I have a fascination with neroli and orange blossom and am always glad to try new ones. Musc, one of Mona Di Orio’s perfumes for her collection Les Nombres D’Or, is not what I was expecting (something difficult, hard, sour; deliberately difficult…….). Instead, this is a heliotropic, vanillic confection of a neroli, a cherub supping on angelic sugared almonds on untarnished rose clouds of musk. Unanimalic: pure innocence; delightful, not coquettish, like some of the recent Guerlain orange blossoms with the Guerlinade and the heavier vanilla, but removed. Celestially oblivious. I love this: so deliciously gentle. Anima Vinci takes the very opposite scale of neroli, always a little brusque in its green petitgrain bitterness on the branches, almost revelling in its headclearing harshness at first (perhaps too much for me in truth), with the citric aspects of the orange flower heightened further with mandarin, bergamot and lemon – (wince) – all cut through with woodier, more oppositional and masculine notes of vetiver and sandalwood. Once the initial, quite mouthpuckering neroli head notes have dissipated, this intriguing scent, very present and in the room (if you met someone wearing this perfume you would definitely never forget them) becomes a lingering, green, almost acerbic sport neroli with a memorable freshness and sass.
Monthly Archives: August 2020
I read an online comment recently expressing surprise that when I talked about ‘layering’ in the introductory passages of my book, I didn’t mean it literally: ie. actually spraying one scent physically on top of another. This can work, if you have a particular inspiration, but it is a little like listening to two songs at the same time: they cancel each other out. It had thus never occurred to me to wear fragrance that way. Rather, although on the whole I usually tend to wear only one perfume at a time, for compare and contrast and interesting synergies in the air around me and in my brain, I will sometimes wear two complementary or thematically linked perfumes on different parts of the body, or even just one on each wrist, in order to get a plusher, more interesting effect.
What about wearing a dipytch or tripych of perfumes with the same family DNA? I find that Guerlains can work very well in this regard. I have a bottle of Shalimar Parfum Initial that I quite like but will never love (it is just ……..less intelligent), but I do like the base: I thus sprayed some Japanese jinbe pyjama trousers I float about in with copious amounts of this scent and the base accord lingered for days; it worked very well with either the vintage Shalimar edt I have, some very precious extrait of Vol De Nuit I discovered recently and also, just for the hell of it, some vintage Jardins De Bagatelles for some tuberose lift (gorgeously given full colour camera close ups by the soft powder surrounding me in the air : doing this allows you to really focus in on a scent, see hitherto unseen facets, create individualistic sillages).
Of course, this will not work in the vast majority of cases. Try mixing up all the Dior Poisons and you will have a dog’s dinner of indigestible incompatibles (or, my god, Miss Dior and ‘Miss Dior’! -). I think the Muglers can work : Angels and A*Mens and Aliens of various varieties can be combined quite happily if you want that bombastic burnt sugar bombshell quality that can be quite intoxicating on the committed: I can also imagine the Chanel Nº5s being effective worn together. A spray of L’Eau or Première after a day of working the original, in vintage or otherwise, would undoubtedly be accumulatively pleasing.
Yesterday was one of the best layering experiences I have had: one of those combining of scents where the fusing of two fragrances undoubtedly flatters both and creates a new illusion. D has unfortunately gone back to work (a two week, rather than the usual five week summer break – on Monday he looked like a ghost when he came home after the first day); I have been by myself, either just at home, or at the beach, though I am still not yet convinced of how much fun it is going there by myself. It has been nice, though, meeting for dinner in the evening in Kamakura. The other night I surprised myself by wearing Sisley Eau Du Soir, in the original black bottled version to go to a Spanish restaurant : it was dark and sparkly and Iberian and elevating, if a tad insistent (as always). Yesterday I felt like something softer, muskier. Caron Pour Homme Un Homme fits the bill nicely for this mood, although it is sometimes a bit too old school, too powder puff lavender/vanilla: I feel like an ancient Pomeranian being taken for a walk on the promenade despite the perfume’s supposed Gallic masculinity. Jump from 1934, when this classic was released, to 2015, and we have the bizarre Caron Pour Un Homme Sport, a beautifully blue green flanker/reiteration that D got last year, August B.C, and wore to Neneh Cherry at Billboard Tokyo. It is like nothing else: taking the original lavender vanilla DNA of Ernst Daltroff’s deceptively simple creation, it adds a ton of grapefruit and mint, some mandarin, cedar and verbena, to create an entirely different scent that somehow, wears perfectly with the original (and, strangely, smells a little bit like pineapple) . Spraying on the Sport yesterday – D has moved on to other scents now and hasn’t taken to this as much as I hoped – I found that the more peculiar aspects of the newer version were immediately neutralized by equal amounts of 1934, which in turn was made more robust and stimulating by its much younger and leaner descendant. The amalgamated effect was brilliant – I had scent sensations that reminded me of when D and I would both wear Jean Paul Gaultier’s lavender vanilla Le Mâle back in the nineties – fresh, rich, full; new; alive.
