My first fake perfume was when we, as a family, were duped outside Harrods on the street outside about thirty years ago. A raucous cockney screamed out the details of the bargain ; w hile a deceptor sprayed a real perfume – right before our eyes. Smelling it in the air, I bought the false water, which, when opened back home, was clearly nothing more than a cleverly wrought out con trick.
My second fake perfume(s) were those you see pictured above, bought today from Book Off/Hard Off/ Hobby Off in Fujisawa, a three story junkfest of used goods that I can’t stay in for more than five minutes because of the infernally repetitive ‘theme tune’ it has on repeat that in all literalness I think is akin to mental torture.
That is a whole other debate though (speaking of which, and of absolute fakeness, tonight is the first ‘presidential’ debate – JESUS) : but it might account for why I didn’t check out these two perfumes more carefully before ‘committing to purchasing them’.
I had always wanted Penhaligon’s Gardenia in passing. And there it suddenly was, unexpectedly : for ¥800 : a steal at eight dollars. And ‘Elizabethan Rose’, which I had never smelled in its latest recreation, for ¥1000 : why the hell not ? ( I sadly and literally was, like Emma Bovary, down to my final coins, an embarrassingly precarious situation in which I wasn’t even sure I would have enough train fare to get back home nor be able to afford nourishment for the evening’s teaching ahead )
– but such is perfume addiction. Leaving my house this morning, putting my pretty Santa Maria Novella pot pourri by the open window to maximize its rose-spicy, slightly rotting herbaceous effect ( it has been a very extravagant month, what with Duncan’s birthday and all : tomorrow is pay day:::::TF) it struck me : do I actually have an actively, usable rose perfume in my collection at this particular moment in time ?
I had to admit, that I didn’t think that I actively do. So I physically spent my final pennies ( caught counting, frantically, my remaining change from my suit pocket and bag in the disabled toilet praying that there weren’t surveillance cameras on this quite possibly counterfeit bullshit ; the gardenia, on closer; on the way home inspection, just smelling like a cheap Marc Jacobs gardenia knockoff ( or is it just a bad reformulation? ( : Penhaligon’s experts : align!) ); the Rose, for all I know, as authentically intended, a bit woozy and sandalwoody, not entirely bad, and a possible contender as a toilet spray – but the labels are a little bit wonky, and it DOES smell a little bit fat and gregarious, for an Elizabethan Rose…..
It struck me yesterday that I have not properly understood the fundamental shifts not only in what contemporary niche perfume is, but also what its wearer actually wants. For at least a hundred years or more, a perfumer worked in secrecy (the creators of fragrances were not usually known by the public, but hidden behind the perfume’s enigmatic name – in some ways the be all and end all of a scent aside how it smelled – as well as the image , aura and cachet of the perfume house representing it). You were asked what you were wearing: ‘Ysatis’: the sound of the (deliberately meaningless) word designed to evoke the gorgeousness of the contents that you applied to your neck and your wrists in a ritualistic moment of pleasure; a luxuriant elixir.. The goal was usually seduction: of yourself – in the sheer decadence of the act of wearing a dense and multilayered olfactory mystery that unfurled on your person for your own distillation of self, but also in the hope that this deliberately immutable – but always changing – perfume would lock into the synapses of another person’s senses and make you at the very least intriguing – but hopefully irresistible.
Perfume as scintillant, as stimulator and seductor strikes me as being a very yang energy ; even when the perfume is folded within itself and subdued in some way in perfumes such as En Avion, Apres L’Ondée, Anaïs Anaïs. You were presenting that scented creation on your person like a ready made work of art; invisible, impossible to deconstruct (but you also didn’t want it to be deconstructed: the thought had never occurred to you, as the interlocking ingredients of the contents had been demurred, a secret formula locked in the dungeoned vaults of Yves Saint Laurent that only the heads of the company had any access to : the point was, the perfume spoke for itself).
