Three weeks ago, on the last day of term, D travelled up with me to the city of Atsugi. We checked into a hotel there, met after work at our favourite Indian restaurant that caters almost exclusively to the diaspora and feels like a vacation in itself, and wandered the streets. Now that travel is off, it is fascinating to explore deeper in places you already know: Atsugi is a fully non-picturesque place and emphatically non-touristic, but it has a special energy that is more down to earth (home, uncoincidentally, to yakuza and other gangsters: the teenagers shout louder, are slouchier, very un-Tokyo; there is a certain buoyancy and don’t-give-a-fuckness that is refreshing, plus a hilarious novelty in the fact that we were staying there for the first two days of the summer holiday.)
It was roiling hot; absurd. I needed perfumes that would meet the time, something fresh and invigorating for the morning, maybe a more sensual scent for when the sun went down. I had my Discovery Box of J F Schwarzlose perfumes with me, having noted already previously that they were all very unfussy and bright, with an energy and newness that felt perfect for exploring the backstreets of a city somewhere in the depths of Kanagawa, far away from the stricter fashionisms of Yokohama, Ginza, Shibuya, and Shinjuku.
Berlin is a city we spent several summers a decade ago and both miss : the artistic anarchy meets elegance; the underground, permissive hedonism and messy, diverse, beautiful people and architecture. The original Schwarzlose parfums from the 1920’s would have been entirely different one presumes, suited to the powdery and floral musky times before the horrors of fascism rose up once again and smashed it all into nothing.
Resurrected recently as a new embodiment of current Berlin, smelling the range as a whole you can easily imagine a flock of young new things meeting on a street corner in Kreuzberg, each wearing one of these niche-ish but approachable modern scents that would fill the air with a sense of the fun of the evening ahead. Rather than overthought and overagonized fragrances (not haute parfumerie; more like pleasing pret a porter); these are the kind of scents that if you were staying in the city and stumbled across a boutique, you would probably just sniff and walk away unthinkingly with a bottle or two for the immediate appeal. I loved IA-33 immediately.
From the brand:
‘In the 50s 1A-33 was the decade-long bestseller of the traditional Berlin perfume brand. In addition to the perfume, there was a large range of soaps and powders of 1A-33. And even today the extraordinary fragrance formula of the noble perfume convinces with the lovely lime-tree blossom, magnolia and jasmine in the heart notes and the fresh top notes of mandarin and spicy pink pepper. The lime-tree blossom extract symbolizes the famous “Berliner Luft”; the air of Berlin, which swings around the beautiful boulevard of Unter den Linden in the middle of the city – but not only that makes 1A-33 a Berlin scent: The name of the fragrance itself embodies the German capital. It is based on the former license plate on Berlin cars. 1A stands for Berlin, the number 33 for the company’s location in the district of Moabit.‘
I tend to struggle with linden/ lime blossom notes in perfume, much as am mesmerized by the smell of the flowers themselves on the breeze; a sickly-dreamy scent, almost hops-like, that drugs you into a fantasy on a hot summer’s afternoon. I do love how Olivia Giacobetti used linden, however, in her well-loved La Chasse Aux Papillons for L’Artisan Parfumeur, with tuberose and orange flower, which this lovely reminds me of a little: 1A-33 doesn’t share the ‘French flair’ in that scent but it is similarly joyous and exuberant. In fact, although the base accord can’t live up to the opening (just an attenuated version of the beginning, slightly woody, a little boring), the top notes of this perfume are to die for, the mandarin and linden-jasmine a burst of pure optimism that smells more like neroli and is a scent option I absolutely need in my life.. It was the perfect scent to come down to breakfast in at the hotel, showered, ‘yey it’s the summer holidays!’ before meandering randomly through the city until we ended up having ‘Crap River Date Vol. 3’ down by the Sagami river, which in truth, though thoroughly nondescript in many ways, we had to ourself, sittingt under a wisteria tree, blissfully happy, feeling extraordinarily cinematic.
The other perfume I would like a full bottle of from Schwarzlose and which I wore out the previous evening successfully is Treffpunkt um 8 Uhr (‘Rendezvous at 8 o ‘clock ): a rasping vetiver masquerading as a mangotastic floral that gradually cedes to the aforementioned vetiver but with a glass ceiling of powderiness to preserve a more conciliatory texture.
“ In the golden twenties of Berlin it symbolized the legendary Berlin nights, in which the international art scene came together. Celebrities, such as Marlene Dietrich or Josephine Baker, were well-received guests in the clubs of the city and contributed to the glitz and glamour of the scene. Treffpunkt 8 Uhr was considered a sporty men’s fragrance at that time. But that did not stop the famous French dancer and actress Josephine Baker from wearing it. Today the fragrance is officially a unisex perfume and convinces with the fresh ginger and mango chord in the top note and the seductive vetiver heart in the base note. There’s no better olfaction translation for the anticipation of a date that is hinted in the name of the fragrance! “
Trying the other fragrances from Schwarzlose on the balcony one evening, Rausch (‘the ecstacy of a Berlin night’) didn’t do it for either of us simply because it is just another cypriol/oud/harsh ambered wood number that is probably perfectly well constructed but which I simply don’t want to smell any more; D took more to Leder 6, formerly known as Fetisch, which is a soft, supple sweet leather that is worth trying if you are a leatherhead looking for some new positions. On him it smelled quite nice, if undaunting (which, having seen some of the basement clubs in Berlin firsthand, is not necessarily an entirely bad thing).
Leather & Saffron Flower.
Milk & Vanilla Pure: Jungle Essence™.
Incense essence & Styrax resinoid.
