This feels so right today.
This feels so right today.
You might think that the sound of children singing in the bath and shower next door, at the top of their voices; loud; boisterous, energized, happy, amplified by space and tiles and windows not completely closed; the distance between plants ; after a day of full throttle playing… …… …….that the intrusion on your own silence might be annoying.
But no. When will these kids ( aged seven? ten?), a brother and sister staying with their grandmother, Mrs Takai – an unfailingly smiling, friendly – you can always hear her laughing somewhere in the distance – woman in her late seventies who must be tired from cooking every day and keeping them occupied and from getting too frustrated – ever have this opportunity again? The chance to just be free, in space and nature, playing hide and seek in her big house, unsullied by school, for weeks and weeks on end ?
Never. Yes, I am sure that they have their homework regimens ( both parents are out working somewhere; they usually live elsewhere, in the city: rules will be set). They are definitely quieter during the day – except when they are thundering up and down the muffled stairs giggling or all playing some kind of ball game out on the street – the feeling sounding like general delight – the energy uninhibited and totally free.
Otherwise, Japanese kids’ daily lives are so regimented; controlled, burdened, with all their insurmountable ‘activities’. Cram schools. Clubs. ‘Tasks’. They would usually be visiting their grandmother (her husband died about ten years ago) , at most three or four times a year for short ‘family visit; not now living here. I know they must miss their schoolfriends, and sometimes get a bit bored, but how wonderful that right now they can just be unhindered: rely on their brothers and sisters; just run around : make up stories and adventures. SING. Their hearts out every evening.
The children next door take no notice of we Grey Garden foreign weirdos sitting on the balcony; shielded but that overlooks them. We are there, with our late afternoon wine and newspapers and perfumes while their grandmother is cooking dinner; they scurry around her house down below playing games together, glancing up furtively sometimes and then disappearing, but we all coexist peacefully, along with our other neighbours and daughter across the street who are out in their back garden having a barbecue: we wave, and we meet them on our bikes on the street and say hello when we come back from cycling to temples we have never before visited, or are revisiting, in Kamakura ( they are closed – but you can stand outside the gates ). We found an old book – a guide to all the off ten beaten temples and shrines, and are going deeper.
All this beautiful sunshine. I remember my own six or seven week summer holidays from when I was a child. The time spent lazily in the garden under the weeping willow (you scoff but literally). Reading Russian fairy tales and the Arabian Nights. For hours and hours on end. Playing Swingball on the lawn. The time to just pick sweetpeas. Climb trees. Let the rabbit out and then try and catch her. No external requirements. To make your own pleasure, pierce your own boredom to more crystal clear places. These times were essential to my nourishment. I could breathe. Lie in the shadow of rhododendrons, laburnum, trails of clematis. Just dream. And wait to be called in when it was dinnertime.
Ordinarily, children in Japan simply do not have this opportunity. To spend so much time with their grandparents, their siblings : themselves. And I am really glad for them. Months on end. The changing flowers and plants in her garden. All that homecooking. The joy that is ricocheting off of their echoes is pure: palpable. Seasons are metamorphosing and they are growing with them. They don’t even realize it now, but once everything speeds up again and the other life takes over, hectic, predetermined time management, deadlines and examinations, I do know that deep in their adult souls, one day, these strange, unforgettable – but gentle, limpid; and for them, probably seemingly endless – days will be their sweet, and golden future memories
I recently picked up an old extrait de parfum of Vivre by Molyneux at the junk shop in Zushi for just three hundred yen ( £2.27 ). Not in prime condition, the top notes faded, perhaps, but still alluring – a mixture of dark and light. Inscrutable. I couldn’t quite resist it. The perfume intrigued me : it has a pull.
Far less well known that other famous couturiers of the time such as Balmain, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Madame Grès, Edward Molyneux (1891 – 1974) was a British designer who later settled in Paris and became known by those in the know for his ‘impeccably refined simplicity’. According to historian Caroline Milbank, Molyneux was the designer ‘to whom a fashionable woman would turn if she wanted to be absolutely right without being utterly predictable in the Twenties and Thirties’. His skills were thus much appreciated by the likes of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Vivien Leigh as well as European royalty. A perfume line was launched with 1932’s debut fragrance, Le Chic.
