Monthly Archives: January 2020












It is fascinating to consider the survivors of the 1970’s. Some perfumes just had too much of a hook, formed too much of an emotional link in fragrance-wearing minds to be let go, even in reformulated, attenuated – ruined –  form.




Thus, YSL Opium – the grande dame of Studio 54 Disco Perfumes – remains still popular; its ( reducted ) heart still beating; as do the demurer Anais Anais: Chanel No 19; Rive Gauche…..the interlinking ingredients recognisable themes in the mind and on skin, more tenable, memorable…………..classic.




Other more subtle perfumes from the 70’s that I love, Balenciaga Michelle, Balmain Ivoire, Rochas Mystere (so strange, divine in my opinion : I save my extraits for special occasions) are gone. Remain shuttered away in closets. Sold online at vintage auction.





Some live in a netherworld in between.











Still available in some form or other – resurrected as newly priced ‘heritage’ scents by their parent companies in limited edition collections, or else as Drug Store bargains ( in the case of Guy Laroche ), Givenchy III, Dioressence, and J’ai Osé, are like spiced, fluttering, final nails in the coffin of a decadent decade.

















The much lauded Givenchy III is a dry and bitter aldehydic chypre that I have smelled in various incarnations, including a lot of vintage parfum, and always intensely disliked. Similar in some ways to Bandit – another perfume whose charms I have never fallen for (is it that phenolic, leathered unsugaredness that doesn’t work for me? Something too frowning, too serious; too manly? ) I feel that I need to be educated by you on this one as I really just don’t get it.
Forever closed to me.














Though I can imagine III having smelled quite spectacular on a cream satin blouse under fur coat in New York in clouds of cigarette smoke (because all of these perfumes are made for such occasions…dragging themselves through the pall and the strobes for a dahhling moment perched on the side of a sofa as the thick perfume tenders out from the drenched fibres into the next person’s conscious); the androgyny, angularity,  meannessss…., whenever I smell this perfume it just smells to me like yesterday’s ashes.












Dioressence has similarly never floated my boat. The thing with Opium was that it was so immediate: capturing a quintessence of what it was trying to do; loading the spice, the citrus, the flowers, the balsams, the resins, the animalics, the patchouli, into the perfectly aestheticized package. A cultural phenomenon.

Most of its apologists were simply just less interesting.








(they couldn’t even use a real leopard – a case of the latest raging coronavirus tearing through the nightclub? )







Patently a flatterer of Opium, like Cinnabar by Lauder, and KL by Lagerfeld, Dioressence is a scent that I have always found rather dowdy somehow :: Cruella De Vil down with the influenza,  nursing a hot herb tea with honey in fraying slippers.






Again – perhaps you just had to be there. It is an elegant perfume, to be sure (as is Givenchy III – this cannot be denied), a removed competitor, older, more considered, with a softer internality, but for me there is just not that originality (and yes I am writing about the vintage parfum): that remarkable refrain that stays in the mind like the more committed, and characterful classics.

I need more fire.







J’ai Osé (I tried, I dared, I did my best) is yet another Opium; nice actually; soft, sensual and rounded, spicy, with a certain flair …..but again, very, very much of that time. That ilk. And though I know I would enjoy this in certain contexts, on a person with the fashion wherewithal to carry it off knowingly (or else completely obliviously….just finding it at a garage sale and wearing it what the heck), generally I do think there is a reason that these perfumes have fallen by the wayside, unlike other perfumes that have transcended the times because of their ‘timeless appeal’, or more imaginative tenacity.







They’re like dancing with ghosts.





















Filed under Flowers







Lancome is like Estée Lauder in creating carefully tailored blockbusters to fit the palette of the times. Tresor, La Vie Est Belle are enduring megaliths; bestsellers; sugared concentrations so smoothly rendered; infallibly consumer tested that the masses, passing through airline terminals, cannot ever resist. Poeme – a dry, multifaceted, innovative and complexly rendered spiced floral of gloom – a perfume to me that contains an inherent morose negativity – curiously malign, an oddball- a fragrance that gets on the nerves –  did not fit into this pattern of full bodied inculpability. Though cultish, and cherished  (Poeme most definitely has its fans : there is nothing else quite like it, with its low registered woodish vanilla tones shot through with glumful flora – Himalayan poppy, mimosa; freesia……….though to me it smells more like embittered chrysanthemums; dead, resentful carnations); a close bodied resonance that is understated; reserved, in its boldness and its strength………………I nevertheless always interpret it personally as a grating, passive aggression.






