When I opened the bedroom door yesterday morning, the entirety of the upstairs smelled of leather. Nothing but holographically represented leather air, replete with the smell of expensively manufactured jackets hung up in lines in a Milanese atelier, or lined up in racks at the open-aired market in Florence, where the smell of extensively treated cowhides veers between the smell of la moda and the animalic reality of the material – treated, and stitched, for the timeless suede and polished pelle – bomber jackets, Belstaffs, blousons, bikers, full length leather coats, which, if all the modern gangster films and television series are to believed, are still the expected uniform for almost every dangerous, bearded man with a gun and a knife on the run; or else, perhaps in calf-brown, for the divorced, female detective resolutely solving her grisly cases, hands in her leather jacket pockets rummaging frantically for her last cigarette as she stands smoking in the night air, breath visible in the cold, pondering a lead.
I think I only sprayed the sample vial twice onto the blotting paper. But I swear, when I had done so, ‘The Lover’s Tale’ filled up the room I was sitting in so fully with leather that it was quite difficult to concentrate on whatever I was watching on the screen. I was leathered. It was relentless: but hypnotic. The smell was pure, unadulterated leathery suede , eating up every pore. Yes, there was a dark, very voluptuous Bulgarian rose note to get through initially, slightly uneasily tinged with a brush of thick Egyptian jasmine, but those florals aside, despite a myriad of minor supporting role notes to proudly bolster the subtly smoky supplesse of the softened, heady material (mimosa, peach, iris, heliotrope and labdanum among many others ) into the hologram of the off the peg boutique hanger; the new leather purchase wrapped in fresh paper and placed into a specially designated flashy carrier bag – for me, it was yesterday as if the mind itself were wearing leather. Leather. Leather. Leather.
I am not really a leather man. In any sense. Although I have worn it occasionally in the past, D often dissuedes me from wearing it – a bit too Depeche Mode for him, maybe, a bit too ageing indie kid. I have to say though, that I quite often find the clothing material, and the note in perfume, quite fascinating when worn by other people, as I would this scent. I could never fetishize it, the way some people do ( I am quite boringly unfetishistic about anything, I must confess), but the smell of someone standing next to you in a high quality, beautiful new leather garment can certainly pique the senses (and this perfume would be perfect for enhancing such an effect if you so desired). There are other leather perfumes that also achieve this unavoidably libido-stirring result: Aoud Cuir Arabie by Montale, for example, which, like Tom Ford’s Oud Wood Extreme, is one of those limited in number leather perfections (if it going to be leather I want it as balanced as an exquisite torture) ; those perfumes that might make you do something you regret simply because of the scent of the person standing next to you.
(the last time I wore leather: Mexico City, 2007)
Personally, although I have occasionally worn perfumes with leather notes – Etro Gomma, Fendi Uomo, Cabochard, Kouros, Cuir Mauresque, which I bought at the Palais Royal boutique in Paris but never really understood nor enjoyed, I blame my generally non-committal attitude towards the note on the perfumery diploma I once attempted to do a couple of decades ago as a possible career route in my early years here in Japan. At the time the only distance learning perfume qualification available in the UK (with Plymouth University), both Helen and I applied for the course, paid our money, and received our exciting boxes of aroma materials and smelling strips and pipettes and course assignment work – all fascinating, even exhilarating, initially, and I did enjoy the essay writing and analysis of individual essences very much, studying in minute detail the different facets of each component trusting only my nose; creating ‘scent diagrams/vectors’ based on how spicy, citric, rosy, woody, balsamic, vanillic, each one was and giving it a 0-10 rating on a line with the result that each vial ended up with its own individual diagram based on its ‘smell shape’; yes, that was all interesting, but the chemistry, let’s face it, that was impossible.