If the fundamental energy of the old standard perfume wearing was yang (expansive, energetic, light-filled), despite the simultaneous incorporation also of yin (soothing, calm, mysterious, the dark), leading to the ideal creating of an overall mystical symphony of contrasting elements – think Worth’s incredible Je Reviens in its vintage incarnation, with its jubilantly erotic freshly plucked wild narcissus, jasmine, iris crystals and blue aldehydes in the top structure ceding to a profoundly melancholic conclusion of incense, sandalwood and violet: a perfume of this pedigree – the creation of a genius – was multi-faceted and compelling. The smell of the perfume absorbed you, in the way that it absorbed others : a form of sensory hypnosis; an act of aesthetic defiance, almost, as a way of transcending the banality of the ordinary by tinting the very air around you with your skin, ornated and osmosed with the heart of your perfume. From some angles, though, this could be thought of as an act of aggression.
A lot of the contemporary niche perfumes that I have been smelling recently seem extraordinarily yin in their reticence, a quiet withdrawal from the world (quite understandable given the circumstances of the current world we live in, which are enough to make even the sanest person go crazy): perhaps adorning oneself in overtly audacious, sex-magnet perfumery just seems slightly passé: as not quite ‘reading the air’. There is much more of a desire, among perfumers and their customers, it would seem, for more quiet, subtle, clarified, mineralic, aerated wisps of wood-tinged greenery and hints of forest smoke, for scents that don’t draw attention to your person but which instead allow you, the wearer, to slightly stand back in an aesthetic negation of reality : a fleeing to nature; to escape from the all-enveloping hyper capitalistic vulgarity of the times; the mind-altering noise and commodification of ourselves into politicized factions, screaming at our screens, alienated from our own societies.
In these weird, uncomely realms, cacophonies of sweet glandular ‘grand event’ perfume perhaps feel less appropriate to some people than they might once have. A one- name juggernaut, ‘Poison’, for instance, feels gauche, out of step. Intrusive. Therefore, gone – at least in the independent, ‘alternative’ world of perfumery – are the monoliths like Beautiful: Obsession. Instead, there is a more symbiotic relationship between the perfume consumer and the concept creator now: you are not left to dream, but encouraged to actively partake in the story, the origin of the ingredients, the poetics and the instigated backstories of sometimes very talented copy writers who conjure what you will be smelling in your head before you have even smelled it : a precise visualization of exactly what you are supposed to be taking from this line of perfumes – be it the Shinto mystical purity of the Di Ser range from Hokkaido, very Japanese in its inspiration, and execution, in beautifully esoteric and unpolluted perfumes like Sasora, Keman, and Kyara (1200 dollars a bottle: the perfume contains a rare liquid extract of the highest level kyara wood used in Japanese incense) – light and spectral – and fleeting – perfumes that exist more in the territory of psycharomatherapy than that of mate-chasing or in conforming to the latest street fashion.
Like the world itself, many of these perfume ranges have become more localized – less internationally minded, focusing more on capturing the sights and sounds and smells and atmospheres of particular places; location-specific perfumes that move far away from the eros-abstract locus of the perfumes in the old style, to more gentle evocations of indigenous flora and fauna. Union, a British perfumery with several very interesting perfumes such as Gothic Bluebell in its repertory that uses locally sourced plant ingredients, had already given us Quince & Mint (lovely) and Holy Thistle – a fruit green scent based on Scottish thematics, but apparently, Kingdom Scotland is the first fully Scottish perfumery to ever exist (really?I was quite surprisd to hear this), focusing on capturing ‘stories, experiences, and the dramatic contrasts at the heart of a land that enthralls the imagination’.
I have only been up to Scotland a handful of times, but always loved the feeling of difference as you crossed the border into what was both the same, and yet a completely different country. Quite rightly, I always felt like I was a stranger. The journey up by train from London to Edinburgh is a fascinating one to behold: I did it alone, one September, with a good book and a seat by the window; a six hour trip that allowed me to watch the countryside gradually getting less verdant and leafy, streams and oak trees and farmers’ fields (in the Midlands, where I am from) and slowly but steadily more dramatic and fierce as you passed through the north of England and the lake district and into the hills and mountains of Scotland, heathered rocks; crags, and great swathes of purples, browns, and mossy greens, raining and sunlit intermittent; the sky on the day I was there brooding and magnificent, the clouds moving rapidly. Edinburgh itself was a Gothic masterpiece of a city whose beauty amazed me, even if I ultimately preferred Glasgow, where I went on a couple of occasions to stay with friends, one who lived next to the Botanical Gardens and was lead flute in the Orchestra of Scottish Opera. I do remember the lochs we visited in her car: vast expanses of pure and unspoilt nature that stretched out as far as the eye could see, the peaks’ reflections in the water alive with some ancient beauty I couldn’t quite relate to ( I am not a mountain person) but which nevertheless have always stayed with me. It is a terrain that would naturally inspire fierce passion.
