Monthly Archives: July 2020




In January, just before the coronavirus struck Milan, an Italian film crew from the city came to the house from to film an online commercial for Moleskine. We filmed in our bedroom ; on the hill near the house; at an antique perfume shop in Kamakura, and at Parfums Satori in Tokyo.



Filed under Flowers










It is strange to think that there was once a time when you could pretty much recognize what perfume someone was wearing because there was only a limited number of perfumes that they could wear. If they weren’t wearing one of the Lynx anti-perspirant sprays (now Axe), a Superdrug cheapie like Hai Karate or Brut, an Adidas number, or a Sure deodorant stick  – actually quite a beautiful smell like a tribute to Shalimar – then the boys at school would definitely have on something you knew by heart –  it could be Jazz, Kouros, or Paco Rabanne. There simply weren’t that many fragrances around: at the local department store (there was no ‘online’), each couture house  –  there were no visible independent  brands, nor heritage Gentleman’s apothecaries in my town either – had a limited number of creations on their roster that you came to either love or reject. At Chanel you had Monsieur (a favourite) and Antaeus  – too hard-bodied and intent for me for the time; at Givenchy, Gentleman  – a perfume I fell in love with – and Monsieur, which was just too civet-lemon and ‘elderly’ for me at the time, and which nobody else at school would ever have considered wearing for a moment either for fear of smelling like a nonce. Each stand at Beatties, the department store that my mum worked for in Jaeger upstairs – had one or two fragrances for men only; at Rabanne you had the signature fragrance that everybody loved (including me), and the wonderful Sport – which I reviewed the other day. Armani had one – Pour Homme, my first fragrance love; Dior had none that I was aware of initially until Fahrenheit came along and rocked the masculine universe ( I went crazy for that one too). There was Quorum; Polo (my brother’s). Aramis had its legendary eponymous scent of wannabe oligarch – which some boys said the girls loved on them and which I tried once or twice but found too sour; and then, around 1986 or so in the UK the company brought out the far more preferable Tuscany.














1986 was also the year that Merchant Ivory released their masterpiece, multiple Academy Award winning picture A Room With A View: a beautiful, romantic adaption of E.M Forster’s novel that showed Florence and the surrounding landscape in Tuscany at its very finest –   although secretly, all I cared about really was Maurice











–  the author’s posthumously published novel on homosexual love that Merchant Ivory also adapted and which in truth was one of my main impetuses for wanting to go to Cambridge ( I had to believe that love was possible for me, and this looked like an impossibly romantic place that I would find it. The importance of this film in my own personal life story can never be overstated).














Whereas a lot of period pictures these days featuring British stately homes and the calcified upper classes often fall into ersatz Costume Department replication and whitewashed colonial nostalgia, there is something very different about Merchant Ivory films that put them in a league of their own (the incisive dialogue; the perfect but not overly laboured-over visuals and exquisitely perfect details in every frame; the brilliant acting, the sweep of their productions)    –   that makes their films incomparable to any other literary adaptations of their ilk. A Room With A View, with its panoramic Florentine vistas; its gentle humour and soaring operatic arias, was certainly enough to make any fifteen year old boy’s heart swoon alongside Helena Bonham Carter over Julian Sands in a field of swaying poppies. It also made me start thinking about going to Italy.

















As a gaunt, vegetarian eighteen year old with literary pretensions  –  waxing very lyrically over Wuthering Heights, Keats and Tennessee Williams plays during my English literature classes (pictured, above left), after years of increasingly unbearable tension, I finally came out one evening to my friend Sarah – who took this picture of me and her brother and his girlfriend of the time  – while washing the dishes on a Friday night at an Italian restaurant in Solihull (where we had part time student jobs making  starters and desserts and cleaning and were insulted and shouted at by stereotypical mobster-like Italians back in the kitchen). It was one of those situations. She had had a crush on me, and was also going out with Darren, who I liked,  (and who, it turned out, miraculously also had a crush on me, to my rapturous astonishment when she told me as we were constructing a shrimp salad or overpriced vinaigrette avocado). Realizing it was impossible for her, she had the generosity to introduce us to each other and thus I had my first proper falling in love and appalling heartbreak, all in secret, all during my entrance exams, with the exception of my few loyal confidantes.





