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

20 responses to “IN SOLITARY ::: POEME PARFUM by LANCOME (1995)

  1. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    It almost reads like the first part of a feuilleton, that finishes just on the turning point .
    Just like “i met dean moriarty on the day when my wife and I decided to split up ..” .
    And then Poeme of the beautiful name with the haggard halo, not at all up your street, but “depressively hypnotic”.
    Intriguing. A not often explored side of perfume. Most poetic, read Baudelaire!

  2. Tara C

    I am such an introverted hermit that I cannot imagine packing off to a very foreign country to avoid my overactive social life. We are so different. But I do dislike Poême.

    • But the very fact that you are an introverted hermit is precisely why you would understand why I felt I had to leave!

      In many ways I am also a total cocoon person, despite my horrific extroversion.

      Poeme, though – can’t get French accents very easily on this – is somehow disturbing.


      • Tara C

        Well yes, that’s true, I can understand wanting to escape, but I would never find myself in that position in the first place. Impossible.

      • I admit it is an odd situation: ” too many friends “. But that is how it felt to me! And ironically, I have so much more friends now than I did then as a result of coming here – my life has become so colourful – but now I love it rather than finding it claustrophobic. My nest is my nest, and I come back to it whenever I want for my needed seclusion !

  3. Robin

    And how did Duncan feel about being left behind? Or was he simultaneously arranging a way to join you? His motivations in leaving must have been quite a bit different from yours. You may have written about this, but I can’t remember how it went down. All very interesting. I can really relate. In a much, much more minor and dull and unadventurous way, I felt I was leaving my old life behind when I moved away from Vancouver. I threw out nearly everything I owned, even irreplaceable photographs. I wanted to start from scratch. I haven’t been away nearly as long as you have, but no regrets. Corny, but it was a bit was like shedding a skin.

    I thought I was the only perfume nut who really, really really disliked Poeme. It’s in its own category. Not vile in a foul-smelling way, but so completely, intensely disagreeable.

    • It is, isn’t it? I know Luca Turin said some hilarious things about it once, but I can’t remember the exact quote.

      As for D – he was not happy at all (but then again, neither was I). I went, realized I loved him, he came here to live 15 months later and here we are.

      Now my social life is ideal, to be honest, and I am still very good friends with all the people I mentioned wanting to leave as well back in England. I think the panic was all due to just the overwhelming nature of leaving university and being thrust into the world. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing but just followed my instincts. Like you, it really was like shedding a skin – like starting an entirely new life. I think that is what the Martin video is about in a way as well perhaps – like when I wake up on the pavement asleep, it’s like the man who fell to earth

      • Robin

        That is pretty damn uncanny, because that is precisely what I thought when I saw you on the pavement.

        I’d love to read more about the Neil and Duncan story.

        I’m happy to read that you’ve got the right balance in your life now. My old friends are still part of my life and I’m glad I didn’t burn any bridges when I escaped. I mostly just wanted to be close to Ric and create a very different life with him. I wanted to shake things up and reinvent myself. And/or find myself, maybe the person I was all along, who got sidetracked for awhile there and kind of lost the plot. You were very young when you left England and when I think of what your life might have looked liked if you stayed . . . I can’t, really. It seems inevitable that you left and that Japan was the destination.

      • I am happy reading this x

  4. An intriguing association, Neil. I’m a huge fan of Poême. It’s aged very well, unlike a lot of scents from the 90s.

  5. I should also say that I didn’t only come here to be alone : I always knew I wanted to live somewhere completely different just as an adventure and brain reset ; I don’t know if I would ever have started writing otherwise as there would have just been too much passive consumption of culture otherwise. I felt insignificant and drowned out by everything.

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