Once I had semi-extracted myself from my morass, one of the goals of this holiday was to go to Kurukuru. This antique/ ‘recycle’ shop is a (for us, but probably not for most people) beautiful, chaotic garbage heap next to a supposedly haunted tunnel / busy thoroughfare at the intersection of Kamakura and Zushi full of treasure that I am always more than delighted to cycle along the coast to, when in the mood – D’s bike is broken, so I walk and do figure eights and go down alleys and circle and come back- he has always been a brisk mover ; this time we walked in : : and I immediately saw, among the junk – the Jane Austen-esque familiarity – I have always loved the original presentation – of an entire unused Madame Rochas collection.
Look at this shit. Admittedly, I love Mystère more. But there is something, something sweaty and powdery and Mysore-ish and talcum rose about the Madame Rochas that really suits me. It is, in some ways, my ultimate sandalwood. And although the parfum, as I expected, was defunct and turned: mon dieu – seriously, the parfum de toilette is I think by far the best iteration of this perfume I have ever experienced. Firstly, the label on the box is to be fetishized. Like the most delicous, cold, creamy walnut cake from the 1960’s. Secondly, the perfume within – the flacon, as you can see, is full and in absolute, optimum, pristine condition. Oh mama, you better believe.
The eau de cologne will certainly be used. I am actually quite transfixed by it. More masculine. More Kamakura taxi driver. But it was so pleasurable, having bought all of this for less than ten dollars; along with various, aesthetically delightful household contraptions, to then cycle along the coastline and dreamily watch the sun go down with Mt Fuji at Kotsubo; carefully (well not really), taking out the treasure from the bag to try the varying Rochas configurations on my skin and enjoy its timeless confabulations. Who left this collection? Who was it that owned all the bottles in these different strengths, and incomparisons of beauty?
In the middle of August I crashed. I am coming back to myself now, and will get back to all that perhaps later. Throughout, though, I have certainly been very heavily perfumed. There is too much to handle: I need to intoxicate.
One of things I very much love about wearing scent is the sense of demarcation: of separating and deliberately contrasting different pointers in time into retrievable, memorable chunks of consciousness. On the last day of term, jubilant I had got through the year and that the last month or two – post second vaccination and all the relief that had ensued = had gone well I finally put away my Penhaligons Gardenia, which in very hot weather I had been wearing for three or more weeks continuously, along with Floris Gardenia talc (after taking a bath each day before heading out in Floris Gardenia foaming shower gel……….as though an English Cleopatra ( ‘do I smell like an Edwardian Lady?’ I asked Duncan with semi-concern, in my white shirt and suit trousers, feeling instinctively that I did in fact smell beautifully fragrant and floral in a way that was perhaps unusual but still seemly (“No: you smell clean and sherbety: I like it” ); feeling already as I put all of these white flowers back into their boxes for another year how potent the temporal stamp is in the mind with smell – they were already past tense; already filed away; already reminding me, almost nostalgically, of this July and August, even though time was still progressing. But of a particular time, gone forever. But now stored. Ready for recapture.
It had been gloriously sunny. Then, as my holiday began, bad and disturbing news from home and an approaching typhoon suddenly made the temperatures plunge and all the light go into total retreat. it was a week of literal, and figurative ,darkness in which I found myself regressing back decades into depressing remembrances to the soundtrack of Tori Amos; inescapably. Drinking wine, zombie-like, I hardly even remember what I did for about eight days, except slowly rearrange my perfume cabinets; bottle by bottle; therapeutic in a way, and meaning that when the sun did come back again – with glorious revenge – I was fully ready to drench myself thoroughly to societally objectionable levels of intensity. Frankincense oil. Patchouli oil on the body. An unquenchable thirst for the leather chypre or aromatic combined with marine: Kenzo Pour Homme under the arms, and then lashings of the rose-mimosa leather patchouli masterpiece that is Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum eau de parfum (completely essential in my life – I need some more ); the original Sisley Eau Du Soir, which in vintage (the black bottle), a perfume I adore at the right moment and which I only have a few drops left of now but which I have found a suitable substitute for in Montale’s Aromatic Lime – also indispensable when I get into this mood; the final accord lingering on everything you touch broodingly, dramatically.