That summer, she and I also went to Rome, Tuscany and Umbria, arguing quite a bit and irritating each other  (in later years we have failed to meet up, one of the reasons being that she once chose to say to me ‘I prefer to remember you as you were’, something I will never forgive her for), but I do still have good memories; I see us in my mind’s eye rushing into the flocks of pigeons in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican like lovers in a Robert Doisneau photograph;  passionately alive; seeing the cypresses and hills at San Gimignano;  and deciding that if I did get into Cambridge, which was all I could think about at that point,  I would soon be dropping German with its impossible grammatical rules and noun endings and study Italian instead, eventually studying in Florence; and then living a truly magical year in Rome.





Tuscany the perfume, was an obvious fit. At that time I was into wearing loose linen white or cream-coloured shirts (as was D, up in Norwich, although of course I didn’t know him then; but he would also spend his Saturday afternoons cycling around the antique shops and second hand clothing stores, reading poetry in church graveyards and buying collarless grandad shirts). Around the release of Tuscany, there was a definite bifurcation of culture in the UK in terms of music, taste: everything, and he was definitely in my tribe. The charts had been a smorgasbord for many years prior to 1985; Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, The Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen could all have top ten hits, happily coexisting with the poppier fare; around the middle of the decade, however, it became something like an English version of the movie Heathers; kids divided into ‘casuals’ or ‘alternatives”, everyone with their immature and adolescent (and ultimately insecure) disdain for the other side. The ‘Kevins’ and the ‘Traceys’ liked the top 5 hits, they liked Whitney Houston and Starship; Phil Collins. Rick Astley. They wore pastel clothes and had mullets; highlights; white shoes. Scent-wise, it was all about Jazz and Dunhill; torrid bitter machos that the girls lapped up like no tomorrow in their sweet-lipped Exclamation! Impulse body sprays, and Red Door. I shuddered. I was far more into The Associates and David Sylvian, the elegance of Christian Dior Eau Sauvage, which was one of the first fragrances I sampled that I felt didn’t define me as photo-granite-jawed like all the bonehead action heroes of the time such as Mel Gibson and the dreaded Arnold Schwarzenegger ( I just wanted floppy haired male beauties). Tuscany, therefore, was ideal. It had grace and style, was aspirational (a house in Siena); felt organic and fresh. Most importantly,  everybody loved it on me – and several other friends then started wearing it as well, because, as I say, there really weren’t that many fragrances around to choose from; if it was good, it got around. Pre-Obsession, which, as I have written about before, was a definite turning point for me, the time when I reclaimed what was mine and would no brook no more ambiguity about my sexual identity or the person I was (i.e.. not a total knucklehead), it was Tuscany, that for a few summers, had the crown. I can see myself on August nights, getting ready to go out, looking in the mirror and splashing Tuscany onto my shoulders and neck before getting dressed. Satisfied. Immersing myself in its herbal pleasures. Its gleaming citrus. At that time, no one spoke of notes or what was in a perfume (adding to its mystery, actually  – you simply smelled it and liked it or you didn’t), marvelling at the unknowability therein, getting to know it in all of its stages throughout the day and which parts you liked best.  Perfumes were also a lot more complex and layered then as well; they had taken years to come to fruition; they were deliberately built to be monuments meant to last……….)







It is the lemon and bergamot I loved in Tuscany, I think, that crisp top accord glinting on lavender and lime and a subtle underlay of tarragon and anise, basil, and orange blossom;  clean, but with depth; a gently aromatic wood base of patchouli, tonka bean, sandalwood and cinnamon, though to me it just smelled of sun and skin and (semi)-oblivious youthful happiness.  I haven’t smelled the reformulation recently (this perfume is still sold everywhere, attesting to the quality of its construction ), but I do know that the original had an effortlessness to it that felt very natural; it was a perfume that flowed. 


