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

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
























Rook was founded by Jordanian/British perfumer Dr Nadeem Crowe, who, as I found out yesterday when looking at this British niche house’s website, ‘is currently working on the frontline as an NHS emergency doctor, fighting the battle against COVID-19.’ 







I wish him and his colleagues all the best – I can’t imagine how exhausted they all must be.























‘Born in Jordan and raised in both Lincolnshire and London, Nadeem studied medicine at University College London (UCL). During his medical training he applied to the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and trained there as an actor before returning to UCL to complete his medical degree in 2010. When eventually signing to theatrical agents, Global Artists, his agent asked him where he saw himself in 10 years. “A practising doctor with a few West End credits under my belt,” Nadeem replied. Almost 10 years later, Nadeem has pursued those two loves, with a career in acute and emergency medicine as well as performances alongside Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard” and most recently, “School of Rock” in the West End. “When I say I’m in a musical but I also practise as a doctor, people tend to reply ‘Those two careers are so different!’ But I consider both worlds to overlap more than you would first think. Both require huge amounts of dedication. Oh, and an element of performance. When people learn I also create my own scents, they automatically assume that that world is also detached from the other two. For me perfume sits comfortably in the middle. I spent years studying science and feel totally comfortable with pipettes, beakers and weighing scales. The outcome, though, is a piece of art. Scent is very theatrical.”




















My auntie Jean, also in theatre, was finally laid to rest yesterday by my parents at a very busy crematorium where half of the deceased on the day’s roster had died from the coronavirus. Birmingham, the city I am from, is one of the worst affected in the UK right now, along with London ; mosques and mortuaries overflowing in the city centre with the dead, and like everyone else, I have the utmost respect and gratitude for all the health workers, nurses and doctors across the globe such as Nadeem Crowe who are putting themselves in danger for the sake of others and to fight this thing before it decimates us any further. It takes courage, conviction and a strong sense of selflessness to put yourself in the line of fire with a contagion as deadly as this one. I bow down (I wonder if he also wears his scent creations when doing his rounds, and whether they give him some comfort while doing so? ) The UK, unbelievably, has the second highest numbers of death worldwide now – perhaps due to the extreme and immoral wealth gap  that pervades our society, as it does in the US, one that I feel is much more pronounced than the class divide here in Japan, which despite its own poverty –  increasing in certain segments of society – is still, ultimately, far more egalitarian.  The rich, on the whole, are less rich: the poorer, less poor. I am sure that nutrition also plays a part: there is no doubt that the way most people eat here is far more healthy; the food is better.  And while obesity is increasing in Japan, it is nothing like western countries such as the USA, Mexico, Germany, and the UK. We need a rethink: on diet; equality, the crucial importance of countries having good and affordable healthcare for everybody. Perhaps the virus will be the impetus for a semi-new slate: a chance to improve things for the world. I don’t know.











Speaking of mine and D’s own situation for a moment, I was reading  in the Japan Times this morning about the plight of ‘foreigners’ (one of Japan’s favourite words):  non- Japanese  – whose lives have been completely upended by the immigration restrictions that have been imposed on us: in essence, basically, no foreigners are allowed back into the country. Not even if they are put in quarantine. For the foreseeable future – even if the card holders have permanent resident status or are married to a Japanese national. Put succinctly: if you leave the country, you can’t come back. Which puts us both in rather a strange position: let’s say there were a family emergency of some kind, it would place us in a terrible dilemma – return to England and then be stuck there with no work, no ostensible future and possibly separated from each other but do the right thing, or stay here, and be absent; disqualified from being with family at crucial moments: marooned. Hopefully, fingers crossed, this will not even be an issue, everyone is fine right now, but it is certainly a curious feeling that although this is also in many ways our ‘home’,  as much as the UK is, at the same time, in some ways we are trapped. 










Lucky, though, also, in many ways, because at least we are still employed (I have to go back to work on June 2nd, which you will be hearing more about I am sure as the time approaches! I am in confusion and some anxiety about it, I must admit, and will need some guidance from you ); D goes back next week. For preparation. We don’t know yet when the girls will be coming back for classes, but we are emerging. This estranged bubble from the outside world we have been hiding in is about to be burst. We have been in it for three months and have been co-habiting in harmony and happiness, if with the brook of fear always flowing constantly, as I am sure it does also for everybody else – somewhere not so deep in the conscious underneath. Still, other workers who have legitimate working visas and certification, who work here and whose livelihoods depend on being here, are in a much less fortunate position: they have found that if they happened to have been out of the country from March 27th, that is where they will stay. Indefinitely. Not allowed back. Or at least until Japan officially changes its current regulation.  (Japanese nationals who were abroad, and may have been infected by the virus, were naturally allowed back in, no questions asked.)