One morning, cloudy but not dark grey and pouring as it had been for days on end, it could only be Courrèges Empreinte: a curious hybrid of light floral-fruit facets (jasmine; melon, peach, a bitter twist of artemisia and coriander over what smells like a chic white leather French trench coat) that on me settles into the most elegant and enigmatic final accord, something like the younger sister of Miss Balmain parfum, but paler, and distinctive in its own right. Robert Gonnon, the perfumer behind this creation, has quite a slim resumé, but if I tell you that he created Paco Rabanne Métal; Cacharel Anais Anais, Grès Quiproquo, and Ô De Lancôme (all of which I own and wear), this should give you some idea of Empreinte’s sleek and ambiguous credentials. It is a very interesting scent indeed that gradually unfolds over time, unlike the great majority of contemporary perfumery, (the perfume’s original ad tag line reads: “Many women leave an impression. But few leave an actual imprint.…”)
If Empreinte is the swish of that white coat, as it is removed and hung up in a Parisian bistro, Falcon Leather, by Matiere Premiere, is a much darker, directer leather made liquid: centered on birch tar and oud, labdanum and benzoin and a touch of saffron – smelled from the bottle this is heady, aggressively masculine stuff with a strong-beating heart. It smelled good on Duncan, but would smell even better on some of the leather-jacketed body guards and for-hire high end killers in some of the adrenalizing Netflix action films I have found myself absorbed in these last few days (anything but the real world outside, please – the news everyday has just been too overwhelming. I read it but have to hold back) Black bomber jackets are de rigeur for these professionals, no matter the location – and a spray or two of Falcon Leather on their ubiquitous garments could only increase the sense of grounded, guarded propulsion.
In great contrast, Serge Lutens’ latest addition to the Gratte Ciel collection, another Christopher Sheldrake collaboration, La Proie Pour L’Ombre, is warm and nuzzly; a familiarly Lutensian, strangely gorgeous and mysterious scent ostensibly centred around leather (and licorice and vanilla), a powerfully immortelle, almost celery-like note cedared with spice in the top that at first is disconcerting but then begins to pull you into its own unusual sense of unique gravity. D thinks it smells like butterscotch: the ambered texture is certainly odd; almost chocolatey; with tones redolent also of coffee absolute; but also medicinally enveloping and pungent like some of the more extreme and esoteric Japanese incense towards which I quite often find myself gravitating. Unlike the flamboyance of the two other perfumes I have been describing to you today, I feel that La Proie Pour L’Ombre is more private; a dark, shadowy-like-its-name fragrance that suits these particular times: less a leather for a publicly viewed sillage than a quiet, personal cove of introspective luxuriance.
I gain comfort from violet. And the best violet I have ever owned is undoubtedly L’Occitane’s Patchouli, a disappeared extrait from the 1990’s (also gorgeous in the more radiant edp which I would kill to have a bottle of again), that is now virtually impossible to find anywhere.
An immediately poignant blend, one that somehow imbued whatever you were feeling at the time with sad longing, this was a violet/rose/clove/patchouli heartrending syrup that I saw a miniature bottle of on ebay the other day for ¥33,000 – eleven others were watching closely.