Portal, the first perfume I tried by Kingdom, and an apposite way to enter into this territory is a ‘transporting herbaceous and woody scent. A gateway to the ancient Caledonian forests of Scotland. Invitingly fresh and outdoor – an escape to a sylvan wonderland’.
These are the notes:
Top : Herbaceous Botanicals and Bergamot Heart: Verdant Flora Base: Vetiver and Scots Pine.
Green and reposeful, I quite liked this one, though something about it irked D for some reason, to the point of great irritation. I found
it momentarily pleasing, refreshing – though it does quickly form itself into one accord – quite aloof; green, unsweet -a scent that you will either take to, or you will not. A little similar in some ways to Sisley’s Eau D’Ikar, I prefer the latter for its more emphatic, muscular greenish rasp.
‘A scent inspired by metamorphic rock, spectacularly woven into the unique and beautiful geology of Scotland. Complex and rich, with an intense transformation on the skin.
Top : Black Pepper and Tobacco Heart: Incense, Minerals, Islay Malt and Rose Absolute Base: Amber Resin and Leather
It almost goes without saying that any range of perfumes from Scotland should contain one scent that is centered on Scotch. Although this is no longer a new idea – there are a vast quantity of whiskey/ tobacco/ leather perfumes available on the market (often too vanillic and malty and nauseating for me personally), Metamorphic is a more civil and aerated take on this genre that is successful because of the rose absolute at the centre of the perfume and the mineralic facets there to represent the geological theme at its heart that lift the scent into different atmospherics – more outside than Glaswegian bar. While some might be yearning for some more sexy, whiskered gruffness in this scent – it also works for its refined balance: you are not drinking this whisky neat.
Botanica, Kingdom’s latest release this year in conjuction with the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh, is a ‘vibrant, passionate and woody-green-floral oriental perfume. Inspired by the adventurous Scottish plant hunters of the past, present and future, this is biodiversity in a bottle. Expertly crafted to celebrate 350 prolific years of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
Top Notes: Spiced Plum Blossoms, Fresh Pink Pepper, Lush Blackcurrant Stem & Bud, Green Botanicals and Pine Needle Heart Notes: Exotic White Florals, Lily, Ginger Lily, Jasmin, Wild Herbaceous Vegetation, Sweet Myrrh, Frankincense Base Notes: Warming Sandalwood, Patchouli, Cedarwood, Vetiver, White Musk, Amber
As you can imagine from the list of notes, this one is a bit busy, and is probably an attempt by the company to take the perfumes away from the very introverted, almost dourly unadorned feeling that the other perfumes in the range seem to give off (for me, a feeling of withdrawal from society, even loneliness, but perhaps this is the idea; just you and nature in the forest). Botanical, on the other hand, is a far more exuberant creation, a swirl of positive freshness, more feminine, and it kind of works – more akin to the synthesis of carnal materials used to create the kind of Saturday night perfumes used for putting on the charm that I was discussing at the beginning of this piece. Rather than salmon fishing on your lonesome, this is more suitable for partner-hunting on a busy night down the Royal Mile.
By far my favourite of the Kingdom Scotland range, and perhaps perversely of me to admit, also by far the most muted and removed of the four perfumes I have tried, is Albaura, a gossamer powdered fougère that settles lightly on the skin like the breath of a ghost. Perfect for the kind of cardigan you invest in for autumn and winter and which you might wear for the rest of your life if you look after it properly – a fashion piece whose cost you don’t disclose, but you know looks perfect on you and becomes like your second skin, like most people who fall in love with niche perfumes of this nature, I was pulled in and seduced by the basic story.
‘A fragrance in tribute to the Scottish botanist and Arctic explorer, Isobel Wylie Hutchison: iindependent in spirit, with a bold purity and beauty, Albaura captures the freshness of snow and ice blended with berries and botanicals’.
Top : Iced Botanicals Heart: Arctic Poppy Base: Atlas Cedar, Ambergris; Rock Moss.