Filed under Fougère, Lavender, Masculines














July 28, 2020 · 11:05 pm

THE MOST TERRIBLE PERFUME EVER MADE : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : CABOTINE LEMON by GRES (2019)





Pre- Covid we could actively go browsing in stores in the city, mingling, using up money. On one such occasion last year after visiting a clinic in Sakuragicho that overlooked the Minato Mirai ‘future district’, I went down the endless escalators in the same building to an extensive pharmacy that sells discount perfumes – bargain flankers of Salvatore Ferragamo; Bulgari; the Prada Candy series; Lanvin’s Japanese superhit fragrance, Eclat D’Arpège.





As a lemon fancier – I don’t think there is a flavour or taste that I like better  –  on seeing Eau De Rochas Fraîche, and ‘Cabotine Lemon’ by Grès, neither of which I knew, and for which testers were unavailable, both were so cheap I decided to buy them anyway; I had always rather liked the serene, curiously depressed citrus of the original Eau de Rochas and could imagine that a reinvented, less mossier version of that cologne might work nicely as a work scent; as might the Grès, even if I couldn’t entirely imagine how a green ginger lily floral (Cabotine – also a superhit here in Japan in the 90’s – everyone was wearing it) would be translated through the crisper prisms of lip-smacking lemon.










( Madame Grès was once famous for her beautiful dresses and classic scent Cabochard, as well as the beautiful citruses Qui Pro Quoand Homme de Grès )













Although at first, with its slightly metallic rinsing of the original classic, I thought it might be a bit Robo-Rochas, I found myself wearing Eau Fraiche during my first online lessons at the beginning of the lockdown just for a change of persona, and found that it gave off quite a pleasant chypric patina of citrus cleanliness with a slightly enigmatic touch: I might try actually wearing it out of the house this week on a white shirt in the classroom.

















There is no chance of that happening whatsoever with Cabotine Lemon.






While plenty of perfumes are off-putting on first spray   — I know you will have your own tales of horror and am interested in hearing them; those scents that can turn your face unaware into a grimace or despair and disgust; those that you would rather die than wear on your person : : : : : what are your ultimate nadirs? ………..    —-  Cabotine Lemon is a very different, much more surreptitious  kettle of fish in that it insidiously almost made me feel, for a few minutes,  that I might actually wear it.






I TRIED, in other words.   I sprayed it and waited. And even though I knew instinctively that something wasn’t ‘quite right’, I persisted.













Salvador Dali Melting Clocks










The cliché about lemon perfumes is that for a lot of people they smell just like furniture polish. I happen to like that particular smell, so a hint of Pledge in the air is not necessarily a deal breaker. And this perfume is ‘shiny and juicy’ initially (verbena, lemon, geranium, grapefruit), as promised by the blurb, but it quickly feels that the lemons you have ingested are all full of poison. A false lacquer. Something bitter, underlying a very fake charm ( at this point purchase officially regretted).






But it gets worse:  a synthetic ‘oakmoss’ and sage accord that is definitely the clincher – hideous – laced with an amygdala piercing petitgrain-peach.





















Sage is okay for me in certain dishes – I find it quite nice with pork, even if there is something that makes me squirm about the grey flaccid, micro-haired texture of the herb’s actual leaves  (I have never particularly liked the essential oil either). What I really detest, though, is the burning of white sage leaves, a practice that quite a lot of people do for spiritual purification; white witches, fortune tellers; a kinky nightclub owner friend of Duncan’s stayed over one night and slept on our couch; I came down the stairs the next day to that heinous, gut clutching stench in the kitchen as she wafted about the sage smoke of death talking about rituals and ‘cleansing’ (the irony!) : an acridness that shudders my insides like old armpits and dead goats and marijuana all rising and nauseating me to the very pit of my stomach.








