Monthly Archives: May 2020










Impermanence, up for an artisan category nomination at the upcoming 2020 Art & Olfaction awards, is a perfume with a name for the times. Like everyone around the world, I have been thinking a lot about how much the coronavirus situation has changed, and will continue to change, people’s lives; shaping their choice of career (how lucky D and I are to be in education, relatively unscathed compared to so many other industries), how they travel, interact, have relationships… much has been upended. We started 2020 wishing each other good luck for the new decade, and within weeks were plunged into profound anxiety and uncertainty. Who could have predicted it all (except the epidemiologists?) The impermanent nature of everything  – the insecurity, the swift severing of ‘now’ from ‘before’, in a moment, was profoundly revealed – or highlighted, depending on your own previous philosophy of life: we feel more mortal, vulnerable, but at the same time , if we are lucky, happy to be alive.



Christele Jacquemin is a French photographer/ visual artist who makes natural perfumes based on her experiences of travel; Impermanence was apparently inspired by the artist’s residence in the village of Jin Ze, a suburb of Shanghai, where she spent a month walking around contentedly, along the canals, photographing an unfamiliar ancient place, preserved from tourism, where everything was new and stimulating to the senses; that sense of ‘harmony and tranquillity’ I also yearn for again when you forget yourself for a while; visit a new place with a totally different culture that lets you see things through a momentarily ‘enlightening’ prism; I had very similar feelings when we spent a day on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in Cambodia in 2018 visiting some ancient ruins, and then spent the afternoon wandering around a vast deserted temple complex by the river, smelling strange looking tropical flowers and the hot, dry air – the soft swaying reeds by the water. I don’t think I could have been happier.



Such happiness is always transitory, of course – and is based on your own projections onto a place, not its reality. You always go back home (if you even can at this time….) to face what is ‘real’, and so Ms Jacquemin set about recreating the sensations of positivity and tranquillity she had felt while at the village in a perfume that is uplifting, gentle, and pensive. I quite like it: rosemary, a note that is underused in my opinion, is here distilled cleanly to be very green and pure, without the rough,harsh ‘milkiness’ it can sometimes exhibit, combined with blue ginger, hinoki leaves and citric freshness of bergamot (which, linked to the vetiver in the base, briefly reminded me of my beloved Caron Eau Fraiche, a perfume that always makes me smile in summer) before ceding to a very pure rose absolute enveloped in the geranium/lemongrass related note of palmarosa – also a material not often featured in perfumes (I have made great skin preparations with this essential oil; it has an incredibly positive energy to it that lifts the spirits, and rejuvenates the skin)  – over a light touch of vetiver and maté tea.



As with many natural perfumes, when I smell this, I feel that sense sharpening relaxation of the autonomic system I have when I walk into my favourite aromatherapy shop in Tokyo, Tree Of Life – a place with a wonderful selection of essential oils of every description; some obscure and ultra expensive: distilled flower oils like broom and osmanthus, natural tuberose, violet, varieties of Japanese tree wood oils I have never heard of, whole ranges of lavenders from across the globe, with diffusers and mists of mint and geranium and rose hissing quietly into the surrounding air (rose otto, rose absolute, always at the heart of it all, as it is in this perfume; always rose, for some reason……………   is the rose the centre of the universe?) It is an unusual combination of notes that is perhaps too cheerful, ultimately, to capture the more wistful and sad concept of impermanence, at least as I see it; the Japanese fatalistic attitude of ‘oh well, it’s my time’, the cherry blossoms being blown from the boughs by the rain and the winds when they have only just bloomed, short lived, like the young samurai ready to die at any moment with the sword, while the stubborn Englishman clings to life like the dying rose with its thorns on the stem  –  a metaphor that can be seen in reality through my own attitude in categorically refusing to go in to work during the worst part of this crisis while my compatriots went into the headquarters unquestioningly everyday, prepared for sacrifice, come what may  –  but I think that this subtle composition will still definitely find its own unique place in my collection. I can imagine picking this up at certain moments; when at home, in a simpler, more serene mood; mind uncluttered, ready to get on with my day.






