Monthly Archives: August 2020

THREE SANDALWOODS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION : SANTAL NABATAEA by MONA DI ORIO (2018)+ SÅND by ÅND FRAGRANCE (2020) + SKIN by O OLFACTIVE (2020)

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SUMMER OF (DIS)CONTENT : CASTILE by PENHALIGONS (1998) + NEROLI NEGRO (2015) + MENLI by COQUI COQUI (2012)

 

 

 

 

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I must admit that I am rather struggling at the moment, as I am sure a large majority of us are.  I simply don’t feel safe. And that is because I am not safe. None of us truly are, unless we lock ourselves away in confinement, and that brings troubles of its own. D is safer than I am – he walks to work and back home again in Kamakura – but his classrooms are full of girls whose parents work in Tokyo where the virus is becoming more rampant (or is at least being more revealed through increased testing). Yes, they wear masks, but the required social distancing in Japanese schools just simply isn’t happening.

 

 

 

 

 

My own situation is more precarious. Two days a week I can ventilate to my heart’s content and teach in what I would call sensible conditions; students spaced out; windows and doors open. Two days I cannot. Buildings packed with kids. Up close. On Wednesdays, I work in a school in Yokohama which has NO WINDOWS. And I am in a classroom  – just four walls, within that space, an epidemiological matyrushka doll. We have a fan, and an extractor. And we wear masks. But the students are too close to each other  –  it is Russian roulette.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I wonder why I can’t just quit, or whether I have become brainwashed into servility;  some kind of samurai ‘valiance’. It literally does feel like that at times, a kind of ‘fuck it – it’s too late, I am working now, there are only eight days left until the summer holidays, just get on with it like everybody else’ mentality, as if I have no choice (and in many ways I don’t: the very last thing I want right now is to be unemployed and out there looking for work)  as the teachers huff and puff behind their masks and look drained and overheated and dehydrated and exhausted just like most of the students – really, none of us, neither the students nor the teachers should be there, but because as yet there have been no cases in our schools, at least not that I am aware of, we ‘soldier on’. Japan is a country of education. It is the national obsession. And naturally, though some of the people I am mingling with will be asymptomatic, many even – there can be no doubt of that – all I can do is keep breathing through my mask and get through the days. It is terrifying. But somehow I am weirdly resigned to my fate, almost as though I have lost agency and the autonomy I always pride myself on having no matter what.

 

 

 

 

These last two days I have been battling with extreme burn out – which in my case involves furious muttering to myself like a loon and extreme sociophobia – I just want to be left alone as much as possible, even in the classroom just  going through the motions overly aggressively unable to properly connect to anyone. I can barely look at the other staff, and retreat to other rooms as much as is humanly possible. I am courteous, hopefully, even if exquisite manners have never been my forte – that would be Duncan’s domain –   – –  I am just too shot through with intense emotion to ever not let that show in my eyes, which I am sure glower coldly and green above my surgical mask. I wear a beard, obstinately, because no one can see it and that is my real person, though it goes against the rules (something I always feels is like an infringement on human rights) : however,  the last thing I need right now is to be an emasculated eunuch when I already feel like an apoplectic and semi-broken sad sack. But no one would ever say anything to a foreigner in any case. In many ways we are strangely untouchable.

 

 

 

 

