Personally, I cannot deny that I have had a lot of enjoyable experiences – many of them documented on here – but certainly plenty more horrendous ones – ditto.
Overall, I will not be sorry to see the back of 2021 ( it is hard for me to think of a more stressful year; much of it has been horrible), and I hope – and the optimist in me believes – that the next year will be better for us all.
I can’t seem to escape this stuff at the moment. On Christmas Eve we came across yet another vintage edition tossed and onto a pile of junk at a thrift shop in Yokosuka – and how much fun did we have there ? – this time in boxed extrait, and this time for ¥500 (£3.25).
Grazing the antiques shops yesterday evening before buying all the Christmas groceries and an excellent dinner at a Japanese burger restaurant – everything washoku style, fresh and delicious, with mounds of daikon radish and yuzu ponzu sauce over my tofu – wearing vintage Mitsouko edt and Amis De Paris – I chanced upon another Mitsouko.
Never having seen a bottle this shape before, I was wary and at first assumed it was a fake until I saw the ‘demonstration: tester – not to be resold’ writing on the side and realized it might actually be a viable. Having a shifty sneak spray just to make sure, I would swear as an expert at a trial in downtown Denver that this is solidly the real M; in fact, it is a truly excellent, bite-spicy cloves and cinnamon to the max pristine number, a very vividly preserved young Mitsouko, and at six quid (around $10) for 97ml, this was was coming home.
What is intriguing about this fragrance and its genesis in the giant web of perfumes that are out there somewhere in the world is that not only was this one of the first celebrity scents – out before Cher’s, Elizabeth Taylor’s, Joan Collins, pipped only to the post by Zsa Zsa Gabor’s from 1947, it wasn’t even created for the star in question but the soap opera character that she represented. So rather than the aspirational lure of wearing the perfume ostensibly bottled by a celebrity, you were unselfconsciously plumping for pure fiction – a fake human being, drenched in diamonds and pearls: and there is something quite meta-fantastic about this somehow – the bottling of a TV studio made illusion. Both Blake, and Krystle, in fact, in the original advert from the time, profess to have ‘created’ their perfumes for each other (“BECAUSE I LOVE YOU”), intones Blake like a thundering brachiosaurus (D and I would often have to look away during their extended fireside snog sequences) : but theirs is a story of true love.
Yes yes yes yes yes yes you say.
But what does it smell like?
— me, anxious and bedbound in salmon pink and eggshell white worrying about preparing Christmas dinner tomorrow morning before welcoming our Australian guest from Osaka
Walking out to pick rosemary and bayleaves late in the pm yesterday, and seeing a raccoon stood there perfectly still in the moonlight staring back at me, I mysteriously found that I was becoming more and more drawn to the smell pulsating smoothly on my wrist.
My god, this actually smells really good, I thought to myself.
Gorgeous. A ‘me’ scent.
Is there a possibility that I am going to wear this unironically?
My first loves were ambers. And Krystle Carrington is a proud wearer of Bal A Versailles. Thus, the makers at Charles Of The Ritz must have cannily thought to combine the rich amber musk feel of the Jean Desprez masterpiece with the blonde ivory satin nightgowns and benevolence of ‘poor Krystle’, who is always being blighted and slighted by the evil Alexis and her mewling, conniving British accent (even if she is tough enough to defend herself when push comes to shove)
In reality the D couldn’t deny it, though – this does smell fantastic on me (and far better than Mitsouko, which despite its fascination is totally wrong). What this says about me precisely I don’t know. I just know what this thing smells like. A little sickly, initially, I don’t doubt, with its come lively veneer ,but when the rich amber and vanilla-musk (very white musk/ animalic civet musk – in a good way) and the unusual top note of mimosa, freshened with some dresser top pink roses and bergamot, start to blend caressingly into skin………all the classics of this delicious category – Obsession – which came out a year later than Forever Krystle- Cartier Must, Moschino Moschino! and yes, even Bal A Versailles, do come to mind but are not necessarily, any better: : this is creamy, dreamy and good, of fine construction: and most definitely worth, at the current exchange rate, an enchanting ￡5.22.