THE PERSIAN RUGS OF BELGRAVIA : : XANDRIA, X’IAN, BYZANCE, TANGER, LEVANT + INDUS by ORMONDE JAYNE (2020)
The new Silk Route Collection by London-based Ormonde Jayne is a very Anglified, crisp and clean collection of perfumes based on the trans-Asian route of historical lore from the Middle East, India, China and beyond but only lightly; without the names on the bottles you wouldn’t necessarily know you were being taken on a journey to the Mystical East. All of the fragrances in the range are quite nice: nice being the operative word. In eschewing the heavier clichés of the ‘oriental’ category, which has been done to death, these fragrances merely touch on the themes of the Spice Trail as a butterfly alights on a flowering orchid; calibrated, refined; wearable to the office, social functions; dates.
Tanger and Levant are like twin mandarins; the former a well-made, light-as-a-feather mandarin/amber leather that keeps its tangible tangerine note sultrily throughout its duration on the skin. It is a chic little perfume that would perfectly in a bar after work somewhere in London, with a certain suave and insinuating presence, and is definitely my favourite of the set. Your partner, just a couple of minutes late, is drinking a Negroni in heels and Levant, a modern peony rose with an orange, tangelo and jasmine fore note; a floral on point; like a distant relative of modern Chloé.
Another interesting pairing for a South Kensington dining establishment could be Xandria and X’ian. The fresh peppered oud is now a very (over)familiar face around cities worldwide but Xandria is a very well-blended, more rounded than usual guaicwood and coumarinic scent that veers towards the masculine with its warmer heartnotes of cinnamon, rum and rosewood that resonate like coffee, but unlike many of the type, this perfume has a heart; if you are looking for a birthday gift for a significant other or a brother-in-law with taste this would probably make a good option. I personally prefer X’ian, though, a dry-as-flint nutmeg and sandalwood pepper musk with a tangy rhubarb twist that has a certain airy, flirtatious ease; a rose manqué that hovers about you as aridly as a dragonfly. Similarly high pitched and unweighed-down is Indus, a young, carefree and easy lychee garden rose that is more appealing than Damask, another rose in the Silk Road Collection I find overburdened and overbusy. Ancient Persian princesses won’t be swooning in their graves over this youthful elixir, but well-groomed and handsome hot things in the City will undoubtedly turn their heads to take a second glance if a touch of this refreshing fruit rose (blackcurrant, Armenian plum, Chinese patchouli, musk) were to drift towards their consciousness upon this obviously attractive woman’s sillage.
With not a hair out of place, the Route De Soie collection is very well kept and translated, fitting the stated Ormonde Jayne ethos of aiming to include ’the quality of English craftsmanship, the art of French perfumery and the sensuality and natural harmony of the Orient” – the outlier for me being Byzance, messier, less restrained, and which to me smells like an overripe, even rotting durian fruit (or strawberry flavoured cough linctus). Official notes for Byzance include cassis, milk and pink pepper; vanilla, iris, moss…..it is an oddball disco scent that at least brings a more exuberant and less fine-tuned aspect to the perfumes in the collection, like a Sex On The Beach cocktail drunk through a coloured twisty straw in Bangkok. A wink in its eye. And closer, somehow, to the Asia that I have long lived in and experienced up close and personal.
THREE ARGENTINIAN FLORALS: VERANO PORTEÑO (2017) + BLONDINE (2017) + A FUEGO LENTO (2018) by FRASSAÏ
Genuine sultriness has become more of a rarity in recent perfumery with the ‘stingy maximalist’ approach often being taken towards current feminine allure (cheap/uninspired/uninspiring ingredients mountained on top of each other to conceal the vapid flimsy at the core). So it is nice, on a hot August day, to sample some sensual modern florals with integrity.
