Monthly Archives: March 2020

SAPPHO by LUSH (2019)

 

 

 

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The poetry of Sappho, a poet from ancient Greece whose works exists only in fragments, is very beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You may forget but

 

 

 

 

Let me tell you

that someone in

some future time

will think of us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That was different

 

 

 

 

My girlhood then

was in full bloom

and you —

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you remember

 

 

 

 

How a golden

broom grows on

the sea beaches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You remind me

 

 

 

Of a very gentle

little girl I once

watched picking flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When they were tired

 

 

 

 

 

Night rained her

thick dark sleep

upon their eyes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standing by my bed

 

 

 

 

 

In gold sandals

Dawn that very

moment awoke me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although they are

 

 

Only breath, words

which I command

are immortal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know. There is a timeless quality, a space I can inhabit, within Sappho’s poetry. A simplicity within her words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a boy  I would play Satie’s Gnossiennes on the piano, or Debussy’s Canope, and sink into the replete, sun-cypressed groves of my young imagination of what I thought constituted ancient Greece (when we went to Crete as a seventeen year old I almost died with pleasure………….the cicadas, the eucalyptus trees giving off cool scent in the burning afternoon sun; Prince’s Lovesexy blasting out into the blue; Eurythmics’ Savage). In converse: the cold, beautiful, silence inside of Keats’ Grecian Urn ( a space to rest, peacefully, forever). At university, when it all got too much, I would sometimes escape to the Classics Museum, no connection to my own studies – but a place which nobody seemed to ever go to (it was always empty); replicas of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture in alabaster, surrounding me, eyeless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Uffizi Museum in Florence is a place that overwhelms the senses. So much beauty. In excess. It can make you almost sick. And all the people (oh to be there right now, now that it is closed, to have that space all to yourself………………) A cruel thing to say, possibly  – my heart  goes out to Italy at this terrible moment, truly – but there are works of art in that place so exquisite,  that they can be appreciated only when solitary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sappho,  by Lush, a new perfume which debuted at The Perfume Library in Florence last November  – it will come to Tokyo in June  – is, I think,  probably my favourite of the new collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first time I smelled this obviously happy perfume,  all I could smell on the back of my hands was lilies. Lilies breathing in the sunshine, uninhibited. Salty, extreme salicylates of jasmine  ( shadowy and medicinal,  paracetamol,  almost neo-Je Reviens ) ;  aldehydic, with reams of a soaring, solar ylang ylang, and a darker, gorsish undertone underneath (as it turns out, a quite original accord of orris root tinted with a dirt of coffee absolute);  the whole a  little rough, for sure, but for me also strangely ecstacizing with its smooth, and savoury,  vanilla dry down               –       and most definitely a perfume of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We shall enjoy it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for him who finds

fault, may silliness

and sorrow take him!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That afternoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girls ripe to marry

wove the flower-

heads into necklaces

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the spring twilight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The full moon is shining :

Girls take their places

as though around an altar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awed by her splendor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stars near the lovely

moon cover their own

bright faces

when she

is roundest and lights

earth with her silver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you will come

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I shall put out

new pillows for

you to rest on

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Flowers

NOW IS THE TIME FOR ESSENTIAL OILS

 

 

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It is quite hard to fathom just how much things have escalated in the last few days : it seems the world is now talking exclusively about one thing, and one thing only, as countries shut down, borders are sealed, people are sequestrated inside their own homes (a friend of mine has had a censor fitted on her door in China by the authorities so she can’t go outside for the next two weeks); the US in pandemonium at airports with the recent European travel bans and the UK talking now about making citizens over seventy years old stay inside their houses until July or August – a sensible move, if a very drastic one – but all of it making us both rather worried about our parents, who are in that age group, and how they will cope.

 

 

 

 

 

Japan continues in slightly head-in-the-sand mode, testing less than other countries and giving us wan statistics that I don’t feel paint the full picture – understandable, perhaps, given that the Olympics, so hard fought for, and such a focal point for 2020 for years – everyone was so much looking forward to this event! – could all go down the tube (and all because of a cultural predilection across the water for munching on pangolins and palm civets and bats tainted with pig’s blood – this has to stop, the World Health Organisation simply has to insist on it) —– but not comforting enough when you can’t trust the people in charge here to tell the truth about the situation and the full extent of coronavirus infections…….Prime Minister Abe has just been granted the power to declare a State Of Emergency, in a spirit of ‘toughness and action’ whenever he sees fit, so who knows: soon we could also be shut up inside with our ready made curries and Bombay Mix gasping for fresh fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