I can’t help but always associate this creation by Jacques Cavallier with my first very isolated months in Japan ( the perfume had been released just a year before, and remarkably, did have some takers ). One student of mine in particular, a woman in her late thirties of a dour and scratchy disposition who was trying to seduce me ( how is it possible that I actually stayed at her apartment? Overnight ? What oblivious gullibility was this …...What was I thinking ? ) would douse herself liberally in its negativizing eroticism. …………I cannot deny that this scent has a pull; it has depth; it has a magnetism  (like being dragged down into hell): and though I did always find the smell somewhat nauseating in some way I couldn’t  quite put my finger on, I can’t deny also that it was depressingly hypnotic.







Cycling along in the rain today,  with the vintage parfum extrait on the back of my hand (almost beautiful actually; so orchestral; glinting; gradated), I  pondered that strange time in my life when I had deliberated isolated myself for the peculiar reason THAT I HAD TOO MANY FRIENDS. I had flown to Japan to be alone.  My London social life had overwhelmed me ; I no longer wanted to be contactable for the latest film, theatre piece, art exhibition or dinner party on any given day of the working week – especially with such a poor paying teaching job; my roster of people – much as I loved each one of them individually – was doing my head in. I had had to pull away; start afresh, no matter the cost. And so I just left my partner, my family and friends and flew to Japan – an alien nation on the other side of the world – and put myself willingly in social solitary confinement thinking it was what I needed, to think and to be ‘zen’  only to find myself so lonely at times it bordered on desperation, surrounded by unsuitable people I had nothing in common with but who were marginally better than nothing; and avoiding the nocturnal unwanted seductions of J-temptresses wearing Poeme.




Filed under Flowers









I have had an extraordinary weekend which involved making an online commercial film  in my capacity as a writer who finds inspiration in travel and other cultures; driving around Tokyo with an Italian- Japanese co-production of twelve people scouting for filming locations, and then a day yesterday spent filming me at home among my perfume bottles and an interview done in my bedroom.


People going in and out of the house all day rearranging things, it was strange having your nest opened up like that but curiously expanding to the mind as well : I felt fully alive and in the moment scrambling up the closed off forest – because the typhoon damage has still not been cleared away  – as a last minute idea to get me staring out across the valley to the sea like a nineteenth century romantic  taking notes as the cameraman followed me with zigzagging movements through the foliage and we reached the peak over Kenchoji.



i hadn’t prepared for the interview because I wanted it to be spontaneous. Just answer as things came naturally to mind, but it was a novel experience having me in a closed off set, our room sealed off- crew milling on the street outside, causing a commotion as my neighbours wondered what on earth was happening.



i can’t remember what I was saying or how it came out ( so hard not to feel self conscious in such a situation ). There was a lot about travelling and Japan, and of course about perfume and its powerful link to emotion and temporality; for some reason I took the original Nina by Nina Ricci (1987) from the table as it was precisely one happy summer’s afternoon on the day of a piano competition I had nervously been entered for at the age of sixteen and done ok, and this was all the family sprawled on the bed, me lackadaisically taking my mum’s white flower embossed flacon and spraying it cavalierly : for me now, this is thus one of the most precious bottles in my collection capturing a carefree moment in time.




I realized with perfume though that it need not be only core experiences in your life – romantic love and loss, family – but that it can also be a memory-sealing document of friends who come in to your life for a while and then move away; you lose or lessen contact maybe but try to keep in touch, and this was the case of Denise, who I wrote about in my book under Tresor (because she wears it so very gorgeously). We spent a lot of time together around 1999/ 2000, when she left here to go back to Scotland and then Australia; and for a significant birthday we presented her with champagne and nice chocolates and some Guerlain Mahora.




Mahora was a strange release for Guerlain, out of step with the times in many ways; a dense, sweet, overloaded tropical floriental of frangipani, tuberose, jasmine, almond blossom – and probably coconut -over tightly intense woods a la Samsara extrait and vanilla ( in fact the second I smelled it I remember thinking that this perfume was essentially Samsara takes a holiday on a tropical getaway): an almost vulgar palimpsest of Jean Paul Guerlain’s most outrageously strong eighties symphonia made as sweet as marrons glaces with all of the oxygen sucked out for good measure. Mahora, in its dry viscosity,  was a perfume that practically made me panic.