Filed under Rose perfumes

ROYAL PAVILION by E T R O ( 1989 )


Ackermann, Rudolph; Agar, John Samuel; Le Keux, John; Nash, John; Pugin, Augustus Charles; Stephanoff, James; John Nash, <I>The Royal Pavilion at Brighton,</I> London 1826; The Banquetting Room, Royal Pavilion, Brightona7a64aef8243c329b3a701299f528acdwhzzycdyxai41


















Etro Royal Pavilion is a strange perfume. This morning it was perfect.  Waiting for a phone call from Rhode Island for an interview with the lovely John Biebel of Fragrantica, I had decided upon the pure vetiver essential oil bought yesterday on my first foray into the outside world. It was nice – but felt too dressed down. Too natural. Surveying the collection, my inner water diviner moved of its own accord towards Etro’s Royal Pavilion, an outlier in the floral world and probably even that of Etro, that went magnificently with the vetiver –  and before you knew it I was spraying rapidly.  Most pleasing. A flight of fancy:   Royal Pavilion, in this vintage, is a really bone dry,  vetiver/sandalwoody,  luminously appointed leather :  airy, fresh, with no fattiness or butteriness (my nemeses in perfumery),\; almost tar-like initially in its quinolic, darkest layer, yet also, with the careful air placed in between, akin to being placed in a keen primordial forest of the imagination –  overlain with mimosa, ylang ylang, violet and jasmine, over a reduced porcelain of civet and oakmoss somewhere clandestine beneath the roots of the trees…… ……… inherent contradiction that you would think wouldn’t work  –  but somehow does.    I find this perfume consolidating to the spirits.  Uplifting, but with restraint.  Stately.  We had a great conversation.  I was myself.  And on the topic of royal pavilions, one day I must incidentally also visit the interior of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton on the south coast of England  (pictured) : I have been to that city by the sea so many times, with its beautiful white, crumbling buildings  –  but have never ventured inside.










Filed under Flowers, Leather, WOODY FLORAL

















I can’t really put it off any longer: my iPhone has been at Fujisawa station for three months and it is time for me go and collect it. The deadline for collection is approaching, and then it will be sent to be crushed in a landfill, or disappear in electronics purgatory somewhere irretrievable.




I lost it when I lost it: regular readers will remember the incident at the beginning of the shut down when only I had to teach  – it didn’t go down well. I have no memory of how I could have mislaid it ( I blame pure rage ), but let’s face it: this isn’t the first time.  I have lost my phone at least six times now and it always comes back :  this is Japan.




If Tuesday was the first time we went back into a restaurant, today will be the first time going back on public transport. We are both quite leery; will be masked and seeking out the most sparsely populated areas of the train, but it can’t be avoided. It is only a few minutes on each ride, if three different trains. I will be careful.



Police stations are naturally intimidating places  –  even if in this country they are usually very courteous and helpful (though god help you if you are suspected of committing a crime…, you might never see the light of day again). It is going to be strange indeed going inside a packed office full of clerical staff and pokey administrators after avoiding offices and institutions for so long. I need to narcissistically differentiate myself from the guaranteed murk and mental mould that is going to present itself.  What scent to wear?




Last time I went to a police station in Tokyo, (see this piece, here), I wore Loulou (!).  I am not in the mood for wearing Loulou today, but I was wearing a bit of it last night on the back of my hand, I must confess (I swoon when I smell the vintage). Obviously, the  uninterested officers will be masked, but I like – for me –  just to wear enough scent to osmose through such material to make my presence felt and ground me in (un)reality.



So what are today’s contenders? I briefly considered Ungaro Pour Homme I, but it might make me feel like a sleaze. Eau D’Ikar? I don’t want to waste it on them. Ermenigildo’s Haitian Vetiver? I can’t bear to appear so respectable. I flirted with the idea of Zoologist Dragonfly, which has alit on the back on the hand as I write this, a peculiarly translucent rice and cherry blossom, heliotropic lotus, ‘rain notes’ and peony-flitting little fragrance that is aquatic, pleasant, and quite realm-transporting to a higher plane for those that are frightened by life – but no : I fear I might come over to them as pathetic.