There are different kinds of individuals in this world. Some are blind optimists who say ‘yes we can’ to every situation and move mountains and conquer every last challenge without blinking an eye: they have endless motivation and innate self-application and they will stop at nothing until they do what they have set out to do (those for whom the challenge of the conquer is the raison d’ȇtre for completing the mission in the first place), the jaw-clenched I will prevails. And then there are the flaneurs and passionate sybarites such as myself who only do what they want to do, or know that they are good at. I am certainly no coward, but I do know myself very well and so if I feel instinctively that something is unfeasible I won’t even begin to bother doing it. Ever. I knew the first week I was here that I would never be able to read or write Japanese hiragana, katakana, and kanji. I know my intricately semi-dyslexic brain and the way it deals with symbols. Maths, physics, chemistry, – don’t make me laugh. The torturous hieroglyphics of algebra at school. You can remove that heinous textbook from my desk right now and replace it with a Tennessee Williams play or a book of nineteenth century French poetry or a music score. I know my own strengths and weaknesses, how my own peculiar brain works, and there was just not a chance in hell that I was going to be able to even begin to understand either Japanese or chemistry of perfume construction (the third assignment was, to my grand dismay, a detailed academic report on the chemistry of the perfect soap – I looked at it; shed slow, lipid tears of pure glycerine, and then that was that. Both H and I gave up simultanteously and just put away the boxes (I think mine are still here somewhere)). We would never be perfumers at Firmenich or Givaudan, Robertet or Takasago.
I have no real regrets in this regard – I took to writing about perfume instead and love nothing more, but the problem is that I do sometimes wonder whether a deep analysis of something is ultimately beneficial in helping us appreciate a work of art. If you intend to master a particular craft or profession, it goes without saying that you need to know about all the fundaments. But studying music in detail at school, as a ‘lay person’, breaking down a Schubert quintet or Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet into thematic sections and seeing how he achieved his emotional ‘tricks’; trying to take apart Wuthering Heights (no!) , or dissect a Giotto painting or a Rossellini film in the Italian department at university, I found that in disassembling it tended to detract from my pleasure of the work in question, rather than adding to it. It broke it apart, destroyed the illusion. I prefer the overall impression, the sum of its parts, the work as the artist intended you to experience it personally, with its mystery intact (which is why David Lynch and many other creators of pure cinema refuse to ever answer banal questions on meaning and intent – it is up to you, the recipient, to make your own mind up). It is the reason I gave up the thought of an MA or PHD in literary criticism. I would have gone insane.
In terms of studying perfumery, I also found with analyzing the materials in detail, one by one, that I became too unpleasantly attuned to them. And I could never smell them in exactly the same way again. I am ultrasensitive by nature: if you thrust a vial of castoreum – the extracted animalic essence from the glands of a beaver, a cruel and yet vital note in perfumery for leather accords along with birch tar – under my nose it will loom up in my brain and take permanent residence. It irks at my amygdala, lodges itself in my parietal lobe, becomes outsized. Forever. Separated out of its harmony from a perfume like Balmain Jolie Madame or Givenchy Gentleman, I will begin to hone in neurotically on that note : castoreum, now – if it ever appears in a perfume in a way I find too intense, or castoreum-heavy, where the leather note feels out of sync with other notes (as in modern Shalimar edp, where the bergamot and castoreum equilibrium feels completely wrong to me) I am quite put off, which is why I find quite a lot of niche, fresh, even quite innovative leather-based perfumes quite difficult, even repulsive (say, Rhinoceros by Zoologist, Cartier L’Heure Defendue, which I suspect it might be lurking in, or even something fresh and innocuous like Hermes Kelly Calèche). For me, to like a leather, it has to be smooth, infallible – with a proper leathered integrity, like a real leather jacket itself. To inhale greedily from, when the object of affection is no longer in the room. A Lover’s Tale most certainly meets these criteria. As an extrait de parfum, this perfume is truly intense, as I have said (two days after spraying, all of upstairs still smells like a luxury pellicceria – transforming my living space into an attic worked in by leather artisans – a most curious synaesthetic sensation); if it were me, and I were in love with this perfume, I would spray just a little of this scent on fabric, or tuck this scent card inside an inner pocket of an actual leather jacket to enhance the natural smell if it had faded – or to replace it with an even more refined and sensual one if the original scent didn’t entirely please. To cut a long story short, if you are looking for a perfume that veers between leather and suede, between masculine and feminine, that is insistent and sensuous and made of high quality materials, this might definitely be the perfect leather/cuir/cuoio for you. It is excellent.
