LE FEU D’ISSEY (1998) + A DROP D’ISSEY by ISSEY MIYAKE (2021)

Spotting a bottle of Le Feu D’Issey last week sat unobtrusively on the shelf at a closing down sale in a shop in Kamakura, I remembered that it has become a cult collector’s item since its discontinuation and now goes for $300-400 on eBay. At $17 dollars I thought it was a steal.

Part of the scent’s legendary status, now of course, is the fact that is has had the stamp of approval by Luca Turin, who has this to say :

“The surprise effect of Le Feu D’Issey is total. Smelling it is like pressing the play button on a frantic video clip of unconnected objects that fly past one’s nose at warp speed: fresh baguette, lime peel, clean wet linen, shower soap, hot stone, salty skin, even a fleeting touch of vitamin B pill, and no doubt a few other UFOS that this reviewer failed to catch the first few times. Whoever did this has that rarest of qualities in perfumery, a sense of humour. Bravo to those who did not recoil in horror at something so original and agreed to bottle it and sell it, but shame also, since they lost their nerve and discontinued it before it caught on. Whether you wear it or not, if you can find it, it should be in your collection as a reminder that perfume is, among other things, the most portable form of intelligence”.

I don’t personally find the scent intellectual as such, but the beginning (coriander, mahogany, anise, bergamot, sichuan pepper and raw coconut milk) is certainly odd, and D, as my guinea pig, was a little uneased by this top accord when I sprayed it on his arm sitting down in an empty Chinese restaurant (‘what is it supposed to be? a tit?’ he said with uncharacteristic vulgarity when taking the bottle out from the box). However, within minutes we were both quite warming to it, particularly when the restaurant itself became much warmer: we were discussing yet again the other day the issue of windows in the pandemic, and one uninteresting thing for you but completely vital thing for me is the issue of heating and cooling here; as the ultimate service culture, things must always be just one step beyond the call of duty, so that if the temperature drops a little then the heating comes on, and vice versa: it was a lovely spring day with a chill in the shadows that decisively did not merit putting the air conditioning on. I could have cried with despair when we first sat down in the cavernous restaurant down Kamakura’s main boulevard and felt the synthetic cold breeze. Asking the waiter if he could turn it off in our area, he then proceeded, naturally, to switch it from ice to fire (26º on air con is so different to 26º on heat even though they are theoretically the same): with the spicy dishes replete with chilli oil we were soon burning up. On the skin, at this point however, Le Feu was starting to smell quite stunning on the D, the woody guaiac and cedar/rose sandalwood vanilla not a thousand miles from the likes of Féminité Du Bois and Eau de Dolce Vita (by the same perfumer); sweet enough to be considered feminine, but deep, épicé and red enough for anyone.

Mark Behnke at Colognoisseur has written a fascinating piece on why he believes that Le Feu D’Issey was a colossal commercial failure. Namely, that it was ahead of its time, and that like the director Michael Cimino and the Deerhunter being given complete creative freedom for his legendary follow-up flop Heaven’s Gate, perfumer Jacques Cavallier committed the cardinal sin of going too far. Too experimental (should he have given the idea instead to Comme Des Garçons? This would surely have fit perfectly into their edgier oeuvre and with its sulphurous mandarin hot spring aroma would probably still be going strong with the Tokyo crowd and beyond as once it settles into the skin it feels memorably right). A perfume you could almost fall in love to, at the time it nevertheless wasn’t quite what the public were expecting.