The world is insane right now, it can feel as if you are losing your marbles. Curiously, despite the strains of it all, though, I am finding that just manoeuvring the week to its conclusion – the marvellously mask free weekend at home, where I love, puts on blinkers of selectivism that let me enjoy all the small details, all the other pleasures,  and revel in the more restricted being-aliveness. Yes, I am constantly aware of what is happening in the global news; I never ‘lose touch’ in that regard, but it can get too much, the ‘doom-scrolling’ that is only beneficial to any individual in terms of awareness and cognisance up to a certain point. In the city, out doing my job I feel half alive; a drone. Condemned to a potentially fatal virus that is swimming in the hot air all around me. The same position that we all find ourselves in; dimmed; daunted. At the same time, though, I have always felt blessed in the sense that even when I have a bad day – and I have just had two; I came home last night like a cup full of poison full of hatred and annoyance, I could have punched a hole through a wall –  I have a natural joy of life that rises up like the dawn after sleeping, particularly in summer, which I adore (so boring to hear everyone complain about the sun – no no no no you fool, haven’t you just suffered six weeks of incredible doom and gloom in the longest rainy season ever; it is glorious ; a chorus of insects; a frenzy of birds; a feeling of energy and power and life surging up in spite of (alongside) this tedious microorganism that is self-replicating like a motherfucker but whose time is limited; there WILL be a vaccine, and it had better be soon……) In spite of myself, this morning, as I open the window on the balcony and hear life coming into the room; moreover feeling it coursing through my veins, I feel something bordering on elation. Yes, I return home at night like a sodden washcloth devoid of personality, trying to walk up the hill to save on taxi money (there is no way in hell I am getting the bus), covered in sweat, stuck on thoughts like a broken record, barely sensate;, thinking shower, shower, shower; D is usually already asleep ; futon on the tatami, fan whirring, often next to the cat; but then I take a long shower and feel immediately human again, on a smaller scale, in the house with no mask, listening to the night.

 

 

 

 

 

Orange blossom has been one of my refuges. It soothes me. Especially before bed on clean skin – it’s like reinventing yourself. Something sacred and calming; a child-like innocence of refuge in nature. There are a thousand and one takes on the neroli and orange blossom theme, of course, and everyone has their own preferences; some like it sensual, erotic; for me, on the whole,  I tend to prefer the note done more simply. Some orange blossoms are green, rasping; Annick Goutal’s Neroli is perfectly lifelike but too exhilarating (and it just reminds D immediately of my traumatic time spent learning to walk again three years ago when I wore that perfume all of the time along with Sana Jardin’s equally uplifting and luminescent neroli scent, Berber Blonde. D doesn’t want to remember that time and so I don’t wear those). Orange blossom can also be too muted; Etat Libre D’Orange’s Divin Enfant for example; I don’t need any marshmallow leather or too much vanilla; I like it subtle in the finish without too much babying or coochy coo;. I like it more refined and preferably delicate; and Penhaligons’ Castile gets it absolutely right. 

 

 

 

If you are more of a Serge Lutens Fleurs D’Oranger or a Houbigant Orangers En Fleurs wearer;  and I love both of those; they are fantastically yowzer off the shoulder evening exuberance kinds of fragrances, but I am not Halle Berry and cannot carry off such a schmooze myself – you might probably find Castile a little uninspiring- a fresh, but refined neroli and orange blossom scent with just the right amount of bergamot and rose, and a gentle denouement that I think fits the skin in a beautifully understated manner (there was an interesting mention of this perfume on Fragrantica which reimagines Daniel Craig as 007 in Casino Royale coming down to the hotel reception in a perfectly fitted crisp white shirt and hints of post-shower Castile as the hotel reception staff try to concentrate on what he is saying and keep a lid on their inner reactions). Indeed, the perfume is perfectly androgynous and elegant. Last night, I found it beautifully restorative.

 

 

 

 

Another night time orange blossom of very different stripes is Neroli Negro by Coqui Coqui, a Mexican brand based on the Yucatan peninsula. I love the packaging and design of these perfumes; such things make a great difference to my appreciation of a scent, the whole experience; an appealing aesthetic, and there is something about the Gatsby-ish gold-embossed lettering on the pristine white box that really appeals to all my senses. The perfumes are not complex; Neroli Negro is a husky, honeyed growl of orange blossom, musk, and, unusually, a strongly dominating note of depressurised myrrh, that comes across to me nevertheless as almost liquorice-like and edible. Self-contained, it could also be a real passion ignition key in the right circumstances, peculiarly moreish and sultry. At night, it helps me draw a velvet curtain on the day.

