Monthly Archives: March 2021

‘A bit like the minty chewing gum breath of a cowboy as he rakes out a horse stall…..ZEYBEK + BATTANIYE by PEKJI (2015) + CUIR GALAMANTE by PARFUMS MDCI (2013) + SHUKRAN by MEO FUSCIUNI (2017)

Today, though – we are going out – I have selected for him the amazing Cuir Garamante by MDCI, a perfume that I have not properly tried before : underwhelming but very gentle and full in its virility, this is a powdery balsamic sandalwood with a touch of oud and labnamum that has the most beautiful sillage. Quietly elegant – with a hint of sweat.


Filed under Flowers

smell of spring

The delicate new cherry blossom is out now on the trees but it is not really doing anything for me. I prefer the clusters of rich flowers in magenta, white and luscious pink in vast eiderdowns of canopies in Ueno Park and along the river in Meguro, where my parents and I once turned a corner onto the sheer gaspworthy splendour of the scene, our eyes brimming with tears the beauty was so immediate; crowds all in photo-snapping jubilation, by the thousand.

That was several years ago. Today we were out in Kamakura on a grey humid day; the sea and the sakura drab, uninviting. But I was stopped in my tracks by the woozy, rich drowsy scent of these flowers, heavy with pollen, and an almost hops-like new fecundity that drew me in on the side of the road to smell them up close.

Were they linden/ tilleul/ lime blossom? A not dissimilar fragrance. But then I noticed the shape of the leaves and broke one off to smell it – ah yes, bay laurel. Bay blossoms. I didn’t know such a thing existed. But the uprush of feeling – that heart searing adrenaline of early spring – took me back to the pained ecstasy of my university days, when I was always escaping the headfuck of academia and everything else by breaking into the secret college gardens that you weren’t meant to go into; deeply inhaling the piercing air and sweet heartbreak of the almond blossom; hawthorn, and mock orange.


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This time four years ago I was lying in a hospital bed unable to walk after leg surgery. If you had told me that not far down the line I would have a book on perfume coming out in a Chinese edition (‘The Perfume Bible’ I think it is called – any elucidation on that point by readers appreciated), I would have said you were insane.

Published by Dook Books in April, ordinarily, for such a major occasion, we would undoubtedly have been flying out to Shanghai, where the publisher is based and where a very good friend of ours lives, partying down the Bund after a launch party and lounge lizarding is jazz bars in one of the Art Deco buildings, gladly led round the glittering neon metropolis, blurrily drinking liquor in celebration. As it is, instead, we had a grand Chinese meal (my very favourite food) at an almost empty restaurant in Kamakura, looking out onto the the cherry blossoms and the young women in kimono doing early flower viewing.

I am really excited.


Filed under Flowers

coffee and corona

I love coffee, and cannot live without it. One thing I do find vexing and baffling though to say the least, is this ultra-familiar scene here in Japan : people studiously walking along the streets in masks – almost one hundred per cent of the population wear them, even outside ( not legally bound but through mutual social pressure ), only to pile into cafes and coffee shops where they gamely attempt to keep on their facial prophylactics as much as possible, except when eating, drinking, smoking, talking…

Every day I walk past these hot beds of infection that have no doors or windows open, no social distancing : at Starbucks, people who would never ordinarily sit this close even to their own next of kin at home are packed in cheek by jowl right adjacent to or opposite each other, sometimes with paltry little plastic screens semi -separating them that don’t do anything. – and I just look on from the outside in dismay.

Why would you even bother ? It’s not even aesthetically / atmospherically pleasing — just commercialised brainwashing.recycled’ insanity

Can the virus not get its way round these little ‘booths’?

I just can’t understand it.

I know that people crave normality, and that coffee is delicious and essential and that people want to socialize, but this is a pandemic FFS.

look at this bullshit !