I like candlelight. It is conducive. Scented candles also – over the years I have had a few; Diptyque Opoponax, Héliotrope, Mimosa, Figuier and, uncharacteristically, Feu Du Bois (I enjoy the ‘bonfire effect’ more as an atmosphere in winter than on skin), as well as several others, but they are not a passion. I can’t afford them, for a start, and would rather have a perfume. But there is also another reason why I am wary of using candles.
My third and final years of university were like heaven and hell – apt, seeing that I was specializing in Dante’s Divine Comedy, though I never actually read it, which was one of the reasons that my heavenly playboy year in Rome, the most carefree year of my entire life at 21, where I was happy for ten continual months (except for one afternoon, when I was bored and was staring at the wall), was followed by an inferno of insomnia, desperation and stress as I tried to catch up on all the work I had been supposed to be doing for my Finals, which were the singular most stressful experience I think I have ever had (I still frequently have nightmares about taking exams and have never had an iota of desire to return to education since: writing the book with a deadline from hell definitely brought a lot of that trauma back).
There was also a dreadful incident that first winter back in England. I was already in the doghouse with the Pembroke College authorities for having disturbed the peace with a big house party that was entirely against the rules – living with a bunch of stiffs day with their heads in their lawbooks day in and day out had really eventually got to me and I just wanted to blast out Madonna’s Erotica album and the rest of my record collection until the house shook and escape from the musty, academic cobwebs that continually threatened to asphyxiate my soul; I was continually putting the speakers on the windowledge and playing the soundtrack from Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula into the churchyard of St. Botolph’s below at night, creeping out all the local residents and the other students in the house; also, in very puerile fashion, playing a sound effects record in the day time (remember, George, if you are reading this?) – once making a person fall of their bicycle riding by as they thought they had been hit by a road blast (the party’s name was Gross Explosion). I had, in the mean time, been angrily called to the dean about all of this and asked sternly why I had not attended a single Italian grammar class all year (: : silence). I was definitely in trouble. The last thing I needed to do, then, was set my room on fire.
On the night in question, I was out with some friends getting fast food from Gardenias (easily the best burgers in town), talking and eating outside on the street with a bunch of people when Rachel, one of my friends and housemates from Rome, came up to me excitedly and asked what was happening at my house: was my room alright? didn’t I know about the fire? WHAT?!!
Running frantically through the streets back to the house in a panic I saw people with their heads down – pityingly – as I approached my college accommodation in fear ; mortified ;the partying pariah. Carrie, coming home.
You could smell the extinguished charred black smoke from outside. As I mounted the stairs gingerly to the second floor, looking around me I s aw that the walls of my room, and all my things, were entirely coated in pitch black. But – thank the lord – none of it was actually burned. I was lucky. The candle that I had been using on my mirrored mantelpiece that afternoon and evening hadn’t properly been extinguished somehow when I had tried to blow it out before heading out for the evening (probably a much needed respite from the relentless studying of miserable philosophy), and had simply then spent its evening purging itself in spirals of black smoke slowly and continually against the adjacent wall, until someone had finally looked up from their text books and alerted the fire department a couple of hours before I came back to face my shame. Somehow, I slept that night, drunk, with the windows wide open despite the cold, and when the housekeeper burst in furiously the following morning with threats of financial retribution and punishment from the university for my generally reckless behaviour (terrifying for an incomeless student) I lied on the spot that my father was a professional house decorator and that he could do it for far less. Cue my dad and a friend of his driving up to Cambridge a few days later in overalls acting like painters and doing it for a fraction of the cost of what they were demanding. I was extremely grateful (also immobile: I had somehow got a hernia during all of this and incurred even more wrath from the professors when I failed to turn up to my official dressing down “Sorry: I have an inguinal hernia”). My room painted back to its original colour, I got through the year, just about : candleless.
The road I lived on in my final year. My room is the one next to the photography shop – the flower window basket is where I put my speakers.
On the subject. : are you a candle person? Any recommendations? Have you ever experienced anything similar to the ridiculousness I have described here?
I do still like perfumes candles, but now I know the danger…..
Pineapples were thrust into the public limelight by Japanese comedian Pikotaro with his novelty single ‘Pineapple Pen’ in 2016, In perfume, the fruit was popularised earlier in Creed’s macho superhit Aventus (2010), which took quite an original accord of sharp and sweet, rasping pineapple blended with apple, dry birch and a whole load of other ingredients, creating a whole new modern and athletic trope for masculinity that differs from the classical fougère. Pineapple is definitely in.