Nevertheless, at the same time I clearly remember us all having a ball when the perfume had a misguidedly enormous launch in Japan – the very country such a perfume was the least likely to succeed : NO ONE wears perfumes like this here (the unfortunately chosen name of the fragrance already had something puttanesca about it in English; in Japanese, a ‘mayora’ is a ‘mayonnaise whore’: someone who spreads or squeezes it onto everything, even rice ( I am a semi mayora I think myself)…….and then of course you have the SMELL, which we were spraying on ourselves quite decidedly – at one department store or other because I am always drawn to tropicalia even if the perfume feels like a display of tropical flowers and fruit locked away in a dark mahogany cabinet ; I also sprayed my just bought limited edition art cover  CD of Madonna’s Music CD with the parfum – so CONDENSED it is almost miraculous it still smells o Mahora to this day. We were on the train in Tokyo around rush hour though, and the effect was something like a chemical warfare attack with people instinctively covering their faces in biohazardous preparation: yes we had of course overdone it because the three of us had just been in a silly mood and we were enjoying the smell but even then at that time of its release I knew that this perfume would not be a commercial success. Voluptuously forced, it faded from sight, turned into ‘Mayotte’ for a while in one of the Guerlain exclusive collections, but I found it attenuated; boring somehow……….,if you are going to be Mahora : you might as well be Mahora.



Which smelled divine – as fully expected – on Denise, whose skin makes her smell like a queen. I remember us all lounging about together at our house in Kamakura eating the chocolates, drinking the champagne and luxuriating in the Mahora : it is now, two decades later, a time and a perfume I remember with great fondness :the bottle you see pictured now brings all of this back with great clarity. Serendipitously, we will all be meeting again in the summer, finally : she and her partner are coming back for the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics; still smelling lovely I imagine, and where we will continue from where we last left off as though the passing of time were irrelevant .





Filed under Flowers















(Marc Almond / David Ball, 1983)











ME (neil, martin, burning bush)









For all the gay kids and anyone else who suffered the torments : : :  :: :: may they not any more in these fascist times: :: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : an exorcism of ghosts















Filed under Flowers







Oh my god.
















The holy Grail.











A pristine, 30ml original parfum of Lancome’s mythical Magie Noire, with its legendarily sinuous sultriness of pantheresque witchery; the finest chypric sillages in history, a trail like a taunt, sitting unknowingly on a table in my kitchen.











just LOOK AT IT.










i have always so wanted to experience the extrait in the flesh.












And here it is.




































But it is not mine.










The precious elixir is on loan from a friend: like The Hermitage to The Prado, and I can only gaze at it, and try a drop on my wrist: its mellow force and soaped depth, smooth substance, the very heart of the luminous sorcery






Filed under Flowers










It is hard for me to believe that almost forty years ago to the day, my sister was about to be born.




I remember it so clearly. I was crazily excited, jumping up and down on the bed. I couldn’t wait. Nor conceive of it. How could a new person just join the family like this ? Where was she coming from ?It seemed impossible.




Our parents had told us the life changing news ( I don’t think she was planned), during Sunday dinner, and my brother and I burst out laughing. Although we had adventures together, we also fought a lot. Pummeling each other on the garage floor. Deborah would be my protégée : forced to listen to my records and watch all my films ( our favourites were Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Disney’s Alice In Wonderland, Thelma & Louise; Desperately Seeking Susan).



Naturally I was also buying her perfume from when she was but an infant. She wore Montana Parfum D’Elle, which I bought for her from a boutique down the road ;O De Lancome; Poison, Anais Anais,until she discovered her lifetime signature, Roma by Laura Biagiotti, a vanillic femme fatale perfume she still wears to this day.



But she did also have that most lugubrious of 70’s tuberoses, Chloe by Karl Lagerfeld (which I also wore secretly);  and in recent years,  and since finding love again, she has been dousing herself in tuberoses : L’Artisan’s Nuit De Tubereuse sprayed lavishly in the hair, and her new perfume coup de foudre, Fracas by Robert Piguet, which she discovered last year and which apparently smells quite incredible  on her ( I am yet to smell this glamour queen Classic in person, but will in the summer – she told me that he loves it so much he sleeps with a sample every night on his pillow when they are apart..)