Very sparse compared to what you often see; this was just me today – still not entirely well – doing replacement lessons and randomly snapping past windows on my way… yet look how close people actually are to each other: in the back left hand corner all crammed in together …….god knows what it is like in the heart of Tokyo…

Why does coffee make people live their rationality at the door?

It may be true that Japan has had a relatively easy time of it compared to the US, which has three times the population but about fifty times the number of dead. The UK and Brazil’s figures are equally disgraceful and traumatizing. But in Asia, last time I checked, Japan had more coronavirus deaths than Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, and possibly several other countries COMBINED. Taiwan, also an island, has a population of 26,000,000 and 10 deaths. Japan has five times the number of people but 900 times more dead, and it’s going up…

Safety is so lax. We are not due a vaccine for several months as the wimp of a government is pussyfooting around dillying and dallying. We are only – one year into the crisis – just getting air purifiers for each of our classrooms ( I am writing this in my room with no windows). Life is essentially ‘normal’ – restaurants just closing earlier – otherwise nothing has changed except for the generalised maskhood but today, when I darted into the Doutor chain to get my favourite take-out tuna melt and caffe latte I was so overwhelmed by the sheer stale STUFFINESS of the air inside and epidemiological stupidity and complete lack of common sense I baled within seconds.

In the present circumstances, wouldn’t it be a lot better just to have your coffee at home ?


Filed under Flowers


The Black Narcissus

(Guest post by Duncan)

Our meanderings around the lively entertainment district of Isezakicho in Yokohama – a long pedestrianised shopping street which leads from the historical portside town of Kannai south-westerly to the seamy Bandobashi and Koganecho neighbourhoods – often yield fabulous scent bargains, and yesterday was no exception, with Ginza bagging a rare bottle of Must de Cartier II Eau Fraiche!

In the summer, we often wait until mid afternoon to head out and we have a regular route in Isezakicho, which takes in a motley medley of junk shops, recycle boutiques, secondhand bookstores, bygone kissaten (old fashioned cafes serving industrial-strength German roast kohi), an art cinema (called Jack and Betty), and restaurants (Isezakicho is Yokohama’s Asian quarter and the best place to eat Thai and Vietnamese nosh). It’s a fascinating mishmash of trashy (bling hip hop gear, knockoff perfumes, hostess heels and lurid flounciness), highstreet bargain basements…

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Filed under Flowers


“I only love wild roses”. – Mathilde Laurent.

For the new Cartier releases – Les Épures de Rose (looking up the french word épure just now, I find the English translation is also …..’epure’ – definitely a new word for me: apparently it means ‘sketch’; detailed draught or model), Cartier perfumer Mathilde Laurent, who, according to the house “hates the archetype of the rose – an emblem of femininity withered before it blooms” and “longs to return to it its true nature” has obviously sat down with a bowl of roses before her and reconsidered the queen of flowers’ public image.

I like all three.

L’Heure Osée, the ‘dared hour’, for Les Heures De Parfum collection, is billed by Cartier as a ‘punk rose’. No notes are given with the slender miniature long vials I have just received in the mail with the signature dark red Cartier boxes, but the top notes do smell like youthful bubblegum and banana, before ceding to a sexy, white-musk rose twinked with citruses that reminds me of some early Rosines and has quite a nice bravado in its step: very French teenage girl with attitude chewing gum feigning nonchalance. Not quite my image of punk. But great for a clean summer’s day.

Oud & Pink …… not what you think.

Described as ‘a shocking and androgynous rose in a tuxedo’ I must admit that I remain unflabbergasted – but quite pleased – as I smell this interesting, more adult, dry chypre I can imagine quickly gaining a lot of fans. I detect patchouli alongside a de-ouded oud and sensually pink rose curved with animalic undertones that doesn’t condescend to the consumer : I was recently re-smelling Mona Di Oiro’s Myrrh Casati, and there are similarities in the perfumes’ atmosphere – slyly assertive, great for post-Covid board meetings – even if the Cartier is the fuller of the two. Flashes of fresher rose extracts shine through intermittently, a rose perfume with a slightly devious, contemporary demeanour.