What they were expecting was probably something along the lines of the ultra-successful, and phenomenally innovative, L’Eau D’Issey, a perfume I personally detest. Once I was standing in an airport duty free area wasting some time before boarding a London/Tokyo flight. I was suddenly and unexpectedly rinsed in salty citric raw oyster juice when an oblivious passenger started spraying a tester of Issey Bloody Miyake over herself with the nozzle in the wrong place, instead coating me in nauseating tiny droplets of chemical ‘water’. I could have killed her. My flight was subsequently an abomination as the ‘lotus’ and ozone and ‘melon’ had got all over my clothes ( I was standing right next to her), ruining whatever I had chosen carefully beforehand to make the long haul as comfortable as possible. I never liked this scent, even when fully conscious of its total shock of the new: My friend Ally wore L’Eau D’Issey when it first came out and we were all living together in North London post-university, and although it felt razor-fresh and ‘clean’, lacerating all perfumery that had come before it with its lancing florals and artificial zen, I far preferred her in another aquatic she also wore, L’Eau Par Kenzo, which suited her more gently and succinctly (but then again, I am more of a Kenzo boy all round).

The pour Homme version, a potent ozonic ginger/yuzu that came out a few years later, again masterfully original, and also extremely popular, I have a vendetta against for other reasons aside the fact that I feel it has no place being on human skin. I hesitate to mention this but Issey Miyake was the scent that D’s Norwegian lover wore when I first came to Japan in 1996 and 1997 when I was was being all hurtfully ‘let’s play it by ear’ and confused by what I wanted. You don’t piss around with D, and when, understandably, theory became practice, on his part, left alone in London by me suddenly flying off to the other side of the world, here at the top of the hill, I was insanely jealous and was taught a lesson I will never forget.

In the intervening years, although I have been to the Issey Miyake Pleats Please store a couple of times in Aoyama, Tokyo, on the way to Prada or CdG, or Kenzo, I have never really had much thought about this house in truth: Le Feu d’Issey is the first scent from Miyake I have ever bought. I am pretty sure it will get used as well: D really likes the middle section – on him it smells benevolently fiery and suitable. Quite smart, if possibly, when all is said and done, a little sweet. In general, though, I have to say am not drawn to the house, while still admiring its founder’s originality and artistry, in textiles and geometry, in resourcing new materials such as suits made of paper: a situation that is not likely to change with the latest fragrance addition to the line, A Drop D’Issey, which continues the sensation of whiteness and purity long associated with Miyake, but with an almost castigating wholesomeness and prettiness that I would definitely appreciate on others, male or female (a beautiful almond milk/ lilac sheer floral with a well-equilibrated internal harmony); but which I know would never work on me personally, not even sprayed on a T-shirt.

37 Comments

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37 responses to “LE FEU D’ISSEY (1998) + A DROP D’ISSEY by ISSEY MIYAKE (2021)

  1. Note: being sprayed with L’Eau D’Issey was not my worst ever perfume flight experience. That award definitely goes to a passenger drenched in Thierry Mugler’s Womanity while changing a baby’s nappy who apparently had gastroenteritis. I almost died.

    • Yikes.
      Mine was my own fault – a few years ago at an airport duty free, I sprayed some Fahrenheit on a blotter and didn’t like it but thought I’d hang onto it to see what I could learn about what was so great about it. So, I handed the blotter to my significant other, who (being mostly uninterested in perfume) put it in his jacket pocket. For the 5 hours or so that we spent on a plane, I kept getting wafts of it. Didn’t even realize that’s what it was at first.

    • Alicia

      Idk how this works you probably won’t respond but I’m going to try. I am obsessed with Le Feu I still have a bottle and rarely use it because I know I can’t get another, but the other day my coworker smelled really familiar and she was wearing Armani’s My way and it’s the closest scent to Le Feu I’ve ever smelled. You obviously are an expert wondering if you have any thoughts.

      • I have never smelled My Way or even heard of it. Perhaps you ought to get a bottle of it as an ‘easy backup’ or something?

        Le Feu is odd. But I do like that lightly spiced, woody finish it goes to.

      • Alicia

        That’s why I like it. I love scents that are different. So many perfumes smell the same.

      • I agree. Incidentally, I thought the new Diptyque Kyoto – which I smelled the other day for the first time and which I didn’t entirely like; too metallic and bright woody or something – had reminiscences of Feu.