Frassaï is the brainchild of an Argentinian jeweller, Natalia Outeda, based in New York, and the perfumes in the range certainly also have glimmer and gleam. A Fuego Lento is a very vivid orange flower and precision-pointed jasmine sambac, infused with a persuasive accord of blackcurrant bud and flouve odorante (sweet vernal grass) in the top that forms a lucent contrast with the tolu balsam, civet and suede in the heart; a veritable rush. I tend to like the fragrances of Rodrigo Flores-Roux (Arquiste Flor Y Canto; Dolce & Gabbana’s Velvet Desire, one of the best white florals I know; this is slightly similar ); his is a clean but photographic approach, flowers that are heady and fresh, but not generally too sickly. Although this perfume (“A cabaña nestled in the shadow of the Andes mountains glows beneath a cascade of mysterious stars. Inside, a fire burns as two souls surrender themselves to the night”) will certainly be too brash, even headache-inducing for some, to me its obvious, bright sensuality is beyond dispute.
Verano Porteño (“ the feeling of Buenos Aires during summertime”) is another fragrance in the portfolio signed off by Flores-Roux, this time a green magnolia jasmine, with a cool backdrop of maté tea, vetiver, cedrat and alhelï (wallflower), a paler jasmine counterpointing what to me is the the heart of the scent: ‘southern magnolia’. This kind of pristiner-than-thou perfume can feel prim and synthetic in the wrong hands (and this blend is certainly very measured, soignée), but if you like crisp interpretations of just-bloomed flowers – to me this is almost like a modern magnolia take on Diorissimo – you may find yourself revelling in this perfume’s bathed, dressed-up sillage.
Blondine, based on the 1920’s French fairy tale of a young girl who is so entranced by the flowers in an enchanted forest that the more of them she picks, the further she finds herself away from home – where she is “surrounded by precious jewels, exotic fruits and mouthwatering dainties“, is a perturbingly effective blend of pointedly carnal ambrous animalics (castoreum, tonka beans, cocoa, salted butter caramel and ‘blond musks’ ) set against more innocent notes of tiger lily, ashok flower, pear leaves and green mandarin. For me, this is a little too obviously let’s-get-it-on, in the manner of Tom Ford Violet Blonde or the slavishly sloe-eyed sandalwood that was Jean Louis Scherrer’s Nuits Indiennes from 1994, but it is undoubtedly quite sexy, one to sarong to on the sanddunes in the dying light of summer.
More appealing to me personally, and apparently sold out at the Frassaï website, is Tian Di, a ‘ritual for the senses’ by Olivier Gillotin (10 Corso Cormo), a perfume that really works as a spiced woody peach in the manner of some of the best Lutens. An orris-softened sandalwood and ‘Chinese incense’ base given internal umami-ish heft with ginger, star anise, red chrysanthemum, frankincense and a central feature of ‘peach elixir’ (the perfume is based on a mythical place on Mount Kunlun where the peach trees only blossom and bear fruit ever 3,000 years), this is a brisk, peppery, neo Fille En Aiguilles with a sweet. darkened mahogany heart you can climb into and hide in on a hot summer’s afternoon, quite moreish and additive. And, like the rest of the (mercifully) small collection – (I drastically prefer more a more carefully, considered, manageable first number of perfumes from a brand), even if the base accords don’t quite have the complexity or longevity of the finest vintage – this definitely still reads to me as wearable, viable, Real niche Perfume.
Although all pleasure, joy, and spontaneity has been drained out of the creative process by the new ugliness surrounding the screen as I attempt to put up this post using the imposed new techno-horror format on this ‘blog’, I will try this as a ‘test run’ just to say that I finally found a vintage parfum de toilette of Nahema.
Sorry, nope. ‘Start writing or type/ to choose a block’.
‘Start writing or type / to choose a block’.
All this is filling up the screen : ‘toggle to show a large initial letter’. What?
Calendly Eventbrite Checkout OpenTable. Markdown. SytaxHighlighterCode Paragraph Pullquote Table Verse.
I just squashed a mosquito on my right arm and bizarrely, it smelled raspberry pleasant. It brought to mind this old piece.