The bottle itself might be a touch too Avon Lady for me personally, but Pure Rose – a ‘naked rose’ – the most traditional of the three new offerings – is in the same mould as Annick Goutal’s Rose Absolue; very dewy, very fresh and watery orchestral – like a rose from the garden. Clear and optimistic – which is what we need right now; simple, and prettily convincing (though I still always maintain that there is nothing like a rose on the stem). I don’t know if I could ever convincingly carry this one off myself, but like my Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose, which I like to sometimes use as a ‘top up’ for other perfumes when I meet up with friends and ‘suddenly’ fancy a rose twist at the first moment of rendezvous, I can imagine keeping this in my pocket, and at the last moment, surprising them…… and perhaps even myself.


Filed under Flowers


It’s almost impossible to think back to a time when you could wander around a city maskless thronged with shoppers and go perfume hunting; spend the day going back and forth, stopping for coffee or cocktails, excitedly taking scent strips from your bags and pockets, forming ideas about which ones you think you might need. I can’t even fantasize about this now as the threat of others’ breath has contaminated the pleasure. It will take a long time to detraumatize. Many people reading this might not even have been outside their living quarters for a year, or if they have, only for essentials – not indulgent luxuries. Others might have ventured into town and experienced the semi-pointless and awkward rigmarole of trying to lower your mask to insert a scent blotter into the papered contraption for nasal perusal while carefully not exposing another to your asymptomatic killer virus and sort of sniffing it but not really enjoying it because perfume is not something to be done in half measures.

Some of my best ever perfume shopping experiences have been in Paris. I went with Helen for one trip, and another with Duncan, and it was bliss. Just wandering about down the avenues on your way to the next destination down this street or other, mentally calculating your rapidly dwindling finances and wondering which ones you will be able to take home. Back at the hotel, excitedly taking out your purchases and hoping you won’t spill them before you even get on the plane. There is nothing else quite like it – Caron, Serge Lutens at the Palais Royal, Guerlain on the Champs Elysées; Montale, Maitre Parfumeur Et Gantier, so many possibilities; rather than the standardised department store with its made-for strip lighting concessions and the encircling assistants in their false eyelashes and sallow jaundiced foundation, you are in beautiful old buildings, boutiques with restaurants and bistros you can pop over the road to when you need sustenance. If there again I would dart into Dusita to experience the perfumes in their home environment and have some tea with the owner; make my way to the Nose Boutique, Sens Unique, Parfums de Nicolaï as well as the gallery of niche that is Jovoy (I love places you can step outside like this to get fresh air and come to your senses, relocate your brain and nose rather than the interminable escalators and artificial fluorescence of Harrods or Selfridges and Galleries Lafayette / Printemps where the claustrophobe in me is often worse for wear).

I like to enjoy it, take my time.

Now I am on spring break at home, I am trying to declutter the shambolic living circumstances we have been living in for far too long by rearranging my perfume bottles bit by bit and trying old samples that have somehow escaped my attention. I know I liked Jovoy’s 60’s musked patchouli Psychedelique enough to include it in my book, along with the excellent La Liturgie Des Heures, (which I think might be my favourite ever frankincense. Really lovely). The final part of this 2011 trilogy by perfumer Jacques Flori that I had semi-neglected is L’Enfant Terrible, a rich, warm, and woody spice balsamic very redolent of Feminité Du Bois (Virgina cedar and sandalwood melded with dates and a deliciously spicy, almost medicinal, initial accord of nutmeg, caraway, coriander and orange). I don’t know if the base is as perfect as the original Shiseido in extrait, but the beginning is better in my book than the current version of Bois. I really like this as a late winter bloomer before the hot weather kicks in, and Cocteau’s novel ‘Les Enfants Terrible’ from 1929 was one of the first works I ever read in French : I have always loved his generally surrealistically elegant aesthetic. The Jovoy range also features a perfume based on Sartre’s existentialist play Les Jeux Sont Faits as well as 27 others I have never smelled. Have you? My curiosity is re-piqued. Plus, my sense of humour is naturally drawn towards any perfume called ‘Diplomatic Incident’.


