I was quite surprised, to say the least, to come across yesterday – only the second occasion this has happened in twenty three years of living  in Japan –  a bottle of Shiseido’s legendary Nombre Noir.




Praying it was the parfum version again like last time, I quickly realized it was the Eau (de Parfum): still rich and damasceny and very Eighties ; dated – in a precise way – but sometimes, especially in winter, I suddenly find myself wanting those luxuriant mafia wife perfumes such as L’Arte di Gucci, Fendi, Armani Pour Femme, Diva, even Knowing, a defunct and clandestine club to which Black Number now most definitely belongs ( and at 500 yen ( about 3 pounds fifty).you know you can’t go wrong).




The fragrance is not in perfect olfactory condition. In fact, when I destoppered the little plastic plug at the top of the bottle this morning, there was a slightly pooey aspidistra of napthalene and must,  before clearing momentarily, revealing the plummy rose neon beneath. Burning Bush has been in a pleasing six month summertime hibernation;  but often stirs again come winter – when fur coats and knotted, gnarled wigs are optimal for warmth –  and I have a feeling that Nombre Noir will be a good alias.



























Forgive the recent drought of posts ( this is just a rushed spontaneous piece written over lunch at a Chinese restaurant – I have to get back to school soon but just felt like checking in.) ;  I have been prioritizing work, wanting to be more wholeheartedly involved in the lessons I am teaching, rather than just doing them half in a dream – as I have been for much of the year – and then feeling slightly guilty about it all : right now I feel more genuinely invested, in quieter, less ‘confessional’ mode – as the heat drains away so does some of my emotional vigor.





Plus- though I honestly don’t believe there can be many people in this world who are more smell-obsessed than I am – unless they are actually dogs- at the same time, despite the accidental weekend flea market finds and subsequent dousings, I have, in truth, also  been slightly questioning my position within the ever expanding, and frankly overwhelming, world of Perfume.





At work this term I have not been wearing any to speak of; just citric deodorants, the odd bottle of bergamot essential oil left silently evaporating in my suit pocket, and my home made lemon handbalms. At weekends, and for nights out, I have really been enjoying Antonia by Puredistance,a green, luminous powder rose with sandalwood accents that just feels refined to me: generous and blanketing, yet clean, soap-like, with something shimmering underneath like unexpressed emotion. My sample bottle is running out and I might have to ask for the full version for my birthday in December : this, for me, is one perfume that has definitely reached ‘can’t live without’ status.





The thing is, though I would happily spend thousands regularly if I had unlimited cash to spare (probably),  in reality, when I scope out the niche brands in places like Nose Shop in Ginza and Shinjuku, it dismays me to admit there are not all that many that I would unhesitatingly fork out my hard earned cash for : I like most of the Sorcinelli perfumes, Unum, the Music series, and bought the ozonic, marine weirdness that is Nebbia Spessa for Duncan’s birthday in September ( he loves the mind-altering textures of it), but many of the wood-chemicaled, passive aggressive ‘burnt’ or thickly floral and sweet perfumes coming out, continually. just strike me as absurdly overpriced and overrated.





I don’t know. Maybe I am still slightly in burn out mode myself after last year’s monumental book writing tasks; perhaps it will need perfumes of true and singular beauty to truly coax me back fully into the fold. I was at Shinjuku station the other day, and decided, on a whim – and also because I don’t actually have a copy of my own: it keeps getting given away to other people – to buy my book (it is on sale at the Kafkaesque vastness that is the  bookstore in Takashimaya Times Square).







I had been so mellowed out and natural all summer long, with the smells of nature, people,  or chosen perfumes from my own collection, that to suddenly be in the noxious, Coco Mademoisellish air – Dior; Ferragamo, Vuitton – that death choke of Beauty, as I ascended, and descended, the escalators trying in vain to find my own words wrapped in cellophane on some bookshelf ( I simply couldn’t FIND the place), I felt like a flower being placed close to an incinerator.
















Filed under Flowers

20 responses to “NOMBRE NOIR EAU by SHISEIDO

  1. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    To begin and make the day with you in every sense is a precious privilege .

    • That is such a lovely thing to say. x

      This was a quick off the cuff thing that I just forced myself to put up earlier on today, ( so many other pieces have gestated in my mind recently and somehow fallen by the wayside). It was disjointed and slightly odd, as the clock was ticking and I ate my delicious Japanese Chinese food, and I considered aborting, but thought fuck it – you don’t find Nombre Noir everyday. Get back into the narcissian swing of things again

  2. Tara C

    Nice to read you again! I got a couple of those Nombre Noir edp minis years ago on ebay, I think I paid $12.50 USD each. Pleasant scent but I am sure the parfum was much more impressive.

    I can especially relate to your comments about the high-priced woody aromachemical scents, the flood of undifferentiated so-called niche perfumes, and wonder if I can even be bothered any more to try to keep up on it all. It does in fact cost thousands of dollars to keep buying these new releases, of which very few are original and compelling enough to spend the crazy amounts they want for them. I am close to bowing out and just enjoying the vast excess that I already own.

    • I could not have said it better.

      When I fully recover my fragrance mojo, I do intend to talk about any new perfume releases that float my boat and ignite some emotion, but as you say, it has become impossible to keep up with it all and is literally overwhelming . I will be more selective, and also continue to talk about old perfumes if I feel like it ( and anything else if I feel like it) as I was never no one’s lemming.