More obviously ‘clubby’ and bright is Altruist, which Schwarzlose rather awkwardly describes as a perfume for ‘feminists, cyborgs and survivors’ but which for me is more simply a contemporary twist on the 90’s gay club freshies like Armani Acqua Di Gio Pour Homme (but better). Winner of the 2017 Art & Olfaction award for best independent perfume, this club cologne is very zingy and zesty (bergamot, lemon, ‘aqual’, ‘Ginger Pure Jungle Essence’, nutmeg, Rose superessence, vetiver, cedarwood and ambramone – and much more) : sprayed on a t-shirt before going out I would not contradict the idea that this perfume has’ transparency, imagination and contrast’, despite its dancefloor familiarity.
And speaking of the dancefloor – definitely one of the joys of being in Berlin, which lives for techno and electronic music (we have had some fantastic nights out there), the company also has two disco roses that are quite nice and would smell great on a newbie who is debuting on the club scene. 20/20 is a modern rose patchouli you have smelled before but which is well-balanced, convincing – she whispers, shouts in your ear over the belting music, cradling her cocktail with black nails; you look her straight into the eyes (this perfume would probably draw you in).
‘20I20 celebrates the centennial of Berlin’s ‘Roaring, Golden 1920s’ – a legendary era of glam, excess and irreverence – internationally known as “The Roaring 1920’s”. The formula of 20I20 is a contemporary interpretation of the theme: A burst of floral, fruity sweetness mingles with spicy patchouli and cool freshness of rose and geranium – 1920’s glamour reissued for the new Twenties and today’s fragrance lovers of generation X, Y & Z.The scent is a new interpretation of CHIC, Schwarzlose’s iconic 1920’s perfume, that was a sensation 100 years ago with its fine blend of patchouli and velvety sweetness. CHIC’s original formula was determined in an elaborate process from archived original bottles from the 1920s and interpreted in a modern way by J.F. Schwarzlose perfumer Véronique Nyberg (MANE). Tradition inspires creativity when 1920 meets 2020 – in Berlin, the place where anything goes.’
I think I prefer Trance, which smells like a freshly slapped arse; rose-cheeked powder, sensual, marred slightly by a generic Montale-ish ending, but potentially very sexy indeed – powdery with Turkish roses, spices, ciste absolute and absinth, for a slinky-dink winking night seraphim.
Atsugi was a great way to begin the summer holiday, maneuvering through a place you always work in but never get to properly circumnavigate and know better, its circuitry scribed into your brain scars with fresh spatial awareness until it becomes part of your own map. We like to wander down backstreets, take random roads : at one point, after we had finally left the dreaminess of the river and had discovered a delicious Indonesian restaurant where we had amazing turmeric ayam soup, we emerged out onto the main road leading back to the station into heat that was almost terrifying. It was like being baked alive, the sun too hot to withstand. I thought to myself about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how the prime August days were already roasting hot even before what was about to happen; we took a right, and to our astonishment, down some suburban road was a jazz bar, Mcarthur’s Garage, that we read opened two days after the Declaration of the End of the War on August 15th, 1945. It was closed, but fascinating to behold. A dip in time. We will be back.
We have had days at the beach, in Hayama and Kamakura. I swam and dived off rocks for the first time in five years, coming up from underwater so happy that I could do again what I could not before for so long because of my leg condition and operation: it felt amazing. On Sunday we went for the last time this summer holiday and D was wearing Nebbia Spessa, the ultimate ozonic/aquatic from Filippo Sorcinelli which is made for the sea and the sun on the beach (next year I might try Schwarzlose’s Zeitgeist, which would be absolute melon-hell for those who don’t like ozonics : a dazzling oceanic with a contrasting cuir base (Sexiness:
Amber Xtreme & Peru Balsame, Calone & Algae Absolue ; Changeability:
A faceted musk complex – Nebulone and Edelonide; Avantgarde:
Leatherwood). It is a curiously compelling summer perfume, that reminded me a little of Montale’s Sandflowers; just meant for sandblasts:
– sometimes these extraordinarily solar/aqua perfumes can be brilliant on the hottest of days even if they are not my own familiar territory (I would have to be feeling very bold to wear this, but I can imagine it happening). I just know that I love summer, and anything that reminds me of it, and though this was the Summer of 2020, of viral contagion in masks, with almost no socializing, or travelling, at least not to far away places, everybody distanced – but still out and about and enjoying themselves; (generally speaking Japan has found a good balance; social co-operation with the natural consumerist hedonism of the nation (yes, really – the people can not be kept down for long: all of the beaches were officially closed but you would never have known when we went, even if people were not packed together like idiots for the sake of defiance like in many other places)).
The Yokohama Museum Of Modern Art had a lot of virus safety protocols in place for its Triennale, a three-yearly big art event that marvellously, this year D was also featured in (as part of an installation piece by Australian artist Ellena Knox). While the main building of the museum was slightly too frigid both in terms of its relentless air-conditioning and the froideur of the staff – but at least corona-sensible – Plot 48, another building near the port area where D was featured, was far more conducive from many angles: we saw him on the screen as soon as we walked into the space, which was thrilling for me, and very much for him too (I have seen Warhol exhibitions, Yayoi Kusama, many artists in that gallery, and to see D in the same space was amazing – great for his Art CV and our pluralist Double Lives – being watched daily twirling and untwirling in thread, by hundreds of people). We wandered out blissfully afterwards into unknown backyards of Yokohama, and down through Sakuragicho and Kannai, our usual watering grounds, just traipsing in the sun, not thinking, stopping for beers in new (old) izakaya, browsing through bric-a-brac in a lazy, happy world of our own.
It’s now September, though. Tomorrow: back to school.