  2. Liz

    I Love L’eau D’Issey! I also really loved A Scent. The latter was really green. Lately I’ve been wearing Aqua Di Gioia by Armani. I used to wear Chanel No.5. It was like a symphony on me. Then I came down with an autoimmune disease and No.5 never smelled the same on me again💔😞.

  3. I love Miyake’s visual aesthetic but not his fragrances. They all just struck me as odd, and not in an artistic or engaging way.
    I have never smelled Womanity on anyone, THANK GOD.
    When Angel came out in ’92 there was a version of it in a thick pearlized pale gossamer blue formulation. I recall reading the hype about Madonna wearing Angel & how totally unique this new fragrance was. So Renz, my best drag friend/tailor from Berlin was in San Francisco was visiting and we wandered down to Nordstrom to try it out after lunch & a trip to Britex. As I was repeatedly pushing on that crappy sprayer on the infamous star-shaped bottle trying to get the viscous goo out – it suddenly spurted about 4 feet into the air with droplets splashing across my shoulder, across Renz’ chest, and all over a business suit-clad Korean man who had his back to us. We were truly sorry after we stopped laughing. That horrific nuclear ethyl maltol & patchouli stench lasted for weeks. I ended up tossing the wool jacket I was wearing. Scarred for life.

    • The poor man. I would love to know how he, and anyone close to him, felt after the assault.

      It is bizarre how you so frequently tap directly nto my psyche: Angel is inextricably linked for me with L’Eau D’Issey even though they couldn’t be more different and are diametric opposites: I associate them together anyway: obviously they came out at the same time, the same year, – but also because they are also, in many ways, both quite repulsive (to me anyway) even if as a perfume person I totally acknowledge their iconoclasm and importance. I would wear Angel over L’Eau without any question (obviously given my tastes on here) but too much Angel is quite hard to handle – I remember my dear friend Emma waking up with a hangover and almost puking when I made her smell the very same pale blue vial sampler somewhere in London.

      Being sprayed with something you don’t like is actually quite hard to deal with (although in the grand scheme of things….I know; first world issues etc) : melonic ozones though are especially difficult to cope with.

      Plus: you are shocking me with the Madonna wearing Angel thing. As you must know, I am an extreme Madonna fan and for some reason I am amazed by this news. We always hear about the tuberose/gardenia, but I could never have imagined her wearing Angel. Part of me also loves this idea though I must confess: that was the period when she was absolutely both simultaneously bestriding the world post-Vogue/ Blonde Ambition but also being smashed down because of the Sex book/ Erotica: I was obsessed more than a person ever should be to be honest.

      • In the ’90s, Cindy, Tyra, and Madonna brought Mugler to the front of the fashion zeitgeist, while in recent years, Cardi B, Kim Kardashian, and Robin Wright have made the brand a staple in their wardrobe.

      • Definitely in terms of La Moda.

      • emmawoolf

        The Angel hangover from hell of 1994. Let us not visit there again. To be fair, Angel was not the true culprit, it was the beverage of choice (a mandarin flavoured liqueur, if I remember correctly) that did the real damage. That memory is inextricably linked with the party soundtrack of Kylie’s confide in me. I can no longer listen to that any more than I can bear a waft of Angel. (PS I’ve told Ally of her 5 mins of fame. We shall await her comments!)

      • Also: I dread to think what I was wearing at that time. I know I was overdosing on Eternity For Men – extraordinarily strong at the best of times – so she probably has her own tales of revenge to document here. I wore WAY too much (as I only liked the top note). I remember people – George in particular – being mowed down by my Klein Sillage

  4. rosestrang

    I completely agree on two counts: that Feu d’Issey smells a little like vitamin B, and that l’eau d’Issey is detestable. I loathe the men’s version too even though it’s marginally less toxic. Even the most beautiful attractive man in the world would be rendered unkissable wearing that chemical miasma. Anything with ‘lotus’ ‘passionflower’ ‘melon’ ‘freesia’ and to some extent freesia usually destroys a perfume for me!

