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 .