On smelling Etruschan water, another extrait de parfum from Bianchi, also with monster sillage, both D and I were thrust back eighteen years down through memory tunnels to a suffocatingly musty hotel room in Beverly Hills. Travel. The smell of America. The arrival. Our first moment in Los Angeles – a thick-carpeted room that was obfuscated with all kinds of smells that were not England, Europe, nor Japan; I experienced this denseness also at the Lalique boutique on Rodeo Drive, which had no natural light; just lamps, and curtains, and sculpture under glass. Ladies disappearing into the back. A throwback to the pre#METOO Weinsteinian mogul in his silk bathrobe, beckoning you to come further into the darkness, to acquiesce or face the consequences ; an expertly constructed, if very old school, aromatic masculine that sucked me in like a black hole. All kinds of memories; my father’s associates; babysitting as a teenager and furtively smelling all the aftershaves in the stranger’s bathroom closet, all those Puigs, the hairy come-ons; the pissy/musk ambivalence and conceitedness of Christian Dior’s Jules and all the other tsarist perfumes of that ilk ; the scent so dense and lightless and dark (oakmoss, vetiver, labdanum, ambergris, all pungently knotted with basil, immortelle, cumin and caraway among a plethora of citrus) : you just can’t help being drawn in to the cunning, manipulative trail that it leaves in its wake. We smelled it. Duncan sprayed some on. We both nodded in approval. We went out, and locked the door. While I am not 100% certain that the base accord of Etruschan water quite lives up to the strategized stock market seductions of its beginning, this is certainly a very memorably macho modern/neo-classic masculine that verges on parody, but keeps a straight face.
I am seeing a pattern here. Francesca Bianchi, an Italian perfumer currently based in Amsterdam, clearly likes to create fragrances that are like a sucker punch: thick, dense with aromatic oils, passionate but unvulgar. Just. While some of the fragrances in the range are slightly too potent, like The Dark Side (the name of which makes me remember sitting wideeyed in the blackness of the cinema the first time I ever saw Star Wars, alongside my father and brother in 1977, Chewbacca and the magnetic pull toward Darth Vader and The Death Star)……..a honeyed styrax oudh incense vanilla that is pulsating and committed but would be too much for me personally in my socially distanced space; too much unhindered indulgence), I do like the strong sense of this perfumer layering a multitude of conflicting and combining ingredients in the old maximalist way to create multitiered fragrances you are supposed to wear like an event. To own. Lost In Heaven is one such perfume: if he is wearing Etruscan Water, she is wearing this – an oriental, spiced, animalic floral that pits musk, ciste absolute, ambergris, castoreum, beeswax, and cumin/ cinnamon/coriander resinousness against a ylang-extra dominated orange blossom flower/jasmine floral heart and a generous top note of grapefruit and green tangerine; too opaque and unyielding, perhaps, to feel like a literal paradise for me, but if you miss the old Opium style of perfumes; addictive and obsessional, potent, unavoidable (and particularly if you loved the old Karl Lagerfeld KL extrait, which this slightly reminds me of) – you will definitely enjoy this uplifting, contemporary twist.
39 responses to “YOU DRIVE ME CRAZY : A LOVER’S TALE (2018) + ETRUSCHAN WATER (2019) + LOST IN HEAVEN (2019) BY FRANCESCA BIANCHI”
Lost in Heaven sounds like something I’d like. I loved her Sex &the Sea Neroli.
It wouldn’t be Italian without a passionate sucker punch that’s just this side of vulgar, now would it?
I have to say I agree. The Italians like to often teeter on the edge in Salvatore Ferragamo heels. Sex And The Sea And Neroli I also like (and might try in summer) – but it has to be said the name is ultra clumsy.