  3. David

    My fragrance mojo is gone, too. My husband traveled to NYC to see Madonna’s opening night show in Brooklyn and I, of course, gave him a list of samples to search out for me while in the city. He braved snooty sales people (expect at Osswald Perfumery— he said they were gracious and wholeheartedly believed in sampling before making a purchase) and came back with all that I wanted. I’m still making my way through the samples, but I’m disappointed, and , in a few cases, angry— (they want 250 dollars for this dross?). Oh, well. There is always DSH who never disappoints. And maybe I just need to search out vintage D’orsay— the vintage versions of so many of their fragrances just delight me. But I had sworn off the vintage hunt…I need to think more about my approach….please write more! I enjoy your entries!

  4. Tora

    Your presence in my email this morning made me very happy. Hi Neil. So good to hear from you. I am wearing an 80’s version of Shalimar EDT this morning and enjoying my first real fall weather in 35 years. I agree completely with you about the profusion and overabundance of ghastly aromachemical scents. Though two recent new releases by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz have made my must-have list. Sharkskin and Gold Leaf. Lovely.

  5. Robin

    I’m on my knees with hands in the prayer position thanking you for another post. Had been suffering from theblacknarcissus withdrawal due to recent deficit thereof. (But also glad you’ve put the time and energy to good use — that is, in the service of your health and sanity — and don’t feel you need to give us our hits of your writing regularly. We will survive.)

    You have written what I’ve been thinking lately. There is so much out there — too much; much of it is either under- or over-whelming, and a bottle costs a dozen times more than one good vintage. How can we summon sufficient enthusiasm to even try to scratch the surface, knowing that’s all we’re doing, with the possibility of finding something actually worth the money a snowball’s chance in bloody hell? Especially if we’ve got more fragrance now than we can use up in 60 years, much of it splendid (i.e., created by rare genius-type minds such as the Ernests Daltroff and Beaux and full of ingredients long-banned or too expensive to use to any appreciable degree) and much of it bought for a relative song?

    “I felt like a flower being placed close to an incinerator.” Small wonder, N.

    • Love all this : delighted I wasn’t laughed out of the house for such metaphors, but honestly, that’s how I felt.

      At Takashimaya I only had half an hour to try and find my book but there were two giant, cavernous buildings connected by some interior crossing bridge I couldn’t locate, and I felt like some tiny, pathetic, Kafkaesque figure in search of some meta dream within a dream or something. The fact that the words in the book case from my soft flesh and soul but that they had been somehow taken from me and SOLD in a giant commercial powerhouse of a shopping complex I was literally lost inside.

      Plus those vile SMELLS, extinguishing all original, poetic life and thought.

      • Robin

        Love the Kafkaesque dream/nightmare image. Nice writing. What a crappy experience, but makes for a good story to tell us.

        I was also thinking that another disincentive to hunting down new fragrances, sort of a subsection to having vast collections, is that we have so many things we never wear as much as we’d like. l neglect beautiful things all the time, and it sometimes bothers me. When was the last time I wore my Shiseido Feminite du Bois or Patou Que Sais-Je? (original, not reissued Ma Collection) or Bellodgia? Time keeps on ticking. They — and I — are not getting any younger. They’re degrading as I type!! It would be tragic to throw away anything old, rare and beloved because it was no longer wearable.

        So the upshot: In the last year, in terms of current releases, I’ve only purchased Dusita Le Sillage Blanc and Chanel 1957. (Which you owe it to yourself to try again, my dear; it really isn’t as insipid as you thought. Beauty can express itself in a subtle and traditional form, you know. Thus saith your Auntie Robin.)

  6. thatdvorak

    Before it gets lost since it was just a side remark in your post: Nebbia Spessa… now, that’s a remarkable fragrance. The presentation is a tad silly (the cotton fluff, the snow globe effect).
    But its sinister, sunless, and gloomy aura really stands out in that sea of perfumes we wade in. It looses a bit if applied too often, I found. But it definitely is an innovative creation.

    • YES! I should write more about it. Duncan wore it as part of a performance piece at the weekend and it is very distinct indeed (even after a while it starts to make me feel a bit nauseous….)

  7. Robin

    Thinking about this again and agreeing: if I had unlimited funds, I would also like to buy lots of new fragrances. I like the idea of supporting small indie producers especially. I’d be happy to expose my nose to new things and really get to know them. What I didn’t want to keep, I’d happily give away. Damn, it would be fun.

    • Exactly. But I literally don’t have $200+ just to be so slappy go lucky – it is only in my dreams

      • Robin

        I’m in the same boat. I think I was reflecting on all this and realizing that I didn’t want to give the impression that at my age (older) I was dismissive of modern fragrances made with modern materials, clinging to my mothballed old hoard of uniformly “superior” vintage things. It’s just, well, as you say. Can’t afford to keep up!

      • I mean I think I probably clinging to the vintage stuff myself to a large extent, just because I prefer it on the whole, but yes – I also want to appreciate the best of contemporary – when I can afford it

  8. Robin

    Same here. Would rather have an ounce of pristine vintage No 19 parfum than an ounce of anything 21st century. For the same reasons.

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