Which is probably why the timing of these perfumes by Rook, arriving unexpectedly in the post yesterday, was quite opportune. Some UK nostalgia. Not being able to go back to England this year as I was planning gives a slant of slight homesickness to any perfume that might smell of my country of birth in any way, and these fragrances definitely do. Particularly the house’s signature scent, Rook, which smells just like carbolic soap in a hospital – or a comprehensive school’s institutionalisingly bleak toilet with its three-quarter doored stalls. Oh, the memories. The fear. The pale light at the window. The sheer, transparent non-aborbent ‘toilet paper’. The black coal tar soap on the side, used by some, the smell of which both me and D have always liked, my brother too, with its extraordinarily medicinal, smoky, male simplicity that still plunges me into miserable memories of the showers in P.E at school (the hateful cold of winter, shivering as a skinny child after refusing to play rugby and being forced to go cross country running by myself instead as a castigation which I infinitely preferred and would facetiously ‘thank’ my furious PE teacher for as I ran off humming to myself revengefully under my breath; bristling with self-consciousness, scrubbing myself with that soap desperate to get out of there as quickly as possible and away from the eyes of whichever dubious teacher was there to supervise us, watching us). Later in life as adults we sometimes bought coal tar soap again from Boots The Chemist just for the nostalgic novelty of it, like the wintergreen mouthburn of Euthymol toothpaste: a hale, hair shirt reset from flowers and vanillic decadence. The smell of punishment: stark simplicity; catharsis. Disinfectant. It can be no coincidence that the creator of this perfume, then, is a doctor – the perfume actually smells of hospitals, of corridors and institutions, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. Despite the very hygienic facet of the scent, there is also a spiritual warmth to it that I find appealing (D, on the other hand, thought it was horrific – pissy, an aspect I didn’t feel myself – and had to scrub it off quickly – perhaps it was the castoreum and civet note adding a touch of bodily sensuality underneath ; I personally felt that all of that was lost, though,  beneath the bale of antiseptic birch tar. ). It smells of cold. It smells of winter. Northern England. Of red-bricked buildings, and Orwellian wooden fixtures. My own skin, as a child. Peculiar, but in perfect balance. I am not sure I could wear this, nor know in what circumstances I would ever do so, but I will certainly treasure my sample, merely for my own nostalgic ruminations and memory stimulation. It is a very interesting scent – not bloody and burnt like so many charred, angered recent niche perfumes that just make me retch …… Rook feels more to me like a white, iron-barred safe haven.










The outside. I was always drawn to forests and woods as a child, and still am  (never mountains or hills, ‘rugged terrains’, vast plains, scorched meadows, nor desolate beach-scapes. I like to be tucked away in green, preferably by a body of water). Trying the other two perfumes by Rook in the collection yesterday, I was pleased to see that both Undergrowth and Forest, like the eponymous perfume I have already described, also fortunately manage to veer away from being too harsh and throat-coating, a problem I find with quite a lot of independent fragrances these days (do you know what I mean?)   – when you feel like you are downing a whole vat of creosote and terpentine and paint stripper at the local home decoration centre when all you were hoping to do was just smell nice.  Pine notes can have their own harshness – a quality I abhor in perfumery – even if their bactericidal haleness makes them natural disease fighters in nature – that feeling when you can sense the air of the fir and the conifers around you softly infiltrating your corpuscles and doing you good when you go for a long walk. In Forest, Dr Crowe treats the coniferous and terpentinic essences required for a convincing perfume of this nature with clarity and gentleness in order to create the scent of ‘wet wood and rain’. It is understated, familiar, but it works. With cedar notes cradling the chlorophyll, Forest is quite a relaxing, if melancholy, even slightly dour, natural smelling perfume with a slightly smoked tea underedge that does take me back to childhood walks with my family in forests – trampling happily along on twigs and across streams picking up pine cones and other natural detritus for my bedroom’s ‘nature table’. A good recommendation for those who are stuck indoors, pining for fresh air and a slightly hopeless return to the way things were – the old life.