Pineapple is my favourite fruit. I am sometimes known as Mr Pineapple at school I am seen eating it so often. I also collect them, buying a silver one recently from a silversmith in the centre of Phnom Penh. Well known as a panacea (a pineapple a day keeps the doctor away, as long it isn’t tinned or canned : I only eat it fresh), the acidic sweetness and tang as the ananas comosus sears through the body, tightening corpuscles and galvanizing the fruit brain – for me this is the best thing to eat in the evening between classes; all of my senses are revitalized : alert.
The problem with pineapple, delectable though it may be, is that it often makes what you eat afterwards taste horrible. Almonds become bitter and twisted; all savoury flavours are distorted. The saliva-changed chemical aftertaste stays: an acridity. This can also happen when pineapple is used in perfumery: although I enjoy it in the weird, green opening of the peculiar, jungle fresh lianas of the indolic floral Fleurs D’Ombre Jasmin Lilas by Jean Charles Brosseau; the plum pineapple lip gloss of Guy Laroche’s rich, discotastic Clandestine; in Rochas’ bizarre hazelnut pineapple Poupée, the note is distasteful and jarring combined with tuberose. Demeter’s Pina Colada is just ludicrous, like drunken amorous teenage vomit after a 15 year old girl’s birthday party, Histoires De Parfum’s 1804 (an unctuously pitch black scent filled with pineapple and patchouli) in the opening impression is suffocating, like being trapped in the hold of a tropical cargo ship in the dark, sweating next to the crates dressed neck to toe in a weighty velvet dress shivering with malaria. L’Artisan’s Ananas Fizz fizzles out too quickly; the same perfume house’s Deliria is a scream but I must be in the right mood for its eerie metallic vanilla (Other Pineapples: well, taking a look I see that Fragrantica has literally about a hundred pineapple-touched fragrances in its database,including Pineapple by D + G; Be Layered Insane Pineapple; Fruttini Pineapple Prosecco; Ganache Parfums’ Pineapple Daiquiri; Victoria’s Secret Pineapple Blast – which sounds like some kind of cathartic colonic irrigation, or else a horrifying trip to the bathroom after too many pineapple cocktails; Demeter Fragrance’s Hotkiss Girly Girl; Carol’s Daughter Mango Mélange, and Nina Ricci Les Monstres de Nina Ricci Luna; even Ricci have clambered aboard the Pineapple Express: Madame Ricci must be spinning in her tomb like a Hawaiian pizza).
One combination I would have never imagined pineapple working is in a balsamic, very replete, cow-dungy oud context. And yet for some reason, of Spirit Of Dubai’s sumptuous Discovery Set, Oud was the one I found myself setting aside for a future possible evening out. Though almost disgracefullyfilthy at first – I would never put this on in the environment I was going to, lest someone imagine I was suffering from dysentry, but at home an hour or so beforehand, just to be safe: on me, the crisp top accord of pineapple, lime, saffron and pine forms a good counterbalance to what smells like real, decaying essence of Indian agarwood underneath, smoothed with sandalwood, saffron and patchouli, the whole coalescing into a scent that has a certain noble noteworthiness (this also costs around 850 dollars for a full bottle).
Another very dressy and androgynous perfume, also expensive (but well constructed), is Orion by Tiziana Terenzi, always a full-bodied maker of baroquely ornate Italian, liquorous perfumery like the glinting and well regarded Oud Rose Gold, a house that usually does the proper head note to base chord progression of classical perfumery ( I will be reviewing Casanova on a later date), and lasts for hours on the skin. Orion is a very scintillant, peppery chypric wood patchouli with fresh top notes of pineapple, apple, red currant and birch (after Aventus, one presumes: this goes well on a man’s skin, quite intriguing), the gilded fruit opening effective and bracing with a lingering drydown that is quite stylish, with a curious sillage. In the coming winter months I can imagine reaching for this and seeing where the day takes me.
For a more eye-popping pineapple that would also work well as a flesh-baring evening perfume, if it just happens to work well on you personally (this is a very acquired taste that to me smells like ripe slices of pineapple placed next to a dark chocolate brownie in a clear plastic lunchbox), Pas Encore Nommé (‘not yet named), is a very original and attention grabbing scent with strange interior angles like 80’s architectural geometry, dense and vanillic sweet. If you like your pineapple up front, rather than fritillated on the edges, this is probably the pineapple to pick – although all three of today’s selections should not be oversprayed in the presence of true gagging pineapplephobes (I know at least two personally). Otherwise, I just say – VIVE L’ANANAS !