 

 

 

Menli, another perfume in the Coqui Coqui extensive range, is an almost absurdly simple, or simplistic, take on the Mojito –  just lime and mint. And yet for a minute or two, it is the best mint smell I have ever smelled; a variety of mint from Mexico that I have never personally encountered in real life but now want to. The mint smell is almost fiery in its coolness; pure as leaves  – so minty – and incredibly invigorating, before it cedes to a fainter mint-citrus synergy that while less exciting, is still quite pleasant on a t-shirt and as an all round pick-me-up. D has taken to this one like a duck to water  – he is also very fond of a well-made mojito, that delicious and perturbing swirl of ice and lime and mint and sugar and rum, the best one we ever had being down a back street in Barcelona several Augusts ago watching local kids skateboarding by the steps of a beautiful old cathedral.

 

 

Good times.

 

 

 

 

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BIND ME : BOIS DE SANTAL by SOAP & PAPER FACTORY + FEMINITE DU BOIS by SHISEIDO (1992)

 

 

 

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According to the Japan Times, this year’s rainy season was the longest and most interminable in memory, leading to a depressed and listless population already lethargic from the coronavirus. I know that I, after being energized by my return to the world after the first lockdown (another may be imminent as cases rise in all major cities) was also operating at a snail’s pace autopilot, a survival slug shouting through a surgical mask.

 

 

Promptly on August 1st the sun said enough is enough; this enforced sabbatical by Cloud Central is boring me to death I am pressing the On switch and sure enough the heat has descended, blasting out cobwebs (you should we the mould on our shoes, the mould that has crept over bus stops and train timetables, even our tatami mats it is vile); we spent the weekend drinking cava and flinging open windows and cycling and lounging around on the balcony letting the rays in and rejoicing in the dryness and the light.

 

Today I have to go in to Yokohama. I am writing this on the train. It doesn’t feel safe. I always open the windows as far as they will go, possibly too angrily and to the consternation of some passengers who just sit their impassively but no : I WILL have ventilation (I have been laying the law down at work as well, where a weird inertia has set in and students sit dangerously in classrooms with sealed windows.)

 

For dinner last night – a lovely place in Kamakura with red sun umbrellas, delicious cold Ebisu beer ( we really felt the need to get smashed this weekend : I had to just obliterate something in my conscious as I have felt hemmed in and screaming); perfectly cooked tempura and grilled fish with pickled Japanese ginger, Duncan wore Mizu by Di Ser ( a nice, fresh woody citrus that smells very natural), while I went for Uomo by Lorenzo Villoresi, a lavender aromatic similar to the Tuscany I was wearing the other day ( and which the mosquitoes unfortunately loved as well ; we decided to sit outside, not wanting the misery of air conditioning to ruin the first real Sunday evening of summer.)

 

 

Today it is baking hot. Ordinarily in this weather I would probably be going for tropical; frangipani, coconut; Lys Soleia. This morning I woke up for some reason craving deep sandalwood and cedar, something inward and fortifying rather than flamboyant Blue Lagoon. I knew what I wanted : my tube of Bois De Santal hand creme; rosewood and spice and sweet sandalwood, which goes beautifully with the edp tiny bottle of vintage Shiseido Feminite Du Bois I once found at a Berlin flea market. Rich, dense with plum and cinnamon with a heart of Moroccan Atlas cedar wood, vanilla and sandalwood, benzoin and a hint of buried violets, it is not quite as stunning as the ultra rare parfum I only have a couple of drops left of ( I like it on D even more than I do on myself; it lasts for hours, is ever-changing and never loses a moment of integrity).
Still, today’s combination, though anti-intuitive, perhaps, feels right to me; soothing and solidifying, like a great wooden temple in Nikko, where you can steal in for some stillness.

 

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IT CAME IN FROM THE SWAMP : : : EDEN by CACHAREL (1994)

 

 

 

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Master perfumer Jean Guichard was the creator of complex and full bodied masterpieces that screamed blockbuster success. Obsession, Loulou, La Nuit, Deci Dela, his perfumes are seamless but bold. Arresting. Also quite experimental and diverse – Cartier’s So Pretty, a peculiarly vivid floral that once entranced me throughout an entire flight with Air France each time the attendant passed me drenched in its morbidly feminine petals- on-pause, has no connection to Fendi Asja, another of his discrete creations. Likewise, though Loulou – one of my very favourite perfumes of all time  – was Cacharel’s cash cow, the perfume house was adventurous enough to let Jean Guichard have free rein with his next project for Cacharel  :  the entirely different and bilgily aquatic semi-oriental that was ‘Eden’.