    • Yes!

      Freesias are quite nice in real life but I agree : a bloke coming towards you in such a pointy fragrance would be impossible – at least if overdone. A little, somewhere on the person others can be swayed….

    • You have just made me realize, incidentally, that I have never taken freesias seriously as a flower. They are nice, but somehow floral sherbet.

  5. Le Feu d’Issey was a very interesting scent, and one I wish I had. It never sold at Sephora while I was working there, but everyone and their aunt doused themselves in L’Eau d’Issey which is by far one of the most horrific creations ever brought into being. That and Coco Madamoiselle were froever being sprayed with abandon, with the regular appearance of Chanel Chance. I hated all three of those scents so much I still to this day have a visceral reaction to them if I smell them.

  6. Robin

    “I hesitate to mention this but Issey Miyake was the scent that D’s Norwegian lover wore when I first came to Japan in 1996 and 1997 when I was was being all hurtfully ‘let’s play it by ear’ and confused by what I wanted. You don’t piss around with D, and when, understandably, theory became practice, on his part, left alone in London by me suddenly flying off to the other side of the world, here at the top of the hill, I was insanely jealous and was taught a lesson I will never forget.”

    I will never (probably) get to, but I’d love to hear more about this time in your lives.

    Although the testers were everywhere, I never picked one up to smell anything by Issey Miyake. Strange. The brand just did nothing to particularly pique my interest, I guess. That’s great you got that one for a song and had a chance to experience a Luca Legend. I really like and respect the guy but I don’t always agree with him, which is fine and only natural when it comes to fragrance. I remember a close colleague saying her girlfriend wore l’Eau d’Issey and somehow I felt she had the right to full ownership of it at the time, and then I never did follow up on it when we were no longer working together.

    I enjoyed reading about your experience at the restaurant and that very real phenomenon of temperature and context affecting the perception of a fragrance. It’s odd, too, because it’s not always what you might expect: a summer-like fragrance can smell its best in the dead of winter — the drier air can allow the delicacy and sense of freshness to become more focussed — and some heavy, thick and padded fragrances bloom in the heat and become one with your own skin’s extra temperature and moisture. I think that’s why oudhs, ambers and hot-spicy scents can be out of this world in the middle of August, or after a long soak in the tub.

    • YES. The warm pores post bath – I am getting excited just thinking about it.

      Re the ‘other thing’…..

      I met D for dinner in Kamakura yesterday evening (an Indian with no other people in it – these are the only places we are going to right now), and I told him that as I was writing about Issey Miyake I hadn’t been able to stop myself mentioning his fling with a nurse from Norway back when I had first come here and was being a dick, unsure of everything (after all, I had just suddenly upped and left and come to Japan. We had semi-broken up in London when we were living in this house next to a park but above a very selfish and aggressive DJ whose music was so loud it was like seismic activity (on a Sunday morning) and I was a nervous wreck. We ‘split up’ but ended up staying with each other all the time but I was still adamant that I had to get out of London – a place I have never liked – and live in another country. It breaks my heart writing it, but when he came that first Christmas/New Year we had a really nice time and then I said something along the lines of ‘but let’s keep our options open’ or whatever – not that I did. He was rightfully quite upset by this, and so when he met a nice looking blond Sagittarian he went for it (my friends and even my brother met him, and the jealousy I went through was unbelievable: so I was taught a justly deserved lesson. I realized that it was only him for me and once we had gone through the ordeal of ‘it’s him or me’, and he chose me, a few months later when I finally came back to England to see him we had got to the juncture where he was thinking, either I come to Japan, or we are breaking up. I suppose I wanted my space for a while, but I remember us in bed at a hotel in St Ives in Cornwall and he just said it: how about if I come to Japan? And so he did, and we have now been together for 28 years. I think many couples have such ups and downs in their histories – but I know that the fact that I know his partner of the time wore Issey Miyake pour homme makes me hiss whenever I see it…..