The above quotation is by a philosopher, American mountaineer, and ‘ecstatic skier’, presumably in reference to powder snow. But it could just as easily refer to les notes poudrées – textural elements that add a delectable depth, as well as hovering, pressed aerial qualities to a perfume; talcumy; soft; the palpable frisson between the felt interiority of the warmth of the body, its scented emanations; and the ice-pure exteriority of the wintry air.
I know nothing about Amis De Paris, a rare Japanese perfume that D picked up for me from an old junk store recently and gave me for my birthday (along with the vintage Mitsouko eau de toilette; pictured ). But it is lovely: in some ways slightly reminiscent of Shalimar, as well as the delicate powder -puff evanescences of Emeraude de Coty (1921) and Chantilly d’Houbigant (1941): but, also, as the lemony grain particles evaporate suavely to a more vanillic-fougère territory, evocative of the more androgynous, beard-nestling fragrances such as Canoe/ Brut/ Ambush by Fabergé. Definitely a perfume with an amiable, open-hearted quality – but also a vein of mystery.
The Mitsouko – I am not sure which decade this edition is from – is a light, unmusty, bright and soothing iteration of the classic, cheerful; without the dourness and severity that you can sometimes encounter with the mulchier, fusty editions waiting cantankerously in brooding ancient parfum; today I feel that it is calling me. At the moment, I am in vetiver-drenched mode – various preparations left lingering on coats and trousers and sweaters and underclothes just like last year (or was it the year before? time has irrevocably changed) : I think, in any case, as a counterpoint, I will wear both of these this evening when we go out to Kamakura to buy food and wine for Christmas dinner. The air from the sea and mountains will be clear; it will be chilly: these perfumes will offer protection.
I wasn’t really sure whether I would go. This would be breaking two taboos that have held fast over the last two years: gathering with friends indoors, and going to Tokyo. A Christmas party, at the apartment of Joy. Would I be able to stand it? Would I feel too crowded in?
Going over it in my mind, what got me thinking eventually that it might be feasible was the fleamarket. The Intercity Shinagawa fleamarket, held on Sundays: the site, way back when, of great perfume rapture much documented in the depths of the Black Narcissus files.
Those days are long gone. In recent years we have occasionally gone up there with ever diminishing returns. In fact, though,the excitement itself for me never really diminished at all, even if like a junkie chasing the high of their first fix, nothing could compare to the very first time we walked into that Aladdin’s cave, where in one of the very first stalls there was an foreign woman who was selling off her entire Japanese mother-in-law’s perfume collection – my very first exposure to the vintage, velvet boxed extraits of Guerlain, of Shalimar, Vol De Nuit and Mitsouko, as well as my initiation into the joys of Caron Infini………… I walked around for a few moments of whirl of giddying exhilaration and then bought the lot.
The thought of a social gathering, though, did most definitely fill me with a significant sense of trepidation – of going back to the former life. I felt nervous. At the same time, the mere thought of walking around that central hub in Tokyo in the twinkly winter sunlight – an absolutely beautiful, blue ozone day of pure sunshine – was enough to get me thinking that we could always go to the fleamarket together (as the website said it would be open); I could always dip my toe into socializing briefly at the party, and then if it was all too much, just make my excuses and leave.
The train up from Ofuna was uncomfortably crowded. Packed with people talking – an excited, positive mood. I had to gird myself. And so did D.
But the virus is barely even in the news in Japan at the moment (there were 30 reported cases in Tokyo on Thursday, which is nevertheless seen as a severe uptick), and before the inevitable spread of the O variant when we will probably be back to square one again, I found that it was surprisingly easy to breach our own protocols and find ourselves speeding up past Yokohama and Kawasaki towards Shinagawa, precisely the same as it was before, gleaming and spacious, tall and full of skyscrapers, even if the fleamarket itself and in contradiction to the website information understandably actually wasn’t on. I was just so happy to be there again though I really didn’t care. Seeing the empty spaces as we looked down from an upper floor, I could picture the glories of past scored treasures, of taking friends there, my family, among the now-glowing Christmas trees that stood there in their wake. This was enough; to be redeemed; to have made the move beyond the restrictions and borders, to be away from the dull city of Fujisawa where I work and where the mould of small city suburbia has settled a little too (un)comfortably into the upper crevices of my addled brain matter. The air up in Tokyo was sharp; clear; grand; exciting; fashionable: a capital city. It was just what the doctor ordered.