Friday night, after the conversation on here with Gabrielle and Catherine about how much we missed the old, pre-everywhere mainstream iteration of L’Occitane (when there were little bottles of extrait like Mûre
-which I picked out from the collection to try again the other night, marvelling at how alive it is; ‘just’ a blackberry little number, but something lovely about it; as though it were telling a story. Simple. A very short formula. But scintillating), I found myself wanting to attempt to recreate Patchouli. Impossible. Because I am not a perfumer, and don’t know all of the notes. But I began with a rich patchouli essential oil, blended in some rose, and some Klito by Marko Buffini, a very violety scent; added some of my strange clove/rose/hinoki/patchouli desolate Autumn perfume, which I made many years ago while watching John Cassavetes’ Opening Night in my old house’s tatami room, and still keep in the original L’Occitane Patchouli bottle, in the top picture; now so intense; based on the dregs of what was left of the patchouli; some Ungaro Diva extrait, and then years of added essential oils; I am not even entirely sure which other ones I have added over the decades; I sometimes wear a little on cold winter days, as it lingers. The addition of this private perfume started to veer the blend away from what I was looking for – a little too smoky – but then I remembered a dessicated bottle of L’Erbario Toscano’s Violetta Nobile that was somewhere in the kitchen; mainly dried up for some unknown reason but now very concentrated in the nozzle and spray tube. Pouring my blend into this bottle, the initial exhalations from the re-awoken bottle were very nice; super violetty, as the scent from beneath joined the powdered upper notes and created an enjoyable, rich, even potentially noble patchouli violet. Nice. But not Patchouli L’Occitane.
Le Joker, by French outfit Art De Parfum, won the gold medal at the London Beauty Awards, 2020. I can see why. A saline, fresh nutmeg aromatic, with facets of star anise, Timur pepper, ambergris and elemi, this is one of those perfumes I would put in in the same category as Eau D’Italie: scents that are magnetizing in their chalky sea air simplicity, yet that wisely eschew the dirty über-niche plugholes of algae and seaweed. Described by the company as a ‘fascinating woody fragrance (cypriol, patchouli, Atlas cedarwood), intertwining fruity spicy notes with powdery notes of makeup and smoky cigarette facets……Le Joker aims to awaken different emotions in different people’. I personally certainly don’t smell the (clown) makeup, but can imagine that on the right rogueish individual, an aspect of spent tobacco and winking mischievousness might become more apparent on a particular skin. D is going for quite thirst-slaking, homoerotically salted fragrances at the moment, such as Fo’ah 11, Nebbia Spessa and Salarium, which cut through, but blend and meld with the hot summer air. The fresh, toned, and rather addictive smell of Le Joker would certainly nicely fit into this piquantly seductive family.
The fact that this perfume cannot but be irrevocably linked in our minds to Todd Phillip’s The Joker – winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival in 2019 as well as garnering a Best Actor Oscar, for Joaquin Phoenix at the 2020 Academy Awards, can’t have hurt this scent’s popularity. It’s quite a canny tie-in. So perfect for these crazy times. I actually thought I would hate that film, because since early childhood I have never had any interest in Good Guys vs Bad Guys plots: hence no war movies, superheroes, and a million other Disney entertainments where there is a fixed ‘good’ and a fixed ‘evil’ entity and where the protagonists battle until the foregone, very obvious conclusion (such stories are just inherently uninteresting for me; life itself is never that simplistic, it is so much more complex and fascinating). I had imagined that Joaquin’s tic-tic tic overacting would get on my wick – and it did, a little, at times – a little too desperate for that trophy; and yet he was brilliant, and the film as a whole was undoubtedly something of a dark and highly atmospheric masterpiece of dystopian nihilism: making a sardonic mockery of the happy happy ending and the constantly dangled possibility of redemption. For some, there is none. And though, overall, I reject nihilism as a philosophy, feeling too much natural joy in living to ever surrender myself to theories of ‘pointlessness’ or the sheer miserable emptiness of existentialism, at the same time, I can’t deny that right now I do see the world as something of a joke. I sometimes laugh out loud, wickedly, just for the sake of it. I read the newspaper and shout in fury. Or else I just scoff, and get back to the much more important business of just lying down, still, on my futon and just tuning in to the fecund, insectoid world outside my window, as my cherished plants slowly, but visibly, grow each day and I sink fully into my own essence, often unspeaking; D equally absorbed, immersed in his world; equally contented.