Filed under Flowers


Am I manly enough?

AIM : : : : : Wear Christian Dior’s blockbuster. Better understand it with an open mind.

Try and objectively enter the headspace of the millions and millions of people who are still flocking to get their hands on this modern megalith.

METHOLOGY : : : : : : : Physically wear the eau de toilette on own skin.

CONCLUSION : : : : : Foregone.

Christian Dior’s ultra-successful Sauvage, launched in 2015, is now the top selling perfume in the UK. This includes all perfumes targeted at women, despite the fact that men’s fragrances usually sell only 50% as many bottles. In other words, we are talking about an absolute and phenomenal smash hit for the creation by Patrick Demachy for the Parisian house of Dior, which must be ringing its tills in continual delight at what is a cosmetics industry Sensation. It is not easy to get to the top of the Scent Charts: it took Chanel Coco Mademoiselle and other perfumes several years, but Sauvage quickly achieved global domination. Once the bars and clubs re-open across the land, as they hopefully will soon now that the vaccination program has already successfully inoculated half the population, you will undoubtedly be able to smell the fresh and husky tones of this granite-jawed archetype devouring the air around you: all the characteristics of the fresh active fougère, honed down to one suave, and insistent accord, every time you turn a corner – where somewhere, someone holding their drink in their hand will find themselves once again gravitating, helplessly, towards its testosterone pull.

Noticing the other day that I had a sample of this perfume in my possession – meaning that soap and a tap were nearby if necessary and I knew that they would be – I decided, on a whim, to brave the waters. I think I may have unfairly demonized this perfume in the past, made it a scapegoat, and that isn’t fair if you have never even tried the damn thing. I am absolutely, unquestionably, not the target audience for this product – I am sure all of this goes without saying – but in the spirit of knowledge ( = power ) I do approach my dark blue vial with trepidation, and just a tiny bit of excitement.

My first, pleasantly surprised impression, is that Sauvage is clearly of high quality. I had mistakenly assumed this was just one long hiss of hand grenade aroma chemical, but in fact, with the fresh top accord of Calabrian bergamot, two kinds of pepper and lavender/geranium -with labdanum underneath recreating the classical fougère template, Sauvage is actually much graver and more dignified – even elegant, in some ways – than I had been anticipating. Combined with the hum of ambroxan, cedar and patchouli in the soon-coming base, in sum total, you have a pared down, minimalist take on the standard usual male genre (which sometimes pours in the entire kitchen sink but ends up the same anyway); suavely economical; a ‘man of few words’ : a no-nonsense, jack-of-all-trades piece of manhood decked out in business suit.

It is very easy to see the attraction to this scent: it has a harmony. An in-built integrity, planed by the ages. If you are in that rigorous and there-on-a-plate kind of mood, like the fougères of yore, Sauvage has an immediate and graspable appeal. The scent could hardly smell more familiar if it tried, all of the classic ingredients condensed into a single, perfected trope of such smoothness and universality it smells like the entire male population of the world in one bottle – or at least the boys, and the men, who willingly allow themselves to be so designated.