The other day I was browsing used perfumes in a Yokohama recycling store. Should I buy heavily discounted bottle of The Essence Of Central Park by Carthusia? Or a refill 93ml edt of Guerlain Jicky? How about Lily Of The Valley by Penhaligons? (such a beautifully coloured box). Or one of the l’eaus by Diptyque (always very appealing bottles). And do I want that Caron Le 3ème Homme?
The thing is, I can very easily live without all of these smells. I just wanted them in my collection. For sheer avarice. Just to look at and gloat. I get a great deal of pleasure from surveying the goods, of seeing my cabinets and shelves replete with flacons, some boxed, some not (depending on whether I like them or not visually), but always a deluge of scent at the ready for my delectation.
As I looked at the lower priced perfumes on the bottom of the glass case in the store that sells second hand designer clothes (old Chanel coats and Dior handbags, Yohji Yamamoto pants for more freedealing Japanese locals) I saw a very boring-looking thing called L’OrBio by a brand called Melvita. Dulled by its visuals, I almost passed it over thinking that it couldn’t be worth trying.
(would you bother with something like this?)
(the oil strikes me as something less aesthetically unappealing).
In the interest of all options closed, I decided to try it anyway. And was immediately in love. I had, though, already picked out the perfume I was going to be buying (a big bottle of Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel, partly because I love the label on the green flacon and it reminds me of my first ever summer in Greece), and we left the store with me saying I might have to come back for this one; smell this, D – wow what a perfect tiare scent!
It really is. This leaves thick, overarching wannabes like Montale’s Tiare Intense in the dust: so many tropical summer perfumes go overboard in the sweetness and vanilla coconut to the point you get furred lips. This : L’OrBio, is gentle and takes its time in unfolding; an almost clovey beginning – fig leaf, cedar and bergamot creating a taut and crisp contrast with the delicious tiare, vanilla and benzoin in the base (Catherine, if you are reading YOU NEED THIS). Soft, radiant and effortlessly beachy, by the time we had got to the end of the sweltering street and gone for ice coffees on the other side of the station I was saying oh my god D I think I might have to go back and get this one. I can’t live without it. Ultimately, knees and heat exhaustion prevented us from doing so, meaning that instead of buying a perfume I would drink up greedily and wear all the time when I get into mentalita tropicalia, I bought a scent that I will only put on once in a blue moon, meaning I am stupid and pretentious. Had this been packaged in a beautiful bottle and housed in a flawlessly embossed box, I would be raving all over this one (I am anyway, but in a different way). Inarticulate dross and chemical vats of nuclear level amberwoods get marketed with illiterate copy (honestly, some of the crap I have read recently – back to school, bitches!) and is put in a ‘tasteful’ container and a marketing ploy and the hipster brainwashed just lap it up, placing the perfume carefully in the corner of their exquisitely appointed ‘condo’, when it actually smells like shit and numbs all those who come into contact with it. THIS, delicious, voluptuous, like a beautiful creature from the Seychelles, gets ignored, left behind (by me, too, supposedly a scent connoisseur), because of its slightly prosaic packaging. There is a lesson in this.
L’OrBio can’t help reminding me of course of Nuxe Paris’ legendary Huile Prodigieuse, a product I ‘cannot be without’. The Black Narcissus is not a beauty blog (how could it be?), but I do try to look after my skin, and this oily, sweet tropical magnificence is perfect when I have turned into a knackered, eyeballed hag with sallow, desiccated complexion like a hounddog. I am very intuitive about what or what not to put on my face: most of the time my skin says no thank you and I just wash my face with water. It is enough. Cleansers, exfoliators, toners and particularly ‘masques’ do not suit me (rash inducing; too harsh) ; I don’t need them – too much chemical interference. I just need moisturiser, and the full list of the products I use is this: organic virgin coconut oil (nothing is better for eye bags); Huile Prodigieuse (bring on that glow and health look); and Kiehl’s products for men such as the macho sounding Facial Fuel energising moisture lotion and the Age Defender cream, both of which I use in emergencies for their tingling, minty, refreshing aspects that are different from the replenishing grease of the aforementioned naturals. Sometimes I get it wrong and end up too oily, but on the whole, these products – which last me half a year – save me from looking totally like the back end of a bus, particularly after a eucalyptus bath. When I first went back to work after the initial lockdown after shaving I was quite horrified by what I saw in the mirror, almost to the point of thinking that is not my face : a trip to Kiehl’s in Yokohama soon brought quantifiable results.