Going into Tokyo the other day for a necessary appointment; a cold, raining day of misery stuck on a bus which felt like a mortuary – unmoving passengers, mainly the vulnerable elderly, all wearing masks, staring forward silently, and then the train, not especially different, I decided to join the throng for once this time and wore two masks on top of each other, just for good measure: an inner one sprinkled lavishly with bergamot and grapefruit essential oils – so I was breathing and exhaling pure citrus– and an outer one for extra protection. Although not an ideal modus operandi – I know for a fact that I sensitize to grapefruit oil and can get red or rashy skin from it so would not recommend this action for others –  I felt (and this is the important point) that the pleasing smelling essential oils were offering extra protection from whatever invisible microscopic bastards were tainting the atmosphere around me waiting to infiltrate my gullet and oesophagus and the vulnerable lower respiratory tract;  and in reality, whether or not they offered any actual protection against this crown shaped micro-scourge that is tearing through the world and threatening economic breakdown and chaos in society, at the very least it is an established fact that bergamot (my holy grail of essential oils – I cannot be without it), is an immune system stimulant, mood enhancer, is bactericidal –  some say viricidal, too – and will definitely do you more good than harm: the cold-pressed citric benevolence of a powerful, healing oil that enhances your natural powers of protection,  and smells beautiful in the process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cut my hand the other day, in the centre, twice, when planting a stolen rosemary tree in the front garden. I am the opposite of a gardener – but I had picked up this bush thrown away in the trash – roots intact – and decided on a whim while on my bicycle to just have it, and haphazardly plant it with a metal cooking spatula that was to hand instead of a trowel (I also often take books – we have got some really good ones,  that get thrown away in neat little piles sometimes tied up with kimono string: I have got bric a brac and DVDS and nice china and other bits and bobs in the carefully separated out gomi, but not usually plants). I love rosemary though: I love how it looks – with its reminiscences of ancient Greece; the roughness, the power of the plant and the resilience of it (like geranium – both of their essential oils reflect this strength in their ‘life essences’: rosemary is one I use in the bath if I am suffering from exhaustion  – right now I am very yang, rather than yin, so it doesn’t feel quite right and will get my blood pounding perhaps too much; geranium is marvellous blended with orange and benzoin for an all round bodily re-tuning) —— even if somehow in the process of ‘digging’ I gave myself stigmata on my right hand that I could tell were quite quickly getting gnarly and infected (when the redness  goes a bit pulpy and dark, and you feel it pulsating wrongly from within). Not in the mood for visiting our crowded local clinic, where god knows what is going down at this moment – I feel quite sorry for our lovely overworked doctor who is the only practitioner there –  on this occasion I decided to treat it myself instead with botanicals: lemon essential oil initially, to clean out the wound – another of my go to-s, great to stop an incipient sore throat in the bud, just a drop on the back of the tongue- and then virgin coconut oil, one of the most useful things you can have around the house for a multitude of applications, particularly right now : to use as a chest oil blended with essences – preferably eucalyptus oil, which  is anti-viral and brilliant for coughs, even pneumonia : if it got to a quarantine situation and we were stuck at home with no medicines, I would be administering such treatments to us both, knowing that even if it were not the same as a ‘cure’, it would certainly hasten the recovery time (and might even kill the virus). Tea tree is equally effective, possibly more so, but I despise the smell so much – like dill pickles squinting in gasoline – I almost find it unbearable as an odour despite its therapeutic genius, that – as an aromatherapist I spoke to recently told me, there is probably no point in having it for daily use, as the effect on the olfactive and limbic systems – whether you enjoy the smell of your medicine – is a vital part of an essential oil’s power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this regard, I decided instead, on impulse, to use pure vetiver oil on my wound, not knowing if this viscous, dark, earthen oil was officially known as a cicatrisant, or scar-healing oil or not –  but using my intuition that it was (I am often curiously spot on in this regard, I can feel it),  I applied the essential oil directly to my hand, letting it sink gradually under the ripped epidermis and into my skin. Immediately I could feel a tightening, a tingling from inside the cut that told me it was working: this morning I wake up to find that the skin has pulled together and is healing properly, almost mended, so I will continue with the coconut oil and vetiver just one more night and I am certain that by tomorrow it will be done and dusted, saving me doctor time and the agitation of sitting in a room with creepily warm, anxiety-permeated, contaminated air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Aromatherapy’ is often, in my view, quite misunderstood  (I always feel that the word  often lends itself to contempt by non-converted lay people, who think that the practice of using active botanical essences as medicines is akin to just sitting next to a Glade ‘air freshening’ device or My Little Pony Vanilla Candle, with New Age ‘Healing Music’ (the Greatest Hits of Yanni and Enya) in the background with your eyes closed as you politely massage some betowelled, supine victim in lavender scented jojoba while simultaneously river dancing ) —— and speaking of lavender, by the way, this is also the ideal essential oil to have right now: highly antiseptic, stimulating to the white corpuscles to fight off insidious foreign bodies while relaxing to the spirits – – – – – but the usage of essential oils for medical purposes is really not the same as their uses – refracted, altered, chemically synthesised with other materials – in perfumery, where the goal is ultimately sensual pleasure, the naturals used in a fragrant composition just part of the orchestration necessary to create a hopefully poetic work of olfactive art that will take you away from yourself and the world for a while (while also bringing you closer to both). Now, I am obviously the last person to decry the joys of perfumery – and I do think that perfume, also, is more important than ever right now as a personal buttress and security blanket –  but it must be said truthfully also that the physical benefits on the body, and mind, of ‘aromatherapy’ are quite significantly different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shikimic acid, for example, is the active ingredient found in Tamiflu (which, though controversial, is thought to be one of the best forms of treatment for serious influenza infections), but is derived from the Chinese star anise plant, killing viruses at the early stage and priming the body to fight against them – which is why I am making my nightly rooibos tea each night right now with a few star anise pods infused in the pot along with straight cinnamon bark that I picked up from my Indian grocery: both are relaxing and help you sleep, and are excellent adjuncts in the fight against getting sick. Ginger is another one (I personally prefer to use spices in a culinary way like this rather than their essential oils, which I find too potent – with the exception of cloves and black pepper- but this will depend on personal preference). And personal preference is very much the key with aromatherapy, up to a point: if you don’t like the smell of an oil, it is unlikely to work in its full holistic potential. When I apply vetiver – which I have a very natural, and instinctively deep connection to – it is like coming back into myself, it feels right: other oils – basil, aniseed (different to star anise); petitgrain, give me headaches; thyme, much as I adore the herb in cooking, feels too aggressive and gives me skin reactions; oregano is the same (but I adore its calmer relation, sweet Spanish marjoram, which dulls anxiety in the most beautiful way); immortelle makes me nauseous; as does chamomile; and Helen and I almost once vomited on smelling the horrendous asafoetida —— you will have your own natural inclinations as well (smell the oil, and trust in how you react to it).