While the opening accord of Sauvage may have been a somewhat pleasant surprise to me, not dissimilar to others of the type such as YSL’s more enjoyable Rive Gauche Pour Homme from 2003 (which was equally unoriginal but had a verve and a sting to it that I preferred, and that made you look up as someone walked past), and Eau De Berlin by Harry Lehmann, which D occasionally wears, I have to admit that the main theme of Sauvage, – when the dreaded businessmmen-taking-a shit-at Birmingham-airport-toilets-before-a-Europe-bound-flight-early-in-the-morning smell – a sewer of stewed coffee and bad breakfast and overstrung Axe deodorants, shaving creams, and aftershaves and domestic arguments and stifling aggressions such as this one commingling with natural body products being evacuated and the smell of yawns and of repetition and of dressing to measure and the sheer painful carapace of being a man produce a smell of such misery it plunges me automatically into despair : this, also, as I surveyed it on the back of my hand, made me feel quite numb with depression, with an angering boredom that knows no end; a blindness; a sense of ‘no way out’, of stunted possibilities, of the offices I sometimes temped in, of total cul-de-sac.

In short, as could probably have been predicted right from the beginning of this futile experiment, despite my attempts to be open minded, this definitely acts as some kind of ‘trigger’ for me. I know ‘triggering’ is a contentious issue – and can sometimes in my view go too far – but this blueprint of what a man should smell like, I don’t know…………..even just smelling Sauvage on the scent strip in front of me now at my desk as I write this – does something to me that goes beyond olfaction. It is the trauma of childhood and pubescence and having ‘manhood’ paraded in front of you by adults; in the school playground, at the scouts, at part time jobs in offices, at the soccer stadium, in the changing rooms during P.E, all the aromas and the language and the joshing and the ribbing and the puffing out of chests and the swaggering of shoulders and the dick grabbing and showing off: it was like communicating with aliens; idiots; I was simply never able to properly engage in this casual, never reveal-any-real-emotion grandstanding and bullshitting and play fighting or real fighting and ‘practical jokes’ that the male of the species is supposed to engage in – it was all immeasurably tedious, so exhausting to the spirit. It may have been painful to feel outside of it all, that I was a freak, but I just simply had to keep all of it at bay and revel in Kate Bush and Debussy for self-preservation. D was the same: absolutely no interest whatsoever. He just painted at his easel in the garden. We were estranged from our surroundings. And it was much better to just read a book and keep your head down and hope it would get better in the future. Which it absolutely did. Thank god. Because otherwise I could not have lived in the world. Today you would call all of that ‘toxic masculinity’, I suppose: I am not sure how apt that expression is – to me it was just exasperatingly dull- but because I was naturally blessed with such a strong personality from birth and had so much exuberance it could not be contained, I was never bullied – I was one of the lucky ones;friends with everyone around me up to a certain point, keeping my small handful of close confidants to myself and then expanding into real communication once at sixth form and university, when such nonsense was so much further away in the distance and could be avoided, except for the times when I had to enter a ‘business environment’ for summer jobs when it all, and smells like this, came rushing back. Although I think I look good in one, a business suit has always to me felt like something of a costume.

At home, my father always had the good taste to never wear any of the dreaded fougères, though I am not sure if he chose them himself or my mother did. However these potions were selected though, they were like liquid manna from heaven. It would not have gone down well – you can be sure that there would have been some ‘accidental spillages’ otherwise – as I had something akin to an extreme mental allergic reaction to these smells that I didn’t hesitate to express out loud. Certain aftershaves – particularly YSL Jazz, Van Cleef & Arpels Tsar, Ralph Lauren Safari for Men and Dunhill Edition, which formed the Hall Of Unforgivable Evil, were, like Charleton Heston, who I developed a bizarre and intense phobia of, having to leave the room if he ever appeared on TV (when I saw him later on a clip at a National Rifle Association convention clutching his machine gun above his head and intoning again like Moses on the mount it all made sense): like that man, these smells seemed to encapsulate everything I detested in life at the time with every fibre of my body. Being gay, and supersensitive, being ‘closeted’ (such bullshit!) against my will , was very difficult, and these loathsome smells you couldn’t escape if you went out clubbing or even just in school, just felt like a Chernobyl of twisted masculine oppression that existed purely to sicken my spirit. I was never anything other than happy being male myself (whatever that means); it was just that version of maleness with all its inbuilt shortcomings that I found so deeply offensive to my own personal sensibilities, like being a young gazelle forced into the horned and leathery hide of an old rhinoceros. The scents that were there in our house – Eau Sauvage, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Givenchy Gentleman, Paco RAbanne, Quorum, Old Spice, and Kouros were so much more complex and multifaceted than the inherent suppressed violence of the typical fougère; that bitter-breathed ‘adult male’ breathing acridly down your neck, and I wore most of them as well as surreptitiously trying on some of my mother’s – No 19, Ô De Lancome, Ysatis, Samsara, hugely enjoying the burgeoning sense of self I would experience when wearing them on school days. When out toiletry shopping I learned to assiduously avoid ‘that smell‘ (at that time I had no idea it was called a fougère), which always featured ubiquitously and inevitably not only in the aforementioned classic minions of the type but which were all inescapably diffused down into every shaving cream, underarm stick, talc, hair cream…… the haircuts available in North Korea there were only a few very limited options – a stinking whole universe of products for men impregnated with that awful road to nowhere: usually some decorum on the surface but always ready to resort to the fist, the hell of prescribed male behaviour that probably prevails from Toronto to Timbuktu. (Mercifully, Japan has never been prey to the fougère).