This afternoon, later  – a grey, overcast, much colder Wednesday than it has been – we will be cycling around Imaizumidai, our neighbourhood, then down the back way for our provisions, probably returning home via the lake – an almost ‘secret lake’ whose name is too long and difficult to remember for some reason and which is known only to locals and thus often devoid of people except for the odd lone, solitary walker (though there were two yakuza there the other day very talking loudly on their cellphones, disturbing the silence and making other people quietly leave the lakeside with their slightly threatening demeanour: I stayed, to their slight discomfort, just reading my newspaper alone);  in the past we have also sometimes encountered out of towners in our neighbourhood asking where the lake was situated exactly, as the place is allegedly haunted : the more daring and rough and ready young Tokyoities occasionally break in the locked premises after dark  to watch the fireflies and spectres on late summer nights. The lake is also the place that we happened to find our cat Mori (which means ‘forest’ in Japanese: I named her as we left the gate), abandoned as a kitten with her shivering siblings and a broken leg, and who we took home with us on the spur of the instinctive moment cycling home with her nestled in the groceries in a plastic shopping bag, this time about thirteen years ago.









I feel no sinister sensations there at the lake myself – rather, I just find it very peaceful. Koi carp swim slowly through the waters with giant terrapins and herons, co-existing. Birds fly out suddenly from the trees, cawing. There is barely a ripple on the lake’s surface, the light reflected from the trees into the water in glassed, concentric rings. It is hushed and respiratory – a place to clear your head: breathe alone. ‘Undergrowth’ – which Rook Perfumes describes as being  based on the idea of ‘fresh garden mint leaves being pulled up from the soil; the sun breaking through as the clouds part’ is, I would say, the most wearable of the three fragrances I have tried by Rook – a pleasing, clear, yet earthy central orris note pierced with green notes, grass, brief tinglings of mint and fresh green leaves before a dry, taut wood note (patchouli dominating, with vetiver and delicate white musk) that smelled great on Duncan’s skin yesterday  – very held together, understated; quietly masculine; and a scent that I might suggest he wear later when we go out in order to complement our forested surroundings further – expatriate British exiles sitting on a wooden bench, staring out over the Kamakura water.























Good luck to Dr Crowe.



Filed under Coniferous




















Neil Chapman :





I feel that some of the perfumes in your collection, like Issara or  Melodie D’Amour, are quite ‘accessible’ in many ways. Oudh Infini, by contrast, is almost legendary in its ability to shock (I have come to love it, even if it I do definitely consider it to be somewhat ‘dangerous’.  It is addictive, and quite compelling, but most definitely polarizing. I love introducing this perfume to dinner party guests when they come to the house and registering their reactions). Was this almost controversial effect actually intentional on your part? How did you come to make Oudh Infini ?






Pissara Umajivani:





When a person creates their own perfume, with intention or not, it expresses who they are. Like an artist with a painting, it will express intentionally or unintentionally what kind of spirit they have.



The blend of certain materials can stir up certain emotions and things that we wouldn’t imagine before. Oud has its own animalic sensuality –  very raw, strong, by itself  : for me, the energy in natural oud is as dynamic and powerful as an animal or a moving object.I wanted to capture that energy, the power of the material, but I also added orange blossom oil, vanilla absolute and civet, to play with and temper this dimension. I wanted the formulation to be dynamic, with a sense of action and a life of its own, like a living animal, but there is also a certain sensuality and delicacy to it, so I named it Oud Infini: the sense of the infinite……which matches in spirit a poem written by my father about the feeling of ‘glittering’ in the sky above you at sunset as the light changes in the sky.  I named the perfume after I had finished formulating it.




Each perfume in my collection has its own differing and unique aspects.  La Douceur De Siam, for example,  is much more serene and quiet – it whispers softly. Oudh Infini is more confident. Very direct. More direct than the other perfumes. It represents a different aspect of humanity.





















Some of your perfumes are quite challenging. You are not afraid to focus on aromatic materials that are not often prominent in perfumery, such as the ‘overdose’ of clary sage (salvia sclarea) – an essential oil I have used myself in the past, but have a very ambivalent relationship with personally (it can be a hypnotic and powerful mood changer in certain circumstances ), in your prize-winning Erawan: a green, herbaceous jungle/forest vetiver perfume that is very original. Clary sage takes centre stage in this fragrance, and I am not sure I have ever smelled this before in perfumery. The herb is traditionally used for clearing eyes : to ‘brighten the vision’, and though I very much like the idea of mental, or literal, clarity in perfume,  the smell of that herb is too troubling for me to enjoy on my own skin.