Because if I were to properly let myself imbibe and take in all the sheer nonsense all around me, across the waves; everywhere; I would either implode, or, like The Joker, go fully postal. Masked idiots walking like zombies on the streets in temperatures of 36 degrees, only to immediately take them off and sit down in Starbucks or other, never-closed coffee chain stores and luncheries, right next to each other talking and drinking and eating with pointless plexiglass ‘separating’ them, even though they must, if they have any remaining sentience, be aware that the hospitals here are filling up, ICU units are running out with the relentless spread of Delta and Japan is facing really quite a daunting situation; the government merely making restaurants close earlier than usual as part of their hilarious ‘state of emergency’ – ha ha FUCKING HA; all beyond useless and incompetent; the truly laughable sadness of teachers I work with refusing the vaccine even though, in the school I worked in two days ago, in which students, now it is the summer holidays, study from morning to night in a study room with no windows, the day schools they go to now having outbreaks, students coming down with fevers (“…..but we have air circulators”) – – – what, a fan that just spreads the virus around the room; now you are making me go beyond mere chuckling into side-splitting guffaws; WAH-HA-HAAAAHHH’ ! !!!!! : a twenty something in Louisana about to die from Covid 19; unvaccinated, her last words to her exasperated nurse being ‘……….but we thought it was a hoax!’
In enjoyably mossy mode on Sunday evening; scented quite heavily – slightly against my will – with vintage Paco Rabanne, which has one of those old style hissy vaporisateurs that sometimes malfunction and stay on the spray button, even when you have angrily berated the bottle that you have had enough (particularly when the blighter fires straight for your eye, one area of my person I generally don’t perfume) : suddenly I had a yearning to put on some Shiseido Inoui.
Very forestry and green, mossed and languid jasmined, this is one of those once in a blue moon scents that I should probably keep as a future eBay sell rather than wasting – d got it me from a junk shop for about £3 but I am very aware that this 70’s chypre is highly sought after now by Inouisistas and goes for top dollar. I do like it, but some die-hard Inoui worshipper probably does need it far more than me. I had forgotten, though, that this Eau de parfum – I also have an extrait somewhere – still has a pristine secreted leaflet tucked inside.
There is something rather pleasurable, even fetishistic, about these little paper manifestos, reiterating the glories of the perfume located within as well as drawing your attention to the often vast ranges of auxiliary products that used to be easily available for most popular perfumes : with far fewer powerhouses in their stables, the houses would diffuse their jackpot recipe through full bathroom artilleries of soaps, bath oils , body cremes, deodorants ( both stick and spray; always smelling slightly distinctively different ), powders, hair setting foams – Aramis once boasted 40 different products that the discerning Aramist could collect and use enthusiastically each day, asphyxiating all in his officially Authoritative Presence.
Shiseido, in its own miniature inner pamphlet, makes the spectacular claim that Inoui is ‘by far the most luxurious, elegant, sophisticated international fragrance ever created’.
To me there is something cerebrally cooling, relaxing, about perusing these old, hidden leaflets : like the hush of an archaeological museum, or the clandestine papery pleasures of finding a particular book you were looking for in a university library. To my knowledge,the practice has faded out of use now ( do niche perfumes tend to have extra information about their contents secreted inside ?).
All I have been able to think about is getting the second shot in my arm. And in D’s. That’s all. The wait has felt like sheer purgatory. And so the week before we were due to receive the injection, teaching the beginning of the ‘summer seminar’, both very present and yet entirely absent, I just had to get. through. the .days until our cherished appointment at 9:00 am Sunday morning at the vaccination centre in Yokohama.
Perfume wise, I had soured on grapefruit, having worn too much of my Malone Vetiver Pamplemousse during the grey and humid rainy season; one day I just suddenly found I couldn’t wear it any more. With the gloriously hot weather – both mine and D’s favourite time of year by far (he is already on holiday for five delirious weeks, and coming back to himself, slowly, after months of internalization and sociophobia : where I explode outwardly, he goes inside to hidden recesses and sometimes gets slightly lost: but just being able to potter about and read, make videos, do some DIY, just be, I can now feel him rehydrating); I feel like flowers and celebratory scents that exude wellness and optimism.