 

 

 

 

 

 

But only up to a point. At the end of the day, aromatherapy is not perfumery, and sometimes the medicinal benefits of an oil are undeniable even when you are not quite in tune with its smell:  the best case in point in my personal history being the aforementioned dreaded tea tree, which I have the strongest admiration for as a general panacea against infection (thousands of years of aboriginal knowledge and usage by those societies for a variety of ailments and problems in Australia cannot be wrong (which is why the much more enjoyable smelling eucalyptus is almost equally miraculous)).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the skeptical, this is what happened to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the first, very stressful and difficult months of coming to Japan –  though the problem had started a long while before in London, I developed – and it embarrasses me to admit it – a disturbing array of warts and verrucas, like an afflicted old hag from a Grimm Brothers fairy tale, eventually to the extent that my feet were completely covered with them and my fingers – all around my nails and on my knuckles – encrusted with warts, which I covered, constantly, self-consciously, in Band-Aids, feeling like a monstrous freak in the classroom when I turned the pages of text books and saw the eyes of students, getting frantic with self-awareness at how hideous they were (usually my skin is one of my better physical attributes, and it was horrible to feel so put upon in such an unsightly manner). I had of course been to doctors and dermatologists and given acid treatments to melt the warts down, but this had just left me with sore skin and eventually, lymph problems –  throbbing armpits-  because there was so much chemical poison going into my bloodstream…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eight months later, one day in London, during my summer holidays, no improvement in my condition whatsoever, I decided – out of the blue – you know what, I am going to drown these fuckers in tea tree. Not just ‘apply’ a little diluted tea tree oil as you are recommended, no: douse my socks in the stuff, unpleasant smells be damned (I couldn’t have done this in my daily existence with work and everything but it was fine when I was on holiday with nothing to do), and I bought a giant bottle of the stuff from Holland & Barrett in England, and did just that. For the rest of the week, I would be walking around in tea tree soaked socks, damp with it but I was determined, so busy with whatever else I was doing that I eventually stopped thinking about the fact I had it on, but at the end of this week I began to feel different somehow and then looked closely at my feet and….could hardly believe my eyes. It was gross, unsightly, but where the hard, stubborn funguses had been before, red, like studs –  was white tissue – soft, like aliens that have been killed at the end of a science fiction movie – and I knew that the little invaders were finally  on their way out. Within another week, they had completely died: I had removed the foul skin, and watched my skin tissue grow back to its normal, smooth pink healthy self.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If this had been the end of it, I would have still been singing hallelujah, but what was far more miraculous for me  – you have to remember, this problem had been probably going on for six months or a year or longer before I was able to properly deal with it – but then one day I then looked down at my hands some time after and did a double take: suddenly realizing  oh my god, the skin around my fingers is clear…..normal. What? Where are they? Seriously? They had disappeared. Incredibly elated, I realized that the Australian tea tree oil I had been using had truly delivered the goods, stimulating my immune system from the inside and fighting off the malingering fungus, whether I hated the smell of it or not.  To me this experience was incredibly eye-opening, and like I say, something of a miracle. D and I now swear by this as well for cold sores as well, although I have discovered that a combination of coconut oil and bergamot smells much nicer and nips them in the bud and eradicates them from the system more quickly – this is a tried and tested formula now. Lavender also works very nicely (oh lavender, eucalyptus and bergamot how I love thee…..these should be pumped out in hospitals and medical clinics everywhere in the air conditioning systems; it is so obvious that in-house infections would decrease as a result), and these are the oils I would most recommend in these contagious times of apprehension.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, frankincense ( let me have just one more story). D had come down one year with a nasty case of bronchitis so serious it was starting to alarm me. The doctor in Kamakura had bizarrely prescribed amphetamine patches for his chest, which I can imagine might work for the smoking, high cholesterol, overweight type patient who needs to get things moving and decongesting again, but for someone sensitive and slight like him it was like mainlining on speed every night, revving him up into almost hysterical levels of panic and insomnia and hacking coughs all night long. I was getting quite worried by this point and decided to take things literally into my own hands. My instincts told me on this occasion – FRANKINCENSE. I don’t know why, I just felt that this was what he needed, checked online, and voilà – I saw that it was highly recommended for lung issues and coughs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, there are of course many different brands of essential oils available, some cheaper and of lower quality than others – sometimes I will compromise if I don’t have the money, but on this occasion I decided to go for a very high quality frankincense oil I had smelled by The Aromatherapy Associates that was being sold at a department store in Ginza. Just smelling it from the bottle was mind altering, and I had high hopes that this would have some effect on D’s traumatic breathing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I brought it home, took some olive oil, poured some frankincense oil on my hands like a Mary Magdalene and applied it liberally to his chest  –  and the effect was astounding. I remember clearly that first, there was a second or two of palpable change in the air  (this oil has a pronounced effect on the nervous system and the brain, but at this moment it was like entering an alternate reality) : his coughing stopped. Immediately. It was as though his whole body were being given a magical reprieve from the racking that had become reflexive and unavoidable – the frankincense oil a natural intervention that stopped the condition in its tracks and took him quickly on the road to recovery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In short, from effective, natural treatments for chest conditions  – exactly what we need right now given the nature of the global danger at hand – to the pronounced effect on mood, psychological state and general well being (and skin – my goodness, in my case, a bergamot or eucalyptus bath can honestly take years off me when I am in a tired or stressed out or haggard state – the mirror doesn’t lie), I really do think that one thing that people could be stocking up wisely on now in these times of rising panic, is not just toilet roll, Pringles and liquor while we wait for a vaccine or treatment to be created, but, also, to maintain a healthy natural bodily defence, a stash of therapeutic essential oils and high quality spices like star anise, cloves and cinnamon for herbal teas to kill bacteria and possibly viruses (to prevent other nuisances like colds and the regular flu that no-one needs right now);  boost the immune system, lower anxiety, sleep better, look better, all with the readily available and relatively inexpensive, effective, and concentrated elixirs and essences of nature that have been utilised for millennia  by our ancestors –                THE BEAUTIFUL BRILLIANCE OF PLANTS