When I make any perfume, the challenge is about pushing myself. I think it is important to sometimes rebel against what society wants you to do, to not conform. To be true to your nature. It’s very important to discover oneself: perfumers often use the same set of ingredients, with the same mindset when creating new perfumes and for me, choosing an aromatic material to feature prominently in my perfumes from a totally different olfactive family pushes my boundaries further. For me, the clary sage note is a very soft and beautiful scent which had not been used so much in perfumery before; I like to sometimes have a kind of ‘underdog’ note – the perfume raw materials that have been neglected, like petitgrain, notes that are not common or popular and turn them into my own perfume. Each raw material has its own character and beauty.






When I make a new scent, I think about complexity, simplicity, the play between these two facets of a perfume as well as interpreting each perfume as a colour.  Erawan is definitely a green : it reflects the scent of hay in autumn. For me, the colour of the essences play a big role when I choose the materials for one particular scent. Vetiver, oakmoss, they are all brown and green and I interpret them when blending them together as I would an oil  painting;  the balance, harmony of colours together – it’s like music. Sometimes this specific ingredient plays louder than the other, sometimes they play together, sometimes they become quiet, it depends on what the perfume wants to tell you and at what stage. I want the perfumes to speak. I want the scents to tell stories.











I definitely agree that your perfumes are very synaesthetically evocative of colours: pinks, corals, oranges, particularly in the ecstatic Melodie de L’Amour; I find Splendiris to be evocative of a soft mauve/lilac (there is a vitality here, where the current Dior and Chanel perfumes, for example,  are not colour bound – are more abstract: fashion ‘image’ based; even vacuous or empty); I feel there is definitely a chromatic light inside your fragrances.






You are based in Paris. But can I ask what you feel might be specifically Thai about your perfumes?












Thai people are known for their hospitality. For smiling. And when people enter the boutique in Paris it is very important to me that they feel comfortable and welcome. We always provide tea or mineral water to clients and people usually stay a while and tell us about their lives while they are trying out different scents in the collection. I love meeting people.  Perfume is not just a product for me. Beauty, art, is something that connects us.






Interpreting my father’s poetry, and turning it into perfume, is a form of meditation.  It heals my spirit. It’s not just a business for me. It’s something I want to do endlessly. When I communciate with people from around the world, it seems that the shared love for smell really bonds people together; scent can reunite people in a very strange way; when we communicate with the beauty of the raw materials,  the non verbal language that they possess is priceless. It’s important for me to pass this on, because in the world that we live in now, with all the wars and conflicts, I want to help people. My goal, really,  is to create happiness in a bottle.




To answer your question further, some of the perfumes in my collection are based on specific experiences I have had in Thailand, for example in La Douceur De Siam, which was inspired by a poem about when the twilight hour comes, and even grief is washed away by the evening light, and the sunset;  the sky turning to pink down by the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, lost in the beautiful anonymity of life.  I use Champaca flowers, frangipani, and combine them with Thai Chalood Bark – a sensual, woody, vanillic accord from ‘old Siam’ that does make the perfume specifically Thai in some respects;  but even perfume ingredients that are sourced from or are exclusive to Thailand can be interpreted in their own way by the individual smelling them who is not personally aware of the Thai context. Their own culture, their own childhood, will inform their own understanding or appreciation of the perfume. Each person will interpret my perfumes in their own way.





My inspiration can come from many different places around the world, though. It could be from my travels in in Morocco or Algeria; Paris, Moscow.


















Do you like incense? I have a long history of using Japanese incense in my house and am something of an aficionado.









When I was young, one of the first things I remember smelling was the incense that we always use in Thailand to pray to  the Buddha; during the night every night, this kind of smell would pervade everywhere and the feeling of tranquillity that it gave….this aspect has a strong impact on my style.