No. Something bolder. How about Almah Perfume’s Way To Wakatobi? An extrait strength Indonesian patchouli, dark, sinewy with a touch of agarwood and myrrh and just a lick of alleged chocolate that is quite grounding and very dry, this might give me the gravitas I need. Darkness I can settle into if the fluorescent lighting is too bright. Nuzzle myself into a deep and woody place. Or will the patchouliness start to irritate me? Sometimes I need to be in the really right mood for that note or it can get too insistent. Mmm……. (I am definitely going to buy some patchouli essential oil, though today, a few bottles if possible – I need it to make my homemade incense; I always like to dip Japanese incense sticks – camphor and patchouli- dominated already, in the thick essential oil; coat them, dry them, burn them –  the smell is headspinningly dense and pitch black, a smell I really love). I really want some vetiver too, some grapefruit and lemon. Some bergamot. My god ………………………shopping. ) 




Rogue’s Chypre Siam is another possibility I have mulled over this morning- a nice, leaf-filtered warm green and yellow oakmossy ode to perfumes like my beloved Chanel Pour Monsieur  – but I know prefer the latter; definitely cardamom over kaffir lime. Still, this is relaxing, sheltering and centred and I will probably come back to it. Too comfortable for a police station though.





So how about a Japanese Japanese scent?




Di Ser is a Hokkaido based all natural perfumery that creates very aromatherapeutic, air and light-filled fragrances. I have only recently become aware of the brand: D – who I am meeting in a couple of hours – is wearing Di Ser’s Mizu today: he has a bottle in his work bag – a very light, refreshing yuzu, rosemary, lemon and tonka scent that is reminiscent of Terre D’Hermès but less nailed : a delicate and refined composition that gives you room to breathe.




As does Kazehikaru, a cheerfully serene and delightful aromatic lavender, with shiso, Japanese rose (hamanasu), neroli and vetiver that takes me back to the days when I used to get through huge bottles of Roger & Gallet’s Lavande Imperiale when I was living in London: I love lavenders when they are remixed a bit into something else (in the case of the latter, a delicious addition of nutmeg, which is a note I am naturally drawn to);  Kazehikaru (‘glowing wind’) is also so uplifting and tranquillising it almost reaches spiritual territory  – as does the range as a whole, which I am thinking of reviewing at a later date.







Do I really want to smell like a purified Shinto priest at a grubby, municipal police station, though?



Filed under Flowers








Sometimes you suddenly cross a line.





Yesterday, we decided on the spur of the moment – tempted by the thought of eating something different from the last twelve satisfying, but occasionally too predictable, weeks of home cooking – to just do it : go and eat in a favourite restaurant. I  had actually already broken my own hymen of taboo a couple of hours earlier.




I was lonely.





When D went back to work on Monday, I enjoyed being alone for about 45 minutes max,  then immediately felt too solitary and empty. For me, the best solitude is when you are not alone – when the other person is in another part of the house for most of the day, doing their thing, and you are doing yours, and then you meet up for coffee and meals at certain times and then watch something together in the evening. To me, this is the essence of happiness. You become completely acclimatised to it when you are together 24/7 for three entire months. It becomes natural – you are inseparable. And I felt both intensely restless yet also desolate on Monday, going down to the lake alone, trying desperately hard to concentrate on, and enjoy, reading. Yesterday, I couldn’t do it again and decided to just spontaneously meet him outside the school gates, something – unbelievably – I have never done before in 14 years of D working there.




I had been at home, looked at the clock as it ticked towards the afternoon and just thought fuck it – I am going to cycle down into Kamakura, even though it looked like storm clouds overhead and heavy rain, packing raincoats into my rucksack just in case and then just gliding down the hill at full speed past all the pungently fecund flowers that are out right now suffusing the air with their bee smells, all the moist greenery, past the temples and the people on the streets (still not so many, but some sitting spaced out in coffee shops, a sense of stirring and the lid being taken off the pressure pot now that the state of emergency has officially been lifted across the whole of Japan, a lightening in the air, a less tightening in the chest, a physically palpable sensation of cautious optimism and movement tangible in the shared space). I felt enlivened and bolstered, like we were all entering a new chapter.