The base accord of Sauvage, less-all consuming (thank god I only sprayed the most microscopic amount possible from the tester) allowed me, after some difficult moments – and I will admit I washed off the main theme after a while to speed up the experiment – to eventually get away from all these negative sensations a little: some of the mindlessness began to gratefully dissipate , and the Sichuan and other peppers as well as the lavender all come back more clearly into focus: at this stage I felt some similarities here with Comme Des Garçons excellent, if over-persistent, Black Pepper and didn’t feel so besieged. Here we can also see that despite its mainstream magnetism, to its credit, the Dior perfume is no cheap video nasty. It is well made. They haven’t skimped on raw materials. It is just providing what everyone presumably wants (or has been conditioned to want). Like the Big Mac, or the Whopper With Cheese (I actually used to work at Burger king so I know what I am talking about), the gargantuan conglomerate is simply tapping right into the moulded id of its targeted consumers; this is obviously what ‘the men’ require to feel confident, and this is what their women want them to smell like, so kudos to the perfumer for creating such a capable money-earner for Dior ( who have a scent coming out in May that I vastly prefer : a floral marine that is quite dreamy and escapist) —- perhaps the income from these big cash cows keeps creativity alive in other areas, and I am fine with that. Each to their own (and, as I said, living here, I mercifully never have to smell this kind of perfume in Japan because although this country may be 122nd on the global gender equality index in terms of politics, working conditions and a whole other plethora of measurements in which women are subjugated to men – and this is obviously nothing to be proud of to say the least, it also emphatically does not have the same kind of bludgeoning machismo that is prevalent in so many other cultures; the streets are not violent: men approaching you, even in groups or apparent gangs, are not inherently threatening, there are no daily knife attacks, no shootings; no mugging ; there is a gentleness that I loved from the moment I got here. D does too. It’s a whole different ball game. Boys are far more physically affectionate with each other as school kids, people bathe together naked at hot springs from a young age, so there is not that angst ridden homophobia and mutual body terror:people are much more at ease in a bodily sense than they are in the west and this makes it less necessary to delineate your territory with strong and brash xy chromosome scent markers. Despite the high prevalence of bullying in schools(including for LGBT kids: I am never going to pretend Japan is a utopia), overall there seems to be less jibing and pressure to ‘act like a bloke’ ; the masculinity here, in a culture that is inexorably drawn to the ambiguous, far more natural ; less extreme; despite the ridiculous savagery of the work culture, less straitjacketed. I am pretty sure, therefore, that this smell could never achieve mass popularity here, as it represents something that is not appealing to the average person, male, or female, in the first place. Yes, Sauvage is promoted in department stores, and no doubt some young bucks do wear it, in certain social groups – maybe the pimps and the hostess bar owners who come out at night, I don’t know. But I doubt very much indeed that a smell like this would ever catch on to the terrifying extent that is has back in England. It is basically unimaginable. Because despite the easily perceived quality of ingredients, the capable scent construction, the canny success of the advertising campaign featuring Johnny Depp – also very popular in Japan – which has been phenomenally powerful in drawing customers in towards the fragrance; the obvious appeal of the wild ‘savage’ as a way to boost a man’s sense of power and virile sexual performance, I still have to ask the question: why, after sixty or more years of such unchanging conventionality, and all the olfactory progress that has been made in the meantime, do people actually want to smell like this?