Production still Uncle Boonmee
















I have written here on The Black Narcissus before about my love for the Thai director  Apichatpong Weerasethukul, the Palme D’Or winner for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,  as well as the winner of  other cinematic awards for such brilliant films  as Tropical Malady and Centuries or a Syndrome.. Both D and I adore his work.  The picture above, in fact shows me in hospital three years ago recovering after major leg surgery, when D brought in the projector one sunny afternoon, and we watched Apichatpong’s latest film in calm, contented silence: the exquisitely strange ‘Cemetery Of Splendour’. It was sublime.



There was a very significant, but beautiful moment where what was on the screen was also happening in the hospital room; a mis-en-abyme moment (me on the bed in the same coloured pyjamas that the Thai soldier was wearing) that felt timeless and liberating, as if membranes were being perforated between dreamtime and reality and I was really healing;  could escape the confines of not only the hospital bed but also even my own body. His films slow the heart down; they put you in a trance-like state as they are so slow and silent – usually just the noises of jungle creatures or insects at night; the resonant voices of his characters as they cross the thresholds between life and death, the real world and the world of ghosts.




Are you familiar with his work?











Yes. The films of Apichatpong are completely unique. They have always been completely different to any other films in cinema. He always takes care of, and focuses on, the smallest details. He interprets images in his own ways, dreams, stories…. meditativeness, the Thai countryside, the forest, the myths of the animals:  Thai legends that have been told by generations; the kind of story that had been lost in Thai modern society. We often don’t look at things in a Thai way any more ; many films in our society have become very ‘Hollywoodian’ and are often just all the same. I know that Apichatpong is sometimes seen as ‘pretentious’, but I don’t think that he is pretentious at all. He gives people freedom to think, allows them to have their own perception, which is another level of art because it doesn’t tell you exactly what. His films focus on the importance of every moment in life; not only the moment we wake up, but also the moment we see a light in the forest; the moment we dream; it’s really another world –  his films reflect a part of the old Thai spirit in Thailand  –  the spirit of simplicity, the ordinary people.





My father and Apichatpong are similar, in some ways, in the sense that they are not appreciated by the majority of Thai people. Both are very focused on the art and honesty, what they want to communicate to people. They don’t tell people what to believe.  They deal with dreams. And dreams are very important. It’s important to write about dreams.  My father always told me we should have a notebook near us, to write about what happened in our mind – it’s important to record it, with a pen and paper. This allows the dreams to grow….

























Pavillon D’Or, your most recent perfume, is a most unusual, green aromatic iris perfume that for me is odd, otherworldly, and yet it strikes me in some ways as being your most ‘personal’ work. The base accord is quiet, but smouldering; very emotive  – a blend of English oakwood, sandalwood spicata and a touch of vanilla combining with the frankincense green sacra and a touch of boronia absolute to create a very tranquil, but also emotionally imploring quality like being alone in a forest at night, lost in the beating of your own heart.




Unconventional essences are used in the perfume, from white thyme and honeysuckle to two varieties of mint, posed against a backdrop of unexpected fig leaves and heliotrope  – it is truly unlike anything I have ever really experienced before. I personally struggle with mint notes, and do confess that this perfume does confound me in some ways  ( I am no mint man ), but I do think the evolution of the perfume, from its sylvan beginnings, to its introvertedly powerful conclusion ,works perfectly. It is very mysterious.





Pavillions. In the aforementioned film by Apichatpong, ‘Cemetery Of Splendour’, staff at the hospital in the middle of the Thai countryside attend to soldiers who have been overcome with an inexplicable sleeping sickness. Jenjira, a volunteer who watches over a soldier, Itt, also gets to know a young psychic woman, Keng, who uses her powers to help loved ones communicate with the comatose men:  there may in fact be a connection between the soldiers’ enigmatic ‘syndrome ‘and the mythical  ancient site that lies beneath the clinic ( a former battle field in the kingdom of Siam; soldiers from past lives usurping the energy of those sleeping above), as they explore ancient palaces and pavillions in another realm beyond reality…………..but still always there, like a palimpsest.



I have seen it said that Yukio Mishima’s famous novel from 1950, The Golden Pavillion  – a treatise on beauty, art and madness – was one inspiration for your perfume, although in Elena Prokofeva’s reviews of three of your perfumes for Fragrantica, (“A Treatise On Beauty”) the writer says that



‘When creating the perfume, Pissara was inspired by impressionist paintings and the image of the golden temple located on the grounds of the Bang Pa-In palatial complex, built on water, as well as the temple’s reflections on water. The flowing, ever changing nature and the lack of permanence of the world around us is what Pissara wanted each flacon of Le Pavillon D’Or to contain. Amid this eternal whirlpool we find the shine within the human soul, constant in its principles and its striving for perfection.”.