People are cautious though. Which is obviously the right attitude to be taking. Even if it took quite a long while to get to that point. As reported here, when I was going crazy with exasperation from January onwards, the quarantined, disease-ridden cruise ship stranded at Yokohama Port dealt with the authorities with jaw-grindingly infuriating incompetence, the refusal of our schools to look the situation squarely in the face when I was permanently baffled by the willing oblivion that seemed to be the status quo for so long when it was obvious that the world was heading into a pandemic and there seemed to be zero trend towards social distancing and I feared a calamitous siege of the hospitals as seen in many other countries, somehow, people just kept their calm, gradually adopted the measures (most people wear masks here anyway, especially in winter and spring; people are naturally more socially distant in the sense of not shaking hands nor hugging and have for a long time had to learn how to negotiate space given the situation on rush hour trains on weekday mornings); somehow, the government’s policy – which I was melodramatically opposed to for a long while, and it did, it must said,get a bit hairy for a while with Tokyo hospitals becoming overwhelmed with severely affected COVID 19 patients – of limited, precision point testing, but treating those that obviously needed to be treated, while the population as a while complied with the lockdown, unlike the foolish protesters in some other countries who can only ever seen government intervention as a threat to their ‘liberty even though by doing so they are risking the shutdown of their lungs and then the failure and then perishing of their vital organs, leading to painful death in complete isolation – somehow ( I still can’t completely explain it to myself fully and will be re-analysing this for a while) , the country as a whole has pulled it off, the World Health Organisation making a statement the other day that in Japan, the coronavirus response had been a ‘success’.








Obviously, we are not ‘out of the woods’. Anxiety remains. Convenience stores and most shops have plastic surrounding tills and cashier desks; the employees are masked, and it has become natural to not stand too close to other people. But, as I said, the feeling was definitely different yesterday, and, seeing an outside table free, tucked in a corner on a woody veranda by itself, a seat directly facing Duncan’s school gate across the street, I made the split-second, unconscious decision to just park my bike, buy a beer, and sit down, watching the world go by, the masked teachers coming out one by one from the security guarded gate (there are no students there yet, and they are working reduced schedules, gearing up for a probable full return – like me – for next week. )







I went to the counter. Paid my money. Sat down. The server brought me my drink. I sipped from my glass. Watched faces, others walking by – it felt humanising and stimulating. Still a little daunting, drinking from the glass. But hygiene has never been a problem in Japan, and the servers in the cafe were very cautious; I figured it was no more dangerous than handling the grocery shopping that we have been doing locally for the last twelve weeks – and anyway, the crisp, draught ice cold beer tasted delicious. I felt a sense of ‘general positivity’ for the first time in a long while: you realise that, yes, you might be alright Jack – and we were; in our suppressed dream routine, in the house and on the usual cycling route – but it is not the same as being a part of the outside world, which everyone, except for the most confirmed social recluse or hermit, ultimately wants. I loved seeing human beings again. A young couple, sat on the other side of the veranda, having an argument – both pretty and ludicrously petulant; I couldn’t understand why she was taking his aggressive taunts at her, and could picture them in old age, if they stayed together, encrusted with misery and resentment if they didn’t change their ways, but that was just my personal take – they were just immature and learning how to do relationships; they will doubtlessly break up ; the point was that I could look at them and listen to them, keep myself to myself, but be part of a wider picture. It felt hydrating.