Givenchy’s remake of L’Interdit – a pleasingly brainless little number – just smells of grape bubble or chewing gum with a hint of 80’s tuberose. Since at work I quite like to sometimes smell of grape gum – Japan does some amazing chewing gums that work almost on the level of perfume; a tiny piece of Xylish Grape enough to surround you with a fruity aura that garners compliments, I suddenly felt like doubling down on the note and wearing L’Interdit as well. Slightly worrying that this might end up disastrous – I am usually more careful about my weekday scents, I found myself spraying it on against my better judgement because what the hell – and ended up having a grapetastic two days. With a tattoo of woodyish/oud/musk that is toned down enough to smell quite masculine by the end, I taught some kids’ classes and felt surprisingly natural. Slightly rambunctious. Even, indeed, somewhat ‘forbidden’. Remembering that I had a small sample spray of the perfume somewhere ( because you know I would definitely drop and smash the bottle if I carried it around in my bag ), I eventually located it and put it in my wallet in order to be able to have a top up on the way home, grimacing as I did so when the horrible cheap patchouli oud vanilla hit my skin and couldn’t nasally comprehend what had happened; what the hell had gone wrong. . ……….I then realized that this was the edp – a nasty duty free typical affair, a real scrubber, whereas the more edgy edt – fresher, and so much grapier, though simplistic and rather unsophisticated, has something uncomplicated and fun that I am definitely drawn to.
Sunday morning eventually : finally : came. I wore vintage Sisley Eau Du Soir. I don’t know why. I wanted to keep the chypre theme – it had been Couturier’s Coriandre for the first. I had to ground myself. We were so excited. Jubilant, actually; it felt like we were off on foreign travels ; up bright and early, a sense of anticipation, seeing the city go by knowing it was the last time I would be in this situation unprotected; and the mood at the vaccination centre was similar, a bunch of tattooed construction worker types getting the shots under the aegis of my company’s programme – taking the shots that had been refused by some of my colleagues – an exuberant mood among them also (I am beginning to realize that the issue here in Japan is that due to the lack of overtness and an inherent need for ‘ambiguity’, and an avoidance of ‘shocking facts’, the coronavirus itself is extremely ‘mysterious’ for many people. I don’t think the symptoms are well enough known; the severity; nor the existence of Long Covid; so the vaccine has somehow become more scary than the illness itself). True, as the day wore on – we went for a Thai meal in Izekakicho and wandered around the junk shops as usual, elated, so delighted to have finally had both jabs, drinking beer in the sun, which was a bit silly —. we started to feel peculiar, tingling in weird places, some strange aches, and by the evening sitting on the balcony, did start to feel oddly ‘disassociated’.
The next morning, admittedly, we both felt terrible and couldn’t get out of bed. It was like having the flu; sensitive to the touch, aching, headache. I slept for fourteen hours and couldn’t move. But it had passed by the following day, and in any case it just felt like evidence that it was doing what it was supposed to. I can’t understand how anyone wouldn’t put themselves through one day of discomfort when the purported benefits are apparently so huge. The relief is absolute bliss. The last eighteen months have been like hell. And in comparison this really does feel like heaven.
Which is probably why I found myself reaching, on Tuesday morning for Penhaligon’s Gardenia. A reworked reissue from 2009 of a classic from 1976 (I would love to smell the original), this is a blue-print summer gardenia with the expected supporting flower notes of orange blossom, jasmine, and tuberose, the main theme a beautiful gardenia violet. It is the violet note that I love here; powdery, green; wearing it to work all of last week it made me feel elegant; genteel; the right level of sillage; a floral benevolence. I felt that it was almost bringing me closer to the students as well, though that might have also simply been because I no longer regard being in their proximity as something potentially lethal. I think this is going to be my choice of scent, now, until the summer holidays. I only have ten days left until the end of what has been a dreadful, dreadful school year. But I can definitely now feel the light at the end of the tunnel. In fact it’s like I am already bathingin it.