‘Bravery’ in finally plucking up the ‘courage’ to head into the biggest city in the world notwithstanding, our friend’s place – it is always so hard to find abodes in Japan where there are no street names, impossible without a smartphone – required us to get off at Shibuya, Tokyo’s most famously iconic street crossing that, if you are not in the right state of mind even in normal circumstances, can scramble the mind and the senses, with all the flashing Blade Runner videoscreens, overwhelming competing noise from every direction and seemingly a million people walking around you in various directions – this, neither of us were remotely ready for. Not yet. Instead, we decided to get off at Ebisu, probably the place both of us would choose to live if we could afford a tiny pied-a-terre in the big city, such a pleasing neighbourhood, and to walk up to the party through the streets of Daikanyama.
There was one other perfume destination on the way (another reason I was glad to be going back to the Tokyo); an antiques shop that has a stock of vintage treasure that I am not going to tell you about (one of the reasons I lost out on the Shinagawa Flea Market – blurting too much about it on here), but as I worried it might be, on Sundays it was closed. I will undoubtedly be going back though. Peering through the window I could see vintage Chanel extraits, and beautiful intriguing bottles I couldn’t entirely discern, placed choicely among the pricily assembled collectors’ bric-a-brac; but even the display window had some amusing novelties – who wouldn’t be interested in a charming perfume bottle in the shape of a giraffe?
But we were already very late – intentionally so, to a large extent, as I honestly didn’t know how I was going to react – and would have to get going.
But now it really was time to finally get to the party.
On the way, in search of booze, and finally coming across a convenience store where could buy some sparkly and red, right across the road, to my vast contentment, there was an undiscovered emporium of delights; a new ‘recycle shop’ to add to our list of beloveds; records? check. Clothes? Check. Cool sunglasses? Check (see above). Perfumes? Oh yes. Like a shark seeking blood I had sniffed them out in the shop within seconds.
But what to buy? Some things I did hesitate over (Clarins Eau Dynamisante? Did I actually want it? Despite the citrus freshness, was there not always something offputting that was lurking somewhere in the heart? I don’t know.) My heart leapt proudly at a Guerlain Orchidee Impériale, a parfum d’interieur in a bee bottle, but in actual fact it didn’t actually smell very pleasant and it would have been dumb of me to buy it if that were the case; similarly a little gift set of the Parfum de Lit and all the other Guerlain pillow spraying luxuriances; I decided against. Amazingly, nestled up front there were two bottles of the Shiseido violet that was the feature of my last review – such a strange coincidence to find a rare perfume like that twice in a row; some N⁰19 and Pour Monsieur locked behind the glass door of a wooden cabinet – on this occasion I decided to desist, but I couldn’t resist a vintage bottle of the eau de toilette of Balmain Vent Vert plus a very appealing bottle of the chyprissimo patchouli aromatic by Carthusia, Caprissimo, to which I am going to add extra patchouli oil, macerate, and use for generations.
I have always loved house parties – being immersed in another individual’s private space for a few hours is completely fascinating to me, even if in Tokyo, with some of the highest real estate prices in the world, any gatherings are invariably in quite small apartments where everyone is cozily crammed into a couple of rooms animatedly talking and drinking (and not usually dancing – not with all the neighbours above and below, and not where there is virtually no culture of dancing at all to begin with; it’s a different style of interaction ). Though I usually do enjoy myself, to walk into a party, though, particularly after all this time, even if there are only ten people, only two of whom you have met before and don’t actually know that well – is rather daunting.
As we took off our shoes at the entrance, I could feel my heart beating rapidly, a sense of constriction as we entered (there were no introductions) all the people there in groups, concentrating hard in the middle of a party game (so not me: I am such a scrooge in that regard, I have never been able to bear any form of ‘fun activities’, quizzes, nor ‘time-killing pastimes ‘such as jigsaws, and initially I thought I might have to get ready to bolt – this being the first such congregation of maskless, unfamiliar individuals in a very long time.