I LOVE the idea of my sister wearing tuberose. I wear and love this flower note too, as you know – I had a bottle of Flos Mortis as a Christmas present from my parents; I wear the Roger Et Gallet sometimes for work. But deep down I know that these gorgeous, mesmerizing lune flowers smell so much better on her ; both my brother and sister smell so nice, naturally, ; different skin types, with cleaner canvases ( Greg smells exquisite in jasmine ; I do not ).



She is a fierce creature, Deborah:  passionate, ‘bolshy’ – we are often at loggerheads, aggression our common denominator. But she is also quite hilarious,  and the best mimic I have ever met ( she should have been an actress). She NEEDS the right flower to reflect this. And as a perfume otaku, I now  get to blossom  vicariously;  wear it through her.



So with my mum and dad and Duncan in cahoots, on Wednesday, the Big Day itself ,we are giving her a whole armory of tuberoses : Santa Maria Novella Tuberosa; Speziali Fiorentini Tuberosa D’Autunno, Jeroboam Hauto, and Histoires De Parfums Tubereuse Animale, which I imagine will possibly be as lethal to her lover as Sharon Stone with her icepick in Basic Instinct. I don’t think I am giving away any spoilers here : to my knowledge she doesn’t read the Narcissus ( even if Perfume, in its black and gold Art Deco Splendour, is displayed proudly on a specially constructed ‘plinth’ in her North London living room).




If she does read this beforehand, though, Deborah just think of this as an early 40th birthday present :  you have always been a force to be reckoned with, you don’t accept bullshit, you are clever, loyal; streetwise; will not compromise on the person your were supposed to be –  –  – –  and I love you.









Filed under Flowers


Going home from work at Yokohama station last night I entered the free user multifunctional private ‘restroom’ and was once again surprised to be (relatively) pleased by the aroma.

I thought I would thus repost these old musings on the sad proximity to functional perfumery and the sweet cheap smells at Duty Free

The Black Narcissus


A very long while ago – in the blog scheme of things at least –  I wrote, half-jokingly, about my grave disappointment over Fame, Lady Gaga’s woeful entry into the arena of fragranced celebrity. My instincts were borne out by the reactions of other reviewers and also personal experience when I took Fame, and Madonna’s Truth or Dare, to an excited Japanese friend’s house and got her to guess, eyes shut, which one was which. And, naturally, tell me which one she preferred.

Madonna’s plastic tuberose won out – just – but Aiko was really shocked by the banality of the Gaga (“really? really?”) reminding her as it did of Shibuya teenage trash in the mid-nineties. Its cheapness truly astounded her.  My observation that Fame was not much above the level of Toilet Duck also bore interesting fruit during my summer travels: even on my first morning at Tokyo’s…

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HYPAER, by AETHER (2018)






We all have domestic chores we like or despise above others. I will never bend down to scrub a floor, but I don’t mind a bit of ironing. The steam : the clean suspended moment. The crackle of droplets and static.


If you also like the smell of slow, hot-pressed drudgery ( I go back to work tomorrow, it is raining heavily, and I am about to embark on a lot of this myself) – and want to prolong the olfactory heart of the experience,  Hypaer, by Aether, a French perfume house specializing purely in synthetics, brings you the plugged-in ironing board/ electrical appliance situation all day long : continuously, in a magnetic, and for me curiously erotic;  antiperfume















Filed under Flowers











Miller Harris describes its new floral fruitstravaganza as ‘a delicious and wistful flirtation in a fabulously cinematic perfume of rose swirling with strawberry liqueur.’ I would describe it as more like drinking cassis liqueur neat through a silver straw while doing the rodeo on a gigantesque disco peach melba.




Whichever way you look at it, this is a busy perfume.