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FIVE IRISES FOR A THURSDAY : : : : VIOLETTE REBELLE by BERRY (2017) + FLORENTINE IRIS by ERMENEGILDO ZEGNA (2012) +IRIS POUR HOMME + SILK IRIS by PARFUMS SATORI (2010) + SPLENDIRIS by DUSITA (2019)

 

 

 

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I was talking to a friend on the phone the other night and at the end of our long conversation she was asking me,   so have you discovered any good new perfumes recently, and while I was trying to come up with an answer  – because nothing came immediately to mind at that particular moment  – she said   well have you smelled Rebel Violet by a French perfume house called Berry, and I told her I hadn’t…….oh you definitely should :  god it’s gorgeous – really rooty, earthy, hardcore iris and violets – I absolutely love it (she often goes for iris-heavy perfumes by the likes of Xerjoff and Parfums MDCI…)   —– you should try it.

 

 

 

 

I will (I had never heard of this brand before). We have similar taste, I love violets, and if there is one perfume ingredient that sends true perfume lovers into a delirium, it is definitely iris: I know several people  – this friend included – who are permanently on an unceasing secret mission to locate the ‘Ultimate Orris’:  something about the chalky, pulverous, cool bitey texture of this rooted powder, with its mauve and indigo hue of lilac and heliotropic dried white bulbs drives wrist addicts into a frenzy (perhaps for its calm sense of haven – the exquisite retreat from vulgarity and noise; a warm cradle of cold elegance to curl up inside,   and breathe….)

 

 

 

 

Japan’s finest independent perfumery,  Parfums Satori, is focused on drawn-back, dignified  – if usually still sensuous – fragrances, and I really love both of the house’s  iris perfumes, Silk Iris and Iris Pour Homme, which in reality are almost the same fragrance – coupled lovers respiring gently on the cool soft sheets of an imaginary room. While neither of these perfumes has the requisite heartbeating suspension : (that moment, in, say, Iris Nazarena by Aedes de Venustas, or The Peradam by Apotheke – and particularly, for me, in Tubereuse Capricieuse by Les Histoires De Parfums, with its initial cloud of pure, disorienting iris  – when the grey compressed chalk of crushed particles in the florous top notes that ionize the air around you can be so breathtaking that only disappointment can only ensue – and it always does – when this moment is over) –  I also prefer the Satori iris fragrances as overall compositions. Neoclassical in treatment, Silk Iris is a smooth and translucent scent based on iris/rose/violet, with a touch of mimosa and fresh top notes of green leaves and bergamot in the opening prelude, while a delicate olibanum, sandalwood and white musk finish ensures that nothing is ever less than discreet. Pour Homme, which I possibly prefer, and intend to buy for myself at some point at the boutique in Tokyo, is only marginally more ‘masculine’, with a touch of vetiver in the final skin accord and and some of the floral prettiness of the Silk toned down, but still leaving enough to please the person who is in the mood for some general relief ( who isn’t, at the moment?); introversion   —   and pared down refinement.

 

 

 

 

 

Florentine Iris by Ermenigildo Zegna is at the far other side of the binary masculine spectrum. While some commentators and fans of this powerful boardroom ur-scent talk of the classic Tuscan orris butter at the heart,  for me this composition e is far more hard-bodied and unrelenting;  a sharp bergamot violet iris, shot through with a bone of erectile oud and clean musks that renders it very direct, jaw-lined and quite simply put, impressive. Recently, I have been talking on here about the ‘savoury’ in perfumery, or the ‘aromatic’: in Japanese this word –  the opposite of sweet, or amai –  is the simple shioppai, or ‘salty’, a definition that is not really what I mean here  (D in fact has a liking for salt-based fragrances (Lush Salarium, Nebbia Spessa) and I do actually quite enjoy that genre, particularly the more oceanic type of niche fragrance worn at the height of summer). What I am referring to, rather, is a form of mellow warmth, almost foody, that I love in perfumes like L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Eau Du Navigateur (one of my favourite perfumes of all time); or the sawdusty, dune-kissed semi gourmand that is La Femme Bleue by Armani Privé (the vintage Hermès Amazone edp I was raving about recently also has some of this quality): a mid-registered, flavourful alto aspect in some perfumes that I find quite persuasive. On D, who in fact has a full bottle of Florentine Iris given him by a friend, this perfume, while up close, is a touch too ‘note-discernible’ and stark (the very opposite of Satori in this regard), as a trailing sillageon him it is nothing but gorgeous:  like a rarified, sharpened Calvin Klein Eternity Redux – so if you love that classic for women from 1988 as I do ( I find them very similar in overall impression), then you definitely need to smell this perfume: to me it reads almost as a more expensive and luxurious homage, extraordinarily magnetic on D and a current staple: : he is quite taken with its overall silveriness and robust energy.