Whatever the original inspiration,  this perfume certainly has a quiet, and spiritual aspect to it that keeps drawing you to it. It is definitely grounding.




What kind of space were you in personally when you created it?











It was a time when I went to a completely secluded place: no internet or telephone signals……………a total quietness.












I do that sometimes – sometimes even for months. I don’t have my phone right now. I have lost it – it is at a police station somewhere.



Once, I didn’t even have a phone for a year and a half. Sometimes I just absolutely need the time for introspection, and to not be disturbed.







Yes.  And I feel that we have a need to search for tranquillity more than ever now.


I think it has part of my soul there.

















Photo on 5-18-20 at 7.20 PM



































Filed under Flowers








Pissara Umavijani is the founder and perfumer of the esteemed Thai fragrance house in Paris, Parfums Dusita. Known in the niche world as the highly original creator of such contemporary classics as La Douceur De Siam, Splendiris, Le Sillage Blanc, Erawan, and several others (including my own personal favourite, Fleur De Lalita),  Ms Umavijani first got in contact with me last year after reading my book, Perfume. A mutual friend, Catherine, who also lives in Japan, had become quite obsessed with Dusita’s floral rhapsody of summer, Melodie De L’Amour  – an orange blossom tuberose that smells like a thousand tropical flowers rising up in the lush steam of the hot afternoon – and had already recommended I try them  :  the virtual meeting thus felt serendipitous. I was then sent the full set of samples by Dusita, and was impressed. Ms Umavijani’s is an unclichéd voice. You don’t feel that her creations are compromised in any way. Most definitely an  acquired taste (while never strident, the perfumes of Dusita are not afraid to go to quite strange, unknown registers, whether it be the vegetal bitter green of the recent Pavilion d’Or or the animalistic  richness of the contradictorily delicate Oudh Infini), but they are undeniably a new style. Her style. One that invites not only olfactory, but also psychological interest: sometimes the perfumes to me feel like messages I (wrongly) feel I need to try and decode. Blending classical French olfactory mechanisms with an unplaceable depth, inspired by the work of her famous father, Dr. Montra Umavijani, one of Thailand’s most famous poets, each perfume is linked directly in inspiration to one of his poems, illuminating the scents themselves with an added layer of meaning and intrigue.







The perfumes aside, which I will come back to in more detail later, I was also, perhaps selfishly, quite interested in certain similarities I started to notice between both our lives.  Whether there were any parallels between our own stories :  an Englishman living his life in a completely different culture on the other side of the world and becoming a writer; a Thai woman ‘exiling’ herself  in France who ends up running her own successful Parisian perfume boutique. What had drawn us both to isolate, and immerse, ourselves in unfamiliar, even alien worlds, on the opposite side of the earth, and what came from these mergings of ‘East and West?’ What kind of insights does this give a person (if any)?  How important is ‘culture’ anyway? I have lived most of my adult life in Asia. Ms Umavijani has lived much of hers in Europe. What does this ‘distancing’ from one’s culture of origin do to a person? And what is the result in terms of creativity?






I began to ask Pissara some questions along these lines about her own life by email, not knowing whether I was getting too personal in what I was hoping to know. Being too direct. But I started receiving voice mails, in which she answered my questions straightforwardly and yet very earnestly; gradually replying in random order, in her always hypnotic voice  –  soothing, sweet and earnest: voicemails that were difficult to make an accurate assemblage of, as she seemed to be coming up with answers as they came to her, in the moment  – in intuitive cyclical remembrance that I have disentangled a little here.









Neil Chapman :




I am a person from England who has been absorbed by Japan. How does this relate to your own situation?




Pissara Umavijani:



Thinking about your question regarding Japan, in my case I also came to France almost by accident, but have stayed here. My father was a traveller, and I know that he would have done the same if he could have done. To be honest, I was looking for my passion. For me, the most important thing in life is to find your true passion and then to stick to it. It took me a while at first. It was about ten years before I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I had to be alone, initially, without family, without knowing anyone, in order to concentrate…..