Eventually, D emerged from the school premises, surprised but happy to see me, and we decided, rather than go straight home, to just take some random meanderings down the backstreets of Kamakura, taking pictures of things we had never noticed before, seeing new small details; taking them all in. We decided to just go and sit outside one of our favourite temples and just talk for a while, passing a Chinese restaurant we had once been to on the way and I suddenly decided: I WANT TO EAT CHICKEN IN THAT PLACE. LET’S GO. Normally, of course, this would be completely par for the course – you go out, you eat out. Recently, however, it has felt unthinkable; horrifying. Even yesterday morning. But it is interesting how the psyche works: sometimes you just move through the inhibiting membrane to the other side again without thinking too hard; it is a natural metamorphosis. I said, jokingly, I am willing to risk my life for some spiced Chinese chicken and dumplings and D, to my amusement, was also effortlessly persuaded.







So we mosied around further until it was open for dinner, dipping in and out of old temples sites or down the back streets or by certain points of the river, until it was time for opening hour, and we took the plunge. We went in. The only customers. The tables spaced out (exactly as they were before; I am a claustrophobe, so can only go into restaurants, bars, cafes or pubs where there is enough room to breathe and manoeuvre – I won’t even consider them otherwise; I know which places work for me ); open windows were letting pleasantly naturally temperatured air move freely about the premises; the staff were all masked and delighted they had some customers, and we sat down. We ordered. Ordering food. Later, some other people came in and took up some more tables- the restaurant had also been doing a take out service for people who wanted freshly cooked Chinese food on their way back from the office: a fair number of people cycling or walking by to stop and order their dinner. The background music was good – very eclectic, cool, not too loud – a frequent problem for me – the food was fine; not as amazing as I had been expecting, perhaps, but still extremely satisfying; spicy with chilli and they do a great lemongrass-infused, almond and apricot stoned annindofu : but it was rather the normality of the situation that was thrilling, the sense that the world had shifted a gear a little, that economic activity was resuming; that the inevitable interdependence of people in any society was starting up again. I felt kind of elated.







Also, I have to say, I liked the symbolic nature of the restaurant that we had chosen, which I think was semi-deliberate on my part, once I had thought of it. I am no apologist for the government of China: the regime is brutal, and now on a rampage:  God knows what is going to happen in Hong Kong; I don’t believe their death toll or infection figures any more than I do Russia’s or any other country’s; and it is obvious that the oppressive Communist party  were trying to conceal the true extent of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, and that the very reason that the majority of these coronaviruses exist in the first place is due to the circumstances in which livestock and wild animals are kept in wet markets in China and other regions in Asia, such as Vietnam and Indonesia. Though it will be extremely difficult to stop or reduce these cultural practices (try making Northern Europeans stop drinking heavily, or get Americans to give up their guns; ingrained tendencies are very hard to remove from any culture), the W.H.O must insist that action be taken in order to prevent a reoccurrence of this global disaster. They have to be pressured into doing so, diplomatically. Presumably, China, if only for its own interests, and to regain some international respect, will have already realized this too and will do their best to halt the trade in exotic species. If anyone has the militaristic power to stamp something out, surely it is China.






Despite all of this, though, to me, only the most facile, and unintelligent person will reduce this pandemic to a China-hating trope. Racist people have such dull minds. Such limited thinkers. So unphilosophical, bigoted and trite. I despise nothing more. Things are never completely simple. Which countries colonised more vulnerable ones in the past and reduced their cultures to debt-ridden third world states prone to disease? MERS originated in the Middle East; Ebola in Africa; the opioid epidemic a complex economic web over continents and social groups. Where did malaria first come from? : who procured the mosquitoes? It could even be argued that the biggest global killers, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, stem directly from the Fast Food Culture of the USA and the global behemoths that deliberately spread the unhealthy practices that follow when such innutritious food is introduced into a society; diseases caused by the intentional spread for economic gain by poor eating habits surely account for far more deaths a year than this virus ever will. It is all complex; we are all interlinked; It is simply boring,  moronic, and not necessary to demonize one particular society ; the way that Trump leeringly pronounces the ‘China virus’, with extra sarcastic emphasis on the former word, is sickening to the human soul: people who actually think for themselves, and are not swayed by cheap, vile, impulses. The man is such a dick. Always the very lowest common denominator. Tacky. Corrupt to the marrow. Undignifying to his country. It’s almost as if the atrocious death toll in the USA is a spiritual reaction to his ‘government’s’ leadership;  a malaise made physically manifest. Perhaps I am going too far saying that, I don’t know, but in any case, to me, the answer is not to become more insular, more nationalistic, more racist, more full of hatred, more ready to blame and to avoid responsibility for one’s own mistakes, but to open up. Start the dialogue. And yesterday’s meal, which felt like a new beginning for me, felt like the ideal place to start.