 

 

 

 

 

A perfumer who is always very much drawn to unclichéd renderings of classic raw materials is Thai perfumer Pissara Umavijani. Many reviewers of her recent Splendiris mistakenly compare this high quality complex creation to ‘similar’ powdered irises by Guerlain such as Insolence, when to my nose, it is obvious that nothing could be further from the truth. Where those frou frou, vanillic coquettes bat their eyelashes in a swirl of  Champs Elyséean anisic sweetness, Dusita – whose perfumes I often find quite mind- bending, almost hallucinatory – is within seconds going in all kinds of unexpected directions simultaneously:  you are being whisked willingly along  an unfamiliar dream whorl, with subtle references that have absolutely nothing to do with the typical gourmand, gallic nymphet. Yes, there is a very attractive, powdered violet-laced orris accord in the top that is initially  familiar, but quickly you find yourself being drawn into an unplaceable, hypnotic alternate universe  of salted ambergris, fig leaf, vetiver, cedar and carrot seed that is a million miles from the typical iris perfume ; androgynous; addictive,  – again, quite ‘savoury’ – and strangely plaintive. Unknowable (her trademark),  Splendiris is odd, but I now have come to rather like it – of the perfumes in this post it is by far the most innovative and intriguing (and I would love to smell this on someone walking by me) –  even if ultimately – like all the irises  I describe here, it might not be the final, haunting  ‘silver chalice’ in the perpetual iris hunters’ Holy Grail.

 

 

 

 

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CAN ONE TRANSFER A MEMORY? ARMANI EAU POUR HOMME (1984)

 

This is PERFECT for today – lemony and crisp for the first proper sunshine of March.

 

 

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CAN ONE TRANSFER A MEMORY? ARMANI EAU POUR HOMME (1984)

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March 11, 2020 · 12:02 pm

RED MAGNOLIAS……..(featuring LA FEMME BLEUE by ARMANI PRIVE (2011) + IMPRESSION PATCHOULI II by OSTENS (2019) )

 

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People pass through your life when you are an ‘expatriate’. Some stay their whole lives, others come and go, and you meet them at some randomly assigned point during their life here; some people you wish you had longer.

 

 

 

 

Such is the case with Katya, a make-up artist  – and chameleon – from Germany, who never seems to look the same twice – a very creative and instinctual person who is intelligent, calming, enigmatically authentic, and gentle. After the blizzards of bullshit I was compelled to wade through on Friday, to be able travel to a new neighbourhood in Tokyo  – this beautiful red, or purple magnolia, pure-scented and fresh in the rain, on the way up the staircase – and then have dinner and wine with Katya and a couple of her Japanese neighbours (and their dogs……my goodness I finally communed with a dog, called Zero…so lovely and sweet)  ——  was balm to my soul.

 

 

 

Katya is leaving in a month to study theatre and opera makeup design in Leipzig  – she also did some work for Duncan’s film- and we were there to look at a hand made wooden shelf that D had had his eye on for our house (we want it);  they will dissemble it, and bring it down here next week for dinner party chapter two, when we can reciprocate the favour.

 

 

 

I imagine that we will rootle through perfume samples and all the scents in my collection  ( I always love that after dinner game). It was interesting. At a previous film shoot in Tokyo where Katya was working on my own character, whose appearance required more detail than I would ordinarily need, and the usual ragtag of disparate individuals was accumulated in a dressing room of a film studio, I had brought up some samples and mini bottles of various perfumes with me because I sometimes like to just spread the wealth a bit, bond with people I don’t know  (I find that it gears up the conversation). As a part of the bag of tricks, and with her potentially in mind, I had brought two perfumes up with me among them intuiting that she would probably like something less ‘gender specific’ than the fragrances we are usually exposed to, and as it happened I was right: she was immediately drawn to the Patchouli II by Ostens that I said that she might like to try (in a previous review I describe this muted boisé as ‘barely there, with its iris resinoid and violet leaf absolute and cypress oil…….but there is a delicate, natural attenuation I can imagine adding an aura of questioning introversion ( ……‘look inside’) when the person wearing it walks into a room. Almost too muted to make any real ‘impression’, it is this pure quality, like a breath of fresh air through a window in a white room, that will appeal to certain individuals’.