Filed under Flowers


It’s been a while since I have written about a Serge Lutens perfume, but I would seem to be the ideal candidate for Des Clous Pour Une Pelure (nails for a peel; i.e a clove-studded orange). I love both notes. I love nutmeg. And I love this blue bottle.

The scent itself has a certain fresh, untrended appeal – a bit left of centre, a bit ‘out of the middle of nowhere’, probably best suited to deep winter, although I don’t find it warming or lovely enough to be entirely cherishable. The base is a woody spiced, delicately ambered scent that takes me back to gingery men’s fragrances of the 80’s such as Ricci Club and Versace Pour L’Homme – wearable, easy going – it would make quite a nice daytime scent for just hanging out.

The top is very cloved, initially, with a fresh, grapefruity-orange-mandarin note that should feel natural and harmonious with the spices but which personally reminds me of brightly coloured Christmas candles – I don’t feel the peel is correctly studded with the spicy nails; that something is slightly off.

Monsieur Lutens has always been playful and capricious, though, making some interestingly odd little perfumes : he also likes to rejig his collection every once in a while – putting the bottles in entirely different flacons, reformulating them, rearranging the prices – in a sometimes seemingly ad hoc fashion.

Louve, Tubéreuse Criminelle, and Borneo 1834 – three of my favourites from the line – are now in these gratte-ciel skyscraper bottles and are more than twice as expensive (about ¥34,000) as those in the ‘new’ Collection of Politeness ( ¥14,500 – much more doable) which features Des Clous Pour Une Pelure, alongside some golden oldies such as Fleurs De Citronnier, Santal Blanc, Gris Clair, the cold and metallic LEau Froide and L’Eau Paille, and the abisinthine, more herbal and smoky Eau Armoise which I have yet to smell ( I can’t believe I haven’t been to Tokyo in over a year……)

A slight release, then, but one with its own particular idiosyncrasies that will probably find its own niche, quite good for a ‘spiced beginner’ if not destined to become a Lutensian Classic. At the end of the day, the prolific Serge Lutens is always bound by aesthetics – I could buy this perfume for the bottle alone – because he is a true aesthete at heart and always has been.

And I have to say I do love him for that.


Filed under clove, Spice


Firstly, the smell.

Funfair smells of popcorn, cumin, and ozone :sweets – candy floss, maybe- and the greasing of the machinery against black sky. An emotion. A very odd, realistic, popcorn aroma is what you experience – and something uncanny. It is not an easy ride —– how I loved rollercoasters, dodgem cars, all the terrors before – now in my current state of compromised equilibrium I can’t imagine anything worse —— the fragrance having something niggling about it; addictive, nauseating, that you can’t quite get enough of.

The other day, D put Funfair on by mistake when he went off to work – thankfully only one spray to the wrist – confusing the bottle with another far more conventional perfume Fougère Intense from the same house which is more teacher’s roomfriendly. When he knelt down to say goodbye to me in the morning (I was still asleep) there was a ozonic tinge and caramelised caress on my pillow there when I woke up again. With its homely, sinister smell, I wondered how he was going to get through the daywithout anybody commenting. Whether all the girls in his classes would get the munchies.