 

 

 

The nineties were full of new and stimulating oddness. There were dramatic shifts in music; Nirvana – Massive Attack. Primal Scream. Kate Moss wore the face of drugged out emaciation in grunge fashion. Dior came out with the mesmerisingly peculiar oceanic amber that was Dune, a perfume that, in its vintage concentration, was appallingly attention grabbing  (who could properly continue a conversation with a woman drenched in such a scent, your neural pathways clogged with that gorgeously cockle-coloured sea sludge?). Guichard’s own Parfum De Peau for Montana, a true mindfuck of a patchouli leather powerhouse in the manner of Estee Lauder’s Knowing, but with death defyingly huge hair and Freddy Krueger like talons scintillating with ginger and blackcurrant and killer roses, narcissus and incense and one of the strongest sillages in the history of fragrance, was the eighties personified; Eden, which made me feel bilious yet hypnotised and somehow slightly angry when I first smelled it, was perfectly emblematic of the more ‘environmentally aware’ and supposedly more gentle decade that followed.

 

 

 

 

An uncanny congregation of unexpected ingredients (melon meets pineapple meets mimosa; muguet melds with tuberose flooded into itself with a non-indigenous self-replicating aquatic water lily; ‘luminous citrus fruits’ segueing into a warm and clingingly womanly base accord of cedar wood, sandalwood and a prominent, de-fanged patchouli musk….), when I first excitedly smelled this perfume at the chemist’s down the road I remember marvelling at its brilliantly hermetic wholeness (one of this perfumer’s trademarks: his fragrances like giant Jeff Koons statues to be erected at the Pompidou) while simultaneously feeling slightly disappointed andsick.It was the algaed wateriness,  a stagnant lake streaming with reeds in the circles of water like a dead maiden’s hair; slow, blind fish that have lost their way, coelacanths loping coldly up onto the muddied shores, staring into nothing as man-eaters and Venus fly traps lie in wait for huge hairy fireflies. It was no Eden – but an alligator infested bayou.

 

 

 

 

 

The shock of the new always fades with time. There were other, much greater, horrors in store for us: Calvin Klein’s tinnitus-inducingly screeching Escape, for instance  (trust me, I really wanted to, but it was everywhere). Issey Miyake was biding his time patiently with his furiously hygienic (and explosively successful) Eau D’Issey which could singe off your hairline. In comparison, Eden seems innocuous now; warm and mellow, secretive and strangely binding. True, I never got on with anyone who wore it at the time – there was something both homely, yet also very passive aggressive about this perfume; those that thought of themselves  just a tiny bit outside of the mainstream because they had a Tracy Chapman album or had been to Lilith, were vehemently against animal cruelty but were mean with their emotions  –   but in time I have come to quite like its jade coloured contours, its ease on the body, and now actually have a reformulated bottle of my own.

 

 

 

 

The newer version of Eden has definitely been de-swamped (drain the swamp!) and has lost that bloated fresh-water tang of lotuses and water lilies dangling Evil Dead tendrils into zombie patchoulied tonka beans of the original, although it is still long-lasting and smells fantastic on a hoodie when you need some emotional protection (along with the first Kenzo perfume, Kenzo (1988) , and Van Cleef by Van Cleef & Arpels (1993) I think of these as being smooth and unosmosable perfumes with no rough edges; soothing like hugs and mugs of milky tea on a cold cloudy day). Decontextualised from the 90’s backlash from whence they came  – the revenge on Joan Collins – the annihilation of Hair Metal and Jive Bunny; Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now and Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is A Place On Earth, Eden is now just mere pleasant background noise for me; a scent for a harmless blue moon. Not hellish, now. But certainly not close to paradise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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