Filed under inexplicable happenings, LOVE, postcards from the edge, Uncategorized

The Return



May 26, 2020 · 3:13 pm




Sonja Knips Gustav Klimt














I have an innate and continual respect for the renegades, the people who do things differently. The artists who stick to their guns. Those that refute the common banality. Give the crud of mediocrity the middle finger. Manuel Cross, the perfumer for ‘non-commercial, non-contemporary fragrance‘ house Rogue Perfumery  – who does not abide by regulatory restrictions on ingredients but instead goes his own way in indulging his instinctively plush and plenary tendencies in rich, smooth, unctuous blends, ironically  – despite, or because of the stubbornly rebellious pose, actually creates very relatable, legible fragrances that strike at the heart chords without extraneous pretension.  I don’t find them old-fashioned in any way: just real: uncluttered and not bogged down in conceptual codswallop or visual metaphors. Created for the simple pleasure of smelling fine and hedonistic skin adornment :Flos Mortis, the wintergreen indolic tuberose I have been wearing quite a lot of in recent months – or rather, my smouldering, flamboyant monster alter-ego, Burning Bush has been draining the bottle beyond what is permissible  –   is now a permanent staple in my mental fragrance wardrobe. A perfume that I need. When I smell it from the bottle I feel immediate intoxication. It is like poison: indeed, a ‘flower of death’.
























I will not be buying a bottle of Tuberose & Moss. But I do think that it is an excellent perfume. Feminine, warm, soft, expansive  –  unlike the silvery coconut exotica of Rogue’s first tuberose, Champs Lunaires – which I look forward to wearing once the weather turns to real blazing summer  –  and the extreme, medicinal hiss of Flos Mortis, with its mothballed elixirs of almost frightening flowers – the new Tuberose & Moss, in its ultramellow, calming accords of ‘vanilla buttercream’, oakmoss, cedar, allspice berries and amber, is a maturely erotic  – and expansively American – sensual, skin-scent floral that puts me in mind, almost, of eighties’ dreaming swan seductresses such as Vanderbilt by Gloria Vanderbilt (1980);  that same ‘warm thigh and negligée’ aroma that will be perfect  – windows flung wide open – for the subtle arousings of mansioned ladies in the night.






A love perfume.
















I will be buying a bottle of Jasmin Antique. Not for myself, but for my mother, who needs this jasmine masterpiece ASAP. I don’t know anyone who can pull off jasmine the way Judith Chapman does, whether it be in Patou Joy, Van Cleef & Arpels’ First (which this reminds me of, somewhat, just amplified and modernised without all the aldehydes and chiffonic greenery), Grandiflora’s Madagascan Jasmine: verdant, just opened flora on the rainforest floor – or even Gorilla/ Lush Perfumes’ almost grotesquely indolic jasmine, Lust, which she can easily pull off and render beautiful. The best of the jasmines on her, though, surely, is the original Rochas Lumière (1984), a sensational and not much talked about perfume that is a hallucination – a bright, solar-jasmined sillage of bright florality like the light in California; but I think that Jasmin Antique, in truth, could equally quite easily become the one. With nothing but a touch of vanilla and clove lulling somewhere in the meniscuses of the base, this is a swirling, enveloping, living jasmine that smells like our garden in England in July; a ‘simple’, but expertly blended, and hyper-realistic jasmine that is without the feral rasp of, say, Sana Jardin’s arresting-in-summertime Savage Jasmine  (which I also rather like),  but instead goes for smoothness: clarity, and a blatant suffusiveness that is explicitly meant for summer evenings.







The greatest jasmine soliflore of all time?












Filed under Flowers, Jasmine, Tuberose