When I came to France I had certain projects in mind, but they didn’t quite blossom at first. So by spending time alone  –  at the time I couldn’t speak a word of French, I was completely isolated  –  it allowed me to access my creativity, which is something I don’t think I could have done back home in the same way in Thailand. Being a stranger in a strange land made me focus more. I felt alienated. I didn’t have many friends.  But being alienated also helped me a lot as I found it was very meditative to focus on something, and eventually I found what I was looking for.





I can relate to this. I also wanted a radical re-appraisal of everything in my late twenties. Instinctively, I knew I had to shed something. Sometimes, the pressures of your ‘own culture’ can clog you, be oppressive. All the expectations. I personally needed  reassessment, of everything, philosophically, culturally, personally – and though I also felt extraordinarily lonely at first when I came here to Japan, just walking the streets of Tokyo as you did in Paris, just mulling and thinking, in the end it was a kind of trial by fire that brought me into a new consciousness and way of living. Almost like being born again.


How much is your father’s poetry an influence on your work?





I would say that my father’s poetry influenced much more than just my creation: it has had a very big influence on my whole life generally. My father had a very strong need to express himself, but he also felt that sometimes it is easier to express what he wanted to say in another language.




People in Thailand couldn’t understand why he wrote his poetry exclusively in English, but English is universal. He wanted to touch people. He believed in art. In many ways of course he was also very Thai: he appreciated the traditional Thai hospitality, for example. But he never felt completely at home there. He was a traveller and a wanderer.




The name Dusita in fact comes from one of my father’s poems : he said that the word meant a ‘’paradise: a place where I can go when I die and can be free to create”. He wrote this in an old notebook that I now treasure. He really felt that art can have an effect on people, help people, and the essence of this is the main inspiration for my perfume. Like words, for me, also with smells, the raw materials are real and ‘universal’, but they can be interpreted individually. They can create something new.




My father’s poems were post-modern, often about being lost: humanity. It was not only his words, but his whole being that deeply affected me: how he always worked with such great passion without really getting anything back in return. He only self-published his poetry in small series; every night I would see him writing and translating at his desk at night until two or three in the morning. He didn’t sell very much, but he continued with this passion throughout his entire life.  He was a very kind, sensitive and considerate man and paid attention to small details in daily life as well as being interested in ordinary people; he was kind to people like farmers and those who worked at the market; people that society doesn’t usually consider as being ‘important’.






NC: How did you make your first perfume?



PU :



I started making perfume about ten years ago. I remember it was a rainy day, in Bangkok. I was with a friend who had just started composing perfumes, who had about three hundred perfume ingredients, and I was encouraged at that time to just sit and ‘play’ with the raw materials. It was such fun making these new discoveries, and it was a day I will never forget. When you start mixing things together for a perfume, it is so exciting realizing how just a very small addition of a particular ingredient can change everything and stir emotions. I take so much time to make each perfume formulation. They are like my ‘babies’. I remember that on that day, the very first perfume I made was Issara. I was thinking about freedom when I made it.  The current formula is exactly the same as the one I first created that afternoon.







I love hearing this. Issara is the Dusita perfume that Duncan took to immediately : he loves it. A fresh aromatic fougère with a prominent, clean but emotionally touching white musk accord in the base, it smells fantastic on him. Saintly and sensual at the same time. Somehow it makes perfect sense, with the ‘innocence’ and green of nature, that this would have been your first ever perfume.



I do actually feel that the fragrances in your collection, like Issara and Melodie D’Amour, are actually quite ‘accessible’ in many ways. Oudh Infini, by contrast, is almost legendary in its ability to shock people (I have come to love it, even if it I do definitely consider it to be somewhat ‘dangerous’ It is addictive, but most definitely polarizing. I love introducing it to dinner party guests and registering their reactions). Was this almost controversial effect actually intentional on your part?





I think this is a very important question. As a perfumer, when I start blending a perfume, the














Filed under Flowers











As February has turned to March, and April to May, it is finally deliciously hot, or at least it was yesterday – just like summer. One night there was extreme lightning and thunder  : we sat on the balcony watching the torrential rain and the Spielberghian strikes in the sky, but then just blue skied bliss, fragrant flowers opening everywhere, and bright sunshine. Radiation. Ultra violet light. Time has lost its meaning. I am not quite sure where I am. And I have to confess to feeling unmoored and not quite there. All this anger and frustration and resistance to everything  – the story of my life in many ways – has exhausted me  (I am still the only person not going in to the office……..I feel guilty, like a pariah in isolation who has meaningfully deserted the sinking ship except that in reality I am doing my part….recording lessons and sending them off; receiving and correcting homework from students via private email, and am gradually getting used to this way of doing things, kind of…………I am just not prepared to sacrifice my life for it and this, to me, is the finest compromise.) Still, stuck here, and knowing they are there, it does cause a stress that permeates the blood stream like a permanent low grade fever. It is always out there, isn’t it?  The myriad of situations. Responses. Infections. None of us knowing what is going to happen next. This weird uncertainty. Life on pause. I wonder how you are all also doing at this point, reading this wherever you are, as we apparently start returning; ‘ opening’……..