When the funfair used to come to town, by travellers and carnies, from afar ( – they were real outsiders : you could sense, the moment you set eyes on them before you even heard them speak that they ‘were not from around here’, and it elicited a great excitement. But also a fear. Something unknown entering the usually empty park at night against the silhouette of trees). There was a darkness behind all the machinery; the bright lights flashing against the night: I felt switched on, very sharp, but also afraid. My brother could readily get lost for hours on the beach just wandering off and playing in the sea making sand castles, causing the worst possible panic for my parents, whose desperation and distress were physically palpable, a flash of metal in the blood you could taste, dizzyingly fearful – I tried to block the unfurling in my mind ( but this was the era of the Yorkshire Ripper and other murders and we heard about things on the news………..) – until he was eventually found none the wiser. Just happily absorbed. Then when we were out one Saturday night at the fair, he ambled off again; we couldn’t find him – so fraught – I think the police were called; though I don’t know how this was possible; how the attendant hadn’t noticed – not seeing him just going round and round, on one particular ride, preoccupied, laughing to himself in delight for what felt like several hours.

Other memories: my nan having a minor heart attack, but laughing continually about it as it was happening, on the ‘waltzers’, which veer and pull back with such incredible physical velocity so that you grip the bar and scream your heart out watching your paternal grandmother’s eyes roll back into her head and coughing but still somehow loving it ; saying to Duncan ‘I love you’ for the first time when on vertiginously high ride at the Strawberry Fair in Cambridge, a folky, hairy, cider-swilling kind of affair that is not really my gig but was great to visit once year : his sheer child-like wonder at the funhorror, the vertical swoops and drops and gut-swilling sudden yanking to the side got to me, and I realized the lack of pretence – the joy he was experiencing as we reached the highest point that looked down over the River Cam and I turned to him and told him.

Many years later we went to New Orleans and Florida with his family to celebrate his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary,; at Busch Gardens, I think it was in Orlando, on by far the most terrifying rollercoaster I have ever been on hanging over the sea at night; then four or five of us on a white knuckle rafting time ‘attraction’, spinning helplessly under waterfalls and the drowning water cannons on the bank fired by people who had paid for the privilege (the word ‘soaked’ doesn’t even begin to cover it, and it was so cold – it was winter – that our teeth were shattering like skulls and I thought we would all get pneumonia). But there were, if you kept putting money into the slots – some hilariously full size ‘human hairdryers’ we climbed straight into for warmth, where we slowly managed to get dried off and I amused the nieces and nephews and passersby with my boxer short twerking as we gradually got slightly less wet dancing together and sunset turned to darkness and illuminations; the crowds gradually making their way back to their respective cars.

Funfair brings back a lot of this. It’s a novelty scent – but more than a one-note Demeter. It captures something intangible. The fun and the anxiety. The sickliness of overeating. The burnt, electrical frisson of the cold night air. I remember my brother and I, probably at my own instigation, having started watching the Hammer Horror films only very recently at that time, even though we knew that we shouldn’t ,because we were both just too petrified at the core level later on when we had to go to bed. The previous week’s episode, which we had been allowed to stay up to watch because of my nagging, was the terrifying House That Bled To Death – after which jelly and ice-cream and children’s birthday parties were never quite the same again. (D and I actually watched it again the other week : those 70’s soft core, vaseline-lensed films are now all available online, and it is still really quite creepy, with its surburbian macabre and curtain-shocking plot twist, even for an adult: )no wonder it crawled so deep under the skin of seven and nine year olds as we riled each other into getting more and more disturbed and overexcited as the night went on). We knew, that when we got home that night, after tiring of the fair, or of running out of pocket money to go on any more rides, we would be watching another episode in the lounge on TV about a killer werewolf (or was it the witch?) : howling at the moon with hair erect. I had shivers of anticipation running in my veins at the thought of it all. But for now, just one carousel or Ferris wheel or or the helter skelter …..oh go on, please.….


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