The eau de toilette of L’OrBio is so lovely I might have to now look into the oil as well as a skin moisturiser (and I am definitely going to go back to get the perfume or get it from the local Melvita stockist near the station). Huile Prodigieuse is a touch on the hysterically sweet tip, sometimes, like a full orchestra of Hawaiian ukuleles ; it can make me feel a bit sick in the morning when I am not in the mood. As I sat smelling the back of my hand where I had smelled L’OrBio, I sank into its mellow, natural effortlessness. I was enjoying it so much. Because really, after all, perfume love should be about the smell.
VICARIOUS TRAVEL : : : : : : 5th AVENUE + SLOAN STREET + VIA VENETO +AVENUE MONTAIGNE by STRADA PARFUMERIE (2020)
No one can travel anywhere now, except domestically. In Japan we are not even supposed to do that: to cross into other prefectures. Some have taken to ‘online travel’. I can’t be bothered. Although it is beneficial to those suffering in the tourist industry (even if the ticket prices are a mere pittance compared to in-the-flesh itineraries), I don’t want to go anywhere – be it an art museum, an underground grotto, a piazza, or a waterfall, through the lens of a computer camera. I will wait.
But can scent take us there? Can we be whisked off to a desired destination through a purposely composed perfume? It is a tricky one. There are plenty of travel inspired perfumes, whole fragrance lines out there that claim to be able to magic us away to other shores, climes and neighbourhoods, from Gallivant’s world tour of hip destinations such as Brooklyn, Berlin and Tel Aviv to more detailed road maps such as BEX London – which explores the city more thoroughly by particular boroughs and postcode. We can smell the tulips in the Tuileries; smell the hookah pipes and spice mounds at countless souks; dazzle ourselves with the wonders of the 1001 Arabian Nights. Since Perfume Immemorial, the Orient has been a source of wonder for perfumery, from Shalimar to Samsara : we dream of the inexplicably exotic swami garlanded in orange flowers lighting sandalwood joss sticks; kohl-eyed beauties trailing jasmine.
Strada – Italian for street – is a curious one, in that the perfumes turn this Orientalism completely on its head. Both Sloan Street in London and 5th Avenue are barnyard oudhs, funky as ol’ hell, and to me have no connection olfactively whatsoever to my first hand or pre-conceived image (in the latter case) of these places as they are known in the ‘popular imagination.’ Sloan Street is an ambery oud with roses and leather; rich and pungent, quite good, although there are literally millions of perfumes like this already on the market. 5th Avenue takes a similar route: oakmoss and animalic oud with some caramel and saffron : heavy as – and will be perfect for those who like it loud (which is how we presume, from all the films we have seen, native New Yorkers to be). Personally, I can no longer write rationally about oudh as my brain cells à la agar wood have been bludgeoned into oblivion : what I can say is that I find the conceptualisation quite intriguing. It goes without saying that both of these Metropolises are famously diverse and cosmopolitan, and yes, there are a lot of rich Saudi businessmen who own property in the wealthier areas of London (including Harrods) – so in that sense, Strada’s London interpretation is subjectively accurate for those who live there. However, it strikes me that if you want to appeal to the wider masses with recognised cultural tropes – to let them ‘travel the world’ without leaving their armchairs so to speak – then other, more tourist-tastic Ol’ Blighty notes might have been more advisable (like pie and chips). Having said that, Guerlain’s take on London just smelled of fruity shampoo; Gallivant’s ozonic rose – so the sheer myriad of voices in one single city, at the end of the day, make all smell representations equally valid. Your London might not be mine.
My own recollection of the Via Veneto in Rome in the 90’s is of rich women in Fendi furs ostentatiously shopping in Salvatore Ferragamo in giant sunglasses as I would make my way past them up to the Spanish Steps and the cool, mysterious shade of the Villa Borghese that looked out over the city at sunset. Via Veneto the perfume is sufficiently glamorous to capture this conspicuous consumption of the most famously high end place to go shopping in the city, packed with amber, patchouli and cypriol, jasmine, iris, rose damascene and iris with lurid twists of ginger, myrrh, tuberose and clary sage to make the whole experience extra torrid and voluptuous. If it is all a bit much, so is the place that inspired it. In that sense, the perfume hits the mark. Reminding me in some ways of Kenzo L’Elephant, this is a full on perfume that has a certain originality and flair.