Me at home watching The Fury in our upstairs videotheque on Sunday, but how I actually FELT doing English interviews all day yesterday.
It is no secret that while most Japanese high school and university students are exceptionally adept at reading long, complex, nuanced and often extremely sophisticated reading passages, answering labyrinthine, finickety and ultimately pointless multiple choice questions about the contents therein, they are, on the whole, equally terrible at actually speaking the language – Japan ranks very low in global English proficiency, a deep-reaching psychological ‘complex’ about the tangible lack of fluency that it would be no exaggeration to say is practically a national trauma.
There are several reasons for this dire situation. One is that classes in Japanese schools are largely excessively teacher oriented without enough active practice of speaking the language : the students sit passively, copying information from the blackboard into their daily notebooks, focusing on the anally retentive minutiae of grammatical usage they are required to have extensive knowledge about for tests while not usually uttering a word of their own volitionexcept for repeating, parrot fashion, the drills of the teacher, who will quite often be speaking an English that is a very Japanese version of the language, with approximations of words rendered in the katakana syllabary (imagine reading a Spanish textbook in your own native accent without making the slightest effort to have the natural cadences and emphases of the language you are studying, rendering it almost incomprehensible to someone whose mother tongue is Spanish ): – a tragic misjudgment in linguistic pedagogy that more than often results in halting, torturous failure in miscommunication.
Do I exaggerate? Possibly, a little. But I don’t think so. Not really. Yes , there are plenty of people here who have gone the circuitous route of studying abroad or gone to extracurricular lessons at language conversation schools with native speakers or Japanese teachers who know what they are doing, but those regular students who have been agonizingly peristalsed through the full education system, (with only the odd ‘fun and games’ lessons with a peripatetic clown- like foreign assistant teacher and the extraordinarily tedious textbooks and ponderous reading passages as their knowledge of the language) could quite realistically graduate from university able to read and understand deep philosophy but not be able to answer the fundamental question : ‘’Where do you live?’
Do kids in the US leave school actually fluent in spoken Spanish? Can my friends and family back in the UK all speak French convincingly even though they studied it at school for several years ? They cannot. So the problem is certainly not limited to Japan ( and let’s face it; I have not even come close to attempt mastering Japanese, so should I even be having this conversation?) In my case, though, thinking of myself as the same age as the kids I was talking to yesterday: as a sincere and motivated young pupil, I was chomping at the bit to start learning French when I was 11 years old -a weirdo who asked for a French dictionary on his ninth birthday I was so intrigued by the idea of there being completely different ways of saying the same thing. I was obsessed. I was a ‘linguist’. I wanted to travel and be able to communicate. I was driven.
So, though, were the students, allegedly, who took yesterday’s practice interviews, though to enter a high school that specializes in English and an array of other languages : a deservedly respected institution that produces independent, self-confident, internationally minded students who are relaxed with non-Japanese and are enthusiastic about conversing in what sounds like ‘real English’. They still need work – I teach some of them for the university entrance exams, but it is certainly a good start for any person who wants to explore the liberal arts while also becoming conversant in at least two other languages besides Japanese. If I had been one of the interviewees yesterday ( who on this easy occasion KNEW ALL OF THE QUESTIONS IN ADVANCE), I would have prepared and memorized all of my answers at the very least, as well as jazzing up my English conversation ability in general : practicing various phrases, learning useful vocabulary, ready to look into the cold green eyes ( no, I was doing my very best to encourage the huddled nervousnesses that sat before me and was definitely one of the friendliest of the examiners ) of the English teacher from England before them, asking: , ‘so why do you want to come to this school?’
Whether it was coronavirus blues; inept and incompetent school and cram school English teachers, a particularly lazy or untalented batch of applicants, or whether they have just unfortunately fallen prey to the generally insular, nativist tendencies that have crept across this nation like cold underground plant tendrils in recent years as Japan has become more isolated again, with ever fewer young people studying abroad, a phobia of the foreigner despite the postponed Olympics – whatever the causes, the general level of English ability on display yesterday – whether they were there in person or attending on Zoom – was quite atrocious. Embarrassing. . And exasperating. For once I was actually glad to be wearing a mask.