Likewise, Cabotine Lemon has that burnt sage note sewn into the centre of its vile core, but masked, painted like an evil clown with its sunny chemical lemon sunglasses on top, a veneer of shining happiness that you valiantly try to suffer through BECAUSE YOU HAVE BOUGHT THE DAMN THING and have to at least persevere a bit  ( twice : I could never go near it again in fact shit: where is it? I threw it angrily into a cupboard the second and final time I tried it which means it is STILL IN HERE somewhere    )  –






















—     the final feeling for me, before I rushed to scrub the thing off, a horrific sensation inside my intestines of discomfort ; a physical and psychic toxicity. Other perfumes may be more antipathetic on first meeting ; anything containing burnt notes of smoke mixed with sweetness, milk and bonfire, for example, is immediately appalling to my senses, but those kind of perfumes are quite common in the niche world now and I know some people like them (appreciation of scent, of anything, being so obviously subjective ). For me though,  despite its apparent sunniness, in all honesty I don’t think any fragrance has ever quite wormed its way into my brain and blood system in such a repulsive; and duplicitous, way as this cheap, citric atrocity.











Filed under Lemon Chypres















Violets in perfumery tend to come in recognisable tropes. There are the delicious Guerlains, and other powdered classics that, while divine, if you are not in the right mood are sometimes just too much frou frou fin de siècle.  Then there are the the bizarre-for-the-sake-of-it violet futro-weirdos such as Malle’s Dans Tes Bras, D.S & Durga’s Vio-Viola and Tindrer by Baruti;  gaseous and volatile ; shrieking, made for urban hipster ‘iconoclasts’ to slice open a room. The third type is the prototypical violet soliflore by Berdoues, Yardley, Borsari – pretty and satin-boxed keepsakes for the hopeless Romantic.















I personally like a full-bodied violet, without too much violent experimentalism.  German independent perfumer Sven Pritzkoleit’s Violet Moss is a good one, opaque and dense with violet and dark mosses and wood notes, a little mushroomy in its inner morass as you lose your way in the forest of oakmoss, labdanum and nargamotha but perfect for spraying on a velvet cloak to conceal your person –  if you are a thirsting vampire about to keenly descend upon a timorous and rosy-cheeked boy or girl.


























Fresh of cheek and pulsing with natural vitality is Jasmine Rose by Essen Minimal, a new natural perfumery based in Liverpool. On skin, this gives off a triumvirate of jasmine, rose, and an overdose of raucous ylang ylang ( coming off as very cloved, my favourite spice).  The beginning of the scent will undoubtedly be too much for a lot of people as the tingling essential flower oils rouse each other into the air space around them











(Duncan, on smelling Jasmine Rose yesterday)






but once the perfume settles in on the skin you get a deliciously lily-like freshness that is long lasting and petal-spiced; vitalising. Wearing this one today I smell like freshly cut flowers in a vase.

















Both of these perfumes are definitely worth trying for those who want to ‘say it with flowers’ and are tired of wan, chemical florals that are essentially repugnant. Violet Moss has an intriguing depth, like a woozier Fahrenheit gone to the Other Side; Jasmine Rose the lily white creature who is sighing unselfconsciously with her stamens to tempt him (this perfume almost has the redolence of a starker, de-musked Caron Bellodgia)  : a clever and intuitive blending of materials that takes the lifeblood of flowers, and fixes them candidly in a perfume bottle.











Filed under Flowers

















Last Monday I went down to the lake to sit and sweat in the sun; look out over the water and just zone. It is lily season ; they have sprung up everywhere. From hedgerows, up in the hills. Straggling, unhindered. It is tropical and humid, always raining,;sometimes clearing. At times the air is so heavy it is almost difficult to breathe, like semi-swimming underwater (and that is before you even think about putting your mask on). Yet there is a jungle-like hot, vibrant moisture that is the perfect backdrop to these lilies, clambered over with butterflies –


















(the white/yellow ones just smell like more fecund and loaded stargazers; the orange spotted ones strangely vapid and odourless; the pink ones like vanilla ice cream)  – that provides an emotional form of solace. Just breathing in these floral emanations and the green fungus undergrowth as insects do their natural work is like a momentary hiatus; a chance to forget.