 

 

 

Katya took to this perfume immediately, looking at me with astonished eyes – Wow, this is me, how did you know?  (I love these moments when I am right about what a person is going to like and really nail it) as well as the small spray sample of the ultra rare unicorn that is the legendary La Femme Bleue by Armani Privé, and which I hesitated over giving away initially precisely for that rarity, finding this one more difficult at first (I think it had slightly gone past its best in the top notes), but which soon smelled incredible on her after just a few minutes, with its woodchested sawdust-like mellow iris absolute warmed through with unsweetened vanilla and cacao. Unfathomable, erotic –  and I should know: as she worked on contouring my face and transforming me into another person, we were intimately connected through all senses, especially the olfactory  — – – I often wonder about this with hair stylists, makeup artists, tattoo parlours, masseuses, doctors…..you cannot avoid smelling each other up close, which must sometimes surely be problematic when there is mutual aversion. In this case, I felt that it was the opposite :she was taking to my vetiver oil, and whatever I was wearing with it, and I was practically swooning up close each time I smelled the new perfumes on her skin, which together, one on each arm, smelled truly out of reach : beautiful.

 

 

 

 

Saturday night she told me that when taking some of her things back to Germany a couple of weeks ago she had been asked to open her case at the airport and put all cosmetics and the like in plastic bags, the way it always is nowadays, and in the process had struck up an enjoyable conversation with a customs officer about scent. “These are so precious, so beautiful…..smell these” she had said to the woman, giving her the Blue Woman and the Ostens Patchouli II to try,  and they both agreed that they had not smelled anything like either of them before, that it was a connecting moment.

 

 

 

 

What struck me about his exchange is the fact that the perfume lovers, with our broad knowledge of perfumery, from the classics through to the department store legends, to the vast proliferation of niche perfumery that is beyond even any obsessed perfumista’s  full knowledge any more, are of course aware of the sheer spectrum of olfactory variety that is out there, and tune our daily wearings to that taste. I sometimes forget that the vast majority of people, even those that wear perfume on a regular basis, are still basing their fragrant choices on the prehistoric  ‘pour femme’ and ‘pour homme’ tropes of the current department store displays, the crass and monolithic distinctions I have often railed against on here  – Katya herself even said that after wearing those two perfumes I gave her she was no longer able to stand the Dolce & Gabbana she had been using hitherto: it is like waking up from a bad dream; finding a scent that is much more akin to your natural taste, and character. A shock of the ‘new’. A perfumed rebirth.

I very much look forward to our next encounter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Have you ever also opened up someone’s eyes in this way?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RADICAL REMIXING : : : :: LIMON DE CORDOZA by THE DIFFERENT COMPANY

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I love a cheap niche bargain, where I can enjoy the smell of a contemporary perfume without the familiar feeling that it wasn’t worth the money. Just to use at my leisure without thinking too hard. Perk up my collection a bit (these days, precious vintage perfume sources are very much on the decline here in Japan compared to when I first came here…….mere unicorns). Occasionally, certain ‘recycle shops’ in Yokohama or Tokyo do have some unwanted goods from upmarket department stores though, and I get a real kick when I can get one at a fifth (or sometimes even less) of the retail price.

I also like it when a citrus perfume has one of those bottles you can unscrew, with just the spray dangling into the liquid and you can add more essential oils if you feel like it: while Tokyo Bloom, a green floral musk I wrote about recently is fine as it is and will be used as such, Limon De Cordoza, though quite nice – what I call a ‘depressed citrus’ in the manner of Eau De Rochas – (lemon and white neroli with a patchouli and vetiver undertone with a peculiar ‘freesia’ note I found initially a little off-putting) – I also found it a little bit thin: Ungiving. I needed more zest. And I needed more vetiver: so added great amounts of lemon, bergamot, yuzu, grapefruit, and a hefty proportion of my favourite vetiver essential oil , and voila – a scent I have been wearing the last couple of weekends: sharp, fresh at the beginning and and slightly perplexing, even enigmatic by the end. Good, psychologically, to ward off invisible viruses. A posey of lemons.

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On the subject of the weird times that we find ourselves in and ‘radical remixing’, I must say I had a very bad end to the week (which probably comes through in the rather sluggish and uninspiring tone of this post, sorry).

While Prime Minister Abe, in a desperate attempt to boost his ratings and stave off a coronavirus epidemic big enough to cancel the Tokyo Olympics, took the ultra-decisive step of closing all educational institutions across the country for at least two weeks and up to a month in an effort to contain the situation, and my own company wisely did the same – all lessons cancelled across the board – it was decided, in one school, that only I would have to teach lessons on Friday. In the entire company. That’s right. Of the thousands of students that were required to self-quarantine at home, it was bizarrely decided by the boss of one school that my lessons were somehow ‘too important to miss’, and that there should be a special ‘one off’ class, where the students would be spaced two metres apart – wearing masks – so they wouldn’t have to miss their ‘vital’ English conversation class.

My fierce protestations by email notwithstanding (because it goes against all logic; it is stupid; it is ridiculous, pointless, idiotic, and fucking infuriating) I did go into work on Friday, feeling like a river about to burst its banks in a flood and desperately trying to sandbag myself but knowing that it would probably be impossible : : on seeing the arrangements for these completely arbitrarily decided upon lessons – three in a row with the students so far apart, the windows open; the fans on, the air-con on, the outside noise so loud I couldn’t hear what they were saying (particularly when wearing surgical masks); an hour before the lessons began and the students arrived I unfortunately flew into an absolute rage, something I have never done before in the workplace, at least not for a couple of decades- shouting and swearing and terrifying the administrative staff (the secretary went very pale) at the sheer stupidity of the situation; I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t’ teach, there are no exams coming up; if the whole country is off from school, and the entire company as well, then it just goes without saying that so should these students be; why were they being put at risk for no reason? I was livid. The logic of my argument is undefiable.Radically changing the classroom set up so I couldn’t do the usual pair-work/ blackboard work scenarios, put me in such a deep fury I was physically unable to conceal my irritation (I just made them write sentences on the coronavirus; coronavirus, coronavirus: apoplectic at the bizarreness of the situation (Poor kids !). Sometimes there are things in this country, ways of thinking, though I will never understand. And Friday, a shit day, was certainly one of them. Was it some kind of ‘bravery in the face of danger'(what? just to practice English for an hour? Who gives? ) Educational martyrdom? Some form of punishment?