Usually, when I went back to England for the spring or summer holidays I would always have some perfume in my suitcase to hand out to my mother and friends. It was a tradition: get back to the familiar surroundings of my parents’ house, unpack, and hand out the goodies; vintage Chanel extraits, Jacomo Parfum Rare, old Guerlain bottles to decorate the bathroom. Before 9/11, I would also frequently send lavishly decorated packages in the post filled with perfume, CD compilations, letters, strange artefacts; but once the rules changed and prohibitions came into place, all that was over. It is strange to think that it is now impossible for me to do any of these things.
One perfume I randomly gifted my mum one summer in England was 24, Faubourg by Hermès, a smooth and lustrous creation by the brilliant Maurice Roucel (Iris Silver Mist; Tocade; Insolence); a very perfumey perfume in its homogenised richness and glamour, with no obvious stray notes or beginnings and endings, and which I have always quite liked for its flawless construction but never quite loved – to me there is an emotional opacity to this scent that can almost come across as mindless; even if that shielding quality – a dependable and semi-elegant armour – is exactly what probably makes the perfume so enduringly popular.
With its warm, salted ambergris and vanilla finish profused generously with deliberately controlled lashings of vetiver and tuberose/orange blossom over adult jasmine, this glowing and undoubtedly very sexy perfume is to me always reminiscent of that other inimitable glamourpuss of the previous decade, Giorgio by Giorgio Beverly Hills: just Francofied and given a more dignified makeover. It is distinctly wearable; versatile, and subtly, animally feminine in a way that most contemporary perfumes never achieve, although I find it personally slightly wearing if I am in too much regular contact with it ( I just can’t find any chinks of light). Still, this was a surprise hit for my mum, who garnered more compliments when wearing 24 Faubourg than almost any other perfume she wears – the hairdresser was all over it; others have commented on positively it as well, and it has now become part of her repertoire. I don’t know if I have ever smelled it on her, personally (she usually wears First or No 22 vintage parfum when they pick me up at the airport) but now I finally have another bottle that I found at an antiques store, which I will be hopefully taking back with me and giving to her, on some future, as yet unspecified date.
Habit Rouge, in my humble view, is one of the most unique and troubling scents of all time. It is one I own but find essentially unwearable – I use it instead to scent red velvet curtains and the like, once basing a whole party in Tokyo on this theme: all the scarlet velours banquettes sprayed copiously with this decadent and headily enigmatic smell, the guests all clad in dress code red…
A curiously ghostly creation, despite its supposedly manly credentials, this perfume, for me, is rather more like a melancholy, powdered octogenarian traipsing confusedly and crimsonly about his old mansion, down whispering, cobwebbed corridors; in long silk dressing gown and softly pressing pantouffles; in the cold, and spine -tingling, dead of night.
This house is probably haunted. A headspinning, olfactive evocation of long, wintery passages; old, stuffed, armoires; and crisp, freshly laundered sheets. But still: : :…
We booked for a fancy eight course French breakfast /lunch on Saturday morning at the Koga Residence – one of Kamakura’s three ‘Official Western Buildings Of Interest’ (one of the few to withstand The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that destroyed almost everything in its wake) for D’s upcoming birthday, having seen it down a lane a couple of months ago after being unaware of its existence our entire time living here, feeling like celebrating in style, just to try something different.
Perfume-wise, we both wanted to try something new that we had never worn before. To mark the occasion, D opted for French Cuffs by Pink MahogHany, a very elegant boisé animalic tobacco by perfumer Chavalia Mwamba that is just on the perfect cusp of suggestiveness – the husky smoke breath of the rich pipe tobacco melded with woods and what smells like vetiver inverting the usual scent pyramid so that you get a full, rich, but mellow and unobtrusive base accord on first spray, very suitable for the environment we were in (an interesting mix of people, from old couples to close friends gathering for their own special events, all apparently getting happily wasted in the a/m with the generous wine-tasting option which paired wines, poured with a generous elbow, for each of the chi-chi courses that were delivered and given overly lengthy explanations by the gusto staff; some of these old girls sipping their seventh glass of rosé could definitely drink us under the table while still keeping their dignified chops – just I did see the odd wobble and hesitant step on the way to and back from the bathroom). French Cuffs, though is an excellent, and really quite erotic scent ( I feel slightly restless just thinking about it again) with lost Cuban memories of Molinard Habanita, nicely balanced, even if the end accord is not quite as exciting as its beginning (just an attenuation of the first). This is a definitely a scent though with an emotional pull and core of soft gravitas that is gentlemanly – but definitely a living gentleman with a libido.