D, though, is far more effortlessly sociable than I am (a conundrum in a way, as I am ultimately far more of an extrovert ), but although he looks in this picture as though he is proselytizing or giving the sermon on the mount, in actual fact I think he is just immensely enjoying the fact that he is talking freely to other people finally – socializing! – and not just having to listen to yet another of my ‘riveting’ monologues – of which there have probably been recently too many. Ultimately, you realize, in coming into contact with new people again – the moustachioed Brazilian on the left was especially fun to talk to and has already been recruited for a role in D’s film with his Jodorowskian mien – how much you have been hunkereddown within yourself in full ‘retreat’ mode and that at end of the day, as much as the social recluse cocoon has a strong and definite magnetic pull, it really isn’t that good for you.
Living in Japan I sometimes stumble across perfumes from Shiseido’s storied back catalogue I have never heard of. But the bottle and the box of Hanatsubaki Kai Sumire were enough for me to need to immediately snap up this gem from an antique shop – something almost Keatsian about the painted violets; the heart shaped glass-stoppered flacon.
What does it smell like? Intense. Rather ‘adult coquette’. A dry, musked, almost salty, wily, feminine violet soliflore – like Jardins De Bagatelle (Guerlain) with the metallic white flowers removed but still leaving traces – exuberantly confident; pretending not to be.
My sister now has Covid in London ( who doesn’t?), I can’t go back home because with quarantine – which I couldn’t endure in any case – time-wise there would be no point; like so many people in many ways I just feel battered, still with an almost constantly racing heart, unduly affected inside my body and soul.
Which is why it was nice just now ( I can still hear the monks as they make their way along the neighboring streets, uninvited but welcome , chanting sutras I don’t understand ) when I heard the now familiar drone as it made its way into my head and sound space, the monks making their way up the hill from one of the major temples – I think Kenchoji, filming them as they filed down the street, one man singing alone in front of our doorstep.
It’s not often you can say that your friend has an opera premiere, but tonight in Tokyo is the opening night of Kenichi Nichizawa’s Manji (Quicksand), a work in three acts based on the torrid 1920’s novel by Junichiro Tanizaki. I really wish I could attend ; working in the evening means that I always miss these kinds of events – but I am still excited to be able to go there by proxy (D is attending with his partner in art crime, Yukiro (who is the composer’s other half): as a congratulations/ virtual bouquet for Kenichi and Y, I am also sending along via D a bottle of Heeley’s latest perfume – the aptly named Rose Aria.
It will be d’s first time in the big city for almost two years: such a long time since we have been out properly, but in global terms, despite the continuing rational apprehension that most people have here, the coronavirus situation in Japan is nevertheless almost absurdly, scarily good, and D and Y have now also resumed work on their ridiculous black comedy Spoiled Identity, which I can’t wait to be part of again this Saturday – so weary of being respectable and teacherly now that the term is winding to an end and I have done my work properly : now I just need some hilarity and creative madness to rewire my brain again. Bring on Christmas !
The co-conspirators were here, in fact, finally together again at the house the other day, working on ideas for the upcoming scenes. In the evening, they attended the goodbye party of a friend and part of the film’s cast in Yokohama; dressing up and selecting scent before doing so. D went surprisingly for Melagrana E Uva (pomegranate and grape) by Speziali Fiorentini – a rich, deeply fruited winter warmer that actually suits him really nicely on the rare occasions he suddenly feels like wearing it (and I can imagine that being selected again tonight, actually – perfect for walking into a theatre! ). Y apparently mooched around the collection for a while, eventually settling on Rose Aria – at first, according to D, rather disturbed; (a very fresh, clear, almost green-apple clean garden red rose opening the perfume, rosa centifolia delicately paired with a lightness of galbanum, the rose soon rasped away like the abduction of the seraglio by a paradoxically oudish saffron musk sandalwood amber: a dirty, melancholic clashing that is a peculiar counterpoint to the clarity of the beginning); initially not entirely sure, then later, apparently, gradually completely succumbing to its darker, helicat charms.
We are told this by James Heeley:
“Like music that can be measured by the vibration of audible sound waves, a perfume is often measured by its ‘sillage’, the trail of scent that the wearer leaves behind ‘en passant. The greater the sillage, the more exquisite a perfume must be’.
I agree. And this sillage, on Yukiro, if he sprays some of this luxuriant perfume on tonight, will be quite splendid I am sure as he glides swanlike down the aisles (we once went perfume shopping in Ginza together as a birthday present for Kenichi; after much ado, finally settling on Histoires De Parfums Noir Patchouli – which has now become K’s signature: I can even imagine there will be a vague aura of that aromatic delight about him tonight as he takes his bow, receiving roses at the end of the performance).