In my bag as I went down through the forest to the lakeside I had the four perfumes in the debut collection of Sarah Ireland, a British perfumer whose creations feel far away from the subtropical summer in Japan. Yet I enjoyed them, sitting there wearing them on skin, letting them fuse with my surroundings at that particular moment in time (success, for me, in a perfume is when I get that linkage in my mind that stays forever and I know that a moment in time has been encapsulated; just smelling Ginger Lily again this morning  I had that slight heart surge that makes me feel that it has become one of the ‘brethren’ – a perfume that stamped itself firmly in my consciousness. One – snd this is increasingly rare – that has actually got through to me.





Although there is a strange, clammy tension between the jasmine and pink pepper accord in the first few moments of this scent,  the blend nevertheless went perfectly with my stillness; the slow movements under leaves of a torpid, fresh water turtle labouring its way onto land and crawling steadily through the undergrowth up a hill, as a woodpecker tapped mindfully on one of the tree trunks behind me; a giant hornet startled me and made me scream out loud, echoing into the quiet (there was nobody there). Eventually, a transparent ginger lily note appeared as a conclusion and decided to stay, like a clarified Grès Cabotine or Dior Tendre Poison, clear and long lasting. It felt nostalgic but contemporary.  Real. I liked it. I will  wear this one in October and November I think, when the temperate sunshine will optimize a soaped wrist’s performance and give pleasant, yet unobtrusive sillage. Though I might smell a tad feminine in Ginger Lily – there is something a tad ‘school art teacher wears Ananya’  about it, this is a floral whose general cleanliness and good nature breeds trust .





Likewise, Crushed Velvet, a seductive rose patchouli musk with soft vapours of ylang ylang, vanilla and sandalwood, is sexual, but measured (the evident distaste for overstatement, quite British, is present in all of this collection – but it is a restraint I think works. The perfumes, though uncomplicated, unfold in time and space and present their themes with an unchallenging, but delicate clarity). At first, thinking that this scent might be good for one of my Tokyo goth friends, I soon realized that it would be too soft, enveloping, unthreatening (some of the people we know up there are really hardcore). No, this is a different kind of night creature. Crushed Velvet, either vermillion or a red-wineish purple (which somehow made me think of black Japanese grapes, perhaps the tuberose note à la recent L’Interdit), is more for a woman who goes for tarot and crystals; likes Glastonbury, and reads Yeats on her favourite tasseled chaise longue. It didn’t quite suit me (it might bring out my curves) but there is certainly a subtle artistry here that screams signature for a person who wants an unhashed patchouli rose without all the hoopla.




Far more suited to my personal needs is Keahia, a rounded, warm, fuzzy wood perfume that effortlessly blends vetiver with an equilibrium of natural smelling sandalwood, and a powdery (orris, osmanthus) cedar wood tinged with oudh (yes I also felt a spike of horror when I saw that note listed in the ingredients, but it is blended very deftly and almost imperceptibly, just adding body). I tend to prefer vetivers that are earthy and simple, which is why I usually just wear pure vetiver oil, but this is a soothing and pleasingly balanced wood blend that while simple, is also quite clever in its holistic and nerve soothing warmth. Slightly musky, quite dry, this is one of those perfumes that will bind you and keep you sane (these are all quite inexpensive too by contemporary standards; a 30 ml bottle is only 30 pounds). I sprayed it all over my clothes and was  happy.