I first heard a mention of Vivre in the original French version of Luca Turin’s Parfums: Le Guide, first published in 1992 but which I never laid eyes on until around 2006, when Helen sent me a copy in the post. I would feast my eyes on it passionately instead of preparing for lessons in the teachers room, hiding it under other papers; exhilarated (this was the first time I had ever really read anything meaningful and beautiful like this about perfume and it excited me to the core, the marriage of the olfactory, and the linguistic as a way of conjuring a hidden world. It wasn’t very long afterwards that I embarked on similar journey myself, putting pen to paper in my first perfume that I ever wrote – Mitsouko, in 2008), but I still remember the sheer joy of being able to read about a topic that hitherto I had experienced, profoundly, but not seen expressed. Many of the perfumes in that original guide were not possible for me to smell; either discontinued or reformulated into unrecognisability. Lost in France. But while the exacting and very poetic descriptions of perfumes I did know in the book always produced a delicious frisson of recognition, the perfumes I had never smelled, nor was ever really likely to, produced even stronger a yearning in me; a vaguely masochistic ache of desire.
Assessing the nobility of this perfume – one of the writers on Fragrantica describes Vivre as having an ‘incandescent elegance’, with a smell as cold as marble on the skin of her mother – I thought it would be interesting to ask New Hampshire based vintage perfume collector and connoisseur Gabrielle Baechtold about her thoughts on this enigmatic perfume – which I happen know is one of her favourites. It also turns out that Gabrielle was actually wearing Vivre vintage parfum, the very time that she met Luca Turin in person.
The Black Narcissus:
I love the idea that you met Luca Turin while wearing Vivre and that he told you it was one of this favourite perfumes. How did this come to pass? Where did you meet him? Did he smell it on you directly and comment on it (knowing what it was?) What made you choose that perfume for that encounter?
Meeting Luca Turin happened through my friend Mark Behnke, who has his own blog Colognoisseur. He is a research scientist by trade and was in contact with Luca Turin, who at the time was doing research work in a Boston area university. There were three of us, along with Mark who met Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez; Ida, who you know ; Catherine Bromberg, from BaseNotes and myself. We all met at a cafe in either Cambridge or Somerville Massachusetts, near where Luca was doing research. I think I wore Vivre that evening because of a comment he had written about it on his on-line blog. It reinforced my love for the scent. I let him smell my wrist during the conversation and said it was Vivre and he waxed poetic about it for a few minutes and lamented it being extinct. He said it smelt very nice on me, again solidifying my fragrance choice.
How did you first come across Vivre?
I had first heard about Vivre by looking through my mother’s magazines and seeing the advertisements for the scent. My first interaction with the scent came years later at the little shop I told you about, Colonial Drug, where I would buy all my Guerlains. I have to say, I was not in love with it upon first smell; I was pretty much a Guerlain cultist at the time, but I eventually purchased a small extrait of it and grew to love it over the years. Aldehydic, floral chypres had not my been my go to at the time, but as the years went by, I grew to passionately love them and for some reason I am wearing them quite often during quarantine now.
Me too. I find that I am wearing aldehydes a lot during the lockdown as well. There is just something so otherworldly and yet comforting about them; you can disconnect from the harshness of reality. A noblesse of refuge.
In terms of Vivre, I don’t quite know how ravaged the bottle I got the other day is (the hyacinth notes have substantially gone ) but I can still feel that there is something quite distinctive about this perfume. It isn’t quite the usual soft floral aldehyde in the manner of Detchema, and yet it isn’t the leather chypre like Givenchy III etc : it is ALMOST like a hybrid in between. Would you agree? The perfume’s notes include artemisia and coriander; a fresh green leaf accord; incense and myrrh too, which are unusual in a floral aldehyde. Would you say there was any correspondence in scent construction between Vivre and, say, Nina Ricci’s sententiously brooding floral aldehyde, Farouche? I personally feel some similarities.
It is funny that you mention if there were any correspondence between Vivre and Farouche – one of my all-time favourites – and there is. They both start out with a big note that announces their arrival, but slowly they start to warm up to you and open up and become much more intimate. Kind of like the punk-rocker with spiked hair you meet, who then confides in you she likes reading Baudelaire in a gauzy silk dressing gown. I would definitely say Vivre and Farouche are cousins, either first or at least once removed.