For myself, rushing to get ready in the morning after a really exhausting and hard week at work, my eyes barely open as I showered and tried to spruce up for the overly rich food ahead (Japanese French is never our favourite: just a once in a blue moon kind of thing as you are always deluged with a whole fine array of luxuriantly appointed lipids; foie gras and conger eel, beef cooked half rare, duck fat drenched pumpkin mochi, all kinds of lovingly prepared dishes followed of course with even richer dessert; for us there was almost an amusing sense of dread of what the hell was coming next; for me the joy is experiential more than gastronomic ). I had been trying, frantically, to find the sample of the Gent, also by Pink MahogHany, which is a curious, milky-fresh creation that felt very talcum decadent and obliviously nonchalant in the manner of Caron Royal Bain De Champagne, or Creed’s regretted Acier Aluminium (1973) that would have been ideal to grace my own person but I simply couldn’t find it in our chaotic perfume/ bedroom chamber that was in a hell of a mess but which we didn’t have time to tidy up. Instead, I decided on a last minute duo of Guerlain Habit Rouge on the body (that long-neglected perfume had come floating up into my consciousness the night before), and a few spritzes of Fedora on the wrists and hair, a tight, mint-fresh tea citrus cologne (lovers of Herba Fresca should definitely try this one) that felt perfect as I left the house under my umbrella in the light mists of rain and got into the taxi, the always strange soft contradictions of the Guerlain highlighting the herbaceous gracefulness of the Fedora.
Photos of the Koga Residence and the antique shop we went to after to get a birthday present (The Boy) by D himself.
I have never liked the brand Ralph Lauren. In its prim Russo-Anglophilic conservatism and elitist, traditionalist log-by-the-fire Ivy Leagueness, there has always been something extraordinarily unimaginative for me that appeals on no level. When the flagship store in Kamakura closed down in the nineties, with its hideous fixtures and furniture and house stylings and plaid skirts and blazers, (to be taken over by a bank) I was strangely relieved. I didn’t want to see it. I don’t really like horses either.
The perfumes by the company are also dire (if perennially uberpopular. While I have a grudging respect for the artful engineering of the original Polo and do definitely consider it a masculine ‘classic’, I don’t have any love for it personally. As for the rest, I can understand why people like them – athletic; strong; ‘fresh‘ etc – even if the original Safari For Men made me want to actually commit murder – but it is an aesthetic that to me will remain forever alien.
The original perfume from Ralph Lauren, however – ‘Lauren’, by perfumer Bernard Chant, the author of Cabochard, Aramis, Aromatics Elixir but also the quintessentially clean and ultra-American Antonia’s Flower range (which I strangely like), is an exception to my rule. I am ill-advisedly wearing this today, imagining recklessly that I can somehow pull it off – I can’t – but I saw the vintage parfum bottle I have earlier in my collection and couldn’t resist having a bath and then applying it in droves.
Lauren is a fresh green floral of its era that is gorgeously crisp: lovers of perfume on Fragrantica and other websites talk of how girls with long hair in the seventies would be wearing this perfume drifting (or Love’s Baby Soft, or Cacharel’s Anaïs Anaïs), floating musk down the air waves of summer high school corridors – shampoo clean and inviting (in the top accord, marigold/tagetes, the smell of a bright new day and one of my favourite notes in perfumery; broom, blackcurrant, cantaloupe melon; green leaves and citrus for strictness, a touch of herbaceous thyme…………..while a delicately floral (rose, jasmine and ylang ylang) heart covers a subtly woody, musk base of cedar wood, sandalwood and oakmoss that remains carefully defined, not animalic. The perfume is not hypnotic, or erotic, even, in and of itself, but in the vintage pre-formulation I own (changed beyond recognition and not really worth bothering with now), in its steadfast belief in the powers of goodness and freshly showered femininity, this creation has all the boy-crazyingly seductive power of a Brian De Palma heroine.