Lost in Heaven is quite fulsome and dreamy.
And my upstairs STILL just smells of leather……..I have never known anything like it. I am dying to hear what other people how have tried A Lover’s Tale feel about it: it is a truly notable Cuir De Russie.
I have all of Francesca Bianchi’s perfumes, except for the limited edition special one she did which was not available to me. I love them all but some more than others. (I am of full Italian descent so maybe that’s why, although I no longer wear high heels–athough I love the Traffic song “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”). My first love from her line was Under My Skin, followed by Angel’s Dust and The Dark Side.
I am still getting inside Under My Skin and Angel’s Dust – but I agree: these are all full on PERFUMES that are quite arousing to the senses.
I will have to check out that song (love the name!)
Dissuedes me! My first spontaneous laugh today! So precious. And the rest of the text ( a very stunted expression for such rich content) is savoured like a perfume. Parfum extrait Neil Chapman Black Narcissus. To me an entity in its own right.
Verstuurd vanaf mijn iPhone
Thanks. It IS full parfum extrait me, isn’t it? Dense.
I groaned as I wrote ‘dissuedes’ but then thought fuck it and kept it. It’s not like I am punning all the time!
Don’t groan! You saved
my day and many others to come I hope.
I did it as well when I was a secretary (very unreliable in the administrative way) to lighten up the notes and my own boredom. Got ticked off naturally: some people don’t know what is good for them.
Anything to dent the dullness!
Love that top photo! I ordered a sample set of FB perfumes and couldn’t wear any of them. They were skanky in an unpleasant way on me. Must be something in her base that doesn’t agree with my skin/nose.
I am not sure I will wear them on skin either- but I would wear A Lover’s Tale on the card concealed in an inner pocket in the way I mentioned here. Etruschan Water has also gone into D’s collection as I quite enjoyed it on him.
I am sensing Obsession like base notes in Heaven as well so might try that on myself one day when I am feeling like something thick and sweet.
You nailed them. As I knew you would.
Every single time, you leave me bereft of words in response. Like a breathtaking scene I encounter for the first time, I have to just simply walk away, feeling fulfilled to the brim of my soul. I know what I am feeling; no one else really has cause to know. I can only hope that I leave such an impression on one person in my life as payment for what your writing, your very existance, does for me.
You understand; you know; you feel it all too. Thank you.
It’s hard to know what I can say in response to this, but I must tell you I find it immensely gratifying to the soul. I do sometimes just wake up and walk to the computer and start writing with no clear idea of what will come out, in a heightened state a lot of the time. If that feeling is transmitted to another person, it feels like a miracle.
I love it that you just sit at your computer and start typing. What comes out are brilliant posts. I read the four books of Elena Ferrante (apparently a pseudonym name), the first of which was entitled “My Brilliant Friend”. They were all four about two girls from Naples, Italy who were life-time friends. It starts from when they were 7 years old and the last book they are in their sixties. They both were good at writing and one actually became a writer with published books. Now the first two books have been on HBO as a limited series. I am not sure if they will eventually do the last two. But I think of you when I see the title of the first book, because your writing, my friend is absolutely brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing your talents with all of us.
I don’t know what to say.
Thank you. x
I have heard of Elena Ferrante though and know she has been a literary sensation. I am intrigued!
I should also say that it would be a bit disingenuous of me to say that EVERY piece is like that: some are thought out in advance in detail, of course; some take five minutes, some take all day. I try to vary the ‘consistency’ of it all a bit to keep it varied so you never know what is coming next (I don’t, either!)
That’s the beauty of it, but whatever does come next is always enjoyable whether thought out or in a spur of the moment. Sometimes the best of us comes out at the least expected times and they come from the heart and not always the head.
Definitely. And I have very poor impulse control!
By the way I love that photo of you in Mexico City.
Thanks. Another time entirely – I quite liked that leather jacket, but it was always slightly a bone of contention between me and D. I think he thinks I look a bit New Jersey pseudo-gangster or something.