1. You will love me. I know it. 2. You will be jealous. I know it. 3. You will take me to Venice. I know it. 4. You will never leave me. I know it.
I KNOW WHAT LIVING IS.
I know what it means to live…..
BN: Despite the elegant refinement of this perfume, I can see how the words in this seventies’ advertisement (You will never leave me ……...a self-knowing lover’s imperious command) definitely correspond to the smell of the perfume itself. There is something quite compelling, obsessive about Vivre; I think possibly from the vetiver and leather and the aridity of the oakmoss/sandalwood/myrrh base but without the bitterness of some of the more acrid heavier chypre leathers. This treads a deliciously fine line.
How do you personally feel when you wear Vivre?
When I wear Vivre I feel alive, which is pretty ironic, considering the name, but it does make you feel aware of the moment you are in. There is a juxtaposition in the scent, between the sparkling notes and the dirty floral note. Almost as if you had put a touch of Chanel N°5 on then went out and did some serious gardening; getting your forearms all dirty and smeared with flower nectar. There is something oddly compellingly and comforting in the fragrance, something that makes you want to keep sniffing at your wrist. Something warm and nurturing. This could just be my take on it, though, because my Mama was fond of similar scents and it reminds me of her “skin scent”.
I agree, though. Calming, yet also somehow slightly unsettling.
Gabrielle, you are a great lover of vintage perfume – your collection sounds truly magnificent. Do you still hunt down vintage bottles of Vivre?
I only wear 70’s vintage Vivre. Molyneux first released a scent named Vivre in the 30’s, but that was completely different. They also just released a newer version a few years back and that is utter garbage. The 70s version is the perfect one. I always try to hunt down vintage bottles, especially of the extrait, which can be quite pricey, but I love it.
Another thing I can say about Vivre, after wearing it now for most of the day, is that it develops into the most wonderful melange of hothouse flowers. I had never really noticed that aspect of it before. It is truly sublime.
I hope one day that I can smell it on you in person!
A few years back, I remember you once very kindly sent me a very generous spray sample of another forgotten classic from the house – Fȇte (1962). Can you tell us more about that perfume and any others you might have by Molyneux?
I adore Fête so much. It’s like the lovechild of Mitsouko and Femme with a quick wit about her. Truly and underrated gem. Then again Molyneux as a whole is such an underrated house. I own Le Numéro Cinq by them which was more popular than Chanel’s 5 at one point, but Chanel’s N°5 won in the long run and Molyneux had to change the name to Le Parfum Connu so as to save face. Le Numéro Cinq is a gorgeous scent, aldehydic floral, but with a deep and enticing heart. I also own Le Chic, Rue Royale, Gauloise, Quartz and Initiation by Molyneux all of which are exquisite. Gauloise in particular is a stunner, but each is a treasure.
Thank you so much, Gabrielle.
My absolute pleasure.
My great auntie Jean has died at the age of 97. My mother’s mother’s sister, auntie Jean – which is what we always called her – passed away in a nursing home in Birmingham, fortunately not alone, and not of the virus. My parents were not allowed to visit her in recent weeks, for obvious reasons, but it was a great relief to them that she was in bed holding the hand of a caregiver she felt calm with and liked; that she passed away relatively peacefully. Rest in peace, auntie Jean – I think we are all relieved that your suffering is over and you can go on now to the next stage.
Jean loved flowers, and always enjoyed coming to our house to sit and look out at the garden (my mother’s pride and joy). Both in our old house where I grew up, and the house my parents moved to later, there was always a bay window that she could gaze out on to the garden from when she came to visit. I can see her in that corner armchair. Hair always carefully done. Well presented. I had thought she had loved daffodils the most. My mum told me the other day that in fact she loved peonies and carnations the best of all: I remember vividly we always had gorgeous peonies growing in the hedgerows of the garden in summer; I adored them. Now I always associate the sound of wood pigeons cooing and the late light of early English summer evenings with those flowers, whose heads I sometimes could not resist furtively picking and peeling back to see what was inside; then immediately regretting it. Jean would definitely have berated me. But there are few flowers more magnificent; they need to be left to bloom and unfurl in their own, slow, beautifully serrated, peonish time.
