize that to the new generation, this well-regarded composition probably just smells gentlemanly, stately; with little of the action-movie wisecracking and granite-jawed thuggery I inherently associated with the perfume the second I smelled it thirty years ago. Perhaps this is because, if only in terms of ingredient quality, Jazz smells so much more expertly blended and elegant  than much of the commercial, chemical dreck aimed at the young man today ( in a fight between this and Sauvage, say, I would certainly be egging on Jazz, even happily spearing  the latter through the heart with a Poison-tipped bayonet to do the world a favour).  As with its musical namesake, I now feel that Jazz has a looseness, a joviality, that I was too young, flinching and new, to appreciate at the time of its release :: when it felt, to a sensitive chrysalis of a gay boy, like an existential threat.

 

 

 

 

 

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