Avenue Montaigne for me personally is my joy at finally being actually inside a real Caron shop for the first time with Helen at the turn of the millennium and being almost moved to tears by all the antique powder puffs and perfume fountains; the mirrors and decor with the Parisian streets moving outside; the almost musty interior of quiet and calm – with just one shop assistant there who clearly wasn’t particularly busy – as we awed our way through the shop wondering which perfumes to buy ( she ended up with Bellodgia; I bought Narcisse Blanc). Strada’s take on the iconic fashion street is more brash and androgynous : a jasmine/ saffron and cedar/ fir resin perfume with sweet notes of rose, vanilla and musk made even more hardcore with an interesting addition in the heart of ambergris and birch ; a silvery note that makes it almost like a drag version of Chanel’s Platinum Egoïste. If not oversprayed, I could actively enjoy this one on a hot dude in a convertible on a sweltering summer night; sunglasses, blasting out trap, in some dense, unnamable city.
DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES…………ROSE TROCADERO by LE JARDIN RETROUVÉ (2016) +ROSE ETOILE DE HOLLANDE by MONA DI ORIO (2012) + TA’IF ELIXIR + DAMASK by ORMONDE JAYNE (2020)
I have just three work days left. And I couldn’t be happier to spend three weeks at home in Kamakura writing, reading, taking secret trips to the beach. On August 31st I will be doing an interactive live Zoom event with Art & Olfaction : 70 Years Of Vintage Perfume, so I hope to meet you in person. Suffering from stage fright I would like it to be more akin to a discussion with friends, rather than a ‘presentation’ (enough of teaching already!), but I had better start gemming up on my D’Orsays and my Lucien Lelongs.
It is an alternate universe. We were supposed to be going back to England. Obviously, that is now thoroughly off the table. Just the idea of getting on a plane and travelling across the world feels completely absurd; impossible to imagine. I am content in some ways not to be going anywhere: the realities of this ‘hiatus’ year have seeped in to all of our bloodstreams now: we accept. At the same time, we literally can’t leave the country even if we wanted to. And I am not just talking about the inevitable quarantines.
Japan has mandated very strict rules on the comings and goings of non-Japanese (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/05/business/japan-entry-ban-coronavirus.html) – leading to an international outcry. Though I understand the motivations to a certain extent – everyone is afraid, and all societies are ethno-centric/culture biased to a certain extent, afraid of the Other, it does somewhat feel like an infringement on our human rights. It also doesn’t really surprise me: I sussed out the core feeling many years ago – the country might arguably be less racist than other places, but it is certainly more politely xenophobic (and thus I have used it like a surrogate mother to suit my own ends and creative purposes). I adore the place to a degree, but I know that it will never truly love me back. We know our limits.
Had we gone back home it would have been fun, if busy. The usual flurry of family visits, dinner with friends, perfume window shopping in London, late summer evenings in the garden with black birds and wood pigeons, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and freshly made fish and chips (sheer heaven, and something you just can’t eat authentically here); cider and beer in proper pint glasses and sparkling wine with my cousins.I was looking forward to some car rides into the countryside with our families, and maybe also having a day in Cambridge with D – it has been decades since were there together, and scouring the charity shops of Leamington Spa, tea and scones (all the clichés) at the white Georgian Pump Rooms next to the river Leame; the perfume shop Cologne & Cotton, which, for soap and huge bottles of colognes, fluffy towels and unusual niche fragrance labels is a perfume lover’s bliss.
Last night D brought him take out salads and for dessert, mont blancs, very popular here in Japan with their mounds of puréed sweet chestnuts centred with thick cream. This was an unusual purple mountain potato Kamakura take on the classic with a different colour and texture, but delving into the bottom of the paper cup I spooned some of the base into my mouth; meringue. I was at a summer christening in England ; raspberry trifles, mum’s homemade fruit salad (my favourite; she would overdose on the lemon juice – I see myself on the stairs, maybe nine or ten, spooning endless red coloured fruit into my mouth along with ‘pavlova’, and knowing me, probably a a small beaker ferried off furtively of sparkling wine just to see what all the fuss was about as adults swanned about tipsy in floral dresses and open shirts reflected through the cut class decanters and vases filled with sweet peas from the garden and roses.