A very glamorous woman – and thus the envy of my grandmother, Ivy – Jean was married four times, was a show girl in the war, and she wore a lot of perfume – always clouds and clouds of Clinique Aromatics (though I do remember a period of Clinique Wrappings as well; as a young boy I was always very interested in such things); a scent that would announce her presence before the front door even opened when she came at Christmastime or Easter and she proffered a cheek for you to kiss. Soignée and suave, it suited her to a T; I don’t think I have ever really known a person so utterly connected to one particular perfume – the signature that she wore for years; decades.
Later, as her health began to deteriorate and she went from semi-autonomous living in sheltered housing to constant care at her final nursing home, she stopped wearing perfume. But she still always smelled clean in the last few times I saw her; soft, powdery, soapy. Benign. She liked talcs and rosy, feminine-smelling products that my mum would take to her regularly ( mum has been an extremely dutiful, loving and patient niece ; hats off, mum….seriously xx).
Black Peony by Satori – a poudré, unsweetened orange blossom orientally douce musk coaxed with geranium, citruses and violet to approximate the sharp ink of the heart of a head of peony, is by no means a life-like rendition of those beautiful flowers that Jean loved (there were also always flowers at her windowsill, in the care homes she eventually lived in where she sat in her room, looking out); but this perfume has an atmosphere to it, a softness, that I think she would have enjoyed. Some scents seem almost designed for those in their twilight years; there is a sensual secrecy at the heart of this perfume, the vanilla and oakmoss, the savoury ambered patchouli that nestles like chalk on the skin and that you can imagine a person sinking into and smiling at private memories; a warmth and a sageness. I see theatre goers in Ginza; ladies in best dress. A discretion. Jean about to go out on the town, with her Frank Sinatra-loving late husband, who though the last man she married, I think was her first true love.
It is peony season now in Japan. Auntie Jean never came here. But I know she would have definitely enjoyed the peony gardens at Hase temple and at the main Hachimangu shrine in Kamakura, where visitors can stroll, take in the blooms.
She would have loved it.
Though naturally saddened by the news, given the current situation, I was also pleased to hear at least that there is actually going to be a funeral this week, even if it will only be attended by my mother and father, and a priest who never knew her and will be reading back to my parents the information they gave him to read about her (which seems almost comical in a way; maybe she will be laughing) – but I am still, at any rate, glad that Jean is not going to be totally alone. So many people are not given the luxury of a funeral service in these sad and drastic times, and I am thus happy that she will not have just left this world unobserved, in statistical silence. Auntie Jean lived to a grand old age, was a proud, yet private woman; had a dramatic life with a lot of ups and downs, but she will now hopefully be reunited, somewhere, with her beloved Albert, who she lost far too soon.
A peony from our garden.
I confess that I am starting to get itchy feet. I am sure almost everybody, except the most agoraphobic is feeling the same, and those that live in tiny one room apartments up in Tokyo or any other big city must be crawling across the ceiling. I feel for them. I never feel hemmed in, as such, or trapped, as there is space all around me – and the hills outside and all the new green of May : when I open the window in the morning here there is a balmy scent of hay-like moisture on the breeze that ignites the senses; I realise that I am alive, after sometimes questioning that fact upon awakening ; I come back into myself again. Nevertheless, you do start to feel somewhat unrealised. Fettered.
It is so strange never going anywhere.The cities I always go to – Yokohama, Tokyo, all within an hour – feel like dreams now, like fast moving celluloid trapped in some interior chamber of my mind. Was I ever really in them? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I miss them, exactly – we have just been discussing this ; you almost get so used to not being among people and traffic and constant movement and noise that even the thought of it is actually quite intimidating. After my major leg surgeries three years ago when I was recovering at home doing rehabilitation for six months, it was terrifying, just on a physical level trying not to crash to the ground, returning to the city (due to the fact that I had had to learn to walk again from scratch: an escalator felt life threateningly difficult to get onto, as did an opening train door, with new legs and a stick; this is nothing in comparison). At least on a basic level of fear. But it was my own private problem. This time, everybody will be venturing out again together, when it finally happens, hiding away for so long and toiling in their own frustrations: it will be a collective coming out from the molehill; blinking and adapting shakily to the new realities.