This peculiar interiority, where you are forced to come to some kind of reckoning with yourself. All this time in your own skin. It feels harder to escape home truths. To both try and evade reality  – to keep yourself preoccupied – but also be simultaneously compelled to analyze it all  – your situation, the country you live in, the world’s – so much more deeply. And maybe this is a good thing, in the long run, even if sometimes I feel as if I am sinking inwardly. Led by my own anchor – which is heavy.  Out there is the world. Inside is  just you, or the person you are with. Or the cat, gazing out, blissfully aware, preening in the sunlight; glad that you are home with her. Or just your bottle of wine and the trees turning green outside your window. Perfume to retreat into (the heart is a cage.)  Insularity, for self-protection.

Before the virus, I would sometimes on a Thursday before my evening lessons in Yokohama walk down Isezakicho high street and look for any perfume bargains I might find at affordable prices. In truth, I rarely splurge on a full niche bottle when they cost around 20,000-30,000 yen here on average; I am more likely to do so for a present for someone else than for myself as I like the luxuriousness of the gift, but when you can find those perfumes for a fraction of the usual price for daily use it is a joy. In the winter on one occasion recently I picked up a full bottle of Sisley Eau D’Ikar quite cheaply, which I am truly loving right now for its green, somniferous quality that makes me feel like I am dozing in the shade of a grove in Crete. Blissfully escapist. In the winter I wouldn’t even have considered it a player and had actually forgotten about even having it until the other day but what delight. The same could be said yesterday for Montale’s Jasmine Full, which I had unthinkingly bought on a whim for around thirty dollars back in January but wore resplendently yesterday for the first time, actually layered with the Eau D’Ikar – one on each arm, and sprayed on a hoodie (Jasmine Full is certainly the right name for this perfume alright: this is not the prime but overabundant French style jasmine (grandiflorum) that is blooming and rotting left right and centre everywhere right now in Kamakura in suburban hedgerows – to an almost nauseating degree, but rather a single note more brilliant sheeny soliflore based on the whiter, or yellow Indian style jasmine variety whose flowers have a  completely different appearance and are at once cooler, greener, while ultimately more indolic once they get wreathed into twists and wedding garlands and suffuse the air with their generally optimistic and booming floraceousness.


Yesterday on the street  – social distancing, though it still hasn’t entirely caught on yet  – I must have been standing about two metres away from Mr and Mrs Mitomi after I ran into them and their grandson Kodai as I was about to go on yet another bike ride,  as we were standing there talking (sleepily, all of us a bit less sharp somehow, these days; are you also ? I am personally feeling like something of a moron as though my IQ has retreated; I feel dumb) – she said to me after a couple of minutes of not much speaking…..Waaaaaaaah, what is that beautiful smell? It’s gorgeous. Sugoi ii nioi. Is it coming from you?’ I said ‘You mean the jasmine?’ and she said ‘Yes. Jasmine I love it’.  Daisuki desu yo. I flushed, slightly, embarrassed at the extravagance of my odour, but I also really liked the connection of it (having seen them on the street in truth I almost avoided them and went the other way; could I be bothered to actually make conversation? and that is the thing about all this hiding away; you become more sociophobic, withdrawn, and interaction seems like more of a physical effort); but I was pleased that I decided for once to do the right thing instead and to be sociable as this ‘perfumed moment’ was also a physical connection.  Jasmine Full is a perfume that would certainly penetrate the clinical confines of a face mask, bring colour to a black white and grey situation (the whole world right now). It brightened the day. Yesterday I sat in the late afternoon sun wearing my two perfumes, comparing wrists, and felt eased; aesthetically contented at the very least. It’s nice to wear old favourites, but also to bring in the new….


Filed under Flowers, Jasmine