“I was leathered.” I had to laugh. Neil Chapman does it again. I’d never heard that before and I think you’ve coined it. A highly useful phrase and one I will repeat — with suitable ascription, of course.
Another piece that I could have gone on reading for hours more. And the photos! Especially was taken with the first one. And wow, who would have thought: way to rock the beard. My god, you would fit right in on stage with a mandolin and a folk band here in The Creek on Slow Sundays. I like it. I don’t know if it’s really You, but I like it. I hear you on the deep analysis. For me, it adds nothing to my appreciation and might distract or detract. It would take away the pleasure of experiencing it fully, the way I love to and need to: with everything BUT my head.
I looked up hiragana, et al, and my brain had a meltdown before I’d read the second paragraph. And I can understand how you and Helen abandoned the course after hitting the chemistry section. But sounds like a lot of fun before that. I remember doing that smell shape thing in a wine appreciation course decades ago — numbered axes for woody, vegetal, fruity, floral, acidic and earthy aspects. And we had little aromatic vials of common notes like green pepper (cabernet franc) and even something labeled “cat pee” (sauvignon blanc). It helped me to evaluate and describe wines a little more precisely when I was a wine judge. (But it certainly did not make them taste any better.)
I am wearing First edt — again; it’s really good with this cool, damp weather — and hoping your mum is staying well.
I think they are getting a bit tired of being in the same place, like everyone else, but the garden is a haven (and that Rogue jasmine really is something amazing, I think ,..)
As for the perfume course, it does sound very similar to what you were saying about the wine numbered axes – that was the phrase I was looking for, where you put a cross on the level of potency for that particular note. I think there were about 20 different possible smell traits, or maybe 30 I am not sure – you REALLY had to analyse clove or geranium or castoreum very deeply (they never told you what it was, either – just B45 or something like that). I found it quite fascinating.
The soap assignment though – honestly, I looked at it and knew immediately it could never be done. I just daydreamed through all science lessons when I was a teenager and was loathed by some of the teachers – I just found it impossible to concentrate on. ..
And leathered – seriously , I have never smelled anything like it. Do you know A Lover’s Tale? I can imagine you using it in miraculous ways in tandem with other perfumes, or even getting into the deep rose note that opens it. Worth trying a sample of, I reckon. x
I know I loved that aspect of not just smelling and tasting but really seeing a wine, seeing its shape, its contours, and how that resonated for me, made it all more tangible somehow. (I remember we joined all the x’s with a line around to make a lumpy blob that expanded most where the influence of a note or related notes was greatest.) I actually now remember doing that with fragrance, seeing it online somewhere. I know my favourite shape is pretty consistent, too, in a visually identifiable proportion of key aromas. (Main category: chypre, of course.)
I don’t know A Lover’s Tale, but as you say, it seems it could be useful as an adjunct and also interesting on its own for exploring that rose. I like a good leather. And a good suede. Many I find a bit heavy-handed for me to wear (Knize Ten, Bel Ami). Interesting: I don’t find leather in Defendue, and I’m wondering if you might be thinking of La Treizieme Heure instead.
the chocolatey one. there is something vile in the base
That’s L’Heure Défendue: chocolate, iris and skank. I personally enjoy it but it is very weird.
I put it in my book in the chocolate section, because I do think it is quite interesting and I can imagine some people smelling compelling in it. However, there is a musk and possibly castoreum aspect to it I sense from the offset that I personally find quite sickening. Generally speaking, castoreum works better in vintage perfumes I think – it can camouflage itself in the thicket better. In many niche perfumes to me it just smells too obvious, protruding (or something).
Knize Ten and Bel Ami are surely too macho for you, no? I mean I like that kind of lederhosen lovebird number on some people, but it’s ultimately a bit old-school hard knock. A Lover’s Tale is pure warm, leather suede, ridiculously life like, with a very potent dark rose at the beginning that disturbs me, but held my mind in a vice. This one doesn’t tiptoe around. I think it would GLORIOUS actually sprayed in the inside pocket of a leather jacket on a man or a woman – edging towards feminine, possibly, but not really
Also, I liked hearing that Japan has lifted restrictions and is doing extraordinarily well. I’d said it would have to be a miracle. It is and I’m really happy for you all.