Now is the busiest holiday of the year in Japan, Golden Week : a time when people traditionally travel across the country to visit relatives or go on trips, or go abroad: but of course none of that is happening right now (doesn’t foreign travel just seem like a weird idea? Can you even imagine it now? I can’t somehow). People are largely confining themselves indoors, or taking private three person walks into local parks. There has been some reduction in people on the streets, even if not what the government has been urging the population to do. Vans with loudspeakers give out warnings. Patrol guards have been appearing, urging people to go home. The local tannoy gives infection advisories every morning urging people to stay in their hosues and statistics on the number of people being hospitalised (it looks like I will be staying here for quite a few weeks). It is better than overexposure, and I am not complaining, even if being constantly in Kitakamakura now for nine weeks without the usual stimulations and distractions is making me feel as though I were in some kind of hibernation, even though winter has emphatically ended here ; you start to retreat inside. Your world becomes so much smaller.
One form of mind travel, obvious though it must sound, is to immerse yourself in other cultures around the world from the computer screen. Of course is not remotely the same as real travel, where all your senses are on fire from the endless new stimuli: these are productions, they are, to a large extent, formulaic; they are covered by a brand. That said, I have to admit, that a bit of foreign travel with Netflix has been quite a crux for me (also, our projector is broken and I can’t bring myself to go into Fujisawa to get it fixed so other than Youtube this is the only form of entertainment right now); to spring myself out of my immediate surroundings and take in different air: drink in all the small differences. I love not just the dramatic developments, plots and twists, the eye candy and the linguistic intrigues, but the physical pleasures of winding down Spanish streets and into Spanish houses; Rome: the cloisters, and the corruption at St Peters; old buildings in Mumbai at night; the dance routines in the so-called ‘Happy Jail’ in the Phillippines; absorbing the architecture; the faces; receiving all the pixels and visual enjoyments at the eye level; imagining and wondering how it all smells.
Whenever I watch anything, always I watch it olfactorily. Always. Throughout. I cannot help it. I cannot detach myself from my sense of smell, EVER. I am always smelling whatever is happening. Sometimes this can be a scented dream, others a mixture of dismay and delight. Yet others, downright paranoia inducing. Watching Ryan Murphy’s revisionist ‘Hollywood’ in almost one seven hour binge the other night with D, just what we needed (that most flagrantly over the top of currently popular TV series creators always creates such tawdry, lurid, technicolored artifices, be they Glee, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Pose, American Horror Story that you can practically smell all the money in them ; so buffed and sheened and artificial, you just know they smell of lipstick and high end makeup kits; the mousses and gels and hair fixers and skin creams and all the other products of all the best stylists in town; as well as vintage accoutrements such as contemporary perfume to make the actors’ bathrooms feel more authentic.)
(Lady Gaga in ‘Hotel’).
(Patty Lupone and Darren Chris in ‘Hollywood’)
In Hollywood, the smell of expensive clothes – Ms Lupone’s finery in this series is drag queen worthy, very Kiss Of The Spider Woman; the smell of cigarette smoke and whisky and sweat, and leather sofas and Balmain and D’Orsay and of course Coty (“Where have you been all night? She must be rich. You stink of Emeraude!” ), as the protagonists claw their way to the top in the permanent sunshine and blinded offices of lascivious moguls preying on young beautiful people and film sets in the auspices of shimmering Hollywoodland.
Money Heist, which I started watching one night just out of curiosity, knowing nothing about it, turned out to be a heart-gripping thriller set in Madrid that I spent days watching without thinking about anything except it (at least I did for the first two seasons: I was perturbed, when beginning to get hooked on the first series and checking that it had thirteen episodes and four seasons – that these things are commitments : you have to yield yourself to them, and sometimes, like the hostages trapped inside the Royal Spanish Mint, to regain agency you have to extricate yourself from the situation).