      • Robin

        Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you

        Soaked this up like a damn sponge, Neil, I did! I’m a sucker for a good love story — which requires these very elements of separation, ambivalence, jealousy (or for others, past hurts, physical hardship, health issues, or financial difficulties): some of them or all of it, to fully cement itself.

        You and Duncan have endeared yourselves to us.

        If I ever run across a bottle of Issey Miyake pour homme at the flea market, I will look at it scornfully and then ignore it entirely. I could never sniff Ric’s neck knowing he smelled like That Norwegian.

      • !!!

        To its credit, though, I think L’Eau D’Issey was included in Michael Edwards book, and it IS (or was), pretty, aqueous (though too saline or something), and kind of fascinating for about five minutes.

    • PS : not having smelled L’Eau d’ISsey is like not having smelled Angel. A grand omission .This was an absolute monument in the evolution of things – next time you are in a department store give it a sniff s’il te plait in order to place the origin of all the horror.

      • Robin

        I think it was because it came out around the same time as CK One, and at that time I was really ticked at the light/fresh/insipid direction the fragrance world was heading in all of a sudden. I guess it started the whole thing: IM in ’92, CK1 in ’94. But I will try it. Arm twisted, but I will try it. You’re right.

      • CK One was so guileless and lovely in comparison. I was also ticked off (ESCAPE! KIN’ELL IT WAS HORRIBLE) – but Miyake took things in a direction that was both more inspirational/inspired but also in many ways the pretty, very essence of passive aggression.

        Thanks for the vote of support re L’Homme by the way. Some memories have been floating back up as a result of writing this. The fact that it was pre-internet and we couldn’t write except in furious letters and postcards; or he would call me at work at my first school and I would be shouting down the phone at him: I spent a fortune on phone cards that got swallowed up really quickly at phone boxes.

        And I remember when he first arrived here, to live, it was so exciting to see him at the airport, even if weird seeing him waiting for me after work (oddly in Isezakicho, a place we didn’t appreciate at the time but which as you know is now our second spiritual home), and I was thinking: what is he doing here? This is MY adventure. But I quickly became very happy that we were embarking on this Nipponesque very long chapter (who could have predicted we would be here still?), with its ups and downs – definitely much better since 2008 when everyone got the internet and we went to Berlin and a cat and I started writing and he started doing all his creative art stuff; prior to that we were in a bit of a rut I think, a bit lost. Now it is better than ever, even factoring in all the crap going on outside. I am lucky.

      • Robin

        So is Duncan.

  7. JulienFromDijon

    Le feu d’Issey might be the oldest and faintest remembrance of me trying a perfume.

    I can make up the reasons of why it failed :
    1° It was a perfume centered on sandalwood, at the eve of sandalwood shortages.
    (Luca Turin quotes Etro’s Etra as a copy, a tamed version of it. Cacharel had also Gloria 4 years later, with sandalwood in the base, a top of rose cherry and biscuit, and an Amaretto almond midway. It met the same fate.)

    2° It was only available at max 50ml for a 100ml price. (I’m not sure of that fact.) Still, it was widely distributed.

    3° With such an odd perfume, one could fear how it would behave on you. People fear to have a blind spot for a glaring flaw in their perfume.

    Milky rosey warm sandalwood is a winner on the long term, but they’re unaware of it.
    Le feu did not fit any category. For girls, it was not an office scent, nor a “make him/her a night he/she’ll never forget”, not a boudoir scent, not a clean scent…
    For the guy, this UFO remained to sensuous, it fueled the stupid fear to cross-dress perfume.

    In the collective unconscious, Le feu could be a Malle perfume proposed today at 300€. That is the joke.
    The new Drop by Issey sounds like a thing Olivia Giacobetti would excel at.

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