Rose doesn’t like me though – I make this smell weird, bloody,, unpretty (which actually seems to suit the subject matter of tonight’s tempestuous opera : a murderous love triangle.). I couldn’t possibly pull Rose Aria off convincingly myself even if I were able to go: in truth I don’t think I have ever really had any rose that actually suited my skin properly, that I have carried off well despite my love of the living flowers themselves. I don’t know: perhaps the original, patchouli heavy Voleur De Roses by L’Artisan Parfumeur is the closest that has ever fit the bill ( I wear Hermès Rouge and Guerlain Nahéma vintages at home for my personal pleasure but rarely step out of the house in this flower) – there isn’t really any point. I just make it sour,
It all depends on the wearer – a lighter, drier skin will definitely bring out the magnetic airiness that the fragrance possesses; let it sing; fully bring out the mezzo soprano rose note floating in the top accord of this perfume which, while somewhat foreboding, does have a strange, somewhat beguilingly haunting kind of beauty.
Lavender is soothing to the spirit, strengthening, relaxing as it galvanizes; the essence takes off some of life’s sharper edges. D’s mum Daphne always sends us big sachets of bundled dried lavender from their Norfolk garden on special occasions, and for me there is no better exemplar of this flower on the planet; the scent penetrating but in perfect harmony with itself; herbal; floral; indigo, mauve and blue… .I place it, press it under my pillow to release the fragrance then turn the pillow over. Sleep is immediately more nourishing.
Lavincense, a new release from Hermetica Paris, a vegan, cruelty free ‘clean’ perfumer whose fragrances come in a more mellow, oil form than the usual bracing alcohol format, is a very warming, musky, smoothed out lavender, lavandin and sage composition that captures well the ‘goodness ‘of lavender, fusing it with a more sensual musk and incense base that is somewhere between Serge Lutens’ Gris Clair (angrier, harsher, more flinty) and Jean Paul Gaultier’s Le Mâle (lazier, more slovenly). An easy wear, calming and grounding, this perfume is one for the more solid, contented days of just mozying about the house by yourself, or for casual lunches in a local cafe with good friends in your latest winter knitwear. Simple, but a scent with a positive, easygoing aura.
In the entrance of our house there are two stone jars full of the unburied remnants of years of incense sticks. Over time, I have added patchouli oil and clove to the tamped down interior, and once, on a whim, poured in an entire vintage eau de toilette of Grès’ seminal Cabochard – just because I had found the design of the bottle, upon unboxing, so exceptionally ugly; the fancy bow of the original, sly grey velveteen, in this edition an ersatz glass stupid, gainly as a Toby jug.
Sacrilegious. Perhaps. And this was a long time ago. But I noticed, when I came in the other day, that when left to itself, other incense dissipated, windows left open – the cold chill that quickly descends on this old house when the heat is let out – I can still smell this perfume delicately in the air – a beautiful, ghostly, spirit of sepulchral Cabochard infiltratred through brittle fragments of Japanese incense, alongside lingering nuances of patchouli.
On my birthday on Thursday- naughtily taking a longer lunchbreak than allowed, in the hope of picking up a bottle I had seen in a recycle shop of the violet/heliotrope/ iris limited edition Les Metéorites by Guerlain that I hadn’t realized was as rare as it was and should have bought when I first spotted it (naturally, it had gone) ; I did, in its place, glancing constantly at the time, get another scent I was very pleased with and will write about soon, as well as a bonus 15ml vintage parfum (pictured above) of the lovely Cabochard, in its original, lost-in-a-Siberian-birch-forest box.
Once again – realizing that this base heavy, thickened unguent – a parfum extrait that had inevitably lost some of its top notes and was lacking the sharp hyacinth tang I require in a pristine version, I found, against my will, that I just couldn’t stop myself from repeating my past impulsions. Some patchouli essential oil I had received as a present; and half of the parfum. Into the urns. Splashed or dripping down into the dark space inside; the sepulchral, cool camphor of the incense and the space below, welcoming the new refreshment of its scent in quiet whispers.