Who knows. I wore my adulterated, semi-home made perfume again, yesterday, glad it was a Saturday but still riled and pissed off, with the day’s irritations just going round and round in my head (you know when you can’t let go of something?) – filming up in Tokyo – the film is now about 95% shot- and quite enjoyed it, despite its somewhat dour presence ( I don’t think, ultimately, that citrus and patchouli really works – I prefer each of them independent of the other ). In the morning I took a suitcase up with me to Meguro and went to an Indian grocery, stocking up on basmati rice, curry powder, spices, ready made meals, cinnamon, coconut milk powder, a whole suitcase full of food just in case things really do get drastic here – they are talking about a literal state of emergency, in which people could be forcibly be made to stay in their homes, just like in China (in which case, I ask you – why did these kids have to travel far and wide just to come to my lesson? Is this not beyond baffling? Should I be writing this on a public space like this? No I should not, and will possibly have to take this down in a while – but I just feel like venting my spleen, which right now is charred, and still on fire).

At Shinagawa station last night, after a very nice evening which I will save for another post, ladened with luggage and props and garam masala, I dropped my backpack down unceremoniously for a moment in order to relieve my bladder before getting on the train. As we went down in the elevator towards the platform, we looked at each other, suddenly noticing the intensely pungent scent of sour, miserable, burnt out lemons and oranges and guaiac wood and I realized, as the dark stain spread along the bottom of the bag, and dripped down onto my clothes and our suitcases, and filled the air quite intensely, even catching the attention of masked commuters, that the bottle, a 90ml almost full, was completely empty; the glass cracked; smashed.

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LA BAIGNEUSE + SAINT JOSEPH LE CHARPENTIER by L’OFFICINE OFFICIELLE BULY (2019)

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I am something of a baigneur myself. While a shower is more revitalising – if I wake up in natural power mode a bath could pull me under – once I get in the bath it is quite hard for me to get out. I stay in for an hour or two, depending on duty: shower first, a la japonaise – the western mode of marinating in your own juices unclean and not how it should be done; similarly, shoes should be left at the entrance – you know it just makes sense……………….: soap that body down, rinse, then get into a hot bath with essential oil – bergamot, eucalyptus, sometimes vetiver – and start to dream. The pleasant ache of muscles dissolving in heat, then cold water added, at which point the sensation is as lovely as turning over a duvet cover in the night and feeling your physical self breathe with the pleasure of the slight cooling; an alleviation. After, more thermal heat.

Shampoo the hair and perhaps use more soap in the bath tub, later (heresy! You are not supposed to do that here, but I never said I had gone completely native); eventually – I am always fascinated by the arbitrariness of the moment we decide that the shower or bath has come to an end; what is the trigger? – If you are at an onsen, or hot spring, you will be boiled pink as a shrimp, cooled in the rotenburo steam of the outside air – or else plunged into the alternating cold pools that make you gasp out loud – full-scented with the mineralic of the volcanic waters, soothed with the beautiful linger of hinoki soap clinging to your skin, warmed through ; cleansed.

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L’Officine Ufficielle’s collaboration with the Louvre, in which twelve classic paintings in Paris have been rendered in fragrance by a selection of renowned perfumers, is an effective collection of contemporary perfumes – particularly La Baigneuse, based on the coy, but voluptuous, Valpinçon bather by Ingres, painted in 1808.

I remember when I first met D, walking wide-eyed into his room in Cambridge and seeing a postcard of this picture on his curiously covered walls that looked like a museum – he was always far more well versed in the History Of Art than I was, being taken to galleries in London on day trips from Norwich by his parents as a child, his easel in his back garden, doing paintings of his own – and I have always relied on him ever since to fill me in on the details of paintings, and for that matter, the kings and queens of England – I was never that big on history, either. I was the one to fill him in on cinema, perfume and pop music; we met in the middle studying literature (he, incidentally, can’t stay in a bathtub for more than about fifteen minutes, though it is usually less than ten).

Le Wiki tells us that

the Valpinçon Bather (Fr: La Grande Baigneuse) is a painting by the French Neoclassical artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867), held in the Louvre since 1879. Painted while the artist was studying at the French Academy in Rome, it was originally titled Seated Woman but later became known after one of its nineteenth-century owners.

Although the painting was not met with favour by critics when first exhibited, almost fifty years later, when the artist’s reputation was well established, the Goncourt brothers wrote that “Rembrandt himself would have envied the amber color of this pale torso”, while the Louvre described it as “a masterpiece of harmonious lines and delicate light”.

Ingres had earlier painted female nudes, such as his Bathing Woman of 1807, yet this work is widely regarded as his first great treatment of the subject. As with the previous smaller work, the model is shown from behind, however The Valpinçon Bather lacks the earlier painting’s overt sexuality, instead depicting a calm and measured sensuality.