Ludicrous, unfeasible, but ridiculously watchable, as the scandalous bank robbery unfolds (a bid to steal, or rather print, 2.4 billion Euros), this is one program – apparently very popular worldwide – perhaps scenes of terrible incarceration make your own limitations seem that more pleasant – for me, smell in this one becomes an almost unbearable corollary of the action ; it is the true horror of the situation for sure. I just can’t imagine how it would be to be so hot, clingy, and sweaty, soiled; never being able to take a shower for days on end and it almost makes me recoil each time that the characters go anywhere near each other. Being trapped inside a bank in the same clothes for 101 hours (and counting – I won’t give any spoilers); horror. I find long haul travel bad enough; feeling so grotty on a twenty four hour journey, so unfresh; in Money Heist, with every interaction between every individual I imagine how the smell of the people must be intensifying, exponentially with every night spent in captivity; the lack of water, the stale sandwiches, the constant cigarettes….when I finally saw that they were at least being given airplane-style toiletry bags to at least brush their teeth I felt a great pang of relief – I felt my stomach unclench a bit and I COULD FINALLY BEAR TO KEEP WATCHING (I kept thinking also: if you knew in advance this was going to happen to you, what scent would you choose to keep you going through this nostril nightmare from hell ? This is the kind of inane crap I have been dithering about in these quarantined times; hypothetical meanderings of pure nonsense, to take up brain time though it did actually bother me; honestly; what would I actually choose to survive this filth-filled nightmarish ordeal? Finally as my number one choice I eventually came up with a fake Pierre Cardin spray deodorant I bought in Jakarta six years ago that smells of rose citronella and aldehyde soap and lasts for days for an illusion of freshness and also some flysprayish mystery; I would enjoy myself in that one; it would keep me buoyant. Other characters, though ; festering gun shot wounds, days of no washing; stress beyond imagining, grime; aggression, violence, dehydrated; sleeping inside airless, boiling bank vaults….yet none of this can stop the characters from falling in love with each other and leaping on top of each other naked as though they had just stepped out of the shower. You sense their animal odour. Sometimes I had to turn away.
She’, another limited series we watched over two evenings, is quite an odd one. Strangely hollow, two dimensional and flat, it is also luminous, hypnotic. It has stayed with me. I like the space in it. The lack of background detail (you don’t always need a full psychological history). The story of a young female police officer who is forced to go undercover, posing as a prostitute in order to trap the leaders of a drug gang in Mumbai in an extremely perilous sting operation, I picked this show simply because I wanted to go to Mumbai. India. A change of scene ( a few weeks ago I went through a homesick British crime drama stage where I got my fix of small town regional accents and green shires and murder mysteries; we have spent a lot of time in America as well; Finland, Sweden, Spain, too : I was now ready for a change of location, another continent).
The characters in She, though undeveloped, are BIG. Big personalities that eat up the screen; powerful gangsters with money pitted against the ingenue police officer/streetwalker who is the curiously compelling centre of the story, despite her never really giving anything away.
These drug barons, with their fancy spacious houses and neon-lit night clubs, smell bold, large and pronounced; definitely perfumed ; strong and impactful. To colour the air in the jail cell when under interrogation. To always leave a lingering, manly, permeating aftertaste. But what kind of scent? Perhaps the recent Testament line by Sweet Arabian, a recent addition to the ever proliferating, and popular, woody, oud musk, ambered and hyper floral perfumes that were made to last (all are extraits de parfum) : I know that these would work very well individually on all the major characters of the drama. A Dubai/ London co-operation, unabashed scent from a perfumer like this is always popular in the Middle East and South East Asia; increasingly around the world as well (but never in Japan : god no. I might wear it anyway). Well-crafted and developing interestingly on the skin after their initial always giddy thrust, perhaps later in the summer when hopefully we are all back out on the streets again in Tokyo when I get out of bed feeling like something more sharp, Montale-ish and aggressive, I might go for one of these suddenly on a whim.