The Proustian rush, overdone as a motif in perfume writing as it might be, is truly a miracle of the human consciousness. It is not a question of (slap thigh – ) Oh, this reminds me of so and so or this or that – it is actual time travel. There is no music cue nor lacuna ellipsis : you are just there. Surviving in the memory. Or reliving, reactivating what was lived (and still exists) : placed there as a mockery of the usual space/ time continuum.
Although meringue was never a favourite of mine, especially (nice, but under that brittle egg texture enamel lurks something distracting); still, that air-biting crunch piercing down through sugar clouds of bake-petrified yolks, led to gelatinously layers of peel-fortified lemon curd or else delicious raspberries (a fruit I only properly enjoy when it has been ‘treated’ – the hair-rubbered mouthfeel of the fruit straight off the vine is repellent to me in a way that strawberries, equally delicious and fragrant but texturally favourable do not – (the white/pink/red fleshed juiced anatomy of those divine creatures easy to gorge on by the handful).
Trifle in summer. Could anything be more English? The raspberries and jelly at the bottom of the glass bowl tinkered with yellow custard a delight. Cut roses, or roses on the stem in the garden, still light at ten in the evening, another thing I associate with the fruit. As a child I would not just inhale, but suck up the scent of the most luscious roses like a honey bee. Plunge my face into the petals and beyond to drink in the rose perfume – another form of travel in itself; spatially/spiritually altering). A rose in all its glory (uncapturable); all of its nuances (indescribable); the nobility of its crimsonous coolness tainted with microspider; aphid unawaredly sharing its joy.
Rose oil, extracted, doesn’t replicate the living flower respiration, green from the stem, the thorns, and the roots. I have smelled some very beautiful essential oil extractions, and enjoy the darker rose ottos like oil paints in chypres, but I find that jasmine, the rose’s royal rival, has been more efficiently immortalized in scent. Department store ‘roses’ disgust me unreservedly; oudh roses kind of bore me (but I get the point); sweet Turkish loukhoum roses like the original Rose de Rosine I can do and I loved the original Voleur De Roses by L’Artisan Parfumeur which I wore quite a lot in my early twenties), but I don’t like rose to be too over-eager, too virtue over vice; it should be composed; and needs both.
Rose Trocadero by Le Jardin Retrouvé, which I have mentioned before in conjunction with reviews of rose perfumes by Diptyque and Tom Ford doesn’t reach deep into these categories (it is more of a snapshot than a faithful rendering), but with its raspberry and blackcurrant-tinged crispness and fresh erect ‘rose in a summer garden’ impression it is less fruited and fussy than Goutal’s Rose Pompon and its fellow blackberry-budded clones. I quite like the edp of that perfume and would gift it to an ingenue or burgeoning debutante in a voluminous tea dress, but there is something very conservative, sub-fashionista about most rose perfumes; they are the most restrictive from the feminist perspective. Nice little girls doing precisely what they are told; a fettered ugliness of societal and chemical fascism I abhor (something about Big Beauty behemoths in Switzerland churning out reconstituted patchouli and recriminatory musk bases makes me just want to scream out my lungs into the void). Rose Trocadero is pretty and full, without being too anodyne. Though a little repetitious – what you get is what you get – it is nevertheless a pleasing rose soliflore that got me mulling on all of the points in this piece in the first place. Something about that first spritz brings back wonderful memories.
Mona Di Orio’s Rose Étoile De Hollande is a very different beast: less pretty in frills and more intent, serious, inward-looking. A woody rose blend mixed with real artistry, on my skin the hints of peach and clove as well as what smells like Bulgarian roses soon warms up to a cedar and leather aroma with a dry down of subtle patchouli that is like a distant cousin to Shiseido/ Serge Lutens Feminité Du Bois but with more room inside the perfume for maneuver. Understatedly carnal and very (obviously, as is usually the case with this house) overtly dignified, this is not a perfume I could love personally but can imagine becoming an outright obsession with the right rose lover : a calm lethality.