Surprisingly, the most optimistic sounding fragrance in the collection, Summer Serenade didn’t quite work for me, even if theoretically it probably should be the one that I would usually go for the most. Summer needs citrus, but I find that mandarin and neroli cancel out each other, as do jasmine and grapefruit. While fresh and uplifting, and from certain angles almost redolent of vintage O de Lancôme, the theme doesn’t quite reach me. Still, that could just be my skin chemistry. It is certainly very bright and has zing. In fact, all of these perfumes made a very nice accompaniment to a day where I just let my mind wander and steeled myself for another tough, rainy week. As I sat there, the koi milling languidly by the edge of the water, I felt a thickening and a deepening of my consciousness, an at-oneness that took me close to a dream.



















Filed under Flowers




July 23, 2020 · 10:50 pm

back in business


This plumeria was just an ugly brown stick on the stairs for about two years. Ungainly, almost dead. It very nearly got thrown out. We moved the plant to the balcony recently with the warmer temperatures and then I saw a green surging at the tip; something happening ; a knot of unfurled leaves, trapped and furiously waiting to get out. First, there were leaves; then there were buds …


Filed under Flowers



Mask of the day : locally sewn mask in blue floral pattern.

Scent of the day : long bergamot bath + Lemon Sorbet Fantasy by Body Fantasies + home made white grapefruit handbalm.

And off I go !


Filed under Flowers





I am quite low energy at present, just getting through the weeks. This is the longest and most entrenched rainy season I can remember, a dreary, wet, oppressive and overcast continuum that has just sucked away my vitality. What reserves remain I have been keeping for the classroom; ideas for pieces bubble up, but then I instead find myself slumped in an armchair in front of the projector, soaking up cinematic images, or else in front of the computer, like a vampire drinking up dramas or reality TV.




This year we are all living at half mast. It’s a strange hibernation that we have had to resign ourselves to. The masked life is deeply depleting to the blood and to the senses, but we do it for good reason ( = I protect you : you protect me ). Overall it is working, relatively speaking ( look at the UK and America in comparison !) – I just don’t understand why compliance is so difficult, but I am too tired to go into it ( please do tell me what is happening wherever you are, though : I feel that I need to reconnect, rather than just moping about in the rain lost in my own unstimulating thoughts ( my DREAMS, on the other hand…. my god they are wilder and more unbelievable than ever…) )



On Sunday there was an unpredicted respite / let up in the weather. The skies cleared, became blue, and the sun came out blazing : and so was my mood. I frustrate myself in being so weather and atmosphere dependent : sometimes I just wish I could be less porous; more contained; less weather-affected. But my emotions are like a barometer that rises and falls just like mercury in the miserable air pressure. Sure, I like rainy days occasionally : sometimes they can be cathartic, soothing ( and there is no better weather for listening to my beloved Tori Amos). But when the sun comes out; real summer, I am like a snake shedding skin – the shining being beneath released.


Paco Rabanne Sport is a delightfully lithe and fresh perfume I used to wear as a teenager. Basenotes lists these ingredients :


A subtle, floral green citrus with an unobtrusive skin base perfect for a white polo shirt, I still have a couple of bottles of this discontinued ( and underrated ) classic that I wear spontaneously when the mood strikes. I remember when it first came out back home being beside myself getting free little sample tubes of the shower gel and the edt


– which were DIVINE to my young senses in July: this was definitely one of my pivotal, ecstatic scent moments as I became gradually more and more besotted with perfume.

And although I have of course moved on to many, many others in the meantime, when Shiseido released a quite similar ‘green floral for men’ in Japan in 1997, not long after I arrived, available in a full range of products from hair mousse to gel to deodorant to splash on cologne ( on Sunday I wore the eau fraiche: a sap white lotion you have to shake first before applying to the body – a deliciously cooling fluid talc), together with the Paco Rabanne, they made D lean in as we passed each other on the stairs, and smile (‘You smell lovely’); the spot on accompaniment to sitting quietly among the plants on the balcony, looking on wistfully at the disappearing sun.



Filed under Flowers