The gender politics of She are intriguing; the whiff of controversy surrounding the series interesting to wonder about and analyse (having mainly only seen a handful of Bollywood style musical films from India, which in truth I am not really fond of as to me they only ever seem to want procreation as the main result of the action, I get bored of all the flirting and courting and happy wedding scenes) this series was more explicit than I was expecting; raunchier. The language often quite crude. The ‘sex’ scenes odd and held back, promising more than they were willing to deliver. Which added somehow to their effectiveness/ suggestiveness. Probably thus touted as ‘progressive’, with a female character as the lead, yet one controlled by men, it is hard to know what to think about this drama, when the main protagonist, Sergeant Bhumika, played by Aaditi Pohankar (pictured left) enters a very precarious situation: a humble, quiet, ‘plain Jane’ bullied at work and permanently trodden down, mocked as being ‘a man’ by her lecherous ex-husband who in fact only has eyes for her sister Rupa (Shivani Rangole, pictured right) – and who is apparently ‘frigid’ (the drama essentially explores the progression of the discovery of her own sexuality; the fact that she is enjoying, despite her outward protestations and indignation, the sensual self-discoveries she is making on her extraordinarily dangerous assignment; this could be seen as problematic by a lot of people). Unprotected, no weapon; always patted down by security wherever she goes, she is each time forced to undergo an Oliva Newton John-in-Grease-like transformation from makeupless drab underling to stiletto wearing sex tart each time she goes undercover, sashaying through the empty night streets of Mumbai, posing as a slinking, gloss-lipped woman in a mini skirt and teased out hair in order to ensnare one of the lethal major bigwigs and get some insider information on him for her police superiors. In reality, I think she would be dead or at the very least sexually assaulted many times over in this series – the team detectives she works for seem to lose her the second she leaves the police station with no way of ever tracing her; beyond useless, despite her having undergone hours of Julia Roberts-in Pretty Woman style beautification by specially employed beauty assistants for this very purpose. And yet – in order to get our antihero’s attention, Sasya (Vijay Varma, the man leaning threateningly over the interrogation table in the picture above), when first sent out in a line of night ladies for the preening male sylph to choose for his evening’s enjoyment, she has been ordered to be rude; sulky; non-compliant. Hard in some way – to make him prick up his ears and take a closer look.
It works. Detective Bhumi is an odd character. At once as transparent and cool as water, and yet as bullishly self-confident and fearless as any of the male characters, at first I thought No Privacy would be a good one for her to wear on this assignation, because she actually does have no privacy ; either stuck at home in a small apartment with her sick mother and pouting, childish sister in permanent arguments; being picked on by her fellow male police officers, or being abducted by drug gangs with nothing so much as a handbag to defend herself with. But then I realized that this scent is too flagrant and dramatic for her, a kind of Arabian Black Orchid with everything (probably too much) thrown into the general pot – oud, rose, carnation, violet, lemon, coriander, costus, ylang ylang – it is a more hard-chested, open hairy shirt and designer sunglasses type perfume probably more suited to Rupa’s film star good-looking, but air headed designer boyfriend. Rupa herself, the ‘shameless’ one of the family, is of course primped each time she sets foot out of the house with the killer white floral No Shame, a gardenia/ tuberose coconut love fest, silkeningly effusive and exotic as though Michael Kors had moved into the oil making back room of a perfumery in the middle of Abu Dhabi, a floral that – in the right doses (too much of this would be shamefully strong and overwhelming; on the wrist it soon softens and becomes more seductive) – would certainly achieve the wolf-whistling this unfulfilled person seems to only ever yearn for.
Blind Date is far more suitable for Bhumika. She is going on a Blind Date From Hell. One from which she might never come back. She has to smell good. But also a little bit off-limits; Sasya can have everything he wants, whenever he wants it – but he must think that he cannot have her in order to snap him to attention and get him going a little; something a bit jagged and different. This perfume, probably my favourite of the sample box I received from Testament, is a sharp, raspberry cuir in the mould of Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather that starts out green and fruity with Chinese grapefruit, plum, juniper berries and saffron over a dense woody base ,and makes you feel like being locked inside a dark, mahogany chest – in this respect it has some affinities with Byredo’s Black Saffron – but is less dense and suffocating; as the perfume progresses and the softer, floral/coconut heart begins to appear, Blind Date is quite elegant, the framboise note weaving its way throughout and melding well with the more gourmand wood notes; at the end gently reminiscent of Givenchy’s eau de parfum of Hot Couture, which to me always smelled like scented cigars and only thinly veiled nudity.