Ormonde Jayne’s new Damask, part of La Route De Soie collection to be released in October, is a savvy, niche/ commercial fresh rose ( a mineralic lemon / pear/ pink pepper musk, jasmine and blackcurrant with a brief rush of rose top notes) that will tickle the senses of the casual browser but which I didn’t like as much as other perfumes in the collection such as Levant and Tanger. Ta’if Elixir, a new version of the popular dark rose by the London-based house, is much more replete and exotic with its new heartcore of Cambodian oudh – a warm, animalic addition that works well as a more languorous reprisal of the original. If you like Ta’if, I would recommend layering it with the new version for deeper emanations from the skin – the two complement each other perfectly.
The roses are still in full bloom in Yokohama : we had a wonderful Sunday just traipsing around in the very hot sun (and possibly had mild heatstroke as a result, sleeping for an abnormally long time that evening and the following morning ), but as I leaned in to smell a yellow-orange rose that reminded me of both of my grandmothers I thought to myself cornily that at rose is a rose : the scent is virtually identical. Japanese roses, English roses: the fully scented ones usually smell very beautiful. That smell I remember though, the almost splenetic, lemon- raspberry rosum gorgeousness of my childhood roses that dazzled and bowled me over in our garden on Dovehouse Lane continues to somewhat elude me – both in the roses that I encounter, and in perfume.
THREE SANDALWOODS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION : SANTAL NABATAEA by MONA DI ORIO (2018)+ SÅND by ÅND FRAGRANCE (2020) + SKIN by O OLFACTIVE (2020)
In the dry heat, sandalwood can be a boon. To tether loose ends. And while many ‘sandalwood’ perfumes these days can be sickeningly ‘cashmeran’ and buttery in their base notes – an accord both D and I I avoid like the plague – it is possible to find alternatives that make up for the lack of true Mysore sandalwood oil available by playing with other ingredients to make individualistic boisé perfumes that will see you through to the evening, and beyond.
Santal Nabatea, from Mona Di Orio’s Monogram collection, doesn’t ‘read’ as a sandalwood per se, but I like its dry peppered elegance. Inspired by the culture that flourished in the 4th century BC around Petra and the Arabian peninsula, there is something in this very wearable perfume that reminds me of the long disappeared bright, wood floral for men, Insensé by Givenchy: black currant bud and oleander in the top notes along with apricot and a tart dose of freshly pressed black pepper cede to opoponax and tonka bean in a way that is subdued and unimpinging but also quite contentedly ‘lost in your own reverie’. You can imagine actually touring the ancient palaces of Jordan wearing this, leaving your hotel fresh and clean.
Olfactive O promises to find you a ‘perfume for your personality’ (https://www.olfactiveo.com) ; the idea is that you read the description of the character traits provided and select the scent that seems closest to your inner self. I am not sure if people can be reduced so easily, nor whether any of the personas presented would directly speak to me (if I were a woman or otherwise), but Skin, the scent in the collection that is designed to be used either alone by itself or layered with other selections, is a nice rendition of a skin scent sandalwood/vetiver/iris that is well balanced and affordable. Ambrette and beeswax add a touch of musky sweetness, while a fresher top note of magnolia adds a linen-close intimacy. The scent blooms on skin in a familiarly sandalwoody fashion that is nevertheless not overdone or flagrant : for those that like the Prada Infusion D’Iris style of office-wearable floral warmth but tire of that perfume’s insistency, this would make a quieter, pleasingly intimate, alternative.
Also from the UK is former Gorilla perfumer Simon Constantine, who has formed his own eco-conscious and ethically sustainable house https://andfragrance.com. Typically off the radar and olfactively challenging, I found this perfume at first quite off-puttingly weird; sweet spearmint-like ethereal floatings above banana and cardamom pod in a peculiarly high-pitched heart of Australian sandalwood, labdanum and benzoin — the blend didn’t speak to me at all. As it settles, though, this turns out to be a very unusual and original take on the sandalwood trope that sings in its own key (probably A#) : and is strangely appealing. Centering. Even haunting. What is it about sandalwood? It is far from being my favourite note in perfumery, and yet there is something so cooling psychologically about the essence that warms the spirits while strengthening the outlook. For nervine sustenance, and if you like to prevail in the woodier notes in summertime, all three of these perfumes are probably worth your attention.