Remarking on Ingres’ ability to paint the human body in a unique manner, the art critic Robert Rosenblum wrote that “the ultimate effect of [The Valpinçon Bather] is of a magical suspension of time and movement—even of the laws of gravity … the figure seems to float weightlessly upon the enamel smoothness of the surface, exerting only the most delicate pressure, and the gravitational expectations of the heaviest earthbound forms are surprisingly controverted.”

All well and good. I do love the colours in this picture and the warm, powdered textures of the woman’s skin, even if the setting feels rather artificial (where is she?)

Her perfumed rendering?

This had to be an orris perfume, clearly, and who better to make it than the reine de l’iris herself, Daniela Andrier (creator of all the Prada iris perfumes as well as such cosy classics as Gucci Eau De Parfum). Here, though, rather than the chic sidewalk wearability of such perfumes she goes deeper and more weighted; private; bodily (‘the private crevasse of her shame‘……). La Baigneuse is a chalky, musk-laden iris, powdered, savoury, thick and underbellied with incense and patchouli, a base you feel rather than detect, freshened with a soap-like lemongrass and orange blossom top accord that triple mills the ingredients together in a binding and emotionally touching ‘just-bathed-all-day’ feeling that is simple; emotive; pleasing.

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Saint Joseph Le Charpentier, another perfume in this line of twelve eau de parfums, alabaster fragranced boxes and ‘scented postcards’ from Le Buly is derived from

an oil painting by Georges de La Tour created circa 1642. The work depicts a young Jesus with Saint Joseph, his earthly father.

Joseph drills a piece of wood with an auger, which reflects the shape of the Cross and the geometry of the wood arrayed on the floor, set cross-wise to the seated child Christ – a foreshadowing of the crucifixion.John Rupert Martin writes that Jesus’ patience represents “filial obedience and the acceptance of his destiny as martyr”.

This painting, created around the year 1642[1] is one of several tenebrist paintings by La Tour. Others include The Education of the Virgin, the Penitent Magdalene, and The Dream of St. Joseph. In all these works, a single, strong light source is a central element, surrounded by cast shadows. In both Joseph the Carpenter and The Education of the Virgin, the young Christ is represented, hand raised, as if in benediction, with the candlelight shining through the flesh as an allegorical reference to Christ as the “Light of the World.”

The word that stands out for me here is tenebrist, or great contrasts between light and dark, and Buly’s perfumed namesake is a ‘deep note of cedar wood, infused with verbena, pink berries and vetiver’, though to me it smelled more like a tender, illuminating sandalwood. This is not a note that I would usually go for, but for those who like soft, deep, enveloping wood accords rather than the more prevalent sharp aggressions, I would definitely recommend this composition by Sidonie Lancesseur, creator of such rich elixirs as Mad et Len Nin Shar and Frapin L’Humaniste; here again, restraint leads to a softer, more serene orchestration; like La Baigneuse, a perfume for calm, and reflection.

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MARRY ME ! by LANVIN (2010)

 

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As I wandered to the corner where the bridesmaids, and nuns, and various eccentric wedding guests were gathered, I encountered a wondrous, heart-hancing smell: a disarming swirl of lip balms and coconut scented, pomading hair products coming together as participants put last touches to their makeup before parading in front of the cameraman’s green screen; a very romantic, girlie rosey modern floral, daringly sweet-pitched and penetrating – but momentarily quite discombobulating :  …………………yielding, YES, I WILL MARRY YOU : the only obvious reply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(preparing for the wedding scene ‘Burning Bouquet’ with prosthetics…… SPOILER ALERT!)

 

 

 

 

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Tracing the scent to the source, I found very quickly that it was the pink lady top left –  whose name I didn’t catch – but who was wearing her very well-suited perfume layered with the oil of Lush Goddess, and then brought out the perfume from her bag to tell me what it was ….…………..’It’s Marry Me, By Lanvin.’ Complimenting her on her perfume (a giddy, rose-peach-jasmine-musky heart fluttering pink scent of the kind that is consistently popular here among young women), I realized once again that context with perfumery is everything: I would have undoubtedly sniffed this one at a fragrance counter and dismissed it with cynical, adult derision; meh! Another floral! Synthetic! Green tea and ‘freesias’! ‘Magnolia‘. Ha! On a person, though, especially at a wedding (we were filming one of the key, culminative scenes in Duncan’s hilarious art-trash comedy Spoiled Identity: had she brought along this perfume deliberately for its name, or was it just an opportune coincidence?) ……it was lovely, at least for a while, before going a little bit Lancôme Miracle ( one of my personal top 5 bȇte noires, I just can’t abide it) ;’ although for all I know, what I was smelling could have been coming from any number of sources as various people of all kinds and persuasions were coming and going from the municipal building in Tokyo we were filming in to take part as drunks, soothsayers, paparazzi, eye candy, priests (where does he get all these people from, this international smorgasbord? ).

 

 

 

 

 

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All in all, it was all a colour-saturated gorgeous relief from all the virus-ridden doom and gloom we have been over immersed in these last few weeks (and it’s only just begun!) : probably, we should have been quarantined in our abode, knitting in gas masks, weeping, but cancelling this was simply not an option. Instead, we were out in one of the most heavily populated urban areas in the world, maskless, and I loved every last minute of it; perfume gladdening the circumstances  – – –  pleasingly beyond. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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