Sasya, her antagonist, is definitely wearing Sin Poetry. A perfect balance of red and black pepper and fiery fresh openings (thyme, caraway, lemon zest, cinnamon), this is a classically ambered oudh/musk frankincense that would suit the irresistibly charismatic Sasya quite ideally. In your face, replete, this fresh and tingling oud is an erotic, if quite familiar fragrance ( I was put in mind of the original oudbomb blockbuster, Gucci Pour Homme from the early 2000’s ) that you just would not be able to avoid if someone was wearing it: your brain would be imprinted (I myself had gone to bed the other night and woke up after midnight to feel, for a few seconds, that I had no idea who was lying next to me in the bed; w ho was this person in the blackness of the room ; why was there an oud wearing stranger in the room with me? ( I had asked Duncan to put some Sin Poetry on earlier in the evening for me to assess it from a distance ); on him it smelled too ‘dramatic’ and hard; a hyperDuncan character I couldn’t quite connect to. On Sasya, it would merely amplify his arrogance, snaky intelligence, and slinky male sexuality (I loved this character’s discopimp wardrobe, intensity, and messed up bohemian hair); the hours spent in detention giving him extra olfactory security ( incidentally, I can also imagine the robbers in Money Heist smelling good in this one sprayed on their stinking red jump suits, come to think of it; if you are going to be in it for the long haul, you may as well wear a perfume that lasts for days)
Kayak, the legendary ( even mythical, to the criminal underworld in Mumbai – does he even exist ?) head at the very top of Asia’s biggest heroin and cocaine supply chain is a dangerous, if nobly elegant, man with immense power and yet also a lot of emotional vulnerability when Bhumika gets close (though she is immeasurably more vulnerable physically, despite her growing sexual assertion). You can easily imagine him wearing Longevity , which announces itself less forcefully than some of the other Sweet Arabian perfumes mentioned here. It is quite sexy. A sultry, flamboyant amber with incense and white flowers, this is one of the best renditions of the tobacco/ liquor family of perfumes I have smelled; while the cognac, cigars, whisky and rum of the top accord, with a strange hint of fresh cigarette breath and just brushed teeth, has a briefly metallic tinge, it is done far more subtly than many of the overdone niche speakeasies I have come across before, all settling into an Ambre Sultan of dusky pleasures, almost Guerlain Mouchoir De Monsieur- like, that I can imagine Nayak slipping on with a silk bath robe in his white marbled home when in private.
In public, most assuredly this panther would make his menacing presence felt – just one look from this eyes can mean the death knell – with Sang Noir, Black Blood, a power patchouli mayhem of spices (clove buds, nutmeg, cumin and saffron) over the dry, wooded textures of cedar wood, vetiver, labdanum and of course agarwood; the addition of beeswax and ambergris and a pungent addition of fenugreek making this potion quite the dark seductor. I know that at some point in the hopefully not too distant future I will wear this one on a hot evening in summertime in Tokyo; on the body, under the armpit, perhaps wearing a contrasting fresh perfume on top for olfactory contrast and more obvious freshness. With the manlihood of the old deep complex orchestrations like the baroque Ungaro III Pour Homme, sometimes this kind of perfume is just what you need to embolden yourself; when you wake up with a woody, so to speak. Which is also what Bhumika does, as she gradually comes to realise and assert her power. She is fearless (or else just has nothing to lose). She intrigued me. I have never seen anyone quite so absent in a drama before, as though she were not there at all. Gone. Who is this ‘She?’ It was a peculiar programme; difficult to pin down, and I have seen that the series has (quite understandably) had mixed reviews. I personally would very much like to see another series though. I want to know where they are going.
I was never an ‘outdoors man’ even if I have always been something of a nature boy. Yet it was still strange that as a young child I somehow ended up being a cub scout. I don’t remember how or why I would have been enrolled in such an unsuitable organisation, with its toggles and songs and uniforms and ‘manly pursuits’, but I do know that I detested every moment of it except for our time in the woods and the forests when we went camping, and were forced- sorry, encouraged – to make bivouacs out of ferns and bracken and branches and twigs; tents made purely from the forest’s provision that you could hide in, close yourself off and inhale; a smell I will never forget.
It is said that the ‘fougere’ is an imaginary accord, as ferns have no smell, but this is not true. If you crush…
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