From Fragrantica:


Head Notes: Pink Pepper CO2, Coriander seed, Davana, Cinnamon, Green Mandarin

Heart Notes: Iris Concrete, Violet, Rose absolute Morocco, Rose oil Turkey, Carnation, Hawthorn, Strawberry Liqueur

Lasting Impressions: Tonka Bean, Sandalwood, Oakmoss, Vanilla

If I was taken a little aback by this perfume for its in-your-faceness, I also thought it was quite unobvious with its sweet frictions of unexpected ingredients (oil of davana segueing into hawthorn and strawberries etc ); fun and out there; a  bit different. I can imagine a dressed up young diva of various persuasions rocking it quite happily until the early hours.
I often wear perfume in the dark watching cinema. And last night while we indulged in the grotesque decadence of Federico Fellini’s colourful Casanova (1976) I randomly reached out for the the bottle of Violet Ida I was given last year.
(It was also strange, in the opening scene of the film, seeing Dr Whom and Burning Bush in the crowd at the Venice carnival  – I had no idea that we were so old)
While the name of this scent might evoke a scene from the Bloomsbury set, rather Virginia Woolf writes a postcard to her second cousin on the coast of Hove, and the ‘iris beurre’ melts like suede into a vanilla ambered cushion on skin with a delicate carrot’s breath at the gentle opening, on me at least, this perfume, though pleasing (and very wearable: I will certainly get through the whole bottle ; the orris note has a pleasantly grey mauve temperate fullness, the end note very me in its ambered, hot simplicity) somehow it still doesn’t quite capture my image of what the Miller Harris brand used to embody: a subtle Englishness  – pared down, clear; nature-inspired; a tad severe – that has ceded to a more technicolour frivolity. Yes, there were Noix Tubereuse and Figue Amere in the original MH range, which embraced the nightlife and the occasional feather boa, but since the perfumer and founder Lyn Harris left the perfumery in different hands, the company seems to have veered in an entirely different direction – which can be enjoyable ( I know that brands under different artistic direction must evolve with the times ): but also a little jarring.


Filed under cinema + perfume, Flowers, Fruity Floral, Iris





































Although I have never been one for gardening myself, I love the smell of it. The scent of soil on a cold day as Duncan digs in new flowers; the grass mown by someone else as I lie on it; my mother patiently spending whole days in her beloved green space weeding and planning and pontificating alone under the sky and the apple trees. Especially at a time like this, the New Year.








Smelling Comme Des Garcons new Clash Series yesterday, Vetiver Radish, earthy as sore white root vegetables wrenched up from the earth to the light of day – all ozone and pure vetiver  – the spade searing through cold humus – I was taken into such a space;  a refreshing cologne I would wear either in winter to accentuate the freshness in the air and the space I want around me or to aerate a dry vetiver note come summer. While the Chlorophyll Gardenia in the series struck me as a little too familiarly tropic tiare, Celluloid Galbanum is also a pleasing green floral I would be happy to become a new trend on the light-stepping Tokyoite; a snappily green opening, clean and new, enveloping a floral that reminds me a little of the kind of muguet magnolia perfumes you sometimes come across in gift stores in Sarasota; even a hint of Vivian Westwood’s Boudoir meets Libertine, the florals kept at bay from blooming too heavily by the green notes, while the almost powdered undertones hint at something deliberately trapped; unexpressed.








I have noticed that there seems to be a new tendency right now for perfumeries here to include some much more affordable ranges in their arsenals, or at least to have smaller sizes so as not to break the bank. Nose Shop Shinjuku and Ginza realises that not everyone will fork out for an Unum or an Orchestre De Parfum: to keep the flow of casual shoppers happy you also need to have realistic pricing, so there are several lines that fit into this category such as the Kerzon line which has quite an appealing set of fragrances in its range. Elemi, not usually a headnote featured prominently in many perfumes, is a green, terpentinic resinoid that is used in traditional Catholic incense. Bright, herbaceous, it is less heavy than myrrh and is a counterpoint to balsams such as benzoin. ‘It is impossible to do without this mineral freshness, as sharp as flint…’ says the company’s website, and both D and I enjoyed it on him yesterday; light, subdued, a halo of velvet green clarified frankincense.








Japanese perfumer Miya Shinma’s line of fragrances is stocked at Isetan and most of them are quite distinctive and original. Feuillage Verte startled yesterday in its niche-contoured context with a very old school, civet-like undertone that thrust me immediately into visions of going outside into a fresh green world of Henri Rousseau and thinking, what animal has done its business here, under what bush, and where? This is not as displeasing as it might sound, as I realized after a while that the perfume, green with bamboo, young leaves, citruses, cardamom, and rosewood, also has an old school jasmine I remember from vintage First and Joy and the like; a carnal heart palpitating, invisibly, from somewhere in the burgeoning undergrowth.











Filed under Green