The whole thing is confounding. I am still not quite sure what to think about it as I go back on Tuesday next week and am obviously very nervous about it! But yes – a weight has been lifted off the soul a bit, even if so much of the world is still bogged down in fear – like the UK – or the bastard virus is just getting going: in Africa, South America etc. How is it in Canada? Is there a sense of normalcy yet? Or getting there?
Here in Montréal, the shops with entrances directly to the street were allowed to open today (no shopping malls), and groups of 10 people from no more than 3 households are allowed to gather, 2 metres apart of course. Over the next month I believe the restaurants will be allowed to open a bit. It is slow and careful.
As it should be.
Personally, although I want to support local restaurants, I just don’t have any appetite to be in one for the time being. Totally used to home cooking/ meal preparation now!
Ha! I actually typed “machismo” to describe those two leathers, but thought I was being a bit too narrow-minded and old-fashioned: you know, making the gender distinction that scents are inherently masculine or feminine. I deleted it. But yes, Knize Ten and Bel Ami are macho, and actually too macho for Ric, who really is a gentler soul despite the manly trappings of his life. Oh, another beat me over the head leather is TF Tuscan Leather. Whoo. Maybe a drop, on the right skin. But A Lover’s Tale is a different beast, I can tell. I love your idea of spraying it inside a pocket, so it’s part of the leather, the animal skin, and not directly on human skin. It makes perfect sense.
I agree with you about castoreum. Vintage. Yes. It’s done beautifully, I think, in vintage Yatagan. Not Ric’s thing, unfortunately, because I have a feeling it would be good on him. For a modern fragrance, I feel the note is done particularly well in MDCI Chypre Palatin (and lo and behold, Ric really likes that one). Distinctly unprotruding.
That bastard virus. I’m getting reluctant to check the numbers in those countries that are on the wrong side of the curve — countries where it’s just gaining traction. But there’s also a pull to see how quickly or slowly things are progressing, as if, if I’m on top of it, somehow the numbers won’t spin out of control, or at least the increments will be smaller and seem less ominous or catastrophic. Here (gratefully) on the western edge of Canada, things don’t seem much different. But I see a mass of idiots crammed together in a park in Toronto over the weekend saying basically, “If you don’t like it, stay home. The weather’s nice. We’re done being cooped up.” Better, I suppose, than that American block party of 1,000 where 7 people were injured or killed. I dunno. I think I’m a bit discouraged by some things I’m seeing. I do feel a bit worn out by it all. But I should not complain! Honestly, if anybody should NOT feel worn out, it’s me and the people in this quiet little backwater of the world. So I better just smarten up. Seriously. I could be a migrant worker in a labour camp in Qatar.
My god I know. I have read about the situation in the UAE countries – such foul exploitation. I read the story in our kitchen drinking a glass of wine and truly realized how lucky I was.
Francesca Bianchi’s Perfumery is actually around the corner! I Discovered on Google!!
I hope she has not been closed down. That’s a chance to inhale something else to besides virusses!
I suspect these might be a little strong for thy palette, but do go and have a browse and tell me what you think.
Oh how lovely this was. Your writing always boosts my mood, and when you introduce me to fragrance creators I am aware of, but not familiar with their work, that is even more of a delight. I will have to try and order a sample set from her as well as Dusita. My fragrance purchasing is out of control during this time, I can not even express how much I want to own every fragrance available.
I think “Lost in Heaven” will be the one I become enchanted with.
It’s funny you should say that: I have the card in front of me and the base note is STILL quite thick, powdery, and pleasing. I like it. These really are oil paint though, if you know what I mean. And I am totally the same right now : I would like a whole HOUSE FULL OF PERFUME
Let us make that a life goal; a house full of perfume, how decadent.